The Structure of the Apocalypse: Recapitulation or Progression? -- By: Robert L. Thomas
MSJ 4:1 (Spr 93) p. 45
The Structure of the Apocalypse:
Recapitulation or Progression?
Professor of New Testament
The number of divisions of the Apocalypse, a longstanding problematic issue, finds its best resolution in allowing for the structural dominance of the numbered series in the book. Though a theory of recapitulation in dealing with those series has its merits, stronger evidence militates against such a system. A telescopic form of progression is not without its difficulties, but stronger evidence in its favor leads to the conclusion that it is the best solution. Attempts to combine recapitulation and progression fail because of the procedure’s hermeneutical shortsightedness. A number of chronological considerations bolster the conclusion that the telescopic explanation is correct. Recapitulation does play a supporting role in some of the book’s sections of intercalation, but the overall scheme of the book is that of progression, not repetition.
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Theories about the structure of the Apocalypse abound. Some propose that the organization of the book revolves around seven sections,1 but another recommends a structure composed of six series of six.2 Other proposals advance theories of eight basic visions in the
MSJ 4:1 (Spr 93) p. 46
book3 or of five septenary patterns.4 Still another method of division sees two divisions in the prophetic section, part one covering the first eleven chapters and part two the rest of the book.5 A further plan is to divide the book into four septets, one consisting of the seven messages of chaps. 2–3 and three consisting of one each of the seal, trumpet, and bowl series.6 A further suggestion also sees another division into four parts but not four divisions of seven.7 The division of the apocalyptic portion into three parts8 varies from the four-septet scheme by omitting the seven messages of chaps. 2’3.
Another issue of structural interest is the question of whether the author intended the sections of the book, however one may choose to divide it, to be parallel or consecutive. Some venture the opinion that they are parallel, each describing the same period from several di...
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