Revelation 15:3 – King of the Ages
The Bible text Revelation 15:3 is a verse that clearly illustrates the ancient cultural war within Christianity between Gnosticism and Orthodoxy. The text tells us that seven angels held harps given to them by God. They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the Ages.” (New International Version 1984)
Some readers would find this text surprising, not just for the cosmic symbolism of seven angels celebrating God as King of Ages, but also because many translations do not contain this final word ‘Ages’ but replace “King of the Ages” with “King of the Nations” or “King of the Saints”. Indeed the current NIV has fallen into line with this alternate reading, changing its 1984 text and using “King of the Nations”, relegating “Ages” to a footnote which states “Some manuscripts ages”. But the extraordinary thing about this question is that ‘Ages’ is the original text, and it appears that ‘Nations’ and ‘Saints’ are later changes introduced by Church Fathers to reflect emerging orthodox dogma.
This small textual difference points to an immense political conflict within ancient Christian interpretation. My hypothesis is that an original Gnosticism saw God and Christ as revealed in the natural cosmos. By this view, the description of God as ‘king of the ages’ refers to the observed movement of the heavens measured in the slow precession of the equinox through the twelve signs of the zodiac over the course of the Great Year, forming a perpetual cycle of twelve Ages or Aeons. However, in the early church a usurping political orthodoxy suppressed the original natural vision that had linked God to the perceived structure of time, in favour of the supernatural Christian doctrine that separates spirit from nature. So, the dogmatists replaced the natural term ‘ages’, respecting the cosmic immensity and eternity of God, with the anthropocentric terms ‘nations’ or ‘saints’, emphasising their much more limited historical and political vision.
To justify this reading of Ages as the most likely original text, we can look to the discussion of this verse at a website promoting the inerrancy of the King James Version of the Bible. http://www.kjvtoday.com/home/saints-or- ... lation-153
analyses the claims for the different readings. It notes that the Textus Receptus, the source for the King James Bible, shows Latin Church Father support for the reading of "King of Saints”. From this fundamentalist viewpoint "King of saints" and "King of the nations" are seen as “fitting titles for God in the context of Revelation 15:3”, with "King of the nations" found in CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV 2011, NLT, TNIV.” The various translations can be compared at http://bible.cc/revelation/15-3.htm
Despite the common use of ‘saints’ and ‘nations’, the first very good reason why “Ages” has support is that it is the original text. As the supporters of the KJV acknowledge, “the problem, however, is that the oldest manuscripts have "King of the ages". The two earliest extant manuscripts of Revelation 15:3 are Papyrus 47 (250 AD) and Codex Sinaiticus (350 AD), both of which have "King of the Ages". The earliest manuscript for "King of the nations" is Codex Alexandrinus from 400 AD. This is an example where modern textual critics do not always follow the earliest manuscripts for any given passage if that early reading does not support their views. … King of the ages is a very ancient reading.”
As noted, ‘ages’ predates ‘nations’ by 150 years in the extant records, but does not support the views of ‘modern textual critics’.
The KJV inerrantists present the feeble argument that "ages" (αιωνων) and "saints" (αγιων) look very similar, and ages is a simple mistake in the earliest documents, despite the supposedly inspired status of the text. They add the letter gamma (γ) to aion to produce the KJV reading, removing a key Gnostic idea. These supporters of the KJV are explicit about their support for the altered text as a political move: “As for why scribes may have changed "King of the ages" to "King of the nations" … the meaning of "King of the Aeons" … may have given uncomfortable Gnostic undertones.”
What are these “uncomfortable Gnostic undertones”? Basically, it is that the Bible contains a theology grounded in accurate observation of nature, with the idea that events on earth are reflections of the observed cycles of the heavens. Contrary to the view of dogmatic supporters of KJV inerrancy, Gnostic ideas pervade the book of Revelations, and the Gospels. Suppression of this one mention of Ages does not remove the Gnostic cosmology from the canon. The idea of Ages promotes a natural cosmology, readily observable in ancient times, that explains the real framework of the Biblical understanding of time and space based on accurate long term observation of the precession of the equinox.
For example, the holy city described in Revelation 21 is totally Gnostic, with its twelve jewels representing the twelve Aeons of the Ages of the Zodiac, listed in reverse as per precession by old Babylonian tradition. The river of life in Rev 22 is the Milky Way galaxy, while the tree of life growing on both sides of the river, with its twelve fruits, one for each month, is the zodiac. The handing of ‘power, seat and authority’ from the dragon to the leopard-bear-lion in Rev 13 is an allegorical description of the precession of the North Celestial Pole over historical time. King of the Ages in Rev 15 fits perfectly with these Gnostic cosmic themes.
We see therefore that “Ages” was replaced by Latin scribes in ancient times to serve their secular theological agenda of promoting the miraculous and mysterious power of the church, favouring an alienated transcendental vision which required the church as the intermediary between community and God. The church was in conflict with Gnostics who promoted a natural theology, and saw discussion of aeons as a key marker for the debate over orthodoxy. Even though 1 Timothy had used the phrase King of the Ages, it sat uncomfortably with Orthodox views of canonical dogma.
This textual change raises the question of the extent to which such censorship was successful more broadly. How many ancient texts were originally far more natural and cosmic in intent like this one, only to be altered to make them acceptable to the supernatural doctrines of orthodoxy?
The fundamentalists say that King of the Ages does not fit the context. But consider the line “They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb.” A Gnostic reading of the myth of Moses and the ‘song of the Lamb’ can readily support the idea of God as King of the Ages.
There is support for this argument from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where verses 10:2-3 state that the Israelites “were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” Paul's idea of the pre-existence of Christ as a ‘spiritual rock’ in the time of the Exodus opens the spiritual idea of a mythical eternal Christ as the content of the song of Moses. The description in Numbers 21 of the snake on the pole, cited in John 3:14 as the model for the cross and basis of eternal life, provides further support for the Mosaic Gnostic idea of the cross as a cosmic symbol. For a Gnostic cosmic reading, this idea of the snake can readily be linked to the vision of the centrality of the north celestial pole concealed in Rev 13, and the idea of the four corners of heaven as marking the points of the cross and the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1 and Rev 4:6. And the seven angels who sang the song of Moses and the Lamb make good sense as referring to the sun and moon and five visible planets.
Church father Clement of Alexandria helped to explain the use of such natural symbols in scripture, saying: "All who have treated of divine matters have always hid the principle of things and have delivered the truth enigmatically, by signs and symbols, allegories and metaphors." http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/t ... book5.html
The analysis therefore suggests that discussion of the song of Moses in Revelation is allegory for cosmic wisdom.
So too the ‘song of the Lamb’. Ancient astrology, well known to spiritual seers including the authors of Revelation, observed that the spring point, the position in the sky of the sun at the March equinox, moved out of its old position in the constellation Aries the Ram into the constellation of Pisces the Fishes at the time of Christ. Astronomical software shows that the precise date when the equinox crossed the first fish of Pisces was 21 AD, providing a marker for the New Age, the turning point at the beginning and end of time, at the purported time of the ministry of Christ. This date, and the decades around it, was a unique time when the constellations of the sky matched the seasons of the earth precisely, so that earth was in tune with the heavens, on earth as in heaven.
It is entirely fitting in Gnostic terms that this moment of cosmic attunement gave rise to the myth of the incarnation of the anointed saviour Jesus Christ. In terms of natural reason, the pre-existent logos described by Paul as appearing to Moses and the prophets indicated the time before the alignment of the seasons and the stars, while the moment of alignment indicates the descent of God from heaven to earth, mythologized as the incarnation of Christ.
The ‘song of the lamb’ described in Revelation can therefore be interpreted as both the beginning of each new year in the sign of Aries the Ram, and also the end of the previous age and Great Year in the Age of Aries. Jesus Christ as beginning and end, alpha and omega, is therefore a cosmic symbol who can be understood as the song of Moses and the lamb, pointing to the unity of father and son as king of the ages, within an entirely natural theology.