Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jesus and the Eschaton (Part 1: Introduction)

1. Introduction: The State of the Question of Eschatology

In the past few decades there has been an emerging discussion about the problematic “iron curtain”[1] that has come to separate the fields of systematic theology and biblical studies. Indeed, there have been a growing number of Protestant voices calling for an integration of biblical exegesis and theology.[2] Likewise, since the second Vatican Council urged theologians to make the bible “the very soul of theology,”[3] Catholic writers have been emphasizing the central role Scripture must play in doing theology,[4] speaking, for example, of its “referential language.”[5]

It is now generally recognized that the causes for this “divorce” can be traced back into certain philosophical presuppositions of Enlightenment or “modern” thought, out of which modern biblical criticism has emerged,[6] e.g., rationalism, an evolutionary approach to the question of origins, the pursuit of pure objectivity, and the rejection of tradition.[7] In this approach the teaching of Jesus was unhinged from both his Jewish milieu and the Christianity which followed him.[8] However, with the failure of the Enlightenment project there has emerged the current postmodern critique, which has advanced more holistic accounts of knowledge.[9] Such a shift has forced scholars to rethink previous positions and reexamine the continuity of Jesus with Judaism and Christianity. The collapse of modernity has thus opened the door for scholars to begin to consider the ways Judaism influenced Jesus and, in turn, how the teachings of this Jewish Jesus gave rise to Christian theology.[10] Thus more recent attempts have sought to find the origins of certain elements of Christian theology in the Judaism of the first century.[11]

In this paper, we will take such an approach to examine one particular branch of theology: eschatology. One could easily argue that among all the branches of theology, in its traditional role as the study of the “last things,” eschatology is the field which has the most to gain from such a method. Indeed, the term itself is in some ways problematic. It first appeared in the work of Abraham Calovius (1612-86) a Lutheran theologian, who used the word in his volume on death, resurrection, judgment and consummation.[12] Since then, “eschatology” has been used to describe the “last things.” However, it is now widely recognized by scholars that the teaching of the New Testament regarding eschatology involved a present dimension often neglected by classical eschatology. Theologians are thus asking whether perhaps we ought to reconsider the possibility of defining “eschatology” simply in terms of those things which are chronologically “last.”[13] Theologians such as Dermot Lane have argued that to properly explain the eschata, the “last things” (e.g., death, judgment, heaven, hell, etc.) theologians must first come to a better grasp of the Eschaton, the advent of the end of time in Christ.[14]

It is here that this paper takes its cue. Here we will look at the way Jesus believed he was ushering in the Eschaton. First we will examine how scholars have frequently misunderstood the function and meaning of apocalyptic language, often concluding that Jesus’ use of it necessarily involved the expectation of an imminent end of history.[15] Next, we will examine the role of restoration imagery in eschatological expectations. We will then turn to look at restoration eschatology in Jesus’ teaching.[16]

1. Introduction: The State of the Question of Eschatology

2. Jesus' “Apocalyptic” Language
2.1. Apocalyptic as Metaphor
2.2. Cosmic Language and Temple Cosmology

3. Second-Temple Jewish Restoration Hopes
3.1. The Hope for the New Exodus
3.2. The Hope for the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom

4. Jesus and His Restoration Eschatology
4.1. Jesus, the Restoration, and the New Exodus
4.2. Jesus, the Kingdom and the Last Supper: A Proposal

5. Conclusion

[1] Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), xvi.
[2] See the discussion by leading evangelical scholars in Joel B. Green and Max Turner, eds. Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies & Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000). Some works by theologians who have attempted to bridge the gap include, Robert K. Johnston, The Use of the Bible in Theology: Evangelical Options (Atlanta: John Knox, 1985); Charles J. Scalise, From Scripture to Theology: A Canonical Journey into Hermeneutics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996). Indeed, massive projects such as the massive volume dedicated to the theological interpretation of the Bible edited by Kevin Vanhoozer [Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005] and the Brazos Theological Commentary series published by Brazos Press bear witness to this corrective effort.
[3] Dei Verbum 24. Cited from Austin Flannery, ed. Vatican II, Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (New Revised Edition; A. Flannery, e.d.; Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1987), 763-4. This line was recently highlighted once again in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 132), promulgated by John Paul II in 1992. Indeed, many have noted that the new Catechism places an especially strong emphasis on the role of Scripture, primarily describing Catholic doctrine in scriptural quotations. Ratzinger writes, that it is “shaped from one end to the other by the Bible. As far as I know, there has never been until now a catechism so thoroughly formed by the Bible.” Gospel, Catechisis, Catechism: Sidelights on the Catehism of the Catholic Church (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997), 61. For a fuller discussion see, John C. Cavadini, “The Use of Scripture in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Letter & Spirit 2 (2006): 43-54.
[4] John Paul II once stated: “Theology must take its point of departure from a continual and updated return to the Scriptures read in the Church.”[4] Likewise, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes, “The normative theologians are the authors of Scripture.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theolgy (trans., M. F. McCarthy; San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987, 321). In fact, one of the defining characteristics of Pope Benedict’s theology has been its biblical focus. See Scott Hahn, “The Authority of Mystery: The Biblical Theology of Benedict XVI,” in Letter & Spirit 2 (2006):97-140. The relationship between exegesis and dogmatic theology has been explored in a number of works produced by Catholic theologians. See, for example, Karl Rahner, “Exegesis and Dogmatic Theology,” in Dogmatic vs. Biblical Theology (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1964), 31-65; Joseph T. Lienhard, The Bible, the Church, and Authority: The Canon of the Christian Bible in History and Theology (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1995); Luke Timothy Johnson and William Kurz, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: A Constructive Conversation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
[5] See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Scripture and Christology: A Statement of the Biblical Commission with a Commentary (Mahwah: Paulist, 1986); Colin Brown, “Scripture and Christology: A Protestant Look at the Work of the Pontifical Biblical Commission,” in Essays in Honor of Paul K. Jewett: Perspectives on Christology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991)
[6] The bibliography tracing modern critical methods and Jesus studies to the Enlightenment is immense. See among others, James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (vol. 1 in Christianity in the Making; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 25-97; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 1 of The Roots of the Problem and the Person; ABRL Vol. 1; New York, Doubleday, 1991), 25; Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 9; Mark Allan Powell, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 12-13; Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method from Spinoza to Käsemann (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1995); C. Stephen Evans, “Methodological Naturalism in Historical Biblical Scholarship,” in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (C. C. Newmann, ed.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 180-205; Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2005), 3-46; Darrel Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to the Sources and the Methods (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 153-162; Klaus Scholder, The Birth of Modern Critical Theology: Origins and Problems of Biblical Criticism in the Seventeenth Century (trans., J. Bowden; London: SCM, 1990); Greg Clark, “General Hermeneutics,” in The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research (S. McKnight and G. R. Osborne, eds.; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 105-107; Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1975), 16-22.
[7] Lundin describes the modernist pursuit of objective autonomy in terms of the “orphaned individual.” It is generally recognized that this move has its origins in the Protestant reformation, which proclaimed Sola Scripture, the notion that Scripture must be read apart from ecclesiastical tradition. For a fuller discussion see Roger Lundin, Clarence Walhout, Anthony C. Thiselton, The Promise of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), 1-64; W. H. Auden, Forewords and Afterwords (ed., E. Mendelson; New York: Random House 1973; repr., Vintage 1989); Roy Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, 15-17. Also see Jeffrey Stout, The Flight from Authority: Religion, Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).
[8] See the detailed discussion of the development of the criteria of “dissimilarity” in Gerd Theissen and Damgar Winter, The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria (M. E. Boring, trans.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 1-171. Also see Jeffrey Stout, The Flight from Authority: Religion, Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).
[9] See Nancey Murphy, Anglo-American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspectives on Science, Religion and Ethics (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997). This work will use the term “postmodern” as Alan G. Padgett defines it: “Mine is a mild sort of post-modernism. By ‘post-modern’ I only mean a view that is critical of the Enlightenment. Relativism is not implied in this term as I use it.” Alan G. Padgett, “Advice for Religious Historians: On the Myth of a Purely Historical Jesus,” in The Resurrection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus (S. T. David, D. Kendall and G. O’Collins, eds.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 287. Also see C. Stephen Evans, The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 22.
[10] Indeed, the characteristic element of so-called Third Quest for the Historical Jesus has been the renewed appreciation for his Jesus roots. See the discussions in N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (vol. 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press,1996), 34-5; Neil and Wright, The Interpretation, 379. In addition, see Ben Witherington, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 379-403. For the influence of postmodernity on hermeneutics and theology see Craig Bartholomew, “Postmodernity and Biblical Interpretation,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (K. J. Vanhoozer, ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 600-5. Of course, such a project does not simply mean returning to a “pre-modern” or “pre-critical” state of affairs. The issues raised by such a project are indeed complex and it is beyond our scope here to discuss them. For a treatment see, Joel B. Green, “Scripture and Theology: Uniting the Two Son Long Divided,” in Between the Two Horizons, 23-43. Rather than seeking to bypass issues, such an approach seeks to show that a rigorous exegetical approach which has due concern for methodological judiciousness reveals important links between the teaching of the scriptural books, their Jewish context and the later development of theology. Indeed, a number of such works have recently been done in connection with atonement theory.
[11] For example, Pitre and McKnight have so examined atonement theory. Whereas for many it was previously unthinkable that a first-century Jew could believe he would offer his life as a sacrifice for sin, Brant Pitre has demonstrated that a number of first-century Jewish sources indicate that the final restoration of Israel would only come through a period of eschatological suffering. This suffering was frequently described in terms of atonement. For example, in a number of places the Dead Sea Scrolls uses the word for “affliction” to refer to the Day of “Atonement” (cf. CDa 6:19). For a fuller discussion see Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005). Also see the comments made in Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death, 371-372 on the relationship between Jesus’ atonement theory and later Christian theology.
[12] Arland J. Hultgren, "Eschatology in the New Testament: The Current Debate," in The Last Things: Biblical & Theological Perspectives on Eschatology (C. E. Braaten and R. W. Jeson, eds.; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 68.
[13] I am inclined to agree with Gordon J. Thomas that eschatology would be better defined as “the doctrine of the ultimate things”―particular as those things which represent the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. See Gordon J. Thomas, “A Holy God Among A Holy People in a Holy Place: The Enduring Eschatological Hope,” in Eschatology in Bible and Theology: Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium (K. E. Brower and M. W. Elliot, eds.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 53-69 [especially 53-55].
[14] Dermot Lane, Keeping Hope Alive: Stirrings in Christian Theology (New York: Paulist, 1996), 2: “The primary emphasis in New Testament eschatology is one the significance of the appearance of the Eschaton in Christ which shapes our understanding of the present and the future. Over the centuries, however, the emphasis has fallen on a treatment of the individual eschata to the neglect of the Eschaton in Christ. Something of a separation has taken place between our understanding of the Eschaton in Christ and its relationship to the individual eschata.”
[15] Here I must emphasize that this paper is not challenging the notion that second temple Judaism included “other-worldly” hopes. Certainly visions of heavenly temples and angels are common in Jewish apocalyptic literature such as 1 Enoch and resist mere metaphorical interpretations. See, for example, the treatment on the Assumption of Moses and other works by David J. Bryan, “Exile and Return from Jerusalem,” in Apocalyptic and Tradition (C. Rowland and J. Barton, eds.; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 60-80. Moreover, Jewish hopes at Qumran involved a kind of hope for theosis. See Crispin Flectcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Leiden: Brill, 2007). Nonetheless, here we will largely focus on the “this-worldly” dimension of Jewish expectations in relation to realized eschatology in Jesus’ teaching.
[16] Unfortunately, our limited space does not allow us to discuss questions of authenticity. Such issues will have to wait for a larger dissertation project.


Chris Tilling said...

Salivating already.

Will you engage with Edward Adams' work, The Stars Will Fall From Heaven: 'Cosmic Catastrophe' in the New Testament and its World? I believe he attempts to critique the eschatological notions developed famously in Wright, JVG, i.e. that the language didn't refer to a literal cosmic end of history, but was used to denote significance to events within history.

odysseus said...

I, too, am interested in where this is going to go. I have studied eschatology for a number of years (roughly 10+) and while there is much good material out there, most of American Christianity seems to be 'caught up' in the 'Left Behind' nonsense. I am already encouraged by your introduction.

Peace be with you.


Stephen said...

For me the starting and final point is Jesus' inaugural statement in Mark 1:


[15] Jesus said, The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God (realm of Abba) is at hand: repent (turn around) and believe the gospel (good news).

Jesus' basic preaching is an active law. You are literally saved by the act of turning from your wrongdoing and hopeless state and in subsequently believing the good news that the realm of Abba is at hand and practicing its presence. Proven out in billions of lives past and present.


This suggests to me that the eschaton is realized daily and hourly in individuals who heed the above. Beyond this life we cannot and do not know and only presume hopelessly when we claim to do so. The above can be proved beyond doubt.

Congratulations of trying to pull the wedge on theology and Biblical scolarship. While you are at it pull the one between ordinary folk and those who have the privilege of spending their lives trying to understand the texts.

Best, S

John said...


thanks for launching this series. I played it up on my blog.

kentuckyliz said...

To me, the realized Eschaton and the already-but-not-yet is clear in the liturgy. By the epiclesis (the powerful working of the Holy Spirit), Jesus is made present in his resurrected glorified form in the eucharist, so his "Second Coming" is fulfilled constantly, around the clock, from the rising of the sun to its setting, from east to west, a perfect offering made to the glory of His name. The veil between heaven and earth is drawn aside as we pray the prayer of the angels and the saints in heaven.

he not-yet part shows in our prayers: ready to greet him when he comes again; the mysterium fidei (christ has died, christ has risen, christ will come again), the embolism (as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ).

Marana tha!

I don't get into the darbyite end times hysteria. Bad fruits show it's a bad tree. People who get all upset by that literature lose their peace and hunker down and quit being salt and light. The darbyite way is very shallow. It is an evil temptation because it externalizes a person's religious and spiritual focus, away from the state of their own soul and their spiritual journey, heading into the newspapers searching for the latest end times indicator.

I declare, bad fruit!!!

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