—Reviewed by Edwin Reynolds, PhD, professor of New Testament Studies and Greek at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee, United States.

This second edition of the commentary on Revelation by Ranko Stefanovic does not differ greatly from the first edition, but it does make some subtle improvements in a few areas, apparently, in part at least, due to some feedback received from readers of the first edition.

The first major revision is with the methodological approach to the text. Stefanovic has added some clarity to the approach that he follows in the commentary. Although he still notes that all of the various approaches “have some elements of truth” (12)—a debatable premise—he concludes, “Despite the fact that historicism has generally been denied and marginalized by modern scholarship, this commentary shows it to be the most appropriate approach to the book of Revelation” (14; cf. 16). This is a departure from the eclectic approach he argued for in the first edition, though in practical terms, he followed a largely historicist methodology while avoiding some specific applications that are controversial.

The clearer and more consistent historicist approach plays out in notable fashion in his exposition of the letters to the seven churches where he shows how the message of each church applies appropriately to specific consecutive periods of church history. Similarly, Stefanovic has attempted to add some material on the parallels between the historicist interpretation of the seven churches and that of the seven seals, positing “specific applications in different periods in Christian history” (227). He has revised his statement regarding the failure of the historicist interpretation in Revelation 11 to one that admits that “such a historical application is quite tenable” (354), although he offers a second, nonhistorical interpretation as well. Another area in which Stefanovic has attempted to accommodate historicism is in his discussion of the 1,260-day/year period at various points where it appears in Revelation (11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5). He still does this a bit awkwardly, clearly preferring an approximate period to a specific one, but at least he does acknowledge the existence of the interpretation beginning in a.d. 538 and ending in a.d. 1798 (346, 387, 392, 411). At the same time, he argues for both a quantitative and qualitative understanding of this time period (346, 347, 387), detracting somewhat from a purely historicist interpretation. And, he wavers on applying the imagery of the beast from the sea to the papacy: “We must acknowledge, however, that applying the seventh head of the sea beast to the Medieval ecclesiastical power alone is inadequate. History depicts similar behaviors and activities by the hierarchy of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Sadly, religious-political oppression was also demonstrated by the newly established Protestant orthodoxy in the Western world during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries characterized by religious intolerance” (420).

One area in which Stefanovic has not accommodated himself to traditional historicist interpretation is in the matter of the number of the beast’s name in 13:18. In fact, he has added arguments against the traditional interpretation (425, 426), and urges instead for a purely figurative significance based on a purported triple six, “a human number,” which “stands for the satanic triumvirate in contrast to the triple seven of the Godhead in Revelation 1:4-6. . . . This leads to the conclusion that the number 666 functions as a parody of the divine name of perfection” (437).

Aside from the issue of historicism, Stefanovic has made some accommodation to the interpretation of Revelation 1:10 in that, while he still leans toward “the Lord’s day” as referring to “the eschatological day of the Lord” (97), he now admits that “John might have used the phrase ‘the Lord’s day’ in a twofold meaning,” including the seventh-day Sabbath as an option which “would fit the eschatological connotation of the Sabbath in the Bible” (ibid.).

Another area in which Stefanovic has made some improvement is in the discussion of the symbolism of Revelation. The messages of Revelation “come not through a literal understanding of its contents but through the interpretation of symbols” (59). “The interpretive key of the book’s symbols is not allegory but typology” (59, 60). “Careful study indicates that most of the book’s symbolism is drawn from the Old Testament. . . . In portraying the events to take place in the future, inspiration employs the language of the past” (60). This explanation is very helpful, countering the literalism of dispensational futurist interpretations.

Still problematic is Stefanovic’s discussion of the structure of Revelation. He has made no revision of his structure in the new edition. The problem is an inconsistency in the structure—or structures—he proposes. He begins by arguing for a seven-part chiastic structure based on seven introductory sanctuary scenes (31). He then suggests an eleven-part chiastic outline of the book that synchronizes “the chiastic parallel segments,” including the prologue and epilogue (37). Finally, Stefanovic revises his proposed structure: “This commentary argues for the threefold structure of the book of Revelation with a prologue (1:1-8) and an epilogue (22:6-21). Such a structure is self-evident on the basis of Revelation 1:19” (40). Although one can question how “self-evident” this structure is, it is certainly different from those previously proposed. It departs from the chiastic structure, and does not entirely agree in where the divisions are in the outline. For example, the issue of what to do with 11:19 is never fully resolved, and he takes differing positions at different points in the commentary.

Despite some concerns about structure and content, this is an excellent commentary, one of the best on the market.

 

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—Reviewed by Edwin Reynolds, PhD, professor of New Testament Studies and Greek at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee, United States.

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