In his book Apocalypse Recalled (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), Harry Maier advocates taking Revelation as a “subversive piece of memory work” in order to avoid falling into the trap of extremism. The apocalyptic genre, Maier argues, looks at the present by looking back at what has already happened rather than forward to an escapist future.
He says western, post-modern culture has become, like Nietzsche’s cows, blissfully ignorant. We no longer need to remember anything because information is so freely available. The post-modern world, according to Maier, is a post-God world of fragmentation (24-25). American culture tries to be “real” but it is in fact Hollywood simulation. Maier cites Jean Baudrillard’s criticism of modern culture as well as Umberto Eco critique in Travels in Hyper-Reality. Christianity has bought into this fake culture and most Christians are comfortable in the secular culture of the West.
For Maier, several reactions are possible with respect to reading Revelation. We could hunker down and await the rescue of the Coming Jesus who will judge this world and reward the faithful few. On the other extreme is the Social-gospel model of working with culture to create a more Christ-like culture. The problem with the old-style Social-Gospel is that few if any government agencies care what Christian organizations advise these days. The days of a “transformational” relationship between Christ and Culture are gone, according to Maier, all which is left for the church is to “trouble culture,” which is what John does in the book of Revelation.
In order to “trouble the world” with Revelation, Maier says we ought to read the book “as a Laodicean” By this he means we ought to read Revelation as if we were members of the church at Laodicea, rather than one of the other churches. He argues the seventh of the letters to the churches is climactic, and therefore the most important. In order to make his point he must make the brief line in the letter to Sardis about a few without soiled clothes a “praise” (although Mounce considers Sardis under the strongest condemnation, Revelation, 109). Perhaps Maier’s point concerning Laodicea as most like the modern church should stand, despite his structure of the seven churches. The church at Laodicea thought it was rich, but it was in fact poor (spiritually thinking),
I find it somewhat ironic Maier agrees with many on the “radical edge” in describing the present church as Laodicea, since many early dispensationalists thought the seven churches told the “history of Christianity” climaxing in the apostasy of Laodicea. Many of the writers Maier scolded for reading Revelation as a roadmap to the future also read the book through the lens of Laodicea!
Perhaps this is my criticism of the “reading as a Laodicean” image Maier invokes: all seven of the churches struggle with integration of faith and culture, with Laodicea being the most spectacular of the failures. To me to limit the “lens” to this last church is to ignore the positive value of some of the churches, as well as the warnings given to them. All seven of the churches ought to be the grid through which we read the rest of the book, not simply Laodicea. But then again, when it comes down to the application of this image, Maier does invoke all seven of the churches, so he himself does not read the book solely “as a Laodicean!”
Pate, C. Marvin. Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature. An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2016. Pb. 239 pp. $23.99. Link to Kregel
Marvin Pate’s contribution to Kregel’s Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis series joins John D. Harvey on the Pauline literature and Herbert W. Bateman on the General Letters (David Turner’s contribution on the Gospels and Acts is still in preparation). In many ways this exegetical guide is a companion to Richard Taylor’s Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature (Kregel 2016), although the two books often cover the same material. Pate has written and edited several books on eschatology and Revelation including Four Views of Revelation (Zondervan, 1998), Deliverance Now and Not Yet: The New Testament and the Great Tribulation (with Douglas Kennard; Peter Lang, 2004). Reading Revelation: Four Interpretive Approaches to the Apocalypse (Kregel, 2009), and The Writings of John (Zondervan, 2010). Occasionally Pate refers the reader to these works for detailed arguments when the format of the Exegetical Handbook series limits his discussion of a topic.
In the Four Views of Revelation he edited in 1998, Pate identified as a “modified futurist” and progressive dispensationalist. In his section of the four views book, Pate embraced the already/not yet approach to eschatology made popular by George Ladd. In short, this is the idea some elements of prophecy concerning the kingdom are already fulfilled in the work of Jesus, such as the initiation of the new covenant and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Yet others aspects of prophecies are not yet fulfilled, primarily establishment of a kingdom after the coming of the Messiah.
In this book some 20 years later, Pate still uses the already/not yet rubric for understanding Jesus’s eschatology in the Olivet Discourse (see his 40 Questions about the History Jesus) and his interpretation of Revelation, but he does not identify with any form of dispensationalism in this book. He is fair to “classic dispensationalism” in the Scofield tradition, but prefers an eclectic approach (p. 147). In general he expresses solidly conservative views and certainly expects a real return of Christ in the future, but he does not engage in any of the strange applications of Revelation associated with older forms of dispensationalism.
The first three chapters of this handbook defines apocalyptic and offers an overview of the development of the genre from the Old Testament through the Second Temple Period. He begins with the 1979 SBL definition of apocalyptic. This is more or less the standard definition in scholarship today, but John Collins revisited this definition in 2009 and offered additional nuances of the statement (the essay appears as the first chapter of his Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy, Eerdmans, 2015). As most scholars who study apocalyptic observe, this literature often blends several genres in a given book. Pate correctly observes the particular apocalyptic found in Daniel and Revelation are mixed genres: Daniel has court-tales (Dan 1-6) and apocalyptic visions (Dan 7-12); Revelation has letters, throne room visions, and apocalyptic.
Pate surveys the development of apocalyptic beginning in the Old Testament (Isaiah 24-27; 55-56, Joel 2-3, Ezekiel 38-39, Daniel and Zechariah). Since he considers Isaiah a unified book from the eighth century prophet, the “little apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 is indeed an early development. Most scholars of Isaiah today consider those chapters to be one of the later additions to the book. Other than Revelation, the main New Testament example of apocalyptic is Jesus’s Olivet Discourse. Pate does a remarkable job illustrating the parallels between the Olivet Discourse and the opening of the seven seals in Revelation 6. Although this is often suggested, few have worked out the detailed parallelism quite like Pate does.
The third chapter of this handbook sketches what Pate calls the “function of apocalyptic.” The general themes of Israel’s history are based on the blessing and cursing found in the Law (especially Deuteronomy). Because Israel failed to keep the covenant, they fell under the curse of the Law and were eventually exiled from their land. But the covenant also promised a restoration to the land in the future. Pate then demonstrates how this “sin, exile, restoration” pattern resonates throughout both biblical and non-biblical apocalyptic literature. This include the messianic woes, a time of great tribulation prior to the arrival of the kingdom. In fact, this hope of future restoration often drives the apocalyptic reimagining of history in 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra.
One of the most fascinating sections of his book is Pate’s use of the Arch of Titus as a model for the book of Revelation. He suggests much of the structure of Revelation can be explained as an ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is a literary description of a piece of art, drawing the picture in the mind of a reader using words. The image of the Great Whore of Babylon in Revelation 17 is a clear example of this literary style. Pate has an extended discussion of the art on the Arch of Titus which he then relates to Revelation 4-19. As far as I know, this has not been suggested before and it is quite intriguing. Since Revelation has at least one other example of this style, it is at least possible John modeled at least some of his imagery on a Roman Triumph and certainly the images of Titus as the conqueror of Judea would resonate with the themes of the book. One possible problem with the suggestion (and it is only a suggestion in this book) is whether the specific images Pate refers to were known well enough to people living in Ephesus about twenty years later. With the Great Whore, the image of Dea Roma was known in imperial cult sites and on coinage. Were there replicas of the Arch of Titus placed in imperial cult centers? Could images from the Arch be distributed elsewhere in the Empire so that readers would catch on to the allusion?
As with all of the volumes in this series, Pate devotes two chapters to preaching apocalyptic literature (ch. 7-8). With respect to application, Pate discusses four issues of “twenty-first century appropriation” of Revelation, the first three are responses to misuse of apocalyptic at the theological level. First, he discusses the long delay of the return of Christ, which he answers by appealing to the already/not yet method explained elsewhere in the book. The Revelation does ague for an imminent return, but that means “any time, not ‘immediate’” (p. 179.
Second, Pate addresses the formation of Israel as a nation in 1948. This date has long fascinated prophecy teachers who have made the unfortunate claim the new political entity Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy. Since Jesus says “this generation will not pass away” in the Olivet discourse (Matt 24:34), some claimed 1948 started the prophetic clock and a literal generation would pass before the Rapture or Second Coming (1981, 1988, etc.). Pate offers five alternatives for understanding “this generation.” He leans towards the view this “generation” refers to the last generation before Christ returns, whenever that is.
Third, Pate deals with the theological question of the status of Israel in the present age. Does the church “replace Israel” as God’s chosen people in God’s plan? Using the 144,000 in Revelation 7, Pate argues Israel has not been replaced as God’s people. This group represents the “Jewish remnant that already accepted Jesus as their Messiah in the first century” and the larger multitude are the Gentiles who have not yet accepted Jesus as Messiah (the already/not yet hermeneutic).
Finally, Pate discusses the commendations to the seven churches and their application to contemporary church issues. This section is little more than a paragraph, which I find surprising since the letters to the seven churches are by far the most applicable and preachable section of the book of Revelation.
The section on preaching apocalyptic is missing two items I would have appreciated. First, I would like to hear Pate’s advice on what NOT to preach in this literature. Preaching through Revelation 1-3 works well, and the throne visions in 4-5 lend themselves to a sermon. But is it possible to preach through Revelation 8-9 in a series of expositional sermons in a way that is faithful to the text and applicable to a modern congregation? Can a pastor preach the Great Whore of Babylon (Rev 17) in a way that “bridges the gap” between the Roman world of the late first century and modern American Christianity? My second criticism of this section of the book is the two texts Pate chose to model an expositional method for preaching apocalyptic: Romans 11:25-27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7. At least one example sermon should have been drawn from Revelation (the topic of this book). In fact, one sermon from the Seven Churches and one from a later chapter would have been a more appropriate model given the title and themes of the book. At the end of the book I am left wondering, “How do I preach Revelation?”
The final chapter of the book is a list of exegetical tools for biblical interpretation and resources for apocalyptic literature. The first three pages are general tools (including a full page on textual criticism!). With the exception of his own work, there are few items on this list from the last 15 years. This list would benefit by reducing space devoted to general studies, expanding the apocalyptic section with recent important work, and annotating the entries.
Conclusion. Like the other volumes in this series, Pate’s book is a useful overview of a very difficult genre to interpret. I find many of the charts difficult to navigate, perhaps the information would have been better communicated without forcing it into a rigid box format. 1-2 Thessalonians are on the front cover of the book, but really only appear as one of the two examples of preaching apocalyptic. Aside from these criticisms, the first three chapters of this book are worthy reading for an introduction to apocalyptic literature. Pate’s discussion of Revelation 6 and the Olivet Discourse and the Arch of Titus are excellent and worthy of attention.
NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
The problem western pop-Christianity has re-defined apocalyptic to refer only to “the end of the world as we know it.” Some students want to read Revelation as if it was in the same genre as The Book of Eli or The Road. Those two films are excellent examples of the modern genre of post-apocalyptic. Some disaster has happened which has nearly wiped out most of the world forcing a tiny community of surviving humans to struggles against extinction.
But that is not at all what the genre of apocalyptic was in the Second Temple Period. From about 250 B.C. to about A.D. 250, the genre of apocalyptic flourished. Both Jews and Christians wrote apocalypses in order to deal with the rapidly changing world. These books look at the recent past and current events using spectacular imagery in order to provide hope for the future. In this sense, a story like The Book of Eli functions the same way since despite the almost universal evil in the world, there is some hope a the end of the story that humans will survive and create an ideal community.
David Noel Freedman once said apocalyptic is “born of crisis – from the start it was underground literature, the consolation of the persecuted” (Journal for Theology and Church 6 : 173). Christian and Jewish apocalyptic reflects a crisis of faith. The world is evil and most people are living ignorantly in the darkness. Evil is oppressing the small minority of righteous. Yet this literature always ends with the hope of God’s justice. The righteous will be rewarded and the evil oppressors will be condemned.
In the introduction to his recent collection of essays on apocalyptic literature, John Collins sketches recent attempts to define apocalyptic, settling on “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another supernatural world” (Apocalypse, Prophecy and Pseudepigraphy, 4). This definition preserves both the revelatory aspect of apocalyptic, but also some eschatology which many think is the whole purpose of apocalyptic.
But can apocalyptic be a kind of protest literature? Do the visions of Daniel, the quintessential apocalyptic book in the Hebrew Bible, offer protest against the empire (whether Babylon, Persia, the Greeks or later the Romans)? If apocalyptic was popular during the Hasmonean dynasty and the advent of the Romans, how did books like 1 Enoch offer both comfort and protest against “the evil powers of this world”?
Forsythe, Ralph. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: A Parallel Comparison of the Four Gospels. Passageway Press, 2016. 464 pp; Pb; $30. Link to Passageway Press
Reading the four gospels horizontally is an important interpretive strategy. There are so many parallel passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke that these three Gospels are described the “synoptic Gospels.” By reading the parallels scholars make observations about which Gospel was written first and how each synoptic Gospel treats its sources. For some of these details, see my previous posts, Is There a Synoptic Problem? and Why Study The Synoptic Problem? One of the advantages of reading the parallels horizontally is that the differences between the writers becomes more apparent, as do the similarities.
The best way to study the Synoptic Problem is with a Greek synopsis. Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum is the standard scholarly synopsis of the Gospels in Greek, although Huck’s Synopsis of the First Three Gospels is also very useful (and less expensive). Most editions of the Greek New Testament list the Synoptic parallels for each section (or pericope). For many Bible students, these Greek resources are not useful, but English translations sometimes obscure the Gospel parallels. For this reason, an English parallel Gospel is usually called a “harmony of the Gospels” since the parallel columns harmonize the differences between the Gospels and attempt to give a chronologically accurate life of Jesus.
The earliest attempt to harmonize the four gospels was by Tatian. His Diatessaron (through the four) Augustine wrote a harmony of the Gospels (De consensu evangeliorum). A. T. Roberson’s harmony (Harper & Row, 1922) revised the earlier work of John Broadus (1893) using the Revised Version. More recently, Robert Thomas and Stan Gundry edited harmonies using the NASB (1986) and NIV (1987). Thomas and Gundry included brief essays introducing source and redaction criticism. Orville E. Daniel also produced a harmony using the NIV (Baker 1987, second edition 1996).
Since there are a number of English Gospel harmonies already available, Ralph Forsythe must explain why his arrangement of the Gospels is different. In the introduction, Forsythe indicates a major distinctive of his book is the inclusion of John as a fourth column. This is not unique, since Robertson (for example) includes John as well. In Forsythe’s arrangement, all four columns are always present, so that a story appearing in only two gospels appear in parallel, while the other two columns are blank. If a story is unique to a Gospel, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan or the most of John’s gospel, three columns are blank. Other harmonies print unique stores without columns, which may be a better use of space.
Forsythe begins by dividing the Gospels into 175 sections. By way of comparison, Robertson had 184 sections, Daniel had 188, and Thomas and Gundry had 258. Although he provides a list of his sections with an index of page numbers in the book, he does not number the sections as most harmonies do. One of the reasons for Forythe’s shorter list is his lumping of the Sermon on the Mount into a single unit; the other harmonies break the Sermon up into many sub-sections.
Where Matthew deviates from the order of events in Mark, Forsythe copies the text of Matthew so that it is in parallel with Mark. For example, Mark 2:23-27 and Luke 6:1-5 are chronologically parallel, so Forsythe copies Matthew 12:1-13 to the same set of columns (pg. 111-2). Yet Matthew 12:1-13 also appears on page 139 without any parallels at all. The same is the case for Luke 7:1-10, which is included as parallels to Matt 8:5-13 and John 4:46-54, but then turns up again on page 128. These copied texts are in italics and usually there is a brief note explaining the move. Forsythe’s primary motivation is chronological order rather than placing clear parallels together.
Any attempt to create a parallel Gospel will encounter stories may or may not be parallel. Like most harmonies, Forsythe places the rejection at Nazareth in Matthew 13:53 in parallel with Mark 6:1. But should Luke 4:16-30 be included as a parallel story? The fifth edition of the UBS Greek New Testament lists all three as parallels, Forsythe does not include Luke. The very next pericope is the Sending of the Twelve (Matthew 10:1, 5-15; Mark 6:6b-12; Luke 9:1-16). Forsythe includes Mark and Luke in his parallel columns, but omits the parallels in Matthew. In fact, Matthew 10:1, 5-15 is shown in parallel to the selection of the Twelve in Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16. The only real parallel is Matthew 10:2-4, the rest ought to be moved to Mark 6:6b. Since he often deviates from Aland’s list of pericopae, wit would have been useful for Forsythe to include more commentary on his method for placing some texts as parallels, and others not.
Most troublesome is the assumption the Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (beginning in Luke 6:17) are not true synoptic parallels. It is one of the foundational assumptions of source and redaction criticism that Matthew and Luke share a common source, whether this is Q (from Quelle, the German word for source) or a less structured sayings tradition. Forsythe has separated Matthew from Luke for chronology reasons, even when there are clear parallels (for example, Matthew 7:1-6 and Luke 6:37-42). In this book Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount appears alone over the four columns as does the Sermon on the Plain. It is impossible to trace parallels in this arrangement of the text. Since one of the main reasons for using a synopsis or harmony is to trace the variations between these two sermons, Forsythe’s arrangement renders this book less useful.
There are a few other problems with this book. First, there are a few misspelled words (Tation for Tatian, page II). Second, Forsythe claims the “older copy of Mark’s Gospel” was found at “St. Katherine’s monastery” and is now housed at the British Museum. This refers to Codex Sinaiticus, dated to the mid fourth century. The Chester Beatty papyri date to about A.D. 250, P.45 contains Mark 4-9 and 11-12. Perhaps he meant “oldest complete Gospel of Mark.” Less important are the illustrations, inserted to fill pages when there are no parallels. These are all old, public domain illustrations and maps which do not add much to the usefulness of the book. Since he insists on having all four columns on the page at once, there are some pages will only a single column with text. Perhaps following the model of Robertson would have made this a small, handier volume. Finally, Forsythe uses the Berean Study Bible, available from Bible Hub. This translation is not under copyright so it could be used without paying a fee (as would be the case with the NIV or ESV).
Given the method used in arranging the Gospel parallels, it is difficult to recommend this volume over any of the competing harmonies of the Gospels already available.
NB: Thanks to Passageway Books for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Cronin, Sonya Shetty. Raymond Brown, ‘The Jews’ and the Gospel of John: From Apologia to Apology. LNTS 504; London: T&T Clark, 2015. 232pp. Hb; $112.00; Pb. $39.95 (2013); PDF eBook $27.95. Link to Bloomsbury
Sonya Cronin’s monograph tracks a development in the thinking of one of the greatest Johannine scholars of the twentieth century, Raymond Brown. Her interest is focused on the development of Brown’s thought on John’s characterization of the Jews as responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. Cronin’s thesis is that Brown changed his views over his career. Perhaps it is more accurate that Brown’s views on the issue were enlightened over his long career. Brown himself was never anti-Semitic, but his sensitivity to the way John’s Gospel had been misused to justify anti-Semitic belief and actions developed considerably over time. In his earliest writings he offers an apologetic to deflect a charge of anti-Semitism directed at the fourth Gospel to an apology for how the church has used the Gospel of John to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus and the resulting persecution of Jews.
The Gospel of John has often been described as anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic based on the way the author of the Gospel uses the word Ἰουδαῖος, the Jews. For example, John 8:44 states the “Jews are of your father the devil” and John 19 lays the blame for the crucifixion on the Jews rather than Pilate and the Romans. Cronin does not devote any space to showing how an anti-Jewish reading of John developed in the early Church nor how blaming the Jews for the crucifixion became an invitation to abuse the Jews at various times in Church history. There are other books which trace the history and it is a well-known problem in Johannine Studies.
Cronin divides Brown’s work on John into four stages: from 1960-1970, including a short book on John and the Epistles and the Anchor Bible commentary on the Gospel of John; from 1971-1988, including the Community of the Beloved and The Gospel and the Epistles; from 1988-1998, including The Death of the Messiah and a short Retreat with John the Evangelist; and Brown’s posthumous works, including An Introduction to the Gospel of John (with Maloney). In each chapter she examines references to the Jews in works in each stage and describes Brown’s shift in thinking. Initially this was as simple as using quite marks for “the Jews” in order to indicate the Gospel writer does not have all Jews in mind when he declares the Jews “sons of the devil.”
In each chapter she provides some biographical information which may have influence Brown’s development on this issue. For example, when he moved to Union Theological Seminary in 1970, he came into contact with Louis Martyn. That relationship had an impact on Brown’s development of a Johannine Community hypothesis. During his time at Union Brown also had regular fellowship with Rabbi Dr. Burton Visotzky from Jewish Theological Seminary. According to Cronin, after this time Brown “did not publish anything on the Jews without allowing a Jewish scholar to screen it first” (76). An additional factor in each period of Brown’s work on John is developments in the Catholic Church and his participation in statements from the Church on the Jews. The 1965 document Nostra Aetate (In Our Time, Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council).
Of particular interest is Cronin’s account in Brown’s Death of the Messiah. Since this particular monograph was devoted to the death of Jesus, Brown includes a section on the responsibility and/or guilt for Jesus’ death. Both Rome and the Hews are to blame, but since Rome no longer exists, anti-Roman sentiment is meaningless. Brown did not “vindicate nor vilify” the passion narratives for blaming the Jews for the crucifixion (99). It is not the place of the exegete to judge historical attitudes and accurate historical research requires the recognition of hostility in the Gospels. But he also is quick to point out that Christians are also guilty of acting in the same manner as those who killed Jesus (104). Modern anti-Judaism is, therefore, morally wrong and historically misplaced (107).
For John Dominic Crossan, this was a failure to deal with the anti-Judaism of the Fourth Gospel. Crossan’s Who Killed Jesus? was written as a kind of response to Brown and argued Brown did not go far enough in condemning the what he considered anti-Semitism in the passion narratives. Crossan thought a fair historical assessment of the passion narratives necessarily led to anti-Judaism, which can is closely linked to the kind of anti-Semitism which led to the Holocaust (113). Brown is content to acknowledge anti-Judaism in the passion narratives as a historical reality and observe that “not everything in Scripture is to be emulated” (146). Crossan considers the passion narratives to be “defensive fiction” which perpetuate hatred and blames Brown for giving aid and comfort to that fiction.
Cronin concludes her argument with a short survey of commentaries and articles which interact with anti-Judaism in John. Her interest is to compare this data to Brown’s developing sensitivity to the issue. For some scholars, the “Jews” are the Jewish authorities who attack Jesus (not all Jews), for others the “Jews” are a stereotype who function as the theological representatives of unbelief in John’s Gospel. Many scholars have been influence by Brown to argue the Jews serve as a kind of “intra-Jewish debate” with a Jewish Christian community. Brown developed this view in his Johannine Community view, and along with Louis Martyn, suggested some Jews were ejected from the Synagogue because of their faith in Jesus.
In the end, Cronin shows how Brown was able to move from only the most cursory interest in anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John to a defense of John’s gospel against the charge of anti-Judaism, and ultimately to an apology for the way John’s gospel has been used against the Jewish people in both scholarship and society. Brown did this, Cronin argues, first as a Catholic and secondly as a biblical scholar. Brown was, she suggests, a leader in the Church against anti-Judaism and a “significant voice in leadership” forming official Catholic documents and statements on the Jewish people.
NB: Thanks to Bloomsbury for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.