Re: [asa] A theology question (imminent return of Christ)

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Thu Oct 16 2008 - 16:47:07 EDT

No, Bernie, I asked for scholarly sources on your claim that Jesus taught
that he would return in the lifetime of the first disciples, and
specifically for your claim that this was in the supposedly 99% of oral
teaching of Jesus that is not recorded in the gospels. I have no beef with
the claim that the earliest Christian community generally anticipated the
parousia in their own generation -- the main point of 2 Peter, as well as a
number of other NT references, is to offer reassurance in light of this
apparently angst-producing delay. My beef is with the claim that Jesus and
the Apostles mistakenly taught an immediate (again, "imminent" is not the
right word) return. My beef is also with what I see as an irresponsible
approach to a complicated historical / hermeneutical / theological question
on which there is a significant amount of professional scholarship and which
implicates several radically different views of the Biblical texts and
Christian history.

A good place to start looking for serious resources is the New Testament

On Thu, Oct 16, 2008 at 4:30 PM, Dehler, Bernie <>wrote:

> Pastor Murray said:
> " I'd only add that I've repeatedly tried to make clear that the disciples
> DID expect a return of Christ in their lifetime and I do "get" (but disagree
> vehemently with) the claim that this eschatological expectation was the
> PRIMARY motive for their actions."
> So we agree that the disciples expected the imminent return of Christ in
> their day, so I don't have to prove this point by quoting scholars as David
> Opderbeck requested. David said I was na´ve on that point. So I agree with
> you Pastor Murray on this point, and we disagree as to what conclusions can
> be drawn from it (and I'm still working on a conclusion- still wondering and
> undecided).
> ...Bernie
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of Murray Hogg
> Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 3:44 PM
> To: ASA
> Subject: Re: [asa] A theology question (imminent return of Christ)
> Hi David,
> I didn't get much chance to get around to the below, but thank you for the
> observation!
> Frankly, my MAJOR problem with Ed's piece on the subject is not his faith
> position (or lack thereof) but rather that his hermenutic is precisely the
> same as the eschatologically frenzied fundamentalists which he hopes to
> dissuade.
> One simply has to do more than wrench a series of texts out of their
> literary and historical context, redefine the terms to prejudice the
> argument in one's favour, line them up together like pearls on a string, and
> - ignoring every piece of evidence unfavourable to one's conclusion -
> pronounce "voila!"
> I'd pretty much go with the rest of your critique on Bernie's argument only
> adding that I don't think Bernie's position is entirely silly - it does
> seem, as a rough first approximation, not unreasonable to suggest that the
> disciples teaching on any matter was grounded in the teaching of Christ. My
> problem is that constructing such "reverse" arguments is not how biblical
> studies is done!
> I'd only add that I've repeatedly tried to make clear that the disciples
> DID expect a return of Christ in their lifetime and I do "get" (but disagree
> vehemently with) the claim that this eschatological expectation was the
> PRIMARY motive for their actions. Frankly, I think it were a great many more
> issues informing their actions and I think it highly spurious to attempt to
> reduce the actions of an individual (let alone a group) to a single primary
> motivator.
> I've also tried to point out that the idea of a return "in our lifetime"
> seems to me a SECONDARY idea - probably inferred from the PRIMARY idea of a
> "sudden" return. Certainly both ideas are consistent with the idea of an
> IMMINENT return. Here I note two points: first, "imminent" is OUR word -
> imposed upon the Scriptural witness precisely in order to force the rather
> disparate sayings into a false unity. I've been trying to get past this term
> to actually look at the data WITHOUT imposing our later attempts at unifying
> theological construction, but to no avail.
> Bernie:
> On the suggestion that there may be a body of unrecorded teaching of Jesus
> NOT contained in the Gospels, I have a few observations:
> First, the Gospels contain the teaching of the apostles about Jesus, not
> the teaching of Jesus himself. So if there WAS any unrecorded teaching which
> might greatly influence the Gospel accounts it must ALREADY be contained
> therein. To put it simply, the Gospel authors had already come to a quite
> developed understanding of who Jesus was, and what his teaching was about,
> prior to writing the Gospels. In one sense, of course, this furthers the
> conundrum - how could their "quite developed understanding" include the view
> that Jesus was returning in their lifetime and still be held credible? My
> response: first, I think (again) it's an inference from what Jesus CLEARLY
> taught (a "sudden" return). Second, if their understanding was based on an
> unambiguous teaching of Jesus, then I'd expect clear reference to this in
> the Gospel records.
> Second, whilst it's an uncheckable assumption, I'd wager that the Gospels
> contain a "cross-section" of Jesus teaching such that nothing is really lost
> in our not having that additional 99% anyway. Or, to put it another way, I
> believe that if one had access to a voice recording of ALL of Jesus
> ministry, one would STILL have the ambiguity as it currently stands.
> Third, you're quite right that I privilege the WRITTEN teaching of Jesus
> over anything else. I particularly privilege it over speculative
> reconstructions of what he MIGHT have said AND I privilege it over the
> beliefs even of his closest followers.
> Or, to think of this third point in another way, you suggest that I think
> that what Jesus told the disciples "off the record" (so to speak) is
> "irrelevant." My response is to point out that the disciples were the ones
> who determined relevance when they decided not to write it. The fact is that
> the Gospels contain the "most relevant" material selected by the disciples
> out of the 100% which was "off the record" in the first instance. The
> additional 99% might be interesting to know about, but I'm guessing it
> wouldn't vary our picture a great deal.
> I'd only add that if you find a great many pastors disagreeing with your
> point-of-view on such matters, then perhaps there's a message in there for
> you? At least, I'd personally want to counsel a person to have very sound
> reasons to go against a majority view.
> Blessings,
> Murray Hogg
> Pastor, East Camberwell Baptist Church, Victoria, Australia
> Post-Grad Student (MTh), Australian College of Theology
> David Opderbeck wrote:
> > In this regard, the supposed proof texts offered by Edward Babinksi are
> > all over the place. There is a huge amount of theological baggage in a
> > term like "the last days," for example; the sense of "already-not-yet"
> > that we now recognize in this phrase is sometimes latent, sometimes more
> > explicit. You may not realize this, but Babinski has rejected the faith
> > entirely and is simply out to discredit any sense of coherence at all in
> > scripture. This kind of string-verse-together-out-of-context
> > prooftexting is simply not a useful way to read the Bible. --
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu Oct 16 16:47:34 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Oct 16 2008 - 16:47:34 EDT