Revelation as a Blueprint for our Future – The Bart Ehrman Weblog


I’ve been speaking about how the book of Revelation has been interpreted by modern day conservative Christians.  Is not it telling us what will occur in our personal close to future??    Right here is how I will address the challenge, in quick, in my book on Revelation, assuming that I go ahead with the project and Armageddon does not occur initially.


In Contrast: Scholars and the Book of Revelation

Not only are these futuristic readings of Revelation contrary to the history of Christian interpretation, they stand radically at odds with how vital scholars study the book of Revelation, and insist it ought to be study.

As typically pointed out, each single interpreter who has argued that the “signs of the times” reveal the finish is coming quickly – in all probability subsequent month – have been shown demonstrably and incontrovertibly to be incorrect.   But just as substantially, the precise interpretations of these modern day manifestations of these sings are just about usually demonstrably flawed.  I give just a single instance from the book of Revelation, an interpretation famously pronounced by Hal Lindsey.   In Revelation chapter 9 the author describes a horrible disaster involving a plague of “locusts” that emerge from the smoke of the bottomless pit, wreaking havoc and misery amongst the individuals of earth.

The seer describes the look of these dread creatures as follows:

On their heads had been what looked like crowns of gold their faces had been like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of several chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails like scorpions, with stingers, and in their tails is their energy to harm individuals. . . . (Rev 9:7–10)

According to Lindsey’s futuristic interpretation, the prophet John could not have understood precisely what he was seeing, because he was a initially-century observer who was witnessing a 20th (or now, 21st) century phenomenon.  So he did the finest he could, explaining his vision in terms he and his readers could recognize.

The “locusts” he saw had been basically modern day attack helicopters flying by means of the smoke of battle.   For the initially-century seer …

If you want to see how he interprets the passage, and how vital scholars have shown he’s dead incorrect, you will need to have to belong to the weblog.  Improved join quickly.  The finish is close to!

For the initially-century seer they looked like flying locusts, shaped like massive scorpions. The rotors on best appeared like crowns they seemed to have human faces as their pilots peered by means of their windshields they had been draped with camouflage that from a distance looked like hair they had fierce teeth painted on their fronts they had been created of steel and so appeared to have iron breastplates the beating of their rotors sounded like chariots rushing to battle and they had machine guns attached to their tails, like scorpions’ stingers.

What could be additional plausible? The prophet had glimpsed into the future and noticed what he could not recognize. We, even so, living in the age in which his predictions will come to pass, recognize them complete properly.

Vital scholars have no challenges choosing apart such interpretations just from the text itself.  Prior to describing the look of these locusts the author of Revelation tells us how they build such mayhem on earth, emphatically declaring that when they seem they are not permitted to harm any grass or trees, but only individuals furthermore, and most substantially, these locusts are provided the energy to torture individuals for 5 months, but not to kill them (9:4–5). These who are attacked by the locusts will extended to die but will not be in a position to do so (9:six).

That clearly shows these locusts cannot be modern day instruments of war made for mass destruction for the reason that they are explicitly mentioned to be unable to destroy something.  The very same challenges take place with practically each interpretation of the book that requires its visions as literal descriptions of events to transpire in our personal imminent future. These approaches merely can’t account for the specifics of the text, which is to say that they do not take the text itself seriously sufficient.

Vital scholars insist that it is additional affordable to interpret the text inside its personal historical context, not as a literal description of the future of the earth, but as a metaphorical statement of the ultimate sovereignty of God more than a globe that is plagued by evil.

It is accurate that to modern day readers, Revelation is extremely bizarre and thoughts-boggling, with its wealthy symbolism and strange beasts and heavenly visions coming a single soon after the other in a tumble that is just about not possible to grasp, let alone clarify.   It appears in contrast to any other book we have ever study.  But that is for the reason that most readers are not accustomed to reading “apocalypses.”.  We do in truth have a wide variety of Jewish and Christian books like Revelation, written from about the very same time (roughly 200 BCE – 200 CE).   These are all initially-particular person narratives of visionary experiences. The visions are just about usually explained to the author (who, like the reader, tends to be clueless about what he is seeing) by an accompanying angel who interprets them.  The visions are extremely symbolic in techniques meant to mystify, but the author typically delivers hints (as properly as angelic explanations) that give the vital reader with clues to unpack their which means.

Apocalypses are usually intent on explaining the heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities.  In some cases the visions do seem to describe the course of future events.  That is accurate, for instance, of the a single Apocalypse of the Old Testament, the book of Daniel – exactly where the pseudonymous author, allegedly living in the sixth century BCE – utilizes a vision of bizarre beasts arising up out of the see to describe a sequence of future kingdoms that will seem and persecute the faithful individuals of Israel.  The actual author pretending to be Daniel, even so, was living 4 hundred years later, extended soon after these kingdoms had appeared.  He for that reason had no problems “predicting” them.  Other apocalypses describe the prophet’s visions of heaven as an indication of why the realities on earth are what they are.   What appears unfathomable to us down right here tends to make sense if when we see these divine realities.

The ultimate point of all these apocalypses is that as terrible as factors may possibly appear right here on earth –with financial disasters, oppressive governments, religious persecutors, unimaginable all-natural disasters – every little thing in truth is going according to program.  In the finish, God will make correct all that is incorrect.  He will intervene in history, destroy the cosmic forces that are wreaking havoc on earth, and bring in a new utopian age exactly where all will be correct, all will be delighted, all will prosper for all eternity.

These books had been written to assist individuals in their present lives.  Not the individuals living hundreds or thousands of years later, but the individuals the authors had been addressing, members of their personal communities.  The authors had been attempting to give hope in the midst of suffering.  The deep and puzzling symbolism of the books had been needed to show that reality is far additional difficult than a single would count on.  God’s sovereignty is hidden and mysterious.  But it is the ultimate truth.

As an apocalypse, Revelation is also to be study this way.  Vital scholars have had no difficulty displaying that the symbols of the book have to do with what the author and his readers knew about their personal context, the globe of the Roman Empire, an empire that massively exploited its globe by means of financial, social, and military energy, an Empire that persecuted Christians to the death, an Empire that was aligned (for the author) with the forces of evil, but which God would quickly – incredibly quickly for the author – overthrow.

This understanding of the book applies not only to the macro-level, to clarify its overarching message, but its detailed symbolism.  And so vital scholars have extended recognized that the Beast whose quantity is 666 basically refers to the Emperor Nero (I will be demonstrating this in the book) the Excellent Whore of Babylon, who is enthroned on a beast with seven heads and is  drunk with the blood of the martyrs,” is the initially-century city of Rome itself, constructed on seven hills and engaged in deadly persecutions of Christians.  This is a book written for persecuted Christians at the finish of the initially century.  It is not predicting what will occur 2000 years later.

As a outcome, so a lot of the religious fervor inspired by the book – irrespective of whether sparked by evangelists like Billy Graham or authors like Timothy LaHaye – is rooted in a extremely problematic method to interpretation.   I am definitely not going to be claiming that fundamentalist interpretations of Revelation are solely accountable for the disaster at Waco, the conservative right’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem, and the arms race!   But odd as it may possibly appear, they did play a part.

In quick:  Expecting Armageddon will show that significant slices of American culture are rooted in a problematic reading of the book of Revelation.  If a single of the targets of vital pondering is to evaluate the globe we reside in, then understanding these roots and recognizing their problematic character is an significant act of cultural critique.


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