February 29, 2008

Is "Heaven" really the goal? No.

My friend Bill sent me a link to the following post describing the confusion many Christians embrace regarding "Heaven" and referencing N.T. Wright's recent interview with Time Magazine where he discusses his newest book "Surprised by Hope."


Here is a quote the author gives from an essay on this subject that is sure to raise a few eyebrows...especially among well-meaning worship leaders and Hymn-singers! :)

With these two distinctions (concerning creation and redemption) in mind, it becomes easier to see that the traditional picture of "heaven" (found in many classic hymns and contemporary praise songs) as perpetual fellowship with, and worship of, God cannot constitute full redemption in biblical terms. This is because the traditional picture typically omits (and thus implies the negation or abrogation of) large areas of human life that God created good. "Heaven," therefore, as an eschatological state does not constitute genuine redemption of the multifaceted world God intended from the beginning. The logic of biblical redemption, when combined with a biblical understanding of creation, requires the restoration and renewal of the full complexity of human life in our earthly environment, yet without sin.

It is sometimes shocking for readers of the Bible to realize that the initial purpose and raison d'etre of humanity is never explicitly portrayed in Scripture as the worship of God (or anything that would conform to our notion of the "spiritual," with its dualistic categories). Instead, Scripture portrays the human purpose in rather mundane terms of exercising power over our earthly environment as God's representatives...To put it another way, while various psalms (like 148 and 96) indeed call upon all creatures (humans included) to worship or serve God in the cosmic temple of creation (heaven and earth), the distinctive way humans worship or render service to the Creator is by the development of culture through interaction with our earthly environment (in a manner that glorifies God).

Definitely something to think about next time we find ourselves singing about or teaching about "Heaven"!


February 28, 2008

Revelation study - week 2b

1:9 I, John, (your brother and the one who shares with you in the persecution, kingdom, and patient endurance that are in Jesus) was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day when I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 saying: "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches– to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea."
12 I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden menorahs, 13 and in the midst of the menorahs was one like a son of man (Dan. 7:13).

He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet
and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest.
14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow,
and his eyes were like a fiery flame.
15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace,
and his voice was like the roar of many waters.
16 He held seven stars in his right hand,
and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth.
His face shone like the sun shining at full strength.

John begins recounting his vision in an interesting way. He addresses himself to the readers as one who shares in the “persecution, kingdom, and patient endurance that are in Jesus.” The word translated “persecution” is the word often translated as “tribulation” (Greek: thlipsei). For John and the Christians of the first century, “the tribulation” wasn’t some far-off end-of-the-world event—it was the present reality! From the beginning, Christians have been in “tribulation/persecution.” Jesus Himself told His first followers they would experience it (Matthew 24) and John describes life “in Jesus” by bookending “kingdom” (the reigning with Christ that believers experience) with “tribulation/persecution” and “patient endurance.” This introduces another key theme in Revelation—the Christian reigns through suffering, not by avoiding it. This idea will dominate the book for the next 21 chapters!

John is commissioned to write a letter to seven churches throughout Asia Minor which contains the vision he is about to experience. The voice commissioning him to do so turns out to be the voice of “one like a Son of Man”—Jesus’ favorite title for Himself during His earthly ministry. The Son of Man figure in Daniel 7 was the one who came before God’s very presence, was given authority and honor and even worshipped(!), and then executed divine judgment on the nations (portrayed as beasts in Daniel’s vision) who were persecuting God’s people.

The lampstands that John sees (Jewish menorahs) represent the churches—as we will soon be told plainly—and 7 of them likely signify the entire Church worldwide (see the discussion in previous posts on the number 7 in Scripture). The fact that Jesus, the Son of Man, is standing in the midst of the menorahs is quite encouraging because it means that He is in the midst of His people (just as He promised He would be after giving the Great Commission).

But this Jesus whom John now sees is no “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” who comes to many peoples' minds when they picture Him! The Jesus John sees is accompanied by a litany of references from the Hebrew Bible which often referred to God Himself (long robe, fiery eyes, bronze feet, voice like many waters, etc.). What we find out is that the Son of Man is some way, somehow the God of Israel Himself! Jesus’ earthly claims to be God-With-Us (i.e. John 8:58, etc.) are now made clear in a powerful way to John—and in turn, his readers.


17 When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead,
but he placed his right hand on me and said:
"Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive! Forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and of Hades!
19 Therefore write what you saw,
what they are,
and what is about to happen after these things.
20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden menorahs is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven menorahs are the seven churches


This notion of Jesus being God is confirmed by His own words. He is “the first and the last”, a phrase used to denote God Himself. In addition, however, He is also human and experienced death. But death is a beaten foe, for Jesus now lives “forever and ever” and has complete control over (“holds the keys of”) death and all who are dead (“Hades” being used in Scripture to refer to the Hebrew concept of “She’ol” or “the grave.”

Because of who He now is and what He’s now accomplished, Jesus can reveal to John the true nature of the world and the powers behind it. He tells John to write “what he saw” (ha eides), “what they are” (ha eisen) and “what is about to happen after these things” (ha mellei genesthai meta tauta). So we see that Revelation is going to reveal to John visions (what he saw), the meaning of these visions (what they are) and the events that are about to take place for him and his readers (what is about to happen).
The first of these to be explained is the vision of the menorahs and stars in His right hand. The stars symbolize the “angels of the 7 churches” and the menorahs symbolize the churches themselves. This is a feature of apocalyptic literature—earthly realities or entities have heavenly or angelic representation (cf. Daniel 10). This encourages the reader by letting them know that though they may seem destitute and forsaken by God, they are always before Him via their heavenly representation and are part of His sovereign plan all of history. God's people are not forgotten, no matter how bleak the situations they find themselves undergoing may appear!

[Note: Beginning in the 1850s with individuals such as John Nelson Darby, C.I. Scofield, D.L. Moody, and others, it became common for people to interpret v.19 as a chronological outline of Revelation and the key to understanding the whole book. “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” This reading translates “ha eisin” (what they are) as depicting current events and “ha mellei genesthai…” (what is about to happen…) as everything that will happen after the Rapture. Therefore “what you saw” refers to the vision of Jesus in this chapter, “what is now” refers to the current state of the church before it is raptured (chs. 2-3) and “what is about to happen after these things” refers to the remainder of the book (chs. 4-22) which depicts events that have yet to happen in history. This is sometimes referred to as a Futurist view of Revelation because it places everything after ch.3 at some still-unrealized point in the future.

However, it is worth noting that a) nothing resembling a rapture of the church out of the world takes place in Revelation, b) the events described by John to his readers have occasional historic referents in the 1st century (i.e. the allusions to Nero) and c) events that would not happen for another 2,000 years or more would certainly not be described to John as “what is about to happen…”!

February 27, 2008

Revelation students...

Ben Witherington has an excellent article on the ethics and warnings found in John's letters to the Seven Churches in Rev. 2-3.

Dojo Disclaimer: It may raise eyebrows among our brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to a doctrine of Eternal Security or "Once Saved, Always Saved" (two slightly differing theological positions, btw.).

Always training,

February 26, 2008

Revelation study - week 2a

1:1 The revelation of Jesus the Messiah, which God gave
him to show his servants what must take place soon/swiftly.

He made it clear by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who then testified to everything
that he saw concerning the word of God and the testimony about Jesus the Messiah.

3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy
aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it,
because the time is near!

4 From John, to the seven churches that are in the
province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from
"the One Who is,"
and Who was,
and Who is coming,

and from the seven spirits who are
before His throne,

5 and from Jesus Christ–
the faithful witness,
the firstborn from among the dead,
the ruler over the kings of the

To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the
cost of his own blood 6 and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving
his God and Father--[to him] be the glory and the power for ever and ever!

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds, (Dan. 7:13) and
every eye will see him, even those who pierced him (Zech. 12:10),
and all the tribes on the earth will mourn because of him.
Yes indeed! Amen!

8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega,"
says the Lord God–
the One Who is,
and Who was,
and Who is coming–
the All-Powerful!

Is Revelation about the end of the world and Heaven and Hell and suffering and dragons and the Antichrist?


The very first three words in the Greek text (the first six in English above) tell us specifically what is being “revealed” to John—Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the subject of Revelation from beginning to end (or, if you like, from Alpha to Omega!). Jesus will shed light on everything that John and his readers find themselves undergoing at the tail end of the 1st century A.D. by showing them what the true nature of their then-current suffering actually entails—from a Heavenly perspective! In doing so, this revelation will make sense of all subsequent suffering followers of Jesus will undergo at the hands of those belonging to a world set against its true king.

Revelation offers more than just explanation, however. It offers exhortation. Those who listen to it read aloud in their gatherings each week (as well as the one reading it to them) are blessed not just by hearing things revealed, but by obeying them as well.

The threefold formula of vv.4-5 is extremely important for establishing a major theme that will weave itself throughout the book—the tri-unity of God Almighty. The greeting comes from “the One who is, and Who was, and Who is coming”—three ways of speaking of Yahweh, the God of Israel. The Divine name itself (YHWH in Hebrew) means “I Am.” John’s readers would’ve picked up on this as well as the other two titles’ (“the One Who was” and “the One Who is Coming”) Hebrew Bible resonances and would be clear that the first part of this greeting comes from Yahweh God Himself.

The second part (“the Seven Spirits before His throne”) has two possible referents. Some take it to refer to the 7 traditional archangels which in early Jewish thought were stationed before the throne of God (cf. Tobit 12:15 for example. The 7 angels traditional names, with some variation, are Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Gabriel, Saiquael and Jeremiel. Only Gabriel and Michael are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament however). This is possible, however, it is also possible that picking up on Isaiah 11:2’s seven-fold description of the Spirit of God and/or the symbolic meaning of the number 7 to denote completeness or totality, the “Seven Spirits” is a reference to the “Spirit of God” or what Christians know as the Holy Spirit.

The third part is explicitly referring to Jesus! (Interestingly, He is described as the “faithful witness”. This word “witness” (Greek: martys) is the legal term for one who provides testimony to something in a court setting. It is where our English word “martyr” comes from—precisely because the earliest persecuted Christians were often sentenced to death for testifying that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord!).

God, Spirit, Jesus…speaking as One to the churches in Asia Minor through this vision given to John. The fullness of the Godhead—a concept that later theologians would label “the Trinity”—found right here alluded to in the beginning of Revelation.

V.6 also highlights a second theme that will dominate the book—that of all of God’s people being the fulfillment of “Israel.” Look at how John describes their identity:

“To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the
cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his
God and Father…”

This is language taken directly from Torah. Just as God “set free” ethnic Israel from Egyptian bondage at the Exodus, so too, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He has “set free” true Israel from our slavery to Sin. And the promise that He would make His people a “kingdom” and “priests” to God (Exodus 19:6) was originally given to ethnic Israel. We now see that through the New Covenant this promise finds its fulfillment in all of God’s people—Jew and Gentile alike—who faithfully follow the Messiah. This may go against the teaching many of us have heard growing up, that there are “two peoples of God”—ethnic Israel and the Church. But it is one of the clearest messages taught throughout the New Testament. “Israel” has been expanded to include all who are in Covenant with God under the promised New Covenant (Ezekiel 36, Jeremiah 31, etc.).

February 19, 2008

Swinging the Sword without proper training

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, since you know that we will be judged more severely."
-James 3:1-

Anyone attempting to teach the Bible is basically trying to help people draw closer to the God of the universe through study of His Revealed message as contained in Holy Scripture.
This isn't something to be taken lightly. Nor is it something we can afford to be ill-equipped for.

This was what I thought about today as I watched a video a friend sent me from Youtube of someone attempting to preach God's word with passion, conviction, authority and zeal.

At first I laughed because of how ridiculous the teaching was and how unbelievably wrong my fellow teacher's facts were (both Biblical and modern!). But it got me thinking about how important it is when we're taking up the Sword of the Spirit, to not end up cutting our own heads off.

While he was totally passionate and no doubt loves the Lord and wants to serve Him with all his heart, this brother in Christ indeed had "a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2)." The resulting sermon (at least the four and a half minutes which made up the video clip), instead of being a sharp, double-edged, piercing word from the Lord, was instead the ranting of an angry child swinging his dad's antique sword around in front of his friends to show off.

The teacher's job is to make clear and illuminate the words of the original Inspired text to those we are teaching--not to take a word out of context and use it as a soapbox to promote their own idea of gender roles while simultaneously attacking the credibility of Godly men and women who have labored for decades in order to provide accurate and understandable translations of Scripture. God's words are not ours to bend to our own agendas. Rather, they are to be held in the highest regard and studied with the utmost care and precision.

Ben Witherington said it best at a lecture last week for Gordon-Conwell alumni: we wouldn't go to a dentist who didn't put in the years and years of study in Dental school and let him start drilling away in your mouth would we? So why then do we think it is somehow acceptable to stand up and attempt to teach God's People when we haven't put in the years and years of study required to understand and then relay the words of a text written over 1,900 years ago in a completely different language and culture??

When we irresponsibly swing the Sword without having taken the time to train, we end up cutting at those who are standing next to us rather than at the enemy. The result is often an audience of the spiritually-maimed.

May we continue training every day with the utmost effort and humility.


ps: For the record, the Hebrew "mashtiyn beqiyr" which our friend above makes such a big fuss over literally means "the ones urinating upon a wall" and is an idiomatic way of referring specifically to males (for obvious logistical reasons!). It is found in 1 Samuel 25:22, 34; 1 Kings 14:10; 16:11; 21:21 and 2 Kings 9:8. It does not refer to the manner in which one uses the bathroom anymoreso than a basketball player who is "on fire from behind the three" refers to their state of combustion! This is why NEARLY EVERY OTHER English translation translates the idiom as simply referring to males/men and puts the literal wording in a footnote.

pps: Our Worship Pastor, Chris Macedo, who was stationed in Germany during his time in the military assures me that it is not, in fact, illegal in Germany to use the bathroom standing up.

February 14, 2008

Discipleship and Dating...

In light of Valentine's Day, I felt that it would be quite appropriate to share some thoughts from a previous blog entry that many in the Discipleship Dojo haven't read before. Enjoy and by all means feel free to leave feedback, especially if you disagree with me! Iron sharpens iron...but only when they're rubbed against one another. :)


A few nights ago, some friends and I were at dinner and the conversation eventually turned to dating. I mostly just sat and listened (primarily because the person sitting next to me was my friend who I dated up until recently!).

All kinds of topics were being discussed (passionately!)and the conversation seemed to fall along gender lines with the common denominator being that all involved had been hurt in relationships in the past.

Anyway, a guy at a table behind me heard one of my friends say that he didn't date because he felt it was pointless. When he heard this, this guy came over to our table and began to lecture on how "unbiblical" dating was and that he had been married for 14 years and had a 13 year old daughter and that dating wasn't an option for her. He said that courting was what God wants us to do and that dating is part of society's lies that Christians have bought into.

Now this isn't the first time I've heard this approach by any means. Anyone who's read the uber-annoying "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" by Joshua Harris** will immediately recognize this line of argument. (If Harris isn't hardcore enough for any of you, you can go a step further into crazyland and read "Her Hand in Marriage" by Douglas Wilson.) So while the argument wasn't anything new, for some reason it kept kicking around in my head the rest of the night and the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I became.

Out of respect and not wanting to cause unnecessary division, I didn't say anything when the guy at the resturant was going on about dating being unbiblical. However, I should have asked him a few questions about many of the "points" he (and others who believe dating is unbiblical) was making.

"Dating is unbiblical! You can't find anyone dating in the Bible. It's not God's plan for His children."

Is dating really unbiblical because it's not mentioned in Scripture? I wanted to ask the guy if he walked to the resturant. "No, I drove" he'd probably say. "Well, that's unbiblical you know. No one in the Bible drove cars. Cars are an invention of society that God didn't intend. Christians should either walk or ride a donkey, horse, or camel wherever they need to go (no chariots though; those are what the wicked Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians rode in! Um, unless of course it is a chariot of fire; then it's okay.)"

My point is that just because something isn't in the Bible doesn't mean that it's not Biblical. This is an error that people make way too often and then pontificate as if they are providing evidence for a "Biblical" position on something. Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.

"Courtship! That's the Biblical way we should pursue marriage!"
[note: "courtship" is only being around someone in a group setting until you are ready to get engaged. At that point, the parents get together with the man and decide whether or not he can pursue the woman romantically. Engagement soon follows and then comes marital bliss.]

Really? Courtship is THE Biblical norm? Hmmm...Did anyone tell that to Ruth? What about Esther? How about Abigail?

The fact is that the notion of "courting" being advanced by anti-dating Christians is not by any means the norm in Scripture. God nowhere gives instructions on choosing a wife/husband. Nowhere do we find courting spoken of in a proscriptive manner. Whenever we find it, it is in a descriptive manner.

What I really want to have asked the man is "Your daughter can't date, she can only be courted? Cool. She's 13 years old and has reached child-bearing age, when can I tell my 25 year old friends they can begin courting her? What?! What do you mean that's ridiculous?! In Biblical Hebrew society, women married in their early-to-mid teens. Mary was probably very close to your daughter's age when she had Jesus. If it's good enough for the mother of our Lord, why not your daughter?"

Of course I am playing devil's advocate; but my point is that Christians who argue up and down for a "Biblical" approach to romance almost NEVER actually want to implement a truly Biblical approach to romance! Courting advocates NEVER talk about a dowry. They never suggest allowing their daughter to be selected by a servant of the prospective husband (such as happened with Issac and Rebekah). They NEVER advocate a 7 day wedding feast which begins with the groom taking the bride into the bedroom and consumating the marriage. (THAT would be a wedding to remember!)

"Well, dating is not authentic! People are putting forward an image that they want the other person to like rather than being themselves. Besides, you shouldn't give your heart to someone until you're ready for long term committment and you can't determine this when you're dating someone you don't really even know that well."

This is understandable, but it's just not sound thinking. Here's why: it is using poor behavior (being fake on a date) to argue against the larger setting (going on a date with someone). St. Augustine said it best over 1,600 years ago, "Never judge a philosophy by its abuse."

Are people fake on dates? Sure. Do they often put their best side front and center and downplay their weaknesses and flaws? Of course. Does this mean that dating must necessarily entail this type of behavior? Not at all. This objection isn't really against dating per se; it's against bad dating.

But I'd like to ask the person above, "Are people fake in friendships?", "do people put their best side forward and downplay their weaknesses and flaws in friendships?" Yes to both. Should we then label friendships as unbiblical?

As for not giving your heart to someone you just started dating...I agree completely! Again, this is not a problem with dating, it is a problem with poor choices when dating. Dating should be nothing more than a guy and a girl who openly acknowledge that they are attracted to one another on various levels and are therefore spending more time together in order to discover whether or not they are a potential spouse. No one should begin picking out china patterns after a few weeks of dating; and just because many people make this mistake doesn't mean that they HAVE to make this mistake. Dating should be a "feeling out" time that either leads to the realization that this is not the person for us at this time (thus ending the dating relationship) or that this is the person we would like to pursue marriage with eventually (thus strengthening the relationship and deepening the committment).

"I don't care! Courting is more Godly than dating!"

Okay, follow me here: you meet someone you really like. You begin to hang out with them in group settings as friends. You really like them more and want to pursue them as a serious potential spouse. You ask the parents, they give their blessings. You then start spending time alone with the person in romantic settings...

...so, um, HOW is this not dating???

All you've done is taken things extremely slow and gotten to know the person better before you begin dating them! Call it "courting" if you want, it's still spending time together alone with someone you're romantically attracted to and who you think might be a potential spouse. You're dating. Period.

It seems that the man who came to our table had passion and zeal for the Lord (a really good thing!) and he hated the abuses that many people commit frequently when dating (another good thing!) so he was only too happy to hear about a "Biblical" alternative (a la "I Kissed Dating Goodbye"). The only problem is that this alternative is simply dating with some extra components when all is said and done.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure this man won't read this (if he's anti-dating for his daughter, I'm SURE he's anti-Myspace :), but I just couldn't stop thinking about this encounter and I really just wanted to put something out there that takes Scripture more seriously.

Should Christians date? If they want to, sure.

We should just date in a truly Biblical manner--complete honesty, self-sacrificial giving, sexual purity, emotional responsibility, and readiness to acknowledge and work on our shortcomings which invariably surface in a dating relationship. Any and all comments welcome, as usual.


Originally posted on 8/26/2006
**For the record, I actually have a lot of respect for Joshua Harris and would probably enjoy hanging out with him. He is a brother in Christ with a passion for Jesus and a sharp mind and wit. And even though I hated "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", I do highly recommend his newer book "Stop Dating the Church" for my generation who are prone to church-hopping rather than committing to a local body of believers. Hopefully this glowing endorsement of the latter will counterbalance my ridiculing of the former, should Josh ever come across this post! :)

For what I believe is an excellent take on the subject of Christians, singleness and dating, I recommend "Friendlationships" by Jeff Taylor.

February 13, 2008

Is Jesus based on older pagan myths

Occasionally, I will post on this blog older posts from my personal Myspace blog which have to do with Christianity, Discipleship, Scholarship or Biblical Studies. This is one I posted back in the Fall that I'd like to make available to the Discipleship Dojo community. As usual, comments, questions, or feedback are always welcome!

Christianity is just a copy of older pagan religions!
[originally posted Tuesday, October 02, 2007 - 2:52 PM]

Okay, so I do alot of posting on the Religion General Forum on Myspace (go check it out and say hi sometime!) and one of the things I've heard so many times is the old "Jesus is just a copy of older pagan religions" song and dance. Usually, people will just assert it as if it's known historical fact and confidently list the things Christianity copied from various Mystery religions that predate Christianity, such as the cult of Mithras, Osiris, Horus, or Attis/Adonis. I frequently hear the argument that Mithraism taught that Mithras was:

Born of a virgin

Born in a cave

Born on Dec. 25th

Considered a great traveling teacher

Had twelve disciples

Promised his followers immortality

Sacrificed himself for world peace

Was buried in a tomb

Rose again three days later

Instituted a Eucharist

Now, that sounds pretty familiar doesn't it? Or how about the parallels between the Greek god of wine Dionysus and Jesus:

He was a traveling teacher who performed miracles.

Dionysus was born of a virgin on December 25th and, as the Holy Child, was placed in a manger.

He "rode in a triumphal procession on a donkey which carries him to meet his passion with crowds waving bundles of branches.

He was a sacred king killed and eaten in a eucharistic ritual for fecundity and purification.

Dionysus rose from the dead on March 25th.

He was the God of the Vine, and turned water into wine at the marriage of Dionysus and Ariadne.

He was called "King of Kings" and "God of Gods." He was considered the "only Begotten Son," "Savior," "Redeemer," "Sin Bearer," "Anointed One," and the "Alpha and Omega."

He was identified with the Ram or Lamb.

He was hung on a tree or crucified.

Dionysus becomes the wine and is himself 'poured out' as an offering.

Or how about Attis:

Attis was born on December 25th of the Virgin Nana.

He was considered the savior who was slain for the salvation of mankind.

His body as bread was eaten by his worshippers.

His priests were "eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven."

He was both the Divine Son and the Father.

On "Black Friday," he was crucified on a tree, from which his holy blood ran down to redeem the earth.

He descended into the underworld.

After three days, Attis was resurrected on March 25th (as tradition held of Jesus) as the "Most High God."

He was pictured as being hung from a tree with the picture of a lamb at his feet and later his empty grave was found.

Similar claims have been made for the Egyptian Mystery cults of Osiris and Horus as well.

So what do we do with this??

Is the "Jesus myth" merely a Judaized version of older pagan cults that just happened to win out while they all faded into obscurity?

Um...actually...no, it is not. The main reason being that these 'similarities' all post-date Christianity by over 100 years. In other words, the "borrowing" of the motif of a dying and rising god-man went in the opposite direction than is normally claimed by those indicting Christianity with plagarism!

In his newest book, "The Case For the Real Jesus", Lee strobel interviews Michael Licona and Edwin Yamauchi (Yamauchi being one of the most proficient scholars of the ancient mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world and Ancient Near East). They, along with numerous other actual antiquities scholars (some Christian, some not) attest that while these 'parallels' were in vogue between the 1890s and 1940s among some scholars, they have long since been discredited.

As one Scandinavian scholar notes:

"There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world."
–T.N.D. Mettinger, "The Riddle of Resurrection" p.221 (Mettinger teaches at
Lund University and is a member of the Royal Academy of Letters, History, and
Antiquities of Stockholm)

The most amazing thing is that since almost NO ONE ever bothers to go back to the original sources to investigate the truth of these claims, they simply get passed along as if they're actually true. They are not. None of these mythical figures actually have such similarities as noted above. When you look at the actual texts which are supposedly the source of all this information you start to see really quickly, as Licona and Yamauchi point out in detail, that the similarities aren't so similar after all.

For instance, according to the actual legends, Osiris was killed by his brother Seth, put in a coffin and sunk to the bottom of the Nile but is revived by the goddess Isis. However, he is later killed and chopped into 14 pieces and scattered around the world. Isis then goes and finds 13 of the parts to give him a proper burial. But Osiris doesn't come back to life, rather, he's given the status of god of the underworld. Does that even remotely resemble the idea of Jesus' bodily resurrection? No. But who's gonna take the time to investigate these claims?
Or what about Dionysus' "virgin birth"? Well, actually it was taught that Zeus, disguised as a human, fell in love with Semele and impregnated her. Hera, Zeus' wife, arranged to have Semele burned. Zeus rescued the unborn Dionysus and sewed him into his thigh until he was ready to be born. That's not exactly the depiction we see in "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown" now, is it?
Albert Schweitzer is noted by Strobel as saying that popular writers made the mistake of taking various fragments of information and manufacturing 'a kind of universal Mystery-religion which never actually existed, least of all in Paul's day'.

Let's look at Mithras as an example. When asked about the "parallels" between Mithras and Jesus, Yamauchi (who was a member of the Second Mythraic Congress in Tehran, Iran in 1975--a gathering of Mithraic scholars from around the world) clarifies the facts about Mithras:

Born of a virgin?
No, actually Mithras is said to have emerged fully grown from a rock, naked except for a Phrygian cap and holding a dagger and a torch.

Born in a cave?
Nope. See above. Later Mithraic sanctuaries were made to look like caves, but it should be
noted that the New Testament doesn't even teach that Jesus was born in a cave. No parallel here.

Born on Dec. 25?
Not a parallel because Jesus wasn't born on Dec. 25th. The earliest Christians celebrated His birth on Jan.6th. The later tradition of Dec. 25th has to do with the winter solstice being chosen as the day to celebrate Christmas.

Considered a great traveling teacher? Had twelve disciples?
No. He was not known to be a teacher with disciples. He was a god.

Promised his followers immortality?
This is the hope of almost every religion!

Sacrificed himself for world peace?
No. He Didn't sacrifice himself, he killed a bull in battle!

Was buried in a tomb? Rose again three days later?
There are no known references to Mithras' death in any sources...thus there are also no references to any resurrection three days later from a tomb either.

Instituted a Eucharist?
Mithraism celebrated a common meal; but this is found in the 2nd century AD, long after Jesus celebrated Passover with His disciples.

Similar things can be seen when the other myths are looked at regarding the other god figures.

But the point is simply that all the "similarities" are actually huge generalizations, date more than a century after Jesus, or are simply bogus claims that haven't been checked for accuracy.Yamauchi ends his interview with Strobel by giving advice on how to not be deceived by all the stuff online we read regarding these similarities (which can be found just by Googling "Jesus" "Mithras" or similar searches):

"[These writers] don't have the languages, they don't study the original sources, they don't pay attention to the dates, and they frequently quote ideas that were popular in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries but have already been refuted. Reputable and careful scholars like Carsten Colpe of Germany, Gunter Wagner of Switzerland, and Bruce Metzger of the United States have pointed out that, number one, the evidence for these supposed parallels is often very late, and number two, there are too many generalizations being made...be careful of articles on the web. Even though the internet is a quick and convenient source of information, it also perpetuatese outdated and disproved theories. Also check the credentials of the authors. Do they have the training and depth of knowledge to write authoritatively on these issues? And be sure to check the dates of the sources that are quoted. Are they relying on anachronistic claims or discredited scholars? And finally, be aware of the biases of many modern authors, who may clearly have an axe to grind."

I definitely recommend reading the whole interview with Yamauchi in Strobel's book. Yamauchi's written tons of stuff, but on this issue, "Persia and the Bible" is probably best.

Some authors that still appeal to these discredited supposed-parallels (and therefore are worth knowing in case you see them referenced by someone) are

Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, "The Jesus Mysteries" and "The Laughing Jesus"

Tom Harpur, "The Pagan Christ"

Hugh J. Schonfield, "Those Incredible Christians"

John H. Randall, "Hellenistic Ways of Deliverance and the Making of the Christian Synthesis"

Tim Callahan "Secret Origins of the Bible"

Jesus claimed to be unique. History seems to agree.

February 5, 2008

The book of Revelation - Week 1

Welcome to our study of Revelation. This blog will be a place where anyone interested in the book of Revelation can follow along with the Passage class at GSUMC (for more information on Passage School of Theology, go to http://www.gsumc.org/ and follow the "classes and groups" link on the left-hand side of the screen). Each week I'll post the text for the week followed by some comments on the background, allusions or context of the passage. This won't be an exhaustive commentary (or even a bad attempt at one!) by any means. To go deeper into Revelation, I encourage you to begin taking Passage courses and eventually BS 366 - The Book of Revelation with us. So, now that all the fine print is out of the way, let's get going!

First things first…

This is the book of Revelation—not “Revelations”! Sorry; pet peeve of mine! Whenever I hear someone say something like, “well, you know what it says in Revelations…” I immediately become skeptical of their authority to teach a book without even knowing it’s title. It might as well be Charlie Brown's teacher talking to me at that point.
Revelation. No “s” involved.

The word “revelation” is the Greek word “apocalypsis” which means “unveiling” or “revealing” (thus “revelation”). One of the most amazing (and saddest) ironies in the history of Biblical theology is that the very book written to make things clear is probably the most misunderstood and divisive book in the entire Bible! And while some of this is due to sinful divisiveness or pride in interpreting, much of it is due simply to a lack of awareness of not only the book’s 1st century Greco-Roman historical context, but also unfamiliarity with the Hebrew Bible and Second-Temple Jewish literature from which the imagery of Revelation draws so heavily. Any reading of Revelation that does not take these into account will almost certainly veer off course and be far from what the Holy Spirit intended to teach through this Inspired account.

So just what did Jesus want to “unveil” to John and his fellow 1st century Christians? And why did He choose an apocalyptic vision as the vehicle for conveying it? And even if we are able to answer these questions, one more, just as crucial, arises—what does Revelation have to do with Christians like us who are millennia removed from the time it in which it was written? Is is an old book meant only for 1st century Christians, or is it a blueprint of end-times events which we are currently seeing play out in the news every day? Or is it something completely different? These are some of the questions we will be exploring together throughout the coming weeks. Hopefully by the end of the book, we will have a good enough understanding of what Jesus revealed to John—and just as important, what He did not reveal!

Details to know when studying Revelation:

1. Revelation is believed to have been written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domition around 90 AD, though some notable Biblical scholars have proposed a date sometime in the 60s AD before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (70 AD) and during the reign of the Emperor Nero. Those dating it to Domition see the references to Nero in Revelation (we’ll see them as we go) as being symbolic of all persecuting rulers, such as Domition, who would arise after--and in the manner of--Nero. Those dating it to Nero see it as predicting the persecution that is about to take place (or is currently taking place) at the hands of Nero and his Empire. Either view, however, ultimately arrives at the same overall conclusion as to the meaning and message of the book.

2. Revelation belongs to the Biblical genre of “Apocalyptic”. Apocalyptic writings date as far back as the OT prophets Daniel and Zechariah, and were extremely popular during the 1st few centuries BC and up through around the 2nd century AD. Apocalyptic writings usually consist of visions (and sometimes interpretations of them) given to a human recipient by a heavenly messenger which seek to provide clarity, encouragement, and comfort to a persecuted minority at the hands of an oppressive ruling majority. Apocalypses were never intended to only communicate events that would happen at the end of time; but rather, they were written to communicate current or imminent events that the community or nation was about to experience. This is one of the biggest mistakes many readers—especially many so-called “prophecy experts”—make when interpreting and teaching Revelation. This often (though in fairness, not always) results in wild scenarios of raptures, credit card chip implants and even protests against peace attempts in areas of the world they see as having “end times significance”! (All three of these, for example, have been taught by three extremely prominent Evangelical Christian leaders in the public eye within the last 20 years. This is beyond unfortunate...it's irresponsible).

[For a full critique of the interpretive framework which leads to such teaching, I wholeheartedly recommend Ben Witherington’s “The Problem with Evangelical Theology” published a little over a year ago. Witherington is Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY one of the foremost NT scholars of our time.]

3. It was not uncommon for Roman Emperors such as Nero or Domition to declare themselves Divine and adopt titles such as “Lord” [kyrios], “Savior” [soter], or “Son of God” [huios tou theou]…and even demand worship from the people at the cost of their lives.

4. Apocalyptic literature was never meant to be read “literally.” This is worth repeating because an entire segment of Evangelical Christianity beginning in the 1850s began to insist that the literal meaning of Biblical text was the only valid meaning, unless it was absolutely impossible to read it literally (such as Jesus being called a “Lamb”). This was an extremely unfortunate conclusion on the part of those who did not know that the nature of Apocalyptic writing are primarily non-literal and highly symbolic. However, due to the popularity of many Christian teachers and pastors who hold to this method of interpretation, the “literal” reading of Revelation (and other Biblical apocalyptic texts) became the default approach among many Evangelical Christians. To this day, there are various Bible colleges and Seminaries which accept only the “literal” interpretation of Revelation and many otherwise solid Christian leaders and teachers have adopted and continue to perpetuate this approach.

5. Apocalyptic literature uses certain well-known symbols and metaphors, often drawn from the Hebrew Bible, to convey ideas, traits or circumstances in a vivid visionary manner. Some examples of these are:

menorahs (lampstands),
the colors white, black and red,
books/scrolls and their seals,
the Sea/Abyss,
cosmic bodies (Sun, Moon, stars),
a woman,
jewels and precious stones and metals,
thunder, lighting and earthquakes (theophany)
double-edge sword

There are many others, but these are some of the most frequently occurring (and often bizarre) ones found in Revelation.

6. Revelation was meant to be read aloud during worship gatherings among the early churches throughout Asia Minor. It was sometimes read all the way through, and sometimes divided into multiple sections and read aloud by a leader in the church. Thus, the importance of listening to Revelation rather than merely reading it silently.

Finally, let’s talk numbers…

No one can read Revelation and not notice the reoccurrence of certain numbers throughout the vision. 3, 4, 7, 12, 10 and their multiples appear everywhere. But what is their significance? In his commentary on Revelation, Ian Boxall does an excellent job summarizing the use of numbers in John’s apocalyptic vision:

Three seems to have a special association with the divine. It is present implicitly in the divine name ‘who was and who is and who is coming (a tripartite formula which occurs three times in Revelation, at 1:4, 8 and 4:8…). Similar threefold descriptions of the divine are found in Judaism and in the wider Greco-Roman world. The pattern of three woes at 8:13 highlights the divine origin of these judgments upon unrepentant humanity (also 16:19). Elsewhere in Revelation, the divine is parodied by the triumvirate of the dragon, monster and false prophet, from whose mouths come three demonic frogs (e.g. 16:13; 20:10).

Four is often associated with the earthly created order, built into its very structure (e.g. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.11.8: the world in which we live has four zones and four principal winds); there are also four elements from which the earth is composed, and four seasons. In Revelation, the created world is represented by the four cherubim around God’s throne (e.g. 4:6, 8; 5:6, 8, 14), while the altar in the heavenly temple has four horns (9:13). The number is appropriately associated with those who execute judgments on the earth: four angels stand at the earth’s corners restraining the four winds (7:1; cf. 20:8), while another four are bound at the River Euphrates (9:14-15).

Seven seems to have been regarded as a sacred number in the ancient world, andone which evoked completeness or perfection (it being the number of days in theweek and of the planets, therefore built into the structure of the universe). For Jews, it reflected the seventh day (Gen. 1:1-2:3). Furthermore, it is the sum of three and four (associated with the divine and the universe respectively). Seven plays a key structuring role in the Apocalypse: notable in the seven messages (2:1-3:22), the seven seals (6:1-8:1; cf. 5:1, 5), the seven trumpets (8:2-11:18) and the seven bowls (15:5-16:21). Interestingly, two of these septets are divided into four and three, thus highlighting the significance of these two numbers: the four horsemen are set apart from the remaining three seals (6:1-8); the last three trumpets are associated with the three woes (8:13). Elsewhere in Revelation there are seven spirits (1:4, 3:1; 4:5; 5:6), seven angels/stars (1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1; 4:5), seven congregations/lampstands (1:4, 11, 12, 20; 2:1), seven trumpet-angels (8:2, possibly to be identified with ‘the seven spirits’), seven thunders (10:3-4), seven bowl-angels (15:1, 6-8), and seven kings (17:9-10). There are also seven unnumbered beatitudes scattered throughout the book (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14). The Lamb has seven horns and eyes (5:6). Again, the divine is parodied by the dragon and the monster from the sea, who both have seven heads despite their demonic nature (12:3, 13:1; 17:3).

Related to seven are two additional numbers. Half of seven is three and a half (derived from Daniel’s three and a half years of persecution: e.g. Dan. 7:25; 12:7). As half of a complete number, it represents a limited, incomplete period of persecution for God’s people, in which they will be preserved from spiritual harm though not from suffering. It is found in its variants of ‘a time, times and half a time’ (12:14), ‘forty-two months’ (11:2; 13:5), and ‘1,260 days’ (11:3; 12:6), and the two witnesses rise from the dead after three and a half days (11:9, 11). One less than seven is the number six. If seven denotes completeness, then the number six falls short of this as a number of incompleteness or imperfection. This may be one of the resonances of the ‘number of the monster’ at 13:18, which is 666 (though the four creatures have six wings: 4:8, influenced by Isa. 6:2).

Twelve is the product of three and four. Its association with the zodiac in the ancient world is significant, revealing it as a number embedded into the cosmos. Like seven, it also symbolizes completeness (the twelve tribes of Israel at 7:5; the twelve stars of the woman’s crown at 12:1, possibly also symbolizing the zodiacal signs). Revelation’s description of the new Jerusalem is shot through with the number twelve, symbolizing the order and perfection of this visionary city: twelve gates made of twelve pearls, with twelve angel guards; twelve foundations; twelve names written on both its gates and foundations; twelve kinds of fruit on the tree of life (21:12, 14, 21; 22:2). Moreover, its twelve gates are divided into four sets of three (21:13). Multiples of twelve are also important. There are twelve thousand sealed from each of the tribes of Israel (7:5-8): the symbolic significance of the resulting 144,000 points to a number of inclusion, ‘a huge number, which no one could count’ (7:4; 14:1, 3). Similarly, order and perfection are signified by the multiples in the description of the new Jerusalem: the length, width and height of the city are 12,000 stadia, while the measurement of its wasll is 144,000 cubits (21:16, 17).

Other numbers also occur in Revelation, though with less regularity. Among the most important are the following.

Two is the number of witness in the Jewish tradition, based on texts such as Deut. 19:15. Appropriately, Revelation describes the prophetic ministry of two witnesses (11:4, 10).

Five is a natural round number, being the number of fingers on the human hand, and
therefore having the significance of ‘a few’. In Revelation, the demonic scorpions are allowed to torment people for five months, i.e. for a limited period (9:5, 10).

Ten is another round number with a sense of human completeness, and is regularly
used in Jewish texts to measure time. In Revelation, the faithful in Smyrna will be tested for ten days, a limited period of time (2:10; cf. Dan. 1:12, 14). Elsewhere, the dragon and the monster have ten horns (12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 7), the horns of the latter representing ten kings (17:12, 16)…Multiples of ten include one thousand, denoting a large number (e.g. 5:11; 7:5); related to a period of time, it is used of the ‘millennium’ or thousand-year reign of Christ (20:2). [1]

Buckle up…

Revelation is a wild, unpredictable, thrilling and ultimately comforting ride. So now that we’ve had a quick review of some issues, images and numbers we’ll soon be encountering on the journey, we're ready to hit the road.

Until next week,


[1] Boxall, Ian, The Revelation of St. John (Black's New Testament Commentary). Hendrickson, Peabody. 2006. (pp. 90-92)

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