5.1. Implicit Denial of Evangelical Principles

To aid the reader in his appreciation of the various ways in which anti-supernatural bias enters in, we offer the following examples from well-known commentators.

We find Beckwith denying the historicity of Genesis and attributing the contents of Daniel to myth:

In the first period of biblical history, that contained in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis, we have a legendary story of a primitive age before the separation of mankind into the tribes that formed the nations of the earth. . . . In tracing the external features of the story to an early legend we do not, it must be observed, change the religious character of the narrative. [emphasis added]1

The figure of the Beast is derived from tradition. There ran through ancient mythologies and Hebrew folk-lore legends of a monster opposing itself to supreme powers in conflicts which symbolized the struggle of chaos against order, evil against good, death against life. Some form of that myth suggested to the author of Daniel (7) the figures of the beasts of his vision, and the same source furnished . . . our Apocalyptist’s representation of Satan in the form of a dragon-monster. [emphasis added]2

Couch identifies such views as reflecting a low view of Scripture known as limited inerrancy:

The term limited inerrancy means that the Bible, when speaking of matters of faith and practice (i.e., salvation, principles relating to the Christian life, etc.), is free from error. But in matters of science, history, or biography, it can be supposed that there are mistakes. While God inspired the writers in matters of salvation and living for Christ, He left them on their own [without supernatural assistance] when it came to other matters. Characteristic beliefs associated with limited inerrancy are . . . the book of Daniel was written around 150 B.C. instead of 536 B.C.; Adam and Eve are not historical persons, but figures meant to reveal spiritual truths.3

Fiorenza and Beale attribute the motive for John’s writing as being his own (but see Rev. Rev. 1:11+, Rev. 1:19+), that John fails to consider OT context, and supposed that John deliberately transforms the material to arrive at his own thesis:

Fiorenza points to the anthological style of John . . . “He does not interpret the OT but uses its words, images, phrases, and patterns as a language arsenal in order to make his own theological statement or express his own theological vision.” Beale lists reasons why many believe John fails to consider the OT context: . . . [including] his prophetic spirit that causes him to center on his own authority rather than that of the OT . . . I argue . . . John is faithful on the whole to the OT context but nevertheless transforms it deliberately by applying it to his thesis.4

One can only wonder at the anti-supernatural nature of such statements which attribute the Revelation to the initiative and genius of John rather than what the text itself records: that John merely recorded what he was told and shown.5 The visions given John were dutifully recorded on-the-fly, as is evidenced by the need to interrupt John in the midst of writing in order to suppress certain facts from the record: “Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write: but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them’ ” [emphasis added] (Rev. Rev. 10:4+).

Swete tells us that the book of Daniel, an essential foundation for understanding the book of Revelation, was written after the events it records (committing a prophetic misdemeanor of some sort), and wasn’t written by Daniel, regardless of the statement of Jesus to the contrary (Mtt. Mat. 24:15; Mark Mark 13:14):

[The book of Daniel] seems to belong to the interval B.C. 168-165, the years during which the hand of Antiochus Epiphanes lay heavy on the Jewish people. The writer’s purpose is to strengthen the religious section of the nation under this supreme test of their faith and loyalty. He is carried back in the Spirit to the days of the Exile, and identifies himself with Daniel, a Jewish captive at Babylon, who is represented as foreseeing a series of great visions . . . From the standpoint of the writer all events later than the age of Daniel are ex hypothesi future. [emphasis added]6

Collins, in commentating on the five kings of Revelation Rev. 17:10+, seems incredulous that John might actually be recording true prophecy—prediction in advance of the actual events:

The five who have fallen would be the five emperors immediately preceding Domitian, namely, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, and Titus. The one who has not yet come must be Nerva, who indeed ‘remained,’ i.e., ruled, for only a short time (96-98 C.E.). This is the solution of Victorinus (comm. in apoc. 17:10). There are two problems with this solution. How did the author know that Nerva would remain a short time? Was this genuine prophecy? Or was it eschatological dogma that happened to be historically accurate? [emphasis added]7

It hardly need be said that an expositor who denies supernatural prophecy is a most unlikely guide to the most prophetic book of the New Testament!

A common element among these skeptical guides to the book of Revelation is their refusal to accept the source of John’s visions as being determined and provided by God. They consistently attempt to attribute the visions to John’s own motives and creative abilities working from borrowed sources:

In many cases it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify the source of John’s imagery. Some find the raw material for this plague [Rev. Rev. 8:8+] in the volcanic action of the area. . . . Others look to Jewish apocalyptic for the source of the imagery.8

What a contrast are the comments of those who truly represent the evangelical viewpoint. For example, Thomas undercuts the oft-heard anti-supernatural sophistry concerning John’s literary borrowing of the apocalyptic genre: “the literary genre of inspired writings was not the choice of the human author, but was an inevitable result of the manner in which God chose to reveal his message to that prophet. This, of course, distinguishes them from uninspired but similar works whose writers did, in fact, choose a particular genre.” [emphasis added]9

Seiss also recognizes the dangers of reliance upon the theories of men. We would do well to adopt his approach when reading what John recorded: “Candid readers will hardly deny [this work] the merit of . . . straightforwardness in the treatment of Divine things, simplicity . . . direct leaning on the Sacred Word over against the stilted theories and rationalistic systems of men.”10

Is it any wonder that it is the “common man,” whom academics often look down on with scorn, whom God has trusted to carry forward the common-sense meaning of His Word? Academies will come and go, theories will incessantly rise to be debunked, but the simple meaning of the Word once entrusted to the saints (Jude Jude 1:3) will be faithfully carried forward by those who seek God in simplicity and are guided by His Spirit into all truth (John John 14:26; John 16:13-14; 1Cor. 1Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. Eph. 3:5; 1Jn. 1Jn. 2:20, 1Jn. 2:27).

As we discuss the date of the book of Revelation, its authorship, and its audience and purpose, the attentive reader will notice the anti-supernatural biases of many who attempt to contribute to an understanding of the book. Let us be wary of such speculation and cling to the basic elements as set forth by the very Word of God.


Notes

1 Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 4.

2 Ibid., 393.

3 Mal Couch, Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications), 18.

4 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 25-26.

5 How would such rational skepticism fly when faced with the need to explain the personal motives and natural origin of Isaiah in writing his 53rd chapter?

6 Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998, 1906), xx.

7 Adela Yarbro Collins, “Book of Revelation,” in David Noel Freeman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1996, c1992), 5:700.

8 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 186.

9 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 29.

10 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), v.