Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. New Covenant Commentaries. Eugene, Ore.: Cascade, 2011. pp. 332. Pb., $39.00. Link to Wipf & Stock
This commentary is one of the first in a new series published by Cascade Books. At this point only Craig Keener on Romans, Lee Cohick on Ephesians and Michael Bird on Colossians and Philemon have been published, but the rest of the New Testament has been assigned to an international team of scholars. Cascade Books is a division of Wipf & Stock, a company well known for reprinting older books which have gone out of print. Their both and ETS and SBL is usually one of my favorites because of the wide variety of authors and topics they have reprinted. Since 2004 Cascade Books has published a number of important books by major authors, including this new commentary series.
This commentary caused a bit of a stir when it was released because of an interview with Fee in which he described Revelation as grounded in the first century. In the introduction to the commentary, Fee distances himself from popular readings of Revelation like Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. Fee is of course correct that there is nothing Revelation which predicts Hitler or Mussolini, and much of what passes for “good teaching” on Revelation is quite silly. I do not agree that the only element of the book which is future is chapter 21-22. He is (unfortunately) correct that the some Dispensationalists sensationalize the book in a way which misses the author’s original intent. However, I think that arguing against a Hal Lindsey book printed in 1970 is a straw-man argument since no serious dispensationalist does quite what Lindsey did. I would much rather have him interact with Darrell Bock, Robert Saucey, or Marvin Pate on a futurist reading of Revelation than Lindsey or his descendants.
Fee’s commentary is an exegetical commentary and his goal is to read the text in order to determine the author’s original intent. With this as a goal, he avoids several things which plague commentaries on Revelation. First, there is little comment on the sources for John’s imagery. He does not overly concern himself with possible allusions to the Old Testament or other Second Temple Period literature. According to the index there are only eleven references to the Old Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha im the entire commentary. He does point out possible allusions to the Old Testament, but these are fairly light when compared to recent commentaries by Beale and Aune.
Second, Since Fee is interested in exegeting the text, there is less cultural background than most commentaries. But since his thesis is that Revelation is about Christians facing oppression from Rome, some aspects of Roman history must be explained. While treating Revelation 2-3 it is necessary to give a short cultural background for each of the seven cities. These are judicious and not overly detailed. Obviously the topic is worthy of a whole book (Colin Hemer, for example). There are other places in the text I expected more Roman background if the book was to be interpreted as referring entirely to the first century. In chapter 13, I expected some details on Roman economy to support the idea that this mark was an allusion to a first century practice, but that is lacking in the commentary.
Third, he rarely interacts with other scholars. He includes a number of useful commentaries and studies in a selected bibliography, but in the commentary itself there is no ‘compare and contrast” with other commentaries. He simply states what he believes the text is saying and does not try to sort through the dozen or so views on any given image in the book. Despite the sensational video interview which appear when the commentary was released, Fee does not grind against dispensationalist views of Revelation in the commentary. For example, when treating the mark of the beast in Revelation 13, he since states that it is an allusion to Nero Caesar and does not consider any alternative views (p. 187). This is simply the style of the commentary, Fee certainly knows all the other views and has weighed them carefully.
Fourth, the commentary is written for general readers, so there is little interaction with the Greek text of Revelation. The text of the NIV 2011 is used and occasional footnotes comment on text variations or syntax. There is no Greek in the text of the commentary and only rarely in the notes. He does not worry over elements of grammar and syntax nor does he engage in lengthy digressions to unpack individual words. This is again a result of the style chosen for the commentary aimed at a general reader rather than a Greek expert.
Fee’s commentary is useful and can be used by pastor and layman alike, although the specialist will find it lacking in the sorts of details we have come to expect from the mammoth exegetical commentaries of Aune or Beale. Fee simply refuses to draw theological conclusions from his exegesis. There is nothing wring with drawing theology from the text, of course, but that is the business of another sort of book than a commentary. The reader ought to be aware of Fee’s assumptions and bias in the book, but these do not get in the way of a very readble commentary.