8. Translation of key Bible verses (a)

(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=8 )


It is estimated that, of 100 percent of Christians on earth, perhaps 90 percent are nonrapturists and 10 percent are rapturists. Of 100 percent of rapturists, perhaps 90 percent live in the States and Canada, and 10 percent do not. Of 100 percent of rapturists who do not live in North America, at least one half (maybe three-fourths) of them live in other English-speaking countries such as Great Britain and present or former Commonwealth countries. This suggests that there may be a connection between the rise of rapturism and the English translation of the Bible.

In earlier sections we traced the genealogy or “family tree” of rapturist theory from St. Irenaus to the present. The Gentle Browser may recall a comment that our discussion depends upon Anne Boleyn’s promotion of the English-language Tyndale Bible in the 1530s. The reason is that English was a fairly small language at the time. The Tudor monarchs intentionally campaigned to keep it small. Of course they never thought of it that way, but Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth the Great felt that since they were no longer of Rome, they no longer wanted their people exposed to “Roman” (Romance) languages and influences. The Tudors launched an “English pride” campaign to promote elegant English. Elizabeth’s patronage of (closet Catholic?) William Shakespeare was part of this campaign. The Stuart monarch’s King James Version of the Bible continued this campaign. Yet for all its beauty and majesty the KJV translation only uses about 8,000 different words.

This does not mean that the English language was too small to do justice to a Bible translation. Only a few terms did not translate. Several of those terms refer to eschatology or miracles.

As a result many English words were simply recycled. English speakers were expected to read the words in context. Perhaps the best known example is the many concepts translated as the English word “love.” The Hebrew text spoke of hesed, God’s “lovingkindness,” usually translated into koine Greek as agape (the fathomless love of God for humankind). The original Greek also spoke of storge (affection, also a familial bond); filial (the love-bond between parent and child, often with a hint of duty); eros (sexual bonding expression); and platonic (a bond between friends that is stronger than family bonds, named for Plato who considered it the highest form of interpersonal bond). Even to this day English speakers add more definitions. How many times have we heard someone say, “I love pizza.” “I love this television program.” Do these speakers love pizza or reruns the way they love their mothers, or their God? (We should hope not!) “Love” is even used as sarcasm, as in “It rained so hard that they cancelled the sports playoffs! Don’t you just love it?!”

One of the words that is recycled to communicate multiple koine words or concepts is “taken.” There are four major concepts behind the English word “taken.” The interpretation of these four concepts is part of the core theology of rapturist theory. It also is key to the nonrapturist response.

Translating the word “taken”

Taken (1) = “Translated” = to go from bodily life into bodily afterlife without experiencing the usual interval of death = slang, “Whooshed up to heaven”

It happened to Enoch (Gen. 5:24, supported by Heb. 11:5) and to Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12). (To this day the Jewish people set out an extra place at the supper table during Passover for Elijah’s return.)

The majority of Christians believe that humans live in the “house” of the body. They phrase it as, “I am a spirit (my species; God is a Spirit and I am created in the image of God). I live in a body (my house). I have a soul (my life-principle).” Having said that, the body’s experiences are our experiences; they become part of us. The mortal body is designed to live in the mortal realm. Unfortunately the mortal realm has a lot of sin in it. The mortal body, built with the building blocks of the mortal realm, responds to that sin. (To this the Catholics and some Protestants add a concept called Original Sin. This means that when a life-principle, a soul, is infused into a mortal body, the mortal body’s capacity for sin contaminates the metaphysical parts of the person as well.) The penalty for sin is death; therefore the body dies. However if the person is more than just the body, then the person can be salvaged. The person can be resurrected in a “glorified” body. Christian writers often compare it to a seed that must go into the earth and “die” to give birth to a new plant.

Now normally people have to experience bodily death to be resurrected in glorified bodies. To be “taken/translated” is to go from life to afterlife without experiencing the usual interval of death. The mortal body must transform into the immortal body to endure God’s presence. Christians believe that this will happen to anyone who happens to be alive on Judgment Day. To this rapturists add a belief that it will be granted as a special reward to Christians 1,007 + x years before Judgment Day. (Here 7 equals the seven years of Great Tribulation; 1,000 equals the years Jesus reigns as a physical king over physical Israel; and x equals an unknown length of time of the final rebellion/apostasy before Judgment Day. “X” could be as short as an hour or a day, or it could be as long as a week, a month, a year, several years.)

Rapturists believe that if Enoch and Elijah could go alive into the afterlife and get their glorified bodies on a day earlier than Judgment Day, then rapturists can too. In fact rapturists believe that God specifically promised to do this for them.

So why will we use the slang term “whooshed up to heaven” instead of the original term “translated”? Well, it is because the words “taken” and “translated” are both recycled.

When English speakers encounter the word “translated” they think, “oh, that means to communicate a thought in one language; to reconceptualize it in another language; and to communicate the thought in the second language.” This introduces an element that Christians prefer to avoid. That is, most Christians believe that the Jehovah’s Witnesses interpretation of life/death/afterlife introduces an element of reconceptualization that is incompatible with mainstream doctrine. (More on this in a moment.) Additionally, a linguistic “translation” is reversible. It even introduces the possibility of translational error. A classic example is the verse Matt. 26:41b: “For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Someone translated this verse into Russian. The sentence was translated back into English. It came back as, “The wine is agreeable, but the meat has spoiled.”

In the 21st Century English is an acquisitive and aggressive language. If the Bible had been translated into that English, it is possible we would have retained different words for “translated” (linguistics) and “translated” (the miracle). Instead we must use slang to make clear the difference. We will refer to “Taken (1) = translated” as “Whooshed up to heaven.”

Taken (2) = “Translated” = Moved around the earth like pieces on a chess board”

This happened to Ezekiel. “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones” (Ezekiel 37:1). Possibly it happened to Ezekiel additional times.

It also happened to Philip. In Acts 8:26-40 “an angel of the Lord” told Philip to get up and go someplace. Philip obeyed. He came to a highway where he met the Ethiopian treasurer. After Philip had converted and baptized him, “the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus …” (Acts 8:39-40).

“Transported” is another perfectly good word that has been recycled so often that we create more confusion by using it than by not using it. When people hear the noun “transportation” they think of planes, trains and automobiles. When people hear the verb “transported,” they either think of a criminal “transporting” stolen goods across states lines, or of a machine from Star Trek. Although all three derivates result in people or things moving about the mortal realm like pieces on a chessboard, none of these definitions have anything to do with miraculous interventions of God. They also do not move people or things the way that God does it.

The Star Trek machine in particular is a headache for Christians. Trekkies have always debated whether people die when they go through a transporter. This “transporter” takes people apart, all the way down to their quarks, pours the “matter stream” (i.e. the shredded body) in a specific direction, and then somehow reassembles the person at the new location even though there is no transporter receiving station in the desert, cornfield, or other destination site.

If that is not fantasy enough, the machine also can give a ghost a body (TNG “Lonely Among Us”) and store minds (souls? spirits?) in computers until bodies become available (DS9 “Our Man Bashir”). This fantasy machine can make young people old or old people young (TNG “Unnatural Selection” and “Rascals”). (According to these precedents, no one in the Trekverse ever needs to die. Plug an old lady into the machine and a young lady comes out! Of course this only works when the machine is not broken. It breaks down a lot.) The machine can split one sentience and deposit it into two bodies (TOS “The Enemy Within,” TNG “Second Chances”). There are only two things this machine cannot do. One, it cannot bestow sentience upon a body that never had any sentience. (The holodeck can. See TNG “Elementary Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle.”) And two—probably the more unforgivable, based on fan complaints—the transporter machine cannot give a bald man his hair again.

Star Trek’s “transporter” treats people like jigsaw puzzles. Characters can and do “die” when the machine loses too many pieces of the puzzle. That’s where things get messy. Since jigsaw puzzles have no souls, it does not harm them to assemble and disassemble them for travel. If people had no souls, then they could be stored in a “pattern buffer” (computerized suitcase or puzzle storage box) for, say, 75 years (TNG “Relics.”) The problem is that this wretched machine loses people all the time. Of course if people have no souls, then was anything of value lost? On the other hand, the film The Search for Spock insists that Spock has a soul. So on a third hand (not an uncommon occurrence in sci-fi), how can anything with a soul go through a transporter? As Trekkies complain, this would mean that the inventors of the transporter would have to figure out whatever “life” is and then persuade this “life” to follow the shredded body to its destination, and then re-animate it (time and time again). This is akin to putting a paper boat afloat at the source of a stream and hoping the boat reaches the river’s mouth. Even if the boat does not snag on a branch or sink in a whirlpool, the water at the river’s mouth is not even the same water anymore!

Thus a perfectly good biblical term (“transported”) has been appropriated by a modern fairy tale of pop culture.

Before we move on, we must ask, where have we seen the word “pattern” before? Why, it comes from the Jehovah’s Witnesses position on death and resurrection. Witnesses believe that bodily death is annihilation, extinction. The wicked cease to exist. Only the righteous shall see eternity. Well, what does that look like? Did Jesus rise? Witnesses say Yes. Did the body rise? Witnesses say No. Where did the body go? Witnesses say, most likely Jehovah dissolved it into gases, although possibly Jehovah hid it. The body could not be left in the grave because then people might think Jesus did not rise when Jesus certainly did rise. So, if the body did not rise, then did the soul rise? No, Witnesses argue that the soul is the same as the body, and that does not rise. Did Jesus’ spirit rise? No, Witnesses say the spirit is the breath, and that does not rise. Okay, so if Jesus’ body and soul and spirit did not rise, what was left of Jesus to rise? Here is the tie-in. Witnesses believe that Jehovah-God holds you/me/us in His memory and then creates someone with your “life pattern.” (Note: mainstream Christianity does not agree with any of this.) In the most respectful sense of the word, God remembers only your best.

The result is that a pop culture phenomenon called Star Trek appropriated a biblical word for a specific miracle to name their “transporter” machine—and appropriated Witness belief to explain how it works, to the great chagrin of multiple religious bodies. When God moved Ezekiel and Philip, these people were neither dissolved into gases nor shredded down to their quarks; they were not reassembled or re-created somewhere else. God gently picked them up (whole and alive) and put them down somewhere else on the planet (still whole and alive).

This is another instance in which it clarifies matters to use a term or phrase other than the actual biblical term. Instead of referring to “Taken (2)” as transported, we will refer to it as “Taken (2) = to be moved around the earth like pieces on a chessboard.”

Taken (3) = “Ecstatic vision” = (no slang equivalent)

This happened to Paul (2 Cor. 12:1-5) and to John the evangelist (Rev. 4:1).

This is another recycled word. In English the old word was “rapture”. The Latin Vulgate word before it was rapiemur. Fortunately almost no one refers to an ecstatic vision as a “rapture” anymore. (For that matter, they no longer refer to an ecstatic vision as feeling “transported”. Did we mention that the English language recycles far too much?)

In this case the question is, what does an ecstatic vision look like? There are two types. In one version, the ecstatic vision descends upon the person where he is. In the other version, the person’s consciousness is “taken” into the divine presence, is shown stuff, and is returned to earth to improve the world with that knowledge. Most biblical scholars agree that what happened to Paul and John was this latter version.

Remember how your host said that almost no one refers to an ecstatic vision as a rapture? There are exceptions, or at least borderline uses. (Your host remembers this because the two tele-sermons aired the same day.) On his television program the rapturist preacher Jack Van Impe cited Rev. 4:1 as proof that rapturists were promised the gift of being Whooshed Up to Heaven. By saying so, Van Impe did three things. One, he invoked prophetic perspective. Two, he unwittingly aggravated every Protestant critic of rapturism (even the ones who don’t know it yet). Three, he may or may not have crossed the path of another TV preacher, the mega-church virtuoso Dr. Frederick K.C. Price.

Item one: What is prophetic perspective? It is the belief that a prophecy can come true more than once. Riddlebarger (page 56) compares it to a mountain range.

As I stand in the greater Los Angeles basin and look toward the mountains to the northeast, I see a single mountainous ridge on the horizon. Yet if I were to drive directly toward the mountains, I would soon realize that what appeared to be a single ridge was actually a series of hills, valleys, and mountains separated by many miles. So it is with some Old Testament prophecies.

Christianity was born out of prophetic perspective. In Isaiah 7:14 Isaiah prophesied that a maiden would conceive and give birth to a son. Before this child would be weaned, the known world would see historic change. In Isaiah 8:3 a young woman (“the prophetess”) duly conceived and bore a son. Christians add that the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary also fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. (See Matt. 1:23 where Matthew uses the koine Greek word parthenos, meaning “virgin.”) As prophetic perspective is invoked to explain the beginnings of Christianity, so also it is invoked by some branches of Christianity to explain the end times.

Note that in this example “prophetic perspective” does not require the prophecy to come true in exactly the same way (just as two mountains in one range need not be exactly the same height). “The prophetess” of Isaiah conceived and gave birth in the usual way. Mary experienced something radically different. In Luke 1:35 the angel Gabriel tells the virgin girl, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” That word, “overshadow” in the koine Greek, well, Price interprets it that the closest English translation is “to envelop in a haze of brilliancy.” If the Gentle Browser has ever seen the old “home movie” test footage of the 1950s nukes, well, that’s a little like it. If a person is standing on the target when one of those nukes goes off, Things Change. And if a person is the target when the Holy Spirit “overshadows” her, Things Change. (Christians figure that a God who can turn a clump of earth into a man and who can turn a rib into a woman can figure out how to change a virgin into a virgin who can bear a child. No physical sexuality was involved, no touchy-feely happened.)

Item two: this is where “aggravating other Protestants” comes in. Most rapturists note that after Rev. 4:1 the word “church” is never again mentioned in the book of Revelation. The word “saints” can be found on almost every page, but the word “church” is gone. Some rapturists such as Van Impe maintain that this supports the belief that the church was Whooshed Up to Heaven in a “prophetic-perspective” fulfillment of Rev. 4:1. If the church remained on earth during a future and final Great Tribulation, surely they would be mentioned by name.

At this point every nonrapturist Protestant your host ever saw, metaphorically stood up and shrieked, “The church is the saints! They get upset because it reminds them of the Bad Old Days when Protestants and Catholics were still screaming at each other. Since the 1950s the nonrapturist Protestants and the Catholics have signed several “peace treaties.” Rapturist dialect and dialogue occasionally reopens old wounds. The mainline Protestant attitude is, “If we won’t let Catholics tell us who gets to be a saint, we sure won’t let some rapturists tell us who is a saint either.”

Item three: Did Van Impe’s invocation of prophetic perspective cross Price? Price preaches like a teacher: he uses overhead projectors, repeats and explains items as the visitors take notes, and speaks on the same subject for as many weeks as necessary to finish the lesson plan. (For example, his series on “Race, religion and racism” ran for 76 weeks. Van Impe is more “express-lane, 12 items or less.” Both approaches are valid and useful. It’s the content that is the issue at hand.) Your host recalls Price spending considerable time interpreting Rev. 4:1. His interpretation of what happened to John the evangelist goes like this: John went “in the spirit” to heaven and left his body on earth as a sort of living husk. Price does not know exactly how this would work, but since God created the human body it is enough that God would know how to do it. (The mortal body could not go to heaven because it could not withstand God’s presence. John did not get a glorified body because he would have to leave that body behind in heaven if he was to finish living his mortal life on earth. He simply stood in heaven disembodied. God would know how to do that, too.) John was shown stuff and put back in his mortal body to write about what he saw.

Now if that is what happened to John, it requires some tweaking to make this verse fit the beliefs of rapturists. Rapturists certainly do not want to leave their living husks behind. They firmly believe their bodies will be Whooshed Up to Heaven with their consciousness. They also do not expect to be put back on earth (in any kind of body) when they would be in danger. But in that case, what rapturists expect for themselves is not what happened to John.

As we mentioned earlier, prophetic perspective does not always compel two fulfillments of one prophecy to be identical in every detail; it may be enough for them to be part of the same mountain range. So Van Impe’s position is not vulnerable for invoking prophetic perspective in the sense of a prophecy fulfilled more than once. The issue is that a prophecy has to be fulfilled once before it can be fulfilled twice. Price merely interpreted the verse in question as being John’s “marching orders.” Therefore Rev. 4:1 was completed, but not as a prophecy. It was an ecstatic vision in which John was told to report to heaven, did so, saw stuff, went back, and wrote about it.

Having said that, it is possible that Price could be a rapturist himself and your host does not know it. For starters, your host has never actually seen him preach on the end of the world. (He might have and we missed it.) Officially Price calls his mega-church nondenominational. When pressed, he admitted that its “genealogy” used to be neo-Pentecostal. In theory this would place his mega-church inside the rapturist fold. In reality Price is reputed to belong to the “Word of Faith” school. This school has a reputation for making some attempt to make Christianity relevant to this life, not just to the next—less so than the Social Gospel school but more so than the rapturist school. Although Price would be familiar with prophetic perspective, and could be a rapturist, Rev. 4:1 is probably the one verse he would not use; it is the weakest link in the chain. Paul and John had ecstatic visions. Then they re-entered their mortal lives in the mortal world, lived, and died, as billions of humans have done before and since.

Anyhow … “taken (definition 3)” is fairly easy to understand. “Taken (3)” = ecstatic vision.

(Next stop: Translations (b): To be continued with Definition #4)


Author: The_Old_Maid_of_Potluck

Author of Potluck2point0: The resource formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net (a.k.a. My humongous [technical term] study of "What's behind 'Left Behind'").