Did the Chilean Earthquake fulfill “Unless Those Days Were Shortened” (Mt 24:22)?

The powerful 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile killed more than 700 people and triggered tsunamis. NASA scientists say that is not all it did. It also affected the earth’s axis, speeding up the rotation a little. In other words, the quake shortened the day by 1.26 microseconds. (That’s not one thousandths of a second, but millionths of seconds.)

Many readers have forwarded this news to me probably with the same thought in mind. Could this be what Jesus referred to when he said the following in the Olivet Discourse?

Matthew 24:22 (KJV) — And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.

One reader phrased it this way:

If we interpret Scripture literally, can we say that the event in Chile has to do when Jesus said days are going to be shortened? What do think? Is it possible ? I know that PX will cause something similar too…but this earthquake literally shortened days according to a scientist … this is getting better ! we are heading to end times…

This question highlights the ambiguity with what Jesus said as it is rendered in the antiquated KJV English version. It can either be understood figuratively or literally. The more common figurative meaning of “those days being shortened” signifies that the length of the tribulation is going to limited by God. The strictly literal reading of it would mean that the literal length of our 24 hour day will be shorter. So which was intended by Jesus?

The reader is leaning towards literal. But is he on the right track? The question also highlights confusion on what “literal interpretation” means. Let’s get to the bottom of it using to approaches.

Approach 1: Think It Through Logically

First a clarification. Some of my students might choose literal because I’m known to teach taking the Bible literally. But this is constantly misunderstood. It does not mean to read everything in the Bible literally even when there are figures of speech, idioms, parables, allegories and metaphors being used. The literal method follows the cues in the text that tell us how to read it. This is instead of deciding to allegorize it without such cues and despite the fact that our reading breaks Scripture (John 10:35) just to suit our preconceived doctrinal positions.

Literal interpretation is really just same way we attempt to understand people everyday. If someone tells us that “I’m dying of thirst!”, do we take it literally and rush them to the hospital for an I.V. drip because we “always wanted to do this” (i.e. be a hero)? No, if we want to stay out of trouble we stop and look at them, see they look fine, think a moment and recognize the person used as a common hyperbolic expression. We process it as such and offer them a drink.

In other words, some common sense thinking is required to go along with proper interpretation. You can solve many questions yourself this way if you just ask yourself questions on what the ramifications are of the interpretation to the surrounding thoughts. Question does it fit or not?

In this case, how does a literal shortening of a 24 hour day prevent the implied extinction of the human race? It makes no sense. On the other hand, the figurative shortening of those days read as the curtailing of the Great Tribulation makes perfect sense as a reason that genocide would be prevented. Satan wants to enslave or destroy the human race and God must step in to prevent this.

Approach 2: Compare Multiple Bible Versions

I realize that we sometimes cannot always see the forest for the trees. We cannot think of the questions ourselves that would lead us to the right answer. (This is why I love the questions I receive by email. They powerfully provoke me to thought on the Bible everyday.)

But sometimes the answer can come through another method. One of the best practices I share constantly is that of checking multiple versions on any passage you are having trouble with. We are very blessed to have the myriad English translations of the Bible we have. If you saw how few Bible versions there are for Spanish speakers, you would feel pity for them.

In this case, checking other versions indeed comes to the rescue. A simple check of a more modern and accurate version like the HCSB produces:

Matthew 24:22 (HCSB) — Unless those days were limited, no one would survive. But those days will be limited because of the elect.

That is clearly a vote for the figurative rendering that the days of the Great Tribulation will be limited. The Greek for this passage means “cut short” which can be rendered as “shortened” like the KJV or “limited” like the HCSB depending on the context. Here, as demonstrated above, the context is talking about limiting the Great Tribulation, so “limited” is best for giving a reader the right idea without them having to go through the mental gymnastics of Approach 1 above.

Does this work all the time? No, sometimes it is no help. But it is always worth a try, especially for people who primarily use the KJV. I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me about a verse in the KJV reading that I answered just by showing them it in the NIV. It’s time for people to update their Bibles and read them through again in the new version. You’ll be amazed at what you can finally understand in the Bible.

But is the Chilean earthquake in any way a sign of the End Times being nearer? Stay tuned for when I address Matthew 24:7 “There will be famines, and earthquakes in various places.”…