In Times of Harsh Political Discourse, What Do the Scriptures Say?

We are in times of strident political protest that includes a lot of harsh language, personal attacks, name calling, and even debased and profane terms. There are tweets, and angry monologues, harsh commentary on news networks, and interruptive press conferences and news interviews that sound more like a brawl than a debate. To put it all more pleasantly, these are times of “colorful” discourse.

What is the overall teaching of Scripture when it comes to this sort of colorful language? Are there some limits and ground rules? Let’s take a look.

The word “civility”dates back to the mid-16th century and has an older meaning that referred to one who possessed the quality of having been schooled in the humanities. In academic settings, debate (at least historically) was governed by a tendency to be nuanced, careful, cautious, formal, and trained in rhetoric. Its rules often included referring to one’s opponents with honorary titles (Doctor, Professor, etc.) and euphemisms such as “my worthy opponent.” Hence as the word entered common usage, it has come to mean speech or behavior that is polite, courteous, gentle, and measured.

As one might guess, there are a lot of cultural variancesin what is civil. And this insight is very important when we look at the biblical data on what constituted civil discourse. Frankly, the biblical world was far less dainty about discourse than we have become in 21st-century America. The Scriptures, including the New Testament, are filled with vigorous discourse. Jesus, for example, really mixes it up with His opponents—even calling them names. We shall see more of this in a moment. But the Scriptures also counsel charity and warn of unnecessarily angry speech. In the end, a balance of the scriptural witness to civility must be sought along with an appreciation of the cultural variables at work.

Let’s examine a few of the texts that counsel charityas well as a modern and American notion of civility:

  1. Anyone who says to his brother, “Raqa” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell(Matt 5:22).
  2. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen(Eph 4:29).
  3. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged(Col 3:21).
  4. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10).
  5. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry(James 1:19).
  6. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt(Col 4:6).
  7. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up(1 Thess 5:11).
  8. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips(Col 3:8).
  9. Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips(Eccl 10:12).
  10. The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools(Eccles 9:17).
  11. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification(Rom 14:19).
  12. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother(Gal 6:1).
  13. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort [the repentant sinner], so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow(2 Cor 2:7).

All these texts counsel a measured, charitable, and edifying discourse. Name-calling and hateful or unnecessary expressions of anger are out of place. And this is a strong biblical tradition, especially in the New Testament.

But there are also strong contrasts to this instruction evident in the Bible. And a lot of it comes from an unlikely source: Jesus. Paul too, who wrote many of the counsels above, often engages in strident denunciations of his opponents and even members of the early Church. Consider some of the passages below, first by Jesus, then by Paul and other Apostles:

  1. Jesus said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?”(Matthew 12:34)
  2. And Jesus turned on them and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides! … You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. … You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. … And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”(Matt 23 varia)
  3. Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. … You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. … He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:42-47).
  4. Jesus said, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”(Mark 7:6).
  5. And Jesus answered them, O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long must I tolerate you?(Mark 9:19)
  6. Jesus said to the disciples, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11)
  7. Jesus said to the crowd, “I do not acceptpraise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts”(Jn 5:41-42).
  8. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables(John 2:15).
  9. Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!”(John 6:70)
  10. Paul: O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth … As for those circumcisers, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!(Galatians 3, 5)
  11. Paul against the false apostles:And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Cor 11:11-14).
  12. Paul on the Cretans:Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith(Titus 1:12-13).
  13. Peter against dissenters:Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings…these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. … They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. … They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! … Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud”(2 Peter 2, varia).
  14. Jude against dissenters:These dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings….these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; … These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. … These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage(Jude 1:varia).

Now most of the passages above would violate modern norms about civil discourse.Are they sinful? They are God’s word! And yet they seem rather shocking to modern ears. Imagine getting into your time machine and going to hear Jesus denounce the crowds and calling them children of the devil. It really blows a 21st-century mind!

I want to suggest to you that these sorts of quotes go a long way toward illustrating the cultural dimension of what it means to be civil.The bottom line is that there is a great deal of variability in what people consider civil discourse. In some cultures there is a greater tolerance for anger. In New York and Boston, edgy comments and passionate interruptive debate are common. But in the upper-Midwest and parts of the Deep South, conversation is more gentle and reserved.

At the time of Jesus, angry discourse was apparently more “normal,”for as we see, Jesus Himself engages in a lot of it, even calling people names like “hypocrites,” “brood of vipers,” “liars,” and “wicked.” Yet the same Scriptures that record these facts about Jesus also teach that He never sinned. Hence at that time, the utterance of such terms was not considered sinful.

Careful, now—be careful here. This does not mean it is simply OK for us to talk like this because Jesus did. We do not live then; we live now; and in our culture such dialogue is seldom acceptable and often backfires. There ARE cultural norms we have to respect to remain in the realm of Charity. Exactly how to define civility in every instance is not always clear. An old answer to these hard-to-define things is “I know it when I see it.” So perhaps it is more art than science to define civility. But clearly we tend to prefer gentler discourse in this day and age.

On the other hand, we also tend to be a little thin-skinnedand hyper-sensitive. And the paradoxical result of insisting on greater civility is that we are too easily “outraged” (one of the more overused words in English today). We take offense where none is intended and we presume that the mere act of disagreeing is somehow arrogant, intentionally hurtful, or even hateful. We seem so easily provoked and so quick to be offended. All of this escalates anger further, and charges of hate and intolerance are launched back and forth when there is merely sincere disagreement.

Balance– The Scriptures give us two balanced reminders. First, that we should speak the truth in love, and with compassion and understanding. But it also portrays to us a time when people had thicker skin and were less sensitive and anxious in the presence of disagreement. We can learn from both biblical traditions. The biblical formula seems to be “clarity” with “charity,” the truth with a balance of toughness and tenderness. An old saying comes to mind: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”

Here is a video that depicts the zeal of Jesus and a bit of his anger.

Does God Harden Human Hearts?


One of the more difficult biblical themes to understand is that of God hardening the hearts and minds of certain people. The most memorable case is that of Pharaoh. Before sending Moses to him, God said that He would “harden Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex 4:21). There are other instances in which biblical texts speak of God hardening the hearts of sinners, even from among His own people.

Jesus hinted at such a theme in Matthew 13, when He said that He spoke in parables (here understood more as riddles) so as to affirm that the hearts of most people “outside the house” were hardened. He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 as He does so. Jesus’ own apostles wondered why He spoke plainly only to them and a close company of disciples, but in riddle-like parables to the crowds outside. In His answer we are left to wonder if Jesus has not perchance written off the crowds and left them in the hardness of their hearts. To be fair, Jesus’ remark is ambiguous and open to interpretation.

What are we to make of texts like these which explicitly or implicitly speak of God hardening the hearts of people? How can God, who does no evil, be the source of a sinful mind or hard heart? Why would God do such a thing when Scripture also says this:

•  As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez 33:11)

•  God our Savior … wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).

To be sure, these questions involve very deep mysteries, about the interaction between God’s sovereignty and our freedom, about time, and about causality. The question of God hardening hearts cannot be resolved simply. Greater minds than mine have pondered these things and it would be foolish to think that an easy resolution will be found in a blog post.

Some distinctions can and should be made and some context supplied. We do not want to understand the “hardening texts” simplistically or in ways that use one truth to cancel out others that balance it.

I propose that we examine these texts along four lines:

  1. The Context of Connivance
  2. The Mystery of Time
  3. The Mystery of Primary Causality
  4. The Necessity of Humility

To begin, it is important simply to list some of the hardening texts. These will be referred to as we examine each of the four points above. The following are not the only hardening texts, but they provide a wide enough sample to use in our discussion:

•  The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” (Ex 4:21).

•  Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country (Ex 11:10).

•  Why, O LORD, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your inheritance (Is 63:17).

•  He [God] has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them (Jesus quoting Isaiah 6:9-10, in John 12:40).

•  They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie, so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness (2 Thess 2:10-12).

•  Therefore, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. … Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done (Rom 1:24, 28).

Point I: The Context of Connivance In properly assessing texts like these we should first consider the contexts in which they were made and written. Generally speaking, most of these declarations that God hardens the heart come after a significant period of disobedience on the part of those whose hearts were hardened. In a way, God “cements the deal” and gives them what they really want. Seeing that they have hardened their own hearts to Him, God determines that their disposition is to be a permanent one. In a sovereign exercise of His will (for nothing can happen without God’s allowance), He declares and permits their hearts to be hardened in a definitive kind of way. In this sense there is a judgment of God upon the individual that recognizes the person’s definitive decision against Him. Hence this hardening can be understood as voluntary on the part of the one hardened, for God hardens in such a way that He uses the person’s own will for the executing of His judgment. God accepts that the individual’s will against Him is definitive.

In the case of Pharaoh, although God indicated to Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart, the actual working out of this is a bit more complicated. We see in the first five plagues that it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart (Ex 7:13; 7:22; 8:11; 8:28; 9:7). It is only after this repeated hardening by Pharaoh of his own heart that the Exodus text speaks of God as the one who hardens (Ex 9:12; 9:34; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27). Hence the hardening here is not without Pharaoh’s repeated demonstration of his own hardness. God does this as a kind of sovereign judgment on Pharaoh.

The Isaiah texts (many in number) that speak of a hardening being visited upon Israel by God (e.g., #3 and #4 above) are also the culmination of a long testimony by Isaiah of Israel’s hardness. At the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry, God describes (through Isaiah) Israel’s hardness as being of their own doing: For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him (Is 1:2-4). There follows a long list of their crimes, their hardness, and their refusal to repent.

St. John Chrysostom: Of the numerous texts later in Isaiah (and also referenced by Jesus (e.g., Jn 12:40)) that speak of Israel as being hardened by God (and having their eyes shut by Him), St. John Chrysostom wrote, That the saying of Isaiah might be fulfilled: that here is expressive not of the cause, but of the event. They did not disbelieve because Isaiah said they would; but because they would disbelieve, Isaiah said they would … For He does not leave us, except we wish Him … Whereby it is plain that we begin to forsake first, and are the cause of our own perdition. For as it is not the fault of the sun, that it hurts weak eyes, so neither is God to blame for punishing those who do not attend to His words (on a gloss of Is. 6:9-10 at Jn 12:40, quoted in the Catena Aurea).

St Augustine: This is not said to be the devil’s doing, but God’s. Yet if any ask why they could not believe, I answer, because they would not … But the Prophet, you say, mentions another cause, not their will; but that God had blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart. But I answer, that they well deserved this. For God hardens and blinds a man, by forsaking and not supporting him; and this He makes by a secret sentence, for by an unjust one He cannot (quoted in the Catena Aurea at Jn 12:40).

In the passage from 2 Thessalonians, while the text speaks of God as having sent the delusion, the verses before and after make clear the sinful role of the punished.

Of this text St. Augustine wrote, From a hidden judgment of God comes perversity of heart, so that the refusal to hear the truth leads to the commission of sin, and this sin is itself a punishment for the preceding sin [of refusing to hear the truth] (Against Julian 5.3.12).

St. John Damascus: [God does this] so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (The Orthodox Faith 4.26).

The passages from Romans speak of God handing them over only after they have suppressed the truth (1:18), persevered in their wickedness (1:18), and preferred idolatry (1:23). Hence, as a just judgment, God hands them over to sexual confusion (homosexuality) and countless other destructive drives. So although it is said that God hands them over, it is really not that simple. They do not want to serve Him and so He, knowing their definitive decision, gives them what they want.

Thus our first point of distinction in understanding the hardening texts is that the context of connivance is important in assessing them. Scripture does not assert that God takes a reasonably righteous man and, out of the blue, hardens his heart, confuses his mind, or causes him (against his will) to become obstinate. The texts are usually presented as a kind of prevenient judgment by God, that the state of the person’s hardness has now become permanent. They refuse and so God “causes” them to walk in their own sinful ways since they have insisted on doing so.

Point II: The Mystery of Time In understanding these hardening texts (which we have seen are akin to judgment texts) we must recall that God does not live in time in the same way that we do. Scripture speaks often of God’s knowledge and vision of time as being comprehensive rather than speculative or serial (e.g., Ex 3:14; Ps 90:2-4; Ps 93:2; Is 43:13; Ps 139; 2 Peter 3:8; James 1:17).

To say that God is eternal and lives in eternity is to say that He lives in the fullness of time. For God, past, present, and future are all the same. God is not wondering what I will do tomorrow; neither is He waiting for it to happen. For Him, my tomorrow has always been present. All of my days were written in His book before one of them ever came to be (Ps 139:16). Whether and how long I live has always been known to Him. Before He ever formed me in my mother’s womb He knew me (Jer 1:4). My final destiny is already known and present to Him.

Hence, when we strive to understand God’s judgments in the form of hardening the hearts of certain people, we must be careful not to think He lives in time the way we do. It is not as though God is watching my life like a movie. He already knows the choices I will make. Thus, when God hardens the hearts of some, it is not as though He is trying to negatively influence the outcome and trip certain people up. He already knows the outcome and has always known it; He knows the destiny that they have chosen.

Be very careful with this insight, for it is a mystery to us. We cannot really know what it is like to live in eternity, in the fullness of time, where the future is just as present as the past. Even if you think you know, you really don’t. What is essential for us to realize is that God does not live in time the way we do. If we try too hard to solve the mystery (rather than merely accepting and respecting it) we risk falling into the denial of human freedom, double predestination, or other misguided notions that sacrifice one truth for another rather than holding them in balance. That God knows what I will do tomorrow does not destroy my freedom to actually do it. How this all works out is mysterious, but we are free and God holds us accountable for our choices. Further, even though God knows our destiny already, this does not mean that He is revealing anything about that to us, so that we should look for signs and seek to call ourselves saved or lost. We ought to work out our salvation in reverential fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).

The key point here is mystery. How, why, and when God hardens the heart of anyone is caught up in the mysterious fact that He lives outside of time and knows all things before they happen. Thus He acts with comprehensive knowledge of all outcomes.

Point III: The Mystery of Causality One of the major differences between the ancient and the modern world is that the ancient world was much more comfortable dealing with something known as primary causality.

Up until the Renaissance, God was at the center of all things and people instinctively saw the hand of God in everything, even terrible things. Job said, The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised … if we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil? (Job 1:21; 2:10) The ancients would commonly attribute everything as coming from the hand of God, for He was the first cause of everything that happened. This is what is meant by primary causality. The ancients were thus much more comfortable attributing things to God, even things that we are not. In speaking like this, they were not engaging in superstitious or primitive thinking; rather, they were emphasizing that God was sovereign, omnipotent, and omnipresent, and that nothing happened apart from His sovereign will. God is the primary cause of all that is.

Of this ancient and scriptural way of thinking the Catechism says, And so we see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes [e.g., human or natural]. This is not a “primitive mode of speech,” but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him (CCC # 304).

The key point here is understanding that the ancient biblical texts, while often speaking of God as hardening the hearts of sinners, did not mean to say that man had no role, no responsibility. Neither did the texts mean to say that God acted in a merely arbitrary way. Rather, the emphasis was on God’s sovereign power as the first cause of all that is. Hence, He is often called the cause of all things and His hand is seen in everything. We moderns are uncomfortable speaking in this way.

After the Renaissance, man moved himself to the center and God was gradually relegated to the periphery. Man’s manner of thinking and speaking began to shift to secondary causes (causes related to man and nature). If something happens we look to natural causes, or in human situations, to the humans who caused it. These are secondary causes because I cannot cause something to happen unless God causes me. Yet increasingly the modern mind struggles to maintain a balance between the two mysteries: our freedom and responsibility, and God’s sovereignty and omnipotence.

In effect primary causality has largely been thrown overboard as a category. Even modern believers unconsciously do this and thus exhibit three related issues:

1. We fail to maintain the proper balance between two mysteries: God’s sovereignty and our freedom.

2. We exhibit shock at things like the “hardening texts” of the Bible because we understand them poorly.

3. We try to resolve the shock by favoring one truth over the other. Maybe we just brush aside the ancient biblical texts as a “primitive mode of speech,” inappropriately concluding that God didn’t have anything to do with this or that. Or we go to the other extreme and become fatalistic, denying human freedom, denying secondary causality (our part), and accusing God of everything (as if He were the only cause and shouldered the sole blame for everything). We either read the hardening texts with a clumsy literalism or we dismiss them as misguided notions from an immature, primitive, pre-scientific age.

The point here is that we have to balance the mysteries of primary and secondary causality. We cannot fully understand how they interrelate, but they do. Both mysteries need to be held. The ancients were more sophisticated than we are in holding these mysteries in the proper balance. We handle causality very clumsily and do not appreciate the distinctions between primary causality (God’s part) and secondary causality (our own and nature’s part). We try to resolve the mystery rather than holding it in balance and speaking to both realities. In doing so, we become poor interpreters of the hardening texts.

Point IV: The Necessity of Humility By now it is clear that we are dealing with the mysterious interrelationship between God and Man, between God’s sovereignty and our freedom, between primary and secondary causality. In the face of such mysteries we have to be very humble. We ought not to think more of the details than is proper, because they are largely hidden from us. Too many moderns either dismiss the hardening texts or accept them and then sit in harsh judgment over God (as if we could do such a thing). Neither approach bespeaks humility. Consider a shocking but very humbling text in which Paul warns us in this very matter:

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore, God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:14-20)

None of us can demand an absolute account from God for what He does. Even if He were to tell us, could our small and worldly minds ever really comprehend it? My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways, says the Lord (Is 55:8).

SUMMARY – In this (rather too long) post, we have considered the “hardening texts,” in which it seems that God hardens the hearts of certain people and groups—and so He does. But texts like these must be approached carefully, humbly, and with proper understanding of the scriptural and historical context. At work here are profound mysteries: God’s sovereignty, our freedom, His mercy, and His justice.

We should be careful to admit the limits of our knowledge when it comes to such texts. As the Catechism so beautifully states, when it comes to texts like these they are to be appreciated as a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him (CCC # 304).

Towering Pride: What the Story of the Tower of Babel Can Teach Us

The story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) is a memorable one. In Genesis 10, we read the genealogy of Noah’s sons and their dispersion across many different lands with many different languages. The beginning of Chapter 11 describes the scattering of Noah’s descendants and the multiplication of languages in story form:

Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “If now, while they are one people, all speaking the same language, they have started to do this, nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore, its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth (Gen 11:1-9).

One language? The text states that the human family originally spoke a single language. Other (i.e., non-biblical) ancient texts seem to confirm this. For example, there is a Sumerian tablet that tells the story of a time when all languages were one on the earth (see Samuel Noah Kramer, “The Babel of Tongues: A Sumerian Version,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 88, 108-111).

They build a tower with its top in the heavens. Such towers, called ziggurats, were common in ancient Mesopotamia; they resembled tall, stepped pyramids. The remains of some of them can still be seen today.

What was the problem? The tower itself wasn’t the problem. The sin was in thinking they could build a tower that could reach to God in Heaven. (St. Augustine sees pride in that they thought they could avoid a future flood (as if anything could be too high for God!) (Tractates on John 6.10.2).) The later verse calling this place Babel is significant. Babel is a Hebrew word meaning “gate of God,” or by extension, “gate of (to) heaven.” What they really think they can do is to ascend to Heaven, and God, by their own strength. Bad idea! Remember, Adam and Eve had been barred from paradise because they could no longer endure the presence of God. Never think that you can walk into God’s presence by your own unaided power. Only grace can do this. We cannot achieve Heaven by our power. We do not have a ladder tall enough or a rocket ship powerful enough.

To make matters worse, they say, let us make a name for ourselves. Not only are they seeking to enter Heaven by their own power, but also to make a name for themselves. Now that’s pride with a capital P, and that rhymes with T, and that stands for trouble. Yes (to quote the Music Man), we’ve got trouble right here in River City (Mesopotamia is the land between the rivers).

A further insight into the pride involved in trying to make a name for oneself comes from the concept of naming. Recall that Adam named all the animals (Genesis 2), but God named man (Gen 5:1). To name something is to have superiority over it and to know something of its essence. Parents name their children. In the ancient world naming was very significant. Today this is less so. Ultimately, it is God who names us. In so doing, it is He who declares our essence. It is pride, in this ancient sense, for man to try to “make a name” for himself. Only God can really name us and assign us any lasting glory.

Why did they do it? According to the text, the purpose for this prideful act is that is must be done lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. Hence, they want to build the tower to make a name for themselves and to preserve unity among themselves.

Wait, isn’t this good? Yes, but although unity is precious, it is not a work of Man; it must be based on God and His truth. Without God, unity can become a source of despotic power. Consider atheistic communism and secular socialism. Concentrated, centralized power can be a serious problem if God is not its center and source. If God is not the source of our unity, you can be sure that despotism is on the way.

Comical! The text goes on to say, And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. This great tower, so high as to reach to the heavens, was really so puny that God had to come down to see it.

What is God worried about? The text describes God’s concern for the growing pride of the human race: If now … they have started to do this, nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do.

God almost seems worried that Man will become too powerful, but what he is really saying is that if He does not intervene, there will be no limit to our pride or the depths of our depravity. God intervenes and puts limits on us lest our wickedness grow uncontrolled. He does two specific things: He confuses their speech, and He scatters them abroad. We prideful moderns, who seem to know few limits to our depravity (or even celebrate it), ought to heed this story. God may well have to fell our towers.

Conclusion – Our greatest enemy is pride. In terms of our salvation, the greatest virtue is humility. Unity is indeed a good to be sought, but if it fuels our pride, we’ll all just end up all going to Hell together! In this case God saw fit to humble us by scattering us and confusing our language. Unity in wickedness is best scattered. Only unity for good is praiseworthy. Of this St. Jerome says,

Just as when holy men live together, it is a great grace and blessing; so likewise, that congregation is the worst kind when sinners dwell together. The more sinners there are at one time, the worse they are! Indeed, when the tower was being built up against God, those who were building it were disbanded for their own welfare. The conspiracy was evil. The dispersion was of true benefit even to those who were dispersed (Homilies 21).

Bringing it close to home. To those who like to build and to make a name for themselves, St. John Chrysostom has this to say:

There are many people even today who in imitation of [the builders at Babel] want to be remembered for such achievements, by building splendid homes, baths, porches, and drives. I mean, if you were to ask each one of them why they toil and labor and lay out such great expense to no good purpose, you would hear nothing but these very words [Let us make a name for ourselves]. They would be seeking to ensure that their memory survives in perpetuity and to have it said, “this house belonged to so-and-so,” “This is the property of so-and-so.” This, on the contrary, is worthy not of commemoration but of condemnation. For hard upon those words come other remarks equivalent to countless accusations—“belonging to so-and-so, the grasping miser and despoiler of widows and orphans.” [Such behavior will] incite the tongues of onlookers to calumny and condemnation of the person who amassed these goods. But if you are anxious to for undying reputation, I will show you the way to succeed in being remembered … along with an excellent name … in the age to come … If you give away these goods of yours into the hands of the poor, letting go of precious stones, magnificent homes, properties and baths (Homilies on Genesis 30.7).

What are you and I building? Be careful! Babel might not be a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, after all.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Towering Pride: What the Story of the Tower of Babel Can Teach Us

A New Translation of Mark’s Gospel

A new translation of Mark’s Gospel was published recently that I find very appealing: The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark, by Michael Pakaluk.

As the title acknowledges, most scholars consider Mark’s Gospel to be that of Simon Peter. Tradition says that Mark was Peter’s secretary or scribe, and the recollections he recorded are really those of Peter.

One of the things that make Mark’s Gospel unique is its sense of immediacy. Part of this is due to his frequent use of the word “immediately” (eutheos in Greek)—more than forty times in what is the shortest of the four Gospels. Here are just a few examples:

    • And immediately the Spirit drove [Jesus] into the wilderness (Mk 1:12).
    • And when He had gone a little further, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets, and immediately He called them (Mk 1:19-20).
    • And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath day He entered into the synagogue and taught (Mark 1:21).

Another aspect of the Gospel of Mark contributing to its vibrancy and sense of immediacy is Mark’s tendency to render things in the present tense. Here is how Michael Pakaluk describes it:

Mark varies his verb tenses in apparently unpredictable ways. Sometimes he uses the present tense, sometimes the imperfect, sometimes the “aorist.” Most translations solve the problem by throwing everything into the past tense. And yet this removes the vividness that Mark’s frequent use of the historic present conveys. But when one approaches the text as originally a spoken narrative, one can generally retain Mark’s tense changes …. Someone speaking from memory … will change tenses to keep the hearer’s attention, but mainly because, as he is speaking “from memory,” he finds it easy to revert to the viewpoint of what it was like to be there (Introduction 24-25).

That is one of the things that make this new translation so interesting and refreshing. It puts the reader right into the scene, watching the action unfold. Consider Pakaluk’s translation of the  beginning of Mark Chapter 3:

He entered the synagogue again. A man with a withered hand was there. They were watching him intently, to see if he would heal the man on the Sabbath, so they could accuse him. So Jesus tells the man with the withered hand, “Stand up in the middle.” He says to them, “Is it allowable, on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil? To save a life or to put to death?“ They were silent. He looks around at them with anger, pained that their hearts are like stone, and he says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched it out. His hand was restored to normal. The Pharisees walk out, and immediately started to scheme against him, with the Herodians, to find some way to destroy him (Mark 3:1-6).

Notice the calm shifting between the past tense and the “historic present.” It is as if we are there in the room witnessing the events while our interpreter and storyteller, Mark, adds commentary for us.

Pakaluk’s skillful translation makes the text new and vibrant for me. It is like listening as Mark (who records Peter’s preaching) speaks directly to me. Engendering such a feeling is important because the Gospels are not meant to be like “spectator sports.” We are not just watching the lives of others unfold; this is our life, too. We are in the Gospel narrative: we are Peter; we are Mary Magdalene. These are not just distant events being recalled from memory; they are made present to us and become our story, too.

Another aspect that makes Mark’s Gospel so interesting and narrative-like is his use of the Greek work “kai.” Pakaluk describes it in this way:

In Greek, sentences in a continuous narrative must be joined, each with the one before, through a “connecting particle,” such as “hence,” “now,” “therefore,” “but,” and so on. Writers of ancient Greek typically vary these connectors for subtlety and argument. But Mark is famous for largely limiting himself to one such connective—the simplest one, at that—“and” (kai). The majority of the sentences begin with “and.” Translators usually deal with the problem by just leaving the word out. But Mark’s usage makes more sense if we think of how we speak when we tell a story: “So I left my driveway. And I turned around the block. And I saw a man with a pig. And I thought it was strange. So I stopped to ask him about it. And he said…” And so on (Introduction 24).

In this new translation of Mark, Pakaluk retains a lot more of the “and” (kai) connectors, varying its translation just a bit for variety: “and,” “so” “once again,” and so forth. This retention of “kai” also adds to the narrative or storytelling quality of the text.

I am very grateful for this fresh translation of the Gospel of Mark and hope you find it as helpful as I do. Along with the new translation, Pakaluk provides solid commentary that includes the consideration of many different interpretations of the text. If you (or perhaps your Bible study group) are looking for an interesting and informative book, consider this one.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard:  A New Translation of Mark’s Gospel

Rediscovering the “Plot” of Sacred Scripture Is Essential to Evangelization

One of the most significant losses in the modern era is that the biblical narrative is no longer in the hearts and minds of most people. Scripture is the history of the human family, told in story form by God Himself. He tells us how and why we were made and why, as well as what happened to make things the way they are today. Why do we experience infinite longing though we live in a finite world? Why do we struggle with sin? How can we be rescued from sin and death? How can we find true satisfaction? The biblical narrative answers all these questions and more.

The biblical story or narrative mediates reality to us in a memorable way. God, like any good father, tells us our story and asks us to pass it on to our own children. To know our story is to understand ourselves in relation to God, the world, and others.

And what a story it is! It has more passion, conflict, and drama than any great epic. Although it has been called “the greatest story ever told,” most people no longer know the details of the story. As a result, they are detached from the reality the story mediates. Many are adrift in a world of little meaning—or competing “meanings”—with no way to sort it all out. They have few answers to the most basic questions about the meaning of life, the role and meaning of suffering, our ultimate destiny, and so forth. Without the story, life loses its meaning.

As an example of the widespread loss of the biblical narrative, I’d like to relate an experience I had a few years ago. I was talking to a group of Catholic seventh graders and at one point referred to Adam and Eve. As our discussion progressed it became clear that they did not really know who Adam and Eve were or what they had done. One young man piped up and asked, “Aren’t they in the Bible or something?” No one could come up with anything remotely specific. I resolved that day to scrap our compartmentalized religious programs and change the instruction at every grade level to a “back to basics” approach emphasizing the biblical narrative.

How has this loss of the narrative happened? Some argue that the Church stopped telling the story. If you have poor preaching and poor catechesis, pretty soon no one knows the story anymore. I don’t doubt there is some truth to this, but it hardly seems likely that “the Church” just decided one day to stop telling the story. Rather, what seems to have happened is that we stopped telling the story effectively. I believe that we lost touch with the “plot” of Sacred Scripture and because of this were no longer able to present the story in a compelling way.

What exactly is a plot? The plot in a story is the focal point to which all the events and characters relate. It is like the hub of a wheel around which everything else revolves. If it is to be engaging, a plot involves some sort of conflict or problem that must be resolved. This holds our interest as we wonder how the problem will be resolved. If in the first scene in the story everything is fine, and in scene two everything is fine, and in scene three everything is still fine, people start tuning out. It is the conflict, problem, or negative development that renders the plot interesting. Plots usually have five stages:

1. Exposition – In this stage we are introduced to the main characters and elements of the story.

2. Rising Action (Conflict) – This is the portion in which the conflict or problem that is focus of the story is introduced and developed.

3. Climax – This is the turning point of the story. The conflict has reached its acme and the tension is nearly unbearable. Here there is often an epic struggle, physical or otherwise, frequently involving a heroic figure or some striking event, in which the central conflict is addressed.

4. Falling Action – During this stage, events occur that will help to fully resolve the central conflict, and we see the effects of the climax on the characters and on proceeding events.

5. Resolution – This is the final portion of the story. The main conflict has been largely resolved and any “loose ends” are tied up. We learn of the final outcome for the main characters, which often involves either a return to normalcy or the attainment of some higher state than existed previously. The reader often experiences emotional catharsis at this point, as the tension/anxiety has dissipated.

Let’s identify these stages in Sacred Scripture:

Exposition God created Man as an act of love and made him to live in union with his God. In the beginning, Adam and Eve accepted this love and experienced a garden paradise. The heart of their happiness was to know the Lord and walk with Him in a loving and trusting relationship.

Rising Action/ConflictMan, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his creator die in his heart. He willfully rejected God, who had given him everything, by listening to an evil tempter who had given him nothing. Adam rebelled against God and refused to be under His loving authority and care. This led to a complete unraveling of everything. Paradise vanished and Adam and Eve experienced the disintegration of their innermost being.

Confused, ashamed, angry, accusatory, and embarrassed, they withdraw into hiding and cover up. They can no longer tolerate the presence and glory of God, who still loves them, and must now live apart from Him. God makes an initial promise to one day bring healing but when He will do so is not clear. This is the initial conflict or negative development that defines the plot and rivets our attention.

How will this tragic development be resolved? Will Adam and Eve turn back to God? Will they ever be able to experience peace in His presence again? How will Adam and Eve recover from their self-inflicted wounds? A great love story between humanity and God has soured. Will our lovers ever reunite? Will paradise reopen again? When will God act? How?

Things go from bad to worse: Adam and Eve’s rebelliousness is passed on to their children, as we see when Cain kills his brother Abel. Wickedness multiplies so rapidly that God must act. First, He humbles mankind by confusing the spoken languages at Babel. Later, He brings the flood, practically starting all over again.

In a sudden plot development, God chooses Abram and his descendants to set the stage for a final conflict with His opponent, the devil, and to restore Man. Through a series of covenants and actions, God prepares a people to receive the great Savior, who will resolve this terrible problem. First, however, God must take this chosen people through a series of powerful purifications so that at least some of them can be made humble enough to receive the cure and be healed. God purifies them through slavery in Egypt, a terrifying but glorious freedom ride through the desert, the giving of the Law, and the settlement in the Promised Land.

They are still rebellious, however, and more drastic purifications are necessary: invasions by Assyrians and Babylonians, exile, and then return to their land. Throughout, God sends prophets to rebuke and console them. The conflicts and waiting are been continuously escalating.

Climax – The curtain rises, and we see a small backwater town of perhaps 300 people called Nazareth. An angel, dispatched from God, greets a humble virgin named Mary. God’s plan to save His people begins unfolding not with a king or a military commander but with Mary of Nazareth. It’s a great paradox but a fitting one. Whereas Eve had said no, Mary—the new Eve—says yes. Mary’s “fiat” opens the door to our Savior, our God-hero, wonderful counselor, Father forever, and Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). He is named Jesus for He would save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21).

After living in obscurity for thirty years in Nazareth, Jesus steps forth into public ministry. For three He announces the gospel and summons the human family to faith and trust.

Then, in a crucial and epic battle between God and the devil, Jesus mounts a cross and defeats the devil at his own game. By dying He destroys death! The devil seems victorious, but on the third day our Savior and God-hero, Jesus, casts off death like a garment. Forty days later, He ascends and reopens the gates of paradise.

Falling Action – Now that the epic battle has been won, Jesus sends out apostles to announce the Good News of His victory over sin and death. His apostles go forth with this message: the long reign of sin is over; through grace it is possible to live a transformed life, one no longer dominated by sin, anger, resentment, fear, bitterness, greed, lust, and hatred but by love, mercy, joy, serenity, confidence, holiness, chastity, and self-control. A new world has been opened. Up ahead lie open the gates of paradise.

Resolution God has resolved the terrible consequences of the rebellion of Adam and Eve, just as He promised. Things do not just return to normal, however. They return to “super-normal,” for the paradise that God now offers is not an earthly one but a heavenly one. Its happiness is not merely natural; it is supernatural. We, the reader, experience the catharsis of knowing that God is faithful and that He has saved us from this present evil age.

Notice that the plot hinges on a crucial negative development: sin. Without that there is nothing compelling about the story. This is how the Church failed to hand on the narrative effectively: by downplaying the negative development necessary to make it interesting.

About fifty years ago there seems to have been a conscious effort on the part of the Church to move away from talking vigorously about sin. It was said that we should be more “positive” because you can attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. Crucifixes (too negative!) were removed from Churches and replaced with crosses featuring “Resurrection Jesus.” Thinking our numbers would increase if we were a “kinder, gentler Church,” we set aside the key element of the plot. The story now was that everything is pretty much fine and just about everyone will go to Heaven. In the end, all we had to say was “God loves you.”

Our narrative no longer made a lot sense. The Church became increasingly irrelevant. If I’m really OK, why should I go to Mass? Why receive the sacraments? Why pray? Why call on God at all? If I’m fine, why do I need a savior? Who needs Jesus, God, or religion? And then there were the obvious critiques: Church is boring; the Bible is boring. Well, sure, a story without a well-developed plot is boring. In fact, if it is poorly developed enough, I might just stop reading the book or walk out of the movie—and that is just what people have done. Fewer than one-fourth of Catholics today attend Mass regularly.

To the majority of people, even Catholics, the story is irrelevant and uncompelling. Why? Because we jettisoned the “negative development” that makes a good plot. Without a rich understanding of sin, salvation makes little sense.

Most people no longer “get” the story because the whole point has been lost. People don’t usually remember stories that are boring or make little sense to them.

So it is that I found myself in a class of Catholic seventh graders who had barely heard of Adam and Eve.

It’s time to rediscover the central element of the “plot” of Sacred Scripture: sin. It’s time to talk about it, creatively, in a compelling way. In so doing we will once again set forth a riveting story and help people to rediscover the greatest story ever told.

Note: I originally published a version of this article about nine years ago in “Homiletic and Pastoral Review.”

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Rediscovering the “Plot” of Sacred Scripture is Essential to Evangelization

“Seal Up What the Seven Thunders Have Said” – A Meditation on Sinful Curiosity

In the Office of Readings during these Easter weeks, we are reading from the Book of Revelation. In it is this passage reminding us that there are some things that are not for us to know:

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down” (Rev 10:1-4).

A similar passage occurs in the Book of Daniel. Having had certain things revealed to him, Daniel is told,

But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, even to the time of the end (Dan 12:4).

To the apostles, who pined for knowledge of the last things, Jesus said,

It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power (Acts 1:7).

In all of these texts we are reminded that there are some things—even many things (seven is a number indicating fullness)—that are not for us to know. This is a warning against sinful curiosity and a solemn reminder that not all of God’s purposes or plans are revealed to us.

A few reasons come to mind for this silence and for the command to seal up the revelation of the seven thunders:

    • It is an instruction against arrogance and sinful curiosity. Especially today, people seem to think that they have right to know just about everything. The press speaks of the people’s “right to know.” While this may be true about the affairs of government, it is not true about people’s private lives, and it is surely not true about all the mysteries of God. There are just some things that we have no right to know, that are none of our business. Much of our prying is a mere pretext for gossip and for the opportunity to see others’ failures and faults. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that more than half of what we talk about all day long is none of our business.
    • It is a rebuke of our misuse of knowledge. Sadly, especially in the “information age,” we speak of knowledge as power. We seek to know in order to control, rather than to repent and conform to the truth. We think that we should be able to do anything that we know how to do. Even more reason, then, that God should withhold from us the knowledge of many things; we’ve confused knowledge with wisdom and have used our knowledge as an excuse to abuse power, to kill with might, and to pervert the glory of human life with “reproductive technology.” Knowledge abused in this way is not wisdom; it is foolishness and is a path to grave evils.
    • It is to spare us from the effects of knowing things that we cannot handle. The very fact that the Revelation text above describes this knowledge as “seven thunders” indicates that these hidden utterances are of fearful weightiness. Seven is a number that refers to the fullness of something, so these are loud and devastating thunders. In His mercy to use, God does not reveal all the fearsome terrors that will come upon this sinful world, which cannot endure the glorious and fiery presence of His justice. Too much for this world are the arrows of His quiver, which are never exhausted. Aside from the terrors already foretold in Scripture, the seven thunders may well conceal others that are unutterable and too horrifying for the world to endure. Ours is a world that is incapable of enduring His holiness or of standing when He shall appear.

What, then, is to be our stance in light of the many things too great for us to know, which God mercifully conceals from us? We should have the humility of a child who knows what he does not know but is content that his father knows.

O Lord, my heart is not proud
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
nor marvels beyond me.

Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
even so is my soul.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
both now and forever (Psalm 131).

Yes, like humble children we should seek to learn, realizing that there are many things that are beyond us, that are too great for us. We should seek to learn, but with a humility that is reverence for the truth, a humility that realizes that we are but little children, not lords and masters.

Scripture says, Beyond these created wonders many things lie hid. Only a few of God’s works have we seen (Sirach 43:34).

Thank you, Lord, for what you have taught us and revealed to us. Thank you, too, for what you have mercifully kept hidden because it is too much for us to know. Thank you, Lord. Help us to learn; keep us humble, like little children.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: “Seal Up What the Seven Thunders Have Said” – A Meditation on Sinful Curiosity

The Book of Revelation is a Sure Guide to What is Really Going On

In the Office of Readings this Easter season, we are reading from the Book of Revelation. This choice might seem surprising, but there are good reasons for it.

While many suppose that the Book of Revelation is merely about the end of the world, it is about far more; it is also about what is happening right now. It was not written only for the end of the ages but for all ages. It is a book of glory that discloses the victory that Jesus has already won. Don’t get lost in lots of exotic theories; Revelation is a book of glory that prophetically declares what is really going on.

Its title in Greek is Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Apokalupsis Jesou Christou), which literally means “The Unveiling of Jesus Christ.” It is as if Jesus is pulling back the veil to show us what is really going on. He shows us the great drama of history and tells us that He has already won the victory. He tells us that we should not lose heart while the dust settles, while the wheat is separated from the chaff and the harvest brought in.

We are too easily either mesmerized or terrified by our limited view of history. We think that life depends on which political party wins, or whether a cure is found for some disease, or whether world leaders can reach rapprochement. However, the battle is higher and deeper than our little sliver of the 21st century. It is far deadlier and is about more dramatic issues than what will happen to the GNP of the U.S. or which of the latest political theories will prevail.

This is a great drama between good and evil. It concerns the fundamental issue of where you will spend eternity. Yes, there is a great and cosmic battle in which we are all caught up; it is happening all around us. St. Paul says,

For we do not contend against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the high places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Eph 6:11-13).

The Book of Revelation is speaking to the same reality. It unveils the true and cosmic battle. In so doing, it declares without ambiguity who the victor is: Jesus Christ our King, who has already won. There are only two kingdoms, two armies, two sides. You must decide whom you will serve: the prince of this world or the King and Lord of all creation.

Revelation opens with a vision of the glory of Jesus the Great Lord and Son of Man:

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead (Rev 1: 10-17).

Yes, here is our Lord Jesus in His resurrected and conquering glory! At the name of Jesus every knee shall bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11).

Yes, Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen (Rev 1:5-7).

The second part of the Book of Revelation calls the Church and us as individuals to repentance and perseverance. The cosmic battle reaches the Church and individual disciples. The battle is in the Church and in the heart of every person. Hence, the letters to the seven churches. We are not to lose the love we had at first. We must be willing to endure hardship and persecution. We are to reject the fornicators and all those who propose any sort of sexual immorality. We are to resist syncretism and every form of false religion. We must resist all the deep secrets of Satan; we must not be in any agreement with his ways. We must resist sloth and not fall back. We must resist lukewarmness and every sort of pride and self-satisfaction. The Church, clergy, and laity must fight the good fight, must persevere. We must endure hardship and always keep in mind the reward that awaits the courageous and the eternal disgrace that is coming to cowards and all who embrace the world, the flesh, and the devil.

John is then caught up into Heaven to see the glory of God and the heavenly liturgy. God has revealed to him what must take place soon. Historically, the Book of Revelation pointed to the destruction of Jerusalem and to the end of an era. Down through the ages, empires and nations have crumbled; eras and epochs have come and gone; only God’s Kingdom, as proclaimed and made sacramentally present by the Church, has survived or will survive.

Today we are arguably at the end of another era. The West is crumbling, and decadence abounds. Confusion about basic reality is so widespread that our current cultural situation can credibly be described as a lunacy. Even within the Church, voices that should speak out prophetically are infected by worldliness and silenced by fear. There is among Church leaders, clergy, and laity a widespread softness and a feeling that the risk of speaking out is too great.

The message of the Book of Revelation is a strong antidote to times like these, now, in the past, and in the future: be strong, be prepared, and be willing to suffer, realizing that no matter how powerful and glamorous evil may seem, Jesus is the victor. We must persevere and realize that we are swept up into a cosmic battle that is much larger than our current situation but that reaches us nonetheless. We must choose sides. Don’t think that you can sit on the fence. Satan owns the fence; he will come for you and say, “You belong to me.”

The seals, the bowls, and the trumpets of Revelation are but a further description of the cosmic battle and the wretched defeats that ultimately come upon the defiant and disobedient. God will not leave unpunished those who despise His Kingdom and His holy ones. These seven ordeals times three are a call to repentance to those who survive. They are also a manifestation of God’s justice and ultimate authority over history.

A crucial battle comes in Revelation 12, when the red dragon with seven heads and ten horns besets Mother Mary, who is also an image of the Church. However, the devil cannot prevail in the war that breaks out in Heaven. He is hurled to the earth, where he unsuccessfully pursues the woman (who represents both Mary and the Church). In a rage he continues to pursue us.

For the time being, the cosmic battle continues. Satan rages, for he knows his time is short. He is a big loser.

Even losers still have an odd ability to dupe and impress foolish, gullible people. So Satan still flashes the cash, makes empty promises, and dangles passing pleasures before us. Sadly, many of the worldly and unspiritual foolishly fall prey to his pomp and lies. Mysteriously, God permits this until the full number of the elect is gathered in.

Then comes the end:

And fire came down from heaven and devoured Satan and his armies and followers. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new.” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Rev 20:9-21:5).

Yes, it is good that we read the Book of Revelation. It is a pulling back of the veil, wherein the Lord tells us what is really going on and what the outcome shall be. He is telling us not to lose heart. “In this world you shall have tribulation, but have courage, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Be not dismayed, fellow Christians. Do not fear what is coming upon this world. Even if it is the end of the era, the Church has endured such sea changes before. Christ has already won the victory and has promised that the Church will remain indefectible. When the current foolishness has run its course, we will still be here preaching the Gospel, even if we have become a small remnant and are preaching from our prison cells!

Do not be fearful. Do not be a coward. Preach boldly and with love. Continue to shine the light of the gospel in the darkness. The gospel will win; it always wins.

Don’t get lost in the details of the Book of Revelation and miss its message of victory in the midst of persecution and trial. It is a call to persevere. It is a pulling back of the veil to show us what the end shall be! Be strong, be courageous, be certain. Jesus has already won the great victory in the cosmic battle. The dust is still settling, but know for certain that Jesus has won, and if you choose Him, so will you!

He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Rev 21:7-8).

Regardless of what you think is going on, this is what is really going on. Choose sides. I urge you to choose Christ with courage. Don’t look back. Come what may, Viva Christo Rey!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Book of Revelation is a Sure Guide to What is Really Going On

Is the Modern Interpretation of the Book of Revelation Flawed? A Consideration of a Different View

Flemish Apocalypse manuscript (15th century)

In daily Mass we have recently been reading from the Book of Revelation. It is commonly read at this, the end of the liturgical year, because it speaks to the passing quality of the things of this world and to the end of the world itself.

It is also a book of glory, depicting the ultimate victory of our Lord Jesus Christ after a long conflict between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Christ. In this context the Book of Revelation is not a mere tour guide to the last days but a reminder that Christ has already sealed the victory.

Most modern scholars estimate that the Book of Revelation was composed sometime between 90 and 110 A.D., likely toward the end of the reign of Domitian (Roman emperor from 81-96 A.D.). They believe that the “harlot city” referred to in Revelation is Rome and that this oppressive city-date persecuting Christians at the time of its writing will one day, in God’s good time, come under His wrathful judgment and be destroyed. Many of them project that this fulfillment is still to come and see it as symbolic of the end of the world.

There are good reasons for this dating of the Book of Revelation, not the least of which is the testimony of several Fathers of the Church. Irenaeus places the work in about 96 A.D. Victorinus places the writing in the context of the persecution of Domitian, who banished John to the island of Patmos. Jerome and Eusebius say the same. This range of dates (90-110 A.D.) also fits in well with modern theories of biblical dating, which as a general rule tend to favor later dates.

There is a minority view, however, that the Book of Revelation was composed prior to 70 A.D., during the persecution of the Church by Nero (Roman emperor from 54-68 A.D.). (Nero’s persecution of the Church was, up to that point, the worst of the first century.) This view holds that the “harlot city” of Revelation is Jerusalem and that the Book of Revelation is prophesying that the destruction of Jerusalem will take place “soon.” This destruction did in fact occur in short order, in 70 A.D, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. In this view, Revelation is warning Christians of the signs that will precede the destruction so that they can flee before Jerusalem’s doom is sealed. The historical context of the Book of Revelation put forward in this minority view is the persecution of Christians by unbelieving Jews (in partnership with Roman officials) and the subsequent destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Lord in judgment of this unbelief and the persecution of those who did believe. Some of the proponents of this interpretation also see in this historical event a symbol of the end of the world.

We might wonder whether the specification of such an early date offends against the testimony of the Church Fathers. The most significant Father attesting to a later date (96 A.D.) was Irenaeus, and most of the others based their conclusions on his. Irenaeus has proved to be a bit unreliable in terms of dating; for example, he argued that Jesus was 50 years old when He was crucified. Further, the translation of the Greek sentence in which Irenaeus puts forth the date of 96 A.D. is somewhat unclear. It can be translated in one of two ways:

John had this vision, near the end of his life, during the reign of Domitian, or

John had this vision and lived on to the reign of Domitian.

Thus, the minority opinion does not necessarily disregard the testimony of the Fathers as to the time frame, but rather interprets it as being somewhat vague.

In today’s post I would like to present this minority view of the Book of Revelation, which I think better articulates its original context and provides important interpretive keys to understanding its fundamental message. Although the view is not widely held, it is gaining adherents.

Although it is a minority view, it is growing in acceptance and, I would argue, is compelling for the following reasons:

1. It links the Book of Revelation to the “mini-Apocalypse” of the Mount Olivet discourse (see, for example, Mat 24:1-44).

The Mount Olivet discourse is widely interpreted as prophesying the coming destruction of the Temple, which would occur in 70 A.D., not the destruction of Rome or of the world.

There are many similarities between the Gospel passages of the Mount Olivet discourse and the prophecies of Revelation. The parallels are too numerous to detail in this post, but I have described them more fully here: The Fourth Apocalypse. Many argue that the Book of Revelation is John’s theological presentation of the Mount Olivet discourse, which is present in the other three Gospels, but missing from John’s. Therefore, they say that the content of Revelation corresponds to the Mount Olivet discourse, which prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D.

2. It links the Book of Revelation to prophetic books of the Old Testament and maintains their historical meaning and focus.

Most of the Book of Revelation was drawn directly from Old Testament prophets such as Joel, Daniel, and Ezekiel. These prophets had as their historical context the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 587 B.C. If that was context of the texts from which John borrowed, then it seems likely that John is saying in Revelation that what happened then (in 587 B.C) will happen again unless there is Jewish repentance and faith. This is what the Old Testament passages meant and now John borrows them for the writing of the Book of Revelation just prior to 70 A.D., when the Temple and Jerusalem were prophesied to be destroyed again.

Thus, parallel events are being described in Revelation and in the books of the Old Testament prophets, and this points to the context in which John writes. The minority view fits nicely with this historical perspective.

3. It maintains the tradition of prophets in its interpretation of the word “harlot.”

In the Old Testament, Jerusalem and the people of Israel are called harlots because they have committed adultery, forsaken the Lord, and are sleeping with false gods. Nowhere in the Old Testament is Rome or any pagan city referred to as a harlot, yet Jerusalem repeatedly is.

It seems unlikely that Revelation would depart so suddenly and widely from biblical tradition and assign the title “harlot” to the pagan city, Rome, rather than to Jerusalem. Here are some examples of the use of the word from the prophets:

But if you refuse and rebel [O, Israel], you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. How the faithful city has become a harlot, she that was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers (Is 1:20-21).

Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of me is not in you, says the Lord GOD of hosts. For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, ‘I will not serve.’ Yea, upon every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down as a harlot (Jer 2:19-20).

For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate, into the hands of those from whom you turned in disgust; and they shall deal with you in hatred, and take away all the fruit of your labor, and leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your harlotry shall be uncovered. Your lewdness and your harlotry have brought this upon you, because you played the harlot with the nations, and polluted yourself with their idols (Ezek 23:28-30).

4. It agrees with the most direct references to the identity of the persecutors in the Book of Revelation.

In Revelation 2 and 3 there is reference to the persecutors as a “synagogue of Satan” and it is stated that they consider themselves Jews. Romans would surely not have considered themselves Jews. Hence, we ought to take the text at face value: the primary persecutors are Jews. However, Jews are not the only persecutors; Gentiles, responding to the complaints of Jews against the Christians, persecute as well. Here are a couple of texts that describe the persecutors of the Christians in very Jewish terms:

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write this: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan’” (Rev 2:8-9).

Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and learn that I have loved you (Rev 3:9).

5. It takes the clearest identification of the “harlot city” in Revelation at face value.

In Revelation 11, the harlot city is clearly identified as Jerusalem, not Rome:

and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified (Rev 11:8).

The city described as the place where their Lord was crucified can be no other place than Jerusalem.

Later in the Book of Revelation the double enemy against the Christians is described as a twofold threat: a beast and a harlot. The minority view holds that the harlot city is Jerusalem, where Jerusalem symbolizes Jews, especially the leadership centered in the Temple (Remember that many Jews became Christians; Jerusalem here is understood to refer to those Jews who emphatically rejected the Messiah.)

6. Its placement of the writing of Revelation to pre-70 A.D. aligns with Nero, not Domitian, which agrees with the reference in Revelation to the number 666.

There is a famous verse in Revelation identifying the “beast” as having a name that corresponds to the number 666:

This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666 (Rev 13:18).

There is little dispute today that 666 is a reference to Nero. Why would Nero (54-68 A.D) be referenced in a persecution taking place near 90 A.D. under the reign of Domitian (81-96 A.D.)? Thus, the minority view of Revelation as a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (not Rome) in 70 A.D. seems more plausible.

7. The two beasts described in Revelation 13, one from “the land” and one from “the sea,” fit well into the historical context of the 70 A.D. time frame.

The Book of Revelation presents the primary antagonist as a horrible red dragon, which is clearly the devil. However, this red dragon gives birth to two beasts that persecute the Church, one from the land and one from the sea. The two beasts can be seen as the unbelieving Jews (the beast from the land (the Promised Land)) and Rome (the beast from the sea (a common symbol of the Gentiles)). This is the double threat experienced by the early Christians.

Both these beasts emerged from a “red dragon” with 7 heads (there were 7 Herods) and ten horns (there were ten Caesars who interacted with the 7 Herods). Thus, a complex, two-fold enemy seems to be described.

This lines up well with the the historical context of the time leading up to 70 A.D., when two enemies conspired against the early Church. Ultimately, as the Book of Revelation also describes, these two beasts turn on one another, and the harlot is destroyed.

In Revelation 17 the complex, two-fold enemy is described as a beast and a harlot. The harlot city rides upon the beast. The beast later turns and devours the harlot with fire and total destruction. This in fact happened when Rome (which had a partnership with Jerusalem through the Herodian dynasty) turned against Jerusalem.

The year 70 A.D. was a crucial one for the city of Jerusalem, for that marked the end of the war with the Romans. In this year, Jerusalem was sacked and burned, and the Temple was destroyed. Not one stone was left on another and the entire area (except for a few dwellings on Mt. Zion) was abandoned. Survivors were either carried into slavery or killed. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, 1.2 million Jews lost their lives.

Thus, the Book of Revelation seems to describe an enemy of the early Christians that is a complex combination of two enemies who conspire against the early Church and later turn on each other. This was historically the fact at the time of 70 A.D., when the Jews and Rome went to war against each other.

8. It flows well from the fuller context of the New Testament.

A central reason for leaning toward a date prior to 70 A.D. for the writing of Revelation is that such timing better fits into the context of the persecutions being endured by the Christians as described in other New Testament books. In those accounts, the persecution comes more from fellow Jews than it does from Romans alone.

This minority view seeks to integrate the Book of Revelation within the same conflict of other New Testament books such as the Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles—namely, a dispute between Christians and their Jewish opponents, who then engage the Roman officials for redress—rather than to set Revelation as a conflict merely between Christians and pagan Rome.

Jesus was put to death by the Romans (specifically, Pontius Pilate), but this was due in large part to their provocation by Jesus’ fellow Jews. Peter, John, and Paul all suffered as a result of similar behavior by their Jewish brethren, who incited the concern and hostility of Roman officials. The general context of the early New Testament period is that Jews who did not accept Christ stirred up trouble for the early Church and provoked the Roman authorities to arrest, punish, and even kill early Christians. The minority position sees this as the primary historical context of the persecutions described in the Book of Revelation.

Through the bulk of the New Testament the antagonists are fellow Jews who do not accept Christ as the Messiah. It is they who involve Roman authorities in exacting punishment on Christians. Although these Roman officials are often hesitant to become involved, they are not thereby absolved of responsibility any more than Pilate can be absolved for his actions. Notice the consistent biblical context of the double enemy face by Christians:

It was fellow Jews who handed Jesus over. In particular, it was Jews who had much invested in the Temple and its rituals who felt most threatened by Him who handed Him over. Pilate, though unjust in his final action, was reluctant and it was only when he perceived that the Jewish leaders would incite a riot that he relented and had Jesus put to death.

In the Acts of the Apostles, it is always fellow Jews who attack and pursue Paul. The Romans, far from being Paul’s enemy are in fact his protectors on more than a few occasions. Even when the Romans do arrest Paul, it is once again due to the insistence of Paul’s fellow Jews and the threat of civil unrest. The final arrest of Paul centered on a perceived defilement of the Temple that he supposedly committed. This was not in fact the case but was the pretext by which the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem handed him over.

In the Epistles of Paul, once again it is fellow Jews and Judaizers (so-called Christians who wanted to bring the whole of Jewish ceremonial law into the Church and make it binding on all Christians) who are the real enemies. Paul does not preach social unrest against Roman authority (nor did Jesus). In fact, Paul counsels respect for authority and prayers for all in authority. Likewise, Jesus strongly resists any attempts to be drawn into political zealotry and any conception of the Messiah that would understand Him as military savior.

None of this is to say that the New Testament is anti-Semitic. Remember, most of the early converts were Jews; Jewish Christians made up a sizable percentage of the early Church. This was not a matter of ethnic hatred but of a clear distinction between those who would accept Jesus as Lord and those who would not. The division was not a mere intellectual debate; it was a volatile clash between radically different answers to the basic questions, Who is God? Who is supreme? Who is to be worshiped?

It seems unlikely that the ongoing context of the New Testament would change radically in Revelation, its final book. All along, the context was of the passing away of the old order of the Law and the Temple and the passionate fear and hatred this caused. It seems much more probable that the final book of the Bible would prophesy the conclusion to this clash.

9. It takes the frequent use of the word “soon” in the Book of Revelation more literally.

Throughout the Book of Revelation, the events described are said to take place “soon.” For example,

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John (Rev 1:1).

Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near [i.e., soon] (Rev 1:3).

[To the church at Ephesus] Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent (Rev 2:5).

Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth (Rev 2:16).

I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (Rev 3:11).

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done (Rev 22:12).

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)

“Soon” can certainly be understood from God’s perspective, one that sees a watch in the night (4 hours) as equivalent to “a thousand years,” but we ought not dismiss that the “soon” referred to in Revelation might also have had a more literal meaning. As Jesus said in the Mount Olivet discourse, There are some standing here today, who will not taste death until they see all these things take place. For the early Christians, “soon” may well have meant 70 A.D., rather than the 20 or more years later put forth in the more well-accepted view.

10. The presumption in the majority view that Rome is the harlot city is problematic because Rome was never destroyed.

Rome was sacked many centuries after biblical times (in the late 4th and early 5th centuries), but it was never burned or destroyed as depicted in Revelation. Jerusalem, however, was destroyed and burned in 70 A.D., corresponding to the prophecies of the Book of Revelation (e.g., Rev 18:18 inter al).

To summarize, the minority view holds that the Book of Revelation is describing the clash between Jews and Christians (which drew in the Romans) and caused the persecutions against the Church described therein. Revelation is not merely a book describing Roman persecutions.

The placement of the writing of Revelation at a time just prior to 70 A.D. under Nero seems more likely to me (than the context of circa 90 A.D. under Domitian). The warlike and apocryphal events described in Revelation agree well with the historical events that led up to the destruction of the Temple and the full establishment of the Church as the new locus of the worship of God. To me, this is the more likely and immediate context of the Book of Revelation.

For all these reasons, as well as others not set forth here, the minority view seems to me to be quite plausible.

This does not mean that there is no value in the majority opinion (namely, that the beast (harlot) is Rome and the context is a Roman persecution of the Church). It would be wrong to casually dismiss what is the majority view. What I have presented here is still described as a minority view.

I have come to appreciate that the minority view enables us to have a far richer understanding of the Book of Revelation, because it sees the Book of Revelation as an integral part of the whole Bible rather than as an apocalyptic work radically standing apart from the other biblical views.

Consider well the possibilities of the minority view of Revelation. Fundamentally, this view roots the Book of Revelation more solidly in the rest of biblical tradition and maintains the focus on the biblical city of Jerusalem and the context of faith, rather than on the pagan city of Rome to which the early Church looked with evangelical mission and a gleeful expectation of destruction.

Surely, as with any minority view, as you ponder it, you may be troubled by the fact that it unsettles what seems more familiar. I have come to believe that it is a more compelling interpretation than the more widely accepted one. What do you think?

By the way, David Chilton has written quite thoroughly on this theory of the Book of Revelation in his book Days of Vengeance. More information on the book is available here.