Posted On February 21, 2017

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

by | Feb 21, 2017 | Theology, Featured

When the term apocalyptic literature is used, most are likely drawn to thinking about books in Scripture such as Revelation or perhaps the ending chapters of Matthew where Jesus described the time of the end. While both are indeed apocalyptic, what is often forgotten is the plethora and rich literature of this genre found in the Old Testament. Dr. Richard Taylor in his book Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook takes a helpful look through Daniel, the OT Prophets, and extra-biblical texts, exploring the overall genre and providing the reader how to read, understand, and most importantly, apply these important texts.

Taylor saliently notes how the very term apocalyptic is somewhat difficult to define. Is it an actual genre or merely a term that can be used to described sections of Scripture that speak on issues of judgment and eternal matters? To help push through the fog of confusion regarding the term itself, Taylor works through the various terms associated with this type of literature such as Apocalypse, apocalypticism, apocalyptic literature, apocalyptic eschatology, apocalyptic discourse, and proto-apocalyptic. I found Taylor’s efforts to define and set the stage for further discussion well-written and helpful for without this important foundation, actual engagement of the relevant texts would be difficult at best.

After providing the foundation above, Taylor then begins exploring the major themes found in apocalyptic literature, specifically those located in the book of Daniel, the OT Prophets, and Extra-Biblical Jewish Apocalyptic texts. The latter source of material may seem out of place; however, studying the extra-biblical writings of the period should not be ignored, and thankfully Taylor has taken the time to look through, albeit rather briefly, texts such as the book of Enoch and Jubilees. While not part of the canon, those books nevertheless are important reads as after all, canonical books such as Jude make reference to them in relation to matters of apocalyptic importance.

Before one can actually engage these texts, it is necessary to be fully prepared for what you will find, and the type of language used such as similes, metaphors, metonomy, hypocatastasis, and synecdoche. While some of these are certainly what can be labeled as million dollar theological terms, Taylor does an excellent job of explaining and providing examples of how they work in context. Without a proper grasp of how and why such types of language are used in apocalyptic literature, one can fall prey to the dangerous ground of faulty interpretations and wild speculations that unfortunately so often surround efforts geared at understanding this genre.

To help the reader, Taylor provides a great list of resources on matters such as understanding biblical languages, Bible study software, lexical and grammatical guides, and primary source material. To be honest, many of these resources should not be found solely in the libraries of those in seminary. Even the average laymen should take note and use these tools, especially when studying apocalyptic literature.

Finally, after properly preparing the reader with outstanding foundational information, he engages how to interpret this genre and importantly, how to proclaim the gospel message found within its pages. It is one thing to study and absorb what God has revealed in the apocalyptic genre. It is quite another thing to take that message, properly understand it, and then proclaim its message to the world that will be impacted by the events its describes. Taylor does an excellent job of showing ways to weave the message of this genre into our gospel proclamation.

Confused and frustrated by the apocalyptic genre? Are the books of Daniel and Revelation something that frighten you? Are you more apt to let someone else tell you what to think about this genre rather than investigating it for yourself? If any of those or other issues have kept you from studying this topic, I highly encourage you to read Dr. Taylor’s book. It is scholarly yet accessible, and it will go a long way to helping the mystery of the apocalyptic genre become more understandable.

I received this book for free from Kregel Academic, and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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