The Fourth Gospel uses two different words, ἀμνός and ἀρνίον, which mean lamb.

The first, ἀμνός is used by John the Baptist to identify the Lamb of God:

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 ESV)
and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)

John identified Jesus, using the word ἀμνός as did earlier NT writers, Luke and Peter. Many commentators understand Acts 8:32 and 1 Peter 1:19 are referring to Isaiah 53:7, in which the LXX also uses ἀμνός.

The second, ἀρνίον is by Jesus to identify His lambs:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21)

When Jesus reinstates Peter, His first instruction is to feed His lambs, ἀρνίον. The second is to tend to His sheep, πρόβατά and the third is to feed His sheep, also πρόβατά. Jesus' use of ἀρνίον for lamb makes sense. First, it is different from ἀμνός and so distinguishes Himself (the Lamb of God) from His lambs. Second, it makes for a logical progression. Peter's work is threefold. Start by feeding the lambs. A ἀρνίον, is literally a little lamb and would be the least able to care for it itself. Then tend, or shepherd the sheep, and then feed the sheep.

In Revelation Jesus is revealed as The Lamb Who Was Slain and the word used is ἀρνίον:

saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb (ἀρνίον) who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12)

In fact, whenever "Lamb" is used in Revelation it is always, ἀρνίον and ἀμνός is never used.

Why call the Lamb of Revelation ἀρνίον, which is the lamb Peter is to feed and not ἀμνός, which is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world?

Note: since ἀμνός is the diminutive of ἀρήν, my question originally asked about the absence of both ἀρήν and ἀμνός. It has been modified to focus strictly on the difference between the terms as they are used in the Fourth Gospel.

  • Few scholars think the Fourth Gospel and the Revelation were written by the same author. That would be the simplest reason why they don't use the same term.
    – user2910
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 18:51
  • 2
    It's a demonstrable fact that different biblical authors show a natural preference of vocabulary. If that's not a convincing reason for why the two authors would prefer different terms when talking about a particular animal (sheep), that's fair enough. However, 'divine inspiration' has nothing to do with that, nor should 'divine inspiration' be used as a catch-all objection to otherwise demonstrable facts.
    – user2910
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 21:28
  • 1
    @MarkEdward Then I suppose a third aspect of the question is simply why the writer of Revelation chose the diminutive form. Does this infer there is a "greater" Lamb? Or should we simply accept this as the writer's preference which happens to be contrary to the actual meaning and use of the word by others? Commented May 9, 2017 at 22:29
  • 2
    Arnion is obviously a preference of the writer of Revelation, since that is the word he consistently uses. However I don't think we can draw from that a conclusion that his use is "contrary to the actual meaning and use of the word". I would go the other way and argue that the meaning of any word is defined by its practical usage. So if we want to know what John means by the word in Revelation, we would need to study the range of meaning he himself gives to it in that text. Commented May 10, 2017 at 9:54
  • 1
    Great question! Hope someone can answer this.
    – Bagpipes
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 16:15

9 Answers 9


Note: This answer originally addressed a previous version of the question.

I wouldn't say arnion [αρνιον] means the lesser lamb. It's more like the small lamb—maybe lamblet if that was actually a real word in English, similar to how booklet is a small book.

Perhaps this is why arnion is used. Starting in Revelation 4, John sees great and majestic things in the throne room of heaven, including the sea of glass, the four living creatures, and the strong/mighty angel in Revelation 5. But none of these mighty beings were worthy to open the scroll except for the arnion, the small lamb, looking as if it had been slain:

And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain...
-Revelation 5:6 (NKJV)

The small lamb stood in the midst of the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures, and no doubt paled in comparison to them. But it was only through the death of this arnion, this small lamb that seemed insignificant by appearance, that the seals of the scroll could be loosed.

Arnion continuing to be used through the rest of Revelation probably is meant to convey the fact that "the lamb" spoken of in later chapters is the same small lamb first mentioned in chapter 5, the same small lamb who was able to open the scroll and redeem the saints.

John the Baptist calling Jesus the lamb [amnos / αμνος] of God is using more of a general term for lamb that wouldn't signify any real difference in size or magnitude from it's surroundings. All lambs are smaller than adult sheep, but amnos would not really convey the connotation of a small lamb.


The significance of those two different words for 'lamb' is grasped when we see what the Bible says about the Passover lamb. The diminutive form of the word used speaks of a lamb that was not even a few weeks old. Yes, the requirement was for a lamb less than a year old, but given the Passover season - at the month of Abib

"...this implies a lamb at its youngest, no more than days old. It was kept in the house until the fourteenth day and then slain. Its blood was sprinkled upon the lintel and doorposts; its flesh was roasted whole, to be eaten with herbs overnight. Nothing must remain in the morning. This is that diminutive passover lamb... The use of the diminutive doubtless directs the spiritual mind to the passover lamb, a figure of the Lamb of God." (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp 123-4, John Metcalfe)

This is the diminutive lamb of Revelation, mentioned 27 times there, and once in John's gospel account. This lamb in Revelation 5:12 is said to be standing "as it had been slain" (past tense), therefore, risen from the dead. This is the Lamb from whom kings down to slaves cry to the mountains and rocks to fall on them, to hide them from him who sits on heaven's throne "and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?" 6:16. They cannot stand before this Lamb who is standing in the midst of the throne.

In Revelation, this Lamb is a figurative representation that conveys by imagery including seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth, spiritual realities and solid verities that stand for ever sure (Rev. 5:6). That is why the wording used for the Lamb of the Revelation is so significant and different from the use of the word elsewhere. We are meant to realise that after Christ submitted to being slain as that diminutive little lamb, as our Passover, he is now gloriously risen to do what no other can do - take the book sealed with seven seals and open each seal as the righteous judgments of God are poured out, one by one. Here is the power and strength of the one who submitted to the apparent helplessness of a little lamb, a little more than two weeks old - the contrast could not be more striking!

"Having redeemed the elect from the beginning of the world to the end of it by his blood shed on earth in death, raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, the Lamb is in a posture of readiness to bring in the redemption which he had already accomplished, not only for God's people, but for all God's thoughts in Creation. This is not the posture of rest: it is the stance of impending action." (Ibid. p 126)

This is how "those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes... redeemed from among men as firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb" (Rev. 14:4) are to view him. That is why the Revelation deliberately chooses the diminutive form of that word 'lamb' - to provide the greatest contrast possible between the one who was slain, and the one who has arisen.


The fifth chapter of Revelation, in which the Lamb first appears, begins with the question as to who is worthy to open the scroll (book) in God's right hand and break its seven seals. John is then told that the worthy one is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." Then John sees, not a lion, but a slaughtered lamb. So there is a contrast here. What was expected was not what was seen. The use of the diminutive (arnion) - a small lamb - intensifies the contrast.


Note from WE Vine above that amnos is 'used some 100 times in connection with "lambs" for sacrifice.' My suggestion is that amnos is used to refer to the Lamb of God in John 1 because Jesus would be sacrificed - that is, it had not yet happened. Then in Revelation, it would not be fitting to use amnos because Jesus is no longer the sacrificial lamb. He is still the lamb, but He has been sacrificed already, so John goes for a different term for lamb.

  • Hi Samuel, welcome to BH-Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please be sure to take the site tour and read our code of conduct. Thanks! Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 7:35

I would translate Revelation 5:11-12 like this:

11Then I saw, and heard the voice of, many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders. And the number of them was ten thousands time ten thousands and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the lamb ἀρνίον that was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing."


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As the OP has observed, the Greek word ἀρνίον (Strong's G721 - arnion), given as "lamb" by the KJV translators, is what would be referred to in older English as a "lambkin", i.e. a young lamb.

Providing a reason for John's choice of word here can only be speculative, but it is likely related to Jesus' age. John was a man in his 80s when he wrote the Revelation, so one can imagine the term "lambkin" would be reflective of the heart-felt loss of his Savior and Lord who died many years before, at the tender age of 33 (or thereabouts).


We're dealing with strange imagery in Revelation and a lot of it is scary. Think of a sheep with 7 horns and 7 eyes (Rev 5:6)! We're confronted with a creature that is both scary and awesome in its power. But it's described as a "little lamb" or "lambkin" which isn't scary at all. Think back to the Gospels and how often we're told to not be afraid. Maybe this was a way the author tries to create the same effect. In other words, "Yes, it's powerful and scary but we don't have to be afraid. He's our gentle Saviour..."

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    – agarza
    Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 3:11

Amnos is used only twice in the Johannine literature:

John 1.29:

On the next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1.36

and looking at Jesus as he was walking by, he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!”

So although there are two occurences, it is the same phrase being repeated twice by John the Baptist. This phrase is a reference to Isaiah 53.7, where in the LXX, amnos is also used:

Is 53.7 LEB

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was brought like a lamb [amnos] to the slaughter, and like a sheep is dumb before its shearers, so he did not open his mouth.

Thus we have no evidence that the author of John's Gospel preferred to use amnos, only that he knew the Old Greek and this was the recollection of John the Baptist's verbatim declaration, itself a reference to language used in Isaiah.

Similarly in Revelation, arnion is used once to describe the lamb that was slain, and all the other uses of arnon point back to the same lamb. It would be odd to switch references, even to a synonym, particularly if the the author was trying to emphasize that it is the same lamb.

Thus there is only one lamb described with arnion, but it is referred to on multiple occasions.

It depends very much on John's psychology - perhaps he (personally) thought arnion had a connotation of tenderness that amnon did not, but there is no reason to believe that John's vocabulary switched between the gospel and revelation based on a single data point that is a quotation of John the Baptist in the gospels.


Why call the Lamb in Revelation by the diminutive "Ἀρνίον" not "Ἀρήν"?

A simple reason is that Ἀρήν was not used in the nominative. It's the form that you look up in the dictionary, but it is only documented in inscriptions 700 - 800 years earlier (VII-VI BC). It was no longer used in Greek by anyone and hadn't been for centuries.

  • The use in the New Testament does not agree with that statement: both ἀρνίον and ἀμνός are used. Nor is that statement consistent with the LXX which also uses both words. It may be true in terms of literature in general, but is not true of either the New Testament or the LXX. Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 18:48
  • @RevelationLad please look at your answer. I was citing you. You are mixing up words. The word Ἀρήν which you asked about is not used in nominative in the NT or anywhere else for hundreds of years. That his why it is not used in the NT. You seem to think I wrote ἀμνός, which I didn't. Perhaps Greek is not your strong point? Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 5:11
  • (+1) This is a hidden gem in this stack of answers
    – Steve can help
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 10:56

While ἀρνίον is technically the diminutive of ἀρήν or ἀμνός, this distinction was largely lost. Since the Book of Revelation was almost certainly composed well after the rest of the NT, it is hardly surprising that its choice of ἀρνίον completely supplants the other forms.

Thus, ἀρνίον came to denote "a sheep of any age" (BDAG). Strong's dictionary says something very similar.

This lexical shift/evolution of Greek is documented by both BDAG and W E Vine which I reproduce in full below.

APPENDIX - W E Vine in "Lamb" in Expository Dictionary of NT words

1: ἀρήν (Strong's #704 — Noun Masculine — aren — ar-ane' ) a noun the nominative case of which is found only in early times, occurs in Luke 10:3 . In normal usage it was replaced by arnion (No. 2), of which it is the equivalent.

2: ἀρνίον (Strong's #721 — Noun Neuter — arnion — ar-nee'-on ) is a diminutive in form, but the dimunutive force is not to be pressed (see Note under No. 3). The general tendency in the vernacular was to use nouns in ---ion freely, apart from their dimunitive significance. It is used only by the Apostle John, (a) in the plural, in the Lord's command to Peter, John 21:15 , with symbolic reference to young converts; (b) elsewhere, in the singular, in the Apocalypse, some 28 times, of Christ as the "Lamb" of God, the symbolism having reference to His character and His vicarious Sacrifice, as the basis both of redemption and of Divine vengeance. He is seen in the position of sovereign glory and honor, e.g., John 7:17 , which He shares equally with the Father, John 22:1,3 , the center of angelic beings and of the redeemed and the object of their veneration, e.g. John 5:6,8,12,13; 15:3 , the Leader and Shepherd of His saints, e.g., John 7:17,14:4 , the Head of his spiritual bride, e.g., John 21:9 , the luminary of the heavenly and eternal city, John 21:23 , the One to whom all judgement is committed, e.g., John 6:1,16; 13:8 , the Conqueror of the foes of God and His people, John 17:14; the song that celebrates the triumph of those who "gain the victory over the Beast," is the song of Moses ... and the song of the Lamb, 15:3. His sacrifice, the efficacy of which avails for those who accept the salvation thereby provided, forms the ground of the execution of Divine wrath for the rejector, and the defier of God, John 14:10; (c) in the description of the second "Beast," Revelation 13:11 , seen in the vision "like a lamb," suggestive of his acting in the capacity of a false messiah, a travesty of the true. For the use in the Sept. see Note under No. 3.

3: ἀμνός (Strong's #286 — Noun Masculine — amnos — am-nos' ) "a lamb," is used figuratively of Christ, in John 1:29,36 , with the article, pointing Him out as the expected One, the One to be well known as the personal fulfilment and embodiment of all that had been indicated in the OT, the One by whose sacrifice deliverance from Divine judgment was to be obtained; in Acts 8:32 (from the Sept. of Is. 53:7) and 1 Peter 1:19 , the absence of the article stresses the nature and character of His sacrifice as set forth in the symbolism. The reference in each case is to the lamb of God's providing, Genesis 22:8 , and the Paschal lamb of God's appointment for sacrifice in Israel, e.g., Exodus 12:5,14,27 (cp. 1 Corinthians 5:7 ).

Note: The contrast between arnion and amnos does not lie in the diminutive character of the former as compared with the latter. As has been pointed out under No. 2, arnion lost its diminutive force. The contrast lies in the manner in which Christ is presented in the two respects. The use of amnos points directly to the fact, the nature and character of His sacrifice; arnion (only in the Apocalypse) presents Him, on the ground, indeed, of His sacrifice, but in His acquired majesty, dignity, honor, authority and power. In the Sept. arnion is used in Psalm 114:4,6; in Jeremiah 11:19 , with the adjective akakos, "innocent;" in Jeremiah 27:45 , "lambs." There is nothing in these passages to suggest a contrast between a "lamb" in the general sense of the term and the diminutive; the contrast is between "lambs" and sheep. Elsewhere in the Sept. amnos is in general used some 100 times in connection with "lambs" for sacrifice.

  • 1
    An interesting perspective. Yet Revelation is steeped in the OT. Perhaps there are as many as 400 allusions. I think it is difficult to reconcile a writer making allusions to that which was written and at the same time ignoring the prior use of that which had been written. Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 15:10
  • @RevelationLad - perhaps, but I base my conclusions on the solid evidence as it exists, not on nice theories.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 20:01
  • "Nice theories?" Allusions to the OT in Revelation are not theoretical. What is theoretical, is the belief a writer not only chose to ignore the actual language found elsewhere, they did so in a way which ignores the underlying principle. If you had read some of the other answers you will see the diminutive has particular significance to the Passover. Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 20:16
  • @RevelationLad - except that the OT is written in Hebrew and so the distinction you seek is not relevant. Further, the LXX was written about 300 years before Revelation and the meaning of the words had moved in the mean time as documented above.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 20:36
  • @RevelationLad - Did you not read the answer and the data above - the distinction between the two had largely been lost by that time. Consult any good, recent lexicon.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 1:51

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