Revelation’s Place in the Greek Bible The history of the Apocalypse in the Greek manuscripts reveals that its place at the end is not uniform. Clark R. BatesHardly any book of the New Testament has puzzled Christian readers more than the book of Revelation. It begins as an epistle to seven churches, then shifts to depicting a series of visions of heavenly judgment cast upon the earth, and ends with the glorious restoration of the created order. The reader finds himself lost in a world of falling stars, biblical plagues, monstrous horses, dragons, war, and heavenly cities with startling physical features. Is what the book portrays real or figurative? Is it a prophecy that is to come or something that has already happened? For some Christians, its contents are read as their window into the future, while others would prefer never to read the book at all. It might surprise you to know that the modern confusion around the book of Revelation is not entirely new. This text has challenged Christian readers almost from its inception, and this is most evident in its Greek manuscript tradition. Revelation has challenged Christian readers almost from its inception, and this is most evident in its Greek manuscript tradition. As a book, Revelation (also called the Apocalypse) sometimes rested uneasily alongside the rest of the New Testament, often as an insertion centuries after the copying of the larger canonical corpus. Many of these manuscripts surface after the twelfth century, some containing Revelation from a fourteenth century addition, suggesting a later desire to “close” the collection of books. Additionally, Revelation stands out among other Greek New Testament texts by its inclusion in groupings of non-biblical material. Its insertion alongside a variety of hagiographic texts, patristic writings, and homilies, without additional New Testament content, also suggests a liminal status within the Greek-speaking church—particularly after the fourth century. This is reinforced by the absence of Revelation in the Greek liturgical tradition, which means it was not read regularly within the gathering of believers. The canonical impact of the material reality surrounding a still-contentious text like Revelation raises questions for modern Bible readers, and, for this reason, deserves our attention. The Material Data The latest survey of the manuscript evidence records a total of 314 manuscripts containing all or part of the text of Revelation.1Garrick Allen divides the manuscripts of the Apocalypse into two strands: the canonical and the eclectic. The canonical strand consists of those manuscripts that combine the Apocalypse with other “canonical” books of the New Testament, whereas the eclectic strand is made up of manuscripts which combine the Apocalypse with other, non-canonical material. Allen also acknowledges that these categories cannot account for every manuscript, especially those that are fragmentary, but his classification is immensely helpful for the present and future discussions. See Garrick Allen, Manuscripts of the Book of Revelation: New Philology, Paratexts, Reception (Oxford: Oxford University, 2020), 156–92. This is comprised of seven papyri, twelve majuscules (written on parchment or animal skin in capital letters), and 295 minuscules (written in a form of “lowercase” letters). Some of these manuscripts contain commentary text, others insert the book into collections of New Testament books. Some manuscripts contain only Revelation, while others include it among collections of nonbiblical material. Because the papyri are fragmentary, the earliest, complete witnesses to the book are the large, complete New Testament manuscripts such as Codex Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Ephraemi Rescriptus, which date to the fourth and fifth centuries.2While Codex Vaticanus contains the text of Revelation on ff. 1523–1536, it is a fifteenth century supplement and therefore of nominal value for early attestation of the book’s canonical reception. Perhaps the most glaring feature of the data is the number of New Testament manuscripts that lack the book of Revelation. Textual scholar Josef Schmid felt that the book’s absence in the commentaries of the great Greek exegetes and its exclusion from the liturgy, as seen in the manuscript tradition, reflected the peculiar fate of Revelation. He observed that “the number of manuscripts that preserve Revelation lags behind that of the rest of the New Testament significantly.”3Josef Schmid, Studies in the History of the Greek Text of the Apocalypse: The Ancient Stems, Juan Hernández Jr., Garrick V. Allen, and Darius Müller, eds. and trans. (Atlanta: SBL, 2018), 32. Six ancient majuscules between the fourth and fifth centuries contain Revelation alongside the early papyri. Among these are, MS 9351 (GA 0163), a fifth-century fragment containing only twelve lines of text from Rev. 16:17–20, P.Oxy 180 (GA 0169), a fourth-century fragment containing thirty lines of text—with many holes—from Rev. 3:19–4:3, and PSI 1166 (GA 0207), a fourth-century page containing Rev. 9:2–15 on twenty-nine lines in two columns covering both sides. The Greek manuscript tradition is silent from the seventh century until the ninth century. By the ninth century, we have a full copy of Revelation in GA 1424, which is the first, complete New Testament in minuscule handwriting. From the tenth century, three majuscules and thirteen minuscules remain extant, containing larger portions—and in some cases the whole—of Revelation. By the eleventh century the use of majuscule script fades into memory with the wholesale implementation of the minuscule, and the manuscript count increases to thirty-eight minuscules containing most, or all, of the text. In the twelfth century, thirty-six minuscules are extant—most containing the entire book. The manuscripts increase from thirty-eight minuscules in the thirteenth century to sixty-nine in the fourteenth, sixty in the fifteenth, and forty-three in the sixteenth. The number of Revelation manuscripts increases exponentially after the eleventh century. Even then, the number of manuscripts containing either the New Testament or part of it without Revelation is still greater leading up to the sixteenth century. Dissecting the Data In both Codex Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus, Revelation is combined with the remaining twenty-six books of the New Testament. But there are no extant, complete Greek manuscripts from the following four centuries. When Revelation does reappear, joined with New Testament works, it is found in less than one-third of complete, New Testament collections and less than one-fifth of collections containing Acts, the Pauline Epistles, and the Catholic Epistles (known as Apostolos manuscripts)—or other New Testament texts. Of those manuscripts that contain only the Gospels alongside Revelation, several appear to have had the book of Revelation inserted at a later date. Other combinations include Acts plus Revelation; the Gospels and Catholic Epistles plus Revelation; or Hebrews plus Revelation. When Revelation appears alone it is often accompanied by the commentary of either Oecumenius, Andrew of Caesarea, or Arethas of Caesarea. While it is not unusual to find New Testament texts accompanied by commentary, the frequency with which Revelation is found with commentary raises the question of how it was being read within these contexts. Some scholars think this format shows that the book was read more often as a kind of study book than a devotional or canonical text. However, what is perhaps the most intriguing of all appearances of Revelation within the extant, textual material is its presence alongside other, nonbiblical texts. The last peculiarity related to the transmission of Revelation is its textual character. Its increase in circulation during the late-medieval era might lead us to think that the book would, like other contemporaneous New Testament manuscripts, conform to the Byzantine textual family that was dominant in this later period. But this is not the case. Later Revelation manuscripts tend to split into two, well-attested text forms, which then further divide into four major stems. A scene from the Silos Apocalypse (11th c.). Add MS 11695 Consequently, in those manuscripts containing Revelation alongside the combination of Acts and the Catholic Epistles, the book of Revelation does not fit neatly into the same textual family as the rest of the manuscript. The sister manuscripts in the text of Revelation are rarely ever sisters in the Apostolos, and the sister manuscripts in the Apostolos are almost never immediate sisters in Revelation. This indicates that, when copied, these manuscripts copied the text of Revelation from a different manuscript than what was used for the other books. From Text to Canon The peculiarities in the Greek manuscript tradition of Revelation’s reception in the Eastern Church naturally raise questions about the book’s canonical status. To that question, we can make several observations. First, though the transmission of the text of Revelation is more sporadic and far different than others in the New Testament canon, its use is widely attested in the Latin-speaking, Western Church without the inconsistency in the manuscript tradition seen in the Greek Church.4The earliest Latin commentary on the Apocalypse comes from Victorinus of Pettau in AD 260, with commentaries continuing for subsequent centuries into the medieval era. Second, while Revelation faced challenges to its level of authority in the East after the fourth century, prior to this time, it was generally received as canonical by the most vocal in the Church. Third, it must be remembered that the Church Fathers did not only think of Christian texts in strict binary terms of “canonical” and “non-canonical.” They also thought of them in levels of value. The clearest example of this is found in the writings of the fourth-century historian Eusebius, who identified four categories of books circulating in the Church: “received,” “disputed,” “rejected,” or “heretical.” A good example of how these categories were applied can be seen in the case of 2 Peter. Many outlying New Testament books that are considered canonical today, were challenged in ways similar to Revelation, and this can actually be encouraging to modern Christians because it testifies to the sobriety with which these sacred texts were debated. Get new articles and updates in your inbox. Leave this field empty if you're human: Revelation’s lack of use in the worship of the Eastern Church is also not so dissimilar to modern times. The current lectionary cycle for the Western Church reveals that only ten passages of Revelation have been read in the church over a period of ten years, and even these avoid any sections portraying the bowl and vial judgments, the heavenly visions, or other passages that seem “strange” to most modern readers (e.g., Rev. 12:1–4 where a woman gives birth in Heaven and a dragon waits to eat the child). Conclusion What modern Christians should take away from the material data of Revelation is an awareness that it must be handled with care. We should be cautious about minimizing its unique content and should probably avoid sweeping theological inferences related to its placement as the final book of the Bible. After all, the reason it is so often found at the end of Greek manuscripts is actually because it was added later, and the end of a manuscript is the easiest place to add more text. In conclusion, we might well approach the text of Revelation with the temperance of one of its earliest commentators who wrote, Having been asked many times by many people—who out of love have a greater opinion of my abilities—to elucidate the Apocalypse of John the Theologian and to adapt the prophecies to the time after this vision, I was putting off this undertaking, knowing that to explain the things which are secretly and mysteriously seen by the saints which will happen in the future times befits a great mind and one enlightened by the Divine Spirit. Andrew of Caesarea, Commentary on RevelationNotes1Garrick Allen divides the manuscripts of the Apocalypse into two strands: the canonical and the eclectic. The canonical strand consists of those manuscripts that combine the Apocalypse with other “canonical” books of the New Testament, whereas the eclectic strand is made up of manuscripts which combine the Apocalypse with other, non-canonical material. Allen also acknowledges that these categories cannot account for every manuscript, especially those that are fragmentary, but his classification is immensely helpful for the present and future discussions. See Garrick Allen, Manuscripts of the Book of Revelation: New Philology, Paratexts, Reception (Oxford: Oxford University, 2020), 156–92.2While Codex Vaticanus contains the text of Revelation on ff. 1523–1536, it is a fifteenth century supplement and therefore of nominal value for early attestation of the book’s canonical reception.3Josef Schmid, Studies in the History of the Greek Text of the Apocalypse: The Ancient Stems, Juan Hernández Jr., Garrick V. Allen, and Darius Müller, eds. and trans. (Atlanta: SBL, 2018), 32.4The earliest Latin commentary on the Apocalypse comes from Victorinus of Pettau in AD 260, with commentaries continuing for subsequent centuries into the medieval era.