Don’t Argue Someone Into the Wrong Eschatology

My purpose in this post is to emphasize something very important in light of my desire to see Amillennialism and Partial-Preterism more widely accepted, and that is to make sure we don’t lose sight of very important considerations. These considerations are largely summarized by the title of this article. Don’t argue people away from your position. Don’t make people turned off to your position in Eschatology just because you’re passionate about your Eschatological views. More specifically, don’t use bad or subpar arguments and argumentations just to try to caricature the opposite side’s position in order to make yours more palatable.

My concern in discussing Eschatology is the fact that disagreements on this subject can largely get heated and can be largely difficult in general. The difficulty is seen in the fact that there’s so much written on Eschatology and prophecy that it’s hard to weed through all the information in order to get at the heart of what someone else believes and what, ultimately, the Bible says on the subject. Some Christians may have studied Eschatology almost exclusively and have read way too much information on the subject itself and have been convinced of their particular position. The heated attitudes come into play at this point, because people who have studied a position so intently and have become so convinced by it may have a hard time hearing dissents and disagreements from their position. Combined with the fact that people who disagree may not have read as much or may not be as convicted by Eschatology.

Furthermore, someone who has read their own position either exclusively or for the majority of the time may not be aware of other positions. As such those other positions might sound extremely bizarre. Rather than taking the time — on both sides — to see what the other side believes and why there are an immediate disagreement and debate that ensues. And due to the lack of knowledge on the subject and lack of understanding of the other sides outright, blatant misrepresentations can ensue. Combine this with people’s lack of desire to be logical in their argumentation there ends up being numerous fundamental logical fallacies that are often employed. A few of these are:

  • Straw men and caricaturing the other’s position to make it easier to deal with.
  • Drawing arguments to logical conclusions in order to attempt to disprove someone else’s assertions.
  • Look at this scholar and all these people that agree with me.
  • Let’s distract from the real issues that divide us and focus on unrelated things.
  • Also, let’s chase rabbit trails in order to not have to deal with salient features of another’s argument.

These are recipes for disaster among Christians trying to discuss Eschatology with each other when there are definitive disagreements.

To demonstrate this tactic let’s imagine a conversation as follows between an Amillennialist and Premillennialist:

Doug: “Hey Philip, I believe you’re wrong on Amillennialism because we need to interpret the Bible literally and in a Straightforward manner”.

Philip: “How so?”

Doug: “Well, Revelation 20 says that the saints come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years. If we just read Revelation 20 in a straightforward manner, then we would all be Premillennial and believe that we all reign with Christ for a literal one thousand years in Jerusalem.”

Philip: “But the Book of Revelation is Apocalyptic literature, there are symbols all over the place.”

Doug: “That’s true, but a thousand years means a literal thousand years. And you must interpret it that way.”

Philip: “The problem that I have with your assertion is that if I were to read 2 Peter 3 that way, then that passage puts the day of the Lord, the Parousia, after the Millennium because it says that the earth and the heavens will be destroyed on the day of the Lord”.

Doug: “2 Peter 3 doesn’t say that.”

Philip: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” — (2 Peter 3:10 ESV)

Doug: “Philip, you’re reading 2 Peter 3 wrong, the day of the Lord is not a literal, 24 hour period of time.”

Philip: “But, I thought you said that I must interpret the Bible literally? So how is a day not a 24 hour period of time?”

Doug: “Because the context of 2nd Peter says, ‘a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day’. So Peter defined a day as a thousand years.”

Philip: “But Peter said that to refute the scoffers who deny Christ’s Parousia. Peter said that the delay before the day of the Lord doesn’t mean He’s not coming. Christ isn’t slow to fulfill the promise of His coming because the waiting period before He comes isn’t significant to Christ, He could wait a day or He could wait a thousand years before coming. In other words, He will fulfill the promise of His coming, but He’s being patient towards the elect, waiting for them to come to repentance. Regardless, however, you said that we need to interpret the Bible literally, and yet you’re not interpreting a day as a literal day. Doug, are Daniels 70 weeks literally weeks?”

Doug: “Of course Daniels weeks are not literal, the 70 weeks are symbolic of 490 years. However, you also have to take into consideration the fact that the context of Daniel chapter 9 puts the last week, the seventieth week, at the end of history.”

Philip: “So the 70 weeks of Daniel are actually 483 years, then 2000+ years, then a last 7 years at the end of all time?”

Doug: “Right.”

Philip: “70 weeks are not literally 70 weeks?”

Doug: “Correct.”

Philip: “But a thousand years are definitely a literal thousand years?”

Doug: “Right, we must interpret the Bible literally.”

Doug and Philip are at an impasse. Doug’s argument against Philip on the Millennium was raised on the basis of hermeneutics. Doug was criticizing Philip for thinking that Revelation 20’s Millennium was symbolic, not referring to a literal passage of time. Doug believes that we should interpret the Bible literally. Philip raised the issue, however, that Revelation is full of symbols. Philip then decided to turn to passages that were similar contexts. He went to a different genre of literature, even, with 2nd Peter 3 where Doug’s hermeneutical criteria are normally found, didactic literature.

Philip caught Doug in an inconsistency, Doug was demanding — even in the midst of symbolic literature — to interpret a period of time literally. But when Philip brought up other periods of time from other eschatological passages, Doug demanded that those passages of time be interpreted symbolically.

The Amillennialist has a very important, and the often neglected point here. There are several passages, including timeframe references, that no one interprets literally, Amillennialists and Premillennialists alike. John MacArthur emphasizes how Daniel’s 70 weeks are not actually weeks,

The “weeks” Daniel speaks of are actually seven-year periods. (The Hebrew word is literally “sevens.”) Notice that Daniel says sixty-nine (seven plus sixty-two) of these seven-year periods (or 483 years) would elapse “from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince.”

— MacArthur, John (2006–01–09). The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age (p. 77). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

MacArthur continues with the understanding that the seventieth week happens way, way after the other 69 weeks,

Remember, however, that Daniel’s prophecy covered seventy weeks (9: 24). When does the seventieth week occur? Daniel recounts all seventy weeks without mentioning any gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. In the sixty-ninth week, Messiah is “cut off” (v. 26). In the seventieth week, an evil “prince who is to come” makes a covenant, then interrupts the week with an act of abomination. This appears to be another instance where Old Testament prophecy juxtaposes near and far events. The sixty-nine weeks obviously began with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and continued uninterrupted until Messiah was “cut off.” But when we compare Daniel’s description of the seventieth week with Christ’s words in the Olivet Discourse, we discover that these passages actually refer to the same eschatalogical end-time period. In other words, Daniel’s seventieth week is the Tribulation period Christ referred to. It belongs to the end of the age.

—Ibid (p. 77–78).

The only point of disagreement that I have is separating the seventieth week from the other 69. Certainly, MacArthur is right that it is exactly what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse that His disciples would see the Abomination of Desolation, spoken of by Daniel, but the end of the age and the Abomination of Desolation would happen during His audience’s lifetime (c.f. Matt. 24:15, 34). Thus, there’s “literally” no reason to believe that the seventieth week happens thousands and thousands of years removed.

Dr. MacArthur attempts to avoid the obvious conclusion of having demanded literal interpretation creating an inconsistency elsewhere when he tries to merge his view with that of a symbolic interpretation in the Olivet Discourse,

Most would agree there is a degree of symbolism in Matthew 24: 29. Almost no one expects the stars to fall to earth literally. It’s possible, too, that the sun might not be extinguished literally; rather, the sun’s light could simply be partly or totally obscured from the earth (cf. Ezek. 32: 7). So I agree that wooden literalism is not necessary to get the right sense of Jesus’ words.

— Ibid (p. 114).

MacArthur doesn’t totally come out and say that the Day of the Lord isn’t a literal, twenty-four hour periods, but he certainly alludes to it in a footnote

8. I’m aware, of course, that Peter cited this very passage in his Pentecost sermon and implied that verse 28 (“ I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions”) was fulfilled in some sense by the events at Pentecost. Looking at the broad context of Joel, it is clear that Joel is prophesying about the catastrophes associated with the Day of the Lord (2: 1). It is equally clear that the apostle Peter regarded the Day of the Lord as something yet future (2 Pet. 3: 10). So Peter could not have been declaring every aspect of Joel’s prophecy fulfilled. When he cited this passage at Pentecost, he was obviously making reference to the outpouring of the Spirit in particular, and he probably meant merely that Pentecost was a preview of the Day-of-the-Lord outpouring.

Ibid, (pp. 219–220).

The fact is, that if Joel’s “day of the Lord” wasn’t literally or totally fulfilled at Pentecost then the day of the Lord can’t be literally a day. Even if one asserts “prophetic perspective” it still lends credence to the notion that the day of the Lord isn’t literally a day.

MacArthur further precipitates the issue by railing against Preterism. In order to do this, MacArthur asserts that in Matthew 24:34, Jesus couldn’t be literally talking about the generation to whom He was actually talking to,

But the reasonable mind quickly sees the folly of having to allegorize so many passages of Scripture just for the sake of interpreting one verse (v. 34) with such rigid literalism. It is simply not necessary to insist that Christ meant that all the Olivet Discourse signs must be fulfilled in that current generation.

—Ibid, (p. 125).

Is it reasonably minded to suggest that the Millennium must be literal but a generation cannot be?

Matt Waymeyer, also, attempts to literally tackle the issue of the day of the Lord in his attempt to refute Amillennialism’s two-age model,

There are three primary ways that premillennialists have responded to this argument. The first and most common response is that the Day of the Lord is an extended period of time that includes the coming of Christ, His millennial reign, the final judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and new earth.

— Waymeyer, Matt (2016–10–12). Amillennialism and the Age to Come: A Premillennial Critique of the Two-Age Model (Kindle Locations 3348–3350). Kress Biblical Resources. Kindle Edition.

In the same section, he argues other views, one of which he states is very similar to this view. In other words, he holds to the fact that the “day of the Lord” isn’t really a day.

Waymeyer doesn’t realize the incongruousness of his level of argumentation in favor of a non-literal interpretation of the day of the Lord and literal interpretation of a thousand years,

In contrast, the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 meets none of the proposed criteria. First, there is nothing absurd or unintelligible about the literal interpretation of the thousand years that compels the interpreter to seek something other than the literal meaning. In fact, if God had wanted to communicate that the imprisonment of Satan and reign of Christ would last for a literal thousand years, how else could He have done it? What else could He have said? Using the number one thousand was the only option available.

— Ibid, (Kindle Locations 6713–6716).

This very same argument is self-refuting for Waymeyer. In other words, we could use it against him on the day of the Lord. Picture this, there is nothing absurd or unintelligible about the literal interpretation of a day that compels the interpreter to seek something other than the literal meaning. In fact, if God wanted to communicate the day of the Lord would last for a literal day, how else could He have done it? What else could he have said? Using the word “day” was the only option available.

Certainly, we can see the need to step up the argumentation. I hope to have more demonstrates the issues of Premillennial argumentation in future posts. But suffice it to say we need to supply our brothers and sisters with a challenge to grow in the way they interact with Amillennialism. Here are my proposed challenges to our brothers and sisters on the other side of the aisle:

  • It must be proven that every timeframe reference in eschatological literature must be interpreted literally in order for the Amillennialist to reject the idea of a figurative Millennium.
  • It must be proven that every use of numbers in the book of Revelation is always literal, in spite of the apocalyptic genre of the book.
  • There must be a contextually defined marker or clue that indicates when a prophetic author switches between a literal timeframe reference or a figurative timeframe reference.

If one or more of the above criteria is proven true then Amillennialism crumbles. And the above criteria cannot prove true by mere assertions, “clearly it’s literal” or “it’s literal because I said you’re supposed to interpret it literally”. And we can’t understand literal use by, “clearly this event hasn’t been fulfilled”. Because the only thing that events within a prophecy prove is scope or fact of what is to be fulfilled or the limitations of the interpreter to comprehend when or how an event is to be fulfilled. There must a demonstration of timeframe references referring to specifically literal fulfillments always or there needs to be the absolute absence of explicitly stated timeframe references.

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