New Jerusalem (2 of 2)


(Continued from yesterday)

The dimensions of the New Jerusalem are given in Rev 21:
Rev 21:16-17 The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.

Commentators are baffled by the size of the city, as 1,500 miles would be more than the flight distance from Toronto to Havana flying south, or to Saskatoon flying west. People can’t imagine the size of one city stretching halfway across the country. This is especially when its length & width & height are equal i.e. like a cube. A square city 1,500 miles in length & width is hard enough to imagine, but 1,500 miles in height too? No building is that tall, as even Mt. Everest is only 29,029 ft. or only 5.5 miles tall, less than 0.4% of 1,500 miles. For that matter, an altitude above 100 km or 62 miles above sea level is commonly used to define outer space, & 1,500 miles is over 24 times that!

Attempts have therefore been made to make the size more “reasonable”, including:
• It is only symbolic. 1,500 miles is literally 12,000 stadia, with 1 stadion equal to approx. 600 ft. These interpreters hold that both the 12,000 witnesses sealed in each tribe & the 12,000 stadia simply mean a complete number, & do not have to be taken literally. But if all it means is a complete number, why not 1,200 stadia?
• The 1,500 miles is the circumference, not each side. This would reduce each side 375 miles, still more than the distance from Toronto to New York City. And of course a height of 375 miles would still be beyond the imagination of anything on earth.
• Some argued that the height refers to the mountain or plateau on which the city sits, not the city itself, as its walls are only 72 yards or 216 ft high. Granting this assumption for the moment, that still requires the mountain to be 1,500 miles (or at least 375 miles) high, which simply does not exist.
Basically none of these options are satisfactory.

Personally I do not find such accommodation necessary, as the current earth will be burned up & we do not need to base the new on the old as reference:
2 Pet 3:10, 12-13 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. … looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
• Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.

The diameter of our moon is 2,159 miles, so 1,500 miles is just under 70% of the moon’s diameter. A cubicle city that size would provide huge mansions for all OT & NT saints that ever lived (Jn 14:2).

Why cubicle? Because the Holy of Holies, where God dwells, was cubicle:
1 Kings 6:20 The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits in length, twenty cubits in width, and twenty cubits in height, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid the altar with cedar.
Since God dwells among His people in the New Jerusalem, its dimensions are cubicle to represent perfect symmetry.

New Jerusalem (1 of 2)


Q. What is the meaning of the foundation stones & dimensions of the New Jerusalem? Is it literal or symbolic?

A. The foundation stones of the New Jerusalem are described in Rev 21:
Rev 21:14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
• Rev 21:19-20 The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.

The twelve foundation stones represent the twelve apostles, because the Church, God’s household, is built on the foundation of the apostles & prophets:
Eph 2:19-20 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,

Some commentators tried to equate the 12 precious stones with the 12 stones on the breastpiece of the high priest:
Ex 28:17-21 You shall mount on it four rows of stones; the first row shall be a row of ruby, topaz and emerald;
• and the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond;
• and the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst;
• and the fourth row a beryl and an onyx and a jasper; they shall be set in gold filigree.
• The stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, according to their names; they shall be like the engravings of a seal, each according to his name for the twelve tribes.(Also Ex 39:10-14)

However, while 7 stones appear on both lists (jasper, sapphire, emerald, beryl, topaz, jacinth & amethyst), the other 5 do not match:
• in Rev: chalcedony, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite & chrysoprase;
• in Ex: ruby, turquoise, diamond, agate & onyx.
The list in Rev. is in Greek while that in Ex. is in Hebrew, & scholars cannot definitively identify one with the other. More importantly, Rev 21:14 specifically indicates the names on the 12 foundation stones are those of the 12 apostles, not the 12 sons of Israel (12 tribes). I therefore believe that it is counter-productive to equate one with the other. Suffice to say that both are precious and beautiful in God’s sight.

(To be continued)

Allegorical Interpretation

allegorical 1

Q. The Lord Jesus uses an allegorical approach to interpret the meaning of His parables in Matthew 13. In the early days of the church, use of such an approach to interpret biblical texts was overwhelming, but nowadays we adopt the historical-grammatical hermeneutical principle as far as possible. How should a balance be struck between the two? Or should it be that if a historical-grammatical interpretation is not evident (such as the number of the beast is 666), then allegorical interpretation would be used to look for an answer? How can we measure whether the interpreted result is correct or not? How far can we stretch this method?

A. The allegorical method is a method of interpretation which assumes that the Bible has a hidden, mystical meaning beyond the literal, which is not obvious from the surface meaning the words conveyed.

The word “allegorically” appears in the NASB only in Ga 4:24:

Ga 4:24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. (NASB)

It translates the Greek word “allegoreo“, which means “to speak in a figure”, i.e. figuratively or symbolically.
In Ga 4, Hagar = bond woman = covenant from Mt. Sinai
Sarah = free woman = New covenant
This meaning is not obvious until explained by Paul, under inspiration by the Holy Spirit, and goes beyond our ordinary figures of speech.

Some suggested that since Jesus Himself used an allegorical approach to interpret His parables, this method is justified. I do not think so. First, when the disciples did not understand a parable, Jesus Himself explained it to them – the parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3-9) in Mt 13:18-23; the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Mt 13:24-30) in Mt 13:36-43. Although the explanation of other parables are not recorded in the gospels, Jesus did not leave them in the dark as to what He meant:
Mk 4:34 and He did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.

Secondly, Jesus always used day-to-day illustrations e.g. sowing, seeds, soils, leaven, fishing, lamp etc. Unlike current allegorical interpretations, He did not use fancy ideas which the disciples could not relate to.

I believe therefore the historical-grammatical method should be used throughout, and that the allegorical method is not valid except in cases specifically identified in the Bible as symbolic. After all, if the meaning derived from analyzing the writing in its context, understanding the historical and cultural background and taking the grammar into account, cannot be accepted, language no longer has any meaning! If the plain meaning makes sense, seek no other sense! Otherwise what else can you trust? Some wild ideas concocted by the interpreter based on loose associations?

Having said that, I am fully aware of interpreting any passage according to its genre, and the use of figures of speech in literal interpretation. Much of apocalyptic literature, for example, was composed during times of persecution, and therefore written in symbolic language to protect the author and the reader. But that does not warrant spiritualizing everything to say whatever the interpreter wants it to say.

The measure of any interpreted result must be how well does it fit with all available evidence, including the context, background, biblical worldview, consistency with known biblical teaching and reality. All interpretation, historical-grammatical or allegorical, must pass through the same criteria for evaluation. Otherwise how can we compare which is more valid? The question then is not how far we can stretch the allegorical method, but how carefully we have done our observation and interpretation using all the tools available. If we have not done our homework, we are under a stricter judgment as we will be leading others astray.

Jas 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

This is my biased view. Don’t dig yourself into a dead-end (鑽牛角尖). Hope it will encourage others to be careful exegetes instead of pursuing human speculations.