Why There Will Be No Rapture

The Internet is alive with discussion of the Rapture, which Harold Camping’s most recent prediction says will occur this coming Saturday. Most people, and I think even most Christians, are at best skeptical.

As someone who came to a personal faith around the same time that the infamous pamphlet by Edgar Whisenant was getting attention, 88 reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988, I experienced the hype of such predictions first hand.

But that is not why I am confident that Harold Camping is wrong.

Many are confident that Camping is wrong because the Bible quotes Jesus as saying that “no one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36).

Others understand the Bible even better, and are aware that the passages appealed to in support of the doctrine of the Rapture (such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) do not teach the idea of a Rapture followed by tribulation that is the mainstay of Dispensational Pre-Millennialist eschatology.

But rather than spend time discussing those passages (or explaining the last few words of the last paragraph), I’d like to suggest a more fundamental reason why the Rapture will not happen this Saturday, or any other day:

It does not make sense for Christians to continue to expect a literal “second coming” of Jesus.

To quote Anthony and Richard Hanson’s book Reasonable Belief, “An event that has been just around the corner for a thousand years is a non-event. Thinking Christians should not behave as if the Parousia was a genuine possibility” (p.196).

Jesus expected the arrival of the kingdom of God in the lifetime of his hearers (see Mark 9:1), and the earliest Christians shared that expectation. When it did not materialize as anticipated, they found a variety of ways of making sense of that. But today, quoting 2 Peter 3:8, which is itself part of a non-authentic letter attributed to Peter and is trying to address the disappointment of Christians that these expectations were not fulfilled, is simply to perpetuate the problem and not address it directly.

It isn’t just the timing that is the issue. The idea of a second coming with Jesus appearing in the sky is based on a view of the universe, which heaven literally “up there,” that is also hard if not impossible for anyone to accept today without serious cognitive dissonance.

Discussing the literal ascension Luke describes in Acts, Keith Ward writes in his book The Big Questions in Science and Religion (p.107): “We now know that, if [Jesus] began ascending two thousand years ago, he would not yet have left the Milky Way (unless he attained warp speed)”.

A time eventually comes when, instead of clinging to older beliefs, no matter how central they may have been historically, it is time to rethink them, and perhaps even set them aside in some cases.

The best antidote for preventing future frenzies of the sort that Harold Camping is generating, is to recognize that they are indeed trying to revitalize something that Christians have historically expected, namely a literal, physical, second coming of Jesus, and to explain why that expectation needs to be reinterpreted or set aside, since after some 2,000 years and in a universe much bigger and very different than anything the early Christians imagined, it no longer makes any more sense to take that literally than that the sun literally stood still at Joshua’s command.

  • Hjalti

    Since you admit that Jesus was a failed dooms-day prophet, why call yourself Christian?

    Wouldn’t it be sad if in 2000 years we would have Campingians?

  • Hjalti

    Since you admit that Jesus was a failed dooms-day prophet, why call yourself Christian?

    Wouldn’t it be sad if in 2000 years we would have Campingians?

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  • Tom Bartley

    Reform Jews in many cases have given up on the 1st coming of Messiah and have instead claimed the ability to be the Messiah for the world through their actions of unconditional love. Is this so different?

  • Tom Bartley

    Reform Jews in many cases have given up on the 1st coming of Messiah and have instead claimed the ability to be the Messiah for the world through their actions of unconditional love. Is this so different?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pstenberg Pär Stenberg

    It doesn’t make sense to hold to a literal coming because Jesus has tarried for a long time? Wow, really? Even if Jesus was mistaken concerning the timing of his appearance, does that really mean that we should give up the idea of the coming of our Lord? (I believe that the second coming and the destruction of the temple were telescoped into one single event without Jesus knowing that there would be a great distance of time between the two; or possibly a preterist understanding of the Olivet discourse which I find to be somewhat plausible).

    My wife promised me dinner about 30 minutes ago but since no dinner has been presented before me I guess I will need to understand this as a symbolical feeding ;-)

    Does the fact that Jesus descended upwards into heaven force us to understand heaven as located directly above the clouds or so?

    I am curious of what exactly you believe in, James. Since you do not believe in a “literal” second coming, I am guessing that you do not believe in the resurrection of the body nor in a restored creation wherein death has been defeated? What do you consider to be the Christian core beliefs that define the faith?

    Hmmm this was perhaps not as well-thought of a comment as I would have liked it to be but I need to go, because dinner is apparently coming up after all despite her poor approximation (but not “up” as in “going to heaven”… but the dinner is literal… or it better be). :)

    Best Regards
    Pär

  • http://www.facebook.com/pstenberg Pär Stenberg

    It doesn’t make sense to hold to a literal coming because Jesus has tarried for a long time? Wow, really? Even if Jesus was mistaken concerning the timing of his appearance, does that really mean that we should give up the idea of the coming of our Lord? (I believe that the second coming and the destruction of the temple were telescoped into one single event without Jesus knowing that there would be a great distance of time between the two; or possibly a preterist understanding of the Olivet discourse which I find to be somewhat plausible).

    My wife promised me dinner about 30 minutes ago but since no dinner has been presented before me I guess I will need to understand this as a symbolical feeding ;-)

    Does the fact that Jesus descended upwards into heaven force us to understand heaven as located directly above the clouds or so?

    I am curious of what exactly you believe in, James. Since you do not believe in a “literal” second coming, I am guessing that you do not believe in the resurrection of the body nor in a restored creation wherein death has been defeated? What do you consider to be the Christian core beliefs that define the faith?

    Hmmm this was perhaps not as well-thought of a comment as I would have liked it to be but I need to go, because dinner is apparently coming up after all despite her poor approximation (but not “up” as in “going to heaven”… but the dinner is literal… or it better be). :)

    Best Regards
    Pär

  • keithmailingu

    test

  • http://youtu.be/fJ1Z6hWzfsA Keika

    test

  • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

    James,

    It is a false dichotomy to suggest that if one is a thinking Christian one rejects a Second Coming. While I agree that thinking Christians may find it challenging that this event hasn’t happened after a couple of millenia, there are plenty of “thinking Christians” who realize this is the great hope of Christianity. (Besides, I am personally pleased that it has been delayed because if it had happened in Paul’s lifetime I wouldn’t have been born yet!) I guess there can be some sort of “Christianity” that does not anticipate a Parousia, the final bodily resurrection, and a judgment, but Christianity without these things is about as worthwhile as every other self-help, moralizing worldview on the market.

    Even if 2 Pet. wasn’t from the pen of Peter that doesn’t settle the matter as far as a Second Coming being a fairly staple part of early Christian belief. Many of the canonized books expect Christ to return and they use various ways of saying it. 2 Pet.’s eventual acceptance indicates that the Second Coming was still an expectation for many centuries.

    Finally, as regards Acts, I think the suggestion that just because Jesus’ ascension is explained in terminology that doesn’t match our current understanding of the cosmos it must have not happened is a bit silly. Plenty of Christians over the years have discussed “heaven” in a sense that is not “up there” somewhere past the edge of the Milky Way. A better modern analogy would be parallel universes. Paul sees us as reigning with Christ already in our inner man (in Eph), yet present here. That sounds a lot more like multiple worlds theory than “earth down here, heaven up there”.

  • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

    James,

    It is a false dichotomy to suggest that if one is a thinking Christian one rejects a Second Coming. While I agree that thinking Christians may find it challenging that this event hasn’t happened after a couple of millenia, there are plenty of “thinking Christians” who realize this is the great hope of Christianity. (Besides, I am personally pleased that it has been delayed because if it had happened in Paul’s lifetime I wouldn’t have been born yet!) I guess there can be some sort of “Christianity” that does not anticipate a Parousia, the final bodily resurrection, and a judgment, but Christianity without these things is about as worthwhile as every other self-help, moralizing worldview on the market.

    Even if 2 Pet. wasn’t from the pen of Peter that doesn’t settle the matter as far as a Second Coming being a fairly staple part of early Christian belief. Many of the canonized books expect Christ to return and they use various ways of saying it. 2 Pet.’s eventual acceptance indicates that the Second Coming was still an expectation for many centuries.

    Finally, as regards Acts, I think the suggestion that just because Jesus’ ascension is explained in terminology that doesn’t match our current understanding of the cosmos it must have not happened is a bit silly. Plenty of Christians over the years have discussed “heaven” in a sense that is not “up there” somewhere past the edge of the Milky Way. A better modern analogy would be parallel universes. Paul sees us as reigning with Christ already in our inner man (in Eph), yet present here. That sounds a lot more like multiple worlds theory than “earth down here, heaven up there”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pstenberg Pär Stenberg

    I will say amen to LePort’s comment above. That is what I would liked to have said.

    If we were to have asked Paul where heaven was located, I would imagine that he would have pointed upwards (Gal. 4:26; Col 3:2). But if we were to ask him if we one could reach heaven if only one was able to fly high enough, I think he would have facepalmed (is that even a word?) himself.

    Heaven might be above, but are we to assume that it therefore has to be located in our “dimension”. Seeing how Christians, according to Paul, were living in-between two world’s (e.g. Ephesians as Brian pointed out above) I think that such an understanding of heaven would be better suited. After all, God’s ultimate plan is to unite heaven and earth in the person of Jesus (Ephesians 1:10; cf. Rev 22).

    So then, when Jesus ascended we such not understand this as an elevator ride needed to get to the 50th floor where third heaven is located 100 000 ft above the ground. Rather he ascended up into a reality which is beyond that which we can see and comprehend.

    James, I really enjoy reading your blog. It is provocative, informative and you have made me reconsider a lot of things (e.g. Christology) since I began lurking here, but forgive me for saying this but I do not think that this post is among your finest moments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pstenberg Pär Stenberg

    I will say amen to LePort’s comment above. That is what I would liked to have said.

    If we were to have asked Paul where heaven was located, I would imagine that he would have pointed upwards (Gal. 4:26; Col 3:2). But if we were to ask him if we one could reach heaven if only one was able to fly high enough, I think he would have facepalmed (is that even a word?) himself.

    Heaven might be above, but are we to assume that it therefore has to be located in our “dimension”. Seeing how Christians, according to Paul, were living in-between two world’s (e.g. Ephesians as Brian pointed out above) I think that such an understanding of heaven would be better suited. After all, God’s ultimate plan is to unite heaven and earth in the person of Jesus (Ephesians 1:10; cf. Rev 22).

    So then, when Jesus ascended we such not understand this as an elevator ride needed to get to the 50th floor where third heaven is located 100 000 ft above the ground. Rather he ascended up into a reality which is beyond that which we can see and comprehend.

    James, I really enjoy reading your blog. It is provocative, informative and you have made me reconsider a lot of things (e.g. Christology) since I began lurking here, but forgive me for saying this but I do not think that this post is among your finest moments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pstenberg Pär Stenberg

    Oh dear, I really need to brush up on my English. Trying to sound intelligent often results in various odd syntactical achievements.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pstenberg Pär Stenberg

    Oh dear, I really need to brush up on my English. Trying to sound intelligent often results in various odd syntactical achievements.

  • Anonymous

    “about as worthwhile as every other self-help, moralizing worldview on the market.”

    I couldn’t have said it better ;)

    Actually, Christianity has more going for it then the expectation of a physical flight into the clouds. The realization that your creator cares enough to intervene on your behalf as well as the hope for a heavenly reward should be enough to sustain Christianity even without Jesus making a triumphant return, right?

    Of course, if you take away heaven and help from Big Daddy, you don’t have much left. Hence atheism.

    • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

      I don’t know that I’d say that it is Christianity without the return of Christ and the resurrection. It is something, but something much too vague. That being said, I would agree that without the resurrection, Second Coming, and final judgment atheism is a much better option that Christianity.

  • Scott__F

    “about as worthwhile as every other self-help, moralizing worldview on the market.”

    I couldn’t have said it better ;)

    Actually, Christianity has more going for it then the expectation of a physical flight into the clouds. The realization that your creator cares enough to intervene on your behalf as well as the hope for a heavenly reward should be enough to sustain Christianity even without Jesus making a triumphant return, right?

    Of course, if you take away heaven and help from Big Daddy, you don’t have much left. Hence atheism.

    • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

      I don’t know that I’d say that it is Christianity without the return of Christ and the resurrection. It is something, but something much too vague. That being said, I would agree that without the resurrection, Second Coming, and final judgment atheism is a much better option that Christianity.

  • Robert

    What an odd statement to use to object to Camping’s foolishness. Now I am not suggesting that we need return to the insanity of the Left Behind view of eschatology but to arrive at this conclusion seems, at best, ad hoc and, for the reasons given, shallow biblically.

    “A time eventually comes when, instead of clinging to older beliefs, no matter how central they may have been historically, it is time to rethink them, and perhaps even set them aside in some cases.”

    When I read this statement my thoughts immediately turn to a parable of Jesus at the end of Matthew 24 about faithful servants not knowing the return of their master but continuing their service. To dismiss wide swaths of Scripture based upon a, seemingly, a priori conclusion doesn’t seem awfully scholarly.

    There are legitimate views of Jesus Second Coming that overcome the theological problems of dispensational premillenialism and remain authentic to the text of Scripture. I don’t see that kind of attempt made here.

  • Robert

    What an odd statement to use to object to Camping’s foolishness. Now I am not suggesting that we need return to the insanity of the Left Behind view of eschatology but to arrive at this conclusion seems, at best, ad hoc and, for the reasons given, shallow biblically.

    “A time eventually comes when, instead of clinging to older beliefs, no matter how central they may have been historically, it is time to rethink them, and perhaps even set them aside in some cases.”

    When I read this statement my thoughts immediately turn to a parable of Jesus at the end of Matthew 24 about faithful servants not knowing the return of their master but continuing their service. To dismiss wide swaths of Scripture based upon a, seemingly, a priori conclusion doesn’t seem awfully scholarly.

    There are legitimate views of Jesus Second Coming that overcome the theological problems of dispensational premillenialism and remain authentic to the text of Scripture. I don’t see that kind of attempt made here.

  • Anonymous

    It strikes me that someone like Harold Camping, who believes the universe is only a few light years wide, would have no problem believing that a god could make the sun “stand still,” would he?

  • beallen0417

    It strikes me that someone like Harold Camping, who believes the universe is only a few light years wide, would have no problem believing that a god could make the sun “stand still,” would he?

  • Darren Pardee

    I’ll be in the minority here, I don’t mind. Waiting around for the return of Christ seems like one of those dangerous ideas that makes apathy a viable position. Similar to Rapture. We’ll just wait around for Jesus to come fix things. No scholar here, certainly, but I gather that the whole point of his ministry was that we are to establish his kingdom here on earth by following in his footsteps i.e. loving and respecting one another. Not waiting around for the day the Messiah makes everything better. We have that power ourselves, if we just do as he asked. Will there be an actual “second coming?” Yes or no, doesn’t seem to matter one bit; salvation’s dependent on how well we follow the lesson plan, not whether we believe in a physical return of the teacher.

  • Darren Pardee

    I’ll be in the minority here, I don’t mind. Waiting around for the return of Christ seems like one of those dangerous ideas that makes apathy a viable position. Similar to Rapture. We’ll just wait around for Jesus to come fix things. No scholar here, certainly, but I gather that the whole point of his ministry was that we are to establish his kingdom here on earth by following in his footsteps i.e. loving and respecting one another. Not waiting around for the day the Messiah makes everything better. We have that power ourselves, if we just do as he asked. Will there be an actual “second coming?” Yes or no, doesn’t seem to matter one bit; salvation’s dependent on how well we follow the lesson plan, not whether we believe in a physical return of the teacher.

  • Anonymous

    “Not waiting around for the day the Messiah makes everything better. ”

    I agree that the danger of apathy is real. However, is not apathy part of Paul’s response in 1 Corinthians when he talks about marriage: if you can hold out just liiiiittle longer, don’t bother getting married.

    On the other hand, it seems to me that if a Christian is indeed walking in Jesus’ example, it shouldn’t matter when or if there is a Second Coming. The attitude ought not to be vigilance in watching for the Rapture but vigilance in doing what Jesus’ told you to do. Of course, Rapture is fun while loving your enemy and visiting prisons is just too much work.

  • Scott__F

    “Not waiting around for the day the Messiah makes everything better. ”

    I agree that the danger of apathy is real. However, is not apathy part of Paul’s response in 1 Corinthians when he talks about marriage: if you can hold out just liiiiittle longer, don’t bother getting married.

    On the other hand, it seems to me that if a Christian is indeed walking in Jesus’ example, it shouldn’t matter when or if there is a Second Coming. The attitude ought not to be vigilance in watching for the Rapture but vigilance in doing what Jesus’ told you to do. Of course, Rapture is fun while loving your enemy and visiting prisons is just too much work.

  • Darren Pardee

    I don’t think Paul really “got” women.

  • Darren Pardee

    I don’t think Paul really “got” women.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Thanks for all the comments so far! I thought this post might generate some discussion, and I went for “short and provocative” rather than “detailed, thoroughly persuasive, with no loose ends, and unlikely that anyone will read it all the way through.” :-) But hopefully in the process of discussion, I can at least make an attempt at explaining where I am coming from in a bit more detail.

    First, thank you to Tom for chiming in. I’ve often thought that my view of things would fit well the label “Reform Christianity” along the lines of “Reform Judaism.” But everyone would hear “Reformed Christianity” and that’s something very different. :-)

    Pär, I appreciate your points, but I suspect that at some point one might legitimately suspect that the promised dinner was not going to happen (hopefully not after a wait of 2,000 years, unless we’re dealing with an episode of Doctor Who). At some point it would seem like it might become worth considering, without even sacrificing your belief that your spouse is trustworthy, that either you had misunderstood her, or something had happened that prevented her from doing what she promised, or in some other way revise your expectations.

    I don’t think that Christians who continue to say “Any minute now” are being more “Biblical.” They are reinterpreting the words of Jesus that anticipated the kingdom’s arrival within the lifetime of his generation. And they reinterpret Paul’s expectation that “we who are alive” (including himself) will be caught up to meet him in the air” and likewise the words “soon” and “near” are reinterpreted so as to become meaningless. And so reinterpreting or rethinking the expectation, and not merely the time frame, seems like it should be no less worthy of consideration as a Christian option.

    I suspect that a great many Christians view things in a similar way, deep down, but many think that they are supposed to keep expecting the imminent end – or at least, are required to nod politely and not question when others mention it.

    Brian, and others, I think that Darren suggests an appropriate route for Christians under the circumstances. We can acknowledge that the end didn’t come when Christians expected it to, acknowledge that as Christians we have often had to rethink doctrines in light of further experience and discovery, become healthily agnostic about the future of the cosmos and of humanity, and focus on doing the right things not because we’re worried about not getting caught doing the wrong thing when the Rapture happens or when Jesus returns, but simply because they are worth doing even if humanity continues so far into the future that we reach a point where our descendants are no longer recognizably the same species as we who are having this conversation.

    • Paul D.

      Thank you very much for the post, James. You’ve given me much to think about, as always.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Thanks for all the comments so far! I thought this post might generate some discussion, and I went for “short and provocative” rather than “detailed, thoroughly persuasive, with no loose ends, and unlikely that anyone will read it all the way through.” :-) But hopefully in the process of discussion, I can at least make an attempt at explaining where I am coming from in a bit more detail.

    First, thank you to Tom for chiming in. I’ve often thought that my view of things would fit well the label “Reform Christianity” along the lines of “Reform Judaism.” But everyone would hear “Reformed Christianity” and that’s something very different. :-)

    Pär, I appreciate your points, but I suspect that at some point one might legitimately suspect that the promised dinner was not going to happen (hopefully not after a wait of 2,000 years, unless we’re dealing with an episode of Doctor Who). At some point it would seem like it might become worth considering, without even sacrificing your belief that your spouse is trustworthy, that either you had misunderstood her, or something had happened that prevented her from doing what she promised, or in some other way revise your expectations.

    I don’t think that Christians who continue to say “Any minute now” are being more “Biblical.” They are reinterpreting the words of Jesus that anticipated the kingdom’s arrival within the lifetime of his generation. And they reinterpret Paul’s expectation that “we who are alive” (including himself) will be caught up to meet him in the air” and likewise the words “soon” and “near” are reinterpreted so as to become meaningless. And so reinterpreting or rethinking the expectation, and not merely the time frame, seems like it should be no less worthy of consideration as a Christian option.

    I suspect that a great many Christians view things in a similar way, deep down, but many think that they are supposed to keep expecting the imminent end – or at least, are required to nod politely and not question when others mention it.

    Brian, and others, I think that Darren suggests an appropriate route for Christians under the circumstances. We can acknowledge that the end didn’t come when Christians expected it to, acknowledge that as Christians we have often had to rethink doctrines in light of further experience and discovery, become healthily agnostic about the future of the cosmos and of humanity, and focus on doing the right things not because we’re worried about not getting caught doing the wrong thing when the Rapture happens or when Jesus returns, but simply because they are worth doing even if humanity continues so far into the future that we reach a point where our descendants are no longer recognizably the same species as we who are having this conversation.

    • Paul D.

      Thank you very much for the post, James. You’ve given me much to think about, as always.

  • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

    Darren: I think you are correct to emphasize that we should not “wait around” for the return of Christ. It doesn’t seem that he would have wanted us to do so. Nor did the early church behave as if he did.

    While I do think some things will not be perfected/changed in this age as they will when Christ returns, that does not mean that we should not live to make every day better in light of his return, even if he returns after our lifetime.

  • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

    Darren: I think you are correct to emphasize that we should not “wait around” for the return of Christ. It doesn’t seem that he would have wanted us to do so. Nor did the early church behave as if he did.

    While I do think some things will not be perfected/changed in this age as they will when Christ returns, that does not mean that we should not live to make every day better in light of his return, even if he returns after our lifetime.

  • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

    I agree with the basic route, but I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense divorced from the Parousia. If Christ was a failed prophet whom we must redeem as a good teacher and moralizer, well, I’m not sure if Christianity is worth its salt. Likewise, if we aren’t working to “build for” the Kingdom (as Wright would say) then we must ask “why” these things are “worth doing”.

    There may be an answer, but I am going to guess we could have arrived at it without Jesus being in the picture.

    I don’t disagree with some form of “healthy agnosticism”. To hope in the message that I believe was handed from Christ to his apostles down through the ages to us now is hardly relying on strong epistemological arguments. There is surely an ever important faith element that frankly outshines the knowledge element (what “knowledge” does anyone, from any worldview have of the end of our race?).

    That being said, we act out of our beliefs. If I believe that God was revealed in Christ, and that God has chosen Christ to someday judge the world, I am not following him because I fear “getting caught doing the wrong thing” at his coming (I don’t affirm a “rapture” as traditionally taught). I am following Christ because I think Christ shows us God and that God has shown us through Christ that he plans on redeeming all things. If Christ was wrong then I’ve got little to go on as far as the identity of God, and I agree with Scott that atheism, at least agnosticism, is a much better option.

  • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

    I agree with the basic route, but I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense divorced from the Parousia. If Christ was a failed prophet whom we must redeem as a good teacher and moralizer, well, I’m not sure if Christianity is worth its salt. Likewise, if we aren’t working to “build for” the Kingdom (as Wright would say) then we must ask “why” these things are “worth doing”.

    There may be an answer, but I am going to guess we could have arrived at it without Jesus being in the picture.

    I don’t disagree with some form of “healthy agnosticism”. To hope in the message that I believe was handed from Christ to his apostles down through the ages to us now is hardly relying on strong epistemological arguments. There is surely an ever important faith element that frankly outshines the knowledge element (what “knowledge” does anyone, from any worldview have of the end of our race?).

    That being said, we act out of our beliefs. If I believe that God was revealed in Christ, and that God has chosen Christ to someday judge the world, I am not following him because I fear “getting caught doing the wrong thing” at his coming (I don’t affirm a “rapture” as traditionally taught). I am following Christ because I think Christ shows us God and that God has shown us through Christ that he plans on redeeming all things. If Christ was wrong then I’ve got little to go on as far as the identity of God, and I agree with Scott that atheism, at least agnosticism, is a much better option.

  • Gary

    I have to agree with Brian LePort. Although I am a preterist. The Mark 9:1 reference to the Kingdom of God to me refers to the establishment of the church, spirit, devotion, and everything else that goes along with Jesus (only made possible with the destruction of the temple, and the wide-spread growth of the Christian beliefs). At the same time I have to agree with James’ quote of “become healthily agnostic about the future of the cosmos and of humanity”. Can’t deny knowledge, as we discover it. I’d say I’m amillennial, since the Kingdom of God is working here on earth, with no 2000 year expectations. Although as Brian says, if there is no actual 2nd coming and resurrection of everyone (no separate rapture), there is no sense in the NT scriptures, other than a “rules of life” in interacting with other human beings. I buy into the “heaven” as a “dimensional/other world” thing, since it doesn’t violate any laws of physics I know about. What’s the comic phrase, “it’s a mystery?”.

  • Gary

    I have to agree with Brian LePort. Although I am a preterist. The Mark 9:1 reference to the Kingdom of God to me refers to the establishment of the church, spirit, devotion, and everything else that goes along with Jesus (only made possible with the destruction of the temple, and the wide-spread growth of the Christian beliefs). At the same time I have to agree with James’ quote of “become healthily agnostic about the future of the cosmos and of humanity”. Can’t deny knowledge, as we discover it. I’d say I’m amillennial, since the Kingdom of God is working here on earth, with no 2000 year expectations. Although as Brian says, if there is no actual 2nd coming and resurrection of everyone (no separate rapture), there is no sense in the NT scriptures, other than a “rules of life” in interacting with other human beings. I buy into the “heaven” as a “dimensional/other world” thing, since it doesn’t violate any laws of physics I know about. What’s the comic phrase, “it’s a mystery?”.

  • anon

    Let it be known that McGrath did not respond to the first comment, which also happened to be the most concise and to-the-point.

  • anon

    Let it be known that McGrath did not respond to the first comment, which also happened to be the most concise and to-the-point.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    If you are referring to what happens at 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, it has already happened. Your post is years too late… :)

    • Gary

      Howard,
      I could live with that. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven,” didn’t say bodily, or onto earth, “and the dead in Christ will rise first” doesn’t say resurrected with a body, maybe just in spirit, in a temporary heaven. “After that, we who are still alive …will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”… spiritual enlightenment on earth? However, for me, being influenced by Friedman on the authors of the OT, I do not see any reason to take literal the NT authors as well. They all had their different motivations, cultural backgrounds, etc.. My doctrine has fuzzy logic, because my data input is fuzzy.

      • Howard Mazzaferro

        Gary, you are basically correct in your interpretation of what I believe. But mostly I wanted to comment on your view of the Bible authors. I have the complete opposite view, I believe they were inspired by God to say what they did, and that would make any motivations or cultural backgrounds irrelevant to the subject matter. I think the problem lies in what someone thinks the Bible is saying, or what they are told it is saying. Maybe its just me, but many times when someone tries to share their theology of the Bible with me, it seems to be composed of fragmentary and incoherent ideas. For example, a Born again Christian was recently telling me how when he dies he will go to heaven, and then when Jesus returns, his soul will accompany him back to earth where his body will be resurrected and reunited with his soul, and presumably go back to heaven. After a few minutes of a confusing stare, I said, and what is the point to all that? I asked, If people’s souls have been living in heaven for hundreds and thousands of years already, why do they now need a body of flesh. (which the Bible says cannot go to heaven). Or if after their resurrection the soul comes back to live on earth. Why the demotion from living with God in a glorious paradise to being sent back to live on a big rock? If this is what the Bible authors were actually saying, then yes, it is utter nonsense. On the other hand, if you have a believable coherent set of beliefs that is confirmed by the rest of the Bible that completes a harmonious theme, then yes, I can believe one author inspired men to write it. But hey, that’s just my opinion. :)

        • Gary

          Howard, I agree. However (there is always a “however” in topics like this), I attached myself to Richard Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible?” for another reason. It is the only way I could reconcile the OT God with the NT God. Things like Moses saying Num 31:17-18, makes sense in relation to the conflict between the descendants of Moses vs the descendants of Aaron for the position of priests in the sacrifical system. Especially considering that Moses also had a Medianite wife, respected his father-in-law, a Medianite priest, etc. Then the Aaron descendants slam Eli’s sons, Samuel’s sons (all Shiloh priests), etc, then have the Peor affair, the Snow White Miriam affair, not to mention the whole Leviticus thing. Connect that with Stephen’s many references to a Shiloh-priest leaning theology in Acts 7, tells me that the authors of the bible were DRIVEN by their own motivations, in addition to an inspiration from God. The only question is “what is inspiration from God”, and “what is personal motivation”. I do not know. But I do know there is a definite HUMAN component in the writings of the bible. As I said, this leads to fuzzy logic in my doctrine.

          • Howard Mazzaferro

            Gary, Maybe its because its late and I am tired, but I am having trouble recognizing the inconsistency you are trying to show. Could you be more specific and explain what exactly is the issue in what you said that causes an inconsistency between the OT God and the NT God?

            • Gary

              Howard,
              If you do not see an inconsistency between an OT and NT God, then I consider you have a good foundation for YOUR beliefs. However, I cannot accept some of the literal translations, as I specifically mentioning a few, like the Num 31 statement by Moses, kill everyone, man, women, child, of the Midianites, except save the young virgins for yourselves…this because, as in the Peor reference, the Isrealites where hooking up with Midianites (and Aaron’s grandson spears a couple directly in front of Moses, and Moses says nothing..ultimate insult). Even in light of the fact Moses had a Medianite wife, went into exile in Median when the Israelites did not accept him when he struck an Eygptian, treated his Medianite priest father-in-law with the utmost respect, etc. And of course Leviticus 14, no one can actually believe God gave priests orders to cure using a lambs blood on someones right ear, thumb, and big toe. This is more vodoo. Many examples. But if you are OK with this from inspiration, then I would consider you satisfied with your beliefs, which is good for you. For me, the OT God is a genocide approving God mixed with vodoo rites – but then I believe the Aaron priests were motivated to write this, since they made a living propagating these rites, to keep control for themslves. The NT, more or less, has a forgiving God, although its writers also influenced the NT, since there are obvious inconsistencies there, too. But overall, the OT to me is downright brutal. Probably too long an explanation for a blog, but I think I covered my thoughts. I don’t really want to debate it, since debating probabilities instead of 1′s and 0′s doesn’t usually accomplish much. Thus fuzzy logic with fuzzy inputs, until we are proved right or wrong. I certainly hope there is a 2nd coming…otherwise we will never know the outcome of this type of discussion.

              • Howard Mazzaferro

                Gary, your right, I do not see the inconsistencies in my understanding of the Bible, and no, this is not the place for a debate, but I would like to share my views on the subject. I think the concept of a “cruel God” is a misapplication of moral perception. I think the Bible says it best, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) God is not only a God of forgiveness, there are other attributes he puts into action as well. “. . .The Rock, perfect is his activity, For all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; Righteous and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) God must punish wrongdoing. Simply put, he would not be much of a God if he forgave outright opposition to his will. Would you consider governments that punish criminals as cruel? What if this same government gave out money to people in need, would that be inconsistent? We need to remember that God’s forgiveness is contingent upon doing his will, opposition to his will never receives forgiveness, not in the NT, nor the OT.

                As for the Midianites, they were descendants of Abraham, but later on, the Midianites manifested hostility toward the Israelites. They cooperated with the Moabites in hiring the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. When this failed, the Midianites and Moabites, at Balaam’s advice, cunningly used their women to induce thousands of Israelite males to become involved in sexual immorality and idolatry in connection with Baal of Peor. Thereafter the Israelites, in obedience to divine command, took vengeance upon Midian. Obviously the virgins did not do anything deserving of death, and since they are descendents of Abraham, there was probably nothing wrong with the Israelites marrying them.

                As for the blood on the ears and so on, it was not meant as a cure, but a symbolism. The Word Biblical Commentary says: “It indicates that a radical change has taken place in the person’s status before God. Now that this person is being restored to the community, it is imperative that his whole being be consecrated to God, his ears to hear God’s word and his hands and feet to do God’s will.”

                I see nothing outrageous or inconsistent here, punishment for wrongdoing and ceremonial symbolism.

                • Gary

                  Howard,
                  Thanks for spending the time to share your views. I am happy that you’re happy with them.

                  • Howard Mazzaferro

                    Thanks Gary, and I am also happy that you are happy that I am happy… :)

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    If you are referring to what happens at 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, it has already happened. Your post is years too late… :)

    • Gary

      Howard,
      I could live with that. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven,” didn’t say bodily, or onto earth, “and the dead in Christ will rise first” doesn’t say resurrected with a body, maybe just in spirit, in a temporary heaven. “After that, we who are still alive …will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”… spiritual enlightenment on earth? However, for me, being influenced by Friedman on the authors of the OT, I do not see any reason to take literal the NT authors as well. They all had their different motivations, cultural backgrounds, etc.. My doctrine has fuzzy logic, because my data input is fuzzy.

      • Howard Mazzaferro

        Gary, you are basically correct in your interpretation of what I believe. But mostly I wanted to comment on your view of the Bible authors. I have the complete opposite view, I believe they were inspired by God to say what they did, and that would make any motivations or cultural backgrounds irrelevant to the subject matter. I think the problem lies in what someone thinks the Bible is saying, or what they are told it is saying. Maybe its just me, but many times when someone tries to share their theology of the Bible with me, it seems to be composed of fragmentary and incoherent ideas. For example, a Born again Christian was recently telling me how when he dies he will go to heaven, and then when Jesus returns, his soul will accompany him back to earth where his body will be resurrected and reunited with his soul, and presumably go back to heaven. After a few minutes of a confusing stare, I said, and what is the point to all that? I asked, If people’s souls have been living in heaven for hundreds and thousands of years already, why do they now need a body of flesh. (which the Bible says cannot go to heaven). Or if after their resurrection the soul comes back to live on earth. Why the demotion from living with God in a glorious paradise to being sent back to live on a big rock? If this is what the Bible authors were actually saying, then yes, it is utter nonsense. On the other hand, if you have a believable coherent set of beliefs that is confirmed by the rest of the Bible that completes a harmonious theme, then yes, I can believe one author inspired men to write it. But hey, that’s just my opinion. :)

        • Gary

          Howard, I agree. However (there is always a “however” in topics like this), I attached myself to Richard Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible?” for another reason. It is the only way I could reconcile the OT God with the NT God. Things like Moses saying Num 31:17-18, makes sense in relation to the conflict between the descendants of Moses vs the descendants of Aaron for the position of priests in the sacrifical system. Especially considering that Moses also had a Medianite wife, respected his father-in-law, a Medianite priest, etc. Then the Aaron descendants slam Eli’s sons, Samuel’s sons (all Shiloh priests), etc, then have the Peor affair, the Snow White Miriam affair, not to mention the whole Leviticus thing. Connect that with Stephen’s many references to a Shiloh-priest leaning theology in Acts 7, tells me that the authors of the bible were DRIVEN by their own motivations, in addition to an inspiration from God. The only question is “what is inspiration from God”, and “what is personal motivation”. I do not know. But I do know there is a definite HUMAN component in the writings of the bible. As I said, this leads to fuzzy logic in my doctrine.

          • Howard Mazzaferro

            Gary, Maybe its because its late and I am tired, but I am having trouble recognizing the inconsistency you are trying to show. Could you be more specific and explain what exactly is the issue in what you said that causes an inconsistency between the OT God and the NT God?

            • Gary

              Howard,
              If you do not see an inconsistency between an OT and NT God, then I consider you have a good foundation for YOUR beliefs. However, I cannot accept some of the literal translations, as I specifically mentioning a few, like the Num 31 statement by Moses, kill everyone, man, women, child, of the Midianites, except save the young virgins for yourselves…this because, as in the Peor reference, the Isrealites where hooking up with Midianites (and Aaron’s grandson spears a couple directly in front of Moses, and Moses says nothing..ultimate insult). Even in light of the fact Moses had a Medianite wife, went into exile in Median when the Israelites did not accept him when he struck an Eygptian, treated his Medianite priest father-in-law with the utmost respect, etc. And of course Leviticus 14, no one can actually believe God gave priests orders to cure using a lambs blood on someones right ear, thumb, and big toe. This is more vodoo. Many examples. But if you are OK with this from inspiration, then I would consider you satisfied with your beliefs, which is good for you. For me, the OT God is a genocide approving God mixed with vodoo rites – but then I believe the Aaron priests were motivated to write this, since they made a living propagating these rites, to keep control for themslves. The NT, more or less, has a forgiving God, although its writers also influenced the NT, since there are obvious inconsistencies there, too. But overall, the OT to me is downright brutal. Probably too long an explanation for a blog, but I think I covered my thoughts. I don’t really want to debate it, since debating probabilities instead of 1′s and 0′s doesn’t usually accomplish much. Thus fuzzy logic with fuzzy inputs, until we are proved right or wrong. I certainly hope there is a 2nd coming…otherwise we will never know the outcome of this type of discussion.

              • Howard Mazzaferro

                Gary, your right, I do not see the inconsistencies in my understanding of the Bible, and no, this is not the place for a debate, but I would like to share my views on the subject. I think the concept of a “cruel God” is a misapplication of moral perception. I think the Bible says it best, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) God is not only a God of forgiveness, there are other attributes he puts into action as well. “. . .The Rock, perfect is his activity, For all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; Righteous and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) God must punish wrongdoing. Simply put, he would not be much of a God if he forgave outright opposition to his will. Would you consider governments that punish criminals as cruel? What if this same government gave out money to people in need, would that be inconsistent? We need to remember that God’s forgiveness is contingent upon doing his will, opposition to his will never receives forgiveness, not in the NT, nor the OT.

                As for the Midianites, they were descendants of Abraham, but later on, the Midianites manifested hostility toward the Israelites. They cooperated with the Moabites in hiring the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. When this failed, the Midianites and Moabites, at Balaam’s advice, cunningly used their women to induce thousands of Israelite males to become involved in sexual immorality and idolatry in connection with Baal of Peor. Thereafter the Israelites, in obedience to divine command, took vengeance upon Midian. Obviously the virgins did not do anything deserving of death, and since they are descendents of Abraham, there was probably nothing wrong with the Israelites marrying them.

                As for the blood on the ears and so on, it was not meant as a cure, but a symbolism. The Word Biblical Commentary says: “It indicates that a radical change has taken place in the person’s status before God. Now that this person is being restored to the community, it is imperative that his whole being be consecrated to God, his ears to hear God’s word and his hands and feet to do God’s will.”

                I see nothing outrageous or inconsistent here, punishment for wrongdoing and ceremonial symbolism.

                • Gary

                  Howard,
                  Thanks for spending the time to share your views. I am happy that you’re happy with them.

                  • Howard Mazzaferro

                    Thanks Gary, and I am also happy that you are happy that I am happy… :)

  • Antonio Jerez

    James wrote:
    “We can acknowledge that the end didn’t come when Christians expected it to, acknowledge that as Christians we have often had to rethink doctrines in light of further experience and discovery,”

    It´s funny, but it seems like James is stuck in an endless loop. For some reason he can´t fathom what is the essence of a religion like Christianity. You don´t RETHINK things, you get new REVELATION. People who want to think better find some other kind of religion -:)

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      @Antonio, I think that what people in the past and some in the present assumed to be supernatural revelation, we would treat as “flashes of inspiration” but would recognize that they are coming at least through, and perhaps from, the individual’s subconscious. I don’t assume the dichotomy you seem to between thinking and what humans experience and interpret in terms of revelation.

      @Anonymous, let the record show that I eventually answered Hjalti’s question. Your honor, may the record also reflect that this is not a trial. :-)

      @Hjalti, I see differences between Harold Camping and Jesus, and think that the experiment of viewing someone with the benefit of 2,000 years of hindsight is a good one in theory (the hiccup is that no individual can perform it on their contemporaries!) One major reason why I happily cling to the label “Christian” is because I am persuaded both that if I tried to start my own religion, it wouldn’t last two millennia, and it would be indebted to the impact of Jesus in more ways than I would probably realize. I choose to follow a spiritual path that already exists and offers a lot of resources for spiritual growth. Labels are just

  • Antonio Jerez

    James wrote:
    “We can acknowledge that the end didn’t come when Christians expected it to, acknowledge that as Christians we have often had to rethink doctrines in light of further experience and discovery,”

    It´s funny, but it seems like James is stuck in an endless loop. For some reason he can´t fathom what is the essence of a religion like Christianity. You don´t RETHINK things, you get new REVELATION. People who want to think better find some other kind of religion -:)

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      @Antonio, I think that what people in the past and some in the present assumed to be supernatural revelation, we would treat as “flashes of inspiration” but would recognize that they are coming at least through, and perhaps from, the individual’s subconscious. I don’t assume the dichotomy you seem to between thinking and what humans experience and interpret in terms of revelation.

      @Anonymous, let the record show that I eventually answered Hjalti’s question. Your honor, may the record also reflect that this is not a trial. :-)

      @Hjalti, I see differences between Harold Camping and Jesus, and think that the experiment of viewing someone with the benefit of 2,000 years of hindsight is a good one in theory (the hiccup is that no individual can perform it on their contemporaries!) One major reason why I happily cling to the label “Christian” is because I am persuaded both that if I tried to start my own religion, it wouldn’t last two millennia, and it would be indebted to the impact of Jesus in more ways than I would probably realize. I choose to follow a spiritual path that already exists and offers a lot of resources for spiritual growth. Labels are just labels. Jesus didn’t invent the label “Christian” and I view it as an acknowledgment of my debt to a tradition and heritage, not an affirmation that that tradition has remained static down the ages. It hasn’t.

  • Pingback: Coleman A. Baker

  • Pseudonym

    I think it was Pope John XXIII who, when asked asked what he would say to the Church today if he knew that the Second Coming of Christ was going to happen tomorrow, answered “Look busy!”

    IMO, that’s the only advantage to believing in a classic parousia scenario. James, I’m sure, has known enough students in his time to know that if you know when the deadline is, you will inevitably leave things until the last moment. If the end could come at any time, it’s an encouragement to constantly be busy, rather than wait until near the end and “look busy”.

    Of course, you don’t need to believe it and, as James rightly points out, it’s not exactly tenable in this day and age. But there’s an advantage to acting as if it could happen.

  • Pseudonym

    I think it was Pope John XXIII who, when asked asked what he would say to the Church today if he knew that the Second Coming of Christ was going to happen tomorrow, answered “Look busy!”

    IMO, that’s the only advantage to believing in a classic parousia scenario. James, I’m sure, has known enough students in his time to know that if you know when the deadline is, you will inevitably leave things until the last moment. If the end could come at any time, it’s an encouragement to constantly be busy, rather than wait until near the end and “look busy”.

    Of course, you don’t need to believe it and, as James rightly points out, it’s not exactly tenable in this day and age. But there’s an advantage to acting as if it could happen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    James, I haven’t given this one much thought. i used to be big into this sort of stuff, but I was out of the “mainstream” on this because I was a post trib rapture type. I think the whole pre trib rapture craze is a sad product of the sense of entitlement of comfortable people hoping for cheap salvation. The New Testament writers lived in a time when burning Kiss records would bring on the wrath of the Kiss army, who would beat, burn you out of your home, and be rewarded by the mayor for enforcing good morals!

    I started drifting away from the position based on A. the collapse of the Soviet Union made what gad seemed like a politically likely scenario seem remote. When people started rehashing it to be about the Iraq war (the first one), it seemed like a very unlikely scenario. B. I noticed a couple of time in Revelations, it says, this is going to happen soon. Preachers often placed the saying as if Revelation was addressed to us, but it was addressed to people 2000 years ago, there is no way to interpret soon as 2000 years, and even with the day to the Lord is 1000 years, he is talking to humans, it would be disingenuous to tell them, hey this is going to happen soon, and wait 2000 years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    James, I haven’t given this one much thought. i used to be big into this sort of stuff, but I was out of the “mainstream” on this because I was a post trib rapture type. I think the whole pre trib rapture craze is a sad product of the sense of entitlement of comfortable people hoping for cheap salvation. The New Testament writers lived in a time when burning Kiss records would bring on the wrath of the Kiss army, who would beat, burn you out of your home, and be rewarded by the mayor for enforcing good morals!

    I started drifting away from the position based on A. the collapse of the Soviet Union made what gad seemed like a politically likely scenario seem remote. When people started rehashing it to be about the Iraq war (the first one), it seemed like a very unlikely scenario. B. I noticed a couple of time in Revelations, it says, this is going to happen soon. Preachers often placed the saying as if Revelation was addressed to us, but it was addressed to people 2000 years ago, there is no way to interpret soon as 2000 years, and even with the day to the Lord is 1000 years, he is talking to humans, it would be disingenuous to tell them, hey this is going to happen soon, and wait 2000 years.

  • JohnnyTwoBits

    There are many options to choose from here, of which I will provide a sampling: 1. Jesus was wrong 2. The Rapture is still coming 3. Jesus has been misunderstood

    I tend to think our conceptual lens may be missing something rather obvious. That Jesus was right, and that he already came back, perhaps not in the way our modern conceptual lens tells us he should. This is why I have found Preterism rather persuasive, and regardless of where we fall on this issue, it certainly is something to be studied. Also seems to fit well with the Kingdom of God being in you and among you.

    If anyone is interested a fascinating read on this subject is Gentry’s ‘Before Jerusalem Fell’ http://www.rpts.edu/media/BeforeJerusalemFell-Gentry.pdf

  • JohnnyTwoBits

    There are many options to choose from here, of which I will provide a sampling: 1. Jesus was wrong 2. The Rapture is still coming 3. Jesus has been misunderstood

    I tend to think our conceptual lens may be missing something rather obvious. That Jesus was right, and that he already came back, perhaps not in the way our modern conceptual lens tells us he should. This is why I have found Preterism rather persuasive, and regardless of where we fall on this issue, it certainly is something to be studied. Also seems to fit well with the Kingdom of God being in you and among you.

    If anyone is interested a fascinating read on this subject is Gentry’s ‘Before Jerusalem Fell’ http://www.rpts.edu/media/BeforeJerusalemFell-Gentry.pdf

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Pär, anyone who uses the word “facepalmed” correctly, as you did, has no need to apologize for his English!

    I think that Luke’s depiction of the ascension indicates that at least he thought of heaven as somewhere that one can get to by going up in literal fashion. He probably was confident that no one could do so without divine assistance, at least not without being liberated from the matter that keeps the soul earth-bound. Even concepts like gravity which we take for granted were not part of the first-century worldview. Whether Paul in particular would have thought about these things in exactly the same way is harder to say, but the fact that he considers it possible that he took a trip to the third heaven without leaving his body seems to me to indicate that he shared at least much of the same view as Luke, which was of course what most people thought in that time period.

    Pseudonym, your comment reminded me of a scene from Johnny English…

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Pär, anyone who uses the word “facepalmed” correctly, as you did, has no need to apologize for his English!

    I think that Luke’s depiction of the ascension indicates that at least he thought of heaven as somewhere that one can get to by going up in literal fashion. He probably was confident that no one could do so without divine assistance, at least not without being liberated from the matter that keeps the soul earth-bound. Even concepts like gravity which we take for granted were not part of the first-century worldview. Whether Paul in particular would have thought about these things in exactly the same way is harder to say, but the fact that he considers it possible that he took a trip to the third heaven without leaving his body seems to me to indicate that he shared at least much of the same view as Luke, which was of course what most people thought in that time period.

    Pseudonym, your comment reminded me of a scene from Johnny English…

  • Yourpoliticalanimal

    You unbelievers are fulfilling Peter’s prophecy, which states, “There will come scoffers in the last days who will say, “Where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep (died) all things continue as they were . . . ” 2 Peter 3:3-4 . . .Jesus is returning again, no one knows when, but He who is faithful, he who is true, shall come again . . . literally . . .

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Yourpoliticalanimal, the statement in 2 Peter you mention seems to be part of a letter that was written in Peter’s name rather later, and so it is not so much a prophecy as a commentary using Peter’s voice on things going on in the author’s time.

      One shouldn’t treat this one late pseudepigraphal as if it offers “the” New Testament perspective on what to do about the fact that Jesus did not return as expected. Luke interprets the prediction in Mark 13 so that, on the one hand, it focuses on the fall of Jerusalem, while on the other, it makes Jesus not only not say the end is near, but call those who say that false prophets! On the other hand, the Gospel of John reinterprets the second coming spiritually, so that Jesus and the Father will come and make their home with believers.

      Then, as now, Christians have had more than one perspective on this subject.

  • Yourpoliticalanimal

    You unbelievers are fulfilling Peter’s prophecy, which states, “There will come scoffers in the last days who will say, “Where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep (died) all things continue as they were . . . ” 2 Peter 3:3-4 . . .Jesus is returning again, no one knows when, but He who is faithful, he who is true, shall come again . . . literally . . .

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Yourpoliticalanimal, the statement in 2 Peter you mention seems to be part of a letter that was written in Peter’s name rather later, and so it is not so much a prophecy as a commentary using Peter’s voice on things going on in the author’s time.

      One shouldn’t treat this one late pseudepigraphal as if it offers “the” New Testament perspective on what to do about the fact that Jesus did not return as expected. Luke interprets the prediction in Mark 13 so that, on the one hand, it focuses on the fall of Jerusalem, while on the other, it makes Jesus not only not say the end is near, but call those who say that false prophets! On the other hand, the Gospel of John reinterprets the second coming spiritually, so that Jesus and the Father will come and make their home with believers.

      Then, as now, Christians have had more than one perspective on this subject.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    And I’m happy you’re both happy – and also happy that the Washington Post decided to pick up this blog post on their website. That was a really nice “housewarming” present for the blog’s move to Patheos. It happened just in time, too, since by this time tomorrow, the amount of attention this subject is getting will probably have waned significantly. :-)

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    And I’m happy you’re both happy – and also happy that the Washington Post decided to pick up this blog post on their website. That was a really nice “housewarming” present for the blog’s move to Patheos. It happened just in time, too, since by this time tomorrow, the amount of attention this subject is getting will probably have waned significantly. :-)

  • Yourpoliticalanimal

    @Prof. McGrath- Sound biblical exegesis demands that, unless otherwise directed, we should take the Bible literally. Yes, there are allegories in the Bible, as when the apostle Paul told the Galatian Christians the allegory of Hagar and Sarah, Hagar representing Mount Sinai, or the restricting Law of Moses, and Sarah representing the liberty that we find in Christ. The apostle even says that it’s an allegory . . . but to deny the literal Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, to allegorize it, is isegesis, not exegesis . . . If so-called biblical scholars spent their energy witnessing for Christ instead of denying the truth of the gospel . . . but I suppose they fulfill the apostle Paul’s assertion that many are “every learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth . . . ” sad, so sad . . .

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Yourpoliticalanimal, Thank you for your comment. I am not proposing an allegorical interpretation of the second coming. I am suggesting that, like the idea if a dome over the earth in Genesis 1, or heaven as literally up (above the dome), or the heart rather than the brain as the locus of thought in Paul’s letters, we need to recognize that they were indeed intended literally by New Testament authors, and then decide what the appropriate course of action is for Christians today – to reinterpret, to treat as metaphor, or to set aside. But whether you like it or not and whether you admit it or not, Christians already do that with parts of the Bible, although we do not consistently admit honestly that that is what we are doing.

      What I find sad is that scholars, those who study the Bible in detail and are genuinely familiar with its contents, are criticized by those whose knowledge of the Bible is much more superficial, because we are trying to offer serious discussion of problems the Bible itself raises.

  • Yourpoliticalanimal

    @Prof. McGrath- Sound biblical exegesis demands that, unless otherwise directed, we should take the Bible literally. Yes, there are allegories in the Bible, as when the apostle Paul told the Galatian Christians the allegory of Hagar and Sarah, Hagar representing Mount Sinai, or the restricting Law of Moses, and Sarah representing the liberty that we find in Christ. The apostle even says that it’s an allegory . . . but to deny the literal Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, to allegorize it, is isegesis, not exegesis . . . If so-called biblical scholars spent their energy witnessing for Christ instead of denying the truth of the gospel . . . but I suppose they fulfill the apostle Paul’s assertion that many are “every learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth . . . ” sad, so sad . . .

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Yourpoliticalanimal, Thank you for your comment. I am not proposing an allegorical interpretation of the second coming. I am suggesting that, like the idea if a dome over the earth in Genesis 1, or heaven as literally up (above the dome), or the heart rather than the brain as the locus of thought in Paul’s letters, we need to recognize that they were indeed intended literally by New Testament authors, and then decide what the appropriate course of action is for Christians today – to reinterpret, to treat as metaphor, or to set aside. But whether you like it or not and whether you admit it or not, Christians already do that with parts of the Bible, although we do not consistently admit honestly that that is what we are doing.

      What I find sad is that scholars, those who study the Bible in detail and are genuinely familiar with its contents, are criticized by those whose knowledge of the Bible is much more superficial, because we are trying to offer serious discussion of problems the Bible itself raises.

  • Yourpoliticalanimal

    @Prof. McGrath- The problem that I and many others have is, almost whenever we hear these scholars discussing the Bible, ie., the History Channel, seminaries, etc., they are attacking the veracity of the Scriptures. For example, if we can say that the story of Jonah and the “Fish” isn’t to be taken literally, then the resurrection of Jesus can’t be taken literally, because Jesus himself compared the two: “For just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days and nights, so shall the Son of Man be three days and nights in the heart of the earth.” If the Second Coming isn’t to be taken literally, this gives us license to question the first Advent, for the angels declared at Jesus’s ascension, “This same Jesus who is taken into heaven in your presence shall come in like manner as you saw him go into heaven.” Now if his ascension is literal, so is his Second Coming. The only area for debate among Christians is whether it is pre-tribulation, mid-trib, post-trib, etc., but to deny the Second Coming, for a Christian, is to deny biblical inerrancy . . . either the Bible is trustworthy in its teachings or it’s not . . . Again, Peter’s prophecy predicted that many “scoffers” would arise who would deny the Lord’s coming, simply because God’s timetable has exhausted the patience of worldly men . . . “but know this, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day . . . God is not bound by time and space as we are, and we would do well to remember that . . . this Harold Camping is nothing but another in a long line of charlatans who made a lot of money off of gullible kool-aid drinkers . . . from Jim Jones, to David Koresh, to Applewhite, to Harold Camping . . . P.T. Barnum was partially right, but I say there’s a sucker born every 30 seconds, not every minute . . . as I close let me ask you: As a professor of New Testament, doesn’t your conscience demand that you teach your students to believe in the writings of Jesus and his holy apostles and prophets???

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      My conscience dictates that I tell students the truth about the Bible even when it runs counter to the doctrine of inerrancy that some would impose upon it. I used to hold that sort of view (i.e. Inerrancy) myself, but eventually realized that I was having to defend my doctrine of Scripture from evidence within the Bible itself. If one is willing to do that, then the Bible ceases to be the ultimate authority anyway. And so I prefer to take Paul at his word, and accept that there were times when he spoke “as a fool, and not according to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 11:17) rather than try impose on him a demand that his every word consistently reflect the wisdom of God.

  • Yourpoliticalanimal

    @Prof. McGrath- The problem that I and many others have is, almost whenever we hear these scholars discussing the Bible, ie., the History Channel, seminaries, etc., they are attacking the veracity of the Scriptures. For example, if we can say that the story of Jonah and the “Fish” isn’t to be taken literally, then the resurrection of Jesus can’t be taken literally, because Jesus himself compared the two: “For just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days and nights, so shall the Son of Man be three days and nights in the heart of the earth.” If the Second Coming isn’t to be taken literally, this gives us license to question the first Advent, for the angels declared at Jesus’s ascension, “This same Jesus who is taken into heaven in your presence shall come in like manner as you saw him go into heaven.” Now if his ascension is literal, so is his Second Coming. The only area for debate among Christians is whether it is pre-tribulation, mid-trib, post-trib, etc., but to deny the Second Coming, for a Christian, is to deny biblical inerrancy . . . either the Bible is trustworthy in its teachings or it’s not . . . Again, Peter’s prophecy predicted that many “scoffers” would arise who would deny the Lord’s coming, simply because God’s timetable has exhausted the patience of worldly men . . . “but know this, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day . . . God is not bound by time and space as we are, and we would do well to remember that . . . this Harold Camping is nothing but another in a long line of charlatans who made a lot of money off of gullible kool-aid drinkers . . . from Jim Jones, to David Koresh, to Applewhite, to Harold Camping . . . P.T. Barnum was partially right, but I say there’s a sucker born every 30 seconds, not every minute . . . as I close let me ask you: As a professor of New Testament, doesn’t your conscience demand that you teach your students to believe in the writings of Jesus and his holy apostles and prophets???

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      My conscience dictates that I tell students the truth about the Bible even when it runs counter to the doctrine of inerrancy that some would impose upon it. I used to hold that sort of view (i.e. Inerrancy) myself, but eventually realized that I was having to defend my doctrine of Scripture from evidence within the Bible itself. If one is willing to do that, then the Bible ceases to be the ultimate authority anyway. And so I prefer to take Paul at his word, and accept that there were times when he spoke “as a fool, and not according to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 11:17) rather than try impose on him a demand that his every word consistently reflect the wisdom of God.

  • Yourpoliticalanimal

    @Prof. McGrath . . . yes, but by the very fact that there were times when Paul said that he was speaking according to his own wisdom and didn’t have a direct commandment from the Lord, proves beyond doubt the integrity of the Bible . . . you just said that the Bible isn’t the ultimate authority for Christian thought and life . . . that’s like saying that the U.S. Constitution isn’t the ultimate authority for U.S. law and policy . . . You think that you’re freeing your students but you are actually bringing them into further bondage because you have denied the holy authority of the Scripture, which are “Holy-Spirit breathed,” . . . with no prophecy of the Scripture being of private (man-made) interpretation . . .but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost . . . please tell me that you believe the believer has to be filled with and led by the Holy Ghost . . . please tell me that you believe the “holy men” were inspired by the Holy Ghost when they wrote holy writ . . . to believe otherwise is apostasy at its worse . . . comparable to when Jim Jones took the Bible and threw it on the floor as he denounced its efficacy . . . of course we know where that insidious action led . . . to the grave . . . and hell . . . I encourage you to examine your conscience before it’s too late . . . for as teachers we shall receive greater condemnation . . .

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      @Yourpoliticalanimal, simply saying that what another person says proves your point without explaining how it supposedly does so is not an argument. Nor is saying one’s opponent is like Jim Jones when it is not clear that the comparison works. Personally, I don’t know of anyone using mainstream scholarly study of the Bible to get people to commit mass suicide. So if there was actually a point that you wanted to make, I’d be grateful if you would try again.

  • Yourpoliticalanimal

    @Prof. McGrath . . . yes, but by the very fact that there were times when Paul said that he was speaking according to his own wisdom and didn’t have a direct commandment from the Lord, proves beyond doubt the integrity of the Bible . . . you just said that the Bible isn’t the ultimate authority for Christian thought and life . . . that’s like saying that the U.S. Constitution isn’t the ultimate authority for U.S. law and policy . . . You think that you’re freeing your students but you are actually bringing them into further bondage because you have denied the holy authority of the Scripture, which are “Holy-Spirit breathed,” . . . with no prophecy of the Scripture being of private (man-made) interpretation . . .but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost . . . please tell me that you believe the believer has to be filled with and led by the Holy Ghost . . . please tell me that you believe the “holy men” were inspired by the Holy Ghost when they wrote holy writ . . . to believe otherwise is apostasy at its worse . . . comparable to when Jim Jones took the Bible and threw it on the floor as he denounced its efficacy . . . of course we know where that insidious action led . . . to the grave . . . and hell . . . I encourage you to examine your conscience before it’s too late . . . for as teachers we shall receive greater condemnation . . .

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      @Yourpoliticalanimal, simply saying that what another person says proves your point without explaining how it supposedly does so is not an argument. Nor is saying one’s opponent is like Jim Jones when it is not clear that the comparison works. Personally, I don’t know of anyone using mainstream scholarly study of the Bible to get people to commit mass suicide. So if there was actually a point that you wanted to make, I’d be grateful if you would try again.

  • Cotswoldsrose

    The Jews predicted the Messiah’s coming thousands of years before it happened, and it was certainly not a non-event. Also, the Second Coming would surely happen in ways that defy our known principles of science, just as the Resurrection did. We’d better be careful what beliefs and prophecies we discard.

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      @CotswaldRose, I’m not sure what prophecies you believe date from “thousands of years” before the time of Jesus, but that may just reflect a lack of clarity about when the Biblical texts were composed. Presumably you don’t have in mind texts like those quoted in Matthew 1-2, most or all of which, in their original contexts, clearly are not predictions about a Messiah, much less specifically about Jesus. The truth is that early Christians reinterpreted the very notion of Messiah, and that might seem to lend some support for the idea that we should at times revise our thinking in light of what actually happens.

  • Cotswoldsrose

    The Jews predicted the Messiah’s coming thousands of years before it happened, and it was certainly not a non-event. Also, the Second Coming would surely happen in ways that defy our known principles of science, just as the Resurrection did. We’d better be careful what beliefs and prophecies we discard.

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      @CotswaldRose, I’m not sure what prophecies you believe date from “thousands of years” before the time of Jesus, but that may just reflect a lack of clarity about when the Biblical texts were composed. Presumably you don’t have in mind texts like those quoted in Matthew 1-2, most or all of which, in their original contexts, clearly are not predictions about a Messiah, much less specifically about Jesus. The truth is that early Christians reinterpreted the very notion of Messiah, and that might seem to lend some support for the idea that we should at times revise our thinking in light of what actually happens.

  • Michele M.

    What I find sad is that scholars, those who study the Bible in detail and are genuinely familiar with its contents, are criticized by those whose knowledge of the Bible is much more superficial, because we are trying to offer serious discussion of problems the Bible itself raises.

    @Prof.McGrath and Yourpoliticalanimal/AntonioJerez:
    I’m a bit intimidated to join this thread, but I deeply respect what Professor McGrath has dedicated his work to. That said, here is what I observe.

    In Mark 12, Jesus answers a scribe with this: “The first of all the commandments is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.”
    In this conversation I hear Jesus speaking to the personal integrity (holistically speaking) that is required for a believer to experience the “kingdom of God” — an undividedness or wholeness of being. My mind’s assent is tantamount to this integrity. It cannot be “Left Behind”, if you will, or my access to God’s “kingdom” will be compromised. My mind has to come along for this journey to be authentic.

    Unfortunately, since the time when I was a young adult, after my collision with this Kingdom and the person of Jesus, experiences with zeal-without-knowledge, legalism, ‘charismania’, and nationalism (thinly-veiled), have systematically closed this kingdom down to an ever-shrinking (and always self-serving) charade that, in moments of transcendant insight, would strike the saddest chord in my spirit – if they weren’t so ridiculous. Hence, the insidious creep of cynicism.

    I am heartened and relieved to hear serious and educated discussions by thinking Christians. Revelations aside, I fear I cannot stay with a faith that bypasses my mind. So, if that means I have to reinterpret words and meanings and rethink doctrines “in light of further experience and discovery” then it’s worth it to me to join the discussion.

    Thank you Professor McGrath

    post script: I have noticed that the addition of “with all your mind” came with Jesus’ quote of Deut. 6:5 (not included in Deut.)

  • Michele M.

    What I find sad is that scholars, those who study the Bible in detail and are genuinely familiar with its contents, are criticized by those whose knowledge of the Bible is much more superficial, because we are trying to offer serious discussion of problems the Bible itself raises.

    @Prof.McGrath and Yourpoliticalanimal/AntonioJerez:
    I’m a bit intimidated to join this thread, but I deeply respect what Professor McGrath has dedicated his work to. That said, here is what I observe.

    In Mark 12, Jesus answers a scribe with this: “The first of all the commandments is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.”
    In this conversation I hear Jesus speaking to the personal integrity (holistically speaking) that is required for a believer to experience the “kingdom of God” — an undividedness or wholeness of being. My mind’s assent is tantamount to this integrity. It cannot be “Left Behind”, if you will, or my access to God’s “kingdom” will be compromised. My mind has to come along for this journey to be authentic.

    Unfortunately, since the time when I was a young adult, after my collision with this Kingdom and the person of Jesus, experiences with zeal-without-knowledge, legalism, ‘charismania’, and nationalism (thinly-veiled), have systematically closed this kingdom down to an ever-shrinking (and always self-serving) charade that, in moments of transcendant insight, would strike the saddest chord in my spirit – if they weren’t so ridiculous. Hence, the insidious creep of cynicism.

    I am heartened and relieved to hear serious and educated discussions by thinking Christians. Revelations aside, I fear I cannot stay with a faith that bypasses my mind. So, if that means I have to reinterpret words and meanings and rethink doctrines “in light of further experience and discovery” then it’s worth it to me to join the discussion.

    Thank you Professor McGrath

    post script: I have noticed that the addition of “with all your mind” came with Jesus’ quote of Deut. 6:5 (not included in Deut.)

  • Anonymous

    That’s bloody weird is what it is.

  • Anonymous

    “I guess there can be some sort of “Christianity” that does not anticipate a Parousia, the final bodily resurrection, and a judgment, but Christianity without these things is about as worthwhile as every other self-help, moralizing worldview on the market.”

    Bingo! Except less so due to the extreme worship of the “holy personality” archetype.

  • kjwrite

    While there certainly is no ‘rapture’ as it is taught, you finished by saying you need to write off the second coming. The moment has passed you by… #iwearwhite