Friday, August 5, 2016

Preterist Time References, Part III

We are met with a series of verses that use the word engus which supposedly conveys the idea that the time of Christ’s coming or the end is “near.”

For instance, James states, “You also be patient and strengthen your hearts, for the Lord’s parousia is near” (5:8). James encourages them to wait on the judgment of the parousia that has already become accessible to them.

Also 1 Peter 4:7 states, “the end of all things is near.” There are, of course, numerous issues concerning, not only what the word engus means, but what nuance of the word telos is being coveyed.

Again, the texts that state, "the kingdom of God is near," or the "time is near" are all understood by Preterists to mean that the kingdom of God, the time, the end, the Lord's judgment of His parousia, etc. is approaching, but has not yet arrived at the time these things were written down by the apostles. 

By “near,” the English reader thinks of the idea as something that is almost here. It’s on its way, but not quite here yet. This is a great example of why English glosses are not sufficient to convey the concepts of words from a foreign language. The receptor language may carry nuances in it that are not carried by the original language that the translator is attempting to bring over into his target language. In other words, when an English person thinks of the word “near,” he thinks of the two nuances the English word has and then assigns them to the Greek word engus.

Hence, the word near can convey something that is in one’s presence, in a spatial sense, or something that is close to arriving, but not currently in one’s presence. The same can be said of the temporal idea of “near.” In other words, if something is “near,” it is either in your present time frame or it is about to be in your present time frame, but is not currently in your present time frame. This thinking, however, is completely fallacious. The word engus doesn’t have a nuance that indicates something is “almost but not currently in one’s presence.” 

Instead, the word simply conveys the opposite of something remote, something distant, something not currently in one’s presence or present. Likewise, its verbal form engizo, specifically in its perfect form, refers to something that has already come and is in one’s presence.

In fact, both James and 1 Peter, cited above, are in the perfect aspect, which conveys the stative idea that the Lord’s presence and the telos “maturity/end goal/completion” of the ages has come already and exists at the time of the author’s writing.

The specific parousia “presence” of the Lord in James refers to the eschatological judgment of Christ that is present in a small part now, and is ready to render judgment (I’ll discuss this use of the parousia in another post). In fact, we are told that the judge is not on his way, but instead the judge stands (perfect aspect) at the gates. The gates were the place of judgment, which means that the Lord is already in the place of judgment and the verdict of his eschatological parousia is something that Christians will experience in their lives, and something that to which they will have access, not just in a distant future, but now, since it has already arrived.

Likewise, in 1 Peter 4:7, the statement that “the end/culmination of all things is near” is not a statement that the culmination/maturation/end goal is about to come, but that it has come already. Peter presents the “end” as the current state of all things as he is writing, not as something that is on its way, but has not yet occurred.

Luke 21:31 is an interesting verse, as it indicates that the meaning is not “almost here.”  “When you see all these things happen, know that the kingdom of God is engus.” Now, if the word means “almost here,” rather than “here,” then that creates quite a problem, since the phrase, “all these things” includes the Son of Man arriving in the clouds of heaven, which would mean that redemption is not almost here, but it has, in fact, arrived. Likewise, in v. 20, the surrounded Jerusalem indicates that the city’s abandonment by God has come (again, perfect aspect).

The verbal idea, however, is more fluid in that one could take it to mean that something is in the process of drawing near, mainly when appearing in the present aspect, but it would be unlikely that the perfect form would be the best choice to convey this idea.

The noun engus is much more concrete. It conveys something that is in one’s presence, spatially or temporally. It conveys the idea that something is here more than it conveys the English concept of something that is near, but not here. Hence, a better translation might be “here,” “accessible,” “within one’s reach,” etc. The common translation “at hand” would have sufficed if it did not now take upon itself different connotations within certain circles that interpret the phrase “at hand” to refer to something that is almost here, rather than something that is here. This has led to the misunderstanding of a series of verses. For instance, Matthew 24:32 states:

“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When its branch is yet tender, and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.”

One would think this verse confirmed the idea that summer is almost here but not quite yet due to the fig tree blossoming in Spring. However, what it fails to note is that there is no Spring in ancient Israel. Ancient Israel only had two seasons, winter and summer. There were many festivals, harvests, rains, etc. that also tracked time, but only two actual seasons. Hence, the fig tree does not blossom in Winter, but in Summer. When you see it blossom, it tells you that Summer is here. It has arrived already. It is not on its way, but has come.

The point of the analogy conveys the same idea, “So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door” (Matt 24:33). He is not in His place. He is not on the road on the way to the house, He has arrived. He is at the door. He is here.

Hence, when Paul says, “the word is near you” (Rom 10:8), he means that it is there in their presence at that time, and therefore, accessible now, not something that is on its way, but not yet in their presence. It is not at a distance anymore. It has arrived in their proximity. They can access it right then and there. Hence, he follows up by clarifying where this word that is “near” is actually located, i.e., “it is in your mouth and in your mind.”

Philippians 4:5 encourages Christians to be gentle, as they are mindful of the presence of the Lord, since “the Lord is near.”

Ephesians 2:13 says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

All of the benefits of the kingdom have been made accessible to the believer through the blood of Christ. They are his to access “now.”

In Matthew (e.g., 3:2; 4:17; 10:7), the preaching of the gospel is framed in the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is engus.” It is clear that the kingdom of Heaven has been made accessible to them right then and there through the very preaching. It is in their presence and accessible to them, not something that is almost there and not yet in their presence so as to be accessible.

The grammar of engus in Luke 10:9 indicates that the message of the gospel was that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (BDAG 270 s.v. ἐγγίζω 2; W. R. Hutton, “The Kingdom of God Has Come,” ExpTim 64 [Dec 1952]: 89-91; and D. L. Bock, Luke [BECNT], 2:1000). It has been made accessible to you is the idea.

In fact, Luke 17:20-37 states that “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” It was present with them then and there.

Christ also indicates that the disciples will long to see the day of His coming (i.e., the macro-event) and will not see it. So if the kingdom of God is something that is still to come from the standpoint of the apostles who are proclaiming that it is near, then this poses quite the conundrum, since it is said to be in their midst and yet it is something that is not yet in their midst. This problem is removed when we understand the word properly. Instead, the kingdom of God has come already. It is there, in their midst. Everything else is an indication that it is here and has already come (Matt 12:28; Luke 21:31).

Mark makes this more explicit by stating the proclamation as “the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God is here (engus). Repent and believe” (1:15).

In Matthew 12:28, Jesus argues that “if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has already come upon you.”

Hence, as Paul indicates to the Corinthians, the end of the ages “have come” (perfect aspect, 1 Cor 10:11). It is not on its way in twenty some odd years. It has already come by the time Paul writes to the Corinthians, as he presents it as the state in which they live. The kingdom of God is here, “in your midst.” The end/the maturity of the age to come/the goal of the ages is among us, here, at hand, where one can reach out and grab it because it is not “on its way shortly,” but rather has arrived and is standing in one’s presence. The time is here. The judge is in the gates ready to render a verdict. He walks among the lampstands, His churches. He is at the door. He is here. That’s what engus, and in most cases engizo, actually mean. Engus doesn’t carry the English nuance “almost but not yet in one’s presence” in the New Testament. Yet, it is that English nuance upon which the Preterist argument is dependant.

In truth, all of these verses, then, do not convey that the end, the kingdom of God, the parousia of Jesus, etc. “is nearing, but not yet arrived,” but rather that the end, the eschatological presence of the Lord, the kingdom of God, etc. is here. It has come. It is standing in the midst of them . It has arrived and is present with the apostles BEFORE AD 70. And this is a strong argument for the already-not yet sense of the NT, where the end is broken up between the spiritual fulfillment of the end taking place from the first coming of Christ to the physical fulfillment taking place at the Second Coming. It is accessible now, so that Christians (before and after A.D. 70) do not need to wait until the end of this world to receive its power, blessings, and judgments. Hence, there is a sense in which the coming kingdom is already here, and words like engus describe that present reality, even in the pre-A.D. 70 period.

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