Posted By MSH on July 24, 2010
I want to start this post with something I’d do in class during my teaching days at Christian colleges that I think will make this post — which is about the question of whether there is such a thing as a rapture or not — more comprehensible.
When I taught through New Testament Survey or Bibliology I’d invariably need to talk about how the gospels disagreed with each other on many occasions. This of course is a favorite launching pad for biblical skeptics, who love to talk about the contradictions in the gospel stories about Jesus. I used to give some illustrative examples of where Matthew, Mark, and Luke (and occasionally John) would have slightly different details of the same story, or different dialogue, or present items in a different order. I’d ask the question, “which one is wrong — or are all of them wrong?” (I liked to push buttons in class — I’ve walked into many a freshman Bible class and looked at dozens of faces that were all expressing the same sentiment: we dare you not to bore us with the Bible).
Anyway, it was always fun to get feedback in that session to my questions. After watching them squirm for a while I’d point out the obvious — there was another alternative: they could all be right, yet disagreeing. I’d pull out a newspaper story on something they’d no doubt heard of (some great tragedy or current event) and show them that any given national newspaper could (and did) run a story on that event but they would invariably disagree, even when the reporter had asked the same questions (sometimes even of the same person at the same press conference). But differences in wordings, the way the writer arranged the information, and presentation of dialogue (they were invariably snippets, though germane) did not compromise accuracy. Even when one included something the other didn’t, students could see that was part of the journalistic enterprise — selection of material depending on audience, space constraints, “angle”, etc. But none of that meant that something that wasn’t identical had to be wrong.
It was easy to apply this to the gospels. Given that more than one story about the same person, events, and places could differ, yet that should not be presumed to mean there were errors, maybe it was a good idea to try and harmonize the stories first and see how they could all be parts of a greater whole. Mark that thought.
So what’s the point?
Well, among Christians who have some sense of obligation or interest in ideas like the inspiration of the Bible and its inerrancy, the idea of harmonizing material in the gospels — and in the Bible in general — is second nature. It’s part of the “interpret the Bible with the Bible” approach to hermeneutics. Point A is harmonized with point B. Passage A is better understood by merging it or harmonizing its content with passage B — putting things together gives us a fuller picture of what the Bible says about XYZ. Harmonizing apparently contradictory items is so common, so accepted as an interpretive technique, that it’s hard to imagine the opposite — keeping passages apart, as though they taught opposite ideas, as a way to get a full picture of something. JOINING is much more common than SPLITTING.
And yet SPLITTING is precisely the hermeneutical approach that *must* be employed to have a rapture. Sound odd? Then you haven’t read much about the doctrine. Here is a short list of examples. My point is that IF you separate (split) these items, you come out with the idea that the second coming and a rapture are two different events, BUT if you merge all these events — if you harmonize (join) them to remove contradictions — then there is no rapture.
RAPTURE: Meets believers in the air. 1 Thes 4:15-17; Acts 1:9-11
SECOND COMING: Meets Israel on earth, Zech 14:4-5; Rev 19.
RAPTURE: Christ does not touch earth. Acts 1:11
SECOND COMING: Christ comes to stay for 1000 years. Rev 20; Mal 3:2-4
RAPTURE: For the church. 1 Thes 4:15-17; 1 Cor 15:51-55
SECOND COMING: For Israel and tribulation saints. Rev 19; Mal 3:2-4
[On this one, recall the obvious -- that Galatians 3 says the church has inherited the promise that Abraham would have a seed - a spiritual seed - the "Israel that is real Israel, but not ethnic Israel - Romans 9:1-6]
RAPTURE: To keep promises to the church. Jn 14:1-3
SECOND COMING: To keep promises to Israel through OT prophets.
[ditto the above on whether the Church and Israel can really be split like this coherently.]
RAPTURE: “With” souls of saints to get bodies. 1 Thess 4:14-18
SECOND COMING: “With: saints and angelic armies. Rev 19
So, are you a splitter or a joiner? You cannot have a rapture if you employ the JOINING hermeneutic that is so commonly used to avoid contradiction in the gospels (and throughout the Bible). For those who believe in a rapture the question is therefore simple: why would you want to harmonize the gospels to avoid contradictions, but then not harmonize passages about the return of Jesus to avoid contradiction?
In other words, WHY is splitting prophecy texts the better interpretive strategy than joining, like basically everywhere else? Is the text driving that approach or is it a theology brought to the text that drivews the decision? This is a fundamental question that everyone who embraces a rapture must coherently answer (but few have ever even considered since it doesn’t appear in popular prophecy books).