Science & Fear – How Could We Have Gotten It All Wrong? (Part 4) – Riley O’Brien Powell

Eagle Nebula
Rethinking can be scary.

At Presence we’re committed to re-imagining what it’s like to be found in a here-and-now relationship with God, each other, our world and our very selves. In this re-imagining process, we’ve deconstructed limiting beliefs that others hold as sacred – particularly in the area of eschatology. As we’ve been exploring in this series, one common objection in daring to rethink long-held beliefs, and re-imagine alternative futures is How could we have gotten it all wrong? Are you really saying my _____ (church, country, family, Other Venerable Institution) could have missed the mark for decades? Centuries? Millennia?

By way of encouragement via some discouraging beliefs, we’ve looked at how people of faith have generally outgrown beliefs around:

…and now we’re going to look at science!

Do you believe that the Bible teaches, scientifically, that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the sun revolves around the earth?

You don’t? You heretic! Don’t you know that Ecclesiastes 1:5 states

The sun rises and sets and returns to its place.


This poetic passage was used to “prove” geo-centrism (an earth-centered universe) and call helio-centrism (a sun-centered universe) heretical for thousands of years.

Geocentrism was the orthodox teaching of the Christian Church for most of the past two thousand years. Early Church Fathers such as Origen argued against the truth of helio-centrism, or a sun-centered universe, put forth by the Greeks as early as the 3rd century. This debate raged long before Copernicus’ predictive mathematical model proving helio-centrism in the 16th century. Copernicus’ heliocentric idea was very controversial; nevertheless, it was the start of a change in the way the world was viewed. Copernicus initiated the Scientific Revolution, which was continued by Galileo. Galileo’s heliocentric theory of circular orbits was further refined by Kepler and his theory of elliptical orbits. This is the view that the modern scientific community holds today based on proof ascertained by measuring the parallaxes of stars and based on Einstein’s theory of relativity.

For most of church history, official dogma taught that certain verses in Scripture meant that the earth is the center of the universe, and the sun revolves around it. Eventually people of faith came to accept that scriptures which say that the “sun rises in the east and sets in the west” were poetic ways of speaking from one’s point of view, descriptively. And the author was not trying to assert a scientific truth, prescriptively.

Would it surprise you to know that people were persecuted, put under house arrest and excommunicated for questioning the church’s belief of geocentrism? Helio-centrism was seen as contradicting the Bible until the Scientific Revolution changed religion and the way it viewed the world. Similar questions now confront people of faith, and our communities at large, around evolution and climate change. Emotions still run high, and jobs are still lost, over different responses to these questions. Can we continue to grow in a way that isn’t threatened by new discoveries?

Today most – but not all! - people agree that the earth revolves around the sun. Because of the independent thinking and sacrifice of a few, developmental history has progressed. But it was a process, and the change was built on the cumulative work of many thinkers building off of each other’s work over time. It seems that this is one way God likes to teach us; giving many people different pieces of the puzzle over time and forcing us to work together to come to the best conclusions.

RileyRiley O’Brien Powell earned her BA in Art History from Wheaton College, M.Div from Princeton Seminary, and M.A. in Education from Harvard University. She is a mother of four, raising them with her husband, Skip Powell, MD. She is a covenant participant and theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a board member of Presence. You can find more of Riley’s writing on her blogs, at Living the Question and Mostly Raw Mom.

Daniel’s Seventy Weeks – Daniel, Interrupted

Pattern InterruptWe’ve been exploring Daniel’s epoch-spanning “70-weeks” prophecy, and have arrived now as the 70th week itself – a week that’s been divided from the other sixty-nine weeks. Why is this?

Several factors set it apart. First, it was divided in the middle, with each period consisting of forty-two months, or three and a half years. This division is marked by an event referred to as “the end of the sacrifices and offerings.” The seventieth week is clearly seen as a time of tribulation and destruction,

…And the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it will be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined (Daniel 9:26).

Verse 27 seems to indicate that these things would take place in the second half of the final week:

And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” (Daniel 9:27).

We must look, now, for some event that might be the fulfillment of this prophecy. First, it seems fairly evident from the text itself that the event in question is the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus alludes to Daniel’s prophecy when he speaks of “the abomination that makes desolate” in the Olivet Discourse. Daniel’s vision of the seventy weeks was a prophecy of the time from Israel’s release from captivity to the time of the end. A problem we face is that Israel’s end did not come in a seven-year period immediately following the crucifixion. Instead, it came nearly forty years later when Rome sacked Jerusalem. This suggests a break in our chronology, a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. Given that our hermeneutic speaks strongly against reinterpreting time frames, we should have a very good reason for suggesting such a gap, and an abundance of evidence that might justify this gap. Let’s take a look at this.

First of all, there is a textual division in Daniel 9:24-27 between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week. The seventieth week is treated separately. At the end of the 69th week, Messiah is “cut off.” Does the expression “cut off” mean that Christ was through with national Israel? Not at all – the “day of the Lord” was still to come. Christ, though cut off, would still deal with temporal Israel:

Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city,

that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

See! Your house is left to you desolate;

for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’  (Matthew 23:34-39).

Matthew 24 is a continuation of the predicted fate of Israel, in which we have the Lord’s prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem. It is in this context that Christ mentions the “abomination of desolation” spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Matthew 24:15), which identifies the seventieth week with the destruction of Jerusalem. Where does the gap come in?

First, Christ was received into heaven until the time “of the vengeance of God,”

Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

and that he may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before,

whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:19-21)

The gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week was from the time of Christ’s going into heaven until he came again. His coming, according to Matthew 24, was the time of the end of the world, or the consummation of the age.

Christ went away, but with the promise of coming again (John 14:1-3). His return was accompanied with blessing and destruction – blessing for true spiritual Israel, but destruction for unbelieving fleshly Israel. His coming was the receiving of one (2 Thessalonians 2:1), and the rejection of the other (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). According to Acts 3:21, it was a time of fulfillment of all things spoken by the prophets of God. This also is affirmed in Luke 21:22, “For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” Luke 21:22 agrees with Acts 3:21, and both refer to the war leading to the destruction of Jerusalem – the coming of Christ.

Peter refers to the period of time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week while Christ was away as the longsuffering of God:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance…and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation… (2 Peter 3:9, 15).

It was a time of preaching the gospel, and sealing the servants of God, before “the great day of his wrath has come” (Revelation 6:17). God gave national Israel an opportunity to repent before closing out their age:

After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.

Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea,

saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed. (Revelation 7:1-4)

Luke 19 seems to suggest a gap or space of time between the cutting off of Christ and Israel’s destruction:

Now as he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it,

saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side,

and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:41-44)

Consider Christ’s words in verse 43, “For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you….” Those days of destruction would not immediately follow the crucifixion, but they would come in that generation (Matthew 23:35-36; 24:34).

Another reason for a gap might be that a continuous chronology of Israel’s future would have defeated God’s purpose in keeping “the day or the hour” of Christ’s coming in secrecy. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matt. 24:36). Because the seventieth week did not uninterruptedly follow the sixty-ninth, the “times and the seasons” would remain in the Father’s own power, to be shared by no other (Acts 1:7).

The seventieth week of Daniel also sheds light on the chronology of the book of Revelation, especially the later chapters. Revelation deals with the end time, the fall of Jerusalem, and the rise and glory of spiritual Israel. The seventieth week of Daniel, Matthew 24, and Revelation are synchronous – all dealing with the time of the end. The remarkable harmony of these prophetic sections of the Bible is a reflection of God’s wisdom and the inspiration of Scripture.

Join us next week as we look at the mystery of Jerusalem’s destruction.

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Please feel free to weigh in below.

Sex & Scripture: Getting Between the Covers – How Could We Have Gotten It All Wrong? (Part 3) – Riley O’Brien Powell

Between the Covers II
Continuing our series How Could We Have Gotten It All Wrong?, I’d like to draw attention toward an area where people of faith have made a stunning reversal: What goes on between the covers, of our beds and our Bibles.

Let’s lay aside, for the moment, more controversial questions about sexuality, and look at one that’s hiding in plain sight:

Do you believe sexual desire between spouses is evil? Would you be part of a faith community that believes it’s only permissible for married couples to engage in love-making when they’re trying to conceive a child?


Would you be surprised, then, to find that you’d be in the minority of orthodox Christian belief for most of church history?

Would it be shocking to hear that a pleasure-ambivalent, sex-for-procreation-only stance was the unanimous the position of most mainstream Western churches – Roman Catholic and Protestant alike – until the early 1900’s? Some church luminaries even taught that love-making in marriage, unless trying to conceive a child, was a sin, and should be punishable by death. Reformers Calvin and Wesley also had dire things to say about marital sexuality or filial love. These views also fueled negative views towards women as the ‘temptresses’ and causes of ‘sinful’ desires.

I don’t want to dwell on these…they’re abysmal. So one will suffice:

Thus the woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude.
–John Calvin

Why the hate? Their cultural paradigms and indoctrination colored the way they read scripture.

Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband…I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am…

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not … For this world in its present form is passing away…I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

(1 Corinthians 7:1-2; 6-7; 29, 35 – emphases mine.)

Paul’s teaching was pertinent to them because they were the people upon whom the ‘ends of the ages’ had come (1 Corinthians 10:11). The coming destruction by the Roman armies that would sweep away the unwatchful, just as the waters of the flood swept away the unrighteous, were on their horizon. Jesus himself said it would be worse for nursing mothers. And women can only become nursing mothers when they procreate. So Paul’s warning makes sense in light of Jesus’ teaching. Part of Paul’s mission was to relay Jesus’ message and help them survive their hour of trial. Not having children – and thus, being mindful about and limiting of sex – served in their tumultuous political and prophetic moment.

Today ministers teach the opposite about married sexuality to couples, based upon a different understanding of Paul’s teaching. Most Protestant pastors I’ve heard on the topic of sexuality teach that couples should not stop coming together except for special cases of intense prayer, and then only for a limited time. They teach about the blessing of marriage and the importance of nurturing all aspects of married love as a safeguard against unchastity. How different our views are on this topic nowadays – and we’ve been reading the same Scripture all these years! What’s changed? Our context. Paul’s teachings on celibacy made sense in his world (which was ‘passing away’); ours makes sense today. In the intervening 1800 or so years? Arguably, we adapted a body-negative and sexuality-negative stance out of a sincere-but-misguided sense of fidelity to sacred text divorced from its eschatological context.

Stay tuned as we examine other contested-and-discarded beliefs in this series!

RileyRiley O’Brien Powell earned her BA in Art History from Wheaton College, M.Div from Princeton Seminary, and M.A. in Education from Harvard University. She is a mother of four, raising them with her husband, Skip Powell, MD. She is a covenant participant and theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can find more of Riley’s writing on her blogs, at Living the Question and Mostly Raw Mom.

Daniel’s Seventy Weeks – Artaxerxes’ Reign

What does Artaxerxes’ reign show us about Daniel’s 70-Weeks prophecy? In his book The Coming Prince, 19th-century author Sir Robert Anderson makes these observations:

The scepter of earthly power which was entrusted to the house of David, was transferred to the Gentiles in the person of Nebuchadnezzar, to remain in Gentile hands ‘until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.’ The blessings promised to Judah and Jerusalem were postponed till after a period described as “seventy weeks”; and at the close of the sixty-ninth week of this era the Messiah should be “cut off.” These seventy weeks represent seventy times seven prophetic years of 360 days, to be reckoned from the issuing of an edict for the rebuilding of the city – “the street and rampart,” of Jerusalem. The edict in question was the decree issued by Artaxerxes Longimanus in the twentieth year of his reign, authorizing Nehemiah to rebuild the fortifications of Jerusalem.

The date of Artaxerxes’s reign can be definitely ascertained – not from elaborate disquisitions by biblical commentators and prophetic writers, but by the united voice of secular historians and chronologers. The statement of St. Luke is explicit and unequivocal, that our Lord’s public ministry began in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. It is equally clear that it began shortly before the Passover. The date of it can be fixed as between August A.D. 28 and April A.D. 29. The Passover of the crucifixion therefore was in A.D. 32, when Christ is betrayed on the night of the Paschal Supper, and put to death on the day of the Paschal Feast.

If then the foregoing conclusions be well founded, we should expect to find that the period intervening between the edict of Artaxerxes and the Passion was 483 prophetic years. And accuracy as absolute as the nature of the case permits is no more than men are here entitled to demand. There can be no loose reckoning in a Divine chronology; and if God has designed to mark on human calendars the fulfillment of His purposes as foretold in prophecy, the strictest scrutiny shall fail to detect miscalculation or mistake.

The Persian edict which restored the autonomy of Judah was issued in the Jewish month of Nisan. It may in fact have been dated the 1st of Nisan, but no other day being named, the prophetic period must be reckoned, according to a practice common with the Jews, from the Jewish New Year’s Day. The seventy weeks are therefore to be computed from the 1st of Nisan B.C. 445.

Now the great characteristic of the Jewish sacred year has remained unchanged ever since the memorable night when the equinoctial moon beamed down upon the huts of Israel in Egypt, bloodstained by the Paschal sacrifice; and there is neither doubt nor difficulty in fixing within narrow limits the Julian date of the 1st of Nisan in any year whatever. In B.C. 445 the new moon by which the Passover was regulated was on the 13th of March at 7h. 9m. A.M. And accordingly the 1st of Nisan may be assigned to the 14th March. But the language of the prophecy is clear: ‘From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks.’ An era therefore of sixty-nine ‘weeks,’ or 483 prophetic years reckoned from the 14th March, B.C. 445, should close with some event to satisfy the words, “unto the Messiah the Prince.”

Mr. Anderson continues on page 125:

No student of the Gospel narrative can fail to see that the Lord’s last visit to Jerusalem was not only in fact, but in the purpose of it, the crisis of His ministry, the goal toward which it had been directed. After the first tokens had been given that the nation would reject His Messianic claims, He had shunned all public recognition of them. But now the twofold testimony of His words and His works had been fully rendered, and His entry into the Holy City was to proclaim His Messiahship and to receive His doom…

And the date of it can be ascertained. In accordance with the Jewish custom, the Lord went up to Jerusalem upon the 8th of Nisan, six days before the Passover. But since the 14th, on which the Paschal Supper was eaten, fell that year on a Thursday, the 8th was the preceding Friday. He must have spent the sabbath, therefore, at Bethany; and on the evening of the 9th, after the sabbath had ended, the Supper took place in Martha’s house. On the following day, the 10th of Nisan, He entered Jerusalem as recorded in the Gospels. The Julian date for the 10th Nisan is Sunday the 6th of April, A.D. 32. What then was the length of the period intervening between the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the public advent of Messiah the Prince, between the 14th March, B.C. 445, and the 6th April, A.D. 32? The interval contained exactly and to the very day 173,880 days, or seven times sixty-nine prophetic years of 360 days, the first sixty-nine weeks of Gabriel’s prophecy.

In the footnotes on page 128, Anderson gives the following outline of his calculations of the sixty-nine weeks:

The 1st of Nisan in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (the edict to rebuild Jerusalem) was 14th March, B.C. 445. The 10th Nisan in Passion Week (Christ’s entry into Jerusalem) was 6th April, A.D. 32. The intervening period was 476 years and 24 days (the days being reckoned inclusively, as required by the language of the prophecy, and in accordance with the Jewish practice).

But 476 x 365 equal ……………………………..           173,740 days

Add (14 March to 6th April, both inclusive) ………….   24 days

Add for leap years …………………………………………..       116 days

173,880 days

And 69 weeks of prophetic years of 360 days (or 69 x 7 x 360) equals 173,880 days. (The Coming Prince, pp. 121‑128)

According to Anderson, the 69 weeks began with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and terminated at the time of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, just prior to his crucifixion. Luke’s account lends some credence to this idea,

Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it,

saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side,

and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:41-44).

This was the time Christ was rejected as the Messiah of Israel, and taken to the cross for crucifixion.

This leaves us with the seventieth week to be accounted for. What to make of it? Stay tuned next week!

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Please feel free to weigh in below.

Daniel’s Seventy Weeks – A Half-Millennium of Prophetic History

Elephants with Long Memories

A quick glance at some of the prophetic statements made by Jesus with respect to the end of the world (Matthew 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20) should point out the aforementioned connection with Daniel’s 70-weeks prophecy:

Therefore when you see the “abomination of desolation,” spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand) [cf. Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11]…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Matthew 24:15-16).

This was one of the signs given by Jesus with respect to his coming and the end of the world. Since Jesus involved the seventieth week of Daniel in “the end time,” it follows that understanding these “Seventy Weeks” will assist in proper interpretation of both Old and New Testament prophecy.

Before making a textual study of its parts, let’s read the prophecy as a whole:

Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.

Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.

And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.

Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate.
(Daniel 9:24-27)

The first thing we need to consider is the entire time period involved, which is specified as seventy weeks. The Hebrew here means, literally, “seventy sevens” – “seven” being a common designation for a week. It also can be a designation for a period of seven years (Leviticus 25:1-10), and this latter rendering makes the most sense in our context. Rendered as seventy seven-day periods, the timeframe in question is 490 days, or less than two years. It seems unlikely that Daniel would be told to seal up a prophecy that was only two years from fulfillment. The three major events – the restoration of the city, the advent and rejection of the Messiah, and the eventual overthrow of the city and nation – could not possibly be accomplished in 490 days.

Four-hundred and ninety years is the more feasible timeframe, and corresponds more nearly to the events that would transpire in the scope of the prophecy. Daniel had been meditating on the close of the seventy years of Babylonian captivity, and the angel now reveals to him a new period of “seventy times seven,” in which still more important events are to take place, resulting in the end of the Old Covenant age. Thus, each “week” stands for seven years, and “seventy times seven” establishes the full scope of this prophecy as a time period of 490 years.

These seventy weeks are further divided into three lesser periods of seven weeks, sixty-two weeks, and one week. The first division of seven weeks, or 49 years, was the time involved in the restoration of Jerusalem. This time was to be counted from the giving of the commandment to rebuild the city until the work was completed. From the rebuilding of the city until the “cutting off” of the Messiah was an additional 62 weeks, or 434 years. This makes a total of 69 weeks, or 483 years from the giving of the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem until Christ is rejected or cut off.

One of our difficulties is determining the exact start of the 70 weeks. There were actually several decrees given in regard to the restoration of Israel (See 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 6:3-8; Ezra 7:7). In these decrees, however, nothing is said concerning the rebuilding of the city. The first mention of city-restoration is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8, where, for the first time, permission is granted to rebuild. This was in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, which becomes our chronological starting point for this prophecy.

Join us next week as we take a deep-dive into Artaxerxes’ reign, and what it means for launching this prophetic arc.

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Please feel free to weigh in below.

Slavery and the Bible – How Could We Have Gotten It All Wrong? (Part 2) – Riley O’Brien Powell

Bible & Slavery

Do you believe in slavery? Would you hire a pro-segregation minister? Would you be part of a spiritual community that banned attendees of a different race? It’s likely that you would view a pro-segregation or pro-slavery minister today as someone who needed to turn in his badge and get a lot of prayer…and some theraphy.

Why did Christians in the past believe in – and preach – slavery and segregation from the Bible? Continuing our series How Could We Have Gotten It All Wrong?, let’s turn to one obvious and oft-cited culprit of slavery’s tolerance in Christianity: Scripture. Paul seems to advocate slavery in some of his New Testament teachings, like this one:

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches…Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you…each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.
1 Corinthians 7:17, 21, 24

This passage, and others like it, have been used to support the institution of slavery, around the world, and in America. However, looking closely at the context of this passage, one recognizes that the key to understanding what Paul is saying here is in the imminent time statements. Negligence of the imminence and the original context of Paul’s words regarding slavery have caused people to lose sight of their relevance to the original audience to whom they were written. These words have been used to justify immeasurable pain in countless people’s lives. Here are the coordinating key time statements.

Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is…What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short… For the present form of this world is passing away.
(1 Corinthians 7:26, 29, 31b, emphasis mine.)

Paul explains his reasoning for his command about slaves remaining in their current position rather than gaining their freedom is that he knew the time was short. He is teaching this because he believed that his world was passing away very soon. So because the world as we know it is still here, we must ask, what world is Paul talking about? Was he wrong, or are we misunderstanding him?

I believe a close examination of Scripture reveals that Paul is talking about the passing of the Old Covenant world or age.

When did Paul believe this would happen? Based on Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet Discourse and Peter’s teaching that they were in the Last Days – that is, in the 30s AD – Paul knew that the Old Covenant age would end before that generation of believers passed away. This is his consistent message through all of his teaching. Based upon Jesus’ same teaching, Paul also knew the End would be preceded by the Great Tribulation. So, Paul’s advice to his fellow believers was to focus on preparing for this ‘Day of the Lord’ by focusing on God, and not fighting to gain freedom. It seems he believed this spiritual focus would increase their chances to survive what they were about to go through.

Paul uses similar apocalyptic reasoning towards the Roman church regarding being submissive to their government’s institutions as well.

Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore….
Romans 13:11-12

Paul’s message was explicitly apocalyptic. He believed the end was near. And his teaching was taken to heart by the Romans and Corinthians in light of the soon-coming disaster that was on their horizon (Christians fled to Pella). Paul was not endorsing slavery as an institution for all people in all times, nor was he condemning government reform. He was not reversing God’s larger message about a just and merciful use of power, which rules out slavery and oppression. God made a bold statement against slavery as demonstrated in setting the Israelites free in the Exodus, the great climax of the Old Testament.

So if followers of Jesus are wrong to use these verses to justify slavery, then in what way – if any – might these apply to us today?

Through his message to the Roman and Corinthian churches, Paul was demonstrating that, for one, he took Jesus’ teaching about the coming Tribulation as truth – for them. And two, God confirmed the same warning through Paul as he did through Jesus – and the same timing, too. If we believe that what they said would happen actually happened, then this is a great confirmation of their authenticity; it lends credibility to our faith. In the text, Paul says his answer to their question was from the Lord. I am more apt to believe him, given that he was accurately warning people about the approaching Great Tribulation and end of the Old Covenant Age.

Returning to our American context, even after slavery was abolished in the United States in the 1860s, segregation was the official norm until the 1960s (and sadly it continues today most distinctly in religious institutions). Segregation was promoted, and inter-racial marriages were condemned in Bible-based, futurist preaching churches where Paul’s time-bound statements were endlessly projected into a never-arriving future.

For example, Bob Jones University, a conservative Christian college in South Carolina only repealed their ban on interracial dating in 2000. In an interview with CNN, then college President, Bob Jones III said he couldn’t back up the ban on interracial dating with Scripture. Then why did he enforce it?

Jones said the university first implemented the dating ban more than five decades ago:

Because we were trying…to enforce something, a principle…We stand against the one world government, against the coming world of the antichrist. The principle upon which it was based is very important, but the rule is not. So we did away with it. We realize that an interracial marriage is not going to bring in the world of antichrist.
(CNN U.S., March 30th, 2000)

It’s interesting that an institution would base their race-based dating ban on a fear rising out of their eschatology. If only Bob Jones had known that the world of the antichrist, Caesar Nero (whose name in Hebrew numerology adds up to 666, who ruled during the 3 ½ year Great Tribulation, and who church fathers have taught was the anti-christ for 2000 years) has come and gone.

For the majority of Jesus-followers in the world today, it seems there has been a shift away from accepting that God endorses racism, and away from using Scripture to support it. This didn’t come without a fight, however. The institutional church was forced to reassess how it viewed the teachings of certain Scriptures in the Bible and how they relate to the overall message of love for neighbor and the imago Dei, God’s image in us.

Unfortunately, without a contextually fulfilled view of Paul’s teaching, rejecting what he said about slavery is simply a matter of painting him as pro-oppression, and mistaken about an imminent ‘End,’ to boot!  The consequence of hope deferred, in addition to making the heart sick, is discrediting Paul, Jesus, and the unfolding narrative of Scripture.

Stay tuned as we examine other contested-and-discarded beliefs in this series!

RileyRiley O’Brien Powell earned her BA in Art History from Wheaton College, M.Div from Princeton Seminary, and M.A. in Education from Harvard University. She is a mother of four, raising them with her husband, Skip Powell, MD. She is a covenant participant and theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can find more of Riley’s writing on her blogs, at Living the Question and Mostly Raw Mom.

Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and Eschatology’s Timing Problem

Broken Down Vehicle

The timing of prophecy is important for its interpretation. Daniel’s prophecy of seventy weeks is meaningful to us not only because it deals with eschatological issues, but also because it is a prophecy with a strong, highly-specific time element. Based on the best dating for Daniel’s narrative timeframe, seeing the “weeks” as seven-year periods (the word for “weeks” simply means “sevens”) places us solidly in the first century by the time the seventieth week arrives. It is clear, given the nature of the prophecy, that Jerusalem’s destruction is the only event that can make sense of Daniel’s descriptions. Some of these descriptions must be recognized as figurative language, but the time element is clear. We can also recognize similarities between Daniel’s language and Revelation. In this – our next blog series on Eschatology 101 – we’ll explore Daniel’s prophecy in-depth.

If we see the destruction of Jerusalem – or the end of the Old Covenant age – as a tragic-yet-crucial event in God’s unfolding redemption, we should expect to find this theme significantly echoed in Scripture, especially in prophecy. Prophecy, if it is to have credibility, cannot be divorced from the time frame indicated by that prophecy.

If you’re an aspiring actor and you say ‘Someday I will be a star’ then we must give you some latitude in the timing of your screen debut: ‘someday’ is fairly vague. If, however, you say ‘Next week I am going to Universal Studios where I will become a star,’ then ‘next week’ is just as important as the location and the purpose of your journey. If you went to Warner Brothers, or sought a job as a makeup artist, or didn’t head for Hollywood for another month, your statement would be rendered meaningless. All of the elements are important. On the other hand, if you went to Universal Studios within the week, and landed a part in a successful movie, enjoying the life of Hollywood’s rich and famous, no one would question your credibility for not becoming a fiery ball of gases somewhere in the universe. It is clear to us that ‘next week’ is concrete language while ‘I’m going to be a star’ is figurative.

In biblical prophecy, this same analogy applies. A weakness of a lot of popular eschatology is the tendency to ignore the timing outlined in a prophecy simply because the historical events as the occurred do not match our understanding of what was to take place prophetically. It is more likely, however, that our concept is wrong, rather than the timing of the prophecy.

Daniel’s prophecy of seventy weeks is important to us not only because it contains the heart of Bible prophecy, but especially because it is a prophecy with a strong, specific timing element – this makes it the perfect test-case for our working hermeneutical key to eschatology:

Prophecy is figurative language revealing the spiritual meanings of temporal events.

Understanding the timing of Daniel’s prophecy might give us a key to understanding other related prophecies. In the coming weeks, we’ll explore precisely this. Stay tuned, and subscribe above if you haven’t yet!

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Please feel free to weigh in below.

The End of History – How Could We Have Gotten It All Wrong? (Part 1) – Riley O’Brien Powell

Edifice Complex

Early in my journey to a fulfilled eschatology perspective, I had the question, “How could the mainstream church have been so wrong for so long about eschatology?” I asked the question this way, because I held to the presupposition that God wouldn’t let the faith I grew up in be in error about something as significant as the timing and nature of the coming of Jesus for “most” of history.

I had the perspective that the majority of Christian thinkers – we often called them ‘Church Fathers’ – who interpreted Scripture and decided right belief and practice for the Church, were right about… nearly everything. And whatever the Early Fathers and Roman Catholic Church were wrong about, surely the Reformers fixed, I was taught. And if they had missed something big, certainly someone would have pointed out their error by now. And if someone had pointed out their error, surely mainstream Christians, faithfully following God, would have embraced this correction. So surely I would have heard of it by now.

To accept that mainstream Christian believers could miss or lose a Biblical view of eschatology for so long would turn my view of history – and how God shows up in history – on its head.

Why did I think what I did? It was mostly due to the presuppositions I held about God and time. If humanity is nearing the end of history – and most of my life I thought it was – then God should have given us all the answers by now, right? It only made sense. What would be the point of God allowing us to miss the truth and believe error for most of history?

But if Biblical prophecy has been fulfilled, and we’re living in the everlasting New Covenant age, then we’re just at the very beginning of this new era of spiritual communion and community. And if we’re still just starting out, as it were, then it makes sense that we’re only at the starting point of our learning. We’re still biting on the basics of what it means to know God. Maybe those ancients we revere are simply the starting point of our understanding all there is to know about God in Scripture – in which case the Church “Fathers” are more accurately likened to Church “Babes.”

Looking back at my lineage’s history from a distance, it’s easy to paint in broad strokes and to see institutional expressions of faith as the source of good and truth in the world – as the leader of justice movements rather than the oppressor, the ones on ‘God’s side’ of an issue. Sometimes this is true, but very often in history it hasn’t been the case. The church has been late to the ‘truth and justice party’ on a number of issues, ranging from human rights to scientific matters.

In fact, many beliefs that the people of faith resolutely hold as truth were first considered heresy. And the only reason communities changed their position was because a small group of people acted on their convictions about life, Scripture and God, making incredible sacrifices for the sake of the greater light that was dawning on them. And this small group of people, fueled by their passion for truth, made a difference, and became a large group of people. For better or worse, this is how we came to believe what we believe today.

But before greater light was widely recognized, there was opposition.

In the coming weeks we’re going to explore five landmark examples of ideas that people of faith once thought were heretical, but which are now accepted as truth. These are currently recognized religious errors that each took a long time to fix. But, thankfully, nearly all followers of God today admit that these past beliefs are untrue and that intuitional religion’s treatment of the people who opposed them was unjust. We’re not looking at these sincere-but-tragic beliefs to one-up our spiritual forbearers, but to be all more humble about what we may or may not know today. Stay tuned!

RileyRiley O’Brien Powell earned her BA in Art History from Wheaton College, M.Div from Princeton Seminary, and M.A. in Education from Harvard University. She is a mother of four, raising them with her husband, Skip Powell, MD. She is a covenant participant and theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can find more of Riley’s writing on her blogs, at Living the Question and Mostly Raw Mom.

Elements of New Earth


As we’ve been exploring, the seed of promise would remain – and indeed find fulfillment – in the new heaven and earth; further proof that these promises and prophecies of the new heaven and earth are in reference to the New Covenant world, the one that Abraham and his seed would inherit (Romans 4:13).

A passage difficult for some to apply to the end of the Old Covenant world is 2 Peter 3. This is true, however, not because the chapter defies such an application, but because the traditional view has always been in favor of the material heavens and earth. The power of tradition in influencing our understanding of Scripture is seen in a divided religious world. No one is entirely free of this power, although we would like to think that prejudice is the sin and weakness of the other fellow with whom we disagree.

If we look closely at 2 Peter 3 we can see three worlds: one that perished in the days of the flood, another one reserved for fiery judgment in the day of the Lord, and a new one in which righteousness would dwell. None of these three worlds have the space-time universe as their referent. The day of the Lord that would come as a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10) had reference to Christ’s coming in the destruction of Jerusalem. The same language is found in Revelation 3:3 and Revelation 16:15. Remember that John was writing of things that must shortly come to pass. The churches needed to know about these things so that they might not be overtaken by this thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:4).

Yes, the heavens would pass away with a great noise, as predicted by Christ in Matthew 24:35. What about the elements that would melt with fervent heat? This is often a sticking point with those who are not open to first-century fulfillment. The word elements in 2 Peter 3:10 is the same word translated elements in Galatians 4:3, “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.” Is this a reference to the periodic table? This does not seem likely. It is more a testimony to Peter’s consistent use of metaphor (heavens-earth-elements) than it is a defense of a literal destruction. To be sure, the destruction of Jerusalem involved fire, and fervent heat, which lends an almost eerie strength to the metaphors in question. Christ said in Luke 12:49:

I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Fire is a figure of speech to denote the full measure of God’s judgment:

His winnowing fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clean out his threshing floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12).

An understanding of these symbols of judgment should help us grasp the meaning of 2 Peter 3, and see the harmony of this text in relation to all others relating to the passing of heaven and earth. It was an event that they were looking for in their day, and had every right to expect in their generation, as Christ taught in his personal ministry (Matthew 24:34).

Applying 2 Peter 3:10 to this present material world creates a number of problems in our study of prophecy. To some, the coming of Christ is the beginning of a 1,000-year reign on the earth, but if 2 Peter 3:10 is the end of the space-time universe, Christ will have nothing over which to reign. If this destruction takes place after the 1,000-year reign, there are timing problems as well. Division exists in the premillennial camp as to when 2 Peter 3:10 will be fulfilled. Those who try to hold to the timing of the text and place the destruction at Christ’s coming are forced to interpret this destruction at least somewhat figuratively, an unwitting nod in our direction.

Those who place the destruction after the millennial reign are also in a tight spot, for 2 Peter 3:10 has the heavens and earth passing in the day that the Lord comes. Nothing is said about Christ’s coming, reigning a thousand years, and then the world’s passing away. Otherwise, the rapture of the saints happens 1,000 years too soon. The proper time and place to have a rapture would be at the destruction of heaven and earth, but they have the rapture at the coming of Christ, with the destruction of heaven and earth following 1,000 years later. All are not agreed on the time of the rapture, whether pre- mid- or post tribulation, but all agree that it takes place before the 1,000-year reign. This leaves the millennial saints without a rapture at a most critical time: the burning of heaven and earth.

The amillennialist is also faced with problems as a result of applying 2 Peter 3:10 to the space-time universe. First, since he has concluded that the world passing away is literal or material, he must now decide the nature of the new heavens and earth of 2 Peter 3:13. Is it a literal or spiritual world? Again, interpreters are divided on this question. However, if something in the text demands a literal application to the world of verse 10, why doesn’t the world – the new one of verse 13 – also demand a literal interpretation? What is the basis for saying one is literal and the other is spiritual? If such a change in the nature of the world is without textual support, why could not a reverse interpretation be made of the nature of these two worlds? If it is a matter of choice, we could have either spiritual, both spiritual, or both literal.

Another difficulty that arises out of the conventional view is that when Christ comes at the end of the world (this present literal world) all “the saved” are going to heaven and all “the lost” to hell. This makes the new earth of 2 Peter 3:13 a little superfluous, to say the least, unless God is going to put somebody there besides the saved or the lost! If that were true, Peter had no right to look for more than new heavens (2 Pet. 3:13, 14). But he said we look for both new heavens and a new earth. To insist on a literal interpretation here forces conclusions that seem a bit foolish.

As we have stated repeatedly, the best principle of interpretation will be determined by the harmony of thought and purpose that it advances, not only in one text, but also in every related text. Again, we see this harmony in 2 Peter 3, when we make application of this text to the two worlds typified by Abraham’s two sons. By putting the new heaven and earth of 2 Peter 3:13 in contrast to the Old Covenant world, which was soon to come under the fiery judgment of God and pass away, we can see a coherence and a harmony that no other interpretive system can claim.

What Peter said of the two worlds in 2 Peter 3 is the same thing that Paul said in his allegory of Galatians 4:21-31, the same thing prophesied in the Old Testament (Psalm 102:25-28; Isaiah 65:17-19), the same thing Christ said would happen in that generation (Matthew 24:1-35), and the same thing John saw in Revelation 21:1-3, which was at hand and shortly to come to pass: The end of one, time-bound, temporal, and bounded-set way of relating to God, ourselves, each other, and our world, and the beginning of a timeless, eternal, open-ended way of co-creating with the same.

Any other interpretation of heavens and earth results in interpretive chaos.

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Stay tuned! And weigh in below.

The Passing of Heaven and Earth

Planetary Metamorphosis

If our interpretation of the new heaven and earth is reflective of the biblical authors’ intent, we should expect to find an old heaven and earth passing away at the same time. Just as we looked at the coming of the new heavens and new earth, let’s take a look at the passing of the old to see if these passages make sense in a similar way.

First, there is Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 24, given in response to at least three questions asked by his disciples:

Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and his disciples came up to show him the buildings of the temple.

And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Now as he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:1-3)

If we miss the meaning of this passage, we will almost certainly head down a wrong-headed path in our eschatology. A common, and generally accepted, application of verse 3 is to apply the question on the destruction of the temple to that generation, but extend the questions on the coming of Christ and the end of the world far beyond that age – even to a time yet to come – and with reference to the end of the space-time universe. But the context of the passage does not allow this kind of interpretation without considerable violence to the text – a violence that we would not tolerate of any other passage.

Most Christians do not allow the text to say what it means because they won’t give themselves permission to think, even for a moment, that Jesus was speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem exclusively, and not the end of the universe. The most obvious answer is rejected out of hand by almost everyone who reads this passage.

There is nothing in the entire chapter of Matthew 24 to suggest that a division in time of nearly 2,000 years or more is necessary or spoken of. The disciples ask three questions relating to the same event and the same time of fulfillment. When the temple is destroyed, the world ends. The ending of the world is the coming of Christ. The coming of Christ is the fall of Jerusalem, or the destruction of the temple. From Matthew 24:4-14, Jesus speaks of things to come before the end of the world – that is, the Old Covenant age. The gospel was to be preached in the entire world for a witness –  and according to Paul this did, in fact, happen (See Colossians 1:6, 23; Romans 10:18). From Matthew 24:15-35, Jesus speaks of things to happen before and during his coming. The force of verse 34 is inescapable: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34)

All these things must refer to all of the things Jesus just mentioned, or he is guilty of a very strange use of language. Such a use of language falls outside any conventions of speech we know. It is clear from the New Testament writings that they took his words seriously: they anticipated fulfillment within their own generation.

Another attempt to support a conventional view of the second coming of Christ is to divide Matthew 24 between verses 34 and 35, and apply the latter portion of the chapter to some future time. This again is a strange use of language, or a strange way to compile Jesus’ teachings. Without a preconceived notion of the Second coming there is no coherent reason to divide this passage. Luke records the same teaching by Jesus but uses a different order. Luke was apparently unaware of more than one context for Jesus’ comments. See Luke 17 and compare Luke 17:37 with Matthew 24:28.

David wrote this concerning the passing of heaven and earth:

Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands.

They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed.

But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.

The children of Your servants will continue, and their descendants will be established before You

(Psalm 102:25-28).

On the surface this passage might appear to be a reference to the material heaven and earth, but a closer examination will reveal otherwise: “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands.” Laying the foundations of the earth is a common expression in Scripture, and seldom is it in reference to the temporal universe (See 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 1:4). The world in question is the Old Covenant world of the Law. David was speaking of a world formed after the calling of Abraham. “They will perish, but you will endure” (Psalm 102:26). This is similar to Hebrews 8:13: “…Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” David and the writer of Hebrews are in agreement here, and we must not take that agreement lightly. In fact, David’s prophecy is quoted word for word in Hebrews 1:10-12, and it is no strange coincidence that it appears in a context dealing with the coming in of Christ’s eternal kingdom, the theme of Hebrews 12:28.

Now look at the last verse, Psalm 102:28: “The children of Your servants will continue, And their descendants will be established before You.” After the old heavens and earth pass, Christ would remain, and his years would have no end (Ephesians 3:21). This was the substance of John’s message when he wrote these words:

And you know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him there is no sin.

Whoever abides in him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen him nor known him.

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for his seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:5-6, 9).

The Old Covenant Jew charged the New Covenant believer with sin, because he left the temporal system in accepting Christ. To the unbelieving Jew, this temporal system-departure entails a loss of identity with Abraham, placing one in a state of sin. But John answers these charges by showing that no sin is involved because his seed remains in him (Christ), and he who is in Christ has not been severed from the promised Abrahamic seed. Being born of God, therefore, or abiding in Christ where the seed now is, does not involve one in sin. This is further supported by Paul’s language in Galatians 3:29: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Join us next week as we see how Jew and Gentile alike – emblematic of all humanity – find their fulfillment in a New Covenant heaven’s and earth through the finished work of God in Christ.

Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Stay tuned! And weigh in below.