March 26, 2009
This question was one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve received over the years whenever I spoke with live audiences. Three people have also asked me this question in person within the last month, so I think it is time to address this question in a blog.
Over the years, I’ve heard and considered various possible explanations for the omission of the tribe of Dan in Revelation 7:5-8. What follows is the explanation which makes the most sense to me. First, I should state I’m a stickler for “getting things in context” so Rev. 7:5-8 needs to be understood in light of the introductory language of Rev. 7:4. Rev. 7:4 is the famous passage about the sealing of the 144,000, and it states these 144,000 will be sealed “of all the tribes of children of Israel” (emphasis added). Notice this introductory language specifically indicates it pertains to “all” the tribes of Israel. By that definition, the tribe of Dan cannot be excluded. Verse 4 does not say “all the tribes of Israel except Dan.” However, the listing of the tribes in verses 5-8 does exclude the tribe of Dan. How can this be?
The tribal listing in verses 5-8 has a distinct oddity in it. It lists “Manasseh” and “Joseph” even though Manasseh is included within the tribe of “Joseph” (Ephraim also is included as the other part of the tribe of Joseph). The term “Joseph” is generally used when biblical prophecy intends to refer to both Ephraim and Manasseh jointly (as in Genesis 49). Genesis 49 lists prophecies about all the tribes of Israel in the latter days and this list includes the tribe of Dan so the Danites obviously have to be here in the modern world. Joseph is listed in verse 22 and neither Manasseh nor Ephraim are listed individually.
The mention of “Joseph” in Rev. 7:8 is understood to include both Ephraim and Manasseh. With “Manasseh” being listed in verse 6, this listing has the net effect of mentioning Manasseh twice (once directly and once indirectly) and Dan not at all. This is not consistent with the wording in verse 4 that “all” the tribe of Israel were to be included in the “sealing” of the 144,000.
Therefore, the word “Manasseh” in verse 6 should, in my opinion, have been rendered “Dan,” not Manasseh. I think there was an ancient scribal error in copying an original document sometime in the far distant past and this error was copied from then until the present. Since verse 4 specifically states the intent was to include “all” the tribes of Israel, the omission of Dan has to be an error by some ancient scribe, translator or copier who got confused re: the tribal listings. This is the only way that the listing makes sense with the language of verse 4 (which makes no mention that one tribe was to be mentioned twice and one tribe not at all).
A few translational errors have occurred in the Bible. I think some were intentional. The KJV translators, for example, deliberately (I think) mistranslated the Greek word for “Passover” as “Easter” in the KJV (Acts 12:4). They likely did so because King James was head of the Church of England and he did not want his “King James Version” to “Judaize” in the text. The RSV and many other more modern versions of the Bible saw this obvious error and they restored the word “Passover”‘ to their translations of Acts 12:4.
I think the error in Rev. 7:4-8 was unintentional. Most people are confused about the “12 tribes of Israel” which became 13 tribes when Joseph was subdivided into Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48:5). More confusion exists when one looks at maps of the Ancient Promised Land and sees 12 territorial allotments but no mention of the tribe of Levi (which inherited 48 cities in Numbers 35:7 rather than one contiguous territory).
I think an ancient scribe or copier preserving Rev. 7:4-8 in an ancient manuscript was confronted with a conundrum. He saw 13 named tribes of Israel in the Bible, but realized the language of verse 4 required that only 12 of them could be listed in order for 144,000 to result from multiplying 12 tribes times 12,000. I think he got confused and realized he had to leave out one of the 13 tribal names and he omitted Dan by mistake. The tribe of Ephraim is also not named in Revelation 7:5-8, but Ephraim is understood to be included within the definition of “Joseph.” I offer no guarantees that I have the correct understanding of this confusing text, but this understanding would reconcile the listing of verses 5-8 with the language of verse 4 that “all the tribes” were to have members who would be “sealed” in the latter days. I believe the prophetic listing of the tribes of Israel in Revelation 7 was originally inspired to be consistent with the latter-day tribal listing in Genesis 49, but a manuscript copier got “mixed up” about the tribes of Israel long ago and made a mistake. None of the other explanations that I’ve seen (or held) over the years make as much sense because they do not address the fact hat verse 4 states all the tribes of Israel were to be included in the “sealing.”
Those of you who think you have descended from the tribe of Dan can relax. God did not forget you.