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

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Fri Oct 17 2008 - 11:27:24 EDT

David Opderbeck said:
"Bernie: can I gently suggest that you take a break from reading the unbalanced, puerile, hyper-skeptical trash on sites like internet infidels? Read Richard Bauckham, NT Wright, Jaroslav Pelikan, Scot McKnight, Richard Hays -- and many, many others like them who are neither fundamentalist inerrantists nor fundamentalist skeptics."
Hi David-
I read them all as time allows. I read Ken Ham, Richard Dawkins, CS Lewis, ... the whole gamut from unbelief to belief. I heard one podcast where a preacher detailed how evil CS Lewis was, and another where the teacher sang the praises of CS Lewis.
Here's my idea. Pastor Murray (someone you likely agree with) and I agree that the disciples thought Christ would return in their lifetime, and these disciples were wrong. My hypothesis for consideration: Isn't it a possibility that Jesus was wrong? Can that be possible, and still not detract from the nature of the trinity, which no one understands fully anyway? Jesus did not know everything. I think we can all agree to that. He had to learn how to walk, speak, and get potty-trained just like every other human, right? When he was learning math, he probably got some questions wrong (oops, 2+2=4, not 3, when in grade school, if there was such a thing). And somehow that doesn't detract from His Godhood. In the same way, could he have simply taught his imminent return and had been wrong? I know the consequences of that may feel scary, but that hasn't stopped before as some of us ignored the consequences to our Biblical understanding when we studied and rejected YEC.

From: David Opderbeck []
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2008 8:03 PM
Cc:; Dehler, Bernie;;;;;;;;;;;
Subject: Re: [asa] A theology question (imminent return of Christ)

Thank you, Ed, for giving references to actual scholars: Tabor and Ehrmann (and their forebears among the skeptical Enlightenment rationalists). These are exactly the references I expected, as they are committed to the view that the New Testament is essentially nothing but a confused set of polemics compiled by the "winning" faction among a number of equally viable "christianities" in the first to third centuries.

As I've said several times, it does seem clear that there was some expectation in the early Christian community of an immediate return of Christ. The thesis that the NT is a collection of mistaken millennial texts promoted by one christian faction, however, is not sustainable based either on the actual message of the texts or a reasonable reading of early church history. Your method of proof is, indeed, a kind of reverse fundamentalist proof-texting. The overall eschatological theme of the NT isn't "withdraw from the world for Christ is returning right now"; it seems clearly to be "persevere and be filled with hope for Christ will surely complete the fullfillment of his kingdom."

I should note that I'm neither a dispensationalist nor a preterist, and that I have no interest in this discussion in arguing for any particular notion of inerrancy.

Bernie: can I gently suggest that you take a break from reading the unbalanced, puerile, hyper-skeptical trash on sites like internet infidels? Read Richard Bauckham, NT Wright, Jaroslav Pelikan, Scot McKnight, Richard Hays -- and many, many others like them who are neither fundamentalist inerrantists nor fundamentalist skeptics.
On Thu, Oct 16, 2008 at 9:45 PM, Edward T. Babinski <<>> wrote:
Hi Everyone,

I've read all of your comments on the topic of the N.T.'s predictions of the imminent return of Christ.

Someone mentioned believing in the resurrection, and how that makes every other question seem of less consequence, so why bother with studying this particular question and subject? I would like to note however that philosopher Paul Nelson is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a YEC who uses his faith in the resurrection of Jesus in a similar manner, stating that any God capable of making a man rise from the dead is capable of creating the world in six-days only a couple thousand years ago, and that He alone knows all the flaws in modern science that lead people into falsely believing the cosmos is billions of years old.

Dave Opderbeck seems to feel the most strongly that my listing of all the verses predicting an imminent return -- as cited in "The Lowdown on God's Showdown" -- are simply examples of reverse proof texting, fundamentalism in reverse.

However, the problematical plain sense of each verse has stood out to many theologians since the Enlightenment from Voltaire and Reimarus to British deists who all mentioned them, and later Strauss who wrote two chapters on this topic in his Life of Jesus, and later still, Schweitzer, and later still, the moderate/liberal Evangelical Christian and historical Jesus scholar/author (and friend of N.T. Wright) James D. G. Dunn, all admit errors were made and can be plainly seen in the N.T. C. S. Lewis admitted such errors were visible, as did Paul Johnson (a less well known British Christian apologist/author).

N.T. scholar James D. Tabor lists "New Testament Texts on the Imminence of the End" on his website, "The Jewish Roman World of Jesus":

See also Tabor's article, "Dead Messiahs Who Don't Return: Millennial Hope and Disappointment in the Dead Sea Scroll Community" in which he concludes, "Based on this model of the demise/departure of the Teacher, we can see the same kind of apocalyptic hope and disappointment reflected in our early Gospel materials; this is especially evident in Mark, which seems to cluster traditions from the 70 CE period of the 1st Jewish Roman revolt. It is clear that the community of Jesus followers expect his return within a generation (40 years?), so the decade of the 70's CE must have brought on a real crisis."

To sum up what Tabor and Ehrmann and others have written on the topic, we know today that imminent predictions of the world's final judgment were made prior to the first century by those who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, and by John the Baptist (who certainly seems to have preached an imminent final judgment based on N.T. verses about his mission), and then later on after Jesus we read about imminent predictions made by Paul and other N.T. writers. Keeping in mind that Jesus lived after the DSS and after John the the Baptist but before Paul, and that the three earliest Gospel stories about Jesus feature "little apocalypses" that echo similar end times expectations/predictions, it's difficult not to notice the theological difficulties this information creates, especially for inerrantist Christians of either the Preterist or Dispensationalist variety. (Also, we know that both Paul and the early church fathers themselves believed that by the first and early
 second century the Gospel HAD already been preached to the "whole world" as they knew and defined it. Preterists likewise point that out. See my article for the exact verses from Paul and the early church fathers I am talking about.)

So it is the subtle theological art of attempting to explain away or ignore all such imminent predictions of soon judgment of the world that strikes me as being disingenuous.

Below are my favorite books on the topic:

Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998)

Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 2001)

Audio series on The Historical Jesus that covers this topic in one of the CDs:
The Stars Will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the New Testament and Its World -- (Library of New Testament Studies 347, 2007) delves into conclusive evidence for a belief in the end of the created world in works written either just before or during the N.T. period.
In God's Time - The most moderate Evangelical book on the topic, attempts a reconciliation perhaps like Murray's. But the other books which present a bit more radical view also should not be overlooked.
The video for the above book is even sold along with N.T. Wright's videos at this website:

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David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
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Received on Fri Oct 17 11:31:21 2008

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