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.

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 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).

Seven Churches

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.

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.

The person of Jesus frames the book of Revelation. In my previous post I argued that the major theme of Revelation is worship, so it is no surprise that the object of this worship is often Jesus as the Messiah, the Lamb of God.

The book begins with John’s vision describing Christ in terms of a theophany (1:12-18). Chapter 19 Christ returns to this world as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (19:16). The most common description of Jesus in the book of Revelation is as a “Lamb,” appearing some 28 times in the book (Rev 5:6, 12-13). This is a natural extension of the theology of the Gospel of John, which clearly describes Jesus Christ as the perfect Sacrificial Lamb to save the world from its sins (John 1:29, 36).

Obviously the image of a Lamb was intended to evoke a sacrificed animal. When no one is found worthy to open the scroll in Revelation 5, John weeps bitterly. And angel tells him that the “Lion of Judah” has triumphed and his worthy to open the scroll. But when John looks to see the Lion of Judah, he sees the “Lamb that was slain.” This lamb is on the throne of God ready to receive the scroll.

The description of the Lamb is somewhat unexpected – seven horns and seven eyes. There is no “lamb” imagery associated with the Messiah in Judaism, but it is an important them for the gospel of John. The seven eyes may allude to the number of times Christ says that he “sees” in the letters to the seven churches (Rev 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). That the Lamb was slain may allude to imagery of the messiah as a lamb “lead to the slaughter” in Isa 53:7.

While this Lamb brings salvation to the world, he is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He returns as a judge over the nations that oppose God (Rev 5:5, 19:15). This is intentionally ironic since a lamb is not a good symbol for judgment. But the Christ is both a sacrifice and a judge. Taking the Johannine literature as a while, Jesus as the Lamb of God is the subject of the gospel of John, while the image of Jesus as a conquering king is the subject of Revelation. Both roles are important in John’s theology of Jesus as Messiah, Son of God.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus is equal to God and equally worthy of the praise of all creation. John intentionally equates the “one who sits on the throne” and the Lamb by using the same words applied to God in 4:11 to the Lamb in 5:12-13. In 7:10-12, the worshipers declare that salvation belongs to “Our God, who sits on the throne” and to the Lamb. Both God and the Lamb are “worthy of praise.

Bibliography. David Aune has an excursus on Christ as Lamb of God (Revelation 1:367ff ). See also C. K. Barrett, “The Lamb of God” NTS 1 (1954-55) 210-18; N. Hillyer, “‘The Lamb’ in the Apocalypse.” EvQ 39 (1967) 228-36.

Despite the fact the book has a great deal to say about coming events, Revelation is not a roadmap of the future. It is, rather, an exhortation for today. It is possible that people living in the tribulation will pick up the book of Revelation and see the things spoken of being fulfilled in their lives, but the people living at that time will be under a delusion, (2 Thess. 2:11) and may not have the spiritual insight to believe what the book teaches. Revelation was intended to be read by the church living in the shadow of the Second Coming bearing up under persecution for their belief in Jesus, in order to encourage them to be strong and endure until the end.

Van Eyck Worship LambThe main theological point Revelation makes is that God is worthy of our worship. There are several scenes of heavenly worship around the throne of God (Rev 5:13, 7:11-12). As Grant Osborne notes, “The primary theme is proper worship of God” (Revelation, 12). When I read that I thought that worship could not possibly be a major theme of the book, but when I reflected on the contents of each chapter, it turns out that nearly every chapter of the book has some sort of a worship scene, song of praise, or doxology. The witnesses to the judgments described by the book respond in praise to God as the only thing in all of creation which is in fact worthy of worship.  It might be helpful to think about how many classic hymns and popular worship songs are drawn from Revelation, especially chapters 4-5.

This theme of worship has to be taken in the context of the Imperial Cult which declared that Rome was worthy of worship and that the Emperor ought to be honored as a God. But the Empire is not worthy of worship, the second beast in Revelation 13 must coerce people to worship the image of the first. The metaphor of Rome as a drunken whore evokes negative images of the honors given to the empire. John boldly declares that it is not the Empire nor the Emperor who is the almighty savior of the world, but the ‘one who sits on the throne of heaven.”

In Revelation, God is worthy to be worshiped because of the nature of his character. He is the one who is thrice-holy (4:8), he is the only being in all of creation that has all power and strength (4:10). In fact, the reason for God’s worthiness is that he is the creator (4:11, 10:6) It is evident that since God is the creator of all things, he is sovereign over them and can use them in what ever way he chooses. In Rev 10:6 even the elements of nature declare to be creator.

God is also described as a just judge who will avenge the wrongs done to his people. This is a dominant theme in the book (6:10, 16:5, 18:20, 19:11, 20:4, 20:12), but is also part of God’s worthiness to be worshiped. When the seventh trumpet sounds in Rev 11:15, the 24 elders fall on their faces and worship God because he is the Almighty God who has begun to reign (11:17). The worship is based on the judgment of the nations: God is the destroyer of the destroyers of the earth! Chapter 11 ends with a theophany reminiscent of Mount Sinai.

I think that this perspective on Revelation as a book of worship will curb some of the more enthusiastic interpretations of the book.  It also brings the book back to the church as a worship texts.  Rather than fearing the strangeness of the book, we ought to worship the awesomeness of our God!

Bibliography:  Eugene Boring, “The Theology of Revelation, “‘The Lord Our God the Almighty Reigns,’” Int 40 (1986): 257-69.

One of the problems when studying the Book of Revelation is that while the book claims to be a series of visions experienced by John, the book is a complex web of allusions to the Hebrew Bible.  In fact, while Revelation never quotes the Hebrew Bible, it alludes to the Hebrew Bible in almost every line.  If this is true, then did John in fact have a vision, or did he write his book using the genre of a vision?  Is this book a Revelation, or is it Research and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, applying the prophecy of the Hebrew Bible to John’s current situation?

John the ScholarHere is one example drawn from Revelation 7.  John sees four angels holding back the four winds until God’s servants are sealed on their foreheads.  These are the 144,000 Jewish witnesses who are protected from the wrath to come (cf. 9:4, 14:1-4).  While it is possible to see this as a vision experienced by John, it is clear that this is an allusion to the book of Ezekiel.  In Ezekiel 9:4-6 there is another “sealing” of those who will be preserved out of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  A mark is placed on the forehead of every man who has “groaned over” the abominations committed in the Temple of God prior to fall of Jerusalem.  A man clothed in linen (presumably an angel) passes through the city marking those to be preserved, the rest will be destroyed without pity.

John appears to be consciously evoking Ezekiel 9 here – the context is similar, a judgment of God, and the result is similar, those “marked” by God are preserved, those who are not will be slain.  Did John “experience a vision” or did he re-use the text of Ezekiel in order to describe a similar coming tribulation and preservation of God’s people?

It is equally possible that John experienced a vision and then used his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible to explain what he had seen and heard in that vision.  Either way, the book of Revelation is much more than record of a series of strange dreams. Is the book an actual vision, or the result of diligent study of the Hebrew Bible? Is there some one to combine these two extremes?

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?

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?

NewDocs 10

I happen to have an extra copy of the latest NewDocs, edited by S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison, with E. J. Bridge. I reviewed it 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.

To have a chance at winning this book, leave a comment mentioning , or at least your name.  I suppose some other snarky comment will do as well.  I will announce the winner picked at random on April 15.

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I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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