Eschatological truth or Apocalyptic literature?

Some commentators today regard all of the eschatological passages of Scripture, including the Book of Daniel, the Book of Revelation, and even the eschatological discourse of Jesus, as devoid of revealed truths about future events. They classify all such passages as a particular type of literature, called apocalyptic literature. Now there is nothing wrong, per se, with noting that various parts of Scripture are written in different forms: poetry, historical accounts, parables, etc. And I agree that Daniel and Revelation, for example, use a particular literary form which is heavily symbolic. This form may be fittingly called apocalyptic literature.

However, these commentators are not merely saying that the revealed truths of Scripture are presented under various forms that include apocalyptic literature. They are using that label to imply that there is no revealed truth about the future in those passages. Thus it is common for them to claim that apocalyptic literature is merely an expression of the events at the time that the work was written, an expression of the sufferings and hopes of those Jews or Christians, not at all a revelation from God about His plan for the future.

For example, over at Vox Nova, Tim Muldoon (The end of history, the history of the end) writes:

“I see apocalyptic literature in a similar light: it’s supposed to make us feel something. And what it is supposed to make us feel is hope that in the midst of horrible events, God is at work, laboring with grace to bring about his plan…. And I imagine that the writers of apocalyptic literature, like Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New, wanted people similarly to feel that the horrible circumstances they faced for their faith, like persecution and torture and death, were not signs of God’s absence but opportunities for God’s grace.”

In other words, the eschatological parts of Sacred Scripture have the purpose to reassure us and to make us feel hope, but not to reveal any truths about future realities.

In another example, a flawed document released by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in 2005, called ‘The Gift of Scripture’, takes much the same view, referring to the Book of Daniel in this way:

“It was written for a persecuted people to assure them of God’s unending care, and reassures the oppressed and persecuted in any age that evil cannot finally triumph.” (Gift of Scripture, n. 40).

Now this assertion may be true, to the extent that one of the purposes of Scripture is to teach us that good ultimately triumphs over evil. But the document is plainly suggesting that apocalyptic literature is nothing more than this type of reassurance. The same document makes this comment about the Book of Revelation:

“We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world….” (Gift of Scripture, n. 69).

What these brief quotes, taken in the context of the entire document, suggest is that Sacred Scripture does not contain any truths about future events. And this conclusion fits well with the approach to Sacred Scripture common to modernist Biblical scholars, to treat Sacred Scripture as if it were merely a human work, and not truly a Divine Revelation from God. For if Scripture is merely a human work, then it cannot contain truths about the future; how would mere human authors know the future? But if it is the Word of God, then certainly God who is all-knowing also knows and can reveal future events.

So the modernist view dismisses all the eschatological parts of Sacred Scripture as merely a form of literature expressing current (not future) experiences of persecution and hopes (not revealed truths) for the future. This view is a serious error, and one that will become laughable once the tribulation begins. Once these events, predicted in detail and in advance, begin to unfold, this unfaithful approach to eschatology will be untenable.

My view is the traditional view, found in Tradition, Scripture, and Magisterium, that the eschatological passages of Scripture are revealed truths about God’s plan, truths about future realities, truths about specific future persons and events.

[Revelation 1]
{1:1} The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, in order to make known to his servants the things that must soon occur, and which he signified by sending his Angel to his servant John;
{1:2} he has offered testimony to the Word of God, and whatever he saw is the testimony of Jesus Christ.

The book of Revelation plainly states that it is a Divine Revelation from God, from Jesus the Son of God, for the purpose of making known to us, His servants, what will happen soon. This revelation is the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, so it cannot be false, and it cannot be merely a type of literature that expresses hopes and fears.

{22:19} And if anyone will have taken away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his portion from the Book of Life, and from the Holy City, and from these things which have been written in this book.

Those who interpret away all of the eschatology of Sacred Scripture, making it in effect null and void, are taking away from the Word of God. They are committing a grave objective sin, and they will be punished by God.

None of the Fathers, Doctors, and Saints of the Church held to this modernist view, that the eschatological portions of Scripture are not revelations about the future. In my works of eschatology, I quote numerous different Saints, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church, including St. Thomas Aquinas, all of whom interpreted Sacred Scripture as revealing actual future events. But most persons who explain away the eschatological passages of Scripture do not actually read, study, or write eschatology. They are dismissing a field of theology that they themselves know little about.

Pope Paul VI spoke on the importance of eschatology at the Special World Conference on Futures Research (1973). While some of the faithful have a low regard for any writings in the field of eschatology, the Pope urged the children of the Church to study eschatology as a way to prepare themselves for their own final meeting with the Creator:

“We are aware of the general theme of the Conference: the study of man and his future…this time you have addressed yourselves to the values which man, as a rational being, bears within himself and which he strives to bring to full realization. In this field the Church, as the bearer of a transcendent and revealed doctrine, certainly has something to say. She already possesses a science concerning future and final realities, the science of eschatology, and she continually urges her children to study the sublime truths which it embodies, so that they may prepare themselves for the final and decisive meeting with the Creator.”

The Pontiff refers to eschatology as a science (a field of knowledge). He states that eschatology is about future realities, i.e. actual future persons and events. And this content of eschatology embodies sublime truths.

Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church has a section on eschatology which plainly teaches, based on Sacred Scripture, that certain future events will occur:

“Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers…. The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven.” (CCC, n. 675, 677).

Finally, it is interesting to note that Pope Benedict XVI, in his work of private theology ‘Jesus of Nazareth, part two’, wrote a chapter on the eschatological discourse of Jesus. He interprets that discourse as having predicted the fall of Jerusalem (to the Romans in the first century A.D.). But he also states that it is not mainly about that event (p. 27), but about events still in the future the prophecy of the end of the world, the second coming of the Son of Man, and the Last Judgment (p. 48). Although the Pontiff is not writing a book of eschatology, and so he does not give an extended analysis of these eschatological events, it is nevertheless clear that he does NOT view the eschatological portions of Scripture as merely an expression of the hopes and experiences of the community of believers at the time that Scripture was written.

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