Beale, Book of Revelation

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdsmans Publishing, 1999.

Beale’s commentary, a 1200+ page commentary, is probably the most interesting commentary published for several decades. It features a lengthy introduction covering among other things a discussion of the symbolism and imagery of Revelation (pp. 50-69), the structure of Revelation, and the relationship to the Old Testament.

On other hand, it has a surprisingly short discussion of, e.g., authorship. It is clear that Beale has a theological understanding of Revelation which means, among other things, that he constantly asks for the theological meaning of the text. Moreover, the theological meaning cannot be understood apart from the communicative meaning, and Beale therefore discusses the meaning of the various pericopes in the light of the overall meaning and function of Revelation, as he understands it.

Two other interesting features is Beale’s extensive analyses of the OT relations and his many references to Jewish literature.

Beale’s commentary is therefore a profound theological commentary that meets many of today’s standards within NT research.

However, one of the major questions is whether Beale’s actual analyses of both Revelation, the OT, and the relationship between them, are appropriate. Beale insists that the eschatological content of Revelation must be understood mainly not only in the light of the eschatological tension (i.e. the “already” – “not yet” pespective), but as taking place in the time between the already (Christ’s first coming) and the not yet (Christ’s second coming).

While this is a fairly common interpretation, it is not so common to see that events which are clearly understood as strictly future (i.e. belong only to the “not yet”-perspective) are forced into the interpretive scheme of already – not yet. It can hardly be denied that John did understand Christ’s coming (i.e. the Son of Man’s coming with the clouds) as still future.

Nevertheless, Beale argues emphatically that they are only or mainly to be understood in the present perspective. Beale cites many texts in support of his various interpretations, but they are not always appropriate, in my opinion. Often only the later rabbinic texts support his interpretation. Revelation is a profound Jewish text, deeply rooted in the OT, but it is also a profound Christian text, identifying Jesus with the OT Messiah, the Son of Man, and the Servant of the Lord, to mention but three OT aspects.

When Beale adduces later rabbinic-Jewish texts in support of his non-christological interpretation of Dan 7, then this is hardly appropriate. The non-messianological interpretation of Dan 7 was not “invented” before the third century and is not found in the Jewish apocalypses (4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, 1 Enoch) which is roughly contemporary or earlier than Revelation.

Beale’s use of the later rabbinic-Jewish texts is therefore problematic and should be used with great caution (see further my analysis in a posting on Revelation mailing list, which is, unfortunately, not online at the moment [unfinished]).

Moreover, when Beale discusses the interpretive significance of the OT allusions, he often seems to accept the modern, critical OT exegesis. The problem is that John (and the rest of the NT) obviously did not interpret the OT as many modern, critical exegetes do. The issue is not whether the modern OT interpretations are correct or helpful, but whether they can appropriately be used in the interpretation of John’s revelation.

To sum up: Beale’s opus magnum is a very important tool, yes, a must for theological work with Revelation, but should be used with caution, particularly when it comes to his overall theological interpretation of Revelation.

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