The Value Of Apocalyptic -- By: Stephen H. Travis

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 30:1 (NA 1979)
Article: The Value Of Apocalyptic
Author: Stephen H. Travis


The Value Of Apocalyptic

Stephen H. Travis

The Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture, 1978

To take such an imprecise title as ‘the value of apocalyptic’ may seem impossibly rash. It is like talking about ‘the value of motor cars’, when everyone knows that there is a world of difference between a Rolls-Royce Corniche and a fourth-hand Morris Minor. Some cars have electrically operated windows, others hardly have windows. Some have twelve cylinders, others have to struggle up hills with two. To speak of ‘the value of motor cars’ looks like an impossible generalization. And yet it is not pointless to speak generally of the value of cars as compared with bicycles, or bulldozers. Similarly, I suggest, there is something to be said for attempting a general assessment of the significance of apocalyptic for biblical and Christian theology.

Nevertheless, we need to bear constantly in mind that there are Rolls-Royces and Morris Minors among the apocalyptic writings. There are varieties of date, historical background and theological outlook. There are profound books and less profound ones. There are problems about identifying which books are apocalyptic and which are not. Indeed, the very term ‘apocalypse’ is our term for these writings, and is never used by the Jewish apocalyptists before its use by the author of the New Testament Apocalypse.1 And since there is no

clear recognition by the authors of ‘apocalyptic books’ themselves that their writings’ belong to a clear-cut literary genre, it is not surprising that they incorporate various literary forms and styles. Thus J. G. Gammie writes that one characteristic of apocalyptic - as exhibited, for example, in the Book of Daniel, which includes wisdom tales as well as visions of the future - is its ability to contain at least three or four sub-genres. ‘Full recognition may be given to the variety of sub-genres within the book [of Daniel] without denying the overall classification “apocalyptic”.’2

Nevertheless, there is broad agreement amongst scholars with D. S. Russell’s opinion that the designation ‘apocalyptic’ may properly be given to the biblical book of Daniel, sixteen non-canonical books and a large number of the Qumran scrolls.3 And there is broad agreement, too, about certain distinctive literary and theological features which characterize

these works.4...

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