From: A Torah Commentary on First Corinthians 15 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2012
Christian Historical Context:
What Was Believed by Those Who
Lived through A.D. 70 or Were Taught
by That or the Following Two Generations?
: What those who lived through the 70 A.D. events or were taught by those disciples and/or apostles had to say: Looking forward to a still future “Second Coming” and “resurrection.”
: Other surviving Christian views through circa mid-second century that are incompatible with Full Preterism.
: What those who lived through the 70 A.D. events or were taught by those disciples and/or apostles had to say: Looking forward to a still future “Second Coming” and “resurrection.”
In the previous chapter, we dealt with “resurrection is past” and “non-physical resurrection” concepts and even quoted early proponents in their own words. Now let us turn our attention to those who indicated the resurrection was not past.
Few would seem to question that these writers from late first century to mid-second either expressed or, at least, did nothing to hinder, what was either already (our view) or soon would be (the view of many) the stance of “Christian orthodoxy:” the visible and physical return of Jesus, the dead being brought out of their tombs in their fleshly bodies, and all believers changed into their new tangible and glorious forms.
Although it can be treacherous to rely on writers a few centuries after the apostles to establish what they thought, there are at least four non-Biblical indications that are extraordinarily hard to ignore on the matter of the resurrection and related “last day” events. This is because of their early date of composition or when the events historically occurred. All point against there being any general acceptance of an A.D. 70 “resurrection” event.
[Page 290] Their views are important because they surely reflect (a) what they were taught and (b) they considered themselves as perpetuating the already established “orthodoxy” from the apostolic period. If they did not do so, we would expect defensive language in their comments or an explanation for their not echoing what they would have been expected by their contemporaries to say.
A. The evidence of 1 Clement.
Who wrote this book, the attribution not actually being in the text? Its first words describe it as being a congregational document and not merely one of a bishop, “The Church of God which sojourneth at Rome, to the Church of God which sojourneth at Corinth, to them that are called and sanctified in the will of God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you from Almighty God through Jesus Christ.”
From the fact that it was
sent out on a congregational basis, we can conclude that (a) the views
presented were those being preached and taught in
Travelers in both directions would periodically have knowledge, even major knowledge, of its internal affairs. Any significant dissent on anything that is said would surely have produced some passing dismissal or refutation in the text in order to maintain its credibility.
Traditionally the authorship has been attributed to Clement (a—not likely the bishop at this early a stage), who presided over the Roman congregation. The attribution seems to be a quite reasonable one. If it was actually from someone else, then we are faced with the oddity that no alternative authorship has survived concerning such a well known early document.
Paul knew a Clement
(Philippians 4:3) and Eusebius (Hist. eccl, 3.4.10; 3.15.1) asserts this
was the Clement who became Roman bishop in the early 90s. Irenaeus puts a Clement in the bishop post at
that time also and speaks of his personal relationship with the “apostles” (Haer.,
3.3.3). He does not connect him with the
one in Philippians, but either takes it for granted or knew of some other
connection with various apostles (note the plural). He also identifies him as bishop at the time
the church of Rome sent the letter to
The Shepherd of Hermas (8.3) refers to a Clement who was in charge of forwarding books to other congregations. A bishop with that set of responsibilities as part of his function, would be the natural choice to pen the congregational response. The responsibility presupposes literacy and, surely, good penmanship as well; also quite likely, an interest in literature and effective communication.
[Page 291] Others spoke of a Peterine tie-in. Tertullian tells us of a Clement Peter
With nothing really arguing against the attribution, we will accept it as accurately describing the authorship of the work.
2. Clement’s beliefs on the timing and nature of the resurrection.
This bishop of Rome devotes a short section (24:1-5) to the coming resurrection and begins it with the remark that we should “consider, beloved, how the Master showeth to us continually the resurrection that is about to be, of which he hath made our Lord Jesus Christ the first fruit, having raised him from the dead.” Note that it is a temporal/physical resurrection that was the precedent and he gives no hint that he believes there will be a difference when it becomes the turn of disciples.
In 1 Clement 24:1 he
implies the difficulty of many non-believers in accepting the concept, “Shall
we then think it great and wonderful if the Maker of all things shall make a
resurrection of those who, in the confidence of a good faith, have piously
seized him, when even by means of a bird he showeth the greatness of his
promises?” He believes that there are
hints of resurrection that even unbelievers accept, citing here the story of
In other words believers accepted such a bodily resurrection; outsiders (to use our modern expression) “couldn’t get their minds around it.” Would they have had that much trouble with a “spiritual resurrection?” Being non-tangible, non-visible—from the verifiable aspect, little more than a theoretical intellectual construct—one finds it highly unlikely. It was with a physical resurrection that they had problems.
Furthermore, Clement found explicit scriptural confirmation for the belief in the text of Job 19:25-26,
Shall we then think it great and wonderful, if the Maker of all things shall make a resurrection of those who, in the confidence of a good faith, have piously seized him, when even by means of a bird he showeth the greatness of his promises? For he saith in a certain place: And thou shalt raise me up, and I will give thanks unto thee; and again: I slumbered and slept; I arose up because thou art with me. And again Job saith: Thou shalt raise up this my flesh, which hath suffered all these things.
Lynn Boliek translates this, “thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine.”
It should be noted that “flesh” does not occur in the passage in the Septuagint text of Job. There are three options: (1) Clement utilizes a non-LXX text here; (2) he utilizes a form of the LXX text that did not become the surviving dominant one; (3) he adds the words to the text on his own initiative.
In the last case, he may do this because to him and those he knows “resurrection” inherently (in its normal use) means and requires a fleshly resurrection: the addition is needed to make crystal clear the perceived intent of Job. Furthermore, it is
[Page 292] extraordinarily hard to read the Job passage and seriously argue that the “flesh” was not intended: Whatever was to be raised was that “which hath suffered all these things.” How can that not include the flesh? Hence he would be completing the thought implied by Job himself.
We can not overstress that by these words Clement expressly embraces the concept that the flesh will be involved in our resurrection; that it will involve our resuming a “fleshly” form. Indeed, so far as he was concerned the text of Job clearly taught it.
Hence, to Clement, resurrection of the believer was clearly equivalent to the resurrection of the physical body of the disciple. This is true regardless of when he composed the epistle. Whether one dates him pre-70 or pre-100 A.D. he believed in a physical resurrection of the flesh.
If a pre-100 setting, his
views would surely have been established prior to the fall of
If we are talking about a
letter written in the middle or late 60s, then we are talking about views set
at least a decade or two earlier. How
could he possibly have the nature of the resurrection this wrong,
especially in a pre-fall of
3. Attempting to avoid the
problem of the resurrection being still future by attributing a pre-70 date to
the epistle: The continued existence of
One can try to avoid this problem by back-dating this epistle from the 90s to the late 60s, arguing that there is no definitive evidence from the document itself as to the timing of its writing. Of course that still leaves the fact that the resurrection Clement foresaw was one involving the flesh, but it certainly would remove the timing difficulty.
In behalf of an earlier date, 1 Clement 23:5 can be introduced, “Of a truth, quickly and suddenly shall his will be fulfilled; the scripture also bearing witness that He shall come quickly, and shall not tarry; and the Lord shall come suddenly into His temple, even the holy one, whom ye expect.” In other words, “the temple can be seen as still active in service, having yet to fall.”
However Matthew 24’s link
of a return of Jesus and the
Far more telling is 1 Clement 41:2,
Not in every place, brethren, are sacrifices offered continually, either in answer to prayer or concerning sign and neglect, but in Jerusalem only; and even there the offering is not made in every place, but before the temple in the court of the altar, after that which is offered has been diligently examined by the high priest and the appointed ministers.
Oddly enough, one lengthy early date analyst stresses the earlier text and only mentions this one via a single citation without quoting it.
On the other hand L. L. Welborn (who scorns the traditional date of a post-Domitian persecution period) ultimately embraces for good cause a date unlikely to be [Page 293] before 80 A.D. As he effectively reasons, the data of the book precludes a much earlier date,
of the deaths of Peter and Paul in chapter 5 are not those of an
eyewitness. The presbyters installed by
the apostles have died (44:2) and a second ecclesiastical generation have
passed away (44:3). The church in
If we embrace this—or
later dating--how then would the “present tense” rhetoric about the temple fit
into such a historical setting? Quite
possibly because the destruction would only be a decade-plus in the past and,
if later, still in the living memory of Judeo-Christians in
Jesus’ threats against the
Even if one dismisses this particular approach, the remainder of the evidence must be dealt with and that is not always so easy. 41:2 may need to be considered as, at most, one of those oddities of authorship that one encounters in literature. One that made full sense at the time, but which leaves later commentators perplexed.
4. The significance of First Clement even if an early date is actually the correct one.
Even if we successfully shift the date of the epistle to pre-A.D. 70, we would still have an explicit avowal of the physical nature of the expected rising from the dead. Surely in a pre-A.D. 70 setting, the endorsement of such is just as telling (perhaps more so) than if we date the epistle at a much later date?
Especially if we go with an early date, the odds are great that either Clement was a direct convert of the apostle Paul or at least had met and heard him teach. A late first century date does not remove those possibilities either, but surely the earlier one dates the epistle, the higher the probability soars. And that is without even factoring in those ancient writers who we surveyed and who spoke of Clement’s apostolic relationships.
So we have the testimony of someone who personally knew and heard the apostle Paul. Yes, an uninspired witness but, short of that, hardly a more authoritative source could be obtained.
B. The evidence from the beliefs of the descendants of Jesus’ family.
Eusebius quotes the earlier account of Hegesippus (c. 170 A.D.), who speaks of how the grandchildren of one of Jesus’ brothers were still alive in the time of Domitian in the 90s. Fearing subversion and treason, the emperor examined them and found, to his disdain, that they were near the bottom of the social totem pole of the day.
Here is Eusebius’ account:
1. Of the family of the Lord there were still living the grandchildren of Jude, who is said to have been the Lord’s brother according to the flesh.
2. Information was given that they belonged to the family of David, and they were brought to the Emperor Domitian by the Evocatus. For Domitian feared the coming of Christ as Herod also had feared it. And he asked them if they were descendants of David, and they confessed that they were. Then he asked them how much property they had, or how much money they owned. And both of them answered that they had only nine thousand denarii, half of which belonged to each of them
4. And this property did not consist of silver, but of a piece of land which contained only thirty-nine acres, and from which they raised their taxes and supported themselves by their own labor.
5. Then they showed their hands, exhibiting the hardness of their bodies and the callousness produced upon their hands by continuous toil as evidence of their own labor.
6. And when they were asked concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what sort it was and where and when it was to appear, they answered that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly and angelic one, which would appear at the end of the world, when he should come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to give unto every one according to his works.
8. But when they were released they ruled the churches because they were witnesses and were also relatives of the Lord. And peace being established, they lived until the time of Trajan. These things are related by Hegesippus.
Clearly they had no comprehension that they had lived through the end of the world and Jesus’ coming in judgment! The physical kin of Jesus!
That either Hegesippus or Eusebius could have gotten their history wrong is a given, but unless we are to hold that they are engaged in an early example of hagiography—and it doesn’t even fit that category for the earthly status and behavior are neither glorified nor exaggerated as in such literature—we have every indication of a narrative given simply because the available evidence indicated it had happened.
Historical credibility of the account. As to the evaluation of the historical reliability of the reported incident, most seem quite receptive to it, though with the usual proviso that even the “accurate” historical work is rarely perfectly so.
[Page 295] Paul Barnett describes the incident in detail as if unchallenged fact. Gerd Theissen and Annette Mert cite it as reliable, as seen by their argument that it provides evidence that “there were smallholders in Jesus’ family.”
Martin Hengel makes the noncommittal assertion “if we are to believe Eusebius . . . even the great-nephews of Jesus, whom Domitian had brought to Rome for presentation, were not brought as Christians but as descendants of David . . .” Since he does not, however, provide any reasons for not believing him, this probably represents a cynicism about Eusebius in general rather than about this particular incident.
John Painter spends a little over two pages discussing the incident, but his concern is not with whether the incident really happened, but how much of the narrative comes from the earlier author. In particular, whether Eusebius may have (presumably accidentally) inserted an explanatory phrase that, in his normal practice, would have been distinguished from that which came from Hegesippus.
The negative evidence is belabored in detail--and I think that would be the right term--by Richard Bauckham, who argues:
(1) That the arrest of the relatives was caused by internal church foes. This grows out of Eusebius’ discussion of descendants a little later. First he explicitly refers to the above events. He then discusses the martyrdom of an elderly relative of Jesus under the Emperor Trajan and quotes Hegesippus as to how he “was informed against by the heretics, and was himself in like manner accused for the same cause.” The reasonable interpretation, it has been argued, is that the alignment of these cases together and the way the latter’s motivation is described, argues that both events were precipitated by ill meaning heretics. Accepting that as the basis for discussion, it remains hard to see what this would prove as to non-historicity.
Anyone who has dealt with
a certain type of church member will find that perhaps unlikely but far from
Such “irreconcilables” might not cause you legal problems, but a certain type almost certainly would if they thought they could inconvenience you enough and could do it without seeming to cast themselves as the villains. Anyone who has encountered those who demand their way “or else” in church affairs—be it Biblical interpretation or how the church is run--and has seen the damage they can inflict on those who do not submit, will find the claim of the affair being set off by disgruntled Christians quite credible.
If, as in the shorter text of Eusebius, these are those marginalized—even rightly so—as heretics, well, the desire for revenge can work just as powerfully in that situation. Especially when rooted in the “rule or ruin” mentality we just discussed.
(2) A Latin term that is used is “inappropriate” in the context it is found. This was back in the days when Latin was a living language, not a historically dead one. Variations doubtless occurred—and routinely—because of that fact. Would anyone like to monitor modern popular or, sometimes, even scholarly work that “bends the edges” of “proper” usage?
[Page 296] (3) Was the arrest really caused by their being Christians or due to their being descendants of David and potential claimants to David’s throne? (The preserved version links it with both.) After Nero’s attack on Christianity and the execution of Peter and Paul, any imperial seizure of Christians—especially ones linked by physical heritage to Jesus’ family—would surely have that religious persecution interpretive gloss put on it!
In other words, whether intended as such or not, Christians would have a terribly difficult time not to suspect that this motive played a significant role. Even the dominant one. It is not really a choice between two explanations, but the degree that one was more important than the other. And how Christians—in contrast to Romans officials—judged which was dominant or the real underlying problem.
Perception is in the eyes of the beholder. The Roman might see legitimate national security concerns; the Christians might see blind striking out at their faith.
(4) The language of their defense “reflect an actual Roman perception of Christians as armed rebels, arising from their talk of the kingdom of Christ and perhaps also from an association of them with Jewish messianic movements which took revolutionary form. . . .” Hence we must look for an “apologetic” rationale for the narrative.
I have trouble grasping what this is supposed to prove: though their Davidic connection made them obvious potential participants in such an endeavor, even a little superficial thought would surely remind the emperor that by this point there had to be many that could claim such a heritage. Furthermore, the accusation behind the investigation concerned who they were (descendents of David); accusations of actual militant behavior are conspicuously absent.
For all his excess, Domitian was not a fool. Having no specific crime charged, vehement annoyance would surely arise, as in the narrative, when he discovered that these lacked the personal prestige, position, or wealth to weave a movement around themselves and were but rather poor men. The emperor held them in scorn for such and, doubtless, thought more than a few harsh things about why his time was being so wasted with this boondoggle.
Furthermore, even if they had been tempted to go in such a direction, Jesus had done His best to put a damper on the temptation to link his movement with traditional nationalistic-messianic movements, least of all to lead one: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from there” (John ). Would they have already forgotten this admonition? If they had, would not the probability be overwhelming that others would plead for restraint based upon it?
Stronger arguments. We have not found these arguments impressive at all. We get into objections of greater significance in the following examples:
(1) “. . . [T]he trial before the Emperor Domitian in person is very improbable.” Perhaps! Of course, Domitian could have been intrigued as to what the descendents of the “sectarian Messiah” Jesus were actually like—and that is far from impossible, human curiosity being what it is. Although our text does not cite any actions on their part to justify arrest, perhaps there was some vague and nebulous talk about their enthusiasm in supporting Jesus’ cause as creating a potential pretext for claiming position in their own right.
[Page 297] Furthermore, there is the not insignificant fact that T. Flavius Clemens and his wife Domitilla, close supporters, fell afoul of his animosity in 95 A.D.. The husband was executed, the wife exiled. The offense being that they were—well, Christians, is the traditional reading of the evidence, but others hold out that they were followers of traditional Judaism. Their sons, previously the officially designated successors to Domitian, disappear from history.
In that context, Domitian might well be interested in seeing these men who were literal kin of their movement’s founder. Given his paranoia, if for no other reason than to further inflame and justify his suspicion about Christians or simply Jews in general. In particular those of influence in his court. And then to see they were really anything but dangerous! He would not have been “a happy camper.” As pictured in the narrative. (Nor if this was prior to his action against the family and he was looking for a pretext for their removal!)
should also be remembered that if the hearing was actually before an appointed agent
of Domitian in
(2) “Also improbable is the claim that, as a result of discovering the grandsons of Jude to be harmless, Domitian ordered the persecution of Christians to stop.” If one is speaking of “worldwide” repression, this objection makes sense for there really doesn’t seem to have been much of one. On the other hand, to whatever degree there was persecution due to Domitian, who else would one expect to be responsible for calling it off? Who else would dare?
If it was concentrated on
the all too well documented source of first century rebellion in what we today
know as geographic
same is true if his actions against Clemens and Domitilla had already occurred
and he was anticipating broadening his
If what happened to Clemens and Domitilla came afterwards—we don’t seem to know what the order was—the calling off of persecution could refer to either
(a) his choosing to target only those who actually were a realistic potential danger to him, those at the center of power and, through their sons, had a vested interest if Domitian were to be removed or
(b) if a repression more
political than religious in nature was going on, especially [Page 298] if limited to
persecution doesn’t have to be of tidal wave strength to be dangerous. In fact little had to have happened. The hauling of locally prominent Christians
In other words stopping a persecution that either had not gotten started on the general Christian population or stopping it before it had built up “a full head of steam.” Now how Eusebius interpreted the words and chronology two centuries later may well have been far more dramatic than this. But that would be his own erroneous deduction from the actual evidence he has preserved.
All this edges into the question of whether Domitian persecuted the Christians at large. In my judgment, yes. (I wrestled with that issue two decades or more ago). It does not, however, require anywhere near the massive degree of suppression once thought.
The line of reasoning we
have presented is one way of explaining the tradition—Christians being targeted
in Roman controlled
The climate of persecution
in multiple places and a limited number of deaths (at least in
Other evidences Eusebius cites but did not pay attention to that reins in any numerically major or massive death toll. It should be noted before passing on, that immediately after giving the account of the relatives, Eusebius quotes the words of Tertullian, “Domitian also, who possessed a share of Nero's cruelty, attempted once to do the same thing that the latter did. But because he had, I suppose, some intelligence, he very soon ceased, and even recalled those whom he had banished.”
Tertullian’s reference to the brevity of the persecution argues for a period of repression but one that did not mount to the traditional understanding of it. It does, however, fit in with the scenarios I have suggested.
The reference to how the emperor “recalled those whom he had banished” centers the persecution in Rome since that was where Domitian resided and the logical place for the suffering to occur. It doesn’t rule out hostile events elsewhere, but puts the emphasis on what happened at the ruling center of the Empire. (Here the emphasis seems clearly [Page 299] on Domitian’s personal actions rather than those carried out through his agents or surrogates, though those can not be absolutely excluded.)
Immediately after quoting Tertullian, Eusebius then refers to how “the writers that record the history of those days, [mention how the Roman Senate] voted that Domitian's honors should be cancelled, and that those who had been unjustly banished should return to their homes and have their property restored to them.”
The reference from unnamed
sources speaking of how “their property [was] restored to them” by the Senate,
argues for socially important individuals being under discussion. Indeed, even Tertullian’s reference to how
Domitian himself “even recalled those whom he had banished,” argues for those
of an upper class status in
Any Christians in that group would have been affected, of course, but the language is that of class not religion. Which ties in well with our speculation that what happened to likely (?) Christians like Clemens and Domitilla, who were clearly within that upper strata, had inspired the fear of a broad anti-Christian pogrom.
We have devoted more space to these matters than normally appropriate. However, the existence and severity of a Domitian persecution inevitably arises in regard to the dating of Revelation. Furthermore, it is inherently desirable to gain a better grasp of what would have been regarded as persecution (and rightly so) by early Christians. Hence it seemed appropriate to digress at length into these subsidiary matters. But now let us return to objections to the historicity of Hegesippus’ account of the treatment of Jesus’ kin.
Bauckham also appeals to the alleged self-serving bias in the
account to discredit it. He is
convinced that there is an “apologetic motive” in the narrative (i.e.,
Christianity is of no danger to the Empire). By that standard, Paul’s journey to
Bauckham hits on the “hagiographical concerns” as well (i.e., the very relatives of the Lord had ended a persecution!) This label is hard to accept unless one guts the term of its usual meaning. The severe exaggeration normally seen in such tales seems clearly lacking. The author is narrating what happened with considerable restraint, not blowing it vastly out of proportion and with piety and exaggeration “dripping from the words,” as so routinely happens in such literature.
They don’t act heroic, they don’t perform miracles, their bodies don’t glow with holiness, they aren’t infused with a manifestation of Divine wisdom. They simply act like normal, intelligent believers faced with a crisis. Nothing more. How then is the account discredited on a ground that doesn’t even apply to the narrative—or, if it does, has to be diluted so much in meaning, that the label loses all real significance?
After going to such great length to repudiate the reliability of the account, Bauckham finally admits that they were under suspicion because of their ancestral ties to Jesus! He contends that any connection with a “Domitianic persecution must be considered rather doubtful.” Though, for reasons we’ve noted, any action against them [Page 300] was inevitably going to be interpreted, at least in part, as imperial persecution of believers. He even considers that the specificity of their property’s size and value is so precise “that perhaps this too is accurate tradition.”
None of this criticism seems to hit on the point most important to us: their belief that the events Covenant Eschatology insists had already been fulfilled were still in their future: “At the end of the world, when He should come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to give unto every one according to his works.” So “the end of the world” had not yet come. Jesus had not yet “come in glory.” He had not yet “judge[d] the quick and the dead.” He had not yet given out eternal rewards, “unto every one according to his works.”
Covenant Eschatology says these things were c. two decades in the past.
The descendants of Jesus’ kin said they were yet future.
Which is right?
And surely they were in the perfect place and with the perfect religious connections to have known what the truth was!
Yes, the resurrection is not mentioned. I would argue that the “judging [of] the . . . dead” probably takes it for granted: You judge the living, not the dead; so the dead, seemingly, would have to be made alive in order to judge them. Alternatively, that trying to deal with the concept of physical resurrection with Roman minds so prejudiced against it, meant it was more expedient just to skip the subject.
But assuming that I err and the resurrection had happened in 70 A.D., then they still repudiate these other cardinal points of Full Preterism. If the question of the resurrection had been explicitly mentioned, do we have any grounds to believe that their “future event” rhetoric would have been any different than in regard to these other events?
We could dismiss them as apostates—but somehow that doesn’t seem a very attractive option.
Or we could simply consider them as ignorant and unlearned in regard to the truth of the “last day” events. In short, we are faced with the physical descendants of Jesus’ family, who had lived through the A.D. 70 catastrophe, blissfully unaware that they were already in the resurrection era. Is that credible either?
C. The evidence from Ignatius.
Sometime in the late 90s or early 100s, Ignatius went to his martyrdom after serving at bishop of Antioch—the suggested range of dates encompass the entire reign of Trajan, from 98 to 117 A.D.., though the dominant choice is 108.
In his letter to the Trallians he speaks of how Jesus “was really raised from the dead, for His Father raised Him, just as His father will raise us” (9:2). To Polycarp he wrote of how he hoped “at the resurrection [to] prove to be your disciple” (7:1). Samuel M. Frost does not mention 7:1 and in regard to 9:2 he utilizes the translation that we will be raised “in like manner” to Jesus. “What he understood by that is not given, and, unfortunately, he furnishes no examples like Clement.”
[Page 301] “I do believe that in ‘like manner’ we are raised as Jesus was raised,” he insists but the language need not imply a physical resurrection. This is hard to take seriously. Jesus was in a physical tomb and a physical body was removed from it. “In like manner” would then have meant physically brought up out of the tomb.
Or was Ignatius only playing silly word games in which anything can mean anything because we are using the language in a special sense that nothing in the text encourages us to believe is actually there? Ignatius’ foes acted exactly that way in dealing with the Lord’s own resurrection. He rebutted, saying, “For if these things were done by our Lord in appearance only, then I am in chains in appearance only.” They made everything “fit,” but at the cost of interjecting what is not hinted at by text or context.
Frost only quotes “in like manner” and provides no citation of the rest of the verse. Let’s look at the version we are using once again: Jesus “was really raised from the dead, for His Father raised Him, just as His father will raise us” (9:2). To me, “really raised” sounds like something tangible and physical and fleshly and the assertion that “in like manner” (Frost’s rendition) we will be also raised, argues for something tangible and physical and fleshly as well. “Really raised.” Not symbolically or spiritually or some other non-literal idea.
Ignatius was wrong on other key points, so his credibility on this matter is seriously eroded—Frost’s line of evidence. Frost argues, in effect, that even assuming that Ignatius meant a physical resurrection, since he was wrong in regard to other matters, he could easily have been wrong in regard to the resurrection as well. My initial response to this was: True, but that can, if overdone, be led to the dismissal of just about anything we please. Consistently applied, that means no Full Preterist should ever be listened to either: their repeated shifts as they’ve worked out their system—trying this and that and then something yet different, aren’t exactly a secret and there appear to be different subgroups still clinging to alternate approaches others within their movement now think inadequate or downright wrong.
As I look back at this one final time, however, what he seems to primarily have in mind is that Ignatius is wrong on other end times matters and, therefore, the probability is great that he is also wrong on the resurrection. His basic problem with the ancient martyr is that the letters manifest “the same sentiment we have seen so far” in others—most concisely summarized in the short quote, “These are the last times” (Ephesians 11:1). They were wrong and he’s simply adopted their erroneous theology on the resurrection and related matters.
Frost immediately, without a break, then quotes Romans 6:1 (“The ends of this earth and the kingdoms of this age shall profit me nothing”) and Phd. 6:2 (“Flee then from the wicked arts and snares of the prince of this age”). Even assuming that Full Preterism is completely correct and the new world and Christ’s reign came into existence in 70 A.D., was there a Christian then living—before or after that date--who did not believe that the worldly kingdoms would “profit me nothing?” Should they have placed their trust in such false refuges? In either the pre-70 “age” or the one that came afterwards?
Was Satan annihilated or did he still plot evil? If so, surely the Christians were still being told to “flee” from him! I suppose one could argue that he was no longer “the prince of this age” and attempt to salvage the situation by putting as heavy an emphasis on that word as one can. A fine verbal argument, I readily concede.
[Page 302] But if he was still wrecking widespread havoc—or trying to—did not this make him remain a “prince” (ruler) even though he was certainly not the Lord-in-Chief (i.e., Christ). Secular anti-God “princes” remained and retained power, why would the demonic one not?
For that matter, he functioned in such a role when Jehovah Himself was King and Paul wrote of fleeing evil in that pre-70 A.D. era. This need somehow changed in 70 when Jesus’ kingdom was inaugurated? In both, he had power and was even the pretend master of everything, was he not?
In short, even if Covenant Eschatology be fully correct, such admonitions—or their verbal equivalents—surely came to the lips of many a Christian many a time! And rightly so! In other words, Frost utilizes—in my judgement—a very strange evidence for the erroneous nature of Ignatius’ teaching. One that was clearly not erroneous.
Was Ignatius wrong in arguing that he was living in “the last times” (“These are the last times”—Ephesians 11:1) rather than teaching that period had already ended (i.e., in 70 A.D.)? We already noted that Frost views Ignatius’ views on this as a continuation of the erroneous beliefs of others. In contrast, he cites one scholar in particular, who he says utilizes the expression to describe the immediate fall of Jerusalem period and asserts that he does this “rightly so.”
Frost’s problem is that he
assumes that the last times ended with the fall of
There were things that had not yet happened, however, but were also to occur in the “last days.” “Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3). “In the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). Since they endured disbelief and repression from rather early on, one seemingly is forced to take these references to mean far worse things than they had already been through.
The language does not require a post-70 fulfillment. But it does not require a pre-70 fulfillment either.
Proving that the “last
days” ended with the fall of
Indeed, the text may directly assert the opposite, “19 I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.” The “day of the Lord” is seemingly distinguished [Page 303] from rather than identified as being in that period of destruction. If the day of the Lord is the same as that catastrophe, would not the more natural way to say it be, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, at / during the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord”?
Nor is there any mention that this ends the “last times.”
Furthermore is this the “day of the Lord” because this is the day He “comes in judgment” on a particular place—as He surely has repeatedly throughout history? Or does it mean that this is the day He comes personally in judgment—which is the impression we receive in other passages on the final coming.
Indeed, in light of 2 Peter 3, many would emphatically deny this text refers to the second / final coming at all but is one of the periodic judgments He brings on rebellious mankind. (Or are we to deny that He ever intervenes to humble an insubordinate and spiteful people?)
An alternative approach. We could take this a much different route and land up at much the same place: We might reasonably ask whether there is just one “last days” or a multiple number? One with a specific / limited target in mind and one for the entire world we live in. Cf. the traditional interpretation of 2 Peter 3. This is not an arbitrary distinction though it may be a bit of a startling one.
1. The period described in 2 Peter 3 is
conspicuously without geographic or ethnic markers. In contrast, the thrust (of much at least) of
Matthew 24 is explicitly
No one outside of Full Preterism is likely to read 2 Peter 3 and find anything compelling to make them refer it to the events of 70 A.D. or any other geographically limited event. As we have seen earlier in regard to other matters, the compelling and over-riding reason for the revisionist interpretation on such matters, is to make all texts fit the 70 date so that no prophecy need be considered as still to be fulfilled after that point. Assumption becomes determinative of meaning instead of the language of the chapter itself.
Those not burdened with the need to make Covenant Eschatology work—however much language has to be creatively reshaped into less obvious meanings to do so—simply do not find the scenario as adequately meeting the wording of the text. Hence concluding that the texts refer to two different events—two different final time subjects, if you wish.
2. The horrors of the Jewish Revolt were, essentially, Palestinian—and a slowly reduced part of the country at that—nothing that would fit the world wide descriptive language in 2 Peter. The greater world had their own set of problems (the year of Four Emperors, 69 A.D.) and one can reasonably argue that many Romans conceived, with horror, that it might well be the Empire’s last days as well.
But that had zilch to do with the war in geographic Palestine. To mildly simplify their situation: the Roman problem was every place except Palestine—which they had under reasonable control and where that struggle essentially ground to a near halt until the Romans could sort out their own conflicts. (Tying in these upheavals and fears with Revelation, rather than Matthew 24, might well produce some interesting and enticing results, however.)
As to Ignatius’
convictions, did he engage in such dual “last days” thinking? For [Page 304] that matter, did he even think of the use
of the term as applicable in that more limited context of
Of course for Full Preterists the problem is reverse: Ignatius may or may not have been comfortable with the use of the term in the Jerusalem context, but Covenant Eschatologists are convinced that there is only one context in which that expression can be rightly utilized—Jerusalem. The world won’t end—period. That seems just as much a needless interpretive straightjacket as any Ignatius may have worn.
Deniers of physical resurrection in Ignatius’ day. In light of Paul’s rebuke of those teaching that the resurrection was past, it should not be surprising that similar sentiments existed in the days of Ignatius as well. Claudia Setzer points out that we read in his letters that there were church members--who Ignatius bluntly dismisses as nothing short of “unbelievers”--who denied that Jesus came physically. They also dismissed the suffering Man on the cross as only having the “appearance” of a physical being. Obviously, these assumptions rule out a physical resurrection as well. As she concludes, “If they argue that Jesus did not experience bodily resurrection, they would hardly claim it for His followers.”
In their scenario, the conclusion is sound: believers imitate the risen Christ in that what happens to both is non-physical and does not involve the tangible world. Where one gets into a great problem with inconsistency is when one insists upon upholding a temporal resurrection for Jesus while denying that ours is of the same nature.
In the first case, one compares “apples with apples;” in the second one, the comparison is of “apples with oranges,” something entirely different. In other words, physical to physical = apples to apples. Physical resurrection of Jesus to a non-physical one for us = apples to oranges. Strangely, the Gnostics were more consistent on this than Covenant Eschatologists.
Ignatius was wrong on other key points, so his credibility on this matter is seriously eroded—the line of reasoning I would have used. If I were to attack Ignatius’ credibility as a witness, it would be on the score that he embraced as essential a church power structure that those like me believe totally inconsistent with the Biblical pattern. If he could be so fundamentally mistaken on a concept that was so important to his thought, surely he could easily be on some other major aspect of his thinking as well.
Actually isn’t this another “apple versus orange” comparison like the one we just complained about? (Organization versus doctrine?) Possibly, since it is no great secret that there are a significant number of quite “orthodox” individuals who find the odor of greater power far more appealing than any heresy. They may be wrong, but it isn’t out of any “heretical” intents or purposes and they would be the first to stand against any “doctrinal” deviance.
The fact that bending the New Testament organizational structure out of its original form might be just as “doctrinally heretical” as any “theological” deviancy, would be unlikely to occur to them. To them it would be a matter of “structure” (which could “rightly” vary) versus “doctrine” which could not.
Since the change in structure would prove pivotal to the centralization of religious power within the international church, it might be useful to devote a modest number of paragraphs to the internal logic behind it. To those wishing to move directly on to the [Page 305] next directly relevant material, please proceed to the following heading in bold.
Ignatius very much believed in the power of the local bishop (singular): Whoever “does anything without the knowledge of the bishop is serving the devil.” Although he saw the need for presbyters and deacons as well, he saw them as subordinate players, as “attuned to the bishop as the strings to a harp.” (Clearly the bishop is the harp player as well.)
However, in the New Testament, presbyters and bishops are synonymous terms: Titus was to “appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5) and two verses later we are told that the qualification list being given is for “bishop” (1:7). Hence there were local bishops (plural) rather than singular (Philippians 1:1) in New Testament times.
At what point “bishop” was
spun off as a higher position is unknown.
But we can easily understand why in places like
With physical age and extreme longevity in office, it was natural that he would enjoy a superiority in prestige and respect that others would not. Others would yield to him whenever possible and, feeling, in a sense, inferior to him, there would be a tendency to use one religious “title” for him (bishop) and the alternative for themselves (elders/presbyters). Indeed, how could one rightly claim the same title or power as one with such demonstrated leadership as him? It bordered on personal arrogance and disrespect.
As time went by, this easily translated into the assumption that those who next held the office of bishop enjoyed a similar or identical superiority of position rather than merely greater “seniority” of years in service or greater earned respect/honor from the congregation. What was granted one individual then became the assumed prerogative of all that came afterwards. It seems clear that in the case of Ignatius himself, he had already made that fundamental error in reasoning. And that guaranteed it would pass on to his successor. He had, out of the best intentions, unwittingly unleashed the hungry tiger of centralization from its cage.
This process would have been strengthened if there is any validity to Eusebius’ claim of Peter having once been leader of the same congregation: “And at the same time Papias, bishop of the parish of Hierapolis, became well known, as did also Ignatius, who was chosen bishop of Antioch, second in succession to Peter, and whose fame is still celebrated by a great many” (Church History, III.36.2).
Earlier in the work, the wording on succession is a little different, “At this time Ignatius was known as the second bishop of Antioch, Evodius having been the first. . . .” (Church History, III.22). Chapter 36 easily becomes an “apostolic succession for bishops” proof text. Chapter 22, however, clearly puts both Evodius and him into a different category than apostles such as Peter.
We do know that Peter
served not only as apostle but, in at least one location, as congregational
elder (1 Peter 5:1). If he (1)
did, indeed, work in
[Page 306] However one judges this shift from multiple bishops in a congregation to a single one—as apostasy or natural evolution—the most it shows is that Ignatius could have been wrong in regard to the resurrection. But when his testimony is in accord with multiple other sources—most importantly the Biblical ones, at least as understood by the overwhelming bulk of interpreters, even those who don’t believe it will actually ever happen—don’t such protests lose all credibility?
Other grounds already exist to challenge the letters themselves: (1) Total letters: How many are faked? The most accurate answer seems to be: not those we have quoted from, but there unquestionably are such as well. (Consult the translations of the letters; these normally include the questionable ones as well.)
Text: How much textual decay has occurred in the transmission of individual letters? Although some of Frost’s wording can easily be read as embracing such a critique, his treatment of Trallians 9:2 would seemingly carry an admission that he does not find this much of the correspondence questionable. That text argues that Jesus “was really raised from the dead, for His Father raised Him, just as His father will raise us” (9:2). As we argued in detail, that alone, is adequate to vindicate that Ignatius embraced the doctrine of physical resurrection.
1. Polycarp’s age when he wrote and died.
In my 2007 book on Shapers of Early Christianity: 52 Biographies, A.D. 100-400 I date his life as 69-c.160. Some will date his death into the mid-160s but more seem inclined to the mid-150s. His birth is typically given as 69 or 70 A.D. A piece of “hard data” is provided by Polycarp himself in the words of his trial when they are trying to get him to recant. He responds, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
If he perished in 160, then he was born in 74; if he perished in 155, then he was born in 69. His language sounds like a colloquialism for “all my life I have served Him” and would produce these results. However, if he meant it literally, we have to add in however many years he lived before conversion. That could easily push it back another decade or more.
Although Polycarp’s remarks come from significantly into the second century, he still belongs within the discussion of these earlier individuals because his extremely long life and religious instruction began before the last apostle died—traditionally considered John, sometime in the late 90s.
It doesn’t matter much whether John actually was the last living apostle and whether his passing was in the 90s, however. We still have references concerning how Polycarp had been instructed by no less than that apostle and other eyewitnesses of Jesus. Place that in the 70s, 80s, or 90s and the apostolic age origin of his instructors would still be true.
Make it any apostle and you have the absolute assurance of the accuracy of the teaching he received.
[Page 307] Make it any believing eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry and you still have the probability of accuracy. Or are we to work from the opposite assumption, that what eyewitnesses reported to others was almost certainly going to be inaccurate? Though uninspired eyewitnesses are never perfect, they still give you the greatest likelihood of having their facts right.
By at least age 15 (84 or 85 A.D.) Polycarp would certainly have been old enough to absorb significant religious teaching. Hence even if the late 90s death date for John is considerably later than the reality, he would still have had time for extensive personal instruction; if it is correct, we are talking about more than a decade. (If the eighty-six years he claimed for himself excludes the pre-conversion years, this teaching period could have begun in the late 70s.)
implications of Polycarp being in his intellectually formative years in the 80s
are significant. That meant by dwelling
The surviving sources assert that he not only had that apostolic connection—or even apostolic connections plural--but that he also knew other first-hand witnesses as well. It should be noted that Irenaeus (birth typically estimated between 120 and 140 and death 200 A.D. or a few years thereafter) says of Polycarp in his Against Heresies,
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true.
Irenaeus describes his own youthful fascination with what Polycarp had had to say and how the apostolic and other eyewitness testimony repeatedly was utilized by him. This lengthy extract is worth quoting in its entirety to grasp how emphatic is his point,
I was yet a boy, I saw thee in
Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures. These things, through God's mercy which was upon me, I then listened to attentively, and treasured them up not on paper, but in my heart; and I am continually, by God's grace, revolving these things accurately in my mind.
2. Is Irenaeus a reasonably reliable historical source on such matters?
I myself have written cynically of whether Irenaeus may have exaggerated Polycarp’s apostolic connections. He had “familiar intercourse with John” but he notably does not say “with the apostle John.” Even so, the linkage “with the rest of those who had seen the Lord” argues that, at the minimum, this refers to contemporaries and first generation disciples of Jesus and that that “John”—apostle or not—was one of them.
In a different text,
Irenaeus refers to Polycarp being taught by “apostles” (plural) and having been
appointed by “apostles in
The claim of multiple apostles being involved in his ordination still strikes me as dubious, unless one chooses to see here an accommodative use of the language: being anointed by one was equivalent to being appointed by the apostles at large since they worked in unity and not at cross purposes? Or: he was appointed by the “apostles” (as a group) in that one of them did the appointing in accord with the standards and criteria all accepted.
Both approaches seem a “stretch” but not necessarily an unjust one at the time: if one had received such an apostolic appointment, it would be easy language for a recipient to fall into. Fully accurate, no; understandable, yes.
Turning to material I’ve encountered in the research for the current book, one of the stronger lines of attack on Irenaeus’ reliability--as to even basic historical accuracy--comes from unbelievers. They have challenged his credibility on the grounds that he allegedly said that Jesus did not die till He was fifty.
Actually he does not so much say that as bend language to lead you to or near that conclusion without having to take personal responsibility for claiming it, “Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while he still fulfilled the office of a teacher” (Against Heresies, 2.22.6).
As I read it, he throws up a smokescreen of rhetoric that make it possible for Jesus to have died so late, but doesn’t actually require it.
[Page 309] It has been pointed out, in my judgment convincingly, that:
(1) Irenaeus was
attempting to prove not that Jesus was fifty at death but the impossibility of
His having died in the thirtieth year of life. To Gnostic types, this was spiritually vital
since there were only “thirty aeons.”
Furthermore, the death had to be within that same year, for texts such
as Isaiah 61:2 indicate that there was but one (note the singular) “acceptable year
of the Lord (2:22:3). Irenaeus then
introduces the gospels, which clearly indicate that Jesus went up to
(2) Irenaeus was deep into “recapitulation,” that all the periods of our human life are summed up in Jesus’ life. Hence the need to encapsule in Jesus’ years enough time to cover all of life’s varied stages.
In short he doesn’t err on the facts he has handed down from the past—indeed the proof he appeals to are scriptural and not something non-Biblical. He errs because he has fallen into a similar trap to Covenant Eschatology: making everything fit his fundamental concept of “recapitulation”—everything must fit into this even if “word manipulation” must be played to do it.
In other words, it does not show that when he presents historical data that he is likely to intentionally misrepresent his facts. It does show that when data gets in his way of “refuting” his foes, he is willing to not so subtly bend language to give them the needed outcome. In this case, the effort seems rather absurd since his argument from the Passovers alone was enough to tear apart Gnostic theories of death at age thirty. It was not, however, enough to vindicate his own cherished “recapitulation” theory.
If someone had challenged him on this, he would likely (1) have pointed out that he avoids explicitly claiming an age fifty death and (2) that he was arguing that it was as if Jesus had reached old age “while he still fulfilled the office of a teacher.” He reflected the maturity, insight, and effectiveness one would only expect at such a more fully developed age. Yes, “game playing” but in expository preaching even today it is not exactly unknown to engage in such “verbal reach” to drive home a sermonic point, is it? Exaggeration not to mislead but to make the point.
Of course these tendencies have nothing to do with what he says about Polycarp’s age and association with apostles and eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. He isn’t making a sermonic style point or defending a theological presumption (such as recapitulation); he is simply telling something of a church leader’s life as he knows it.
Even if we say he
exaggerates , how could he do so but minimally without danger of losing
credibility with his readers? Especially
In short, we have in
Polycarp a very old believer who would have had every opportunity to do just
what Irenaeus claims of him—being taught by first generation apostle(s?) and
witnesses. And that would be established
as likely by the bare facts of his great age and his residing in an important
city such as
3. What Polycarp believed on the resurrection.
Due to the first hand resources he had available and granting that he labored in good faith, his teaching should reflect that which the original apostolic generation held to. Or at least something rather close to it, even conceding--which I would be reluctant to concede--a worst case scenario of significant drift on such a key element in the early Christian message. However, we have no reason to concede any change since we have no evidence of how an alteration in teaching would have served or advanced any purely personal or theological agenda of his.
(a) What his own writings tell us about his belief in the resurrection.
His Letter to the Philippians
is sometimes believed to be a combination of a brief much earlier note (chapter
13 and, possibly, 14) and the remainder (1-12 and, possibly, 14) sent at a much
different time. The strongest argument
here is that chapter 13 refers to a request from both
This leaves the obvious problem of why one would place a supposedly obviously discordant message fragment in chapter 13 rather than elsewhere. Would not the more obvious course be a placement at the end with a brief prefatory note, “And Polycarp also wrote much earlier about etc.”?
If separate documents, then the short note would be no later than c. 117 A.D. and Ignatius’ martyrdom. It is not uncommon for the remainder to be dated significantly later, somewhere in the 120-140 range.
However it should be noted that the tension between chapters 9 and 13 is not really that great. Chapter 13 refers to the request to forward into Syria Ignatius’ letter to Philippi and chapter 9 urges them to imitate the pattern of “obedience to the word of righteousness and to exercise all patience,” as had been demonstrated in Ignatius, Zosimus, Rufus and “others among yourselves,” as in “Paul himself and the rest of the apostles.”
Are “obedience” and “patience” to be equated with martyrdom--surely not all the apostles were in that category!--or to the attitude toward faith and life and its many trials? A person can be an example and not be dead; death is not the prerequisite of being such an example—faithfulness is.
For example, Paul wrote during his own life: “join in following my example” (Philippians ), “[we] make ourselves an example of how you should follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:9); “imitate me” (1 Corinthians ); “the things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do” (Philippians 4:9). Hence chapter 13 need not presuppose the death of Ignatius and, if that judgment be valid, then this epistle may actually date prior to his death in 117 A.D.
Be the dating wherever in the range of alternatives one chooses, the key factor for us is that he was elderly and lived through the age when the apostles were still alive. In short he had personal access to them and other first generation disciples and the apostolic teaching as they understood it.
[Page 311] With that in mind, this is what he had to say that is directly relevant to our subject in his one surviving letter, his epistle to the Philippians. As already noted, this is commonly dated c. 120-140 and, quite possibly, may be significantly earlier. The earlier we place it, the closer it gets to the apostolic age and it becomes even harder to ignore as evidence. We will quote the entire second chapter with the scriptural allusions and quotations the translator included,
Wherefore, girding up your loins (1 Peter 1:13; Ephesians 6:14), serve the Lord in fear and truth, as those who have forsaken the vain, empty talk and error of the multitude, and believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory ( 1 Peter 1:21) and a throne at His right hand. To Him all things (1 Peter 3:22; Philippians 2:10) in heaven and on earth are subject. Him every spirit serves.
He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 17:31). His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him. But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing (1 Peter 3:9) or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:1); forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that you may obtain mercy (Luke 6:36); with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again (Matthew 7:2; Luke 6:38) and once more, Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
(1) The resurrection is yet future: “He comes as the Judge,” which immediately Polycarp links with the resurrection from the dead. The wording is not “has come” or “did come.”
(2) Believer resurrection is paralleled with Christ’s own resurrection: “He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also,” and, of course, His had been a physical one. We read Polycarp’s words and the natural conclusion is that a physical resurrection is under discussion for us just as it was for Jesus Himself; yet we read the same argument in 1 Corinthians 15 and we are firmly told that such an exegesis is unfounded! Or must we argue that Polycarp had drifted into an utterly unfounded deduction from that parallelism?
(3) “His blood will God require of those
who do not believe
in Him.” Therefore there is no room in
Polycarp’s thought for the destruction of the
(4) It is an individual not collective resurrection: note how he goes on at length concerning the behavioral patterns required to meet the Divine judgment standards. A creative mind could bend these into standards to be met for the church’s (divine collectivity’s) resurrection, but this would be to bend the words out of their normal individual contextual usage. (As is done by Collective Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15!) [Page 312] Not to mention that the church’s resurrection was in 70 and was not something in Polycarp’s future. Or so we are assured by Full Preterism.
From the standpoint of the New Eschatology it strikes me that there are really only three options:
(1) Accuse Polycarp of teaching a limited resurrection doctrine, thereby showing that his belief was fatally flawed and it had not had a genuine apostolic root. This would be done by creatively approaching Polycarp’s words, “But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will.” In short, no resurrection for Christians who had not obeyed His will faithfully.
But the very preceding sentence asserts, “He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead. His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him.” In other words, of everyone who is or ever has been. The only alternative seems to be to argue that the irreligious are raised and judged and faithful Christians are raised and judged, but unfaithful Christians are not raised at all. That does seem to hit the stone wall of the universal resurrection and judgment Polycarp speaks of. Hence the implicit point of “if we do His will” is--“if we do His will we will receive a favorable judgment.”
(2) Then there is the alternative of assuming Polycarp is using language in a Covenant Eschatology sense in which words no longer retain their normal usage. In other words, apply the same type of assumption as is applied to 1 Corinthians 15: He can’t possibly mean what he seems to be saying and has traditionally been understood as saying; so how can we find the correct understanding in the words? Let us take that as the operative premise and develop a possible scenario.
Well, “He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead” must refer to the ongoing process of individual—not worldwide—judgment that occurs after death. “He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also.” Again, not all at once but individually from the grave as we die.
So one can “push” a Covenant Eschatology approach even here. But how could it possibly be considered as fair treatment of the text? But then I’m one who has vast trouble in seeing how it yields good results in the analysis of 1 Corinthians 15 either!
(3) The simplest and fairest approach to Polycarp’s words is to argue that he was simply flat wrong because his words are in contradiction to Covenant Eschatology and the “true intent” of the apostolic preaching. This appears to be the normal approach and concedes the text means exactly what it seems to say. As noted, however, when similar language is used in 1 Corinthians 15, it is forcefully denied that that language could properly have such a straightforward meaning.
In the final division of our treatment of Polycarp—“Conclusions and Dodges”—we will examine efforts to partially neutralize the negative impact of the ancient bishop’s teaching.
(b) What the account of his martyrdom tells us about his belief in the resurrection.
We know precious little about
the background of The Martyrdom of Polycarp beyond the fact that it so
deeply impressed the church in
[Page 313] This was sufficiently early that the term “catholic church” still retained the core meaning of “universal” and was a reflection of its goal rather than a formal name for the institution. Including the universal reference probably served a dual purpose: first, to assert that now the church was “universal,” i.e., could be found everywhere; not literally, but close enough to it that, unlike the early days, it could no longer be dismissed as a mere tiny and insignificant movement. Secondly, it was an effective propaganda tool, a means of distinguishing what “everyone” with claims to loyalty to the apostolic tradition believed from what dissident “heretics” embraced.
death manifested to the Smyrnian congregation the end of the persecution that
had been occurring and its events (rightly) were worthy of awe and
admiration. (The reader of the account
can hardly dissent from their judgment!
He truly died “with style.”) As
they worded it, it “took place that the Lord might show us from above a
martyrdom becoming the gospel” (chapter 1).
In a prayer as he was bound for his execution, Polycarp stared at heaven and spoke of himself as a sacrifice to God and awaiting a greater day,
O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before you, I give You thanks that You have counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost.
Note that the resurrection is viewed as a future rather than past event. He had lived through 70 A.D., yet he speaks of “the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body” that is yet to come. This rules out the time placement of the resurrection in 70--for those who had lived through that year, as Polycarp had--and also affirms that the future resurrection involves the “body,” specifically the reuniting in one entity “of soul and body.”
Consider again his actual words: “You have counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost.”
This could be understood in two ways. It could be read as limited to any faithful martyr, that only they could look forward to that reward. Alternatively the text can be read as martyrs are representative of those who will enjoy the coming resurrection. Even if limited to the first approach (which we regard as improbable), we still have:
(1) An event still in the future. No 70 doctrine hinted at unless one wishes to argue a two resurrection theology—one in 70 and one for others as a final day event.
(2) It envolves both the individual’s “soul and body.” Unless one chooses to argue that the church has a soul, this has to refer to the individual’s “soul and body.” Hence no collectivity event fits his theological belief.
(3) It involves both the inner person (“soul”) and the outer being (“body”). He doesn’t use the term flesh, but when “soul and body” are united in a sentence this way, is it hardly likely that flesh is not what he has in mind?
Passing to a different but related theme, of the judgment rather than the resurrection, Polycarp spoke of that also as quite future—not as an event of past history, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.”
hadn’t occurred in the burning fires of a vanquished
Actually “reserved for the
ungodly” is quite broad enough language to cover both Jew and Gentile—which
reasonably argues for a future judgment of both groups fully independent
of anything that happened in regard to
(c) Conclusions and Dodges.
Our conclusion about Polycarp has to be that he believed in a physical resurrection. Even if one somehow—against all odds--strips “physical” out of the description, it was still one yet future to him and it had not already occurred. Having had personal access to multiple eyewitnesses of Jesus’ teaching, he could have been wrong, but the fact that he clearly shares the same “physicality” concept that is the normal reading of 1 Corinthians 15—and which can only be removed by much “creative reinterpretation”—argues that on this point he had things quite right indeed.
Samuel M. Frost, a believer in Covenant Eschatology, explicitly accepts that Polycarp placed the resurrection in the future. Interestingly he only mentions the timing element of Polycarp’s teaching, not the physicality he attaches to the resurrection. Nor does he tackle his chronological linkage into the apostolic age and contact with eyewitnesses in the few pages he devotes to the ancient teacher.
Frost adopted a three-pronged approach to minimize the significance of the evidence from Polycarp however:
He seeks out an area of agreement: (1)
Polycarp believed the return of Christ would mark the beginning of
Christ’s reign not the end, Frost contends.
Frost himself agrees with this. (To avoid misunderstanding: Frost puts the coming at the destruction of
[Page 315] This actually gets us into the controversy—examined in detail already—of whether Christ continues in a de facto kingly role after He returns the kingdom to His Father. If He does, then we can conceptually understand the image of Christians “reign[ing] together with Him” throughout eternity. Polycarp may well have believed in such a thing; we don’t know. But it would certainly fit the language.
Frost then strangely asserts that, “Both preterists and partial-preterists agree that the age to come [future world in the above translation, RW] is our present age.” Having been a partial preterist for over thirty-five years, that is certainly not the case for all of us. The world/age to come as people like me see it, is when this earth has been “incinerated”—even totally purified and becoming a replacement for the current world, if you prefer that interpretation of 2 Peter 3—and the current one is no more. Removed. Obliterated.
In reviewing this section, I see I missed a very obvious point. Indeed, the most important one. Polycarp says that “if we live worthily of Him, we shall also reign together with Him, provided only we believe.” He does not say that this is when Christ’s reign begins, which is what Frost contends. He is discussing when we join in with it—something very different. Could they both occur at the same time? Yes. If Polycarp believed it, however, he certainly didn’t say it here.
(2) The tense argument. Because he rejects any temporal connections for “world,” Frost provides what is apparently is own translation of Philippians 5:2, “For if we please him in the now age, we shall receive also the age about to come, just as he has promised to raise us up out of the dead, and that if we are worthy citizens of his community, we shall also reign with him, if we have but faith.”
may be accurate translation but it surely isn’t very readable accurate
translation. Who speaks of the “now
age;” “current age” or “present age” cries out as obviously preferable. Note the subtle shift from the earlier
version’s “has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead”
to “has promised to raise us up out of the dead.” “From the dead” carries the implicit imagery of
“the dead” person being
removed from death and can easily have the overtone of all others as well (according
to context). In contrast, “up out of
the dead” makes the most sense if it carries the “freight” of leaving behind the rest of the dead in death. You “escape;” they don’t. I don’t believe for a second this is his
view--or Polycarp’s for that matter; it would mean he believed in a partial
resurrection of the dead and not a full one.
I describe this as “the tense argument” for we saw in our earlier studies that various passages that do not carry the overtone of promptness and immediacy in conventional translations, do so when Full Preterists do the rendering. Here this happens to a non-Biblical text as well. Note the significant difference between “we shall receive also the future world” and Frost’s “we shall receive also the age about to come.”
us assume that Frost is correct in his rendering—I leave others to argue that
one way or another and to different places than the current one. (Such as earlier in this book, where the approach
was analyzed.) Let’s just assume he is accurate. It means that Polycarp was speaking of the
“immediate” return of Christ c. 90-100 years after the Lord’s death and c.
60-70 years after the destruction of
We could, of course, argue that he believed that the Lord’s promises were unquestionably concerning the time period he himself was living in. Far more likely it means that he lived in the confidence that it would be soon because—since no one knows [Page 316] the date—we all have to live in the expectancy of immediacy or, at least, its very real possibility.
We simply don’t know the timing. Rather than think of it happening at a vague “sometime,” we think in terms of it happening “soon” because it might just be that way and because we recognize that is the only way we are going to be ready for it.
That may also explain the “immediacy” subtext that Full Preterists drag out of passages that are rarely translated in that manner by “mainstream” translator groups: they were never intended by the original speakers to have the connotation Full Preterism puts on them, even if the “immediacy” was implicit in the language.
(3) Was Polycarp only condemning those who denied any form of resurrection? I would counter with the question: Did Polycarp believe the Full Preterist resurrection doctrine to be Satanic? Frost insists, “Polycarp was bringing a charge here against those who deny the resurrection outright, not to those who hold a different Biblical interpretation.”
Let us present a bit more of Polycarp on the matter for it sets that ancient writer’s thought in a broader context,
For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning. . . .
There is bad and there is hideously bad and Polycarp clearly puts denying resurrection and judgment in the latter category. Not mere error. Not mere mistaken belief. Not even merely “heretical,” but something far beyond even that: one becomes “first-born of Satan.” Hard to imagine being more emphatic!
Hence Frost’s claim is utter nonsense. Polycarp is clearly talking about a resurrection and judgment event that he believes is yet in his future. To deny that is to be “first-born of Satan.”
Furthermore, Gnostic style enthusiasts weren’t above utilizing ambiguous or mystical language to provide a fig-leaf of “resurrection” belief for themselves. In effect, they said, “Why we believe in it too!” To use Frost’s words, they provided “a different Biblical interpretation” though their use and explanation of the term.
Rather than repeat what has already been said, go back and re-read from the previous chapter, Alternatives to physical, bodily resurrection from later dissenters within the Christian community—the post-Biblical age. Are we going to claim that Polycarp wasn’t drawing clear lines against them either?
Yes, some claiming to be Christians surely did explicitly deny all belief in the resurrection—period—but it was common to find new verbal formulations to allow one to claim belief in the resurrection while gutting it of its Biblical significance and meaning. Does anyone really believe that Polycarp would have been any more receptive of the modern “redefinitions” than he was of first and second century ones?
E. Conclusions based upon multiple evidences.
Did everyone go so
manifestly wrong in the matter of twenty to thirty years after the
resurrection “really” occurred at
Could it have this fundamentally changed throughout the church? A century later, though that seems an interpretive reach; two centuries, perhaps—but in, literally, circa just a handful of decades—or less? A totally different and, actually, heretical view had taken the place of the truth? On this major a New Testament theme?
One may insist that these are not the original readers of the New Testament epistles and that is true. However they were either Christians prior to A.D. 70 and should have had a good idea of what the common belief of Christians was in that time period. Or they were taught by those who had lived through that period. Indeed, we would expect that original teaching continued in their own work. We certainly would not expect them to miss it this significantly so soon afterwards.
In one nineteenth century form of TFP, there was the belief that there was a physical resurrection at the time of the fall of Jerusalem and one could go from that and argue that the only “Christians” left on the earth were, in some significant degree, apostate believers. Hence these remarks come with that inherent stigma attached. It seems unlikely that many contemporary 70 A.D. advocates would embrace that approach, however, since the consensus is clearly against any physicality being involved in the promised resurrection.
: Other surviving Christian views through circa mid-second century that are incompatible with Full Preterism.
There are those in the first half of the second century who can not be so firmly linked with the pre-70 church as the individuals we have already examined. Some might deserve to be; some might not. Yet because of their antiquity, they all deserve at least some consideration before we conclude this chapter. Indeed, if we date them early enough, they unquestionably deserve attention because of the chronological “overlap” caused by the pre-70 generation passing on their beliefs to those who came later--in cases (such as we saw in regard to Polycarp)--taking not merely their understanding of the truth but even, in some cases, their eyewitness testimony, into at least the last years of the first century.
We have John who allegedly
lived to the late 90s and, if that be true, he’s likely to have been among the
last of his generation of believers to die.
It’s hard to imagine the [Page 318]
first generation of disciples generally dying off until the decade of
the 70s, however, and a goodly number likely made it through a significant part
of the 80s. If health conditions of
their world were anything like those of colonial
Take a hypothetical example of the second generation disciple: if you were converted at 15 in A.D. 70 you would have had plenty of time to grasp what was being taught in regard to the resurrection and such matters while those folk were still alive. If you lived to 60, you would have died in 115, if 70 years of age 125, if 75 years of age 130. Introduce the third generation of disciples and, utilizing similar conversion age and lifespans, those you convert say c. 100 A.D. would still be active and carrying their message into the hearts of those who wrote in the early third quarter of the second century.
These second and third generation converts could have misunderstood or even unconsciously and subtly shifted the truth, of course. But they remain close enough to the Biblical age disciples—and with second generation converts still around in significant number—that any scenario of a drastic repudiation of the original, New Testament beliefs would be startling.
“Eating away at the edge,” “evolving a new theology from it”—yes. All that is imaginable. As time goes by people assume interpretive glosses to be part of the original tradition. But that takes time and, usually, much longer than that which we are discussing. So a total repudiation of a major and fundamental belief—and the replacement of it (the resurrection occurred in 70, happened to the church, was spiritual in nature, and had no physicality to it) with a totally new concept (its yet future, involves the individual, is physical in nature)--seems hardly probable. Indeed, would it be unjust to label it totally improbable?
(Aside on lifespans: In our comments on Timothy in 1 Corinthians 16, we provided the estimate of an average life-span of perhaps under 50. We also noted, however, the pre-Civil War figures, which do have a significant statistical and documented root. Since the average American lived to 58 in 1850—if they survived to age ten—and since the sanitation conditions were certainly no better, then the 50-60 range seems more reasonable and there would be a significant number of upward exceptions even then.
(It should also be noted that Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 2.22.6), which we quoted above, has this to say, “Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age. . . .” Hence old age was regarded as at least the 60s. So our generational overlaps based upon a minimum of such an age seems more than reasonable.)
A. The ambiguity of Hermas.
Samuel M. Frost notes that this book has been given a possible authorship range of somewhere between 85 and 140 A.D. N. T. Wright, for example, implies a date closer to the end of Frost’s suggested spectrum (or even a bit beyond it) rather than earlier into it.
I was tempted to omit the Shepherd of Hermas for lack of a passing mention of anything directly concerning the resurrection. (Two quick scans of Frost’s lengthy comments, point attention to no directly relevant passages. He does, however, find much to say in regard to non-resurrection concerns and with how Hermas is used against Covenant Eschatology convictions on those points.)
Yet I labored on and, near the end of final research for this chapter, I found something that some might regard as relevant. But it is so ambiguous, I am far from certain what to do with it and, perhaps for a similar reason, Frost does not mention it. In contrast, Wright is quite assured that “the only clear statement of resurrection in the whole work” is found in Hermas’ fifth Similitude / Parable (5.7.1-4), from which we extract the following,
Guard this flesh of yours pure and undefiled, so that the spirit which dwells in it may bear witness to it, and that your flesh may be justified. . . . If you defile the flesh, you defile also the Holy Spirit. And if you defile the flesh, you shall not live. . . . [D]o not defile either flesh or spirit. For both are in communion, and it is impossible to defile one without the other. Keep both pure, therefore, and you will live to God.
I find it hard to see this as a “clear statement of resurrection,” but Wright provides this analysis of the possible tie-in (though note his cautious language backing off from it being a “clear statement”):
It remains unclear in this passage precisely what Hermas thinks the final state of pure Christians will be. But since he uses the union of flesh and spirit, and the impossibility of defiling one without the other, as the key to his argument, it may be that he intends to affirm the resurrection of both flesh and spirit at the end; and perhaps this is what is meant by “live to God,” a phrase which we have met in other contexts and which recurs three times more in Hermas.
I see the logic of his argument and it makes a great deal of sense, but I would have to rank it only as a very interesting “straw in the wind” and little more.
Wright refers to other post-death scenarios that have been deduced from Hermas as well. Some see him as teaching that dead Christians become angels, citing “that your passing may be with the holy angels” (Vision 2.2.7). Similarly Similitude 9.27.3 refers to how the morally upright will be “sheltered by the Lord.” They are “glorious with God” and “their place is already with the angels, if they continue serving the Lord to the end." He rightly notes that there is a profound difference between being with angels and being an angel and points to the story of Lazarus (Luke ) as an example.
Hermas apparently alludes to Ezekiel 37’s dry bones (substituting sticks in Similitude 8) and raises the question of how they could live—but never really gives an answer showing us what he means as to this revitalization of life. Resurrection or what have you.
B. Second Clement
When we deal with the “apostolic fathers”—the earliest post-apostolic writings to have survived—we find that they make explicit references to the hope and promise of a “resurrection” and passing mention is made to the “flesh,” but they are never combined into our modern formulation of what we assume the concept was intended to mean—“the resurrection of the flesh.” This common generalization, however, should be balanced against First Clement explicitly quoting Job as promising a resurrection of the flesh—something that seems to be overlooked by those who make the preceding assertion.
As to the speaker himself personally asserting it, the generalization remains true until we reach Second Clement. The spiritual resurrectionist Samuel M. Frost gives the range of 120-170 for the writing. Claudia Setzer notes that “most scholars” give a slightly older date of “early to mid-second century.”
This written sermon actually has no explicit claim of authorship and, unlike First Clement, it is far more difficult to reason where the linkage came from. It might be because the two documents had the same recipients—consider 2 Clement 7:1’s reference to arriving by sea for athletic contests, which would well fit the Isthmian Games and Corinthian recipients--and, if so, over an extended period of time the congregation preserving both works together might well have created an inferential conclusion that they both came from the same hands. Others opt for this being a totally erroneous attribution.
Yet the fact that the two were linked together in the very ancient centuries, argues that there must have been some kind of perceived linkage in the original readers’ minds. Although it might have come later, as we just theorized, that seems unlikely. After all there were other respected ancients besides Clement to attribute a document to!
Furthermore, that relationship did not necessarily have to be of authorship. Of course if that linkage with him—in any form--was valid, then the closer to the time of the composition of First Clement that the work was written, the greater probability of the verbal linkage being made. If pre-70 for First Clement, then a decade or so later for Second Clement—at the most--would surely make sense. The same chronological gap of a decade or less would similarly make sense if First Clement, as is far more likely, comes from Domitian’s reign.
The strongest linkage after shared authorship would be if the two epistles are actually dealing with or revolving around the same problem(s). For example, First Clement was dealing with a local schism resulting in the purge of the elders from power and Second Clement could be those elders’ response after they regained their position. As Karl P. Donfried puts it, “Because both 1 and 2 Clement had together averted a severe crisis in the life of this congregation they were preserved together by the Corinthians.” Hence he dates First at c. 96-98 and Second c. 98-100, the latter being “an earlier date than has been customary.”
Be that as it may, in the document we have an explicit presentation of the promised resurrection as physical in nature,
(9:1) And let not any one of you say that this our
flesh is not judged nor raised again. (9:2)
Consider this: In what were ye
saved, in what did ye recover your sight, if not in this flesh? (3) We
ought, therefore, to guard our flesh as the
Frost deals with this assertion by two basic arguments. One is to argue that to Clement for a “human person to be fully human, the fleshly body must also be raised and undergo transformation. This explicitly suggests that a person is not a person unless he has a fleshly body. Is the Holy Spirit a person?”
Note carefully that he introduces his argument by stating that he is speaking of what it takes a “human person to be fully human” but then shifts to what it takes for “a person” to be a person. The fundamental flaw here: Frost attempts to define “personhood” strictly in terms of being a human, what makes a being a human. He roots his objection in substituting “personhood” for “humanhood,” if you will.
These are two distinct categories. An individual can be a “person”—a distinct functional entity—without ever being a human and the Holy Spirit is an excellent example of this. The Holy Spirit was never “fully human”—because He was not a human in the first place. He was, however, a Person. So whatever argument is made of the human body has no relevance to the Spirit’s own “personhood.” One is comparing apples and oranges, so to speak.
The argument would also falter if one day we discover extraterrestrial species; they would be regarded as “persons”—assuming intelligence and technology—but they would be unlikely to be put in the category of “human,” even if they enjoyed a certain similarity in appearance. They would be labeled something different, wouldn’t they? Even though they have flesh and they have bodies. They would be non-human persons.
Not that they would necessarily be better or worse than us, but different. In origin, heritage, and other ways. Hence a different label would naturally be applied.
It should also be noted that Frost assumes that Clement is concerned with what makes a person “fully human.” Actually he is concerned with whether we will have physicality after the resurrection as we had in the current world or whether we will lose it. What does being “fully human” have to do with that issue?
If we wish to argue that he is concerned with defining what a real resurrection must include, i.e., whether it required a continuation of physicality, then we would be dealing with his actual area of interest. Clement insists we must; Covenant Eschatologists repudiate it.
To reword Frost in light of Clement’s actual concern would produce something along this line: “for a person to be truly resurrected, the fleshly body must also be raised and undergo transformation. This explicitly requires that a person is not a resurrected individual unless he has a fleshly body.” That is his actual belief. No physicality; no resurrection.
Frost’s second line of reasoning is based on the strange remark attributed to Jesus that the kingdom would come when male and female would be one and neither male nor [Page 322] female (12:2). “How can it be the same [flesh we had in this life] yet have no fleshly anatomy (neither male nor female),” is the question he poses.
Not to be overlooked is that imposing literalism is impossible when one notes the entire assertion, “For when the Lord Himself was asked by someone when the kingdom would come, he said, ‘When the two shall be one, and the outside the inside, and the male with the female neither male nor female.” I suppose the closest conceptual parallel in our own age would be saying, “when the world is turned upside down.” If some of the quoted words could not have a literal meaning (“the outside the inside”), why would we expect a literal one in regard to a male/female change?
Furthermore Paul taught that the male/female difference had already been eliminated in the church, in his own day, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Need the language mean any more in Clement’s alleged Jesus quote? (Aside: If the quotation represents a genuine statement by Jesus, would we not find here the conceptual root of texts like Galatians 3:28?)
Did Clement himself actually believe in a literal, total elimination of sexual difference in the resurrection? Or did he simply believe that it would continue and further purify what had already been existing—or should have already been existing—in the church? I would prefer to believe he was scripturally astute enough that that is the explanation, but I readily admit I can’t prove it.
From the realistic standpoint, would he have been able to gain an audience for the belief that the resurrection required the literal extermination of sexual differentiation? I don’t have the foggiest idea, but the cynical part of me screams loudly against the possibility. Or am I simply being overly cynical?
If he meant it literally, I would argue that he has “mystically” garbled the unifying of believers--“all are one in Christ” terminology--and literalized it by applying it to the individual human body when it was never originally intended in that fashion. After all, according to Paul in Galatians 3:28, the situation of “neither male nor female” was already supposed to exist.
Which leads to the inevitable question: Will we have sexual differentiation in eternity? I know we won’t be marrying and having children (Matthew ). That argues that if it continues our sexuality will be drastically modified at the minimum. How much beyond that, who knows? If sexuality continues to exist will it be in a sense or form even expressible within the limits of our existing human concepts and terminology?
Be that as it may, here we still have what is often regarded as the first clear cut post-apostolic reference to the resurrection as unquestionably physical in nature. (In contrast to the idea of the resurrection being still future or quoting a Biblical text claiming physicality.)
We have two possibilities: this is attaching a physical specificity to the doctrine it rarely had in the past or that it was taken so much for granted that discussion of “our resurrection” clearly assumed a physical nature just as Jesus’ teaching did. In other words the terminology of “bodily” and “physical” weren’t required for they were assumed inherent in the concept.
C. Justin Martyr
Estimated dates for Justin’s life typically run from birth c. 100 to death c. 165 A.D., with a conversion perhaps in the early 130s.
Any system that denied the physical resurrection of Jesus was virtually guaranteed to utilize arguments that, in part, were applicable to that of His disciples and vice versa, as we are about to see—arguments that disproved the possibility of disciple physical resurrection repudiated that of Jesus as well. It was inevitable that sooner or later someone would take the existing “spiritual” alterative by the horns and try to deal with it in depth. This we can find in Justin Martyr’s On the Resurrection, a systematic assault on non-physical resurrection arguments in use in his day.
Many deny that Justin actually wrote this work, however—though there is a significant minority of dissenters it appears. It is introduced and discussed by Samuel M. Frost as if a genuine early work that must be dealt with by his fellow full preterists, so this combination of factors justifies its inclusion here without the need for any detailed defense of the genuineness of the work.
Frost hits hard on what he regards as the inconsistency and illogic of Justin in believing that we must have a physical resurrection like Jesus when His resurrection body retained its wounds and ours will not. “Justin never answers. I don’t think he even saw the problem” This inconsistency he dwells on at length.
Actually we don’t know whether we will be raised with our imperfections and they are then immediately removed or we will be resurrected with them already eliminated. I would be inclined toward the later as the most logical.
But, push come to shove, that is speculation. If you insist on deciding at what second the “i is dotted,” call it either “at the instant of resurrection” or “as the transformation and changes involved in the resurrection are completed”—after all, we have no description of the details of how it will be carried out--but the result is still the same.
Frost is confident that if our resurrection involves physical perfection being restored, and that Jesus’ physical resurrection proves ours, that Jesus’ resurrection must have involved the removal of all His scars as well. (He specifically has in mind Justin’s formulation of the issues and how he opens himself to that critique.)
Of course there is the not exactly inconsequential fact that He remained on earth (at least off and on; possibly, continuously) for forty days (Acts 1:3) and we will be promptly leaving and on a permanent basis. Hence there was a reason for Him to retain the scars for their evidential value. When we are resurrected, proving anything to any one about the gospel is an irrelevancy. The days for that will be past.
I admit complete puzzlement at what basis there is for Frost’s claim that “He appeared other times after His resurrection without scars. . . .” Because they aren’t mentioned one way or another? To me, being mentioned once would be sufficient to take for granted their presence at other times—barring some text explicitly indicating they weren’t.
We have presented the critique of Justin first because what, in our judgement, is most interesting is not what Justin says but what he does not say. To convey our point, [Page 324] let us look at Claudia Setzer’s useful summary of the arguments found in On the Resurrection,
(1) There is no resurrection of the flesh, because something already dissolved could not be restored. . . .
(2) If the flesh rises, the deniers say, it must be with the same defects it had in this world, so God would be raising deformed bodies, which provokes the charge that God lacks power. . . .
(3) Flesh, by its nature, cannot be recreated once it has disintegrated. . . .
(4) The flesh is contemptible and not worthy of resurrection.
(5) The flesh sins, say the deniers, and drags down the soul along with it. . . .
(6) Even admitting the flesh is valuable as God’s work does not guarantee the promise of resurrection. . . .
(7) The soul is incorruptible and part of God’s nature. God will only save that which is part of himself. . . .
(8) Jesus had no need of the flesh, the opponents maintain, and experienced only spiritual resurrection. . . .
(9) The spirit is immortal, say the deniers, but the body is mortal and incapable of being revived. Jesus proclaimed salvation to the soul alone. . . .
What is conspicuous is the total absence of any kind of argument that would be utilized by 21st century defenders of a non-physical resurrection at the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D.. In a work intended to gut such non-physical approaches on any and all scores, this is nothing short of amazing.
There seem to be only two
possibilities: (1) The fall of
Both are extraordinarily hard to explain on the scenario that the
resurrection occurred at the fall of
The situation is no better if we look at it from the standpoint of why people denied a physicality to the resurrection. If Full Preterism were the original “truth” about resurrection, how can we imagine even the opponents of physical resurrection so abandoning the 70 A.D. line of reasoning? When both opponents and proponents know nothing of it, how can we seriously believe the theology even existed?
Old arguments almost never die. Can’t we go through hundreds of religious claims and find the same texts being argued yea and nay in essentially the same way for the last fifty years? Even the last hundred or two hundred? Or more. Hence we have every reason to believe that the 70 scenario would continue to have existed—at least in the teaching of a significant number.
Hence even assuming the “orthodox mainstream” had for some reason or other [Page 325] abandoned it, we ought to expect Full Preterist interpretation to be at least one of the major lines of defense of those who denied a physical resurrection. Yet neither opponents nor supporters of a “spiritual” resurrection even feel the need to mention the interpretation of Covenant Eschatology. Meditate on the significance of that for a minute.
Then think about the famous exchange with Sherlock Holmes in Silver Blaze,
“You consider that to be important?” He asked.
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
In attempting to destroy non-bodily resurrection doctrine, the dog (Justin) doesn’t even mutter a whimper against the “real” non-literal nature of the event. “The dog didn’t bark.”
Samuel M. Frost argues that the Gnostics may well have gotten their concept from Paul and blended it into their own theories. It is hard to abstain from the accusation that this makes the Gnostics more biblically orthodox than Justin—not impossible, of course, but hardly a premise likely to gain much following! The deeper problem likes in comparing the Gnostic arguments Setzer summarizes with the A.D. 70 interpretation of resurrection: where in the world do we find the slightest hint of it? The most that is there is that they share a “non-literal” interpretation but isn’t that so vague as to be meaningless?
Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (
 Ibid., 249.
 Ibid 249.
 Boliek, 22.
 Calvin K. Staudt, The Idea of the Resurrection in the Ante-Nicene Period (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1909), 19.
 The view of Ibid.
 Introductions to any book length presentation of the text will go into the pros and cons. For a fine concise summary of arguments that a late date is essential see Licona, 251-253, who ultimately opts for an early date.
Also useful is Stephen Pegler, Answering Preterism: Did Jesus Return in A. D. 70? January 2003. At: http://freepages.religions.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~spegler/ preterism.pdf. [September 2009], which also deals with them concisely. He notes that 41:2 refers to the temple sacrifices as if ongoing though such language might be used rhetorically for so long as they were still a living memory.
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope: The Origins of First and Second Century
 Ibid. For his full discussion of the nature of the resurrection and end time in Clement, see Ibid., 117-127.
 L. L. Welborn, “The Preface to 1 Clement: The Rhetorical Situation and the Traditional
Date,” in Encounters with Hellenism:
Studies in the First Letter of Clement, edited by Cilliers
Breytenbach and Lawrence L. Welborn (
 Ibid., 201.
 Ibid., 200.
 For an excellent concise summary see Amos Nur, with
Dawn Burgess, Apocalypse:
Earthquakes, Archaeology, and the Wrath of God (
Engwer, “Did the Apostle Paul Believe in a Physical Resurrection of
 Eusebius, Church History, III.20.1-8. New Advent web site. At: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250103.htm. [September 2009; December 2010.]
 Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVaristy Press, 1999), 32-33.
 Gerd Theissen and Annette Mert, Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide, translated from the German by John Bowden (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress, 1998), 171-172
 Martin Hengel, “The Relationship between Judaism and Early Christianity,” in Conflicts and Challenges in Early Christianity, edited by Donald A. Hagner (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press, International, 1999), 38.
 John Painter, Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition
 Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (New York: T&T Clark International, 1990; 2004 edition), 99.
 Eusebius, Church History, III.32.5.
 Ibid., III.32.6.
 Bauckham, Jude, 96.
 Ibid., 99.
 Ibid., 100.
 Ibid., 100; for his compilation of evidences see 100-104.
 Ibid., 104.
 Ibid., 99.
 Eusebius, Church History, III.20.9.
 Ibid., III.20.10.
 Ibid. 104.
 Daniel J. Harrington, The Church According to the New Testament: What the Wisdom and Witness of Early Christianity Teach Us Today ([N.p.]: Sheed & Ward, 2001), 162.
 Ignatius. Letters. Christian Classics Etherral Library. At:
http://www.ccel.org/ ccel/richardson/fathers.toc.html. [September 2009.] All quotes are from this source unless
otherwise identified. The phraseology
must have impressed Polycarp deeply, for in his letter to the Philippians he,
essentially, uses the same language (2:2).
In short, since Jesus was physically resurrected we should anticipate
the same. Cf. discussion at Claudia
Setzer, Early Judaism and Early Christianity: Doctrine, Community, and Self-Definiton (
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope, 128.
 Smyrnaeans 4.2, as quoted by Bernadette McNary-Zak, “Ignatius of Antioch (c.35-c.110),” in The Blackwell Companion to the Theologians, volume 1, edited by Ian S. Markham ([N.p]: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 119.
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope, 128. He slips a typographical error in here, calling it 10:1 when it is actually 11:1.
 Ibid. Both page 128.
 Ibid., 129.
 And, yes, I hope to do a full scale commentary on 2 Peter. Not because of this issue but because the epistle, and its relationship to Jude, especially intrigue me. It will, of course, include a detailed discussion of the Covenant Eschatology controversy. The most that, at this stage, seems even potentially viable as a possible alternative to traditional interpretation is that of a rejuvenated earth—totally reworked, so to speak and purged of its contaminants “by fire.” But even in that approach, the results would clearly be a world vastly different from that which currently exists and which has persevered unchanged in its essence both before and after 70. In short, not the “new heavens and new earth” that Full Preterism finds there.
 Setzer, 71.
 Smyrnaeans 9:1, as quoted by Daniel J. Harrington, 162.
 For example, McNary-Zak, 116.
 Ibid., 116, puts the date as 69 A.D.
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope, 128.
 Roland H. Worth, Jr., Shapers of Early
Christianity: 52 Biographies, A.D.
 Chapter 9. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from this source are from Anonymous, Martyrdom of Polycarp, part of the New Advent website. At: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0102.htm.
 Irenaeus. Against Heresies, III.3.4. Part of the Early Christian Writings website. At: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book3.html. [December 2011.]
 Irenaeus, Fragments from Lost Writings of Irenaeus. Part of the Early Christian Writings website. At: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book3.html. [December 2011.]
 Roland H. Worth, Jr., Roland H. Shapers of Early Christianity: 52 Biographies, A.D. 100-400 (
 Ibid., 24-25.
 For quote and analysis, see Ibid., 24.
 As quoted by Anonymous / Screen name: Phantaz Sunlyk, “The Age of Christ and the Reliability of Irenaeus.” Part of the Tekton Education and Apologetics Ministry. At: http://www.tektonics.org/guest/irey50.html. [December 2011.]
 Ibid. provides a variety of quotations from Ireanaeus and varied experts on patristics to back this analysis up.
scenario accepted by Brain E. Fitzgerald, Saint Polycarp: Bishop, Martyr, and Teacher of Apostolic
Tradition, 3-4. Messages delivered at St. Philip’s
Antiochian Orthodox Church,
 Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians.
 From the initial “Greetings” section of Martyrdom of Polycarp. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from this work come from this translation.
 Chapter 14. The specific reference to the resurrection of the body is in 14:2.
 Chapter 11.
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope, calls the system he defends this on the final (unnumbered) page of the book, in a short section entitled, “About the Author.” Not all Full Preterists would adopt the label, however.
 Ibid., 146.
 Ibid., 146; elaborating on Polycarp’s use of “present age” on page 147.
 Ibid., 146.
 Ibid., 147.
 Chapter 7:1, Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians.
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope, 91.
 N. T.
Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope, 91-116.
 As quoted by Wright, 491.
 As quoted by Ibid., 492.
 As quoted by Ibid.
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope, 141.
 Ibid., 72.
 For a good summary of scholarly reasoning—in various directions—see Cyril C. Richardson, “An Anonymous Sermon Commonly Called Clement’s Second Letter to the Corinthians.” Part of his Early Christian Fathers. At: http://christianbookshelf. org/richardson/early_christian_fathers/an_anonymous_sermon_commonly_called.htm. [December 2011.]
 Karl P. Donfried, The Setting of Second Clement in Early Christianity (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1974), 1.
 Clement of
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope, 142.
 2 Clement 12:2 as quoted by Ibid., 141-142.
 Samuel M. Frost, Misplaced Hope, 131.
 Ibid., 131.
 It should also be noted that we have no statement yea or nay of whether He retained the scars after His ascension (Acts 1). Were the scars removed? Quite possibly. One could, however, even imagine them remaining, as a perpetual reminder to the King of what He had sacrificed and His obligation to protect the interests of His followers who also suffer.
 Setzer, 78-80.
 Samuel M. Front, Misplaced Hope, 129-130.