Review: Keener on Revelation

Keener, Craig.  Revelation. NIVAC.  Zondervan, 2000.

I didn’t expect much out of a commentary series that had the letters “NIV” in it, but this was well-done. Keener demonstrated mastery of the current literature and made interesting, if sometimes stretched, applications.keener

Rev. 4-5 Throne Room

24 elders: Keener says they represent all believers (172). That reading is possible, but it is more likely the divine council. Further, the picture we have of believers in heaven (ch. 6) has them pleading before the altar.
Revelation 6:9-17

Keener raises the problem of the martyrs’ prayer for justice, but doesn’t give a satisfactory answer (221-22). He notes that it appears to conflict with Jesus’s love your enemies. He doesn’t bring up the imprecatory psalms. They aren’t psalm of vengeance, but psalms against God to arise in covenantal judgment. When we pray like this, we aren’t violating Jesus’s commands, but are asking God to be faithful to the covenant.

Revelation 7:1-8

Keener seems to suggest that the events following the 6th seal aren’t chronological. In fact, he breaks with premillennialism at this point: “those who can withstand the day of God’s wrath are those whom God has empowered to withstand the previous plagues” (230). That’s certainly a true proposition but there are easier answers. Pre-wrath, for one.

Revelation 12

The Mother: faithful remnant of Israel (314). The theological source most available would have been the OT, which the readers would have known.

Reasons it can’t be Mary: We don’t have evidence of Mary’s being persecuted by the Dragon.

Revelation 20

Defense of Historic Premillennialism

1. The binding of Satan during the thousand years hardly matches Satan’s deceptive and murderous activity during the present era (12:12-13; 13:11-15).
2. The saints have already been martyred, suggesting that the Tribulation period precedes the Millennium.
3. The resurrection of the righteous is parallel to and contrasted with the rest of the dead returning to life after the thousand years (20:4-6), suggesting a bodily rather than symbolic resurrection.
4. Revelation 20 presupposes all that transpired in chapters 12-19.

Extra notes on Revelation 20.

The angel’s binding of Satan (20:2; 9:14) is a common motif throughout Jewish literature (1 Enoch 10:4-6

Gog and Magog. In Ezekiel Gog is the ruler of Magog, but here they merely symbolize all the evil nations

Other notes: it’s doubtful John had Matt. 12 in mind when he spoke of the binding of Satan. It’s unlikely his earlier readers would have had access to the Synoptics.

Criticisms

Keener utilizes a lot of material from Tony Campolo and Ron Sider. Rev. (so-called) Jeremiah Wright of Chicago (of Obama fame) also makes an appearance (194).

 

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Frame, Review: Doctrine of the Word of God

A fitting end to a fine series. This isn’t Frame’s best work ever (that would either be DG or DCL) but it is good and there are legitimate reasons for this volume’s limitations. Frame wanted to get his book on Scripture out, but he also suspected he might die beforehand. So he gave a shorter version of it. The first 330 pages deal with a perspectival doctrine of Scripture. The last three hundred are book reviews.

Scripture is an organic revelation, but Frame doesn’t mean by organic what 19th century pantheists supposedly meant. For Frame, “Revelations in Scripture, world, and self presuppose and supplement one another; one cannot understand one of them without reference to the others” (Frame 350).

Frame’s book isn’t just another book on Scripture and how it is inerrant or from God or something. Rather, it calls forth our obedience, and this ties with the above thesis: “Every obedient response to Scripture involves knowledge of creation and self” (364). For example, whenever I reason about or from Scripture, that presupposes I know what logic is and how to use it.

The Personal-Word Model

“The main contention of this volume is that God’s speech to man is real speech” (3). Authority: the capacity to create an obligation in the hearer (5).

Covenant and Canon

God’s relation to us is always covenantal, so we should expect a written, covenant document (108). A canon naturally arises because we need to record God’s spoken words to us, and our God is a God who speaks.

Frame builds upon Meredith Kline’s 4 or 5 Point Covenant Model to show the unity of Scripture (148ff):

(1) Revelation of the Name of God
(2) Revelation of God’s mighty acts in history
(3) Revelation of God’s Law
(4) Revelation of God’s continuing presence to bless and curse
(5) Revelation of God’s institutional provisions.

Covenantal revelation is both personal and propositional (153). God reveals his Name, but he does so in propositions (and sentences and declarations).

Our relationship with God is covenantal, and in covenants God speaks to his people (212).

Some of the chapters were quite short and I wish Frame extended his analysis. However, the book reviews show remarkable analysis and depth. See especially his reviews of Enns and Wright.

Can cessationist pray Eph. 1:17?

Paul writes,

“That God would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.”

What does “revelation” mean?  The bible lists several types:

  1. Natural revelation (creation, logic, science, etc).
  2. Special revelation (God’s speaking, theophanic appearances, etc).
    2a. The Bible.
    2b. Words of knowledge/prophetic utterances
  3. Jesus

So when Paul wants God to give them a spirit of revelation, which kind does he mean? I think all sides can rule out (1), since it wouldn’t make much sense in the context of Paul’s prayer.  Let’s leave aside all varieties of (2) for a moment.  (3) could work but I am not sure Paul means that.  Strictly speaking, if (3) obtains then we have the following:

(3*) God would give a spirit of wisdom and Jesus in the knowledge of him.

Technically, that’s true.  And that’s not a bad way to pray.  But from our perspective I’m not sure that adds too much to the discussion.  What does it mean to have a spirit of Jesus?  Well, basic Sunday School lessons could work here, and the Bible elsewhere commends the Spirit of Christ.  But if revelation = Jesus, then what content does that add to our knowledge?  It’s not immediately clear.  And I don’t think that’s what cessationists have in mind when they say “revelation.”  Sure, they will quote Hebrews 1, thinking revelation ceased with the coming of Christ, but that only proves that Jesus is the final word, not the Bible.

Therefore, I suggest that when a cessationist reads Ephesians 1:17, he sees it as saying,

(2a*) God will give you a spirit of the closed canon of Scripture.

It’s not immediately wrong, but it’s clunky and almost certainly not what Paul had in mind.

Some notes on Apocrypha?

The question that often comes up in question’s on the Apocrypha as Scripture or related to it:

(1) Is the Apocrypha inspired/part of the Bible?

The church’s witness in history isn’t entirely clear.  Augustine and others use the Wisdom of Solomon and if ever a book deserved to be in Scripture, that would be one of them.  Yet, when we read early fathers’ accounts of the canon, the modern day Apocryphal books are either missing or not all are accounted for.  The problem is further exacerbated on how to identify the “Ezras” listed by the fathers (it could either mean Ezra and Nehemiah or Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Esdras).

But that’s not my issue because that’s not how I view Scripture.  I can accept Scripture in some sense as an angled mirror to God’s revelation, but not as God’s revelation full stop.  In other words, God’s revelation isn’t univocal.

I prefer to say that Scripture is a witness to God’s revelation.  That means, if the above argument holds true:

(2) The Apocrypha is not God’s revelation.

But can the Apocrypha be a witness to God’s revelation?  Perhaps, but then it is on a case-by-case basis.  Let’s look at Sirach and Maccabees.

Sirach

Towards the end of the book Sirach is echoing the Jewish hope and story of King and Temple.  They are both interconnected.  And the world’s peace depends on them.  But when the Temple is cleansed/disclosed to the world, it is not the Davidic Messiah but the High Priest.

And in any case, all of this was wiped away with the Roman invasions after 200 BC.  So while Sirach captures some part of the Jewish narrative, it is utterly anti-climactic in witnessing to the Messiah.

Maccabees

As history Maccabees, at least 1 and 2, are supremely important.  When Judas cleanses the temple and drives out the pagans, what happens with the temple?  Nothing.

Drawing upon sources like 1 Kings 8 and Ezekiel, the Temple, Monarch, and Shekinah glory are inter-connected.  Touch one and you touch all (there is some divine simplicity, for you!).  This doesn’t happen with Maccabees victory.

So what does all this mean?  The Apocrypha is very important for history, but in terms of witnessing to the divine revelation, especially in terms of eschatology, it is anti-climactic.

T. F. Torrance (Intellectual Biography)

This book is divided into two parts: a brief treatment of Torrance’s life and an examination of his thought. His parents were missionaries to China and fostered a deep piety and evangelistic zeal in the young Torrance. Torrance grew up reading the bible through each year. His dad could repeat the Psalms and Romans by heart.

T. F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography

Of particular interest is Torrance’s lectureships in America, ironically at liberal institutions. They were not ready for his evangelistic style of lecturing. Auburn Theological Seminary (largely liberal) invited a 25 year old Thomas Torrance to guest lecture. He ended up evangelizing his students on the deity of Christ. He was invited to teach at Princeton University but they told him it was to be a neutral atmosphere and that he shouldn’t get involved with the students religious beliefs.
Torrance: I make no such promises. He was hired nonetheless.

McGrath skillfully makes use of unpublished mss and shows us a very interesting side of Torrance. Torrance’s life often borders on a heroism found in novels.

His Thought

Was Torrance a “Barthian?” No. As he made powerfully clear to Donald Macleod he was an “Athanasian” before he was a Barthian. Nevertheless, Torrance’s legacy is connected with Barth’s.

On the reception of Barth

No one is a pure Barthian. McGrath notes the numerous difficulties in Barth’s reception in the English-speaking world. This narrative takes place within Torrance’s “cold war” with John Baillie. McGrath quotes A. Cheyne in suggesting four different ways someone could “receive” Barth’s teachings:

1. Superficial influence, but largely unchanged and staying within the liberal tradition
2. Entire outlook affected but withheld ultimate approval.
3. real but cautious admirers.
4. Uncritical admirers (Alec Cheyne, “The Baillie Brothers,” in Fergusson, Church and Society, 3-37, 33, quoted in McGrath, 89).

McGrath notes that Barth wasn’t well-received in the Scandinavian Lutheran countries, given Barth’s firm commitment to Reformed Christology. Barth took longer to make headroads into Anglican because, as McGrath ruefully muses, Anglicanism didn’t have much of a dogmatic center (McGrath 122-123). This was not the case in Presbyterian Scotland, which in many ways was a dogmatic center!

McGrath lists four criteria that must be in place if a foreign thinker like Barth is to make headway:
1. Competent translations of the most important works into the new language.
2. A journal dedicated to sympathetic viewpoints.
3. A publishing house which is prepared to handle primary and secondary material.
4. A platform where a rising generation may be influenced.

Torrance’s thought is a Reformed reworking of Athanasius’s insight that the homoousion–the oneness of being between Father and Son–means a oneness of Being-in-Act in God’s saving and revealing himself to us. The doctrine of the Trinity is an outcome of an intellectual engagement with God kata physin. “The nature of God was disclosed to be such that Trinitarian thinking was the only appropriate response to the reality thus encountered” (161). Scientific realism allows direct correlations between self-revelation of God and God himself.

McGrath breaks new ground in shedding light on a key tension in Torrance’s so-called “Barthianism.” Can there be a positive relation between God’s self-revelation and a bare natural theology? Maybe. Problem: If all theology proceeds from God’s self-revelation in Christ, then where can natural theology fit (185)?

Early Torrance: “revelation is an act in which God confronts us with his person, in which he imparts himself” (Torrance, Christian Doctrine of Revelation, 32, Auburn lectures). If this is the case, how can man “reason upwards to God?” Again, and as always, the solution is found in Athanasius. Knowledge of God and knowledge of the world share the same foundations in the rationality of God the creator.
1. God is in possession of an intrinsic rationality–the divine logos.
2. That logos has become incarnate in Jesus Christ, so that Christology becomes the key to accessing the inner rationality of God.
3. the divine rationality is also seen in the created order, in which the divine logos can be discerned at work in the contingent yet ordered nature of the world.
4. Creation (1-3) makes natural theology possible.

The book is magnificent. Its rather foreboding price prevents it from being an otherwise perfect introduction to Torrance’s thought

About that Owen quote on private revelations

One of John Owen’s quotes is being memed on Facebook to the effect,

“If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary and if they disagree they are false.”

What do continuationists such as myself make of this quote?  Has Owen powerfully refuted me?  Well, only if we are clear about what we mean by “agree” and “contradict.”  Let’s begin with the second half of Owen’s quote.

if they disagree they are false

First of all, what is a contradiction?  A contradiction is when one says A = ~A.  For example, the Bible says don’t murder but I got a private revelation from God saying it’s cool.  That is a contradiction and Owen’s quote holds good in this case.   However, in symbolic logic the proposition A  B is not a contradiction.  It is a conjunction.

The first part of Owen’s quote actually presents a challenge.  Well, it could present a challenge:

(1) If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are unnecessary.

The most obvious rejoinder is, “Is that true?  Says who?”  I think the intent behind Owen’s claim is like the following:

(1*) Scripture is a self-contained totality whose content is synonymous with the term “revelation.”

If (1*) is true, then Owen’s claim obtains and continuationists are in deep error.  That means Revelation {R₁ } does not allow for any difference.  Still, one has to ask if that is indeed the case.  As it stands it is false. See:

(2) God speaks in natural revelation (Ps. 19:1-2).

Whatever else (2) means, it certainly means that there exists a realm of objective knowledge in creation to which we have intellectual access.  (1) and (2) do not contradict.  (1*) and (2) do contradict, but since the latter is in the bible and the former is not, then (1*) is certainly wrong and we can reject it.

But perhaps the cessationist can continue modifying his premise:

(1′) Scripture is the final moment of God’s special revelation, the final moment of God’s speaking-revelation.

Now we are getting somewhere.  (1′) does present a challenge if it obtains. Is it correct?  Only if the term “Revelation” is being used univocally.  Continuationists have never claimed that Revelation is univocal.   Perhaps they are exegetically wrong for thinking that, but that’s a different subject altogether. Owen’s modified claim (1′) only obtains if everyone is using Revelation univocally.

But we can ask if the cessationist is consistent in his use of Revelation.  (1′) seemed to imply that the Bible was the final moment of God’s speaking-revelation.  But what does the Bible say?

“In many and various ways God spoke to the prophets but in these last days he spoke to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1).

(3) Jesus is the final speaking-moment of God’s revelation.

(3) and (1′) contradict.  (1′) therefore fails.  It’s been probably ten years since I’ve read Warfield’s essays on Revelation, but if I recall, the idea of Jesus-as-Revelation appears (as it must, since it is in Scripture) but only as an odd duck.  It presents several problems for the cessationist argument:

(3a) If Jesus is the final moment of Revelation, which would seem to rule out modern-day prophets, then Jesus, revealing God before the writing of the New Testament, would also rule out the New Testament.

Averky on the Apocalypse

Averky saw our age as Age of Apostasy, as “the final preparation for the ‘man of sin’” (Rose 19).

Basic Hermeneutical Principles (these are from Rose, not Averky)

“As history proceeds to the end, the meaning of some of these symbols will become clearer” (Rose 31).

“The most correct commentary is the one that unites all these approaches, keeping in mind, as the ancient commentators and Fathers of the church clearly taught, the content of the Apocalypse in its sum is indeed directed to the last part of the history of the world (Averky 54).

Averky tentatively suggests (but does not finally endorse) the idea that the churches are seven epochs (101ff):

The Good

Averky stood in the tradition of the fathers and passed down the faith. This is a reliable, if sometimes lightweight, commentary on the Apocalypse. He helpfully summarizes each section and offers Scripture parallels at the end of each chapter.

Possible Criticisms (It might seem like I offer a lot of criticisms, but this shouldn’t take away from the book’s inestimable value).

*We see numerous references and exhortations that we seek out the “commentaries of the Holy Fathers” (Rose 27) to avoid Protestant errors, but besides Andrew of Caesarea we are almost never given any specific references. Averky does list some Russian-language resources (Averky 39-40).

*As a general rule, Averky doesn’t engage in exegesis (neither did St Andrew, for the most part).

*Averky says Protestants deny the necessity of good deeds for final salvation (201, Comm. 14:13). This is not true, nor is it clear exactly whom he has in mind. Classical Protestantism denies good deeds as the grounds or foundation of our salvation. We affirm good deeds as necessary for the final telos of our salvation. We can even say that good deeds are the final cause of our salvation, just not the material, efficient, or instrumental causes.

*Averky sees the thousand-year period as Christianity’s victory over paganism. The only problem with this interpretation is that the opening phrase of Revelation 20 sees it sequential with the events of Revelation 19. Averky says that the Illuminati held to chiliasm (256). He criticizes Chiliast belief but doesn’t seem to take into account that premillennialists get their teaching from the passage itself, which does say two resurrections (however that term is glossed).

He says that Chiliasm teaches two or three comings of Christ, but this isn’t necessarily true. A premillennialist can quite logically hold to the following timeline: 1st coming in humility, 2nd coming following the slaying of Antichrist with the breath of His mouth, the raising of the pious dead while the impious sleep, and then a final resurrection. But note that the final stage of the resurrection doesn’t logically demand another coming.

The problem with identifying Chiliasm with modern historic premillennialism is that the latter doesn’t see an ending to the millennial kingdom. It simply states, with Scripture, that Christ hands this kingdom over to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24).

*His argument in the appendix “Neo-Chiliasm” threatens to come undone. He begins with a fine critique of Ecumenism, but he errs in saying that “Neo-Chiliasts” want to have this world and do not like Scripture’s warning of its destruction. Well, modern ecumenists probably don’t like passages about the world’s destruction, but they probably don’t like any passage from the Bible. The modern premillennialist, however, sees that God will create a new heavens and a new earth, so we are not warranted in seeing a complete destruction of the earth.

Normally “chiliasts” are incorrectly lumped with premillennialists, who are quite conservative and anti-liberal. Yet most of his criticisms seemed aimed at the unbelievers in the World Council of Churches. In any case he never identifies who these “Neo-Chiliasts” are.