Steve Moyise, “Does the Lion Lie down with the Lamb?” in Moyise, S (ed) Studies in the Book of Revelation (T & T Clark, 2001): 181-194.
Most commentators agree that the book of Revelation is about power. And
most Christian commentators see a contrast between the power exercised by the
beasts and the power exercised by the Lamb. One represents the epitome of evil;
the other represents Christ’s victory through
self-sacrifice. Further, the hopes engendered by the Lamb are often seen in
contrast to the (supposed) militaristic hopes of contemporary Judaism. This is
often focused in a discussion of
“See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.
Caird took these verses to be the key to all of John’s use of the Old Testament, as if he were saying to us,
“Wherever the Old Testament says ‘Lion’, read ‘Lamb’.” Wherever the Old Testament speaks of the victory of the Messiah or the overthrow of the enemies of God, we are to remember that the gospel recognizes no other way of achieving these ends than the way of the Cross.
This judgment is quoted with approval in a number of recent commentaries. For example, John Sweet says:
We may agree, then, with Caird that what John hears, the traditional OT expectation of military deliverance, is reinterpreted by what he sees, the historical fact of a sacrificial death, and that the resulting paradox is the key to all his use of the OT
In his own words, the “Lion of Judah, the
traditional messianic expectation, is reinterpreted by the slain Lamb: God’s power and victory lie in self-sacrifice”.Boring says: “It is as though John had adopted the familiar synagogue
practice of ‘perpetual Kethib/Qere,’ whereby a word or phrase that appears in the traditional text
is read as another word or phrase.” He then quotes
Caird: “Wherever the tradition says ‘Lion’,
‘Lamb’.” The implication for both
Sweet and Boring is that the apocalyptic violence of chapters 6–19 must be seen in the light of the slain Lamb, and definitely not
vice versa. Bauckham is more nuanced and recognizes that the “hopes embodied in the messianic titles of
It is clearly a view that fits well with certain strands of modern theology, such as Moltmann’s “crucified God”. The crucifixion and in particular, the cry of dereliction, exposes our ideas of God’s power as idols, mere projections of human dominance. But as Paul discovered, God’s power is found in weakness not strength and thus for Moltmann, the church should be a “fellowship of persons, which . . . transcends society’s power struggles and conflicts”.
But is such a theology
really to be found in the book of Revelation? Certainly the Lamb is its key
christological title but the characteristics attributed to it are hardly those
of self-sacrifice and vulnerability. For example, in the chapter that follows
For Caird and his followers, the Lamb’s victory has nothing to do with the overthrow of enemies but his own self-sacrifice. But that is not the obvious interpretation of , where the confederacy of kings “make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings”. This title makes it virtually certain that the Lamb is to be identified with the figure on the white horse in chapter 19, from whose mouth “comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords’” (19:15-16). The effect of all this violence for Bloom is that Revelation is
lurid and inhumane, its influence has been pernicious, yet inescapable... Resentment and not love is the teaching of the Revelation... It is a book without wisdom, goodness, kindness, or affection of any kind. Perhaps it is appropriate that a celebration of the end of the world should be not only barbaric but scarcely literate. Where the substance is so inhumane, who would wish the rhetoric to be more persuasive, or the vision to be more vividly realized.
Indeed, there is a line of
interpretation that draws a contrast between the all-powerful Lamb of
Revelation and the Lamb “who takes away the
sin of the world” in
I saw that a virgin was born
Ford maintains that there is nothing in the book of Revelation which
compels us to depart from this picture. The Lamb of
Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?
And the picture does not
change when the confederacy of kings in
They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.
Thus we return to our title:
Does the Lion lie down with the Lamb? Are we supposed to reinterpret the
apocalyptic violence, with its note of vengeance and gloating, as symbolic of
Christ’s self-sacrifice? Or is this just
Christian wishful-thinking? Are Bloom and Ford more honest in reflecting the
impression the book actually leaves on less-biased readers? It is clear that
one cannot offer a statistical argument that references to the vulnerability of
the Lamb outweigh references to its supreme power. They do not. As Aune says,
while a theology of the cross is “certainly a
central theological emphasis here in
The variety of interpretations of the Lamb illustrates the main theme of deconstruction, namely, that the meaning of a text is always fluid and provisional. Texts do not dictate what readers must believe about them. As Ellen van Wolde says, a “writer does not weave a web of meanings that the reader merely has to follow, but . . . presents them to the reader as a text. The reader reacts to the offer and enters into a dialogue with the possibilities the text has to offer”. The error of much reader-response criticism is that it pretends to avoid this subjectivity by making definitive statements about a so-called “implied reader”. But every act of reading, even by a reader-response critic, muddies the waters. As Derrida says, a text
always reserves a surprise for . . . a critique which might think it had mastered its game, surveying all its threads at once, thus deceiving itself into wishing to look at the text without touching it, without putting its hand to the “object”, without venturing to add to it.
Deconstructive criticism seeks to expose the bias of particular interpreters by pointing out those parts of the text that have been prematurely silenced. For example, many commentators would agree with Tina Pippin that the violence and vengeance of the Apocalypse is aimed at exposing the corruption and violence of the state. But Pippin goes on to point out that “also exposed is the desire for the violent destruction of the enemy at the hands of God”. And whereas Kraybill says that while “the world follows a beast with all its power and violence, Christians follow a gentle and (seemingly) powerless lamb”,Stephen Moore suggests that what Revelation actually offers is the assertion that
God’s imperial splendor far exceeds that of the Roman emperor, just as the emperor’s splendor far exceeds that of any of his 6oo senators, and just as the senator’s splendor far exceeds that of any provincial plebeian, and so on down the patriarchal line to the most subdued splendor of the feeblest father of the humblest household.
Thus a survey of scholarly views shows that “multiple interpretations of a text are not only possible but inevitable.” Consequently, Daniel Patte suggests that all exegesis “needs to be multidimensional in the sense that it needs to acknowledge as equally legitimate several (rather than one) critical readings of each given text”. He says that a text (and this is surely true of Revelation) “does not offer itself as a simple, one-dimensional puzzle, but rather as a complex, multidimensional puzzle, the pieces of which can be organized into several different coherent pictures”. A metaphor that springs to mind since upgrading my computer is the fact that its present complexity means that there is no longer one single way of configuring it. I have a number of software packages which can all run other applications from within. Thus I can opt for running the word processor as my main programme and send faxes and email from that. Or I can run a communications package and call up the word processor when needed. My choice depends on a number of factors: What did I install first? Can I be bothered to change? Which is the most convenient? Which seems to offer the most stable system (fewer system crashes)? Returning to the book of Revelation, if multiple interpretations are inevitable, how do scholars decide which interpretation to privilege and which to discard?
The dominant criterion in biblical interpretation, at least in the last two or three centuries, has been to try and decide what the original author intended. Thus while Revelation uses the language of violence and destruction, many commentators would argue that it was nor John’s intention to promote it. Deconstruction may question whether a God who assigns unbelievers to endless torture is any better than a beast who inflicts temporary earthly pain but that (it is argued) was not John’s concern. As Kraybill says at the end of his book:
John looks to a future when
pretensions to divinity will end and God himself will live among mortals ... Death
and pain—inevitable byproducts of a corrupt
Empire—no longer will torment humanity in the New
Jerusalem ... Far from destroying art, wealth and beauty, the holy city will be a lavish
place that gives everyone equal access to the resources of the earth. Roman
imperial society, with its pyramid of power and economic elites, will be gone
forever. In contrast to class-conscious and exclusive
These are fine sentiments
but how does Kraybill know that this was what John intended? The sheer quantity
of violent imagery in Revelation does not immediately suggest it. Nor does the
history of interpretation, as Ian Boxall shows in his contribution to this
volume. Nor does the popular reception of the book today, which regards it as
weird and distasteful (at least in the Western world). The usual response to
this has been to cite the extreme circumstances under which John wrote. John
has been banished to
However, the idea of a severe persecution under Domitian has been largely rejected today and has been replaced either by some form of “local harassment” or a “complacency” theory. In both cases, there is no longer a match between extreme language and extreme circumstances. We are now talking about rhetoric, the deliberate use of strong language to achieve particular purposes. On the “local harassment” theory, John’s enemies (including fellow Christians) are demonized by aligning their behaviour with the cosmic battle between good and evil. On the complacency theory, the language is deliberately excessive in order to shock Christians out of their lukewarmness () and expose the seemingly benevolent state as demonic (18:2). John’s intention, it is argued, is not to promote violence but use (bad) violent imagery to promote (good) Christian aims. Thus Resseguie says:
The horsemen thus portray human wickedness in its grim alliance with demonic wickedness. Yet John does not dwell on this unfortunate alliance; rather he wants to assure the reader that God uses wickedness—as fearsome and disheartening as it is—to further God’s gracious purposes on earth.
However, it needs to be stressed that John does not tell us this. There are no marginal notes to say to the reader, “Please take my military language in a non-military sense”. Rather, it is how Resseguie thinks the book ought to be read. In other words, the criterion is not really “authorial intention” (which we do not possess) but certain literary and narrative features that suggest to Resseguie what “the author” intended. Are there then literary criteria which will help us decide between competing interpretations?
Resseguie analyses the book of Revelation in terms of point of view,
setting, characters and plot. He acknowledges that a reader is required to fill
in a number of indeterminacies in order to make sense of a text and he lists
five that stand out in Revelation. These are the relationship between: (1) the three sceptres; (2) the letters
and the rest of the book; (3) what
John hears and what he sees; (4) the scrolls of
scene of perfect order and symmetry [which] establishes a primacy/recency effect that determines the way the reader reads the subsequent chapters. The overwhelming primacy effect is that order and coherence rules the universe. The cosmos is centered around the throne and the one who sits on the throne. In this dramatic scene there is an unsurpassable unity among all creatures, which binds them to the creator and redeemer in an endless display of worship and praise. The recency effect of gloom and doom found in the subsequent chapters can not overturn this ebullient and marvelous primacy experience of splendor.”
Point of view is established by attending to a number of contrasts,
such as hearing and seeing, above and below, outer and inner, and centre and
perimeter. The first is established as a principle in the seven letters with
the command to hear what the Spirit
says to the churches. In
John sees a lamb but hears about
a lion. The Lion of the tribe of
I have no quibble with this conclusion. I have argued in a number of publications (against Caird et al.) that the Lion/Lamb juxtaposition involves mutual interpretation and not simply one element (Lamb) replacing another (Lion).However, I am intrigued at the way Resseguie arrives at this conclusion, for the pattern he has established would suggest that the Lamb is really a roaring Lion, a view that the following chapters could amply support. This is clearly unacceptable to him so he introduces, without explanation, the suggestion that this is a special instance where “seeing also reinterprets the hearing”, which by the end of the book has become the Caird principle that “Lamb reinterprets Lion”. There is clearly more than literary criteria being used here.
The rationale of literary readings is coherence. There are many ways to read a text but some ways are said to be more coherent than others. But what does coherent mean? Chambers English Dictionary offers the following: “to fit together in a consistent, orderly whole”; “connected”; “consistent in thought or speech”.But on purely formal grounds, could we not say that a reading of Revelation along the lines of “God has coherent reading? The book opens with a vision of him “coming with the clouds... and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail” (1:7). The description of him in —18 is awesome. He receives from God “power and wealth and wisdom and might” (). As he opens the seals, disasters come upon the earth so that the inhabitants shrink from the “wrath of the Lamb” (). The trumpets bring further disasters, so that a “third of humankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulphur” (). In chapter 14, the Son of Man “reaps” the earth with a sickle and “blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles” (). Under the symbol of “Babylon”, God’s enemies not only pay for their crimes but receive “double for her deeds” (18:6), while those in heaven rejoice because “the smoke goes up from her for ever and ever” (19:3). This may sound a less Christian reading but it is difficult to conclude (from purely literary criteria) that it is a less coherent reading. It does make sense of much of what we find in Revelation and is how many people do read it until Christian commentators teach them otherwise. Is it then the desire to produce a Christian reading that is really the governing criterion?
It is not surprising that Christian writers resist readings of Revelation that make God out to be a tyrant. Not many cite their Christian faith as a criterion of interpretation, but Brevard Childs uses the notion of canon to distinguish between multiple interpretations. Whatever the book may have meant to the author and the original readers, the most significant interpretative factor now is that it is part of the canon of Scripture. Though the history of how this came about is exceedingly complex and was never universal, the modern reader is unlikely to encounter Revelation as a single artefact but as the last book of the Bible. And various studies have attempted to show that it is a fitting conclusion. For example, it abounds with images of “paradise restored”. According to Bauckham, it is the “climax of prophecy”. It is the answer to the psalmist’s cry, “How long will the wicked prosper?” A canonical approach will use all this to show that loss of confidence in recovering authorial intention need not and should not lead to postmodern pluralism.
Childs suggests that the issue of canon shows itself in three features of the book of Revelation. First, John’s extensive use of Daniel shows how the author understood apocalyptic. It is to be reinterpreted in the light of Christology:
God’s decisive event in defeating the cosmological power of evil lies in he past. In the event of the cross, God’s reign was forever established and Satan defeated ... The apocalyptic imagery of Daniel now serves the function of identifying the defeated enemies of God and of the church who act from an earthbound perspective as if they were still in control.
Second, the opening and closing sections of the book show how it is to be received. In the epilogue, the warning not to add or subtract from the book () shows “its author laid claim to its being divine revelation at the outset”. And the voice of the prologue, which describes how the revelation given to Christ was transmitted to John, “offers a canonical guideline by means of which the book was to function as authoritative scripture for generations long after the author”.
Third, the book soon became known as “The Revelation of John” (despite its opening words), which shows that it belongs with the other Johannine writings. Childs does not wish to make a historical point about authorship here but simply to “affirm that there is a larger canonical unity to the church’s scriptures which is an important guideline to its correct theological understanding. For the last book of the Bible such a canonical control is especially needful”.
However, one might question the
desirability of “canonical control” if it means
conforming books like Ecclesiastes, Job and Revelation to more mainstream
traditions. How is that doing justice to the sheer variety of material we find
in the canon? Furthermore, how can Childs be so confident that he is offering
a canonical reading of Revelation? Is it the only way that other material from the Bible can be related to
Revelation? Could one not also link it with the destruction of
Justice and Judgment
A different option comes from Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. She interprets Revelation not from the standpoint of canonical consistency but of justice and judgment. This is partly suggested by Revelation itself but is also a personal commitment. All interpretation is ideological. History writing takes place by analogy, what an author thinks is most likely to have happened given his or her own understanding of how the world works. Literary readings depend on choosing certain aspects of a text to privilege and canonical readings are explicitly ideological. The way forward then is nor simply to argue the merits of one’s particular interpretation but to inform the reader (as much as one can) about one’s own ideological commitments:
What is appropriate in such a rhetorical paradigm of biblical scholarship is not detached value-neutrality, but an explicit articulation of one’s own rhetorical strategies, interested perspectives, ethical criteria, theoretical frameworks, religious presuppositions, and sociopolitical locations for critical public discussion.
Revelation that encourage war-mongering, imperialism, racism or sexism are
certainly possible but are deemed unacceptable. By their fruits you will know
them, says Jesus. Any interpretation that leads to any of these ethical “isms” is unacceptable, whatever basis it may have in the text. Now for
some, like Bloom and Pippin, this is a criterion that Revelation cannot
survive. It is so riddled with the “lurid and
inhumane” that the book itself must be judged unacceptable. But for Schüssler
Fiorenza, Revelation can be seen as a “fitting
response” to the “dehumanizing powers of
John advocates an
uncompromising theological stance because he and his followers view the
dehumanizing powers of
She does not think that
every part of Revelation necessarily lives up to this and so advocates an interpretative
form of “testing the spirits” (
A MULTIDIMENSIONAL APPROACH
Is the book of Revelation best served by finding ways to eliminate all interpretations other than one’s own? Or should we acknowledge that such a text is capable of generating more than one valid interpretation? The answer depends on what one considers to be the purpose of interpretation. If it is simply to shed light on the text, there is no intrinsic reason why multiple interpretations should not be allowed. For example, science recognizes that certain experiments show that light behaves like a wave, with a measurable frequency and wavelength, while others show it to be a stream of particles. Nothing is gained by suppressing one of these interpretations in favour of the other. Both give insight into the nature of the phenomenon we call light. Similarly, it is a common experience that reading Revelation from a variety of perspectives leads to a fuller appreciation of the text (even if one disagrees with some of those perspectives). If this is combined with an articulation of the interpreter’s social location, rhetorical purpose and methodology, as Schüssler Fiorenza urges, this is likely to be even more useful. One then has both the type of experiment that has been performed on the text and the results that it yielded.
On the other hand, if the goal of interpretation is to promote the Christian faith, empower oppressed people or some other ideological purpose, then certain interpretations need to be resisted. They are not necessarily inferior readings if judged by historical or literary criteria alone. But they are inferior when judged by certain ethical or ideological commitments. Some will call this an imposition on the text but it is surely in keeping with the ethos of Revelation, which challenges the very possibility of ethical or political neutrality. Thus I am completely in favour of reinterpreting the military imagery of Revelation in a non-military way. But I am sceptical of those positions that confidently tell us that this is what John intended or that this is the proper literary reading of the text. The relative instability of the Lion/Lamb juxtaposition (given the amount of violence with which the Lamb is later associated) is a constant reminder of how easily the oppressed can become the oppressor. However good and noble John’s motives might have been (or might not have been), he is not exempt from this. As Carey says:
John’s ethos cannot sustain both resistance and mutuality. John subordinates every other voice to his own. He demands absolute obedience from his audience, and anyone—Christian or otherwise—who would diverge from John’s vision stands under his curse.
Readers might adopt the view that the end justifies the means. The danger of assimilation or collusion or falling away is such that it justifies John’s strong response. But the modern interpreter surely has a responsibility to point out the dangers of such a strategy (which have frequently been actualized in history). The Lion/Lamb juxtaposition is not so stable that readers are forced to reinterpret the apocalyptic violence in non-violent ways. It is imperative that they do so (for the good of humanity), but it is also imperative that they realize the precarious instability of such a position. Thus in answer to this chapter’s title, I do not think the Lion does lie down with the Lamb. The juxtaposition allows a non-violent interpretation but it also reveals a fundamental danger, namely, that the weapons of resistance can end up supporting the very values being resisted. It does not do justice to the book of Revelation to advocate a position where Lamb simply replaces Lion. Evil is much more complex than that.
© T & T Clark, 2001
 G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St John the Divine (London: A&C Black, 1984), 75.
 J. P.M. Sweet, Revelation (London: SCM Press, 1990), 125.
 Sweet, Revelation, 125.
 M.E. Boring, Revelation (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1989), 110.
 R. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 183.
 Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 183.
 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 353.
 J. Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit (London: SCM Press, 1977), 106.
 H. Bloom, The Revelation of St John the Divine (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), 4—5.
 C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 232.
 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel
 R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Vol. 1, 1966), 60.
 J. M. Ford, Revelation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), 31. I am informed that she no longer holds the position that the book derives from followers of John the Baptist and this will be reflected in the revised version of her commentary.
 D. Aune,
 Ellen van Wolde, “Trendy Intertextuality” in Intertextuality and Biblical Writings (Kampen: Kok, 1989), 47.
 J. Derrida, Positions (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1972), 71.
 T. Pippin, Death and Desire: The Rhetoric of Gender in The Apocalypse of John (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992), 100.
 J. N. Kraybill, Imperial Cult and Commerce in John’s Apocalypse (Sheffield: JSNTSup 132; 1996), 201.
 S. D. Moore, “The Beatific Vision as a Posing Exhibition: Revelation’s Hypermasculine Deity’, JSNT 60 (1995), 40.
 E. Schüssler Fiorenza, Revelation: Vision of a Just World (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 59.
 D. Parte, Ethics of Biblical Interpretation: A Reevaluation (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1995), 116.
 Patte, Ethics of Biblical Interpretation, 99.
 Kraybill, Imperial Cult, 222—3.
 J. L. Resseguie, Revelation Unsealed: A Narrative Critical Approach to John’s Apocalypse (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998), 146.
 Resseguie, Revelation Unsealed, 30. Emphasis original.
 Resseguie, Revelation Unsealed, 166
 Resseguie, Revelation Unsealed, 175—6.
 Resseguie, Revelation Unsealed, 34.
 Resseguic, Revelation Unsealed, 34.
 S. Moyise, The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (JSNTSup 115; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995)
 Chambers English Dictionary (Edinburgh: Chambers; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 278.
 B. S. Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (London: SCM Press, 1984), 514—15.
 Childs, The New Testament as Canon, 517.
 Childs, The New Testament as Canon, 517.
 Childs, The New Testament as Canon, 517.
 Schüssler Fiorenza, Vision of a Just World, 3.
 Schüssler Fiorenza, Vision of a Just World, 57.
 E. Schüssler Fiorenza, Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 47.
 G. Carey, Elusive Apocalypse: Reading Authority in the Revelation to John (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1999), 172.