By David Brodsky:
Before I begin to enter into the critical analysis of the website I have chosen I think it is important to identify what I will have in mind through the process of analyzing.
After studying the book of Revelation for nearly a semester now there is only one thing that has become absolutely clear: that there are very few (if any) concrete conclusions one can come to when studying Revelation. Therefore, I will be very weary of what type of rhetoric the author of the website uses. Does the author express certainty about ideas and symbolism that do lend themselves to a biased certainty? Are the assertions made by the website scholarly and academic or would they be better off under the category of opinion? Also, is the commentary supported with academic sources?
The web page I have chosen to critically analyze is an offshoot of the website twopaths.com that self identified as a Christian bible reference site. On the “about us” page Christian Bible Reference says this about their work, “The Christian Bible Reference Site is a nonprofit Christian Bible study website devoted to better understanding the Bible and its messages for the modern world.” The website also states their goal of unbiased christian scholarship,
All Christians revere the Bible as the core of their faith, and our goal is to provide accurate and unbiased information about the Bible and its teachings. This website is not affiliated with any denomination or sect, and we do not bias our materials to conform to our personal beliefs nor to the viewpoints of any particular denomination, sect, religious tradition or system of theology.
This is a general goal for the website that offers Biblical scholarship on all aspects of the Bible. Will their stated goal still hold up of unbiased commentary hold up when they take on the complicated and confusing Revelation text?
The title of the page that I will be dissecting is What is the book of Revelation about? and it is a general overview of the book while also giving very brief “interpretation” on one or two verses of each chapter that the author of the website has found to be important. At first glance it is obvious that the website will only be a very general overview simply because the length of what is said about each subject, chapter, and verse is very short.
Something that our class has spent many conversations discussing is the date of when the book of Revelation was written. This is a very contested subject and just like many things in the book of Revelation there are no clear answers. That being said, this is still a question that can be narrowed with aligning historical fact with certain phrases in Revelation that would lend the book to be placed in a certain time period. Most significantly, is the verse 12 of chapter 17 that would rule out many time periods and narrow the different possibilities of timer periods the book was written in. What is the book of Revelation about? website offers only one sentence to this topic, “One day in about the year 95AD, a man named John had a vision from heaven.” The web page is clearly meant to be a brief overview of the book, but not acknowledging the complexity of the date and failing to make any historical connections with any passages in the book of Revelation is a major flaw. I would suggest that authors of this website should dedicate a small section outlining the difficulty a scholar finds in declaring a date but also pointing out some historical information and passages in the book that still keeps with the theme of a general overview of the book of Revelation. Also, know academic scholar would offer a date that Revelation was written in as fact but would always make clear that “we really do not know” but here is my best guest because of different historical and contextual evidence. The author of the webpage fails to acknowledge the complexity and ambiguity of the date of Revelation without making it clear that any exact year is uncertain.
Also another section that has inadequate information for a website that is claiming to be a commentary on the book of Revelation is the section dedicated to authorship. If someone came to this website looking to find out who wrote the book of Revelation this is all the information one would find, “John was a Christian leader of Jewish origin who was in exile on the Roman prison island of Patmos...Tradition says John the apostle (Mark 3:14-19) was the author of both Revelation and the Gospel of John, but that is not certain”. As a basic overview this is not a terrible explanation of the issue of authorship. The website correctly states that the author is most likely of Jewish origin and a well known Christian leader. Most scholars would agree with this because of the many first testament references made by the author, while the beginning letter format indicates the author is a Christian leader recognized by various churches. The ending comment of this section, “but that is not certain” is an important statement that saves the section from being completely biased and unscholarly. Authorship is just as much as unknown as the date but can also similarly be narrowed through a similar process with historical information aligned with certain passages in the book. It is important that the website acknowledges that the authorship is not certain, but to be a worthy general overview the commentary should include other possibilities for authorship and go into further detail of why the topic is so highly contested. “It is not certain” does save the website from being completely unscholarly but is not nearly enough of an explanation (even in a general overview) of the issue of authorship.
Understanding the book of Revelation starts with understanding the type of literature that it is written in. Therefore, one of the most important and well written sections of this web page is the section dedicated to literary form. The webpage acknowledges that the author of Revelation is writing apocalyptic literature that “delivers a message using symbols, images, and numbers.” It parallels the literature with the type written in the book of Daniel that are also apocalyptic. The author of the webpage goes on to say apocalyptic writing is characteristic of times of persecution and identifies that many of the images and symbols in Revelation equate the Roman emperor with Satan or an ultimate evil. Furthermore, in this section the webpage acknowledges that revelation is a prophecy, but not prophecy as it is mostly thought of being as a prediction of the future. The author of the webpage the asserts that a better understanding of prophecy might be one that considers the original greek word prophetia that means “speaking the mind of God.” One of the most important lines of the webpage is this, “The word "apocalypse" has come to be associated with cataclysmic disaster, judgment day or the end of the world. However, its true meaning is an unveiling or revelation of things known only to God.”
I found this section to be incredibly important and enlightening, especially for how few words were dedicated to literary form. Moving forward in understanding the book of Revelations starts with understanding the very things that the author of the webpage was able to convey in so few words. Most interpretations and outlandish claims that come from Revelation are a result of not understanding what type of literary form it was written in. As a general overview of the book of Revelation I found this section to be incredibly easy to understand and enlightening for someone browsing the internet looking to understand the book more who might be willing to read lengthy commentary.
The section dedicated to understanding the purpose of Revelation is as equally insightful as the section just formerly summarized. Noting that the churches John was writing to had suffered various waves of persecution the author of the webpage says this about the purpose of Revelation, “The vision John received offered encouragement to persecuted Christians and assurance that God was still in control. The forces of evil, particularly the Roman Empire, would eventually be utterly destroyed by God.” Understanding the book of Revelation to be a theodicy for Christians suffering persecution from the Roman empire is extremely important in beginning to understand the symbolism, allegory, and metaphor present in Revelation. The thesis of the website aligns with that of Ben Witherington III in his commentary on Revelation that the book is to offer comfort for those suffering by explaining that God is good, in control, and offer hope that the Roman empire and evil more generally will be destroyed but God on God’s time. Again, what the commentary that this website is offering in a general short overview is extremely insightful and helpful for anyone looking to understand the complexities of Revelation.
Keeping in mind that this website is only a brief overview it is a valuable resource for those searching the web to find out more about the book of Revelation. I had only one concern in the section dedicated to the date that did not offer any historical or contextual evidence for its claim that Revelation was written in 95AD and did not state that even with such evidence the date will always remain uncertain.
At the bottom of the page are other “references for in depth study”, but throughout the webpage there are no citations of the resources that they author is drawing on. Although, I agreed with most of the information and found it all very helpful it is necessary to have citations next to the assertions the webpage is making. Especially with a book like Revelation that is such a point of contention for so many scholars, theologians, lay people, and anyone who reads it. As a general overview of the book of Revelation it would be beneficial for the website to offer links of sources right next to the claims they would send readers to another site or commentary that allow for more in depth understanding of the complex issue the webpage is only giving a brief overview on.
In conclusion, I found this webpage to be extremely insightful for anyone looking for a general overview of the book of Revelation that offers commentary that is unbiased and that agrees with most Biblical scholars without going into in depth detail. The brevity and simplicity of each section allows for a someone scanning the internet to learn a lot about the book Revelation very efficiently and accurately. I recommend this website as a valuable tool for a first step in educating anyone interested in the book of Revelation.