The Second Fundamental: The Literal Accuracy of the Virgin Birth
11 April 2007: Start the discussion! »
The story of Jesus’ birth has now been celebrated in pageants, Christmas cards and in hymns for almost two thousand years. The characters in this drama like Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the Shepherds and the Wise Men are familiar icons even in our secular society. The star in the East, Bethlehem, the manger and …
Question & Answer
I'm really bothered by the fundamentalist Christian movement that talks so much about the 'end times.' My daughter-in-law admits to being a fundamentalist Christian, and my husband and I get into some discussions with her from time to time. I'm wondering about your views on the book of Revelation, since I haven't heard you mention it. Do you have any reading suggestions about Revelation?"
Marilyn's husband adds:
I recently reviewed the Book of Revelation, which I hadn't read for some time. There's been a lot of fuss about end times among evangelical friends and family. It's no wonder, in the 2x2 church in which I grew up, that we didn't spend a lot of time reading this book. I have a question about the 12 tribes mentioned, of which 12,000 each are spared: Are they the original Israel and Judah tribes (which couldn't have all been around when this material was supposed to have been written)?
I have never written about the Book of Revelation because I do not
regard it as worthy of the kind of study that would be required to write
about this book. I'm sorry it was included in the canon of the New
Testament because it is so dated. It is a piece of apocalyptic literature
written under a code developed by late 1st century Christians. Presumably
the community that wrote this book and that received it would understand
that it was designed to strengthen them to endure a persecution that was
probably local, not empire wide, in the last decade of the 1st Christian
century. It is a product of the same Johannine School that produced the
Gospel of John and the Epistles of John in the New Testament though it is
not by the same author. It probably does participate in the idea that the
world is coming to an end soon but that was obviously a mistake since we are
here now. In early Christianity there was an idea that the second coming of
Jesus and the dawning of the Kingdom of God on earth would come in the
lifetime of people living then. Paul advances this idea both in I
Thessalonians and in I Corinthians. By the end of the 1st century that idea
had begun to die out and was replaced by the suggestion that the church must
be built for the long term. The book of Acts reflects this new consensus.
The book of Revelation reflects a throwback to the earlier attitude and may
have been inspired by the current local persecution that was interpreted as
the beginning of the cruelty that would accompany the end of the world. In
later years, when the supposed date of Jesus' birth was set and time counted
from that day forward, end of the world talk has always accompanied the end
of a century and was even more pronounced at the end of a millennium.
I have no truck with those who read the Bible this way. Predictions
about the end of the world, talk about the "rapture" and "no child left
behind" are all so much literal nonsense to me.
I have read the book of Revelation on several occasions. I studied it
when I was in seminary, but in no great depth. Today I would rather spend
my time on the gospels, Paul, or even the prophets, all of which have
enriched my life greatly. I do not see such potential in the book of
When one tries to interpret the symbols as Mr. Redel does in his letter,
he falls into the trap of assuming that there is some literal truth that
needs to be discovered. That is not the case. If all the copies of the
book of Revelation were lost tomorrow, I do not believe much of value would
disappear. However, it does keep some religious fanatics busy so maybe that
is its primary purpose.
Thank you for your letter.
John Shelby Spong
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