What does the Bible have to say about the crisis in Syria? (hint: nothing. absolutely nothing)

I came across an article on USA Today’s website that disturbs me–imagine that, finding something disturbing on the internet. Go figure.

Anyway, the article is “Some see biblical visions of doom in Syria trouble.” The article itself is fine, since some quotes urge caution about reading current events on the pages of the Bible.

What’s disturbing is that such an article even needs to be written.

Apparently the logic of it all goes something like this:

Syria is mentioned in the Old Testament as an object of God’s wrath.

Hey…lookie here…why of all the darndest things…a country called Syria is part of the Middle East right now and its government is doing terrible things.

That means, clearly, that the Old Testament must be talking about our current events. After all, what other explanation could possibly account for this bizarre scenario? And so, what held then holds now: Syria needs to be bombed. I’m just going with what God says. 

Ugh, sigh, and face palm.

Ancient Israel was in almost constant conflict with someone–and in the 9th and especially the 8th centuries, Syria was a major player.

Biblical prophets, like Isaiah, spoke to these international affairs. Chapter 17 of Isaiah is all about Damascus (i.e., Syria), and it begins:

See, Damascus will cease to be a city, and will become a heap of ruins. Her towns will be deserted forever. 

The chapter ends with a promise that God will rebuke the nations, and:

Before morning, they are no more. This is the fate of all who dispoil us, and the lot of those who plunder us.

Damascus is God’s enemy because it is Israel’s enemy, and count on it, they will get theirs soon enough.

One of the bigger missteps in the history of the western Christian fundamentalist view of the Bible is the idea that the biblical records of ancient hostilities are simply veiled references for what is going on in whatever moment we happen to be living in.

I get the idea behind it: the Bible is God’s word that “speaks to me,” and so all of it, somehow, has to connect with me and my world right at this very moment. But this mentality freaks me out for several reason, including but not limited to the following:

1. This view assumes that believing that the Bible is God’s word implies it must somehow be all about us. That assumption is not born from the biblical texts themselves, which say no such thing, but stems from a spiritual self-centeredness that is wrapped up in layers and layers of self-insulating theological rhetoric.

Many Christians simply adopt this mentality, not because they are stupid or horrible people, but because of the Christin subculture in which they were raised, and they see no other way of being faithful to God.

2. This view misunderstands biblical prophets as being concerned with “end times prophecies.” They weren’t. Their focus was on what was happening in their world and what God would do about it in the near future in delivering Israel from her enemies and kicking the other nations butts–or happily allowing them to join the party if they bow the knee to Yahweh.

Think of prophets not as predictors of way, way in the future “end times” scenarios, but preachers bringing the word of God to their contemporaries. That’s what being a “prophet” meant in ancient Israel. If you read the prophetic literature as a personal letter to you and your world, you are abusing the texts.

3. This view encourages a view of God who is out to get the nations that are a threat to Israel, Christianity–or worse, America, which is simply assumed to be God’s special little patch of ground, a “new Israel.” What is lost in this rhetoric is all the Jesus stuff, where tribal culture is left behind and the people of God are to be agents of peace and healing among the nations.

The crisis in Syria is tragic. Something needs to be done, and something likely will–hopefully a peaceful solution.

Just don’t drag Israel’s ancient conflicts with Syria into it and call it God’s will for today.

  • Jonathan Becker

    Thanks for the refreshing post, Pete.

  • Collins

    Pete, this is just fantastic. It’s firm but kind admonishment to many of our brothers and sisters.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    I do believe one can derive many things about Syria from Scripture.

    Since the Bible is full of contradictions, you can derive many different doom-day scenarios supported by “Scripture”.

    And you can also derive various doctrines, adopt them as those of your Church, distort the meaning of all opposed verses, and call everyone not agreeing with you a heretic.

    Putting events and predictions out of their historical context is another aggravating factor.

    It is vital to grasp this dynamics for anyone interested in studying (and helping) fundamentalists.

    Lovely greetings from Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

    • labreuer

      Since the Bible is full of contradictions, you can derive many different doom-day scenarios supported by “Scripture”.

      I think from now on, whenever someone tells me that “the Bible is full of contradictions”, I’ll respond with “life is full of contradictions”. If the latter statement is true in the same sense that the former is true, the former statement becomes relatively meaningless. It’s rhetoric meant to debase the Bible without applying any of the kind of rigor that Christians are routinely lambasted for not applying. Christians call this kind of behavior ‘hypocritical’; I’m not sure if it’s the same for you, or just one of those contradictions in life. :-/

      Scripture places plenty of constraints upon things if one refuses to treat it in a cafeteria style. Interpreters tend to deal with apparent contradictions in the same way that one deals with apparent contradictions in science (e.g. light ‘being’ both a particle and a wave—we now know that it is useful to think of it propagating as a wave and interacting as a particle): hold the ideas in tension until you can clarify the issue.

      Now, it may be true that the Bible contains bona fide contradictions—like two subtly or not so subtly different theologies. This isn’t necessarily a problem if one views the Bible as designed by God to teach us—having it be 100% error-free is not the only way to achieve that purpose. It may be beneficial for us to ask whether we think an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect deity would really act the way that God is recorded as acting. Imagine how poor an education in Plato would be if one were not allowed to question whether the various characters in his writings are right or wrong!

  • Caleb G.

    Pete,
    How do you interpret the prophesy that “Damascus will cease to be a city”? Is this an example of a failed prophesy like Ezekiel’s prophesy that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Tyre?

    • peteenns

      Probably more like exaggeration.

      • Theodor

        Why see it as exaggeration? That might make us stop that we really can trust the scriptures to be true, doesn’t it?
        Of course do i have problems with the arguments mentioned in the article myself too, but that doesnot take away that there might be a endtime aspect in this prophecy. What’s your argument that it cannot if you might think so?

  • Jesse Herb

    Timely post! Good job Pete.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Point #2 can’t be emphasized enough. Readings of the future aren’t found in astrology or the Bible

  • Vic Christian

    Pete and commenters – much of the prophesy in the OT is two-fold – part to occur at that time and partially to occur in the far future, possibly to coincide with the future wars in Ezekiel and Revelation. Note – I guess you may not believe this if you discount or just throw out much of scripture.

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      And you base this interpretation on… ?

      • Vic Christian

        The Bible, prophesies from the OT, study of Ezekiel and Revelation, 40 + years of Christian life – but mainly by believing that the Bible is in fact the Word of God, and is truthful.

        • Klasie Kraalogies

          You aren’t answering my question. On what do you base your interpretive principle of double meaning? Illustrate, from the text or elsewhere, why this is a valid interpretive method.

          • Marshall

            On what do you base your interpretive principle of single meaning? Give an illustration of a text or real-world situation that unambiguously means one thing and one thing only.

          • Mary

            Since Vic threw down the gauntlet don’t you think he should answer? It is awfully convenient to interpret the bible that way. Anything that hasn’t come true is tossed unto the “future” bin even though it is quite evident that in fact the author was talking about situations that existed at the time. Not only that but the prophecies that supposedly have come true have been the taken so much out of context that they are meaningless.

            Basically the burden of proof lies with the one who makes the claim.

          • Marshall

            Do you think I should not be answering?? Whyever??

            As I see it, KK made a claim, that an interpretive principle of multiple meanings is at least dubious … KK might prefer “invalid”. So I suggested that there is a “burden of proof” on him to back up his claim.

            I probably don’t agree with Vic about prophesy. I think that scripture is about moral lessons, not fortune-telling, and I think there are moral lessons for us 2013 internet humans in eg Ezekiel and Revelation. Different lessons than for readers at the time, sure. Different lessons for you than for me, very possibly. That’s Scripture for you.

            … why do you people hang around on an Evangelical blog, anyway??

          • Klasie Kraalogies

            I did not make a claim – I asked Vic about his claim.

            As to why we hang around – who is “we”, and why do you hang around?

          • Marshall

            I wan’t talking to you, I was talking to Mary, but you have my permission to speak for her if you like. I demand that she respond to the challenge I made to her, to produce an unambiguous statement of fact.

          • Klasie Kraalogies

            “…I demand….” – hmm.

          • Marshall

            Illustrate … why this is a valid interpretive method.

            Imperative mood – woo hoo

            Also, you aren’t being clear whether you are speaking for yourself or for Mary.

          • Mary

            Hmmm…did I miss the memo that said that Pete died and put you in charge here?

            I can speak for myself and what you are is an Imperious Troll.

          • Mary

            Exactly why would either one of us need your “permission” to speak or not speak? A bit tight in the buttocks aren’t you?

          • Mary

            If you “probably don’t agree” with Vic then I fail to see what your point was in bringing this up in the first place. As far as I could tell you were agreeing with him and rather than present evidence for your point of view you decided to harrass KK.

            I “hang around” this site because it is really more progressive than evangelical.

            And I am not a genie who obeys your every command by the way. You cannot “demand” that I answer. The fact is that it appears that you are only interested in arguing, not a honest discussion of the facts.

          • Marshall

            Vic is neither here nor there. My objection is to KK and his perniscious assertion that there is one and only one right way to do Biblical interpretation, and his other ingenuous two-steps. Are you speaking for him (KK) as well as yourself?

            I am not trolling. I am practicing the “Four Knights” variation. And yes thank you, I have a very fine leg for a man of my standing.

          • Mary

            I do not speak for KK and he does not speak for me. We don’t know each other. I do not see that he was necessarilly arguing for a particular way of interpretation, he was just asking a question. But beyond that Vic’s position makes no sense at all. So maybe he was rightly challenging him. The fact is that you cannot make a claim like that without providing evidence. In fact you cannot argue ANY position of biblical prophecy without evidence. Therefore if KK came up with a specific idea of how to interpret prophecy then I would expect him to back up his claims as well.

            The fact is that I personally see no evidence of biblical prophecy at all, although I am interested in the topic intellectually. Many of the quotes in the gospels don’t even exist in the OT. Another is mangled and mistranslated and refers to a situation that was going on at the time (the virgin birth prophecy). It makes no sense to take it out of its original context. Essentially people read into the texts anything they want to.

            If I understand Vic’s position he would be arguing that the virgin birth prophecy refers both to that time PLUS Jesus’ time as well. I consider THAT to be a “two-step” and it appears to me that KK considered it to be also and so that is why he challenged it. Why you should get upset at him asking a question is beyond me.

            Again I do not speak for him but I was rather interested in hearing Vic’s answer as well and so I was annoyed that you took things in a different direction. Quite frankly you are VERY arrogant as you demonstrated when you demanded that I reply to you. And it is downright ODD that you would demand that from KK or say that he has the right to talk for me.

            The reason I consider you to be a troll is that you have added nothing to this conversation at all. You just seem to like to insult people.

          • Marshall

            ” … you cannot make a claim like that …”

            Not sure where you get off, telling people what they can and can’t do. “I personally see no evidence …”, since Vic’s 40+ years of disciplined living doesn’t count for anything. According to you, it’s your life-experience or the low road. But contrary to KK’s forced binary choice (two-step), scripture is the subject of “pervasive interpretive pluralism”, grounded in multiple cultures. The NT authors aren’t quoting the OT, they are interpreting it, revealing it. What culture are you interpreting from? Check your privilege, Sister.

  • rvs

    Your “hint” is absolutely wonderful.

  • James

    Yes, prophecy as the view across two mountain peaks, one near and one far off (“these last days”), is the diet I also grew up on–but now take differently. I think there is a predictive element in OT prophecy, but we might better call it apocalyptic. God will eventually set everything right, but who could have guessed his program would concern primarily the advent and return of Jesus of Nazareth!

  • Muff Potter

    I think that for once Sarah Palin got it right on the Syria thing when she quipped:
    “…Let Allah sort it out…”

    • rapidron

      I thought she said “I can see Syria from my house”

  • the christian

    It saids mans heart is wicked…and who could know it.

    • labreuer

      What about a redeemed heart, a heart of flesh that replaced the heart of stone? Is that heart “desperately wicked”?

      • Vic Christian

        Yes – the heart is still desperately wicked. Believers are redeemed, but still sin.

        • labreuer

          You are claiming that:

          (1) Believers sin.

          necessarily leads to:

          (2) The heart in believers is ‘desperately wicked’.

          I’m not sure I see any biblical support for this! Let’s look at the beginning of Jeremiah 17:

          “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars,

          And now let’s look at the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:

          “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

          Then add some Ezekiel:

          And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,

          What do you make of the above scripture, in contrast to “heart is desperately wicked”? Perhaps you might say that the Christian’s heart is partly wicked and party good? If not, I do not understand how you read the Bible.

  • Norman

    Guys, the full Preterist community has been jumping on this
    problem of using a literal eschatology for decades by pointing out this last day’s
    craziness. Thank goodness scholars like Pete are beginning to demonstrate how
    to properly interpret apocalyptic type literature beginning in Genesis.
    Hopefully scholars will start putting 2 and 2 together and use the same
    consistent hermeneutic for Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation and along with Matt
    23-25. Typically though most scholars
    still give lip service to a physical return to Eden even though they disavow
    the Genesis Garden by recognizing its proper genre.

    Be prepared to be ostracized and called heretics by the evangelical
    church though if you follow Pete’s lead here by not playing their game.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Norman, my friend, not playing the game doesn’t equate to adopting preterism

      • Anna

        It will, eventually.

        • Andrew Dowling

          I don’t see why, since I see no need to mandate that prophecies in the Bible come true (or came true) at some point. Revelation reflects the hopes, fears, and aspirations of the text’s author, as do the works of the Prophets in the OT. These can manifest Godly insight, and quite beautifully at that, but It’s not (and was never) a foray into a holy magic 8 ball.

          • Norman

            Andrew,

            The bible bases its foundation as authoritative and credible
            with the ability of prophets to foretell the coming of messiah. As Paul says we
            are to be pitied if Christ didn’t rise from the dead so we start with that
            supernatural event. The whole early Christian paradigm was built upon the
            concept that Christ projected the coming destruction of Jerusalem 40 years
            before hand as a just retribution and judgment based upon corruption in the
            Jewish system. Josephus says that event occurred in Sept of AD70.

            If we want to strip down Christianity to just a New Age
            spiritual manifestation somehow then so be it. So far I haven’t been convinced
            that the Christians didn’t experience a miraculous period of divine
            breakthrough. I know the “Historical
            Scholarly Investigation” and I embrace it to an extent but I don’t come to many
            of the same non miraculous conclusions that permeate non evangelical
            scholarship, although I could be swayed in that direction because I’m typically
            analytical in nature. I try to look for
            the middle ground if it can be sustained logically.

            I understand that Jewish literature had a propensity to
            write literature that appeared to be historical to one period but was actually
            written from a post event projecting that event. So you really have to be
            careful with pieces like Daniel and 4Ezra and keep an eye out for that
            possibility in other pieces but there is just too much evidence IMHO that much
            literature was written before AD70 and therefore wasn’t a divine conspiracy written
            post event to look like it was pre event.
            Too much NT literature was obsessed with Judgment upon the Jews and
            their system to have all conspired to ignore AD70 when that event was
            considered the equivalent of King Neb’s destruction of the First Temple
            Judgment and had covenant consequences.

            The Jews also were not monolithic in ideology otherwise
            there would have been no seedbed for Christianity to take root and flourish as
            it did. There was a long ingrained dissatisfaction with Judaism by the OT
            prophets and that discontent percolated throughout 2nd T period
            until Christ and resonates strongly with Paul’s work.

            But Andrew I do appreciate your intellectual approach to
            your investigation of Christianity because even though I’m not comfortable with
            some of your conclusion I do think we have to ask those questions and deal with
            them. I think I have but hey, we all carry bias don’t we. :)

            Blessings

            Norm

          • Andrew Dowling

            “The bible bases its foundation as authoritative and credible
            with the ability of prophets to foretell the coming of messiah”

            I wouldn’t agree with that statement. If one is placing the Bible as authoritative because of its accuracy in prophetic prognostication, one is going to have to engage in astute mental gymnastics to even try to entertain the many prophecies that, if taken to mean predictions of the future, clearly never happened.

            “The whole early Christian paradigm was built upon the
            concept that Christ projected the coming destruction of Jerusalem 40 years before hand as a just retribution and judgment based upon corruption in the Jewish system.”

            If the early paradigm was built around this concept why is it never mentioned in Paul’s letters? And I’m not talking about general critiques of the Law or a coming of the parousia, but references to the destruction of the Temple and the Capital City of the Jewish faith . . not even alluded to once. Rather bizarre omission if that was a central paradigm of Jesus’s teaching and early Christian belief.

            “I understand that Jewish literature had a propensity to
            write literature that appeared to be historical to one period but was actually written from a post event projecting that event.”

            OK . . . but certain texts were definitely written before the event because . . .they fit your theology more? Can you at least admit you aren’t being consistent here?

            “but there is just too much evidence IMHO that much
            literature was written before AD70 and therefore wasn’t a divine conspiracy written
            post event to look like it was pre event.”

            Does it not strike you, from a logical standpoint, that early Christian communities post-Jewish War, now completely ostracized by the coalescing Jewish community, would logically view the destruction of Jerusalem post-facto as some sort of divine justice . . and corresponding nicely with Christianity attempting to usurp the Jewish narrative while simultaneously declaring the surviving adherents inferior and not following the truth? And all of the internal and external evidence putting Mark, the first Gospel, clearly at the time of during or right after Jerusalem’s destruction? Not even many conservative scholars will pitch their tents at the argument that most of the NT was written pre 65 AD . . .I know Robinson’s arguments, and they stretch credulity to the extremes.

            “The Jews also were not monolithic in ideology otherwise
            there would have been no seedbed for Christianity to take root and flourish as it did.”

            I agree

            “There was a long ingrained dissatisfaction with Judaism by the OT prophets and that discontent percolated throughout 2nd T period until Christ”

            Dissatisfaction with religious authorities, the spiritual state of the people, cultural norms etc. . . .Yes. Discontent with Judaism? . . No, there were Jews through and through looking to reform their people’s relationship and understanding of God. You talk about Jewish diversity but none of the “protesting prophets” wanted to destroy Judaism . . that idea would be incredibly strange to them.

            Not to mention the bizarre ethical notions that come with picturing the destruction of Jerusalem as a divine action. Thousands upon thousands of innocent women and children massacred (and likely scores raped and tortured by the Roman army as well) . . .all to show God’s vengeance upon the Jews for rejecting Jesus? The people who Jesus and his disciples had come from and many (likely most) still considered themselves a part of? Talk about twisted . .

          • Norman

            Andrew said … “I wouldn’t agree with that statement. “If one
            is placing the Bible as authoritative because of its accuracy in prophetic
            prognostication, one is going to have to engage in astute mental gymnastics to
            even try to entertain the many prophecies that, if taken to mean predictions of
            the future, clearly never happened.”

            I think you overstate my position, yet I believe most
            scholars would generally agree that the NT writers and apostles certainly
            believed that Christ was the fulfillment of the long awaited messianic coming.
            I don’t believe you can have it both ways by wanting to say no biblical
            fulfillment was achieved via Messiah which was certainly a prophetic projection
            yet say that “predictions never happened”. I’m not sure how you maintain a
            consistency yourself.

            Andrew said … “If the early paradigm was built around this
            concept why is it never mentioned in Paul’s letters? And I’m not talking about
            general critiques of the Law or a coming of the parousia, but references to the
            destruction of the Temple and the Capital City of the Jewish faith . . not even
            alluded to once. Rather bizarre omission if that was a central paradigm of
            Jesus’s teaching and early Christian belief.”

            Very simply you are flat wrong here. Here is just a smidgen
            of Paul’s consistent recognition of the Day of Judgment coming within their
            generation as projected by Christ. I can
            list many other similar occurrences in Paul’s writings but I would expect you
            would default to the concept that he is speaking to a generation thousands of
            years later like our evangelical friends do today ( applying Syria’s news today
            to scriptures) although I also expect you are going to try to project 2 Th to
            have been written after AD70 even though relief from Jewish persecution upon
            these specific Christians was the context of the writing and AD70 is what
            provided that relief. The Majority Jewish leadership were no longer in a
            position of extensively persecuting Christians after AD70 because they had just
            been decimated themselves. Read carefully and put the Jews in context of what
            Paul is writing (I realize you don’t think Paul wrote this but it defies logic
            to think that someone would write this after AD70 and ignore the biggest
            catastrophe upon Jews since the first Temple destruction. It may be bizarre and doesn’t fit your
            concepts but it fits Hebrew OT and 2nd T concepts of just retribution for
            murdering innocents. This judgment was seen as a righteous sign that God was
            protecting his faithful is a pretty easy observation in the NT.

            2Th 1:4-10 Therefore
            we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and
            faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are
            enduring. (5) This is evidence of the righteous judgment of
            God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are
            also suffering– (6) since indeed God considers it just to repay
            with affliction those who afflict you,
            (7) and to grant relief to you
            who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven
            with his mighty angels (8) in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on
            those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord
            Jesus. (9) They will suffer the punishment of eternal
            destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his
            might, (10) when he comes on that day to be glorified in
            his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our
            testimony to you was believed.

            Andrew said … “OK . . . but certain texts were definitely
            written before the event because . . .they fit your theology more? Can you at
            least admit you aren’t being consistent here?”

            What I admit is that one must be careful in not recognizing
            the potential for that possibility, but it does not provide license to use that
            as a pretext to assign everything written in NT times into this genre as many
            scholars are prone to do because of their presuppositions as well.

            Andrew said … “Does it not strike you, from a logical standpoint,
            that early Christian communities post-Jewish War, now completely ostracized by
            the coalescing Jewish community, would logically view the destruction of
            Jerusalem post-facto as some sort of divine justice . . and corresponding
            nicely with Christianity attempting to usurp the Jewish narrative while
            simultaneously declaring the surviving adherents inferior and not following the
            truth?”

            That is indeed a possibility but it doesn’t deal robustly
            enough with the OT and 2nd T propensity to harp upon the same problems within
            Judaism that these Christians believed were being corrected through Christ.
            This was the mindset of these early Christians way before AD70 as well. It
            doesn’t require a post realization to recognize what they considered a looming
            judgment from the earliest days of the Law in the OT. The Moses literature
            warned them they would fall under judgment and condemnation and so the
            Christians naturally recognized that their time would bring about this
            fulfillment and were looking for it. Paul again lays out what was looming ahead
            for them in covenant judgment which would change the legality of the Mosaic Law
            Order by setting it aside. The AD70 judgment was considered to be that Godly declaration just as it was
            with the first Temple judgment that led to their exile.

            Rom 2:9 There will be
            tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and
            also the Greek, … 12 For all who have
            sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have
            sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

            Andrew said … “Discontent with Judaism? . . No, there were
            Jews through and through looking to reform their people’s relationship and
            understanding of God.”

            Andrew, I’m amazed that you can’t see that Paul is
            antagonistic toward Judaism as it was being practiced under the Law of Moses.
            His complete thesis throughout his writings is about getting rid of the law
            which interferes with the higher order of walking in spirit with Christ. To
            ignore this is simply illogical and a complete avoidance of what drove Paul in
            his passion. He ties it all the way back
            to Adam who first received a Law in the Garden story and says explicitly that
            was the problem with the method of Judaism under Mosaic practices. He says that
            was in fact the Fall that Adam and Israel by extension were under because they
            practiced self-righteousness instead of relying upon the Lord to be their
            righteousness. That is the essence of what Paul and the NT writers are
            projecting in all their literature.

            Andrew I can’t deal with your last paragraph because I have
            similar concerns at this time. I don’t
            understand it but I do know that people in the ancient world looked at these
            kind of calamities as God’s judgments that befell wicked behavior. I think this is why the NT gospels present
            that Christ exhorted everyone to flee Jerusalem when they see the signs of the
            armies surrounding it. Those that believed Him fled and those who rejected Him
            were trapped in a great calamity that ushered in the end of Judaism as it had
            been practiced ever since the return from Babylonian exile. The literature of
            that period displays mightily the discontent though with the corruptness of
            that system and we see that also resonating within the DSS’s as well.

          • Andrew Dowling

            There’s a lot here, I will attempt to be brief:

            “the NT writers and apostles certainly
            believed that Christ was the fulfillment of the long awaited messianic coming”

            Right, but a major challenge was that Scripture hadn’t foretold a Messiah like Jesus, thus the rather creative use of Scriptures used in NT writings (like the the virgin birth narratives)

            As to 2nd Thessalonians, yes I concur with the non-evangelical majority that that epistle was written post 70 AD and not by Paul. It attempts to allay the delay of the imminent parousia that the real Paul preached. Ironically, the verse about not letting others attempt to say that the day of reckoning has already come is a direct reference to the events of the Jewish War . . .he’s speaking against the 1st century preterists! :)

            As for Jews not persecuting Christians post 70 AD, I’m not sure where you got that idea . . .it was after 70 AD as Jewish diversity was diminishing and Pharasaiic (sp?) Judaism was becoming the dominant/unifying form of that faith that Christians were increasingly getting thrown out of communities and synagogues. That is the backdrop of the entire Gospel of John.

            “I’m amazed that you can’t see that Paul is
            antagonistic toward Judaism as it was being practiced under the Law of Moses.”

            I was referring to Jesus and the OT Prophets.

            As for Paul, the relationship of Paul and Judaism is a controversial and complex topic, but since I presume you think Acts to be written early (60s), I’m surprised you seem to dismiss that book’s description of Paul still being a devout Jew through his whole life. It’s also hard to divulge his full feelings in letters addressed to Gentile communities, especially since IMO his feelings about Torah and justification were dependent upon his belief that the world would end within his lifetime.

            “I think this is why the NT gospels present that Christ exhorted everyone to flee Jerusalem when they see the signs of the armies surrounding it. Those that believed Him fled and those who rejected Him were trapped in a great calamity”

            Well I’m afraid I feel that framework to be very weak especially since the majority of people in Jerusalem wouldn’t have even known about Jesus’s prediction (if Jesus did ever preach the words of Mark 13, which I contend He did not)

          • Norman

            Andrew, I just don’t buy this modern day skepticism about
            Paul by Historical Scholars. Paul is
            simply reflecting the changing of the guard that was fermenting within Judaism for
            centuries. Spend some time reading the book of Ezekiel and pay attention
            especially to Eze 34 which is a commentary upon what was expected to happen at
            the time of Messiah. Judaism was
            undergoing a political revolution pure and simple and it was coming to a head
            during Paul’s days. Concerning Acts; I think you don’t pay close enough
            attention to Acts regarding Paul. Read
            again what Paul was encountering with the Jewish Christians when he returned to
            Jerusalem in Chp 21 and notice how there
            was deep concern with his “Jewishness” by the brothers. This changing of the Jewish Mosaic guard was
            going down hard with the Christian Jews who wanted to appropriate both Jesus
            and Moses and were deeply concerned with Paul’s teachings about their
            practices. So much so that Paul did what
            he said he had to do when he was with the Jews (1 Cor 9:20) and that was to accommodate
            to them in order to keep the peace. Paul
            had little use for these Judaizes as he called them when they came and tried to
            extend their legalistic practices upon the Gentiles. I’m sorry that this story
            line flies over the head of Historical scholars but they often time get ideas
            in their heads that simply are missing the boat.

            Also Andrew you make a serious exegetical error when you
            think that Paul was thinking the end of the Physical world was about to come
            about. When the OT and NT writers speak of a New Heavens and Earth or the end
            of the world or “age “they are talking about the end of the established Covenant
            world of Judaism as it has been practiced under Temple theology. They no more
            believed that the world was coming to a physical end than we believe there is a
            man in the moon (we impose this concept upon them due to poor Hebrew scholarship). The Exilic Jews who primarily wrote the OT
            and 2nd T literature used Walton’s method of describing their
            cosmological world which is functional creation and de-creation of their
            covenant world. This is an ANE basic understanding of how they viewed Covenant
            and how it was applied. Let me provide a quick reference as an example.

            Heb
            8:10 For this is the covenant that I
            will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will
            put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be
            their God, and they shall be my people. … 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the
            first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to
            vanish away.

            Heb
            12:26-28 At that time his voice shook
            the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only
            the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,”
            indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been
            made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a
            kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship,
            with reverence and awe, (do we think the physical world was changed when Moses
            was given the Law? I think not and neither did they, but the cosmology of the
            legal jurisdiction sure did change and it was changing again under Christ new
            Kingdom coming to fullness)

            All that was happening was a moving from one covenant legal jurisdiction
            to another; somewhat similar to what occurred when the US moved away from the
            jurisdiction of Brittan in 1776. We
            moved out from under one legal Jurisdiction into another one but it was not
            seamless as there was a war fought and there were Loyalist and there were
            Rebels. Very similar issues were going on in this time of turmoil in the first
            century within Judaism and brought to a head via the Christian experience
            spearheaded by Paul and the Apostles.
            The Apostles worked with the Jews trying to placate their concerns and
            Paul worked with the Gentiles that were coming on board. But there was no idea
            that the physical world was coming to an end, otherwise why would Christ tell them
            to get out of Jerusalem and flee to the Mountains. It’s because they understood
            that the City would be judged as it was in King Neb’s time of destruction.
            Fleeing to the mountains would have been fruitless under your ideas.

            And yes I know you don’t like any dating beyond AD70 for
            much of the NT and some of Paul’s writings and I don’t know where you get the
            idea that the Jewish persecution of the believers was as intense after AD70 as
            it was before. Acts pretty well lays out the systematic persecution by Jews of
            the Christians before then. Common sense
            dictates that the Jews were in no position within Jerusalem for decades to come
            to mount a systematic and orchestrated persecution as they previously had. If
            you read Josephus it pretty well lays out the bleak nature that happened to
            those poor folks during and afterwards. My goodness they didn’t have a place to
            worship and most of their leaders had been killed and scattered and many taken
            into slavery. They were in survival mode
            themselves as those who had come to the spring Passover were trapped by the
            Romans and became part of the million or so people who died in that siege. Like the South during our Civil war they lost
            their best and brightest in that revolt. The Jews had their fill of Messianic literature
            and removed much of the 2nd T literature that the Christians based
            their fulfillment of Christ upon from their OT canon. They wanted nothing to do
            with messiah essentially and disavowed Enoch, Jubilees and other writings that
            heavily emphasized a messianic coming. They tried to clean their messianic house
            is why they couldn’t tolerate Christians.

            ·
            Andrew your understanding of 2nd
            Thessalonians is stretching your paradigm that you have incorporated and
            therefore you read it to make it work for you instead of how it was written in
            context. Generally speaking Paul and
            ancient writers wrote letters as a group
            project to a large degree and so many of the problems scholars have with some
            of Paul’s letters can be attributed to this collective approach in the ancient
            days to writing and sending letters. I reference Paul and
            First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection by Richards, E. Randolph as a resource to
            check out how ancients composed their communication.

            There is no such issue going on in 2nd Thes as
            you are imagining. This is simply a deduction from trying to establish your
            paradigm that doesn’t work otherwise. However
            we have sidetracked Pete’s space here although it may have been interesting to
            some of us theological geeks roaming around out here in the nether land of
            blogdom.

            Thanks Andrew for the stimulating dialogue, I always enjoy
            our encounters. :)

            Norm

      • Norman

        Ah Andrew, don’t worry the evangelicals have even less use for “historical biblical scholars” who have never been able to identify a prophetic fulfillment they could sink their teeth into.;-)

  • Colin

    Good article and reminder. In contrast to the vitriolic against Syria and for Israel Isaiah 19:23-25 talks of Assyria as a favoured nation worshipping God alongside Israel and Egypt, and Israel is listed 3rd. A little different to the oft painted picture of Israel has the only nation favoured by God in the middle East

  • Katherine Appello

    Not true, the Bible when read holistically is applicable to all time and to all situations and we can find wisdom if we truly look as to how situations can and should be handled based on a BIblical Worldview and how God would handle it. As for Revelation is it both literal as well as symbolic etc… The nations will come against Israel, there will be a rapture, armageddon etc…, only the Holy Trinity know exactly when, but I wont be surprised if inn my lifetime, too much sin, like in the days before Noah. I welcome the rapture and through the arts am trying to bring the fullness of truth of the Gospel sin, Christ as only redemption, heaven and hell all real, so get Christ or big trouble.

    • labreuer

      Katherine, how would you describe your ability to contemplate another Christian’s approach to the faith, before judging it as ‘wrong’? It seems like you aren’t willing to do this. That kind of seems like pride. :-(

      • Katherine Harms

        You mean pride just like Peter Enns?

        • labreuer

          That was a deflection which serves entirely to tear down. Are you willing to answer my question?

  • Katherine Harms

    It is true that the people who spoke God’s prophetic messages in ancient times were concerned with ancient times. God, however, sees history from outside of time and space, and his messages have an eternal element. It is completely consistent with excellent biblical scholarship to recognize when biblical truth has special relevance in the present. In fact, if the Bible were nothing but a book about ancient times, it would have no more value to us than the Bhagavad Gita or the inscriptions in pyramids. The Bible is truth for all times, revealed from an eternal viewpoint.
    Individuals may mistakenly interpret specific texts. That happens all the time. Individuals may be very focused on end times, something Jesus specifically told us not to worry about. That fact does not make the Bible irrelevant to the conflict in Syria. The Bible is all about truth, and the truth is that Syria is about a cacophony of lies from the parties to the conflict and from world leaders, including Barack Obama. The Bible says we should be very leery of people who lie to us, and I take that as a warning not to choose sides in Syria.

    • labreuer

      In fact, if the Bible were nothing but a book about ancient times

      To my knowledge, Pete has never claimed this. Can you provide an example where you think he has?

      That fact does not make the Bible irrelevant to the conflict in Syria.

      Pete was explicitly talking about whether there is prophecy in the Bible which we can apply to Syria, explicitly. If you think such prophecy exists, would you be up for posting about it, instead of stating generalities?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X