Commentary on the Apocalypse.

by HD Kailin.

      Insofar as I know, no one ever brought to the study of John's Revelation,
the academic qualifications that R.H. Charles' (1855-1931) did.  When
Charles first came to my attention many years ago, I was studying Apocrypha
and Pseudepigrapha.  His two volume work on these subjects, though published
in 1913, are standard library reference material, and remain relevant to inter-
testamental studies to this day.  Less well-known, however, is another study of
his about John's Apocalypse.  Only in 2005 did I come into possession of this
two volume set.  On reading it, I was struck by its relevance to issues now

     Charles was 25 years studying and translating John's Apocalypse.  Half way
into his study, in 1914, he came to the conclusion that it had been edited but that
the original text was still recoverable.  Though I had never looked too favorably
on conjectural emendation, I found Charles' rational for taking the approach he
did quite credible, and the more so, the more I become acquainted with the
vicissitudes to which texts are sometimes subject.  I do not say that I subscribe
to all of Charles' findings - only that he merits a hearing.

     And now I have in hand remarkable new evidence, not available to Charles,
corroborating a certain key claim he made.  Before getting into that, though, let
us hear from Charles himself, from the Preface and Introduction of A Critical
and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of Saint John:  
In 1894 Messrs. T. & T. Clark asked me to undertake a
Commentary on the
Apocalypse.  The present Commentary,
therefore, is the result of a study extending
over twenty-five
years - not to speak of the preceding eight years, which to a
measure were devoted to kindred subjects ...
... I soon came to learn that the Book of Revelation, which in
earlier years I feared could offer no room for fresh light or
discovery, presented in reality a field of research infinitely
richer than any of those to which my earlier studies had been
devoted.  The first ground for such a revolution in my attitude
to the Book was due to an exhaustive study of Jewish Apocalyptic.
The knowledge thereby acquired helped to solve many problems,
which could only prove to be hopeless enigmas to scholars
unacquainted with this literature.  But the second ground was of
greater moment still.  For the more I studied the Greek of the
Apocalypse the more conscious I became that no scholar could
appreciate the essential unity of style of the greater part of the
book, or even translate it, who had not made a special study of
the Greek versions of the Old Testament, and combined
therewith an adequate knowledge of the Greek used by Palestinian
Jewish writers and of the ordinary Greek of our author's time.
From the lack of such study arose the multitude of disintegrating
theories ... The bulk of these were due to the author's ignorance
of John's style.  They failed to recognize the presence in the text
of certain phrases and passages which conflicted with John's style,
his text chapters and groups of chapters which are indisputably
John's Grammar. - In fact, John the Seer used a unique style,
true character of which no Grammar of the New Testament
has as
yet recognized.  He thought in Hebrew, and he frequently
Hebrew idioms literally in Greek.  But his solecistic
style cannot be
wholly explained from its Hebraistic coloruring. 
The language which
he adopted in his old age formed for him
no rigid medium of expression.
 Hence he remodelled its
syntax freely, and created a Greek that is
absolutely his own. 
This Greek I slowly mastered as I wrote and
rewrote my
Commentary ...

The Text. - The necessity of mastering John's style and grammar
necessitated further, a first-hand study of the chief MSS and
and in reality the publication of a new text and a
new translation.  When
once convinced of this necessity, I
approached Sir John Clark and laid
before him the need of
\such a text and such a translation.  After
consultation with
Dr. Plummer, the General Editor of the Series, Sir
John acceded
to my request with a courtesy and an enthusiasm I have
yet met with in any publisher.  Sir John's action in this matter
recalls the best traditions of the great publishers of the past. ...

In the Translation I had sought to recover the poetical form
in which
the Seer wrote so large a part of the Apocalypse. 
Nearly always, when
dealing with his greatest themes, the
Seer's words assume - perhaps
unconsciously at times - the
forms of parallelism familiar in Hebrew
poetry.  Even the
strophe and antistrophe are found.  To print such
passages as
prose is to rob them of half their force.  It is not only the
that is thereby lost, but also much of the thought that in a
of ways is reinforced by this parallelism.     

     The Apocalypse - a Book of Songs. - Though our author has
his theme the inevitable conflicts and antagonisms of good
and evil,
of God and the powers of darkness, yet his book is
emphatically a Book
of Songs.  Dirges there are, indeed, and
threnodies; but these are not
over the martyrs, the faithful that
had fallen, but spring from the lips
of the kings of the earth, its
merchant prices, its seafolk, overwhelmed
by the fall of the
empire of this world and the destruction of its mighty
ones in
whom they had trusted, or form the lips of sinners in the face

of actual or impending doom.  But over the martyred Church,
those that had fallen faithful in the strife, the Seer has no
song of less
note to sing than the beatitude pronounced by
Heaven itself: "Blessed -
blessed are the dead that die in the
Lord."  A faithful immeasurable,
an optimism inexpugnable,
a joy inextinguishable press for utterance
and take form in
anthems of praise and gladness and thanks giving, as
the Seer
follows in vision the varying fortunes of the world struggle,
at last he sees evil fully and finally destroyed, righteousness

established for evermore, and all the faithful - even the weakest
God's servants among them - enjoying everlasting blessedness
in the
eternal City of God, bearing His name on their foreheads,
and growing
more and more into His likeness.
     Besides restoring the poetry, Charles removes glosses and interpolations.
Also he does a lot of minor housekeeping, getting verb tense straightened out,
for instance, but by far the most revolutionary thing he does is restore sense
to the final three chapters.  In the Introduction Charles states:
... the prophet did not live to revise his work, or even to put the
of 20-22 into their legitimate order.  This task fell,
to the misfortune of
all students of the Apocalypse, into the
hands of a very unintelligent
disciple. this disciple was a better
Greek scholar than his master, for he
corrects his Greek
occasionally, and was probable a Greek-speaking
Christian of Asia Minor.  He had not his master's knowledge
Hebrew, if he had any knowledge of it, and he was profoundly
of his master's thought.  If he had left his master's work
as he found it, its
teaching would not have been the unintelligible
mystery it has been to
subsequent ages; but unhappily he intervened
repeatedly, rearranging the
text in some case, adding to it in others,
and every such intervention has
made the task of interpretation
impossible for all students who accepted
such rearrangement and
additions as genuine features of the text. ...

     When once the interpolations of John's editor, which amount to
little more than twenty-two verses, are removed, and the dislocations
of the text are set right, most of the difficulties of the text disappear
and it becomes a comparatively easy task to follow the thought of
our author as it develops from stage to stage, ...

     The apocalypse consists of a Prologue, 1:1-3, the Apocalypse proper,
consisting of seven parts - a significant number - and an Epilogue.  The
event in these seven parts are described in visions in strict chronological
order, save in the case of certain proleptic visions which are inserted for
purposes of encouragement and lie outside the orderly development of the
theme of the Seer: i.e. 7:9-17, 10-11:13 14 and 12, which relates to the
past, but forms a necessary introduction to 13:3. 

    Thus there is no need to resort to the theory of Recapitulation which
from the time of Victorinus of Pettau (circa 270 A.D.) has dominated
practically every school of interpretation from that date to the present. 
So far is it from being true that the Apocalypse represents more or
fully, under each successive series of the seven seals, the seven
and the seven bowls, the same series of events, that the
which is compelled to fall back on this device must
be pronounced a failure.
 This principle of interpretation, like many
other forlorn efforts in this
field., arose mainly from the non-
recognition by scholars in the past of
the interpolations made in the
text by the disciple and editor of the Seer.   

     So much for background.  Moving forward, therefore, many hundreds of pages
to the second volume, closer to our topic of interest, Gog and Magog, we find this
arresting statement under the heading:

      XX. 4-XXII.  The text incoherent and self-contradictory as it stands.
These chapters have hitherto been a constant source of insurmountable
 difficulty to the exegete.  ... And yet the Apocalypse exhibits, except
in a
few passages, and especially in chap. xviii., a structural unity and
a steady
development of thought from the first chapter to the close
of XX. 3.  Now
this is just what we should expect in an Apocalypse
which is designed to be
a philosophy of history and religion from the
standpoint of the author.  It
was a combination of vision and reflection.
Though the book of a prophet
did not necessarily show any structural
unity or steady development of
thought, it was far otherwise with the
apocalyptist, in whose writing such
characteristics were indispensable.
While the ordinary man saw only the
outside of things in all their
incoherence and isolation, the apocalyptist
sought to get behind the
surface and penetrate to the essence of events,
the spiritual significance -
in fact, to lay bare their origin, course, and
consummation. ... Apocalyptic,
and not prophecy, was the first to grasp
the great idea that all history,
alike human, cosmological, and spiritual,
is a unity - a unity following
naturally as a corollary of the unity of God
preached by the prophets.

I have emphasized these two points - structural unity and orderly
development of thought to the final consummation of all things -
pre-eminently the characteristic of apocalyptic and not of prophecy
of any other form of writing in the Bible.  This being so, we are
all the
more astonished that the three closing chapters of the
Apocalypse are
all but wholly wanting in these characteristics, ...
We have here (i.e. Rev. xxi. 1,2) a new heaven and a new earth, and
a New Jerusalem coming down from heaven yet in xxii. 15 all classes
of sinners are said to be without the gates of the city.  But if there
were a new earth this would be impossible.  ... Now to make the problem
before us clear it will be best to deal shortly with a few of the passages
which make it impossible for us to accept the text as it stands.
1.  In xx. 7-10, after the close of the Millennial Kingdom, Satan is
loosed, and the heathen nations (Gog and Magog), which have refused
to accept the Christian faith, march against Jerusalem and the camp
of the saints, but are destroyed by fire from Heaven.  Satan also is cast
finally into the lake of fire and brimstone, to be tormented there for
ever and ever.  Thus the prime source of evil and his deluded followers
(God and Magog) are removed finally from the world, and their power
to influence the world for evil made impossible for ever.
2.  In xx. 11-15 the old earth and the old heaven are given over to
 Then the final judgment takes place, and all the dead are
judged according to
their works, and death and Hades are cast into the
lake of fire, together with
all those whose names are not found written
in the book of life.  At this stage
we have arrived at the final condemnation
and destruction of all evil together
with the destruction of death

3.  Now that all evil and death itself are cast into the lake of fire,
the new heaven and the new earth come into being, and the New
Jerusalem comes down from heaven and God Himself dwells with
men (xxi. 1-4)
It is clear from this passage that we have arrived at the closing
scene of the great world struggle between good and evil, and that
henceforth there can be neither sin, nor crying, nor pain, nor
death any more.  In fact, there can be no place at all for these in
the universe of God - the new heaven and the new earth, and
the New Jerusalem that cometh down from God to the new earth.
The conclusion just arrived at is inevitable, if there is a steady
development in the visions of the Seer.  Now since such a
development is manifest in chaps. i.-xx. 3, when certain verses
and glosses are excised and a few disarrangements of the text
set aright - especially in xviii. - we naturally conclude that our
author will not lightly fall into contradiction even of a minor sort,
in the last three chapters.  But unhappily this is not our experience
as we study them; and at last we stand aghast at the hopeless
mental confusion which dominates the present structure of these
chapters, and are compelled to ask if they can possibly come from
his hand, and, in case they do, to ask further, if they have been
preserved as they left his hand.  But we must first justify the
above statement, though we shall adduce here only the main
contradictions in these chapters.    
1. Inasmuch as according to our text the New Jerusalem does
not come
down from heaven till Satan is bound for ever in the
lake of fire, and all
sin and death itself are at an end, and the
place of the old world has been
taken by a new and glorious world,
wherein there is neither spot nor blemish
nor any such thing,
how is it that we are told that, outside the gates of the
City which has come down from God to the new  earth, there
are "the
dogs and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the
murderers, and the
idolaters, and every one that loveth and
maketh a lie" (xxii. 15)?  A greater
contradiction in thought
and statement is hardly conceivable.  But, if this
statement were
made in connection with the Millennial Kingdom which
was to
be established before the Final Judgment, everything would be

2. Again, since the new earth is inhabited only by the blessed, on
whom the second death could have no effect, and since these are
all righteous, and God Himself tabernacles among them, how is
it that in xxii. 2 the leaves of the tree of life are said to be for the
healing of the nations?  This statement can have no meaning
unless it applies to the period of the Millennial Kingdom.  During
Christ's reign of 1000 years the surviving nations have still a
further period of grace accorded to them.  This evangelizing of
the nations during this period has already been proclaimed in
xiv. 6-7, xv. 4.  It is thrice elsewhere referred to in the last two
chapters., i.e. xxii. 14, 17.  
3. Only on the supposition that the Millennial Kingdom is still
in existence can we explain xxi. 24-27: ...

To what cause, we must now ask, is this almost incredible disorder
due?  It cannot be accounted for by accidental transpositions of the
text in the MSS - a phenomenon with which the students of MSS
in every ancient language are familiar.  For no accident could
explain the intolerable confusion of the text in xx. 4-xxii., and
apparently the only hypothesis that can account for it is that which
a comprehensive survey of the facts forced upon me in the beginning
of 1914, and this is that John died either as a martyr or by a natural
death, when he had completed 1.-xx.3 of his work, and that the
material for its completion, which were for the most part ready in
a series of independent documents were put together by a faithful
but unintelligent disciple in the order which he thought right. 

This hypothesis we shall now proceed to establish by adequate
proofs.  ...

    I could well wish that Charles' two volume commentary about John's Apocalypse
was more widely available, but I cannot in this space recapitulate his entire work
which runs to over 800 pages, nor am I able currently to reproduce the exotic fonts
for Syriac and Hebrew and Greek which pepper his work.