1. Kerry Nietz says:

    Overall a solid and informative post, Brian. I did do a double take on this line, though:

    “One star/sun alone would have burned up the entire galaxy on its way to collision with earth.”

    That’s a page from the JJ Abrams school of astronomy there. 🙂 Despite what his Star Trek movie showed us, changes to a single star, while dramatic and cataclysmic for the star systems involved, would not be of the magnitude to burn up, or even significantly change, the galaxy.

    We have evidence that stars explode (supernova) regularly. There are certainly some effects in terms of radiation surges–like the surge of light in the visible spectrum that we can see–that will be observable to other star systems in the galaxy, but the further the system is from the supernova, the less the effect.

    In fact, because of the vastness of space between stars, I’m betting that if you were to drag a star across the galaxy to meet our sun, most systems wouldn’t even notice, except for the moving light. Our solar system would be altered (and whatever system belonged to the star) by the collision…but elsewhere it would be a galactic “meh”.

    • Brian says:

      Kerry, Maybe we’re thinking about two different things. Not sure I understand your point. A bunch of stars (similar to the size of our sun) “falling to earth” is quite literally impossible. I mean, if one tries to interpret “literally,” the text is not talking about meteorites (that would be figurative). I was trying to show the absurdity of literal stars/suns falling to earth. Imagine a hundred stars the size of the sun “falling to earth.” in keeping with the so-called literalism attempt, the text doesn’t say “stars exploding,” but “falling to the earth.”

      • Kerry Nietz says:

        I was critiquing the line I quoted, Brian. One star wouldn’t burn up the galaxy on its way to Earth. The astonomy of that line is in error. And it is the type of error JJ Abrams frequently makes in his movies.

        • Brian says:

          Oh, I think I see where the misunderstanding is. I used the word galaxy to mean the planets all burning up as a second sun collides with them on it’s way toward burning up the earth once it got close enough to do so. Sorry for my scientifically imprecise Biblical language 🙂 I didn’t mean the vacuum of space burning up. Of course, many stars falling to earth would be a stellar collision of multiple stars that would most likely result in a backhole forming which would then suck in everything in our galaxy.

  2. Travis Perry says:

    I am not in agreement with this post on several levels. I would not have commented, but I mentioned something on Facebook with E. Stephen Burnett, in which he asked me to share my thoughts here. In short, this post uses an Old Testament prophetic destruction of places that the literalists would say have echoes to, or foreshadowing of, a future destruction that will happen litteraly and offers this as proof that astronomical references in Revelation should be taken as mere symbols. I’m not buying this line of thought has proven anything, but let’s run with the idea.

    Have you met any Edomites lately? They are all totally gone, right? Though the history of their disappearance from the world stage is more complex than just the actions of the Babylonians in 587 B.C., they are in fact totally gone, as per the prophecy. So when Revelation talks about destruction of the world and the establishment of a new, direct rule of God, are we then supposed to imagine that such a prophetic destruction is not going to happen because it did not happen to the Edomites?…WOOPS…it actually did happen to them! So even this post’s view actually supports a concept of symbols with literal meaning–as opposed to symbology alone, with only spiritual lessons to learn.

    When the Babylonians are said to bite the dust…yeah, they are gone, too. Yes, it would seem that the language may be partially spiritual in some prophetic references, partially hyperbolic perhaps. But these Old Testament prophecies cited get LITERAL fulfillments, at least at times.

    So that would mean that Revelation DOES predict an end of the world, because it addresses the entire world in clear contrast to the heavenly powers. It predicts that physical destruction even by the method of looking at Old Testament symbols mentioned here, though it does not necessarily promise the means to be what we would expect from a literal prophetic reading. So I don’t think these views are really that pertinent to the question as to whether or not Revelation has literal meaning for the future of the world. If the book has ANY meaning at all for the future, there are certain things it can be said to say. The views in this post are not enough to equate Revelation as symbols-and-nothing-but-symbols. (Though that may not be the actual position expressed here either, to be fair. I’m not sure.)

    As to the pertinent question of stars, note the Greek word “aster” used in Revelation would be better translated as “astronomical body.” Planets are called “asteres planetes” (wandering *stars* er, astronomical bodies), comets are called “asteres cometes” (bearded “***” stars), and meteorites, while described by a separate word for anything atmospheric, including wind (“meteoros”), they could also be described, as they are today sometimes, as shooting or streaking “stars.” In other words, it is not in fact impossible for a third of the visible astronomical bodies at a particular time to literally fall to Earth in the form of comet or asteroid fragments. Parts of Revelation in which it talks about things like “a burning mountain falling into the sea” (8:8) sound very much like astronomical bodies falling from space–and some of that language has no parallels in the Old Testament…FYI.

    • Brian says:

      Thanks for taking the time to give your feedback and comments.

      I don’t believe symbols in the book of Revelation or the OT are “mere symbols” at all. I think this is one of the common misunderstandings that come from “literalism.” All symbols have real world or historical referents. Daniel’s and Revelation’s Beasts are symbols of monstrous evil governments, but they are symbols. There is no need to fear symbolism. In fact, John said that the angel “signified” or made known by way of symbolism (That is what the Greek of Revelation 1:1 literally says).

      And in a way, you made my point for me. You describe the ultimate utter devastation of Edom. And that was my point. The utter devastation of cities or nations or peoples in the OT is often described as being so spiritually significant that the prophets describe it using the language of a collapsing universe, which of course did not happen physically or “literally.” Yes, there was massive physical destruction of Edom and the fall of her rulers on earth as well as heaven. That’s all real historical stuff that is poetically described as if the sky was falling. I am not sure how you concluded that I was saying this was “symbology alone” with “only spiritual lessons to learn” I really didn’t say that at all.

      Do you believe that God “destroyed the whole earth” when he judged Babylon? (Isa 13:5) That is what the text literally says. But the text literarily means that when God judged the rule of the known world, it was like destroying the whole earth spiritually speaking. It involved real world destruction, but not of the whole earth.

      Do you believe that the entire earth was returned to the “formlessness and void” of Genesis 1 when God destroyed the first temple in 587 BC? Because that is what the text literally says in Jeremiah 4:23-30. What the text literarily means is that destroying the physical covenantal system of God (the temple) was the spiritual equivalent of the world returning to chaos without God.

      I think you would agree that the Bible uses both symbols and historical referents mixed into its prophecies. The problem is discerning which is which. No one is saying it is easy. But we must be careful not to impose our own theological bias before we seek to understand the text through the eyes of the original writers and readers.

      And when you see a pattern of multiple uses of language in the OT of the destruction of cities, peoples or nations using a collapsing universe, and in fact, the universe did not collapse, then it is clear that this is a common way that Hebrews wrote about such things. Collapsing universe was regularly used as a symbol of history changing or world changing events.

      As a matter of fact, my argument about understanding the symbols has no connection whatsoever to any particular view of Revelation. Even if you believe that Revelation is in the future, it doesn’t change the fact that the language John uses is rooted not in modern scientific physics, but in Old Testament prophetic language about covenants and authorities.

      Your paragraph on stars is loaded with all kinds of symbolism and metaphors. It is in fact impossible for one third of the stars in the sky to fall to the earth. If you think the Greek word for star can mean comet, then you agree that you cannot take the language literally according to our modern view. A burning mountain “sounding very much like” something else is a symbolic statement. It means you think that it is NOT a literal mountain on the earth as the text literally states.

      Travis, you may be more of a symbolist than you would like to admit 🙂
      Again, don’t take this to mean that I am saying EVERYTHING in the Bible is merely a symbol. I am not saying any such thing. I am merely looking at particular poetic language that appears throughout the entire Bible and doing exegesis to uncover it’s meaning in the original context, instead of imposing our own onto the text.

  3. HG Ferguson says:

    What’s going on here in this post is the classic view of the preterist/amillenialist as regards prophecy. Press this “non-literal” interpretation to its natural end and we might as well affirm that Jesus is not “literally” going to return to the “literal” earth either. Preterists and amillenialists love to destroy the meaning of words in favor of “the big picture” or “the symbol” but do NOT allow for any connection with these symbols to the real world. This also allows them to make this imagery say pretty much whatever they want it to. I was not personally present when God destroyed Edom, nor was this author, so I cannot say what the sky did or did not look like, even for a moment, when this occurred. It amuses me to see this extreme aversion to a “literal” interpretation when this same author has Jesus supposedly riding Leviathan on the Sea of Galilee. Really? Where’s THAT in any of the gospels? Let’s just make up what we want, it’s all good. But getting back to interpretation, prophecy always has a connection to the real world, a real-world correspondence. Rachel did not rise from her tomb to weep over Benjamin and Joseph, but the mothers of Bethlehem did weep over their slaughtered children, and yet this was the prophecy FULFILLED. That prophecy was no vague “Well, it’s just grief.” No, it was much more than that, but preterists and amillienialists don’t want real-world correspondence. It’s too destructive to their “pictures” they can make mean anything — or nothing — as they wish.

    Christos aneste!

    • Brian says:

      Thanks for your feedback. My Biblical hermeneutic is not intended to be “pressed to someone else’s notion of a natural end.” My view is not that everything is symbolic and there is nothing literal. My view is that prophecy integrates a lot of symbolism with its historical predictions that required study to show thyself approved, so to speak.

      Consider the counter claim, If you press the “literal” interpretation of prophecy to its natural end, you have all kinds of absurdities that were never intended by the text.

      You have a misunderstanding of preterism and millennialists (Though I am not an millennialist). They do NOT say that there is No connection of symbols with the real world at all. I don’t know where you got that from, other than maybe reading other anti-preterists who are not explaining to you the real picture.

      Thanks for reading my Jesus Triumphant novel (Apparently). Your literalism may be getting the best of you. My fiction uses Leviathan as a symbolic spiritual presence in the same way that the OT does: As a symbol of spiritual chaos. You assume I meant it literally, but I never did. It was a fantastic description of what was happening spiritually. Just like Psalm 74:13-17.

      I’m sorry you don’t like fantastic or supernatural elements. But it makes me wonder why you are reading a website that revels in such things then?

      I agree with you about the Bethlehem prophecy. It was a symbolic prophecy describing the spiritual reality of the real world slaughter of the innocents. It’s not “Just about grief.” No preterist or AMillennialist says anything like that at all.

      Symbols aren’t arbitrary. I don’t know where you get that idea from. Nobody I know says that. All symbols are interpreted within Scripture by Scripture.

      Perhaps you might be the one making things up 🙂

      Like Travis, you may be more symbolic in your interpretation than you would like to admit.

      But still, I appreciate the chance to interact with opposing viewpoints.

  4. Steve Taylor says:

    Call me simple-minded but I take the entire Bible literally except when it’s obviously not to be taken literally. So far my plan has been working great.

    • On this I wonder if even “amillennial” Christians may be in agreement. Their/our belief (I don’t know yet if I’m among them) is that it’s clear from Scripture that much of Revelation is, in fact, obviously not meant to be taken literally.

    • Brian says:

      What is “obvious” to us modern western Americans is not necessarily “obvious” to the ancient Jew who wrote prophecy and to whom prophecy was written. What was obvious to ancient Jews is not obvious to us. So, really, we need to seek to put aside our own literal bias and seek to understand the text within it’s original context. Otherwise, we bring a pretext to the text and misunderstand it. That is why we must study to show ourselves approved as Biblical workman. 🙂

What do you think?