Monday, July 9, 2012

Foiling a Fundy on Olivet

Recently a certain fundamentalist of the sort that considers scholarship to be of the devil (or something like that) released a rather amusing analysis to argue that Luke 21’s version of the Olivet Discourse is actually an entirely different discourse from the parallels in Mark 13 and Matthew 24. I updated my article on the Olivet Discourse (link below) to offer some pointers to the absurdity of this claim in general, but here I want to go after some specific arguments made in favor by this fundamentalist which I don’t believe deserve a place in the article.

It should be noted that this fundamentalist is compelled to admit that the identification of all three as the same discourse is a “popular misconception amongst scholars.” When someone accuses scholars of a widespread misconception, it behooves them to have many and stronger reasons to think they are better educated and better informed than these scholars, or at least use sources that are. As it is, the author of this piece is and offers nothing of the sort; but the arguments themselves indicate this anyway.

Charge 1: “Preterists typically presume higher critical source theories which demand that Matthew and Luke copied Mark and another document (never proven to exist) called Q.”

I have yet to see any preterist make any such assumption; perhaps they do somewhere, but for my part, I do not. I think Matthew came first (which the fundamentalist also believes) and that he and Mark are using common oral tradition to create independent works. I also think Q never existed, and that Luke had access to Mark and an early version of Matthew in Aramaic (he clearly says he uses sources). So that’s not and never has been my basis for equating all three passages.

Charge 2: Saying that Jesus is using “hyperbole” when he says, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21, Mark 13:19) is saying “the text does not really mean what it actually says” and is “special pleading of the worst kind.”

There’s an irony here in that this is exactly the sort of reasoning fundy atheists like Farrell Till and C. Dennis McKinsey have used to dismiss certain interpretations. I’ll leave it at that as I have answered this point fully in the article linked below, showing the absurdity of arguing that these are two versions of the same teaching (an allowable explanation in some contexts, to be sure, but not this time). I have also covered there the specific arguments made about the teachings being in different locations (this is not at all clear). But I will cover this one here:

Charge 3: “Jesus is actually answering a different question in Luke and Matthew. In Luke, they are asking him about the destruction of the temple (Lk 21:7) but in Matthew they privately ask him about the end of the age and his return (Mt 24:3).”

I am covering this here because it is one of the more manifestly false claims and involves dishonesty rather than interpretation. Let’s start with fuller quotes than the fundamentalist uses:

Matthew 24:1-3 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to [him] for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

Luke 21:5-7 And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said,  [As for] these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign [will there be] when these things shall come to pass?

The fundamentalist only quotes the portions in bold, which obscures the obvious fact that in both cases “these things” refers to the destruction of the Temple. Thus when the fundamentalist says, “Luke is public teaching concerning the destruction of the temple but Matthew is a private teaching about the end times,” he is clearly covering up the fact that Matthew’s report of the question is also about the destruction of the Temple.

It may be replied that there is a difference because Matthew says “sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world,” while Luke says, “when these things shall comes to pass.” But despite the verbiage, they’re saying the same thing, although a fundamentalist resistant to serious scholarship would not know this: The destruction of the Temple (Luke) signified the end of the old covenant. That in turn signified (Matthew) the advent (“coming” – actually, parousia), and also the end of the age (not “world” – the word used is aion, which means a period of time) of the law as covenant.

Additionally, a comment on “private teaching”. From a social science perspective, it is manifestly obvious that Luke’s teaching would also have had to have been a “private” one for Jesus’ disciples, since it is filled with information exclusively for Jesus’ ingroup, giving them instructions on what to do, warning that they will be persecuted, advising them that Jesus will give them wisdom to speak, etc. Obviously this cannot be a public teaching intended for just anyone, and it would never have been announced publicly in the Temple as it would be like giving away the ingroup’s treasures. The likely reason Luke omits this point is to avoid giving his Roman readers (like Theophilus) the impression that Christianity is some sort of deviant secret society, but it really doesn’t make any difference.

Charge 4: “Jesus makes them distinct temporally…. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus lists a series of birth pains (Mt 24:6-8 c.f. Lk 21:10-12). However, Matthew follows the list with “Then (after) they will deliver…” (v.9) However, Luke follows the birth pains with “But before all of this…” (v.12).”

The absurdity of pressing this is made clear inasmuch as the things that are said to happen “then” are things that happened to Christians starting from just after the time Jesus rose from the dead: being delivered up to be afflicted, being hated, false prophets arising, etc.  It is also overturned by Matt. 24:14 (“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”), which, as we have noted, refers to the oikoumene – the Roman Empire. That means this prophecy had a very short shelf life – as I have argued elsewhere, aptly fulfilled by 70 AD.

So it’s not wise to try to squeeze too much chronology out of “then” here. What’s the answer? It really doesn’t matter since precision chronology was not a concern for people of the Biblical world. Arguably “then” here carries a sense of “at that time” (which, according to lexical sources, is also an acceptable reading). When it comes down to is, the matches of content are far more informative while the temporal markers in Matthew is equivocal.

That’s all we have for now, but our fundamentalist is the sort who tends to bang his head on a wall (though even then, it seems he misses the wall frequently), so we may be back with more later.


  1. Something I ask dispies is if this is about the return of Christ, where is the resurrection in this? There is no mention whatsoever of one. Surely Jesus wouldn't leave a detail like resurrection out when Paul in 1 Thess. and 1 Cor. always connects it with the physical return of Christ.

  2. mmmm omnom... mind food! omnom! Good stuff JP.