What Does Revelation Reveal?

Warren Carter (2011), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Carter identifies reading strategies for John’s Apocalypse, articulates eight sections (revelations) and in the final chapter explores implications for contemporary readers.  Each chapter concludes with study questions.  He lists five assumptions shaping much current thinking of Revelation:  prediction of the end of the world, referring to literal events that will soon take place, focus on our time as key to understanding the future, drawing on other New Testament writers (eg for concepts such as the rapture, G-d’s removal of believers from the earth, and the anti-christ), passive response from the readers (we can’t do anything about things).

Carter has a different list of assumptions:  the historical (the church of John’s time under pressure to accommodate Roman culture), the hermeneutical (how interpret the text, an example of ‘apocalyptic literature’'); the text as prophecy, not prediction, but proclamation of G-d’s word and will; the text as letter, a pointed interaction with the readers.

Carter also emphasizes that the major setting of the book is not in a time of persecution (pp 136,137):  the issue is ‘how Jesus believers are to negotiate their intersections with their society’ (p 137).  He touches well on two problems areas of the book’s content: violence and women.  Women are sexualized in John’s writings, and are presented negatively, although they also figure on the other side of John’s dualism (p 130).  Violence is also a hermeneutical problem; the book constantly envisions violence (p 124), but a counter occurs when John is invited to see the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who turns out to a Lamb (Rev 5:6).  Revelation raises important issues:  the role of empire in G-d’s purposes, violence, role of women and men.  How can we shape our lives to enact G-d’s life-giving inclusive purposes?

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.