In its most basic form, Neo-Hymenaeanism asserts that every NT reference to Christ’s “coming” (Greek–parousia) and to the end of “the age” (aeon) refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 along with other contemporaneous events.
Statement on Neo-Hymenaeanism
By Stuart W. Bryan & Joost Nixon
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. . . . Therefore, be on the alert. . . (Acts 20:28-29, 31) Though this impassioned warning was given to the elders at Ephesus almost two thousand years ago, it applies with equal force to elders all over the world today. God has established elders as watchmen to instruct and care for the flock. Overseers are to nourish God’s sheep on a diet of sound doctrine, and they are to refute the wolves who introduce heresy and seek to lead the flock astray (Tit. 1:9). It is in keeping with this latter duty, a duty of protection, that the elders of Christ Church are compelled to warn the flock about the heresy of Neo-Hymenaeanism. Admittedly this appellation is quite a mouthful, but it has been chosen carefully. It represents a new form (hence “Neo-“) of an old heresy–a radical reinterpretation of the bodily resurrection advanced by a man named Hymenaeus. Paul likened the error of Hymenaeus to gangrene or cancer (2 Tim 2:16-18) and, in order to root it out, delivered Hymenaeus over to Satan so that he might be taught not to blaspheme (1 Tim 1:20). Since the modern form exhibits such striking similarity to Hymenaeus’ teaching, we call the current version of this heresy Neo-Hymenaeanism . But it is also known by other names such as pantelism, hyper-preterism, full or exhaustive preterism, etc.
What is Neo-Hymenaeanism?
In its most basic form, Neo-Hymenaeanism asserts that every NT reference to Christ’s “coming” (Greek–parousia) and to the end of “the age” (aeon) refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 along with other contemporaneous events. Consequently, advocates of this view hold that there will be no future, final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. To support this doctrine, Neo-Hymenaeanism reinterprets both the resurrection of the body and the final judgment. They do this in various ways. The “resurrection” refers either to some type of spiritual resurrection of Christ’s body, the Church, in AD 70, or to a replacement “resurrection” body which believers receive at death. But in either case, our physical bodies return to dust after death, never to rise again. Neo-Hymenaeanists must also reinterpret the final judgment. Judgment is either a representative judgment of all men in the particular judgment of Israel in AD 70 or an individual and personal judgment, taking place once and for all for each individual at death. There is no final, collective judgment of all men. Confused? This is not surprising. Neo-Hymenaeanism as a system fails to cohere, and in an effort to clean up the mess, advocates adopt different approaches, none of which prove adequate.
The Gravity of the Situation
The astute reader will discern the extent to which Neo-Hymenaeanism distorts the Christian view of the future (eschatology). For, while a difference of opinion remains among orthodox Christians on the manner and timing of Christ’s future coming, they have always agreed on certain eschatological minimums. All believe in the future and final coming of Christ, the bodily resurrection of the wicked and the righteous at the end of the world, and the future and final judgment of all men at the last day. Neo-Hymenaeanism attacks these very eschatological issues to which Christians have always given their unanimous consent. In attacking such central doctrines, it is no wonder that other important doctrines are also overturned.
Erroneous Approach to Scriptural Interpretation
The problems of Neo-Hymenaeanism begin with an erroneous approach to Scriptural interpretation. Within the bounds of orthodoxy it is permissible to apply many or even most of the references to Christ’s “coming” and to the end of “the age” to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (e.g., Mt 24; Lk 20, etc). This old and honorable method of interpretation has historically been called preterism. Neo-Hymenaeanism, however, goes further and asserts that all references to Christ’s “coming” and to the end of “the age” refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. It argues that in order to be consistent each occurrence of these words (parousia and aeon) must be applied to the same event. However, similarity of language does not necessitate an identity of referent. An example of this can be seen in John 5:24-29. Verses 24-25 speak of those who are spiritually dead and enter life. But in verse 28 Jesus begins to address the physically dead that will hear Christ’s voice while in the grave, and be resurrected for the final judgment. Here, in the context of just a few verses, Jesus uses the same word (death) to refer to both the state of being unregenerate, and the state of being physically dead. Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s assume that the Neo-Hymenaeists are correct, and that every occurrence of the words “coming” and “end of the age” refers to the exact same event in AD 70. Such an experiment yields frightening consequences. Following this method of interpretation, marriage must be abolished (Lk 20:35), the Lord’s Supper terminated (1 Cor 11:26), Jesus’ reign at the right hand of the Father ended (1 Cor 15:23ff), and Jesus’ presence with his people revoked (Mt 28:20). Going even further, Neo-Hymenaeanism must maintain the preposterous notion that death has been completely conquered, since Paul correlates the “coming” of Christ with the eradication of death (1 Cor 15:26). These absurd implications are enough to give most students of the Scriptures a severe case of hermeneutical indigestion. Yet the Neo-Hymenaeists proceed undeterred.
Contradicts Cardinal Christian Convictions
Above we have seen examples of the faulty and overly rigid exegetical grid of Neo-Hymenaeanism. Moreover, we have stated that the heresy denies the future, final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to raise all men simultaneously from the dead for judgment. Desperate to maintain this position, Neo-Hymenaeanism is willing to pit itself against the Christian view of history, the historic confession of the Church, and, most significantly, the teaching of Scripture.
First, Neo-Hymenaeanism’s denial of the future, final coming of our Lord destroys the Christian view of history. The Christian view of history stands in stark contrast to that of all other worldviews. History, according to Christianity, is linear with a beginning and an end, creation and judgment. Neo-Hymenaeanism removes the end point and makes history eternal, robbing it of its meaning and entailing the perpetuity of sin and rebellion. However, Romans 8:18ff specifically tells us that creation was subjected to futility after the Fall and was still awaiting, in Paul’s day, its release. Paul likened the earth in its futile state to a woman in childbirth, groaning under contractions. To be consistent, Neo-Hymenaeanism must maintain that in AD 70 the baby was born and the earth is no longer subjected to futility. If this were true, however, then why do we continue to see natural disasters, cursed ground, famine, and pestilence? Futility is all around us; the earth groans for redemption to this day. Neo-Hymenaeanism supplies no solution to this agony since it rejects the final, future coming of Christ to set all things aright.
Second, Neo-Hymenaeanism must spurn the historic, and uniform, confession of the Church. From her earliest history, the Church has incorporated the future, final coming of Christ, the concurrent bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the last judgment among the creeds or public confessions of the faith. The Nicene Creed declares that Jesus “shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead” and professes faith in “the resurrection of the dead.” The Athanasian Creed, expanding and clarifying this confession, declares that:
[Jesus] ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
Neo-Hymenaeanism rejects the creeds at this point and asserts that the unanimous testimony of the Church has been completely erroneous. But how could this be given our Lord’s promises to protect and instruct His Church (Mt 16:18; Jn 14:26; 17:17; 1 Tim 3:15)? Granted, the church builds and refines its understanding of the Word of God. But this building and refining occurs on top of a doctrinal foundation that has been laid by the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). Neo-Hymenaeists, we maintain, are taking a jack -hammer to this very foundation by asserting that key premises upon which the gospel rests are erroneous. If they are right, then central doctrines of the faith have been completely misconstrued by believers for thousands of years. Even disciples like Polycarp who were discipled by the apostles themselves and would surely have heard of the resurrection, had it occurred, were taken in. Forgive us if we remain skeptical.
Third, Neo-Hymenaeanism must circumvent the perspicacious teaching of the Scriptures. Throughout the Old Testament there are days of judgment declared for various nations such as Edom (Is 34:6,8), Babylon (Is 13:6,9), Lebanon (Is 2:12), Egypt (Ezek 30:2ff), and even the people of Israel and Judah themselves (Is 10:3; Amos 5:18ff; Zeph 1:7). It was another of these days of judgment that fell on the Jews in AD 70. Having spurned their Messiah, they fell under God’s just wrath. However, this judgment was no more the historical culmination of God’s vengeance on all nations than was the judgment of Assyria or Edom. It was a historical judgment declaring God’s sovereign control of history and his determination to glorify His name by severing off an unfruitful branch (Mt 21:33ff; Jn 15:6; Rom 11:17ff). The Scriptures go on to teach that, while the judgment on Israel in AD 70 was not the culmination of judgment, there will come a day, the “last day,” when God will judge the world and angelic beings through Jesus Christ our Lord (Mt 10:15; 11:24; 12:36, 41f; Acts 17:31; 1 Cor 6:2,3; Jude 6). This will be the culmination of God’s historical judgments and will bring an end to history as we know it.
This final judgment will be preceded by the bodily resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. This is evident in two respects. First, Jesus frequently correlates the “last day” with the resurrection of His people. For instance, in John 6:44 Jesus declares, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” Later, in verse 54, He likewise says, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (See also Jn. 6:39-40; 11:24). Second, Jesus counsels us, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). Jesus is clearly intending to inform his listeners that men can only trouble them so far. Men, he says, can merely destroy your body; they cannot destroy your soul. However, there is One, namely God, who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. This verse is problematic for the Neo-Hymenaeists who interpret the resurrection as merely spiritual. If they are right, then those who suffer in hell have no physical bodies. But Jesus linked the body and soul after death-the soul as well as the body shall be cast into hell. Clearly Jesus envisioned a time, prior to judgment, when the body and soul would be reunited. This time is known elsewhere as the resurrection of the dead (Jn 5:28f; Acts 17:31; 23:6; 24:15).
Therefore, despite the clear teaching of Scripture, the unanimous testimony of the Church, and the devastating consequences of its position, Neo-Hymenaeanism denies the future coming of Christ to raise all men from the dead and judge them for their works in the body.
Unorthodox Resurrection Theories
The heretical nature of Neo-Hymenaeanism becomes even clearer as one evaluates its denial of the physical nature of the resurrection body. Scripture repeatedly links the resurrection of Christ with our resurrection (Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:20ff, 42-49; Phil 3:21). But if our resurrection body is merely spiritual, and our resurrection bodies are patterned after Christ’s, then consistency would entail a denial of Christ’s physical resurrection. Not only is such an assertion patently denied by Scripture (see Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27), it undermines the Gospel itself (1 Cor 15:16,17). For now, most Neo-Hymenaeists shrink from denying Christ’s physical resurrection. However, if God does not grant them repentance, one day the weight of the premises will snap their resistance and the logic will drive them to a bodiless Christ, a Savior not found in Scripture.
As we have seen from our discussion above, Neo-Hymenaeanism is both erroneous and heretical. While it invokes the principle of semper reformata, claiming that it is attempting to refine the Church’s understanding of the coming of our Lord, it actually repudiates and rejects this very teaching, one which Paul labels “our hope” (Acts 23:6). Neo-Hymenaeanism stands with all other deviations from orthodox Christianity as an attempt to cloak its heresy within orthodox terminology while its true nature is destructive of the faith. Consequently, its adherents are in grievous danger of damning their own souls. May God in His mercy grant them understanding to see and to turn from their error and may His people “avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and . . . spread like gangrene” (2 Tim 2:16f).