Knocking down faulty foundations

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Before building a house on an old developed site one needs to knock down the existing faulty structures and clear the ground of rubble. That’s what I need to do first, so this post will deal with the interpretive schemes for the book of Revelation which constitute the largest and most obstinate faulty foundation stones. One of the characteristics of the 20th century was the bias towards reductionism (the tendency to break everything down into simpler parts in order to understand it). However the elements of life are complex and interwoven and so attempts to reduce it to its component parts usually confuse and add even more complexity. The same applies to the complex and mysterious book of Revelation.

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Over the centuries scholars have devised many systems of interpreting Revelation. Some have attracted many adherents over the centuries and they in turn have added to the detail and depth of the system. Today, these interpretive schemes are often presented as exclusively ‘correct’ ways of understanding the book. Believers grow up in churches that adhere exclusively to one or other of these schemes and soon come to the mistaken belief that their way is the only correct way of understanding Revelation. This is a huge stumbling block.

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There are four main interpretive schemes, each having a few variations and sub-systems.

The PRETERIST scheme holds that the book of Revelation was applicable to John’s day only. The word ‘preterist’ means ‘past’. For sake of clarity I will oversimplify, but the essential view here is that all of Revelation, with the possible exception of chapters 20 to 22, were descriptions of the 1st century Roman oppression of the church and that any prophetic content was fulfilled in the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in AD 70.

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The HISTORICIST scheme holds that Revelation covers the whole of the church age from John’s day till the end of the age. It presents Revelation as a sort of 2,000 year calendar and claims that we can locate the pivotal events of (European) history within its pages.

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A third scheme is called the FUTURUST view which holds that chapters 4 to 22 are all descriptions of the end-days and are located some time in our future. A key tenet of this scheme is that everything in Revelation should be taken literally (the text means just what it describes and no more) unless the text itself indicates otherwise. So, the description of demon locusts are John’s attempt to describe 20th century helicopter gunships in 1st century language and imagery, and so on.

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The IDEALIST/SPIRITUAL scheme contends that the symbols, numbers and narratives of Revelation simply represent the ongoing struggle between darkness and light, the devil and the church. This scheme uses an allegorical approach to biblical interpretation.

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Now here are some questions for you to consider:
Q If a book of the Bible only applies to believers living in John’s day, then of what real value is it to us today, and what does this say about the value of the Bible in general?
Q If, on the other hand, the book deals only with events of the end-times and in 20th century terms then how were earlier generations supposed to understand it and what does this say about the Bible?

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Here’s a thought – perhaps all four schemes contain elements of truth and if embraced holistically may yield a fuller and more valuable understanding for believers both past and present. If this is indeed so then we need to knock down the neat little interpretive ‘boxes’ and rebuild one big box, don’t you think?

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In my next post I want to describe two keys – one unlocks only one of the small boxes I have described in this post, but the other unlocks the big box. You will find them both in Revelation 1:19-20. Why not read these verses and see if you can spot the keys, and as always I welcome your comments.

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Here is a link to the free .pdf version of my book Revelation in the Stars for those of you who would like to dig a little deeper.

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One Response

  1. Trevor Stedman

    Hi Chris, Thank you for this study, I am sure it is going to be interesting. I am going to dig out Diane Vorster’s Bible Study of Revelation back in the early 80’s and compare with your’s, it should all be good.
    Trevor.

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