Friday, August 11, 2017

The Book of Revelation: A Theological and Exegetical Commentary, Book Review

Title: The Book of Revelation: A Theological and Exegetical Commentary
Author: Paul M. Hoskins
Publisher: CreateSpace, 2017
Price: $24.99 (amz)
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 491
In this new commentary, Paul Hoskins seeks to make the book of Revelation accessible to a broad audience and also to demonstrate the depth of its connection to the rest of the biblical canon.

Hoskins teaches New Testament studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has an ongoing interest in hermeneutics and the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. His prior works include Jesus and the Fulfillment of the Temple in the Gospel of John and That Scripture May Be Fulfilled, both of which inform his analysis of Revelation.

Throughout his study, Hoskins takes care to focus on the flow of the discourse. Some commentaries on Revelation maximize any possible connection to historical background information or details that might correspond to contemporary events. Hoskins does treat several issues surrounding the historical setting of the book. For example, he makes a plausible case for John the apostle as the author (13-21) and he surveys the social and historical context of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 (68-119). However, he is quick to shift to a focus on the text of revelation itself as the surest guide to its interpretive context. As he argues, “in spite of gaps in our historical knowledge, the book of Revelation is able to communicate a powerful message that resonates across the centuries” (9). For Hoskins, John depicts a great conflict that stretches from the Genesis narratives through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Consequently, “the biblical account of this conflict is more important background for most of the book of Revelation than the historical particularities of John’s day” (9).

Instead of fully reconstructing the Sitz im Leben of the seven churches, for instance, Hoskins begins his treatment of Revelation 2-3 with a discussion of the common structure of the seven letters (69-71) and ends it with an analysis of the layered interrelationship of these letters (119-23). At the end of each major section, Hoskins also provides a “synthesis” that summarizes the preceding textual block and relates it to the immediate discourse context and the message of the book as a whole. In this vein, as the commentary unfolds, Hoskins keeps an eye on the structural function of the twenty-one judgments (7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 bowls) that dominate the bulk of the book (see 24-26, 305-06). These features will be particularly helpful for readers seeking to get a handle on Revelation’s sprawling shape.

Two of the primary contexts that Hoskins brings into dialogue with Revelation are the Gospel of John and the Old Testament. Throughout the commentary, Hoskins notes literary and thematic connections to John’s Gospel (see 17n23). He also emphasizes how important the Hebrew Scriptures are for John as he composes his book. Though Revelation does not include direct quotations of the Old Testament, there are constant allusions to texts, themes, and theological foundations of the Hebrew Bible. Recognizing the elusiveness of allusions, Hoskins uses the criteria of verbal and thematic connections in order to identify legitimate instances of allusions. Important examples include (inter alia!) the allusions to Daniel’s concept of the son of man, the exodus event and the plagues on Egypt, the Passover ceremony, the fall of Jerusalem, and the Day of the Lord.

Alongside an examination of Old Testament allusions in the book, Hoskins is also keen to uncover the interpretive strategy of the author. In other words, why is John utilizing these particular texts in these particular ways. Sometimes, an Old Testament text predicts an event or situation that a later event or person fulfills in a direct manner. Other times, however, a New Testament author will point to the fulfillment of an Old Testament text that is not directly predictive. For Hoskins, the concept of typology helps explain this textual phenomenon (see 39-43). Hoskins defines typology as “the aspect of biblical interpretation that treats the significance of Old Testament types for prefiguring corresponding New Testament antitypes or fulfillments” (40).

So, for instance, the ten plagues of the Exodus narrative prefigure the plagues mentioned in Revelation. The relationship between the fall of Babylon in the preaching of the prophets and the fall of the Great Harlot, Babylon in Revelation is another place where a typological interpretation can assist interpreters trying to make sense of the comparison. This careful attention to subtle allusions and the nature of typological connections are two features that Hoskins uses to forefront John’s frequent and varied use of the Old Testament. 

Many readers of a Revelation commentary will be interested in theological conclusions. Hoskins takes a “Historic Premillennial position” on the nature and timing of the millennium mentioned in Revelation 20 (see 32-35, 393-423). For Hoskins, this position allows him to understand some aspects of the book symbolically (an emphasis of amillenialism) and also maintain at future-looking orientation to much of John’s vision (an emphasis of dispensational premillennialism). Proponents of alternative approaches will certainly have disagreements on this point of the commentary. However, a central strength of Hoskins’ approach is his attention to John’s wording and the internal development of the book’s argument.

In other words, he shows what a non-dispensational premillennial reading of the book would look like. Likewise, Hoskins addresses theological implications in his synthesis sections, although he usually prioritizes textual analysis over theological formulation. Thus, while Hoskins certainly engages in “theological interpretation” and addresses several topics of eschatology, his commentary does not trade in the categories of systematic theology (see his brief survey of theological approaches to Revelation in the introduction, 29-35).

G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Though St John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators” (Orthodoxy [New York: John Lang, 1908], 19). Hoskins’ study would be a breath of fresh air for someone only familiar with sensational or speculative treatments of Revelation. In the end, Hoskins’ commentary allows the reader to grapple with what is actually there in the text and thus hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches through this challenging and rewarding biblical book.

Also in Themelios, forthcoming.

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