Peter J. Leithart, Ph.D.
A.B. in English and History from Hillsdale College in 1981 | Master of Arts in Religion | Master of Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1986 and 1987, respectively | Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England, 1998
3/19/12: Leithart.com | Gage on John and Revelation “One of the main themes of Gage’s talks was the identity of the whore of Babylon. His talks were radically preterist, as he described the theme of Revelation as the transformation of the whore into the bride, of the fallen old Israel into a beautiful new Israel. “
“The second book of Peter has long troubled biblical scholars and interpreters. Not only has its authorship been disputed, but also its claims about the imminent return of Christ. In this study, Peter Leithart offers a preterist reading of the epistle, arguing that it describes first-century events and not the end of the world. At the same time, he maintains orthodoxy, avoiding hyper-preterism and affirming the epistle’s authenticity.”
A. Fruitfulness and knowledge of Christ, 1:1-11
“The whole is concerned with the coming of Christ in AD70, the Destruction of the Temple and the End of the Old Covenant”
“preterism is not merely a way of interpreting New Testament prophecy but also provides a framework for understanding New Testament theology as a whole.”
(On Jerusalem as the Heart)
“Medieval writers interpreted the Bible through the grid of the “fourfold sense” of Scripture. Though not the first to discuss issues of interpretation this way, John Cassian gave classic expression to this method. The theory is that each story, event, person, or institution of Scripture can be interpreted in four different senses. The first is the literal or historical sense; interpreted in this way, a biblical text literally states who did what where. Especially in the Old Testament, events of history are symbolic of things that are yet to come. Thus, each event points to the work of Christ and the life of the church. There is also an “eschatological” dimension to every text of Scripture, pointing to the final consummation of all things in a new heavens and a new earth. Finally, every text has an application to the individual Christian life. As it was summarized in a brief lyric: Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia. Which, roughly translated, means, ‘The literal teaches past deeds, the allegorical what you are to believe, The moral (tropological) what you are to do, the analogical what you hope to achieve.’ Cassian offered the example of the city of Jerusalem. Interpretated historically or literally (secundum hisoriam), Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel from the time of David, the city in which Jesus was crucified. Allegorically, the historical city points ahead to the “new Jerusalem,” the church (secundum allegoriam). Though the church is already the new Jerusalem, the church has not yet reached its final destination, and therefore passages about “Jerusalem” also point ahead to the heavenly city. This is called the “anagogical” sense (secundum anagogiam). Finally, tropologically, the history of Jerusalem can be understood as a model for the history of the soul (secundum tropologiam). Just as David conquered Jerusalem and set up the Lord’s throne there, so Jesus, His Son, conquers the inner city of the sinner and consecrates him as a saint, a holy one.” (Ascent to Love, pp. 21,22)
(On II Peter 3 and AD70)
“A significant shift in orientation and context is, I believe, necessary to make sense both of 2 Peter and of New Testament eschatology generally. The sort of shift I hope for can be easily stated: I offer a preterist reading of 2 Peter and hope that this book will contribute to making the preterist framework of interpretation a more reputable player in New Testament studies. Preterism is the view that prophecies about an imminent “day of judgment” scattered throughout the New Testament were fulfilled in the apostolic age by the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the event that brought a final end to the structures and orders of the Old Creation or Old Covenant. Within this framework, Peter is dealing with issues facing the churches of the first century as the day approaches when the old world will be destroyed. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Mt. 16:28), and I argue that Peter wrote this second letter to remind the readers of that specific prophecy of Jesus and to encourage them to cling to that promise of His appearing. ” (The Promise of His Appearing:, preface)
“For the purposes of this book, preterism is not merely a way of interpreting New Testament prophecy but also provides a framework for understanding New Testament theology as a whole. In part, this is nothing more than an effort to understand the New Testament in its historical content. The issues and debates that dominated the New Testament era were largely about the relation of Jews and Gentiles, and derived directly from the gospel’s announcement of a new people of God, within which circumcision and uncircumcision are equally meaningless. Preterist interpretation means trying to understand the New Testament in light of this struggle without retrojecting post-Reformation debates into the text. Further, an important goal of preterist interpretation is to reckon with the influence that the threat and promise of Jesus’ imminent coming, which affects nearly every book of the New Testament, had on the shape of New Testament theology. For example, a preterist framework generates such questions as “Is it possible that the typology of the church in the wilderness (in Hebrews, for instance) had specific reference to the first-century situation?” and “What is unique about the organization, worship, and life of the church in the period between A.D. 30-70?” and “What unique role did the first-century church play in redemptive history, and how is this related to the fall of Jerusalem?” (The Promise of His Appearing, pp. 1-3)
(On the Significance of AD70)
Paul’s discussion of the future of Israel assumes Jesus’ predictions about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This is what he’s talking about when he talks about “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” and when he quotes from Hosea and Isaiah in 9:25-29. In 9:27, the “remnant” does not refer to the Jews who have responded in faith to the gospel, but to the Jews who have survived God’s judgment. Unless the Lord showed mercy, the Jews would have been as utterly destroyed as Sodom and Gomorrah (9:29). But they are not destroyed; God preserves a remnant of Israel through the judgment, who will be delivered from the catastrophe that awaits Jerusalem. These, perhaps, are the “all Israel” that shall be saved, just as the restoration community after the exile was “all Israel” preserved through exile and delivered from captivity.” (Romans and AD70)
Dr. Leithart received an A.B. in English and History from Hillsdale College in 1981, and a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1986 and 1987, respectively. In 1998 he received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England.
He has served as editor and writer for American Vision in Atlanta , Georgia (1987-1989), and as a pastor of Reformed Heritage Presbyterian Church (now Trinity Presbyterian Church), Birmingham, Alabama from 1989-1995.
He has authored Deep Comedy (forthcoming), a commentary on 2 Peter (forthcoming), Against Christianity, A Son to Me, A House for My Name, and other books. His articles have appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Birmingham News, Dallas Morning News, First Things, Modern Theology, The International Journal of Systematic Theology, the Tyndale Bulletin, Pro Ecclesia, Journal of Biblical Literature, Westminster Theological Journal, and other publications. He is currently a contributing editor to Touchstone magazine.
He has taught Theology and Literature at New Saint Andrews College since 1998, and since 2003 has served as pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow.
Dr. Leithart and his wife, Noel, have ten children.
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
David P. Field: Review of Peter Leithart’s “The Promise of His Appearing” ‘Leithart gives a preterist reading of 2 Peter. He defines preterism as “the view that prophecies about an imminent “day of judgement” scattered throughout the New Testament were fulfilled in the apostolic age by the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the event that brought a final end to the structures and orders of the Old Creation or Old Covenant.”
Peter J. Leithart’s exposition of II Peter, The Promise of His Appearing
1. The First-Century Context
2. A Letter of Reminder
3. False Teachers Among You
4. Three Worlds
Peter Leithart gives a preterist reading of 2 Peter. He defines preterism as “the view that prophecies about an imminent “day of judgement” scattered throughout the New Testament were fulfilled in the apostolic age by the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the event that brought a final end to the structures and orders of the Old Creation or Old Covenant.” 1-2
He believes that only a preterist reading makes sense of what we actually find in 2 Peter and gives five arguments which arise out of the text for this view:
Peter wrote his second letter on the theme of the coming of Jesus, which he says was also a theme of his first letter, which is 1 Peter. Since 1 Peter’s teaching about the “coming” of Jesus highlights its imminence, 2 Peter must be dealing with the same looming event. 14
Peter defends the reliability of the promised coming of Jesus by reference to the Transfiguration. In each of the Synoptics, this event is connected immediately with a prophecy of Jesus’ “coming” within the lifetime of some of His disciples, a prophecy filled out in the Olivet Discourse. Peter’s argument from the Transfiguration makes best sense if he is using it to support this prophecy. Thus the “coming” that Peter insists will happen is an event that Jesus said would take place in the first century. 44
Peter says explicitly that the destruction of false teachers is coming “soon.” Their destruction is the same event as the destruction of the present heavens and earth, the “day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (3:7). If the destruction of false teachers was near when Peter wrote, so also was the destruction of the heavens and earth and the coming of a new heavens and earth. 67-68
Peter responds to mockers who doubt the promise of Jesus’ coming because time has passed without any sign of the Parousia. If there were no time limit on the original prophecy, then the mockers would have no grounds for their mockery and no way to attract converts to their skeptical views. Therefore, the original prophecy must have included a time limit, a terminus ad quem, and that time limit must have been the lifetime of the apostles. 84
For the mockers, the passing of the “fathers,” the apostles and their associates, casts doubt on the truth of Jesus’ promise to come in power. This objection has weight only if Jesus had in fact promised to come before the “fathers” passed from the scene. Thus the prophecy in dispute in 2 Peter 3 promised a “coming” within the apostolic generation. The prophecy Peter says will be fulfilled is a prophecy about Jesus’ coming within the generation. 89-90
Along the way we have all sorts of exegetical insights into the letter; a clear and convincing statement of what is sometimes called moderate preterism; an amusing defence of Petrine authorship; charitable but clear minded refutations of other positions; theological use of chiasm; and a model of how proper use of the Old Testament helps our understanding of the New — in particular, how the use of the flood and the judgment of Sodom, as well as important parallels with Jeremiah, illumine 2 Peter.
The near horizon in 1 Peter: 1:5; 4:4-5; 4:7; 4:17. See also 1:7 and 1:13 and 5:4.
2 – Peter has a number of important parallels with Deuteronomy:
In the light of all this, the phrase “second letter” is significant. The Greek is “deuteran … epistolen,” which echoes with “Deuteronomy” (deuteros nomos) – the second giving of the law, and suggests that Peter sees himself in the situation of Moses in Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, Moses preached on the law and oversaw the “second giving” of the law for the generation that had grown up in the wilderness to prepare them to enter the land and conquer. The parallels with 2 Peter are numerous. Peter was writing to people who had not seen the “signs and wonders” that Jesus did while on earth. They were not on the “holy Mountain,” the new Sinai (Exod 19:23). They did not see the glory of the Lord revealed on the Mountain of Transfiguration. They did not hear the voice on the mountain, but Peter-Moses did, and he comes as a witness to tell them of things which they did not see or hear. Like Deuteronomy, 2 Peter is Peter’s “last will and testament” (1:13-14). Because Peter knows that his earthly Tabernacle is fading away, he sets down on paper what he has to tell the people, so that when he is gone they will be able to bring things to mind (v.15). Similarly, Deuteronomy records sermons that Moses delivered at the end of his life. Just as Moses did not enter the Promised Land, Peter will not live to see the “new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Peter wants to ensure that there is continuity from one generation to the next, which is certainly a key theme of Deuteronomy as well. As the apostolic generation (the generation that came out from “Egypt”) dies out, he wants to encourage those who remained to take their inheritance. This setting makes an emphasis on the approaching judgement enormously interesting to his audience. They have been scattered from Jerusalem, the blood of their brothers has been drunk by the harlot, and now Peter is saying that judgment is going to fall on Jerusalem, that she will not escape scot-free. Jerusalem is a new Jericho, as it is in Acts and Revelation, ready to fall at the coming of Peter’s “God and Savior,” Jesus. 19-20
Structure of 2 Peter – 19-22
The upshot of this is that the “coming” of Jesus (1:16) and the “entry into the kingdom” (1:11) describe the same reality. Jesus’ Parousia (coming) will be at the same time the “coming of the kingdom” in its New Covenant fullness, and that is the kingdom that Peter wants his readers to enter. Like Noah and Lot (2:4-8), the godly Christians of the first-century church will watch the world collapse around them, and like Noah and Lot, they can be confident the Lord will rescue them from that collapse and will give them entry into a new world on the other side. Thus the “kingdom of our Lord and Saviour” describes not the consummation of all things but the world of the New Covenant. If this is an accurate interpretation of Peter’s argument in chapter 1, it sets the context for chapter 3: when Peter talks about a “new heavens and new earth,” he is talking about the “kingdom of our Lord and Saviour” which emerges from the birth pangs of Jesus’ coming in power. 36-37
Argument from the Transfiguration: 39-44
Peter’s entire letter grows out of a dispute over the prophecy of the “power and coming” of Jesus, a prophecy uttered just before the Transfiguration. Jesus placed a clear time limit on that power and coming: a time before some standing with him tasted death. When Peter says in verse 19 that “we have the prophetic word made sure,” he is talking about this specific prophetic word, not generic prophecy. If as most commentators believe, “the prophetic word” refers to Old Testament prophecy in general, or the entire Old Testament as prophecy, then the link with the Transfiguration is much looser. How would the Transfiguration make Old Testament prophecy “more sure,” or give us a firmer hold on it? We simply will not understand the debate between Peter and his opponents if we fail to see that Peter is talking about this prophecy. Similarly, the description of the prophetic word as the “lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns” (v.19) also makes best sense as a description of the prophecy of Jesus’ power and coming, spoken by Jesus Himself. The coming “day” and the “rising of the morning star” refer to Jesus’ coming in His kingdom within the generation of his disciples…. if, on the other hand, “day” refers to the final judgment and the resurrection, then Peter is describing the entire New Covenant period as a period of darkness, in which the one lonely light is the prophecy of Jesus’ coming, but this hardly does justice to the gospel proclamation that Jesus is the “light that has come into the world.” 42-43
“Describing the forty-year period (30-70 A.D.) as a recapitulation of the wilderness wanderings of Israel, furthermore, is consistent with other New Testament writings, particularly Hebrews.” 51
Parallel with Jeremiah 51-52
False teachers of chapter 2: use of Sodom, Balaam, Jezebel, flood — all follow Old Testament lines of argument against apostate Israel. 55-67
Twice Peter charges the false teachers with “fleshliness” and indulgence in the “lusts of the flesh” (2 Peter 2:10, 18). Modern readers tend to interpret “flesh” as “bodily appetites,” especially sexual desires, but “flesh” normally has a very different connotation in the New Testament. On the one hand, it describes the condition of all men in Adam and indeed the entire Old Covenant order, which is a fleshly order in contrast to the New Covenant order of the Spirit. More specifically, Paul frequently connects the “flesh” of circumcision with the “fleshly” interests of the Jews. Judaizers wanted to be perfected by the flesh (Gal. 3:3) and insist that Gentiles can be perfected only through the fleshly rite of circumcision (Gal. 5:13). Obsession with a ritual that is quite literally “fleshly” is connected with the “fleshly” behavior in Galatians 5:19-21. When we read the list of the “works of the flesh,” we cannot forget that Paul has consistently been describing the Jews and Judaizers as “fleshly”. The “works of the flesh,” appalling as they might be, are primarily descriptions of the behavior of Judaizers. 61
The narrative subtext of verses 18-22 is an Exodus theme, and this again inverts Jewish self-understanding. Some have escaped from the overlordship of Pharaoh and of the world (v.20) and are promising similar liberation to others (v.19). But the Judaizers and apostates to Judaism are like those Israelites who yearned to return to Egypt — return to bondage — and are in danger of suffering destruction along with Pharaoh and the Egyptians. They are people who have forgotten what Yahweh did to Egypt and have forgotten the purifying bath of the Exodus. They want to return to Egypt, and Peter wants to ensure that his readers will not be among those who return. Returning to Judaism is not returning to the people of the Exodus; it is a reversal of the Exodus, for Judaism is mystically Egypt. 64
According to Peter, the destroyers will be destroyed “swiftly” (2:1; Greek: tachine). Moo concedes that “Peter may mean that the eschatological judgement will soon take place,” but concludes instead that “rather than predicting the time of the judgment, ‘swift’ probably indicates its certainty.” This explanation fails mainly because the time of the judgment is precisely the issue throughout 2 Peter (cf. 3:4, and below). 65
The adjective form (tachine) is used in 2 Peter 1:14 of Peter’s “imminent” departure, and he surely intends to connect his “imminent” putting off of his tabernacle with the imminent destruction of the false teachers…. Peter reinforces the imminence of the threat in 2:3 by personifying judgement (it is “not idle”) and destruction (“not asleep”)…. Peter assures his readers that the delay will not last for ever (Rev.10:6). Peter’s description of the “swift” and “awakened” judgment of the false teachers shows that the judgment is a first-century event, not an event of the distant future. Indeed, no other interpretation makes sense. Destruction of false teachers is central to the coming destruction of the world (2:3; 3:7), which Peter has called the “day” and the “power and coming of Jesus.”… surely Peter cannot be distinguishing between the time of the destruction of false teachers and the time of destruction of the present heavens and earth. If that were the case, the false teachers’ mockery of Jesus’ promise would be justified; in that case, the mockers would be exactly right to question the “promise of His coming” (3:4). 66-67
Peter wants his readers to seek safety in the new ark that is currently under construction, the Christian church, and in flight from the Sodomite city that is about to be destroyed.” 73
“Judgment on the “present heavens and earth” is not only a judgment on Jerusalem but on the entire political economy of the post-exilic world. Revelation reveals the same point by depicting the fall of the beast, a composite of the four beasts of Daniel 7 (cf. Rev.13:1-10), and the fall of the false prophet, who represents Jews in their cooperation with pagan imperialism. The specific content of the mockers’ mockery decisively supports a preterist interpretation. This is a knock-down argument to end all knock-down arguments. Seeing that the first generation of believers (the “fathers,” 3:4; see below) are passing on with no sign that the “power and coming” of Jesus is imminent, the mockers ask, “where is the promise of His coming?” (3:4). They do not believe that the Parousia is being delayed but are questioning whether or not it will ever occur. Now these doubts would arise only if they had reason to expect to be Parousia to happen soon. And they are a threat to Peter’s readers, able to sway and perhaps persuade some of them, only because they seem to have a point. Had Jesus said, “I am coming, but I won’t say when,” the subsequent passage of time would not undermine the prophecy at all. Suppose, however, Jesus said something like “Some who are standing here will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” or “Before this generation passes, all these things shall be fulfilled.” If He said that, then the passing of the first generation would indeed raise doubts about His promise. But wherever with the mockers have gotten the idea that Jesus was coming before the “fathers” died? Why, lo and behold, Jesus said exactly that. 82-83
The Creator has made a habit of forming new worlds from time to time. 92-93
“Heavens and earth” in verse 7 appears to be used in a different sense from verse 5, which describes the regions of the original physical creation. (Footnote 14: Against Moo, who recognizes that “world” in verse 6 does not mean “the physical universe,” but argues that verse 7, by returning to the phrase “heaven and earth,” does refer to the physical universe.) The “present heavens and earth,” precisely because they are called the present heavens and earth, cannot be the same as the created heavens and earth. That would make “present” redundant. Verse 6 says that the flood is a watershed between two different “worlds,” to different “heavens and earth.” The old world was destroyed in the flood, and the world that came into being after the flood is the “present heavens and earth.” physically, however, the “present heavens and earth” are the same as the “heavens and earth” of creation: we still have sky, earth, and sea, animals and fish, fruit-bearing trees and grasses of the field. Peter, however, distinguishes the “heavens and earth” of creation from the “now” heavens and earth. Verse 7 thus cannot refer to the physical heavens and earth. Thus there are contextual grounds within 2 Peter 3 (not to mention the rest of 2 Peter) for saying that the phrase “heaven and earth” refers to a political world-order rather than to the physical universe. The destruction of the heavens and the discovery of the Earth prefer not to the end of the cosmos but to the end of the Old Creation order. It is used to describe the end of a religious and political order, as it often is in prophecy (Is. 13:13; 34:4; 51:15-16; 65:17; Jer. 4:23-31; Heb. 12:26). 97-98 (http://davidpfield.blogspot.com/2006/12/promise-of-his-appearing.html)
What do YOU think ?