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Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Testament Tales - That Final Book

That Final Book
1. When was the final list of books in the New Testament completed?
2. When was the last big debate over which New Testament books were canonical?
3. Which was the last book included in the New Testament?
4. Who wrote the last book of the New Testament?
5. How many churches was the book of Revelation addressed to?
6. What’s so special about 144,000?
7. What’s so special about 666?
8. What four beasts are in the book of Revelation?
9. What four beasts are in the book of Daniel?
10. What four beasts are in the book of Ezekiel?

Paul’s epistles circulated throughout the world by the end of the 1st century and are mentioned in contemporary Christian writings. The four gospels were accepted as canonical by 160 AD (with various references to four being the number of winds and corners of the world). Origen’s list of canonical books in 200AD left out James, 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John, and included the Shepherd of Hermas, which was later left out. There are records of debates yielding general agreement on the books which were finally chosen to include in the Bible. Just before 400AD, the books currently accepted (in the New and Old Testaments) were approved by several different councils around the world, though there remained some questions about James and Revelation. As recently as the 16th century, Martin Luther continued to question the presence of James, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation in the Bible.

Revelation was probably the last book (almost) universally accepted into the New Testament. It’s generally believed to have been written during Domitian’s reign, around 95AD. The author calls himself John and is traditionally believed to be the apostle. In his gospel, John calls himself “the disciple Jesus loved,” but no other disciples take part in the events of Revelation so it’s not surprising that he uses his own name there. The epistles of John may have been written shortly before or shortly after Revelation.

Revelation starts with seven letters to seven churches. Seven is a symbolic number, and many numerical symbols are used in books known as apocalypses—a popular form of writing at the time. Seven represents the completeness of God’s plan, so the seven churches might represent the universal church on earth. It’s certainly interesting to see how their failings are mirrored in our modern churches—teaching man’s doctrine as God’s, losing our first love, thinking we’re healthy when we’re not, etc… When churches harp back to the “good old days” of the New Testament, it’s wise to remember that the church of the book of Acts was divided, and the churches of Revelation were warned because of their failings as well as praised for their strengths. Perhaps we’re not so different today.

The four beasts of Revelation (Rev 4:7, Ezekiel 1:10, Daniel 7:3) might well be just as symbolic as the four gospels accepted in the New Testament, four being a number often used to represent earth. Three represents god and certainty, twelve (tribes or apostles) represent God’s choosing, ten represents mankind, or something countable (commandments, or a limited number of years of suffering for example), forty represents a generation (as in the Old Testament), fifty is Jubilee—the yearlong celebration following seven sevens of years. 144,000 (otherwise listed as a number too great to count) might represent 12 (chosen tribes) times 12 (chosen apostles) times 10 (mankind) raised to the power 3 (for God). And 666 might represent a three-fold (divine) failure to follow the plan (7), as well as code for a Roman emperor.

Reading Revelation as a roadmap can often obscure its symbolism. It’s prophesies have been used to prove the world was ending in 1,000AD and 2,000AD, or when the European Union reached 10 nations, or a certain church reached 144,000 members. But perhaps the message is for all of us (7 churches) for all of time, and the reminder is that trouble is part of our nature, while God’s plan divine.

1 comment:

Lloyd said...

I was a little late with this study, but did make it here. Thank you so much for your writtings because they make the Word of God so much more easier to understand. Blessings, Lloyd