Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Hebrew Character of the Book of Revelation

(originally posted 7/20/15)

E.W. Bullinger wrote in his Commentary on Revelation:

The Hebrew character of the book is shown in its use of idioms, expressions, words and phrases, which cannot be called Greek; and indeed is called by many "bad Greek."
Professor Godet in his Studies on the New Testament, says, p. 331: "The only serious objection that can be urged against the authenticity of the Apocalypse, lies in the difference which is observable between its style, and that of the fourth Gospel. The latter is free from Aramaic expressions, the former is saturated with them." And again (p. 351), "the Apocalypse bears, from one end of it to the other, the character of a Hebrew prophecy."................Though the language is Greek, the thoughts and idioms are Hebrew; and this links it on, not to the Pauline epistles, but to the Old Testament,...............It is not only Hebrew in character as to its linguistic peculiarities, but especially in its use of the Old Testament. Only those who have most intimate acquaintance with the Old Testament can properly understand the Apocalypse. But all who know anything of old Testament history cannot fail to detect the almost constant reference to it.................But it is when we come to look at the literary connection between the Old Testament and the Apocalypse that we find evidences of the most striking kind.
If we count up the number of Old Testament passages quoted or alluded to in the New Testament,* we find that the gospel of Matthew has a very large number, amounting in all to 92. The Epistle to the Hebrews comes higher still with 102. Now both these books are connected in a special manner with Israel. Matthew, it is universally admitted, stands out among the four Gospels as being specially Jewish in its character. And the Epistle to the Hebrews was specially written to Hebrews, and they are addressed as such.................Now, when we turn to the Apocalypse, what do we find? The result which to our mind is overwhelming. No less than 285 references to the Old Testament. More than three times as many as Matthew, and nearly three times as many as the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Bruce Metzger states:

....Other symbols in Revelation can be understood in the light of the symbolism used in the Hebrew Scripture, particularly in the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. It is clear that John had studied the Old Testament very thoroughly. Of the 404 verses that comprise the 22 chapters of the book of Revelation, 278 verses contain one or more allusions to an Old Testament passage. John had so thoroughly pondered the Old Testament that when it came to recording the import of his visions of God and of heaven, he expressed himself by using phrases borrowed from the prophets of Israel. Therefore, in attempting to understand John's symbolism, we must consider not only the book itself, but also his use of the Old Testament. - Bruce M. Metzger, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation, page 13

The following comment is written in The Four Views on the Book of Revelation:
While Revelation draws on various traditional materials (e.g., Greco-Roman court ceremonial, chaps. 4-5; Jewish apocalyptic, chaps. 4-5; the Olivet Discourse, chap. 6; the dragon drama, chap. 12; the Neronian story, chap. 13), by far the dominant source of its information is the Old Testament. While Revelation does not contain a single specific quotation of the Old Testament, nevertheless out of 404 verses in it, 278, contain allusions to the Old Testament. Johnson well summarizes the apostle John's usage of that material:
The OT used by John is primarily Semitic rather than Greek, agreeing often with the Aramaic Targums and occasionally reflecting Midrashic background materials to the OT passages; and it can be shown that he used a text other than the Masoretic that has a close affinity with the Hebrew text of the Qumran MSS. From the Prophets, John refers quite frequently to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Jon also refers repeatedly to the Psalms, Exodus, and Deuteronomy. Especially important are John's Christological reinterpretations of OT passages he alludes to. He does not simply use the OT in its pre-Christian sense but often recasts the images and visions of the OT. While there is an unmistakable continuity in Revelation with the older revelation, the new emerges from the old as a distinct entity.15

- Four Views on the Book of Revelation, page 16 [In the Counterpoints series by the Zondervan publishing company]
footnote 15: Johnson, "Revelation," 411. For further analysis of John's employment of the Old Testament in Revelation, see Austin Farrer, A Rebirth of Images: The Making of St. John's Apocalypse (London: Darce, 1949). One of the most recent treatments of the subject is by Steve Moyise, The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (JSNTSS 115; Sheffield: Academic Press, 1995).

[[By Johnson's work I believe the book is referring to Alan F. Johnson's "Revelation" in the The Expositor's Bible Commentary series, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981; 12:399-603 — AP]]

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