1 John 5:7-8, the Comma Johanneum

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

//This is one of the most intriguing passages in the Bible, and the source of some very heated arguments. It’s called the Comma Johanneum, and it doesn’t exist.

The above quotation comes from the King James Version. Problem is, it exists in none of the earliest manuscripts of the Bible, nor was it mentioned by any of the early church fathers when they quoted this portion of scripture. (No, Cyprian of Carthage did not quote the verse with the inserted Comma in the year 250!) The center of the passage appears to have added to the Latin text of the New Testament sometime during the middle ages. Commentators are virtually unanimous that it was added to the Bible in light of Trinitarian debates. The original wording is:

For there are three that bear record, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

Inserted in the middle is an explicit reference to the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Had the passage been original, there appears to be no good reason for it to have later disappeared. Many current translations, such as the NIV and the NSRV, now omit it, and the Vatican appears to approve. In 1927, Pope Pius XI decreed that the Comma was open to dispute, and the updated New Vulgate, published in 1979 following the Second Vatican Council, does not include the Comma.

Yet a number of recent fundamentalist movements advocate the superiority of the King James Version, and refuse to consider the possibility that the verse is inauthentic. For many, rejecting the Comma is tantamount to claiming that God did not have a hand in the translation of the KJV.

The argument continues. Ain’t religion fun?

Ezekiel 28:12-13, the location of Eden

You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.

//In these verses, God reminds the Son of Man that he once walked in Eden. This Eden, says God, was on his “holy mount.” Ezekiel is not alone in this: the  myths of several early civilizations located an ancient paradise atop a great mountain to the north. But nowhere else in scripture is Eden located on any mountain, and this doesn’t seem to square with Genesis 2, where Eden is situated among four rivers: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates.

So where does Genesis place Eden? The Tigris and Euphrates are located in Mesopotamia. Gihon, says Genesis, flows “around the whole land of Cush,” which is Ethiopia, so perhaps Gihon is the Nile. Pishon is unknown, but strong tradition makes it the Ganges, in India. Huh?? We’re not exactly zeroing in.

What’s often missed in the Genesis story, though, is that Eden is not cradled within these four rivers but is the source of the rivers. They apparently flow from Eden over distances of thousands of miles. One might say their purpose is to water the entire known earth. In other words, everywhere is downhill from Eden!

Before splitting into four streams and tumbling down the mountain of God, the river feeds a garden. There, God walks. There, paradise waits for a better time, when God himself will again dwell with his people. There, we can imagine high above the plains, heaven and earth meet.

1 Thess 5:2-3, Christ comes as a thief

For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

//Paul’s teaching in the first letter to the Thessalonians promises that the coming of Christ is imminent, and will arrive suddenly and unexpectedly. Paul indicates that some of his audience will still be alive by the time Christ appears. But before the second letter to the Thessalonians is written, Paul seems to change his mind:

Now concerning the coming of our lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 

Many scholars believe this second letter was not written by Paul. This difference in urgency between I and II Thessalonians provides the primary reason many remain convinced of the second epistle’s pseudonymity. In the first letter, Paul insists the end is near, so the Thessalonians need to remain vigil. In the second letter, “Paul” has apparently changed his mind, now arguing the coming of Christ will be delayed, not to occur until after a number of clear-cut signs serve as a warning.

Unless Christ has come back, the first letter to the Thessalonians was simply wrong. Might the second letter have a better track record? In light of recent world disasters, I leave you with this question: have the clear-cut warnings of “Paul” been fulfilled?

1 Thess 4:17, the Parousia

After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

//Virtually all Christians picture the parousia as an event where God-fearers are lifted up to heaven, to dwell with the Lord. Artwork abounds of this glorious moment, and the picture seems to match the verse above. But is that really what Paul meant? Let’s look at the meaning of the Greek words parousia, the arrival of Christ, and his apantesis, or reception, as used by Paul in Thessalonians to describe how the Christians will meet Jesus in the air.

Picture a king arriving as a visitor to a city. A cluster of citizens, a welcoming committee, go out to meet him, and escort him into the city. This is precisely how these Greek words are used elsewhere.

Perhaps we should turn to Revelation for clarification. In the Revelation story, the parousia occurs just before Christ begins his 1,000 year reign on earth. In other words, if we are to be “with the Lord forever” from that moment on, new life will at least begin on earth, not up in the sky.

So what are we doing up in the clouds, according to Revelation? Well, the New Jerusalem is about to float down to earth, and it is referred to as the bride of Christ. The adornment of the bride, as it settles upon Mount Zion, is God’s people. Thus, we can conclude that in the parousia, we fly up to the sky, welcome Jesus to earth,  enter the New Jerusalem, and float back down inside the city of God.

Yes, I know this is very different than current Christian theology. I don’t make this stuff up!

Genesis 8:6-9, the Epic of Gilgamesh

After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark.

//Flood myths are numerous outside the Bible, but the Mesopotamian story is particularly fascinating when compared to Noah in the Bible. This story can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In this version, the ark builder’s name is Utnapishtim, who is warned ahead of time of the gods’ plan to flood the earth. In seven days, he built a ship with seven decks, and loaded his family and goods (including animals, of course). The weather grew frightful and rained seven days. Water covered the land. On the seventh day, the sea quieted, and the boat came to rest on Mount Nisir. (Noah’s ark rested on Mount Ararat.)

Utnapishtim then waited seven days and released a dove. The dove came back. He tried a swallow next, which also returned. Finally, Utnapishtim sent out a raven, which did not return. It had found dry land. So, Utnapishtim disembarked and, like Noah, offered sacrifice.

Fascinating, but not nearly as fascinating at this little tidbit: The Epic of Gilgamesh is perhaps the oldest written story on earth, penned about 2,000 BC. Long before any of the Bible was written. It’s about the adventures of the historical King of Uruk, who reigned around 2,500 BC or a little before. The traditional Biblical dating of Noah’s flood agrees within a couple hundred years.

Mark 15:34, Jesus’ Final Words

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

//The first three Gospels report Jesus crying loudly from the cross before he dies. In Mark, the first Gospel written, it’s a primal scream of loneliness and despair. Matthew, the second Gospel written, agrees with Mark about the words of this final death cry, but Luke—the third Gospel—cannot imagine a Christ this human, and changes the death cry thusly:

Luke 23:46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Much better. Jesus now dies heroically, his final act a humanitarian promise to a thief beside him, his final cry welcoming the warmth of his Father’s embrace. It is the exact opposite of Mark, but precisely the image Luke portrays of Jesus throughout his Gospel.

So what does the final Gospel say? John, remember, gives hints throughout his Gospel that Jesus will be lifted up in glory. This “lifting up,” he explains at one point, refers precisely to Jesus being lifted up on the cross. So, for John, the cross is the greatest victory of all. Listen to the final words of Jesus in this Gospel:

John 19:30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John’s Jesus remains in perfect control of his surroundings, from beginning to end. John’s Jesus, you will recall, is a stranger to the earth, dispatched by his Father in heaven, with a job to do. His last act is to accept a drink of vinegar, so that every scripture will be fulfilled, and his last words indicate an earthly job completed.

Very different theologies. What do you think Jesus’ final words were?

Isaiah 7:14, Born of a Virgin

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

//In this chapter, Isaiah speaks to King Ahaz, offering a sign from God. Ahaz wishes not to “put God to the test,” but Isaiah provides a sign anyhow, telling the king that God will save them from the present military threat of “two kings.” All this will happen soon; before a certain young woman’s son (presumably one who is currently pregnant) will be old enough to discern good from evil.

The identity of this young woman is undisclosed. Some scholars suggest it is Isaiah’s wife. Some take the coming child to be the crown prince, son of Ahaz. Others think it may have simply been a pregnant woman whom Isaiah noticed as he was addressing the king.

So that’s the scene of what’s going on in Ahaz’s court that day in the eighth century B.C. But the real story behind this verse comes much later. Let me first emphasize that the phrase which describes the pregnant mother, here in the NSRV and almost all other modern translations, is “young woman.” The Hebrew word ‘alma’ is neutral with regard to marital status or sexual experience. But when the Hebrew was translated into Greek six hundred years later, the phrase “young woman” inexplicably became “virgin.”

Fast forward two hundred more years, where Matthew, reading the Greek version of Isaiah, decides to apply this scripture to Jesus. Rumors of Jesus’ miraculous birth had already begun (Luke also tells a virgin-birth story, though it differs in fundamental ways), and Matthew loves to quote scripture to bolster his story.

Matthew 1:23—“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel”

Never mind the context and immediacy of Isaiah’s prophecy. Never mind that Mary never named her son Immanuel. Matthew repeated the Greek mistranslation, and the above quotation from Isaiah suddenly grew into one of the most popular verses in Christian history.

John 1:1, The Logos

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

//This post may be most interesting to those Christians who don’t picture Jesus as divine. Or, at least, do not equate Jesus with God.

Most of the evidence in the Bible for Jesus’ divinity comes from the Gospel of John. In this Gospel, the Jews prepare to stone Jesus for claiming to be God. Thomas, upon seeing the risen Christ, proclaims “My Lord and my God.” A number of more subtle hints exist throughout the Gospel. But the most direct claim is obtained by combining verse 1:1 with verse 1:14. First, we read that the Word was God. Now we read that the Word means Jesus:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here, the word translated into “Word” is the Greek word logos, a word used nowhere else in the New Testament. It is the name stoics gave to the order of the universe, and the term Philo used to reconcile Stoicism and Judaism. John appears to have adapted this word to the Old Testament mystery of Wisdom, which appears often in personified form, especially in the Wisdom literature. Logos is the mind of God controlling this world, the force changing it from chaos to order, and since the time of Heraclitus in the sixth century B.C., it portrayed a philosophical line of thought known well by all learned men in the Hellenistic world, much as scholars might today discuss evolution or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

This logos is Jesus, John says. Is he being purposefully mysterious? Whatever he means by “logos”—and Johannine scholars will probably never agree—John clearly calls upon us to understand Jesus, and his relation to God the Father, in a new way.

Genesis 30:6, The Tribe of Dan

Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan.

//Well, to be honest, it wasn’t Rachel’s son, but her handmaiden, Bilbah, who slept with Jacob and provided a son named Dan. One of the twelve sons of Jacob, one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The tribe of Dan always seemed a bit of an outcast. They tolerated idols, and they were the only tribe not allowed into the New Jerusalem in Revelation. The hero of Dan’s tribe was Samson, who spent more time with the Philistines than he did the Israelites.

Some wonder if Dan was originally a tribe at all. The Song of Deborah sings about Dan dwelling on his ships, indicating a sea-going people, and maybe this provides a clue. The Philistines arrived in Canaan about the same time as the Israelites, and came by sea. Among the Sea Peoples arriving in Canaan were a group called the Danuna, possibly a remnant of the Greek Danoi, the people identified by Homer as the invaders of Troy. This group may have relocated inward from the coast, supposedly as a split-off, and carried Philistine pottery there with them. The theory posits that the tribe of Dan were chased north by the other Philistines and joined the Israelite confederation for protection.

Jeremiah 25:27, Let’s Get Drunk!

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk and vomit

//Thought maybe you could use a good Saturday night verse. Here you go; have a good time tonight, with God’s blessing.

Or have I aroused a bit of suspicion? Let’s read the verse again, in the context of the next few:

Then tell them, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk and vomit, and fall to rise no more because of the sword I will send among you.’ But if they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink, tell them, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: You must drink it! See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? … The LORD will roar from on high; he will thunder from his holy dwelling and roar mightily against his land. He will shout like those who tread the grapes, shout against all who live on the earth.”

Still sound like fun? This is the doom saying of the prophet Jeremiah, about God’s own city. Jerusalem is about to be leveled, its people falling under the heavy yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. This image provides the inspiration for the whore of Babylon in the book of Revelation, and those destined to “drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.

The grapes of wrath. Still thirsty? Still planning to stop by the corner bar? Now in Revelation the wine turns into blood: “Then the angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 180 miles.

Stay home tonight, guys. Please?

Exodus 6:3, El Shaddai

And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.

//Today’s topic is for all you Universalists out there. Sometimes the King James interpretation we are familiar with flat-lines the meaning of a verse so much that it becomes unnoticeable. This one is an example. What exactly is this verse saying? Let’s try reading it in the New International Version:

I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.

Ouch, that’s even worse! God’s name, Jehovah (Yahweh), has become the generic LORD. How about the New Living Translation:

I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, though I did not reveal my name, the LORD, to them.

Sigh. We’re not getting anywhere. How do you “appear” as “God Almighty?” And who is the LORD? What is this verse really saying? Here’s a non-watered-down version of the original Hebrew:

I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them.

Now we’re getting somewhere! So who is El Shaddai?

Answer: The “high god” of the Canaanites, the top fella, the almighty one above all other gods. Here we learn that the high god of the Canaanites before Israel arrived in force was Yahweh all along. The God of the Hebrews before there were ever any Hebrews. When he presented himself to the Patriarchs, he did so as the god of the Canaanites, and only later revealed himself also as the God of the Jews.

Mark 1:4, Did Jesus Exist?

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

//In a recent forum, the topic came up of whether Jesus, the man, ever existed. Doubters point out the unlikelihood that any writer of the New Testament had ever met Jesus, and then point to the lack of reliable evidence external to the Bible. The external references that do exist are rare, and some, such as the famous Testimonium Flavianum passage by Jewish historian Josephus, where Josephus describes Jesus as the Messiah and tells how he rose on the third day, are universally considered forgeries.

Yet most New Testament scholars have little doubt about Jesus’ existence, based on the sheer volume of indirect evidence. Let me give you an example.

Virtually every scholar recognizes from the Bible that the Baptist movement and the Christian movement were in competition. And virtually every scholar recognizes the embarrassment of admitting that Jesus was initially a follower of John, and was even baptized by John. Mark’s Gospel hints that, like everyone else, Jesus approached John to be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins!” Yikes! No wonder the connection between Jesus and the Baptist is progressively downplayed in the Gospel accounts until, when we get to the final Gospel, John’s Gospel, Jesus isn’t even baptized!It’s safe to conclude that, if Jesus wasn’t baptized by John, there wouldn’t be a whisper of the whole embarrassing connection in any of the Gospels.

So, there you have it, one little indirect piece of the pie that helps scholars conclude Jesus was a real, living, breathing person.

Genesis 33:10, The Face of God

…for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me.

//Said by Jacob to Esau at their meeting.

A few days ago, in a review of Karen Armstrong’s book, In The BeginningI discussed the day Jacob fought with God.

Actually, the man Jacob wrestled with refused to identify himself. Desperate to escape before daybreak allowed recognition, Jacob’s opponent begged to be let go, but Jacob refused, and held tight to the mysterious man until he blessed Jacob. Jacob then decided he must have been wrestling with God, and changed the name of the place to Peniel, “face of God.”

Karen Armstrong wonders if the author didn’t mean to imply that Jacob dreamed the whole affair. I guess that makes sense, since the Bible is clear that no man can see the face of God and live. But how, then, did Jacob’s thigh get out of joint?

Sorry, Karen, this time you’re wrong, it was no dream. Let’s continue the story. The next morning, along comes Esau, Jacob’s long-lost brother. Jacob feared the meeting, for he had stolen Esau’s birthright through deception. Curiously, Esau meets Jacob not with anger but with forgiveness! What brought about this sudden change?

As they hug one another, Jacob makes this strange pronouncement: “I have seen your face, as though it were the face of God.” Jacob suddenly identifies the man he wrestled with in the dark … it was the face of his brother, Esau.

Genesis 22:10, 15-16, Did Abraham Kill Isaac?

Then [Abraham] reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”

Oops. That’s not how the story goes, is it? Abraham doesn’t really kill Isaac, does he?

Yes, quite possibly, he does. Several midrashic sources actually confirm that Isaac was indeed sacrificed. Why else does Abraham now appear to descend the mountain alone? The story continues: Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba.

Scholars have long recognized that the books of Moses are a collection of multiple authors’ writings, and this particular story is contributed by what scholars label the “E” writer—the one who refers to God as Elohim. Not surprisingly, this “E” writer will never again mention Isaac (though other sources will). But inserted after the sentence where Abraham appears to slay his son are a few verses that I’ve left out; verses written in a different style, verses in which an angel of Yahweh intervenes and stops the sacrifice. Likely, these verses were inserted into the story much later.

The story of Abraham and Isaac may mark a turning point in Hebrew history, when human sacrifice became repugnant. But what’s not exactly clear is when this turning point came … when the story of Isaac was rewritten to be morally acceptable. We don’t know.

Song of Songs 8:8, Premarital Sex

“We have a little sister too young for breasts. What will we do if someone asks to marry her? If she is chaste, we will strengthen and encourage her. But if she is promiscuous, we will shut her off from men.”

Hey, wasn’t that quite an inspiring love story in the verses I quoted on Valentine’s day? The language isn’t exactly contemporary … try comparing your lover’s hair to a flock of goats and see how far it gets you … but you have to admit, it’s some pretty poetic literature!

So, who are the lovers this book is about? Solomon and his new wife? The book never once mentions God, which may be why some interpreters consider it a love poem between Christ and his bride, the people of God. We have to bring God into the picture somehow, right? Or the book remains no more than a secular love poem of unknown origin that somehow sneaked into the Bible.

The shocker doesn’t arrive until the end of the story, when the young maiden’s brothers arrive, and we learn she isn’t married. “What will we do if someone asks to marry her?” Wow, that’s some risqué stuff for an unmarried couple in a revered book of the Bible! The young maiden argues that she has been chaste, but now her breasts are full and they satisfy her lover. Then, she calls for her lover to come.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. It’s there in black and white, but it’s hard to decipher between the many translations. Some say the young woman shoos her lover away so that she may remain chaste. Others say she defiantly hurries her lover’s sexual climax, consummating their love before it can be prevented. I guess you may write your own ending, to match your own religious standards!

Song of Solomon, chapter 4

Young man:

“How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are like doves. Your hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats frisking down the slopes of Gilead.

Your teeth are as white as sheep, newly shorn and washed. They are perfectly matched; not one is missing.

Your lips are like a ribbon of scarlet. Oh, how beautiful your mouth! Your cheeks behind your veil are like pomegranate halves–lovely and delicious.

Your neck is as stately as the tower of David, jeweled with the shields of a thousand heroes.

Your breasts are like twin fawns of a gazelle, feeding among the lilies.

… Your lips, my bride, are as sweet as honey. Yes, honey and cream are under your tongue. The scent of your clothing is like that of the mountains and the cedars of Lebanon.

You are like a private garden, my treasure, my bride! You are like a spring that no one else can drink from, a fountain of my own.

You are like a lovely orchard bearing precious fruit, with the rarest of perfumes.

… You are a garden fountain, a well of living water, as refreshing as the streams from the Lebanon mountains.”

Young Woman:

“Awake, north wind! Come, south wind! Blow on my garden and waft its lovely perfume to my lover. Let him come into his garden and eat its choicest fruits.”


Matthew 10:18, Is Jesus God?

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”

//In the great debate over whether Jesus is God, this verse is key. It takes some pretty creative manipulation to come to any conclusion other than that Jesus claims not to be God. Which is not to say that Trinitarians don’t manipulate the verse; they assume Jesus is teasing his audience, inviting them to understand that he is good and therefore is God. In fact, Trinitarians see evidence all over the New Testament that Jesus is God, just as non-Trinitarians see evidence all over the N.T. that Jesus is not. Quite often in the very same verses.

So, the debate continues, as mainstream Christians continue to embrace the Trinity while many other groups on the fringes of Christianity do not. Note that these groups never deny the divinity of Jesus, they simply don’t assume it, or don’t equate Jesus with God Himself, because the scripture isn’t clear. Better to leave it a mystery.

In my opinion, the scripture is clear on both counts. This is one verse of many that indicates Jesus is not God, while others (such as John 1:1 and John 1:14, when put together) indicate that Jesus is God. There is only one logical conclusion I can draw, but it’s a conclusion that somehow endears me to neither the Trinitarians nor the anti-Trinitarians: different Bible writers held different opinions. John thought Jesus was God in the flesh, but it never crossed the mind of Mark or Matthew. I guess it’s normal for people today to hold contradictory theological opinions, but it wasn’t OK 2,000 years ago?

Ezekiel 1:16, Ezekiel’s Antics

This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel.//Ezekiel? Who reads Ezekiel? Not me, at least not before I began researching for my book on Revelation, when it became a necessity. But now, I find Ezekiel a fascinating character. Dennis Rodman couldn’t hold a candle to the publicity stunts Ezekiel dreams up.

Ezekiel, a priest, was part of the first deportation of Jews into exile in 597 BC, where he prophesied to his fellow captives. His visions are among the most psychedelic in the Bible. Artists have had a heyday trying to portray Ezekiel’s “wheels in wheels.” Ezekiel’s most famous vision, of course, is the valley of dry bones, which God brought to life before his eyes. But his views of a vengeful God and his doomsaying about Jerusalem’s upcoming destruction didn’t win him many friends, so he needed a way to get his message across. From laying on one side for 390 days, to remaining mute for seven years, to digging a hole through the wall of his house, to eating human dung, Ezekiel knew how to draw attention. (Some interpret the Bible to mean Ezekiel didn’t eat human excrement but used it only to fuel the fire for baking, but that’s unlikely: human dung won’t burn).

One of his methods was colorful language; I wouldn’t dare repeat the sexually explicit verbiage Ezekiel uses to describe the wayward Israel in chapter 23. But was Ezekiel right? Bet your backside he was! King Nebuchadnezzer savagely razed Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple only eleven years later. Now, Ezekiel’s oracles began to shift against others: God remained violent and vengeful, but now bent on the extermination of other nations in order that they be forced to acknowledge that “I am Yahweh.”

Soon, even Ezekiel ran out of steam, and began to promise the restoration of Israel. God would gather his people from the nations and return them to His homeland, and establish a new covenant. Right again!

Enter the Book of Revelation, centuries later, where it all plays out a second time.

Revelation 21:21, the Pearly Gates

The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

//Ever wonder about the origin of the “pearly gates of heaven?” Here it is in Revelation, in black and white. This is where St. Peter waits with his long list, checking off each soul as they enter heaven, right?

Except it isn’t quite that way. First off, there are twelve pearly gates, not one. Picture a square city, a New Jerusalem, with three gates on the north wall, three on the south, three on the east, three on the west. On the twelve gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, one for each tribe, signifying the long-awaited unification of Israel, as each tribe comes marching home through their own gate.

At each gate, an angel stands guard. If you want through the pearly gates, your name better be written in the book of life! Everybody else stays outside. And they’re not likely to ever get in, because the walls are two hundred feet thick. Not even Satan, when he arrives to do battle, will knock down that wall!

This magnificent New Jerusalem descends from heaven and settles atop Mount Zion. Yes, Revelation makes it clear in many ways that the pearly gates are not up in heaven at all, but on earth, where they will remain forever open for the kings of the earth to enter, and for the leaves of the tree of life to heal the nations.

These things are written in Revelation, but they are not new. These dreams of a New Jerusalem descending from heaven to replace the old one were well-known in Hebrew lore long before Revelation was written.

Jude 13, Wandering Stars

Wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

//Is this what a lost eternity is like? Eternal loneliness, banished from
God’s presence? Many subscribe to this more humane interpretation of a
lost eternity, rather than eternal torture in the fires of hell. Like
comets (wandering stars, in ancient vernacular) destined to float
aimlessly alone. It seems almost peaceful by comparison, doesn’t it? But
this entirely misses the Jude’s meaning.

Jude liberally quotes and references the book of Enoch, and that is where
this image derives. The KJV reading of “blackness of darkness forever” is
perhaps best rendered “deepest darkness forever,” and it refers not to
aimlessly wandering about the universe (of which Bible writers had no
concept) but of the deepest depths beneath the earth. The “stars” in Enoch
are angels, and Jude is comparing evil men to fallen angels. Confinement
to “deepest darkness” is, along with fire, a form of eternal judgment in
Jewish tradition. Below are some fascinating passages from Enoch that shed
light on this tradition:

Chapter 18: And I saw a deep abyss, with columns of heavenly fire, and
among them I saw columns of fire fall, which were beyond measure alike
towards the height and towards the depth. And beyond that abyss I saw a
place which had no firmament of the heaven above, and no firmly founded
earth beneath it: there was no water upon it, and no birds, but it was a
waste and horrible place. I saw there seven stars like great burning
mountains, and to me, when I inquired regarding them, The angel said:
‘This place is the end of heaven and earth: this has become a prison for
the stars and the host of heaven. And the stars which roll over the fire
are they which have transgressed the commandment of the Lord in the
beginning of their rising, because they did not come forth at their
appointed times. And He was wroth with them, and bound them till the time
when their guilt should be consummated (even) for ten thousand years.’

Chapter 21: These are of the number of the stars of heaven, which have
transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and are bound here till ten
thousand years, the time entailed by their sins, are consummated.’ And
from thence I went to another place, which was still more horrible than
the former, and I saw a horrible thing: a great fire there which burnt and
blazed, and the place was cleft as far as the abyss, being full of great
descending columns of fire: neither its extent or magnitude could I see,
nor could I conjecture. Then I said: ‘How fearful is the place and how
terrible to look upon!’ Then Uriel answered me, one of the holy angels who
was with me, and said unto me: ‘Enoch, why hast thou such fear and
affright?’ And I answered: ‘Because of this fearful place, and because of
the spectacle of the pain.’ And he said unto me: ‘This place is the prison
of the angels, and here they will be imprisoned for ever.’

Chapter 88: And I saw one of those four who had come forth first, and he
seized that first star which had fallen from the heaven, and bound it hand
and foot and cast it into an abyss: now that abyss was narrow and deep,
and horrible and dark. And one of them drew a sword, and gave it to those
elephants and camels and asses: then they began to smite each other, and
the whole earth quaked because of them. And as I was beholding in the
vision, lo, one of those four who had come forth stoned (them) from
heaven, and gathered and took all the great stars whose privy members were
like those of horses, and bound them all hand and foot, and cast them in
an abyss of the earth.

So, be good. I don’t think it’s as peaceful as it first sounds.

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