PMT 2014-025 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
I am preterist in the approach to certain key prophecies of the New Testament. I learned this view long ago from my seminary professor and theological mentor, Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen. The term “preterist” is derived from the Latin preteritus, which means “past by.” Preterists believe that several key New Testament prophecies were future when they were originally given, but that they have already come to fulfillment in our distant past.
We accept this conclusion on those particular texts because Scripture provides specific, clear, temporal qualifiers for them. For example, we read in Matthew 24 regarding the Great Tribulation: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34). Regarding Revelation, John informs us: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3). The New Testament is filled with prophecies qualified by such language.
This approach to prophecy directly counters the prevailing prophetic myth of our day: dispensationalism. Dispensationalism dominates the Christian book market, especially in producing (most appropriately) fictionalized accounts of biblical prophecy, such as in the Left Behind Series. Preterism is important as a practical matter to challenge these evangelicals who have effectively become false prophets (embarrassing the Church and bringing mockery upon Scripture) and who are missing the call to Christian cultural transformation because of confusion about the future (believing the end is near so that they cannot plan for long-term Christian reconstruction of society).
Unfortunately, a perversion of orthodox preterism has arisen of late: Hyperpreterism. This view is to preterism what Hyper-Calvinism is to Calvinism: a perversion generated through radical overstatement. Hyperpreterism is currently gaining a small, but tenacious, cult-like following. It teaches that the total complex of end time events transpired in the first-century: the Second Advent, the resurrection, the rapture of the saints, and the great judgment.
When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyperpreterism
(ed. by Keith Mathison)
A reformed response to the aberrant HyperPreterist theolgy. Gentry’s chapter critiques HyperPreterism from an historical and creedal perspective.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
This aberrant view is not supported by any creed or any council of the Christian Church. In fact, it contradicts the universal, historic, formal, corporate, public, systematic belief of the institutional Christian Church of all times. Some Hyperpreterists (not all) have even become Unitarians. Others have begun to apply the biblical references to hell to the events of A.D. 70, thereby denying the doctrine of eternal punishment. The theological foundations of the movement appear to be continually mutating, which is expected when the position has no creedal moorings and is adrift on the sea of untrained theologues.
A “Foreword” to a book by John Noe from this movement inadvertently highlights the (all too typical) problem:: “John is not a professional theologian. He has had no formal seminary training, but that may be an advantage.” Then again, lacking training in biblical languages, exegetical principles, and formal theology may not be helpful at all. The origins of this modern movement arise out of and are fueled by many either presently or previously within the Church of Christ sect (e.g., Max King, Tim King, Ed Stevens, Don Preston, Foy Wallace, Ron McRay, Arthur Ogden, and Timothy A. James).
Setting Up Their Proof-text
One of the key verses employed by Hyperpreterists to give biblical plausibility to their heterodox system is Luke 21:22, which speaks of the A.D. 70 holocaust which overwhelmed ancient Jerusalem: “these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” In their typically naive and frightfully extreme fashion, they argue that Jesus’ statement demands that absolutely all biblical prophecy comes to fulfillment in “these days,” that is, those days surrounding Jerusalem’s collapse under the Roman onslaught. After all, does not the Lord himself prophesy that “all things which are written” shall be fulfilled?
Despite the surface plausibility of their argument from this passage — a passage they use as a control to all New Testament prophetic passages — the Hyperpreterists are radically and embarrassingly mistaken. Their denial of the universal, historic, corporate, public faith of Christianity in all ages leans upon a weak reed. Let us see how this is so.
Before we can analyze the verse exegetically, we must discern the flow of the passage contextually. In Luke 21:5 some admirers of the Temple were commenting on the building’s magnificence and religious significance. In verse 6 Jesus warns them that this Temple they so esteemed will be destroyed stone-by-stone. The surprised men respond by asking in confusion and dismay: “Teacher, when therefore will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (v. 7).
Jesus then provides a two part reply to their earnest query. In verses 8 through 19 he highlights general signs of the approaching destruction of the Temple. In giving those signs he focuses on the persecution of his followers in order to explain why this grand structure will be destroyed. He thus sets up both the general moral context of the Temple’s demise, as well as its gradually unfolding historical setting.
Finally, in verses 20-36 he comes to the direct answer to their question “when” these things will be. This section is introduced by these dismal words, which includes our text: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled. Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people, and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24).
This section provides the material that causes the Hyperpreterist to stumble so badly and devastatingly. They focus on, emphasize, and misinterpret verse 22. Their errors here are numerous; I will summarize five of them.
Exposing Their Error
First, the word “all” is misconstrued. Careful students of Scripture recognize that “all” does not necessarily demand universality. This term can and often denotes a remarkably wide-ranging reality that falls far short of global assertion. The term “all” is often used in a relative rather than an absolute sense.
For instance, in Matthew 3:5 we read that “all Judea” was going out to hear John the Baptist. No reputable commentator believes that each-and-every citizen in Judea gathered around John. In Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:32 we read of the mustard seed: “this is smaller than all other seeds.” No one familiar with botany believes Jesus erroneously declared the mustard seed to be absolutely smaller than “all other seeds.” In 1 Timothy 6:10 Paul warns that “the love of money is a root of all evil.” We surely do not believe that Adam and Eve’s eating the forbidden fruit was due to their love of money.
Consequently, the key term in Hyperpreterism’s foundational passage is radically misconstrued.
Second, their interpretation is embarrassingly mistaken. After all, the Hyperpreterist argues, does not Jesus forthrightly declare: “these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled”? But do they really believe regarding A.D. 70 that “these are the days” in which all Bible prophecy was fulfilled? Surely not!
On the very surface, at the most basic level this is impossible. The virgin birth occurred seventy years or so prior to the Temple’s destruction, and not in “these days,” the “days of vengeance.” The crucifixion transpired forty years before A.D. 70, and not in “these days,” the “days of vengeance.” The outpouring of the Spirit also happened forty years previous to Rome’s overthrow of Jerusalem, and not in “these days,” the “days of vengeance.”
Do we not read throughout Matthew of one prophecy after another being fulfilled during Christ’s earthly ministry, long before “these days,” the “days of vengeance”? Consider Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21;4; 26:56; 27:9. In Luke 4:21 Christ reads a statement from Isaiah and declares: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The Hyperpreterist is horribly mistaken in asserting that “these days” of Jerusalem’s judgment witnessed absolutely all prophecy being fulfilled.
Third, their interpretation radically misreads the prophecy. The Lord clearly declares: “these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” The Hyperpreterist would have us believe that this proves that all Bible prophecy came to pass in A.D. 70.
But Jesus uttered the words of Luke 21:22 sometime around A.D. 30, well before any book of the New Testament was written. Note that he actually proclaims to his hearers that in “these days” (which we know to be approaching in A.D. 70) “all things which are written” will be fulfilled. The verb “are written” is a perfect passive participle. He is speaking of those prophecies having already been written as he speaks. That is, he is referring to the Old Testament prophecies (cp. similar language in Matt. 4:4, 6, 7, 10). He says nothing about later New Testament prophecies which are not yet “written.” For sake of argument we could say that maybe the Old Testament does not speak of the Second Advent, the final resurrection, and the final judgment. But the New Testament certainly does.
Christ’s prophecy — so depended upon by the Hyperpreterists — simply does not address the issue of later New Testament prophecies. Therefore, it does not support their unique theological system.
Fourth, their interpretation misses Christ’s point. When the Hyperpreterist asserts that Jesus himself meant that the whole of biblical eschatology transpired in A.D. 70, he goes beyond the Lord’s intended meaning.
As careful interpreters of Scripture, we must recognize the actual issue with which Christ is dealing. The whole context revolves around the current glory and future destiny of the Temple which was the very subject of the interchange between Christ and the people (Luke 21:5-7). Christ’s statement in Luke 21:22 is not a global assertion that each-and-every prophecy in the Old Testament will be fulfilled. And if it is not, then the chief cornerstone of Hyperpreterism crumbles into dust.
Christ is actually informing his audience that all those prophecies dealing with Jerusalem’s judgment (Luke 21:5-7, 20-24) are fast approaching fulfillment. The Old Testament contains many such prophecies. In fact, this whole passage emphasizes the nearness of the collapse of Jerusalem which is rooted in Old Testament prophecy: it is “drawing near” (v. 28), it “is near” (v. 31), and it will occur in “this generation” (v. 32). And we know the Temple was actually destroyed in A.D. 70, just as Jesus prophesied in v. 6.
The Hyperpreterist in his zeal for a new theology to overthrow historic Christian doctrine takes this prophecy and runs beyond its boundaries. They do this by overlooking Christ’s purpose in giving it.
Fifth, their interpretation overlooks Christ’s prophetic allusions. The Hyperpreterists are big on forcing their theology on all prophetic texts claiming a vast knowledge of biblical prophecy. But they overlook genuine Old Testament allusions truly contained in those passages.
The teaching of Christ (and the Apostles) was from within a religious framework filled with the Old Testament. We see evidence of this most easily and dramatically in John’s Revelation: though he only occasionally cites Old Testament passages directly, his prophecy is filled with Old Testament allusions.
Christ’s Luke 21 prophecy regarding the Temple’s doom is a veritable collage of Old Testament judgment passages warning of Jerusalem’s destruction. C. H. Dodd has noted that “Old Testament Scripture echoes in Luke 21:25ff are legion.” The interested student of this passage can consult the marginal references in his study Bible for readily available evidence in this direction. or the technical commentaries on the passage.
Clearly Christ is emphasizing those passages directed against Jerusalem. That event was the topic of discussion; it also provided the atmosphere of his pronouncement.
Before Jerusalem Fell Lecture (DVD by Ken Gentry)
A summary of the evidence for Revelation’s early date. Helpful, succinct introduction to Revelation’s pre-AD 70 composition.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com