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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Bauckham’

I’ve said before that I think Richard Bauckham’s little book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, is the best book I’ve read on what is generally regarded as the most perplexing book in the Bible.  He packs a lot of great information into a relatively small space, offering the reader solid judgments on almost every page.

But, he suggests an odd viewpoint (in my opinion) on the reason why John was on Patmos to begin with.  While the traditional view has been that John was exiled on Patmos, Bauckham presents the possibility that John went there specifically to receive the Revelation that God was about to give him.  So, when John says he “was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” he isn’t referring to being punished for those two things at all.  And if you look only at 1:9, this stance has some merit.

But when you look at those two phrases, “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus” as they are used in Revelation, it’s hard to come to this conclusion.  See below for how those phrases are used.  I’ve italicized “the word of God” and underlined “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (or something like it, all quotes from the New American Standard).

1:2 [John] who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw
1:9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus
6:9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained
12:11 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.
12:17 So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
19:10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But [the angle] he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
20:4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

The first instance is still in the introduction of the book, so we don’t see it expounded just yet.  It does, however, set the stage for what is to come.  You’ll see here that almost every instance of these phrases give reason for suffering or are connected to it.  The exception is 19:10, when the angel is speaking to John.

So, we see the “souls under the altar” in 6:9 had been slain because of “the word of God” and their testimony, and the dragon in chapter 12 wages war on those who maintain their testimony of Jesus, and those in chapter 20 were beheaded because of their testimony.  John, in his self-introduction in 1:9, tells his readers he is their “brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation.”  Given the usage of these two phrases in the rest of the book, I find it hard to see this as referring to anything other than John being exiled or imprisoned on Patmos.

Or let’s look at this from a different perspective, of John the pastor and his readers.  Put yourself in the place of his readers (if possible).  You’re facing persecution for your faith, or at least strongly tempted to compromise by all the Empire has to offer (for these two themes, see here).  In reading/hearing Revelation, you’re given a realistic portrayal of what will happen to those who cling to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  You understand that those two things (which aren’t really two separate ideas) will quite possibly lead you to your death.

Then you go back and see at the beginning that John uses those two phrases of himself, who is your apostolic authority and Spirit-empowered prophet.  But for him, maintaining the word of God and the testimony of Jesus leads him not to death, but to a Mediterranean island that was not, contrary to popular opinion, a backwater deserted Gilligan’s island, but a populated, secure destination.

And he has the right to call himself a “fellow partaker in the tribulation?”  It would seem to me to be a pastoral blunder on John’s part, one I have trouble believing he’d make.

The traditional view, that John was exiled on Patmos, is best supported by the rest of the book.  When people hold tightly to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus in Revelation, they are not rewarded with tropical vacations or personal retreats.  They run the risk of losing their very lives.  Only the densest of John’s original audience could have come away from this book with a different understanding, and John, if he truly was exiled, knew it was a strong possibility for himself.

However, that doesn’t mean that despair wins in Revelation.  The hope of those who faithfully testify to Jesus Christ will be the subject of my next post.

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A conversation over at Marcus’ blog reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time.  I’ve wanted to do a list of must-read scholars for a while, but have never been sure how to approach it.  Do I do a list of the best?  Most influential?  Most interesting?  Do I restrict it to OT scholars?  NT scholars?  Theologians?  Do I go completely subjective and list my favorites, or do I include those with whom I’m less enamored?  Will anyone even care about my stupid list?  These are the questions in my mind…

I’ve opted to consider my main audience for this blog: the average churchgoer.  I know people from my church read this blog who are not academically trained but are still interested in learning from Bible scholars.  They may not know Greek and Hebrew, but they desire to glean from the insights of those who do.  So I’ve decided to tailor this list to this (somewhat imaginary) group.  Because of this, I will leave off scholars who have made a major impact on scholarship but are less helpful to the layperson (the Rudolf Bultmann types).  I’m also sticking to my area of “expertise” (if I may be permitted a moment of hubris), which mostly NT & OT scholarship (so no systematic theologians).  The list is presented in no particular order.

Allow me to make a couple other notes:

  • I’m weighing more heavily toward the NT side of things.  This is for 2 main reasons: 1) I know NT scholarship better than I do OT scholarship, and 2) most of my favorite OT scholars have written little for the layperson in mind (I’m thinking of Gordon Wenham and guys like that). 
  • I’ll give a couple reading recommendations for each scholar, in case my reader(s) want(s) to dig deeper.
  • The scholars on this list are invited to mention their inclusion on their resume or CV.  You’re welcome. 
  • If you think this is just an excuse to talk about scholars and books, you know me very well.  =)

(1) Gordon Fee.  Come on, if you’ve been reading this blog for more than 5 seconds you knew Fee was making the cut.  In fact, I’d have to turn in my charismatic membership card if I didn’t include him.  I appreciate any man who writes the book on exegesis, but insists that exegesis is merely the first step in applying the Bible to the life of the church.  I also appreciate any scholar whose lectures are more like sermons.  I heard a line from his daughter, theologian Cherith Fee Nordling, about Fee that sums up what I appreciate about him (paraphrase): my father loves the Lord and loves the Bible, but never in reverse order. 

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions:

(2) Christopher J H Wright.  It’s funny, 6 months ago I may not have included Wright.  But the more I read his stuff, the more I want to give him a high-five (see my previous post for an indication).  In some ways, he’s an interesting bird- how many OT scholars are also missiologists?  A Cambridge PhD who trained church planters in India and now heads up John Stott’s ministry organization?  This is my kind of guy. 

Layperson reading suggestions:

Academic reading suggestions

(3) Richard Bauckham.  Bauckham has actually written less for the layperson than the rest of the scholars on this list, but I wanted to include him anyway because he’s one of the few scholars refered to as “groundbreaking” that may actually deserve the title.  Mind you, no one is really groundbreaking.  When I mentioned in a class at my church that Bauckham had written a book defending the eyewitness connection to the Gospels, I was met with “no duh” stares.  It’s not his conclusion that is groundbreaking, it’s the manner in which he makes his case that sets him apart from so many others.  Bauckham is the toughest read on this list, but may well be worth the trouble.

Reading suggestions

(4) D A Carson.  This is not Carson’s first appearance on this blog.  There are few scholars who have made so much of their work accessible to the church, as you can see here on his resource page at The Gospel Coaltion website.  This son of a church planter in French Canada has planted churches, travels around the world every year speaking in churches and conferences, teaches and advises students, yet still finds time to write somewhere around a million books a year.  He cranks out a book faster than I write a blog post.  If I had to pick one scholar on this list for the average layperson to read I think Carson would be it, not because he’s the best scholar but because he does the best job of communicating to the audience I’m aiming for.  Note: this list of books is highly selective, there are many more I could include.

Layperson reading suggestions

Academic reading suggestions

(5) N T Wright.  I’ll confess, I’ve been debating whether or not I should include Wright on this list.  If we’re talking about most interesting, he’d easily make the list.  Everything he writes is worth reading, even if he’s dead wrong (note, over 1100 people went to a conference at Wheaton centering on Wright’s scholarship).  Wright is brilliant- sometimes brilliantly right, and sometimes brilliantly wrong.  I’ve put it this way: Wright is a classic pendulum swinger.  He’ll notice an over-emphasis on something, then in attempt to correct this problem he’ll go too far in his emphasis.  If you know that going in, you’ll do well in reading him.  Anyway, I love reading his stuff, but you must always read with discernment.

Layperson reading suggestions

Academic reading suggestions

So there’s my list; maybe on another post I can give my “near miss” category (I’m at 1300+ words already though).  I’d love to hear thoughts from others out there, either about the people on this list or others you think should be included.

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Richard Bauckham’s book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, is, in my opinion, the best book written on Revelation (at least for a non-commentary).  Among many strong points, he demonstrates the intentional contrast between the city of Babylon (which is Rome for John’s readers), portrayed as the harlot (chapters 17-18) and the New Jerusalem, seen in chapters 21-22.  I’ve mentioned previously how I’m trying to understand better how Revelation works as a narrative, and the use of contrast is a fairly common literary device in narratives.  I present Bauckham’s breakdown of this contrast (from pages 131-132).

  1. The chaste bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:2, 9) vs. the harlot with whom the kings of the earth fornicate (17:2)
  2. Her splendour is the glory of God (21:11-21) vs. Babylon’s splendour from exploiting her empire (17:4; 18:12-13, 16)
  3. The nations walk by her light, which is the glory of God (21:24) vs. Babylon’s corruption and deception of the nations (17:2, 18:3, 23; 19:2)
  4. The kings of the earth bring their glory into her (i.e., their worship and submission to God: 21:24) vs. Babylon rules over the kings of the earth (17:18)
  5. They bring the glory and honour of the nations into her (i.e., glory to God: 21:26) vs. Babylon’s luxurious wealth extorted from all the world (18:12-17)
  6. Uncleannes, abomination, and falsehood are excluded (21:27) vs. Babylon’s abominations, impurities, deceptions (18:12-17)
  7. The water of life and the tree of life for the healing of the nations (21:6; 22:1-2) vs. Babylon’s wine which makes the nations drunk (14:8; 17:2; 18:3)
  8. Life and healing (22:1-2) vs. the blood of slaughter (17:6; 18:24)
  9. God’s people are called to enter the New Jerusalem (22:14) vs. God’s people are called to come out of Babylon (18:4)

I find this list not only to be a convincing demonstration of the intentional juxtaposition of the two cities, I also find it convicting.  How often do we settle for accepting life in Babylon when we were made for the New Jerusalem?

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Revelation can be a difficult book to understand.  The are any number of reasons for this, many of which are obvious (you know, stuff like demonic frogs and giant hailstones falling from the sky).  One of the reasons for this difficulty, in my opinion, is that we tend not to read Revelation as a narrative.  I realize that it doesn’t work exactly like most narratives, such as the ones we find in the OT or even in the NT, like Acts.  After all, settings shift without much notice; characters come and go rather quickly, often without identifying themselves; and so on.

Yet, if we allow some features of a narrative to be present, we’ll notice how seemingly disconnected visions can work together.  I want to look at two questions that are posed in Revelation by unbelievers to demonstrate what I’m getting at.

  • As God is pouring out His judgment in 6:12-17 (the 6th seal), the people of the earth “called to the mountains and the rock, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?'”
  • In chapter 13, the beast is revealed and worshipped.  The people of the earth who follow the beast ask, “Who is like the beast?  Who can make war against it?” (v4- I take the second question as working in tandem with the first.)

These questions were intended to be rhetorical questions by those who ask them, the answer being “no one.”  No one, in their mind, can withstand the judgment of God; and no one can wage war against the mighty beast.

But in the narrative of Revelation, John takes these rhetorical questions and turns them around.  After the sixth seal is opened and the people of the earth ask who can withstand God’s wrath, John has another vision.  After hearing the number of those sealed, he sees a vision of a great multitude (I take these to be referring to one group, but that’s for another discussion) “standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (7:9).  Who can withstand God’s judgment?  Those who remain faithful to the Lamb and refuse to compromise even if it means their death. 

In the same way, the answer to the “rhetorical” question of 13:4 (who can make war against the beast?) is given in chapter 14 in another vision of the 144,000.  I’m following Richard Bauckham (and others) here in seeing the number “144,000” as a wartime census (which helps explain why they are men and not women), although my interpretation doesn’t depend on this point.  These righteous and holy people are the ones who can wage war against the beast; not in the manner that the beast would fight, but in the path of the Lamb himself.  And the Lamb is also the heavenly warrior who ultimately defeats the beast in Revelation 19:11-21.  The point is that there are, in fact, some who can successfully wage war against the mighty beast.  The beast’s power, vicious though it was, was only temporary and ultimately futile.  The irony is that those who suffered at the hands of the beast were actually winning the battle.

There is a purpose in having these rhetorical questions turn out to be not-so-rhetorical in the narrative.  These questions demonstrate the blindness of unbelief.  Those who do not submit themselves to the One who sits on the throne or to the Lamb honestly think they understand “the way things work.”  They think of God’s judgment as comprehensively unavoidable.  It seems capricious and arbitrary to those who do not have eyes to see.  But those who remain faithful will know that God’s judgment is anything but arbitrary.  It is just.  Even worse, their blindness prevents them from seeing the proper response- repentance (see also Revelation 9:20-21).  They seek help from inanimate objects rather than the Creator who is sovereign over all things, who is able and willing to extend mercy.

In the same way, those who followed the beast honestly thought that the beast was unconquerable.  Awed by the brute force of the beast and the signs of the second beast (the “shock and awe” approach, if you will), they were deceived into thinking that they were witnessing the single most powerful entity in existence.  They were blind, however, to the true reality: that those who resist the beast and remain faithful to the Lamb will overcome the beast. 

So in John’s narrative, these rhetorical questions prove a point: that those who do not have eyes to see will be blind to true reality.  When we recognize these questions for what they are- false assumptions of a blind people- we are convicted and encouraged not to capitulate to such a worldview.  We are reminded to seek God, the One who sits on the throne, the One who is the merciful and sovereign King of Creation.

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