Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Decrypting prophecy

Must Be Relevant and Understood by the First Century Author and Readers  
Then a third principle is, and I think this is very important, interpretations of Revelation must be something that John could have intended and his first century readers could have understood. Let me say that again. Interpretations of Revelation must be consistent with what John could have intended and his first century readers could have understood. If not, I think any interpretation that John couldn’t have possibly intended and his first century readers living in a pre-technological age living in a political situation very different from our own, any interpretation they could not have possibly understood should be rejected, in my opinion. 
...for any interpretation of Revelation to be plausible and compelling, must be something that John could have understood and that his readers could have understood, or John could have intended and his readers living in the first century Greco- Roman Empire, in a pre-technological, pre-consumer age, pre-modern day warfare age, pre-nuclear age, something that they could have understood and would have made sense of. In my mind that rules out a lot of the possible explanations of 666 that have been proposed down through the centuries. Especially today, particularly those that associate with modern technological features of our day, our modern methods of warfare, and things like barcodes and computers and things like that. That principle rules those kinds of explanations out immediately. 

i) This is a good rule of thumb in biblical hermeneutics. However, it's more germane to some genres than others. When Paul composes a letter to the Corinthians, that's something he writes from scratch. He chooses the content. It is what he intends it to be. 

Likewise, he is addressing the situation of the Corinthians. It was written to them and for them. He writes to be understood by his target audience.

However, prophecy and visionary revelation are different. A seer is receptive. This is in the first instance something that happens to him. To a great extent he's a passive spectator, although he can ask questions. 

Likewise, he writes down what he saw. He's a reporter. Although there's some editorial freedom in how he verbalizes what he saw and arranges the material, he is recording what he heard and saw in a vision. He doesn't have the same control over the content as a letter writer. So authorial intent is far less central. 

In addition, if this is a prophecy about the distant future, then the meaning might be quite opaque to the original audience. Even if an oracle is about events set just 100 years in the future, that world may be so different from the world of the original audience that it's fairly unrecognizable to that audience. 

ii) Why would God reveal the future to them if it won't happen to them and they don't know what it means?

a) To begin with, to be recognizably prophetic, an oracle must be delivered in advance of the events. 

b) It can still be encouraging to the original audience to learn that ultimately, God wins. They are on the winning side.

c) The book of Revelation can be a combination of oracles about the past, present, near future, and distant future. A little something for everyone. 

iii) One concern is that if we unmoor Revelation from authorial intent or audiencial understanding, there's no check on what it can or cannot mean. That's a legitimate concern. By way of reply:

a) One issue is to avoid a prejudicial approach the book. Don't assume in advance that it's past or future. Don't assume you know who it's for. And don't insist on a false dichotomy.

b) In my opinion, Revelation relates certain kinds of events. Generally repeatable events. Especially towards the end (19-22), the events are unrepeatable, but in-between, it uses archetypical symbolism that can signify events throughout church history. So there's a principle of analogy. A prediction must refer to something analogous to the description. 

c) We should avoid over-confidence in our ability to identify the referent. Maybe it's past, maybe it's present, maybe it's future. With respect to 19-22, the fulfillment will be unmistakable once that happens. But aside than that, we should not become too invested in a particular identification. That's not necessarily or even probably something we can tie down. If we try, it will come loose. To the degree that Revelation is about the future, that's something to be discovered by readers living at the time. It will happen to them. 

1 comment:

  1. Here is a prophecy. Back in the summer of 1998 I traveled to Texas to visit my sister. I flew into the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. On my return flight, standing in the airport, you can see the Dallas skyline. As I stood looking out, I fell into a strance like state with my eyes open. I witnessed a nuclear bomb go off in the area including the mushroom cloud and a ball of fire. So I am going to state that the first major city to be nuked will be Dallas including Fort Worth.