The Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:1 iii)

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show show to his servants the things that must soon take place. (Revelation 1:1, ESV)

The Things that Must Soon Come to Pass

The opening verse of this book undermines all interpretations that try to make John’s Revelation a coded history of current events. As Craig Koester helpfully recounts in the first part of his concise commentary Revelation and the End of All Things, there is a long history of misinterpreting Revelation in this way. All such interpretations have one thing in common, the predictions they make never come to pass. Modern dispensationalists now avoid making predictions and so resort to probabilities. This kind of thinking leads to ridiculous concepts like the Rapture Index. So, when John writes that God wished to show his servants “the things that must soon take place”, the “soon” refers to those things that the intended recipients of John’s letter were experiencing and about to experience.

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The Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:1 ii)

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. (Revelation 1:1-2, ESV)

“Revelation”, the common english translation of the greek word “apocalypsis” (αποκαλυψις) which opens this text, is such a familiar term that its basic meaning is almost lost to our ears and eyes. Similarly, the term “apocalypse” has come to refer to any large-scale catastrophic event that threatens the extinction of humankind and life as we know it i.e. zombie apocalypse. (Pace Rick Grimes et al.)

But slow down and listen to the text. John’s first readers did not have this linguistic and cultural baggage hanging on these terms. They were not dispensationalists. There was no such thing as guns or atomic bombs. They had not heard of global warming. John and his early readers had their own linguistic and cultural milieu which shaped their understanding of the term “apocalypse” and the other terms, allusions, and images John uses throughout this prophetic letter to the Christian communities in first century Asia Minor. Like learning a new language, it takes some mental effort and yes some reading and research to understand and interpret an ancient text, including those included in our Scriptures.

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“Moore” Relevant Biblical Passages

Whitewashed Tombs

In the wake of the allegations against Judge Roy Moore, many American evangelicals are pulling out the defences, excuses, and verbal acrobatics that they used in the face of the myriad sexual allegations against then candidate Donald Trump, especially in the wake of the Access Hollywood recording in which Trump confesses his predatory habits and even identifies the approaching female host as a potential victim should the opportunity arise. Alongside multiple accusations of inappropriate sexual advances, Moore has been accused of assaulting women as young as 14 years old. The accusations against Moore come amidst a wave of such allegations that hopefully reflect a sea change in American culture that will allow women and girls to come forward more quickly and while the cases may still be prosecuted. I hope this trend in the U.S. spills across the border into Canada as well.

As they do in relation to Trump, many self-professing American evangelicals are taking comfort in and finding refuge behind ill applied biblical passages to diminish the voices of Moore’s accusers and maintain their loyalty to the Republican Party. In a culture in which being Republican and being an evangelical Christian are often treated as synonymous, one’s loyalty to the party now trumps (pun intended) one’s loyalty to creed or historic standards of Christian morality. For many people (including some white male evangelical Christians like myself), the level of hypocrisy is so patently obvious that I’m surprised it does not produce a detectable stench. If I read the Psalms and prophets correctly, it is a stench in God’s nostrils.

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XBox 360 and a Fasting 180

Fasting has been a part of Christian worship from the beginning. Yet, fasting is an oft neglected discipline at least for much North American Protestantism especially those with an aversion to liturgical calendars.

In Christian circles, we often put those who engage in spiritual disciplines on a pedestal. And yes, we are right to point to those teachers and mentors who worthy of emulation. Yet, in doing so, the “ordinary” Christian can use this lionizing of fellow saints often serves an excuse for our inability to do likewise. Moreover, I think sometimes it causes us to misunderstand the very men and women we are exalting.

This thought occurred to me during a Sunday School class when the topic of fasting came up. As we spoke, I became aware that our common assumption was that great men and women in the history of the Church engaged in fasting in order to pray and commune with God. And there is ample evidence in the texts we have in the tradition to validate and confirm that this assumption that fasting can enhance and lead to deeper prayer. Yet, as I facilitated this discussion, I experienced one of those wonderful paradigm shifts. Continue reading “XBox 360 and a Fasting 180”

Noah and the Flood — What’s Going on in Genesis 6-9 Part 2: Living Idols

At the end of this post, some of you may be wondering what all this has do with my promise to explain what I think is going on in the story of Noah and the Flood. Yet, I ask your patience and refer you back to my insistence that context literary, canonical and historical is of utmost importance when it comes to interpreting Genesis 6-9. (Previous Post)

In the Image of God

Recent discoveries (relatively speaking) have shed light on the meaning of many biblical phrases and concepts that share resonances with similar phrases and concepts in the broader Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context. Continue reading “Noah and the Flood — What’s Going on in Genesis 6-9 Part 2: Living Idols”

Noah and the Flood — What is going on in Genesis 6-9? Part I: The Big Picture

Given the amount of posts that I have devoted to a critique and satire of the teaching of Ken Ham and his organization Answers in Genesis, I think it is about time that I presented my own views of this well known but often poorly understood narrative. (See Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis Posts)

The first thing to note about this story is that it does not appear in isolation and should not be treated as such. Furthermore, the narrative as we currently have it was written at least 2500 years ago and this historical reality ought to inform our interpretation of the text as well. Continue reading “Noah and the Flood — What is going on in Genesis 6-9? Part I: The Big Picture”

#POPChrist Goes to the Ark Encounter — Part 2: The Lower Deck

This post continues the series about my trip to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter. If you want to read from the beginning, then follow this link.#POPChrist Goes to the Ark Encounter — Part I: Ken Ham’s Parking Lot

Ken Ham’s Ark has three decks which are divided thematically pre-flood, during the flood, and post-flood.

Photo Op to Photo Shop

Immediately before entering the Ark, a photographer directs the visitor to stand in front of a blue screen for a photo. In the gift shop, you can purchase a photo of yourself with Ark Encounter themed images in the background. Of course, Joel and I purchased our photos for posterity’s sake. Now, even in this first week, the Ark was not terribly busy. Had it been busier, I wondered at the logistics of stopping people for photos. This process seemed to have the potential for being a log jam in the future. A “gopher wood” log jam, of course.

Boarding the Ark

As I boarded the Ark, a virtual jungle of animal sounds filled the atmosphere. I found myself surrounded by small wooden cages stacked floor to ceiling. The calls and whistles of various birds, the chattering of small rodents, the yowling of cats, and even the hiss of snakes could be heard coming from the small cages. Cool!, I thought.

Ham has stated that he wanted the Ark Encounter to be something akin to an exhibit that you might find at Disney or Universal. In this initial moment, I was reminded of the awesome transformation of sunny California afternoon to cool New Orleans evening on the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland. So far, Ken, not bad.

Each cage had a clay feeder and water trough which would have been easily accessible to Noah and his family. The cages are spaced apart in such a way that feces can be gathered easily. However, the cages were designed so that the visitor cannot see into them. The sounds suggest the presence of many small “animal kinds” that Ham posits were on Noah’s Ark.

Okay, I thought, that’s not a bad way to save some money and still get a number of animals on the Ark. It was a cool effect and I was ready for more. Keep in mind, as much as I am critical of Answers in Genesis, I was truly hoping that the exhibit itself would be like a ride at Disneyland maybe more Pirates than Star Wars but I wanted it to be genuinely entertaining. After all, Joel and I spent real money to see this thing. Yet, I came away disappointed because there were far fewer animals on Ham’s Ark than I anticipated and none of them were animatronic but that’s another deck.

Wooden cages with wooden feeders and clay watering devices. The cages are designed so that you can’t see into them. It gives the illusion of many animals.


Walls of clay jars that one can imagine carrying the various foods for the animals aboard the Ark.
Like the small cages, the visitor will see pots lined floor to ceiling along the walls. These represent the food for the animals. Remember, they need a year’s supply of food for everything from rabbit-kind to velociraptor-kind. Wait, I guess they can feed the rabbit kittens to the velociraptor pups.

The Pre-Flood Story

On the lower deck, through a series of visuals mostly consisting of posters (often tedious to read), the visitor is told Ken Ham’s version of the biblical narrative from Creation to the Flood. It is a truncated version of Ham’s Creation Museum.

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I say Ken Ham’s version for as much as he claims to be offering a plain reading of the text his version includes many details that are not found in the text and, in my view, distort and distract from the meaning of the text. For instance, Ham’s version includes dinosaurs.

I did not expect dinosaurs to play as large a role in Ham’s narrative as they do but there are dinosaurs around every corner. For instance, one will find dinosaurs in every portrayal of the paradisal Garden. But turn the corner and in illustrating the violence of humankind before the flood, Ham depicts human beings slaughtering triceratops for their horns much like modern humans slaughter rhinoceroses. In Ham’s theory, it is human activity of this type and post-diluvial environmental factors (like the one ice age) that wiped out the dinosaurs.

I am truly baffled that Ham’s view of the dinosaurs is not enough to cause even some of the more credulous Christians to question Answers in Genesis’s ability to interpret historical data let alone be trusted to interpret scripture for them.

Disgruntled Workers and Religious Fanatics

There were very few animatronic displays far fewer than I would have imagined. In one of the displays, Noah’s hired workers (another eisegetical moment) are complaining about the work and describe Noah as a religious fanatic.

Like the whole AIG narrative, this scene is more modern than ancient. If Noah was a historical figure and truly a monotheist and who in accordance with the later Mosaic law had no image of his deity among polytheists who worshipped images, then it is more likely that his contemporaries would have accused him of atheism and not being devoted enough to the gods. If there was a great flood coming, then maybe it was because Noah and his family had ticked off the gods by not worshipping them properly (see Job’s friends). As the other extant flood narratives suggest, it did not take much to annoy a god to the point of mass extermination. In one narrative, human beings are just to noisy and the gods can’t sleep. Anyway, his contemporaries would not scoff at the idea of a god causing a natural disaster. Rather, they would ask which god and likely try to appease them all just in case.

Yet, despite Ham’s claims to the contrary, he and the folks at AIG are not interested in historical accuracy but in the us vs. them narrative of the culture war. So, Noah begins to look a lot like Ken Ham and Noah’s critics begin to sound a great deal like the New Atheists (and frankly like anyone who is critical of AIG teaching). The fate of these scoffers is as follows.


Now, I will say that I enjoyed the detailed miniatures more than anything else in the exhibit. There is something about looking at a scale model world and a scale model Ark that is fascinating like a good detailed model train set. So, to end on a positive note, here are some of the images from the lower deck.

Notice Ken Ham’s inconsistency. Here he clearly has the modern giraffe and not his hypothetical notagirafficorn.

Princess Leia has a cameo.

The Young-Earth Hyper-evolution Hypothesis: A Collection of Critiques

Joel Duff, Thanks for this collection of your posts on hyperdrive evolution.

Naturalis Historia

A pair of ?? on the Ark Encounter. I am not sure. I think they might from an extinct group but there was no sign. Visitors are left to guess what they were and might have become. There was also a pair of "walking whales" on the Ark which I recognize but I could not get a good picture of them. Photo: Joel Duff A pair of ?? on the Ark Encounter. I am not sure. I think they might from an extinct group but there was no sign. Visitors are left to guess what they were and might have become. There was also a pair of “walking whales” on the Ark which I recognize but I could not get a good picture of them. Photo: Joel Duff

Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter presents it visitors with exhibits with odd-looking creatures and explains that just 4350 years ago these were the common ancestors of  animal species we know today.  How and when did this transformation of “kinds” into thousands of species happen? At present, the consensus among young-earth creationists is that Noah’s Ark contained far fewer species of land animals than exist today even when extinct animals are considered. Therefore they have concluded that the vast majority of species have come into existence, or evolved if you prefer…

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Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter Opens to a Flood of Press but Fewer Visitors than Anticipated

Here is Joel Duff’s initial take on the financial success of Ken Ham’s Ark. I’ll post more soon but have been busy with my move back to Canada and all that that entails.

Naturalis Historia

Ken Ham posts a picture and comment almost daily on Twitter about the thousands or of visitors that are flocking to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum each day.  I would expect nothing less from any leader responsible for the success of a 100 million dollar theme park.  The very existence of the Ark Encounter owes itself to his ambition and desire to have it built.  A large part of his job is promotion and he is doing it to the best of his ability.

Noah's Ark, the featured attraction at the Ark Encounter theme park. I took this picture at about 10:30 am Friday, July 22. You can there are a few people circling around to go the entrance (right side below the ark). Just a few people taking pictures where I stood. Photo: Joel Duff Noah’s Ark, the featured attraction at the Ark Encounter theme park. I took this picture at about 10:30 am Friday, July 22. You can there are a few people circling around to go the entrance (right side below the ark). Just a few people taking pictures where I stood. Photo: Joel Duff

Ken Ham is rightly proud that his vision has come to reality.  I am sure…

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7 Books to Begin Better Bible Reading

Begin the Journey Today

Whether you are a follower of Christ for whom the Bible is authoritative or simply interested in the Bible as a significant historical document or literary artifact, the following books will help you understand the various genres and the approximately 2000 years of history that it covers from the life of Abraham thru the early Christian Era.

This list of titles offers you a place to begin understanding the Bible. It is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive. I have listed them in order of difficulty and the order I would suggest the complete novice read them. Click on the Titles to follow the links to Amazon to take a closer look and see what others have to say about these books.

1. The Big Picture Story Bible w/ CD by David Helm with illustrations by Gail Schoonmaker (Crossway Publishing)

This delightfully illustrated children’s book (that’s right, I said, children’s book) will do what the the title suggests. It will give you the big picture.image

Unlike many children’s books and sadly many introductory texts to the Bible, Helm and Schoonmaker take you through the entire history of Israel from the creation narratives thru John’s visions. Helm includes parts of Israel’s history like the exile that rarely (if ever) appear in the children’s Bibles. Moreover, visually and verbally they trace some of the major themes that tie the Biblical stories together, i.e. kingship, creation, redemption.

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When I teach Christian Scriptures to college freshman, I have my students read this book and encourage them to read it again and again. I have found that most Christians do not have a good sense of the order of events in the history of Israel. Through something as simple as this beautifully illustrated children’s book, you can develop a good foundational understanding of the history of Israel and literally begin to see key biblical themes. It will function like an overture before a symphony, a playbill before seeing the play. A synopsis of Hamlet is very helpful before you see or read Hamlet for the first time. Without such an overture or synopsis, it is easy to get lost in the details or mired down in lists, names, and places.

I highly recommend this book for you (and the children in your life).

2. How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart introduce you to the basics of biblical interpretation. As part of this process, they walk you through the various genres of literature that are found in the Bible, ancient letters, apocalyptic literature, historical narratives, poetry, etc.image

If you think that all movies are documentaries, then you are likely to be very confused when you go to a Marvel movie or you will get very frustrated by the historical inaccuracies of something like Gladiator (Does anybody else remember Whose Line is It Anyway?’s Drew Carey and his beef with this movie? Prime example of genre error and frustrated expectations.) Many Biblical readers pay little attention to the type of literature that their favorite verse is found in or even who is saying them. This flattening of the text and ignoring context leads to some ironic situations i.e. someone taking a quote from one of Job’s friends for their life verse.

3. How To Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

This book serves as a companion volume to How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth. As the title suggests, this book has helpful advice for reading each book of the Bible. Fee and Stuart point out the major themes and main characters etc. They offer an outline of each book which gives you a sense of how a particular book is arranged.

This book is a handy tool to have around. You will not likely read this book cover to cover. Instead, as you are reading through the Bible, read the brief introduction to each book as you come to it. Even with a Masters Degree in Old Testament, I find this book helpful especially before I teach from one of the lesser known books in a Sunday School setting. What is Haggai about? When was it likely written? What are its main themes?

4. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter

Now, that you have the Big Picture in mind and you have begun to understand that not all the books in the Bible should be read in exactly the same way and with the same expectations (genre), it is time to dig in a bit deeper. Much of Genesis through 2 Kings or the bulk of the Old Testament is written in story or narrative form. So, it is worth the effort to get to know how Ancient Hebrew narrative works.image

Although much of the narrative is straightforward, knowing more about Hebrew wordplay and the structure of narrative will deepen your appreciation of the stories. In time, you will begin to make connections and observations about themes and characters that you would miss had you remained ignorant of the genre expectations of the original audience. In some ways, reading Biblical narrative is like watching a foreign film. A viewer might be able to follow the basic plot but will likely miss a great deal of less overt subtext and sometimes be utterly confused by the structure of the film or editing choices.

For instance, why do we have three versions of an almost identical story in Genesis where one of the patriarchs hands his wife over to a foreign ruler?

Robert Alter’s readable and very influential book The Art of Biblical Narrative will open your eyes to some of the structural features of Hebrew narrative that will help make sense of some of the author’s choices. He will introduce you to the significance of key words and repetition in Hebrew narrative.

5. The Art of Biblical Poetry by Robert Alter

What isn’t narrative in the Old Testament is for the most part poetry. The Psalms are poetry, of course but so is most of Job, the prophets wrote poetry, and there are poems embedded in the narratives as well, i.e. the Songs of Moses and Miriam. For this reason, Robert Alter wrote this follow-up to his book on narrative.image

For English readers, rhyme is a key feature of much poetry but in other languages Hebrew included rhyme rarely appears. Instead, Hebrew poets use parallelisms. They play with synonyms, antonyms, etc. Of course, there are elements of Hebrew that don’t carry through in translation. For instance, it is nearly impossible to capture alliteration in translation.

With these two books by Robert Alter, you will develop a greater awareness of how Biblical narrative and poetry work. You will become aware of what often and for the most part inevitably gets lost in translation.

6. Interpreting the Prophetic Word by Willem VanGemeren

When I first became a Christian and was trying to understand what I was reading in the Bible, I happened upon VanGemeren’s book on a bargain table in a Wendell Holmes bookshop back in the early 90s. imageThe odds of happening upon a good book on Biblical Prophecy in most bookshops are astronomic and with few notable exceptions the unlikelihood only increases in Christian bookstores. The “Prophesy” section in most Christian bookstores would be better labelled as “Dispensationalist Lit” or “End-Times” or “How Not to Read the Prophets” or maybe even “Books by Authors who were Wrong the Last Time but They Still Want Your Money”.

While I now disagree with VanGemeren on a number of specific points, I still think this book is an excellent place to begin studying the Major and Minor prophets. First, VanGemeren introduces his reader to the changing role of the prophet in the ancient world and in Israel in particular, then book by book VanGemeren sets each prophet in his historical and political context. In more detail than Fee and Stuart, VanGemeren outlines each of the books often highlighting the intentional organizing structure. Then he provides a mini commentary.

While I initially read this book cover to cover, like Fee and Stuart’s Book by Book, Interpreting the Prophetic Word makes an excellent reference work to read alongside your Bible. Again, as with all of the books in this list, they are intended to begin your journey. The more you read the more you too will begin to converse and sometimes disagree intelligently with these and other authors. Like you, these authors are interpreting the Bible and while they get many thing right, I have yet to read anyone who gets everything right.

VanGemeren’s Interpreting the Prophetic Word introduced me to the historical-grammatical method. That is, VanGemeren introduced me to the idea that reading the Biblical books in light of their historical context and with awareness of the original languages was important in the intepretive process. Duh! Right?

Yet, many Christians go their whole life not grasping this simple and now seemingly obvious concept. As a teacher, I have had students who went to Sunday School their whole lives and did not know who came first Abraham or Moses.

VanGemeren’s The Progress of Redemption is also an great book that will give you an overview of the whole Bible and introduce you to the sub-discipline often referred to as Biblical Theology. (Do you see how I slipped the seventh book into this post?)

Dig Deeper, Today.

What books have helped you dig deeper and understand the Bible more fully? Leave your reading suggestions in the comments. I would love to hear from you.

For more reading suggestions see these pages on my blog:

How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth

My Favourite Commentaries or Monographs on Biblical Books:

How To Read REVELATION For All Its Worth