Researching the eschatological perspectives of the seminary’s founding professors is a difficult task, since none of them ever published dedicated works on the subject. The most highly regarded preacher among the early seminary faculty was John Albert Broadus, who approached the subject of eschatology with both humility and discernment, as can be seen through references found in some of his writings and sermon manuscripts. His most significant treatment of eschatology is preserved in his “Syllabus of Lessons on the Book of Revelation,” which was printed for the use of his English New Testament class in April 1895. According to the seminary’s catalog for the 1894-1895 academic year, these lectures on Revelation served as the closing material for that course.1
At 15 pages long, this syllabus reveals Broadus’ pedagogical introductions regarding interpretive theories of one of Scripture’s most challenging books. Despite its brevity, the syllabus is substantive in its content. Listed in the syllabus are his favorite scholarly English commentaries on Revelation, including E.B. Elliott’s four-volume Horae Apocalipticae (4th edition, 1851), Archdeacon Lee’s contribution in the fourth volume of the Bible Commentary on the New Testament (Scribner, 1882), and Andrew Fuller’s Works, vol. 3. In his survey of commentaries, Broadus praises certain authors for their cautiousness in interpretation while criticizing some for “wild” theories or ungraciousness towards alternative viewpoints. The great Baptist preacher valued humility and reverence for the corpus of Scripture as matters no less important than brilliant scholarship or lucid prose.2
In his syllabus, Broadus draws attention to Revelation’s resemblance to the Old Testament prophets. He lists allusions between the glorious appearance of Christ and the books of Daniel and Ezekiel. The vision of the heavenly throne is likened to images from Ezekiel and Isaiah. He parallels the Apostle John’s vision of the new heavens and new earth with Isaiah 65-66, Ezekiel 47-48, and Zechariah 14.
Most notably, Broadus’ syllabus also surveys a multitude of hermeneutical theories, together with each one’s history of development and an acknowledgment of noteworthy objections against each view. The syllabus evaluates three main theories: preterist, the view that all the book of Revelation has already been fulfilled in the past; historical, the view that the prophecies of Revelation are fulfilled throughout all history, past and future; and futurist, the view that the book’s prophecies are yet to be fulfilled at some future culmination. Broadus compliments certain aspects of each view but seems to find all of them unsatisfactory — though not impossible — interpretations of the biblical text. Of those major categories, the futurist theory receives his briefest critique, concluding: “This theory cannot be proved, nor entirely disproved,” but “the analogy of the Old Testament prophecies is against it.”3
Regarding the meaning of the millennium foretold in Revelation 20, Broadus summarizes six popular interpretations, paying great attention to the historical eras in which particular views were favored by influential religious voices. Though he stops short of affirming any viewpoint as a certainty, he commends other commentators who had offered the strongest arguments advocating for each interpretation. The syllabus concludes with a brief note encouraging students to focus their attention upon the moral and spiritual instructions communicated by Revelation, exhorting students that “whatever view may be adopted as to the fulfillment of its predictions, it should be freely used for practical edification.”4
Supplementary insights into Broadus’ handling of apocalyptic texts can be gleaned through consulting his handwritten sermon manuscripts on pertinent passages from both the Old and New Testaments. Students should know that the Archives and Special Collections of the James P. Boyce Centennial Library hosts the John A. Broadus Sermon and Lecture Notes collection. Anyone desiring to read Broadus’ “Syllabus of Lessons on the Book of Revelation” can download a digital copy of the syllabus from the Boyce Digital Library: http://digital.library.sbts.edu/handle/10392/4768.
Any historical record of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is incomplete without an honest telling of their complicity in American slavery and racism. For more on that story, read here.
1 Catalogue of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1894-95 (Louisville: Chas. T. Dearing, 1895), 33.
2 John A. Broadus, “Syllabus of Lessons on the Book of Revelation” (unpublished, 1895), 2-3. This item is housed in the Archives and Special Collections of the James P. Boyce Centennial Library, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
3 Ibid., 9.
4 Ibid., 15.