Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is Rev.5:6 a Prophetic Place/Time Indicator?

The following is an example where a misrendering of certain Bible verses (in modern versions such as the NIV and the New Living Translation) could be mistaken as supporting a modern, popular eschatological view, whereas the more accurate rendering (such as that of the KJV) lends support more naturally to the more historically standard* eschatological viewpoint:

5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A MEASURE of wheat for A PENNY, three MEASURES of barley for A PENNY; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.

The NIV misrenders "measure" as "quart" and the New Living Translation misrenders it as "loaf". "A penny" is misrendered in the NIV as "a day's wages" and in the New Living Translation it is misrendered as "a day's pay". Such misrenderings could easily be mistaken in a way which could affect one's eschatology.

Even though it's true that "a measure" may convert approximately to a quart (approximately an eighth of a US bushel; and even though it may be true that "a penny" was equal to a day's wages at the time when John was writing - such paraphrases could be mistaken to mean that the prophecy could be fulfilled just as easily in virtually any circumstance, in virtually any place and at any time, even where a different sytem of measurement may be in vogue besides the "measure"; where a different currency may be in use besides the "penny"; and where a day's wages may be a different amount to one penny, so long as the relative values are somewhat comparable.

For example, someone living in a member-country of the European Union, afer reading these verses in the NIV, in this year of AD2010, might assume that the prophecy is being fulfilled before his very eyes, if wheat prices ever fetch €49.53 per US bushel (based on a quart being equivalent to an eighth of a US bushel; and an eighth of a day's wages being equivalent to €49.35). And then, on that assumption, he might even feel emboldened to begin forecasting further predictions for the ensuing months and years - predictions of apocalyptic proportions.

But if instead of reading the NIV, the same person instead reads the same verses in a version which renders the text accurately (such as the KJV), he will notice that the text specifies a measure of wheat - not a quart, nor any other system of measurement; it specifies a penny - not the Euro nor any other currency; and it specifies a penny - not fewer nor more than a penny, but one penny.

He will be able to observe that the prophecy cannot apply so easily to a region and at a moment in history where the system of measurement in vogue is anything other than the "measure"; where the currency in use is anything other than the "penny"; and when the amount of "a [single] penny" is no longer regarded as a somewhat significant amount.

It will seem more natural to him then - especially if he reads the text in the literal sense - that the prophecy most likely had to have found its fulfillment in a region where the system of measurement in vogue was the measure; where the currency in use was the penny; and at a moment in history when the amount of one penny still had considerable significance.

He will be much less likely therefore to imagine that the prophecy is being fulfilled before his very eyes in his region which uses a different system of measurement; a different currency; and a different amount for the price of wheat than that which was deliberately specified by the text of the Bible; and at a time when a penny has different significance than what was intended by the Bible-verse in question.

He will also therefore be far less likely to feel emboldened to forecast predictions of apocalyptic proportions for the ensuing months and years. He will thus avoid repeating the now all-too-familiar cycle of failed apocalyptic predictions.

Instead, in all probability he will find that he concurs with the more historically standard view that there probably has been no better candidate for meeting the criteria required to fulfill these verses than regions within the Roman Empire shortly after John wrote the Book of Revelation.

* As John Wesley explained: "The word translated measure, was a Grecian measure, nearly equal to our quart. This was the daily allowance of a slave. The Roman penny, as much as a labourer then earned in a day, was about sevenpence halfpenny English. According to this, wheat would be near twenty shillings per bushel. This must have been fulfilled while the Grecian measure and the Roman money were still in use; as also where that measure was the common measure, and this money the current coin."

Could this go to the core of explaining why so many contemporary end-times predictions have a cycle of repeat-failure? It may be that Bible-readers are looking for a contemporary fulfillment of particular prophecies, in their own region and during their own moment in history, when in fact the particular prophecy may have already have found fulfillment in a region and at a moment in history which may have been specified or at least inferred by the text itself. And as we have seen, sometimes a contributing factor to such error is the inaccurate rendering of Bible-texts in some modern Bible-versions.

With a bit of poetic licence, perhaps the meaning of the above verses could legitimately be stretched to allow some room for the modern, popular eschatological view to be considered. However, doesn't the literal sense of the text seem to demand - or at least, more naturally support - the more historically standard eschatological viewpoint? (the more historically standard viewpoint being the explanation quoted above in the words of Wesley and favoured for centuries by other reformers, revivalists, missionaries and evangelists of the Church.)

The pertinent question then is, must the text be applied literally? Is it fair to say that if the Holy Spirit intended the prophecy to refer to a future time, He would have seen to it that the original text was worded in the way the NIV or the New Living Translation mistakenly renders it, instead of inspiring it to be written as it was, in a way which is deliberately specific as to the unit of measurement; the currrency of use; and the specific amount (specifically "a penny" rather than whether or not it was more generally just "a day's wages")?

An important consideration in answering that question is that good hermeneutics and exegesis require that we be loyal to that which is indicated by Bible texts themselves, rather than motivated by a need to allow a particular text to fit a presupposed, modern, eschatological viewpoint.

Time, if nothing else, will tell!

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