Does Revelation Belong in the Bible? (podcast)
Greg discusses the Book of Revelation.
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Dan Kent: Nicki has an ultimate question and she’s sharing it with us. “Does the Book of Revelation belong in the Bible? … Revelation is a book that nobody likes or it’s a book that everybody gets obsessed with. It’s hot or cold with the Book of Revelation. And you [Greg Boyd] have even shared that you stayed away from it for a decade or more at some point in your life. It’s a book that has been used to prey on people’s fears and to sell a whole string of mediocre novels. I have heard people say that the Book of Revelation was voted in by just a small margin. You know, when they canonized the Bible. Some have said that the Eastern Orthodox Bible doesn’t even have it. And some have even said that John, when he wrote the book, was probably on hallucinogenic plants when he wrote it, LOL.
Greg Boyd: Thank you for that question, Nicki. I get where you’re coming from. In the first church I was saved in, they devoured the Book of Revelation. We combed through it and were certain that Henry Kissinger was the antichrist, and this computer (?) was the beast, and barcodes were the mark of the beast. We just lived in this, you know, this expectation that at any moment Jesus was going to come down and rapture us. I burned out on that before too long. But I get it. The Book of Revelation is the one that if a person is prone towards flake-o spirituality, they’ll find the Book of Revelation and go crazy with it. It’s done a lot of damage.
Having said that, it’s true that in the Early Church, … I never heard that it was passed by a thin margin. In fact I don’t think that’s how the process went—five against four, or anything like that. It was a more informal process. But, yeah, the Book of Revelation was disputed, as were like six other books in the New Testament. Some thought they should be in the canon, some thought not. But it wasn’t that big of a deal. And before long it was pretty much resolved that we have the books that we have today. Although the Eastern Orthodox—Nicki’s right—they never officially canonized it. I’ve read that it plays like a secondary, deuteron-canonical role. They will consult it, but it doesn’t have the same authority as the other books. But having said that, I would dispute the premise on which you’re asking this. Yes, the book is used in some really weird, bizarre ways, and I did stay away from it for years. I got burned out on it, and it’s like it didn’t minister to me at all when I read it. It wasn’t until I discovered the non-violent interpretation of the Book of Revelation that I began to love this book. The first book I read on this, and it was just out of curiosity that even picked this book up. It’s by Vernon Eller. It’s called The Most Revealing Book of the Bible. I think it was written in the 60s. I knew Vern Eller and love his scholarship; he’s an Anabaptist theologian and he’s just got it going on. He’s also quite an unusual theologian. The way he write’s and stuff is kind of interesting. But this book on Revelation, it just opened my eyes to a totally different way of … I had never noticed the way that John, he uses a lot of violent imagery. But if Eller’s right, and you read the book closely, he takes that violent imagery and always turns in on its head. So it becomes anti-violence. So Jesus is a warrior, but he doesn’t shed other people’s blood; he shed his own blood. And that’s why he’s covered in blood before he goes into battle, not after the battle. It shows his way of doing battle is the cross. And the Book of Revelation is all about the victory of the cross and those who follow the way of the cross. So I see it as a beautiful book. But if you’re reading it, expecting it to be a newspaper report on what’s going to happen in the last seven years of world history, or something of this sort, well then it’s going to be screwy and crazy and you’ll come to all sorts of bizarre conclusions. So don’t give up on the book. I wouldn’t give up.
To decide against the whole—at least the Western tradition—that this book shouldn’t be in the canon, I just consider that—it would be arrogant of me to do that, if I feel like “I’m going to decide what’s in the Bible and what’s not,” it would take a really, really, really strong argument for me to get to that kind of extreme position. So by persisting in trying to find a way of reading the book that is consistent with what we know about God in Jesus Christ, I think it opens up a wealth of insights.
Dan Kent: I think most of what I know about the Book of Revelation I learned from you. So I have not really devoted myself to studying it yet. But I’m very intrigued by it because I’ve often thought for my own faith and wrestling with God, that in the Bible, the weird verses, like the strange things, when I wrestle with those I often get the best gold. You know? And there’s nothing weirder than the Book of Revelation. I used to be wary of it. Like I want to avoid it. But now I’m intrigued. Like it’s a pyramid with all sorts of treasure in there. And there’s probably traps. But some day I want to go in there and find the treasures. So that’s how I’ve changed about it.
Greg: If listeners want some resources on this, I have on the ReKnew website, in “Greg’s Library,” a whole section on the non-violent reading of the Book of Revelation. (https://reknew.org/gregs-library/the-new-testament/#eleven) You’ll find some really good authors there. Eller’s book is there, Richard Bauchkam, Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly. There’s just some really good books out there and I encourage people who are interested in the Book of Revelation to check it out. One other thing I can say in response to Nicki’s point that nobody likes the Book of Revelation, except those who are obsessed with it—there’s a lot of truth to that, but it’s also the case that one of the reasons why this book doesn’t quickly minister to us the way it has to some others, is that we’re not in a situation, we in the West anyways, are not in a situation that similar to the people who are in the Book of Revelation. In fact, the Book of Revelation is about people who are facing martyrdom, and suffering unjustly. It’s like, what does faithfulness look like when you’re standing up against the empire and you’re being crushed by the empire. That is ministering partly to people who are in those kinds of situations. They’re asking the question, “God, how long are we going to suffer? How long are you going to let injustice dominate in this world?” Those folks have found comfort in the Book of Revelation. It’s good to try to read it from that perspective. Even if it doesn’t minister to you, it means a lot to the other folks.