Archive for the ‘Reversed Thunder: Reflections on Revelation’ Category

h1

The Conversation Continues…Is Jesus alive?

September 3, 2011

Sally– You know every time I raise I rival theory you shoot it through with bullet holes. You ask a lot of questions that I can’t answer. But maybe the truth is, ‘we just don’t know’. We are peering through the mist of history and our gaze is forever obscured by the passage of time. Plus, history is written by the winners; in other words, history is biased.

Maybe, we can’t know what really happened to Jesus or the 1st Christians. Have you ever thought about that?

Chris– Wow, you went poetic on me for a second. Not all history is written by the winners, just like not all ‘truth’ is what your colleagues let you get away with.

I’m not sure I agree unless you mean ‘we can’t know anything historically with absolute certainty’. In fact, I’m not sure we can know anything with absolute certainty. None of us are God. The closest rival is Chuck Norris.

Here is a question, ‘how do you even know you are were born into your family?

Sally– Are you mocking me?

Chris– No seriously, how do you know you were born into your family?

Sally– Ummm, my parents told me all about the birth. I have a birth certificate and I’ve seen pictures. I also accidently came across the birth video, which, incidentally, scarred me for life.

Chris – So your parents have never lied before? How do you know they weren’t lying when they told the story of your birth? Documents can be forged, pictures can be faked, and videos can be tampered with.

Sally- This is ridiculous. Based on the evidence I do have I’m more than confident that I was born into my family.

Chris- I agree. Based on the evidence of your parents testimony, the pictures and the documents you are more than reasonable to conclude you were born into your family, which means we can know some things about the past.

Sally- Well, of course we can. But events 25 years ago and events 2000 thousand years ago are not the same thing. Plus, everyone is born, everyone isn’t rising from the dead. If you had a video tape of Jesus rising I would believe.

Well, actually maybe I wouldn’t. Video tapes can be tampered with.

Chris– I know, I know I just wanted to see how radical your skepticism runs. Can we know anything about ancient history in your view?

Sally- Yes, I think we can. But when it comes to historiography we are talking about different levels of certainty from unlikely, to probably, to almost certain that this is what took place.

Chris- I’ll accept that. So what can we know historically that almost certainly took place in your view?

Sally– Quite a lot. For example, we know that Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC. We know with a high degree of certainty that the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD. We know that Islam spread through military conquests. We know a movement called Christianity began in the 1st century within the folds of Judaism. We know the first Christians claimed that God raised Jesus from the dead. We don’t, however, know that God raised Jesus from the dead in my view.

Chris– Well, when it comes to historical investigation into events that took place in the distant past we need to look at our sources, assess their reliability, and seek to create a hypothesis that explains the events being described. There may be multiple explanations for any given event so we have to assess the relative strengths of each theory.

Historians assess competing hypothesis according to criteria like explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, illumination, degree of ad hocness etc, etc.

Sally– I’ve heard that. Does Ad Hoc mean relying on too many unsupported assumptions to justify your theory? So the more you do that the more Ad Hoc the theory is and the less compelling it becomes.

Chris– Basically.

Sally– Okay fine. How does this address the issue of the resurrection?

Chris– In our first conversation we looked at the earliest written testimony we posses about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which included appearances to his disciples, five hundred people at once, a skeptic (James) and an enemy (Paul). This eye witness testimony is found in 1st Corinthians 15 in a creedal form that dates from within a couple of years after the crucifixion of Christ.

This is eye witness testimony from an early date. We also find some relevant information in the book of Acts and the Gospels but all we really need is 1st Corinthians 15 for our purposes.

Sally– Right, I’ll admit since we first talked I did some research about 1st Corinthians 15. Scholars do take it very seriously as reliable testimony.

Chris– Well, based on our written sources here are the relevant facts that are agreed to by the majority of scholars in the field of New Testament Studies, including atheists, Jews and Agnostics.

Sally– Wait a minute. The majority of scholars…What rubbish! I’ve heard the majority of scholars claimed by both sides for radically opposed perspectives. You can’t bully me with your claimed scholarly consensus. If brave individuals didn’t challenge learned majority opinion we would make no progress in knowledge. Consensus! Nothing but stock refuge for the intellectually timid.

Chris– Are you done?

Sally– Yes.

Chris– Look, I’m not trying to bully you. I’m not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. A lot of scholars don’t believe that Jesus rose but the majority of scholars including Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ermhan, Gerd Ludemann and E.P Sanders, will grant the facts that I will list. None of them are Christians in any traditional sense (two are atheists) but if you know the field you know they’re major players to be reckoned with.

But keep this in mind, in arguing for the bodily resurrection of Jesus I’m assuming a minority position amongst main stream scholars. For some reason liberal (in theological studies) has come to mean close minded to the miraculous.

Sally– Well, to be honest I don’t read thoroughly in the field of New Testament Studies and I ‘m not sure if I trust your comments on consensus but I’ll hear the ‘facts’.

By the way, does it bother you that most people get there ‘facts’ about Jesus from books authored by biologists and vanity fair writers?

Chris– Would it bother you if Evangelical Christians got most of their facts about biology from a lawyer, an engineer and a cosmologist?

Sally– Um, yah.

Chris– Anyways, here is the relevant data about Jesus. 1. Jesus died. 2. His tomb was found empty. 3. The Disciples claimed to have seen Jesus risen from the dead. 4. Paul was converted to Christianity. 5. James, the brother of Jesus, was also converted to Christianity. You can get all of that from 1st Corinthians 15.

Sally– Oh, okay well yah, I would probably grant those facts myself.

Chris– The only above claim that is a little controversial is the empty tomb but it is implied by the statement ‘he was buried’. All the other data, however, is basically certain as far as historical knowledge goes.

Only the most radical historical skepticism would deny it and that type of skepticism shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Sally– Why?

Chris– Because it is consistently inconsistent (eg. the proponents are rarely skeptical about their skepticism. They espouse doubt with a certitude that would be tragically funny, if they weren’t so serious).

Sally– Ha.

Chris– I thought you’d like that. Now, you can add to the above facts: 6. The Resurrection was the center of preaching in the early church. 7. The first Christians radically redefined the Jewish notion of Messiah. No one denies that. 8. The message of the Resurrection was proclaimed in Jerusalem, were Jesus was crucified and buried a short while beforehand. Again, basically uncontested. 9. The Disciples lives were transformed from fearful doubters to bold testifiers of the resurrection who were not afraid to suffer for their beliefs. Uncontroversial.

The more you know about the 1st century the more you would be willing to grant the above statements.

So what is the best explanation for all of this data? We’ve seen that the hallucination hypothesis fails and so does the conspiracy theory. What is the one cause big enough to explain all of these affects?

Gosh, think solely of James’ conversion. What would it take for you to worship your brother? I know your brother lovingly terrorized you growing up. How many times did he ‘accidently’ hit you in the head with a tennis ball, snow ball, basketball etc, etc?

My dad fashioned a spear into wood and impaled his brother with it when they were younger (He claims it was an accident). I just went to a family reunion and my uncle was not singing worship chorus’ directed towards my deified dad.

Sally– It would take a miracle for me to worship my brother and die for that belief.

Chris– Exactly.

Sally– Thankfully miracles don’t happen. Well, honestly I’m not sure. But there has to be some smart person with a degree who could explain the above evidence without resorting to a miracle?

Chris– Sure. If you don’t believe in God a miraculous explanation is not open to you. So an intelligent atheist will use their God given brain to come up with some type of theory to explain the above data.

But the question is ‘what is the best explanation’? We are doing what philosophers call , ‘an inference to the best explanation’. We’ve seen that explanations like visions, hallucinations, and conspiracies fail to fully explain.

I mean think of the Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the five hundred, many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote 1st Corinthians 15. Paul tells the Corinthians this so that the skeptical can check it out if they really want to.

If you lied to your parents about living on campus at UBC would you invite them to visit, especially if they were already suspicious you were being dishonest and would take you up on the offer?

Sally– No, obviously not.

Chris– So if Paul is making up the appearance to the five hundred why an open invitation to check it out?

Sally– Well, I don’t know but…

Chris– If God exists the miraculous is possible, right? If you admit God, you admit the possibility of the miraculous; you have no safeguard against it. If you asked the first eye witnesses how to explain all of the above data what answer would they give?

Sally– Jesus rose.

Chris– So maybe he did. The resurrection explains all of the above facts far better than any other theory. It’s the only explanation that really works. Open the door of your worldview a crack to make room for a God who actually acts in history. Bust free from your anti-miraculous dogma that holds your wonder shackled to a flat, static view of reality.

Sally– I, I’m not comfortable with that.

Chris– We’re not after comfort but truth.

Sally– Look, here is the problem. Imagine I was a judge presiding over a class action suit where a bunch of people were suing a hospital for malpractice. A couple of patients died tragically in the same month on the operating table. It looks like mistakes may have been made by the attending surgeons resulting in the fatalities. The grieved families are suing the Hospital for millions.

Chris– Where is this going? Is this a diversion?

Sally– No. Wait for it. Let’s say I’m also on the board of Trustee’s for the Hospital.

Chris- Would that happen?

Sally- I doesn’t matter because here is the point. I wouldn’t be able to judge that case because I have a vested interest in the Hospital. I would be biased. I couldn’t approach the evidence from a position of neutrality.

Chris– Okay. I’m not sure the analogy is perfect but..

Sally– Let me finish. It’s the same with the issue of Jesus rising from the dead. It’s not like studying whether or not Nero lit Rome on fire and fiddled while it burned. If Jesus rose, I have to take him seriously. I might be compelled to change my life. That is problematic for me. I like my life as it is.

I don’t feel a God shaped void in my heart.

I don’t want a God who meddles. Look, i’m not opposed to his (or her) existence I just want ‘it’ to leave me alone. I don’t want a God who sends prophets or messiahs or whatever…

Chris– Wow. That is honest and insightful. You’ve hit on the problem with any kind of Jesus research. You can’t approach the New Testament documents from a neutral position…

Sally– Right.

Advertisements
h1

The Hallucination Hypothesis…

August 24, 2011

Setting: The Intro of an Easter Sermon

Chris the Christian- Good morning everyone! Happy Easter! Nice to see you. If you have your Bibles, or Ipods, please turn to 1st Corinthians 15.

In 1st Corinthians chapter 15 the Apostle Paul communicates to the Corinthian church a tradition that he himself received.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1st Corinthians 15:3-7).

Here we know Paul is passing on a received tradition because he introduces it with a technical rabbinic phrase ‘what I received I passed on to you’. We also know Paul did not originate this material himself because of the grammatical structure and phrasing of these particular verses.

Where did Paul get this information? Paul gives us the most plausible answer in the book of Galatians,

“After three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18).

The Greek word translated as ‘visit’ conveys the idea of a formal inquiry. As one scholar quipped, ‘they certainly weren’t discussing the weather’. Paul almost certainly picked up the above information about the appearances of Jesus in Jerusalem while visiting Peter (Cephas) and James (both were eye witnesses to Jesus’ ministry). This meeting took place three years after Paul’s conversion to Christianity around 35 AD.

It is extremely likely that the information Paul passes on to the Corinthians dates even earlier than 35 AD to within several years, or months, of Jesus’ crucifixion. So in 1st Corinthians 15 we have Paul passing on early, authentic eye witness material to the church in Corinth.

Paul is advocating that the resurrected Christ appeared to the disciples, his brother James, 500 people at one time, and Paul himself. The entirety of Christianity rests on the truthfulness of this claim (1st Corinthians 15:14-18).

So did Jesus rise from the dead? Or did the disciples have a collective hallucination?

____________________________________________________________________________________

The sermon drones on, and on and on….The preacher begins to sound like the teacher from Peanuts. After the third finally the preacher finally finishes. Afterwards Sally the Skeptic approaches Chris the Christian.

Sally- Can I speak with you about the ‘resurrection’ of Jesus? I have a lot of questions.

Chris- Sure, I would love to have a conversation about Christ.

Sally- Great. I thought you raised an interesting question in your message. Did Jesus rise from the dead? Is that true? Not is it nice, is it metaphorical, but is it actually true? Did it happen?

I always wonder about Christians. I have friends who are believers and they seem like imminently reasonable people. Than they walk into church and check their brain at the door. Next thing you know, you have to remind them that when people die they stay dead. How can you say Jesus rose from the dead?

Why not just ascribe to a collective hallucination? That explanation is far more reasonable.

Chris- That’s a good question. I always think it is humorous when the skeptic asks the Christian ‘hey, don’t you know that dead people don’t come back to life’? We know. That’s why it was a big deal when Jesus did.

Sally- But people don’t naturally rise from the dead. Science has proved that.

Chris- We needed science to prove that dead people stay dead? We didn’t already know that people naturally stay dead when they die? If the resurrection happened I’m pretty sure it was a supernatural act of God.

Sally- But what is wrong with believing the disciples simple had a hallucination of Jesus after he died. Perhaps, the Jesus apparitions were the result of grief, fear, stress, or whatever else is conducive to those types of experiences.

Chris- Well, let me give some background. Philosopher Gary Habermas has read nearly everything written about the resurrection over the last 30 years in a multitude of languages (English, French and German I believe). This includes over 3000 books on the resurrection written by Atheists, Agnostics and Christians. Based on this extensive research he has documented that virtually all scholars believe that the disciples saw, or experienced something that they thought were appearances of the risen Christ.

According to Habermas if the scholar denies a bodily resurrection as an explanation for the appearances of Jesus they usually take refuge in some sort of hallucination hypothesis. It is important, therefore, to assess whether or not a hallucination theory is a viable alternative to the Christian belief that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Sally- Ha. Well I agree with those scholars who deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I doubt there is enough evidence in the world to overturn my disbelief in Jesus being raised on the third day.

Chris- Well, we’ll get into the evidence but first lets talk about some significant problems with the Hallucination Hypothesis.

Sally- Fire away.

Chris- Okay. (1) It doesn’t explain why the tomb of Jesus was empty. A tomb with the decaying remains of Jesus would quickly quench any enthusiasm that resulted from a hallucination or a visionary experience.

(2) It doesn’t explain why the disciples used the word ‘resurrection’ to describe what happened to Jesus. In 1st century Judaism resurrection meant a transformed physical body. The first believers had other language at their disposal to explain visions, ghosts, or religious trances. If they had a vision (which the skeptic would call a hallucination) than why didn’t they use visionary language (See Acts 10:9-18, 12:12-18). Why did the disciples say that God had raised Jesus from the dead? Why not say they had a vision of Jesus ascending to God or something like that?

(3) It doesn’t explain the conversion of James, who was a skeptic, and Paul who was an enemy of Christianity. They were not predisposed to have visionary experiences, or hallucinations of Jesus.

(4) Jesus appeared to groups of people. Group hallucinations do not occur. Hallucinations are private events. The research on these events clearly bears this out. For example, Navy Seals during hell week are prone to experience hallucinations due to lack of food and sleep. One Soldier reported that an Octopus waved at him; another grabbed an oar and swung it dangerously overhead to hit the jumping porpoises. Lastly, one soldier jumped into the water because he was certain a train was coming straight for him.

What is significant about these hallucinations is that they were private events accessible only to the individual having the hallucination. No other navy Seal saw the waving Octopus.

Can you climb inside my dream and share it with me?

Sally- No. I guess not.

Chris- Well, you can’t do that with hallucinations either.

Sally- Right, well are you done?

Chris- No I have three more points to make. (5) The appearances of Jesus happened at different times amongst different people with different psychological makeups (this is another reason why group hallucinations do not occur).

(6) The disciples preached the resurrection in Jerusalem, which was a short, simple walk away from the tomb of Jesus. The enemies of Christianity could have produced the body and the movement would have been over regardless of how powerful the hallucinations were. The whereabouts of Jesus’ tomb was common knowledge because it belonged to a prominent man, Joseph of Arimathea.

(7) Hallucinations do not often (at all?) radically transform people’s lives in a positive manner. In the above example of the Navy Seals none of the soldiers hallucinations drastically changed their lives. In fact they came to disbelieve their experience based on two factors a) Those things don’t happen. b) Their fellow soldiers didn’t see the hallucinations.

Why weren’t the disciples talked out of their hallucinations for the same reasons?

Sally- I’m not sure.

Chris- Also, think about this: The resurrection appearances of Jesus radically transformed the disciples lives and they were willing to die for their belief that God raised Jesus physically from the dead.

Sally- wait a minute. I’ve heard there is no good evidence to suggest the disciples died for their faith.

Chris- Untrue. There is multiple, early historical sources indicating that James (the disciple), James (Jesus’ brother), Peter (the leader of the disciples), and the Apostle Paul all died for their faith. We not only have the New Testament but the writings of Josephus and the writings of Clement of Alexandria. Josephus talks about the death of James (the Lord’s brother) and Clement talks about the martyrdom of Peter and Paul (I’ll send you the quotes via email).

Sally- Okay.

Chris- More reasons could be offered as to why the hallucination theory doesn’t adequately explain the appearances of Jesus and the birth of Christianity but the above (when taken together) is sufficient to sink the Hallucination Hypothesis.

It would take a miracle to resurrect it.

Sally- I thought you invited me to dialogue about the ‘resurrection’. That was a monologue. Look, if this is what our ‘conversation’ is going to look like, I’ll bow out now. I can get talked at in school and at home. I’d prefer to do something else with my free time.

Chris- You’re right I’m sorry. Meet with me tomorrow and I promise that I won’t bull doze you with my over zealous pontificating.

Sally- Okay, fine. But no monologue! Or it will take a miracle to resurrect this conversation.

h1

Reversed Thunder: The 7 churches…

February 8, 2011

We have been journeying slowly through the last book of the Bible. Revelation is filled with weird and wild imagery and symbolism. One image in particular has stuck with me.

Jesus in the middle of the lamp stands. We are told by the inspired author that the lamp stands symbolize the 7 churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3. Jesus is in the midst of his churches. He is there and he is not silent. He speaks these powerful words,

“Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I was dead and now I am alive for ever more and I hold the keys of death and hades”. Do not be afraid. I am alive. The tomb is empty. I am in the midst of my church. ‘Do not be afraid’.

I have read a lot of books on church ministry. A lot. Some were good and some were bad. Many of them start off by describing a crisis. The church in the west is declining! There is a mass exodus of young people departing from the faith of their parents! The church is in Crisis!

The one message that comes through loud and clear is, ‘be afraid’. The faith is crumbling. The gates of hell are prevailing but don’t worry, this book offers the solution.

Not surprisingly, this is how Christian authors are taught to write. You have to start off with a crisis, a pressing need, an urgent issue that needs a remedy. You then present your book as the solution to the problem. I co-wrote a book just like that. It comes out in March.

Oh well.

A cynical mind might say it is fear mongering for the sake of making a profit. I don’t know if I would say that but I like planting thoughts without laying claim to them.

Some of the issues raised in these books are important. Some of the statistics regarding the church in the west reflect a stark reality. But in the midst of it all I’ve begun to see Jesus stubbornly insisting, ‘Do not Fear’. I have all things in my hand. I will build my church. The church in John’s day was in a precarious position. Did the church die out? No, the church grew like wild fire throughout the Roman Empire. We are witnessing a similar pattern across the globe.

When I look at the church from a historical and global perspective I begin to realize, ‘you’re right Jesus, there is no need to fear’. I find my hope, my courage, my conviction and my commitment to the cause of Christ deepening and growing.

‘Do not be afraid’. ‘Do not fear Calvary’. Have faith. I am alive. I am in your midst. I am working all things out for my Father’s glory and the good of those who belong to me.

There is no reason to fear but there is a reason to reflect and repent. The letters to the 7 churches remind us of that. The church does get of track. Jesus warns us that our lamp stand can be removed. May that never happen in the Western Church. May we be doctrinally sound, morally pure, and socially concerned. May our love for Christ stay central, may we never be luke-warm and loving it, may we ……you can finish the sentence yourself.

h1

4 Different Views on Revelation

January 24, 2011

There have been many different interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation. All of them offer valuable insights. In this section I will briefly summarize the different approaches as well as commenting briefly on my own approach to the book.

Idealist Approach:

The idealist approach mines the book of Revelation for timeless theological truths that apply to all generations. Revelation is viewed as symbolically expressing the cosmic conflict between the kingdom of God and satanic powers. However, commentators who take this approach often deny that the book has any specific historical meaning. The problem with this position is not what it affirms. All interpreters of Revelation believe that there are timeless theological truths contained in this book. The incompleteness of this exegetical approach to Revelation is in what it denies; its historical rootedness in the 1st century believing community.

The book of Revelation, among other things, is a letter written to 7 specific churches, which indicates that it had historical relevance for its first hearers, as well as its future hearers.

Historicist Approach:

This approach understands the book of Revelation to be a detailed map of history from the first coming of Christ to the second coming of Christ. In this view the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 are seen to represent 7 stages of church history. This position has had adherents throughout church history but was quite popular during the 17th and 18 century.3

Usually, these interpreters have focused exclusively on Western European History. Their historical analysis and Biblical exegesis has often proven to be strained and implausible. Also, proponents of this position have seldom agreed in matching historical events with symbols and descriptions in Revelation. Curiously enough, people who support these theories always believe themselves to be in the last phase of history, whether the year is 1000 AD or 2000 AD or anywhere in between.4 As a result few commentators take this position any longer.

Preterist Approach:

Theologians who take this approach to Revelation read the book in the same way they believe that John’s first hearers would have read the book. They seek to read the book of Revelation in its historical context. The book needs to be understand under the shadow of Roman Imperial might, Emperor worship and the persecution of Christians that resulted from their treasonous refusal to bow the knee to Caesar as lord and Savior.

Some extreme proponents of this view claim that the book was completely fulfilled in the first century. However, it is extremely unlikely that the original audience of this book would have believed that the events described in Revelation 19-22 had already taken place.

Futurist Approach:

In its radical form this view implies that the book of Revelation is entirely preoccupied with future events and had no direct relevance to the 1st century recipients of the Apostle John’s letter. As in the historicist view, the 7 churches are sometimes represented as expressing 7 stages in church history. John’s ‘rapture’ into heaven (chapter 4) is often claimed to represent the rapture of the church. Often in this interpretive Framework everything after Revelation 5 refers strictly to future events involving the nation of Israel and the Anti–Christ.

Much of this interpretation strains exegetical integrity to a breaking point. There is no good reason to understand the 7 churches as referring to seven church ages and there are many good reasons not to. For example, in Jesus’ addresses to the churches he makes comments that express an awareness of the cultural situation and geography of those specific cities where the churches were located in the 1st century. Also, there is no good reason whatsoever to understand John’s rapture as symbolically referring to the churches rapture.

Popular writers in this school of thought also have a tendency to interpret the images of Revelation in a way that would make no sense to the 1st century hearers. Instead of letting scripture interpret scripture, and looking to the Old Testament for the source of some of John’s images, a swarm of deadly locusts in chapter 9 is treated as a squadron of Army Helicopters (the Old Testament reference for this image would be Joel 1:2-18, 2)5. Another example can be found in chapter 12 of Revelation where one popular author in this school interprets the Eagle (12:14) to be American fighter jets rescuing Jews from the Anti-Christ. In reality the imagery comes from Exodus 19:56.

So this view suffers the fatal flaw of making John’s Revelation virtually inapplicable to the historical context of the first recipients of this letter.

Also, those who use this book to predict the future never get it right. In the words of theologian Paul Spilsbury,

“all their major predictions have failed to materialize. Also, these books are strangely silent about the major events that have indeed occurred in recent times. In the end, this approach to Revelation is simply not reliable”7.

A great example of this exegetical error can be found in Hal Lindsey’s, “The Late Great Planet Earth”. It was written in the 70s, has sold over 15 million copies and I read most of it in my preparation for this series. I found that many of his prediction had already proven to be erroneous.

However, one benefit of this position is, “this view agrees that the primary purpose of the book is to describe the consummation of God’s redemptive purpose and the end of the age”.8 I agree. Revelation is about God’s redemptive purposes and ends with ‘the end of the age’.

In reading the above section you may have sensed that I am sharply critical of this view. That is only because I am sharply critical of this view. I find it distasteful to criticize brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I want to be forthright and honest about my skepticism directed towards this school of interpretation.

Incidentally, the above interpretation of Revelation (or something quite similar to it) is taken by the authors of the Left Behind series. We have these books in our church library as fiction not theology. Regrettably, (in my mind at least) through the influence of these books the school of interpretation mentioned above is the most popular approach to the book Revelation today.

Despite my criticisms of the above view I believe it is important to approach Revelation humbly and not to be overly dogmatic about how we understand the book. I am open to being convinced that criticisms of this view are unwarranted.

(See, ‘When time shall be no more”, by Paul Boyer for a detailed historical analysis of how this reading of Revelation gained prominence in North American Christian culture).

My approach:

To me the best approach to the book of Revelation seems to be an eclectic approach. Elements of the differing views can be incorporated beneficially into our understanding of the book. For example, the Futurists are correct in pointing out that some events described in Revelation have yet to be fulfilled (2nd coming of Christ, Final judgement in chapter 20, renewal of all things in chapter 21,22). The Idealists are right in stressing the timeless theological truths that explode off the pages of John’s revelation.

The Preterist approach to the book reminds us of the importance of historical context and safe guards the relevance of this book for the first century Christian recipients. In fact, most erroneous interpretations of this book have gone off base at exactly this point. They have interpreted this book in ways that would have had no relevance to the 1st century recipients of the letter. An approach that combines the beneficial insights from all these different views while avoiding the extremes seems best to me.

Resources:

Darrell Johnson, “Discipleship on the Edge”

Robert W. Wall “Revelation: New International Biblical Commentary”

Paul Spilsbury, “The Throne, The Lamb & The Dragon”

Richard Bauckham, “The Theology of the Book of Revelation”

Leon Morris, “Revelation: The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries”

Eugene Peterson, “Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of St. John & the Praying Imagination”

George Eldon Ladd, “A commentary on the Revelation of John”

h1

Reversed Thunder: Authorship

January 18, 2011

Authorship

There is widespread agreement amongst New Testament scholars as to who wrote many of the books in the New Testament. For example, no New Testament scholar that I’ve heard of denies that the Apostle Paul wrote Galatians, 1st Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Corinthians and Romans.

However, there are some books in the Bible on which scholars debate authorship, such as the book of Revelation. I believe that the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, wrote the book of Revelation. In this section I will give reasons for that conclusion, as well as discuss some arguments against John’s authorship of this book.

Evidence for the Apostle John writing this book

Firstly, the author introduces himself as John. He calls himself a servant (1:1), a brother in Christ (1:9) and one of the prophets (22:9). Some would contend that this indicates the author was the apostle because no one else would call himself simply, John. Only the apostle John was well known enough to get by with such a minimal introduction.

Secondly, the entire book is permeated with authority that would be in line with apostolic authorship.

Thirdly, the unanimous testimony of the early church fathers is that John, the Apostle, wrote the Revelation. We find this affirmation in the writings of Justin Martyr (2nd Century), Ireneus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian. This was the unanimous position of the early church until Dionysius of Alexandria attributed authorship to another John in the 3rd century .

Fourthly, church tradition tells us that John moved to Ephesus with Mary, Jesus’ mother. He lived there for many years ministering and pastoring. He would have been extremely well known in Asia Minor. He also would have had an intimate understanding of the state of the churches in the area, as well as the geography. This type of knowledge is evident in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3.

John was exiled to Patmos in circa 92 to 96 AD, when Emperor Domitian started persecuting Christians. What we know of the Apostle John fits nicely with the context of Revelation.

Evidence against the Apostle John writing this book

Firstly, the style of the book of Revelation is completely different than the Gospel of John and 1st John. The Greek is also quite different. No one denies that.

Secondly, there is suspicion as to why John identifies himself as a prophet and not as an apostle.

Thirdly, some contend that Revelation has theology that is incompatible with the theological emphasis of John’s Gospel and his epistles. John is the apostle of Love (1st John 4) in the latter, while Revelation is filled with judgment and wrath (Rev 6 or 14).

What can be said in response to these arguments?

A multitude of things. Firstly, the Revelation is apocalyptic literature, whereas the Gospel of John is not. This can clearly account for the difference in style. Here is what scholar Leon Morris writes,

“It is possible that some of the curious language is due to the fact that the writer is setting out visions and oracles of divine origin. There is some evidence that an ungrammatical style was held in certain circles to be appropriate to such inspired communication”.

Secondly, there are also literary similarities. The Gospel of John and Revelation are the only two books in the New Testament that use the Greek word ‘logos’ (Rev 19:13, John 1:1). Also, both books use the imagery of the lamb, the water of life, and the phrase “he that overcomes” (For more evidence compare Jn. 19:37 with Rev 1:9, Jn. 7:37 with Rev. 22:17 and Jn. 10:18 with Rev. 2:27).

Lastly, both the Gospel of John and Revelation were clearly written by someone who was writing Greek in their second language.

As for the second objection, John may have felt no need to identify himself as an apostle. He was already well known in the area to which he was writing.

The third objection is not very compelling. The Gospel of John and the epistles are similar in their theology to the book of Revelation. In the Gospel of John, the Apostle talks about the judgment and wrath of God. Most people read John 3:16, ‘God so loved the world…” and stop right there. If they continued to read, they would find John writing, “Whoever believes in the son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36). The only difference is that Revelation is Apocalyptic literature which communicates through symbols and often grotesque imagery.

In conclusion, regardless of whether or not John the Apostle wrote Revelation we still believe it is inspired by God and profitable for us to study. That is the most important thing.