Revelation 4:8 (DRB)

And the four living creatures had each of them six wings; and round about and within they are full of eyes. And they rested not day and night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.

Here St. John uses the Greek παντοκρατωρ (all-prevailing, almighty). Now it's very unlikely (although not impossible) that John would give a different formula than we find in Isaiah 6:

Isaiah 6:1-3 (DRB) In the year that king Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple. 2 Upon it stood the seraphims: the one had six wings, and the other had six wings: with two they covered his face, and with two they covered his feet, and with two they flew. 3 And they cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts [צבאות], all the earth is full of his glory.

And so one might be forgiven for concluding that it means "Almighty" (it's not difficult to see how some sort of 'all-prevailing' [pantokrator] sense is lurking in a word whose sense is along the lines of mighty/army/war/prevail and has a plural ending]).

The Septuagint simply transliterates it σαβαωθ (sabbaoth). James also uses σαβαωθ (5:4). As does Paul in Romans (9:29). Even the ancient Roman Liturgy does not translate "sabbaoth:"1

... Quam laudant Angeli atque Archángeli, Chérubim quoque ac Séraphim: qui non cessant clamáre quotídie, una voce dicéntes:

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dóminus Deus Sábaoth. Pleni sunt cæli et terra glória tua. ...

... This [true and everlasting Godhead] praise the angels and archangels, the cherubim also and the seraphim, who cease not crying out day by day, saying with one voice:

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Sabbaoth: heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. ...


What does this word mean, and why did St. Paul, St. James, the Septuagint translators, and the early Roman Liturgy not translate it (arguably ever)?

Thanks in advance.


1 I only use the Roman Liturgy as an example, because that's the one I attend, but a quick search reveals that the Eastern Liturgy (e.g. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) has: Ἅγιος, ἅγιος, ἅγιος, Κύριος Σαβαώθ (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord Sabbaoth). Likewise St. Basil the Great's. And so on.

  • It's apparently the plural of צבא tsava "army, warfare". Like other divine names, though, the compound form may have some unique meaning. Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 16:07
  • I'm of course aware of the common translation, and included it above. I'm asking if that could be wrong/looking for a more detailed analysis/why it was not translated. Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 16:09
  • You didn't mention the singular, so without any other sign of Hebrew knowledge in the post, it seemed like a potentially useful link. :p Anyway, good question. I was going to add to the end of my comment the comparison to El Shaddai, seemingly from שד shad "breast", but also untranslated -- maybe another example of a divine epithet being fixed and having some non-transparent compound meaning. I don't know the full answer. Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 16:18
  • Thanks for the link; it was my fault and not yours that I was not clear enough in the question. As for El Shaddai, does the New Testament transliterate shaddai or the LXX, or both? Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 18:33
  • Good question. I don't know enough Greek to read the Septuagint, but Wikipedia says it's sometimes translated "God Almighty". To my knowledge, this is the usual way in the NIV as well, e.g. Genesis 17:1. It may be just that the meaning of "Shaddai" is too puzzling in relation to God (seemingly a 1ps. possessive of a plural noun: "God of my breasts"? — I've heard at least one pastor explain this as a reference to the fertility God promises Abraham.). Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 21:57

5 Answers 5


צָבָא - tsaba'
Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon gives two primary uses:

  • army, host, στρατός (primarily going forth to war), the host of heaven, the heavenly host
  • warfare

Thus a common understanding of YHVH tsaba' is God as Divine Warrior. For example the NET translation with translator's note has:

If the LORD of Heaven’s Armies25 had not left us a few survivors, we would have quickly been like Sodom, we would have become like Gomorrah. (Isaiah 1:9 NET)

25tn Traditionally, “the LORD of hosts.” The title pictures God as the sovereign king who has at his disposal a multitude of attendants, messengers, and warriors to do his bidding. In some contexts, like this one, the military dimension of his rulership is highlighted. In this case, the title pictures him as one who leads armies into battle against his enemies.1

On the other hand, the word is also used to express God's power of creation and control over the natural world (e.g. Genesis 2:1, Amos 4:13, 5:8). As may be seen in the NET note giving emphasis to the warrior aspect "creates the false impression that God is the God of war, which is only a secondary, inadequate meaning of the phrase..."2 The better alternative is "Almighty." Yet as an English translation it could be confused with the phrase El Shaddai.3 Therefore, "the sovereign Lord of all" is more accurate, stronger, and more theologically meaningful than the literal translation "the Lord of hosts."4

As noted in the question, the Latin liturgical, Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dóminus Deus Sábaoth... preserves the transliterated Greek word. This is not the tradition in the Orthodox church:

...the concept of "pantokratór" as God's second name plays a greater role in the liturgical tradition of Orthodox churches than of the Western churches.5

The most common translation of Pantokratór is "Almighty" or "All-powerful". The Pantokratór, largely an Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic theological conception, is less common by that name in Western (Roman) Catholicism and largely unknown to most Protestants. 6

In the OT portion of the LXX, the word as part of the phrase יְהֹוָה צְבָאֹות is transliterated as Σαβαώθ Sabaoth and translated either as δύναμις dynamis or παντοκράτωρ pantokratōr:

The Septuagint renders the formula in three ways: (1) It leaves it untranslated (cf. Luther); (2) It translates as "Kyrios pantokratór" (the sovereign Lord of all); (3) it translates as "Kyrios dynameon" (Lord of powers).7

The decision to transliterate is most often made in Isaiah:

Book       Occurrences
Job             1
1 Samuel        5
2 Kings         1
Isaiah         53
Jeremiah        1

The word, צָבָא is found 485 times (KJV). The most common form is צבאות of which there are 283 occurrences most of which are translated. For example, צבאות is used over 50 times in Zechariah where it is consistently translated as pantokratōr (almighty). Given how the phrase is found throughout the LXX, it is more accurate to say "κύριος σαβαωθ" was the preferred treatment by the translator(s) of Isaiah, with an occasional exception in the other books. So, if even one assumes John has patterned his vision after Isaiah's, it is more reasonable to conclude he translated the word, as is the more common treatment.

Within Isaiah the word is not always transliterated. When used without יְהֹוָה it is seen as an armed force, a typical meaning:

The sound of a tumult is on the mountains as of a great multitude! The sound of an uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathering together! The LORD of hosts is mustering a host for battle.
(Isaiah 13:4) [ESV]

קֹול הָמֹון בֶּֽהָרִים דְּמוּת עַם־רָב קֹול שְׁאֹון מַמְלְכֹות גֹּויִם נֶֽאֱסָפִים יְהוָה צְבָאֹות מְפַקֵּד צְבָא מִלְחָמָֽה

A voice of many nations on the mountain like that of many nations! A voice of kings and of nations gathered together! The Lord Sabaoth has commanded a heavily armed nation NETS

φωνὴ ἐθνῶν πολλῶν ἐπὶ τῶν ὀρέων ὁμοία ἐθνῶν πολλῶν φωνὴ βασιλέων καὶ ἐθνῶν συνηγμένων κύριος σαβαωθ ἐντέταλται ἔθνει ὁπλομάχῳ

In the oracle against Assyria, the phrase is simply "holy God:"

For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? (Isaiah 14:27)

כִּֽי־יְהוָה צְבָאֹות יָעָץ וּמִי יָפֵר וְיָדֹו הַנְּטוּיָה וּמִי יְשִׁיבֶֽנָּה

For what the holy God has planned, who will scatter it? And his hand that is raised up, who will turn it back? NETS

ἃ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ὁ ἅγιος βεβούλευται τίς διασκεδάσει καὶ τὴν χεῗρα τὴν ὑψηλὴν τίς ἀποστρέψει

The change may be a result of manuscript differences, but it also follows a Biblical interpretation of history. The LORD of Hosts who commanded Assyria against the Northern Kingdom (Isaiah 8) and the Babylonians against the Southern Kingdom, led an armed nation (Babylon) to defeat Assyria. What a holy God has planned, who will scatter? That is to say, the LXX translator understands it was the LORD of Hosts who led the overthrow of the Assyrians. After this work was done the LXX must reflect the historical fact so the reader must be told, He is the Holy God.

The Heavenly Scenes
In addition to John's charge to write what he sees (Revelation 1:11,19) as validating a different vision than Isaiah's, the accompanying details are significantly different:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:4-8)

Isaiah's seraphim σεραφιν, are John's living creatures, ζῷα, who are also surrounded by 24 elders, absent in Isaiah's vision. The only thing in common is the phrase "ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος" ("holy, holy, holy"). The text supports seeing these as similar, yet different scenes. Even if we consider John's living creatures to be the same as Isaiah's seraphim, we should understand a change in how the one being worshiped is identified.

After holy, holy, holy, the two scenes go in opposite directions. The problem in Isaiah is finding one to be sent (Isaiah 6:8); the problem in Revelation is finding one to open the scroll (Revelation 5:4). Isaiah's vision ends when the prophet leaves as one sent; John's vision continues when the Lamb, who was sent and been slaughtered, enters:

Isaiah                     Revelation 
κύριος σαβαωθ              κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ
Lord Sabaoth               Lord the God the Almighty
יְהוָה צְבָאֹות       (or)     יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים צְבָאֹות
Prophet leaves the scene   The Lamb enters the scene

Demanding "Lord Sabaoth" after holy, holy, holy to arrive at the same proclamation as in Isaiah, is an attempt to force Revelation to conform to something which is obviously meant to be seen as different.

The New Testament
There are only two uses of sabaoth in the NT:

And as Isaiah said before: “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah.” (Roman 9:29 NKJV)

Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. (James 5:4 NKJV)

The explanation for Paul's use in Romans is simple: he is quoting from Isaiah and has preserved the original treatment in the LXX. James too has been taken from the OT (Leviticus 19:13 and Deuteronomy 24:15), though the Hebrew lacks צָבָא and the LXX is likewise silent. Perhaps by placing the title where it was lacking, James is stressing the universal nature of the title to the OT.

Similarly, Paul's use of παντοκράτωρ, the only example outside of Revelation, follows the LXX:

and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
(2 Corinthians 6:8)

...This is what the Lord Almighty says...I will be a father to him and will be a son to me...
(2 Samuel 7:8, 14) NETS

First, John's scene is significantly different from Isaiah's and coupled with his charge to write what he saw, I conclude John heard the one being worshiped addressed as "Lord (the) God (the) Almighty" and not as either יְהוָה צְבָאֹות or as "Lord Sabaoth."

The LXX's translator(s) treatment of Isaiah 13:4 & 14:27 suggest a reason for the changes:

Isaiah 13:4--->14:27        Isaiah 6:3--->Revelation 4
1 - 13:4 "Lord Sabaoth"     1 - Isaiah 6:3 "Lord Sabaoth"
2 - Assyrians defeated      2 - Lamb was slaughtered
3 - 14:27 "The Holy God"    3 - Revelation 4:8 "Lord God Almighty"

The "victory" won by the death of the Lamb means those in heaven no longer call Him יְהוָה צְבָאֹות or κύριος Σαβαώθ ("Lord Sabaōth"). They call Him as κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ, "Lord God Almighty." History is the impetus behind the changes to the prophet Isaiah's words:

  • Isaiah (13-14): the יְהוָה צְבָאֹות, Lord Sabaoth, led the armies to victory and He must now be recognized as יְהוָה צְבָאֹות, The Holy God. Both aspects are inherent to the Hebrew, but the translator felt compelled to acknowledge the fulfilled prophecy: because Lord Sabaoth did lead the army to victory, He is The Holy God. The dual aspect inherent to the Hebrew lexicon is not resolved by the literary context, rather by the fulfilled prophecy. יְהוָה צְבָאֹות is The Holy God historically regardless of the flawed linguistics.
  • Revelation: in the past the seraphim did constantly cry, "Holy, holy, holy is יְהוָה צְבָאֹות, (Lord Sabaoth)" as the prophet saw. Now the four living creatures cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty" because all creation knows the Lamb who was slaughtered has returned victorious.

Addendum - Why Saboath?
Affirming John's vision and showing that צְבָאֹות is translated accordingly in the OT doesn't explain why it would ever be transliterated. That is to say, if, as Ellingworth observes "the sovereign Lord of all" is the best translation into English, the same should hold true in the Greek. So not only is Pantokratór (Almighty) the better choice, Σαβαώθ (Sabaoth), is just a title devoid of meaning beyond that of the context.

Nor does the nearly exclusive treatment in Isaiah (see above) adequately explain the transliteration, as צָבָא is used 70 times in 66 verses (KJV) and transliterated 53 times. Some of the difference may be due to manuscript variations, but as 14:27 shows, the LXX did not rigidly transliterate; the rendering of יְהוָה צְבָאֹות as "Holy God" is obviously an interpretation.

When comparing those decisions to transliterate rather than translate, there are 13 occasions where Lord Sabaoth was not employed:

Verse    Hebrew             Greek
3:15     אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה צְבָאֹֽות   Omitted 
8:13     אֶת־יְהוָה צְבָאֹות     κύριον αὐτὸν
9:13     יְהוָה צְבָאֹות        κύριον
9:19     יְהוָה צְבָאֹות        κυρίου
10:23    יְהוִה צְבָאֹות        θεὸς
10:26    יְהוָה צְבָאֹות        θεὸς
14:23    יְהוָה צְבָאֹֽות        Omitted
14:27    יְהוָה צְבָאֹות        θεὸς ὁ ἅγιος
19:17    יְהוָה צְבָאֹות        κύριος
19:18    לַיהוָה צְבָאֹות       κυρίου
19:20    לַֽיהוָה צְבָאֹות       κυρίῳ
24:23    יְהוָה צְבָאֹות        κύριος
31:5     יְהוָה צְבָאֹות        κύριος

The most common type of exception is simply to shorten the phrase to "Lord." Although it is clear the translator understands "Lord Sabaoth" as "God" (10:23,26 and 14:27).

My guess is since the title is given by the seraphim in heaven, that is to say, spoken by other heavenly agents to God which was heard by the prophet, the translator(s) saw additional significance for the title. In other words, since those literal words came from the seraphim in heaven and not simply as prophecy from God, it is necessary to preserve the title as unique from the heavenly vision. Thus Lord Sabaoth is the personal witness of Isaiah, not a word which should normally be translated.

1. NET Bible
2. Paul Ellingworth, The Bible Translator, "The Lord of Hosts" or "The Sovereign Lord of All?" Vol. 26, No. 1, January 1975, p 103
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid. 105 [Note: the underlying issue in translation is historical, not linguistic. See conclusion]
5. Ibid.
6. Christ Pantocrator
7. Ellingworth, pp. 103-104 ["Luther realized the difficulty and tried to get over it by leaving the Hebrew formula untranslated ('der Herr Zeboath')." In other words, he followed the LXX by transliterating.]

  • Thank you so much for the time and effort! I'm marking yours as the answer. It still leaves a little mystery as to why it was left untranslated, but it lays out the data very well (e.g. you note that sabbaoth is translated pantokrator yet draw a distinction in your conclusion). Thanks again. Commented Jul 5, 2019 at 15:12
  • @SolaGratia I added why i think it is so prominent in Isaiah. Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 19:42
  • Thanks again for the invested time and detailed research. I appreciate it. I'm still not so sure that "holy God" is a translation, though—it may be a case of different source manuscripts (we know from the DSS that the Septuagint is vindicated by the existence of variants in earlier Hebrew manuscripts than the Masoretic in other instances). Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 21:28
  • 1
    @SolaGratia I know there are questions about LXX and manuscripts, but the earliest and most recent (NETS) have "holy God." So I think it is fair to approach it as being present. Agree it is not a translation, and that is my point. The idea that the LXX was an attempt to be an exact reproduction of the original is not supported by the work which was done. There are numerous instances where the best explanation for a variance is interpretation, either historical or recasting the original recognizing there was a future component present in the original. Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 14:03

צבא(ות) can be translated as army (like you quote in your question) but it's core meaning is "lot of people". Basically when we read יהוה צבאות it can mean "God of everybody/everyone" with or without the fact that he is a "warrior".

  • 2
    Thanks for your input. However, could you cite some sources or root verbs or nouns, explain why it was never translated, etc.? I mean if your answer is correct, what is the reason it was never translated as such? Reverence? No equivalent word in Greek (nigh impossible), or whatever else. This is my question. Thanks! Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 23:41
  • I wrote it as a native Hebrew speaker. The meaning of צבא, לצבוא is (also) to mass. You are right that there is no Biblical dictionary that say it.
    – A. Meshu
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 8:42

The word "Sabaoth" occurs frequently in the OT. Bible hub offers this meaning. Sabaoth in the Hebrew from Bible Hub

It occurs in numerous places as listed here: https://biblehub.com/hebrew/strongs_6635.htm

Thus, it is commonly translated as "host" with military overtones and so is also commonly translated "army".

As to why LXX occasionally transliterated it rather than translating it - I do not know. Suffice to say that LXX is not completely consistent and is an imperfect translation. In fact, it is clear that some parts of LXX are more literal than other parts as, presumably, different parts of LXX were translated by different people.

  • 2
    "Suffice to say that LXX is not completely consistent and is an imperfect translation" This doesn't answer the question of why no Greek speaking person with knowledge of Hebrew and Greek (Paul, James, the LXX translators) translated it, or other etymological possibilities which might explain why, for example. Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 23:40
  • True - it simply says that perhaps the LXX did not know themselves and so transliterated it rather than translating it.
    – user25930
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 0:26
  • TsVAOTh not sebaoth.
    – Cynthia
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 6:20

I think the question you asked was in the correct order.

צבאות is actually two words combined: "tsaba" and "oth". Look these up and use your insight.

The word "tsab'oth" was perhaps used to mean "hosts", as seen in Psalm 24:10 for example, because of the context in which it was written. But if you separate the word, it's better to draw your own conclusion to what it could mean and maybe find out the answer to your question - why didn't they translate it? Look into it and you will find out.

In addition (I'm sure you already know this, but this is for others that may not), צבאות is not to be confused with the Hebrew word for "Sabboth" which is שַׁבָּת. They're clearly two different words.

I hope this helps.


The term, tsabaoth indicates "of armies." In the Old Testament, it is often used in a construct which includes the divine name. In those cases, it indicates God's control over the wartime situations that the Israelites faced.

In the Greek translations of the Old Testament, the term is rendered inconsistently. Among the ways it is rendered, is σαβαωθ, τῶν δυνάμεων, and παντοκράτωρ.

κυρίῳ θεῷ σαβαωθ 1 Samuel 1:3


κύριε ὁ θεὸς τῶν δυνάμεων Psalm 80:4


κύριος παντοκράτωρ Zechariah 1:3

Those in English are Sabbaoth, "of power," and "judge of everything." You can see that both a translation and transliteration were present in the Old Testament. The transliteration is likely to occur because it is part of a name. Why John went with the translation over transliteration may be due to familiarity or a Greek audience or a it being a better fit rhetorically.

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