Scripture Is Not a China Shop


“Bull models while he interprets. In other words, one must watch Bull’s visual interpretation in order to understand it.” Mark Tubbs’ review of Moses and the Revelation.

I may have been able to live my life comfortably ensconced in conceptually-based academia if it hadn’t been for the biblico-theological work of James B. Jordan. Like other Jordan readers, I now think in patterns and symbols where I used to think only in words and ideas. When first reading his seminal book Through New Eyes and his various articles, I recall wishing that certain sections – paragraphs, descriptions, lists, etc. – would have been accompanied by visual illustrations. To be fair, Through New Eyes includes ample diagrams. But it fell to graphic designer and theological blogger Michael Bull of the Blue Mountains (almost sounds like something out of Tolkien, doesn’t he – perhaps a long-lost cousin of Beorn?) near Sydney, Australia, to build upon Jordan’s insights in a more visual manner using advanced graphic design technology.

Let it be known (should anyone care) that I am not by nature a visual learner, never mind a visual artist. When learning I engage better with swaths of text than with diagrams, and when teaching college classes I try to avoid drawing anything but simple illustrations on the whiteboard. But what is nonetheless clear to me, at a foundational level, is Revelation’s inherent visual nature. Its words cohere to create a panorama of interplay between heaven and earth. Likely no one will object to those foregoing statements. But what if I said Revelation ought to be explained according to its nature? That is, the structure(s), patterns, and symbols ought to be an integral part of how Revelation means, part and parcel of what Revelation means theologically? Mike Bull has given us such a resource, demonstrating how such interpretation can be done. His is not the last word on Revelation, and he would be the first to say so, while simultaneously defending his interpretations.

But Bull does not stop at visual representation of Revelation’s content. His effort is not a mere repackaging of Revelation, but an unveiling of it using the Pentateuch (more accurately, the Heptateuch, Genesis through Judges) as a control. Many interpreters throughout the centuries have sought to interpret Revelation’s images; some have even made recourse to other parts of the biblical canon for further illumination. But to my knowledge, none have used the beginning of the Bible, into which divine inspiration embedded and uncovered the very structure of the universe and its history, to inform their interpretation of Revelation’s darker sayings – and let’s be honest, almost of all of Revelation consists of darker sayings. Certainly none have wedded such a canonically-oriented approach to graphic design brilliance.

Those trained in other academically-accepted types of biblical interpretation may pooh-pooh Bull’s approach as allegory or some sort of Bible code. They may say Bull is a quack, not a sage. And while it may be true that Bull occasionally sees more in the text than is actually there, I hold that it’s far worse to stop short of mining the Bible for all its worth than to make warranted correlations when and where the Bible sets a good and faithful precedent. In other words, Marsh’s Dictum handcuffs interpretation, whereas Bull’s approach enables it. We are always free to toss out interpretations that do not hold up to scrutiny. Scripture is not a china shop, paraphrasing Jesus (John 10:35).

Bull models while he interprets. In other words, one must watch Bull’s visual interpretation in order to understand it. A novice reader without any prior exposure to his writings may want to pause after Part 1, at page 78, to at least take in his primer Reading the Bible in 3-D, and more preferably, his entire range of Bible Matrix books. For what it’s worth, I myself read Bull’s writings slowly, especially when he is working out a chiasm, and I have read much of what he has published in print and on the web. And a caveat: while I did spend more time on Mike’s book on Revelation than I normally do on a regular text-based book, I haven’t made an in-depth study of most of the chiasms he sees in Revelation.

This brings me to the practical matter of how I would go about using this book, besides personal study. As a college instructor, one of my standard questions while reading any book is how I would employ it in a college course: as required or recommended reading, as a teaching resource, or in the form of juicy excerpts? A few years ago I assisted a colleague in choosing textbooks for an undergraduate course on Revelation, which included Apocalypse and Allegiance by J. Nelson Kraybill (Brazos, 2010), Reversed Thunder by Eugene H. Peterson (HarperOne, 1991), and The Triumph of the Lamb by Dennis E. Johnson (P&R, 2001). While I wouldn’t envision assigning Bull’s entire book as a course text, I can certainly see the benefit of working through a chiasm or two every time the class meets.

I end with a few keys to benefitting from this book, appropriately conveyed in bullet-point format:

  • Use it as a launch pad for the study of Revelation, not as the final word;
  • Remember that “Moses” comes first, both in the book’s title and in the Bible;
  • If you need help, the author is more than happy to help (follow him on social media).
Share Button

Comments are closed.