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In the seven epistles to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, we bump into the phrases like "but I have a few things against you". Namely, three times:

To the church in Ephesus:

"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (KJV, Revelation 2:4)

To the church in Pergamos:

"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication" (KJV, Revelation 2:14)

To the church in Thyatira:

"Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols" (KJV, Revelation 2:20)

However, when we read about the outcome of having failed to give heed to those "few things", we learn that the punishment for failing to fix those few things will be quite severe:

To the church in Ephesus:

"...or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (KJV, Revelation 2:5)

To the church in Pergamos:

"Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (KJV, Revelation 2:16)

To the church in Thyatira:

"And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death" (KJV, Revelation 2:21-23)

From this we learn that those "a few things" are not really "a few" or that they are not really as minor as it may first seem from a phrase like "nevertheless I have somewhat against thee".

So, my question is does that phrase in Greek really conveys that a-few-not-so-serious-matters sense? Or, perhaps, can it be translated in a more "harsh" way?

  • 1
    Of note, it’s only in 2:14 in modern critical texts (and the translations based on them). It’s in the TR at 2:20 too. (At 2:4 I think KJV was maybe just feeling like they needed a word in there.) Regardless, it’s an interesting question! I think I always just figured it was cutely understated and funny, but that’s probably not the right interpretation... ;-) – Susan Aug 1 '15 at 12:37
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The wording of Rev 2:4

Revelation 2:4 Ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ (Robinson-Pierpoint MT 1995)

Literally this translates as: But I have this1 against you (ESV)

The wording of Rev 2:14

Revelation 2:14 Ἀλλ᾽ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὀλίγα (Robinson-Pierpoint MT 1995)

Literally this translates as: But I have a few things against you (Rev 2:14 ESV)

The wording of Rev 2:20

Revelation 2:20 Ἀλλ᾽ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ (Robinson-Pierpoint MT 1995). There is a textual variant in regards to this phrase. א reads ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ πολυ (much/ many). This reading is also supported by MajA(it)syrph. The TR reads ἀλλ᾽ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὀλίγα (little/ few) this has no support in the Greek texts however it does find support in vgcl. Comfort surmises that:

The absence of a direct object seems to leaves a gap in the grammatical structure of the sentence. Various scribes filled the perceived gap by adding "much" or "a few things." the later change, influenced by 2:14, does not appear in any Greek manuscripts; nevertheless, it found its way into TR and KJV (also NKJV)2

This writer concurs with Comfort that the original reading is ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ

Literally this translates as: But I have this against you (Rev 2:20 ESV)

The phrase "Ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ"

This phrase seems to be an introductory tool used by the author as he switches to confronting spiritual and moral problems within the churches. It indicates God's anger and the potential judgement that is to come.

Now an extremely serious problem, one that endangers the very life and future of the Ephesian church, must be introduced. The formula ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ (echō kata sou, I have this against you) in the seven letters describes the spiritual and moral problems of the churches. It indicates divine displeasure, and the “against you” warns of future judgment if the situation does not change.3

However in 2:14 this formula changes to Ἀλλ᾽ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὀλίγα( But I have a few things against you). The word 'few' does not necessarily suggest that the problems in the church of Pergamum are of little importance4. In fact, in this writers opinion the inclusion of the word ὀλίγα emphasizes the very serious nature of the problem at Pergamum. It is significant that the writer only mentions one 'problem' despite saying there are 'a few things' or 'a little thing'. It is, as if, the understatement emphasizes the massive nature of the issue at hand. This view has support in some commentators, for example:

The introductory formula is much the same as that addressed to Ephesus (2:4) except for the addition of ὀλίγα (oliga, a few things).6 The purpose here is to heighten the seriousness of the situation.5


Notes

1 The word 'this' is supplied by the translators to assist the flow of the text in the English it is not actually found in the Greek text.

2 Comfort

3 Osborne

4 Kistemaker notes "The few things are not necessarily of little importance even though few in number. Jesus does not enumerate these things but mentions only one, namely, the lack of resistance to false teaching and conduct within the congregation."

5 Osborne

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