Grace With Whom? A Text-Critical Exploration of Revelation 22:21

At the end of the book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, John wrote, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with…” whom?  The manuscripts, and the English translations, widely disagree on the conclusion of that verse.  We need to look at the evidence and consider how the different possibilities arose in order to figure out what the most likely original text was.  (This is what makes textual criticism so fun!)

Bruce Metzger enumerates seven different Greek endings of this verse found in manuscripts:[1]

  1. μετὰ πάντων (“with all”)
  2. μετὰ πάντων ὑμῶν (“with all of you”)
  3. μετὰ πάντων ἡμῶν (“with all of us”)
  4. μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων (“with the saints”)
  5. μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων σου (“with your saints”)
  6. μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων (“with all the saints”)
  7. μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ (“with all his saints”)

Of these, KJV gives reading 2, NIV reading 4, NRSV and HCSB reading 6, ESV and NASB reading 1, so it’s almost a free-for-all among English translations.  How do we make sense of this?

It seems clear to me that the second and third readings are clarifications of the first, by adding a single word clarifying what the meaning is.  Similarly, the fifth is a clarification of the fourth, and the seventh a clarification of the sixth.  So we only need to compare the first, fourth, and sixth readings in detail.  It seems most likely that the sixth is a conflation of the first and fourth; otherwise one would have to argue that the other two readings derived from this one by different instances of haplography, which is not impossible, but seems unlikely.  This leaves the first reading and the fourth as real possibilities for the original reading, but it is difficult to adjudicate between them, in part because they are so different.  Neither is well attested, essentially supported only by one fourth-century Greek codex and some Latin support.  We might favor the first reading (as the UBS editorial committee ultimately did) by considerations of lectio difficilior, and ΠΑΝΤΩΝ is perhaps more easily misread as Τ. ΑΓΙΩΝ (with the article abbreviated) than vice versa, so the UBS committee favored the first reading, also the shortest.

But if the original text is probably μετὰ πάντων (“with all”), we must still ask what it means.  Is John invoking the grace of Jesus “with everybody in the whole world”?  That would seem out of character for the rest of the book, which has maintained a very clear sense that groups of people remain outside of Christ’s redemption.  Instead, we get glimpses that this book was intended to be read aloud (Revelation 1:3; 21:18) as a letter to Christians (1:4).  So it seems most likely that the “all” is a letter’s closing salutation in the context of a Christian congregation, with an implicit scope limited by attendance, i.e. “with all those present.”  One could translate this into English “you all” (so KJV), at the risk of being misunderstood to be supporting the second alternative reading, which was printed in the Textus Receptus despite very poor manuscript attestation.  In the context of a letter, one might say “with everyone there” to indicate the group that received the letter, but in the context of Revelation 22, that might be misinterpreted to mean everyone in the New Jerusalem described in the final two chapters of the book.  Ultimately, the KJV route (though for a different reason) seems the least hazardous: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.”

[1] Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London: United Bible Societies, 1971), 768.

(I’m realizing that it’s been nearly six months since I posted here.  I have been on the one hand too busy with other projects and on the other too discouraged by recent events to try to write much here, but I hope the latter is receding, not so much due to recent events becoming less disturbing, but because I am developing a better attitude toward them.  Prayers for me are always welcome!)

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