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The Afterlife in Revelation

  The first reference to the afterlife in Revelation occurs in ch. 6, with the breaking of the fifth seal (6:9-11).   Nothing happens on earth, but the prophet sees the souls of those who had been “slaughtered for the word of God” and the “witness they gave” under an altar in heaven, as they cry out to God: “How long before you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?”   An altar, of course, is the point of contact between God and humans, so these martyrs for Christ have a special access to the divine presence.  They want to be vindicated for their faithfulness.  But they are deferred in their wishes: each is given a white robe and told they need to “rest a little while longer,” until all their fellow Christians also destined for martyrdom have met their fates. These other martyrs are described in chapter seven, after the breaking of the sixth seal.  There are two groups: 144,000 Jews, twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes, and “an enormous [...]

2020-04-03T00:59:38-04:00October 1st, 2018|Afterlife, Revelation of John|

More on the Symbolism of Revelation

Two questions I often get asked about the book of Revelation (including from readers of the blog) are whether the symbolism is meant to keep Roman authorities from understanding what was in the book in order to protect the author from persecution and whether the events that it describes may be coded references to what will happen in our own future.   Here is what I say about each subject in my textbook discussion on the book. ********************************************* Apocalypses as Underground Literature? Some readers of the book of Revelation have taken its mysterious symbols to suggest that it was "underground" literature.  The symbolic language of the book, according to this interpretation, was used to keep the governing authorities from realizing that they themselves were under attack. There may be an element of truth in this view, but one might wonder whether a Roman administrator was likely to sit down over the weekend to read a good Christian book.  It seems more plausible that the principal function of the symbolism -- whether in Revelation or in other [...]

2019-03-20T17:49:20-04:00September 30th, 2018|Revelation of John|

More Symbolism in Revelation: 666, The Number of “The Beast”

In order to explain my views of the “Lake of Fire” in the book of Revelation – the destination for everyone who is not a believer in Jesus – I have started to point out that much of the book is to be taken symbolically, not literally (as the author himself suggests).  My eventual point is that the author is not giving a literal description of how most people who have ever lived will spend eternity swimming in a lake of fire. In my last post I began my discussion of symbolism by focusing on the image of the “whore of Babylon” who sits on a horrible “beast” as described in chapter 17,   The careful reader of Revelation will recognize that this beast in chapter 17 has already appeared in chapter 13.  There we are told of a beast “rising out of the sea,” again with ten horns and seven heads.   Moreover, “the whole earth followed the beast,” worshiping it.  The beast in this earlier chapter is said to be haughty and blasphemous, and to [...]

2020-04-03T00:59:51-04:00September 28th, 2018|Revelation of John|

Symbolism in Revelation: The Whore of Babylon

The point of this mini-thread is to argue that the author of the book of Revelation does not describe a “hell” that people will be sent to in order to be tortured for all eternity – even though he is often read that way.   My argument is that page after page of the book is filled with highly symbolic visions, and realizing this is a fairly obvious key to interpreting the book. For the next couple of posts I’ll try to show how the interpretation actually works.   Then I’ll move to explore his comments about the “lake of fire,” the image widely used to develop the notion that those who are wicked and/or who do not believe in Jesus (that is most of the many billions of people who have ever lived) will be tormented eternally in flames In my previous post I summarized, rather tersely, the narrative flow of what happens in the book of Revelation (if you haven’t read it recently, I’d advise it!  It’s a terrifically gripping account).  None of this breathtaking [...]

2020-04-03T01:00:00-04:00September 26th, 2018|Revelation of John|

Overview of the Book of Revelation

I’d like to devote a few more posts to my book on the Afterlife.  I don’t want to steal my own thunder and give away *everything* I will be talking about in the book here on the blog.   But I am interested to getting reactions to some of my more important and controversial claims about the Bible.  One thing I’ll be arguing is that the idea of hell-fire, taken chiefly from the book of Revelation, is frequently misunderstood.  In my view, the book of Revelation does teach the eternal joy that is to come for believers in Jesus; but it does not teach that sinners (and unbelievers) will experience eternal torment in hell.   Even though they are thrown into “the lake of fire.” To explain my views will take at least three posts.  To begin I need to explain some things about the book itself and the symbolism found throughout the book.  To do that I need to sketch what actually happens in the book.   Here is a kind of quick and ready summary of [...]

2020-04-03T01:00:15-04:00September 25th, 2018|Revelation of John|

Futuristic Interpretations of the Book of Revelation

Now that my book The Triumph of Christianity has come out, I'm thinking about my future books.  The one I'm working on now is The Invention of the Afterlife, where I explore the origins of the idea that when you die, your soul goes to heaven or hell (it's not in the Old Testament and it's not what Jesus taught -- so where did it come from??).  But I always like to think two or three books in the future, and so I'm contemplating what I might do after this. One idea is to deal with the belief that the world is soon to come to an end, a book that would, among other things, take on the book of Revelation.   I've dealt with the issue before, of course, but not broadly.  One of the things I'm interested in is how people interpret Revelation as referring to things about to happen in our own future.  Here's something I say about the topic in my textbook on the Bible. *************************************************************** One of the most popular ways [...]

2020-04-03T01:32:45-04:00March 1st, 2018|Book Discussions, Revelation of John|

666 and Scribal Changes of the Text

I have received a number of queries about my post concerning the recently discovered papyrus P115 which indicates that the number of the Beast (the Antichrist) in Revelation 13 was 616 rather than 666.  Some of them I addressed in my post of yesterday.  But some readers have inquired about something slightly different: how do discoveries like this affect our translations of the New Testament?   Here is one of those questions and my respons.   QUESTION: I thought the NIV Bible kept up-to-date with newer papyrus discoveries. Yet, it too shows 666 (and not 616) for REV 13:18. Why might that be?   RESPONSE: Ah, good question.  When I indicated that the reading 616 is now found in an early manuscript, I did not mean to say that therefore it is more likely to be the reading that the author originally wrote.  That is a different question. As is true for a lot of verses in the New Testament, different manuscripts have different wordings for this verse.  There are five different forms of the text [...]

2020-04-03T01:50:00-04:00November 7th, 2017|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum, Revelation of John|

More on 666: The Number of the Beast: A Blast from the Past

My post yesterday about manuscripts that give the number of the beast in Rev. 13 as 616 instead of 666 prompted a number of queries.  I'll answer a couple of them directly in my next post; but some people emailed me asking me what the number is all about in the first place.   I discussed the issue a few years ago on the blog.  Here is what I said. ************************************************************* This post will be the culmination of my thread that deals with ancient numerology, especially as it is based on the fact that ancient languages used letters of the alphabets for their numbers, making it possible to add up the numerical equivalent of any word.   In this post I will explain how that relates to one of the great mysteries of the Bible, the identification of the Antichrist in the book of Revelation, whose number was 666. Yesterday’s post was meant as background to this brief discussion, and I’d suggest reading it first to make sense of what I’ll say here.  I also need to [...]

2020-04-03T01:52:20-04:00November 6th, 2017|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions, Revelation of John|

Debate with a Mythicist! And the Book of Revelation. Readers’ Mailbag September 25, 2016

In this week’s Mailbag I’ll be addressing two questions, one about me personally – my preparations for the upcoming debate with Robert Price on the question of whether Jesus even existed as a human being – and the other about the book of Revelation.  If you have a question you would like me to address on the Mailbag, simply ask it in a comment on this post or any other.   ************************************************************************ QUESTION It seems the debate between yourself and Robert Price will be going ahead next month, right? I follow Price on Facebook and he has evidently been re-reading all your books in preparation. How much of his books do you intend on reading prior to the debate? How will you prepare for the debate? I’m really looking forward to it! RESPONSE Right!  Yes indeed!  On October 21 I will be having a three-hour debate in Milwaukee with Robert Price, who has two PhDs from Drew University, one in New Testament Studies and the other in Theology, and who is an atheist who supports [...]

The End of Time in Revelation and the Gospel of John

I have been arguing that the author of the Fourth Gospel and the author of the book of Revelation could not have been the same person, and in looking back at my posts I realize that I have left out an important point, one of the strongest arguments that we are dealing with two different people.   The theology of these two books is radically different on an issue that is completely central to both of them: their understanding of “eternal life.” It is true that in some respects these two books have similar theological views.  I have already mentioned, for example, that both see Christ as the “Word” of God (no other NT author expresses this view) and as the “Lamb” who was slain (again: these two books alone use that image).   But both of them are very much interested in views of eschatology, and on these views they differ radically. The term “eschatology” means the “understanding of the end times.”  Just about everyone has a view about what happens at “the end.”  Some think [...]

2020-04-03T03:28:05-04:00August 3rd, 2016|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum, Revelation of John|

The Author of Revelation

In this post I want to explain why it is almost universally thought that the same author did not write the fourth Gospel and the book of Revelation, and then to show why the latter author was almost certainly not John the son of Zebedee, Jesus’ close disciple.  So far as I know, only fundamentalists today think that John the son of Zebedee did write the book of Revelation.   There are really only three things that speak in favor of this view: (1) The author was someone named John (hey! If he was John he was John, right?  Well, John was a very common name, and he doesn’t claim to be *that* John) (2) The book of Revelation, like the Gospel of John, speaks of Christ as a lamb who was slain and thinks of him as the Word of God (that shows that it had similar views, not that it had the same author) (3) Church tradition for centuries has maintained that John the son of Zebedee was the author. The evidence on the [...]

2020-04-03T03:28:28-04:00August 1st, 2016|Public Forum, Revelation of John|

Who Wrote the Book of Revelation and the Fourth Gospel?

Speaking of the Apocalypse (from the previous post giving that odd video):  Someone recently asked me if the same author could have written both the book of Revelation and the Gospel of John.   Interesting question!   Traditionally, both books have been identified as coming from the same person, John the son of Zebedee, the fisherman who was one of Jesus’ closest disciples.   In answering the question I would like to stress two points: first, they almost certainly were not written by the same person (note: they do not claim to be); and second, whoever these two authors were, neither one of them was John the son of Zebedee. Before making these two points, I need to explain the traditional view: same author for both, John the son of Zebedee.   With the book of Revelation, the reason for the identification was simple: the author explicitly says that he was named John.    Already in v. 1 he indicates that the Revelation was given to himself, John, and in v. 9 he is even more explicit: “I, John, your [...]

2020-04-03T03:28:42-04:00July 28th, 2016|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions, Revelation of John|

Bart Ehrman discusses the Apocalypticist

This is a very strange video!  One of the strangest I've ever been in.  To begin with, the title doesn't make any sense (I'm not sure who called it this).  The word "apocalypticist" means "a person who holds to an apocalyptic world view."  So who or what is "The apocalypticist"?  I've never heard someone being given that title ("THE" apocalypticist; as if there were just one??).  Maybe it means Jesus the Apocalypticist?  Maybe, but that's not really what the clip is mainly about.  It's about the ancient world view of apocalypticism.  It starts with a movie with Richard Harris, moves to an interview with me about what the term "apocalypse" means, goes (briefly) to the question of whether Jesus was an apocalypticist; and ends with Harold Camping, this fellow who claimed the end of the world was coming on May 21, 2011.  It's a very odd clip.  But here it is! (NOTE: This particular post is open to everyone.  Most posts on this blog are for MEMBERS ONLY.  Think about joining.  You get tons of [...]

Readers’ Mailbag on Revelation: November 6, 2015

Last week I started a new feature on the blog, a weekly “Readers’ Mailbag,” where I answer two or three fairly random questions that have come in to me, ones that I do not simply want to answer in a sentence, as in most of my replies to “Comments” on my posts, but also not as fully as a thread or even a full post.  Most of these questions do indeed deserve full posts, or threads, and I may in fact get around to devoting some to them.  But for now I will be content with giving short answers that are hopefully packed with content. Feel free to ask me questions for this weekly feature.  I don’t know how I can get to all the viable questions by doing this just once a week (last week I received a dozen interesting questions).  Some weeks possibly I’ll do the mailbag twice.  But this week I do it just once, addressing three questions.   QUESTION:  Since Revelation was probably written around the year 95 why does it [...]

Finally! How To Understand the Symbols of Revelation

First let me apologize for being absent from the blog for three days.   As you probably know, the South got nailed with a storm on Wednesday evening.   Among other nasty things, it knocked my power out – and I was powerless, so to say, until yesterday (Friday) afternoon.   This wasn’t a *complete* disaster:  I had virtually nothing to do but sit in front of my fireplace and read books, and I read an *unconscionable* amount – more than I’ve read in any two-day period in my life!   That part was good.  But I was without access to email or Internet, and so the blog had to take a hit. But I’m back now and the future looks good. Speaking of the future, I wanted to make one more post on the book of Revelation.   Two questions I often get asked about it (including from readers of the blog) are whether the symbolism is meant to keep Roman authorities from understanding what was in the book in order to protect the author from persecution and whether [...]

2020-04-03T13:59:29-04:00February 28th, 2015|Revelation of John|

The Book of Revelation as an Apocalypse

I can now give a brief description of how the book of Revelation functions as an apocalypse – that is, how the features of the genre, that I’ve already mentioned, work themselves out in the narrative of the book.  Again, this is taken from my textbook on the New Testament. ******************************************************** In general terms, Revelation corresponds to the basic description of apocalypses that I have given.  It is a first-hand account written by a prophet who has been shown a vision of heaven that explains the realities of earth, a vision that is mediated by angels and that is chock-full of bizarre and mysterious symbolism.  The nature of the book is indicated at the outset, in the magnificent vision of the exalted Christ that the prophet describes in ch. 1.  Here Christ appears as "one like a Son of Man" (cf. Dan 7:13-14, where the phrase describes the cosmic judge of the earth) and is seen walking amidst the seven golden lampstands (i.e., he is present among the seven churches of Asia Minor, 1:20), with [...]

2020-04-03T13:59:37-04:00February 25th, 2015|Revelation of John|

The Book of Revelation in Historical Context

I resume here my thread on the book of Revelation, trying to situate it in its historical context.   This will not be a long thread, in no small measure because I am not an expert on this very complicated book and have not written extensively about it.  I’ve thought that maybe it would be a good trade book at some point, in which case I would spend a year or so reading everything.   And then I would have lots of other posts!  But if that happens, it will be some years down the line.  Assuming the world hasn’t been destroyed by that time. Here I talk about putting Revelation into its historical context.  Again, this is taken from my textbook on the New          Testament. ********************************************** The Revelation of John in Historical Context I have already pointed out that the book of Revelation is virtually unique among apocalypses in that it does not appear to be pseudonymous.  I say that it does not "appear" to be pseudonymous because the author simply calls [...]

2020-04-03T13:59:47-04:00February 23rd, 2015|Revelation of John|

The Book of Revelation and the Apocalypse Genre

I’m devoting a thread to the book of Revelation and its interpretation.  This began by my raising the issue of what 666 stands for, which led me to say a few things about the symbolism of the book, which occasioned several comments from readers wanting to know what my broader take is on how to interpret it. Yesterday I began to stress the importance of knowing what an “apocalypse” is before trying to interpret any one particular apocalypse.   Today I pursue that a bit more, by talking about this genre which has numerous representatives in ancient Jewish and Christian writings.  Here is how I begin to describe the genre more fully in my textbook on the New Testament: ************************************************************ Despite their wide-ranging differences, our surviving apocalypses typically share specific literary features.  The most common of these are the following: Pseudonymity. Almost all of our ancient apocalypses were written pseudonymously, in the name of a famous religious person from the past (the book of Revelation, interestingly enough, is a rare exception). Among our surviving Jewish apocalypses [...]

2020-04-18T11:46:01-04:00February 20th, 2015|Forgery in Antiquity, Revelation of John|

Apocalypticism and Apocalypses

In the just finished thread I discussed the number of the Beast, 666, in the context of the book of Revelation and its broader symbolism.  In response, several readers asked me to say some more about Revelation (which by the ways does NOT have an “s” on the end!!  That’s one of my pet pieves.  It’s not the book of Revelations but the book of Revelation).  So I think I’ll do two or three posts on it.  It is the one book my students are *most* interested in.  The book is so weird, so unlike anything they’ve ever seen, that they assume that it can only have come about by  divine revelation, and that it is in fact predicting something that is to happen in our near future. I’m afraid that I end up disappointing my students by my understanding of the book.   I don’t think it is a blue-print for what is to transpire in the early 21st century.  It is a book written in its own day, and for its own audience, to [...]

2020-04-03T14:00:04-04:00February 20th, 2015|Early Judaism, Revelation of John|

666: The Number of the Beast

This post will be the culmination of my thread that deals with ancient numerology, especially as it is based on the fact that ancient languages used letters of the alphabets for their numbers, making it possible to add up the numerical equivalent of any word.   In this post I will explain how that relates to one of the great mysteries of the Bible, the identification of the Antichrist in the book of Revelation, whose number was 666. Yesterday’s post was meant as background to this brief discussion, and I’d suggest reading it first to make sense of what I’ll say here.  I also need to point out that this kind of numerological investigation was turned into a major interpretive method in Hebrew-speaking and –reading circles, since the inspired words of Scripture each had numerical equivalents, and one can always play with numbers.  The ancient interpreters who did such things were not “playing” of course.  It was a very serious and complex business.  This use of the numerical value of words in Hebrew, to help fathom [...]

2020-04-03T14:00:11-04:00February 18th, 2015|Revelation of John|
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