St. Paul and the Apocalypse

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If one hears of apocalypse it drums up certain mental imagery or word associations. In most cases these images are informed by certain religious groups, television images and the like. However, the popular definition of apocalypse does not provide a proper or clear description for academic scholarship. It becomes important in biblical research to have a properly informed definition of apocalypse. An examination of its historical relevance, place in literature, key components and the like becomes useful in this study. This paper provides a fundamental definition of apocalypse that is useful in biblical research.

In constructing a definition of apocalypse it is beneficial to start from a broad understanding and work into the specifics. To accomplish this goal a broad definition is needed: "Apocalypse: A name frequently given to the last book of the Bible. Apocrypha: (1) matters secret or mysterious (2) of unknown origin, forged, spurious (3) unrecognized, uneconomical" This definition paints with the broadest strokes what is meant. However, it fails to provide any information on development, literary style and other key features. It does point out, however, that apocalypse necessarily implies something hidden. For: "the word apocrypha is of Greek derivation an signifies books that are ‘hidden away.' from the point of view of those who approved of these books, they were ‘hidden' or withdrawn from common use because they were regarded as containing mysterious or esoteric lore, too profound to be communicated to any except the initiated." Apocalypse and apocrypha are caught up with one another, as will be seen below.

Apocalypse originally, "comes from the Greek word which means ‘revelation.'" It is evident that his word appears in Biblical literature after the translation into Greek. It is important to examine it as a literary genre: ‘Apocalypse' is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world; such a work is intended to interpret present, earthly circumstances in light of the supernatural world and of the future, and to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means of divine authority. The key elements to note are the mediation of the visions by a being not of this world, transcendent nature of the vision, concern with history and the eschaton. These are key elements one find in apocalyptic literature. Though it is found in Biblical literature it was not, "confined to a single culture or religious tradition. It appears in Jewish, Christian, Gnostic, Greek, Latin and Persian literature." It is not solely a Jewish or Christian phenomenon.

Those individuals who produced apocalyptic works have certain characteristics that are worth noting. These characteristics become important when one considers what works become labeled as apocrypha, outside the cannon. As we have noted, "classic apocalypses combine the two concerns so that contact with and knowledge of the heavenly world provides an understanding of history and supposes a way of life." The last part of this remark becomes highly important. Apocalyptic works give a way of life, ethics, morality, etc. If the literature predicts a future than there must be a way to prepare for that given future. For: "the apocalypses present a view of reality and attempt to lure the reader to accept it and to live in accordance with it. Each apocalypse contains a ‘program for life.'" These individual experiences transcend this world to another transcendental world. The reader is invited to view this world through, "a virtual revelatory experience" One is drawn into the revelation. Questions arise about the truth of these experiences, leading them to be considered outside the cannon. When...
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