Salvation’s Song – How Could We Have Gotten It All Wrong? (Part 6) – Riley O’Brien Powell

Absolut GraceDo you believe that you need to do things or pay money to earn your salvation?

Institutional Christianity lost sight of the sheer gift of divine reconciliation for a long time, only beginning to recover an inkling of it in the 1600s.

As priest and chef Robert Farrar Capon put it,

The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.
(Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace)

It was only after the sacrifice and insistence of a few, based upon their convictions from scripture, that bands of believers recovered the idea of salvation by grace through faith. Those who, like Martin Luther, read New Testament letters themselves and saw a message of salvation different from the institution, were threatened with their lives.

This one, in particular, struck me: How could the church lose sight of redemption and reconciliation at God’s initiation – the very heart of Jesus’ message? How could this happen? Furthermore, attempts to recover it were adamantly opposed by the mainstream religion for a long time. When Reformers tried to recover it, arguing from Scripture, they were met with great opposition. This heart of Good News was recovered through great sacrifice – even martyrdom. The call to reform, to re-examine assumed truths, set off an entire Reformation against the established beliefs, mainstream practices and institutionalized ‘truths’ of the church.

This particular paradigm shift – the Protestant Reformation – was forged into the mainstream of Christianity and into the minds of believers, by great intentionality against the established norms. Today, these gains are taken as a given. Debated still, but you won’t be jailed or threatened with death in most places around the world for affirming God’s accomplished redemption of humanity.

Looking back, many Christians today would agree that these changes – big, vast, scary to the original people experiencing them – were necessary improvements in the life of faith and everyday spirituality.

Most importantly, these changes give modern believers access to an ever-clearer vision of what an All-in-all God and co-creative humanity looks like.

It is more harmonious with our sacred Narrative, and bears more beautiful fruit:

I believe God, as the ultimate scientist, supports human scientific discovery because all creation bears witness to the glory of God. I believe the heart of Jesus’ message, and the consistent belief of every New Testament writer, is that salvation – making friendship with God through faith in Messiah – is a free gift of God’s grace, poured out upon everyone.

I hope these “Five S’s” serve to remind us how far we’ve come, and cause us to be open to reflecting upon the necessary changes we need to embrace in the future. Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with just a small handful of religion’s former erroneous beliefs, hopefully we can more clearly see that the community of faith is a work in progress.

When I assess contentious issues today in the evolving landscape of faith and practice, I think of these past mistakes and they humble me. What are we not seeing today? What beliefs do we hold today that our spiritual communities will teach the opposite about in the future?

Covenant Eschatology, for one. A fulfilled and open Story. It is time for a major paradigm shift in our hearts and communities so we can get on with embodying the Goose News and loving a world in need. Lets not waste any more time waiting in a holding pattern for someone else to come down and fix things for us.

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 – Six Promised Blessings

FirstFruits
Before leaving the seventy weeks of Daniel, let us take a look at the six blessings to be ushered in at the end of that time period. Keep in mind that the first part of Daniel 9 contains Daniel’s confession of the sins of Judah and Israel, and his plea for mercy and pardon. He prayed for the restoration and divine acceptance of Jerusalem. It was during the course of this prayer that Gabriel came to give him understanding of Israel’s future, and inform him that “seventy weeks” must first pass before his prayer would be answered.

It is here where the six blessings that were to come are named:

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 (Daniel 9:24).

Seventy weeks are given to the people and the holy city, which means that Israel’s restoration and blessings could be expected at the end of that time. This would bring us to the time of the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

But how can a people and a city be destroyed and blessed at the same time?

Actually Daniel’s prophecy includes both blessings and curses, all in the same “week.” The blessings promised were to be received by the new or heavenly Jerusalem of Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22; and the one envisioned by John which appeared after the end of the old heaven and earth.

On the other hand, the city and people destined to destruction were temporal Jerusalem and the people contained in her. These two cities and their children were to receive their rewards simultaneously, at the coming of Christ, in this final week of Daniel’s prophecy. Ishmael and Isaac were permitted to co-exist for a while, but Isaac’s blessing and inheritance demanded the casting out of Ishmael, the child born of the flesh. Even so, Daniel’s prayer for Israel (the true seed) could not be answered until the end of the seventieth week, when the tares were separated from the wheat (Matthew 13:37-43; Matthew 3:12).

The six blessings promised to Daniel’s people were to come in fullness not on Pentecost, but the fall of Jerusalem, because the perfection of Old Testament saints depended upon the victory and acceptance of the “firstfruits” of the gospel. According to the law (Numbers 15:18-21; Leviticus 23:10-11); a firstfruits offering had to precede the gathering of the harvest, and this firstfruits offering made that harvest holy. James calls the early believers “a kind of firstfruits” (James 1:18). Their suffering, growth, and eventual perfection and victory (pictured as the 144,000 of Revelation) paved the way for the rest of the harvest – that is, all humanity. This is the import of Hebrews 11:40, “God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”

The suffering of the firstfruits (New Testament saints) in overcoming their present world, or age, led not only to their own perfection, but also to the perfection of Israel. The resurrection of the firstfruits resulted in the resurrection of the Old Testament saints. It was in view of this truth that Paul asked, “Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29). Paul’s argument here concerning the resurrection of the dead is based on the law of the firstfruits. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then there can be no harvest of Old Testament saints.

If there is no harvest, why should there be an offering of the firstfruits? Why should gospel saints be baptized, suffer, strive to bring the faith to perfection, if such sacrificial labor does not result in the establishment of a paradigm through which both the firstfruits and the harvest are accepted by God?

These are the questions we’ll explore 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.

Scripture’s Scarcity – How Could We Have Gotten It All Wrong? (Part 5) – Riley O’Brien Powell

Holy Writ
Do you believe that it should be illegal for non-“specialists” to own a copy of the Bible and read it? Can you imagine living in a time when it was against the law – the law of the official state religion – to own a Bible? Welcome to the Middle Ages in Europe. This was the position of the Roman Catholic Church until the 1600’s. Many people were burned alive simply for advocating that non-clergy ought to be able to read their own a Bible. For most of Christian history, ministers gave only themselves the right to read the Bible. They had exclusive rights to interpret what it said (hence practices like the selling of indulgences could become rampant).

The irony? Today pastors teach the opposite. In fact, many people feel guilty if they don’t read the Bible every day and do ‘devotionals.’

To give more detail on this, in the 1300s, John Wycliffe was a Roman Catholic in good standing with a doctorate in theology. He took issue with certain Roman Catholic beliefs. He believed that Scripture cut through confusions in belief to reveal truth. He did not agree with papal infallibility; he is considered to be a precursor to an important shift, the Reformation.

Wycliffe also produced the first complete English version of the Latin Bible, the Vulgate, making Scripture available to the common person. This was considered a heresy at the time. Having and reading a Bible was heretical. The Council of Constance declared Wycliffe in 1415 to be a heretic and under the ban of the Church. Because Wycliffe was considered a heretic, church officials dug up his bones (decades after he died!) and burned them for opposing their authority.

Can you imagine? It was decreed that his books be burned and his remains be exhumed in 1428. At the command of Pope Martin V, his remains were dug up, burned, and the ashes cast into the River Swift.

…and now, Scripture: important aspects of our lives and spirituality that we can be tempted to see as frozen in time, fixed in their place in the universe. When in fact, our attitudes toward each of these has continued to refine – and I believe, improve – over time. What might God be calling us to rethink next..?

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 – An End to Sacrifice

Letting GodThe first half of Daniel’s prophesied seventieth week is pictured in Revelation 11, which is a tribulation period for the saints:

And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.

And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.

These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them (Revelation 11:3-7).

Something happened in the middle of the seventieth week that stoked the fires of the Jewish people against the Romans, and this marked the beginning of unparalleled tribulation and destruction for the Jewish people. John doesn’t tell us what exactly happened, and there isn’t much in secular history to tell us. In A History of the Jewish People in The Times of Jesus by Emil Schurer, we have what might be a clue. Because of the people’s distaste for the Roman governor, Florus, efforts were made to have him removed as governor, but to no avail. This laid the foundation for more drastic action in expressing hostility toward Rome. Schuler records this information, as taken from Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 11.17, 2-4,

At the instigation of Eleasar, son of the high priest Ananias, it was now also resolved to discontinue the daily sacrifice for the emperor, and no longer to admit of any offering by those who were not Jews. The refusal to offer a sacrifice for the emperor was equivalent to an open declaration of revolt against the Romans. All attempts of the principal men, among the chief priests as well as among Pharisees, to induce the people to recall this foolhardy resolution were in vain. They firmly adhered to the decision to which they had come. (A History of the Jewish People in The Times of Jesus, pp. 245‑247.)

Interesting in this bit of history is the fact that a daily sacrifice was being made for Nero, the emperor. We are not sure when this practice started, but it speaks of the friendly relations between Rome and Israel up until the time (reflected by Josephus’ lamenting its ending, above) the daily sacrifice was taken away, which was some time in the fall of A.D. 66. This seems to be the catalyst for the beginning of the war of Rome against the Jewish people, which reached its climax in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the summer of A.D. 70.

We can see Daniel’s prophecies coming to fruition in the course of history. Regarding an “end of sacrifice and offering” prophesied in Daniel 9:27, a strong case could be made for this being the end of the sacrifice on behalf of Nero, but this may not be the only explanation. It may also have reference to the cessation of the Jewish sacrifice within the temple, which had continued up until this time. But according to history, did not actually cease until sometime in July of A.D. 70, due to famine and lack of manpower. It is possible that the cessation of the sacrifice and oblation has typical reference to the daily, sacrificial, evangelistic labors of the saints on behalf of Israel from Pentecost. In any case, when it came to the sacred efforts of the age – be they imperial cult, Old Covenant faithfulness, or covenant-transition in-gathering, the end had come – time could be no longer (Revelation 10:6-7).

And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.

He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.

And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work…”

He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:10-12, 20).

Daniel 9:27 continues, “And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate…” This could likely have been the coming of the Roman Commander, as affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 24:15. It also suggests Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 23:38: “See! Your house is left to you desolate.” The seventieth week pictures the casting out of Ishmael and the rise of Isaac. It’s the end of the world as they knew it – the cessation of their old world and the beginning of the new, as predicted in Matthew 24 and envisioned in Revelation.

Join us next week as we look at the six blessings also promised in this unusual prophetic text.

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.

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?

No?

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

Artaxerxes
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.