Moses Stuart on the exegesis of the Apocalypse
Moses Stuart (1780-1852) was an American biblical scholar. He became pastor of Centre Congregational Church at New Haven, Connecticut in 1806. In 1810 he became professor of sacred literature in the Andover Theological Seminary. He read the works of contemporary German critics who favored the preterist interpretation of the Apocalypse, and he promoted that view of the Apocalypse in his commentary, in Volume 2, where he continually cites their views; “Ewald says…”; Heinrichs says…”; “Lücke says…”; etc. See a concise review of his book by his friend Enoch Pond. William Wadden Turner of Union Theological Seminary in NY, obviously also an admirer of the German critics, wrote of Stuart: 
The great merit of Professor Stuart, and one for which the gratitude and respect of American scholars must ever be his due, lie; in the zeal and ability he has exhibited for a long series of years in bringing to the notice of the English reading public the works of many of the soundest philologists and most enlightened and unprejudiced theologians of Germany; for to his exertions it is in a good degree owing that the names of Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Ewald, De Wette, Hupfield, Roeliger, Knobel, Hitzig, and others, are now familiar as household words to the present race of biblical students in this country, and to some extent in England.
In the exert below, Stuart reviews the history of exegesis of the Apocalypse, and the development of preterism. The following is quoted from:
Moses Stuart, A commentary on the Apocalypse, Volume 1.
Allen, Morrill, and Wardwell, Andover, 1845. pp. 450-475.
Historical sketch of the Exegesis of the book.
I make no adventurous assertion when I say, that there was a time, when the Apocalypse was read and rightly understood by the more intelligent class of readers. I can form no conception of an undertaking by a sensible man in sober earnest, to write a book which would be unintelligible to those to whom it is addressed. What object could he have in view? Supposing him to be, as I have said, in sober earnest, he of course would wish to impart his feelings and views to others, with whom he acted and for whom he sympathized. But how could he do this, in case he wrote in a manner unintelligible?
The original readers of the Apocalypse, then, it would seem nearly if not quite certain, understood the Apocalypse. I do not mean to say that all Christians belonging to the seven churches of Asia understood it. The nature of the book–it being a series of symbols with a great abundance of tropical diction–would of course elevate it above the ready understanding of the ignorant and the uninstructed in the Scriptures. It requires some experience and taste and a portion of critical discernment, to read at any time such a book as the Apocalypse in an intelligent manner. But this belongs to the Apocalypse in common with all, or at any rate with most, of the prophetic books. The books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and indeed nearly all of the Hebrew prophets, made similar demands upon readers. The Paradise Lost of Milton, and many other poetical works in our language, may indeed be read by all who can read English, and many things in them can be understood and appreciated in a good measure, even by the middle and lower classes of readers. But to comprehend the whole–the plan, the execution of it, the diction, the allusions to classic and other lore, the tropical expressions, and other things of a like nature–this lies within the province of only a few.
Something like to this, must we suppose the case to have been with the Apocalypse and its original readers. It is not a book of simple history and plain didactics. It is poetic in its very nature; and its poetry belongs to that class which is the most difficult of all to be understood and rightly appreciated, except by readers who are familiar with the Hebrew prophetic idiom. None can doubt or deny, that it is deeply tinctured with Hebrew colouring. Of course it is not to be fully understood and fully appreciated, except by such as have attained to some good degree of familiarity with this colouring.
Let me not be misunderstood, I do not say, that there are not very many things in this book, which every reader of common sense can peruse and understand, and by which he may be profited. Plainly there are. The great Christian virtues which it inculcates, of warm attachment to the Christian religion, of unshaken fidelity to it, of persevering confidence in its promises, of awful dread of its threatenings, of patience and quiet submission under persecution, of holy resolution to suffer and even die rather than forsake the cause of Christ, of ardent love to Christian brethren and sympathy with them–all these virtues are plainly and obviously commended by every part of the book, and the commendation and enforcement of them cannot be mistaken by any candid reader. But beyond the great and obvious ends of the book, there lies, under its abounding and magnificent drapery, many an idea which can be fully understood and appreciated, either in respect to its limits, true shape, or aesthetical value, only by the more informed reader.
Some such readers John must have had, among all the churches whom he addressed. In them all were doubtless more or less of those who were native Hebrews. John then could reasonably count upon being understood by some, who belonged to those churches which were addressed; and this was all that could be expected in regard to such a composition as the Apocalypse, and indeed all that was necessary. Such readers could explain the book to others.
Thus much the very nature of the case teaches us. We cannot, indeed, make out the history of apocalyptic exegesis in the apostolic age, i. e. during the first century, from any written documents; for such we do not possess. We only know, that very soon after this age, readers of the Apocalypse began to explain some parts of it in such a literal manner, as to throw in the way great obstacles to the reception of the book as canonical.
It seems more than probable, that Papias drew his millennial views from the Apocalypse, i. e. he gave to chap. 20: 2–4 a literal sense, and maintained a literal terrestrial reign of Christ and the saints. But however this may be, it is clear enough that Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, interpreted the Apocalypse, in regard to this matter, in a way which was substantially literal. The two former regarded the descriptions of the thousand years’ reign on earth, of the first resurrection of the dead, of the new Jerusalem, of Antichrist, etc., as designed to be literally interpreted in order to elicit the true meaning of the Apocalypse; and they combined also with the various predictions of this nature, in the second portion of the Apocalypse, various prophecies of the Old Testament, in particular many of those in the book of Isaiah. Whoever wishes to see the manner in which those fathers represent these subjects, and how they argue, may consult Justin. Dial, cum Tryphone, c . 81, and Irenaeus, Contra Haeres. V. c. 25–36. The latter is not destitute of some fine remarks, although he manifests occasionally much credulity and very fanciful modes of interpretation. Justin has said but little in relation to this subject; but that little shows that all the Christians of his day were not Chiliasts, in the sense in which he was.
As to Tertullian, the reader will find passages that give his views in his De Cultu Fem. 12 seq. Contra Marc. III. 14. 24. De Corona Mil. c. 15. Adv. Judaeos, c. 9. De Resurrect. Carnis, c . 26. More spirit, life, and aesthetical discernment, will be found in him than in Justin and Irenaeus. He had, with all his peculiar Latinity, a turn of mind essentially poetical and oratorical. His main book on the reign of Christ, viz. his De Spe Fidelium, to which he himself appeals for a full exposition of his views, is lost beyond the hope of recovery. It would be a book of great interest to the history of exegesis. Tertullian was a Chiliast. Of course, as a Montanist he would be one. But probably he would have been one without Montanism. He has developed his views sufficiently for us to see, that while he has more of the elements of taste and spirit and eloquence than Irenaeus or Justin, yet he seems to have differed from them only in his manner of interpreting particular texts. His general scheme of exegesis elicited from the Apocalypse the same leading ideas, that are advanced by those two writers.
All that we have, however, in the works of these fathers, gives us nothing more than a few of their opinions respecting the Apocalypse; and these are only of the most generic kind. They comprise in the main, also, only such views as are deduced from the latter part of the Apocalypse. How they disposed of chap, iv–xii, we do not know with any certainty.
The general interpretation which the Montanists also gave to the latter portion of the Apocalypse, is quite plain from the extravagance of their Chiliasm. No doubt these so-called heretics have been but partially represented to us, by those who were opposed to them. Had we Tertullian’s defence of them, we should be better able to understand their true position. As it is, we must content ourselves with the knowledge, that they gave to some leading parts of the Apocalypse, respecting the coming and kingdom of Christ, a literal sense; perhaps a more extravagant one than Justin, Irenaeus, or other fathers gave, who were Chiliasts. Yet scarcely anything could be more extravagant, than some portion of Irenaeus’ views.
Near the commencement of the third century, Hippolytus, bishop of Portus Romanus, and a pupil of Irenaeus (as Photius asserts), wrote, as Jerome declares, a commentary on the Apocalypse, as well as on many other portions of Scripture. Andreas and Arethas quote his commentary on the Apocalypse; but the book is lost, and we know of Hippolytus’ opinions only through the medium of these quotations, and by what he has said in his book concerning Antichrist. Antichrist is, with him, the grand solution of the leading problems in Daniel and in the Apocalypse. The fourth beast in Daniel and the first in Apoc. xiii. are regarded as one and the same, and Antichrist is the antitype, and the grand agent who plays all the important parts. As a specimen of his mode of handling symbol and trope, we may advert to his remarks on Rev. 12: 1 seq. ‘The woman is the church; the sun which encompasses her means the word of God; the moon under her feet indicates that her splendour is celestial; the crown of twelve stars indicates the twelve apostles; the woes of parturiency show that the church at all times is bringing forth the word of God, which suffers persecution by the world, etc.’ In the sequel he says, that ‘by the two eagles’ wings, given to the woman in order to aid her flight, we are to understand a belief in Christ, who on the cross spread out his two hands like wings, for a protection to his followers.’ These will show the reader at once the position of the commentator. Curious indeed the commentary must have been, which came from such a hand as is here developed. Ex ungue–leonem!
Hitherto all in the exegesis of the Apocalypse is fluctuating, arbitrary, and of course uncertain. No idea of any regular plan and connection throughout this book, seems to have suggested itself to the minds of the writers of that day. But let us turn for a moment to the Alexandrine School, and see what they did in regard to the interpretation of the Apocalypse.
Origen would have had no difficulty with this book. He had none as to its canonical authority. His mode of allegorizing would easily have enabled him to steer through the most difficult parts of the Apocalypse, without embarrassment. He could at any time resort to his favourite anagoge, i. e. transcendental or spiritualizing exegesis, and go through all obstacles. That he was entirely hostile to Chiliasm in the grosser sense, is well known; and the same is true of the other Alexandrine fathers in general. But he has left no Commentary behind him on the Apocalypse, although he seems to have had one in view; see Tract. 30 in Matt. It was easy for him, and Dionysius, and others of the African School who opposed Montanism and Chiliasm, to disembarrass themselves at any time of all trouble about particular passages in the Apocalypse. That they did so, at least that Origen did, there is no doubt. But of the particular manner in which this was done, we have no specific account.
As yet, we have lighted upon nothing now extant but fragments, in respect to the exegesis of the Apocalypse. We come at last to an entire work, devoted to the explanation of this book; imperfect indeed, and doubtless interpolated and altered to a considerable extent, but still preserving such lineaments as will serve to give us an idea, how such a book as the Apocalypse was managed by expositors, near the close of the third century or at the beginning of the fourth.
Victorinus, bishop of Petavium in Pannonia, who died as a martyr about 303, wrote a commentary in Latin upon the Revelation, which, nominally at least, is still extant. But doubts have arisen among critics, how far this can be regarded as genuine. Jerome (Catal. Scriptt. c. 18) testifies of Victorinus, that he was a Chiliast, and had interpreted the Apocalypse accordingly. But the Commentary now before us says, respecting the millennial period: “Ergo audiendi non sunt, qui mille annorum regnum terrennm esse confirmant; qui cum Cerintho haeretico faciunt.” In fact, the exposition given of the whole passage respecting the reign of a thousand years, although it is extremely arbitrary and indeed a mere conceit, yet shows that the writer was far enough from understanding the Apocalypse here in a literal sense. Besides this, the commentary appeals once to the epitome of ecclesiastical history by Theodoras, which was written in the 6th century; see in Biblioth. Maxima, III. p. 417. B., in which volume the whole commentary may be found. These are palpable evidences of interpolation at least, if indeed the whole work be not supposititious. That it is not, however, is strongly my impression, from frequent consultation of it. It presents some internal evidence of being composed in the Latin church, and not far from the period assigned to it. It makes no reference to the Epistle to the Hebrews, which at that period was doubted by some of the Latin church, (see p. 415, in the reckoning of Paul’s epistles); it adverts to Nero’s reappearance as Antichrist, (p. 420 D., see also my remarks and Excursus on Rev. 13: 3); it alludes to the Romish Senate as persecuting the church (p. 420 H.), all of which seems to favour the early composition of the work. In fact, there is one passage in it, which seems to have escaped the diligence of emendators, viz.–“in Judaea, ubi omnes sancti conventuri sunt, et Dominum suum adoraturi,” (p. 415, D.); which favours the character given of the book by Jerome, i. e. that it was Chiliastic. The whole contour of the book corresponds well, in one respect, with what Cassiodorus (fl. 514) says of it, viz., that it undertook to explain only some of the most difficult passages. Putting all these considerations together, it would seem probable, that what Ambrosius Ansbertus (fl. 750) says in his Commentary on the Apocalypse, respecting the work of Victorinus, is true: “Among the Latins, Victorinus first commented upon the Apocalypse. Jerome has followed on in his foot-steps; expunging certain things which the author literally interpreted, and adding some things of his own, he formed the whole into one book;” Bib. Max. XIII. p. 404, E. Probably it is for this reason, that Jerome never wrote any other commentary on the Apocalypse. Passages now in the work of Victorinus, which are later than Jerome’s time, may have come from marginal annotations of later readers; and this is the more credible, because there are but few of this nature.
On the whole, we may admit that for substance we have before us a work of Victorinus; but still one which has been spiritualized by Jerome, who was much devoted to Origen’s views of interpretation with respect to the difficult parts of the Scriptures. But the reader can scarcely form an idea of the execution of this work, without reading for himself. Everything is merely miscellaneous. No plan of the whole work is sought after, or even conceived of; no effort to get at the circumstances and relation of the writer of the Apocalypse and his times, and bring them to bear on the explanation of the book. The work is exceedingly brief; the whole Commentary occupying less than seven folio pages in the Bibliotheca. Grammatical and philological intrepretation are out of question; and the symbols are explained in the most arbitrary manner. Those that resemble each other, are regarded as mere repetitions of the same subject, although in a manner somewhat different; and so the writer oscillates from one position to another, very much as fancy would seem to dictate. No one can even think of gaining any exegetical satisfaction of consequence, from any portion of the work. Barren of appropriate ideas, and full of conceits, it can serve little other purpose than to remind one, at what a low ebb the science of interpretation stood, when Victorinus wrote this book. Yet it must not be supposed that there is nothing good to be found in his Commentary. Now and then a remark the reader will meet with, which is happily expressed and even striking.
We have seen how matters stood in respect to the Apocalypse, in the Greek churches after the time of Eusebius. It seems to have been generally withdrawn from the books that were to be publicly read in the churches; and by consequence, to have been withdrawn from particular attention, among the interpreters of the Scripture. Hence we find a Chrysostom and a Theodoret omitting it in their exegetical writings. Origen had promised a Commentary, but did not live to complete one. We find nothing of this nature among the Greeks, until we come down to the latter part of the fifth century, when we meet with a work, which is a kind of a continuous exegesis of the whole Apocalypse, written in Greek by Andreas, bishop of Cesarea in Cappadocia. It is much of the like cast with the commentary of Victorinus, excepting that it is fuller, somewhat more sober, and has a little more of connection. Still we might well name it Miscellaneous Remarks. He refers occasionally to what other writers have said, respecting the book itself, or of certain passages in it, viz., Irenaeus. Hippolytus. Methodius. Epiphanius, and Gregory Nazianzen. But he seems to have had no full commentary on the book before him. Like Origen, he makes a three fold sense, as accasion seems to demand, viz. a literal, a tropological or moral, and an anagogical i. e. spiritual or transcendental, which last alludes to or exhibits the mysteries of the future and of eternal life under the veil of symbols. When one of these methods of interpretation will not satisfy the writer, he resorts to another; so that between them all, he is sure to find some solution of difficulties. As to times in the Apocalvpse, although the book proclaims that the period of fulfilment is ***, yet with God a thousand years are as one day, and vice versa; so, of course, no embarrassment can come upon his exposition from this quarter. The temple in Rev. 11:1 seq. he regards as the temple of the Christian church; 11:13 he regards as relating to a remote future; and chapter xii. with the sequel of the book, he regards as parts of what the seventh trumpet betokens. The number 666 he thinks will be certainly known only at the future appearance of Antichrist; 17:10 he applies to heathen Rome, the seven kings are seven Roman emperors, the seven heads and hills are seven monarchies of the world, of which that of heathen Rome (when the Apocalypse was written) was the sixth, the seventh began with Constaniine. and the eighth will be that of Antichrist. He refers 16:19 to Jerusalem; and the division of the city into three parts he refers to the population of the city, which consisted of Jews, Samaritans, and Christians. He is hostile to grosser Chiliasm, and refers the thousand years to the abundance and fulness of the knowledge of God, which, after one thousand years from the birth of Christ, will everywhere be diffused. These hints may suffice to characterize the work. No regard is paid to any regular plan of the book, and very little to the circumstances of the writer and the events of the times. Nor must the reader expect anything of a philological cast, like that which characterizes the commentaries of the present day. Yet it is a more respectable work than that of Victorinus. But in vain will one search for connection and consistency in it, or for any light except that which a sensible man might throw upon the Apocalypse from conjecture. It is evident that he had not, in general, even tradition to guide his interpretations. But he is somewhat modest and diffident in proposing them, and does not appear in the light of a confident enthusiast.
Arethas, a successor of Andreas, and in the same bishopric, wrote a still more copious commentary on the Apocalypse, and in the same style. He treads closely in the steps of his predecessor, and epitomizes him in some places, while he enlarges in others. Yet he is not destitute of independence of opinion. He gives some hints, here and there, of different views; and more than once seems to intimate that Rev. iv– xi. applies to the Jews and Jerusalem, although he would not exclude an ultimate reference to Antichrist, Here and there, too, he intersperses grammatical remarks, which are not without value.
It is singular that these two works should have made their appearance in that region of the church, where the Apocalypse had most fallen into desuetude. It would seem that the very object of the bishops before us, was again to bring the book into the notice and esteem of the churches, by endeavouring to render it more intelligible. And with their efforts appear to have ceased the labours of the Greek churches upon the Apocalypse. Oecumenius is thought by Montfaucon (Bib, Cois. fol. 277 seq.), to have written a Greek Catena on this book. The like is also said of Andreas of Crete, (Montf. Pal. Graec. fol. 231). But if they did write upon the Apocalypse, we have not their works; and the fact itself is uncertain.
In the Latin churches, where the Apocalypse maintained its ground, we should have expected from Jerome or Augustine some explanations of the book in question. But, excepting Jerome’s remodelling of Victorinus, we have nothing more than occasional notices; e. g. in Augustine, De Civit. Dei. XX. 7–17. Jerome, we know, has said that the Apocalypse has as many mysteries as words, and that particular words have a manifold meaning; Ep. 53 ad Paulinum, § 8. He intimates, that Rev. 11:2 cannot mean the literal Jerusalem, because that had been destroyed when the book was written; the present world therefore must be meant, which is to be renewed and restored to a paradisaical state. We know then, in general, how Jerome would have interpreted such a book.
Ticonius, the Donatist, a contemporary with Jerome and Augustine, wrote an Expositio of the Apocalypse. The work itself has perished; but from the testimony of others, it appears that he rejected all historical exegesis, and applied anagoge to every part of the book which appeared to be mysterious. Hence he obtained, of course, only general and undefined results, the offspring of conjecture or imagination.
Cassiodorus, about the middle of the sixth century, wrote brief explications, or Complexiones (as he calls them), of the Apocalypse. He follows in the track of Ticonius; to whom, indeed, he refers his readers for fuller information. Of the same character is the work of his contemporary, Primasius, bishop of Utica, who declines all historical connection in the Apocalypse, and all special historical relation. Chap, xi. and xvii., for example, relate only to the state of the world in general, under he image of Jerusalem and of Rome. Beda and Ambrosius Ansbertus, of the eighth century, repeat what had been before said, in the like style. Beda is particularly partial to Ticonious. He makes no attempt to find a plan and connection in the Apocalypse, but assumes a parallelism of visions in several parts, and thus confounds the whole. Ansbertus (d. 767) occasionally seeks for the grammatical sense. He seems first to have noted, that the Apocalypse is occasionally regressive. But his maxim, that the true and full sense of prophecy most be typical and mysterious, must of course mislead him. In commenting he is exceedingly arbitrary, sometimes passing from species to genus. and then from genus to species. The consequence is, that he has strangely commingled mystical, allegorical, and dogmatical meanings. He has drawn largely upon his predecessors, especially upon Primasius; and. on the whole, has made no important advances upon those who had preceded him.
Looking back from the close of the eighth century upon what had been done by commentators in the way of explaining the Apocalypse, we find that no real and solid advances were made. The great truth, that Christ’s kingdom would come, and that all the enemies of the church would be subdued, was indeed evident to all the expositors. But how to dispose of all the imagery and symbols; how to unfold the book in a grammatical, rhetorical, or historical respect; how to lay open the plan of the work, to point out its unity, its progress, and its mutual connection; in a word, how to appeal to the circumstances of the writer, of the churches addressed, or of the actors in the scenes who are presented by symbols–all this surpassed the exegetical knowledge of the times. Of course it was impossible but that attempts to explain, without a proper regard to all these things, must turn out to be failures.
From this period on to the dawning of the Reformation, the darkest part of the dark ages, no one conversant with the history of the times will expect anything important in the way of exegesis. The theology of the Schoolmen did indeed, in their way, make some advances during this period. Speculative theologians, of great acuteness in some instances, were not wanting. But whatever of commentary on the Apocalypse appeared, it was for the most part only a repetition of what had already been said, or the suggestion of something more of the same tenor and in the like way. The reader who wishes for an enlarged catalogue of interpreters of the Apocalypse, at this period, may find one in Lücke, p. 613 seq. I deem it unnecessary to repeat it here, as it is rather a matter of mere literary curiosity than of exegetical interest. Instead of this, I would merely suggest the two leading principles which guided most of the commentators of this period; in accordance with what Lücke has suggested, p. 514 seq.
(1) The position of Andreas, that the thousand years of chap. xx. must be counted from the first institution of the Christian church, which in itself was the first resurrection, was generally admitted. Of course the writers who preceded A. D. 1000, and who adopted such views, were looking with great anxiety to the events that would immediately follow the arrival of this period. Antichrist was then to reappear (Gog and Magog were regarded as symbols of him), and the end of the world was speedily to follow. As the period drew near, great excitement naturally prevailed in regard to it; not unlike to that which has several times existed among a limited class of enthusiastic men, in Europe and this country, with respect to the end of the famous period of 1260 years. But when the thousand years had gone by, and things remained in statu quo, of course the tone of commentary was changed. The thousand years now began to be viewed as a large and indefinite period, the like to which could be found in other parts of Scripture; so that no one could venture to predict the exact time of their end. This of course gave some check to the development of enthusiasm respecting the Apocalypse; but it did not remedy the other difficulties that lay in the way of a proper exposition of the book.
(2) So late as the 13th century began the far more important and influential error of regarding the Apocalypse as a kind of nucleus or syllabus of ecclesiastical and civil history, down to the end of the world. “Prophecy,” says Lücke with much force, “appeared to be the compass which the divine Spirit had given to the church, on her voyage over the wide sea of time, in order that she might at any moment determine where she was, how long she must still maintain her contest, and whither she should direct her course.” The seven churches of Asia came to be reckoned as symbols of so many different states of the church general; and the latter presented to the view of Romish expositors a symbol of the Romish church, as affected by various events and phenomena, during the whole period of her state as the church militant. The anti-christian power, in the Apocalypse, was specially recognized in the Saracens, and Mohammed was pointed out as the false prophet. The number of the beast (666) was applied to the duration of the Mohammedan power; and pope Innocent III. was able to rouse up nearly all the churches of Europe, and enlist them in a Crusade, by virtue of an appeal to them on such a ground.
On like grounds, the various heresies, (as the Romish church named all opposition to itself), were regarded as having also been included and predicted under the symbol of the false prophet. There never could be any difficulty to an ingenious man, in pointing out many resemblances between the prediction of certain expressions in the Apocalypse, and in a word to everything but a truly historico-exegetical mode of exposition. With deep regret I am compelled to add, that while the application of the symbols in the Apocalypse has been greatly changed, in many respects, from that which the Romish expositors maintained, yet the principle itself which led to the making of the book a mere syllabus of civil and ecclesiastical history, has been transferred unimpaired to the Protestant church, and remains, down to the present hour, as the current one in Europe and America. But the beast and the false prophet have been applied in a manner very different from that which the inventors of such an exegesis intended; for they are now applied, by most Protestants, to the corrupt Romish church itself and to her false teachers. It is thus that a wrong begun in order to injure others, not unfrequently comes down upon the heads of its inventors and perpetrators.
In the Romish church itself commentators have not been wholly wanting, who have made offensive applications of the Apocalypse to its corruptions. Such an one was the abbot Joachim, who in his Admiranda Expositio Apocalyptseos has given a new and peculiar turn to things. He divides the world into three states viz. that of the Father, which continued till the coming of Christ; secondly that of the Son, which was to last until the Millennium; thirdly that of the Spirit, which is to be the great sabbatical period of the world. So far as I have been able to trace the matter, he is the first who made out of 1260 days, in Rev. 11:3, as many years, during which the State of the Son was to continue. These years he regarded as then about coming to an end, (fl. cent. XII.), and he urged with great earnestness a reformation upon the churches. His book was not aimed against the pope directly; but when the latter quarrelled with the Franciscans, to which order Joachim belonged, it would seem that they did not scruple to insert passages in Joachim’s book, which bore very hardly upon popery.
Other enemies of the Romish church, the Waldenses, the Wicliffites, the Hussites, and others, did not fail to take the hint thus offered to them. Rome, which had so long been endeavouring, by its exposition of the Apocalypse, to put down first the Saracens, then all heretical opposers of its own dogmas, now experienced in her turn a retribution of the same nature. It was not difficult to satisfy such as groaned under the Romish papal yoke, that Rev. xiii–xviii. might, with great propriety, be applied to superstitious and tyrannizing and persecuting Rome.
But did the Reformation itself introduce any new method of interpreting the Apocalypse, on grounds independent of party feeling, and supported by the essential and now generally acknowledged principles of historico-philological exegesis?
It laid the foundation for such an exegesis, by substantially adopting it in the interpretation of the historical and doctrinal books of Scripture. In the latter, the application was easy and obvious. But we have seen, that not only Luther and his early followers slighted the Apocalypse, but that such was the case with Zuingle and his friends. After the credit of the Apocalypse began to revive and was generally established among Protestants, more attention began to be given to the Revelation. Yet the difficulty was still very great. Even the Hebrew prophets were not, at that period, recognized as proper poets. How could the nature of prophetic symbol, trope, and generally of the prophetic style, be well understood at such a period? And if they were not, how could it be expected that the Apocalypse would be interpreted in accordance with enlightened principles of criticism? In some respects this is doubtless the most difficult of all the prophetic books; and while exegesis was in such an undefined state as at this period, it could not well be explained from the stand-point which the more recent interpretation of the sacred books has assumed. The temptation to make out a meaning from the Apocalypse, which would be appropriate to party and sectarian purposes, was very great; and for a long time, few resisted this temptation. Meanings directly opposite, defended by adverse parties, would of course be the result of such methods of interpretation. Every interpretation not grounded on proper historico-exegetical principles simply, must be variable and shifting from side to side. Yet even to the present hour there are many expositors of the Apocalypse, who do not appear to have any adequate apprehension of this, and who endeavour to supply the lack of principle by confidence of assertion.
Early in the sixteenth century, Erasmus and Laurentius Valla in their commentaries, aimed only at explaining occasionally the sense of words in the Apocalypse. Erasmus, as we have seen, had doubts about the apostolical origin of the book; and neither he nor Valla pretended to know the meaning of it.
We have seen how decidedly Luther rejected it at first; and also how he gradually yielded to giving it some authority, on account of the antipapistical use which could easily be made of it. In 1528 he found and republished the famous and anonymous Commentarius, written one hundred years before his time, which applied the predictions of the Apocalypse to the papacy. Finally, in 1534, Luther himself published some comments on the Revelation; which partook in a large measure of the spirit of the age. He assumed that the Apocalypse was an epitome of church-history; and then, at his pleasure, searched for events here and there, which he thought would accord with the apocalyptic descriptions.
For example, the little book in Rev. 10:10, which was bitter and sweet to John, he applies to the papacy with its great spiritual pretences. The thousand years, chap xx, he dates from the time when the Apocalypse was written, and extends it to the time of Gregory VII; and then he reckons the 666 in 13:18, as so many years from that time, during which the anti-christian papacy will continue. Gog and Magog, he says, mean the Turks and the red (?) Jews; and he expects the last judgment to follow closely the appearance of these. Finally, he suggests that the Apocalypse may be used for the consolation of Christians in times of persecution and distress, and also for a warning against the introduction of dangerous and offensive errors into the church.
This work of Luther became a kind of general model for succeeding expositors in the Protestant churches. Down even to the present hour, the idea of regarding the Apocalypse as a compendium of ecclesiastical and civil history, has been eagerly grasped at, and seriously retained, among far the greater mass of Protectant expositors. It has been kept up by the same circumstances which introduced it, viz. the opposition of Protestants to the Romish church and the papacy, and the ease with which certain portions ot the Apocalypse may be applied to them. The fact that some portions of Rev. xii–lix- are altogether incompatible with the idea of any but a heathen and truly idolatrous power which is opposed to the church, is entirely overlooked, by reason of the many traits of apparent resemblance to the corrupt Romish church, which can be traced without much effort in the remainder.
The general principle of considering the Apocalypse as a compendium of history. foreshadowed by symbol, prevailed not only among the Lutheran, but also among the Reformed churches. To this there are but few exceptions among the Protestant commentators of those times. Such men, for example, as Beza and Camerarius, move very cautiously in respect to the Apocalypse, and limit themselves mostly to the explanation of words and tropes. The practical uses of the book were not so widely missed as its general meaning. Consolation amid trials, warning, reproof, above all the repulse of the papal claims, and the glorious hopes of the future, were deduced from the Apocalypse, and were proclaimed in the pulpit and from the press. The long continued and vigorous contest with the papacy gradually drew the attention of the Lutheran divines more and more to the Apocalypse, and reconciled them to it, because they could so easily convert it into a magazine of armour, which might be employed in attacking the papal enemy, or in defending themselves.
It may easily be supposed, that while all was thus floating and uncertain, while every one was at liberty to select facts from history which he might bring into union with the predictions of the Apocalypse, a great variety of particular modes of explanation would arise. Such was the state of the case. One, for example, dated the 1000 years from the birth of Christ; another from his death; a third from the establishment of a Christian church; a fourth from Constantine the Great, etc. Of course, these considered the prediction of a Millennium as already fulfilled, but only in a spiritual sense; while some few looked forward to a terrestrial reign of Christ, at some future period. So long as the times of the Apocalypse remained undefined and unfixed, everything of course must be in a floating state, when such a mode of interpretation is adopted. The new heavens and new earth and new Jerusalem were more generally referred to a future state of blessedness.
It must of course be a result of applying Rev. xiii–xix. to the papacy, that the 1000 years were considered as still future. In general a spiritual view was taken of the meaning of the passage respecting this period, and the gross Chiliasm of ancient times was repelled with much positiveness.
Toward the end of the sixteenth century, Joseph Scaliger made the declaration, that he understood the Apocalypse as far as the end of the seven woes; beyond this, he could not settle the question, whether it belonged to the past or the future. Later than the time of saying this, he seems to have had doubts about the apostolic origin of the book. It was he that uttered the famous declaration respecting Calvin, who did not comment upon the book of Revelation, which has been so often repeated, and is still often addressed to those who undertake to explain the Apocalypse, viz., “Calvinus sapit, quod in Apocalypsin non scripsit.”
It might of course be expected, that the Romish church would not be idle, while the Protestant interpreters were so busy in applying the beast and the false prophet of the Apocalypse to the papacy. Cardinal Bellarmin especially undertook to show that the Antichrist of the Apocalypse was yet to come; De Rom. Pontif. III. 3. The Spanish Jesuit Ribeira (d. 1591), in his commentary on the Apocalypse (1591), aims, however, more at illustrating the grammatical and historical sense of the book, and seems shy of adopting a mystical sense. The strain of his work is more impartial than was common at that period.
Near the commencement of the seventeenth century (1614), the Spanish Jesuit Ludovicus ab Alcassar published his Vestigatio arcani Sensus in Apocalypsi; a performance distinguished by one remarkable feature, which was then new. He declared the Apocalypse to be a continuous and connected work, making regular advancement from beginning to end, as parts of one general plan in the mind of the writer. In conformity with this he brought out a result which has been of great importance to succeeding commentators. Rev. v–xi., he thinks, applies to the Jewish enemies of the Christian church; xi–xix. to heathen Rome and carnal and worldly powers; xx–xxii- to the final conquests to be made by the church, and also to its rest, and its ultimate glorification. This view of the contents of the book had been merely hinted before, by Hentenius. in the Preface to his Latin Version of Arethas. Par. 1547. 8vo.; and by Salmeron in his Praeludia in Apoc. But no one had ever developed this idea fully, and endeavoured to illustrate and enforce it, in such a way as Alcassar. He applies chap. xiii-xix. of course only to heathen Rome; and finds the fulfilment in its conversion to Christianity. Although he puts the time of composing the Apocalypse down to the exile of John under Domitian, yet he still applies chap, v–xi. to the Jews, and of course regards the book as partly embracing the past.
It might be expected, that a commentary which thus freed the Romish church from the assaults of Protestants, would be popular among the advocates of the papacy. Alcassar met, of course, with general approbation and reception among the Romish community.
In 1618, David Paraeus, a man of distinguished erudition among the Protestants, published a Commentary on the Apocalypse, which was designed to oppose the views of Alcassar, and to defend the application of chap. xiii–xix. to the papacy. Grammatical and archaeological investigations, moreover, were not neglected by him. It was peculiar to him. that he first advanced and defended the idea, that the Apocalype is in the form of a drama; an idea which Eichhorn has taken great pains to defend and adorn. But although Paraeus was in an error here, yet the internal investigation of the plan of the book was greatly promoted, by thus bringing before the minds of readers questions of this nature. But antipapistic commentary found its acme in the exegetieal work of Hoe Von Honegg (1610–1640), which was so violent, that even most Protestants declared it to be “Classicum belli sacri contra Pontificios.” and deemed it extravagant; while others of a more enthusiastic temperament praised it very highly.
From this time forward, one particular explanation of the Apocalypse gave place to another, in constant succession. There was no general agreement as to the beginning and end of periods, or of the modes of reckoning them. Days were made into years by some; and prophetic days, months, and years, were distinguished from civil ones. What helped to increase the confusion was, that Daniel and Ezekiel were brought into parallelism with the Apocalypse, and even Canticles was appealed to by some, for the like purpose. Each one, as is usual, found all others who differed from him to be arbitrary in their exegesis: and they more than suspected him of the same.
In 1627, Joseph Mede published his famous Clavis Apocalyptica, which has been so often appealed to by almost all subsequent English writers on the Apocalypse. The peculiarity of his scheme is, that all the leading events in the book are made to be synchronistic or contemporaneous. The hint was taken from the forty-two months in Rev. xi. and xiii. Having fixed on sameness of time for the events in vi–xi, and xiii–xix., of course the exposition must be conformed to this. Accordingly, the seven seals upon the book written within and without (5:1), are symbols of so many successive states of the Roman empire, from the time of Vespasian. The seven trumpets only serve to explain the complex import of the seventh seal; and the correspondences to these he finds in the continued history of the Roman empire. As the last part of the book is synchronistic, it must of course be explained in a manner conformed to this. Nothing, indeed, can be more arbitrary, than his whole treatment of his subject, notwithstanding the good degree of learning which he has displayed. His views were soon called in question; and he defended them with zeal and much sincerity. They were at last fundamentally overthrown by Vitringa, in his Anacrisis Apocalypseos, published in 1705, pp. 230 seq. (See a more particular view of Mede’s book, in Comm. Introduct. to chap. vi. seq.) The main position of synchronism in the different portions of the book, is most palpably against the whole tenor of the book, which, with some trifling exceptions, is progressive in its plan.
In the sequel, some interpreters fell upon the old plan of supposing that the seven epistles to the seven churches were symbolic of the seven successive periods or states of the churches; and the rest of the book was of course made subservient to this. Some regarded the several heptades of the book as synchronistic; others, as successive. Of course every kind of exegesis and of artifice was resorted to, in order to make out a probability for each one’s interpretation. Finally, Cocceius and his followers undertook to establish dogmatically the period-system. Soon, however, Witsius and Johannes Markius made efforts to oppose and refute his opinions. But the latter, in his Commentarius, has adopted the principle of repetition of the same things, in the Apocalypse, instead of a progressive development; and so the whole book is of course brought into confusion.
About the middle of the 17th century, appeared the Commentary of Grotius. That philological, historical, and archaeological explanations of the language would be found in him, was of course to be expected by all who knew him. But he went further. He adopted, for substance, the outlines of Alcassar’s views. The persecuting Jews, and persecuting heathen Rome, were the main objects of chapter iv–xix; then the flourishing state of the church. Yet he hit upon some peculiarities which will not bear examination. For example; the thousand years began with Constantine’s edict in favour of Christianity, A. D. 311; the end of these, in the 14th century, was when the Ottoman power and Mahammedans broke into Asia Minor and Greece. These of course were the Gog and Magog of the Apocalypse. But notwithstanding some things of this nature, Grotius has given many a good hint, and made not a few fine remarks on the language of the Apocalypse. On the whole, he helped to prepare the way for further and better efforts in regard to this book.
The theological sentiments among the reigning part of Protestants, at this period, hindered the favourable reception of Grotius’ work: but more particularly were Protestants displeased with him. for interpreting the Apocalypse as though its main aim was not against the papacy. Few ventured, for a long time, to follow him in this respect. Among these few, were Hammond and Le Clerc; neither of whom, for several reasons, found general favour among Protestants. In various particulars, with regard to the application of some smaller portions of the Apocalypse, these two writers differed from Grotius and from each other. But the main scheme was the same.
In 1696, Petersen, by his Geheimnisse der helig. Offenbarung geoffnet, etc., attempted to revive the old idea of a terrestrial reign of Christ on earth. But this met with very vigorous opposition. Even the sober and excellent P. J. Spener, (who admitted the antipapal exegesis, but believed that the Apocalypse has revealed the future conversion of the Jews and the final overthrow of Antichrist), on account of his suspected leaning toward the Millenarians, found but little favour as to his apocalyptic labours.
Among the Romanists, in 1690 appeared the famous work of J. B. Bossuet. entitled l’Apocalypse avec une Explication. The talents, profound learning, flowing and popular style, and winning address, of this celebrated writer, all contributed to procure extensive favour for his work among the adherents to the Romish hierarchy. His general plan is this. The history of the church is divided into three periods; the sorrows of the church are comprised in Rev. v–xix; the dominion of the church, in 20:1–10; the period of its last trial is comprised in the remainder; and this last trial is immediately followed by the general resurrection and the judgment. The final glorification of the church completes the whole. The first period, chapter v–xix, he divides between the Jewish enemies of the church, v–xi. and heathen Romish enemies, xii–xix. The two witnesses in chapter xi, are Christian martyrs. From this chapter onward, he concentrates all in the persecution of the church under Diocletian; in whose name he finds 666 concealed. It is obvious, therefore, that there must be much in the execution of his plan which savours of the arbitrary. But there is so much talent and tact displayed, in the manner of exhibiting the writer’s views, and there are so many fine thoughts developed in the work, and so much of skilful defence of the papacy, which still does not assume the form of defence or at least of polemics, that no one can wonder at the celebrity which this book of Bossuet speedily obtained, and which it has hitherto maintained, in the Romish church. It is a book which may be read with profit by any well informed reader, even at the present time. The occasional extravagances of it, to call them nothing more, need not prevent this. That such can be found, may easily be shown. The locusts in chapter 9:1 seq., Bossuet represents as symbolizing the heretics of the ancient church; and the end of the 1000 years in chapter xx. he refers to the appearance of the Turks in Europe and to the breaking out of the Lutheran heresy! One can hardly suspect that this is anything more than a mere piece of waggery, in such a man as Bossuet.
But few Romish commentators have written on the Apocalypse since the time of Bossuet. These, however, have all trodden in his foot-steps; and his work remains as a kind of regulative among Papists, in respect to their views of the Revelation.
A few years after Bossuet’s work was published, (in 1705), appeared the great work of Campegius Vitringa, entitled Anacrisis Apokalypseos. In appropriate learning, in patient and extensive research, in a wide-spread knowledge of Hebrew, Rabbinic, Greek, and ancient and modern history, he excelled all his predecessors, and probably all his followers. Vitringa did not reject philological, archaeological, or historical sources, in explaining the Apocalypse. He made diligent and extensive use of all; and his book remains, even down to the present time, a rich store-house of information in these respects–one which has not yet been exhausted. Vitringa was dissatisfied with Grotius and with Bossuet. He wrote partly in opposition to both. But his system of interpretation is, in one leading respect, like that of most Protestants who had preceded him. Corrupted Christian Rome is, with him, a leading object in the Apocalypse. But he embraces pagan Rome also. His general view of the book is curious. Excepting a short prologue and epilogue, the work is thus divided: The first part, 1:9–3:22, indicates, by the seven epistles, etc., the seven different periods or internal states of the churches, down to the end of time; 4:1–22: 3 exhibits the external condition and circumstances of the church; remainder shows the state of the church in both these respects. Then as to the second portion of the Apocalypse, 4:1–22: 3, it is subdivided into three visions, viz. 4:2–8:1. 8:2–11:19, and 12:1–22:3. The first of these exhibits the external state of the church from the time of Trajan down to the end of the world; the second depicts Rome, heathen and Christian, under the image of Jerusalem; the third is Rome antichristian, its contest, its fall, etc. It is unnecessary to give a fuller view of his scheme here; and in order to svoid repetition, I refrain from it. The reader will find such a view in the Introduction to chap. vi. in the Commentary.
While we readily concede, then, to Vitringa more learning, ability, and even tact in some respects, than to any of his predeceesors, it is still clear, that from the very nature of his plan he must launch widely into the field of boundless conjecture. His supposed repetitions of the same topics, without any regular order; his symbolical views of the seven epistles; his separation of the internal and external history of this churches; his mixture of pagan Rome and apostate Christian Rome; his application of death on the pale horse to the Saracens and the Turks; of the fifth seal to the Waldenses and Albigenses and other modern martyrs; of the sixth seal either to the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth, or the political changes under Constantine, or the commotions in Europe at the time of the Reformation, or to the destruction of Antichrist, (a rare specimen of guessing); his separating of the seven trumpets entirely from their connection with the seventh seal; his allegation that the half hour’s silence in heaven indicates a long-continued (?) and peaceful and happy state of the church; these, and many more of the like things of which his book is full, show that this great man was making his way hither and thither, with large and unintermitted steps indeed, but often by twilight, and always without any certain compass to guide him. He had, one may concede. a plan of his own, and was true enough to that. But although many commentators who preceded him said more extravagant things than he, yet few if any have on the whole developed a more arbitrary plan. His book may still be consulted with profit. But in recent times, I should doubt whether any can be found who are his real followers. His work is one of the most laboured of all his performances; but it is unlucky in its plan. In one respect he differs widely from a large mass of Protestant commentators. He has no apprehension, that by the designation of times in the Apocolypse, any specific chronology is intended. On 11:2, 3 he remarks, that the notation of time is only an Old Testament analogy, and that what is meant by it is, that the time of persecution is one that is definitely fixed by God, and cannot exceed its bounds. “Would that others had been equally prudent in regards to this matter!” exclaims Lücke; and I can heartily unite with him.
Vitringa, from his weight of character, found a ready hearing among Protestants. His book, although very large, went through three editions in less than twenty years. Yet, in the sequel, some began again to revive the discussions about the definite limitation of times in the Apocalypse. William Whitson, at Cambridge, mathematician and theologian, went in great earnest into this subject. He showed, as he believed, from the book of Daniel, that a prophetic day must mean a year. In his Essay on the Revelation (1706), he assigned the return and coming of Christ to the year 1715. When this time had passed, without any tokens of fulfilment, he renewed his calculations, and brought out 1766. But as he died in 1752, he had no opportunity to correct, for a third time, the dates which he had twice brought out with a kind of mathematical assurance. But the experiment has been renewed nearly every five or ten years since, in the English world, and in the United States. This very year, we, in this country, have passed the boundary assigned by a large number of enthusiastic men, for the coming of the Lord. But all this avails nothing with individuals of an enthusiastic stamp. As soon as one period has disappointed their calculations, they commence de novo with a determination to find another. Generally the last period on which they fix, is beyond their probable natural life. In this way they avoid the vexation of another disappointment.
Among others, at this period, who speculated largely upon the designations of time in the Apocalypse, was a follower of Cocceius, Anthony Driessen. His Meditationes, so far as I know, may claim the credit of the discovery, that the thousand years of chap. xx. mean a period each day of which is a year or 360 days; so that the millennial period is to comprise 360,000 years. Followers here and there he has had; particularly in England and America.
In 1740 J. Albert Bengel published his famous work on the Apocalypse, Erklarten Offenbarung Johannis. The designation of time is the leading object. Merits the work has of a distinguished exegetical order. The author was one of the most learned, sober, and expert exegetes of his time; and everywhere does he manifest piety and an amiable spirit. Some twenty years did he spend principally on apocalyptic study; and with special reference to fixing specifically the times of fulfilment. His calculations I shall not attempt to detail. The grand key is 666, in 13:18. The 42 months of the same chapter are, he thinks, of equal extent; so that each prophetic month is equal to 15 6/7 years, and a prophetic day to half a year. With these assumed elements he finally brought out 1836 as the culmination-point–the grand crisis–of the great events predicted in the Apocalypse. He speaks modestly, but yet with entire assurance that there is no error in his calculation. But still he provides for the possibility of failure; and says, that in such a case, one must apply himself diligently to find out the source of the error that has been committed. We have passed 1836, and without any suspicion of a crisis in the affairs of the church or the world. Of course we now know what to think of Bengel’s scheme. But the exhibition of such a strange mixture of piety, humility, philological acuteness, tact, sound judgment in some respects, and other good qualities, with enthusiasm, mistaken principles as to scriptural designations of time, caprice even in making out the relations of these to each other, confidence in the certainty of his calculations, and deep interest in the successful reception of them, can be ppresented, I believe, by few other books that ever were written. Pity that so valuable a life should be thus wasted!
Bengel found favour with some; and a part of his apocalyptic works were translated into English, and some into Danish. But he was also opposed by some; especially by J. G. Pfeiffer, in his Neuer Versuch, 1788. Yet he had many defenders, here and there; and even down to the present time his hork has not ceased, now and then, to be brought before the public as worthy of their attention.
The great mass of the religious public became, at last, wearied out with the extravagances and the errors of apoclyptic interpreters. This prepared the way for Abauzit, in his Essay on the Apocalypse (see p. 443 above), to broach the idea, that the whole book relates to the destruction of Judea and Jerusalem. His starting point was, that the book itself declares that all which it predicts would take place speedily. Hence Rome, in chap. xiii-xix. points figuratively to Jerusalem. Chap. xxi. xxii. relate to the extension of the church, after the destruction of the Jews.
The same ground was substantially adopted by Wetstein, in his edition of the New Testament. Chap. xii. and seq. he refers to civil wars in Italy. The 1000 years dwindle down to 50, from Domitian’s death down to the end of the Jewish war under Adrian. Gag and Magog are found in Barchocheba and his rebellion; and the heavenly Jeruselem is only a type of the happy state of the church on earth, which will finally take place. (See fuller development in Commentary, lntroduction to chap. vi.). In point of extravaganze of application, and arbitrary suppositions, scarcely any one can exceed what Wetstein has exhibited.
Wolfius, in his Curae Philologicae, collects and criticises upon what others have said; but in passages of difficulty he withholds his own judgment.
Harenberg, in his Erklarung, concentrates the mass of the book upon Jerusalem and Palestine. But from chap. xix, he supposes it goes on to the end of all things. His object was, to unite the older and the more recent method of interpreting the book. But his paradoxical assumptions are so many, that the sober reader, although the author is a sensible men, becomes disinclined toward adopting such interpretations.
Semler, who attacked so violently the canonical credit of the book, has given only generalities as to interpretation. He speaks of it as symbolizing changes, calamities, portentous signs, etc.; and also great prosperity and happiness to the church; but he did not put an estimate on the book, which would lead him to make much effort for the interpretation of it.
Soon after Semler had made war upon the Apocalypse, and it was threatened with exclusion from the Canon in Germany, Herder published bis Maran Atha or Book of the Coming of the Lord, 1779. With all his exquisite and cultivated taste, Herder was not distinguished for ability as a mere exegete or interpreter. On the score of grammatical and historical interpretation, not much ground was won by him for the Apocalypse. But in regard to the rhetorical character of the book and on the score of aesthetics, Herder’s work was really the commencement of a new era. Never had the Apocalypse a more enthusiastic and devoted interpreter. Never before was the nature of its poetic representations so fully and finely unfolded. The man who wrote that peculiar book, the Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, must needs be qualified in respect to taste and aesthetical skill to make a right estimate of the Apocalypse. Herder’s work is all soul and animation, through and through. It is easy to see, that the commentator entered upon his work and accomplished it with the highest degree of interest and pleasure. The vivid pictures and glowing language which he presented to his readers, served to create more interest in the Apocalypse, and to procure more favour with the public for it, than all the ponderous folios and quartos which had before been published. Nor has the aesthetical judgment of the public been materially changed, since Herder gave it a new direction.
Regarded simply as a book of critical exegesis, Herder’s work cannot well be said to claim a high place. He adopted Abauzit’s standpoint, and makes everything important in the book relate to the Jewish history. This is a fundamental error, and must of course substantially affect the character of the exegesis. But there is so much of ingenuity and of eloquence, there are such bursts of feeling and flow of heart, in all that Herder says, that his book remains, down to the present hour, with all its errors in interpretation, the most attractive and delightful work that has yet been written upon the Apocalypse. In particular, the skill which he manifests, in showing that “it is a book for all hearts and for all times ” (p. 257 seq.), and so is one of an important practical character, has not been surpassed, perhaps not equalled, by any other writer. And although be seems to move in a narrow circle, as to the meaning of the book, limiting it so generally to the Jews, yet he makes God’s dealings with them, and with his church at that period, symbolical of the circumstances of the church in every age. The kingdom of Christ will ever be victorious over all its enemies.
Hartwig followed Herder, aud wrote three volumes on the Apocalypse, full of learning and the fruits of labour. In his Apology for the Apocalypse against mistaken Blame and mistaken Praise, he laboriously defends the genuineness of the book; but in his Commentary, he follows on in the track of Herder. In one respect he differs from him, and accords with Paraeus, viz., that the form of the Apocalypse is dramatic. Herder’s oriental taste secured him against this; but in this respect, Hartwig was lacking.
Herrenschneider, in his Tentamen Apocalapseos illustrandas, (1786), a work distinguished for its discrimination and ability, found in the Apocalypse the overthrow of Judaism and of Heathenism, and the universal triumph of the church. This was so ably defended by him, that Eichhorn, in his Commentary on the Apocalypse, seems to have made him a model, in regard to general plan. This last work, published in 1791, gave entire new life to apocalyptic study, and for some twenty-five or thirty years seems to have had almost an entire predominance in Germany. It is Eichhorn’s ablest work; and although it does not exhibit such ardour and intensity of interest as Herder’s book, yet as a work of philology and real explanation of words and phrases, it far exceeds Herder’s work. It is indeed the first work which seems to have taken fully the position, that everything in the Apocalypse is to be illustrated in the same way, as in any other work of a similar nature in the Old Testament. The learning and taste of the author enabled him to exhibit many a happy and striking illustration of words and phrases and imagery. He has given an interest to the book, in this respect, which none before him had done. Herder outdid him in glow and eloquence; but Eichhorn is not wanting in taste, and is highly respectable in this work for his philology.
The main features of his exegesis have already been indicated. Substantially they agree with the general tenor of the book. But in the detail, there are some extravagances which will not now find favour. E. g. in 11:2 seq., Eichhorn finds the two witnesses to be the two Jewish high priests, Ananus and Jesus, murdered by the Zealots; while nothing can be clearer, than that the writer produces them as Christian witnesses, *** *** ***. But Herder had committed the same error; and the real meaning in this case is so difficult, that a mistake is not to be thought strange. Eichhorn’s work was found fault with by some, and in my apprehension with good reason, because it places the whole composition of the Apocalypse, on the ground of a mere exercise of the inventive powers of poetic imagination. I do not perceive why more than this may not be admitted; unless indeed, we deny that inspiration is a reality. I am aware, to be sure, that very many do deny this. But, while I cannot agree with them, I still admit that the Apocalypse, as to its form, has all the indicia of art and rhetorical disposition or arrangement. What objection can there be to admitting, that when God speaks to men, he speaks more humano? The alphabetic Psalms, especially Ps. cxix, Prov. xxxi, the book of Lamentations, and many portions of the prophets, afford striking exhibitions of the truth of this. I do not and cannot regard Eichhorn as a believer in Christianity, in the sense in which those are who admit the inspired authority of the Scripture. But I can see no objection to accepting thankfully whatever aid he has proffered, in order to illustrate the words, phrases, and imagery of the Apocalypse. We need not depend on him for our theology.
Heinrichs, in his Apocalypsis Illustrata, has added very little to what Eiehhorn and Herder had already exhibited; while, now and then, he indulges in some peculiar extravagances. Other commentators, such as Lange, Hagen, Lindemann, Matthai, etc., are of little significance. The Commentary of Ewald however, (1828), deserves a very different character. The book is small, but full of thought and illustration. Being a philologist of much higher acquisitions than most of those who had preceded him in writing upon this book, he has brought all his Hebrew learning to bear upon it, and often with signal advantage. The outlines of his general plan are these: (1) The day of vengeance on the enemies of the church, or of Christ’s coming, is near, chap, iv–vii; vengeance begins and progresses, 8:1–11:14; vengeance is completed, 8:15–22:5. So he makes no catastrophe at the end of chap. xi, and even represents the author as sparing Jerusalem out of partiality for his own kindred. The artificial arrangement of the book he fully sees, in respect to its heptades, and in regard to some of its triads. But the latter he has only here and there noticed, omitting to bring Into view the three great catastrophes; the three heptades symbolic of punishment, i. e. the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials; and also most of the triplicities, which, in every part of the book small and great, everywhere develope themselves. Ewald’s critical skepticism is too well known to expect from him any acknowledgment of the divine authority of the book, or of real prediction in it. With him, it is of the same order as the Pollio of Virgil, i. e. the expression of the earnest wishes and hopes of a warm-hearted but enthusiastic Christian; who, in all probability, believed himself to have been aided by the Spirit of God in the composition of the book. We are not bound to follow him here; but we may acknowledge with thankfulness many an important philological suggestion, many an illustration made fully satisfactory, and many an exegetical error of preceding interpreters corrected.
Other recent writers on the Apocalypse, in Germany, scarcely deserve notice. Of the enthusiastic Bengelian order was M. F. Semler, Jung Stilling, Typke, Gerken, Opitz, Leutwein, Rühle von Lilienstern, Sander, etc. The last wrote in 1829, and he finds that the commencement of the Millennium will be in 1847. He has a little the advantage of the recent Millenarians of our own country, who placed it first in 1842; then in 1843; next in April, and then in October, of 1844; and who now conclude, that we ought to live in daily expectation of it until it comes. A more recent work on the Apocalypse by Züllig, of which I have only seen an ample review, has excited some attention in Germany. But from the extravagance of some of its positions, I should not think tbat it could possibly acquire and maintain a good reputation.
Lücke, who has written so large and able a book in the way of Introduction to the Apocalypse, has not yet published a Commentary. Whenever he does, the public have reason to believe that some accession will be made to the exegetical ground already won for the Apocalypse.
In the English world, nearly everything has moved on in accordance with the older Protestant views, viz. that the beast and false prophet are symbols of the Romish papal church. Bishop Newton on the Prophecies is a book too well known to need description here. Since the present ceutury came in, some of the leading works in England are the following: Whitaker, on the Revelation, 1802; Galloway, Brief Commentaries on Revelation, 1802; Woodhouse. on the Apocalypse, 1805; Holmes’ Revelation of St John, 1815, 2 vol.; A. Fuller’s Expository Discourses. 1815; W. Cunningham, Dissertation on the Seals and Trumpets, 1817; Gauntlett’s Exposition of Revelation, 1821; Tilloch’s Dissertations, 1823; Culbertson’s Lectures, 1826, 2 vol.; Croly’s Apocalypse, 1827; Woodhouse on the Apocalypse, 1828; Hutcheson’s Guide to the Study of Revelation, 1828; The Apocalypse explained (anon.), 1829; W. Jones’ Lectures on the Apocalypse, 1829; E. Irving’s Lectures on Revelation, 1829; Addis’ Heaven opened, or the visions of Daniel and John explained, 1829.
In our own country books designed to be explanatory of the Apocalypse are not wanting. Kinne, Smith, Prof. Bush, and others, have published on this subject. But as their works are well known to readers here, it is unnecessary to characterize them.
Thus have I given a brief sketch of what has been done in past times, in relation to the Apocalypse. That the book has suffered more than any one in the Bible, from extravagant and arbitrary exegesis, no one will deny who is acquainted with its exegetical history. It is to be hoped that some progress may be made in these days of exegetical study, toward a firmer and more satisfactory mode of interpretation. What possible satisfaction, indeed, can ever be felt by a rational man, in any interpretation which rests upon mere surmise or fancy? And such must ever be all those interpretations, which result from considering the book as a mere compendium of civil and ecclesiastical history. But this has been practised so long, and Protestant feeling is so deeply enlisted against the Romish church, that the chance of substituting a better method of exegesis speedily, is probably but small. Yet it must come at last. It will come, whether we choose or refuse. The radical principles of hermeneutics are every year gaining ground; and inasmuch as they are founded in reason and common sense, they must sooner or later become triumphant.
1. Evert Augustus Duyckinck, George Long Duyckinck. Cyclopaedia of American literature. Vol. 2. [C. Scribner, 1856.] p. 25.