Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Lecturer
3. Content
4. Learning outcomes
5. Assessment
5.1. Attendance
5.2. Seminar (due 25 August; worth 30%)
5.3. Book review (due 15 September; worth 30%; not applicable to NT637)
5.4. Translation (due 15 September; worth 30%; not applicable to NT627 or NT752)
5.5. Exegesis (due 6 October; worth 40%)
6. Administrative details
7. Guides
7.1. Writing a critical review
7.2. Doing exegesis
7.2.1. What is exegesis?
7.2.2. Basic steps
7.2.3. Textual, grammatical, and lexical issues
7.2.4. Winds of change
7.2.5. Exegesis assessment

This is an intensive course delivered with a one week attendance component (August 25-29, 2014).

My name is Tim Finney. I do science, theology, and computing. My PhD was on computer-assisted analysis of manuscript texts of the Book of Hebrews. I continue to do research on transmission of the New Testament. See here for more.

My contact details are available from Vose Seminary.

These topics will be covered:[1]

  • authorship, transmission, reception, and use of the Book of Revelation

  • historical, social, and theological roots of New Testament apocalyptic writings, especially the Book of Revelation

  • Revelation's theology, including Christology, doctrine of God, worship, judgement, deliverance, and hope

  • exegesis and structural analysis of the text of Revelation, considering various modes of interpretation.

  • application of the text of Revelation to preaching, teaching, pastoral and worship-leading ministry.

By the end, students will have:[2]

  • studied the authorship, transmission, reception, and use of Revelation through the ages, including its relevance to the church age

  • explored the cultural, political, historical, and literary context of Revelation (Revelation's basis in first century church experience; Old Testament background to its imagery and theology)

  • gained an understanding of the broad structural form of Revelation, and the variety of interpretations addressing the eschatological perspectives reflected in Revelation

  • encountered Revelation's theology (Christology, elevated doctrine of God, etc.), considering the interplay between godly worship, warnings, and idolatry

  • gained an appreciation for the sweep of God’s purposes, and the employment of prophetic and apocalyptic genres.

  • begun to apply gathered insights to preaching, teaching, pastoral, and worship-leading ministries.

The course is assessed as per the following table. All components must be successfully completed to pass.

All students are required to attend the intensive classes held 9.00 am - 4.00 pm, August 25-29, 2014. Students doing the Greek option (NT637) must also attend five Greek tutorials on Thursday evenings, July 31 to August 28, 7.00 - 8.30 pm, in the conference room at Vose Seminary.

Table 2. Schedule

Date Time Topic Venue
Thursday (July 31) 5.00 - 6.30 pm Greek seminar (Rev 1) Conference Room
Thursday (Aug 7) 5.00 - 6.30 pm Greek seminar (Rev 4)
Thursday (Aug 14) 5.00 - 6.30 pm Greek seminar (Rev 13)
Thursday (Aug 21) 5.00 - 6.30 pm Greek seminar (Rev 20)
Monday (Aug 25) 9 am One like a Son of Man (Rev 1) Lecture Room 2
10 am Seminar 1: Apocalyptic writing
11 am Seven messages for seven messengers (Rev 2)
1 pm Seven messages for seven messengers (Rev 3)
2 pm Seminar 2: Authorship
3 pm One seated on Heaven's throne, holding a sealed document (Rev 4-5)
Tuesday (Aug 26) 9 am He begins to open the seven seals (Rev 6) Lecture Room 2
10 am Seminar 3: Occasion
11 am God's slaves are sealed (Rev 7)
1 pm He breaks the seventh seal (Rev 8)
2 pm Seminar 4: Audience
3 pm A star falls from Heaven to earth (Rev 9)
Wednesday (Aug 27) 9 am A powerful messenger with a small book (Rev 10) Lecture Room 2
10 am Seminar 5: Transmission and reception
11 am Two martyrs (Rev 11)
1 pm A woman and a dragon (Rev 12)
2 pm Seminar 6: Interpretation
3 pm Beasts from the sea and land (Rev 13)
Thursday (Aug 28) 9 am The harvest (Rev 14) Lecture Room 2
10 am Seminar 7: Code
11 am Seven bowls of God's fury (Rev 15-16)
1 pm Drunk with blood (Rev 17)
2 pm Seminar 8: Dreams and visions
3 pm Great Babylon fallen! (Rev 18)
Friday (Aug 29) 9 am The rider named Faithful and True (Rev 19) Lecture Room 2
10 am Seminar 9: Heavenly worship
11 am Reign of a thousand years (Rev 20)
1 pm God's city (Rev 21)
2 pm Seminar 10: Theology
3 pm A river of life (Rev 22)
Thursday (Sept 4) 5.00 - 6.30 pm Greek seminar (Rev 22)

Each student must write an essay on one of the seminar topics listed below then present relevant findings to the class during the corresponding seminar session. (See the schedule for seminar date and time.) The lecturer will allocate topics so that as many as possible are covered by students. Students should contact the lecturer to indicate their preferred topic, which will be allocated on a first in, first served basis. The seminar essay is due at the beginning of the first day of attendance (9 am, August 25). Seminar assessment is split between the essay (75%) and class presentation (25%).

The class presentation should cover the main aspects of the topic as discovered through writing your essay. Prepare a class handout which lists the main points (with summaries) and a list of books you found helpful. Please use your imagination to make the presentation memorable.

Seminar topics

1. Apocalyptic writing (David C)

What is apocalyptic literature? Who is the source, who are the recipients, and what are their circumstances? What is the subject matter of this type of writing and why is it written the way it is? Apply these questions to an example from each of the following (i.e. three in total):

  1. Hebrew Bible

  2. New Testament (besides Revelation)

  3. Extra-canonical writings.

2. Authorship (Arthur B, Bill B)

Who wrote Revelation? Give arguments for and against the Apostle John being author. Would early Christians accept a book that was not apostolic? Outline John's life including background, responsibilities, travel, and traditions about his later life.

3. Occasion (Joe C, Kane F)

When was Revelation written? How was the Empire treating Christians at the time? How long did these episodes last? What regions were affected? (There is more than one school of thought on a number of these questions.)

4. Audience (Bryan G, Terry N)

Who was Revelation written to? What cultural backgrounds did they have? What kind of society did they live in? What were the major religions where they lived?

5. Transmission and reception (Tim F)

How was Revelation transmitted? Who received it and who didn't? What stopped some from receiving it? Can we trust its text?

6. Interpretation (Dan McG)

How should Revelation be interpreted? What main approaches have been used through the ages, and when have they been used? Which ones work best? Which are most edifying? Which are most hazardous?

7. Code (Kyle V)

Why does Revelation use symbols and codes? How do commentators interpret the following? (Pay particular attention to the first century context, but feel free to give other interpretations if you wish.)

  • the fallen star

  • the two-sided book with seven seals

  • the little book which tastes one way and digests another

  • the two witnesses

  • the woman clothed with the sun

  • the dragon with seven heads and ten crowns

  • the beast with lamb horns which speaks like a dragon

  • the number of the beast

  • Babylon

  • the woman who rides the beast

8. Dreams and visions (guest lecturer)

Consider biblical prophets who saw visions like John's. (Two from the Hebrew Bible and two from the New Testament besides John.) What were their circumstances when they saw the visions? If daring, comment on their psychological and spiritual states. (Were they mad?) What is the content of their visions? Given these precedents, does John's vision stand out as extraordinary? Does today's church make proper use of these revelations?

9. Heavenly worship (Jenni R)

Consider worship, song, and music in Revelation. Who is worshipped? What is the theological content of worship in Heaven? What are the instruments of worship? What follows worship? Compare and contrast worship in today's churches with the worship in Heaven seen by John.

10. Theology (Mark B)

What does Revelation say about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, their unity, and their purpose? What does it say about the beginning and end of all things? What does it say about those who belong to God and those who do not?

Read one of the following books and write a review essay. The book should be read before the attendance week.[3] The guide to writing a critical review may help. Please consult the lecturer if you want to review a book which has something to do with Revelation but is not included in this list.

Essays should conform to the Vose Guide to the Presentation of Essays, which incorporates ACT requirements. This includes a statement on the use of non-discriminatory language. Students should also take note of the section in the Guide on Plagiarism, Collusion and Cheating.

Results will be given as letter grades: pass [P, 50-57%], pass+ [P+, 58-64%], credit [C, 65-74%], distinction [D, 75-84%], high distinction [HD, 85%+].

The following is a summary by Neil Anderson of an article by Bruce Dippel which I lifted from a course outline by Brian Harris:

As you approach the book or article, recognise that it is always a privilege for us to be able to interact with the thinking of another person. The author has made themselves vulnerable by putting their thoughts on public display in this publication. They have done so with the desire that it will assist others to learn and grow, and we need to respect this as we interact with what is written. Remember that ‘critical’ is not a synonym of ‘criticise’, but rather refers to a process of reflection and interaction. It is always a process, with the limitations of an article / book, usually making it impossible to arrive at a definite conclusion. For this reason, terms such as ‘suggests’, ‘appears to’, ‘could perhaps’, or ‘tends to’ are common in such reviews. They acknowledge that in the work being reviewed you may not have the complete perspective on the author’s theology or views on the topic. Being gracious does not make it a bad review!

As you are reading the work or preparing to write the review, ask yourself these questions, recognising that not all of them will be significant for every book or article:

  1. Given the nature of the work, what audience is in mind? How long ago was it written? Is this significant?

  2. What is the author’s purpose in writing the book or article – stated or implied? What level of biblical understanding does he appear to assume?

  3. What exactly is the subject / topic of the book or article as far as the author is concerned? What is the broad field in to which the work fits?

  4. What is the central thesis of the work? What are the author’s assumptions?

  5. What are the author’s main points? What is the structure of the argument? Is it easy to follow? Do side issues lead you off the track?

  6. What kind of evidence does the author use to support their points? Is the evidence convincing? Why or why not? Does the author support their points adequately?

  7. What are the most appropriate criteria for evaluating the article / book? If a clear purpose is stated, how well does it achieve that purpose? If the Bible is drawn upon as evidence, how appropriately is that Scripture used? If the author is just seeking to raise issues for further thought, how clearly are those issues presented?

  8. How does the author’s views fit into and interact with the wider literature in this topic / field. You should show this and give evidence as to where and why by citing other authors.

  9. How do you respond to the author’s opinions? What do you agree with? Why? What do you react negatively to? Why?

  10. How did the book or article affect you? How have your opinions about the topic changed after reflecting upon the work? What views have been confirmed in your mind? How does it contribute to your personal agenda or future ministry?

There is, of course, no set formula, but a general rule of thumb is that 50% - 70% of the review should summarize the author’s perspective and main ideas, and at least 30% should evaluate the book or article.

If you are not used to writing reviews, one possible structure is:

Note that this is merely one suggestion and not the required format. Do not use headings in a review of an article or book – the flow of your paper should be clear to the reader without needing headings. Remember, write a first draft, put it aside for a week, then read it again and make any changes where it is not clear.

As with most things, the only way to learn exegesis is by doing it. Gordon Fee's New Testament Exegesis, an excellent introduction to the topic, recommends the following steps.[5]

  1. Survey the historical context in general: Read the entire letter and note any clues about: the author; the recipients and their relationship to the author; where they were; what were their circumstances; what historical occasion prompted the letter to be written; the author's purpose.

  2. Confirm the limits of the passage: Is the passage a self-contained unit? (Note that in this course the passage you are assigned may cross natural divisions in the text. If it does, be sure to say so.) What comes before and after, and how does the passage fit into its surroundings? For example, Rev 1 introduces John's message to the seven churches, which begins at chapter 2.

  3. Become thorougly acquainted with the passage: [All] Read the passage in several translations, noting any places where they convey significantly different meanings. You might try to determine whether these differences are due to textual, grammatical, or lexical (i.e. dictionary-like) alternatives. [Greek] Make an initial translation.

  4. Analyse sentence structures and syntactical relationships: [All] Write out the passage in a structured form using your own words. The structure of the passage will sometimes be simple, other times complex. Look for literary cues such as inclusios, repeated words or phrases, and chiasmus. [Greek] Perform a grammatical analysis of the sentences in the passage, identifying the parts of speech and how they relate to each other.

  5. Establish the text: What was the author's text? The transmission process has introduced textual variations. When there is a textual variation at some site, it is necessary to decide which reading (i.e. which alternative) is original, if indeed that can be established. [All] Note any footnotes in English translations which alert the reader to differences of this kind. Such a note will typically say, Some manuscripts have... Commentaries sometimes give English translations of significant alternatives. [Greek] The United Bible Societies Greek New Testament [UBS4] shows which variations are significant for the purposes of translation. These should be listed along with your own translations of the alternatives. Make an attempt to decide which alternative is most likely original. Do the alternatives say significantly different things? What might be the cause of variation?

  6. Analyse the grammar: [All] Are there grammatical issues which affect the meaning of the passage? An English Bible may provide an alternative way to construe the text in a footnote. For example, the main text may have whatever you bind on earth has been bound in Heaven while a footnote has whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven. [Greek] Identify any grammatical issues which are significant for translation. For example, is there more than one possible antecedent for a relative pronoun? Books in the United Bible Societies Helps for Translators series are helpful in this respect but should only be consulted after you have thought about it yourself.[6]

  7. Analyse significant words: [All] This involves isolating key words or phrases and thinking about their intended meanings. Some words are of great importance to the meaning of the passage: these are the ones to look for. They may have a range of possible meanings: which one does the author intend in this context? Not every word should be treated this way; instead, focus on the handful of crucial players in the passage. Beware of etymology: tracing the derivation of a word can be enlightening but can also be misleading. The important thing to determine is what a word or phrase meant to the author and audience. [Greek] Look up the crucial words in Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon.

  8. Research the historical and cultural background in general: [All] What contemporary events might be relevant? What cultural practices and understandings might be presupposed? How did the author and audience think? That, is, how did they decide what was worth acting upon? How did they understand the world to operate? What was authoritative for them? What echoes of other texts (e.g. Hebrew Bible, other New Testament writings) might be evident? The margins of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece list possible references to scriptural passages.

  9. Examine the historical context in particular: All of the New Testament letters were written for some reason; each had an occasion, a special set of circumstances that compelled the author to write. Knowing these circumstances helps understand what the letter is about. As Fee says, try to imagine what it would have been like to be sitting in an early Christian community hearing the letter read for the first time.[7] What hints and clues are there in the passage which indicate why the author is writing these things? Does some behaviour need to be changed? Is there a theological misunderstanding? Does the audience need to be prepared for action? Is the cause of trouble inside or outside the community?

  10. Determine the formal character of the letter: Some letters have a specific occasion, some are ad hoc, and some seem like tracts with letter-like beginnings or endings. Does the passage fall into one of the normal subdivisions of a Christian letter (e.g. greeting, introductory thanksgiving, introductory prayer, body, final greetings, benediction)? Is the passage part of a rhetorical structure (e.g. a section of teaching, a section of exhortation)? Does the form (i.e. the literary conventions followed by the author) affect the meaning?

  11. Determine the literary context: To do this, one must learn to THINK PARAGRAPHS.[8] See how your passage fits into the surrounding context at the paragraph level. What are the preceding and following paragraphs about and how does your passage relate to them? In other words, how does your passage fit into the logical progression of the letter? Writing down the main points of these paragraphs in your own words will help.

  12. Consider the broader biblical and theological contexts: How does what this passage says fit with what the rest of this book, the New Testament, the Bible, and Christian theology says? How does this passage compare with similar ones in the New Testament? Does it raise any difficulties? Has it been understood in different ways at different times? What would be lost if we didn't have it? Does our understanding of other things depend on how we understand this passage?

  13. Consult secondary literature: Investigate what others have said about the passage. Up until now you should have been thinking for yourself rather than relying on others; now it is time to consider other viewpoints and to adjust your findings if necessary. Commentaries are a useful starting point in discovering the range of prevailing opinions in relation to your passage. Note what Fee says regarding critical assessment of other views, when to quote, and how to use annotation.[9]

  14. Provide a working text: [All] Establish a text to work with. For English, this may involve choosing one translation of the passage or even constructing your own hybrid of the ones you have checked. [Greek] Provide a polished translation of the passage.

  15. Write the exegesis: All of you are required to do this. If you have done the preceding steps you will have plenty of material to work with.

Books in the UBS Helps for Translators series contain much useful information concerning textual, grammatical, and lexical issues.[10] Even though a certain proficiency in Greek is assumed, it is by no means required. For this reason, all students, whether equipped with Greek or not, would do well to consult them. (It's an easy way to improve your exegesis.)

Concerning textual issues, students should also consult the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament [UBS4] and its companion Textual Commentary [Metzger1994]. The [UBS4] edition gives readings (i.e. variant passages) and attestations (i.e. lists of supporting witnesses such as manuscripts, versions, and Church Fathers) for a selection of variation sites (i.e. places where the text differs between witnesses).[11] It seldom covers more than a handful of variation sites per chapter. For every one of these sites, the Textual Commentary [Metzger1994] gives reasons why the UBS editors chose the reading they prefer.

Every generation has its philosophies. Being so diverse, some elements of the Christian community are quick to pick up on a new idea while others are slow. Take existentialism as an example. Rudolph Bultmann interpreted the New Testament from an existentialist viewpoint. He saw it as a book to get the reader enlightened, to see things in the new way the people who wrote the New Testament wanted them to see. Whether what the New Testament said was actually true was not so important as getting the audience to the desired endpoint. Existentialism came and went. The really strange thing is that one of the last places it went was among Christian theologians. So we seem slow to pick up on things and equally slow to let them go once everyone else has moved on.

A recent philosophy is postmodernism, where the only thing that matters is what I believe. If someone else has a different idea, that's OK because we are all human beings and who is to say that one person's view is better than another's? To a point, we as interpreters of the Bible can gain something from this way of thinking. It allows everyone to become an interpreter instead of only someone with special training. However, there is a weakness as well. If God speaks then it is advisable to listen. If knowing the circumstances in which a particular piece of God's speech happened helps us understand it better, then that knowledge is worth having.

Another emergent philosophy is atheism, which says religion causes a lot of trouble and should therefore be avoided. A Christian response might be, if God is there then that changes everything. God said, “I am.”

Atheism and postmodernism will strut and fret their hours upon the stage and then be heard no more. Religion, however, will continue. Some forms of religion are tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.[12] But true religion is based on God's speech, which underpins everything and endures forever. Christ's ability to bring about real and beneficial change in people is a surprising reality. The challenge is to communicate this truly good news to a world that has different ideas about religion. Being able to discover what God says through the Bible is an important part of this enterprise.

[1] See [GPH2014] 159, 169, 281.

[2] See [GPH2014] 159, 169, 281.

[3] This constitutes part of the pre-course reading expected of students at this level.

[4] [FeeStuart1993] 19; italics in the original.

[5] [Fee2002] 6-37. Steps 9 to 11 are specific to New Testament letters. Different steps apply for other genres such as gospels, Acts, or the Apocalypse.

[9] [Fee2002] 32-5.

[11] The variation sites shown in the UBS Greek New Testament were selected chiefly on the basis of their exegetical importance to the translator and student [Metzger1994] vii-viii.

[12] Apologies to Shakespeare.