Trusting the Bible when Truth and Tradition Collide
Author: Amanda Hope Haley
Amanda Hope Haley is a lover of the Bible—its God, its words, and its history. She holds a master’s degree of theological studies in Hebrew Scripture and Interpretation from Harvard University, hosts The Red-Haired Archaeologist podcast, has ghostwritten for popular Christian authors, and contributed to The Voice Bible translation. Amanda and her husband, David, live in Tennessee with their always-entertaining basset hound, Copper.
In February 2019, I was sitting in a Eugene, Oregon-coffee shop with my editor. Mary Magwas moving smoothly through editing and heading toward the printer, so Kathleen and I were reviewing a rough proposal for my next book, The Red-Haired Archaeologist: Digging Israel (as it was titled at that time).
I had spent the previous two days in high-energy, encouraging meetings with almost everyone who worked at Harvest House, so I was ready to start my next project ASAP. Squinting at a complex-looking calendar-matrix of all her acquisitions, she told me, “It looks like my next slot is in Winter 2021.”
I went quiet, thinking about how far away that date seemed to be. Kathleen quickly assured me that the years would fly and the project would benefit from the extra time. Of course she was right. (Kathleen is always right!)
In February 2019, my next book was planned to be your typical 250-page black-and-white nonfiction paperback. I intended to write about archaeological discoveries and how they can impact our readings of Scripture.
In February 2021, I will present to you a still-pretty-typical 250-page black-and-white paperback; but this one has original photographs, history lessons, travel adventures, and cultural encounters…in addition to explaining how archaeology can illuminate Scripture!
The change in the book’s tone from scholarly to conversational and the expansion of its content from artifact-focused to culture-conscious are the direct results of the time I spent digging and traveling in Israel last summer. Fifteen years had passed since the last time I’d been similarly immersed in Israeli(te) history and culture, and I realized quickly that the book I had planned–which was initially based on what I had learned and experienced in my last years at Harvard–would not accurately reflect today’s practice of archaeology or the current inhabitants of the Land.
In Israel, ancient history and modernity coexist in ways they do not in Western nations, largely because the struggle for control of the land has never ceased. Thousands of years of wars and regime changes gave us the ancient tels we excavate, and they continue to define political boundaries and spheres of influence today.
All of this is simply too much to contain in one black-and-white book. Therefore, I’ve been working during our mutual COVID-containment time to develop a website. On February 23, 2021, The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel will release and https://redhairedarchaeologist.com will launch. There you will find color photographs and “deleted scenes” that didn’t fit into the book and links to Season 2 of The Red-Haired Archaeologist Podcast, all of which will enhance your reading experience. In the future, it will also be the home of all things RHA, including future adult titles, children’s books, and more!
We are still five months away from my long-awaited Launch Day, but I can’t wait to share my love of ancient and modern Israel with you. Visit https://redhairedarchaeologist.com today, and sign-up to receive my monthly “journal entries,” publishing updates, and early access to the book’s online supplements.
Since my last post, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews about Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow. There are some questions everyone asks me, such as, “How did you come up with that title?” Around Christmas time, everyone wanted to talk about the not-a-barn where Jesus was born, and a particularly fun interviewer wondered what kind of music I choose when David isn’t in the car.
At some point in every interview–often after some levity and laughter–the host gets serious and asks me, “Why did you write this book?” That should be an easy question, but I break into a sweat every time I start to answer because it is impossible to edit my life into a five-second sound bite. (Or an entire blog post, as it turns out!)
I was a “good kid.” I grew up in the Bible Belt and experienced Believer’s Baptism twice—at ages 8 and 9–because my family switched denominations. From the fourth grade, I attended church Sundays and Wednesdays, did my “quiet time” every night before bed, and followed every rule every day. Such societal structures reinforced my Type-A personality, set me up for academic success, and gave me a constant awareness of and connection to God.
My spiritual foundation was first shaken in my late teens. I took religious studies courses at Rhodes College, and for the first time I was learning from people who did not believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God–but who knew more about it than any Sunday School teacher I’d ever met. In my first semester, my eyes were opened to everything that is “wrong” with my beloved Bible, all the contradictions, textual errors, and historical inaccuracies.
For the next several years, I described my faith as schizophrenic. In class I was learning and regurgitating biblical facts that threatened to undermine my biblical faith. Many of my classmates abandoned Christianity as they learned there was no apple in Eden, Moses parted a reed sea, Jericho was destroyed long before Joshua got there, Goliath (probably) wasn’t nine feet tall, there is no whale in the Book of Jonah, and Jesus was three years old when the Wise Men showed up. But I still had my quiet time every night in my dorm room. My faith in God never wavered, although my understanding of Him did.
After four years of keeping my academic side separate from my spiritual side, a conservative Jew put me back together. While studying Exodus 19 (where Moses goes up and down Mt. Sinai umpteen times with the speed of The Flash), Dr. Schultz highlighted all the places the Hebrew text repeats itself. The class already knew he would say the copied lines are evidence of multiple authors being involved in the creation of the text, but we didn’t expect him to then use those so-called errors as evidence in favor of God’s presence in the creation of the chapter.
His logic was simple: no writer or editor would ever “make the mistake” of including contradictions, errors, or inaccuracies in the final version of any text, let alone a divine one. There’s no way the thousands of scribes who followed them would then leave the “mistakes” uncorrected. God must be responsible.
This is a bold stand for a PhD to make because the first question anyone would ask him is, “Why did God do that?” No matter how many theories anyone ever proposes, the answer will always be, “I don’t know.” And that’s an uncomfortable statement for any human.
Maybe there’s a little Type-A in all of us. We like to know what is true and what is false. How things work, and why things happen. To that end, we humans might prefer that God have an annual conference call with all of us where He answers questions, gives instructions, and maybe chastises those who disagree with our personal opinions.
But that isn’t how God has chosen to interact with us. He is a God of relationships. He wanted to walk with us in the Garden of Eden forever; He did walk with us for awhile two millennia ago. He wants us to know Him, and that means reading His words, spending time on the hard parts, discussing them with Him in prayer, and debating them with others in fellowship.
Sadly this very quest for truth and the heart of God can lead to dissension in the churches. We must hold lightly to our own revelations because the stubborn adoption of one human’s idea over another’s causes denominations to divide. These Christians insist those Christians aren’t Christians. A nine-year-old girl wonders why a dunk is better than a sprinkle when she knows her God hasn’t changed.
God wants us to study His word for ourselves, but remember that the mystery is in the text by His design. It helps us to keep coming back to discover more about Him, and as we know Him better, we want to share Him more. So that is why I wrote my book(s): I love God and His Words, and I want to share that with everyone. I want people to know they are as empowered to study the word of God as any theologian, and that it is okay to ask questions of His text and our traditions. (He can take it, and the church needs to be more self-reflective anyway!)
In time we will all be right and wrong about nonessentials, but disagreement must not divide us. As Jesus said, we are to
“Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is nearly as important, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”The rest of the law, and all the teachings of the prophets, are but variations on these themes. (Matthew 22:37-40)
Most of my work time these days is not spent writing my next manuscript. (Don’t tell my editor that!) It’s taken up with multimedia promotion such as book signings, radio interviews, guest blogging, contact development, meme-making, and social media.
Knowing this would be the case–and that my next book is due January 1 no matter how many interviews I schedule–I attempted to get a jump-start on promoting Mary Mag by recording the first season of my new podcast back in the Spring. It was fine. A fine attempt at do-it-myself audio editing, that is.
Now that people are hearing a bit about Mary Mag and me, I’ve been told it is time to get a professional working on my podcast so my publisher won’t be too embarrassed to share the episodes with potential readers and buyers. Through an old church friend, I found Nicholas Allaire, audio editor-extraordinaire! Check him out here: http://nickallaire.com/. I can’t recommend him highly enough.
Season 1 has 7 episodes, and most are under half an hour. You should be able to find it wherever you usually listen to your podcasts, and I’ve put direct links on the Podcast page of my website. Each will teach you a little bit about archaeological discoveries pertaining to the Old Testament and influencing our understandings of Scripture. (Nick seems to like them, and he’s a pro!)
It is an exciting time here in my home office as I write, edit, and promote books. If you don’t want to miss anything, make sure you’ve signed up to receive email updates HERE. This will take you to the forthcoming Red-Haired Archaeologist website that will launch February 23, 2021. Sign-up to receive a monthly newsletter about all things RHA there!
Back in the late 1990s, a group of high school students would serve dinner at the Nashville Union Mission one night per week. The ringleader of our little group was a guy named Eric. He and his sister organized our volunteer work for the Mission and made sure we made it downtown on time each week no matter how late Coach kept us in the pool. Always wet, sometimes smelling of chlorine, and usually having forgotten our coats, we would pile into Mariah’s red Jeep and drive north for 30 minutes. There we would dish food, hand out day-past-date milk cartons, and then clean the kitchen and dining room.
The first time I volunteered, few of the people in line would look at me; but after I returned the following week, they started to acknowledge me. I started to learn faces and a handful of names. This was some of the first regular, sustained community service in which I ever participated, and it taught me the importance of building relationships with those whom you serve.
As I get older and take on more responsibilities with work and family, it has become harder to build personal relationships in my community. David and I try to keep quarters available for anyone walking by who needs bus fare, and we do service projects for the homeless and hungry through our church. Excepting one lady “of the night”–whose favorite part of the day was greeting Copper every morning–I do not know the people we are hoping to help. I worry that I am not doing enough, so I too often overload my calendar with Meal Trains and sewing projects in what are probably attempts to tamp down my guilt over not knowing my “neighbors” well enough to love them.
I’ve long supposed that the only people who don’t struggle with such feelings of inadequacy are professional servants–pastors, doctors, social workers, etc. Take Eric, for example. He and his wife are missionary doctors in Africa, raising a lovely family while saving lives and training future doctors. But in his new book, Promises in the Dark: Walking with Those in Need without Losing Heart, he reveals many of the same worries and doubts that I have:
I believe much of my tendency to overwork is a manifestation of seeking control and a lack of trust that, in the end, God–not I–will bring about real transformation in this broken world (79).
Eric tells stories of healing and death, frustration and inadequacy, joy and unimaginable sorrow:
The blinding reality is that suffering is everywhere. The world is filled with trouble, disease, and loss….Since moving to Africa, there’s probably no single theme that has felt so urgent to me. No other problem has felt so pressing: if I can’t find some way to at least think about all the suffering around me, then I won’t last long here (109).
In his stories of language barriers, infrastructure failures, cultural conflicts, and human suffering, I see parallels to many of our Western struggles. At the root of all suffering is evil, and that is what humans struggle against every day. We cannot do enough or love enough to get rid of the evil–that’s God’s job.
I am encouraged that on the other side of the world, Christians who have devoted their lives and livelihoods to serving God and loving His people share many of my own frustrations. Eric reminds me that God wants to use all of us to reconcile His people to Himself from wherever we are, be it a hospital in Africa, a sidewalk in Chattanooga, or even the parking lot of Bridgestone Arena (where our beloved Union Mission once stood).
This summer I had the opportunity to spend several weeks in Israel digging at Tel Shimron and then touring the rest of the country. My husband and parents joined me for the second less-dusty part of the trip, but I still managed to wear them out traipsing to tel after tel in the blazing sun.
Toward the end of our trip, we stayed 4 days in Tiberias, on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee. About 20 minutes north of our hotel sits Magdala, a city most famous as the hometown of Mary Magdalene.
Standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee next to a replica of a first-century fishing boat, it is easy to imagine Jesus and His disciples docking at Magdala’s port (Matthew 15:39) before taking a short walk to the synagogue to preach as He had throughout Galilee (Matthew 4:23).
Archaeologists have discovered that Magdala first became a city around 200 B.C.E. By the time Mary was born, it had grown into a prosperous fishing village with a distinctly Jewish culture. It boasts the oldest synagogue discovered in Galilee to date, and the frescoed walls and mosaic floors preserved in several buildings survived flooding, conquest, and a major earthquake. Four high-quality groundwater-fed ritual baths further indicate both the importance of the Jewish religion to daily life and the city’s great wealth.
The current excavation of Magdala began in 2009 when contractors preparing the foundation of a new building stumbled on the remains of a 1st-century synagogue. The dig is now jointly sponsored by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Mexican universities, Universidad Anáhuac México Sur and Universidad Autónoma de Mexico. It was seen by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and is visited by more and more Jewish and Christian tourists each year.
Once excavation and restoration are complete, Magdala will be a dazzling example of maritime society in the ancient world. Today visitors can enjoy a mostly do-it-yourself tour thanks to helpful diagrams and historic facts presented throughout the site. We spent about 2 hours there–which is probably twice as long as was needed–and only paid about $5 per person. Tour guides are sometimes available at no additional cost, if your timing is just right.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how dedicated Magdala’s scholars are to “rehabilitating” Mary Magdalene’s reputation. Since naming my next book after her, I find myself increasingly aware that too many Christians–myself included–grew up believing Mary was a castanet-playing, blue-eye-shadow-wearing prostitute. The Bible actually describes her as a wealthy woman who was among Jesus’ most devoted followers:
[Jesus] went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons. . . and many others who provided for Him from their substance (Luke 8:1-3 NKJV).
Alongside Magdala’s dig site is the Magdalena Institute, a nonprofit inspired by the figure of Mary Magdalene that seeks “to highlight issues of human dignity–with an emphasis on the dignity of women–and contributions of the feminine genius in both religious history and facets of life today.” Many scholars would argue that the denigration of Mary by Pope Gregory the Great (and the subsequent fifteen centuries’ teachers and preachers who solidified her identification as a prostitute) is the result of historic misogyny in the church; the Institute works from the same place where Mary walked and Jesus may have preached to make sure no woman is marginalized because of her gender.
Women are smart and capable of studying and understanding Scripture, but too often we are offered emotion-based ministries seeking to make us feel good about our relationships with God and others instead of Scripture-based lessons that can actually help us know God better.
Revealing how history and traditions can (and too often have) incorrectly influenced the reading of the Bible is my goal in Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow and future books. I want to strip away the Sunday school stories and dig into Scripture itself, for only in Scripture can we meet the risen Jesus, as did Mary Magdalene before us.
Have you ever watched the History Channel’s drama Knightfall (now also on Netflix)? The series opener is inspired by the failure of the European Christians to defend against the Mamluks during the Siege of Acre in 1291. The story itself is quite soapy (thanks to courtly love, palace intrigue, and a corrupt pope) as the show describes the romanticized lives of the Knights Templar in 14th-century France.
The last episode of season 2 aired just before I left for my summer in Israel, and the well-advertised highlight of the season was Mark Hamill’s role as an elder Templar knight. He is the knights’ iron-wielding “Yoda” in this largely fictitious Crusader story.
As I watched the season finale, I had no idea that I’d soon be standing on the shores of Acre, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One Saturday, all of Shimron’s volunteers and staff members were invited on a “field trip” to that Mediterranean city. We hopped off the bus at the Old City’s gates, and each went his or her own way. I paired off with one of my square-mates, Avie, and we toured the Crusader City together for a couple of hours.
Much of what we toured has been underground since the 18th century when an Ottoman citadel was built over it. It is strange to walk along streets once busy with commerce but now completely encased in the stone foundations of the citadel. Most places only have artificial light, and ancient graffiti remains on buildings now filled only with curious tourists.
Before our trip, I was familiar with the Knights Templar and their simultaneously historic and fantastic quest for the Holy Grail. The “cup of Christ,” from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and/or into which His blood flowed at the Cross, was thought to have magical healing powers and could propel armies of God to certain victory. (And, thanks to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we know it was wooden, not gold!)
But I learned that the Templars weren’t the only knights at Acre, and any healing in the city was done by their brothers and rivals, the Hospitallers. During the Crusades, both the Templars and Hospitallers were warriors, but their spiritual fathers and daily activities put them in fierce opposition with each other. The Templars were Benedictine knights who were sworn to protect pilgrims (and accumulated great wealth); the Hospitallers were Augustinians who cared for the sick and wounded. The Templars were disbanded and executed by 1312; the Hospitallers remain active healers today.
After a few hours underground, Avie and I decided to walk along the coast (she had never seen the Mediterranean, and I was happy to take her first pictures!) and eat some lunch. We found a wonderful seafood restaurant called Mina and ordered fresh fish, mussels, and assorted salads to eat on a deck built into the sea. It was lovely–until the sunshade collapsed on our table just as we were trying to leave.
Rarely, it seems, am I capable of enjoying an uneventful outing. Fellow travelers beware!
I write to you today from Israel, where I am volunteering for a dig at Tel Shimron. (That’s Shim-RONE, like the Rhone River in France, not Shim-RON as I mispronounced it for the last year!)
There are almost-countless famous archaeological sites in Israel, but the name of this one probably doesn’t ring a bell. In the Bible, Shimron the city is only mentioned in the Book of Joshua, first as part of a Canaanite coalition against Israel:
When King Jabin of Hazor heard what Israel had done to the central and southern cities of Canaan, he sent messengers to King Jobab of Madon, the king of Shimron, the king of Achshaph, and the kings who were in the northern hill country, in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, in the lowland, and in the heights of Dor on the west; to the Canaanites in the east and the west; the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country; the Hivites in the foothills of Mount Hermon in the land of Mizpeh, and to all those who could still fight the invaders. They banded together and came out to fight—so many warriors that you could no more count them than you could count the grains of sand on a beach—and leading them was a vast number of horses and chariots. All of these kings pooled their forces, and they camped together by the waters of Merom, ready to make war on Israel (Joshua 11:1-5).
And then as a conquered city belonging to the Israelite tribe of Zebulun (after that coalition failed and Israel took over the land of Canaan):
The third lot fell to the people of Zebulun, clan by clan. The boundary of its inheritance stretched as far as Sarid, then it climbed up westward to Maralah and brushed Dabbesheth, then on to the wadi that is east of Jokneam. From Sarid it turned in the other direction eastward toward the sunrise to the frontier of Chisloth-tabor; and from there it went to Daberath, then up to Japhia. From there it went eastward to Gath-hepher, then Eth-kazin, and going on to Rimmon, it curved toward Neah. Then on the north, the boundary curved toward Hannathon and ended at the valley of Iphtahel with Kattah, Nahalal, Shimron, Idalah, and Bethlehem—12 cities with their surrounding villages (Joshua 19:10-15).
This season I have been stationed in a square where we are excavating remains from the Middle Bronze Age occupation of the city. What that means is, we are in dirt that last saw daylight long before David or Saul were kings in Israel.
I can’t tell you much about the dig itself–scholars will publish our finds in the years to come–but I will say that the disciple of archaeology has changed drastically in the 15 years since the last time I dug. After less than a week in the field, I am amazed by how much has modernized. Satellites help triangulate the exact positions of artifacts; laptops are onsite doing I-don’t-know-what-all; tags are now bar-coded instead of handwritten. Technology has improved and hastened the excavation process (and, sadly, made my beloved plumb bob obsolete).
When the dig is over, I’ll be touring the rest of the country and writing my next book, The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel. It will be part archaeological survey / part biblical exegesis / part travel memoir with full-color photographs I’ll take myself this summer.
I am so thankful to God and Harvest House Publishers for the opportunity to re-immerse myself in my first love–biblical archaeology–and share that love with you.
This morning David pulled the honey bear out for his coffee and grinned. “My honey fairy didn’t come!” Yesterday he had used the last of the honey and had left the bottle out for me to refill. For 15-or-so years that had been our habit, not just for honey refills but for everything. When something was running low, I’d tell David to “put it on the list” and his so-called magical fairy would meet his needs so long as she wasn’t under an editing deadline.
The arrangement worked for us both because I have always worked from home. Laundry could be running, dinner could be cooking, and paint could be drying all while I was editing Word documents. I was happy to do most-things domestic so that when David got home from his long hours at work or many days away on business he could just relax and pay attention to me. He had less stress, and I got to do everything to my own type-A standards.
Then came 2019 and a seismic shift in my work schedule. No longer would I being doing freelance writing, editing, and reviewing only when it was convenient for us; now I was committed to writing 3 books in 3 years and all the research, travel, publicity, and bonus-content development (i.e., blogging and podcasting) that goes along with publishing books these days. I may still work from home, but I no longer have time to fill his honey bear. Clean laundry waits days to be folded, dinner is more often bought than made, and I haven’t done a house restoration project in at least a year. (Gasp!)
I have adopted a new motto for myself: Happy-Crazy-Busy. If I’m not working, then I’m thinking about working. It’s crazy, but I am so happy knowing I’m exactly where God wants me to be at this moment.
Naturally, we have struggled a bit with the changes. David is doing a lot more around the house, and I am learning to be thankful when I can’t find my colander–because that means he unloaded the dishwasher! There have been arguments and anger, but we are learning how to work together differently now that circumstances have changed.
Since March, God has seen fit to speak into our marriage through one of my chore-disrupting book projects. I have had the privilege of collaborating with Jeremy and Adrienne Camp to write a book about marriage. It will release March 3, 2020, in tandem with the film, I Still Believe, which is based on Jeremy’s spiritual journey in the wake of his first wife’s death. In Unison: The Unfinished Story of Jeremy and Adrienne Camp uses anecdotes from their personal life to explore topics such as tragedy, stress, finances, and parenting that can strain a marriage, and it offers Godly perspectives on how such challenges can strengthen and not separate husband and wife.
This project and these new friends entered my life at just the right time. From the floor of their living room with my laptop in my lap, I witnessed the fruits of a marriage lived in right-relationship with God. This family–who is separated by the demands of two successful careers by far greater distances and for much longer periods of time than those David and I complain of–exudes the love they espouse. Their home is a place of peace and cooperation (where, incidentally, screens are tools for work and school, not sources of mindless entertainment!).
Jeremy and Adrienne have inspired David and me not just with the words they have written but with the lives they live. They, too, are happy-crazy-busy, and all of that comes from being obedient to God and how He wishes to use them in service of His will. No tiny fairies make their marriage work; one big God does.
Not long after I signed with Harvest House Publishers, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book they were publishing about infertility. Mothers in Waiting: Healing and Hope for Those with Empty Arms* is a collection of 30 women’s personal stories as they tried to become mothers. It was compiled by a mother-in-law–daughter-in-law team with the goal of meeting women along their infertility journeys so no one walks that tough path alone. I instantly agreed because that had also been my goal with Barren. You’ll find my story in chapter 9.
In the five years since I wrote Barren among the Fruitful, David and I have accepted that we won’t be biological parents. Our lives have been upended several times as we moved across the country twice, endured my 3 gynecological surgeries in 10 months, supported a loved one in prison for a crime that never happened, mourned career disappointments, and celebrated career successes. In hindsight, we see how God was able to use us and our resources differently in these and other situations because we weren’t raising kids. We had more time and attention to give, and we are thankful for that.
Don’t get me wrong–we would both still give our right arms to have had children. We are reminded of them each Mother’s and Father’s Day as so many churches dedicate babies, rightly extol the virtues of parenthood, and maybe give flowers to the moms. Each year we debate whether or not we will attend services on those holidays, and we usually agree that our emotions would inhibit any joyous corporate worship. I’m not sure that will ever change.
While I will always remain tender and attentive to the causes of infertility and female cancers, the publications of books such as Mothers in Waiting and the incredible ministries that accompany many of them reveal how God is using other authors and speakers to show His love to people struggling to grow their families. As He has enabled them for this important work, God has prepared my heart, head, and life for a new mission.
I will be spending this summer in Israel digging at Tel Shimron and writing my next book, The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel (February 2021), and with a little luck I’ll “dig Egypt” the following year! God has made a way for me to return to my first love–biblical archaeology–and share the field’s insights into Scripture with the world. He has filled this “hopeful” woman with joy and thankfulness and excitement through situations I never could have manufactured myself. I understand that I would not have the time, energy, or will to devote to writing and travel if I were a mother, and I thank Him for this opportunity to serve Him and for the peace He has given me about the future.
God always knows the outcome before we know the circumstances.
*I receive no compensation for my contribution to or endorsement of this book.
Scholars tell us that Jesus was born in 4 BC. Assuming–and this is an admittedly HUGE assumption–they and all post-AD calendars are correct, yesterday was the 1,990th anniversary of Easter.
Today we all await the fulfillment of the last big prophecy—the end of the world.
Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins wrote an entertaining and popular fictional series about the biblical apocalypse. I read all twelve books of the Left Behind series as they were published, and I enjoyed most of them. They begin with the Rapture, a doctrine that states the last generation of Christians on Earth will be “beamed up” to heaven before the Tribulation. The rest of the series details the authors’ interpretations of the Tribulation and ends with the Second Coming of the Christ. When I read the novels I believed this tradition of Rapture, so the books made me think I had a solid grasp of Scripture and understood what the Apocalypse will look like.
The danger of highly entertaining books with biblical inspirations such as the Left Behind series and The DaVinci Code is that they seem to be more fact than fiction. The characters are all made up, sure, but it is easy to believe that the books’ settings and events are based in reality. My favorite genre of escapist literature is historical fiction, so this is a tempting trap I know very well.
Once the idea of the Rapture came up in a conversation, and others were surprised to hear that I don’t wholly accept this doctrine. I realized pretty quickly that they (and a lot of other people, it turns out) associated the Rapture with the Second Coming of Christ. The two should not be conflated. Rapture is a tradition (the word never appears in the Bible); the Second Coming, or Parousia, is Scripture. I absolutely believe Jesus will return.
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine is a relatively new one. It was developed in the late 1800s by British theologian John Nelson Darby and then popularized in America in 1907 when C. I. Scofield’s Reference Bible was printed. It takes disparate verses of the New Testament and combines them to form the doctrine. The doctrine isn’t exactly a product of proof-texting, but it is close.
The theory begins with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where Paul is answering the questions of church members who are wondering what will happen to their Christian friends and family who have died prior to Jesus’ Second Coming:
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep [in death], lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The Thessalonians were part of the Greek culture that believed there was no returning from death. Greek Christians were, at that time, unique in their beliefs in the completed resurrection of the Christ, and they were trusting in Jesus’ words (Matthew 24) that they would be resurrected as well. It seems their faiths were eroding as they lived among the Greek pagans, watched Jesus-following church members die, and waited for His return. Paul is setting their minds at ease here by reminding them of what they already know. At the Second Coming of Christ—not before—the dead will rise and the living will follow them. According to Paul, Jesus returns before anyone living or dead rises.
I always assumed the Rapture was detailed in Revelation. It is not. The only people who ascend to heaven in that book are John of Patmos (to see this vision), the two witnesses (11:12), and the “Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (12:5). To connect John’s vision of Revelation to Jesus’ description of the Tribulation and Paul’s assurance that the dead and living will rise when He returns, you have to get pretty creative.
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
If you read Revelation 3:10 outside of its context as I have it here, then you might guess that Christians will be kept “from the hour of trial” by way of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, but that certainly is not stated and nothing else in Revelation would support that idea. Also, this promise was made only to the Church in Philadelphia, so most of us better pack up and move!
All of this to say, Christians need to read the rest of what Paul says about the end times:
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10).
We don’t need to try to predict the end of the world or worry that we might suffer prior to His return. We are here, as children of God, to be used by God to reconcile all of humanity to Him. After Easter, may we focus on His present will and not the world’s future end.