Monday, March 08, 2010

Pay no attention to the adverb

I will probably teach a Sunday School on eschatology in the fall. So I have been reading some new material and looking over some old notes. And, as always when I am preparing to teach, I become sensitized to other discussions of the topic.

So the other morning I was channel surfing and hit upon a old TV preacher about to start a series on Revelation. Normaly I'd keep right on surfing. This time I stopped to listen.

What happened next--well I could have scripted it. He assured us of the importance of Revelation, how we must study it carefully, and generally gave a lot of buzz-words indicating he was going to take the literal, dispensational interpretation. He would proceed slowly and carefully and would explain everything in the difficult book.

He began with the first verse:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John (Rev 1:1)
Of this he pointed out, correctly, that the revelation is not John's but Jesus'. This book is our Lord telling us what would take place, he said.

Then, in spite of the promise to explain everything carefully, he moved to verse two.

Do you see the problem? He paid no attention to the adverb. This is more than a book in which Jesus tells us what would happen. It is a book in which Jesus revealed what would happen soon.

If what is described in the book has not happened, two millennia hence, then either God has changed his mind or the book is in error. Either possibility is not very appealing.

And no, I don't buy the "a day is like a thousand years" argument. While that statement is true enough, it was never intended as a blunt instrument that renders all time references meaningless. I don't believe that the word soon was inspired for no reason--that it could be any time period at all because "a day is like a thousand years." There is no way to avoid the fact that it means a short time period, not an indefinite time period.

Funny. In many cases the same apologists, when discussing  the beginning times, argue that the Hebrew yom, which really can mean an indefinite long time--must be taken as a literal 24-hour day. But then, when discussing the end times, they ignore the word soon or simply deny that soon means soon. Or that this generation means this generation. Or the clear implication that some of you will not taste death  [before these things happen] is that some will still be alive--and clearly, if it means anything, suggests a generation-like time interval after which some will be dead, and some still alive.

Those who take Revelation "literally"  take the complicated imagery literally--even though such language is used elsewhere in scripture figuratively. And then they ignore the simple, straightforward time references.

To me that is just bizarre.

Consider, for example, the apocalyptic language complete with stars falling from the sky used to describe the historic destruction of Babylon:
9 Behold, the day of the LORD comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine. (Isa. 13:9-10) 
Therefore I will shake the heavens, And the earth will move out of her place, (Isa. 9:13).
And the destruction of Bozrah:
3 Also their slain shall be thrown out; Their stench shall rise from their corpses, And the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. (Isa. 34:3-4)

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