What are the characteristics of what is called "apocalyptic" literature? Why would an author use this literary style? Does apocalyptic literature envision the end of the cosmos? If not, what kind(s) of thing(s) does apocalyptic literature envision?

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Apocalyptic Literature

Apocalyptic literature developed as a distinctly Jewish genre. It began with them and developed with them. The Christians continued to use it.

Stages of the history of Apocalyptic Literature

  1. First is the biblical stage of the genre. The first known record of apocalyptic literature is Isaiah 24:40. It then continues sporadically throughout the book and the ending of Isaiah contains an apocalyptic vision of the New City. The Tanakh contains other apocalyptic sections in Joel 2, Daniel 7-12, the last half of Zechariah, and Ezekiel's valley of dry bones.

  2. After this period, the genre further developed after the Exile’s end. Extra-biblical apocalyptic was encouraged by contact with Persian Dualism (a war between two, uncreated beings, one evil and one good). However, Biblical theology shows the Kingdom being established in our humility.

  3. During the Greek persecution, the popularity of apocalyptic literature exploded. This is understandable as the genre teaches God will deliver believers from the direst straits, and these persecutions were harsh. The genre remained popular for so long because of the intense persecution. It was a favorite of certain Jewish sects, such as the Essenes. (Apocalyptic writings are everywhere at Qumran. Most known Jewish apocalypses from the BC era have been found at Qumran and many such as War Between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness are unique to Qumran). The proponents of the sects were trying to establish a prophetic line culminating in themselves. Writers would also choose the apocalyptic genre as it encouraged readers in times of persecution. On the other hand, the rabbis tried to squelch the genre as they saw it encouraging revolt among the populace. They had no love for Rome but knew the people would be overrun when revolt came.

  4. Apocalyptic developed exclusively in Jewish literature (Mark 13; and 2 Peter 3 both contain little apocalypses alongside Matthew's Little Apocalpyses) like the parable and sermon. Also like sermons and parables, it was borrowed by Jewish Christians. Other Jewish apocalypses include The Apocalypse of Adam, The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Revelation of Gabriel, and many others. First Enoch, as it is considered canonical by the Ethiopic Orthodox church is one of the best known.

  5. The genre did not cease with the end of the New Testament. Because persecution increases, writings in the genre continued (Christian, though not necessarily orthodox, non-canonical, apocalyptic writings include: The Shepard of Hermas, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Ascension of Isaiah, and The Sibylline Oracles).

7 Characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature

  1. All apocalyptic literature claims to be revelation of new/hidden knowledge. Hence the name.
  2. Apocalyptic literature often uses prophetic vision formula to see the future, “and I saw...” This phrase appears many times in Revelation. It is not in the earliest examples of the genre, however.
  3. The literature uses mysterious and symbolic language. This is ironic, as the name means "unveiling" and then the writing goes to lengths to clothe everything in symbolism.
  4. With the exception of Revelation, practically all written after the close of the Tanakh is pseudonymous. That is, the author's name on the piece is not the person who wrote it. This was probably to avoid persecution of authors. John was already in exile so had no reason to hide himself.
  5. Main theme throughout the life of the genre is surety of God’s victory over evil.
  6. The Theology of apocalyptic literature is very deterministic-moderately Calvinistic (where the sovereignty of God is inviolate) and far from ultra-Armineanism (where man's decisions and will decide the future with God being surprised). God is in control, even if evil seems to have run amuck.
  7. Because the present stinks, apocalyptic literature is preoccupied with future events. While it does not envision the end of the cosmos, it does envision the end of evil and suffering and the visible reign of God on earth. The earth and Heavens as they are might end and be replaced or they might be cleansed where they are without being destroyed first. Either way, they will be purged.
  • 1
    "Christian, though not necessarily orthodox, non-canonical, apocalyptic writings" may contain the most qualifiers I have ever used to modify a noun.
    – Frank Luke
    Mar 11, 2013 at 22:03

I was taught that another characteristic of apocalyptic literature was the projection of the writer into the past. This makes what he says a prophesy in order to protect him from retribution by the current authorities. Thus, his prophesy is about his present and the near future with the optimistic message...."stand fast with God and this will pass. This kind of temporal relationship was reportedly deduced from scholars dating the writing style of each text and finding that it was written far after when it was supposed to have been written. Also the authors often describe the future (actually the writer's present and near future) with greater accuracy and the time of its purported writing with much less fidelity (his actual distant past).


The word apocalypse is Greek, it means to remove the veil.

Strong - G601 - apokaluptō - From G575 and G2572; to take off the cover, that is, disclose: - reveal. Total KJV Occurrences: 26

◄ 602. apokalupsis ► Strong's Concordance: an uncovering Short Definition: an unveiling, uncovering, revealing Definition: an unveiling, uncovering, revealing, revelation. Cognate: 602 apokálypsis – properly, uncovering (unveiling).

602 /apokálypsis ("revelation, unveiling") is principally used of the revelation of Jesus Christ (the Word), especially a particular (spiritual) manifestation of Christ (His will) previously unknown to the extent (because "veiled, covered").

Thayer - G601 - apokaluptō - Thayer Definition:

1) to uncover, lay open what has been veiled or covered up

1a) disclose, make bare

2) to make known, make manifest, disclose what before was unknown

Every Scripture is veiled and needs to be unveiled or revealed by a skilled scribe or teacher of the Word. The High Priests or first-born are the ones who unveil the Dead Letter and expose the hidden manna or spiritual and prophetic truths behind every verse to the rest of the priests and congregations.

The husk or chaff is the dead letter. The seed is the Word of God.

The High Priests remove the husk or chaff of the seed to reveal the kernel where the true Christ nature is hidden. We are thus impregnated with God's DNA.

Exodus 34:19 - King James Bible - The Dedication of the Firstborn

All that openeth the matrix (the womb is the mind) is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

Exodus 13:11-12 - King James Bible

And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD'S.

Jesus, all the apostles and original church fathers taught in apocalyptic patterns. They unveiled the blueprint or foundations of the Old Testament for us to better understand the New Covenant.

A great example of apocalyptic literature is when Origen Adamantius, "Man of Steel", expounds on the real meaning of the Day of Atonement in his Leviticus Homilies.


James Jordan writes:

"...there is no apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Apocalypticism, originally a form of Jewish gnosticism, taught that the world is coming to an end and therefore we should retreat and wait for deliverance. (Apocalypticism is one of the major heresies of American evangelicalism, of course.) The prophetic passages of the Bible teach the opposite. They always teach that the world is coming to a new beginning, and therefore we must get to work."

You can read the full article here.

So, apocalyptic is name presumably taken from the Revelation and applied to highly symbolic texts. The problem is that, beneath the symbolism, the content of the biblical symbolic texts is very different to the uninspired texts, which seem to have taken the style of the prophets and used it for something quite different. Once we identify this difference in content, the biblical texts outshine the bandwagon "Jewish fables," and their difference in purpose is more easily seen. The Olivet discourse, the OT prophets and Revelation, are not describing the end of the world but only the end of the old order and the beginning of the new. Revelation, like Ezekiel for instance, is a covenant lawsuit against the covenant people, and describes their "death and resurrection" as a new Israel. The last days are only ever the last days of the old order.

The other issue is that John's "apocalypse" is in fact a "revealing." Paul speaks of his Gospel as a new "revealing," a cutting away of the old, replacing the circumcision, tearing down the veil and the wall of the Law (the Jew-Gentile divide) forever. This can only happen once (AD70), so maintaining "apocalypticism" as a genre is misleading. Better simply to speak of "symbolic" books.

Finally, biblical symbolism is systematic. Every Covenant cycle is the Bible has the same shape, and predictions of the next cycle, or Covenantal event, invariably make allusions to the previous ones (such as the allusions to the Great Flood and the Exodus in Isaiah 11, and Jesus' references to Isaiah 13 in Matthew 24 concerning the end of the Herodian "Babylon.") The uninspired texts lack this kind of purpose. They take on the stylistic appearance of the prophetic much as the book of Mormon sounds like the King James Bible.

  • 1
    Would you say that apocalyptic literature existed, though? I'd say that the definition of "Apocalypticism" is a bit narrow, though. Finally, would you mind posting your own thoughts if you're going to post? I'm fine with quotations as supporting evidence but to make that the entire content of the post doesn't give us insight.
    – swasheck
    Mar 11, 2013 at 21:34

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