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A Refutation of Preterism: Second Peter, Chapter 3

By Stanley C. Phillips
2003

With the advent of the Internet, the preterists' view of eschatology (last times) has taken on an organized, consistent, and evangelical nature. Heretofore, elements of the system were scattered, and most often incoherent. But today, it has evolved into a very subtle, coherent, and well-defined system of theology. For a Bible believer, this should not be surprising, for it was prophesied for the "last days."

Interestingly, some preterists refer to their theological position as "fulfilled eschatology." One finds this in literature offered on the Internet, but the term is a synonym to preterism. But, while stating that their position is that all the prophecies of end times were fulfilled in a.d. 70, there is at least one that is now being fulfilled. And this one is the rise of preterism itself in the last day. This prophecy is found in the very text the preterists use as a fundamental principle of their theology: 2 Peter 3. Let us, then, look at this prophecy.

"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation" (2 Peter 3:4). In the next verse, many preterists interpret the "heavens and earth", which they called the "old Heavens and old earth", to be the legal dispensation under the Jewish religion, which, they imagined, ended with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in a.d. 69-70, by the Roman general, Titus. By making this application, they then interpret the "new heavens and new earth" to be the gospel church age, or Christ' kingdom, which they say, was set up at the end of the legal dispensation - or that is, after a.d. 70. (Some set the date at Pentecost, some thirty-six years before the end of the legal dispensation. These have both dispensations co-existing for one whole generation. Others are aware of this problem and reject this date).

But, did Peter mean the legal dispensation that was shattered badly by the destruction of the temple worship of the Jews, or did he mean what is much more plainly stated by him as being the old heavens and old earth? Let us read:

"For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth STANDING OUT OF WATER: whereby the WORLD THAT THEN WAS, BEING OVERFLOWED WITH WATER, PERISHED. But the heavens and the earth, which now are, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (verses 5-8).

One would say: "This is plain enough." But to the preterists, it isn't that plain at all. Forget the "standing out of water" and substitute "multitudes" for "waters"; substitute the "world that then was" with the "Jewish religious system"; and substitute the "fire against the day of judgment" with the flames that destroyed the temple and much of the city of Jerusalem, and you have one of the foundations of preterism. If one does that substituting, then one destroys the next verse, and it too, must be modified accordingly. "But the day of the Lord will come." Preterists say it has already come in 70 a.d. Other Christians say it has not. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (verse10). Again, it sounds simple enough. But don't expect the preterists to see it as you do. To them, that is not the general conflagration of the universe. They do not see an "s" on the "heavens". Some of them say this is the "Jewish heaven" that Titus destroyed. Traditional Christians understand these "heavens" to include the 1st heaven of the earth's atmosphere and the starry heavens of the expanse universe that will be destroyed at Christ coming at the end of the actual world.

Since the Greek word for "elements" has multiple meanings, the preterists often select their choice, and reject the English translators' choice. The word stoicheion means "orderly arrangement" as does the word cosmos or "world", or a serial fundamental. It can also mean "element, principle, or rudiment."

"Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (verse 12-13). Again, it sound pretty straightforward; but not to the preterists. According to them, since Peter was writing this before the temple was destroyed, he was speaking of "that world," and he and those to whom he was writing were waiting for the "new heaven and new earth," or the "kingdom of God." The basic problem with that view here rest in the fact that the kingdom of God had already come, and it had already been endued with "power from on high" on the day of Pentecost, some 30 plus years earlier. They could not, when Peter was writing, still be looking forward to that which they already had!

"Looking for new heaven and a new earth" cannot be meant figuratively, as to a world yet to come in distinction from the Jewish world or state. This is because a new church-state, the gospel dispensation, with all its ordinances - baptism, Lord's supper, feet-washing, etc. was already then in existence; and for the church, all the legal ceremonies and ordinances of the old dispensation were already gone. What the preterists claim were yet in store as to the time Peter is writing, had in fact, already been established a generation earlier! Since it cannot be taken figuratively, it remains to be taken literally. It is in that manner traditional Christians take it. It must be taken literally as in every passage in the context.

The old heavens and old earth were literally destroyed by water. Some argue that only the earth was, but we dispute this for a very important reason. In the original creation, the Lord God separated the waters beneath from the waters above, and placed a firmament between the two waters. He called that firmament "heaven". In that heaven, or firmament, He placed the sun, moon, and stars. That placed waters above the sun, moon, and stars, and waters beneath them. The dry land appeared, which He called "earth." In the flood, the fountains of the deep - waters below - broke forth, and the waters above the "firmament" - or starry heavens - fell. Thus, both heavens and earth that "then was" were destroyed, and those therein (except Noah and his family) perished. In like manner, Peter teaches us with that lesson, or example, that the present heavens and earth that remained after the deluge are also held in store to be destroyed. They will not be destroyed by water, for God made a covenant that this would never be done again. But it is to be destroyed by fiery fervent heat.

The saints in all ages, except the preterists, look for a new heavens and new earth, refined and purged from the curse placed upon it after Adam's fall. They look for it in hope and expectation, knowing that He that has promise is able to do it. They look for such heavens and earth that ONLY RIGHTEOUSNESS exists. This cannot be said of the Church, or kingdom of God on earth at this time. This kingdom has vines that must be pruned; problems that must be resolved; order that must be established and vigilantly maintained; doctrines along side of heresies; pain and sufferings that yet perplex the saints. But, they look for one wherein dwelleth righteousness, and it still, as of 2003-4, still is "yet to come," for it certainly has not yet come in its expected purity and glory.

The apostle, John, was still living in a.d. 70. Tradition has his death about a.d. 110. Polycarp, who was martyred in Rome, said in his epistle, that John baptized him on December 25, a.d. 95. When John wrote Revelations is nowhere recorded, so preterists are at the same disadvantage as the rest of us. The church to which John wrote were under persecution, and the Domitian persecutions were between a.d. 51-96. The three Epistles of John are thought to have been written between a.d. 85-90, which was after the destruction of the temple by Titus. It defies reason to believe John would not have corrected his views if time events had made the earlier views obsolete.

In Revelations 21, he addresses the subject of "the new heaven and new earth." He noted that "I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, AND THERE WAS NO MORE SEA." There is no doubt that there should be no more sea in the new heaven and new earth; yet he made it a significant point that there was "no more sea" as there was in the old ones. In this, he and Peter are in full agreement. That implies there was a sea in the first, and there was!

This new heaven and new earth was altogether different from the present kingdom of God on earth, or the present church. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for THE FORMER THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY" (Revelation 21:4). If anyone today thinks that in this present kingdom of God on earth, or in the church of God below, that these things do not exist, then they have been especially blessed not to see church divisions, doctrinal conflicts, or the general great falling away; or else, they have had no love or deep concern for their brethren under such duress.

There is little doubt in this writer's mind that the issue of the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the saints, and their glorification in ages to come, is of paramount importance. The apostles put great emphasis upon the subject, and Paul made it the central theme of the gospel he preached. It seems strange to this writer that since the Scriptures were written particularly for the church's instruction, that their fulfillment would be left hidden form the church for nearly two thousand years of church history, and only revealed to the first century believers - or even less - about one third of them. It is equally strange to believe such a historical event of this magnitude could take place, and there be no historical evidence to support it. Surely John, Josephus, and General Titus would have done a better job in reporting those events. John may not have been living in Jerusalem at the time, since he was in the church of Ephesus; but Titus and Josephus were eyewitnesses of the city's destruction. And not a word is found in their works that indicate the second coming of Christ. It may be possible that much of what Jesus said was not recorded, or not placed in the same chronological order in which He spoke them. John says: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" (John 21:25).

   

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Date:
10 Oct 2003
Time:
05:59:40

Comments

"Jesus therefore said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day'" (John 6:53-54). This seems "plain enough" to me. Gary DeMar


Date:
10 Oct 2003
Time:
15:38:31

Comments

I wonder if Mr. Philips thinks that the mountains and hills were all levelled "literally" when John the Baptist appeared on the scene (Isaiah 40:3-5; Luke 3:1-6). If not, I suppose he believes that the Holy Spirit doesn't know how to properly handle the word of God. I guess Jesus and Gabriel were wrong about the John the Baptist being Elijah, since there are still parents who hate their children and children who hate their parents (Malachi 4:5, 6; Matthew 17:10-13; Luke 1:5-25). Who are we to trust, the interpretative methodologies of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and Gabriel, or those of Mr. Philips? I'll stick with the Spirit of God, His Word, and His messenger. Kenneth Perkins


Date:
11 Oct 2003
Time:
05:37:40

Comments

The preterist God did what he sais he was going to do when he said he was going to do it. He triumphed magnificiently. The futurist god failed to acomplish his mission and went back to his father bloodied and beaten for he failed misserably.


Date:
11 Oct 2003
Time:
18:31:34

Comments

"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation" (2 Peter 3:4). It is incredible to me that anybody would try to use this scripture against preterists. It is futurists who say that all things continue as they were. Preterists say that the kingdom of God has broken into this world with full power in ad 70 ( Mark 9:1). Duncan McKenzie


Date:
13 Oct 2003
Time:
13:34:12

Comments

I would like to know what the author of this article may have considered about the resurrection.======== Have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob been raised from the dead? David?=========When?--student101


Date:
14 Oct 2003
Time:
05:25:35

Comments

The context of 2 Peter, chapter 3 is 2 Peter, chapter 2. The "scoffers in the last days" of chapter 3 are the same false teachers that Peter confirmed were present then, in chapter 2. I find it almost laughable that some critics would stoop to this level, ignoring all Biblical hermeneutics, simply to condemn preterism. Mr. Phillips would do well to read all of 2 Peter in context. Seriously, if you just read chapters 2 and 3 without prejudice, the meaning is very plain.


Date:
12 Dec 2003
Time:
13:19:28

Comments

Mr. Phillips You can believe what you want to believe but you don't have to live like a refugee. Oh my God I quoted Tom Petty a Rock star, what is this world coming to. Mr. Philips it is never wrong to accept a piece of fruit it is only wrong to accept it without determining if it is real. Obviously you have swallowed the fruit of Dispensationalism whole without seriously ivestigating the facts from a Biblical or historical perspective. A Brother in Christ Jesus is Lord


Date:
12 Dec 2003
Time:
13:20:04

Comments

Mr. Phillips You can believe what you want to believe but you don't have to live like a refugee. Oh my God I quoted Tom Petty a Rock star, what is this world coming to. Mr. Philips it is never wrong to accept a piece of fruit it is only wrong to accept it without determining if it is real or not. Obviously you have swallowed the fruit of Dispensationalism whole without seriously ivestigating the facts from a Biblical or historical perspective. A Brother in Christ Jesus is Lord


Date:
13 Dec 2003
Time:
14:08:33

Comments

Tom Petty? Are you kidding me, that's too funny. It seems to me that futurist are guilty of ignoring the following facts: 1. The end of all things was near. ( 1Peter 4:5,7, 12-18; 1:5,20; 1John 2:18; James 5:9) Remember, Peter is building on his first letter in which he said that God was ready to judge the living and the dead and that the end of all things is near. 2. First century scoffers in the last days. (2Peter 2:13; Jude 12,17-18) These scoffers were contemporaries of Peter (v. 5 is present tense).What were these scoffers scoffing about? Was Peter mistaken about the "nearness" of God's judgment? Even worse, was Jesus mistaken about the timing of his coming? The only solution to non-fulfillment is fulfillment. The Church has not successfully answered these questions exegetically. 3. Old Testament usage of "heavens and earth". (Isaiah 51:15-16; Haggai 2:6,20-22; Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 12:25-29)John Brown (17841858), commenting on Matthew 5:18, says "A person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures, knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens." John Lightfoot applies the phrase the "passing away of heaven and earth" to the "destruction of Jerusalem and the whole Jewish state as if the whole frame of this world were to be dissolved." John Owen on Isa 51:15,16) "The time when the work here mentioned, of planting the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth, was performed by God, was when he "divided the sea" (Isa. 51:15), and gave the law (v. 16), and said to Zion, "Thou art my people" - that is, when he took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a church and state. Then he planted the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth - made the new world; that is, brought forth order, and government, and beauty, from the confusion wherein before they were. This is the planting of the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth in the world. And hence it is, that when mention is made of the destruction of a state and government, it is in that language that seems to set forth the end of the world. It is evident then, that, in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by "heavens" and "earth," the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the menof them, are often understood." 4. Prophetic use of de-creation, universe collapsing language. (Isaiah 13:9-13; 34:1-6; Ezekiel32:1-8; Joel 2:28-32; Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:34-36 In the OT it was common to refer to the destruction of a nation in terms of the universe unraveling. Why couldn't Peter be following the precedent set down in the OT and the example of his Lord (Matt 24:29)? 5. Day of the Lord ( The expression "day of the Lord" is a common expression used frequently in the OT to describe God coming in judgment. Often associated with de-creation, universe collapsing language. Isaiah 13:9; Joel 2:31; Matthew 24:36-44; 1 Thess. 5:1; 2Thess 2:1) If according to Peter the "day of the Lord" (v.10) is to be associated with the "literal physical" disappearing of the heavens, melting of the elements, and the laying bare of planet earth, then how in the name of reason could the Thessalonians have thought that the "day of the Lord" had already happened? Was is not unmistakably obvious that the universe had not been scorched? And why did Paul not appeal to this obvious contradiction? Rather he says the man of lawlessness and the apostasy must happen first. No mention of a scorched earth! An argument from silence? Yes, but a loud argument from silence. Also, remember that Paul taught the same eschatology as Peter(2Peter3:15,16). 6. Stoicheion (Used 7 times in the NT, five outside of 2Pet 3. It never refers to the chemistry of the world, such as hydrogen, oxygen, or boron. In those contexts it refers to the elements of religious training or the ceremonial precepts that are common to the worship of Jews and of Gentiles. These "elements", says Paul were a shadow of the realities that were about to come, Col 2:16,17). 7. Coming destruction is motivation for first century Christians. (2Peter3:11-14) They were looking forward to these things. This kind of talk doesn't sound like an event to happen thousand of years in their future. 8. The "new heavens and earth" does not refer to the eternal state. ( If the "new heavens and earth are the eternal state what need have we for leaves of healing, Rev. 22:2? Why are there people("dogs") outside the walls of the city practicing evil, Rev.22:15?) If it is true that when God brought Israel out of Egypt and established them as a covenant nation in the dessert he created "the heavens and the earth" (Isa 51:15,16), then the passing of the heavens and earth would be the destruction of Israel and the OC. Likewise the creation of a "new heavens and earth" is the establishment of a new covenant with a new people, i.e, the church. Compare the curses which characterized Israel's OC fleshly existence with the NC realities in the New Heavens and Earth.(Dt 28-Isa65:17ff) 9. Genesis 8:21,22 argues against a future worldwide earth burning destruction of the magnitude of the flood. Did God promise Noah that he would simply change his method of inflicting universal suffering from water to fire? Or did God promise Noah that he would never destroy all living creatures in the same magnitude as the flood, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood? One last thing about Peter's reference to the flood judgment in 2 Peter 3. Why did Peter refer to the flood judgment? It was in response to the scoffers in his day who were mocking the promise of the living word, Jesus, by saying, "where is this coming he promised?" Peter says that the same word that brought the world into being and that was later destroyed by water was the same word that has said "upon this generation will come all the righteous blood shed on the earth". God's word is trustworthy. The wicked have in the past and will, in the near future, be judged says Peter. Peter's focus is not that it will be universal but that it will definitely happen and on time, I might add. It is as sure as God's word. Searching for the truth, David Johnson


Date:
30 Dec 2003
Time:
16:05:31

Comments

I am a partial preterist who believes that the nation Israel was judged by God in 70 AD. Having said that,i don;t think we can take the preterist brush and paint the whole new testiment in 70 AD.I think Mr.Phillips has done a fine job explaining 2nd.Pet.ch.three. I can;t agree with several things that so called consistent preterist teach it seems they try to make all of the new testiment conform to 70 AD. I would like to ask them about 1st.cor.15:24-26 and Rev.21:1. I heard a preacher say a few years ago,quote-when there are two or more views on a subject,all can;t be right but all could be wrong. Hugh Clark


Date:
30 Dec 2003
Time:
20:48:57

Comments

A comment in support of what Mr.Phillips had to say about 2nd.Pet.chapter three. For one thing Peter said the day of the Lord would be as a thief in the night. We all should understand that a thief who comes in the night intends not to be detected or else he would come in the day time in open view. The point being is that Christ described the time of his coming to bring judgement as a visible and noisy time,a time of war and unrest and he accomplished all that he promised and it took in 70 AD. The scenario for 70 AD was not the same as what peter was describing as what he saw as the day of the Lord. The preterist have a habit of what they refer to as paralleling scripture,they take all of the verses that read the same or close to the same and put them all together and that is usually in 70 AD. If we look at Malachi 4:5 we can readily see that the writer is talking some kind of punishment upon the nation Israel. That day was refered to as the great and dreadful day of the lord and i believe it was fulfilled in 70 AD. The day of the lord in 2nd.Peter was said to be as a thief in the night and as an event not expected. Hugh Clark


Date:
16 Jan 2004
Time:
06:14:14

Comments

Hugh, Perhaps you read too much into the analogy of the "thief in the night". Is there any since in which Jesus' coming in 70ad was like a "thief in the night"? To those who heeded NOT the warnings of Christ and the apostles indeed his coming was unexpected, like a "thief in the night", see(Matt 24:42-44). Approx. 1 million faithless Jews lost their lives because they were not watchful, the precise point of the parable of the 10 virgins. Regarding Peter's comments in 2 Peter 3 being separated thousands of years from 70ad please read my comments above. May God bless, DJ


Date:
19 Jan 2004
Time:
10:04:08

Comments

In response to the comments made by D.J. on the passage in 2nd.Pet.ch.3. You said the scoffers that Peter refered to were his contemporaries,which means that they and Peter lived at the same time in history. That sounds a little inconsistent acording to the reading in verse three. Peter said the scoffers would come in the last days,but he spoke of a future time from that time. If the time had not been in the future he would not have said the scoffers shall come he would have said they are here now. Now concerning the thief in the night passage i don;t believe the 70 AD event was like that scenario. When Christ brought judgement to the nation Israel,there were numerous signs given as a warning. There were signs of coming events such as earth quakes and wars around and about the nation. This event which could be looked at as a coming of Christ was definately not the coming for his chuch. This event was an act of God in which he used the roman army to do his work,which is simular to how he used Nebuchadrezzar to perform his will in the Babylonian captivity. There was nothing in 70 Ad that resembled a thief in the night. I don;t believe that the prophecy in Mat.24 concerning the destruction of the nation goes past verse 34. The scnario from verse 4-34 was of a terrible time coming, but after verse 36 the tone changed . After verse 36 the warning is to be watchful,and time of his coming is not known not even by Christ or the angels in heaven. His coming is said to be as a thief in the night. There are explainations for passages like Mark 9:1 and others which seem to be problematic for Hyper preterist. I am a partial preterist and believe what the preterist of the past procllaimed. I can see a problem with being so hung up on 70 AD,that is a bad as the pre-mills be hung up on the natural Jews. H.C.


Date:
20 Jan 2004
Time:
11:12:31

Comments

Hugh, Peter said that scoffers would come in the last days. He also said they were living in the "last times"(1Peter 1:3-5,20). Hebrews agrees(Hebrews 1:1:2). Not only this, but Peter goes on to say about the scoffers that "they willingly forget"(present tense), thus demonstrating that they were contemporaries of Peter. In fact the appearance of scoffers in Peters day was a sign that they were living in the last days, the very reason for the letter. So then, the scoffers were 1st century characters who were scoffing about the coming of the Lord. Why were they scoffing? Did Jesus and the apostle's teach a soon coming of the Lord? If not, then the scoffers had nothing to scoff about. Who was right? Peter, Jesus, and the other apostle's or the scoffers who scoffed at a judgment in their lifetime? Indeed there were many signs of the Lord's coming in AD70. But, to the stiffnecked Jews who were scoffing at the idea of Jesus returning in judgment against them the signs were not recognizable. They did not flee at the sight of the "abomination of desolation" and so thousands were caught off guard "like a thief in the night" For a refutation of v. 35 being a transition verse please compare Matt 24:35ff with Luke 17 20-37. Partial Preterism causes more problems than it solves. Two second comings, judgments, last days, etc... is nothing more than accommodating ones preconceived notions. God bless, David


Date: 05 Feb 2009
Time: 22:31:42

Your Comments:

This person is not aware that sound scholars like Jonathan Edwards taught that being taken out of the world meant to come out of Judaism. This author of the article needs to read John Owens work on 2 Peter 3 as well.
 

 

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