Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Who Reigns in the Millennial Kingdom? (Rev 20:4)

The people who come to life and reign with Christ for 1,000 years are “the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those (καὶ οἵτινες) who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands” (ESV).

In this translation, it appears there are two groups. One group was martyred; the other group did not worship the beast but had not yet been martyred (possibly also NASB, KJV).

If you check out the NIV, you will see the problem. “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.”

In this translation there is only one group of people inhabiting the millennial kingdom. They had not worshiped the beast or received its mark, and therefore they had been martyred (see also NRSV, HCSB, NET, NLT).

It is a rather important distinction as it identifies those who inhabit the millennial kingdom, and it all hangs on the καὶ οἵτινες.

Both translations are possible. The first is more word for word and leaves interpretation up to the reader, although it would most naturally lead the reader to see two groups.

The second views the καί as epexegetical, and uses the conjunction to break a rather long sentence into two. Dad’s commentary cites 13:15 as suggesting that all who refuse to worship will most certainly be martyred. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain (ESV). Combined with the καί is the use of ὅστις that often introduces a relative clause which emphasizes a characteristic quality of its antecedent (Mounce, 355n13), citing Mt 7:15; Rom 1:25, and Acts 10:47.

I am coming to believe that language is the stringing of one ambiguity after another. Having served on two translation teams has only strengthened this conviction; what one person hears is not always what the other person hears. An important point for all preachers to ponder. For the exegete, we must see that language is not always precise, and so our exegesis must see the range of meaning for a word or grammatical construction, and then as always make a decision in light of the context.