What is the etymology of revelation



The term "apocalyptic" is derived from the heading of the New Testament Revelation of John. There it says in 1: 1 that God told John through his angel what was to happen shortly. The Greek verb ἀποκαλύπτω, apocalypto, means "to reveal"; it's about things that are still invisible and that will happen at the end of the story.


Within the OT, apocalyptic ideas can be found especially in the most recent work, the Book of Daniel. The chapters Isa 24-27 have also been designated as the Apocalypse; in Sach Sach 9-14 there are also ideas that can be considered early apocalyptic. Particularly in the inter-testament literature, apocalyptic ideas are formulated very often, the main witnesses for this are the books 1st Enoch, 4th Ezra and Syrian Baruch. This stream of tradition continues in the New Testament and early Christian times, canonical evidence of this is the so-called Synoptic Apocalypse Mk 13 (with parallels) and the Apocalypse of John.


Apocalyptic texts differ from others in two main features: On the one hand, the apocalypses are ascribed to a well-known author, but who cannot be the author of the book (e.g. Enoch, Ezra). It is therefore pseudepigraphic writings. In addition, fictitious prophecies are often reported that were recognizable only after the prophesied event had occurred. This vaticinia ex eventu as well as the pseudonymity are intended on the one hand to increase the authority of scripture. On the other hand, they tie the statements to important stages in the history of Israel so far, so they interpret them in retrospect.

Historical image

History, its course and its imminent end, is the real theme of apocalyptic literature. One knows that the course of history is irrevocably drawing to a close. Often an attempt is even made to calculate the exact date of the end time events by combining certain numbers (cf. Dan 12: 11f.). But contrary to popular understanding, this is not the primary interest of apocalyptic thinkers. They are much more interested in showing why human history, from creation onwards, in its living conditions for the pious, has deteriorated more and more. But the deterioration in particular proves that the turn to a new, incomparably better and more just age is imminent, the turn to the new eon. In the Book of Daniel ((chap. 2 + 7) this approach leads to the representation of a scheme of four monarchies, which replace each other. Babylonians, Medes, Persians and Greeks are gradually moving further and further away from the ideal of all human rule, the golden age, until finally At the end of the fourth kingdom and its completely corrupted ruler, all power will be taken away. According to Dan 7, it will be transferred to the Son of Man, who will then exercise an eternal, just rule with the Most Holy One. The earthly-human history corresponds to a supra-historical level within the Heavenly hierarchy The battles that the individual peoples have to wage are also fought in heaven by the respective angels of the people and are ultimately decided.

Image of God

In contrast to many other OT texts, this thinking is based on an undoubtedly monotheistic image of God. But the one God is thought so transcendently that it requires the training of an angel teaching. Angels are necessary in order to be able to understand the many interdependencies between the divine history plan and earthly real history. In addition, apocalyptic thinking is fundamentally universalistic. The other peoples play an independent role in world history, are not just marginal phenomena or tools. The assessment of Israel has also changed. "Israel" as a people who know they are in close proximity to God are now only the pious who hold fast to the covenant. As can be clearly seen in the Book of Daniel, they are persecuted at the time of writing. But they are comforted by the perspective that the severity of the persecution proves the nearness of the end-time turning point. This prospect of salvation also applies beyond death. According to Dan 12 there will be a general resurrection at the end of times, which leads to eternal damnation for some and eternal life for others.

Scripture interpretation

Another special feature of apocalyptic literature is that it presupposes the existence of authoritative writings. These writings are interpreted against the background of the now approaching end times and clarified for the first time according to the understanding of the apocalyptic. The whole chapter of Dan 9 is devoted to the interpretation of the number of 70 years, which according to Jeremiah 25: 11f. imposed as the duration of Babylon's rule over Israel. In the 1st book of Enoch the theme of the fallen angels from Gen 6: 1-4 is broadly developed.


The question of the background to this world of thought can hardly be answered. Although we know that there were similar ideas in the Persian area (for example, of the sequence of the four lords), the idea of ​​the resurrection was probably first formulated in Persia. But the Israelite apocalyptic is also fed from its own traditions. In the texts, there are further developments of prophetic language patterns as well as topics derived from wisdom; the authors call themselves "wise" (Dan 12: 3). Added to this is certainly the experience of the brutality and overwhelming power of Greek rule when Israel was the pawn between the Egyptian Ptolemies and the Syrian Seleucids in the 3rd and 2nd centuries. The Seleucid Antiochus IV. Epiphanes even desecrated the temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to a Ba'al Zeus sanctuary. He had been supported by Judeans who wanted to open their religion to Hellenic influences. This aroused opposition. While the Maccabees fought with arms for the preservation of the covenant, apocalyptic circles combined existing ideas and their own considerations about nature and the limitation of rulership in such a way that the oppressed groups found consolation in order to survive the dark times. The answers found were evidently so convincing that apocalypses were formulated well into the third century AD. Without the thoughts of a coming kingly rule of God, an end-time struggle with a disgusting ruler ("Antichrist") and the coming of the Son of Man, the emergence of many New Testament thoughts is hardly imaginable.

However, rabbinical Judaism as well as the major Christian church later rejected apocalyptic, so that only the Book of Daniel is preserved as a canonical apocalypse. The other well-known apocalyptic books were handed down in the Ethiopian or Syrian Church, and apocalyptic writings that were previously unknown were also found in Qumran.


K. Koch, J.M. Schmidt, Apokalyptik, 1982.
K. Müller, Art. Apokalyptik, NBL I, 1991, 124-132.
B.U. Schipper, G. Plasger (ed.), Apocalyptic and No End? Biblical-theological priorities 29, 2007.

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Electronic Bible Studies

The texts on this page are taken from:

Old testament

Rösel, Martin: Biblical studies of the Old Testament. The canonical and apocryphal scriptures. With learning overviews by Dirk Schwiderski, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 10., veränd. Edition 2018.