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Atlanta, 18 May 2016

Good morning -- from a quiet Georgian home. Vicki's in the U.K. on a family visit. So it's just me, the cat, and the dogs. Good thing I love animals. (This week I'm in Atlanta, not "Atanta" -- I was 6 hours jet-lagged when I wrote the bulletin last week. Oops.)

Yet there's a lot more to do than walking the dogs -- study, writing, appointments, and correspondence. Further, our local church (North River) has been sponsoring Campus Training Program, with students here from 11 states. I was tasked with the message "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?" (David Bercot's book title). The audience was eager to grasp how counter-cultural the early church was -- and excited to learn how many common evangelical teachings today would have been considered heresy back then. Our guest speaker was Ed Anton, from Virginia Beach -- where I spoke last year. Ed is an old friend and a powerful Christian leader and writer. We were thrilled he could stay with us. We caught up on our lives, and traded our latest thoughts about the Scriptures. 

One more item on the personal side: last week I resumed teaching at Lincoln Christian University. This year I'm teaching Apologetics (seven-week intensive) online, part of a master's degree program. In fact, several members of my church family just graduated from Lincoln with MAs. (I'm proud of them.) And now, let's get to this week's number of interest.


Response has been positive to the new Numbers series. Last week we had a quiz, and then discussed the number 77, and noticed a link between Genesis and Matthew that many readers miss. Several who wrote in shared their quiz scores. They were, on the whole, quite humble. :-) Which means there's room to learn. 

What are we to make of "1000"? The highest number in the Greco-Roman world was the myriad (literally, 10000), and could be used for any very large quantity (Acts 21:20; Song 5:10; also Rev 9:16). In 2 Chron 14:9 we find "thousands of thousands"; while it's possible there were a million Ethiopian soldiers, I think it more likely the writer is simply indicating an extremely large army. The number 1000 falls on the borderline between the literal and the figurative. So in our Bible reading, how can we tell which it is? Do we just guess, or are there any rules to guide us?

First, we have to use our heads. In one poetic passage God owns the sheep on 1000 hills (Psalm 50:10). Yet surely he owns all of them, not just 1000. Another figurative usage is the equivalence of a day and 1000 years in Psalm 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8. This isn't a literal 1000, either; notice that in Psalm 90 the 1000 years is also like a watch in the night. A Hebrew watch was 4 hours, or one sixth of a day. (Thus those literalists who have worked out the length of a celestial hour [41.66 years], minute [8.33 months], and second [4.16 days] are in trouble. Would 1000 years be one day, or one sixth of a day? Both answers cannot be right!) The psalmist is emphasizing how quickly life passes, whereas Peter is stressing how slowly time passes. One last example: the Hebrew 'elef means both 1000 and clan. Was a clan necessarily 1000 strong? Not necessarily. For more on this, check out Q&A 1329. So we see that poetry, apocalyptic literature (like Revelation), and certain figures of speech frequently use figurative numbers.

Often a number bears its usual mathematical meaning, esp. in narratives and letters. In Acts 2:41 we read of 3000 being baptized in response to the gospel message. While the number doesn't appear to be symbolic, still it's not quite as straightforward a figure as one might think. To start with, this is almost certainly an approximation; there might well have been 3011 baptisms. Acts 4:4 has another round number, 5000 -- and then it seems the counters stopped counting. Moreover, since according to Jewish custom only males were counted (Num 1:2; Matt 14:21; Acts 4:4), the actual total may have been considerably higher. Perhaps 6000 were baptized that day!

On to the Millennium
Biblical numbers may be literal or figurative. The discerning reader takes fact this into account. As for 1000, it may be a round figure, an exact quantity, or a symbol for something large. Next week we'll continue to explore 1000 as we tackle the millennium.

Ministry needs

Most of our bulletins don't contain requests for financial support -- and I prefer it this way. But occasionally I'm told that publicizing specific, concrete needs is motivating for those inclined to give. So here are a few of the current needs. To donate, or for more detailed information, CLICK, or just reply to this message.
  • General Fund (Africa, Europe, Middle East) -- $7440 sought, $670 received, $6770 to go.
  • Istanbul (teaching materials): $178 sought.
  • Jamaica (teaching materials): $300 sought, $199 received, $101 to go.
  • Spain (internship: Daniel Berk support) -- $1000 sought.
  • St. Kitts & Nevis (teaching materials): $540 sought, $220 received, $320 to go.
  • General: Teaching: To date IBTM has received only 26% of the 2015 total -- behind schedule. Training: To date, 62% of the 2015 total -- ahead of schedule.
As always, thanks for your prayers, financial gifts, and moral support. -- DAJ
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