Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Call to Alacrity, not Perplexity

In my two previous posts I have been discussing an article by Professor Dan Doriani titled What is The 'Abomination of Desolation'? The article appears at The Gospel Coalition website. This post seeks to answer the question posed in the title of Professor Doriani's article.

It could be pointed out that by considering what the Abomination of Desolation is, Professor Doriani is also seeking to establish when it is. In other words, did it happen in 70 AD, or is it yet a future event? Understanding what it is assists in understanding that it has not yet occurred.

Some keys to answering this question of when are in Matthew 24: 15 itself. The verse begins with the clause "Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation..." (NASB). Not "if you see..." The text presumes that the reader who happens to be located in the vicinity of the event will see it. With the assistance of current technology (and, hypothetically, of future technology), it is easy to consider how those in the region could view a video feed of the event. On the other hand, in the first century it would not seem plausible that everyone in the district could personally observe, from their houses and fields,  an occurrence taking place inside the Temple. Also, the definite article and reference to the book of Daniel both clarify that a technical prophetic term is being implemented to refer to a specific earth-shaking event--this is not just an abomination, but The Abomination. When it happens, it will dwarf other lesser abominations.

Then there is the urgent instruction  to flee from the area because the Abomination of Desolation signals the approach of superlative tribulation never seen before and never to be seen again (verses 16-21). But when Roman armies invaded the Temple in 70 AD it was at the conclusion of a long siege, not the beginning. This siege followed a military campaign throughout the region and a long duration of turmoil within the city. It signaled the culmination, not the onset of the Roman conquest. The time to flee would have arrived well before the Temple destruction. And as bad a time as it was, it was not the worst in history. Those taking flight from the invasion would have long since taken leave if able as the war and famine in the area had already been going on for a considerable duration. Thus pagan soldiers entering the Temple in the first century would have been too late a cue to try and escape. The urgency required by the directive in the text--not going back into the house, even to grab a coat, does not fit the first century invasion which would have allowed for enough warning prior, as armies gathered, for local residents to gather some provisions.

In addition there is the warning sign itself. It would be difficult to argue that the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 AD could not have been anticipated as the Roman armies gathered to invade after conquering the surrounding area. But in the warning of Matthew 24: 15-22 it is anticipated that people will have no warning except the Abomination of Desolation episode itself. Thus people may be outside without their luggage but are instructed not to delay by going back to their houses. And verse 20 isolates the time frame of the window of escape to a single day--hence the exhortation to pray it not be a Sabbath, when travel would be more difficult.

Verse 29 describes apocalyptic cosmic phenomena that were not witnessed in the first century, followed by the Second Coming of Jesus in verses 30 and 31. That itself should prove that verses 15-31 have not yet happened.

The question of whether the invasion by Titus of Rome in the first century was the Abomination of Desolation is a matter of some debate. But when the real Abomination of Desolation occurs, there will be no debate. Believers will know it when they see it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Perspicuity vs Perplexity

In my previous post I discussed an article written by Dan Doriani at The Gospel Coalition website. In that post, I objected to the fact the Gospel Coalition editors did not clarify the point that Professor Doriani's article, titled What is the 'Abomination of Desolation'?, expressed a partial-preterist take on Matthew 24 which not all, nor even most, evangelicals agree with.

In this post I want to examine some points of Professor Doriani's approach in the article itself. Professor Doriani makes a number of generalizations about the passage without doing much exegesis. Considering the length of the article, this is not unusual for a short treatment of this type. But if the aim is to clear up perplexity, that would seem to require unpacking the verses.

The essay asserts that "Evangelical scholars...generally agree that (Matthew) 24: 3-35 mostly refers to events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70." Except they don't...beginning with the Abomination of Desolation itself. The majority evangelical viewpoint isn't going to go away simply by being ignored. The urgency described in verses 17-20 is not the type of urgency that matched AD 70. People not only  had time to go back into their houses to retrieve supplies, but were also able to anticipate the approaching siege by the Romans. Verses 17-20 describe a frantic urgency in which minutes are critical and isolate the event to a single day, hence the instruction in verse 20 to pray that it does not fall on a Sabbath, when travel would be more difficult.

Verse 21 depicts a superlative tribulation unmatched before or since. This did not occur in AD 70. Verse 22 warns of a threat to all human existence. Verses 23-26 warn of deception on a massive scale, and finally, verses 29-31 describe cataclysmic signs and wonders witnessed by the entire planet culminating in the Second Coming. Didn't happen in AD 70.

Professor Doriani concludes, "This prophecy makes sense only with reference to the fall of Jerusalem", but never engages the key defeaters of this statement, among them verses 16-31. He therefore takes a fairly clear passage and makes it perplexing by seeking to shoehorn it into a preconceived partial-preterist construct.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Perplexing Perspective

An article written by Dan Doriani at The Gospel Coalition website presents a partial-preterist interpretation of Matthew 24. This is nothing novel; the partial-preterist conviction has been around for a good while, and there are certainly quite a few orthodox believers who hold it. The fact that Professor Doriani has expressed this persuasion is not the complaint of this post.

This protest is that the article is presented as the explanation of a passage described as "perplexing", part of a series described a one which "analyzes perplexing passages of the Bible", of which the subject article is billed as "the first installment in a new series..." Now, in Professor Doriani's mind it may be the explanation, and he is entitled to hold that opinion. If he wants to write partial-preterist articles until the rapture, that's his prerogative. But neither the article nor the series introduction contain any disclaimer from the website editors stipulating that professor Doriani's eschatological position is just one of a number of orthodox views.

After all, if the purpose is to coalesce in support of the gospel, it would seem third-tier issues could be allowed some interpretive latitude. One might expect that an organization which calls itself The Gospel Coalition--as opposed to, say, "The Partial-Preterist Eschatological Viewpoint Coalition"--would recognize that there are a variety of acceptable eschatological opinions among evangelicals, but would put its focus on uniting for the gospel. If one of their members wants to write about their opinion from the selection on the prophetic interpretation grid, perhaps the piece could include some clarifying comments, like:

Here is a difficult passage of Scripture. Well, it's actually not that difficult if you take the passage in its futuristic plain meaning sense. But there are some folks who think most of the events in this prophecy have already happened, which makes the passage difficult for them since the words in Matthew 24:16-31 do not describe accomplished phenomena. Most evangelicals do not agree with this esteemed chap's handling of this so-called "perplexing" passage; nevertheless, his minority viewpoint does have its followers, and as many of these eschatological points concern matters of nonessential doctrine, we present herewith his case for the readers' appraisal.

One might expect some sort of clarification, assuming The Gospel Coalition agrees that Partial Preterism is a) nonessential, and b) widely disputed.