Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The Future of Christian Eschatology 3

posted by Scot McKnight

This is the third in our brief (and much more needs to be said about all kinds of terms and verses — like “prophetic” vs. “apocalyptic”) sketch of a partial preterist view of Mark 13. This view, I’d like folks to know, is not new — it is in fact old. Modern scholars who argue something along this line, with variations, include RC Sproul, GB Caird, RT France, and NT Wright. There seems to be a rise of evangelicals who prefer this view.

The Eschatological Discourse on Mt. Olivet (Mark 13; Matt 24; Luke 21)

In general, Jesus’ last discourse is concerned with the questions the
disciples ask about what Jesus means by saying “this here Temple will
be destroyed” and they ask two pointed questions: when will this occur
and what will be the sign? Scholars have argued over whether this is
one question in two forms, or two different questions. Furthermore, the
language of the Gospels on these questions differs: Mark, the earliest
account, says: “When will these things be? and, what will be the sign
when all these things are about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4). Matthew
clarifies Mark’s second question with: “What will be the sign of your
coming and the consummation of the age?” (Matt. 24:3) Luke, like an
English teacher correcting language to its simplest form, says, “What
will be the sign when these things happen?” (Luke 21:7) E.B. White
would be proud of Luke. We can’t sort through all this but two
conclusions, so important for understanding this last discourse, need
to be stated: first, the subject matter of this discourse, as shaped by the questions, is about the
destruction of Jerusalem – not the end of the world some 2000+ years
down the road; and second, the disciples, at least, think the
destruction will lead somehow into the consummation.



Let me criticize the view that sees in this discourse, not a prediction of A.D. 70 but the end of the Great Tribulation, and what needs to be criticized is that, if this is what Jesus proceeds to discuss, then he has done a number on his disciples. They wanted information about the destruction of Jerusalem and he tells them in language that sounds like an imminent event but he is actually using language about the year 2009, just to take a date from the air to give it reality. This is not how prophetic language works. It works only if the prophet is speaking to contemporaries about things they will experience. It does no good to talk to Jesus’ disciples about the United Nations or Russia or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or even Usama bin Laden and do so in terms that sound like 1st Century stuff. Now back to the text.

The first thing we need to do now is find where Jesus talks about the destruction of Jerusalem. I shall follow the Markan text, observing here that the differences with the other Evangelists are minimal and unimportant for what I am arguing.   We run our fingers along the text and we find the following: false claims of messianic status, wars, earthquakes, and famines – things called “the birth pains” (Mk 13:8), a term used in apocalyptic and prophetic literature for sufferings that give new birth to the nation. As Casey Stengel used to say, “you can look it up.” Then Jesus predicts persecution for his followers, a persecution that leads fortuitously to evangelistic opportunities (13:9-11) – which sounds a little like parental advice to children when going through something bad – “you’ll grow from this.” “Yah, right!” they add. Then Jesus speaks of betrayals and the need to persevere (13:12-13). Next, Jesus speaks of the abomination of desolation, another apocalyptic and prophetic expression, deriving from Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11, for an end-time sacrilegious act in the Temple’s most holy place. Again, you can look it up. When this occurs, so predicts Jesus, the tide will turn and really bad things will occur: “unequaled distress” (Mk 13:14-23). His disciples need again to be alert because deception will be the rule.

Now if we are looking for a statement of destruction, we have not yet seen it – unless it is symbolically expressed in the abomination of desolation. So, we go on in the text. Jesus next speaks the words that have so dazzled those who are taken by apocalyptic imagery as literal and physical descriptions. Let me translate, but here from Matthew 24:29-31 because it is more complete: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days – notice here the word “immediately”, Jesus mixes Isa. 13:10 and 34:4, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the skies will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky/heaven, and then (now quoting Dan. 7:13f) the tribes of the land (not ‘earth’) will beat their breasts in mourning, and they will see the Son of Man ‘coming’ on the clouds of the sky with much power and glory. And the Son of Man will send his angels/messengers with a great trumpet blast, and the Son of Man will gather his elect ones from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt. 24:29-31). The End. At this point Jesus gives a concluding illustration, from the fig tree – about reading signs, and tells them that this description is about the end. More importantly, Jesus says words that most have ignored: (I return to Mark 13:30) “Amen, I say to you that this generation will not pass way until/before all these things come to pass.”

We set out to find where Jesus spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem and it may appear he doesn’t. We must assume he did and we missed it. But before I discuss where that might have been described, let me speak to the implications of this last sentence of Jesus: “all these things will occur before this generation dies away.” First, generation means just that – contemporaries of Jesus who are standing there and who are not standing there, those who were alive as he was speaking. This term does not and cannot mean “race”, as if Jesus meant “this Jewish nation” will not pass away before the “coming” of the Son of Man. Instead, Jesus evidently thinks everything he has described must occur before the present generation dies away. The plain meaning of this statement by Jesus is stubborn. To quote C.S. Lewis, “That’s the worst [part about] facts – they do cramp a fellow’s style” (Letters, 256).

Now let us say that most lived to 65 and let us also say that Jesus said this in either 30 or 33 AD. This would mean Jesus is setting a terminal limit to about 30-40 years (assuming he is speaking to adults and is speaking roughly of one generation). That would mean Jesus is saying that all these things will take place before or about 30-40 years, which is about A.D. 70. (If you are still awake, you know where I’m headed.) These facts cramp many styles, especially those who think these words support either the pre-trib or post-trib viewpoint. Such a temporal limit was expressed two other times by Jesus: in Matt. 10:23 Jesus told his disciples they would not finish fleeing from or evangelizing the cities of Israel before the Son of Man came, and in Mark 9:1 Jesus said that some of those who were standing with Jesus would not die before they saw the Son of Man coming with power. So, we can conclude that at least three times Jesus had a temporal limit to the plan of God that can be reasonably established to be something like A.D. 70.

More tomorrow. Stay with us.



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Richard

posted March 11, 2009 at 3:29 pm


Lovin’ it Scott. I discovered this understanding of Scripture when I was reading some NT Wright work and have become a greater adherent with more and more research as I help preach through a series on Revelation. Ironically, my partner in preaching falls into the camp from your first post of those that see all of this and say, “Well, it probably was referring to those historical events but it’s probably for the future too…” or falling back into a wishy-wash “all interpretations are equally valid and we can’t know.” Thanks for your insights.



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Akimmel

posted March 11, 2009 at 3:36 pm


Wow,
Check out N.T. Wrights book “Jesus and the Victory of God” for a full picture of what Scott is talking about. This changes everything!!!



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Andy M.

posted March 11, 2009 at 4:01 pm


Ironically, I just happened to notice this article today, as I am about to attend this evening a bible study where they are going through the book “Epicenter” (which basically follows the whole rapture, tribulation, take it literally kind of thinking). Unless things go much better than I expect I probably won’t attend but once. I’m hoping that they will be open to a good discussion about the flaws of that kind of thinking.
But I am having one issue, I am having some difficulties finding good resources, commentaries and such, that don’t have the view that prophecies in Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, etc. are happening today. Maybe I just don’t know where to look. Short of reading huge books like a few of N.T. Wright’s (I would, but I don’t currently have the time or money for it), where might I find accessible information regarding the scriptures?
Our eschatology can drive our actions more than we realize, and so I’m very glad to find this being written about.



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Ed Cyzewski

posted March 11, 2009 at 4:02 pm


I love the angle of this article: Jesus would not set out to deceive his disciples. Sure his language is a bit veiled and difficult to interpret, but I think this interpretation is right on.



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E.G.

posted March 11, 2009 at 4:06 pm


Thanks so much for writing these words.
I argued something very similar to this (although not nearly as eloquently) as a young buck of about 19 years, back at Bible school in the early 90s. This was as part of a paper that I wrote in a class on the Gospel of Matthew.
My prof, whom I respect to this day, but disagree with on this point, made a fairly big deal of the fact that he thought that the Olivet discourse was a double prophesy. That is, it had predictive meaning for 70 AD, and it also had meaning for the eventual “end of the world” (or whatever you want to call it).
How do you respond to this sort of interpretation? I know that some prophesies can be taken in such double form. Can this one as well? Why or why not?



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Virgil Vaduva

posted March 11, 2009 at 4:34 pm


Andy M. – there is a number of resources you can take a look at re: A.D. 70 fulfillment of New Testament prophecy:
– The Coming of the Son of Man by Andrew Perriman
– The Four Kingdoms of Daniel by Dr. John Evans
– Biblical Apocalyptics by Dr. Milton Terry
– A Commentary on the Apocalypse by Moses Stuart
– Parousia by James Stuart Russell
– The Cross and the Parousia of Christ by Max King (I highly recommend it)
– The Last Days According to Jesus by R.C. Sproul
There is also a ton of free material online you can google for.



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Derek Leman

posted March 11, 2009 at 4:46 pm


Scot:
You said it yourself but I don’t think gave it enough weight. In the Matthew version at least the disciples asked about the end of the age.
Therefore I see no problem assuming that Jesus answered all three questions listed in Matthew, mostly about 70 C.E. but some of which was about the consummation of the age.
Some features in Matthew match earlier and later prophecies of the end of the age (tribes of the earth mourn, Zech 12:10 and Rev 1:7). Also Rev uses “coming with the clouds” of Jesus skiing down from the heavens to the earth as you eloquently put it in your 2nd installment.
Derek Leman



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Derek Leman

posted March 11, 2009 at 4:53 pm


All:
Many seem to be relieved by a partial preterist reading of Mk 13/Mt 24/Lk 21 as if this is to liberate one from dispensational pre-tribulationalism.
First, you need not be a pre-trib lover of Left Behind books to believe Jesus speaks of his Second Coming in Mk 13/Mt 24/ Lk 21. The vast majority of Christians believe in the Second Coming.
Second, why be relieved if Jesus in one place did not say he would return? Is there a reason we would want him to talk about it less?
I’m just sayin': how does this help anyone feel better?
As for whether it is correct interpretation, that is another matter. I’m just responding to the inexplicable excitement about one less saying of Jesus about his return.
Derek Leman



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Jeff Hyatt

posted March 11, 2009 at 4:54 pm


Scot,
You wrote, ?It works only if the prophet is speaking to contemporaries about things they will experience.? Where/when did we come up with the popularly held notion that ?prophecy? is always a prediction of future events ? end times predictions? We are left to argue the validity of single or double fulfillment of each and every prophetic utterance. For example, Isaiah 9:6 regarding the birth of the child. As a pastor this is a hard change of perspective to bring about!
Jeff



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Patrick

posted March 11, 2009 at 5:05 pm


Crystal clear and winsome as ever Scot, thanks. I remember a great debate about this in Dick France’s Matthew class years ago! I’m very interested in the where you take this – just how partial is your preterism?
I spent some time struggling through Andrew Perriman’s Re:Mission: Biblical Mission for a Post-Biblical Church a while ago. As the title suggests he pushes his preterism so far that pretty well nothing in the Bible speaks to Christians today, we are ‘off the map’ in a post-Biblical age. Jesus never imagined Gentiles being added to the church; the kingdom has come and is no longer the hope of the church; the parousia has happened; even Phil 2:9-10 becomes a text fulfilled in the first century etc … I found this sort of radical historicism very destructive, in contrast to N T Wright’s Surprised by Hope which seems to ‘balance’ (don’t like that word) historicism with the ‘not yet’ in a much more biblical and constructive way.



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E.G.

posted March 11, 2009 at 5:07 pm


Derek, I don’t think that partial preterists, amillenialists, (etc.) deny the second advent – or “second coming” as you put it.
If they did then, yes, they would be beyond standard Christian orthodoxy. But they don’t. They just don’t buy into it in the manner that dispensationalists tend to believe.
Different belief does not mean no belief.
The reason that Matt 24 (etc.) is important is because dispensational pre-tribulationalism relies on it for so much. So much so that, as Scot mentioned, those that adhere to that particular reading are also forced to radically interpret the “one generation” portion.
That radical interpretation (and several others of a similar radical nature in the same passage and in portions of Daniel, etc.) is what killed dispensational pre-tribulationalism for me.



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Scot McKnight

posted March 11, 2009 at 5:09 pm


Derek,
Whence the relief theme? I don’t sense this for me at all; for me this is about coming to terms with what Jesus meant at his time. Is the excitement about “one less saying” about his return or about an interpretation that makes historical sense?
Jeff,
I’m not sure if you are agreeing with me or not. I do sense that many want Jesus in Mark 13 pars to be saying something about our future and that it ought to apply to our future or it just isn’t working right. If that is what you mean, I see that view as backwards. We don’t proceed from what is valuable for us to what Jesus meant. (I think you might be saying that.) Jesus was predicting the immediate future of his audience — and what the said did occur. We learn from that something like: God works in history to accomplish his redemptive and judgment designs.



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Andy M

posted March 11, 2009 at 5:33 pm


Virgil,
Thanks for the list, I’ve only heard of one of those authors. I have googled, and I must just be googling the wrong thing because all I found was websites that support the Left Behind type of scenarios.
E.G.,
I think that that idea is a fair possibility, but makes it really vague about how you can apply it. Many people think that the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah would have been understood in his time to apply to someone like Hezekiah, but now are understood to apply to Jesus. But we are so far removed from the context of the scriptures it is hard enough to apply it to its own time and context, let alone try to apply it to events thousands of years later. Especially with apocalyptic literature.



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John W Frye

posted March 11, 2009 at 5:50 pm


Scot,
If it sizzles, it sells. J. N. Darbyism in its popular form sizzles. When you use plain, down to earth hermeneutics you lose the sizzle. I would love to hear Kris’s take on the kind of personalities that gravitate to pre-Trib comic book eschatology.



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Mason

posted March 11, 2009 at 5:56 pm


Andy,
I’d second Virgil on Sproul’s “The Last Days According to Jesus” and Perriman’s “The Coming of the Son of Man” (Though Perriman goes further than I think we ought to with all this).
N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope” is great for eschatology and pretty accessible.
The Matthew edition of the Tyndale New Testament Commentary by R.T. France is maybe $15 and is quite easy to find. His work here is some of the best.



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RJS

posted March 11, 2009 at 5:57 pm


John,
Based on my experience I would guess that it is not limited to “personality types” – seems like a broad range of people gravitate in that direction.



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Patrick

posted March 11, 2009 at 5:58 pm


Crystal clear and winsome as ever Scot, thanks. I remember a great debate about this in Dick France’s Matthew class years ago! I’m very interested in the where you take this – just how partial is your preterism?
I ask because I spent some time struggling through Andrew Perriman’s Re:Mission: Biblical Mission for a Post-Biblical Church a while ago. As the title suggests he pushes his preterism so far that pretty well nothing in the Bible speaks to Christians today, we are ‘off the map’ in a post-Biblical age. Jesus never imagined Gentiles being added to the church; the kingdom has come and is no longer the hope of the church; the parousia has happened; even Phil 2:9-10 becomes a text fulfilled in the first century etc … I found this sort of radical historicism very destructive, it seemed to remove the Bible from the church – in contrast to N T Wright’s Surprised by Hope which seems to ‘balance’ historicism with the ‘not yet’ in a much more biblical and constructive way?



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Derek Leman

posted March 11, 2009 at 7:13 pm


E.G. #10:
Garsh, I hate to be misunderstood and I try to be clear so I won’t be misunderstood. I did not think for a second that Scot or the partial preterists deny the Second Coming (I’ve been reading N.T. Wright since before it was cool and I actually read all three big books). I wondered why people would write with elation about the possibility that one passage traditionally thought to refer to the Second Coming does not.
Scot:
I did not mean that you sounded elated. I meant the commenters sounded elated. Your tone is more one of, “What’s the right interpretation?” Many commenters, it seemed to me were more like, “Whoopie, another sacred cow tipped over and aren’t we sophisticated.” One even said, “This changes everything!!!”
Derek “not-a-left-behind-clone” Leman



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John W Frye

posted March 11, 2009 at 9:04 pm


RJS (#15),
I know you’re correct, but what prompted the comment was a study about the personality types that are drawn away into end time scenarios entrenched in a classical determinist (everything is scripted) theology. I just wondered if Kris came across any of this.



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Chris Tilling

posted March 11, 2009 at 9:12 pm


Hi Scot,
Loving this series.
I wonder what you made of Edward Adams’ critique of Wright in his book The Stars Will Fall From Heaven.
All the best,
Chris



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Tim Hallman

posted March 11, 2009 at 10:45 pm


Thanks for posting these thoughts, Scot. These posts are really, really helpful. Thanks.



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E.G.

posted March 12, 2009 at 12:15 am


Andy M, Thanks for that. I would agree with you (and disagree with my former prof, as otherwise astute as he was) that the double-prophesy thing is hard to imagine. From Matt 24, in particular, I could never figure out how something that seemed so much to be speaking to the disciples’ question and that ended with the “this generation” thing could apply to any other time in history.
Derek L., sorry for misunderstanding. But, has this passage really “traditionally (been) thought to refer to the Second Coming”? Particularly, has it traditionally been thought of in the current 20th (and 21st) century context within which it is often interpreted? I’d bet that the answer is no.



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RonMcK

posted March 12, 2009 at 2:15 am


Derek. Yours is an important question. Matthew does record a second question about the second coming. However he also quite clearly answers both the questions. The first question is when will these things (tauta) take place (the fall of Jeusalem). That question is answered in a preterist way in Matt 24:1-35. Those verses refer to these things (tauta) several times and use erchomai for coming. There are very clear signs of when the descruction of Jerusalem will occur.
The second question refers to the second coming (parousia)and the final consumation. Matthew records Jesus answer to the second question in vv.36ff. Here he uses the word parousia. There are no signs. People are the get on with their work, rather than flee to the mountains. Quite a different approach
In the equivalent account in Luke?s Gospel, only the first part of the disciple?s question is recorded; the part dealing with the destruction of Jerusalem. “When will these things happen? And what will be the sign they are about to take place.” (Luke 21:7). And Luke only records the first part of Jesus answer (the equivalent of Matt 24:4-36), the part about the destruction of the temple.
Luke recognises that Jesus? comments about the second coming are part of a separate topic, and records them separately in Luke 17:20-37.
More detail at the link above.



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Patrick

posted March 12, 2009 at 6:50 am


# 13 John, on behalf of Ireland I’d like to apologise for J N Darby’s premill dispensationalist eschatology :)
It’s ironic that its not that big over here (and UK), while it spread like wildfire in the States. It is intriguing that eschatology seems to be shaped as much by geography as by theology …?



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Akimmel

posted March 12, 2009 at 12:05 pm


Derek Leman,
Why does it bother you that people (like myself) would be elated that a “sacred cow” is overturned. I’m glad you have read N.T. Wright for so long, but I have only recently found his writings and have benefited much from them. I have grown up in a home that follows the left behind interpretation and I find the 70AD interp. more real and exciting. I did write that this changes everything, but that is an overstatement on my part; it changes a lot though.
Andy



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John W Frye

posted March 12, 2009 at 2:27 pm


Patrick #23
Apology accepted and I offer one to you–that LaHaye and Jenkins flooded your country as well as ours with endless books of a comic book nature.



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Andrew Perriman

posted March 17, 2009 at 10:09 am


Patrick, I appreciate your concerns about the argument of Re: Mission. it seems inappropriate to address them at length here so I have posted something at http://www.andrewperriman.com/node/1584.
Excellent material, by the way, Scott.



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Tim P.

posted March 20, 2009 at 10:21 am


For a point of reference on the comment I will make, the second paragraph written starts by saying “Let me criticize the view that sees in this discourse….This is not how prophetic language works…It works only if the prophet is speaking to contemporaries about things they will experience.”
A problem with this statement is 2 fold. 1st = in Matthew 24:9 Jesus told them (disciples) “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you:..”. How then could they be around then for verse 15??? “When YE shall see the abomination…”
The 2nd problem presents the solution in the Great Commission give by Jesus in Matthew 28:20 “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: …” Talk about contradiction in the paragraph “It does no good to talk to Jesus’ disciples about the United Nations or Russia or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or even Usama bin Laden and do so in terms that sound like 1st Century stuff.” Interesting further is back in Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” That was NOT been done before AD 70. One could make the very strong and convincing case this probably was not even done prior to the computer age and internet.
If we critic the statement from the paragraph the likes of prophecy found in Isaiah, Psalms even Genesis about Jesus Christ are misunderstood and incorrect? No.
The question should be Why did Jesus tell his disciples to tell us of something that absolutely then would not matter at all to us? if your opinion on scripture were correct? The answer is in the verses stated above. I grew up as kid similarly like you Scott, in a pre-trib enviornment. I do not share a pre-trib view but I do know the prophecy in these gospels has not been completely fullfilled yet. One proof needed alone is that there is no Temple yet for the Jews, It has yet to be rebuilt, must be rebuilt, and will be per scripture.



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Tim P.

posted March 20, 2009 at 5:29 pm


There is another problem with these last two paragraphs: Why cant it mean race? per the information out on the Greek word “genea” (Strongs G1074) it most certainly can.
With the assumption that generation does not mean race, it is apparent one is trying to fit another assumption into the next text about The Future of Christian Eschatology 4 On Matt. 23 to Mattew 24, which Jesus did not link.



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Anonymous

posted March 23, 2009 at 2:09 pm


Comment for Tim P.
Paulteaches in Colossians 1 that the “whole world” had heard the Gospel:
Col 1:6
All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.
NIV
Col 1:23
23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
NIV



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Tim P.

posted March 23, 2009 at 5:31 pm


If this were to literally mean the entire world it would state it here and else where. It should be known this is not what Paul meant. The suggestion is nationalities or race. . Quote from a entry of Matthew Henrey “To whom it was preached: To every creature under heaven (v. 23), that is, it was ordered to be preached to every creature, Mk. 16:15. It may be preached to every creature; for the gospel excludes none who do not exclude themselves. More or less it has been or will be preached to every nation, though many have sinned away the light of it and perhaps some have never yet enjoyed it.”



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Aristobolus

posted March 24, 2009 at 1:54 pm


Scot, I would like your permission to publish this series, unaltered and with credits as a free series of fliers to distribute and build interest in this point of view in my home town of Denver, Colorado.



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