🔼The name Pantokrator: Summary
- All Holding
- From (1) the prefix πας (pas), all, and (2) the verb κρατεω (krateo), to hold or hold on.
The name Pantokrator became in post-Biblical times applied to Jesus for the sole purpose of providing emperors — in turn conveniently dubbed the representatives or even more bodacious: the replacements of Christ on earth — legitimacy for their regimes. It was in their obvious interest to portray Christ as a remote emperor, who ruled by means of local leaders (clergy), since they did the same thing and could hence derive the abysmal political doctrine of "right of kings".
This "right of kings" decrees that a monarch has no earthly superior, and thus rules by the will of God and can therefore do what he wants. But while this right was used to make the populace love the system that suffocated them, it ultimately derived from very poor theology. The word Christ, namely, means "anointed one" and in Israel's theocratic structure denoted either king, priest or prophet; those ranks that had no earthly superior and were directly linked to God. The good news of the gospel is that all ordinary humans can claim this anointing (2 Corinthians 1:21, Hebrews 1:9, 1 John 2:20). This means that any common person can claim the ultimate rank of Christ (not Christian) and is endowed with that very right of kings.
Furthermore, any lick of sense would have merely supported the notion that Christ needs no representative other than the omnipresent Holy Spirit, and would certainly not allow his own replacement by any human king. Even the term imperialists adopted to this effect, namely Pantokrator, did little beyond proving the exact opposite of their claims to be reality. Pantokrator, namely, does not mean all-ruler or all-governor but rather all-holder, and although emperors might have deluded themselves into believing that they were ruling the entire world as much as Christ does, they certainly had no grasp of every little event that unfolded anywhere on earth — and that is precisely what the Greek word pantokrator means: having a grasp of everything.
🔼My God stronger than yours
The idea of God as having much power, or rather of him being victoriously engaged in a competition with lesser powers, is purely a pagan sentiment and not Biblical. The Creator is not a player on the world stage, while everything other than the Creator is. By sheer merit of the definition, the Creator does not compete and neither needs nor lacks power but provides whatever has power with power. God owns everything: the good, the bad and the ugly (Psalm 50:12, Isaiah 45:5-7, Ezekiel 18:4, John 16:15).
The divinity with which the Bible deals provides both a stage and the rules of engagement of worldly forces, whether natural or human. The Bible states that God's laws are natural laws, and those will eventually prevail (Colossians 1:15-17, John 1:1-3, Romans 1:20, Matthew 24:35, Luke 16:17). All human activity must ultimately be aligned with those same laws, and images of man wrestling with God (Genesis 32:24-30) solely describe the struggle of a righteous man to align his heart and mind with the eternal laws of the Lord.
The pagan prays to entice his deity to do what the pagan wants and the deity hadn't thought of, but a righteous man prays to entice his and everybody else's Deity to show him what He wants and he didn't think of. A pagan wrestles with his god, but a righteous man wrestles with his own ungodliness. When David sang: "teach me your ways O Lord" he was saying something as mind-bogglingly un-pagan as Jesus when he said: "Your will be done" (Psalm 25:4, Matthew 6:10).
🔼The name Pantokrator in the Bible
In the New Testament the name Pantokrator occurs only in the Book of Revelation, not counting 2 Corinthians 6:18, where Paul concludes a series of quotes from the Septuagint (see full New Testament concordance). It's the word with which the authors of the Septuagint interpreted the name Sabaoth and the mysterious divine title Shaddai, possibly because by that time nobody really remembered what Shaddai meant.
The epithet pantokrator had been coined by Greek mythologists, who had applied it very sporadically to Hermes and to Mandulis, a Nubian equivalent of Horus, who also corresponds to Apollo. But neither of these was considered supreme or almighty. Instead they were oracular and messenger gods. Hermes even zipped chipper like a mailman between the world of the gods and that of mortals, and clearly shares traits with the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
The word "trinity" does not occur in the Bible and it took a few centuries of fermenting in a Greco-Roman Petri dish (and the decree of an emperor who was no theologian by a long shot) for the "Church Fathers" to come up with the Trinitarian dogma as un-solution to an otherwise non-existing problem. The Bible writers, on the other hand, were unyielding monotheists and obviously didn't think much of pagan pantheons or could care less about the wholly pagan dilemma of where God the Father might end and God the Son began, and Who might have come up with Whom first (but to give a hint: the summit of Rome's divine pyramid comprised the so-called Capitoline Triad, which first consisted of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus, and later Jupiter, Juno and Minerva).
The evangelist John wrote that the Word was in the beginning with God, and that all things came into being by him (John 1:1-3). Paul wrote something similar to the Colossians (1:16), but added that he was the first-born of all creation (1:15). This term "first-born" may have stressed the Word's preeminence and not his birth, as some commentators claim, but whoever wrote Proverbs 8 stated that Wisdom was the craftsman (see our article on the noun τεκτων, tekton, which describes the profession of Jesus of Nazareth and his father) by his side, having been brought forth as the first of his works (Proverbs 8:30, 8:22).
Whereas some scholars are comfortable with creating compartments within the deity (something like: Logos is really a thought inside God's mind) others find this demonstrative of both baffling arrogance and pagan immaturity and ultimately not very helpful. Right after Isaiah sees YHWH come with both might and an arm that simultaneously rules and gathers the lambs in his bosom, he states that God has measured the world's waters in the hollow of his hand (Isaiah 40:10-12). And similarly, the Psalmist declares that the depths of the earth are in God's hand (Psalm 95:4).
Pantokrator doesn't simply rule like a distant emperor or is stronger than the strongest contender. Pantokrator is he who holds everything, both in his hands, his bosom and in his mind.
🔼Etymology of the name Pantokrator
The name Pantokrator consists of two elements. The first part comes from the prefix πας (pas), meaning all:
The adjective πας (pas) declines into the more familiar forms παν (pan) and παντος (pantos) and expresses oneness, wholeness or totality.
The second part of our name comes from the verb κρατεω (krateo), which describes holding on to someone or something:
The verb κρατεω (krateo) means to hold on or hold in one's power. Noun κρατος (kratos) describes that holding or holding on. But note that these words do not so much describe force and coercion but rather a mastery and even intimacy.
The name Pantokrator means All Holding. It expresses "the capacity for, not the exercise of power" (in the elegant words of D.L. Holland's Pantokrator in New Testament and Creed, 1973), and is not the title of a remote despot but rather that of the passionate architect and intimately involved maintainer of all of creation. Also see John 21:25 and Colossians 2:3.