Eating the Little Scroll – Revelation 10:8-11

The mighty angel held a little scroll in his hand (10:2). John is commanded to take this scroll and eat it (10:8-11).  (See also, Books in Apocalyptic.)

Is this little scroll related to the seven-sealed scroll in Revelation 5? In Revelation 5 the Lamb was given a seven-sealed scroll (βίβλος); this is a little scroll (βιβλαρίδιον and βλαρίδιον, the diminutive of βίβλος), although in 10:8 John uses βίβλος for this scroll (in some manuscripts βιβλαρίδιον appears). Beale thinks there is enough similarity to enable the reader to see the scroll as not a “totally different kind of book” from chapter 5, “but only one on a smaller scale… John wants to underscore the fact that this is a “little book” in comparison to the big book of ch. 5, and that it is modeled on that larger book” (Revelation, 545). In both cases the scroll is in the right hand and in both cases, someone takes the scroll from the hand.

domitian holding a scrollThere are, however, serious differences between the two scrolls. The scroll in chapter 5 is written on both sides, sealed with seven seals, and given to the Lamb of God who is the only person in all of creation with the authority to open the scroll.  The content of the scroll is Revelation 6:1-8:1, the seven seals. In Revelation 10, the scroll is already open, and the content of the scroll seems to be the word of God John will prophesy against the nations (v. 11). The identity of the mighty angel is important, since Beale argue the angel is Christ, he can see this scroll as the same: it was given to the Lamb, who opened the scroll, then passed it along to John to reveal to the nations.

Not every scroll in Revelation needs to be the same scroll. Scrolls appear often in Revelation (23 times). In Revelation 1:1 John is commanded to write into a scroll the message to the seven churches. This is clearly not the same scroll as the two-sided scroll in Revelation 5 or this little scroll in chapter 10. Nor are these scrolls the same as the “book of life” in Revelation 20:12.

Eating the scroll is a clear allusion to Ezekiel 2:9-3:3.

Ezekiel 2:9-3:3 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. 3:1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.  3 Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

Ezekiel’s first vision commissions him as a prophet. After seeing a revelation of the glory of God, he is shown a scroll written on both sides and he is told to eat it the scroll. Like Revelation 10, the scroll is “as sweet as honey.” Despite the words of lament and mourning, Ezekiel’s scroll does not turn his stomach bitter. He does have a bitter attitude toward his calling, “I went in bitterness (מַר) in the heat of my spirit” (3:14, the bitterness is omitted in the LXX).  Although the word was sweet as honey to Ezekiel, the message was difficult. This is enough to convince Beale Ezekiel also experiences “sweet as honey” followed by bitterness.

What is the content of this little scroll? There are various attempts in the commentaries to make the content of this scroll the ensuing chapters of Revelation, but this overlooks the function of eating a scroll in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel, the scroll represented God commissioning the prophet to speak his words to God’s people. In Revelation 10:11, after he eats the scroll John is commissioned: “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (ESV).

It is possible to translate the angel’s words as “against the nations,” the use of ἐπί and dative case may reflect the “negative apocalyptic attitude toward the ungodly nations of the world” (Aune 2:773; (BDAG §12). The more neutral “about” (NRSV, ESV, NIV) is possible (BDAG §8). For Aune, the negative sense “against” is “confirmed by the negative character of the Christian witness” in passages like Matthew 10:18, Luke 12:11 and 21:12 in which the disciples are warned they will be witnesses against rulers (ἐπί + dative; Aune 2:574). Beale agrees, “the accent is on judgment of the unrepentant” (554).

It is perhaps significant the next chapter describes the activity of two witnesses who indeed prophesy against the nations and are killed on account of their testimony.

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