Ships, Boats, Floats and Arks

I know, this is far from the most important theological question most of us will face in our lives, but I’ll bet that most of us are at least a little bit interested. What Exactly is an “ark”? Answers in Genesis (AiG), parent ministry of the Ark Encounter theme park, who I frequently agree with and frequently disagree with, says, “Noah’s Ark was a ship; therefore, it likely had features that ships would commonly have.”

My purpose here is not to question their motives or their overall theological purity, but rather to point out where my opinions and theirs differ on some textual interpretations and scientific principles.

Artist’s conception: Noah’s Ark, somewhat as I envision it.


Nowhere does Scripture say the Ark was a ship! All that floats is not a ship. I did a search in several English translations to get a sense of the Biblical usage, concentrating mostly on KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV and CJB. I found that the Hebrew “Oniy or the related “Oniyah” is translated as “ship(s)”, “boat(s)”, “sailing vessel(s)”, or “watercraft” in the Old Testament. The word can also refer to a fleet (of ships), a Navy, or seamen. Another Hebrew term, Tsiy is translated variously as “ships“, “boats” or “vessels (of papyrus reeds)”.

There are three contexts in which the term “ark” occurs in English translations of the OT. When referring to Noah’s Ark and the basket that Moses was placed in to escape Pharaoh’s attack on Israelite children, the Hebrew is “tebah“, which literally means “a box or chest“. When referring to the Ark of the Covenant, the Hebrew is, “aron“, meaning “a box, chest or coffin“. What is the difference in meaning between these words? AiG suggests that tebah is related to the Egyptian word for “coffin”, and comments that being sealed in the Ark would be like being sealed in a coffin. Their post that I am here referring to1 says nothing more about aron.

Based on my own survey of Jewish sources, I believe that tebah refers to containers for the “common“, while aron refers to boxes, chests, and cabinets dedicated to sacred objects. Noah had a sacred purpose, but he was not personally sanctified, as demonstrated after the Great Flood, in Gen 9:20-27. Moses was unable to enter the Promised Land because of his own sin.

On the other hand,

  • The Ark of the Testimony (Aron HaEdut) was “home” to God’s Sh’kinah, and contained, for a time, a jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. All of those are Jewish sacred objects.
  • For most of their history, the most sacred object associated with any Jewish synagogue has been their Torah scroll, and the second most sacred has been their Holy ark (aron HaKodesh) in which the scrolls are stored. These arks are cabinets, usually ornate, that stand against the synagogue wall most nearly facing Jerusalem and the Holy Mount.
  • When the Israelites left Egypt with Moses, they took with them, in an aron, the revered body of Joseph:

Genesis 50:26 (CJB)
[26] So Yosef* died at the age of 110, and they embalmed him and put him in a coffin [aron] in Egypt.

Ships, boats and barges, in all their myriads of varieties, generally have one thing in common: they are designed to transport people or other objects from one location to another, on or under the water. By “transport”, I mean to actively move it, using some form of energy, be it wind, machine, or muscle. The term “ships” generally refers to relatively large vessels designed to withstand the rigors of navigating the open sea or large rivers and lakes. The term “boats” can include “ships” as a subset, but more commonly it refers to relatively smaller watercraft. A “barge” is usually a box-like vessel designed to be pulled or pushed by a ship or boat.

By contrast, a vessel or platform, or even an air-filled vest, of any kind that is designed, not to navigate under any kind of propulsion, but simply to float on water and go wherever the force of nature takes it, is called—well—a “float“! Noah’s Ark was not a ship; it was a float. God said, “Build this, get in it with a herd of critters, and let it float you to wherever I send it by means of the winds and waves at my command.” If it was a float and not a ship or boat, then it doesn’t need to have “had features that ships would commonly have.”

Wind and waves

The design on AiG’s Ark Encounter, in fact the basis of much of their flood theology, depends on assumption that The Great Flood would have included catastrophic winds, waves and consequent destruction.

However, I think the argument is faulty. I see nothing in scripture to indicate that wind factored into the Genesis Flood in any significant way, so neither wind nor wave would have been an issue. According to Gen 7:11, “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of the sky were opened.” I don’t believe that this event can be compared in any way to a modern storm. I have discussed a likely mechanism for the flood in Fountains of the Deep. In that post I suggest that the vast majority of the flood water was miraculously brought up from earth’s mantle transition layer, primarily through volcanic eruptions in the mid-oceanic ridges. This would have perhaps generated tsunamis on shore regions until they were inundated, but tsunamis cause very little disturbance in deep water. Widespread volcanism generates huge amounts of ash, as well as CO2 and water vapor that would spawn torrential rain but could quell pressure gradients and dampen the normal winds.

The only mention of wind in the Flood text is in Gen 8:1b,”God caused a wind [ruach] to pass over the earth, and the water began to go down.” The Hebrew ruach can mean wind, breath, or any of a number of related English terms, but most often in the Bible, it means “spirit“, as in Gen 1:2b, “and the Spirit [Ruach] of God hovered over the surface of the water.” No amount of physical and literal wind could dry up that much water in the time allowed by Scripture; the waters of the deep were miraculously returned to their home in earth’s mantle through the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). I suggest that “wind” is a mistranslation in Gen 8:1.


As an ex Naval Officer, I put in a lot of both formal and informal time studying subjects related to my job. Not that I could ever build a ship from the keel up, but I do have training in naval architecture, both technical and historic. The small “n” in “naval” means both military and civilian watercraft.

AiG has tried to justify their design of a ship-like Ark at Ark Encounter, as opposed to a parallelepiped, box-like float of the same overall dimensions, by appealing to model studies in wave pools. I can tell you from personal experience that because of their inertial characteristics, a massive ship won’t perform anything like a small model in either wind or waves. Not even close.

I have been at sea on a minesweeper, a destroyer, a battleship, and, for long periods, an aircraft carrier. On all but the battleship, I have served on the “bridge” (a ship’s navigational control center) while under way, and experienced “heavy seas” (storm conditions). On the minesweeper and the carrier, I periodically “had the con“, meaning I had command over the vessels’ engines and rudders, as well as lookouts and other underway personnel. In Navy parlance, a minesweeper is a boat, and designed for operations in littoral, i.e., coastal, waters, though able to transit oceans if necessary. My other “rides” were smallish, large and very large ships, respectively.

My destroyer, the USS O’Brien, DD-725, was about 80% the size of the Ark, so it gives me a good basis for comparison. We definitely felt the waves, but when under power, it was easy to control our direction of advance. If we cut our speed to “all stop“, or “zero turns on the ship’s screw“, we would fairly quickly lose our forward motion, and eventually the weight of the ship would drag us around until we were parallel to the swells (that’s the proper term for deep-water waves). Once so “broached“, there is a tendency for any vessel to roll side to side. This isn’t comfortable, but sailors are used to it and prepared for it. Even in rough seas, very few ships will capsize from it, though, because buoyancy and inertia limit the magnitude of the roll. A box with the same dimensions as the ship would have less tendency to roll than a ship with a bowed hull, given proper weight distribution aboard the two.

Water wave physics

Elsewhere in the AiG documentation, they either state or imply that waves would have driven the Ark forward. But that could happen only in near-shore wave action where wind shear pushes surface water onto the shallows. In deep waters, waves are propagated in a horizontal direction, but the only water movement is near the surface where molecules simply bob up and down in tight oval movements. It is the bobbing action that moves along the surface, not the water itself. Rather than delve into the physics of water waves more deeply, I will simply present this diagram, with the movement of individual water molecules depicted in red:

Features of the AiG design

In several blog posts, AiG explains why, from a sea-worthiness perspective, they think that the Ark needed to be a ship-like vessel, rather than a box. They use this diagram to illustrate:

Noah’s Ark, per Anwers in Genesis™

“Noah could have added a fixed ‘sail’ on the upper bow of the Ark so the wind could turn the ship into the rough waves.” The idea here is that the raised bow fin would act like a weathervane, causing the Ark to pivot and turn end-on to the wind. But the description makes no sense from a mariner’s perspective. Swells propagate in the direction the wind is blowing; that is, a wind blowing towards the east would cause waves that also “move” toward the east. “Into the rough waves” therefore implies that the fin would turn the Ark in such a way that the wind would be blowing bow to stern, but if the fin worked at all, it would cause the bow to turn away from the oncoming waves.

Functionally, the object is to keep the Ark from broaching, or turning broadside to the wind and waves. Facing either bow or stern into the waves is very much preferable, but unlike a light model, I very seriously doubt that this fin design would be workable with a massive ship. It would take a very large force against the fin to overcome the angular momentum of the Ark and its contents. Also, enough wind to push on the fin would push even more on the windward hull of the ship, resisting any pivot. If there even were any significant wind.

“Noah could have added a fixed ‘rudder’ at the lower stern of the Ark to keep the ship turned into the rough waves.” This is another statement that makes no sense to me. A fixed rudder, more commonly known as a “skeg“, is an underwater fin or projection that can be used to stabilize the motion of a powered watercraft. There is no reason to suppose that Noah, or God, provided the Ark with a propulsion mechanism, so the most that a skeg would have accomplished was a slight reduction of rocking. It would have no effect at all on the orientation of the Ark with respect to waves, since ocean swells involve no sideways water motion (see above).

“A ship’s keel is a structure built along the bottom of the ship’s hull to support the main body of the ship. In some cases, the keel is extended downward to function as a stabilizer for the ship. Noah’s Ark, as described in Genesis 6, may have had a keel since it seems to have been an essential piece for the ship to survive the wind and waves.” If the Ark was a ship, then given its size, a keel might have been necessary to anchor ribs and strakes. If the Ark was a box, then no such structure would have been necessary, since structural stability would be adequate using only rails, stiles and cross-braces.

“Jesus Boat”, ©2008, Ron Thompson
“Jesus Boat”, ©2008, Ron Thompson

There is no evidence from literature or archaeological findings that keels ever existed before they were invented by the Vikings around the 8th Century AD. Early ships and boats, including those built by the Egyptians and the Phoenician “Sea People” were built by lashing or pegging planking to bent or shaped ribs that ran perpendicular to the length of the craft. The 2,000-year-old “Jesus Boat” on display at Kibbutz Ginosar, Israel, was modeled on Phoenician boats from earlier centuries.

Earlier structures related to keels did exist in ancient times. Egyptian boats, for instance, featured what is now called a “plank-keel.” This was not a true keel, but rather a wide strake (hull plank) at the very bottom of the hull where keels would later be located. The function was primarily to give the boat a stable base while beached. Another device that occurred frequently in ancient ships (and is still often used) is a “keelson“, which was a structural beam or cleat in the bilge area, but not extending outside the hull. It was used mainly to help support masts in sail-powered boats, but often did add strength to the hull. Neither of these features would function on an Ark.

“The box-like Ark is not entirely disqualified as a safe option, but sharp edges are more vulnerable to damage during launch and landing.” Among many avocations, I have been a cabinet maker during my lifetime, and I still have a completely furnished cabinet and general woodworking shop in my basement. My opinion is that square corners (“sharp edges”) are vulnerable to dings and dents but are sturdier and more puncture-proof than a rounded wooden hull.

“Blunt ends would also produce a rougher ride and allow the vessel to be more easily thrown around” Most ships and small boats have a “sharp” bow for “cutting through” the water, but a large percentage of them have a “blunt” stern, and many larger ships have “blunt” vertical sides, as well. How much a vessel is “thrown around” is more a function of its mass and how deep it sits in the water. And, of course, a flat bottom is much less prone to rolling than a ship’s hull.

“While many designs could work, the possibility shown here reflects the high stems which were a hallmark of ancient ships.” Though I couldn’t find more explanation of what precisely this statement means, I assume it is referencing raised prows and sterns on many ancient ships. In the case of Egyptian vessels, these were stylized papyrus umbels (flat-topped or rounded flower clusters). The Egyptians used the stem of papyrus plants to make sails, cloth, mats, cords, and paper, so these plants were appropriate decorations. Other civilizations decorated their ships in the same manner with religious totems.

“Noah was 500–600 years old and knew better than to make a simple box that would have had significant issues in a global Flood (e.g., forces on the sharp corners would be too destructive, it could capsize if it is not facing into the wind and waves, and so on).” If Noah had any training in shipbuilding or hydrodynamics, it isn’t mentioned in Scripture. God may have coached him or given him engineering drawings or advanced physics training, but this is also unmentioned.

John 5 and the Bethesda Pool

The Pools of Bethesda were dual Roman baths (Figures 1 and 2) that are mentioned prominently in John 5. There is some confusion of place names there. Bezetha (Heb. Beitzata, probably meaning “house of olives”) is a mountain ridge trending southeast from above the top center of the map to just northeast of the Pools. The valley stream that feeds water to the Pools is also named Bezetha. That name was later applied to a broader area that became a suburban community also known as “the New City“, north of Biblical Jerusalem. The name Bethesda (Heb. BeitHisda, meaning “house of mercy”) appears in some manuscripts, and applies only to the Pools. Archaeologists, including Dan Bahat, author of this map, for long equated the Bethesda Pools with the “Sheep Pool“, where animals were washed prior to sacrifice, but I was skeptical of that from the day I first laid eyes on it, and in fact scholarship now equates the Sheep Pool with the Pool of Israel, just outside the Sheep Gate in the Northern wall of the Temple Mount. Why my skepticism? First, I couldn’t conceive of a possibility that the Romans would share their healing pool with Jewish livestock. Just as obvious to me was an observation that the Bethesda pools looked way too deep and steep-sided to dip and extract thousands of animals quickly enough, or even at all, on feast days (Figure 3). At the same time, the Pool of Israel, right outside the gate used for sacrificial animals, was ideally shaped for the purpose, with a shallow end and sloped bottom, and was clearly not suited for ritual cleansing of humans.

Figure 1: ©2007 Holman Bible Publishers. Problems with this map: Pool of Bethesda incorrectly identified also as Sheep’s Pool; Gordon’s Calvary (the Garden Tomb) incorrectly identified as Golgotha; Struthion Pool mislocated; pinnacle of the Temple mislocated; Upper Room mislocated.
Figure 2: Bethesda Pools, on Jerusalem model, Mt. Hertzl. Photo ©2008 Ron Thompson

Although Bethesda may have originally been a Jewish pool, by the 1st Century AD it was a thoroughly Roman facility. It was a two-pool bath house, either built or upgraded by Herod, for the use of soldiers stationed in the nearby Antonia Fortress (Figure 2). Almost certainly, it was an Asclepeion, a shrine to the Greek God of Medicine, Asclepius (Figure 4). Water flowing down the Bezetha Valley was collected in the upper pool and flowed across a weir into the lower pool, before spilling off into the Kidron Valley. Bathing in the pools would presumably bring healing.

Figure 3: Bethesda Pool excavation. Photo ©2008 Ron Thompson.
Figure 4: Asclepius, James Sands Elliott – Public Domain

John 5:1-9 (ESV)
The Healing at the Pool on the Sabbath
[5:1] After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
[2] Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. [3] In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. [5] One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. [6] When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” [7] The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” [8] Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” [9] And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath.

Most translations do not include the famous verses 3b – 4 because this wording is not present in “the best” manuscripts. Encyclopedia Judaica calls it a later gloss, but states that excavations reveal that “a health rite took place there during the Roman period.”

John 5:3-4 (KJV)
[3] In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
[4] For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

If these words are legitimate, it would help explain vs 7. Though the pools were intended for Roman use, this was during the days right before Passover, and it makes sense that Jews might have been given an annual privilege in its honor. It is inconceivable, though, that devout Jews would have expected a medical miracle at a pagan shrine dedicated to healing by a pagan deity! The story about an angel appearing in a pagan pool would have likewise been pure superstition, possibly explained by roiling of the water when attendants opened a sluice gate to move water from the stream, or from pool to pool.

To answer one more frequent question, based on verse 6, when Jesus asked the paralytic if he wanted to be healed: No, I don’t think He was really asking him if he wanted to have his sins forgiven. Nowhere in the chapter is it indicated that the paralytic had any interest in salvation. Jesus never explicitly offered him forgiveness, He just gave him a warning, after which he ratted Jesus out!

John 5:14-16 (ESV)
[14] Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” [15] The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. [16] And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.

Figure 5: For comparison, a reproduction of a 1st century Roman bath, in Bath, UK. From the column bases down, it is original construction from AD 60 – 70. From an online tourism promotion.

Jesus and Hebrew Wedding Imagery

This is a February 2022 rewrite and expansion of a post I wrote in January 2013, entitled “The Bride of Messiah”.

I grew up in a fundamentalist, “King James only”, Baptist denomination, in churches in New Mexico, Texas and Florida. I love my old pastors and my fellow church members, and I still agree with them on most fundamental issues. Not everything, but I’m not going to mention their name and insult them. These days I rarely use the King James, because I think there are more reliable translations, but that’s not the question here, and I will use it for this post.

I’m going to concentrate here on one particular issue. I consider myself to be a Biblical literalist, but I think that there are many places in scripture that aren’t meant to be read literally. Hebrew writers often used poetic imagery and symbolism to convey truth about God: His attributes, His will, His promises (positive and negative) and yes, His wrath. A consistent and realistic Hermeneutic (principles of Biblical interpretation) must be used to differentiate between the literal and the figurative. Most conservative Biblical scholars and knowledgeable students of Scripture understand this, but few over the last 2,000 years are really equipped to apply the understanding. This is largely due to the way Jews and their writings have been marginalized in the Church.

As a somewhat trivial example of this lack of understanding, many years ago when I was a young associate pastor at a church in Texas, my Senior Pastor and I had an ongoing, friendly argument about Biblical anthropopathism. His view was that, despite the fact that God is a Spirit, “Scripture clearly states that God has hands…

Luke 23:46 (KJV)
[46] And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

…and wings.”

Ruth 2:12 (KJV)
[12] The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.

My own view is that God and His angels have no bodily form at all, and that such scriptures are illustrations of God’s loving and tender care for His people. When they heard these sayings, ancient Jews, immersed in the cultural milieu of their society, would not misunderstand the symbolic content. For 21st Century Christians, misled by centuries of antipathy towards Judaism, it’s not so simple!

Another example of Biblical symbolism is found in the parables (sing. mashal, Heb. and parabole, Gr.) told by Old Testament prophets, by New Testament-era sages, and by Jesus Himself. These stories were not themselves true but were illustrations of truth told in ways that could not be misunderstood by the hearers—or, in many cases could be understood only by “insiders” in the audience.

A form of implicit (not explained, but obvious to the hearers) symbolism that I want to discuss here was used by Jesus over and over again in His discussions with His Disciples about what we today refer to as the Rapture, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb: Jewish wedding imagery.

The Old Testament often depicts God as the husband of His wife, Israel. Similarly, the New Testament depicts Jesus as a groom, and the Church as His betrothed bride. Betrothal was much different among 1st Century and earlier Jews than it is among American Christians. To us it is a proposal to enter into a contract at a later date. To them, it was the contract itself. What we today call a “wedding ceremony” was to them simply the last stage of a process that often lasted for months. Jesus often referred to steps in this process to symbolically illustrate His mystical relationship with the Church:

Shopping for a bride. Today in The West, we regard an ideal marriage as an emotional union between a mutually attracted couple. In traditional Judaism, and in most of the non-Jewish Eastern world, even today, it was a financial transaction between families, often made when the couple were small children. In some cultures, a dowery was paid by the bride’s family. Sometimes this amounted to, “I’ll pay you to take this useless female off my hands”, but mostly it was a realistic understanding that a healthy adult female was of more practical value to a good husband than to her birth family. In other cultures, including the Jewish tradition, wives were highly valued, and money or goods flowed the other way. A “bride price” was paid by the groom’s family to acquire a coveted prize for their son and to compensate her family for the loss of a valuable and beloved asset. I have read many Christian opinions that Jewish men despise their women, but that is not and never was a true generalization, despite suggestions of “proof” to the contrary. Perhaps a subject for a future post…

A Jewish man’s marriage was usually arranged by his father, in negotiation (called the shidduch) with the prospective bride’s father. Sometimes other family members, including the subject children themselves, were included. In later history, a professional matchmaker (a shadchan) was sometimes employed as a go-between, as illustrated in the movie Fiddler on the Roof. Usually, both fathers wanted nothing as much as the happiness of their children. After the exchange of a generous bride price, the families would cooperate, sometimes for years, in preparing the two young people for their eventual life together.

Jesus’ father arranged His marriage in eternity past. He paid a heavy bride price for us—we were bought with the most precious coin on earth, the groom’s own blood. Having been chosen, our entire lives from the time we were formed in our mothers’ wombs has been preparation for our marriage to the Lamb of God.

The betrothal, or erusin. When the time came for betrothal, the two families would gather in the house of the bride’s father. The groom would bring the ketubah, an ornate written marriage contract, and his father would bring a flask of wine. The father would pour a cup and hand it to his son. The son would then hold it out to the bride, saying, “By offering this cup, I vow that I am willing to give my life for you.” Then, it was up to the bride. She could refuse the cup, and if so, the wedding agreement was canceled, and the bride price refunded. If she took the cup and drank, she was signifying that she in turn was willing to give her life for him. The betrothal was thus sealed. Once sealed, the two lived apart for a time, but were considered to be legally married and only a death or legal divorce could dissolve the ketubah. When Mary was “found to be with child”, it was grounds for divorce. Joseph’s thought to “put her away privily” (Mt 1:19, KJV) simply meant that he planned to divorce her privately, rather than to denounce her and shame her in public.

When Yeshua offered the cup of redemption at His final Passover Seder, He was telling us that He was willing to give His life for us. We who have accepted that cup have said in return that we are willing to give our own lives for Him. Our betrothal has been sealed, and God’s Torah is our ketubah.

Building the bridal suite. A Jewish house was often a large compound built around a central courtyard. This housing compound, called in Greek an insula, was home to the patriarchal extended family, often with several generations of sons in residence. The central living area was the quarters of the family patriarch and his wife. As each young man of the household was betrothed, he would simply build another room on to the house for his own new family. Once the betrothal cup was accepted, the groom would recite to his newly betrothed traditional words to the effect that

John 14:2-3 (KJV)
[2] In my Father’s house are many mansions [Gr. mone: more often rooms, abodes, or dwelling places]… I go to prepare a place for you.
[3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

Upper class Judean family homes, or insulae, as depicted in a model of First Century Jerusalem, on Mt. Hertzl, Jerusalem. Photo ©2008, Ron Thompson.

It is an interpretive mistake to picture Jesus as honing up His carpentry skills in heaven and building a physical house, let alone a mansion, for each of His followers. He was simply using the poetic beauty of the ritual to stress the surety that He will return for His bride, the Church!

Progress on the new home. Each day between the betrothal and the marriage supper, the groom’s father would inspect his progress on the dwelling, and eventually he, not his son, would set a date for the wedding. If you were to ask the toiling groom when his wedding was scheduled to occur, he could not give you an answer.

Matthew 24:3-4,36 (KJV)
[3] And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? [4] And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you…
[36] But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Each of Jesus’ hearers, being well-schooled in the important customs of the day, would have recognized the symbolism in verse 36. Once again this is ritual language, and therefore not necessarily a literal warning that it is completely useless to propose a date for the Rapture. I don’t know the year of the Rapture, but I firmly believe it will take place on some not-too-distant Day of Trumpets! (See also The Fall Feasts and the Rapture.)

Waiting for a summons by the groom. Meanwhile, the bride would wait expectantly, always prepared for the groom’s return, but not knowing on what day to expect him. Her attendants would stay with her each night, for weeks or even months. When the groom came with his own attendants to “kidnap” the bride and her attendants and take them from her home to his, he would arrive around midnight, with no advance warning. It would be a major scandal if the bride or any of her attendants were caught unprepared. This is what we see depicted in Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Virgins:

Matthew 25:1-13 (KJV)
[25:1] Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
[2] And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
[3] They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
[4] But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
[5] While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
[6] And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
[7] Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
[8] And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
[9] But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
[10] And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
[11] Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
[12] But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
[13] Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

The bridal procession and the consummation. As soon as the procession reached the groom’s home that night, the bride and groom would retreat immediately to the privacy of their new quarters. The guests would wait expectantly while the groom’s chief attendant stood outside the door and listened for the voice of the groom, announcing consummation of the marriage. This would signal the beginning of the week-long “marriage supper.” Jesus referred to this celebration of great joy in

John 3:29 (KJV)
[29] He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

The wedding supper, or nissuin. This joyous, but to us uncomfortable, custom of celebrating a consummated marriage by pigging out at a 7-day party—was exemplified in the Gospels by the wedding feast in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. It also symbolically represents the 7-year Wedding Supper of the Lamb, a celebration to be held in heaven while on earth the Tribulation is in progress.

Revelation 19:7-9 (KJV)
[7] Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
[8] And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
[9] And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Sometimes traditional Christian interpretations of scripture suffer from an ignorance of the customs that underlie them. Honest theology requires an attempt to understand the Jewish origins of our faith. Many times, those seemingly ambiguous or “strange” references in the Biblical narrative become clear once the culture is understood.