2.8. Overemphasis on Extra-biblical Sources

There is an endless amount of material written about and urged as essential to understanding the book of Revelation. Most authors recognize the OT context from which the book of Revelation springs, but some assert the need to go ever farther afield in the quest to find related material. Thus, not only must we understand the historical context and setting necessary for grammatical historical interpretation, we should seek the explanation of symbols and their intended meaning from secular and even pagan source material. We believe this to be an incorrect emphasis on extra-biblical material.

While it is certain that elements of the book of Revelation are intimately connected with the historical setting of the recipients (e.g., the letters to the churches of Asia), commentators too often assume this cultural/historical connection extends to the rest of the book where no such direct connection may be established. For example, Osborne states: Rev. 13:4+, Rev. 13:14-17+; Rev. 14:9+; Rev. 15:2+; Rev. 16:2+; Rev. 19:20+; Rev. 20:4+).”1 It is one thing to recognize the significance of emperor worship to the immediate readers at the time the book of Revelation was written. It is quite another to assert that a proper understanding of prophetic passages which reveal events in a potentially distant future are dependent upon the events of the time of the writer. This goes too far and fails to appreciate the pattern established throughout Scripture by prophetic passages which although written and entrusted to an immediate readership serve to set forth events to come for the benefit of God’s people yet unborn (Ps. Ps. 22:30; Ps. 102:18; John John 17:20; John 20:29; Rom. Rom. 15:4).

The unintended but real result of this over-emphasis on extra-biblical material is an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture (Ps. Ps. 19:1-14; John John 8:31; 1Cor. 1Cor. 4:6; 2Ti. 2Ti. 3:15-17; Heb. Heb. 4:12-13; 2Pe. 2Pe. 1:3, 2Pe. 1:19-21; Jude Jude 1:3) and a subtle, but disastrous drawing of the reader ever further afield from the inspired Word of God in search of gold which, more often than not, is fool’s gold. This is especially problematic for the new believer who is ill-equipped to dredge through non-canonical writings such as the pseudepigrapha and apocrypha while avoiding catastrophe. Commentators who encourage this route are akin to blind guides who leave blindfolded travelers at the edge of a precipice to wander at their pleasure. Such action is in direct contradiction to the mandate of God’s Word for those more experienced to proactively guide and guard both themselves and those under their influence (Acts Acts 20:28-29; Col. Col. 2:8; 1Ti. 1Ti. 6:20; 1Pe. 1Pe. 5:2-3). The truths of God are not to be taught by the university model—where the widest smorgasbord of ideas is presented for the ungrounded to sample. Instead, we are to guard our minds and to cast down non-canonical writings and ideas which attempt to assert their influence above the very inspired Word of God (Rom. Rom. 1:21-22; 1Cor. 1Cor. 1:19; 2Cor. 2Cor. 10:5; Col. Col. 2:3, Col. 2:8, Col. 2:18; 2Pe. 2Pe. 3:16-18). Not only is this emphasis on extra-biblical sources dangerous, but it results in all manner of incorrect conclusions as pagan or legendary ideas form the basis for the interpretation of inspired symbols. Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in the far-fetched identifications proffered for the Woman of Revelation Rev. 12:1+.

This emphasis on extra-biblical material becomes so acute that the implication for the simple child of God is that an understanding of the last book of the Bible is essentially beyond his grasp unless he immerses himself in the socio-political details of the late first-century, including the broad study of pagan beliefs, practices, and symbols of the secular society. Such an emphasis fails to understand the guidelines which the divine Author of the book has set forth for His children (Ps. Ps. 101:3; Isa. Isa. 33:15; Php. Php. 4:8) and undermines the perspicuity of Scripture because most saints through the ages have lacked and continue to lack access to the extra-biblical materials these authors assert as essential to our understanding of this important book.

Another deleterious side-effect of the over-emphasis on extra-biblical material for an understanding of the Apocalypse is the blurring of the distinction between inspired writings versus uninspired writings. When the boundary between the inerrant and the speculative and even fraudulent is minimized or overlooked, the results are predictable: questionable conclusions result and the student of Scripture begins to equate the uninspired writings of secular writers with the matchless and unique written Word of God. This is the well-traveled path to religious liberalism and even apostasy which has been a key tool of Satan throughout history and in our own day.

Within this commentary, we make occasional reference to extra-biblical writings, mainly when they provide insight into thought patterns, beliefs, and historical events of their time. For example, in the discussion of related passages and themes we make mention of Jewish rabbinical writings because these help illustrate the common understanding of Jewish rabbis regarding events related to the book of Revelation. We are not using the Rabbis to teach about the book of Revelation, but as a point of evidence that the Old Testament was understood by early rabbis to teach a future time of peril coming upon the world. It is our conviction that those similarities which do occur between extra-biblical writings and inspired Scripture reflect a dependence of the extra-biblical material upon the Scripture. It has been our observation that many scholars assume exactly the opposite—that extra-biblical myths and beliefs had great influence upon the writers of Scripture.


Notes

1 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6.