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2 Thessalonians chapter 2 – A Response to Matthew Henry’s Commentary

In the last issue of Fulfilled Magazine you were offered the opportunity to examine for yourself views that spoke of “moving beyond full preterism” and full preterism being the “Hymenean heresy”. As Brian Martin so rightly said, I feel that Truth has nothing to fear from opposing or differing views. If full preterism is the true, Biblical interpretation of eschatology, then it will prevail against all challenges”.

In this article I desire to show you the “Berean spirit” (Acts 17:11) alive and well in the Full Preterist community. I personally have approached those who speak ill of Full Preterism and asked for “reasons” (1 Peter 3:15) for their view- only to be given apathetic responses and or ostracized for my “critical mind”. In contrast, many times I am offered the opportunity to answer questions which I more than welcome, I encourage it.

Recently, a friend of a member of my congregation offered the commentary of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 as a rebuke of the Full Preterist position. I would like to take some time to respond and deal with the issue that arise from a proper understanding of the text. Here is the link to the commentary offered by Matthew Henry:

http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/2-thessalonians/2.html

2 Thessalonians chapter 2 is an interesting passage for someone to use “against” Full Preterism . Bible teacher Kurt Simmons writes:

“One of the chief eschatological passages of the New Testament is II Thess. 2, which speaks of the “man of sin” whom the Lord would consume at his coming. (II Thess. 2:3, 8) Tradition among primitive Christians identified St. Paul’s “man of sin” with St. John’s “antichrist” and Revelation’s “beast,” many holding that these were references to Nero. In his fourth homily on II Thessalonians, St. Chrysostom (A.D. 347 to 407) states,

“For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work.” He speaks here of Nero… But he did not also wish to point him out plainly: and this not from cowardice, but instructing us not to bring upon ourselves unnecessary enmities, when there is nothing to call for it.”

So what I hope to provide you with in this “response” is information pertaining to the “eschatological confusion” that has been shown in regards to 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, the culture and background of the confusion in different periods of time through church history (especially pertaining to Matthew Henry’s generation), and a contextual understanding of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2- with provided resources.

In his commentary, Matthew Henry notes that the purpose and opening of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 is a refutation of the error regarding the “coming of the Lord”. Apparently, the Thessalonians thought the coming of the Lord had come and gone. That alone should come many to PAUSE.

If the “coming of the Lord” or the 2nd Coming as referred to by many, is this big cataclysmic event which involves stars falling to earth, a physical body of a 1st century Jewish man floating out of the sky on a horse, attended by the resurrection of biological bodies and the planet being destroyed- HOW IN THE WORLD COULD THESE PEOPLE HAVE MISSED IT?!?! This alone should cause many to reexamine their view and position of the “coming of the Lord”.

Matthew Henry lived during the 1700’s. This was a time when “end times interpretation” was greatly influenced by what is called the “Continuous Historical Approach”. This approach finds in the imagery of Revelation a continuous, chronologically sequential panorama of history reaching until the world’s end. The first to use this approach was Nicolas of Lyra (A.D. 1329) in his Postilla. Nicolas of Lyra was a Franciscan who rejected the apocalypticism of his fellow Franciscans. Instead, Nicolas offered a continuous-historical interpretation of Revelation beginning in the first century and reaching to his own time. This approach found its way into what we might call “mainstream though” through the Reformation initiated by Martin Luther, the German reformer. Luther equated his times and struggles with the fight against the Antichrist whom he deemed was the Pope. The continuous-historical method has few modern proponents. Its traditional interpretation equating the beast and harlot with papal Rome has not withstood serious scrutiny; no reputable scholars embrace it today. In some “cultish” crowds such as Ellis Scoffield and 7th Day Adventists one is likely to find these interpretation.

A proper understanding of “interpretation principles” enhances our understanding of the Bible. Many ‘Christians’ are content with a ‘face value’ or a 21st century influenced understanding of the ancient Scriptures which is dismaying to say the least. The ‘Continuous-Historical Approach’ is void of audience relevance, consideration of time statements, and the narrative-context of the Scriptures.

In his commentary, Matthew Henry says:

“From these words it appears that some among the Thessalonians had mistaken the apostle’s meaning, in what he had written in his former epistle about the coming of Christ, by thinking that it was near at hand,—that Christ was just ready to appear and come to judgment….and hereupon the apostle is careful to rectify this mistake, and to prevent the spreading of this error. Observe, If errors and mistakes arise among Christians, we should take the first opportunity to rectify them, and hinder the spreading thereof; and good men will be especially careful to suppress errors that may arise from a mistake of their words and actions, though that which was spoken or done was ever so innocent or well”.

Yes, the Apostle Paul was strongly speaking against “eschatological error” in the church at Thessalonica concerning the “coming of the Lord”. This is a work I have engaged in for the past 2-3 years now and it seems many in the Church want to “lessen” the importance of rectifying this error.

Why does it matter? This chapter of 2 Thessalonians clearly shows us the Apostles thought this was a serious issue and had the potential to distort the gospel (something I believe is being done in many churches across the world today). Therefore in writing this article and reproving errors I endeavor to follow the same logic in which Mr. Henry operated in taking ‘the first opportunity to rectify them”, even if that means showing that Matthew Henry’s interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2 was indeed in error.

Ok..So open up your Bibles to 2 Thessalonians. I urge you before this study to take a minute to read through 2 Thessalonians chapters 1-3, that way you can get the “full force” of the letter the Apostle wrote to the Thessalonians church in A.D. 51-52. Understanding that alone is important and gives credit to the historical reliability of Scripture.

At the beginning of this letter from Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus they are encouraging the Church at Thessalonica through persecution. Notice what is said:

“…in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:4-8)”.

So if this letter was penned in the first century and dropped off at the doorstep of the Thessalonians church which was undergoing persecution and is promising them relief when the “Lord comes”- isn’t it only right to question is the Lord was faithful to this promise and gave them relief? After all, this letter is set forth to clear the confusion and not confuse more- yet the words of Christ Himself to the Apostles alive in that time was that some of them would not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming with His angels on the clouds of heaven to bring judgment (Matthew 16:27-28).

As we move into chapter 2, we now can understand why the Thessalonians would “lose composure” or be disturbed by a message that the coming had already occurred- they were still experiencing persecution- where was this RELIEF?!?!

Speaking about the “gathering together to him” should remind us of Matthew 24:31. In an article in which Dr. Don K. Preston goes in depth about the ‘gathering together’ he writes this:

“An examination of Matthew 24-25 with II Thessalonians 1-2 is especially revealing. In Matthew you have the threat of persecution with the promise of the Parousia for vindication and judgment on the persecutors–the city of Jerusalem. In II Thessalonians 1 you have the church being persecuted, and that persecution is instigated by the Jews, Acts 17. Those being persecuted are promised vindication at the coming of the Lord in fire and vengeance. The Thessalonians were suffering the persecution promised and foreseen by Jesus. Why then is the coming of the Lord in vindication in Thessalonians not the same coming of Jesus in vindication and judgment as that of Matthew 24:29-31?”.

So this gathering would be done after the tribulation which Jesus Christ speaks about in Matthew chapter 24, which a proper historical study can offer is fulfilled through the events of the Roman-Jewish War of AD 70.

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exhalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)”.

Now I personally believe the proof of this passage being in the past is what I posted above about the “gathering together” which was to occur in AD 70. I believe the saints were “raised up” along with “the dead ones” and brought into the presence of God- which until every jot and tittle of the Law was fulfilled could not happen. However, let’s analyze the 2 things the Apostle Paul lists here that must occur prior to the “coming of the Lord” and the “gathering together”. Could these have happened about 20 years after the Apostle Paul penned the second letter to the Thessalonians?

“APOSTASY COMES”.... Dr. Don K. Preston again weighs in on this and says:

“In Matthew 24:12 Jesus said that in the days prior to his coming in the destruction of Jerusalem, “because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” In the previous verse he warned that false prophets would “mislead many.” In verse 10 he had stated that due to persecution “many will fall away.”

Can you see the comparison? In Matthew 24 the disciples asked when the Lord was going to come. Jesus said before he returned there would be a time when “many will fall away;” false prophets would “mislead many;” and “most people’s love will grow cold.” He then told them he would come after that apostasy but in that generation, vss. 29-34.

In II Thessalonians the brethren were believing the Lord had already come. To correct their chronological error Paul reminded them that before the Lord could come “the apostasy” had to happen.

He was reminding them of the apostasy the Lord himself had said must happen!”.

BUT…who is this MAN OF LAWLESSNESS? 

Clearly from the words of the Apostle Paul this ‘man’ was alive in his time (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8).

Something was holding him back. There seems to be quite the controversy surrounding “he who know retrains” but with proper context I believe it is quite clear who this ‘man’ was.

Dr. Kenneth Gentry, who is NOT A FULL PRETERIST has some good details to share about identifying this man of lawlessness:

“The “man of lawlessness” is Nero Caesar, who also is the beast of Revelation, as a number of Church Fathers believe. This passage’s difficulty lies in the fact that Paul “describes the Man of Sin with a certain reserve” (Origen, Celsus 6:45) for fear of incurring “the charge of calumny for having spoken evil of the Roman emperor” (Augustine, City of God 20:19). Paul and his associates had already suffered at the hands of the Thessalonican Jews for “acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king – Jesus” (Ac 17:7). Wisdom demands discreetness when referring to imperial authority; his recent (1Th 2:17) personal ministry among them allows it: they were to “remember” that while with them he “told [them] these things” (2:5).

Paul clearly implies that something is presently (ca.AD 52) “restraining” (present participle) the man of sin “that he may be revealed in his own time” (2Th 2:6). The man of lawlessness is alive and waiting to be “revealed.” This implies that for the time being, Christians could expect at least some protection from the Roman government: the Roman laws regardingreligio licita  are currently in Christianity’s favor, while it remains a sect of Judaism. This begins to end after the malevolent Nero ascends the throne, for he begins persecuting Christianity in AD 64. Paul certainly enjoys the protection of Roman law (Ac 18:12ff) and makes important use of it in AD 59 (Ac 25:11–12; 28:19), when he seeks protection from the malignancy of the Jews”.

Or as author James Stuart Russel noted:

“But how striking are the indications that point to Nero in the year when this epistle was written, say A.D.52 or 53. At that time Nero was not yet ‘manifested;’ his true character was not discovered; he had not yet succeeded to the Empire. Claudius, his step-father, lived, and stood in the way of the son of Agrippina. But that hindrance was soon removed. In less than a year, probably, after this epistle was received by the Thessalonians, Claudius was ‘taken out of the way,’ a victim to the deadly practice of the infamous Agrippina; her son also, according to Suetonius, being accessory to the deed. But ‘the mystery of lawlessness was already working;’ the influence of Nero must have been powerful in the last days of the wretched Claudius; the very plots were probably being hatched that paved the way for the accession of the son of the murderess. A few months more would witness the advent to the throne of the world of a miscreant whose name is gibbeted in everlasting infamy as the most brutal of tyrants and the vilest of men”.

Bible Teacher Kurt Simmons would be inclined to historically explain that it was Claudius Caesar and the restraining power of the religio licita that kept the man of lawelessness from being revealed. 

Although being consistent with what is called “intellectual honesty” I must admit there are some who agree that this passage was fulfilled in the 1st century yet they would explain the details a bit different. For example, Bible teacher Ed Stevens would offer the high priest as the ‘lawless one”. He explains:

“The Jewish persecutors, the Judaizers, and the Zealots all show that this was fulfilled in the first century. The falling away was in progress as the last few NT books were written. One only needs to read things like the books of Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter and 1-3 John to see this. The falling away coincided with the great persecution and tribulation that descended on the church just before the Jewish revolt (A.D. 63-66). During this persecution James, Peter and others (such as Paul) were killed (A.D. 63). And it was probably about this same time that John was exiled to Patmos. The NT writers during this time of persecution were bravely challenging their fellow-saints to persevere. The faithful remnant did. But many others forsook the “better things” in Christ and returned to Judaism’s things that were “fading away” and about to be destroyed. The “falling away” and “the coming of the man of sin” were first century events. They occurred in connection with the persecution of the church just before the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66. The destruction and defilement of the temple at Jerusalem is explained in great detail by Josephus. While 2 Thess. 2:1-4 is usually associated with “THE” Antichrist, we need to remember that the anti-Christian spirit was already at work in the first century. The Jewish persecution was already underway when Paul wrote these words. The Holy Spirit was restraining its effect until the church reached a mature-enough condition to persevere. There was a close connection indeed between the tribulation and the apostasy. The anti-Christian forces were persecuting the church to get them to fall away.

There are many passages which indicate that the “anti-Christ” was actually the anti-Christian spirit which motivated the Jewish persecutors who worked against the church in the period before AD 70. Notice these passages in particular: 1 Jn. 4:3; cf. 1 Jn. 2:17, 18; and 2 Thess. 2:7. Whatever this “man of lawlessness” was, it was already at work during the time Paul wrote, and was evidently at its worst when John wrote, since he says, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we KNOW it is THE LAST HOUR.” (emphasis mine, ES). And, it is not just preterists who suggest the “man of lawlessness” was something other than an individual. Several of the amillennial and post-millennial theories suggest the same. As far as individual “antichrists” are concerned, some have suggested the various messianic contenders during the war with Rome (John of Gischala, Simon ben Giora, or Eleazar ben Ananias, Eleazar ben Yair — the leader at Masada, or the High Priest). The Judaizers could easily qualify as “antichrists” as well. As I explain in my article elsewhere on this website, I believe the “beast” was Jewish. Whether it was the Jewish Zealots as a group, or individual leader as a figurehead, is not of real big concern to me. If I had to choose an individual who fits all the criteria mentioned here in 2 Thess. 2 and Revelation, I would probably focus on Eleazar ben Yair who resurrected his cause at Masada”.

Sure enough….the “coming of the Lord” occurred when the Romans surrounded the city of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20). This event destroyed the persecutors of the saints (Galatians 4:23-31). The temple was destroyed and it was clear as day as the 1st century historian Josephus noted:

“And this seems to me to have been the reason why God, out of his hatred of these men’s wickedness, rejected our city; and as for the temple, he no longer esteemed it sufficiently pure for him to inhabit therein, but brought the Romans upon us, and threw a fire upon the city to purge it; and brought upon us, our wives, and children, slavery, as desirous to make us wiser by our calamities”.

The rise of Full Preterism can be quite intimidating to many people who want to hold to certain “traditional” teachings. What needs to be known that within the Full Preterist community there are Christians who seek simply to know, understand, and to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus Christ- ALL THE TEACHINGS. I hope I have shown the ‘intellectual honesty’ in this response to the critics who may utilize Matthew Henry’s commentary and I hope that I have shown Mr. Henry’s thoughts on 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 to be flawed.

The fact remains- the letter of 2 Thessalonians was a first century writing to the Thessalonian church to encourage them to withstand persecution having hope in the “coming of the Lord” which would be judgement upon those who persecuted them. This judgment/ “coming of the Lord” occurred right on time as judgment came upon the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. Those whom were santified in Christ were ‘gathered to the Lord’ as they heeded His teachings and sure enough as the 1st century historian Josephus accounts- NOT ONE CHRISTIAN DIED IN THE CITY!

 

Reference:

http://www.preteristcentral.com/The%20Road%20Back%20to%20Preterism.html

http://www.preteristarchive.com/Hyper/0000_preston_second-thess.html

http://www.preteristarchive.com/Hyper/0000_preston_how-possible.html

http://torreygazette.com/austinpreterism/2013/07/23/gentry-theology-man-of-lawlessness-identified

http://kloposmasm.com/2009/08/16/pp15-the-man-of-lawlessness-ii-thess-2-part-1/

http://www.preterist.org/preteristQA.asp

 

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Making ‘sense’ of the “Creation Account”

  For the past couple days, I have had the privilege of having Dr. Jeff Vaughn and Tim Martin (authors of Beyond Creation Science) join me on live broadcasts on “The Power of Preterism Radio”. 

  Here are both of the links:

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepowerofpreterism/2014/02/11/discussing-the-creation-account-with-dr-jeff-vaughn

     http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepowerofpreterism/2014/02/12/miano-gone-wild

 I had sought out the wisdom of these men because of the recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye dealing with creation. Sadly, Ken Ham representing the “Biblical” model instead forced many presuppositions and ideas upon the Biblical text that are not there- leading many people, even close friends of mine wondering if that is indeed the Biblical account. One friend told me specifically, “Damage control is needed”. Thank God for giving wisdom to men like Jeff and Tim whom were willing to give of their time to offer a true and reasonable response. 

  If you have yet to hear the “hiding” behind “the Bible” that Ken Ham did during his debate, here is a link so you can watch the debate for yourself:

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI

 Glory to God answers can be found but they must be sought. 

  Being that we are sort of “snowed in” here in New York, I took some time this morning to watch a video from Dr. John Walton in regards to his view and understanding of Genesis. Dr. Walton is the author of an amazing read- The Lost World of Genesis One. I must say, Dr. Walton’s explanation of Genesis and his discussion was so enlightening that I just had to write this blog and encourage YOU to look into these things. Here is the link to Walton’s video:

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUb9P5HXueo

 If that is not enough…Derek Lambert and I will be on our program “Truth Be Told” tonight at 5pm eastern, talking about this video and where we are at in regards to “the creation account”. You can tune in internationally by clicking on the link below at 5pm eastern:

     http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepowerofpreterism

 Also, Monday nights at 7pm, we are doing a book study on “Beyond Creation Science”. If you are around the area, get involved!

   Blessings in and through Jesus Christ,

       His servant,

               Pastor Michael Miano

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The Creation Question that NEEDS To Be Answered! Review of John Walton’s book- The Lost World of Genesis One

“The Old Testament does communicate to us and it was written for us, and for all humankind. But it was not written to us. It was written to Israel. It is God’s revelation of Himself to Israel and secondarily through Israel to everyone else”.

It is a rising notion that when we read the Scriptures we must remember we are reading ancient Jewish documents. Popular writer and theologian, N.T. Wright recently noted, “

“Twentieth-century scholorship has atleast one great advantage over its predecessors…it has been realized that Jesus must be understood in His Jewish context”.

At the advice of many leaders within the Preterist Movement I finally had the opportunity to read and finish John Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One.

After reading I am not sure that John Walton is a preterist but it was encouraging that he sees the importance of what is called “audience relevance”.  As John Walton notes, “The most respectful reading we can give to the text, the reading most faithful to the face value of the text- and the most “literal” understanding, if you will- is the one that comes from their world not ours”.

As I have allowed myself to investigate what is called “Covenant Creationism” I have sought to be intellectually honest. As I begin reading the Bible from the beginning there are a couple contextually issues I run across. The first issue would be the covenantal term “heaven and earth” which is used throughout the Scriptures to speak of God’s covenant with His covenant people- i.e. Dueteronomy chapter 31, Jeremiah 31, and Revelation 21.  Another issue I run across is the context- Genesis is compiled by Moses as part of the Torah. Was the Torah revealed to all the nations? God revealed his truth and promises to Israel- not the other nations (Psalm 147:19 ;Romans 9:4-5; Romans 15:8-13). The “other nations” or Gentiles would come in as a result of the work of Jesus Christ- first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).

When looked at through this lens we can explain the focus on Israel that we read from the founding of the tribes of Israel onward. Simply put, the Biblical message is about how God fulfilled His covenant with Israel. Many proponents of Fulfilled Bible prophecy see this at “the end” but fail to be consistent in regard to the beginnings.  I have had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Vaughn, one of the co-authors of Beyond Creation Science, and I asked him “who were those in Adam”. He began to explain the ancient city/state covenants and how most ancient civilizations would have identified themselves by their deity- i.e. Rome= Romulus. Adamites would have been no different leading us into what is called preadamism. Recognizing the Biblical account of “Adam” as the story of the beginning of covenant- Adam being the first covenant man.

One of the thoughts I have had fairly recently is that of the land of Nod. Who was Abel afraid of when he said:

“Behold, you have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me (Gensis 4:14)”.

So who exactly was going to find Cain and kill him in the land of Nod? Consider that is we take this story to be the literal creation story we have Adam, Eve, and Cain…? Where did his wife come from?

This leads us into the preadamite conversation- where they people created before Adam? I personally believe so. I believe the Biblical account of Adam was a creation story- the historical creation of God’s covenant with Adam and through that lineage. So…did the people in the land of Nod have a god? Jeff Vaughn answered this recently by saying:

My guess is that they certainly did, but it would be impossible to prove. Is it possible to determine who the patron of the ancient city of Enoch was? The patron god of Enoch could have been the patron god of the inhabitants of Nod. However, they could have replaced their old god when they founded that city”.

Getting through this discussion is so complicated because as Walton notes in his book,

“Rather than translating the culture, we need to try to enter the culture”. It’s a complicated thing to lose all of our cultural paradigms and be willing to be led by understanding another culture.  For example, John Walton is asking us to consider the Genesis creation account in light of other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) creation accounts. 

“Comparing the ancient cultures to one another will help us see those common threads even as we become aware of the disnctions that separated thenm from one another”

Does anyone ever ask why we accept the Old Testament creation account over the Book of the Dead or other creation stories? I would imagine half the populace are not even aware of other creation accounts.

The following quotes from John Walton’s book demonstrate the vital need for us to consider understanding the Israelite culture and how THEY would have understood the creation account and challenge our preconcieved notions.

“For the Israelites, Genesis 1 offered explanations of their view or origins and operations, in the same way that mythologies served in the rest of the ancient world and that science serves our western culture. It represents what the Israelites truly believed about how it works, though it is not presented as their own ideas, but as revelations from God”.

“Some Christians approach the text of Genesis as if it has modern science embedded in it or it dictates what modern science should look like. This approach to the text of Genesis 1 is called “concordism”, as it seeks to give a modern scientific explanation for the details in the text. This represents one attempt to “translate” the culture and text for the modern reader. The problem is, we cannot translate their cosmology to our cosmology, nor should we”.

“The ancients would never dream of addressing how things might have come into being without God or what “natural” processes he might have used”.

“The Bible’s message must not be subjected to cultural imperialism. Its message transcends the culture in which it originated, but the form in which the message was imbedded was fully permeated by the ancient culture”.

“In this book I propose that people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system”.

One of the definitions of the term ‘ontology’ is “a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence”. That is precisely what is being discussed here. What type of ontology is happening in Genesis? How would the ancient Israelites have understood this text?

“In a functional ontology, to bring something into existence would require giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it material properties. Consequently, something could be manufactured physically but still not “exist” if it has not become functional”.

What John Walton is seeking to demonstrate is that the Genesis account is using creation imagery in a fashion to explain not necessarily how things came into being but why. This would be referred to as a “functional ontology” and in his book, John Walton seeks to demonstrate this is exactly how the ancients would have understood a creation text. He uses the following illustration:

“As employees we pay little attention to the history of the company we work for. We are more interested in its corporate structure and what responsibility each department has”.

An important thing to notice in the text which is hardly possible for those of us who are not fluent in the Hebrew of Genesis would be the verb Bara that is used for the word ‘create’. There are 2 words used throughout the Hebrew text that is translated as create. Bara is always used for that which God creates, whereas asah is used to say ‘made’.

OT scholar John Walton argues that the Hebrew word “bara” does not mean to create “ex nihilo”, but rather it means to give already existing material a function. Eg. in Gen 1:1, “in the beginning God created” is inherently ambiguous; he believes it should say, “when God began to create” and so in verse 2, “the earth was without form” means that the earth always had existed and God was simply working with pre-existing materials.

“If this is not an account of material origins, then Genesis 1 is affirming nothing about the material world. Whether or not there actually are cosmic waters being held back by a solid dome does not matter. That material cosmic geography is simply what was familiar to them and was used to communicate something that is functional in nature”.

Dealing with the functional origins rather than the material origins, John Walton also notes:

“…Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins but an account of functional origins, specifically focusing on the functioning of the cosmos as God’s temple”.

Moshe Wienfield, a former professor of the Bible at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explained Genesis as a ‘temple text’. Utilizing the ancient understanding of deity and how the deity rests in the temple, John Walton demonstrates that the 7 day rest denotes creation as a ‘temple inaguration’. The following links have more information about this topic specifically:

http://ocabs.org/journal/index.php/jocabs/article/viewFile/43/18

http://nearemmaus.com/2012/04/11/john-waltons-ninth-proposition/

The “cosmic temple inaguration view” has validity to it when looked at as an Ancient Near East text and especially in light of what the Jewish historian Josephus had to say:

“However, this proportion of the measures of the tabernacle proved to be an imitation of the system of the world: for that third part thereof which was within the four pillars, to which the priests were not admitted, is, as it were, a Heaven peculiar to God…” Josephus, Antiquities, Book 3, Chapter 6, Paragraph 4, Section 123).

“When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests as a place accessible to the common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men” Josephus, Antiquities, Book 3, Chapter 7, Paragraph 7, Section 181).

As proper “audience relevance” would note:

“I believe if we are going to interpret the text according to its face value, we need to read it as the ancient author would have intended and as the ancient audience would have heard it”.

John Walton isn’t afraid to be challenged either as he writes:

“One of the most common questions about this view comes from those who are struggling with the worldview shift from material orientation to functional orientation (a difficult jump for all of us). In a last effort to cling to a material perspective, they ask, why can’t it be both?”.

His answer actually blew my mind since this is a question I myself have heard many people ask.

“The comfort of our traditional worldview is an insufficient basis for such a conclusion. We must be led by the text. A material interest cannot be assumed by default, it must be demonstrated, and we must ask ourselves why we are so interested in seeing the account in material terms…”

He then accounts the facts that the nature of the verb bara which is used to express “create” in Genesis is functional, the context of Genesis itself is functional, the cultural context of Ancient Near Eastern writings is functional, and clearly when we read Josephus we see the understanding during the time of Jesus Christ was functional- NOT CONCERNED WITH MATERIAL CREATION!

“As a result, it is difficult to sustain a case that the account is interested in material origins if one does not already come with that presupposition”.

And just to again make the point clear:

“Viewing Genesis 1 as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as temple does not in any way suggest or imply that God was uninvolved in material origins- it only contents that Genesis 1 is not that story. To the author and audience of Genesis, material origins were simply not a priority”.

The fact is that in ancient civilication it would have been unthinkable that the deity (in this case the God of Israel) was uninvolved in the creation of all material things- therefore there would have been no need to stress an account of those things. As I have become accumstomed to saying- the Bible was not written to atheists to prove the things about God. Rather the Bible is the historical documentation of how and why God fulfilled His covenant relationship with Israel. Long live FULFILLED ESCHATOLOGY.

Here are a couple ending quotes from John Walton’s book that I thought to share:

“…the Bible upholds the idea that God is responsible for all origins (functional, material, or otherwise), if the Bible does not offer an account of material origins we are free to consider contemporary explanations of origins on  their own merits, as long as God is seen as ultimately responsible”.

“…it is much more important to say that God has made everything work  rather than being content to say that God made the physical stuff. The purpose, teleology (which is the most important part), is located and observed in the functional, not the material”.

“I have proposed that the most careful, responsible reading of the text will proceed with the understanding that it is ancient literature, not modern science”.

So still you ask? “Wny can’t Genesis 1 be both functional and material?

“Theoretically it could be both. But assuming that we simply must have a material account if we are going to say anything meaningful is cultural imperialism. We cannot demand that the text speak to us in our terms. Just as we cannot demand a material account, we cannot assume a material account just because that is most natural to us and answers  the questions we most desire to ask. We must look to the text to inform  us of its perspective. In my judgment, there is little in the text that commends it as material account and much that speaks against it”.

I hope this review helps. Below I will include a couple more links to further your studies on this matter.

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor Michael Miano

http://www.bluepointbiblechurch.org

Links:

http://biologos.org/blog/adam-is-Israel

http://planetpreterist.com/content/hermeneutic-covenant-creation-taught-berkeley-mickelsen

http://deathisdefeated.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-covenant-creation-archive

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