We’re in the 17th century, looking at some of the general comments about Revelation found in the introductions or prologues of the books of that time. The first one we’ll look at is a short one from Hugh Broughton’s A REVELATION OF THE HOLY APOCALYPSE from 1610. The introduction is called “The Summary of the Apocalyps”, and is mostly a summary of the Apocalypse. Here’s the first sentence:
“John’s Apocalypse tells, that Christ showed the state to come, to the end of the world; and a vision of himself: as unto Daniel, chapter 10, this does he, chapter 1.”
That’s definitely what the Apocalypse is. The next one has some more meat to it. It’s A COMMENTARIE UPON THE NEW TESTAMENT” by John Mayer from 1631. This from the chapter entitled “The Revelation of St. John”:
“Because it has been questioned what John wrote this Book, and of what authority it is, and also what the scope of it is, it will be necessary before we enter upon the particular obscurities occurring herein to discuss these things. And first touching the Author, Pareus…out of Eusebius, that it was sometime held to be written by Cerinthus the Heretic, for the maintenance of a fond opinion, that the faithful should live here with Christ in all manner of pleasure a thousand years. But the Greeks were never of that opinion, neither can it possibly stand, seeing nothing is more plainly in this Book set forth than the eternity of Christ, which was by Cerinthus impugned, holding that Christ was not before the Virgin Mary. The same Eusebius also writes of another John, a Divine, whose Monument was seen as Ephesus, together with the Monuments of John the Apostle, whom to have been the Author of the two last Epistles of John and of the Revelation, Dionysius Alexandrisus consents to the third year of Trajan, which was 102 from the birth of Christ according to Jeremiah, which was six years after he wrote this Book [Revelation], which was written Anno 96. And for this cause it is placed after all other books of holy Scripture, because it was written after them all in time, and is as it were the seal of them all, being fenced with a charge of adding no more, as the first Books written by Moses were.
“Secondly, touching the authority of this Book, Grasserus showed, that it was sometime refuted for canonical amongst Christians, as Daniel was amongst the Jews because of the obscurity, through which it was thought little beneficial to the Church to be read. But as Daniel was after the captivity received into the Canon, and afterwards had Christs own testimony, Mat. 14:15 (though the Rabins do still dispute whether it ought to be reckoned amongst the immediate works of the holy Ghost) so this revelation was very anciently received into the Canon, witness the Council of Nicea, and the third Carthage Council…And good reason, seeing it was written by an inspired Apostle, and is testified by the Author to be the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Neither is there any doubt made of the authority of it at this day, no not amongst the Lutherans themselves, though Luther sometime in translating the new Testament left it out for obscurity.
“Touching the scope of this book, the ancient Fathers have given us little or no light into it. For howsoever some of them have written upon it…yet so many of later times have written hereupon… But they of that side [Catholic] have rather written to blur mens eyes from from seeing the truth, than to enlighten them herein. They generally refer the things here foretold to the end of the world, when Antichrist shall come and tyrannize but three years and a half, whereas the Author of this book testifies that these things must shortly come to pass. The obscurity of the former setting them forth obscurely, the latter more plainly. But whichever conjecture be most probable, we shall see in the proper places as we shall come to them in order.”
We can get a glimpse of what the thinking was about the Revelation during this time. Briefly, that while Revelation was questioned in the past, it is at this time pretty clearly part of the Bible and seen as written by John the Apostle. That the Church saw it to be of little benefit to study, and later it interpreted it in such a way as to confuse and befuddle people trying to read it. And finally, this author himself thinks that the events of the book will come to pass soon, but it isn’t necessarily the end of the world. In other words, commentators are starting to see Revelation as just another part of the Bible, obscure, but part of the Bible.
The next book was published in 1644, called A COMMENTARY UPON THE DIVINE REVELATION OF THE APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST JOHN by David Pareus “Sometimes Professour of Divinity in the Universitie of Heidelberg.” The introduction is called “The Authors Preface Upon the Revelation of the Apostle and Evangelist John: Happily Begun and Propounded unto His Auditory in the University. Anno 1608.”
“If any of you (my Hearers) admire, wherefore, after the Exposition of Pauls Epistle unto the Hebrews, I should pass by so many excellent Books of the New Testament, and take in hand the Interpretation of the last…the Revelation, the Author and Canonical authority whereof has long since variously been disputed of: and which being replenished with great secrets, types, and dark sentences, is scarcely intelligible unto any: and though it be entitled a Revelation, yet seems not in the least to be a Book revealed, but rather shut up and sealed: which seems also to be the reason that it is placed at the end of the New Testament: from the interpretation whereof because of its obscurity, not a few of the ablest Divines have hitherto abstained: and lastly feeling it has long since been held, that it does contain some things contrary to Apostolical Faith, and favor the heretic of the Chilaists. If I say, any man wonders at this my purpose, such a one I would have with me to acknowledge, that these very objections (besides other causes which now are not requisite to be related) with which this most Heavenly book is injuriously charged, offers occasion unto me to interpret the same, that ye might understand that the Revelation of John is so far from the guilt of these accusations (which do not a little weaken the Canon of our Faith) that we rather may say of it, what Jerome most truly laid of the Prophesy of Isaiah: Whatsoever is in Holy Writ, whatsoever can be uttered by the tongue or received by the senses of mortal man, is contained in this Book…”
I, of course, find it interesting that Chilasim would be considered a heresy. A Chilaist believes in the Millennium, which is clearly laid out in Revelation. The only way to avoid believing in the Millennium is to view at least that part of Revelation as “symbolic”. We’ll find out later how Pareus gets around it.
David Pareus was probably the most quoted commentator of his time, and is still talked about today. If you noticed, he was mentioned by John Mayer in the previous quote.
John Lightfoot is the next author, and he is also very well known, though probably not quite to the degree of Pareus. This is from THE WHOLE WORKS OF THE REV. JOHN LIGHTFOOT (in 13 volumes) which is considered to be from the mid-17th century. The introduction is from a book called THE HARMONY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. The book is in 2 parts. This is entitled “To the Reader”:
“…What author in the world, but he is best to be understood from the writers and dialect of his own nation? What one Roman writer can a man understandingly read, unless he be well acquainted with their history, customs, propriety of phrases, and common speech? So doth the New Testament; ‘loquitur cum vulgo’ [speak with universality]: though it be penned in Greek, it speaks in the phrase of the Jewish nation, among whom it was penned, all along; and there are multitudes of expressions in it, which are not to be found but there, and in the Jews’ writings, in all the world. They are very much deceived, that think the New Testament so very easy to be understood, because of the familiar doctrine it contains, — faith and repentance. It is true, indeed, it is plainer as to the matter it handles, than the Old, because it is an unfolding of the Old: — but for the attaining of the understanding of the expressions that it uses in these explications, you must go two steps farther than you do about the Old; — namely, to observe where, and how, it uses the Septuagint’s Greek, as it does very commonly; — and when it uses the Jews’ idiom, or reference thereunto, which indeed it does continually. A student well versed in their language and writings, would find it no great difficulty to translate the New Testament into Talmudic language, almost from verse to verse, so close does it speak all along to their common speech…”
I find this last quote to be very perceptive. There will be more talk about the Jewish idioms used in Revelation as we move forward in time. Some people think that Revelation was originally written in Greek by Hebrew-speakers who just weren’t that good in Greek. Others, and I’m one of these, think that Revelation was originally written in Hebrew and then translated into Greek, in such a way that it preserved all the Hebrew idioms: we just haven’t found an early enough version of it to have a copy of it in the original Hebrew.
The next writer is Hezekiah Holland. His rather crass and commercial book is called EPITOME OF THE MOST CHOICE COMMENTARIES UPON THE REVELATION OF SAINT JOHN, published in 1650. I think he was trying to write for what he thought of as “the common man”, but I suspect he missed the mark as I’ve never seen his name anywhere else. I’ve got a fairly long quote here from “The Epistle to the Reader”, you’ll see what I mean:
“The learned sort of people may use larger and far better Commentaries than this; the common and ignorant people can neither attain to buy or read them…who may easily understand and purchase this…This book is a Prophetic…of the destruction of the Roman Empire, either as heathenish in the whole, or else Christian (yet persecuting) in both parts of it, East and West: the Book is a tragi-comedy, which begins with a kingdom given to be won by conquest (Rev. 6), and ends with the Coronation of a King, and the Marriage of his Bride: and all between is but the removing of all such lets and impediments, namely, of the Roman Monarchy, all other kingdoms which…was broken into, so far as they stand in the way…When Christ first began…he sets upon conquering the whole Roman Empire, as it was heathenish, and the worst of Satan and Idols in it, and in three hundred years dispatches that, and throws down all both Idol worship and Princes that did uphold it. And then when the whole Empire was turned Christian, yet the devil…did not turn Christian: but under the name and profession of Christ he stirs up the Arrian Christian world [Arians believed that because Jesus was the Son of God, that He was also created by God….I think this is what the author is referring to here…] to prosecute the Orthodox Christians much as heathenish Rome had done; but Christ takes further vengeance for this persecution under both the Heathenish and Arrian Rome (it was the cry of the blood of the Saints — slain under both that brought to them the vengeance that followed…). The Empire having been afore divided into two parts; the Eastern (all which now the Turk possesses), and the Western, this in Europe: he falls first on the Western European part, breaking that by the [egging] on of those barbarous nations the Goths and Vandels; then for the Eastern part of the Empire…he reserved them for the sorest vengeance that could befall the Christian world, the Conquest and Tyranny of the Saracens first, afterwards the Turks. Thus here is an end of the Roman Monarchy under the Emperors in the whole, and in the parts of it. The Western part in Europe was by occasion of the Goths invasion broken into seven Kingdoms, which though helping the Woman against the flood of Arrian persecution, yet (through Satans seducing of them) they set up the Beast on Antichristian Rome. And these altogether did join to make us as great a war against the Saints in Ch. 13 as the Heathens and Arrians had done, and so Christ in a manner was as far off his Kingdom as at first. The next counterplot of Jesus Christ is to overcome these Kingdoms; so you find Rev. 17.14. They shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them; for he is Lord of Lords, and King of Kings, and they that are with him are called chosen and faithful…
“I desire the Reader to remember that though the Revelation may seem to be one continued Vision, yet indeed it is not one, nor revealed at one time, but seven, as so many fights exhibited to John in the Spirit, neither saw he all in one place, but some things in Patmos, some things in heaven, some things are the seashore, some things in the Wilderness. Note the Revelation…speaks the same things after a diverse manner; the former Visions are for the most part more obscure, the latter bring clearer light to the darkness of the former, if one rightly observe them…
“The fourth Act or condition of the Church with its accomplishments is secret: Because the seventh Trumpet has not yet sounded: Neither is the seventh Vial yet poured out into the air; a great part also of the third Act is reserved unto posterity which in time shall see the gathering together the Kings of the earth into Armageddon, the burning of the whorish woman, the desolation of Babylon the events of the Goggish war — More than the beginning we have seen, and further shall see.”
Can’t you just picture this guy trying to retell Revelation as some big epic that could rival Shakespeare on the stage? There is also a patronizing air about it. But look further: he is of the mind to see each of the seven events as happening simultaneously…for instance: the first seal is opened then the first trumpet sounds, and then the first vial is poured. We will find a few others that think this is how the timeline should be. And I’m sure you noticed that Mr. Holland had early preterist views, seeing all but the last of the events as being about the Roman empire. So, Mr. Holland does seem interested in passing on some actual ideas beyond the sensational, even though I don’t agree with him so far.
The last 17th century author we will look at is James M. Durham, “Late Minister of the Gospel in Glasgow.” The book was published in 1680 and the title runs like this: A COMMENTARIE UPON THE BOOK OF THE REVELATION, WHEREIN THE TEXT IS EXPLAINED, THE SERIES OF THE SEVERAL PROPHECIES CONTAINED IN THAT BOOK, DEDUCED ACCORDING TO THEIR ORDER AND DEPENDANCE UPON EACH OTHER; THE PERIODS AND SUCCESSION OF TIMES, AT, OR ABOUT WHICH, THESE PROPHECIES, THAT ARE ALREADY FULFILLED, BEGAN TO BE, AND WERE MORE FULLY ACCOMPLISHED, FIXED AND APPLIED ACCORDING TO HISTORY; AND THOSE THAT ARE YET TO BE FULFILLED, MODESTLY, AND SO FAR AS IS WARRANTABLE, ENQUIRED INTO. TOGETHER WITH SOME PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS, AND SEVERAL DIGRESSIONS, (AN INDEX WHEREOF IS PREFIXED) NECESSARY FOR VINDICATING, CLEARING, AND CONFIRMING MANY WEIGHTY AND IMPORTANT TRUTHS. They didn’t have dust jackets in those days where they could write a synopsis…they just used the title sometimes, and the prologue other times. I’m quoting from the first chapter:
“It may look well presumptuous-like to read, or undertake to open this Book: and indeed there is need of much humility and soberness in going about such a work, and that the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who hath given this Book for a Benefit to His Church, help us to a right up taking of it: Yet, considering that the subject matter of it, is so profitable and comfortable to the Church, to the end of the world: considering also what was Christs end in giving it, as His last will and Word, to His Church, to wit, to be a Revelation, and thereby to make manifest His mind to them: therefore John is forbidden to seal it, that it might be open for the good of His Church: and considering with all the many motives and encouragements that are given to read and search into it…Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this Prophecy: which saying, is also renewed again after the prophetic part is immediately closed…which seem to be notable encouragements, not only to undertake, but also to lay it on as a duty , to read and seek to understand it. We resolve, through Gods grace, to essay it, that it be not altogether useless to the Servants of God to whom it is sent…It is true, many things in it are obscure: and it is like, that the full clearing of them is not to be expected, till God in some singular way shall open them up…Yet there are, 1. many clear, edifying, and comfortable passages of Gods mind in it: the holy Ghost mixing in those to be fed upon, and to sweeten those passages that are more obscure: and to encourage the Reader to search for the meaning of them. And, 2. though we be not clear to apply such passages to this or that particular time, or party or person; Yet, seeing the scope sets out, in general, the enmity of special enemies of the Church, and it being clear who they are: we think they may be expounded not only according to the Analogy of Faith and found Doctrine, but according to the scope of the place…3. In those things that are most obscure, there may be found Doctrines concerning the disposition of enemies, and Gods giving victory over them, and preservation and outgate to His People. And lastly, those things that are most obscure, being particulars, wherein there is no such hazard for us to be ignorant, as in fundamental Truths: and yet being such as God has allowed folks by wisdom to search out: therefore, here is wisdom, is prefixed to the hardest places in it…Upon these considerations, we intend (through the Lords help) to hint at some things in the reading of this Book to you, for your up-stirring to search further into it.”
Like the title, the quote is a bit long-winded. It basically says ‘it’s pretty obscure, but we’re going to pick out a few things and explain it all the best we can.’ Truly, who could ask for more than that?
That’s it for today. We’ll be in the 18th century next time, where we should start to see some far more preceptive views on Revelation. When we get to the 19th century we’ll be in the deep end, so the 18th century should be leading up to that. Until then, I’ll be praying for all of us to be doing the best that we can.