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It is written:
Revelation 1:8-11-“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” 9 I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”
Recently, a gentleman wrote to me regarding my Bible study on Seeing The Trinity Throughout The Book Of Revelation (https://marktabata.com/2023/07/08/seeing-the-trinity-throughout-the-book-of-revelation/). His comments deserve careful consideration.
Our friend wrote:
“Hello Mark.Saw on your sight a article on the trinity,and you quoted Rev 1:10-11,this verse does not appear in the most reliable bible translations,Most agree that the Term ‘Alpha and Omega’ was inserted.The Byzantine Text by Robinson & Pierpont ,Hodges &Farstad ,Westcott and Hort do not include it.That is why you will not find this in most,if not all Modern Bibles,such as the NIV,ASV,Diaglot or the Darby Version-NASB-Amplified bible.For you to quote this scripture as FACT is wrong!Regards.”
I appreciate the gentleman taking the time to read my article on the Trinity, and his taking the time to reach out to me. With that in mind, what shall we make of his comments regarding the Alpha and Omega of Revelation 1:10-11?
First of all, it is very true that some of the older Greek manuscripts of the New Testament do not contain the “Alpha and Omega” section of Revelation 1:10-11. There is nothing surprising or alarming about this: it is simply a matter of textual criticism that some of the older Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are not as detailed or full as some of the later ones.
The Greek manuscripts known as the Alexandrian text are based on three manuscripts of the New Testament which are some of the oldest to have been discovered. Most English Bibles in our time are translated from these three manuscripts. These manuscripts and their approximate dates are Vaticanus (325 A.D.), Sinaiticus (350 A.D.), and Alexandrinus (400 A.D.).
The vast majority of the other Greek New Testament manuscripts generally date much later than these three texts. Many people believe that the greater age of these three manuscripts implies that they are of a better quality than the other plus five thousand manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. However, this does not follow.
“At their headquarters in Alexandria, the Gnostics would expurgate the scriptures, delete passages, and mutilate other verses or passages. The second century church father Irenaeus taught extensively against the Gnostics. In his work Against Heresies, he wrote: Since, therefore, they have been deserted by the paternal love, and puffed up by Satan, being brought over to the doctrine of Simon Magus, they have apostatized in their opinions from Him who is God, and imagined that they have themselves discovered more than the apostles, by finding out another god; and [maintained] that the apostles preached the Gospel still somewhat under the influence of Jewish opinions, but that they themselves are purer [in doctrine], and more intelligent, than the apostles. Wherefore also Marcion and his followers have betaken themselves to mutilating the Scriptures, not acknowledging some books at all; and, curtailing the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul, they assert that these are alone authentic, which they have themselves thus shortened… But all the rest, inflated with the false name of “knowledge,” do certainly recognise the Scriptures; but they pervert the interpretations, as I have shown in the first book.[ 64] The three codices–Alexandrinus, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus–are called the “Alexandrian codices”–“Codex A,” “Codex B,” and “Codex Aleph” respectively–and there is reason to regard them all as corrupt. It is true that they are very old and complete New Testament manuscripts, but they are all low-quality documents that were poorly transcribed, and they likely survived the destruction of the ages due to not being used. That is the view of John William Burgon (1813-1888), an Oxford divinity professor, vicar of St. Mary’s Church in Oxford and eventual Dean of Chichester. Burgon traveled across the world to examine the Alexandrian codices in depth. The son of a British merchant, Burgon had been born in Smyria, Turkey and studied the Greek classics as a youth. He spent the last three decades of his life researching the Greek texts related to the New Testament. He traveled to the Vatican and examined Codex B firsthand. He did the same with the Sinaiticus manuscript, and he determined that these two “oldest and best” manuscripts were, in fact, horrible transcriptions. Burgon rails against Vaticanus, saying: It is undeniable … that for the last quarter of a century, it has become the fashion to demand for the readings of Codex B something very like absolute deference. The grounds for this superstitious sentiment, (for really I can describe it in no apter way,) I profess myself unable to discover. Codex B comes to us without a history, without recommendation of any kind, except that of its antiquity. It bears traces of careless transcription on every page. The mistakes which the original transcriber made are of perpetual recurrence.[ 65] The Vaticanus text omits words and half verses and sometimes several verses. These omissions may be willful, due to a Gnostic view, or they may be the result of something else. Burgon blames the errors on “oscitancy”–that is, the weariness and dullness of a yawning copyist who isn’t paying attention to what he’s doing. Burgon continues: [I] n the Gospels alone, Codex B leaves out words or whole clauses no less than 1,491 times… accounted for by the proximity of a “like” ending… On the other hand, I can testify to the fact that the codex is disfigured throughout with repetitions. The original scribe is often found to have not only written the same words twice over, but to have failed whenever he did so to take any notice with his pen of what he had done.[ 66] Tischendorf did find the Sinaiticus codex in the great library of St. Catherine’s Monastery, but he rescued it in a burn bin where it was being readied to warm the room on a cold February. It had been thrown away–likely because of its poor quality. First, the penmanship is bad. Second, Codex Aleph has the same problem as Codex B; words and even whole sentences are repeated, or clauses are left out because they have the same endings as another clause just written. This “homoeoteleuton” error takes place no less than 115 times in the Sinaiticus New Testament.[ 67] Yet, it became the “fashion” in the 1800s to admire the Alexandrian codices because they were very old manuscripts and written in the Alexandrian style. Before these manuscripts came into popularity, translations of the Bible depended on the Byzantium text, which had developed into the Textus Receptus–the “received text.”” (Chuck Missler, How We Got Our Bible, 1162-1201 (Kindle Edition): Coeur d’Alene, ID: Koinonia House)
Simply stated, the church fathers taught that some of the Gnostics were notorious for specifically removing texts of Scripture which contradicted their teachings. As such, the church often noted those manuscripts and “stayed away” from them. It is possible (although not certain) that Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus fall into this category. With that in mind, it would not be surprising that the reference to the Alpha and Omega of Revelation 1:10-11 is omitted in these manuscripts, since these are an affirmation of the Godhood of Jesus (which many Gnostic groups from the early era resisted and rejected).
Let it be pointed out that the differences between the Alexandrian text and the rest of the Greek New Testament manuscripts do not necessarily mean that the Alexandrian text was written out by Gnostic false teachers: it is only a possibility to be considered.
Second, it is worth noting that even when we consider the differences between these three manuscripts and the rest of the New Testament text, there is still a great deal of agreement between them. It is not as if the differences between these two textual families amounts to two “different” New Testaments!
“There are over five thousand manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, although only one manuscript contains a whole Testament. This number is far greater than the number of manuscripts supporting the Greek and Latin classics, some of which have a mere handful of ancient manuscripts. The Greek manuscripts of the New Testament were written very soon after the writing of the original texts. The manuscripts are from various parts of the ancient world-Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt, and the West. Because so much has been said about textual variants, many people have received the impression that the New Testament is on shaky ground. Not so! Fully eighty-five percent of the text is the same in all types of manuscripts. As for the other fifteen percent, we should point out that much of the material concerns details that do not even show up in an English translation. Such things as word order, spelling, and slightly variant forms of some verbs seldom are reproduced in translation.” (Arthur L. Farstad, The New King James Version: In the Great Tradition, 104-105 (Kindle Edition): Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers)
Considering the textual differences between the Alexandrian text and the other New Testament manuscripts, textual scholars have noted for centuries that there is no need for alarm regarding the matter.
“4. How significant are the variants? It is easy to leave the wrong impression by speaking of 200,000 “errors” that have crept into the text due to scribal mistakes and intended corrections. There are only 10,000 places where these 200,000 variants occur. The next question is, How significant are those 10,000 places? Textual critics have attempted to answer that question by offering percentages and comparisons. a. Scholars Westcott and Hort estimated that only about one-eighth of all the variants had any weight, as most of them merely involve mechanical matters such as spelling or style. Of the whole, then, only about one-sixtieth rise above “trivialities,” or can in any sense be called substantial variations. Mathematically that would compute to a text that is 98.33 percent pure whether the critic adopts the Textus Receptus, Majority Nestle-Aland Text, or some eclectic text of the New Testament. b. Ezra Abbott gave similar figures, saying about 19/ 20 (95 percent) of the readings are various rather than rival readings, and about 19/ 20 (95 percent) of the remainder are of so little importance that their addition or rejection makes no appreciable difference in the sense of the passage. Thus the degree of substantial purity would be 99.75 percent. c. Philip Schaff (p. 177) surmised that of the 150,000 variations known in his day, only 400 affected the sense; and of those, only 50 were of real significance; and of this total, not one affected “an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching.” d. A.T. Robertson (p. 22) suggested that the real concern of textual criticism is of a “thousandth part of the entire text That would make the reconstructed text of the New Testament 99.9 percent free from real concern for the textual critic.” (Ergun Caner, Ed Hindson, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity, 98-100 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, OR; Harvest House Publishers)
The differences between the textual families does not erode any Bible doctrine or teaching. As an example of this, consider that even if the phrase “Alpha and Omega” was not found in Revelation 1:10-11, Jesus is still called “Alpha and Omega” at other times (even in Revelation 1:8, two verses before the alleged omission in Revelation 1:10-11)!
Revelation 22:13, 16- I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last…I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.
Third, there is strong textual support for Jesus being called Alpha and Omega in Revelation 1:8-11.
Our knowledge of the Greek New Testament comes from three sources: the Greek manuscripts, the early versions (translations of the Greek New Testament into other ancient languages), and the writings of the church fathers (the Christians who lived especially from the second to fourth centuries A.D.).
Speaking of the importance of the early versions, one scholar notes:
“What use can be made of the eight thousand manuscripts of versions? Of course they are not as useful as the Greek manuscripts. Because they are themselves translations of a particular Greek manuscript (or of several), they usually cannot help us in deciding if that parent Greek manuscript had this small variation or that. Subtle differences frequently get lost in translation. Nevertheless these versions do witness to larger or unambiguous readings. They can tell us, for example, if a verse or a line was included in the parent Greek manuscript. By this we may be sure that such and such a reading was known by a certain time and place, or else it could not have been translated into the version.” (D.A. Carson, The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism, 213-218 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books)
With that in mind, it is interesting that at least one of the early versions contains the “Alpha and Omega” of Revelation 1:8 (even if it isn’t found in Revelation 1:10-11).
“Rev 1: 8 I am Alpha, also Omega, saith the Lord God; who is, and was, and is to come, the omnipotent. Rev 1: 9 I John, your brother, and partaker with you in the affliction and suffering that are in Jesus the Messiah, was in the island called Patmos, because of the word of God, and because of the testimony of Jesus the Messiah. Rev 1: 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day; and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, which said: Rev 1: 11 That which thou seest, write in a book, and send to the seven churches, to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” (James Murdock, The Syriac New Testament from The Ancient Peshitto Version, 536 (Kindle Edition)).
More to the point, at least two of the early church fathers (Tertullian and Augustine) spoke specifically of Jesus being the Alpha and Omega in their comments taken from Revelation 1. This again points to an early witness of the Received Text’s inclusion of “Alpha and Omega” in the first chapter of Revelation.
To summarize, we are blessed to have the holy Word of God in our language today, available through so many different translations and versions. It is important to carefully consider topics of textual criticism which arise. The more we learn, the more we see the beauty of the majestic Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.