I’ve written extensively about my disbelief in the rapture, so I don’t want to belabor the point too much. The only reason I’m writing about it again is because I mentioned my disbelief at church this past Sunday, and I know that alarmed some folks.

Here are two of the principles that guide me as I study and teach the Scriptures:

The Bible cannot mean what it never meant.
If we don’t understand the Scriptures in their historical context, we’ll never understand them at all.

God wrote the Scriptures when he did, through whom he did, for his own purposes and according to his sovereign choice. In other words, if Paul, John, Matthew and Jesus didn’t believe in a rapture, then there is no rapture. And if they did, then there will be. We don’t get to come along and change the meaning of any biblical text for any reason thousands of years after the fact. My contention is that there is no rapture in Scripture. So let’s look, briefly, at the relevant passages.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

This really seems to be the perfect description of the rapture, but as I’ve written here, a little bit of historical context will help us to understand what Paul is writing about here. In order for this to be the rapture as we popularly understand it, the second coming of Christ must pause halfway between heaven and earth, somewhere in the sky. Then, all believers will fly up to meet him and stay with him there, in the sky, for either 3 1/2 or 7 years. But Paul calls it “the coming of the Lord”, so we know that he won’t turn around and go back into heaven. He is coming here. There must be a better explanation.

Thessalonica was a Roman colony at the time Paul wrote this letter to the Christians there. Whenever a high-ranking Roman official, or even the emperor himself, visited a colony or a city, the inhabitants of that city would go out to meet him and escort him back into the town. In other words, they didn’t wait until the emperor got to the city walls to throw open the gates. They’re not going to make him ring the doorbell. How much more will we do the same for Jesus, when he returns from heaven? Surely we will go up to meet him (which means we’ll be able to fly! Awesome!) and escort him back to earth, where he will take his place as the rightful king of creation. This, not a rapture or a half-return, is what Paul has in mind in this passage.

Matthew 24:36-41

Okay, this one is obvious, right? Well, as I’ve explained here, no. In this passage, the controlling metaphor is the great flood, where all who suffered the judgment of God were “taken away”. As it was in the flood, so will it be at the return of Christ. In fact, it may not even be a literal “taking away”; Jesus may just be using the language of the flood to talk about the punishment of the judgment of God. Regardless, being taken away is not being rescued from tribulation, but being fully judged by God apart from the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

John 14:2-3

I never thought of this passage in John as a rapture passage, but a friend of mine did, so I commented on it here. It’s a bit too complicated to break down briefly, but I highly recommend you read that post to get a sense for what is going on in this passage.

I believe that I’ve demonstrated that there is no rapture in the Bible. This was an unfamiliar concept to every NT author. In fact, each one of them was intimately familiar to suffering within the various tribulations of their lives. You might even say that suffering, not escape from it, was one of God’s most assured promises.

So much of what drives our belief in the rapture is fear. We are terrified of the Great Tribulation, and we want desperately to escape it. So when someone offers us a rapture out of suffering, we greatly rejoice. But we are not promised escape from troubles. Jesus didn’t get it. Paul didn’t get it. Millions of Christians today aren’t getting it. The power of Christ is most clearly seen in us when we persevere through the suffering caused by trials and tribulations.

Now let me say a word about the book of Revelation.

The book of Revelation is not simply about the future; it is about the past, the present, and the future. Let me put it this way: There have been thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations, there are presently thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations, and there will be thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations. The book of Revelation is about the Great Tribulation that Rome inflicted on the Church, but it is also about every tribulation and persecution that has been waged against the Church because it presents Christ Jesus as Cosmic Victor and us, his Church and Bride, as victorious in him. The book of Revelation was written to encourage all persecuted believers, in every place and in every time, to persevere under the weight of their persecution because, in Christ, we are eternally victorious over the forces of Satan and his antichrists.

You’re not meant to be taken out of the arena; you’re meant to win the fight, kill the beasts, and overcome your opponents because that is what Christ has already done, and what he will do fully when he returns. A rapture would undermine everything. A rapture would surrender the earth to Satan. God has no intention of giving any ground to hell.

I hope that what I’ve presented here both reassures and encourages you. Whether you’re convinced or not doesn’t matter much to me. This is my view. Ember Church takes no official stance on this issue. People of all eschatological persuasions are welcome! But whether you believe in the rapture or not, I want you to hear this: Do not fear the end. The end is glorious. The end is victory for all who are in Christ. The end is bliss. Make sure you get there. Don’t try to escape your trials, but persevere through them.

If you started the M’Cheyne reading program on January 1, and then had a baby which set you back about two weeks, today you would have had a scheduled reading that included Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever present help in times of trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break her day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

YHWH Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what YHWH has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

YHWH Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

God is bigger than your problems. God is stronger than your enemy. God is mightier than the nations. God is wiser than the schemers. With him, you have nothing to fear. With him, you need never be afraid because, in him, your fate is secure. Though your world waste away, your God will never fade, tire, or leave. YHWH Almighty is with you. Run to him, for he is the only sure refuge! Hide in him, for he is the only true strength!

My devotional reading brought me to 1 Thessalonians 5 today. Here is what struck me:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Is this even possible? Aren’t there times when rejoicing or giving thanks would be inappropriate, like in the wake of a natural disaster? Is it reasonable to command people to be in constant prayer? What would that even look like?

I don’t know if any of these are possible, but I think there’s a deeper principle at work here, and it’s this: Your character can exceed your circumstances. Don’t let the circumstances of your life bring you down to the pit, or shut your mouth from prayer, or make you embittered and ungrateful. No matter what comes your way, the way you respond is entirely up to you. Rejoicing, prayer, and thankfulness are always a conscious choice. You don’t just fall into those responses by accident; you do them on purpose.

It is God’s will for you that your character be determined by the power of Christ in you rather than on your instinctive reactions to the various circumstances of your life. You might say that your natural response to your circumstances is what is true, and to force yourself to respond another way is hypocritical. Not so. If you follow Jesus, what is truest about you is Christ in you. Jesus Christ is what is most true of you. Not your sin. Not your past. Not your temper. Not your attitude. Not your instinctive reactions to your circumstances. Through faith in Christ, you are no longer a “natural” person, but a “becoming-supernatural” person by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The old is gone, crucified with Jesus, and the new is here, resurrected with Jesus. You are new, through faith in Christ.

It is God’s will for you that your character be determined by the power of Christ in you rather than on your instinctive reactions to the various circumstances of your life.
You have power, in the Spirit, to rise above your “natural” reactions and instincts. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying you can change overnight. But you can learn to walk in the Spirit–and to rejoice always, to pray continually, and to give thanks no matter what–the same way you learned to walk as a toddler. By falling down a lot, and getting back up.

I’m a pastor, and I’m still learning to walk. It’s hard. Sometimes I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, which really just means I’m choosing to be a frustrated, mean-spirited, downcast jerk like I am today. I don’t always remember these things, but that doesn’t make them any less true. My character can exceed my circumstances, but only as I lean into the power of Christ within me through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The same goes for you. And be encouraged, because you’ll learn to walk someday.

My devotional reading today brought me to Colossians 1, which is so full of amazing stuff that it’s hard to pick one thing to share, but I wanted to share this part of Paul’s prayer with you.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Isn’t this one of the most amazing prayers you’ve ever read? Don’t you wish somebody was praying this for you?

The part that stands out to me, at this point in my life anyway, is this: Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience. More than any other season in my life, I need “great endurance” right now, but endurance does not come naturally to me.

In 8th grade, my friend convinced me to join the track team. At the first meeting, we were given a piece of paper with all of the track and field events written on it. We were told to sign up for the events that we were most interested in. I checked the boxes for the shortest races. I wasn’t fast, I just knew I didn’t want to run for a long time. (The funny thing is, I probably would have done well in the distance races, but I was too big of a wuss to try.)

In order to live the life God has called me to live, I need access to that which I do not internally possess. I need strength from God so that I can have great endurance. I need the power of the Spirit within me so that I can please God. I do not naturally possess these qualities of character, so I need them to be infused into my life from above. I need Paul’s prayer prayed over me.

What about you? What part of this prayer resonates with you? Do you need this prayer prayed over you?

This week I’m going to pray this prayer over the people of Ember, and I urge you to pray it over those you love.

There has been some recent discussion over a small part of Ember Church’s statement of faith. When declaring our beliefs about Scripture, we state this:

We believe that God sovereignly provided human beings with the sixty-six books of the Protestant Canon as his written revelation, and that these books are authoritative for all Christians, infallible in all matters of faith and practice.

The part I’ve put in bold is the statement in question. Within some evangelical circles, saying that the Bible is infallible in all matters of faith and practice is code for theological liberalism. Let me say, definitively, that neither I nor Ember Church are “theologically liberal”. Neither are we “fundamentalist”. Instead, we consider ourselves historically orthodox in the Protestant, evangelical tradition.

Why, then, does our Statement of Faith not declare the Scriptures to be “inerrant in the original manuscripts”? For many evangelicals, the inerrancy of the Bible is a “watershed issue”, meaning that it is fundamentally definitive of evangelicalism, and a hill on which one should die. Inerrancy is not a position that should be compromised, and anyone who does is slipping toward theological liberalism.

I think this is untrue. In fact, I understand infallibility to be a much stronger position on the Bible than inerrancy. Let me explain why.

The Questions of the Enlightenment

Inerrancy is an apologetic doctrine. That is to say, it is a belief formulated in defense of Scripture. Inerrancy is not so much motivated by the desire to explain Scripture, but rather to defend its authority and accuracy as God’s revealed word. Inerrancy is evangelicalism’s attempt to answer the skeptical questions of modernism and the Enlightenment. “The Bible is so full of contradictions and errors,” cry the skeptics! “No it’s not,” retort the believers, “it is without error in the original manuscripts.”

But I believe that the questions of the Enlightenment are designed to trap believers. When the skeptics tried to trap Jesus with trick questions, he skillfully evaded them and turned the tables on the doubters. Inerrancy, however, tries to answer the trick questions of the Enlightenment, whereas infallibility says to the Enlightenment, “You’re asking the wrong questions.” The precision of details and the length of days have absolutely no bearing on what God is trying to communicate in his word.

It’s as though the Enlightenment has come along and said, “If football is the perfect game, then why can’t you hit a home run in it?” And we’ve gone ahead and tried to explain just how one might hit a home run in football. Their questions are nonsense, and we need not spend time addressing them. When the doubters questioned Jesus about paying taxes, he turned the tables on them and said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” I believe the doctrine of infallibility, properly understood, does likewise.

The Standard of Error

Who decides what is error and isn’t? Should an ancient document be judged by modern standards? Who gets to set the standard of errancy?

God sovereignly ordained the Scriptures to be written in premodern times, long before the advent of modernism, the Enlightenment, and the supremacy of science. Paul, Isaiah, and Moses had different standards of error and definitions of precision than the team of scientists that flies people to the moon. This seems so obvious as to go without saying, and yet I see that people on both sides of the aisle–both skeptics and believers–are demanding that Scripture conform to the precision of modernity. Isn’t it more remarkable that the Bible was written over a period of 1500 years by dozens of different people in wildly divergent cultures and environments, all forming one cohesive story which explains life and all of history from beginning to end? Isn’t that so unfathomably amazing that whatever tiny errors of precision (according to the standard of modern science) are absolutely inconsequential?

Just as it is nonsense to apply the standards of baseball to the game of football, so it is nonsense to apply the standards of modern science to the content of Scripture. The Bible wasn’t written last year. It was written on scrolls and parchments by shepherds and itinerant preachers long before printing presses, copy machines, and ctrl+c ctrl+v were invented. You don’t have to defend the Bible. Anyone who knows anything about ancient manuscripts and literature knows that the Bible is the gold standard.

And that’s one of the main problems I have with inerrancy–it looks to a standard outside of Scripture. It says, “there is no error.” But as John Frame says, infallibility declares of Scripture, “there can be no error.” In other words, the Bible, not the Enlightenment, sets the standard of error. The Bible is its own standard.

Original Manuscripts

As an apologetic doctrine, inerrancy is intellectually weak in that it points to “the original manuscripts” as being without error, but we no longer have any original manuscripts. They no longer exist. In my opinion, then, inerrancy is an incredibly weak position apologetically, because we can’t produce the evidence to substantiate our claim. We are, in effect, putting our faith in some documents that no longer exist.

Moreover, we are also unintentionally undermining the very good science by which we reconstruct the Scriptures through the manuscripts we do have–and we have a lot! The New Testament, in particular, is, by far, the most well-attested ancient document in the world. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to early and reliable manuscripts. For a rundown on how the science works, check out this post. This is a strength of Scripture to be embraced, not a weakness to be ignored.

The Historicity of Christianity

One critique of what we have in our Statement of Faith is that it doesn’t account for history. But our faith is fundamentally historical. The Gospel is the account of the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Christian faith is rooted in Jewish history. Because infallibility allows the Bible to set the standard of error, we believe that everything the Bible says happened, happened.

In conclusion, infallibility is a richer, more robust understanding of Scripture than inerrancy. In fact, infallibility includes inerrancy, but only according to the standards that Scripture itself ordains, and not according to the standards of skeptical modernity. The way that I understand infallibility is that, rather than being code for theological liberalism, it is actually more theologically conservative than inerrancy because it allows the Bible to speak for itself, on its own terms; it honors God’s sovereignty in his decision on the where and when and how and by whom of biblical authorship; and it honors God’s power in preserving, for the church, a superabundance of ancient manuscripts from which we can get a solid understanding of what was written in those elusive original manuscripts.

If you’ve managed to make it through this ridiculously long post, I’d love to hear your feedback. You can either leave a comment or send me an email.

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