Revelation 22:15: No Dogs Go To Heaven

Revelation 22:15 got a mention in my most recent Sunday school class, even though we weren’t up to that passage. That text mentions that outside the New Jerusalem are “the dogs” as well as a variety of clearly human sinners. One person in the class asked whether this means that God is a cat person. (I was very tempted to subtitle this post “Is God a Cat Person?” rather than going with “No Dogs Go To Heaven,” which alludes to the movie title that suggests the opposite).

Some have suggested that the reference to “dogs” has in view male prostitutes, as seems to have been an expression, if Deuteronomy 23:18 is anything to go by. That is not implausible, although neither is it unambiguously what the author of Revelation had in view.

Be that as it may, I think there are two more interesting points to discuss in relation to this text than the exclusion of dogs – whether literal or metaphorical.

The first thing to note is that those who are excluded from the New Jerusalem (apart perhaps from the dogs, if they are literal) are all people who do certain things. This ties in with a strong emphasis in the depiction of the final judgment in Revelation 20 (the actual passage we did get up to this past Sunday in my class) that judgment is not only explicitly but emphatically based on what people have done. The text says it several times.

Yet it also mentions a Book of Life, which is also depicted as definitive with respect to the final judgment.

It is in this passage more than any other that the argument for Revelation being a redaction of an earlier, already-existing apocalypse, seems strongest. The reference to “another book” after a mention of “books” is awkward, and an explanation in redactional terms seems like a fitting solution.

But either way, it is not as though the contrast is between “a book containing a record of deeds” (and thus judgment by works) on the one hand, and “justification by faith” in the Lutheran sense on the other. The Book of Life is connected throughout the book with those who refuse to worship the Beast. And so even after whatever redaction was done, it remained the case that what one does and does not do still mattered to the author. If it did not, the reference to books recording deeds and judgment according to what one has done could have been made to disappear. The author simply thinks that siding with the Lamb against the Emperor is decisive in a way that no other actions are. But what one does is still crucially important to the author, and the basis of God’s judgment. The idea that one gets to participate in the eschatological kingdom simply on the basis of “faith” in the modern sense is not something the author says. And so it is no wonder Luther thought that Revelation shouldn’t be part of the canon.

The other major thing to note in chapter 22 is that there seem to be people (as well as or including “dogs”) still around outside of the city. If all sinners and evildoers had been consigned to the lake of fire, then who could these people be – whatever one may wish to say about their pets?

The Book of Revelation is surprisingly non-final, given how it tends to be interpreted. Either a lot more of it is symbolic than is admitted by many interpreters, or it envisages a situation in which, even after the dawn of the Kingdom of God, it is still possible to rebel.

And if that is the case, then presumably it is also still possible to enter. And that is something that deserves more attention than it often gets when the interpretation of the Book of Revelation is discussed.

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  • Dubious Disciple

    HI James! I tackled this topic very briefly in my blog a while back (even with the same title) and it does seem to me, in the context of the Temple, that Revelation is referring directly to the prohibition in Deuteronomy against male prostitutes. It’s not a casual link, but a direct one IMO.

    http://www.dubiousdisciple.com/2011/06/revelation-2215-no-dogs-in-heaven.html

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      If you look at the words “the dogs” early in the blog post, you’ll find there’s a hyperlink… :-)

  • Craig Wright

    I would recommend the book, “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut” by Bradley Jersak.

  • Arleen Barber

    I think Revelations refers to male prostitutes. Why wouldn’t dogs/animals go to heaven? I think either we all do, or maybe no one does. 😉
    ❝Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.❞ Ecclesiastes 3:19

    • fi

      Hello arleen, I love animals too- but we ( humans!) still have to accept and call on the Lord… John 3.16 says that God so loved the world that He sent His only son that all who believe in Him will be saved … so remember no matter hard it gets or how far you find yourself from God, remember that you only need to call out to Jesus and HE has promised to save us… God bless x

  • Michael Wilson

    I would think that the space outside the gates would be synonymous with the contents of the lake of fire. Everything in the gates is holy, out side of them is really nothing. There is no reason to close. All evil has been banished to the lake of fire burned, meaning destroyed for ever. Now you could quibble and say it exist in the past, or more radically all information about evil is lost to the present or even that tnhe new eden is the first eden, indistinguishable and reality is changed so that evil never existed making its current expression an illusion lacking reality.

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

      It seems odd to me for those who have been consigned to a lake of fire and apparently destroyed forever as “outside the city,” and to have the city gates be always open when apparently no one will ever use them.

      • Michael Wilson

        Yes, it is odd, literaly, or more appropriately , materially speaking. But I agree with a number of commenters that argue these descriptions are symbolic.

        The dimensions of the walls, they argue symbolizes the eternal extent of God domain. Out side the wall is not contained in eternity, and eternity includes everything, there is no out side so outside includes nothing. It holds the immoral and dogs and such because in god’s new Jerusalem, which a symbol for a new universe, has nothing of the sort. They and everything in the lake of fire does not exist anymore. To be outside the wall is a symbol for not existing. New Jerusalem is a new reality. The evil don’t exist here.

        The gates openness does not signify the ease of passage through the wall but security. The city has no night. We know walls were closed at night to keep out bandits under disguise of night. Since there is no evil time, no world outside the wall, it can be open all the time. If there were no gates then it would suggest the new Jerusalem were insecure. Open gates are like open doors. It doesn’t mean there is no out side/inside, only that your not worried about trespasses.

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

          Even when treating it symbolically, that does not necessarily mean that the details of the symbol don’t matter. One could easily treat the lake of fire as symbolic, or less literal, and the city and its gates slightly more so, for instance.

          Does anything in Revelation itself justify your claim that there is no outside to the city?

          • Michael Wilson

            Well John seems certain that only people in the book of life will escape the lake of fire, and certain that there will be no more sorrow in either the new Jerusalem or the new heaven and earth or both. I think that precludes any rebellion against God here. I’m not sure where any sinners would come from to inhabit a space beyond the walls.

            One could argue the survivors of the battle with gog and Magog but death and hell are tossed into the lake of fire to, so if there were sinful survivors, they would be immortal, and find hard to believe John expects a world out side of New Jerusalem where fortunate immortal sinners defy God for eternity. With death gone there is no more mundane world to inhabit.

            That death and hell are in the lake of fire I think speaks against it being a locality where people are corporeally or psychologically punished. Again, I think the fire represents the destruction of what is thrown in, not a state of being. We shouldn’t imagine them a place where they might leave. They are gone forever. No one will go sight seeing at the lake of fire outside New Jerusalem.

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

            Why would the people outside the new Jerusalem be immortal? Are you assuming that they too would have access to the tree of life and the waters of life without coming into the city? Perhaps. But Revelation does not say as much.

          • Michael Wilson

            But death is thrown into the lake of fire. If death is destroyed then nothing can die.

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

            If that is taken literally, then why is there a need for a tree with leaves that are for the healing of the nations?

          • Michael Wilson

            Their existence, along with the trees and water of life are necessary because there is no death. If there is no death then their must be life, the trees leaves and water are symbols for life. All the living partake of them and in the new world everyone has access to them forever eliminating death forever.

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

            These are not just living things. They are living things that serve to heal. Again I ask, what is the need for them if all that remains is inherently immortal? Why not take it rather as a vision of a new earth on which mortals live, but now with an antidote for death provided just as had been depicted in Genesis?

          • Michael Wilson

            I concure they are not inherently immortal. Immortal things are so because they eat of the tree of life. This is evident in the iconography of the ancient Middle East where we see animals representing the farther god eating plants from the hands of a goddess or from a tree. The immortality of the God is represented by his eating off the goddess of life.

            In Judaism god and the tree are one. But tbd trees in new Jerusalem are based on those pagan sacred trees of the goddess.

            Their availability means humanity is like the God who once jealousy guarded it like El hid it from the man Adapa. The presence of the trees mean humanity shares in the immortality of God,

            I think here John has in mind something similar to Paul when he talks about a new spiritual body unlike the flesh. From the perspective of a mystic, new Jerusalem is not a place in worldly dimension of space and time. It is s return to state of metaphysics out side of mundane space and time. Physical existence does not figure here.

            If this were a world were mortal bodies sought magical leaves to heal their wounds, then I’m not sure this would be s place without sadness or tears. Needing healing suggest suffering.

            K

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

            Wiping away every tear implies suffering. And so my point is that you are choosing to prioritize some imagery and then use it to discount other imagery, when one could do the reverse just as easily.

          • Michael Wilson

            But he very directly says that there will be no more mourning crying or pain. If you look at this and then compare its language with other apocalyptic literature it’s hard to come away with an impression other than the new world will be pure bliss. That is what he wants you to see. The trees of healing should be understood in that context. The trees of life to. No one will have to partake because they are sick or dying. There presence precludes there being any sickness or death.

            This isn’t a matter of choosing what imagery to embrace but understating the work as a whole within it genre

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

            Well, you seem to me to very clearly be taking one detail – no more mourning – and using that to undermine other things that are said – just as you used the lake of fire to insist that the city has no outside, despite what the text explicitly says.

            You are obviously free to do this. I just think that it is worth pointing it out, since one could start with the texts that you exclude or undermine and proceed similarly, but with the opposite results. And so one need only say that it is the evildoers of that specific generation who are annihilated in the lake of fire, and then one problem goes away. And one need only say that there will be healing and comfort in the New Jerusalem, and one can make room for there being no more crying there and no more death, not because those things are inherently impossible but because God acts to provide antidotes to both.

  • Michael Wilson

    Now regarding dogs, I bet John thought of them like we do cockroaches and syphalis. There often imagined quite negatively, especially in the mid East. It may have caused him no more worry us imaging a paradise free of germs. Alternately might question the notion that any object we can imagine is there in a form we can recognize. Its reality is non dual spiritual matter.