PMW 2020-103 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
The first word in the Book of Revelation, the word which became its title, is: apokalupsis, which means “unveiling, revelation.” Despite this title Revelation is undoubtedly the most difficult to interpret, most hotly debated, and most abused book in all of Scripture. The book is so perplexing that John himself could not understand portions of it (Rev. 7:13-14; 17:6-7). Indeed, its abuse seems directly attributable to its difficulty: The less theologically astute and exegetically trained the “commentator,” the more confident his assertions — and, unfortunately, the greater the sales of his books.
Walter F. Adeney noted that “imagination runs riot with the elaborate fancies of this marvelous book.” Anthropologist and commentator Vacher Burch in his thought-provoking Anthropology and the Apocalypse lamented: “The Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is the most difficult writing in the New Testament. No plainer proof of this is needed than the fact that most often it has been artificially sequestered so as to yield strange chronology and stranger sense, by the ignorant and the wise. The long history of its interpretation seems to demonstrate that the majority has desired it to be only a semi-magical writing.”
With evident concern, Donald W. Richardson observed that “the ‘lunatic fringe’ of thinking on the times and seasons and last things of history has always reveled in the Revelation.” With a concern akin to that of Richardson, Greville Lewis complained that “through the centuries this book has been the happy hunting ground of the cranks who believed that its cryptic messages were meant to refer to the events of their own troubled age.” William Barclay follows suit when he stated that Revelation has “become the playground of religious eccentrics.”
Blessed Is He Who Reads: A Primer on the Book of Revelation
By Larry E. Ball
A basic survey of Revelation from an orthodox, evangelical, and Reformed preterist perspective. Ball understands John to be focusing on the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. Insightful. Easy to read.
For more Christian studies see: www.KennethGentry.com
Quite naturally, then, Revelation has perplexed the great Christian exegetes of history. The Latin church father Jerome (A.D. 340-420) lamented long ago that it contained “as many words as mysteries.” Martin Luther (1483-1546), the famed reformer and untiring interpreter of Scripture, originally rejected Revelation as non-canonical, complaining, “My Spirit cannot adapt itself to the book.” Fellow reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) refused to take a doctrinal proof-text from Revelation. Even John Calvin (1509-1564) omitted Revelation from his prodigious commentary on the Bible. R. H. Charles (1855-1931), in his celebrated magnum opus on Revelation, states that it took him twenty-five years to complete his commentary.
Though they concur in little else, leading interpreters agree on the difficulty Revelation presents to the would-be exegete:
• Milton S.Terry: “No portion of the Holy Scripture has been the subject of so much controversy and of so many varying interpretations.”
• Eduard Wilhelm Reuss: “Ideas of the Apocalypse are so widely different that a summary notice of the exegetical literature, mingling all together, would be inexpedient.”
• B. B. Warfield: Revelation is “the most difficult book of the Bible: it has always been the most variously understood, the most arbitrarily interpreted, the most exegetically tortured.”
• Marvin R. Vincent: “This document has given rise to voluminous controversy.”
• H. B. Swete: “To comment on this great prophecy is a harder task than to comment on a Gospel, and he who undertakes it exposes himself to the charge of presumption. I have been led to venture upon on what I know to be dangerous ground.”
• Isbon T. Beckwith: “No other book, whether in sacred or profane literature, has received in whole or in part so many different interpretations. Doubtless no other book has so perplexed biblical students throughout the Christian centuries down to our own times.”
•A. T. Robertson: “Perhaps no single book in the New Testament presents so many and so formidable problems as the Apocalypse of John.”
• George R. Beasley-Murray: “Revelation is probably the most disputed and difficult book in the New Testament.”
• George Ladd: “Revelation is the most difficult of all New Testament books to interpret.”
• John F. Walvoord: “Attempts at its exposition are almost without number, yet there continues the widest divergence of interpretation.”
• Leon Morris: “Some of the problems of this book are enormously difficult and I certainly have not the capacity to solve them.” Indeed, it is “by common consent one of the most difficult of all the books of the Bible.”
• Alan F. Johnson: For “the modern reader” Revelation “is the most obscure and controversial book in the Bible.”
• C. Marvin Pate: “The Apocalypse is arguably the most controversial book in the Bible. . . . A hermeneutical thicket awaits the interpreter of Revelation.”
This book presents a strong, contemporary case in support of the early dating of Revelation. He builds on Before Jerusalem Fell and brings additional arguments to bear.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
As is lamented tongue-in-cheek: Wherever you find five commentators on Revelation, you will find six different views. Nevertheless, I am convinced that if we can get a handle on three important questions, we would be well on our way to a fundamentally sound and basic understanding of it. Those questions are:
“When was Revelation written?”
“How shall we approach it?”
“What is its basic theme?”
These three thematic questions will structure my approach to the topic, beginning in my next installment And although answering these questions will be tremendously helpful in understanding Revelation, obviously it will not resolve all the issues that arise.
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