*this is a post I wrote on my own blog a few days ago- thought itd make some good conversation!
The book of Revelation has 2 different genres in it: 1) Apocalyptic literature and 2) Historical Narrative. We always interpret narrative literally- Genesis, Exodus, the Gospels, etc… Apocalyptic literature is another story. Throughout the whole Bible the biblical authors often times interpret apocalyptic literature symbolically.
All throughout the Bible apocalyptic literature events are described symbolically. In the book of Revelation there is a tension- we have to try and differentiate the apocalyptic literature with the historical narrative literature. It is absurd to interpret all of Revelation as if it were all narrative(as in interpret it all LITERALLY); it is equally absurd when people try to interpret Revelation as if it were all apocalyptic literature(as in interpret it all SYMBOLICALLY)… We have to deal with the tension and appropriately interpret Revelation by taking both genres into account.
We cant go to either extreme and neglect either of the genres in the book of Revelation. Both of those two genres are in the book of Revelation and we must interpret accordingly, by taking both into account. Anyone who interprets every passage in Revelation literally and anyone who interprets every passage symbolically have clearly missed the mark because they have completely neglected the fact that both genres are represented in Revelation.
To illustrate this tension I am going to show some differences in popular Revelation scholars…
1) Dr. Grant Osborne of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School holds a pretty unique view. He holds to a “preteristic” view and interpretation of Revelation until he hits the 2nd Coming and the Millennium- he then holds to a premillennial interpretation. In his case he interprets most of Revelation symbolically(apocalyptic literature), but he then interprets Revelation 19-20 literally(historical narrative).
2) Dr. Schreiner- New Testament scholar at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary holds a pretty unique balance when interpreting Revelation(he also admits he bounces back and forth between Amillennialism and Historic Premillennialism quite often). Schreiner interprets the beginning and end of Revelation as historical narrative, but then believes that most of the bulk of Revelation is apocalyptic literature and should be interpreted symbolically. All in all, I think Schreiner has a good balance of taking both genres into account. He interprets most of Revelation like an Amillennial, but is still a Premillennial because he interprets Revelation 19-20 as historical narrative.
3) Dr. Kim Riddlebarger- Author of “A Case for Amillennialism.” Riddlebarger is what I consider a balanced Amillennial. Some in the Amillennial camp interpret everything as symbolically as possible, as well as preterists and partial preterists. Riddlebarger refrains from doing this and continually teaches that we should only interpret passages symbolically when the New Testament writers warrant it. Romans 4:13 is one example he uses: Paul mentions that the promise given to Abraham embraces not only the land of Canaan, but the whole world- in the New Heavens and New Earth. While most historic premills also accept this point about Romans 4:13, Riddlebarger makes the same case in multiple other passages. When it comes to Revelation, Riddlebarger trues to appropriately deal with the tension of the two genres in Revelation.
I have now given three examples of men who I think at least attempt to appropriately deal with the tension of the two genres in Revelation. There are some dispensationals and preterists who don’t even acknowledge the two different genres and they either interpret Revelation as if it is all historical narrative or all apocalyptic literature. This is bad exegesis and biblical scholarship. We must deal with this tension. Obviously, not all three of the people I mentioned above can be correct, but they are all doing the necessary, hard work of dealing with the two genres in Revelation.
Again, no matter what side we land on, when we study and try to interpret Revelation we must attempt to distinguish between the two genres in Revelation. They are both represented and in order to appropriately do an exegesis of Revelation we must take both into account.