Did John Chrysostom Quote the Book of Revelation?

One of the main interests of Biblindex concerns the « canon » of the Bible and especially the way the Fathers actually used the books, be them canonical or not. In any case one can try to look at John Chrysostom about a book that is meant to be absent by the Antiochian authors: the Revelation of John.

Relied on the biblical index of the Latin translation in Montfaucon’s edition[1], Ch. Baur’s conclusions[2], supplemented by those of R. E. Carter[3], confirmed that the Antiochian canon observed by John Golden Mouth did not include the Revelation. Biblindex datas, made from the work of the CADP, might allow us to balance these conclusions.

Before that, one should consult the Chrysostom’s Scripture Index compiled by R. A. Krupp[4]. Out of the 9 references to Revelation he found[5], only one is to be taken into account : « The angels, writes the Antiochian while he comments on the « belt of truth » (Eph. 6:14), appear to us girded, for they are soldiers ; once one is girded, one stands firm[6] » ; and the only biblical instance where angels are girded seems to be Rev. 15:6 : οἱ ἄγγελοι… περιεζωσμένοι. The image, however, is too trivial in this case to prove anything.

Let’s turn now to the 11 references to the Revelation given by Biblindex: if we exclude questionable instances[7], 5 of them are still valid, which may be reduced to 3. The « second death » (ὁ δεύτερος θάνατος, Rev. 2:11 ; 20:6.14 ; 21:8) is not verbatim in the Treatise to Theodore, 11, but the idea is: « One should not fear the Devil, or the pitfalls of Demons, or Gehenna, or death, that of the present time or the other death which is much more terrible[8] » – and much more clearly than in Matth. 10:28. In the homily 49, 3 On John, the mention of Satan as a « snake » and as a « dragon[9] » might refer to Is. 27:1 (δράκοντα ὄφιν, i.e. the Leviathan), but Rev. 12:9 (ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας, ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος) is a much better reference. The most important case is at the beginning of the third book Adversus oppugnatores vitae monasticae[10], where the wide scene of Judgment Day owes much to the « little apocalypse » in Matthew and to Dan. 7:9-10 – that Chrysostom often cites –, but perhaps to some passages of the Revelation as well. In the following table, one will find the references probably coming from other books than Revelation (bold), those that might be from Revelation (underlined) and the ambiguous ones (without any formatting):

Table of Revelation

If we exclude the five ambiguous cases, there still are three disturbing instances: the trumpets in the plural in an apocalyptic context, the angels sent around the world, the armies of angels alongside the judge, all those elements seem to correspond to the Revelation. The book, of course, is not explicitly mentioned, and it is not impossible that Chrysostom had in mind some iconographic representations of angels, of soldiers, of eschatological scenes, or – but this is unlikely – other non-canonical apocalyptic books. Nevertheless, the mere use of popular imagery, to which the Johannine Book of Revelation would contribute, even from some distance, would not be enough to explain the accuracy of certain elements. The book, in any case, should be part not only of the culture of Chrysostom, but also of that of his listeners. So one can wonder to what extent, even though it wasn’t included in the volumes that used to be the current bible books of Antiochians, it circulated anyway.

Although the presence of references does not imply that a book is a canonical one – the Revelation certainly was not, at least at the first degree –, it still shows it was in use in one way or another. If Revelation can really be found by John Chrysostom – the instances above might not give enough evidence  of it –, this would mean that in practice the Book of Revelation would have belonged to a second degree of the canon.

[1] B. de Montfaucon, S. P. N. Joannis Chrysostomi archiespiscopi Constantinopolitani opera omnia quæ exstant, t. 13, Paris, 1738, index locum scripturae sacrae, p. i-lj (at the end of the volume).

[2] Ch. Baur, « Der Kanon des hl. Joh. Chrysostomus », Theologische Quartalschrift 105, 1924, p. 258-271.

[3] R. E. Carter, « The Antiochene Biblical Canon 400 A.D. », Orientalia Christiana Periodica 72, 2006, p. 417-431.

[4] R. A. Krupp, Saint John Chrysostom. A Scripture Index, Lanham – New York – London, 1984.

[5] Ibid, p. 253.

[6] Hom. 23 On Eph., 2, PG 62, 166 : Οἱ ἄγγελοι ἡμῖν ἐζωσμένοι φαίνονται, ἅτε στρατιῶται ὄντες. Ἀπὸ τοῦ περιζώσασθαι, τὸ στῆναι γίνεται γενναίως.

[7] Rev. 4:5 et 14:4 in Comment observer la virginité, 9, ed. J. Dumortier, CUF, Paris, 1955, p. 125 and 127, without any textual contact (as far as φῶς ἀπρόσιτον is concerned, p. 125, Rev. 21:10-11 is much less relevant than 1 Tim. 6:16) ; the book that tastes like honey (Rev. 10:10), PG 55,183.43, is only a parallel to Ez. 3:3, explicitly quoted, and the new skies and the new earth (Is. 65:17) are explicitly quoted in PG 60, 157.24 and 63, 114.18 as well, so that there is  no need to refer to Rev. 21:1.

[8] Οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκεῖ διάϐολον δεῖσαι καὶ δαιμόνων ἐπιϐουλάς, οὐ γεέννης ἀπειλήν, οὐ θάνατον, οὐ τοῦτον τὸν νῦν, οὐ τὸν πολλῷ τούτου χαλεπώτερον ἐκεῖνον : ed. J. Dumortier, SC 117, Paris, 1966, p. 138-139.

[9] Οὗτος καὶ ὄφις καὶ δράκων ἐστι, PG 59, 326.22.

[10] John Chrysostom, Adversus oppugnatores vitae monasticae, III, 1, PG 47, 349-350.

2 thoughts on “Did John Chrysostom Quote the Book of Revelation?

  1. Guillaume Bady Post author

    Thanks! The “open books” example is to be found also in the 15th of the Quindecim novae homiliae (καὶ τὰ βιϐλία ἀνοίγηται, καὶ οἱ τοῦ πυρὸς ἕλκωνται ποταμοί): Chrysostom clearly quotes Dan. 7:10 (ποταμὸς πυρὸς εἷλκεν… καὶ βίβλοι ἠνεῴχθησαν), but with βιϐλία, like in Rev 22:10, instead of βίβλοι. Even though βιϐλία is more used than βίβλοι in the usual language at that time, once again there is food for thought.


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