Thursday, November 28, 2013

Did Jesus mispredict the future?

This is a follow-up to a post by Jason Engwer:
I'm going to comment on an answer which William Lane Craig gave to a questioner:
I have been a Christian all my life...However my faith has come under tremendous attack due to my exposure to atheistic arguments that attack my faith. For the most part I have been able to resist many of the arguments atheists have presented to me with...I am trying really hard to hang on to my faith...I am desperate to believe in Jesus but how can I continue to trust in and have faith in Him if he got a the future wrong.Please help me Dr. Craig I am really struggling to deal with this objection to my faith. What do most scholars say on the subject, and did Jesus make a false prophecy?

i) I confess I find it hard to be sympathetic with Jessie. Where are all these atheists coming from? Why is he exposing himself to all these atheists, especially if his faith is so fragile? Is someone forcing him to read or listen to atheists? 

ii) Also, there's tons of Christian apologetic material available on the Internet. This isn't a one-sided debate.

iii) In addition, even if one doesn't own good commentaries (which more laymen ought to invest in), one can often use the "search inside this book" feature at to find the exegesis on a particular verse of a newer commentary. 

My proposal is more modest. I appeal to the well-known fact that we often do not have the original context in which Jesus’ sayings were spoken, much less their precise wording. When we remember that the Gospels do not give us a tape recording of Jesus’ words, that the Gospels are written in Greek, whereas Jesus probably spoke most of the time in Aramaic, that the Gospel writers didn’t even have the device of quotation marks to distinguish direct and indirect speech, we can already see that we don’t have a verbatim transcript of what Jesus said. Jesus’ speeches would often be paraphrased or summarized. The Evangelists sometimes arrange these sayings in different ways. So we shouldn’t think that we always have the words of Jesus exactly as they were spoken or in their original context.

i) Sometimes we don't have the original context. Sometimes an Evangelist relocates a saying. But oftentimes the Evangelist does preserve the original context. The only people who deny that are scholars who regard the Gospels as historical fiction which retrojects the viewpoint and timeframe of the narrator into the past.

ii) Also, the fact that the Gospels rearrange some sayings or events doesn't mean that can't preserve the original context within a given pericope, or preserve the historical chronology over several chapters at a time. Even if they sometimes move a scene around, what is said and done within that scene preserves the original setting or context. 

iii) Gospel sayings are usually contextualized. Craig is denying the accuracy of the narrative contextualization, as if that misrepresents the reference or meaning of the saying. Certainly there are scholars who take that position, but that's inimical to inerrancy.

Indeed, the eminent historical Jesus scholar John Meier doesn’t think that this saying of Jesus is even authentic, that is to say, actually uttered by the historical Jesus. Meier insists that he is in no way trying to avoid the conclusion that Jesus gave a false prophecy—Meier is ruthlessly objective—rather he argues that the evidence shows that this saying is probably not authentic.

i) Why would Craig even float that explanation? It's a really dumb thing to tell a professing believer who says he's going through a crisis of faith.

ii) But it's a dumb position even apart from that. As I've pointed out before (most recently in response to Michael Patton), this is a problem with the whole quest for the historical Jesus. Although that can sometimes be of some apologetic value, as a bridge, Christian faith must be grounded in the Gospels as given, not a critical scholar's redaction of the Gospels. 

iii) Also, Craig's concern with the original context is ironic. After all, AD 70 isn't part of the original context. At best, that's a modern reader's addition. That's a retrospective context (or recontextualization) which we bring to the Olivet Discourse. 

The Discourse was spoken decades before that date. We come to the table after that event, based on historical accounts of the Jewish wars. We read the Olivet Discourse in light of that event. But that's the reader's contribution. And not the original audience, either (not, least, if we date the Synoptics to pre-70 AD). 

The very fact that modern readers often use the Jewish wars of AD 67-70 as their benchmark for interpreting the Olivet Discourse is an unconscious retrojection. That's a reader's identification of the intended fulfillment. It's not as if the text itself singles out that incident.  Why assume the Olivet Discourse must be referring to just one event? 

It does seem as if lately Craig has shifted somewhat to the left. He's made a number of statements that seem to reflect a shift. 


  1. I was also disturbed by Craig’s answer for a few reasons.

    1. First, he doesn’t seem to be aware of the good work done by Richard Pratt on contingency in biblical prophecy. If Pratt is correct then the timing of the second coming is dependent on the faithfulness of the people of God in spreading the gospel. Also, Pratt has shown that many biblical prophecies that seem to be “set in stone” are really not. Craig should at least consider this answer to the problems. It is the position I hold to and fits nicely with what I see in scripture
    2. I also found it interesting that he did not note that the early church had no such “panic” over the delay of Jesus return. In fact Tertullian used the fact of the delay as an evangelistic tool before the emperor! This also gives credence to Pratt’s thesis that Hebrew and Christian prophecies have a lot wider application than just prognostication
    3. Craig’s use of Meier is bewildering to me, but I guess I should not be that surprised. He has increasingly shown a concern to appear acceptable to secular academics. His comment that the passage probably wasn’t authentic to the historical Jesus isn’t one that should be made to someone with doubts. That will simply open of the question of how we know that Jesus said anything and given the devastating critique of critical methodologies by Dale Allison it doesn’t appear to me that there are very reliable criteria for sifting the historical wheat from the chaff In Jesus research because: a) The gospels attribute supernatural acts to Jesus, and b) The criteria give us different results for different scholars.
    4. Finally, I think Craig’s Arminianism is leading him down a path were he will continue to tip his hand to critical theories of scripture because he think s they get him out of difficulties in the scriptural text. I don’t know if I am right about this, but he seems to take the position which would go something like this, “Even if I am wrong about the inerrancy of scripture I can use critical theories to get me out of problematic texts (like the Canaanite Genocicde or the Delay of the Parousia).
    I think that Craig is simply illustrating what happens when you combine Arminian theology and apologetics. The idea that men have free-will makes us responsible for making us responsible for people’s response to the gospel.
    I appreciate Craig’s work tremendously, but as someone who wrestled with the issue of Jesus and prophecy his answer wouldn’t have helped me. It would have only made the issue more difficult.

  2. Not only is Craig's answer disappointing, but it is also disappointing when an apologist such as C.S. Lewis even considered the idea that Jesus was wrong, rather than explore the possibility that he had misunderstood the verse in question. What if we ALL have misunderstood it?

    One thing that struck me when I was pondering about the Olivet discourse and “this generation” is the fact that the word generation has two meanings. One is a timespan, whereas the other is more like a strain, or a lineage. Almost everyone, both preterists and futurists seem to be in complete agreement that the correct definition is that of a timespan. It seems more scriptural, because what comes closest to mind if the 40 year generation wandering around in the desert. However, I think that this conclusion just might be the cause of incredible confusion.

    So let’s start off by decoupling the normal use of the word by which we use it as a delimiter in which to frame the end-time events and instead view the verse in question as if it was an separate event itself. From that perspective, the passing away of the generation is simply the last event in a long chain of events.

    Now, do we have anything else in scripture that speaks of such an event? I think we do. Remember, the Olivet discourse is a “condensed” version of the Book of Revelation. Both seem to parallell each other as far as the “main events” are concerned (wars, famine etc. etc), and, here comes the important thing in this discussion, both lead up to the destruction of the wicked – i.e. the second death. It is the very last event that occurs before the new heavens and new earth come down from heaven.

    So could Jesus have been referring to this event in Matthew 24:34?

    Well, so much for the event. Let’s look at the idea that Jesus may have been referring to a certain strain of people, rather than a physical generation. Doing a quick word search for “generation” in the NT reveals that Jesus always seemed to point out the characteristics of that particular generation – wicked and adulterous, unbelieving and so on. He also pointed out that “this generation” was scheduled to be condemned at the judgement.

    Again, we assume that he is speaking of the generation living at that time, because obviously they were the ones who crucified him, but is there any evidence that “this generation” is not confined within the timespan of a generation? There certainly is.

    Notice when speaking to the pharisees in Matthew 23:35,36 that Jesus speaks about what will happen to them:

    “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.”

    Notice towards the the end of these verses it speaks about Zechariah “whom you murdered” despite the fact that Zechariah was murdered hundreds of years before the pharasees even existed.