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The labarum or chi-rho symbol with alpha and omega
The coat of arms of the Anglican diocese of Trinidad
Coat of arms of Principality of Asturias (Spain)
Stylized carving at entrance to Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Família (Barcelona)

The term Alpha and Omega comes from the phrase "I am the alpha and the omega" (Koiné Greek: τὸ Α καὶ τὸ Ω), an appellation of Jesus[1] in the Book of Revelation (verses 1:8, 21:6, and 22:13).

In the Book of Revelation, it reads “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.”[2]. The first part of this phrase (“I am the Alpha and Omega”) is first found in Chapter 1 verse 8, and is found in every manuscript of Revelation that has 1v8. Several later manuscripts repeat “I am the Alpha and Omega” in 1v11 too, but it does not receive support here from most of the oldest manuscripts, including the Alexandrine, Sinaitic, and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus. It is, therefore, omitted in some modern translations. Scholar Robert Young stated, with regards to “I am the Alpha and Omega” in 1v11, that the “oldest MSS. omit” it.[3]



Its meaning is found in the fact that alpha (Α) and omega (Ω) are respectively the first and last letters of the Classical (Ionic) Greek alphabet. This would be similar to referring to someone in English as the "A and Z". Thus, twice when the title appears it is further clarified with the additional title "the beginning and the end" (21:6, 22:13).

Though many commentators and dictionaries apply this title both to God and to Christ, secular scholars note otherwise.[4] Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament (1974) observes: "It cannot be absolutely certain that the writer meant to refer to the Lord Jesus specifically here... There is no real incongruity in supposing, also, that the writer here meant to refer to God as such." However, most Christian denominations teach that it does apply to Jesus and God as they are one.

Therefore the letters Alpha and Omega in juxtaposition are often used as a Christian visual symbol (see examples).

This symbol was suggested by the Apocalypse, where many believe that Christ, as well as the Father, is "the First and the Last" (ii, 8); "the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (cf., xxii, 13; i, 8). Clement of Alexandria (2nd century, philosopher and commentator on pagan and Christian information) speaks of the Word as "the Alpha and the Omega of Whom alone the end becomes beginning, and ends again at the original beginning without any break" (Stromata, IV, 25). Tertullian (lawyer, theologian) also alludes to Christ as the Alpha and Omega (De Monogamiâ, v), and from Prudentius (Cathemer., ix, 10) we learn that in the fourth century the interpretation of the apocalyptic letters was still the same: "Alpha et Omega cognominatus, ipse fons et clausula, Omnium quae sunt, fuerunt, quaeque post futura sunt." It was, however, in the monuments of early Christianity that the symbolic Alpha and Omega had their greatest vogue.

This phrase is interpreted by many Christians to mean that Jesus existed from eternity (as the second person of the Trinity), and will exist eternally.


Emet (אמת), literally "truth", one of the names of God in Judaism, has been interpreted as consisting of the first, middle and final letters of the Hebrew alphabet.


Similarly, al-Awwal (الأول), literally "the First" is one of the Names of God in the Qur'an appearing in the Chapter of Iron (al-Hadeed) with its corresponding name al-Akhir (الأخر), "the Last", which are sometimes rendered "Alpha" and "Omega" in reference to the verse in the Book of Revelation.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Young's Concise Commentary on the Holy Bible p. 180 1977
  4. ^ The New Bible Dictionary, edited by Alton Bryant; Bible Dictionary WM. Smith; and the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia All indicate it does apply to God and Jesus

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

In Jewish Theology

When God passed before the face of Moses on Sinai the great Law-giver of Israel called out: "Jehova, Jehova and and merciful God, of long-suffering, and full of goodness and truth" [(Ex., xxxiv, 6), in the Douay Version, "0 the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, patient and of much compassion, and true"]. God's being is fullness of goodness and truth -- Plenitudo veri et boni in the Latin translation. They are foremost among God's moral attributes. They are the immediate outcome of His Divine operations. For God is an infinitely pure spirit. His being is Intellect and Will. Truth is the final object of the intellect, and goodness is that of the will. In the psalter they are praised and invoked by the poet with holy and loving fondness, e. g. Pss., xxiv, 10; xxxix, 11, 12; lvi, 4, 11; lxxxiv, 11; lxxxv, l5; cxvi, 2. Of the two perfections truth and goodness, the former ranks higher. Truth is the first of all perfections. The Hebrew word for truth is Emeth. It is composed of three letters: Aleph=Alpha, Mem=My, and Thaw=Theta. The Aleph and the Thaw are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet as the Alpha and Omega are of the Greek. Thus the term Emeth (truth) begins with the first letter of the alphabet and ends with the last. This letter of the alphabet and ends with the last. This led the Jewish sages to find in this word a mystical meaning. The Aleph or the first letter of Emeth(truth) denotes that God is the first of all things. There was no one before Him of whom He could have received the fullness of truth. The Thaw, or last letter, in like manner signifies that God is the last of all things. There will be no one after Him to whom He could bequeath it. Thus Emeth is a sacred word expressing that in God truth dwells absolutely and in all plenitude. Emeth, as the Jewish divines truly say, is the signaculum Dei essentia (see Buxtori's Lexicon). In Yoma 69b., and Sanh. 64a., the following is related: "The men of the great synagogue prayed to God to remove from the earth the Evil Spirit, as the cause of all trouble. Immediately a scroll fell from heaven with the word Truth written thereon, and thereupon a fiery lion came out of the sanctuary. It was the spirit of idolatry leaving the earth". "This legend shows", says Hanina "that the seal of God is truth". (Jewish Encyclopedia.)

In Christian Usage

The manner of expressing God's eternity by means of the first and last letters of the alphabet seems to have passed from from the synagogue into the Church. In place of the Aleph and Thaw, the Alpha and Omega were substituted. But the substitution of the Greek letters for those of the Hebrew tongue inevitably caused a portion of the meaning and beauty in thus designating God to be lost. The Greek letters Alpha and Omega have no relation to the word Truth. Omega is not the last letter of the word aletheia (truth), as Thaw is of the word Emeth. The sacred and mystical word Truth, expressing in Hebrew, through its letters Aleph and Thaw, God's absolute and eternal being, had to be sacrificed. "Alpha-Omega" (and its Hebrew equivalent) signify an absolute plenitude, or perfection. It is a Jewish saying that the blessing on Israel in Lev., xxvi, 3-13, is complete because it begins with Aleph and ends with Thaw. Jehovah's absolute perfection is expressed in Is., xli, 4; xliv, 6, by the phrase, "I am the first and the last". Plato, "De Legibus", IV, 715, describes God in the same manner: archen te kai teleuten kai mesa ton onton apanton echon, and quotes this phrase as a palaios logos. Cf. also Josephus, C. Apion., II, xxiii. The phrase fitly expresses the idea that God is eternal, the beginning and end of all things. The fourth Gospel, after stating that the "Word was God", says, "and the Word dwelt among us full of grace and truth". Grace stands for goodness. The phrase is identical with Exodus 34:6, "full of goodness and truth". We have here the two great divine attributes, Truth and Goodness, assigned to Christ in all their fullness. What Moses has said of God, the Evangelist says of Christ. In the Apocalypse the "Alpha-Omega" taking the place of its Hebrew equivalent occur in the first chapter to designate God, i, 8; but in the last two chapters to designate Christ (Ap., xxi, 6; xxii, 13). It is an argument that its author believed in the divinity of Christ. In the earlier ages of the Church the Alpha and Omega were used as the monogram of Christ. These letters became His crest. The poet Prudentius says, "Alpha et Omega cognominatus, ipse fons et clausula omnium quae sunt, fuerunt, quaeque post future sunt" (Cathemer., 9, 11). The "Alpha-Omega" symbol was written under the arms of the cross within a circle or triangle. Christians had the two letters engraved on their signet rings [<a href=../images/01332aax.gif>Fig. 4 (Vigouroux, Biblical Lexicon)]. Sometimes the Alpha and the Omega are written in the Nimbus, or halo, of the Lamb; for instance, in the paintings of the Catacombs of Petrus and Marcellinus, third century. We further find these two letters in frescoes and mosaics of several ancient churches; for instance, in the chapel of St. Felicitas, and in San Marco in Rome; in the world-famed mosaics of Ravenna, in Galla Placidia, St. Crisologo, St. Vitale. In the course of time Alpha and Omega ceased to be used as the monogram of Christ for church paintings and ornaments. During the last centuries the letters I.H.S. (see ABBREVIATIONS, ECCLESIASTICAL) have completely taken their place. Recently, however, on tabernacle doors and antependia the older device is again met with.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.


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