Friday, April 30, 2004

Hyperpreterism

Traditionally, Christians of every stripe have believed that although many OT prophecies were fulfilled in the NT, a number of NT prophecies remain unfulfilled; to wit: a set of endtime prophecies regarding the rapture, return of Christ, final judgment, and the new earth. These events are bundled together and take place at the end of the church age. This position is known as futurism.

However, there has been, for some time, another school of thought (preterism) which dated their intended fulfillment to the apostolic age. The basis of this view are verses describing the "imminent" return of Christ, viz., Mt 10:23; 16:28; 24:34; Rev 1:1,3; 3:11.

The difficulty with this interpretation is that it falsifies the end-time prophecies inasmuch as they describe a state of affairs that did not come to pass in the course of the apostolic age.

Traditional preterism has conceded that the endtime prophecies failed because traditional preterism has held a low view of Scripture.

Recently, however, a more conservative version of preterism has arisen (hyperpreterism) which accepts the timetable of traditional preterism, but maintains that the endtime prophecies were, in fact, fulfilled right on schedule, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

Hyperpreterism regards itself as more faithful to NT prophecy than futurism by taking the timing of endtime prophecies more literally. What, then, are we to make of hyperpreterism?

1. Hyperpreterism doesn't enjoy any hermeneutical advantage over futurism. Like trying to iron out a stubborn crease, the smoothing operation merely moves the crease from one corner of the fabric to another. Hyperpreterism can only take the timing more literally by taking the depictions less literally.

2. Hyperpreterism is forced to reinterpret some straightforward prose passages (1 Cor 15) or observational, eyewitness reports (Acts 1:8-11) in figurative terms.

3. Even on its own grounds, it is far from clear that hyperpreterism does genuine justice to endtime chronology. For one thing, it overlooks the nature of Biblical typology. According to typology, the type/antitype relation is not limited to a one-one correspondence.

For example, the typical material in Ezk 37-48 prefigures the post-exilic restoration of Israel, but, for John, the same material also prefigures the Consummation of the Church and the world (Rev 20-22).

Likewise, the ancient kingdoms or city-states of Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon resurface in Revelation. Because the kingdoms of the world are ultimately front-organizations for good and evil angels (Dan 10:13,20-21; 21:1), the devil makes use of different shell-corporations (11:8; 17-18), operatives (Rev 13), and aliases (Rev 12:9) to conduct his counterfeiting business under cover of darkness.

The Devil is the ultimate wholesaler in spiritual funny money and ID theft. The Beast represents the political arm of his organization (13:1-10), and the false prophet its religious arm (13:11-18)—while Babylon stands for the social order and sphere of their dominion (14). Put another way, they represent the state, the state religion, and the general culture.

In John’s time, these would roughly correspond to the Roman Emperor and the imperial cult respectively, while the Babylonian world order (14) typifies the Roman Empire. In the OT, these would roughly correspond to Pharaoh, the royal wizards (Jannes & Jambres), and the Egyptian empire; or to Nebuchadnezzer, the Magi, and the Babylonian empire.

Likewise, the Antichrist figure in Dan 7 typifies Antiochus Epiphanies, but it also typifies imperial Rome and/or the corrupt Jewish establishment, as well as an endtime figure. Our Lord speaks of many Antichrists who will appear before his own appearing (Mt 24:5,11,24). Note the present and future aspects in play in 2 Thes 2. Note as well the same singular/plural and present/future alternation in 1 Jn 2:18f. Again, the false prophet is a master illusionist (Rev 13:11f.).

This accounts for a certain ambivalence between imminence and premonitory signs. The Second Advent of Christ is preceded by the first advent of the Antichrist. But there is more than one candidate who meets the job description. Hence, this is a necessary, but insufficient sign of the impending Parousia. At one level, it can only happen after the Antichrist appears. At another level, it can happen at any time since you don’t know which Antichrist figure signals the Parousia.

4. Besides the singular/plural distinction, another way of drawing the lines is between visible and invisible. For now the spirit of the Antichrist is working behind the scenes, through various front men, before he rips off the mask—in a blasphemous travesty of the Incarnation. This also has its background in Daniel, where the "Prince of Persia" (Dan 10:13,20), is pulling the strings of the state.

5. Hyperpreterism confounds two different levels of literality. Prophecy, especially of the apocalyptic genre, often overlaps with the visionary mode of revelation. So we must distinguish between what the seer sees in his vision, and what the mental image depicts in real time and space. Let us not confound psychology with chronology. The visionary sequence of events is not necessarily conterminous with the historical sequence to which it ultimately refers.

This is not only relevant in the original context, but must be borne in mind when OT prophecies resurface in NT prophecies, viz., Mt 24-25; 2 Thes 2, Rev 1, 20-22. In fact, a some NT prophecies is a second or third-tier prophecies built upon the foundation of OT prophecy.

6. The time-marker in Rev 1:1 is relative rather than absolute, for it picks up from where Dan 2:28-30,45-47 left off. The viewpoint is as much retrospective as it is prospective. What was distant in Daniel's time has drawn near in NT times. It has begun to take place. The OT marks the dawn of prophetic promise, the NT the dawn of prophetic fulfillment.

But the prophetic clock is still ticking towards the midnight hour. Whether we live in the high noon of the church age, or afternoon, or sunset, or eleventh hour, is known only to God (Mt 25:13; Acts 1:7). But one thing we know—the end has yet to come because our end has yet to come.

7. In light of Dan 7, R. T. France construes the Matthean verses as having reference, not to the Parousia, but the Ascension. But, again, in Bible typology, the Ascension may prefigure the Parousia.

8. Hyperpreterism accentuates the synchronic dimension of the kingdom at the expense of its diachronic dimension. The kingdom of God comes in stages. The OT theocracy marks a preliminary and prophetic phase of conquest and occupation. The first coming of Christ marks another, inaugural, stage—like a royal accession year—while the second coming of Christ puts in place the full and final reign, when the conquering king returns from the field of battle (Rev 19-20) to assume his rightful throne (21-22).

9. Passages regarding the imminence of the Parousia must be balanced off against other passages that stress the duration of the church age (e.g., Mt 24:6,14; 25:5,19; Lk 18:1-8; 19:11; 2 Pet 3:9).

10. The Olivet Discourse is given in answer to two questions regarding (i) the fall of Jerusalem and (ii) the final judgment. The issue is whether these are two events, separated in time, or one event. As one scholar diagrams their relation:

Question #1: fall of Jerusalem (Mt 24:1-3a)

Question #2: Final Judgment (3b)

A-1: Answer to Question #1 (15-28)

B-1: Answer to Question #2 (29-31)

A-2: Exhortation to Question #1 (32-35)

B-2: Exhortation to Question #2 (36-44)

F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Zondervan 1974), 57. And in Bible typology, the sack of Jerusalem may typify the Day of Judgment.

11. G. I. Williamson draws another distinction:
"I believe the text quoted above Mt 24:33] refers strictly and only to events that were certain to take place in the 1C, in the time of the apostles. Jesus was speaking to living persons. When he said 'ye shall see all these things,' he meant those people to whom he was speaking. In contrast to them, and to the time in which they lived--when these things were about to take place [cf. v34]--we live in a time which is better compared with the time of Noah, the thief in the night, or the lightning that shines from the east to the west," J. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, G. Williamson, ed. (P&R 2002), 124.

12. We should also keep in mind that prepositions of proximity, such as "nearness," are literally spatial markers, and only temporal markers by figurative extension. The nearness of God to his people and they to him often denotes his spiritual presence and providence (e.g., Deut 4:7; 30:14; 1 Kg 8:59; Ps 34:18; 75:1; 119:151; 145:18; 148:14).

13. There are several areas in systematic theology where we must harmonize seemingly discordant data. An apparent point of tension can be relieved in either of two directions, and one of the attributes distinguishing a prudent theologian from an imprudent one is a due sense of proportion.

An Arian will trim and twist every contrary verse to square with a handful of Arian prooftexts; a universalist will cut-and-tailor each doctrine to squeeze every body into heaven; a Roman Catholic will retool the Pauline doctrine of justification to mesh with a few verses in James; a socerdotalist will funnel everything else through the wormhole of church and sacraments; an Arminian will strain everything else through the filter of human responsibility; a fallibilist will lower the whole doctrine of Scripture for a few problem passages, while a hyperpreterist will rewrite the whole of eschatology for the sake of a few time-markers in a few scattered verses. His sense of priorities are wildly out of whack.

Hyperpreterism can only date the Parousia to the apostolic era by drastically trivializing the content and character of prophetic fulfillment. Sin and suffering, aging, disease and death, the rapture, return of Christ, resurrection of the just and restoration of all things are all spiritualized consistent with a world which looks and feels very much like it did, not only before the second coming of Christ, but even before his first advent.

It substitutes a neo-Gnostic eschatology for a real reversal of the fall, a docetic Parousia for the real deal. This is not a new move. It's been used before by the Adventists and the Watch Tower. This is a classic cultic revision of Scripture.

Like an accident victim who wakes up in his hospital bed after a long coma, hoping and expecting to see God, the saints and the angels, only to find a nurse refitting his catheter, if this is heaven, then heaven is not all it was cracked up to be. Either the patient is disoriented or he deserves a refund!

It is ironic in this regard to hear some hypers belly-ache about the persecution they have suffered at the hands of traditional churches , for according to hyperpreterism, they are now dwelling in the new Eden, with the kingdom of Christ on earth, and every spiritual blessing at their disposal. So it seems that they, too, are disappointed with the exchange rate of their own eschatology.

For further reading:

Beale, G. 1-2 Thessalonians (IVP 2003)
_____, The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans/Paternoster 1999)
Blomberg, C. Matthew (Broadman 1992)
France, R. Jesus & the Old Testament (Tyndale 1971)
_____, Matthew (IVP 1985)
Hoekema, A. The Bible & the Future (Eerdmans 1982)
Mathison, K. When Shall These Things Be? (P&R 2004)
Michaels, J. Revelation (IVP 1997)
Poythress, V. The Returning King (P&R 2000)
_____, "Genre and Hermeneutics in Rev 20:1-6," JETS (March 1993) 36/1:41-54.

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  5. Hyperpreterism can only date the Parousia to the apostolic era by drastically trivializing the content and character of prophetic fulfillment. Sin and suffering, aging, disease and death, the rapture, return of Christ, resurrection of the just and restoration of all things are all spiritualized consistent with a world which looks and feels very much like it did, not only before the second coming of Christ, but even before his first advent."
    paul says death is abolished in Christ; romans 6, colossians 3. is he guilty of spiritualizing the text?

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