Friday, February 23, 2018

Seeing double

I'm going to expand on a previous post:

Many readers of the Olivet Discourse conclude that Jesus mispredicted the future by synchronizing the fall of Jerusalem with the end of the world. There are different responses to that objection. 

One potential problem with that inference is the tacit assumption that this is a continuous discourse which Jesus delivered at one sitting. The Olivet Discourse is recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels. There are several parallel editions floating around the Internet. If you compare them side-by-side, there's a lot of overlap, but there's also striking additions and omissions. 

What accounts for the differences? One possible explanation is that Jesus didn't deliver this address at once sitting. Rather, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have topically collated some separate, but related sayings originally given at more than one time and place. Perhaps grouping them by a common theme like oracles of salvation and judgment. Indeed, such arrangements may have antedated the composition of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 

When we read all three Synoptic accounts of the Olivet Discourse horizontally, the selectivity of the editorial process stands out. If that's the explanation, then it's more precarious to assume that Jesus had the same future referent in mind.  


  1. One particular problem, at least with historicist interpretation, is what to do with Matthew's use of “Immediately” (Matt 24:29). Matthew specifically is tying the abomination of desolation that brings about great tribulation (v 22) with the parousia (vv 27ff). It is hard-pressed by the historicist to explain that v 22 refers inter-adventally: "And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short." Either Jesus' prophecy of his return failed, or the abomination of desolation and its ensuing great tribulation is still in the future.

    So (1) Matthew's use of "immediately" only makes sense in a preterist or futurist framework, not a historicist. (1) Verse 22, again, only makes sense in a preterist or futurist framework. The typical response is to go to Luke 21 and use it to flatten out Matthew 24. Two problems with this is (1) there are good reason that Luke 21 is actually referring to the future. I find that a preterist interpretation of Luke 21 is uncritically accepted as a reference to AD 70 (even among many "futurists"). (2) Going to Luke 21, Matthew's _message_ is still ignored: he ties the abomination of desolation temporally close to the parousia for at least those two reasons cited above.

    Those are just a few of my initial comments.

    1. Correction: "I find that a preterist _and historicist_ interpretation of Luke 21 is uncritically accepted as a reference to AD 70 (even among many "futurists")."

    2. 1. What's the narratological function of eutheos? Is that adverb essentially a chronological marker or does it sometimes function as a syntactical bridge to indicate a transition from one thing to another?

      2. In addition, I don't think appealing to v29 settles the issue since that inference only works on the supposition that everything preceding it is continuous with that, yet that's the very question at issue on my interpretation. Was this speech delivered at once sitting? As such, do all the sections share the same basic timeframe? Or may these represent independent sayings of Jesus originally delivered on different occasions, which have been edited into one block of text? And one reason I brought that up is because, if you compare the versions of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there are some abrupt discontinuities in terms of what's included or left out.

      3. One problem with a consistently futuristic reading is that some of the statements in the text more naturally envision a 1C setting.

      Fleeing to the hill country (v9) might be a way to escape the Roman army, but in terms of futuristic technology (e.g. airplanes, helicopters, drones), how would that avoid aerial detection?

      The implicit background for the housetop refernce (v17) is people sleeping on a flat roof on a summer night because it's cooler outside than inside. But that's before the advent of air conditioning.

      Vv19-20a envision pregnant and/or nursing mothers traveling on foot. But in a futuristic setting, what about evacuation by cars, trucks, choppers? Flying cars? Nothing about an airport.

      The Sabbath in v20 presumes a Jewish rather than Christian setting.

      VV18,40-41 envision a primitive agrarian setting.

      Lk 21:20 depicts an invading army, but in a futuristic setting, what about air power?

      i) One explanation is to say that futuristic prophecy is depicted in anachronistic, provincial terms suited the historical horizon of the original audience. But that makes it harder to be consistently literal. Likewise, if a modern reader needs to mentally update the descriptions, then why assume the fulfillment must take place in a middle eastern locale (e.g. "Look, he is in the desert" Mt 24:26)?

      ii) Another explanation is to view this as a collection of oracles about salvation and judgment, some of which foresee the 1C fall of Jerusalem while others foresee the end of the world, but are united by the common motif (salvation and judgment).