Doctrine of Last Things Part 7

Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 7)

Transcript of William Lane Craig’s Defenders 2 class.


Some definitions to keep in mind:

Eschatology = Study of Last Things

Eschaton = the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world.

Parousia = the coming or the presence of the Lord

Apokalupsis =  the revelation of the Lord

Epiphaneia = the appearing of the Lord

Gnosticism = a Greek doctrine which depreciated the value of the material and exalted the value of the spiritual. 

Preterism = the return of Christ predicted by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse has already occurred.


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My commentary under the cut and pasted sections from Dr. Craig’s full transcript is inYELLOW , as always

 KEY ISSUE: What is contextual ambiguity and how does it make the difficulty of predictions related to the parousia and the return of Messiah more comprehendable?



Sections from the Transcript:


Contextual Ambiguity Regarding the Delay of the Parousia

Contextual Ambiguity

We’ve been talking about the problem of the delay of the parousia; that is to say, how is it that we have in the Scriptures these predictions of the end times and the return of the Son of Man by Jesus and by Paul that seem to suggest that this is something that is a long way off and yet there are a pair of sayings by Jesus that are very curious that suggest that this was an event that he thought would take place within the lifetime of his hearers? How is this best to be explained?

I am going to suggest a view that doesn’t have a name so I’ve just given it my own name – this apparent conflict is due to what I’ll call contextual ambiguity. The idea behind this proposal is the well-known fact that context crucially affects interpretation. How a sentence or saying is to be interpreted is going to depend upon the context in which it appears. I think all of us know that this is true. Take the saying, “That’s exactly what I think.” That is completely ambiguous unless you know the context in which it occurs.

In the Gospels, it is a well-known fact by New Testament scholars that the evangelists (that is, the Gospel writers) exercise considerable editorial freedom in giving back the teachings and sayings of Jesus. They will move them around, and sometimes these sayings will appear in different contexts. When they are in these different contexts they can seem to take on a different meaning.

Dr. Craig’s thesis: I want to suggest that these passages about the Second Coming of Christ that appear to suggest that Jesus thought this was going to take place within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses is a false impression that could be attributed to this contextual ambiguity.

Let me give you what I consider to be a knockdown argument for this sort of contextual ambiguity that is in the Gospels. What I am referring to here is the mission of the Twelve on which Jesus sends the disciples to preach and to heal. This is a sending or a commission that is during the lifetime of Jesus. It is early in his ministry. It is prior to the death of John the Baptist.

We read about this in Mark 6:7-13. If you have your New Testament, I really encourage you to open it with me because these passages will be illuminated much more if you have them in front of you.


Mark 6:7-13

And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.” So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.

Now, there is nothing unusual about this mission of the Twelve. It is a preaching and healing mission that Jesus sent the twelve disciples on, and they went out and did what he said and came back, and the rest of the Gospel story continues. But now I want you to turn over to Matthew 10 and look at the way Matthew relates the story of the sending of the Twelve.[1] Matthew 10:5-23. Remember Matthew is using Mark’s Gospel. Mark was the more primitive, earliest Gospel, and Matthew uses Mark as part of his source. I want you to look at the editorial freedom that Matthew exercises in using material from Mark’s Gospel.


Matthew 10:5-23

These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”

So far he is basically following Mark’s narrative. But now look what he inserts in verses 16 and following:

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; [now look at this verse] for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes.

Now, here it sounds as though Jesus is saying before the mission of the Twelve is completed – before they go through the towns of Israel – the return of the Son of Man will occur. Where does this extra material that Matthew inserts into the narrative come from?

These are the kinds of questions that are good for us to ask and seek answers to. Verses (as highlighted in red above…should give us pause.  Does this make sense when I compare it with other scriptures.  If it does not…..then why is this?  That’s why I’m encouraged by Defenders, Dr. Craig’s material and the analysis by others who attend the class, can help me to see what I’m missing or not understanding.


Well, it comes from the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13! Look at Mark 13:9-13. This is Jesus’ prophecy about the end times:


Mark 13:9-13

But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

So what Matthew has done is he has taken words from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse about the end times and he has inserted it into Jesus’ charge to the disciples on the mission of the Twelve when they go out preaching in the towns of Israel. As a result, it creates this bizarre illusion that Jesus is predicting that before they finish their mission the Son of Man will return – the coming of the Son of Man will take place.[2] We know that Matthew didn’t believe that. Right? Matthew relates the rest of the Gospel about how the disciples come back and continue with Jesus. There is the remainder of his ministry and then his death and resurrection and so forth. So Matthew knows that the coming of the Son of Man didn’t occur prior to the close of the mission of the Twelve. But because of the context into which he inserts this material from the Olivet Discourse, it gives the false impression that before they have gone through all the towns of Israel on their preaching mission the Son of Man will return.

I think this is a perfect and remarkable illustration of the kind of contextual ambiguity that I am talking about. A saying about the return of the Son of Man can look like it means different things when it is put in different contexts. Given the editorial freedom that the evangelists exercise, I am suggesting that we can’t know for sure that this is what Mark 13:30 meant – that before everyone listening to him at that time died off that the Son of Man would return. I think that the way you solve this problem is not by trying to soften the problem ironically; you try to sharpen the problem. You point to what Matthew has done in the charge to the mission of the Twelve and you can see exactly this kind of textual ambiguity that I am speaking of.


So from what Dr. Craig has explained above I get what he is meaning about contextual ambiguity.  I do feel more enlightened, for sure.  From this illustration, Dr. Craig then goes on to share his thoughts about the relevant scriptures that involve the delay of parousia and the return or 2nd coming of Messiah.  You can read the rest of the transcript if you to see how he applies the contextual ambiguity concept.  Context is very important to understanding.  Any Bible Scholar would agree with this.

Apparently there was no Q&A in part 7. I’m sure he will start out the next class with Q&A.

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