Revelation resources -- Commentaries

Most recent revision May 26th, 2002

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Description: This page treats commentaries on Revelation. To qualify for inclusion on this page, the commentaries must be either scholarly (i.e., written for use of scholars and serious students, or written by a scholar and with a specific view on Revelation which might be interesting to discuss. (31 Dec 1996 00:11)

Scholarly commentaries

Aune, David E.: Revelation 1-5. WBC 52A. Waco, TX: Word, 1997.
Aune, David E.: Revelation 6-16. WBC 52B. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998.
Aune, David E.: Revelation 17-22. WBC 52C. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998.

Vol. 1 of this commentary features a more than 200 pages introduction covering everything from textual criticism to the langugage of Revelation in more detail than any other newer commentary to Revelation and more than 350 pages of commentary covering Rev 1-5. Vol 2. is of approximately the same size. A number of excursuses deals with major subjects e.g. the Nicolaitans. The wealth of material, bibliographies, research summaries, as well as Aune's deep knowledge of contemporary literature makes this commentary a must for all serious Revelation students and researchers while it is of more limited value for homiletic and biblical-theological purposes. It is probably one of the most important commentaries since the commentaries by Bousset, Swete, Beckwith, and Charles, rivalled perhaps only by the commentary by Gregory Beale. For all its worth, however, some deficiencies may be noticed as well. First and foremost, too often the commentary lacks comments on the text itself and its meaning within Revelation, i.e. the synchronic dimension. The diachronic problems play an immense role, and Professor Aune argues a two-stage composition of Revelation. On a greater diachronic scale, John's use of the Old Testament is poorly treated in spite of the extensive research (cf. the web page on the use of the Old Testament). Although even an opus magnum as this commentary must choose what to deal with, I consider this a major deficiency for the interpretive work. In conclusion, this is a major achievement, for which all scholar will be grateful to both Dr. Aune and the publisher. See further the mailing list discussion at the archive pages. (August 4th, 1999).

See also the review by Cameron Afzal i Review of Biblical Literature

Beale, Gregory K.: The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek text. NIGTC. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 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 of Revelation, 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 meeting 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). Moreover, when Beale discussed 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 an important tool for theological work with Revelation, but should be used with caution, particularly when it comes to his overall theological interpretation of Revelation (29 Dec 1998)

Reviewed by Russell Morton in Review of Biblical Literature

Beckwith, Isbon T.: The Apocalypse of John. Studies in Introduction with a Critical and Exegetical Commentary. The Macmillan Company: New York 1922.

This commentary with nearly 800 pages is divided in two parts: the introduction and the commentary. It is well argued on both linguistic, historical and theological issues and is - in my view - one of the most valuable English commentaries. (20 Apr 1998)

Brütsch, C. Die Offenbarung Jesu Christi: Johannes-Apokalypse. 3 vols. Zürcher Bibelkommentare, NT. 2nd ed. Zürich: Zwingli Verlag, 1970.

The force of Brütsch's three-volume commentary is its wealth of information gathered from a large number of other works. Sometimes, however, it is poorly referenced and it must therefore be used with caution. (August 4th, 1999).

Caird, G.B.: The Revelation of St. John the Divine. (BNTC). London, 1966 (1st ed.) and 1984 (2nd ed.)

Caird was heavily influnced by the work of Farrer, but emphasized the influence of myth, apocalyptic and the history of the Roman Empire as well. This raises the question: "When he [John] uses images from the Old Testament does he give them their exact Old Testament value, or are they baptized with a Christian spirit and meaning?" (7). Caird's commentary should be within reach because of its qualities. Note especially his interpretation of 11:15 - 12 where he argues that the birth of Messiah is not to be interpreted as the virgin virth but as the enthronement of the king as in Psalm 2. AFAIK this commentary is still in print. (12 Jan 1997 17:43).

Charles, R. H. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John: With Introduction, Notes, and Indices, Also the Greek Text and English Translation. The International Critical Commentary. 1920. Reprint. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1985.

Charles' commentary is generally highly valued, in particular for its philological information as well as its analyses of the relationship between Revelation and other ancient literature. His literary-critical reconstructions, however, are quite arbitrary. Charles is often cited for his dictum that John wrote in Greek, but thought in Hebrew. (August 4th, 1999)

Farrer, Austin: The Revelation of St. John the Divine. Oxford: Clarendon, 1964.

Farrer interprets John as a rabbinic preacher seeking "new inspiration by drawing old texts into fresh combinations" (30) and thinks that OT was authoritative for John. If the meaning of words and images can not be found in Revelation, they must be found in the OT. "Another of St. John's formal procedures is the exegetical. His whole apocalypse is a visualized meditation on sacred texts" (57). Caird was heavily influenced by the work of Farrer. (12 Jan 1997 17:34)

Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler: Revelation. Vision of a just World. Edinburgh: T&& Clark, 1993 (= Augsburg Fortress 1991).

Fiorenza's 150 page commentary contains an index of scriptural passages and a bibliography and three parts: Introduction, Commentary and a part about Theo-Ethical Rhetoric. Although I personally and many others with me do not agree with Fiorenza's liberation and feminist theology, this commentary is the result of many years scrutiny of Revelation and is in fact very familiar with Revelation scholarship, rhetoric and communication strategies, and so should be carefully read whether you agree with her on her methodology and interpretation or not. (20 Jan 1997 00:25)

Giesen, H. 1997. Die Offenbarung des Johannes. RNT. Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet.

Giesen, a Catholic Professor of the NT, has written an extremely well-researched commentary. The 562 pages is replete with research surveys, excurses, and detailed discussions. Many of the discussions has been published as major articles at least since 1981/1982. Martyrdom is a major theme in this commentary. (Nov 3rd, 2001)

See also the review by Sean M. McDonough in Review of Biblical Literature

Keener, Craig S.: Revelation : From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life. (The Niv Application Commentary). Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000.

This 576 page commentary features 20+ page introduction, an outline, an annotated bibiography (although the comments are not always especially helpful), a Scripture index, Subject and Author indices, and nothing less than a 16 page index over Other ancient sources. The references to extra-biblical literature are very helpful, although the present reviewer doubts whether extra-biblical literature really adds significant insights to Revelation. However, the references allow the readers to check it for themselves. Another emphasis found in this commentary (as indeed name of the Series indicates) is the contemporary applications. (July 6th, 2000)
Kraft, H.: Die Offenbarung des Johannes. (HNT, 16a). Tübingen: Mohr, 1974.

Kraft is one of the strongest proponents for the influence of the OT. According to Kraft OT is the only source John uses: "Die alttestamentliche Prophetie ist die einzige Quelle, auf die er sich bei seinen Weisungen stützt" (16). Furthermore, Kraft thinks that John felt himself to be the follower and ultimate interpreter of the OT prophecy to such a degree that John invented nothing of his own (16). This commentary is a standard commentary (12 Jan 1997 17:52).

Krodel, Gerhard A.: Revelation. (Augsburg Commentary on the NT). Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg, 1989.

This 391 page commentary written by an American Lutheran is perhaps the favorite of mine. Krodel has provided a very good introduction where he shows himself to be more than familiar with recent scholarship, both American, English and German. The commentary is well worth studying, and might easily be considered as textbook for courses on Revelation. It is not technical, but learned. I am not sure what to think about the millennium, but I am quite sure that if you should choose to argue for a premillennialistic view, Krodel's argumentation is worth considering as one of the best available. This commentary has my warmest recommendations. The commentary is still in print, now available from Augsburg Fortress Press (20 Jan 1997).

Michaels, J. Ramsey: Revelation (IVP.NTC 20). Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, UK: InterVarsity Press, 1997. (265 p. ISBN 0-8308-1820-0).

Professor Michaels has written a commentary well worth the reading. The most interesting contribution, perhaps, is his analysis of the structure of Revelation. Michaels argues that the concept of interludes should be dismissed. In my opinion, this should be accepted at least as a working hypothesis. (2 Jan 1998)

Mounce, Robert H.: Revelation. (NICNT). Grand Rapids: Eerdsman, 1998. (439 p. ISBN 0-8028-2537-0).

Mounce has revised his classic 1977-commentary. All the merits that the 1997-edition had is retained in the new edition. It is still a careful and well-written premillennial commentary with excellent attention to the text and its use within Revelation as well as the allusions to the Old Testament and other apocalypses. However, the 1998-edition does not deal adequately with the last two decades of research as regards genre, structure, and the use of the Old Testament. The 1998-edition is not "a rather extensive rewriting" as claimed by Mounce (p. xvi). Newer commentaries are mostly quoted in the notes which is of course convenient to the reader, but fails to integrate the insights from the other interpreters. Nevertheless, Mounce's commentary is still one of the best conservative commentaries written in English and belongs to the serious scholar's library. (20 Apr 1998).

Roloff, Jürgen: Die Offenbarung des Johannes. (Zürcher Bibelkommentare). Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1987 (= 1984).

Roloff's 219 page commentary which is translated into English (reference forthcoming) is a valuable commentary with a register, a rather short bibliography and a quite short but good introduction. Roloff is familiar with Revelation scholarship and argues for Revelation as a letter. He is followed by his former doctoral student, Martin Karrer (reference forthcoming). Roloff should belong to the library of the Revelation scholar and student. (20 Jan 1997 00:05).

Sweet, J.P.M.: Revelation. (Westminster Pelican Commentaries). Philadelphia, 1979

This is a commentary with a strong emphasis on the necessity of the use of OT in the interpretation of Revelation. Sweet attributes "creative freedom" to John and sees Revelation as "a Christian rereading of the whole Jewish scriptural heritage, from the stories of the beginning to visions of the End" (40). But OT is not the only, but only "the dominant imagery" (194). The commentary is well written and easy read, but but there is only a minimum of scholarly discussions. Nevertheless, this commentary is valuable in any theological interpretation of Revelation. (12 Jan 1997 18:00)

Swete, H.B.: The Apocalypse of St. John. London: Macmillan, 1906 and 1911 (3. ed).

This is one of the major commentaries ever written. (21 Dec 1996 14:07)

Thomas, Robert L.: Revelation 1-7. Chicago: Moody, 1992 & Revelation 8-22. Chicago: Moddy, 1995.

This two-volume commentary (524 + 690 pages) is a rather detailed interpretation with a special emphasis on an eschatological interpretation. Many interesting and refreshing observations may be found in this commentary which, on ther other hand, lacks a history of interpretation and research. Further comments to follow ... (29 Mar 1997)

Thompson, L. L. Revelation. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon, 1998.

Thompson's commentary employs social-scientific methods and argues strongly that there was no persecution in the last decade of the first century. Thompson has many ingenious observations on Revelation and is particularly useful for those who do not want to consult the major commentaries. (August 4th, 1999)

Forthcoming commentaries

This section is moved to What's new on Revelation

Popular commentaries written by scholars and with a specific view on Revelation

Giblin, C. H. The Book of Revelation: The Open Book of Prophecy. Good News Studies, no. 34. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1991.

Giblin's commentary develops the use of the holy war-imagery in Revelation and also pays great attention to structure. An important commentary. (August 4th, 1999)

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© 1996-2001 Georg S. Adamsen Opdateret d. 26.5.2002