The Way It Happened

Revelation 1:19, Past, Present & Future

Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.

//Revelation begins with John experiencing a vision of the Son of Man in all his glory. When John saw him, he fell at his feet, as if dead. But Jesus touched John, and gave him three instructions:

1.       Write about what you have already seen.
2.       Write about what is going on now.

3.       Write what is about to happen.

Those who subscribe to a purely futuristic interpretation of Revelation should have stopped reading a few words back. Not only is John instructed to write about the “past” and the “present,” but he is soon promised the “future” will arrive in short order. Nowhere in Revelation is there any hint that its prophecies are written for a distant century.

So, which parts of Revelation were the past, which were the present (John’s time) and which were about to happen? Maybe the answer is in chapter 11, verse 14:

The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.

So there you have it: the fulcrum on which all of Revelation teeters between what has occurred and what is yet to come. Grab a pair of scissors now, and cut the book of Revelation in two along this verse. You’ll have two manuscripts of about the same length: a history book, and a book of prophecy. Well, it’s not that cut and dried, because Revelation skips forward and backward in time so often it’s nearly impossible to follow, but you get the idea.

Unless you’ve been exposed to a historical-critical analysis of Revelation, this interpretation probably makes no sense at all. How can Revelation’s horrors be half over? will make sense of it all, from the perspective of an historian, not an evangelist.

Psalm 53:1, There Is No God

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

//Please forgive me for taking a break from commentary to climb on my soapbox a moment. It’s important to me to be tolerant of various religious beliefs, including atheism, so, naturally, this is not a verse I much appreciate. But I sure hear it a lot.

The verse continues, They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. Reading this, it’s hardly surprising that outspoken atheists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris complain that atheists are unfairly despised.

Yet, my forays into religious forums repeatedly run into a problem, and this is where atheism tends to develop its bad rep. In my observation, the angry and the derisive most commonly fall on the unbelieving side of the line (this should come as no surprise). The very angry are also the most vocal, as they spew venom at every pretense of religion. And, as if rejecting God provides license to do so, their ridicule is often spiced with childish vulgarities.

They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. Nonsense, of course, and we all know better than to read verses like this out of context. The vast majority of atheists politely back up their reasonable beliefs (non-beliefs?) with a very well-developed moral responsibility to “do good” … and we know it’s an honest and sincere one, without the carrot of eternal reward.

I’m certainly not insinuating that only atheists go on the offensive; regardless of religious affiliation, we can try to understand and befriend those who are hurting, without tolerating their methods. Just as peaceful Muslims must denounce the radicals of their religion, and progressive Christians must speak out against the inhumane teachings of certain fundamentalists, so must atheists calm down their own embarrassing contingent if they wish their non-beliefs to be respected.

John 21:11, 153 Fish

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

//Jesus, newly-resurrected, appears to his disciples as they are fishing in Galilee. He tells them to draw in the nets and cast them over the other side of the boat (it is not enough to skootch the boat over a little, or just turn it around) and when they do, they net 153 fish.

153? Who sat there and counted them all? What does this number signify? This is a question that has intrigued commentators since the early centuries of the church.

Add up all the integers from 1 to 17, and you get 153. Does that shed any light on the puzzle? Hmmm, probably not.

St. Augustine proposed that the number allegorically provides a symbol for the Trinity. But I can’t follow his logic.

St. Jerome explains that there are 153 kinds of fish (such was the belief of Greek zoologists) so as “fishers of men” the apostles are learning to catch every kind of man.

If you’ve been following my posts about gematria and the number 666, you may wonder if similar numerical wordplay might describe the number 153. Yes, there have been several suggestions; the most likely being the Hebrew phrase “children of God,” which sums to 153.

In the end, we’re likely to never uncover John’s hidden meaning. One more long-lost mystery of scripture.

John 19:30, Jesus Hands Over a Spirit

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

//I’ve quoted the NIV translation of this verse, but a more accurate translation is Jesus “handed over” his spirit. This is a very different picture than the other Gospels, and this is a key verse to understanding Johannine theology. What or who is the spirit, and who is it handed over to?

Is it the soul of Jesus, going back to God? Not likely; the Jews understood that the soul would hang around the body for three days, before death is recognized as certain. John follows this understanding; Mary appears to witness the soul ascending to heaven (as did the souls of all martyrs) after the third day.

Is it the Holy Spirit? Most interpreters assume the Holy Spirit is the Johannine equivalent of the Paraclete, or the comforter. But the comforter will not make his appearance until the evening of the resurrection, where it appears magically behind locked doors in the presence of the disciples.

Earlier in John, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, a “spirit” settled upon Jesus like a descending dove. Perhaps this was a gift of the eternal light/love/life; that which was “before Abraham,” that which was “with God in the beginning.” Is it now ascending back like a dove to where it came from, bookending the earthly life of Jesus with its arrival and departure? But it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere; it is “handed over,” possibly to the “beloved disciple,” whom Jesus commissions to take care of his mother.

Today, we naturally interpret the writings of John in the light of our own theology, which is a composite of all the Gospel stories. But what did John mean, 2,000 years ago? Why must John write so mysteriously? I’ll be probing these questions and more in my upcoming book about John’s Gospel.

Revelation 13:18, The Number of the Beast, Part II

This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is a man’s number. His number is 616.

//No, this isn’t a repeat. No, this isn’t a typo.

Two days ago, I introduced the beastly number 666, and why first-century Christians immediately recognized it as referring to Nero Caesar. But if you look in the margin of your Bible, you may find something interesting: many early manuscripts of Revelation record the number of the beast as 616, not 666! Why?

Yes, John’s puzzle was easily cracked, and Nero’s role in Revelation was well-known in the first and second century (and actually, well into the fifth century). But as more and more Latin speaking Christians entered the fold, the puzzle no longer made sense. Neron Caesar, written in Hebrew, is spelled NRWN QSR. But the Latin pronunciation is Nero Caesar, NRW QSR. A 50-point letter is dropped, and the sum becomes 616. So what did the copyists do? They began changing scripture from 666 to 616!

Luckily, it didn’t take, and we’re back to the original 666. I’m glad; 666 just looks and sounds so much more … appropriately evil.

Revelation 13:18, The Number of the Beast

This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.

//Most learned scholars of Revelation today recognize that, at least on some level, John names first-century Roman Emperor Nero Caesar as the Beast of Revelation. This verse provides one clue of many.

Here we find our infamous reference to the number 666 and John’s command that the churches of Asia figure it out. Everyone knows this number identifies the Antichrist (as the Beast has since come to be known—Revelation never uses the term Antichrist). Clearly, John knows the Beast’s identity and expects the seven churches to understand. A first-century spelling of Nero Caesar’s name, written in Hebrew characters, sums to that exact value. Though perhaps hidden from Greek and Latin readers, this could not have gone unnoticed by Jewish Christians.

For anyone not familiar with this type of cryptogram, the basic idea builds upon the way Hebrew letters function as phonetic symbols for building words but also serve as numerals. All alphabetic symbols represent both a letter and a number. Roman numerals present perhaps our most familiar example of this, but in the Greek and Hebrew alphabets, all letters also stood for numbers, making this numerical wordplay quite popular. The letters of the Beast, N-R-W-N Q-S-R, written in Hebrew, become 50+200+6+50+100+60+200=666. This type of numerology, particularly among Rabbinic writings, proved irresistible for scriptural interpretations.

II Samuel 21:17, Who Killed Goliath?

And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew [the brother of] Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.

//Thus was the brother of Goliath slain. Or was he?

In the original Hebrew, it is Goliath himself who is slain by Elhanan! The words “the brother of” were added to the English translation of this verse to match I Chronicles 20:5, where it is Goliath’s brother, and not Goliath himself, who was slain. These words do not exist in the original version in Samuel. Here is the NIV version of the same verse:

In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.

So, who killed Goliath? Was it David, or was it Elhanan, one of David’s elite men of war? Given that the writing of II Samuel precedes Chronicles by several centuries, the earliest tradition says Elhanan. Yet, somehow, the myth of David’s great victory grew, and today has become a beloved story of courage for underdogs everywhere.

There are actually several clues in the Bible that hint the oldest tradition (Elhanan) is the true slayer of Goliath, but I won’t go into them all here. Suffice it to say it’s a fascinating study.

Jude 1:9, The Body of Moses

But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

//What on earth is this verse all about? Michael and Satan squabbling over the body of Moses?

According to Origin, an early 3rd-century church father, this verse in Jude references an apocryphal text known as the Assumption of Moses or the Ascension of Moses. We’ve never uncovered the ending to the Assumption of Moses; it’s believed that about a third of the manuscript is missing, and many scholars therefore assume the story of Michael and Satan is in the lost ending.

An alternative explanation is that Jude compounds ideas from multiple sources, playing on the general Jewish tradition of Michael as a gravedigger for the just. Michael “rebukes” Azazel in the book of Enoch, and an angel of the Lord “rebukes” Satan in Zechariah 3, so if we mix all the stories together, we get something akin to Jude’s verse.Today’s theologians often point out that Satan is the prince of this earth and, though the spirit of Moses ascended untouched to God, Satan stakes his claim to the bodies of believers. If so, why do you suppose Michael cared about this particular body? Is it because the location of Moses’ burial is supposed to remain a mystery? In Deuteronomy 34, God buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.

Is Satan among those still looking for the lost body of Moses? Why would God take a special hand in Moses’ burial? Something out of the ordinary was going on, and maybe we’ll never know what this little tiff was about, but if you have opinions, I’d be curious to hear them.

Genesis 2:18, Man’s Helper

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

//So God made Eve, right?

Nope, read your Bible. God made animals. Lots of them, and paraded them before Adam, so Adam could choose one for a “helper.” Picture it: Along comes the giraffe. “Uh-uh.” The hippo. “Forget it.” The snake. “Ewww.”

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

And Adam said, “Yowza!” Well, ok, he really just mutters something about bones and flesh, but he seems happy. Adam spurns the giraffe, the hippo, the snake, and chooses the woman. What do you suppose happens next?

The ol’ snake comes back, in an apparent jealous rage. He targets Eve, feeds her an evil apple, and Eve feeds Adam. Their eyes are opened to know good and evil. Now Adam says “Yowza!” Lo: Along came children, and the earth is populated.

I absolutely love this story! Religion was so much more fun back in those days, while God still wandered in His garden calling for His humans. Before God grew omni-everything and the snake grew satanic. Gimme that old-time religion!

Acts 10:38, A Good Man

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, for God was with him.

//Today’s verse is a call for Christians to unite. Whether you see Jesus as a wandering first-century sage or a cosmic Christ, there is one attribute of his that all of us can agree on: compassion. Jesus cared. Jesus “went around doing good.”

Whether “God” refers to a synonym for love or a white-bearded “Ancient of Days” looking down from the sky doesn’t change the verse. Whether the “Holy Spirit” is a living, personal third of the Holy Trinity or a mysterious, warm presence bubbling up from within your being whenever your thoughts turn to compassion, may not be important. If you think of “casting out devils” as more of a figure of speech than a warfare against supernatural villains, you might be surprised that even some first-century Christians agree. There are no exorcisms or devils running amok in John’s Gospel.

What we can all agree on is what Jesus taught: Kindness, compassion, love, respect. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Jude 1:14-15, The Book of Enoch

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

//These verses in Jude are a direct quote from the ancient book of Enoch, chapter one, verse nine. Enoch was quite popular among first-century Christians: Jude, 2 Peter, and Revelation all freely quote from Enoch. One can hardly make sense of parts of Revelation without first reading the tenth chapter of Enoch, but in the fourth century, the church suppressed this book as heretical due to its references to the physicality of fallen angels (called “Watchers”), accused of having sexual relations with the “daughters of men.” Yet, Genesis 6 confirms this story, where we learn about the offspring of the Watchers, called “Nephilim”: In those days, and even afterward, giants lived on the earth, for whenever the sons of God had intercourse with human women, they gave birth to children who became the heroes mentioned in legends of old (NLT).

The blacklisted book of 1 Enoch remained underground for 1400 years until rediscovered in 1773, though more recently it surfaced several times among the Dead Sea scrolls, which pushes its date back to at least 100-200 BCE, and presumably earlier.

So what do you think? Is Enoch inspired scripture or not?

Genesis 6:19-20, Two of Every Kind

You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.

//Many people recognize that there are two creation stories in the Bible. Chapter 1, plus three verses of chapter 2, is written by a different author than the story which begins in verse 2:4. The first story, which details the seven days of creation, was penned by an author Bible scholars call the “Priestly source.” The second story, which emphasizes the Garden of Eden, was penned by the “Yahwist.” The writing styles are different, the words used for God used are different. (Yes, the Yahwist is most easily identified by his use of God’s holy name: YHWH).

But did you know there are also two versions of the flood story? This is more difficult to determine, because the two stories are masterfully spliced together. But, once separated, it’s as plain as the nose on your face.

Two of every species went into the ark? Yeah, the above verse is the Priestly source’s version. He clearly says two of every kind of bird, but the Yahwist, who needs spare animals for Noah to sacrifice, says that there will be seven of each type of bird. In the Priestly source, Noah sends out a raven. For the Yahwist, it’s a dove. The flood lasts a year for the Priestly source. Only 40 days for the Yahwist.

Fascinating stuff! We’ll talk more about Noah in a later post.

Revelation 22:18-19, Do Not Add to the Scriptures

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Someone recently pointed these verses out to me, and asked if they provided any deterrence to the idea of my writing a book about Revelation. It hadn’t crossed my mind, so I had to answer “no,” but let’s look at what they mean. In particular, does John warn us about adding or subtracting from the book of Revelation, or from the Bible as a whole?

Well, that part is easy: There was no New Testament when John wrote these words, nor was there any current intention of building one, so far as we know. It took centuries for Christians to finally settle on which books would make up what we now call the Bible.

And if you consider John words to be inspired, then this is all the more reason to deduce that John meant only Revelation. Many more books were written after Revelation that found their way into the Bible. Scholars don’t all agree on the dating of N.T. books, but the most obvious are I and II Timothy and Titus, which describe events and concerns that simply did not exist at the time Revelation was written. Jude and II Peter are also most likely 2nd-century writings.

But what did John mean? There are two points we need to consider in determining John’s meaning:

1.    John was absolutely certain of Christ’s immediate return. He promises this over and over in Revelation.

2.    John sees himself a prophet, presumably the world’s final prophet. Verse 22:9 leads us to this assumption.

We conclude, then, that John believed nothing more needed be written as Christian inspiration; his book was the final fulfillment, the explanation of it all, the eschatological wrap-up. 2,000 years later, we know it didn’t work out that way, so … yeah, we’re probably safe in writing expository books about Revelation!

Mark 16:8, The Original Ending to Mark

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

So ends the Gospel of Mark. Well, that is, that’s how the original Gospel ends. In today’s version, we have another 12 verses, in which the resurrected Jesus appears to various people. These 12 verses actually combine several endings that have been discovered in early manuscripts, but most scholars agree that Mark, the first Gospel written, contained no Jesus sightings. Three women go to the tomb on Sunday, find it empty, talk to a “young man” sitting beside the tomb, and run away afraid, telling no one. The end.

The first written Gospel ends with a wonderful mystery. It’s only in later Gospels, after resurrection stories began to surface, that the risen Jesus is seen walking about.

John 6:19-21, Jesus Walks On Water

When they had rowed about three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Here is one of the verses in John that continues to set scholars at odds. Did Jesus walk on the water to the boat, or did the disciples intend to take him into the boat, but run ashore before they could? Given how John seems to contradict the other Gospels at every opportunity, we can’t assume he doesn’t mean to do the same, here. Indeed, the Greek word for the phrase on the water in verse 19 is precisely the word used in verse 21:1, where it is correctly interpreted by the sea. Jesus appears in that verse on the seashore, not walking on water. Translators of this verse understandably chose to reinforce the oral legend described in other gospels, but this is not necessarily what John wrote.

Ultimately, we must decide whether or not John presents the story as a miracle. John always calls his miracles signs, and like Revelation’s seven seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath, John uses the same literary device in his Gospel with seven I AM’s and seven signs. So, what are the signs? They appear to be:

[1] The wedding feast (2:1-12)
[2] The restoration of the nobleman’s son (4:46-54)
[3] The Sabbath healing of the lame man (5:1-16)
[4] Feeding the multitude (6:1-71)
[5] The Sabbath healing of the blind man (9:1-41)
[6] Restoring Lazarus to life (11:1-44)
[7] The resurrection (chapter 20)

Note the careful organization: 1 relates to 7, 2 relates to 6, 3 relates to 5, with 4 the central miracle of the Gospel. But where does that leave walking on water?

Maybe Jesus didn’t.

2 Thessalonians 2:3, The Son of Perdition

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.

Who do you suppose is the son of perdition?

Whether you believe this book was written by Paul, or by a later writer under the name of Paul, the point is clear: the son of perdition hadn’t come yet at the time of its writing.

Let’s back up to the book of Daniel, where we first meet this nasty fellow. Daniel calls him the “great beast,” and promises his destruction in a blazing fire. This is probably a reference to Antiochus IV, the man who attacked and defiled the Temple in the era of Daniel’s biographer (165 BCE) by sacrificing a pig on the altar and erecting a statue of Zeus. This “beast” next appears in a very similar role in Revelation 17, where again he “goeth to perdition,” this time unquestionably a reference to Nero Caesar (I think every learned scholar of Revelation recognizes that in some way or on some level, Revelation is referring to Nero Caesar). 2 Thessalonians, unless you assume it was written early in the century by Paul, probably refers back to Revelation when it cautions people not to believe that this beastly fellow has arrived yet.

But now comes a surprising verse: John 17:12 indicates that the son of perdition has already come and identifies him as Judas! The fearsome beast of perdition is revealed as having already made his appearance and suffered his defeat, way back in the time of Jesus.

John, knowing full-well the complementary role Judas played in the unfolding events of the crucifixion, casts Judas in the most horrible role imaginable. Why does he do this? Probably because he must. A major premise of the book of John is that the end times have begun; scholars call John’s perspective realized eschatology: the end of the age has arrived. The beast, the son of perdition, must therefore be accounted for if the time has come, and Judas is the most logical candidate.

Colossians 2:2, The Mystery of God

That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God.

Theology is an endlessly fascinating topic for me. I can converse for hours about this belief and that belief, about how these beliefs evolved through the pages of the Bible, about the complexities of the Trinity, about what Jesus, the man, was really like. But if you want to talk about God, I hardly know how to begin.

Because, ultimately, if we are honest with ourselves, we realize we really know nothing. Nothing at all. We have stories that have been told us since we were children. We have age-old guesses about God and what he wants, Bible verses that struggle to describe him. But we’ve never seen him, and we’ve never uncovered an ounce of evidence to help describe him. If we are completely honest with ourselves, we cannot say with any certainty whether the religious beliefs we have been taught are true or false.

In the end, our head can prove nothing about God. Our only interface with the divine seems to be through the heart. The human race may run its course and pass from the earth before we understand God, or even understand the questions we should be asking.

Does this make “God” less real?

Picture yourself a new father. You sit in your hospital chair, cradling your baby daughter, and a wave of emotion washes over you. A feeling for which no words exist in the English language; somewhere in there hides love, peace, fear, responsibility, rightness. In a moment, life makes sense. In another moment, a bewildering array of questions flood your brain.

As heart and head war together, a tear slides down your cheek, and you wonder where it came from. It reaches your smile, and you wonder why you are smiling.

God? Have I found you?

John 3:8, Born of the Spirit

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Being “born again” is not a Christian invention. Many of the mystery religions incorporated a rebirthing ritual. The initiate’s intention was to become one with his god, to share in the experiences and emotions of that god. When this level was attained, the initiate was said to be twice-born.

In the Bible, the Spirit is associated with creation. See Genesis 1:2, the wind/spirit/breath-of-God blows across the deep. Thus the wind provides an excellent picture of the breath of God, the Spirit, roaming the earth. Breath is merely wind inside us. To be “born of the Spirit” means to be created anew, embracing the meaning of life intended by God. It is God breathing new life into a person. In both Hebrew and Greek, there is only one word for “wind” and “spirit.” It is not capitalized, and the tendency of the churches of today to conceptualize and personify this spirit loses much of the meaning. It is wind all around and inside us, cosmic breath, the invisible spectral, life-force. God is spirit, as John 3:24 flails to explain. Indeed, a central theme of John’s Gospel is to explain the Spirit, a real presence felt within his community.

Try to picture the moment Jesus arose from the Jordan waters and felt the Spirit descend upon him. Have you had such moments? For many, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, impossible to forget. The moment arrives in transcendental form, and we feel bathed in a foreign substance.

In such moments, it’s common to be overwhelmed by an indescribable feeling of joy, peace, and love. Many have written about their own brush with the divine, though not always in Christian terms like “born again” or “washed by the Spirit.” Here are a few quotes from others, taken from Marcus J. Borg’s wonderful book, “The God We Never Knew”:

“Immediately I found the world bathed in a wonderful radiance with waves of beauty and joy swelling on every side, and no person or thing in the world seemed to me trivial or unpleasing” –Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore.

“I praised God with my whole heart … Everything looked new to me, the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees.” –English evangelist Billy Bray.

“For a few seconds only, I suppose, the whole compartment was filled with light … All men were shining and glorious beings … In a few moments the glory departed—all but one curious, lingering feeling. I loved everybody in that compartment. It sounds silly now, and indeed I blush to write it, but at that moment, I think I would have died for any one of the people in that compartment.” –British theologian Leslie Weatherhead, as he rode a train from London.

Revelation 21:24, Where is the New Jerusalem?

Speaking of the New Jerusalem, Revelation says,

The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.

This is one of many verses that make it clear Revelation speaks of the New Jerusalem as residing on earth; not in some spiritual realm we call heaven. Revelation actually never does speak of heaven! All of its promises are for an everlasting life and kingdom on earth (if you don’t believe me, take time to actually read the book).

What exactly does this mean that Revelation never promises life in heaven? It means that Revelation’s author subscribed to the contemporary Jewish belief of a physical resurrection and a political redemption; Jews expected God to lift them above the other nations, to restore their rightful, God-given place as rulers of the earth. Regardless of the clear Christian bent behind Revelation, this expectation shines through clearly.

Is this your dream for everlasting life? Probably not, unless you’re a Jehovah’s Witness. But if you’re quick to disregard this portion of Revelation’s teachings, is it not possible to disregard also its dreams of a vengeful Messiah arriving to slaughter 200 million people? Leaving rivers of blood in his wake?

Revelation is not a pretty book, if read half-literally. Please, either read it as a spiritual lesson only, or don’t go halfway on the “literal” scale; read it for exactly what it says and promises, and recognize within its pages long-held Jewish dreams that we no longer wish to see fulfilled.

Genesis 2:7, Adam is Formed

the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Many Christians continue to hold to the idea of a young earth, and of God creating Adam and Eve at the beginning of creation. That is, I suppose, alright. But what is not alright is for these well-meaning Christians to push this understanding upon their children, as if rejecting evolution is somehow a necessary prerequisite to being a Christian. You do both yourself and your child a disservice by insisting he or she continue to embrace such antiquated bible interpretations, for at least two reasons:

1. You severely restrict the growth of your child in the sciences, even preventing certain fields of study. For example, it’s nearly impossible to acquire even a basic understanding of biology or the medical sciences without embracing what we have learned in the last 150 years about DNA and the development of species.

2. You are likely to steer your child away from Christianity, because the day will likely come when he or she cannot any longer believe your interpretation of Genesis.

For this reason, I present the above verse, and a simple reconciliation that does not require discarding all that we have learned about this 5-billion-year-old earth. This does not necessarily describe my own beliefs, but merely the beliefs of many Christians who have been forced to reconcile science with their religion.

First, accept that when the Bible says man was formed “of the dust of the ground,” perhaps it describes the development of life from single-celled beings to the unimaginatively complex beings we humans have become. Second, do not imagine that there were no hominoids before “man”; thus when the day finally arrived when God breathed His breath into His creation, implanting within hominoids a living soul, in that moment Adam and mankind were born.

You may even find it easier to answer embarrasing questions such as, “where did Cain find a wife?”

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