Johannine Authorship and the Use of Intersentence Conjunctions in the Book of Revelation

by Vern Sheridan Poythress

[Published in Westminster Theological Journal 47 (1985): 329-36. Used with permission.]


In two previous articles I investigated the use of intersentence conjunctions in the Gospel of John and the Johannine Epistles.1  I argued that a consistent pattern is found throughout the Gospel and the Epistles, confirming unity of authorship.  Can we now draw implications for the Book of Revelation?  In particular, do the uses of the intersentence conjunctions δεουνκαι, and asyndeton in Revelation consistently follow the pattern found in the Gospel of John and 1-2-3 John?  If so, it is evidence in favor of common authorship.  If not, it is evidence against common authorship.  Of course, whatever the result, this evidence needs to be taken together with evidence of other kinds: evidence concerning other kinds of grammatical similarities or differences, evidence from theological themes, external testimony, and so on.


1.  Testing Revelation 1-3

First, let us consider Revelation 1-3.  What type of discourse is this?  In the Gospel of John we had to deal with two types of discourse, narrative and expository discourse.  Somewhat different rules had to be applied to the use of conjunctions in the two types, as might be expected.2  But Revelation 1-3 does not fit so neatly into either category.  We have (a) a prologue 1:1-3, (b) a formulaic introduction like those found in Greek letters 1:4-5a,3 (c) a doxological prayer with other transition material 1:5b-8, (d) an apocalyptic narrative 1:9-17a, and (e) a speech by Christ including seven “letters” 1:17b-3:22.  We might guess that 1:1-8 and 1:17b-3:22 will be most like expository discourse, while 1:9-17a will be narrative discourse.  However, the paragraphs of 1:1-8 have some special functions, so that we ought not to be too quick to demand that they conform in every respect to the patterns of expository discourse.

As a matter of fact, there are no serious disconformities in 1:1-8 with the patterns found in the Gospel of John.4

In the narrative section 1:9-17a, there are three possible points of disconformity with the pattern found in the Gospel.5  Let us discuss each of these separately.

First, the δε at 1:14 is difficult.  It does not look as if this δε is the beginning of parenthetical material (“Use,” section 10(2)).  But possibly the δε is contrastive (“Use,” sections 5 and 10): the radiant brightness of the description of 1:14-15a might be set in contrast to the colors of 1:13.  Hence this use of δε is not a clear disconformity.

The και at 1:17(1) is apparently not in conformity.  Since there is a shift of agent from Christ to John, the rules predict the use of ουν.  But possibly all of 1:13-16 is to be regarded as subordinate to the ειδον of 1:12, in which case there is no shift of agent, and και is to be expected (“Use,” section 12(1)).

The και at 1:17(2) (the second και in the verse) is accompanied by a shift of agent.  This is suspicious.  Possibly, this is an instance of close narrative continuation (“Use,” section 12(2)).

Now what about the expository discourse of 1:17b-3:22?  Does it conform to the pattern of expository discourse in the Gospel of John?

I will note only the possible disconformities.  First, there are a series of asyndetons following a kataphoric pronoun ταδε in the previous sentence: 2:2,9,13,19,3:1,8(1),15(1).  The use of asyndeton after kataphoric (forward-pointing) demonstratives did not need explicit mention in the Gospel, because there are few cases of it.  But it is the regular pattern not only in John but in NT Greek in general.

Second, there are και‘s at the beginning of each of the seven “letters” except the first (2:8,12,18,3:1,7,14).  Our first thought might be that asyndeton is the appropriate conjunction here.  But this use of και is probably a high-level coordination, linking all the letters together.  It would be an instance of the rule found in “Use,” section 8(1).

In 2:25 πλην occurs where we expect αλλα.  Technically speaking, the rules that I constructed do not cover the use of πλην at all, since it does not occur in the Gospel or 1-2-3 John.  But its abstence from the Gospeldoes make it quite anomalous here.  It should be counted as a disconformity.  Nevertheless, its presence is not absolutely conclusive: it is dangerous to argue that since an author uses a conjunction extremely seldom, he cannot use it at all.

Και at 2:26(1) occurs where we expect asyndeton.  It is not in conformity with the pattern.

Ουν at 3:3(2) (the second ουν in 3:3) occurs where the contrastive element leads us to expect δε.  This is certainly a difficulty.  But it is a difficulty not only for the Johannine pattern, but for any attempt to interpret it, no matter who the author is.  Probably the author chose ουν instead of the expected δε in order to stress the primary connection of 3:3b back to 3:2b.

All in all, there is a total of two disconformities or exceptions, namely πλην at 2:25 and και at 2:26(1).  There are additional difficulties of a less serious kind at 1:14, 1:17 (bis), and 3:3.  The results are tabulated in table 1.

Table 1

Statistics for Exceptions to the Patterns of the Gospel of John

Passage total number
of test instances
exceptions difficulties
1:1-8 11 0 0
1:9-17a 14 0 3 (21%)
1:17b-3:22 99 2 (2%) 1 (1%)



2.  The problem with Revelation 4-22

When we come to Revelation 4-22, we are immediately confronted with a difficulty.  Και is almost the only intersentence conjunction used in all of this huge block of material.  Revelation 4-22 clearly does not conform to the pattern of the Gospel of John.  Neither does it conform to the pattern of any other book of the NT.  At first glance, this might appear to be as conclusive evidence as we could desire for difference in authorship.

But there is an obvious difficulty.  The pattern of Revelation 4-22 is, in its main features, so trivial that it could be and probably was produced deliberately.  We can point out that some, at least, of the solecisms in Revelation were introduced for special effect (e.g. 1:4).  Likewise this monotonous sequence of και‘s is for special effect.  To a degree, it is reminiscent of Hebrew narrative.  And it tends to reinforce the impression that the scenes were simply imposed on John, one after the other, with no control on his part.

It is likely, then, that the author wanted to create a unique discourse style in this visionary material.  To do so, he followed or invented a different sort of pattern than was customary for him in writing narrative.  We might call this pattern the pattern for apocalyptic or visionary narrative, as opposed to the one used for ordinary narrative.

It follows, then, that the imposition of this artificial pattern has destroyed the main sort of evidence that we might have obtained from observing the use of intersentence conjunctions.  Whatever conclusions we draw about authorship we must draw on the basis of Revelation 1-3.

What do we say on the basis of the data from intersentence conjunctions in Revelation 1-3 (table 1)?  The frequency of exceptions and difficulties is not worrisome, except in 1:9-17a.  Test passages from Matthew, Mark, and Romans showed a much greater frequency of exceptions and difficulties.  But the comparative infrequency of exceptions is strong evidence only if there are a number of positive cases where we can confirm presence of distinctively Johannine features.  Without further precision about the ways in which the pattern of the Gospel and the Epistles of John is unique, it is difficult to draw confident conclusions.  My judgment at this time is that the pattern tends strongly to confirm unity of authorship.  But of course such evidence is easily counterbalanced by evidence for grammatical patterns that distinguish Revelation from the Gospel and the Epistles.


3.  Revelation 22:18-21

It is still of interest to explore what sort of pattern is to be found in the “visionary narrative” of Revelation 4-22.  But we must ask ourselves where this visionary material comes to an end.  There is a kind of close of the vision at the end of 22:5.  But in 22:6-9 the angel continues speaking to John, in a manner reminiscent of 19:9-10.  Such angelic communications are to be reckoned as an integral part of the genre of apocalypse, as John C. Collins has indicated.6  Hence we can safely say that the visionary narrative continues through 22:17.  At 22:18, however, we have remarks that re-establish the writer-reader axis of communication in an immediate way.  Remarks about the writing and reception of a Greek letter typically stood in the “Body-closing,” after the main body of the letter.7  Hence 22:18-21 should be reckoned as material belonging to the author’s ordinary expository style.  In fact, they do not show any deviations from the pattern of expository discourse in the Gospel.  This means that 4:1-22:17 constitutes the visionary narrative.


4.  Και in visionary narrative

It remains for us to describe the pattern found in the major portion of Revelation, 4:1-22:17.  We can say that και is the ordinary conjunction used to link any two sentences which convey narrative succession.  However, because και is so extremely frequent, its occurrence can be described with most exactitude by saying that it occurs whenever rules do not require the use of some other conjunction.  It is the conjunction used in default of any special reason to use another conjunction.


5.  Δια τουτογαρ, and αλλα in visionary narrative

Δια τουτο is used to express a relation of logical inference.  The related conjunctions ουν, αρα, and διο do not occur in Rev 4:1-22:17.

Γαρ is used to express a relation of logical inference or support in the opposite direction.  The sentence following γαρ supports the preceding sentence.8

Αλλα is used to express a relation of strong contrast.  Δε occurs only once as an intersentence conjunction, namely at 21:8, where it indicates a weak contrast.9

All of these conjunctions are used comparatively infrequently, since all constitute deviations from the main line of narrative.


6.  Asyndeton in visionary narrative

The only real difficulty in the analysis consists in describing what way asyndeton is used.  The following rules gather together the major patterns which can be uncovered by inductive generalization from Rev 4:1-22:17.

(1) Asyndeton is used preceding the occurrence of the various forms of the anaphoric demonstrative pronouns οὗτος and ὧδε, including the expressions μετα τουτο and μετα ταυτα: 7:1, 11:4,6, 13:10(3), 14:4(1),4(2),12, 17:3,14, 20:5(2),14.  This is almost the same as rule 13(4) of “Use.”

(2) Asyndeton introduces parenthetical remarks and remarks which are explanatory of what precedes: 9:12(1),12(2),16, 11:14(1),14(2), 13:9,10(1),18(1),18(2), 14:5,13, 16:6,15(1),15(2), 17:8,9(1),9(2),10(1), 20:6(1),6(2), 21:16,19(2), 22:7,9(1),15.

(3) Asyndeton occurs following δευρο and δευτε: 17:1, 21:9, 19:17.

(4) Asyndeton separates elements of a list: 17:10(2),10(3).  (See the rule of “Use,” section 13(6).)

(5) Asyndeton occurs preceding the first of a series of imperatives: 18:6(1),20, 19:7, 22:9(2),20(2).

(6) Asyndeton occurs before and after identification statements beginning with εγώ: 1:8,9,17-18, 21:6, 22:13,16.

(7) Asyndeton occurs in hymnic or semipoetic contexts, including instances of parallelism: 7:16, 13:10(2), 15:3,4, 18:6(2),7, 22:17.

(8) Asyndeton occurs where, for some reason, και is an awkward or unsuitable continuation: 12:12(2), 17:7, 21:7 (where parallelism with the asyndetic victor statements in the seven letters is desirable), 22:11.

Actually, the rules (1)-(6) could all be seen as instances of the application of this last principle (8).

When one applies all these rules, it leaves only the asyndetons at 9:18 and 19:20 unexplained.  These are perhaps analogous to rule (1) above.  9:18 has the demonstrative adjective τουτου, while 19:20 has the phrase οἱ δύο functioning quite like a demonstrative.  Moreover, the sentences of 9:18 and 19:20b are also unusual in that both commence with something other than the subject or the main verb.  This is very seldom the case in Rev 4:1-22:17.

All in all, then, the intersentence conjunctions of Rev 4:1-22:17 show a quite consistent, rule-governed pattern.  The pattern is not more interesting only because the occurrences of και utterly dominate in frequency.


7. Visionary narrative in Rev 1:9-17a

Once we have established that there is a consistent pattern in the visionary portion of Revelation, the question may be raised whether the vision 1:9-17a may not belong to the same genre.  If we apply the criteria given above (sections 4-6), we find that there is only one difficult case in the whole passage, namely the δε at 1:14.  This δε was also a problem under the previous analysis (section 1).  Hence it is probably best to regard the whole central part of the book of Revelation, 1:9-22:17, as a visionary narrative.10  Within this large block, 1:9-22:17, the smaller block 1:17b-3:22 is an embedded quotation constituting expository discourse.

The re-evaluation of 1:9-17a means that the table 1, the table of statistics with regard to Johannine patterns, must be slightly reassessed.  Only the statistics on 1:1-8 and 1:17b-3:22 are relevant, since those for 1:9-17a result from artificially measuring 1:9-17a by the standards of a different discourse type.



1 Vern S. Poythress, “The Use of the Intersentence Conjunctions ΔεΟυνΚαι, and Asyndeton in the Gospel of John,” Novum Testamentum 26:4 (1984) 312-40 [hereafter, "Use"]; idem, “Testing for Johannine Authorship by Examining the Use of Conjunctions,” WTJ 46:2 (1984) 350-69.

2 Cf. especially Poythress, “Use,” section 3; idem, “Testing for Johannine Authorship,” section 5.

3 See Paul Wendland, Die urchristlichen Literaturformen (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1912); Robert W. Funk, Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God (New York: Harper & Row, 1966) 257, 263.

4 Cf. Poythress, “Use,” sections 4-9.

5 The pattern is described in ibid., sections 10-14.

6 John C. Collins, “Introduction: Towards the Morphology of a Genre,” Semeia 14 (1979) 1-20, especially pp. 7, 9, 11.

7 See John L. White, The Form and Function of the Body of the Greek Letter: A Study of the Letter-Body in the Non-Literary Papyri and in Paul the Apostle (Missoula, Mt.: Society of Biblical Literature, 1972) 97-99.

8 Compare the observations in Poythress, “Use,” section 4.

9 On the difference between “strong” and “weak” contrasts, see ibid., sections 4-5.

10 John L. White (Form and Function) divides Greek letters into three parts, opening, body, and closing.  The body is in turn divided into body-opening, body-middle, and body-closing.  According to White’s scheme, Rev 1:9-22:17 would probably be designated the “body.”  White would classify Rev 1:3-8 as the “opening” of the letter.  I prefer to consider the introductory prayer in Greek letters (in Revelation, 1:5b-8) as a part of the “body” rather than part of the “opening” (more specifically, the introductory prayer constitutes the “body-opening”).  This leaves only the salutation and opening greeting (1:4-5a) as constituents of the “opening” of the letter as a whole.  The salutation and opening greeting have much more stereotyped character than does the prayer.