And I saw when the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and the one sitting on it had a bow. A victory crown was given to him and he went out conquering and in order that he might conquer. Rev 6:1-2.
It is clear that Revelation six builds on the throne scene of chapter five. The Lamb takes the book in chapter five and begins to break its seals in our passage above. But a question arises, are the seals the content of the book itself? Or are the contents only revealed when all seven seals are broken? This is crucial for anyone who wants to understand the passage.
If the book is a scroll, shaped like a rolling pin, the seals would be placed outside the “book” and would have to be broken before the book could be read. If the book is a codex (like the book you are holding now), with sheets of paper bound together on one side, you could conceivably seal or tape up the book into seven sections that could be opened one at a time.
While the codex form was invented around the time of Revelation, Jews still use the scroll form for their Bibles up to this day. Christians, however, immediately switched to the new form. Of the hundred or so earliest manuscripts of the New Testament (often existing today only as fragments) only four are in scroll form. We can tell when a manuscript fragment came from a scroll by the slight curvature in the paper that comes from being rolled up for a long time.
Why did Christians switch to the codex form for their Bibles? Probably because of the four gospels. Christians wanted to be able to reference all four gospels in the same document. A scroll that big would be too large to handle, but you could fit all four gospels into a codex fairly easily. So shortly after the time of Revelation, Christians switched to the codex form.
Now back to our original question. Is the book being unsealed a scroll or a codex? Are the events of Revelation 6 a view of the content of the book or are they the kinds of things that lead up to the opening of the book? Fortunately, John does not leave us in any doubt. In Rev 6:14, he says, “The sky was split open like a scroll being rolled up.”
According to this verse the sky splits open like a scroll when it is rolled up. The word for “scroll” in 6:14 is the same word used for the sealed scroll of chapter 5. The sealed scroll, therefore, is clearly not a codex. With a scroll, the seals would have to be completely broken before you could read anything inside. Since the events in Revelation 6 are related to the breaking of the seals, they do not describe the content of the scroll itself, they are things that have to take place before the scroll can be opened.