Progressive Parallelism

Q – Are you familiar with William Hendrickson’s interpretive approach to Revelation (perhaps not originating with him) called “progressive parallelism”?

Jim – Yes, I’m familiar with Hendrickson. His book “More Than Conquerors” is one of the more popular Amillennial defenses in print (although I find it humorous that he took his title from the book of Romans). His theory of progressive parallelism is shared by Hoekema, Riddlebarger, and others. The theory postulates that the book of Revelation is meant to be divided into seven recapitulations of the era between Christ’s passion and the introduction of the “age to come.”

However, none of these authors manages to give a textual reason for the theory of repetition they all espouse, made especially difficult for them when you consider John’s constant use of conjunctions to tie each section together. It’s an imaginative theory; but I think it is incumbent on them to prove from the text itself that their method is valid, especially considering that they do not treat any other book of the bible (even the apocalyptic ones) in the same manner. And it seems to me that they are much too reliant on divisions of John’s letter that are not obvious in the original text. In other words, they rely on the rather random chapter and verse divisions, of which John’s First Century audience would have been completely unaware.

Anthony Hoekema, one of the leading proponents of the Progressive Parallelism view, understood where the “fatal flaw” was in his theory. In his book, The Bible and The Future, Hoekema wrote, commenting on Revelation 20:1-6:

“The premillennial interpretation of these verses understands them as describing a millennial reign of Christ on earth which will follow his Second Coming. And it is true that the Second Coming of Christ has been referred to in the previous chapter (see 19:11-16). If, then, one thinks of Revelation 20 as setting forth what follows chronologically after what has been described in chapter 19, one would indeed conclude that the millennium of Revelation 20:1-6 will come after the return of Christ. As has been indicated above, however, chapters 20-22 comprise the last of the seven sections of the book of Revelation, and therefore do not describe what follows the return of Christ. Rather, Revelation 20:1 takes us back once again to the beginning of the New Testament era.” (pp. 226-227)

In other words, Hoekema admitted that if chapter 20 continues chronologically on the heels of chapter 19, the thousand years described therein would occur after the return of Christ. However, because such a conclusion runs contrary to his system, Hoekema dismisses the idea of chronology and argues for the consistency of the system rather than the consistency of the text. He gives us no grammatical or exegetical evidence for the idea of parallelism; he just assumes it and charges forward.

The reason, I believe, that he eschews exegesis at this point is that the grammar undermines his assertion. The first verse of chapter 20 starts with a conjunction (kai – rendered “and” or “then” in every major translation), tying it to everything that went before. In fact, by the time we reach Revelation 20:1, John has utilized this conjunction repeatedly in the preceding verses, tying the events together chronologically and moving the action forward to its necessary conclusion.

Let’s start reading at Revelation 19: 1 and follow John’s use of this conjunction. I will leave out the verse numbers in order to more accurately portray what his original audience would have received (albeit, in English).

And(kai) after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.

And(kai) again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.

And(kai) the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia.

And(kai) a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.

And(kai) I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

And(kai) to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

And(kai) he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

And(kai) I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

And(kai) I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.

And(kai) he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

And(kai) the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.

And(kai) out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

And(kai) he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

And(kai) I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.

And(kai) I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.

And(kai) the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

And(kai) the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.

And(kai) I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

And(kai) he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,

And(kai) cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.

And(kai) I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Rev 19:1-20:4)

The purpose of that exercise is to prove that, when the artificial chapter and verse numbers are eliminated, the transition from what we call chapter 19 into chapter 20 is completely transparent. There is absolutely nothing in the text that would indicate that the Apostle John is suddenly beginning to repeat information he had purportedly cited six previous times in this epistle. His repetitive use of the very same conjunction argues convincingly that John’s intention was to recount a succession of events that ran chronologically. And, I would contend that that is the only way a First Century reader, unaware of the artificial division created by the demarcation of “Chapter 20,” would have understood John’s words.

By the way, it’s easy to test my contention. Find someone who is completely unfamiliar with the Bible; someone who has never read the book of Revelation before. Then, give them the pericope cited above and ask them to find the chapter division. What they will discover is that there is nothing in the text to indicate where the chapter should start, nor anything that would cause them to conclude that midway through this description John broke from his chronology and started recapitulating something he must have previously written. It’s simply not in the text.

So, that’s where the rubber hits the proverbial road, exegetically speaking. No opponent of the premillennial view has offered a sufficient reason to ignore John’s conjunctions. Neither have they proven that John’s intention was to start recapitulating at the precise point where Chapter 20 starts. And short of that proof, the only reason to insist that Revelation 20:1-6 is a retelling of previous information is because your system demands it. But, that’s not exegesis.

You know, when an Arminian argues that way, utilizing the same “follow my system” approach, we Reformed folk jump all over them to point out their error. The Reformed exegete will usually argue from the text and carefully prove that the original author’s intentions are best demonstrated by the words they chose to use. But, for some reason, when it comes to eschatology, the rules of careful exegesis are too often suspended if favor of interpretive schemes (which, by the way, I counter in every instance, whether that scheme is a-mil or pre-mil).

Historically, the notion that John’s Apocalypse included several recapitulations was unknown to the early church. Consequently, for the first 300/400 years of the Church’s existence, Chiliasm (premillennialism) was the uncontested orthodox view. You may be familiar with the name Origen of Alexandria. He was active in the early-to-mid 3rd Century. He is considered the father of the allegorical method of Bible interpretation. His student, a fellow named Tyconius, of the sect of the Donatists, had a great deal of influence on Augustine. Late in the Fourth Century, Tyconius created his seven rules of bible interpretation. Tyconius was one of the earliest theologians to challenge the chiliastic view. He contended that the millennial period was being fulfilled in the present age and that the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 were not meant to be understood literally (based on the allegorical hermeneutic he adopted from Origen).

The reason that’s germane to our present discussion is that the sixth of Tyconius’s seven rules states, “What appears to be sequence may actually be recapitulation.” Augustine adopted the interpretive principles espoused by Tyconius and developed the fundamentals of what has come to be known as Amillennialism on that basis. His views were published by the Roman emperor (primarily for political advantage) and Augustine’s eschatology has been standard Catholic dogma ever since.

The idea of recapitulation, introduced by Tyconius in the Fourth Century, has been kept alive by contemporary writers, such as Hoekema, Riddlebarger, and Hendrickson. But, what should be immediately apparent is that this idea stems from a system devised by an allegorist for the primary purpose of advancing an agenda. It does not come from applying straight-forward exegesis to the pertinent texts.

Okay … short question, long answer.

Yours in Him,
Jim Mc.