Re: BG: Synoptic Apocalypse

Date: Fri Sep 01 1995 - 19:08:15 EDT

Carl W. Conrad wrote:
> I am less confident that in these passages the gospel do in fact reflect
> "true, authentic oral statements made by Jesus to the disciples, but I
> grant that the statements are there in each of the three synoptics.

All right. Then I assume we also agree that this "synoptic apocalypse" has one
common origin. Somebody made these statements in one original form, and all the
three synoptics derives from an original source, oral or written (unless one of
them *is* the original of course). Whether this source is Jesus himself or
simply an imaginative writer does not change the fact that the source had a
specific story to tell, and a reason for choosing the words he used.

> There
> are some significant differences in the wording of the versions in the
> three gospels, but whatever it is that they are to see, in each there is
> asserted that "there are some standing here who will not taste death before
> they see ..."

Exactly. And here we have an example where Luke is *most* explicit when he says
that what will happen is that Jesus will come in the clouds *with power*. These
words pretty much exclude the possibility to interprete this "coming in clouds"
to be the transfiguration, the resurrection or another recorded event in the

> Nevertheless, these statements, crucial as they may be, do
> not by any means constitute the whole teaching of any one of the synoptic
> gospels. I think it comes closest to the teaching of Mark's gospel, but I
> think there are clear indications of a "delayed Parousia" in Matthew and
> Luke.

I cannot fully agree with this. First, see above. Since all 3 synoptic
revelations has a common source, and they are very much alike, we should try to
interprete them to mean the same thing. There may be a theoretical possibility
to squeeze in some delay between the siege of Jerusalem (tribulation; Luke
21:24) and the coming in verse 25-27, but it isn't *the* natural understanding
even of this gospel.

I think we have to note that words about celestial phenomenons ("signs in sun
and moon and stars" etc) in the OT, where these word-pictures originated, does
not stand alone. Some people have had their nose against the skies for a long
time with no good reason, for those words do not refer to anything that shakes
the physical universe. We find these words all over the OT, like in Hag 2:21,22
where God is "about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the
throne of kingdoms." Note the parallelism; the last part -- literal -- explains
the first -- which is figurative. We see pretty clearly that celestial
phenomenon and natural disasters are used to refer to great *moral* and
*political* changes and upheavals (like in Ha 2:6,7; Ze 4:7; Ez 26:15; 38:19;
Jo 3:16; see also Heb 12:26,27).

This is the a key to understand the celestial phenomenon referred to in Mt
24:29 etc.

Now, after a lengthy introduction where I state pretty self-evident things,
here comes my point:

If you put in a delay or interval between the tribulation and the parousia in
Luke, you have this celestial sign removed from all context. No reference can
then be found to *which* major upheaval of power is symbolised with celestial
signs. If, on the other hand, you interpret it as a conclusion of the
tribulation these signs make perfect sense: after a long, horrible tribulation
during the siege, the Mosaic era came to a definite end when Jerusalem fell and
the temple was destroyed. *That* was certainly a "fall from heaven," greater
than any disaster described with similar signs in the OT.

> My own reading of the gospel of John is that the Parousia of Jesus is
> presented as occurring fundamentally on the day of Easter,and that this is
> the dominant eschatology of John's gospel,but there are some passages in
> John that seem to point to a more distant futuristic consummation also.

As I pointed out, there is nearness in the Gospel of John as well. Now *if*
John had already written the Apocalypse, it becomes pretty evident what *his*
parousia was about. The Apocalypse is practically the "synoptic apocalypse" and
other synoptic eschatological statements repeated in Jewish apocalyptic
language, point for point.

> I'd say that in this passage in Acts (2) we have reference to early church
> teaching that in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Age-to-come has
> begun but that it runs and will continue to run simultaneously with the
> present World-Age until a future Parousia at some indefinite point.

"Indefinite"? The apostles had the parousia on their mind all the time. They
firmly believed that these "last days" had to end within one generation. Ac
2:40 makes Peter conclude the same talk with the words "save yourselves from
this crooked generation." *That* generation would witness the judgement.

> There
> can be no doubt that in the early church this was thought to be in the
> reasonably near future.

Yes. "Marana ta" is described as the watchword of the early church.

> I won't try to argue the case about Paul. It is quite evident that he looks
> forward to an early return of Jesus. I would say, however, that if (as I
> think) Romans is his most mature letter, his statement at the end of
> chapter 8 is less bound to an eschatological timetable such as that offered
> in 1 Cor 15 and is couched more in simple confidence in God's power to
> consummate his promises to believers.

If I dare to make a general comment about this line of arguments, I will have
to say that I feel they are sometimes overly reductionistic. You seem to be
talking about the "eschatology of Lu 9:27" and say it's different from "the
eschatology of Lu 21:24." I would believe that if we can see agreement between
statements by the same author in the same book we should do that. Also, if Paul
is very explicit about the timetable of the parousia in many places, I find it
hard to believe that he changed his opinion on such a central doctrine unless
he made such a change explicit. Ro8 is not that. Ro8:18 talks about "the glory
that is to be revealed to us." "That is to be" is again the word "melloysan"
which reflects urgency. Perhaps "which is about to be revealed" better conveys
the original idea. In Ro13:12 Paul again affirms that "the day is at hand."
This mature letter is far from being less urgent as I see it. On the contrary,
in 2Thes we find that Paul still waited for "the lawless one" to come before
the parousia could take place. I see no such call to caution in Romans.

> >I should hardly need to point out the obvious fact that in no language
> spoken
> >by men, can an expression like this -- "at hand" -- indicate a period of
> 1900
> >years or more.
> I don't dispute this.

This expression is all over the NT, like "soon" and "shortly," and affirms a
quite uniform teaching on the time of the parousia.

> 21:24 speaks of the prisoners of war taken from Jerusalem and
> KAIROI EQNWN. It is this last phrase in particular that makes me think that
> Luke implies an extensive period of Gentile domination of Jerusalem before
> the Parousia, which Luke's Jesus goes on to describe in the next verses.

I see your point. Do you think that this is enough to show that Luke was
disagreeing with his own words in 9:27, as well as the other two synoptics that
are very clear on having these events together?

> Well, some will agree on the dating of the Apocalypse. I'm not so sure. But
> with regard to the other letters, I thought it was commonly held that 2
> Peter makes its primary message that although the Parousia has not yet
> occurred, it surely will at a time of the Lord's choosing.

I agree. My line of interpretation of course implies that all NT books were
written prior to 70AD. This idea is certainly not flavour of the month, but
there is *internal* evidence for it. I think a conclusion hinges on frame of
interpretation; whether we accept divine revelation or not. And then we are
probably outside the scope of this mailing list. :-)

> We apparently read some of these texts in the same way, but differ quite
> radically in the interpretation of several others. I think probably we
> ought to stick to the elucidation of particular texts rather than attempt
> to characterize the eschatology of the NT as a whole.

I agree that we must be open to differences between the texts, but if it is
possible to find agreement on this topic and show a pretty uniform
understanding of eschatology, I think we should choose that interpretation. At
least I will choose that interpretation.

I *really* appreciate all your comments and input on these questions, Carl, and
those of many others as well. It's certainly not my objective to preach
anything to any of you. Apologies if it comes across that way. I just had to
use this chance to test this interesting line of NT interpretation in this very
well-informed forum.


- Jan

           "Whatever became of eternal truth?"

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