BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 68, 2020

IAN PAUL, Revelation (TNTC 20; London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2018). Pp. xvi + 371. US$28.00.

This commentary, as part of the well-known Tyndale (TNTC) series, replaces the previous Leon Morris commentary of 1987. This series is aimed at Christian leaders and general readers rather than the academy. Hence it skates lightly over many interpretive issues, only occasionally discusses the Greek text (and transliterates Greek words when it does), has few footnotes or references and mostly avoids technical terminology. However, it shows awareness of the academic research currently being done and some of the broader issues (such as misuse of Revelation by power-holders) and avoids a populist approach as may be found in some Fundamentalist writing on Revelation. In other words, it is a serious, if relatively brief, commentary.

The commentary opens with a Select Bibliography including works up to 2016 from a range of perspectives, including some Pentecostal scholarly works. This is followed by a lengthy Introduction (1–51) that covers Paul’s approach to the text, authorship, dating, social and historical context, the question of whether or not John actually had a vision, genre, reading Revelation’s imagery, its use of numbers, use of the Old Testament, structure, main theological themes and major interpretive approaches. This list shows that Paul focuses on his strengths in research which lie especially in literary approaches. Mostly he tends towards a mildly conservative or consensus reading, for example, suggesting apostolic authorship could be possible and favouring a Domitian period dating. His extended discussion of metaphor, drawing on Ricoeur, and the use of numbers, are worthy reading.

He shows awareness of many important contemporary issues about Revelation, such as the potential (and actual) misuse of its strong imagery by those in power. For example, in his discussion of Rev 14:9–11, the (in)famous passage on eternal hell, he explains how a text that provided hope for a “very small, insignificant and oppressed group within a dominant system of totalitarian power” could become instead “a tool of oppression” in the hands of a church holding power (255).

Following the Introduction, there is a brief analysis of the text’s structure (with no argument in support until you reach some of the key passages). Then Paul discusses the book passage by passage. Each section begins with a discussion of context (mainly the literary context, how the passage about to be addressed fits into the overall argument), followed by a more detailed exegesis and finally a discussion of the theological implications of the passage just exegeted. Major section breaks sometimes start with a broader introduction to that section, such as 1:9–3:22 (67–68). At some key points, Paul provides helpful tables to focus the reader’s mind; for example, a comparative table of the Exodus plagues, Revelation trumpet disasters and the bowls (266).

Generally, the commentary seems to achieve its aims; I found it easy to read and yet solid. There are no outlandish interpretations even if one would not accept every view Paul adopts. Occasionally it throws fresh light on texts that this reader had wrestled with previously. Sometimes Paul refers to interesting historical data. But here there is a serious limitation as he rarely provides his source; other readers may take the point on “scholarly authority”; I found that impossible. And generally, even when discussing controversial areas, Paul does not mention specific scholars he is arguing with or drawing from. I would think any intelligent reader might want to follow such points up with wider reading, but perhaps word limits overrode such considerations. The brevity of the commentary also means that many of Paul’s readings are not argued for in detail. The commentary also has no index which makes it difficult to search for themes or references to literature outside Revelation (Old Testament, Greco-Roman literature, Jewish texts).

Notwithstanding such limitations, this is an excellent first commentary for readers not wanting technical discussion and not familiar with Revelation and its critics.

Review by
Jon Newton
Alphacrucis College, Melbourne
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