Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Revelation 8:13 Eagle Or Angel?

Bible Gems #89

Question: I use 2 Bible versions while at church. KJV (on my phone) & ESV. The KJV said angel(s) where ESV said eagle(s). It was in Revelation 8:13. Would you happen to know the reason for that? 

The most accurate reading is "eagle," not "angel." Here's why: 

One of the most daunting tasks Bible translators face is that of looking at the hundreds of ancient manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments and deciding which manuscript is the most accurate—especially when there are minor differences in word choices between them. I recommend reading Bible Gems #59 & #60, which deal with the translation process and the reliability of modern versions of the Bible.

Deciding between the wording of different ancient manuscripts is the case here, in Revelation 8:13. Some manuscripts of the Greek New Testament have the word “aetos” (“eagle” or “vulture”), while others use the word “angelos” (“angel”). If you were a Greek New Testament scholar and Bible translator, one of the guidelines you would use to help determine accuracy would be the age of the manuscript. Typically, the closer a manuscript is in time to the original, the more likely it is to accurately reflect the original.

The oldest Greek manuscript available to the translators of the King James Bible dated from about 900 AD (over 800 years after the New Testament was completed). One such manuscript is called Codex Porphyrianus, which includes the book of Revelation, and uses the word “angelos” (angel) instead of “aetos” (“eagle” or “vulture”).

Since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, Bible Translators now have Greek New Testament manuscripts dating much closer to the original writings of the apostles. Some of these (Codex Sinaiticus, etc) have become the standards of accuracy by which later manuscripts are judged. These older manuscripts use the word “aetos” (“eagle” or “vulture”) in Revelation 8:13.

“So why did later manuscripts change from eagle to angel?”

No one knows for certain. But Bible translator Bruce Metzger suggests that some scribes who were making fresh copies of Revelation from older manuscripts thought they were making a needed correction. Before Revelation 8, announcements from heaven were made by angels. So they changed the word “eagle” to “angel” “to harmonize what is done by the eagle into line with what is ascribed to angels elsewhere” (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament  [New York UBS, 1971], p. 743).

This demonstrates again the beauty of God’s Word. The Bible is without error, as originally given by God:
         2 Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

Even when the Scriptures have been copied and recopied over thousands of years, translated into numerous languages, and updated into a variety of versions—still God’s Word remains faithful and true. The fallibility of man over the long centuries has resulted in only the smallest of inaccuracies, and none of those inaccuracies alter the truth or the message of God’s Word. In fact, as God has allowed archeologists to discover these very ancient Bible manuscripts, the farther away we get from them in time, the closer we are getting to their original form. To God be the glory!


  1. I have a copy of the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, using the Nestle Greek text.
    The word "aetou" is used in Revelation 8:13 which is directly translated "eagle" underneath. However, the marginal text running alongside the main page is the KJV, and in it, "eagle" is replaced by "angel." Checking the NIV, RSV, J.B.Phillips and the Good News Bible, all have the word "eagle."
    So it appears that "eagle" was the word John used.

  2. In my opinion the change from angle to eagle is profound in meaning : the eagle of revelations is now America

    A new book has been written about this "America at Armageddon" (availble on amazon.com)


    Happy New Year

    John Brandenburg