Monday, November 14, 2016

The Logic of Christianity 14: The Parousia is True until Proven False

One of the premises on which the Logic of Christianity is founded is the argument that Jesus fulfilled multiple Old Testament prophecies (see the Gospel accounts). So, what about Jesus’ own prophecies, regarding his “Coming” (aka, the Parousia)? According to a Pew Research poll published August 24, 2016, the vast majority of individuals (78%) who now say that they have no religion were actually raised in religious families.

 Furthermore, "About half of current religious 'nones' who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion.” Prominent among those issues that led to a lack of belief were “learning about evolution when [they] went away to college” and “lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator.” That is why I focused the previous post on the truth of “Creation.” I believe the Creation issue is unquestionably essential to the Logic of Christianity.

 Having been an active member for nearly 50 years of the extremely critical academic society—The Society of Biblical Literature—I have been exposed to the onslaught of negative biblical scholarship. I have concluded (as I mentioned at the close of my last blog) that “Along with issues of the end of time apocalypses, and with questions about the historicity of the Gospel accounts, Creation issues are the front lines of the war.” In this blog post and the next, I turn to “issues of the Parousia of Christ and the end of time in Paul, Revelation, and the Gospel mini-apocalypses.”

 Jesus is reported in the Gospels to have predicted that his Parousia would occur within a generation:

1. In Matthew 16:28, Jesus predicts: “[T]here shall be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming (ERCHOMAI) in his kingdom.” This appears to place a serious time limit for the fulfillment of Jesus’ Parousia prophecy. In the parallel accounts, Mark 9:1, using a different grammatical form of ERCHOMAI, offers the additional detail that this coming would be in “power.” Luke 9:27 doesn’t mention a specific “coming” of Jesus, but states that they will see the “kingdom of God.” Scholars have interpreted Luke’s phraseology as an attempt to “delay the Eschaton.” Eschaton is a word meaning “the End.” These scholars are suggesting that, by the time Luke wrote his Gospel, the church was beginning to back away from a belief that Jesus would return within decades of his Resurrection. But why would Luke (more clearly than the other two evangelists) spell out exactly a time frame for the appearance of the kingdom of God: “when you see Jerusalem compassed with armies” (Luke 21:20, a clear reference to the war on Jerusalem that began in 68 AD, within the “lifetime” of some who heard Jesus’ prophecy)?

\2. Paul, writing in I Corinthians 15, verses 51 and 52 corroborates the expectation that Jesus’ Parousia would happen within the lifetime of some first generation Christians: “51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Scholars agree that Paul (by using the term “we” in all three instances) is expecting the Parousia within either his lifetime or the lifetime of his contemporaries. Earlier in this chapter (15:23), Paul previews what he expands on in the verses just cited: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming (PAROUSIA).” Paul wrote his epistles before the Gospels were written down. Clearly, an expectation of an early Parousia of Christ was pervasive in the Early Church.

3. Combine these predictions of the Parousia occurring within the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries with the several statements to the effect that Jesus’ contemporary “generation” would not pass until his Parousia had occurred (Matthew 23:36 and 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32). Of the three Synoptic Gospels, only Matthew (24:3, 27, 37, and 39) actually employs the term PAROUSIA (as does Paul) to name what all three gospels describe as “the Son of man coming (ERCHOMENON) in the cloud/s with power and glory.” Revelation 1:7 agrees that he is coming on the clouds.

4. The amount of time required for the accomplishment of the actual event called Parousia to occur, however, seems to be negligible. Even though the Synoptic Gospels speak of seeing Jesus “coming in the clouds,” which could suggest a “noticeable” time period, Matthew 24:27 suggests the time frame of the Parousia as “lightning” going from the east to the west. Matthew 24:39-41 offers a glimpse of two men in the field or two women at the mill—one taken and the other left—something that seems to imply a split-second disappearance. As cited earlier, Paul, in I Corinthians 15:52 suggests a split-second Parousia: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”

5. John, the author of Revelation, writing in 69 AD, (within the “lifetime” of some who heard Jesus’ prophecy), indicates that the time is “near” or “short” for the fulfilling of the apocalyptic prophecies (Revelation 1:3, 12:12). Jesus repeatedly states: “I am coming (ERCHOMAI) quickly” (Revelation 3:11, 22:7, 12, and 20).

6. It is true that some New Testament books, such as James and II Peter acknowledge the impatient frustrations of some in their audiences that Jesus’ Parousia has not yet occurred. James 5:7-8 states: “7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. 8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” James not only reasserts the predicted coming, but also states that it is “drawing near.” II Peter 3:4 addresses the point: “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. . . . 8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

7. The strongest argument critical scholars have for suggesting that New Testament Christianity abandoned hope in a Parousia that would occur within the generation to whom Jesus prophesied it is to claim that New Testament books, such as Luke and Revelation, were written well after the time of first generation Christians. While that position has been advanced by some critical scholars, it is by no means proven. For example, while many critical scholars want to date the writing of Revelation at 96 AD, I point out in my book Revelation: The Human Drama (Lehigh University Press, 2001, p. 37): “According to (an apparently private conversation with) John A. T. Robinson, [the renowned British scholar, F. F.] Bruce ‘now inclines’ in the direction of the earlier date [69 A.D.]. Robinson's own thesis is that Revelation (and all other New Testament books) should be redated prior to 70 A.D. Robert M. Grant . . . criticizes Robinson's work . . . Yet, Grant is only critiquing Robinson's book--he is not disavowing the possibility that the date of Revelation was prior to 70. Robinson even cites Grant as allowing for the possibility of an early date for Revelation: ‘Grant, INT, 237, is prepared to say 'a situation between 68 and 70 is not excluded.'"

8. If one redates “all . . . New Testament books . . . prior to 70 A.D.,” there is absolutely no proof in the New Testament that the prophesied Parousia did not occur. On the contrary, if all New Testament books were written prior to 70 A.D., there is a missing link between the New Testament church and the Early Catholic Church. Indeed, renowned church historian S. G. F. Brandon, in his book The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (London: S.P.C.K., 1957), claims that any record of the church existing actually disappears for a period of twenty years. What happened to the Christians?

9. In my book on Revelation, page 36, I observe: “Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza claims that ‘New Testament scholars generally agree that the author of Revelation [was writing] . . . at the end of the first century.’ But this consensus is mistaken. If this general consensus view were correct, presumably the intended audience would be primarily gentile in makeup. [However,] R. H. Charles . . . contends that the author of Revelation is Jewish and J. Massyngberde Ford questions whether or not the work is Christian at all, or a thoroughly Jewish book. If any portion of Ford's argument is accepted, what Fiorenza claims to be the consensus view regarding the date, and hence the intended audience of Revelation, needs to change. The Church at the end of the first century appears to be quite gentile in makeup. In this regard, S. G. F. Brandon notes: ‘[T]he author of the Acts in his presentation of the tradition of Christian Origins never gives any indication that the numbers of the Gentile converts were large, while he makes several statements about the considerable numerical strength of the Jewish Christians in Palestine, which . . . must be fairly interpreted as genuine indications of the comparative situation. Yet, Justin Martyr, writing in the second century at approximately 135 A.D., can have a debate with Trypho, the Jew, in a context that seems to clearly indicate the almost total absence of Jews in the Church! What happened to the Jewish Christians?

10. In 1878, a British exegete named J. Stuart Russell published a book entitled The Parousia. Still in print (now, with a Foreword by Reformed leader R. C. Sproul), the author concludes, quite logically (p. 565): “[T]he predictions of our Lord in Matt. xxiv . . . had a veritable accomplishment. . . . These predictions are bounded by certain limits of time. The time is explicitly declared to fall within the period of the then existing generation. . . . And why should it be thought incredible?” Russell anticipates that skeptics of his suggestion will offer an answer to the question just asked: “Because there is no historical evidence of the fact.” However, if such an event were predicted to occur in a negligible period of time—such as “lightning” going from the east to the west or “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” how could there possibly be any historical evidence? The answer to that question, which J. Stuart Russell reached in the 19th Century, is the same answer that I reached, entirely independently of Russell, in the 21st Century: It’s the 20 year absence of the evidence that a Church existed following the Jerusalem War of 66 to 73 A.D. It’s the fact that, once the Church reemerges, it is almost entirely Gentile; whereas, it had been dominated by Jews in the New Testament period. Russell writes: “The principal, if not the only, portion that seems to come within the cognizance of human sense, is the removal of a great multitude of the disciples of Christ from this earthly scene. . . . [T]here should be some trace in history of this sudden disappearance of so vast a body of believers. . . . a blank in history. . . . a failure, at the least, in the continuity of the records of Christianity. [T]he predictions do not require an absolute and universal removal of the whole body of the faithful (for it is manifest that there is a clear distinction made between the watchful and the unwatchful, the ready and the unready . . .) . . . .” Such a huge gap does exist, as seen by the church historians.

11. Does the historical gap in the records of the existence of the Church prove that the Church was raptured? No. That proposition could not possibly be proven, historically. But, it does argue the POSSIBILITY. Everything else in Jesus’ prophecy occurred within a generation: the Temple was both profaned and destroyed, there were wars and rumors of war as the Roman Empire progressively attacked the Land of Israel, Christians were delivered up to councils and synagogues, and beaten, but gave their testimony before kings and governors.

The view that the Parousia predicted by Jesus actually occurred sometime around 70 A.D., is not only my own view and that of J. Stuart Russell, but also (with variants) the view of the 16th Century Jesuit Catholic theologian, Luis del Alcázar and 17th Century Reformed exegete Hugo Grotius. F. F. Bruce observes: "Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) . . . was the first Reformed exegete to give up the identification of the Papacy with the Antichrist and he held that some of the visions of Rev[elation] reflect the period before, and others the period after, the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70." Bruce continues, "[Grotius] may thus be regarded as the pioneer of the literary-critical approach to the book [of Revelation]." No less than the most respected Revelation scholar of the 20th Century—R. H. Charles--indicates that Revelation should "be taken as referring first and chiefly to the times in which it was originally written." This assertion by Charles summarizes the position of the Contemporary-Historical methodology of interpreting Revelation. Along with the scholarly consensus, the Contemporary-Historical methodology is what I personally follow, even though I agree with Charles’s earlier (69 A.D.) datings, but not his later (96 A.D.) datings.

Unlike Charles (but like Russell and others), I suggest that the predictions of John regarding those times in which Revelation was originally written actually occurred. I offer strong evidence of that view in my book Revelation: The Human Drama. Merrill C. Tenney of Wheaton College refers to the view of R. H. Charles, which he calls the “view of the majority of liberal scholars,” as the Preterist School of Revelation—that the book’s symbolism “relates only to the events of the day in which it was written.” It is with that view of the Parousia—that it was predicted to happen within the generation of Jesus—that I am dealing with this post. It is the majority interpretation of critical scholars. Most of these critical scholars use this interpretation of the Parousia prophecies to discredit the Bible and Jesus. They say that the Parousia, while predicted, did not happen within the first generation. I am arguing that, if one offers the Bible the “presumption” of “truth”—that the Bible is true unless proven wrong—the truth of the Bible must stand. If the Parousia was predicted to occur in a “moment,” in the “twinkling of an eye,” as a “lightning” flash, there is no way that it could be proven that it did not occur . . .

UNLESS there is evidence that the whole church continued in existence uninterrupted from the day it began.

 BUT . . . there is evidence that the existence of the church WAS INTERRUPTED for about 20 years!

Therefore, I conclude that the Parousia very well may have happened around 70 AD, and continue to hold to the presumption of Biblical truth.

So, if the Parousia has occurred (around 70 AD), what does the Bible say about the rest of human history? Revelation offers a very interesting sketch of the remainder of human history, which has occurred with startling precision. The Battle of Armageddon is misunderstood; the Battle of Gog and Magog is yet to occur. It was not predicted to occur until after the 1000 year incarceration of the Dragon. What does all of that mean? These issues will be the subject of my next post.

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