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Zombies and the Bible

As it is almost Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve as it is properly said, which leaves many of us thinking of creepy and undead things. Well, perhaps more than usual. Over the past two years we’ve seen a pretty startling rise in the number of television shows and movies that showcase zombies, or zombie killing, as central to their plot. This has been along the same line as “teen paranormal romance” novels which are, perhaps, a telling sign that we are nearing the end of days.

So, as we look towards that spooky evening tomorrow night, I wonder how we might encounter zombies in the Bible. And I’m not talking about Zombie Jesus, because that’s a heresy.

The Bible is a varied text that ranges in genre, age, and personality from book to book. In this premodern book of books, there are any number of scenes that are odd or just downright creepy. For most of us, when we look to the Bible zombies aren’t the primary reason we read Scripture. However, there are some scenes that should remind us the undead are a topic of interest occasionally in the Christian Scriptures.

Few accounts match the description of a plague from Zechariah 14:12,

This will be the plague the LORD strikes all the peoples with, who have warred against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. 

Sounds pretty much like zombie-esque activities. Maybe a little too much like World War Z or I Am Legend. Zombies aren’t always the undead, but living people who become zombified.

One of the first descriptive accounts, and perhaps most notable, is the scene in Matthew 27:52f following the death of Jesus on the Cross. Here’s Matthew’s account: (HCSB)

52 The tombs were also openeda and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.  53 And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.

For many, perhaps most, Bible scholars this passage is viewed as apocryphal and an unnecessary elaboration by Matthew. Obviously after the recent dust-up between Mike Licona and Norm Geisler, this topic has been readily handled. For our purposes, let’s just note the passage and move on after pointing out, that imagine being in the streets of Jerusalem and seeing this horde of zombies pouring out of graves and staggering through the streets. Then you’re realizing, “Oh, that’s just Zephaniah…let’s see how’s he’s been.”

Another possible zombie passage is found in John’s Gospel, where Jesus raises Lazarus from the Dead. The scene given in John 11:38-44 shows Jesus, going to the tomb of Lazarus and calling him out from the grave. Most folks don’t think that Lazarus would have been a zombie since the account seems to reflect that Lazarus, though still shrouded in grave clothes, had a restored body. But still, you got to say that someone who was resuscitated (I think it is different than resurrection) who is walking around for another couple of years is pretty creepy. It becomes important, then to note there are differences between those who are resuscitated and those who might be actual zombies. Yet I’m compelled to think what the difference is, since zombies could be people who have been dead for a while. Perhaps its a matter of degree.

Other examples of Jesus resuscitating someone exist, specifically in the miracle stories of Luke 7:11-17, the widow’s son, and later in Luke 8:40-56, Jairus’ daughter. Perhaps this kind of miracle was attested to in Jesus’ ministry since he is thought of as a raiser of the dead in Matthew 10:8. However, I don’t think we need to label Jesus a necromancer, since he doesn’t have the clothes in all the pictures we see of him from that era…just kidding, about the clothes.

Revelation also depicts some possible zombie scenes with dead people springing to life-like existences. The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:9-12 are raised from the dead and are cause people around them to be afraid. Also, in Revelation 20:5 there is talk of the dead being raised. It is unlikely these are zombie like states, though the Two Witnesses, given how they die might be zombies and that would surely explain their reception by others. Of course, this all means you need to read Revelation in a futurist frame of reference.

Hebrews 11:35 also speaks about women receiving dead loved ones, though this is by resurrection. It seems that resurrection talk is different than zombies for some New Testament authors. In Acts 9:40 there is a scene where Peter is thought to be dead but isn’t. Clearly this isn’t a zombie text, but more of a “not quite dead yet” scene.

The Old Testament has many scenes of people brought back from the dead. Though I will deal with 1 Samuel 28:3-25 tomorrow, the ghostly appearance of Samuel is unsettling to say the least (and perhaps the greatest ghost-story ever told.)

Outside of Samuel, we see in 1 Kings 17:17-24 a scene were Elijah resuscitates a boy from the dead and this also happens with Elisha in 2 Kings 4:32-37 when he resuscitates the Shunamite’s son. One intriguing scene is found in 2 Kings 13:26f where, after having died and, it seems, decomposed, Elisha’s bones have restorative powers. A group of men were burying a friend when they spied a band of marauding Moabites. They cast the body into Elisha’s the tomb (which was apparently open) and ran off, but the dead friend came into contact with Elisha’s bones and he sprang back to life. Now that’s a creepy story. Think about it, you run home to evade the Moabites and a couple minutes later Jeff comes walking in scratching his head and wondering why he just woken up in a crypt. Jeff died three days ago. And hopefully he isn’t hungry for brains…but it is possible.

So, I think this brief tour of zombies in the Bible we see that there are a couple of key passages worth investigating. Many will disregard these things as being outlandish or simply unreasonable. As we’ll talk about tomorrow, with Samuel, maybe a lot of this is because we’ve already made up our minds that once someone dies they immediately go into the presence of the other side never to return. I believe this kind of presupposed theology (or necro-ology) doesn’t automatically cohere with the biblical record.

Nevertheless, as you sit and ponder creepy and erie things over the next day, maybe one or two of these passages will help guide your thinking. Ultimately, those of us who are redeemed should be thankful that we have a greater Savior than anything which goes bump in the night.

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Reading Revelation

In our Bible study group that meets on Sunday mornings, I’m currently a study called “Seven Kinds of Christians.” This study is using the seven churches of Asia minor as a context for talking about types of Christians.

One of the conversations that came up Sunday concerns how we are to read Revelation. Perhaps more than any other book in the New Testament, much less the rest of the Bible, the book of Revelation is terribly challenging to find consensus on with believers and scholars. The nature of the literature alone, the dramatic imagery, the allusions, its apocalyptic nature (it is called “The Apocalypse” in the Greek) all add to the challenge.

Growing up in a happy little neo-fundamentalist church, and then going to Liberty University, for my undergraduate, I had been taught the only proper way to read Revelation is from a purely futurist perspective. That is, the events of the book, particularly chapter 4-22, were all coming in the future. This lined up with the dispensational pre-tribulational, premillennial viewpoint taught at multiple levels in my formative years and collegiate education. I even studied with Dr Tim LaHaye and his group of leaders.

However, I no longer hold that view.

This is stunning for a lot of faithful church goers who have never been exposed to a complete presentation of the facts of these matters. For so many, their perspective on Revelation, and eschatology, has been informed like mine was informed.

There are four basic views of how to read Revelation:

  • Futurist view – the events of Revelation, particularly chapters 4 – 22, are describing coming events. (Ryrie, Patterson)
  • Historicist view – the events in Revelation describe historical instances throughout history. (Calvin, Edwards)
  • Idealist view – the events in Revelation speak about the spiritual battle between Satan and God throughout history. (Morris, Tenney)
  • Preterist view – the book of Revelation, having been written prior to AD/CE 70, describes events that will transpire at the fall of Jerusalem and by the end of the first century. (Hannegraf, Sproul)

 

Probe Ministries has a great discussion of these views at their website. Some scholars take an eclectic approach to reading Revelation which blends together two or three categories. For instance, GK Beale’s commentary on Revelation (which is outstanding) is an idealist-historicist read. George E Ladd also has a blended approach (preterist-futurist.)

Dispensationalists have better artwork than the rest of us.

Dispensationalists have better artwork than the rest of us.

My view on Revelation is an eclectic read that is between Beale and Ladd. Aspects of the book are clearly historical (first chapter, seven churches) while others are appear futurist (chapters 19-22.) There are challenges in the text, specifically how John is attempting to interpret massively symbolic acts along with figures and language that is clearly apocalyptic. Also, some of the figures and scenes are simply ontologically impossible.

So, I approach the text of Revelation with a historicist-futurist read of Revelation.

The first three chapters are the unfolding of the book and commissioning of it to the churches near John’s ministry. Chapters 4 – 18 are speaking of the grand narrative of salvation history as it has occurred in our time. Finally, chapter 19 – 22, speak of the coming final sequence of events.

Of course my eschatological view is important as I have moved from a dispensational pre-tribulational, pre-millennial view to historical premillennialism.

Being able to see that there is more than one way to read the book has a kind of liberating quality for so many of our church goers. We are no longer bound to an uneasy read, but we can allow them to study on their own and come to their conclusions. Ultimately, the one conclusion that we must reach is that Jesus is coming back and those who are in His Book have a greater future ahead.

So, how do you read Revelation? What challenges do you see in the book? What hope do you see?

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