Once again I have pleasure in commending to BTW readers the latest Grove
Booklet to arrive in BGST Library, How to Read the Book of Revelation by
Ian Paul, an Anglican minister whose specialist field is the interpretation of
Revelation. Paul offers a clear introduction to this much-disputed topic, and
one which should be seriously pondered even by those who find that in the end
they do not agree with him. His reflections on contemporary application are
particularly helpful and thought-provoking.
Once again I have pleasure in commending to BTW readers the latest Grove Booklet to arrive in BGST Library, How to Read the Book of Revelation by Ian Paul, an Anglican minister whose specialist field is the interpretation of Revelation. Paul offers a clear introduction to this much-disputed topic, and one which should be seriously pondered even by those who find that in the end they do not agree with him. His reflections on contemporary application are particularly helpful and thought-provoking.
1 briefly sketches the problems which arise in reading Revelation, and sets out
two guiding principles: ‘God has given us the Bible to enlighten us, not to
puzzle us’; ‘study and belief are not in opposition, but should work
together’ (p. 4).
2 focusses on the genre of Revelation: what kind of writing is it? This
is an issue with which we are all familiar. If we are presented (say) with a
letter from our bank manager, a humorous email or a Straits Times
editorial we are able to recognise what kind of text it is and interpret it
correctly. But Revelation is written in a genre (apocalyptic) which, though it
was common in the 1st century AD, is unfamiliar today. In fact,
Revelation seems to combine features of more than one type of writing: at
different points it claims to be a letter (1:4, 9), a prophecy (1:3; 22:19) and
an ‘apocalypse’ (i.e., ‘revelation’, 1:1). Each of these genres poses
problems in interpretation.
3 stresses the value of reading Revelation against its historical background
(the Greco-Roman world of the 1st century AD). Paul shows how
knowledge of the circumstances and past history of the seven churches of Rev.
1–3 can help us better understand what the Lord said to each of them.
OT is another crucial background to bear in mind as we read Revelation.
Revelation is packed with allusions to the OT (over 670 of them, it is
calculated). Chapter 4 shows how when we identify the OT allusions in Revelation
and remind ourselves of the context and themes of the OT texts in question, the
meaning of some passages becomes much clearer. Thus, when we read Revelation 12
against the background of the OT it becomes likely that the woman symbolises the
people of God longing for deliverance (compare Is. 26:17; 66:7; Mi. 4:10; 5:3),
that the male child born to her represents the promised Messiah (Ps. 2:9), and
that the chapter as a whole is about Jesus’ victory on the cross (note the
reference to ‘the blood of the Lamb’ at 12:11).
5 is about reading Revelation in its cultural (Greco-Roman) context. This helps
us see things in the text we might otherwise not have noticed. For example, the
vision of Rev. 4, in which the elders cast their crowns before God, may well
contain an allusion to the ceremonies with which the Roman emperor was greeted
when he visited a city. Seen against this background, Rev. 4 would be making the
point that true power belongs to God, not Caesar. I found this chapter
are important in Revelation (figures such as 7, 12, 24, 666, etc.), and chapter
6 gives guidelines on how to interpret them. Among the topics covered is the
question of word and phrase frequencies (e.g., the Greek words for
‘Jesus’, ‘Spirit’ and ‘saints’ each occur 14 times; 14 [7 x 2] may
well signify the ideas of completeness [represented by the number 7; cf. Gen. 1,
etc.] and true witness [represented by the number 2; cf. Dt. 17:6]).
Particularly interesting is the section on the numerical values of words.
In Greek and Hebrew the letters of the alphabet all had numerical values. If you
write the Greek for ‘beast’ and the Greek for ‘Nero Caesar’ (the emperor
Nero) in Hebrew letters, the total of the Hebrew letters in each case is 666
(cf. Rev. 13:18). This may seem bizarre to us, but it fits the historical
context: alphanumeric ‘puns’ playing on the numerical value of words are
known from elsewhere in the Greco-Roman world and also in Rabbinic Judaism. The
identification of the beast with Nero also fits with a key theme of Revelation,
that the Roman Empire embodies opposition to God and to God’s people.
is followed by a useful discussion of metaphor in Revelation. Part of the point
of metaphorical language is that it can be reapplied to later situations.
chapters 12 and 13, Roman imperial power is identified with the beast from the
sea… As such it is characterised by repressive violence, conflict with the
true people of God, control of economic systems, and the maintenance of respect
for its image. In characterising it this way, Revelation is shearing off many of
the historical particularities of the Empire – it is creating a kind of
caricature, in which certain aspects of reality are focussed on and others
ignored. Such a caricature is then easily seen to apply to other contexts, where
there are regimes marked by repression, persecution, economic control and
maintenance of image. The metaphorical nature of the language makes it widely
applicable beyond its original context, and in fact appears to invite us to
similarly re-imagine our world using biblical categories in the way Revelation
does’ (p. 25).
That is, Revelation was written in the 1st century AD and takes as its starting point 1st-century realities. But it addresses these realities in a way which enables later generations of Christians (including ourselves) to reapply its teaching to their own situations. Revelation, Paul argues, should not be seen as directly predicting events of (say) the 20th and 21st centuries, but it nonetheless gives us 21st-century Christians tools for understanding what is happening in our days.
follow two shorter chapters discussing the millennium (Rev. 20) and the violent
imagery in Revelation. The booklet concludes with a survey of approaches to
Revelation (Idealist, Futurist, Church-historical, Contemporary-historical) and
some thoughts on how to apply Revelation to life today. There are suggestions
for further reading.
would recommend this booklet to anyone interested in understanding Revelation.
Unless you are already an expert on the topic, and maybe even if you are, you
are sure to learn something from this fascinating survey, which packs a lot of
scholarship into its 32 pages. Even if you disagree with aspects of Paul’s
interpretation of Revelation, his clear discussion of the hermeneutical issues
will help you to clarify your position and show you ways of drawing on the rich
resources of this bizarre, challenging, but ultimately heart-warming last book
of the Bible.
by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)
Our speaker at Chapel this Wednesday (25th June) was Mr. Lawrence Khoo, of Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church. A summary of what he said will appear in next week’s BTW.
Chapel speaker for next 2 weeks (July 2 and 9) will be Rev Dr Douglas Milne, who will speak on the Beatitudes.
A Blessed Birthday to ...
John Lim 23/6
Sandy Mok 23/6
Tricia Yeo 23/6
Charlie Yeo 23/6
David Yap 24/6
Patrick Ang 26/6
Benjamin Koe 26/6
Priscilla Chia 27/6
Vincent Lim Choon Peng 27/6
Lynette Low Li Liang 27/6
Loh Yiau Leng 28/6
Ng Peh Cheng 29/6
Sonali Peters 29/6
Mr Goh Mui Pong 29/6