N.T Wright On the Black Hole of Understanding About ‘Parousia’

The Rt Revd Tom Wright with new bookHere is a quote of N.T. Wright wisely criticizing the academy’s over-attachment to tradition. He is nearly calling for reform on the topic of traditional beliefs about the often-misunderstood idea of Jesus’ ‘parousia‘. Parousia simply means ‘presence’ or ‘arrival’. It sometimes get’s translated as ‘second coming’ but it does not mean ‘second coming to end the world’, although it gets treated that way by many mainstream traditions. It is the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe the first-century arrival of Jesus’ presence into his Kingdom, or corporate body and hearts of believers in AD70. This was posted by Peter Leighthart on his page on First Things. It engendered a surprising amount of positive attention, especially given how pointed it is. Of course, a shorter way of saying it might simply be, “everything must change”!

Parousia Friday, October 18, 2013, post by Peter J. Leithart
N.T. Wright’s long-awaited forthcoming Paul and the Faithfulness of God is full of juicy little polemics, few juicier than this one: “The scholarly construct of a ‘parousia’ in which the space-time universe would cease to exist, followed by the second-order construct of a ‘delay’ in this event which then precipitates a new sort of Christian self-consciousness, has been an enormous black hole in historical understanding into which legions of scholars have sucked one another through the gravitational forces of their unremitting zeal for ‘the traditions of the fathers’ –‘the fathers’ in this case being Schweitzer, Bultmann and their various successors. Woe betide those who break the traditions! The wrath of the blessed guild of biblical scholars, who wear their fringes long and their phylacteries broad, will fall upon them! As Philo said about the thousands of Pharisees with sharp eyes, ready to spot any infringement and pounce on it, so in our world too there are those who have ways of making their traditions prevail.”

– See more at: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2013/10/18/parousia/#sthash.uRivRkRg.dpuf

Also, Leithart is a conservative Reformed guy who recently publicly changed his position on the Olivet Discourse to believing it was all fulfilled in the first century. He also published a well-reviewed, well received commentary on 2 Peter, making the case for first century fulfillment there as well.
I find it exciting to see the way people change and interesting to see the way they take the risk of o recanting, sharing and taking another stab at it. More of this freedom to change one’s mind should be encouraged! We ought to always hold the traditions up to the light. We must find the courage to be willing to expose past fallacies – however attached to them we may be – and allow for change when change is necessary.  
 A great classic book about the full meaning of the word ‘parousia’ in the Bible is J.S. Russell’s book called The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of our Lord’s Second Coming,” By James Stuart Russell. Russell goes through every passage in the New Testament where the word ‘parousia’ is used and looks at the passage in its immediate context, as well as how the passage would have been heard by its original audience and, when applicable, he looks also at the Old Testament backdrop to the New Testament ideas. Russell engages theologians of his era (which was over a hundred years ago) and shows their errors in logic when they try to push the fulfillment of the parousia off into the far distant future of Jesus’ disciples. He basically shows, systematically, how the New Testament talks about Jesus’ arrival, coming or Second Advent as something that was always, only and ever, promised to happen to his first century audience, or the disciples of Jesus’ generation. If that sounds impossible to you, read this book! He explains, step by step, how each passage was fulfilled in the first century and what Good News this really is for us today. This book was a landmark in its time and has remained a theological classic and ‘ground zero’ for people exploring realized eschatology. You can read the entire book online for FREE HERE –>! I highly recommend it for any student of the Bible or History.
And check out this nugget from Wright as well:

“What happens with Genesis 3; and I do think there is a historical correlate. OK, Genesis one, two, and three is wonderful picture language, but I do think there was a primal pair in a world of emerging hominids, that’s the way I read that. … But it seems to me that just as God called Abraham and Sarah out of a welter of wandering nations and said I’ve got a special purpose for you, the way that I see it is that God called one pair of hominids and said “OK, this place is a bit chaotic, you and I together, we’re going to have a project. We’re going to plant this garden and we’re going to go out from here and this is how it’s going to be.” So when Cain goes off he founds a city. Excuse me, who else is in the city? … And ancient Jewish readers knew this perfectly well, they knew that this was not the first ever humans or anything like them.” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/01/23/evolution-death-adam-wright-rjs/  via Tim Martin

photo by: garethjmsaunders

23 Responses to N.T Wright On the Black Hole of Understanding About ‘Parousia’

  1. The Parousia is a free PDF download from multiple sources, and you have listed one of those sources in your EXCELLENT article. Recently I published the Second Edition of The Parousia (the PDF is the First Edition) that is fully Kindle-ized … functional Table of Contents, full Second Edition footnotes, and Greek characters that are characters, not tiny photos as in the PDF (aids readability if you know the Greek). This version also contains two new articles from Preterist scholars. http://www.amazon.com/The-Annotated-Parousia-Kindle-Testament-ebook/dp/B00HGKTC74/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389384230&sr=8-1&keywords=annotated+parousia

  2.  peter bluer says:

    on the web site http://www.biblemaths.com there is a section on modified preterism with many books that you can downloaded.
    Also there is scenario model of the events about the Parousia in AD 70 and how it relates to Israel now inhabiting their ancient land in unbelief. It deals with every scripture in the Old and New Testament and blends them into a water tight model that is not self contradictory. It deals with the massive error of the Greek ‘mello’ which has been systematically ignored by 98% of all translations in 31 places. This site is worth investigating.

  3.  donald perry says:

    Parousia simply means ‘presence’ or ‘arrival’. It sometimes get’s translated as ‘second coming’ but it does not mean ‘second coming to end the world’, ???? I guess that means he is a partial Preterist, so that his reform only has to do with a denial that he needs to be consistent. That’s silly. I think it is possible to say Jesus did come to that generation to establish His church and perfect it, that now we must follow that very same way. Redirectionalism Donald Perry.

  4.  donald perry says:


    It is high time Partial Preterists started dealing with their Preterism (Matt 24, Revelation fulfillment) and find some kind of reasonable arguments to answer Full Pretersts without resorting to the creeds or Soteriology to prove that they have the correct eschatological pattern. Thus far there has been nothing from Preterism, N O T H I N G. (For example, I can prove correct Soteriology without having to quote creeds or Scriptures that have to do with Eschatology.) If Partial Preterists cannot do the same, then they will someday have to admit and give an account to God that they are responsible for making Full Preterism more reasonable then Partial Preterism.

    Once moderate Preterists say Matthew 24 is fulfilled they have lost the arguemnt, you cannot recover from that. The Bible DOES NOT define two different eschatologies, TOO MANY examples to show where moderate Preterism is inconsistent.

    Since ultimately the second coming is something one can only identify outside this corruptible body (1 Cor. 15) it is possible to say that Matthew 24 and Hebrews 9:27-28 were fulfilled to that first generation in martyrdom and in their death. Now there is a pattern there. Moderate Preterists do not have to make up a new pattern for the future. Rather we can look back on that old pattern in Christ and His Apostles and have a orthodox eschatology to pattern a definition for the a future second coming in our age. Christians do not have to reinvent the wheel.

    Partial Preterists are *FULLY RESPOSIBLE* for all the consistent unorthodox preterists out here. As long as Partial Preterists cannot answer the Full Preterist problem with Preterism alone their system is in shambles.

    Matthew 23:15 says “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” I would not say that Partial Preterist believers are Hell bound, but the fact of the matter is that when their doctrine is consistent it damns, and they are now under the judgment of God for that. Defending Partial Preteristm today makes just as much sense and defending earthly Jerusalem in AD 70 from Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus.

  5.  donaldperry says:

    I hope my comment is not deleted again, I think that is a very weak way to deal with arguments.

    NT Wright wrote: “Parousia simply means ‘presence’ or ‘arrival’. It sometimes get’s translated as ‘second coming’ but it does not mean ‘second coming to end the world’, although it gets treated that way by many mainstream traditions.”

    This means that he is a Partial Preterist. The problem with Partial Preterism is that there is really nothing keeping it from becoming consistent. Rather it would be better to consider that all these things are for today, like Revelation 1-3 for example, rather then attempting to put them in the past. I wrote my answer to this idea at Postmillennialism.net more extesivly if you do not know what I am trying to say.

    God bless and hope to hear some good answers.

    Donald Perry

    •  Riley says:

      Hi Donald, Thanks for your thoughts. I didn’t delete your extensive comments and your “Dire Warnings”. I simply didn’t “approve” them to be published because I didn’t like the hostile tone toward preterist beliefs and also toward the people who hold them. This is a place of civil discussion and debate, not mud slinging or posting threats. Thanks.

      On that note, maybe the reason why partial-preterism leads people to full preterism isn’t because it’s evil, as you seem to believe, but because it is true. I wonder why it is such a bother to you? Does it threaten a particular hope or belief that you hold dear?

      •  donald perry says:

        Dear Riley, Do you believe Matthew 24 and or Revelation is fulfilled as what is typical for Partial Preterists like Ken Gentry? Please explain?

        •  donald perry says:

          And if so how do I conveniently stop there and not keep going through the whole Bible assuming fulfillment? If Jesus came in Matthew 24 why did he not come in Matthew 25? And what I see in Matthew 24 I find in Revelation for that second advent. And what I find in Matthew 24 I find in 1 Thess. 4. And then how do I not say 1 Cor. 15 IS NOT fulfilled? That would be now a contradiction because all these things are very well intertwined and interconnected together. There are no two eschatologies in the NT that the Apostles foretell, there is only one, and it is no problem for me or anyone one else, this is elementary to eschatology. Now if you study the King family and their progression then you will know what is the logical end once you have to say atonement happened in AD 70. That is where all these things are headed once you start ticking these things off one at a time. Rather it is better to just read any part of the OT or NT like it is written to you, and come up with something useful.

          •  Riley says:

            Donald, this whole website is dedicated to explaining the beauty of full preterism. I am NOT a partial preterist like Gentry or DeMar. I used to be. I started out like them back before I ever really questioned what I had been taught — or bothered to seriously look into the Scriptures myself on the topic of “how much has been fulfilled?”. Then, like you point out, I did study, and I realized that they are being inconsistent when they claim that the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled and that only the first 20 chapters of Revelation were fulfilled. I think total fulfillment is a better, more Scriptural answer. So does every open-minded person who studies it — this is why there is a revolution happening on this topic right now. Because it makes so much sense! Those partial-preterist pastors seem afraid to be consistent, as it threatens something they seem to have an EMOTIONAL attachment to, And it also threatens their livelihood — which isn’t fair, actually. They are NOT free to think! But as an independent theologian, I AM free to think! And I don’t want to do theology based on emotions, but based on a courageous willingness to go wherever the truth of Scripture leads me.

            Over a decade now of studying, questioning and prayerful examination has lead and confirmed to me that Jesus did what he said he would do — WHEN to TO WHOM he said he would do it! He came when he said he would come, he renewed the covenant, he resurrected the new spiritual Israel, he consummated his Kingdom on earth — which is US! He lives in and among US NOW. WE who are in Christ, living in the New Covenant age – which was called “the age to come” – ARE the New Creation in Christ. WE ARE the New Heaven and Earth! It’s not a “place” its a spiritual reality, the substance of which is Christ. It is what everything was leading up to!

            When, at the end of Revelation, John says he sees a new heaven and a new earth descending and that there is now no more sea…he is seeing the consummated New Covenant Kingdom come to earth to dwell in and among us. And he said that would happen SOON to the 7 churches living in Asia Minor, in the mid 60’s AD! And he was literally RIGHT! (Why are people so afraid to admit this? Its such Good News!!). The reason there is said to be “no more sea” by John is because the sea represented separation from God and the Gentile nations. Now, in this new reality in Christ, there is no more separation between God and man, Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free — we are all ONE in Christ. In this everlasting new covenant age, there is also no more burden of keeping the law, we live in grace, and so there is also “no more crying” because of breaking it. The no more crying part of the New Heaven and Earth isn’t about you not having pain in life anymore — God seeks to be WITH US through our pain. It’s about not shedding tears over what Israel kept mourning over. You know there’s a whole book of the Bible called “Crying”?? Think about it. Lamentations, by the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah, was all about Biblical crying, or mourning over the separation between God and humanity that came when Israel continually broke the law, since it was their means to connect with God. But now the law is fulfilled in Christ, and that old system has grown obsolete and passed away, and our tears have been wiped away by his redeeming grace — by the way Jesus connects us to God face to face now, no longer separated by the law nor by the death of Adam. The resurrection life we now live is In Christ. Our biblical tears, our mourning has been turned to joy and dancing because of what Jesus did for us in changing the worlds, changing the system and connecting us to God and to each other in the most powerful, authentic, fearless way.

          •  donald perry says:

            Dear Riley you wrote: “But now the law is fulfilled in Christ, and that old system has grown obsolete and passed away, and our tears have been wiped away by his redeeming grace — by the way Jesus connects us to God face to face now, no longer separated by the law nor by the death of Adam. ”

            You do not have to go that route. I am well aware of all these things. I used to follow Max King and they threatened to want to sue me because I wanted to use the term Transmillennialism TM. This stuff is nothing new to me. I wrote a book about it. If you want I can send you a copy to your email.

            My point is that we are still in an age that is passing away [see 1 cor 7:And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.32But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world,] , who is your mediator? Mine is Jesus that man who died in AD 33 for my sins and atoned for them there at that cross. You do not have to put this stuff on a time line. Just pick up the Bible and read it like it is written to you. Now you are in a dispensation that cannot be defined because you still sin. We are not going to be sinning in heaven.

            That seed that is in you [1 John 3 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.] still has the same problem Paul had in Roman 7 now until you die.

          •  Riley says:

            I find a more consistent picture to be that Paul was writing to THEM not ME. This is why he said so. He addressed his letter to real living Corinthians, he did not write a book for people to take out of context and apply to themselves for all time. I don’t think it is necessary to do that, in fact it violates the very first principles of good Bible exegesis. And all for what? I don’t see your point. Rather, I see Paul telling THEM that THEY were in an age, the last days of the Old Covenant age, that was about to pass away. It is such an easy and consistent way to view it once you see that the terms “this age and the age to come” were always, both in the old and new testaments, used to refer to the old and new covenant ages…not to some parenthetical church age in between. It’s simply not there in the text, and its not necessary to make it up.

            I also define “the death” differently than you do. I don’t believe Paul is teaching that physical death is some ‘problem’ that Jesus will fix. Rather, Jesus was delivering his people from the death of Adam. Read the context of all the chapters of Corinthians leading up to chapter 15 and you’ll see that “the body” Paul is talking about throughout is the corporate body of Christ, the many who are one. OC Israel was the seed being planted that would resurrect at the end of the OC age at the Parousia. Just like Ezekiel also pictured in his “dry bones” analogy. I see most of the Good News as being about corporate resurrection of us into the Resurrection Life of Christ. I see physical death as a natural part of life and something that was present before the Fall as people were not ‘made’ immortal but mortal from the start (this is a historic church position too, see my article on Augustine believing this, it has become less known since the rise of dispensationalism and young earth creationism however).

            Anyway, I don’t think that God left us hanging in a dispensation that cannot be defined. And I definitely don’t see any New Testament writers expressing confusion about what age they were in, they were confident and bold and sure about where they were – in the transition period. This is why the Hebrew writer said that they were living at the climax of the ages, and that what was growing obsolete (OC age) was ready to disappear and that that would happen very soon and without delay at the parousia. Paul also says they are at the ‘end of the ages’ in Corinthians, and there are other references that I’m sure you know. What were all these writers talking about, if not the changing of the Old and New ages?

            Picking up the Bible and reading it like it is to me is something that NO bible scholar I know – not even futurists – would recommend. A whole host of problems arise from that practice — for example, I would still be supporting slavery if I did that as Paul told slaves not to seek their freedom for the End was near!! He also told people not to marry since the Tribulation was so close. If that End of that age hasn’t happened, then a host of problems arise for Christians in the world today. Those things were written to specific people in a special situation at the climax and end of the Old Covenant age. It does nothing for me to read myself into it. But, rather, I find really Good News and treasures untold when I read the Bible through their eyes as much as possible, and then seek to understand what the implication and application is for me and the church today.

            Yes, I would be very interested in reading your book. I would also be interested to know what turned you off from Kings position? You can email me at RileyPowell@post.harvard.edu

          •  donald perry says:

            I think we need to make parallels when and where they are applicable. Not to marry would pertain for example if you are living in similar circumstances where the Gospel is going forth and you believe that persecution will be coming because now it is always being rejected. But for that to happen you would first have to be preaching the Gospel to a group of people in a remote area I suppose cut off from law and order. I am sure you would agree that marriage living in Pakistan knowing that there is no where for you to go, living in the French Ghetto, knowing that there is coming great persecution because you are going to preach the Gospel anyway until they kill you, and that there is going to be radicals moving into the area, Paul would advise in this case probably the same thing. So you should be able to make applications to today as we preach the Gospel. Why is that not applicable to today?

            How would you define the Gospel, if atonement was accomplished not in AD 33 at the resurrection but 70 AD?, And if atonement happened in AD 70 why is Christ sitting down in Hebrews 10:12?, For a testament is applicable at death 9:17 Hebrews, correct?..

  6. Riley, my name is Don K. Preston, a newbie to your blog. I appreciate your article and your comments. I am currently reading Wright’s new work, and he makes all sorts of rather astounding and challenging comments– challenging that is, to the dominant paradigm! This is particularly interesting to me in the light of the fact that I read folks today say that if a recognized scholar does not suggest an idea, it should not be given any credance. Well, some major scholars are now making some bold and “radical” statements that are shaking the foundations, calling, for a major “re-thinking”!
    I would love to correspond with you. Seems to me some fantastic things are happening in the world of scholarship. Some bold and courageous folks– seemingly like yourself– can have a profound impact on the future!

  7. I forgot to mention that Wright is to be in Oklahoma City in March, and I have tickets! Very excited!

  8.  donald perry says:

    I am still waiting for an answer to my argument. .

    •  Riley says:

      Hi Donald,
      Thanks for your message and voicemail. I haven’t had the chance to read through your book yet. I just had two back to back trips out of the country and am in a busy season right now. It will happen, but probably not right away. I’ll be in touch.

  9.  jmachuta2 says:

    Hi Riley,
    I discovered your writing on Presence.tv and I find it very interesting and quite correct. I realize that you are writing about a paradigm shift that deals with the eschatological understanding held by many today and it is interesting that N. T. Wright is moving in this direction. There is a precursor to this understanding that I believe helps validate it. I wished N. T. Wright and other scholars would acknowledge this also. Jesus and his first century followers that wrote the apostolic scriptures put forth two additional unique shifts in thinking. 1) they redefined the phrase “word of God” from Torah or scripture to “the gospel,” and 2) they taught a solely redemptive hermeneutic that saw Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. When you combine these two with the imminent fulfillment of prophecy in the first century, you then have an overwhelming paradigm shift.

    It is a thought shift that demands that one stop a legal. constitutional reading of scripture in favor of a solely redemptive one. It changes the view of such metaphors as Gehenna to see it as alluding to the impending judgment of 70CE. It adds rich clarity to Romans 11:32-33.

  10.  Danny Potts says:

    I’m so happy to come across your website. Great source of info about Preterism. I was originally dispensationalist and was shown by a dear brother the contradictions in that negative paradigm.
    Love your website and keep up the great work!

    •  Riley says:

      Thank you so much Danny! Say, in your transition away from Dispensationalism, what book or article was most helpful to you in pointing out the inconsistencies and errors is dispensationalism? Thanks!

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