{clxxxiii}


 
XV. 
THE METHODS OF INTERPETATION ADOPTED IN THIS COMMENTARY

In my Studies in the Apocalypse I have given a short history of the interpretation of the Apocalypse, dealing with each method as it arose, its contribution to the elucidation of our author, its development, or, it may be, its final condemnation and rejection at the bar of criticism. Here there is no historical treatment of the subject, but merely an enumeration of the methods, which have stood the test of experience and been found necessary for the interpretation of the Apocalypse. 

§ 1. The Contemporary-Historical Methods. -- This method rightly presupposes that the visions of our author relate to contemporary events and to future events so far as they arise out of them. The real historical horizons of the book were early lost. Yet, even so, traces of the Contemporary-Historical Method still persist in Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Victorinus of Pettau. But with the rise of the Spiritualizing Method in Alexandria this true method was driven from the field and lost to use till it was revived by the Roman and non-Roman Christian scholars of the 17th century. These scholars established as an assured result that the Apocalypse was originally directed against Rome. The Apocalypse is not to be treated as an allegory, but to be interpreted in reference to definite concrete kingdoms, powers, events, and expectations. But, though the visions of our author related to contemporary events, they are not limited to these. For, as I have said in vol. ii. 86, "no great prophecy receives its full and final fulfilment in any single event or series of events. In fact, it may not be fulfilled at all in regard to the object against which it was primarily delivered by the prophet or seer. But if it is the expression of a great moral and spiritual truth, it will of a surety be fulfilled at sundry times and in divers manners and in varying degrees of completeness" in the history of the world.

§ 2. The Eschatological Method. -- But the Apocalypse deals {clxxxiv} not only with contemporary events but also with future events. So far as these future events arise naturally out of contemporary events their elucidation can to a certain extent be brought under § 1. But the last things depicted by our author contain a prophetic element. These in a certain sense arise out of the past and yet are inexplicable from it. The future events depicted in the Apocalypse are not to be treated symbolically or allegorically (save in exceptional cases), but as definite concrete events.

§ 3. The Chiliastic Interpretation. -- Strictly speaking, Chiliasm forms a subdivision of Eschatology. But in point of fact these are interpretors who, while applying the Eschatological Method rightly on the whole, treat everything relating to Chiliasm in our author purely symbolically. But the prophecy of the Millennium in chap. xx. must be taken literally, as it was by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Victorinus of Pettau. These writers were acquainted with the original interpretation of this chapter. But this interpretation was soon displaced by the spiritualizing methods of Alexandria. Tyconius, adopting these methods, rejected the literal interpretation of chap. xx., treated the Millennium as the period between the first and second advents of Christ. Jerome and Augustine followed in the footsteps of Tyconius, and a realistic eschatology was crushed out of existence in the Church for full 800 years. The Eschatological Method, including Chiliasm, was revived by Joachim of Floris (circ. 1200 A.D.), but the latter element was again abandoned for some centuries and declared heretical by the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions. In England, where these Confessions were without authority, Chiliasm was revived by Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, and Whiston.

§ 4a. The Philological Method in its earlier form. -- This method was resorted to in the 16th cen. as a counsel of despair. The Church and World-Historical Methods which originated in the 14th cent. as well as the Recapitulation Method of Victorinus had, combined with other more reasonable methods, been applied to the Apocalypse by numberless scholars, with the result that the best interpreters of the 16th cent. confessed that the Apocalypse remained more than ever the Seven-sealed Book.

But the value of the Philological Method was only in part recognized. The chief philological problems were either not recognized at all or only in part, and so this method failed to make the indispensable contribution that could be made by it and by it alone, and that oculd put an end to the wild vagaries of the Literary Critical School which had its founders in Grotius. To this method I will return after § 9 under te heading § 4b.

§ 5. The Literary-Critical Method. -- If the methods just {clxxxv} mentioned were the only valid methods, as if at the same time the absolute unity of the Apocalypse were assumed as given or proved, then large sections of it would have to be surrendered as unsolved and unsolvable. But there is no such mpasse. In the Apocalypse there is no such rigid unity of authorship and consistency of detail as has been constantly assumed. A new method of interpretation was initiated by Grotius -- the Literary-Critical. Grotius, observing that there was conflicting elements alike in tradition and within the text itself, conjectured that the Apocalypse was composed of several visions written down at different times and in different places, some before and some after the destruction of Jerusalem. This method finally gave birth to three different hypotheses, each of th the three possessing some element of truth, but especially the third. These hypotheses were:

 
(a) The Redactional-Hypothesis
(b) The Sources-Hypothesis
(c) The Fragmentary-Hypothesis
    (a) The Redactional-Hypothesis. -- Many interpreters have availed themselves of this hypothesis, but a thorough study of John's style and diction makes it impossible to recognize the Apocalypse as the result of the work of a series of successive editors, such as we recognize in the Ascension of Isaiah. That the Apocalypse suffered one such redaction appears to the present writer to be a hypothesis necessarily postulated by the facts; see vol. i. pp. l-lv, vol. ii. pp. 144-154.

    (b) The Sources-Hypothesis. -- This theory assumes a series of independent sources connected more or less loosely together as 1 Enoch. That this theory can be established to a limited extent, I have sought to show in 71-3 74-8 111-13 12. 13. 17. 18 (see pp. lxii-lxv). Some of these sources are purely Jewish, or Jewish-Christian in origin, and one at least of them -- i.e. chap. 12 -- is derived ultimately from a heathen expectation of a World Redeemer (see vol. i. 310-314). But this theory, which breaks up the entire book into various sources, cannot explain the relative unity of the work as a whole -- nay more, a unity which might be described as absolute in respect to its purpose steadily maintained from the beginning to the close, its growing thought and dramatic development, its progressive crises, and its diction and style, which are unique in all Greek literature.

    (c) The Fragmentary-Hypothesis. -- From the above two forms of the Literary-Critical Method we turn to its third and most satisfactory form -- the Fragmentary-Hypothesis -- a most unhappy designation. This hypothesis presupposes an undoubted unity of authorship, though the author has from time to time drawn {clxxxvi} on foreign sources (as we have pointed out in the preceding section), and has not always assimilated these fragmentary elements in all their details to their new contexts.

§ 6. Traditional-Historical Method. -- This method was applied first by Gunkel to the Apocalypse, and subsequently by many other scholars in an extravagant degree. Each new apocalypse is to some extent a reproduction and reinterpretation of traditional material -- whether in the form of figures, symbols, or doctrines. Hence it is necessary to distinguish between the original meaning of a borrowed symbol or doctrine and the new turn given to it by our author. This is done in the introduction to each chapter in this Commentary. In nearly every case our author has transformed or glorified the borrowed material. Thus the sealing in 71-8, which in its Jewish source carried with it the thought of security from physical evil, is a pledge of God's protection from spiritual evil. The doctrine of the Antichrist as it appears in our author is unique: see vol. ii. 76-87, where the various stages of the development of this idea are given. Occasionally details in the borrowed material are inapplicable to our author's purpose (see notes on 1213-16 184), or possibly unintelligible to him. In these cases he omits all reference to such details in his interpretation of the sources of which he has availed himself. But it is probable that these defects and inconsistencies would have been removed by our author if he had had the opportunity of revising his book.

§ 7. Religious-Historical Method. -- There are certain statements and doctrines in the Apocalypse which could not have been written first hand by a Christian. These are in some cases of Jewish origin, or Greek sources; see vol. i. 121-123 on the Cherubim, vol. i. 310-314 on the doctrine of a World-Redeemer. The order of the twelve precious stones, see vol. ii. 165-169, points to our author's knowledge of the heathen conception of the City of the Gods and of contemporary astronomy, and his deliberate deviation from them.

§ 8. Philosophical Method. -- Apocalyptic is a philosophy of history and religon. The Seer seeks to get behind the surface and penetrate to the essence of events, the spiritual motives and purposes that underlay and gave them their real significance. Hence apocalyptic takes within its purview not only the present and the last things, but all things past, present, and to come. Apocalyptic and not Greek philosophy was the first to grasp the great idea that all history, alike human, cosmological, and spiritual, is a unity -- a unity following naturally as a corollary of the unity of God. And yet serious N.T. scholars of the present day have stated that apocalyptic has only to deal with the last things!

{clxxxvii}§ 9. Psychological Method. -- Are the visions in the Apocalypse the genuine results of spiritual experience? That our author speaks from actual spiritual experience no serious student of today has any doubt. The only question that calls for solution is the extent to which such experience underlies the visions of the Apocalypse. On p. cii-cix the present writer has made an attempt to discuss this question.

§ 4b. The Philological Method in its later form. -- This method has already been dealt with in the order of its historical appearance under § 4a above. But its value in determining some of the chief questions of the Apocalypse has never yet been appreciated. It has therefore been all but wholly neglected, and no writer has made a really serious study of the style and diction of our author save Bousset, and that only in a minor degree. Hence on every hand individual verses and combinations of verses have been unjustifiably rejected as non-Johannine, and others just as unjustifiably received as Johannine. After working for years on the Apocalypse under the guidance of all the above methods, I came at last to recognize that no certain conclusion could be reached on many of the vexed problems of the book till I had made a thorough study of John's grammar. On pp. cxvii-clix I have given the results of a study extending over many years. In not a few respects it is revolutionary. To give a few examples. As regards John's Greek it shows that constructions (such as tw/| avgge,lw| tw|/ evn VEfe,sw|, and so in the other six passages), which every modern German scholar has rejected, were exactly the constructions which a complete study of John's grammar required. Next, this study revolutionizes the translation of the Apocalypse. Frequently it is not the Greek but the Hebrew in the mind of the writer that has to be translated. Thirdly, as regards large sections which have been rejected by most modern scholars as non-Johannine, this grammar shows that such sections are essentially Johannine -- and vice versa.
 
 

Back To CONTENTS
Scanned and edited by Brad Johnson