Revelation cannot be used for current doctrine

A Lutheran acquaintance has argued that Revelation is purely symbolic and only refers to the future therefore it cannot be used to defend current doctrine.

Specifically Rev 5:8 in explaining praying to Saints.

John sees that “the twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8)

This is not surprising since Martin Luther created his own canon of the bible by his own “authority”, over 1,000 years after it was already set by the Catholic Church at the councils of Hippo and Carthage.

Most Protestant denominations try to downplay sections of scripture that are problematic for their brand of theology and focus on those that could support it. This almost always results in interpretation taken out of context. As you rightly pointed out, the prayers of saints in heaven would be an issue for someone who believes that heaven is empty until the last day and that the communion of saints in heaven cannot pray for us (intercession).

This is why Luther was also suspicious of the books of Hebrew and James - problematic for his doctrine.

Revelation points to past, present and future. Take, for example, the son who was born to rule all nations.

So, anything problematic is “symbolic only”. Otherwise, it might sound too Catholic.

I should have pointed out that Luther was suspicious of Revelation in addition to Hebrews and James.

Where is this bold statement found in Scrioture?

Oh wait, it isn’t.


Pretty much what I was going to say.

Anyone can say anything; what’s important is to look at what they are saying rationally. Revelation contains several points which can be easily identified with historical events. It also hold several point which can be applied to our modern era, and presumably to the future. People like this ignore evidence in favor of their personal opinions / views. All you can do is point out to them the problem in their thinking and hope that it takes at some point in the future.

If you’re interested, and if you’re friend is willing to listen to something scholarly, Taylor Marshall has done a series over the Book of Revelation that is pretty awesome:

It might help to clear up a few of their misconceptions that have lead them to this erroneous conclusion.

This never a good apologetic retort, leading to the fact that exact words for non-negotiable dogmatic theological beliefs such as
the Holy Trinity do not appear in scripture.

The difference is that we can point to several instances from which we are defining that dogma. Sola Scriptura cannot do the same; no matter which verse they point to there is a counter-indication, or some clarity resulting from context.

The Lutheran who says that Revelation is purely symbolic doesn’t know what he is talking about.

The messages to the seven Churches in the book of Revelation were written to real Churches in existence at the time. The messages reference the geography of the place in which the Churches existed, the culture and commerce of people who lived there and actual people who really existed.

The problem at the time was emperor worship. Asia Minor was the center of pagan emperor worship and Christians were being ostracized, banned from commerce and martyred because they would not participate. God’s message through St. John’s writing is that Christians will be rewarded if they endure patiently.

Patient endurance is the entire message of Revelation. It was a very real message written to real Churches with very real problems. Whomever says that it is purely spiritual or symbolic doesn’t know the first thing about the Book of Revelation.


I agree, except for the intolerant and uncharitable opening line.

There’s really nothing uncharitable about it. The fact of the matter is that that person really doesn’t understand the subject they’re talking about. That’s not necessarily their fault, but pointing it out isn’t mean.


Neither does evangelical; though catholic does! :thumbsup: Making a point in a light-hearted though accurate way.

Perhaps your acquaintance does not know that Catholics do NOT determine doctrine based on one book of the Bible. We include the entire Bible AND Tradition AND the Magisterium. If it is valid to discard 1,400 years of Tradition and discerning, why would it be valid to belief in a “doctrine” that was developed by one disgruntled Catholic 600 years ago? :shrug:

…and within this whole discussion lies much of this issues Christianity and by association Western civilization has faced!

Um, hello people… Joke.

Strange that a Lutheran would say that. Didn’t Martin Luther use Revelation 18:4 (“Come out of her…”) as justification for leaving the Catholic Church?

And Jude.

Anyone who says that the Book of Revelation is purely symbolic is ignorant of history and scripture.



DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit