Sunday, November 3, 2013

3 Ways to Read the Book of Revelation

According to Richard Hays, there are three interpretive approaches to the Book of Revelation. I will list the three and their definition and my leaning towards the method I find most attractive.

1. Predictive: 
The more dominant view throughout Church History, it reads the text of Revelation as 'literal' and as a transcript of historical events. It is usually considered to include varying contemporary political/religious events. The Gulf War, The Soviet Union, etc. I find this to be a poor translation of literal events, especially when it is contingent on our current situation. Thus we read back into Revelation our current circumstances. Highly problematic for me.
2. Historical:
Instead of being read as a prediction, Revelation is to be read as a commentary on political events within the context of the original author of Revelation. Hays states that like the Book of Daniel, Revelation is a resistance document. Simply, the imagery evokes the intended meaning of, say, Caesar and the Roman empire. This is a more attractive interpretation as it affirms the original intent of the author and grants a window into the views/symbols/ideals of the time.
3. Theopoetic:
One reads this text as a theological and poetic representation of the spiritual environment  within where the church finds herself. It is thus a prophetic confrontation of all earthly pretensions of power. This allows for a stronger sense of ethics, and seems to drive most fluidly within the context of apocalyptic literature, especially with the imagery there within.
I don't pretend to understand the Book of Revelation. I find it to be a fascinating but also a maddening document. Mostly because I cannot read it without the image of Putin and Reagan. But, it is indeed a fascinating document.

For a pacifist reading of Revelation, Hays "The Moral Vision of the New Testament" is quite good. Material taken from 170-173.



  1. Not sure where this falls in this, but much of the imagery in the book of Revelations, follows closely with Native American religious beliefs as well. It has always fascinated me since college that two cultures so far apart in time and location, have such similar imagery.

  2. I would point you to "Tales of the End" by David Barr is essential reading for Revelation. He brings astute literary analysis to an otherwise confusing, haphazard piece of literature. He also abstains from delving into the more flashpoint theological questions, instead satisfied with giving the reader comprehension tools appropriate for the genre to begin to make sense of what's actually being told and why it's told in the way it's told.

    There is also a wonderful analysis somewhere online arguing for Revelation as a deliberate continuation of the Gospel of John, in that they should be seen as two panels of a single work, not to mention their re-contextualization of OT themes. But for the life of me I can't remember the names of the authors.

  3. Which way does he think is best - 2, 3 or both?

  4. Predictive, taking today's events and making them fit into the Revelation narrative, is not unlike the faith healer commenting that someone in the room has a bad back. The message is bound to fit but it hardly demonstrates any particular wisdom.

  5. These guys have good answers!

  6. The book of Revelations is probably the most mistical book in the bible. There will be a day when we all see the truth that lies in the bible.