Gordon Fee on Dispensationalists reading of the Book of Revelation

In an interview on his soon to be released commentary on Revelation, Gordon Fee said the following about a Dispensational reading of the book of Revelation:

I just experience enormous pain when I hear it used in a Dispensational way—because frankly they know almost nothing about the book. (bold added)

HT: for video interview link

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting such emotive language from Mr. Fee.  I guess he just had to let his frustration be known.

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44 Responses to Gordon Fee on Dispensationalists reading of the Book of Revelation

  1. You weren’t expecting emotive language from Fee? Have you heard him teach/preach?! : )

  2. danny says:

    I was going to say, Fee’s always pretty blunt. That’s part of what I like about him (it’s the New Englander in me).

  3. Scott W says:

    In another post I wrote contending that Bishop Wright’s work would have more influence over time than Gordan Fee; this was not so much to diminish the work of Fee but to look at the breadth of his contributions compared to Wright’s. This interview shows some of what makes him great: a believing, critical scholar who sees critical scholarship as crucial to the theological task of the Church. And he nor mealey-mouthed or acrimonious about his convictions. His scholarly and religious integrity will not let him cow tow to dogmatic concerns if it’s not merited, even those of his theological persuasion. This integrity he shares with a Wright. He transcends being a evangelical, Pentecostal, etc. “hitman”.

    I agree 1000% with his assessment of the Apocalypse and the need for Christians to not only study the Bible, but to actually learn how to read the Bible, being sensitive to genre.

    • Genre, is important, and has kinda become the thing today in theology. But there are other issues in the hermeneutical life and approach, like the Covenant, which simply is always central. And this places the Salvation History always centre stage!

      Fee is always a Pentecostal, this is his presuppositional.

      • Also since the American Church at least, has been somewhat “Dispensational” in the past, and overtly so, it seems there is a pendulum swing in the oppposite direction. We must give the Dispensational School some progress with their PD movement. Fee seems to be caught some in this reaction. One has to think about the “Biblicism”, in the positive sense of the past Dispensational Camp. ‘The Brethren’ were saying from Scripture over 50 years before, that Israel would return and become a Nation! A big guess? Hardly, they were looking a what they believed were prophetic Scriptures, thereto.

      • Mark Sequeira says:

        Hardly a “guess” if you study the history, which was shaped by those who “believed” Israel had to become a nation again and then forced that conclusion even on European Jews who didn’t want to live there and in opposition to previous promises made.

  4. T.C. R says:

    This interview shows some of what makes him great: a believing, critical scholar who sees critical scholarship as crucial to the theological task of the Church.

    Scott W,

    Yeah, also “this integrity he shares with a Wright.”

    Yeah, all about genre.

    Fr. Robert,

    At least from what I’ve read and known of Fee, he puts his scholarship before his denominational persuasion. Most Pentecostals that I know are Dispensational.

    Thanks for the link.

  5. carl sweatman says:

    He’s retired now, he can say whatever he wants. 🙂

    I must say that I was surprised by Fee’s overall demeanour and tone throughout; he was much more calm and collected than I imagined him being. For some unknown reason, I always viewed him as being rather animated.

  6. T.C. R says:

    Carl,

    Yeah, he’s retired now. It’s Fee! 😀

    Perhaps in his earlier years he was much more animated.

  7. Pingback: Gordon Fee at 48! | New Leaven

  8. Nick Norelli says:

    I’m sure DTS has more than a couple guys in their NT department who would disagree with Fee’s assessment!

  9. T.C. R says:

    Nick,

    I know.

    (I’ve been doing a search for his Revelation commentary but haven’t seen it anywhere.) Any ideas?

  10. Nick Norelli says:

    T. C.: It hasn’t been published yet. It’s still on Wipf & Stock’s forthcoming titles list.

    • Chris says:

      It’s coming very soon. We are in the latter stages of typesetting. We are actually waiting on Fee to respond to a few queries we had and then we can finalize the pages. After that it will be just a matter of days. We’d like to get it out by the end of the month, but certainly before SBL.

      D. Christopher Spinks, PhD
      Editor, Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications
      Wipf and Stock Publishers
      199 W. 8th Avenue, Suite 3
      Eugene, OR 97401
      541-344-1528
      chris@wipfandstock.com
      http://www.wipfandstock.com

  11. That video was great too. Are there others?
    Jeff

  12. Iris says:

    Superb! I teach Revelation in our Institute of Biblical Studies and I do so without a time-line. This video was a great encouragement to me. When we force the text to say “time-line data,” we loose so much of what is really there. The book is such an encouragement.

  13. T.C. R says:

    Nick,

    Thanks, man. I can’t wait.

    Jeff,

    I don’t know.

    Iris,

    Encouragement for sure, to a people facing and about to face more persecutions.

  14. asphaleia says:

    My goodness what an arrogant statement. And looking over the interview, I’ll respond with some arrogance of my own. I don’t think Fee has understood the first thing about it if he’s following what appears to be current conventional wisdom, that the book is an example of apocalyptic genre. There is a lot of misleading information in this area that has been swallowed whole by Christian scholarship, even conservative Christian scholarship.

    The genre of Revelation is prophecy. It records a visionary experience. Fee appears to treat it as if it were a conscious compostion written as if it were a visionary experience. The images are visionary not literary. To try to interpret them as if they were literary is on the wrong track from the start.

    A body of pseudo prophecy did develop, patterned after genuine prophecy. So we end up evaluating a genuine prophecy on the basis of the characteristics of false prophecy. This is a tad backward, in my estimation.

  15. T.C. R says:

    Marv,

    I don’t see the arrogance of which you speak (that’s another discussion.).

    John is hardly the first to so write (currently I’m reading through Isaiah, and I can’t help noticing similarities here and there).

    The book of Revelation is prophecy, featuring a visionary experience, for sure (1:3). But what are the elements of this prophecy genre? And more importantly, What are the rules of engagement, to understanding this genre?

    • Yes, I think “genre” has been over-cooked today in much of theology. But, it is important. The genre in the Book of Revelation certainly has its own spiritual position and making. I am always one of those who believes that the Scripture must measure the Scripture. And the historical must fall within the presuppositional of the Text itself. We must beware in Christian theology of a sort of overt Enlightenment perspective.

    • asphaleia says:

      Arrogance: “because frankly they know almost nothing about the book.”

  16. Scott W says:

    No doubt Revelation has elements (both framing and rich imagery) which is drawn from the OT prophetic tradition, we must not forget that the Prologue begins with the words Apokalypsis Iesou Christou and most of the central sections narrates “otherworldly journeys” mediated by divine being which are the staple of the revelatory literature scholars have given apocalyptic. If you’re going to be dogmatic this trumps the facile framing of Revelation as simply “prophetic.”

    • But, as the Text itself (Rev. 1:3), it is “prophero” (Gk.), to bear forward, produce and bring forth. “This”= the prophecy, thus a direct prophetic communication! “Those”= the things, heed or keep, “the things which are written in it; for the “time” (appointed time) is near.” – “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him”!

    • asphaleia says:

      Scott, this is, I am afraid, just backward. “Apokalupsis” is not the label of a genre. First this category of genre, apocalypse, is a modern construct. Where do we find any ancient interpreter showing us his reading along the lines of said construct? I don’t believe we see it anywhere. I certainly don’t think we see any ancient interpreters of Revelation doing so.

      Second, I believe I am correct in saying we have no uses of apokalupsis as any kind of label for similar writings before Revelation. Later writings use the word in imitation of Revelation. John is not saying “this is going to be a work in the genre ‘apocalypse.'” The whole idea that an apocalypse was a recognized and at the time distinct genre is, I think, an act of modern imagination.

      • I agree with asphaleia here. If we look at the Greek word Apokalupsis as it is used in the whole N.T., it is quite expressive to simply “uncovering”. St. Paul uses it for the “the mystery” of God, the purpose of God in this age (Rom. 16:25 / Eph. 3:3). See, W.E. Vines note on Revelation (Apokalupsis), for its many uses. “The symbolic forecast of the final judgments of God, Rev. 1:1 (hence the Greek title of the book, transliterated ‘Apocalypse’ and translated ‘Revelation’ “).

      • Scott W says:

        Yes, you are correct that in itself heuristic term apocalyptic is not determined by the use of the terms apokalypsis in Rev 1:1. It highlights the fact that its part of the revelatory literature which have formal features shared by parts of Daniel, 1 Enoch, etc. Most of the book shares these features, also being heavily indebted to the OT prophetic tradition and even epistolary conventions.

        Overall, the setting (Roman province of Asia) and the rhetorical features of this book place it clearly on the same grid as the so-called apocalypses, which functioned as “subversive” literature. The traditional understanding of Revelation as prophetic in narrow sense of foretelling rather than forth-telling dehistoricizes the book and thus deconstructs it.

        I remember receiving a form letter for contribution by a organization founded by a man who said he had a vision which was a “midrash” of Rev 17. I would have trashed it except that what he wrote was not the Hal Lindsay-type verbiage. He said that God had called him to be medical missionary when he was a boy. He became a physician, attributing this to God’s blessing, since he came from a meager background. But instead of becoming a medical missionary he practiced medicine in the US. He was a devout Christian, family man, an asset to his community, etc. This vision was God’s wake up call to him that he, as so many other Christians, had assimilated to the wiles of the wealth and prestige of the empire seen from the symbolic, transcendent perspective. In his scenario, we are Rome and it poses a possible danger to Christian existence and faithfulness to God’s will. This is actually how Revelation would have been heard in its setting, and the place from where we continually are to hear this as word of God to the Church rather than a literary “crystal ball” to tell us the future. Its call it to faithfulness in the now, whether in the time of Domitian or in 2010, knowing that God is still in control no matter what Satan and evil does to tempt, persecute or destroy the people and work of God.

      • asphaleia says:

        But there is a huge difference between Daniel and Revelation on the one hand and 1 Enoch on the other. I would suppose that you do not think Enoch actually wrote 1 Enoch. Did this writer who presents himself as Enoch actually see the described visions? Or only write them as if?

        Was Daniel written by Daniel? Did he see these visions? Did John write Revelation or was it merely attributed to him? Did this author actually receive the visions described?

        For me the answer to these last questions is yes. If they are yes for you, how on earth can Revelation be the same genre as 1 Enoch.

        It is something like interpreting a genuine 18th century travellogue by rules developed from reading Gulliver’s Travels.

      • Amen! Canon… And here is the Holy Spirit of God! (2 Peter 1:19-21)

  17. Kevin S. says:

    Leaving dispensationalism means rejecting one`s former views and I think Fee may be trying to distance himself from his former view. Hence, he said what he said. I don`t blame him for his emotive language.

  18. T.C. R says:

    I am always one of those who believes that the Scripture must measure the Scripture. And the historical must fall within the presuppositional of the Text itself.

    Fr. Robert,

    From my view of things, your isolated-quoted is exactly why I’m reworking everything. Revelation had to mean something to the first readers, and from this we must talk genre and the principles that govern such, in order to play, if you will, by the rules.

    No doubt Revelation has elements (both framing and rich imagery) which is drawn from the OT prophetic tradition, we must not forget that the Prologue begins with the words Apokalypsis Iesou Christou and most of the central sections narrates “otherworldly journeys” mediated by divine being which are the staple of the revelatory literature scholars have given apocalyptic. If you’re going to be dogmatic this trumps the facile framing of Revelation as simply “prophetic.”

    Scott W,

    Fair enough. But we must also call it what John calls it: “the words of prophecy” (1:3) and “the words of the book of [this] prophecy” (22:19). With these things in mind, we must adhere to the rules, but start from John’s world, which of course in seen in the use of the OT Scriptures and so on.

    Kevin,

    I can’t remember him saying he used to be a Dispensationalist.

    • T.C.
      My quote, was my own, but hardly “isolated”. It was textual and somewhat exegetical. How can you find fault with the Text itself? And this is one of the reasons I too have left the supersessional theology, it does not engage the total text and the real lasting Salvation History, at least fully!

  19. Kevin S. says:

    whoops… I just made an assumption that since he was AoG, that he must have been a dispensationalist in his former days. I still learn something new everyday.

  20. T.C. R says:

    Fr. Robert,

    I believe you misunderstood what I meant by “isolated-quoted.” My wording cause the misunderstanding. I was referring to the fact that I isolated it from your comment to respond to. It had nothing to do with your handling of the biblical text. Sorry for the misunderstanding. 😉

    Kevin,

    Yeah, you’ve got to be careful with Fee and trying to peg him with other AoG folks, and other Pentecostals for that matter.

    • T.C.

      Yes, for the most part the Book of Revelation was certainly a message to the seven churches of Asia, first, but had greater fulfillment in the future Church/ churches (1: 19). It is the last prophetic voice of Christ to the churches, (Rev. 19: 10 / 22:19).

  21. Kevin S. says:

    TC, absolute right! I also think of myself as a sort of pentecostal/charismatic but of the Lutheran type, or maybe, Luther-costal?

  22. Sergiu Daniel Berghian says:

    Is there anything worse than a dispensationist cessationist?

  23. Nick Norelli says:

    Sergiu: Yes! An amillennial cessationist. 😉

  24. BTW, just a note for those interested? But the American Merrill Tenny’s classic little book: Interpreting Revelation, is still in print. I have found almost no better all these years!

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