Responding To Elton Hollen’s Critique of Full Preterism- #2- Installment #1

A Second Response to Elton Hollon’s Critique of Full Preterism

Be sure to read the previous installments in my exchange with my friend Elton Hollon. I had hoped to respond to his last post earlier but as they say “life happens.” I won’t bore you with the details. Since this response is so lengthy I will break it up into several installments. This is technically my Second Response to Hollon. Thus, it is #2, and installment #1 = #2-#1.

Hollon suggests that I do not understand “the eschatological interpretations” and consequently, “his (my-DKP) responses are faulty because they are based on these misunderstandings.” Consequently, he says, “He also fails to engage specific data that strongly supports them.” Of course, I strongly disagree with these claims.

Hollon presents three possible “solutions” to the full preterist argument that if / since the time statements concerning the imminent parousia are to be taken at face value, that this suggests either that Jesus’ predictions failed – since time did not end imminently – or, the language of his coming must be viewed as metaphoric, non-literal language.

//Our article identifies problems with the reasoning. Regarding the first argument:
1. The logic is unsound because P1 is false (the antecedent is true and consequent false) on three
eschatological interpretations, each of which enjoys more substantial support than preterism:

a. Proleptic Futurism
A: Jerusalem’s Destruction (vv. 5-53 – Sic- “23″)
B: Parousia (vv. 24-27) [Proleptic Presentation for Future Fulfillment].
A`: Jerusalem’s Destruction as Context for Parables of the Parousia (vv. 28-37).

b. Interwoven Futurism.
A: Jerusalem’s Destruction (vv. 5-53- Sic- “23″)
B: Eschaton (vv. 24-27) [Future Fulfillment] A`: Parable of Jerusalem’s Destruction (vv. 28-31)
B`: Parable of the Eschaton (vv. 32-37)

c. Failed Futurism
A: Jerusalem’s Destruction (vv. 5-53)
B: Parousia (vv. 24-27) [Failed Imminent Expectation] A`: Jerusalem’s Destruction as Context for Parables of the Parousia (vv. 28-37).

2. The argument is motivated by theology and the desire to avoid error.
a. The motivation is inappropriate since the question, ‘What does this text mean?’, is scientific//

Notice that in each of these proposed arguments it is taken for granted / assumed without proof (petitio principii) that in the Olivet Discourse, either the apostles asked about a cosmic consummation, (mistakenly conflating that with the impending judgment on Jerusalem), or, Jesus foretold such an event. But this assumption is the very thing that must be proven for any futurist interpretation of the Discourse. It appears to me therefore, that we have arguments that are driven by “theology” and not, in fact, by science or proper exegesis.

We are justified in asking some pertinent questions, which I touched on in my first response. Chief among those questions is, did the apostles have legitimate, Biblically based reasons for conflating the judgment of Jerusalem and Great Tribulation with the parousia and the end of the age? If there was a solid connection (justified by the Tanakh and Jesus’ own teaching) between those two events, then the widely admitted objective statements of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem can be accepted as validly applied to the parousia as well.

In other words, if there is a direct exegetically validated link between the fall of Jerusalem and the coming of Christ then since Jesus’ predictions that Jerusalem was to be desolated imminently were fulfilled, that means that his predictions of his coming were also fulfilled non-physically.

A great deal of Hollon’s argumentation is based on the view that the Gospels were written ex eventu- after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. He posits Mark as AD 67-74, and Matthew later still. He shares examples of how both Matthew and Mark do not provide documentation of the fulfillment of their predictions, and notes that you have both narrative and target discussion. In other words, in Matthew 23:37f Jesus spoke of the coming desolation of Jerusalem in the present tense – the narrative: “Your house is left to you desolate.” But, while ostensibly writing well after that anticipated judgment, neither Matthew or Mark chronicle the fulfillment of the “target” of that narrative, the actual fall of the city. This is taken as an example of prolepsis.

The problem here is that the late dating of the Gospels can be justifiably rejected, as I documented in my first response. While it is true that in some instances neither Matthew or Mark document the fulfillment of the “target narrative,” it is also true that they commonly do, e.g. they both record the predictions of Jesus’ resurrection, (the narrative) as well as the fulfillment (the target) of that prediction. And we are justified in asking, as John A. T. Robinson did, given the enormous importance of the destruction of the temple, demonstrated by the fact that Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the prediction of her demise, why do none of them record the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction? After all, if one of the purposes of their respective gospels was to present Jesus as the prophet of God, it would have served their purpose extremely well, if they wrote ex eventu, to call attention to that fulfillment just as they did the fulfillment of his predictions of his resurrection. As an illustration, it is well known that Julian the Apostate emperor set out to rebuild the temple because the Christians were constantly appealing to that past event as proof that Jesus was God’s true prophet and Son. Why would Matthew, Mark, Luke not utilize the same polemic argument?

Hollon anticipated such a question / response by his appeal to prolepsis. He says that since Mark records the fulfillment of Jesus’ personal resurrection promises, but then omits the parousia, that, “By grounding the eschatological hope in accepted history, Mark assures his reader that the Son of Man’s visible cloud coming will likewise come to pass.”

The assumption here, once again, is that Mark had in mind a literal end of human history parousia. But this overlooks the fact that Mark, like Matthew and Luke, tied the parousia to his generation: “Assuredly I say to you, this generation shall not pass until all of these things will be fulfilled.” Also, if Mark anticipated a proposed “end of time” it goes without saying that he would not have recorded such a (past) event, does it not? I find no justification for divorcing “this generation” from the parousia prediction especially in light of the Matthean and Lukan records.

If we accept the early dating of Mark and the other Gospels- which I do- then the omission of a record of that event – as the parousia – is perfectly natural since it was, to state the obvious, still future. The importance of this question is magnified by the reality that Mark (with Matthew and Luke) consistently present the destruction of Jerusalem as a future event. There is no hint of a past fulfillment. This is particularly relevant when one realizes that all of the Gospels commonly relate the actions of Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, even “minor” prophecies: “this was done that it might be fulfilled” (CF. Also Luke 21:22). It seems incongruous that Jesus would make such an astounding prophecy, and state that in that event, “all things written must be fulfilled” and yet, neither Matthew or Luke, supposedly writing well after that astounding event, does not tell us, “and so it came to pass”; or, “and so all was fulfilled” or, “this was done that it might fulfill what Jesus said.”

There are other daunting problems. Modern scholarship suggests that Mark was attempting to provide some dissonance reduction (disappointment over the failed parousia) by telling his readers, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24-26)- my emphasis).

So, Mark, writing after AD 70, to an audience that was ostensibly struggling with the fact that Jesus had not come when he was supposed to, informs them that what was really meant was that the parousia was to be after– sometime after – the judgment on Jerusalem. But this raises several questions:

Where did those early believers get the idea that Christ was supposed to have already come?

How, precisely, do the words, “But in those days, after that tribulation” justify or suggest a now two millennia delay?

The attempt at dissonance reduction fails- badly so – it seems to me, when we consider Matthew’s parallel account. Again, keep in mind that the Gospel writers were supposedly writing to comfort the hearts of believers disappointed at the “non-occurrence” of Jesus’ parousia at the appointed time, i.e. in the first century generation. That time was now well past, we are told, and thus, disillusionment was setting in. So, the Gospel writers wrote, informing their readers that Christ’s parousia was to be after the fall of Jerusalem, but no one knows how much later. This is problematic, as I noted in my first response.

Matthew’s Gospel would have not only failed to reduce the dissonance among the believers, it would have exacerbated it. Notice what he said: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29f).

So, whereas Mark simply says “after the tribulation,” Matthew says that the parousia would be “immediately after” the tribulation, i.e. after the fall of Jerusalem. “Immediately” is from eutheos, (Eutheōs, Strong’s #2112). The word undeniably conveys the idea of “immediately.” This language actually establishes the linkage between the tribulation and the parousia. It does not suggest a period of decades, nor hundreds, certainly not thousands of years. So, if Matthew’s goal was to comfort and educate his audience about the supposed failed (delayed) parousia, and if he wrote decades after AD 70, exactly how would his emphasis that the parousia was to be linked “immediately” to the destruction of Jerusalem provide any such comfort or consolation?

Scholars recognize that Matthew’s use of eutheos poses a threat to the idea of a distinction between the Jerusalem judgment and the parousia. Hollon offers three different arguments to counter this:

1. Examination of Matthew is to be ignored since the discussion is about Mark.

2. It is maintained that eutheos is a redactional addition, and not original.

3. Eutheos is one of Mark’s favorite words but he omitted it in his Discourse which supposedly suggests that he did not intend that the idea was present.

He offers that these three points to invalidate my appeal to Matthew and yet, he nonetheless notes that, “Mark does not identify the date of the Parousia but retains imminence.”

I find Hollon’s three reasons for discounting the Matthean eutheos to be far less than probative.

The fact that the discussion is about Mark and not Matthew seems more evasive than exegetical. Should we have such an atomistic approach to the Scriptures? Furthermore, it is ironic that scholars constantly remind us that Matthew and Luke constantly draw from Mark. They do not suggest that we examine Mark in isolation.

Second, the claim that Matthew’s eutheos , “is a redactional addition, and not original” is not documented with any MSS support. The claim seems, at best, to be based on a presuppositonal, “Mark should have” idea, rather than any textual data.

Third, the argument that since eutheos is one of Mark’s favorite words, thus, he must have had a theological reason for omitting it in his Discourse, is somewhat speculative. Does this not place a literary / journalistic rule on Mark that he must conform to our modern concept of what he would have or should have done? Since it is admitted that while Mark omitted eutheos, he still retained imminence, does this not intimate that he had no“ulterior” motive for omitting eutheos? Could his omission simply be a stylistic omission? While patterns of usage are indeed helpful and even suggestive at times, it is questionable that it should become our determinative principle.

I suggest therefore, that the three reasons offered to counter my appeal to Matthew 24:29 are far less than convincing.

A final question, why were readers of Mark disillusioned that the Lord had not come in the judgment of Jerusalem? What made them make the linkage between Jerusalem’s fall and the Lord’s parousia? As I will demonstrate, there was, in the Tanakh, an inseparable connection between the demise of Jerusalem, the time of the Great Tribulation and the eschaton.

Consider also: If, as commonly posited, the Gospels were written to convince the world that Jesus was the true prophet of God, the Son of God, how would chronicling the failed prediction of the end of the world for Jesus’ (past) generation accomplish that task? Would not all readers of the Gospels have well understood that there had been no literal fulfillment of Matthew 24:29-31 or Mark 13:24f? How could Mark’s retaining of imminence have helped with the dissonance in the Christian community?

There was, to be sure, among the Dead Sea Community and in the wider Jewish community a literalistic expectation concerning the coming of Messiah. Their eschatological expectation included the idea that Messiah was to come at the time of the judgment of Jerusalem. They also believed that in the end time War, they were to be God’s instrument to defeat the Romans. Of course, Jerusalem fell and was not restored, the Romans were not defeated, the DSC was actually annihilated, Messiah did not come as a conquering Warrior, a Messianic earthly kingdom had not been established, as they expected it to be. There was a resultant despair in the rabbinc circles.

Lloyd Gaston shares how some Rabbis sought to cope with the disaster of AD 70. Some took the view that with the fall of Jerusalem: “The coming of the final redemption depended no longer on an apocalyptic plan but only on the repentance of Israel.” Likewise, some of the Rabbis said: “All dates for the end have expired and the matter now depends solely on repentance and good works.” We read in the Sanhedrin 43:1, “and the Sanhedrin wept, Oy vo voy l’anu” “Woe to us, for the temple has been destroyed and the Messiah has not come.””

There was clearly a connection between the judgment of Jerusalem and the eschaton in early Jewish thought. There was likewise a connection in the minds of the early church. As I noted in my third installment, there was a “crisis of faith” following the fall of Jerusalem over the supposedly failed eschaton. This is shown in Clement of Rome, in the Shepherd of Hermas and other early writings.

It is worthwhile to note that a growing number of scholars are positing that Gnosticism actually arose in Egypt, among Jews disillusioned with the failed eschatology following the destruction of Jerusalem. Carl Smith suggests that Gnosticism was the direct result of “disappointed Jewish apocalypticism and / or Messianism.” That disappointment was greatest after AD 70. R. M. Grant says, “We are committed to the thesis that Gnosticism originated out of apocalyptic Judaism.”

The point here is that there was clearly a linkage in both Jewish sources, including the DS Community, in wider Jewish expectation, and in Christian thought between the parousia and the destruction of Jerusalem. If not, why the “crisis of faith” in all of those groups following that catastrophe, a crisis that even led to the rise of Gnosticism? More to come.