Our view of how the book of Revelation should be understood depends largely on the meaning of Revelation 1:10. This verse tells the reader what happened to the apostle John that made him write down the inspired words that became known as the book of Revelation.
According to the revised edition (2013) of the New World Translation this text is rendered:
“By inspiration I came to be in the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a strong voice like that of a trumpet.” – Re 1:10
This rendering by the NWT translation committee leads to the following conclusions:
- John was inspired
- That inspiration transferred him in time to “the Lord’s day”.
For Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Lord’s day is a period of time encompassing the last days which are believed to have started with Jesus Christ’s installation as Messianic king in 1914 and will end at Armageddon. This understanding means John was getting a vision of the distant future from his perspective in 96 C.E.
The question remains, is this rendering of Revelation 1:10 accurate?
Examining the Validity of the NWT Rendering
There is good reason to scrutinize the NWT translation of this verse, because it raises two significant problems. The first one becomes evident when we read the very next verse.
saying: “What you see, write in a scroll and send it to the seven congregations: in Ephʹe·sus, in Smyrʹna, in Perʹga·mum, in Thy·a·tiʹra, in Sarʹdis, in Philadelphia, and in La·o·di·ceʹa.” (Re 1:11)
John receives inspired counsel from Jesus Christ directed to the congregations in seven different cities in existence at that time. At least two of these cities had already received inspired counsel from the apostle Paul: Ephesus, in the letter to the Ephesians, and Laodicea (See Col 4:16). Part of the message these seven congregations received in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 was the warning by Christ that he would remove their special privilege to be his congregations if their behavior did not improve. (Re 2:5).
To get around this temporal inconsistency, Jehovah’s Witnesses fall back on a dual-fulfillment scenario. They claim this counsel was given both to the congregations in John’s day as well as to the anointed congregation during the last days, or the Lord’s day: a dyadic application by which the second fulfillment is equally or maybe even more valued than the first one.
Is it logical to hold a position that has Revelation 1:10 apply to events after 1914 while immediately making an exception to this rule to cover the very next verse as well as everything described in the next two chapters of the book?
True, the principles in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are very useful to all Christians at all times in their history, but that doesn’t mean the specific application goes beyond the obvious—i.e., that it was written specifically to congregations already in existence in the time of John.
While the principles revealed in these chapters may be universal and timeless, the specificity of the counsel cannot be made to apply beyond the immediate context of John’s day. Consider, for example, these verses: Revelation 2:14, 20.
The second problem arises when we come to Revelation 1:19, which says, “So write down the things you saw, and the things that are, and the things that will take place after these.” In this sentence we see three stages in time: past, present and future. This observation leads to the conclusion that the message John received not only related to events that were still future to John’s time, but also things that had already happened, and other things that were happening as John wrote them down.
How could verse 19 be aligned with the JW point of view that Revelation was to be fulfilled from 1914 onward? It is interesting that in JW.org publication, Revelation – Its Grand Climax at Hand!, this verse is mentioned only in passing without any explanation given. (re p.28 ¶4) Apparently, the Writing Department did not feel it incumbent upon them to comment on the apparent contradiction this makes to their interpretation.
Could it be that the rendering the NWT gives to Revelation 1:10 is the result of theological bias?
Revelation 1:10 – A More Accurate Translation
Revelation 1:10 in its original Greek expression is:
ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι ἐν τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ἤκουσα ὀπίσω μου φωνὴν μεγάλην ὡς σάλπιγγος
The transliteration is:
egenomen en pneumati en te kuriake hemera kai ekousa opiso mou phonen megalen hos salpingos
The preposition “en” is used twice in this sentence. The word “en” has different meanings according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon which refers to Strongs NT, namely: in, on, at, with, by and among. It appears that the translation of this word is critical to our understanding of what John meant.
The NWT renders it “in”, and alters the sentence structure to indicate that the spirit took John to the Lord’s day:
“By inspiration I came to be in the Lord’s day”. – Re 1:10 NWT
However, a quick review of 25 of the most popular and widely used translations shows only one that agrees with the NWT rendering.
“In the Spirit I found myself present on the day of the Lord,…” – Re 1:10 Weymouth New Testament
The remaining 24 versions all support the idea that it was a day known to John as the Lord’s day when he received his vision. Here is a sampling:
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day….” (ASV)
“On the Lord’s day, I was in the Spirit….” (BSB)
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day….” (NET Bible)
In the NWT rendering, John is being transported by the Spirit to a specific time period in which all his visions must occur. In the case of the other renderings, John is receiving, on a specific day in the Christian calendar, a series of visions covering different periods of time.
We’ve already seen the problems raised if we accept the NWT rendering. What about alternate translation adopted by the vast majority of Bible translations?
Let us first analyze the phrase, en pneumati. This phrase occurs a second time in the book of Revelation namely Revelation 4:2.
In Greek this text says:
εὐθέως ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἰδοὺ θρόνος ἔκειτο ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν θρόνον καθήμενος
The transliteration is:
eutheos egenomen en pneumati kai idou thronos ekeito en to ourano kai epi ton thronon kathemenos
The NWT translates this text thusly:
“After this I immediately came to be in the power of the spirit, and look! a throne was in its position in heaven, and someone was seated on the throne.” (Re 4:2)
This rendering differs from that given Revelation 1:10 by the NWT. John states that he was brought into some visionary state by means of the holy spirit. No reference is made to being transported into a different time period by the spirit. So the Greek phrase, en pneumati, does not convey any idea of time on its own.
Now we focus on the other phrase containing the Greek word en: “en te kyriake hemera“. This expression is not found anywhere else in the Greek Scriptures. Some might counter that the terminology “the Lord’s day” is a common expression in the Greek Scriptures. True, but it is written in a different manner. In 1 Corinthians 1:8 and 5:5 the expression is, en te hemera tou kuriou. The words, “tou koriou“, are written in the genitive case, as in, “the day of the Lord”. This expression means that there is a day that belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. Both texts show that “the day of the Lord” is a future period in which Jesus will judge humankind. The phrase, “tou kuriou“, is used three times in Revelation. (Re 11:4; Re 11:15; Re 22:21)
So, since the expression,”en te hemera tou kuriou“, was used before by the apostle Paul for Judgment Day and the apostle John was familiar with the use of “tou kuriou“, why did he use the word “kyriake” if he wanted to write about the same event as Paul did? Could using a different term imply John was referring to a different thing?
The adjective “kyriake” occurs just one more time in the Greek Scriptures at in 1 Corinthians 11:20. This text refers to the Lord’s Evening Meal with the words “kyriake deipnon” and could also be translated as “the supper pertaining to the Lord”. Could there be another moment or period in time described as a “day” that pertains to Jesus Christ in a sense other than Judgment Day?
“The Lord’s Day” for First Century Christians – A Theory
Was there another day which was of significance for Jesus’ disciples and that was in some way related to him so it could be called “the Lord’s day”?
The apostle Paul wrote very clearly in Romans 14:5-6 that Christians should not be judgmental towards one another when it comes to valuing one day above another. That is why all the days of the week and of the year have the same value to Christians.
Please take this into consideration: Christians with a Jewish background were familiar with keeping the Sabbath as a special day dedicated to worshipping God. It was practical and therefore helpful to reserve a day in a week to rest from work and consider spiritual matters as a family. The Greek Scriptures point to another day of the week that had a special meaning to Christians. This day is described as “the first day of the week”. You will find this expression in all of the four gospels. – Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19
All these accounts refer to the day Jesus was resurrected from death. This day, a Sunday by our calendar, was clearly a day of great importance to Jesus’ disciples. Could you imagine their indescribable joy at seeing their beloved friend again – alive! – when they were gathered together on that first day of the week? (John 20:1, 19)
The next moment of great importance to them was Pentecost 33 C.E. when they became anointed with holy spirit (Acts 2:1-4). This was at 6 Sivan, also a Sunday. (Leviticus 23:15-17) It is interesting that the disciples were also gathered together on that day.
The book of Acts speaks of another event on which the disciples were gathered together and it mentions the specific moment. In Acts 20:7 we read:
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to have a meal, Paul began addressing them, as he was going to depart the next day; and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” – Acts 20:7 NWT
Again, it was on the first day of the week they came together.
What did Paul and other disciples do on that occasion? The NWT states they ‘were gathered together to have meal’. The context (verse 5 and 6) shows that Paul’s visit had already gone on for a few days and Paul was about to leave his brothers to continue his travels. Was eating together the purpose of gathering together? Verse 7 makes it clear that Paul took that moment as an opportunity to give his friends some Scriptural counsel. Although this was undoubtedly very appreciated by the brothers, was this the only spiritual encouragement they shared together?
This thought is what the NWT rendering apparently tries to get across. Nevertheless, it is always good to see what the text in its original Greek language reveals. The phrase the NWT translates as “to have a meal” literally says “to break bread” (Greek: klasai arton). It is exactly the same expression that was used when Jesus broke the bread at the last supper (Luke 22:19).
When one makes a profound study of the Greek, “klasai arton“, it becomes very clear that the NWT is not consistent in the way it is translating this phrase. The perspective shifts continually from dining or having a meal, to partaking of the bread as a symbol of Christ’s sinless body (e.g. Luke 24:30; 1 Corinthians 11:23, 24). In the Greek language other expressions are used to make it clear people are just eating. (See Matthew 6:31; 15:20; Mark 3:20.)
From the foregoing, we can come to the conclusion that Paul and his fellow Christians were gathered together to commemorate Christ’s death, and they chose to do that on the day of the week he was resurrected: the first day of the week, Sunday. If they did this on the first day of the week, does it not also make sense that they remembered this on a weekly basis? In that case Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:26 “Whenever you eat this loaf” (NWT) or “As often as ye eat this bread” don’t relate to a yearly memorial but to a weekly one.
Since Paul used the word, “kyriake“, in connection with the Lord’s Evening Meal at 1 Corinthians 11:20, it would be appropriate to relate this same word used by John in Revelation 1:10 to the same event. Following this line of reasoning, “en te kyriake hemera” means “on the Lord’s day” or “on the day pertaining to the Lord in order to commemorate his death”. That could possibly have been “on the first day of the week” or “on a Sunday”. It seems safe to conclude that John received his message on a day on which it was common for him to spend time dwelling on spiritual things relating to his Christ.
This makes sense because with this application the difficulties the NWT has to face are no longer an issue. It is obvious that John wrote about future events, but also about things that happened during his earthly lifetime, in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
Did John also write about things that happened in the past? There is Scriptural basis to say so. That will be discussed in detail in a future article.