Thursday, February 15, 2018

Eschatological overcrowding

This is a sequel to my previous post:

1. A prima facie problem with biblical eschatology is the specter of eschatological overcrowding. What's the optimum population for human life on earth? If you total the saints on judgment day, will there be enough room for them on earth? And not just acreage, but paradisiacal conditions. I've discussed this before, but I'll approach it from another angle.

2. A critic would say this just demonstrates that Scripture was written by shortsighted, uninspired authors. But other issues aside, that doesn't work. Supposing Bible writers thought the boundaries of the world approximated the Middle East or the Roman Empire, that would furnish much less space to squeeze all the saints into. It's not as if our modern sense of modern geography aggravates the problem. To the contrary, our modern sense of scale diminishes the problem. 

3. There are basically two kinds of biblical predictions about the final state feeding into this issue:

i) Resurrection passages

These are passages about the general resurrection, resurrection of the just, and/or resurrection of Christ. They imply or presume that the final state will be an embodied or reembodied state. And a physical body requires a physical environment. 

Although a few of these passages have figurative or surreal elements (e.g. Ezk 37), in the main they're representational descriptions. That's reinforced by the fact that the resurrection of Christ is the template for the resurrection of the just. That supplies a very literal frame of reference. 

ii) Golden age passages

These are passages that depict the future world in terms of a new Eden, New Exodus, and/or New Jerusalem. They're specifically terrestrial in orientation. Earthly. 

That said, I think the terms of fulfillment for type-(ii) passages is far more flexible than for type-(i) passages. Just in general, long-range Bible prophecies employ stock, provincial, anachronistic imagery. They depict the future in terms of the past or present. They're adapted to the historical horizon of the original audience.

They depict the future world in terms reminiscent of the ancient Near East or Roman Empire. The geography and technology of that time and place. For instance, take Isaiah's golden age oracles in Isa 11:6-9 or Isa 66:20. That reflects ancient Near Eastern livestock and fauna. If Isaiah was a native of the Amazon river basin or Montana, different fauna would illustrate the age to come.

When I read Bible prophecies about the world to come, I automatically make mental adjustments for the fact that God accommodated the blinkered perspective of the original audience in that regard. Since I don't assume that in the world to come, everybody will live in the Middle East and get around on horses and camels and mules, I don't assume that the physical life in the world to come is necessarily confined to planet earth. 

I think the fulfillment of eschatological prophecies is generally analogous rather than univocal. If it's about future modernity, we need to do some mental updating.

4. I'd add that people vary widely in their idea of paradise. Some people are urbanites by choice. Others prefer a more bucolic existence. Some people love to live on the coast while others prefer mountains or deserts. Some people are very attached to their birthplace. And if you went a forward or backward a hundred years, their birthplace would lose its nostalgia, because it would be so different.

Some people fall in love with a particular place. Some people have wanderlust. They like to travel the world and live in different places. 

Many people have a customized notion of paradise, not a generic, once-size-fits-all notion. Of course, I'm not saying the final state necessarily mirrors the "dream home" of every saint. But it wouldn't surprise me if the final state is more varied than traditional representations. 

Maybe the reality of the final state is grounded in a multiverse. It takes omnipotence no more effort to create a multiverse than planet earth. The multiverse is Hilbert's Hotel in concrete. 


  1. This may give new meaning to John 14:2! :-)

  2. Also Rev 21 speaks of a NEW HEAVEN and a NEW EARTH. There is no more sea. It seems that the final state will not be on THIS EARTH. We have no indication in scripture how physically large the NEW EARTH will be. Lots of room for lots of people. Also look at the NEW JERUSALEM. If it is depicting a physical city 1500 miles on a side and 1500 miles HIGH it would look totally out of proportion for THIS EARTH. It would require a planet the size of Jupiter to not look completely inappropriately sized.