A Bible Handbook to Revelation

By Mal Couch, ed.
Grand Rapids : Kregel (2001). 328 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
13.1 (Spring 2002) : 113-114

 This work summarizes a premillennial dispensational view of Revelation, key areas of doctrine, and a chapter by chapter account of many interpretive issues. Five chapters take up such topics as different overall viewpoints, then eleven chapters look at aspects of theology, and around a hundred pages form an interpretive guide for sections of the Book of Revelation. Much of the book is by Couch, president of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute in Fort Worth, Texas. Other writers include Larry Crutchfield, Harold Foos, Robert Lightner, Todd Virnoche, and Russell Penney. John Walvoord wrote the half-page Foreword.

Hundreds of notes cite relevant literature. The contributors seek to dispel the notion that the Book of Revelation is too mysterious to figure out. Various charts compare views, such as rapture positions— pre-wrath, pre-, mid-, and posttribulationism. Couch’s Chapter 4 traces interpretation through successive periods of church history. The authors argue for literal interpretation, but understand figurative language where sane criteria support such (48). They argue for a difference between reading “spiritual” or mystical meanings into details such as Rev 11:8 and seeing a spiritual description (“Sodom and Egypt” as denoting an ungodly, sensual, idolatrous tenor of life) attached to a literal idea. In Revelation 11, they reason, the literal city of Jerusalem is in view because the context identifies it as the place “where also their Lord was crucified” (62).

The handbook often elaborates on reasons favoring views, as three arguments for referring “seven spirits” to the Holy Spirit (94-95, 115-16). Most discussions cover points fairly well from the writer’s viewpoint, but leave some matters untouched. For example, the book argues against the seven churches depicting blocks of church history, then cites an author who apparently approves a form of this view (126-27). Some details receive cursory, hazy comment, such as whether the sins needing repentance in Revelation 2–3 reflect the saved but carnal persons, or those professing to be saved but lacking real salvation (143-44). The view favored on mystery Babylon is that it depicts Romanism (149). Isaiah 14:12- 21 and Ezek 28:11-19 are viewed as referring to Satan (154). Some dispensationalists would understand those as historical kings and explain details accordingly. The “overcomer” is every saved person (164-65). The “woman” of Revelation 12 is Israel which brought forth the Christ child in v. 5. In some passages, the authors refuse to follow certain dispensationalists who see the church’s rapture, for example, in 4:1. No view is evident on the 666 of 13:18 (267). On 7:3 the book sees the 144,000 as martyred despite the protective seal (269). In 21:1–22:5, the favored view is that the eternal state is meant, after the millennial phase of Revelation 20.

Endnotes for each chapter of the handbook appear after the survey. The work will be helpful to some teachers, and to pastors and lay readers wanting clarification about how dispensationalists explain various passages. The nature is that of a thumbnail sketch, but an attempt at a consistent hermeneutic; the main drawback is the brevity where more detail would lend better credence to views.