(Almost) Free Book from Logos – Richard Burridge, Four Gospels

BurridgeLogos Bible Software is has a great deal on Richard A. Burridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading, 2nd ed. (London: SPCK, 2005). Until the end of April 2014, you can buy this book for 99 cents for the Logos Library. The book is available for your desktop or mobile versions of Logos and all your personal notes/highlighting will sync between the platforms.

Burridge begins this book with a discussion of the origin of the four gospels. Along with the normal sorts of things you would expect in an introductory chapter (source and redaction criticism, literary approaches), Burridge includes the symbolism associated with each Gospel writer in the early church, including the four creatures of Revelation 4. He has an interesting discussion of how that imagery was used by Jerome and (later) the Book of Kells to “illuminate” the Gospels.  Burridge takes these symbols as a kind of “hermenutical key” (33). Since each symbol was recognized by the early church as the way the Gospel writer presented Jesus, Burridge attempts to take that “reception” seriously as he unpacks the main themes of each Gospel. 

The book was first published in 1994 and is often called a “classic” book for Gospels studies. Eerdmans published the second edition in in America in 2005. In the preface to the revised edition, Burridge says that the new edition takes into account growing interest in “reception history” and makes used of the Revised Common Lectionary. In addition, he makes reference to the The Lord of the Rings films. A new third edition is due in August from Eerdmans. This will include a new introduction by Burridge but retains the second edition’s text and page numbering.

The price of 99 cents will not last long, so get on over to Logos and pick up this book soon.



Book Giveaway Winner! – New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, Vol. 10

NewDocs 10

Congrats to Eric Palac, who blogs at White Flag Beacon. Get in touch with me (plong42 at gmail.com or twitter @plong42) and I will ship your copy of NewDocs Volume 10 out ASAP.

Thanks for all who tossed their name in hat. I reviewed New Docs Volume 10 when it came out a year ago and have found all ten volumes to be valuable resources. This volume has about 100 pages of cumulative index for volumes 6-10 as well as 175 pages of newly published inscriptions and papyri.

For those unaware of the New Documents series, it began under the editorship of G. H. R. Horsley in 1981. E. A. Judge was a contributor to that first volume and now serves as the director of the project. He wrote the preface to the first volume explaining the rationale for the series. Since the publication of Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient Near East (1908) and Moulton and Milligan’sVocabulary of the Greek New Testament illustrated by the Papyri (1930), there has been a flood of new published papyri documents and inscriptions, many which are important to historians of early Christianity as well as interpreters of the New Testament. The New Document series proposed to survey newly published material and collate that material into a single printed volume as a “fresh digest of the ancient evidence.”

As I concluded in my previous review of the book, virtually every section of New Documents Volume 10 is worthy of attention.  The entries make for fascinating reading and they all contribute to our understanding of the world of the New Testament and early Christianity. I highly recommend this volume to students and scholars. Every serious library should own all ten volumes of this important series.

The Meaning of the Seven Churches

Colin Hemer identifies four “areas of tension” in the church of the late first century. Each of these bullet points are worthy of a chapter of a book, here is a short summary:

  • Christianity and the Imperial Cult. The context of the imperial cult in Revelation 2-3 and the growing influence of Domitian would have put Christians under pressure to either conform or face some form of persecution. While this may have not been as organized as modern preachers make it out to be, Christians would have been viewed with suspicion if they did not participate in the imperial cult.
  • Christianity and the Pagan world.  This is especially seen with regard to the social life of Greco-Roman cities.  How does a practicing Christian “fit” in pagan society? Could a Christian participate in a civic event like athletic games if those games were dedicated to a god? Could they eat food at a festival if it had been used in a sacrifice to a god?
  • The Church and Judaism.  It is possible the church had grown far enough away from Judaism by the end of the first century that the differences were quite clear. How does a Gentile who believes Jesus is Messiah relate to a Jewish faith still looking forward to the Messiah?
  • Different sub-Christian Groups.  These early “heretical” groups within the church disagreed over authority, which may indicate the possible influence of Docetism and antinomianism. The church needed to develop internal discipline and expel teachers not conforming to apostolic teaching or ethical expectations.

Seven_Churches_of_Asia_in_the_East_Window_at_York_MinsterThe application of these tensions to the present church seems obvious. First, how does the church of the post-Christian word 21st century interact with culture which is frequently based on a world view completely at odds with the biblical worldview?

Second, how does the modern church relate to the “historic church”?  Obviously our doctrine is based on the historical creeds of the church, but to what extent ought we “pull away” and create a new, post-modern church?

Third, how does the modern church deal with anti-Christian influences such as syncretic mixtures of Christianity and other world views?  For example, can we have a “Christian / eastern world view”?   Is there a possibility of a post-modern Christianity?

Last, how does the modern church deal with fringe elements within the church itself? How tenaciously should we hold to the foundational documents of denominations which are hundreds of years old and perceived as not particularly relevant to the modern situation?

I suppose each of these points is worthy of a sermon. Despite the fact that Revelation is usually mined for end-time prophecies or is used to fuel conspiracy theories on YouTube, John’s pastoral point was much different. Christians living in Asia Minor in the first century were under enormous pressure to conform to the imperial society. Revelation challenges the readers to hold on to what is true and good and pure, since the Lord Jesus is returning soon.


Bibliography: Colin Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, Mich.: 1989).


The Seven Churches of Revelation 2-3

The second and third chapters of Revelation contain the letters to the seven churches.  These letters are probably the most familiar chapters in Revelation since they are the most easily applied to the modern church, and can be “preached” without difficulties found in the rest of Revelation. You can go on tours of the seven churches and there are innumerable charts and graphs on the internet that claim to properly interpret the “real meaning of the seven churches.”

Since Revelation is a book of prophecy, it was once thought the seven letters were prophetic of the entire scope of church history from the beginnings of the Apostolic Church (Ephesus) through the apostasy of the last days (Laodicea).  They may be letters to real churches but there is a “deeper” meaning to these letters which unveils the history of the church.  Naturally these interpreters see themselves living in the final period. The church of the “last days” will be like the lukewarm Laodicean church. For example, Jesus is outside the church knocking on the door, asking to come into the church, implying Jesus is not a part of the “present day church.”

Larkin Seven ChurchesInterpreters who approached the book of Revelation with the historical method spent a great deal of effort trying to determine which “eras” of church history are present in each of the seven churches. This was popular at one time even among Dispensationalists who otherwise avoided allegorical interpretations. John Walvoord, for example, sees this approach as shedding “much additional light” on the study of the seven churches (Revelation, 52-53).

I disagree with these schemes since they obscure the most important theological teaching of Revelation 2-3. These letters were written to real churches and are intended to be real communications with those churches.  The letters are a literary device used by John to communicate certain teachings to the entire church.  They are addressed to real churches with real problems, but they are intended to be read by the whole church. An analogy to the book of Amos is often made, since Amos begins with prophecies against 7 nations, ending with Israel and Judah.  Just as those prophecies would not have been delivered  separately than the rest of the epistle, the letters in Revelation would not have been intended to circulate separately from Revelation.  In fact, David Aune suggests that these letters may never have circulated at all (Revelation, 1:119).


It is far better to read these churches in the context Asia Minor in the late first century. Each letter contains allusions to the culture and location of the city addressed. Using the example above, Laodicea is did not have a good water supply. Unlike other cities nearby, they did not have therapeutic hot springs nor a fresh water spring. Hot water or cold water are both positive, helpful resources. Laodicea had tepid water that was not useful for very much at all. This explains the use of lukewarm in Rev 3:16. In 3:17 the Laodicean church thinks they are prosperous, but they are really wretched, poor, blind and naked. Laodicea was known for both eye-medicine and a textile industry. This is irony based on the culture of the city of Laodicea.

Other metaphors are more obscure (Satan’s throne, Rev 2:13 or the synagogue of Satan in 3:9 are particularly difficult). But the solution is not to be found in the history of the church or some allegorical teaching pulled out of the text without any knowledge of the social world of the first century.

Why do some people not take this history, geography and social setting into consideration when they read Revelation? The main reason is because it is hard work! It takes some effort to be fully aware of the history of these seven cities, most preachers do not have the time to do the additional reading to become aware of the background. This is unfortunate, because the message of the seven churches is even more applicable to the modern church when read against the background of a Greco-Roman Asia Minor of the first century.

Theology of Revelation: The End Times

The theological term for the end times is eschatology, the study of last things. This includes not only the return of Christ and the kingdom, but also “personal eschatology,” what happens to individuals after death, what judgments await the believer and the unbeliever. I think that the study of the “end times” has mutated into “what is going to happen to those people left behind after the Rapture?” While I do believe in a Rapture / Tribulation / Second Coming scheme, I think it is more helpful to see the overall themes of Revelation rather that try to get ever detail of the Tribulation lined up on a chart.

I want to let Revelation speak for itself as much as possible, and to do that the book must be read in the context of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Jewish expectations. John is remarkably consistent with the Judaism of his day, with the exception of identifying Jesus as the Messiah.

WhereThe most general teaching of Revelation concerning personal eschatology is that the righteous are to be rewarded and the unrighteous are to be condemned. This is consistent with the Hebrew Bible. When the messianic age begins, there is a judgment of the nations and of Israel. Not everyone participates in the messianic age, as a text like Isaiah 25:6-8 makes clear. While many will gather on Zion to participate in the inaugural banquet at the beginning of the age, Israel’s prototypical enemy Moab will be trampled in the mud (25:10-12). Jesus also described the beginning of the new age as a harvest, where the wheat will be gathered into the barn (where it belongs) and the weeds gathered and thrown on a fire (where they belong). This theme of eschatological separation is common in Jesus’ parables (Matt 13:24-30, for example).

Prior to the beginning of the eschatological age, the Hebrew Bible expects a time of persecution of the people of God. In a book like Daniel, this period of persecution will separate the true Israel from the false. The capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians initiated a long sequence of conflict with pagan rulers which reached a climax during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The struggles of the Maccabean period become a paradigm for future persecutions.

In Revelation, there is a persecution of those who refuse to worship the beast or take his mark. Revelation 13:7 describes this as a “war on the saints” which will result in the death of many who are followers of Christ (13:10, 20:4). This persecution is a time when a choice must be made to worship the beast (taking his mark) or to worship the Lamb. There is no middle ground, the time of great persecution is a sifting of the true followers from the false.

In Revelation 20, there is a judgment at the beginning of the Kingdom of God, or the eschatological age. John’s vision turns to a scene of thrones, thrones for those who were martyred during the tribulation, and thrones for those that endured until the end. In this vision, it is the souls of those who were faithful during the tribulation that sit upon thrones. The souls that John is seeing in these verses are those that were under the altar in 6:9 crying out to God asking to be revenged for their death at the hands of the beast and his kingdom.

With respect to the future, then, Revelation promises that God will judge with justice.  Those who persecute will be judged and separated from the Kingdom of God, while those who were persecuted will be vindicated and enter into that Kingdom.

Revelation as Resistance Literature

Despite the fact the book of Revelation is usually mined for what it has to say about future events, it is not a “roadmap for the future.” It is, rather, an exhortation written to very real churches to encourage them to live a different kind of life in the shadow of the Second Coming. This life means enduring persecution for their belief in Jesus and their non-belief in an imperial system that was becoming increasingly hostile to that faith. In Revelation the church is called to resist the culture, not through underground military action, but by being faithful witnesses to Jesus despite persecution.

There are many examples of this in Revelation, but I will offer one from the letter to Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17). In Rev 2:13 the church is commended for not renouncing their faith even though one faithful witness was put to death.  The city is described as the place where Satan has his throne (v. 13) and “where Satan lives” (v. 14). There are several suggestions for what is meant by “Satan’s Throne” (in fact, David Aune lists eight major possibilities). The Temple of Zeus Soter overlooked the city, and this throne was well known in the ancient world. On the other hand, this may refer to the Imperial cult represented by two temples to emperors Augustus and (later) to Trajan.

In support of this view, it is observed that the term “throne” is used as an “official seat or chair of state” in the New Testament, Pergamum was the center of Satan’s activities in the province of Asia much the way Rome becomes the center for Satan’s activities in the west. The Temple of Augustus in Pergamum was built in 29 B.C., and was the first of the imperial cults in Asia Minor.  In TJob 3:5b pagan temples are called “the temple of Satan.”

Antipas of PergamumEven though the imperial cult is strong in their city, the church of Pergamum remains true to the Lord’s name, even to the point of death. Nothing is known from scripture about the martyr Antipas, which is a shortened form of Antipater.  The title given him is “faithful witness,” title given to Jesus in Revelation 1. Eventually Pergamum will become known for several important martyrs.  The fact that the city was the center of the imperial cult would make the Christian refusal to accept the cult a serious crime.

There is a principle running through several of the letters in Rev 2-3 that the witnessing church will be a persecuted church (Beale, Revelation, 427).  Since the church has had a reputation for being a strong witness in the community, the church has had to face persecution, perhaps in the form of financial hardship and other social complications; but more importantly, members of their community have been killed for their faith.

Let me draw this back to the application of Revelation to the present church. How should the modern church “resist” the culture of this world? In western, “first world” countries this would look different than in some parts of Africa or Asia where the church is illegal and being persecuted for their faith. It is possible that the lack of persecution in the west is an indication that we have embraced culture and are no longer “faithful witnesses” like Antipas?

Is Revelation about the Past, Present or Future?

I have written about various approaches to Revelation in the past (see these posts on historicism, preterism, and futurism). Let me summarize these positions here, if you need more, follow the links.

Preterism argues that Revelation refers only to events of the first century, although there may be a hope for a final return of Christ in the future in the book. Futurism believes that most of Revelation predicts events in the future (a real tribulation full of judgment, etc.) Idealists and Historicists both see Revelation as referring to the present age, but in much different ways. The old historicist method saw the symbols of Revelation as referring to events in history, while idealism tends to see the symbols as referring to the struggle of good and evil in this world.

Homer Not AgainFew people would argue in favor of historicism as it was practiced prior to the early nineteenth century and I am unaware of a commentary from a major publisher that would advocate for the view. Preterism has become very popular recently and there are quite a few monographs that could be described as idealist/preterist. This may be part of a sometimes violent backlash against the popularity Left Behind series and the nonsensical hatred of dispensationalism as a heretical teaching hatched in the pit of hell.

Following the lead of George Ladd, many commentaries on Revelation reject a single approach to the book in favor of some combination of the three main views. Ladd, for example, combines idealism and futurism. He held that most of Revelation was future, but only after chapter 6. Chapter 6 is symbolic of the general flow of the church age, similar to the idealist position rather than the historicist. Greg Beale’s commentary attempts to be a “redemptive-historical form of modified idealism.” He attempts to read the symbols very much like an idealist, but includes a future aspect as well. The beast of chapter 13, for example, is representative of all the “anti-christs” throughout history, but also points to the ultimate Antichrist of the future. For Beale, the idealist view is primary, the futurist is secondary.

Grant Osborne concurs with Beale’s approach, but emphasizes the future aspect of the prophecies. Osborne defines apocalyptic as “the present addressed through parallels with the future” (22). For example, Osborne feels the three and one half year great tribulation in Revelation serves as a model for all previous tribulations the church has faced.

C. Marvin Pate writes as a contemporary dispensationalist attempting to read Revelation as a book about the future, to be understood as literal, but also to address some of the excesses of the dispensational approach. The criticism of dispensational futurism have merit; dispensationalism needs to “reinvent itself” in order to deal with the critique from Reformed writers (primarily a-mil and idealist / preterists.) This “re-invention” is modeled along the catchphrase “already / not yet” as applied to the Kingdom of God in the Gospels by C. H. Dodd and later by George Ladd.

It is therefore possible that creating a “four views on Revelation” style rubric then forcing a commentary through that grid creates an interpretive environment that misses some aspect of Revelation’s message. By making it entirely past, we miss the prophetic element. But by making it entirely future, we miss the application of the book to the present age.

Is there a specific way a “blended” view might help shed light on a particular portion of Revelation? Is there are section of the book that is better read as referring to both the past and the future? Or are we forced to choose one or the other?