Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Answers of C. S. Lewis: Jesus' False Prophecies

C. S. Lewis both was and is my favorite Christian author. There is beauty in both his writing style and intellectual honesty. But what few fans of his realize is that this same honesty caused him to argue against a number of the more traditional Christian viewpoints. What would Lewis write in response to my post about Jesus' False Prophecies?

“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. ... The evangelists have the first great characteristic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention. [I nearly didn't quote this last sentence, until I noticed the irony of both doing so and not doing so.]

“... The answer of the theologians is that the God-Man was omniscient as God, and ignorant as Man. This, no doubt, is true, though it cannot be imagined. Nor indeed can the unconsciousness of Christ in sleep be imagined, not the twilight of reason in his infancy; still less his merely organic life in his mother's womb.” - C. S. Lewis, in The World's Last Night, pages 98-99

I will begin by pointing out the obvious: Lewis's answer does not further support the apologists' other answers to this problem, but completely undermines them. Combining a typical evangelicals' view of what the incarnation would mean with Lewis's view of what Jesus said leads to the conclusion that Jesus was a false prophet. This is the Christian dilemma of being ecumenical: different Christians are saying really different things.

The biggest problem with Lewis's view is that there is a difference between not knowing and being aware of one's ignorance and not knowing and proclaiming one's ignorance as the truth.

Lewis seems to being saying “Jesus said X is true and then said he doesn't know if X is true.” That wouldn't make sense. What makes more sense is to consider the difference between what Jesus said he knew and what Jesus said he didn't know. He claimed to know that this generation would not pass away first, which is roughly a forty year window that could be stretched a couple decades further if needed. What he claimed not to know is the “day or hour.” What makes more sense is that Jesus claimed to have a general idea of the timing without precise knowledge. Jesus' general idea was wrong. Thus, not only did Jesus not know, and not know that he didn't know, he thought he knew with a high enough level of certainty to make a prophecy.

Deuteronomy 18:21-22: “You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”


  1. Jeffrey,

    You've ruled out a major possibility here. Jesus returned as he said he would, in the time frame he said he would, and accomplished what he said he would. Check out my blog for an explanation...

  2. Well, yes and no. I've looked at what it sounds like Jesus said, and it looks like it didn't happen.

    However, I haven't looked much at the preterist explanation of why what Jesus meant is different from what I think he meant. I wasn't terribly impressed at first glance, but I'll give it a much longer look.

  3. Jeffrey,

    Your reading of Matthew 24:34 is correct. Jesus predicted His coming in judgment against Israel within the lifetime of the generation to whom He spoke (see also Matt 16:28). But why do you suggest that His words did not prove true?

    Preterist eschatology is one of the most logically and internally consistent approaches I've ever come across. Not only does it make sense of all the so-called "end of the world" passages in the NT, it also concords with history quite well. If you'd like, I can recommend some outstanding resources so that you can have an opportunity to re-evaluate your position.

  4. >But why do you suggest that His words did not prove true?

    I don't see the stars falling from the sky, the elect being gathered together, or anything else in 24:29-31 fitting in the first century.

    But that's such an obvious objection that I would expect a rebuttal. I would be interested in a book on preterism.

  5. Jeffrey,

    The "cosmic disruptions" you reference were never seen as scientifically literal, even to the ancients. God's judgments of Edom, Egypt, Babylon, Judea, and Israel in the OT were all stylized with universal-sounding, cosmic-cracking descriptions identical to the ones Jesus described in reference to His coming. (This was one way that Jesus expressed His divinity: His coming would mirror that of Yahweh's various comings against other nations in the OT.) The language was also couched in descriptions of the arrival of foreign armies (e.g., Assyria against Israel, etc.) commissioned by God to perform His work of judgment. Look beyond the intentionally hyperbolic descriptions and you have the destruction of a nation by foreign armies. In the case of 1st-century Israel, Jesus' coming was manifested by the Roman army's destruction of the Jewish nation.

    The elect were indeed gathered together at this time. During a lull in the Roman siege, the Christians, heeding the prophecy of Christ, escaped and found refuge in the wilderness.

    As for Matthew 24:30, the Jewish priest Josephus recorded instances of strange signs in the heavens during the time proceeding and during the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Just check out The Jewish War for a grand tour. Additionally, Jesus' arrival on clouds of glory was, as I mentioned earlier, a description of His arrival in judgment against Israel in the same fashion as Yahweh did in the OT ... a fashion that NO Bible commentator would demand occur literally.

    In short, Jesus was using hyperbolic and symbolic OT language to describe the destruction of "Babylon" (i.e., Jerusalem) and the salvation of the elect. To demand it be read woodenly is to ignore the historico-grammatical context of Christ's words (and those of the OT prophets, for that matter).

    IMHO, the best "primer" on preterist eschatology is Brian Martin's Behind the Veil of Moses: Looking Past the Shadow of the Old Covenant to Find the Substance of the New Covenant, and the Nature of the Second Coming. You can purchase it here. If you really want a powerhouse defense of preterism, you can buy James Stuart Russell's The Parousia from the same website.

  6. Behind the Veil of Moses is now in the mail.

  7. Good choice, Jeffrey! I guarantee that, despite being agnostic with deist/theist leanings, this book will completely turn your view of biblical eschatology on its head.

  8. There are always going to be those who need to take away the joy and peace of our personal walk with Christ. They prefer to turn it into a sterile kind of man's "knowledge" which brings God down to man's intellectual level. The supernatural is pretty much intellectualized away as being the critical part of how faith produces what God has promised. The entire Bible is a miracle and is the reason that the Kingdom is always separate from the world-we are to be in the world but not OF the world. The kingdom is here and now, and you're missing all the fun of knowing that we are the body of Christ and that the Holy Spirit lives in us, the Believers. We have salvation not because of intellect but because we believe in Christ as the perfect blood sacrifice and our only way to the Father by reasons we cannot explain.

    1. > We have salvation not because of intellect

      I've observed this too. Coming to believe in Jesus rarely involves much thought; it generally involves either literally being a small child, or actively resisting reason in order to enter a child like mental state. This does much to explain how it is that we have come to reach different conclusions.

  9. It's about FAITH. If man thinks he finds a way to disprove the words of Christ, then that man is of the enemy, the one who seeks to kill, steal, and to destroy.