Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The End of the World? Again?

Last year the media was abuzz with Harold Camping's prediction that May 21, 2011 was when the rapture would happen and the world would begin to come to an end. As my readers know, I didn't buy it for numerous reasons the first of which being that I don't believe in a rapture (see my previous post for why I am not worried about May 21).

Camping has since retired after making at least a third incorrect prediction (he later switched the date to October), Luckily there was a worthy replacement waiting in the wings. The Mayan Calendar, it is claimed, stops in December 2012, which some interpret as the date the world will end. Once again I am not buying it.

It seems that there is a new "end of the world" prediction every couple of years.  The turn of the millennium fueled the fires of paranoia as people feared the Y2K melt down, that also never happened.

One favorite past time of some is to pair current events with Bible prophecies, the book of Revelation in particular. Some approach Revelation as the key to it all. I have suggested before that Revelation is not a road map to the future. Over at the Huffington Post Greg Carey, Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, lays out some reasons why New Testament scholars think this way. Here is a bit of what Carey says:

Here's the truth: no academic interpreter of Revelation understands the book as a roadmap for the future, much less as telling contemporary Christians that these are the last days. Instead, scholars understand that Revelation originally spoke to the conditions of its own time and place. It offered a specific group of first century Christians not only hope for the future but also an interpretation -- a "revelation" -- of the world they inhabited. In other words, the best way to understand Revelation does not require an official Dick Tracy Apocalyptic Decoder Ring. We best understand Revelation when we read it like any other ancient text, in its own historical and cultural context. 
What makes biblical scholars so certain that Revelation does not provide a roadmap for the future? Two basic considerations lead us to this conclusion. 
First, the book itself insists that it's addressed to a specific group of churches to speak to their own circumstances. Second, we know a lot about the kind of literature Revelation represents. Revelation is an apocalypse, a form of literature with which biblical scholars have grown quite familiar. 

I agree with much of what Carey has to say (you can read his whole article here). My only quibble with him is his claim that "no academic interpreter of Revelation understands the book as a roadmap for the future". Either Carey doesn't get out much or he has a more narrow view of who is an "academic interpreter." And some readers of this blog would take strong exception to him suggesting that they are not academic interpreters. Otherwise, it is a good article that gives a perspective on how Revelation is interpreted in its historical and literary setting.

In the mean time, if you are still unsure about the Mayan Calendar, here is a cartoon that gives, I think, a better interpretation



  1. Hey, don't forget Nostradamus. I think he has some world ending event scheduled for this year, too.

  2. Re the cartoon: and people say the ancients don't have a sense of humour. Clearly they do. :-)

    Or, maybe I find it funny because it sounds like something I would do.

  3. We probably just haven't found the Mayan Calendar, part 2. Sequels are never as popular as the original.

  4. If the end of the world was listed in a document I highly doubt the information would be given out freely as to prevent mass hysteria. Truly any of these predictions should be taken with a beer and a lime.

  5. Jesus Himself said that no one knows the time or date. When someone starts making news by predicting the end of the world, I rather think God chuckles as He marks that date off the list of options. He would not make the world end on a date that a human suggested; that would take His glory, and He will not allow that.