Friday, February 16, 2007

Bad Theology: Reinventing The Rapture

Becky Garrison, the senior contributing editor of The Wittenburg Door, blogged on God's Politics (Sojourners/Call to Renewal). Her post was on "Re-evaluating the Rapture". She had interviewed Jerry Jenkins' the co-author of the Left Behind books, and obviously doesn't agree with their point of view. For the record - I don't subscribe to the eschatology put forth in the Left Behind books either. I feel that they are good fiction (though I don't think they needed so many books in the series), they can not be used as a commentary for the Book of Revelation.

Becky Garrison goes on to share about her recent enlightenment of this subject after listening to a talk by Dr. Barbara Rossing, professor of New Testament at
Lutheran School of Theology, and author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. Some quotes that Dr. Rossing made in her talk makes me think that her book also would not be useful for commentary as well.
"As Dr. Rossing reminded us, while the sensationalist and “nutty” Left Behind books have grabbed the media spotlight and made the bestseller lists, their depiction of the bloody and violent end times differs from how scholars throughout history have interpreted this book. I found much food for thought in Rossing's reflections on how the Greek words for earth are used throughout the Bible. As she notes, many of the references to the word 'earth' in this final chapter of the Bible is translated from the word okumene, which means imperial violence. The other words for earth, which are translated as gaia (dirt) and cosmos (world) are used when the biblical authors reference God's creation Using these translations of the word earth, Rossing illuminates how in Revelation Chapters 17 and 18 the imperial world that will be destroyed when the Second Coming arrives. She adds that this critique of imperial violence includes violence against the world through our own neglect of God's creation."

I must admit that I am not a scholar. I know that comes as a shock, but it is true. I just have a lowly B.A. in youth ministry with only a minor in Biblical studies. I didn't even take Greek. I can, however, use Greek tools. Just a brief look at Revelation 17 & 18 I noticed something. The Greek word for "earth" is not "okumene" (which I believe that Garrison got the transliteration spelled wrong - somebody correct me if I'm wrong), but "Ge". Which is used 67 times in Revelation, and it means: "arable land; the ground, the earth as a standing place; the main land as opposed to the sea or water; the earth as a whole; the earth as opposed to the heavens; the inhabited earth, the abode of men and animals; a country, land enclosed within fixed boundaries, a tract of land, territory, region"* (emphasis mine).

Another word used in Revelation is "oikoumene", which means: "the inhabited earth; the portion of the earth inhabited by the Greeks, in distinction from the lands of the barbarians the Roman empire, all the subjects of the empire the whole inhabited earth, the world the inhabitants of the earth, men the universe, the world (emphasis mine)."* This word is used three times in Revelation and is translated "world" in the New American Standard Bible.

The Greek world "kosmos" is translated world in Revelation, and the definition for it is: "an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, order, government; ornament, decoration, adornment, i.e. the arrangement of the stars, 'the heavenly hosts', as the ornament of the heavens. 1 Pet. 3: the world, the universe; the circle of the earth, the earth; the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human family; the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ; world affairs, the aggregate of things earthly; the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ; any aggregate or general collection of particulars of any sort; the Gentiles as contrasted to the Jews (Rom. 11:12 etc) of believers only, John 1:29; 3:16; 3:17; 6:33; 12:47 1 Cor. 4:9; 2 Cor. 5:19"* This word is used only three times in Revelation (11:15; 13:8; 17:8).

Revelation 17:8 in particular says, "The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come," (NAS).

I even looked up the word "violence" which is "hormena", it is used once in Revelation (18:21) and it means: "a rush, impulse that which is impelled or hurried away by impulse."*

Can you see how this argument is falling apart? Garrison goes on to say:

"According to Rossing, the term prophecy doesn't mean prediction. Rather, prophetic books such as the Book of Revelation serve as a wake-up call of what will transpire if humanity remains oblivious to the telltale signs from God that something is amiss in our world."

At this point, I'm going "wha?" Rossing is making a very broad statement. Much of Old Testament prophecy is predictive. But all prophecy is "the forth-telling of the will of God, whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future, (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words by W.E. Vine; Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, 1997, p. 893).

The crux of the matter is that Garrison and Rossing are interpreting Revelation and trying to get it to fit their worldview. We should let scripture speak for itself, and let it inform our worldview. They have it backwards. We do need to be careful with how we interpret Revelation (and all scripture for that matter). I don't think anybody can completely figure it out. I'm with John Calvin when he said, "Revelation, who can understand it?" The approach used by Rossing is horrible hermenutics at best, heresy at worst.

*By the way as a disclaimer - all of the Lexicon references are taken from: Thayer and Smith.."The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon".<>. 1999. Greek lexicon based on Thayer's and Smith's Bible Dictionary plus others; this is keyed to the large Kittel and the "Theological Dictionary of the New Testament." These files are public domain.


Anonymous said...

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions! The Secret Rapture soon, by my hands!
Read My Inaugural Address
My Site=
Your jaw will drop!

Noah Braymen said...

Not sure what that last post is all about....okay????

Good job on the old hermeneutics...

Recovering said...

Good points, Shane. Thanks

Shane Vander Hart said...

Secret Rapture - too much cool aid?

Noah - not sure if you are talking about this post, or the one before. I'm so confused! Eschatology normally isn't my subject of choice, but the post on God's Politics that I was responding to drove me nuts. If you could clarify the first part of your comment that would be cool.

Eric - thanks man!

Anonymous said...

I'm indeed a far out Space Cadet. However hard it is for you to believe, within months if not years, by my hand, we'll be in the post apocalyptic world of Jericho on TV! Stay tuned!