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Monday, February 09, 2009

A preterist view of origins

I have posted several times on a book by David Snoke, which argues, quite convincingly, in my view, that the Bible doesn't teach Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). (This is the last such post.) Although it's not perfect, I think the book is pretty good. Better than anything I might write, no doubt. An author, probably because he had read one or more of these posts, e-mailed me, and offered to send me a copy of a book he had written, which, although Christian in world-view, is also critical of YEC. I responded that I would be glad to see such a book. I was expecting a book that, like Snoke's, argues against YEC, and gives theological, Biblical, and other reasons for such an argument. When the book arrived, I found that it does argue against YEC, but that isn't what it's mostly about. The book, Beyond Creation Science: New Covenant Creation from Genesis to Revelation, by Timothy L. Martin and Jeffrey L. Vaughn, begins by explaining the preterist view of Revelation and other New Testament prophecy. (The book's web site is here. It was published in 2007 by Apocalyptic Vision Press, of Whitehall, Montana. If the book says so, I missed it, but I think that the press is a subsidiary of the church were author Martin is pastor. That doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with it, of course. I'm giving information here.) It is secondarily an indictment of YEC. As I understand the book, and preterist views, the authors are what Wikipedia calls Full Preterists.

I didn't know about the preterist leanings of the authors until I started looking at the book. It didn't take long. After getting past the cover, my first view of the contents was the 19 endorsements, on the first three pages of the book. As usual, such endorsements give a statement praising the book, followed by from one to three lines of identification of the endorser. Of these, five list some sort of preterist organization as the part or all of the affiliation of the endorser, and at least two more mentioned preterism as part of their endorsement. That struck me. I had a hard time remembering what preterism is, but it came to me -- it's a view of prophecy. Preterists believe that most or all Biblical prophecies, including those concerning the return of Christ, have already been fulfilled.

None of the endorsers were scientists, although there was an M.D. and an engineer. One of them said that he thought, in advance, that the book would be "beyond the pail" [sic] -- (see here) which led me to think that the book might be in need of some editing help -- but he was convinced as he read. I didn't find any other usage problems in the chapters that I read. The book is well put together. There are many pages of notes, an extensive scripture index, a bibliography, and an author index. For some reason, there is no subject index, which would have been helpful.

What does a preterist view of prophecy have to do with YEC? The authors contend that the modern YEC movement was heavily influenced by a dispensational view of prophecy. I'm no expert on the history of North American Christianity, but their case seems to be convincing, and I have seen it in other places, with no preterist beliefs. However, it does not logically follow, just because there are serious problems with YEC, and it was influenced by dispensational views, that preterist views are correct.

This is my first real experience with preterist views. I have known, for some time, that they exist, but I had not read them. The first four chapters of the book set forth these views. For example, preterists say that Jesus's statement, in Matthew 24, supports their view:
34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (All Scripture quotations are from the ESV.)
Other New Testament passages are cited as teaching the preterist view, including 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, and James 5:8-9.

This is not the place, nor am I the person, to enter into an in-depth analysis of the preterist view. I do wonder about how that view explains two points of prophecy, however. One of them is the last trumpet, which is mentioned in Matthew 24:31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16, among other places. If there was, indeed, a trumpet blown to announce the gathering of the elect (which both of these verses mention) why is there no historical record of that? The book points out places in the after-New Testament historical record which, the authors say, document the fulfillment of prophecy in the first century. But they don't seem to have any historical record showing the blowing of the trumpet, the appearance of Christ, and the removal of the saints.

The second point is the spread of the gospel to all peoples. As Jesus put it:
Matthew 24:14
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
(See also other places, such as Revelation 7.) I don't understand how this could possibly have happened by the end of the first century. How could the gospel have gotten to the New World? To Australia? (But see the first comment on this post.)

This passage relates to both of my questions:
Matthew 24:30
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, 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. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Preterists may have good arguments for points like these. I don't know. But, so far, I'm not convinced.

The majority of the book is devoted to a discussion of dispensationalist theology, which, as many Bible scholars have pointed out, has some serious weaknesses, even though it seems the most popular belief on end times among conservative Christians. (See here for one discussion of the weaknesses.) The book considers how this view has influenced the treatment of origins among the conservative Christian community. I agree that the two seem to be connected, although I'm not certain that the connection is as strong as Martin and Vaughn have set forth. Then, the final three chapters set forth what they believe is a proper view of prophecy, history, and Bible interpretation, including origins. Their term for this is "covenant creation."

Since I remain unconvinced about preterism, which is its foundation, I can't endorse this book. Re-examination of dispensational theology, Young-Earth creationism, and the proper role of the church in the world is a good, even great idea. But I'm not sure that Martin and Vaughn are on the right track.

Thanks for reading.

* * * *

On August 17, 2009, I cleaned up some sloppy English in this post, and made a reference to the first comment, which mentions a verse which seems to be in favor of preterism.


Justin B said...

I'm only going to comment specifically on your objection to Preterism based on Matthew 24:14, which says that the gospel would be proclaimed throughout the world before the "end" - and that this couldn't have happened before 70 AD, meaning 70 AD could not have been the "end."

Please see Colossians 1:23 - "This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant." (NIV)

I do not know what the Bible means by "every creature under heaven," but it seems that according to the Bible's own terms, whatever Christ was referring to had happened by the time Colossians was written.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Justin B.

I had not noticed that verse, as related to this subject. I don't know what Paul (not Christ, I think) meant by that, either. It could be taken as support for the preterist view.

IHSRC said...

Not only that verse, there are others that look like the gospel was preached by 70ad also. Colossians 1:5,6 in part says "the truth of the gospel; Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world." And Romans 1:8 says in part, "that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world." There are others that hint as well; Paul and Silas "have turned the world upside down". The Preterist view of prophecies fulfilled by 70ad is making more and more sense to me.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, IHSRC.

It only makes sense to me if "world," in the cases you cite, is to be taken as the entire globe. I think it is much more reasonable to believe that it refers to the world known to the writers, namely the world around the Mediterranean Sea.