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

[draft: Nov 17/2012; added pushback on 6,000 year world-week: Feb 18/2013]

(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 SEVEN ==================== (see Part One for series header)


This takes the question discussed in Parts 5 and 6: "Is there a clear pattern of successive watering down of Jesus' prediction of the eschaton within the NT documents?"  and extends that question into the post-NT literature (specifically the Church Fathers and the NT Apocrypha).



Do the NT apocrypha and the early church fathers seem to continue this 'backpedaling' on a failed prediction of Jesus?


Of course, by now the reader has seen that there IS no 'backpedaling' or watering-down of the apocalyptic language or eschatological hope of the Jesus of the Synoptic gospels to be 'continued'.  Instead, we have seen all three eschatological frameworks (realized eschatology, futurist/apocalyptic eschatology, and inaugurated eschatology) present throughout the NT literature.


These have shown up in all strata, all genres, and all authors. They have shown up in direct teachings, as grounding bases for ethical injunctions, and as causes for praise, hope, celebration, and endurance.


The hope of the believer--for a universe in which righteousness is "comfortably at home" among us (!)--is both future, partially present now through the ministry of the Spirit in the hearts/minds of the Christian, and visibly growing in certain realms of our external experience (eg, community love, removal of class distinctions, inclusiveness). It is anchored in the experience of Jesus in the substitutionary death/judgment on the Cross, His vindication by the Father in the resurrection, and His enthronement at His ascension to heaven. The world WAS judged at the Cross, is being judged now, and will be finally judged at the eschaton.


We need now to survey the first couple of centuries of extra-NT writings


We will do the Church Fathers first...


What are we looking for here?


The original statement of your blogger friend is something like this:


"Finally, this successive backpedaling continues beyond the NT writings and into those of the apocrypha and the early church leaders, even to the point where some writings attribute an anti-apocalyptic message to Jesus."


For the blogger, the backpedaling consists (apparently) of the replacing of "eschatological 'kingdom of God' talk' and 'end-time predictions' with 'eternal life' talk. We have already seen that this is a false dichotomy, both in Jesus' preaching, the NT, and in Jewish apocalyptic in general, so we are going to have to broaden this a bit, to try to 'widen' the blogger's net.


Just by way of a further example, there is no shortage of 'apocalyptic' in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but they also manifest a belief in present possession of eternal life:


"Realized Eschatology. John. Finally, we may deal more briefly with the idea of realized eschatology, which claims that the salvation promised to the righteous after death can be experienced proleptically in the present. The classic expression of realized eschatology is found in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus assures his followers that “anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24). --- The Dead Sea Scrolls. A precedent for such an idea of present salvation can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which the author of the Hodayot claims to enjoy in the present the life with the angels that is promised to the righteous after death in the apocalypses of Daniel and Enoch: “I thank you, Lord, because you saved my life from the pit, and from Sheol and Abaddon you have lifted me up to an everlasting height, so that I can walk on a boundless plain.… The corrupt spirit you have purified from the great sin so that he can take his place with the host of the holy ones, and can enter into communion with the congregation of the sons of heaven” (1QH 11:19–23). This belief explains why there is so little interest in resurrection in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The transition to eternal life was made upon joining the community." [DictNTB]



So, we will need to broaden the search criteria beyond simple 'substitution' of terminology.


So, I would assume that the blogger's position could be reworded more generally as a replacing of future-oriented eschatology (which includes, however, a future aspect of salvation) with non-futurist soteriology (ie, only 'have been saved' or 'are being saved' statements allowed).


This replacement could be in the form of 're-interpretation' (ie, Jesus' references to His personal cosmically -visible return in glory and power was actually only a veiled reference to the quiet, invisible, non-spectacular coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of a believer), simple silence (ie, the Eschaton is never mentioned as being a literal sequence of events yet in the future), or 're-adjustment' (ie, the presumed timing end-point is adjusted forward, from the destruction of the Temple to something yet in the future--maybe like a second temple?).


[Note: Allison, in NT:CJ, offers several options that failed millennial movements use in cases of failed prediction. I will have to examine these more in detail later, but at first read, I cannot find any places in the post-NT Christian literature which seemed to USE these options, in the context of exegesis of the (alleged) timing-predictions in the Synoptics. All of the 'options' appear in the literature--but not as an 'adjustment' for a known failure, as far as I can tell. For example, the most famous example typically offered is the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, but this gives no indication that it is some kind of 'response' to failed prophecy, but rather that it is a recasting of Jesus teachings to conform to basic gnostic-type theologies--dressing Jesus up in gnostic garb. But more on this issue later.]



So, I conclude that we are looking for evidence of 'watering down', since all of these writers wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem and (at least) one Jewish Revolt.


If the 'failure' of Jesus to re-appear in apocalyptic splendor, power, and victory 'within that generation' was an obvious problem to them, we would expect some reverse-futurist understandings of OT and NT apocalyptic passages. We might expect a 'realized' interpretation of the Book of Revelation (ie. All the events/images within the book have already happened--by the time of the Fathers).


But if we find the same kinds of apocalyptic images used--in warnings of future judgment or in assurances of vindication of the righteous--with the same future perspective, then we have found strong evidence that the WD hypothesis is off-track. Of course, this strain of perspective would need to be a 'majority' or dominant strain in order to represent the position of the mainstream church/Christian tradition.


And if we find a 'realized' eschatology alongside this 'futurist' one--connected via the 'inaugurated' model--then we have basic continuity with the teachings of Jesus, as recorded in the Synoptics. But if the emphasis is more on futurist than on 'realized', then this would be even more contrary to the hypothesis.


Of course, these post-NT writings may develop and/or expand the core eschatological content, but as long as they (or at least most of them?) still assert the future Eschaton and maintain the call to alertness, they will thereby constitute data contrary to the bloggers WD hypothesis.


Okay, let's start with the Apostolic Fathers (the earliest subset of 'Church Fathers', although various scholars draw the dividing line differently, with some using the more accepted "Early Church Fathers") and look at quotes from their writings, and a scholarly assessment or two for each (if readily available). Our main scholarly assessments will come from two specialist resources:  The Hope of the Early Church by Daley [HI:HOEC] and Eschatology of the New Testament and Some Related Documents, edited by Van der Watt [HI:ENTSRD, contributions by various authors].


We can start with this list (a little broader than the old 'Apostolic Fathers' list, but all still early) and see if and to what extent they discuss eschatological beliefs of their period (no attempt is made to place these in chronological order, assuming we could; nor to defend inclusions/exclusions from this list):


  1. Epistle to Diognetus
  2. Ignatius
  3. Epistle of Polycarp
  4. Martyrdom of Polycarp
  5. Epistle of Barnabas
  6. Shepherd of Hermas
  7. The Didache
  8. Papias
  9. Second Clement
  10. First Clement



One: Epistle to Diognetus


This is generally considered to be a mid-to-late 2nd-century apologetic writing.


"DIOGNETUS, EPISTLE TO. A late 2d century apology addressed to a certain Diognetus who is otherwise unknown. --- The apology is relatively simple and straightforward, though it consists only of the first 10 chapters; the last 2 come from another work, presumably a sermon, composed in the style of Melito of Sardis. In theory it answers several questions raised by pagans about (1) the God of the Christians; (2) the nature of their religion, which results in disregard for the world, the despising of death, and the rejection of pagan gods as well as the superstition of the Jews; (3) the character of their mutual love; and (4) why the religion arose when it did and not earlier. The author deals with the first 2 questions together (chaps. 1–2), then with Judaism (3–4), with Christianity (5–7) and with the appearance of Christ (7–10). Mutual love is discussed only indirectly. The last two chapters (11–12) are also concerned with the appearance of the Logos-Son, but in a rhetorical-homiletic manner. --- The treatise Epistle To Diognetus resembles the Exhortation by Clement of Alexandria and has the same drive toward generalities, lacking the detailed precision of earlier apologetic works. --- ... the pictures of Christians in the world, comparable to soul within body (chaps. 5–6), of divine providence at work (7.2), and of the coming of the king’s son—“persuading, not compelling, for force is no attribute of God” (7.3–4)—remain impressive. --- He does not name Jesus and is rather fond of the archaic and liturgical term “child” (Gk pais; chap. 8), though he also calls him Logos, maker (7.2), king, God, man (7.3), and indeed “nurse, father, teacher, counselor, physician, mind, light, glory, strength, life” (9.6). Such lists are rhetorical rather than theological in nature; some have Platonic antecedents, some biblical." [Grant, R. M. (1992). Diognetus, Epistle to. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 2: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (201). New York: Doubleday. Robert Grant]


"Like the issue of authorship, the question of date cannot be determined with any degree of certainty. Although the range of realistic possibilities for Diognetus 1–10 spans the period A.D. 117–310, the prevailing view is that this material belongs to the middle or latter half of the second century. A relatively early date is supported by the following general considerations: the common condemnation of paganism and Judaism; the relatively simple Christology, which seems unaware of any formulated heresies; the absence of any reference to the Holy Spirit; the lack of the tendency to identify the ideal of Christian excellence with asceticism; the absence of sacerdotalism; the depiction of the Christian faith as a new phenomenon; and parallels with the Epistle of Barnabas. The date of chapters 11–12 is even harder to determine, although most scholars locate it a short time after the material of chapters 1–10." [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


As an apologist, the author of the small E2D (under 700 words) does not delve into much eschatology. But some of his phrases deal with post-mortem existence, the future apocalyptic judgment, and the Parousia.


Here are the main (but few) relevant texts:


Diogenes 7.3-6:


"But perhaps he sent him (Jesus), as a man might suppose, to rule by tyranny, fear, and terror? (4) Certainly not! On the contrary, he sent him in gentleness and meekness, as a king might send his son who is a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a man to men. When he sent him, he did so as one who saves by persuasion, not compulsion, for compulsion is no attribute of God. (5) When he sent him, he did so as one calling, not pursuing; when he sent him, he did so as one loving, not judging. (6) For he will send him as Judge, and who will endure his coming (parousia)?


Notice the biblical tones in this passage--


·         "I came not to judge the world but to save it" (John 12.47),

·         "The Father has given all judgment to the Son..." (John 5.22)

·         "But who shall endure His coming?" (Mal 3.2)

·         Jesus is both son of King David (and therefore a king) and Son of God the King (and the receiver of a kingdom, Lk 19.11ff , cf. Jesus' exemption from the Temple tax in Matthew 27.24--as the 'son of the king').


Diogenes 10.2:


"to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom (humans) He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him."


Notice that the promise is not just 'heaven' but a 'kingdom in heaven', that this gift is still future (will be given), and that it is connected to James 2:5 (definitely an 'apocalyptic' reference):  "Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?" (cf. also 1.12).



Diogenes 10.7-8:


"Then you will see that though your lot is on earth, God lives in heaven, then you will begin to declare the mysteries of God, then you will both love and admire those who are punished because they refuse to deny God, then you will condemn the deceit and the error of the world, when you realize what the true life in heaven is, when you despise the apparent death here on earth, when you fear the real death, which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the eternal fire which will punish to the very end those delivered to it. (8) Then you will admire those who for righteousness’ sake endure the transitory fire, and you will consider them blessed, when you comprehend that other fire….


This is, of course, a clear reference to the eschatological fire and/or Second Death.


Diogenes 6.8:


"The soul, which is immortal, lives in a mortal dwelling; similarly Christians live as strangers in (en) perishable things, while waiting for the imperishable in heaven.


This is an analogy of Christians-to-world as soul-to-body. The only connection to eschatology is the strong contrast between the perishable world and the imperishable one in heaven. Although this might be seen as a simple semi-Platonic perspective, it is more likely related to Paul's eschatological language in 1 Corinthians 15. [The author of E2D is familiar with the Corinthian correspondence, as can be seen in his use of 2 Cor 6: "In chap. 5, the author evidently relies on Paul’s self-description in 2 Corinthians 6 for his picture of Christians in general...", ABD]


Diogenes 12.1:


"When you have read these truths and listened attentively to them, you will know what God bestows on those who love him as they should, who become a paradise of delight, raising up in themselves a flourishing tree bearing all kinds of fruit, who are adorned with various fruits."


This is close to a 'realized' eschatology, in that the future life/vitality of heaven (using the tree image from Genesis and Revelation) is partially available now to believers (like the 'already-not-yet' we have noticed earlier):


"Most frequently heaven appears in the [Apostolic Fathers] literature as the ultimate goal that believers seek to attain, toward which they shape their lives in the present, mundane realm. The righteous who die in Christ, like Peter and Paul, enter the “place of glory” at their death (1 Clem. 5.4, 7; 50.3; Ign. Rom. 4.3; 6.2; Mart. Pol. 19.2; so Hooke)... For the author of the Epistle to Diognetus, however, the life of heaven is not merely a future possession of the believer; it is experienced as one begins in discipleship, for the believers themselves become “a paradise of delight” through the knowledge of God and the experience of God’s favor (Diogn. 12.1)." [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. S.v. Heaven, New Heavens (D. A. de Silva, same below)]


One assessment summarizes:


"The author of this letter (dated ca. 161-180 CE) regards this life as tran­sient and unworthy. His eschatological views become apparent in the fol­lowing statements: Christians sojourn in this world, though they are not of this world (vi:3). They live as strangers among perishable things, while they await the imperishable in heaven (vi:8). God promised to believers the kingdom in heaven, and He will give it to those who have loved him (x:2). We must despise the apparent death on earth, because true life is to be found in heaven (x:7). Christ will return as Judge (vii:6). At Judgment Day those who have denied God will be condemned to eternal fire (x.7). This is real death. --- Meecham (1949, 42) finds it remarkable that the Epistle to Diognetus nowhere alludes to the resurrection. However, Meechan is mistaken in say­ing that it is never mentioned, since the author of the Epistle to Diognetus does say that Christians 'are put to death, yet they are brought to life' (v:12). Meechan interprets this statement as merely referring to the immor­tality of the soul. But as we will see later on in this chapter the early theo­logians frequently denounced the idea of an immortal soul, since the soul does not exist as a separate entity without a body. [HI:ENTSRD, 584f]



So, although E2D does not have much in it about eschatology, we see simple statements affirming these positions:


  1. The future imperishable state is still future
  2. There is a kingdom in the future state of heaven promised to faithful lovers
  3. There is a future Parousia which must be 'endured' by some
  4. There is a future judgment involving a 'real' death, and eternal judgment (with fire images)
  5. Some of the vitality of the future-life can be experienced now


There is no WDing here, although the character of the future Kingdom is not described. This is in continuity with the Synoptics and the other NT writings. No support for the blogger's position here.



Two: Ignatius


The Ignatian correspondence is not even remotely 'doctrinal', and therefore has little eschatological content to it. However, the material that IS in the document still reveals a more futurist perspective, while still maintaining the elements of 'already' (ie 'realized' eschatology) as being the believer's joyous and treasured possession of the present.


From HI:ENTSRD; "The Eschatology of the Theologians of the Second Century", Hennie Stander, 583-600:


"Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote his seven letters while he was on his way to Rome to be executed, around 110 CE. These letters were written while he was under arrest and they were sent to various churches in Asia Minor. Dewart (1986, 46) says that it was the urgency of the problems which Ignatius faced which kept the focus of Ignatius' writings away from eschatology. Daley (1991, 13) gives more or less the same explanation, and says that one should bear in mind that these letters were not in the first instance documents of instruction, but were impassioned, hastily written documents of a captive bishop who wanted to encourage his fellow-believers. Moreover, the message of resurrection forms the central part of the hope which Ignatius offers to these congregations. Ignatius writes as follows:


Be deaf, therefore, whenever anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ... who, moreover, really was raised from the dead when his Father raised him up, who - his Father, that is - in the same way will likewise also raise us up in Christ Jesus who believe in him, apart from whom we have no true life' (Trall. Ix:l-2).


"From the above it is clear that Ignatius believed that our resurrection is based on Jesus' resurrection. Another very significant aspect of Ignatius' view of Christ's resurrected body is that he emphasized its 'fleshly' character. He says:


For I know and believe that he was in the flesh even after the resurrection; and when he came to Peter and those with him, he said to them: 'Take hold of me; handle me and see that I am not a disembodied demon'. And immediately they touched him and believed, being closely united with his flesh and blood. For this reason they too despised death; indeed, they proved to be greater than death. And after his resurrection he ate and drank with them like one who is composed of flesh, although spiritually he was united with the Father (Smyrn. Iii: 1—3).


"One should probably interpret Ignatius' emphasis on the 'fleshly' character of Jesus' resurrected body in the light of Docetic claims. When one reads the writings of the early theologians, one frequently detects that their future eschatological hopes are at odds with a 'realized eschatology'. This is also true of Ignatius. On the one hand he professes that the judgment day is imminent (Eph xi:l) and that those who have polluted themselves will end up in an unquenchable fire (Eph xvi:2). He also looks forward to being taken up in a community of Ephesian Christians (Eph xi:2). But only a few pages later he says that when Christ was born, the newness of eternal life began to take effect, and the abolition of death was being carried out (Eph xix:3). In line with other ancient theologians, Ignatius also uses eschatological hope to encourage his readers to lead holy lives (Magn v). [HI:ENTSRD, 587f]


And from [HI:HOEC, 12f]


"Opinions vary as to the importance of eschatological themes in the seven Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch which are generally accepted as authentic. These letters were written to various churches in Asia Minor, about the year 110, as Ignatius made his way, under arrest, to Rome and to martyrdom. Traditional elements of Christian apocalyptic expectation are certainly present: the assertion that "the last days are here," for instance, the consequent call for radical ethical choice (Eph 11.1; Magn 5.1), and the expressed conviction that all who fail to accept in faith "the grace we have" - even the heavenly powers - are doomed to destruction in eternal fire (Eph II.1; 16.2; Smyrn 6.1). Yet there are clear suggestions in the letters, too, of a "realized eschatology" at odds with such a future-oriented hope: Ignatius remarks, for instance, that at the birth of Jesus all the dark powers of "the ancient kingdom" came to an end, for "what God had prepared was now beginning" (Eph 19.3). The gospel of Jesus' "coming" (parousia), death and resurrection is, in itself, already "the realization of incorruptibility" (Philad 9.2).


"Behind the elusive conceptual content of Ignatius' eschatological hope stands, surely, the very personal character of the letters. They are not, in the first instance, documents of instruction or even of church order; they are, if one may take them as genuine, impassioned, hastily written messages of encouragement to sister-churches from a captive bishop convinced he will soon be laying down his life for Christ. The prospect and ideal of martyrdom dominates all seven letters.


"Into the context of this deeply personal hope for union with Christ, Ignatius assimilates the general Christian expectation of resurrection: just as Christ, in the full reality of his humanity, was "truly raised from the dead," so too "the Father will raise us, who believe in him, according to his likeness - in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not have real life" (Trall 9.2). ...  he describes the punishment destined for those who deny Jesus' corporeal reality not only as "unquenchable fire" (Eph 16.2) but as a continuing, wraith-like, bodiless existence (Smyrn 2.1).


"Ignatius sees the resurrection of the dead simply as part - although undeniably a very important part, for embodied beings - of the "prize of incorruptibility and eternal life" which lies ahead for "God's athlete" (Pol 2.3)....  Eschatological renewal, in Ignatius' eyes, is not merely a wonderful transformation of the material world reserved for some dramatic future day, but a gift of life that has already begun for those who genuinely believe in the risen Lord.


The 'inaugurated' aspect of this can be seen in various texts:


"[I]n heaven a star flashed, more brilliantly than all the stars. Its light was beyond description, and its remarkable newness caused astonishment. All the rest of the stars, together with the sun and the moon, made a chorus around that star, and its light transcended them all. There was a great disturbance as to where its remarkable newness came from, so dissimilar it was to them. Because of it, all magic began to be dissolved and every wicked bond began to vanish. Ignorance began to be abolished, the old kingdom began to be destroyed, when God appeared in human form to bring the newness of eternal life. What God had fashioned was beginning! The whole universe [ta panta] was set in commotion from then on, because the destruction of death was being accomplished (Eph. 19:2–3).


"The last times are here. Let us therefore feel ashamed. Let us fear the longsuffering of God, so it will not mean our condemnation. Let us either fear the coming wrath, or let us love the present grace—one of the two (Eph. 11:1).


"Jesus Christ, who before the ages was with the Father and appeared at the end of time. [Magn 6.1]


"Do not be misled, my brothers: those who adulterously corrupt households “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (2) Now if those who do such things physically are put to death, how much more if by evil teaching someone corrupts faith in God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a person, having polluted himself, will go to the unquenchable fire, as will also the one who listens to him." [Eph 16.1-2]


"Be sober, as God’s athlete; the prize is incorruptibility and eternal life [Poly 2.3]


"Be more diligent than you are. Understand the times. Wait expectantly for him who is above time: the Eternal, the Invisible, who for our sake became visible; the Intangible, the Unsuffering, who for our sake suffered, who for our sake endured in every way. [Poly 3.2]


"Let your deeds be your deposits, in order that you may eventually receive the savings that are due you. [Poly 6.2; footnote in Holmes' edition of the Fathers: "The military metaphors of the preceding three sentences are continued here. When soldiers were granted gifts of money, only half the sum due was paid to them, the balance being credited to their account. These “deposits” became the “savings” due if and when an honorable discharge was received."]


So, although the nature of the Ignatian correspondence does not lend itself to development of eschatological themes, the data which IS there demonstrates an 'inaugurated' eschatology in continuity with the NT documents:


"Like the writers of the NT, the apostolic fathers understand that the blessings of the age to come have begun but have not yet reached their consummation. These writers can speak of the age in which they are living as the last days (e.g., 2 Clem. 14.2; Barn. 12.9; 16.5). For example, we read that “these are the last times” (Ign. Eph. 11.1), that “Christ appeared at the end of time” (Ign. Magn. 6.1; Herm. Sim. 9.12.3) and that Christians have a “foretaste of things to come” (Barn. 1.7). --- Much like the NT writers, the early fathers held so intensely to the inaugurated aspect of the end times that they believed that the promised new creation had been set in motion." [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ]



Three & Four: Epistle of Polycarp and Martyrdom of Polycarp

From [HI:HOEC]:


"In the Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, closely connected with the Ignatian corpus and probably written soon afterwards, the author's concerns are presented in the same eschatological perspective we find in Ignatius' letters. Resurrection and judgment are part of an accepted central body of Christian teaching, based on "the sayings of the Lord," which also includes the reality of Jesus' human flesh and the "testimony of the cross." Whoever denies any of these things "is the firstborn of Satan" (7.1). Christian compassion and mutual forbearance should be motivated by the certainty that God sees us all and will judge us all (6.2); yet resurrection is a promise held out only to the worthy (5.2), to those individuals who "do his will and follow his commandments and love what he loved" (2.2).


"The Martyrdom of Polycarp, apparently composed shortly after the bishop's execution in 156, is the oldest extant account of a Christian martyr's death, written in the name of the church at Smyrna to the church at Philomelium in Phrygia. It makes skillful use of the eschatological horizon that will become commonplace in martyr-acts, drawing a sharp contrast between the biased human trial Polycarp has undergone and the coming divine judgment, between his brief sufferings for the faith and his hope of eternal reward. This prospect of punishment and reward, in fact, is presented as a key motivating force behind the martyr's remarkable endurance. To all the martyrs of the recent persecution, the letter observes, "the fire of their inhuman tortures was cold; for they set before their eyes escape from the fire that is everlasting and never quenched, while with the eyes of their heart they gazed upon the good things reserved for those who endure patiently" (2.3). When the proconsul Quadratus threatens him with burning, Polycarp retorts: "You do not know the fire of the coming judgment and everlasting punishment that is laid up for the impious" (11.2). Yet reward and punishment are not simply postponed to the end of human history; after Polycarp's death, the community is convinced he has already been "crowned with the wreath of immortality and has borne away an incontestable prize" (17.1). The apocalyptic imagery of the Jewish and Christian apocrypha is here being applied directly to the faith and the sufferings of the individual martyr."




"Polycarp was a very important figure in the post-apostolic Church, and he wrote his letter to the Philippians around 110 CE. Belief in the resurrection and in the coming Judgment Day forms an integral part of his teaching. He writes that anyone who claims that there is neither resurrection nor judgment is the first-born of Satan (vii: 1). Polycarp says that if we please God in this world, He promises that He will raise us from the dead (v:2). It is inexplicable how Dewart (1986, 50) can deduce from this statement that Polycarp's conviction was that 'only the just will be raised'. Dewart's conclusion is a good example of an argumentum e silentio. Moreover, elsewhere Polycarp explicitly says that 'all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ' (vi:2).


"Polycarp also assures his readers that Ignatius and others who have been martyred to death, have already been raised from death by God (ix). Many Church Fathers regarded martyrdom as a gateway to heaven. Martyrs are even described as 'purchasing  at the cost of one hour an exemption from eternal punishment' (Martyrdom of Polycarp ii:3). In his prayer, Polycarp thanks God for having considered him worthy of 'receiving a place among the number of the martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body...' (Martyrdom of Polycarp xiv:2). [HI:ENTSRD, 588f]


Some of the relevant texts from Letter of Polycarp (LOP) and Martyrdom of Polycarp (MOP) would be:


"Therefore prepare for action and serve God in fear” and truth, leaving behind the empty and meaningless talk and the error of the crowd, and “believing in him who raised” our Lord Jesus Christ “from the dead and gave him glory” and a throne at his right hand; to whom all things in heaven and on earth were subjected, whom every breathing creature serves, who is coming as “Judge of the living and the dead,” for whose blood God will hold responsible those who disobey him. (2) But “he who raised him from the dead will raise us also.. [LOP2.1]


"If we please him in this present world, we will receive the world to come as well, inasmuch as he promised to raise us from the dead and that if we prove to be citizens worthy of him, “we will also reign with him”— if, that is, we continue to believe. [LOP 5.2]


"For it is good to be cut off from the sinful desires in the world, because every “sinful desire wages war against the spirit,” and “neither fornicators nor male prostitutes nor homosexuals will inherit the kingdom of God,” nor those who do perverse things. [LOP 5.3]


"Therefore if we ask the Lord to forgive us, then we ourselves ought to forgive, for we are in full view of the eyes of the Lord and God, and we must “all stand before the judgment seat of Christ,” and “each one must give an account of himself.” [LOP 6.2]


“Or do we not know that the saints will judge the world,” as Paul teaches? [LOP11.2]


"And the fire of their inhuman torturers felt cold to them, for they set before their eyes the escape from that eternal fire which is never extinguished, while with the eyes of their heart they gazed upon the good things which are reserved for those who endure patiently... [MOP 2.3]


"But when the magistrate persisted and said, “Swear the oath, and I will release you; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” [MOP 9.3]


"But Polycarp said: “You threaten with a fire that burns only briefly and after just a little while is extinguished, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. [MOP 11.2]


"I bless you because you have considered me worthy of this day and hour, that I might receive a place among the number of the martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. [MOP 14.2]


"... they did not know that we will never be able either to abandon the Christ who suffered for the salvation of the whole world of those who are saved, the blameless on behalf of sinners, or to worship anyone else. (3) For this one, who is the Son of God, we worship, but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord, as they deserve, on account of their matchless devotion to their own King and Teacher. [MOP 17.2-3]


"Now to him who is able to bring us all by his grace and bounty into his eternal kingdom, through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ... [MOP 20.2]


"He was arrested by Herod, when Philip of Tralles was high priest during the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus, but while Jesus Christ was reigning as King forever. To him be glory, honor, majesty, and the eternal throne, from generation to generation. Amen. [MOP 21.1]


"...just as the blessed Polycarp was martyred, in whose footsteps may we also be found in the kingdom [note: present kingdom] of Jesus Christ (MOP 22.1) with that the Lord Jesus Christ might also gather me together with his elect into his heavenly kingdom [note: future kingdom] (MOP 22.3)


Again, simple statements, but quite contrary to the blogger's hypothesis:


  1. Jesus is not just 'Lord' but 'KING'
  2. Eternal judgement (with eternal fire images)
  3. Jesus is enthroned NOW (inaugurated eschatology component)
  4. Two versions of the kingdom--one present and one future/heavenly
  5. Future rewards for the faithful
  6. The resurrected believers will judge the world at the Eschaton (along with Christ)
  7. All--living and dead-- have to stand before the judgments (of Christ, of God the Father)
  8. Inheritance in the Kingdom of God (wording right out of the Synoptics via Paul)
  9. The 'world to come' (wording right out of the gospels)
  10. Reigning with Christ in the Eschaton (images right out of the Synoptics and Paul)
  11. Christ's past resurrection and our future resurrection


I cannot find any direct reference to the Parousia as such, but since the emphasis is on perseverance and ethics, this might not be expected. In the gospels, remember, it is not the Parousia itself which is used to ground morality, but rather the twin themes of (1) the example of God-and-Jesus and (2) the reality of inescapable judgment (for rewards and punishments).


And of course there is plenty evidence of these twin themes in LOP and MOP.


So, Polycarp (LOP and MOP) provide data against the hypothesis.



Five: Epistle of Barnabas


The Epistle of Barnabas (henceforth, EOB) is one of the stronger eschatological writings of the period, and is definitely a contrary data point for the blogger's hypothesis.


"The Epistle of Barnabas. One of the more Jewish and eschatological of the early Christian noncanonical books is the Epistle of Barnabas. At Barnabas 15.4 we find the speculation that the Lord will make an end of human history in six thousand years, since Genesis 2:2 talks about God finishing his work in six days and since one day is as a thousand years for the Lord. Also, the “day of the Lord” is said to last one thousand years." [NT:DictLNT, s.v. "Lord, Apostolic Fathers"]


"An anonymous Christian writing from 70–135 C.E., with some epistolary features but better understood as a homily. ...  --- Its date follows from the interpretation of 16:1–5; 4:4–5, as well as from whether the author used canonical documents. A majority date it sometime near the Second Revolt (132–135), though the late 90s seems more likely, while a few date it to the 70s. -- A typological-allegorical interpretation of Scripture dominates the epistle, serving a high Christology (with no interest in the historical Jesus) and a strong ethical concern, against the background of an imminent eschatology and a strong conviction that Israel’s role in God’s scheme has become passé." [Richardson, P. (2000). Barnabas, Epistle of. 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.) (151). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.]


"Ethics and Eschatology. Ethical concerns pervade Barnabas, as do apocalyptic eschatological imagery, expectation, and motivation. Salvation is primarily a future reward for obeying God’s requirements in this lawless age. The day of judgment is near (21:3). At that time, the obedient will be made holy and will receive the promised inheritance: the end of lawlessness and the renewal of the universe (6:13; 15:5–9)." [Treat, J. C. (1992). Barnabas, Epistle of. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 1: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (613). New York: Doubleday.]


"Unifying the two major sections of the document and the epistolary framework is a pervasive ethical concern set within an eschatological perspective. That is, the struggle between good and evil in the “present evil age” (2.1; 4.1; 4.9) will soon (4.9b; 21.3) come to an end with the arrival of the “age to come” (4.1) and its accompanying judgment (4.12; 5.7; 15.5; 21.6)" [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (270–271). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]


Here is the summary from [HI:HOEC]


"The Epistle of Barnabas, a pseudepigraphic work of Judaeo-Christian origin, probably written in Alexandria in the 130s, shows, in contrast, a much stronger eschatological intent; it sets its urgent moral exhortation and its bitter criticism of rabbinic faith and exegesis against a backdrop of intense apocalyptic hope. "Let us pay attention in these last days," the author writes (4.9), for "the final stumbling-block is approaching" (4.3) and the "Black One," the "wicked prince," is preparing his assault on the faithful (4.10, 13). In this time of crisis, "there are three teachings of the Lord: hope for life, which is the beginning and end of our faith; righteousness, the beginning and end of judgment; and cheerful, joyous love, a testimony that our works are just" (1.6)." The author's expectation of the Lord's coming reminds him of the certainty of judgment and retribution for both the just and sinners (21.1); "for this reason there will be a resurrection," and for this reason, too, Jesus has revealed our resurrection in his own flesh (ibid.; 5.6f.). The "Kingdom of God" is clearly a future reality for Barnabas (e.g., 21.1), yet it is present among us in a hidden way even now, undergoing "evil and polluted days" and sharing in the contradiction of the cross of Jesus (8.sf.). For Jesus, by establishing a new covenant with us, has already "redeemed our hearts from darkness" (14.5) and has let us "taste the first-fruits of what is to come" (1.7). The community to which the letter is addressed is already forgiven, already a new creation (6.11-13); when its members have been "perfected," they will rule over the earth (6.17-19). --- The second coming of the Son, he continues, will bring not only judgment but drastic cosmic changes, and will inaugurate a seventh age of rest (15.5). After that, at the dawning of the "eighth day" or age, a new world will begin (15.8)"


And from [HI:ENTSRD]


" It was written somewhere between the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) and the Jewish revolt led by Bar Kochba (135 CE).  --- The idea of the coming of a Judgment Day is very strong in this epistle. The author also adds that this day is imminent: 'The day is near when everything will perish together with the evil one. The Lord, and his reward, is near' (xxi:3). There will be retribution: 'For the one who does these things (= the Lord's commandments') will be glorified in the kingdom of God; the one who chooses their opposites will perish together with his works'. ... Though the kingdom of God is a future reality, it is also already present in this world, because 'our hearts have already been redeemed from darkness' (xiv:5). ... He believes that the second coming of Christ will cause drastic cosmic changes, and he interprets the verse 'And he rested on the seventh day' as follows:


This means: when his Son comes, he will destroy the time of the lawless one and will judge the ungodly and will change the sun and the moon and the stars, and then he will truly rest on the seventh day ...


"It is clear that the author believes that after the six thousand years of this world, everything will be completed and thereafter there will be an eighth period of a thousand years. [HI:ENTSRD, 586f]



As for sample texts, one can see from the citations in the above summaries that EOB is chock-full of apocalyptic texts, so I will not reproduce them here again.


One concise quote might suffice: "The day is near when everything will perish together with the evil one. The Lord, and his reward, is near." [Barn. 21:3, in Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (325). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]


"An expectation of the imminent end of the world can also be found in Barnabas (Barn. 21.3; cf. 'the final cause of stumbling is at hand' in Barn. 4.3)." [NT:DictLNT, s.v. Apostolic Fathers]


So, EOB is decidedly against the WD hypothesis--especially since it is (fairly soon?) after the destruction of the temple and might be expected to be the 'most likely to express disappointment via reinterpretation of apocalyptic sayings of Jesus'.


......................................................... ........................................................
Pushback: "Uh, is it just me, or did you miss the part where he gave a non-imminent timing for the Eschaton? as in "a 6 thousand year period"? Wouldn't this basically require him to deny or abandon (or reinterpret 'imminence'?

Good question--but the replay is too long to put here--I will give it a place of its own at "Does a belief in a ‘world-week’ of 6,000 years imply a denial of apocalyptic imminence?" Check it out...


Six: Shepherd of Hermas


In terms of genre, the Shepherd of Hermas (henceforth, SOH), is considered to be an 'apocalypse'. This should already set our expectation that it will be futurist in perspective, but not exclusively so (if it is true to the Synoptic teachings). It is not a traditional apocalypse, since the apocalyptic framework is filled with teaching/paraenesis.


So, in the Hermeneia commentary on SOH, Osiek discusses this:


"Is Hermas an Apocalypse? Most who attempt an answer to this question end in some way by saying both yes and no. In the definition and survey of apocalyptic literature in Semeia 14, Hermas qualifies to be listed and discussed as a Christian apocalypse, and Adela Yarbro Collins in her contribution on Hermas in the same volume concludes that “there is no good reason to exclude it from the genre ‘apocalypse,’ ” an indication of others’ attempts to do so, for example, Vielhauer/Strecker: “We should reckon the Pastor Hermae as falling in the genre of Apocalypse only in a non-literal sense, and must therefore designate it as a pseudo-apocalypse.” An intermediate position often taken is that it is an apocalypse in form but not in content. Others recognize a certain difference from the usual apocalypse and apply qualifying adjectives. --- The book lacks, or plays down considerably, some of what are often considered essential elements of an apocalypse: detailed revelations about the world beyond and end-time catastrophes; historical speculations; pessimism about the outcome of this world; and pseudepigraphical character. On the other hand, many writings accepted as apocalypses lack one or another of these characteristics. In the tables of characteristics of Christian apocalypses, Hermas ranks well.


"Hermas forces the question of the limits of apocalyptic genre. The long work is not of only one genre, and genres within it are not confined to parts with the most likely titles. There are visions, commandments, and parables throughout the text, though each predominates in the section by that name. The primary content of the Visions is revelations largely through the medium of verbal communication, though the image of the tower dominates. Here apocalyptic form and content are clearest, with otherworldly messages and eschatological warnings, but these in fact continue throughout the book. The commandments or teachings of the second part, the Mandates, is largely verbal as well, yet images and even revelations (Mandate 11) appear there. The third part, the Similitudes, is structured around images interpreted allegorically, but this section is also filled with commandments, and many of the Similitudes end with prescriptive teaching.


"The principal image of the Visions, the building of the tower, is an allegory of the community in its historical and eschatological aspects. ... It is paraenesis that drives and unifies the whole, within an apocalyptic framework. The strongest current running through the entire book is concern for the life of the church, especially its suffering members, from the perspective of the world beyond. That life can only be improved and purified through the conversion and changed behavior of its members within a limited (but not specified) time frame. The content of the book is therefore largely apocalyptic paraenesis, “parenetic salvation-judgment oracles” of the same form as those in Revelation 2–3,  with both space and time dimensions, within a framework of otherworldly revelation about the theological realities that engage the lives of the recipients.... The spirit of apocalypticism is no longer simply expectation of the eschaton, but a look backwards to what has already happened in Christ, who is present in the church speaking through the apostles and prophets. Christian apocalyptic therefore collapses the difference between this world and the world to come, so that there is only one time, the end time." [Osiek, C. (1999). Shepherd of Hermas: A commentary (H. Koester, Ed.). Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (10–12). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.]


Others concur:


"The longest of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers is also one of the most remarkable. The Shepherd of Hermas is part novel and part apocalypse, with the literary features of both of these genres directed toward an overall purpose of edification and moral exhortation. It is divided into three sections, commonly known as the Visions, the Mandates, and the Similitudes. --- The Visions are unusual among apocalyptic writings in that the author writes in his own name instead of assuming the guise of some great man of the past. He begins in an autobiographical vein, introducing himself as a former slave in Rome who entertains desire in his heart for a woman named Rhoda, who had once been his owner." [ISBE, Revised. 1988 (G. W. Bromiley, Ed.) (1. 212). Wm. B. Eerdmans.]


"The external structure of five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables (or similitudes, as they are often referred to) masks the fact that on the basis of its internal structure the document falls into two parts: visions 1–4 and the Shepherd proper (= the mandates and parables, to which vision 5 serves as an introduction). --- The genre of visions 1–4 is that of a Jewish-Christian apocalypse. A typical apocalypse (cf. Revelation) includes the following features: (1) a revelation from God, (2) usually in the form of a vision or dream, (3) often given through a mediator, (4) who provides an interpretation of the vision, (5) whose contents usually concern future events, especially the end times. Visions 1–4 neatly reflect this pattern, except for their contents: the focus is not on the end, but on the possibility of repentance because the end is not yet." [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (329–330). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]


"Among the works conventionally called the “apostolic fathers” by modern scholars is one apocalypse, the Shepherd of Hermas. Internal evidence suggests that this work was composed by a Jewish Christian freedman in Rome. It was written, perhaps in stages, between about 90 and 150 C.E. (...). The work consists of three parts: visions, mandates, and similitudes. At least the part containing the visions is an apocalypse (Hellholm 1980), but it is appropriate to speak of the entire work as an apocalypse (Osiek 1986).

...  The work also has a strong eschatological interest. The term thlipsis is used both for persecution and for the impending eschatological crisis (Vis II.ii.7–8, iii.4;; IV.i.1, ii.5, iii.6; cf. Sim VIII.iii.6–7). Apparently the apocalyptic eschatology of this work included the transformation of the faithful to an angelic state after death (Vis II.ii.7)." [Collins, A. Y. (1992). Apocalypses and Apocalypticism: Early Christian. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 1: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (290–291). New York: Doubleday.]



Here's the summary from [HI:HOEC]:


"The Shepherd of Hermas occupies a unique place in the development of second-century eschatology. ...  As P. Vielhauer has observed, "the book is an Apocalypse in its form and style, but not in its contents, since it includes no disclosures of the eschatological future or of the world beyond." In fact, it explicitly refuses to offer even symbolically veiled information on the time or character of a coming crisis. In his vision of the building of the tower - an obvious allegory for the growth of the Church - the narrator asks specifically "in regard to the ages, if now there is the conclusion." His angelic visitor's reply sets the tone as well as the content of the whole work:


"Foolish man! do you not see the tower yet building? When the tower is finished and built, then comes the end; and I assure you it will be soon finished. Ask me no more questions. Let you and all the saints be content... with my renewal of your spirits" (Vis. 3.8.9).


"In one sense, Hermas considers the eschaton to have begun already; it is this that gives peculiar urgency to his call for reform. Christ's coming as a human being, he observes, began "the last days of the consummation" (Sim. 9.12.3). The end is not far off; yet the completion of the "tower" has been delayed (Sim. 9.5.1), to allow those "stones" or structured members which have been made unfit by sin time to repent and be included in the building (Sim. 9.14.2; 10.4.4). Stones that do not fit into the tower are ultimately to be cast aside (Vis. 3.2.7,9; 3.7.1-2); so "the heathen and the sinners" will be burned like dry branches in "the world to come" (Sim. 4.2-4). Some sinners are capable of repentance, but for those who are not, eternal destruction lies ahead (Sim. 6.2.4; 8.7.3; 8.8.2-5; 8.11.3). The righteous, on the other hand, are guaranteed life in the world to come (Vis. 2.3.2f.; 4.3.5); they will "dwell with the Son of God" (Sim. 9.24.4), and "their place is already with the angels" (Sim. 9.27.3; cf. 9.25.2; Vis. 2.2.7). --- Significantly, Hermas does not mention a resurrection, and gives little concrete description of the rewards of the blessed life, except for the detail that those who have been persecuted will sit on the Lord's right in a place of special honor (Vis. 3.1.9-2.3). His concern is to motivate repentance rather than to offer solace in persecution."



And from [HI:ENTSRD]:


"The Shepherd of Hermas is a Christian apocalypse and was written in stages from 90-150 CE. The book consists of a series of visions experienced by Hermas. The book is divided into three sections, namely five allegorical Visions, twelve paraenetic sections which are called Mandates, and ten parables which are called Similitudes. --- As with all the other Apostolic Fathers, this author too does not give us any detailed treatise on eschatology. But throughout the whole work one can detect the underlying eschatological themes. In a vision he sees that those who have been persecuted for the sake of Christ are seated on the right side of God, in a place of honour (Vis iii:1.9). There is a strong eschatological emphasis in the visions. It is frequently mentioned that the great tribulation is coming (Vis ii:3.4). --- His vision of the building of the tower is an allegorical reference to the Church. The end will come, when the construction is finished, but now there is a pause in the construction (Sim ix:5.1). This 'delay' gives time to the stones (= members) to repent so that 'they may go back into the structure of the tower. But if they do not repent, then others will go in, and these will be cast out in the end' (Sim ix:14.2). Those who will prevail over evil will eventually obtain eternal life (Vis ii:3.2). The heathen and the sinners, on the other hand, 'will be burned as firewood' (Sim iv:4). But the tension between the present and the future is also present in this writing. Though the consummation of the world lies in the future, Hermas also says that Christ's coming happened when 'he was revealed in the last days of the consummation; that is why the door is new, in order that those who are going to be saved may enter the kingdom of God through it' (Sim ix:12.3). [HI:ENTSRD, 589]


Some of the main texts referred to above are these three:


So whoever serves these and has the strength to master their works will have a dwelling in the tower with the saints of God.” (9) Then I began to ask her about the times, in particular if the consummation had already arrived. But she cried out in a loud voice, saying: “You foolish man, can’t you see that the tower is still being built? When the tower is finished being built, then the end comes. But it will be built up quickly. Do not ask me any more questions; this reminder and the renewal of your spirits is sufficient for you and for the saints." [Hermas, Vis. 3.8.9, in Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (361). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. ]


Do good works, therefore, you who have received from the Lord, lest while you put off doing them the building of the tower is completed. For it is on your account that the work of building has been interrupted. So unless you act quickly to do right, the tower will be completed, and you will be excluded.” [Hermas, Sim. 10.4.4, in Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (527). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]


The Son of God is far older than all his creation, with the result that he was the Father’s counselor in his creation. This is why the rock is old.” “But why is the door new, sir?” I said. (3) “Because,” he said, “he was revealed in the last days of the consummation; that is why the door is new, in order that those who are going to be saved may enter the kingdom of God through it. (4) Did you notice,” he said, “that the stones which came through the door have gone into the construction of the tower, but those which did not come through it were returned to their own place?” “I noticed, sir,” I said. “In the same way,” he said, “no one will enter the kingdom of God unless he receives the name of his Son." [Hermas, Sim. 9.12.3, in Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (491). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. ]


We might notice--just from the above three passages--the following points:


  1. The first quote explicitly rejects a 'realized eschatology'--the question asked is exactly that, and the explicit answer is 'no, not yet'!
  2. An inaugurated eschatology fits these passages--the tower was established in the past, is growing now, and will be finished at the eschaton.
  3. The 'delay' (or better, 'interruption' of the completion of the tower while various stones are being replaced) is not connected to any 'reinterpreted prophecy of Jesus' but to the same forbearance motif present in 2 Peter. The delay is still surrounded by urgency/immanency.
  4. But this tower/stones image (an image common to Peter [1 Peter 2.4: Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house]  and Paul [Eph 2.19ff:  but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.]) seems also similar to the wild/natural branches image of Romans. As such, it is not eschatological or anti-eschatological in intent--but exhortatory.
  5. The 'enter the kingdom of God' terminology is right out of the Synoptic tradition.
  6. The revelation of the Son at the 'beginning of the consummation' in 'the last days' is almost the definition of inaugurated eschatology!



So, even with the emphasis being elsewhere, the eschatological content is still in solid continuity with the teachings of Jesus and the apostolic period writers. No evidence of WD here.



Seven: The Didache


The Didache contains some fairly clear eschatological passages, even concluding with an apocalypse:


"An example of “evolved literature,” the Didache combines ancient sayings and traditions with guidance for early Church life over as many as three stages of composition. The final form may be dated between 70 and 150 C.E., though the source materials undoubtedly are older. --- The Didache has at least three major sections: the so-called “Two Ways” material (1.1–6.3); liturgical and ecclesiastical instructions (7:1–15:4); and a brief apocalypse (16:1–8). --- The apocalypse serves to conclude the Didache much like the NT book of Revelation. It offers the hope of future reward for the righteous observance of an ethical lifestyle and appropriate church conduct. Gathered here are apocalyptic sayings which resemble materials from the NT Gospels and Pauline Epistles." [Jefford, C. N. (2000). Didache. 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.) (346). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.]


It is linked to the Synoptic apocalypses:


"Although the Didache is a church order in terms of genre, it expresses apocalyptic eschatology. This is especially apparent in the concluding chapter (16), a short apocalyptic discourse. This discourse is related to Mark 13 and parallels, especially to Matthew 24. Didache 16, however, does not follow that text closely, but seems to be largely independent, perhaps drawing on oral tradition. It shares with Matthew 24 the notion of a “sign” linked to the appearance of the Lord (Son of Man) on the clouds and the motif of a trumpet call. Its distinctive elements, relative to the synoptic apocalyptic discourse, are the fiery trial and the deceiver of the world. The latter is presented in terms reminiscent of the lawless one in 2 Thessalonians 2 (cf. Holland 1988)." [Collins, A. Y. (1992). Apocalypses and Apocalypticism: Early Christian. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), . Vol. 1: The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (D. N. Freedman, Ed.) (291). New York: Doubleday.]


As is a clear witness to an imminent expectation:


"The Didache maintains an eschatological hope (Did. 10.5) and in the concluding chapter articulates an imminent expectation of the end of the age (Did. 16)." [NT:DictLNT, s.v. Apostolic Fathers]




We need not spend too much time or bits on this, since a simple inspection of the concluding chapter will make its continuity with the Synoptic tradition obvious:


Chapter 16. “Watch” over your life: “do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming. (2) Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for all the time you have believed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time. (3) For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters will abound, and the sheep will be turned into wolves, and love will be turned into hate. (4) For as lawlessness increases, they will hate and persecute and betray one another. And then the deceiver of the world will appear as a son of God and “will perform signs and wonders,”43 and the earth will be delivered into his hands, and he will commit abominations the likes of which have never happened before. (5) Then all humankind will come to the fiery test, and “many will fall away” and perish; but “those who endure” in their faith “will be saved” by the accursed one himself. (6) And “then there will appear the signs” of the truth: first the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet,47 and third, the resurrection of the dead—(7) but not of all; rather, as it has been said, “The Lord will come, and all his saints with him.” (8) Then the world “will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.”


Let's note the summary by [HI:HOEC]


"The brief patchwork of catechetical, liturgical and homiletic material known as the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles was probably put into its present form in Palestine or Syria towards the middle of the second century, but it contains passages that may be older by half a century or more, including some sections with a strongly eschatological flavor. Its Eucharistic prayer (9-10) twice asks that the Church "be brought together from the ends of the earth" into the Kingdom God has prepared (9.4; 10.5), and concludes with several fervent acclamations calling on the Lord Jesus to "come" (10.6). Its final chapter - possibly woven out of several strands of apocalyptic and didactic material - urges the community to watchfulness in the "final days" (16.1,3) and warns of the coming of "the world-deceiver [disguised] as God's Son," who will rule over the earth and oppress the faithful (16.4-5). The signs proclaiming Christ's final victory over this tyrant will be three classically apocalyptic events: "a stretching-out [of a cross?] in the heavens, a trumpet-blast, and finally the resurrection of the saints, who will join the Lord in his triumphal procession across the sky."





"Secondly, this period of betrayal, false teaching and persecution in the immediate present and future of the community is the start of the last days, when the World Deceiver emerges and leads the whole world astray, inaugurating the final period of testing and suffering for the community, heralding the onset of the final holy war when the Lord will come with the righteous departed to establish period [sic] (probably to judge the wicked and reward the righteous, though the text breaks off here). This is not alien to the eucharistic prayers which cry out 'Come Lord!', 'maran atha'. It seems likely to me, on the basic that not all the departed will be raised for judgment but only the righteous, that the Didache expected the establishment of the kingdom on earth under the rule of Jesus God's pais rather than a rapture into heaven. More than that we cannot say on the basic of the evidence available." [HI:ENTSRD, 581, Jonathan A Draper]


The eucharistic prayer (in 10.6) expresses the yearning for the Parousia and the renewal of the cosmos (not just an 'earthly kingdom', I might add):


May grace come, and may this world pass away.

Hosanna to the God of David.

If anyone is holy, let him come;

if anyone is not, let him repent.

Maranatha! Amen.


Overall, this is strong evidence against the blogger's hypothesis. This seems close to the Synoptics and early Pauline literature.



Eight: Papias


Papias is another 'easy' one, although the data is not strong (one way or another):


"Papias is notorious for his millennialism (cf. Irenaeus Adv. Haer. 5.33.3; Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3.39.12)." [NT:DictLNT, s.v. Apostolic Fathers]


"A number of the church fathers express disdain for Papias because of his chiliasm, belief in the coming thousand-year reign of Christ. This belief indicates likelihood that Papias knew the book of Revelation." [Wilson, J. C. (2000). Papias. 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.) (1006). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.]


"Other statements attributed to Papias reflect this interest in oral traditions. He cites, for example, otherwise unknown sayings of Jesus about a coming thousand-year reign on earth (iii.39.11f; cf. Rev. 20:1–6), and about unbelievably plentiful harvests of grapes and wheat on the earth in those days (Irenaeus, Adv Haer v.33.3f, a tradition supposedly from Jesus by way of John and the “presbyters”). ... Largely because of his extravagant depictions of millennial plenty, Eusebius described Papias as a “man of very little intelligence” (HE iii.39.13). Though this verdict is perhaps unfair on such limited data, Papias seems to have been a person who was fascinated by eschatological hopes, especially when they involved extravagant and bizarre projections of certain features of the present life into the future" [ISBE, Revised. 1988 (G. W. Bromiley, Ed.) (211–212). Wm. B. Eerdmans.; s.v. Apostolic Fathers]


From [HI:HOEC]


"Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia in the early second century, apparently also had had close contact with the community in which the Johannine writings were produced. He is known to have collected material about Jesus and his disciples from oral sources, and to have arranged it in five books entitled Explanations of the Words of the Lord. According to Irenaeus (AH 5.33.3-4), book 4 of Papias' collection contained, among teachings attributed to Jesus, a vivid description of a coming millennial kingdom, in which the fruitfulness of the earth will be increased to staggering proportions for the sake of the risen saints. Papias' authority became the basis of Irenaeus' own millennial expectations at the end of the second century; Eusebius, however (HE 3.39.13), found Papias' millenarianism proof of his "very small intelligence.""




"Papias, who was apparently a disciple of John (Irenaeus, Adv Haer v:33.4), became bishop of Hierapolis. In 130 CE he wrote the Expositions of the Words of the Lord in five books. Only fragmentary quotations from this work have been preserved for us. He supported the literal belief in the millennium, and this brought him into disfavour. Eusebius (HE iii:39.11-12) says as follows:


The same writer (= Papias) adduces other accounts, as though they came to him from unwritten tradition, and some strange parables and teachings of the Saviour, and some more mythical accounts. Among them he says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection of the dead, when the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this earth. I suppose that he got these notions by a perverse reading of the apostle accounts, not realizing that they had spoken mystically and symbolically. For he was a man of very little intelligence, as is clear from his books. But he is responsible for the fact that so many Christian writers after him held the same opinion, relying on his antiquity, for instance Irenaeus and whoever else appears to have held the same views (Loeb translation).


"Famine and food shortages were common in the ancient world. These realities gave rise to apocalyptic dreams of plentiful food and drink (Chadwick 1999, 50). Hopes for a restored Jerusalem were often based on expectations expressed in Isaiah and Daniel. Because of the authority Papias enjoyed being a disciple of the apostle John, his statements later on formed the basis of Irenaeus' own millennial views. [HI:ENTSRD, 588]


[The polemical passage from Eusebius is the closest thing we find to a 're-interpretation' of Jesus' eschatological language, but it is two centuries too late for our study. In the post-Constantine world, the Church DID begin developing a 'realized' eschatology, and DID begin to re-interpret the words of Jesus (not all did, of course). But this rejection of earlier views is actually data in support of rejecting the blogger's hypothesis. If the later church was a 'realized' eschatology church, it had to reject and/or reinterpret even the earlier churches writings--which WERE in continuity with Jesus' teachings in the Synoptics. In this case (post-Constantine) evidence of watering-down is evidence for non-WD by the earlier post-NT church. We just do not find major rejections of futurist and/or inaugurated eschatology before this late period. There are differences of theological detail, of course, but the basics are always still there.]



Nine: 2nd Clement


Now, when we get into the writings known as 1st Clement and 2nd Clement, we do find the issue of 'delay' being raised--as in 2nd Peter and as in Hermas. But again, we will not see a 'spiritualization' of the eschaton (e.g., into a realized eschatology, a la 'simple eternal life') nor will we see a 're-interpretation' of any (alleged) synoptic time markers given by Jesus (e.g. 'before the end of the generation'). Rather, we see the same emphasis that Jesus showed on 'no one knows the hour', 'keep watch', 'persevere', and 'end does not come before the gospel is preached to the world'.


The early Fathers were more or less faithful to this aspect of the message of our Lord, and reflect a varying mix of futurist, realized, and inaugurated frameworks, with a growing emphasis on the futurist-but-still-imminent aspects:


"2 Clement too thinks of the day of the Lord as “already approaching” (2 Clem. 16.3) and argues for the reality of the future bodily resurrection (2 Clem. 9.1-5) and a literal final judgment (2 Clem. 17.4-7). Given their distance in time from the gospel events, the continuing—and even urgent—eschatology of the apostolic fathers is impressive" [NT:DictLNT]


In the specific case of 2nd Clement, we find intensification of the futurist aspects and less emphasis on the 'realized' aspects.


"Eschatology in the early days of the church represents a mixture of real­ized and future considerations. The situation after the resurrection of Jesus had consequences for the new understanding of the lives of the Christians. They understood themselves as men and women living in a new situation. The old times had passed away, a new time had come. But to increasing extents, the tension between realized and future eschatology began fading away. In wide circles, eschatology in the second century became increas­ingly futuristic. This is especially true for 2 Clement, the oldest existing sermon of the church. Here eschatology is nearly completely orientated on the future. The aspect of realization does not play a significant role." [HI:ENTSRD, 629, Wilhelm Pratscher.]


[HI:HOEC, 14f] points out its 'unambiguous' apocalyptic character and its 'un-apologetic' insistence that 'the time is short':


"The anonymous homily traditionally referred to as the Second Letter of Clement - probably delivered in some Hellenistic community before 150 -presents, in contrast to Ignatius' letters or I Clement, the expectation of an unambiguously apocalyptic transformation of the world in the near future. The message of the work is, essentially, a simple exhortation to lead a holy and upright life. But this is given a tone of seriousness and urgency by the repeated warning that "our stay in this world of the flesh is slight and short" (5.5; cf. 5.1; 7.1; 8.1-3), and we cannot be certain when God's Kingdom will come (12.1). Indeed, the author implies that the coming of the Kingdom has only been delayed in order to train us in uprightness (20), and to give people a chance to repent from their sins, especially those of a sexual character (12.2-6). Jesus' coming as judge will bring a full revelation of both human righteousness and human sin, as corroborating evidence for his own justice and glory (16.3; 17.4-7). On that day, heaven will be dissolved and earth "will be like lead melting in fire" (16.3); the faithless will then be punished with "endless torments and undying fire" (17.7; cf. 6.7; 7.6), while the just will "gather the immortal fruit of the resurrection" (19.3) and receive, as their due reward, the everlasting blessing of the Kingdom (11.7: 19.4)."


The Synoptic elements of certainty-of-soon but uncertainty-of-how-soon is maintained:


"In 2 Clement 12.1, Clement exhorts his readers to manifest continually love and righteousness while waiting for the kingdom of God. The motivation expressed is that “we do not know the day of the appearing of God.” Similarly, 2 Clement 16.1-2 exhorts the readers to repentance and abstinence from worldly enjoyments with the motivation being the imminence of the day of judgment: “And you know that the day of judgment is already coming as a burning oven, . . . and then the hidden and visible deeds of humankind will be revealed” (2 Clem. 16.3; alluding to Mal 4:1). Finally, 2 Clement 17.4 refers to the Parousia as “the day of his appearing” at which the unbelievers as well as “the ungodly who are among us” will be judged, while the righteous will be rewarded (2 Clem. 17.5-7)." [NT:DictLNT]


2nd Clement clearly had the opportunity to 're-work' the synoptic tradition, for it is clearly familiar with it:


"The so-called second letter of Clement is not a letter, nor is it by Clement. It is, in fact, a sermon or “word of exhortation” composed by an anonymous presbyter (17.3). It is the oldest complete Christian sermon that has survived. Based upon a text from Isaiah (54:1), it presents a call to repentance, purity, and steadfastness in the face of persecution. The “reader” (19.1) of the sermon, addressing a primarily Gentile congregation (1.6; 3.1), may also be reacting against Gnostic influences (10.5; cf. the stress on the deity of Jesus [1.1] and the resurrection and judgment [9.1–5]). Beyond this, however, almost nothing is known with any certainty about its author, date, or occasion. --- In his sermon the author draws upon a wide range of writings as he attempts to persuade his listeners. In addition to the Scriptures, which he occasionally cites by name (Isaiah, 3:5; Ezekiel, 6:8), and an apocryphal book (11.2–4), he certainly knew and used Matthew, Luke, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians, and may have known Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter. The sermon appears to contain the earliest instance of a New Testament passage being quoted as “Scripture” (2.4)." [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (102). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]



The author is very specific as to the reality of the Parousia, describing it in very traditional/NT terms:


"The day of the Parousia and the Last Judgement is described by three more traditional apocalyptic events: the disappearance of (some) heavens and of Earth (16:3), the resurrection (9:1; 19:3) and the coming of the 'kingdom of God' (6:9; 9:6 etc.). " [HI:ENTSRD, 630]


In chapters 11 and 12, however, the author addresses the certainty and the date of the Parousia. Even as far back as Paul, some 'realized eschatology' groups had perhaps denied the certainty of a 'literal' Parousia, and this is perhaps reflected in chapter 11 of our author:


"Let us therefore serve God with a pure heart, and we will be righteous. But if we do not serve him because we do not believe God’s promise, we will be wretched. (2) For the prophetic word says: “Wretched are the double-minded, those who doubt in their heart and say, ‘We heard all these things even in the days of our fathers, and though we have waited day after day we have seen none of them.’ (3) Fools! Compare yourselves to a tree, or take a vine: first it sheds its leaves, then a shoot comes, and after these a sour grape, and then a full ripe bunch. (4) So also my people have had turmoil and tribulation, but afterward they will receive good things.” (5) So, my brothers, let us not be double-minded, but patiently endure in hope, that we may also receive the reward. (6) “For faithful is he who promised” to pay each person the wages due his works. (7) Therefore, if we do what is right in God’s sight, we will enter his kingdom and receive the promises which “ear has not heard nor eye seen nor the heart of man imagined.” [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (117). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]


The quote used in this passage (from an unknown source) is also used by 1 Clement (discussed below), and sounds a bit like the scoffers in 2 Peter. But in this passage the people described seemed to be different in character. They are not condemned as ‘scoffers’ but are portrayed as ‘conflicted’. They are 'double-minded' believers (not singly-minded scoffers). They have waited day after day and are discouraged to the point of doubt. They are challenged to continue ‘patiently enduring’, not to ‘repent’. They have not given up hope of the Eschaton, but merely are discouraged that it has not occurred yet--and that they have not been relieved of the pains of persecution.


 So, we should not make much of this 'objection' as somehow being any different from those alive at the time of Jesus, who ‘longed for the Kindgom of God to appear’.


We will see in a later installment (in our discussion of the ‘theology of delay, revisited’) that discouragement did not mean ‘disagreement’ or ‘disbelief’ or ‘denial’ of the faithfulness of God’s promise to ‘restore all things’ and ‘right the wrongs’.


In chapter 12, our author raises the issue of the date of the Parousia:


"Let us wait, therefore, hour by hour for the kingdom of God in love and righteousness, since we do not know the day of God’s appearing " [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (117–119). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. ]


This passage maintains the tone of ‘encouragement to the discouraged’ seen above, and still basically reasserts the nobody-knows-the-exact-time teaching of our Lord.


"This does not yet answer the question about the date. Necessarily, if the connection is to be more than mere idle talk, the author bears more in mind than just holding dubious expectations for the future. On the other hand, he does not consider any expectations for the near future, which was characteristic of early Christians (cf. e.g. 1 Thess 4:17; 1 Cor 15:51; Mt 10:23 etc.), and was also presented later. The fact that the reader is encouraged to wait 'hour by hour' for the coming of the kingdom, allows for the conclusion that the author is still near the early Christians. ... The term 'we do not know' in 2 Clement 12:1 is rather reluctant in suggesting the date (this corresponds to Mk 13:32 par Mt 24:36). It does not decline the near expectation, but also does not underline it strongly.--- The author seems to presuppose a near expectation throughout the text, seen where he warns the reader to use the present to turn repent, as long as we are still in this world and have some time left (8:1; 9:7; 16:1). These texts could be interpreted as suggesting that the Parousia might happen while the addressees are still alive. The term 'as long as we have some time left' (8:2; 9:7) could be understood in the sense of besetting nearness. But as the aspect of nearness is not explicitly expressed anywhere, the being in this world (8:2) ... is more probably referring to the time of each reader's individual death. Nevertheless, an individual eschatology (without an apocalyptic horizon including resurrection and Last Judgement) cannot be presumed for 2 Clemen... An apocalyptic understanding of the hope for the future cannot be denied, seen in the text's clear formulations on terms like the Parousia, resurrection, Last Judgement, as well as award and penalty." [HI:ENTSRD, 638f]


In keeping with the other post-NT literature, our author also asserts 'realized' aspects of eschatology, kept alongside the futurist perspective:


"The author of 2 Clement belongs to the broad range of apocalyptically oriented early Christians that held a strong expectation of the future. Topics such as Parousia, resurrection, Last Judgement, with award and penalty, are natural to him. In addition, the parenetic orientation of various eschatological statements is characteristic of his writings. --- Concerning the future eschatology, the author keeps to the certainty of the events that are to be expected - against all tendencies of dilution. He supports his argument with a quotation based on natural theology: 'as certain as the growing of wine is, the kingdom of God will come' (11:2-4). While the interpretation of this quotation (11:5-7) does not concentrate on the problem of delay, the author draws the parenetic conclusion that no doubts are necessary (v. 5) and uses the traditional motif of God's loyalty (not the loyalty of the God who endows presents), and the consequence of the God who treats everyone according to their behaviour, and opens the kingdom of God to those that act righteously (vv. 6-7). --- The question on the date of the Parousia focuses on the parenesis: in light of the knowledge of the day, the author advises the reader to wait patiently. Again, he provides an answer by using a quotation, which can also be found in the Gospel of the Egyptians and in the Gospel of Thomas. --- Concerning the realized eschatology, the pesherlike parenetic interpretation (12:3-5) reveals an implicit realized eschatology: if the coming of the kingdom is connected to the righteous behaviour, which is (at least partially) already lived, the kingdom is in some way present. But the qualitative aspect of presence is immediately overlapped by the quantitative aspect of future. Only if the suggested process is completely carried out, will the kingdom of the Father come. --- In a second way the implicit realized eschatology can be seen in the accentuation of the past salvation by Christ, i.e. the transferal of the addressees from their former pagan state to their current Christian position. As well as the common Christian tradition, 2 Clement stresses this aspect of eschatology. But this new situation is only the pre-condition for gaining the real future life by behaving righteously." [HI:ENTSRD, 641]


Since this ‘realized’ aspect is connected to the futurist perspective through the life/death of Jesus, the term ‘inaugurated’ would be a reasonable description of the position.




Ten: 1st Clement


We have saved the ‘best-for-the-blogger’ until last. 1CL is the earliest document we can date, is still within the first century, and seems to be sensitive to the issue of the expectations of the timing of the Parousia.


In this case, we will look at the scholarly assessments first, and then look at some of the more crucial passages/texts.


From [HI:HOEC]


“The so-called First Letter of Clement is the earliest of these documents that can be dated with any certainty. It was written apparently by Clement, one of the chief presbyters of the Church of Rome, to the Church in Corinth about the year 96; its chief aim is to urge respect for Church order and established authority on a group of young, dissident Christians. Understan­dably, Clement's ecclesiological perspective leads him to stress the conti­nuity of sacred history and its institutions rather than to repeat the world-shattering challenge of apocalyptic hope. Eschatology is not a strong concern for him. The traditional themes of New Testament eschatology that he does preserve - the imminent coming of the Kingdom, for instance (42.3; 50.3), or the suddenness of the Lord's return (23.3-5) and the universal certainty of his judgment (28) - are presented as being in continuity with creation, the expected culmination of the orderly process of history rather than a crisis that has suddenly come upon us.


“The main eschatological section of the work, cc. 23-28, seems to be, like the New Testament's II Peter, a kind of apology for the Church's traditional expectations of resurrection and judgment in the face of the delay being experienced by believers. The "double-minded" and "doubters" are reminded that the crops, too, take time to grow to ripeness, but that they do mature in their own time (23.3-4). The passage of day and night, the growth of plants from apparently lifeless seeds (24), even the legend of the phoenix (25) all testify, within God's created order, to the possibility of resurrection. "Nothing is impossible to God save lying . . . Not one of the things he has decreed will fail" (27.3,5). Therefore the right attitude for the Christian is to fear God's coming judgment and lead a holy life (28.1-29.1). The aim of this section, aside from the obviously paraenetic element at its end, may be to counteract an exaggeratedly "realized" eschatology that may have been current in the Corinthian community, parallel to that rejected by Paul in his own first letter to the Corinthians. Clement, like Paul in I Cor 15, attacks this understanding of an already-assured salvation by defending the temporally future character of resurrection and judgment, and implying the necessity of both life and death in the present historical order before the blessings promised in the gospel can be realized.


For the author of I Clement, in any case, both the future punishment of the unfaithful and the future reward of the just are guaranteed by God's fidelity to his promises (11.1; 34.3, 7; 35.2-3), even though their details exceed our present comprehension. The saints "who have been made perfect in love" will be revealed to all when Christ's Kingdom comes and they are raised from their graves (50.3-4); but the martyrs and the faithful leaders of the Church who have died already enjoy "a secure place" of glory (5.4, 7; 6.2; 44.5). Indeed, Clement follows Jewish apocalyptic tradition in suggesting that the number of the elect is already fixed by God (2.4; 59.2), and that any person who keeps the commandments humbly will be enrolled in that number (58.2)."


And then from [HI:ENTSRD]


“The letter called 1 Clement was written to the Church in Corinth towards the end of the first century. The author reminds his readers that 'the Master continually points out to us the coming resurrection of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the first fruit when he raised him from the dead' (xxiv:l). Though the letter refers to the resurrection of Christ as 'the first fruit', he does not base the general resurrection of the believers on Christ's resurrection. He rather uses the analogy form of argumentation to confirm his belief in the resurrection, when he says:


Day and night show us the resurrection: the night falls asleep, and day arises; the day departs, and night returns. Let us take the crops: ... These seeds, falling to the earth dry and bare, decay; but then out of their decay the majesty of the Master's providence raises them up, and from the one seed many grow and bear fruit' (xxiv:3-5).'


“Even the legend of the phoenix, a bird which was said to be reborn of its own ashes, is used as proof of the resurrection (xxvi:l-2). However, at another instance it seems as if he does link the resurrection of the believers with the resurrection of Christ, since he says 'through him (= Jesus Christ) the Master has willed that we should taste immortal knowledge' (xxxvi:2). He also reasons that Christ's resurrection validates the apostolic teaching (xl:l-3). --- The question of Christ's delay in returning is also addressed (xxxiii). The letter argues that one should remember that it takes time for the fruit of a tree to reach maturity. He nevertheless emphasizes the suddenness of Christ's return. The Corinthians are also assured that God will do what He has promised (xxvii:5).


“The eschatological statements in 1 Clement serve a paraenetic purpose to encourage believers to lead a pure and holy life (xxviii:l-xxix:l; xxxv:l-4). But Daley (1991,10) thinks that these sections also serve to counteract the 'realized' eschatology that was perhaps current in the Corin­thian community, and which can also be detected in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. [HI:ENTSRD, 585f]



Here is the main passage in which Clement –using roughly the same quote as 2 Clement—talks about ‘waiting on the Parousia’:


CHAPTER23. The Father, who is merciful in all things, and ready to do good, has compassion on those who fear him, and gently and lovingly bestows his favors on those who draw near to him with singleness of mind. (2) Therefore, let us not be double-minded, nor let our soul indulge in false ideas about his excellent and glorious gifts. (3) Let this Scripture be far from us where he says, “Wretched are the double-minded, those who doubt in their soul and say, ‘We heard these things even in the days of our fathers, and look, we have grown old, and none of these things have happened to us.’ (4) You fools, compare yourselves to a tree, or take a vine: first it sheds its leaves, then a shoot comes, then a leaf, then a flower, and after these a sour grape, and then a full ripe bunch.” Notice that in a brief time the fruit of the tree reaches maturity. (5) Truly his purpose will be accomplished quickly and suddenly, just as the Scripture also testifies: “He will come quickly and not delay; and the Lord will come suddenly into his temple, even the Holy One whom you expect.[CHAPTER24]. Let us consider, dear friends, how the Master continually points out to us the coming resurrection of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruit when he raised him from the dead. (2) Let us observe, dear friends, the resurrection that regularly occurs. (3) Day and night show us the resurrection: the night falls asleep, and day arises; the day departs, and night returns. (4) Let us take the crops: How and in what manner does the sowing take place? (5) “The sower went forth,” and cast into the earth each of the seeds. These seeds, falling to the earth dry and bare, decay; but then out of their decay the majesty of the Master’s providence raises them up, and from the one seed many grow and bear fruit.” [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (55–57). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.; 1CL 23-24]


The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent forth from God. (2) So then Christ is from God, and the apostles are from Christ. Both, therefore, came of the will of God in good order. (3) Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the Word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come. [1CL 42]


You see, dear friends, how great and wonderful love is; its perfection is beyond description. (2) Who is worthy to be found in it, except those whom God considers worthy? Let us therefore ask and petition his mercy, that we may be found blameless in love, standing apart from the factiousness of men. (3) All the generations from Adam to this day have passed away, but those who by God’s grace were perfected in love have a place among the godly, who will be revealed when the kingdom of Christ visits us. [1CL 50]


Observation: I have noticed that some scholars contrast this type of ‘imminent expectation’ (suddenly and quickly) with some alleged ‘hyper-expectation’ (?) of the earlier church, but I honest cannot see how this distinction can be maintained.  I cannot tell a different between the apostle Paul – who could expect the return of Christ soon (but apparently conditional upon the response of the gentiles to the message—eg. ‘until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled') and a Clement or Second-Clement talking about ‘suddenly’ (but apparently conditional upon the completion of ‘’inaugurated growth”) or a Didachist talking about ‘suddenly and soon’ (but apparently conditional upon the completion of the ‘tower’)… Maybe it is there, but I cannot with confidence build such a strong distinction from simple ‘literary emphases or oblique uses of eschatology as a base for ethics….


What this means is that even alleged delay-talk (as in 1CL and 2CL) is not clearly an indication of ‘embarrassment’ or ‘disillusionment’ or ‘re-swizzling’ of apocalyptic expectations.


And, given the strong statements in favor of inaugurated and/or futurist eschatology perspectives in 1CL and 2CL, I have to conclude that they still constitute data/evidence against the blogger’s hypothesis.




Ok, let’s close off this discussion with a summary statement or two from scholarship on the early Fathers (long quotes, but it’s a lot of material).


“Though it was only in the seventeenth century that some of the early Christian writings became known as Apostolic Fathers, the name will still be used for this category. These writings do not define the Christians' eschatological hope doctrinally, but they often refer to it. Quasten (1975, 40) says that these writings betray a typical eschatological character, and reveal a belief that the second coming of Christ was imminent. [HI:ENTSRD, 584]


Conclusions. Everyone who studies Patristics knows that the works of the early Christian Fathers are not a homogenous group of writings. Diversity is the rule (cf. Wilken 1971, 20), and this is also clearly seen in the early Church Fathers' diverse opinions on eschatology. It is impossible to trace in the writings of the early Fathers 'a regular and logical pattern of consistent eschatology' (Lampe 1957, 17). It is also not possible to put them into a coherent framework. --- Yet there are definite common features in their eschatological views, such as the certainty of judgment. The theologians of the second century remoulded the eschatology of the New Testament, but they always rooted it in historical tradition (Lampe 1957, 21). One should, however, never think that Christianity always remained what it was in the beginning, and that there were no new developments (Wilken 1971, 73). But even to trace an evolutionary sequence of eschatological ideas is an almost impossible task.

Moule (1964, 5) says about the eschatological formulations in the New Testament that not only is it impossible to build all these statements about the last things into a single system, but neither do they have a logical sequence or a successive order of evolution. He then says that they 'may arrive on the scene at any moment, and in almost any order, whether to 'peg' two opposite ends of a paradox or to defend different aspects of the truth as they chance to come under attack'. One cannot give a better description of the eschatological views of the early theologians as well.


“It is true that there is no full discussion of everlasting life in the writings of the Early Fathers, but one should also remember what the aims of these writings were. They were apologetic in nature, and their objective was to defend the Christian faith against attacks from outside. It was only in the post-Nicene period, when the persecutions ended, that the theologians enjoyed the luxury of leisure to reflect on the contents of their beliefs. Nevertheless, one can see that the belief in a risen life with Christ was always present in their writings, and they never saw a need to enter into detailed discussions thereof.


One can also detect a tension in the patristic writings between a futuristic hope and a 'realized eschatology'. The early theologians did distinguish adequately between what we have now in the present, versus that which awaits us. Thus one cannot agree with Lampe (1957, 29) who says that when one looks at patristic thought as a whole, it is clear that the ancient theologians did not really make a distinction between salvation as already achieved, and salvation as something to be attained hereafter.


“Chiliastic ideas periodically popped up as part of the early Christians' teaching of the future hope. This was often a feature of books which were written in times of persecution. Chadwick (1999, 52) points out that millennial expectations and the hope for the restoration of the holy city and the holy land lead to pilgrimages. That explains why believers started in the second century already to visit holy sites where the Gospel stories had taken place.


“Though the theologians of the early Church no longer lived with a day-to-day expectation of the parousia [tanknote: I do not believe the data supports this position], this does not mean that they lost the realization that our present order is merely temporary (cf. Lampe 1957, 35). They still shared this realization with the Apostolic Church. They were clearly not troubled by the delay of the parousia. From the above it is also clear that the doctrine of eschatology is closely related to the nucleus of the Christian message, namely the redemption of man by the risen Christ. Often these eschatological texts serve as a paraenetic to lead a holy life. Eschatological views are therefore an important aspect of early Christian theology. [HI:ENTSRD, 598f]






Excursus: Where are the references to the alleged 'timing' passages??


As I go through all these post-NT writings and gather up texts/references to eschatological themes, I begin to notice that there is essentially ZERO discussion of the alleged timing elements in the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus.


There is an occasional discussion about 'why is it taking so long?', but nothing about 'why did the predicted date of return come and go without incident?'.


The 'delay' passages --few that there are-- are mostly addressed to the believers and look virtually identical to OT passages and other Second Temple Judaism passages about "How long, O Lord?". They are not heavily 'Christian' at all. [They are intensified by the Christ-event, of course, and we will note this when we circle back to summarize the question of what exactly the 'delay' word would have MEANT in those contexts.]


So, I did a little digging into this--using two research vectors.


First, I searched the post-NT ante-Nicene Fathers for the presence of the word 'generation', hoping to find some reference to 'this generation will not pass until all things are accomplished'.


If the Church perceived this as a precise prediction of a date, and knew that the date had passed 'without incident', then we might expect the 'embarrassment' to be visible in the writings of the period.


So, how embarrassed was the early church about the “this generation shall not pass until all these things are accomplished” passage?


Under the blogger’s hypothesis, there should be ‘re-interpretations’ of this alleged timing element (or perhaps ‘arguments thereabout’) present in numerous places—as a trigger for ‘delay of the Parousia’ discussions.


A simple concordance search for ‘generation’ in the Ante-Nicene fathers shows a couple of things:


  1. The early Fathers are familiar with the many ‘evil generation’ passages from the Synoptics, so there is no real doubt that they are familiar with the ‘shall not pass away’ passage.
  2. Most uses of ‘generation’ deal with the altogether different theological question of the ‘generation’ of the Son from the Father, and hence are irrelevant to our study.
  3. Many of the other uses of ‘generation’ are in descriptions and refutations of gnostic-based or gnostic-related theologies.
  4. There are several references to generation-denouncing passages (eg, ‘generation of vipers’; perverse generation of the Flood; adulterous generation of the Wilderness).
  5. There is only ONE mention of the passage in question—and it is used as a proof of prophetic accuracy of Jesus (!), since it interprets the passage as referring to the destruction of the Temple and/or Jerusalem (as many/most modern commentators do). This is in a 5th century work, so the issue was apparently not considered a problem even up until then—it simply gets no attention in the centuries of writing.


Let’s look at some of the non-theological, non-heresiological uses of generation/genea:



“And that He would rise again on the third day after the crucifixion, it is written in the memoirs that some of your nation, questioning Him, said, ‘Show us a sign;’ and He replied to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and no sign shall be given them, save the sign of Jonah.’ And since He spoke this obscurely, it was to be understood by the audience that after His crucifixion He should rise again on the third day. And He showed that your generation was more wicked and more adulterous than the city of Nineveh; for the latter, when Jonah preached to them, after he had been cast up on the third day from the belly of the great fish, that after three (in other versions, forty) days they should all perish, proclaimed a fast of all creatures, men and beasts, with sackcloth, and with earnest lamentation, with true repentance from the heart, and turning away from unrighteousness, in the belief that God is merciful and kind to all who turn from wickedness; so that the king of that city himself, with his nobles also, put on sackcloth and remained fasting and praying, and obtained their request that the city should not be overthrown.’ [Justin Martyr. Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.]




Then I said again, “Would you suppose, sirs, that we could ever have understood these matters in the Scriptures, if we had not received grace to discern by the will of Him whose pleasure it was? in order that the saying of Moses might come to pass, ‘They provoked me with strange [gods], they provoked me to anger with their abominations. They sacrificed to demons whom they knew not; new gods that came newly up, whom their fathers knew not. Thou hast forsaken God that begat thee, and forgotten God that brought thee up. And the Lord saw, and was jealous, and was provoked to anger by reason of the rage of His sons and daughters: and He said, I will turn My face away from them, and I will show what shall come on them at the last; for it is a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. They have moved Me to jealousy with that which is not God, they have provoked Me to anger with their idols; and I will move them to jealousy with that which is not a nation, I will provoke them to anger with a foolish people. For a fire is kindled from Mine anger, and it shall burn to Hades. It shall consume the earth and her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains; I will heap mischief on them.’ And after that Righteous One was put to death, we flourished as another people, and shot forth as new and prosperous corn; as the prophets said, ‘And many nations shall betake themselves to the Lord in that day for a people: and they shall dwell in the midst of all the earth.’ [Justin Martyr. Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.


“But in addition to these, I wish, sirs,” said I, “to add some other passages from the very words of Moses, from which you may understand that God has from of old dispersed all men according to their kindreds and tongues; and out of all kindreds has taken to Himself your kindred, a useless, disobedient, and faithless generation; and has shown that those who were selected out of every nation have obeyed His will through Christ,—whom He calls also Jacob, and names Israel,—and these, then, as I mentioned fully previously, must be Jacob and Israel. For when He says, ‘Rejoice, O ye nations, with His people,’ He allots the same inheritance to them, and does not call them by the same name; but when He says that they as Gentiles rejoice with His people, He calls them Gentiles to reproach you.” [Justin Martyr. Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.]



...For Matthew the apostle—knowing, as one and the same God, Him who had given promise to Abraham, that He would make his seed as the stars of heaven, and Him who, by His Son Christ Jesus, has called us to the knowledge of Himself, from the worship of stones, so that those who were not a people were made a people, and she beloved who was not beloved—declares that John, when preparing the way for Christ, said to those who were boasting of their relationship [to Abraham] according to the flesh, but who had their mind tinged and stuffed with all manner of evil, preaching that repentance which should call them back from their evil doings, said, “O generation of vipers, who hath shown you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruit meet for repentance. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham [to our] father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” He preached to them, therefore, the repentance from wickedness, but he did not declare to them another God, besides Him who made the promise to Abraham; he, the forerunner of Christ, of whom Matthew again says, and Luke likewise, “For this is he that was spoken of from the Lord by the prophet, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough into smooth ways; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” [Irenaeus of Lyons.  Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.]


...Wherefore they cannot receive His inheritance: as David says, “Sinners are alienated from the womb; their anger is after the likeness of a serpent.” And therefore did the Lord term those whom He knew to be the offspring of men “a generation of vipers;” because after the manner of these animals they go about in subtilty, and injure others. For He said, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” [Irenaeus of Lyons.  Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.]



…And if the blood of the righteous were not to be inquired after, the Lord would certainly not have had blood [in His composition]. But inasmuch as blood cries out (.) from the beginning [of the world], God said to Cain, when he had slain his brother, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to Me.” And as their blood will be inquired after, He said to those with Noah, “For your blood of your souls will I require, [even] from the hand of all beasts;” and again, “Whosoever will shed man’s blood, it shall be shed for his blood.” In like manner, too, did the Lord say to those who should afterwards shed His blood, 'All righteous blood shall be required which is shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.'” [Irenaeus of Lyons.  Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [5.14]]



Such is the Word, such is the Instructor, the Creator of the world and of man: and of Himself, now the world’s Instructor, by whose command we and the universe subsist, and await judgment. “For it is not he who brings a stealthy vocal word to men,” as Bacchylidis says, “who shall be the Word of Wisdom;” but “the blameless, the pure, and faultless sons of God,” according to Paul, “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, to shine as lights in the world.” [Clement of Alexandria. The Instructor. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II: Fathers of the Second Century. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.]




On martyrdom the Lord hath spoken explicitly, and what is written in different places we bring together. “But I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess in Me before men, the Son of man also shall confess before the angels of God; but whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before the angels.” “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me or of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him shall the Son of man also be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of His Father with His angels. Whosoever therefore shall confess in Me before men, him will I also confess before my Father in heaven.” “And when they bring you before synagogues, and rulers, and powers, think not beforehand how ye shall make your defense, or what ye shall say. For the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what ye must say.” [Clement of Alexandria. The Stromata, or Miscellanies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II: Fathers of the Second Century. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.; TankNote: Notice that these events are still future/on-going, and were NOT spiritualized or 'completed' with the destruction of the temple/Jerusalem.]




I take on myself the character of Israel. Let Marcion’s Christ stand forth, and exclaim, “O faithless generation! how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” [Tertullian. The Five Books against Marcion P. Holmes, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. 4.23]




1. The holy apostle, wishing to teach us some great and hidden truth respecting science and wisdom, says, in the first Epistle to the Corinthians: “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of the world, that come to nought: but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the princes of the world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” In this passage, wishing to describe the different kinds of wisdom, he points out that there is a wisdom of this world, and a wisdom of the princes of this world, and another wisdom of God. But when he uses the expression “wisdom of the princes of this world,” I do not think that he means a wisdom common to all the princes of this world, but one rather that is peculiar to certain individuals among them. And again, when he says, “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory,” we must inquire whether his meaning be, that this is the same wisdom of God which was hidden from other times and generations, and was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets, and which was also that wisdom of God before the advent of the Saviour, by means of which Solomon obtained his wisdom, and in reference to which the language of the Saviour Himself declared, that what He taught was greater than Solomon, in these words, “Behold, a greater than Solomon is here,”—words which show, that those who were instructed by the Saviour were instructed in something higher than the knowledge of Solomon. For if one were to assert that the Saviour did indeed Himself possess greater knowledge, but did not communicate more to others than Solomon did, how will that agree with the statement which follows: “The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment, and condemn the men of this generation, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here?”” [Origen. De Principiis F. Crombie, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IV: Fathers of the Third Century. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. 3.3]


At present I shall adduce from the Gospel what Jesus Christ testifies concerning the prophets, together with a story which He refers to, but which is not found in the Old Testament, since in it also there is a scandal against unjust judges in Israel. The words of our Saviour run thus: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore be ye witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of Gehenna? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” And what follows is of the same tenor: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” [A Letter from Origen to Africanus F. Crombie, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IV: Fathers of the Third Century. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [9]




But, according to Celsus, “the Christians, making certain additional statements to those of the Jews, assert that the Son of God has been already sent on account of the sins of the Jews; and that the Jews having chastised Jesus, and given him gall to drink, have brought upon themselves the divine wrath.” And any one who likes may convict this statement of falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation was overthrown within one single generation after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at their hands. For forty and two years, I think, after the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, did the destruction of Jerusalem take place. [Origen. Origen against Celsus F. Crombie, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IV: Fathers of the Third Century. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.[4.22]]


Whence also divine Scripture threatens a like punishment to such in another place, and says, “For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is injurious and proud, and upon every one that is lifted up, and lofty.” By his mouth, therefore, and by his words, is every one at once betrayed; and whether he has Christ in his heart, or antichrist, is discerned in his speaking, according to what the Lord says in His Gospel, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure bringeth forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” Whence also that rich sinner who implores help from Lazarus, then laid in Abraham’s bosom, and established in a place of comfort, while he, writhing in torments, is consumed by the heats of burning flame, suffers most punishment of all parts of his body in his mouth and his tongue, because doubtless in his mouth and his tongue he had most sinned.  --- 4. For since it is written, “Neither shall revilers inherit the kingdom of God,” and again the Lord says in His Gospel, “Whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool; and whosoever shall say, Raca, shall be in danger of the Gehenna of fire,” how can they evade the rebuke of the Lord the avenger, who heap up such expressions, not only on their brethren, but also on the priests, to whom is granted such honour of the condescension of God, that whosoever should not obey his priest, and him that judgeth here for the time, was immediately to be slain?” [Cyprian of Carthage. The Epistles of Cyprian R. E. Wallis, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume V: Fathers of the Third Century. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [Letter, 54.3-4]]



Therefore, behold, I, the wisdom of God, am sending unto you prophets, and apostles, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall slay and crucify; and some of them ye shall beat in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city:  that there may come on you all the blood of the righteous that hath been poured upon the ground, from the blood of Abel the pure to the blood of Zachariah the son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the temple6 and the altar.  Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” [Tatian.  The Diatessaron of Tatian H. W. Hogg, Trans.). In A. Menzies (Ed.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IX. New York: Christian Literature Company.[40.1]]



“...Hear, therefore, how our true Prophet has taught us concerning these things; for, with respect to those who neglect to hear the words of wisdom, He speaks thus: ‘The queen of the south shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here, and they hear Him not.’ ” But with respect to those who refused to repent of their evil deeds, He spoke thus: ‘The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.’ [Pseudo-Clement of Rome. (1886). Recognitions of Clement M. B. Riddle, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. 6.14]



“But our Master did not prophesy after this fashion; but, as I have already said, being a prophet by an inborn and ever-flowing Spirit, and knowing all things at all times, He confidently set forth, plainly as I said before, sufferings, places, appointed times, manners, limits. Accordingly, therefore, prophesying concerning the temple, He said: ‘See ye these buildings? Verily I say to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another which shall not be taken away; and this generation shall not pass until the destruction begin. For they shall come, and shall sit here, and shall besiege it, and shall slay your children here.’ And in like manner He spoke in plain words the things that were straightway to happen, which we can now see with our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be among those to whom the word was spoken. For the Prophet of truth utters the word of proof in order to the faith of His hearers.” [Pseudo-Clement of Rome. The Clementine Homilies T. Smith, Trans.). In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VIII: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. [3.14]



Notice that this last passage is the only one in 5 centuries to refer to this 'timing' passage and it interprets it as being a prophecy of the destruction of the temple. It is not controversial, and there is no defense of this interpretation at all.


They all know about the 'accountability' of that generation, but nothing is said about timing of judgment of that generation.


The results of this research vector then made me wonder about the OTHER alleged timing passages--which led to the second vector.



Two, I looked for the presence of the 4 major (possible) timing passages of Matthew in the early post-NT writings.


I looked for any mentions/discussions/citations of these passages;



Using the 3 volumes of [HI:IGSM], here's what I found:



(6) And “then there will appear the signs” of the truth: first the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet, and third, the resurrection of the dead—(7) but not of all; rather, as it has been said, “The Lord will come, and all his saints with him.” (8) Then the world “will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.


In other words, I only found 2-3 passages connected with the 'timing' passages, and ALL of them were supportive of a literal, still-future expectation of them. No 'realized' versions, no 'explained away' versions, no 'spiritualization' versions, no 'anti-embarrassment' versions.


The data also is contrary to the blogger's hypothesis.


End Excursus ------------------------------------------------------------


Ok, so that's the scoop on the early church fathers--they are in continuity with the mixed eschatologies of the NT and provide data contrary to the blogger's hypothesis.


  1. There is no watering-down of the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus, as recorded in the Synoptics.
  2. There is an intensification of the futurist aspects.
  3. There is reflection upon the timing of the Parousia, in light of discouragement and persecution.
  4. There are no 're-statements' or re-calibrations of some (alleged) predicted time point.
  5. There is no re-interpretation of any 'generation' or timing-type passages or terminology.
  6. There is no spiritualization of the synoptic elements.
  7. There is perhaps a 'materialization' of some of the elements--eg, the images of the millennial kingdom (?)




Next we have to look at the next batch of literature:


On to Part 8... (or visit the "Intermission Reality Check: Did ancient apocalyptic figures even SET precise time points, and was ‘concern over delay’ really about ‘failed prophecies’ or about something else?", posted Feb/2013]


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