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Q217 : Who Sings the Song of the Redeemed in Revelation 5:9-10?

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Q217 : Who Sings the Song of the Redeemed in Revelation 5:9-10?

In your commentary on Revelation 5:9a you went to great lengths to explain why that phrase "you . . . redeemed us" is to actually be translated using the first-person plural pronoun "us."

But that creates a dilemma in my mind because I can't understand how the four beasts could be singing about God redeeming them. If that were their song it would seem they would have to be people. Yet, you teach that they were some kind of angelic being like cherubim. How do you explain this?


A217 : by Tony Garland

The point I'm trying to make in commenting on the song which the elders and four "living creatures" beings (ζῷα [zōa]) sing is that the English translations fail to follow the manuscript evidence which shows that both the first-person plural pronoun ("us") and third-person plural pronoun("them") are used in the passage. In other words, the manuscript evidence suggests Revelation 5:9-10 should read something like:

  • MANUSCRIPT EVIDENCE: For you were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made them kings and priests to our God; and they shall reign on the earth.
However, out of a desire to make the pronoun usage consistent, the translations depart from the manuscript evidence in order to favor consistent use of the first-person pronoun ("us/us/we", NKJV) or the third-person pronoun (e.g., "men/them/they", NASB). The result is that the translations side with either of two positions: the song is sung entirely from the perspective of the elders (the redeemed) OR the song is sung entirely from the perspective of the angelic beings (who are not among the redeemed).

  • NKJV: And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth." (Rev. 5:9-10)
  • NASB: And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
In my commentary I suggest that the manuscript evidence be allowed to stand and that the song contains both first-person ("us") and third-person pronouns ("they," "them"). In other words, it appears the song of praise may be sung with an antiphonal arrangement. That is, both the elders and the angelic beings sing the song, but certain phrases are only sung by the elders ("us") whereas other phrases are sung by the angelic beings ("them"). Antiphonal arrangements are not unusual in worship situations where, for instance, men might sing one phrase and women respond with another. The same idea appears to be suggested by the textual evidence which uses both first-person and third-person pronouns.

The elders would refer to themselves as being among the redeemed whereas the angelic beings clearly are not among the redeemed.

The middle-ground of making all the pronouns first-person or all third-person may be well-intentioned (to achieve consistency), but it contradicts the manuscript evidence. Since one of the heuristics of textual criticism is to prefer the more difficult reading, the tension between the first- and third-person pronouns should be allowed to stand since it is unlikely to have been preserved by the majority textual witness accidentally.

In conclusion: I am not suggesting that the angelic beings refer to themselves as being among the redeemed, but that only the elders sing the phrase which refers to "redeemed us" and that both the elders and angelic beings participate jointly in the song of praise.

Hope that helps.

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