Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Greek and Latin Commentaries on Revelation (IVP Academic)

The Book of Revelation is the most widely interpreted of all the books in the Bible. Coming from a Protestant background, I was exposed to this book at an early age. Taught by those with an apocalyptic viewpoint, I was schooled in the thinking that you could pick up a newspaper and the Book of Revelation and the two would connect to form a picture of the end of the world. It took a lot of years and a lot of reading to erase that slant. That reading came in the form of Catholic Scripture commentaries and from reading Church Fathers. InterVarsity Press Academic has released two commentaries on Revelation in their Ancient Christian Texts Series - one Greek and one Latin. Allow me to tell you about them.

Greek Commentaries on Revelation is a 250 page hardcover, which contains the commentaries of Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea. There is not a consensus on who exactly Oecumenius was, but there is a general consensus that his commentary was written in the early 7th century. His interpretation of Revelation focused more on the spiritual meaning than literal meaning, much like Origen. He also focuses on the three ages (past, present, and future) within Revelation. Lastly, he places great emphasis on both the Incarnation of Jesus and the seven seals in Revelation and how they related to Jesus.

Andrew of Caesarea's commentary occurs shortly after Oecumenius's commentary, as he uses it as a reference for his own. In fact, very little of Andrew of Caesarea's commentary could be called original. A lot of people might see this as a bad thing, but it is quite the opposite, as novelty and heresy usually go hand in hand. His commentary became the one that was most widely accepted in the Byzantine tradition, and his is also my favorite commentary on Revelation. He has an interesting way of dividing the book. He divides Revelation into 24 books (for the 24 elders mentioned in Revelation). He the divides each of those books into three chapters, which corresponds to the body, soul, and spirit of man. This creates 72 chapters and very brief commentary on each of his chapters with the occasional depth where he deems necessary.

Reading the two commentaries, it is clear that they do not agree on many points, even though they were written so closely together. In fact, Andrew uses Oecumenius' commentary in his merely to show where he offers a differing viewpoint. In addition to these great translations, there are also brilliant introductions which give us insight on the two commentators and valuable insight into their methods regarding their commentaries. This book is a wonderful resource to those interested in how the early Church viewed the Book of Revelation and a must have for the serious student of Scripture. I would highly recommend this volume and then if you are still thirsty for more knowledge, get Latin Commentaries on Revelation.

Latin Commentaries on Revelation is a 250 page hardcover book, which contains four commentaries on Revelation from Victorinus of Petovium, Apringius of Beja, Caesarius of Arles, and Bede the Venerable. I confess to being ignorant of all of these men. except for Bede. Thankfully, the introduction contains information on each of these four men. Victorinus was a bishop in the 3rd century. Apringius was a bishop in the 6th century. Caesarius was also a bishop in the 6th century. And Venerable Bede was a monk in the 8th century. Thus, these Latin commentaries all occurred fairly close in time to one another, if you consider that the Church is over 2000 years old. In addition to providing biographical information on these four men, there is also background on their other writings and their commentary style of Revelation.

Victorinus' commentary was surprisingly short at only 22 pages. Each chapter of Revelation only received about one page of commentary, except for the first chapter. At times, it reads more like a summary than an actual commentary. Apringius' is slightly more robust at 40 pages in length. He takes a verse-by-verse approach with his commentary, and if I'm being honest with myself that is how I like my commentaries. Since he borrowed the bulk of his commentary from Jerome's editing of Victorinus, the only parts in this section that are his are commentary on Revelation chapters 1 through 5 and 18 through 22. Caesarius' section is composed of nineteen homilies, which appear addressed to monks. It is mainly expositions, but it also contains personal messages to his audience as well. Bede's commentary is the longest and most intact, and it too follows the verse-by-verse approach. I particularly enjoyed reading about Chapter 21, as Bede walks us through the significance and meaning of each of the precious stones of the Holy City.

The real jewel of this work is Bede's commentary. The other three are a nice bonus and given an interesting perspective of how earlier Christians viewed this controversial book of the Bible. It also provides a sort-of timeline view of how the Church's view of this book changed as well. With some of the commentaries, primarily Apringius', you'll have to take into account the cultural bias in what is said. It was not as good to me as the Greek Commentaries on Revelation, but if you can get it for a good price, you should so that you can have both an Eastern and Western view of the book of Revelation.

These books were provided to me for free by InterVarsity Press Academic in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!