The letters to the seven churches, 2:1-3:22
In the letter to the church at Pergamum, Jesus announces that he is well aware of how the powers of darkness swirl around this little fellowship of believers, and how they have remained faithful. Yet, the Lord notes that the church is somewhat syncretic and has absorbed some heretical teachings. Let them hear what the Spirit says: those who endure to the end will receive "some of the hidden manna ... and also ... a white stone with a new name."
i] Context: See 2:1-7.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8. Pergamum is usually held to be the Roman provincial capital, some 80klm. north of Smyrna and 20klm from the Aegean Sea. The fortified city was perched on a high hill overlooking the Caicus valley. It was a center for the emperor cult and housed some imposing temples, especially to Zeus, and Asclepius, the god of healing. Both used the symbol of a snake. This was obviously a dangerous city for the gathering of a Christian fellowship.
iii] Structure: The letter to the church in Pergamum:
to whom - Pergamum, v12a;
"to the angel of the church in Pergamum."
from whom, v12b:
"He who has the sharp double-edged sword."
Analysis of the church:
the one who endures is blessed, v17
In the seven letters to the churches, 2:1-3:2, John reveals the not yet reality of the kingdom of God, a kingdom inaugurated, yet to be realized. He lets us see the Christian fellowship warts and all. As it was for the church in the first century, so it is for us. We stand at the crossroads of history, of God's now / not yet reign, compromised in the face of a hostile environment. We have survived to this moment in time between the cross and Christ's return, and if we are to share in God's promised reward we must repent, we must turn around to Christ and renew our faith in him, and then we must press forward in faith, we must endure, persevere, conquer.
The believers in Pergamum are like so many throughout the ages, faithful, but flawed. Like Pergamum, the church in Western societies is a church that exists within a secular and increasingly pagan culture, faithful in the face of opposition, yes, but like Pergamum, drifting, syncretised to secular ideology - too much tolerance, too little discipline.
John draws on the story of Balaam and Balak from Numbers 22 to illustrate the problem infecting the church in Pergamum. Balaam, although viewed as a prophet (Num.24:17), was a flawed prophet. He led Israel into apostasy such that the people played the harlot with the God's of Moab. For the early Christians he was a Simon Magus type (Act.8:9-24). Some believers in Pergamum are following the lead of false teachers, just as Israel followed "Balaam"; like the Ephesian believers, they are followings the teachings of the "Nicolaitans", those "conquerors of the people." It seems likely that the false teachers were promoting tolerance toward pagan culture, eg., participation in the pagan cult of the city as a civic duty. Those who are guilty of syncretism need to repent, otherwise they will stand condemned before God.
For those who remain true to the faith, those who endure, Jesus promises that they will receive "some of the hidden manna ... and also ... a white stone with a new name." John's imagery is, as usual, colorful. First century Jews believed that manna would again fall from heaven with the coming of the Messiah, and so we have here an image of the abundant life-giving blessings promised for the present and for the age to come. For this new age, we even have a new name.
Text - 2:12
Pergamum - an over-tolerant church, v12-17: i] Introduction, v12. The Lord, the judge over heaven and earth, instructs John to write to the believers in Pergamum.
tw/ aggelw/ thV en ... ekklhsiaV grafon. Tade legei "to the angel of the church in [Pergamum] write: These are the words ..." See 2:1.
oJ ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "him who has" - the one having [the sharp two-edged sword]. The participle serves as a substantive. John's image of one who wields a sword from his mouth, 1:16, is the image of one who has the authority to judge, to pronounce innocent or guilty. Jesus is "the administrator of divine judgment", Beasley-Murray. "Two-edged" may be a way of saying that God's judgment cuts both ways, blessing and cursing, or it may just be accentuating the sword, it is a "sharp-biting sword", Peterson.
ii] Analysis of the church, v13-15: a) Strengths, v13. Jesus indicates he is aware of the evil environment they live within and how they have remained faithful, even under the threat of martyrdom.
pou .... oJpou "[I know] where [you live -] where" - Local, expressing space.
tou satana (a aV) gen. "Satan [has] his [throne]" - [where the throne] of satan resides. The genitive is adjectival, possessive. Possibly a reference to Rome, seeing that Pergamum was a provincial capital, the seat of the Roman governor and a site for Emperor worship. None-the-less, probably just serving to describe resident evil; "where Satan rules."
mou gen. pro. "my [name]" - [you possess / take hold of / hold fast to the name] of my. The genitive is adjectival, possessive. "The name" refers to the person, and in the case of Jesus, his authority.
mou gen. pro. "[your faith] in me" - [and did not deny the faith] of me. The NIV treats the genitive as verbal, objective, "faith in me", but it could also be subjective / possessive; "you have not denied my faith", either in the sense of "Christian faith", or "faith" = "faithfulness (the cross) on your behalf."
kai "not even" - and. Most likely ascensive, as NIV; "even in the days of Antipas", ESV.
en "in" - Temporal use of the preposition; "during the time"
AntipaV gen. proper. "of Antipas" - Indeclinable noun, but it would an adjectival genitive, idiomatic / temporal, limiting "the days"; "the days when Antipas was alive." Note that the appositional clause "my faithful witness who was killed among you where Satan lives" is nominative, ie., a nominative of apposition, although the indeclinable "Antipas" is obviously genitive. Best viewed as an anacoluthon (broken syntax), but it could classified as a nominative of appellation. Nothing is known of Antipas, other than later references using the Revelation as a source. The term "my faithful witness" was later adopted to denote a martyr.
mou ... mou pro. "my [faithful witness]" - [the witness] of me [the faithful] of me. Possibly objective genitive, "who has witnessed to me and been faithful to me", Hermer, or adjectival, possessive.
w}V pro. "who [was put to death]" - Nominative subject of the verb "to kill."
par (para) + dat. "in [your city]" - among [you where satan dwells]. Local, expressing space. John reinforces the presence of evil powers in Pergamum.
b) Weaknesses, v14-15. As indicated in "Interpretation" above, "the teachings of Balaam", in like manner to "the Nicolaitans" (the conquerers of the people), amounted to a flirtation with idolatry and immorality. This most likely involves adjusting Christian ethics in line with the pagan environment (syncretism), or at least associating with such. Beasley-Murray, Sweet, Beale, ... identify the problem in the terms of eating sacrificial meat at religious festivals as a civic duty. Paul deals with this issue in 1 Corinthians, making the point that pagan gods may be no gods, but that doesn't stop Satan from using pagan festivals to his own end. Of course, "they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality" may be something more than the exercise of a civic duty.
all (alla) "nevertheless" - but. Strong adversative, as NIV.
kata + gen. "against [you]" - [i have a few things] against [you]. Here expressing opposition. "However, there are a few matters I have to bring against you", Cassirer / "I do have a few criticisms of you to make", Barclay.
oJti "-" - that. Possibly causal, "because you have some there .....", so Thomas, or introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception / indirect discourse stating what Jesus "has" against them, so Osborne. Mathewson suggests it is epexegetic, specifying oliga, "the few things", namely that you have some members there who cling onto false teachings ...." The point is clear enough.
kratountaV (kratew) pres. part. "who hold to" - [you have there] the ones holding onto [the teachings]. The participle serves as a substantive. They have ekei, "there", ie., "you have in your midst", Osborne.
Balaam "of Balaam" - This noun is indeclinable, but genitive is assumed, presumably adjectival, possessive, "the teachings which belong to Balaam", or verbal, subjective, "the teaching that Balaam taught / what Balaam taught"
edidasken (didaskw) imperf. "[who] tought" - [who] was teaching [to put a snare before the sons of Israel]. The imperfect, being durative, may indicate ongoing teaching, so Osborne.
tw/ Balak dat. "Balak" - to balak. Dative of indirect object. Balak, the king of Moab, attempted to hire Baalam to bring down a curse on the invading Israelites. Tradition has it that Baalam did just that, but whatever happened, Baalam's faulty teaching / prophecy led Israel to play the harlot with the gods of Moab.
balein (ballw) aor. inf. "to entice [the Israelites] to sin" - to put [a snare before the sons of israel]. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Balaam instructed Balak, namely, "that he should place a snare before the sons of Israel."
twn ... Israhl gen. "the Israelites" - The genitive is adjectival, relational.
fagein (esqiw) aor. inf. "so that they ate" - to eat [food sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication]. The infinitive, as with porneusai, "to commit fornication", is adverbial, probably consecutive, expressing result. As a result of the snare proposed by Baalam, and set by Balak, the people of Israel ended up in pagan idolatry (they played the harlot with the god's of Moab) and sexual immorality. The verb porneusai is used in Revelation either metaphorically of idolatry, or of actual sexual immorality. John draws on the Balaam and Balak allusion to infer that the believers in Pergamum have similarly played the harlot, in their case by their association with the Emperor cult at civic festivals - thus the reference to eating "food sacrificed to idols."
Charles suggested that the two adverbs of manner, ouJtwV and oJmiwV, "in this way .... likewise" form an inclusio which serves to exegete v14, but the interpretation proposed by Smalley seems more likely; "ouJtwV, 'likewise', = just like the Ephesian believers kai su, 'you also', have those who hold to the teachings of twn Nikolaitwn, 'of the Nicolaitans' = of the conquerers of the people = false teachers"
kratountaV (kratew) pres. part. "those who hold" - [likewise you also have] ones holding. The participle serves as a substantive.
twn Nikaloitwn (hV ou) gen. "[the teaching] of the Nicolaitans" - The genitive may be treated as adjectival, possessive, or verbal, subjective; "the doctrines taught by the false teachers / the conquerors of the people". See 2:6
iii] Instruction, v16. It is not Rome that holds the sword of justice, it is the Lord, and he will come soon to punish evil, and this punishment will extend to those in the church who fail to repent. Just as Balaam inevitably died by the sword for leading Israel astray, so these new age Balaamites, the Nicolaitans / the conquers of the people / the false teachers, will inevitably face the judgment of God unless also they repent.
oun "[repent] therefore" - Inferential, drawing a logical conclusion.
ei de mh "otherwise" - but if not. Introducing an exceptive clause, expressing a contrast by designating an exception.
soi dat. pro. "to you" - [i am coming quickly] to you. Dative of direction / destination.
met (meta) + gen. "against [them]" - Expressing association / accompaniment; "I will engage in battle with them." The expression "I will wage war against" makes the same point, although meta is not used to express opposition, but see BAGD 509.3a. The battle with "them" is kata sou, "against you", in v14, and this tacu, "soon".
en + dat. "with [the sword]" - by [the sword]. Here instrumental, expressing means.
tou stomatoV (a atoV) gen."of [my] mouth" - of the mouth [of me]. The genitive is probably adjectival, possessive, with the mouth, or the words formed by the mouth, being the sword. Mathewson suggests ablative, source / origin, "the sword that comes out of the mouth", TEV. The imagery presumably describes God's word of judgment upon the sinner.
iv) Promise, v17. The Lord promises that those who stand firm against the false teachers will share in the glory of eternity - their entry ticket is reserved for them and awaits collection.
oJ ecwn .... taiV ekklhsiaiV. tw/ nikwnti "whoever has ears ....... to the churches. To the one who is victorious"" - See v7.
tou manna gen. "some of the [hidden] manna" - [to the one victorious / overcoming, i will give] of the manna [the one having been hidden]. Indeclinable noun, the genitive being best viewed as partitive, so Charles, Smalley, ... with tineV, "certain" = "some", assumed; "I will give a portion of the hidden manna." The participle tou kekrummenou, "the one having been hidden" is adjectival, attributive, as NIV. "I shall give him some of the manna hidden from sight", Cassirer. A bowl of manna was stored in the ark out of sight and stayed there until the Ark was captured by the Philistines on the battle field of Ebenezer, 1Sam.4. There is no mention of the manna when the Ark was returned, 2Sam.5, although tradition has it that Jeremiah hid the ark and its contents at the time of the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians and that it will be restored with the coming of the Messiah. So, sharing in the hidden manna images the messianic feast in paradise. Those who endure will share in the feast.
autw/ "-" - to him. Dative of indirect object; "him" = "the one overcoming."
autw/ "that person" - [and i will give a white stone] to him. Dative of indirect object.
yhfon leukhn "a white stone" - Again we are left to struggle with John's imagery. The point of the promise is clear enough, the one who is victorious, conquers, overcomes, .... is blessed eternally; paradise is theirs. One of the better ideas proposed is that the stone is a tessara, a small piece of granite or marble serving as token of admittance to a major public event, in this case, the gathering of believers in heaven.
gegrammenon (grafw) perf. mid./pas. part. "with [a new name]" - [and upon the stone a new name] having been written. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "stone". Inscribed on the tessara is the person's new name, a name only they know. Again the imagery is somewhat illusive, possibly for a new age the believer should have a new name, just as Jesus gave special names to his disciples on earth, cf., Isa.62:2. Maybe "the new name" = "a new character, an eschatological reality of the new age. Prophetic imagery is, by its very nature, illusive.
epi + acc. "on it" - upon. Local, expressing space.
ei mh "-" - [which no one knows] except. Introducing a exceptive clause, expressing a contrast by designating an exception.
oJ lambanwn (lambanw) pres. part. "the one who receives it" - the one receiving. The participle serves as a substantive. "Only the person who receives the tessara will know the name inscribed upon it."