Does the Bible Endorse Slavery? (I)

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Whenever the topic of Islam-approved slavery is brought up by a Christian, a typical tu quoque (“you too”) response of Islam’s apologists is to point to some places in the Bible where slavery is allegedly endorsed – a response that ignores the fact that Christianity predates Islam by 6 centuries.

Slavery-in-the-bible also constitutes one of the garden variety arguments used by Atheists to virulently attack the God of the Bible. The “glue” binding both groups of Bible bashers – Muslims and atheists – is the dollop of emotional blackmail infused into their (mis)perception of slavery.

Whenever biblical slavery is mentioned by such people, it is often deployed to incite an emotional reaction connected with the racist slavery of the American south in the 18th and 19th centuries, or other brutal instances of slavery in the ancient world.

However, to read such concepts into Old Testament Israelite servanthood or the foreign slavery which the Bible permits, would be absolutely inaccurate and deceptive.

In this article, the stark differences between OT servanthood and American chattel slavery will be highlighted and passages often used by Bible haters will be explained. In the next article, we will examine passages pertaining to slavery in the New Testament.

1. It might interest skeptics to know that the terms “slave” and “master” used in the OT are not the best translations of Hebrew words ‘ebed and ‘adon. The word ‘ebed simply means “employee” or “servant” and should not be translated “slave.”

Old Testament scholar, John Goldingay, noted that “there is nothing inherently lowly or undignified about being an ‘ebed.” Instead it was an honourable and dignified term” (John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Intervarsity, 2009, Vol. 3, p. 460).

The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the OT notes that ebed can refer to “servant of a household” and cites Exodus 21:2 which will still be examined later in this piece.

Mounce’s Dictionary also defines the word as a “servant.” An ‘adon in Hebrew was a “boss” or “employer” in these contexts and “master” is a bit too strong of a translation.

2. The language used in the OT hardly suggests slavery, but rather a formal contractual agreement to be fulfilled. They were more of debt-servanthood arrangements.

When a family incurred debt or experienced a disaster, such as crop failure, an individual could voluntarily enter into a contractual agreement (that is, “sell” himself) to work in the household of another and pay off his debt. This is stated in Lev. 25:47 “one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself.”

A scholar explains:

“Even when the terms buy, sell or acquire are used for servants/employees, they don’t mean the person in question is ‘just property’ . . .  Rather, these are formal contractual agreements, which is what we find in the Old Testament servanthood/employee arrangements. One example of this contracted employer/employee relationship was Jacob’s working for Laban for seven years so that he might marry his daughter Rachel.” (Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Baker Books, 2011, p. 125).

3. In addition to what was clarified above, indentured servitude existed primarily as a means of debt payment. These employees lived with and worked for a family for economic sustenance (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:1, 12).

It was like enlisting in the army where you forgo certain freedoms you had as a civilian to enjoy compensatory benefits. The OT affirms God ordained servitude for people as a means of survival when all other means were exhausted.

4. OT slavery was never chattel slavery like the American South was. Indentured servants had certain rights and protections accorded to them by the Mosaic law:

“The ancient Hebrews as a people knew slavery in their Egyptian bondage (Exod. 1:10-14; 5:5-14), from which they eventually were led to be free people under Moses (Exod. 12:37-42). Because of that experience, Mosaic legislation developed certain rules about the keeping of slaves: ‘Remember that once you were salves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you; that is why I give you this order today’ (Deut. 15:15; cf. Lev. 25:42-45, 55).

“Even though slavery as a social and economic institution was recognized in ancient Israel, there was a clear attempt to humanize it in a way that set Israel apart from its neighbors. The social and economic structure of ancient Palestine was not, therefore, built on slavery, as it often was in other contemporary cultures and lands.” (Joseph Fitzmyer, The Letter to Philemon, Doubleday, 2000, p. 29).

This stands in contrast to American slavery. The agrarian economy of the old South was labour-intensive. Slaves were used as an easy source of cheap, mass labour.

5. OT servants were more like live-in butlers or nannies. They did not walk around with chains around their neck, enduring racism, or being worked to death like in the old South. Lifelong slavery was even forbidden.

Deuteronomy 15:16 shows servants often truly loved the leaders of the household and thought of them as family. Leviticus 25:53 says such servants were to be treated as men “hired from year to year” not “rule[d] over ruthlessly.” According to a reference work:

“Slaves were afforded a degree of legal protection in Israel. The Covenant Code stipulated three basic measures: beating a slave to death would necessitate an unspecified punishment (Ex. 21:30); if a master permanently injured a slave, release of the slave was required (21:26f.); and masters were required to provide the sabbath rest for their slaves (23:12) …

“Besides these general regulations, the law afforded Hebrew slaves further protections. They could be held for only six years (Ex. 21:2ff.; Dt. 15:12; but see Lev. 25:39f.). The Deuteronomic Code further stipulated that the master would have to provide the freedman with animals, grain, and wine (Dt. 15:13f.). They were not returnable to foreign owners if they succeeded in running away (23:15f.)…” (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Goeffrey Bromiley, Eerdmans, 1988, Vol. 4, p. 541).

All of these facts destroy the emotional reaction atheists wish to evoke in people when telling them that “the bible endorses slavery.” It’s simple mindedness to meld narratives of slavery in history with this biblical servitude.

On Exodus and Slavery

A favourite passage Bible bashers use to play up their card is Exodus 21:20-21

When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.”

Notice that according to verse 20, the murder of servants is strongly prohibited and was punishable by death. Of course, unbelievers often ignore this truth because it doesn’t go with the grand plan.

In vs. 21, the boss is given the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t intend to murder the servant but was disciplining him for doing some moral wrong he wasn’t supposed to. In that case the boss would not be put to death since it would be ruled accidental.

This didn’t mean bosses should discipline their servants so cruelly that they died after two days or that this was somehow endorsed. That’s not what the text is saying.

It’s simply saying if such an accidental death occurs after a disciplinary punishment, the boss did not deserve death. Life for a life applied only when there was a wilful intent to murder.

God didn’t allow physical abuse of servants. If an employer’s disciplining his servant resulted in immediate death, that employer (“master”) was to be put to death for murder (Exo. 21:20) – unlike other ancient Near Eastern codes (see Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics and the People of God, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2006, p. 292).

Infact, Babylon’s Hammurabi’s Code permitted the master to cut off his disobedient slave’s ear.

Some skeptics gripe over the end of vs. 21 which says, “for the slave is his money,” a remark that seems to suggest the servant was his master’s property. Such distortion of the text to fit the narrative of the bible basher is understandable. We call them skeptics for a reason.

The Hebrew doesn’t say “the slave is his money.” What it says is, “that is his money.” Ancient Near East scholar, Harry Hoffner, has shown in his work, Slavery and Ancient Slavery in Haiti and Israel, that based on the context of Exodus 21:18-19 the text should be rendered, “the fee is his money” in the sense that the fee the boss would pay for medical treatment for the soon-to-die injured servant was money.

From its Hebrew context, the text is saying that the death was accidental and the boss tried to save the servant by paying for medical treatment thus, the boss should not be executed since his punishment or “fee” for this tragic accidental death was money he paid in trying to save the servant.

Finally, another “troubling passage” is Exodus 21:7-11 which makes mention of a man selling his daughter as an ‘amah, rendered “slave” or “servant.”

Here is what an Old Testament scholar has to say:

“This paricope pertains to a girl who is sold by her father, not for slavery, but for marriage. Nonetheless, she is designated a ‘servant’ (‘amah, v. 7). Should the terms of marriage not be fulfilled, it is to be considered a breach of contract, and the purchaser must allow the girl to be redeemed; she must not be sold outside that family (v. 8). Always she must be treated as a daughter or a free-born woman, or the forfeiture clause will be invoked” (Walter Kaiser, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan, 1990, Vol. 2, p. 430).

Once the entire historical and linguistical context of the passage is grasped, the shrill assertions of the critic evaporate into thin air.

Sadly, in their seething rage to attack the Bible, unbelievers never pause to consider that the “50 bad bible verses” they cite (usually gleaned from a village atheist) consist of misinterpreted texts, context butchered, idioms or meanings of words vastly misunderstood, rudimentary, elementary exegetical and hermeneutical principles spat upon and scornfully dismissed.

The Old Testament Wars and Christianity

A common opinion of many non-Christians is that the Old Testament passages of the Bible depict an angry, cruel God who sanctioned wars, murders and destruction analogous to the war-mongering Allah of the Quran. For some, this is the slickest excuse they rehearse to justify their rejection of God.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) a deist, in his Age of Reason made references to “all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes.”

To anyone conversant with history, this statement conveniently skips over huge gaps of millennia, civilizations and ethnicity, betraying a writer plagued by extreme prejudice and obtuse rhetoric.

While there are anti-Christians who use several Old Testament events to attack Christianity ignoring the obvious distinctions, there are some Christians that consider the OT to be uninspired or totally irrelevant. We need to take a look at the bigger picture, since the New Testament honours the Old:

“Everything written long ago was written to teach us so that we would have confidence through the endurance and encouragement which the Scriptures give us.” (Rom. 15:4)

We must not ignore the Old testament, in fact, we cannot have a clear understanding of the New testament without having a good grasp of it. The Old testament gives us the background of God’s relationship with His people, His Laws and prophecies of Jesus the Messiah. But the loaded questions that the OT wars generate makes it important to approach it in the context of history, prophecy, purpose, theology and dispensation.

“The OT came into being in the course of a history, and most of what it says has to do with history,” says Werner Schmidt, an Emeritus Professor of Old Testament. “The historian’s task, therefore, is to sift critically the data of Israelite history from the OT.” The Biblical accounts of the wars the Israelites fought were historical records of their time and not prescriptive commands for Christians today. The historical timeline of the nation of Israel can be divided into six:

Nomadic Antiquity (15th? -13th century BC) – The period between God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, liberation of the Jews from Egypt and God’s Laws given at Sinai.

Prenational Early Period (12th-11th century BC) – Settlement of the Jews in the Promised land, age of the Judges and wars of Yahweh.

Monarchic Period (1000-587 BC) – Period of the kings of Israel (Saul, David, Solomon etc), the prophets Elisha, Elijah, Isaiah etc, Syro-Ephramite war against Judah, the division of the kingdom and Assyrian siege of Jerusalem.

Exile (587-539 BC) – Final destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonians. Period of prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel.

Post- Exilic Period (539-515 BC) – Fall of Babylon to the Persians, rebuilding of the temple. Time of prophets Haggai, Zechariah etc.

Hellenistic Age (333-64 BC) – Alexander the Great’s victory over the Persians, Maccabean revolt, re-dedication of the Temple and conquest of Palestine by the Romans (Werner Schmidt, Old Testament Introduction, St. Paul Press: India, 2010, 9-10).

Any appeal to the OT wars without a consideration of this historical timeline is deceptive and invalid. For instance, the Jews enjoyed a period of relative peace during the monarchic and post-exilic period than the nomadic and prenational era; and most of the wars of that era were over the “Promised Land” God gave them.

This naturally leads us to concisely explore the prophecies underlying Jewish history. God promised a land of clearly defined boundaries to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants forever (Gen. 13:15; Jos. 26:3). This promise was fulfilled over 400 years later when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt “with a mighty hand” and tells them He “has chosen you out of all the people on the face of the earth” (Dt. 7:8; 14:2).

There were responsibilities attached to this position. God said to them: “You only have I known of the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)

He warned that they will “uprooted from the land [they] are entering to possess” and He will “scatter [them] among all the nations” if they practiced the abominations of the nations that had occupied the promised land. (Dt. 28:63, 64) This later happened and the Jews were taken into captivity by other nations.

God foretold that they would “become a byword and an object of ridicule among all people” and “a thing of horror and an object of scorn” among these nations (1 Kgs. 9:7; Dt. 28:37). True to this prophecy, the Jews were hated, mistreated and despised.

God promised to preserve the Israelites and their “descendants from the land of their exile” ( Jer. 3:11) He said: “For I will take you out of the nations: I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” (Jer. 36:24) This was fulfilled also.

God has dealt with the nation of Israel for her sins more than any other nation of the world. What then was the purpose of their wars with other nations?

a) Many of the wars they fought were in self-defense as many surrounding nations hated and sought to destroy them. When they left Egypt, “The Amalekites came and attacked” them at Rephidim. Through God’s intervention, they defeated the Amalekites and God said to Moses “Write this on a scroll … because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven” (Ex. 17:8-14).

Each generation of the Amalekites persisted in waging war against Israel. This was why God later commanded King Saul to destroy them.

As they sought to peacefully pass through another nation, the Canaanite king “attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. Then Israel made a vow to the LORD: ‘If you deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.” God granted their plea. (Num. 21:1-3) The king of the Amorites also sent his army to attack them but the Israelites also defeated them (vs 21-25).

Even after Moses’ death, “when all the kings west of Jordan heard about these things … they came together to make war against Joshua and Israel” (Jos. 9:1, 2). It was in a bid to survive in the midst of these hostilities, that the Israelites had to fight in self-defense. God also supported and defended them as long as they were faithful to Him (John Barton, Introduction to the Old Testament, Oxford Press, 2001, 9)

b) Just as God punished the wicked with a deluge in Noah’s day and fire in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, He used the nation of Israel as His medium of judging the wickedness of the nations they fought.

“It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Dt. 9:5)

D. M. McFarlan noted that: “The Canaanites were the inhabitants of the land when the Israelites invaded Canaan. They included Amorites (a Semitic people), Hittites and Hivites” (Dictionary of the Bible, Geddes and Grosset, 2003, 39).

These nations practiced child sacrifices, demon worship and ritual sex (Ps. 106:38; Jer. 7:30). God gave the Amorites 400 years because their sins “had not yet reached its full measure” but when they persisted in their evils, He judged them. “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Gen. 15:13,16; Eccl. 8:11).

c) The battles were fought only under God’s commands and the outcomes depended on whether the Israelites were obedient to Him or not (Ex. 34:24; 2 Sam. 5:17-25). Before a certain war, Moses warned them: “you shall fall by the sword because you have turned away from the LORD, the LORD will not be with you.” They still went ahead to fight that war and they were defeated (Num. 14:39-45).

They didn’t wage war to convert others to Judaism (as Muslims do today) but only according to specific divine directions against nations deep in depravity.

Bible scholar, Allan R. Millard stated: “It is important to realize that Israel was only one of the Canaanites’ enemies, although ultimately the worst. The history of the 13th century BC includes major military actions, invasions, and a general decline in cultural standards” (ed. David and Pat Alexander, The Lion Handbook to the Bible, London, 1983, 213).

Scholars have also pointed out that the OT suggestions of genocides were common ancient eastern hyperbolic war victory rhetoric which shouldn’t be taken literally.

d) Even in these incursions, God extended His mercy to these nations. The Jews were to announce to the cities their terms of peace to avoid war (Dt. 20:10-13) and in some cases, inhabitants, such as Rahab and her family, were spared:

“By recounting the rescue of Rahab twice within this one narrative [Josh. 5:17, 23], the writer underscores the importance of the theme of salvation in the midst of judgment. This was not a war of plunder or personal revenge against the Canaanites. It was, rather, the work of God’s judgment against the people of the land (5:14). Those who helped the Israelites, such as Rahab, were exempt from divine judgement” (John Sailhamer, NIV Compact Bible Commentary, Zondervan, 1994, 187-188).

In their war against the Midianites, the women were also spared. God also used dreams to warn their enemies before an attack (Num. 31; Jud. 7:13-15). This reveals the justice and holiness of God who punishes generations of those who hate Him and shows His love and mercy to the generation of the righteous. (Ex. 20:5-6).

The New Testament also reveals these two aspects of God’s dealings side by side: “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22). Having an accurate picture of God entails keeping both aspects of His character before us.

e) The Israelites were under a theocracy i.e. God was their ruler. Nations today are not under God’s rule and do not have a specific history or covenant with Him as Israel had, so the OT wars do not apply to them. Those commands of war were specific for that time of Israel’s history, not for any other nation either then or now.

“God led redeemed Israel down to Sinai, where He entered into a covenant with the nation. He was setting the Israelites apart as a special people for Himself. Israel became God’s mediator of God’s theocratic kingdom on earth through the Mosaic covenant” (Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, Chicago, 2008, 57).

This leads to the question: should the Church today follow the examples of the Jews in the OT and wage wars against heretics or pagans? The answer is no. The church is not Israel. There are clear distinctions between both:

1. Israel is composed primarily of one nationality, and it is identified with a particular geographical location – Palestine. The church, however, includes people from every tongue, tribe and nation and is not related to any area of the earth.

2. Israel was given a specific land with specific boundaries and promises. The church extends all over the earth and is not given a specific land.

3. The Christian church didn’t exist in the Old testament; it had a beginning. Jesus said “On this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18) and it was built on the foundations of apostles and prophets with Jesus being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).

4. Israel differed from the church in their calling. God chose Israel to be His mouthpiece to other nations. He gave them His laws, and through them, the Scriptures and the Messiah who came to save the world. But the church is to witness, evangelize and disciple all nations for Jesus Christ.

5. Israel alone had a covenant relationship with God in the OT. But now, God has made this first covenant “obsolete” and has made a “new covenant” with Christian – whether Jew or Gentile – to have access to Him through Jesus (Heb. 8:13).

6. God has spoken “in the past” to the Israelites “through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” But now, “He has spoken to us [Christians] by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). The blueprint of the Christian is based on what Jesus and His apostles taught which are revealed in the New Testament:

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God” (Mt. 5:9)

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt. 5:44)

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Tim. 2:24)

This explains why there were no wars in the New Testament between Christians and the heathen and many Christians were persecuted and killed. Aside this, the Christian warfare is a spiritual one, directed against spiritual enemies:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12)

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world [physical arm, guns, bombs or swords], On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4)

With the exception of instances of self-defense, the punishment of evil doers lies in the rightly constituted authority of the secular state – military, law enforcement etc. This necessitates a Biblical separation of the church and state: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong … for he doesn’t bear the sword for nothing. For he is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:3,4).

Thomas Schreiner notes that the vs. 4’s reference to rulers bearing the sword refers “to the broader judicial function of the state, particularly its right to deprive of life those who had committed crimes worthy of death” (Romans, ed. Moises Silver, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 1998, 6:684).

A sound interpretation and understanding of the Bible does not confuse the Old Testament wars with true Christianity. The hoary rhetoric that Christianity “reformed itself of the OT wars unlike the religion of Islam” is simplistic and ignorant, to put it mildly.

A Balanced View of the End Times

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Some months before year 2000, different “prophets” rushed to the media to declare: “Jesus’ return is near, the world is going to end in Y2K!”

Bill Gates of Microsoft – the richest man at the time – was fingered as the antichrist. The Internet was linked with the Greek word for “image” of the Beast.

Then we had The Omega Code movies distorting the Bible to fit into the political scene.

Prophecy pundits jumped on the band wagon, linking almost every modern technology with end time prophecies.

Digital images, satellite transmissions, implanted computer chips and credit cards were labelled as the “tools of the beast.” The Y2K came and passed and the hype waned.

What many of those promoting the end-of-the-world doomsday messages didn’t realize was that, due to an old calendar error, we had actually entered Y2K few years prior.

Fast forward eleven years. Harold Camping came on the scene for the second time, to predict Jesus’ return on May 21, 2011. Many Christians believed it and the hysteria was re-ignited.

A year later, Obamacare and the microchip issue erupted again in the media. Some Nigerian “Christian” tabloids began to sell altered pictures of Obama wearing the horns of a beast, with Christians swallowing both the sense and nonsense on these pages.

In 2015, we heard the same old scream: “The blood moon is a sign of Jesus’ coming!”

Why do many Christians keep getting caught up in these wild-eyed, last days prophetic speculations? The reason is: there is a kind of “excitement” that comes with it.

There is a heady feeling that an “expert” has when the masses look up to him/her to hear the “latest, end-time mysteries” – which they believe no one else is yet to figure out.

From there, he sees himself as the only one who has access to God’s secrets and his followers feel the need to isolate themselves from all other Christians in order to renew the zeal and faith which other Christians lack. This is how spiritual deception kicks in.

History shows us that date-setting and end-time speculations were the foundations of most cults.

William Miller and the Adventists predicted the return of Christ in 1843 (later changed to 1844). Charles Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witness predicted the return of Christ to establish His kingdom in 1914.

Herbert Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God predicted Christ’s return in 1972.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a New Age leader, predicted the Battle of Armageddon in 1990.

Mary Relfe, a self-proclaimed prophet, indicated Jesus’ return before 1990.

Lee Jang Rim of South Korean’s Dami Missionary Church also predicted the rapture would take place on October 28, 1992.

In 1997, the 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide because their leader (Marshall Applewhite) told them this would qualify them for rapture via a comet.

Cults draw their strengths from end-of-the-world panic. Through it, they gain blind obedience and foster isolation. Even within the Christian church, excessive prophetic speculations about the last days can discourage a genuine study of Bible prophecy.

For instance, different personalities have been fingered as the future antichrist at different times – Kaiser, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Kennedy, Reagan, Prince Charles, Obama and the Catholic pope.

Yet, as any serious Bible student agrees, the identity of the antichrist cannot be revealed until after the rapture, when the church is removed and its restraining influence is gone (2Thess. 2:7-12).

A Christian’s obsession with the identity of the antichrist or the mark of the beast not only generates panic, but also alters his focus, such that rather than spreading the Gospel of Christ and contending for the faith, he gets caught up with tabloid sensationalism, conspiracy theories and “bible codes.”

Some folks get so much wrapped up that they hardly read their Bibles outside the book of Daniel and Revelation, and they start to develop a cult-like disposition to reality.

There was a man who used to teach on a TV programme several years ago that all those who have a Yahoo account have received the mark of the beast because “Yahoo” means “beast,” so they will burn in hell. Little wonder that programme went down the drain after a while.

Suggesting or setting dates for Jesus’ return is contrary to Scripture (Matt 24:36). It is this ploy that leads some Christians to stop believing in Bible prophecy altogether.

Everything Jesus listed in Matthew 24 – wars, famine and earthquakes – are to be expected throughout the Church Age until He returns. They do not necessarily prove the end has come.

When preachers say things like “In 7 years’ time, it will be over,” they are speculating, not preaching. No one knows how long we have until Jesus comes.

All the speculations people have made up about dates for Jesus’ return are bound to fade into the sands of time like the others.

Dr. Daniel Mitchell aptly stated that: “Speculating on the date of Christ’s return not only breeds bad theology, but it is the original sin all over again – trying to know as much as God.”

As Christians, how can we avoid falling into this extremism?

1. Interpret current events in light of the Bible prophecy, not Bible prophecy in light of current events.

Randall Price wrote: “This ‘common sense’ principle is a necessary corrective to discourage what has been called ‘newspaper exegesis,’ or interpreting the biblical stories based on stories that appear in the media” (World of the Bible News and Views, 1999, 1)

There is a difference between general prophecies and specific events. General prophetic themes about the last days are: increase in wickedness (Matt. 24:12); rise of false prophets (Matt. 24:4, 24); the return of Israel to their land (Ezk 20:34); the development of a global economy (Rev. 13:16-17); the formation of a world government (Rev. 17:15-18) and a false sense of peace and security (1Thess. 5:2-3).

Specific events, like the Internet, bank codes, credit cards, microchips or epidemics are not directly related to Biblical prophecies.

Time will tell if these things have anything to do with the fulfilment of future events. It may later turn out that the Bible was referring to something else (as the mark of the beast, for instance).

As time goes on and world leaders change, some Bible passages that seem to link with a person or event today will turn out to be different. In the meantime, we need to be careful not to make too many assumptions based on our limited perspectives.

2. Most of the end time prophetic passages revolve around the people and nation of Israel.

For example, the great tribulation (Matt. 24:22), the rise of the antichrist (2Thess 2:3-8), the signing of a peace treaty (Daniel 9:25-27), the invasion of Israel by Gentile forces (Zech. 14:12-13), and the battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:16) – are all related to Israel – and will not take place until the end of the Church Age.

Some have used the crises in the Middle East to speculate that the end is a few years away, but this in itself doesn’t prove the end is near, because Israel has not yet regained its original biblical borders (David’s kingdom included what today exists as Jordan and Syria) and the rebuilding of the temple has not begun.

These key events are yet to happen (2Thess. 2:4). So, we can’t set dates based on current political situations.

3. Check your use of Bible texts.

Some Christians just grab a Bible verse, tie it with a current event and run off with it to create a hype, when the text doesn’t provide enough data to warrant such a conclusion.

In the book, The Islamic Antichrist, the author, riding on the wings of current Islamic resurgence, attempts to prove that the antichrist will be a Muslim.

The problem is that the proof texts he offered have to be astutely wrenched from their contexts to arrive at that conclusion. For example, the description of the antichrist in Daniel 11:36 doesn’t fit that of a Muslim.

A similar error is seen in The Four Horsemen by Alberto Rivera. He claimed that the pope is the antichrist and the Jesuit general is his “false prophet.” But these suggestions are incorrect for the fact that there is no final one world religion which will be dominated by the false prophet yet.

There are still many questions that remain unanswered at this time. Speculations occur when people attempt to view the future with the eyes of the present.

4. Distinguish between the last days of the church and the last days of Israel.

There are some prophecies about the last days of the church: its growth (Mt. 16:18); the gospel being proclaimed to the ends of the earth (Mt. 24:14) and the eventual rapture of the church into heaven (1Thess. 4:16-17).

The major end time prophecies apply to Israel. We must consider these distinctions in interpreting Bible prophecies. What applies to the last days of Israel does not apply to the last days of the church.

Only the Bible gives a clear understanding of the future and it’s all there for all to read and learn. You don’t need to pluck down some money to buy “secret mysteries of the Last Days” DVD or Bible code books.

Why run around with guesswork and suggestions, when the Lord has given us what we need to know in His Word?

We are not to get tossed to and fro with the hypes but “stand firm” and hold to the teachings of Scripture (2Thess. 2:17). We are to watch, stay ready and keep serving until He comes.