Monday, January 4, 2010

The World's Last Night (3)

“Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.”

It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of it should come the statement “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side. That they stood thus in the mouth of Jesus himself, and were not merely placed thus by the reporter, we surely need not doubt. StMarkUnless the reporter were perfectly honest he would never have recorded the confession of ignorance at all; he could have had no motive for doing so except a desire to tell the whole truth. And unless later copyists were equally honest they would never have preserved the (apparently) mistaken prediction about “this generation” after the passage of time had shown the (apparent) mistake. This passage (Mark 13:30—32) and the cry “Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) together make up the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable. The evangelists have the first great characteristic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention.

C.S. Lewis, "The World's Last Night" (1960)

4 comments:

  1. C.S. is very compelling in this passage: "Unless the reporter [Mark] were perfectly honest he would never have recorded the confession of ignorance at all; he could have had no motive for doing so except a desire to tell the whole truth.... This passage (Mark 13:30—32) and the cry 'Why hast thou forsaken me?' (Mark 15:34) together make up the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable. The evangelists have the first great characteristic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention."

    I like the point C.S. is making there; however, he is misguided with this notion of "the (apparently) mistaken prediction about 'this generation'" seeing the second coming of Christ. This is a misreading of Mark's gospel which surprised me because I thought Hal Lindsey was responsible for propagating this error, but since Lindsey didn't publish The Late Great Planet Earth until 1970, apparently this error in interpretation was already out there as Lewis wrote his essay in 1960.

    The only thing embarrassing about Mark 13:30 is the sloppy interpretation Lewis (and Lindsey and others) give it. "Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (Mark 13:30). What "things"? Verse 30 is a plain language re-statement of verse 29 which says "when you see these things happening you know that it is near, right at the door." What's Jesus talking about? What's near? His return? No. When all these "things" happen, they are to know that the destruction of the Temple is near. Verses 30-31 conclude Jesus' answer to the discples' question about when the Temple will be destroyed as Jesus predicted (see Mark 13:1-3).

    The "things" to happen include: "wars and rumors of war," persecution, and an "abomination" being set up in the Temple. Indeed, after these things happened the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, within a generation (40 years) just as Jesus prophesied. Therefore, Jesus made no mistake when he claimed that "this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." Nothing to be embarrassed about here.

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  2. dulearga@gmail.comJanuary 4, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    I agree with Ken comment. Yes what Jesus was talkinng about was events that did happen in the near future and His not knowing about exactly when is simply because influence of circumstances surrounding the events.
    There is also nothing embarassing about Jesus saying that He didn't know only God knew because, the way I see it, He was at the time talking as His human self His divine side being on the back burner as it were.
    And add a comment I couldn't get in earlier.
    "What if this was my last night" is as potent as and a lot more relevant than "What if this was the world's last night".
    Unlike Lewis, Louis believes that whether we believe in Christ second coming or not has no effect on whether we believe in his divinity.

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  3. I'll post but it will be somewhat redundant.

    In Matthew's version, it is clear that Jesus is referring to the destruction of the temple. He just told His disiples about this ("Not one stone etc etc" and they asked Him, "What will be the sign of....the end of the AGE?" (not world).

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  4. Someone just emailed me to say they'd never heard about this book by Lewis. I sent this reply, just in case anyone else is curious:

    "The World's Last Night" is actually just an essay Lewis wrote, late in his life, 1960. It was published in a book of the same title along with other essays on various topics. Some consider this essay to be his best. I had never read it before until a few weeks ago. I found it be very compelling and surprisingly descriptive of the situation we find ourselves in today. Stay tuned; there's four more readings from this essay. I really like the application Lewis is drawing from the NT teaching of the Second Coming.

    Louis:
    I think Lewis is making the point that the Creed that teaches the divinity of Christ also proclaims the Second Coming. So if one confesses the Apostles Creed, how could one deny (or even neglect according to Lewis) the Second Coming? Plus, if Jesus were only human, would we have any basis to be talking about his Return? Not to mention the more simple reality that to deny the Second Coming is to deny the words of Jesus himself which undermines one's acceptance of the authority of his Word which one should probably not do if the Son is divine.

    "Yet it seems to me impossible to retain in any recognisable form our belief in the Divinity of Christ and the truth of the Christian revelation while abandoning, or even persistently neglecting, the promised, and threatened, Return." -- C.S. Lewis

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