Friday, July 01, 2005

Blogging from Singapore's SBL Conference: Friday

The conference closed down today with a few final sessions that ended at noon.

The last day of a conference always feels like an afterthought. Most people will already have left, and the big reception is usually on the penultimate day in the late afternoon. That's always unfortunate for those scholars who get scheduled for the last sessions. I was lucky enough not to end up as one of those.

Today, I heard Mark Stephens, of Macquarie University, give his presentation, "The End of Creation: A Non-annihilationist Reading of the Apocalypse of John." Mark's views probably belong to the same general realm of thought as those of N. T. Wright, given Mark's emphasis upon the renewal rather that the destruction of creation in the Apocalypse of John. Indeed, Mark finds this true of most apocalyptic texts that he has looked at.

But to focus on the Apocalypse of John . . . Mark argued that it presents God as sanctifying the earth, which had been corrupted by sin in the Garden of Eden, in order to prepare it as a proper place for his dwelling. Mark interprets the "new heaven and new earth" in the sense of "renewed."

Actually, I tend to agree with this reading . . . but I played the devil's advocate and posed the following question:

"Revelation 20:11 says that the throne of God appeared, and when it did, then the earth and heaven fled from it, and 'no place was found for them.' Following this verse are several verses with the judgement and destruction of various things -- Death, Hades, and some of the dead -- after which, in 21:1, come a new heaven and a new earth, 'for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.' Now, a prima facie reading of these verses would support the interpretation that the old heaven and earth had been destroyed. Consistent with this, consider that if heaven and earth flee from the presence of the throne and no place is found for them, then this is consistent with saying that they no longer exist. How would you respond to this reading?"

Mark agreed that these were difficult verses that he would need to deal with in more detail. He thought, however, that the phrase "no place was found for them" need not imply destruction.

Stephen Pattemore, of the United Bible Societies, then noted -- in favor of Mark's view -- that 20:13 speaks of the "sea" giving up the dead in it, asking how the sea could still exist if the earth had been destroyed in verse 11.

I suggested that the "sea" was a metaphor for "the abyss."

Stephen acknowledged that this might be the case, and we left unresolved the question of whether the world ends in fire or ice . . . or not at all.


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