Religion in Society

Answering 2 Objections that Jesus Was a Failed Apocalyptic Prophet

| by John W Loftus
Two objections to my chapter 12 in The Christian Delusion have surfaced. You can read a summary of it right here, but keep in mind that dealing with a summary of a chapter is not dealing with the case I present in that chapter. Let me answer these two objections.

In the comments to this post Bogdan wrote:

John, What is your best response to someone whom says that Jesus did not preach the imminence of the end times because in Mark 13:10 He points out that the gospel has to be preached to all the nations first. This idea is repeated in the other synoptics as well.

My response:

Bogdan, Mark's gospel was probably written just after the destruction of Jerusalem to assure Gentile believers in the Roman world that the eschaton was to arrive shortly. According to the NT Paul was dead by this time and he had already preached to the nations. Regardless, Mark thought the eschaton was to appear in his generation so missionary efforts must have been in full swing. Many scholars think the author was one of them and that he wrote his gospel from Rome, so the preaching to all nations was nearly complete by the time he wrote.

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But Jesus never actually said this. The gospel authors regularly re-wrote episodes in the life of Jesus to help the church in its ongoing mission. Mark's gospel was a deliberate attempt to re-assure Gentile believers after the destruction of Jerusalem that the time was nearer than ever before.

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Another objection can be seen here:

Loftus provides examples where later Christians apparently took the apocalyptic language of Jesus literally as opposed to metaphorically as N.T. Wright does in Jesus and the Victory of God. It would have been nice to hear Loftus’ explanation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” Apparently the Thessalonians thought the day of the Lord could arrive without cosmic signs.

My response:

2nd Thessalonians is a late 1st century document (or early 2nd second), and some in the church (how many we just don’t know) sought to explain away this failed prophecy by claiming Jesus had returned. But then there were Christians in Corinth who did not believe in a resurrection too (I Corinthians 15). The fact is that Christianity from the beginning had a wide assortment of opinions, which proves David Eller’s point in chapter one of TCD. This says nothing about what came to be orthodoxy and 2 Thessalonians emphatically denied what these minority voices were saying. Who knows exactly what they thought about this event? For all we know they were Gnostics who believed Jesus came back spiritually like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Besides, as I showed in my chapter the overwhelming dominant opinion was that at the eschaton there would be a cataclysmic upheaval. An exception like this cannot overcome what is clearly the rule.

In my chapter I recommended Edward Adam’s book Stars Will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe in the New Testament and Its World. I have it. You should get it at the library. It is a systematic and thorough refutation of N.T. Wright, the likes of which there can be no effective answer. So before you pronounce my chapter ineffective read his book. Until then, you have not researched into the topic enough to say it isn’t.