Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Preterism: What’s the Big Deal? (Part 4 of 4) Concluding Observations

Overly-Simplified, Overly-Complex

The fundamental weakness of hyper-preterism is its overly-simplistic method of interpretation, which creates an overly-complex belief system. When a biblical text does not seem to fit the preterist model, it has to be reinterpreted or spiritualized.1 When a biblical text does seem to fit, context is sometimes ignored or explained away.2 If one has not fully embraced the preterist system, it is extremely difficult to see in the Bible what preterism claims is there. In fact, it has been less than 150 years since this novel eschatological perspective was first introduced.3

Preterists insist theirs is the only “consistent” interpretive model, so much so that consistency of meaning is demanded even when appropriated scriptures are scattered across a variety of literary and historical-cultural settings. Strict preterism fails to appreciate that biblical terminology can be used in a variety of ways with different contextual connotations.4 The result of preterist methodology is an overly-simplified, overly-complex, acute imbalance.

A More Balanced Approach

Does the Bible speak of the Lord’s representative “coming”? Yes, but not always. Yahweh came representatively against Babylon via the Medo-Persians (Isa. 13:1-22; 26:21; 27:1). The Father’s presence was represented in his Son (John 14:7-11). Jesus sent the Spirit as a divine representative (John 14:16-18, 23-26; 15:26; 16:7-15). The Lord came in judgment against Jerusalem representatively by the Romans (Joel 1:9-16; Matt. 24:1-34). This does not mean, however, there can be no personal appearance of the Lord in the future, which a number of NT passages seem to affirm (John 14:2-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:23-24; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Thess. 1:6-10; Heb. 9:28; 1 John 3:2-3; etc.). Why feel the need to force symbolization onto these verses unless there is an underlying agenda one is trying to defend? 

Now and Not Yet

Throughout the NT there is an obvious tension between “now” and “not yet.” Salvation is viewed not only as a past occurrence (Rom. 8:24; Eph. 2:5, 8), but also a present reality (1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 2 Cor. 2:15) and a future hope (Rom. 5:9-10; 9:27; 10:9; 1 Cor. 3:15; 5:5). Spiritual life is available right now (John 11:26; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 4:16–5:17), while those experiencing this newness of life still anticipate what is to come (Matt. 5:12; Rom. 8:24-25; Phil. 3:20; 1 Pet. 1:3-7). 

Does the Bible teach initiated eschatology (past), realized eschatology (present), or future eschatology (yet to come)? Yes it does! The long-anticipated arrival of the Messiah to usher in God’s final dispensation was in fact realized with Jesus’ physical presence on earth (Matt. 12:28; Luke 17:20-21) and the formation of his church (Matt. 16:18-19, 28). But it is also “unrealized eschatology” because there is more to come. The messianic kingdom has been inaugurated and is moving toward heavenly consummation (1 Cor. 15:23-26). Biblical eschatology is realized but not fully realized.

Other Timeframe Issues

Based on passages like 1 Cor. 7:29-31; 15:51; and 1 Thess. 4:15, liberal critics have long argued that certain NT writers and early disciples were anticipating in their lifetime the second advent of Christ at the end of the age, but they were wrong. Preterists agree that some biblical texts allude to the imminence of eschatological events, but rather than mistaken the prophecies were fulfilled in a non-literal sense in the summer of AD 70. 

Both of these conclusions, however, do not reflect the broader scope of what the scriptures teach. Even Jesus did not know whether or not his return would be imminent (Mark 13:32). Paul understood that he and his contemporaries may or may not still be living at the Lord’s parousía (cf. 1 Thess. 5:2-3, 10; 1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14; Phil. 3:11). Although nearness in time was surely possible, it was never definitively affirmed as the only possibility.5

Another timeframe issue, upon which preterism stands or falls, is the dating of the book of Revelation. For futurists, it doesn’t matter. But for preterists, the close of the NT canon must have been prior to mid-AD 70 in order for their theory to seem plausible. Internal evidence places the most probable context of Revelation toward the end of the reign of Domitian (AD 95-96), supported by the weight of early testimony.6

Does it Really Matter?

The biblical doctrine of the parousía is foundational to the Christian faith (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:14-18). To allege it has already occurred is deceptive (2 Thess. 2:1-3), as well as cancerous, a deviation from the truth, undermining the faith of some (2 Tim. 4:17-18). The future judgment has always been part of the gospel message that provides an incentive to obey (Acts 3:19-21; 10:42; 17:30-31; 24:25; Rom. 2:4-6; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; 2 Thess. 2:5; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 Pet. 4:5; 2 Pet. 3:11, 14). 

The promise of the Lord’s parousía and accompanying experiences gives hope and reassurance to believers (Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6-8; 2 Cor. 4:14; Phil. 3:10-11; 1 John 3:2-3), “awaiting the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit. 2:13).7 Teaching otherwise causes unnecessary apprehension and discord (2 Thess. 2:1-2) and counters the persistent admonition to be prepared, watchful, and alert (Matt. 24:36, 44; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:1-11; 2 Pet. 3:10-18). Yes, it matters.

-- Kevin L. Moore

     1 For example, Matt. 24:36–25:46; 28:18-20; Luke 20:33-36; John 5:25-29; 6:39-44; 12:48; 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; 24:15; 1 Cor. 15:20-28, 35, 42, 52; 2 Cor. 4:14; 5:10-11; Phil. 3:10-11, 20-21; 1 Thess. 2:19; 4:13–5:11; Tit. 2:11-13; Heb. 9:28; 1 John 3:2-3; Rev. 20:11-15.
     2 For example, Matt. 10:23; Acts 17:30-31; 24:25; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 2 Thess. 1:6-12; 2:1-3; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:18.
     3 James Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (London: Daldy, Isbister, & Co., 1878). Notwithstanding 1st-century heresies (1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Thess. 2:1-3; 2 Tim. 2:17-18).
    4 For example, while the return of Christ is sometimes referred to as “the day of the Lord” (2 Pet. 3:10), the same expression is used elsewhere in scripture with reference to six other days of the Lord’s judgment. It is a mistake to overlook the historical and literary contexts in which this phrase and comparable expressions are so often used. If the number seven is consistently employed throughout scripture to symbolize completeness, and the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem was the sixth so-called “day of the Lord,” should we not expect a seventh and final day of the Lord’s judgment? See K. L. Moore, “The Day of the Lord,” Moore Perspective (1 Feb. 2014), <Link>. No doubt adding to the confusion is the fact that the language used is clearly apocalyptic. “A real event is being described, but it is one which cannot be described literally since the direct activity of God cannot be fully comprehended in human language. The biblical writers have therefore to resort to analogy and metaphor, the language of symbol, in order to convey their message” (I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians [Vancouver: Regent College, 2002]: 128).
     5 See K. L. Moore, “Anticipating Christ’s Return (Part 1),” Moore Perspective (31 Jan. 2018), <Link>; and “Anticipating Christ’s Return (Part 2),” Moore Perspective (7 Feb. 2018), <Link>.
     6 See K. L. Moore, “Introducing the Book of Revelation (Part 2),” Moore Perspective (14 Nov. 2018), <Link>.
     7 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.

Addendum: Borrowed from Brian Giselbach -- The Bible's Christ-centered Message: I. Jesus Christ is Coming (Gen. 1:1 - Mal. 4:6); II. Jesus Christ has Come (Matt. 1:1 - Acts 28:31); III. Jesus Christ is Coming Again (Acts 1:9 - Rev. 22:21).

Image credit: https://www.triumphmodular.com/blog/contemplating-modular-construction/

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