Monday, January 26, 2015

Bart Ehrman’s Misplaced Zeal: Jesus’ Second Return

Since Jesus often talked figuratively, it is very easy to misconstrue what He had said and to make it seem like a contradiction. Here is one verse that has been cited as a “clear contradiction”:

  • Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24:33-34)
For Bible critic and agnostic Bart D. Ehrman, this verse proves Jesus wrong:

  • Jesus fully expected that the history of the world as we know it (as well as how he knew it) was going to come to a screeching halt, that God was soon going to intervene in the affairs of this world, overthrow the forces of evil in a cosmic act of judgment, destroy huge masses of humanity…Moreover, Jesus expected this cataclysmic end of history would come in his own generation, at least during the lifetime of his disciples. (Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999) x) 
However, in order to make his case, Ehrman had to ignore key elements. For one thing, Jesus had stated right afterwards that He didn’t know the time of His return (Mat. 24:36). More significantly, Ehrman closed his eyes to other elements within the immediate context, which argue in favor of an extended period of time prior to His second coming. Jesus prophesied:

  • You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other… And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:6-14)
These verses point to a distant coming, following the death of the Apostles, a great falling away, and the Gospel having been preached throughout the “whole world.” What then could Jesus possibly have meant when He stated that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Mat. 24:34)? Here are two possibilities:

  1. “Generation” might also pertain to the Jewish “race” (Isaiah 53:8, “descendants”) meaning that there would still be Jews at the time of Jesus’ return.

  2. The Jesus return to which Jesus referred might not have been His second coming, but rather a “coming” in judgment against Jerusalem (70 AD) during the lifetime of many of His disciples. 
There might even be a better third possibility. However, here is what is clear – Ehrman’s facile conclusion that Jesus was wrong ignores much of what is germane in order to manufacture a “contradiction” where none exists.

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