Revelation

By White, R. Fowler | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Revelation


White, R. Fowler, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Revelation. By Simon J. Kistemaker. The New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001, x + 635 pp. $39.99.

In his book Under the Unpredictable Plant, Eugene Peterson observes that "certain times pull particular books of the Bible into prominence" (p. 144). Provocatively Peterson contends that Revelation is the book for our times, not for the reasons we often link with it but for the portrait of the pastoral vocation it provides to the church amidst tribulation and trivialization. If Peterson's claim is right (or even worth contemplating), then we need to pay special attention to new commentaries on the NT Apocalypse, and one of the most recent is that of Simon J. Kistemaker, emeritus professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando.

This volume marks the completion of the New Testament Commentary series, initiated by William Hendricksen and completed by Kistemaker. Intended for pastors and serious Bible students, this volume contains a substantial discussion of standard introductory issues, a translation and exposition of the Greek text of Revelation, a selected bibliography, and indices of citations from authors, Scripture, and other ancient writings. Overall, this work is distinguished by clarity and judiciousness. I will focus in this review on two pivotal issues, the commentary's treatment of author and date and its hermeneutic.

On Revelation's author and date, Kistemaker considers the pertinent external and internal evidence and concludes that John, the son of Zebedee and the apostle, wrote the book in the mid-90s. His rebuttal to the widespread endorsement of a "non-apostolic" John as author is, in my opinion, sound. As Kistemaker puts it in his admirably temperate way, "nearly solid external evidence and helpful internal evidence" support apostolic authorship (p. 26). The book's dating is a dicier issue than its authorship. Kistemaker again takes up both external and internal evidence, giving greater weight to data that tend to favor a late date. From my perspective, Kistemaker is the most compelling when he dates the book by referring to the condition of the seven churches (Revelation 2-3) and their experience of imperial and Jewish opposition. His comparison of the portrayal of these phenomena in Revelation with that found in the rest of the NT is particularly helpful. When, however, he takes up the internal evidence relating to the temple and city in Revelation 11, the beast in Revelation 13, and the seven kings in Revelation 17, he is less satisfying. One does not have to have a preterist interpretation of the book to sense that the challenges raised by these items are not fully met by Kistemaker (and in this he is not alone).

The last point brings us to Kistemaker's discussion of two other key issues of introduction, namely, the preterist, historicist, idealist, and futurist approaches to the book and the relevance of the prevailing millennial positions for the book's interpretation. On these matters, Kistemaker does a fine job exposing the limits of each approach but shows a puzzling lack of reflection on the benefit of combining insights from the various approaches. In fairness this reflection emerges sometimes more, sometimes less, in the commentary proper, where Kistemaker's indebtedness to both idealism and futurism is on display. In his discussion of the millennial positions that bear on the book's interpretation, Kistemaker clearly identifies himself with the so-called amillennial camp. His discussion provides a helpful consideration of the contribution that Rev 20:4-6 makes to the millennial debate, but it garners surprisingly little help from important considerations such as the history of doctrine and interpretation. Other useful items round out the introduction, most noteworthy of which is a synopsis of the book's theology.

Moving to the commentary proper and its overall hermeneutic, readers will find much to appreciate in Kistemaker's remarks. …

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