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Addendum to "Sweet Hour of Prayer"

Two different people sent me two different links to information concerning the idea that the expression "in the twinkling of an eye" is a Hebrew idiom that refers to sunset; and so when Paul used that phrase in 1 Corinthians 15:52, his audience (not to mention astute twenty-first-century believers) understood he meant that the Rapture would literally occur at sunset.

Here's a quote from the first link:

"In ancient times, some understood that night begins in a moment in time which is impossible to determine called the twinkling of an eye. This is interesting, as Paul prophesied that the righteous would be resurrected in the twinkling of an eye." (all emphasis in original)

— "Determining the Hebrew Day"
TorahCalendar.com [Source]

Hmm...interesting. "Some understood..." So according to this person, some people apparently thought of the precise moment of sunset in terms of that expression.

Be aware that in Jewish tradition, determining the exact moment of sunset was of great importance since it marked the end of one calendar day and the beginning of the next, and so was crucial to various observances.

I'll spare you the gory details, but much ink is spilled in the Talmud over this very subject, and it gets downright gnarly in terms of complexity. For our purposes, all we need to understand is that knowing the accurate times of sunset, sunrise, twilight, nightfall, etc. was a big deal for the Jews.

Here is a quote from the second link I was sent:

"In order to fix the beginning and ending of the Sabbath-day and festivals and to determine the precise hour for certain religious observances it becomes necessary to know the exact times of the rising and the setting of the sun. According to the strict interpretation of the Mosaic law, every day begins with sunrise and ends with sunset (Ibn Ezra, commentary on Ex. xviii. 14). This confirms the opinion of R. Jose that twilight is like the twinkling of the eye, that is to say, with sunset day immediately changes to night (Shab. 35a)." (emphasis added)

— "The Rising and Setting of the Sun" (The Jewish Encyclopedia)
By Joseph Jacobs and Judah David Eisenstein [Source]

Aah, now the idea has a name associated with it. This article refers to a man named R. (Rabbi) Jose, and according to The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), R. Jose expressed his opinion that the precise moment of sunset was "like the twinkling of the eye."

Hmm...interesting. Well, I felt obliged to find out more about this R. Jose, so off I went in search of more info. In no time at all I was knee-deep in the Babylonian Talmud where I found another reference to this guy that backed up what I had already found:

"I am referring to the twilight [as defined] by R. Jose. For R. Jose says: The twilight is like the twinkling of an eye." (emphasis added)

Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth, Folio 2a, Chapter I [Source]

There he is again, and I found out from Wikipedia that his name was R. Jose ben Halafta, a rabbi who lived in the second century AD and who also went by the moniker "Jose the Galilean."

Note that it was only the article at the first link ("Determining the Hebrew Day" at TorahCalendar.com) that made the connection between this supposed idiom and Paul's "twinkling of an eye" in 1 Corinthians 15:52.

Both of the people who sent me links seemed to do so with the sense that the information they had shared with me was the smoking gun that solidly backed up what Scottie said in his presentation, when he used Paul's words to pinpoint the hour (actually the exact moment) of the Rapture. But you know me...let's think this through carefully.

What R. Jose did was simply characterize the precise moment that one calendar date becomes the next (or the moment when day turns to night) by using a figure of speech that refers to a universally known action or event that only takes a split second, and he obviously did so in order to get his point across in a way that was clear and easy to grasp. But what we are being asked to believe is that the figure of speech "in the twinkling of an eye" that the rabbi used became a Hebrew idiom over the following centuries that was routinely used by Jews in the exact same way (to refer to sunset).

I admit this is possible. But we are being asked to believe that by someone (a twenty-first-century Christian) who has already fixated on the well-known expression "in the twinkling of an eye" translated from the Greek of Paul's writings to English, and who has made a connection between 1 Corinthians 15:52 and the common Hebrew figure of speech R. Jose used. And he clearly wants very much for other believers to make the same connection.

In other words, a second-century rabbi takes a common figure of speech which means that something happens very quickly, a figure of speech that could be applied to any number of situations ("I took Miriam's hand in mine, and in the twinkling of an eye I knew she would be my wife") and uses it in one specific manner in order to clarify his point about how the split-second change of day to night that occurs at sunset also happens very quickly.

Then, a twenty-first-century Christian assumes this figure of speech must be a Hebrew idiom that still carries the same sunset-related meaning that the rabbi applied to it on that particular occasion. He proceeds to attach the rabbi's application of that figure of speech (sunset) to a New Testament usage of a similar expression (concerning our change into our glorified bodies which will happen very quickly) and assumes it must still convey the rabbi's sunset-related meaning.

Whew...that's a mouthful, but therein lies my problem with all this:

In my honest opinion, this is a leap that would make Evel Knievel weep with admiration.

And I certainly mean no offense or disrespect to anyone who was kind enough to send me a link to some information, but I just don't buy it.

Consider: If Paul's intended meaning of "in the twinkling of an eye" had been in reference to sunset, we might expect to see a second witness—another similar usage—to support that interpretation. You know, let Scripture interpret Scripture and all that.

But there isn't one.

The phrase "in the twinkling of an eye" only appears in 1 Corinthians 15:52. So, this whole idea isn't coming from Scripture. We are being asked—and with no obvious scriptural support—to assume that a common figure of speech that could be applied to a multitude of situations has become permanently linked with one particular manner in which it was used by a rabbi in the second century.

And this fact is completely unknown to an eminently well-qualified Hebrew scholar like Nehemiah Gordan?

I'm sorry, and I don't want to be overly dogmatic about it, but it just seems like a stretch to me. At least too much of a stretch to justify getting many thousands of people foaming at the mouth.

In light of the failure of the September 23 Rosh Hashanah Rapture that Scottie Clarke and many others were so convinced of, I found the following quote from R. Jose somewhat ironic:

"He who indicates the coming of the Messiah...will have no part in the future world." (emphasis added)

— R. Jose ben Halafta
(Remark directed against Hebrew Christians.) [Source]

Let me be quick to emphasize that I don't agree with that statement, but it just struck me as almost amusing considering all the "non-date-setting" date-setting that's been goin' on lately.

Let me be equally quick to emphasize that this addendum is my opinion. It's simply my view of this information, which leaves me less than convinced of the validity of using Paul's expression "in the twinkling of an eye" to pin the time of the Rapture to sunset. I am not an expert on the etymology of Hebrew idioms and figures of speech, however, and I could be wrong.

Finally, I'd like to say a special thanks to those who were kind enough to take the time to send me information. In the final analysis, however, I can't help but feel that this whole "Rapture at sunset" idea based on 1 Corinthians 15:52 is a stretch, and I just don't quite buy it based on what I have seen.

 Greg Lauer / September 2017 

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1. Deriv. of "Sunset Over Grass Field" © AOosthuizen at Can Stock Photo

Scripture Quotations:
All Scripture is taken from the World English Bible, unless annotated as KJV (King James Version) or AKJV (American King James Version).