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The Gospel Preached to All the World

By Gary DeMar

Gary DeMar Study Archive | Norman Geisler and "This Generation" | Norman Geisler, "You," & "Zechariah the Son of Berechiah" | Biblical Minimalism and the "History of Preterism" | Thomas Ice and the Time Texts | Will the Real Anti-Prophets Please Stand Up? | Time's Puff Piece: The Devil is in the Details | Dispensationalism : Being Left Behind | Zechariah 14 and the Coming of Christ | Defending the Indefensible | No Fear of the Text | The Passing Away of Heaven and Earth | Who or what is the Antichrist | Rapture Fever: Why Dispensationalism is Paralyzed | Identifying Antichrist | On Thin Ice | Using the Bible to Interpret the Bible | DeMar Articles


Part 1 of 4

In an article published in the November 2002 issue of Midnight Call magazine, Thomas Ice argues for the dispensational case that Matthew 24:14 was not fulfilled prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. While Tommy's argument is ineffective at a number of levels, he should be commended for finally doing what preterists have been asking dispensationalists to do for quite some time--deal with preterist arguments by actually interacting with preterist published works and by comparing Scripture with Scripture. I would be willing to wager that Ice's analysis of Matthew 24:14 is the first time any dispensationalist has attempted to reconcile this passage with global-language passages which indicate that the gospel had been preached to the "whole world" before Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 (Col. 1:6, 23; Rom. 1:8; 16:25–26).

The Preterist Claim

Jesus concludes the first section of Matthew 24, which deals with specific signs that will take place in the lifetime of his disciples (famines, earthquakes, tribulation, war), by stating that "this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come" (24:14). Futurists, especially dispensationalists, maintain that the specifics of 24:14 are yet to be fulfilled because "whole world" means the entire globe as we know it today, and "all the nations" means all the nations that are in existence today. Since the gospel did not reach the entire globe prior to that first-century generation passing away, says the futurist, the passage awaits an end-time fulfillment.

Preterists, on the other hand, offer the following reasons why they believe the events of Matthew 24:14 were fulfilled prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70:

! The events of Matthew 24 are to take place before "this generation" passes away (v. 34). Jesus always uses "this generation" in reference to His contemporaries (Matt. 11:16; 12:41, 42; 23:36; Mark 8:12; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17:25; 21:32). "This generation" is never used to describe a future generation.

! The English "whole world" in 24:14 is based on the Greek word oikoumene which is best translated "inhabited earth." Most modern translations (e.g., NASV and NIV) translate oikoumene in Luke 2:1 as "the inhabited earth." This means that the gospel of Matthew 24:14 had to go no further than the census decreed by Caesar Augustus in Luke 2:1.

! The use of "all the nations" is not always a reference to every nation on earth. In many cases it refers only to those known nations in which one could travel (Matt. 24:9; Acts 2:5).

! "The end" to which Jesus refers to in 24:14 is the same end described in 24:3 and 6--the "end of the age": the end of the old covenant and the inauguration of the new (Heb. 1:1–2). That first-century generation was living at the time of "the consummation of the ages" which "has been manifested" (9:26). Peter and James confirm this when they write that "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Peter 4:7) and that "the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:8).

While Ice's article is selective in comparing verses, I have attempted to cover every element of the argument. This includes a study of older and modern commentaries on Matthew 24:14, an evaluation of the original setting and audience understanding of geography, the meaning of "all nations," how every occurrence of the Greek word oikoumene is used throughout the New Testament, and the way global language is used as hyperbole.

What Do the Commentators Say?

Most modern commentaries fail to inform readers that in Matthew 24:14 the Greek word oikoumene, often translated as "whole world," is not a reference to the entire globe as we know it today. After making a study of more than a dozen representative commentaries, I found that there is rarely any comparative study of Matthew 24:14 and its use of oikoumene with Acts 2:5 ("every nation under heaven"), Romans 1:8 ("throughout the whole world"), Romans 10:18 ("to the ends of the world"), Colossians 1:6 ("in all the world"), and Colossians 1:23 ("in all creation under heaven").

Few modern commentaries deal with Matthew 24:14 in a sound exegetical way. Fewer still even acknowledge that for centuries the prevalent view was to apply Matthew 24 to events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.1 Contrary to how modern commentaries handle Matthew 24:14 and its significance in determining the timing of prophetic events, older commentaries offer detailed discussions of the passage and show how it found proximate fulfillment in the first century prior to Jerusalem's destruction in A.D. 70. What follows is merely a sample of how standard older commentaries, many still in print and used widely, interpreted Matthew 24:14.

John S. C. Abbott and Jacob Abbott’s Illustrated New Testament (1878)

"In all the world. Before the destruction of Jerusalem, the gospel had been preached through all the regions of the then known world."

B. W. Johnson’s The People’s New Testament Commentary (1891)

"This gospel of the kingdom, etc. The gospel was preached throughout the Roman empire, ‘the world’ of the New Testament, before A. D. 70. Then the end shall come. Of the Jewish state."

Thomas Scott’s Commentary on the Bible (1833)

"Not withstanding all these commotions and scandals, the gospel would soon be preached through the various nations of the Roman empire, and in the different parts of the then known world; for a witness to them, that the Messiah was come, to be ‘a Light to lighten the Gentiles,’ and ‘to be for salvation to the ends of the earth:’ and when this should be accomplished, the end of the Jewish church and state would come."

Philip Doddridge’s Family Exposition of the New Testament (1740)

"This gospel—shall be preached in all the world] The accomplishment of this extraordinary prophecy is admirably illustrated by Dr. Arthur Young, On Idolatry, vol ii, p. 216–234. It appears from the most credible records, that the gospel was preached in Idumea, Syria, and Mesopotamia, by Jude; in Egypt, Marmorica, Mauritania, and other parts of Africa, by mark, Simon, and Jude; in Ethiopia, by Candace’s Eunuch, and Matthias; in Pontus, Galatia, and the neighbouring parts of Asia, by Peter; in the territories of the Seven Asiatic Churches by John; in Parthia, by Matthew; in Scythia, by Philip and Andrew; in the northern and western parts of Asia, by Bartholomew; in Persia, by Simon and Jude; in Media, Carmania, and several eastern parts, by Thomas; through the vast tract of Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum, by Paul; as also in Italy, and probably in Spain, Gaul, and Britain; in most of which places Christian churches were planted in less than thirty years after the death of Christ, which was before the destruction of Jerusalem."

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (1809)

"And this Gospel of the kingdom: Which Christ himself preached, and which he called and sent his apostles to preach, in all the cities of Judah; by which means men were brought into the kingdom of the Messiah, or Gospel dispensation; and which treated both of the kingdom of grace and glory, and pointed out the saints’ meekness for the kingdom of heaven, and their right unto it, and gives the best account of the glories of it: shall be preached in all the world: not only in Judea, where it was now confined, and that by the express orders of Christ himself; but in all the nations of the world, for which the apostles had their commission enlarged, after our Lord’s resurrection; when they were bid to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; and when the Jews put away the Gospel from them, they accordingly turned to the Gentiles; and before the destruction of Jerusalem, it was preached to all the nations under the heavens; and churches were planted in most places, through the ministry of it: for a witness unto all nations: meaning either for a witness against all such in them, as should reject it; or as a testimony of Christ and salvation, unto all such as should believe in him: and then shall the end come: not the end of the world, as the Ethiopic version reads it, and others understand it; but the end of the Jewish state, the end of the city and temple: so that the universal preaching of the Gospel all over the world, was the last criterion and sign, of the destruction of Jerusalem; and the account of that itself next follows, with the dismal circumstances which attended it."

 

Adam Clarke's Commentary (1810)

"And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world] But, notwithstanding these persecutions, there should be a universal publication of the glad tidings of the kingdom, for a testimony to all nations. God would have the iniquity of the Jews published every where, before the heavy stroke of his judgments should fall upon them; that all mankind, as it were, might be brought as witnesses against their cruelty and obstinacy in crucifying and rejecting the Lord Jesus. In all the world, [‘in all the oikoumene’]. . . Perhaps no more is meant here than the Roman empire; for it is beyond controversy that [the Greek ‘all the oikoumene,’] Luke ii. 1, means no more than the whole empire: as a decree for taxation or enrollment from Augustus Caesar could have no influence but in the Roman dominions; but see on Luke ii. 1. Tacitus informs us, Annal. l. xv., that, as early as the reign of Nero, the Christians were grown so numerous at Rome as to excite the jealousy of the government; and in other parts they were in proportion. However, we are under no necessity to restrain the phrase to the Roman empire, as, previously to the destruction of Jerusalem, the Gospel was not only preached in the lesser Asia, and Greece, and Italy, the greatest theatres of action then in the world; but was likewise propagated as far north as SCYTHIA; as far south as ETHIOPIA; as far east as PARTHIA and INDIA; and as far west as SPAIN and BRITAIN. On this point, Bishop Newton goes on to say, That there is some probability that the Gospel was preached in the British nations by St. Simon the apostle; that there is much greater probability that it was preached here by St. Paul; and that there is an absolute certainty that it was planted here in the times of the apostles, before the destruction of Jerusalem. See his proofs. Dissert. vol. ii. p. 235, 236. edit. 1758.2 St. Paul himself speaks, Colossians i. 6, 23, of the Gospel’s being come into ALL THE WORLD, and preached TO EVERY CREATURE under heaven. And in his Epistle to the Romans, Rom. x. 18, he very elegantly applies to the lights of the Church, what the psalmist said of the lights of heaven Their sound went into ALL THE EARTH, and their words unto the END of the WORLD. What but the wisdom of God could foretell this? and what but the power of God could accomplish it? Then shall the end come.] When this general publication of the Gospel shall have taken place, then a period shall be put to the whole Jewish economy, by the utter destruction of their city and temple."

 

John Lightfoot’s Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations (1658–1674)

"[And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world.] Jerusalem was not to be destroyed before the gospel was spread over all the world: God so ordering and designing it that the world, being first a catechumen in the doctrine of Christ, might have at length an eminent and undeniable testimony of Christ presented to it; when all men, as many as ever heard the history of Christ, should understand that dreadful wrath and severe vengeance which was poured out upon that city and nation by which he was crucified."

 

 

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible (1706–1721)

"It is intimated that the gospel should be, if not heard, yet at least heard of, throughout the then known world, before the destruction of Jerusalem; that the Old-Testament church should not be quite dissolved till the New Testament was pretty well settled, had got considerable footing, and began to make some figure. Better is the face of a corrupt degenerate church than none at all. Within forty years after Christ's death, the sound of the gospel was gone forth to the ends of the earth, Romans 10:18. St. Paul fully preached the gospel from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum; and the other apostles were not idle. The persecuting of the saints at Jerusalem helped to disperse them, so that they went every where, preaching the word, Acts 8:1–4. And when the tidings of the Redeemer are sent over all parts of the world, then shall come the end of the Jewish state. Thus, that which they thought to prevent, by putting Christ to death, they thereby procured; all men believed on him, and the Romans came, and took away their place and nation, John 11:48. Paul speaks of the gospel being come to all the world, and preached to every creature, Colossians 1:6, 23."

 

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes of the New Testament (1754)

"This Gospel shall he preached in all the world—Not universally: this is not done yet: but in general through the several parts of the world, and not only in Judea. And this was done by St. Paul and the other apostles, before Jerusalem was destroyed. And then shall the end come—Of the city and temple. Josephus’s History of the Jewish War is the best commentary on this chapter. It is a wonderful instance of God's providence, that he, an eyewitness, and one who lived and died a Jew, should, especially in so extraordinary a manner, be preserved, to transmit to us a collection of important facts, which so exactly illustrate this glorious prophecy, in almost every circumstance. Mark 13:10."

Milton Terry's Biblical Apocalyptics (1898)

The above examples do not come from obscure commentators, nor do they speak for a single evangelical tradition. Gill was a Baptist, Clarke and Wesley were in the Methodist tradition, Lightfoot and Henry were Presbyterian, Scott an Anglican, and Doddridge an evangelical mixture. By the end of the nineteenth century, the preterist view of Matthew 24 was a common feature of most commentaries that followed a lengthy interpretive tradition that is too comprehensive to rehearse here. The reason for the near agreement was because they followed a grammatical-historical methodology, the same methodology outlined by the standard hermeneutical manual of the twentieth century, Milton Terry's Biblical Hermeneutics.

Terry's work is important since non-dispensationalists and dispensationalists consider it to be the standard work on the subject. Dispensationalist Robert L. Thomas, an ardent critic of preterism, contrasts "new hermeneutical principles with traditional grammatical-historical hermeneutics"3 with Terry to be the gauge by which all new hermeneutical systems should be measured. Thomas quotes the following from Terry's classical work:

In the systematic presentation, therefore, of any scriptural doctrine, we are always to make a discriminating use of sound hermeneutical principles. We must not study them in the light of modern systems of divinity, but should aim rather to place ourselves in the position of the sacred writers, and study to obtain the impression their words naturally have made upon the minds of the first readers.4

To be sure, dispensationalism is one of the many "modern systems of divinity" in vogue today. And as we will see in our study of Matthew 24:14, dispensationalist commentators do not place themselves in the position of the sacred writers. Instead, they do what Terry decries; they allow themselves "to be influenced by hidden meanings, and spiritualizing processes, and plausible conjectures."5

If Thomas and other dispensationalists are such fans of Terry's hermeneutical model, and they should be, why do they ignore Terry's extended non-dispensational comments on eschatology? In terms of Ice's study of Matthew 24:14 and his claim that preterists have distorted its meaning, how do he and Thomas deal with Terry's nearly four-page exposition of this verse in which he concludes that "it seems like the persistent blindness of a dogmatic bias to insist that ‘preaching of the gospel in all the world for a testimony to the nations’ must needs included all the missionary operations of the Church during the Christian centuries. . . . This ‘world’ did not signify to Galilean fishermen or to learned Jewish rabbis what it does to a modern reader, familiar every day with telegraphic communications from remote continents and islands. Nor does Paul's comprehensive phrase, ‘all creation under heaven,’ require us to interpret it with any more rigid literalism than we do in the statement at the close of John's gospel, that ‘the world itself would not contain the books that should be written.’ Such expressions are usually understood to contain an element of hyperbole and are common in all the languages of men."

Notes

1. For example, Arno C. Gaebelein's rambling and rabidly dispensational commentary, first published in 1910, dismisses without argument any contrary view; Ed Glasscock’s commentary in the Moody Gospel Commentary series (1997) assumes a futurist view of Matthew 24:14 with no consideration of how the New Testament uses oikoumene in other contexts; Leon Morris’s The Gospel According to Matthew (Eerdmans, 1992) does not discuss oikoumene; Craig S. Keener’s massive Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans, 1999) and his abridged commentary for InterVarsity Press (1997) assume a futurist view with no discussion of oikoumene except in a footnote; in more than two pages of commentary on Matthew 24, William Hendriksen makes no mention that oikoumene is used (Baker 1973); dispensationalist Stanley D. Toussaint avoids any discussion of oikoumene in his Behold the King: A Study of Matthew (Multnomah, 1980) and in his unpublished paper "A Critique of the Preterist View of the Olivet Discourse" (no date); John F. Walvoord’s Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Moody, 1974), says nothing about oikoumene and its possible relation to an A.D. 70 fulfillment, and there is no discussion of verse 14 in his The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook which claims to include "all the prophecies of Scriptures" (Victor, 1990); while Lutheran scholar R.C.H. Lenski does mention that oikoumene is used, there is no discussion of its possible significance (Augsburg, 1943); the dispensational Liberty Bible Commentary (1982) defaults to an end-time, pre-tribulational reading of the text; the same is true for Louis Barbieri's exposition of Matthew in the Bible Knowledge Commentary (Victor, 1983); J. Barton Payne's only comment on Matthew 24:14 in his 754-page Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy is that it refers to "universal gospel preaching" (Harper & Row, 1973).

2. Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies (London: J. F. Dove [1758] 1838), 341

3. Robert L. Thomas, "The Hermeneutics of Progressive Dispensationalism," The Master's Perspective on Contemporary Issues, Robert L. Thomas, gen. ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1998), 190.

4. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, 2nd. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, n.d.), 595. Quoted in Thomas, "The Hermeneutics of Progressive Dispensationalism," 190.

5. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, 152.

6. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, [1898] 1988), 233.

Part 2 of 4

The Original Setting

An indispensable rule in Bible interpretation is understanding a text in terms of its original setting and audience, always asking the question, How would those who first picked up copies of the gospels and epistles have understood what they were reading? Louis Berkhof, following Milton Terry's injunction that we should "place ourselves in the position of the sacred writers," stresses that the interpreter

must place himself on the standpoint of the author, and seek to enter into his very soul, until he, as it were, lives his life and thinks his thoughts. This means that he will have to guard carefully against the common mistake of transferring the author to the present day and making him speak the language of the twentieth century. If he does not avoid this, the danger exists, as McPheeters expresses it, that "the voice he hears (will) be merely the echo of his own ideas."1

Reading modern-day concepts, whether scientific, geographical, or academic,2 back into the Bible can cause insurmountable interpretive problems. For example, how many times have you heard a minister claim that the gospel is like "dynamite"? The comparison is made because the Greek word dunamis, translated "power" (Rom. 1:16), is the same word Alfred Nobel chose in 1866 to name his explosive concoction. Since "power" and "dynamite" share the same Greek word (dunamis), the New Testament use of "power" must share the characteristics of dynamite. D.A. Carson describes this as "an appeal to a kind of reverse etymology,"3 reading modern definitions of words back into ancient writings. The effects of dynamite were unknown by the New Testament writers. Paul was not thinking of exploding sticks of dynamite when he used dunamis to describe the power of the gospel any more than he was thinking about the power expended when the Space Shuttle takes off from Cape Canaveral. Our understanding of the biblical use of dunamis has to be understood in terms of how it was understood in Paul's day. "[Gordon] Fee and [Douglas] Stuart rightly emphasize that ‘the true meaning of the biblical text for us is what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken.’4 We must first determine what a text meant ‘in their town’ before we can determine what it means and how we should apply that meaning to our own time and culture."5

In a similar way, we should not read twenty-first century geographical knowledge into the Bible. For example, were the cartographers of Jesus' day wrong when they called the Sea of Galilee a sea rather than a lake (Matt. 4:18)? Our definition of "sea" should not be the interpretive standard for the New Testament. Many commentators misinterpret what Jesus meant when He stated that He would be "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (12:40) because they do not understand the statement in terms of Jerusalem-centered geography.6 Equally so, we should not read into the Bible our conception of what we now know about our world.

All the Nations

Jesus tells His disciples that the gospel must be preached in the "whole world for a witness to all the nations" (Matt. 24:14). Ice does not deal with how "all the nations" is often used in a restrictive sense. He asserts, because of his futurist presuppositions, that "all nations," by definition, must have a global fulfillment. The interpreter would be making a serious mistake if every time he read "all nations" he concluded that the biblical writer had every nation around the globe in mind. The following examples will show that "all nations" and "all kingdoms" often have a limited geographical application:

! Cyrus, the king of Persia, said, "The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth" (Ezra 1:2; 2 Chron. 36:23).

! David writes, "All nations surrounded me" (Ps. 118:10).

! God "brought the fear of [David] on all the nations" (1 Chron. 14:17).

! It is written of Hezekiah king of Judah "that he was exalted in the sight of all nations . . ." (2 Chron. 32:23).

! The Chaldeans are said to "march throughout the earth" (Hab. 1:6).

! "The people from all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph" (Gen. 41:57).

! "All the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon" (1 Kings 10:24).

! "And all the nations shall serve him [Nebuchadnezzar], and his son, and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes" (Jer. 27:7).

! Nebuchadnezzar addresses his decree as "the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth" (Dan. 4:1).7

! At Pentecost "there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5).

! Jesus told His disciples that they would be "hated by all nations" (Matt. 24:9).8

Using "all" and "every" in a narrow sense when referring to nations and kingdoms is neither unusual nor non-literal. We must be equally careful when we see "all the earth." The Hebrew eretz and the Greek g~es can be translated earth or land depending on he context (Gen. 47:13; 1 Sam. 17:46; Luke 23:44).

Consider how "all" is used in Luke 17:26–29. Jesus first compares the days of Noah with the days of the Son of Man. In Noah's day

they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all (Luke 17:27).

For those who believe in a global flood, "destroyed them all" refers to everybody on the face of the earth. Only the eight in the ark were saved. Local flood advocates would understand "all" to be limited to the geographical extent of the flood. But if "all" means everyone without exception, then when the days of the Son of Man are compared to "the days of Lot," there is a problem:

they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all (17:29).

It's obvious from this passage that "all" only refers to those in Sodom and cannot in any way be understood globally.

If the New Testament writers saw and described their world as only encompassing what they knew of the Roman empire and those nations bordering the empire, then we as modern-day interpreters should not impose our expanded understanding of our world on their writings.

The Context of Oikoumene

Ice begins his study of Matthew 24:14 by stating correctly, "While it is true that ‘world,’ or oikoumene, is used in the New Testament to refer to ‘the Roman Empire of the first century,’ its basic meaning is that of ‘inhabited earth.’" But that's just the point. Those living in the first-century saw only their world as the inhabited earth. Also, Ice does not deal with the way that global language (all and every) is used to specify a more restricted contemporary geographical area (see above). The following points by Ice do not resolve the problem that confronts dispensationalists on the extent of gospel proclamation described by Jesus in Matthew 24:14:

Clearly oikoumene can be used globally, even though it may have a more restricted use. The deciding factor is the context. Thus, if Matthew 24:14 was fulfilled in A.D. 70, then it would have a localized meaning as noted by [Gary] DeMar. However, if it will be fulfilled in the future, then it has the meaning of the entire inhabited world at some future date, which would clearly include much more than the old Roman Empire.

Ice states the obvious: Jesus is either describing events in the near future or He is describing events in the distant future. All Ice can be sure of is that oikoumene can be used of the known world and also the entire world. For Ice, the question remains as to how Jesus is using the word in Matthew 24:14. Since Jesus tells His disciples later in the chapter that "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (24:34), and every time "this generation" is used by Jesus it means the generation to whom He is speaking, then oikoumene most probably refers to the first-century Roman empire since it falls within the time frame of "this generation."

It's significant that Matthew uses oikoumene only in 24:14, while he uses kosmos, a word that can have a more global meaning, nine times. In fact, we read later in Matthew's gospel: "Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world [kosmos], what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her" (26:13). The Greek construction in the two verses is identical except that in 26:13 kosmos is used for "world." Matthew chooses oikoumene over kosmos in 24:14 because he wants to emphasize its local geographical fulfillment within the time frame of "this generation" in contrast to a universal fulfillment not bound by geography or time as is the obvious case in 26:13.

Notice also that Jesus tells His disciples that the things outlined in Matthew 24 will happen to them. Jesus makes this point by His continual use of the second person plural "you":

! "And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars" (24:6).

! "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation" (24:9).

! [And they] will kill you" (24:9).

! "And you will be hated by all nations on account of My name" (24:9).

! "Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation . . . standing in the holy place" (24:15).

Sandwiched between 24:6, 9 and 24:15 is "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world [oikoumene] for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come" (24:14). If, as Ice correctly notes, "the deciding factor is the context," then as the above passages demonstrate, the context is decidedly pre-A.D. 70, the generation to whom Jesus was speaking.

Summary

By placing ourselves in historical context of the first-century writers, we can conclude that it was perfectly natural to use "all nations" and "inhabited earth" as references to the geography of their day. Since the time when the events of Matthew 24 are to take place are contemporary with Jesus' audience, we can come to no other conclusion than that the gospel was preached to the nations round about the Roman empire prior to that generation passing away. To read Matthew 24:14 any other way is to strip the text from its context.

Notes

1. Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, [1950] 1974), 115.

2. By academic I mean "scientific precision." While estimates and over-generalizations might not be suited for today's academic research papers, they are perfectly appropriate for conveying the message of God's redemptive covenant.

3. See D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996), 34.

4. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993), 26.

5. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 97.

6. "Heart of the earth" has reference to Jerusalem which was considered to be the center of the world. "Three days and three nights" most likely refers to Thursday night in the Garden of Gethsemane to His burial through Sunday morning. See Ralph Woodrow, Three Days and Three Nights--Reconsidered in the Light of Scripture (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Inc., 1993).

7. "All the earth]--i.e., the known, inhabited world, from Elam and Media in the east to Egypt and the Mediterranean seacoasts in the west. Cf. Jer. 25:26; 27:5–6). The Assyrian and Babylonian kings regarded themselves as kings of all the earth, and in their inscriptions were accustomed thus to speak of themselves. This practice was also in vogue among Persian rulers" (Edward J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949], 97).

8. It's obvious that "all nations" refers to all the nations in which they had access. Rome was an empire of conquered nations similar to the way the land of Canaan was home to "seven nations" (Acts 13:19; Deut. 7:1).

Part 3 of 4

Oikoumene as "Inhabited World"

The case can be made that oikoumene is used exclusively for the geographical area generally limited to the Roman empire of the first-century and the territories immediately adjacent which were known and accessible to first-century travelers. When first-century Christians read the word oikoumene, they thought of what they knew of their world. Francis Sampson offers a concise definition:

The classic usage of [oikoumene] gives the sense of "the inhabited earth," especially as settled by Greeks. By people of the Roman empire, it was currently used to express the empire (as in Luke 2:1, . . .), by a sort of arrogant exaggeration, as though the empire embraced the whole world.1

In time, the definition came to include the world in which people lived, the inhabited world. Its meaning did not encompass what we know of the world today. Henry Cowles, in his commentary on Matthew, explains how the oikoumene's definition developed in the context of the first century:

"All the world" is literally all the inhabited--i.e, to the extent of what is peopled. But in usage, "all the world" to the Romans was the Roman Empire: to the Greeks it meant the countries at the utmost where their tongue was spoken: to the Jew it was primarily Palestine; but ultimately became coextensive with the range of their dispersions. That is to say, the usage of the word made its scope rather national than universal.

The New Testament usage may be seen in Luke 2:1--"All the world enrolled for taxation"--which could not extend beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. Also Acts 11:28--"Great dearth [famine] throughout all the world"--foretold by Agabus. This was probably less in extent than the whole Roman Empire.--This restricted usage appears also in profane classic writers.

* * * * *

Thus we do no violence either to the sense of these words or to the historic facts, if we hold that this prophecy had its fair fulfillment before the fall of the doomed city.2

This is generally the way oikoumene is used throughout the New Testament. The word never has a universal application as we will see in the following examples.

Oikoumene in Luke's Gospel and Acts

Luke uses oikoumene eight times, more than any other New Testament author, three times in his gospel and five times in Acts. Everyone agrees that its use in Luke 2:1 refers to the boundaries of the Roman empire. Its use in 21:26 fits well with how preterists interpret the Olivet Discourse since it takes place before verse 32: "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place."3 The imminent conflagration predicted by Jesus is not world-wide but is confined to the surroundings of Judea (Matt. 24:16; Luke 21:21). This includes "the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world [oikoumene]" (Luke 21:26).

Oikoumene is used in Luke 4:5 where Jesus is shown "all the kingdoms of the world," while Matthew uses kosmos in the parallel passage in his gospel (Matt. 4:8). Why the difference? As we will see, kosmos is often used in a non-universal way similar to oikoumene, as some dispensational commentators readily admit (e.g., Rom. 1:8 and Col. 1:6). Luke may have chosen oikoumene "to bring out the political sense in a way that Matthew's use of kosmos (Mt. 4:8) does not."4 This is the opinion of Otto Flender, whose article on oikoumene appears in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology:

The oikoumene is the inhabited world in the sense that all its population has to suffer under Satanic powers for religious, but mainly political, reasons. Equally in the story of Christ's temptation, the replacement in Lk. 4:5 of ‘kosmos’ by oikoumene suggests a strong political connotation, even though "the kingdoms of the world" prevents a direct identification with the Roman empire.5

In Acts, Luke describes a "great famine" that would be "all over the world [oikoumene]" (Acts 11:28). The geographical area of the famine is no larger than that required of Luke 2:1 where we learn "that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth [oikoumene]." Famines are generally confined to limited geographical areas and are often brought on by governmental policies. While there might be a famine in one part of the world, other parts have an abundance (e.g., Gen. 41–43). Simon Kistemaker points out that the famine has a limited geographical scope in Luke's account:

The famine that Agabus predicted occurred during the reign of Emperor Claudius, who ruled from A.D. 41 to 54. Luke calls it a severe famine, for in varying degrees it affected the entire Roman empire. Egypt sold grain for the benefit of the people in famine-stricken Jerusalem. Cyprus supplied figs, and the Christians in Antioch sent aid to the believers in Judea (v. 29). Different parts of the Roman empire suffered famines. Therefore, we interpret Luke's description, "a severe famine all over the Roman world," not in a literal but in a broad sense.6

Later in Acts we learn that Jews at Thessalonica were so upset at the effects of the preaching of the gospel that they dragged Jason and some of his friends before the city officials and made the following charge: "These men who have upset the world [oikoumene] have come here also" (Acts 17:6). This use of oikoumene is even more limited in scope, for it's obvious that Paul and Silas had not even upset the entire Roman world by this time. Everett F. Harrison calls its use in this context "a hyperbole."7

In addition to political threats, the preaching of the gospel upset the worshipers of the Greek goddess Artemis who is said to have been worshiped by "all of Asia and the world [oikoumene]" (Acts 19:27). This is hardly possible if oikoumene's meaning is global. But its use in this context makes perfect sense if the Roman empire and its immediate environs are in view.

Near the end of Acts we read that Paul is described as "a real pest . . . who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world [oikoumene]" (Acts 24:5). Jews were not in every part of the world in the first century.

This brings us to Luke's use of oikoumene in Acts 17:31: "He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world [oikoumene] in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." Ice sees this use of oikoumene as a reference to a distant future end-time global event. "Surely this speaks of the whole globe," Ice writes, "even though it may have a more restricted sense." Like Luke's use of oikoumene in his gospel and elsewhere in Acts, I believe it has the same meaning: a reference to the world at that time. It was their world that God would judge. As F. F. Bruce notes, "Greek thought had no room for such an eschatological judgment as the biblical revelation announces."8 By using oikoumene instead of kosmos, Paul was warning the Athenians that even they would come under God's judgment. There would be no exceptions. The Greeks would have accepted Paul's denouncement of the kosmos (everyone but them) as appropriate. J. A. Alexander's comments puts the meaning of oikoumene in its proper historical perspective:

Throughout all the world, literally, on (or over) the whole inhabited (earth) [Acts 11:28]. This phrase, though strictly universal in its import, is often used in a restricted sense. The Greeks in their particular pride of race, applied it to their own country; the Romans, in like manner, to the empire.9

Paul removes all pretense of Athenian superiority by telling them that even their world will be judged.

Oikoumene in Romans

Like Matthew, Paul uses oikoumene once in Romans 10:18 in dealing with how far the gospel message has been preached. Some might claim that "they have never heard." Paul disputes this assertion: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world [oikoumene]" (10:18). How could this be? Douglas Moo's explanation is helpful:

How could Paul assert, in A.d. 57, that the gospel has been proclaimed "to the whole earth"? Two implicit qualifications of Paul's language are frequently noted. First, as the word oikoumene in the second line of the quotation might suggest, paul may be thinking in terms of the Roman Empire of his day rather than of the entire globe. Second, Paul's focus might be corporate rather than individualistic: he asserts not that the gospel has been preached to every person but to every nation, and especially to both Jews and Gentiles. Both these considerations may well be relevant. But perhaps it would be simpler to think that Paul engages in hyperbole, using the language of the Psalm to assert that very many people by the time Paul writes Romans have had the opportunity to hear.10

Once again there is no need to follow Ice's forced exegesis in the use of oikoumene in the New Testament. It is obvious that the gospel had not gone global in Paul's day. David L. Turner claims that Matthew 24:14 might have a universal application in spite of Paul's use of oikoumene in Romans 10:18 because this verse and others in the same genre (e.g., Col. 1:6, 23) "should be read in view of Romans 15:19; 16:23ff. which indicate that Paul still wished to take the gospel to previously unreached regions (Spain)."11 This is hardly likely. Paul writes about his original intentions. Romans was written nearly thirty years after Pentecost. At the time there were Jews "from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). Surely someone had taken the gospel to Spain and beyond by A.D. 57 (8:4). And if not, there were still thirteen years before Jerusalem would be destroyed and "this generation" passed away (Matt. 24:14).

Oikoumene in Hebrews

The writer of Hebrews uses oikoumene twice. In Hebrews 1:6 we read of a prophetic word regarding the incarnation: "And when He again brings the first-born into the world [oikoumene], He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’" Jesus most importantly enters the world to a particular people and only secondarily to the world in general (Heb. 10:5): "To the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16; 2:10). Jesus entered a certain place, the world of Israel (John 1:11), when time and conditions were perfect: "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4).12

Following the lead of seventeenth-century commentators John Owen (1616–1683) and William Gouge (1578–1653), the use of oikoumene in Hebrew 2:5 is most probably a reference to the habitation of "the whole number of God's elect,"13 "the days of the Messiah"14 or, according to Francis Sampson, "the gospel dispensation."15 Philip Edgcumbe Hughes concurs: "The coming age, here called the world to come, is the age of the Messiah in which the messianic promises and prophecies of old find their fulfillment."16 John Brown notes that "There is a great possibility . . . that there is an allusion to the land of Canaan as enjoyed by the Israelites, which is called [oikoumene], Luke ii. 1; Acts xi. 28; and the peaceful enjoyment of which was a type of the New Testament state."17 It's obvious, therefore, that oikoumene in this context is not being used for the physical world.

Oikoumene In Revelation

How oikoumene is interpreted in Revelation is determined by whether a person holds to an early pre-A.D. 70 or a late mid-A.D. 90 date for the book's composition. This debate cannot be settled here. I've taken the position that Revelation was written some time in the mid 60s A.D., during the reign of Nero.18 The use of oikoumene by John helps to support this conclusion.

In Revelation 3:10, John states that an "hour of testing . . . is about to come upon the whole world [oikoumene]." John is writing to the first-century church of Philadelphia. Notice the time reference: "which is about to come." Robert Mounce states that the Greek word translated "about to" (mellow) "points to what is about to happen rather than what is destined to be."19 "Earth" can also be translated as "land," that is, the land of Israel, or more broadly, the land in which people live. The author of the Revelation commentary in An Illustration of the New Testament, published in 1760, concludes that "by all the World here, as in other Places of the New Testament, is meant the Roman Empire, as Ch. ii.6."20

Satan is said to be one "who deceives the whole world" (12:9). Once again, Revelation describes those things which must "shortly take place" (1:1) "for the time is near" (1:3). The world (oikoumene) that is being deceived is the one to which the seven churches are written (2–3). Certainly the devil deceives more than this area, but the point of Revelation is to describe what's about to happen to within a shortened time frame.

We know from history that Jerusalem was surrounded and destroyed by the heathen armies of Rome in A.D. 70, therefore, the use of oikoumene is appropriate in this context. The world of Old Covenant Judaism was about to come to an end when John wrote. Philip Carrington's comments on Revelation 16:14 are helpful in this regard:

The name Armageddon is significant because it is at Megiddo that the Jewish King Josiah was defeated and killed by an Egyptian army under the Pharaoh; and Titus had just returned from Egypt. Armageddon means Mountain of Megiddo; but Megiddo is a valley. It is the Mountain of Sion which has become Mountain of Megiddo or Mountain of defeat. The name, anyhow, shows that the field of battle is in Palestine. . . .21

The way oikoumene is used in Revelation goes with the larger debate over the dating of the book. Based on the time texts (1:1, 3; 22:10), the local geography of the seven churches (2–3), and the fact that the temple is still standing (11:1–2) when John wrote, demonstrates that only the oikoumene is in view.

Summary

Given all the times that oikoumene is used to define the then-known world, the burden of proof is on dispensationalists to show that Matthew's one-time use of oikoumene means the entire world as we know it today.

Notes

1. Francis S. Sampson, A Critical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1856), 85–86.

2. Henry Cowles, Matthew and Mark: With Notes Critical, Explanatory, and Practical (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1881), 210, 211.

3. See Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999).

4. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman, gen. eds., "World," Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 968.

5. Otto Flender, "Oikoumene," in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 1:519.

6. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), 425. For a summation of the famines during Claudius's reign, see F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (NICNT), rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 230, note 39.

7. Everett F. Harrison, Acts: The Expanding Church (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1975), 262.

8. Bruce, The Book of Acts, 340–341.

9. J. A. Alexander, Acts of the Apostle (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, [1857] 1980), 438.

10. Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 667.

11. David L. Turner, "The Structure and Sequence of Matthew 24:1–41: Interaction with Evangelical Treatments," Grace Theological Journal, 10:1 (Winona Lake, IN: Grace Theological Seminary, Spring 1989), 7.

12. "The Son, as the firstborn, enters the inhabited world of men. The word world is Hellenic and was used in ordinary speech to refer to the populated world." (Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Hebrews [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984], 38).

13. William Gouge, Commentary on Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, [1655] 1980), 113.

14. John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 7 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, [1855] 1980), 3:324. "But the world here intended is no other but the promised state of the church under the gospel. This, with the worship of God therein, with special relation unto the Messiah, the author and mediator of it, administrating its heavenly things before the throne of grace, thereby rendering it spiritual and heavenly, and diverse from the state of the worship of the old testament, which was worldly and carnal, was ‘the world to come’ that the Jews looked for, and which in this place is intended by the apostle" (324).

14. Sampson, A Critical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 86.

16. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 82.

17. John Brown, Hebrews (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, [1862] 1972), 89.

18. For a comprehensive study of the dating question, see Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, 3rd ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1998) and The Beast of Revelation (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2002).

19. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (NICNT), rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 103, note 23.

20. An Illustration of the New Testament, by Notes and Explications, etc. (London: R. Baldwin, 1760), 923.

21. Philip Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation (London: SPCK, 1931), 265.

Part 4 of 4

The Whole World

In Romans 1:8 Paul writes that the faith of the Romans "is being proclaimed throughout the whole world," that is, the kosmos. While Ice does not deal with this verse, its use is important to help students of the Bible understand how global language is often used to describe non-global events. Kosmos is often used in the Bible to describe "their world" events. How does dispensational commentator John A. Witmer interpret "the whole world" of Romans 1:8?:

For the Romans he [Paul] rejoiced that news of their faith had spread all over the world, a hyperbole meaning throughout the Roman Empire.1

Fellow dispensationalist Woodrow Michael Kroll takes a similar approach when he states that Paul speaks of the Romans' faith in "world-wide terms," a common expression for "‘everyone.’"2 Neither author takes the position adopted by Ice that this text only states that the gospel began to be taken to all the nations in the first century. The text makes a much larger claim; therefore it must be interpreted the way the New Testament writers understood and used "in all the world." Its language is universal but its application is only to the world of Paul's day.

Ice claims that in Colossians 1:6 "Paul is saying that the Gospel has come, or been introduced to the Colossian believers, just as it has come, or been introduced in all the world." Exactly! Once we determine how the gospel came to the Colossians, we will know how it came, to use Paul's words, "in all the world." Ice continues: "So this is not a statement about whether the Gospel has been preached to a certain area per se; it is a statement about the arrival of the Gospel as a global message." Wrong. The gospel had come to the Colossians "just as in all the world." Paul says much more than Ice's minimalist approach:

[The gospel] which has come to you, just as in all the world [kosmos] also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth (Col. 1:6).

Not only had the gospel come or been introduced to the Colossians where it was bearing fruit, but it was doing the same thing "in all the world." It's not just the arrival of the gospel that Paul describes, it's the effect that it was having "in all the world [kosmos]," that is, the world of Paul's day in the first century. In his article, Ice quotes R. C. H. Lenski in support of his position, but he does so selectively: "The Colossians are to remember that its range is world-wide, the very opposite of the little Judaistic sectlet that has somehow appeared in their midst."3 But Lenski goes on to comment that "the gospel is bearing fruit and growing ‘in all the world’ even as the Colossians themselves have witnessed this since the day on which they got to hear it. . . . What they witnessed in Colosse is happening ‘in all the world.’ . . . The whole world, nothing less, is the field for this activity of the gospel."4

Dispensational commentator Edward R. Roustio writes that "in all the world" means that the "gospel was spreading all over the Roman Empire."5 This is what preterists claim for the extent of the preaching of the gospel in Matthew 24:14. It's interesting that Ice quotes J. B. Lightfoot on Colossians 1:23 below, but he does not quote him on 1:6 where Lightfoot states that "in all the world" is "hyperbole," comparing it to Romans 1:8 ("throughout the whole world"), 1 Thessalonians 1:8 ("in every place"), and 2 Corinthians 2:14 ("in every place").6

Ice takes a similar approach with Colossians 1:23 which states:

If indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I Paul was made a minister.

Although this passage does not use kosmos, Ice links it with Colossians 1:6. He quotes several commentators who actually agree with what preterists believe. James R. Gray, for example, denies that the passage is literal, but then admits that the gospel is "bearing fruit in the world--not that the gospel has been preached in all the world. . . . Paul is talking about the sphere of preaching, not that every creature was preached unto."7 Gray understands that the language is universal, and he also knows that he cannot interpret it literally. Of course, I can't understand how Gray can maintain that the gospel is bearing fruit in the world if it had not been preached in all the world.

No preterist has ever claimed that these passages teach that the gospel has been preached to every creature in the whole wide world but only that the gospel had made its way throughout the then known world "as a witness to the nations" (Matt. 24:14).

Ice quotes J. B. Lightfoot, but only selectively. Lightfoot comments that Colossians 1:23 is the "fulfilment of the Lord's last command, [‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’] Mark xvi. 15. . . . For the hyperbole [‘in all creation’] compare I Thess. i.8 [‘in every place’]. To demand statistical exactness in such a context would be to require what is never required in similar cases."8 Let's allow dispensational commentator Norman L. Geisler to address the meaning of the passage:

"to every creature under heaven. This is obviously a figure of speech indicating the universality of the gospel and its proclamation, not that every person on the globe heard Paul preach. In Acts 2:5 this phrase describes countries without including, for example, anyone from North or South America (cf. Also Gen. 41:57; 1 Kings 10:24; Rom. 1:8)."9

All the commentators Ice quotes understand that the passage is not meant to be interpreted literally. Unlike Ice, they admit that these global phrases mean nothing more than the world in which Paul and the early church lived. Ice is so intent in defending dispensationalism against its many interpretive problems that he selectively quotes commentators. His use of Lightfoot is the most egregious example. Paul was simply using hyperbole to make the case that "the gospel did spread with remarkable swiftness in the comparatively few years after Pentecost, and no one can state precisely just where its geographical limits were."10 This is why dispensational commentator Homer A. Kent, Jr. can also claim that "the statement is a legitimate use of literary hyperbole, and should be regarded as a generalization not requiring statistical exactness."11

These passages state what Ice denies. They couldn't be any more clear and harmonize perfectly with what Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:14.

Every Nation and Tribe and Tongue and People

Ice believes that Matthew 24:14 and Revelation 14:6–7 are parallel passages. This is a surprising admission since in terms of language, they are quite dissimilar. In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says that "the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the inhabited earth [oikoumene] for a witness to all the nations" and in Revelation 14:6 we read, "And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people." "Nations" seems to be the only common word. Ice claims that "global evangelization will take place just before the middle of the seven-year Tribulation." There is no "seven-year Tribulation" in Revelation. The words "seven years" do not appear in Revelation.12 Ice is forced to squeeze the Bible into the dispensational mold. This means that he often fails to compare Scripture with Scripture. He lets his system guide his judgment.

Of course, there is no need to rehearse the arguments that have already been developed that demonstrate that oikoumene and even kosmos are not universal in their geographical scope. But even with the seemingly universal scope of John's language, this does not mean that he is recording anything more than what other global passages are saying (Rom. 1:8; Col. 16, 23; etc.). Notice how almost identical language is used in Daniel: "Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth" (Dan. 4:1). Is this meant to be taken in a global way? Not at all.

But let's assume that John is describing the world-wide global preaching of the gospel. The parallel is more with Matthew 24:31 than with 24:14. It's after the fall of Jerusalem that God's elect are gathered "from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (24:31).13 Similarly, in Revelation 14:6 we learn that the "eternal gospel" is to be preached (Rev. 14:6) when "Babylon the great" is fallen (14:8). Babylon the great is first-century Jerusalem, and it fell in A.D. 70. In terms of parallels, notice also that in Revelation 14:6 and Matthew 24:31 angels are involved in the gospel being sent forth.14 It seems to me that this passage best describes a post-A.D. 70 world after the immediate fall of Jerusalem.

With Jerusalem no longer the redemptive focus, the gospel is to go worldwide: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem the gospel was to go into the "inhabited world" of the first century as a "witness to all the nations" (Matt. 24:14). Later in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus describes a more universal spreading of the gospel "from one end of the sky to the other" (24:31). Prior to Jesus’ ascension, Jesus tells His disciples to "make disciples of all the nations" (28:19). Notice that there is no time reference as there is in Matthew 24:14 ("this generation").

But there is another interpretive possibility. Like Revelation 12 which seems to look back to earlier New Testament history, John may be doing the same thing in Revelation 12:6. Arthur M. Ogden suggests:

The Lamb is standing on Mount Sion with the 144,000 ready for the beginning of the New Testament order. John watches as an angel flies through the midst of heaven with the everlasting gospel to preach to all nations. The scene is Pentecost, 30 A.D. (cf. Heb. 12:22–24). This is when the gospel began to be preached under the authority of the great commission (cf. Matt. 28:18–20; Mr. 16:15–16; Lk. 24:46–49) and the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, 2:1–4, 33; 1 Pet. 1:12). From here the gospel was preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (cf. Matt. 24:14; Mk. 13:10; Rom. 1:16; 10:18; Col. 1:23).15

While we can't be definite, Acts 2:5 may be the key to understanding the significance of Revelation 14:6 since there were "Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven." They heard the gospel "in his own language" (Acts 2:6). Within a period of forty years, the gospel had made its way beyond the borders of Israel to every place a caravan or ship could take a person.

To All the Nations

One last argument that needs to be dealt with is Ice's understanding of Romans 16:26. In Last Days Madness and End Times Fiction I claim that this passage fulfills the demands of Matthew 24:14 since "Paul declared that the gospel had ‘been made known to all nations,’ a direct fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 (Rom. 16:26)."16 Ice disagrees by stating the following:

[A]s virtually every commentary will tell you, the purpose of Paul's mystery about the Gospel is so that it reaches throughout the world.17 H.P. Liddon says that "to all the nations" speaks "of the range of destination. Among all the heathen peoples."18 "Having revealed this truth to Paul, God ordered it preached to all the Gentile nations."19 This passage informs us that the Gospel message has been introduced into the entire world and was intended for every human being throughout all creation. This statement could have been made on the day of Pentecost when the Church was born since it speaks to the fact that the Gospel mystery tells us that it is not just for Jews, but will include Gentiles as well.

How many times have we seen Paul use global language to express what he states again in his doxology at the conclusion of Romans? He thanks God for the Christians in Rome (1:5) because their "faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world" (Rom. 1:8). He tells them that "their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world" (10:18). We have seen how Colossians 1:6 and 1:23 use similar language. Given Ice's penchant for being a literalist, it's rather surprising to read how he dances around these global-language texts.

Ice’s claim that "the purpose of Paul's mystery about the Gospel is so that it reaches throughout the world" states the obvious and says nothing about this debate. The question remains: Did the gospel reach throughout the then-known world prior to that pre-A.D. 70 generation passing away? Paul and other New Testament writers say it did! To admit this, Ice would have to abandon dispensationalism.

Once again, Ice quotes the commentators selectively. For example, he references Morris as saying the "mystery about the Gospel is so that it reaches throughout the world." I agree. But as we've seen over and over, the New Testament's understanding of "world," whether oikoumene or kosmos, says this is a done deal in terms of what people understood these words to mean in their day. Contrary to Ice, Morris also writes that "the gospel has been made known, and been made known to the Gentiles (cf. 1:5)."20

But let's suppose for the moment that Ice is correct, that Paul only had purpose in mind, so that one day the gospel will "reach throughout the world"? Of course, such an interpretation would contradict what Paul says elsewhere in Romans (Rom. 1:8; 10:18), passages which Ice does not discuss because they refute his position. Furthermore, since Paul was writing around A.D. 57, and Colossians was not written until A.D. 63, there is perfect harmony. By the time Paul writes to the Colossians, the gospel had been preached "in all creation under heaven" (Col. 1:23). In reality, Jesus said that the gospel would be preached "in the whole world for a witness to all the nations" (Matt. 24:14) before "this generation" passed away, that is, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. By following Ice's logic, Jesus is made to be a false prophet. But we know this can never be. I'll take Jesus and the New Testament over the strained exegesis of Ice and the dispensationalists.

Conclusion

In a valiant but less than stellar attempt to shore up the walls of collapsing dispensationalism with his article on Matthew 24:14, Ice has instead inflicted more damage. He fails to make a comprehensive study of how oikoumene is used in the New Testament, he selectively cites passages and commentators that do not support his view, he often refutes what he attempts to defend in his own position, and he makes no attempt to interpret the passages under study in light of their historical context. If Ice's article is standard dispensational fare, then dispensationalism is in deep trouble. We look for and welcome its imminent collapse.

Notes

1. James A. Witmer, "Romans," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty), John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 440. Also see Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 57.

2. Woodrow Michael Kroll, "The Epistle to the Romans," The Liberty Bible Commentary: New Testament (Lynchburg, VA: Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982), 340.

3. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, [1937] 1964), 26.

4. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon, 26–27. Lenski notes that "the commentators call the phrase a popular hyperbole" (26–27).

5. Edward R. Roustio, "The Epistle to the Colossians," Liberty Bible Commentary, 589.

6. J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, [1875] 1993), 134.

7. James R. Gray, Prophecy On The Mount (Chandler, AZ: Berean Advocate Ministries, 1991), 62.

8. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon, 163.

9. Norman L. Geisler, "Colossians," Bible Knowledge Commentary, 675.

10. Homer A. Kent, Jr., Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 57.

11. Kent, Treasures of Wisdom, 57.

12. Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 39–42.

13. For a discussion of Matthew 24:31, see Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), 173–177.

14. R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark (NIGTC) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 536–537.

15. Arthur M. Ogden, The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets: Commentary on Revelation, 2nd ed. (Somerset, KY: Ogden Publications, 1991), 292–293.

16. DeMar, End Times Fiction, 83. Also see Last Days Madness, 89.

17. Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 547.

18. H.P. Liddon, Explanatory Analysis of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Minneapolis, MN: James and Klock, [1899] 1977), 307.

19. Randolph O. Yeager, The Renaissance New Testament, 18 vols. (Gretna, LA: Pelican, 1983), 12:282.

20. Morris, Epistle to the Romans, 547.

 

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