The Overwhelming Imminence of Romans 8:16f – The Glory About to Be Revealed – A Look at Mello
Be sure to read our previous two posts on the overwhelming imminence in Romans 8— #1 & #2. Without any doubt, Paul fully expected the fulfillment of his hope, the manifestation of the sons of God, the redemption of “the body” at the parousia, in a very short time. To cite Nanos again:
“Paul certainly expected the final events (Romans 8:18f; 1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4:13-18) in his own lifetime. When he speaks of the pleroma of the Gentiles who are to come in and of Israel’s return, he is thinking in terms of years– not even decades, let alone centuries or millennia. The preconditions for the final events were well underway…..Thus, when we read of Israel’s trespass, failure, and rejection, we must remember that for Paul their duration was to continue for 20 years, not 2000. He cites Dunn (Romans, p. 18) – ‘Paul seriously contemplated this outreach being achieved within his lifetime, as the last act before the end and the necessary preliminary to the salvation of Israel (1 Corinthians 4:9; Romans 11:13-32).” (Nanos, The Mystery of God in Romans, (Minneapolis; Fortress, 1996)278, n. 110).
This expectation of imminent fulfillment is supported by all of the tenets, themes and motifs that we are sharing in this final series as a response to Lance Conley. That imminence is undeniable, and powerfully communicated in the theme of “the sufferings of Christ” which we developed in the previous article. Be sure to read that.
The imminence is further enhanced and confirmed by the fact that Paul said the glory was “about to be revealed.” The “about to be” is based on Paul’s use of the Greek word mello, in the infinitive. Scholars of all stripes and all backgrounds have – and do – recognize that this word conveys objective imminence. Attempts to negate that, and escape the force and implications of that imminence are at times literally amazing. Let’s take a look at some of that evidence, beginning with the critical commentaries.
The Commentaries on Mello
World class scholars of all denominational affiliations have no reservations about whether mello denotes imminence. This is simply undeniable.
A preliminary Side Bar before examining the commentaries on mello: Sam Frost, former preterist, criticizes me when I cite scholarship that disagrees with his pontifications. He says not one of them is a preterist and not one of them would agree with my preterist paradigm. In a recent article, Frost calls attention to my citation of numerous ancient historical sources, the lexicons, etc., showing that the Greek word parousia, is not limited to a bodily presence. He said:
Preston then goes into creating a smokescreen by “quoting” from several works of scholars (Colin Brown, Deismann, Kittel’s Dictionary, Dunn). What I never tire of pointing out is that none of these scholars would come close to affirming Full Preterism as Preston defines it! Preston goes on to say that “presence” is used of God – who is without a body – by Josephus (Antiquities) – giving the impression that I do not source Josephus (I do, page 9). However, I only quote where that first century historian used the term in reference to actual people. Preston’s point – what he wants his devotees to “get” – is that I am being misleading. I’m not. I, too, have the sources (and have read them) that he quotes. Josephus does indeed use the term “parousia” for God’s “manifestation.” God is without a body. Therefore, so Preston’s presupposition wants you to think, Jesus’ parousia in 70 AD is invisible. Preston, however, fails to note that the use of parousia for God’s presence highlights my point. (To read my article responding to Frost, go here).
There are so many problem with Frost’s comments that it would take a small book to address them. But, note that Frost admits that he only cited the first century sources that refer to parousia “in reference to actual people.” That is right. He does not share with you that parousia refers to a non-bodily presence when speaking of the actions of Deity. And, his reference to God not having a body is detrimental to his case. The point is that Christ was not to be revealed as a man, in a human body, but, as King of kings and Lord of lords. He was coming “in the glory of the Father” (Matthew 16:27-28). He was to reveal the “one true God” (1 Timothy 6:15). And of course, that parousia was at hand. It was near. It was coming soon. It was “about to be.” And now, back to the commentators on mello.
A. J. Mattill, did one of the most exhaustive investigations of the meaning of mello and came to the firm conviction that mello conveys objective imminence. (Luke and the Last Things, (Dillsboro, N. C.; Western Carolina Press, 1979). In an earlier article “Naherwartung, Fernerwartung, and the Purpose of Luke-Acts: Weymouth Reconsidered,” (Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 3, July 1972), Mattill rendered Romans 8:16f as “the glory about to be revealed.” Both his book and the journal article are very powerful.
Side Bar: I corresponded with Mattill for several years before his passing. He began his higher education (PhD Vanderbilt) convinced of Biblical inerrancy and inspiration. He held to the literalistic futurist view of eschatology – like that of Conley, Frost, etc.. However, his linguistic studies forced him to admit that Jesus and the NT writers undeniably affirmed the first century imminence of the parousia. And since that did not happen in the manner his literalism demanded, he rejected inspiration and the deity of Christ. In our conversations, I presented Covenant Eschatology to him, and he openly admitted that it was the most consistent– and most challenging- paradigm he had ever encountered. He admitted that it solved the conundrum of the time statements, but, he finally told me, the last time we spoke, that he was “Too old to change now.”
It is fascinating that when one examines the commentators, how wide ranging the citations are in which the scholars translate mello as “about to, to be on the point of.”
Donald Hagner, commenting on the message of John the Baptizer said, ““John’s apocalyptic message involves an imminent judgment of the unrighteous in tes mellouses orges, the coming wrath.’ This eschatological wrath, associated with fulfillment, is further alluded to in v. 10-12. Abundant parallels indicate that this was a fixed component in the Jewish apocalyptic expectation (see esp. Daniel 7:9-11; Isaiah 13:9; Zephaniah 1:15; 2:2-3; Malachi 4:1f). …What frightened John’s listeners was the insistence that the judgment was about to occur (mellouses). (Donald Hagner, Matthew, Vol. 33a (Dallas, Word Biblical Commentary, 1993), 50).
W. D. Davies and Dale Allison also commenting on Matthew 3:7: “Who has warned you to flee from the wrath about to come” “mello here implies not so much purpose as imminence or futurity.” (W. D. Davies and Dale Allison, International Critical Commentary, Vol. 1., Matthew 1-7, ( New York, A Continuum Imprint, London) T & T Clark, 2004 ), 304). I would observe that Davies and Allison point out that the appearance of John as Elijah served as a powerful indicator of the imminence of the end.
The Expositors Greek Testament likewise takes note that in Matthew 3 John spoke of the imminence of the judgment, and the Pharisees fleeing like snakes before a burning field. (Nichol Roberts, The Expositors Greek Testament, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1970), 82).
Douglas Moo agrees that mello indicated that Paul expected the realization of the “glory” of Romans 8:18 imminently. Moo, discusses Paul’s use of mello and agrees that it, “might stress the imminence of the revelation of this glory.” (Douglas Moo, Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996) 512, n. 19– 1996), 512, n. 19).
Similarly, James D. G. Dunn, says “It is natural to hear in the mello the note not only of certainty (see 8:13) but of imminence.” He also notes (467) that, “Paul clearly intends for his audience to understand that the blessings they are receiving are Israel’s promises.” (James Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 38a, 1988), 468).
Andrew Perriman takes note of the imminence in Romans 8:18f: “The thorough-going eschatological character of the argument is brought out in the second half of Romans 8. In the first place, the sufferings of the present time are contrasted with the glory that is about to be (mellousan) revealed in the ‘sons of God at the redemption of their bodies (8:18).” (Andrew Perriman, The Future of the People of God, (Eugene, Ore; Wipf and Stock, Cascade Books, 2010), 117).
David Williams commented on 1 Thessalonians “Instead of using the simple verb for the future, Paul strengthens the statement by using mello and making the verb infinitive, `to be about to suffer’ This reinforces the notion these trials are inevitable.” (New International Biblical Commentary, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, (Hendrickson, Peabody, Mass.; 1999 ), 59 – on 1 Thes. 3:4).
John Eadie, says on 1 Thessalonians 3:4 – “Mellomen expresses the certainty, and implies the soonness of the sufferings.” (The Greek Testament Commentaries, Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1979), 106).
Greg Forbes, commenting on 1 Peter 5:1 – “The genitive tns mellouses apocaluptesthai doxas is objective. … Mellouses implies the imminence of this revelation.”(Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament, 1 Peter, (Nashville; B & H Academics, 2014), 167).
Just for fun, consider that Chrysostom, fourth century “early church father,” has this to say about 1 Thessalonians 3:4: “Paul knew beforehand and lets them know in advance that ‘we are about to be afflicted’ “as it came to pass, and you know.’ He not only says that this came to pass but that he foretold many things, and they occurred as he predicted.” Cited in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, IX, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Philemon, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity, 2000), 75). Thus, for Chrysostom, mello demanded fulfillment – and fulfillment came – in the lifetime of the Thessalonians who were told it was “about to be.”
Douglas Harink, on 1 Peter 5:1f: “The glory about to be revealed”…. for Peter “that glory is about to be revealed.” (SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible, 1 & 2 Peter, (London, SCM Press; 2009).
Lewish Donelson, also commenting on on 1 Peter 5:1 renders is- “The glory about to be revealed.” (1 & II Peter and Jude, A Commentary, (John Knox Press, Louisville, KY; 2013).
Side Bar: the correlation between Romans 8:18f and 1 Peter 5 cannot be dismissed or denied. In Romans, Paul discusses the then present suffering, the sufferings of Christ, and the “glory about to be revealed.” In 1 Peter, we find the identical motifs, suffering (1:5f); the sufferings of Christ (5:1-3), and “the glory about to be revealed” (5:1-3). We also have the emphatic declaration that: “The end of all things has drawn near”; “the time has come for (the) judgment to begin” (1 Peter 4:7, 17). What cannot be overlooked– but is lamentably simply denied by Conley, Frost and others – is that 1 Peter 4: 5, 7, 17 is an overt prophecy of the genuine nearness of the parousia and resurrection! So, in 1 Peter 4 we find the prediction of the very imminent judgment, parousia and resurrection, with referent to the “glory about to be revealed,” just as in Romans 8, we have the present suffering, with the prediction of the coming resurrection, with the promise that it was “about to be.” The parallels are direct, undeniable, and powerful.
David Aune says Revelation 1:19 speaks of the things that are about to take place, i.e. the imminent future. (David Aune, Word Biblical Commentary, Revelation, Vol. 1, (Dallas, Word Publishers, 1997), 105).
F. W. Farrar, (one of my favorite authors from the 19th century) also commented on on Revelation 1:19 and rendered it as “the things which are, the things which are about to happen (ha mellei genesthai) after these things. No language could more clearly define the bearing of the Apocalypse.” (F. W. Farrar, Early Christianity, (New York, Funk and Wagnall, 1883), 496).
Kenneth Gentry commented on the meaning of mello in Revelation 1:19: “When used with the aorist infinitive – as in Revelation 1:19 – the word’s predominant usage and preferred meaning is: ‘be on the point of, be about to.’ The same is true when the word is used with the present infinitive, as in Rev.3:10. The basic meaning in both Thayer and Abbott-Smith is: ‘to be about to.”; emphasis added.). (Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Tyler, TX: Institute for Biblical Economics, 1989), 141-142).
In a revision of this work, Gentry draws back from this position, but his “justification” for doing so is unconvincing- perhaps revealing. I suggest that Gentry “saw the train coming,” because the word mello is used by Paul in Acts 17:30-31; 24:14f to speak of the “about to be” judgment and the resurrection! If Gentry followed his comments on mello in Revelation, he would have to abandon his futurist eschatology, and he has demonstrated no willingness to do that.
Finally, before abandoning the truth of preterism, Sam Frost, said that mello is used in the Patristics to signify things that were near. (In Hermas, Barnabas, Polycarp, etc. “in the context of the book as a whole (Hermas, dkp), however, these things are expected to occur within the lifetime of Hermas.” (. (Samuel Frost, Misplaced Hope, (BiMillennial Press, Colo. Springs, Transmillennial Books), 95). Frost’s comments are confirmed in the citation from Chrysostom above
As you can see, an array of world class scholars agree that mello conveys genuine imminence. We could add a plethora of additional citations of scholars commenting on other texts where mello is used, but will refrain from that. There is no question that mello powerfully indicated imminence – and that includes Romans 8:18f – and that world class linguists have and do agree with that.
I suggest that when mello is used with other words such as in Romans 8, words like apekdekomai and apokaradodeo, (which we will examine later) that the imminence factor in mello is emphasized and strengthened. Not only that, when mello was used with motifs and themes that demanded imminent fulfillment, such as the filling the measure of suffering, the sufferings of Christ, the birth pangs of Messiah and the vindication of the martyrs as we have demonstrated, the imminence of mello is magnified. Thus, this demands that Paul anticipated the “redemption of the body” very soon. As suggested, imminence is virtually overwhelming in the text of Romans 8, and any proposed interpretation of that text that ignores and denies this imminence is doing a grave disservice to exegesis and hermeneutic. And keep in mind that Lance Conley totally ignored all of this imminence, and admitted that he did not address it!
The tragedy is that many commentators, as seen above, talk about the end being near and at hand. But, near in their vocabulary is so elastic and stretchable, that it means nothing. They “elasticize” the imminence of the NT into meaninglessness. This is as false as false can be. See my Who Is This Babylon? book for a thorough refutation of this claim. The reality is that God can tell time, very well, very accurately, and He has always communicated objectively to man in regard to time. It is shameful that so many commentators are willing to virtually ignore Proverbs 13:12– “Hope deferred makes the heart sick!”
In our next installment I will share with you what the lexicons and the various translations have to say about the word mello. So, stay tuned as we demonstrate the overwhelming imminence found in Romans 8:18f
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