The Making of Right Texts, Wrong Meanings: Israel and Revelation 7.1-17



I’m going to blog about chapter 27 of my book. The passage of Rev. 7.1-17 is quite difficult. People have been fascinated by it, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. Their main fascinations by it are two. First, many would speculate on what the 144,000 people are.   Second, some may go further to what the seal meant.


Once again, the method to solve the identity exists both within and outside of the text. Within the text, how does number function in Revelation? As I said before, we need to make sure our system of interpretation is consistent within Revelation. 144,000 is a number in multiples of 12 and 10. How are 12’s and 10’s used in Revelation? What about the sealing of the forehead in Revelation? Within the storyline, what did the sealing mean for the entire story of Revelation itself? Is there another instance of sealing in Revelation? How about 666?


Another item within the storyline that deserves our attention is the identity of Israel? Who is Israel?   Many commentators just speculate that this Israel is the same as the Jews in Romans 11. Before we can harmonize Paul and John, we have to ask how language of nationality and nations functioned in the book. For the answer, we have to look at all instances of geographical locations and nationalities in the storyline of Revelation to determine the meaning of Israel instead of assigning it arbitrary meaning based on other biblical texts that may not even be related at all.


External to the text, what would numbering of people do in the time of John? The social and political function of numbering something we need to consider. What about the image of a seal on the forehead? How did John’s audience see a seal to the forehead? What did sealing of the forehead or any other body part do?


These are the hints in solving the problem.


As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!

Reblogged Matthew 18 blog now in Chinese with an English sermon as supplement

My Matthew 18 analysis in Chinese this time.  This has been translated and published in the link below.
Thesis: before you talk about reconciliation, mind your sphere and the little one. Read more here.
The English sermon which applies what i wrote here can be found here.


The Making of Right Texts, Wrong Meanings: The Knocking Jesus and Revelation 3.20


, ,

I’m going to blog about chapter 26 of my book. Rev. 3.20 is the bedrock of many gospel tracts. People usually start by saying that God has a purpose for you and ends with the punch line of Revelation 3.20. They would tell the unbeliever that Jesus was knocking on the door and that all they had to do was to open up the door to let Jesus in.


The spiritual meaning of this verse is obviously analogizing the person’s heart as the door and Jesus can somehow “come into your heart” through that door. Besides a questionable description of how a person comes to faith, this usage of Rev. 3.20 is just plain wrong.


When reading the text, the most basic question to ask is, “To whom was this material written?” The incorrect answer is always “To me.” The answer should be obvious, but when the author says “anyone” whom did he mean? Believer or unbeliever? The answer to such a set of questions would seem obvious, but with the wrong traditional interpretation, the right answer is never obvious.


As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!

The “Jesus’ Wife” Controversy: Scholarship, Publicity, and The Issues


Originally posted on Larry Hurtado's Blog:

As I indicated in my previous posting here, the “story” about the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment (and the other items in the small cache of papyri placed with Prof. Karen King) seems now increasingly clearly one of fakery and deception.  To their credit, the news media that so eagerly took up the Harvard Divinity School’s press releases and pronounced the fragment one of the most important discoveries about early Christianity of all time, have now begun to pick up on the evidence of fakery.

I’ve previously cited a few recent stories, and there is now another recent one, a 05 May story in the Washington Post here.  For more links, see Mark Goodacre’s “roundup” of developments here, which includes a link to the PBS interview with Michael Peppard here.

Update:  Although cited in a recent New York Times article as still entertaining the authenticity of the “Jesus’ Wife”…

View original 816 more words

The Making of Right Texts, Wrong Meanings: The Wrong Spiritual Temperature and Revelation 3.16



I’m going to blog about chapter 26 of my book. Rev. 3.16 has had its fair share of misreading. The usual meaning can be summarized by a famous mega-church pastor’s Facebook update, “Nowhere does the Bible say, ‘Because you’re white hot, I’ll spew you out of my mouth.’”   This little sound byte (which happens in pulpits all across the US every Sunday) may preach well. The only problem is, the Bible also doesn’t say that Christ would spew you out of his mouth because you’re cold. In fact, Christ may like cold water. That’s just my guess from reading Matthew 10.42. I could be wrong. He could also like hot water. The problem with this kind of interpretation is that it has mistaken that the original readers analogize the biblical analogy in the same way and that somehow they experience life the way we frame our spirituality. In this case, nothing is further from the truth.

In my last two blogs, I’ve discussed the importance of reading the text based on the experience of first century. One of the experiences would be geography. Water existed in geographical locations in those days. People would get the water from such locations and make use of it. Thus, in this blog, I will lay out the geographical experience, and you decide the meaning.

Laodicea (modern town of Laodikeia) located in the middle of Lycus River that came down through the Lycus Valley in Asia Minor. Downstream from it was Colossae. Due to the volcanic activities, the upper Lycus Valley, in the areas of Hieropolis, possessed hot springs that were beneficial for healing. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it would’ve been luke-warm. As the water continued to make its way down to Colossae, its impurity had been cleansed and the Colossians could drink the cool water. Thus, in upstream area of Hieropolis, the hot water had a better use for healing. In the downstream area of Colossae, the cold water was great for quenching thirst. Right in the middle was Laodicea where the luke-warm water was. Think about what Rev. 3.16 actually was saying.

As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!

PS. For more reading on the geography of the Seven Churches, get Colin Hemer, The Seven Churches of Asia Minor in their Local Setting.

Reading Apocalyptic Literature Part 2: Revelation Reading Strategy

In the last installment, I wrote about how to read Revelation in negative terms by talking about how not to read it. This installment will give some clues as to how to read it.

1)    We must first admit that the world of Revelation was strange to us. The genre of apocalyptic literature is unique to that period. The writing arose out of a political climate of instability and the need for hope. Modern genres have no parallel with the strange narrative world of Revelation. Therefore, we must assume that the original readers knew much more than we, and that’s why Revelation seems strange to us. Without and adequate understanding of the historical background, we can’t possibly understand the message to the original readers. What would an image in Revelation look like to those with first century eyes? What in first century looked like that image? The question can only have answer after examination of images in the Greco-Roman world of the first century.

2)    We must also admit that Revelation should have its own rules for interpretation. We aren’t allowed to shift from one kind of interpretation to another in the midst of our confusion. The author followed his own rules in writing the book, much like any other book. We can’t assume otherwise, unless we think our author was a total moron. In other words, if our method is not consistent, all hope of clear understanding is lost.

3)    We must justify any reading outside of Revelation by looking at the world of the readers. Would they have understood other texts outside of Revelation? To what extent?  These are complex questions that demand for us to look afresh at how texts were circulated and translated. We can’t simply assume that all recipients in Asia Minor have access to all the biblical texts.  We also have to admit that if we think we understand better than they do, we will have to have a time machine.

In the next blog, I will look at a text that has been misunderstood and will challenge the popular reading.

Reading Apocalyptic Literature Part 1: Mistakes We Make



I was in the Seattle Art Museum (aka SAM) there other day. A gentleman came out huffing and puffing, “That was the biggest pile of rubbish I’ve ever seen.” We were at the Miro exhibit. Miro was a Spanish painter whose mastery of shapes and colors was renown. People were pouring in to see the exhibit, even when this gentleman was coming out disappointed. Although this exhibit did not feature the best work of Miro, it certainly was not rubbish. Most likely, this gentleman expected something else and was disappointed.

Apocalyptic literature can be equally annoying, if the reader does not understand what it is. For the purpose of reading Revelation, the following guideline must govern the way we read Revelation. First let me talk about the mistakes we frequently make.

1)    We can mistakenly think that we know better than the original readers because the book was talking about the future. The future is now! This assumption is incorrect. If our present is meaning is dependent on what the original readers did not know, then God has basically given a message to the original readers who did not receive it with any understanding. In other words, the fact that God revealed himself in history did not matter in the instance of Revelation because God had revealed nonsense to the original readers. This view of God’s revelation makes no sense at all theologically.

2)    We can mistakenly think that we can make up our own rules as we go along when we read. For example, if a number “seems” like it should be taken literally, we can do so. However, if a number seems to make more sense to interpret symbolically, we can read symbols into it. In other words, we read everything literally until it doesn’t make sense to which time we interpret it symbolically. Symbolism is the escape for our incompetence.

3)    We can mistakenly think that we read any and all parts of the Bibles into Revelation to give it meaning. Some would use parts of the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Daniel, Ezekiel) and see direct fulfillment in Revelation. Such an assumption may or may not be true, depending on whether the readers understood those texts. The same goes for the Gospels. Many people read many parts of the Gospels into Revelation. While I’m not against reading parts of the Jesus tradition as part of the background of Revelation, it is a mistake to think that ever part of the Jesus tradition could relate to all parts of Revelation. Every intertextual reading should be justified instead of assumed.

In the next blog, I will talk about the principles that will open up Revelation to all of us.

The Making of Right Texts, Wrong Meanings: James 3.1-2 and Watching Your Mouth



I’m now blogging about chapter twenty-five of my book.  When I was a kid, I hear parents threaten to wash out the mouths of my buddies with soap all the time.  Now that I’m an adult, I hear Christians quote James 3 all the time.  In this case, it’s the religious version of “wash out your mouth with soap” or with God’s word.  Is this really what the text mean?

In letter writing, usually a paragraph is an exposition of a major idea much like modern expositional writing.  Quite often, the main idea is at the head of the paragraph with the main clause.  The idea is not obscurely buried within the long paragraphs somewhere. In modern Bible studies, we often forget this principle and get ourselves quickly into a muddle by claiming supporting ideas to be the main idea.  It seems that James 3.1 is the main idea that addressed an ancient problem in the synagogue.  If that were so, then what would be the modern application?

By stating the above, I’m not suggesting that we all go out and start cussing like a drunken sailor, but surely, James 3 is not the place to cite verses to prevent abusive language.

As I always say, the texts are not at fault.  The interpreter is!

The Making of Right Texts, Wrong Meanings: 2 Timothy 3.16 and All Scripture?



I’m now blogging about chapter twenty-four of my book.  2 Timothy 3.16 has become the proof text bedrock of the inerrancy debate.  Typically, people quote this verse and then project to say that God has ensured that scripture is inerrant because God is inerrant.  This blog is not about that debate because the verse does not support that debate.

If we read in context, what Scripture was the author referring to?  From reading 2 Tim. 3.15, we find that “scriptures” (a different Greek word than 2 Tim. 3.16) is in plural.  Why is there a plural in 2 Tim. 3.15 while the following verse has a singular?  These and many such questions would lead us to a different debate than about inerrancy.  It leads us to discussion about formation of the Old Testament canon.  What Scripture was Timothy reading? How did he read it?  What were the results?  None of the answers to such questions have to do with the modern/modernistic debate at all.

As I always say, the texts are not at fault.  The interpreter is!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 129 other followers