Apocalyptic Literature: What Is It?

That’s not one of my most creative titles for a blog post, but at least it’s clear. No luring in disinterested readers today…

We’re trying to get a handle on the strange (to us) beast that is apocalyptic literature. It might be easiest to describe it by contrasting it with prophecy, a genre that’s all over the Old Testament. The genres are related (e.g., both are revelation from God; both may foretell the future), but they are different enough to invite contrast. To keep it simple, I’ll do bullet points:

  • Cosmic do-over vs. cosmic clean-up. We talked about this last time. The prophets typically see a gloriously restored earth after ample judgment, while apocalyptic literature sees cosmic destruction and a fresh start.
  • Visions vs. “Thus saith the Lord…” If you read through the Prophets, Major or Minor, you will find the speech introduction “Thus saith the LORD” or “The word of the LORD came to [insert prophet’s name]” more times than you want to count. (“Saith,” of course, is a lovely King James word. Most modern versions just have “Thus says the LORD,” which means the same thing but sounds so run-of-the-mill, don’t you think? We all “say” things, but somehow it seems regally right that God “saith” things. Besides that, I grew up on the KJV, so God usually “saith” things in my head…) The prophets typically heard God’s messages, but apocalyptic writers saw some pretty wacky things they had to figure out how to describe. This difference automatically makes apocalyptic more challenging because the vision and the message are not always clear.
  • Mediator vs. direct revelation. Reports of apocalyptic visions often feature an extra character: an angel mediating the message to the seer. The seer sees a vision and he doesn’t understand it. Then an angel shows up to explain it to him (though, sadly for us, these angels leave lots of gaps in their explanations). In prophecy, the prophet sees/hears the message directly from God—no intermediary.

One final feature of apocalyptic literature worth mentioning is the extent of symbolism it includes. The Prophets also include symbolism, but in apocalyptic literature, symbolism is the rule. We’ll talk more about how to understand all that symbolism later.

There is more we could say about apocalyptic literature (trust me, a lot of ink has spilled over this topic), but this is enough to give you the general idea. Next time, I think we’ll actually get to the content of Daniel 7.  🙂

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About wendywidder

For LOVE of the WORD
This entry was posted in Apocalyptic literature, Daniel 7, The Book of Daniel. Bookmark the permalink.

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