In his books, entitled What About Preterism?, Roderick Edwards argues that preterism violates God’s sovereign nature: How could the truth of preterism be lost if God is truly sovereign? is Edwards’ argument.
Be sure to read the first two articles in this series. I was going to post three articles but have decided to post four instead.
How / Why Did That Apostasy Take Place?
The question can be asked, what was the source of the loss of proper understanding of eschatological truth in the first century? Keep in mind that to be consistent, Edwards must argue that the truth of eshatology has never been lost if God is sovereign. But I think one of the chief reasons was the Hellenization of the early church, that caused the church to lose contact with the Hebraic understanding of apocalyptic language and covenantal thought.
Tom Holland notes how the inter-testamental writings are often appealed to by scholars and Bible students to help interpret the NT writings. He offers this cautionary note:
There is no doubt these documents give fascinating insight into this period of Judaism, but their relevance for the New Testament message must be questioned… They assume there is a strict equivalence in terminology and themes found in these writings and in the New Testament. They use intertestamental texts as the key for understanding the New Testament texts. This presupposes they share the same theological outlook and their meanings are transposable. However, this understanding is flawed. (Holland, Tom: Romans: The Divine Marriage (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 23).
He also offers this:
While the vocabulary of the NT could be found throughout the Hellenistic world, it did not have the same meaning when it was used in the religious sense within the Jewish community.” (252); Holland notes that when a NT writer wrote in Greek it was “Hebrew in its mind-set and essential meaning.” (P. 52). (Tom Holland, Contours of Pauline Theology, Christian Focus Publications, Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-Shire IV20 1TW, Scotland, UK, 2004) 52. (www.christianfocus.com) or, www.tomholland.instant.org.uk.
Other scholars agree. Graydon Snyder says that Hebraic eschatology:
“It affirms the absolute validity of God’s promises to mankind through Israel and of the historical locus of its fulfillment; yet denies that present history or the present institutions of man could lead to its fulfillment.”…. “Paul proclaimed this eschatological form not only in terms of mythology of the cross, but also with a more full orbed apocalyptic framework. In the Hellenistic world this apocalyptic form was understandably misunderstood. In some instances it was literalized dualistically (i.e. the myth becomes a cosmology) so that a struggle between flesh and spirit resulted. In some instances it was misunderstood chronologically (i.e. the myth becomes history), so that an actual end of time was expected…the chronological misunderstanding resulted in a problem regarding the delay of the parousia to such a point that the community was forced to identify that disjuncture with the baptism or the birth of Jesus rather than to speak of a radical disjuncture yet at hand…in other words, the problem of the delay of the parousia is a problem only in so far as the early community misunderstood and literalized the apocalyptic..” (The Literalization of the Apocalyptic Form in the New Testament Church,” Chicago Society of Biblical Research, Vol. 15, (1969), 5-18).
David Instone-Brewer, although discussing the differences between Hebraic thought on marriage and divorce versus the Grecian understanding, makes some very pertinent observations:
The Early church was soon separated from the Synagogue and the Jewish world was itself cut off from part of its past by the destruction of Jerusalem. Background knowledge that could be taken for granted in the original readers of the New Testament disappeared from the Church. (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Re-Marriage in the Bible, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002)Intro, p. X).
Finally, among many other sources that could be cited, Richard Hays offers this:
“The Christian tradition early on lost its vital connection with the Jewish interpretative matrix in which Paul had lived and moved; consequently, later, Christian interpreters missed some of Paul’s basic concerns” (Richard Hays, Conversion of the Imagination,: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2005), 43).
Personally I think that this Hellenistic divorcement from the Hebraic roots of apocalyptic is one of, if not the chief reason, for the loss of understanding of eschatology. There are other factors perhaps, but Snyder is surely correct in his assessment. From reading Edward’s book, it surely seems that he is either unaware of this reality, or simply chooses to ignore it. Now, why, in Edward’s view of the Sovereignty of God, did the Lord allow this divisive, destructive Hellenization of the early church? The reality of this loss is undeniable, the consequences of it are indisputable.
So, the point can be made that God could and did communicate sufficiently and authoritatively about His plan and His will. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved along by the Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19) and they wrote down that revealed Truth. God “guaranteed” the true revelation of His Truth and kept His promise. However, the Lord never guaranteed that every man would understand that revelation as it was intended. We know from Scripture itself that they did not. And we all know people who have no idea about audience relevance, about history, about language, about even the idea of “context,” about hermeneutic, about exegesis, who read the Bible a bit and declare themselves to be the final word about what it says! We witness this on Social Media virtually every day.
Is this God’s fault? Is it the fault of the revealed Word or the Spirit or the Father? Patently not. And it is inappropriate and wrong to call the Sovereignty of God into question due to our own mistaken concepts of that Sovereignty. Yet, Edwards wants to blame God for the misunderstandings, distortions and perversions of Scripture when the consistent testimony of Scripture is that God communicated the Truth faithfully, but that it is man’s own fault for perverting the Truth that was faithfully revealed and recorded.
What About Martin Luther?
I and others have made the point that Luther was charged with being guilty of giving his own “private interpretation” in opposition to 1000 years of “church history” and the creeds. Edwards denies this, claiming that Luther actually appealed to the “ancient faith” and that he cited other theologians who taught what he did. This argument has no actual validity and flies in the face of the accusation brought against Luther.
The emperor Charles, who was leading the trial proceedings, lodged this charge against Luther:
For it is certain that a single brother is in error if he stands against the opinion of the whole of Christendom, as otherwise Christendom would have erred for a thousand years or more.” (Cited in Beyond Creation Science, Timothy Martin and Jeffrey Vaughan, www.truthinliving.org, available from this website).
So, the actual charge against Luther was that he was a “lone wolf” standing in opposition to 1,000 years of the creeds, the councils, the church, and church tradition. In other words, according to the leaders of Luther’s trial, contra Edwards, they accused Luther of private interpretation, of violating church history, of opposing the traditions of the church, the very thing that Edwards accuses preterists of doing. And look deeper.
Edwards says Luther appealed to theologians and “the ancient faith” of those who taught like he did. Well, did Luther appeal to any creed? No. Did he appeal to any council? No. In significant contrast and contradiction to Edwards who suggests that it is not wise to engage in exegetical discussions based on Scripture alone with preterists, Luther took a clear stand:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves, I am bound by the Scriptures that I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot to do otherwise. Here I stand, God help me. (April 19, 1521).
Not only this, but, when Edwards claims that Luther appealed to those other theologians, he is actually saying that Luther cited other men who gave their own “private interpretation” of Scripture. He certainly had no creed, or council, to support him. Thus, Edward’s attempt to escape the force of Luther’s appeal to scripture alone, and his refusal to rely on tradition, creeds and councils is destructive to Edward’s claims. They are totally misguided and refuted.
More to come, so stay tuned!