The Last Days Part 2
When we consider the list of biblical passages from the previous article in this series, it is evident each of the passages displays a belief that the people then living were in the last days and for them the end was near at hand. At first glance this may not seem to pose a problem. However, it does force us to make a decision; did the writers of the new testament believe a physical second coming was going to take place in their lifetime (or soon after) or did they use language that seemed to say one thing but really meant something else. Or, did the "last days" language refer to something other than a physical second coming of Jesus Christ, some event that truly was close at hand?
There are those who claim the writers of the new testament were simply mistaken in their opinions about the timing of the second coming and so told their original readers the end was close at hand. After all, Paul does say "the ends of the ages" had come upon him and his first century readers.
Yet, if Paul was confused about the timing of the second coming and his mistaken opinion is recorded for us as Scripture, we must ask ourselves, where else is Paul mistaken? How do we know where the error ends and the real word of God begins? In truth if we accept this "mistake" approach, we leave ourselves with no sure Word at all and we are brought face to face with the specter of our entire religion being in vain.
Of course, we must completely reject the idea that any part of the Bible is in error, or records the mistaken opinions of any writer as a part of the Bible’s teaching, rendering it incorrect in fact or doctrine. Certainly there are portions of the Bible that chronicle or describe the error or confusion of the disciples for instance. But this is vastly different from the claim that the Bible has intrinsic error. What the Bible does is tell us about the erroneous belief of certain persons, but always with an eye toward illustrating the contrasting correct belief. For example, Peter’s ungodly views about the place of the Gentile in God’s scheme of things is recorded for our instruction (Acts 10). We plainly see that Peter was wrong and we also see how God showed him his error and brought about a change in Peter’s understanding. The key here is this: what is being conveyed to the reader? Is the reader left with a wrong impression, or does he understand that Jesus died for the Gentile as well as for the Jew? Obviously the reader is made to understand that Peter was wrong in his exclusiveness. His error is presented, examined and corrected for our instruction. His error was not overlooked and made an intrinsic part of the Bible’s teaching that would require esoteric knowledge in order to rectify.
So then, if Peter was wrong when he told his contemporaries that "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Peter 4:7), we should expect to find a correction at some point. It is not enough to say the passage of time has been the corrective. If that is so then the Christians who originally received the letter where actually in possession of Scripture that was in error - if in fact Peter did believe a physical second coming of Jesus would take place in his life time or soon after. In other words, if Peter was wrong, then the text must also contain an acknowledgment of that error and a correction in order for the integrity of the Scripture to remain intact. Since there is no such acknowledgment nor correction, we must abandon the idea that Peter believed a physical second coming of Christ would take place in his lifetime (or soon after), as we must do with the last days passages of the other new testament writers as well. Which leads us to take up another possibility in the next article.
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