In this post, I am continuing my criticism of the Adventist understanding of Rev. 11. Today, I would like to highlight the tenuous basis for the identification of "the two witnesses" and "the great city. . . called 'Egypt,'" as presented in The Great Controversy:
The Two Witnesses
The Two Witnesses
Ellen White identifies the two witnesses on GC 267:
Concerning the two witnesses the prophet declares further: "These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth." "Thy word," said the psalmist, "is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Revelation 11:4; Psalm 119:105. The two witnesses represent the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament. Both are important testimonies to the origin and perpetuity of the law of God. Both are witnesses also to the plan of salvation. The types, sacrifices, and prophecies of the Old Testament point forward to a Saviour to come. The Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament tell of a Saviour who has come in the exact manner foretold by type and prophecy. (GC 267).
Surprisingly, Ellen White makes no reference to Zech. 4, the chapter from which the very image of two olive trees and two candlesticks is extracted (though other Adventist interpreters of her generation did). That passage apparently identifies Zerubbabel, the political leader of Judah, and Joshua the high priest, as God's anointed ones in the post-exilic community. The lack of a reference to, or discussion of, Zech. 4 is disconcerting, as the chapter could prove illuminating when treating the same metaphor in Rev. 11. Instead, Ellen White, like her Adventist contemporaries, interprets the image of "candlesticks" by reference to the "lamp" of Ps. 119:105. However, the metaphorical use of "lamp" in a distant text is not enough to confirm that the "candlesticks" of Rev. 11 should be identified with the Bible itself, not least because the words translated "candlestick" and "lamp" are distinct. Again, a much better interpretive touchstone exists in Zech. 4. Finally, and most importantly, the interpreter should consider other appearances of the "candlestick" metaphor within the book of Revelation itself, where "candlesticks" elsewhere symbolize local churches (cf. Rev. 1:20, 2:5).
And as an aside: the identification of the two candlesticks with the "Old and New Testaments" relies upon a distinction between two "halves" of the Bible that is scantily attested in, or entirely absent from, the text of scripture. I cannot think of a biblical text that sharply distinguishes Hebrew scripture from Christian Greek scripture. There is an arbitrary, almost anachronistic, character to this interpretation.
"Egypt" as Atheism
Next, to identify Rev. 11 with the French Revolution, Ellen White argues that spiritual "Egypt" should be identified with an atheistic power, noting:
"The great city" in whose streets the witnesses are slain, and where their dead bodies lie, is "spiritually" Egypt.... When the message was brought him by Moses, in the name of the Lord, Pharaoh proudly answered: "Who is Jehovah, that I should hearken unto His voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, and moreover I will not let Israel go." Exodus 5:2, A.R.V. This is atheism, and the nation represented by Egypt would give voice to a similar denial of the claims of the living God and would manifest a like spirit of unbelief and defiance. (GC 269)
Modern Adventist interpreters are nearly constrained to receive this view, being the only argument in favor of identifying an atheistic state in this context:
In other words, the great city where the witnesses are martyred integrates the wickedness and moral degradation of Sodom (Gen 18:20-21; 19:4-11) with the atheistic arrogance and self-sufficiency of Egypt (cf. Exod. 5:2). (Stefanovic, Ranko, Revelation of Jesus Christ [Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews Univ. Press, 2002], 350).
Nevertheless, attaching atheistic significance in the spiritual title "Egypt" is, honestly, absurd. In fact, the same Exodus narrative later casts itself as a confrontation between Yahweh and the "the gods of Egypt" (Ex. 12:12). Furthermore, later biblical episodes and oracles continually identify Egypt with the worship of false gods, idolatry, and magic (Ex. 7:11; Josh. 24:14; Is. 19:1-3; Jer. 44:8; 46:25; Ez. 20:7-13, etc.). Pharaoh's quote certainly denies the God of Israel, but precisely within Egypt's consistent devotion to false gods. "Egypt" cannot be a sign of atheism, and perhaps, indicates the very opposite.