Are We Sincere about Biblical Authority?

In my previous post, I noted that the right context for interpreting the Bible accurately isn’t the history of Christianity in any of its creedal distillations or denominational forms. But I went even further—I said that the biblical context isn’t any modern world context, period. The right context for understanding the Bible is the context that produced the Bible. That seems simple, but experience has taught me that commitment to this patently obvious truth isn’t easy. [Read more…]

What Is the Proper Context for Interpreting the Bible?

The Four Evangelists, Jacob Jordaens, 1626–1630, commons.wikimedia.org

Anyone interested in Bible study, from the new believer to the biblical scholar, has heard (and maybe even said) that if you want to correctly interpret the Bible, you have to interpret it in context. I’m certainly not going to disagree. But I have a question: What does that mean? Put another way, just what context are we talking about? [Read more…]

If Bible Study Doesn’t Feel Like Work, You Aren’t Really Doing It

One of my favorite scholarly quotations about the hard work of seriously engaging the biblical text—what we popularly call Bible study—is that of the renowned Greek lexicographer, Frederick W. Danker (the “D” in BDAG). Danker famously said that “scholars’ tasks are not for sissies.” He was right, and I’m grateful he was willing to say what needed to be said. [Read more…]

Constantine, Conspiracy, and the Canon

Dan Brown’s bestselling conspiratorial thriller The Da Vinci Code seems like ancient history now. At its peak of popularity, the novel set records both for sales and for irritating scholars with its view that Jesus and the 12 apostles held to gnostic heresies. The book’s bizarre plot focuses on Jesus’ bloodline extending through a child born by Mary Magdalene. Within that narrative, Brown asserts that the New Testament canon was determined by the [Read more…]

Consistent Inconsistency in the Book of Revelation

The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (1867) by Francesco Hayez 1

Is the book of Revelation a linear chronology of distant future events? Or does the book describe the Roman persecution of Christians and Rome’s destruction of the temple—events that occurred in John’s lifetime? The first view opts for a mid-AD 90s authorship (long after the temple was destroyed), the second supports a pre-AD 70s authorship (when the temple was still standing). Each of these readings is complicated by Revelation 11:1–2:

Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.”

Taken literally, these verses indicate the Jerusalem temple still stands—apparent proof that Revelation was written before ad 70. If so, the idea that John is describing the Roman persecution and invasion—empowered by Satan and his hatred for the Church—must be valid. However, while the defense of this view takes this passage literally, most people who prefer to see Revelation written before ad 70 read the rest of Revelation symbolically, matching John’s descriptions to some feature of the Roman Empire and its caesars.

Those who read Revelation in terms of distant future events often point to the mid-90s authorship. They prefer a symbolic reading of Revelation 11—a departure from their preference for taking the rest of Revelation quite literally (even to the point of describing futuristic military weaponry in John’s visions).

Who is the literalist now? It’s difficult to be consistent in the book of Revelation.

The Early Church Father Clement of Rome offers us clues for understanding how this passage might be understood. Clement wrote long after the Jerusalem temple had been destroyed, but he used the present tense when speaking of the temple (1 Clement 40–41). He does this to strike an analogy between the orderly worship of the temple in times past with a current concern about worship. The same may be true of Revelation 11:1–2. It’s not unusual for biblical writers to speak of a past event in language that sounds contemporary. In other words, the temple might be long gone, but references to it serve some other literary or theological purpose taking center stage in the writer’s mind. Nonetheless, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of interpreting Revelation in light of events in Rome. It just proves that neither approach can be fully accepted.

When reading a complicated book like Revelation, it’s helpful to address where views deviate in their interpretive approach. It might be more revealing than we ever expected.

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why is the bible hard to understandDr. Michael S. Heiser is a scholar-in-residence for Faithlife, the makers of Logos Bible Software. He is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

Discover more fascinating aspects of the Bible with Dr. Heiser

Keep exploring the strange, perplexing, and mysterious aspects of the Bible with these excerpts from Dr. Michael S. Heiser’s The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. Or dive deeper into the supernatural world of the Bible and pick up a copy of The Unseen Realm today.

 

 

 

666: What Theories Add Up?

If there’s one part of the Bible virtually everyone has heard of, it’s 666—the “number of Beast.” And if there’s one thing no one can agree upon, it’s what that number stands for. We see 666 in Revelation 13:18: “let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” [Read more…]

Jesus, God, a.k.a., the Name


It only takes a few words to produce dramatic theology. In the short letter we know as 3 John, the apostle is writing to a beloved friend, Gaius (v. 1). He commends Gaius for ministering to fellow believers who were strangers because “they have gone out for the sake of the name” (v. 7). John doesn’t use the phrase “in Jesus’ name” or “the name of Jesus”; it’s simply, “for the sake of the name.” Why this phrase? Is John trying to keep a secret? [Read more…]

Does God Always Give Second Chances? John Says “No.”


It’s a common myth that God will always bring us back to repentance. This myth is debunked in the first letter of John. While John writes that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), he also tells us that sometimes God never gives us another chance to confess our sins and be forgiven. [Read more…]

When Angels Do Time


Most Bible study resources describe fallen angels as demons who joined Lucifer in his rebellion against God. But what if I told you that the only place in the New Testament that describes angels sinning does not call them demons, has no connection to Lucifer, and has them in jail? Welcome to the world of 2 Peter and Jude. [Read more…]

Jesus Is God: Jude and Peter Tell Me So


The epistles of Peter and Jude are often overlooked in preaching and Bible study. Not only are they nestled among the more popular letters of Paul and the book of Revelation, but portions of these epistles sound odd to our modern sensibilities. That wasn’t the case in the first century. We can better grasp the meaning of these letters if we understand what they have in common with influential ancient Jewish and Christian writings that were circulating at the time. One of those literary works is known to us today as 1 Enoch, a book Peter and Jude draw upon in their letters. [Read more…]