Going Far Beyond the Bible
All of the major advocates of apocalyptic gather data, albeit not exclusively, from outside of the Bible. Brent Sandy demonstrates his procedure of going beyond Scripture when he says, “In order to understand the language of apocalyptic, we must review the period of world history relevant to Daniel 8 and then examine Daniel’s language.” He is not alone. Notice what is entailed in this statement about the genre:
Apocalypse was a literary genre that flourished in the period between the OT and NT (though apocalyptic visions of the future can be found in the OT as well as the NT).
Here is another statement from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery:
Apocalyptic forms of expression were very common outside the Bible, and contemporary readers need to become familiar with that mindset to understand biblical apocalyptic literature and symbolism.
What the author of this article is saying is that one cannot comprehend large parts of Daniel and Revelation, not to mention certain parts of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew, and some Pauline letters, unless one goes beyond the Bible for clues of how the ancients used this sort of imagery.
Holding to this understanding of apocalyptic involves an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. Whenever we go foraging into profane history, for example, to try to determine genre, ideas which are foreign to the Bible are inevitably brought to bear on the text of the Bible, thus essentially undermining the Bible’s own ability to explain itself.
We encounter this again in a recent evangelical work:
Old Testament apocalyptic literature belongs to a genre of Jewish writing that includes both canonical and non-canonical texts. For a proper understanding of this genre within the context of its historical development, neither of these groups of texts should be examined in isolation from the other.
Notice the position that inspired Scripture is being forced to take. It must remain content to be analyzed alongside of non-inspired writings and until the accidental artifacts of ancient history have been sifted through. But letting the Bible be its own interpreter clears away a lot of confusion. For one thing, one sees the likelihood that later Jewish apocalypses (e.g. The Book of the Watchers; The Testament of Levi) are attempts to copy the biblical writings and put them to use in circumstances of hardship and hopelessness.
Again, if we are going to insist that it is wrong to think of apocalyptic as serving up specific prophetic content, but rather leaving us with an image or impression of something it seems natural that we ask just how God will wrap up history, since basically all the passages that speak of it are lumped together as “apocalyptic” texts. Will He do it by “rolling up the heavens as a scroll” (Isa. 34:4)? Will Jesus really come “in the clouds with great power” (Mk. 13:26)? Will the armies of heaven really follow Him (Rev. 19:14)? Will there be a great earthquake (Rev. 16:18)? Will the moon become blood red (Rev. 6:12)? The answer coming from the apocalyptic corner is No, these are symbols meant to create impressions. For the record, my answer is Yes!
Reminding Ourselves of the Bible’s “Wild” Worldview
Let us assemble some of the things that people actually saw and experienced in Old Testament times. It would be a salutary exercise to ponder these events before considering apocalyptic as a genre. (more…)