Re: BG: Synoptic Apocalypse (LONG!)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Sep 02 1995 - 11:02:27 EDT

I have been reviewing the whole thread of correspondence under the above
subject heading and I think I have seen one major point made (or proposed,
I should say) by Jan Haugland regarding the Parousia:

At 7:52 PM 8/28/95, wrote:
>Never forget that the whole so-called eschatology in the gospels is
>*about* the
>destruction of Jerusalem. That's the question the disciples want the answer to
>in the first place. Christ's "visitation" or "parousia" as King was to bring
>punishment to the fallen Israel and forever end the Mosaic dispensation. That
>was the end of the age!

I think I had overlooked this or skimmed over it too lightly when I first
read it at the end of one of Jan's posts. But this is precisely where I,
and also, I would think, many others must disagree very sharply with Jan. I
think that most of us hold the view that the Parousia of Jesus as Son of
Man is not focused at all upon the destruction of Jerusalem but on the
inauguration of the Kingdom of God "with power," including, in traditional
terms, the raising of the dead, the judgment of all humanity, and the
definitive establishment of the reign of God, in terms of Jewish
apocalyptic eschatological traditions. However varied they may have been,
they do include, it seems, decisive judgment upon those who oppose the will
of God--which might, I suppose, be viewed as one-half of the Last Judgment,
the other half being the resurrection of the dead and their assignment to
life in God's realm.

Now, if I have read Jan's posts in terms of his intentions, he understands
the Parousia to refer only to what I have said is the first-half, "decisive
judgment upon those who oppose the will of God," but this (again I say, if
I have understood him rightly, of which I cannot be sure) he understands to
be fully consummated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple: that
is the sum and total of God's decisive judgment upon those who oppose the
will of God. And that marks, he says, the "end of the age."

The problem that most of us have is that we have seen (to paraphrase Jan),
1900+ additional years in which it appears that God's will has been
thwarted to no little extent by humanity, and therefore we cannot recognize
the events of the year 70 as that consummation referred to in those strange
sayings recorded of Jesus, "There are some of those standing here who will
not taste death before they see ... "

I want to look more closely at those statements as they are formulated in
the Synoptic gospels, but only after I have responded to some of Jan's most
recent comments on our earlier correspondence.

At 6:08 PM 9/1/95, wrote:
>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.

I agree that there's a common source and I would argue that it's a
tradition that Mark uses in 9:1 and that appears also in Matthew 16:28 and
Luke 9:27. In my opinion the Marcan form is earliest and it has been
redacted separately by Matthew and Luke, each in his own distinct way.

>> 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
>that what will happen is that Jesus will come in the clouds *with power*.
>words pretty much exclude the possibility to interprete this "coming in
>to be the transfiguration, the resurrection or another recorded event in the

Here you have misstated the facts. Actually it is only in Mark 9:1 that we
find that phrase, "with power." More on this anon.

>> 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.

They are not nearly so much alike as you assert. The differences in detail
are quite significant, in my opinion. Or to put it differently, although
there are similarities, they are, to some extent, superficial.

>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
>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 --
>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.

I won't argue this point; I agree that it is standard; it isn't even unique
to the Jewish tradition. There's a standard list of portents that
accompanied the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., many of them
similar to those you've cited above. I don't attribute any more
significance to them than you do. I do attribute more significance to Mk
13:7-8, because I think it is very likely that Mark had in mind the
upheavals in the Roman empire following the assassination of Nero in 69.

>> 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'm sorry, but I just cannot take seriously the proposition that the
Apocalypse/Book of Revelation was composed by the same author as the gospel
of John. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most important, in
my own view, is that the eschatology of Revelation is intensely
apocalyptic, whereas the eschatology of John's gospel uses the apocalyptic
language in an inverted sense to express a predominantly realized

>> 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
>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 doubt also that we ought to view 2 Thessalonians as a genuine letter of
Paul. As for Romans 8, I was referring to the final words of the chapter,
which I have always felt were far more comforting and reassuring at
funerals than all that stuff about trumpets blowing in 1 Cor 15--the simple
assurance that the bond of love between God and believers in Christ in
inseparable and inseverable. As for agreement between statements by the
same author in the same book, I welcome them, but where there are
contradicitions I want them explained, not passed over in silence.

> . . . 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. :-)

There are many on the list that will agree with your views on the dating,
but I do not. I do accept divine revelation, but I probably conceive of its
operation in a different way from yours, and each of us must express
himself conscientiously in terms of his own belief and understanding.

To return finally to the key passage, Mark 9:1 and parallels. Let me first
reiterate that in my view the Marcan form of this is the earliest and that
Matthew and Luke have both redacted the Marcan form of the tradition.


Brief note: I simply do not know whether this is what Jesus actually said;
I will only say that it is what Mark the evangelist clearly understood
Jesus to mean. What is emphasized by the use of the perfect participle
ELHLUQUIAN qualified by EN DUNAMEI would certainly appear to be that some
of those who hear Jesus will see the establishment of the Reign of God as a
_fait accompli_.


Brief note: For one thing Matthew has improved the grammar by putting hWDE
inside the article. Far more important, however, is the change in the
phrasing: these members of Jesus' audience will see "the Son of Man coming
in his Kingdom." I'm not sure exactly what this means, but it doesn't seem
to me to mean the same thing as Mark's Jesus-saying. Perhaps it refers to
the portents at the death of Jesus; perhaps more likely it refers to the
vision of the risen and and ascended Christ by the disciples on the
mountain in Galilee that Matthew records in chapter 28, for it would appear
to be Christ the reigning Son of Man who is seen there, but it could hardly
be asserted, I think, that he reigns "with power," in terms of Mark's EN


Brief note: This is surely the same tradition as that found in the parallel
pericope in Mark and Matthew, but its phrasing is certainly far vaguer than
that of Matthew. What exactly does it mean that these witnesses will "see
the Kingdom of God?" Are they to be confident of its coming? Or perhaps
they may see, as Stephen does before being stoned in Acts 7:55, EIDEN DOJAN
QEOU KAI IHSOUN hESTWTA EK DEJIWN TOU QEOU. At any rate, the nature of the
vision is very different from Mark's vision of a Kingdom that HAS COME WITH

In sum then, while I will agree that there are numerous points on which we
can summarize a teaching of the NT as a whole, I think it is highly
questionable to ignore what are significant textual differences in the
phrasing of similar statements and make a blanket assertion that "such is
the teaching of the whole NT."

Finally, I repeat what I said on my last posting of substance on this
issue; I really think we ought to focus upon the Greek text of verses we
wish to discuss and leave the broader interpretation of what the NT as a
whole says to those who are writing books where they can back up their
assertions with a full battery of footnotes.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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