(This is a different question than 'Was Jesus a Failed Messiah?')
Hi Glen(sic) Miller,
I recently discovered your excellent site when I was looking up arguments to go against an atheist with, and I was and am impressed with the high level of research and time that you put into each of the hard questions you tackle. So when I came across a blog post on a forum that really bothered me, I felt that you may do the best job of refuting it.
My apologetics question is basically, "Was Jesus a Failed Eschatological Prophet?" This is not just asking about a few verses, but about the purpose of Jesus' ministry and its "apparent" unfulfillment. Numerous references by Jesus (and other New Testament writers) to a nearing of the end times have always bothered me in the back of my mind, but this blog post (which I will copy in its entirety here) really shakes my faith. It basically tries to show that the thrust of Jesus' message was that His end-times kingdom was coming very soon, and all his followers like Paul and John believed this. Then when this didn't come true, the church distanced itself from the end times, such as in the last Gospel, John, where its message focuses more on eternal life than the apocalypse. I had originally came across this post in a forum because I was bothered with Jesus' statement in Matthew 26:64 that the high priest would see Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven. Yet this post I found was much broader in its attacks on Jesus and the New Testament message.
By the way, I did search your topics list to see if you addressed this issue, and your article to a Finland reader (http://christianthinktank.com/qaim.html) was very helpful. I do not ask that you repeat your responses from that article, but only I wish that you would answer some of the other arguments mentioned in the blog post that has been bothering me, which is below (I apologize for the length of this post -- but I'm truly troubled by it):
PART EIGHT ==================== (see Part One for series header)
This takes the question discussed in Part 7: "Is there a clear pattern of successive watering down of Jesus' prediction of the Eschaton AFTER the NT documents?" and extends that question into the non-canonical, and (often) non-orthodox or less-orthodox post-NT literature.
[This section continues looking at the Church Fathers.]
So, the revised version of the question here is:
Do the NT apocrypha seem to continue this 'backpedaling' on a failed prediction of Jesus?
Of course, by now the reader has seen that there IS no 'backpedaling' or watering-down of the apocalyptic language or eschatological hope of the Jesus of the Synoptic gospels to be 'continued'. Instead, we have seen all three eschatological frameworks (realized eschatology, futurist/apocalyptic eschatology, and inaugurated eschatology) present throughout the NT literature.
These have shown up in all strata, all genres, and all authors. They have shown up in direct teachings, as grounding bases for ethical injunctions, and as causes for praise, hope, celebration, and endurance.
The hope of the believer--for a universe in which righteousness is "comfortably at home" among us (!)--is both future, partially present now through the ministry of the Spirit in the hearts/minds of the Christian, and visibly growing in certain realms of our external experience (eg, community love, removal of class distinctions, inclusiveness). It is anchored in the experience of Jesus in the substitutionary death/judgment on the Cross, His vindication by the Father in the resurrection, and His enthronement at His ascension to heaven. The world WAS judged at the Cross, is being judged now, and will be finally judged at the eschaton.
And we have seen this pattern repeated in the first couple of centuries of orthodox or more-orthodox extra-NT writings.
Now we have to look at the next batch of literature:
· A few more of the Fathers (somewhat later that the "apostolic" fathers)
· The Apocryphal writings (with focus on apocalyptic writings/passages)
· The non-orthodox writings/traditions: non-gnostic
· The non-orthodox writings/traditions: gnostic
· Special attention to the Gospel of Thomas
Obviously there is significant overlap between the apocryphal writings and the 'non-orthodox' traditions, since many of the apocryphal writings were created for the specific purpose of promoting non-orthodox views. However, we will just look at these apocryphal traditions from a couple of different angles--in hopes of being closer to 'comprehensive'.
What are we looking for here, again?
The original statement of your blogger friend is something like this:
"Finally, this successive backpedaling continues beyond the NT writings and into those of the apocrypha and the early church leaders, even to the point where some writings attribute an anti-apocalyptic message to Jesus."
For the blogger, the backpedaling consists (apparently) of the replacing of "eschatological 'kingdom of God' talk' and 'end-time predictions' with 'eternal life' talk. We have already seen that this is a false dichotomy, both in Jesus' preaching, the NT, and in Jewish apocalyptic in general, so we are going to have to broaden this a bit, to try to 'widen' the blogger's net.
So, we will need to broaden the search criteria beyond simple 'substitution' of terminology.
So, I would assume that the blogger's position could be reworded more generally as a replacing of future-oriented eschatology (which includes, however, a future aspect of salvation) with non-futurist soteriology (ie, only 'have been saved' or 'are being saved' statements allowed).
This replacement could be in the form of 're-interpretation' (ie, Jesus' references to His personal cosmically -visible return in glory and power was actually only a veiled areference to the quiet, invisible, non-spectacular coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of a believer), simple silence (ie, the Eschaton is never mentioned as being a literal sequence of events yet in the future), or 're-adjustment' (ie, the presumed timing end-point is adjusted forward, from the destruction of the Temple to something yet in the future--maybe like a second temple?).
So, I conclude that we are looking for evidence of 'watering down', since all of these writers wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem and (at least) one Jewish Revolt.
If the 'failure' of Jesus to re-appear in apocalyptic splendor, power, and victory 'within that generation' was an obvious problem to them, we would expect some reverse-futurist understandings of OT and NT apocalyptic passages. We might expect a 'realized' interpretation of the Book of Revelation (ie. All the events/images within the book have already happened--by the time of the Fathers).
But if we find the same kinds of apocalyptic images used--in warnings of future judgment or in assurances of vindication of the righteous--with the same future perspective, then we have found strong evidence that the WD hypothesis is off-track. Of course, this strain of perspective would need to be a 'majority' or dominant strain in order to represent the position of the mainstream church/Christian tradition.
And if we find a 'realized' eschatology alongside this 'futurist' one--connected via the 'inaugurated' model--then we have basic continuity with the teachings of Jesus, as recorded in the Synoptics. But if the emphasis is more on futurist than on 'realized', then this would be even more contrary to the hypothesis.
Of course, these post-NT writings may develop and/or expand the core eschatological content, but as long as they (or at least most of them?) still assert the future Eschaton and maintain the call to alertness, they will thereby constitute data contrary to the bloggers WD hypothesis.
But what about the non-orthodox or less-orthodox writings?
The above 'search criteria' apply to mainstream Christian traditions, but if 'replacement' or 'reinterpretation' terminology shows up in anti-orthodox (loosely speaking) writings, then these incidences would need further examination to see if/how they were connected in some way to a 'embarrassment due to delay' rationale.
For a silly example, if a heretical author argues that Jesus will not 'return before the end of a generation' because (hypothetically) Jesus has already returned in the form of rain, meteors, volcanic eruptions or bird migrations, then this 'no return' position is irrelevant to our discussion. Or if someone took the position that Jesus could not be returning 'on time' because Jesus never existed, then this 'rejection' contributes nothing to the investigation.
The rejection of an 'imminent return' due to factors completely oblique to the issue of 'timing' is simply irrelevant to the evaluation here. The blogger's position is that reinterpretation was REQUIRED by the DELAY, not by other theological and/or philosophical reasons.
We will have to keep this in mind as we look at non-orthodox positions.
OK. So, first we look at a couple of somewhat later Fathers, of obvious importance:
1. Irenaeus (c.180)
2. Tertullian (c.197)
3. Hippolytus (c.205)
4. Origen (c.225)
5. Commodian (c.240)
6. Cyprian (c.250)
7. Methodius (c.290)
8. Lactantius (c.304-313)
9. Victorinus (c.280)
Then we will move on the apocryphal writings and/or less-orthodox traditions.
One: Irenaeus (c.180)
This writer is sometimes considered to be close to a 'reinterpretation' of apocalyptic thought, but the data seems to indicate more a 'broadening' of the content, rather than replacement. For example, the imminence of the Kingdom is still maintained, although the radical break which is sometimes associated with apocalyptic thought is missing. And he refuses to use allegory to explain away eschatological hopes.
From Daley [HI:HOEC, 28ff]:
"The broad, synthetic theological vision of Irenaeus of Lyons, including his presentation of the Christian hope, must be seen above all as a polemical response to the typical Gnostic understanding of God, the world and human salvation. Irenaeus' theology is essentially a plea for the validity of ordinary Christian life and tradition, in the ordinary world. As a result, Irenaeus stresses unities: the unity of God as creator and savior, in contrast to the Marcionite and Gnostic tendency to see in the world continuing conflict between warring supercosmic forces; the personal unity of Christ, as both the eternal Word, the agent of creation, and a full participant in our fleshly, human life; the unity of every person, as a single composite of spirit and flesh who is called, as such, to salvation through Christ; and the unity and continuity of all human history, which begins in its creation by a loving God, endures the temporary defeat of sin, and is now - thanks to the Incarnation of the Word - drawing near to the lasting union of the human race with God that was history's goal from the start. --- Salvation, for Irenaeus, is not so much God's unexpected intervention in history to rescue his faithful ones from destruction as it is the end-stage of the process of organic growth which has been creation's "law" since its beginning. So eschatology, in the apocalyptic sense of the expectation of a wholly new age, is replaced in Irenaeus' theology by a grand, continuous conception of salvation-history, whose final achievement lies in the not-too-distant future.
"Within the context of this providentially directed process of the human race's maturing, Irenaeus sketches out a clear, distinctive picture of the eschatological future humanity can hope for. Rejecting the doctrine of some Gnostic groups that the recipients of sectarian knowledge have thereby already experienced resurrection, he insists that all of us must "observe the law of the dead," as Christ did (AH 5.31.1-2). Our souls will be separated from our bodies, and "go away to the invisible place allotted to them by God" (ibid., 5.31.2), where - as shades - they will retain the "form" of their body and memory of their existence on earth, but not its fleshly substance (ibid., 2.34.1-2). Irenaeus paints the end of human history - which he clearly expects soon" - in traditional and vivid apocalyptic colors. The Antichrist will appear in Jerusalem, endowed with all the powers of the devil, and usurp the place of God, persecuting all the saints and "recapitulating in himself the whole history of sin" (ibid., 5.25; 5.28-30). Then Christ will come again in glory as judge (ibid., 4.33.1) and will cast the Antichrist and his followers into "the lake of fire" (ibid., 5.30.4). Christ's judgment will be a "winnowing," a sifting of wheat from chaff (ibid., 4.4.1; 4.33.1); it will be terrible (ibid., 4.33.13; 4.36.3), yet utterly necessary if God's constant providence and Christ's return to the earth are to be seen to have a meaning (ibid., 5.27.1). It will be the "day of retribution" prophesied by Isaiah as the end of the "acceptable year of the Lord," in which salvation is available to all (ibid., 2.22.1-2). Destructive as they will be for the wicked, the tribulations of the end will only refine and purify the just (ibid., 5.28.4; 5.29.1).
"At the end of book 5 of Adversus Haereses. Irenaeus goes on, in his apologetic for the future of the material cosmos, to defend the millenarian hope represented by Papias and the "elders" of earlier Asiatic Christianity (cf. 5.33.3-4). Here he presents a prospect of human resurrection in two stages, arguing that "it is fitting for the righteous first to receive the promise of the inheritance which God promised the fathers, and to reign in it, when they rise again to behold God in this creation which is renewed, and that the judgment should take place afterwards" (ibid., 32.1). Irenaeus supports this interpretation by referring to many biblical passages that promise salvation to Israel in typical terms of peace, prosperity and material restoration (ibid., 33-35) and he insists that these may not be allegorized away (ibid., 35.1-2). The purpose of such a millennial kingdom, he suggests, is to allow the just time, in the familiar setting of a renewed earth, to become gradually accustomed "to partaking of the divine nature" (ibid., 32.1). Once again, however, Irenaeus' underlying concern seems to be to defend the inclusion of the material side of creation in the unified plan of God's salvation. --- At the end of this thousand-year period of preparation, Irenaeus foresees God's final judgment and retribution in terms of Apoc 20 and 21. All the dead will be raised, the unjust will be cast into the eternal fire of Gehenna, and "a new heaven and a new earth" - timeless and incorruptible - will be created as the abode of the just (AH 5.35.2; 5.36.1). The physical nature of the saved will be preserved, but transformed into a thing of inconceivable beauty (ibid., 4.39.2; cf. 4.33.11). In accord with Jesus' promise that the seed of God's Word, falling on fertile ground, will bear fruit "a hundredfold, sixtyfold and thirty fold" (Matt 13.23), Irenaeus foresees different grades of beatitude for the just, according to each one's merit: the most worthy will be taken to "heaven," the next will be taken to "Paradise" (presumably a place between heaven and earth), and the least worthy will "possess the splendor of the city" (AH 5.36.1-2)."
This seems very much in line with the mix of eschatological frameworks we have seen in earlier writers. There is certainly now WD-ing here.
Here is a representative passage, illustrating the continuity with Jesus/John the Baptist:
"But why do we speak of Jerusalem, since, indeed, the fashion of the whole world must also pass away, when the time of its disappearance has come, in order that the fruit indeed may be gathered into the garner, but the chaff, left behind, may be consumed by fire? “For the day of the Lord cometh as a burning furnace, and all sinners shall be stubble, they who do evil things, and the day shall burn them up.” Now, who this Lord is that brings such a day about, John the Baptist points out, when he says of Christ, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire, having His fan in His hand to cleanse His floor; and He will gather His fruit into the garner, but the chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire.” For He who makes the chaff and He who makes the wheat are not different persons, but one and the same, who judges them, that is, separates them. But the wheat and the chaff, being inanimate and irrational, have been made such by nature. But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect like to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself the cause to himself, that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff. Wherefore also he shall be justly condemned, because, having been created a rational being, he lost the true rationality, and living irrationally, opposed the righteousness of God, giving himself over to every earthly spirit, and serving all lusts; as says the prophet, “Man, being in honour, did not understand: he was assimilated to senseless beasts, and made like to them.” [Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (1.466). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [4.4.3]]
Two: Tertullian (c.197)
Tertullian was a lawyer who eventually left the church for Montanism. His pre-Montanist writings are filled with apocalyptic perspectives and passages, even to point of applying them to the leaders of the Roman empire.
From Daley [ HI:HOEC, 34ff]:
"Though he nowhere develops the subject at great length, Tertullian sees the end of the world, the transactio mundi, as both violent and very near (Apol 32; cf. De Cult Fem 2.6). The "spectacle" is approaching when "the world, hoary with age, and all its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame" (De Spect 30; cf. De Bapt 8). The Antichrist is "now close at hand and gasping for the blood, not for the money, of Christians" (De Fuga 12; cf. De An 50; De Res 25 for passing references to the Antichrist).
Representative texts are vivid and colorful (and perhaps 'slightly exaggerated'--smile):
"After its thousand years are over, within which period is completed the resurrection of the saints, who rise sooner or later according to their deserts there will ensue the destruction of the world and the conflagration of all things at the judgment: we shall then be changed in a moment into the substance of angels, even by the investiture of an incorruptible nature, and so be removed to that kingdom in heaven [tanknote: this is not a 'rapture' but a heaven-on-earth, since the earth will be destroyed first and all that will REMAIN will be heaven]" [Tertullian. (1885). The Five Books against Marcion P. Holmes, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (3.343). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [Against Marcion, 3.24]]
"But what a spectacle is that fast-approaching advent of our Lord, now owned by all, now highly exalted, now a triumphant One! What that exultation of the angelic hosts! What the glory of the rising saints! What the kingdom of the just thereafter! What the city New Jerusalem! Yes, and there are other sights: that last day of judgment, with its everlasting issues; that day unlooked for by the nations, the theme of their derision, when the world hoary with age, and all its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? what my derision? Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation?—as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of Christ. What world’s wise men besides, the very philosophers, in fact, who taught their followers that God had no concern in ought that is sublunary, and were wont to assure them that either they had no souls, or that they would never return to the bodies which at death they had left, now covered with shame before the poor deluded ones, as one fire consumes them! Poets also, trembling not before the judgment-seat of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the unexpected Christ! I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; of viewing the play-actors, much more “dissolute” in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows; unless even then I shall not care to attend to such ministers of sin, in my eager wish rather to fix a gaze insatiable on those whose fury vented itself against the Lord. “This,” I shall say, “this is that carpenter’s or hireling’s son, that Sabbath-breaker, that Samaritan and devil-possessed! This is He whom you purchased from Judas! This is He whom you struck with reed and fist, whom you contemptuously spat upon, to whom you gave gall and vinegar to drink! This is He whom His disciples secretly stole away, that it might be said He had risen again, or the gardener abstracted, that his lettuces might come to no harm from the crowds of visitants!” What quæstor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favour of seeing and exulting in such things as these? And yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of imagination. But what are the things which eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and which have not so much as dimly dawned upon the human heart? Whatever they are, they are nobler, I believe, than circus, and both theatres, and every race-course." [Tertullian. (1885). The Shows, or De Spectaculis S. Thelwall, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (3.91). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [The Shows, De Spectaculis, chapter 30]]
Overall, T would be more futurist than a 'mix'--but certainly not WD-ing in any sense of the word.
Three: Hippolytus (c. 205)
Hippolytus (to the extent the writings attributed to him are his) is a great example of the 'mix' of realized and futurist eschatology.
From Daley [HI:HOEC, 38ff]:
"Even if we assume unity of authorship for all but the certainly spurious fragments in that corpus - as we shall do here, for lack of compelling evidence to the contrary - a striking discontinuity is apparent in Hippolytus' eschatology, between the strongly apocalyptic predictions of his Commentary on Daniel, his treatise De Christo et Antichristo, and several of his exegetical and dogmatic fragments, on the one hand, and the more "realized" eschatology, emphasizing the divinization of the Christian, of the final section of the brief expose of Christian faith appended to his Refutation of all Heresies (= Elenchus), on the other.
"The treatise De Christo et Antichristo is in reality little more than a florilegium of apocalyptic passages - or passages capable of an apocalyptic interpretation - drawn from the Old and New Testaments and arranged in a dramatic sequence. According to Hippolytus' reconstruction, the end of history will be heralded unwittingly by a violent tyrant, who will imitate Christ in his attempt to win over all nations to himself (6.49). He will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (6), but the political base of his rule will be the Empire of Rome, the "new Babylon" (30-36). This Antichrist will summon all people to follow him, and, by persuading them with false promises, will win most of them over for a time (54-58). The Church will then undergo great persecution (59-63); but at its height the Lord - preceded by two prophetic forerunners, John the Baptist and Elijah (64; cf. 44ff.) - will come in majesty, gather his faithful together on the site of Paradise (64), and "bring the conflagration and just judgment on all who have refused to believe in him" (ibid.). Then all the dead will rise, the just to enter the Kingdom and sinners to be cast into everlasting fire (65)."
"It is Christ, too, who will judge the world when he comes at the end of time, overturning the present cosmic order to establish a new one (4.10). Nor does Hippolytus interpret the traditional apocalyptic hope in an exclusively cosmic direction; in one sense, he affirms, each of us reaches the end of the world at death. So our sense of moral responsibility will be reinforced if "each one recognizes that on the day when he leaves this world he is already judged; for the consummation has come upon him" (4.18)."
Here is a representative sample:
"Moreover, concerning the resurrection and the kingdom of the saints, Daniel says, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall arise, some to everlasting life, (and some to shame and everlasting contempt).” Esaias says, “The dead men shall arise, and they that are in their tombs shall awake; for the dew from thee is healing to them.” The Lord says, “Many in that day shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” And the prophet says, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” And John says, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power.” For the second death is the lake of fire that burneth. And again the Lord says, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun shineth in his glory.” And to the saints He will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But what saith He to the wicked? “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, which my Father hath prepared.” And John says, “Without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever maketh and loveth a lie; for your part is in the hell of fire.” And in like manner also Esaias: “And they shall go forth and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me. And their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be for a spectacle to all flesh.”
66. Concerning the resurrection of the righteous, Paul also speaks thus in writing to the Thessalonians: “We would not have you to be ignorant concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive (and) remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice and trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive (and) remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
67. These things, then, I have set shortly before thee, O Theophilus, drawing them from Scripture itself, in order that, maintaining in faith what is written, and anticipating the things that are to be, thou mayest keep thyself void of offence both toward God and toward men, “looking for that blessed hope and appearing of our God and Saviour,” when, having raised the saints among us, He will rejoice with them, glorifying the Father. To Him be the glory unto the endless ages of the ages. Amen." [Hippolytus of Rome. (1886). Treatise on Christ and Antichrist S. D. F. Salmond, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume V: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (218–219). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [De Antichristo, 65-67]]
Notice that Hippolytus here actually quotes the Pauline passage from Thessalonians, showing continuity with the earliest written evidence of the eschatological hope!
No real WD-ing here.
Pushback: “Whoa, whoa, whoa! You are obviously not one of those who ‘linger long over the sources’, are you, glenn??!!!”
“In the very sources you use, I can find comments that Hippolytus REJECTED the imminent aspect of eschatology—not the ‘content’. I can find statements that say that Hippolytus believed in a literal return of Christ to the earth to set up a kingdom (as per your quotations above), but that he did NOT believe that coming to be imminent or at-any-moment.
“Significant second-century authors, such as Justin and Irenaeus, were millennial in outlook; others, like Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, and Hermas, were not. A key figure is Hippolytus, who accepted and helped develop the full-fledged apocalyptic scenario of the events of the end time partly under the influence of Irenaeus, but who did not share the bishop’s chiliasm and broke with tradition by explicitly rejecting an imminent parousia.” [(2009-06-01). Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity (Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History) (Kindle Locations 1224-1227). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]
“The next two chapters [in the book] are by scholars already well known for their work on this theme, Bernard McGinn of the University of Chicago and Brian E. Daley, SJ, of the University of Notre Dame. McGinn’s chapter— actually the source of some of the remarks with which we opened this preface— is titled “Turning Points in Early Christian Apocalypse Exegesis.” He identifies the main starting point of this exegesis at around 150 CE, and the tensions produced by the crisis over the nonappearance of the parousia. At this time, and in what became the basic Christian picture of the last events, we find side by side both a chiliastic and a nonchiliastic eschatology…. But in the early third century we encounter in Hippolytus a critical turning point in the history of apocalyptic exegesis: he reads Revelation 12 in a basically ecclesiological and christological way, that is, as referring to the present and not to some awesome future. This line of interpretation, which basically spiritualizes the millennium and makes the present life of the church the main point of reference, continues with Origen, Dionysius, and Methodius, and eventually constitutes the baseline for what one might call mainstream or “orthodox” readings of the Apocalypse.” [(2009-06-01). Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity (Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History) (Kindle Locations 139-151). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]
“Modern premillennialists recognize many of their own views in the early church, but they also find surprises. For example, many early interpreters believed that just as God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, there will be six thousand years of human history, followed by another thousand years of “Sabbath rest” (for God, a day is like a thousand years; 2 Peter 3:8). In the first half of the second century, this view was found in the Epistle of Barnabas (15) and the works of Irenaeus (Against Heresies, V.28). In the third and fourth centuries, interpreters used it to put distance between their time and the end. Hippolytus devised a new system for dating world history, the annus mundi (AM), and placed the incarnation in the year 5500. That meant that Christ should return about five hundred years later, or about three hundred years after Hippolytus’s time (Commentary on Daniel). Lactantius made a similar calculation (The Divine Institutes, 14–27).” [Walls, Jerry L. (2007-12-03). The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology (Oxford Handbooks) (pp. 347-348). “CHAPTER 20: MILLENNIALISM” by TIMOTHY P. WEBER Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.]
And, it is commonly argued that Hippolytus did this to CALM DOWN the people who were anxious about an imminent Parousia:
“HIPPOLYTUS (c. 170–c. 236). Hippolytus came to Rome from the Eastern Mediterranean, perhaps Egypt, and was the last major ecclesiastical writer in Greek at Rome. A presbyter and then counter-bishop in the church at Rome, he was exiled (c. 235) under Emperor Maximin to Sardinia, where he died. --- The facts of his life are obscure, and the authorship of some works attributed to him is disputed. His major work, Refutation of all Heresies (Philosophumena), attempts to trace the origin of Gnostic systems and other erroneous teachings to Greek philosophies. He was indebted to Irenaeus for much of his information on heresies (as he was for much of his theology), but he had access to other sources. His Commentary on Daniel is the earliest surviving orthodox commentary; it placed the return of Christ at 500 years after his birth and so sought to quiet anxiety about the end. Similar eschatological concerns are found in On Christ and Antichrist. The Apostolic Tradition is important for liturgical practices and theology, especially with reference to baptism, eucharist, ordination and the love feast. [E. Ferguson, in Ferguson, S. B., & Packer, J. (2000). New dictionary of theology (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]
“But in the third century the commentary, a line-by-line exposition of the text, appears as a new literary form of interpreting the text of the Scriptures. --- The earliest extant commentary of this type was written on the book of Daniel by Hippolytus of Rome (early third century). Though it is a verse-by-verse exposition of the text, it is not scholarly commentary but an occasional writing prompted by a fervent apocalyptic belief in Hippolytus’ day that the end of the world was imminent. Hippolytus uses Daniel to assure the faithful that the end will not soon come and that they must learn patience and endurance.” [THE BIBLE AND ITS INTERPRETERS: CHRISTIAN BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION: THE EARLY CHRISTIAN AND PATRISTIC PERIOD (FIRST TO NINTH CENTURIES A.D., ROBERT L. WILKEN, in Harper’s Bible commentary. 1988 (J. L. Mays, Ed.) (57ff). San Francisco: Harper & Row.]
So, in what possible sense could you affirm that he was NOT watering-down the imminent hope of the apocalyptic prophet Jesus?”
Fair question—and the answer has several different aspects.
One. This particular timing aspect by Hippolytus was an extreme exception. It was (as noted in the quotes above) a ‘break with tradition’ and it occurred in the context of ‘a fervent apocalyptic belief in Hippolytus’ day that the end of the world was imminent’! We can also note that there were few that followed this interpretation of Daniel:
“Throughout the patristic period, Daniel served as a source for chronological speculation rather than for imminent expectation. The great majority of the church fathers argued that the seventy weeks of years had been fulfilled in the first century C.E., either in the life and death of Christ or in the destruction of Jerusalem. Irenaeus and Hippolytus had reserved the final week for the eschatological future and the coming of the Antichrist. They had few followers on this point. The most notable was Apollinarius, the fourth-century heretic.” [Collins, J. J., & Collins, A. Y. (1993). Daniel: A commentary on the book of Daniel (F. M. Cross, Ed.). Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (116–117). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.]
Two. As noted in the quote above, the timing piece was NOT a re-interpretation of Jesus’ words or NT passages at all—it was based entirely on Daniel. This would thus not provide data in favor of WD, per se.
Three. The historical context of his position reveals that his ‘counter to an imminent return’ was actually about false detailed unwarranted predictions made by contemporaries—hurting their followers—and NOT about the ‘general sense’ of at any moment.
One recounting of this emphasizes the danger he must have seen:
“Calming the enthusiasts. Justin and Irenaeus spoke of the Millennium as a far-off event they hoped for someday. Its only importance to Christian living was as a reminder of the hope that should guide a Christian’s life. But late in the 100s, some Christians began to see signs that the Millennium was imminent. The most worrisome of these were the Montanists. --- Probably in 172, Montanus began to proclaim that Jerusalem would soon descend near Phrygia (west-central Asia Minor). Montanus and his female associates, Prisca and Maximilla, claimed the Millennium had begun and God had given them authority over the Christian church. To reject their pronouncements, they said, was to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit: Luke 12’s “unforgivable sin.” Montanus was eventually condemned by the church, though not for his eschatology.
“In the early 200s, Hippolytus of Rome predicted that Christ would establish the Millennium in 496. He was one of the few early writers to predict the date of the Second Coming, but not for reasons we’d expect. Better known for his Apostolic Tradition, which contains one of the earliest surviving texts of a prayer to consecrate the bread and cup during Communion, Hippolytus worked out this date in his ground breaking study of the book of Daniel—the earliest surviving Christian commentary on a single book of the Bible.
“The question of the Second Coming was a lively one at the time. A few chapters before his date prediction, Hippolytus told of a foolish Syrian church leader who had led his people into the desert to await the Second Coming. Another leader, this time in Pontus (northern Asia Minor), had predicted that Christ would come again in a year’s time. His people trusted him as they trusted Scripture itself, and when the year ended without the Second Coming, they were devastated. Many despaired of Scripture and of their religion: “The virgins got married; the men withdrew to their farms; and those who had recklessly sold all their possessions were eventually to be found begging.”
“Millennial expectations were gaining a bad name, so Hippolytus wanted to dampen expectations. He first worked out the date of Christ’s birth: 5,500 years after the world was created. He then reckoned that the Millennium would begin 6,000 years after the creation of the world, so that the world would end after 7,000 years—a commonly-held view in those days. Clearly, then, Christ would return 500 years after his birth—and nearly three centuries after Hippolytus’s book. Placing Christ’s return so far in the future probably helped Hippolytus defuse the expectations of Christians who expected to see the Millennium soon.” [“Taking the Long View” by Dana Netherton , in Christian History Magazine-Issue 61: A History of the Second Coming. 1999. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today.
Notice that these deluded followers had done just the opposite of what Jesus had told his disciples—they had withdrawn from the world, instead of ‘going into all the world’. These are more like failed messianic pretenders, than of those who held to the (imprecise) imminent expectation of the Parousia. Hence, Hippolytus’ concern to establish some ‘alternative precision’ was a legitimate pastoral concern, even though it was generally rejected.
Four. But the main reason we can still hold to the position that H help to ‘synoptic apocalypticism’ is from the wording in the Commentary on Daniel that furnishes us with his dating. [I am using the translation of TC Schmidt here. From www.chronicon.net].
H specifically denies that Jesus revealed the timing of the Return, and instead ‘enjoined them’ to watchfulness, ‘expecting EACH DAY’ His return:
Book 4, 16.1. But one will say, “And when will these things be? In what season or time is the deceiver about to be revealed? And what shall be the day of the appearing of the Lord?”
16.2. The disciples also similarly sought to learn these things from the Lord, but he concealed the day from them, so that he may render them all as watchful for what is to come, always meditating and expecting each day the heavenly cloud, lest men, ever on account of the long time, neglecting what was prescribed by him, and growing sluggish while he tarries, fall from the life of heaven.
16.3. For he says, “Be watchful for you do not know what day or what hour your Lord comes, either evening, or midnight, or morning.”
16.4. On account of this he says, “Blessed is that slave, whom when his Lord comes, he finds him awake. Truly I say to you that he will appoint him over all his possessions. But if the wicked slave says in his heart, ‘My Lord tarries to come,’ and he begins to beat his serving boys and serving girls, and to eat and to drink with drunkards, his Lord will come in a day which he does not expect and in an hour which he does not know and cut him in two and set his portion with the unbelievers. For there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” “On account of this I say to you: be watchful.”
16.5. And so our Lord himself in the Gospel, teaching these things, displays them to the disciples.
He points to the literal fulfillment of Jesus’ words of the Synoptic Apocalpyse(!), and gives what was the standard ‘party line’ about the imprecision-but-accuracy of Jesus’ words:
17.1. And so since he hid the day from them, but through the signs which have happened, through which a man will easily discover the time of the end, he declares that we ought to know the events according to their time, and when we see them, to be silent.
17.2. But it is necessary for these things to be even if we do not want them happen. For the truth never lies.
17.3. For just as he said concerning the city of Jerusalem, “When you see Jerusalem encircled by armies, then you know that her desolation draws near,” and what was spoken about her has come, in this way it is needful to also now expect the rest to follow.
17.4. He says, “For whenever you see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, let the reader understand, then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, and he who is on the rooftop not descend to take anything from his house, and he who is in the field not return back to take his clothes. Woe to those who are pregnant and nursing in those days. For then there will be a great tribulation such which has not been from the beginning of the world nor shall ever be. And unless those days were shortened not any flesh would be saved.”
17.5. And so in this he made it clear to us, so that we may never doubt anything.
17.6. And again he says, “Whenever you see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place,” and, “whenever you see a fig sprouting its leaves know that the harvest is near. In this way also whenever you see all these things happen, know that it is near the doors.”
17.7. And so while the abomination has not yet appeared, but while only the fourth beast still reigns, how is the manifestation of the Lord able to be?
17.8. But one will say, “It is written, ‘Whenever you see wars and anarchy, then you will know that it is near.’” Yes it is written, he says, “Nation will be roused against nation and kingdom against kingdom and there will be earthquakes and hunger and plague in many places,” which already has happened and will happen.
17.9. “But all these things are the beginning of birth pangs,” he says, “But the end is not yet in in them,” for first it is necessary for the Gospel of the Lord to be preached in the whole world for a witness to all nations and in this way the end shall come, when all at once the time is fulfilled.
Up to this point, the eschatology is fairly unremarkable—and fits in with similar statements from his predecessors and peers.
But then he gets to the ‘abuse’ sections (18,19) , in which he describes the ‘failed predictions’ of two religious leaders. He ascribes their failure to lack of paying attention the scriptures.
18.1. For I will describe also what happened not a long time ago in Syria.
18.2. For there was one who governed the church there and he, having not laboriously read the godly Scriptures, nor having followed the voice of the Lord, was deceived and he himself also deceived others.
18.3. For while the Lord said, “There shall arise many false Christs and false prophets and they shall give signs and wonders in order to deceive if possible even the elect. Then if someone says to you, ‘Behold Christ is here or there.’ Do not believe. ‘Behold, he is in the desert,’ do not go out, ‘Behold, he is in the storehouses,’ do not go in.” That man having not considered these things persuaded many of the brothers, with their wives and children, to go out into the desert in order to meet with Christ, and who were even led astray in the mountains and onto roads, wandering aimlessly. So that after a little while it was necessary for them that they all be apprehended as robbers by the commander in order to be killed, except that his wife happened to be a believer, and he was appealed to by her and put in order that matter so that a persecution did not come upon all Christians through them.
18.4. How great their foolishness and stupidity, so that they entered into the desert and sought Christ, in which manner also in the times of Elisha the prophet the sons of the prophets sought Elijah for three days in the mountains, though he was assumed into heaven.
18.5. And so while the Lord says, “Just as lightning comes out from the east and flashes unto the west, in this way will be the advent of the Son of Man,” plainly and clearly signaling in this that he himself is destined to arrive with the power and glory of his Father from heaven, but they sought him in the mountains and in the desert.
18.6. For in this way his second advent will not be like his first. Before, as a simple man only he appeared, but now as a judge of all the world he arrives. And then, he arrived to save man, but now he arrives to punish all who trespass and who commit sacrilege against him.
18.7. But we say these things to support the faithful brothers, so that they may not have a misconception of the plan of God, knowing that for each one, on whichever day he departs from this world, he has been already judged. For the consummation has come upon him.
19.1. But a certain other man was similarly in Pontus, and he himself governed the church, being a reverent and humble man, though not applying himself unfailingly to the Scriptures but rather believing dreams which he saw.
19.2. For when a first and second and a third dream happened to him, he began to foretell the future to the brothers as a prophet, “This I saw and this is about to be.”
19.3. And once, having been led astray he said, “Brothers, know that after one year the judgment is about to be.”
19.4. They who heard him who predicted, “The day of the Lord is imminent,” with weeping and lamenting they begged the Lord night and day holding before their eyes the approaching day of judgment
19.5. And he led the brothers to such fear and terror so to allow their lands and fields to be desolate, and the wealthy to destroy their possessions.
19.6. But he said to them, “If it does not happen just as I said, do not believe the Scriptures anymore but do whatever each of you wishes.”
19.7. But they waited for the result and after a year nothing was fulfilled of what that man said happened, and he himself was shamed as a deceiver, but the Scriptures were shown as true, but the brothers were found scandalized so that henceforth their virgins were married and their men dwelt in fields. They, who sold their possessions without plan, were found later begging.”
After giving these examples of folly, Hippolytus then reminds his readers of ‘the other half’ of the message of the imminent return—the ‘you do not know the day nor hour’ part. In this section, he simply points out that Scripture is ‘clear’ that the timing is ‘unclear’—that there are some antecedent events/situations which have to occur/obtain before the End comes:
20.1. These things happen to ignorant and simple men, as many as do not attend precisely to the Scriptures, but more pleasurably obey human traditions and their illusions and their dreams and mythologies and gnawing words.
20.2. For also the same happened to the sons of Israel, who setting at naught, they added to the law of God, and being well pleased they were obedient to the traditions of the elders.
20.3. And now some undertake the same things, clinging to vain visions and to the teachings of demons and often determining a fast both on the Sabbath and the Lord's day, which Christ did not determine, so that they dishonor the Gospel of Christ.
21.1. And so since the words of the Lord are true, but every man is a liar, just as it is written, let us see if the apostle Paul also is in agreement with the words of the Lord.
21.2. For writing to the Thessalonians and advising them to always watch and to persist in prayers, but not yet to expect the day of judgment, because the time is not yet fulfilled, he spoke in this way to them, “We ask you brothers, concerning the advent of the Lord, that you not be afraid through a word or through a letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord has come, let no one deceive you in any way, because it will not come unless first the apostasy comes and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and is exalted over everything which is called godly or pious, so that he sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember, when I was still with you I taught you these things? And now know what restrains him so that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness already is at work, only he who restrains until now is taken from the midst. And then the lawless one shall be revealed whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the spirit of his mouth and will abolish him with the manifestation of his advent, whose advent is according to the work of Satan.”
21.3. And so who is “He who restrains until now,” except the fourth beast, which, when it is set aside and is taken from the midst, the deceiver shall come?
21.4. But always you seek the troublesome, which is how many years remain for the beast, so that he may depart, not understanding that seeking these things, you seek danger for yourself and you desire to see a hastier judgment.
21.5. For Scripture says, “Woe to those who desire the day of the Lord! This is darkness and not light. In which manner one flees from the face of a lion but he encounters a bear, and he who bursts into his house and he leans his hand upon the wall and a snake bites him. Will not this day of the Lord be darkness and not light? Even gloom which has no daylight.”
22.1. But why do you waste labor over times and seek the day of the Lord, when the Savior concealed it from us?
Hippolytus thus still affirms ‘imminence’ but not ‘it is already here’ versions of it.
If the blogger’s position were correct, we would more likely expect to find Hippolytus using the Lord’s words in the alleged timing passages but reinterpreting them (eg. Making ‘generation’ to mean something symbolically longer—like he does when he gets around to calculating a date for the Return).
For example, here is how he arrives at his date for the Parousia
24.1 But one will always say, “How will you demonstrate to me whether the Savior was born in the five thousandth and five hundredth year?
24.2. Be easily instructed, O man. For in the desert long ago under Moses there were models and images of spiritual mysteries which concerned the tabernacle and they fulfilled this number, so that having come to the utmost of truth in Christ you are able to apprehend these things which are fulfilled.
24.3. For he says to him, “And you shall make an ark of incorruptible wood and you will gild it with pure gold inside and outside and you shall make its height two cubits and a half and its breadth a cubit and a half and its height a cubit and a half.” The measure of which added together makes five and a half cubits, so that the five thousand five hundred years may be demonstrated, in which time the Savior comes from the Virgin, and then he offered the Ark, his own body, into the world, gilded in pure gold, inside with the Word, outside with the Holy Spirit, so that the truth may be shown and the Ark may be manifested.
24.4. And so from the generation of Christ it is necessary to count the remaining five hundred years to the consummation of the six thousand years, and in this way the end will be.
24.5. But because in the fifth and a half time the Savior arrived in the world bearing the incorruptible ark, that is his own body, John says, “and it was the sixth hour,” so that half of the day may be demonstrated, a day of the Lord is like thousand years. And so the half of these is five hundred years.
24.6. For he does not admit him to be soon at hand. For the law was still burdensome, nor again had the sixth day been fulfilled. For he celebrated the washing, in the fifth and- a-half day, so in that remaining half time the Gospel may be preached to all the world and when the sixth day is fulfilled, the present life may cease.
It would have been just as easy for Hippolytus to ‘spiritualize’ the words of Jesus in this way, but he did not. He left the synoptic passages and NT passages as he found them—and as they had been interpreted up to his day (generally).
But he uses only Daniel –to fix a date—instead of the timing passages of the gospels. The NT documents he uses to argue AGAINST fixing a date (at least in his own lifetime), appropriately using them to show the need for watchfulness and the ‘any day’ possibility (as we saw above).
So, the fact that Hippolytus:
(1) was virtually alone in this not-happening-yet positions (“few followed”)
(2) was not indicative of the beliefs of the past nor of his own age (“broke with tradition” and “a fervent apocalyptic belief in Hippolytus’ day that the end of the world was imminent”)
(3) maintained the ‘party line’ on the inscrutability of the timing of the return (from the NT)
(4) explicitly commended those who were “always meditating and expecting each day the heavenly cloud”
(5) and evidences a mixed framework eschatology (as noted by Daley)
I simply cannot agree with the position that he was a ‘turning point’, nor that his writings were in anyway an ‘embarrassment’ of allegedly failed predictions of Jesus…
Four: Origen (c. 225)
It is with Origen that we would expect (perhaps) the highest probability of reinterpretation of all apocalyptic perspectives--and we would be correct. But his very non-traditional understanding of apocalyptic passages was a mere blip on the theological landscape--neither his enemies nor his admirers adopted his views!
Daley can make this point succinctly [HI:HOEC, 60]:
"Greek theology of the late third and early fourth centuries, until the time of the Council of Nicaea (325), was generally dominated by Origen's powerful synthesis. Then, as to a lesser degree ever since, one was either an admirer and defender of Origen or one was a critic: one could hardly be neutral, or unaware of his achievement. In the eschatology of the later third century, however, it is an odd fact that neither Origen's friends nor his enemies seem to have understood more than the superficial features of his hope for future salvation. No one adopted, in a consistent way, his radically spiritual, internalized reinterpretation of the eschatological tradition."
But even his 'spiritual reinterpretation' was not due to some 'embarrassment' (as required by the hypothesis), but rather grew from pastoral concerns about 'deeper meanings' (not 'alternate meaning', btw)...
"With only a touch of anachronism, one might characterize Origen's eschatological thought as an attempt to de-mythologize the accepted apocalyptic tradition of the Scriptures and popular Christian belief in a constructive, reverent and pastorally fruitful way. While affirming the Church's traditional "rule of faith" as the norm of belief (for instance, in the preface to De Principiis), Origen is also aware of the broad field for free speculation outside its boundaries, and of the responsibility of the intelligent believer to struggle for clearer understanding. He is always in search of a "deeper" meaning in biblical texts and in the categories of traditional doctrine, which will be applicable to the day-to-day spiritual and ethical life of Christian believers. As a result of this pastoral concern, Origen tends, even more than Irenaeus or Clement, to emphasize the continuity between the present Christian life and its eschatological telos or goal, to assume that eschatological statements must have a present as well as a future relevance, and to see the fundamental historical pattern of all creation - cosmic and individual - as one of free, yet providentially guided growth towards union with God. --- Origen's underlying attitude towards the accepted eschatological tradition of his day is perhaps best observed in his handling of apocalyptic passages in the New Testament. In commenting on the cataclysmic signs predicted by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels for the end of the world, he first puts forward what he considers plausible narrative interpretations for these cosmic events, explanations in historical or natural terms that he realizes are important for the "little ones in Christ." He then attempts a "moral" or spiritual interpretation, however, for those capable of more substantial religious thought. --- Origen's longest discussion of this synoptic apocalyptic material comes in the Commentariorum Series in Matthaeum 32-60. Here he is careful to explain the literal sense of Matt 24.3-44 as modestly as possible, pointing to the "false prophets" and persecutions of his own time, and to the accepted view that the world's resources were being depleted (36-37; cf. Cyprian's theme of the senectus mundi), as indications that "the end of the world" was, in fact, a dimension of contemporary life. For the "more advanced," however, Origen offers a parallel, allegorical line of interpretation of the passage in terms of the personal spiritual growth of the serious, devout student of the Bible. So one can speak of another "second coming of Christ," in which he becomes present to the souls of those viri perjecti who can understand his divine beauty;' "to this second coming is joined the end of this world in the one who reaches maturity" (32). [HI:HOEC, 48]
"Clearly the most important part of the Church's traditional images of the future, for Origen, is what they can tell us, in a symbolic way, about the individual Christian's growth towards salvation. --- For this reason, Origen's chapter "On the Consummation of the World" in the De Principiis stresses that "this should not be understood to happen suddenly, but gradually and by steps, as the endless and enormous ages slip by, and the process of improvement and correction advances by degrees in different individuals" (Princ 3.6.6; cf. 3.6.9). The process of eschatological fulfillment has already begun, but is by no means complete; the Church experiences a tension, not only between present and future, but also between the salvation of the individual saint and that of the whole body of Christ. So, in explaining the meaning of the Kingdom of God, Origen likes to stress that God's rule is already a reality in those who obey his word (Or 25.1). One might also call the virtues, taken together, the Kingdom of heaven, since each of them is a "key" to that Kingdom, and Christ, who is the revealer of all divine knowledge and virtue, has brought the Kingdom near to us (Comm in Matt 12.14). On the other hand, the Kingdom cannot reach its full realization until this God-given order of knowledge and virtue has reached perfection in each human being (Or 25.2). The blessings of this life are only a "shadow of the good things to come," as the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us (Hebr 10.1: Comm in Num 28.3)." [HI:HOEC, 49]
So, even though Origen offers a spiritualized interpretation, it is in fact still an 'additional' one--and does not actually supplant the historical reference. [Origen does, however, dispute the millennialist literal interpretations of some of the New Jerusalem passages--as being 'in a Jewish way']
Thus, we can still find 'standard' language about the bodily return of Christ:
"However, it is likely that before the second and more divine coming of Christ, John or Elijah will come to bear witness about life." (Origen, 9.345)
So, in Origen we find a definite exception to the traditional 'mix' of frameworks, but it is neither due to embarrassment, nor is it actually a rebuttal to Synoptic tradition (at a literal level).
Five and beyond:
For these writers, I will just cite relevant texts in which they utilize the apocalyptic imagery. Although each writer's theological nuances differ, the texts are broadly supportive of the thesis that the futurist framework was NOT abandoned or WD-d.
Our writers are: Commodian (c.240), Cyprian (c.250), Methodius (c.290), Lactantius (c.304-313), and Victorinus (c.280)
"I add something, on account of unbelievers, of the day of judgment. Again, the fire of the Lord sent forth shall be appointed. The earth gives a true groan; then those who are making their journey in the last end, and then all unbelievers, groan. The whole of nature is converted in flame, which yet avoids the camp of His saints. The earth is burned up from its foundations, and the mountains melt. Of the sea nothing remains: it is overcome by the powerful fire. This sky perishes, and the stars and these things are changed. Another newness of sky and of everlasting earth is arranged. Thence they who deserve it are sent away in a second death, but the righteous are placed in inner dwelling-places." [Commodian. (1885). The Instructions of Commodianus R. E. Wallis, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IV: Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (4.212). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [Chapter 45, Of the Day of Judgment, Commondian]]
"That the end of the world comes suddenly. The apostle says: “The day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night. When they shall say, Peace and security, then on them shall come sudden destruction.” Also in the Acts of the Apostles: “No one can know the times or the seasons which the Father has placed in His own power.” [Cyprian of Carthage. (1886). Three Books of Testimonies against the Jews R. E. Wallis, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume V: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (553). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [Ad Quirinium, 3.89]]
"VIII. But it is not satisfactory to say that the universe will be utterly destroyed, and sea and air and sky will be no longer. For the whole world will be deluged with fire from heaven, and burnt for the purpose of purification and renewal; it will not, however, come to complete ruin and corruption. For if it were better for the world not to be than to be, why did God, in making the world, take the worse course? But God did not work in vain, or do that which was worst. God therefore ordered the creation with a view to its existence and continuance, as also the Book of Wisdom confirms, saying, “For God created all things that they might have their being; and the generations of the world were healthful, and there is no poison of destruction in them.” And Paul clearly testifies this, saying, “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that subjected the same in hope: because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” For the creation was made subject to vanity, he says, and he expects that it will be set free from such servitude, as he intends to call this world by the name of creation. For it is not what is unseen but what is seen that is subject to corruption. The creation, then, after being restored to a better and more seemly state, remains, rejoicing and exulting over the children of God at the resurrection; for whose sake it now groans and travails, waiting itself also for our redemption from the corruption of the body, that, when we have risen and shaken off the mortality of the flesh, according to that which is written, “Shake off the dust, and arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem,” and have been set free from sin, it also shall be freed from corruption and be subject no longer to vanity, but to righteousness. Isaiah says, too, “For as the new heaven and the new earth which I make, remaineth before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name be;” and again, “Thus saith the Lord that created the heaven, it is He who prepared the earth and created it, He determined it; He created it not in vain, but formed it to be inhabited.” For in reality God did not establish the universe in vain, or to no purpose but destruction, as those weak-minded men say, but to exist, and be inhabited, and continue. Wherefore the earth and the heaven must exist again after the conflagration and shaking of all things." [Methodius of Olympus. (1886). From the Discourse on the Resurrection W. R. Clark, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VI: Fathers of the Third Century: Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius the Great, Julius Africanus, Anatolius and Minor Writers, Methodius, Arnobius (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (365–366). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. (Chapter 8)]
"But I will more plainly set forth the manner in which this happens. When the close of the times draws nigh, a great prophet shall be sent from God to turn men to the knowledge of God, and he shall receive the power of doing wonderful things. Wherever men shall not hear him, he will shut up the heaven, and cause it to withhold its rains; he will turn their water into blood, and torment them with thirst and hunger; and if any one shall endeavour to injure him, fire shall come forth out of his mouth, and shall burn that man. By these prodigies and powers he shall turn many to the worship of God; and when his works shall be accomplished, another king shall arise out of Syria, born from an evil spirit, the overthrower and destroyer of the human race, who shall destroy that which is left by the former evil, together with himself. He shall fight against the prophet of God, and shall overcome, and slay him, and shall suffer him to lie unburied; but after the third day he shall come to life again; and while all look on and wonder, he shall be caught up into heaven. But that king will not only be most disgraceful in himself, but he will also be a prophet of lies; and he will constitute and call himself God, and will order himself to be worshipped as the Son of God; and power will be given him to do signs and wonders, by the sight of which he may entice men to adore him. He will command fire to come down from heaven, and the sun to stand and leave his course, and an image to speak; and these things shall be done at his word,—by which miracles many even of the wise shall be enticed by him. Then he will attempt to destroy the temple of God, and persecute the righteous people; and there will be distress and tribulation, such as there never has been from the beginning of the world.
As many as shall believe him and unite themselves to him, shall be marked by him as sheep; but they who shall refuse his mark will either flee to the mountains, or, being seized, will be slain with studied tortures. He will also enwrap righteous men with the books of the prophets, and thus burn them; and power will be given him to desolate the whole earth for forty-two months. " [Lactantius. (1886). The Divine Institutes W. Fletcher, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (214). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [Chapter 17]]
“And there appeared another sign in heaven; and behold a red dragon, having seven heads.”] Now, that he says that this dragon was of a red colour—that is, of a purple colour—the result of his work gave him such a colour. For from the beginning (as the Lord says) he was a murderer; and he has oppressed the whole of the human race, not so much by the obligation of death, as, moreover, by the various forms of destruction and fatal mischiefs. His seven heads were the seven kings of the Romans, of whom also is Antichrist, as we have said above. “And ten horns.”] He says that the ten kings in the latest times are the same as these, as we shall more fully set forth there." [Victorinus of Pettau. (1886). Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John R. E. Wallis, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (355). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [On Rev 12.3]]
"7–9. “There was a battle in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon warred, and his angels, and they prevailed not; nor was their place found any more in heaven. And that great dragon was cast forth, that old serpent: he was cast forth into the earth.”] This is the beginning of Antichrist; yet previously Elias must prophesy, and there must be times of peace. And afterwards, when the three years and six months are completed in the preaching of Elias, he also must be cast down from heaven, where up till that time he had had the power of ascending; and all the apostate angels, as well as Antichrist, must be roused up from hell. Paul the apostle says: “Except there come a falling away first, and the man of sin shall appear, the son of perdition; and the adversary who exalted himself above all which is called God, or which is worshipped.” [Victorinus of Pettau. (1886). Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John R. E. Wallis, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (356). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [On Rev 12.7-9]]
Ok--where does this leave us on the Fathers?
At the end of his work [HI:HOEC], Daley points out that "opinions varied widely about the time and nearness of the world's end" and that "various writers at every period attempted to read a prediction of the time of the end from the Scriptures" (page 221). What this means for us is that none of the Scriptures clearly gave a time prediction--contrary to the blogger's hypothesis. In other words, the very ambiguous sayings of Jesus --which were advanced by the blogger/others as being clear time-marked predictions of the eschaton--were NOT taken/understood that way by the readers, in any time in early Church history.
No one argued for 'their eschaton-estimate' on the basis of 'Thus sayith the Lord'--because there WERE no such passages acknowledged to be such predictions.
So, this counts against the failed-prophet position, but it does not militate against the mixed framework perspective we have seen in the Synoptics, the rest of the NT, and the early church writings.
Daley points this out clearly, describing the 'tension' between the present and future frameworks, which is integrated in the 'inaugurated' framework:
"Another key unifying element in early Christian eschatology is what one might call its realism: in a crescendo of consensus, although in a variety of ways, Patristic writers insist that the Christian lives in hope within history, and is freed by that hope to take history seriously. Jewish apocalyptic literature held out a hope for new beginnings, beyond the present order of time and space, to a people who had been led by centuries of oppression to doubt the possibility of the fulfillment of its hope within history. Platonic philosophy, supportive though it was of the religious instinct, implicitly discounted the value of the world of concrete, changeable individual things, while Stoicism called on the philosophic mind to resign itself to being consumed in the toils of an endless, cyclic cosmic process. Gnostic religion, in both its non-Christian and Christian forms, held out to its "enlightened" initiates the hope of escaping - in the spiritual, luminous core that was their best self - from the visible world, the body, and the institutions of everyday life, all of which it regarded as the product of a primordial cosmic mistake. Much as it drew on all these traditions for its themes and images, Christian eschatology from the second century onwards insisted on the continuity of its hope with this world and its history: on the necessary inclusion of the body in the human person's final salvation, on the relevance of Church, sacraments and doctrine to one's ultimate fate before God, on the necessity of moral goodness within this present life for those who wish to share in a life to come and - perhaps most significantly - on the presence of the eschaton already within time in the person of the risen Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus, experienced within the community of faith, was for the early Christians "the guarantee of our inheritance, until we acquire possession of it" (Eph 1.14), the "first-fruits" of "the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8.23). The finality of God's Kingdom had already begun in this perennially unstable human realm.
"Different authors, as we have seen, emphasized the active presence of this promised, future salvation to different degrees. Aside from a few works of a more mystical character, however, like the Odes of Solomon or some fourth-century spiritual writings, there are not many clear examples of what New Testament scholars have called "realized eschatology" in the Patristic period; most Patristic authors are, in their own ways, painfully aware of the gulf between the present world and the world of promise. For the Greek tradition, which spoke of salvation in terms of the "divinization" of the believer since the time of Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, the Christian eschatological message reflected a tension between hope for the final realization of God's saving plan in Christ, on the universal stage of history, and the believer's hope to be assimilated to that plan in his or her own history. In terms of God's approach to us, writes Maximus the Confessor, the "end of the ages" has come; in terms of our approach to God, it still lies ahead, realized only in the "types and patterns" of the present life of grace (Quaest ad Thal 22)." [HI:HOEC, 218f]
Okay, now to move on to the Apocryphal writings...
Let's start with the summary by Daley in HOEC, in which Christian apocrypha are considered within the context of pre-Christian Jewish apocalyptic traditions:
"Early biblical apocrypha. Although it is usually difficult to specify the original home of the many apocryphal gospels, apocalypses, and pseudo-apostolic letters and narratives composed by Christian groups in the second century, most of them represent a style of symbolic, dramatic theological thinking that belongs to the world of Jewish apocalyptic. Their pseudepigraphic identification with central figures of the Old or New Testament, the urgent, moralizing tone of their exhortations, the cosmic judgment and salvation they usually announce, and their sense of rapidly approaching doom for Greco-Roman civilization all link them in spirit and literary technique with the Jewish apocalyptic literature of the period. Like Jewish apocalyptic works, these Christian writings reflect not only the hopes of biblical faith, but the sense of frustration and insecurity shared by a people living without political or religious freedom, a people for whom persecution was always a real possibility. In some cases, in fact (e.g., IV Ezra, the Ascension of Isaiah or the first five books of the Sibylline Oracles), originally Jewish works have been rewritten to convey a Christian message. Some of these Christian apocrypha may be the work of marginal, syncretisticaliy Jewish Christian communities such as the so-called "Ebionites," but even apocalyptic works of unambiguously Christian origin represent, in the second century, what we have referred to as "Judaeo-Christian" features.
"The most important early Christian apocrypha for our understanding of Judaeo-Christian eschatology are the following: The Apocalypse of Peter (Apoc Pet), probably composed about 135 in Syria but well known also in Egypt during the second century - a work especially notable for its detailed and graphic description of the kinds of eternal punishment reserved for sinners; the Ascension of Isaiah (Asc Is), a work probably of Syrian origin from the mid second century, incorporating an older Jewish account of the martyrdom of the prophet Isaiah into an apocalyptic Christian account of the origin, death and second coming of Jesus; the Epistula Apostolorum (Ep Ap), a "letter" purportedly from all twelve apostles addressed to the universal Church, reporting a long revelatory discourse of the risen Lord on Easter night - a work that seems to have been composed in a Jewish Christian community in Asia Minor about 160; and the so-called Fifth and Sixth Books of Ezra, chapters 1-2 and 15-16 of the Latin translation of the Jewish apocryphon IV Ezra, which seem to have been written in Asia Minor or Syria at the end of the second or the beginning of the third century, and which portray in remarkable detail the future rewards of the just (V Ezra 2) and the tribulations that will accompany the end of the world (VI Ezra). To these works - some of which may include material from older Hebrew or Aramaic apocalypses - must be added books VII and VIII of the Sibylline Oracles (Or Sib): Christian, probably Alexandrian, compositions in Greek hexameters from the latter half of the second century - as well as the Christian interpolations in book II, which may come from the mid third century. Though not biblical apocrypha in the strict sense, the Christian Sibylline poems make wide use of biblical and apocalyptic themes and continue the style of cosmic Wisdom-theology found in the earlier, purely Jewish sections of the same collection.
"Although these works differ widely in the details of their eschatological hope, the picture of impending deliverance and retribution that they paint is fairly consistent in its broad outlines. --
"In all of these documents, then, the dramatic sense of crisis and the powerfully imaginative expectation of a wholly new order of space and time, a world of justice and judgment and powerfully restored relationships between God and creation, bear close resemblance to the Jewish apocalyptic literature current since the Book of Daniel. The distinctive element is the role of the glorified Christ as executor of the judgment of God and divinely sent inaugurator of the new age. Though the imaginative tools of the authors of these works were known from a sectarian tradition within Jewish religious thought, the grounds of their hope were decidedly Christian, and grew out of the gospel kerygma of Jesus' resurrection and Lordship. [HI:HOEC, 7-8,9]
Daley's summary points out the continuity of the early Christian apocrypha with pre-Christian Jewish apocalyptic hopes. But his comments also show that the apocryphal literature as a whole is not very 'eschatological' at all. By this I mean that out of the 99+ non-Gnostic works listed by Evans (in Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation, chapter 8; and in [NT:ATNTS, chapter 8]), Daley has only mentioned five or so texts (not all classified as 'apocalyptic texts' btw) as being 'most important'.
With this in mind, let's look at the texts that are considered in this category.
[On to Part Nine]…