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The annual Easter attack on Christianity has begun

Updated on April 1, 2012
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Bob Hunter worked for Ontario Hydro for 22 years. He later became a researcher/writer for the Christian Research Institute in California.

The Nag Hammadi Library, the source of many Gnostic gospels
The Nag Hammadi Library, the source of many Gnostic gospels | Source

Once again the annual assault on Christianity has begun. Every year around Easter the liberal news media launch a mini-war on the reliability of Scripture by appealing to liberal "Christian" writers to do articles or create documentaries casting doubt on Christian beliefs.

This year CNN has written an article - fittingly on April 1st - titled "4 Big Myths of Book of Revelation." Always anxious for factual information, writer John Blake has appealed to liberal author Elaine Pagels for information. Pagels is well known for her defense of Gnosticism, an early Christian heresy.

So what are the "myths" in her eyes?

It's About the End of the World

First, she maintains that the Book of Revelation isn't about the end times and wasn't written by the Apostle John (that's two "myths" but apparently Blake wasn't counting). In her view the author of Revelation...

was actually describing the way his own world ended.

She says the writer of Revelation may have been called John – the book is sometimes called “Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine” but he was not the disciple who accompanied Jesus. He was a devout Jew and mystic exiled on the island of Patmos in present-day Turkey.

Unfortunately, Pagels presents no evidence that John wasn't the Apostle. She simply makes the claim that he was a devout Jew concerned about what the Romans were doing to the Jews.

She also says that John was simply trying to encourage his fellow citizens after the destruction of Jerusalem, maintaining that Christ would return and destroy the Romans.

What she chooses to ignore, however, is the fact that much prophecy and apply both to the present and to the future. It can describe events and people taking place at that moment and at the same time point ahead to a future time when the prophecy will be fulfilled more completely. We see that, for example, in the many Old Testament prophecies pointing ahead to the coming of Jesus Christ.

The Numerals 666 Stand for the Devil

Second, she maintains that the number 666 does not refer to the devil or anti-Christ, but was a reference to Nero.

Here she may actually have something right! Some Christians do hold to the fact that John was referring to the Emperor Nero (See, for example, Hank Hanegraaff's article What Is the Meaning of 666?) Others believe it could also refer to a future anti-Christ as well as Nero. Again, dual meanings. Regardless of your eschatological view, however, it would be wrong to totally dismiss the possibility of a future anti-Christ. In fact, John makes it clear that there have been and will be many anti-Christs.

The Writer of Revelation Was a Christian

Third, she holds that the author of Revelation wasn't even a Christian, and, in fact, attacked Christians in Revelation. According to Pagels John didn't like Paul's message, the idea that gentiles could become followers of Christ apart from the Torah, or its acceptance of woman leaders. She says there were other forms of Christianity, as evidenced in the Gnostic Gospels and that

"there were other accounts of Jesus’ life that were suppressed by early church leaders because it didn’t fit with their agenda."

Mind you, the Gnostic Gospels were written centuries after the New Testament was completed, but Pagels doesn't want you to know that. See Douglas Groothuis's article The Gnostic Gospels: Are They Authentic?

It's interesting that non-Christians are quick to grasp onto these gospels while dismissing the earlier biblical Gospels.

In an attempt to prove John hated Christianity, she says,

At one point, he calls a woman leader in an early church community a “Jezebel.” He calls one of those gentile-accepting churches a “synagogue of Satan.”

Well, let's look at that: In Revelation 2 we see John writing to the church at Thyatira (why would he write to the churches at all, if he hated them?) In his letter he writes:

I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

John is condemning someone claiming to be a prophetess, not a leader, and saying that she was leading them into sexual immorality. Such behavior shouldn't be tolerated in any church. This isn't saying he's condemning them for having a woman leader.

Also in Revelation 2 John speaks to the church at Smyrna

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

This refers to those claiming to be followers of Christ whose actions show that they are not. Quite likely they may have been Jews trying to blend the law with the Gospel. Additionally, 2nd century Christian Irenaeus attributes the author of Revelation to John the Apostle. Irenaeus had personally listened to Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, and so knew that he was the author or Revelation.

There Is Only One Book of Revelation

Fourth, Pagels maintains there are other books like the Book of Revelation that didn't make it into the Bible.

Early church leaders suppressed an “astonishing” range of books that claimed to be revelations from apostles such as Peter and James. Many of these books were read and treasured by Christians throughout the Roman Empire, she says.

There was even another “Secret Revelation of John.” In this one, Jesus wasn’t a divine warrior, but someone who first appeared to the apostle Paul as a blazing light, then as a child, an old man and, some scholars say, a woman.

This book was written around 180 AD, long after the last of the books of the New Testament were written. Irenaeus himself referred to this book while talking about "an indescribable number of secret and illegitimate writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish people, who are ignorant of the true scriptures" (Adversus Haereses 1.20.1.)

People like Pagels are eager to embrace such writings to support their own heretical views, however.

CNN describes itself as "among the world't leaders in online news and information delivery." It's a good thing it doesn't promote itself as being accurate.

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