Preterism and the Evolution of the Gospels

Here is the next post on Preterism, specifically focusing on the evidence of what I term "gospel evolution". If you haven’t read Scot McKnight’s views on Preterism here, I will give you enough information for my post to make sense.

Here is the way Scot views the way the gospels were written and this directly influences his view of the Olivet Discourse. Mark was written first and is therefore the closest to the original words of what was actually said. Since Matthew was written after Mark, Matthew’s mention of "the sign of your Parousia and the end of the age" is only to be understood as an addition to Mark’s version for clarification, not for additional revelation concerning the subject matter. Finally, Luke’s version is to be applauded since he simplifies the language and only includes the disciples asking when these things (destruction of the temple) would occur.

In short, so the theory goes, the disciples have asked about the temple and its destruction, nothing else. So in Jesus’ response, we can only have a response which includes information about the temple and its destruction.

But in Scot’s quest for the historical evolution of the gospels, he has overlooked one important fact. Matthew’s gospel records the questions from the disciples as such. When shall these things be? Here we understand reference to previous conversation. The next two questions are -What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? Jesus had not been speaking about His coming or the end of the age as He relayed the information about the temple to the disciples. The Coming of the Son of Man and the End of the Age were things that He discussed at other times with them, but had offered no information whatsoever to the disciples at this point in time. Here is the overlooked fact: The inquiry about His Parousia and the End of the Age has not been tied to the destruction of the temple by Jesus in any way at all.

I know Scot is not dogmatic about expansion versus reduction when it comes to the way the gospels were arranged. But let’s just apply the point either way here. Did the disciples ask all three questions and only Matthew recorded the second two? Or did the disciples ask the basic question and Matthew expanded and included the second two questions in order to clarify the version of the Olivet Discourse that He was currently arranging? Read a recent quote from Scot’s blog on the subject: "What they were doing was both reporting precise quotations (sometimes) and slightly edited, paraphrased ones at other times. And I concluded this: If this is how God chose to do things, then who was I to tell God how God ought to have done things? I found it liberating."

Answer: It really doesn’t matter. By the power of the Holy Spirit the Apostles had the authority to arrange their version of the Olivet Discourse in such a way as to convey certain truths, and Scot’s quote above will at least agree with this basic principle. Matthew obviously wanted his readers to know that in his version there would be significant truths concerning the Coming of the Son of Man, the Gathering of the Saints, and the End of the Age. And these events are still in no way connected to the destruction of the temple that Jesus originally told His disciples about. So Scot’s assumption that Matthew’s questions are only clarifications of some "original" question can simply be dismissed. Matthew had the authority to structure His version in a such a way as to convey truths that perhaps had not been conveyed in other gospels.

And further, Luke’s version, which Scot wants to applaud for "correcting language to its simplest form" differs greatly from the account of Matthew and Mark which both mention the abomination of desolation as spoken by Daniel the prophet as the sign preceding the great tribulation, while Luke mentions the surrounding of Jerusalem by armies as preceding the desolation of Jerusalem. These are two completely different lines of thought. That’s fine with me if Luke was correcting language to its simplest form. But Scot must concede that Matthew had a reason for the additional questions and numerous additional parables, stories, and events included in his version. Including only the discourse proper, Luke’s version has 29 verses, Mark’s has 33, while Matthew has a whopping 94 verses. Matthew was obviously teaching many other important truths that Mark and Luke neglected.

The injection of these questions into the midst of Jesus’ declaration that the temple would be destroyed brings out a "Jesus in Context" viewpoint. The disciples were perhaps unaware of the upcoming degradation of Israel. In their minds, Messiah was here and it was only a matter of time before Israel regained its place of international prominence among the nations. But with Jesus talking about the temple being destroyed, they at least put two and two together to realize that this "Coming of the Son of Man", "Gathering of the Saints", and "End of the Age" that Jesus had already taught on a number of occasions would somehow bring to a climax any scenario regarding the temple, including its destruction. Basically they were asking, "How does it all fit together?" We can fully expect for Jesus to include in His response information concerning the destruction of the temple and other events which He did not specify would be at that time including the Sign of His Coming, The Gathering, and The End of the Age.

Another "Jesus in Context" fact that needs to be pointed out, is that the parable of Luke 19:11-27 (which greatly resembles but is not identical to the parable of Matthew 25:14-30 contained in the Olivet Discourse) has already been spoken to the disciples even before Messiah entered Jerusalem. It has already been revealed to them that the kingdom will not immediately appear, that the nobleman (Messiah) will go away for an extended period of time with His workers to "stay busy until I get back", many of His citizens will reject Him, and He will not return until He has received His Kingdom. So while some want to strip away from the disciples all kinds of knowledge that was supposedly added by the church at a later point in time, we need only look a few days prior to see that the disciples had all the facts before them. Just two chapters previous to that we have included in their knowledge that along with an instantaneous Coming of the Son of Man was a worldwide judgement, the gathering of the saints, and the assumption that the kingdom of God would come as well (being in the foreground of the conversation) see Luke 17:20-37.

Conclusions: Just because Mark was written earlier than Matthew does not confine Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse to not refer to the Coming, Gathering, and the End of the Age at a separate time than the destruction of the temple. It was quite appropriate for the disciples to ask about the Parousia and the End of the Age which Jesus had taught about on numerous occasions. The disciples’ knowledge was limited, and they most likely would not comprehend the fullness of what Christ would tell them in His answer, but this does not prevent Christ from speaking the words and the Holy Spirit giving them understanding at a later point in time.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

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