2.2.8 - Overemphasis on Extra-biblical Sources
There is an endless amount of material written about and urged as essential to understanding the book of Revelation. Most authors recognize the OT context from which the book of Revelation springs, but some assert the need to go ever farther afield in the quest to find related material.
Thus, not only must we understand the historical context and setting necessary for grammatical historical interpretation, we should seek the explanation of symbols and their intended meaning from secular and even pagan source material. We believe this to be an incorrect emphasis on extra-biblical material.
While it is certain that elements of the book of Revelation are intimately connected with the historical setting of the recipients (e.g., the letters to the churches of Asia), commentators too often assume this cultural/historical connection extends to the rest of the book where no such direct connection may be established.
For example, Osborne states: “It is clear in Revelation that one of the primary problems of the believers in the province of Asia is some form of emperor worship (Rev. 13:4+, 14-17+; 14:9+; 15:2+; 16:2+; 19:20+; 20:4+).”1
It is one thing to recognize the significance of emperor worship to the immediate readers at the time the book of Revelation was written. It is quite another to assert that a proper understanding of prophetic passages which reveal events in a potentially distant future are dependent upon the events of the time of the writer.
This goes too far and fails to appreciate the pattern established throughout Scripture by prophetic passages which although written and entrusted to an immediate readership serve to set forth events to come for the benefit of God’s people yet unborn (Ps. 22:30; 102:18; John 17:20; 20:29; Rom. 15:4).
The unintended but real result of this over-emphasis on extra-biblical material is an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture (Ps. 19:1-14; John 8:31; 1Cor. 4:6; 2Ti. 3:15-17; Heb. 4:12-13; 2Pe. 1:3, 19-21; Jude 1:3) and a subtle, but disastrous drawing of the reader ever further afield from the inspired Word of God in search of gold which, more often than not, is fool’s gold.
This is especially problematic for the new believer who is ill-equipped to dredge through non-canonical writings such as the pseudepigrapha and apocrypha while avoiding catastrophe. Commentators who encourage this route are akin to blind guides who leave blindfolded travelers at the edge of a precipice to wander at their pleasure. Such action is in direct contradiction to the mandate of God’s Word for those more experienced to proactively guide and guard both themselves and those under their influence (Acts 20:28-29; Col. 2:8; 1Ti. 6:20; 1Pe. 5:2-3).
The truths of God are not to be taught by the university model—where the widest smorgasbord of ideas is presented for the ungrounded to sample. Instead, we are to guard our minds and to cast down non-canonical writings and ideas which attempt to assert their influence above the very inspired Word of God (Rom. 1:21-22; 1Cor. 1:19; 2Cor. 10:5; Col. 2:3, 8, 18; 2Pe. 3:16-18).
Not only is this emphasis on extra-biblical sources dangerous, but it results in all manner of incorrect conclusions as pagan or legendary ideas form the basis for the interpretation of inspired symbols.
This emphasis on extra-biblical material becomes so acute that the implication for the simple child of God is that an understanding of the last book of the Bible is essentially beyond his grasp unless he immerses himself in the socio-political details of the late first-century, including the broad study of pagan beliefs, practices, and symbols of the secular society.
Such an emphasis fails to understand the guidelines which the divine Author of the book has set forth for His children (Ps. 101:3; Isa. 33:15; Php. 4:8) and undermines the perspicuity of Scripture because most saints through the ages have lacked and continue to lack access to the extra-biblical materials these authors assert as essential to our understanding of this important book.
Another deleterious side-effect of the over-emphasis on extra-biblical material for an understanding of the Apocalypse is the blurring of the distinction between inspired writings versus uninspired writings. When the boundary between the inerrant and the speculative and even fraudulent is minimized or overlooked, the results are predictable: questionable conclusions result and the student of Scripture begins to equate the uninspired writings of secular writers with the matchless and unique written Word of God.
Within this commentary, we make occasional reference to extra-biblical writings, mainly when they provide insight into thought patterns, beliefs, and historical events of their time.
For example, in the discussion of related passages and themes we make mention of Jewish rabbinical writings because these help illustrate the common understanding of Jewish rabbis regarding events related to the book of Revelation.
We are not using the Rabbis to teach about the book of Revelation, but as a point of evidence that the Old Testament was understood by early rabbis to teach a future time of peril coming upon the world.
It is our conviction that those similarities which do occur between extra-biblical writings and inspired Scripture reflect a dependence of the extra-biblical material upon the Scripture.
It has been our observation that many scholars assume exactly the opposite—that extra-biblical myths and beliefs had great influence upon the writers of Scripture.
2.2.9 - Simplicity over Academics
If our tone regarding the dangers of various streams of thought regarding the interpretation of the book of Revelation sounds overly negative, perhaps it is in reaction to the painful, laborious, and often depressing task of hours spent wading through numerous commentaries which are deeply academic and highly acclaimed by some, but which are void of faith and spiritual insight. Worse, they propose a seemingly endless series of fanciful or disjointed interpretations served up with a large dose of unbelief and skepticism.
With rare exception, the words of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower could describe many of these works: “An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows.”
Much of what passes for enlightened inquiry is an endless series of conjectures and discussions centered on a number of highly-questionable assertions made, for the most part, by unbelievers and their allies, liberal academics. These ever-taller ivory towers are impressive at first sight, until one learns to recognize the house-of-cards foundation upon which they are built.
The sooner the believer recognizes these tangents as the distractions which they are, the less time will be spent attempting to understand and subsequently refute ideas which contradict the teachings of Jesus. We are speaking here of ideas such as the Documentary Hypothesis, Deutero-Isaiah theories, redaction criticism and others which have consumed an enormous amount of energy and time while yielding little if any fruit.1 For those who are born-again, the simple words of Jesus fell these academic constructions.
For those who are not born-again, we suggest that there is a more pressing issue than academic distractions concerning the book of Revelation—such as one’s stance in regard to these infrequently quoted verses from another of John’s writings: John 3:18-19, 36.
Let us say up-front that the approach we have chosen is unlikely to appeal to academics who place greater emphasis on interacting with each other’s often questionable theories than on understanding the text and edifying the saints.
Our approach here is not encyclopedic nor does it favor critical scholarship.2 While recognizing alternate views, the emphasis is upon an understanding of the text itself and its priority over secondary commentary.
1 “The roots of the present Age of Apostasy began in Europe, particularly with German rationalism, where the inerrancy of the Scriptures was denied with the development of biblical criticism and the documentary hypothesis.”—Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 72.
2 Perhaps the greatest weapon of critical scholarship is its academic mandate that other views engage its speculative theories else lose a hearing. This mandate denies the rule of faith of the believer and our trust in God’s written revelation. Believers do not exercise a ‘blind faith,’ but neither should we waste precious time interacting with speculative theories which only serve to keep us from a deeper understanding of what God has revealed.
Prove All Things knowing that all Prophecy is about Jesus and God revealing His Son…To us..for our…Salvation. We post material that is questionable, objectionable, and in the opinion of the Editor of the Prophetic Perspective, valid to use as God chooses to. Sometimes that is highly suspect as material setting “dates” of the Rapture is, but often these posts, may have pieces that are correct to futher study.
“Rarely is anyone ALL RIGHT or ALL WRONG”