Author Archives: Jon Paulien

Emerging Conclusions (LGBT 5)

As I examine the Seventh-day Adventist literature on LGBTIQ, I do see an emerging consensus on a number of challenging issues. My report is not the final word, by any means. But it is better to have an educated position on difficult topics than a knee-jerk or naïve position. I am open to further research and deepening understanding, but there has developed a strong political element in relation to this topic. There are many issues researchers will not touch because of their fear that the results may work against the political consensus, or that they may be ostracized by their research community. So the research needs to be attended to, but with a certain amount of healthy skepticism in a politically-charged research and educational environment. Give appropriate deference to those who have spent their lives researching on issues of sexuality, but think for yourself and don’t buy conclusions where the evidence seems suspect. And be very suspicious of any result that is clearly contradictory to Scripture.

Having said that, many ideas that claim to be based on the Bible are actually based on either selective reading or a distorted reading lens. One of my teachers loved to say, “It isn’t hard to have strong convictions on any topic, as long as you are willing to ignore some of the evidence.” On top of that, all readers of the Bible, including conservative ones, tend to read the Bible through a hermeneutical lens that can distort the outcome of their study. I have spoken to this latter point at some length in chapters three and four of my book The Deep Things of God. I refer you there for more detail. Below I share some things that Seventh-day Adventists (and other conservative Christians) who are knowledgeable on both the Bible and science are coming to agree on. I believe these kinds of agreements need to be the foundation of further study and practice.

One emerging consensus among educated Adventists (including both conservative and liberal) is that one’s sexual orientation in most cases is not a choice. The behavioral sciences have always debated the issue of nature versus nurture. Is a condition inherited or does it exist because of experience and training (intentional and otherwise)? Is a homosexual orientation genetic or otherwise inherited? Or is it something that happens because of parental relationships, abuse, or certain family dynamics? Is it a choice or is it determined in some way? From my experience and understanding, these debates often swing back and forth between the two options, but most often the evidence leads researchers to “both/and.” Most conditions can be traced to a combination of both inheritance (genes, etc.) and upbringing. And inheritance does seem to play a role in same-sex attraction and orientation. Be that as it may, even if homosexuality was solely a result of nurture rather than nature, Adventist understanding is that the character of a child is largely formed something between the ages of three and seven. And how many seven-year old children got to choose their parents?

So while the adoption of a gay or lesbian identity involves a choice, homosexual orientation is rarely, if ever, a choice. There are some exceptions and we will address those in the following blog. This conclusion is very significant for the church. Regardless of how it happened, if orientation is not a choice in most instances, the church must be careful not to demand of people something that they are not capable of, even with prayer and fasting. If the science is correct, that would be like demanding that someone born without a leg produce a natural one before they can be accepted into the church. To require such would be abusive and cruel. At the same time, orientation should not be confused with identity. To accept a person with physical, mental or emotional challenges is not the same thing as “condoning sin.” To accept a person who is “different” through no choice of their own is not “condoning sin.”

When I shared this consensus with an Adventist friend, he became upset with me. “To live with a homosexual orientation and not try to change it is to live in sin,” he proclaimed, “I believe that it is a choice that people make, and wrong choices are sin.” While I have not met a homosexual person who felt that they had a choice (many have prayed for years that God would change them) that story would not be convincing to him. So I simply asked my friend, “When did you choose to be heterosexual?” He had no answer. Where we stand on this issue determines to a great degree how we treat all kinds of people whose life and struggles are different from our own.

Three Levels of Homosexuality (LGBT 4)

I use the traditional term “homosexuality” instead of “same-sex attraction” here because the latter is not broad enough for the points I am making in this particular blog. What people call homosexuality actually comes in three different forms, each describing a larger group than the previous. Since people, particularly church people, often confuse these forms, and that leads to serious misunderstanding, it is important to be as clear as possible.

Gay or Lesbian Identity. As noted earlier, in the narrowest sense homosexuality can be a matter of identity, not just a matter of orientation or attraction. To have a gay or a lesbian identity mean that a person who feels attracted to the same sex embraces that attraction as core to their identity. Gays and lesbians, in the technical sense, do not see themselves as primarily black or white, male or female, German or Hispanic; their core identity is wrapped up in their attraction to those of the same gender. It is “who they are.” They are not ashamed of their orientation, they can even be militant in promoting it. Homosexual people who embrace a gay or lesbian identity offer the biggest challenging to churches who embrace the New Testament understanding of the gospel. According to the New Testament, no one can serve two masters. Either Jesus Christ and the gospel are central to one’s identity or something else is. All are equal at the foot of the cross and all are likewise challenged to embrace Christ’s call for total and unlimited commitment. Promoting Christ commitment is not prejudice or “gay-bashing,” it is the same commitment all are asked to do, whether straight or otherwise. Your former core commitment may have been to a country, or an ethnic group, or your relatives, or you racial peers; all are called to make their one and only central commitment to the person and mission of Jesus Christ. Gays and lesbians are to be treated as equals at the foot of the cross, and they too are called to make Jesus Christ their one and only central commitment. On this matter there is no inequality and there can be no compromise.

Homosexual Orientation. But gay and lesbian identity is only one aspect of the church’s dealings with homosexuality. Gays and lesbians truly sold out to their sexual identity are a relatively small group. There is a much larger group of people who are strongly and consistently attracted to others of the same sex. This is what we would call homosexual orientation or same-sex orientation. For them, the orientation to the same sex seems as natural as the typical heterosexual person’s orientation to the opposite sex. But orientation and identity are not the same thing. Full disclosure, when it comes to orientation, I am about as heterosexual as they come, but I don’t make that the center of my life or my theology. It is an aspect of who I am but it is not core to my identity. While I once strongly identified as a German-American and as an awesome athletic specimen (in my dreams at least), my core identity is now centered in Jesus Christ and the unique picture of God I learned as a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And I know people with a homosexual orientation who are just as committed to Christ and the church as I am. They do not embrace their orientation in place of Christ or alongside Christ. It is something they feel that they did not choose and cannot change, so they seek to keep it submitted to Jesus Christ as much as I commit my heterosexuality to Him.

Same-Sex Attractions. There is an even larger group of people who do not have a homosexual orientation but may have on occasion felt a homosexual attraction. It is not uncommon for a heterosexual person at one point or another in their life to see someone else of the same sex and feel something stirring that they did not expect. As mentioned earlier, I am about as heterosexual as they come. But I can remember as a young person talking with one of my teachers. It was a friendly conversation, we were face to face about a foot apart, and he had this interesting moustache that moved when he talked. Suddenly, in the back of my mind I heard the words, “Kiss him.” I didn’t, but I wondered for a long time where that had come from and what it meant (more on that later). More recently, I spoke with a colleague in the medical school who specializes in psychology and asked him what percentage of heterosexual people have an experience like mine. “I don’t know any research on it,” he said, “but based on my counseling experience I’d say somewhere between 50 and 100%. What do these kinds of experiences mean and how does the whole homosexual spectrum fit into the biblical world view? Where does this come from? Is it a choice? How should the church relate to people who disclose a homosexual orientation? Stay tuned.

LGBTIQ: Defining Terms (LGBT 3)

A few years back the American Academy of Religion had a “Gay and Lesbian Studies Group.” Then more recently it became the “LGBT Studies Group.” Then a couple of years ago it became the “LGBTIQ Studies Group.” What was going on? Scholars of gay and lesbian studies became increasingly aware that human sexuality is a lot more complicated than just “gay and straight.” So I thought we’d better define our terms before we get any further.

Lesbian: A lesbian is a female who is not only attracted to other females sexually (rather than males) but sees that attraction as a core personal identity. Lesbians do not apologize for their attractions and/or sexual preferences, they embrace them. A person could embrace the term “lesbian” even though she is not in a sexual relationship. She feels her sexual identity is a part of “who she is.”

Gay: The term “gay” is applied to males who are not only attracted to other males sexually (rather than females) but see that attraction as a core personal identity. A “gay person” refers to someone who identifies with his sexual identity, whether or not he is in a sexual relationship. When people speak of gays and lesbians as a group, the term “same-sex relationships” is increasingly preferred to the term “homosexuality,” which can have pejorative overtones in some contexts.

Bisexual: Here’s where things can get a bit confusing. They are individuals who are more or less equally attracted to both sexes or either sex. They can “play it both ways.” Some prefer to call this condition “pansexual” or “fluid” sexuality. Bisexuality is not the same thing as homosexuality, where a person is primarily attracted to the same sex, although it can easily be confused with it. Some prefer to think of sexuality as a continuum, with opposite-sex attraction at one end, same-sex attraction at the other, and bisexual in the middle. But bisexuals may not be “50/50,” the attractions may be fluid, yet more inclined toward one gender than the other.

Transgender: Things get even more complicated here. A transgendered person is “none of the above” although they may appear at various times to be “all of the above.” Transgender means that the gender (and often sexuality) of brain and body are in conflict. In 99% or more of cases, the gender of the brain is the same as that of the body. But in less than one per cent of cases, a person is gender conflicted. The gender they identify with is not the one that manifests itself physically. External gender is determined in the first three months after conception. Brain gender (whether a person considers themselves male or female) is determined 4-6 months after conception. I once assumed that people who cross-dress or pursue sex-reassignment surgery were “making it up.” But I now understand that male and female brains are not the same and can usually be distinguished by brain scans. So if someone is physically male but identifies as a female, it is not usually some imaginary condition, it is because that person’s brain was assembled differently than that of the typical physically male person. Another term for this experience is “gender dysphoria.”
If a person’s brain is female and is attracted to males, but the body is male, it will appear as same-sex attraction, but is actually not at the level of the brain. So this category complicates things for a church community that wants simple, “biblical,” categories for dealing with relational situations. Later on, we will address the question of the degree to which the Bible anticipated these and other complications in the gender reality we are exposed to today.

Intersex: The term intersex is used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with an anatomy that doesn’t neatly fit the definitions of either male or female. In other words, in about one per cent of live births, the physical gender is ambiguous. One cannot tell by looking at the genitals if the person is male or female, or the person may have external genitalia for both or neither male and/or female. Or a person may have male genitalia on the outside, but female organs on the inside. To confine conversations about sexuality to heterosexuality or homosexuality is to ignore the tremendous complexity of possible conditions a person may find themselves in.

Queer: When I was small “queer” was a derogatory term for people who were “different,” usually homosexual. Today the term is applied to all of the above, to sexualities and genders that don’t fit the typical mold. It is a “catch-all” category for anyone who doesn’t fit the standard experience of gender and sexuality. So scholars involved in studying any of the above realities sometimes speak of “queer studies.” As such, this is no longer considered a derogatory term but a category grouping together people who don’t fit the typical gender mold.

If all of the above is way more complicated than you wanted to know, please be aware that I have only scratched the surface. I believe the above definitions are helpful, but they are over-simplifications for the sake of communicating a basic understanding. There are many types of transgender people and many types of intersex conditions. Scientists are currently aware of some 36 genes that affect the gender outcome, both of body and brain. If any one of these genes develops or combines with others out of the “norm,” it can create noticeable differences from the typical male and female presentation. In some cases several genes may develop or relate to each other in unusual ways. So the varieties of sexual and gender manifestation are far more numerous than we thought and much of that is not a “choice” that a person made along the way.

When it comes to faith and to church community, this issue requires the compassion and understanding of Christ toward those who seem “queer” to us. The natural reaction to “differentness” is rejection, but the gospel calls us to treat people in a way that is counter to our natural, sinful reaction. Fleshing out the previous two sentences is a major reason for this blog series.

Three Important Books on “LGBT” Issues (LGBT 2)

Three books, in particular, have been extremely helpful to me, two from the Seventh-day Adventist perspective and one from a dear colleague in the Methodist tradition. The latter book is The Moral Vision of the New Testament, by Richard Hays (San Francisco: Harper, 1996). It was named by Christianity Today as one of the hundred most important religious books of the 20th Century. In it is a chapter where Hays wrestles with the Scriptures on this topic in full and fair dialogue with a gay friend. Hays’ commitment to God and the Scriptures is unassailable. I remember him responding to a question at a seminar in Loma Linda about whether he has changed his position since he wrote that book twenty years ago. He responded, “I wish I could.” His compassion for people caught between their personal experience and what the Bible teaches was clear. But he testified that the he couldn’t get around what the Bible teaches. He said something to the effect that: “However one might exegete specific texts, the overall trend of the Bible is clear. Whenever the Bible speaks about sexuality within a traditional marriage, it is always positive, whenever it speaks about sexual alternatives, it is always negative.” Any person of faith approaching the issue honestly will find it complex and sometimes heart-wrenching.

The second book I found helpful was the volume edited by my esteemed colleague, David Larson, and others; Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives (Adventist Forum, 2008). The book is generally considered to promote a more left-wing perspective than that of Hays or the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. But Larson explained to me the intention of the editors that the multi-author volume would provide a balance of perspectives that would include right, left and middle. But some of the more right-wing authors pulled out rather than be associated with other authors in the book, so the more conservative perspective in the book was there but relatively limited, giving the book a distinct, more radical flavor than the editors intended. While I found some of the perspectives extreme, I learned a lot from the book and recommended it to the members of the University Board as a good way to get up to speed on the issues.

In reaction to the above book, the Seminary at Andrews University set up a conference including many of the more conservative scholars who bowed out of the earlier project and added significant names from scholarship outside the Adventist Church. This resulted in another book, Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church, edited by Roy Gane, Nicholas Miller and Peter Swanson (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 2012). It was expected that this conference and book would be very different from Larson’s. To my great surprise, the two books seemed to agree on more than they disagree. There are certainly points of difference. But the points of agreement were considerable and, in my view, point the way forward for the church. Any conversation on this issue should begin with what all reasonable believers can agree on. One purpose of this blog series is to spell out some of those points of a agreement and explore the best way for the church to move forward. I don’t claim to offer a final word, but those who have heard me talk about these things have urged me to share them for the benefit of the church. I will begin in the next blog by defining some key terms that are sometimes misunderstood.

LGBTIQ and the Church

This is not a topic I am anxious to address for a number of reasons. It is a hot-button topic, which often infuriates people from multiple perspectives. It has political implications, which isn’t a lot of fun these days. But if you work at a faith-based institution of higher education in California, you can’t avoid the topic. And if you are a church administrator anywhere in North America (or increasingly in much of the world), you can’t avoid the topic either. To compound matters, scientific and biblical knowledge about the topic is increasing exponentially at the same time most people would prefer not to have their pre-conceived opinions on the subject challenged. So in many ways this blog project is a no-win proposition. But decades ago I made a commitment to God to speak the truth as I see it, without fear or favor, so here goes anyway.

Because of extensive conversations on the topic at my home institution, Loma Linda University, I have had to get up to speed on many issues related to LGBTIQ. Recently I have been asked to consult with a number of Seventh-day Adventist Church entities at the conference, union and division level. These consultations have gone surprisingly well, and my contributions have been considered game changers for many. World church leadership is also seeking to make its way forward on this issue, maintaining faithfulness to the testimony of the Bible regarding sexuality, on the one hand, but also faithfulness to the Bible’s call to exercise compassion for every human being as a “soul for whom Christ died” (see Romans 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11). I have been asked, therefore, to offer my contribution to the discussion in this format and to be one of many voices helping the church find its way on this issue. I will express important principles that I have learned from attention to the Bible, science and experience. In doing so, I speak as an individual, I do not represent the position of Loma Linda University or any other organization. But I do speak as a committed Christian and a committed member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I supports its teaching on marriage and sexuality as the ideal that all should strive for within their capabilities.

There is a personal element in this topic for me. Back in the 1950s, when I was still in the single digits, an aunt moved into our home from another country, which had suffered greatly during World War II. She was “different,” but a lot of fun, except for the smoking, which I didn’t particularly care for. People quietly talked about 1945 and some really bad things that had happened to her then. She didn’t particularly care for men, or for God, for that matter. A while after, my mom said that her “friend” would be coming over and also living with us. I was way too sheltered to suspect anything unusual about the arrangement until I was a lot older. But I loved both women and I was sure that God loved them at least as much as I did. So when the gay and lesbian movement became public knowledge, I was not taken by surprise the way some of my friends were. When I moved to Loma Linda University in 2007, and became aware of the ferment on this issue in the State of California the following year, I was more than willing to learn all I could about the topic and help the University navigate some of these issues.

Revelation’s Place in the Bible (Rev 7)

The history of Revelation’s path into the biblical canon is unusual. Other debated books of the Bible began with a mixed reception and gained more and more acceptance over time. Revelation’s experience was nearly the opposite, going from accepted to disputed back to accepted again over several centuries.

It was accepted throughout the church in the first century after it was written, being used and approved by Hermas, Melito, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus (his position is questioned by some), Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hyppolytus and Tertullian. It was also included in the earliest list of authoritative New Testament books, the Muratorian Canon.

But in the Third Century, when the visionary Montanists in the east used Revelation to legitimate their own prophetic claims, their opponents responded by casting doubt on the legitimacy of the book. These doubts led to Revelation’s place in the canon being questioned in the Third and Fourth Centuries, especially in the eastern part of the Empire. As a result, Revelation was accepted into the canon fairly quickly in the Western Church, but was not fully accepted in the East until the Fifth and Sixth Centuries. In the end, its broad early support among the Church Fathers, combined with its role as a compelling capstone to the Bible, led to its full acceptance as Scripture.

The Genre of Revelation (Rev 6)

The New Testament genre “gospel” was an invention of the apostles. The genre “epistle,” as used in the New Testament, adopting a common writing style, was also largely an invention of the apostles. But the genre of Revelation, “apocalypse,” is an adopted genre. It is the only work of its kind in the New Testament, but there were many works like it in the ancient world, particularly within Judaism from around 200 B.C. to 200 A.D.

According to the scholarly definition, an apocalypse is a form of revelatory literature, which means it claims to directly communicate information from God to humanity. This is accomplished in the form of a story, a “narrative framework,” rather than poetry or some other form. The revelation is communicated to a human being by “otherworldly beings” such as angels or the 24 elders of Revelation. The revelation discloses “transcendent reality” (beyond the ability of the five senses to apprehend), about the course of history leading up the End, and about the heavenly, “supernatural” world.

Scholars also distinguish between two types of apocalyptic literature, the historical and the mystical. The historical type, characteristic of Daniel, gives an overview of a large sweep of history, often divided into periods, and climaxing with a prediction about the end of history and the final judgment. Historical apocalyptic visions tend to be highly symbolic, referring to heavenly and earthly beings and events (Rev 12 is a good example). The mystical type of apocalypse, on the other hand, describes the ascent of the visionary into heaven (as in Rev 4-5). While symbolism may be used in mystical apocalyptic, there is more of a sense of reality in the description, the visionary ascends into a real place where actions take place that affect the readers’ lives on earth. Both types can occur in a single literary work, Revelation being a clear example.

Ancient apocalypses sought to encourage faith in God and hope in God’s future kingdom among those facing difficult times. John seems to have adopted Daniel’s apocalyptic visions as the model for understanding his own visions (Rev 1:1, cf. Dan 2:28, 45). But Revelation itself is also called a prophecy (Rev 1:3, cf. 19:10; 22:7-10, 18-19) and is also heavily dependent on prophetic books like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah. In addition, there are echoes of epistolary genre in chapters 2 and 3. So Revelation has come to be seen as a mixed genre, the main part of the book a mixture of prophetic and apocalyptic features. It could be called a prophetic apocalypse or an apocalyptic prophecy.

Four Ways to Approach Revelation (Rev 5)

There are four major ways that people have approached the book of Revelation. The approach you decide on determines to a large degree the results you find from studying Revelation. (1) The book of Revelation was written to seven churches located in the Roman province of Asia (Rev 1:4– Asia Minor). So one way to approach Revelation is like any other book in the New Testament, as a writing addressing real people in real places 2000 years ago (Rev 22:16). And this should be the foundation of any study of the Bible. The better we understand what it meant to the original readers, the better we can understand God’s purpose in inspiring the book. But when scholars limit the meaning of Revelation to the historical conditions of the Asian churches at the end of the First Century, when they see it as in no way predictive of the future, that approach is called Preterism. Preterism, in that sense, is too limited an approach to Revelation, it doesn’t take the book’s prophetic focus on the author’s future sufficiently into account.
(2) At the other extreme, Futurism rightly notes that Revelation addresses the Second Coming of Christ and similar events at the close of history (Rev 1:7). Futurists attempt to read nearly the entire book of Revelation (usually chapters 4-22) as speaking directly to the end of time and to no other time in history. But we have already seen how Revelation explicitly addresses the original situation of the churches of Asia. So an approach that limits Revelation to the events of the far future is no more adequate than Preterism is.
(3) A third way to read the book is suggested in Revelation 1:3, where a blessing is offered on all who hear and understand the words of the prophecy. Everyone who reads or hears this book is intended to benefit from it. The book is not just for the original situation or the end of the world. There is value for every person and every age. But some people have taken this idea a bit further and have come up with an idea called Idealism. In its extreme form Revelation is not really written to the first century or the end of time at all. It is simply a symbolic way of describing broad, general principles for Christians to live by. But such a reading in isolation is not an adequate response to the full realities of Revelation.
(4) Seventh-day Adventists believe that the approach that best fits the evidence of Revelation is the historicist approach. It embraces the positive insights of the first three approaches but is not limited to any of them. Historicism, rightly understood, allows each text to locate itself in time, it does not limit the meaning of the text in an arbitrary way, as other approaches do. It recognizes Revelation as an apocalyptic prophecy like Daniel (compare Rev 1:1 with Dan 2:28, 45), speaking to the entire course of history from the time of the prophet (95 A.D.) to the Second Coming of Christ and beyond. If the book of Revelation begins with John’s day (Rev 1:9-11) and ends with the End (Rev 19:11-21), it is reasonable to assume that it is also concerned with the historical developments in between. What has marginalized this text-based approach among scholars today is historicism’s long history of failed predictions and speculative exegesis. Seventh-day Adventists are instead called to approach Revelation’s history on the basis of a high and Christ-centered standard (TM 112-119).

The Structure of Revelation (Rev 4)

The structure of Revelation is partly evident in the text, but not without complications, which explains why there is little agreement among scholars on the book’s structure. The search for a structure usually begins with the four, numbered, seven-fold visions in the book; the seven churches (2:1 – 3:22), the seven seals (6:1 – 8:1), the seven trumpets (8:7 – 11:18) and the seven bowls (16:1-21). Each of these visions is preceded by an introduction related to the sanctuary (the seven golden lampstands—1:12-20; the heavenly throne room—4:1 – 5:14; the altar of incense—8:2-6; and the heavenly temple scene—15:5-8). Each of these introductions/visions forms a natural division of the book’s structure. The material between the trumpets and the bowls (12:1 – 15:4) also forms a natural division of the book. A sanctuary introduction to that section (reference to the temple in heaven and the ark of the covenant) can be found in Revelation 11:19.

The biggest challenge to any structure of Revelation is what to do with the second half of the book, especially chapters 17 and 18. It appears that there is a natural division in chapters 19 and 20, with a focus on the final events of earth’s history (19:1-10), the Second Coming (19:11-21) and the millennium (20:1-15). The search for a sanctuary introduction leads to 19:1-10, which has many of the elements found in an earlier sanctuary introduction, Revelation 4-5. The final natural division of the book is the New Jerusalem narrative (21:1 – 22:5). In this section of the book, the sanctuary setting seems to have merged with the vision as a whole. There is no temple there because the New Jerusalem itself is the Most Holy Place (a perfect cube—Rev 21:16, cf. 1 Kings 6:20), God and the Lamb dwell in city (21:22), and there is face to face contact with God before the throne (22:3-4). This makes a total of seven sections in the structure of Revelation; seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, 12-14, seven bowls, the millennium and the New Jerusalem.

What remains to be structured are two things, the opening (1:1-8) and conclusion (22:6-21), and chapters 17 and 18. The opening and conclusion have many parallels with each other and are fittingly called the Prologue and the Epilogue. Some see in chapters 17 and 18 an eighth section of the book, focusing on the Fall of Babylon, But an eighth section would be surprising, considering the centrality of the number seven in the book. A better approach is to note the many connections between the sixth and seventh bowl-plagues (16:12-20) and chapter 17. Since chapter 17 portrays the fall of Babylon the prostitute, and chapter 18 portrays the fall of Babylon the great city, both chapters offer a fitting expansion and conclusion to the seven bowl-plagues.

Some scholars have noted a chiastic structure in the above outline. The Prologue and Epilogue have many parallel elements, as do the Seven Churches and the New Jerusalem sections. The Seven Trumpets and the Seven Bowls are also clearly parallel. The resulting outline highlights the centrality of the vision of Revelation 12-14. Unlike the Greek/Western tradition, the central purpose of the book is not found in the conclusion, but in the center, the location of the heavenly war and the three angel’s messages. This has important implications for interpretation.

Prologue (1:1-8)
I. The Seven Churches (1:9 – 3:22)
II. The Seven Seals (4:1 – 8:1)
III. The Seven Trumpets (8:2 – 11:18)
IV. The Great War (11:19 – 15:4)
V. The Wrath of God (15:5 – 18:24)
VI. The End of Evil (19:1 – 20:15)
VII. The New Jerusalem (21:1 – 22:5)
Epilogue (22:6-21)

A Short Summary of the Book of Revelation (Rev 3)

The opening of the book (Rev 1:1-8) states the main themes of the entire book in relatively plain language. The central theme of the book is Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1-2, 5-7) with particular attention to future events (Rev 1:1, 7). The source of the book’s content is a vision that originates with God and was handed down to John through Jesus Christ and “his angel” (Rev 1:1-3). The book John wrote was intended to be read aloud to the churches and “kept” by them (Rev 1:3). After a vision of the glorious Christ (1:12-20) and message to the seven churches (chapters 2 and 3), John and his readers get a glimpse through the open gates of heaven into the heavenly throne room itself. It is there that the centrality of the cross and of Christ in the operations of the universe becomes plain.

The seals, trumpets and bowls (Revelation 6-11 and 15-18) are mostly plagues of judgment. The seals and trumpets cover the whole Christian era, while the bowls focus especially on the end. The over-riding message is that God is in control of history even when it appears out of control.

For Seventh-day Adventists, the most critical part of the book is the central vision (Revelation 12-14). It describes the war in heaven (Rev 12:7-12), the birth and ascension of Christ (12:5), the experience of the church during the 1260 “days” (12:6; 14-16), the unholy trinity (dragon [12:3-4, 17], sea beast [13:1-10], and land beast [13:11-18]), the remnant (12:17; 14:1-3), and the three angels’ messages (14:6-12). There is also a symbolic view of the Second Coming (Rev 14:14-20).

The final chapters of the book cover the celebration of Babylon’s fall (19:1-6), the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7-10), the Second Coming along with the destruction of the enemy powers or earth (19:11-21), the Millennium and its aftermath (Revelation 20) and the New Jerusalem (21:1 – 22:5). The book closes with an appeal to the reader (22:6-21).