Monday, November 27, 2006

Promise & fulfillment

In this post I’ll spend a little more time on the 14-point argument of exapologist:

“1. John the Baptist preached a message of repentance to escape the immanent judgment of the eschaton. Jesus was his baptized disciple, and thus accepted his message, and in fact preached basically the same message.”

This is an example of inaugurated eschatology involving the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is not a NT concept. Rather, it’s an OT concept. It has its roots in the creation of man as God’s viceregent on earth (Gen 1-2; cf. Ps 8).

An elaboration of the kingdom motif is found in Zion theology. Cf. NIDOTTE, 4:1113-1121.

The theocratic kingdom of ancient Israel exemplified the kingdom motif.

So the kingdom motif has a past, present, and future reference. It isn’t an all-or-nothing principle. Rather, the kingdom of God comes in stages.

“2. Many (most?) of Jesus’ ‘Son of Man’ passages are most naturally interpreted as allusions to the Son of Man figure in Daniel. This figure was an end of the world arbiter of God’s justice, and Jesus kept preaching that he was on his way (‘From now on, you will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds…’). Jesus seems to identify himself with this apocalyptic figure in Daniel, but I'm not confident whether this identification is a later redaction. Either way, it doesn't bode well for orthodox Christianity.”

i) As I said before, scholars like France identify these passages with the Ascension and/or sack of Jerusalem rather than the Parousia. For the detailed exegesis, cf. The Gospel of Mark Eerdmans 2002), 497-546.

To dismiss a close-packed argument as “ad hoc” without ever attempting to engage the argument is, itself, an ad hoc expedient on the part of an apostate who can’t be bothered with the details, having made up his mind in advance of the argument that the prophecy is false. We need to hear the prophecy with a pair of 1C Jewish ears.

ii) I’d add that the Ascension is, itself, instrumental to the Parousia. Christ ascends to rule at the right hand of the Father until he subjugates all his enemies. The future Parousia presupposes the Ascension and session of Christ.

iii) Let’s remember that scholars like France are under no professional constraint to save appearances. Liberal theology has never been an impediment to preferment in the Church of England. If anything, commitment to inerrancy is a career-killer in that denomination.

“3. The earliest canonical writing (I Thess): Paul taught an immanent end, and it mirrors in wording the end-time passages in the synoptics (especially the 'Little Apocalypse' in Mark, and the subsequently-written parallels in Matthew and Luke).”

Is this an allusion to 1 Thes 4:13-5:11? If so, exapologist should consult Beale’s lengthy discussion. Cf. 1-2 Thessalonians (IVP 2003), 129-57.

“4. Many passages attributed to Jesus have him predicting the end within his generation (‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent therefore, and believe the good news’; ‘this generation shall not pass away…’; ‘you won’t finish going through the cities of Israel before…’; ‘some of those standing here will not taste death until…’; "From now on, you shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds’)”

i) As I already said before, this interpretation assumes a one-to-one correspondence between promise and fulfillment. But the Biblical pattern of promise and fulfillment ordinarily involves a progressive spiral, with a one-to-many relation which *culminates* is a climatic, unrepeatable realization.

ii) In addition, this is not a separate argument, but simply a variant on #2.

“5. A sense of urgency permeates the gospels and the other NT writings: e.g., must hurry to send the message to the cities of Israel before Daniel’s ‘Son of Man’ comes; leaving all to follow him; even burying one’s parents has a lower priority…; Paul telling the Corinthians not to change their current state, since it’s all about to end --- don’t seek marriage, or to leave slave condition, etc., since the end of all things is at hand; and on and on, all the way through the NT corpus)”

As I already observed, 1 Cor 11:26 may well be an allusion to 1C economic conditions. Cf. B. Winter, “Secular and Christian Responses to Corinthian Famines,” TynB 40 (1989), 86-106; “Acts and Food Shortages,” The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting, D. Gill & C. Gempf, eds. (Eerdmans 1994), 59-78.

*6. Jesus and Paul taught a radical "interim ethic". This makes sense if they believed that the eschaton would occur within their generation.”

This is not a separate argument, but a restatement of #4-5, which, in turn, paraphrase #2.

*7. Jesus had his disciples leave everything and follow him around. This makes sense if Jesus believed that he and they were to be God’s final messengers before the eschaton.”

As I said before, this is an inaccurate description of what really happened.

“8. There is a clear pattern of a successive watering down of Jesus’ prediction of the eschaton within the generation of his disciples, starting with Mark, and continuing through the rest of the synoptic gospels. By the time we get to John, the last gospel written, the eschatological ‘kingdom of God’ talk is dropped (except for one passage, and it no longer has clear eschatological connotations), along with the end-time predictions. Further, the epistles presuppose that the early church thought Jesus really predicted the end within their lifetimes. Finally, this successive backpedaling continues beyond the NT writings and into those of the apocrypha and the early church leaders, even to the point where some writings attribute an *anti*-apocalyptic message to Jesus. All of these things make perfect sense if we suppose that Jesus really did make such a prediction, and the church needed to reinterpret his message in light of the fact that his generation passed away, yet the eschaton never came.”

i) Notice the glaring contradiction between his argument in #8 and his argument in #9.

He’s having to admit that the witness of the NT is inconsistent with this theory. He therefore attributes the inconsistency to the NT rather than to his own theory.

ii) Jn 5:28-29 is clearly eschatological.

iii) Also observe, once again, the degree to which his “14-point” argument does not consist in 14 independent points. Rather, he paraphrases a handful of claims 14 different times.

“9. The fact that virtually all the NT authors believed the end would occur in their generation makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims”

See above.

“10. The fact that the early church believed the end would occur in their lifetime makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims”

This is not a separate argument, but a restatement of his prior claims.

“11. Sanders’ argument from the criteria of authenticity: the passages that attribute these predictions to Jesus pass the criteria of multiple attestation (and forms), embarrassment, earliest strata (Mark, Q, M, L, Paul’s earliest letters, the ancient ‘Maranatha’ creed/hymn) etc.”

This is not an argument for unfulfilled prophecy, but merely an argument for the authenticity of the prophecies in question.

That’s hardly an argument against the conservative position.

“12. Jesus’ parables: virtually all explicitly or implicitly teach a message about an immanent eschaton.”

As I pointed out before, this is an inaccurate summary of the record.

“13. Jesus’ ‘inversion’ teachings (e.g., ‘The first shall be last, and the last shall be first’): a common theme among Jewish apocalypticists generally. The general message of apocalypticists is that those who are evil and defy God will not get away with it forever. The just are trampled, and the unjust prosper; thus, this situation will needs to be inverted – as they will be when the ‘Son of Man’ from the book of Daniel comes to exact God’s judgment”

How is this generic motif an argument against the fulfillment of NT prophecy?

“14. The fact that the first generation church didn’t write biographies about Jesus, but instead the second generation church wrote the gospels composed of bits of sayings attributed to him, would make sense if his followers believed that the End would occur so quickly (based on Jesus’ teachings) that such a task would be pointless.”

I drew attention to the inadequacies of this claim in my previous post.

“Furthermore, the book of Revelation: -He’s talking about events within the authors’ day”

Yes and no. The letters to the seven churches are certainly topical. But John also regards topical events as illustrative of an age-old conflict between God, Satan, and their respective deputies. The present crisis is simply one episode in a form of spiritual warfare extending from the fall of Lucifer to the Final Judgment.

In Biblical historiography, one event can typify another event.

“-Attributes a quick return to Jesus”

This assertion fails to address the painstaking analysis of Beale in his standard commentary on the Greek text. Cf. The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans 1999), 152-70; 181-82.

“-Using cipher language, he names Nero as ‘the Beast’ (in ancient languages such as Hebrew and Greek, letters served double-duty as numbers. Thus, it was common to refer to someone without actually saying their name by stating the number that the letters in their name adds up to. Well, Ceasar Nero’s name adds up to 666, and he was ruling and persecuting the church during the time that the book of Revelation was written. In fact, some manuscripts of Revelation have the number read ‘616’, which turns out to add up to a slightly less formal version of Nero’s name!), thus clearly indicating that the end was immanent”

I already discussed his fallacious reasoning in my previous post.


But this is what really irks me. You came on my site and barked at me about how I rejected Christianity because I didn’t do my homework. So I assumed that you actually did do your homework – after all, who would have the guts to just rant at somebody when they didn’t know that they’re talking about? Then I went on your blog, and saw that you and the other bloggers there post things that let on that you’ve read your stuff, critiquing the views of philosophers, historians, and scientists who disagreed with you. This led me to assume that you guys were all conversant and well-read on what you discuss and critique.

But now you talk as though you haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m talking about when I mention the hypothesis of the historical Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet – let alone historical Jesus scholarship in general. In fact, I’m really starting to wonder whether you’ve even read convervative evangelical apologetic literature on these topics. So, for example, I assumed that, given your brashness, you had read your Blomberg, your Marshall, your Habermas, your McKnight, your Witherington, your Wright, etc., and then after you got your feet wet, you followed these up by reading opposing, non-orthodox views about the historical Jesus in particular (and about source, form, and redaction criticism in general). Thus, I thought you had read your Crossan, Borg, Mack; your Sanders, your Ehrman, your Vermes; your Allison; your Meier, your Brown… And then on this basis, you came to hold principled reasons for your views about the New Testament in general and Jesus in particular.

But now I really don’t think so. I bet you don’t even have the foggiest idea of what I’m talking about, do you? Do you just read conservative evangelicals who agree with you, and hold your beliefs on **that** basis? I bet you haven’t even **read** any of these people – let alone internalized their arguments. But you know what? **I have**. And I knew my stuff when I was an evangelical apologist, because I didn’t take my obligation lightly as an ambassador for Christ. And I gave my heart to defending it to others. I argued for it in the classroom and out. And you had the nerve to come to my sight and accuse me of flippantly blowing off Christianity like yesterday’s trash, when I went through an agonizing decade and a half of combing the literature for hours on end, and years of trying to put Dallas Willard’s spiritual disciplines into practice, and crying out to God – and you and the rest of the Homer Simpsons over here in apologetics kindergarten have the nerve to criticize me? I can’t believe I wasted my time. **I am through with you**. You are all banned from my blog. Just stay over here in the kiddie pool and leave me alone.


If exapologist is so conversant with the standard exegetical literature on the subject, why does he fail to acknowledge and address detailed, preexisting answers to his stock objections?


  1. The "argument from failed end-times predictions" cannot work because of a kind of anthropic principle. What exapologist appears to do is to make Jesus' prophecies into an "experiment", the outcome of which allows us to decide whether he was right or not.

    But if Christ really meant to say that the physical world would end within one generation, one outcome of the "experiment" could never occur: if the world had ended, then we wouldn't have been here to notice it. In other words, if we at this time in history decide to test Jesus' eschatological predictions assuming they were about the end of the physical world, then we know the outcome in advance.

    If, on the other hand, we want to say something more substantial, we will have to contrast actual Christian views of Jesus, which are consistent with history as we know it, with naturalistic views. For example, exapologist thinks the resurrection of Jesus is improbable because God would not resurrect a false prophet. But if we conclude from the historical evidence that Jesus probably was resurrected, then the possibility that our view of him as a false profet was in fact wrong must be considered.

    To put it differently again, the slogan "Jesus predicted the end of the world, but what came was the church" begs the question (that Jesus was a failed prophet) by supposing that Jesus couldn't have been speaking about anything else than the end of the world. For those of us who are not experts on first-century Jewish beliefs and apocalyptic language, it will not do to simply dismiss Wright's interpretation, to name an example, as simply an "apologetic dodge" that evades the "plain meaning" of the New Testament.

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