Responding to the Critics| Howard Denham’s Abuse of Scripture and Logic – #7
This is article #7 in our examination of a series of syllogisms offered by acerbic church of Christ minister, Howard Denham. He sent this list of “arguments” to my friend Steve Baisden, boasting that no preterist could answer them. Unfortunately for Denham, all that his arguments prove is that he is lamentably ignorant of the eschatological narrative. His abuse of logic is nothing short of amazing. His arguments are presuppositional and unsupported by the text of scripture. This article will respond to yet another of those sad syllogism.
Major Premise: If it is the case that the judgment of the quick and the dead at the appearing of Christ and His kingdom occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then it is the case that the prophecy of the apostasy of 2 Timothy 4:1-4 and the preaching of the Word to counter it were limited to a two year period from A.D. 68 to A.D. 70 and the dstruction (sic) of Jerusalem.
Minor Premise: It is not the case that the prophecy of the apostasy of 2 Timothy 4:1-4 and the preaching of the Word to counter it were limited to a two year period from A.D. 68 to A.D. 70 and the dstruction (sic) of Jerusalem.
Conclusion: Therefore, it is not the case that the judgment of the quick and the dead at the appearing of Christ and His kingdom occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
I must be blunt here: this is awful. Now, does it “sound” good, or convincing? It would to someone that is willing to not think or to study on their own. Let’s look at Denham’s argument about the apostasy.
Responding to the Critics| The Great Apostasy
First of all, Denham is guilty of petitio principii– begging the question. He assumes, without offering proof, that Paul was speaking of an apostasy that had not yet taken place. He likewise assumes – and this is fundamental to understanding Denham’s argument, believes that the “last days” is a referent to the entirety of the Christian age. See my book, The Last Days Identified, for a thorough refutation of that misguided concept. The “last days” is a referent to the last days of Old Covenant Israel, a one generational period, not to a period of so far 2000 years!
Second, we must keep in mind that Paul said that his Gospel was nothing but the hope of Israel, found in Moses, the Law and the prophets (Cf. Acts 24:14f; 26:21f; 28:16f). Thus, this “last days” prophecy of an apostasy is not a “new” revelation of a “new” apostasy. Rather, Paul was reminding his audience– just like Peter did in 2 Peter 3– of what the Old Covenant prophets had to say about the last days. And those OT prophets foretold the last days apostasy! (See my in-depth article on the Great Apostasy for a demonstration that Paul and Peter were not predicting an apostasy at the end of the Christian age– or for an apostasy unrelated to Israel).
Keep in mind also that in Thessalonians, the apostle reminded his readers of what Jesus taught in his personal ministry, and he draws directly from the Olivet Discourse. So, unless Paul is introducing a different apostasy in 2 Timothy 4, from that spoken of by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, (and this would have to be proven with evidence, not mere assertion) then we are safe in positing Paul’s comments in 2 Timothy 4 as taking place in the first century, and here is why.
Responding to the Critics| Jesus and the Great Apostasy
In Matthew 24, the disciples asked Jesus for signs of the his coming and the end of the age. Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 24:10-12:
In these verses Jesus clearly predicted an apostasy of significant proportions.
vs. 10-many will fall away – due to persecution. This agrees perfectly with 2 Timothy 3-4.
vs. 11-many will be misled – due to false prophets. Notice the perfect correlation with 2 Timothy 4.
vs. 12-love of many will grow cold. (KJV). Agrees perfectly with 2 Timothy 4.
Now notice verse 12 in the New American Standard Version — “Most people’s love will grow cold.” (emphasis mine, DKP). The ASV, NIV, RSV, Williams, Beck, New Jerusalem, Amplified, etc all agree with this rendering.
The Greek of the text supports this view as well. In verse 10 it says “many” (greek-polloi) will fall away. In verse 11 it says the same. But in verse 12 it says the love of the many (greek-ton pollon). In other words in verses 10-11 it is simply “many” will fall away. But in verse 12 Jesus said “the many” will fall away. The addition of the definite article in verse 12 is significant.
The question then, of the scope of the apostasy predicted by Jesus is firmly established – Jesus said an apostasy of almost unbelievable proportions was to occur. The faith of almost all believers would wane; the apostasy would carry away most believers! What an incredibly sad prospect this must have been to our Lord! But Matthew is not alone in predicting a massive apostasy.
Jesus tells the parable of the widow seeking justice. The widow in Jesus’ parable represented the faithful who suffered at the hands of the wicked. Christ said “Shall not God avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though he bears long with them? I tell you He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he really find faith on the earth?”
Plummer says the meaning of the question indicates that “the majority, not only of mankind but of Christians will be absorbed in worldly pursuits, and only a few will ‘endure to the end.'” Theophylact, cited by Meyer, says Jesus was, “indicating in the form of a question the fewness of those who will then be found faithful.” The point of Jesus’ question then, a question of pathos and poignancy, is that there would be very little faith found at his return. Now note the context.
Luke 18 continues Jesus’ discussion of his coming in chapter 17. In verse 22 Jesus said the time was coming when his disciples would “desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man”. Jesus was not, as suggested by Jackson, saying the disciples would desire to see the end of the world. Jesus was warning of troublesome times when the disciples would long for the peaceful days when Jesus was still among them; but they would find no peace.
Luke 17 positively cannot be describing any “end of time” scenario. Christ all but said his coming would be in that generation after he had suffered, see verses 24-25. Christ said he was going to come, but first he had to be rejected and suffer. Does an objective reading of these words actually suggest a, thus far, two thousand year gap between his suffering in that generation and his coming?
Notice verse 31 — Jesus told them “In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away”. Now Jesus uttered these same words in Matthew 24:17, a verse my amillennial friends insist refers to the time prior to Jerusalem’s fall. In Matthew, we are told, Jesus’ words were an urgent warning for his disciples to flee the coming cataclysm. And since flight was possible the warning could not be of a “sudden, end of time situation”. Well, why do Jesus’ words in Luke 17 not mean the same? Where is the magic key to delineate between these verses? This question is particularly significant in light of the next verse Luke 17:32 – “Remember Lot’s wife.”
These words can have only one significance – the urgency of flight. In Genesis 19:14-22 is found the story of “Mrs. Lot” and three times we find warnings to flight, 14, 17, 22. The warning was “Escape for your life!” The warning was not against covetousness as some have suggested as an interpretation of Luke 17:31-32. The warning was to escape. With this in view, Luke 17 cannot therefore be referent to any end of time coming of Christ. It rather, (correctly), becomes a parallel to Matthew 24 and is set within the context of the first century.
With the context of persecution in Luke 17:22 then, and remember Jesus in Matthew 24 said one reason for the apostasy would be persecution, Jesus urged his disciples to “pray and faint not” Luke 18:1. Yet with this exhortation he nonetheless pondered “when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?” The extent of the persecution is therefore set forth as extensive. When was this to happen?
Matthew 24:34 would seem to be the end of all controversy as to whether the apostasy occurred before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. And since 2 Timothy 4 was written on the very cusp of that catastrophic event, this means that Denham’s argument is false. Once again, for Denham’s argument to have any validity whatsoever, he would have to prove that Paul was revealing another apostasy that was totally unrelated to the one Jesus foretold. He would have to totally divorce Jesus’ teaching in the Discourse, from 2 Timothy 4.
There is something else here. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul likewise spoke of the last days apostasy. What is so significant about this is that Paul told Timothy to prepare himself to fight that falling away! Now, if Paul commanded Timothy to be ready to resist that apostasy, it is prima facie proof that it was not something for the far distant future! And, in 2 Timothy 4, the apostle likewise urged Timothy to fight that fight! Paul was not describing a far distant apostasy. He was warning him of what was happening in that world, at that time! In light of Jesus’ teaching that we have noted above, the urgency of the situation was incredible in the time of 2 Timothy.
So, Jesus said all the things, including the apostasy when the love of “most people” would grow cold, would be fulfilled in that generation. Thus, when Denham ridicules the idea that Paul was speaking of events that he claims were to be limited to a two year period, he is failing to consider that early teaching of Jesus. He is claiming, with no proof, that Paul is speaking of something different from Jesus.
In our next installment, we will return to a point made above, and that is that the OT foretold the apostasy for the last days. When we examine those prophecies, they totally falsify Howard Denham’s specious claims. (We will also be examining Denham’s sad claim that the judgment of the living and the dead was not in the first century). Stay tuned, as we continue our series on Responding to the Critics!