Rethinking “the Analogy of Scripture” and the Apocalypse with Gordon Fee

It’s great when a first rank scholar tackles a New Testament document, say Romans or in this case, Revelation, the Apocalypse.

Okay, let me get right to it.  In his new commentary on the book of Revelation, John’s Apocalypse, Gordon Fee says a word or two about interpretation, which includes the oft used  “the analogy of Scripture” principle when tackling the John’s Apocalypse, the book of Revelation:

“Furthermore, one must be careful in this case about using the concept of “the analogy of Scripure” (=Scripture should be interpreted in light of other Scripture).  This is indeed a valid principle; but in the case of John’s Apocalypse the other Scripture is almost always other eschatological passages, which themselves are often interpreted poorly.  One must always be aware that John does what other apocalyptists did: he reinterpreted earlier images so that they have new meaning, precisely because in John’s case he is also speaking as a Christian prophet.”  (Revelation, p. xxi)

Before coming to the above passage (which is the above quote) Fee notes how many of his students had “to shed some lamentable readings they have brought to the text” [Revelation].  Then he adds this about the interpreters of the more popular stuff on Revelation: “Such interpreters usually begin with a previously worked out eschatological scheme that they bring to the text, a scheme into which they then spend an extraordinary amount of energy trying to make everything in the text fit, and which they then attempt to defend, but with very little sucess” (p. xx).

Of course by “popular stuff” Fee has in mind works of Dispensationalists, as is suggested by his mention Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth in the Preface (p. 1x).

So it’s with great excitement I’m sitting at the feet of Gordon Fee—willing to rethink—as I plow through his commentary on John’s Apocalypse, the book of Revelation.

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32 Responses to Rethinking “the Analogy of Scripture” and the Apocalypse with Gordon Fee

  1. Gary Zimmerli says:

    That’s a good thing to do, TC! I have also found how important it can be to rid your mind of the preconceived theological schemes and take the scripture for what it says, and re-think it all.

  2. T.C. R says:

    Gary,

    Yes, a good thing but quite difficult to do – but try we must!

  3. Mike Gantt says:

    Yes, I think Fee makes an excellent point. Further to it, I am amazed at the number of interpretations of this book which focus on the harder to understand portions while ignoring the easier to understand portions.

    For example, twice in the first chapter and five times in the last, John says – in the clearest and unambiguous of terms – that the time of fulfillment is near. How then do commentators today say that its time of fulfillment is still future? If that were so, we’d have a false prophecy on our hands.

    But we don’t have a false prophecy; we have a true prophecy. The truth is that the Lord is true to His word and came just when He said He would:
    http://bit.ly/f2iwox

  4. T.C. R says:

    Mike,

    Question: Are a preterist?

    • Mike Gantt says:

      TC, I have become aware that there are people called preterists but I know very little about them. I have not studied their writings or moved in their circles.

      What I know about the Second Coming I learned by reading the Bible.

      • Lance Ponder says:

        Mike, the short definition of a preterist is one who believes most if not all of Revelation was fulfilled in the generation following Christ when the second temple was destroyed.

  5. Scott W says:

    TC-
    This hits home today! As I was driving from one work site to another this afternoon I happened to turn to a Christian radio station where the speaker was expounding on the idea that the apocalypse was upon us. Given a woodenly literalistic interpretation of time (“a day is like a thousand years to the Lord…” and other dating, he, on the authority of the Bible, told his listeners that Judgment Day and then the destruction of the earth is to take place on May 21, 2011. He then went to say that 200 million people will be saved from destruction by the Rapture. I agreed with his call to repentance, on the model of the Book of Jonah–a word we all need to hear, no matter what we think of a particular eschatological scheme.

    My concern is that people are listening to this and possibly ordering their lives around stuff like this.

    • Mike Gantt says:

      Scott W, I really like your point that we should repent. That should not be lost in the midst of all these false warnings, but it’s so easy for that aspect to get lost in the confusion.

  6. T.C. R says:

    |What I know about the Second Coming I learned by reading the Bible.|

    Mike,

    It’s just that your first response has echoes of a preterist. That’s all! 😉

    Scott W,

    Yeah, sad to think that people are indeed going to order their lives according to this fellow. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that sort of thing has happened. 🙂

  7. Craig Benno says:

    I like Gordon Fee; this book is on my must read list. 🙂

    I hate all the fear mungering and the escapism that a lot of Christians sprout about the book of Revelations. Because of the concentration on the future; there is little thought and action done for the now. Lets slash and burn the environment.. after all it is due for destruction. 😉

    I am a partial preterist, in that I don’t believe Jesus has already come… I think we need to have a deep rethink on what the Scriptures are saying about his re-coming. When we read through the books of Thessalonians it would appear that Paul is telling them they were in times of tribulation… the books of Peter do like wise… and so this theme of John isn’t a great deal different.

    • T.C. R says:

      Craig,

      I do like Fee. He’s a straight up, no nonsense exegete.

      Well, I do find the partial preterist view to be quite attractive, given the early church’s notion of Christ imminent return and so on. 😉

  8. Craig Benno says:

    T.C – What date does Fee place John writing Revelation?

  9. Lance Ponder says:

    This was an interesting post. It is indeed difficult to set aside preconceptions when approaching prophecy. I tried studying Revelation more than once. What I came to realize is that the most popular (probably) view, the pre-trib rapture view, makes no sense to me. There are several problems with conventional modern western thinking on how to interpret Revelation. For one, we tend to be so certain it is all chronological, nice and neat, and that’s simply not how prophecy works. There’s also this notion many have that there’s one fulfillment and when its done its done. Also patently bogus. And so many Christians think Revelation stands alone or, if anything, might be augmented by the Olivet Discourse and tidbits from Daniel – and that’s about it. Again, really blind. As for me, to try and grasp the Revelation of John I turned toward the OT prophets, starting with the minors. I’ve been studying the minors for almost two years now and I’m currently deep in Zechariah, one of the most apocalyptic of the minors. Ezekiel and of course Isaiah and Jeremiah have to be considered as well, but it doesn’t stop there. The Torah is probably the most prophetic of all scripture and the most ignored when it comes to interpreting Revelation. To seek understanding is easily a life’s work because the mosaic is so vast. Revelation is a focal lens, so to speak, but it is far from the whole picture.

    As for my own personal take, I confess at this point I’ve given up on more than I’ve adopted. The partial preterist is attractive, but largely in terms of certain specific details (e.g. Rev 12:1-5 pointing to Jesus’ birth) rather than the broad view. I believe Jesus returns, but only once more. Either he comes and stays or he comes, gathers, and leaves. Scripture in general seems pretty clear that he stays. So when the saints are gathered from earth, are they moved or removed? Moved, I think. But I’m still studying. How does a king arrive after winning a great victory? That’s a model to consider – and it explains a lot. Well the elect witness the wrath? The elect are not supposed to suffer the wrath, but they might be witnesses – just as Israel suffered tribulation in Egypt, yet was only a witness to the great wrath carried out against Egypt in the end. The Exodus is incredibly prophetic. So is Leviticus. But so many Christians look at those books and see old stories and boring outdated laws. I am grieved deeply at those opinions. **sigh**

  10. T.C. R says:

    Lance,

    I see understand your struggle. Well, I’ve moved back to the Amillennial camp. I’ll see how this stands up against Fee’s exposition of Revelation.

    I plan on blogging various portions of Fee’s Revelation as I work through it. We’ll see. 😉

  11. Lance Ponder says:

    TC, there’s an interesting view I ran across at a site called newwine.org. I’m not really onboard with it, at least not yet, but it is interesting and the basic premise of this guy’s theology is loosely related to the subject of this post.

  12. Mike Gantt says:

    T.C. and Lance,

    Thanks for the explanations on preterists (full, partial, hyper, whatever). I feel the same way on this subject as I did when I first encountered the Calvinist-Arminian debate. Everyone kept asking me where I fit and my honest view was that I didn’t think either system adequately represented the truth. This either infuriated or amused everyone (though especially the Calvinists) because the assumption was that one HAD to fit in one or the other. Christians create all these cubbyholes (some labeled good, some labeled not-so-good, and some labeled heretical) and then try to force everyone into them. I don’t buy it. I reject Calvinism and Arminianism both. Someone will insist therefore that I describe my own system…but I don’t have one. That’s the problem with Calvinism and Arminianism – they try to create an intellectual system to explain something that they don’t understand well enough.

    As for eschatology (i.e. the subject of this post) it seems to me that any profitable study of this subject has to begin with this undeniable fact: Jesus and the apostles throughout the New Testament prophesied that the end was near. Alas, most studies on prophecy ignore this fact…and thus are flawed at their very foundation.

    • Lance Ponder says:

      Thanks, Mike. As you can see from my comments here, I’m not tied down by specific views on eschatology and I’m not one to conform closely to Calvin or Arminius. My ideas on free will and election and predestination are not completely mainstream. I think you’ll be an interesting person to converse with so I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  13. T.C. R says:

    Lance,

    That New Wine blog is filled with a lot of eschatology discussions.

    |Jesus and the apostles throughout the New Testament prophesied that the end was near. Alas, most studies on prophecy ignore this fact…and thus are flawed at their very foundation.|

    Mike,

    Yeah, there’s something to be said for a person just wrestling with the text of Scripture rather than trying to fit into an already established way of thinking.

    Fee argues that chapters 1-19 were spoken into the present situation of the churches that John wrote to, with chapters 20-22 for final events.

  14. Brian says:

    I hope to be able to purchase and read Fee’s commentary some day. But I still have “God’s Empowering Presence” staring at me from the bookshelf, that I haven’t even started yet.

    On another note, my 5th-grade daughter is finishing up reading the New Testament. She’s reading Revelation this week. This morning, she asked me what tribe we were from. I asked what she meant (I have some Cherokee blood, and thought maybe she was talking about that). She told me she was reading that only 144,000 were going to be saved, and wanted to know if we belonged to one of those tribes. I told her not to worry, that it was referring to Jewish people who would come to accept Jesus as Messiah.

  15. Brian LePort says:

    I really, really want to read his commentary on Revelation!

  16. T.C. R says:

    Brian,

    Well, take your time and work through God’s Empowering Presence. But having Fee’s Revelation would be quite an addition. 😉

    Brian L,

    As I read it, I’m always reminded of Fee’s approach to 1 Cor. 14:34, 35 – you know, that radical Fee we’ve come to admire and expect. 😀

  17. This for some reason has been the commentary he did that I’m the least excited about, however I’m sure I would find myself in agreement with him. I guess it’s just that I have so little interest in Revelation. I wish he would write a book on New Testament ethics or New Testament theology. That’s what I’m holding out hope for.

  18. T.C. R says:

    Bryan,

    Well, maybe one day you’ll have more interest in Revelation one day. 😉

    Fee doing a New Testament Theology would be nice. How old is Fee now?

  19. Brian says:

    TCR,

    Last I heard (via the Gordon Fee Appreciation Society group on Facebook), Dr. Fee is exhibiting the early signs of Alzheimer’s and has moved back to the states from Vancouver to be with family that will help care for him.

  20. Man that really bums me out to hear that. No scholar has had as big of an impact on me as Gordon Fee, both his writing and his lectures. Sad to hear.

    TC, I’m guessing he’s about 75 or 76.

  21. T.C. R says:

    Bryan,

    Thanks. Yeah, a real bummer.

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