OVER-REALIZED ESCHATOLOGY AT CORINTH (2)

PMW 2022-092 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.Resurrection empty tomb

In my last blog post, I began a two-part study of the over-realized eschatology problem at Corinth. Throughout 1 Corinthians Paul has to continually rebuke and correct the Christians there. I am pointing out the source of their confusion and abuse of privilege: they have adopted an “over-realized eschatology.” I recommend that you read the previous post before reading this one.

But now, let us re-start our study

What is “realized eschatology”?

Now simply put, the problem Paul faces at Corinth is what we may call an “over-realized eschatology.” Let me explain what I mean by first presenting what a legitimate “realized eschatology” is.

After the resurrection of Christ in the first-century, redemptive history entered into a “realized eschatological” experience. That is, Christ completed his work of redemption by means of his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. And because of this, redemptive history, which began with the protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15, finally entered what the New Testament calls “the last days” (Heb. 1:2), “the ends of the ages” (1 Cor. 10:11), “the consummation of the ages” (Heb. 9:26), “these last times” (1 Pet. 1:20), and so forth. That is, the eschatological-redemptive hope of the Old Testament finally began coming to fruition in Christ.

Christ’s first-century coming was truly an eschatological event. It set in motion the eschatological “last days” (Isa. 2:2–4; Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2). And these days will continue unfolding until the “last day” of temporal history at the general resurrection (John 6:40, 44, 54; 11:24; cp. Acts 17:31). This is what Reformed (and many evangelical) theologians call “realized eschatology.” That is, due to its current “realization” or contemporary experiencing of redemption, we have several blessings unavailable to the Old Testament saints. For instance, we are already spiritually resurrected (John 5:24–25; Rom. 6:13; Eph. 2:5–6; Col. 2:12; 3:1) in anticipation of our future physical resurrection (Matt. 22:29–32; John 5:28–29; Acts 23:6–8; 24:21; 1 Cor. 15:12–19; 1 Thess. 4:16); we are already a spiritual new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:24) in anticipation of the consummate new creation (Rom. 8:19–23; 2 Pet. 3:10); we are already in the spiritual kingdom (Matt. 5:3, 10; 12:28; Col. 1:13) in anticipation of entering into the consummate-order kingdom (Matt. 6:10; 25:34; Jms. 2:5).


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There is much more involved in our experience of realized eschatology than the spiritual resurrection, new creation, and kingdom. I will bring those other matters out more fully in a book I am writing on Two-Age Model of redemptive history. This model teaches that two ages structure the history of redemption: “this age” (i.e., world history since Adam and in its fallen character, Gal. 1:4) and “the coming age” (the consummate order in its fullest and perfect expression).

But as we must understand, we have entered the “last days” period of “this age” and are therefore in an overlap of the two ages. Because of this overlap of the ages, we can already and by anticipation taste “the powers of the age to come” by means of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 6:5). For the Spirit’s outpouring was given in celebration of Christ’s resurrection and in order to inaugurate “the last days” (Acts 2:17, 32–35). Thus, the “age to come” is already penetrating “this [fallen] age” in which we live. We currently live in “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), that is, an age in which we endure sin, suffering, and death, and in which even inanimate creation suffers corruption (Rom. 8:21–22). Nevertheless, by the Spirit we now have an advanced experience of “the age to come” in which all of these evils will be permanently and finally removed. God will not endure a fallen, rebellious universe for ever and ever. And we will ultimately benefit from his redemption by living in his fully redeemed, renewed, new creation.

What was the Corinthians’ problem?

Now, in this current study I will be briefly demonstrating the problem Paul is facing at Corinth. That is, the tension he is facing with the Corinthians who are committed to what we call an “over-realized eschatology.” Like Hyperpreterism and Hyper-Calvinism, the Corinthians have taken a helpful biblical principle and stretched it beyond recognition, grotesquely warping its true meaning and significance. Their theology was proto-gnostic in structure and experience.

Where can we detect the Corinthians’ “over-realized,” proto-gnostic eschatology? Evidence for this is actually found on almost every page of 1 Corinthians — if we look carefully at it. I will provide just a few samples by way of illustration.

By their over-realized eschatology the Corinthians believed that the kingdom of God had already come, which was true (Luke 17:21; Col. 1:13). But they believed it had arrived in its final and fullest expression, that they were experiencing the “the age to come” in all of its glorious power. They believed they were enjoying all that God had promised regarding the coming of his promised kingdom through their life in the Spirit. They believed the full coming of the kingdom has been demonstrated in them through their abundant Spirit-endowed charismatic gifts (1 Cor. 1:8; 12:1–14:40).


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Unfortunately, the Corinthians interpreted their redemptive standing from their own erroneous perspective. Because they deemed themselves so “Spiritual” (filled with and driven by the Holy Spirit), they believed that their current physical bodies had no real significance for the kingdom. Thus, they believed “all things are lawful” for them (6:13). This allowed them to engage in whatever physical sexual activity they desired (1 Cor. 5–7) — including even incest (5:1) and immoral relations with prostitutes (6:15–18).

And at the other end of the moral spectrum, the over-realists could denigrate marriage (7:1–6). Paul is quoting them when he says “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (7:1), which would undermine the creation purpose in marriage (Gen. 1:28; 2:24). In their over-realization they believed that they were fully and finally resurrected, which made marriage irrelevant. This almost certainly was based on their mistaken understanding of Jesus’ teaching, which we have recorded for us in Matthew 22:30 (and Mark 12:25): “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

The Corinthians deemed themselves Spiritual (note the capital “S” as signifying Holy Spirit indwelt) and resurrected members of God’s kingdom. Thus they also apparently believed they would not die, since they were like angels (Luke 20:36). They believed this was confirmed to them in their speaking with the tongues of men and “of angels” (1 Cor. 13:1). But Paul explains that kingdom believers are not like undying angels, but are actually subject to suffering as “a spectacle to … angels” (1 Cor. 4:9).

And since angels are not composed of separate genders, the Corinthians’ view that they are like angels may also explain another problem in the church. They they did not distinguish between proper male and female roles in congregational worship (1 Cor. 11:3–15; 14:34–35).

Furthermore, “some” of them were claiming that “there is no [physical] resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12) and that such was unnecessary. They believed that they would not die but simply continue to live and reign in the current, already fully-arrived kingdom up to and after Jesus returns. This is why Paul warns them that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). That is, they need to be physically transformed by means of resurrection in order to enter the perfect, final, consummate stage of God’s redemptive kingdom. Their current weak, corruptible, perishable flesh-and-blood bodies cannot expect to live forever in God’s kingdom (vv. 50–54).

In addition, their over-realized eschatology gave an erroneous significance to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They apparently felt that engaging in the sacraments spiritually guaranteed protection from physical harm. This is why Paul uncharacteristically plays down baptism, even expressing relief that he had baptized none of them, but one (1 Cor. 1:13–15). This is despite the fact that Christ himself was baptized (Matt. 3:13–16; Luke 3:21) and called his apostles to baptize men (Matt. 28:18–19; Mark 16:16; John 4:2). Not only so but they did command baptism (Acts 2:38; 10:48) and practiced it (Acts 2:41; 8:12–13, 36–38; 10:47). In fact, Paul himself was baptized (Acts 9:18; 22:16) and he baptized others (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5). But at Corinth, he was glad he had not baptized them.

Paul also mentions the “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” partaken in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:3–4). As the context demands, these function as analogous to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16–17). But Paul overthrows the Corinthians’ faulty proto-gnostic theology of the Lord’s Supper. He points out that despite “all” in Moses’ generation partaking the “same” spiritual food and spiritual drink (1 Cor. 10:3–4), God was not pleased with most of them for their immorality, so that they died (1 Cor. 10:1–8). This is despite the fact that the Old Testament called manna food “from heaven” (Exo. 16:4), which functioned as “the bread of angels” (Psa. 78:24–25), which concept was appealing to the Corinthians.

Then Paul adds to this the fact that, despite the Corinthian’s over-realized view of the Lord’s Supper, partaking it (1 Cor. 11:23–26) can itself lead to death (1 Cor. 11:27–29). Finally, Paul notes that this is why many of the Corinthian partakers are “weak and sick, and a number sleep [i.e., are dead].”

Thus simply put, despite their proud presumption (1 Cor. 10:12), the Corinthians did not perfectly possess the glorious power of the fullness of the age to come. Their over-realized eschatology was faulty and destructive to their theological understanding and their Christian living.


Click on the following images for more information on these studies:


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9 thoughts on “OVER-REALIZED ESCHATOLOGY AT CORINTH (2)

  1. Chad December 22, 2022 at 11:20 am

    Thanks IMMENSELY for this short series. VERY helpful. I was sliding into Full Preterism, but this reality check undermined one of my strongest arguments. God bless.

  2. T. Carpenter December 22, 2022 at 11:31 am

    Helpful article. It explains a big issue that really troubled me. I am using this to respond to a hyperpreterist friend. Keep up the good work.

  3. Jonathan Klepper December 22, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    My family and church friends had been warning me of full/hyperpreterism. 1 Corinthians was one area that really tempted me. I am grateful for your explaining the problem Paul was dealing with. I thank you and my family thanks you for sparing me much grief had I fully accepted full preterism. But my family still thinks partial preterism is a slippery slope to heresy.

  4. Larry Johnson December 22, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    Another helpful article. Thanks! Keep writing.

  5. Martin S. December 22, 2022 at 1:03 pm

    Wow! I didn’t see that coming! This really cleared us some things for me.

  6. John Ardmore December 22, 2022 at 2:15 pm

    Very interesting.

  7. David Kingsley December 22, 2022 at 2:29 pm

    A good resource. Thanks for posting. Very persuasive and insightful for anyone tempted by extreme preterism (as I have been!)

  8. bdubbb December 23, 2022 at 5:45 pm

    About “This is why Paul uncharacteristically plays down baptism, even expressing relief that he had baptized none of them, but one (1 Cor. 1:13–15).”, didn’t he say that he baptized a household in v. 16 as well Crispus and Gaius in v. 14?

  9. Kenneth Gentry December 24, 2022 at 10:33 am

    Yes, but he says that is all, which is strange for one engaged in a great mission movement.

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