Rick Quinn: Book Review – R. C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus (2000)

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While there are a few important variations among preterists, here the most significant variation exists between what Sproul calls “radical” and “moderate” preterism.


Book Review

R. C. Sproul. The Last Days According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998, 253 pp., $16.99 cloth. ISBN: 0-8010-1171-X.

By Rick Quinn
2000

Introduction

For evaluative purposes, writers of popular religious literature can be placed upon a continuum from helpful to harmful. At one end then are those whose work upon topics of enduring interest is characterized by good exegesis, sound reasoning, thorough research, and an arresting style. At the other end are those whose work upon topics oriented toward various contemporary trends is characterized by bad exegesis, faulty or weak reasoning, slipshod research, and a self-absorbed style. Generally speaking, R. C. Sproul’s 44 previous books stand firm as helpful writing. With The Last Days According to Jesus however, I detect a possible slippage.

As the title indicates, the book is an inquiry into the character of New Testament eschatology, with particular attention given to exegesis of the apocalyptic discourses within the gospels.1 At the heart of Sproul’s recommendations is a modified version of preterism. The term preterism derives from the Latin praeterire, which simply means “to go by” or “to pass by.”2 As a form of

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1 First, Sproul’s approach to eschatology is traditional insofar as it is understood basically as the “last things,” e.g., the millennium, Antichrist, parousia, final resurrection of believers, etc. Second, the apocalyptic narratives under review are Mk. 13, Lk. 21, and Mt. 24.

2 From Merriam-Webster’s Deluxe Dictionary, Tenth Collegiate Edition. (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.), 1998.

eschatology, preterism teaches that such prophecies as those concerning the Great Tribulation (Mt. 24:21), and the Beast (Rev. 12:1-8) were fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.3 While there are a few important variations among preterists, here the most significant variation exists between what Sproul calls “radical” and “moderate” preterism. Radical preterism teaches that all New Testament prophecies have been fulfilled (including the final resurrection and the parousia), while moderate preterism teaches that while most prophecies have been fulfilled, the final resurrection and the Second Coming have not occurred. Thus, The Last Days According to Jesus is Sproul’s argument for just this moderate form of preterism.

The Text: A Summary

As his introduction indicates, Sproul’s point of entry into the exegetical issues germane to witness of the New Testament concerning the last things is, ironically, not New Testament studies. Rather, his exegetical interest in preterism serves his apologetic interest in maintaining the veracity of Jesus’ words: contrary to critics, Jesus prophecies concerning his kingdom and his return did not fail. Sproul opens with a summary of the vitriolic accusations of Bertrand Russell against Jesus. Specifically Russell attacks the prophetic integrity of Jesus’ words concerning his coming and kingdom (Mt. 10:23, 16:28).4 According to Russell, “The Son of Man did not come and all of Jesus’ hearers died without seeing the coming of the kingdom of which Jesus spoke.” Or, from another angle, “this generation” did, in fact, pass away—without “all these things” having occurred (Mk. 13:30).

To buttress his case that the credibility of Jesus is under attack from within biblical studies, Sproul takes the reader on a seven-page, whirlwind tour of post-enlightenment, critical exegesis in eschatology from G. W. F. Hegel to

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3 Kenneth L. Gentry, “Postmillennialism” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 24 ff.; cf. David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance(Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 39-44.

4 Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British mathematician and philosopher whose anti-religious sentiments were interspersed amidst his wide publishing output.

O. Cullmann, discussing the Religonsgeschichtliche Schule, D. F. Strauss, A. Ritschl, A. Harnack, A. Schweitzer, and C. H. Dodd.5 Finally then, the appeal of preterism for Sproul resides in its focus upon the “time-frame references” and the destruction of Jerusalem in New Testament eschatology (p. 25), in a manner which provides a compelling answer to the critics while not jettisoning confessional views concerning the inspiration of Scripture.6 Sproul concludes by introducing J. Stuart Russell, “the most important scholar of the preterist school.”7

In chapter 1, Sproul exegetes a section of the apocalyptic narratives, especially focusing on Mt. 24:1-33. Essentially, Sproul’s recitation of J. S. Russell’s argument is as follows: Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple (v. 2), which occurred in 70 A.D. The disciples ask when “these things” will occur, and “what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age” (24:3 NASB). The disciples, therefore, expected the destruction of the Temple, the parousia of Jesus, and the end of the age (tou aionos), to be three aspects of one event, not differentiated by a noticeably long lapse of time. Thus, that vv. 4-13 were fulfilled in the first century can be documented by historical investigation of the period—wars, famines, uprisings, and indeed, false Christs all appeared within the first century.

Further, v. 14 is fulfilled, according to the preterist argument, in that the inhabited, Roman world heard the gospel (Col. 1:6, 23); hence, the “end” is not cosmic in scope, but rather the end of the Jewish age.8 Mt. 24:15-22 then

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5 While acknowledging him in a footnote, Sproul’s summary is clearly taken from Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1962), xi-xxxiv.

6 Of note is the very personal tone of Sproul’s inquiry. He indicates that his educational experience (B.A., Westminster College; B.D., Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; D.R.S., Free University of Amsterdam) was dominated by professors whose historical-critical reading of Scripture was bolstered by the parousia-delay hypothesis saying, “One of my chief professors in college was a doctoral student under Rudolf Bultmann” (p. 14). (Sproul’s professor was Norman Ratcliff Adams who studied with Bultmann at Marburg in 1935.)

7 J. Stuart Russell, a 19th century British Congregationalist, published The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). Baker Book House reprinted the book in 1983, and again in 1999 (significantly, with an introduction by R. C. Sproul).

8 The coming of the “end” is treated in chapter 3, which is entitled ‘What ‘Age’ Was About to End?”.

refers to a continuous progression of events, all of which transpired before the destruction of Jerusalem. As vv. 23-27 elaborate upon the character of the tribulation (which is the destruction of Jerusalem), so v. 28 refers to the Roman conquest of the Jews—the Jews are the “corpse” and the Romans are the “gathered vultures.” Finally, tendentious for the orthodox view that the final parousia has not yet occurred, Sproul is ambivalent on the following Russell’s (radical preterist) exegesis of the “coming of the Son of Man” (v. 27).9 Yet he concurs with Russell that, in keeping with the prophetic language of Is. 13:9-10, 13 and 34:3-5, its portents are purely figurative. The parable of the Fig Tree (vv. 32-34) as well then refers to the immediate destruction to befall Jerusalem.

Closing in upon the “time-references,” chapter 2 focuses especially on the meaning of the phrase “this generation” (he genea aute). Russell interprets the phrase as indicating those, and only those, who heard Jesus’ words, and would die within thirty to forty years of Jesus’ statement (roughly, a generation). This interpretation then is opposed to the view that “this generation” is a qualitative denotation: it refers to a certain type of people (wicked, righteous, or both). The former view includes, and is limited to, the contemporaries of Jesus; while the latter view includes, but is not limited to, Jesus’ immediate audience. How one understands the phrase “this generation” (specifically in the Olivet Discourse) relates to one’s understanding of the phrase “all these things” (panta tauta) in Mt. 24:34. Does the latter phrase include v. 29 only, or vv. 30-31?

Sproul outlines three interpretative options: first, the entire discourse is fulfilled literally in historic (e.g., near) proximity to Jesus’ own words; second, the time referent is figurative (e.g. a qualitative descriptor), and the events proximate to the parousia are to be fulfilled literally; third, the time referent is literal (e.g., a quantitative descriptor), and the parousia related events are figurative. Sproul opts for the last view, with qualification. Here he registers unambiguous disagreement with Russell; thus differentiating his own moderate preterism from the radical preterism of Russell, querying as to whether, within Russell’s view, there remains a future eschatological hope for the church.

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9 This is treated thoroughly in chapter 3.

In chapter 3, Sproul argues that the “Day of the Lord” spoken of throughout the OT10 commences with the visitation of God’s redemption in sending Christ (Lk. 1:68), whose forerunner was indeed Elijah (Mal. 4:5; cf. Mt. 11:14). Yet the ominous character of OT “Day of the Lord” finds its New Testament counterpart in the prophecies of Jesus (Lk. 19:43-44), which were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Those who rightly detect a preteristic already/not-yet dynamic, hear Sproul: “Here is an ‘already and not yet,’ but one that spans about forty years, not centuries or millennia.”11 Additionally, the phrase “the end of the age” is divested of its typically understood, futuristic import: it likely refers to the end of the Jewish age (where Jewish age is contrasted with an [undefined] Gentile epoch) in 70 A.D. Thus, the “last days” refers to the time-period between John the Baptist and the destruction of Jerusalem.

Sproul takes up a preterist reading of Pauline eschatology in chapter 4, arguing that the “wrath to come” of I Thess. 1:10 is identical to the wrath that “has come” spoken of in 2:16 (and thus, somewhat oddly, interpreting the aorist ephthasen, as an indicator of the certainty that judgment will transpire).12 The Corinthians believed the parousia was near (I Cor. 1:7-8). Thus, the “end” referenced (v. 8) is not the consummate arrival of the saints before God in judgment, or the end of one’s life. Rather, it refers to the same “end” of which the gospels speak: the end of the Jewish age. This is, for the preterist, related to the judgment by fire on the “day,” in I Cor. 3:13-15—a judgment that occurred in 70 A.D.13 Sproul also links Rom. 2:4-6, 2:16 with 13:11-12 asserting that the “day at hand” of 13:12 is the catastrophe of the fall of the Temple, which thus fulfills 2:4-6 and 2:16. Concluding with a excursus in Hebrews, Sproul claims that preterists argue that the “second” appearance of 9:28, and the “approaching” Day of 10:25, are understood in the context of the nearness

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10 Sproul cites Obad. 15; Joel 1:15, 2:1-2, 11, 31; 3:14-18; Amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:7-17.

11 Sproul, Last Days, 81.

12 Sproul’s argument here depends upon Jonathan Edwards’ treatment of this text in his sermon “When the Wicked Shall Have Filled Up the Measure of Their Sin, Wrath Will Come upon Them to the Uttermost” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman, 2 vols. (1834; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 2:122-125.

13 The preterist argues that most passages concerning the “end” in Paul refer to the destruction of Jerusalem. Sproul cites I Cor. 7:19-31, 10:11 as well.

of 10:37, suggesting that the epistle’s audience would later believe that the destruction of Jerusalem was a parousia of the Lord in judgment.

With the first half of the book devoted to the major theological exposition of preterism, the last half concerns itself with “bringing it all together.” Understandably then, in chapter 5 Sproul narrates the reader through a brief history of intertestamental Judaism, culling together the Jewish and Roman historiographical efforts of Josephus and Tacitus to set up the apocalyptic significance of the Jewish war (66-70 A.D.), culminating in the razing of the Temple in 70 A.D. After establishing the credibility of Josephus as an historian, Sproul cites instances showing that Josephus also believed that the events of the Jewish War had “prophetic import . . . fulfill [ing] ancient prophecies.”14 Citing Josephus’ recording of various apparitions: a star resembling a sword, a bright light shining around the Temple, chariots in the clouds, as well as earthquakes, and a “great noise,” Sproul marks their formal similarity to such Scriptural accounts as Ezek. 1:22-28, 10:15-19, and II Kings 6:17. These events, narrated by Josephus, accompanying the destruction of the Temple, indicate “the radical fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in the Olivet Discourse . . . ” as well as “the parousia of Christ in his judgment-coming.”15

As chapter 6 argues, the time references in the book of Revelation are related primarily to contemporary events; the focus of divine judgment within the book refers to that which would be executed upon the Jewish nation. Enlisting the work of Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., by marshaling internal and external evidences, Sproul fixes the date of authorship before 70 A.D. (against current consensus of a date in the 90s).16 Without a pre-70 composition of Revelation, the preterist case as a whole is severely weakened, and its interpretation of the Apocalypse fails.

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14 Sproul, Last Days, 119. Amidst the onslaught when the Roman armies hurled a huge stone on the city, Josephus records some Jews as saying “The stone cometh,” which apparently contains a textual variant that reads “The Son cometh.” The explanation in favor of its inclusion (which Sproul adopts) is that Jews were mocking the Christian hope of the coming of the Son of Man.

15 Sproul, Last Days, 127.

16 It is important to note that Sproul is heavily indebted to the work of Gentry, who devoted his doctoral dissertation (Th.D., Whitefield Theological Seminary) to the topic, which was published as Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989).

The goal of chapter 7 is to distinguish clearly between partial and full-preterism. Within his commentary of the current intramural debates among preterists, Sproul attacks full-preterism in the interests of creedal orthodoxy: he wants to maintain the final resurrection and the “final coming” of the Lord.17Demonstrating that the New Testament teaches that the final resurrection (I Cor. 15), and the rapture of believers (I Thess. 4:13-18) will be visible, he distances himself from full-preterism, criticizing the lack of hermeneutical consistency of even J. Stuart Russell.

Chapter 8 outlines a preterist interpretation of the Antichrist. Herein, Sproul is reserved, often merely providing a digest of the opinion of others, with little or no comments. Nevertheless, he seems to argue that the Antichrist is a contemporary individual figure (I Jn. 4:1-4). Furthermore, Sproul suggests that the “man of lawlessness” (II Thess. 2:3-11) is a contemporary of Paul, and identical to the Antichrist of I John. Finally, Sproul follows Gentry in maintaining that the Beast of the book of Revelation (Rev. 13) is a contemporary, who (through a numerological cryptogram) is judged to be Nero.

In the last chapter, Sproul summarizes the standard millennial positions: Amillennialism, Dispensational and historic Premillennialism, and Postmillennialism. While he asserts that “[s]ome form of preterism could conceivably be incorporated in all [millennial views],” he clearly believes that it is most consistent with the Postmillennial position.18 Within Postmillennialism, Sproul distinguishes (quoting Gentry) between “pietistic” and “theonomic” postmillennialism, asserting that one can consistently hold to preterism without also holding to theonomy.

Finally, The Last Days According to Jesus concludes with several addenda: a five-page appendix that simply quotes Mt. 24:1-25:46; another appendix (17 pages), the Olivet Discourse in synoptic parallel version; a one-page glossary of terms; chapter notes; a six-page “works cited” section (formatted to be consulted by the reader); and name and Scripture indices.

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17 Sproul, Last Days, 170.

18 Sproul, Last Days, 201.

Assessment

With that extended summary, my intention is to represent the preterist viewpoint and Drs. Sproul’s position relative to preterism as accurately as possible. In doing so, it is my interest to provide the readers of this journal with an adequate sampling of Sproul’s most salient arguments. And I offer the following criticisms with deep respect for Drs. Sproul, as a minister of the Word whose abilities in his areas of competence are matched by his diligence for theological integrity to the Scriptures as the Word of God written.19

Concerning the published form of the text: in keeping with Sproul’s uncommon mastery, this book is popular in style. As such, it contains 15 tables or charts, over 25 extended quotations of Scripture, nearly 10 occasions for a point-by-point summary of arguments, and as many text-boxes presenting information relevant to the paragraphed text. (I detected only one typographical error.20) Yet, while I have not read all of Sproul’s previous works, the text of The Last Days According to Jesus is overly protracted. I believe he could have presented his argument, without substantive changes, in less than 100 pages (not 251 pages). Usually, the text consists in little more (and often nothing more) than cutting and pasting quotes from commentaries, selected from within a narrow compass of exegetes. I often wondered if Drs. Sproul had done any research of his own, apart from comparing and contrasting secondary sources.21 Such an approach has the distinct disadvantage of limiting the inquirer to the interpretative options surveyed (or those in their near proxim-

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19 As well, I have neither space nor ability to provide a complete analysis of moderate preterism. What I offer then, are merely intended as suggestive remarks for further study.

20 On p. 74, the Greek work ktisis is cited as a cognate of the English word “crisis.” I believe krisis was the intended Greek word.

21 For example, it is interesting to note that in the book, within 131 consecutive pages of the published text, J. Stuart Russell’s name appears 131 times; and afterward, within the next 70 consecutive pages of text, the name of Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. occurs 70 times, (neither of these counts include the third person personal pronouns, the antecedent of which would refer to Russell or Gentry). Also, when the sources on the “Works Cited” page do get beyond citations of Sproul’s most commonly consulted secondary sources, careful reading of bibliographies in the secondary sources reveals that Sproul’s inquiry doesn’t often get beyond those.

ity), all of which may of course be false.22

This is not to denigrate Sproul’s rational ability to compare and contrast, or to arrive at reasonable exegetical conclusions within the scope of his investigation. (Indeed, on numerous occasions throughout the book, Sproul castigates many exegetes for committing various informal fallacies of logic—his favorite being the fallacy of “question-begging”—highlighting again his abilities and focus in apologetics.)

The most pressing exegetical issue is, of course, a redemptive-historical critique of preterism that accounts for the time-references of the apocalyptic narratives with sensitivity to the whole of New Testament eschatology. However, since I believe the most basic elements of such a critique have been formulated elsewhere, I shall limit my scope of inquiry to the success of Drs. Sproul’s original intent to protect the integrity of Jesus’ words from the assault of criticism.23With his commitment to preterism then, I was left wondering, how thoroughly Drs. Sproul had considered the implications of his position for biblical supernaturalism in hermeneutics. Without wanting to neglect the difficult exegetical and theological issues involved, my most serious concerns with the book reside just here.24

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22 One particularly clear instance of such danger occurs in a chart, listing adherents to various millennial positions. The text under the heading “Amillennialism,” before the chart reads, “…the majority report among Reformed thinkers tends to be the amillennial position” (p. 195). Then however, on the chart, of the eight amillennialists listed, all are 20th century figures, and five are Dutch. In contrast, among the 23 postmillennialists are such names as Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, B. B. Warfield, O. T. Allis, J. G. Machen, and John Murray. Sproul’s list bears striking similarity to the list Gentry provides in Three Views, 15-18.

23 Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Theonomy and Eschatology: Some Reflections on Postmillennialism “in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, eds. William S. Barker, and Robert S. Godfrey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1990), 197-224.

24 Another area of inquiry could be apologetics. A more thorough analysis could articulate the extent to which Sproul’s commitment to “classical apologetics” motivates his overall hermeneutical interest in preterism as well as some of his own exegetical reasoning. Whereas, were one approaching the apocalyptic narratives with the view that the testimony of Jesus Christ in the text of Scripture authenticates His own testimony, the exegetical procedure would perhaps have interesting differences.

Under the flag of preteristic postmillennialism, Sproul attempts to navigate biblical eschatology safely into an orthodox harbor between the shallow banks of the Weiss/Schweitzer consistent eschatology school on the one side, and the realized eschatology of Dodd on the other. Yet, for its attempts to secure the prophetic integrity of Jesus (without de-eschatologizing him), and to refute the charge that the early-Christian hope was modified at least and disappointed at most because of the so-called parousia delay, I fear that the preterist disdain for redemptive-historical eschatology leaves as its only option, a co-opting of the naturalistic interpretive method of biblical criticism, despite its recoiling at their conclusions. 25

Let me illustrate: fundamental to Reformed hermeneutics concerning the nature of Jewish biblical prophecy is the principle sometimes called prophetic perspective. This term refers to the belief that in the Old Testament, and continuing through the ministry of Jesus, prophecy is without the historical differentiation that it clearly receives in the epistolary literature of the New Testament. Tersely then, what the foretelling prophet sees as one event, the New Testament differentiates into two events. Sproul alludes to this approach, and rejects it as an interpretive method because it makes the prophets appear disingenuous.

As an example, the disciples ask Jesus the time of the Temple destruction and his coming (Mt. 24:3). To interpret Jesus’ answer (vv. 4-31) according to this prophetic perspective would interpret the events as historically differentiated (i.e., the destruction of the Temple occurring in 70 A.D. and the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” to be fulfilled at the end of human history). This historical foreshortening characteristic of the prophetic perspective approach proceeds here on the basis that the disciples’ assumption that the two events would immediately follow one another (and thus occur as one event) is false. One way in which it is known to be false is that the clear interpretation of the words of Jesus concerning the

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25 Of redemptive-historical exegesis in eschatology, I have here in mind, the work of such men as Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos. Sproul cites Ridderbos, but disposes of his redemptive-historical reading of the apocalyptic narratives on the grounds discussed below.

coming of the Son of Man includes the gathering of his elect and the sending forth of his angels (v. 31). From clear texts throughout the rest of the New Testament (Mt. 13:24-30, 40-43) this has not occurred, but will occur at the end of human history.

Throughout the book, time and time again, Sproul rejects such interpretations primarily because he considers it to be dubious that Jesus would have answered his inquirers when their questions contained false assumptions. It seems that if appropriately understanding Jesus’ answer to a given question demands that his answer conform to the assumptions of the questioner, then a certain amount of socio-historical investigation concerning the nature of the assumptions is necessary. This information may, or may not, be contained in the text of Scripture. Thus, the various levels of cultural, intellectual, and historical assumptions of the complex life-world of Second Temple Judaism becomes the interpretive key for understanding the words of Jesus. The exegetical riddles often associated with Jesus’ responses dissolve to form historical and socio-cultural riddles associated with Jesus’ own life context: to arrive at the meaning of Jesus’ words, a perhaps endless historical investigation concerning the possible assumptions of his inquirers is necessarily launched. That is to say, if Jesus’ answers to various questions should not be interpreted as criticisms of the assumptions contained within those questions, then a number of difficulties arise.

If we are to understand Jesus’ answers to his questioners in this way, is it still possible to interpret Jesus’ words as ever providing a critique, even a radical rebuke of the thought forms of the intricate interpretative world of first century Palestine, revealed in the questions themselves? I do not see how it is possible. In this schema, an examination of the facts of history or culture (regarding the various conceptual models, or “world-views” determined to be functioning within the late intertestamental period) become the final determinants as to what Jesus’ must have meant or not.

In keeping with this view, Sproul seems to find the redemptive-historical interpretations that render “generation” or “age” as denoting more qualitative overtones than quantitative (i.e., describing a quality of people or life more prominently than a temporally delimited quantity of people or years) quite ridiculous. I’m almost curious as to whether he would affirm the accusation of the consistent eschatology school, that redemptive-historical exegesis arose in an effort to combat the embarrassment that came upon the early church because of the supposed parousia-delay. Since adopting the prophetic perspective approach to prophecy is characteristic of redemptive-historical exegesis (thus asserting that many of Jesus’ answers to questions are concerned at a most basic level to actually overturn the assumptions of the questioner specifically with regard to the particular question in view), this approach would not be considered sufficiently historical according to what the preterist method seems to imply. Namely, that to be historical in one’s interpretation means to exegete Jesus’ answer to questions in terms that conform to (and do not go beyond or contradict) the assumptions of the questioner, which are knowable insofar as they are explicated from the contemporary intellectual context. This is the naturalistic, anti-supernaturalistic hermeneutic of modern biblical criticism, the logical conclusions of which, it appears, Sproul has unwittingly embraced.

So then, while detesting the conclusions of those historical-critical scholars who believe the testimony of Jesus to be incredulous, has Sproul’s version of preterism left us with any other option? In order for his interpretive method to be consistent, which takes the assumptions of the questioner as normative for the thought-patterns of Jesus’ responses, it can have no theological ax to grind. Sproul’s criticism of the redemptive-historically motivated “prophetic perspective” would, it seems, be in essential agreement with Schweitzer’s complaint against Wilhelm Weiffenbach’s “dogmatic exegesis.” Schweitzer castigates:

He is not content to merely render the history intelligible; he is . . . urged on by the hope that perhaps a way may be found of causing that ‘error’ of Jesus [his failed apocalyptic expectation] to disappear and proving it to be an illusion due to the wont of sufficiently close study of his discourses. But the historian simply must not be an apologist.26

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26 Albert Schweitzer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus: a critical study of its progress from Reimarus to Wrede (New York: Macmillan, 1950) 234.

If Sproul insists upon consigning the interpretation of the words of Jesus primarily to the socio-cultural context of ancient Judaism, without letting Jesus have interpretative authority over those very categories of thought, such that he even answers questions that contain false assumptions, then he will, I believe, be left with a Jesus subject to the dictates of this critical-historical method. And despite the changing criteria or lack of consensus as to just what constitutes the precise nature of historical understanding, one element remains constant and determinative: in modern critical scholarship where “historical” understanding represents the highest form of knowledge, human interpretive autonomy—anti-supernaturalistic autonomy—(over and against the text of Scripture) is the controlling motif.27

Sproul’s program in support of moderate preterism is then to be rejected. Despite his intentions for theological orthodoxy, his casting of the preterist hermeneutic represents a decline in hermeneutical self-consciousness and acquiescence to historical-critical criteria for exegesis. I love R. C. Sproul. His efforts on behalf of our common faith have served as source of strength and encouragement. Yet the recent popularity-upsurge of preterism is a dark cloud on the horizon of biblical eschatology.28 The remedy? only a biblico-theologically informed, rigorous accounting of New Testament eschatology is suitable. Hence, I wish Sproul had not published this book.

In this, the 50th anniversary year of the death of Geerhardus Vos, readers of this journal will appreciate the words of one of the greatest Reformed preachers of our age: words which are particularly apropos for Sproul and should be axiomatic for all future endeavors concerning the relationship between historical scholarship, exegesis, and theological eschatology.

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27 Among scholars in the recent so-called “3rd Quest for the Historical Jesus,” it is precisely this hermeneutical commitment which views Jesus’ contemporary Jewish context as the mechanism for maintaining interpretative control over the meaning of Jesus’ words, that serves the critical interest to divest Jesus of the self-consciousness that the church has historically affirmed as the clear teaching of Scripture. In actual fact, this approach represents a denial of the analogia fide in the interest of human autonomy in historical research.

28 The Last Days According to Jesus is in its 3rd printing, with over fifty thousand copies in print.

The historian, as well as the theologian, for that matter, must fight against the tendency to place the Bible in its “ancient setting,” while the church sits in the so-called modern world. Such an approach cannot adequately grasp the covenantal and corporate interest of Scripture, nor can it appreciate fully our participation in the drama the Bible represents. Regardless of how far removed in time we are from the actual events, we remain essentially participants in, not spectators of, the history of salvation.29

                                                                                                                                                                                                           —Rick Quinn

29 Charles G. Dennison, “Report of the Historian,” in the Minutes of the 64th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1997), 312.