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March 17, 2010

One of the “great take-away”s I will have from this Revelation course is the notion of letting visions be visions and not requiring of them a literal understanding which they do not present.  I have done this many, many times in my prior readings of the book.  In light of this, this Bauckham quote is especially poignant.

…Revelation has suffered from interpretation which takes its images too literally.  Even the most sophisticated interpreters all too easily slip into treating the images as codes which need only to be decoded to yield literal predictions.  But this fails to take the images seriously as images.  John depicts the future in images in order to be able to do both more and less than a literal prediction could.  Less, because Revelation does not offer a literal outline of the course of future events – as though prophecy were merely history written in advance.  But more, because what it does provide is insight into the nature of God’s purpose for the future, and does so in a way that shapes the readers’ attitudes to the future and invites their active participation in the divine purpose.

Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, p 93

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Fogey permalink
    March 17, 2010 4:27 pm

    This quote seems to link literal interpretation with prediction/decoding (ie. Jack Van Impe)

    I don’t think they go hand it hand. I think we get into more theological trouble when we take the Bible less literally.

    But I think Jesus made it pretty clear that the purpose of prophecy is not to predict the future. I believe its purpose is to:
    1. recognize the signs of the times
    2. vindicate God’s word

    There is an old saying that when this is all over, Jesus will interpret every word, every letter and every space between the letters.

    • March 17, 2010 6:43 pm

      Ben, I totally agree with you on the purpose of pr0phecy that you’ve stated. I don’t think Bauckham would equate literal understanding of Rev with prediction/decoding per se… but seeing the quote in isolation like this certainly leans that way, so point granted there.

      On the whole, I think you’re right that the further away from literal we get, we generally get into more trouble… but I think too often we don’t take genre and/or context into account. Especially with Revelation.

      So, sticking with Revelation (cause it’s fresh on my mind)… Rev. 4:1-2 makes clear that John is in heaven somehow seeing a vision. From there until the end of 11, it’s all a vision (we get no indication from the text that the vision nature of what he’s seeing has changed). 12:1, we get notice that he is seeing a sign in heaven, so we need to understand what follows as such. Just like visions of the OT, there is not by necessity a literal equivalent to what is seen. Ezekiel 9 is a good case. And Gracie’s crying. More later…

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