This is part three of my review and response to an article by Cougan Collins. The article was sent to one of the members of our congregation here in Ardmore, Oklahoma, I assume to rescue him from "the error of his ways." Then, an edited and revised version of the article was printed in the "Gospel Guardian." It appears that the article is "making the rounds." It has been posted on PlanetPreterist.com and other sites as well.
Since Collins wrote his article he has assumed the pulpit duties of the Lone Grove church of Christ, in Lone Grove, Oklahoma. In his article he says that he studied with a preterist, and that his articles spring from those encounters.
I studied with Mr. Collins on several occasions, and I can only assume that he refers to me in the article. Frankly, when I read his article I was somewhat taken back with his confidence that he had debunked Covenant Eschatology since, on several occasions he admitted that he could not refute what I was presenting. I must say however, that during our studies, I often commented to my wife afterwards that I was concerned that Mr. Collins was not studying to learn, but seemed to have a hidden agenda. When confronted with evidence for which he had no answers, Mr. Collins would simply admit that, and change the subject, or ignore what had been presented.
So far, we have addressed two of Collins’ points. In order to do any justice, I must go into a bit more detail than he has done in his presentation. The reader should notice however, that Collins does not actually exegete passages. He makes assertions about what passages mean, but does not offer proof. Thus, for instance, he argues that 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of the resurrection. The resurrection has not occurred. Therefore, preterism is false. This is essentially the depth of his argumentation. This is a good debater’s trick, but proves nothing.
The Fulfillment of All Prophecy
Point #3: The 70AD doctrine teaches that all prophecy was fulfilled by 70AD and that the law was still in effect for the Jews until that time. To make this whole argument crumble all one needs to do is produce one prophecy that was fulfilled after 70AD. Before I do that, I want to show that the verse they take out of context to support their view does not teach what they say it does. "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18). Those who hold the AD 70 view will say, "see the law cannot pass away until all is fulfilled." In order to understand what is being said here lets examine the context. In Matthew 5: 17 Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." In this passage Jesus tells us that He did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. With this in mind, we can understand that in verse 18 the law will not pass away until Jesus fulfills it.
Please note that Collins first of all tries to differ with advocates of Covenant Eschatology, and then agrees! He says that the advocates of Realized Eschatology argue, based on Matthew 5:17-18, that the entirety of the Old Law had to be fulfilled before any of it could pass. This is of course true! That is precisely what we teach, because that is exactly what Jesus taught, by Collin’s own admission! The rest of Collins’ article seeks then to mitigate the very words that he as quoted from the mouth of Jesus.
Jesus wanted to make sure his disciples understood this, so after he was raised from dead, he said the following. "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me" (Luke 24:44). Jesus’ point that He is trying to get across to His disciples is this. Remember when I said the law would not pass away till all was fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18)? That has now happened! This same thought is also found in Acts 13:27-29.
Was Jesus saying that the entirety of the Old Law was fulfilled by his passion? This is absolutely essential for Collins’ paradigm. He believes the Old Law passed at the Cross. Of course, Collins does not tell us how all of the Law was fulfilled on the Cross, yet Jesus was not raised until three days later! If the Law was fulfilled, and nailed to the Cross, then even the resurrection, being after the Cross, was not necessary for the passing of the Law!
Collins makes the typical church of Christ arguments concerning Matthew 5:17-18, arguments that completely ignore what Jesus actually said.
Please take careful note of what Jesus actually said, he said not one jot, not one tittle of the Law could pass until it was all fulfilled. This is indisputable. He did not say that the entire Old Law would pass when part of what if foretold was fulfilled. Yet, this is exactly what Collins believes. Collins has Jesus saying that all would pass when some was fulfilled, when Jesus actually said none would pass until it was all fulfilled! Collins turns Jesus’ words upside down.
The question is, was every single thing foretold in the Old Testament fulfilled at the Cross? This is the fundamental, crucial issue that Collins must answer, and that he conveniently ignores. He hopes his readers will not notice this huge issue.
Here are a few thoughts to ponder that Collins, in my private studies with him, was never able to answer:
- Was the establishment of the church / kingdom foretold in the Old Law? If it was, and Collins believes it was, then since Jesus said not one single iota of the Old Law could pass until it was all fulfilled, then until the church / kingdom was established, the Law could not pass. Now, some church of Christ ministers are willing to concede that the Law continued until Pentecost and the time of the establishment of the kingdom. However, this will not do! If the Law was removed, abrogated, annulled at the Cross, then that means that everything found therein was fulfilled at the Cross.
Major Premise: None of the Old Law could pass until it was all fulfilled (Jesus). Minor Premise: But, the establishment of the church was foretold by the Old Law (Collins agrees). Conclusion: Therefore, none of the Old Law could pass until the establishment of the church.
- Was the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 foretold by the Old Testament?
Collins admits that Daniel 9:24f (at least), foretold the A.D. 70 catastrophe. Since Jesus said that none of the Old Testament could pass until all of it, not some, not even most, but until all of it was fulfilled, then this means that until the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Old Testament could not pass away!
Major Premise: None of the Old Law could pass until it was all fulfilled (Jesus). Minor Premise: But, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was foretold by the Old Testament (Daniel 9). Conclusion: Therefore, none of the Old Testament could pass until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
- Was the fall of Rome, in A.D. 476, foretold by the Old Testament?
According to Collins (see below), Daniel 2 foretold the destruction of Rome in A.D. 476. This is one of Collins’ key arguments. He says that if he can prove that a single prophecy was fulfilled after A.D. 70, that he has dis-proven the A.D. 70 doctrine. Well, wait just a moment!
Remember that Collins cites Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, that not one iota of the Old Law would pass until it was all fulfilled. Collins admits that the Old Law could not pass until it was all, not some, but all fulfilled. His problem is that he places the fulfillment at the Cross, where, patently, not all of the Old Law was fulfilled. You cannot argue on the one hand that all of the Old Testament was fulfilled at the Cross, and then turn around and argue that Daniel was not fulfilled at the Cross. This is a huge problem for Collins. And yet, he seems unwilling, or unable to see the problem.
By arguing that Jesus was saying the Law was fulfilled at the Cross, Collins has Jesus saying this in Matthew 5: "Verily I say unto you, that all of the Law will pass when some of the Law, that is, my passion foretold in the Law, is fulfilled."
But clearly, Jesus did not say all of it would pass when some of it was fulfilled. He said none of it would pass until it was all fulfilled. It is lamentable that Collins refuses to accept the Lord’s unmistakable words. Take a look at Collins’ position stated logically in light of what Jesus taught:
Major Premise: None of the Old Law could pass until it was all fulfilled. (Jesus) Minor Premise: But, the Old Law foretold the destruction of Rome in A. D. 476. (Collins) Conclusion: Therefore, none of the Old Law could pass until it was all fulfilled at the destruction of Rome in A.D. 476.
Since Collins does not believe that the Old Law continued valid until A.D. 476, his argument that the Old Testament foretold the fall of Rome is wrong, or, his argument that the Law passed at the Cross is wrong. He cannot have it both ways.
- Does the Old Testament predict the final resurrection, Christ’s parousia and the judgment? Yes it does!
In my studies with Collins I noted that Peter’s eschatology was from the Old Testament (2 Peter 3.1-3, 13). Paul in his doctrine of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:54f), said that his gospel was nothing but the hope of Israel (Acts 23-26). He said that the "adoption" the promise of the resurrection, belonged to Israel "after the flesh" (Romans 9.3). In the Apocalypse, John said the consummation of his prophecy would be the fulfillment of all that the prophets foretold (Revelation 10:7).
Virtually all the New Testament writers tell us that their eschatological hopes were based squarely on, and were nothing but, that which was promised in the Old Testament prophets! It is interesting, and significant that in public debates with amillennialists, and even postmillennialists, I have asked the following question: "Are your eschatological hopes based on the Old Testament promises that God made to Old Covenant Israel?" Almost invariably the answer has been, "No." Collins gives the same answer.
To have an eschatology different than the eschatology promised to Israel is to have a different gospel than that proclaimed by the New Testament writers.
However, needless to say, this is totally destructive to the amillennial doctrine. Stated simply — if your eschatological hope is not based on the Old Testament promises that God made to Israel, then you have a different eschatology than did Peter, John, Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers. They tell us repeatedly that their eschatology, their hope, was "the hope of Israel." So, to have an eschatology different than the eschatology promised to Israel is to have a different gospel than that proclaimed by the New Testament writers. Here is the argument:
Major Premise: None of the Old Law could pass until it was all fulfilled (Jesus) Minor Premise:
But, the Old Testament foretold the resurrection, parousia of Christ, and the final judgment (1 Corinthians 54f; 2 Peter 3; Revelation, etc).
Conclusion: Therefore, the Old Law could not, (cannot), pass until the resurrection, parousia of Christ, and the final judgment are fulfilled.
Collins ignores the Biblical testimony as to when all things were to be fulfilled. Daniel 9.24f said that vision and prophecy would be sealed by the end of the 70 Weeks. Collins even admitted in our discussions that the 70 Weeks ended no later than A.D. 70. Well, the sealing of vision and prophecy, by consensus opinion, means the fulfillment of all prophecy.1 Thus, all prophecy would be fulfilled by the end of the 70 Weeks.
This agrees perfectly with Jesus’ words, as he described the fall of Jerusalem (admitted by Collins): "These be the days of vengeance when all things that are written must be fulfilled." John also agreed, saying that the mystery of God foretold by the prophets would be completed when the Seventh Trumpet sounded. The Seventh Trumpet would sound at the time of the judgment of the city "where the Lord was slain" (Revelation 11:8-18). So, Daniel, Jesus, and John all agree — all prophecy would be fulfilled by A.D. 70. This means Collins is wrong. His position is simply untenable. It takes the words of Jesus and distorts them.
This harmonizes perfectly with the numerous Scriptures that state that the Old Covenant was replaced with the New Covenant at the death of Jesus (Heb. 9:15; Heb. 8:6-7; Gal. 3:23-25). The handwriting of requirements of the law were nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14) and put to death in his flesh (Eph. 2:14-16). Paul tells us that the Christians before 70AD were no longer under the law (Rom. 6:15; Rom. 7:1-6; 8:1-4). Those Christians who believed in Jesus and were led by the spirit were no longer under the law (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 5:18).
It is sad that Collins completely ignores the issues that were raised in our studies together. For him to claim that the cited passages say that the Law itself passed away is to ignore the wording of the texts. I understand how this is done, however, since I once did this myself. When I finally got serious about reading the text of the Bible — not injecting my presuppositions, prejudices and traditions into the text — I finally realized what the texts were saying.
First, not one of these passages tell us that the Law itself was done away. As I pointed out in our studies, these passages cited show that those coming into Christ died to the Law (cf. especially Romans 7.4: "you have become dead to the Law by the body of Christ.") There is a huge difference between saying that they had died to the Law, and saying that the Law had died!
Also, as I point out elsewhere, even Colossians 2:14f does not say that the Law was nailed to the Cross. It teaches that the obligation to keep the Law was nailed to the Cross. (See Dunn’s comments in the New International Greek Text Commentary).
What Collins does is typical. He ignores the wording of the te
xt because of his presuppositional views, and then calls those who differ with him false teachers.
Finally, Paul proclaimed that if Christians tried to go back to the law for justification they would fall from grace (Gal. 5:4). Although the law was still being practiced by some of the Jews, its authority ended at the cross and the New Covenant took its place. Contrary to the 70AD doctrine, we have clearly seen that the law was fulfilled at the point of Christ’s death and not at the fulfillment of all prophecy.
This is a straw man point. Of course Paul argued that those who abandoned Christ to return to the Law were fallen from grace! That is not the issue. The issue is whether the Law had passed. No one is disputing whether it was wrong for Christians to abandon Christ and the gospel of grace to return to salvation by the Torah. Collins would be better served by actually addressing the true issue, not by raising "red herring" issues.
Did you notice what Collins said at the end of the statement above? He said that "the law was fulfilled at the point of Christ’s death, and not at the fulfillment of all prophecy." Well, was Christ’s death the fulfillment of prophecy, or Law (or perhaps both)? This is important.
Collins seems to be delineating between the Law and prophecy. Thus, Christ fulfilled the Law, but not all prophecy. However, this is specious. According to the Bible, the prophets were "the law" (Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:20f), and the Law prophesied (Luke 16:16). According to Paul, the Psalms, Jeremiah, and other prophets were called "the law" (Romans 3.19). Finally, Paul said that "the Law" foretold the resurrection (Acts 24.13-15).
It is simply false to say that Christ fulfilled "the Law" but not the prophets. Jesus did not say that none of the Law could pass until only the Law was fulfilled. He was using the term "the law" in its normal, scripturally attested, comprehensive manner to refer to the entirety of the Old Covenant Corpus. Since this is true, when Jesus said that not one jot or one tittle would pass from the Law until it was all fulfilled, Collins is misguided to try to delineate between the Law and the Prophets. That is an unscriptural, unjustified distinction.
Now let us look at one fulfilled prophecy that happened almost 400 years after 70AD. As we look at this, please remember that if I can show one prophecy that was fulfilled after AD 70, then the whole belief system crumbles. In Daniel 2, we four different kingdoms are presented. The fourth kingdom is described as having legs of iron and its feet being partly iron and clay (vs. 33). We learn that this fourth kingdom would be in power at the time the church/kingdom would be setup (vs. 44). Without a doubt, this fourth kingdom is the Roman Empire. In this prophecy, Daniel informs us that the fourth kingdom will be destroyed (vs. 34-35; 44-45). Was the Roman Empire destroyed by 70AD? No, it wasn’t destroyed until 476AD. This one prophecy, by itself, destroys the 70AD doctrine. All prophecy was not fulfilled by 70AD.
First of all, remember the point we made above about the passing of the Law. Collins has created a genuine dilemma for himself and his traditional church of Christ paradigm. Jesus said that none of the Old Law could pass until it was all fulfilled. Now, Collins is appealing to a prophecy from the Old Law, saying it was not fulfilled for over 400 years after A.D. 70. Thus, this demands, prima facia, that the Old Law could not pass until A.D. 476.
Second, one must not forget that in the fall of Jerusalem, the enemies of Christ, were in fact destroyed. This means that since Israel and Rome had been in a conspiracy of persecution against the church that Rome was defeated as well! Nero perished, Jerusalem burned, all at virtually the same time! The enemies of God were vanquished in that same time frame, just as foretold by the prophets! Collins has proven nothing whatsoever.
We have seen that one of the foundation of Collins’ objections to Covenant Eschatology is rotten, and based on specious, and perverted use of the scriptures. Collins, like most who attempt to refute Preterism, is guilty of bad logic, a failure to properly exegete, and bad application of the scriptures.