Richard Bauckham on “The Lord God the Almighty” in the Book of Revelation

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The Greek word παντοκρατωρ (pantokrator), generally translated into English as “omnipotent” or “almighty”, is one of my favourite words I learnt a few years ago in Greek class. When I think of the word pantokrator my mind immediately jumps to the one verse I associate it with most: “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” (Rev. 19:6).

Earlier this year during the first semester, I was in a second-hand bookstore in Cape Town (wherever I go I am always on the look-out for second-hand bookstores because I have often found theological gems – together with books of philosophy, history, world religions and poetry – at bargain prices, books that many others simply do not grasp the worth of). Among many other books I bought that day was The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham. I received Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony as a gift from a dear friend a few months prior to this and knew I had to take this book. It was an absolute bargain at only R10 (for my international readers, that is about the cost of a 1 litre Coke). I thought I wasn’t going to get around to reading it any time soon because I had so many books lined up already, but as Providence would have it, it turned out that this book is a prescribed work for our New Testament module. As I mentioned, the Greek word pantokrator is of interest to me, and as I read Bauckham’s book I was particularly interested in what he had to say regarding God’s omnipotence in the Book of Revelation:

“THE LORD GOD THE ALMIGHTY

This designation occurs seven times in Revelation (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 19:6; 21:22), four of these in close association (1:8; 4:8; 11:17) or close proximity (16:5-7)to the designation we have just discussed [“The One who is and who was and who is to come”]. A shorter form, ‘God the Almighty’, is used twice (16:14; 19:15), keeping the number of occurrences of the full expression to no more than the significant number seven.

This designation is also connected with the divine name, since it is a standard translation of the expanded form of the divine name: YHWH elohe has sebaot (the LORD, the God of hosts) (e.g. 2 Sam. 5:10; Jer. 5:14; Hos. 12:5; Amos 3:13; 4:13). John also uses it (as comparison of Rev 4:8 with Isa. 6:3 will show) as equivalent to the shorter form YHWH sebaot (‘the LORD of hosts’), which is very common in the Old Testament prophets because it indicates Yahweh’s unrivalled power over all things and therefore his supremacy over the course of historical events. Its use in Revelation testifies to John’s desire to continue the prophetic faith in God. The Greek pantokrator (‘almighty’) indicates not so much God’s abstract omnipotence as his actual control over all things.”

– Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, p. 30

The last thing Bauckham says here is what especially intrigued me about the word pantokrator back in Greek class. I felt that the English translation of “omnipotent” or “almighty”, though not strictly speaking wrong, was lacking a bit of the real meaning of the word, which would more literally be translated as something like “all-ruling” (pan = all; krateo = to rule) or more loosely “he who holds sway over all things” – indicating not only that God possesses all power in an abstract sense (that he is almighty), but also that he actually exercises that power in his providence and governing of the world, as in the sense of “…our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” (Ps. 115:3)

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