In the last installment, I wrote about how to read Revelation in negative terms by talking about how not to read it. This installment will give some clues as to how to read it.
1) We must first admit that the world of Revelation was strange to us. The genre of apocalyptic literature is unique to that period. The writing arose out of a political climate of instability and the need for hope. Modern genres have no parallel with the strange narrative world of Revelation. Therefore, we must assume that the original readers knew much more than we, and that’s why Revelation seems strange to us. Without and adequate understanding of the historical background, we can’t possibly understand the message to the original readers. What would an image in Revelation look like to those with first century eyes? What in first century looked like that image? The question can only have answer after examination of images in the Greco-Roman world of the first century.
2) We must also admit that Revelation should have its own rules for interpretation. We aren’t allowed to shift from one kind of interpretation to another in the midst of our confusion. The author followed his own rules in writing the book, much like any other book. We can’t assume otherwise, unless we think our author was a total moron. In other words, if our method is not consistent, all hope of clear understanding is lost.
3) We must justify any reading outside of Revelation by looking at the world of the readers. Would they have understood other texts outside of Revelation? To what extent? These are complex questions that demand for us to look afresh at how texts were circulated and translated. We can’t simply assume that all recipients in Asia Minor have access to all the biblical texts. We also have to admit that if we think we understand better than they do, we will have to have a time machine.
In the next blog, I will look at a text that has been misunderstood and will challenge the popular reading.