Thursday, November 4, 2010

Episode 19: Leave the Past Behind

Episode 19 of the Theopologetics Podcast is now available! In this episode I play some calls I made in to the Stand to Reason radio show with Greg Koukl on the topic of preterism, hyperpreterism and skepticism, as a follow up to episodes 17 and 18 in which I interviewed Dee Dee Warren on the same topics.


  1. I heard the interview. Your comment about "this generation" is overly exaggerated. the phrase "this generation, "genea," doesn't always mean "that contemporary generation" everywhere else in the NT. You're just mistaken about that.

    There are at least 8 historical interpretations of "this generation" that can be tracked all the way to the time of Chrysostom. Don Green outlines them in his paper critiquing preterism. Maybe you have interacted with these views in previous podcasts or articles. I don't know. But it is just a bit disingenuous to throw out such a dogmatic comment when there isn't any settled interpretation among scholars on a historical level.

    Additionally, this generation is used in other places within Matthew to speak to faithless people, not just the contemporaries of Jesus, for example, Matthew 11:16-19; 12:39-41,
    45; 16:4, and 17:17.

    I would also point out Barry Horner's study that links "this generation," or what he takes as the Jewish people as a whole, with the prophetic indicator "these things" which can be translated "till all these things begin to be." His paper is important for you to search over if you wish to accurately represent non-preteristic ideas.

    It may be an interesting study for you as well to do a review of the time texts as used in the LXX. As a pastor friend of mine noted who was once a long time preterist who is now a premillennialist, there are many "near" texts in the OT that were fulfilled hundreds of years in the future from when they were given. The exact same wording is used for them as it is for similar NT "near" texts that preterist appeal to for their system.

  2. Hi, Fred. Thanks for chiming in, I sincerely appreciate it.

    Matthew 11:16-9 is referring to Jesus' contemporary generation of apostate Jews.

    Matthew 12:39-41,45 is referring to Jesus' contemporary generation of apostate Jews.

    Matthew 16:4 is referring to Jesus' contemporary generation of apostate Jews.

    Matthew 17:17 is referring to Jesus' contemporary generation of apostate Jews.

    This is in fact the strength of a preteristic interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, for those passages demonstrate that leading into it, Jesus is repeatedly condemning His contemporary generation of apostate Jews who rejected Him.

    I will, however, check out the links you've provided, and appreciate you sharing them with me.

  3. Also, Fred, just in case you haven't already, I would encourage you to check out my interview with Dee Dee Warren in episodes 17 and 18 of my podcast. We address the question a bit more, and discuss some other strengths of the preterist position.

    I would agree with you, though, that sometimes we might overstate our case, but I think that's a tendency we all struggle with. Premillennialists, Dispensationalists and futurists of all sorts do the same thing all the time, overstating their case against preterism.

    My hope is that the debate will become more fruitful and meaningful over time, whether I continue as a preterist or not, whether others become preterists or not. Unfortunately proponents of both sides have not engaged with one another well historically.

  4. I'll try to check them out, but I am already quite familiar with Dee Dee as I have interacted with her sometime ago on the subject on an email discussion group where I use to frequent.

    Each on of those passages are primarily speaking of quality of individuals, faithless or unbelieving, not just chronology, a group of contemporaries. By limiting the phrase to just one definition you strip the true eschatological meaning from the word. Take for example Matthew 17:17, those words were directed toward Christ's disciples, not to just unbelieving Jews. They were attempting to cast out a demon and they could not. The expression then is speaking to the quality of their faith, not just them being "contemporaries" of Jesus.

    This is seen even more if you trace genna through out the LXX in the OT. Deut. 32:5, 32:20, for example. The expression in both those verses in that particular passage has to do with their faithlessness, not merely their contemporaneous nature.

    But even if you want to argue for a generation to be Christ's contemporaries, other grammatical and exegetical indicators exclude a preterist perspective as a whole as those two articles point out.

  5. With respect, I disagree with you concerning Matthew 17:17. Jesus is not directing His words toward His disciples, He was directing them toward the crowd that approached Him and His disciples--many of which abandoned Christ.

    I further disagree with your understanding of Jesus' repeated use of the phrase. While the lack of faith is certainly a key aspect thereof, it's not the only such key aspect. In this very verse what does Jesus say? "How long shall I be with you?" In every use of the word and phrase Jesus is referring to His contemporaries--yes, those of which are faithless, but nevertheless His contemporaries.

    As for Deuteronomy 32:5 and 27, the LXX does not lend itself to your argument. Again, I agree that faithlessness is a key aspect to the word's usage there, but look what Moses goes on to say: "Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you. Your elders, and they will tell you." Again γενεᾶς is used, and what this demonstrates conclusively is that the author has in mind the current faithless generation.

    I'm interested in looking at more LXX examples and I will check out the links, but quite the opposite of doing damage to the preteristic interpretation, these verses support it.

  6. "Again γενεᾶς is used, and what this demonstrates conclusively is that the author has in mind the current faithless generation." What I mean is, the current, contemporary γενεᾶ is being contrasted with previous γενεᾶς.

  7. One more thing about Matthew 17:17... The Greek word rendered "answered" is ἀποκρίνομαι and from what I remember from a study I did of that word some time ago (my memory might be faulty), it is almost exclusively used when the one doing the answering is responding to a party which had just spoken, which in this case was the crowd, not the disciples. That having been said, even if that weren't the case, it doesn't take away from the fact that while faithlessness is one aspect of judgment pronounced upon a generation, it is only one aspect and the temporal trappings cannot be ignored.

  8. I think temporal baggage is what I meant to say :S

  9. John Reece, a Greek expert at TheologyWeb dismantled the "begin to take place" malarky. I think it might be scattered across multiple threads, I will try to find the links.


    "There are at least 8 historical interpretations of "this generation" that can be tracked all the way to the time of Chrysostom. Don Green outlines them in his paper critiquing preterism. Maybe you have interacted with these views in previous podcasts or articles. I don't know. But it is just a bit disingenuous to throw out such a dogmatic comment when there isn't any settled interpretation among scholars on a historical level. "

    Umm, eight interpretations isn't settled. That supports Chris' point. Or do you think the millennial question is settled because there are a dozen interpretations? Or is eight the magical number, like the Magical Eight Ball, shake it and it will tell you what "this generation" means?

  10. Hey, Dee. Thanks for joining the debate! And thanks again for letting me interview you :)

    Please do post the link if you find it. I'll poke around at TWeb and try to find it, too.

  11. Dee, is this the link to Reece's original words: I got this from your page here.

  12. I'm reading Don Green's paper right now, by the way. I haven't gotten to the list of interpretations of "this generation" to which you refer, Fred, but I do find some of what I've read so far rather silly.

    For example, he insists that, regardless of passages preterists point to in the Old Testament which use apocalyptic language symbolically, nevertheless we must by default read the language in Matthew 24 literally, and only for contextual reasons abandon a literal meaning in favor of a symbolic one. This is rather ridiculous. Preterists are not merely pointing to a scattered few uses of apocalyptic language, amongst many others in which the language is used literally, to say our understanding is plausible. Quite the contrary, we're saying that the established pattern in the Old Testament is that this language is symbolic. In other words, other exegetical factors aside, the onus is upon the futurist to demonstrate that, despite the language's pattern of symbolic use in the Old Testament, we must contrarily understand the language literally in the Olivet Discourse (and Revelation).

    Furthermore, he goes on to suggest that Gentry and other preterists are somehow doing something illicit by interpreting the apocalyptic language in light of verse 34 and not the other way around. This is, again, silly, for a few reasons. First, Green had just gotten done saying that one must interpret this language literally unless context and other factors demand otherwise. Well that's exactly what preterists are arguing, that verse 34 is one powerful contextual factor (among many) that ought to move us to interpret the apocalyptic language symbolically. Second, whereas the apocalyptic language has a pattern of being used symbolically in the Old Testament, verse 34 and other time-texts are simple, plain, straightforward statements. The simple and straightforward ought to shape the interpretation of the esoteric. Thirdly, I'll reiterate that symbolic usage of apocalyptic language in the Old Testament is not the exception, it's the rule. We ought by default to interpret it likewise here, unless exegetical factors demand otherwise.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts so far. I'm looking forward to the part you mentioned in your opening comment.

  13. "There are at least 8 historical interpretations of "this generation" that can be tracked all the way to the time of Chrysostom."

    This is a little disingenuous. They are not 8 different interpretations of what the phrase "this generation" means, they are 8 different interpretations of the phrase's application. In point of fact, as pertains to the phrase "this generation" specifically, this list of 8 is actually only a list of x:

    1. Jesus' contemporaries (1, 3, 4)
    2. A race (human or otherwise) (2, 6)
    3. A kind of people or mind (5, 8)
    4. A future generation (7)

    Only 1 and 4 properly understand the word γενεὰ as it is used in both the LXX and the NT, and of those only 1 properly understands the phrase "this γενεὰ" in its context.

    Of Green's list of 8, then, we're really only left with three: (1) Jesus was wrong, (3) Jesus was speaking of events to occur exclusively within the lifetime of His contemporaries, or (4) Jesus was speaking of some events to occur within the lifetime of His contemporaries and others to be fulfilled much later.

    For obvious reasons I exclude the first option. As for the third, that leads to the question, "What does 'all these things' mean?" And that was not the subject of my calls into Greg's show. But I will write or podcast on it.

  14. Sorry, I meant "this list of 8 is actually only a list of 4."

  15. Green goes on to write, "Not only have preterists failed to acknowledge the ethical dimension to Matthew’s
    use of 'generation...'" This is quite simply false. Preterists do acknowledge the ethical dimension to Matthew's (Jesus') use of "generation." However, we correctly point out that it inescapably carries the temporal baggage. So it is futurists, not preterists, who fail to acknowledge some dimension of the word.

  16. He goes on to write, "but they have also failed to recognize that he uses 'this generation' in a
    way that extends beyond the immediate contemporaries of Jesus. The individuals addressed by 'this generation' in Matthew 23:34-36 did not kill Abel nor Zechariah, yet Jesus attributes the murder to them." This is not true.

    Dee Dee poignantly writes, "All of the Old Testament testified about Christ. All of the prophets testified about Christ. Now Christ was there. In denying and murdering Christ, they confirmed and recommitted all of the lesser sins of their fathers who just denied the messengers. It is key that Christ tells them to fill up then on the measure of their father's guilt. God tells us in the OT that He visits the iniquity of the fathers unto the children if the children confirm and continue in their father's way. Their guilt is greater as they have the witness of their fathers and did not learn their lessons. He said that same thing when condemning the nation of Judah for not learning the lesson from watching her wicked sister, the nation of Israel, fall into harlotry. The condemnation is greater. Jesus spoke of this when talking about the levels of punishment in hell, and how those who just rejected His messengers and not Him personally would receive lesser punishment that those who rejected Him while He walked among them. And lastly it brings to mind Genesis 15:16 when God mentioned that the "iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full" and that it would take many generations (in the normal sense of the word) for that to be complete. Christ is making a direct allusion to that passage and in fact to Daniel 9:24. His first century audience would have immediately recognized that. Also remember that God took vengeance on the people in the land generations later who victimized the Israelites during their Exodus by killing the stragglers and the sick. Why? Because they continued in and confirmed those sins." (It's Not the End of the World)

  17. I will say I'm sympathetic to these words: "Preterists determinedly avoid any significant discussion of Matthew 23:39, where Jesus says to the Jews, 'For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"' This verse creates an unsolvable dilemma for preterists in light of their interpretation of Matthew 24:30. As shown above, preterists maintain that Matthew 24:30 does not refer to physical sight, but to the Jews’ mental understanding that the Lord was judging them for their rejection of Him. That interpretation cannot possibly be reconciled with 23:39, which says that Israel would not see Jesus again until they joyfully received Him as Messiah. Since the Jews did not receive Jesus as Messiah in A. D. 70, they could not have seen Him then--whether with their physical sight or their mental understanding. Consequently, Matthew 24:30 must still be future--another fatal blow to preterism."

    Not only is it not a fatal blow to preterism, it's not another blow at all, since as we've seen they've all missed their mark (and turned back against futurism). Why? For one, while it may not satisfy Green, preterists do have a response to this argument. Dee Dee, for example, writes (in the commentary I linked to previously), "Now what in the world does this mean? Well one thing it cannot be referring to is 'physical sight' as they certainly 'saw' Him after that statement." That alone demolishes the futurist argument from this passage. She goes on, "It certainly is a promise of the withdrawal of Himself in some way until they repented, without any assurance that they would in fact repent. It is an utterly conditional promise [De LDM 60–62], and has nothing directly to do with 'seeing' Christ at the Second Coming. The Second Coming is utterly foreign thus far to anything said. Jesus was not talking about leaving at all, never mind having to come back. His statements utterly focused on His rejection of the Old Covenant order and the Old Covenant system." So this argument just falls flat.

    But secondly, not all preterists agree when it comes to Israel's future and relationship to the Second Coming. I, for example, do believe Christ will return at a time when Israel has corporately repented toward her Messiah. While I agree with Dee Dee that the "seeing" in 23:39 cannot strictly refer to physical sight, I do think it comports with other passages that suggest a national repentance on the part of Israel preceding the Second Coming. Dee Dee disagrees, and that's ok. The point is, although preterists are not united on Israel's future, this argument does not impact the debate.