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Rev 5:3-4 (AV, emphasis added)

“And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.”

Rev 5:3-4 (YLT)

“…and no one was able, nor upon the earth, nor under the earth, to open the scroll, nor to behold it. And I was weeping much, because no one was found worthy to open and to read the scroll, nor to behold it.”

Both translations work from the same Greek text, and even those that use variant readings have no quarrel with the fact that ‘one’ [eis] is in the text both times, and they translate it as ‘one’.

I see a problem here that goes beyond technicalities, for the Revelation goes on to show that the Lion, who is the Lamb (the glorified, resurrected Christ now back in heaven) is the one who then steps forward as able to open the seven-sealed book. This Lamb of God is also called “the man from heaven” in the Bible (1 Corinthians 15:7 & 1 Timothy 2:5). Therefore, this glorified man was the only one fit to open that sealed book.

Would it not be a contradiction for Rev. 5:3-4 to say no man could open it, yet v. 9 identifies the one who does as the Christ who was slain, and with whose blood he purchased men for God?

Therefore, why does the AV twice say ‘man’ when it really should say ‘one’?

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    οὐδείς Strong 3762 definitely means 'no-one, none, nothing'. There is no Greek word for 'man' in the text : neither anthropos nor aner nor arsen nor arrhen (loosely 'humanity' 'identifiable man' 'male' 'batchelor'). Robert Young is correct. And the OP is correct. +1 for question and possible answer.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 21, 2021 at 16:36
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    The question makes a very necessary distinction. 'No-one' excludes angels. Necessarily, it is masculine (by default). But being masculine does not imply that only humanity is under consideration.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 21, 2021 at 21:39
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    Really love the question because it is so much about the mindset of hermeneutics. Always remember: never develop any strong theology based on one word. Any teaching idea will come from many places, both large-scale and in the gritty details. Dec 22, 2021 at 5:22

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οὐδείς Strong 3762 definitely means 'no-one, none, nothing'.

There is no Greek word for 'man' in the text : neither anthropos nor aner nor arsen nor arrhen (loosely 'humanity' 'identifiable man' 'male' 'batchelor').

Robert Young is correct. And the OP is correct.

The question makes a very necessary distinction.

'No-one' excludes angels.

Necessarily, it is masculine (by default). But it is a semantic gender not a matter of real masculinity as opposed to femininity. Thus it cannot be assumed to be a human, masculine 'man'.

Being grammatically masculine does not imply that only humanity is under consideration.

To answer the question, it is a fault of the KJV, and this fault can also be seen in certain passages of Hebrews (3:3 for example) where the word 'man' is added where it is not there in Greek and this influences interpretations regarding Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

No-one on earth, nor any angel in heaven, nor even Deity as abstractly considered, could do what the Lion of the tribe of Judah was able to accomplish - but only after manifestation, after suffering, after death, after resurrection and after ascension to the throne of God.

Humanity raised to the throne of Deity was the only way to unlock the seals and bring forth all the purposes of God.

No-one but that One, was able, in and of himself, and through what was accomplished through him, to do what John wept for.

And only when that One had appeared as he did and had done what he did, was it achieved.

The OP is right to note the distinction that Robert Young has correctly translated.


Edit after comment : It was thought there might be ambiguity in the above so I have commented as follows :

The distinction is God manifested in humanity. That can only happen (and did happen) in one way. By the Son making himself 'of no reputation' and suffering even death, and even the death of the cross.

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  • I like that you brought up anthropos. Dec 22, 2021 at 5:19
  • If by "No-one on earth, nor any angel in heaven, nor even Deity as abstractly considered, could do what the Lion of the tribe of Judah was able to accomplish" you mean only the second person of the Trinity with no additional distinctions intended, then I agree in the sense that that is part of the Son's role; but as worded, from this sentence on it sounds like it is casting Jesus as not being God (or perhaps worse that God made a mere man God/a god), which I'm guessing isn't your intent?
    – bob
    Dec 22, 2021 at 18:32
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    @bob Not in the slightest. The distinction is God manifested in humanity. That can only happen (and did happen) in one way. By the Son making himself 'of no reputation' and suffering even death, and even the death of the cross.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 22, 2021 at 22:29
  • @NigelJ That’s good and what I figured. Since comments often get deleted on SO, you may want to consider adding a short disclaimer to the effect of your latest comment to the top of the paragraph in question in your answer, so as not to accidentally communicate the opposite of what you mean. Views on the doctrine of the Trinity vary widely on this site, so leaving details up to the reader isn’t necessarily a safe thing to do here when talking about the Trinity.
    – bob
    Dec 24, 2021 at 18:53
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    @bob Done, as you suggest.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 24, 2021 at 19:35
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Synonym, but this is about context

Not to condescend, but we should know out the door that this is a very good, beginner level question. When we don't find understanding, we tend to look for meaning in a single word, even if that word won't satisfy our curiosity. In hermeneutics—Biblical or for other literature—looking intensively toward one word indicates that we might benefit by looking at the larger picture, and also at the original language.

Original language

Since this is partly a translation question, it was appropriate for the OP to look at the original Greek. Let's take a deeper look...

Rev 5:3-5 (Nestle-Aland 26th, emphasis added)

3καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ οὐδὲ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς οὐδὲ ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον οὔτε βλέπειν αὐτό. 4καὶ ἔκλαιον πολὺ ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἄξιος εὑρέθη ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον οὔτε βλέπειν αὐτό. 5καὶ εἷς ἐκ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων λέγει μοι, Μὴ κλαῖε: ἰδοὺ ἐνίκησεν ὁ λέων ὁ ἐκ τῆς φυλῆς Ἰούδα, ἡ ῥίζα Δαυίδ, ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον καὶ τὰς ἑπτὰ σφραγῖδας αὐτοῦ.

The word οὐδεὶς (oudeis) means "no one" in the sense of "no person", v3. And, εἷς (heis) from v5 means "one" in the sense of "one [person]", refering to "one" of the elders who addressed John. This is very similar to English use of "one" in place of "someone".

Translating the word as "man" would not change the meaning whatsoever. I defer to BDAG and Kittel for studies on that matter, but this is not the main question. The main question was whether it is a contradiction to say Jesus opens it, thus Jesus can't be a "man" since no "man" can open it.

Is this a contradiction?

No. This is mainly because the purpose of this passage is not to develop an ontology of Jesus's character. It's a narration of events.

A larger question of contradiction would not be about using "man" vs "one" to mean "person", but the fact that vv3-4 records that there wasn't anyone worthy, but v5 reports that there is someone who is worthy. So, is there someone worthy or not? First there wasn't, then there was. That's not a contradiction; that's a sequence.

First, no one was found worthy, then in that narrative context, the Lamb enters the scene, and he is actually worthy.

Consider the author's style

This is also consistent with John's narrative style, which makes his Gospel different from the Synoptics. Almost everything that happens in the Gospel of John merely sets the stage for Jesus to start talking and acting. Once Jesus shows up in any scene, all other characters seem to fade into the background and may not be referred to again. This is similar.

No one in heaven, earth, or below could open the seals. Then, enter Jesus. Translating "no one" as "no person" or "no man" would not alter that meaning whatsoever.

Excellent question! Many are curious about such things.

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    I gladly confess to being a 'beginner' with Qs of this nature! Your point, "Is there someone worthy or not? First there wasn't, then there was. That's not a contradiction; that's a sequence" is significant. That's because ch.4 starts a new section in the vision, showing the Almighty on his throne of glory, preparatory to then showing this sealed book in ch.5 which introduces us to the person of Jesus Christ. Your answer is appreciated.
    – Anne
    Dec 21, 2021 at 13:55
  • I disagree. OP up-voted.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 21, 2021 at 16:38
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    @NigelJ It would be good for you to provide an answer of your own to explain your alternate perspective. Dec 21, 2021 at 16:43
  • @DLosc I don't know how in the world I missed that; edited and ty. Dec 22, 2021 at 5:21
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Agree with Young’s translation (and Nigel’s comment). Theologically it could be exegetically (and conclusively?) proven that the ‘one’ to open the seals had to be ‘a man’ (as in Kinsman redeemer) - but that really is not license to alter the translation.

It’s one of those cases where no harm is done, and nothing could be misconstrued from taking the liberty to translate ‘oudeis’ as ‘one [and then add] man. But nevertheless it can be argued that in translation there is no license to ‘add reasoning’.

oudeis - and not one, no one, none, no; [Strongs - section on original use in Greek]

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    Up-voted +1 but I note that the Kinsman-Redeemer (as specified in the book of Ruth) has a prior relationship which it must be understood precedes the strong natural relationship and therefore overcomes it. This prior relationship is a matter of being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and is encapsulated not in the usual word for redemption lutrosis but in the superlative expression of it : apolutrosis. Thus the redemption cannot be by one come of the sons of Adam and must be of another humanity.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 22, 2021 at 11:07
  • Indeed, there is no license to take any liberty when translating the word of God. Nor even if it's thought "no harm is done", can any liberty be taken, for changing just one word can prevent the reader seeing something deeper that the original wording was designed to convey, by the Holy Spirit. Rev.5:3-4 is just such an instance.
    – Anne
    Dec 22, 2021 at 11:57
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    I almost agree with this except that I think ουδείς and εις also exclude angels and heavenly beings, not just humans in heaven or on earth, as Nigel pointed out. Without excluding angels and heavenly beings, you have a bit of a problem—it just doesn’t make sense. I suppose you can just assume that it could never be them, but I’m not sure that it’s justified to insert that assumption into the text where the Greek didn’t capture that assumption. So I half agree with this answer: we have no right to insert our assumptions into Scripture where it does not already include them.
    – bob
    Dec 24, 2021 at 19:00
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    To clarify, I disagree that no harm is done. It adds confusion for those who may not assume that it had to be a man. They may ask “so could it be an angel?”. Whereas the original Greek translated word for word here is less confusing: it is clear that it excludes all beings in heaven and all people on earth (we wouldn’t include animals in the labels “one” and “no one”). And there is always harm when we modify Scripture. It’s far better to add footnotes to explain than to write our explanations into the Scripture.
    – bob
    Dec 24, 2021 at 19:04
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    @bob Fair point Bob! - my point was that there should be no place for any ‘added reasoning’ in translation. The fact that I then added that what was added was harmless was in itself reasoned out.
    – Dave
    Dec 24, 2021 at 22:12

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