I do not know Greek, so hopefully I am not just embarrassing myself with this question; but here goes.

For the first six seals in Revelation, John introduces them using ὅτε:

1 - Καὶ εἶδον ὅτε ἤνοιξεν... (6:1)
2 - Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν δευτέρανv... (6:3)
3 - Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξε τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν τρίτην... (6:5)
4 - Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν τετάρτην... (6:7)
5 - Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν πέμπτην σφραγῖδα... (6:9)
6 - Καὶ εἶδον ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν ἕκτην... (6:12)

But then on the seventh seal he switches to using ὅταν:

7 - Καὶ ὅταν ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν ἑβδόμην... (8:1)

(It seems that some manuscripts have ὅτε here in 8:1 as well, but given that ὅταν is the harder reading, this seems likely the result of a copyist following the pattern of the first six seals. UBS and SBL agree.)

My understanding is that ὅτε is typically translated "when" while ὅταν is typically translated "whenever." Yet it's hard to see how this could be rendered "And whenever he opened the seventh seal..." since it would suggest a repeated act. None of the English translations I checked reflect any difference here in wording from the other six seals.

It wouldn't surprise me, being that it is the seventh seal, that John might use a different temporal form, but what purpose does he have in doing so? Should the the seventh seal be understood as a repeated action? Do the English translations miss reflecting a literary feature of the text?

  • 1
    What an interesting find. As an aside, my pastor always uses "whenever"--even when he means "when". So, "Whenever I got married..." or "Yesterday I got right out of bed whenever the alarm clock went off." It's jarring, but I guess it's a common way of expressing oneself in whichever community in Florida he's from. I hope we can get to the bottom of this. ;-) Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 17:01

1 Answer 1


The emphasis is on the "when" versus a general extent of time. (It is the same in German, when we use "wann" instead of "als.") In English, the best way to explain the difference would be through the use of "as" and "when."

For example, "As (als/ὅτε) I went to New York, I thought of you"... versus, "When (wann/ὅταν) I went to New York, I thought of you." In the latter instance, the emphasis is the significance of the time of occurrence. That is, New York made me think of you instead of simply thinking of you on my way to New York. The thought of you smacked me in the face WHEN I got to New York, and then the thought of you hit me there.

The reason that the ὅταν occurs in Revelation 8:1 is because the point of time is significant. It is not something that just transpired in the course of the narrative, but something that smacks us in the face in a point of time. As we see in the narrative, the consecutive breaking of the seven seals were the seals of Daniel's scroll, which were sealed "until the last time" (Daniel 12:4). The Lamb who was slain breaks these seals AS (als/ὅτε) the narrative continues, which contain the revelation of the last beast, who is both a man and an empire. But the (wann/ὅταν) is of great significance in Rev 8:1.

In my opinion, the first three and one-half years of the tribulation are the finest years and most likely the golden age of the greatest prosperity that the world has ever known -- especially for western Europe. (The seven seals are the development and emergence of the beast and his influence in the world according to Daniel's scroll or prophecy, and the seventh seal is the climax.) This is WHEN the mid-point of the tribulation occurs: it is the wann/ὅταν, or the climax, WHEN the beast desecrates the temple in Jerusalem and declares himself the God man. This desecration or "abomination of desolation" literally silences heaven for one one-half hour. (This desecration is blasphemy in its highest form.) It is a literally "wann/ὅταν" in time and space. At this literal point of time will then begin the trumpet judgments, which are then followed by the bowl judgments. From this point onward, all hell (figuratively and literally) will break loose in the world in general and for Europe and Israel in particular.

That is my opinion of why the "wann/ὅταν" occurs in Revelation 8:1.

  • That's a helpful answer. I got sidetracked by the sentence that began "In my opinion..." It's very helpful to label you opinions as such, but it might be better to group them in a separate section or a footnote. Even so, this helped me, so +1. Thank you. Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 17:24
  • I would say that it is start of the 7 year tribulation, a definite time. As we can see that the great tribulation starts in the last three trumpets (woes, as satan comes to the earth.)
    – Marinus
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 14:33

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