Beale, G. K. with David H. Campbell. Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 576 pp. Pb; $35. Link to Eerdmans
Greg Beale’s commentary on Revelation in the New International Greek Text Commentary series was published in 1999 (briefly reviewed here). At than 1300 pages, the book was ponderous to say the least. A paperback version of this commentary was released in 2013, but at $78 retail the volume is still priced out of the range of most pastors and Bible teachers. Hardback copies of the commentary are available on Amazon for well over $100. By reducing the size (and price) of the commentary by more than half, Beale contributes a commentary most Bible will find valuable for understanding this very difficult New Testament book.
What is different in this shorter commentary? First, there are some obvious cosmetic changes that save a great deal of space. He has removed direct references to the Greek text, although his exegesis is based on the Greek Bible. When Greek or Hebrew appears in the commentary, it is in transliteration. Often the larger commentary would use a smaller font to deal with a meticulous detail of the Greek text, these sections are completely removed from the shorter commentary.
Second, Beale has removed footnotes to secondary literature. This makes for a very readable commentary, although more advanced readers will want to know the source of some assertions. Beale says in the preface his “longer commentary serves as one big footnote to this shorter commentary” (viii).
Third, Beale has also removed various excurses in the larger commentary which focused on details of the text that are not necessary in this shorter commentary, including all his sections on Jewish interpretations of Old Testament passages used in Revelation. For example in the larger commentary he has a section on the Jewish legal background of Satan as an accuser in Revelation 12:10. This is omitted in the shorter commentary, since it is a detailed examination of Second Temple Literature and goes beyond the scope of the shorter commentary.
Fourth, the original commentary had a 177-page introduction; the shorter commentary has only 34 pages. Many of the main issues covered in the original commentary or simply inappropriate for this shorter, handier commentary. For example, the original commentary had a long section on the plan in the structure of John’s apocalypse. Beale compared various views of how the seals, trumpets and bowls are structured. The original commentary had a section on the use of the Old Testament in the Apocalypse. Since writing his commentary he has contributed several other works on the topic, but this shorter commentary reduces this complicated discussion to just a few pages with no reference to other ways of approaching the topic. Once again this is simply a result of shrinking the commentaries size and making it more useful for a pastor or a teacher. There are quite a few other monographs available on the topic of the Old Testament in Revelation (by Beale and others), this commentary can only sketch the issues involved.
Fifth, this shorter commentary includes more than sixty “Suggestions for Reflection” to help readers better grasp the relevance of Revelation to their lives and our world today. These are all new paragraphs which focus on application, or perhaps they can be considered “preaching tips.” Applying the book of Revelation is always very difficult, so Beale’s comments are welcome. Commenting on in the fourth trumpet in Rev 8:6-12, Beale draws an application on the purpose of disasters within the plan of God (179). There are obviously some places in Revelation which are easier to apply than others, such as the seven churches.
Something that stays the same in this short commentary is Beale’s approach to the book. In his introduction he offers a very short summaries of the classic positions on Revelation (Preterism, Historicism, and Futurism), but ultimately finds a “Redemptive-Historical-Idealist view” the most useful. This is not to say he rejects all futurist application of the book, but he wants to separate his work on Revelation from the sort of populist “Left Behind” style presentations of Revelation. He is not a futurist, and he certainly not a dispensationalist. He makes it very clear in his comments on Rev 20 that the millennium is inaugurated during the Church Age as the church limits Satan’s power and deceased Christians begin to reign in heaven. Yet there is a future rebellion after which a final judgment will occur “at the end of world history” (458).
Conclusion. I have used Beale’s larger commentary for years and find it highly valuable because of his interest in the use of the Old Testament in Revelation. David Aune’s 1200+ page, three volume work in the Word Commentary series was completed just prior to Beale’s NIGTC and is every bit as valuable, although for different reasons. It is hard for me to overstate the value of recognizing the way John crafts the Old Testament into a new apocalyptic prophecy, Beale is a master at explaining how John has used his sources in order to communicate the story of the Old Testament to a new generation. This shorter commentary on Revelation is a welcome contribution to the ongoing study of the book of Revelation.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.