After years of drought on good and accessible biblical theology for the informed layperson, Michael W. Pahl offers a refreshing new publication entitled, The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis’ Stories and Revelation’s Visions. This well-written, well-organized book is a short study (106 pages) in how to (re)-read the opening chapters of Genesis and the concluding chapters of Revelation with new and fresh insight. Pahl has seamlessly blended his twofold purpose of presenting the data in an intellectually responsible manner and promoting a faith-building dimension to the study of these texts.
Pahl’s writing style is fluid and compelling. His illustrations, metaphors, and examples work together to facilitate a clearer reading of the Genesis and Revelation texts.
He’s effective at “reading afresh” – pulling out solid observations and insights from passages we have come to know almost from memory. For example, he looks at the creation story as an indispensable ingredient of how we are to view God as creator and humanity as image bearers, with all the theological and practical outworking both entail. Furthermore, he highlights the sacredness of the creation of male and female and what human relationships encompass in Genesis 2. While the target audience seems to be the informed layperson (he casts the net fairly wide in his preface), it’s clear there is a prodigious amount of research and scholarship behind Pahl’s writing.
Not only does Pahl write with fluidity and style, but his manner of presenting the texts as applicable is noteworthy as well. This is not always an easy task for those who write on Revelation, and Pahl must be congratulated for finding touchstones of application throughout.
Mercy, justice, and judgement
For Anabaptists, one of the more captivating sections in Pahl’s book is the discussion of justice and the role of divine judgment. He rightly notes that in our culture, the concept of judgment has negative connotations. Nevertheless, “in order to make things right whatever makes things wrong must be stopped.”
In other words, Revelation shows the readers the litany of sins and the concomitant judgments that arise, so that by the very announcement of judgments the people may stop what they are doing, repent, and turn to God for mercy. In this way, the gospel becomes the salvific alternative to judgment.
A second key point Pahl conscientiously raises is the fact that judgments are not all apportioned for the future – there is now, and has been in the past, a continuing judgment being outworked in the world.
Finally, Pahl deals wisely and cautiously with the theology of suffering that arises from a close reading of Revelation.
Pahl is judicious in his treatment of the texts: four chapters comprise the Genesis stories (37 pages) and four chapters comprise the Revelation visions (43 pages).
With great insight and clarity Pahl has put together a readable, intelligent, and compelling study. He is good at asking the right questions of the text and of the reader. One comes away from The Beginning and the End wishing that the author had written more. Perhaps this is one of the highest accolades for an author.