Does a belief in a ‘world-week’ of 6,000 years imply a denial of apocalyptic imminence?

[draft: Feb18/2013 ; Back to main series ; Back to section on early Patristics ]


In our survey of NT and post-NT literature so far (up to the early church fathers), we have not seen any indication that anybody held to a ‘precise prediction’ of the Eschaton’s arrival. 


With the Epistle of Barnabas, however, we encounter an odd situation. He indicates a belief in the ‘world week’ of 6K years (ie, the Eschaton has to ‘wait’ for the 6,000 years to ‘end’ before it then starts?), yet still seems to maintain a belief in ‘at any time’ and ‘unknown but could be very soon’ (ie, the Eschaton can come at any time).


The background of this comes from Psalm 90 (sort of), which says “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” [ESV]


This was applied to the 6 days of creation in Genesis (yielding 6,000 years), leaving a Sabbath day (=millennium of rest) for the 7th day.


In Christian literature, we can see references to this world-week first in Barnabas, then Irenaeus, and later in Hippolytus, and we can see it debunked later still by Augustine.


But whether holding to it required a denial of imminence is not that clear. Scholars can affirm both sides of the position:


“The second feature concerns eschatology. Hippolytus insisted that the end was not imminent. The ten toes of the statue and the ten horns of the fourth beast were understood to require the division of the Roman Empire, which had not yet come to pass. Moreover, he held that the history of the world would last six thousand years, followed by the sabbatical thousand-year reign of Christ because he dated the birth of Christ fifty-five hundred years after Adam, the end of the world was still a long way off. This position was remarkable in view of the prevalence of imminent expectation at the beginning of the third century. The seventy weeks of chap. 9 were understood as a prediction of the birth of Christ after sixty-nine weeks, with the final week referring to the eschatological future, the appearance of Elijah and Enoch and the antichrist.” [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 (113). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.]




Eschatology. Clement provides a clear argument for a future resurrection of the body in 1 Clement 24–26. The nature of the Christian’s future hope is so wonderful that only God truly knows its greatness and beauty (1 Clem. 34.3—35.3). The final judgment of the wicked (e.g., Herm. Sim. 9.18.2) and the blessing of the righteous (e.g., Herm. Sim. 9.18.4; 4.2-3) are important motifs in Hermas. Ignatius notes that Jesus “was made manifest at the end of time” (Ign. Magn. 6.1) and he can also write: “These are the last times” (Ign. Eph. 11.1), while anticipating the future resurrection (Ign. Pol. 7.1). Polycarp anticipates the future resurrection of the dead and the reign of the righteous with Christ (Pol. Phil. 5.2; cf. 7.1). Papias is notorious for his millennialism (cf. Irenaeus Adv. Haer. 5.33.3; Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3.39.12; see Millennium). The Didache maintains an eschatological hope (Did. 10.5) and in the concluding chapter articulates an imminent expectation of the end of the age (Did. 16). An expectation of the imminent end of the world can also be found in Barnabas (Barn. 21.3; cf. “the final cause of stumbling is at hand” in Barn. 4.3). Indeed, Barnabas can speculate about the time of the world as being six thousand years, the day of the Lord as another thousand years, and a new beginning marked by an eighth such period (Barn. 15.4-9). 2 Clement too thinks of the day of the Lord as “already approaching” (2 Clem. 16.3) and argues for the reality of the future bodily resurrection (2 Clem. 9.1-5) and a literal final judgment (2 Clem. 17.4-7). Given their distance in time from the gospel events, the continuing—and even urgent—eschatology of the apostolic fathers is impressive.” [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


We need to probe a little more to see where this came from, and if/how it relates to the interpretation of Jesus’ apocalyptic words. For example, if it originated independently of Jesus (like so MANY biblical ‘interpretations’ seem to do!), then it has virtually no bearing on our question. [However, there may be one point of relevance for us—which we will consider at the end of this excursus—in whether this ‘eschatological timetable’ was advanced as a ‘substitute’ one for a ‘failed one’ by Jesus.]


So, where this this world-week notion come from?


It does not seem to be native to apocalyptic thought per se.


I looked through several major discussions of apocalyptic writings/images in the ANE, but could find nothing about ‘a week of thousands’ or allegorical interpretations of ‘days’ as thousands.


One. VanderKam surveys the ANE data in [CANE, “Prophecy and Apocalyptics in the Ancient Near East”, pp2083-2094] but the examples discussed contain nothing similar and/or precise. He points out that apocalyptic texts only “begin to surface after the conquest of the Near East by Alexander III ‘the Great’, and during the domination of the Hellenistic and Roman Empires.” [CANE, 2087].


The texts he discusses as ‘formal apocalyptic texts’ are from Egypt (The Demotic Chronicle, The Lamb to Bocchoris, the Potter’s Oracle/Apology of the Potter to king Amenhotep, and the Apocalypse of Asclepius) and from Persia (the Zand-i Vohuman Yasn/the Bahman Yasht, and the Arda Viraf Nameh).


The Egyptian works are not of much interest here, but the Persian ‘formal’ apocalypses are closer to the biblical materials and are worthy of comment.


·         The Bahman Yasht is a historical apocalypse and ‘in part may have originated in Hellenistic times (though it contains later references)’ [CANE, 2088]. It has a reference to a tree and four kingdoms [the fourth of which is Greece, as in Daniel], and to the ‘millennium of Zoroaster’. The Eschaton in this case, however, is well AFTER the millennium of Zoroaster.


·         The Arda Viraf Nameh is an otherworldly journey (like many apocalypses). It ‘presupposes the passage of some time since Alexander’s conquests’ [CANE, 2088]


Then VanderKam mentions other Persian texts which are not apocalypses formally, yet which contain apocalyptic material.


·         First is the “Oracle of Hystaspes (Vishtasp)”, whose existence is only known from quotations from much later sources, especially Lactantius’s Divine Institutions VII. There is no mention of millennial themes in it.


·         But in the Zamasp-Namak, the King Vishtasp (in the narrative) asks Zamasp ‘How many years will this Pure Religion endure, and afterwards what times and season will come?’ “The sage informs him that the religion will last one thousand years, at the end of which mankind will break the covenant, Iran will fall before its enemies, evil will abound, and nature itself will be corrupted. Following the rule of three kings, Pesyotan will come, the wicked will perish, and joy will return” [CANE, 2089]


·         The Bundahishn is “compendium of learning, parts of which may preserve material from a lost Avestan book. It incorporates the teaching that history will last twelve thousand yearsthree thousand years in a spiritual state…(then) three thousand years everything proceeds by the will of Auharmazd (Ahura Mazda), three thousand years there is an intermingling of the wills of Auharmazd and Aharman [Ahriman, the evil spirit], and the last three thousand years the evil spirit is disabled…At the end, Ahura Mazda predicts, he will triumph, the evil spirit will be rendered impotent… the resurrection will take place, and creatures will exist undisturbed forever. Chapter 34 also deals with the twelve thousand years and aligns them with the sings of the zodiac. There, in the ninth millennium the true religion comes (toward its end), and then in the tenth the Persian kings, Alexander, the Sasanians, and the Arabs appear” [CANE, 2089; Note: even though this text is ‘late’, the 3K year periods are early, as known by Plutarch’s reference to them in On Isis and Osiris, 46-47, allegedly from a 4BC historian Theopompos.]



Two. Richard Clifford discusses “The Roots of Apocalypticism in Near Eastern Myth” [The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Vol 1: The Origins of Apocalypticism in Judaism and Christianity, JJ Collins (ed). Continuum:2000, pp3-38]. This focuses mostly on the ancient Combat Myth, but contains nothing on precise predictions or eschatological ‘periodization’ (in the sense of ‘world week’).


Three. Norman Cohn also looks into the background, in Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, 2nd Edition [YaleUP:2001, Kindle.] He drills down much further into the time periods in (later revisions of) Zoroastrianism. Interestingly, he argues that Zoroaster himself believed in an ‘imminent’ eschaton – the ‘making wonderful’—but that later, “state religionists” created the time periodization needed to support imperial and royal ‘interregnums’.


How soon, when Zoroaster first foretold ‘the making wonderful’, did he expect that great consummation to come about? Certainly, in the near future. Admittedly, he cannot always have felt that all his contemporaries would live to see it, otherwise he would hardly have concerned himself with the fates awaiting those who died while the world was in its present condition — their adventures at the fateful bridge, their sojourn in heaven, hell or limbo. But the Gathas do convey a great sense of urgency. There is no mistaking the conviction that drove the prophet on: he clearly believed that he had been sent by Ahura Mazda at that particular moment to urge human beings to align themselves with the right side at once, in the short time remaining before the transformation of the world. In one passage he even seems to be asking the supreme god to permit him and his followers to take part in ‘the making wonderful’. But Zoroaster died, his figure began to fade into the past, and still the world was not transformed.”




“In the sixth century BC Zoroastrianism became the religion of the first Iranian empire. Whether or not it was adopted already by the founder of that empire, Gyrus the Great (549– 529), there can be no doubt about his successors. Inscriptions on the tombs of Darius the Great (522– 486), Xerxes (486– 465) and Artaxerxes I (465– 424) bear witness to the unchanging nature of the dynastic faith. But indeed every Achaemenian monarch saw himself as Lord Wisdom's representative on earth. However, not everything in the religion of the Gathas was appropriate to a state religion. An institution endowed not only with great spiritual authority but also with great temporal power, possessed of temples, shrines and vast estates, served by a numerous priesthood, could hardly be impatient for a total transformation of the world. On the contrary, if Zoroastrianism was to function effectively as the dominant religion of a triumphant, firmly established empire, it was imperative that Zoroastrian eschatology should be modified. ‘The making wonderful’ had to be postponed, officially and definitively, to a remote future. The necessary revision was achieved, not later than the first half of the fourth century BC, by certain scholar-priests who had abandoned orthodox Zoroastrianism in favour of the heresy known as Zurvanism.  This version of the religion, which was adopted by the later Achaemenian monarchs and again by the Sasanians, easily accommodated a scheme of successive world-ages. In that scheme, which was influenced by the speculations of Babylonian astronomers about the ‘great year’, ‘limited time’ was divided into a number of equal periods. In one of the versions that have come down to us the totality of ‘limited time’ comprises 9000 years, divided into three periods of 3000 years each; in another, it comprises 12,000 years, divided into four periods. But in the original version it was probably fixed at 6000 years; and even in the 9000- and 12,000-year versions, the last 6000 years include everything that happens on this earth. … In this scheme of world history the present moment had its place: it could only be some time before the appearance of the first saoshyant [ie, Savior]. But that meant that ‘the making wonderful’, which Zoroaster had expected to take place in his lifetime or shortly after it, and which later generations of Zoroastrians had still awaited with impatience, lost all immediacy. Between the time when Zoroastrianism first became a state religion and the final transformation of the world there was set a comfortable interval of more than 2000 years. Whatever their intentions may have been, and however purely philosophical their interests, the Zoroastrian priests had done something that had social and political implications: they had modified the prophet's original message in such a way that Achaemenian monarchs, and after them Parthian and Sasanian monarchs, could find in it an ideology perfectly suited to their needs.”[Cohn, Norman (2001-08-11). Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come (Yale Nota Bene) (Chapter4, section 9). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.]



The Plutarch passage is described by Collins:


“Plutarch, “On Isis and Osiris,” Chapter 47. The account of Persian religion by Plutarch acquires special interest for a study of pre-Sassanian materials since it can at least be dated, firmly, much earlier than any of the Pahlavi writings. If, as seems highly probable, Plutarch derived his material from Theopompus, then it can be dated to the third century BCE. The passage is, again, a summary which gives no indication of the way in which these doctrines were supposed to have been revealed. Like the Bundahišn, it begins with an account of “Horomazes” and “Areimanius.” The course of history will follow assigned periods: “Theopompus says that according to the Magians, for three thousand years alternately the one god will dominate the other and be dominated, and that for another three thousand years they will fight and make war, until one smashes up the domain of the other. In the end Hades shall perish and men shall be happy; neither shall they need sustenance nor shall they cast a shadow, while the god who will have brought this about shall have quiet and shall rest, not for a long while indeed for a god, but for such time as would be reasonable for a man who falls asleep.”  --- The relation of this eschatological schema to what we find in the Persian writings is problematic. It is possible that the six millennia followed by a decisive destruction of evil should be correlated with the last nine thousand years of the Bundahišn (1:28). Alternatively, it may be correlated with the six saecula of the Oracle of Hystaspes. --- The brief account in Plutarch is of interest here chiefly because of its early attestation of the periodization of world history with an eschatological conclusion.” [“PERSIAN APOCALYPSES” by  John J. Collins,  in Semeia, 14, 212–213.]



Well, this is not as promising as it once looked, I guess. Yes, there is periodization of history/future, but the ‘thousand year’ divisions no longer appear as ‘similar’ to the world-week theme:


·         There is no connection/correlation with ‘day’ or creation.

·         The time periods obviously do not match (1K is not 3K).

·         The cosmic lifetime does not match (6-7K is not 9-12K).

·         Their periods are aligned with the zodiac, which is ‘polemically unacceptable’ (smile) to post-exilic Judaism (with exceptions).


So, whatever (mutual) influences existed between Persia and Israel, the world-week periodization (based on the days of creation) do not seem to have had a close precedent in Zoroastrian/Persian religion. And however ‘apocalyptic thought’ visualizes the imminence of its particular version of the Eschaton, it does not have imminence as a sine qua non – it is often present, but the central motif is that of subversion (or better “supra-version”?) of the ‘ordinary’ by the ‘super-ordinary’.


Now where do we look?


When we turn now to Jewish materials of the pre-Christian and early-Christian periods, we find the first references to world-week TYPE material. Not all of it matches world-week images, but much of it implies a background of 6K/7K cosmic lifespan. And it is represented in a fairly wide range of texts, also.


Since it ‘looks like’ an allegorical interpretation of the Genesis days of creation, let’s look first for evidences of this kind of interpretation in Jewish sources.


One: Aristobulus of Alexandria and Philo. Although there are numerous cases of ‘re-use’ of biblical materials by later biblical authors, only a couple come close to ‘full’ allegory in our sense. The two that come first to mind to me are Jeremiah’s ‘reversal of creation’ passage (Jeremiah 4.23) and the trees-as-nations image in Ezekiel (Ezek 16.8).


But pride of place for this (in extra-biblical lit) will have to go to Aristobulus of Alexandria, in mid-2nd century BC. He used allegorical methods of interpretation (somewhat restrained, though) along the same lines as Greek and Hellenistic re-interpretations of their sacred mythology and literature. He is followed by Philo of Alexandria, who engages in thorough-going allegorical interpretation of the Hebrew bible.


Allegory. A narrative which uses symbolic figures and actions to suggest hidden meanings behind the literal words of the text. It is similar to riddle and parable genres, which use figurative language and images to convey a truth hidden behind the literal meaning of the words. The word “allegory” originated in the Greek world and was used most frequently by authors who wished to retain the truths of traditional worldviews when ancient traditions were being challenged by new knowledge. The Homeric stories of the gods were interpreted allegorically by later Greeks who wished to “demythologize” the tales of the capricious and immoral deities of Olympus and make them more intellectually meaningful and ethically acceptable to a people whose worldview was becoming more scientific and sophisticated. The word “allegory” itself was first used in Hellenistic times by Stoics and Cynics seeking to counter the attacks on the Olympian pantheon which had been made by Xenophanes, Pythagoras, and Plato. In Hellenistic Judaism ca. the middle of the 2nd century B.C.E. Aristobulus of Alexandria used an allegorical interpretation of the OT extensively as he sought to reconcile the Hebrew Scriptures with Greek culture. Philo of Alexandria became the Jewish theologian who used the allegorical interpretation the most extensively and was able to maintain a balance between the allegorical and literal reading of the Law.” [Goodman, W. R., Jr.,. (2000). Allegory. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers & A. B. Beck, Ed.) (43–44). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.]


“Allegorical interpretation can be found among early Greeks who read Homer and other epic tales as allegories ...  Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (50 B.C.) was a Jewish Platonist who exerted great influence on the course of biblical interpretation. In his commentary of the Pentateuch, Philo employed allegorical exegesis. In addition to the literal meaning, Philo found higher levels of meaning, avoiding unpalatable statements.” [Brand, C., & Bond, S. (2003). Allegory. In Draper Charles, A. England, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Draper Charles, A. England, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler, Ed.) (47). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.]


“Fragment 5 of the work of Aristobulus (ca. middle of 2d century B.C.) explains the sabbath in relationship to cosmic orders, also linking the sabbath to wisdom (Frag. 5.9–10) and the sevenfold structures of all things (Frag. 5.12). This work is an attempt to bring the sabbath into relationship with Hellenistic thought similar to that of Philo.” [Hasel, G. F. (1992). Sabbath. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 5: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (854). New York: Doubleday.]


“In discussing the “standing” of God (F. 2:9–12), Aristobulus used the allegorical method of interpretation which the Stoics had applied to Homer and which later Philo also applied to the Bible. --- In fragment 5, wisdom is associated with the seventh day (F. 5:9f.). The seventh day, in turn, is associated with the sevenfold principle (logos), the sevenfold structure of all things (F. 5:12).  --- Fragment 5 provides important evidence for Jewish use of Pythagorean ideas in the second century B.C. Both Aristobulus and Philo (SpecLeg 2.15(59)) seem to presuppose a traditional, allegorical interpretation of the biblical account of creation. This interpretation made use of Pythagorean reflections on the number seven as a prime number.” [Collins, A. Y. (1985). Aristobulus: A New Translation and Introduction. In . Vol. 2: The Old Testament pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, Volume 2: Expansions of the "Old Testament" and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (835). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]


Aristobulus’ passage is given in [OTP2:841ff, Fragment 5, in Eusebius, 13.12.9–16] as follows:


9 Following these things, after other (remarks), he [Aristobulus] adds:

“And connected (with this) is (the fact) that God, who established the whole cosmos, also gave us the seventh day as a rest, because life is laborious for all. According to the laws of nature, the seventh day might be called first also, as the genesis of light in which all things are contemplated.

10 And the same thing might be said metaphorically about wisdom also. For all light has its origin in it. And some of those belonging to the Peripatetic school have said that wisdom holds the place of a lantern; for as long as they follow it unremittingly, they will be calm through their whole life.

11 And one of our ancestors, Solomon, said more clearly and better that wisdom existed before heaven and earth; which indeed agrees with what has been said. And it is plainly said by our legislation that God rested on the seventh day. This does not mean, as some interpret, that God no longer does anything. It means that, after he had finished ordering all things, he so orders them for all time.

12 For the legislation signifies that in six days he made heaven and earth and all things which are in them in order that he might make manifest the times and foreordain what precedes what with respect to order. For, having set all things in order, he maintains and alters them so (in accordance with that order). And the legislation has shown plainly that the seventh day is legally binding for us as a sign of the sevenfold principle which is established around us, by which we have knowledge of human and divine matters.

13 And indeed all the cosmos of all living beings and growing things revolves in series of sevens. Its being called “sabbath” is translated as “rest.” And both Homer and Hesiod, having taken information from our books, say clearly that the seventh day is holy. Hesiod (speaks) so: To begin with, (the) first, (the) fourth and (the) seventh, (each) a holy day;  And again he says: And on the seventh day (is) again the bright light of the sun.

14 And Homer speaks so: And then indeed the seventh day returned, a holy day; [and Then was the holy seventh day] and again: It was the seventh day and on it all things had been completed and: And on the seventh morning we left the stream of Acheron.

15 He (Homer) thereby signifying that away from the forgetfulness and evil of the soul, by means of the sevenfold principle in accordance with the truth, the things mentioned before are left behind and we receive knowledge of the truth, as has been said above.

16 And Linus speaks so: And on the seventh morning all things were made complete; and again: (The) seventh (day) is of good quality and (the) seventh (day) is birth; and: (The) seventh (day) is among the prime (numbers) and (the) seventh (day) is perfect; [and] And all seven (heavenly bodies) have been created in the starry heaven, Shining in their orbits in the revolving years.”

Such then are the remarks of Aristobulus.


This is clearly some form of allegorizing, but we do not get all the way to ‘day = millennium’ of course.


Two. We have the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs in the first century AD.


“In the extrabiblical book called The Apocalypse of Ezra (4:24, 26 (The Apocalypse of Ezra, or 4 Ezra, is a Jewish book dated to the end of the first century CE, whose subject is the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple by the Romans in 69 CE), the community of Israel is designated ‘dove’ and šwšnh (lily? iris?), symbolical attributes gleaned from the SoS. That is the first evidence for symbolical interpretations of the SoS, interpretations which came into vogue between the fall of the Second Temple and the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132–135 CE. The SoS is understood to be an allegory, mystical and/or symbolical, for the love story between God (‘Solomon’; dwd, ‘lover’; ‘shepherd’) and the community of Israel (‘sister’; ‘bride’; ‘the Shulammite’; r‘yh, ‘companion’). By the time of Rabbi Akiba (50–132 CE), the allegorical elaboration has supplanted the literal one and has become the favourite and even the only legitimate interpretation of the SoS, so much so that R. Akiba considered the book to be one of the utmost religious importance (Mishna Yadayim 3.5; Chapter 1). Midrashic and Talmudic literature abounds in historical-allegorical clues for the divine/human love relationship: so in the Song of Songs Rabbah, the Aramaic Targum to the SoS, and the Taanit Scroll (4:8). (The Taanit Scroll (Heb. ‘Fast’) is a tractate of the order Mo’ed in the Mishna, Tosefta, the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud, dealing mainly with fasts and days on which fasting is expressly forbidden).” [Brenner, A. (1989). The Song of Songs (69). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.]


But still nothing really about ‘world week’—although with allegory we are getting closer.



Now, let’s turn to references that make ‘day’ into a ‘long time’—in Jewish literature of the period this often seems to mean 1,000 years. It might not be ‘strict’ allegory, but close enough for our purposes here. We will look specifically for references to ‘thousand’.


Of course, the word “Day” itself is used in the Hebrew bible to designate longer periods of time than 24 hours as a simple concordance look-up would reveal: the “day of salvation” (Is 49.8; Jer 30.7f), “day of the Lord” (Mal 4.5), “day of wrath” (Joel 2.1ff), “day of vengeance” (Is 63.4), “day of ruin” (Zeph 1.15), ‘day of Jezreel” (Hos 1.11), ‘day of indignation’ (Ezek 22.24), ‘day of your pride’ (Ezek 16.56), etc. These are often periods of indeterminate time, but never associated with 1K years in the biblical text.




We will do these extra-biblical Jewish sources in ‘approximately’ chronological order (even though these are wide ranges and sometimes widely contested!):


* (2nd Century BC) Jubilees 4.29And at the end of the nineteenth jubilee in the seventh week, in the sixth year, Adam died. And all of his children buried him in the land of his creation. And he was the first who was buried in the earth. 30 And he lacked seventy years from one thousand years, for a thousand years are like one day in the testimony of heaven and therefore it was written concerning the tree of knowledge, “In the day you eat from it you will die.” Therefore he did not complete the years of this day because he died in it.” [Charlesworth, J. H. (1985). Vol. 2: The Old Testament pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, Volume 2: Expansions of the "Old Testament" and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (63–64). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.; Note: the Genesis ‘day’ of the garden = 1,000 years. This seems to be a clear use of Psalm 90.4 for this equation. ]



* (Late 1st Century AD) 2nd Enoch: [Chapter 32 -- After Adam’s transgression. God expels him into the earth from which he had been taken. But he does not wish to destroy him in the age to come.] 32.1 “And I said |to him|, ‘You are earth, and into the earth once again you will go, out of which I took you. And I will not destroy you, but I will send you away to what I took you from. Then I can take you once again at my second coming.’ And I blessed all my creatures, visible and invisible. And Adam was in paradise for 5 hours and a half. 32.2 And I blessed the 7th day (which is the Sabbath) in which I rested from all my doings. [Chapter 33 --God shows Enoch the epoch of this world, the existence of 7000 years, and the eighth thousand is the end, neither years nor months nor weeks nor days.--] 33.1 “On the 8th day I likewise appointed, so that the 8th day might be the 1st, the first-created of my week, and that it should revolve in the revolution of 7000;  (so that the 8000) might be in the beginning of a time not reckoned and unending, neither years, nor months, nor weeks, nor days, nor hours ‹like the first day of the week, so also that the eighth day of the week might return continually›.” [2 Enoch, Charlesworth, J. H. (1983). Vol. 1: The Old Testament pseudepigrapha: Volume 1 (154–156). New York; London: Yale University Press.; Note: the 1K year rest is the 8th K in this case and NOT the 7th K—not a ‘sabbath’ per se.]


* (Late 1st Century AD) 4th Ezra: 10.38 He answered me and said, “Listen to me and I will inform you, and tell you about the things which you fear, for the Most High has revealed many secrets to you. 39 For he has seen your righteous conduct, that you have sorrowed continually for your people, and mourned greatly over Zion. 40 This therefore is the meaning of the vision. 41 The woman who appeared to you a little while ago, whom you saw mourning and began to console—42 but you do not now see the form of a woman, but an established city has appeared to you—43 and as for her telling you about the misfortune of her son, this is the interpretation: 44 This woman whom you saw, whom you now behold as an established city, is Zion. 45 And as for her telling you that she was barren for thirty years, it is because there were three thousand years in the world before any offering was offered in it. 46 And after three thousand years Solomon built the city, and offered offerings; then it was that the barren woman bore a son. 47 And as for her telling you that she brought him up with much care, that was the period of residence in Jerusalem. 48 And as for her saying to you, ‘When my son entered his wedding chamber he died,’ and that misfortune had overtaken her, that was the destruction which befell Jerusalem. 49 And behold, you saw her likeness, how she mourned for her son, and you began to console her for what had happened.” [Charlesworth, J. H. (1983). Vol. 1: The Old Testament pseudepigrapha: Volume 1 (547–548). New York; London: Yale University Press.; at 4 Ezra 10.38]


10.49 The date is a calculation by millennia. This is discussed in some detail in 10:45 Commentary. Such dates are (pace Artom) in existence from the time of Jubilees at least. In b. Sanh. 97a we find a number of calculations of the end by dates anno mundi. The first is based on the idea of a week of millennia: the world will exist for six thousand years, then will come the end, a sabbatical millennium. The second calculation reckons the end as coming after 85 jubilees (4,250 years). An additional tradition is quoted which, drawn from a scroll in square Hebrew letters seen by the tradent, sets the end at 4290 and then speaks of the renewal of creation after 7,000 years. Both this last tradition and the first one are based on the idea of a world week. 4 Ezra here may also be dating Ezra sometime in the fifth millennium, though it is far from certain that it knew this 6,000 + 1,000 scheme.” [Stone, M. E. (1990). Fourth Ezra: A commentary on the book of Fourth Ezra (F. M. Cross, Ed.). Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (442). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.]


10.45 The events referred to are related in 9:43–44. For “thirty,” Latin reads “three,” which number is accepted by Gunkel but is secondary, as has been pointed out in the textual notes. The idea of barrenness is used metaphorically in 4 Ezra on a number of occasions; see particularly 5:1 and 6:28, both of which are related to the eschatological events. The woman’s thirty-year barrenness is interpreted as three thousand years in which no offerings were made in Zion. It may be asked what was the significance of the figure 3,000. Did it actually relate to some era of creation according to which the building of the Temple was anno mundi 3,000? Some such reckonings are known from later than 4 Ezra and they set the building of the Temple early in the fifth millennium. Some sort of millennial reckoning is also at play in the fragmentary verses at the start of the Testament of Moses (1:2), where a date of 2,500 is given, apparently anno mundi, and seemingly related to the life of Moses. If these assumptions are correct, this reckoning, in general, might be like that in 4 Ezra here. …  Further, it might be added that if the division of the world age into twelve parts in 14:11–12 is taken seriously, and each of these parts is 500 years, that would support the idea of there being a world age of 12 × 500 = 6,000 years. Ezra would then be living in the period from 4,500 to 5,000, which would, once more, conflict with all of the above schemes. --- However, considering 4 Ezra’s reserve about exactly this sort of special information, the two and a half parts remaining according to 14:11–12 might well be typological and dependent on Daniel “two times and half a time” (Dan 12:7). Daniel is referred to explicitly in that pericope. It may be that the author used all sorts of symbolic and typological dating schemes to make his point about the imminence of the end, or of Ezra’s assumption, or of the centrality of the building of the Temple, without ever working them together into a single, coherent scheme. [Stone, M. E. (1990). Fourth Ezra: A commentary on the book of Fourth Ezra (F. M. Cross, Ed.). Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (336–337). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.]



* (1st to 2nd Century AD) Testament of Abraham: “Abraham said to Michael, “Tell me, man of God, and reveal to me why you have come here.” 2 And Michael said, “Your son Isaac will disclose (it) to you.” … 15 And Michael said to Abraham, “Your son Isaac has spoken the truth; for you are (the sun), and you will be taken up into the heavens, 16 while your body remains on the earth until seven thousand ages are fulfilled. For then all flesh will be raised. 17 Now, therefore, Abraham, make a will (governing) the things of your household and concerning your sons, for you have heard completely the dispensation concerning you.”” [Charlesworth, J. H. (1983). Vol. 1: The Old Testament pseudepigrapha: Volume 1 (898–899). New York; London: Yale University Press.; Testament of Abraham, Recension B, chapter 7]



* (2nd to 5th Century AD) Testament of Adam: “You have heard, my son Seth, that a Flood is coming and will wash the whole earth because of the daughters of Cain, your brother, who killed your brother Abel out of passion for your sister Lebuda [See also GenR 22.7 and PRE 21; L Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia, 1928) vol. 1, pp. 180f.; vol. 5, pp. 138f.], since sins had been created through your mother, Eve. And after the Flood there will be six thousand years (left) to the form of the world, and then its end will come.” [Testament of Adam, Charlesworth, J. H. (1983). Vol. 1: The Old Testament pseudepigrapha: Volume 1 (994). New York; London: Yale University Press.; Note: this is 6K from the Flood, and NOT from creation.]


“RELEVANCE FOR EXEGESIS IN CANONICAL MATERIAL. The Testament of Adam has relevance for biblical exegesis on several counts. First, it is not dualistic in its outlook. God is credited for creating all things, even demons. They must worship him. There is also a definite time frame for the existence of life on earth. This work is an early witness to the idea that the earth was intended to last for six thousand years after the Flood, presumably to make the entire created enterprise last seven thousand years, a time span of numerical completion from a numerological perspective.” [Penner, K., & Heiser, M. S. (2008). Old Testament Greek pseudepigrapha with morphology. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.]


We should note that the later date of this document does not imply that the contents are ‘late’. The reference to Lebuda, the sister of Abel, shows up in rabbinic lore also:


Sisters of Cain and Abel are mentioned several times in rabbinic sources (see L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews [1909–38], I, pp. 108–109 and V, pp. 138–39).” [Jonge, M. d., & Tromp, J. (1997). The life of Adam and Eve and related literature. Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (84–85). Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press]


[Here is the material in Ginzberg: “BR 22.7; PRE 21; Ephiphanius, Haer., 1, 6; Theodoretus, Haer., 1, 11; Schatzhöhle, 34; Clementine, Homilies, 3.25 (hence he was called Cain, because he was jealous of his brother on account of his wife; … on the later statements of Christian and Mohammedan writers concerning the struggle of the brothers on account of their sister….  Along with the view that Abel had two twin-sisters, there is also another which maintains that each of them had one twin-sister only; a third view states that Cain, but not Abel, had a twin-sister. Comp. BR 22.2 and 61.4; PRE, loc. cit.; Yebamot 62a, and Yerushalmi 11, 11d; Sanhedrin 58b, and Yerushalmi 5, 22c, as well as 9, 26d; ARN 1, 6; Sifra 20.7; Targum Yerushalmi Gen. 4:2 (thus the passage is to be understood that Cain was born with a twin-brother, and Abel with a twin-sister; Abel’s twin-sister became Cain’s wife; comp. PRE, loc. cit.); Zohar I, 54b and III, 44b. [Ginzberg, L., Szold, H., & Radin, P. (2003). Legends of the Jews (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.]


Of course, by now we are well into the Christian era, with the Patristic writers using the same day=millennium equation of the earlier and/or contemporary Jewish writers. Before we look at a couple of these (which are covered in other parts of this series), let us note the Rabbinical references to world-week and related interpretations:


Here are the main texts and comments by Stone (on b. San):


“The sevenfold calculation of the duration of the world is most prominent in somewhat later Jewish and Christian chiliastic thought. For examples, see b. Sanh. 97a, which cites Tanna debe Eliyyahu. In b. Sanh. 97b we find what may well be a citation of a fragment of an apocalyptic text:


R. Ḥanan b. Taḥlipha sent a message to R. Joseph, “I met a man who possessed scrolls written in square Hebrew characters and in the holy language. And I said to him, ‘Whence did you get this?’ He said to me, ‘I was a mercenary in the Roman army, and I found it in the archives (treasuries) of Rome. And it was written therein, “Four thousand, two hundred and ninety-one years after the creation, the world will come to an end; some years will be the wars of the Leviathians (i.e., the war of creation), and some years will be the wars of Gog and Magog, and the remainder will be the days of the Messiah. And the Holy One, blessed be He, will not renew his world before seven thousand have elapsed.” ’ ”


The connection of the week, the Sabbatical week, the world-week, and redemption is behind all these figures.


In b. Sanh. 97a–b there is a citation from Tanna debe Eliyahu that relates to the world-week of 7,000 years:


Tanna debe Eliyyahu (says): The world (will) exist for six thousand years, the two thousand years of chaos (Tôhû), the two thousand years of Torah, and the two thousand years of the days of the Messiah, and because our sins are many, those of them that have passed, have passed.


The eschaton, then, will follow the messianic age, but, unlike the text cited above, it will be the seventh millennium and not following the seventh millennium. Nonetheless, the connection of the week, the Sabbatical week, the world-week, and redemption lies behind all these numbers.


The world-week is inferred also in the following passage:


There is a Baraita in accordance with R. Ktina: As in the matter of the Sabbatical year one year in seven is a release, thus the world has a thousand year’s release in seven thousand years, as we may infer from Isa 2:11, “and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,” and from Ps 92:1, “A Psalm or song for the Sabbath day,” which means the day which will be all Sabbath, and from Ps 90:4, “For a thousand years are in thy eyes but as the yesterday when it is passed” (i.e., the Sabbatical day is a thousand years long) (b. Sanh. 97a).


For such an attempt to be made, the notion must have developed that time has a distinct and ordered pattern and that it has an overall span, from beginning to end.” [Stone, M. E. (2011). Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views (71–75). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.]



And here is another passage (excerpts, duplicating some of the material from above) from the Talmud Abodah Zarah 9a-9b [Neusner, J. (2011). Vol. 17b: The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (310–312). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.]:


II:5: The Tannaite authority of the household of Elijah stated, “The world will last for six thousand years: two thousand years of chaos, two thousand years of Torah, two thousand years of the time of the Messiah. But because of the abundance of our sins, what has passed of the foreordained time has passed.”

II:8: Said R. Hanina, “When four hundred years have passed from the destruction of the Temple, if someone says to you, ‘Buy this field that is worth a thousand denars for a single denar, don’t buy it.”


The dating of these passages is controversial, of course, but they certainly show that the world-week was a part of the perspective of Rabbinic Judaism, and that there is no pushback to such interpretations in the apocryphal literature.


[We can also notice in passing that the periodization of the Rabbis (3 sets of 2K) is different than that of the Persians (3-4 sets of 3K), in case somebody wanted to make too vocal an argument of ‘borrowing’…smile)]



In between some of these more-Jewish works (with ‘world-week’ elements in them) and the later Patristic materials (with ‘world-week’ elements in them) lies the New Testament.


There are a couple of passages and/or motifs that might connect to this.


* The numerous references to indefinite periods of time by the word “day” are obvious (eg, Day of the Lord, Day of Christ, day of God, day of salvation, day of redemption, day of visitation etc) and are in continuity with the Hebrew Bible. But nothing seems to refer/imply a ‘world week’ eschatological scheme.


* The Book of Hebrews uses ‘expanded’ notions of ‘day’ and ‘Sabbath’ to speak of eschatological periods (but not specifically ‘millennial’ ones):


For example, 4.2-11:


2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.

3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’ ” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.

4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”

5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,

7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice,  do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.

9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,

10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.


Of course, there is no chronology or eschatological timeline in this, so it is more representative of ‘standard’ rabbinic hermeneutics (ie, connecting similar words) and/or Alexandrian allegory than of apocalyptic schema.


“Given the foundational nature of the Genesis passage, it is somewhat surprising that it is not quoted or alluded to more often in the primary Jewish sources. It is reported that at the beginning of the Sabbath, in the synagogue liturgy, the recitation of Ps. 95:1–11 was followed by Gen. 2:1–3 (Lane 1991: 1:100), though this suggestion is based on very late materials (Laansma 1997: 350). --- Odes of Solomon, a thoroughly Jewish-influenced Christian hymn collection from the late first or early second century AD, contains a straightforward allusion to Gen. 2:2 in a psalm of praise to God for his creation, proclaiming, “And he set the creation and aroused it, then he rested from his works. And created things run according to their courses, and work their works, and they are not able to cease and be idle. And the hosts are subject to his word” (16:12–14). Josephus, in his account of the creation of the world (Ant. 1.33), explains that God’s rest on the seventh day of creation is the source of the Jewish practice of the Sabbath. --- Philo comments extensively on Gen. 2:2. For instance, he is intent on the philosophical significance of the numbers of the days of creation. Using the Greek version of the OT, he notes, “When, then, Moses says, ‘He finished His work on the sixth day,’ we must understand him to be adducing not a quantity of days, but a perfect number, namely six” (Alleg. Interp. 1.3). Further, speaking of the significance with which God vested the seventh day, Philo calls that blessed, dignified day “the birthday of the world” (Moses 2.210) and a “festival, not of one city or country, but of all the earth” (Creation 89). More significantly for the use in Hebrews, he comments on the nature of the rest mentioned in Gen. 2:2. At Alleg. Interp. 1.16 he notes that Moses says “caused to rest” rather than “rested” in order to make clear that God never ceases from activity. Philo goes on to explain that this means that God quit shaping the mortal and began to craft the divine things. Elsewhere Philo explains that Moses named the Sabbath “God’s Sabbath” (e.g., Exod. 20:10), for God, being free from any imperfection and therefore any weariness, is the only thing in the universe that truly can be said to rest. This does not mean that he is inactive; rather, “God’s rest is a working with absolute ease, without toil and without suffering,” and so “rest belongs in the fullest sense to God and to Him alone” (Cherubim 87–90). … What is clear is that the “rest,” though not always tied directly to the Genesis passage, generally took on an eschatological slant in Jewish exegesis (see Attridge [1989: 129n85], who cites, e.g., Gen. Rab. 10:9; m. Tamid 7:4; Pirqe R. El. 18; ʾAbot R. Nat. 1 [1c]). For instance, 2 Baruch, a Jewish work reflecting on the destruction of the temple in AD 70, gives “rest” an eschatological bent, saying that after God “has brought down everything which is in the world, and has sat down in eternal peace on the throne of the kingdom, then joy will be revealed and rest will appear” (7:31).” [Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (957–958). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.]


* The most promising passage would appear to be 2 Peter 3.8, but this will prove disappointing for us. The focus of the author’s use of Ps 90 has nothing to do with chronology of the world, world-week, or even eschatological ‘time’. It seems to be strictly a reference to the character (and ‘options’—thankfully!) of God.


“My dear friends, do not overlook this one fact, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as one day. 9The Lord is not late in fulfilling the promise, according to some people’s idea of lateness, but he is forbearing toward you, because it is not his will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a roar, the heavenly bodies will be dissolved in the heat, and the earth and the works in it will be found.”


The Context in Judaism. Early Judaism (much of it later than 2 Peter) and early Christianity appealed to Ps. 90:4 “(1) to define the length of one of the days of creation, (2) to explain why Adam lived one thousand years after his sin, (3) to calculate the length of the Messiah’s day, and (4) to explain the length of the world” (Neyrey 1993: 238, with appropriate references). Some scholars have appealed to such passages as 2 En. 33:1–2 to suggest that our passage, 2 Pet. 3:8, is asserting that the day of judgment will be one thousand years long (e.g., von Allmen 1966: 262). Bauckham (1988: 308–9) links a number of passages together (Pirqe R. El. 28; Apoc. Ab. 28–30; 2 Bar. 43:12–13; L.A.B. 19:13) to argue that Ps. 90:4 was used in apocalyptic contexts to encourage believers to recognize that the End could be long delayed, even if in God’s time it was short, and that therefore the argument in 2 Pet. 3:8 plausibly derives from a Jewish apocalypse. Davids (2006: 276–77), rightly, is more cautious: there is no convincing evidence of dependence by Peter on any Jewish apocalypse, but the argument that Peter advances was “in the air,” and seems like a reasonable enough inference from Ps. 90:4 that more than one exegete could have drawn it at about the same time. --- Peter’s Use of the OT in 3:8. Although Ps. 90:4 is designed to underscore God’s eternality and therefore his unfailing reliability over against human transience and without reference to the End, Peter’s application of this truth to how one thinks about God’s own perspective on how “soon” or “quickly” the End will come does not seem like much of a reach. It is an obvious inference, and is mirrored in others drawing a similar inference. Certainly it is far removed from the highly speculative literal inferences, without literary sensitivity, drawn from Ps. 90:4 by others about the length of creation days and the like.” [Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (1059; 2nd Peter 3.8). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.]


Psalm 90 was the impetus for the development in Jewish thought that “one day” was a way to speak figuratively of “a thousand years” (Jub. 4.30: “For a thousand years are like one day in the testimony of heaven”; 2 En. 33.1–2; Gen. Rab. 19.8; 22.1), that is, “one day” is to God as “a thousand years” according to human calculation. After the first century, the same math appeared in the theology of the church, so that the six days of creation represented six thousand years in human history. For example, Barn. 15.4 interpreted Gen. 2:2 accordingly: “Notice, children, what is the meaning of ‘He made an end in six days’? He means this: that the Lord will make an end of everything in six thousand years, for a day with him means a thousand years. And he himself is my witness when he says, ‘Lo, the day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years (ἡ γὰρ ἡμέρα παρʼ αὐτῷ σημαίνει χίλια ἔτη).’ So then, children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, everything will be completed.” The form of the citation in Barnabas is close to 2 Pet. 3:8 and may have been influenced by this letter instead of being a direct citation from Ps. 90:4 (see also Irenaeus, Haer. 5.23.2; 5.28.3). --- However, we should not interpret 2 Pet. 3:8 along these lines. Peter does not forward an interpretive key by which we may understand certain “days” in God’s plan as if they represent “a thousand years,” or even understand references to “a thousand years” as if this period means “one day” (Rev. 20:2–7). Peter includes the comment taken from Psalm 90:4 [89:4 LXX] to explain his declaration in the following verse (“The Lord is not slow to fulfill the promise, as some count slowness”). His argument is simply that the divine perspective on time is not the same as the human perspective. A period that may appear prolonged by human standards is actually brief according to divine calculation. A similar thought appears in 2 Bar. 48.12–13, which contrasts the brevity of human existence (“For we are born in a short time, and in a short time we return”) with the divine perspective on time (“With you, however, the hours are like the times, and the days like generations”; cf. Sir. 18:9–10). Peter does not relativize time but simply affirms that the criteria for “rapid” and “slow” are different for humans and God (contra Käsemann 1982: 193–94). On the basis of his affirmation, Peter constructs the argument of the following verse.” [Green, G. L. (2008). Jude and 2 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (325–326). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]


And this contrast between God’s ‘time perspective’ and ours does NOT imply a denial of imminent expectation!


“The intended contrast between man’s perception of time and God’s is not a reference to God’s eternity in the sense of atemporality (Luther, Chaine). It does not imply, as Käsemann complains, “a philosophical speculation about the being of God, to which a different conception of time is made to apply from that which applies to us” (“Apologia,” 194), so that the very idea of the delay of the Parousia becomes meaningless and nothing can any longer be said about the time until the Parousia. The point is rather that God’s perspective on time is not limited by a human life span. He surveys the whole of history and sets the times of events in accordance with his agelong purpose. His perspective is so much more comprehensive than that of men and women who, accustomed to short-term expectations, are impatient to see the Parousia in their own lifetime. Nor does this v imply that the Christian should discard the imminent expectation so characteristic of primitive Christianity (against Fornberg, Early Church, 68). Of course, the figures used in v 8—a thousand years, one day—are borrowed from Ps 90:4 and its use in Jewish apocalyptic; they tell us nothing about the actual length of the period the author of 2 Peter expected to elapse before the Parousia (against Windisch). The author in fact continues to speak as though his readers will be alive at the Parousia (1:19; 3:14). This is not at all surprising. It was characteristic of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic to hold in tension the imminent expectation and an acknowledgment of eschatological delay (see Bauckham, TynBul 31 [1980] 3–36). Second Peter’s readers may continue to expect the Day of the Lord which will come unexpectedly like a thief, but lest they succumb to the skepticism of the scoffers, they must also consider that the delay which seems so lengthy to us may not be so significant within that total perspective on the total course of history which God commands. Because he alone has such a perspective, God retains the date of the End in his own knowledge and power, and it cannot be anticipated by any human calculation.” [Bauckham, R. J. (1998). Vol. 50: 2 Peter, Jude. Word Biblical Commentary (306–310). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


So, within the New Testament writings, we do not encounter this ‘world-week’ schema, even though it seems to be part of the milieu.



Now the Christian ‘allegorical approach’…


The use of allegorical methods and pre-existing ‘expansion schema’ is neither surprising (given the Jewish matrix) nor even very innovative. The allegorical method was already in use by those ‘around them’:


“The Patristic Period (ca. 100–600) can be divided into three sub-periods: the Apostolic Fathers (100–150), the Alexandrian-Antiochan debate (150–400), and the deliberations of the church councils (400–590). The Patristic Fathers were endeared to the Old Testament and generally literal in their interpretation. However, they were fond of locating typological meanings in the Old Testament, such as Rahab’s scarlet thread as representing the blood of Christ. They also allegorized the six days of creation to represent six thousand years of earth history. Additionally, the midrash in the Qumran literature caused them to seek symbolic meanings for numbers in Scripture.” [Bigalke, R. J. (2010). “Historical Survey Of Biblical Interpretation”. In . Vol. 14: Journal of Dispensational Theology Volume 14 (42) (39). North Richland Hills, TX: Tyndale Theological Seminary.]


The Epistle of Barnabas is where the Christian tradition picks up this world-week image:


Barnabas is the earliest Christian writer who based the notion that the world was to last six thousand years upon the six days of creation, and the Psalmist’s expression, “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years.” In this fantastic inference he is followed by Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Lactantius, Hilary, Jerome, and many others.” [Farrar, F. W. (1886). History of interpretation (170). London: Macmillan and Co.]



Here’s the text:


15. Furthermore, concerning the Sabbath it is also written, in the “Ten Words” which he spoke to Moses face to face on Mount Sinai: “And sanctify the Lord’s Sabbath, with clean hands and a clean heart.” (2) And in another place he says: “If my sons guard the Sabbath, then I will bestow my mercy upon them.” (3) He speaks of the Sabbath at the beginning of the creation: “And God made the works of his hands in six days, and finished on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.” (4) Observe, children, what “he finished in six days” means. It means this: that in six thousand years the Lord will bring everything to an end, for with him a day signifies a thousand years. And he himself bears me witness when he says, “Behold, the day of the Lord will be as a thousand years.” Therefore, children, in six days—that is, in six thousand years—everything will be brought to an end. (5)And he rested on the seventh day.” This means: when his Son comes, he will destroy the time of the lawless one and will judge the ungodly and will change the sun and the moon and the stars, and then he will truly rest on the seventh day. … (8) Finally, he says to them: “I cannot bear your new moons and sabbaths.” You see what he means: it is not the present sabbaths that are acceptable to me, but the one that I have made; on that Sabbath, after I have set everything at rest, I will create the beginning of an eighth day, which is the beginning of another world. (9) This is why we spend the eighth day in celebration, the day on which Jesus both arose from the dead and, after appearing again, ascended into heaven.” [Epis Barn 15, Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (315–317). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.]



Irenaeus follows closely behind:


Irenaeus on the Sabbath of Creation. Irenaeus expressed a premillennial view characteristic of the first three centuries: The present world would endure six thousand years (analogous to the six days of creation), after which there would be a period of suffering and apostasy that would accelerate until the coming of the antichrist, seated in the temple of God. The entire apostate throng is headed up by the antichrist, “recapitulating in himself the diabolic apostasy … he will tyrannically attempt to prove himself God” (Irenaeus, Ag. Her. V.25.1), whereupon Christ will appear, the saints will be resurrected, and the kingdom will be established on earth for another thousand years, the seventh millennium (Ag. Her. V.28.3; 33.2). --- This seventh millennium corresponds to the seventh day of creation, when God re-creates the world and the righteous, thus hallowing the last day of the world’s week as a millennium of rest and peace. For one day with God is as a thousand years (Ps. 90:4). A new city of God, a new Jerusalem, would then become the center of a new period of peace and righteousness (Matt. 26:29; Irenaeus, Ag. Her. V.33.3, 4). At the end of this thousand-year reign, the final judgment will occur, a new creation will make way for eternity (Ag. Her. V.36.1). The dawning of the eighth day was for the Letter of Barnabas analogous to the Christian’s Lord’s Day, the day on which Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven (15.5–9, AF, pp. 294–95).” [Oden, T. C. (1992). Life in the Spirit: Systematic theology, vol. III (426–427). San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.]


Many later Christian writers refer to this world-week as well…


But some of the discussions of it were not very ‘defendable’—they worked within the assumption of the world-week, and any defenses of it were based on allegory or typology or numerology.


We might look, for example, at Irenaeus’ discussion of the number ‘666’ and at Victorinus On the Creation of the World to see this ‘in action’:


Irenaeus: “Finally, how are we to understand 666? The best way is to follow Minear (I Saw a New Earth, ch. 5) and Newman (“Domitian Hypothesis,” pp. 133ff.) and return to one of the most ancient interpretations, that of Irenaeus. Irenaeus proposed (while still holding to a personal antichrist) that the number indicates that the beast is the sum of “all apostate power,” a concentrate of six thousand years of unrighteousness, wickedness, deception, and false prophecy. He states that “the digit six, being adhered to throughout, indicates the recapitulations of that prophecy, taken in its full extent, which occurred at the beginning, during the intermediate periods, and which shall take place at the end.” ” [Johnson, A. F. (1981). Revelation. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (535). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.; at 13.8]


Victorinus: “And in Matthew we read, that it is written Isaiah also and the rest of his colleagues broke the Sabbath—that that true and just Sabbath should be observed in the seventh millenary of years. Wherefore to those seven days the Lord attributed to each a thousand years; for thus went the warning: “In Thine eyes, O Lord, a thousand years are as one day.”9 Therefore in the eyes of the Lord each thousand of years is ordained, for I find that the Lord’s eyes are seven. Wherefore, as I have narrated, that true Sabbath will be in the seventh millenary of years, when Christ with His elect shall reign. Moreover, the seven heavens agree with those days; for thus we are warned: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the powers of them by the spirit of His mouth.”11 There are seven spirits. Their names are the spirits which abode on the Christ of God, as was intimated in Isaiah the prophet: “And there rests upon Him the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of wisdom and of piety, and the spirit of God’s fear hath filled Him.”… 20 Behold the seven horns of the Lamb, the seven eyes of God 21—the seven eyes are the seven spirits of the Lamb; seven torches burning before the throne of God 23 seven golden candlesticks, seven young sheep, 25 the seven women in Isaiah, the seven churches in Paul, 27 seven deacons, seven angels, 29 seven trumpets, seven seals to the book, seven periods of seven days with which Pentecost is completed, the seven weeks in Daniel, 31 also the forty-three weeks in Daniel; with Noah, seven of all clean things in the ark; seven revenges of Cain, 2 seven years for a debt to be acquitted, the lamp with seven orifices, 4 seven pillars of wisdom in the house of Solomon.” [Victorinus of Pettau. (1886). On the Creation of the World 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.) (342–343). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.]



Okay—what has this got to do with the words of Jesus in the Synoptics that are (alleged) timing passages?


Nothing… simply, ‘Nothing’…!



Jesus never leads His followers into this interpretation, never mentions this world-week theme, never alludes to Psalm 90, and never develops any periodization other than the ‘this age versus the age to come’ eschatological one.


The only periodization of time taught in the NT is that of the ‘two aeons’ or ‘two ages’. We see this over and over again in the NT (we have also discussed this earlier in the series).


Age. The division of history into a series of preordained “ages” figures prominently in several ancient Jewish and Christian texts. The oldest extant Jewish apocalypses, Daniel (notably in chs. 7 and 9) and 1 Enoch (esp. 91:11-17; 93:1-10), present schematic divisions of history. This theme continues into later apocalypses such as 4 Ezra, the Apoc. Ab., and Rev 6:10-11; 20:2-10 . --- In the NT the synoptic Jesus distinguishes between this age (or TIME) and the age to come (Matt 12:32 ; Mark 10:30 ; Luke 18:30; 20:34-35 ), while Paul expresses antagonism toward the “wisdom” and the “rulers” of “the present evil age” (e.g., 1 Cor 2:6 ; Gal 1:4 ) [NIDB, s.v. “age”]


“The language of the two ages, a feature of Jewish apocalyptic, was probably characteristic of the teaching of Jesus, being found in Mark and the traditions peculiar to Matthew and Luke. Matthew, influenced by Jewish apocalyptic, has increased the use of this language. It is altogether absent from Q and from John, though John’s use of “this world” (kosmos) is formally similar but on closer inspection differs in meaning.” [Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 1992 (J. B. Green, S. McKnight & I. H. Marshall, Ed.) (888). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. S.v. ‘world’]


“The NT makes a striking modification of the contemporary Jewish division of time into the present age and the age to come. There is still a point of transition in the future between ‘this time’ and ‘the world to come’ (Mk. 10:30; Eph. 1:21; Tit. 2:12–13), but there is an anticipation of the consummation, because in Jesus God’s purpose has been decisively fulfilled. The gift of the Spirit is the mark of this anticipation, this tasting of the powers of the world to come (Eph. 1:14; Heb. 6:4-6; cf. Rom. 8:18–23; Gal. 1:4). Hence John consistently stresses that we now have eternal life, zōē aiōnios (e.g. Jn. 3:36). It is not simply that aiōnios has qualitative overtones; rather John is urging the fact that Christians now have the life into which they will fully enter by resurrection (Jn. 11:23–25). This ‘overlapping’ of the two ages is possibly what Paul has in mind in 1 Cor. 10:11.” [Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (1188). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]



Even though the notion of ‘world-week’ was available to Jewish interpretation, the dominant periodization was still that of the TWO ages (this age, the age to come).


This world-week belief is therefore extraneous (and unwarranted, therefore) for assessing the teachings of Jesus.


To the extent an early Christian believed this—and adjusted his/her interpretations of Jesus’ eschatological pronouncements on the basis of this belief—to that same extent their conclusions and/or predictions cannot be assumed to be ‘derived from Jesus’. One simply cannot ‘blame Jesus’ for any loss of, or heightening of, the expectation of imminence affected by this belief.


In this sense, Augustine is perfectly justified in trying to counter this belief:


“THE MOMENT OF LEAST AWARENESS. AUGUSTINE: Why “at midnight”? That is the moment of least expectation. There is no thought of it. It is a moment of complete unawareness. It is as though one might calculate complacently, … “So many years have passed since Adam, and the six thousand years are being completed, and then immediately, according to the computation of certain expositors, the day of judgment will come.” Yet these calculations come and pass away, and still the coming of the bridegroom is delayed. So the virgins who had gone to meet him now are sleeping. But just when he is least looked for, when the best calculators are saying, “The six thousand years were waited for, and, look, they are already gone by. So how then shall we know when he will come?”—he comes at midnight. So what is “midnight”? It means when you are least aware. SERMON 93.7.” [Simonetti, M. (2002). Matthew 14-28. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 1b. (217–218). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.]


“The belief that the human race would become extinct in six thousand years was widespread among the early Christians, since a millennium was made to correspond with each of the six days of creation, to which was added a seventh millennium as the eschatological day of rest. Augustine rejects these chronological computations and warns his listeners not to base their hopes and expectations on them.” [Simonetti, M. (2002). Matthew 14-28. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 1b. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.]



He—regardless of his eventual view on the City of God and allegorical interpretation of the Eschaton—holds to the biblically-centric teachings of Jesus on the ‘unpredictability’ of the Eschaton—as taught by the Jesus of the Synoptics (see below).




Well, if Jesus did not teach this, then why did it show up in Christian theological history??


To me, it seems like there are two basic reasons for why (some of) the Church adopted/expanded this Jewish construct:


(1) Jesus never gave an eschatological timetable--and the Church ‘filled in the gap’; and


(2) Jesus referred to the eschatological woes and opposition (mentioning Daniel) before His Return—and the Church placed them within the world-week framework.




On the first point—that Jesus never gave a precise time schedule—I have been arguing this throughout the series, and have pointed out that it is NATURE of apocalyptic discourse to be ‘vague’ in its timing predictions (see the Intermission Reality Check for more discussion on this). By way of reminder:


Precise prediction of years of the eschatological drama was not completely absent from Jewish and Christian speculation in antiquity, but in comparison with medieval and modern chiliasm it was evidently extremely rare. From the Middle Ages until today the search for dates is one of the most typical occupations of eschatological movements.” [Flusser, D. (1988). Judaism and the origins of Christianity (231). Jerusalem: The Magnes Press.]



The fact that there was no precision given by Jesus can be seen clearly (I would think) from the fact that there are indications of BOTH imminence AND ‘prerequisites’ given by Him in the Synoptics. These are sometimes called ‘tensions’ by the scholars, but it is no different than many of the other ‘tensions’ that exist within mature systematic theology.


[This is, btw, why there is no intrinsic contradiction between holding to a world-week and to imminence, as the Fathers seemed to do…]


Just to remind ourselves of this belabored point, let’s note this again from Mark, Matthew, and Luke—that the ‘tensions’ are part-and-parcel of the ‘unpredictability’ as taught explicitly by Jesus. Most of the authors below will accept a late dating view of the Synoptics, so ‘delay’ will be part of their interpretive grid already:




Mark integrates the expectation of the parousia into an eschatological schedule (see below, §8.2.8), thus holding fast both to the assurance of the imminent advent of the Son of Man and the indefiniteness of the exact time (Mark 13:24–27). He connects the eschatological expectation to the historical event of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:2ff.) while at the same time disconnecting it from a particular historical schedule, because only God knows the date when the Coming One will appear (cf. Mark 13:27). Mark exemplifies a view that is aware of the delay of the parousia but does not necessarily lead to a de-eschatologized understanding of the faith. In Mark this awareness leads to an even more intensive expectation (cf. Mark 13:14, 17, 18, 30, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place”), combined with a clear awareness of delay (cf. Mark 13:10, “And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations,” 21, 33–36). The intensification of the imminent expectation generated the possibility of rethinking the prolongation of the expected time and of strengthening the awareness of the community’s election (cf. Mark 13:20). In other words, in Mark’s time around 70 CE, imminent expectation and awareness of the delay of the parousia were not alternatives between which the community had to choose.” [Schnelle, U. (2009). Theology of the New Testament (M. E. Boring, Trans.) (368). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]





Running through the prophecies of eschatological or quasi-eschatological events in the Gospel of Matthew are strands of imminence and delay. One of the greatest challenges for the interpreter is to bring these diverse strands together, and that is also the particular challenge of the present discourse.

“In regard to the length of time itself, several of the imminence sayings in Matthew fit the fall of Jerusalem particularly well. Thus the references to “this generation” not passing before some predicted event takes place (23:36; 24:34) and also the reference to “some standing here who will …” (16:28) make especially good sense if they refer to the approximately forty years between the time of Jesus and the fall of Jerusalem. Possibly also 10:23 is to be understood in the same way.

References to the parousia and the accompanying final judgment, on the other hand, contain a consistent note of delay. We may point, for example, to 24:6, 8 but particularly to the parables of chaps. 24 and 25 (see esp. 24:48: “my master is delayed”; 25:5: “the bridegroom was delayed”; and 25:19: “after a long time”). In agreement with this motif of delay are such things as the choosing of the twelve (4:19), the building of the church (16:18–19; 18:18), the need to proclaim the gospel to the nations (24:14; 28:19), and Jesus’ promise to be with his people to the end of the age (28:20). These verses presuppose an interim period of unspecified length between the death of Jesus and the parousia, although the evangelist may well have believed that the period of forty years satisfied the various requirements, including the preaching of the gospel to the nations (cf. Paul’s view in Rom 10:18). He also may have regarded the interim as sufficiently long to account for the delay passages.

Two key facts provide the basis for understanding these complex data. The first of these is the statement of Jesus in 24:32 (= Mark 13:32) that “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”—a statement that the early church can hardly have created. This overt statement concerning Jesus’ own ignorance of the time of the parousia makes it virtually impossible that he ever himself spoke of the imminence of that event. The second key fact is that the disciples were unable to conceive of the fall of Jerusalem apart from the occurrence of the parousia and the end of the age (as the question of 24:3 indicates). In light of these two facts, the following conclusion becomes plausible. Although Jesus taught the imminent fall of Jerusalem, he did not teach the imminence of the parousia, leaving the latter to the undetermined future (cf. the sayings about the impossibility of knowing the time of the parousia and about the consequent need for being constantly ready: e.g., 24:42, 44, 50; 25:13). The disciples, however, upon hearing the prophecy of the destruction of the temple, thought immediately of the parousia and the end of the age. Knowing that Jesus had taught the imminence of the fall of the temple, they naturally assumed the imminence of the parousia. In their minds, the two were inseparable. Consequently, the imminence that was a part of the destruction of the temple prophecy now became attached to the parousia itself, and they began to speak of both as imminent.” [Hagner, D. A. (1998). Vol. 33B: Matthew 14–28. Word Biblical Commentary (711). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]





“Since Conzelmann, much of scholarship has taken it as a given that Luke is writing to respond to the “delay of the parousia.” Thus, he writes in the 80s or 90s, at a time when the imminent expectation of the end has died down and Christians are coming to terms with a longer “salvation history.” Marshall critiques this position. First, the evidence suggests that the focus of the earliest church’s life was the death and resurrection of Jesus rather than his parousia. Second, the evidence is that Paul was aware of a “waiting” period before the end (e.g., 1 Thess. 1:10; 4:13–5:11, from an acknowledged early letter), and thus the issue of the “delay” should not be located with Luke alone—there was recognition of it earlier and elsewhere. Third, considerable continuity exists between the theology of the Spirit and of mission in Paul and Luke—Acts, and thus Luke’s concerns are not new in his later period in response to a “delay.” Indeed, to speak of “delay” is to suggest that the coming of Christ is “late,” whereas the major emphasis of Luke, in common with other NT authors, is that the timing of the parousia is unpredictable (e.g., Acts 1:7).” [McKnight, S., & Osborne, G. R. (2004). The face of New Testament studies: A survey of recent research (245). Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic.]


“Though one must not underplay any of the above, none of this should be taken to mean that Luke has some sort of consistent realized eschatology that totally dismisses, ignores, or neglects future eschatology. Both in the Gospel and in Acts we hear about the Son of Man’s future coming (Luke 21:27; indeed, he will come as he went Acts 1:11), and occasionally there is a note about vindication of the saints εν ταθει (Luke 18:7–8). What one can say is that the emphasis in Luke-Acts lies on what has already and is now happening, what has already been fulfilled and is now being fulfilled. As Fitzmyer suggests, the shift is from focusing primarily on the eschaton to emphasizing what has happened and is happening “today” (cf. the use of σημερον in Luke 4:21; 5:26; 19:5, 9; 23:43, or of καθʼ ημεραν [“daily”] in Luke 9:23; 11:3; 16:19; 19:47). Part of this emphasis on the past and present is only what we would expect since Luke intends to present a two-volume work of historiography, not primarily a collection of prophecies about the future. --- knowing matters of timing about the future (“times and seasons” when the concluding eschatological events affecting Israel and others will happen, cf. Acts 1:7) is not [important]. Matters of timing are in God’s hands and plans, but they are not for the disciples to know. In short, Luke rules out speculation, or eschatological forecasting of such matters. This means, I think, that J. T. Carroll is right to say that the “baseline, as Luke sees it, is the unpredictability of the parousia. No one knows—or can know—the timing of the End. Chronology remains a matter of the freedom and prerogative of God.… Yet ignorance of the ‘then’ is countered by certainty of the ‘that.’ ” But if we accept this conclusion, then it is improper to speak about Luke believing in a “delay” of the parousia, for the concept of delay implies that the event is late, that it did not occur at the expected and predicted time. Agnosticism about timing means one cannot speak in such terms.---  In any event, while Luke does not neglect future eschatology, his emphasis lies quite naturally on what has already and is now happening that amounts to fulfillment, climax, conclusion of God’s plans and dealings with Jews and others. This is only to be expected from a historian.” [Witherington, B., III. (1998). The Acts of the Apostles: A socio-rhetorical commentary (185–186). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]



So, given this ‘gap’ (and given the Jewish milieu in which and from which Jesus taught and ministered), it is certainly reasonable to believe that the Church ‘filled in the eschatological narrative gap’ with a pre-existing Jewish timetable. The NT apocrypha is evidence enough that the Church was interested in ‘filling in gaps’ left in the NT writings.


And, given the fact that ‘tensions’ could exist within those differing timetables, any dissonance would not necessarily be seen as a show-stopper.



On the second point—that Jesus referred to the eschatological woes and opposition (mentioning Daniel)—we can note that the Church placed these within the last period of the present age, just as Jewish apocalyptic had done. When the ‘present age’ was mapped into the ‘world week’, the persecutions and experiences of the early church were seen as indications of the imminence of the Eschaton.


For the church, this was largely about the development of the theme of the antichrist, described in the NT as the main eschatological opponent of God, and how it was understood in post-Exilic Judaism.


But early Jewish eschatology also included belief in eschatological opposition and turmoil in the ‘end of days’:


Characteristics of Early Jewish Eschatology. During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, many inhabitants of Judea and Galilee experienced feelings of anxiety and frustration under the rulers whom they judged to be illegitimate, imperialist, and oppressive. One of the aspects of Jewish resistance to these rulers was the burgeoning of eschatological and apocalyptic hope. From the images inherited from prophets, wisdom, and other traditional lore, the Jewish theologians of the Second Temple period derived a wide spectrum of symbols and ideas that would subsequently become shared by both Judaism and Christianity. Among them are: 1) the subdivision of history into a sequence of different periods; 2) the turmoil of the “end of days”; 3) the coming of an eschatological prophet; 4) the advent of the Messiah, a charismatic leader sent by God to usher in the end times; 5) the return of the lost tribes to the land of Israel; 6) the waging of a HOLY WAR against the hostile nations; 7) the descent on earth of the heavenly Jerusalem and its holy Temple; 8) the final triumph of the God of Israel, who will reign over the pacified and renewed “world-to-come”; 9) the resurrection of the righteous; and 10) the JUDGMENT of sinners. These eschatological ideas led people to found sectarian communities that attempted to live in preparation for the end times (as the Community of the Renewed Covenant at QUMRAN) or who organized groups that fought for freedom (as did the Sicarii, the ZEALOTs, and Bar Kochba’s partisans). [NIDB, s.v. “Eschatology in Early Judaism”, Pierluigi Piovanelli]



The appearance of eschatological opposition as a subset of ‘distress’ (often concentrated in one person, nation, or force) is prevalent in Jewish apocalyptic, and can be seen in early forms in the Hebrew scripture [DDD, s.v. “antichrist”].


“Neither the word antichristos nor a Hebrew or other equivalent is used in any of the versions of the OT or in extra-biblical literature of the period. But although the word is not used before the Epistles of John, the concept of eschatological opposition reaching its climax in the appearance and activity of a single person is already found in some OT passages: Ezek 38–39 mentions Gog of Magog as Israel’s final enemy (cf. Rev 20:8); Dan 7–8, 11 describes the appearance of an evil tyrant who will act as the final enemy of God and Israel. The tradition of an evil tyrant as the climax of eschatological evil should be understood as a specification of the tradition of the eschatological enmity of the pagan peoples and Israel (cf. Isa 5:25–30; 8:18–20; 10:5–7; 37:16–20; Nah 3:1–7; Joel 4; Zech 14). This expectation of eschatological hostility between Israel and the peoples is also expressed in extra-biblical sources. Sometimes the hostility is thought to reach a climax in the rise of an eschatological tyrant ( 1 En.90:9–16; Ass. Mos. 8; 2 Apoc. Bar. 36–40; 70; 4 Ezra 5:1–13; 12:29–33; 13:25–38). Among the various passages of the Qumran literature containing forms of eschatological dualism, the account of Melchizedek and Melchiresha in 4Q280-282 and 4QAmram takes a special place as an analogy: as in the case of Christ and antichrist the typology of agent (= prototype) and opponent (= antitype) appears to have been constitutive.


“There are a number of passages in the NT that predict or record the appearance of eschatological opponents without using the word antichristos. In Mark 13:22 false Christs (pseudoChristoi) and false prophets (pseudoprophētai) are described as appearing before the end (cf. v 6). They will deceive people by doing signs and wonders (cf. Matt 7:15; 24:11, 23–24). … In 2 Thess 2:3–12 the coming of the ‘Lawless One’ is described as preceding the parousia of Christ. This Lawless One will act haughtily, and proclaim himself as a god. He will act with the power of Satan, and deceive people by doing signs and wonders. Ultimately, he will be vanquished by Christ (v 8). Although the word antichristos is not used, the Lawless One is often regarded as the earliest description of antichrist. This interpretation is attested at least since Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. III:8.7). Still it should be noted that the Lawless One is rather a future, eschatological ‘anti-God’ than an antichrist (v 4). --- In Revelation there are a number of eschatological opponents. The most prominent of these are the Dragon and the two Beasts mentioned in chaps. 12–13; 16:13; 20:10. The Dragon is presented as “the Old Serpent”, “Satan” (20:2). The second Beast, the Beast from the Land (13:11–18), is identified as “the false prophet” (16:13; 20:10). The first Beast is only spoken of as “the Beast” (to thērion), and is also described without the Dragon and the second Beast (11:7; chap. 17).” [Peerbolte, L. J. L. (1999). antichrist. In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible (K. van der Toorn, B. Becking & P. W. van der Horst, Ed.) (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (62–63). Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans.]


It was easy to connect this opposition to the figure in Daniel (even though Jesus did not make this connection in His teachings—His remark was about the ‘abomination’), and the early church did so:


“Some early interpreters take the position that the antichrist will be a person, a world deceiver who will reign for the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan 7:25). The Epistle of Barnabas (A.D. 70–100?) warns believers to be alert to the imminent appearing of “the final stumbling-block,” who is identified with the “little horn” of Daniel 7:24 (4.3–6, 9–10, ANF 1:138–39). The Didache (early second century?) refers to a “world deceiver [who] will appear in the guise of God’s Son. He will work ‘signs and wonders’ and the earth will fall into his hands and he will commit outrages such as have never occurred before” (16.4, in Cyril C. Richardson, ed., Library of Christian Classics, vol. 1, Early Christian Fathers, [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953], p. 178). Justin Martyr (d.165) likewise looked for the appearance in his lifetime of the antichrist prophesied by Daniel, who would reign for three and one-half years according to Daniel 7:25 (Dialogue 32; ANF, 1:210).” [Johnson, A. F. (1981). Revelation. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (521). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. At 13.8]



Although this connection (with the figure in Daniel) might have seemed obvious, the connection between the eschatological conflict/woes and a ‘day of thousand years’ is not so obvious.


And I am not sure the leap was actually made by the church. They placed the eschatological opposition in the ‘end of days’—as did the Jewish writers—but I cannot find any passages which explicitly place them into a specific timeslot within a specific day.


The Judaic context of the synoptic pronouncements match up pretty well with Jesus’ words of the “Synoptic Apocalypse” in Mark 13, so we can see the basic continuity (minus the ‘world week’ theme) between the teachings of Jesus and His environment [NT:CHGM,pp397-431 gives all the extra-biblical source material for Mark 13]:


“Although Apocryphal Lamentation A (from Qumran) is a memory and mourning of the Babylonian destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and exile of many Judeans, there is a functional parallel to Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of the Temple… [NT:CHGM, 404]


“Zechariah 14:1-15 and Bavli tractate Shabbat 118a demonstrate the continuity of expectations of travail prior to eschatological restoration, while continuing expectation of a messiah ben David is indicated by Bavli tractate Sanhedrin 96b-97a… In this section of Mark, Jesus warned his followers against deceptions that would come, but not to mistake them for the signs that, properly interpreted, would allow them to determine the correct time to flee (Mark 13:14). The phrase translated variously as ‘end of days’, ‘last days’ or ‘latter days’ (Hebrew, aharit ha-yamim) occurs over thirty times in the Dead Sea Scrolls; a third of these occurrences are found in Florilegium, sometimes considered a part of an ‘eschatological midrash.’ It may be that the community in its use of the phrase ‘end of days’ described two distinct phases, the time of testing and the coming of the Messiahs. The Qumran sect regarded the rule of the gentiles (Greeks and Romans) to be an intermediate period of testing, in which the forces of Belial were allowed to reign… The sectarians understood the signs and portents as eventually coming to fruition in the events of their own days. Thus, the expected future victory was imminent.” [NT:CHGM, 408f]


“Though many details of the Jesus’ movement’s eschatological outlook differ greatly from that of the Qumran sect, their outlooks share a basic structure of eschatological expectations. The present time was seen as an age of the dominion of God’s enemies and the nations. Both groups expected persecution until the dominion of God was accomplished; both groups encouraged their members in the face of such persecution.” [NT:CHGM, 412]


“Reference to ‘the abomination of desolation’ cites Daniel 11:31; 12:11 and perhaps 1 Maccabees 1:54, while the qualitative assessment of the travail echoes Daniel 12:1…. According to many biblical prophets, ‘day of the Lord’ begins with great destruction. The siege practices of ancient armies likely inform the basic theme of Jesus’ prophecy regarding Jerusalem, and also the concerns of the Qumran sect: the threat of foreign invaders.” [NT:CHGM, 419]


“Targum Isaiah 24:23 links cosmic dissolution to divine judgment and the appearance of God’s kingdom, and the wording that refers to this dissolution echoes Deuteronomy 30:4; Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:10; 3:15. Daniel 7:13-14 provides the specific eschatological figure. Bavli tractate Sanhedrin 91b shows how the Isaian imagery was reconciled with the promise involved in divine judgment.” [NT:CHGM, 424]


“From biblical-like texts, which allude to the miracles of the Exodus (Sapiential Work 12i:13-15), to zodiacal texts that interpret natural and astrological phenomena as omens for purposes of divination (Zodiology  and Brontology VIII:6-9), the corpus of sectarian manuscript from Qumran evidences vibrant and diverse understandings and interpretations of signs and portents. However, ultimately, only God has exact knowledge of the exact details of divine plans (Community Rule Serekh ha-Yahad IX:18-20). Nonetheless, the sectarians, like Jesus’ disciples, were encouraged to remain alert and diligently look for the fulfillment of the signs (Pesher Isaiah(b) ii:1-9; Words of the Maskil 3-4ii:3-10; Mysteries(b) 1a ii-b:1-4; Instruction(c) 1i:1-8, 2i:10-13)” [NT:CHGM, 431]


But, apart from a fragment of the passage from Jubilees on the lifespan of Adam (4.29; at Qumran 11Q12 Frag. 5), the Qumran sectarians do not refer to the world-week and do not cite Psalm 90.4 at any point in the extant literature. Psalm 90 is even missing from the biblical scrolls at the site. The eschatological themes of the Synoptics and early church seem to match up with the Quman and other extra-biblical sources—apart from the relative frequency of references to the ‘world week’.


[I should also point out one obvious fact: if the writer did not know when the 6,000 year period actually started, then he/she couldn't know if the 'end point' was past, near, or way off in the future.  So Hippolytus of Rome (170-235)--arguing from Daniel and from allegorical interpretation of 'cubit' in the Hebrew Bible(!)-- was sure that it was NOT over by around 300 years, but 180 years later Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was sure that it had been over by a long ... Neither of these men were historians... So, somebody could easily hold to the time frame--theoretically--without having any confidence in the precision of when the 'end' was supposed to fall.]

What can we make of this world-week construct?


·         First, the world-week construct shows up in the shared substrate of Jewish and Christian worldviews.

·         Second, it does not seem to be dominant in either worldview except as an explanatory device, hermeneutical tool, or ‘horizon framework’.    

·         Third, it does not seem to dictate any eschatological predictions of a precise nature (these were all done, rather, by reference to Daniel and from allegorical/numerological 'interpretations')

·         Fourth, it does not seem to negate imminence, in either Jewish or Christian thought (until after Constantine, at least).

·         Fifth, it is not pervasive in all the Christian writers.

·         Sixth, it does not seem to crowd-out any Jesus-based themes (ie, all the topics He DID teach about are discussed along with world-week, without any apparent need to re-interpret anything).

·         Seventh, it is not taught in the Hebrew bible or New Testament—especially not by Jesus.




So, I have to conclude that a belief in the world-week construct does NOT require a denial or rejection of imminence by someone holding to that belief. But also that it is not a biblical-based belief that should be accepted or assumed as theologically valid or prescriptive.


Hope this helps—little glenn

Back to main series ; Back to section on early Patristics ]

[ .... worldweek.html ........  ]
The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)