Jul 25, 2017

Who Are The Two Witnesses? V

In the previous posting we began to critically look at the leading commentators and how they interpret the words of Rev. 10:11, spoken to John, that said "you must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." As noted, the vast majority of commentators do not see that prophecy concerning John as unfulfilled, and as applicable to the future, during the time of the great tribulation. Having reviewed Seiss, we will now look at some of the other leading commentaries to see what is their interpretation and then judge them.

Gill, for whom I have the greatest respect for his biblical interpretations, wrote in his commentary:

"thou must prophesy again before many people, and nations, and tongues, and kings; which is to be understood not of John's preaching again to many people, and nations, after his return from his exile at Patmos, as he had done before his banishment thither; and much less of his prophesying along with Enoch and Elias, towards the end of the world, grounded upon two fabulous notions, the one that Enoch and Elias will appear in person before the coming of Christ, and the other, that John died not, but is still alive somewhere, and will continue till Christ's second coming; but rather of his delivering more prophecies out of the open little book; not "before", as we render it, but either "concerning" many people, nations, tongues, and kings, as the Syriac version renders it: or "against" them, that is, those people, multitudes, nations, and tongues, over which the whore of Babylon reigns, or has reigned, and the ten kings, and kings of the earth she rules over, Revelation 17:12. Moreover, this may not so much design John's prophesying in person, as the prophesying of the witnesses or ministers of the word in the several periods of time, whom John personated and represented; and of whom mention is made in the next chapter, to which this seems to be a transition."

Gill is to be praised for his interpretation because he at least 1) has John himself doing the fresh prophesying, and 2) has John prophesying the second time in the same manner as he had formerly, "before his banishment," and 3) does not give a strange definition to the word "prophesy" as did Seiss, and 4) interprets the prophesying of John literally and in its normal sense, and 5) does not see the fulfillment of John's future prophesying as fulfilled by his writing the remainder of the Apocalypse or by his writing the Gospel bearing his name, and 6) sees it as speaking of John personally appearing, after his exile on Patmos, before the various peoples named to prophesy to them. However, he also says some things that need to be discarded.

First, notice that Gill does not speak with absolute certainty in regard to his interpretation. He says, after giving the view he accepts, "this may not so much design John's prophesying in person." Yet, he has already stated that he believes that the words "you must prophesy again" do in fact design John personally prophesying. He allows that it may be that John, as Seiss believed, is a representative man, and that the words "you must prophesy again" may be applicable to all "witnesses or ministers of the word in the several periods of time." But, why even think that such is a possible interpretation? Is the one he chose not closer to the truth?

Again, we must wonder why anyone would even think of saying "this may not so much design John's prophesying in person"? Why would anyone want to even consider such an interpretation? Is there some great violation to language to make it apply to John alone? Is there some teaching of the bible that such an interpretation would call into question? Further, Gill has already given his approval to seeing it as referring to John's personal prophesying after his banishment. So, why give that as the interpretation and then cast doubt on it by his subsequent remarks? It is clear to me that Gill's first inclination to take the prophesy literally and as applicable to John alone is the correct one. The only thing wrong with the view he favors lies in its failure to see that John did not prophesy after his banishment, in Ephesus, and certainly not to the groups mentioned, but awaits a yet future fulfillment.

It is also to be regretted that Gill disallowed the view I hold and which is surely the correct one. He rejected that view but gave no reasons for doing so. He said it was "much less" possible that the words "you must prophesy again" could refer to "his prophesying along with Enoch and Elias, towards the end of the world." But, why not? It would have been good for Dr. Gill to have told us why. Next, he says the view that says that the two witnesses are literally two former prophets, the popular view, and one taught by the church fathers, is one of "two fabulous notions." Not only is it a fabulous notion to Gill to believe that the two prophets are literally two men, possibly Enoch and Elijah, but he also believes it to be a fabulous notion to believe "that John died not, but is still alive somewhere, and will continue till Christ's second coming." But again, why? If he can believe that Enoch and Elijah went to heaven without dying, why can't he believe the same about John? It does not make sense for him to accept the former but not the possibility of the latter.

Further, Gill does not even believe that the coming two witnesses refer to two individuals, or to a limited period of time, to forty two months. He thinks that the two witnesses refers to ministers of the gospel. But, such a view is totally untenable and unworthy of such a man as Dr. Gill. All ministers are not prophets, nor do they prophesy in sackcloth, nor are they all killed by Antichrist, etc.

Now let us notice what Albert Barnes wrote in his "Notes on the Bible."

"The meaning is, that, as a consequence of becoming possessed of the little volume and its contents, he would be called to proclaim divine truth, or to make the message of God known to mankind. The direct address is to John himself; but it is evidently not to be understood of him personally. He is represented as seeing the angel; as hearkening to his voice; as listening to the solemn oath which he took; as receiving and eating the volume; and then as prophesying to many people; but the reference is undoubtedly to the far-distant future."

Notice that Barnes is, like other commentators, resistant to seeing the words "you must prophesy again" as being strictly intended for John alone. He admits that the words are indeed a "direct address to John alone," but says "it is evidently not to be understood of him personally." And, for heaven's sake, why not to John alone? Why is that view of the matter so fought against? Why oppose it when it is the most obvious meaning? The only thing worthy in the remarks by Barnes are these words - "but the reference is undoubtedly to the far-distant future."

Next, let us look at what the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says about the text.

"Thou must prophesy again. Some try to make out that there is here a new commission given to the Apostle, and that in the remainder of the book there are higher mysteries than in the foregoing part. But it is surely simpler to take it as a personal warning to the Apostle himself; he was to see the end of all things in vision, but his own earthly work and duties were not at an end. He had already “prophesied before many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (whether Nero or Domitian was the last of these): and he would have to do the same “again.”"

This commentary is correct as far as it goes. But, it calls for more comment, for more information. The words "you must prophesy again" are not a "warning" to the apostle, but were themselves a prophesy of his future role as a prophet. At least this commentary sees the words "you must prophesy again" as addressed and intended for "the Apostle himself," which is something most commentaries are stubborn to accept. This commentary does intimate that the "new commission" to prophesy has its fulfillment in "the remainder of the book" that John will write. Several commentators take this view, as I have said. John's prior prophesy would, by this view, take in his visions and communications leading up to Revelation 10: 11, while his latter prophesying would take in his visions from that point to the close of the writing of the Apocalypse. But, this view is totally untenable. By such an interpretation, the Angel could have said "you must prophesy again" several times throughout the scenes of the Apocalypse. By this view every new vision could be called a "prophesying again."

From the Pulpit Commentary we have these comments:

"Thou must prophesy again. Thou retest, because it is laid upon thee by God's command. It is to be done again, because the seer has already to some extent set forth God's will in the earlier part of the book; and he is now required to proceed with the delivery of his message. "Prophesy" (as in Revelation 11:3) has rather its literal than its derived meaning. It is the telling forth of God's purposes, and may refer to past as well as present or future events. The sentence refers to the announcements made in the following part of the Apocalypse (vide infra). Bede and others take it to mean the Gospel of St. John, which was, perhaps, afterwards composed (see Introduction). Victorinus thinks it points to the period of St. John's return from Patmos to Ephesus, where the Apocalypse may have been published."

Here again we find another commentator who sees the fulfillment of the words "you must prophesy again" in what John sees and writes in the remainder of the Apocalypse, after Rev. 10: 11. Such an interpretation says that the words "you must prophesy again" as basically meaning "keep on" prophesying. In fact, many of those commentators who interpret the words as meaning such will use such words. In the above commentary the words are interpreted to mean "proceed with the delivery of his message." But, this is almost ridiculous. The one closest to the truth is Victorinus who at least has John, and John alone, fulfilling the prophecy by personally prophesying after his release from banishment. Remember that Gill favored this view. But, the problem with this view is that John did not prophesy before such a vast multitude as the text describes. He did not prophesy before "many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings" at Ephesus, even if the legend is true about his preaching in Ephesus after his release from banishment at Patmos. It is perhaps because of this problem that many commentators want to translate the Greek word "epi," translated "before" in the KJV, as "concerning" or "about." By such a translation John is not viewed as prophesying "before" or "to" the peoples described, but is prophesying about them, that is, the subject of his prophesying are the peoples mentioned. But, the word "before" is no doubt the correct word and I will have more to say about that later.

In Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament we have these comments:

"The verb ‘to prophesy’ is used only twice in the Apocalypse, here and of the two witnesses at chap. Revelation 11:3." 

Well, that ought to be a clue! The commentary continues:

"In the latter case it cannot be confined to the proclamation of the visions of this book, and neither in like manner can it now be so. When, therefore, the Seer is told that he must ‘prophesy,’ the meaning does not appear to be that he must declare the contents of the little book to an audience the various parts of which are immediately enumerated. The meaning rather is that he must go on uttering to the world his general testimony to the truth of God, and so preparing the world for its self-chosen fate. In other words, the Seer in this verse is less the apocalyptic revealer than the minister of Divine truth in general, the type and pattern of all the preaching of the New Testament Dispensation."

This commentary at least is correct to criticize those other commentaries which think that the words "you must prophesy again" to have reference to John's writing of the remainder of the Book of Revelation. But, the error in this commentary is that the words "you must prophesy again" simply mean you must "go on uttering." Like the former commentary that said that the words simply meant to "proceed on," this one simply uses similar words, saying the words mean "go on uttering." But, again, this is unworthy of a commentator.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary says:

"Thou must prophesy again: we may understand what still follows in this Apocalypse, or his gospel written afterwards, or his preaching and instructing the Asiatic Churches. (Witham)"

In a few words, this commentary summarizes two of the leading views of commentators. One view says that the prophesying again has its fulfillment in John completing the recording of the Apocalypse or the rest of his apostolic writings. The other view says that the words were fulfilled when John spoke to the Asiatic Churches after his release from Patmos.

I must say that many of the commentaries that I consulted do not even comment on these pregnant words ("you must prophesy again") but skip right over them. But, it is better not to offer any comments upon the text, if one does not comprehend them, than to put forth the kind of commentary we have examined.

Before, Against, or Concerning?

Next, before closing this chapter, let us discuss whether the Greek preposition "epi" should be translated as "concerning" or "about." I believe that the better translation is either "before" or "against." This preposition is variously translated in the NT, as we will see. What does the preposition epi mean in our text? "Before"? "On" or "Upon"? "Against"? "Over"?

According to Strong the preposition, in the KJV, is translated as follows:

on (196x), in (120x), upon (159x), unto (41x), to (41x), miscellaneous (339x).

In Strong's "Outline of Biblical Usage" he gives these three main categories:
upon, on, at, by, before
of position, on, at, by, over, against
to, over, on, at, across, against

We know that the basic meaning of "epi" is "upon" or "on." And, of course, it is possible that "on" or "upon" may connote "concerning" or "about." We use the English equivalent prepositions (on and upon) in much the same way. One may say "I am going to talk on/upon" such and such a topic and we mean "I am going to talk concerning or about" that topic. That is possible. And, it is not to be denied that it may be possible that the Apocalyptic Angel is telling John that he must prophesy again "concerning" nations, concerning "tongues," concerning "peoples," concerning "kings." But, based upon the context, this translation is not tenable. Before I discuss the reasons why it is not to be accepted, and the words "before" or "against" are better suited for the context, let us note some passages where "epi" is used and at how it is translated in the authorized version.

"ye shall be brought before governors" (Matt. 10:18)

"shall rise up against [their] parents" (Matt. 10:21)

"as against a thief" (Matt. 26:55)

"ye shall be brought before rulers" (Mark 13:9)

"And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself" (Matt, 12:26)

"Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?...But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers." (I Cor. 6:1,6)

If one does a word search on the word "prophesy" he will see that the word "against" is used quite frequently. An example of such is in Ezekiel 11: 4 - "prophesy against them, prophesy, O son of man." This is far more frequent than the words "prophesy concerning them." However, we do have an example of that in this instance - "Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of (epi) you..." (Matt. 15:7) Here clearly "epi" does mean "concerning." God does give prophesies that are both "against" people and are "concerning" people.

Of course, the prophesying and witnessing of the Two Witnesses will be "before" the whole world, before nations, peoples, tongues, and kings. It will also be "against" the world as the text of Revelation chapter eleven, dealing with the career of the two prophets, shows. It will also be "concerning" the world. The question is this however - when did the apostle John prophesy before, against, or concerning such an audience? When did he do it the first time and when will he, or did he, do it "again"?

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