Friday, September 17, 2010

Revelation 22:19, Tree of Life or Book of Life?

Ἀποκάλυψις 22·19 καὶ ἐάν τις ἀφέλῃ ἀπὸ τῶν λόγων τοῦ βιβλίου τῆς προφητείας ταύτης, ἀφελεῖ ὁ θεὸς τὸ μέρος αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς καὶ ἐκ τῆς πόλεως τῆς ἁγίας τῶν γεγραμμένων ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τούτῳ. 
And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, of which has been written about in this book.  The Apocalypse (Revelation) 22:19
This one seems to be pretty straight forward for those of you who use a modern translation of the New Testament, but if you use the King James Version, you will see a big problem.  The KJV renders ἀπὸ τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς as “from the book of life” as opposed to “from the tree of life”.  Why, you ask?  Before we go into that, I think it would be worth while for you to see the same verse in greek in which the KJV used.  I’ve highlighted the different words.
Ἀποκάλυψις 22·19 καὶ ἐάν τις ἀφαιρῇ ἀπὸ τῶν λόγων βίβλου τῆς προφητείας ταύτης, ἀφαιρήσει ὁ Θεὸς τὸ μέρος αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ βίβλου τῆς ζωῆς, καὶ ἐκ τῆς πόλεως τῆς ἁγίας, καὶ τῶν γεγραμμένων ἐν βιβλίῳ τούτῳ. 
So why the difference?  The translators of the King James Version were using an inferior text where as modern translators have ALL of the manuscripts available.  The text that was used by the KJV translators was the textus receptus (latin for received text).  If you have been reading my blogs, then you know that I’m not a fan of the KJV of the Bible.  This is mostly due to the greek text behind the translation.  The story behind this passage is pretty interesting.  See below for the translation notes of the NET Bible.
37tc The Textus Receptus, on which the KJV rests, reads “the book” of life (ἀπὸ βίβλου, apo biblou) instead of “the tree” of life. When the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus translated the NT he had access to no Greek mss for the last six verses of Revelation. So he translated the Latin Vulgate back into Greek at this point. As a result he created seventeen textual variants which were not in any Greek mss. The most notorious of these is this reading. It is thus decidedly inauthentic, while “the tree” of life, found in the best and virtually all Greek mss, is clearly authentic. The confusion was most likely due to an intra-Latin switch: The form of the word for “tree” in Latin in this passage is ligno; the word for “book” is libro. The two-letter difference accounts for an accidental alteration in some Latin mss; that “book of life” as well as “tree of life” is a common expression in the Apocalypse probably accounts for why this was not noticed by Erasmus or the KJV translators. (This textual problem is not discussed in NA27.)*
As you can see, it was an honest mistake made by the translators in 1611, but they didn’t look at other greek texts for their translation.  Today, we have far more resources to rely on than they did. Today, we are literally “without excuse” when it comes to studying the Bible.  
I find it ironic that the very passage that spells out doom to those who “take away from the words of this book of prophecy” was actually “taken away from”.
*NET Bible Translation Notes


  1. Thank you brother!

  2. the real irony is that 2 verses down, the "best manuscripts" differ among themselves ("...with you all. Amen." is found in Alexandrinus, but "..with the saints." is found in Sinaiticus.) So why the fuss about the king james reading, especially when "book of life" is found in at least 3 Greek manuscripts (#296, 2049, and 2067) ??

  3. book of life in Rev. 22:19 is not found in any Greek manuscripts...

    1. I have two Greek bibles and both say "του ξυλου", tree of life