Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Preterism: What’s the Big Deal? (Part 2 of 4) Misinformation

Contextual Dislocation

When context is afforded its rightful place in the study of scripture, a number of preterist proof-texts and interpretations are exposed as forced and misleading. Reading Jerusalem’s AD 70 destruction into almost every prophetic statement in the NT may seem convincing to some, but only if context is ignored. 

Paul called on Athenian pagan philosophers to repent right now because God “has set a day in which he intends to judge the world in righteousness …” (Acts 17:30-31).1 What motivation would this have given, or what relevance would it have had, if referring to the judgment against nationalistic Judaism, two decades later, hundreds of miles away, on the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea? 

As Paul stood before the Roman procurator Marcus Antonius Felix in Caesarea, not only did he mention “a resurrection of both righteous and unrighteous,” he spoke more directly about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:15, 25). Since Felix was on the side of the Romans rather than the Jewish rebels, what was Paul using as an evangelistic incentive that struck fear in this man’s heart? Compare 2 Cor. 5:10-11.

James, in the 5th chapter of his epistle, declares judgment on dishonest, wealthy oppressors (vv. 1-6). He then encourages his readers to persevere “until the parousía of the Lord” (v. 7). Addressed to Jewish Christians “in the diaspora” (1:1), i.e., far away from the land of Judea, the Lord’s approaching judgment against Jerusalem would not particularly apply. 

Whether the fate of these doomed tyrants was to be actualized in their lifetime or in the age to come, James tells his readers, “strengthen your hearts, because the parousía of the Lord has drawn near” (5:8). Rather than surely affirming Christ’s imminent return, however, nearness phraseology emphasizes the certainty of fulfillment and encourages readers to live in a constant state of expectancy of the Lord's parousía always at hand. Even more so, what was needed to reassure their troubled hearts was a reminder of the nearness of his presence. The next verse includes this idea of spatial proximity: “Behold, the judge is standing before the doors” (v. 9b). Compare similar passages with which James audience would have been familiar (Deut. 4:7; Psa. 34:18; 85:9; 119:151; 145:18; Isa. 51:5; 55:6; Jer. 23:23).  

When the apostle Paul later writes to the saints at Philippi, a Roman colony nearly a thousand miles away from Jerusalem, he reassures them with these words: “the Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5b). Because of the less-than-precise verse divisions in our English Bible, modern readers might fail to appreciate that this statement readily serves as a motivation for what follows. The apostle is alluding to the fact that the Lord is close, nearby, looking on (cf. vv. 7, 9, 13, 19; Acts 18:9-10; 2 Tim. 4:17). Therefore, “do not be anxious about anything …” (Phil. 4:6a).

Deceptive Argumentation

Paul warns his readers of the deception involved in claiming that the Lord’s parousía has already transpired (2 Thess. 2:1-3). If a preterist argument on the surface sounds compelling to some, like all teaching it needs to be put to the test (1 Thess. 5:21).

The preterist asks when will futurists observe communion with the Lord? Jesus said, “I will not eat thereof until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom” (Luke 22:16). Yet in the observance of the Lord’s Supper, Paul said to the mid-1st-century Corinthians, “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). They were not communing with the Lord but anticipating his return (in AD 70). If there is no communion with the Lord until he comes, and if there is no communion after his coming, when will futurists ever commune with the Lord?! 

This flimsy, deceptive argument is created by altering and mixing the terminology of two separate passages in two very different contexts. In Luke 22:16 Jesus speaks of communing with his disciples in the kingdom (fulfilled in his church). Abuses notwithstanding, in 1 Cor. 11:26 Paul is speaking to citizens of the kingdom who regularly commune with the Lord as they observe the Lord’s supper (10:16-17), and by so doing, “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” The preterist argument crafts a false antithesis by alleging the Corinthians were looking for Christ’s return instead of communing with him, but surely this is not an “either-or” scenario! Jesus’ words in Luke 22:16 were fulfilled when the church began (Acts 2:42). Since then Paul’s observation in 1 Cor. 11:26 has been implemented weekly, recurring until the Lord’s parousía.

The Last Days and the End of the Age?

When scripture speaks of “the end of the age,” preterists insert “Jewish.” When scripture speaks of “the last days,” preterists add “of the Jewish dispensation.” They contend that the last days (of old-covenant Judaism), and the end of the (Jewish) age or the (Jewish covenantal) world, point to the summer of AD 70. Thus, there is no end to history. “Our physical world and cosmos are without end.”2

I am reminded, especially when I hear or read the musings of militant preterists, of the apostle Peter’s foreseeing “in the last days scoffers,” who cynically ask, “Where is the promise of his parousía?” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). This is followed by a vivid description of the day of the Lord’s judgment, when the physical world and cosmos will be incinerated (vv. 7-14). Then Peter issues a warning about those who distort the scriptures and lead others astray with error (vv. 16-17). 

There is no question that the violent overthrow of Jerusalem in AD 70 was the deathblow to nationalistic Judaism in the 1st century, and the period leading up to this catastrophic event was in fact its last days (the events of 1948 notwithstanding). But to so narrowly interpret similar terminology in contextually unrelated passages is to lose sight of God’s much broader scheme.

The historical turning point between old-covenant Judaism and the new-covenant messianic age occurred about four decades earlier at the cross. “And through this [Jesus Christ] is mediator of a new covenant, so that, death having occurred for redemption of transgressions of those under the first covenant, those having been called might receive the promise of the everlasting inheritance. For where there is a will, death of the one having made it is necessary to uphold it. For a will is secure upon death, since it is not enforced at the time when the one having made it is living” (Heb. 9:15-17). The old-covenant system of Judaism had served its purpose and the Lord officially replaced it at Golgatha, “having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). 

The messianic age was inaugurated at Jesus’ atoning death, soon followed by his resurrection, ascension, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and other extraordinary events at Pentecost. Granted, while traditional Judaism was still alive and well with many unsuccessful attempts to thwart God’s work in his church, this came to an abrupt halt about forty years later (cf. Heb. 8:13b). Nevertheless, the temple’s removal was certainly not at the center of God’s redemptive plan. The atoning death of his Son served this distinctive purpose (cf. John 19:30).3

At Pentecost Peter and his contemporaries were living in “the last days” (Acts 2:16-17), not merely the final days of old-covenant Judaism, which the Lord had already rendered obsolete (Heb. 8:13a), but the final period of biblical history (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1-2; 9:26; 2 Pet. 3:3-4). Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching observance of all his commands, with the assurance of his abiding presence “until the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). The serious Bible student must decide which of these is or is not still applicable.

Appealing to Matt. 24:3 to link the expression, “the end of the age,” to the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem might carry more weight if it were not the words of confused, uninformed disciples. Since other passages (e.g. Matt. 13:39, 40, 49; 2 Tim. 3:1; Jas. 5:3) tend to be interpreted according to the interpreter’s eschatological presuppositions, we will not prolong the never-ending debate in the present study.  

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 John NoēThe Perfect Ending of the World (Indianapolis, IN: East2West, 2011): xv. Contra the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
     3 Psa. 22:16; Isa. 53:8-9; Matt. 16:21; 17:12, 22-23; 20:18-19; 21:37-39; 26:2; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:19-20; John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-33; Acts 2:23, 36; 3:18; 4:10, 27-28; Rom. 5:6-11; 1 Cor. 1:13, 17-29; 2:2; 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 1:4; 2:20; 3:1, 13; 5:11; 6:12; Eph. 1:7; 2:15-16; 5:25; Phil. 2:8-9, 18; Col. 1:14, 20; 1 Tim. 2:6; Tit. 2:14; Heb. 2:9-17; 6:6; 9:12, 22, 26; 10:4; 12:2; 1 Pet. 2:24; Rev. 5:6, 12; 13:8. See K. L. Moore, “The Christianization of a Pagan Symbol,” Moore Perspective (24 Dec. 2019), <Link>.

Related PostsPreterism: Part 1Part 3Part 4

Image credit: adapted from https://news.efinancialcareers.com/uk-en/272698/the-most-frustrated-people-in-finance

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