Cotton Mather Invented the Rapture

While you do not see them as much anymore, the other day I saw a car with a bumper sticker that read “In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned.” These were once a fairly common sight, but this woman had the first I have seen in years.

So what does her bumper sticker mean? That she will be bailing out of the car the minute that she discovers true happiness, or when a particular Blondie song comes on the radio? And with such a sentiment, shouldn’t she have to pay much higher auto insurance, since she is proclaiming to the world that she will be leaving a 1 1/2 ton projectile loose on the road?

What she is referring to is a single line in the Bible, 1 Epistle to the Thessalonians 4:17, which has been translated as “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (King James Version)

She believes that at some point she will vanish from the Earth, to reappear in Heaven, and avoid the time of tribulations that will follow. Since so many people I know share this point of view, I think that it is important to examine the origin of these ideas. This is in no way an attempt to undermine religious views (as none of my writings are), but to allow people to understand where this all comes from. “The truth will set you free.”

The foundations of this idea originated in New England in the 1680s with Increase and Cotton Mather, father and son pastors who are the founders of modern day Christian Fundamentalism. While I like Cotton Mather’s support of the idea of smallpox vaccinations (many saw it as science interfering in religion), he is also a major supporter of the Salem Witch Trials, in which 19 people were hanged, 1 crushed to death by rocks, and many more went through what is now called enhanced interrogation.

The ideas were further refined in the 1830s by John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren, and popularized in the early 20th century by the Scofield Reference Bible (in which the Creation of the world was listed as 4004 BC).

Among followers of this idea is the debate of whether the taking up will be
pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation, and whether there will be one or two events. Many books and films include this in their story lines, such as the “Left Behind” series.

The problem originates in taking too literally a translation of a translation of a translation. The original letter was written in Greek, translated into Latin, then maybe French, and finally English. The “taken up” verb is originally “harpazo”, meaning to to grabbed or seized, usually in a violent manner, such as pulling someone out of the way of an on coming car (especially one with no driver at the wheel). The Latin Vulgate translated it into rapiemur, which translated into French becomes raptura (meaning to seize, rape or kidnap), and finally rapture in English.

The same word is used at least 14 times in the New Testament, usually in the sense of being violently pulled away or kept apart. But never as flying up into the air.

This idea is rejected by the vast majority of Christian denominations of the world; Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and other Protestant churches reject this idea as nonsense, and only see a general resurrection at the end of time.

Since this idea is so heavily linked with the Revelations of John (which I have written about previously), many followers of this idea also try to calculate the exact day they will vanish; first as March 21, 1843 to the recent prediction of Harold Camping of May 21, 2011, which he had to change to October 21, 2011 when nothing happened.

(Don’t these people know that Pope Sylvester II declared that the end of the world would be after midnight mass on the night of December 31st, 1000 AD, so they are already living in the “after times”.)

I can understand that many people do not wish to die, and hope to be the “last generation”. Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there, as the saying goes.

All of them are forgetting the Gospel of Matthew 24:36 where Jesus said “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only”. (Revised Standard Version)

So, relax lady, you aren’t going anywhere anytime soon; and keep your eyes on the road!

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