Monday, December 29, 2008

Revelation and the 1st W

As we set out to walk through the book of Revelation, let's begin with some simple questions and starter answers. First, a story:

I had a Bible professor in college who did something very irritating on the first day that we studied the book of Revelation. He strolled around the room for at least five minutes saying, "Revelation, not Revelations," "Revelation, not Revelations," "Revelation, not Revelations," and so on. Over and over. Again. I wanted to scream. But, that five minutes made an indelible impression on me, which I will appreciate always. What did it teach me? Well, first, the title of the last book of our New Testament is called Revelation, not Revelations. That title is take from the very first word in the original Greek text, which is transliterated 'apocalyse'. The first line literally reads, "Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him..." Typically, translators add an implied definite article making this line, "The revelation of Jesus Christ..."

The second thing that five minute reptition from Professor John Swails taught me is to cringe whenever someone calls this book "Revelations." More importantly, it encourages me to think of this book as a whole, no matter how many differing scenarios there might be within it. Long before any attention to the 'trees' in this book-- what this or that symbol might mean and so forth-- the first thing about it is the 'forest'- it is the whole that is the revelation.

Now, let's start with the 5 W's of good study habits as a way of getting acquainted with this book. (All of the answers here are supplied in part by the book of Revelation itself, but mostly by studies of the book. I'll try to be clear when I'm moving from one to the other, but cannot promise that I will always do so. PLEASE feel free to differ with me on any issue, but do it kindly. We're all trying to listen faithfully to this book and we're all scratching our heads at times- even those who pretend that they've got it all figured out.)

Today's W: WHO?
The book of Revelation identifies the recipient of this vision as "John" at least 5 times, 3 of which come in the first chapter (vv. 1, 4, and 9). "John" was a fairly common name in Asia Minor during this time, so it is probably unwise to assume that this writer "John" is necessarily the same person as the apostle John or the writer of the 4th gospel or the writer of the letters called I, II, and III John. There is certainly a lot of similarity in language between the Gospel of John and the letters attributed to John, but that same kind of analysis has led many biblical scholars to reject the idea that the "John" of Revelation is the same "John" of the 4th gospel. A 3rd century Alexandrian bishop named Dionysius argued that parts of the book of Revelation were 'barbarous,' especially compared to the glorious language of the 4th gospel and that the style, grammar, and ideas in Revelation are obviously from a different pen. So ... my point is that we ought not to assume too quickly that every John is the same John in the New Testament.

There were certainly many persons among the church 'fathers' who accepted that the John of Revelation was the same John who wrote the 4th gospel (whom they assumed was the Apostle John also). Among them: Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement, Ireneaus, and Hippolytus- all of whom were pretty neat guys. But, among those who did not accept that the John of Revelation was the Apostle or the author of the 4th gospel: Marcion and the aforementioned Dionysius were chief among them.

In addition, there was a large degree of difference over whether the book of Revelation belonged in the New Testament. Since one of the criteria for accepting a book into the ‘canon’ was that it was written by or associated with an Apostle, those who accepted Revelation generally accepted John as the Apostle John; those who rejected it generally disputed that authorship. (Generally, but not always.) The 4th Century bishop of Jerusalem, Cyril, forbade the reading of Revelation in public or in private. The early 5th century theologian Chrysostom did not mention it as a book of the Bible.

I must add that, because of the decidedly anti-Roman flavor of this book, some of the early church folk accepted or rejected it as a biblical book based on their own relationship with Rome. Someone like Eusebius, in the 4th century, was a friend and supporter of Constantine, the ‘converted’ Roman emperor. Whether Eusebius rejected Revelation based on generally acceptable rules of scholarship or because he thought it was too negative toward Rome is hard to tell. Politics and religion is a theme of Revelation and always has been.

So … ‘who’ the “John” is who writes the book of Revelation is not and never has been a settled question. It looks to me that most modern scholars do not attribute it to the author of the 4th gospel.

To Whom was it written?
This one is a little easier to answer because Revelation 1:4 specifically addresses it to “the seven churches that are in Asia,” spelled out in 1:11, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” Biblical scholars refer to this area as ‘Asia Minor,’ most of which we call ‘The Republic of Turkey’ today.

Next Post: What?




    To the Nation, Once Called of Itself “Under God” (USA), and To the Sons of Ishmael (Islam), and to the Churches of Men...Hear the Word of the Lord!

    Return to Me! Stand Up or Bow Down... Call Out, Cry and Wail!


    Thus Says the Lord Against the United States... You Have Hastened the Day!

    Judgement and Harvest

    Ezekiel 33:29 "Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land most desolate because of all their abominations which they have committed."

    30 "As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, 'Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.' 31 So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. 32 Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.

    33 And when this comes to pass--surely it will come--then they will know that a prophet has been among them."

  2. GraceHead, I am not sure I understand your response to Mark's post. You quote scripture, but you don't explain why. What are you trying to say in response? Simply quoting random scriptures doesn't help further the conversation.


If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive