A Response to: UNSOUND AND INFORMALLY FALLACIOUS PRETERIST ARGUMENTS ON MARK 13:24-27. – Installment #1
My erudite friend Elton Hollon has written a scholarly critique of the preterist view of eschatology. He told me in private correspondence that there was no need to write a response. However, since he is such a respected scholar, I feel compelled to offer a few words in response to his critique.
Hollon notes the preterist appeal to the language of imminence found in the Olivet Discourse (afterwards- OD). He calls those time statements the “master argument for preterism.” He posits the preterist argument thusly:
If the time statements of imminence concerning Christ’s parousia are literal, objective and true,
If the language of Christ coming on the clouds with the angels, etc. is literal, objective and true,
It must be concluded that Christ’s prediction of his coming literally, and physically in the first century failed.
Hollon considers this to be a false argument and offers objections to accepting the temporal indicators of imminence in the Olivet Discourse. While I certainly agree that these temporal markers are foundational to the preterist view, I would note that there is a wealth of corroborative evidence supportive of this view. For instance the setz em leben of the OD is the historical, cultural and theological world of Judaism. For instance, eschatological prophecies of the NT and the OD are saturated with Covenantal language taken directly from Israel’s festal calendar. Also, as we shall see below, the powerful ancient ideology of shame versus glory dominates the subject of eschatology, and is inextricably linked to the judgment of Jerusalem.
In regard to the Festal issue, consider that in Matthew 24:31, Jesus cited Isaiah 27:12-13 a prophecy of the end time gathering, the fulfillment of Succot, the Feast of In-Gathering / Harvest:
And it shall come to pass in that day That the Lord will thresh, From the channel of the River to the Brook of Egypt; And you will be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel. So it shall be in that day: The great trumpet will be blown; They will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, And they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, And shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.
Scholarship, both ancient and modern recognize that Jesus was drawing on Isaiah 27:12-13.
W. D. Davies and Dale Allison Jr. commenting on Matthew 24:31 says it “may allude to Isaiah 27:13 (‘in that day a great trumpet will be blown’) and has many parallels: (1 Corinthians 15:52 (‘at the last trumpet…” They then chronicle from Rabbinic writers that Isaiah 27:13 was predictive of the resurrection. They cite the Apocalypse of Abraham 31.1; the Shemoneh of Esreh, benediction 10; Quest. Ezra B 11 9; Ezra 4:36, the last of which says “After these things a trumpet, and the graves will be opened.” They cite Joel 2:1 and Zephaniah 1:16 noting that the trumpet heralds the day of the Lord: “These texts naturally led to an association with the resurrection of the dead and so, in early Christianity, with Jesus’ parousia.”
Donald Hagner says:
The reference to the blowing of the Great Trumpet in connection with the gathering of the righteous is found in Isaiah 27:13 (in the NT reference to the eschatological trumpet occurs in conjunction with the descent from heaven in 1 Thessalonians 4:16; there, as in 1 Corinthians 15:52 the trumpet is associated with the resurrection of the dead, which Matthew makes no mention of here.
Similarly, Richard Hayes offers this:
Matthew’s direct allusion to the trumpet of Isaiah 27 emphatically drives home the point that Jesus is prophesying a final re-gathering of the people of Israel who have previously been in exile, and the final restoration of right worship in Jerusalem.
Gordon Fee also says that Paul is drawing on well known imagery from the Old Testament:
What marks the parousia is the blowing of ‘the last trumpet,’ imagery that had been taken up into the Jewish prophetic / apocalyptic in a variety of senses to herald the Eschaton: to sound the last battle cry (e.g. Jeremiah 51:27) to warn of the approaching day of judgment (Joel 2:1), to announce the coming of the Lord (Zechariah 9:14), to summon the people of God from the four corners (Isaiah 27:13) (Gordon Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1991), 801).
Fee, like most commentators, sees the sounding of the Trumpet as a literal, audible blast that at least sounds like the Trumpet, for the raising of the physically dead at the end of time (p. 802).
Simon Kistemaker says:
Paul indicates the last trumpet will sound to announce the occurrence of the resurrection. The trumpet blast is the final one in the history of redemption. Other New Testament passages speak of Christ’s return have the wording of a loud trumpet (Matthew 24:31) and the trumpet call of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The Old and New Testaments, the Apocrypha, and the rabbinic writings refer to the blowing of the trumpet to announce imminent divine revelation, the judgment day, and the resurrection.
I cannot develop the festal context of the OD further at this juncture but see my Resurrection Feast Fulfilled: A Study of the Relationship Between Israel’s Last Feast Day – Succot – and the Resurrection. Succot cannot be divorced from the sounding of the trumpet, the in-gathering, and eschatology (Compare Zechariah 14).
The point is that in both the OT and the New the festal observances play a critical role in the story of Jesus. The consummative in-gathering resurrection was to be the fulfillment of Israel’s festal calendar. When Paul wrote Colossians, the last of Israel’s feast days, the New Moons (Rosh HaShanah-foreshadowing the Judgment), the feast days and Sabbaths were still shadows of the good things about to come (Colossians 2:16-17). That means that if that resurrection harvest has not taken place, the Old Covenant remains valid and the feast days remain “shadows of the good things about to come” (Hebrews 9:6-10).
Richard Hays has pointed out the importance of the principle of metalepsis in Hebraic thought and practice for proper exegesis and hermeneutic. Hayes defines metalepsis as, “the concept that when an OT source is cited, that the writer or speaker draws on and conjures up the wider context of that citation.” Tom Holland offers this:
The mere quotation of a short text had the effect of alerting the reader to the OT passage from which it was taken. In this way these texts had a far greater significance for the first readers of the New Testament than is normal today. Their knowledge of these texts meant that they automatically understood the passage of the New Testament they were reading in the light of the OT passage out of which the quotation had been drawn.
What this means is that when Jesus cited Isaiah 27:12-13 in the OD he was bringing the entire context of Isaiah’s prophecy to the mind of the apostles and the subsequent readers. Significantly, in Isaiah 24-27, the Little Apocalypse, salvation, the avenging of the martyrs, resurrection, the destruction of Satan / Leviathan, are all inextricably bound to a three-fold prediction of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, in fulfillment of the Song of Moses.
This suggests that when Jesus spoke of his parousia for the episunagogee, citing Isaiah, we should see that he was positing his coming within the framework of the impending judgment on Jerusalem and the temple- just as Isaiah foretold. This effectively negates a common scholarly claim (including Hollon) that in Mark 13 the author distinguished between the coming AD 70 judgment and the episunagogee at the parousia. The bond between those events cannot be broken and is, in fact, taught in a host of OT eschatological prophecies.
To counter the first century application of this language of imminence, Hollon presents three possible, alternatives:
☛ Proleptic futurism, which Hollon describes thusly: “According to proleptic futurism, the time statements and cosmic details are literal, but the literal time statements are proleptic. Prolepsis ‘is a t.t. (Technical term, DKP) for that type of prophetic speech which treats as past that which is in fact only a future possibility.” Hollon says that Mark uses this literary /rhetorical device to de-eschatologize the false association of the parousia with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C. E.. Thus, he does not retain the theme of imminence because he corrects it (p. 5).”
The problem with this is Mark does not posit the parousia as past. Nor does he posit, as some proleptic statements do, that the parousia was already present. He indisputably predicted it as future. Thus, any appeal to prolepsis to counter the temporal delimitations of the texts is untenable. There is something else to consider here.
Peter and the NT writers employ the Raz Pesher principle in 1 Peter 1:10-12:
Of this salvation (the salvation foretold by the OT to come at the parousia of Christ- 1:5-7, DKP) the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into (1 Peter 1:10-12).
Note that Peter contrasts his temporal standing – and understanding – with the OT prophets and the fact that the OT prophets realized that what they foretold was not for their day. However, the apostle asserts that those things were for his day and time.
Notice the stark contrast in temporal standing and emphasis posited by Peter. He is declaring that the OT prophets knew that their eschatological prophecies were not to be fulfilled in their day. This is confirmed in many OT prophecies, for instance,
Daniel 12:4: “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”
Daniel 12:9-10: And he said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.”
Daniel 12:13: “But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.”
Needless to say, Peter is drawing on Daniel’s prophecy of the resurrection to eternal life in 1 Peter 1:3 and so, his sharp contrast between the “not at hand” end time events of Daniel and his generation cannot be ignored or dismissed. His application of the Raz Pesher principle demands that Peter was claiming Spirit inspired revelation concerning the time of the fulfillment of Daniel.
N. T. Wright points out the sharp contrast in the temporal declaration of the OT prophets when speaking of the end times. They spoke of “in those days,” or, “in the last days” and projected those eschatological days as something far removed from their day. However, as Wright notes, Paul contrasted those “in those days,” “in the last days” prophecies, to his “at this time.” He speaks of the OT “one of these days” perspective with Paul’s “now time” perspective. This is highly significant. This can be applied to Jesus and Daniel in the OD.
Daniel spoke of the coming Abomination of Desolation and the consequent Great Tribulation (Daniel 12:1). Jesus said that what Daniel foretold was to be seen by his apostles: “when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, (whoso reads let him understand) then let those who are in Judea flee” (Matthew 24:15). Remember that Daniel was told to seal his vision of the end because it was not near. It was for the last days. It would be long after Daniel died. But Jesus made no proclamation of delay, or of sealing up his prophecy for the end. And we should not overlook the fact that in Revelation, which reiterates the prophecies of Daniel, John was told “do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.” Thus, while Daniel was told to seal his vision because it was not near, both Jesus and John clearly posited the fulfillment of Daniel for their imminent future.
Since the OT writers were emphatically told that they were not speaking of their generation, but “in the days to come” / “In the last days” etc. but the NT writers (also Jesus- Matthew 13:17) said they were living in the time foretold by those prophets (Cf. Acts 3:19-24) it would appear that any attempt to negate the objective meaning of the temporal indicators in the NT is misguided. A quick look at Luke 21:8 confirms this.
In Luke 21:8 Jesus warned his apostles that some would come prematurely saying, “the end has drawn near” (kairos engekken – καιρὸς ἤγγικεν – the appointed time has drawn near) but they were not to believe it (or obviously, not to do the same). However, Jesus gave the signs that would prove that his parousia was indeed “nigh, even at the door” (Matthew 24:32). Later in that very generation, Peter, who heard the warnings against making premature declarations of the nearness of the end said, “The end (telos) of all things has drawn near (ἤγγικεν – 1 Peter 4:7). He even said “the time” the kairos, has come for the judgment (1 Peter 4:17). If, as so many commentators insist, Peter was simply overly zealous or simply wrong, then he became one of the very false prophets that Jesus warned him about.
John Barton has correctly assessed the significance of the NT writer’s declarations of their standing within the eschatological time line. Barton offers this on 1 Corinthians 10:11:
Christians in Corinth are told, for example that they are fortunate to be alive when the decisive moment in history came about. So the present has become the moment to which all the Scriptures have been pointing, though their meaning can only be understood with that divinely inspired intuition which flows from acceptance of the Messiah.
I conclude in the light of all of the above that an appeal to prolepsis in the OD is not probative.
I will continue my response to Dr. Hollon in the next installment, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, get a copy of my book, We Shall Meet Hm In the Air, the Wedding of the King of kings, for an in-depth study of the Olivet Discourse.