Limits of Literalism

Limits of Literalism December 28, 2008

Literalism as an approach to the Bible has its limits. For most people who claim to practice this approach to the Bible, the limit is really, really badly not wanting the literal meaning of a text to be true. A case in point is Matthew 16:28, which says (NIV):

“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Most people who allegedly espouse literalism really, really badly want Jesus (and Matthew, and the Bible as a whole) never to be wrong about anything. Especially nothing prefaced with the words “I tell you the truth”. And yet, if other versions of this saying can perhaps be interpreted as applying to something else (e.g. the transfiguration, or the Book of Revelation), in the form in which it is found in Matthew’s Gospel, this saying has no other more obvious meaning than that some who were alive when Jesus spoke will see his glorious return. The references to the Son of Man’s throne and/or kingdom elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew make it hard to take Matthew’s version as referring to anything else.

So why are these words not taken literally by so-called literalists? The only answer is that they really, really dislike the literal meaning of the words, and therefore the meaning must be something else.

The good news is that, if one wants so-called literalists to eschew the belief that God will delight in torturing people for eternity (to give but one example), all one has to do is persuade them that that belief is really, really abhorrent. And then it will not matter what the plain meaning of this or that passage in the Bible is, taken literally. They will find another possible meaning, just as they do in the case of Matthew 16:28 – not to mention other passages that are already treated in the same way.

"You may want to see an easy to read version of universal restoration. Google the ..."

153 Fish – The Definitive Explanation
"While there are inevitably differences between what Phillip K. Dick espoused and ancient Valentinianism, he ..."

Phildickeanism
"According to a biblical numerology article online the number 153 equals the number of all ..."

153 Fish – The Definitive Explanation

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Looks like you linked to the image incorrectly. Project Gutenberg don’t allow linking to image files — http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:Information_About_Linking_to_our_Pages

  • I gotta be honest. I know what you mean when you use “literalism” in your discussions; but I would have hoped from a bible scholar that such over-generalized usage would not be part of the vocabulary of such an educated fellow.When Jesus says “love your enemies” I am sure you think that such a passage should be taken “literally.” Or take a prophet, like Amos; despite redactions and tradioning, surely you think that there were actually rich urbanites who abused the poor and lived lives of gluttony. This would be taking the bible “literally.” I enjoy your blog, and most of what you say…but I feel like your language should be more precise and less inflammatory.

  • steph

    How do literalists explain Matthew 27.52 – where are the zombies now?adhunt – I understand this post to be about the limits of literalism.

  • Good post. There are limits to any approach to interpreting scripture. When church fathers like Gregory of Nyssa found the literal or moral meaning unacceptable, they reached for more spiritual, symbolic understanding of the passage. This approach has been helpful to me many times. Peace to you today.

  • James,You say:”So why are these words taken literally by so-called literalists?”Didn’t you mean to say: “not taken literally”?In any case, I oppose the wooden use of the terms “right” and “wrong” you make in your post.Was Micah “wrong” to predict in his day that Mount Zion would be plowed like an open field (Micah 3:12)? If he was not wrong to do so, according to definitions of right and wrong that apply to prophecy in the biblical sense, then Jesus was not wrong to make the prediction he did, especially given that he is also reported to have said, pre-resurrection, “not even the Son knows, only the Father.”In short, James, I think you are applying definitions of right and wrong that are inappropriate. You of all people should know better.

  • Anonymous

    For those picking on nits: even if one interprets the passage in Matthew more metaphorically, there is still no good explanation for it. Basically, Jesus predicted the end of history, or the arrival of the Kingdom of God, within the lives of his listeners. Didn’t happen. He was wrong.One can say that Jesus was addressing people in the last generation, but that makes no sense. Why would he speak to people words that they had no way of comprehending, that would mean nothing to the vast majority of people to read or hear it?pf

  • Thank you to all who pointed out errors, and who read a post even though it had a big ugly pseudo-image next to it.John, I think there is a fair point to be made about the prophets being misconstrued by those who treat them as having genuine, precise, infallible knowledge about the future and/or as individuals whose words would come to pass irrespective of how people responded to them. In other words, I hope I do indeed know better, but there are a lot of people whose knowledge of the Bible doesn’t delve into the prophetic books and their background at sufficient depth to arrive at such a nuanced position. If some who read this post start exploring such other ways of thinking about the prophetic books as a result, I’ll be happy… 🙂

  • “Basically, Jesus predicted the end of history, or the arrival of the Kingdom of God, within the lives of his listeners. Didn’t happen. He was wrong.”Um, the end of history didn’t happen, but the arrival of the Kingdom of God most certainly did. Oh, wait, you’re not predicating the Kingdom as a completely future event, are you? “If I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”My work is heaven now.

  • steph

    So where are the blinking zombies who rose from their tombs, Simon? 🙂

  • Sorry, I was dealing with the verse that was the actual premise of this blog post, rather than a verse that some reader came along and buried somewhere in the comments.Matthew 27:52 may or may not be a great counterargument to Biblical literalism, but the post was about Matthew 16:28 which is clearly not.I’m not defending literalism. I am defending inaugurated eschatology.

  • steph

    I think the argument against the literal interpretation of Matt 16.28 is more about the ‘son of man’. Matthew has clearly redacted a (historical) saying that he found in Mark 9.1 and he wrote it in Greek, making use of Daniel 7. Jesus spoke Aramaic, bar nasha would be nonsense in this saying where the Greek is constructed to indicate a title.

  • Simon, I don’t object to partially-realized eschatology. It is a key way that the church dealt with the non-fulfillment in a literal fashion of expectations like this one. Matthew’s form of the saying clearly refers not simply to the inauguration of the kingdom but the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. If one treats that as a reference to something that doesn’t involve the last judgment and other elements of “the end”, then one would, it seems to me, end up with an understanding that might well fit other early Christian writings, but would be out of sync with the Gospel of Matthew’s own language and emphases.

  • Couple of questions:i) When was Matthew written? If, as many scholars think, after 70 A.D. (sometimes much later), it would seem difficult for Matthew to mean that the end of the world was going to occur in the life time of those standing there.ii) Where this passage is found the transfiguration follows immediately after. Does that have any bearing on the passages meaning?Blake

  • Blake, those are two great questions! If Matthew was written around the year 80, I expect that the author of the Gospel could have believed (perhaps even known) that there were individuals alive around the year 30 who were still alive. It would have been less common in that time in history, but not unheard of. John the son of Zebedee is a good example of someone who is supposed to have lived to a ripe old age.It is common to take the reference as being to the transfiguration, and if we were asking about Mark’s version, that might seem like a more viable option. But Matthew’s phrasing of the prediction in terms of “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” doesn’t seem to fit the transfiguration.Obviously there are two questions that need to be separated – what the historical figure of Jesus may or may not have said, and what this or that Gospel author wrote. Matthew’s version may well be an adaptation/redaction of Mark’s. But most who consider themselves “literalists” are unlikely to find it comforting to solve this conundrum by affirming that it was only Matthew who was wrong, not Jesus. 🙂

  • I have thought about NT eschatology quite a bit.I have a certain degree of uncomfortability with it. Some of it is, do doubt, from my cultural context but also I have a hard time pinning down the meaning of many of these texts. A case in point is the one under consideration. Dr. McGrath I understand that you probably view this as irrefutable evidence of a crisis of delay (correct me if I am wrong), from which the church never fully recovered (i.e. the panic set in and they started writing about virgin births, immutable gods, and other sorts of nonsense). You will have to excuse those of us who disagree. Of course one can label those with whom he/she disagrees as a literalist, fundamentalist, or stupid sumbitch (hinting at Plantinga’s article) if you so choose. However, I am not sure that gets you anywhere. It ranks up there with someone telling you you are going to hell for your interpretation of this text (which I do not think by the way).Before I go on I would like to ask what exactly a “literalist” is, I cannot think of any specific thing. KJV only groups come to mind, but I do not think you are talking about them (why would we need to?); Jehovah’s witnesses spring to mind but that will not work either; maybe you are referring to evangelicals but what exactly is an evangelical, and who are these dreaded literalist? D.A. Carson? FF Bruce? John Hobbins? Craig Keener? G.K. Beale? the common church member?Or does the issue really reside elsewhere with the word “literalist”, like other terms (liberal, fundamentlist)which serve to obsfucate issues, being used to ignore a group that is to the theological right of you?I can think of multiple arguments used by more conseravtive scholars that I would not label “literalist”. Again, we are stuck with that question: What is literalism? As far as the interpretation of the passage in question:Carson notes that the passage has a chiastic structure:(A)v. 24: challenge to take up the cross and follow Christ in the immediate future (B) v. 25: incentive — reward and punishment at the Parousia (C) v. 26: central weighing of values (B)v. 27: incentive — reward and punishment at the Parousia(A)v. 28: promise of witnessing the kingdom power of Jesus in the immediate futureHe goes on to claim that, while the transfiguration does not exhaust the 16:24-28, it certainly fulfills some of it. I will quote Carson in full:”It seems best to take 16:28 as having a more general reference — viz., not referring simply to the Resurrection, to Pentecost, or the like, but to the manifestation of Christ’s kingly reign exhibited after the Resurrection in a host of ways, not the least of them being the rapid multiplication of disciples and the mission to the Gentiles. Some of those standing there would live to see Jesus’ Gospel proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire and a rich “harvest” (cf. 9:37-38) of converts reaped for Jesus Messiah. This best suits the flexibility of the “kingdom” concept in the synoptic Gospels (see on 3:2; 10:23; 12:28) and the present context. Thus 16:28 does not refer to the same thing as 10:23. But the distinction is made, not on the basis that consistency is the “the hobgoblin of little minds,” but on the basis of context. “You may disagree with his interpretation, but can we classify it as “literalist”? Thanks for the discussion,Blake

  • I think it important to note that “coming” can also mean “presence” or even “revealing.” It seems to me that when Jesus is speaking of “this generation” he is speaking of his proclamation that Jerusalem/the Temple will be destroyed within “this generation.” And Simon, this did indeed happen! 🙂

  • Blake and adhunt, Let me pose the issue another way. Is there anything in the text itself, any motive other than a desire for Jesus/Matthew not to make a prediction that failed to come true, that would lead one to understand seeing “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” as a referrence to something other than the “second coming”? It seems to me that the quote from Carson shows precisely the way those who uphold Biblical inerrancy do not merely do so in order to give authority to the text in those places where they agree with it, but also to provide an (albeit circular) argument for avoiding the plain meaning of a passage when the plain meaning would be “wrong” in some sense.

  • Dr. McGrath,Thanks for your response. I think Carson is arguing that because the text has this structure, and the variable meanings of Kindgom in the NT, that it is not warranted to draw the conclusion that Jesus was wrong about his coming. I also fail to see how the argument is circular. He looks at the meaning of Kingdom in other texts, sees the variability in meaning, and makes a conclusion. It is no more circular than following Schweitzer and pushing the NT data into a fanatical mold. I also dispute “plain meanings”. Bubba baptist has plain meanings of texts also, we do not accept them do we? Is an intepretation that may be made in response to an apparent problem in the text necessarily wrong? That seems to be the accusation made about Carson.Another problem I have is your assumption that the Bible has multiple voices. It all depends on what you mean by voices. If we can insert contradictions to mean the same as “voices” then I reject that. On the other hand if you mean that we have a diverse body of materials that speak on the tell the same story, albeit in differing ways, then fine. It comes down to method of interpretation. I think that a unified view of scripture explains the question of eschatological delay adequately. However, I also know that someone who assumes methodological naturalism will not allow that because the text is viewed as soley a human artifact with no intervention from God. Am I wrong? Thanks again for the discussion,Blake Reas

  • Dr. McGrath and Dr. Hobbins,Richard Pratt actually wrote an interesting article on OT propecy a while back. He argued that biblical prophecies are mostly contingent. He applied that the the NT expectation of the Second Coming. I will try and find it and send it to you later. It is actually the interpretation I lean more towards, but I still have a lot of questions.Blake Reas

  • I meant Historical Critical Method in my response, not Methodological Naturalism… I have been reading a lot of Alvin Plantinga lately… sorry.Blake

  • Blake,I look forward to hearing more from you on this.

  • Carson points to a range of meanings and connotations of the kingdom, but does he do so for any other reason than to avoid the most obvious meaning of “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”? The inerrancy argument is indeed circular. It is like the old posters about the boss always being right:Rule #1: The Bible is always right.Rule #2: If the Bible is wrong, consult rule #1.

  • All foundational beliefs are circular. Most theologians in the reformed tradition know this. I am sure you believe a few things on the basis of circularity (“foundational” beliefs). Granted I would not draw the circle as narrow as you just did, but still I can admit that at some point my worldview is circular.There is no alternative to circularity. As a Christian I take scripture to be God’s word. However, circularity is not always a problem, non-christian as well as Christian views of the world are based on presuppositions that control their epistemologies, argumentation, and use of evidence(roughly based Frame and Wolstertorff). On the other hand, circularity at one point in a system does not make it necessary for circularity at all points. A perfect example is our discussion we are having now. I interpret the passage from the perspective of a believer in biblical revelation. I admit on those grounds I do not think the biblical authors “got it wrong”, but that does not restrict me from using further arguments. I do not even have to admit that Matthew avoided error here, since I believe that biblical prophecies can be contingent on other demands (gospel to all the nations!). The naturalist, on the other hand, is well with in his/her rights to make interpretations on his/her assumptions.I assume you are a Christian, but you do not use scripture as a foundation for epistemology. I am not sure what you base your epistemology on. Whether it be rationalism, empiricism, or some other philosophy it will always come around to justifying itself by circularity. There are no escape hatches for the circles we draw around ourselves.Yours in my ultimate circle,Blake Reas

  • Finally, 2 Peter whether you take it as of dubious authorship, or by the apostle provides us with an interpretation of the transfiguration. We know of at least one early Christian who took the transfiguration as Christ coming in glory. I am also not sure that “coming in his kingdom” is as solid of an argument as you keep asserting. It is of course based on your assumptions of other texts.

  • Carson points to a range of meanings and connotations of the kingdom, but does he do so for any other reason than to avoid the most obvious meaning of “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”?I would hope he would do so because the Kingdom of God is varied and pluriform, and again you seem to want to nail it down to some future eschatological event. I’m having a hard time listen to you berating “literalists” (whatever that migh mean) when your understanding of a particular concept is equally dogmatic. You seem to have already decided what the “most obvious meaning” is, but what you find obvious may not be the same as what Matthew or anyone else found obvious.

  • I’m still waiting for someone to give my some example of what else “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” might more naturally mean, not based on my assumptions, but in the context of the language used in the Gospel of Matthew.I also find the claim that belief in Biblical inerrancy is a genuinely basic belief dubious. It is a choice to affirm it, and a choice to allow the evidence from the Bible itself to challenge it. I made the latter choice because I realized that if I didn’t, then the doctrine of inerrancy rather than the Bible would be my ultimate authority, which kind of defeats the purpose. 🙂

  • I’m still waiting for someone to give my some example of what else “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” might more naturally mean, not based on my assumptions, but in the context of the language used in the Gospel of Matthew.No, you aren’t, because someone posted a reference to a Carson commentary that did exactly that and you dismissed it out of hand.At least be honest.

  • I am being honest. I don’t find Carson persuasive because the issue is not the range of possible meanings of “kingdom of God” but the consistent usage of “Son of Man” plus a form of the verb “to come”. The reason you’re pointing me to Carson is presumably because the alternative is to acknowledge that Matthew’s Gospel elsewhere consistently uses such language in reference to “the second coming”.If you have counterevidence, I genuinely would like to know about it. This is a subject I’ve changed my mind on before. I could easily imagine it happening again as I learn more and think more about this topic and the many others with which it intersects.

  • Matthew’s Gospel elsewhere consistently uses such language in reference to “the second coming”.This of course is not true. Matthew 11:12 speaks of the kingdom of God already existent by the time of John the Baptist; Matthew 12:28 speaks of the same kingdom as already having come (see the NET Bible’s notes for some good reasons for choosing a translation of arrival not anticipation). Jesus also talks fairly consistently about people’s present status in the kingdom: who is the least, who is the greatest.Those are some verses to be getting on with, but really, this margin is too small for a full discussion on the varied richness of the kingdom of heaven concept; instead see your nearest theological library for altogether too many books on the concept.But presumably all of those books that disagree with you are doing so because the authors have a fixed idea of what they want the kingdom of God concept to be and adjust their readings of the Bible accordingly, whereas you of course come to it with no fixed ideas tabula rasa and are uniquely equipped to tell us all what it really means. And everyone else is just blinded to that obvious truth by their preconceptions.Yeah, right. Not very much point arguing with that. I’m basically done here, because I can’t keep up: first the discussion was about how literalists (whatever that means) are stupid because of this one verse in Matthew; when challenged on that you said, no, what you really meant all along was how they fell for the apocalyptic “Son of Man” idea; when challenged on that you said, no, what you really meant all along was the “most obvious meaning” of “coming in his kingdom”; when challenged on that you said, no, what you really meant all along was the Matthean understanding of the Kingdom of God. I can’t anticipate what dodge is coming next, and you seem to think that anyone who argues against you is doing so because of their blinkered preconceptions. This doesn’t really make for a good environment for sensible theological study.

  • I never said I come to this discussion tabula rasa. I didn’t feel the need to repeat everything I’ve ever said before on this blog about where I’m coming from. I was persuaded to move away from a fundamentalist view of the Bible as a result of studying the Bible itself. It wasn’t a move I sought to make – if anything, I resisted making it long after the evidence ought to have shifted my views.I also object to your sleight of hand attempts to turn the conversation into one about the genuinely broad and somewhat flexible notion of “kingdom of God”. That isn’t the language used in the verse we’re talking about in Matthew. The reference is to the “Son of Man coming”. That’s the language I’m referring to, which I find Matthew to use consistently to refer to what in popular parlance is called “the second coming”. Might such language have meant something else if the historical figure of Jesus had used it? Possibly (with a nod here to Joachim Jeremias). But I’m asking about the form of the saying as found in Matthew, in the context of that Gospel. I would appreciate it if, instead of getting upset, you would discuss the actual passage I cited and the phrase in it that I’ve tried to make the focus of this discussion. Of course, you are free to leave the discussion, if you so desire.

  • Finally, I still think the burden of the evidence leans heavily toward seeing the transfiguration as the fulfillment of this logion. Arguments for Transfiguration Interpretation:The Transfiguration in MatthewThe passage is best explained by a chiasm (v.24-28) with v. 28 tying into the transfiguration that follows. (A) 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (B) 25 For whoever would save his life [7] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (C) 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (‘B) 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (A) 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”(A) Refers to the immediate sufferings that come with being a disciple of Jesus.(B) Refers to the eschatological reward for being a disciple(C) This passage focuses counting the cost of following Jesus. This is a theme in other areas of the gospels.(‘B) Again we have the idea of eschatological reward.(‘A) Refers again to the immediate gratification of getting a glimpse of the coming in the transfiguration.This makes even better sense in light of 17:1-8 where the transfiguration directly follows. If we need confirmation of this we only have to go to the Gospels of Mark and Luke, and 2nd Peter. I will focus on the passage in 2nd Peter because it seems to shed light on how the early Christians took this tradition:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.Notice, that Peter makes it explicit that the event on the mount was the “coming” of Jesus. Robert Stein says of this passage,“In this passage the transfiguration is seen as foreshadowing the glory Jesus will possess at the parousia (his second coming). This is probably the best way of interpreting these difficult passages, which introduce the account in each of the Gospels. Mark understood the transfiguration as fulfilling Jesus’ statement “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power (Mark 9:1). It should be also remembered that this verse immediately follows Mark 8:38, which refers to the future coming of the Son of Man in glory. Matthew 16:28 ties the transfiguration even more closely to the parousia by saying that they would not taste death “before they [saw] the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”. It would appear, therefore, that both 2 Peter and the Gospel writers understood the transfiguration as a glimpse of the future splendor of the Son of Man at his glorious return.” ( Jesus the Messiah pg.171) Simply stated, the transfiguration event was a taste of what was to come at the parousia. The chiasm mixes events of the near future, with those of the distant future. This is, of course, the idea of the “prophetic perspective” that Caird, Ladd, and Cranfield appealed to in their works. They pointed back to certain prophecies in the Old Testament that seemed to have a double referent of fulfillment (type and shadow). James, I also would point to the tradition with in the gospels of delay. I do, in fact, think that there are two strong streams of imminence and delay throughout the whole New Testament. I think the key is to find the balance. I know you will disagree with me, but I have enjoyed the discussion. I hope you have. I hope we can continue.In Christ Jesus,Blake Reas

  • Dr. McGrath,I would like to send you the article I mentioned earlier. Send me an email at blake.reas@gmail.com, so that I can get it to you, that is, if you are interested.Just so you know I am from Corydon, Indiana originally. I love Indianapolis, I go there every summer and work the Indiana State Fair with my family. Nap down is a great city.I guess you know that you teach at the school that Gordon H. Clarke taught philosophy?In Christ,Blake Reas

  • Thanks Blake – of course we can continue! I’ll give some further thought to the question of the chiasm, but even so it seems that whereas the transfiguration comes after it, within the structure (B’) itself we have reference to the Son of Man coming with angels to render (final) judgment. Doesn’t that lead the reader to expect that the coming in the next statement, which some standing there will see before they die, will be that same coming? Would the transfiguration, even if understood as a glimpse of the glory of the Parousia, be felt to have fully fulfilled the expectation raised in 16:27-28?

  • Maybe I am being something of a pedant, but since v.27 is part of ‘B it leads us to think that the events are blended into one another. Yet, they must be separated, or I think I have good evidence that they were because of 2nd Peter. I also do not recall any of the church fathers fighting any regard actions in regard to the delay of the Parousia. I was reading Jaroslav Pelikan”s book on Jesus in history, and he noted that Tertullian told the emperor that the Christians actually pray that Christ would delay his coming, so that he could be saved! I will “mine” the quote later. :)Your pointing out of the use of coming in conjunction with “Son of Man” language makes me pause and reflect. Thanks again,Blake

  • Since it is getting late, I’ll leave it for now with a short tongue-in-cheek answer: maybe the church fathers weren’t troubled by these passages because they weren’t literalists! :)I do think that looking at the church fathers’ interpretations is a valuable guide. They were closer in time and space, language and cultural context, than most modern interpreters can ever hope to be. I’ll be giving that some more thought – maybe it might even merit an article, looking at the earliest post-NT interpretations of passages like the one we’ve been discussing here.

  • Dr. McGrath, Thank you for being so engaging! I need the excercise. Thank goodness that I am not trying to talk about innerrancy (a rather silly doctrine to be sure)I think that your Bible Gateway search left out the most important OT passages relating to the “Son of Man” theme. I would argue that Daniel 7-12 creates a motif that we can reasonably assume Jesus took on as well. That of the suffering then exalted one who is given authority. If, then, we assume that Jesus had this in mind as he went about his eschatological mission, and if we look a bit further ahead to Matthew 24, then we can indeed assume that Jesus envisioned himself “coming” to the Throne of the Eternal One to receive a “kingdom” or “authority.” The proof, or vindication of this, would be the destruction of Jerusalem/the Temple as he indeed predicted.I am not looking to defend this passage because I want to defend “biblical authority;” rather I do feel that this kind of reading makes the most sense of Jesus’ eschatology.Tony

  • Dr. McGrath, I have had it suggested that the “Son of Man” language in these passages refer to a “going” of the Son of Man to the throne. I understand that this was the interpretation given by R.T. France, N.T. Wright, and others. I tend to reject that view becuase it seems that in the Gospels the “Son of Man” imagery has been reused as a coming in judgement.I think it can be argued that the Ascension was the going, and “Son of Man” passages are the return in vengence after he was “enthroned” (not to be taken literally!).You asked if I thought the transfiguration exhausted the meaning of the passage. In response I must say no.

  • To add on v.25/27 refer to events in the distant future. V. 24/28 refer to the events in the immediate future. So on this reading the disciples do in fact see the Kingdom. The Transfiguration is after all much more than Jesus being lit up like a light bulb. The Transfiguration was a glimpse of Jesus’ glorification, authority, and legitimacy from God. I wasn’t sure if I was clear on this before.Blake

  • “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”I’m not sure if I call myself a literalist yet, but I do believe everything in the Bible is true. And maybe this is just a layman’s simplistic notion, but if Christ is talking about his second coming here as he immediately appears to be and the apostle John is standing right there … well, didn’t John see Christ’s second coming before he died?I guess I’m at the point now where just because I don’t understand how a verse or passage in the Bible can be true, doesn’t mean I still don’t believe that it’s true. I have this notion that the fault lies in my own understanding, not in the Bible. If the Bible is innerant, and I believe it is, then Matthew 16:28 is somehow true, whether I understand it or not. Is this the very literalist attitude that you are speaking out against?

  • Persiflage,I assume you are referring to John’s visions in the book of Revelation or something else?Blake

  • Or, alternatively, it might be that someone wrote Revelation because of their concern that otherwise the prediction in Matthew would not have come true.Be that as it may, the main problem I have with the view that all apparent errors are problems with the interpreter rather than the Bible itself is that it seems impossible to disprove – in other words, it is unfalsifiable. It doesn’t matter how clear it is that the geographic movements in Matthew’s and Luke’s infancy narratives are incompatible, or that the Synoptics and John differ on the relation of Passover to the crucifixion and Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, there “must be some explanation other than the Bible is factually incorrect”.What I find spiritually disturbing about this viewpoint is that, if God himself wanted to persuade an inerrantist that the Bible is errant (and that God alone is inerrant, and thus “Biblical inerrancy” is a form of idolatry), there seems to be no room left for God to get through.

  • I find the visions being a fulfillment of Matt 16:28 (and parallels) to be somewhat strained. Of course it is for a different reason than you James. I find 2 Peter to be a fairly reasonable interpretation of that tradition. I also think that there is good evidence for Matthew using a chiasm in 16:28, which mingles immediate fulfillment with future fulfillment, as in the OT prophets. Your objection to it being used by another writer to save the prediction seems to be, well, unfalsifiable. The fact of the matter is that many of our interpretations are just that… they draw their plausibility from previous beliefs. I would also dispute many of the other errors you attribute to the gospel narratives. As to the charge of idolatry, I find it to be a misrepresentation of the inerrancy position. The inerrancy of scripture is based on the character of God, as found in scripture. You may not like the idea of God not telling a lie, but there is nothing wrong with the argument from a logical stand point.

  • Here is what Calvin had to say about saying that the book of Revelation fulfills 16:28:”… for the notion adopted by some, that they were intended to apply to John, is ridiculous.” (Calvin’s comments on Matt. 16:28 in his Commentary.)