I thank Stanley Porter, Ian Paul, Mark Garcia, and Jeff Meyers for their gracious responses. Each of them has given me homework in one form or another and I appreciate their contributions. I will answer each of them briefly below.

As a prefatory side note, I hope it will not seem rude for me to add a word of clarification to prevent misunderstanding. I was referred to as “Dr. Smith,” but actually I am not “Dr. Smith.” My father was Dr. Smith, a pediatrician. My younger brother, Tom, pastor of the Presbyterian Chapel of the Lakes in Angola, Indiana, is Dr. Smith. I am “Pastor Smith,” serving God here in Tokyo, Japan at the Mitaka Evangelical Church since 1981. My two sons are also Christian ministers. My older son, Ben Zedek, is now the senior pastor of the Mitaka Evangelical Church. My younger son, Berek, is an Anglican priest who serves God in nearby Niiza — which means that on official occasions, I must call him, “Father Berek.” In our family, there are four who are called “Pastor Smith,” but only my brother Tom is “Dr. Smith.”

I have been a serious student of the Bible for over 50 years — much of that time, studying under James Jordan and Peter Leithart, which is evident. In the mid 1980s, one of the things that I noted in Jordan, among others, was the breadth of his reading. So, even though Jordan and Leithart have been my mentors, so to speak, they have introduced me to more books and authors than I can count. Like them, I read promiscuously. Still, I am a student, not a scholar. I am very well aware of the difference, but since Christian scholars and elderly students are one in Christ and seek the glory of the same Lord, I dare to converse with these men as my brothers in Christ, with no disrespect intended.

First, I am sure that I do not have an adequate grasp of Stanley Porter’s approach to the New Testament and the apostle Paul. Porter has written more books and articles than I can even access, let alone read and digest. I would have liked to have been able to read Porter’s “Dating the Composition of New Testament Books and Their Influence upon Reconstructing the Origins of Christianity,” but I could not obtain it.

Porter expressed surprise that I would speak of a consensus on the dating of Paul’s epistles, and I am sure his perspective is broader than my own — I was thinking only of evangelical writers. But I was actually borrowing the idea from Bernier who wrote: “We might heuristically distinguish between three broad chronological frameworks, which may be designated ‘lower,’ ‘middle,’ and ‘higher’ chronologies. All three of these frameworks agree that the undisputed Pauline Epistles should be dated to around the 50s of the first century.”[1] That sounded to me like something of a consensus. But Porter’s comment no doubt offers a more accurate picture of the state of affairs.

Though he says that he, too, holds to early dates for the composition of the books of the New Testament, Porter considers “the major problem” of Bernier’s book and my essay to be the argument for early dates. It is a minority position, which provokes the question: “then how can it be that many scholars — even if the number is difficult to determine — do not endorse such conclusions? Are these scholars simply the victims of unscrutinized presuppositions inherited from rationalistic, naturalistic, and anti-supernatural belief of the Enlightenment?”[2]

To answer, let me refer to what Porter himself wrote in another place: “The question of how relevant it is whether a majority of scholars accept any position is worth reconsidering.”[3] Indeed! This is especially true if Vern Poythress is correct in seeing the development of theology as in some ways parallel to Thomas Kuhn’s view of the development of science.[4]

Also, I think there is a more relevant question, “How is it that for well over a millennium virtually all Biblical scholars from many countries held to early dates for the composition of the New Testament?” The answer would be found, I presume, in their faith in the testimony of the Bible as God’s inspired word.

In that light, to answer Porter’s question directly, I do think that Enlightenment presuppositions have permeated New Testament academic scholarship to the point that we have become blind to its impact. Many Biblical scholars and pastors are asking questions and troubled about issues that would not occur to someone that believes the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. For example, debates about whether Luke’s Acts is a reliable source of historical information about the life and work of the apostle Paul betray, I believe, the deep influence of Enlightenment skepticism. Douglas Campbells’ Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography, with its rejection of evidence about Paul in the book of Acts, stands out as a clear example.

Of course, Porter knows what John A. T. Robinson wrote: “For, much more than is generally recognized, the chronology of the New Testament rests on presuppositions rather than facts. It is not that in this case new facts have appeared, new absolute datings which cannot be contested — they are still extraordinarily scarce.[5] It is that certain obstinate questionings have led me to ask just what basis there really is for certain assumptions which the prevailing consensus of critical orthodoxy would seem to make it hazardous or even impertinent to question. Yet one takes heart as one watches, in one’s own field or in any other, the way in which established positions can suddenly, or subtly, come to be seen as the precarious constructions they are. What seemed to be firm datings based on scientific evidence are revealed to rest on deductions from deductions. The pattern is self-consistent but circular. Question some of the inbuilt assumptions and the entire edifice looks much less secure.”[6]

Even more interesting, Porter himself has written a book that challenges the scholarly consensus of our day and a view that I had assumed from seminary days — the view that Paul never knew Christ before his conversion. Porter argues forcefully, and I think successfully for what is very much a minority position: When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History. Porter contends that Paul knew Jesus before His crucifixion, a perspective that changes one’s understanding of much in his epistles. If we add to that an early date for Matthew and a relatively early date for Mark, we should see the whole apostolic era flooded with the story of Jesus, long before Luke became famous for his Gospel (2 Corinthians 8:18, as understood and expounded in some detail by John Wenham).[7]

And there is at least one other work to be mentioned: Porter’s book, The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research: Previous Discussion and New Proposals, challenges everyone who has been doing “historical-Jesus” research in many countries for a long time. Anyone who reads this book would be surprised to discover that Porter would consider it a serious problem that someone challenged the status quo!

Returning to my essay, Porter wrote: “I also think that it reflects a kind of strange literalism in interpretation, in which some elements must be taken literalistically (such as the time of its fulfillment, hence the problem to “explain”) and others metaphorically (natural phenomena are signs of judgment).”

Porter is correct, of course, that presuppositions may be theological as well as naturalistic — as a Vantilian, I would say that even “naturalistic” presuppositions are theological. The only solution to this is to be self-conscious of one’s presuppositions, and examine them against the Scripture and in fellowship with other Christians who challenge them.[8]

But I do not see how Jesus’ language in Matthew 24:34 can be anything other than literal: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”

There is, of course, the dispensationalist option of taking the word “generation” to refer to the people of Israel, not to the “generation” that was alive at the time,[9] but that seems to fly in the face of many other sayings of Jesus that clearly refer to the generation of Jews living at the time as facing judgment: “But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’” (Matthew 12:39). “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.” (12:41-42) “Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.” (12:45) “‘A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’ And He left them and departed.” (16:4) “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (23:6).

Add to this the emphatic words that immediately follow 24:34: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

Imagine now, if Jeremiah or Ezekiel had spoken of their generation as being wicked and deserving of judgment and prophesied that the judgment was coming soon — but then, the prophesied judgment did not happen! They would have been denounced as false prophets and their books would not appear in our canon. To speak of judgment coming soon makes or breaks a prophet.

On the other hand, the language of “coming on the clouds,” is clearly figurative language. It appears unquestionably so in the Old Testament. Perhaps the clearest example is Isaiah 19:1 “The burden against Egypt. Behold, Yahweh rides on a swift cloud, And will come into Egypt; The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, And the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.” To the best of my knowledge, no one takes this or the similar language in Psalm 18:10-15, as literal language.

I do not think, therefore, that my distinction between what is literal and what is figurative is arbitrary. It does, of course, fit with my presuppositions, which leads to the next point: my understanding of the covenants.

I do not believe that my view fits the label “hyper-Reformed supersessionist view.” To understand Porter’s perspective, I purchased the Kindle version of The Future Restoration of Israel and read Porter’s essay, but, with apologies to Porter, there is too much to interact with. It is better for me to point to the Theopolis-sponsored conversation on this topic with various views being expressed.[10] Meyers and Leithart both repudiate supersessionism, but their perspective on covenant succession might not persuade everyone, not even all their good friends. I agree with Leithart that Jesus inherits the promises to Israel because He is the “Seed” of Abraham to whom all the promises were given.[11] No promise is cancelled. No promise goes unfulfilled.

The related topic of the covenant is too big to address here, except to say a brief word. Jordan, following Abraham Kuyper and Cornelius Van Til, sees God’s covenants with men as an expression of the life of the Trinity — in other words, there is no Covenant of Works versus a Covenant of Grace. Developing that view, Jordan understands the various covenants in the era of the old covenant — Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, post-exilic Judah — as pointing toward and finding fulfillment in the New Covenant in Christ. To say that all the covenants in the pre-Christian era find their fulfillment in Christ does not render them obsolete and meaningless, as is clearly seen in the fact that, far more than most reformed or evangelical scholars, Jordan and Leithart have devoted themselves to do Old Testament exegesis and exposition aimed at pastors and non-specialists, showing the comprehensive relevance of all the Scripture for the life of the church.

Ian Paul is an expert on the book of Revelation. I cannot adequately respond to Paul’s remarks on Revelation, in part because I cannot take the time now to reconsider some of the external evidence he points to for the date of Revelation, but even more because I have been persuaded of an early date for the book and the basic perspective that Revelation is something like John’s version of the Olivet Discourse. Also, I have to admit with apologies that I do not have Paul’s commentary. I will put it on my “must acquire” list. For now, my excuse is that keeping up with Leithart, Beale, and Aune already stretches me beyond capacity, and I have at least 20 other commentaries on Revelation which I must consult as the demand arrises.

However, if I asked Paul about the date of Revelation and he responded, “Why does it matter? How will it change the way you read it?” I would answer that reading the book of Revelation as a warning and prophecy to seven churches that were soon to experience great tribulation enables me to read it as a letter to first century churches, just like I read Romans, Galatians, or Corinthians. It also gives me a very clear historical background for the book, beginning with symbolic depictions of the history in the book of Acts and extending to the severe persecutions that Christians endured from the time of Nero (AD 64 or 65) until AD 70 — and, of course, far beyond.

However, I do not believe Paul’s perspective is actually mistaken. The fact that John wrote in symbolic language to depict what was essentially a spiritual warfare enables Christians of all ages and places to understand and apply his teaching to their own situations. Emphasizing AD 70 does not limit Jesus’ prophecy any more than emphasizing 586 BC makes Ezekiel irrelevant.

There are too many details to even approach the issues Paul mentions with regard to Revelation 11:13, but suffice it to say, that Leithart, with Paul, does not see this as a reference to the fall of Jerusalem. As Paul says, we know from Josephus that “the destruction was much more extensive.” And I agree with Paul that Revelation 11 is not the place to find a date for the book of Revelation. Leithart demonstrates clearly, I believe, that the temple in Revelation 11 is not the literal temple in Jerusalem.[12]

Paul refers to the earthquake in Laodicea that Tacitus mentions. The date is thought to be AD 60, but there is apparently some debate about this. It also seems that the Laodiceans were proud that they had enough money to rebuild their city without Rome’s help.[13] Perhaps the church itself was not deeply damaged by the earthquake or perhaps the city and the church were rebuilt before John wrote Revelation.[14]

As for the church in Smyrna, Robinson wrote: “One objection however can be dismissed, which is constantly repeated from one writer to another. This is that Polycarp in his epistle to the Philippians (11.3) states that his own church at Smyrna had not been founded till after the death of Paul – so that it could not therefore be addressed as it is in Rev. 2.8-11 as early as the late 60s. But, as Lightfoot observed long ago, all that Polycarp actually says is that ‘the Philippians were converted to the Gospel before the Smyrnaens – a statement which entirely accords with the notices of the two churches in the New Testament.’ It is astonishing that so much has continued to be built on so little.”[15]

Paul also refers to Epiphanius, but again, I think Robinson might be helpful: “Epiphanius, a contemporary of Jerome’s, whom Hort describes as ‘a careless and confused writer but deeply read in early Christian literature’, refers to John’s banishment and prophecy as having taken place under ‘Claudius Caesar’ — though he also seems to imply that Claudius was emperor in John’s extreme old age! Whatever Epiphanius may have meant, it has been credibly argued that his source may have intended Nero, whose other name was Claudius (just as Claudius’ other name was Nero). For what it is worth, both the title to the Syriac version of Revelation and the History of John, the Son of Zebedee in Syriac say that it was Nero who banished John.”[16]

I share Paul’s view that we must insist on considering the full range of available data, but data and facts are tricky things, since they come wrapped in presuppositional garments and our “full range” now is not what the “full range” will be in 50, 100 or 200 years. Our full is so very partial.

Paul’s discussion of writing in the New Testament era falls in line with my own reading and thinking and I appreciate his reference to many details. Also, Paul’s approach to Matthew 24 is the same approach I followed about 25 years ago. It might be that in the weakness of my old age, I have erred, or it may be that perhaps Paul just needs a little more time to consider the passage. (If it were appropriate, I would insert a “smiley” here.)

Paul ends his essay with challenging questions: “Can the dates of texts be determined with any certainty from internal evidence alone? What is our motivation for asking questions about dating? Is our methodology rooted in the cultural context of the texts, and can it avoid circular arguments? And to what ends do we put our conclusions?”

I think that John Wenham’s book — Redating Matthew, Mark, and Luke — does an excellent job of referring to as much external evidence as is available, evaluating it critically, and correlating it with internal evidence. Wenhem’s is by far the most helpful book I have read on the synoptic problem. My motivation for asking questions about dating is to gain whatever help I can in understanding the text of the Scriptures so that I can apply it to myself and teach it to others.

Is my methodology rooted in the cultural context of the texts? Probably not. I was born rather late for that — though I am constantly studying to try to understand the cultural context of the New Testament writings. I expect that in the years to come we will and should come to new and clearer understanding of that cultural context. But I have to confess that having lived in Japan for 42 years and being a relatively fluent speaker of the language has not really enabled me to have an adequate grasp of the cultural context here. Even worse, on the rare occasions that I return to the States, I confront a sort of culture shock. After many years of absence, it is not the same country. Therefore, how ever much I might prepare for the journey, I am sure I would be deeply confused if a time machine planted me in Paul’s Corinth, even if I could speak the language. Only the Holy Spirit can lift us over the barriers of time and culture to make the Word living to each of us and our various groups and societies, and I believe that He does.

I doubt that I can avoid circular arguments — I am Van Tilian,[17] after all. We all dance in circles. I am confident that by faith in Christ, confession of the Trinity, and weekly worship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, I am in the large circle of those who love and worship Jesus. As for other matters, I hope and pray that God guides me by His Spirit, but I also pray the same for the whole church: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”

Finally, “And to what ends do we put our conclusions?” I hope that my conclusions, in conformity with almost all Christians for the last almost 2000 years, aim at the edification of Jesus’ church.

Mark Garcia and I agree on what he calls the “fundamental concern” — “But I am confident he would agree with my fundamental concern, namely, that we must take great care to ensure that what we mean by ‘the truth’ is derived from what that Word in fact declares and not from a foreign standard. Some reject what the Bible says because they reject it as divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture.”

Speaking of “truth” reminded me of one of my favorite passages in Auerbach’s Mimesis. Auerbach contrasts Homer’s Odyssey and the account of Odysseus’s scar with the Biblical story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac: “It is all very different in the Biblical stories. Their aim is not to bewitch the senses, and if nevertheless they produce lively sensory effects, it is only because the moral, religious, and psychological phenomena which are their sole concern are made concrete in the sensible matter of life. But their religious intent involves an absolute claim to historical truth. The story of Abraham and Isaac is not better established than the story of Odysseus, Penelope, and Euryclea; both are legendary. But the Biblical narrator, the Elohist, had to believe in the objective truth of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice — the existence of the sacred ordinances of life rested upon the truth of this and similar stories. He had to believe in it passionately; or else (as many rationalistic interpreters believed and perhaps still believe) he had to be a conscious liar — no harmless liar like Homer, who lied to give pleasure, but a political liar with a definite end in view, lying in the interest of a claim to absolute authority.[18] . . . The Biblical narrator was obliged to write exactly what his belief in the truth of the tradition (or, from the rationalistic standpoint, his interest in the truth of it) demanded of him-in either case, his freedom in creative or representative imagination was severely limited; his activity was perforce reduced to composing an effective version of the pious tradition. What he produced, then, was not primarily oriented toward “realism” (if he succeeded in being realistic, it was merely a means, not an end); it was oriented toward truth. Woe to the man who did not believe it! One can perfectly well entertain historical doubts on the subject of the Trojan War or of Odysseus’ wanderings, and still, when reading Homer, feel precisely the effects he sought to produce; but without believing in Abraham’s sacrifice, it is impossible to put the narrative of it to the use for which it was written. Indeed, we must go even further. The Bible’s claim to truth is not only far more urgent than Homer’s, it is tyrannical — it excludes all other claims. The world of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a historically true reality-it insists that it is the only real world, is destined for autocracy. All other scenes, issues, and ordinances have no right to appear independently of it, and it is promised that all of them, the history of all mankind, will be given their due place within its frame, will be subordinated to it. The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us-they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels.”[19]

Auerbach, a Jewish intellectual who fled from Hitler’s Germany to Istanbul (of all places!), might be implying things that I would not agree with — though I do not think he was being cynical. At any rate, on the surface of the matter, what he so eloquently says is true. Holy Scripture comes to us as Truth and unless we not only submit to it, but submit to it in faith and love, we are rebels. To some that will sound like “Big Brother.” And without the cross of Christ, perhaps it would. But in the Bible, the cross of Christ is central. The God who demands our submission is the God who submitted to the cross to save us from our sins. The cross answers the objections of those who reject Jesus’ claims to Lordship.

Garcia writes about canon in a way that I am sure I do not adequately understand. I have Trobisch’s book somewhere, but have not yet read it, so I am not actually competent to interact with Garcia’s views about the canon. I must consider more the kind of questions Garcia writes of when he speaks of Canon as the context and the ecclesial purpose of the Scripture as God has given it to us. On this, I can only say: Thank you for giving me homework!

Also, as Garcia said, I may indeed be guilty of “rhetorical over-reach.” He writes, “I fear we may lose more than we gain by claiming, with Smith, not only that a biblical book’s chronology is important, but that it is ‘vital to … every question of interpretation in the books themselves.’” But what I had in mind includes the following: if we conclude that Paul did not write Ephesians or the Pastoral epistles, the impact on our interpretation of everything in those books seems to me overwhelming. Also, our view on the city from which Paul wrote the “prison epistles,” whether from Ephesus, or from Caesarea, or from Rome, has significant impact on the interpretation of these epistles and their place in the life of the apostle and all the people he mentions in these epistles. Again, if we see the Gospel of Matthew as written by someone other than the apostle Matthew himself — sometime writing late in the first century, someone who did not know Jesus personally and who never heard Him speak or took notes on His sermons — our ideas of the purpose of the book and its interpretation will be very different from someone who approaches the book as I do. And so on.

I do have to agree with Garcia — and I think Porter made the same point — that issues of chronology may not be dealt with often in monographs dedicated to the topic, but New Testament introductions and commentaries on individual books do indeed deal with chronology in detail. Bernier’s point was, I think, that without a discussion of the chronology of all the books of the New Testament, we lack the big picture. So, for example, though his work is limited to the apostle Paul, I find Rainer Riesner’s Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology extremely helpful in ways that general New Testament introductions or introductions to individual letters are not.

Garcia’s question about canonical context is important. James Jordan offers a very general canonical picture when he suggests that the Bible is four testaments, not two. The first testament given at the time of Moses and Joshua would have been the “canon” of Scripture for a few hundred years until another writing prophet, Samuel, was sent by God as an instrument for giving Scripture to His people. David and Solomon continued during the era of the second testament to provide Scripture. But then there was another gap until the writing prophets appeared. And, then, for centuries, the Scriptural canon grew from the time of Isaiah to Malachi. This was followed by another gap of hundreds of years until the testament that we call “new” was given. The Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the Restoration covenant were the covenantal contexts for the first three “testaments.” The New Covenant in Christ is the context for the final covenantal revelation in the testament that we call “new.” Jordan’s suggestions about the canon are typically challenging — must reading for anyone interested in the canon.[20]

I agree wholeheartedly with Garcia that “God has determined to glorify the Son by way of his Spirit-formed Bridal City. Holy Scripture is located within this ultimate ‘eschatological’ purpose of God, its Author, and serves as an instrument to that end, one which takes into the view the needs of the entirety of the people of God who occupy the time between the resurrections.” And it is precisely that conviction that leads me to emphasize AD 70.

Consider: Jesus’ death was obviously incomplete without the resurrection. The resurrection was also — though apparently less obviously so to some — incomplete without Jesus’ ascension, exaltation to the right hand of God, and session. But even Jesus’ exaltation was incomplete without His gift of the Spirit to the church at Pentecost. So, to partially answer Garcia — “I would like to hear more of why Smith connects that new world to AD 70 as he does (p. 12) in comparison with the Apostolic focus on the passion and resurrection/ascension” — the question is: was Pentecost the end of the process? Was there more?

I think Jesus’ Olivet Discourse clearly declares that there had to be more. Jerusalem and the temple had to be judged to vindicate Jesus’ Messianic claims. Remember, after Jesus’ death and even after His resurrection, His disciples continued to worship at the temple. After Pentecost and the Holy Spirit’s work in building a new temple, Jesus’ disciples continued to worship at the temple. All during the years after Jesus’ enthronement, the temple served in a way as the house of the true God. Thus, Jesus own position as Messiah and Lord was ambiguous in the sense that the prophet who was declared a criminal by Jewish and Roman authorities, the prophet who was crucified, the prophet who proclaimed God’s imminent judgment on Israel and the temple was not publicly vindicated. When His prophecy of God’s judgment on Israel was fulfilled in AD 70, Jesus was publicly vindicated. But there is more.

What Jordan and Leithart show in their work on the book of Revelation is that the death of Jesus had to be followed by the deaths of martyr witnesses to His resurrection. The exaltation of the true Bride required the public divorce of the false bride, the harlot who killed Jesus and His prophets and apostles, as Jesus had prophesied: “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, andsome of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” (Matthew 23:34-36).

The suffering of the Bride, the true wife of the crucified One — Jews and Gentiles united in One Body — was necessary for her own initial glorification and vindication in the fulfillment of Jesus’ words of judgment on the false bride. This is indeed interpreting Olivet and Revelation in a specific way in accordance, I think, with what John said when he spoke of things that must soon come to pass. But in so far as Jordan and Leithart are offering an interpretation of Olivet and Revelation that seeks to do justice to the figurative language Jesus and John employ, I do not think they are imposing an extra-Biblical standard on interpretation.

And I agree with Garcia that the Olivet Discourse and its prophecies cannot be limited to the fulfillment in AD 70, just like, for example, the book of Galatians and the controversy about circumcision is still relevant to us now, even though it requires some explanation for Christians in 21st century Japan to see how circumcision is still an important issue!

Thus, even if, in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus had said something like, “The Roman army is going to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple in 40 years!” His words would still be relevant for us because of the reasons for God’s judgment. But Jesus, in the Olivet Discourse and in Revelation, spoke in figurative language that depicts a spiritual warfare that continues to this day. Thus, Garcia’s point — “If this is so, the Discourse’s characterizations of judgment may pertain to AD 70 while also disclosing the reality back of an extended series of such historical judgments, each of which point to the fact of God’s patience as well as the certainty of its end to come.” — is certainly true within my reading as well.

Jeffrey Meyers’ pastoral take on the matter of dating shows how academic matters matter to the members of our congregations. If, for example, the pastoral epistles had not been written by Paul — though they claim to be his and throughout church history before the Enlightenment have been received as his — why should we receive them as authoritative? What are the implications for other New Testament or even Old Testament writings? What about Ephesians? What about Daniel or the books of Moses? Modern scholars might be able to take all kinds of doubt in stride, but skepticism makes a poor foundation for the church of Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:20). That, of course, does not mean we say to our congregations: “Shut up and believe!” Answering skeptics with evidence and rational arguments is essential. Apologetics is commanded in Scripture: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and alwaysbe ready togive a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

Meyer’s quoted an insightful paragraph from N. T. Wright. Now, Stanley Porter’s critique of Wright’s epistemology may well be on the mark,[21] but Wright’s focus on worldview and his interpretation of the Jewish worldview of Jesus’ day is profoundly helpful. As Meyer’s shows, Wright’s understanding of Jesus’ kingdom message opens the way to interpreting many of Jesus’ sayings, especially the Olivet Discourse — arguably Jesus’ most important sermon. Borrowing from Meyers and reiterating the quotation from Wright: “The story of judgment and vindication which Jesus told is very much like the story told by the prophet Jeremiah, invoking the categories of cosmic disaster in order to invest the coming socio-political disaster with its full theological significance.”

Meyers outlines the New Testament’s message of a new creation in the Messiah, a message which could only be vindicated by the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophesy of final judgment on Jerusalem. From AD 70 on, there will be no new temple, no house of God with worship administered by the descendants of Aaron. Yahweh’s presence will never again be especially manifest in Jerusalem. Now, in the world of the new creation, the Father, Son, and Spirit are present and manifest wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus.

To return to the pastoral tone that Meyers introduced, I turned 74 years old on the 23rd of August. In just a few days, on the 5th of September, my wife and I will move out of the parsonage where we have lived for 17 years, longer than any other place we have lived and a beautiful location in Musashino-shi in Tokyo, facing a canal with a street lined on both sides with cherry trees. Sunday, August 27 was the last day I preached as a resident of the parsonage. The passage was Philippians 2:1-4.

Why is that relevant? Because in the book of Philippians, Paul himself is contemplating the fact of dying soon. It must be, I believe, that the two years of waiting in Rome are coming to an end. Paul knows the verdict will be delivered soon. Though he has hope that he will be released and visit Philippi again — contrary to his earlier plans — he cannot be certain (Philippians 1:24-26).

In the process of encouraging the Philippians in their trials, Paul says, “The Lord is at hand.” (Philippians 4:5b). I do not think Paul is talking about Jesus’ omnipresence. Rather, he is referring to the “day of Christ” that he mentioned earlier in the epistle (1:10). Paul knows that the Philippians are facing serious trials of their faith: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me” (Philippians 1:29-30). They will face the same conflict that Paul faced — enemies from without, like the Jews who persecuted him from city to city, but, alas, perhaps also enemies from within, like those in Rome who preached the Gospel from a spirit of envy in order to increase Paul’s troubles (Philippians 1:15-16).

All of this is exactly what Jesus spoke of in the Olivet Discourse. Those who believed in Him would face deceivers and persecution (Matthew 24:5-9). That is terrifying enough in itself. But in that difficult time to come, the greatest danger would be for Jesus’ followers to grow cold and fall away from their love of Christ and His people (24:10, 12). As in the parable of the soils, some who initially hear the word and believe, fall away because of temptation, others because of trials — perhaps some from both together.

At any rate, Paul warns the Philippians about enemies from outside and encourages them that their steadfast stand in trial is a sure sign of salvation for the church and perdition for their enemies (1:27-30). How could this be? He cannot be speaking of something thousands of years away. He is talking about the Philippians standing fast in faith in spite of persecution. That is a sign of their salvation and the destruction of their enemies because tyrants run out of weapons to harm those who are fearless in the face of death — men like Paul who can say, “to die is gain.” The Philippians’ faithfulness in the face of suffering would show to the world that their faith is real, faith that the world cannot conquer.

Also, however, as Jesus warned, when persecution is severe, the test of true Christian faith is not merely an orthodox recital of the creed. In times of persecution, the test of faith is the test of love. Will your love grow cold (Matthew 24:12)? In the final judgment as depicted in the Olivet Discourse, the distinguishing characteristic of the sheep versus the goats is love to brothers in deep trials (Matthew 25:31-46). Paul warns the Philippians against the potential danger of losing love and shows them the way to maintain love and unity in a time of terrible trial (2:1-4). He is not preaching abstract or general truth — though it certainly applies to all Christians in all times and places. Paul is speaking to the immediate needs of the Philippian church, for he knows that the fulfillment of the Olivet prophecy is at hand and that the Philippian church will soon face perilous persecution from both Jerusalem and Rome.

Our churches may not be in a similar situation in terms of facing persecution — though our brothers and sisters in China and Muslim countries do indeed suffer greatly and we should remember them in prayer with Jesus’ words in mind. Whatever our present situation, Paul’s exhortation stands: “Only this: let your conduct as citizens of the kingdom of Christ be worthy of the Gospel!” (1:27).[22] That means, among other things, to imitate the kind of humility we see in Jesus — regarding others as more important than ourselves, just as He did for us (Philippians 2:5-11).

Only that kind of faith can enable the Philippians to endure the trials they will soon face, not merely as individuals, but as a local body of Christians who confess boldly their faith in the crucified One. Whether we face persecution or not, remembering Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and knowing the situation of the Philippian church, including especially the urgency of Paul’s exhortation, is important for us and for our appreciation of the suffering of other Christians who are one with us in the Body of Christ.

Now, in conclusion — before I repeat myself more than I already have — I want to thank Peter Leithart for inviting me to participate in this conversation and to express again my sincere appreciation to the men who were willing to interact with Bernier’s book and my essay.

[1] Jonathan Bernier, Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament (p. 3). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Eta Linnemann would probably answer with an unqualified affirmative! See, Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? (Reflections of a Bultmannian turned Evangelical) (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990).

[3] “Canonical-Critical Perspective and the Relationship of Colossians and Ephesians” Stanley E. Porter and Kent D. Clarke in Biblica, Vol. 78, No. 1 (1997), p. 69.

[4] Vern Poythress, Science and Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988). Also, Redeeming Science: A God Centered Approach (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006).

[5] Though Porter introduces an important one when he refers to the Rylands fragment.

[6] John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), pp. 2-3. Robinson’s work may be slightly dated, and I certainly do not share his theological presuppositions, but his book is a delight to read.

[7] John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark, and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), pp. 230-238.

[8] Concerning presuppositions, by the way, in his critique of Wright’s epistemology (referred to later), Porter referred to Roy Bhaskar, a scholar whose works I have not yet read, though I knew his name. Perusing the contents of his Enlightened Common Sense: The Philosophy of Critical Realism, I realized he is someone that I need to seriously consider — after all, he talks much about presuppositions and a transcendental argument! How can a VanTilian resist? (Though he no doubt uses these words in a different philosophical and theological context from Van Til.)

[9] C. E. B. Cranfield suggests other options as well, but I do not find them persuasive. Cranfield’s preferred approach — “The meaning then is that the signs of the End which Jesus has described in vv. 5-23 will not be confined to a remote future: his hearers must themselves experience them, for they are characteristic of the whole period of the Last Times.” — does not due justice to Jesus’ words, “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” Jesus’ said the generation will not die off before “all these things” that He prophesied “take place.” The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), pp. 408-409. It is true, of course, that Cranfield’s approach is “possible” in the sense that he does not suggest, like Bernier, that Jesus’ made a prophecy which did not come to pass.

[10] https://theopolisinstitute.com/conversations/rethinking-israel/

[11] https://theopolisinstitute.com/conversations/what-is-israels-vocation/

[12] Peter J. Leithart, Revelation 1-11 (London: T & T Clark, 2018), pp. 416-435.

[13] David E. Aune, Word Biblical Commentary, Revelation 1-5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) p. 249.

[14] See, Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, An Exegetical and Historical Argument

for a Pre-A.D. 70 Composition (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), pp. 318-322.

[15] Robinson, Redating the New Testament, pp. 229-230.

[16] Ibid., p. 224.

[17] https://www.proginosko.com/2019/06/van-tilian-or-van-tillian-the-debate-settled/

[18] Like Hitler?

[19] Eric Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), pp. 14-15.

[20] See, James B. Jordan, A Canonical Inquiry: An Investigation of Two Possible Canonical Structures of the Books of the Bible, available for free here: https://app.theopolisinstitute.com/tabs/home/ebooks/11302 See also, https://biblicalhorizons.com/biblical-horizons/no-56-the-production-of-the-new-testament-canon-a-revisionist-suggestion/

[21] Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, “Critical Realism in Context: N.T. Wright’s Historical Method and Analytic Epistemology” in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 13, 2015 (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 2015), pp. 1-31.

[22] Note the translation and exposition in Peter O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).

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