“In an earlier post I described the Hebrew Universe. The so-called Bible believing Christians have argued that this is merely the language of appearances, that is, it’s merely figurative language, just like heaven is described as a city in Revelation 21-22, but neither of which are to be taken literally by educated Christians today. [Although, many Christians still believe heaven is exactly as described in Revelation, as is hell.] Are they correct?”
Loftus manages to pack an exceptional number of conceptual confusions into the space of a single sentence:
1.If you go back and read what we actually wrote, Jason and I did not appeal to phenomenal language when dealing with the triple-decker universe.
2.Phenomenal and figurative are not synonymous (see below).
3.What John experienced were a series of visions. By definition, visions consist of appearances.
There’s also a distinction between objective and subjective visionary appearances. Which is in view is context-dependent.
John literally had visions of heaven. Whether his visions were literally descriptive of heaven is a separate question.
“The question for me is this one: How do Christians know that the Hebrews didn’t take these verses literally? With what we read in the Bible, the burden of proof is squarely on them.”
The burden is squarely on us only if we were as muddle-headed as Loftus, which would be a difficult feat to duplicate.
“What did early Christians think about heaven (remember, Jesus supposedly bodily ascended to sit at the right hand of God on a throne and to rule in a heavenly city, with mansions [John 14:1-4])? We must step back in time before the rise of modern astronomy to see the universe as they did. That’s all. Modern Christians try to avoid the conclusions of the literal Biblical statements because they read the Bible after the rise of science. It’s that simple, and it’s bad exegesis. Jesus could only have bodily ascended into heaven if heaven is in the sky, as the ancients believed.”
Loftus continues to trade in his conceptual confusions:
1.The description of the Ascension is, indeed, phenomenal. It is both phenomenal and literal.
It’s related in observational language because it’s an eyewitness account. This is what the observer actually saw. Being a ground-based observer rather than a Martian, he took the earth as his frame of reference.
Thit’s exactly the perspective you’d expect if he were describing a real, spatiotemporal event which he had seen.
His viewpoint has nothing to do with pre-Copernican astronomy. If we were to witness the Ascension today, that’s exactly how we would see it.
This is a literal description of what the observer saw.
2.In addition, Acts 1 doesn’t say that Jesus ascended straight to heaven. Rather, it says that Jesus levitated to a certain altitude, and was then enveloped by a cloud (1:9). As commentators like Bruce and Fitzmyer point out, this likely has reference to the Shekinah.
Here the controlling paradigm isn’t ancient astronomy, but OT theophany.
“The gods of surrounding cultures had human and physical characteristics. There is no reason to suppose the Hebrews thought differently about their God from what we read in the OT. The burden of proof is upon the conservative Christian to show why they don’t think of God in a human form. Mormons today take these statements literally and believe God has the shape of a human being, so if modern people like Mormons think this way, then it’s even more likely that ancient Hebrews did.”
This disregards the aniconic character of Hebrew piety, which was, in turn, predicated on the essential invisibility of God.
God could manifest himself in a theophany, but was otherwise invisible and intangible.
“What are some of the implications of these things? 1) The Bible reflects ancient views of God, the universe, and heaven/hell, which slowly evolved into the views Christians have today. 2) The Bible is misinterpreted by conservative Christians today because they do not understand the Bible as it was originally understood. 3) The Bible has nothing to say about how God created the universe (if he exists), and it makes no claim about creation that we should believe today merely because the Bible states it, since it's based upon ancient myths. 4) Christians cannot take every statement in the Bible about God, the universe, heaven/hell as the truth, if properly understood in its context, since those conceptions evolved inside the Bible itself. There are other implications.”
The only implication of Loftus’ analysis is that he doesn’t pay attention to the actual wording of Scripture or its OT allusions.