Q&A: Characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature

Characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature

What are some distinctive characteristics of apocalyptic literature?

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Answer

Apocalyptic literature shows up in many places in the ancient world, and of course, it is in the Bible as well. And you can always recognize it because it's not linear, it's not straight history; it's laden with images. Not that these images are unrelated to history. They often are used to predict what the future is going to be, a statue with different parts in the book of Daniel, which predicts succeeding empires. Or the book of the Revelation is replete with such apocalyptic imagery, the four horsemen, for example, or the bowls pouring out judgment. And in addition to these darker things, the bright things, such as the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven. So, apocalyptic literature is characterized by a sort of mosaic way of appearing. And you're glad the whole Bible isn't apocalyptic, because we'd have trouble understanding it probably. We'd spend most of our time interpreting it. So, we have other parts of the Bible, which are more linear, and they work together in a perfect harmony. I think one of the reasons for that is that God is not just teaching us, either points of doctrine, or elements of history in an isolated fashion, but he's presenting his self, his person, his covenant presence, and we relate to that as entire people. Images are important parts of who we are as we respond, as are words, and as is linear history. So, apocalyptic literature, in the context of the whole, is quite wonderful.

Answer by Dr. William Edgar

William Edgar is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary.