Interpreting the Book of Revelation
Approaching the Apocalypse with the intent to study and interpret demands a strict methodology based on sure and proven steps. Through the observance of the scholarly method, we reach proper conclusions regarding the text.
Exegesis is the historical investigate into the meaning of the Biblical, answering “What did the author mean?: Good exegesis is the ability to ask the right questions of the text in order to get at the author’s intended meaning. It answers the questions of content (what is said) and of context (why it is said). Determining the intended meaning of a passage of scripture is a detailed and meticulous process. It involves gathering, comparing and weighing facts regarding a passage.
The exegetical method gives clear and concise steps for studying the Bible. Consider each step. You will find the study of the scriptures will be yield more understanding.
Begin by reading through the Apocalypse in one sitting. Record your observations and taking account of the author and his purpose; the recipients and the location in which they reside; the relationship between the author and the recipients; the present circumstances and the historical situation which has occasioned the text; and the overall theme and concern of the text. Develop an outline of the whole literary text. Make a list all persons, places, things, abstract and concrete ideas and events in the text. Make another list of key words and repeated phrases and clauses. Recognize words that may need special consideration and paying close attention to those that are not obvious key words and phrases.
Survey the historical context in general. Read primary sources. The book of Daniel, and New Testament scriptures with apocalyptic themes such as Mark 13. Survey the non-canonical literature Apocrypha and Old and New Testament Pseudepigrapha. Read extracts from contemporary literature from Roman and Jewish sources: Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius and Josephus. Take note of the view of Romans and Jews towards the Christians, and vica versa. The survey of primary literature builds the context and framework on which the words of the Apocalypse should be seen and understood. It makes John’s prophecy relevant to the first century.
Research the historical-cultural background The meaning of persons, places and events mentioned; cultural-social milieu of the author and his readers; customs and practices of the author or speaker and his readers or listeners; and the thought world of the author and his readers.
Establish the text. (Textual Criticism) Determine what words did the author use, and in what order? Understand the basic concepts of NT textual criticism. Evaluate each variant on the basis of the author’s style and vocabulary (the criterion of intrinsic probability). Evaluate each variant by the criteria of transcriptional probability. These have to do with the kinds of mistakes or changes copyists are most likely to have made to the text, given that one of the variants is the original. All of the criteria are applicable at the same time for any given unit of variation. The reading that best explains how the others came into existence is to be preferred as the original text. Read your passage in Greek and make a translation. Develop a good sense of the flow of the passage. Recognize basic structures and syntax of each sentence.
Analyze grammar and syntax. You should decide the grammar for everything in your passage. Are any grammatical points in doubt? Could any sentences, clauses, or phrases be read differently if the grammar were construed differently? Are there genuine ambiguities that make a definite interpretation of some part of the passage impossible? If so, what are at least the possible options? Can you offer any explanation for the anomaly?
Understand the character of Revelation and apocalyptic. Determine the source or background of the images and the present use of the images by John. See the visions as a part of the whole, and do not allegorically press all the details. The whole is trying to make a statement. The Apocalypse has both epistolary and prophetic elements, so carefully determine the literary context. Answer: How does each individual vision related to others? Determine the literary context. (Literary Criticism) To determine the literary context of any vision, you must first work out an adequate frame of reference for the whole. Break Revelation down into its major sections. How do these sections relate to each other so as to form the whole.
Consider the broader Biblical and theological contexts. Answer: How does the passage function in the section, book, division, Testament, Bible? How does a vision clarify and or expand upon the known prophecies and passages of known scripture. Where does the passage fit within the whole of Christian doctrine? Does the passage raise apparent difficulties for some doctrines while solving others?
Build a bibliography of secondary sources to consult. Read widely. Be familiar with what others have said about the passage you are considering. Know what inherent difficulties exist with any particular passage. Don’t be disturbed by the conclusions of scholars and be ready to adjust your conclusions. Seek to understand their methodology and the reasons for which they base any given conclusion.
With caution, apply your discoveries. Take the point of your passage and make a relevant word for today. Set out the problem or differences of opinion. Be complete enough that the reader will have a good overview of the issues. Opening considerations should set your passage into both its historical and literary contexts. Set out the overall argument. Present an overview of the passage. Explain point of this paragraph. Explain your contribution to the argument. Trace the argument in some detail. Tie the whole together into a strong conclusion.