© Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938
Selbrede's Review: An Appreciative Reply
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In the last issue of The Counsel of Chalcedon it was the distinct pleasure for this writer to discover an excellent and penetrating review of his work, The Beast of Revelation by Martin Selbrede. For any writer it is both an honor and a learning experience to read a noteworthy, thought-provoking, and capable review of his work. This is the sort of review of which we need more, for truly does "iron sharpen iron."
Mr. Selbrede's gracious words of encouragement to me regarding my book brought me special satisfaction in that he does not hold to the same view of the topic as I do. In addition, I was not only pleased with the quality of his review, but also with the diligence with which he submitted it. Too often there is a long (and frustrating!) delay between the publication of a work and a critical review of it, but this one was in the hands of the editor within one month of the book's publication!
A Comment on Limitations and Procedure
Having expressed my sincere appreciation, I would like to offer a few responses to his objections to my book. Before I do so, I gather from his comments that two unavoidable problems presented themselves to him as a reviewer: First, Revelation is such a complex work that to treat any particular aspects of it (e.g., the identity of the beast and the date of its composition) necessarily is impacted by other of its features. Consequently, some of Mr. Selbrede's objections were based on insufficient evidence as to what my views are on other matters in Revelation. This is a frustrating impediment for a reviewer.
Second, the work under review is by-and-large a condensation of a much larger and more detailed work entitled Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation. At least some of Mr. Selbrede's concerns are answered in the master document (which will be available in early November, 1989).
It must be noted, too, that it is a much easier task for a reviewer to challenge a particular viewpoint presented on a specific passage in Revelation, when the reviewer's viewpoint is not set forth in complete fashion (even the reviewer's objections need a commentary appended!). The fact of the matter is, the case presented in my book is systemic: It involves a wide-array argument that seeks carefully to maintain both internal consistency and argumentative cogency, in that I hold to the unity of Revelation.
For instance, the detailed points involved in my work cannot persuasively be challenged by here a dispensational alternative, there a liberal alternative, and there an historicist possibility. My adherence to the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture forbids any non-unified approach. Now I am not saying that Mr. Selbrede's objections involve such a hodge-podge analysis. But I am disagreeing somewhat with the following principle of Mr. Selbrede: "if any one of Dr. Gentry's assertions has a plausible alternate explanation, especially a Biblically supported one, then Dr. Gentry's case is open to legitimate challenge. In one hypothesis for example...." What I mean is this: Not just any stray possible alternative interpretation of a detail issue will necessarily reduce the plausibility of my argument, for that stray possibility must itself fit in a systemic whole interpretation of the one coherent Revelation.
The Seven-headed Beast
Mr. Selbrede's first point of disagreement is to my identification of the beast with imperial Rome generically and Nero Caesar specifically. I argue that the seven heads correspond to the first seven emperors, Nero being the sixth head.
Now what can be said of Mr. Selbrede's hypothesis: "[T]he seven heads span centuries, being identified with Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome (each the ascendant world power of its age) followed by a multiplicity of kingdoms symbolized by the ten horns on the seventh head (whereby is predicted that no one kingdom, save Christ's, shall ever have authority over the whole world after Rome falls). According to this alternate view, we are living in the age of the symbolic ten horns, which intriguingly entails a staggering prediction that ours is the age when the world will be Christianized.... The mortal wound would correspond to the first advent of Christ, regarded as utterly lethal for Rome so far as Daniel 2 is concerned: the rock cut without hands demolishes the statue."
I must confess to having some problems with his position as presented. First, Mr. Selbrede's view overlooks important chronological clues. Upon his view, how does he explain the fact that the seventh head is only to remain "a little while" (Rev. 17:10)? Or the fact that the ten kings receive authority with the beast "for one hour" (Rev. 17:12)? On his view the "one hour" and the "little while" have already lasted as long as the span from persecuting Egypt to the fall of Rome, whereas Revelation clearly teaches that the seventh head (which Mr. Selbrede says has the ten horns) will last but a short time!
Second, Mr. Selbrede's view dismisses textually necessitated interpretive factors. Mr. Selbrede seeks to discredit my view in that it has a "need to invoke a double-referent" regarding the beast (that is, I argue that the beast represents both the one generic whole Roman empire and the specific individual emperor, Nero). He writes: "the non-preterist hypothesis... has no need to invoke a double-referent." This is impossible, as the great majority of commentators note.
Revelation 13:1 and 17:3 say the one beast has seven heads. But then Revelation 17:11 reads: "the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is one of the seven...." Indisputably, the beast is both the seven headed creature and one of the seven heads. Besides, the "invoking" of a double referent regarding the kings and mountains (which Mr. Selbrede has in mind) is textually justified by express statement: "Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings" (Rev. 17:9, 10). Furthermore, the repetition of the verb eisin ("are") in verse 9 supplements my view. What is wrong with invoking as an interpretive clue what the text clearly demands?
Third, Mr. Selbrede's review lacks internal consistency. He expresses doubt as to my identification of the "seven mountains" of Revelation 17 with the seven hills of Rome. But I am somewhat confused by two arguments he makes. (1) How can Mr. Selbrede state in one paragraph: "It must be observed, first, that there are seven of almost everything in Revelation. In all fairness, the correlation with Rome's seven hills is, so far as numerics are concerned, gratuitous," when in the preceding paragraph he argues that the seven heads represent seven specific world empires? As Mr. Selbrede says, "sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." In addition, surely he does not deny the existence of the seven churches in Revelation 1, 2, and 3, because of Bible "numerics"! (2) Later he comments on the harlot on seven hills and rebuts me by saying my view "flies in the face of numismatic evidence to the contrary" because of the Flavian coin showing the goddess Roma seated on the seven hills of Rome. Elsewhere he comments on Domitian's name on coins of the realm noting that the readers of Revelation "need merely examine the superscription on the coins in their purses." Why is it that he can use well-known cultural evidence regarding the seven hills (which are pictured on the coin in question) and I cannot?
Fourth, Mr. Selbrede unnecessarily multiplies symbols. I firmly believe a major interpretive cue is overlooked when he discounts the point of Roman topography. He asks: "are mountains always (or ever) literal mountains in Revelation?" I argue in my book that John is having the vision of the beast (Rev. 17:1-3) carefully explained to him by the interpreting angel (Rev. 17:6b, 7-10), as happened earlier (Rev. 7:13, 14). Why would the interpreting angel supply him with one symbol for another -- i.e. heads = mountains = kingdoms -- while engaged in interpreting the vision to a confused John? Mr. Selbrede himself sees the "woman" on the beast as Rome. Was not Rome located on such a distinctive geographical setting? I show that the geographical situation of Rome was a well-known and prominent feature of that city, which was frequently referred to by Christian and pagan alike.
Fifth, other problematic statements. Mr. Selbrede counters my seven hills of Rome interpretation: Would not the burning mountain falling into the sea elsewhere represent "the downfall of a kingdom, as Jeremiah 51 would lead us to conclude?" "Conclude"? Surely he means "surmise"! How can a prophecy in Jeremiah 51 necessarily lead us to "conclude" something about a prophecy in Revelation 17?
Mr. Selbrede muses over a problem: "We are not told precisely how it is that Nero, the beast is 'cast alive into the lake of fire' (Rev. 19:20), considering the tyrant committed suicide before taking the swim." Nor, on his view, are we told how a succession of kingdoms, five of which have fallen, is cast alive into the lake! (Similarly, we do not know how it is that Judas purchased a field after he was dead, Acts 1:18.) Actually, death is nothing more than a transition from one quality of life to another. At his death Nero stepped from his temporal existence into his eternal destiny, instead of entering soul sleep or being annihilated. I am sure Mr. Selbrede does not hold the view that dead bodies are cast into the lake of fire.
The Ten Horns
Regarding Mr. Selbrede's disappointment that I did not discuss the ten horns let me comment: First, his view that the ten horns are on the seventh head is intriguing, but not necessarily persuasive. Unfortunately, the text does not tell us where the ten horns are, despite Mr. Selbrede's reference to their similar time delay with the seventh head. I believe the ten horns are on the generic beast (Rome) and represent either the imperial provincial governors of Rome (which administered Rome's power by possession of the grant of an imperium) or are client kings under imperial domination. Interestingly, provincial rule was granted on an annual basis ("receive power as kings one hour with the beast") and lesser kings had a tenuous relation to Rome (witness the up and down authority of the Herodian family in Israel).
Second, I am quite surprised at Mr. Selbrede’s query: “When the seventh head dies, does the beast with seven dead heads die? Its power to command, to bite and tear to pieces, is gone. This doesn’t mark post-Galba Rome very well: it was post-Galba Rome that demolished Jerusalem.” I am astonished on two accounts: (1) I clearly state in the book that I believe the seven-headed beast does die, but is revived in “an eighth” king. As Mr. Selbrede noticed earlier: “Gentry treats the wound as the actual suicidal death of Nero and the consequent bloody interregnum. On this hypothesis, the revival of the beast corresponds to the advent of the Flavian emperors, setting the nearly-toppled Rome back on its feet.” (2) As a matter of fact, the war with Israel (the biting and tearing of the Roman beast) did actually cease while the seventh head (Galba) was in power (Josephus, Wars 4:9:9; 4:10:5). The arising of the seventh head (through civil war in Rome) stopped the carnage in Israel for a brief time (see my pp. 73-74).
The Great City
When I identify the “whore riding the beast” as Jerusalem, Mr. Selbrede faults me for (allegedly) dropping my “consistency” in seeking “how first century Christians would interpret John’s prophecy.” If I make that identification, it is argued, “it flies in the face of numismatic evidence to the contrary” for the Coin of Vespasian had the goddess Roma seated on seven hills. Remarkably he concludes by stating that “it is one thing for ancient authors to call Jerusalem ‘great’ when specifically discoursing on Jerusalem. But no one of Dr. Gentry’s first-century A.D. sources would have failed to regard Rome as the self-understood great city by way of eminence....”
I say this is remarkable because my book seeks to show that that is precisely what John is doing in Revelation: discoursing on the fall of Jerusalem primarily (see my pp. 26-27, 85-86, 88-101, 111-122, 135-137, 182, 186). I spend a good deal of space pointing out the theme verse’s relevance to Israel, who crucified Christ (Rev. 1:7). I even state that “Revelation was given as God’s divinely inspired and inerrant pre-interpretive Word on the destruction of the Temple order and the divorce of Israel as God’s covenant people” (p. 183).
Briefly, the evidence for the identifying of Jerusalem as the Harlot is based on the following: (1) Both are called “the great city” (Rev. 14:8; 11:8). What are we to make of Mr. Selbrede’s objection to Jerusalem being called a “great city,” when we read Revelation 11:8? (2) The Harlot is filled with the blood of the saints (although Rome could fit the bill, nevertheless, Israel fits better, cp. Rev. 16:6; 17:6; 18:21, 24; with Matt. 23:34-48; Luke 13:33; Acts 7:51-52). (3) Jerusalem had previously been called by pagan names quite compatible with the designation “Babylon” (cp. Rev. 14:8 and 17:5 with 11:8). (4) Rome could not fornicate against God, for only Jerusalem was God’s wife (Rev. 17:2-5, cp. Isa. 1:20; Jer. 31:31). (5) There is an obvious contrast between the Harlot and the chaste bride (cp. Rev. 17:2-5 with Rev. 21:1ff.) that suggests a contrast with the Jerusalem below and the Jerusalem above (Rev. 21:2; cp. Gal. 4:24ff.; Heb. 12:18ff.). The fact that the Harlot is seated on the seven-headed beast (representative of Rome) indicates not identity with Rome, but alliance with Rome against Christianity (cp. Matt. 23:37ff.; John 19:16-16; Acts 17:7).
The Number of the Beast
Of my suggestion that Nero’s name, when spelled in Hebrew, is hidden in the cipher 666, Mr. Selbrede notes that I fail “to mention that Irenaeus, while uncertain of the name behind the cipher, was absolutely certain... [it] should be executed using Greek.” So what? Irenaeus admits he does not know the solution! Perhaps this is the reason why! How does Irenaeus know what language it should be calculated in?
He notes that I “leave out a damaging piece of evidence, that Neron Kaiser must be misspelled to yield 666.” I confess that more on this matter is found in my Before Jerusalem Fell (to which Mr. Selbrede did not have access) than in the present work, but Mr. Selbrede’s statement is not exactly accurate, even as it stands. In The Beast I summarily state that “a first century Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name provides us with precisely the value of 666” (p. 34) -- I did not say “the first century spelling....”
In point of fact, however, I believe Mr. Selbrede overstates his case, for the required spelling is not necessarily a misspelling, but an alternate spelling. F. J. A. Hort, writing 50 years before F. F. Bruce (who is prominently mentioned in Mr. Selbrede’s review) and the discovery of the Qumran manuscript in mind, comments: “The absence of the Yod is nothing: there is excellent authority for that” (The Apocalypse of St. John, I-III, p. xxxi). Renowned Greek scholar and textual critic Bruce Metzger states categorically: “the Greek form Neron Caesar written in Hebrew characters [here he gives our spelling, KLG] is equivalent to 666” (A Textual Commentary, p. 752). In addition, Hillers, whom Mr. Selbrede mentions, is somewhat more certain than Mr. Selbrede cares to admit. Hillers wrote: “The last two consonants of qsr are damaged, but enough is preserved to show that no vowel-letter was written between the q and s” (BASOR, 170:65). Mr. Selbrede even admits that noted scholar F. F. Bruce himself was finally persuaded on the matter. Are Hort, Metzger, Bruce, and scores of other scholars persuaded on poor, misspelled evidence?
Interestingly, Irenaeus, whose name frequently is invoked by Mr. Selbrede, even gives a rare spelling for one of his own suggestions for the resolution of 666: he spells “Latin man” Latinos, not Lateinos. Besides, Irenaeus does not give the “clearly evidenced” view of Mr. Selbrede (i.e., Autocrator Kaisar Dometianos Sebastos Germanikos), despite his prominent mention of his having lived near Domitian’s time. If it was “in the reach of all citizens of the empire”, why did not Irenaeus even consider it?
I have to disagree strongly with Mr. Selbrede’s concern over the Hebrew spelling of the cipher: “One could ask whether a Hebrew solution to the cipher would be useful to Gentile believers in Rome who didn’t speak Hebrew.” In the first place, Revelation was not addressed to Rome, but to Christians in Asia Minor. In the second place, I painstakingly show that Revelation is the most Hebraic book in the New Testament. What would be so unusual about a Hebrew author employing a Hebrew cipher in a Hebraic book that mentions other Hebrew names and words (e.g., Satan, Armageddon, Abaddon, amen, hallelujah)? (In addition, it is interesting that Mr. Selbrede makes reference to Stauffer’s solution, which has a Greek spelling of Domitian’s Latin name! Mounce writes: “Stauffer suggests that John was counting up an abbreviated from in Greek of the full Latin title of Domitian” [Revelation, p. 264]. Shifting between languages is common to both views!)
In opposition to my view that 666, which is “the number of a man” is a code to an individual’s name (based on Rev. 13:8), Mr. Selbrede wonders “which individual man Rev. 22:17 [sic] must then be talking about when referring to the measure of a man”? We should note that in Revelation 21:17 there is no need to have in mind a particular man, because any particular man would have a common measure, which is John’s point. The context there is guarding against supposing the measurement to be some exaggerated angelic measure, since an angel is doing the measuring. But in Revelation 13 please note: (1) the text is expressly presenting evidence to aid in identifying a particular name by employing a very common, well-attested ancient form of riddle, known among the Hebrews as gematria. (2) Later this beast is cast into the lake of fire, as individuals, not kingdoms, would be (Rev. 19:20).
Regarding Mr. Selbrede’s preferred interpretation of 666 as being tied to Ezra 2:13, I simply challenge the reader to look it up and see how convincing it is. His is a view held by perhaps 1/100 as many scholars as hold to the Neronic view (not that that discounts it). To my mind, it is no more convincing than Irenaeus’ view that the figure is the sum of Noah’s age (Gen. 7:6) upon entering the ark when added to the measurements of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue (Dan. 3:1).
Irenaeus and Epiphanius
I regret that my statements on Irenaeus left the impression on Mr. Selbrede that Irenaeus is “generally discredited by Gentry on matters historical.” Actually, I deal with the re-interpretation of Irenaeus (which I endorse) in five pages, but only warn about the possibility of error in Irenaeus in two paragraphs. And I do not even mention that possibility of error in my “Conclusion” to Irenaeus. I consider my painstaking exegetico-syntactical labor regarding Irenaeus’ re-interpretation more significant than Irenaeus’ occasional errors.
In a later section, Mr. Selbrede criticizes me for not being even-handed in partitioning witnesses, because an index entry speaks of Irenaeus’ “confusion/errors,” but not Epiphanius’. The reason for this index entry is because in the whole book I refer to Epiphanius (a minor witness) on only four pages, but Irenaeus (a major witness) on eighteen pages. Interestingly, Mr. Selbrede goes on to note in some detail that I make no mention of the gaffes in Epiphanius. This is due to two reasons:
(1) I only deal with Epiphanius’ actual early-date witness in ten sentences, whereas I analyze Irenaeus’ in seven complete pages. But more importantly, (2) many scholars, including several noted late-date advocates, grant the point I make, i.e., that Epiphanius, for whatever reason, spoke of John’s writing under Nero Claudius (see: Hort, Swete, Moffat, Guthrie, Robinson, and Mounce). (Incidentally, Hort and Guthrie, contrary to Mr. Selbrede suggest Epiphanius got his Claudian designation from Hippolytus, not Leucius.)
Somewhat later Mr. Selbrede muses over Epiphanius’ assertion that John was both banished and allowed to return under “Nero.” “Not only did Nero not kill John, as was his custom, but he also released him from exile on Patmos!” I do not see how this is any more of a problem on the Neronic view than the fact of John’s banishment on the Domitianic view: What happens to the (alleged) horrible, empire-wide persecution of Domitian? Why would he slay lesser Christians and banish the last remaining apostle?
Still further, what did happen to John under Nero, on Mr. Selbrede’s view? Nothing?
Mr. Selbrede points out that “correlating John’s prophecy with current events is a game that late-date advocates can play,” too. He claims that “the last two decades of the first century bear witness to equally plausible correlations, and they are even more in number.” Although I admit correspondences might be drawn with other eras, I doubt that those in Domitian’s era are more in number. Nor, I add, are they in any way approaching the significance of the Neronic era events. I point out in my book that the era of the A.D. 60s would be much more significant to first century Christians than the 80s and 90s, for the following reasons.
The important events of the A.D. 60s included: (1) The outbreak of the first, precedent-setting imperial persecution of Christianity (it cannot be proved that Domitian even persecuted Christians). (2) The death of Christianity’s first and most heinous Roman persecutor, Nero Caesar (even judging the later traditions true, Domitian’s alleged persecution in no way paralleled Nero’s; for instance, Tertullian judged Domitian to be much preferred by comparison [Apology 5]). (3) The subsequent near collapse of Rome, under the gruesome Roman civil wars, A.D. 68-69 (at Domitian’s death there was no civil war), involving the famous “Year of Four Emperors” (when Domitian was murdered there was a relatively orderly succession of power, rather than one general after another seizing power as their troops waged war in the streets of Rome). (4) The final and conclusive destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple in judgment upon those who cried “His blood be upon us and our children” (Matt. 27:25) (there was no temple to destroy at any later date). (5) The final severing of Christianity from Judaism (never again would the two religions be confused by either Roman or Christian).
One of his examples of correspondences is: the “Domitianic imperial celebration, which included four horse teams” is said to parallel the Four Horsemen. But earlier he had faulted my identification of 666 and suggested the superiority of his because his utilized “no extra-Biblical considerations whatsoever.” I see the Four Horsemen as corresponding to Zechariah 1.
The Persecution of Christianity
Mr. Selbrede disputes my assertion that the War of the beast in Revelation 13 is found in the Nero’s persecution rather than Domitian’s. He sees Domitian’s alleged persecution as far more severe in that Nero’s was limited to Rome. But consider that Nero’s was known to take a great “multitude” of Christians (Tacitus, Annals 15; 1 Clement 5), including Peter and Paul. How many died under Domitian? Who were they? Who says that the Neronic persecution had to extend beyond Rome? Would not the awful persecution in the capital city strike fear in all Christians throughout the empire?
A partial statement of mine is cited and a possible, but unintended, conclusion drawn from it. Mr. Selbrede writes: “We are told that the ‘problem with the evidence’ for a Domitianic persecution is that it ‘proceeds solely from Christian sources’ .... This is certainly no compelling reason to reject the testimony. The silence from pagan sources is trustworthy, the Christian outcry against savage persecution is unfounded and specious?” My full statement reads: “The problem with the evidence for this ‘persecution’ is that it proceeds solely form Christian sources—sources somewhat later than the events.”
By that I meant that the only Christian corroboration of the persecution is from much later tradition. But both the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, quite near the time and citizens and archives of Rome itself, testify to the Neronic persecution. Yet neither mentions a Domitianic persecution, even though Suetonius praises Nero for persecuting Christians (Nero 16). The Christian Clement of Rome mentions the Neronic persecution, but no Christian near Domitian’s era mentions the Domitianic persecution.
To my partially cited statement Mr. Selbrede asks how I discriminate “between a good source and an inferior one.” I follow pretty much the method of a number of scholars who doubt a Domitianic persecution. For instance, Leon Morris notes: “While later Christians sometimes speak of a persecution under Domitian the evidence is not easy to find” [Revelation, 36-37]. Scholars who with Morris doubt a Domitianic persecution include, for example, H. B. Swete, R. H. Charles, J. Moffatt, F. J. A. Hort, A. Peake, E. G. Hardy, W. Ramsay, R. L. Milburn, G. Edmundson, J. R. Michaels, D. H. van Daalen, B. Newman, C. F. D. Moule, R. H. Fuller, J. P. M. Sweet, G. E. Ladd, and F. F. Bruce. Some principles of discrimination include: (1) Were the sources nearly contemporary, or much later? (2) Is the persecution passed in silence by contemporary Christian writers who did write in that era? (3) Do pagan historians who praise the persecution of Christians omit any reference to such under Domitian?
I am not sure that Mr. Selbrede’s analysis of liberalism (which I disdain equally with him) is quite accurate across the board. He suggests that the only reason “liberals choose the early date” for Revelation is “in order to trash Revelation.” This sounds more like an emotional reaction to liberalism, and as such is a fallacious ad hominem.
In reading their works, I find that they very often stumble on good historical insights (even Rushdoony employs their observations in his Institutes). Unfortunately, their liberal bias does not allow them to employ their historical observations properly: they either see the historical indicators as evidence of later, uneven editorial recension or they misinterpret the significance of those historical indicators. But the fact remains: they still see historical indicators in Revelation.
Mr. Selbrede is “surprised” that I suggest that “the Neronic dating was the more conservative option in the late 1800s.” He says this “insofar as all liberal theologians gravitated to the Neronic date....” I believe that as put, his statement involves him in the fallacy of Converse Accident, or Hasty Generalization. Surely he does not mean “all” liberal theologians did this! (Has he read them all? Even the ones never published in English?)
In addition, the term “conservative” actually was meant to speak, not of the adherents’ theological commitment (unorthodox vs. orthodox), but of the conserving of time in the position itself. That is, generally speaking, orthodox Christians tend to hold canonical books to be earlier, within the time of the apostles; the time-frame for the writing of the canonical books tends to be within a conservative range from A.D. 50-95, rather than in the more liberal range from A.D. 50-160. Ironically, a footnote by orthodox scholar, Philip Schaff, appended to the article by Warfield (approvingly cited by Mr. Selbrede), states in contradiction to Warfield’s position: “The early date is now accepted by perhaps the majority of scholars.” Late date advocate Peake admitted that “both advanced [i.e., liberal] and conservative scholars” had a “strong majority” in favor of the early date in the nineteenth century.
At this point in his review, Mr. Selbrede states: “we would do well to examine the remaining elements of Dr. Gentry’s Biblical evidence.” It should be noted that he does not do so. He deals with some of the remaining evidence, not “the” remaining evidence. For instance, he omits consideration of such large evidences as the theme of Revelation (ch. 9) and the ecclesiastical evidence (ch. 12). He does, however, give an insightful analysis of my argument from what I call “the architectural evidence,” i.e. the temple.
Mr. Selbrede turns his attention, first, to my statement that the “temple is required to be standing for the symbolical action of the vision to have any meaning.” He argues that Ezekiel’s temple vision was made when no temple was standing. I believe he misses my point here (this may be due more to my poverty of expression than his hasty conclusion). Ezekiel’s vision required the temple to be gone, because he prophesied its rebuilding (I will not get into what he intended by that). John’s vision, though, required the temple to be standing for he prophesied its destruction! I see no problem here.
I do not see how “the assumption of literality begs the question.” I do not assume the matter; I attempt to prove it by various lines of argument. As he mentions, I (1) make reference to the fact that the city spoken of is indisputably literal Jerusalem (see Rev. 11:8), (2) note parallels with the Olivet Discourse (which speak of the destruction of the literal temple), (3) tie it in with numerous non-inspired Christian references to the event, etc.
Mr. Selbrede feels that I lay “excessive stress on the enormity of this particular event” (the temple’s destruction). I feel that he underestimates the enormity of this event, which occupied Christ’s attention in His extensive Olivet Discourse and in various preceding parables, as it did John the Baptist’s teaching earlier (Matt. 3:10-12) and various New Testament writers later (Rom. 13:11,12; 16:20; 1 Cor. 7:26, 29-31; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 2:16; Heb. 10:25, 37; Jms. 5:8,9; 1 Pet. 4:5,7; 1 John 2:17,18). In fact, the event is repeated time and again in the fathers (as I note in my book). The event was a major datum of the early Christian apologetic against the Jew. Perhaps his most serious charge is that stated as his third point: “the fact that although the demand for literality on Rev. 11:1 reverberates throughout Dr. Gentry’s book, this demand is immediately relaxed at verse 2 and beyond.” His statement is slightly confused here: he must mean I see the spiritual element in verse 1 and the literal in verse 2. I am not sure what he means by “and beyond,” since I do not discuss verses 3ff.
Mr. Selbrede feels that I am “forced to recant [my] strong suit almost immediately” by “making the temple proper refer to the body of Christians, and the outer court to the actual literal temple.” But let us notice: First, such a mixture of literal and figurative in dealing with destruction is not unprecedented in Scripture (e.g., 2 Kgs. 21:12, 13; Amos 7:8, 9; Isa. 34:11; Lam. 2:8). My view is not intrinsically erroneous, for there is precedent. Second, as Revelation is an expansion of sorts of the Olivet Discourse (p. 99-100, 114ff) it naturally speaks of the preservation of God’s true people, while prophesying the destruction of the literal temple, just as the Olivet Discourse did (cp. Matt. 24:2, 15, 21 with 24:13, 22; cp. Luke 21:20-24 with 21:18-19). The preservation of the true temple of God, the Church, is a major theme in Revelation (e.g., Christ walks among his churches, Rev. 1:12ff). Third, this mixture of preserving and destroying is not unprecedented in Revelation. In a similar vein the (spiritual) sealing of the saints before the (physical) destruction of “the land” in Revelation 7 serves the same purpose (see also: Rev. 18:4 with 18:8). Just as we see the physical destruction of Israel and the temple in Revelation, so do we see the preservation and later expansion of the New Jerusalem, the Church (Rev. 21).
Later our reviewer notes of my treatment of Rev. 11:2 that I “probably missed the correct parallel text for ‘casting out’ the outer court: Galatians 4:30, where ekbale exo [sic] also appears in connection with the casting out of the bondwoman and her son.” (I have no idea where he got the Greek as listed; it appears in no major critical text.) It is not obvious in The Beast (though it will be fundamental in my commentary on Revelation, entitled The Divorce of Israel), but I concur that Gal. 4:30 is most significant. Revelation tells the story in some detail of the “casting out” of the Jews in order to establish the Christian phase of the Church. I see the truth of Galatians 4:30 as the cause of Revelation 11:2. The spiritual “casting out” of Israel results in the physical destruction of the foundations to apostate Judaism: the temple system.
Regarding the comparison of the treading down of Jerusalem, Mr. Selbrede suggests a more appropriate parallel with Isaiah 1:12. But as he states in the next paragraph in another connection (thus weakening his own argument): “not all apparent parallel passages are truly parallel.” I believe Luke 21 provides the clear parallel grammatically (see my pp. 114ff and Mr. Selbrede’s review), contextually (strong reference to judgment on the Jews for crucifying Christ, Matt. 21; 23; 24; Luke 19; 20; Rev. 1:7; 3:9; 7; 11:8), chronologically (Matt. 23:36; 24:34; Rev. 1:1, 3), and thematically (Rev. 1:7; cp. Matt. 24:30; Luke 21:27).
Mr. Selbrede comments: “I would be satisfied with the required correlation [between Luke 21 and Rev. 11], if one can be established, especially if it can counter act the force of the aorist edothae in Rev. 11:2, which would most naturally mean that the cast-out portion had already been given over to the Gentiles, i.e., that the verse is referring to an already-destroyed Temple.... As the exegesis of this one verb bears on the book’s date (!), it will no doubt receive attention in Dr. Gentry’s subsequent research.”
This argument is not convincing in that following upon the aorist “given” is the future “they shall tread”. This indicates that the authority to tread down “is given” (aorist tense) in the past so that “they shall tread down” (future tense) the temple in the future. Did not Jesus leave the temple desolate about 40 years previous (Matt. 23:38)? John uses the aorist edothae to speak of the grant of authority, not to refer to the past accomplishment of the treading (cp. Rev. 6:2, 4, 8; 7:2). How does Mr. Selbrede explain the future tense on his hypothesis?
Interestingly, a liberal objection to much of Isaiah, is that Isaiah speaks of the fall of Babylon as a past event. But conservative scholars argue that Isaiah is using a common device called the “prophetic past tense,” which speaks of a future event as so certain that it may be considered said-and- done. Actually I would be more concerned if John had put the verb “tread” in the past tense (although as I have just noted regarding the prophetic past, that would not necessarily be detrimental to my argument).
Mr. Selbrede writes that my use “of the Muratorian Canon is ill-considered, and it is clear that he is aware of this fact, for he has evidently examined Warfield’s discussion of Revelation’s date, and would therefore have been exposed to the proposition that the Muratorian Canon has been grossly misunderstood.” Warfield’s entire reference to the Muratorian Canon is parenthetical and as follows: “(the Muratori canon has been misunderstood)”! This is certainly no discussion that would make my argument “ill-considered,” despite my immense admiration for Warfield.
The Muratorian Canon statement reads: “the blessed Apostle Paul, following the rule of his predecessor John, writes to no more than seven churches by name.” Let me consider the two specific objections Mr. Selbrede forwards regarding my use of the Canon. (1) He objects that some say that by “predecessor” the canon “simply means that John was an apostle before Paul.” But we should notice the statement says Paul was following “the rule” of his predecessor John. And that “rule” is found in Revelation. How could Paul follow that “rule,” when “the rule” was established 30 years after Paul’s death? He was not following “his predecessor”, but “the rule of the predecessor”
(2) Mr. Selbrede feels that for the argument to work, the dates of the Pauline corpus would require a radical rethinking, since Paul’s letters to the churches are all written prior to A.D. 65, my date for Revelation. For some reason, he thinks that my view will require Paul matching “John one for one.” Actually, the commonly accepted dates of Paul’s church letters coupled with the dates of at least two of his pastoral letters may well confirm my argument. Could it be that the writer of the Muratorian Canon thought that Paul decided not to write to any more churches than to which he had already written as sort of a rule after he read John’s Revelation in A.D. 65? Could this explain the reason why Paul began writing only to individuals after that time? Now I personally doubt Paul had such a “rule” as mentioned in the Muratorian Canon, but Caius (the probable writer of the Canon) apparently felt he did, and that is useful for determining Caius’ view of the date of Revelation.
The Syriac Tradition
Mr. Selbrede is hesitant to accept any early date evidence approaching certainty on the dating of Revelation. Although he writes of the Syriac tradition “it is almost certain” that it refers to John’s banishment under Nero Caesar, he nevertheless states that “even here an alternate hypothesis casts its shadow across the proceedings” and the Syriac tradition “could easily be in error.” I agree that some tradition has to be in error, it is doubtful John wrote Revelation twice under two banishments. But Mr. Selbrede will not even accept an evidence that “is almost certain”!
Of my reference to Papias’ statement that John suffered martyrdom before Jerusalem’s fall, Mr. Selbrede offers two objections. (1) Papias suffered from credulity. But how could that affect a simple matter of fact regarding John’s death? Papias either may have known John personally or at least Papias’ life would have overlapped John’s, especially had John lived to extreme old age. How could Papias say John was dead, if John was still alive during Papias’ lifetime? This is no heavy theological matter. (2) There is some doubt as to the authenticity of the Papian documents, he urges. But some of the best late-date scholars (e.g., Swete) deem them authentic.
Once again I would like to express my appreciation for the very thorough review of my book by Mr. Selbrede. Reading and interacting with it was an enlightening experience. I believe I will suggest his reviewing my House Divided: The Break-up of Dispensational Theology! Having wrestled with his criticisms has strengthened me for future debates, interviews, etc. In light of certain of Mr. Selbrede’s objections, if the opportunity for revision ever presents itself I will include additional material to fill out the case. After carefully considering Mr. Selbrede’s comments, I do not feel, however, that any of the positions need to be altered.
I would also like to thank Counsel of Chalcedon editor David Goodrum for allowing me this space for a response. I believe the issue to be an important one in our age.