From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 15                    Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Torah Commentary on First

 Corinthians 15:

 

Interpreting the Text in Light of

Its Old Testament Roots—

With Special Emphasis on

Full Preterism and Covenant Eschatology

 

by

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

Richmond, Virginia

 

© 2012

 

 

 

Reproduction of this book for non-profit circulation by any electronic or print media means is hereby freely granted at no cost—provided the text is not altered in any manner. 

 

If accompanied by additional, supplemental material—in agreement or disagreement—it must be clearly and visibly distinguishable from the original text.

 

 

 

All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®.  Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .           1

 

Part I:  Theme Development

 

 

Chapter 1:  Development of Chapter Themes  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .         15  

 

 

Part II:  Old Testament Precedents

 

 

Chapter 2:  Explicit Quotations:  Psalms 110:1   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .         51

 

Chapter 3:  Explicit Quotations:  Psalms 8:6   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .        64

 

Chapter 4:  Explicit Quotations:  Isaiah 22:13; Genesis 2  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .        70   

 

Chapter 5:  Explicit Quotations:  Isaiah 25:8 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .         75

 

Chapter 6:  Explicit Quotations:  Hosea 13:14 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     100

 

Chapter 7:  Old Testament Allusions  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     117

 

 

Part III:  Questions, Controversies, and

Problem Texts in Chapter 15

 

 

Chapter 8:   Problem Texts and Interpretive Issues  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     125

15:6:  The appearance to “five hundred” at one time:  the

incident not mentioned in the gospels.  

                        15:8:  The seeming inappropriateness of Jesus appearing

to Paul. 

                        15:8:  Was Jesus’ appearance to Paul a vision?   

                        15:24, 25, 28:  The return of the Kingdom to God and

Christ being “subject” to the Father again.

15:29:  Baptism for the dead.                                   

                        15:32:  In what sense and manner did Paul fight “with

beasts at Ephesus”?

                        15:33:  The corrupting power of having the wrong friends. 

 

 

Chapter 9:  Controversies over Jesus’ Personal Resurrection . . . . . . . . . . .      155 

                        15:4:  What was the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body? 

15:4:  How ancient heretical movements used Biblical

            language  to prove that Jesus was not physically

resurrected.                             

                        15:4:  Biblical “Proofs” that Jesus’ Resurrection was

Non-Physical and Non-Tangible.                                                     

                        15:4:  Full Preterist/Covenant Eschatologists attempts to

preserve the physical resurrection of Jesus. 

 

 

Chapter 10:  Pauline Resurrection Teaching to Gentile Philosophers

and Rulers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .        184

            15:12:  The Pauline resurrection doctrine outside

1 Corinthians:  Acts 17 and the Athenian philosophers.                 

15:12:  The Pauline resurrection doctrine outside 1 Corinthians:

Acts 24 and the Roman officialdom.            

15:12:  Additional resurrection related positions as seen from

the Full Preterist standpoint.

 

 

Chapter 11:  Socio-Religious Context of Corinthian Doubts about

Individual Resurrection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .         215

            15:12:  The Corinthian disinclination to believe in the

possibility of a physical, bodily resurrection:  The

Gentile context—Biblical evidence.   

15:12:  The Corinthian disinclination to believe in the

possibility of a physical, bodily resurrection:  The Jewish context—Biblical evidence.   

                        15:12:  The Corinthian disinclination to believe in the possibility

of a bodily resurrection:  The Jewish context—Their

non-Biblical writings, interpretation of Biblical evidence,

and rival views.                                                              

 

 

Chapter 12:  If Not a Personal, Physical Resurrection—What Then? . . . . .         249

                        15:12:  Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection from

within the pre-A.D. 70 Christian community: 

The pioneering work of Hymenaeus and Philetus.                          

15:12:  Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection from

later dissenters within the Christian community—

the post-Biblical age.  

                        15:12:  Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection in our

modern world:  Is it the collective body of the redeemed

that is “raised” and not the individual body?

 

 

Chapter 13:  Christian Historical Context:  What Was Believed by Those

Who Lived through A.D. 70 or Were Taught by That or the

Following Two Generations? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .       289

            15:12:  What those who lived through the 70 A.D. events or

were taught by those disciples and/or apostles had to

say:  Looking forward to a still future “Second

Coming” and “resurrection.”

                        15:12:  Other surviving Christian views through circa

mid-second century that are incompatible with

Full Preterism.

 

 

Bibliography (Chapter 15) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .       332

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Introduction

 

 

 

 

            Because of its unintended length, I deemed it best to present Chapter 15 as a separate volume in this series on First Corinthians.  Its anticipated finish date was at least six months ago.  The extended delay centered around the need to provide an adequate treatment of Full Preterism and Covenant Eschatology as it affected this chapter, in addition to the normal wide range of interpretive options all these volumes include. 

This volume in no way deals with all the arguments introduced in regard to this interpretive method.  The emphasis has been on that which fits most comfortable into the kind of approach the preceding volumes have taken--not to provide a handbook of everything wrong with their scenario, which would transform this volume from a commentary into what the book cataloguers used to label “doctrinal and controversial works.”  (And probably still do.)  In this case, an overlap between the two categories is inevitable.

(I have, literally, tens of thousands of words of additional material.  These materials will likely form the core of a supplemental volume at a later date.  They are not included here because I judged that there were practical limits even to a “long” work such as this one and that the inclusion of them would push the study beyond any responsible limit.  The materials include analyses of varied additional pro- and anti-70 A.D. arguments (centering on the resurrection and the interpretation of prophecy) plus a summary of 19th century Full Preterist thought, complete with illustrative quotations. 

Certain prophecies have been examined at length in the present work since careful analysis of these has been customary throughout these volumes.  Admittedly, in this chapter, the detail is even greater, though that includes more data about rival schemes of interpretation as well.  Under “Problem Texts” we have included consideration of a variety of key and interesting issues as we always do, including ones related to Full Preterist concerns.  Again, not an exhaustive presentation but a detailed one, just as we presented similar ones of other subjects in the preceding volumes.                        

To return to a point already alluded to but deserving greater discussion:  This fourth major revision of the commentary was substantially delayed in order to provide time to provide additional research on the interwoven topics of Full Preterism and Covenant Eschatology, a subject I had not touched in many years.  I provided the best coverage I could—within the inherent limits for this type of format and the difficulty I had finding the kind of data (pro and con) that would satisfy my research instincts.  Yet even then I did not feel fully satisfied and I found myself, time and again, doing yet additional research and making further additions to various sections as I did the final revisionary work.  Even going back and revising “completed” sections as I uncovered nuggets of information that would make things more understandable both for me and the reader.

As this implies, I simply had not figured out the right places to look—but my “mule headedness” ultimately paid off and I found what I regarded as an adequate development of both supportive and counter-arguments.  I readily admit I’m far better at synthesizing other people’s material, and even carrying it beyond what they have done, than doing the ground-breaking pioneering work myself.  I can do it, but its not my

[Page 2]   strongest talent. 

These limitations had to be overcome by application of “blood, sweat, and tears,” to invoke the words of a great British Prime Minister.  Those words also are a warning that words used one way by one generation may, long afterwards, quite fairly provide an  accurate and reliable description of something not originally under discussion.  Matthew 2:14-15 uses Hosea 11:19 in just such a manner. 

This is an important interpretive reality, as we examine the alleged “disjunction” between Isaiah 25:8’s and Hosea 13:14’s original context and Pauline usage in 1 Corinthians 15:  a statement, given by inspiration, about one situation, might well be applicable, by inspiration, to something far different and even more sweeping.  Or is there room in “inspiration” for it to lead one of the two speakers into blatant error? 

Must a New Testament inspired author apply an Old Testament author’s words in exactly the same manner or to exactly the same subject or become a false prophet in deviating from it?  I think not.  And if not, we have no right to impose upon our exegesis an interpretive straightjacket that would require such a limitation, when the NT context clearly is discussing something significantly different.   
            Having entered this field of intense controversy at all, it seemed morally compulsory to deal with it in a depth and with a passion found in few other places in these four volumes on First Corinthians.  There we deal with “old” and well established traditions of argument and counter-argument; here we deal with a doctrinal synthesis still evolving and not yet in its final development.

 All this effort grew out of the fact that a long time friend urged me to reconsider the subject of eschatology—he himself had rejected the approach he now defends.  We both did so, originally, after many months of study, but he had changed his understanding on the matter over subsequent years.  So I selected the area of the subject most relevant to my immediate writing plans—First Corinthians 15--and proceeded to analyze it. 

I simply had no desire to return to a subject I had once spent so much time on and rejected.  If it weren’t for the ties of friendship, I doubt I would ever have.    

On the other hand, the movement has clearly breached its original narrow borders of support and this disinclination may simply represent a bad “judgment call” on my part.  If support continues to grow . . . or is it the passion of a few, whose fervency leaves the impression of a far-broader basis of support than it actually has?  (Some have claimed that.)  But if that apparently growing base is what it appears to be, this much seems crystal clear:  any analysis claiming to be detailed will surely have to provide at least a passing treatment in the future.  More than that if it continues to grow in popularity as it has in the last twenty years.  

 

 

The Purpose of

Religious Controversy

 

Leslie J. Tizzard, in his analysis of love in 1 Corinthians 13, makes this highly relevant plea for responsible controversy.[1]

 

Many people dislike all controversy.  They are for peace at any price and are always afraid that an argument or discussion will degenerate into a quarrel.  [Page 3]   This sort of attitude leads to dishonest compromises and endless mental confusion.

Differences of opinion and the consequent clashes of mind with mind are good and necessary.  In controversy we clear our own minds by being forced to put our convictions into words, the weakness of our own arguments is exposed and new points of view are put before us.  Controversy is stimulating, and if our minds are lethargic and prone to fatty degeneration it causes them to take a little vigorous exercise.

It is barren and degrading only when it is not infused with the spirit of courtesy.  The aim of all controversy should be the discovery of truth.  If truth is to be revealed and not deliberately obscured, the participants must be ready to be convinced of error while contending strongly, but always fairly, for their own case.

So many enter a controversy resolved that nothing shall make them change their own minds, but determined that the other fellow shall either change his or be made to look a fool or a knave.  Many controversies are not conducted in the interests of truth but of an institution, party or sect. 

Any method is acceptable which will secure a knock-out or a win on points.  Browbeating, abuse, sarcasm, twisting the other man’s words, taking an unfair advantage of his ignorance—any weapon that lies to hand is used without compunction.  And, worst of all, there is the attempt to blacken his character. . . .

Lack of courtesy in controversy is mere childishness even when it occurs on the Front Bench of the House of Commons.  It brings down the most august assembly to the level of the playground where children, being incapable of objective judgment or sustained argument, are reduced to calling one another names. . . .  Most lamentable of all is such a lack of courtesy among Christians.

           

Although much of this book was written before coming across the above work, I had already attempted to manifest that mind frame in this study.  Time and again I found myself tempering my words by either “toning them down” or adding “ifs and buts” to attempt to dilute the degree of sting that some of the argumentation inevitably involved. 

I am but a human being and I have tried my best for restraint.  Yet whatever virtues Totally Fulfilled Eschatology has, in regard to the resurrection—of us, but especially in any impact it has upon that of Jesus--it faces the highest probability of not only disagreement but indignation and even rage. 

The other issues are, in many ways, academic and impersonal; but whether an actual physical resurrection was promised to you and I gets about as personal as you can.  As does anything that so readily can be used to compromise the similar resurrection of the Lord—upon whose own rising from the dead, the conviction of ours is ultimately based.  And among at least some Full Preterists it is not hard to detect what sounds like a “nibbling away at the edges” of that doctrine—as in trying to find a way to describe His resurrection body that reduces, minimizes, or eliminates that physical element.  (These matters will be discussed in the “Problem Texts” section.)

           

[Page 4]

Our Goal:

Truth, Insight, and a Fair Understanding

 of the “New” Eschatology’s Claims Concerning the Resurrection

 

Some are inclined to consider the objection in Corinth to individual resurrection as coming directly from those outside the church.[2]  Even if it originated there, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that certain church members had themselves embraced the same premises as well:  why in the world come on so vigorously if the entire problem lay with those who weren’t going to embrace the faith regardless of whether there was a bodily resurrection?  The existence of the challenge vividly illustrates that denying the physical resurrection had a potential “intra-church market.”  In this case, because it fit the pre-existing assumptions and attitudes of society—or at least a significant percentage of its intellectual components. 

This is still relevant today because in the early 21st century we are seeing a surprisingly strong movement asserting the same thing, one that crosses traditional patterns of religious division but with its dominant base among those who would describe themselves as “religious conservatives” and “evangelicals.”  Instead of yielding to secularist assumptions (with the exception of any influenced by a “Modernist” theological background), their motives grow out of a desire to more accurately interpret the scriptures in regard to its use of “near term” language.  They do this by forcing all eschatological references into that framework, even when the descriptions do not--to the ears of “uninformed” outsiders--seem to offer any possibility of such a connection.

To describe this approach, I have usually used the contractions TFP (Totally Fulfilled Prophecy) or TFE (Totally Fulfilled Eschatology).  I have, however, freely used variants for verbal variety—Covenant Theology, the 70 A.D. doctrine, and Full Preterism.

  Preterism” is the belief that many of the prophecies of both testaments were fulfilled in the first century; “full preterism” is the belief that all were.  The core belief of the latter is that every single prophecy of Christ’s second coming, of the final judgment, of the resurrection, are now past events—all fulfilled in or by 70 A.D.  Indeed, if it is anywhere predicted in scripture it is over and done with—70 A.D. being the last possible terminus point.  The physical world will never end because it was never intended to.  What we have done, they insist, is to literalize statements that were never made to be interpreted the way both religious conservatives and liberals have traditionally done.

Its strongest point is to take the “soon to be fulfilled” allusions in the gospels and the Book of Revelation seriously as references to near term events.  It falters (to those of us rejecting any such sole event interpretation) when it assumes that the return of the Lord in judgment on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was intended to be the exclusive “return” and judgment ever mentioned by the various New Testament statements on the subject.  God did not come in judgment only once in the Old Testament and that analogy alone would make us anticipate that it would not be the case with Jesus either. 

Not to mention the difficulty of “shoe horning” varying texts into that interpretive framework without massive “massaging” of them to make them fit.  When we see that happen on this scale, we normally react by concluding that we are dealing with a system that may, indeed, fit some of the passages (whether intended to be so used or not) but not all of them.  One in which a partially accurate theory is driving interpretation of all passages, forcing them into a single interpretive mold that was never intended to cover [Page 5]   them all.  The far more appropriate approach in such cases is, of course, to adjust interpretation to the changed circumstances and contexts that are under discussion.

In the remainder of this introduction I set aside my efforts at “scholarly distancing” from the subject to explain my own personal judgment on what is happening.  I will try to rein that in—as a general rule—in this work, but if unvarnished personal convictions deserve a blunt presentation, surely it is in the introduction of a work!

You see, I look at it this way:  Yes, the advocates can make Full Preterism  work, both on the topic of the resurrection and other themes—so long as they get to provide the “proper” new definitions to replace the ones the rest of us “erroneously” thought Jesus and Paul intended.  Whatever legitimate insights they might have on some other limited aspects of eschatology—and there are unquestionably places where they do--when it comes to the resurrection, most will conclude that their case is based on special pleading and word manipulation. 

Could I be wrong?  Of course!  The flip side is also true:  the advocate of Full Preterism in its various forms can also be wrong!  Truth is not foreordained to walk on the same side of the street of any of us.  

            One of the irritating companions of any radically new theology that claims to be Biblically based is the inclination to dismiss others as yielding to “your prejudices” and “yielding to tradition.”  Though that can certainly happen, the charge is extremely unwise in the current situation.  Anyone who has followed my Corinthian studies this far will have noticed that I’m quite willing to throw traditional interpretation overboard if it doesn’t seem to actually fit the text.  Evidence, good evidence I need, not the kind of “word gaming” I consciously rejected over forty years ago. 

A word of explanation:  Back then I was writing a term paper in a college English class and I had to prove that Atlantis existed.  Alas, I had to do so from the six or seven text extracts in our assigned “source book.”  I received a fine grade—back in the days when a B-plus or A-minus meant a lot more than it did later.  But the professor, quite rightly, wrote on the front of the paper, “You’ve twisted, misrepresented, distorted every piece of data you’ve introduced.” 

And I had!  And knew it!  But my job was to “prove” a point from these particular sources and I had carried out the assignment ably and well.  And I learned a lesson that I’ve carried through the rest of my life:  be careful; you can prove anything you set your mind on, but you still need to prove it through a fair and just use of the data.  A big difference in those two statements!

Those embracing Full Preterism do so with enthusiasm and a full commitment to gaining greater spiritual insight.  But as I look at how they do it on the varied subjects their doctrine affects—even salvation wasn’t “really” available until the destruction of Jerusalem; until then they only had an iron-clad “promise” of it—my mind reels time and again.  I feel like I’ve stepped into Alice in Wonderland and the participants are not talking about a dinner party but about their superior insights into scripture.

Just?  Unjust?  The reader must judge for himself or herself.

Yet I must confess a sense of exasperation in dealing with the theology as it repudiates so many conclusions long regarded as fully—or at least, close to fully—settled.  As a “counter balance” to the serious research I do, I attempt to read science fiction, mystery novels, and a scattering of nonfiction.  In Ann Perry’s initial entry in her Christmas season short novel series, A Christmas Visitor, one character mentions a

[Page 6]   feeling I had repeatedly during the preparation of this research—and still retain:   “Henry saw at a glance both that the charge was preposterous, and that it could also be extremely difficult to disprove because it rested on no reasonable evidence.”[3]   

            This sense of frustration at what I call “word games” and a more neutral party would call “redefinitions” is reflected in Sam Frost’s renunciation of his years of embracing the Full Preterist view.  He wrote in January 2011,[4]

 

I have stepped outside of my own defenses of FP and have seen my own defenses as simply weak.  I was defending something passionately and any thing that came up against it, I quickly dismissed.  I am not doing that any more. I have expanded my thoughts.  I don't like where "consistent" preterism leads, for I believe that it leads to where a great deal of it is right now: confused and all over the place.

I said, too, "just give it time". Well, I gave it sixteen years. I gave it my all. Much sacrifice from family and friends.  And, for what?  More inconsistencies?  More "redefinitions"? How far am I going to go to continue to defend this?  How many lines will I cross?  How many distinctions will I blur?  How many arguments from obsfucation will I distort in order to go full steam ahead?

 

            I consider Full Preterism to operate from the same mind frame as the Jehovah Witnesses.  They have a fully consistent theology.  But they accomplish this only by denying every other Biblical doctrine that stands in their way.  Although Frost does not use that comparison, he reflects a similar core evaluation of Full Preterism in how its late twentieth century form has evolved.  What disturbed him even more was the sense that, if one were consistent, even more could be “redefined” out of the way.  Again, as he wrote in January 2011,[5]     

 

I hung in there. I didn't care whether anything in FP "lined up" with anything orthodox.  It was true, and that was it:  damn the torpedoes!  Full steam ahead!  Never mind that iceberg!  What I am finding is that I was actually willing to question any and every doctrine of orthodoxy and find them false so long as Jesus returned and all prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70.  I was willing even to discard the "church" today, the lord's table, baptism, evangelism and the whole nine yards.

The Trinity?  Just ramblings of Greek "fathers" using Greek terms and Greek categories to bind it over the hearts of the lessor as "truth" - to the point of death.

Maybe Christ was just a divine man...created. Certainly solves a lot of problems.

Maybe the Scriptures, though INSPIRING, are not INSPIRED - and who got to decide the canon anyway?  I mean, I was even willing to entertain that Peter "maybe" thought the earth would burn up in the end.  That he, too, didn't understand the "nature" Heck, nobody else did after AD 70!  

Yes....being honest now....I was willing to jettison all of this to save FP. I saw no REASON not to since we have basically questioned and redefined so [Page 7]    much already, why not go down the whole pike?  what's stopping us?  Why not interpret the Virgin Birth narrative as "covenant birth" and "apocalyptic" - not "real" - but "covenantal" and "spiritual"?  Why not?  What reason would you give?  

Don't cite creed.  Don't cite history.  All that you could give is "The Scripture".  But, that leads right back to where we are at, doesn't it?  What DO the Scriptures say and why are so many in disagreement?

 

            I have added the extra emphasis on one sentence above and it well describes my gut fear in this whole business:  nothing is certain nor can be if it gets in the way of Totally Fulfilled Prophecy.  I am easily able to handle the idea of being wrong on “this” or “that” or even “that also.”  But I find it extremely hard to swallow a belief system that means I am also wrong—quite possibly—on subject after subject after subject and perhaps even a few more that I haven’t thought of yet.  Especially when I am going to have to--in my best judgment--play nothing short of word redefinition games in order to accomplish it.

            At this point it is time to share with the reader a piece of advice I gave my daughters:  The good Lord gave you a brain; use it!  Judge the arguments pro and con and make up your own mind.  I could be right.  I could be wrong.  They could be right.  They could be wrong.  But God expects you to make the decision.  And not others for you.

             

             

Individual Believer Resurrection:

An Unexpected Issue for Today 

 

The new scenario becomes particularly startling when applied to the resurrection.  Totally Fulfilled Eschatology insists that it was actually a non-physical resurrection that was promised and that it came to pass in connection with the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  Those who read the text of this chapter, for example, without putting an extremely thick “lather” of interpretive gloss upon it, are likely to view this claim with incredulity.  To such readers, the approach retains the language of “resurrection” while stripping it of what appears to be its plain intent.  Of all of its new interpretations on eschatological matters, this one appears the most vulnerable of all.  The proverbial “bridge too far.”

TFE unquestionably raises the thorny question of how Paul could possibly have written this resurrection chapter the way he did if he truly had a non-physical event in mind.  Would you or I?  In the current context all that is a secondary matter, but the reader should constantly keep it in mind as s/he reads what is said throughout the chapter and tests it by asking themselves, “Will this verse fit such an idea at all”--for if you have not heard of TFE, you almost certainly will in the future. 

Our treatment of 1 Corinthians 15 would have been a long one automatically due to the large number of verses it covers.  Yet due to the need to introduce a discussion of this new, evolving theology it is significantly longer than even that—very, very significantly longer!  I finally had to order myself (as William L. Shirer’s editor did to that author when he wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich):  finish the research—or at least enough of it--and complete the book!  As I’ve mentioned earlier, even that decision did not prove as simple or quick to carry out as I intended.  

[Page 8]

            And just what does Totally Fulfilled Prophecy specifically mean by its claim to believe in the “resurrection?”  Unlike the remainder of the Corinthian commentaries, at this point I must surrender my scholarly hat and “meander” a bit.  Not because I want to, but because of the need to explain a special difficulty encountered when expanding the breadth of this chapter.  Perhaps I somehow have missed it, but in all candor, I must confess that there does not seem to be one standard, generally accepted, short definition of “resurrection” to work with in TFP.  In fact, there clearly isn’t.

            One critic of TFP described the varieties of conviction in this manner,[6]

 

All hyperpreterists have one thing in common. They believe that the dead physical bodies of Christians remain in the grave forever.  When it comes to defining the resurrection that occurs at the second coming of Christ, there are basically three different views among full preterists. Some attempt to define every mention of a future resurrection in terms of a spiritual resurrection (e.g., regeneration). Others view the resurrection as a release of souls from Hades in A.D. 70.  Still others believe a bodily resurrection occurred in A.D. 70, but this involved the creation of completely new spiritual bodies that replace the bodies left to rot forever in the earth.

 

            The form of TFP I most come in contact with is “Covenant Eschatology” and its approach to the definition of resurrection clearly varies from all of these.  Even here a nice, concise one sentence definition escaped me and had to be compiled from a number of interlocked sentiments.  Some mention one subject and others another but with none that I’ve used so far quite tying it all together in the proverbial “one little package.”

 

Component 1.  The resurrection involves Judaism perishing and Christianity being resurrected.  Typically one finds this imagery used, but without the explicit tie-in with the resurrection of 1 Corinthians 15.  Yet if it is described as if a resurrection, what other intent can the rhetoric have?

In some places it is made explicit, however.  Max King wrote, “The primary application of the resurrection is applied to the death of Judaism, and to the rise of Christianity.”[7]  He also wrote, “Resurrection has reference many times to the change from the Jewish system to the Christian system, where the material body of Judaism is put off in death and the spiritual body of Christianity is resurrected in life.”[8]

This approach has its fair share of difficulties.  For example, how in the world did Christianity get resurrected when it had not died and stood in no need of it?  And how did a different entity get resurrected than the one who died?  Even in traditional interpretation, no one speaks of Peter dying and James being resurrected.  Even if “resurrection” language is being adopted to non-conventional usage, would we not expect the same identity between the dying one and the resurrected one—be it individual or group?    

We can well speak of Temple Judaism perishing, but that was already under a cloud and plunging in prestige.  The Chief Priest owed his appointment to the Romans and not to his spirituality or proper Aaronic heritage.  His function as a de facto ally of the Roman occupier did the institution no good in the court of public opinion.[9] 

[Page 9]             The Essenes are well known to have been opposed to the Temple and some suspect they had become opposed to the very idea of a Temple system rather than to just its abuse:  The Fourth Sibylline Oracle—which has been attributed to them—describes “altars . . . defiled by the blood of animate creatures,” as if animal sacrifice itself were now abhorrent.[10] 

The Diaspora scattered Jews so far and wide that it was inherently improbable—both financially and practically—for many to have ever even been in the Temple.[11]  You didn’t make trips from Spain or Italy all that easily or often.

Furthermore, both in those dispersed sectors and nearby, synagogues were already widespread, as Jesus’ frequent visitation of them shows and provided a ready replacement for the masses.  There were “synagogues throughout all Galilee,” for example, asserts Mark 1:39. 

Again for financial and practical reasons, one can’t help but wonder what percentage even of those in such near by regions were frequent Temple visitors.  Remember that Galilee was looked down upon:  They had never had a prophet, it was believed (John 7:52).  Any attachment to the Temple was surely tenuous even at the best of times.  Temple Judaism died, certainly, but Judaism lived on quite successfully.

Hence what appears to be really aimed at is not a mere change in which law was binding (the old revelation or the new), it is that Israel was rejected for not embracing Jesus as Messiah:  As a movement its acceptability then died.  However, there is a profound difference between rejection (which this would be) and dying.  For Covenant Eschatology purposes, the two have to be fused into one in order to claim that a “resurrection” occurred. 

Furthermore, if we err in that judgment and Christianity was “resurrected” in 70 A.D., then prior to then it must have been dead for how can you have resurrection unless you first have the death of that person or movement that is resurrected?  So in 70, Judaism died and Christianity was made alive.  Why then was any one converted prior to that date, since all you could give them was fellowship in a “dead” spiritual institution, the church—which would not be brought to “life/resurrection” for decades? 

 

(2)  The second component of the “resurrection” is the replacement of which religious system is obligatory:  The Old Testament being removed and “dying” and the New Testament “rising” and, so to speak, being resurrected.  In regard to Isaiah 25 in particular, Tami Jelinek contends, “Paul’s own exposition of this and the other prophetic text from which he is quoting (Hosea 13:14) equates the swallowing up of death with our liberation from the condemnation of the law. This is in perfect agreement with what we have already established simply by appreciating the context of Isaiah 25:6-9.  Death and the veil are both removed in Christ, and we are now feasting on fat things ‘in this mountain.’ ”[12] 

One might well die to that law, so to speak, but that isn’t to be resurrected from it—to be “removed,” “liberated,” “freed,” yes, but “resurrected” conveys a far different image.  The language just doesn’t fit well.  And even if we concede the extreme stretch of normal usage, it only fits part of the first century church:  the Gentiles were never, in the first place, subject to the Jewish law.  So we have a “resurrection” that doesn’t even apply to the entire church?  

Furthermore, the Old Testament was not removed at the cross, as traditionally believed; the event only occurred at the Temple’s destruction.  At that point it is alleged that the Jewish law finally and permanently passed from authority and that of the gospel replaced it.  (Hence the term “Covenant Eschatology” to describe the movement.)  But this changes “resurrection” from something that happens to people to something that happens to a religious system.  Furthermore can we rightly speak of it “dying;” is not the proper language “replace?”    

It should be noted that even “Full Preterists”—synonymous with those who embrace TFP—sometimes find this “obsession” with the end of the Jewish Law in 70 A.D. as actually undermining the whole premise of what they believe.  They argue that TFP is something that involves world-wide consequences and should never be diverted into the ghetto of a narrow Judeo-centric interpretation as this approach does.  Hence, though we will treat the abolishment of the Old Testament as authoritative as a significant [Page 10]   component of TFP’s “resurrection,” clearly a significant number either do not or regard it as a secondary element at most.

Kurt M. Simmons brings in this stinging attack on those whose “overdevelop-ment” of any law changing aspects of TFP has diverted elements of the movement away from its proper universalistic emphasis,[13]

 

Covenant eschatology should not be confused with full Preterism.  Preterism is an interpretative school of eschatology, or study of last things.  Preterism holds that prophesies regarding Christ’s second coming are best understood in terms of their contemporary-historical context, and were fulfilled in the same generation Christ and the apostles lived. That is not what covenant eschatology is.

Covenant eschatology goes well beyond merely interpreting the second coming in a contemporary-historical manner, and purports to systematically explain New Testament teaching about Christ’s return with reference largely or exclusively to passage of the old covenant.  More specifically, it interprets the eschaton locally (confined to Palestine) and covenantally (viz., in reference to the abolition of the Old Testament and inauguration of the New Testament).

According to covenant eschatology, the “world” that was destroyed at Christ’s coming was the world of the Jews; the “heavens and earth” were the Old Testament; the “elements” of the world were the temple system and Jerusalem.  The destruction of “death” in Revelation 20:14 was the end of the Mosaic law; the subject of the “resurrection” is not individual souls from Hades, but the Jewish state under the law, and so forth.

In other words, covenant eschatology attempts to explain almost everything in terms of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome.  However, that Christ’s eschatological coming was not confined to Palestine and the fall of Jerusalem is seen by the numerous passages of scripture that depict the eschaton as a time of world-wide judgment and wrath.

 

 

Component 3.  The resurrection is the time that salvation becomes available; hence it is salvational in nature.  In traditional thought, salvation is available at the time of conversion.  In this new reconstruction that is simply the time early Christians were promised it; the actual receipt was much later.  As one defender of TFP worded it to me, “Yes, they had salvation and they trusted in the blood of Christ to bring that salvation.  There was no question about their salvation.  The question is a matter of when, not if.”[14] 

Strictly speaking, we would anticipate that the resurrection would be defined as either component 1 or component 2.  Of course we are working from the precedent we are most acquainted with:  Under the traditional understanding of “resurrection,” it was one simple event—the deceased is returned to a body and that body has either already been changed or immediately is transformed to a greater form.  When we get to TFP, though, we have to think in terms of “resurrection” being a surprisingly flexible term that encompasses significantly more than just one process—and, oddly enough, none of them involving the transforming of the physical body that we would expect to be at least one of them. 

[Page 11]           And none of them, to immediate understanding, really linked to the others.  In other words we could imagine all of the items, if valid, actually occurring but to conclude they all are aspects of the proper definition of the same thing, “resurrection,” is—rather startling.  

Hence the immediate reaction when we first read in TFP resurrection discussions of sin finally perishing and forgiveness being now completely and fully available and consider that in isolation:  If that were the case, then the real issue becomes nothing to do with Jerusalem or Judaism but with the removal of sin.  And Paul’s rhetoric in this chapter sounds really strange if his actual topic is nothing to do with our personal return from the grave to life but to how we finally obtain complete redemption.  Is there any reader of these words who can seriously tell me that would be how they would have read the text if they had lived back then?

Furthermore if 70 A.D. was when salvation was finally fully possible because Jesus’ law came into effect, there is still a profound problem.  Also to be fulfilled at Jesus’ 70 A.D. return is “deliver[ing] the kingdom to God the Father” (15:24).  If “all prophecy is fulfilled,” including this, Jesus no longer rules—His Father does. 

When a king leaves power it is up to the new King to establish the new law of the realm—reaffirming or replacing as He deems best.  The Old Testament was Jehovah’s law, the New Testament Jesus’ law, so what—if anything--is the new, third covenant for us?  (Even if Jesus remains as co-regent, one would still anticipate such a change in bodies of law.  It’s the way regal systems work when the rulers have general, all-encompassing power.  The rules change.) 

Why then would any of Jesus’ law remain in effect, including the promise of redemption?  In light of 15:25, the time of it coming into effect, ironically, seems to be also the time of its ending.  At least to many of us trying to make sense of the evolving doctrine.  (Out of the need to avoid such problems arises the claim that “till” doesn’t really mean end, an assertion we will examine later in this chapter.  It reflects the strange phenomena that we will encounter throughout chapter 15, that words no longer mean what they seem to say but have a special significance.  But then the language has to be redefined or the new resurrection scenario can’t be found in this chapter.) 

These difficulties still remain when it becomes simply another component of the “real” definition of resurrection.  Further difficulties with the salvational component will be analyized this under TFP interpretations of Isaiah 25:8

 

Component 4.  And, of course, there is the common scenario that the resurrection has absolutely nothing to do with the individual John and Jane Q. Christian who was alive in 70 A.D.  It has to do with a change that occurred in the collective body called the “church.”   Of course there is the not insignificant problem that the average reader has to pry real hard to find anything in the chapter to hinge such an approach on; oh, it’s there if you try real hard.  But, unmotivated by the need to fit this chapter into TFP, it is hard to imagine any reader hollering, “Eureka!  It’s talking about what happens to the church and not the individual!”  Not going to happen.

In the new scenario, physically dead believers were blessed by the second coming of Jesus along with those then alive.  Regardless of what you define that change to have been, none of us today have any reason to anticipate receiving any blessing they received [Page 12]   from it.  They were in the “changed” group; we weren’t changed, nor could be, because we weren’t part of the church back then. 

There is nothing (beyond bald assumption) that promises post-resurrection any salvation, any redemption, any blessing at all to those who weren’t present at the 70 A.D. transformation event.  “All prophecy has been fulfilled” is the hallmark cry of the movement.  If so, then none of the blessings promised by prophecy remain to be fulfilled either.  

Of course, we can try to shift the framework.  We can argue that it was at this point, for example, that salvation (in its fullness) “began to be granted”—but does even that leave the door open for future generations?  Wouldn’t it most naturally mean “began to be granted to those then alive and who had lived through the resurrection”?  That they were “beginning to be granted salvation” proves nothing about later descendants being given the same blessing.  In fact, isn’t it manifest arrogance to wrest for unresurrected individuals the blessings promised for resurrected ones?

It should be noted that a “corporate” concept of being saved is far from new to theological discussion.  In the 19th century, Benjamin Franklin (Disciples/church of Christ) and Erasmus Manford (Universalist) debated the question of universal salvation.  Manford argued that when the Old Covenant system finally vanished  then was fulfilled the OT prophecy cited by Paul about death being swallowed by victory.  Then the “body” was saved but Manford does not speak in terms of “the body, the church” but the body as “the body of humanity,” i.e., “the whole family of man shall be redeemed.”[15]

If a 19th century version of Full Preterism saw universal salvation in chapter 15 in its redemption of the “body,” is there any reason to doubt that our contemporary movement—or at least a sizable fraction of it—might find it a tempting alternative as well?  If the text already has been successfully redefined from individual to group, why need that group be limited to “the narrow confines” of the church?   Do we not wish all to be redeemed?

Indeed, 1 Corinthians 15:28 refers to how, when Christ presents the kingdom to His Father, that God will be “all in all.”  Independent of the A.D. 70 controversy, this is interpreted by a body of thought outside the movement, as a pledge of universal salvation.  Physical body to church body to universal body—there certainly is a logical evolution.  Might it not even become a Full Preterist alternative to Covenant Eschatology? 

I only know where the doctrine has been, lending credibility to its capacity to do so again.  To some it would be totally abhorrent; to others a magnificent spiritual break through.  

 

Having far more contact with Covenant Eschatology than other variants, much / most of my remarks will be within that context, though quite a few points will have obvious application to the wider movement.  To those whose variant of the doctrine doesn’t fit the confines of these four niches combined or separated, I can only provide my apology for the inability to present a synthesis that encompasses them all. 

That comes not from my failure anywhere near as much as that of Full Preterism.  It appears to be a still evolving theology in their interdenominational movement, far (?) from its ultimate form.  Or, perhaps, the reality is that there is and can be no consensus?  And that the movement is irreconcilably divided--permanently?  (Consider the harsh [Page 13]   remarks of Kurt M. Simmons above disavowing Covenant Eschatology as having anything to do with full preterism.) 

Ten years from now it will surely be far simpler to do so; either that or the movement will have disintegrated from an inability to adequately deal with this chapter and other “resurrection” texts—at least to the satisfaction of other full preterist advocates.  As a movement the concept has obvious strength; divided into warring factions of “purists,” it minimizes the growth potential of the approach.  If its advocates can not agree as to who is a “true” full preterist, it is hardly likely that they can overcome outsider hostility to become the dominant interpretive option of non-futurist interpreters of prophecy.[16]

As a historian, which approach wins out—shared definitions versus factional infighting—naturally intrigues me.  As a student of the scriptural text as well, of course. 

            Now to put my “scholarly hat” back on and resume our discussion.  If it “edges off” at times, my apologies.  It is very hard to be brief and reasonably detached on something this profound, without the system being in its final stage of development and without a reservoir going back decades of detailed and readily available discussion.  Then the work, essentially, becomes evaluating rather than, perhaps, helping shape the ultimate outcome.   

 

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

January 2012   

 

 

 

 

 

Notes

 



[1] Leslie, J. Tizard, A More Excellent Way (London:  Independent Press, Ltd., 1953), 73.

 

[2] William Kelly, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (2007).  At:  http://www.bible centre.org/commentaries/wk_50_lect_int_1_cor.htm.  [November 2010.]

 

[3] Anne Perry, A Christmas Visitor (Waterville, Maine:  Thorndike Press, 2004), 21.

 

[4]  Sam Frost, Statement, as reprinted under the heading, “Sam Frost Makes It Official:  “He Has Left Full Preterism.”  At:  http://deathisdefeated.ning.com/ profiles/blog/show?id=2362512%3ABlogPost%3A32549&commentId=2362512%3AComment%3A32700.  Posted on this web site January 13, 2011.  [June 2011.]

 

[5] Ibid.

 

[Page 14]   [6] Brian Schwertley, “Full Preterism Refuted, Part 2:  The Resurrection of the Dead.”  2008.  At:  http://reformedonline.com/view/reformedonline/Full%20 Preterism%20Resurrection.htm.  [July 2010, March 2011, June 2011.]

 

[7] Max King, The Spirit of Prophecy (Warren, Ohio, 1971 ed.), 204, as quoted by Kurt M. Simmons, “Quoth He:  Max King—Spiritualized Resurrection/Corporate Body View.”  Part of the PeteristCentral.Com:  Affirming Christ’s Second Coming Fulfilled website.  At:  http://www.preteristcentral.com/Quoth%20He%20-%20

Max%20King.html.  [June 2011]

 

[8] Max King, The Spirit of Prophecy (Warren, Ohio, 1971 edition), 191; cf. 210, 212, as quoted and cited by Ibid.

 

[9] Maurice Sartre, The Middle East under Rome, translated by Catherine Porter and Elizabeth Rawlings (Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), 327, goes so far as to call the high priests “mere puppets,” which probably overstates the matter—but not by much.

 

[10] As quoted by Ibid., 328:  He argues that this can hardly be a reference to pagan sacrifices for “the Essenes never paid any particular attention to pagans.”

 

[11] Ibid.

 

[12] Tami Jelinek, “In This Mountain:  An Exposition of Isaiah 25:6-9.”  New Creations Ministries website.  At:  http://www.newcreationministries.tv/ Articles/isaiah25.htm.  [July 2010, June 2011.]

 

[13] Kurt M. Simmons, “Simmons’ Response to Frost:  Does Max King’s Covenant Eschatology and the Corporate Body View Tend to Universalism?”  Part of the PeteristCentral.Com:  Affirming Christ’s Second Coming Fulfilled website.  At:  http://planetpreterist.com/content/simmons%E2%80%99-response-frost-does-max-king%E2%80%99s-covenant-eschatology-and-corporate-body-view-tend-un.  [June 2011.]  

 

[14] Milt Smotherman, “Re:  Questions on October 5th 1 Cor. 15 Analysis.”  Widely circulated e-mail dated November 20, 2010. 

 

[15] For these quotes and other extracts, see Kurt M. Simmons, “Does Max King’s Covenant Eschatology and the Corporate Body View Tend to Universalism?”   

 

[16] For a cynical evaluation of Full Preterism as in a downward (death?) spiral since 2000—complete with the names of specific individuals—see the analysis of a former advocate of the approach, Roderick Edwards, in his  “The State of Preterism:  2010-2011.”  Dated:  January 21, 2011.  At the UnPreterist website.  At:  http://unpreterist.blogspot.com/2011/01/non-antithesis-hour.html.   [September 2011.]