Hello 2nd Opinion:
Thanks for your response. You sound reluctant to accept my suggestion that the bible means what the author means and no more. You write, “I am somewhat skeptical about our ability to determine with any precision authorial intent.” Since I understand your concern, I will share with you how I attempt to determine authorial intent and reduce my own skepticism. Hopefully you will find this helpful. I’ll start with a few general statements and then make some specific comments regarding the book of Revelation per your request.
First, every verse, passage, chapter and book in the bible requires a two-step process: a) the proper interpretation, and b) the proper application – always in this order. I’m not aware of any correct application based on the wrong interpretation. I am aware, however, of many cases where the wrong application came from the wrong interpretation.
Second, I believe the author’s words take precedence over all others. Every author in the bible is inspired and by definition they say what they mean. Certain commentators, historians, theologians, translators and interpreters can be helpful, at times, but they are also a great source of skepticism. We should always choose inspired authors over uninspired commentators.
Third, I’m a strong proponent of Occam’s razor: the simplest answer is usually the best. This is foundational to my hermeneutics. This also means the validity of an answer is inversely proportional to its complexity. It always raises a red flag with me when I hear people describe a supposed biblical teaching in a very complex manner. I get leery of interpretations that include people, rulers, dates, geography, places, churches, laws, multiple fulfillments and principles not found in scripture – all red flags.
In regards to Revelation, my threshold for determining the author’s intent is rather low. This helps to reduce my skepticism. I also don’t believe that we, those of us living today, should consider ourselves as important as John’s original audience. This reduces our “need to know” and helps to further reduce skepticism.
Concerning the text itself, let’s begin here: “John to the seven churches which are in Asia…” v.4. Understanding this verse in the broader context, it’s reasonable to conclude the following:
a) John is the author (John who? is a different discussion)
b) He is writing to seven churches comprised of real people living in real locations (see chapters 2 & 3).
c) Real churches with real people in real locations never represent periods of time. John does not give his readers that option for interpreting these churches in that manner.
d) You and I are not, and never have been, members of these churches. Revelation is therefore written for us not to us. It helps to keep this perspective in mind when reading this book, which also applies to the entire bible.
Based on all of the above, I believe we can determine “authorial intent” as follows:
a) John intended, as all biblical authors do, to write a relevant message to his original audience.
b) John intended his audience to receive a blessing from what he wrote, “Blessed is he that reads and they that hear the words of this prophecy” 1:3
c) John intended to obeyed the instructions given to him, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book” 22:10
d) John intended for his audience to understand what he wrote. The words “do not seal” mean just that.
e) John intended to address serious problems his audience was having and will be facing shortly. Their problems are not our problems, no matter how universal seem to be.
f) John intended his book to accomplish its purpose. It did. It gave hope and encouragement to those to whom it was written.
g) John intended to make his message further relevant to his audience by placing time constraints on it. This clarifies its urgency. His time constraints are real and not subjective, symbolic or open ended.
h) John intended to open and close his message using these time constraints:
Rev 1:1 … show his servants things which must shortly come to pass
Rev 1:3 … the time is at hand.
Rev 22:10 … the time is at hand.
i) John intended for his time constraints to have only one meaning – his and his alone. (Side note: Translators use equivalent words to covey equivalent meaning. They never use opposite words to convey opposite meaning; “shortly” and “at hand” mean the same thing in Greek as they do in English. They don’t mean two thousand years in the future.)
j) John intended his audience to know what happens between his opening and closing time statements. They are bookends to his message. Since he is addressing real-time problems we must understand these problems in order to understand his message. I’ll leave it here for now.
In summary, I’ve suggested a method for approaching all scripture with Revelation being no different. In order to understand this book we must look at it from the author/audience perspective and place the same time constraints on it that John does. This will prevent us from applying his message incorrectly. I think the chances of us ending up at the right place are much better if we begin at the right place. I suggest starting here: it means what John means. Authorial intent is much easier to determine if you keep this in mind and, as an added benefit, it helps to reduce our skepticism. Thanks, RT