Friday, July 25, 2014

Hyperinterpretation

From the June 2011 E-Block.
***
This time around we have a potpourri of oddities that came of an email exchange with two hyperpreterists. I won’t be framing these in terms of orthodoxy/heresy if they do not fit into that template.

Death at the Fall
 
Our next look at hyperpreterist error has a mirror image in a certain atheist objection I dealt with some time ago. It had been said by the atheist that God “lied” to Adam and Eve because they did not literally keel over the moment they ate of the tree. Hyperpreterists use the same argument for their own purposes, as I noted in a reply to one some time ago:

The article begins by noting that in Gen. 2:15-17, Adam and Eve, after God's promise, did not physically die, but did so spiritually. That much is true, but the jump from "death is spiritual in Genesis" to "therefore it is spiritual in Corinthians" is quite a leap. It is exegetically problematic; as a reader noted, the Hebrew says, "dying you will die," which is an idiom for, "You will begin to die. The process will continue until you are dead." 
 
The purpose in this obfuscation is to define “life” and “death” according to required conveniences which will in turn allow a redefinition of the term “resurrection” to include some otherwise unknown, unattested spiritual event c. 70 AD.

I have approached such attempts at redefinition from the other direction as well, as in this replying to Skeptic Edmund Cohen:

Other than that, where does Cohen suppose he has found examples of "logocide"?

A chief and featured example relates to the use of the words "life" and "death" in the NT. In addition to the "normal" (physical) meanings of these words, Cohen accuses the NT writers of creating "new, alternate meanings" [198] related to the spiritual (which Cohen signifies in his text by adding a hash mark ['] after the "original word"). So, it is supposed, the missionaries preached about "life" and "death", and people converted on that basis; but: "Little did the believer know when he was first recruited that the Christians were talking about eternal life', not eternal life."

Of course the word here for life, zoe, authentically carries both a figurative and literal sense; but even so, I find this claim of conspiratorial term-switching rather puzzling. Cohen is apparently suggesting that Christian missionaries went around preaching "eternal life" without telling anyone that they did not mean physical, earthly immortality, and only later, after a convert had been "caught", was it explained that "eternal life" was spiritual in nature and involved immortality only in the sense that there was a hereafter.

All right -- so where is the proof that the converts were not aware of the supposed difference in the term from the very beginning? Doesn't "life" today also have a dual meaning -- that both of physical "life" and of a more ethereal, perhaps spiritual "life"? If I walk up to you today and say, "Try Hare Krishna and learn how to live life," does that imply that you were walking around physically dead like some sort of zombie prior to now?

Cohen apparently fails to perceive that this dual meaning of "life" was in fact nothing new at all. It appears in Genesis 3 in regards to the way Adam and Eve "died." Later [262], he cites this very passage, but explains it by saying that "God already had [the alternate meaning] in mind." Why is this not rather a sign that the "alternate meaning" was a known and accepted usage, one that could be determined by context and explanation?

There is no indication anywhere in the NT or in recorded history that the church purposely confused these terms to win converts. If they did, why is there no indication that some dropped out when they found out that "life" did not mean physical immortality, as some surely would have? This is an argument from silence, but it is a significant one, because such easily falsified claims would have been incredible fodder for the likes of Celsus. Perhaps Cohen was confused by these terms, but there is no evidence that any of the early converts were -- and neither was I, or any other Christian I have ever met.

What Cohen supposes happened in history, hyperpreterists enact today – though in the opposite direction.

Death as Ongoing
 
In the recent discussion, one hyperpreterist saw fit to argue in service of the above these points:

Physical death is a one-time event and nothing more. But this is not quite true. Life is essentially (as we now have it) a constant battle against decay that we all eventually lose. Aging is understood as the road to death in religious contexts worldwide. Relating back to the earlier objection, the argument that God lied in Genesis because Adam and Eve didn't drop dead on the spot the moment they ate the fruit, the proper reply is that this a naive, literalist hermeneutic which fails to recognize the semantic range of "death" in social and religious terms to refer to separation from that which offers life (both physical and spiritual) and not merely some instant.

Reply: But if Adam and Eve’s physical death was progressive as you say, then what’s to say their spiritual death was not progressive as well?

It is as well to ask why one would think it should be, other than to contrive a problem. The body is a physical entity with specific properties; spiritual death – having to do with covenant relations with God – is not associated with any such entity. This is like suggesting that if a building “explodes” and one’s temper also “explodes,” there’s something amiss if both don’t produce literal flames.
In the end, nothing of this prevents the spiritual separation from being instantaneous.

Reply: If Adam was immortal, how was he already dying and subject to death by virtue of the penalty? Jesus says those who are immortal “cannot die anymore.”

Two points. The first is that whether indeed Adam was “immortal” is a debated question. Some would argue (as I would, per C. S. Lewis in Out of the Silent Planet) that the physical body of the earliest period was not immortal; but that physical death when it came was a more dignified affair, shepherded by God as a step into the next realm of life. In that regard, the penalty of “death” is not merely physical death, but – in accord with the agonistic principles of that social world – are to be associated as well with the conglomerate of spiritual death, as well as the shame and disgrace associated with aging as we now know it.

Even so, the referenced words of Jesus are to persons resurrected at the last day by the power of God. Adam was not a resurrected being. If he was immortal, it was not in the context of a prior final judgment in which evil was once and for all defeated, and we cannot say that whatever “immortality” he may (or may not) have had was subject to Jesus’ description. (If anything, it is arguable that the presence of the tree of life accords with any immortality of that age as acquired, rather than inherent.)

Reply: Why are those of us who are delivered from sin, via Christ’s death and resurrection, dying so quickly compared to Adam, with a lifespan typically only 70 years, while Adam lived into his 900s?

This question has been theoretically answered by my scientist friends in creationist ministry for years, though it is not an answer that would require a creationist worldview to accept in logical terms. Their answer is simply that it took time for the natural world to decay into the unhealthier place it now is. God created it perfect, and perfection does not rot overnight into complete degeneracy.

At the same time, it is absurd to suppose that even a 900 year lifespan is in some way significant when the previous lifespan was "eternity" (if we grant the premise of immortality, as noted).

At this, the hyperpreterist made two rather strained arguments:

If you take a young earth view that the world was created about 4004 BC, then it only took about 2000 years for a 800 year decline in lifespan, or about .4 years per century. However, the lifespan since Abraham almost 4,000 years has only declined about 100 years, or about 0.025 years per century.

What the point is of this argument, in context, is hard to discern. The trend does not need to be precipitous or uniform over time for it to be downward and signifying, which is sufficient for the point.

Lifespans are on the rise worldwide!

This is true, due to better health care and other factors, but is manifestly beside the point. The very fact that we are required to use “props” to achieve these longer spans (such as medications, or sanitized surroundings) merely emphasizes the depth of the struggle of life against death and if anything affirms, rather than contradicts, the essential nature of our world as one in which deterioration reigns supreme.


Orthodoxy: Texts about resurrection reflect a physical process.

Heresy: Certain texts about resurrection in the OT are not about biological restoration but about restoration from spiritual death.

There’s a significance in the response I got from this hyperpreterist when I noted the reams of informing contexts in between the OT and the understanding of resurrection as a concept in the first century, which clearly informs the words of Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the NT:

Maybe this is a good time to inform you that we are having a “Bible” discussion here, not a discussion of “opinions” held during the inter-testamental period. While they may offer some educational value, they are not the final authority. The word of God must prevail in all cases. God always reserves the right to choose and define his own terms. So, without equivocation, I will readily ignore reams of contexts which are outside of the Bible when they contradict what is “inside” the Bible.

Readers are well familiar with how head-in-sand this approach is, so I need say little more other than to note that it speaks for itself that this must be the resort in order to preserve a desired interpretation.

If spiritual death is a reality, then does that not demand a spiritual resurrection?

Not at all -- it demands a spiritual regeneration, not resurrection. Here the hyperpreterist is simply abusing and misusing the term "resurrection," expanding its semantic range into the meaning he needs for it to have. But the word in the NT, anistemi, meant a standing up, and disembodied spirits don't have anything to "stand up" in.

In response to this, the hyperpreterist offered the argument that what was described was “metaphorical” resurrection. But this is little more than the contrived resort of the fundamentalist (and fundamentalist atheist!) who waves off as “metaphorical” anything that does not admit to a suitable literal interpretation. Of course, the designation of metaphor is not illicit in itself, but one must offer suitable reasons for the designation, such as prior use of such metaphors, or some literal impossibility or contradiction; e.g., the darkness and fire of hell must be metaphors because they are contradictions in their literal sense, and their close juxtaposition argues for the contradiction as intentional and signifying of metaphor.

In this regard, the hyperpreterist offered a sparse exegetical attempt:

The resurrection body (soma) and death of Romans 8:10-11, is equal to that of Romans 8:23. Likewise as the Spirit was operative in the body of death per Romans 8:10-11, it is operative in that body of Rom. 8:23. Thus, same Spirit, same body, therefore same death.

This is true, but misses the obvious point in v. 11: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” Since even hyperpreterists agree Jesus was physically raised, this can only refer to some future promise for the believer and not a present reality.

From here, it was declared, the “body” of Rom. 8 is the same as that of 1 Cor. 15 and Dan. 12. This again may be true but is beside the point. 1 Cor. 15 is still future for us in terms of resurrection. Daniel we shall speak more of below.

But the word soma (body) is used by Paul to refer to something other than a physical body.

In such cases, however, Paul uses the word “body” (or “dead/death”) as a metaphor for some spiritual or other reality (e.g., the body of Christ). This does not therefore mean that what he describes should also be literally referred to as a “body” (in the human sense) in other contexts. The hyperpreterist position clumsily switches at will between metaphorical and literal, and tries to collapse them down into having the same meaning.

Orthodoxy: The resurrection of all men is yet future.

Heresy: The resurrection of all men occurred in 70 AD.

The following syllogism was offered by the hyperpreterist:
  • Christ taught that all things written would be fulfilled before the first century generation passed, in connection with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (Matt. 24:34, Lk. 21:22, 34)
  • The resurrection was written in the Old Covenant. i.e. (Dan. 12; Isa. 25:8; Hos. 13:14)
  • Therefore, the resurrection/all things written were fulfilled before the first century generation passed away.
The hidden premise, unproven, is, “ ‘all things’ means ‘everything listed in the Old Covenant’”. But such a reading is entirely unjustified. In context, “all things” in Matt and Luke has its best referent in the contents of the Olivet Discourse, which of course does not include a prediction of the resurrection of all men. Expanding “all things” to the OT as a whole is unwarranted.

A Reading of Daniel

Daniel 12 refers to bodies raised from the “dust of the earth.” It is my view that Matthew saw this fulfilled in the raising of the saints (and also of some shamed persons, appropriately, not mentioned) at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

The hyperpreterist appealed to a reputed difference of view held by Ken Gentry, who is said to think the passage “refers to the deliverance of Israel during the great tribulation preceding the 70AD destruction,” and it is also noted that he holds a similar view of Ezekiel 37. I don’t find this view very persuasive, but for the purpose of the hyperpreterist, Gentry’s difference of view is not helpful, since it amounts to saying that Daniel uses physical resurrection as a metaphor for some spiritual event, that was not itself a resurrection. Similarly, that is what I would say Ezekiel is doing, though he uses the metaphor to represent Israel’s restoration as a nation after the Babylonian captivity.

This was a repeated error of the hyperpreterists: They assumed that because resurrection was used as a metaphor of some spiritual event, the event itself was properly described in terms of a “resurrection” as well. Such is merely semantic sleight of hand.

Paul quotes Daniel 12:1-2 in Rom. 13:11-12 and Acts 24:14-15. This shows that he does not think it is yet fulfilled, as you claim with an application to Matthew’s saints.

Paul does no more than allude to Daniel in these passages, at most; and I have doubts that he does even that. Even so, such a claim reflects a poor understanding of the use of Scripture in first century Jewish exegesis. In reality, a virtuous and honorable exegete was practiced at using texts in creative and allusive ways that would apply to new situations. Paul’s allusions to Dan. 12:1-2, if they are genuine, therefore would in no way signify that he thinks the passage is (or is not) already fulfilled in some way. Indeed, in the case of Acts, “a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” is still expected even if Dan. 12 was fulfilled by Matthew’s saints.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Is God the Ultimate Warrior?


From the May 2011 E-Block.
***
This essay is composed as an accessory to our series analyzing Thom Stark’s critique of Paul Copan’s is God a Moral Monster? A point which has obsessed Stark for some time, even prior to his critique, is an alleged misuse by Copan of material by Susan Niditch in her War in the Hebrew Bible (WHB). I am not particularly interested to resolve Stark’s claim of abuse, as even if he is correct, there is little reason to enable or credit his obsession by doing so, given his own patent unreliability. However, we will look at some critical aspects of Niditch’s commentary on the so-called “ban” in the Old Testament – the total destruction of an enemy as an act of devotion to Yahweh. 

Niditch and other critics have connected the ban to concepts of human sacrifice. I have always found this connection to be tendentious, and to be a likely case of illegitimate conceptual transfer. “Human sacrifice,” after all, has been used tendentiously to describe the deaths of Christian martyrs and even that of Jesus. It is manifestly little more than an effort to apply a term overbroadly in an effort to invoke images of hapless Aztec victims having their hearts carved out for the sake of pleasing a bloodthirsty and evil deity, and thereby identify Yahweh as one such as well. 

I supposed that Niditch was unlikely to have approached the issue in terms of a correct social anthropology, taking account of honor, and the agonistic tenor of the Biblical world, as a defining factor in the ban, for after all, few scholars – even among the most competent in their specialties – have done so themselves. In this, I was correct. In the first chapter of WHB alone, “The Ban as God’s Portion,” Niditch makes two substantial blunders in this regard. The first is one in which she takes far too literalistically the boast of King Mesha of Moab that Israel “utterly perished forever.” We have learned that the dramatic orientation of this society was such that we are not meant to take such statements any more literally than we would take professions made at a typical sports event of prowess by team leaders. Niditch, however, blithely judges Mesha’s profession as “wishful thinking” (31) as though he truly wished to assert that Israel had literally “utterly perished forever.” 

The second blunder is far more substantial. Attempting to explain why humans conceived of the idea of the ban, Niditch proposes that it was a way to assuage the “guilt” soldiers felt at killing others. If God ordered it, so the reasoning goes, they would not have to feel guilty about it, so the ban was contrived. As we have noted from relevant scholars, reading guilt into any Biblical passage is a “serious mistake,” for guilt did not exist as yet in the pre-introspective world of the ANE. Shame would be at the fore, but here, would be of little relevance, inasmuch as other societies surrounding Israel also had their own version of the ban, and so no one would be shaming the Israelites over it. 

Rather than view the ban as related to concepts of human sacrifice, it seems far better to propose the following, much of which is contrary to Niditch: 

First: The ban has not to do with sacrifice to appease God, or to buy victory from Him. Rather, it has to do with God acquiring honor by the performance of the ban.

A critical point is that Israel’s opponents were persons who believed that their own gods – the “landlords” and suzerains who owned their land, and were supposed to protect them from invasions and the acts of foreign gods – would protect them, and especially preserve their lineage. The ban served as a clear and indisputable demonstration that these pagan deities were helpless and useless in protecting these people and their land, for they permitted total destruction to occur. The leaving behind of even one survivor would be taken (desperately, to be sure!) as a sign that Baal, or Chemosh, or whomever, had in some way acted to protect the future of the defeated people, who had decided to stay in their cities and nation (rather than flee, as some did – thereby admitting that their gods would not be able to help them).

To that extent, the ban was the most clear message that could be sent to a much larger population that they would do well to flee rather than fight. Arguably, with a population committed to fight to the end using the “last man” to do so – as was the case in WW2 Japan – a message like the ban worked to save lives in the long term, much as the atomic bomb is well argued to have saved lives by compelling Japan to surrender earlier than they would have otherwise.

Comparative use of the word in question, the Hebrew cherem, we should point out, is equivocal in this regard. The word is also used of fishing nets (eg, Ezekiel 26:5, 14; 47:10; Hab. 1:15-17), which suggests that cherem indicates a setting aside or apart of something from some other larger collective. However, this also means that it has no innate sacral meaning; that is acquired by context.

Second: Sacrifice to Yahweh is better understood not as an offering to “feed” Yahweh but as a way to keep humans from having them for their own use. Skeptics routinely ask what God needed with sacrifices, and argue that sacrifices to Yahweh imply some more primitive notion of Him as being hungry and in need of food. (See second link below for more.) In this no one seems to ask the question of why a deity should prefer meat that has been burnt into ashes, which is hardly likely to be any more appetizing to a hungry deity than it is to a hungry human.

The idea of sacrifice, and of devoting certain things to Yahweh, then, ought to be understood in terms of making it so that humans cannot use the sacrifice for themselves; in turn, the sacrifice is placing themselves under the patronage of the deity, trusting in the deity’s resources rather than their own. It is not that Yahweh needed food, or gold, or even humans for that matter; it is that humans obliterated the sacrifice to demonstrate that it was the property of the god rather than their own. It is also important that no one will be able to accrue the honor of having the captured goods; all of that honor will be reserved for Yahweh alone.

Niditch herself quotes passages that indicate this. In most cases, the ban involves only total destruction of humans, while livestock and booty is kept by the people. If God “needs” food and booty, then surely as a deity His energy needs are vastly greater than those of a human, and He would need far, far more humans, livestock, and booty to keep Himself alive. Niditch struggles, however, to explain the disparity between different ban orders, supposing that humans are always devoted to God because they are the “best booty”. Really? Then why are they killed? What good, to put it bluntly, is dead booty?
Further forced reading by Niditch may be found in her effort to read Ezekiel 38-9 in terms of God making a “sacrificial feast” of slain enemies: Ezekiel plainly says that the slain are eaten by birds of prey, and apart from the assumption of a hidden code in such language, there is little reason to impose some “mythological framework” on the text and see some hidden suggestion of “divine satiation” behind the text. Clearly, Niditch’s explanations are yet again a tendentious effort to illegitimately transfer stereotyped concepts of “human sacrifice” into the Biblical text.

Third: Failure to enact the ban requires recompense not because God requires recompense, but because of the inviolability of one’s oath in an honor-based culture. Niditch tendentiously regards such matters as the punishment of Achan and his family (Josh. 7), or the oath of Saul that anyone who eats before evening will die (1 Sam. 14), as required substitution because “God has been denied his due.” But this is an interpretation that smacks far more of one bearing the “white man’s burden” of bringing civilized mentalities to barbaric savages. An unbigoted assessment sees in such instances rather an enactment of, “your word is your bond”. To go back on one’s word is dishonoring – even if that word involved a grievous mistake.

Further on, Niditch explores the theme of the ban as an enactment of God’s justice. She believes that this theme evokes a contradiction, between the concepts of the ban as a sacrifice, and the victims (like Achan) as unclean sinners. But this tension is the result of her assumption that the ban is a sacral offering; if it is seen, rather, as a matter of honor, then the tension vanishes. Under such circumstances, the ban as God’s justice is complimentary, not contradictory.

The remainder of WHB is beyond our interest, though we may note that Niditch also comments on the Numbers 31 story extensively, for which we refer, as usual, the reader to Miller’s treatment linked below.

In the end, Niditch’s arguments are performed in service of a misguided pacifism, laced with emotional rhetoric and tainted by a “white man’s burden” attitude which looks down upon ancient Israelite culture with the same regard as a fundamentalist atheist who rants endlessly about “primitive Bronze Age goatherders.” Though Niditch’s commentary has the backing of a credentialed scholar, there is little conceptually different from what can be found in any tome written by a New Atheist. 


Numbers 31
God and food

Friday, July 11, 2014

The One-Egg Dozen


From the April 2011 E-Block.
**
In recent weeks I had a preview of what it would be like to deal with those who adhere to the “hyperpreterist” heresy – the idea that the resurrection of all men occurred in 70 AD along with the parousia. In due time I expect to compose a Building Blocks book on eschatology, and a fuller treatment of this heresy will be part of the package. But for now, here is a look at some of the ideas espoused by hyperpreterists. (I will not be naming the sources of these arguments, as they are persons who are desirous of just that sort of attention.) I will begin by noting the orthodox view in each section. 

Orthodox: We are currently in the millennium, in which the “thousand” years represent a very long time of unspecified length (hence the round number).

Heresy: The millennium took place between 30-70 AD.

Yes, you might want to read that again. The heretical view is that we should compress that “1000” into a bare 40. The matter here is not that the 1000 is not a literal number – all agree that numbers, especially round numbers, in the Bible can be interpreted to mean something more vague – but in such cases, as with the orthodox view, it has to do with the ability to precisely recount large numbers.

Thus for example, Rev. 9:16 literally refers to “two hundred thousand thousand” – we render this in terms of 200 million, but there was no word for “million” available. In the same way, large and precise numbers posed a certain difficulty in terms of expression.

In contrast, compression of that 1000 down to 40 (!) has no linguistic basis whatsoever. “Forty” is perfectly able to be expressed in Biblical Greek (eg, Acts 1:3, 7:23, etc). There is simply no reason from that perspective to crush 1000 down to 40.

So why would a hyperpreterist do this? The argument goes that conditions described as occurring in the millennium are seen in the NT as happening between 30-70 AD. To argue this, however, requires some exceptionally creative exegetical tap-dancing. Let’s look at the arguments, which will hereafter be in italics.

The living were resurrected, awaiting the consummation of the resurrection at the last hour (John 5:24-28; 6:44). Notice Jesus’ “the hour is coming and now is” and “the hour is coming.” John later wrote: “It is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The resurrection scenario of Revelation is not different from John 5. The fact that 1 John says the consummative last hour was upon them proves that the end of the millennium was near.

The error here is the same made by Mormons who try to force John 5:24-5 to refer to the evangelizing of the dead. There are two “hour is coming” references. One in 5:25 refers to the enlivening of those spiritually dead. The other, in 5:29, refers to an entirely different hour, that of the final resurrection; there is no justification for compressing the two “hours” into one.

In the same way, there is no justification for identifying the “hour” on 1 John 2:18 with either of these “hours”. The word used, hora, can connote a specified length of time like our hour, but it also refers to a known, definite time period (cf. Matt. 10:19, 24:36). Collapsing down all “hours” as being the same is linguistic simple-mindedness. In 1 John 2:18, the proper question to ask is, “the last hour of what”? Then the question is whether that “hour” is the same as either of those in John 5.

Of course, the question can then become whether what is described in John 5:28-9 happened in the first century, and that point – which has to do with what “resurrection” constitutes – we reserve for another article in this series.

The next several items apparently ought to go together, but we will intersperse as needed:

The martyrs sat on thrones and were given authority to judge (Revelation 20:4). The martyrs were told that they would only have to wait a little while before their full victory was achieved, but first, their living brethren had to suffer to fill the measure of suffering (Revelation 6:9-11).

The living and the dead had been enthroned with Christ “in the heavenlies” (Ephesians 2:1-6).

This last point requires a correction. It is being taken to refer to a literal enthroning of the living and the dead, but that is not what is being described here. Rather, this is a statement of our collective identity in the body of Christ, and is an expression of the collectivist (group-thinking) of the social world of the NT, in which Christ represents us. It is an obvious mistake that comes of reading the text in modern, individualist terms, and this text no more means there are literally people judging with Christ at this time than “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) means that Paul literally hung on a cross with Jesus in 30 AD.

It is in this way also that believers could in a sense be said to “reign” with Christ – by the mode of collective identification. Thus it could be said that believers reigned by proxy, as it were, but not that they literally and effectively ruled and administered.

In contrast, what is seen in Revelation reflects a literal administration. Conceivably, one could argue (here and for other citations below) that Revelation here also symbolizes administration by proxy. That is not likely, since it is a select group, not the body of Christ, said to judge. However, even if this were the case, all it would tell us is that rule of believers by Christ’s proxy was not exclusively a characteristic of the millennial period – and indeed, based on the collectivist mindset, it could not be anyway.

The living had been given the authority to judge (Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16). In Matthew 19:28 Jesus told the apostles that they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This judgment would take place through the message they preached (Matthew 16:19; cf. 2 Corinthians 2:15f).

Here again events have been illicitly collapsed into one. The “judgers” of Matthew 19 are the twelve. The “judgers” of the Cor. passages are the whole body of Christ. The “judgers” of Rev. 20 are martyrs for the faith. We have three different (but to some extent, slightly overlapping) groups in view. Although, there is some attempt to collapse these down:

The living saints had to experience the suffering already experienced by the martyrs.

The living would only have to suffer for a little while (Revelation 6:9-11; 1 Peter 1:4f).

Nevertheless, a full collapsing down is not possible here. Very few Christians became martyrs, and the twelve is not the whole body of Christ. Furthermore, there will certainly be ample opportunity for multiple groups to effect various types of judgments – plenty to keep all three groups occupied. There is no reason to collapse all these events into one.

Satan was bound for the millennium. Here too we find common ground with the ministry of Jesus and the forty years.

When Jesus cast a demon out of a man, the disciples marveled. Jesus’ said that this was not possible unless the strong man was being bound (Matthew 12:29). As he sent his disciples out on the “limited commission” they returned incredulous at their success. Jesus told them: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18; cf. Revelation 12).

This is a rather curious understanding of what it means to be “bound”. A single, localized instance of a demon (not even Satan) being cast out of a man is not a binding of Satan. Nor is falling from heaven being “bound”. The word used in Revelation connotes such things as John the Baptist being put in prison and the colt being tied to its place before Jesus’ disciples retrieve it. In contrast, Peter (1 Peter 5:8) later in the NT period (during the supposed millennium!) has Satan prowling around like a lion, and throughout the NT Satan is suspected of a certain amount of activity as well; nothing so trivial as ruining BBQs a la Joyce Meyer, but tempting, acting as an agent of destruction, and so on. Later on, the hyperpreterist amazingly cites 1 Peter 5:8 as evidence of the millennium ending; we will get to that shortly.

Appeal is also made thusly:

We have the binding of the enemy of God: “You know what is restraining him...” “The one who now restrains him will do so until he is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:5-7); the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-4).


Unfortunately, there is no possibility of identifying the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3) with Satan, and it is he, not Satan, who was being restrained. Who this “man of sin” is can be debated; I am inclined to identify him with the Roman Emperor Vespasian at present. However, there remains no way Satan could be in view, especially in light of all the other references to his activity in the NT.

Paul said the last enemy, death, would be put down at Christ’s parousia (1 Corinthians 15:19-25). John said death would be destroyed at the end of the millennium (Revelation 20:10f). Therefore, Christ’s parousia would be at the end of the millennium: Jesus said “Behold, I come quickly!” Thus, the end of the millennium was near when John wrote.

Here the error is one we have noted in our article on Paul (link below) and eschatology. It assumes that parousia refers exclusively to a single event. In reality it would have no such exclusive connotations.

One way of determining whether the forty year period could have been the millennium is to examine what was to happen at the end of the millennium, and to compare that with the language of imminence found in the NT. If the events that Revelation posits at the end of the millennium were coming soon in the rest of the NT, this constitutes prima facie evidence that the end of the millennium was near.

Examples, however, are rather poor for proving the point.

1.) Satan released– 1 Peter 5:8 – “The Devil walks around seeking whom he may devour.”

But 1 Peter was written before the end of the 40 year period – the alleged “millennium”. Revelation has Satan released after that period is over. There is no “coming soon” in Peter’s words – Satan is seeking victims NOW, in his present. There is no “language of imminence” or any qualification that fits such a thing (e.g., Peter not knowing if it would occur in or past his lifetime).

2.) War with the saints – 1 Peter 1:4f – The Saints had to suffer a little while (cf. Revelation 12:10).

Persecution, however, continues even to this day, past the alleged millennium, though mostly in other places in the world than the West. Being persecuted is not an exclusive characteristic of any period.

3.) Destruction of Satan – Romans 16:20 – “The God of peace shall crush Satan under your feet shortly.” Simply stated: The destruction of Satan would be at the end of the millennium. But, the destruction of Satan was near when Paul wrote Romans. Therefore, the end of the millennium was near when Paul wrote Romans.

This too reflects a rather idiosyncratic definition. As I say in the article linked below:

It is far from clear that Paul here necessarily refers to an eschatological condition. God could "bruise Satan" in any number of ways in the temporal life of the believer. However, the phrase used for "shortly" (en tachei) could also have two meanings: either shortly in time or speedily, with dispatch.
Witherington notes that the phrase is adverbial and should indicate manner. [31] The verse tells us how, not when, Satan will be crushed. There is, in any event, no contextual reference to the parousia or any event associated with Christ's return or advent; and even if not, preterism holds that Satan was bound around 70 AD, so that it could be argued that this prediction was fulfilled.

Either way, “destruction” is far too strong a word to use for what is described here.

4.) The resurrection– (i.e. “the rest of the dead,” who came to life after the 1000 years, 20:7-12) – Christ was “ready (hetoimos) to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).

5.) Opening of the books / judgment – “There are some standing here that shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28).

It is hard to see what point is being reached for here. That Christ is “ready” to judge people in the afterlife does not mean they are resurrected, or will be any time soon. Nor does Matthew 16 say anything about the books of judgment being opened.

6.) Heaven and earth fled, the New Creation– God dwells with man – “These things must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 22:6, 10-12).

This, however, has all of what is predicted in Revelation as a referent, which by the preterist view includes events of the first century – indeed, by the orthodox view, all but a few lines occurred in the first century, and those lines are cordoned off with a promise of a wait of a “thousand years” – which we are still waiting to be explained as merely 40 years by the hyper-preterist.

A point follows arguing for the end of the millennium as fulfilling Israel’s Feast of Tabernacles, in which it is roundaboutly added:

It is commonly argued that the “ceremonial aspects” of Torah ended at the cross, and that Israel ceased to be God’s covenant people at the cross, while OT prophecy remained (to AD 70) or remains valid (futurism). However, nothing was more “ceremonial” or prophetic, than Israel’s covenantal feast days! The fact that Revelation 20-21 depicts the fulfillment of Israel’s last three feast days at the end of the millennium proves that the “ceremonial” aspects of Torah remained valid when John wrote.

Not at all; this is a non sequitur. Even if we accept the notion that events at the end of the millennium somehow “fulfill” the Feast of Tabernacles – a rather vague claim that is akin to claims that Jesus “imitated” certain pagan deities in that he, like they, offered “salvation” – such a fulfillment would not require a present and continuing observation of that Feast by humans. This is simply a desperate stretch. God is hardly dependent on continuing human observation of holidays for fulfillments of this sort to occur. Nor would it be required for humans to recognize such a connection, since this writer has done so (however correctly – or not) 2000+ years after the fact.

That said, it is far better to see the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles in terms of the Holy Spirit residing within individual believers – which occurred c. 30 AD.

One last non sequitur is forced in, where it is said that Daniel 12 predicted the final resurrection of all men. We will deal with more detailed claims in that regard in another entry in this series. In the end, no success was had at compressing 1000 years into 40 – and it is akin to offering a single egg and claiming to offer a dozen.

Paul and the end times

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Snap: "Urban Apologetics"

Here's yet another gateway apologetics book, and it has a very good special niche which you can discern from the title. Brooks is writing to those who wish to minister in inner city settings. The urban apologist may not get very far in such settings with a 10 point argument for the Resurrection; at least not until they've first addressed things like social issues important to urban dwellers, such as poverty. As some have observed, there are times in apologetics where you have to come to people on a human level first. 

The incoming reader may look at the chapters and think, "Gee, this guy is all over the place on topics." He's not, really: I haven't ministered in inner cities, but as a former state prison employee, I met plenty of inmates from that sort of region, and I can assure you that each chapter is relevant, even the one that talk about various cults of Islam.

So, if you think inner city ministry is in your future -- give this one a whirl.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Book Snap: "Rethinking Hell"

A book like this one is of the type that makes me feel like someone watching two boxers beat each other up, knock each other out, each unaware that the prize they were fighting for was already taken by someone else. Rethinking Hell is of the genre of what you could call a "convenience collection" of previously-published materials, assembled in one place for ease. (A very sound tactic I use, too.) Multiple essays here are collected to defend the premise of conditionalism/annihilationism, the idea that human spirits who are not part of Christ's covenant end up annihilated after judgment.

Like I said, though, this is one of those things where I'm mostly a bystander. My own view of hell, based in the agonistic context of the New Testament, bypasses many of the criticisms of a literal-fire hell that these varied authors stand against. This view also happens to undermine attempts made by some in this volume to read "fire" passages about hell in terms of annihilation, since such terms already come semantically occupied by another metaphorical fulfillment (that of shame). I did say "some". Others in this volume actually reach close to my view, reading hell in terms of separation from God -- a conclusion they reach without the agonistic tenor, which would end up reinforcing their conclusion even so.

At any rate, this and some other material has led me to update my own little volume on hell, which I expect to have ready next month. You should pick this one up if you want to get up to snuff on the debate, even if (like me) you don't buy into the same conclusions.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

An Illustration of "Copycat" Logic

A recent news story from my neck of the woods offers a handy illustration of a sort of poor argument method that characterizes many critics I know -- ranging from "copycat" Christ theorists to those who adhere to the "Mark stole from Homer" thesis.
 ***

 The dome atop downtown Tampa’s SunTrust tower honors sports teams and special events with its multicolored, digital light display.

So as the U.S. team opened World Cup play Monday night against Ghana, soccer fans might have been puzzled to look up and see the skyscraper’s dome aglow in stripes of red, yellow and green.

Those would be the colors of the Ghana flag .

At one time, they also were the colors of Shriners International — the service organization headquartered on Rocky Point that the 500-foot-high LED display was intended to honor.

“Basically it’s a coincidental thing,” said Melissa Cronk, assistant general manager for Jones Lange LaSalle, which manages the 36-floor SunTrust Financial Centre. 

This came to mind because of late, someone has been writing to me asking about some of the arguments of this sort made at "jesusneverexisted.com." The essence of such arguments is that because the critic is uneducated about relevant Biblical contexts, when they see a seeming "parallel" between the Biblical text and something else in the Biblical world, they assume that it can't be a coincidence.

By way of illustration, because World Cup dominates people's thinking right now, they assumed that the tricolor feature on this building could not have any other meaning. This is in spite of the fact that these colors (red, yellow, and green) are commonplaces. For all they knew the building was celebrating National Stoplight Week.

At any rate, just an amusing illustration of how these things go.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Book Snap: Mark Lanier's "Christianity on Trial"

For today we have another gateway apologetics book to consider, and this one's more of a familiar trope: Lanier is a well-known attorney who takes a legal approach to apologetics. How does he do? I can't say entirely, since only one chapter is within my expertise (on the Resurrection). I'll be sending this one to Nick Peters to evaluate the rest. What I can say for sure is that Lanier's presentation is satisfactory for a gateway book. It's not exactly the "hit 'em with evidence hard" approach, though; it's more of a methodological apologetic, with Lanier explaining in some depth how he would approach arguing his case if he were in court (for example, what witnesses he would call, and why).

As an information guy, who has also worked in a law library, this was nothing new for me, but I can see how new readers would benefit. So by all means, give it a shot.