This Present Distress


After reading (“orthodox”) preterists for a few years, the failure of modern evangelicals to read the New Testament in its historical context, and to understand its constant allusions to Old Testament event structures now floors me. How is it that we so easily underestimate the importance of the destruction of Judaism in AD70? And worse than that, how is it that we fail to understand that the imminent warnings of the apostles as prophets related to that event? Here’s a perfect example that hits both these ugly birds with one stone; some pure gold from Peter Leithart this week:

Do Not Touch A Woman

Given the high view of marriage and sexuality in Scripture, Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians are odd and out of character. Why would Paul think it good for everyone to be as he is?

Jeremiah 16 provides a clue. In verse 2, Yahweh instructs Jeremiah not to take a wife or raise children “in this place,” because Yahweh is bringing distress on the fathers, mothers, and children who are born in doomed Jerusalem: “They will die of deadly diseases, they will not be lamented or buried; they will be as dung on the surface of the ground and come to an end by sword and famine, and their carcasses will become food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth” (v. 4). In view of the present distress, Yahweh says, Jeremiah ought not marry or have children. Jeremiah would remain unmarried as a prophetic sign of Yahweh’s determination to withdraw peace from His bride (v. 5).

As Paul makes clear in various places, he is an apostle like Jeremiah, not only in being called from the womb but also in his singleness, a sign of the approaching doom on Jerusalem and Judaism.

This kind of common-sense interpretation really isn’t that common, is it? How is it that garden-variety scholars miss the Old Covenant context of the warnings in the gospels, epistles and especially the Revelation? Flipping through Goldsworthy’s Gospel and Revelation again this week, he comments on the fact that the book is very Jewish, but the significance of this seems to escape him, as does the significance of the details in the book. In many places he does little more than summarise the text and make some helpful application. Where is the interpretation? The book has been misunderstood as “timeless wisdom” for the church, rather than an urgent seismic warning for those to whom it was written. And people wonder why I rave about Jordan and Leithart. They get it.

Does this mean, as a friend challenged me this week, that the New Testament doesn’t apply to us? No. Does the book of Ezekiel apply to us? The real question is, was it written to us?

The interpretation of this passage above must take into account that its context is a first century distress. It came and went. Being single is not a principle that applies to the church throughout history. It is a wartime measure.

This widespread misinterpretation of the New Testament leaves Christians open to ridicule, like that in the graffiti pictured above. The answer is, Jesus did come soon, as He promised. He destroyed the scoffers, the backsliders, those who loved money, those who were disobedient to their parents, etc. He allowed them to be slaughtered and their city to be burned. He prepared a place for His disciples AND THEN HE RECEIVED THEM AS HE PROMISED. It is history.

So, how to answer the graffiti artist? Just as the Herods were wiped from history in the church’s first victory as Jericho, every individual and institution that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ will be wiped from history when Jesus comes to judge the World. Just as Jericho began Joshua’s conquest and Hazor completed it, our Hazor is yet to come. (Go read what happened to Hazor.)

The New Testament records for us God’s judgment in the Garden and in the Land. The World is yet to come, but there is no promise that this final “Gentile courts” judgment will be soon.

See also How to Read the New Testament.

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5 Responses to “This Present Distress”

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    So are you saying the Corinthians weren’t supposed to marry because AD 70 was coming? They were going to be kind of far away from the action!

  • Daniel Says:

    Agree with Robert.
    I mean, this is compelling enough to entertain in broad strokes, but why would a conflict that was going to take place all the way in Jerusalem about 15 years post-1 Corinthians mean the Corinthians shouldn’t marry?

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Good point – I hoped someone would bring that up. Just so I could post this link:

    Peter Leithart quotes a secular historian with a factor that even preterists overlook.

    Thanks Robert
    Thanks Daniel

  • Bill Conway Says:

    Hi Mike,
    Thanks for the note on the blog. I just published my testimony on it for friends, relatives and passers-by to read. What a great venue for publishing the saving grace of our Lord.
    In the event there are any Australian conferences that include people like James Jordan, Gary DeMar, or others, please keep me in the loop. It has been a long time since the Christian Reconstruction conferences I attended in Seattle. Blessings, Bill

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Hi Bill
    This is the only one I know of:
    They had Ken Gentry as a speaker last time.