Most interpreters of the book of Revelation admit that they bring with them a certain amount of interpretive baggagebiases and pre-understandings which flavor their assessment of the facts of history and the text. These have a huge effect upon the interpretation of the book of Revelation for two primary reasons:
- The book is often categorized as being written in an apocalyptic literary genre by design.
- The book contains numerous symbols.
Once a work is defined to be apocalyptic in genre, the door is opened to a wide array of interpretive treatments as it becomes fashionable to understand the surface-level literary work on the basis of hidden, mysterious, or unstated secondary meaning below the text itself. The inclusion of symbols leads in this direction as various interpreters see license in the symbology for a further separation between the meaning of the text and the real intent of the author. The wider the gap which can be asserted between the text itself and the intended meaning of the author, the greater the room for conjecture and supposition by the interpreter.
When given free reign with the book of Revelation, the sad result of such license is often the very negation of the stated purpose of the book of Revelation:
The Apocalypse (unveiling) has become Apocrypha (hidden). This should not be. The book was written to show those things which were coming to pass, not to obscure them in a maze of symbolism and dark sayings. Great blessing was promised to all who would read (or even hear) the words of the book of this prophecy (Revelation Rev. 1:3+), but how could anyone be blessed by words he could not even understand?1Even when the interpreter forgoes a tendency to look for meaning below the text, there are still a variety of ways in which meaning can be understood:
Some identify the meaning with the human authors intention, while others hold that meaning is identical with Gods intention. Still others claim that meaning is as broad as the canonical interpretation of the text. And finally, there are a group of NT scholars who would identify apostolic hermeneutics with first-century Jewish hermeneutics.2Feinberg identifies the following ways to define meaning:
- The intention of the author.
- The understanding of the author.
- The understanding of the readers in the prophets day.
- The significance (application) of the text.
- The use of the text elsewhere in the NT.
Thus, it becomes vital to spend some time discussing the way in which meaning comes from the text.