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I like to frequently cross reference different translations of the Bible (usually Douay-Rheims, KJV, NIV, NASB). I've noticed that the older versions (KJV, Douay Rhiems) of the Revelation 7:14 translates as follows:

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (emphasis added)

Whereas the newer versions (NIV, NASB) translates this passage:

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (emphasis added)

It seems to me that this tiny little "the" makes a huge difference in the theological understanding of end times eschatology- especially for those who have a "premillenial" worldview.

What is the reason for this difference in translation?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

All the major witnesses support the reading ἐκ τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης. This translates into English as "(out) of/ from the great tribulation." The article, in bold face, is present, so the phrase must include the definite article in the English translation. There are some exceptions to translating the Greek definite article into English (e.g., before proper names, abstract nouns), but this phrase is not an exception. There is no legitimate reason to omit the article. This is a simple matter.

The Douay-Rheims is based on the Latin Vulgate. Latin does not have a definite article, so one could excuse Douay-Rheims for not having the definite article in its translation. But, there's no excuse for the KJV.

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@H3br3wHamm3r81 has a good answer and I do not intend to replace, but to supplement his answer.

οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ ἐρχόμενοι ἐκ τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης

Lit. "These are the ones coming out of the tribulation, the great one."

ἐκ τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης is a prepositional phrase (preposition->article->noun->article->adjective) that modifies "the ones coming out" (οἱ ἐρχόμενοι). The preposition ἐκ only takes the genitive case and, in this case, most naturally reads as the ablative "out of."

The articular adjective (τῆς μεγάλης) is in the restrictive position which adds emphasis to the modifier. In this case, we are to understand that the tribulation will be great. As H3br3wHamm3r81 noted, the article seems to necessitate that we include "the" in the English translation.

I don't see this as an "x of y construction" because the deliberate positioning of the adjective reduces the probability that it is being used as a separate substantive which would read as, "the tribulation of greatness." If one wishes to make a case for such an unconventional construction, we'd still parse the genitive as a descriptive genitive which, essentially, becomes an adjective and can still be smoothed with "the great tribulation."

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I think we must be careful that when a word that has some special significance in English is used to translate a Greek word, it somehow imputes its special meaning to the Greek word it is being used to translate. (I'm sure there is a technical term for this - equivocation? - but I don't know what it is.)

You are suggesting, I think, that if the definite article "the" is in the text, then Revelation refers to the tribulation and not just some great affliction that the premillennial view of "tribulation" and everything associated with it (e.g. a rapture) is somehow validated by Scripture. I think the much more important question is whether when John chose to use the Greek word θλῖψις he had in mind the same thing that people 2,000 years later would call "the tribulation".

To my knowledge, no Church Father took anything like a premillennial view, whether inferred from the above text or otherwise. In the Orthodox Church, for example, there is a doctrine of tribulation, but the belief is that all will pass through tribulation, not just a select group who failed to be raptured. Neither is any such interpretation detected in the earliest known Patristic commentary on the Book of Revelation was by Andrew of Caesarea (a Greek who read and wrote in Greek), recently translated by Dr. Eugenia Constantinou (available here). Andrew comments:

Blessed are those who through temporary pains bear fruit for eternal rest, who through co-suffering with Christ? [Romans 8:17] co-reign and worship him uninterruptedly. For day and night, means here unceasing. For there will be no night there, but a single day, illuminated not by a sensory sun, but by the spiritual (Sun of) Righteousness [Malachi 4:2]. And perhaps by night is to be understood the hidden and deep mysteries of knowledge, and by day the things which are clear and easy to understand. His temple (signifies) ail of creation being renewed by the Spirit [Titus 3:5], especially those who have kept the pledge of the Spirit [2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5] whole and unquenched, to whom it has been promised to dwell and walk [1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16].

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