Two House Chronicles
The Proper Rendering of the Apocalypse of John
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- Published: Friday, 16 September 2016 21:07
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by Marsue and Jerry Huerta
Before rendering the Revelation of John, the proper method of interpreting the genre of apocalyptic literature or scripture in general must be addressed. Conflict manifests in three differing methods over the “historic” rendering of Revelation: historicism, preterism and futurism. “Historic” is emphasized so as not to confuse the former three with idealism, which is an alternative method which maintains that the book does not pertain to historical phenomena; idealists interpret Revelation as representing persistent experiences common to all ages and believe it is simply symbolic.
The preterist’s orientation views the Revelation as dealing with historical phenomena that took place within the first few centuries of Christ’s first advent, and it must be emphasized here that they themselves are not in complete agreement with what the symbolism represents. There are endless debates on which emperors are indicated as the seven kings in Revelation 17, and rightfully so because great conflict arises when trying to reconcile any seven Roman emperors with the seven kings mentioned.
The futurist’s orientation interprets the Revelation as predominately revealing phenomena that will happen just prior to Christ’s return and they too have difficulty agreeing on exactly how the prophecies unfold. Their guesses as to the identity of Babylon run the gambit of the resurgent Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, Iraq, the United States, etc.
Historicism views the Revelation in the continuous-historical approach; it views the Revelation as the unfolding of historical phenomena and entities, permitting recapitulation and interludes of parenthetical matter, that stretch from John’s time until the eternal estate. The variances within Preterism and Futurism were mentioned because, ironically, the greatest criticism against historicism has been that it has its own variations. As Leon Morris stated,
Historicist views also labour under the serious disadvantage of failing to agree. If the main points of the subsequent history are in fact foreshadowed it should be possible to identify them with tolerable certainty, otherwise what is the point of it?1
George Eldon Ladd criticized historicism in the same manner when he stated,
Obviously, such an interpretation could lead to confusion, for there are no fixed guidelines as to what historical events are meant.2
Disagreements or variances on all details over the apocalypse trouble preterists as well as futurists, so Morris’s objection hardly perseveres under scrutiny. All the paradigms, including historicism, have guidelines by which they interpret fulfilled or unfulfilled prophecy; consequently, Ladd’s objection to the historicism mode was clearly shortsighted. Certainly, without fixed guidelines any attempt to interpret prophecy is futile. Ladd and Morris use their own guidelines to affirm that the preterist’s interpretation of the kings of Revelation 17 leads to conflict, which diminishes the preterist’s guidelines.
Preterists interpreters usually apply the verse to the succession of Roman emperors.… This interpretation makes no sense.… The problem is altogether avoided if John does not mean to designate a succession of individual kings or emperors, but a succession of kingdoms.3
The most significant and generally accepted guideline is that the kings in Revelation 17 persecute God’s chosen people, a historical phenomenon which proponents of all paradigms agree upon, thus qualifying it as a fixed guideline to render the apocalypse. Yet, attempting to render the kings by this guideline as seven, nay, eight emperors cannot abide without ad hoc explanations. This unfavorable judgment of the preterist’s view of the seven, nay, eight kings by Ladd and Morris is supported by historicism whether the two realize it or not, but for not quite the same reasons. In support of the historicist’s guidelines, futurist E.W. Bullinger also interpreted the kings as successive dominant world powers. The nouns below are meant as appositives (seven heads renamed seven mountains and etcetera).
Five are fallen, the48 one (the sixth) is (at this stage of the Vision), the other (the seventh), is not yet come. If this be interpreted of Gentile Dominion at the future point of the Vision referred to by the Angel; then, as to the dominions, the five will have fallen: (1) Babylon, (2) Medo-Persia, (3) Greece, (4) Rome, (5) Mohammedan. The sixth will be the Kingdom of the Beast, (7) the seventh will be the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.4
Nevertheless, Bullinger’s rendition of the kings also fails to agree with other futurists. The clue that the eighth king somehow existed before John’s time but did not exist in John’s time and yet will exist again in the future from John’s time has produced the most ad hoc explanations and disagreements in preterism as well as in futurism. The point being, the issue is not that guidelines do not exist in all the paradigms, but the question becomes, what are the superior guidelines that can reconcile the Revelation to harmonize with a history that will not lead to further variances?
Morris and Ladd have applied “classic prophecy” or general prophecy as a guideline, which historicist Jon Paulien defines as “contemporary perspectives” that “are mixed with a universal, future perspective” in his essay The End of Historicism? Reflections on the Adventist Approach to Biblical Apocalyptic—Part One.
It was argued that general prophecy, because of its dual dimensions, may at times be susceptible to dual fulfillments or foci where local and contemporary perspectives are mixed with a universal, future perspective.5
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1. Leon Morris, The Book of Revelation-An Introduction and Commentary (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1987), 19.
2. George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1972), 11.
3. Ibid., 229.
4. E.W. Bullinger, Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 336.
5. Jon Paulien, “The End of Historicism? Reflections on the Adventist Approach to Biblical Apocalyptic—Part One,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 14/2 (Fall 2003), 15–43.