(Rev. 8:10) Is this a torch or a lamp?

CLAIM: John says that he saw “a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers…” (Rev. 8:10). Some dispensational commentators hold that this might be a picture of missile (How else would a first century author describe such a vision?). However, the Greek word for “torch” is lampas, which is also translated as a “lamp” (Mt. 25:1, 3-4; Acts 20:8; Rev. 4:5). Is this dispensational speculation nullified on this basis?

RESPONSE: Dispensational interpreters do not (or should not!) claim that John was seeing a missile come down from the sky. This is simply speculation.

Some dispensationals base this speculation on the fact that a torch falling into the water—in and of itself—would not poison create anything catastrophic. Specifically, it wouldn’t poison anyone who drank from the water, as the context explains (v.11). Moreover, since John was seeing visions of the future, he might not have understood how to communicate what he was seeing. This is why he uses the language of the star looking “like a torch,” rather than saying that “it was a torch.” Thus John could be trying to describe what he was seeing—even if it wasn’t exact.


A missile coming to earth


A torch

As for the language of this word “torch” (Greek lampas), we would have to concede that this word is sometimes translated as “lamp” (Mt. 25:1, 3-4; Acts 20:8; Rev. 4:5). However, it is also sometimes translated as a “torch.” In fact, in John’s gospel, he writes that the priests and Pharisees came “with lanterns and torches” (Jn. 18:3). Here, John says that lanterns (or lamps) are different than torches. Therefore, if John had a lamp or lantern in mind here, he could have used the Greek word phanos (“lantern”) to describe it, which he had used in the past.