So, here we are at the final post in this 5-part series. If you’ve made it this far, then I tip my hat to you : )
In the first post, I suggested that the traditional interpretive frameworks for approaching the book of Revelation are all a bit naff, and that we would be better off approaching the text with a more well-rounded triple-layered approach consisting of a contextualexamination, an intertextual examination, and a literary-rhetorical examination. In the next three posts, I explained each of these ‘layers’ in order seeking to lay-out a reasonably comprehensive introduction to approaching the text in the space available here (excluding, obviously, detailed exegetical examination).
In this last post, I want to try to bring it all together (…as best I can). In order to do that, I am basically going to be asking the following questions:
1) What did the text mean to the original recipients?
2) What might it mean to us?
In my first post in this series, I outlined my belief that the traditional interpretive categories used to approach the book of Revelation were less than helpful, and suggested that there was a more excellent way.
In my second post, I started to outline an alternate reading strategy, consisting of three interwoven ‘layers’, and discussed the first of these: the contextuallayer.
In my third post, I discussed the second of these interpretive ‘layers’: the intertextual layer.
In this post, then, I wish to discuss the final interpretive ‘layer’: the literary-rhetorical layer. It should be noted, however, that all of these ‘layers’ of interpretation are integrally connected. The ‘intertextual’ layer is, in a sense, the meeting point of the contextual and literary-rhetorical examination, and binds them all together in a way that means that there is a fair amount of overlap between the categories themselves. Although I am treating them separately here, this does not take away from the inherent inter-connectedness of these interpretive elements.
In my first post in this series, I outlined my (strong) belief that the traditional interpretive categories for approaching the book of Revelation are not a very helpful starting place.
In my second post, I began to outline the first ‘layer’ of my proposed methodology: the contextual examination of the text. In that post I made the (I think) reasonable claim that texts usually make some sense to their original recipients. The book of Revelation, I suggested, was written by a real person (named John), to a bunch of real Christians in the cities around Ephesus at the end of the first century C.E., as an urgent message that he thought they really needed to hear. The whole region was under the control of the mighty Roman Empire, and for those who bought into the Roman system (including treating the Roman Emperor as some sort of divine being), things were ok. But for those who didn’t, well, their fate wasn’t looking very rosy. Rome didn’t play nice with those who dared challenge her power, and Jerusalem post 70C.E. stood as testament to this. John, it seems, saw the inevitability of conflict with Rome for faithful Christians (who could only ever proclaim Jesus as ‘Lord’, not Caesar), and seems to have written his bizarre text to speak into this situation.
But why did he write what he wrote? Why did he pick the particular style that he did? Why didn’t he just simply say, “Rome is not so good and her systems and structures are, pretty much, antithetical to the claims of Christianity, so don’t buy into it all”?
In my first post in this series, I started by indicating that I believe that the traditional interpretive frameworks used to approach the book of Revelation are, to be blunt, pretty much useless. I’m convinced that the usual categories more often than not force people to make interpretive conclusions about the text before actually approaching the text at all, that they treat the book of Revelation as something wholly different from all other New Testament texts, and that they usually become totally centred around the concept of the ‘millennium’ in a way that I don’t think the text itself either directs or allows.
I suggested, then, that there might be a more excellent way, and mentioned that I would, from this post onwards, begin to outline what I think is a more authentic method to approach the text with, which consisted of essentially three inter-connected layers:
A contextual examination
An inter-textual examination
A literary-rhetorical examination
In this post, then, I will begin with the contextual considerations, and move on to examine the other layers in subsequent posts.
I am currently working towards a PhD focused on the book of Revelation.
When I tell people this information, I am usually greeted with one of two responses: people either look at me like I’m crazy and want to get out of the conversation quickly (what kind of weirdo would study such things, after all?), or they look at me all crazy-like, with their eyes beginning to bulge (and glazing over ever-so-slightly) as they prepare to tell me all about the prophetic visions that they have had and their predictions about the carnage that is about to be unleashed.
Well, the Micah Challenge’sVoices for Justice conference is over for another a year, and I thought I might offer just a few reflections on what we did while we were in Canberra for the four incredible days.
Though the quality of the teaching sessions, the general reality of our diversity in unity, and the important meetings with (over 100!) MPs are obviously very important to note (and great to take part in), I thought I’d take a step back and look at some of the larger themes. The conference this year centred, basically, around two main points:
Every year, hundreds of Australian Christians who are concerned with issues of poverty and justice head to Canberra to meet with our elected political representatives as part of the Micah Challenge’s Voices for Justice conference. We meet with them to discuss the Millennium Development Goals, and to remind them of the commitment our nation made to these goals by 2015.
With just 3 days to go until Voices for Justice 2012(!), I wanted to reflect for a moment on what it is that we are actually doing when we descend on Canberra every year, from my perspective, and why we do (and should do) it.