Genre And Hermeneutics In Rev 20:1-6 -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 36:1 (Mar 1993)
Article: Genre And Hermeneutics In Rev 20:1-6
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


Genre And Hermeneutics In Rev 20:1-6

Vern Sheridan Poythress*

One’s decision about the literary genre of Rev 20:1–6 is one of the most crucial factors in its interpretation. To what genre does 20:1–6 belong? Does the passage offer us a straightforward report concerning the future (simply prewritten history), apocalyptic vision, prophetic prediction combined with hortatory implications, or something else? This question of genre is closely related to how we distinguish between symbolic and literal description. The literary genre of Revelation guides readers in deciding what in Revelation is intended as symbol and what is intended as a literal or straightforward description of an historical event.

I. Levels Of Communication

The nature of symbolic communication can be illustrated in the interpretation of Rev 13:1–8, where we can distinguish at least four relevant levels of communication.

1. The linguistic level, consisting of the textual record itself. Under inspiration John wrote the text of 13:1–8 to the audience consisting of the seven churches.

2. The visionary level, consisting of the visual experience that John had in seeing the beast. Before writing the text, John received extraordinary visionary experiences “in the Spirit” (1:10; 4:2). Through the Spirit, God gave him visions that formed the basis for what is textually recorded in the written book of Revelation. One of the visions was the vision of the beast.

3. The referential level, consisting of the historical reference of the beast and of the various particulars in the description. The beast stands for or symbolizes something that appears in history. Moreover, some of the details such as the seven heads and ten horns have referents of their own (17:9, 12). Of course interpreters have differed among themselves as to just what the beast stands for. Nearly all interpreters have agreed that the beast represents some form of antichrist figure, but they differ concerning the time and characteristics of its manifestation in history. Such differences depend mainly on which school of interpretation one adopts.

* Vern Poythress is professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, Church Road and Willow Grove Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118.

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