Canons of New Testament Textual Criticism

What I am writing here are the rules I go by. Textual criticism does not have explicit biblical guidelines informing it. Therefore, there are many theories out there, and my canons will not match other people’s canons. So I make no claim that this is what everyone ought to hold. Full disclosure: my canons place me in-between the critical text genealogical theory, and the majority text theory.

Preliminary considerations: I hold that all of these canons, or rules, have probabilistic force only. None of them is a “knock-out” punch. Each canon needs to be weighed in the balance with all the other canons. It will frequently happen that one canon will come into conflict with another canon in the practical application. For instance, should we go with the reading that has the best attestation, or the reading that can explain the origin of all the other readings?

Furthermore, textual criticism is both an art and a science. It is a science, because extremely detailed work is done on the age and provenance (place of origin) of manuscripts. Discovering whether the correctors were one or many is also important. Textual criticism is also an art because it requires judgment on the part of the textual critic, and imagination to come up with explanations as to why a certain reading arose. The judgment of the textual critic is an essential part of textual criticism. It is unavoidable.

I have very little respect for some of the rhetoric that flies around on the internet and in print anathematizing anyone who has a different view from the writer. There is over 90% agreement between Sinaiticus/Vaticanus and the Textus Receptus/Majority text. No doctrinal difference hangs on a textual difficulty. And yet, from the rhetoric of some, one might assume that the entire world was at stake in these questions. Textual criticism must be understood in proper proportion. Those who read the KJV have the Word of God. But so do those who read the ESV.

Lastly, no Christian should be afraid of textual criticism. “Criticism” here does not mean that we believe something is in error in the original autographs (the documents that come straight from the pen of the authors). It simply means that we compare manuscripts in order to discover the original reading. We don’t have the original autographs. Nevertheless, God has providentially preserved the text of Scripture in all ages. Textual criticism is, then, an exercise in reading in the book of God’s providence. The following canons are not in any particular order, although I will indicate which ones I deem to have greater weight than others.

1. Older manuscripts will tend to attest to an older reading. Notice the word “tend.” To say that the oldest readings are always found in the oldest manuscripts is an error. The testimony of the early church fathers, for instance (more on this later) can clearly attest to a reading that is older than the oldest manuscripts. Nevertheless, on the balance of probability, the older manuscripts have a better claim to have an older reading. This canon has strength, but it must be held with caveats.

2. Geographically diverse attestation of a reading makes its authenticity much more likely. If manuscripts from various places all have the same reading, that pushes back the origin of that reading far earlier. If a reading is only present in one geographical location, one can easily suspect that the reading arose only in that location. This canon weighs very heavily with me, maybe the most of any canon. There is one caveat here that must be mentioned, however: manuscripts could have been moved from their location of origin. An Alexandrian text might have been moved to Byzantium, for instance. Some might argue that there is an Alexandrian style of manuscript. Fair enough, but then, couldn’t the scribe also move?

3. Genealogically related manuscripts have somewhat less weight. I differ here both from those following Westcott and Hort, and from the Majority text theorists. I disagree with Westcott and Hort’s theory (manuscripts must be weighed, not counted) for the following reasons: a. It is far more difficult to prove genealogical relationships between manuscripts than is often supposed; b. cross-pollinating of manuscripts is quite possible (a manuscript from a different region could be used in correcting a manuscript, thus disrupting the genealogical “purity” of a family). I differ from Majority Text theorists in that I believe genealogical relationships among manuscripts is not impossible to show. If it can be shown, then a “family” of manuscripts would have less weight. The idea here is that the “children” manuscripts (the copies that were made) are very rarely, if ever, more accurate than the “parent” manuscript. This canon weighs less heavily with me than others.

4. The more difficult reading will tend to have a higher claim to be original. This canon is based on the theory that scribes would not make a text more difficult to understand, but they might very well be tempted to make a text easier to understand. This is plausible. However, this canon has a very important caveat: there is a limit to how difficult a reading can be, and still have plausibility. This limit does have a biblical basis: God cannot lie. In other words, a reading that makes the text come into direct conflict with other texts of Scripture cannot be original.

5. The reading that can best explain the origin of all the other readings has a better claim to be original. This is a very important canon. If one reading has a greater explanatory power than another, it is more likely original. If one reading, for instance, can explain another reading as dittography (accidental repeating of a word), whereas the second reading has no explanation for how the first reading arose, then the first reading has a greater claim to be original. This canon, however, also has an important caveat: sometimes accidents can happen in transcribing that are completely random.

6. Continuity of attestation in history means that a reading has a better claim. God would not let His Word disappear completely for centuries without attestation. However, this does not mean that unique readings of recently discovered manuscripts (such as Sinaiticus) would have to be discounted automatically. God’s providence can work in hidden ways (see the book of Esther, for instance).

7. The reading of the majority of manuscripts has a better claim to be original. This has to be balanced with the chastened genealogical principle that some manuscripts are better than others. Quality and quantity of manuscripts can both be important. It is a mistake, in my judgment, to discount the Byzantine tradition simply because its manuscripts are later. Byzantium is one of the prime locations that can attest to a geographically diverse reading. The majority cannot be ignored. Majority does have weight. However, the majority is not always correct, either. To say that the majority is always right is a logical fallacy. We do not arrive at truth merely by counting noses. Otherwise Athanasius would have been wrong. Nor is each manuscript of equal weight. Here it can be seen how precisely I line up in the middle between the critical text advocates and the majority text advocates.

8. The early church fathers can be of great weight in determining how old a reading is. In some cases, they can attest to a reading that is older than our oldest manuscripts. Irenaeus, for instance, lived mostly in the second century. We have only fragments of NT manuscripts that are older than Irenaeus’s writings. He often attests to a reading older than Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (both of which are fourth century manuscripts). However, this evidence must also be approached carefully. It can be doubtful if an early church father is actually quoting a biblical passage, and it can also be doubtful which passage the early church father was quoting. It is quite a bit easier in some writings than in others. Commentaries, of course, would be the easiest, since you already know which part of the Bible is under consideration.

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Amazing Thoughts on Prayer

Witsius knocks this one out of the park. He is commenting on the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“Hallowed be thy name”).

It is a very extraordinary and almost incredible familiarity of intercourse which a man is permitted to maintain with God in holy prayer. That a base wretch,—a sinner under sentence of condemnation, a worm that deserves to be trampled under foot,—should be admitted to intercourse with the Divine Being, whose majesty the brightest inhabitants of heaven approach with lively praise, and yet with the lowliest adoration, is certainly a high privilege. To be conducted to the throne of grace by the only begotten Son of God,—to have the words and the very groans supplied by the influence of the Spirit of prayer,—to be permitted to express, with the utmost boldness and freedom, every desire and wish which is not inconsistent with the honour of God, or the true interests of the worshipper,—is a privilege higher still. But the most wonderful of all, and one which almost exceeds belief, is that a man should be allowed to plead, not only for himself and for his neighbour, but for God,—that the kingdom of God and the glory of God should be the subject of his prayer,—as if God were unwilling to be glorious, or to exercise dominion except in answer to the prayers of believers…The honour of praying for God, which is thus granted to a human being, ought to be so highly prized by a believing soul that, loving God above all things, even above itself, it should overlook for a time its own concerns, until the matters which relate to the glory and kingdom of God have been carefully settled (from The Lord’s Prayer (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, facsimile of 1839 edition), 185-6).

Witsius goes on to note that we do not pray for God as if He needed anything. We pray in order that God’s glory may be declared.

On Preaching Revelation

I am nearing the end of preaching through the book of Revelation, and it has been something of a revelation. First of all, it is far easier to preach than most preachers think it is. Reformed preachers have neglected this book wrongfully. The book is a tremendous encouragement to Christians living in a world where the wrong seems oft so strong. Christians have blinkers on, and they can only see the trouble that is right before them. Revelation lifts them out of that blinkered existence to see how it all turns out. Seeing the end of the story has a profound effect on how we live in the meanwhile.

To compare and contrast with other sections of the canon, I find preaching through any of Paul’s letters to be absolutely exhausting. Paul’s thought is so dense, that unless you take a Puritan-speed approach, you have to decided constantly what you are going to leave out. With Revelation, that is unnecessary. Instead, you help people to understand the imagery. I have found that applying the text of Revelation is generally fairly easy, as well. The application of the main point of Revelation (see point 5 below) is that since Jesus Christ is going to win, we should live as people who are on the winning side (not to mention that we should be on the winning side!).

Part of the joy of preaching Revelation has been helping people realize that Revelation is actually much simpler than most people think it is. Now, if you are a dispensational premillenial interpreter, then Revelation is exceedingly complex indeed. However, for your average, run of the mill Amillenial interpreter, Revelation is governed by very simple principles. 1. The Old Testament controls all the imagery, since the imagery comes from the Old Testament. 2. According to Revelation 1:1, Revelation communicates through the use of symbols (see Beale’s commentary on this point). 3. Therefore, the default interpretive mode should be symbolic, not literal. 4. The reason why Revelation shouldn’t become a wax nose is principle number 1. 5. The main point of Revelation is that Jesus Christ is going to win. 6. Any attempt to apply the text to only one sector of the Christian church, or only one era of the Christian church is doomed to fail. This makes overly preterist or overly futurist views untenable. The text needs to apply to the first-century readers, to the church in the interim, to us, and to the final days. This doesn’t mean that we understand the meaning of the text to be so all-inclusive all of the time. However, it does mean that we should be reluctant to limit the meaning of the text to one time period.

Fortunately for Reformed preachers, there are plenty of excellent resources out there to help understand the text. Pride of place goes to Beale’s magnificent volume. It is the first port of call, especially because no one explores the Old Testament allusions as thoroughly and helpfully as he does. I have then found Dennis Johnson, Vern Poythress, James Resseguie, Craig Koester, James Hamilton, Paul Gardner, Derek Thomas, Doug Kelly, Michael Wilcock, and Steve Wilmshurst to be the most helpful after Beale for preaching purposes. There is no excuse for Reformed pastors neglecting this important book. It ties together all the threads of biblical revelation. It is much easier than most think it is. There are plenty of resources out there to help. To any pastors who have been holding back, jump in!

A Chronology of Jesus

(Posted by Paige)

In a bid to enhance biblical literacy in our congregation, I’ve dabbed many a brushstroke onto the walls of one room in our building to provide our Bible teachers with enormous maps and timelines to illustrate their lessons. I’ve just embarked on the most complex of the timelines, an attempt to sort out the events of Jesus’ ministry years into more-or-less chronological order; but I’m finding that I need to do some homework here before I commit myself in acrylics. Maybe some of you redemptive-history buffs can help.

First off, where do we get the idea that Jesus’ ministry was three years long? Is this simply implied in his parable about the barren fig tree in Luke 13:7 – “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none”?

Second, have any of you ever seen a decent attempt to harmonize the events in the Synoptics with Jesus’ several visits to Jerusalem as described in John? I’m thinking of grouping the events from the Synoptics above the timeline, and adding the punctuation of the holiday visits to Jerusalem from John’s account below it.

Not to mention the Lazarus event – am I correct to read this as the unnamed catalyst that turned Jesus southward from Galilee towards Jerusalem late in the Synoptic accounts? (Though John maybe implies that Jesus was in Perea just prior to that cataclysmic miracle – “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained,” Jn. 10:40. So was he in Galilee or Perea when the message reached him [Jn. 11:6,“he stayed in the place where he was”]?)

I realize that the best we can do here is make educated guesses, so I’m hoping that some of your education in this area exceeds mine. Thanks in advance for your expertise!

If you’d like to see some of the murals from our Chart Room, check out the wall of my biblical literacy site. I have yet to figure out how to photograph the 20-foot timeline of redemptive history, but you can at least take a look at the maps. (The full-map JPEGs work great as Power Point slides, by the way – so I take my walls with me when I teach elsewhere! You’re welcome to borrow them too, if you’d like.)

Up to Some Good (I Hope)

(Posted by Paige)

It’s been a while since I had time or thought enough to post anything here. Much of my brain space lately has gone into planning and carrying out the home-schooling of a high-schooler – I get to prep him for the English and History APs this year! – and much of my writing time has gone into building up an online library of Biblical Literacy materials.

But here is one thing I can share with you, as a resource to pass along to anyone who would like to gain a bit more knowledge of the big sweep of redemptive history. This is a 36-minute talk that I put together for a Bible conference this October, one of several short presentations that I’ve offered to introduce the Women in the Word Workshop in Willow Grove, PA. (Please note that while the context was a women’s Bible conference, the content is not gender-specific!) My creative entrée into the Big Picture this year was the progressive development of the figure and the idea of “The Christ” in Scripture.

This is on YouTube not because it’s a video of me talking, but ‘cause I made some snazzy slides to go with it. (But it’s possible to listen without looking, if you prefer to multi-task.) Enjoy!

S.D.G.

Is Hell Eternal Separation From God?

Many Christians define Hell as eternal separation from God. However, I wonder if this is born out by Scripture. It seems that a lot of people go to Jesus Christ’s cry on the cross to prove this point: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” If Christ experienced Hell on the cross, as most Reformed believers rightly believe, then Hell seems to be defined here as being forsaken by God.

Another argument that seems to point in this direction is the relationship of Revelation 20 to Revelation 21. In Revelation 20, the dragon and the two beasts are thrown into the lake of fire, along with Death, Hades, and everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 20:15). When one reads on into Revelation 21, it says that God will dwell with His people, which seems to suggest that He is not dwelling with those who are in the lake of fire.

To answer the first argument, it is not true that God the Father abandoned God the Son at the cross. The cross did not result in a rift in the Trinity. The abandonment consists of the God-man suffering the full wrath of God the Father. It is a giving up of Jesus to the judicial wrath, not an ontological abandonment. This becomes clear when the judgment context of Psalm 22 is taken into account, from which Jesus’ cry comes.

To answer the second argument, I wonder Who keeps the lake of fire hot? Who throws Satan into it? Who torments Satan day and night forever? Are these not divine passive constructions? Who can administer the justice but God alone? How would we ever trust that the punishment fits the crime perfectly unless it is God who punishes?

A passage that gives a bit more light on this is Revelation 14:6-13. In this passage, those who worship the beast, and receive the mark of the beast will drink the cup of the wrath of God, poured full strength (verse 10). This torment is eternal (verse 11). Therefore, John is talking about eternal punishment in Hell in these verses, not a temporal punishment. The key phrase, then, for our purposes, is the last part of verse 10: “in the presence of the holy angels and the presence of the Lamb.” It is the torment that will happen in the presence of the Lamb and of the angels, a torment that lasts forever. It is, therefore, true that the torment will last eternally in the presence of the angels and of the Lamb.

Another argument can be deduced from the principle of God’s omnipresence. If God is everywhere (see Psalm 139 for an extensive proof of God’s omnipresence), then God is present in Hell as well. Some of us might be uncomfortable saying that, as if God shouldn’t be involved in the punishment of Hell, as if it would dirty His holy hands. I would counter by saying that I wouldn’t want anyone BUT an omniscient God administering punishment for eternity! How else could permanent justice be assured?

I conclude that the formulation of Hell being eternal separation from God needs a bit of tweaking. Hell is eternal separation from the grace and mercy of God. It is not eternal separation from God entirely. I believe that people will fervently wish that they could escape the judging presence of God! Hell is a place where God is present only to judge and punish. Heaven is the place where God is present only to love and cherish.

A Textual Variant That Makes a Difference

In Revelation 11:17, the Textus Receptus has added the phrase “and who is coming” to the end of the first clause of thanksgiving. No doubt, the scribes were used to seeing “who is, and who was, and who is coming.” The best manuscripts do not have the phrase “and who is coming.” The omission of the phrase is a fascinating glimpse into the theology of the text. The reason why the original did not have the phrase is because, from the perspective of the twenty-four elders, Christ had already come! If, as seems likely, the seventh trumpet is a description of the very end of the current world, then we are getting a glimpse at what post-consummation worship looks like. It is rather important, then, that the phrase “and is coming” is NOT present in the text. It is gloriously absent!

Quote of the Week

This week we hear from G.K. Beale, as he has been influenced by  C.M. Pate:

The NT perspective on the role of the law can best be understood in the light of the beginning destruction of the old creation and the emergence of the renovated creation. For example, some have observed that Paul has apparently contradictory views of the law in Romans and Galatians, sometimes viewing it quite negatively and at other times positively. The fact that the end-time new creation has broken into the old world means that these two worlds overlap and that the old world is already beginning to crumble. Consequently, the law for unbelievers living in the old creation results in enslavement to sin and judgment. This judgment begins during the old age…and is consummated at the end of the age, when the old cosmos will be judged by being destroyed and old-age inhabitants will be consigned to the second death because of their violation of the law…On the other hand, the law is a source of blessing for spiritually resurrected believers living in the new creation because in Christ they have power to fulfill the law in Christ in a way that spiritually dead people do not. (footnote: I am indebted to C.M. Pate, The End of the Ages Has Come (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 124-148, for his excellent discussion of how the overlap of the ages solves the dual Pauline perspective on the law, though he does not relate this to old creation and eschatological new creation.) G.K. Beale, “The New Testament and New Creation,” in Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect, edited by Scott Hafemann (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), pp. 159-173, quote on p. 168.

This struck me forcefully as a very helpful way of thinking about the law, as long as one does not take a dispensational spin on it. The statement would also require some clarification. For instance, in Galatians, where Paul is more negative on the law, it is the forward-looking pedagogical use of the law that he has in mind (see the particularly evocative picture of “tutor” in the end of chapter 3). Beale does not mean that the law is part of the old age, and that it is therefore done away with in the new creation. Rather, there is a typological function of the pedagogical use of the law. This can help explain why the same covenant of grace is differently administered under the time of the law and the time of the gospel, as the Westminster Standards puts it. The pedagogical and typological function of the law is especially (though not exclusively) associated with the old age. The third use of the law (as a guide for the Christian life) is especially (though not exclusively) associated with the new age now that the fulfillment has come. It is not as though the pedagogical use of the law has been completely discontinued, or that the third use of the law sprang up de novo in the New Testament. However, in the eschatological view of things, as the law points forward, the typology is more in view because the antitype had not yet come. Now that the antitype has come, the normative aspect is more in view.

If N.T. Wright had only realized that this was what Paul was getting at in his different treatments of the law, he might never have started on his course of leaving the Reformational doctrine of justification. There are other ways of reconciling Romans and Galatians without resorting to a Roman Catholic limitation of “works of the law” to the ceremonial aspects of the law.

Welcome to Babylon! Here’s Your Mark!

[Update: Rod Dreher has another article worth reading (in addition to the one linked at the bottom). In this one he speaks to a political strategist on the reality that some religious liberty is going to be lost in the near future. Consider. Note too his suggestion that the only solution is another Great Awakening. Oh, that the Church would prioritize being the Church. -RDP]

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In July of 2013 I posted on the topic of persecution of Christians in America. At the time the Supreme Court had recently made some decisions allowing same sex marriage. I opined on how I saw this as a key marker that the future would see social persecution of Christians in America because of their opposition to homosexuality. Also at the time (and since) I received a bit of friendly criticism, admonishing me for being an alarmist.

Well, here we go again.

When I first took up this topic I expected that society-wide overt social persecution of Christians would not be wide-spread for at least a few decades. Not being a prophet or a prognosticator, I was engaging in the time honored tradition of looking at history for lessons to apply to today’s circumstances. Admittedly an inexact “science”, I thought I was in the ball park to propose that my children and grandchildren would face at least social persecution for maintaining belief in the Bible’s sexual morality teachings. E.g., I thought my grandchildren might suffer the loss of education opportunities while their parents, my children, suffered the loss of jobs, homes, etc., for simply declining when demanded by the World, “Say same-sex marriage is holy, right, and true!!”

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Given the widespread response to recent events, I’m now expecting such social persecution within the next decade.

Consider Indiana’s passage of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It is being characterized as a form of a Jim Crow law (Google it: “Indiana RFRA Jim Crow”). Yeah, I know, those are just crazy comments from folks no one listens to anyway. Except for one little problem, what sounds crazy today increasingly becomes “gospel” tomorrow.

Consider the Indiana Pizzeria owners who got tricked into saying they wouldn’t cater a same sex wedding celebration (again, Google it: “Indiana Pizzeria same sex”). The family for whom this is their livelihood has shuttered the business and is thinking of leaving the state due to the amount of death threats they’ve received from those who think any vocalized opinion against homosexuality is tantamount to saying one thinks lynching is an acceptable way of carrying on race relations.

We won’t even talk about the poor grandmother florist in Washington where the power of the state is being used to force her to comply with the new (im)morality or lose her economic livelihood. (Google it: “Barronelle Stutzman”)

After my last post on this topic in which I listed eleven examples of Christians whose economic freedom and well-being was harmed because of their declining to participate in a same sex wedding, I thought I might keep a running list of such examples for the naysayers. But it got too burdensome. There is almost a new example of this every month!

For you who insist on not seeing this as a form of persecution, I’d ask you to read the book of Revelation a bit closer. [Full disclosure: I consider myself a pan-millenniliast: at the core an amillennialist, with a willingness to affirm and adapt insights from the other positions.]

In the Bible Babylon is presented as that world system, that empire of Man, which is fully invested in opposing the Kingdom of God. Life is quite simple in that empire. Publicly affirm your allegiance to the ruling belief system (the anti-Trinity) and your economic well-being is secured. Fail to do so, and punishing you economically is just the start.

(Rev 13:16-17 ESV) 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

So what’s my point? No, I am not predicting the date of the 2nd Coming. I’m not even interested in debating whether or not we’re in the end times of the Last Day.

Instead I’m pointing to a principle. In Scripture the first empire to set itself up against God was Babylon, at the Tower of Babel (Gn 11). Babylon then becomes paradigmatic: it becomes the picture that represents man in his best efforts to prove the lie of Satan, to become like God through his own efforts. In Revelation Babylon is clearly presented as this Kingdom-of-God-opposing empire (cf., Rev 14:8; 16:19; 18:2, 10, 21, and everything in between). It is Babylon, the world in opposition to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is the primary source of persecution for the people who follow King Jesus:

(Rev 17:1-5) 1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”

3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”

Notice that among the chief characteristics of this Empire that economically persecutes the children of God is leading the rich and powerful to engage in sexual immorality. We don’t have to ponder much to see this wedding of possessions-position-power with sexual immorality in the push for moralizing same-sex marriage … and soon to come, its in-bred cousins. (E.g., be prepared for transgenderism to become the latest “gospel” from Babylon. April 24 should prove to be another pivotal point, when Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer is broadcast.)

The upshot? Whether we’re in the end of the Last Days or not is not material. What is material is that in this country, in this generation, or if I am not Chicken Little, within this decade, we should expect to see the overt adoption of laws that persecute Christians for simply declining to affirm same-sex marriage as morally good. Following this we should expect the passing of similar laws forcing Christians to affirm the holiness of other sexual perversions.

Already it is socially unacceptable to speak against these things (e.g., homosexuality, etc.). To do so is to invite the label bigot. Yet, in light of the response of a number of companies to Indiana’s passing of their RFRA, just around the corner is this: not only will you be labeled a bigot, you will also lose your job!

Don’t think so?

Don’t think this is not the new norm? Businesses are moving from being supportive of same-sex employees to demanding that all employees vocally support the gay rights agenda, or risk losing their jobs. Don’t think that they aren’t rationalizing this as just a necessity of doing business. Their profit margin is their holy of holies.

And as businesses threaten the economic well-being of those who disagree with the gay rights agenda, don’t think you’ll find support from your local state representative. Politicians will cave if they think their own future is jeopardized. They will pass laws protecting homosexuality via persecuting Christians in less time than it takes them to flip flop on where their favorite pizza joint is located!

So what does the future hold? Well, if the new norm is to deny the Christian his First Amendment freedom of speech rights (at least with regard to his views on sexual morality), is there anything stopping Babylon from removing Christians’ First Amendment freedom of religion rights? I think not. Indeed, I foresee the not too distant day in this country when even churches are not only not allowed to speak against homosexuality, they will also be forced to openly support this sexual immorality, and all its in-bred cousins.

This is just the way life in Babylon operates. We may not lose our heads, but we will lose our wallets and pocket books. Will we find the strength of faith to remain faithful then? Be prepared for a pruning of the Church:

(Jh 15:2, 6) 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Maybe we can find hope and power in these promises of our King:

(Rev 2:10) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

(Rev 2:25-27) 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

Reed DePace

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[Postscript. Yeah, I know, I’m not painting a Kinkade picture here. But I don’t think I’m fear-mongering. You can tell the tenor of the mood of America by looking at the response to those who are paid big bucks to write a weekly opinion column. When they say something that most Americans don’t agree with, that weekly column becomes major news. When they say something that most Americans don’t find controversial, that weekly column is quickly forgotten. It is just economics; the media reports what people are interested in.

Here are three such recent opinion columns related to the Indiana RFRA topic. What concerns me is that these opinions should cause quite a bit of consternation, at least among Christians. Yet I fear these columns are being quickly forgotten – because they just aren’t that controversial at this point!

If so, my cautions are well founded. Prepare brothers and sisters. Worship Him more!

The 144,000 and the Great Multitude

I would like, in this post, to look at Revelation 7, particularly at the two groups mentioned: the 144,000 and the great multitude. Many, if not most, Reformed commentators (see Beale especially) have argued that these are the same groups of people. It must be admitted from the start that this is a very respectable position with a long pedigree. Nor can the difference between a numbered group and an innumerable group be attested in support of the position that there are two different groups.

The number 144,000 is a symbolic number. This is obvious from several facts. That God would only seal some and not others implies two distinct classes of Christians, something which the rest of the New Testament takes quite some pains to deny. Whatever group the 144,000 represents, it cannot be only part of a group of Christians.

Incidentally, as the commentator Wilmshurst (in the Welwyn series) points out, the Jehovah’s Witnesses interpretation makes this mistake and several others. The JW interpretation states that the 144,000 is a literal group of people that are to be in heaven around the throne room of God, and that the rest of the “good” people will have a decent life here on earth. Both groups are interpreted eschatologically in JW theology. However, the text makes it quite explicit that it is the great multitude who are around the throne of God in heaven, whereas the 144,000 are sealed here on earth to prevent them from receiving ultimate harm from the seals (see the flow of context from chapter 6). So the JW’s get the location of each group wrong. They also interpret the number literally, when it should be interpreted symbolically as 12 X 12 X 1000 (possibly the OT saints plus the NT saints times the number of perfection, implying the entirety).

We are more on the right track when we remember that census numbers were usually taken for military purposes. The 144,000 is a fighting group of people. This is confirmed when we look at chapter 14, the other time the 144,000 make their appearance. They were those who had not defiled themselves with women. Again, this is usually interpreted differently to point to their spiritual purity (and, no doubt, that is included). However, while fighting, Israelite men were to keep themselves from women. The indications are that the 144,000 is a fighting group.

However, they are not Israelites, contrary to the appearances of verses 5-8. For one thing, there wasn’t a Northern kingdom at the time John was writing. Secondly, the order of names is very curious (including Joseph and Manassah, but not Ephraim, and completely excluding Dan; as well as putting Judah first, and the sons of the concubines are fronted over some of the other sons of Leah, which would seem to indicate Gentile inclusion, as several commentators note). The only other group they could be is the church.

The innumerable multitude are standing around the throne room (and hence do not need the seal, since they are already safe). They hold palm fronds (v. 9), which is a symbol of military victory. They have their white robes that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb (v. 13). They are out of the tribulation (v. 14).

The upshot of the whole here is to point to the logical conclusion: the 144,000 symbolizes the church militant; and the innumerable multitude symbolizes the church triumphant. This avoids the problem of seeing the 144,000 as part of a group (in the sense that the entire church militant is sealed, not part of it: I am not advocating a denial of the distinction between the church militant and the church triumphant). The indications of the military nature of the 144,000 are given full scope, as well as the triumphant nature of the innumerable multitude. This is roughly the same conclusion to which Dennis Johnson arrives, although I have fleshed out the arguments a bit more than he did.

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