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End-of-the-world predictions:

Part 3 of 3 parts:
Alternate symbolic interpretations
of Jesus' and Paul's beliefs.
Recent interest in the end of the world.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Alternative symbolic interpretations of Jesus' and Paul's teachings: 

Many Christians normally interpret the Bible literally wherever possible. However, such an interpretation of the above passages about Jesus' and Paul's statenents leads to the conclusion that both were wrong in their predictions. This conflicts with two fundamental beliefs held by most conservative Christians:

  • That the Bible is inspired by God, that it is God's Word, and that it is inerrant -- without error. Not only were the authors of the Bible inspired by God, but early church councils were as well. These were the ones who sorted through the 50 or so gospels and hundreds of epistles then in circulation, and selected four gospels, 13 Pauline epistles (letters), and eight general epistles as inspired and inerrant.
  • That Jesus is the second personality of the Trinity. Being God, he could not have been mistaken.

An alternative interpretation is necessary if one is to continue believing in the Bible author's inspiration and the Bible's inerrancy. These passages cannot not mean that the kingdom of God or the second coming of Jesus would happen in the 1st century CE while Jesus' and Paul's listeners were still physically alive. Conservative Christians generally interpret the texts as predicting a series of miraculous events in our future. The repercussions if Jesus' and Paul's statements were found to be in error would be enormous and unacceptable.

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Some possible alternative interpretations are:

  • The passages must mean that these events would happen sometime after the death of Jesus' and Paul's followers, but while their souls still lived. Thus it could happen in the year 100 or 1000 or 2000 or 3000 CE, etc. Many feel that this is an improbable interpretation, since Jesus is recorded in Mark 9 and Matthew 16 as saying that some of his audience circa 29 CE would not "taste death."

  • Some of the Jews who were in Jesus' and Paul' audience circa 30 to 50 CE never died and in fact are still alive, still wandering around the earth. The would be aged almost 2,000 years by now. They are known as the "wandering Jews." This also is believed by few Christians today. Few people live past their 100th birthday. There is no evidence of aged, wandering Jews. Still, this was a common Christian belief in the past. It does have the advantage of neatly resolving the interpretive conflicts.

  • Jesus and Paul were not referring to the lifetime of their hearers. Rather, as author William Martin wrote:

    " ' This generation' refers to those alive when the unmistakable signs of the end [of the world] begin to appear. Since [conservative Christians]...regard the restoration of Israel [in 1948] as such a sign, they infer that we are living in the terminal generation. The chief problem with this interpretation for several years was that Israel was supposed to be not simply in Palestine but in control of Jerusalem as well. When this came to pass, in 1967, at the conclusion of a six-day war that seemed almost miraculous even to many non-believers, expectation within [fundamentalist and other evangelical] prophetic circles grew feverish." 1

    Many Christians cannot accept this interpretation, because Jesus is recorded as referring to specific individuals who were alive and listening to his words.

  • Jesus' references to the Kingdom of God came to fruition when the Christian church was founded. This is traditionally dated at Pentecost, some fifty days after Jesus' execution, circa 30 CE. 2 This interpretation conflicts with other passages: In Matthew 16, Jesus is recorded as saying that the Son of Man would come to earth with his angels and will reward each according to his works. In Mark 13, stars would have  fallen from the sky; the Son of man would have arrived; and and the angels would have collected "his elect" and taken them to Heaven. None of these have events happened, either in the 1st century CE or since.

  • Some of the passages actually refer to Jesus' transfiguration circa 30 CE, or to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE. As noted above, this is not a good fit because none of the events associated with the coming of the Son of Man occurred in 70 CE.
  • The belief in inerrancy of the Bible involves only the autograph copies of its books. That is, only the original, handwritten test was without error. Some later copyist or forger may have added or changed the original to produce these prophecies. Thus the autograph copy would have been without error and the surviving copies contain errors. This explanation introduces an additional problem because we do not posess the autograph copies of any books in the Bible. If errors crept into copies of these passages then no Bible passages can be relied upon.

If any of our readers are aware of any alternative interpretations of these statements attributed to Jesus and Paul that allow Christians to continue believing in the inspiration of the Bible's author's and inerrancy of the Bible's itself, please send us an email via the "CONTACT US" button below.

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Recent prophecies about TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it):

There was a major flurry of interest in the 1970's when Hal Lindsey's book "The Late Great Planet Earth" sold over 15 million copies which became the number-one "nonfiction" volume of the 1970's -- which turned out to be fiction. The New York Times named Lindsey as the best-selling author of the decade. 1

in 1982, William Martin, writing for The Atlantic Monthly, said:

"... the end is near because God has had it planned that way for at least 1,900 years. It's all right there in the Bible, in Daniel and Revelation, with auxiliary illumination from other key portions of Scripture. Just as surely as he created a fully furnished universe out of nothing in six twenty-four-hour days approximately 5,986 years ago, so is he now about to bring it to completion in precise accord with the detailed blueprint tucked away in his Word.

Judeo-Christian history has seen numerous outcroppings of interest in biblical prophecy, usually in times of social upheaval, but few, if any, have been as widespread and influential as that now flourishing in conservative Protestant circles." 1

Predictions of an imminent end of the world seems to have reached a peak circa 1988. Amazon.com is still selling a pamphlet by Edgar C Whisenant titled: "88 reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988: The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hash-Ana) September, 11-12-13." 3 It received a rating among Amazon.com customers of 2,5 stars out of a maximum of 5, with comments ranging from angry to amusement:

"What the hell is wrong with people: I am currently in Bible College, this book is referenced is so many classes and professors as an example of bad theology seriously hurting people. Look at some of these reviews for goodness sake. If you have any real questions DO NOT buy crap like this."

to:

"Best book ever: A lot of people say you can't know when the rapture will be but this book spells it out clearly. laugh if you want but when Oct 1988 comes around I'll be ready....oh...wait."

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More recently Harold Camping created quite a stir with his prediction of the end of the world on 2012-DEC-21, at the Winter Solstice. One of his followers cashed in all of his life savings and invested them in ads warning people of The End. An essay posted one day before the end is still on the Internet. 4

Image of a blood moon Still more recently John Hagee predicted an end of the world to be associated with the series of four lunar eclipses (a.k.a. blood moons) on 2014-APR-05, 2014-OCT-08, 2015-APR-04, and 2015-SEP-27-28. Each is separated by an interval of about six lunar months. NASA calls such a series a tetrad. It has only happened between 4 and 62 times since the time of Jesus' birth (sources differ).

John Haggee, in his book "Four Blood Moons" claimed that the tetrad was sent by God and that a "world-shaking event" will happen, perhaps at the time of the final blood moon on 2015-SEP-27 and 28. 5

Fortunately, in common with every one of the hundreds or thousands of end of the world prophecies over the past two millennia, nothing unusual happened. Still, we can be almost certain that another prophecy will surface, perhaps before 2020 of the end happening perhaps sometime in the 2020's. And the main promoter will laugh all the way to the bank when nothing much happens on the appointed date. Unfortunately, he -- and they almost always are male -- will probably have blood on his hands, because, among the millions of Christians who believe his prophecy, some will be emotionally unstable and commit suicide. They will prefer to die by their own hand under controlled conditions rather than experience the horrors of the world ending.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update this series of essays. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. William Martin,"Waiting for the End: The growing interest in apocalyptic prophesy," The Atlantic Monthly, 1982-JUN. Online at: http://www.theatlantic.com/
  2. "The Spiritual Kingdom of God,"  http://www.truthandgrace.com/
  3. book cover Edgar C Whisenant, "88 reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988: The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hash-Ana) September, 11-12-13," Whisenant/World Bible Society (1988), at: Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  4. Admin, "What Time Will the World End on December 21st?," Judgment Day 2011.com at: http://judgementday2011.com/
  5. Todd Leopold, "Blood moon has some expecting end of the world." CNN, 2014-SEP-24, at: http://www.cnn.com/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2016-JAN-02

Written by B.A. Robinson

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