Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Lenten Leavings-- Things That Should Now be Left Behind

The Lenten season ends this week and there are a few things which it would be good if we 'left behind' once and for all.

1) The Chocolate Jesus. The NY artist who created this life size confection of the crucified Jesus dubbed it 'My Sweet Lord'. He just couldn't understand why this creation would be seen as, at best, in 'bad taste' (even if it didn't taste bad) and at worst a sacrilege, trivializing something sacred. Chocolate Easter bunnies we can live with and even enjoy. A chocolate Jesus not so much. The amazing thing is the artist was dumbfounded at the reaction to his creation and couldn't understand why the Church in NYC might be a tad peeved about this project.

2) The Left Behind Series, 'Kingdom Come' and Joel Rosenberg's 'Epicenter'-- There they were on Glenn Beck on CNN (who appears to be a true believer in Dispensational sensationalism) regaling us once more with there false predictions about the end of the world-- I mean LaHaye, Jenkins, and Rosenberg.

We were told that the rapture is surely coming within the next 25-50 years. Of course we were told this by Scofield a hundred years ago, and Chafer 75 years ago , and Lindsey over 50 years ago, and they were all dead wrong. In fact, in all of church history whenever anyone has predicted the timing of the return of Christ they have all shared one thing in common--- they've all been dead wrong! There's been a 100% failure rate of such false prophecies. There is no reason to think these aren't just more false prophecies. They don't even pause to ask-- Has the the Gospel been preached yet to all the language groups in the world? Well no, there are still about 500 such languages and dialects to go before we get there, and Mark told us that had to happen first in Mk. 13.

Jerry Jenkins on the show at least had the good sense not to engage in this sort of theological weather forecasting in regard to specifics. I wish his partners in crime had been as reticent.

When the expectation of the return of Christ, which is shared by all denominations, degenerates into prognostication and calculation, [despite Mk. 13.32 which tells us that the time and timing of this event is completely unknown, and was even unknown to Jesus himself whilst on earth (and no it does not mean "we can know the general year or decade, just not the day or hour")], then we have ceased to move on faith, and are engaging in human manipulation.

Why do I say this? For the very good reason that when you look at the definition of faith in Heb. 11.1 it says "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction about things not seen" (indeed not visible). But all these supposed signs that LaHaye and company think they can read are all too visible historical events. But there will be no such earthly signs before the return of Christ, only cosmic ones that accompany that return if you read Mk. 13 carefully. Those earthly signs in Mk. 13 preceded the fall of the Temple in A.D. 70. They won't be coming around again, in Mark's view.

So its time to leave behind the Left Behind false prophecy once and for all. Those folks don't even understand either the character or the significance of apocalyptic literature, nor how to interpret it (for more on this see my Jesus the Seer, or my Revelation commentary).

3) Its time to leave behind the Talpiot tomb theory. Why? Well here are six good reasons: 1) I have the exact dimensions of the James ossuary. Indeed I have the exact replica made from the exhibit based on the Toronto museum's precise specifications. There is no way the tenth ossuary from the Talpiot tomb was the James ossuary. The tenth ossuary from that tomb was blank, and there was no 11th or 12th ossuary which came from that tomb. Period! Exclamation point!!!

2) There is no such thing as patina fingerprinting. The patina on any given ossuary is not exactly like the patina on any other ossuary. There can be no exact matching between two different ossuaries and their patinas. There are too many variables (including the quality of the limestone in the ossuary). The most one can say is that there are similar patina caused by similar deposits.

3) Jay Cost and others have now shown how badly flawedthe statistical report in the Discovery Channel special was;

4) The name Mariamenon is not the name Mary Magdalene was called by in the NT era. In the NT she is called Maria or Mariam.

5) Jesus was never called Son of Joseph by his family or those who were intimate with him (John 1.45 is no exception-- Philip does not yet know Jesus intimately). If he was buried in a family tomb, he would not have been called by this moniker if his family had anything to do with these inscriptions. It also makes no sense that the Jesus inscription is in Aramaic and the Mariamenon inscription is in Greek if they were husband and wife.

6) the entrance to the tomb is ornamented, indicating it was never a secret family tomb at all. In fact the ornamentation on the tomb suggests it may have belonged to a priestly family, since we find a similar ornamentation elsewhere in some of these middle and upper class tombs in and around Jerusalem where we know there were priestly ossuaries. I could say more, but this is more than enough. Its time to move on and stop beating a dead horse. Make no bones about, Jesus was never in the Talpiot tomb.

Happy Easter to one and all.


DwightClark87 said...
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DwightClark87 said...
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Michelle said...

Dr Witherington: I think you forgot a key "no" in this quote, "The tenth ossuary from that tomb was blank, and there was [no???] 11th or 12th ossuary which came from that tomb. Period! Exclamation point!!!"

Alex said...

Ben, I am the opposite of a dispensationlist Left-Behind type but the Bible never says that the gospel had to preached to all language groups only that it had to preached in the whole world. And the Bible actually says in a couple different places that the gospel has gone out into the whole world. This makes sense in a first-century context as the known world was relatively small back then.

Janet Cone said...

Alex, The idea that the gospel must be preached to all language groups comes from these verses in Revelation.

"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb and they cried out in a loud voice 'Salvation belong to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb'." Rev 7:9-10.

Ben, you didn't mention the shonky use of DNA evidence (Janet - whose first degree is in Biochemistry and who is appalled by the misuse of it by the documentary makers.)

andygoodliff said...

I actually thought the chocolate Jesus was great and didn't offend me in the slightest. I thought it revealed something about how easter as become another festival of consumption, where its more about chocolate eggs, bunnies and the what-not, and the passion story finds itself tagged on somewhere. If you could buy a chocolate Jesus, I'm pretty sure there would be a market!

Benson said...

The only thing good about the Left Behind series is that because of it, the Wittenburg Door made some really funny boxer shorts as a result. On the left cheek it says "Left Behind" and on the right cheek it says "Right Behind"... This gave me a good chuckle... My chuckle is perhaps the only good thing that has come from the Left Behind series. The only other possibility being that it has caused informed people to wright thoughtfully about eschatology.


Anonymous said...

"make no bones about it"

..Haha... that's pretty punny...

Bill Barnwell said...

Dr. Witherington, I think it would be good for those of us who read the blog if you could explain your view of Mark 13 in just a bit more detail. I know you've spelled it out in a couple other works, but those are harder to get a hold of. For instance, I agree with you that much of Mark 13 was pointing towards the events of 70AD. You appear to take vv.24-27 and 32-37 and apply those towards the Second Coming; yet apply most the rest of the discourse to the original first century audience (which seems unavoidable if we take verse 30 seriously). I believe you've explained this as an ABAB arrangement. Couple questions:

1. How does v. 10, regarding the gospel being preached to all nations, fit into this paradigm? If we accept first century fulfillment for a large part of the surrounding passage, why primarily futurize this one verse?

2. How can we be sure of ABAB? Verse 24 says the cosmic events happen "in those days following that distress." I'm assuming he is meaning following the distress of everything just previously mentioned. If the siege of Jerusalem is primarily in view, why add such a long gap? In fact, in Matthew's parallel account, the cosmic imagery is said to happen "IMMEDIATELY after the distress of those days." Could the cosmic imagery not be literal signs, but rather simply be judgment imagery? The language is after all just borrowing OT language from the prophets dealing with national judgments.

I'm very receptive to your line of thought on this, just am interested in your responses to the above. I've always maintained that at least the end of the discourse was pointing towards the Second Coming. I find this more compelling in Matthew's account. But even there I'm forced to insert a gap between verse 35 and verse 36 in Matthew and some would object to that. I do have a problem with taking preterism too far--and I'm not even talking about the full-blown heretical "full preterists." Even the "orthodox preterists" can sometimes over-emphasize the first century judgment and basically believe every eschatological passage in the NT, save a couple, all point towards 70AD. I find that a bit of an overstatement to say the least.

In any event, thanks for continuing to point out the dangers of dispensationalism. I wish the media would focus more on actual Christian scholars when they have these discussions instead of sensationalistic popular writers, but I guess they are popular because they are sensationalistic. Putting Revelation in it's first century context and explaining its application for today isn't as exciting as telling people that the world is about to end and everything in Revelation--now made into a Biblical horoscope-- was written specifically for your generation.

Neil said...

I always cringe when Christians make their own predictions about the end times. So far they have been wrong every time and they just make Christians look foolish.

Aaron Buer said...

Dr. Witherington,

Speaking of the rapture:

I recently attended Rob Bell's "Isn't She Beautiful" pastor's conference. During the conference he talked briefly about the theory of the rapture. He explained the Thessalonians passage in a way I had never heard. I was wondering if there is any credence to what he said because, as usual (I attended Mars Hill for 5 years) he didn't give any sort of source citation.

He said that Paul was referencing a historical event when he wrote. He said there was a massive earthquake that partially destroyed the city and that Nero gave the people of the city money and materials so that they could rebuild the city. After the city was rebuilt the Emperor traveled to the city to see the progress. As he neared the city there was trumpets (like the passage) to announce the coming of the king.

Anyway, the people of the city ran out to meet him (reference to meeting him in the air) and welcomed him into the city with great celebration in order to show him what they had done with the gifts he had given them.

Rob said that the idea was not the rapture, but that we would welcome Jesus back to earth, meeting him as it were to show him all that we had done to restore the earth.

It sounded pretty fun. And while I don't believe in the rapture, I'm not sure it really floats. Have you

Aaron Buer said...

(oops too long)...

have you ever heard of this theory? What do you think? Thanks for your time.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Aaron:

You will see that I have said in my Thessalonian commentary much the same as Rob said. In fact, many such dignitaries had visited Thessalonike, the Roman Senate in exile had been there as well. He is exactly right about Paul using the imagery about the visiting royal figure to describe our meeting the Lord in the air and returning with him to earth.



Ben Witherington said...

As for Mark 13, several points need to be made: 1) Mark is famous for his parenthetical remarks, and we probably have two important ones in Mk. 13-- 1) vs. 10 clearly interrupts the flow of the argument. Vs. 9 and 11 naturally go together. This likely means vs. 10 is Mark's own comment in the 60s, reminding the audience that when one sees these sorts of things happening "the end is not yet". The whole point of relating the preliminary signs which lead up to A.D. 70 and the destruction of the Temple is to stress to overly hyped up eschatologically fervent Christians that the "end is not yet". Rather "these things" are only the beginning of the birth pangs, the beginning of the eschatological age. 2) Mk.13.14-- let the reader understand is clearly Mark's own comment as well, and the point of it is "these things are happening even now as I write dear reader", or as the kids would say today-- Word up. 3) The A, B, A, B pattern with A being the preliminary events which lead up to A.D. 70 will not be evident in some English translations. We are dealing with the Greek phrase "these things" which should be contrasted with "in those days following that distress" or "at that time". The latter phrases alone point to the second coming, the former refer to things already seen in the writer's day-- "these" refers to something present and tangible, "in those days" to something later, but how much later is not known or specified since Christ will come at an unknown time like a thief in the night. In short, only Mk. 13.24-27,32-37 refer to the second coming, a sudden coming at an unspecified time.


Dan said...

A couple of years ago, as I was sorting out my "what do I believe about the end times," I read "The Realm of the Reign" for a seminary class. Your discussion on 1 Thes. was very crucial in helping me leave PMD theology behind. It continues to be helpful as I perpetually run into folks saying "but I read the Left Behind Books, and they're based on the Bible!" So, belatedly, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hello friend;

Regarding your articleon the Rapture:

I understand why you may be disillusioned regarding the Rapture of the Church however, you are incorrect in stating that Chafer or Scofield ( a converted drunk) ever predicted the time when our Lord would return. These great Biblical scholars would only state that the time is near; or, it is the next event to occur; or, it is the next prophecy to be fulfilled; or it could happen any time now, but never an date or time would be declared. Your statement only proves the extreme GRACE of our loving God. He is waiting for you and me to come to a saving knowldege of the Saviour before He returns for us. You may enjoy my website for further information.
Be patient, He will return. Even the New Testament people were concerned regarding this delay. But, Friend, He will come again. Are you ready?

Love, in Christ,

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Floyd:

I am afraid you are wrong about Scofield for sure. Read The Incredible Scofield.

Easter Blessings,

Ben W.

Aaron Buer said...

Hey thanks for taking the time to respond to my question. I may just go out and get that commentary.

Daniel said...

Thank you for this post, Dr. Witherington. The note about "Chocolate Jesus" was funny, but that kind of thing can only be expected with the ubiquity that Jesus of Nazareth has acheived in the western world. As for the eschaton, LaHay continues to jam up Christian Book Distributor catalogs with his junk (do Christians really need a "study guide" for his goofy novels?); I wish he would be raptured and free up a lot of paper and ink for the rest of us. I have to confess that I enjoyed witnessing the daily idiocy coming out of the "Wait And See" Talpiot camp, and was hoping that it would keep going for a time. Unfortunately that did not happen and now the offending parties are all back in their respective bunkers thinking up the next conspiracy theory to dump on an unsuspecting world in time for Christmas. One bright spot out of this is that I purchased Jack Finegan's book on the archeology of the New Testament and it is amazing! Happy Easter and Tov Kufsha to all this week.

Rhology said...

Glenn Beck is a Mormon. Do they fall into the "Dispensational" category?


Ben Witherington said...

You know I have wondered about Mormons and Dispensationalism. It's not part of their official credo but their seem to be some Mormons who subscribe to this stuff.

yuckabuck said...

Thank you so much for answering Bill's question about Mark 13. I am reading Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God, and was precisely at the point where he discusses Mark 13. I knew that you had referred others to your commentary on the chapter, and was wishing that I could read it. Then, I check out your blog, and you have explained your view right here!

I first heard of the distinction between "these things" and "it" (the coming of the son of man "in those days") in Ladd's theology, referencing Cranfield. It seemed to make the most sense exegetically, especially in light of all the other ways the Gospels show the Kingdom of God as somehow present, though awaiting fulfillment. Why wouldn't the destruction of Jerusalem be just as much a sign of the Kingdom's presence than, say, Jesus' exorcisms? It seems to me that Wright accepts Schweitzer and others' misreading of the text (that Jesus predicted the son of man coming in that very generation), and then tries to redefine what Jesus meant by "the son of man coming" as a way to refute Schweitzer.

All that is to say, thanks for helping me not feel crazy for disagreeing with Wright, and thank you for having such an open blog where anybody can ask questions and get answers. (Perhaps your blog is the "already" in light of the "not yet" having enough money to actually buy your commentary on Mark?)