Summer 2012, Vol.
Gordon D. Fee
(Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011) 332 pages
Reviewed by Daniel I. Morrison, M. Div., Ph.D. Student McMaster Divinity College
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Despite the declaration of blessing upon those who read, hear, and keep the words of the book (Rev. 1:3), many present-day readers of the book of Revelation often experience confusion. Attempts at understanding the culturally distant images of angels, dragons, and other beasts, have led many Christians to approach Revelation in one of two ways. Readers either avoid the book altogether or attempt to read the work within the context of a primarily futuristic interpretive framework. Gordon D. Fee writes Revelation—one of the first volumes in the New Covenant Commentary Series, demonstrating the possibility of interpreting the text in a way that reflects a reasonable understanding of the original audience(s) and provides principles applicable to Christian life today. This exegetical approach to Revelation makes the work easily accessible to readers, especially students and ministers, the commentary series’ target audience.
Unlike many commentaries authored by Fee, Revelation does not contain a vast amount of Greek text. Instead, the work utilizes the latest edition of the New International Version as the biblical text for the commentary. This usage of the latest version of a popularly trusted text within the English translation tradition serves as an inviting feature for individuals outside of the pulpit and the academy who wish to study the text of Revelation. As a member of the translation committee, Fee sometimes exposes his bias in favor of the NIV translation and utilizes his commentary to provide an apologetic concerning various translations within Revelation. Though he does not address the original language of the text, he does provide general language explanations for why the translation presented in the NIV is the most likely.
Fee addresses the unique nature of Revelation as an apocalyptic work among the writings in the New Testament canon. As a result, a detailed understanding of Revelation necessitates a firm grasp of apocalyptic writing within the Jewish tradition. Though Fee does not elaborate on the features of this genre, he does address them when they present substantial support for his explanation of the text. One such example is the consistent use of angelic imagery when the letters are written to the “angels” of the seven churches.
Because Revelation functions as a book of prophecy (Rev. 1:3; 22:18-19), questions abound concerning the timing of the things mentioned in the book. This has led many commentators to declare specific time frames concerning the progression of the events mentioned. Fee, like other commentators, also does this. He differs from his colleagues by ignoring the idea of sequence and by presenting the timing of the book in relation to John and the letter’s original recipients, instead of the present readers of the epistle. Based on his analysis of the text, particularly his use of Revelation 1:19, Fee explains that the content of Revelation can be divided into two categories: the present (“what is now”) and the future (“what will take place”). He presents the time of Revelation as moving between the present and future, describing chapters 2 through 5 and 12 through 14 as the present, while chapters 6 through 11 and 15 through 22 describe the future. Because of Fee’s approach to the temporal layout of Revelation, readers must understand that events such as the fall of Babylon (Rome) would have occurred between the time of John and our present. This approach to Revelation leads to an intriguing aspect of Fee’s presentation to Revelation, especially as an Assemblies of God minister.
Discussion of the millennium serves as one area of eschatological controversy in the book of Revelation. Some hold to such a firm position that alternative views are presented as eschatologically erroneous. The Assemblies of God “disapproves of the amillennial teaching … which denies the fact of a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth.” Despite the stance of his denomination, Fee explains that what John presents “is not a literal thousand-year reign on earth for a special group, but an intentional reminder to all of God’s people that even though they may expect it to get far worse before it ever gets better, God has not forgotten his own, even though for some it may seem to be so” (284). His approach brings into question the rarely acknowledged practice of viewing most, if not all, the numbers presented in Revelation as symbolic, except for when discussing the thousand years in Revelation 20.
The lack of interaction with alternative views, or even supporting material, stands as an alarming feature of the commentary. Such an approach exposes the reality that this work stands exclusively as Fee’s exegetical analysis of the text (including his investigation of John’s use of the Old Testament text). Though some may see this as a narrow approach, Fee demonstrates his knowledge of other materials by providing a list of added resources for readers seeking additional information and alternative views. The work includes a selected bibliography of useful commentaries, as well as another bibliography of materials related to special studies discussing Revelation.
Fee’s work has made significant contributions to New Testament scholarship in Pentecostal and Charismatic communities as well as the broader Evangelical community. This work, likely the final monograph penned by Fee due to a continued bout with Alzheimer’s, provides readers with information that is useful for scholastic study, but goes beyond that by urging readers to embrace the biblical reality presented by John, in hopes that we, like John, will recognize “that truly Christian theology should lead to doxology” (x). For personal study, as well as the development of preaching and teaching material, Fee’s commentary is an invaluable resource when approaching the book of Revelation.
General Council of the Assemblies of God Bylaws, art. IX.B, sec. 3, cl. d.
Monday, October 29, 2012 9:47 AM