Is the ‘Rapture’ in the New Testament? NO it isn’t, is the short answer! It made its arrival in the year 1833 in the fertile, if fantastical, imagination of a one time Irish Anglican priest called John Nelson Darby, founder of the ‘Plymouth Brethren’ movement. From there, it was ‘read into’ various parts of the New Testament, including the book called (prophetically perhaps?) “The Revelation to John”. The plain fact of the matter is that the word ‘rapture’ is not found therein, nor anywhere else in the entire Bible.

This last book in the New Testament is different from all the others, and can’t be read and understood in the same way. In the Bible as a whole there’s a wide variety of different types of material. There’s myth, legend, folktale, history, narrative, poetry, proverbs, prophecy, psalms, gospels, letters etc. Each format must be understood in its own terms. and allowed to speak for itself, rather than being slotted into an impoverishing, all-pervading ‘one fits all’ scheme of things. Asking ‘what does the Bible say?’ is as meaningless as asking ‘what does the library say?’ It depends on which book, from which section, you happen to be reading.

The Book of Revelation is an example of ‘apocalyptic’ writing. Two other examples are the last 6 chapters of the Book of Daniel, and the 13th chapter of the Gospel of Mark. An apocalypse is an ‘unveiling’, of things otherwise unknown, by means of visions or dreams. These are likely to employ bizarre imagery, involving monstrous beings and cosmic catastrophes. The aim is to explain how what’s going on in the world is related to what’s going on in the heavens. There will be hope of good news for those who are faithful to God, but the despair of bad news for those who are not, who will suffer temporal distress and eternal fire.

Professor Bart Ehrman has authored an easily readable, fascinating book about a dramatically colourful, biblical book. He opens its curtains, and clears away the unhelpful, fantastic (in the true sense of that word) and sometimes dangerous nonsense that has gathered around it for far too many years. It was not written about the 21st century but principally, as the book itself makes clear, about the world of its own day. It’s both acceptably inspiring and hopeful, and unacceptably violent and unforgiving. Bart Ehrman does it full justice.

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