Roles in Revelation: The Function of Articular Substantival Participles the Apocalypse

This paper applies principles of linguistic grammatical analysis expressed by M.AK. Halliday, Robert E. Longacre, Stanley E. Porter, Ronald D. Peters, and Todd S. Scacewater to articular substantival participles in Revelation. Commenting on John’s portrayal of the great spiritual conflict between the church and the evil powers in Revelation 12:1-14:5, Robert Mounce writes, “The stage is thus set for the final confrontation. Chapters 12-14 introduce the actors who play the major roles” (rev ed. NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 229). Mounce’s observation opportunes a broader investigation into the script-like character of Revelation.

Ronald D. Peters analyzes the functional discourse implications of the Greek article, including its presence with the participle. Peters concludes that a speaker or writer uses the definite article to subjectively concretize the part of speech that the definite article modifies (The Greek Article: A Functional Grammar of ὁ-Items in the Greek New Testament with Special Emphasis on the Greek Article, Linguistic Biblical Studies 9 [Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2014], 67). I suggest that John uses the articular substantival participle in Revelation to concretize particular verbs such that those concretized actions resemble roles one might identify in a dramatic production.

My research here follows my presentation in the New Testament Greek Language and Exegesis Section at the 2022 ETS Annual Meeting. I traced John’s use of the articular substantival participle in 1 John, noting that nearly all of this grammatical form is restricted to human agency. In the Apocalypse, John uses articular substantival participles not only for human agents (forty-four times for believers and thirty-four times for unbelievers) but also for Persons of the Godhead (twenty-one references to the Father, eighteen to the Son, and one to the Spirit), and demonic beings (twice).

In this paper, I demonstrate that the density and collocation of articular substantival participles at specific points in the flow of the discourse have interpretive implications. John’s linguistic choices with the articular substantival participle provide a data set for evaluating the roles divine Persons, demonic forces, and believers fulfill in the drama of Revelation. Whether we read John’s Epistles, Gospel, or Revelation, we see John’s pastoral heart. John describes himself and his readers as actively involved in the movement Jesus initiated in his life, death, and resurrection. Participants—that is how John views Christians.
As a result of this paper, my readers will (1) grasp the grammatical basis for the dramatic character of Revelation and its structure, (2) identify the way that articular substantival participles contribute to the theology and anthropology of Revelation, and (3) find courage to endure demonic opposition as they rely on the faithfulness of the One seated on the throne and the victorious Lamb.

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