Good Question: Was Jesus a failed apocalyptic prophet that the embarrassed church had to re-work into something different?


[draft: Sep 2/2012]

(This is a different question than 'Was Jesus a Failed Messiah?')


Hi Glen(sic) Miller,

I recently discovered your excellent site when I was looking up arguments to go against an atheist with, and I was and am impressed with the high level of research and time that you put into each of the hard questions you tackle. So when I came across a blog post on a forum that really bothered me, I felt that you may do the best job of refuting it.

My apologetics question is basically, "Was Jesus a Failed Eschatological Prophet?" This is not just asking about a few verses, but about the purpose of Jesus' ministry and its "apparent" unfulfillment. Numerous references by Jesus (and other New Testament writers) to a nearing of the end times have always bothered me in the back of my mind, but this blog post (which I will copy in its entirety here) really shakes my faith. It basically tries to show that the thrust of Jesus' message was that His end-times kingdom was coming very soon, and all his followers like Paul and John believed this. Then when this didn't come true, the church distanced itself from the end times, such as in the last Gospel, John, where its message focuses more on eternal life than the apocalypse. I had originally came across this post in a forum because I was bothered with Jesus' statement in Matthew 26:64 that the high priest would see Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven. Yet this post I found was much broader in its attacks on Jesus and the New Testament message.

By the way, I did search your topics list to see if you addressed this issue, and your article to a Finland reader ( was very helpful. I do not ask that you repeat your responses from that article, but only I wish that you would answer some of the other arguments mentioned in the blog post that has been bothering me, which is below (I apologize for the length of this post -- but I'm truly troubled by it):



PART FOUR ==================== (see Part One for series header)



Do the passages in the rest of the NT evidence some 'apocalyptic urgency' and/or 'interim ethic', and if so, does it only make sense (or make 'more sense')  if the NT authors believed in a first-century eschaton, than if they did not have a concrete time expectation in mind??


Here we want to look at passages which look like 'urgency' and/or interim-ethics passages outside of the Synoptic Gospels. [But it won't include the Gospel of John]


The blogger maintains that such an interim-ethic is present "all the way through the NT corpus", but this seems like a possible discontinuity in his/her argument. IF Jesus taught such an ethic (which He didn't according to our investigation of the Synoptics) that was based upon a 40-years-or-less predicted Eschaton, AND IF the church became embarrassed by this failed prediction, then the interim ethic should NOT show up in any post-70 AD literature but SHOULD show up in any pre-70 AD literature. The blogger (probably) believes that the Gospel of Matthew and Luke were written late enough for this embarrassment to be a factor (the 'watering down' argument for the 'delay' passages), but both Gospels still have the passages he/she maintains are 'interim ethics'. I would suspect that he/she would consider Acts (by Luke), 2 Peter, the Pastorals, Revelation, and probably the Book of Hebrews to be post-70ad writings too. [The Gospel of John would no doubt be considered late too, since it is used later as an example of watering-down.]


So--under this hypothesis--these later writings should NOT have interim-ethics passage in them, since they would already be 'in the period of embarrassment' and therefore 'watered down'. This means that the claim 'all the way through the NT corpus' would be inconsistent with the basic premise of 'deliberate dilution'.


If the later writings DO have 'interim-ethics' passages (of the type suggested by the blogger), then this would count as data against the 'so embarrassed they had to water it down' part of the hypothesis.


Conversely, if the presumable pre-70 AD writings (e.g. Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians, etc) do NOT contain the blogger's version of 'urgency/interim ethic' passages, then this counts as data against the 'Jesus must have taught an interim ethic' part of the hypothesis.


Of course, the 70 AD 'cut off date' I use is not hard-and-fast, since we would presume that discouragement (and therefore the temptation to 'backpedal') would have started much earlier than that (maybe in the late 40s?), and that the destruction of Jerusalem in the 70's might have 're-energized' the expectation, if it was interpreted by the Church as the 'first signs' of the BIG Eschaton. So, my point about the timing is not necessarily a strong or decisive one, since there are other factors that would/could influence each writer's sensitivity to such issues.


Let's keep this in mind as we look through the NT documents.


By now--if you have stayed with me through all the prior verbiage (smile)--you should be aware that the term 'interim ethic' is correct in one sense (i.e., all of life has to be lived in awareness that life is finite--and therefore that eternal ethics should be priorities) and incorrect in another (i.e. today's decisions should be made in expectation that the entire social, human, and cosmic order will be destroyed before the end of one's lifetime).


For a concrete example of this, take me...


As I write this, I am about to turn 62 years of age. I make decisions and take actions now, based upon my 'upcoming' death. I have no idea WHEN I will die (if the Lord tarry), but I still have to take appropriate steps for my family (e.g. Will, insurance, instructions, etc). I am aware of my 'upcoming' death, and I am living in light of it--I am living in an 'interim' period, which DOES concretely affect my priorities and choices. I think in terms of how to 'leave something behind' for others to leverage for their generation. I think in terms of making sure my 'personal effects' will not be a source of division or embarrassment or confusion for those I leave behind. I still start 'long term projects' (which might outlive me), but I make sure that I try to 'add a little value' every day--in case it is my last. I live in the present, in light of the end of that present sometime in the future. I do not make huge changes to my life, since I accept 'where I am' as something that my Lord has given to me as a gift, assigned to me as a responsibility, and provided me with as a means to help others. I keep working at my job, I keep doing my exercises for my shoulder problem and plantar fasciitis,  and I keep postponing going to see my most treasured of friends and family (until things 'settle down' a bit more...sigh)...


It is a little like an illustration I ran across in 1994--which profoundly impressed me:


"A man was watching his eighty-year-old neighbor planting a small peach tree. He inquired of him as follows: 'You don't expect to eat peaches from that tree, do you?' The old man rested on his spade. He said, 'No, at my age I know I won't. But all my life I have enjoyed peaches--never from a tree I planted myself. I'm just trying to pay the other fellows who planted the trees for me.'" [Illustrations Unlimited. James Hewett (ed). TyndaleHouse:1988, p.259--under the topic 'Gratitude']


I will call this a "Management-Type" interim ethic, in which all resources are the present are managed closely for both short and long-term impact, and basic relationships maintain some core elements of continuity with the immediate past (e.g. job stays the same, but perspective on it changes).


On the other hand, if I knew with certainty (or firmly believed based on medical science) that I only had 6 weeks or 3 months to live, my actions might be considerably different. I expect that I would change my work status, would travel more to see family, would stop exercising, etc. I doubt I would continue 'planting peach trees'. The practices I would employ in this situation would also be an 'interim ethic' but would look radically different from the one I currently operate under--before my Lord.


I will call this an "Upheaval-Type" interim ethic, in which all relationships (with people, goods, and society) are radically changed, discarded, and/or rearranged --without major continuity with the immediate past (e.g., one quits their job).


So, when we come across scholars and commentators who use the phrase 'interim ethic' in describing a NT writer's perspective, we will have to ask WHICH VERSION of an 'interim ethic' is it--the version that lives in face of a time-unknown--but-certain Eschaton (in my terminology, "a management-type interim ethic"), or the version that lives in expectation of a 'full Eschaton' before one's death (in my terminology, "an upheaval-type interim ethic"). If they contrast their understanding of the 'interim ethic' in the passage under discussion with some kind of 'escapist' or 'withdrawal' or 'short-term' ethic, then we will know that they are NOT using the term in the same way as does Schweitzer/Weiss/blogger. We need to be sure that this is the case, so that we are not accidentally slandering or misrepresenting the blogger's position.


[Of course, we have noted earlier in the series that modern scholarship has basically taken the position that NT ethics are NOT based on eschatological 'timing' or apocalyptic within-40-years expectations.]


All of the synoptic passages we examined above reflected a management-type interim ethic (even when Jesus used more colorful, stronger, more vivid imagery--e.g. hating family, self-mutilation).


Strictly speaking, we really do not have to examine ALL the NT authors before we can decide on the verity/falsity of "all the way through the NT corpus"--we only need to surface a 'few' cases where it does not apply, for the position to be judged as inaccurate. But we will try to examine the 'bulk' (but not all) of the writers/books, to see how 'even' the NT orientation is.

Pauline Materials


We will look first at the passage in Paul (1 Cor 7), since it is mentioned by your blogger friend.


Chapter 7 is Paul's reply to several questions the Corinthian church asked him in a letter (7.1, 7.25, 8.1, etc). There are two parts to this passage: the general  'stay-where-you-are' part (17-24) and the marital 'present distress/time is short' part (25-40).


First Part: The general 'stay where you are' part reads like this:


"Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God."


Does this passage tell the Corinthians to "not leave one's slave condition, since the end of all things is at hand"?


Of course not--it says the opposite, that the current condition is an 'assignment' and a 'calling' from God. They are not supposed to 'leave all' and make a radical change, and there is no reference whatsoever to anything about the 'end of all things'. And, it also says that if freedom IS available, then it is OK to seek it.


(The blogger must have read the terminology of the next passage back into this one--but the text is quite clear that it is not about the Eschaton, but rather it is about being used of God where one is at the time of calling. Of course, God changes our circumstances under providence, guidance, and (sometimes--sigh) discipline, but this passage states the 'baseline' of being faithful in whatever situation one was when the Lord began working inside that life/situation.)


And we should note that--apart from the initial core apostles--the people whose lives were touched by Jesus in the Synoptic passages we looked at were generally told to do the same--to go back to their family, to their city, or to their work. They were transformed by the encounter with Jesus, and told to 're-engage' with a world that was (and has always been since the Fall) dying... Some were called to 'vocational ministry' (Matthew the tax-collector) and some were call to 'avocational ministry' (Zaccheus the tax-collector).


This passage singles out two major aspects of one's first-century social identity: Jew or Gentile, Slave or Free.


The next part will then apply this principle to marital status--and add some helpful perspective on dealing with the practical issues of life.


Second Part: The marital 'distress/time is short' passage reads like this:


"Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. 29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.  32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.  36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. 39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God. "



Let's make a couple of observations about this text:


One. This is addressed to engaged people first--there was a question from the church (apparently about whether to consummate the marriage or not?). The church was obviously having a difficult time with understanding the relationship between righteousness and physical/sensual life.


Two. The reference to 'present distress' is actually about 'staying where you are' again--do not initiate 'big changes' without major warrant (e.g, do NOT 'leave everything'!). Something in the 'present distress' makes it practical to either stay married or stay single. It is NOT connected with a wholesale anti-marriage 'interim ethic' at all.


Three. Paul specifically says that his comments are NOT derived from the words of Jesus (whether written down or not at this point in time), and therefore NOT connected with any of Jesus' allegedly interim-ethic teachings. Paul does allude to Jesus' teaching that celibacy is not given to all men and women (Jesus in Matthew 19.12 and Paul here in 7.7), but doesn't refer to or allude to any of the 'leave/follow' type of texts of the gospels.


Four. Everything in this passage seems to be about 'distracting anxieties' and 'eternal priorities'--themes we have seen numerous times in our examples of the Synoptic passages.


Five. Paul's phrase 'present distress' doesn't seem to be connected to persecutions or the major eschatological crisis at all. In fact, the Corinthians seem to be experiencing "a perceived state of well-being or even positive euphoria" (BKC) as seen in 4.8 (Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!). There is no mention of difficulties (except moral failures...) or persecution for the church, so the phrase 'present distress' must refer to something 'less theological'(?) than eschatological suffering or persecution. More modern interpreters think that perhaps it was the economic distress of a famine (which could be interpreted as a 'sign' but Paul does not make that connection here explicit) that has economic implications for getting married:


"Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are (7:26). The “present crisis” or “dislocation” may refer to a period of food shortages in the Mediterranean. At this time a certain Tiberius Claudius Dinippus was honored by elements within Corinth for acting as curator of the grain supply on three different occasions. The Roman historian Tacitus has also recorded food shortages at this time. Food shortages could induce social unrest and even riots. Such food shortages as well as earthquakes were seen by Christians as indicators that Christ would return... But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life (7:28). Paul’s advice stems from his understanding of “the present crisis” (7:26), which he thinks will bring food shortages and other traumas. Marriage is not sinful, but Paul recognizes that if Corinthian Christians marry in the face of the present crisis, their children may suffer." [Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 3: Romans to Philemon. (139). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]


"Some understand the phrase “because of the present necessity” (διὰ τὴν ἐνεστῶσαν ἀνάγκην, dia tēn enestōsan anankēn) to be a reference to the end-time woes that will engulf the world and are already portended in the sufferings of Christians (Barrett 1968: 175; Conzelmann 1975: 132). This rendering understands ἐνεστώς (enestōs) to signify “that which is about to become present” (see BDAG 337). Paul urges them to stay single in light of the imminent coming of Christ, which is preceded by a time of woe. But his use of the participle ἐνεστώς always refers to what is already present, which makes the rendering “impending” problematic (Gal. 1:4, “present evil age”; cf. Heb. 9:9, “the present time”). In Rom. 8:38 and 1 Cor. 3:22, ἐνεστῶτα (enestōta, things present) is an antonym of μέλλοντα (mellonta, things about to come). This usage of the participle suggests that he refers to something they are already experiencing. Consequently, some opt to translate the phrase as “the present difficulty,” referring to the pinch of present circumstances instead of impending end-time disasters. ... The word ἀνάγκη (anankē) has a broad range of usages. It can refer to any “necessity” or “compulsion,” outer or inner, brought on by a variety of circumstances (BDAG 61). Commentators frequently cite other literature in which the word ἀνάγκη appears in connection with end-time events (Conzelmann 1975: 132 n. 13). It refers to the catastrophic events connected specifically to the destruction of Jerusalem in Luke 21:23. But Paul uses it to connote moral necessity (Rom. 13:5), divine compulsion (1 Cor. 9:16), duress (2 Cor. 9:7; Philem. 14), calamities or disasters (plural; 2 Cor. 6:4; 12:10), and distress (1 Thess. 3:7). In 7:37, the one who “does not have necessity” refers to one who is able to control his sexual desire without experiencing frustration (see Gager 1970: 330–33). ... If ἐνεστώς means “present” and ἀνάγκη means “calamity,” then Paul may have in mind something far more mundane and local than the end-time cataclysm. He may be alluding to persecution that has befallen the community (cf. 2 Cor. 1:6; Acts 18:1–17; so Grundmann, TDNT 1:346). Little evidence exists in the letter, however, to suggest that the Corinthians were having to cope with any open hostility from their neighbors. Winter (1991a; 1997e: 331) identifies the “present crisis” as a famine that gripped the city and caused serious economic deprivation (see also Blue 1991; Kistemaker 1993: 239). Winter translates it “the present dislocation” to describe the social unrest that the grain shortage created. Laughery (1997: 111–12) concedes that there may have been a famine but doubts that it was the genesis of the Corinthian questions. Indeed, one cannot deny the apocalyptic tenor of the whole passage, with its references to the “compressed time” (7:29) and “the form of this world passing away” (7:31). It may be that Paul uses the word “present” because he assumes that the end-time afflictions are already happening, which “portended a speedy crisis” (Findlay 1910: 831). The suggestion by Godet (1886: 371) that it refers to the “whole state of things between the first and second coming of Christ” (see also Grosheide 1953: 175) seems too amorphous. Christians are always at odds with the world because of its alien worldview and always subject to its abuse, but Paul seems to have something more definite in mind. It is most likely that he has in view a present crisis (perhaps the famine) interpreted as an end-time event." [Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (323–324). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.


Crisis. Used three times in 1 Corinthians, this word can refer to a disaster, as here, or to the actions people are compelled to take because of such situations, as in 7:37 and 9:16. Because in Luke 21:23 Jesus uses this word in an apocalyptic context and because of the mention of a “short time” in 7:29, interpreters are inclined to conclude that Paul had the impending eschatological crisis of Christ’s return in mind here (Barrett 1968:175; Bruce 1971:74; Conzelmann 1975:132; Robertson and Plummer 1911:152; Schweitzer 1931:311). More current interpreters are influenced by the work of Blue (1991:221–239) and Winter (1989:86–106) to consider that Paul may have had in mind a famine that the city of Corinth was facing or some other local, non-eschatological crisis that induced suffering. Incorporation of something local and real to the Corinthians without eliminating the general eschatological climate created by the impact of the gospel probably best represents Paul’s concern expressed in using this word (Fee 1987:329; Garland 2003:324; Thiselton 2000:573)." [Baker, W. (2009). 1 Corinthians. In Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Volume 15: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians (111). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]




Six. Paul's use of (seemingly) apocalyptic terminology in 29-31 (including the 'time is shortened' phrase) reveals a management-type interim ethic instead of the (hypothesis-expected) upheaval-type interim ethic:


"But the question remains, How is this related to Paul’s eschatology, especially to vv. 29–31? It is commonly argued, or assumed, that Paul is urging them to stay single in light of the imminent coming of Christ, which will be accompanied by a time of great woe. But that seems to miss Paul’s own eschatological perspective both in vv. 29–31 and elsewhere. In 2 Thess. 3:6–15 he specifically urged exactly the opposite with regard to work, in a context where the alleged coming of the Day of the Lord (2:2 had perhaps caused some to cease working. But more importantly, in Paul’s view the End has already begun; the form of this world is already passing away (v. 31). Christians do not thereby abandon the world; they are simply not to let this age dictate their present existence. They are already marked for eternity—in the world but not of it. On the other hand, until the final consummation they also may expect “distress” and “trouble” to be their common lot (1 Thess. 3:3–4)." [Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (329–330). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]


"Paul is not saying, as some scholars have claimed, that Christ will definitely come within the Corinthians’ lifetimes. The purpose of 1 Corinthians, in large part, is to encourage Christians to attend to the kinds of daily affairs that would be unimportant if Christ were returning within weeks or months. Thus Paul provides practical teaching concerning marriage (7:1–16, 25–40); what type of food to eat at a dinner party (10:23–11:1); collecting money for the needy (16:1–4); and future travel plans (16:5–11). Like other NT writers, Paul considers all of time from the cross forward to be the “last days” (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2; James 5:3) and counsels Christians always to live in the light of Christ’s certain return at an unforeseen moment (1 Cor. 3:13; 15:52; see also Matt. 24:44; 25:13; Mark 13:32–37; Luke 21:34–36; Rom. 13:11–14; 1 Thess. 5:1–9). Paul’s point here is simply that the form of this world, or its day-to-day affairs, is not eternal. Christians should prioritize their human relationships, material possessions, and worldly dealings accordingly. See also Matt. 24:37–39; Luke 17:26–30; Rom. 12:2; 1 John 2:16–17." [Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (2201). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.]




Seven. The phrase 'time is short(ened)' is generally understood to refer to the character of the present time, not its duration or amount. It is about a perspective that the ascetic, hyper-spiritual (yet deeply flesh-ish) Corinthian church needed to adopt:


"The crucial sentence is the basic premise, “the time is short”; but its intent is not at all easy to determine. Ordinarily, “time” is considered in a quantitative way to refer to “the amount of time left for Christians to do what they have to do.” While there is perhaps a dimension of that involved, more likely the noun “time” refers to the eschatological event of salvation, which has been set in motion by Christ’s death and resurrection and the gift of the Spirit. Their “present distress” is evidence that this time “has been compressed” or “is foreshortened,” that God’s people stand at the end of history, as it were. This does not so much mean that the final consummation is imminent (although in a sense that is always true for God’s people) as that the future, which was set in motion by the event of Christ and the Spirit, has been “shortened” so that it is now in plain view. And that will absolutely condition how one lives in the present. Paul’s concern, therefore, is not with the amount of time they have left, but with the radical new perspective the “foreshortened future” gives one with regard to the present age. Those who have a definite future and see it with clarity live in the present with radically altered values as to what counts and what does not. In that sense it calls for those who want to get married to rethink what that may mean, especially in light of the present distress. .. It may well be that this is a strong word against the Corinthians’ general tendency to live and think on the basis of their former pagan past, which generally lacked such an eschatological perspective. Their outlook was that of having arrived (see 4:8)—not in an eschatological sense, but in a “spiritual” sense that made them ascetic with regard to the present age. Paul thus wants them to rethink their existence in terms of “the shortened time,” with its certain future that they yet await (cf. 1:7). 29b–31a This understanding of the basic premise seems to be borne out by the rhetoric of the purpose clause that follows. God has “compressed the time of salvation” so that “from now on” believers might have a totally new perspective as to their relationship with the world. This perspective is given in the form of five illustrations, expressed in the strongest kind of dialectical rhetoric. Taken literally, the five “as if not” clauses become absurdities, not to mention contradictory to what Paul clearly said earlier about marriage (vv. 2–6) and what he will elsewhere say about sorrowing and rejoicing (Rom. 12:15). But they are not to be taken literally; they are rhetoric, pure and simple. The question is, What is the point of such rhetoric?

These clauses display clear affinities both with Stoicism and Jewish apocalyptic. But Paul is advocating neither the Stoic’s “aloofness” from the world nor the apocalyptist’s “escape” from the world. What he is calling for is a radical new stance toward the world, predicated on the saving event of Christ that has marked off our existence in a totally new way. Just as in Christ the slave is a freedman and the free man is a slave (vv. 22–23) because one’s existence is determined by God, so now one does not so much live “detached” from the world (after all, Paul expects the Corinthians to continue doing all five of these things) as totally free from its control. Therefore, one lives in the world just as the rest—married, sorrowing, rejoicing, buying, making use of it—but none of these determines one’s life. The Christian is marked by eternity; therefore, he or she is not under the dominating power of those things that dictate the existence of others." [Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (338–341). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]



"The periphrastic participle συνεσταλμένος ἐστίν (synestalmenos estin) has been taken to mean that the time is “short,” “shortened,” or “compressed.” If it means “short,” then marriage is inadvisable because time is running out before Christ’s imminent return. The great tribulation and the transformation of all things is at hand. If it means that the prescribed time “has been shortened” (Weiss 1910: 197), then it may reflect the divine shortening of the time until the end for the sake of the elect (cf. Mark 13:20; 2 Pet. 3:12; Barn. 4:3). The same considerations apply; the time left at our disposal for worldly endeavors is diminished. The verb συστέλλειν (systellein) can also mean to “compress,” “contract,” “make compact,” “gather in,” and I choose to translate the phrase “The time has been compressed.” Deming (1995b: 184) translates it “Time is at a premium” or “Opportunity is tight” and takes it to mean that time for such things as marriage and the activities listed in what follows has been compressed. Deming believes that Paul emphasizes that the hardships brought on by the end will be caused “by the disruption of the world’s infrastructure leading to social and economic upheaval.” Rengstorf (TDNT 7:596–97), however, thinks that Paul may have adopted a proverbial saying (cf. m. ˒Abot 2:15) that does not refer to future tribulations. ... Paul is not concerned about the duration of time (χρόνος, chronos; cf. 7:39) but the character of the time. He is talking not about how little time is left but about how Christ’s death and resurrection have changed how Christians should look at the time that is left. He is not recommending that one should take the short-term view of life, nor is he offering an interim ethic for the impending end-time tribulation. Instead, he understands the compressing of the time to mean that the future outcome of this world has become crystal clear. The time has been “foreshortened,” which means that “the event of Christ has now compressed the time in such a way that the future has been brought forward so as to be clearly visible” (Fee 1987: 339 n. 14). ...  Paul argues that because the end is plainly in sight, Christians should see and judge more clearly what is and what is not important. Christians stand on a mountaintop, as it were, where distances are foreshortened. From this vantage point, they can see the termination of history on earth and its goal. They can discern what really matters, and they should conduct their lives accordingly. The term τὸ λοιπόν (to loipon), which Lietzmann (1949: 34) characterizes as standing lost between the sentences, does not go with what precedes to mean, “from this point forward the time is short” (contra Weiss 1910: 198). This term usually begins sentences, and here it means “henceforth,” “from now on.” It refers to the remaining time of the kairos (Wimbush 1987: 27; Schrage 1995: 171 n. 679). Paul then lists five examples, beginning with marriage, in which the Christians’ distinctive vision of the end should impinge on what they do henceforth in the present." [Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (328–329). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.


"kairos [2540, 2789]. As in 7:5, the distinction between this word and chronos (“season” or “period of time,” 7:39) should be observed (Garland 2003:328; Soards 1999:167). It refers here to a distinctive moment in time, perhaps with an emphasis on opportunity for the gospel (Thiselton 2000:579) and/or on the fact that the eschatological period has already begun (Garland 2003:328; Talbert 1987:49)." [Baker, W. (2009). 1 Corinthians. In Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Volume 15: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians (111). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]


"It is fundamental that Paul is not now advocating a moral asceticism of a kind which he has questioned rather than promoted from 7:2 to 7:28. Furthermore, although he undoubtedly appeals to a theology of eschatological imminence, this in no way presupposes a chronology of eschatological imminence. ... Witherington’s work on eschatology also sheds light on these verses. As we have already argued, he underlines the point that συνεσταλμένος means shortened, not short. This adds a dimension of indefiniteness, as well as divine action. In v. 31 “Paul is not speaking of some future apocalyptic event, but of an eschatological process already begun.” Although these verses imply an ethic “affected” by the “possible shortness of the time left,” the redemptive events which took place in the death and resurrection of Christ remain “decisive”: these have “shortened the time,” leaving believers ignorant of how long they have before the parousia will finally cut short all activity in this world. Hence “Paul is not advocating withdrawal from, or renunciation of, the world. Rather, the world is the sphere where the believer is called to obey God’s will."" [Thiselton, A. C. (2000). The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (582). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.]



Eight. Paul's later statements about 'those having wives as having none' is part of a 're-prioritization' ethic that sounds very, very much like a version of Jesus' "hate your family" and "renounce everything" passages. As such, they are consistent with the interpretations we have given for them above--they are eternal ethics, brought into sharp relief because of God's decisive action in the Incarnation and Cross. And they--like Jesus' words in the Synoptics--are pre-Jesus (cf. 2 Esdras 16.40-48).


"With a poetic rhythm, Paul discharges a fusillade of commands to show how a clear-sighted end-time perspective should affect the way Christians live. Fee (1987: 337) makes a vital point that might be obscured by an emphasis on the present crisis as the key to Paul’s advice not to marry: troubles do not determine the Christian’s existence; Christ does. Paul does not insist that they should live as if the end is tomorrow: “Rather, in view of the ‘time’ and the fact that the ‘form’ of this present world is passing away, he calls for a radically new understanding of their relationship to the world” (Fee 1987: 336). Fee (1987: 337–38) correctly takes the pulse of Paul’s argument in commenting that Paul wants them to rethink their existence and to live “within an eschatological framework as over against, presumably, their ascetic-spiritual one.” Paul does not argue, “The end might come tomorrow with its terrible afflictions; therefore, do not get married.” He argues instead, “The end has broken into the present, and it requires a reevaluation of all that we do in a world already on its last legs.” Humans “cannot live in a vacuum even while awaiting the eschaton”; they need “structures and concrete rules of conduct” (Rordorf 1969: 199). Paul offers not so much concrete rules as an orientation to this earthbound life that allows them to live in this world without being hypnotized and controlled by its norms and values." [Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (327–328). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]


"This detachment from temporal matters should characterize all Christians but it was more complex for the married (cf. Mark 13:12) for whom, nonetheless, devotion to their Lord should occupy first place in life (Luke 14:26). Paul certainly was not recommending abandoning marital duties (cf. 1 Cor. 7:3-5). [BKC]


"Hear my words, O my people; prepare for battle, and in the midst of the calamities be like strangers on the earth. 41 Let the one who sells be like one who will flee; let the one who buys be like one who will lose; 42 let the one who does business be like one who will not make a profit; and let the one who builds a house be like one who will not live in it; 43 let the one who sows be like one who will not reap; so also the one who prunes the vines, like one who will not gather the grapes; 44 those who marry, like those who will have no children; and those who do not marry, like those who are widowed. 45 Because of this, those who labor, labor in vain; 46 for strangers shall gather their fruits, and plunder their goods, overthrow their houses, and take their children captive; for in captivity and famine they will produce their children. 47 Those who conduct business, do so only to have it plundered; the more they adorn their cities, their houses and possessions, and their persons, 48 the more angry I will be with them for their sins, says the Lord.  (2 Esd 16:40–48; NRSV).



Nine. We should note that even though we tend to see 'apocalyptic' or 'eschatology' in Paul's phrases here, it is not completely clear that the Eschaton is actually intended:


"The apostle explains that the time for doing the Lord’s work is short and is coming to an end. This does not necessarily mean that he is speaking of the second coming of Christ, for Paul may have been anticipating severe persecutions and a resulting curtailment of freedom to witness. So for the time remaining Paul admonishes them not to be overwhelmed by the social and material problems of the world but to live as for the Lord. By “those who have wives should live as if they had none” (v. 29) he means, “Live for the Lord in marriage.” If life brings sadness, live beyond it, do not be bound by it. If things are joyous, do not be engrossed in them. Those who are blessed with material possessions are not to cling to them, as though they were to have them always. The reason for this challenge is that the material things (this is the meaning of schema, v. 31, “the present form”) of this world are changing and disappearing (cf. Col 3:12–14)." [Mare, W. H. (1976). 1 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 10: Romans Through Galatians (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (235). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]


Ten. Finally, we should note that whatever this passage means, it cannot be used to prove that Paul did not think he/they would not die! The whole of chapter 15 on the resurrection body demonstrates that his thinking was resurrection-centric (implying death for most) and not rapture-centric (implying non-death for most). Bodily resurrection shows up in ALL of his earliest writings--right alongside the 'imminent hope' terminology. In 1 Corinthians 15.32, he notes that if 'the dead are not raised' then he personally gained nothing from 'wrestling with beasts in Ephesus'--he is expected HIS OWN resurrection as a part of his reward. In 2 Corinthians 4.14, he explicitly states that the "one who raised Jesus" will also raise "us", and the whole "earthly tent" discussion in 2 Cor 5 begins with a "if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed" presumption. So, this passage (and others like it in other epistles) simply cannot be used to argue that he was expecting himself and most of his contemporaries to be alive at the Return of Christ.

So, when you get into the details of the passage, you see that it does not represent the type of urgency/interim-ethic described by the blogger (and Schweitzer/Weiss), but something much more in line with the teachings of Jesus in the Synoptics (the management-type interim ethic).



What about other Pauline passages?


We have already mentioned/discussed the 1 Thess passage, and saw that it was not a prediction passage (even though it was in synch with Synoptic teaching). But what about this interim-ethic idea? Does it maybe contain such imperatives that only make sense under a belief that the Eschaton would happen before the death of the readers/Paul? Does Paul display an upheaval-type interim ethic or a management-type interim ethic in I Thess?


Again, the wording is NOT what we would expect under a 'consistent eschatology' framework, but rather is reflective of the management-type of interim ethic:


"Christian hope is quite concrete. The revelation of Jesus Christ shall bring persecuted believers across the face of this earth rest from their trials, even as it brings affliction to their persecutors (2 Thess 1:5–7). And even more, God shall then keep and preserve our whole being, including our body (1 Thess 5:23). We therefore possess the great comfort that those believers who have preceded us in death, who have “fallen asleep through the Lord” shall suffer no disadvantage at the last day (1 Thess 4:15). We shall be taken up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. In this way, i.e., in this bodily resurrection and reunion, we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:16–17). As might be expected in a Hellenistic environment, Paul emphatically underscores the resurrection of the body. Throughout the centuries Christians have rightly turned to this promise for comfort in times of grief. Paul’s moral injunctions therefore cannot be described as anything other than an “interim ethic,” in which all of life is measured by the hope of Christ’s coming. From this perspective, his exhortation to “lead a quiet life and work with your own hands” is quite remarkable (1 Thess 4:11–12; 2 Thess 3:12). One might have expected something more dramatic, a call to a separate and unusual way of life for believers. Indeed, that is what some of the Thessalonian believers themselves seem to have thought. This was their temptation: to withdraw into a sort of sectarian existence, supported by the goodwill and gifts of the more affluent members of the believing community. Clearly then, Paul’s instruction in this matter is no capitulation to a bourgeois existence. It is rather the commitment of Christian hope, which takes present responsibility seriously even as it waits for the transformation of the present order. The world and its concerns necessarily assume a secondary significance, even without losing their importance. The “first things” of the public square remain penultimate matters for those awaiting the coming of the Lord." ["Faith, Hope, and Love: Paul’s Message to the Church at Thessalonica",  Mark A. Seifrid, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Volume 3. 1999 (3) (62–63). Louisville, KY: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  ]


But it could also be simply a reflection of practical needs for self-support during persecution. Even under this understanding, though, it is still reflective of an awareness that the 'end is NOT necessarily nigh' (at least not 'nigh enough' to quit working!):


"Aspiring to live a quiet life is defined as Christians minding their own business and working with their own hands for their own living. This exhortation was important for the community of believers who needed to become ever more self-sufficient within their own ranks, especially in light of the persecution coming against them, a persecution that could cut them off from societal support. They needed to become sufficient among themselves so as not to be dependent on outsiders (non-Christians) for financial support." [Hoehner, H. W., Comfort, P. W., & Davids, P. H. (2008). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol. 16: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, Philemon. (360). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]



So, the two (possibly) earliest of Paul's writings do NOT provide evidence that he taught an 'upheaval interim ethic' at all.


His ethic was eschatological, of course, since the Eschaton had 'already begun' in the appearance of Jesus in the world, and this meant that life MUST be lived in light that future judgment was very real and would be 'very individualized' as well (i.e. not just national or group judgments). His eschatological ethic is based upon an 'inaugurated' version of the Eschaton, in which our present lives are a 'mixture' of the old kairos/age and the future kairos/age.


"An eschatological ethic. Paul’s ethic can be described as eschatological inasmuch as it calls upon believers to live with a certain tension in their lives. Although they have already been justified and reconciled in Christ, they have not yet been saved. Consequently, they must live between two ages with a certain reservation about the present age. On the one hand, they are already living in the new age of the Spirit. On the other, they are still living in the old age, the realm of the flesh, which has not yet passed away. They are to be blameless before God at the coming of the Lord (1 Thess 3:13; 5:23 ), and they are to live with a profound sense that the “present form of the world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31 ). The old age is passing away, and they are not to be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2 ), for the day of the Parousia is near (Rom 13:11-12 ). Paul’s ethical teaching, then, is marked by a keen awareness that the end of the age has already made its appearance and that the final consummation of all things is at hand. Those who live according to this ethic must walk between the old age, which is passing away, and the new age, which has already appeared.  ETHICS IN THE NT.  FRANK J. MATERA, NIB/NIDB


"It is sometimes suggested that an overemphasis on eschatological matters undermines the need for a strong ethical code for living in the present. Contrary to many popular assumptions about the detachment alleged to be inherent within eschatological teaching, Paul’s letters demonstrate a close connection between eschatology and ethical exhortation. This is evident within the earliest of his letters, those written to the church at Thessalonica where Paul confronts a misguided understanding about work which is based upon an erroneous view of the imminent return of Christ . Similarly, the ethical exhortations contained in Romans 12–13 are wholly conditioned by an eschatological perspective; the passage begins with an appeal that the believer not be “conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2), and concludes with an extended paragraph warning of the approaching day of Christ (Rom 13:11–14). The same observation can be made about 2 Corinthians 5:1–10 where the eschatological teaching about the implications of a Christian’s death are interwoven with the exhortation to gain Christ’s approval (1 Cor 5:9). ... Indeed, it is possible to see the whole of Paul’s ethical teaching as providing instruction about how the Christian is to live in the interval between the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his future parousia. In the evocative phrase of Sampey, Paul’s moral teaching involves teaching the Christian about walking “between the times.”" [Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (1993). Dictionary of Paul and his letters (266). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


"Paul’s ethics are strongly influenced by the tension implicit in the belief that the coming new age is present already (Rom 13:11–12), yet only partially. The expectation creates moral seriousness (Rom 13:13–14). The eschatological teaching of 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11 is placed in the middle of the ethical sections of the letter so that 1 Thessalonians 5:12 smoothly resumes the thought of 1 Thessalonians 4:12. The eschatological reserve means that while voicing a powerful expression of Christian freedom (1 Cor 3:21–22), Paul also warns that the eschatological time is not yet: Judge not before the final judgment (1 Cor 4:5)." [Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (1993). Dictionary of Paul and his letters (272). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]



We will look specifically at Paul's eschatology proper (along with the other NT writers) in a later section of this series, so we are trying to confine our investigation here to ethical passages in the Pauline (and other NT writers') literature. We are seeking to assess to what extent the ethical passages in the non-Synoptic writings are samples of 'upheaval interim ethics'.


So, to continue with Pauline literature (in the wider sense), we should note that Paul has too many ethical passages for us to examine here! We will have to be selective in what passages we survey, choosing most from eschatological or apocalyptic-sounding passages, with others from perhaps more mundane contexts.


The more apocalyptic-oriented passages (with exhortations embedded) fall in line with the Synoptics, and can almost be classified by the main imperative in the words of Jesus.


So, the passages which call for 'staying awake' and 'being faithful to our responsibilities' find their expressions in Paul in such passages as these:


"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." (Romans 13.8-14)


"For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light. . . . Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; ... "For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you." .. . 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit." (Eph 5.8ff)


"But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. (1 Thess 5.4-8)



And the 'endurance' passages of the Synoptics find their expressions in Paul also:


"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Eph 6.10-18)


Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Cor 16.13f)



As does the 'do not worry' theme:


"The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philp 4.5-6)


"Paul’s appeal to the Philippians is do not be anxious about anything. But this was not a call to a carefree life. To care and be genuinely concerned is one thing. To worry is another. Paul and Timothy cared for the people they ministered to (2 Cor. 11:28; Phil. 2:20), yet they retained trust in God. Jesus warned against worry which obviously eliminates trust in God (Matt. 6:25-33)." [BKC]


"This teaching is also plainly announced in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 6:33). It is worth noting that the apostle Paul taught the same thing about living without worry: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Phil 4:6). It appears that the early church took the instructions Jesus had given them about worry-free living with great seriousness." [Trites, A. A., & William J. Larkin. (2006). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (193). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]



And the 'treasures in heaven' theme:


If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Col 3:1–2).


"set your sights on. Traditionally the underlying Greek (zēteite) is translated as “seek,” a term that can mean “try to obtain,” not in the sense of getting into heaven, but in the sense of trying to obtain the heavenly in this world, i.e., “keep looking for” (Dunn 1996:205). See Matt 6:33: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need,” or more traditionally put, “Strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (NRSV). 3:2 Think about. This phrase can mean “hold an opinion,” but also “set one’s mind on, be intent on” or “have thoughts or an attitude, be minded” (BDAG 1065–1066). The point Paul was making is that one’s attitudes are to be determined by the realities above rather than the realities on this earth because one’s thoughts are focused on those realities. Jesus had previously pointed out that it was difficult to do this if one’s treasure was on earth rather than in heaven (Matt 6:19–21). Mark 8:33b indicates that Peter’s failure was a failure to take on this heavenly point of view." [Hoehner, H. W., Comfort, P. W., & Davids, P. H. (2008). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol. 16: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, Philemon. (283). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]




What is entirely missing from any of the Pauline material are any 'sell all/give all' passages or 'leave all/follow' passages. These images are connected with upheaval-type interim ethics (in the opinions of some), but they do not show up in Paul at all. These would be key markers of such ethic, if the blogger's hypothesis were correct. If this type of interim ethic were "all the way through the NT corpus", we should at least expect SOME version of this in the Pauline literature--but there is NONE.


We find instead indications of the opposite: private property is owned by disciples, but is subjected to a management-type interim ethic. It is not to become an 'idol', but rather a tool for serving the Lord and serving others. It is in basic continuity with "Jewish piety" and therefore also "pre-Jesus".


There are many passages which show this perspective in Paul (similar to that evidenced by Jesus). Here are a couple of summaries or observations on Paul's view of property/wealth:


"The final two items need comment since they set up the concluding causal clause. Paul does not discourage buying and selling. As with the other items, the Corinthians are expected to continue doing such things. But Christians do not buy to possess; that is to let the world govern the reason for buying. Those who buy are to do so “as if not” in terms of possessing anything. The eschatological person “has nothing, yet possesses all things” (2 Cor. 6:10; cf. 1 Cor 3:22). Thus the Christian can at the same time “use the present world.” This is the clearest indication that Paul does not have a separatist’s bent. The world as such is neither good nor evil; it simply is. But in its present form it is passing away. Thus while one uses the world, one must be “as if not,” which in this case does not mean “not abuse” (KJV), but not to make full use of it, that is, be “not engrossed” or “absorbed” in it. [Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (341). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]


"In the Pauline church mutual love in labor is to be expressed not only in providing for one’s own needs, but also in working in order to share with those with basic needs (Eph 4:28). Acts 20:34–35 ties these elements together. The standard for possessions is to be sufficiency (1 Tim 6:8). Riches are not owed to the rich and are futile (1 Tim 6:7). They also are a danger to faith itself (1 Tim 6:9–10). Paul desired that his followers have a devotion to Christ freed from anxiety, which came from being tied more than necessary to the fallen social order, which is passing away (1 Cor 7:32–35). Economic relationships with the social order cannot be avoided, but they should not be overused. Purchases will have to be made but without retaining more than is needed (1 Cor 7:30–31)." [Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (1993). Dictionary of Paul and his letters (274). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]



"The lack of attention in the Pauline letters to the rich and to the appropriate use of riches is remarkable. The subject is common in intertestamental Jewish wisdom literature and among contemporary Greco-Roman moralists, and of course the Synoptic Gospels and James evince considerable concern about the dangers of wealth. The evidence of Acts (e.g., Acts 16:14; 17:12; 18:7–8) and analysis of names mentioned in Paul’s correspondence (e.g., Rom 16:1–23) suggest that there were many early converts who were well-to-do. Yet Paul scarcely touches on the subject of riches, and the only extended treatment is 1 Timothy 6:6–10, 17–19. ... 1 Corinthians 1:26 indicates that “not many” Corinthians were in positions of power or nobility, but recent studies have shown that it is a mistake to take this as an indicator of a low economic level in the Pauline churches. “Not many” allows for significant exceptions (cf. Acts 18:7–8; Rom 16:23), and people could possess riches without prestige or rank. Indeed, Paul criticizes members of the church for social pretensions (1 Cor 11:19) and social prejudice (1 Cor 11:17–22), and his extended appeal for financial aid assumes their ability to support the cause of helping the Jerusalem poor (2 Cor 8–9; esp. 2 Cor 8:13–15). The emerging consensus is that Pauline churches represented a fair cross-section of urban society: few extremes on either end of the socioeconomic scale, and a preponderance of artisans and traders at various levels of income.  ... The personal economic ethic of the Pauline corpus reflects standard Jewish piety of the period. This includes warnings against greed (1 Cor 5:11; 1 Tim 3:8; Tit 1:7), avoidance of poverty by industry (Rom 13:8; 1 Thess 4:11–12; cf. 2 Thess 3:6–12), priority in giving to one’s own household (Gal 6:10; 1 Tim 5:8; cf. Acts 11:27–30) and liberality toward others (Rom 12:8, 13; 1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8:2; Eph 4:28). The focus of liberality for Paul is the collection for the saints, which appears to have taken the place of the Jewish Temple tax as a Pauline expression of solidarity with the Jerusalem church (Rom 15:25–29; 1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8–9; perhaps Gal 2:10). More specifically, the rich themselves are enjoined to generosity, which will result in spiritual blessings in this life (2 Cor 9:10–15; Phil 4:14–20) and the next (1 Tim 6:19). ... Along with these Jewish features, there are also some Greek elements in Paul’s teaching (especially in 2 Cor 8–9). The warning against “love of money” (1 Tim 3:3; 6:6–10; 2 Tim 3:2) is common in contemporary Greek literature. In Philippians 4:11–13 Paul argues for “self-sufficiency” in all circumstances (autarkēs, Phil 4:11; cf. 1 Tim 6:7–8), a term common among Stoics and Cynics. In Cynic practice and in later Christian monasticism, autarkeia implied not only spiritual freedom or detachment but also voluntary reduction to a minimal economic level. Paul’s teaching—and certainly his example—allow for such a radical degree of liberality on the part of the rich. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 13:3 alludes to those who “give away all” (provided they have love). But the fact that Paul does not make explicit such a demand suggests that his expectations for liberality are limited to such expressions of solidarity as the collection and provision for the subsistence of needy believers (Eph 4:28)." [Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (1993). Dictionary of Paul and his letters (826–827). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.; s.v. "Riches and Poverty", T.E. Schmidt]



So, the blogger's phrase "and on and on, all the way through the NT corpus" at least fails in the case of the Pauline literature (the bulk of the NT corpus, after the Synoptics).

Non-Pauline Materials


Now, let's look for 'upheaval interim ethics' in the books by other authors/writers of the NT: Acts, James, 1 and 2 Peter/Jude, Book of Hebrews, and John.





As far as I can tell, the Book of Acts has the passages closest to something resembling the blogger's 'upheaval interim ethics'. There are a couple of passages that come immediately to mind (2.44ff and 4.32ff).


"And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." (Ac 2:44–45).


"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet." (Ac 4:32–37).


This certainly looks close to the two 'sell/give/follow' passages (i.e. the Rich Young Man, and the Lucan version of 'treasures in heaven').


Let's make some observations:


One. Logistically, this cannot be at the same level as the words of Jesus--the numbers are too big. In Jesus' case the explicit (sell-all/give-all/follow-me) was only given to one individual (i.e. the Rich Young Man/Ruler). The new converts in Acts 2.44 number about 3000 people, and this large of a group cannot 'follow' the apostles (even assuming that the Roman government would not instantly see this as a threat and squash it!). And the 'treasures in heaven' passage in Luke does not specify ALL possessions, and it is therefore in full continuity with this passage. But we saw that the 'treasures' passages (in all of the Synoptics) were not interim-ethics passages (in the 'upheaval' sense) at all.


Two. This sharing was not a once-for-all, initiatory rite to enter the ranks of discipleship, but was an 'as often as needed' pattern. Believers still had property (e.g. they had houses to 'break bread in' and be taught in--v46), but they sold it for helping others 'as they had need' (2.45, 4.32ff). The apostles did not mandate this--which they SHOULD have done if Jesus had actually TAUGHT this.


"This sharing of material things in common is not a required communalism but a voluntary, caring response to need, as the end of verse 45 shows. The verbs for “sell” (ἐπίπρασκον, epipraskon) and “distribute” (διεμέριζον, diemerizon) are iterative imperfects (Moulton and Turner 1963: 67): this sharing was done again and again. Everything Luke says about this indicates that he sees such provision as a very positive act, an act of genuine care. The size of the group may well have made this possible, but the later effort by Paul to raise money from Gentiles for this community shows that it functioned across communities as well (2 Cor. 8–9). Acts 5:4 makes clear that such a donation was not required, in contrast to the requirement at Qumran among the Essenes (1QS 1.11–12; 5.1–3; 6.2–3; CD 9.1–15; 1QS 9.3–11, but there the motivation was to ensure purity). That the later church did not keep the practice speaks to the authenticity of this scene...  The verb in the imperfect shows that this is an ongoing distribution. As people are having (εἶχεν, eichen) need, they receive help (Witherington 1998: 162; Haenchen 1987: 192; BDF §325, §367; the verb is used with iterative ἄν, an). This means that people did not sell everything all at once. The picture is of a community that cares for all of its members, even those in material need." [Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (152). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]


"Sometimes a false impression is gained that these early Christians sold everything they owned when they joined the church. This was, in fact, the practice of the Qumran community on the Dead Sea. When someone joined that group, his property and earnings were all handed over to a trustee in the community and it became part of a common fund. This is not the case, however, for these first believers. Their commitment to Jesus and the work of the Spirit in their lives produce in them a completely new attitude to their property. No longer are they motivated to amass wealth for themselves, but they now view what they have as resources for the cause of Christ and for the care of his people. The verb tense for “selling” (the imperfect) implies that there was not one big sale of goods upon a person’s conversion, but that individuals sold portions of their personal and real property as needs in the community surfaced. This was entirely voluntary and not mandated by the apostles." [Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 2: John, Acts. (238). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]



Three. This ethic is pre-Jesus and grounded in relationships (especially friendship and family), not eschatology:


"Notes about possessing all things in common are not unusual as a sign of ethical virtue in the culture (Philo, Good Person 12 §86; Hypothetica 11.10–13; Abraham 40 §235; Josephus, Ant. 18.1.5 §20 [of the Essenes]). The Greek view was that friends share things in common (Plato, Republic 4.424A; 5.449C; Critias 110C–D; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1168B.31; Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras 30.168). Later rabbinic Judaism argued against it (m. ʾAbot 5.10; Johnson 1992: 9). ... Community members are moved to sell what they own, both possessions and goods, and give the proceeds to those in need (...). Some scholars suggest that this reflects their expectation that Christ would return soon (Barrett 1994: 168), yet the reason given is not eschatological but social. They are motivated by concern for the needs of the community (χρείαν, chreian, need; perhaps as Jesus taught in Luke 6:30–36 or from the OT and Deut. 15:4–5; Polhill 1992: 121). Jesus’s teaching about not hoarding material provisions from God also may well provide background (Luke 12:13–21). The same motivation appears in Acts 4:35, and failure to meet such needs in 6:3 among Hellenist widows leads to a complaint and resolution in the church (20:34 and 28:10 complete the uses of the term “need” in Acts)." [Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (152–153). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]


Four. The behavior described here differs from other known 'withdrawal' groups. The economic model is different from 'true' community ownership and closer to models in the Hebrew Bible.


"Some Jewish groups, like the group that lived at Qumran, followed the Pythagorean model and turned all their possessions over to the leaders of the community so they could all withdraw from society. That is hardly the case here, although the economic sharing is no less radical. The early Christians acknowledge that Jesus owns both them and their property (cf. 4:32); they sell off property to meet needs as they arise (4:34–35) and open their homes as meeting places for fellow Christians (2:46). These actions do not reflect an ascetic ideal, as in some Greek and Jewish sects, but instead the practice of radically valuing people over possessions. Such behavior reportedly continued among Christians well into the second century, and it was long ridiculed by pagans until pagan values finally overwhelmed the church." [Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Ac 2:43–45). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


"Here two ideals for a community of goods seem to be combined. First is the Greek ideal of a community in which everything is held in common and shared equally. It is a basically utopian concept, which can be traced as far back as the Pythagorean communities and is often expressed by the same phrase Luke employed in v. 44, “holding all in common” (echein hapanta koina). Verse 45, however, speaks against the early Christian community adopting a practice of community ownership. The imperfect tense is used, indicating that this was a recurrent, continuing practice: their practice was to sell their property and goods and apportion the proceeds whenever a need arose. This is much more in keeping with the Old Testament ideal of community equality, of sharing with the needy so that “there will be no poor among you” (Deut 15:4f.)." [Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (120–121). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]



Fifth. This giving would be done by only a very small portion of these disciples, since most of them would be 'the poor'. The givers are being 'rich toward God', and are motivated by love, not by an 'imminent eschaton'.


"No needy people (οὐδὲ … ἐνδεής, oude … endeēs) are a part of the group, as this pooling of resources meets all needs. Literally, there is no one who “lacked” in the community. This meets a standard God called for in Deut. 15:4, where there are to be no poor because of God’s provision in the land for his people (Le Cornu and Shulam 2003: 253; see also Matt. 25:35–40). This OT passage is part of a larger discussion on possessions (Deut. 15:1–18). All of these descriptions of the mutual care within the community are presented positively by Luke. These acts evidence the community’s piety and mutual commitment to God and one another. It is a sign that they see each other as family or friends, worthy of compassionate care. Witherington (1998: 162–63) notes that the Qumran Essenes had such a standard—not to show friendship or kinship, however, but for reasons of ritual purity (1QS 5.1–3; 9.3–11; CD 9.1–15). Greek culture also sensed the appeal of such community (Plato, Republic 5.449C; Critias 110C–D; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1168B: “Friends have one soul between them”). Philo shows that this was evident in Judaism (Abraham 40 §235; a major Greek theme, Johnson 1992: 86; Conzelmann 1987: 36; Eckey 2000: 126–27). ... The explanation (γάρ, gar) for the mechanism of achieving this concrete expression of community follows. Some members own houses and land, part of a very small middle class in this first-century culture, about 10 percent of the population. The upper class was even smaller, constituting 4 to 7 percent. These members of the new movement are selling what they have and bringing the proceeds to the community as represented by the apostles, who oversee the distribution of resources. The imperfect verb ἔφερον (epheron, were bringing) and present participle (πωλοῦντες, pōlountes, selling) in combination suggest a gradual liquidation of assets, not selling everything all at once (Williams 1990: 93). The Greek verbs for “set” and “distribute” in verse 35 are also imperfect . ... That Ananias and Sapphira could have kept some of their proceeds (Acts 5:3–4) supports the idea that such liquidation took place over time, not all at once, as does Mary’s owning a home in the city (12:12–13). Such a need to pool resources may well have arisen because many in the new community were poor and, in addition, persecution may well have left others in the community isolated socially. So the response is one that emerges out of concern for fellow members. They are giving without expecting anything back in return, an ethic like that noted in Luke 6:34. " [Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (214–215). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]



Sixth. There is a sense in which this practice is eschatological, in that it pre-figures what the eventual/full kingdom will be like. Just like the judgment of the world was 'inaugurated'  at the Cross, the miracles of Jesus were due to the in-breaking of the Eschatological Jubilee, the resurrection of Jesus was the first-yet-decisive victory over cosmic forces, the outpouring of the Spirit was the 'down payment' of the promise of universal intimacy with God (a la Joel, in Peter's sermon), the gift of tongues was the reversal of the Tower of Babel, so too was this mutuality-loving-sharing-unity a foretaste of the Ultimate Community:


"The Christians’ unity, grounded in their reception of the apostles’ teaching, is a mark of the restored community of the last days (Mic 2:12; cf. Isa 11:6–7; 1QS 5:1–3)." [Trites, A. A., & William J. Larkin. (2006). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 12: The Gospel of Luke and Acts (398). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]


"If v. 32 depicted the Christian sharing in terms of Greek ideals, verse 34a sets forth the Old Testament ideal: “There were no needy persons among them.” This is the ideal God established for Israel. According to Deut 15:4f., Israel was to keep God’s commands; and God would bless them; there would be no poor among them. There is evidence that in New Testament times the text of Deut 15:4 was seen as a reference to the ideal final times when Israel would be fully faithful to the law and there would be no poverty in the land." [Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (152). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.




So, these first-- and most promising-- passages in Acts end up not supporting the hypothesis at all. They don't manifest any 'eschatological motivation'--but they might result from the 'inaugurated' eschatological forces unleashed by the Lord. They don't support 'upheaval' but rather 'management' type 'interim ethics'. And--if you buy the later dating of Luke-Acts, they are in the reverse timing sequence needed to support the hypothesis (and therefore count against the hypothesis).


For a NT book that both starts with (Acts 1.3:  He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.) and ends on (Acts 28, 31: He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.) the theme of 'the kingdom of God', the accounts of disciples and/or converts are quite free of calls to 'sell/give/follow' or even 'leave and follow' instructions and they show that believers continued to own property (and use it for the kingdom).  For examples, we could note the Ethiopian treasurer (who was not ordered to quit his job and sell all his possessions) in Acts 8 , the soldier Cornelius (who was not ordered to quit his job and sell his possessions) in Acts 10, the proconsul of Cyprus (who was not ordered to quit his job and sell his many possessions ) in Acts 13, the merchant Lydia (who was not ordered to quit her job and sell her house) in Acts 16, the Philippian jailer (who was not ordered to quit his job and sell his possessions) in Acts 16, or even Philip the 'traveling evangelist' who (in Acts 21) owns a house and has 4 daughters in the ministry.


There are other passages in Acts which have eschatological-connected ethical imperatives, but they are of the 'judgment is coming surely and unexpectedly' type--and not keyed to timing issues and not demanding 'upheaval' at all. They look more like the eschatological demands of John the Baptist--he did not demand that tax-collectors quit their job, or that soldiers resign from the military. He just told them to clean up their act, in light of the reality of coming judgment. In Pauline terms, he spoke of the day of judgment when the 'secrets of men will be judged' by Christ...



James (ethics).


James--like all NT authors--looks forward to the Eschaton, when all things are restored and/or renewed. For James, whose concern was largely about injustice and problems within the faithful, the 'reversal' aspect of the Eschaton (the last shall be first, the poor will inherit, etc) is prominent. But this leads to an 'interim ethic' of patience and quiet waiting--more like the management ethic evidenced elsewhere.


"Eschatological motifs. The nexus between a pragmatic and this-worldly religion and the yearning for divine intervention into cosmic history is one that at first glance is hard to justify. Yet in the later wisdom books (e.g., Wisd Sol) the link is there, probably because of a common concern to trace all activity, divine and human alike, to the creator. At the center of the Hebrew faith is the belief in a creator-God who places all things “in order” (...). Evil, which connotes disorder and disharmony with the will of the creator, is a challenge to that divine purpose. But in the end order—on a cosmic scale as well as in human society and individual lives—will be restored. ...  James carries forward this teaching with his stress on the divine creation (1:18) and the call for order to reverse the destructive and disintegrating effects of evil (3:6). His main interest, however, lies elsewhere, namely, in the social inequalities and injustices that cry out for divine visitation and rectification (2:5–7; 4:11–12; 5:1–9). In the meantime, as an “interim ethic,” the readers are counseled to patience and quiet waiting for God to act (5:10, 16), in the spirit of the wisdom teachers who took Job as their model." [Martin, R. P. (1998). Vol. 48: James. Word Biblical Commentary (xcii). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


He displays the 'already/not-yet' tensions in the present era in the images of 'firstfruits' (as the resurrected Christ is the 'firstfruits from among the dead', in Pauline terms, cf. I Cor 15.20).


"The letter of James is really a paraenesis, a didactic text that gathers moral instruction from a variety of sources, including Jewish and Greek, as well as Christian, traditions. As such it surely represents the moral life as living in accord with tradition, but it tests tradition and behavior by “the wisdom from above” (Jas 3:17). This wisdom is not simply based on experience; it is wisdom in light of the end. In the light of “the coming of the Lord” readers are advised to “be patient” (Jas 5:7–8). Such patience entails both the endurance of hardship (Jas 1:2–4; utilizing the tradition of joy in suffering [cf. 1 Pet 1:6–7; Rom 5:3–5]) and withstanding temptation (Jas 1:12–16, in the form of a beatitude, a wisdom form). Moreover, in the light of the coming great reversal (Jas 2:5; 4:6–10; 5:1), the rich are urged to repent. Such repentance entails rejecting the conventional reliance on wealth that passes for wisdom (Jas 1:9–11; 4:13–5:3), and it requires hospitality to the poor (Jas 2:2–6), justice (Jas 5:4) and tangible charity (Jas 1:27; 2:15–17). ... The “wisdom from above” is not a human achievement but a gift “from above” (cf. Jas 1:5, 17–18). It is not an esoteric knowledge or gnostic enlightenment; it results in virtue, in community-forming and community-preserving traits of character (Jas 3:17), so that Christians become “firstfruits of his creatures” (Jas 1:18), firstfruits of “a harvest of righteousness” (Jas 3:18; see Righteousness)." [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


BTW, the image of 'firstfruits' is a pretty good one for 'inaugurated eschatology', in that there is continuity-yet-escalation notion built in:


"In the OT, the firstfruits of the field, all produce (both raw and processed) and flocks are to be consecrated and offered to God according to sacerdotal prescriptions (Exod. 22:28; 23:19; Deut. 18:4; 26:2, 10; Num. 18:8–12; Neh. 10:37; cf. Jdt. 11:13). The offerings of firstfruits provides the redemption of the harvest, as the firstborn of people and animals also need (Exod. 13:2–16; Num. 3:12–16). In Neh. 10:36–37, the firstfruits of all the harvest is put side by side with the firstborn of the people and livestock that have to be offered to God as a thanksgiving offering and for the support of the priesthood. In a special sense, the ‘first’ is also supposed to be the best, the ‘choicest’ (Rigsby, ABD: 2.796). It is the harbinger and sample of the full harvest. Then it is used figuratively with Israel (Jer. 2:3; ראשׁית). Philo speaks of Israel as ‘a kind of firstfruits to the Maker and Father’ (Spec. Leg. 4.180). The idea, however, is not very common in Jewish tradition. ... The figure is used exclusively in a metaphorical sense in the New Testament. The presence of the Holy Spirit with believers are the firstfruits, an indication of that which is to come (Rom. 8:23). In this sense ‘first in a sequence’ is Christ’s resurrection as the ‘firstfruits of those who have died’ (1 Cor. 15:20; 1 Clem. 24:1). In the same way, Israel, in the image of the dough in Rom. 11:16, is also like the first piece whose holiness assures the holiness of the entire lump, a sample pointing to the greater yield. Epaenetus is the firstfruits of the Christians in Asia (Rom. 16:5), and the household of Stephanus is also the firstfruits of the Christians in Achaia (1 Cor. 16:15) in the sense that they are the first converts in a sequence (cf. 1 Clem. 42:4; also 2 Thess. 2:13). In Rev. 14:4, the ‘followers of the Lamb’ are redeemed from humankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb. ... In the same manner, in Jas 1:18, those reborn are ‘a kind of firstfruits,’ the first in a sequence, in which other ‘creatures’ (κτίσματα) will come to follow. Our author conceives of the renewed messianic people of God as the prelude to the new creation of the whole world, the representative beginning of the redemption of the world (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10; 4:24). Such description also points forward to the time when God’s intention (cf. 1:18: βουληθείς) to redeem his whole creation will be completed. Meanwhile, the eschatological community of God’s people as recipient of the word of truth has entered the new order where the powers of evil (or evil inclination) have been broken." [Cheung, L. L. (2003). The Genre, Composition and Hermeneutics of the Epistle of James (245–246). Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press.]


"The first of the seasonal produce from the soil (Heb. bikkûrɩ̂m, “first ripe”; rēʾšɩ̂ṯ, “first processed”). It was considered to be intrinsically holy, the possession of God. In acknowledgement that Yahweh owns the land as well as the crops produced on it, and also that he brought Israel into the land, the first part of the crop was to be transferred to God before the rest could be consumed. Without that transfer, there could be no blessing on the rest of the crop (Lev. 19:23–25; 23:14; Deut. 26:1–15; Prov. 3:9–10). This transfer of the firstfruits to God was required not only from the first ripe of the crop, but also from the first processed of some products: grain, new wine, new olive oil, first syrup, leavened food, bread dough, and even wool (Lev. 2:12; Num. 15:20–21; 18:12; Deut. 18:4). ... The very first sheaf of grain harvested (probably barley, since it ripened first) was to be transferred to God by the elevation ceremony (“wave” in many translations; NRSV “raise”) before the Lord (Lev. 23:10ff.) preceding the consumption of any of the new harvest, along with other sacrifices. This public act proclaimed that the harvest belonged to the Lord. Seven weeks later a sacred occasion was to be proclaimed during which no laborious work could be performed. ... In Greek literature up to the 1st century, Gk. aparchḗ is used as a term for “firstfruits” sacrificed to the gods in nonbiblical literature and to the Lord in the LXX. In the NT Paul uses this concept of firstfruits, especially relating to the OT, as a metaphor for Jesus as the first one to rise from the dead, the first in a series of those who will rise from the dead in the future (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). He also uses it to describe the first converts to Christianity in certain geographical areas (1 Cor. 16:15; Rom. 16:5). In Rom. 8:23 Paul names the gift of the Spirit as firstfruits. In Rom. 11:16 he uses a double metaphor of the dough as firstfruits to the whole lump, and secondly a tree, naming roots and branches. Both stress that Israel is holy because of her holy origin, despite unholy appearances at this time. Similarly, James (Jas. 1:18) uses the term to address Christians as the “firstfruits of (God’s) creatures.” In Rev. 14:4 the 144 thousand are a “firstfruit” for Christians; they are undefiled, without deceit, and spotless." [Hildenbrand, M. D. (2000). Firstfruits. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers & A. B. Beck, Ed.) (462). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.]


"Whereas OT occurrences of “first fruits” all refer to a literal offering or a portion of the harvest (except for the metaphorical usage in Jer 2:3), the NT usage of aparche (“beginning”) is exclusively figurative. The figure is based on the agricultural or ritual fact. Just as literal first fruits are a harbinger and sample of the full harvest, the presence of the Holy Spirit with the believer is an indication of that which is to come (Rom 8:23), Christians are the first fruits of God’s people (Jas 1:18 and probably 2 Thess 2:13), and those who follow the Lamb are the first fruits to God (Rev 14:4). Just as literal first fruits are first in sequence, Epaenetus is the first fruits of the Christians in Asia, and the household of Stephanus is the first fruits of the Christians in Achaia. Combining the ideas of the harbinger and first in sequence, Christ, in his resurrection, is the “first fruits of those that slept.” Just as the ritual called for a heave offering of the “first fruits” of a batch of dough (Num 15:20) and the holiness of the first piece of dough assures the holiness of the entire lump, believing Jews are a sample pointing to a much greater yield (Rom 11:16)." [Rigsby, R. O. (1992). First Fruits. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 2: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (797). New York: Doubleday.]



So, the ethics in James do not seem to support the hypothesis of a 'consistent eschatology' at all.


And--without getting too far ahead--I should point out that there may be a timing problem here for the blogger's hypothesis.


Many consider the book of James to be one of the earliest (if not the earliest) of the NT writings, being written in the early 40's. If ever there was a pre-70 writing that SHOULD manifest some kind of upheaval-now ethic or separatist ethic or urgency of mission, it would be HERE. But the teaching is simply not to be found in James--even though there are apocalyptic-sounding elements. The ethic anticipates an upheaval later (with the Great Reversal), but believers are called to endurance, faithfulness, peace, wisdom, and community love.


Additionally, it is interesting to note that James' use of the New Birth motif in 1.18 ("He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created") is very close to the images of the New Birth in John's writings and to the New Creation images in Paul. James refers to the kingdom in one place (as yet future), but there is nothing AT ALL about imminence or short-term thinking. [This assumes that the reference to 'birth here' is the new birth and not the original creation--see comments below.]


This suggests that the images of the New Birth (in John and in 1 Peter) are as old as 'kingdom talk', and that there is no 'linear watering down' evident. The New Birth / Birth from above images are not present in the Synoptics (with the possible exception of the seed in the Parable of the Sower?) and their presence in James (and 1 Peter) show that they were not later add-ons, foisted upon the gospel Jesus by an embarrassed church.


"The translation “word of truth” = “word about truth” could be taken the same way but also suggests being understood as a particular expression of God’s “Word.” Three obvious options suggest themselves. First, the word by which God created humans (Gen 1:26–30; see also James 3:9 and Rom 1:25; see Edsman, “Schöpferwille,” 11–44; Elliott-Binns, 159–61). Second, the creation of the people Israel by the giving of Torah—the law is designated as logos alētheias in the LXX (Ps 118:43, 142, 151; Mal 2:6). Finally, the creation of the Christian community by the word of the Gospel—in several NT passages, the expression logos alētheias has precisely that connotation (see esp. 2 Cor 6:7; Eph 1:13; Col 1:5; 2 Tim 2:15; also Acts 26:25; Gal 2:5, 14; 1 Tim 3:15); see Edsman, “Schöpfung,”). In this final case, the entire clause would remind us of the language about regeneration or rebirth through the Gospel found in passages such as John 1:13; 3:3–5; 1 Cor 4:15; Gal 4:19; Philemon 10, and especially 1 Pet 1:23–25." [Johnson, L. T. (2008). Vol. 37A: The letter of James: A new translation with introduction and commentary. Anchor Yale Bible (197–198). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]


"The idea of the new birth is actually found in Judaism and flourished in Palestine via Hellenism. It is true that the rabbinic notion of the new creation does not include in the new spirit or heart of the proselyte the NT concept of moral renewal in our Christian rebirth. Elliott-Binns,127a among others, declares that “James knows nothing of any ‘new’ creation” in Christian theology: that was “later”; but it is known in Eph. 2:10 and the Fourth Gospel, which (3:3, 7, like James 1:17) has the word for “from above”: this remarkable coincidence suggests that in both these sources we have evidence of yet another verbum Christi." [Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (77). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.]


"Third, birth or new birth theology is attested in all forms of Christian tradition, whether in Paul (Eph. 1:5; Rom 12:2; 1 Cor. 4:15; Tit. 3:5), Peter (1 Pet. 1:3, 23), or John (Jn. 1:13; 3:3–8; Jn 1 3:9; 4:10)." [Davids, P. H. (1982). The Epistle of James: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (89). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.]


But also that the 'seed' image hearkens back to the Parable of the Sower, bringing the two traditions closer to together:


The “word” as a reference to the gospel of truth has its roots in Jesus’s “seed” parables (see Matt. 13:18–43, where the “seed” of the parable of the sower is interpreted as the λόγος [logos, word] of the kingdom, the gospel). In John 17:17 Jesus’s prayer makes it explicit: “Your word is truth.” ...The imagery of seeding with the word of truth is picked up again in 1:21, where the implanted word is like seed planted in the ground, or semen in the womb, that produces new life (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23–25; 1 John 3:9)." [McCartney, D. G. (2009). James. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (110). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]


So, James provides no data to support for the hypothesis, and some data to contradict it.



1st Peter (ethics).


First Peter is actually similar in tone and theme to what we have seen so far. Ethics are 'tightened up' because the end is certain (because of the past), yet unknown and irreversible (because of the plan of God). This eschatological perspective is not simply of judgment, but also of hope--we can have confidence that our present actions have eternal/kingdom implications.


The future is in the present (in the 'Church age') as it was in the past (in the life/death/victory of Jesus), yet we hope for a fuller manifestation of the intensity of God's salvific work in the Eschaton. This timing perspective is held in common by all NT figures, from John the Baptist on.


In 1st Peter 4.7 we see this:


The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.


"The sense of the perfect ἤγγικεν (“has come near”) emphasizes not so much the mere approach of the end as its presence in the end-time events that are already under way (e.g., 4:17), pointing to the imminence of the consummation. The announcement of the imminent end using the stem ἐγγ- is familiar to early Christian tradition, reflected in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt 3:2) and of Jesus (Matt 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9, 11) and in epistolary tradition (Rom 13:12; Phil 4:5; Heb 10:25; Jas 5:8; Rev 1:3; cf. 1 Cor 7:29; Rev 22:20 for the same sense but without the stem ἐγγ-). Reference to the impending end is often used, as it is here, as the basis for paranesis, since knowledge that there is an end of time and a judgment gives to the present its seriousness and its meaning. Although the phrase πάντων δὲ τὸ τὲλος ἤγγικεν is unique to 1 Peter, therefore, the point belongs to common Christian tradition." [Achtemeier, P. J. (1996). 1 Peter: A commentary on First Peter (E. J. Epp, Ed.). Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (293–294). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.]



In this sample passage, we have an eschatological statement and the ethical imperatives drawn from it. Are the imperatives more like 'management interim ethics' or 'upheaval interim ethics'?


"He describes how to live life with an end-time perspective (therefore). Christians do not sell all their possessions and stand on a hilltop waiting to see Jesus in the clouds. Instead an end-time perspective drives them to serious prayer with a watchful attitude. Peter’s command (aorist imperative) assumes his readers were not doing this." [Derickson, G. (2010). The First Epistle of Peter. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (R. N. Wilkin, Ed.) (1164). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.]


“Therefore” (oun) introduces the ethical implications of eschatology. Jesus taught responsible living in the light of his return (cf. Luke 12:35–43; 17:26–27). Christians are not to give way to “eschatological frenzy” but to practice self-control and be active in prayer. (Peter had set a negative example in his failure to watch and pray in the Garden [Matt 26:40–41]." [Blum, E. A. (1981). 1 Peter. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (246). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]


"The exhortation to ethics in light of the end is found not only in Revelation but also in “many and various” ways throughout this literature. 1 Peter, for example, saw the moral life in the light of the “living hope” and “inheritance” secured by the resurrection (1 Pet 1:3–5), reminding readers that “the end of all things is near” (1 Pet 4:7), warning them of the judgment (1 Pet 1:17; 4:17) and urging them to attend to Christ’s glory (1 Pet 4:13; 5:1). Life in the light of the end is in 1 Peter, no less than in Revelation, patient endurance of suffering, “sharing Christ’s suffering” (1 Pet 4:13) and his glory (1 Pet 5:1)." [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


"The previous paragraph ended with a reference to the final judgment (v. 5), death, and the resurrection (v. 6). Hence, it is not surprising that v. 7 opens with a reference to the end of history.... The reason the end is near is that the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ have inaugurated the last days (cf. 1 Cor 10:11; 1 John 2:18). In the New Testament the theme that the end of history is imminent is often sounded (Rom 13:11–12; Phil 4:5; Heb 10:23–25; Jas 5:7–8; Rev 1:3; 22:10). All the following exhortations in this paragraph draw an inference from the coming of the end. See the “therefore” (oun) in the middle of v. 7. Because the end is near, believers should live in the following way. ...  The imminence of the end should function as a stimulus to action in this world. The knowledge that believers are sojourners and exiles, whose time is short, should galvanize them to make their lives count now. We might expect a call for extraordinary behavior, thinking something unusual would be demanded in light of the arrival of the end. Peter exhorted his readers, however, to pursue virtues that are a normal part of New Testament paraenesis." [Schreiner, T. R. (2003). Vol. 37: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. The New American Commentary (210–211). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]


This ethic is still in the 'patient endurance' and 'focus on the eternal' categories:


"The end of all things is near: The second coming is not in view here as much as is the transience of all that pertains to the closing present age. When he goes on to admonish readers to be clear minded and self-controlled, Peter is not seeking to calm over-excited readers keyed up by the anticipation of Christ’s return, a situation Paul once had to address (2 Thess. 2:1–2). The readers are bidden to hold loosely to earthly commitments and not to let their attention be unduly absorbed by them. They are to be clear minded about their true priorities and self-controlled, calm, in their consideration of all that concerns their life. The reason for this watchful self-discipline? So … you can pray. This maintains uncluttered lines of communication with the Lord, both to discern his will and to receive his directions for carrying it out. Being too caught up with worldly affairs and being confused by their attendant worries can ruin prayer-life and spoil spiritual relationships, both with God and with fellow Christians." [Hillyer, N. (2011). 1 and 2 Peter, Jude. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (125). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]


"Peter is saying that because his readers are living in the last stage of a divinely initiated process, whose outcome has already been assured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1:3; 3:22), their behavior should reflect that reality. The end of all things is the basis (οὖν, oun, therefore) for four exhortations that flesh out in practical terms the resources needed for the Christian community to be an alternate society in which its members may take refuge from the rejection of a hostile society. Peter gives four practical ways that his readers are to live out Christ’s victory in Christian community:


          1.      Think rightly and be clear-minded so you can pray.

          2.      Persist in a love for one another that “covers” sin.

          3.      Be graciously hospitable to fellow believers without complaining.

          4.      Serve one another with the gifts of grace you have received.


"Peter wants his readers to live in light of the reality he has just asserted in 4:7, that everything (pantōn) is coming to its final outcome as judged by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Nothing and no one is exempt from the redemptive process that will bring deliverance to some and condemnation to others. Therefore, the Christian worldview vitally involves all things." [Jobes, K. H. (2005). 1 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (276). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]



Peter shares the same eschatological perspective as James, but draws a different imperative from it:


"Peter’s adoption of this terminology from the Gospel tradition corresponds to that of James, except that James’s reminder that “the coming of the Lord is near” (James 5:8) is more a word of comfort to the oppressed than a call to alertness or action. ... . Peter’s meaning is neither that the present age has reached its end nor that the end lies somewhere in the indefinite future. His meaning is that the end will be very soon, although he has no interest in setting dates. There is time for action, but no time to waste. Peter sees a continuity between the present situation and the last decisive intervention of God through Jesus Christ (cf. vv 12, 17). In a sense the end-time events are under way; the “end of all things,” although still in the future, is very close at hand." [Michaels, J. R. (1998). Vol. 49: 1 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary (245). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


Thus, the eschatologically-based ethics in 1 Peter do not provide any support for the 'upheaval interim ethics' hypothesis.




Tanknote: Scholars note that the NT authors uniformly avoid making 'timing' statements [Cf. Walls: "The departure of the Son of man to God was only a temporary phenomenon, for he would be revealed (1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7) and would bring about the times of restoration of all things foretold by the prophets (Acts 3:21). That was an event not far distant (Rom. 13:11; Rev. 22:20), though the New Testament writers are uniformly unwilling to be too specific about the exact date (Mark 9:1, 13:32; 1 Thess. 5:1; cf. 2 Thess. 2:2–9)." (Walls, Jerry L. (2007-12-03). The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology (Oxford Handbooks) (p. 35). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.")]  


I find it interesting that none of the NT authors who use the language of imminence invoke the 'before the end of this generation' terminology. All of the 'coming soon', 'end is near', or 'end of the ages' language units never set a timing bracket. This is simply unfathomable (IMO) under the Jesus-as-failed-predictor model. If the passages which are recorded in the Synoptics and which are understood as having 'timing indicators' were truly understood as such by Jesus' followers, it is striking that NONE of those indicators show up in the earliest literature of the epistles. There is plenty of 'any day now', but none of 'before the generation passes' terminology. We even have two 'evil generation' passages--Acts 2.40 and Philp 2.15--but no reference to timing of the Eschaton in such terms. Even if the church later 'watered down' the Markan synoptic passages, there is zero evidence that this occurred in the earliest epistles, and almost no conceivable way such a 'rewording' of those epistles could have occurred. Epistles which are 'sequels' of sorts (e.g. 2 Thess, 2 Cor) interact with and qualify material in the earlier letters, but there is no re-casting of eschatological expectation toward a 'watered down' version. In some cases, in fact, it can be argued that the opposite direction might have obtained (e.g., 2 Peter seems more 'apocalyptic' than 1 Peter--even though it has the 'delay rationale' in it--as does 2 Thess versus 1 Thess). To me, this is a fatal flaw in the 'failed expectation' theory. Pervasive eschatology and frequent apocalyptic imagery is simply not enough to 'prove' the theory--we need some type of repetition or rehearsal of the alleged 'timing' language of Jesus to show up in the earliest epistles, and then we need some re-interpretation of that language in a latter work (as some suggest occurs in the later Synoptics).


Furthermore, it doesn't make sense (under this theory) that we have scores of eschatological and even apocalyptic passages in the Synoptics and early epistles, but we only have 2-4 passages which could even be CONSIDERED to have hard-stop timing indicators in them in the Synoptics (and none in the epistles). This is just the 'wrong type of ratio' for such a theory. All the eschatological and apocalyptic passages can be 'predicted' from the Hebrew Bible prophetic content (with its 'uncertain timing' perspective) and 'validated' by the 2nd Temple literature content. Ethical passages that are connected to eschatological expectations (and there are plenty) would need to have some argument based on more concrete 'timing' to support this, rather than only on eschatological events of the past (e.g. the Cross, Resurrection, Outpouring of the Spirit) or on unknown-timing-but-absolutely-certain eschatological events of the future (e.g. judgment, rewards/retribution, cosmic renewal, glorified bodies, God dwelling in our midst).


The mix of textual data just seems 'wrong' under such a hypothesis (even at a gist-only level, I might add).


2nd Peter (ethics)


This will be the last NT author we look at here, under ethics. If we show that Paul, the Book of Acts, James, and Peter do not teach an 'upheaval interim ethic', then we have certainly shown that the statement 'all the way through the rest of the NT' is clearly inaccurate and untrustworthy.



2 Peter (and the similar epistle of Jude) is very apocalyptic, of course, even defending this position against 'scoffers'. It invokes cosmic renewal and judgment 'by fire'. Yet it still offers a 'steady state' or 'management type interim ethic':


"To contend effectively in the present and to prepare for the future, it is argued, requires a recalling of the past. Thus 2 Peter outlines an interim ethic for the present (1:5–11, 19; 3:11–18) which is framed and guided by lessons from the past (prophecy: 1:19–21; 3:2; world history: 2:4–10a, 15–16; 3:5–6; apostolic witness: 1:12–18; 3:1–4) and by the prospect of judgment and cosmic renewal in the future (3:7, 8–10). Basic to this ethic is the assurance of God’s continual and consistent action in human affairs in past (1:3–4; 2:2–8; 3:5–6), present (1:20–21; 2:3, 9–10a; 3:8–9) and future (3:7, 10–12). ... Linked to its theological eschatology of the endtime, 2 Peter proposed an “interim ethics” for Christians awaiting the dawning of the final day of the Lord. Between Christian conversion and cosmic consummation believers were to grow in the gifts and their stability and salvation by resisting the seduction of Christian subversives who deviate from the prophetic and apostolic norms of truth; avoid the corruption of the world by leading holy, godly and peaceful lives in accord with the way of righteousness; and with patient confidence await the promised day of the Lord." [Elliott, J. H. (1992). Peter, Second Epistle of. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 5: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (286–287). New York: Doubleday.]


"The letters of Jude and 2 Peter defend a life in accord with the tradition against the heretics who “promise freedom” (2 Pet 2:19) but “pervert the gospel of God into licentiousness” (Jude 4; cf. 2 Pet 2:2). Against those who “scoff” at the promise of Christ’s return (Jude 18; 2 Pet 3:3–4), they remind their readers to live “lives of holiness and godliness” while they wait for the end (2 Pet 3:11)." [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


"Our author does not engage in speculation about the timing of forthcoming eschatological events. He rather sees the final events of the world described above as motivation for Christian conduct. As in other passages of the NT, Christian ethics are rooted within eschatology (Mark 13:32–37; Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 15:58; Eph. 5:11–13; Phil. 4:5; Col. 4:5; 1 Thess. 5:1–11; 2 Tim. 4:1–2; James 5:8–9; 1 Pet. 1:13–17; 4:7; 1 John 2:28). The false teachers have tried to refute the reality of coming judgment, and their speculation has formed the foundation of their immoral teaching. They understand the delay in judgment as an excuse to embrace an immoral lifestyle. Peter, on the other hand, affirms the terrible reality of coming judgment, and this then becomes a fundamental motivation in his ethics. He begins by briefly echoing his previous teaching (2 Pet. 3:7, 10): τούτων οὕτως πάντων λυομένων (toutōn houtōs pantōn lyomenōn, Since all these things will be destroyed in this way). The verb λύω (here as a present participle used adverbially, understood as a future event in accordance with v. 10) could be used to describe the destruction of a building (Josephus, J.W. 6.1.4 §32; Sib. Or. 3.409; John 2:19) or a ship (Acts 27:41), but here, as in verse 10, it summarizes the events of the final judgment, when the world as he knows it will be destroyed." [Green, G. L. (2008). Jude and 2 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (332–333). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]


One very interesting aspect to the expectations of 2 Peter, though, is the possible 'flexibility' of the Eschaton.


We had noted earlier that there is some level of flexibility in the 'day and hour' of the events of the end time. [We cited a passage from Allison's writings in the NIDB.], and 2 Peter has one of the main texts used to illustrate this.


When 2 Peter uses the phrase 'hastening the coming of the day of God' [and some of the cosmic renewal language], it is consistent with some notions of 'conditional timing' (like we have seen in the judgment passages of the Hebrew Bible). Compare the remarks of commentators, who list the parallels in other Jewish writings around that time:


"Another element of godly living is expectation of the future day. Peter relates this to the idea of “speed[ing] its coming.” But how can Christians hasten what God will do? Peter would probably answer by saying that prayer (Matt 6:10) and preaching (Matt 24:14) are the two principal means to bring people to repentance. To the crowd that gathered after the healing of the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate in Jerusalem Peter proclaimed, “Repent, … so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ” (Acts 3:19–20).  [Blum, E. A. (1981). 2 Peter. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (287). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]


σπεύδοντας, “hastening,” could perhaps mean “striving for” (Reicke), but the Jewish background is decisive in favor of “hastening.” Isa 60:22b (RSV: “in its time I will hasten it”; LXX does not give this meaning) was the basis for a whole series of Jewish texts which speak of God hastening the time of the End (Sir 33:8 [36:7] LXX: σπεῦσον καιρόν, “hasten the time”; 2 Apoc. Bar. 20:1–2; 54:1; 83:1; Bib. Ant. 19:13; Barn. 4:3; cf. also Isa 10:23 LXX). It featured in the debate between R. Eliezer and R. Joshua (see Comment on v 9). R. Joshua interpreted it to mean that redemption would come at the appointed time, irrespective of repentance, but (in one version of the debate: y. Ta˓an. 1:1) R. Eliezer taught that it meant that the Lord would hasten the coming of redemption in response to Israel’s repentance. A similar interpretation is attributed to R. Joshua b. Levi (C A.D. 250): “If you have merit, I will hasten it; if not, [it comes] in its time” (y. Ta˓an. 1:1; b. Sanh. 98a; Cant. Rab. 8:14). Usually, as in Isa 60:22, it is God who is said to hasten the coming of the End, but R. Eliezer’s view implies that, since God hastens in response to repentance, repentance itself might be said to hasten the End. Later rabbinic texts actually say that repentance (b. Yoma 86b, attributed to the early second-century R. Jose the Galilean; cf. also y. Ta˓an. 1:1; b. Sanh. 97b; Acts 3:19) or charity (b. B. Bat. 10a, attributed to R. Judah, C A.D. 150) brings repentance nearer. An important parallel which demonstrates the influence of these Jewish ideas in the Christian milieu from which 2 Peter derives is 2 Clem 12:6: “When you do these things [good works, especially sexual purity], he [Jesus] says, the kingdom of my Father will come” (and cf. the exhortation to immediate repentance in 13:1; on this text, see Strobel, Untersuchungen, 126–27). Cf. also Herm. Sim. 10:4:4. " [Bauckham, R. J. (1998). Vol. 50: 2 Peter, Jude. Word Biblical Commentary (325). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]


"The notion of God hastening the day of judgment or vindication is picked up in the literature of early Judaism, for the most part making it clear that God, not the believers, is hastening the day (e.g., Sir. 36:10; 2 Bar. 20:1–2; 54:1; 83:1; L.A.B. 19:13). In rabbinic circles another tradition affirms that God hastens or delays the day based on Israel’s repentance or lack of repentance (see esp. b. Sanh. 97b–98a; see also y. Taʿan. 1:1; b. Yoma 86b), though it is uncertain that any of these traditions reach back to Peter’s time. Some have interpreted Acts 3:19–20 in the same light: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah.…” (2) The need for a renewal of creation is also widely recognized in this literature, though usually not with the terminology of “a new heaven and a new earth” or the like (e.g., Jub. 1:29; 1 En. 45:4–5; 91:16; 2 Bar. 32:6; 47:2; 4 Ezra 7:71; L.A.B. 3:10)." [Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (1060). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos.]


"Because God retards his judgment due to his desire that sinners should repent (3:9), this repentance will accelerate “the coming of the day of God” (cf. Matt. 6:10; 24:14; Acts 3:19–21). A number of Jewish texts similarly speak of the way God will hasten the end (Isa. 60:22; Sir. 36:7 LXX [36:10 Eng.]; 2 Esd. [4 Ezra] 4:26; 2 Bar. 20.1–2; 83.1). Although God is the one who effects the acceleration, he brings it to pass with reference to human repentance, a thought later reflected in some rabbinic literature (b. Sanh. 97b, 98a; b. Yoma 86b; Str-B 1:163–65)." [Green, G. L. (2008). Jude and 2 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (334). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]


"Rabbis disagreed among themselves as to whether the end of the age was at a time fixed by God or whether it could be hastened by Israel’s repentance and obedience. In this context, Christians hasten the coming of the end by missions and evangelism (cf. Mt 24:14), thereby enabling the conversion of those for whose sake God has delayed the end (2 Pet 3:9, 15)." [Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (2 Pe 3:12). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


"We may be surprised to see that Peter spoke of hastening the day of God. Some understand this to say that we should be diligent to prepare for the day, but this is not the most natural sense of the verb (cf. Luke 2:16; 19:5–6; Acts 20:16; 22:18). Peter clearly taught that believers can advance or hasten the arrival of God’s day by living godly lives. We think here of the prayer, “Your kingdom come” (Matt 6:10). Surely the idea is that our prayer has some impact on when the kingdom arrives. Such an idea was current in Judaism as well, for some rabbis taught that God would fulfill his promises if Israel would repent (cf. b. Sanh. 98a). Acts 3:19–21 appears to teach a similar idea. God would send his Christ and restore all things if Israel repented fully." [Schreiner, T. R. (2003). Vol. 37: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. The New American Commentary (390). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]


Be this as it may, the ethic itself still falls within the 'management type' of interim ethic, in continuity with the Synoptics and the other writings we have surveyed so far.



Other NT writings (ethics)


Here I can only present a remark or two about a couple of the remaining NT writings,  so we can see that NT ethics as a whole are consistent (and therefore are based on a 'mix' of eschatological realities and expectations, as well as on the work of God in the past and present).


The Epistles of John describe life in the 'last hour'--as one of love-where-you-are:


"The epistles of John (see John, Letters of) concentrate the Christian life into the duty of mutual love. Life in the light of the end in this “last hour” (1 Jn 2:18) is marked by mutual love, for it is love that marks the (already but awaited) good future of God: “We know we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 Jn 3:14). Life in accord with the tradition is marked by keeping “the commandments” of God (1 Jn 2:3, 4), but John never identifies “the commandments,” except to say, “This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (1 Jn 3:23; cf. 4:21; 2 Jn 6). ... This “new commandment” (1 Jn 2:8) is not novel; it is really an “old” commandment (1 Jn 2:7; 2 Jn. 5). It stands in continuity not only with the beginning of Christian preaching and with Jesus’ proclamation (1 Jn 2:7, 24; 2 Jn 5, 6) but also with God’s intention from the beginning, so that the devil’s sin (1 Jn 3:8) and Cain’s were precisely their violation of the unity and love that mark the heavenly reign of God. Love is the primal will of God, who “is love” (1 Jn 4:8, 16), the original and fundamental commandment, now “perfected” in Christ and in his community. To believe in this Christ is to stand under the obligation to love; his death on the cross is the way in which “we know love” (1 Jn 3:16; cf. 1 Jn 4:1–21). The faith that God sent Jesus in the flesh, that Jesus died on the cross and that the Spirit has been given expresses itself in love." [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


And it reflects the ethics we have seen before: believers have goods, and because of God's example in Christ, they are expected to share on the basis of need and opportunity: "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?" (1 Jn 3:16–18).



The Book of Revelation


"Life in the light of the end was here first of all “patient endurance.” In the letters to the churches (Rev 2:1–3:22) the patient endurance John commended and called for took the shape of faithfulness in spite of the persecution by the emperor (Rev 2:3, 10, 13; 3:10), the harassment by the synagogues that had cast them out (Rev 2:9; 3:9) and the accommodation urged and practiced by the false teachers (Rev 2:2, 6, 14, 15, 20). Patient endurance required fidelity in their devotion to God (Rev 2:4, 3:15, 16) and in their love of and service to one another (Rev 2:19) and resistance to the temptations to immorality (Rev 2:14, 20; 3:4) and the seductions of ease (Rev 2:9; 3:17).... Watchfulness is hardly calculation. “Patient endurance” is not passivity. To be sure, the Christian communities in Asia Minor were not called to take up arms to achieve power; this counterempire was not to plot a coup to seize economic and political control. But they were called to be a resistance movement, to defend God’s claim to a world corrupted and abused by the spiritual and political powers. They were called to live courageously and faithfully, resisting the pollutions of the cult of the emperor, including its murder, sorcery, idolatry and the lie that Caesar is Lord (see the vice lists in Rev 9:20–21; 21:8; 22:15)" .[Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]



The Book of Hebrews


This text has plenty of eschatology in it, but the moral instruction is minimal and/or basic. It is a call to 'remember and do', based on previous commitments by its readers:


"Hebrews describes itself as a “word of exhortation” (Heb 13:22). There is little concrete moral instruction in Hebrews. The concern is not that the church does not know what it ought to do; it is that the church does not do what it knows it ought to. The Christian moral tradition has already informed the consciences of these people; the task the author undertakes is to exhort them against inattention to what they know (Heb 2:1), against disobedience (Heb 4:11), against becoming dull of hearing (Heb 5:11), against being “sluggish” (Heb 6:12), against weariness in their “struggle against sin” (Heb 12:4)." [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]

Summary: NT data outside the Synoptics

Overall, NT ethics are based largely on the work of God, already started in history in the life of Jesus:


"Most NT writings presume that God’s salvation in Jesus makes it possible for those addressed to lead lives worthy of the Lord. They also presume that individuals are members of Christian communities in which mutual exhortation takes place. Ethics is not pursued as an independent topic whose conclusions must recommend themselves to persons who are not part of a religious association which worships God and acknowledges Jesus as Lord. Since NT writers share a soteriological conviction that the decisive salvation humans expect from God has already been realized in Jesus, their rendering of apocalyptic motifs includes the view that the domination of evil powers over the cosmos has already been shattered by the exaltation of the risen Lord to God’s throne (Phil 2:6–11; Rev 1:5–20). Matt 28:16–20 invokes the authority of the exalted Lord as the basis for a universal preaching of his teaching. The NT claims general applicability for its ethical exhortation on the basis of what God has done in Jesus, not on the basis of the particular examples of moral teaching used to describe what “walking in the Spirit” or “entering the kingdom of God” requires of persons and communities. ... Since NT exhortation follows upon God’s eschatological salvation in Christ, its demands upon human action presume that those addressed have been freed from bondage to sin, slavery to passions, and the other handicaps which mar human life in the “present evil age.” Its writers do not calculate their advice on the basis of what “weak” and “corrupted” humans might be asked to achieve. Forgiveness of sin has already set persons in a new relationship with God. They are expected to achieve a life which expresses that reality. At the same time, the ongoing process of communal exhortation, forgiveness, and reconciliation (Matt 18:15–35; Gal 6:1–5; Rom 12:14–18; 14:10–15:13; Jas 4:11–12; 5:16, 19–20) shows that transformation of persons presented a continuing process of moral conversion. Early Christians were no more able to generate immediate and stable adhesion to virtue than their philosopher counterparts. However, their religious understanding of salvation and divine judgment provided a more pressing call addressed to a wider range of persons than one finds among those converted to the philosophic life of virtue." [Perkins, P. (1992). Ethics: New Testament. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 2: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (656). New York: Doubleday.]


"As in other passages of the NT, Christian ethics are rooted within eschatology (Mark 13:32–37; Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 15:58; Eph. 5:11–13; Phil. 4:5; Col. 4:5; 1 Thess. 5:1–11; 2 Tim. 4:1–2; James 5:8–9; 1 Pet. 1:13–17; 4:7; 1 John 2:28)." [Green, G. L. (2008). Jude and 2 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (332–333). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]




And many of the NT writers refer to the 'end time' as imminent (in the senses discussed above) but still maintain the ethical positions we have seen in the Synoptics and other writings examined above:


"Peter encourages the readers to view life in the light of the approaching end. They should wait patiently and fervently for Christ’s return. Even though no one knows when the end will come, Christians should live in ardent anticipation of the consummation. ... Many writers of the New Testament refer to the end of time. For instance, Paul tells the Romans to understand their time in relation to the end, because, he adds, “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11). The writer of Hebrews exhorts the readers of his epistle to meet together for encouragement; then he notes, “All the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). James points to the end of time and comforts his oppressed countrymen with these words: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.… The Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:8–9). And last, John alerts his readers to the fact that “this is the last hour” (I John 2:18). In the early church, then, believers expected the imminent return of Jesus." [Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953-2001). Vol. 16: Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. New Testament Commentary (166). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.]



But these ethical imperatives simply do not reflect a 'short-term' vision, sometimes associated with apocalyptic 'groups':


"In the New Testament the theme that the end of history is imminent is often sounded (Rom 13:11–12; Phil 4:5; Heb 10:23–25; Jas 5:7–8; Rev 1:3; 22:10). ... We have a typical feature of New Testament eschatology here. Nowhere does the New Testament encourage the setting of dates or of any other kinds of charts. Eschatology is invariably used to encourage believers to live in a godly way (cf. Matt 24:36–25:46; Rom 13:11–14; 1 Cor 15:58; Phil 4:4–9; 1 Thess 5:1–11; 2 Pet 3:11–16). Nor does the New Testament ever invite believers to withdraw from the world because the end is near and to gaze at the skies, hoping that the Lord will return soon. The imminence of the end should function as a stimulus to action in this world. .... We might expect a call for extraordinary behavior, thinking something unusual would be demanded in light of the arrival of the end. Peter exhorted his readers, however, to pursue virtues that are a normal part of New Testament paraenesis." [Schreiner, T. R. (2003). Vol. 37: 1, 2 Peter, Jude. The New American Commentary (210–211). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]



So, unless I have somehow misunderstood the original intent of Schweitzer and your blogger friend in their use of 'interim ethic' (which I doubt--given how the scholars have discussed/ dismissed it, in Part 2 of this series, and how your blogger has used the 'leave all' and 'sell all' verses as illustrations), then I have to say that the NT data is decidedly against the blogger's hypothesis on this point.


The 'interim ethic' which shows up in the post-Synoptics is the same one that shows up in the Synoptics, and neither of them can be shown to be an 'upheaval type ethic' involving disposal of all possessions, membership in a traveling communal group, and absolution of all responsibilities to the outside world (including family).







Would a putative 'interim ethic' only make sense (or make 'more sense')  if the NT authors believed in a first-century eschaton, than if they did not have a concrete time expectation in mind?

This is an interesting question, and something like a 'thought experiment'.


But it would be a waste of time...


It doesn't really have any bearing on the truth of the hypothesis, though, since we have seen that there is 'no such data' to explain in this case. That is, there is no 'upheaval type interim ethic' in the NT writings that needs a hypothesis to 'predict it'.


Of course, I have already noted how 'odd' it was for there not to be any mention of 'timing markers' in the NT eschatological passages, and that 'oddness' extends to any eschatologically-grounded ethical passages.


In other words, if the blogger's hypothesis were TRUE, then we would expect at least SOME cases in which readers were 'reminded' of the alleged timing predictions of Jesus (e.g. something like 'before the end of the generation' or 'within 25 years, as a day laborer would count them' [we have such detailed predictions in the Hebrew Bible--why didn't they show up in the Synoptics, btw?]). Indeed, we should expect such reminders to be MANY and perhaps pervasive. Instead, we get zero. We get the same calls to watchfulness, endurance, generosity, radically God-centric re-prioritization, and love-based loyalty that we got from Jesus in the Synoptics. We get reminders that the time is uncertain but could literally happen at any time.


As far as 'inference to the best explanation' goes, this part of the hypothesis fails pretty badly, as far as I can tell. 

But let's entertain the thought experiment anyway.


Let's suppose that the epistles (and events described in the Book of Acts) were peppered with 'sell all / give all /travel with us' passages--without a single reference to a specific timeframe for the Parousia. We would probably be on defensible ground to believe that this 'ethic' could be traced back to Jesus (because of linguistic links and 'multiple attestations' type of logic). But would we have ANY warrant to believe that a 'timing pronouncement' on the part of Jesus was transmitted along WITH the ethic, but never mentioned in the 'sell/give/follow' passages? Would it not be much more reasonable to expect that IF the timing-based ethics were transmitted to the readers, THAT the timing-basis itself would ALSO be found in the timing-based ethical passages?


But, if we had 'sell all' class directives WITHOUT any timing markers, then we could not assume anything more than that this 'sell all' ethic was due to 'less precise' eschatological expectations.


So, even in the thought experiment, the hypothesis is lacking force. ONLY IF we had BOTH 'upheaval interim ethics' AND at the same time had TIMING MARKERS (with some plausible link back to Jesus' words in the Synoptics) in the same NT passages, would we even be able to take the hypothesis seriously. But without timing markers, any such interim-ethic will actually count AGAINST the blogger's hypothesis.

Does  Jesus telling his disciples to leave everything and follow him around only make sense if Jesus believed that he and they were to be God’s final messengers before the eschaton.

I cannot see why this would be the case at all, actually.


Calls to vocational ministry TODAY look exactly like what the apostles did.


For example, those called to mission field service 'leave all' in the same sense as the apostles did. Family relationships are not severed (eg, Peter, Paul, Jesus), but they are clearly impacted. All personal property is not given to charity, but all material ambitions for wealth and prosperity are completely abandoned. All hopes of 'pleasing the world' are discarded. Anxiety over 'what to eat' is replaced by the anxiety over the welfare of those you are called to serve (cf. 2 Cor 11.28). The prestige of an honored profession is deemed of lower value than being de-valued by the world for the higher honor of serving the Lord in His outreach of love to others.


In Jesus' case, the 'leave all and follow' directive could be just as easily explained as a necessary condition for effective training. In other words, if Jesus were planning to 'build an on-going church', He would have selected a handful of future-leaders and attempted to give them as much 'exposure time' and 'training time' as possible. And this would have looked a lot like 'training camp', where one lives, eats, interacts with the instructors as much as possible. And this was the rabbinic mode of discipleship too ("Jesus is addressed as Rabbi, mathētēs being the Gk translation of the Heb talmîd, and the rabbinic scholars live with the master in order to follow him in his ways." [Weder, H. (1992). Disciple, Discipleship D. Martin, Trans.). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 2: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (209). New York: Doubleday.])


This is at least as plausible an explanation of the 'leave and follow' as is the 'final messengers' theory, and has historical antecedents as positive support for the explanation.


So, withoutsome additional argumentation or data, I cannot see why we should accept this point.




Ok, On to Part FIVE...[spinmequick5.html]



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