Thursday, October 27, 2011

Matthew 24 (Olivet Discourse) 2- or 3-Question View Critique

The interpretation of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (vv.1-35, in particular; see parallel account in Mark 13 and Luke 21) has been intensely debated by Bible expositors for hundreds of years. The passage is referred to as the Olivet Discourse, because Jesus Christ spoke these words on the Mount of Olives, hence the "Olivet" part. A discourse, of course, is simply a teaching, conversation, or communication of some thought or idea. So this is the conversation (discourse) that Christ had with His disciples while they were on the Mount of Olives -- the Olivet Discourse.

This current article is not intended to address the interpretation of this passage in its totality. Instead, this article specifically addresses the erroneous views that verse 3 of this passage contains not one question, which includes qualifiers or descriptors, but instead contains either two or three separate questions.

First, let's see what verse 3 actually says (all quotations taken from the NASB):

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

For example, some interpreters hold to a 2-question view that asserts that the two questions are (1) when will the temple be destroyed, and (2) what are the signs of your coming (and they say this "coming" references the Second Coming of Christ, or His Consummation Coming). Conversely, other interpreters see three distinct questions and hold to a 3-question view. In this view, these three questions are fairly obvious to determine, (1) when will these things happen (referring to the destruction of the temple that Christ prophesies in verse 2), (2) what will be the sign of Your coming, and (3) when will be the end of the age.

Now that the stage has been set, let's get into why neither multiple-question view is tenable.

Whether one believes verse 3 has two or three questions in it, the interpreter falls into grave problems with the text. The only tenable view is that it is one question with qualifiers.

First, we have verse 6, which ends with, "...but that is not yet the end." This is clearly addressing final qualification of verse 3 that speaks of "the end of the age."

Second, verse 9 begins with the word "Then," which indicates that those things just spoken of that are just the "birth pangs" that lead up to the end precede what Christ is going to say will happen next. Connecting what comes after that "Then" with "the end" spoken of in verses 3 and 6, He then says, "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." Then again connecting His following words to "the end" again, verse 14 states, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." There is no break in thought anywhere up to this point.

Third, He then makes a transition into a point of application in verse 15, where He begins by saying "Therefore." The verses following this statement, up through verse 28, are practical warnings to his listeners so they know what to do to avoid the coming destruction of Jerusalem. We must make a very careful notation of verse 25 as well, "Behold, I have told you in advance." If Christ was telling them of some distant event that would be completely irrelevant to them (because they would be long dead), then why make such a statement? If the answer is, "Well, He was warning them to warn their progeny," then deal with the very next sentence: "So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them." If the warning was to future generations, then this should have been, "So if they say to your descendants...." There is absolutely no indication in the text that this warning was not directly for them, but for some future generation. Making such an interpretation is blatantly disregarding what the text itself actually states.

Fourth, given the continuity of the text thus far, we now come to verse 27, which states, "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." Now they have an enormous problem. Now we have the "coming of the Son of Man," that is, the "Your coming" of verse 3, intertwined or equated to the "the end of the age" in verse 3. This is proof that those two things are not two distinct questions, but are two ways of expressing the same question -- they're qualifiers or descriptors. Note that the most important point, thus far, is that literally nowhere just Christ appear to address independently of these two statements (these two statements being "Your coming" and "the end of the age") the supposed separate question of "when will these things happen." From verse 6 through verse 27 -- this whole section -- we have Christ specifically addressing "the end" and the "coming of the Son of Man."

Fifth, we now come to the infamous verse 29, which begins by stating, "But immediately after the tribulation of those days...." Note that in verse 9 we are told, "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name." Verse 29 is clearly referring to this tribulation that Christ mentioned in verse 9. Context demands such an interpretation. The "immediately after" becomes meaningless if "immediately" takes on a sometime-2,000-years-or-more-in-the-future meaning. Therefore, we now know that verse 29 is in the same context as everything that proceeds it.

Sixth, verse 30 continues the progression of thought by beginning with, "And then...." There is no disconnection; no new thought.

Seventh, verse 33 implores His hearers, stating, "so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door." The thought process is nowhere disconnected up to this point (as is shown above). Instead, this is a continuation of Christ's answer to the single question in verse 3.

Eighth, and finally, the crux of the whole issue comes into play with verse 34, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." He is still speaking to His disciples that asked Him the question in verse 3, and He says that "this" generation -- the current one -- will not pass away until "all" these things take place. He didn't say "some," He said "all."

If this passage is addressing two separate questions, the first being "the destruction of the Temple" and the second being "the signs of your coming," then when exactly did Christ even address the first question? Every single statement He makes either refers to "the end" or to the "coming of the Son of Man." Period.

Both the "2-question" and "3-question" views are untenable, because they make arbitrary breaks within the text, they make certain words meaningless, and they fail to grasp the fact that Christ strings together the whole discourse in ways that completely contradict such interpretations. These views can only be reached by inserting one's views into the text (eisegesis) instead of simply extracting from the text what it clearly states (exegesis).

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Part 4: The Myth of Moral Subjectivsm

Please see parts 1-3 before reading this

[This may be my final response to several posts between another commentator named "Jeff Dixon" on this article.]

You stated in a post above, “No, the creatures do not judge the creator. People judge the concept of a god that other people developed.” I replied by saying that we have FINALLY hit the nerve of the issue. I’m dealing with it here, because we ran out of room above.

I will first state my case. I assert that without the Christian God, Jesus Christ (Who is YHWH), the conditions required to build a foundation upon which to build the intelligibility of human experience are removed. Hence, the very foundation of all logic, reason, meaning, hope, morality, and truth vanishes. All are fully dependent upon the existence of YHWH, who created all of them.

Before I get to the main thrust of the issue, let’s review two important points that have been made. First, you admitted in a previous comment that in order to be consistent with the worldview you profess – namely, atheism – you cannot say, without exception, that you can be certain that it is always absolutely immoral to molest a 5-year-old child [cf. “It is an interesting question. And one I cannot give a definite answer to. On the surface it would seem that there should be no reason to ever moleste [sic] a 5 year old child. But, since I do not have all the knowledge in the universe, it is impossible for me to say that there could not be a reason that currently I am unaware of.”]. Second, in another comment you state, “If in a billion years, people cease to exist, I guess you could say it was meaningless,” in reference to my previous point that atheism reduces life to meaninglessness.

To the first point, which illustrates your worldview’s stance that objective moral values do not exist, it must be realized that this same stance of moral relativity applies to every single instance where a moral judgment may be made. Whether the dilemma at hand is that of child molestation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, war, genocide, corporal punishment, capital punishment, or any other experiential instance of mankind where a moral judgment is given, your worldview has no basis upon which to take an absolute stand. You can state your subjective feelings about such experiences, you can state society’s subjective feelings about them, but neither you nor society can condemn them outright without violating your own worldview. If you do claim that you can make an absolute condemnation, you fall into a conflict with the law of non-contradiction (assuming you do not recant your previously stated position on this topic).

To the second point, you have admitted that your worldview (atheism) cannot account for ultimate meaning. Instead, the only “meaning” that exists is a temporal, finite meaning that will ultimately be meaningless. Hence, your worldview, when taken to its logical conclusion, asserts that all human experience is ultimately meaningless (yes, I know it may – or may not – be temporally and temporarily meaningful to you, in a subjective sense, but it is ultimately meaningless).

Thus far, you have reduced morality to the subjective feelings of society, which are meted out in a manner that is dependent upon the current mores in a particular time period. They are fluid, ever changing, and can be self-contradictory from one time period to another (i.e., our morals today may contradict our morals of 200 years ago, etc.). You have also admitted that there is no ultimate meaning in life; that it is only temporally and subjectively relevant, but in the end it all comes to naught.

Given these things alone, already you have been reduced to absurdity in your thinking, and you are already proving the existence of YHWH without even realizing it. The evidence for this conclusion is that you do not live in a way that is consistent with your worldview. Your worldview, ultimately, leads to abject skepticism, wherein not only are objective morality and ultimate meaning lost, but so too is their kinsman, truth. You cannot determine whether something is or is not objectively (i.e., absolutely) moral, because you assert that morals are subjective. The underlying presupposition here is that you also cannot know whether something is absolutely true or not as well.

How can I make come to such a conclusion? Just as the reason why you cannot know whether something is absolutely moral or not is because “I do not have all the knowledge in the universe,” you also cannot know whether something is absolutely true or not, because you “do not have all the knowledge in the universe.” Something may be true as far as you currently know, but you could learn something different tomorrow to prove that your version of “truth” as you see it today is false. So now in addition to loosing objective reality and ultimate meaning, you also must give up absolute truth.

At this point, whether you like it or not, you have lost the argument – if indeed there has even TRULY been an argument at all (you could always learn that this whole experience has been a hallucination that was induced by a medical procedure, and it was all a figment of your imagination). Without absolute truth, you now have no foundation for the laws of logic upon which you rely to make the very arguments you make. Without absolute truth, you have no foundation upon which to use reason by which you apply those laws of logic. Your worldview, when taken to its logical conclusion, is abjectly absurd, is self-contradictory, and is impossible to live out in a manner that is consistent with it.

You may say, “Aha! But I DO use logic and I DO use reason!” Yes, you do! And this is the proof that far from living in accordance with the atheistic worldview that you profess, you actually live in accordance with the Christian worldview that you deny. What you are doing is akin to a child who hates broccoli and concludes, therefore, “Broccoli doesn’t exist!” Once again, just as you correctly pointed out in an earlier comment that my subjective feeling of astonishment was irrelevant to the issue at hand (which, again, I never asserted it to be relevant – it was just a statement of fact), your hatred of YHWH is irrelevant to the question of whether He exists or not. You cannot simply wish YHWH away, because you don’t like Him.

YHWH either exists or He doesn’t. If He doesn’t, and your worldview is true, then you cannot even logically know that (your worldview precludes all truth, logic, and reasoning). Admittedly, I have not built the specific positive case for my assertion that YHWH exists. If needed, I can do that in another post or series of them. However, atheism’s absurdity is laid bare on the table before us. You can continue to hold to such a foolish, self-contradictory, and illogical worldview if you subjectively like it more than the Christian worldview. I prefer to choose objective morality, logic, reason, meaning, hope, truth, and most of all, Jesus Christ – the foundation of them all – over such meaningless drivel.

Soli Deo Gloria!