"The Kings of the East"

Is it justifiable to apply "the East" of Rev­elation 16:12 to Japan?

W. E. HOWELL., Professor of Greek, Theological Seminary

Is it justifiable to apply "the East" of Rev­elation 16:12 to Japan?

An interesting similarity in the significa­tion of the Greek word for "East" and of the name or word "Japan," has led some to apply the word "East" in this passage to Japan, and to say that Japan is specifically mentioned in this prophecy. This coincidence is worthy of careful study. In the Authorized Version the verse reads, "that the way of the kings of the East might be prepared." In the American Revised Version its more literal rendering reads, "that the way might be made ready for the kings that come from the sun rising" (with the word "come" supplied). The Greek itself for "east" in this passage has two words, anatole heliou, or literally, "rising of sun," which the American Revised Version renders "sun rising." This identical phrase is used also in Revelation 7:2: "I saw another angel ascending from the east". (A.V.), and "I saw another angel ascend from the sun rising" (A.R.V.). In the other eight places (five in Matthew, two in Luke, and one in Revelation), the reading is simply anatole (rising), or its plural anatolai (risings). In seven of these eight places, the Authorized Version renders it "east," and in the other one "dayspring."

These terms in New Testament Greek are in harmony with general Greek usage from the time of Homer (800 B.c.), who uses anatoldi heelioi in the Odyssey, down through the writings of Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, and Josephus, to the present day. Anatole is simply the regular Greek way of saying "east," as dusine (setting), is the regu­lar way of saying "west." The Modern Greek version of the Bible uses the same. The Greeks called Asia Minor "Anatolia," because it lies to their east—where they saw the sun rise. The wise men came from the east—prob­ably Mesopotamia or Persia—where the people of Palestine saw the sun rise. The people of Ohio call New England "down east." The people of Iowa call Ohio "east." The people of California call everything beyond the Rock­ies "the east." We Americans all, and Euro­peans generally, have our Near East and Far East. This is because the lands called "east" lie in the direction of the sun rising, as relates to those who call such lands "east."

Is it surprising, then, that the Chinese call Japan the Land of Sunrise? This they do in their name for Japan—Jih Pun or Rih Ben (sun rise), whence our word Japan. Also the Japanese themselves call their own country Nippon or Nihon (sunrise), and their empire, Dai Nippon Teikoku, (Great Sunrise Empire). To the Chinese the sun appears to rise in the direction of Japan, and the Japanese are glad to have it so understood. The Japanese con­ception of their country is symbolized on their flag with a picture of the full-orbed sun above the horizon.

It is clear, then, that "East" is a relative term, its application depending on the view­point of the observer or writer. When the prophet John mentions "the kings of the East," does he mean the kings of Japan, the so-called "Sunrise Kingdom," as the Chinese call her, and as she styles herself ? If he does mean Japan, does he also mean in Revelation 7:2 that he saw an angel ascending from Japan—a Japanese angel, forsooth? Shall we under­stand also that the wise men came from Japan, because the Japanese and Chinese call Japan the Land of the Rising Sun, and the wise men are said to come from the "sunrise," to give it literally?

These questions are not intended to be facetious, but only to lead us to look the origi­nal question squarely in the face,—"Is it justi­fiable to apply Revelation 16:12 to Japan?" The only reasonable inference from these considerations would seem to be that John's phrase, "kings of the East," should apply to the country east of the Euphrates, since the Euphrates is spoken of as drying up to clear the way for kings or powers east of that re­gion. This might and probably will include Japan, and Japan might be prominent among the kings or the powers represented in the prophecy. But is it safe for us to literalize so much, or be so specific in interpreting par­ticular features of a prophecy that has not yet been fulfilled? The East, or Orient, as it is called from the Latin derivation (also mean­ing a rising), has come to be so well estab­lished in general usage that when we use the term, it is understood that we mean China, Japan, India, and in fact the whole country from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. Why limit it to Japan? Would we not be wiser to watch intently the unfolding of this episode in prophecy, and wait to see who the "kings of the East" prove to be, "knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation"? 2 Peter I :20.


[Professor of Greek, Theological Seminary.]

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W. E. HOWELL., Professor of Greek, Theological Seminary

February 1938

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