Thursday, 8 November 2018

Introducing the Book of Revelation (Part 1 of 3)

Distinctive Features
     The title of the last book of the NT comes from the opening line: Apokálupsis Iēsou Christou. The term apokálupsis refers to an uncovering, a revelation, a disclosure of knowledge, thus “A Revelation of Jesus Christ,” or simply “Revelation” or “The Apocalypse.” It is probably the last document of the NT canon to have been written. As the OT book of Genesis is the book of beginnings, the NT book of Revelation is the book of consummation. Revelation is the only NT document that deals primarily with prophetic events, and its message is presented with more symbolism than any of the other NT writings. The theme of the book is VICTORY! (see 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 12:11; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7).
     The author simply identifies himself as Iōannēs or “John” (1:1, 4, 9; 21:2; 22:8). He is clearly known to the seven churches of Asia, his authority is recognized, and he communicates as a spokesman for God (cf. 1:1, 11, 19; 10:10; 22:9, 18-19). The composition is in a Semitic style, and the author writes as if Greek were his second language, indicative of a native of Palestine (see S. L. Harris, Understanding the Bible [7th ed.] 517).
     There is a close relationship between Revelation and John’s Gospel and epistles, i.e., common ideas, theology, and vocabulary. For example, descriptions of Jesus as a lamb, as a shepherd, and as ho logos (“the word”); frequent use of antithesis (light vs. darkness, truth vs. falsehood, power of God vs. power of the world, etc.); common use of technical terms, e.g., alēthinos (“true”), marturia (“testimony”), nikaō (“conquer”), and tērein tas entolas  (“keep the commandments”);1 symbolic use of the number seven; replacement of the temple; metaphoric allusions to water and to manna;2 the highest concentration of the word menō (“abide”) in the NT; etc.
     Early testimony, attributing Revelation to the apostle John, includes the following: Justin [Martyr] (Dial. 81; cf. Apol. 1.28), who for a time lived in Ephesus – location of one of the seven churches of Revelation; Melito (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 4.26.2) of Sardis – location of one of the seven churches of Revelation; Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.11.1; 4.14.2; 4.20.11; 4.35.2) of Smyrna – location of one of the seven churches of Revelation. Irenaeus makes mention of “John in the Apocalypse” (Adv. Haer. 4.14.2; 4.17.6; 4.18.6; 4.21.3; 5.28.2; 5.34.2), further described as “John the disciple of the Lord” (Adv. Haer. 4.20.11; 5.26.1), who leaned on Jesus’ breast and later published his Gospel while living in Ephesus (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1). Further affirmation is found in the Muratorian canon, Theophilus of Antioch (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 4.24), Tertullian (Adv. Marcion 3.14), and Clement of Alexandria (Paed. 2.119; Quis dives 42; Strom. 6.106, 107).
Arguments Against the Apostle John’s Authorship
1. There is no apostolic claim; the writer professes to be a prophet, not an apostle.
2. There are considerable linguistic differences between the Gospel of John and Revelation. “The writer seems on the surface to be unacquainted with the elementary laws of concord. He places nominatives in opposition to other cases, irregularly uses participles, constructs broken sentences, adds unnecessary pronouns, mixes up genders, numbers and cases and introduces several unusual constructions” (D. Guthrie, NT Introduction 940).
3. The theology of Revelation differs from that of the Johannine writings: (a) The God of Revelation is a God of majesty and judgment; the God of the Johannine writings is a God of love. (b) In John’s Gospel Jesus is revealer and redeemer, while in Revelation he is a conquering warrior and king. (c) In John’s Gospel “the last things” are realized in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, yet in Revelation the focus is on the Lord’s return at the end of history.
Responses To These Objections
1. If John’s apostleship was accepted and respected by his readership, there was no need for an explicit claim to be made. Paul asserted his apostleship when it was called into question (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:1; Gal. 1:1), but at other times this was unnecessary (i.e., 1-2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon).
2. The vast distinction between the genres of the respective documents would easily account for variations, with special consideration for the highly symbolic (apocalyptic) nature of Revelation, the special circumstances under which it was written, and the importance of concealing its true meaning from the enemies of the Lord’s people. Further, if an amanuensis were employed to pen the Gospel, and John alone transcribed the book of Revelation, linguistic and grammatical differences would be understandable. At the same time, Revelation has a closer affinity to the Greek of the Johannine writings than to any other NT documents.
3. Placing emphasis on separate aspects of the divine nature, function, and purpose to achieve different objectives does not constitute conflicting theologies. D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo correctly point out: “But the contrasts are both overdrawn and incapable of proving much. Both the fourth gospel and Revelation teach that God is both loving and judging, that Christ is both redeemer and sovereign Lord, and that ‘the last things’ have both been realized in Jesus’ death and resurrection (at least in principle) and await the end of history for their consummation” (An Introduction to the NT 703).
     In future posts we will address other introductory matters pertaining to the book of Revelation.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, English translation is the author’s own.
     2 See D. Guthrie, NT Introduction 938-40; F. L. Godet, Gospel of St. John 1:182-90.

Related PostsIntroducing Revelation Part 2Part 3

Helpful Resources: G. Goswell, "Johannine Corpus," JETS 61.4 (2018): 717-33.

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