Dan Trotter: A (Somewhat) Irenic Response to Certain Naughty Heretical Preterists (2003)

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My premises are different than the hyperpreterist, and so it is quite natural that the hyperpreterist would feel that I am being offensive.


A (Somewhat) Irenic Response to Certain Naughty Heretical Preterists

By Dan Trotter
2003


This article is written in response to certain writers who have responded to my article Why it is Perfectly OK to Say Naughty Things About Heretical Preterists, with particular reference to David Johnson’s A Response to Trotter. The article will contain a defense of my theological writing style, as well as certain matters of theological substance. I will also tackle the issue of orthodox preterist passivity.

A preliminary note is necessary before I begin. Many of my critics passionately defend a preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation, challenging me to refute them. My opponents are preaching to the choir in this case, because I am an orthodox preterist who takes a preterist position on the Olivet Discourse and Revelation.

First of all, I stand accused of being unloving. The following excerpt from a hyperpreterist email correspondent summarizes this accusation. He claims that I have an “attitude of ‘Lording it over someone.’ He goes on to say: “You took license to be offensive. You need to come clean about this. You broke the rules of engagement.”

In one way, this statement is very perceptive. Indeed, I did break the rules of engagement, and I did so consciously, with premeditation and forethought. I did so because hyperpreterists have written the rules of engagement, and I don’t choose to play by their rules. We are supposed to call their view “full preterism,” which has a warm feeling of completeness about it, while we call my view “partial preterism,” which gives a flavor of failure and lack. So, I change the rules: I call my view “orthodox preterism,” and I call their view “heretical preterism.” Another example of an heretical preterist rule of engagement that I don’t choose to accept: it is perfectly OK for hyperpreterists to make nasty comments about me personally, but when I attack their ***DOCTRINE***, I am accused of lacking love. (After having been called “immoral,” “a slanderer,” “an idiot,” a “character assassin,” and worst of all, “a BUSINESS PROFESSOR!!!!!” who “should stick to what he knows,” it’s really a bit difficult for me to take seriously complaints by heretical preterists who say that I am deficient in love.) Here is another example. Hyperpreterists have written the following rule: “this is just a matter of eschatology, we’re just as orthodox as anyone else, so no one has any right to accuse us of heterodoxy.” I don’t buy into that premise, which begs the question, and so therefore I don’t treat hyperpreterist doctrine the way I do other eschatological views with which I disagree. Rather, I treat it as the serious heterodox doctrinal deviancy that it is.

My premises are different than the hyperpreterist, and so it is quite natural that the hyperpreterist would feel that I am being offensive. Nobody likes having his ox gored. It is instructive to me that often I will write an article that will cause people to apoplectically engulf me with flaming emails, and at the same time, others will read the article and praise me to the heavens. (I have experienced the same reaction with the “Naughty” article). There is usually a simple explanation for the difference in reaction. The people who don’t like what I’m saying say my style is harsh and unloving, while those who do like what I’m saying say that my style is incisive, hard-hitting, manly, courageous, etc.

I have become sadly resigned to the reality that when it comes to dealing with matters of controversy, choosing a proper writing style is an automatically losing proposition. I recently had this experience. I wrote an article denouncing evangelical feminism using my usual vigorous style. Brother A emails me the usual denunciations about the article being unloving. Brother B praises me to the skies. Later on, Brother A, Brother B, and I write a joint article on another topic. I wrote the first draft, and immediately Brother A says the article is too weak, and doesn’t hit hard enough, the truth is not being defended vigorously enough. Meanwhile Brother B takes issue with my attacks on hyperpreterism, and accuses me of being unloving. And then shortly thereafter, Brother B asks me when the sixth and final draft of our joint article was finished, was I sure we shouldn’t toughen it up some more! You can see the problem here: I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

The problem of a proper theological debating style is a complex one. Much of the question revolves around who’s ox is being gored, as I mentioned above. But the issue is much deeper than that. I periodically get complaints about my style by people who agree completely with what I wrote, but who are upset with my style even though I’m not goring their ox. I take these objections quite seriously. I surely don’t want to offend anyone needlessly, especially people who agree with me. But I always ask my friendly critics: what about scriptural precedent? Sure, you can quote me many, many sweet and gentle verses about love, but I can quote you many places where a God-inspired apostle said things about his opponents that on anybody’s scale of etiquette, were just simply awful. For example, Paul asks that his legalistic critics in Galatia cut their members off. (Gal 5:12). Paul calls Cretans “liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). Jude calls certain opponents “clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted, wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 12,13). Peter called some false prophets “unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge… stains and blemishes… accursed children…” (2 Pet 2:12-14) And of course, Paul called Hymenaeus and Philetus gangrenous (2 Tim 2:17), blasphemers (I Tim 1:20), he said they had rejected their faith (I Tim 1:19), they had rejected a good conscience (I Tim 1:19), they had shipwrecked their faith (I Tim 1:19), he handed them over to Satan (I Tim 1:20), he called them vain and profane babblers (II Tim 2:16), he said they were ungodly (II Tim 2:16), he said they had gone astray from the truth (II Tim 2:18), and he said that they were upsetting the faith of Christians (II Time 2:18). If we use the criterion for judgment that all denunciatory rhetoric, all satire and ridicule is per se unloving, then Paul, Peter, and Jude were unloving, which, of course, is an indefensible proposition. And we haven’t even mentioned our Lord’s hardball tactics which he used on the Pharisees.

We somehow have to decide why in some circumstances it is alright to unload upon an opponent, and in some circumstances, it is not. The scripture writers obviously didn’t verbally annihilate everyone on every occasion, but they did sometimes. What were their criteria for distinguishing? We probably all have certain “rules of engagement” by which we make this distinction, whether those rules are consciously articulated to oneself or not. For example, when David Johnson, in the last paragraph of his article, openly and publicly calls into question my motivation for attacking hyperpreterism, he is playing pretty rough, because he’s not attacking my doctrine, he’s attacking my person. I’m sure he doesn’t think he was unloving in doing so, but that he is defending the truth as he sees it, and this gives him a right to go after me personally.

Here are the factors which, in my opinion, justify a vigorous rhetorical attack. (1) the issue is very serious, (2) the proponents of error are not being credibly opposed, (3) the proponents of error, like Arius, are very skilled, (4) people I know personally are being damaged, or in danger of being damaged, by the error, (5) the issue is in a public forum, and not in a private debate, (6) I am utterly convinced that my opponents are teaching error, and (7) the damage will be great if the error is embraced. This is a fairly high standard. I personally despise theological controversy; I find it ugly and unpleasant. But at some point, certain issues will arise that will trigger a response from me, because those seven criteria above have been met. For me personally, this has only happened several times in the forty-five years that I have been saved. I suffered the classic form of dispensationalism for over four decades before I publicly attacked it. I suffered antibiblical institutional church Christianity for over three decades, before I publicly attacked it in favor of biblical home church Christianity. I suffered evangelical feminism for about one-quarter of a century before I publicly attacked it. And now, after about two years of suffering hyperpreterism, I have chosen to attack it. That’s four issues in over forty years. I hope to God there’s not another one before I die. I am not a masochist. I don’t enjoy the thrill of battle, controversy for the sake of controversy.

A gentleman by the name of Phantaz Sunlyk has written a superb article on the subject of theological polemics, examining both Scripture and patristic literature. It’s well worth a click to read his article, entitled “Offensisensitivity – Is It ‘un-Christian’ to Engage in Satire?“. His thesis is that in only one instance should one never use satire: if it is a matter of one person interacting with another person. Public challenge of one’s beliefs is a different story. Mr. Sunlyk highlights the strange dichotomy in Scripture which has always puzzled me: how can apostles of love call down the worst sort of imprecations upon the heads of their theological enemies? The answer, says Mr. Sunlyk, is that in an ancient society when one laid down a proposition in public, it had to be challenged vigorously, and even with satire, as a matter of honor and love of the truth. Otherwise, the unchallenged error would stand in the minds of onlookers. Sunlyk points out that Jesus didn’t turn the other cheek in loving acceptance of the Pharisees, rather, he publicly ridiculed them. “Have you not read?” Jesus asked, which was a public slap in the face to learned Pharisees who of course not only had read the Scripture, but were pontificating publicly on the Scriptures in question to all their awed Jewish minions. In referring to the apostle John, Mr. Sunlyk writes: “As it was John, perhaps the most beautiful and love-saturated author of all time, who, not in spite of the fact that his God is love, but because of it, unleashed an absolutely scathing verbal arsenal against schismatics and apostates…” Sunlyk goes on to say that “If the apostate won’t bring anything to the table, yet still insists on speaking, the table may well be brought to him, and broken over his head, so to speak. Since it is a fact that there is no amount of intelligence that cannot be disputed by the constant application of stupidity, it seems… that the most ethical, as well as the most expedient, manner of dealing with suchlike is simply to put them in a position wherein, since it is obvious that they won’t shut up, at least they won’t be heard.” In another place, Sunlyk asks: “what justification can there be for sarcasm and satire in a religion based on the fact that God revealed himself as Love? The answer is located in the question itself – it is because God is Love that such reactions are warranted. Satire… is tailored to specific instances in which enemy forces gather to deceive the unwary who cannot defend themselves.” (emphases Synlyk’s)

My view is that the antiresurrectionist neo-hymenaean opinion is precisely “the constant application of stupidity” to the eschatological problem. My view is that hymenaean heretics don’t deserve a seat at the eschatological debating table. My view is that giving these doctrinal deviants a place of respectability will allow “enemy forces to gather to deceive the unwary who cannot defend themselves.” Now, if a hyperpreterist reading the above thinks that is unloving, may I point out a few things to you?

One: I love the people who are potentially subject to your deception. I asked my wife, who is not a mean, nasty ogre like I am, would she let our children attend a church whose leadership contained hyperpreterists. Short pause, then: “No.” She was thinking about her children whom she loves, not about any hyperpreterist she didn’t love.

Two: I have attacked your doctrine, not your persons. Your anguished responses that I’m unloving to you remind me of what happened to the debate over homosexuality. It is now impossible to attack homosexuality as a sin, because the homosexuals and their sympathizers will immediately adopt the rhetoric of our current victim-culture: “You’re intolerant! You’re unloving!” Pleas to separate one’s love for the person from hatred of the person’s belief get lost in all the shouting.

Three: it is you who have publicly challenged a cherished belief which I, and hundreds of millions of other Christians, as well as the apostle Paul, have believed concerning the physical resurrection of the body. And what do you expect in return? That everybody will just smile at you and say, “That’s OK, brother. We all have different beliefs. Let’s just smile and love one another!” Come on.

Having said all this, I would like to publicly retract some wording in my original article. Most of my hyperpreterist correspondents didn’t take personal offense at the passage I am going to reword, but one did. Therefore, I am going to reword the passage to make it impossible to assume that I am attacking hyperpreterist ***MOTIVES*** as opposed to their ***DOCTRINE***.

The passage read: “I am convinced that what really motivates the hyperpreterist is not the love of the truth, but the fear of the (divine) supernatural. Hyperpreterists are usually highly intelligent rationalists who wouldn’t believe a miracle if it happened right in front of their eyes. And incidentally, to call them highly intelligent is not a compliment. The SLEAZY lawyers that sprang O.J. Simpson were highly intelligent, too. They had to be: they were defending a guilty client.” I am in the process of changing the Naughty Names article on my website to make the above passage read: “The heretical preterist doctrine in most of its offensive aspects squarely opposes the direct supernatural workings of God in history, by universally denying the resurrection of the dead for the future, and in its cessationist versions, by denying the miraculous for the present. Hyperpreterists are highly intelligent, and tend to rationalism. But to call them highly intelligent is not a compliment. The BRILLIANT lawyers who sprung O.J. Simpson were highly intelligent, too. They had to be: they were defending a guilty client.”

Let’s turn now from matters of style to matters of substance. In my first article on this subject, Why it is Perfectly OK to Say Naughty Things About Heretical Preterists, I used a reductio ad absurdum to refute the hyperpreterist contention that there is an essential difference between the original hymenaeans and the current ones. I will further discuss this issue later in this article, but first I would like to point out that this sort of reasoning is actually unnecessary to refute the neo-hymenaean heretics. All that is necessary is to point out the begging-the-question fallacy used by hyperpreterists in their attempts to disassociate themselves from the blasphemy damned by the apostle Paul.

I am now directing my argument to all orthodox folks of whatever eschatological persuasion, who believe that there will be a physical, resurrection of the wicked and the just at the end of time, but who unfortunately also believe that there is some kind of distinction between the original hymenaeans and the neo-hymenaeans of today, and that therefore we can coexist with the hyperpreterists in love, peace, and harmony, and can just accept their doctrinal deviancy as harmless error. In the following paragraph, I will restate the hyperpreterist argument concerning Hymenaeus and Philetus. All the things all we orthodox know to be true will be printed in normal case. But anything all we orthodox know to be false will be printed in red, in all caps. Please notice how the hyperpreterist argument relies on the red capitalized text.

This is how the hyperpreterist typically argues: “Paul condemned Hymenaeus and Philetus for stating erroneously that the resurrection had already taken place (2 Tim 2:18). Paul was writing just before A.D. 70. THE RESURRECTION TOOK PLACE IN A.D. 70. Therefore, Hymenaeus and Philetus were wrong when they claimed, in the sixties, that the resurrection had already taken place. However, we current day full preterists are not wrong when we say in the twenty-first century that the resurrection has already taken place, because IT HAS, IN FACT, ALREADY TAKEN PLACE. IT TOOK PLACE IN A.D. 70. “

Now, all you orthodox Christians who think that heretical preterism is just harmless error, and should not be identified with the blasphemous doctrine taught by Hymenaeus and Philetus, look at the above paragraph. Look at what the heretical preterists have done. They have assumed to be true a false premise, namely that THE RESURRECTION TOOK PLACE IN A.D. 70. Their entire argument falls to the ground if the big red text isn’t true, and you and I know it isn’t true. The heretical preterists have begged the question. This is classic petitio principii. It is bogus logic. And we are going to let them use this sort of “reasoning” to insinuate themselves into our eschatological discussions?

I am still addressing all orthodox Christians who believe the resurrection to be at the end of time. If it is true that the resurrection is at the end of time, then Hymenaeus and Philetus were wrong when they said the resurrection had already taken place. But, then, so are the neo-hymenaeans wrong when they say the resurrection has already taken place, because the resurrection hasn’t taken place. And the neo-hymenaeans are wrong IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY THAT THE ORIGINAL HYMENAEANS ARE WRONG!!!!! So, my question is this. Why in the world do you insist on giving the hyperpreterists a free pass? Why don’t you consider their doctrine in the same light that Paul considered the teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus? Paul certainly contended for the truth. Will you? Are you listening, Gary DeMar?[1]”

Of course, I realize that heretical preterists will not buy in to my proposition above that the big red text is false, and so my assertions that they are begging the question will fall on deaf ears. Therefore, I will now assume the big red text to be true arguendo, and then proceed to reduce to absurdity the hyperpreterist contention that they are distinguishable from Hymenaeus and Philetus. I will do so by responding to an article posted on the web in response to my Naughty Names article.

David Johnson’s A Response to Trotter attempts to answer my argument which I made in Why it is Perfectly OK to Say Naughty Things About Heretical Preterists . My argument in the former article was a reductio ad absurdum. The heretical preterists constantly assert that Paul’s dispute with Hymenaeus and Philetus was over the TIMING, not the NATURE, of the resurrection of humankind. I showed in my original article that, on hyperpreterist premises, the absolute maximum that Hymenaeus and Philetus could possibly be off on the timing was forty years, and that it was absurd that Paul would call somebody off by such a short time to be blasphemers, gangrenous, vile cankers, and faith-shipwreckers. In his Response to Trotter, Mr. Johnson performs (whether consciously or unconsciously) a clever sleight-of-hand. He says that it wasn’t the forty years that Paul was upset about, it was that the forty-years error implied something much larger, namely, that Jesus’ prediction was erroneous that his coming and the associated resurrection would occur within the generation living at Jesus’ time, and therefore Hymenaeus and Philetus, in saying the resurrection had already come, had in effect implied that the Son of God was mistaken.

The reader may see that Mr. Johnson’s argument is a tacit admission of my original premise. It is so patently absurd that Paul would call someone off by a maximum of a mere forty years, that we have to conclude that Paul is not upset merely by the TIMING mistake, but he is upset by the timing error PLUS SOMETHING ELSE. Now, Mr. Johnson and I disagree about what that something else is, but we both agree, I explicitly and Mr. Johnson tacitly, that the dispute just can not be over a mere matter of timing. And so the litany of hyperpreterist claims that the dispute is over the timing, not the nature, of the resurrection is not true. How many times do the heretical preterists point to Paul’s words “they say the resurrection has already come,” and say, “Gee! What could be simpler? It’s a dispute over timing.” Well, the logic in my original article shows plainly that it just simply can not be a dispute over timing, it’s a dispute over timing, and the implications which followed from the timing mistake.

Mr. Johnson finds himself in the same place that all orthodox preterists do, namely, having to figure out why Paul mentioned what on the surface seemed to be a incidental timing mistake, and yet became ballistic over that mistake. The orthodox for centuries have assumed that the implication of that timing mistake was that Hymenaeus and Philetus were asserting that since the “resurrection” had already come (either some sort of gnostic-spiritual resurrection, or the partial physical resurrection mentioned in Matt 27:52-53), they were obviously implying there wasn’t going to be another physical one at the end of time, and since Paul held the end-of-time resurrection to be such an important doctrine, he unloaded on them. However, Mr. Johnson says that the timing mistake made by Hymenaeus and Philetus implied some other dangerous error, namely that (1) Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet discourse, and the apostles’ teaching elsewhere, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and associated events, is erroneous, because that A.D. 70 coming to destroy Jerusalem is associated by Jesus and the apostles with the resurrection that Hymenaeus and Philetus said had already come. If Hymenaeus and Philetus were right that the resurrection had already come, then Jesus was wrong when he (as alleged by the hyperpreterists) said that Jerusalem would be destroyed when the resurrection came, because Jerusalem was still standing in the time of Hymenaeus and Philetus. (2) Christians pre-A.D. 70 would still see the sacrificial system working in Jerusalem, a sacrificial system which should have been destroyed at the pre-A.D. 70 hymenaean “resurrection,” and therefore Christians in Paul’s time would think that Jesus’ sacrifice would not be once for all, and (3) a pre-A.D. 70 hymenaean “resurrection” would imply that the Lord’s coming in judgment had already arrived, and therefore the relief from Jewish persecution that the pre-A.D. 70 Christians were expecting would not happen, thus discouraging them.

Let’s first show, on orthodox preterist premises, how Mr. Johnson’s objections can be handled. All three of his objections above assume that the resurrection of the dead occurred in A.D. 70. However, Jesus never associated the resurrection of believers with his coming in judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In addition, the apostles never linked the resurrection of the dead to Jesus’ coming in judgment in A.D. 70. To assert that the resurrection of the dead occurred in A.D. 70 is of course, the hyperpreterists’ main contention, and to refute it would involve a detailed exegesis of the relevant coming and resurrection passages, which is far beyond the scope of this article. Such a discussion, however, can be found in Jonathan Seriah’s The End of All Things, which conclusively destroys the heretical preterist notion that every coming passage, including those linked with the resurrection of the dead, occurred in A.D. 70. If you buy into the orthodox preterist premise that a distinction should be made between “coming in judgment in A.D. 70” and “resurrection of the dead at the end of time,” than Mr. Johnson’s three objections fall away. For example, in objection (1), with the resurrection decoupled from the judgment coming in A.D. 70, it is perfectly plausible that Hymenaeus and Philetus could assert a gnostic, spiritual resurrection, still leaving the possibility of a judgment-coming intact, thus maintaining Jesus’ and the apostles’ truth-telling integrity. In objection (2), a gnostic, spiritual resurrection claimed by Hymenaeus and Philetus is still compatible with a later judgment-coming to take care of the OT sacrificial system. In objection (3), a gnostic, spiritual Hymenaean “resurrection” pre-A.D. 70 still leaves open the possibility of a later judgment-coming to relieve the pre-A.D. 70 Christians of their persecution.

However, many reading this article will not buy into orthodox preterist premises. So, for the sake of argument lets now assume to be true Mr. Johnson’s heretical preterist premises, and reduce his argument to absurdity.

First, one will notice that his argument requires a close link between the resurrection of the dead and Jesus’ destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. When Hymenaeus and Philetus erroneously claim the resurrection of the dead has already occurred, asserts Mr. Johnson, then Hymenaeus and Philetus are also erroneously asserting that Jesus’ destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 has also occurred, thus making Jesus’ Olivet Discourse a lie, thus leaving intact the defunct OT sacrificial system and clouding the centrality of Jesus’ blood sacrifice, thus depriving the pre-A.D. 70 Christians of hope for deliverance from persecution. Now, the question I have for Mr. Johnson is this. How could Hymenaeus and Philetus maintain such an erroneous idea in the face of this stupendous fact: THE CITY AND TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM WERE STILL STANDING PRE-A.D. 70 DURING THE TIME OF THE DISPUTE BETWEEN HYMENAEUS AND PHILETUS AND PAUL!!!! Mr. Johnson taunts me with this question: “If Paul was so upset over Hymenaeus’ understanding of the nature of the resurrection, then why did he not challenge their non-physical concept? This would have been Paul’s golden opportunity to challenge their erroneous concept of the resurrection. Instead Paul challenges their understanding of the timing.” Well, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I now ask Mr. Johnson the same question he asks me, mutatis mutandis: “If Paul was so upset over Hymenaeus’ understanding of the timing of Jesus’ coming in judgment of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the resurrection that was going to happen then, then why did he not challenge their miscomprehension by pointing out that the temple was still standing, and that the (spiritual) resurrection hadn’t occurred yet? This would have been Paul’s golden opportunity to challenge their erroneous concept of the resurrection, which was that it had come before Jesus had come in judgment on Jerusalem. Instead Paul challenges their understanding of the timing.” To put it simply, if Hymenaeus and Philetus were saying the resurrection was divorced from the coming in judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70, having occurred pre-A.D. 70, and the resurrection, having occurred pre-A.D. 70, was divorced from the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 with which the coming was intimately linked by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, then the simplest and quickest way for Paul to rebuke Hymenaeus and Philetus was to taunt them with the continued existence of the temple, which would immediately and easily prove to anyone potentially seduced by Hymenaeus and Philetus that indeed, the resurrection had not come yet, contrary to the assertions of those two. And yet Paul did not do this. The logical reader will deduce thus that Paul was not, therefore, concerned with an erroneous conception of the timing of an A.D. 70 resurrection. I have already shown in my previous article that he couldn’t be upset with a mere matter of a maximum forty year timing error. If the issue was not a mere matter of timing, and if the issue could have had nothing to do with an erroneous claim that required a destroyed temple, we can only conclude, therefore, that the only thing left about which to be upset with Hymenaeus and Philetus was the fact that the end-of-time resurrection hadn’t happened yet, and when Hymenaeus and Philetus said “THE resurrection” had already taken place, they were saying that THE resurrection at the end of time had been pre-empted,2 and therefore, since the one and only resurrection had already occurred, and wasn’t going to happen again, and the tombs everywhere still had physical bodies in them, the tombs were always going to have physical bodies in them, and therefore there wasn’t ever going to be a physical resurrection. This last conclusion is exactly what today’s heretical preterists believe, placing them squarely in the center of the same target at which Paul aimed his heavy verbal artillery when he called Hymenaeus and Philetus blasphemers, gangrenous, vile cankers, and faith-shipwreckers.

Let me anticipate an objection to my argument above. In a private email addressed to me, a hyperpreterist stated that “News in the first century traveled very slowly and rumors about what was happening in other parts of the Roman Empire were abundant (you’ll hear of ‘wars and RUMORS of wars’). It would be very easy for a rumor to get started that the Temple had been destroyed, thus signaling to the rest of Christendom that the END of the OLD TESTAMENT had come” (emphasis his). In other words, Hymenaeus and Philetus could have maintained their erroneous claim that the resurrection and the alleged associated destruction of Jerusalem had occurred, if a false rumor persisted that Jerusalem had been destroyed. This would, of course, vitiate my arguments in the paragraph above.

I would answer these arguments in the following manner. First, there is absolutely no evidence that there was a rumor that the Temple had been destroyed. The assertion of such a rumor is sheer supposition. Second, when Jesus said there would be “rumors” of wars, he certainly did not mean that there would be in the near future rumors of a war that had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, as my email correspondent alleges, thus allowing Hymenaeus and Philetus to get away with their claim that the destruction of the Temple and the (alleged) associated resurrection of the dead had already occurred. When Jesus said “rumors of wars,” he most certainly meant there would be rumors of wars that might be about to happen, but which in fact, were not happening at the time the rumor was heard. If Jesus meant for “rumors” to refer to impending, but not actually occurring wars, than the Temple would be standing, there would have been no resurrection of the dead, and Hymenaeus and Philetus’ assertion of an already-occurred resurrection in conjunction with a destroyed Temple would be so laughable that Paul would yawn when he heard their claims. The way Jesus said “wars” and “rumors of wars” indicates that he meant that the disciples would hear of “WARS” that were actually happening, and “RUMORS OF WARS” that might be about to happen, but which in fact, had not yet happened. Third, it is simply not true that “news in the first century traveled very slowly.” The Roman roads and well-developed commerce made sure that news traveled fairly quickly. For example, in the ancient and medieval world, it took about thirty days to travel by sea from Alexandria to Marseilles, a distance of 1500 miles. And that was under unfavorable circumstances (adverse winds, currents). The travel time was even quicker under favorable circumstances.[3] Therefore, an erroneous rumor that the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed at the most could have lasted only a month or so. A month is not long enough for Hymenaeus’ and Philetus’ gangrene to have spread far enough to cause Paul concern. Fourth, if erroneous news that the temple was still standing traveled so slowly that the Christians could be deceived into thinking it was destroyed, then that also means that correct news assuring them that the resurrection hadn’t already come and that (by implication) the Temple was still standing, also traveled just as slowly. This means that Paul’s good news that the resurrection hadn’t already come could never counteract the false hymenaean error that the destruction of Jerusalem and the resurrection had already come.

In short, there is no credible way to assert that early Christians could have been deceived for very long that a stupendous, world-shaking event such as the destruction of the Temple had occurred when in fact in had not. This means that if the early Christians tied together the resurrection of the dead and the coming in judgment on Jerusalem in the fashion the heretical preterists allege, and if the early Christians knew that the Temple was still standing, therefore the early Christians had no choice but to know that an A.D. 70 resurrection of the dead had not occurred. Therefore, they could potentially only have been seduced by Hymenaeus and Philetus, not about the TIMING of an A.D. 70 resurrection as erroneously alleged by hyperpreterists, but rather about the NATURE of the resurrection. It was possible for Hymenaeus to assert a gnostic, spiritual type of resurrection, or a partial Mat 27:52-53 physical resurrection, and have that false claim believed, because there was no simple way to refute that error, as, for example, by pointing to graves that were still full. On the contrary, if Hymenaeus and Philetus were impliedly and blasphemously asserting, as the hyperpreterists claim, that the Old Covenant was still in effect, then there would be a simple way for Paul to refute their error. He could have simply pointed to the still-standing Temple in Jerusalem. Therefore the hyperpreterist attempt to pin blasphemy on Hymenaeus and Philetus for messing with an alleged A.D. 70 resurrection simply will not work. Hymenaeus and Philetus were (by implication) blasphemously denying the physical resurrection at the end of time. There is absolutely no other explanation for Paul’s outburst against them.

Mr. Johnson brings up other scriptural arguments against a physical resurrection in his article which are not directly related to the topic of Hymenaeus and Philetus. In the interest of space, I will deal with but one of them, although they can all be easily refuted. The rest I intend to address in future articles. The one argument I choose to answer in this article is Mr. Johnson’s interpretation of the Greek word mello used in Acts 24:15. I choose this particular argument because Acts 24:15 was a verse I was holding for future use offensively, and to my surprise Mr. Johnson attempts to use it as a strong point for his case. I also choose this argument to refute because it is so weak that even a dumb Business Administration professor can handle it.

Mr. Johnson quotes Acts 24:15 triumphantly: “and I [Paul] have the same hope in God as these men [Pharisees], that there is (about to be) a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” Paul made that statement before Felix as he was defending himself against charges brought by his opponents the Pharisees. Paul cleverly identified himself with one doctrine of the Pharisees, the resurrection of the dead, to blunt their charges against him. Mr. Johnson’s argument is that Paul stated there was “ABOUT TO BE” a resurrection, which implied one coming shortly from the time spoke, i.e., A.D. 70.

There are four problems with Mr. Johnson’s interpretation, any one of which in isolation is devastating to his argument, and all four of which in conjunction with each other make his argument ludicrous. The first problem: the Greek word mello which Mr. Johnson translates as “about to be” does not consistently mean “about to be,” as the so-called “consistent preterists” love to insist. There is another meaning of mello which means “of certainty, compulsion or necessity, to be certain to act.” (Vines, Vol. 1, “About,” 1981, p. 15.) Here are some other recognized authorities who give a meaning of “certainty” to mello in addition to the meaning “about to.” For example, the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains by Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida Eds., (United Bible Societies, entry 71.36), state this as one of the definitions of mello: “to be inevitable, with respect to future developments – `must be, has to be,’ citing Mt 17.12: `in the same way the Son of Man must also be mistreated by them.’ The abridged Liddell and Scott, under its entry for mello, states this as the second definition of mello: “to express a certainty,” citing classical Greek texts such as “it must be that I am hated by Zeus,” and “I must have sinned against the immortals.” Finally, we have the testimony of Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, who at the entry for mello, state that in Act 11:28 and Acts 24:15, where mello is used with the future infinitive, that the word “denotes certainty that an event will occur in the future.” (BAG, 3rd edition) Mr. Johnson left out this clearly established meaning for mello in his article. An oversight, perhaps?

In addition to Greek authorities, we may cite English translations. The NASB translates Acts 24:15 “there shall CERTAINLY be a resurrection.” The New Century Version translates the verse: “…the hope that all people, good and bad, will SURELY be raised from the dead.” Most versions translate mello in this verse as “there SHALL be a resurrection…” or “there WILL be a resurrection…” (KJV, NIV, Centenary Translation, New English Bible, Third Millennium Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Douay-Rheims, for example). These latter translations are ambiguous about whether the future resurrection is “ABOUT to come” as per the hyperpreterists, or “CERTAINLY to come.” But the latter translation is certainly within the semantic domain of mello. It would take very much chutzpah for any hyperpreterist to claim that mello in Acts 24:15 definitely means that the resurrection was ABOUT to occur just after Paul spoke the words.

I am sure a hyperpreterist would want to respond here, and assert that the translators’ biases in favor of a physical resurrection impelled them to choose “certainty” over “about to.” Well then, let us examine other Scriptures in which logic, not translator bias, compels a translation of mello as “certainty” and not “about to.” For example, Acts 26:22, where Paul says to Agrippa that he was “stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was GOING TO (mello) take place; that the Christ was to suffer…” One has to ask: when the Prophets and Moses prophesied that Jesus was “about to” (mello) suffer, just how close in time was the prophesying and the suffering? Doesn’t it make much more sense to take mello in the sense that the Prophets prophesied that Jesus was CERTAINLY to suffer? Another example is Rom 5:14, in which Paul says “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was TO COME (mello).” I ask the reader: was Adam a type of Him who was ABOUT TO come, or was Adam a type of Him who was CERTAINLY to come? How soon did Jesus come after Adam?[4] Our conclusion can only be that mello does not always mean “about to,” and therefore it is hyperpreterist presumption that takes mello in Acts 24:15 (“there is ABOUT TO be a resurrection”) to refer to an imminent A.D. 70 resurrection.

The second problem with Mr. Johnson’s interpretation of Acts 24:15 is that Paul completely identifies himself with his Pharisee opponents when he says that he “had a hope in God, WHICH THESE MEN [THE PHARISEES] CHERISH THEMSELVES, that there shall certainly be a resurrection…” In other words, Paul says that what the Pharisees say about the resurrection, I, Paul, believe it to be true, also. Now, then: what did the Pharisees believe about the resurrection? Did they believe it to be a physical resurrection of the body? Yes, they did. It is well-known that they believed fervently in a physical resurrection, even to the extreme. They even believed that a part of the spine would be preserved out of which a new resurrection body would be preserved. Therefore, if the Pharisees believed in a physical resurrection, Paul also believed in a physical resurrection, not a gnostic spiritual resurrection like the heretical preterists erroneously assert.

A hyperpreterist might assert here in defense that Paul identified publicly with the Pharisaical view of a physical resurrection while privately holding to a spiritual resurrection. The short answer to that is this. Were Paul to do this, he would either be stupid in promoting a physical resurrection in which he didn’t believe, or he would be a hypocrite and a liar for saying falsely he agreed with the Pharisees just to save his neck. It is evident that Paul was using “resurrection” in the same sense as his audience. Everyone in the audience took “resurrection” to be physical, when Paul used the term, the audience would immediately take it to be physical. Therefore, when Paul used the term in an unqualified sense, he knew the term would be taken as “physical resurrection.” To let his audience take the term as “physical resurrection” when Paul meant privately “spiritual resurrection” would mean that Paul was either a stupid fool in allowing that to happen, or a cowardly hypocrite.

The third problem with Mr. Johnson’s view of Acts 24:15 is related to the second. For when Paul identified himself publicly with the resurrection views of the Pharisees, he not only identified himself with the Pharisees’ view of the NATURE of the resurrection, he also identified himself with the Pharisees view of the TIMING of the resurrection. Now, when did the Pharisees believe the resurrection was going to occur? Did they believe that it would occur in a few years when a judgment coming destroyed Jerusalem in accordance with the words of Jesus? Obviously not, they didn’t even believe Jesus was the Messiah. They didn’t believe the Messianic age had come. They didn’t believe the end of the Old Testament age was upon them. In other words, they were blatant futurists. They believed the resurrection of the dead would occur at the end of time. And Paul identified himself with the Pharisees’ beliefs about the resurrection.

The fourth problem with Mr. Johnson’s view of Acts 24:15 is that Paul states in that verse that he believed “that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous AND THE WICKED.” The heretical preterists believe that the resurrection of the dead occurred in A.D. 70. This resurrection, according to Paul in Acts 24:15, included a resurrection of the wicked. So, on a hyperpreterist view, when and how did the resurrection of the wicked occur in A.D. 70?

Let me conclude by restating my two major theses. First, orthodox Christians have no reasonable way to distinguish the beliefs of Hymenaeus and Philetus, condemned as blasphemers by Paul, from the present-day hymenaean heresy. Too many orthodox have swallowed the lie that there is an essential difference between current day hymenaeans and the ones of Paul’s day.[5] Second, even granting the heretical preterists their false premise that the resurrection occurred in A.D. 70, their argument to deflect Paul’s wrath from themselves, by distinguishing themselves from Hymenaeus and Philetus, is not even remotely reasonable.

It may be premature to say that the house of God is burning, but without a doubt a fire has started. My question is simple: will we stand around and watch, or will be bring out the fire hoses?


ENDNOTES

[1]Many thanks to Dee Dee Warren for pointing out to me the begging-the-question fallacy used so often by the heretical preterists.

[2]I realize that there is a textual problem with the “the” that stands before “resurrection.” The editors of the Nestle text have the definite article, but they put the “the” in brackets, which means that there is a great deal of difficulty in establishing the correct reading. However, it is clear from the context that “the” is the correct translation. I have checked nineteen translations (NASB, ASV, NKJV, KJV, TMB, NLT, NRSV, RSV, Good News Translation, Douay-Rheims, NCV, God’s Word Translation, WEB, The Message, The Bible in Basic English, Darby, Hebrew Names, Webster, Young’s Literal) and seventeen of the nineteen translate the phrase as “THE resurrection.” One, the Good News Translation, translates the phrase as “OUR resurrection,” which, of course, is not helpful to the hyperpreterist cause. I could find only one translation, God’s Word Translation, which translates the passage without the definite article: “people who have died have come back to life.”

Not only does the context lead the overwhelming majority of translators to translate the passage using the definite article, but logic also compels us to assume that when Paul referred to “resurrection” here, he meant “THE” resurrection. For if we assume an indefinite article, that “a” resurrection had already taken place, this would leave open the possibility that Hymenaeus and Philetus held that another resurrection was going to occur down the road. This doesn’t make much sense on anybody’s view, orthodox or hyperpreterist. On the orthodox view: why would Paul be so incensed, since Hymenaeus and Philetus would have left open the possibility for a future physical resurrection of the dead? On the heretical preterist view, why would Paul be so incensed, since Hymenaeus and Philetus would have left open the possibility for a future A.D. 70 resurrection associated with the coming of Jesus and the destruction of the Old Covenant? It simply makes no sense to leave the “the” out.

[3]Lionel Casson, Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World (Princeton, 1971) pp. 220 ff. Also see Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean in the Time of Philip II (NY 1972) I, pp. 358 ff.

[4]There is a faint hope for hyperpreterists who want to wriggle out of the dilemma presented by this verse. The Greek is ambiguous, and so “was to come” could theoretically be translated as “is to come.” This would make the time referred to by mello to be the time to elapse between Paul’s writing of the text, and Jesus’ coming in A.D. 70. The context of the verse impels us to conclude otherwise, however. Seventeen of the nineteen translations I checked translate as “was to come,” reflecting the common sense view that the context is talking about the time that elapsed between Adam and Christ, the “coming” being the First Advent, when the Second Adam fulfilled the type presented by the First Adam.

[5]To disassociate themselves from Hymenaeus and Philetus, hyperpreterists have used other arguments than those used by Mr. Johnson in his “Response.” However, these arguments are not nearly as clever as those used by Mr. Johnson. I intend to deal with some of these arguments in a future article.

Dr. Trotter is a Business professor at Coker College and can be contacted at dtrotter@coker.edu or (843)-383-8110

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