Preface to the Revelation of St. John (1522)

I’ve been attempting to preach from the Book of Revelation based on the lectionary readings the past three weeks. Of course, an important part of the exercise is to “debunk” the mechanical end-time doomsday approach I grew up listening to at one point (of course, I must acknowledge there are various interpretive models for the book).

One of the newly baptised members sent me this link on Luther’s Antilegomena which has what Luther thought about the book … much food for thought even for us today where there still are people running around interpreting the book of Revelation out of its original context, superimposing our concerns on it, and often while it’s interesting and contains urgency … may sadly lead us into missing the message of Revelation – which is more towards empowering a marginalized minority group of Christians under the shadow of the “omnipotent” Roman Empire to live faithfully. Anyway, here’s what Luther said …

“About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment. I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic.

First and foremost, the apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear and plain words, as do Peter and Paul, and Christ in the gospel. For it befits the apostolic office to speak clearly of Christ and his deeds, without images and visions. Moreover there is no prophet in the Old Testament, to say nothing of the New, who deals so exclusively with visions and images. For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Esdras; 8 I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.

Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly — indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important — and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep.

Many of the fathers also rejected this book a long time ago; 9 although St. Jerome, to be sure, refers to it in exalted terms and says that it is above all praise and that there are as many mysteries in it as words. Still, Jerome cannot prove this at all, and his praise at numerous places is too generous.

Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do; as Christ says in Acts 1, “You shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely.” (you can check the footnotes in the original link)

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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