Revelation In Recent Genre Criticism: Some Implications For Interpretation -- By: David L. Mathewson

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 13:2 (Fall 1992)
Article: Revelation In Recent Genre Criticism: Some Implications For Interpretation
Author: David L. Mathewson


Revelation In Recent Genre Criticism:
Some Implications For Interpretation

Dave Mathewson*

I. Introduction

More than ever students of both the Old and New Testaments are realizing the importance of genre criticism in interpreting biblical texts. Meaning is “genre-bound,”1 and genre criticism must take its place alongside other interpretive methods as an indispensable tool in the exegetical process. Recent textbooks of a more hermeneutical nature have been organized around the various biblical genres, and many commentaries now include an analysis of genre.2

But for the NT student no piece of literature offers a more challenging test case for genre criticism than the book of Revelation. Its esoteric visions, bizarre imagery, and enigmatic character pose a hermeneutical minefield for those who attempt to negotiate it. Contemporary preachers and students still shy away from this difficult book. Here, if ever, the need for genre criticism becomes essential.

Perhaps the most significant genre for understanding Revelation is apocalyptic. Recent years have witnessed the reversal of a previous lack of interest in apocalyptic literature. Several symposia have been formed to address the issue of apocalyptic genre and have published their proceedings. Much of the work has centered on proposing definitions and delineating the social function of apocalypses as found in texts from the ancient Mediterranean world. While much ground has been broken and

* Dave Mathewson is Pastor of the Cardwell Community Church in Cardwell, Montana.

much headway made, there has been little evangelical input to the research. Consequently, this research has often generated skepticism, according to which Revelation’s apocalyptic outlook is not taken seriously.

This present study will not pretend to solve all the difficulties surrounding genre criticism.3 Nor will it venture to propose a definition of an apocalypse. Rather, this study will attempt to survey some of the recent discussions on the apocalyptic genre and to assess their potential value for interpreting the perplexing book of Revelation.

II. Preliminary Considerations

There is general agreement among scholars that an identifiable group of writings exists that can be classified and labeled “apocalyptic.” Nevertheless, confusion persists as to what an apocalypse is and which works deserve this label.4 One contributor to a significant symposium on apo...

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