The Bible Teaches Us To Read It

The Bible Teaches Us To Read It July 20, 2015

Those who share in the first resurrection are not under the authority of the second death (Revelation 20:6). 

We know what the first resurrection is. John has just told us: Beheaded martyrs and those who resist the beast come to life and reign with Christ. “This is the first resurrection,” John says. Check; got it.

But “second death”? We’ve heard it before (Revelation 2:11), but John hasn’t defined it. And he doesn’t here.

If we keep reading, though, we find our puzzlement relieve. “This is the second death,” John writes, “the lake of fire” (v. 14).  OK, got that now too. But, John, it would have been helpful if you had told us that a bit earlier.

Sloppy writing? No, not sloppy. But not written like a manual, where all the technical terms are defined up front.

It’s all quite deliberate, and among other things suggests that John, like other biblical writers, writes in such a way as to train us to read. There is a hermeneutical outlook embedded in that little delayed definition.

What is the hermeneutical outlook?

It’s a hermeneutics of anticipation. John writes, here and elsewhere, to raise questions, entice us to keep going, hoping to find answers to our questions.

It’s a hermeneutics of deferral but not differance. John does eventually define the phrase. There’s an end, not infinite dissemination. We might say it’s an eschatological, Messianic hermeneutics (Messianic in the sense that Derrida means, though he doesn’t believe the Messiah will ever arrive). Or, we might say it’s a comic hermeneutics, errant wandering for a time, but finally clarity arrives. No doubt the clarity of John’s definition propels other questions; but John has taught us to expect answers.

More practically, it’s a hermeneutics that demands spiral reading. You can’t get the sense of 20:6 until you get to 20:14; but you have to run back to 20:6 after reading 20:14 in order to get the point. You can’t just read along a line. Opaque beginnings propel toward clarified ends, but the end then illuminates the beginning.

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