Book Reviews

The People of God in the Apocalypse

Discourse, Structure, and Exegesis

Stephen Pattemore Cambridge 2005-09-11

This impressive book is a revised version of a portion of the author’s doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Otago (New Zealand). Pattemore is a translation consultant with the United Bible Societies. This book is concerned with making the Book of Revelation relevant to contemporary readers. Pattemore’s focus is on the “people of God.” He is interested in how this subject would have motivated readers in the first century and how it should do so today.

Pattemore’s method is to use discourse analysis and principles from a communication theory called “relevance theory.” This is a relatively new theory from within the field of (linguistic) pragmatics and suggests that when a communicator contributes a linguistic offering (e.g., a spoken statement, a written text) to a communication situation (discussion, argument, etc.), his or her contribution will be optimally relevant to the situation. Relevance theory maintains that language and communication are based on inference and intention. This theory is gaining popularity among Bible translators. The fact that Pattemore’s book is included in this important series within New Testament studies suggests that it is also gaining popularity in biblical studies.

After a brief introduction (chap. 1), Pattemore describes relevance theory and its use in biblical studies (chap. 2). Pattemore then describes the contexts (cognitive environment) for the Book of Revelation (chap. 3). The external context includes factors outside the text that contribute to understanding the book. This includes literary sources (e.g., Old Testament) and the historical and cultural context of the original recipients of the book. Second, the internal context focuses on structure and relationships within the book itself.

Chapters 4–6 analyze three passages in which the people of God play a prominent role in the book. First, Pattermore says the souls “under the altar” (Rev. 6:9–11) refer to a “martyr ecclesiology.” The church, he says, should be modeled on Christ’s example and should be faithful to the point of death. Second, the 144,000 companions of the Lamb (14:1–5) are described as a “messianic ecclesiology.” The people of God are an army “representing a reconstituted and completed Israel” (p. 194). This terminology may be similar to a dispensational reading; however, Pattemore sees the church as “completed Israel.” The New Jerusalem and the bride of Christ in Revelation 21–22 address the vindication of martyrs, the victory and reign of the saints, and the marriage of the Lamb. Pattemore’s use of relevance theory suggests that readers both then and now can derive hope from these truths as they look to the future.

This is not a typical book on Revelation. It has no discussion on authorship (“John” is assumed without further identification, p. 53), date (assumed to be in the 90s, p. 59 n. 22), or theological framework (e.g., futurist, preterist, premillennial, etc.). Nevertheless what is said here is compatible with premillennial theology. Readers of Revelation, Pattemore argues, are to look to the future for the reign of Christ. The continued emphasis on the application of the people of God to the readers makes a pretribulational reading more strained. However, this group is never clearly defined and there is much to be gained by readers of any theological persuasion. This book can supplement one’s study of Revelation by its focus on the role of the people of God. Also this work introduces readers to relevance theory, which promises to be a helpful addition to students’ exegetical toolbox.

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Joseph D. Fantin
Dr. Fantin believes an accurate understanding of God's Word will enable the believer to grow in his or her relationship with Christ, to love God and others, to bring Christ's love to a lost world, to build up the church, and most importantly, to glorify God. He is committed to teaching exegetical method in order to help students understand, apply, and teach the Bible in order to achieve these goals. His research interests include the prison epistles, the first-century world, Greek, linguistics, and relevance theory. He and his wife, Robin, have two children: Jillian and David.
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