Looking Back For the Future
Post on 19-Jul-2016
DESCRIPTIONJohn's Use of Tanakh in His Apocalypse.Is Revelation merely the psychedelic visions of a misguided and washed-up Christian patriarch in his old age? Was the apostle John losing his mind at Patmos when he penned his prophecy of the latter days? Different hermeneutical approaches to Old Testament references change one's interpretation of Revelation on key issues.
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Peter M Richardson - MSC#204
!BIB402 Heb-Rev Summer 2014
July 11, 2014
Looking Back for the Future: Johns Use of Tanakh in His Apocalypse
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Is Revelation merely the psychedelic visions of a misguided and washed-up
Christian patriarch in his old age? Was the apostle John losing his mind at Patmos
when he penned his prophecy of the latter days? Many who come upon this book con-
clude such thoughts. The bizarre imagery, angry God, Greek grammatical errors, and
physical impossibilities lead some readers to dismiss the book entirely as fiction. But,
others conclude that the final book in the canon of Christian Scripture, Revelation, is
full of cross-references to earlier canonical texts. From quotations, to allusions, to the-
matic nods, Johns Apocalypse is built on the witness of the Old Testament. In this
camp, scholars seek to determine how much of Johns Apocalypse is derived from the
Tanakh and how much is unique to his book. Furthermore, dierent hermeneutical ap-
proaches to Old Testament references change one's interpretation of Revelation on key
issues. For instance, is it happenstance that in the opening lines, John says that every
eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on ac-
count of him when Zechariah 12:10 says when they look on me, on him whom they
have pierced, they shall mourn for himand weep bitterly over him? If John is inten-
tionally referencing Zechariah, is he also bringing into Revelation 1:7 all the context of
Zechariah 12:10? Finally, do we use Zechariah 12 to understand Revelation 1, or use
Revelation 1 to go back to Zechariah and re-interpret his apocalypse?
For the purposes of this paper, we will only focus on theories of Old Testament
usage and disregard the issue of Johns sanity in writing this beautiful piece of biblical
literature. The spectrum ranges from a complete lack of Johanine intention in utilizing
the context of the Tanakh to complete contextual reference in any Tanakh allusion as
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well as theories regarding hermeneutical principles for marrying the biblical theology of
the Tanakh and of Revelation.
Option One: John Uses Tanakh Without Regard For Original Context
The first theory assumes the least amount of Johanine intention in OT refer-
ences. This is supported by the indisputable fact that the original authors of Old Tes-
tament Scripture lacked knowledge of the future such as the existence of the church
age, the details of the coming of the Christ, and the salvific inclusion of the gentiles.
Grollenberg says that:
The first Christians were not concerned with what the authors of the ancient text had wanted to say. That is something that we moderns ask about. They inferred the meaning of the ancient text from the events brought about by God in which they themselves were involved (Unexpected Messiah, p 7). !
So, John was disinterested with the ways in which his quotations of Daniel, for exam-
ple, change the tenor of his references to Jesus as a Son of Man because Daniels
context for using the phrase was antiquated and unrelated to the Revelation context.
Lindars explains: the place of the Old Testament in the formation of New Testament
theology is that of a servantnever acting as the master or leading the way, nor even
guiding the process of thought behind the scenes (The Place of the Old Testament in
the Formation of New Testament Theology, p 66).
Option Two: John Uses Tanakh In Context For His Clearest References
The second theory dives into the issue of subtlety in Johanine references. John,
in certain places, clearly references an Old Testament author (verbatim), yet in other
places he strings only two or three words together from the Old Testament. So, this
theory posits that as we study Revelation, we must utilize criteria for judging whether
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John was consciously quoting a specific passage or incidentally using words/ideas
that resemble Old Testament ones. Titles such as Elusive Allusions: the Problematic
Use of the Old Testament in Revelation (J Paulien, Biblical Research 33, 1988) summa-
rize the skepticism of this position regarding Johanine intention in using Tanakh.
Trudinger isolates quotations from flimsy fragments through the presence of word
combinations in a form in which one would not have used them had it not been for a
knowledge of their occurrence in this particular form in another source (Some Obser-
vations Concerning the Text of the Old Testament in the Book of Revelation, p 84).
When enough words or references are present to deduce that John is not incidentally
mimicking say, Isaiah, we can study both contexts for further reflection and shared
meaning. However, the reverse is also true: if insucient evidence is available for link-
ing Revelation to an Old Testament passage, we should not seek out reflection and
shared meaning, as it would be subjective and misleading.
This approach is appealing because it seeks to eliminate ambiguity and subjec-
tivity in Johanine scholarship. However, Moyise oers a simple critique of this ap-
As with any work of art, it is often the subtle nuances that separate it from other members of the genre. After all, we would not expect a music critic to limit his or her comments to the loudest instruments in the orchestra! (The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation, p 18). !
John may only hint at an Old Testament idea, yet to miss his subtle leading would be
overly simplistic. Revelation is a deep piece of literature, and this approach steamrolls
Johns stylistic touch in the name of scholastic objectivity.
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Option Three: John Uses Tanakh In Context For All References
The third theory assumes the most amount of Johanine intention in OT refer-
ences. Here, in one way or another, John writes with all the context of Scripture pro-
pelling him to illustrate his Apocalypse. Here there are at least three subdivisions re-
garding which context takes precedence. The first subdivision would be that the OT
context is superior - that is, John brings nothing new to the table when he references
the Tanakh. This approach would be the polar opposite of Option One (Grollenberg),
since here the Tanakhs context is everything and Johns vision is inferior. This position
may be appealing from an historical perspective, if one wants to show that Christianity
was only a continuation of Judaism. It also may be appealing because John preserves
the Old Testament literary idioms and thought patterns in a way unparalleled in the
New Testament (Goldsworthy, The Lamb and the Lion, p 9). However, it lacks scholarly
support due to its farfetched logic and practical inadequacies.
The second subdivision would be that Revelations context is superior - meaning
that John gives new meaning to all his OT references, and the Revelation context is
present every time one studies the older text. This hermeneutic comes from a belief in
progressive revelation. Beale says that:
In terms of the cash value of a given prophecy, this approach argues that John ought to have the final word, since he is interpreting from a redemptive-historical stance of greater progressive revelation and unpacks the earlier revelation (Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, p 1088). !
So, John looks back on the Tanakh with new vision, having been friends with Jesus as
his beloved disciple, seeing him heal, teach, face persecution, die, rise again, ascend
to heaven; having received the Holy Spirit of promise; having lead in the early church
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as they worked out issues like gentile salvation, spiritual inheritance, and so on. So,
when John references the Tanakh, he takes the role of interpreter, and shows us how
to understand that old passage in a new time.
This hermeneutic oers a distinct interpretation on several key issues in Revela-
tion. One, noted by Beale, is in Revelation 3:9, referring to Gods justice for his perse-
cuted people. The OT reference comes specifically from the phrase behold, I will make
them come and bow down before your feet, which is derived from Isaiah 45:14; 49:23;
and 60:14. Beale says that promises given to Israel, who are prophesied to be perse-
cuted by the nations, are now ironically applied to and understood to be fulfilled in
Gentile believers persecuted by Israel (Commentary on the New Testament Use of the
Old Testament, p 1086). This hermeneutic eventually leads to a belief in the NTs
awareness that the latter days had been inaugurated, that the church was the latter-
day Israel, and that the whole OT pointed toward this climax of salvation history (ibid.,
p 1086). These positions stem from a hermeneutic steeped in progressive revelation.
The third subdivision is called intertexuality. When John, the later author, cites
a prior text, he both brings its old meaning into his new text and brings new meaning to
the old text. In this way, both texts (the Tanakh and Revelation) equally deserve contex-
tual analysis. Moyise puts it this way:
Alluding to a past work sets up a link or correspondence between the two contexts. The reader is asked to follow the current text while being mindful of a previous context (or contexts)[yet] the quoted text does not accept this relocation without a fight (so to speak), but reminds the reader that it once belonged to a different context (The Old Testament in Revelation, pp 18-19). !
As we read Johns OT references, our minds are both drawn away from Revelation and
then back again to it after considering the text John referenced. The intertextual reader
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sees Johns conversation with the Tanakh - the ways he relies on the frames of refer-
ence to inform his writing and the ways he oers a distinct interpretation of those OT
This hermeneutic oers a distinct interpretation on, for example, Johns similari-
ties with Ezekiel. Moyise says that John has taken on the persona of Ezekielthat is
why he can make so many allusions to the book without ever quoting ithe does not
quote it as Scripture because he does not see it as an external source (ibid., pp
78-79). John is not necessarily oering a new way to see what has been in Ezekiel all
along, nor is he illustrating that his apocalypse is merely a restatement of Ezekiels.
Rather, he has taken on the mind of Ezekiel and writes in the spirit (ibid., pp 78-79).
Revelation is distinct from Ezekiel, yet the two are written by typologically identical
The final book in the canon of Christian Scripture, Revelation, is full of cross-ref-
erences to earlier canonical texts. From quotations, to allusions, to thematic nods,
Johns Apocalypse is built on the witness of the Old Testament. While scholars have
sought to determine how much of Johns Apocalypse is derived from the Tanakh and
how much is unique to his book, it is clear that dierent hermeneutical approaches to
Old Testament references change one's interpretation of Revelation on key issues. The
spectrum has been shown to range from a complete lack of Johanine intention in utiliz-
ing the context of the Tanakh to complete contextual reference in any Tanakh allusion
as well as theories regarding hermeneutical principles for marrying the biblical theology
of the Tanakh and of Revelation. Option one stated that John takes command of the
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Tanakh with no regard for its original context, which renders Revelation as a piece of
history from a Jewish cult called Christianity. Option two stated that John only refer-
ences the context of the OT when his quotation or allusion meets certain parameters,
which steamrolls Johns more subtle nods to OT ideas in Revelation. Option three stat-
ed that John had complete intentionality when referencing the Tanakh. The first subdi-
vision stated that John used the OT to bolster his credibility, and only sought to restate
ideas from the Tanakh. The second subdivision stated that John interpreted OT texts
through his references as he stood progressively superior to the Tanakhs original au-
thors. The third subdivision stated that John engaged in an intertextual dialogue with
the Tanakh and thus brought new meaning to the old while giving old meaning to his
new text. Whichever scholarly camp one subscribes to, it is imperative to acknowledge
that dierent hermeneutical approaches to Old Testament references change ones in-
terpretation of Revelation on key issues.
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Beale, GK & DA Carson, eds. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Tes-
tament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Print.
Goldsworthy, Graeme. The Lamb & the Lion: The Gospel in Revelation. Nashville, TN:
Thomas Nelson, 1985. Print.
Grollenberg, Lucas. Unexpected Messiah: or How the Bible Can Be Misleading. Lon-
don: SCM, 1988. Print.
Lindars, Barnabus. The Place of the Old Testament in the Formation of New Testa-
ment Theology: Prolegomena. New Testament Studies 23 (1976): 59-66.
Moyise, Steve. The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation. Journal for the Study of
the New Testament Supplement Series 115. Sheeld, England: Sheeld Acad-
emic, 1995. Print.
Trudinger, L. Paul. Some Observations Concerning the Text of the Old Testament in
the Book of Revelation. Journal of Theological Studies XVII 1 (1966): 82-88.