Thursday, August 4, 2016

Preterist Time References

I'm going to start a series on the verses that Preterists use as time references to support a first century date of Christ's return. I've argued before that I can actually take all of these as Preterists do, but understand them in light of apocalyptic speech (the joining of micro and macro events together as a singular event in order to describe the micro in terms of the macro), which Preterists don't seem to understand. However, I actually think on top of this that the words and phrases used are misunderstood within themselves, and they do not convey the ideas that Preterists think they do.

My source for these arguments is the commonly cited list called, "101 Preterist Time Indicators." I'll start today with the word mello.

The argument made is that the word mello means "about to" in the sense that whatever is being said is something that is soon to occur. There are Preterists who argue both that the word, in general, refers to something about to come, as this list does, and there are Preterists who argue that the word when used in a particular grammatical construction means "about to." I'll discuss the former first and then the latter.

Verses that use mello need to convey the idea of imminence through context. The word does not inherently mean “about to come.” If this were true, then even in verses, like Romans 5:14, where Adam is a figure of Christ who was tou mellontos “the one to come” would have to be translated as “the one about to come.” Was Christ the one who was about to come after Adam? The time between Christ and Adam, even in a strictly literalistic timeline, is around 4,000 years or so. If 4,000 years later constitutes what is  “about to come” then the expression really does not indicate imminence.

Again, in Matt 11:14, Jesus speaks of John as the predicted Elijah who was ho mello erchesthai “the one who was to come.” The word here simply means, “destined” or “going to.” He was Elijah who was destined or going to come. Now, if the word meant, “about to come,” it would make little sense here, since, not only has John has already come, but there are hundreds of years between John’s coming and the prediction made in Malachi. Matthew 17:12 evidences the same idea.

In Acts 13:34, Jesus is said to be raised from the dead, “no longer mellonta destined/going to to decay.” Now, if the word that I have translated as “destined” or “going to” means “about to,” is Jesus only saved from a near death rather than death en toto? Is Jesus only no longer about to decay, or is he no longer going to decay, period, regardless of whether it's a little time from now or thousands of years from now? The translation of “about to” makes no sense here because it is not the meaning of the word. The translation “about to” is a contextually referential translation that usually is taken from narrative contexts, where everything that is said and done can be seen as taking place immediately or nearly in the context. Hence, things are “about to come” because in the narrative context, that’s contextually understood. It has nothing to do with the word mello, which simply means “going to,” “destined to,” happen. Anything beyond this needs the context to supply the rest, whether it be the event that is going to happen or the time concerning when that event will occur. To assign a time-indicating reference in one context to another that does not supply the time frame is to commit the illegitimate referential transference that is common among those interpreters who employ exegetical fallacies.

Therefore, the word really just means something that is “going/destined to happen,” or “going/destined to come.” The context nuances the word in terms of when it comes. Hence, the word is not a deictic marker. In other words, it doesn’t convey how long away something is from the time it is spoken. The context does that. Hence, the word can refer to something that is distant or something that is imminent, depending on the context.

What most Preterists confuse is the difference between meaning and contextual referent. What often happens is that the word's “meaning” is gained from contextual "referents," mostly in narrative contexts, where events are all “about to happen” for the most part, simply because narrative tends to speak of the immediate future of X occurring soon in the narrative. Narrative very seldom drifts out of the immediate. The exception might be to talk about something in the distant future, such as the destruction of Jerusalem that will not occur for another 45 years or so after the Olivet Discourse takes place; but this is the nature of the context, such as in narrative, not the meaning of mello. The context can refer to an X that is “about to come,” “coming in the more remote future,” or “going to happen in the very distant future.” Genuine deictic markers are needed to secure such nuances. The word cannot do that itself, as it is not a word that conveys time.

Take Hebrews 10:1, for example, where it says that the Law was a shadow of things to come, referring to those things in the New Testament age. The Law was given around 1,500 years before that age. Does 1,500 years constitute what is “about to come”? Again, the word simply does not inherently refer to something that is “about to come.” Context must bear that out.

Then there is the more specific argument that, at least, mello when used with an infinitive. Supposedly, the lexicons state this idea. Now, part of the problem here is that Preterists tend to be laymen and they are not trained to read lexicons properly. A lexicon is not arguing that a particular construction always means so and so. What a lexicon does is simply state that grammatical construction X is used with word Y with a meaning of Z in this text. But most lexicons will also go on to indicate that grammatical construction X is used with word Y with a meaning of M in other contexts. That is because the lexicon is not arguing that the grammatical construction means Z or M, but that it is simply noting the grammar used in such contexts in case one wanted, with further study, to see if it had any bearing on the meaning of the word. In the case of mello, it does not. In fact, the infinitive is said to accompany the word with multiple contextual nuances.

For instance, in Thayer, the infinitive can be seen as used in contexts that refer to something that is "on the point of doing or suffering something," But then we see the infinitive used in contexts where the word just refers to an intention that someone has, irrespective of conveying anything about the time the intention would be fulfilled. Likewise, the infinitive is used with the word in contexts that indicate things that "will come to pass . . .by fixed necessity or divine appointment." Again, the infinitive is used of things that "we infer from certain preceding events will of necessity follow," again, without indication of time reference. Finally, Thayer states that the word with infinitive is used "in general, of what is sure to happen," again, without any time reference indicated. This is true of all of the aspects/tenses in which the infinitive with mello appears.

Likewise, BDAG, the most preeminent of the modern NT Greek lexicons, tells us that the infinitive with the word can mean "be on point of, about to," but then goes on to explain that the infinitive is used in contexts that indicate other meanings as well, like "certainty that an even will take place in the future," and that this construction with mello is used to express something that will occur in the future. It also just denotes an intended action, as we saw in Thayer. This construction also appears in contexts that reference what is simply "destined, inevitable," something that will "certainly" happen. It is used in contexts of something that happened in the past, and something that was destined to come from a past perspective, in contexts that talk about promises made long ago and were destined to be fulfilled.

In short, the lexicons are not arguing that mello always means this with this particular construction. They are just noting the grammatical constructions that exist in the various contexts with various contextual meanings.

In fact, I would argue that mello does not have the connotation of "about to" at all. Instead, that little "time indicator" that indicates that something will occur soon is actually being drawn from the context. In fact, I can put that phrase into any temporal context as a viable translation because the context indicates these events are about to take place. I don't even need the word mello to exist in the text at all. For instance, imagine my taking the following biblical narrative that does not contain the word at all and doing just that.

 But now I am about to go to the one who sent me, and not one of you is about to ask me‘Where are you about to go?’ Instead your hearts are filled with sadness because I have said these things to you. But I tell you the truthit is to your advantage that I am about to go awayFor if I do not soon go awaythe Advocate will not soon come to youbut if I am about to goI will soon send him to you. And when he soon comeshe will soon prove theworld wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment  concerning sinbecause they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I am about to go to the Father and you will soon see me no longer; (John 16:5-10)

In Romans 15:25-26, we could just as easily put the phrase "about to" in our translation: "But now I am about to go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia are pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem." 

We can do this in narrative or any context that indicates that something will happen soon.The word mello is not even needed. Instead, it clearly does not convey that concept in itself, as there are many instances where imminence is not indicated contextually and even contradicts such a meaning of the word used. It is, therefore, not the word that is supplying this meaning, but the individual contexts in which the word may sometimes appear. This makes sense in terms of things that are going to happen, especially in narrative where they are going to happen soon in the context. But since the word does not carry this meaning with it to other contexts, it cannot supply the meaning in contexts where imminence is not indicated by some other time indicator.

Hence, all of the verses that supposedly indicate the imminence of the Second Advent that have only mello as a supporting argument are actually begging the question, and therefore, do not support the idea that these things are “about to happen.” Hence, Preterists are employing both linguistic and logical fallacies to support their interpretation of these verses.  A genuine understanding of how words work removes all of the verses from the list of 101 that supposedly back up a Preterist timeline, and the supporting argument made from the word mello is rendered void.

Matt 3:7; 12:32; 16:27; Luke 3:7; 24:21; John 14:22; Acts 17:31; 24:15, 25; Rom 4:23-24; 8:13; Eph 1:21; Col 2:16-17; 1 Tim 4:8; 6:19; 2 Tim 4:1; Heb 1:14; 2:5; 6:5; 9:11; 10:1, 27; 13:14; James 2:12; 1 Pet 1:6; 5:1; Rev 3:10; 12:5.

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