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The Evangelical Heritage Version

There is no greater treasure than to hear the Word of God communicated clearly in your own language.  The Evangelical Heritage Version aims to translate the Bible into clear English style while maintaining a faithful translation.  Professor John Brug, the head of the Wartburg Project, joins us to discuss the EHV, what makes it unique, and why it was undertaken in the first place.

Listeners interested in learning more about this translation should go to the Wartburg Project website. Resources include commonly asked questions, samples, lectionary outlines, and the ability to order a copy.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Guest: Prof. John Brug, Professor Emeritus of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, and General Editor of Project Wartburg

Episode: 71

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Patience in an Impatient Time

Technology is the high god of our age. You know who someone’s god is by what he sacrifices. Money, hours of one’s life, the joy of other human faces and voices are all sacrificed to technology, and the sacrifices we make change us in turn. We become what our phones have made of us: impatient consumers.

Consumption is an attitude we lament in parishioners and potential converts. They demand things from us that we are either unwilling or unable to give them. They come only to take and not to give back. They appear and disappear as the whim suits them, as if the church were a Halloween or Christmas store you stop by once a year for something really specific.

But consumption is our way, too, consuming ways and means to bring in more people to our churches. Maybe that’s why you’re here, as if we were experts on how Christ’s Word can spread best in your part of the vineyard. Consumers are impatient. It is their way. They cannot be otherwise because their lives are defined by their needs, and we as pastors, preachers, evangelists have needs the same as anyone else.

Impatience cannot live next-door to hope. Hope waits, is patient, hope bears the strain and stress of what today has brought because it believes tomorrow can be better. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. (James 5:7). Hope and patience can receive because hope and patience are under no illusion that tomorrow depends on their doing, their needs, their demands, whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow (James 4:14).

Patience is possible because the flourishing of the Gospel and the growth of Christ’s Church are His gift for every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights…of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth (James 1:17, 18). Everything we have, life and life abundantly in Christ, that we believe in him at all, is all his gift. We have nothing we have not received, and our future will be no different than our past. James counsels patience precisely because the future is in Christ’s hands, You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:8). You, who are just getting a church start off the ground, be patient. You, who don’t know how to go about this whole thing, be patient. You, who are struggling to hold a congregation together, be patient.

Put away your phone and whatever you’re reading this on. Put away your habits of instant satisfaction and pressing demands. Put away everything that is impatient and suspicious, cramped and distorted in your soul. Put on patience and hope in Christ, and using the oldest and simplest of tools, the Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, now calmly and steadily and joyfully reap the harvest the Lord has prepared!

The Evangelist’s Slumber

Our Lord at times desired to have time apart from the demands of His ministry. He was often entirely alone, retiring to mountains where He could not easily be found. Sometimes His attempt at seclusion was frustrated through the demands of others for His presence and attention. Sometimes He called his disciples to come with Him into seclusion.

This is all tremendously needful, refreshing, and helpful. Who does not desire some time apart? Who of us can say that at every waking moment he is entirely ready and willing to carry out the ministry of the gospel? No honest man could answer “Yes.”

But there is a danger in the desire for rest. Rest is not only the resort of the hard-working. Rest is also the refuge of the lazy man who is unprepared for life’s demands. Rest throughout the week, not only on the Sabbath, is what a man does with himself when he is not carrying out his God-given tasks.

How much have we been resting from spreading the gospel? How much preparation time, reflection time, and downtime do we need until we are ready to spread the kingdom of God the Lord? How many books and conferences and modules and workshops on evangelism does one man need? How many years will pass in which we seek conversions only from other forms of Christianity rather than the ever-increasing number of people in our country who have never known Christ in the least? Godly rest and relaxation and meditation and prayer are one thing. Ungodly sluggishness and laziness and most of all apathy are another altogether.

How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.
(Prov. 6:9-11)

We are most apt to rest prematurely when the work is hard. Calling up a friend and sharing ecclesiastical gossip is easily accomplished. Firing off a profound theological put-down on social media is easily accomplished. Assembling one’s theological books for an Instagram gem is easily accomplished. We are more apt to put off things like calling on a parishioner who has some beef with us or to do the hard work of engaging and evangelizing a completely new person because those things require hard, uphill, back-breaking, and at times spirit-breaking work.

But the Lord has said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We do not say these things only to condemn. We say this, as our Lord said what He did to his lazy, restful followers in Gethsemane: Would you not watch with Me? If our lazy, apathetic flesh could not remain awake for the betrayal of God’s Son, how likely is it to remain watchful for the hard but much smaller tasks of the ministry, including doing the work of an evangelist?

Honesty about our apathy is honesty about ourselves, about what we are most prone to love (our flesh) and most prone to neglect (our hardest tasks). Honesty about our apathy is like every confession the gate to a new path. We see head-on how ugly and untimely and niggardly our apathy about the gospel and the spread of the gospel is. We see how captivating and world-changing and bounteous is our Lord’s compassion for sinners. Knowing our hearts and knowing His mighty love and purposes, we set our hands to the hard tasks, the things we’d rather stay in bed than get up for, the things that call sinners out of their slumber into the wakefulness of the dawning light of Christ:

Awake, you who sleep,

Arise from the dead,

And Christ will give you light. (Eph. 5:14)

The Work of an Evangelist: What are We Planting?

Of the bookshelves in my study, one entire shelf bears titles like “Planting Missional Churches” and “Church Planting for the 21st Century.” These books come from a wide variety of Christian confessions. “Church planting” has become a term as ecumenical as “stewardship” or “pastoral care.” Each of the books on that shelf means by “church planting” the establishment of a new Christian congregation where there was none before. No doubt, those books may recommend that the church planter should be bivocational or that he should seek out hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding before he begins. One book may insist that public worship services begin almost immediately; another may contradict that advice flatly and require that at least 200 people be on hand for the first public service. Yet each of those books presumes in common with all the others that there is such a thing as a “church planter” who establishes new churches, an activity obviously biblical called “church planting.”

It is surprising, to say the least, to read the Bible and not to find the phrase “church planting” in it. Is this like how the phrases “Holy Trinity” or “communication of attributes” also don’t appear in the Scriptures? Not really. “Trinity” unites the biblical data on the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in a single word expressing the essential divine reality for which we have no other single word. “Communication of attributes” expresses elegantly the relationship between the human and divine natures of the God-man for which we can cite all manner of passages. New congregations are established in Scripture. There is no question that Christian assemblies for worship and common life in Christ sprang up in Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, and so many other locations named in the New Testament. But does the Bible speak of “planting” churches?

It does not. It speaks rather about “planting” in a variety of other ways. Jesus speaks of the Pharisees in their obstinate opposition to him as “every plant that my Father in heaven has not planted” (Mt. 15:13) and the sowing of the wheat as “plants that came up” (Mt. 13:26) alongside the Enemy’s sowing of weeds. Here the action is God’s, and the means identified in Mt. 13 is the “word of the kingdom” (Mt. 13:18). In the parable of the tenants (Mt. 21, Mk. 12, Lk. 13) the master of the vineyard plants a vineyard that belongs to Him alone. Paul, the great missionary of the post-Pentecost church, says three times in 1 Cor. 3 that he has planted (3:6, 7, 8), as he has spoken of feeding the Corinthians with milk (3:2) and of himself and Apollos as “servants through whom you believed” (3:5). The object of that planting and Apollos’ watering and God’s gift of growth is explicitly the Corinthian people themselves, “You are God’s field, God’s building” (3:12). Paul’s aim has not been to establish an institution but to call men to faith by preaching Christ crucified.

What’s the difference? This is the difference between thinking of our evangelistic task as people-centered or institution-centered. The Bible speaks about gathering people, cultivating people, God’s field as people, God’s building as people, the temple of God composed of people. Paul plants not a church but the “word of the kingdom.” The sower in Mt. 13 plants not a well-funded institution but the same word that the man sows with good seed later in the same chapter. The focus is constantly on the spread of the word and the cultivation of the Lord’s vineyard, the Lord’s field, the Lord’s building which are the believers who receive that word and bear abundant fruit. Our task is not planting organizations. The organizations with their budgets and boards will arise to manage what has been given, as you can see the church’s forms of life develop in the Acts of the Apostles. Our task is rather planting the word of the kingdom in the field of this world so that the wheat, the good seed, the abundant fruit of the Lord may grow and flourish in His vineyard.

The Work of an Evangelist: The Need

It was a truth universally acknowledged that a parish pastor in a free church should “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Providentially guided to flourishing in America, the early Missouri Synod was ardent in spreading the gospel and planting new congregations. A synod that began with a dozen congregations and scarcely fewer clergymen reached its fiftieth anniversary with many, many times that number of churches and ministers. Without the in-depth demographic research and financial backing that is our contemporary good fortune, they spread the kingdom of God the Lord widely and deeply. They had been freed from the unbelieving strictures of the state church. They were now free to preach the Word in season and out of season.

We cannot recall their fervency without a mixture of confusion and of shame, confusion due to the sea-change in our common life and shame due to our lukewarm efforts by comparison to our fathers who were threadbare in the things of this life and rich in the things of the life to come. Everywhere we look, congregations are struggling mightily, and pastors are drowned in busyness, when they do have the means to be supported by the church. When they do not, the church’s work suffers so that the minister can put some food on his family’s table. Everywhere we look, we hear that the Faith is receding from our shores and going elsewhere, that the “passing shower of the gospel” has passed us by. What has become of us? Where has all our fathers’ resolve and confidence and joy gone? Yet we cannot recall their fervency only to bemoan our degeneration. The saints are our examples for imitation, not the occasions of our piously mournful recollection. This cloud of witnesses spurs us on to look afresh at how we might yet in our own time fulfill our calling and do the work of an evangelist.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look closely at the evangelistic nature of the office of the ministry as the New Testament teaches it. We’ll do that in the firm conviction that if the Lord has placed us in a difficult field, yet it is here that he has given us the work that is his to bless. We do not find Saint Paul bewailing the difficulty of his task or being at all daunted by the ideological and political forces arrayed against him. In the firm conviction that “now it is the opportune time, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2) for all mankind, we preach in season and out of season the Word of reconciliation also here and now in America, also here and now to the actual neighbor next door.

Here and now God has put our free church, our confessional church, our church of the pure Gospel, to proclaim that Gospel and to fulfill our calling to teach and to baptize all nations, including this one, including the spiritual-but-not-religious, including the less-than-exotic auto mechanics and coal miners and sugar beet farmers. We know that God works by calling something out of nothing and not by the wisdom of the world. We know that Christ died for us while we were yet his enemies and committed to us the Word that in Christ God was reconciling the world, even present-day Americans, to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).

Review: The German Bible in America

The German Bible in America: An Exploration of the Religious and Cultural Legacy of the First European-Language Bible Printed in America by Don Yoder, ed. Patrick J. Donmoyer (Kutztown, PA: Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, 2016)

Few would guess that the first Bible printed in the thirteen colonies was John Eliot’s 1663 Indian Bible produced for the Christian Indians and for missionaries among other Algonquin tribes. Fewer still would guess that the first Bible in a European tongue printed in the colonies was not printed in English. Not until Robert Aitken’s 1782 printing in Philadelphia, after the colonies had broken away from the mother country and its restriction of Bible printing to Oxford and Cambridge, would an English Bible be printed here. Instead, the first European-language Bible and so much of the colonies’ and early America’s religious literature were printed in German. Christopher Sauer Sr.’s 1743 edition of the Luther Bible was printed in Germantown (then just outside Philadelphia and now a part of it) as he stated at the project’s outset in his 1741 Bekanntmachung, “We have also taken notice that people from Germany arrive here in the greatest poverty, and are still coming, who have not even a Bible, and are not able to get one.”

Don Yoder, the late folklorist of Pennsylvania Dutch culture and religion, produced this volume on the Bibles of German America from colonial times down to the nineteenth century and left some of it unfinished at his death. What Yoder did not have opportunity to cover, Patrick Donmoyer of Kutztown University’s Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center has fleshed out. The subject of German Bibles in America deserves far more attention than it has hitherto received, especially from so many American Lutherans whose heritage this is. The Luther Bible was the vastly predominant German translation of the Scriptures even for non-Lutheran Germans. Its competitors like the Swiss Froschauer Bible beloved of the Swiss Anabaptists did not seriously rival the Luther Bible for ubiquity.

Several elements will be of interest to our readers from this visually wonderful volume featuring so many beautiful editions, illustrations, and textual examples from two hundred years of printing. The material form and all the things in a Bible that are not strictly speaking the biblical text affect how we read Scripture, the connections we make, the mental images that impress themselves upon us, and much else about profitably understanding what we read.

  • German Bibles never lacked the Apocrypha.

In colonial and early republican America there are several beautiful examples of printed Bibles like the three editions of the Sauer family or the 1813 Somerset Bible of Frederick Goeb, a Lutheran minister who printed the first Bible west of the Appalachian Mountains in Somerset County, PA. One is unsurprised to find the Apocrypha printed in those texts. Yet even the barebones copies sent to Muhlenberg from the Canstein Bible Society in Halle for distribution to poor Germans contained the Apocrypha. The first edition of the German Bible without the Apocrypha that Yoder discusses was printed by the American Bible Society in 1849, an Anglo-American institution that did not print the Apocrypha in its own English editions.

  • German Bibles were copiously illustrated.

Relatively cheap copies could possess handmade fraktur drawings for bookplates or decoration. Weightier quarto or folio editions were always accompanied by engravings and later drawings, stereotypes, and lithographs. Scripture was always illustrated in great detail. This book is full of ravishing illustrations from the 1704 Merian Bible printed at Frankfurt-am-Main of Jesus’ baptism or unicorns standing next to Adam and Eve and from the 1726 Berleburg Bible brought to colonial Pennsylvania by radical Pietists with elaborate allegorical drawings of the Scriptures as the open door to the vision of the Lamb and of eternal life. This tradition was carried down to what Yoder calls the “Victorian family Bible,” the grandfather of contemporary study Bibles with scholarly articles and lithographs drawn from English Bibles.

  • German Bibles contained much besides the biblical text and illustrations of it.

Almost all copies had what is now called the “one-year” or “historic” lectionary, which one can find even today in all German Bibles printed by and for the Amish, who do not utilize the lectionary system. Such is the power of this tradition of including the readings for each Sunday and festival day that the above-mentioned ABS 1849 German edition sans Apocrypha did contain the standard lectionary readings. From 1805’s Jungmann Bible printed at Reading, PA a family register was included in nearly every Bible as well, and family charts and lists of family events metastasized throughout the nineteenth century as Bibles became repositories of all significant life information. Yoder mentions two court cases in which men established their own ages with reference to what was written in their fathers’ Bibles.

  • Widespread possession and regular use of the Bible were highly valued.

Many of the Amerikabriefe, letters written from the New World back to the German-speaking lands, mention the writer’s desire for a copy of the Scriptures. Lutheran and Reformed ministers in colonial Pennsylvania requested over and again that their overseers in the Old World would provide them with sufficient copies of the Scriptures to sell to the well-off and to distribute freely to the poor. Sauer’s own printing in 1743 sought subscribers so that some of the money raised from subscriptions could cover the cost of printing Bibles to be given away for free. The Bible was the basic text of the Lutheran and Reformed parochial schools that were everywhere in early German America.

And once the Scriptures were in a person’s hands, they were read. Pastor Brunnholtz of Philadelphia reported in 1752 that in his congregation “very many of them keep their hand-Bibles at hand during the sermon and Kinderlehre, and consult them eagerly so that I myself have often been cheered up when I see that through this they have been kept in attention thereby, also with the advantage, that they can repeat the sermon at home and can better remember the cite passages of the truths that are expounded.” Whether read in connection with the sermon or during the family meal, the Scriptures were for early German Americans in the words of Gottlob Jungmann’s Vorrede, “a Word of Atonement – yes, so that it may in the end prove itself the only means by which fallen human creatures may find access again to their GOD, to their Creator, yes, to their Redeemer.”

 

Reading Revelation with Goesswein (Part 6): Dating and Outline

The date and the outline of Revelation

Gösswein says with the great certainty that is his accustomed tone that Revelation was written in John’s old age during the reign of Domitian somewhere between AD 95 and 97. Though he cannot say precisely what year it was written, he avers that the persecution John suffered was the systematic persecution in Domitian’s time, not some sporadic, localized difficulty. Gösswein’s reasons for dating the book are threefold:

  1. The book is not early because Paul is gone. There is no indication of his presence among the churches of Asia Minor in the letters that occupy the first couple chapters of Revelation. For Gösswein that arguable textual fact slides right into the assertion that “all of the apostles had gone home except for John.” I do not think that follows necessarily from the absence of Paul in Asia Minor, but since this series is about Gösswein’s hermeneutics and not my own, it is by the by.
  2. The book is not early because early church tradition (no particular text is cited by Gösswein) says unanimously that Domitian banned John to the island of Patmos, whereon John received the Revelation. This happened near the end of Domitian’s reign, which is where Gösswein gets his AD 95-97 since Domitian died on 18 September 96.
  3. The book is not early because the churches have lost their first love. Gösswein’s rhetoric is impressive and densely Scriptural on this point. John’s words are meant to recall, to reassemble, and to firm up the failing churches descending into every kind of vice and heresy.

Of the three points, 1) and 3) are rather difficult to prove. 1) is an argument from silence, whereas John may have ignored Paul or Paul could have been entirely elsewhere (Spain or Rome, for example). 3) has the advantage of referencing the loss of first love John attributes to the Ephesian church (Rev. 2:4) but may create a unity of affect or concern where none exists. Not every church is soundly rebuked. Some are worse than others in their moral condition or delusions. And if one holds 1 Corinthians to be among Paul’s earliest or his earliest letter, there is no obstacle to believing that the church has been beset by all manner of problems from its inception. 2) is Gösswein’s strongest case for his dating of Revelation, but he spends comparatively very little time on it, despite its historical pedigree, which he does not mention.

The book itself he divides into seven parts, and to conclude our introductory material, here is a translation of his outline:

The first [section] (ch. 1:9-3) presents to us Christ as the Governor of the church, who walks among seven golden lights, and shows us how he governs seven congregations with his words.

The second (ch. 4-8:1) reveals him as the King who has the future in his hands and who also so rules the world that all sorrow must serve his church for the best.

In the third (ch. 8:2-11) Christ appears as High Priest in his holy church, who will not let the church’s borders be overwhelmed, though seven trumpets call awake entire armies of erring spirits.

The fourth paints Christ’s battle with the dragon, the world power hostile to God and the antichrist, in general outline down to the destruction of the enemies (ch. 12-14).

The fifth section (ch. 15-19) shows God’s judgments upon the enemies unto the satisfaction the wrathful righteousness at last finds and the song of triumph to which the elect give voice.

The sixth section (ch. 20) reveals how Christ has the dragon on a chain, until he throws him into the eternal murk, so that that dragon cannot any longer hinder the building up of the church, as Christ has permitted [hitherto].

The seventh section gives a physical pictures of the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. With it the entire Holy Scripture concludes, whose beginning speaks of creation and fall and whose ending speaks of rebirth (Mt. 19:28).

Revelation with Goesswein (Part 5): Darkness and light

The darkness and the light

Of all the books in the Bible, Revelation is popularly held to be the darkest, the most difficult, the strangest book of Scripture. Bible classes spends years attempting to unravel its mysteries, but many Christians react to its puzzles in just the opposite way by throwing up their hands in exasperation and forgetting the book they never knew. Its reputation is far, far greater than the knowledge of it, so that Gösswein can speak of Revelation as a “nest of chiliasts,” and in his day as in ours, specific Christian pastors and teachers spring immediately to mind.

Is misuse of Scripture a testimony to Scripture’s darkness and perhaps Scripture’s uselessness? If no one can agree on what Revelation means, why try? Extending the same question one step further: if no one can agree on what Scripture means in so many places, why try? This mass of disagreement, fanatical opinion, skeptical disdain, and textual obscurity is daunting. But Gösswein neither throws up his hands nor insists with idiotic vehemence. He does not think the problem with Revelation is the book of Revelation. The problem with Revelation is who reads it.

Scripture is not a book like other books that just anyone can take up and read. A person who reads Revelation apart from the Spirit of God reads only darkness. Gösswein:

All divine revelation is to [the unspiritual reader] concealment and growing darkness, because the flesh has no enlightened eyes of understanding for the things of the Spirit of God.

Scripture is not unclear because its divine Author is not Himself unclear, uncertain, or unable to express Himself in human language. Scripture is found to be dark by those who are in the dark. Scripture is distant and inscrutable to those who are distant from the Lord.

This only appears to be tautological until one connects it to a point Gösswein makes about the importance Revelation has for chiliasts, those who read the book in what he describes as a “fleshly” manner. One will find in Revelation either chiliastic puzzles or nothing comprehensible so long as one reads without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Gösswein himself “grew up among chiliasts and imbibed chiliasm with my mother’s milk.” He knows what it is and how it is that people find in Revelation fantastic schemes of earthly kingdoms and Jesus reigning like David from a throne in the city of Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jews. That fleshly longing for earthly glory and power Gösswein even identifies with “state-churchliness (Staatskirchentum) and the ‘Christian state,’” connecting chiliastic dreams of earthly power and military strife with the church’s longing for earthly validation and support apart from God’s Word.

As he makes the point that Scripture must be understood on its own terms, so that the one who would understand Revelation should above all read the biblical prophets, especially Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel, Gösswein explains that there is only one way for man to receive God’s light so that he can read and understand Scripture. There is only one “cure” for chiliasm or any other fleshly way of reading Scripture and of understanding the Lord. He says it is the same way David was shown the light: the “terrors of the law must go through the whole body,” and then the “Sun of Righteousness in the gospel must rise, so that the gospel becomes everything.”

Scripture must be understood on its own terms, and its own terms begin with the reader’s knowledge of God’s law and His gospel. That dynamic makes the reader a wholly different person than he was before, enlightened by the Spirit with the knowledge of Christ. Only the one who knows the gospel can find Scripture profitable to him as he searches out Scripture’s treasures, and they are opened to him, clearly and beautifully with the Spirit teaching the reader from Scripture what Scripture itself means. Scripture is clear to those with eyes to see. Scripture in every part is glorious and endlessly rewarding to those with eyes fixed on Christ.

Reading Revelation with Goesswein, Part 4: Apostolicity

The apostolicity of Revelation

Though we have already covered the authorship of Revelation and Gösswein’s unbending assertion of the apostle John’s authorship of the book, there is another ground for critiquing the book’s apostolic origin. If a critic finds everywhere that the oldest orthodox authors affirm the apostle’s authorship, he can still turn to what Gösswein calls “inner criticism.” “Inner criticism” examines the style, the vocabulary, and other literary factors, and in this case, finds little to no evidence that John wrote Revelation.

Gösswein defends the book on several fronts:

Inspiration does not obliterate variety of expression and style.

The apparent strangeness of Revelation is no obstacle to its inspiration by the Holy Spirit. If the same Spirit spoke in “many and various ways through the prophets” and if the same Spirit spoke through Peter and through Paul, then He can also speak through John in that apostle’s very distinctive manner of expressing the truths of Christ. Gösswein makes this point briefly and concludes with the rhetorical flourish: “Where is there anywhere in [Revelation] that would be against divine inspiration and an apostolic manner of writing, against the honor and the doctrine of Jesus Christ?”

Revelation isn’t a book for beginners.

It is no accident that Revelation is last in the canon of Scripture. Gösswein quotes Luthardt’s 1861 commentary, “One should not begin the reading of Holy Scripture with it; rather should he close his reading with it.” Then Gösswein says in his own words, “It is not for children and beginners in knowledge, any less than the books of Ezekiel and Daniel.” Then with characteristic Latin brevity, Jerome says in Gösswein’s final quote, “Revelation has as many secrets as words.” The book is not impenetrable, but it is not for the faint of heart or for the one unskilled in Scripture. That Revelation quotes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament means for the reader that much more fruitful but hard labor.

The book everywhere bears the marks of the apostle John.

Gösswein briefly rejects Erasmus’ rather frivolous contention that the apostle’s provision of his own name in Revelation, something he does not do in the gospel or his epistles, means that the apostle did not write Revelation. He points out that Jeremiah names himself 120 times as no argument that it is un-Christian to name oneself in an inspired writing. Likewise the churchly title on many manuscripts attributing the book to “John the Divine” or “John the Theologian,” pompous as such as a title may seem to some, is neither the apostle’s self-description nor an inaccurate description of a man who teaches Christ so richly.

The strongest portion of Gösswein’s defense is his tracing of Revelation’s connections to other Johannine writings. Critics from Erasmus to the towering figure of late 19th-century higher criticism, De Wette, were certain the book was too stylistically estranged from John’s gospel and epistles that the author of Revelation had to be someone other than the evangelist or letter writer. Gösswein responds in several ways:

The number of Semitisms in the book results from John’s need to clothe divine thoughts in “the old holy language of the Hebrews” because it had “for such a long time been the clothing of prophecy.” The abundance of Semitisms incomprehensible to Gentile audiences is an argument for Revelation’s date within the first generation of Christians, before the relative eclipse of ethnically Jewish Christians within a massively Gentile church had occurred.

De Wette’s failure to comprehend the book’s high Christology and graphic manner of expression proves “the natural man receives nothing from the Spirit of God.” The higher critic’s inability to comprehend Scripture is the product of unbelief. He does not grasp Scripture because he has not grasped Christ by faith. Therefore the simple idea that John could be expressing himself rather differently under persecution in Patmos than in his gospel or his epistles becomes for the higher critic proof that the book is non-apostolic. The unbelieving mind will find to be true what the unbelieving heart already believes.

Revelation links up very well with other Johannine works:

  1. Quoting John Gerhard’s 1643 commentary, Gösswein points to the divine command to spread the apostolic knowledge of Christ at Rev 1:1; Jn. 21:24; and 1 Jn. 1:1.
  2. No other apostle or evangelist than John names the Son of God the Word, as he does at Jn. 1:1; 2:14; 1 Jn. 1:1; 5:7; and Rev. 19:13.
  3. John often speaks of witnessing, bearing witness, and witnesses at Jn. 5:39; 14:15, 21, 23; 15:26; 19:35; 21:25; 1 Jn. 1:2; and Rev. 1:2, 5, 9; 12:17; 14:12; 17:6; 19:10; and 22:9, 14.
  4. John calls Jesus the Lamb of God in Jn. 1:19 and twenty-nine times in Revelation.
  5. In his gospel John speaks of those who pierced Christ (19:34, 37) as he does at Rev. 1:7.
  6. 1 Jn. 1:7 is clear that Christ washes and cleanses from sin by his blood, as Rev. 1:6 also states.
  7. The image of water and the well of life appears in John’s gospel (4:10, 14; 7:38) and in Revelation 7:17; 21:6; 22:1, 17.

All of these points taken together, the Scripture itself testifying to the apostolicity and the christocentricity of Revelation along with John’s gospel and his epistles, amount to an overwhelming testimony that Revelation is the work of the apostle John, high and difficult as its construction and style may be, that clearly proclaims Christ the Lamb of God as Savior.

Reading Revelation with Goesswein, Part 3: Authorship

The authorship of Revelation

Before covering specific opinions about the authorship of Revelation, we should note that Gösswein’s use of patristic material and accurate knowledge of the Fathers are exemplary for a parish pastor. His opinions are strong but well-founded, and his coverage of authorship in four or five pages is as comprehensive as anything except the most specialized modern commentaries. He does not plead his simplicity as “just a parish pastor” or his ignorance as “not a professional exegete.” There is no necessary distinction between the pastor, the scholar, and the exegete. Gösswein unites those roles in himself to expound Scripture.

Gösswein unapologetically affirms that the apostle John authored Revelation. His contention on the authorship of Revelation is that uncertainty on the topic dates from the third century with Marcion’s denial of its Johannine provenance. Tertullian is quoted to effect that though Marcion denies Revelation’s Johannine authorship, the lines of bishops in the seven churches of Revelation can be traced back to John (Contra Marcionem, lib. IV). Gösswein himself points out that none of the seven churches mentioned in the book is the source of any doubt about Revelation’s apostolic authorship. Gösswein finds many citations of or allusions to Revelation in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. Irenaeus’ simple use of Revelation as “a writing of the Apostle John very often” and defense of the reading of 666 in Rev. 13:18 against differing manuscripts’ reading of 616 witness (Adversus haereses V:30) to the knowledge of Revelation and the affirmation of its Johannine authorship by a disciple of Polycarp and a native of Asia Minor.

Clement of Alexandria gives no indication that anyone opposes the apostolic authorship of Revelation, citing the book simply as the apostle John’s work. Gösswein also cites Origen’s unqualified affirmation of John’s authorship and names other supporters of the same position: Melito of Sardis, Papias, Theophilus of Antioch, Justin Martyr. He affirms that not only is apostolic authorship universally maintained by the Fathers but that also all agree that “in great old age, exiled to the island of Patmos, John the apostle received the Revelation.” He cites Eusebius, who mentions the historical circumstance of the Revelation and the doubts about the book on the basis of “critical comparison of the style, dogmatic polemic, and the darkness of the misuse of the book.” Gösswein does not understand Papias (cited in Eusebius) as affirming a separate “presbyter John” from the apostle but uncomplicatedly uses Papias as part of his evidence.

The patristic doubters of its apostolic authorship, of whom Gösswein mentions Dionysius of Alexandria and Jerome chiefly, complain of its obscure style, the darkness of its symbols and words, and the “fleshly, Jewish, and heathen thoughts of the chiliasts…too closely related” to the book. So for Gösswein the heretical misuse of the book is the source of the later Fathers’ doubts about the book. Its heretical misuse is the source of its orthodox neglect. What began with the doubts of the heretic Marcion is recapitulated in the dislike of Jerome for the apostolic book.

Gösswein sees church history as the battleground of orthodoxy with heresy, a battle extending into every realm of church life, including isagogical issues like the authorship of biblical books. He utilizes closely argued historical research to discover the third-century origin of doubts of Revelation’s apostolic authorship and marshals many Fathers to refute those doubts and affirm the book’s apostolic provenance.