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John of Patmos: 2012 or Bust?

by Michael R. Burch

As we count down to 2012, should anyone believe the Revelation of John of Patmos aka John the Divine? Or is the book of Revelation full of errors, contradictions and false prophecies? Was the writer of the Apocalypse a prophet, or a deeply disturbed lunatic?

Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books."
Thomas Jefferson considered Revelation "merely the ravings of a maniac."
Martin Luther said "Christ is neither taught nor known in it."
John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."

Mark Twain said, "Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand." What bothers me about the Revelation of John of Patmos is not the parts I don't understand, but the parts I do understand: the parts where God, Jesus Christ and the Angels abandon every ethical teaching enshrined in the Bible and becoming a pack of rabid, religion-besotted serial killers.

Clearly, the book of Revelation is full of errors and horrors. And the errors and horrors are not only factual, scientific and prophetic, but also theological, because John of Patmos clearly refuted core Christian beliefs. For example, John called Jesus the "bright and morning star" when that was Lucifer's designation (Isaiah 14:11-15). John then went on to describe a God who acts like the Devil: killing women, children and innocent animals, then torturing human beings with fire and brimstone, "in the presence of the Lamb and Holy Angels." What sort of "God," what sort of "lamb" and what sort of "angels" torture other beings with fire and brimstone, or sit idly by and watch them being tortured? Will heaven be like Auschwitz? Will Jesus Christ turn out to be another Mengele and God the Father another Hitler?

In his bizarre, palpably evil "revelation," John of Patmos said Jesus would kill the children of an adulteress "with death." Crude grammar aside, according to the Bible, Jesus rescued an adulteress from being stoned, so why would he kill innocent children for something their mother did, when the act didn't merit death even for her? Why do so many Christians insist on turning Jesus into a woman-killer and a child-killer, when they say he will return to destroy multitudes of non-Christians? Good men do not kill women and children purposefully for any reason, and to kill anyone, even an adult, for having sex is barbaric. When Christians calmly assume that having sex is a valid reason for other people to be killed, then tortured for all eternity, one must question whether they believe that Jesus Christ is actually the Devil. If like John of Patmos they believe Jesus will kill children because adults have sex, they make him seem perverse beyond all belief.

Of course one can "prove" that their is an afterlife, or the God exists, or that Jesus continues to live in some other dimension. But it almost seems not to matter, to me. What's the point of "belief" if the the only "hope" is that beings worse than Hitler and Mengele will allow their obedient slaves to watch them kill, then eternally torture, other human beings?

And why such unbelievable punishments for trivial things like eating, drinking and having sex? According to John of Patmos, Christians are condemned for eating food sacrificed to idols, but according to Jesus, Peter and Paul, all food is clean. Paul said that he could eat food offered to idols with a clear conscience. Jesus said that it is what comes out of our mouths (words) that we should worry about, not the food we ingest. Among Christians, only the Judaizers that Paul opposed so vehemently believed certain foods were "unclean." Obviously, John of Patmos was a Judaizer. There is no reason to worry about food being offered to idols, because the "gods" represented by idols are not real. So John of Patmos was a superstitious man, according to Jesus, Peter and Paul, if he believed that offering food to a nonexistent "god" made it "unclean."

That John is a Judaizer is clear, because even if a church is doing well, it must continue doing works to be saved. Salvation is not by grace, but depends on works, eating the right things, not having the wrong kind of sex, etc. This is clearly illustrated in these verses:

Revelation 20:12-13—And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.

So obviously grace had nothing to do with salvation, according to John. The only thing that mattered was works.

It is also important to note that Hades was not "hell," but the grave. This is also true for the Hebrew word Sheol. Sheol and Hades were not hell, but the grave or the abode of all the dead (not just the "wicked"). It makes no sense to say that God sent people to "hell" only to judge them and decide that they were righteous, after all. So Bibles such as the KJV are obviously wrong when they translate Sheol and Hades as "hell." Job asked to be hidden from suffering in Sheol; King David said God would be with him if he made his bed in Sheol (i.e., if he died); the sons of Korah said God would redeem them from Sheol; and Israel himself said that he and Joseph would be reunited in Sheol. Obviously, they were not talking about a place of eternal suffering that could never be escaped. They were talking about the grave: a place where there would be no more suffering. But Christians have been terrified of a place called "hell" for centuries because of a Bible they fail to understand. There is no reason to believe in a place called "hell" as a revelation of an all-knowing God, because the God of the Bible never mentioned "hell" or suffering after death to his best human friends: Adam, Eve, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, or a long line of Hebrew prophets (the prophets said even Sodom would be restored in the end). Nor did Paul ever mention a place called "hell" in his epistles, the earliest-written Christian texts. Nor did the word "hell" appear in any of the early Christian sermons recorded in the book of Acts (ostensibly the self-recorded history of the early church). When Peter spoke directly to the men who had murdered Jesus forty days before Pentecost, he spoke of the "restitution of all things to God, spoken of by all the Holy Prophets since the world began," but he never mentioned anyone going to a place called "hell" for any reason. The only Sheol/Hades references in the book of Acts are two quotations of David saying that his soul would not remain in Sheol (the grave). The early Christians were clearly using the resurrection of Jesus to claim that verses in the Hebrew Bible that prophesied a resurrection had been fulfilled. They claimed that this proved that Jesus was the Messiah. But there was nothing in the Hebrew Bible about a place called "hell" where people suffered after death. So while most Christians today assume that the Jews and early Christians believed in a place called "hell," this is obviously not the case. Because Sheol and Hades did not mean "hell," people like John of Patmos actually created a new, nameless place where human beings would be tortured after death. Later, it seems Sheol, Hades and this nameless "lake of fire" became confused, but if any of the parts of the Bible that prophesied the Messiah and a resurrection and a peaceful kingdom came from God, there never was a "hell" or a "lake of fire" for anyone to fear.  Ironically, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, it was the Pharisees who introduced the idea of suffering after death to the Judaism of their day. So even more ironically, it seems John of Patmos may have been a Pharisee, one of the sworn enemies of Jesus.

And here's another area of disagreement: the Bible clearly teaches that human beings die only once, but John spoke of a "second death," which Christians were in danger of. If there is a second death, why didn't God or Jesus or any prophet or apostle ever mention it anywhere else in the Bible?

John said that Jesus would turn his back on Christians if they grew cold or even lukewarm, but this refutes the promise of Jesus never to leave or forsake Christians, "even to the ends of the earth."

John’s "God" is evil and unjust, a monster. For instance, John heard all the creatures of the earth praise God, after which he turned around and destroyed them.

John’s "God" made ridiculous mistakes. For instance, all the grass was destroyed by fire, but then later God "forgot" that the grass had been destroyed and told the giant locusts not to harm the grass.

John said Jesus had "paps" (female breasts). Nowhere else in the Bible is God or the Messiah described as being a hermaphrodite, although some pagan "gods" had such attributes.

John said Jesus would search the hearts and kidneys ("reins") of believers. Kidneys, really? No one believes kidneys play a role in how we think, act or feel, today. We know the will and emotions spring from our brains, not our kidneys!

John obviously believed that the earth was flat, with corners, and that the stars were tiny pinpoints of light. He said he saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth. We know that his earth was flat because he said that every eye would see Jesus when he descended from the clouds. That can only happen on a flat earth. And John obviously believed that this would happen in his own lifetime, because he said that the people who had "pierced" Jesus would see him return.  The people who had pierced Jesus were the Roman soldiers who crucified him. John may have written his original text while living in Jerusalem as it was being beseiged by the Romans (circa  AD 70). If so, John was understandably full of hatred for the Romans and wanted Jesus to return and destroy them. In John's vision, which seems to have been wishful thinking, the people who had murdered Jesus would see him return to judge the "Beast" (the Roman emperor) and "Babylon" (the Roman empire).

His hatred of the Romans probably led John to say they would be tortured with fire and brimstone "in the presence of the Lamb and Holy Angels." But Jesus had asked God to forgive his murderers because they didn’t know what they were doing. How can these two very different visions of Jesus be reconciled? And how can anyone believe Jesus and the Angels are going to torture human beings, in heaven? So much for hell being "separation from God."

While most Christians now believe that Revelation forecasts future events, it seems clear that the early Christians  believed Jesus would return to their generation:

Mathew 16:28"I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

Luke 9:27"I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."

Mark 13:30I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Mark 14:62[Jesus speaking to his accusers said] "You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven."

Yet another disagreement: John said God has seven spirits. This is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.

John also got the names of the twelve tribes wrong, leaving out Dan and Ephraim, but including Joseph. Joseph's sons were generally considered separate tribes in their own right because they were allotted tribal territories within Israel, but if Joseph’s sons are included there are fourteen tribes rather than twelve (or thirteen if Joseph is not counted). It seems highly unlikely that an all-wise God would have forgotten the names of the twelve tribes of Israel! But it's easy for human beings to make mistakes, when they think there are twelve tribes but there are actually fourteen.

John said the things he described must soon take place because the time was near. And in a way he was right, because Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans, and the Jews who lived went into Diaspora. So their world really did end. But even if he was right about the timing, John was wrong about the victors.

In John's book, the churches are judged collectively, not as individuals, and it is not faith in Jesus that saves the churches, or the grace of God, but works.

The early church fathers knew the writer of Revelation was not the writer of the Gospel of John, because Revelation is a poorly written book. Ancient church fathers who denied that the author of John also wrote Revelation included John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Denis of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Gregory Nazianzen. For example, Eusebius wrote of Revelation: "The phrasing itself also helps to differentiate between the Gospel and Epistle[s of John] on the one hand and the book of Revelation on the other. The first two are written not only without errors in the Greek, but also with real skill with respect to vocabulary, logic and coherence of meaning. You won't find any barbaric expression, grammatical flaw, or vulgar expression in them. ... I don't deny that this other author [John of Patmos] had revelations ... but I notice that in neither language nor in style does he write accurate Greek. He makes use of barbaric expressions and is sometimes guilty even of grammatical error ... I don't say this in order to accuse him (far from it!), but simply to demonstrate that the two books are not at all similar."

Eighteen hundred years ago, Dionysius (Bishop of the Patriarchy of Alexandria) stated that Revelation was not written by the same person who wrote John's Gospel and Letters. He compared the writing styles and found John of Patmos to be unlike any other New Testament writer.

Tom Harpur describes Revelation's Greek style as "barbarous."

Martin Luther believed Revelation contradicted much of the content of the Gospel of John and the synoptic Gospels, so he relegated it to an appendix in his German translation of the Bible.

John of Patmos contradicts John the Apostle at nearly every turn. And we should remember that Revelation was doubted by many early Christians and was not generally accepted as part of the New Testament canon until AD 508. Some Christian sects still do not include it in their Bibles. Therefore criticism of Revelation is not new.

And if the number of the beast is so important, why do different texts have different numbers: 666 and 616?

The early Church father Irenaeus knew of several occurrences of the 616 variant. The testimony of Irenaeus is important, because he was a disciple of Polycarp who according to his followers was a disciple of the apostle John.

In May 2005, it was reported that scholars at Oxford University using advanced imaging techniques had been able to read previously illegible portions of the earliest known record of Revelation (a 1,700 year old papyrus), from the Oxyrhynchus site, Papyrus 115 or P115, dating one century after Irenaeus. The fragment gives the Number of the Beast as 616 (χ ι ϛ), rather than the majority text 666 (χ ξ ϛ). The other early witness Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C) has it written in full: hexakosiai deka hex (lit. six hundred sixteen). Significantly, P115 aligns with Codex Alexandrinus (A) and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C) which are generally regarded as providing the best testimony to Revelation.

Dr. Paul Lewes in his book, A Key to Christian Origins (1932) wrote: "The figure 616 is given in one of the two best manuscripts, C (Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, Paris), by the Latin version of Tyconius (DCXVI, ed. Souter in the Journal of Theology, SE, April 1913), and by an ancient Armenian version (ed. Conybaere, 1907). Irenaeus knew about it [the 616 reading], but did not adopt it (Haer. v.30,3), Jerome adopted it (De Monogramm., ed. Dom G Morin in the Rev. Benedictine, 1903). It is probably original."

Professor David C. Parker, Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham, thinks that 616, although less memorable than 666, is the original. Dr. Ellen Aitken said: "Scholars have argued for a long time over this, and it now seems that 616 was the original number of the beast. It's probably about 100 years before any other version."

The remainder of this page consists of a letter by Thomas Jefferson and a series of quotations by Mark Twain:

Thomas Jefferson
TO GENERAL ALEXANDER SMYTH MONTICELLO
January 17 1825

DEAR SIR,
I have duly received four proof sheets of your explanation of the Apocalypse with your letters of December 29th and January 8th; in the last of which you request that so soon as I shall be of opinion that the explanation you have given is correct I would express it in a letter to you. From this you must be so good as to excuse me because I make it an invariable rule to decline ever giving opinions on new publications in any case whatever. No man on earth has less taste or talent for criticism than myself and least and last of all should I undertake to criticise works on the Apocalypse. It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it and I then considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams. I was therefore well pleased to see in your first proof sheet that it was said to be not the production of St John but of Cerinthus a century after the death of that apostle. Yet the change of the author's name does not lessen the extravagances of the composition and come they from whomsoever they may I cannot so far respect them as to consider them as an allegorical narrative of events past or subsequent. There is not coherence enough in them to countenance any suite of rational ideas. You will judge therefore from this how impossible I think it that either your explanation or that of any man in the heavens above or on the earth beneath can be a correct one. What has no meaning admits no explanation and pardon me if I say with the candor of friendship that I think your time too valuable and your understanding of too high an order to be wasted on these paralogisms. You will perceive I hope also that I do not consider them as revelations of the Supreme Being whom I would not so far blaspheme as to impute to Him a pretension of revelation couched at the same time in terms which He would know were never to be understood by those to whom they were addressed. In the candor of these observations I hope you will see proofs of the confidence esteem and which I entertain for you.

The Writings of Thomas Jefferson By Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Adgate Lipscomb, Albert Ellery Bergh, Richard Holland Johnston, Thomas Jefferson memorial association of the United States

It [the Bible] is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.—Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

The two Testaments are interesting, each in its own way. The Old one gives us a picture of these people's Deity as he was before he got religion, the other one gives us a picture of him as he appeared afterward.—Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

The Christian's Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes...The world has corrected the Bible. The church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession—and take the credit of the correction. During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. the Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry.....There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.—Mark Twain, "Bible Teaching and Religious Practice"

When one reads Bibles, one is less surprised at what the Deity knows than at what He doesn't know.—Mark Twain, Notebook

If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.—Mark Twain, Notebook

There has been only one Christian. They caught him and crucified him, early.—Mark Twain, Notebook (1898)

I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored, from pirate raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Phillipines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.—Mark Twain, speech, "A Salutation from the 19th to the 20th Century" (December 31, 1900)

The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive ... but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition. The Greeks surpassed us in artistic culture and in architecture five hundred years before Christian religion was born.—Mark Twain, from Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain, a Biography (1912)

Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.—Mark Twain

I am plenty safe enough in his hands; I am not in any danger from that kind of a Deity. The one that I want to keep out of the reach of, is the caricature of him which one finds in the Bible. We (that one and I) could never respect each other, never get along together. I have met his superior a hundred times—in fact I amount to that myself.—Mark Twain, letter to Livy (July 17, 1889)

To this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave.—Mark Twain, letter to librarian Asa Don Dickinson (November 21, 1905)

Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if He is as little as that, He is beneath it.—Mark Twain, from Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain, a Biography (1912)

Nevertheless we have this curious spectacle: daily the trained parrot in the pulpit gravely delivers himself of these ironies, which he has acquired at second-hand and adopted without examination, to a trained congregation which accepts them without examination, and neither the speaker nor the hearer laughs at himself. It does seem as if we ought to be humble when we are at a bench-show, and not put on airs of intellectual superiority there.—Mark Twain, "Thoughts of God"

If I were to construct a God I would furnish Him with some way and qualities and characteristics which the Present lacks. He would not stoop to ask for any man's compliments, praises, flatteries; and He would be far above exacting them. I would have Him as self-respecting as the better sort of man in these regards. He would not be a merchant, a trader. He would not buy these things. He would not sell, or offer to sell, temporary benefits of the joys of eternity for the product called worship. I would have Him as dignified as the better sort of man in this regard. He would value no love but the love born of kindnesses conferred; not that born of benevolences contracted for. Repentance in a man's heart for a wrong done would cancel and annul that sin; and no verbal prayers for forgiveness be required or desired or expected of that man. In His Bible there would be no Unforgiveable Sin. He would recognize in Himself the Author and Inventor of Sin and Author and Inventor of the Vehicle and Appliances for its commission; and would place the whole responsibility where it would of right belong: upon Himself, the only Sinner. He would not be a jealous God—a trait so small that even men despise it in each other. He would not boast. He would keep private His admirations of Himself; He would regard self-praise as unbecoming the dignity of his position. He would not have the spirit of vengeance in His heart. Then it would not issue from His lips. There would not be any hell—except the one we live in from the cradle to the grave. There would not be any heaven—the kind described in the world's Bibles. He would spend some of His eternities in trying to forgive Himself for making man unhappy when he could have made him happy with the same effort and he would spend the rest of them in studying astronomy.—Mark Twain, Notebook

To trust the God of the Bible is to trust an irascible, vindictive, fierce and ever fickle and changeful master; to trust the true God is to trust a Being who has uttered no promises, but whose beneficent, exact, and changeless ordering of the machinery of His colossal universe is proof that He is at least steadfast to His purposes; whose unwritten laws, so far as the affect man, being equal and impartial, show that he is just and fair; these things, taken together, suggest that if he shall ordain us to live hereafter, he will be steadfast, just and fair toward us. We shall not need to require anything more.—Mark Twain, from Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain, a Biography (1912)

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