In my judgment one is better prepared to appreciate parts of Revelation if he has been exposed to The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. When a believer is exposed to The Chronicles of Narnia he knows immediately that he stands in the presence of the truest story of all stories, the “deepest magic” that exists. Narnia doesn’t need to be allegorized, de-mythologized, or particularized, it just needs to be told and experienced. Similarly, there is a profound depth to the magical language found by Revelation.
I suspect that the prophet John would be aghast if he were to see how the truth and magic of some of his scenes were dismantled and cast off by later literalists who had no sense, or at least no sense of the reality of the imaginative and magical depictions given by John. How could anyone familiar with the imaginative narratives and visions used by certain prophets of the Old Testament, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Amos, anticipate any less from the prophet John?
John’s scenes of the “four living creatures” who reside in the vicinity of God’s throne is a case in point. With total disregard for the details of accuracy, John tells a truth that does not rely upon literalism, and he understands that attempts at harmonization are more than inappropriate; they would be detrimental. John mentions the “four living creatures” in Revelation chapters four, five, six, seven, fourteen, fifteen, and nineteen, and almost all interpreters of this material believe that John’s imagery stems from Ezekiel chapter one. Unless the “four living creatures” of Ezekiel chapter one have died off and been replaced by an evolved species, then there really is no easy way to harmonize their descriptions in Ezekiel and Revelation.
If I can rather easily see that in Ezekiel chapter one each of the four living creatures had four faces, for a total of sixteen faces, while in Revelation each of the four living creatures had only one face each, for a total of four faces, then I am confident that ancient Jewish and Christian believers could see the same. John clearly was not so bereft of math skills that he could not see this noticeable difference.
In the prophetic imagination given to John (Rev. 1:1), these types of scenes are arrayed in Revelation to capture the heart, mind, and soul of believers. Those early Asian believers that John addresses, who face hostilities and perhaps death, are surely more energized by a tableau from the unseen world than by a rigidity of thought that smothers all reliance upon the deeper magic of John’s visions. The magical realities of these scenes of prophetic imagination sweep away the feeble efforts of those with little or no respect for the truths contained in prophetic imagination, an imagination that employs a spiritual dialect that easily converses with the profound magic of John’s Revelation.
I will end as I began, with a quotation from C. S. Lewis (provided to me by a friend and student of C. S. Lewis, Corey Latta). On the whole topic of the need for discourse about God and his truth to be expressed both in literal and imaginary language (cf. Letters to Malcolm 21) Lewis wrote, “The whole subject [of theology and God and feelings] was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could” (Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said).
10 thoughts on “Magical Language in John’s Revelation”
Posts like this keep me excited about the publication of your commentary. There is so much garbage in people's hands about Revelation/apocalyptic. Hardly a week goes by but what I am personally involved in trying to help correct some of it so I'm excited to have your book as a resource to recommend to others. I pray all is on schedule for its release.
All this magical thinking is ultimately pointless. Narnia or Revelations, the truth is unimaginable. Surely it's not predictable. As time passes and prophets one after another are Proven wrong, confused and disillusioned believers will fall away, wondering how they were swindled into buying into this fatuous bill of goods.
JackAfter6,Thank you for taking time to look at the blog; for future use, the spelling of the final book of the Bible is in the singular–Revelation, not Revelations.Thanks,Richard
The spelling of Revelation must be some kind of pet peeve with you. It's funny, but I wonder how many different versions of the Bible there are? Those words just keep changing and changing. I don't even know what language "Revelation" was originally written in, but I doubt it was spelled the way you spelled it. They should just go ahead and change the spelling to Revelations, since that's the way everybody refers to it.
JackAfter6,The book of Revelation was originally written in the Greek language. The two most frequent names used for the book are "Revelation" and "Apocalypse of John." The name Revelation comes from the English translation of the first word of the Greek text of Revelation. The name Apocalypse comes from the transliteration of the first Greek word, "apocalypsis." However, as far as I know ALL recognized English translations use the singular form in the title of the book since the original Greek word is singular.I did not intend to make it sound like a pet peeve. I just thought you would want to know the title with the correct spelling. Regarding the idea that "everybody" refers to it in the plural form "Revelations," I could not find that in the wikipedia article on the book or in books listed at Amazon.com.I am glad you visited the blog.Thanks,Richard Oster
Dr. Oster, I appreciate the posts that you are presenting here. It makes me feel like I'm back in the classroom. I actually just gave an extra credit assignment to my Revelation class which directs them to read several of the posts on your blog and write up summary reflections on them so hopefully they will benefit from this as well.Thanks.Greg Stevenson
Dr. Oster,I appreciate the clarification, as, I'm afraid, the pluralization of Revelation is a pet peeve of mine. By the way, Wikipedia should be capitalized when it does not include .org. =)I'm glad you are writing the blog.Cheers,Greg McKinzie
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