Revelation (IVP New Testament Commentary) by J. Ramsey Michaels (Leicester: IVP, 1997)
J. Ramsey Michaels is already the author of a useful book exploring the interpretative issues surrounding Revelation, so the reader can be sure that this commentary has been well thought through in its approach. I am happy to say that it has also been well thought through in the details, as the numerous footnotes in this volume will testify. Although the commentary is based on the NIV, Michaels has clearly studied the Greek text carefully, as well as the numerous text-critical problems in the book of Revelation. He rejects several of the standard approaches to the book (dispensational, preterist, church-historical) and proposes instead a fairly sane “qualified literalism” approach to what he sees as a “prophetic” book (rather than futurist, or apocalyptic). The introduction also contains stimulating sections on “The Theology and The Ethics of Revelation” and “Preaching the Gospel from the Book of Revelation” – crucial issues which must be addressed and which make the commentary itself more useful to the pastor-teacher.
This series of commentaries is aimed somewhere between the Tyndale Commentaries and the Bible Speaks Today series. This is apparent in the mixture of scholarly discussion in the footnotes, and anecdotes and stories in the main body of the text. Sometimes the latter can be quite suggestive for teachers of the book, while at other times they can be fairly obscure (such as the very odd quotation from the apparently “well-known story” by Flannery O’Connor used on page 48, which baffled this reader at least). I was not always convinced by the theological comments made throughout the book, but it was refreshing to read a commentary which did not stop at exegesis alone and which at least began to answer some of the questions a theologically-minded reader of Revelation might have. Michaels is excellent at pointing out what is not in the text, as well as commenting on what is.
Greek transliteration is untidy (especially with the letter ‘eta’), and the continuous text of the commentary (the only major divisions are between the Introduction, the Outline, and the Commentary) is slightly unusual. The most annoying thing is the footnotes; they are not keyed into the main body text in any way (by numbers, letters, or symbols for example) and so it is difficult to know when to refer to them while reading or studying the commentary. These are weaknesses of the series as a whole rather than of this volume, which would, despite these, be an excellent resource for preachers alongside a more in-depth commentary like that of Beale or Aune. With Michaels’ help it may be possible to preach a series on the book of Revelation which does not finish at chapter three!
This review also appeared in Churchman 120.4 (2006), but was written several years before that.