Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to
When Shall These Things Be?
The Resurrection of the Dead
Part 10 The Charge of Gnosticism
David A. Green
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Strimple Argument #10: Because preterists deny the physicality
of the resurrection of the dead, preterists are teaching a new form of
the old heresy of Gnosticism (313). Preterism is therefore a physicalbody-
Answer: Before answering this argument, we must first note that
though preterists deny the physicality of the resurrection of the dead,
preterists do not agree with the Gnostics on the meaning of “resurrection.”
Preterists do not believe that “resurrection” is a mystical attainment
that is realized through knowledge, secret or otherwise. The Reformed
preterist understanding of life in Christ is radically other than
the Gnostic understanding.
We believe that we are raised to life through one thing, and one
thing only: Faith in the historic (real, actual, physical) death and resurrection
of God the Son, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The Gnostic
denial of this core gospel truth is one of the central errors that made
them heretics in the worst sense of the word.
As for the idea that preterism necessarily leads to the Gnostic view
that the body is to be despised or that it is evil, this can be quickly dismissed
with a look at Matthew 22:30. It is in that verse that Jesus said
that those who had physically died would, in the resurrection of the
dead, “neither marry nor be given in marriage.”
The opponents of preterism accept this teaching of the Lord, but
they do not realize that if the preterist interpretation (a non-physical
resurrection) necessarily implies that the physical body must be despised
or viewed as evil, then Jesus’ teaching (no more marriage for
those who participate in the resurrection of the dead) necessarily im-
plies that marriage, and by implication sex and reproduction, must also
be despised or viewed as evil.
If the preterist teaching that the physically dead saints were raised
non-physically necessarily implies that the physical aspect of man is
to be despised or that it is evil, then Jesus’ teaching that there is no
marriage for the physically dead after they are raised must likewise
necessarily imply that marriage, sexuality, and reproduction are to be
despised or considered evil. If one conclusion is necessarily true, the
other is necessarily true. If preterism is necessarily anti-body Gnosticism,
then Jesus was, by the same logic, necessarily anti-marriage, anti-
sex, and anti-reproduction. Therefore, the futurist claim that preterism
is necessarily Gnostic (physical-body-disparaging) is fallacious.
The truth is that marriage, sex, reproduction, and the physical body
are all good and temporary (Job 14:12; Eccles. 9:6; 1 Cor. 6:13). “Temporary”
does not equal “despised” or “evil.” As with the temporality of
marriage, sex, and reproduction, the temporality of the physical body
in no way minimizes or negates the eternality of the Spirit-empowered
works that are wrought by means of it. A temporal “tabernacle” (2 Pet.
1:13-15) in which and through which we obey and worship God “in spirit
and in truth” is by no stretch of the imagination evil or to be despised.
Ironically, the reason that the physically dead saints who were raised
in AD 70 did not get remarried and procreate again is because they were
raised in a non-biological manner. They were and are spirits, “like the
angels” (Matt. 22:30; Heb. 1:7). The Sadducees, like the futurists after
them, did not understand this.
Before I conclude this answer, there is another, related charge of Strimple
against preterists that I should address here, and that is that preterists
are naturalistic rationalists and skeptics. This accusation comes as a surprise
because it is difficult to understand how one could simultaneously
be a Gnostic and a naturalistic rationalist. How can preterists believe in
an over-spiritualized resurrection of the dead and at the same time be
steeped in, as Strimple puts it, old-fashioned, blatantly naturalistic, “the
universe is a closed system” rationalism? (307, 310, 328, 339)
As though these accusations were not contradictory enough, Strimple
admits elsewhere that preterists are devoted to the defense of the
divine origin and the divine authority of the Scriptures: “ . . . [T]he motivation
behind their theology and their exegesis is apologetic” (289). The
question now is how can preterists be defenders of the divine origin and
authority of Scripture and also be naturalistic rationalists and skeptics
and Gnostics at the same time?
While it is true that we can find certain preterists who have argued
that a physical resurrection of the dead is an impossibility because of the
dispersal of molecules throughout the aeons, it is not correct to paint preterists
in general as people who argue in that manner. I am sure that I speak
for the vast majority of preterists of Reformed background when I say that
God is able at any time to physically resurrect all people of all generations.
Preterists do not reject a physical resurrection of the dead because
we believe in a “closed universe,” or because we think that God lacks
ability, or because we are skeptics or rationalists or naturalists, or because
we have a Gnostic, matter-despising bent. We reject a physical
resurrection of the dead for one reason and one reason only: Because
we believe that the Word of God—the divine origin and authority of
which we are championing—teaches a spiritual, non-physical (yet
“bodily”) resurrection of the dead in the end of the old covenant age.
Our belief in the inerrancy and divine authority of the Bible, and in
the deity of Christ, and in the goodness of God’s physical universe, and
in regeneration by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone does
not prove that we are correct in our understanding of the resurrection
of the dead, but it does prove that we are not “naturalistic Gnostics.”