Swete, Apocalypse

Swete, Henry Barclay: The Apocalypse of St. John. London: Macmillan, 1906. Reprint. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock publishers, 1999.
The second edition was published in 1907 or perhaps already in 1906. The third was published in 1908 and reprinted several times at least until 1917. The commentary was also reprinted by Eerdmans in Grand Rapids, 1954, and by Kregel in Grand Rapids in 1977 and 1978 under the title Commentary on Revelation.

This is one of the major commentaries ever written – and a good one that should be regularly consulted despite its age.

The commentary

The commentary proper, which comprises more than 300 pages, consists of the text, text-critical notes and “notes” to the text.

The introductory chapters – about 200 pages – deals with:

  1. Prophecy in the Apostolic Church
  2. Apocalypses, Jewish and Christian
  3. Contents and plan of the Apocalypse of John
  4. Unity of the Apocalypse
  5. Destination
  6. Christianity in the Province of Asia
  7. Antichrist in the Province of Asia
  8. Purpose of the Apocalypse
  9. Date
  10. Circulation and reception
  11. Vocabulary, Grammar, and Style
  12. Symbolism
  13. Use of the Old Testament and other literature (parallels are listed)
  14. Doctrine
  15. Authorship
  16. Text
  17. Commentaries
  18. History and methods of Interpretation

The back matters include an Index of Greek words used in the Apocalypse and an Index to the introduction and notes. Illustrations include Coins of the Apocalyptic cities.

The list of commentaries includes the important commentaries from the entire history of interpretation (pp. cxcii-ccii).

In his summary of the doctrine of Revelation, Swete discusses monotheism, Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, soteriology – apparently, Swete finds a synergistic notion of salvation, repentance and faith (p. clxiii-clxiv) – angelology, and eschatology “in the widest sense.” The purpose of Revelation is “to inspire Christian hope. But incidentally, it instructs, and the teaching, so far as it goes, is fresh, strenuous, and suggestive” (p. clxviii).

Swete was inclined to the traditional view that the author was the apostle, but desired “to keep an open mind upon the question” (p. clxxxi).

As to his own approach, Swete states that he is convinced that John was “what he claimed to be, an inspired prophet” (p. ccxii). Due to the special character of Revelation, one must compare Revelation to the apocalyptic portions of the OT, especially to Daniel, and to the non-canonical Jewish apocalypses (p. ccxiii). Revelation is not “directly prophetical,” but one must recognise that “[a]nother important landmark for the guidance of the interpreter is to be found in the purpose of the book and the historical surroundings of its origin” (ibid.). “The prophecy arose out of local and contemporary circumstances; it is, in the first instance at least, the answer of the Spirit to the fears and perils of the Asian Christians toward the end of the first century” (p. ccxiv). Accordingly, Swete explicitly rejects the world- and church-historical approach (ibid.). An interpretation based on these principles “will have points of contact with each of the chief systems of Apocalyptic exegesis” (p. ccxiv).

Swete concludes his introduction with a word of caution: “No attempt to solve the problems of this most enigmatic of canonical books can be more than provisional …” (p. ccxv).

Swete’s purpose was “simply to contribute whatever a personal study, conducted in the light shed upon the Apocalypse by many explorers, may be able to offer towards a true appreciation of this great Christian prophecy” (p. xxcv).

The author

Henry Barclay Swete (1835-1917), was educated in London and at Cambridge. He succeeded Brooke Foss Westcott as Regius Professor at Cambridge where he served 1890-1915. Swete was an Anglican clergyman and a textual critic, famous for his The Old Testament in Greek.

See much more at The Life and Works of Henry Barclay Swete (1835-1917) website, which include on-line editions of biographies as well as bibliographies and many on-line texts.

The Apocalypse of St. John is also available electronically as part of Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament and as a separate volume.

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