Thursday, October 18, 2012

Answering Objections to the New Jerusalem Post

Certain objections have been set forth in reply to my New Jerusalem blog entry that I will now address:

1) I have written that the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-5) descends from heaven in John's vision, but it does not light upon earth in the vision. That view may be logically inferred; however, it's not exactly what the text itself says. Revelation 21:2 states: "I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (NIV). Later, we read: "One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, 'Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." In both sets of passages, we have the Greek structure καταβαίνουσαν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ which includes the present active participle καταβαίνουσαν. The present morphology of the verb suggests progressive (not completed) action. The visionary never claims that the city became situated on earth. Some have interpreted the city's descent as an ongoing thing, whereas Gregory K. Beale understands the descent as a reference to the future because of how participles function in relation to finite verbs. In either case, we don't have to understand the city's descent in terms of completed action.

2) A further objection contends that the city and its descent are literal "within the apocalyptic imagery" of John's revelation. Revelation 3:12 supposedly buttresses this line of reasoning. But the language contained in 3:12 can be interpreted figuratively. One can become a symbolic "pillar" in the temple of God (Galatians 2:9) and emblematically have the name of God's holy city written upon one's person (Revelation 14:1). There's no need to interpret the discourse literally. For notice that Christ also promises to write his new name and the name of his God upon the loyal overcomer. Are we to construe all of these promises literally? Beale (The Book of Revelation, 295) writes that the pillar imagery of Revelation 3:12 "is a metaphor for the believer."

3) It's clear that we're talking about a symbolic visionary city (Revelation 21:9). If the city is actually the Lamb's bride, then a literal polis is not the focus of John's discourse. Additionally, this city has representatives on earth who suffer attack in the city's behalf. Just as Jehovah is personally distressed when opposers persecute his people, so the holy city is affected by attacks that are launched against its representatives. Compare Zechariah 2:8; Revelation 12:13. I thank "a servant of Jehovah" for reminding me of that last reference.

4) My criticism of Middleton invoking Revelation 5:9-10 is that he prefers the rendering "on the earth" whereas it should more likely be "over the earth." As I have written elsewhere, I do not understand the translation "over the earth" as a reference to location. Rather, it signifies authority: the kings and priests will exercise authority towards the earth. The text is not communicating the idea that Christian kings and priests will be located above the earth in terms of spatial orientation.

But Middleton renders the verse incorrectly, IMO. And while Exodus 19:5-6 may constitute a hermeneutical lens through which Revelation 5:9-10 may be read and understood, the latter text does not technically quote the former. It's an allusion at best. Finally, my interlocutor accepts the inference that since Exodus 19:5-6 is probably a restatement of the promise to Abraham, therefore, the blessing promised to Abraham must entail living forever on earth without any hope of heavenly life. But no such logical entailment necessarily follows from any of these premises.

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