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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Did Jesus Predict the Rapture within 40 Years of his Death? Part 2


The Problem of “γενε ατη” (“this generation”) and
πάντα τατα” (“these things”) in Matthew 24
Part 2 – Sensus Plenior and Progressive Revelation


Introduction

Before I continue on with an examination of the specific passage under discussion, it seems necessary to take a step back and make some methodological and theological qualifications that will be of significant importance to our examination of the text. While entire books can and have been written on the topics of this section of our discussion, due to the limited space my treatment of it here will be almost hopelessly brief. However we simply cannot proceed any further without at least an introductory knowledge of these topics.

Within hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation) theologians have long recognized the literary use of typology in Hebrew literature. While it is present and even prevalent in other texts besides the Bible, one simply cannot adequately read the Bible without recognizing the wide spread, and often foundational uses of sensus plenior in types (shadows), theme resolution, and double fulfillment. The import of these various hermeneutical methods may not be immediately clear until they are applied in further sections of this series. Since I am seeking brevity to a degree, this section will primarily involve some brief definitions and then several examples from Biblical passages to illustrate their usage.


Progressive Revelation

Genesis 3:15 has long been dubbed the Proto-Evangelion, which translates to the “first gospel.” However useful this title is for this specific verse is beside the point. What is of importance to our discussion here is that it is a prime example of what Christians mean when we talk about progressive revelation. Genesis 3:15 reads,

15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.

Here we find God pronouncing his judgment on the serpent for his role in instigating the fall of humanity into sin and death. This curse is at the same time immediate and eschatological. It is like a judge pounding his hammer in sentencing capital punishment, but without reference to the date of execution. From this day forth the serpent is on death row, desperately raging against the dying of the light. Christians have long seen this as the very first Biblical proclamation of the victory that will be achieved by Jesus’ death on the cross. They notice that it will be a human (seed of the woman) who will be the final victor over Satan. And while the serpent may bruise the heel of Christ (when he dies for a time) it will ultimately be that very heel that crushes the head the of the serpent. Yet what we notice instantly from a passage like this is that not everything that can be said is mentioned about this struggle between the powers and principalities of this world and the people of God throughout history. Not everything that can be said about the reason for or the outcome of the death and resurrection of Jesus can be found within Genesis 3:15. It makes no mention of the substitutionary nature of the atonement, the sheer grace of God’s election, justification or sanctification of believers. Nothing is said to the effect that we are only saved by grace, through faith, and not by works. In fact, the proto-evangelion is only a slightest foreshadow of the later reality, the most minute taste of the what is to come. Yet it is vitally important to driving the narrative of redemption of the first Adam to the second. It propels the story forward as the people of God, languishing under sin, death and condemnation, constantly look to the hills for the first sign of the coming savior, the seed of the woman who was promised, the Anointed One, the Christ.

And it is in this propulsion that the concept of progressive revelation is most prominent. We see that God did not desire to reveal everything that there is to know about himself, about us, about the cosmos, about sin and death and redemption. In fact, what we find over and over is that God is God who is pleased to address his people in their historic context, condescend to speak to them in language accessible to them, and to reveal as much of himself as is needed to guide the people of that time forward toward redemption. We must remember that there was a time when not everyone had the full counsel of a complete Bible to inform their lives. They lived at a certain time in history in which the world was viewed entirely differently than how we view it today. The ancient world had different views of the nature of the cosmos, the meaning of life, the priorities of daily life, of government, religion, culture, and even a fundamentally different worldview. For example, it becomes almost impossible for us to understand the world of Genesis 1 through the functional ontology of the time, because we are so steeped in a modern, scientifically driven material ontology.

This is all to say that God spoke to people where they were. He did not require them to change their cognitive structures, worldviews, or cultures in an instant just to understand who God was, what humanity’s place in the cosmos was, and what God was doing in history. When missionaries go into other cultures they often have to “contextualize” their message in order to effectively minister in a foreign culture. This means that they must find a way to communicate using that culture’s language, history, worldview and iconography but maintain the core message that they want to convey. We could say that God was the ultimate contextualizer. God did not give lectures about everything that a person would need to know about the nature of the universe, of matter, of disease, of evolution, of science, art, literature, morality, etc. God gave us stories. And in a sense, a story can more easily endure, transcend, motivate and undermine any one culture to appreciated the world over.

This then brings us to our main area of discussion for this section. That God, being the grand author, the one who saw redemptive history from beginning to end, like a master story crafter, sets certain balls in motion that will find fuller significance later in the story. This really is a sign of a master literary mind. How often have you marveled when reading your favorite book or watching your favorite movie, that you notice something that seemed so trivial or at least less than profound coming to a full blossom at the dénouement of the story; when all loose ends are fastened and all questions answered. Even the stories that end with a mystery, a question, a new quest for the truth, are so powerful because they have been building toward such a conclusion – the quest, the question itself had been there the entire time, lurking in the shadows; growing, building, gaining speed and significance. This is the difference between stories where the climax fails, at which we are angered to have wasted our time on the story, and the ones that the ending question excites us to delve into the story again in a perpetual quest for answers that we know will never come. It is only when we realize that the story itself is fully expressed in the quest, that it all points to the fact that in the end there will be no finish line, just another bend in the road, that we fully appreciate these stories.

Should it not surprise us then that the Bible, “the greatest story ever told,” should have elements of both? That a theme or an image or event that seemed to have one significance early in the story should come to full blossom to another in its climax? But that it would also lead us so powerfully to a quest? To unanswered questions? Is it not fitting that Revelation, the final book in the canon, should be so littered with Old Testament imagery that the only way to really understand it is to start over at the beginning of the narrative, when God created the heavens and earth that came to renewal at the close of Revelation?

Before moving on we should note however that progressive revelation is not quite the same as an evolved revelation. It does not mean that what is said early in the story evolves or changes as the story progresses. As we will see, what can be considered a type will go unmentioned for nearly the entire canon before it gets picked up again. It does not go through changes. It is simply planted, germinates, then blossoms in its full splendor later on. It also does not mean that God will say one thing early in the narrative, change his mind, and say something later. While some skeptics want to say that the Bible will often contradict previous statements, I am fairly convinced that this is simply not the case, and I have never been presented with any veridical examples of it. (The examples are often given by those of very little education in material they are addressing, following a total lack or even explicit rejection of study of the historical, cultural, theological and linguistic contexts of the passage, based on inexcusably shallow interpretations of the ENGLISH text, and without any awareness of their own ineptitude.)


Sensus Plenior

Sensus plenior (SP) in Bible is actually a kind of umbrella category for the other terms that will follow as they are more specific applications of SP. Sensus plenior is a latin term that means, literally, “fuller sense” or “deeper meaning” and is used to refer to those passages that speak of a person(s), event, or theme that has an immediate meaning in its original context but that looks beyond them to a fuller or deeper realization, recapitulation, application or resolution in a future person(s) or event. While some definitions treat these meanings are primary and secondary meaning, I find these categories to be less than helpful since the secondary (plenary) meaning often has a more weighty importance in the overall scope of the Bible.

SP is often expressed in terms of typology, theme-resolution, and double fulfillment. Here I will only be giving a brief definition of each followed by an example or two for each. I recognize that entire books can and have been written on these issues and that the extent to which we should observe each of these in Scripture is hotly debated, and thus am under no delusion that the remainder of this section will be a sufficient treatment of these topics. What I am hoping for however is simply to present the concepts as they will be employed in our later discussion of Jesus’ statements in Matthew 24 and other passages we will explore.

Two major expressions of SP are typology and double fulfillment. (There are others such as theme fulfillment, metaphor, etc. but we are only concerned to address these two here.)

1.      Typology
a.       A prior person, place or event is the prototype or indicator of a future antitype. Theologians also talk in terms of “shadow” and “fulfillment” when addressing these passages.
b.      Examples:
                                                              i.      Adam – This is a common example and one that Paul in Romans 5 himself teases out. We see that while Adam was the first human to enter into a covenantal relationship with God, that Jesus is the fulfillment of that. Where Adam broke the covenant and brought death to all those whom he represented in the covenant of works after him, Jesus succeeded and brought life to all those whom he represented in the covenant of redemption. Adam’s failure as a covenant breaker, pointed toward the need for a covenant keeper. Adam as the bringer of death, pointed toward one who would be the bringer of life.
                                                            ii.      Israel – Where Israel wandered and failed for 40 years in the desert, Jesus was directed and succeeded in the wilderness for 40 days. Where the Israelites sinned in their disdain for the bread that God had provided for them, Jesus succeeded in his love for the bread (the word of God) that he had been provided. Where Israel was called like a “son” by God when called from Egypt (Hosea 11:1-4), Jesus was God’s son whom was called as a child out of Egypt.
                                                          iii.      Prophet, Priest and King – A prophet was one who spoke to the people for God. Jesus spoke to the people as God. A priest was one who interceded for the people before God, Jesus interceded as God for the people. A priest needed to atone for themselves before they brought an offering to God that was imperfect and would only suffice for a time. Jesus was the perfect priest who needed no cleansing or atonement for himself and who offered the perfect sacrifice once and for all. The king ruled over Israel under the guidance of God in attempt to bring about justice and righteousness but only ruled for a time, and often unsuccessfully. Jesus is the eternal king who rules as God in perfect justice and righteousness.  


2.      Double Fulfillment
a.       A statement, prophecy or theme may have not only an immediate application but will also have perpetual later application as history unfolds. A common illustration given to show what is meant here is that of a mountain range. In fig. 2.4 we see first a mountain from a great distance. It appears to be far off but when we draw closer we find that it is not only one mountain, but a range of mountains. So with double fulfillment it is that the author may see only one fulfillment when they pen their verses, but as history unfolds we find that there may be several actualized fulfillments of the verse. What is important to note here however is that contained within the original contexts of the passages are hints that it is referring to more than one fulfillment.
b.      Examples
                                                              i.      Immanuel. In Isaiah 7 we find this statement: 4Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria."
Many people have done wonderful work on full expositions of this text and I myself preached an entire sermon on it (listen to it here: http://logical-theism.blogspot.com/2010/08/ahaz-at-crossroads-isaiah-71-17.html). Here I am simply going to state that the Immanuel child was likely a child born to the prophet prior to Judah’s fall to the Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser III.  Yet when we look at the passage we can see that this child could not have been the only referent of the passage. As we keep reading further down past the citation above, we see that the child points to another child, another Immanuel. Not a child who would show us “Immanuel” (“God with us”) but a child who would actually be Immanuel. A child who would be God come to dwell among us. (Incidentally this points us also to the significance of the tabernacle. God would dwell with his people in the tabernacle, but would later quite literally dwell with his people in the person of Jesus.)
                                                            ii.      The abomination that causes desolation. Daniel 9:27 says, And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” While commentators go back and forth about what is actually meant, what they all agree on is that what is being referred to is an act that is considered “unclean” by the Jews being performed in the temple. This text will be vital to our later discussion so I will be very brief here, but we can ask, when was this or will it be fulfilled? Well some want to say that it refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the mid-second century BCE. Antiochus had set up an alter to Zeus in the Second Temple and then to add insult to injury, sacrificed a pig on the alter of God sometime around 167 BCE. Other scholars point to a similar incident with the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem and set up the standards of the Emperor (considered by many to be divine) in the temple courts. Other scholars would look a few years previous to Nero, while others look to a future Antichrist who will fit the bill. Some see it in Hitler, others Stalin, some Bin Ladin. Others think he has yet to be identified. The problem here is that each of these commentators is looking for one and only one fulfillment While it is possible that none of these are the events that Daniel was referring to, it is possible that each of these (admittedly more drastic than the previous one) are growing fulfillments of the passage? In fact when we look at John’s 1st epistle we see that he does not have in his mind one single Antichrist but says that “it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). Does this mean that John does not think that there will not be one final and antitypal antichrist? Not at all. But it does show that John is comfortable identifying many fulfillments of the antichrist motif. It is possible that he has Antiochus, Nero, the Roman armies and a future Antichrist in mind.

Now that we have examined (though admittedly extremely briefly) these concepts, we will be prepared in our next section to begin our examination of the interpretation of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 that I find to be most compelling; not because it simply “works” to save an inerrantist view of the Bible, but because it is the most plausible interpretation given the theology, hermeneutic, and worldview of a 1st century Jewish teacher like Jesus.

In the following sections I will be arguing that Jesus did intend his statements to be fulfilled within approximately 40 years but that what he was referring to was not his Second Coming or the end of the world, but to the coming of the kingdom of God as expressed in the judgment and destruction of the temple in CE 70. In addition, Jesus most likely was using typology and double fulfillment to point beyond these events to fuller and more complete realizations of these events. As he was warning his listeners to be prepared and well equipped for the end of Jerusalem which they could see the signs for and be ready for (thus the warning to head to the hills which would be utterly futile at the end of the world), how much more so should they attempt to prepare their souls for the final coming of Jesus to usher in culmination of all redemptive history? I intend to show that Jesus did not falsely predict anything, but was rather using an event such as the judgment on Jerusalem to point beyond itself to a greater eschatological reality.

For further study on these topics I recommend the following books:

The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses by Vern Poythress
Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy
Gospel Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy
Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul
Look to the Rock by Alec Motyer
Primary and Plenary Sense by F.F. Bruce (article) http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/plenary-sense_bruce.pdf


Friday, May 27, 2011

Israel in Egypt – Historical Fact or Later Fiction? Part 1


Israel in Egypt – Historical Fact or Later Fiction?
Part 1

After listening to the recent episode of the Imaginary Friends Show podcast that I was a guess on, I have received many comments from my friends here on facebook. Many of them have been very encouraging and appreciative of my comments on the show. Others have been challenging in their comments – both from Christians and Atheists. But one of the most common questions that people have been asking me is concerning the section on this history of Israel. I was surprised by many of the comments usually for one of two reasons. They either seemed blissfully unaware that any real problems existed in the dating of the composition of the Exodus narrative (let alone in the historicity of a proto-Israel outside of the Levant), or they thought it was such an open and shut case that the narratives were composed in the late First Millennium and that the Biblical accounts were total fabrications. Both extremes seem totally out of touch with the research on the issue.

In response to these questions/comments, I will be spending several sections dedicated to explaining why I believe in the historicity of the Egypt/Exodus narrative and hold to the traditional early dating of their compositions. This does not mean that I do not recognize that there are difficulties in adopting such a position. I simply think the weight of the evidence is in that direction.

Before I begin I want to also deal with one objection that I know will be raised against my overall method and then state one presupposition that I will be working off of. The objection is that because I believe the Bible already that I am simply arguing in a circle in order to affirm the Bible. I think that any commonsense reading of what I am about to present will refute that claim on its own, but I would also like to specifically state that I am giving arguments here for exactly WHY I believe the Biblical accounts. We Christians are commonly asked for “evidence” for why we believe what we believe. It is to that end that I wish to attempt to achieve in these next few notes. I will not be arguing that the Bible is true because it is inspired or anything of that nature – but rather that the accounts are historically reliable, composed at the traditional early dates and accord with everything we know about the Ancient Near East (ANE) during that time frame. I think this objection is more ideologically driven against anyone who attempts to defend the Bible in any manner and is not substantive in the slightest.

The presupposition that I will be working with is one that I think any historian or any student of history will have no problem conceding. That presupposition is merely that ancient writers are not modern writers. It seems somewhat redundant and unnecessary to make this point explicitly but let me hash it out a little bit. By this assumption I mean to imply several things. Firstly, the ancient writer should be understood to write within the confines of normal literary structures that were contemporaneous with their culture and should not be forced to keep a standard of modern historiography our journalistic exactitude (if we can even say that is accomplished today). This means that the ancient author should be read according to his original authorial intent within the structures of literature at the time – including factors such as genre, context (historical, cultural, political, etc), themes, polemics, rhetoric, etc. Secondly, is that ancient writers did not spend 4 years for an undergraduate degree, several years for a Masters, even countless more for a PhD or post doctorate work, all focused on the historical insights of centuries of historical study, archeology, epigraphy, onomasiology, etc. They would have been almost completely unaware of the cultural practices, linguistical structures, etymologies, rhetorical devices, etc. from generations past of their own culture, let alone centuries removed from another culture. This will come into play most dramatically when we realize that a late First Millennium Hebrew scribe would have known next to nothing about the finer nuances of Second Intermediate or Empire Age Egyptian culture, politics, rhetoric, polemical devices, culture, etc.

Let me also list my sources for the next few notes that I will be composing on this subject. I will primarily be relying on the following texts (though this list is not even close to being exhaustive)

ed. Block, Darrell. Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention (collection of essays)
Currid, John. Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament.   
Hoffmeier, James. Israel in Egypt.
Kitchen, Kenneth A. On The Reliability of the Old Testament.
ed. Long, Baker, and Wenham. Windows into Old Testament History.

None of these books are really “page turners” and are sometimes quite technical and dry – which may explain the endurance of the leftist extreme who rejects all arguments for the traditional dating as passé. Though this may also be due to the limited range of “evidence” allowed to be part of the discussion. Many of you who listened to the episode will undoubtedly remember Jake’s comments about the total lack of “shits” found in the Sinai desert. While the discussion was not nearly deep enough to evaluate Jake’s range of acceptable evidences, what I commonly find is that many skeptics will preclude many arguments that do not rely solely on empirically verifiable “evidences”. However, any trained in historical study knows that while these kinds of evidences are great, they are rarer than we think. Yet historical study moves on just fine due to the many other kinds of evidences are arguments available to us.

And now let us look at some of these evidences. Many of them will be of the kind that I call “dovetail” evidence. That is, that the cumulative evidence is better explained by one context than others. For much of this we will see that an earlier Second Intermediate Period or Empire Period Egyptian context fits the composition of the Egypt/Exodus narrative rather than a later post-exilic one.

1.      Source criticism is being strongly reexamined and often abandoned in favor or more literary approaches to the text.
a.       When someone now tries to tout source criticism as if it is gospel truth and not what it really is these days (a theory in crisis) they reveal a reliance of quite outdated research and information. We can find good examples of this in the works of such scholars as Charles Isbell, Gordon Davies, G. Fischer, Thomas Thompson, etc.
                                                              i.      In fact speaking of source theory, Thompson says that it is “no longer sufficient to maintain such a radical interpretation of narrative, one which carries us so far from any immediate reading of the text.” (Thompson, Origin Tradition. p155)
b.      We have come to find that key words, themes, and whole narrative “units” OFTEN cross the boundaries set down by traditional source critics.


2.      There was a massive influx of Semites into Egypt during the Old Kingdom (ca. 2190BCE) to the Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1786-1550 BCE).
a.       Epigraphic and archeological evidence all point to the fact this massive immigration to Egypt from the Levant was to seek relief from drought and famine in Canaan. (we will also see later that there was also some who were brought during this period as military captives).
b.      If a later date is assumed (commonly suggested to be post-exile during the mid to late First Millennium) there seems to be no corresponding period in which the narrative would dovetail with these historical conditions. After the expulsion of the Hyksos at the end of the Seventeenth Dynasty, there seems to be a drastic decline in Semetic presence with no other possible periods of massive migration to Egypt that would correspond to the Biblical events. These massive levels of Semitic presence in Egypt and the  common pattern of migration to escape drought and famine correspond nicely with the “Patriarchical period” of Israel’s history.

3.       Onomasiology (the study of names) reveals that the names used in the Joseph/Moses/Exodus cycles are clearly Egyptian in etymology (though their exact etymological roots are not always agreed upon) and some are only present in their forms during the Second Intermediate and Empire Periods.
a.       Examples are: 
                                                              i.      Potiphar
                                                            ii.      Asenath
                                                          iii.      Zaphenath-paneah
                                                          iv.      Hartummim (the “magicians”)

4.      Joseph’s title as ruler over Egypt had no known comparative during Israel’s monarchy – but was present during the Second Intermediate and Empire Periods in Egypt.

5.      The use of the city names “Rameses” and “Raameses” almost a Millennia after the delta capital was abandoned in 1100 BCE would make little to no sense.

6.      Joseph was bought as a slave for 20 shekels.
a.       The average slave price during the first half of the second millennium was 20 shekels. During the second half of the second millennium, due to inflation, the average price was 30 shekels. By the middle of the first millennium (when many critics want to place the composition of exodus) the average price was between 50 to 60 shekels. Should we expect that the author redacted his own narrative to account for inflation just to try and fool historians that he did not know would ever exist nearly 3000 years later?

These are just an introductory handful of examples. I will be going through my notes that I have made in the past in the sources I listed above and will be compiling a more comprehensive list as I go. But I hope this will be a good start for those who were interested in this topic. There is much more to come.

For Part 2: http://freedthinkerpodcast.blogspot.com/2011/06/israel-in-egypt-historical-fact-or.html

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Did Jesus Predict the Rapture within 40 Years of his Death? Part 1

The Problem of “γενεὰ αὕτη” (“this generation”) and
“πάντα ταῦτα” (“these things”) in Matthew 24

Part 1 – Introduction and Summation of Categories of Possible Solutions


Preliminary Thoughts on Methodology:

I would like to start with a preliminary statement about the exhortation to read the passage in its “plain” or “literal” sense. This exhortation comes not surprisingly from both the literalists and the critics. (I use “literalist” in a technical sense to refer to those who ascribe to the method of hermeneutics known as the “literal method” and not merely to all people who hold a “literal” understanding of the Bible because, in some sense, this would include all readers to some degree; and I use “critic” to refer to those skeptics who, despite a total lack of hermeneutical, historical, linguistic or Biblical/theological training deem themselves experts in the field but often reveal a surprising lack of clarity, understanding or even basic skills to read an interpret ancient texts). This is not surprising because the literalists often demand that a text can have but one meaning and that meaning is found in a prima facie reading of the text. (However, they often violate their own hermeneutic when it suits their theological framework and will often interpret clear passages by ambiguous ones thus violating the hermeneutical principle of the analogy of faith – or in plain terms, that the clear and explicit should always interpret the ambiguous and metaphorical.) On the other hand, the critics will often only interact with the literalists and thus assume that their reading of the passage is the only valid one and thus that any Christian who wants to hold to a “literal” reading of the passage (an equivocation of the meaning of “literal” is often glossed over) must understand it as the literalists do or else be in violation of some abhorrent scripture twisting. It is almost humorous that neither perspective sees how much in agreement they actually are even though they think they are diametrically opposed to one another.

However, is a “plain” or “literal” reading of a passage the best? Well the answer is complicated. It seems that it should be yes and no. A “plain” reading is a virtue but what constitutes a plain or literal meaning is much more nuanced than we are aware of at first. The problem should becoming immediately obvious when we consider what the “plain” reading of a text would be for a first century Jew and a 21st century American. They would be drastically different. We must never forget that the Bible was written at a specific time in history, at a specific location, was steeped the normal worldview of the culture, and employed symbols, illustrations, metaphors, grammar, rhetoric, etc. of that time period. A humorous example can be seen if we were to look at the use of “heart” in the Old Testament. If we were to translate “heart” literally from the Hebrew we should actually use a term like “bowels” or “pit of the stomach”. So why do we use heart? Because our English translators have taken the concept meant by the Hebrew (the bowels were seen as the seat of emotion and personhood in the Ancient Jewish world) and translated it into the English parallel (“heart” is the organ we use to represent the seat of emotion and personhood in our western culture). If the translators had simply left it as “bowels” can we imagine what kind of strange interpretations people would have if they had no understanding of the historical and cultural contexts of that idiom?

To make problems even more severe for our text, we can also consider that in writing his Gospel, Matthew was a 1st century Jew, translating the Aramaic sayings of Jesus into Koine Greek in order to present his message to Roman gentiles. In light of this we can see how layers of meaning or contexts begin to build layer upon layer so that a “plain” reading becomes much more work than simply reading it and deciding what makes the best sense to our modern worldviews.

Thus for us to understand the “plain” reading of a passage, it is imperative that we are willing to do the leg work to understand in historical, cultural, political, religious, literary, rhetorical, polemical, grammatical, etc. contexts that may be operating within our given text.



The Problem Stated:

In Matthew 24:34 we find Jesus making the statement “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” If “these things” refers to all of the statements made previously in the chapter, and if those statements refer to what will happen immediately preceding the return of Christ and the end of the world, and if “this generation” means the 40 year generation of those present while Jesus was speaking, then it seems that Jesus made a false prediction.

If Jesus was predicting his return within 40 years of the Olivet Discourse, and now nearly 2000 years have passed, the Jesus would have been clearly mistaken. This is an obvious problem for those that want to say Jesus is a messenger from God, let alone the perfect incarnation of the 2nd person of the God-head.



Categories of Possible Solutions:

There are two categories of solutions to this problem. The first has to do with the interpretation of  “γενεὰ αὕτη” and the second has to do with the interpretation of “πάντα ταῦτα”.

Let us look at the three possible solutions that fall under the first category.

1.      γενε ατη” means something other than a 40 year generation. It is possible that “γενεὰ αὕτη” could mean something other than the generation following Jesus’ sermon. The Greek word γενεὰ is commonly used as a synonym for γενóς (“race,” “stock,” “people”) and thus may refer to the Jewish race, or even to a kind of people (such as sinful humanity). However, this seems to be unlikely since ever Biblical example of this kind of usage of the Greek word γενεὰ always has an adjectival modifier. For example, we can see Matthew 12:39, 16:4 - “γενεὰ πονηρὰ καὶ μοιχαλὶς” (“an evil and adulterous generation”); or Mark 8:38 – “τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ,” (“in this adulterous and sinful generation”). In all these examples we can see that “generation” could easily be understand as “people” (i.e. in Matthew 12:39 “An evil and adulterous PEOPLE seeks for a sign…” is quite a legitimate rendering). However in Matthew 24:34 such a rendering would seem strained. While we do have extra-Biblical examples of an unmodified γενεὰ referring to kind of people rather than a generation (such as in Homer or Herodotus), and thus is possible in Matthew 24:34, this seems to strain at credulity considering no other Biblical example can be found.

2.      γενε ατη” means something other than the generation of Jesus’ audience. Another option is that “γενεὰ αὕτη” could refer to a generation, but rather than being the generation of Jesus’ audience, it could be the people he referred to previously who would see the signs of his coming. If the signs do not begin until 5000 CE then Jesus would be referring to that generation. It will be that generation who sees the signs that will not perish prior to Jesus’ second coming. However there seems to be two major problems with this view.

     a.       The first problem is that one would have explain why Jesus would use the near demonstrative “αὕτη” (“this”) rather than a form of the far demonstrative “ἐκεῖνος” (“that”). While grammatically both are technically acceptable (since, if this interpretation is correct Jesus had introduced the subject and thus can legitimately refer to it as “this”), it simply strains at feasibility to read “this” as “that” in a future prediction; especially considering that Jesus had no issues with it previously.
     b.      The second problem is that this interpretation seems to make the statement just utterly inconsequential. What sense would it make to explicitly refer to something that is necessarily implied by something else? If the tribulation would only last 7 years (the view commonly held by those who attempt to use this objection to the problem in order to say that Jesus was referring to the generation of Jews living at the time of the tribulation), then what sense would it make to say that that generation would not perish before the end of the tribulation. It would be like stating that a generation would not pass away before Obama will leave office. Well if Obama can only be in office a maximum of 5 more years, then obviously 40 years will not pass before 5 years will. This interpretation simply makes the statement utterly trivial.

3.      γενε ατη”, when reverse translated into Aramaic, means something other than a 40 year generation. While this interpretation is similar to that of the first it has one major advantage. It states that the problem is only an apparent problem with the Greek text, and not a substantive problem for Jesus as a prediction. In fact, in other translations of the NT the problem is also not readily apparent – such as the Syriac Peshitta which uses the term sharbetā which almost equally can mean generation or race. Thus the problem is only in Matthew’s Greek translation (though “γενεὰ” still may have been his best option) and not in Jesus’ actual prediction. In Aramaic it would be equally likely that Jesus could have meant “this generation” as he would have meant “this race/people”. In fact, I will come back to this as a possible double entendre when we consider that the Olivet Discourse often employs the concepts of double fulfillment and typology.

The second part of this essay will deal with the second, and in my opinion the strongest, solutions to the problem. This is the solution that says the problem is resolved not by looking at what “γενεὰ αὕτη” means, but at what “πάντα ταῦτα” refers to. I will argue that “γενεὰ αὕτη” does in fact refer to the generation of Jesus’ audience (though with some implicit and intentional winks to double fulfillment and typology) but that “πάντα ταῦτα” does not primarily refer to the events surrounding the second coming of Christ at the end of the world, but the judgment of God executed against the Temple at the end of the age of the Old Covenant in 70 CE. These events only typologically point us to the return of Christ and the end of the world.

It will be my contention that this would have been the “plain” reading of the passage as it was understood by both Jesus and his 1st century Jewish audience.