Anna Marie Aagaard’s Danish commentary on Revelation

Aagaard, Anna Marie. Johannes’ Åbenbaring Fortolket [The Book of Revelation Interpreted]. Det Danske Bibelselskabs Kommentarserie [The Danish Bible Society Commentary Series]. København: Det Danske Bibelselskab, 1999. 157 pp. Out of print.

The Danish Bible Society Commentary Series

The Danish Bible Society Commentary Series is intended for Bible readers as a help for Bible readers in the endeavour to understand the Biblical writings in their contemporary-historical context and their significance for today.

The author, Anna Marie Aagaard

The author of this volume, Anna Marie Aagaard (see a Danish biography here and here), was a Danish reader (now emerita) in systematic theology. In 2005, she was promoted as honorary doctor at the University of Helsinki, in addition to her earned doctorate from 1973 (see here and here).

The introduction

The commentary depends on three contemporary approaches: a liberation-theological, a contemporary-historical, and a literary-critical, postmodern approach (pp. 16-21). The running commentary indicates that the first approach, the liberation-theological view, takes precedence over a more traditional Lutheran interpretation, although often in subtle ways: by more or less tacit redefinitions of traditional concepts as well as omissions (see more below).

Aagaard’s lengthy introduction deals with the following issues: the interpretive approach (pp. 7-42) and the dating of the book (pp. 43-53). She also provides an outline and a short summary of the books (pp. 53-60).

Aagaard mentions some uses and misuses as well as the rejection or hesitation of the ancient church. She comments briefly on Luther’s 1522 preface, but summarises in some detail his much longer 1530 preface. Aagaard thinks that there are twentieth-century parallels to Luther’s approach in the modern approaches that interprets Revelation as a cryptic message about the twentieth century. This approach is exemplified with John F. Walvoord (Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis. Grand Rapids, 1974).

According to Aagaard, Revelation is an apocalyptic, prophetic circular letter (pp. 26-42), written towards the end of Domitian’s reign (pp. 43f). Nowadays one almost expects a separate discussion of the use of the OT. Aagaard includes it under the subheading of “A Prophecy” (pp. 34-40). Aagaard asserts that John reuses the visions of the OT prophetic books and the final result thus appears as visions (p. 37).

John “thinks with his pen.” “As he becomes absorbed in the message of the OT prophets their visions and imagery are overlaid with the tradition of Christ and John’s creative fantasy of faith” (ibid.). Aagaard illustrates John’s reuse of the OT with the use of Zechariah (pp. 37-39).

Aagaard describes the Roman empire, the Jews, the Christians at that time and discusses the importance of Domitian, the Christians, and the imperial cult (pp. 44-53).

Although I do not agree with Aagaard’s structural analysis, she makes a number of good observations. The number seven is an important narrative device. All what John tells us in the septets, he connects to his two visions of the heavenly throne room in Revelation 1 and Revelation 4-5 by a number of narrative repetitions (p. 55). Other narrative strategies include the scroll/the opened scroll and the spiral structure. The interludes tie the visionary proclamation of hope to the present day and everyday life of his Christian audience (pp. 56-57). However, Aagaard also finds three concentric circles around 12,1-15,4 which, then, is the centre of Revelation and narrates about the people of God in conflict with the power that opposes God (p. 59f). Those who follow the Lamb will win according to 14,1-5 and 15,2-4 (p. 57f).

The running commentary

Because of the format of the series, Aagaard does not cite scholarly sources. Her commentary, however, is evidence that she is not unfamiliar with recent research on Revelation and related areas.

Aagaard, however, has her own perspective. She pays (more) attention to the present importance of Revelation from a liberation-theological perspective that emphasises the present reality of martyrdom. “John’s millennial reign is a figurative representation of their vindication and [it is] a heavenly universe that is the counter-image of ungodly Rome” (p. 143). Repeatedly, she emphasises the power of God and Christ (e.g., p. 63, 65 and 72).

On the other hand, the repeated calls for repentance (directly in Rev 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19 and indirectly in 2:21f) and Christ’s coming for either judgement or wedding feast as its background are only discussed quite briefly (e.g., pp. 77 and 136). Aagaard asserts that John’s imagery with its many metaphors “proclaims the great hope for God’s just justice and his and his witnesses’ victory” (p. 137). She does not deny God’s judgement, Hell and eternal damnation and punishment, but neither does she unpack or even discuss this part of John’s message (e.g., in Rev 14:9-11).

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