Wednesday, May 25, 2011

DeMar's Last Days Madness... What Did Tertullian Really Say?

When R.C. Sproul came out with his "The Last Days According to Jesus" many mainstream Reformed people all of a sudden became... "partial preterists." I admit, I did buy Sproul's book when it came out, and investigated many of the partial preterist writers. I was never fully persuaded by their argumentation, particularly since post-millenialism appears to be the logical next step. I've been assured by many it's not, but it is odd the leading partial preterist voices are post-millennial.

I like partial preterist Gary DeMar. I have his books, a recording somewhere of him debating Dave Hunt, and I get Gary's perpetual spam email that comes about five times a day.  This morning I pulled out my copy of DeMar's  Last Days Madness (Atlanta: American Vision, 1999).   I read this a long time ago, and haven't thumbed through this book in many years. I flipped open the first page of chapter one and read the following quote from Tertullian:

Dip into any period of history and you will find prophets of all types, from any number of theological traditions, who claimed they knew when the next endtime event would occur. Some have pointed to the rise in apostasy, lawlessness, natural disasters, signs in the heavens, and an increase in rival religions in their day as unmistakable evidence that the end was near for them. Finding hidden meanings in biblical numbers was another favorite pastime that assured the faithful that the end had to be at hand.

In the second century, Tertullian, in Ad Nationes, wrote, "What terrible wars, both foreign and domestic! What pestilences, famines ... and quakings of the earth has history recorded!" Evaluating current events and concluding that they offer "compelling evidence" that Jesus would return soon has been a common practice among prophecy writers.

DeMar then goes on to quote Pope Gregory for further proof that "Last Days Madness" has been around a long time. I was just about to post this Tertullian quote in a comment box on another thread, but decided first to look it up. DeMar actually cites a secondary source for the quote: "Quoted in Carl Olof Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst, The 'Sign' of the Last Days - When? (Atlanta, Ga: Commentary Press, 1987), ix." I'm not about to purchase a copy of this book, particularly since the context for this Tertullian quote isn't all that hard to track down. Read the following Tertullian quote in context, and notice what it actually says. Tertullian states,

Chapter IX.The Christians are Not the Cause of Public Calamities: There Were Such Troubles Before Christianity.

But why should I be astonished at your vain imputations? Under the same natural form, malice and folly have always been associated in one body and growth, and have ever opposed us under the one instigator of error Indeed, I feel no astonishment; and therefore, as it is necessary for my subject, I will enumerate some instances, that you may feel the astonishment by the enumeration of the folly into which you fall, when you insist on our being the causes of every public calamity or injury. If the Tiber has overflowed its banks, if the Nile has remained in its bed, if the sky has been still, or the earth been in commotion, if death has made its devastations, or famine its afflictions, your cry immediately is, “This is the fault of the Christians!” As if they who fear the true God could have to fear a light thing, or at least anything else (than an earthquake or famine, or such visitations). I suppose it is as despisers of your gods that we call down on us these strokes of theirs. As we have remarked already, three hundred years have not yet passed in our existence; but what vast scourges before that time fell on all the world, on its various cities and provinces! what terrible wars, both foreign and domestic! what pestilences, famines, conflagrations, yawnings, and quakings of the earth has history recorded! Where were the Christians, then, when the Roman state furnished so many chronicles of its disasters? Where were the Christians when the islands Hiera, Anaphe, and Delos, and Rhodes, and Cea were desolated with multitudes of men? or, again, when the land mentioned by Plato as larger than Asia or Africa was sunk in the Atlantic Sea? or when fire from heaven overwhelmed Volsinii, and flames from their own mountain consumed Pompeii? when the sea of Corinth was engulphed by an earthquake? when the whole world was destroyed by the deluge? Where then were (I will not say the Christians, who despise your gods, but) your gods themselves, who are proved to be of later origin than that great ruin by the very places and cities in which they were born, sojourned, and were buried, and even those which they founded? For else they would not have remained to the present day, unless they had been more recent than that catastrophe. If you do not care to peruse and reflect upon these testimonies of history, the record of which affects you differently from us,in order 118especially that you may not have to tax your gods with extreme injustice, since they injure even their worshippers on account of their despisers, do you not then prove yourselves to be also in the wrong, when you hold them to be gods, who make no distinction between the deserts of yourselves and profane persons? If, however, as it is now and then very vainly said, you incur the chastisement of your gods because you are too slack in our extirpation, you then have settled the question of their weakness and insignificance; for they would not be angry with you for loitering over our punishment, if they could do anything themselves,—although you admit the same thing indeed in another way, whenever by inflicting punishment on us you seem to be avenging them. If one interest is maintained by another party, that which defends is the greater of the two. What a shame, then, must it be for gods to be defended by a human being!

The way DeMar uses it, one is left the image that Tertullian was commenting on it being the end of the world. Well maybe Tertullian did somewhere else, but he certainly isn't doing it here. In context, the quote refers to calamites that took place before the birth of Christianity. Note the immediate sentence which preceeds the quote DeMar used: "As we have remarked already, three hundred years have not yet passed in our existence; but what vast scourges before that time fell on all the world, on its various cities and provinces!"

I still like Gary DeMar, he makes some good points. But I did find it rather discouraging that the first quote of chapter one was cited out of context.

Gary DeMar uses the Tertullian quote here as well: Billy Graham Association Goes Apocalyptic:

In the second century, Tertullian, in Ad Nationes, wrote, “What terrible wars, both foreign and domestic! What pestilences, famines … and quakings of the earth has history recorded!” Evaluating current events and concluding that they offer “compelling evidence” that Jesus would return soon has been a common practice among prophecy writers. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory assured the world that the return of Christ could not be far off since he claimed that so many prophecies were being fulfilled in his day [ Quoted in Carl Olof Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst, The “Sign” of the Last Days—When? (Atlanta, GA: Commentary Press, 1987), ix].


Ken said...

Good work, James. It is a blessing to have the early church fathers on the web and Google search so we can find these things.

Keep on keeping the Roman Catholics straight on Luther, and the Partial Preterists and Post-mills straight on these issues!

I am glad DeMar took out his terrible take on 2 Peter 3 in the 1999 edition. In an earlier edition, he had an appendix on 2 Peter 3 that even that was 70 AD. he took it out in the 1999 edition. I immediately rejected that interpretation that 2 Peter 3 was about 70 AD.

I also thought Sproul was crazy when he wrote that Matthew 13:38-39 was 70 AD (the end of the Jewish age).

The disciples seem to connect the destruction of the temple with "the end of the age" and "sign of Your coming" in Matthew 24:1-3 - they added those 2 things, but at first Jesus is just talking about the destruction of the temple, which did happen.

So, in His answer, both near fulfillment (70 AD, temple destroyed, Roman armies, etc.) and far fullfillment - 2nd coming are mixed together. Revelation seems to have both interspersed.

the Tertullian quote is interesting for he shows how those things were going on before Christ.

there are some partial preterists who are Amill, like Jay Adams; and there are more and more pre-mills who are seeing the validity and soundness of a lot of what the partial preterists are saying and even they are adjusting their views of matthew 24/mark 13/Revelation - seeing a near fulfillment and far fulfillment. (like Isaiah 7:14)

Ken said...

I looked back at my 1997 edition of Last Days Madness and the appendix 9 on 2 Peter 3 was actually written by David Chilton, who, according to what I remember, became a full preterist (everything happened in 70 AD, even a "spiritual resurrection") right before he died.

James Swan said...


Interesting stuff.

I can appreciate that Gary revises his book. I think Gary makes a lot of good points, even beyond his eschatology.In regard to the partial preterist position, Gary would be my favorite out of the bunch.

As far as I understand the whole movement, I've come across a bunch of people that joined the partial preterist position after it was embraced by Sproul. While I am fond of Dr. Sproul and hold him in very high regard, I jokingly refer to him as the "Protestant pope." Sproul though, at least to my knowledge, doesn't often speak out his shift to the post mil position. There was definite shift though at Ligonier, when it happened. If I get some time later,I'll post a blog on what i'm talking about.

Constantine said...

Hi James,

I guess I'm a little surprised by what seems to be an anti-post-mil bias on your part. And, therefore, would be very interested to read anything that you may have previously written on the topic. Can you post a link, if applicable?

I suppose my surprise springs from the contradiction I sense in your otherwise positive acceptance of Greg Bahnsen's work whereas he was strongly post mil.

Thanks, again, for the good work.


James Swan said...

I may not be post-mil, but I don't have any sort animosity towards post-mil theologians.

I do like Bahnsen, as well as many other post-mil folks. I've not written on eschatolgy, but since the Camping situation is upon us and I've got free time this weak, well, it is what it is.

I'm not excessively dogmatic on end times, other than dispensational theology isn't an option on the playground of reality.

James Swan said...

Somewhere I did a few lectures on end times stuff, if I find them I'll post them.

I do find many post-mil folks producing good work, so please don't think I have any sort of animosity towards those holding that view.