Thursday, November 5, 2009

William Lane Craig on Preterism

Here's a transcript of William Lane Craig's refutation of preterism (transcript starts about 14 minutes into the audio):


William Lane Craig’s refutation of preterism

(preterism as described by N. T. Wright, G. B. Caird, and R. T. France)

But still I have to say by the end of the day I try as hard as I can, I just can’t buy this view in the end. Like the rapture view, it posits this invisible coming of the son of man prior to the second coming of Christ. And it just seems to me that doesn’t bear up in light of scripture. Let me mention 3 points by way of critique.

First Reason:

First, it seems to me clear that the coming of the son of man is a visible coming to earth. Now, let me give two arguments on behalf of that. The first argument is going to be a grammatical argument. I hope you follow me here. The verb “to come” just like the verb “to go” is what we could call a perspectival verb or perspectival word. That is to say it is relative to the perspective of the observer. When someone talks about someone coming that means coming to where the observer is. The person who is uttering the sentence uses the word “he comes.” Where if somebody were not the observer he would say, “well, he went” or “he goes.” You see the word “coming” is a kind of perspectival word that indicates the perspective of the observer. So for example take a look at Acts 1:11 for an illustration of this perspectival character. Here is the ascension of Jesus. And after Jesus ascends into heaven the two angels appear and they say, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." And there you see perspective nature of this verse. He “will come” just as you saw him go. That it is relative to the perspective of the observer. You come to where the observer is, or you go from where the observer is. So, in that light when Jesus speaks again and again of the coming of the son of man, what that means is you’re coming to where the observer is. It doesn’t mean coming into some invisible heavenly throne room of God. It means coming to where you are – where the observer is. So Jesus says that he will come again – that means he’ll come to where you are – where the observer is. And so I find it bizarre that these exegetes can take the coming of the son of man to be something other than coming to where we are. That it means coming into some heavenly throne room that is invisible and unobservable by us.

And in any case, this is the second point that I want to make about the coming of the son of man being a visible coming to earth. This is borne out by what Jesus and others say. Namely, that this will be a visible and observed event. Look again at Mark 13:26: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” And this indefinite third person plural “they” means that the people that they will see the son of man coming on the clouds with power and glory will be a visible observed coming. If that weren’t enough turn over to a couple of pages – two chapters – to Mark 14:61-62. This is Jesus prophecy at his trial for which he is condemned – where the high priest asks him “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” – Are you the Messiah, the son of God? – and Jesus says in verse 62: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Now, there again, it’s not talking about some invisible unobservable event. He says to the members of the Sanhedrin, you will see the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.

In fact, this is in contrast back to Mark 13 again with all of these false messiahs who will come pretending to be the Christ. And people will say “there he is” or “no, lo, here he is” and what Christ is saying is that his coming is not going to be in this private or secret way. It’s going to be an open public visible event. So, Robert Gundry in his very fine commentary on the gospel of Mark makes the point that the contrast between these false messiahs and Christ is that these false messiahs come in a private deceptive way where as the return of the son of man will be a public overwhelming event. This is especially clear if you look at Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse. Matthew 24:26-27: “So, if they say to you, ‘Lo, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Lo, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” What can be clearer! That the lightning lights up the sky from the horizon. This is the way the coming of the son of man is going to be. Not like these private deceptive christs who claim to be there in the inner room or out there in the desert where they have to be sought. Look also at Revelation 1:7 where John speaks of Christ’s second coming: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him, and all tribes of earth will wail on account of him. Amen.” It seems to me just undeniable that we’re talking here about an overwhelming public event that will be visible to all who were alive at that time. And not to a secret and invisible presentation before God’s throne in the heavenly throne room. So, that’s the first reason I’m skeptical of this view is that the coming of the son of man seem to me a visible coming to earth. I’ll take the questions at the end. I want to get through this material.

Second Reason:

Second point I want to make by way of critique is that the son of man doesn’t have to wait around until AD 70 in order to be enthroned. On this view, the coming of the son of man takes place in AD 70. But in between Jesus’ death in AD 30 and forty years later with the destruction of Jerusalem – I guess he’s sort of waiting around until the son of man is given dominion and authority and everything. And it seems to me that that’s not correct. That the son of man, Jesus, reigns already after his death and ascension. And take a look for example at 1 Corinthians 15:23-26 for evidence of this. Now, remember this was written around AD 55. So, this was before AD 70, right? This is not after AD 70. This is his interim period. And in verse 23, Paul says, “But each will be raised from the dead in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, and then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” And then quoting from the Old Testament: “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” So, here Paul sees Christ as already reigning. He is reigning presently and will finally deliver the kingdom over to God when all of his enemies have been subdued, including the last enemy which is death. Moreover look over at Hebrews 2:7-9. Here, a very similar reflection to what we have in 1 Corinthians 15. The author says, “Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one.” Notice here the coronation of Christ is because of his suffering and death. It’s not to do with his return as the son of man. Christ is already crowned here with glory and honor even though not everything is yet in subjection to him. As Paul says death has yet to be subjected to him. So, it seems to me that the son of man doesn’t have to wait around until AD 70 to reign, and to have all things put under him as Daniel prophesized, and that doesn’t fit with this preterist view which says this only occurred in AD 70.

Third Reason:

Finally, the third point that I want to make is that like the rapture view I think the real Achilles heel of the preterist view is the resurrection of the dead. You see, Paul look forward as we read to Christ’s parousia, or coming, and the resurrection of the dead. Remember in 1 Thessalonians 4 he says that Christ himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command and the arachaengels call and the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. And in 1 Corinthians 15 he says that the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we shall be changed. He connected the return of Christ to the resurrection of the dead and the destruction of death itself. Now, Paul’s letters were written prior to AD 70. 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians were written in AD 50s. So, what the preterist has to say here is that Paul was looking forward to some other event than the event predicted by Jesus of Nazareth in his Olivet Discourse! And to me that’s just utterly implausible. Where do you think Paul got his ideas? He got them from Jesus, and from Jesus’ teachings on the second coming. In order to break apart the resurrection of the dead from the coming of the son of man these preterists have to say that what Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians, is not the same event that Jesus is talking about, but he’s looking for some other event. And that just seems utterly implausible. It’s drawing distinctions where in fact no distinctions exist. So, for those reasons, as attractive as this view is in terms of explaining Mark 13:30 – that this generation shall not pass away before all these things take place – at the end of the day I’m just not persuaded that this view holds up. It seems to me that it’s just too implausible, and that it’s forcing texts to say something that really don’t say.


Dr. Gary DeMar responds here and here and here.