Monday, May 18, 2009

Back to Revelation!

I've taken a break (3 months, wow!) from dealing with "left behind" sorts of things in order to reflect on my recent trip to El Salvador. I'm now ready to get back into reading the biblical texts that pertain to what is generally called "eschatology" (doctrine of last things) again.

I left off in the first chapter of Revelation, noting that with phrases like "the faithful witness," "first-born of the dead," and so forth (1:5) the writer of Revelation ("John") is squarely within the Christology (doctrine of Christ) of other New Testament authors. And while John has some unique and ambiguous phrases in his references to Christ, most of his references can be related to either texts from the Hebrew Bible or texts from other "apocalyptic" writings within about a 300 year span (150ish BCE - 150ish CE).

In Revelation 1:5-6, there is a doxology about Christ. It goes like this:

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father,
to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

While these words don't necessarily rhyme (and the Greek text is even worse!), there is actually a tune that puts these words into song and it's quite singable. I'm singing it now, but you don't get to hear it- sorry.

I think the presence of doxologies is VASTLY underappreciated in the New Testament. Oh, sure, we're accustomed to admiring the singfulness of the Psalms. But, when it comes to the New Testament, we generally think in terms of two types of writing: The narratival type of the Gospels and Acts; and the didactic type of the letters. But, there are times when narrative or didactic language is simply insufficient to express the wonder and power of what the New Testament writers are trying to say. For that, writers turn to doxology. What I like to say is, “When words fail, why not sing?”

Paul turns to doxological language at several key points in what is, perhaps, his most didactic letter- Romans. See especially Romans 8:31-39 as an example of Paul, breaking out into singing while addressing the unfathomable love of God.

That’s what John seems to do here- early!- in Revelation. Simply introducing Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, is enough to get John going with singing praise. That is key to understanding everything else that follows about Jesus in this book. Here is the one whose nature can only be express poetically in song.

We’ll look more closely at the words of the doxology next time.

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