The Book of Revelation and the Problem of Violence: A Response to John Dominic Crossan

Ted Grimsrud—October 10, 2017

Prominent Jesus scholar John Dominic Crossan has written an interesting and helpful book addressing what I believe are some of the most important issues in Christian theology. In this book, How to Read the Bible & Still Be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis Through Revelation (HarperOne, 2015), Crossan seeks to provide what is essentially a pacifist approach to the perennial question about how to understand the Bible’s notorious pro-violence teaching in light of Jesus’s message of nonviolent love.

Crossan’s antipathy toward Revelation

I greatly appreciate it any time a theologian argues in favor of nonviolence, so I am grateful for Crossan’s effort. However, I have some concerns as well that were triggered by the book’s first chapter. I became aware from reading an earlier Crossan book, God and Empire, that he is not a fan of the book of Revelation. Right away in How to Read the Bible, Crossan makes his antipathy toward Revelation apparent. Sadly, Crossan profoundly misreads Revelation—at least in my opinion. And his misreading weakens the overall argument of the book.

Crossan begins the book by describing how he was motivated to write it by questions he received from audiences on various speaking engagements. So he set out to respond to those questions and to make the case that the Bible can be read to support nonviolence—especially if we understand the message of the historical Jesus as the core.

One difficult set of questions concerns the book of Revelation. Crossan was continually asked: “What about that Apocalypse from John of Patmos, what about the book of Revelation, and what about the second coming of Jesus Christ? No matter what I said about the nonviolence of the first coming, questioners objected that the second coming was to be supremely violent, was to be a war to end all wars. Put bluntly, the nonviolent Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount seemed annulled and dismissed by the later Jesus in the book of Revelation” (p. 9).

Such questions about Revelation are indeed common for me, too, whenever I speak about the Bible and peace. Although Crossan and I share the same desired outcome—an embrace of the nonviolence of Jesus as the norm for all Christians—we see Revelation’s role in contributing to that outcome in drastically different ways. Continue reading “The Book of Revelation and the Problem of Violence: A Response to John Dominic Crossan”

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