Pattemore, People of God in the Apocalypse

Pattemore, Stephen W. The People of God in the Apocalypse: Discourse, Structure, and Exegesis. Society for New Testament Studies Monographs Series, 128. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Also available in an Ebrary-edition. xv + 256.

This volume is based on parts of the author’s doctoral dissertation, The People of God in the Apocalypse: A Relevance-Theoretic Study (Unpublished Ph. D. thesis, Dunedin: University of Otago, 2000). His thesis addressed both discourse-structural and exegetical issues. The structural studies
have been published as Souls under the Altar. The people of God in the Apocalypse contains the exegetical work (cf. p. 11, note 40).

Preliminary chapters (chs. 1-3)

Pattemore takes the lead from a quote from Adela Yarbro Collins: “Revelation … provides a story in and through which the people of God discover who they are and what they are to do” (Interpretation 40 [1986]: 242). Pattemore’s study “aims to elucidate this process of discovery on both fronts, identity and action” (p. 9). He wants to answer: “What are the cognitive and behavioural outcomes to which the narrative seeks to lead them?” (p. 10).

Pattemore uses narrative and rhetorical theory (Kirby; D. L. Barr) and, especially, Relevance Theory (cf. also Garrow). Pattemore employs Relevance Theory as “a discriminatory hermeneutic criterion by which to evaluate the significance of proposed background information for the understanding of the text” (p. 11).

Ch. 2 is therefore devoted to a presentation of Sperber and Wilson’s Relevance Theory (cf. Sperber, Dan, and Deirdre Wilson. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. 2nd ed. Oxford; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 2001) (pp. 13-50). David Barr summarises the theory in his review (see below).

Ch. 3 discusses the external and internal context of Revelation and summarises the analyses, published in Souls Under the Altar. In Revelation, the people of God are featured as addressees, as audience, and as actors (pp. 64-67). Chs. 4-6 examine the references to the people of God as the last category: actors. They yield a good number of helpful results. However, the focus on the people of God as actors also means that some questions are not posed and thus not answered. I will comment briefly on that below.

Ch. 4-6 presents the exegetical analyses

(see especially p. 11f for the following overview).

Ch. 4, pp. 68-116, begins with Revelation 6:9-11, “the first actual visionary depiction of the people of God,” and it “follows themes relating to martyrdom through the book”.

Ch. 5, pp. 117-196, traces “militaristic depictions of the people of God, from Revelation 7 forwards.” Key texts are Rev 7:1-8 (ch. 5.3, pp. 125-140), 7:9-17 (ch. 5.4, pp. 140-159) and 14:1-5 (pp. 179-193), but also Daniel 7 and a number of Revelation-texts that portray “War against the saints” (ch. 5.5, pp. 159-179). Rev 7:1-8 and 14:1-5 paint “a picture … of victory through suffering after the pattern of the Messiah.”

Ch. 6, pp. 197-212, “briefly shows how the various threads are woven together in the picture of the New Jerusalem.” Here Pattemore focuses on three themes, “or, rather, clusters of themes, namely the vindication of the martyrs, the victory of the saints, and the marriage of the Lamb” (p. 197). Pattemore describes the intra-textual connections that many others have shown as well (e.g., Mark Wilson).


Ch. 7, pp. 213-219, summarises the results and assesses the use of Relevance Theory. The use of Relevance Theory as a tool for a sharper application of existing methodologies led Pattemore to identify “three types of roles”: 1) martyrdom, 2) the messianic army that “intersected with the previous one at many points and turned out to have many similar implications for the audience” and the New Jerusalem-visions (p. 213f; quote at p. 214).

Pattemore concludes that Relevance Theory has proved useful “at every stage of this investigation” (p. 214), although it is a limitation that we have only incomplete knowledge of the cognitive environment and “don’t know what we don’t know” (p. 215). “The use of RT has not eliminated all subjectivity from the process of exegesis” (ibid.).

As to the identity of the people of God, they are God’s people (ch. 7.3; p. 216f, which means, among other things, that they are secure and on their way from captivity to the Promised Land, the New Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God. They are also “the close companions of the Lamb.” “Their victory, like his and because of his, consists in their lives being offered in sacrifice, the outcome of which is salvation for the world.” The OT marital imagery shows that “The goal of their existence is to be united with their Lord.” (p. 216).

There are sharply drawn boundaries between the people of God and the earth-dwellers. Persecution may be present and certainly will occur in the future (p. 216f).

Allusions to the seven messages and rare instances of direct address to the audience prompt the audience to identify with the actors of John’s portrayal. It is also done indirectly. Finally, John’s opponents are categorised as earth-dwellers and outsiders (p. 217).

As regards the task of the people of God (ch. 7.4; pp. 217f), they are to offer their life as a sacrifice to God, align their behaviour with what is desirable, and ensure “that they are ‘in’ rather than ‘out.’ They are to “resist the seduction of every form of idolatry associated with the political and economical power-structures of their society” and endure the consequences. “Positively they are to remain faithful to their Lord in anticipation of ultimately being united with him,” which “requires obedience to his commands in terms of ethical conduct in the
world and of true worship. It also requires them to bear witness to him.” (p. 218). As in Mark 8:34f.

The back matters include an appendix, “Abbreviated discourse outline,” a 20 page bibliography, and a combined index (of subjects, Biblical and modern authors), but no index of Scripture passages.

Concluding remarks

The ecclesiology of Revelation is a field of research with relatively few works. Pattemore asserts – in my opinion correctly – that “Revelation’s ecclesiology is crucially dependent on its christology” (p. 216).

However, I think that a crucial part of its Christology is soteriology. It seems to me that Pattemore’s study suffers from inadequate consideration as to how the people of God is saved. One – important – reason for this neglect may be the focus on the people of God as actors.

Soteriology, however, is certainly a central issue, as Christ repeatedly urges the recipients of the seven messages to repent. In other words, some of the recipients were in grave danger of losing their salvation. They would then experience the parousia, the second coming of Christ, not as the victorious coming of their bridegroom for their victory, but as the victorious coming of their judge and warrior for their defeat, judgement, and, indeed, eternal punishment.

Relevance Theory may be relevant and helpful. The use of Relevance Theory, however, is no guarantee that one identifies the most important issues (cf. the third step of his relevance-sensitive methodology, p. 49). That Pattemore has, indeed, identified important issues is beyond doubt.

Pattemore’s volume is reviewed by David L. Barr in Review of Biblical Literature (2005) (direct link here).

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