Eschatology Week: The Identity of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11)

Welcome to Eschatology Week at The Voice of Stefan! It occurred to me over the weekend that I’ve had a couple of posts on broadly eschatological themes in the works for quite some time, and given the eschatological events scheduled for Tuesday, there is no better time to publish them than the present.

I wish to start the festivities by briefly discussing a subject of the greatest importance for all serious students of biblical prophecy: what is the true identity of the Two Witnesses described in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation, verses 3 through 12? Needless to say, endless streams of ink have been spilled over the centuries (and, more recently, numberless bytes have been consumed) in the attempt to settle this question. I was therefore not surprised when our friend James McGrath publicized a letter he has received from a scholar of prophecy in which a tantalizing proposal is made: the Two Witnesses, the scholar maintains, are none other than Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Some might greet such a suggestion with great skepticism; I, however, view it with a great deal of sympathy, because this unnamed titan of prophetic study, having come so close to the answer, has sadly missed the goal in the end.

Yes, my gentle snowflakes: it is my considered opinion that our scholar friend has indeed missed the mark, but not by much. After years of study of this edifying subject, I am prepared to announce that the Two Witnesses to which the Book of Revelation, chapter 11, verses 3 through 12, alludes are the greatly renown performers, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

For a start, let us consider a matter of simple arithmetic: we are plainly told that the witnesses are two in number; no more, no less. Holy Writ nowhere mentions two talentless sideckicks playing guitar and drums respectively, and riding on the coat tails of the Two Witnesses’ success. This much should be obvious from a dispassionate reading of the text. It therefore stands to reason that the Two Witnesses should have been revealed as a duo (like Simon and Garfunkel), and not as a foursome (like The Beatles).

Further, we are told that the witnesses are “the two olive trees” (v. 4). It is known by all serious students of the Bible that the olive tree is a type of Israel, and that therefore, the Two Witnesses must be Jewish. Now, it is hardly necessary to submit evidence to demonstrate that Simon and Garfunkel are both Jews; but those wishing to identify Lennon and McCartney as the Two Witnesses are left without a leg to stand on, so to speak, unless they also subscribe to British Israelism (a thoroughly discredited theory, but one, nevertheless, not without its ardent supporters).

From these considerations it will appear that our biblical case for the identification of the Two Witnesses is strong, but admittedly, it is not without its problems. It is clear that, of the two, Simon is far greater than Garfunkel. It was he, after all, who wrote the songs (i.e., prophecies), and so the question might rightly be posed as to whether Garfunkel may be reckoned as a Witness at all. The great Casablancan philosopher, Groucho Marx, expressed our problem well in a thank you letter to publishers Simon and Schuster dated March 24, 1954:

“Dear Boys:

I received a wire recently congratulating me on the merits of my radio show. I must say I was flattered by its enthusiastic tone, but without inquiring too deeply into your affairs, it would be helpful if I knew whether the wire was Simon’s idea or Schuster’s.

It is difficult to thank partners, for in a partnership there is always the likelihood that one of them is a mastermind and the other a stooge, and in spreading thanks equally I could conceivably be offending the brains of the organization. Eventually this could create a serious schism in your young publishing company.”

The Philosopher wisely uses here words such as “likelihood” and “conceivably,” because such worries are based on nothing but conjectures. And while spreading thanks equally did create a serious schism in Simon and Garfunkel’s young organization, the fact remains that their discography (i.e., prophetic corpus) was equally performed by both and indeed published under both their names, and therefore this apparent difficulty need not concern us any further.

In conclusion, I am overjoyed to be able to share with all of you these assured results of many years of labor in the study of biblical prophecy. I hope that these convicting truths have either upbuilt your faith or broken down your godlessness, as may be appropriate.

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6 responses to “Eschatology Week: The Identity of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11)

  1. I don’t mean to burst your bubble (particularly as I seem to get chills nearly every time I hear ‘Sounds of Silence’ or ‘Scarborough Fair’), but according to Archbishop Averky of Jordanville, ‘By these two witnesses all the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church understand almost unanimously the Old Testament righteous ones Enoch and Elias, who were taken alive into heaven’ (‘The Apocalypse in the Teachings of Ancient Christianity’, trans. Hieromonk Seraphim [Rose] [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1998], pp. 166-7). Of course, the Holy Fathers, even if we include in their number Archbishop Averky himself, I’ll wager, had never heard ‘Sounds of Silence’.

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  2. A really fun and interesting perspective comes from our old friend St Victorinus (martyred by the thrice-accursed Diocletian). In chapter 11 of his In Apocalypsin (which I translated a couple years ago), he states “Many think Elijah to be with Elishah or Moses, but they are both dead. But Jeremiah has not found death. By all our ancients they passed down that it was to be Jeremiah; for even the very word which was made to him testifies, saying: ‘Before I formed you in your mother’s belly, I knew you, and before you left the womb I sanctified you, and I made you a prophet to the gentiles.’ But he was not a prophet to the gentiles, and thus both (sayings being) by the Divine, that which He promised has also inevitably to show: that he will be a prophet to the gentiles.” He then adduces the two olive trees from Zechariah and some other stuff. So he thought the two were Elijah and Jeremiah! Fun, huh?

    Anyhow, he shows an interesting state of affairs in the interpretation of the Two Prophets. Elijah is, it seems, universally recognized as one of them. But Victorinus doesn’t mention Enoch, at all (which is rather surprising). He does mention Elishah and Moses, however. Now we do know that in various apocryphal writings, Moses was assumed into heaven, like Enoch and Elijah. Considering this verse: “They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire” (Revelation 11.6), in light of the Prophet Elijah in 1Kings 17.1 preventing rain, and of course the connection with Moses of turning the waters to blood (Exodus 7) and all smiting the earth with the various plagues (using the same word in Revelation and LXX Exodus, πληγη), it seems pretty clear that a demonstrable case can be made for the Two Prophets to be Elijah and Moses in Revelation.

    I think that’s what’s going on there. And the connection opens up interesting doors onto possibilities about which of the various stories among the apocryphal works were considered to have been true by the Twelve and the various authors in the New Testament. Jude and Revelation, too, thus both appear to draw on such, as completely authentic.

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  3. Gentlemen, I have conclusively established above the true meaning of the prophetic utterance in Revelation, chapter 11, verses 3 through 12, and therefore can make little sense of your bewildering comments. Why you must bring into the discussion such ancient, uninspired authors is beyond me; clearly they couldn't interpret this prophecy correctly, since they did not live to see its fulfillment. Further, I am absolutely certain that neither of you hotshots has spent even a minimal fraction of the time I have subjecting the prophetic corpus of the Two Witnesses (both canonical and extracanonical) to careful scrutiny, and are therefore not prepared to speak on the subject with the same authority as I can. My suggestion to you both is to lay aside such petty concerns as the "history" of "exegesis" and embrace the truth that is perfectly obvious to everyone else.

    Kevin> Fun indeed! I was vaguely aware of the tradition that the holy prophet Jeremiah did not taste death, but it never would have occurred to me to connect it with the Two Witnesses of the Apocalypse.

    I too think that the most likely interpretation of the passage is that the Two Witnesses are the holy prophets Elias and Moses, not only because of the reasons you suggest, but also on account of their appearance at the Lord's Transfiguration.

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  4. The reference to “shutting heaven” appears to point to Elijah, while the powers over the waters to turn them to blood and to strike the earth with plagues points to Moses. However, since the prophecy is symbolic I would think it refers to the “law and the prophets” as a whole versus individuals.

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  5. Hi Stefan,

    I enjoyed the comments you made regarding my assertion that John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the two witnesses. I just finished the book I wrote that details how it is that I am able to make that claim. It’s just over 130 pages or so – a fairly quick read. I am in the process of putting up a blog that will host the book. It’s at http://thegoodguise.wordpress.com. I ma in the process of getting final version out there and if you are interested in obtaining that final version I can always send you a WORD doc as an attachment to an email.

    Well, take care and yes, I did laugh out loud regarding your Simon and Garfunkel line of thought. It’s good to have a sense of humor at this time of humanity, especially if you are a Christian!

    Take care and I hope to hear from you.

    Jacob

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  6. Jacob> Greetings! My apologies that it's taken me so long to reply to your comment, but as I noted in my post yesterday, I've had little time for the blog over the past few weeks.

    Thanks for the link to your online book, which I will certainly publicize. Of course, you must have gathered from this post (and perhaps from my other posts on eschatology, if you have read them), that I am of the opinion that the conclusion you draw is, quite simply, hermeneutically impossible. But what amazes me is that, from where I'm standing, many other eschatological views that not a few North American Christians hold ("sci-fi eschatology," as I often put it) are every bit as implausible, both exegetically and theologically, and yet yours might be singled out for ridicule by people who clearly share your hermeneutical commitments only because it is not the sacred cow of some denominational or parachurch organization.

    Thanks for stopping by, and for being such a good sport! :-)

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