Symbolism

The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn, Part 4

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Some Major Characteristics of Apocalyptic (with Responses)

Take up any book on the subject and you will be told that the many features of apocalyptic literature can scarcely if ever be found in one single work. Indeed, a piece of apocalyptic can be absent many of the list of characteristics. Still, it is worth trying to get at the criteria. Brent Sandy has provided a list of eleven characteristics (twelve if one includes pseudonymity) of the genre:1 I have added some comments to temper them a bit.

  1. “jaw-dropping scenes of animals, rivers, mountains and stars that jump off the page with movielike special effects (Dan. 8:2-14; Zech. 6:1-7)”

A star went before the magi to guide them; it was actual not apocalyptical. While some of the animals, say in Daniel 7, are imaginary, this is not necessarily the case with the visions in Zechariah or Ezekiel. If the prophets could see real spiritual beings (cherubim, seraphim, women with stork’s wings, etc), then apocalyptic is more a category of experience (which includes seeing the supernatural) than has hitherto been admitted.

  1. “natural catastrophes producing cosmic chaos throughout the universe, ushering in the dreadful day of judgment (Is. 24:18-20; Ezek. 38:19-22)”

These passages describe an epic earthquake; nothing in these passages is figurative.

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The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn, Part 3

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Going Far Beyond the Bible

All of the major advocates of apocalyptic gather data, albeit not exclusively, from outside of the Bible. Brent Sandy demonstrates his procedure of going beyond Scripture when he says, “In order to understand the language of apocalyptic, we must review the period of world history relevant to Daniel 8 and then examine Daniel’s language.”1 He is not alone. Notice what is entailed in this statement about the genre:

Apocalypse was a literary genre that flourished in the period between the OT and NT(though apocalyptic visions of the future can be found in the OT as well as the NT).2

Here is another statement from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery:

Apocalyptic forms of expression were very common outside the Bible, and contemporary readers need to become familiar with that mindset to understand biblical apocalyptic literature and symbolism.3

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The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn, Part 2

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The “Apocalypse” of John and Picking Sides

The first composition to call itself an “apocalypse” was the Book of Revelation, written by the Apostle John circa 95 A.D.1 “And even there” says Collins, “it is not clear whether the word denotes a special class of literature or is used more generally for revelation.”2 But right here at the start I believe we are misdirected. John expressly tells us that his book is a “prophecy” (Rev. 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19), and is “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:2), which “is the spirit of prophecy” according to Revelation 19:10. So every indication within the Book of Revelation itself is that it is a prophecy. Hence the term apokalypsis as John uses it does not refer to a special class of literature, but rather does stand generally for a revelation from Jesus Christ.

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The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn, Part 1

This is a draft chapter from the forthcoming book The Words of the Covenant.

The purpose of this article is to cast a little doubt upon the generally received view of the reading of biblical apocalyptic literature. As the unique Word of God, the Bible itself is its own interpreter, and much of the edifice of genre criticism and particularly apocalyptic genre is not based on biblical premises, nor should the “apocalyptic” sections of the Bible be read as if at odds with the understanding of God’s covenants that we have been considering. In point of fact, read against the backdrop of the divine covenants apocalyptic presents few problems for the interpreter and makes its own contribution to the prophetic big picture of the Bible.

Apocalyptic as We are Supposed to View It

According to the leading writers on the subject, the study of apocalyptic literature only gained impetus in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and really began in earnest in the second half of the twentieth century. Though there has been some shift in opinion over the past fifty years, the overall consensus is fairly stable. Mainline scholars have broken down their study into three major strands:

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