PMW 2017-126 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

From time-to-time I receive inquiries regarding the relationship of Luke 17 and Matthew 24. This is generally prompted by orthodox Christians who have been challenged by Hyper-preterists. Thus, it is important for the protection and promotion of evangelical orthodoxy to return to this question when needed.

I argue in several places in my writings, that Matthew 24 is answering two questions from the disciples. They assume the destruction of the temple means the destruction of the world (Matt 24:1–3). But Jesus separates the destruction of the temple from the second coming and the end of history. We see him drawing a line between the two events between verses 34 and 36 in Matt 24.

Some see a problem with this due to Luke 17. They argue that because of Luke 17 Matthew 24 in its entirety must be focusing on AD 70. This is because Luke 17 seems to mix up the material that we claim is so well-structured and sorted in Matthew 24. And if this is so, then we no longer have any warrant for separating the two events.

In response I would note the following.

First, this issue is not really a crucial matter

Orthodox preterists see no doctrinal problems arising if we apply all of Matthew 24 to AD 70. We generally do not do so because of certain exegetical markers in the text. But if these are not sufficient to distinguish the latter part of Matthew 24 from the earlier part, it would not matter.

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I believe we should recognize a transition in Matthew 24:34–36, as per R. T. France Jeffery Gibbs and other orthodox scholars. That being so, how do we explain the problem of Luke’s “mixing up” the Matthew 24 material? This leads to my second point.

Second, the two texts record different sermons

The Lord presents the discourse recorded in Matthew 24 on the Mount of Olives (Mt 24:3) after looking out over Jerusalem (Mt 23:37). Whereas in Luke 17 he is on his way to Jerusalem (cf. Lk 17:11; 18:31; 19:11). In Matthew Jesus is answering his disciples regarding their question about the temple’s future (Mt 24:1–3). In Luke 17 he is interacting with the Pharisees (Lk 17:20–23) about the coming of the kingdom, when he turns to speak to the disci-ples. No one is commenting on the temple, as in Matthew 24:1–2. In fact, we find Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse four chapters later in Luke 21:5–24.

As Morris notes regarding liberals who argue that Luke places this teaching in the wrong context: “It is much better to hold that . . . Jesus [either] uttered the words on more than one occasion or . . . Luke is correctly applying them to another situation” ( Morris, Acts, 286). So no matter what Jesus is speaking about, Luke is not shifting the material around. He is recording a different sermon altogether.

Third, similarity does not entail identity

That is, because similar prophecies occur in Matthew 24 as in Luke 17 does not mean they apply to the same events. We see that similar expressions do not require identical realities when Scripture refers to Christ as a “lion” in some places (Rev 5:5), whereas in other places it calls Satan a “lion” (1Pe 5:8). Consider the prophetic concept of “the day of the Lord.” As I point out on pages 341–43 above, in the Old Testament it occurs in several places and applies to different historical judgments. For instance, the day of the Lord comes upon Babylon, Idumea, and Judah (Isa 13:6, 9; Eze 13:5; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; Am 5:18, 20; Ob 15; Zep 1:7; Mal 4:5). Even though the language is the same (after all, all wars are basically similar) and the phrase occurs in the singular (which suggests there is only one day of the Lord), these must be different events.

Fourth, Jesus is employing stereotypical language

By that I mean that some images can apply to different events. For instance, Sodom frequently represents man’s rebellion deserving God’s judgment — even when not referring expressly to Sodom itself (Dt 29:23; Isa 1:9–10; 3:9; 13:19; Jer 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Lam 4:6; Am 4:11). Notice Jesus’ own reference to Lot from the Sodom episode (Lk 17:28–29, 32) and to Noah’s flood (Lk 17:27; Mt 24:37–38). The flood in Noah’s day becomes an image of God’s judgment in other contexts (Isa 54:9; Eze 14:14, 20; Heb 11:17; 1Pe 3:20; 2Pe 2:5).

Likewise, Old Testament judgment language is often stereotyped, so that it can apply to different historical episodes. For instance, in the historically distinct judgments upon Babylon, Edom, and Egypt we read of the stars and moon being darkened or wasting away (Isa 13:1, 10; 34:4–5; Eze 32:2, 7–8). Using the hyper-preterist approach we should argue that these are the same events because of the same language. But instead, scholars recognize the common use of stereotypes in prophecy.

Fifth, Jesus is employing common life issues

In both chapters that we are considering, Jesus uses mundane activities as cameos of every day life. These are not alluding to historically datable events. Consider, for instance, Christ’s references to the two men in the field (Lk 17:36; Mt 24:40) or the two women grinding at a mill (Lk 17:35; Mt 24:41). These are portraits of daily life activities that will be caught up in and overwhelmed by God’s judgment. Thus, these serve as compelling images of the disruption of daily life cycles, as in Exodus 11:5; Job 31:10; Isa 47:1–2.

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Sixth, evidence of the interpretive error

Using the hyper-preterist’s method of noting inter-linking language as evidence that the same events are in view is mistaken. For if you use this method you will conclude that the Gospels are in error in assigning a temple cleansing to the beginning of Christ’s ministry (Jn 2:13–17) as well as one to its end (Mt 21:12–13). The language is so similar that liberals say that one of the Gospels must be making a mistake by putting it in the wrong historical context. Yet the integrity of the Gospel record demands that Christ did this twice.

Consequently, exegetical integrity does not require that the latter portion of Matthew 24 reflects the same event as the earlier portion.

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  1. bdubbb April 16, 2020 at 11:21 pm

    I’ve heard, though don’t know much about it myself, that giving the cleansing of the temple at different times is just part of making use of the editorial freedom that ancient biography enjoyed. Apparently, ancient biographers, such as in the Lives of Plutarch, felt free to rearrange things in time and space to enhance their biography, to highlight some feature of their subject/hero. If this is possible with the gospels, which seems that it must the case; otherwise, there would be many parts of the gospels which are difficult to reconcile, then it doesn’t seem that we are committed to thinking that the cleansing of the temple really happened twice. Yet, it wouldn’t be considered a mistake. It would just be the author choosing to rearrange things. This would be something like the time and geography compression that Dr. Michael Licona is always talking about. Do you think that this is a possible, or even plausible, way of interpreting the text?

  2. Kenneth Gentry April 17, 2020 at 7:34 am

    Redaction Criticism plays loose with Scripture. If we read the context and it says something happened at the beginning of Christ’s ministry or that it happened at the end, then to declare that as editorial freedom is to toss out the veracity of God’s word. Read the Redaction Critics on Luke for instance. They are constantly stating that Luke made up this saying for this occasion, rather than that he is reporting a statement of Christ. For instance in John Nollands’ Word Biblical Commentary on Luke (2:851) we read: “Luke’s freedom in formulating settings for his own editorial purposes means we cannot be sure that this attribution is original.” He is commenting on Luke 17:20-21.

    In John 2 we read of Jesus’ first miracle (“beginning of His signs,” John 2:11), then we read “After this He went down to Capernaui…. The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple whose who were selling oxen, etc. (John 2:12-14). This temple cleansing is clearly set at the beginning of his ministry.

    In Matt. 21 Jesus enters Jerusalem in his “Triumphal Entry” (21:1), and “all the city was stirred” (21:10), “and Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling.” This is clearly presenting the episode as historical and occurring at the end of his ministry. If the Scriptures are the inspired word of God, it is not “editorial freedom” to shift an historical event from one end of his ministry to another.

  3. bdubbb April 19, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    I see what you are saying, but that would depend on the genre of the book, it seems to me. If the genre were poetry or apocalyptic literature, then to press it for such a wooden literality would be a mistake. If, then, the writing is in a similar genre to the Greek and Roman lives, i.e., ancient biography, then would it not be a mistake to think that just because the text mentions some fact about placement in time or space of the events, therefore, the events really occurred in that time or place? From what I understand, that is what writers in that genre, at least of that time, did. Apparently, biography and history written as it is today is a fairly modern invention.

    Thanks for taking the time to help me work through this, I do greatly appreciate it. By the way, I too am uncomfortable with the idea of just picking and choosing what is historical and what is not but, hopefully, a sound hermeneutic will help avoid error. I do not think, as apparently these Redaction Critics (which I am unfamiliar with) do, that we are just free to dismiss, or invent, any event in the text that we desire. I think that our interpretation should follow sound hermeneutic principles which take things, like genre, into account when interpreting the text.

  4. Kenneth Gentry April 20, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    I believe the integrity of the Gospels is at stake if we can say something is recorded as Jesus’ saying but it wasn’t. Or something occurred at a particular time but it didn’t.

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