Deciphering the Book of Revelation
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By Matt Abbott
The Book of Revelation is perhaps the most mysterious book in Sacred Scripture. And there has been much speculation about it --some of it bordering on off-the-wall, but some of it serious and scholarly.
The following is the forward and a portion of a chapter from a forthcoming book which, in my view, falls in the latter category. The 333-page book, titled The Apocalypse-Letter by Letter: A Literary Analysis of the Book of Revelation, is a compilation of notes and letters written by the late Steven Paul, a Catholic scholar who died of cancer in 2000.
It has been put together by Paul's brother-in-law, Steve Bowler, of Hudson, Mass.
"The book is not one of fancy or speculation, but rather an exegesis of what the Apocalypse means based on the Bible and the writings of the Church Fathers," says Bowler. "It is an analysis of the Apocalypse, from a Catholic perspective, for those who are serious about Bible study."
Bowler provided me with the following excerpts.
The last words of the author of this book were, "I understand now." Steven Paul was much older than his sister, my wife. I met him at their parents' home for one of many family gatherings that they held through the years. Steve would always start into a discourse, a debate, or a discussion depending on your point of view. Nearly every time it would turn to the Apocalypse and Steve would try his case with anyone who dared to challenge him. Steve would passionately quote from the Bible, from classical literature, history books, and books by the Church Fathers such as, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Tertullian, and others. As a casual Catholic by upbringing, I was astonished at the depth and breadth of the argument. One book that really struck Steve was The Book of Destiny, by Rev. Herman Bernard Kramer, [Tan Books, 1954], and this book owes much to it. Steve once said that Rev. Kramer was on the right track but missed some important clues.
As time went by, I began to look forward to these oratories. I'd never heard anything like it. How did he gain such knowledge and insight? My wife related that Steve had attended Our Lady Queen of Angels Seminary in the Los Angeles area but then enlisted in the Marines and served in the Vietnam War. He picked the toughest unit he could. While serving his country, he was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy saved his life but required a long convalescence. Though given a short life expectancy, Steve beat the odds. During this period, Steve read many books. Literary analysis and the use of language became his passion. This infl uence will be evident in the book.
He studied religion, history, and classical literature and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from Boston University. In the evenings, he volunteered to teach English to refugees from South Vietnam. He also shoveled snow at the local parish and served as lector. We didn't see him much over the first dozen years we were married. An occasional barbecue or holiday gathering was about it. Then we got word that his cancer had recurred and he was undergoing chemotherapy. He seemed to be improving but then disaster hit. While I was working as a consultant about three hour's drive from home in 1996, I received a message from my wife. She was shaken and had trouble explaining to me that her brother, Steve, had been brought to the hospital with a ruptured colon and was not expected to survive the day. "He's not going to get out of this one," she said. Apparently, a thinning of the intestinal walls is one complication from the cancer treatment. I jumped in the car for the long three-hour drive home with a deep sense of sadness and remorse. The nagging feeling in the back of my mind was what a waste it would be if the knowledge Steve had of the Apocalypse and his faith would not be passed on, especially to my children.
And so I began to pray as my wife and children had been doing ever since Steve had become sick. I asked that if it were possible, for "with Him all things are possible," [cf. Lk. 1:37], to spare Steven so he could pass along what he knew to my children and they in turn could preserve it. Due to my weak faith, I assumed this was folly but there was nothing else to do. I continued my drive and my conversation with the Lord.
When I got home, I expected to be greeted with the news of Steve's passing but instead was informed by my wife that he was hanging on by a thread. The doctors were in a dilemma. He was too weak to operate on and too sick not to. His vital signs were unstable. They decided to operate and by some small miracle, he survived the night. The next few days, I watched the children while my wife and her family went to the hospital. They arranged for the sacrament of healing from a priest at the hospital. Steve was in a death grip. His face was contorted and pale. During the prayers for the sick, he changed. He took on a pinkish color and his whole body seemed to relax. He lived. By one count, he had 14 IV bottles hooked up at once. Although he survived, he was mostly in a coma and so after a week or so I went back to work. For four weeks, he lay in a coma, heavily sedated and with a tracheotomy tube.
When I arrived home for the weekend, I decided to go see Steve with my wife. I felt really strange because it had been awhile since I'd seen him and was afraid he wouldn't recognize me. I was told he was so out of it that he wouldn't know much of anything. When I walked into the room, Steve motioned to me and kept trying to communicate. I asked if he knew who I was and he smiled and nodded. He would get very frustrated because you can't talk with a tracheotomy tube. Then this 300 pound former Marine began to cry. I grabbed his hand and repeated over and over, "we're going to get through this, God has work for you." Four days later, he was sitting up; taking short walks and was talking. Two days after that, he walked out of the hospital and went home.
As he recovered, I told him how I had prayed that he would live so that he could write down what he knew about the Apocalypse. At first, I think he thought I was crazy. Then the letters started coming, typewritten on an old manual typewriter. [Steve had no use for technology. He still had a rotary phone in 1999. No computer, no cell phone. He was still driving a 1974 Ford Escort in 2000]. First, a short letter arrived that explained the symbols in the Book of Daniel and how they will be important in interpreting the Apocalypse. Then a beautiful letter, a commentary, an Introduction to the Apocalypse followed.
As the letters kept coming, they kept getting more detailed, and more beautiful. Because of Steve's medical history, he knew that time was short to complete the task. He would stop by from time to time, always armed with a box of Boston Crčme donuts, to explain some aspect of his letters. I kidded with him that he should never complete his commentary because then his mission would be over. His letters also changed during this time. He began to feel the strong hand of God in his work and began to see it as more than just letters for the family. He wrote, "When I look at what I have written, I am greeted by evidence of the grace of God, for some of the things explained have not been explained in nineteen centuries. When I was young, I never thought I would write something like this. When it is all typed up, I will not even speculate on what God will do with it. I have not the foggiest idea. I only know I must finish it. And, that is my cue to get back to the typing." And he started to give instructions on how it should be shared.
In each letter, Steve showed how previous commentaries failed to let the grammar and structure of the Apocalypse lead the reader to clues as to the symbols and sequence of events. This book is not a wildly speculative work of fancy, or a fictional novel. Steve also demonstrated how translators often inserted their own opinions into the text and distorted it from its original meaning in Greek. By meticulously giving examples from the original Greek text and the available English translations, Steve showed how subtleties in the work answered the most vexing questions that had gone misunderstood or unexplained for 1800 years. At first, his method may seem tedious, especially to this sound-bite generation used to the paradigm of "browsing" as on the Internet.
This book appeals to the reader who is ready to apply their own reason and effort into evaluating the rational proofs presented. In some cases, the author challenges the reader to prove him wrong with their own explanations. He often advised us to use only the Bible as our main reference, though history books and writings by Church Fathers also prove helpful.
I think it must have frustrated Steve that we would often tell him that what he wrote was very confusing for us. He often stated that the Apocalypse was written in fourth grade grammar and anyone should be able to see what he saw. We told him we would try harder. Alas, he had only sent his analysis up to Chapter 12 when he got sick again and went to the hospital. While there, he implored me to complete it from his notes.
As the reports from the hospital became more negative, I began to suspect this project would never be completed. I just didn't have the combination of intelligence, faith and reason that Steve possessed. Usually we would all go visit Steve together on the weekend. On a Thursday in October, I told my wife to go see him THAT DAY. I had a feeling that the end was near. He was mostly unconscious but for a few moments, he opened his eyes. My wife told him that we were reading his work and were beginning to understand it. It was at this point that he mustered the strength to utter, "I understand, now." It reminded me of the last words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "All I've written is straw." The next morning he was in God's arms. He was 54 when he died. I was deeply saddened not only at the loss of someone who had become my brother but also by the fact that our mutual project had not been completed.
On the drive to the funeral, I said to the family that we could be comforted that Steve's "works will accompany him" as it says in the Apocalypse. My children herein referred to as "Friends" and the principal recipients of the letters, served on the altar and performed the scripture readings at the funeral. One of the readings selected by the presiding priest (who was unaware of Steve's work in this regard) was from the Apocalypse Chapter 14 verses 12 and 13: "Here is what sustains the holy ones who keep God's commandments and their faith in Jesus. I heard a voice from heaven say, 'write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' said the Spirit, 'let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.'"
After the funeral, we went to his house, and there, in the typewriter, a manual typewriter, was another page. I had no idea how many pages he may have finished that he hadn't sent. When his wife sent me six more pages that got me most of the way through Chapter 13, I again thought that the project was over. Then, a month later, my wife sent me a message at work. "Guess what showed up in the mail today?" I had no idea. She answered, "a package from Steve's wife...68 pages of his notes." They weren't just notes. He had written out the entire commentary prior to sitting at that manual typewriter day after day. His wife had copied it and was fixing the places where the copier had cut off parts of words. I was filled with such joy that all I could think of was typing the whole thing into the computer so that it could be shared.
The book will cover the time from the late first century when St. John wrote the Apocalypse to a time as yet unknown in the future, and show how some predicted events affecting God's people have come to pass, such as the Arian Heresy, the Barbarian Invasions, the rise of Islam, the Greek Schism, Martin Luther and Protestantism. Each of these events then sets the table so to speak for the climactic events of the second and third woes. The book was written beginning in 1997 and Steve finished the letters in 2000. He did not live to see the attack on the World Trade Center, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the sex abuse scandal in the Church, the death of Pope John Paul II and election of Pope Benedict XVI. Other events that would have piqued his interest include the accelerated de-Christianization of Europe and unregulated Islamic immigration, the recent riots in France, and the pronouncements concerning entry to the priesthood from the Vatican. As you read the book, it should become clear how they all fit with what he wrote.
Steve once related to my wife that when he was sick as a young soldier, he was walking along a beach in Viet Nam and spotted a lone seagull circling overhead. At that moment he says he was infused with the certainty that "everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be."
What follows is the result of a life's work. It is Steve's Apocalypse, Letter by Letter.
Yours in Christ,
A Friend of the Lord
November 20, 1998
Dear Friends of the Lord,
The third part of the commentary has been completed. Since the number of its pages is estimated at 130 [260 in typical paperback], the number of weeks to type them at the two-fingered rate is, according to rule of thumb, estimated at four weeks, should vision prove durable for that duration. The assiduity of two forefingers in concert could induce double vision or the sensation of a bicephalous condition; however, a copious supply of coffee and Boston Crčmes, as experience has proved, will undoubtedly sustain single-mindedness throughout.
Notwithstanding this answer to the process goes beforehand, the aftermath of it certainly comes into question. In this case, worry would be an otiose emotion; for anticipation, not seldom, is a false prophet antagonistic toward true advice, "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof."
Thus, it stands within the prospect of belief that the commentary's third part will depart for your house before December 20, 1998. On second thought, the relativity of double vision can be an advantage or disadvantage. Once upon a late autumn afternoon, a broom handle of a woman came walking along the street, sweeping the leaves with her feet; and, well....
So thin she was [I speak not in derision], One had to knock one's head, to double vision, Which caused this paradox to leap to light: One sometimes sees things wrong, to see them right.
If you like surprises, you will have some soon. It cannot be claimed that the commentary was written in commendable style, but it can be asserted that it explains a certain number of things unexplained or misunderstood for nineteen centuries, most notably, regarding:
(1) the name of the Beast,
(2) the Woman Clothed with the Sun,
(3) the testimony or "µαρτυρίον" [martyrion] to the nations--as unique and, therefore, differentiated from all other witness or "µαρτυρία" [martyria],
(4) the two kinds of swords,
(5) the approximate time for the battle of Armageddon,
(6) the identification of who/what restrains the "son of lawlessness,"
(7) the "abomination of desolation,"
(8) the identity of the "Great Eagle,"
(9) the confederation of the Ten Kings,
(10) the maximum length of time from the beginning to the end of the second and third woes combined,
(11) and thus, cross-referred with Armageddon, the approximate time for the advent of Antichrist [the season, not the exact year], etc., etc., etc.
In brief, there has not been penned on paper, nor is there now in print, what this third part of the commentary contains. Your request has been requited as best as human brain and grace of God therein could do. The objective has been twofold: to explain terms and to present the order of events. Those objectives have been achieved. Thanks be to God for his permission!
After a weekend for rest, the typing will be commenced in earnest; but, obviously, it just will not do to have fingers crossed. Hello, to the little ones, individually and collectively, the living proof of the efficacy of Boston Crčmes.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.
Yours in Christ, Steve
In 9:13-16, John wrote,
"Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard one voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, while they were saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet: 'Loose the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.' So, the four angels were loosed, who had been held ready for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, to kill the third of mankind. The number of the troops of cavalry was twenty thousand ten thousand, I heard the number of them."
Most versions read "a voice" in verse 13, but the Westminster more accurately reads "a single voice." John wrote, "φωνὴν µίαν" [phönën mian], which means "one voice." At the beginning of verse 14, most versions read "saying"; the Westminster reads "it said," thus indicating or referring to "a single voice."
John wrote "λέγοντα" [legonta], which is a circumstantial participle like "λέγων" [legon] in 11:1, and it should be translated, in English, as a temporal clause. But, there is a problem: "λέγοντα" [legonta] can be only one of three possibilities:
(1) the singular masculine accusative case.
(2) the plural neuter nominative.
(3) the plural neuter accusative.
Since the participle functions as the subject and the verb of the clause, it follows that it is in the plural neuter nominative, and, thus, the clause should begin with "as they said" or, more accurately, "while they were saying."
The participle does not refer to "one voice," which is in the singular feminine accusative, but to the only plural neuter noun in the sentence: "κεράτων" [keratin = horns]. The context corroborates this; for it is obvious that John emphasized the symbolic number "four" by using it four times within three verses.
It is signifi cant that John did not write "a voice," but "one voice." That "one voice" came from the "four horns." John did not mean that four voices together sounded as if they were one voice; rather, he meant that the four speaking "horns" were one voice speaking i.e., they spoke unanimously.
As pointed out in part two of this commentary, the "golden altar" [8:3] symbolizes the religious orders, but, here especially, those congregations contemplative, missionary, charitable, and teaching, established since the "fallen star" unlocked the "abyss" at the beginning of Chapter 9.
In view of the fact that the symbolic number "four" is so heavily emphasized in 9:13-16, the implication is both awesome and ominous: not the totality of something like the Roman Empire is involved here, as was the case in Chapter 7, but the totality of the world. The "one voice" is not only unanimous, but also universal.
The seventh seal marked the completion of the first major phase of the kingdom's revelation or evolvement, that is, the dethronement or decapitation of paganism throughout the totality of the Roman Empire.
Then, in 8:2, SEVEN angels were each given a trumpet; this connoted that another major phase of the Father's plan was about to begin. At that point, the reader could only speculate as to whether another large region would be involved, or whether the whole world: there were only those two possibilities.
In 9:13-16, John begins informing the reader that the objective of the second major phase is indeed the whole world. Then, there can be only one reason why the faithful of the religious orders tell unanimously and universally the "sixth angel" to loose the "four angels" bound at the Euphrates: not that the Church is making very slow progress; not that the Church is temporarily making no progress at all, either merely in a particular region or in the entire world; but that the Church is losing ground everywhere, that evil has grown so great as to have become alarmingly advanced, even in the Church, in its highest ranks....
The official website for this forthcoming book is www.stevenpaul.org.
https://www.catholic.org IL, US
Matt Abbott - Author,
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