Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (9): Revelation

I am convinced that the Book of Revelation ought to be interpreted as a prophecy and that its numbers and symbols have identifiable referents either close by or in other Books of the Bible.  I have therefore given a list of works espousing the Dispensational point of view.  Not that non-Dispensational writers aren’t useful, but accuracy of interpretation must come first.   I have made note also of some non-dispensational works.    

  1. Robert Thomas (2 Vols) – This is Thomas’s most important book and the one that will insure he is remembered for many years to come.  Informative, technical (but not unnecessarily so).  Tackles all the issues, and interacts with opposing views.  A must have.
  2. Tony Garland (2 Vols) – Entitled A Testimony of Jesus Christ, I came across this huge work in the library of Tyndale Seminary before it was published.  I read it (well, a good deal of it) in its dissertation garb and was mightily impressed.  Offers some unique material hard to find elsewhere.  I recommend purchasing the hard copies, but for all you tight-wads out there, Tony has it all for free here!    
  3. Buist M. Fanning III – A new and impressive premillennial work with great exegesis.  Tries to please everyone and dabbles in idealism, but still good.  600+ pages, but needed more.
  4. John F. Walvoord – Accurate writing and theological reflection by an expert on Biblical prophecy.  One could wish it were more detailed.
  5. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum – A book entitled Footsteps of the Messiah, this is a study of eschatology based on the Apocalypse.  Has a few questionable assertions, but it incorporates much solid exposition and should be consulted.
  6. J. B. Smith – Some oddments, but this is a decent exegesis with focus on words and numbers.  Includes stimulating appendices.  Hard to find.
  7. E. W. Bullinger – Hyper-Dispensationalist, although it doesn’t show much.  Takes positions few will take, but for all that well worth reading because of the exegesis.
  8. Paige Patterson – I’m no fan of Patterson’s style, but this is a pretty good use of the space allotted him.  Found in the NAC series.
  9. Thomas Constable – A solid compendium of the best works with reliable notes.  And it’s free!
  10. G. K. Beale – By dint of sheer scholarship this should be near the top of the list.  If you want to dive into the Greek text this is great.  He’s also good at tracking down the many OT allusions in the Apocalypse.  But don’t think that this translates into accurate understanding of the Apostle.  Beale is amillennial and idealist.  In the NIGNT series.  A useful foil to Thomas.

As for other works, everyone is waiting for Michael Stallard’s contribution (EEC).  Hopefully it will surpass his Thessalonians work.  John MacArthur’s 2 volumes are transcripts of sermons.  MacArthur can be a bit black and white, but it’s good material.  Kendall Easley is pretty good but not great.  J. A. Seiss’s old set of ‘Lectures’ offer sound premillennial exposiion with challenging (and not always convincing) perspectives.  William Kelly’s old Plymouth Brethren commentary is worth perusing, even with his opaque word choices.  David L. Cooper is very brief, Henry Morris good but introductory, Clarence Larkin is useful for the beginner, as is A. C. Gaebelein and Harry Ironside.  Grant Osborne offers a well written mixture (I don’t say muddle) of the different approaches.  G. E. Ladd, George Beasley-Murray, Leon Morris, Robert Mounce, and Alan F. Johnson are worth reading, but Osborne is better (with Johnson just behind).

From the symbolic camp I like Stephen S. Smalley’s study of the Greek text and the “drama” theme.  I don’t think he’s close to being right, but his technical and background work is good, and he goes his own way.  He’s also good to compare with Beale to show just how muddled the non-literal gets.  I don’t like David Aune’s 3 volume work.  From what I’ve read of it he is more concerned with the Greco-Roman era in which Revelation was written than with the Book itself.

Good introductions to the Book overall are by W. Graham Scroggie and Merrill Tenney.  Mal Couch’s A Bible Handbook to Revelation is worthwhile.  Several authors were involved.  Finally, Steve Gregg’s Revelation: Four views, A Parallel Commentary is worth having on hand.



15 thoughts on “Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (9): Revelation”

  1. Very helpful, thanks! Saving for the future when I may preach through the book. Have you done much work on the text of Revelation yourself?

    1. In the past, though mainly on the text-critical issues. I have taught through the book several times. I guess the main area where I differ from Tony is in my understanding of ch. 6. I believe it runs through the Tribulation to the 2nd coming.

      1. I’m leaning the same way re ch.6, Paul.

        Fanning’s book looks interesting.

  2. Hi Guys,

    Regarding the span of Revelation 6, as you know I’m pretty much on the same page as Robert Thomas (I see the seals, trumpets, and bowls as a series of telescoping, but sequential judgments). One can argue that the seventh bowl is under the umbrella of the seventh trumpet which, in turn, is under the umbrella of the seventh seal. But the seventh seal is not opened until Revelation 8.

    Here’s Thomas on the question (volume 1:451-452)

    The second preliminary question about the sixth seal delves into the time of its fulfillment. Does it come at the time of the end when Christ returns or is it a forerunner of the last calamities (Beckwith). The strongest consideration for the former possibility is the parallelism between this seal and Matt. 24:29, which Jesus places “after the tribulation of those days” (Lee). It is the usual perspective of this approach that this is one of the three places in Revelation where John attains the brink of the last days (cf. 11:15-19; 16:17-21) (Lee; Beasley-Murray). The other two relate to the seventh trumpet and the seventh bowl. A crippling facet of this interpretation, however, lies in the fact that men still have opportunity to seek hiding places (6:16), and opportunity they will not have at the time Jesus returns (Hailey). The preferable placement of this [sixth] seal is some time in advance of the very end. In the plan of this book, this cannot be the absolute end because the seventh seal has not yet been opened. These events are not the immediate heralds of the end as similar ones are in the gospels.

    Anyway, my thoughts run along the lines of Thomas.

    Paul: I’m humbled that you’ve recommended my work near that of Thomas–whose work I consider to be the best treatment of the book of Revelation ever written (if you had to pick “just one”).

    1. Well, Tony, FWIW I’m not a high-end academic user; but I consult your work more often than Dr Thomas’. And I do love his commentary.

      Looking forward to the completion of Daniel too.

      1. Hi Alf,

        I’m feeling pretty sheepish about how long Daniel has dragged on. Mostly due to other distractions, but also because of complex historical and chronological issues which are extremely time-consuming to handle in a non-trivial way. Writing a serious commentary on Daniel is a greater challenge than Revelation–or so I’m finding. 🙂

      2. Tony, I also like to thank you for the work behind the Revelation commentary. Yours has been one futurist commentary that takes note of and responds directly to the latest idealist/historicist perspectives. When a prominent British evangelical teacher came to this country and spoke at a Bible teaching conference organized by the Christian trust closely linked to my church a few years ago, he taught the Book of Revelation from the amillennial and a mix between historicist and idealist perspectives. I was consulting your commentary just as he was I couldn’t understand why he got so far off from the obvious meanings.

  3. All I can say is wow, Tony. The book will take as long as it has to take. May God bless it, as I pray God blesses Paul’s upcoming book.

  4. Joel – Thanks for your kind words and for the link.

    IMHO, mixing interpretive positions (e.g., historicist and idealist) raises all sorts of hermeneutical issues–not the least of which is knowing when and where to switch horses. The switching horses aspect shifts the locus of meaning from the author over into the hands of the interpreter because the “clues” about when to switch interpretive emphasis are not found explicitly in the text and tend to be highly subjective.

  5. I was gifted with a small amount of money so I ended up getting Buist Fanning’s commentary. Am liking it very much. Thanks for the heads up, Paul.

  6. When I looked for a commentary on Revelation, the top 3 books everybody recommended were Beale, Osborne and Mounce. I bought Osborne since he is premilenial (closest to me), I like becnt series and was cheaper.
    But isn’t Osborne a dispensationalist ? I still have a hard time figuring all the differences. Aren’t the dispensationalists premilenials ? And if yes then what’s the difference ? (at least for the interpretation of Revelation).
    This article is great, it will help me find a proper dispensational commentary on this difficult book.

  7. Another “commentary” that I came to appreciate as I preached through Revelation recently (20 MAY 2012 – 14 APR 2013) is James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, in Preaching the Word, series ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012). This, as the series indicates, is from sermons Hamilton preached like MacArthur’s volumes you mentioned above. Hamilton is premillennial, and I believer that preachers will appreciate this volume and the rest of this series more than others. Works like Hamilton’s balance the scales in sermon prep when combined with the scholarly heavy weights, but Hamilton is no slouch when it comes to scholarship.

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