Saturday, May 13, 2006

On Apocalyptic Language


Israel's theological asperations ... had an inescapably historical and political referent. If someone had offered a first-century Palestinian Jew the consolation of pie in the sky, it would have been refused, no matter how kosher the pie. One of the great myths of twentieth-century scholarship is that most first-century Jews expected the space-time universe to end immediately. They did not: they expected their God to act dramatically within history, with effects that they could only describe with metaphorical end-of-the-world language. We might describe the fall of the Berlin Wall as an 'earth shattering event'; 2,000 years hense no doubt, some pedantic literalist will argue, in the Martian Journal of Early European Studies, that the wall fell because of a large earthquake, and we will all turn in our graves at the misreading of our everyday metaphors.

N.T. Wright, "The New Testament and the State," in Themelios 16.1 (1990): 11-17.

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1 comment:

Steven Carr said...

I'm sure most Jews did not expect the world to end soon.

But how relevant is that?

Almost nobody expected a spaceship to be on the Halley-Bopp comet and for it to rescue people on earth. Does that mean that the Heaven's Gate cult did not believe in this spaceship, because nobody else expected it?

2 Peter 3 says

4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

If the author of 2 Peter thought that the death of Jesus marked the end of an age, why didn't he denounce the people who claimed 'everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation'.?

The author doesn't argue that those people were wrong.

Instead, the author claims that things will change a long time in the future.

Didn't the author know that the death of Jesus marked a radical change in how things had gone on since the beginning of creation?

Hadn't he read his Wright?

Hebrews 1 says the following :-
10He also says,
"In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.

This is a paraphrase of Psalm 102 , which says
'26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.'

Isn't it very obvious that the writers of the NT expected the world to end? The old world would be literally destroyed and a new world created.

Just like we change clothes by getting rid of the old ones and destroying them, and then getting brand new clothes.

The writer of Hebrews uses a very clear metaphor - one that even I can understand.

Just as I can understand why somebody would call the fall of the Berlin wall an 'earth shattering event'. It redrew the map of Europe just like an earthquake would.

1 Thessalonians 4 says

16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Didn't Paul expect that not all his hearers would die? (Are there echoes here of the Jehovah's Witnesses book 'Millions now living will never die.'?)

How steeped in Jewish thought were the readers of Paul's letters to the Thessalonians?