John Owen—A Caveat, parts 1-13

by | Apr 8, 2021 | Eschatology

 

Part 1

Caveat comes from the Latin cavere.  The verb in Latin means to be on guard.  I am using its English descendant caveat to mean a warning or caution.  Such is my esteem for John Owen that I prefer the softer idea of caution.

John Owen has attained (and not without warrant) a high status among Reformed Baptists in our day.  This status derives from many things, I suppose.  He is certainly a profound and faithful expositor of the Reformed faith.  He is also a progenitor of the Reformed Baptist movement as a Congregationalist Puritan and one of the authors of that confession from which the mass of the 1689 is immediately drawn, the Savoy Declaration of Faith.  The views articulated in the Savoy are only a kind of half step from the positions regarding baptism and the church found in the 1689.  1689 Federalism has publicized the idea that Owen’s views of covenant theology articulate a covenant theology amenable to and even foundational for Reformed Baptist views of covenant theology.

For all of these reasons, to cite Owen is almost to cite Scripture in Reformed books and blogs.  Do we have a celebrity theologian of our own in John Owen? This is a question, I think, worth considering.  Christian realism and spiritual sanity require, I think, that we admit that all men have spiritual and exegetical feet of clay.  I think this is true of John Owen, and in the posts that follow I will point out a place at which I am convinced Owen does have feet of clay.  It is also an exegetical place about which, in my opinion, we may no longer entertain his views without opening ourselves to serious error.

Part 2

My first post on this subject, I must confess, was a deliberate “teaser.” It was a deliberate attempt to attract interest in my subject and get you to “stay tuned” and come back next week to the same time and channel. Now I must ‘fess up and tell you without further ado what my concern is about Owen. It is found in Book 9 page 134 of his Works. My general area of concern is eschatological. My specific concern is the Preterist interpretation of 2 Peter 3 which Owen adopts. Some of you may not have Owen’s works. Of course, this may at some level and for some people undermine your very credibility as a Reformed Baptist. (Pardon my humor, please!) Yet for those of you who do not have his Works here is what Owen says:

“On this foundation I affirm, that the heavens and earth intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state; …”

Owen goes on to offer two reasons (which he says are among many that could be offered) for this view. In the posts that follow I will provide a critique both of Owen’s reasoning and several (what I believe to be) conclusive arguments against the exegetical ground he occupies in his interpretation of this key, eschatological passage.

Before I close this present post, I simply want to identify what the position is that Owen is taking. He is quite obviously taking the partial preterist approach to New Testament prophecy and to 2 Peter 3. I gladly acknowledge that, since he speaks of the last and final judgment of the world, he is not defending the full preterist view. That is to say, his view is that some but not all of the prophecies of the New Testament are fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem and the events surrounding it. This is partial preterism, not its heretical evil twin, full or hyper-preterism.

Part 3

In my last post I quoted Owen’s statement of his partial preterist view of 2 Peter 3. I believe this view to be seriously misguided in the exegesis of 2 Peter 3 and also burdened with serious, practical consequences. Let me hasten to add that these serious, practical consequences were probably not as visible nor even as serious in Owen’s day as they are in ours.

In defense of his partial preterist view of the prophecy of 2 Peter 3 Owen says that “I shall offer these two reasons, of many that might be insisted on from the text.” Here is the first of those two reasons.

“Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews;–some of them believing, others opposing the faith. Now, there was no particular concernment of that generation in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread of the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation; and, besides, an ample testimony, both to the one and the other, of the power and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ;–which was the thing in question between them.” (Works, 9:134)

This is a remarkable assertion. It assumes an identification of the false teaching with which Peter was dealing which will need to be examined. It also asserts that “there was no particular concernment of that generation in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general.” This assertion also needs to be questioned.

But here is Owen’s second reason for his view. It contains assertions that are, if anything, even more troubling.

“Peter tells them, that, after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of, verse 13, “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth,” etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isa. Lxv. 17. Now, when shall this that God will create these “new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness?” Saith Peter, “It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell.” But now it is evident, from this place of Isaiah, with chap. Lxvi. 21, 22, that this is a prophecy of gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances, to endure for ever. The same thing is so expressed, Heb. Xii. 26-28.” (Works, 9:134, 135)

We must begin to explore the validity of these arguments and their truly massive implications in the next post.

Part 4

Owen’s way of reading 2 Peter 3 is so alien to most Christians in our day that there may be some doubt about what he is actually saying and implying. In this post I want to emphasize both the explicit and the implicit significance of the way Owen interprets 2 Peter 3. My hope is that the results of this survey will by themselves raise significant doubt about the propriety of Owen’s exegesis.

The Explicit Extent of Owen’s Argument

Owen takes Luke 21:34, 36 as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem (page 138). Here is what he says speaking of the “dissolution” of “the Judaical church and state”:

“As it was foretold and threatened by Christ. How were believers cautioned to be ready for it with eminent holiness and watchfulness therein! So Luke xxi. 34, 36, “Take heed to yourselves; watch, therefore.” Why so? “Christ is coming,” verse 27. When? “Why in this generation,” verse 32. What to do? “Why, to dissolve heaven and earth,” verse 25; to “dissolve the Jewish church and state. Watch, therefore, give all diligence.” So also Matt. Xxiv. 42.”

Owen takes the words of 2 Peter 3:4 (“the promise of His Parousia”) as a reference to Jesus’ coming at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Thus, it is not just a coming, but the Parousia which is said to occur at the destruction of Jerusalem.

Owen takes Isaiah 65:17f. as exclusively a reference to the present gospel age (page 135). Remember his words: “this is a prophecy of gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances…” It would be one thing if Owen maintained that this was a promise anticipated or even partly fulfilled in the gospel age. His words, however, are clear. They are exclusively fulfilled in the gospel age— “nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances.”

I find this interpretation deeply troubling in itself for a number of reasons, but what I find even more troubling are its implications or consequences. I will point out those consequences in my next post.

Part 5

In my last post I attempted to emphasize several of the explicit assertions of Owen regarding 2 Peter 3. In this post I want to suggest that there are several natural inferences or implications of Owen’s argument that need to be carefully weighed.

The Inferential Implications of Owen’s Argument

Here is the first one. If Owen is right, then it follows that the whole Olivet Discourse speaks only of the coming of Jesus for the destruction of Jerusalem. Peter’s words allude to Matthew 24. There is a seamless web between Matthew 24 and 25. Thus, Matthew 25:31-46, the passage which speaks of Jesus coming in glory to judge all nations and consign the sheep to eternal life and the goats to eternal punishment, must rather refer to the coming of Jesus at the destruction of Jerusalem. This passage which speaks so clearly of day of judgment would appear to be nothing more than a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Another inference which may naturally be drawn from Owen is that the other references to the coming of Christ in 1 Peter and 2 Peter must be thought as references to the coming of Christ at the destruction of Jerusalem. I refer to passages such as these:

“so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Pet. 1:7 NAU)

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:13 NAU)

“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” (1 Pet. 4:7 NAU)

“but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Pet. 4:13 NAU)

“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Pet. 5:4 NAU)

“for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Pet. 1:11 NAU)

Now let me be clear that I do not know how Owen may have interpreted these passages. I am only asserting that upon the exegetical grounds he takes in 2 Peter 3 all of them may be so interpreted as to refer merely to the destruction of Jerusalem.

I have already admitted that Owen here seems clearly to be adopting a partial preterist position. It also needs to be said, however, that upon Owen’s principles of interpretation it is difficult to find a clear text in the New Testament that teaches the Second Coming of Christ in glory at the end of the age. This is surely a consequence of his exegesis that must be carefully weighed.

Part 6

In my last couple of posts I tried to lay out fairly what I understand both the explicit extent of Owen’s argument for a preterist interpretation of 2 Peter 3 and also the inferential implications of that argument. My purpose, I admit, was not only to help my readers understand Owen, but to share what are to me the troubling implications of his exegesis. In this post and the following I want to turn to a number of serious objections to his view.

The Conclusive Case against Owen’s Interpretation

The first argument in my case against Owen is the lack of analogy between Owen’s view of the new heavens and earth in verse 13 and the whole thrust and movement of Peter’s argument in 2 Peter 3. As I have documented in my End Times Made Simple, Peter’s eschatological teaching in this passage is broadly speaking built around three worlds divided by two destructions. There is the old world which was created by God and destroyed by water (verses 5-6). There is the present or now world that is reserved for fire (verse 7). There is the new heaven and new earth (v. 13).

I think this structure is absolutely inconsistent with a preterist view of new heavens and earth. The reason should be clear. The original heavens and earth were the physical universe created by God in the beginning and destroyed in the universal flood. This pointedly suggests that the new heavens and new earth must also be that same universe remade in the resurrection glory of the sons of God (Romans 8:19-23). Furthermore, the water which destroyed the world in the flood was literal water. This directly leads to the conclusion that the fire of the greater judgment was a fire which reduces the world to ashes. It is not a spiritual fire which destroyed the Judaical system. Yes, I know that some fire was used in the destruction of Jerusalem, but it certainly does not qualify for the kind of fiery destruction of which 2 Peter 3 speaks—if it is taken literally.

The second argument is really a kind of exegetical focusing of the first. The focus of which I speak is the movement from destruction of the old world in the flood in verse 6 to the preservation of the present heavens and earth for destruction by fire in verse 7. Look at these two verses once more: “through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” Here the present heavens and earth are contrasted with the world that was destroyed by water. Of course, this included the religious and civil structures—whatever they were–of that world, but it certainly included much more. There was a massive upheaval of the physical surface of the world.” This destruction took place by physical water. To say that the counterpart of this physical water was the spiritual fire that destroyed Judaism simply defies the analogy instituted by Peter.

Part 7

In the last post I mentioned the first two points of my case against Owen’s preterist interpretation of 2 Peter 3, here I add a further argument in my case.

The Conclusive Case against Owen’s Interpretation Continued

Owen takes Luke 21:34, 36 as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem (page 138). Let me remind you of his exact words:

“As it was foretold and threatened by Christ. How were believers cautioned to be ready for it with eminent holiness and watchfulness therein! So Luke xxi. 34, 36, “Take heed to yourselves; watch, therefore.” Why so? “Christ is coming,” verse 27. When? “Why in this generation,” verse 32. What to do? “Why, to dissolve heaven and earth,” verse 25; to “dissolve the Jewish church and state. Watch, therefore, give all diligence.” So also Matt. Xxiv. 42.”

It is perfectly evident from this that Owen takes the coming of which Luke 21:27 speaks as a spiritual coming of Christ at the destruction of Jerusalem. The problem with this becomes evident when one reads the context of these verses and what they say about the coming of Christ there described.

Consider Luke 21:23-27

“Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. 25 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 “Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory.”

It is evident that the coming of which this passage speaks does not take place at the destruction of Jerusalem. The order is explicit. There is (1) the actual destruction of Jerusalem ending with the words “they will fall by the edge of the sword (vv. 23-24a) (2) the exile of the Jews into all the nations (v. 24b) (3) Jerusalem trampled down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (v. 24c) (4) signs in the sun, moon, and stars, and on the earth dismay among the nations etc. (v. 26) (5) Then the coming of the Son of man (v. 27). Plainly, this coming does not take place at, or anywhere near, the time of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Part 8

So far I have covered three points in my case against John Owen’s preterist view of 2 Peter 3. Let’s add a fourth in this post.

The Conclusive Case against Owen’s Interpretation Continued

Owen takes the words of verse 4 (“the promise of His Parousia”) as a reference to Jesus’ coming at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. My emphasis is on the fact that verse 4 speaks of the Parousia of Christ. It does not speak merely of a coming of Christ, but of His Parousia.

The word, Parousia, means arrival or presence or being present. One lexicon (Friberg) goes on to add that it is the opposite of apousia which is absence or being away. This word is used 24 times in the New Testament. In 6 of those occurrences the reference is to the coming or arrival and presence of someone other than Christ. The other 18 occurrences in all sorts of ways clearly and exclusively refer to the Second Coming of Christ in glory at the end of the age. Let me mention and comment on a few of these usages.

Matthew 24:27 “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” While preterists take all of the references to the coming of Christ in Matthew 24 as references to the coming of Christ at the destruction of Jerusalem, the difficulty with so understanding this text is obvious. The “coming” of Christ at the destruction of Jerusalem was not obvious in the Americas nor in China, for instance. The Parousia, however, is obvious from one end of heaven to the other like a flash of lightning.

1 Corinthians 15:23 “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming…” Here the resurrection of Christ’s people is coincident with His Parousia. Did this take place at the destruction of Jerusalem. Hyper-preterists say so, but I do not think that partial preterists want to assert this.

1 Thessalonians 4:15 “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” This is the classic text on Christ’s Second Coming and it uses the term, Parousia, to describe that coming. The Parousia here is associated with meeting the Lord in the air. Verse 17 contains Paul’s famous assertion that believers will meet the Lord in the air. Pretribulationists assume that this statement implies that after this meeting, Christ and the church return together to heaven. Actually, this is neither stated, nor implied. In fact the word in the original (apantesis) implies exactly the opposite. F. F. Bruce says: “When a dignitary paid an official visit or parousia to a city in Hellenistic times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escorting him on the final stage of his journey was called the apantesis….” Gundry aptly comments on the implication of this word: “This connotation points toward our rising to meet Christ in order to escort Him immediately back to earth.” This meaning of meeting (apantesis) is confirmed by its two other uses in the New Testament. Matt. 25:6 speaks of the ten virgins who were waiting to go out and meet the bridegroom and then return with him to the wedding feast. Even more clearly Acts 28:15 speaks of how the brethren came out to meet Paul and accompanied him on the final leg of his journey to Rome. If this is the meaning and implication of the word, then it is utterly inconsistent with the Pretribulational theory. It is also clearly inconsistent with a preterist interpretation of the Parousia.

There is one New Testament use of Parousia which is capable of being interpreted as not a reference to Christ’s final coming in glory. That passage is found in 2 Peter itself.

2 Peter 1:16 “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Because of the association of these words with the transfiguration, some have assumed that Parousia here is a reference to that event. If so, it is the only use of the word to refer to that event to be found in the New Testament. It is preferable by far to understand that the transfiguration is here viewed as substantiating the Apostle Peter’s claims (1) that Jesus was the supernatural Son of God and (2) that Jesus would come again in glory.

In the context of the New Testament the Parousia of Christ is always a reference to the Second Coming of Christ in glory. It is not suggestive of a preterist interpretation anywhere and certainly not in 2 Peter 3:4.

Part 9

So far, I have covered three points in my case against John Owen’s preterist view of 2 Peter 3. Let me add a fourth in this post.

The Conclusive Case against Owen’s Interpretation Continued

Owen takes Isaiah 65:17f. as a reference to the present gospel age exclusively (page 135). Let me quote what he says again: “this is a prophecy of gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances…” It would be one thing if Owen maintained that this was a promise anticipated or even partly fulfilled in the gospel age. His words, however, are clear. They are exclusively fulfilled in the gospel age— “nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances.”

Owen here takes what seems to me to be an indefensibly one-sided view of Old Testament prophecy. Jesus makes clear in Matthew 13 that the mystery of the coming of the kingdom is that it comes in two stages. The grand prophecies of the return of the kingdom of God to our world are fulfilled both in the events of Christ’s first advent but fully and finally in the events that accompany and follow Christ’s Second Advent in glory. This matter of the already and not yet is really a matter of settled perspective among most Reformed exegetes today. While I am not saying that Owen would have been wholly unaware of such a perspective, I am saying that he chooses to adopt a totally preterist view of the New Heavens and New Earth in his exegesis of 2 Peter 3.

This is questionable enough in itself, but it is even more questionable in light of the way in which the other passage in the New Testament which alludes to Isaiah 65:17f. does so. There are clear allusions to the language of Isaiah 65:17f. in Revelation 21:1-4. Look at that passage: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

There are multiple allusions to Isaiah 65:17f. in these verses. First, there is the reference to the new heavens and new earth which is a clear quotation of Isaiah 65:17f. and Isaiah 66:22f. Second, there is the reference to the holy city which is also mentioned in Isaiah 65:18-19. Third, there is the affirmation of the end of weeping and crying in Isaiah 65:17f. Kraugei in the LXX of Isaiah 65:19 is translated crying in the NASB and is used in Revelation 21:4. Ponos, the word translated pain in Revelation 21:4 is used in the LXX of Isaiah 65:22. The closing words of Revelation 21:4 (the first things have passed away.) also appear to allude to the words of Isaiah 65:17 “And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” Fourth, the condition of which Isaiah speaks is eternal (Isaiah 65:17-18). This means that it is the eternal state that is in view. Fifth, the condition contemplated in Isaiah 65:17f. is one in which there is an absence of evil. “The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD.” This is parallel to the assertions of Revelation 21:8 and 27.

There is an indisputable reference to Isaiah 65:17f. in Revelation 21:1-4. I understand that some preterists even take Revelation 21:1-14 as a reference to the gospel age. I can only say that, if they do refer to this, I do not know how to understand their significance. Personally, I think such an interpretation of Revelation lacks credibility.

But something more needs to be said about the phrase, new heavens and new earth. While I admit that an already/not yet grid has to be applied to Old Testament prophecy. I believe that this particular phrase and these particular passages show that the emphasis if not the exclusive meaning of these phrases is on the eternal state. Certainly, Isaiah 66:22-24 seems to emphasize the eternal state. I have also argued elsewhere against Premillennialism that Isaiah 65:17f. must be understood as a prophecy of the eternal state, and the language which suggests death in the state contemplated is to be taken as a promise of the end of calamity and figuratively speaking of what Revelation 21:4 calls “no longer any death.” See my End Times Made Simple and my critique of Matt Waymeyer published in JIRBS.

Something else must be considered. It is that the phrase in verse 13 which is descriptive of the new heavens and new earth, “in which righteousness dwells,” alludes to other prophecies in later Isaiah which appear to speak of the eternal state. Cf. Isaiah 11:9; 52:1; 54:13-14; 60:21.

The notion that 2 Peter 3:13 refers only to the gospel age simply lacks credibility.

Part 10

So far, I have covered five points in my case against John Owen’s preterist view of 2 Peter 3. Let me add another argument in this post. Here is my sixth objection to Owen’s exegesis.

The Conclusive Case against Owen’s Interpretation Continued

Owen takes 2 Peter 3:4 as concerning Jews only and only relevant to the men of that generation (page 134). The words of Owen are: “Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews;—some of them believing, others opposing the faith. Now, there was no particular concernment of that generation in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread of the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation; and, besides, an ample testimony, both to the one and the other, of the power and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ; —which was the thing in question between them.” (Works, 9:134)

To state the problem briefly, such an approach to the imminence of Christ’s return suggests that Christ’s Second Coming in glory is not relevant for this early generation of the Christian era. The problem is that, if there is any evidence for the Second Coming in the New Testament, it is always accompanied by exhortations that it is near and that we are to stay awake, be alert, not fall asleep. However we explain the imminence and relevance of Christ’s long awaited return for that generation, it is clearly relevant to them. This doubt arises in light of Owen’s exegesis: how could any passage which speaks of a coming of Christ that is relevant for that generation of Jews, actually be a reference to His future return in glory?

Part 11

So far, I have covered six points in my case against John Owen’s preterist view of 2 Peter 3. Let me add another argument in this post. Here is my seventh objection to Owen’s exegesis.

The Conclusive Case against Owen’s Interpretation Continued

Owen assumes that the false teachers of 2 Peter are a reference to the Jews who clung to the Old Testament institutions and the legalism that had grown up around them. Here is Owen once more: “He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews; —some of them believing, others opposing the faith. Now, there was no particular concernment of that generation in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread of the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation; and, besides, an ample testimony, both to the one and the other, of the power and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ; —which was the thing in question between them.” (Works, 9:134)

This account of the false teachers with whom Peter was contending is out of sync with the whole presentation of them in 2 Peter. These men were not legalistic defenders of the Old Judaism. Peter makes clear that they had been and perhaps still were professing Christians (2 Peter 2:1-2, 20-22) who distorted the teaching of the Apostle Paul (2 Peter 3:16) and (far from being legalists) were antinomians in their views and practice (2 Peter 2:12-18).

To sum up: the false teachers of 2 Peter 2 and 3 were not Jews opposing Christ, but antinomians who had professed Christ and followed Paul, but who had distorted Christian truth to their own destruction. Cf. Matthew 24:48 for the background of Peter’s thought which predicts every feature of these false teachers.

Part 12

So far, I have covered seven points in my case against John Owen’s preterist view of 2 Peter 3. Let me add another argument in this post. Here is my eighth objection to Owen’s exegesis.

The Conclusive Case against Owen’s Interpretation Continued

The whole Olivet Discourse speaks (according to Owen) only of the coming of Jesus for the destruction of Jerusalem. Peter’s words allude to Matthew 24. We have repeatedly noted the insistence of Owen on this fact.

My objection is that this straightforwardly and directly implies that the account of the judgment found in Matthew 25:31-46 must refer to the coming of Jesus at the destruction of Jerusalem. There is a seamless web of references to Christ’s coming between Matthew 24 and 25. Thus, Matthew 25:31-46 must refer to the coming of Jesus at the destruction of Jerusalem. But this requires a preterist understanding of the words of Matthew 25:31-32: “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” It also requires that Matthew 25:46 be a reference to an event that happened at the destruction of Jerusalem: “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Not only is such an understanding of Matthew 25:31-46 unlikely to the point of impossibility, it is also dangerous in a broader way

Upon Owen’s interpretation, what are we to think of the other references to the coming of Christ throughout 1 and 2 Peter? Must they not be thought of as references to the coming of Christ at the destruction of Jerusalem? It would seem so. Thus, for instance, are we to take a preterist interpretation on 1 Peter 5:4? “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

This brings us, then, to the most serious challenge and difficulty for orthodox preterists like Owen. They have to show how their views can be held without leading directly down a slippery slope to Hyper-preterism? Upon Owen’s interpretation, it seems to me, it is difficult to find any clear text in the New Testament that teaches the Second Coming of Christ in glory at the end of the age.

Part 13

Conclusion

If Owen was indeed wrong as we have seen, what can we learn from this fact? It is to answer this question that I have taken so much time to firmly disagree with the properly revered John Owen. I believe there is something to be learned from the serious exegetical mistake he makes with 2 Peter 3. I think there are important lessons to be learned.

First, this shows that no one—not even the man who is probably the greatest of the Puritan and Reformed Scholastics—may be given an almost infallible status by us. The fact is that in some places—it has appeared to me—that if Owen said it, that was the end of all discussion. That is certainly not true with regard to his preterist interpretation of 2 Peter 3. It may not be true in other places.

Second, this shows that we may not fix one period of church history, and one group of theologians in that history, as the standard of orthodoxy for all times. The Bible teaches a developmental or progressivist view of church history. That means that, not only was there progressive revelation in the Bible, there is progressive enlightenment of the church during this inter-adventual period. This is the straightforward implication of the parables of Jesus regarding the wheat and weeds, the mustard seed, the leaven, and the seed growing by itself.

As much as we love the Puritans and as much as we love our Baptist forefathers, church history did not end with them. Nor did the church’s insight into the Scriptures cease developing. Valuable as is our honored confession of faith, it is a human document which reflects the best understanding of the Scriptures by the church at a certain point in time in that development. Personally, I do not think that we have come to the place where it is good to think of attempting an expansion or refinement of that great document. But in principle we must admit that such a place could come in a future era of the church.

Third, let me finally express my view that it is particularly in the doctrinal area where Owen goes wrong that we must be ready for further light upon Scripture to have been given to the church since the 17th century. There have been vast and important developments in eschatological thought since Owen wrote. There was the prevalence of postmillennialism for a time, followed by the rise of historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism in reaction to postmillennialism. There has been the long critique of Dispensationalism by Amillennialism, the splintering of Dispensationalism as a result, and the rise of a new and wiser form of Amillennialism. I think this history is significant. I think it has presented us with an alternative to Owen’s preterism which is vastly to be preferred.

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Why is Theonomy Unbiblical?

Why is Theonomy Unbiblical?

Before critiquing theonomy, we need a good definition. Some people today who use the word “theonomy” don’t mean anything more than “God’s law” because the etimology of the word theonomy is “theos” which means God, and “nomos” which means law. They only want to affirm that God’s law is supreme over man’s law. And they’re right about that. God’s transcendent moral law is the norm that norms all norms. Governmental laws should always be consistent with God’s law and human law must never violate God’s law.

But in this post, I’ll be using the word “theonomy” in a more technical sense, which is rooted in the historic usage of the term.

A Post-Logue to #DatPostmil? Blog Posts

A Post-Logue to #DatPostmil? Blog Posts

It is always a humbling and learning experience to read the responses to a blog series on a controversial subject. Iron does sharpen iron, as the Bible says, and I learn much from those responses. Some postmils have taken a little umbrage at my description of Postmillennialism as a millennium involving a distinct, golden age following the one in which we live.

Is “General Equity Theonomy” a Confessional and Biblical Doctrine?

Is “General Equity Theonomy” a Confessional and Biblical Doctrine?

Some of those who identify as theonomists today refer to themselves as “general equity theonomists,” believing that this identification lands them within the boundaries of Reformed confessional orthodoxy. But if it does, then the term “general equity” needs to be defined the same way the tradition defined it. The technical term “general equity” is used in both the Westminster Confession and the Second London Baptist Confession.

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