Is it all about who gets the money? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
How much power do some people want if they have it? More. How much more money does someone want who has it? Rockefeller is alleged to have said “Just one dollar more.” While that it said that could have been nonsense, we know some people who are like that.
How about Revelation? Is this a hunger of the church for power and wealth? Is the church wanting judgment so they can take money from all of their foes? Does the church look forward to judgment so they can stand over their enemies with a whip?
One passage Ehrman uses to try to show that the historical Jesus didn’t care about the material was the question of taxes. As he says
A passage that confirms this understanding that future heavenly wealth for the faithful is purely spiritual comes in the famous account of the Jewish leaders who ask Jesus whether it is right to pay taxes to the Roman Empire (Mark 12:13–17). This may sound like a relatively innocent question, but in fact Jesus’s opponents are laying a trap for him. If Jesus says, “No, don’t pay taxes to those filthy Romans who have taken over our Promised Land,” then his enemies can turn him over to the authorities for opposing the state. But if he says, “Yes, do what the ruling authorities ask and faithfully pay what they demand,” they can accuse him of being a collaborator and an enemy of the Jewish people. As happens elsewhere, though, Jesus’s opponents do not know whom they are up against. Jesus never, ever gets caught in these traps. On this occasion he asks for a Roman denarius and when it is produced he asks whose image is on it. He already knows the answer, of course: imperial coins were issued with a likeness of the emperor to emphasize his control over all things, even daily purchases. Jesus’s opponents tell him the coin bears the image and inscription of Caesar, and that allows him to demolish their trap: “Then give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and give to God the things that belong to God” (Mark 10:17). For Jesus, the things of this world belong to the mighty and powerful who rule it. God has nothing to do with such trivialities. He does not care about material goods. He wants your soul.
How does this follow? I have looked over this passage multiple times and I do not see it. Ehrman argues as if the body means nothing to Christians and being in the image of God has nothing to do with a body. This is the same God who says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and that all creation belongs to Him. Why would He make a material world if the matter didn’t matter? Why would He make humans with bodies if bodies didn’t matter?
It could just as easily be said, “Yes, Caesar does have some dominion over these for now, but God ultimately has dominion over everything.” Everything Caesar once ruled has passed into other hands now. Everything God rules still belongs to God even if people get to personally lease it to some degree.
He also uses the verse of “If someone wants your coat, give your tunic as well.” This would result though in someone being totally destitute and even nude which would have two results. First, it would be giving a surety of their promise to fulfill an oath to repay in a court. Second, it would shame their opponent for making them look like someone who would make someone go nude. Neither of these is saying material wealth doesn’t matter.
When Ehrman talks about dominion, he doesn’t do any better.
John’s enthusiasm for widespread destruction, in the end, got the better of him. Already in chapter 6 of Revelation, the entire cosmos falls apart. But in chapter 7, the world and the people in it live on. The obvious explanation is that John is not literally describing the end of the sun, moon, stars, and sky. But that creates a problem. If John constantly engages in rhetorical excess, how can we imagine what he actually envisages?
But on page 121, Ehrman argues most people at the time would be able to understand including the Roman authorities, hence he says this was not written in some code. He also has repeatedly said this was not written for our time to us, but we have to understand the first-century setting. However, when he wants to argue against John and Revelation, he puts on his fundamentalist hat again and claims the text is too hard to understand and should be written for us.
For me, I would argue that this book is written in a cyclical form and tells the same story repeatedly. It also naturally uses Jewish hyperbole. This is also describing the destruction of Jerusalem. It’s not about global destruction.
Ehrman has the same reading problem at the end of the book.
So that is that. Except it’s not. As we have seen, after John describes the glorious new city of gold, we learn that “the nations will walk by its light” (21:24). But why are there nations? We also learn that “the kings of the earth will bring their glory into” the new Jerusalem (21:24). What kings? No one “who practices abomination or falsehood” will enter the city (21:27). Who is practicing abomination (idolatry) or falsehood (sin) if there is no one left? The answer seems obvious: for the saints to dominate, there need to be others left.
Let’s be clear on something. However we interpret this, John is not an idiot. He is not going to contradict himself in the span of a few verses. Our inability to understand does not equal a contradiction.
But to get to the questions, these are good questions and worth discussing, but questions are not arguments. I do not have a definitive answer on this point as this is still something I consider, but I do have a view that Heaven and Hell are the same place but differ in that people who love God glory in His presence and people who hate God suffer intensely in it.
However, none of this leads to “John writes this way so that the people of God can have someone to dominate over.” This is the same Ehrman who said people who read the Bible see what they want to see. Ehrman wants to see God the way he wants to and that is what he does.
Ehrman will go on to argue that those in the city do not share their wealth with those outside, but this is not only unsaid, it is even contradicted. The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. Those nations would have to come into the city and can apparently enjoy the blessings of it and can be healed.
So tomorrow, we shall wrap things up, but I contend again that Ehrman is still a fundamentalist in his reading. He has an all-or-nothing mindset. He has not changed it. His loyalty is just different.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)