How NOT to Interpret Revelation

After a brief hiatus, I’m back to reading Michael J. Gorman‘s Reading Revelation Responsibly.  Chapter 4 covers various appropriate and inappropriate ways of approaching the book.  Gorman very briefly covers a history of interpretation, takes an excursus to rail against Left Behind and the like, then concludes with his own approach.  It’s all level-headed.  It’s all good.

I just wanted to provide this little bit from the middle of the chapter, which Gorman labels “Common Mistakes … in the Interpretation of Revelation” (69-70).  This was so striking because I’ve so often found myself slipping into these categories.  I hope it’s helpful for you, too.

  1. Failing to recognize Revelation’s apocalyptic character, and the character and function of apocalyptic literature.
  2. Failing to take Revelation seriously as a product of, and message to, its own time.
  3. Postulating arbitrarily contemporary fulfillment of apocalyptic symbols and visions, based on the dubious assumption that prophecy and history must be culminating in the present.
  4. Treating the Bible like a puzzle with pieces to be fitted together – a test from this book here, another from that book there, etc. – in order to figure out alleged events to come.
  5. Becoming preoccupied with (sometimes misguided) questions about the meaning of certain unknowable or less significant aspects of the book, such as the identity of the beast, Armageddon, the length and date of the millennium, etc.  This includes allowing a particular view of the millennium to control one’s reading of the entire book.
  6. Failing to hear Revelation in light of the larger Christian tradition and contemporary scholarship.
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