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Spring 2013 · Vol. 42 No. 1 · pp. 106–107 

Book Review

The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions

Michael W. Pahl. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011. 106 pages.

Reviewed by Anthony G. Siegrist

Michael Pahl’s (Cedarville University in Ohio) recent book, The Beginning and the End, is a short, highly-readable exploration of a key set of controversial biblical texts, namely the early chapters of Genesis and the latter chapters of Revelation. He intends to provide a reading of these texts that is “both intellectually responsible and faith-building,” an important task because it is precisely these parts of Scripture that are often reduced to munitions for the battles over evolution and politics in the protracted North American culture wars.

The book consists of three sections: first on Genesis, then on Revelation and finally a very brief piece on the Christological linking of the two. Pahl argues that Genesis should be understood as an etiology, a story explaining why things are the way they are. More specifically, he describes Genesis 1–2 as a cosmogony, an account of the world’s origins. This genre location means that many modern questions about the origins of life, revolving around the when and how, are misdirected. Asking such questions of Genesis takes the text less seriously than attending to the questions the original hearers would have been more attune to, questions that deal with who, what, and why. Such a reading affirms the theological essentials that creation is good even though it is not to be confused with God. Further, God has granted humanity a special connection that reflects God’s transcendence and immanence, something that endows the human creature with both privilege and responsibility.

The book of Revelation can be understood primarily as apocalyptic, a text that “tears away a veil that has been covering our eyes . . . allowing us to get a glimpse of our world the way God sees it,” yet it is also a letter and a work of prophetic writing which engages its ancient setting and tells us about the future kingdom of God. The text surprises readers by showing that the climax of the narrative of God’s creation has occurred in the middle. History is to be understood in light of Jesus.

The strength of Pahl’s book is its brevity and clarity. He does an excellent job introducing readers to some of the recent scholarly investigation of these two portions of Scripture. The book shows how scholarship can be made useful to a more general audience. Pahl includes just enough discussion of what it might mean for Christians to live in light of these texts to prompt lively discussion in a church setting or an introductory postsecondary course. He should be commended for gracefully injecting learned reflection into the hotly contested appropriation of these texts.

The central challenges The Beginning and the End faces are a direct {107} consequence of its brevity. For instance, Pahl asserts that “evil is only dealt with by bearing the brunt of evil; life only comes through death.” Much of Anabaptist theological reflection would affirm the first part of Pahl’s statement. However, the axiomatic second part needs a defense, which this short book does not provide. A second limitation of brevity is seen in Pahl’s preferred way of engaging the biblical texts. He is keen to inform his readers how the original audience would have understood the passages, but he is less enthusiastic about considering their reception in the Christian tradition. The fact that Pahl includes a brief final section describing Jesus as the center of the story that Genesis and Revelation help to tell gives the volume theological integrity. However, what Pahl seems to ignore is that the texts he considers, like all Christian Scripture, find meaning as much in their canonical and theological reception as they do in their communities of origin. In other words, just as the meaning of these texts cannot be divorced from their original context, so it cannot be divorced from the context of reception, which is where their authoritative status is acknowledged. It is one thing to affirm Scripture, the ancient texts received by the Church, as a norm of doctrine, but it quite another to equate this with authorial intent lodged in the text’s community of origin. This important methodological debate aside, the book is highly recommended. Churches and beginning students of theology would profit greatly from reading The Beginning and the End as carefully as Pahl himself reads Scripture.

Anthony G. Siegrist
Assistant Professor of Christian Theology
Prairie Bible College, Three Hills, Alberta

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