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House Divided Chapter Four NT Time Texts Partial Preterist Keith A. Mathison Vs. Full Preterist Michael J. Sullivan in HD Part 1 O.T. Imminence

House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to

When Shall These Things Be?

 

Chapter Four

The Eschatological Madness of Mathison or How Can These Things Be? 

Part 1 – Prophetic Imminence in the Old Testament

Michael J. Sullivan

Copyright 2009 and 2013 All rights reserved.  No part of this
book (or article) may be reproduced in any form without permission
in writing from the publisher or author of this chapter/article (Vision Publishing
or Michael J. Sullivan), except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical
articles or reviews.

 

Old Testament Imminence

 

On page 165 of WSTTB, Mathison makes the following observations:

Isaiah said that the fall of Babylon was “near” about 170 years

before it fell (Isa. 13:22). Habakkuk spoke of the fall of Babylon

in terms of imminence (“it will not tarry”) about 70 years before

it fell (Hab. 2:3). And Haggai said that the coming of Christ

would happen in “a little while,” more than 520 years before it

happened. (Hag. 2:6–7; cf. Heb. 12:26–28)

 

Mathison infers from these observations that “the Old Testament

prophets regularly used terms implying ‘nearness’ to describe events

that did not occur for centuries”[1] (202) and that it is therefore possible

that the New Testament prophets used terms of imminence to predict

events (such as “the coming of the Lord”) that will be fulfilled potentially

millions of years from now (201–202).

 

Response:

 

Let us look at the first verse that Mathison cited:

 

Her fateful time also will soon come and her days will not be

prolonged. (Isa. 13:22b; cf. 13:6)

 

As we noted above, Mathison implied that the fulfillment of this

prophecy against Babylon was not literally “near”; that it would not

literally come “soon” after Isaiah wrote. However, three pages earlier,

Mathison had this to say about verse 10 of the same prophecy of Isaiah

against Babylon:

 

Isaiah . . . describes the judgment that will soon come upon

Babylon in very dramatic language: For the stars of heaven

and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will

be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its

 

The Eschatological Madness of Mathison 77

 

light to shine. (Isa. 13:10) (162, emphasis added)

When partial preterist Mathison is teaching other futurists that the

prophets used non-literal, de-creation language to describe nations being

judged, he says that the judgment of Babylon in Isaiah 13 was literally

near when Isaiah wrote. But when Mathison is arguing against

“hyper-preterists,” the literalness of the imminence in Isaiah 13 curiously

vanishes—and this in the space of three pages.

 

Mathison’s postmillennial partial preterist colleagues such as Gary

DeMar unequivocally teach that the imminence in Isaiah 13 was literal

imminence.

 

Isaiah 13:6 states that ‘the day of the Lord is near!,’ near for

those who first read the prophecy more than twenty-five hundred

years ago! Isaiah predicted that Babylon would be overthrown

by the Medes (13:17). Since the Medes did overthrow

Babylon, the use of “near” makes perfect literal sense.[2]

The commentators elaborate:

 

. . . her time . . . near—though one hundred seventy-four years

distant, yet Isaiah, who is supposed to be speaking to the Jews

as if now captives in Babylon. (Is. 14:1, 2)[3]

 

This was spoken about 174 years before the destruction of

Babylon. But we are to bear in mind that the prophet is to be

supposed to be speaking to the captive Jews “in” Babylon, and

speaking to them respecting their release (see Isaiah 14:1–2;

compare remarks on the Analysis of this chapter). Thus considered,

supposing the prophet to be addressing the Jews in captivity,

or ministering consolation to them, the time was near. Or

if we suppose him speaking as in his own time, the period when

 

78 House Divided

 

Babylon was to be destroyed was at no great distance.[4]

 

Whether we consider about 174 years (from Isaiah to the fall of

Babylon) to be a short period in the lifetime of a nation or we regard

the imminence to be projected into the timeframe of those who would

be taken captive into Babylon, the time texts in Isaiah 13 give a literal,

imminent meaning. Now let us look at the second verse Mathison

referenced.

 

For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall

speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will

surely come, it will not tarry. (Hab. 2:3)

 

The imminence in this verse is qualified imminence at best. The

portion that Mathison quoted, “it will not tarry,” simply means that

the event would come at the “appointed time.” Nevertheless, the fall of

Babylon came 70 years later. Again, in the lifetime of a nation 70 years

is a relatively short time.

 

Regarding Mathison’s reference to Haggai 2:6–7, I refer the reader

to Edward Hassertt’s response in this book to Richard Pratt’s chapter in

WSTTB. Edward demonstrates that Haggai’s prophecy was fulfilled, at

least typically, within Haggai’s own generation.

 

Mathison himself seems to have some sense of the weakness of his argument.

As we saw above, he has no use for his soon-could-mean-2000-

years argument when he is interacting with futurists. Here is another example

of this. When Mathison defends his preterist interpretation of Luke

18:8 against futurists, he uses the biblical, “hyper-preterist” argument:

 

In [Luke] 18:7, Christ assures His listeners that God will not delay

long in bringing about justice for His elect. It could reasonably

be argued that two thousand years is a long delay. In verse

8, Christ assures us that God will bring about justice speedily.

Again, this would seem to indicate a fulfillment within a short

amount of time.[5]

 

Interestingly, the Greek word that Jesus used for “speedily” in Luke

 

The Eschatological Madness of Mathison 79

 

18:8 is the same word that Paul used for “soon” in Romans 16:20: “And

the God of peace will soon [shortly, speedily] crush Satan under your

feet.” To use Mathison’s argument, “This would seem to indicate a fulfillment

within a short amount of time.”

 

It comes as no surprise that Mathison, in his first three eschatological

books (including WSTTB), avoided dealing with the crushing

(breaking in pieces) of Satan in Romans 16:20—even in his “impressively

thorough”[6] book on the millennium. It was not until Mathison

wrote his fourth book on eschatology (another supposedly “meticulously

comprehensive”[7] work), that he finally broke his silence on the verse.

But even there he only brushed past the verse ambiguously. In that

812-page book, Mathison has these words on Romans 16:20:

 

He tells those whom he is greeting that God “will soon crush Satan

under your feet” (v. 20). The destruction of Satan has begun,

but it will not be completed until the final judgment.[8]

 

As we know, Paul did not say that the process of crushing Satan

would soon begin. He said that Satan would soon be crushed. Mathison’s

error here is like that of Strimple’s, who says that Adam and Eve

did not actually die in the day that they ate of the fruit, but that they only

began to die in that day (WSTTB, 317). Such doctrines bear little resemblance

to Scripture, but are merely mechanisms employed to prop

up and maintain the erroneous tradition of futurism. But I digress.

As we are beginning to see and shall see even more clearly below,

it is not altogether rare for Mathison to offer two contradictory interpretations

of one Scripture, depending on who he is refuting. He is a

preterist (near means near) when interpreting a Scripture passage with

futurists, and a futurist (near means far) when interpreting the very

same Scripture passage with preterists. To our chagrin, we often find

ourselves confronted with two Keith Mathisons.

 

As for Mathison’s anti-preterist argument that near “regularly” or

 

80 House Divided

 

“sometimes” means far in the Bible, and that the Second Coming could

therefore be a million years away—it is a non sequitur. The fact that

the Old Testament prophets used language of imminence in reference

to timeframes that were short in comparison to the lifetime of a nation

in no way implies or suggests that the prophets used language of

imminence to predict events that will take place potentially a million

years from now. There is no reasonable connection between Mathison’s

premise and his extra-biblical conclusion.



[1] Mathison moderated this extravagant claim two pages later, changing

the word “regularly” to “sometimes”: “ . . . [T]he Old Testament prophets do

sometimes speak of an event as ‘near’ that we now know to have been fulfilled

many centuries later. . . ” (204). But even in this claim Mathison exaggerates.

According to the examples he gave, when he says “many centuries,” he means,

at most, two centuries.

[2] 2. Gary DeMar, Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction (Powder Springs,

GA: American Vision, 2009), 118–120.

[3] Jamieson, Robert ; Fausset, A. R.; Fausset, A. R. ; Brown, David ; Brown,

David: A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments

(Oak Harbor, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), S. Is 13:22

[4] Barnes Commentary on the Old and New Testament: http://www.onlinebible.

net/notes.html.

 

[5] Postmillennialism, 213

[6] Kenneth Gentry, from the back cover of Keith Mathison’s book Postmillennialism:

An Eschatology of Hope

[7] Derek W. H. Thomas, from the back cover of Keith Mathison’s book

From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology

[8] Keith Mathison, From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology

(Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 585

 

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