THE TWO-AGE STRUCTURE OF ESCHATOLOGY

PMW 2022-082 by Richard B. Gaffin

Ken Gentry Introduction

The following material is quoted from Richard B. Gaffin, In the Fullness of Time (ch. 10). It helpfully introduces the biblical concept of the two-age redemptive-history construct, including the overlap of those two ages in post-incarnation history. I highly recommend getting, reading, and studying this book as an excellent Reformed analysis of the structure of redemptive-history, which has Christ as its center-point. The book may be ordered at ChristianBooks.com

Conservative evangelical Christians who believe in the physical resurrection of Christ will find this valuable for understanding redemptive history from Christ’s first coming in the first century to his second coming at the end of history. Those who reject the historic, corporate, public, universal, systematic Christian faith’s commitment to the historic, physical resurrection of Christ and his continued incarnational existence in heaven (e.g., Col. 2:9) and his future, visible, glorious, physical second coming to call forth the resurrection of the death and establish the consummate new creation to replace the fallen original creation will probably just want to skip reading this material and move on to other things. In fact, my last sentence was so long, you may want to skip that too. I know I do!

So then, the following paragraphs are a direct citation from Gaffin’s chapter 10: “Eschatological Structure.”

RICHARD GAFFIN, IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME (ch. 10; pp. 245–247):

The center of Paul’s theology, as we have seen, is at the intersection of his teaching about Christ (Christology), his work (soteriology/redemption accomplished), and the redemptive-historical context of this saving work (eschatology). Any one of these three themes, then, may be made the vantage point for exploring the other two and so the hear of Paul’s theology, those things ‘of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). Here, as a preferable way of proceeding for my purposes, his Christology and soteriology will be considered in the light of his eschatology.

PAUL’S USE OF THE TWO-AGE DISTINCTION: BACKGROUND

Paul’s use of the distinction between ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’ is perhaps the best way, certainly a helpful way, of showing the eschatological structure of his thinking and how it shapes his teaching.

The Origin of the Distinction between the Two Ages

This distinction first emerged in Second Temple Judaism during the inter-testamental period, where it functioned to facilitate reflecting on the overall historical-eschatological outlook of the Old Testament, especially the prophets. From there, it is take over by Jesus, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews.

On the one hand, this age is provisional and pre-eschatological. It is the time of the present world, originally ‘very good” (Gen. 1:31), but now subsequent to the fall, marked fundamentally by the presence of sin and its consequences — corruption and death. The age to come, in contrast, is the final world order for the creation, the eschatological age of righteousness, incorruption, perfection, and life. It is coterminous with the coming kingdom of God, the arrival of the day of the Lord, and the new heavens and new earth.

He Shall Have Dominion small

He Shall Have Dominion (paperback by Kenneth Gentry)

A classic, thorough explanation and defense of postmillennialism (600+ pages). Complete with several chapters answering specific objections.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


The division point between the two ages — ‘the end of the age,” when this age ends and gives way to the age to come — is tied to the coming of the Messiah (in the New Testament, Matt. 24:3).

As used in the two-age construct, the word for “age” — in Hebrew olam, Aramaic eylam, and Greek (aion), and subsequently after the New Testament was written, in Latin (saeculum — took on as well the sense of “world” or “universe.”“ In other words, a comprehensive time word gained an all-inclusive spatial connotation. The distinction, then, expressed more fully, is between this world-age and the world-age to come, between the present world order and the coming world order.

In what follow here, when discussing the use of this distinction, I will often use aeon, a derivative of the Greek aion, interchangeably with age, its primary meaning, as a way of keeping view the “world-age” sense, the spatial as well as the inherently temporal sense of the contrast, and that the contrast is between two comprehensive spatiotemporal orders, one provisional and pre-eschatological, the other final and eschatological.

In sum, in their relationship, the two aeons are comprehensive (together they cover the entire flow of time, the whole of history, from its beginning t creation up to and including its consummation), consecutive (no other period intervenes between them) and antithetical (due to the entrance of sine with its effects into this age).

Modifications of the Two-Aeon Distinction

While the two-aeon construction was at hand I the Judaism contemporary to Jesus and the New Testament writers, they could not simply take it over unchanged. The reason is not difficult to see: for Judaism (as continues to be true for Orthodox Judaism today), the coming of the Messiah — the turning point of the two ages, the great inaugurating eschatological event — has not yet occurred; it is still future. However, for the New Testament and for Pau specifically, this decisive turn-of-the-ages event has already taken place; the Messiah has already come in the person and work of Jesus. While his coming does have a still-future component to it, the crucial eschatological event — the coming of the Christ marking the end of this age — has already taken place.

Consequently, for Paul, to continue using the two-aeon distinction as a basic structuring element in his theology, correspondingly fundamental modifications of the construct were necessary. These modifications with the changed patter that results are best spelled out after we survey and reflect on some pertinent passages. These are passages where Paul either makes explicit use of the distinction, or it is clearly in the background and shapes what he has to say.

Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues

Navigating the Book of Revelation (by Ken Gentry)

Technical studies on key issues in Revelation, including the seven-sealed scroll, the cast out temple, Jewish persecution of Christianity, the Babylonian Harlot, and more.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


END OF GAFFIN QUOTE

Ken Gentry note

In the material that follows, Dr. Gaffin ably presents and analyzing the following texts as important to the two-age structure of redemptive history; Galatians 1:4 (pp. 247–250); Ephesians 2:2 (pp. 250–251); Romans 12:2 (pp. 251–252); 1 Corinthians 1:18–3:23 (pp. 252–255); 2 Corinthians 5:17 (pp. 255–261); Romans 1:2 (p. 261); Romans 16:25–27 (pp. 261–264); Colossians 1:26–27 (pp. 264–267); Galatians 4:4, Ephesians 1:10, 1 Corinthians 10:11 (pp. 267–269); 2 Corinthians 6:2 (pp. 269–272); Galatians 3:23, 25 (pp. 272–276).

This book should be read along with the following:

Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (originally written in 1930, but in print still today.

John Murray, “Structural Strands in New Testament Eschatology,” (paper presented at ETS, December 29, 1954; available at http://www.kerux.com/doc/0603A2.asp)

Herman Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures (originally written in 1955, but in print still today)

G. E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000 (originally written in 1974, and still available)

Advertisement

3 thoughts on “THE TWO-AGE STRUCTURE OF ESCHATOLOGY

  1. Jason Elliott October 5, 2022 at 10:45 am

    Dr. Gentry, I know zero Greek, however I heard a local preacher at a “prophecy conference” in the area (I watched it on YouTube this morning) say that in Revelation 1:1 the phrase “must shortly come to pass” literally means in the Greek, “when these things start to come to pass they will come to pass quickly”. I did some major eye-rolling here. Because I do not know Greek, but I assume bible translators do, I could not find one translation of the bible that translates Rev 1:1 this way. Is this preacher just telling a lie? Unbelievable.

  2. Kenneth Gentry October 5, 2022 at 10:58 am

    You need to notice how EVERY translation of Scripture translates the verse. They do not translate it like your local preacher; they translate it as biblical scholars of Greek. Check out any versions of the Bible that you have.

  3. Jason Elliott October 5, 2022 at 11:01 am

    That is precisely what I was saying. I checked many versions and NONE of them translated it like this preacher was saying. Revelation 1:1 is so important in understanding the book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: