I saw a short video by someone named Paul Williams. I don’t much about him. Actually, I don’t anything about him. James White texted me and said he is a former Anglican who became a Muslim. But since he is a homosexual, that did not sit well with the Muslim community, who at first praised his defection from Christianity.
Williams is articulate, and with his British accent, he sounds authoritative. After listening to what he said about his first reason for leaving Christianity, his accent doesn’t help. Here’s part of what he said:
What were some of the issues? Well, I stumbled across, to my horror in a way, to my reading of the NT, the clear impression that many people, including Jesus, including Paul, James, John, and others, expected the end of the world soon, very soon, imminently, within the lifetime of people then living. I looked into this and tried to find a way to reconcile this with the rather obvious fact that we are living 2000 years later, and the end hasn’t come anytime soon. There is a prospective of endless millennia ahead. How can this be the case? There seems to be a mistake here by Jesus, Paul, James, and John, etc.
The more I looked into this problem, technically it’s called eschatology, or the imminent Parousia, the more I realized that in fact there was a mistake, at least according to the Scriptures of the NT. The way they spoke, Jesus is made to have made a mistake, and Paul clearly makes a mistake.
Now, these are not moral errors. They are not bad people because they made a mistake. Paul expected the end of the world. He was wrong. He’s a human being. He was wrong about many things.
He says that he “looked into this” so he could reconcile what Jesus said about the end of the world and it not happening as He predicted. He didn’t look very hard. Anyone who has access to the internet can easily find the answer to what Jesus says in Matthew 10:23, 16:27, 28, Matthew 24, Paul, James, and John. I and many others down through the centuries have been able to find the answer to the seeming “mistake.”
Last Days Madness
In this authoritative book, Gary DeMar clears the haze of ‘end-times’ fever, shedding light on the most difficult and studied prophetic passages in the Bible, including Daniel 7:13-14; 9:24-27; Matt. 16:27-28; 24-25; Thess. 2; 2 Peter 3:3-13, and clearly explaining a host of other controversial topics.Buy Now
A similar line of argument is attempted by the skeptic Tim Callahan in Bible Prophecy?: Failure or Fulfillment? “Obviously,” Callahan writes, “the gospel had not been preached to the entire world by 70 C.E., even if we interpret the whole world as being nothing more than the Roman Empire.” He makes a mistake by mistranslating the Greek word oikoumenē in Matthew 24:14 as “world.” Some of the confusion on this issue is because of some less than helpful translations found in the King James Bible where the Greek word aiōn (“world” instead of “age: Matt. 24:3) and oikoumenē (“world” instead of “inhabited earth”: Matt. 24:14).
Oikoumenē is a word that illustrates limited geography. The gospel only had to be preached as far as Rome could tax since the same Greek word is used in Luke 2:1. Had the gospel been preached throughout the Roman Empire before that generation passed away? The Apostle Paul tells us that the gospel had been preached “to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23). In other places where we read that the gospel was “being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8: here the Greek word kosmos is used) and had been “made known to all the nations” (16:26).
Bart Ehrman has made a name for himself by authoring several books related to biblical criticism. His best-selling book Misquoting Jesus has gone through numerous printings since it was published in 2005. It begins by describing how he struggled to reconcile what he believed to be errors in the Bible with being taught that Scripture is inerrant. His pilgrimage from Moody Bible Institute to Princeton changed him forever. His skeptical pilgrimage began with what he describes as “one of the most popular books on campus” at the time, Hal “Lindsay’s [sic] apocalyptic blueprint for our future, The Late Great Planet Earth” that was published in 1970. Lindsey and other dispensationalist writers teach that the events of Matthew 24 are yet to be fulfilled. Their poor exegesis gives credence to arguments by atheists that Jesus was mistaken.
Ehrman’s story is not unusual. As a student of the New Testament, Ehrman should have known of this preterist argument in interpreting Matthew 24:34 that Jesus was referring to His judgment coming against Jerusalem before their generation passed away. It’s not a new interpretation. It goes back to at least the 4th century and many Bible commentators over the centuries have explained how Jesus was referring to events of that generation and not a future worldwide cataclysm. The events described by Jesus could be escaped on foot by heading to the hills outside of Judea (Matt. 24:16–20). This was not a worldwide judgment.
Paul Williams should have listened to the debate between the late Christopher Hitchens and Pastor Douglas Wilson that’s in the 2009 film Collision. The topic Williams tries to explain is dealt with handily by Wilson. Here’s the transcription of the exchange that appears in Collision: The Official Study Guide published by American Vision:
DOUGLAS WILSON: When Jesus says in Matthew 24, the moon, the sun is going to go out and the stars fall from the heavens, he is quoting from Isaiah 13 and Isaiah 34. There is de-creation language throughout the Old Testament. Every time it occurs in the Old Testament, it always refers to a military destruction of a nation or a city-state, always. In Isaiah 13, an oracle against the king of Babylon, and then you have the same de-creation language, and then Jesus says in Matthew 24, not one stone is going to be left on another. The disciples say when it is going to happen and Jesus quotes Isaiah, so Jesus is not talking about the end of the space-time universe. He simply isn’t. It has nothing whatever to do with that. It has to do with the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened within one generation, just as Jesus said, authenticating him as a prophet.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Don’t you have an abnormally unsuspicious mind? If you see someone saying, “I am saying this so the prophecies can be fulfilled.” He knows what the prophecies are, and he says, “the prophecies say if the redeemer comes to Jerusalem, he will come riding a donkey. Where is my donkey? Let me straddle the donkey and come in when it is Passover time.” It says in the books themselves, it says, this was done so that the prophecies might be fulfilled, so, it is a self-consciousness engineering of what would be laughable to call predictive.
DOUGLAS WILSON: I was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, which was not arranged that way; so when Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, my central point is you interpreted Him as predicting the end of the space-time continuum, He wasn’t talking about that at all. He was predicting the end of the Judaic eon, the temple sacrifices, and Jerusalem, and He did not arrange for the Romans to come in and do that.
You see, people like Paul Williams were steeped in the end-time system called dispensational premillennialism, the rapture of the church, the Great Tribulation, the rise of Antichrist, and the near destruction of the world. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he is confused about his belief that Jesus was describing the end of the world in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. It’s a common misconception that is easily dealt with if you really want to know the biblical truth.
Collision: Is Christianity Good for the World?
COLLISION carves a new path in documentary film-making as it pits late atheist, political journalist and bestselling author Christopher Hitchens against fellow author, satirist and evangelical theologian Douglas Wilson, as they go on the road to exchange blows over the question: ‘Is Christianity Good for the World?’ The two contrarians laugh, confide and argue, in public and in private, as they journey through three cities. And the film captures it all. The result is a magnetic conflict, a character-driven narrative that sparkles cinematically with a perfect match of arresting personalities and intellectual rivalry.Buy Now
Tim Callahan, Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? (Altadena, CA: Millennium Press, 1997), 185–89.
Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperCollins, 2005).