6. The Genre of the book of Revelation

Expositors of the book of Revelation seem to spend a considerable amount of time discussing the genre of the book. The American Heritage Dictionary defines genre as “A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content.”1 Many commentators hold that the distinctive style of the book of Revelation is apocalyptic or a combination of apocalyptic with other styles.2 But as Thomas observes, this tends to confuse matters since precise definitions of genre and apocalyptic are vague:

No consensus exists as to a precise definition of genre, so discussion attempting to classify portions of the NT, including Revelation, are at best vague. . . . A recent trend among some scholars has been to view Revelation as primarily apocalyptic. This complicates the problem of definition even further because in addition to disagreement about what constitutes genre, uncertainty also prevails regarding a definition of apocalyptic.3

While we would agree that the book of Revelation contains elements which are often understood as apocalyptic (e.g., visions, use of symbols, catastrophic events), we are concerned that many commentators fail to clearly distinguish between the inspired writing of John and the uninspired writings of other apocalyptic works.4


1 American Heritage Online Dictionary, Ver. 3.0A, 3rd ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 1993).

2 “It is universally recognized that Revelation is composed of three genres: apocalyptic, prophecy, and letter.”—Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 12.

3 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 23-24.

4 Woods identifies attributes typical of apocalyptic writings: “Extensive use of symbolism, vision as the major means of revelation, angelic guides, activity of angels and demons, focus on the end of the current age and the inauguration of the age to come, urgent expectation of the end of earthly conditions in the immediate future, the end as a cosmic catastrophe, new salvation that is paradisal in character, manifestation of the kingdom of God, a mediator with royal functions, dualism with God and Satan as the leaders, spiritual order determining the flow of history, pessimism about man’s ability to change the course of events, periodization and determinism of human history, other worldly journeys, the catchword glory, and a final showdown between good and evil.”—Andy Woods, What is the Identity of Babylon In Revelation 17-18?.

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