Thursday, January 10, 2008

Before Jerusalem Fell, pt. 1

The following begins a chapter-by-chapter summarization of Before Jerusalem Fell by Kenneth Gentry. There are five sections to the book, and each entry here will cover one section. Note: quotations are being taken from a pdf copy of the book, therefore page references may not match exactly with hard copies.

Section 1: Preliminary Considerations
Chapter 1: Revelation Studies

The first chapter is divided into two subheadings that introduce the reader to both the general and the particular interests of the study. Ancient and modern interest in Revelation has been remarkable. It was one of the most widely distributed and recognized works of the New Testament Canon during the apostolic era. Following this era its interpretation and canonical status came under scrutiny.

Gentry identifies two reasons why the modern era has maintained interest in Revelation. First, the book is God's inerrant, infallible, and all-sufficient Word and as such deserves attention in all of its parts, including Revelation. Second, Gentry recognizes a moral and psychological draw to Revelation in that humanity is naturally inquisitive of the future and in that one's view of the future impact of one's principles and practices determines their moral validity.

A corollary to the second reason of interest in the modern era is the rise of prophetic interest in Revelation, marked by Gentry in the popularity of Hal Lindsey's book The Late Great Planet Earth, which was remarkably popular during the 70's and 80's and represents a premillennial, dispensational interpretation of Revelation.

The main difficulty for any study of Revelation given the amount of interest it has garnered throughout history is the immense body of secondary literature that has commented upon it. Gentry sees in much of this popularity (in particular its modern dispensational popularity) a devaluation of the major theme of Revelation and a diminished reverence in describing its content and meaning. Scholarly and lay interest alike have produced a wealth of differing interpretations.

Gentry cites a host of sources attesting to the difficulty of interpreting Revelation, and he emphasizes the necessity of scholarly trepidation in drawing one's conclusions. He then identifies three major difficulties that arise in interpreting its content:

1. A lack of knowledge concerning Revelation's literary style. Apocalyptic imagery appears throughout the Bible, but nowhere more conspicuously and copiously than in Revelation.

2. A lack of attention to the relevance of Revelation for its original audience. One of the principles of grammatical-historical interpretation (a method employed by all conservative interpreters of Scripture) is that the original audience and the author's intention are the primary checks upon what meaning can be drawn from the content of the message. In other words, the principle can be employed in a two-fold way: negatively, any interpretation that would not make sense to the original author and audience are suspect; and positively, the interpret should seek that interpretation which would make the most sense to the original author and audience.

3. A misconstrual of the of the original intention of Revelation. Direct quotation is pertinent here:
In the first place, it was designed to steel the first century Church against the gathering storm of persecution, which was reaching an unnerving crescendo of theretofore unknown proportions and intensity. (15)
In the second place, it was to brace the Church for a major and fundamental re-orientation in the course of redemptive history, a re-orientation necessitating the destruction of Jerusalem (the center not only of Old Covenant Israel, but of Apostolic Christianity [cp. Acts 1:8; 2:lff; 15:2] and the Temple [cp. Matt. 24:1-34 with Rev. 11]). (16)

Chapter 2: Approach to the Question of Dating

Gentry begins the discussion of the importance of dating with a comparison between the book of Daniel and of Revelation:
In several respects Revelation is reminiscent of the Old Testament book of Daniel: (1) Each is a prophetic work. (2) Each was written by a devout, God-fearing Jew in times of the author’s personal exile and national Jewish distress. (3) Each shares a frequent and very obvious stylistic similarity. (4) Revelation frequently draws from Daniel. (17)

Internal similarities are not the only things shared: so too has scholarly literature divided the dating of these books into two opposing views of composition--late and early. For Revelation, the pertinent numbers for the early and late divisions are pre-A.D. 70 and A.D. 95. Though many variations upon these two numbers is evident, the purpose of Gentry's book, obvious from its title, is to document and defend an early date of Revelation against late date arguments.

The importance of dating the book of Revelation bears directly upon its interpretation. The following events represent the key historical issues at stake between early and late arguments:
Those events include most prominently: (1) the beginnings of the Roman persecution of Christianity (A.D. 64-68); (2) the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Temple (A.D. 67-70); and (3) the Roman Civil War of A.D. 68-69. (18-19(

All of these events are of major historical, political, and theological significance. Gentry emphasizes the necessity of historical accuracy for hermeneutics, a principle that is not without controversy among modern interpretations of Scripture that emphasize ahistorical, existential conclusions. Scholars committed to an historical and objective meaning of Scripture recognize the significance of accurately dating the book of Revelation. Gentry's following quote summarizes the matter well:
If the book was written two and one-half decades after the destruction of the Temple, however, then the prophecies are necessarily open to an extrapolation into the most distant future, and to the exclusion of the important events of A.D. 67-70. Hence, the whole bearing of Revelation on New Testament eschatology may well be altered by the determination of the matter before us. (21)

Gentry then proceeds to address certain assumptions that his position takes in addressing the date of Revelation. These are:

1. Canonicity. Despite tumultuous debate in the early church about the canonical status of Revelation, it is well accepted today. The presupposition of canonicity entails that Revelation bears the inerrant, infallible, and sufficient character of God's Divine Word to humanity. The canonical status of Revelation also entails its covenantal bearing upon Christians. As such it has authority over the Christian's belief and conduct, and must be approach with reverence that puts the interpreter in submission to, rather than authority over, the text and its meaning. Gentry rightly notes that this presupposition gives priority to the internal evidence of Revelation over and above any external evidence: the witness of Scripture stands in authority over the witnesses from history and tradition.

2. Authorship. Revelation does not specifically designate the Apostle John, son of Zebedee, disciple of Christ as its author, but Gentry aligns himself with capable conservative consensus that the Apostle John is indeed the author of Revelation. Gentry properly footnotes scholars who oppose this view as well as scholars who support it. He importantly notes that apostleship is not the sole, nor most important determination of canonicity.

3. Unity. Gentry assumes that Revelation is the unified message of John the Apostle and not an edited message or message compiled from several documents of differing dates of composition. The intention for omitting the rather large debate on this issue is best explained by the author himself:
The primary reason for its exclusion is due to the obvious difficulty of maintaining the composite and discordant nature of Revelation while defending its canonicity and its revelational quality. How can we maintain a coherent theory of Revelation’s inspiration if it has gone through several editions under several different hands? The problem is virtually the same with the more familiar questions related to such books as the Pentateuch and Isaiah, for instance. This is why almost invariably those who have argued for its composite nature are of the liberal school of thought. A secondary reason is due to the intention of the present writer. This treatise is written with an eye not to the liberal theologian, but to the conservative. The plea for a hearing in this research project is toward conservative theologians who stand with the author on the fundamental theological issues, such as the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. The debate engaged is an “intramural” debate among evangelicals. (24)

Finally, Gentry provides a brief survey of scholarly opinion on the dating of Revelation. Although the consensus view is that Revelation was written after the Fall of Jerusalem, most likely during the A.D. 90's Gentry notes that several well-respected classical (i.e. Greek and Roman period of history) scholars hold the early date viewpoint. Also, Gentry admits that several evangelical scholars denigrate the early date view because it is held by many liberal scholars. Additionally, some late date scholars are giving new credence to early date arguments. Gentry briefly chronicles the shifting positions of scholarly consensus over the past 200 years, including both conservative and scholarly opinions. While conservatives have consistently viewed the entire New Testament to have been completed between A.D. 50-100, and that in the late 19th century a pre-A.D. 70 view of Revelation's composition was the majority position among conservative scholars. Gentry's presumed purpose in detailing this chronology and following it with a list of early-date advocates is to show that despite contemporary confidence regarding the late-date of Revelation, a broader view of scholarship reveals that the early date view ought not to be easily dismissed. The reader is encouraged to remember that consensus of any kind, including scholarly consensus, is not the standard of truth for any argument--a statement that is imperative in our current age when intersubjective agreement (whether the populous, the scholarly community, or even the scientific consensus) is frequently taken to be the only truth possible.

1 comment:

© Pierre CRANGA said...

Thank you for your summary

Could you please send me a copy of your Before Jerusalem Fell's pdf ?
Thanks a lot

Pierre (France)