There Shall Come Scoffers
By Jack Kinsella
When I agreed to participate in the National Geographic project, “Doomsday: The Book of Revelation”, I did so after being repeatedly assured the project would be a fair examination of the disparate views among Bible scholars regarding the end times.
It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. (At least, the camera shot did not go DIRECTLY from my face to images of David Koresh, the Branch Davidians and their fiery end at Waco.)
I had half-expected my interview to be cut and spliced over an introduction along the lines of, “and now, here’s Jack Kinsella to give the Branch Davidian’s view of the Apocalypse.” (At least, THAT didn’t happen.)
But the program established early on that there are just two schools of thought on the end times, those of the “Bible scholars” and a second category, described variously as, ‘some fundamentalists’, ‘others’, but most often, ‘believers’, defined early in the program as “what ‘some’ believe based on their own interpretation of the Book of Revelation” — or the lunatic fringe.
To set the stage, the broadcast began by pointing out that every generation has had its doomsday cults, choosing as its example, the Taborites of the 13th century, who went around killing people who didn’t believe what the Taborites believe.
From the Taborites, the program shifted to William Miller, whose cult revolved Miller’s calculations of the exact day of the Rapture. The Millerite cult, (although the program didn’t mention this detail) split into what is today the Unitarians, 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Branch Davidians.
It explained why these guys were all nuts, before going on to repeat the oft-disproved preterist claim that the Rapture was an eighteenth century invention of Margaret MacDonald and John Darby, going so far as to even include the utterly meaningless observation that the word Rapture doesn’t even appear in the Bible!
(Aha! But wait! Neither does the word ‘Bible’ appear in the Bible. Hmmm)
The narrator intoned, “To SCHOLARS, Revelation could be interpreted to mean almost anything…” before quoting such a scholar, who assured us all that the “Book of the Revelation is almost like a Rorschach blot” enabling anybody to see ‘anything they wanted to’ in its pages.
THEN it goes on to tell us that, “Some scholars believe that ‘literalists’ (another word for non-scholars) miss the whole point” of Revelation. Then one of those scholars tells us that Revelation’s only ‘point’ — it’s only ‘meaning’ is to assure believers that “God has the last word.”
The purpose of the last Book of the Bible is to assure believers that God has the last word. Now, THAT’s scholarship! It must be, since I cannot figure out for the life of me exactly what that is supposed to mean. Who ELSE would believers assume had the last word?
At another point, the broadcast suggested that, because Revelation’s inclusion in the Canon of Scripture was debated among theologians, “it almost didn’t make it into the Bible at all.” (That same statement could be made about every other Book eventually included in the Canon of Scripture, all of which were carefully examined and hotly debated.)
A Jewish professor of Hebrew theology allowed that the New Testament Book of Revelation was never meant to be taken literally. After the narrator categorically stated that the Book of the Revelation was historical and not futurist, the program went on to offer the opposing (and clearly unhinged) views advanced by Tommy Ice, myself, and Ron Bigalke, Associate Professor at Tyndale Theological Seminary (who evidently was, (apart from Ice and myself, the only other participant who actually seemed to believe the Bible was true. Those who expressed skepticism were the broadcast’s ‘scholars’)
Bigalke got himself moved from the ‘scholar’ category to the ‘believer’ [nutbar] category when he opined; “Personally, I don’t know how you can read the Bible any other way EXCEPT literally,” prompting the narrator to quickly ‘balance’ Bigalke’s statement of faith with the disclaimer that, “Most Christian theologians read Scripture less literally…” before parading several selected ‘Christian scholars’ to point out how naive the futurist view really is.
The narrator pointed out that wars, rumors of wars, famines, etc., have always been part of the human condition, then explained that “believers say this time is different.” (Oh, those poor, deluded believers)
When it came to the discussion of the Rapture, the program’s producers quoted Tommy Ice explaining what the Rapture is, followed by a quote from me ‘admitting’ I believed it too, before the narrator came back to tell the audience that, “this interpretation troubles MOST theologians.”
The narrator evidently agreed, going on to state (again categorically) that the Beast of Revelation was really the Emperor Nero, even though Revelation was written after Nero’s death and during the reign of Domitian. That’s ok, though — John really meant Nero, notwithstanding. Never mind those fringe ‘believers’ — what do they know?
To prove the ignorance of the believers, the narrator tells us that ‘adherents to the Rapture theory says it comes ‘straight out of the Book of the Revelation’ — but that “most scholars disagree.” (Since they evidently made that part up, it is the only time in the whole program that the statement ‘most scholars disagree’ was accurate)
When I was invited to interview for this program, I prayed long and hard before accepting. My primary fear was that this would just be another effort at minimizing Scripture or poking fun at those who take it literally.
To reassure me, the program’s producer told me more than once, “Don’t worry. This is National Geographic.” As I told her then, THAT was what worried me. There are dozens and dozens of such programs dedicated to turning the Bible into a book of fiction and those who believe it into cultists.
My fear wasn’t that I would end up looking like a wild-eyed fanatic, but that the message of hope wouldn’t be turned into a carnival sideshow. (I should have feared both.)
I had hoped that the program would kindle an interest in Bible prophecy, that the evidence presented might result in someone out there heeding Peter’s admonition that;
“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” (2nd Peter 3:11)
What was supposed to be a serious examination of the Book of the Revelation became instead, an object lesson in the fulfillment of another end-times’ passage of Scripture, 2nd Peter 3:3-4,
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”
Every single one of the ‘scholars’ associated with “Doomsday: The Book of Revelation” — every single one of them! — made that exact point. None of the predictions of the end have come true yet, which, according to one of the program’s participants, represents a priori evidence that they never will.
“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2nd Peter 3:16)
Sadly, that appears to be about the only thing that “Doomsday” accomplished. It afforded the unlearned and unstable (those Bible ‘scholars’ presented in this broadcast) the opportunity to spread misunderstanding ‘unto their own destruction’ while presenting ‘believers’ as ignorant and superstitious morons.
Darn it. I had hoped for something better.
Originally Published: April 26, 2006.