A House Divided

    In our last article, we pointed out a grave dilemma of the Hyper-Preterist system of interpretation. It is one upon which their whole scheme is based: namely, that the New Testament canon of Scripture is no longer current. In order to get at the real truths of our faith, Scripture itself is not enough. We need help from the history books– preferably Josephus. Thus, according to this theory, Scripture doesn’t actually interpret Scripture. History interprets Scripture. Or, to put it more accurately, once upon a time Scripture did interpret Scripture. But that state of things ended in A.D. 70.

   For some reason this strange notion has taken hold of those who claim to be zealous advocates of Sola (or Solo) Scriptura. One man has even (mistakenly) called his website “Purely Biblical.” Hyper-Preterism has also gained numerous adherents within the “Church of Christ“– a group which claims the New Testament as its “sole rule of faith and practice in deciding matters of doctrine and ecclesiastical structure.” Now, I ask if it is possible to come to Full Preterist conclusions without supplementing the Bible with history and tradition. There is no way I can logically verify any of their doctrines by using the Bible alone.

   I suppose that Christians who don’t have the benefit of a historical education will never know the real truths of the Christian faith. That is too bad, for Protestant interpreters have generally felt Scripture to be sufficient. If their notion is mistaken, then we know not where to find the truths of Christianity. It must be in the mouths of interpreters– but only those who are really good historians. As you can see, all of this confusion arises from the canonicity issue. The Full Preterists claim that we are dealing with a canon that expired in A.D. 70. Or, if it didn’t expire, it no longer has any direct applicability– which practically means the same thing.

   According to Hyper-Preterists, we must filter the Scriptures through what we suppose happened in A.D. 70. And the results of the filtration vary wildly according to each interpreter. The prevailing notion of historical supplement has become so ingrained, that in many cases, students maintain that Revelation can only be interpreted with help from Josephus. Why not just join the Catholic church, and keep adding to the Word of God as the years roll on? Really, it seems Catholics have as much reasonable grounds for their theories as the Full Preterists have for theirs. And the Catholics claim the benefits of Divine inspiration.

   Now, Hyper-Preterists affirm that Divine inspiration ended in A.D. 70. And yet, after investigating their views, one must ask: how can they prove anything? For, if the key to a proper interpretation lies outside the Scriptures, one’s conclusions have no authority back of them, and therefore cannot be verified. They are backed entirely by extra-Biblical reference– which practically amounts to no authority at all. So, unless the F.P. teachers start claiming some Divine inspiration, they are building on a foundation of sand. Everyone knows that houses built on sand have a tendency to fall down and kill everyone living inside them. My advice would be to leave the house before it is too late. But, you see, there are always people that happen to know better.

     Months ago I wrote an article called Gospel Revisionism: Beware! My main complaint at that time was the lack of historical support for the teachings of Full Preterists. This is still a very valid concern, and I’ll continue to push it for all it’s worth. Roderick Edwards, now an ex-Full Preterist, has also identified this enormous discrepancy. In his new article, The Faulty Foundation of Full Preterism, he writes: “FP is not only outside the pre-Reformation historic Christian faith, even the Reformation did not advocate no more creeds & no more confessions. Only the true heretics appeal to Scripture without creed or confession, in by so doing they can twist the Scriptures to their private interpretation to mean anything they desire.” 

    His conclusions are valid. We must recognize, that if historic continuity of the faith isn’t valid, then the continued presence of Christ’s church in the world since A.D. 70 is doubtful, to say the least. While mere historical support does not “prove” the validity of our doctrine, historic continuity identifies us as belonging to the church founded by Christ and His apostles. For obvious reasons, this continuity must have its source in the original constitution of the church. Any doctrine, therefore, that is not essentially apostolic must be false. For, if the tree was planted in the First Century, it is not possible that it should bear divers kinds of fruit. The fruit must be uniform throughout all ages of history.  Viewed in this light, continuity may be seen as one of the essential corollaries of the church’s presence among men.

   Because of their denial of this principle, however, Hyper-Preterists have left the solid ground of orthodoxy, and headed into the treacherous swamps of confusion and error. They claim that in order to understand what the Bible really means, one must pass all Scripture through a filter, using a process of deductive logic and reasoning. However, it is not the filter alone that matters, but how one uses it. It is not the “A.D. 70” clause alone which is needed, but a correct a priori system of reasoning. Yet what is the proper train of reasoning? What is the true method? This they cannot tell us. And here is where the F.P. system breaks down. Dozens of “interpreters” are offering us completely different views. How can I find out who is right and who is wrong?

   My first impulse is to fall back on the words of Christ and His holy apostles. But the Full Preterists tell me that many of these words expired in A.D. 70. So, I am forced to sift through the Scriptures and figure out what “applies” and what doesn’t. Of course, this method would seem, on its face, to be false. Nevertheless, according to Full Preterism there is no way I can even be assured of that. In short, I can’t get any handhold on the truth, for I no longer know what Scripture “applies” to the church, and what to the “first century saints.” The confusion arises from the mistaken notion that the saints of the first century belonged to a ‘church’ different from that of today. Such an idea is foreign to New Testament teaching.  There can only be “one faith” and “one body” (Ephesians 4: 4-5).

   Meanwhile, what are the real implications of the Preterist theories? Well, the truth is no longer clearly defined, but obscure and elusive. And this is the “faith” upon which Full-Preterists expect us to build. Basically, the F.P’s require us to believe that Christ and the apostles, after going through the work of establishing a church “protected from every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4: 14), and ordained to continue “throughout all ages” (Eph. 3: 21), forgot to tell the saints that its doctrinal charter was only good for a few years. We must now use deductive reasoning to come to the truth– but without any really accurate way of arriving there.

   Obviously, such a notion is absurd, and would be almost laughable if it weren’t taken seriously. When earnestly believed, however, it forms a real danger to the faith. Wherefore Todd Dennis has correctly identified it as “toxic theology.” If we should accept the Full Preterist theories of interpretation, to what lengths will our theological ‘suppositions’ lead us? Anywhere, I suppose. Without Divine inspiration, my theory is just as good as yours. If our theories depend on extra-Biblical sources, we can no longer “prove” anything, but must rely on logical persuasion alone. This makes our faith to stand, not in the power of God, but in the wisdom of men. If we were allowed to use “proof texts” (as Christ and His Holy Apostles did) we might get somewhere. But the Full Preterists inform us that this Biblically-sanctioned method is “exegetically lazy and intellectually dishonest.” As you see, even honesty is acquiring new definitions!

   Now, reasoning a priori has its drawbacks. For when your logical method is deductive, you must reason from cause to effect. This means that you start with an assumption, and trace it back to its logical conclusion. But in a deductive process, you make your assumption control the actual evidence. This evidence can only be learnt through induction: “precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28: 10). The deductive (a priori) method disdains such a process. However, if your anticipations are false, your conclusions cannot be sound. This is why such a great discrepancy exists between Preterism and New Testament teaching.

   In essence, Hyper-Preterism exemplifies one of the prevailing logical errors that prevent a student from conducting a true method of investigation. Francis Bacon writes: “The human understanding, when any proposition has once been laid down, forces everything else to add fresh support and confirmation; and although most cogent and abundant instances may exist to the contrary, yet either does not observe or despises them, or gets rid of and rejects them by some distinction, with violent and injurious prejudice, rather than sacrifice the authority of its first conclusions.” [Novum Organon i.46]. Hence, according to the F.P. method, timing is made to determine nature, and all the evidence which disproves its theories are cast aside, rejected, or ignored.

   I think it is at this point that the student must pause, take a deep breath, go back and see where he went off the rails. If there is confusion in the House of God let us be assured that its cause may be traced to ourselves.  There can be no firm faith in anything unless we have– 1): a valid field of research, which implies a current canon.  2): An exegetical method that affords us some accuracy in our results.  Canonicity is the main thing.  We must perceive that the New Testament canon is still current. By “still current” I mean that it has direct applicability for all ages of the Christian church. If otherwise, the church has no guide by which to steer.

   Let us ask whether we really believe that Scripture interprets Scripture. If we are going to let history interpret Scripture, why stop at A.D. 70? Why not let current events influence our exegetical views? Also, if we’re going to use history, what grounds are there for making even that our limitation? Suppose I have a hankering for Wordsworth’s metaphysical speculations. Can’t I use those as well? Really, if we’re going to stand outside of the Bible, what may we not use to interpret the Bible?

   It is fair to say, at this point, that Full Preterism is a product of nineteenth century Rationalism. It is very revealing that nobody has been able to trace Full Preterism prior to Hosea Ballou’s time. Now Ballou was a rationalist. Perhaps the most significant piece of rationalism of that period is Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. This was published around 1796, roughly eight years before Ballou’s Notes on the Parables (1804). It is said that Paine “neatly dissected the Bible, to the horror of the pious.” While his conclusions were not taken up by the Preterist writers, the same spirit governs their interpretation. It requires– it demands– the use of extra-Biblical references; and such references are what really governs the meaning of the text. The result? Interpretation isn’t controlled by the tenets of Christian theology, but by the individual. And the individual must stand outside the Scriptures before he can even get at the truths of Christianity.

   But no theory is acceptable without Biblical authority. And Full Preterism has none at all. The grim simplicity of this sickly error really manifests itself as a work of Satan. Those who get rid of it will be doing themselves a great benefit. But to those who continue herein, I think time and the Holy Spirit will write “Mene Mene Tekel” to their tale.

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