When commentators emphasize the importance of the genre of the book of Revelation, it is often with an eye to erasing distinctions between the Apocalypse of John and other uninspired apocalyptic works.1 By classifying the book of Revelation as apocalyptic it then becomes fashionable to suggest that the same motives, sources, and after-the-fact prophecy which characterize the uninspired writings are also at work in John. Here again we see the anti-supernatural biases of the interpreters at work: 2
Having categorized Johns work as representative of the apocalyptic genre, commentators then make assertions which are contrary to a straight-forward reading of the text:
- The book should not be interpreted literally.3
- The prophetic content is motivated by a desire to be optimistic.4
- The book likely represents the work of redactors.
- The book is a political document employing hyperbolic literary forms.
- The book is primarily devotional rather than containing actual facts of history.5
We disagree with these conclusions and the artificial comparison of the book of Revelation with uninspired apocalyptic writings. From our point of view, prophecy is prophecy and the normative literal approach to interpretation is not negated simply because a book utilizes symbols and records events of great importance and magnitude. Suggesting that God gives revelation so that present difficulties can be understood as illusory is a gross misrepresentation of the inspirational element of His Word and smacks of cults such as Christian Science.
1 Bullinger lists representative non-canonical apocalyptic writings: The Sibylline Oracles (180 B.C. - 350 A.D.); The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (130 B.C. - 10 A.D.); The Psalms of Solomon (70 - 40 B.C.); The Book of Jubilees (40 - 10 B.C.); The Ascension of Isaiah (1 - 100 A.D.); The Assumption of Moses (14 - 30 A.D.); The Apocalypse of Baruch (50 - 90 A.D.); The Book of Enoch (200 - 260 A.D.). [E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), 121n*] Walvoord mentions the following additional pseudepigrapha : Letters of Aristeas, III and IV Maccabees, Psalms of Solomon, Secrets of Enoch, Sibylline Oracles, The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocalypse of Adam, The Apocalypse of Elijah, The Apocalypse of Zephaniah, Testament of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob as well as Christian apocalyptic works subsequent to the book of Revelation: Anabaticon and Pauli, Revelation of St. Steven and Thomas, The Decree of Gelasius, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Apocalypse of Paul, A Spurious Apocalypse of John, The Apocalypse of Sedrach, and The Apocalypse of the Virgin. [John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), 24-25]
2 The apocalyptists followed a common practice of rewriting history as prophecy so as to lend credence to their predictions about that which still lay in the future.Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 18.
3 The main objection is that it interprets Revelation without sufficient sensitivity to its literary form, giving a straightforward, literal reading of the book, rather than using a figurative approach, which would be more appropriate to the books symbolic genre.Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 161.
4 It is impossible to distinguish ultimately between prophecy and apocalyptic, for the latter is an extension of the former . . . certain differences do in part distinguish the two forms: prophecy tends to be oracular and apocalyptic visionary, and prophecy has a certain optimistic overtone (if the nation repents, the judgment prophecies will not occur), while apocalyptic tends to be pessimistic (the only hope lies in the future rather than the present).Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 13.
5 Collins emphasizes the devotional aspect over the factitive: the visions guide readers into a transcendent reality that takes precedence over the current situation and encourages readers to persevere in the midst of their trials. The visions reverse normal experience by making the heavenly mysteries the real world and depicting the present crisis as a temporary, illusory situation.Ibid., 14.