2 thoughts on “Inverted quotations in the Apocalypse”

  1. Hebrews 7:1,2 provides one explanation why inversion occurs: “For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace”. This shows that sequential order in Scripture, in this case of the names and their interpretations, matters. The interpretation of “Melchisedec” comes first, followed by the interpretation of “Salem”. The point being that righteousness is more important than peace and indeed, true peace is a consequence of righteousness, as Isaiah shows: “And the work of righteousness shall be peace … ” (32:17). A possible explanation for an inversion, but not necessarily all inversions, is, then, that the most important element, from a spiritual perspective, is brought to the fore.

    Actually, the Hebrews quote above provides an example of this type of inversion. In Genesis, the order is “… after his return from the slaughter … the kings … And Melchizedek king of Salem …” (Gen. 14:17,18). This follows the sequence of events, but in Hebrews, Melchizedek is brought to the fore.

    Another principle which may lie behind the inversions and which also relates to the above is: “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual” (1 Cor. 15:46). A source text may reflect the natural (e.g. order of events), but the quote, “afterward”, brings out the spiritual aspect.

    The example of Exodus 3:5,6 / Acts 7:32,33 may be explained by the above two principles. The natural order of events is, Moses approaches the bush and has to be told to take off his shoes, then God speaks of how He is the God of the fathers: “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father …” (Ex. 3:5,6). But of the two statements, the latter is of greater spiritual import, shown for example by Christ quoting them to prove the resurrection (Mt. 22:32), and so this is quoted first in Acts: “Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold. Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground (Acts 7:32,33). Another possibility, of course, is that God spoke these words about putting off shoes twice …

    An example from Revelation which may be explained by the above is Numbers 25:1,2 / Revelation 2:14. In Numbers the order of events is that Israel “commit whoredom” and this leads to them bowing down to the gods. The idolatry is, spiritually, even worse than the whoredom and in Revelation the idolatry is brought to the fore: “to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication”.

    Another reason why inversion occurs in Revelation may be because the sequence of events which are being prophesied are different from the historical type upon which they are based. So in Isaiah 34, the prophecy concerning the overthrow of Idumea speaks of the heavens being “rolled together as a scroll” and the stars falling as figs (v. 4), but in Revelation, prophesying the overthrow of pagan rulers in Rome by the pseudo-Christian Constantine, the stars fall first, followed by the heavens departing as a scroll (Rev. 6:14). In the latter case it would require that individuals fell from power before the overall political/religious pagan structure fell. Whilst in the former case, and I haven’t looked at any historical evidence there may be for this, the political structure collapsed first leaving individuals still `in post’ but high and dry with regard to influence.

    Anyway, that is just some initial thoughts. Like the rest of us, I’m just feeling my way with this. It seems to me that every example has to be examined separately and there is no `law’ which can be applied across the board to explain the inversions. Whatever the explanations in each case, the inversions must be intended by the Spirit and are another aspect of inspiration we need to understand.

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