A response to Dr Dan Trotter: WHY IT IS PERFECTLY OK TO CALL HERETICAL PRETERISTS NAUGHTY NAMES
By Greg Simon
2 Timothy 2:16-18 – But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, (17) and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, (18) men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.
Dr Dan Trotter attempts to compare the preterist with some heretics of Paul’s day, Hymenaeus and Philetus, not, as many would assert, because of the common belief, “that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some”, but because of the alleged common belief shared, “probably that a spiritual resurrection of some sort had already occurred in the heavenlies.”
Here is his argument in the context of the full paragraph:
“This is how the heretical preterists argue that the disagreement between Paul and Hymenaeus was over the timing of the resurrection, not its nature. First, they point out (correctly) that Hymenaeus was not arguing that a physical resurrection had already occurred. If the argument were that, all Paul would have to do to refute it would be to point out that all the graves around them had bodies in them, therefore no physical resurrection had occurred. Nobody would be dumb enough to assert such an easily-refuted proposition, and no one would be dumb enough to believe it. Therefore, if Hymenaeus didn’t believe that a physical resurrection had already occurred, he must have believed in something else, probably that a spiritual resurrection of some sort had occurred in the heavenlies, which is what the heretical preterists of today believe, and which is what hyperpreterists assert that Paul believed. So, if Hymenaeus believed in a spiritual resurrection, and Paul believed in a spiritual resurrection, Paul couldn’t be upset with Hymenaeus over that, and therefore, he had to be upset only over the timing of the resurrection.”
The use of the word “probably” is a bit of a worry, because Dr Dan builds what he considers such a strong case on it, and justifies calling preterists all sorts of unfriendly names (like gangrenous) based on this “probable” case, “proving” beyond a shadow of his doubt that preterists are heretics.
I believed once that the accusation could be argued simply on timing. That is, Hymenaeus and Philetus were wrong because the resurrection was yet to come. Then the resurrection came. So, now it is not wrong to say it has come. I still believe that Paul was dealing largely with timing, but it seems the main issue for Dr Dan is on the nature of the resurrection. Therefore, we should look more carefully – at least as carefully as Dr Dan has done – at the issues as Paul addressed them.
I wanted to address Dr Dan’s article point by point, but the points were interspersed with a lot of name-calling and not in any logical sequence.
The main points in Dr Dan’s article, I believe, can be boiled down to:
1. Preterists claim that Hymenaeus and Philetus were at loggerheads with Paul on the basis of the TIMING of the resurrection, whereas
2. It is abundantly clear that the argument was on the basis of the NATURE of the resurrection.
3. Preterists agree with Hymenaeus and Philetus on the NATURE of the resurrection, whereas
4. Paul, Dr Dan and all real Christians are opposed to Hymenaeus and Philetus in the NATURE of the resurrection, and hence justifiably opposed to Preterists.
In the article, Dr Dan attempts to prove these points and in so doing brand the Preterist view as heretical. I will attempt to refute these points. I am not saying that I (as a Preterist) do not disagree with Dr Dan on the NATURE of the resurrection (sorry for the triple negative), as my argument will show. I believe that Dr Dan’s view of the resurrection is unsupported by Scripture. Nevertheless, the accusation that Preterists therefore subscribe to the heretical views of Hymenaeus and Philetus is ludicrous. I can understand a first reading of 2 Timothy 2:16-18 causing a casual reader to make some comparisons on the basis of TIMING, although careful reading of that passage will show this implies that the resurrection will always be in the future, with no fulfillment at all! This is why Dr Dan, I believe, tries to take the focus off the TIMING and spin a yarn over the NATURE of the resurrection.
Dr Dan’s argument seems to be this:
How do we know that the issue was not the TIMING of the resurrection? Because it was clearly on the NATURE of the resurrection. How do we know it was the NATURE? Because we just proved it wasn’t the TIMING, therefore it had to be the NATURE.
Now, although I call myself a preterist (not a heretical preterist, though Dr Dan might add that extra token of his esteem), I do not claim that my own arguments are representative of all who hold a preterist view of prophesy. I speak on my own behalf only.
The wording of 2 Timothy 2:16-18 cannot be more clear as to the nature of Hymenaeus and Philetus’s error: “… men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place…” (NASB), “the resurrection is past already” (KJV). Paul did not say they had gone astray saying that “the resurrection is spiritual”, or counter the false teaching with “the resurrection could not have occurred because that would require its being spiritual rather than physical.” There is no way to read this and conclude that it was simply the nature of the resurrection that Paul contested. Hymenaeus and Philetus said it had taken place; Paul asserts that it was yet to come.
Now, my intention is not “to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers” (two verses before this), but in one sense to point out the difficulty in arguing logically with the illogic that Dr Dan builds his case on.
Dr Dan presents two main arguments against the idea that Paul was addressing the TIMING of the resurrection:
1. They couldn’t have disagreed by more than forty years, and Paul wouldn’t have said the nasty things he said over a trivial forty years.
Sorry, Dr Dan, but if someone had come to Peter on the day after the crucifixion and claimed that Jesus had already risen from the dead, and if Peter had been given understanding of all that Jesus had told him, I’m sure that Peter would have been quite as upset over the matter of just that one day! Sure, he could have pointed to the still-sealed tomb as proof that the claim was unlikely (even though the resurrected Jesus was able to pass through walls and defy gravity with ease). However the chief argument would surely have been that the TIMING was wrong. Jesus had said, “Three days and three nights” and “On the third day.” These statements alone would have been made a lie by the next-day claim.
In the same way, Paul knew that the time was not yet right for the resurrection. He knew that the resurrection would practically coincide with the appearance of the Lord in glory, the judgement on Jerusalem, the signs and wonders given by Jesus in various places including Matthew 24. The Christians would be alerted and hence prepared. To claim that it had already happened would certainly “upset the faith of some” (verse 18).
No, says Paul by inference. There is no need to be upset. You haven’t missed it, because it hasn’t yet happened.
2. Paul could easily have pointed to the graves of the saints as proof that the resurrection had not taken place.
The refutation in this way would only have settled the matter of TIMING if both parties agreed that the resurrection involved the graves being opened and the “physical” bodies coming out.
As Dr Dan states, Hymenaeus and Philetus would not have been dumb enough to say that they had (unless the events recorded in Matthew 27:52ff were so regarded) on the basis of the evidence. Therefore, they clearly did not both believe in that kind of “physical” resurrection.
The fact that there was no such refutation means that
1. Either Paul and Hymenaeus and Philetus disagreed as to the NATURE, or
2. Paul and Hymenaeus and Philetus disagreed as to the TIMING, but neither believed that the resurrection involved the graves being opened and the “physical” bodies coming out.
This is the crux of the matter. Sorry, Dr Dan, but this is where logical arguments and your (scathing) arguments begin to part company. You reject option two out of hand because of your view of the resurrection, not because of logic, and not because of Scripture. Then you claim that preterism is illogical.
I believe that Paul and Hymenaeus and Philetus differed primarily over TIMING. That is not to say that Hymenaeus and Philetus were correct in their view of the NATURE of the resurrection, because I don’t know what that view was. I can see that it obviously did not involve bodies popping out of graves, but that’s all, and that’s enough. I don’t believe Paul’s view of the resurrection involved grave-popping either. The only record we have is that Paul accused Hymenaeus and Philetus of teaching that the resurrection had “already” happened – not that it had happened in a certain way.
Now, in anticipation of Dr Dan’s apoplexy at my claim that Paul wasn’t into a grave-popping resurrection, I would hasten to state emphatically that I, like Paul, like Dr Dan, like most conservative Christians, do believe in a “physical” resurrection. I believe that the afterlife is one in which real, physical bodies walk and talk with each other and with God. I just don’t believe that these bodies have first to climb out of the grave and be reconstructed according to the old blueprints.
Dr Dan’s Scripture references to “prove” that Paul believed in a “physical” resurrection (involving bodies emerging from the graves) are these:
Romans 8:23 – And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
Is redemption of the body the same as the reassembling or reconstruction of the body?
Philippians 3:21 – who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
What can I say? This shows that our bodies will be transformed, not maintained in their current physical form. Note that Paul refers to “the body of our humble state” – He is not talking about being transformed from death to life, but our current physical state to a glorified state.
1 Corinthians 15:20 – But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:23 – But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,
Christ was the first to be resurrected. That means that those people who had previously emerged from the graves had not, in the same way, been resurrected. This again argues against Dr Dan’s assertion, not for it.
1 Corinthians 15:44 – it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
Which part is supposed to support Dr Dan’s assertion that Paul believed in a “non-spiritual”, “physical” resurrection?
1 Corinthians 15:52 – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
“Raised imperishable” means raised with a different nature from the current “perishable”.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 – For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
“The dead in Christ will rise”. It makes no reference to the nature of their resurrection, nor even that they would rise from their graves.
What is the nature of the resurrection?
Well, first of all, is the resurrection popping out of the graves? In Matthew 27, many people popped out of their graves, and presented themselves in Jerusalem. Was this a resurrection? In the literal sense, yes, but that’s all. Like Lazarus, they put on their old corruptible bodies again, and presumably would have to die again, poor things. Grave-popping does not make a resurrection, and vice versa.
But wasn’t Jesus a grave-popper? He rose physically, and walked and talked, ate food, and still bore his scars. That’s true, but he also walked through walls and defied gravity. John’s vision of Him (Revelation 1:10-16) shows that his glorified, resurrected body was not just what popped out of the grave.
Paul discusses the state of the resurrected body thus:
1 Corinthians 15:35 – But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”
The immediate answer to this “someone” is very important. It is: “You fool!” Such a person, it appears, has missed the whole point of the resurrection. Of course, says Paul, they aren’t simply raised the same way they went into their graves! Read this carefully to see if I am misrepresenting him. They went in one way, they come out another! The difference is as significant as seed-to-tree: totally different in glory.
“But even the tree comes out the same place the seed went in…?” you might suggest. Once again, you (who would ask this) miss the point. What about people who have no grave? People who have been eaten by lions, burned by intense fires, nuked at Hiroshima, drawn and quartered… and are subsequently scattered all over the place? This is speculation, and misses the point. And that is my point. Grave-popping is not the resurrection!
So if resurrection is not simply coming out of the graves in the literal sense, then what is resurrection? How can it be physical without being literal?
First of all, let’s clarify the terms used. Dr Dan distinguishes – rather dichotomizes – between physical and spiritual. Hymenaeus and Philetus believed in spiritual resurrection; Paul believed in physical resurrection. It has to be one or the other. Right?
Absolutely wrong. Somebody can try to prove otherwise if they like, but there is no Scripture to support this. God is said to be “spirit” (John 4:24). All matter came from Him, so everything “physical” comes ultimately from “spirit”. It’s not one or the other. This is why God transcends the physical, why Jesus could “teleport” Himself in the material world, making Himself disappear from peoples’ presence, why decomposing bodies could recompose even when the chemical elements had been scattered, why Jesus could walk through walls at will, why fish and loaves could come out of thin air, why staffs could turn into living serpents… not to mention many more miraculous events. You see, I’m not liberal. I believe all of these did take place. I don’t understand it, but I do understand that there is no dichotomous distinction between spiritual and physical. This is why Paul could say that God has raised us up and seated us with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6) before we die, and why we are told that we can and should “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:24)
There is, however, a distinction between “spiritual” and “natural” (1 Corinthians 15:44ff). The “natural” body is “earthy”, (from earth, verse 47) and perishable, as opposed to the “spiritual” which is from heaven and imperishable.
Moreover, it’s not as some people suggest, that they rise from the grave and are assigned new bodies; they are raised imperishable, spiritual, glorious and in power.
Remembering that Jesus’ glorified body transcended natural reality, and could walk through walls etc., and appear to John as it did, I would venture to suggest that in the same way, our resurrected bodies would be just as glorious. There is no need for the dead to be raised from the grave, in a natural and earthy form.
The fact is, Paul calls our resurrected body “spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:44). You cannot call someone who proposes a spiritual resurrection “heretical”, because they are using exactly the same term as Paul used.
“Spiritual” is not opposed to “physical”, but to “natural”, or “earthy”. Our current bodies are “natural”. Our resurrected bodies are not, according to Paul, of the same nature as our current bodies.
Whatever Hymenaeus and Philetus’ view of the nature of resurrection was, Paul’s argument with them was not over the nature of it, but over the timing. The plain reading of the 2 Timothy text makes that clear. Paul did not refute their teaching by pointing to occupied graves, because natural bodies in graves had nothing to do with the resurrection, as he asserts in 1 Corinthians 15. The perishable seed has nothing to do with the imperishable tree. They are different in glory; they are different in nature.
We cannot underestimate the importance of the timing of the resurrection and the coming of Jesus in glory. It was the fulfillment of centuries of promise and anticipation. It vindicated Christ and His righteous people, and bestowed God’s wrath on His enemies. It inaugurated the New Covenant, the New Jerusalem, the New Heavens and Earth. It was to follow very specific signs and tribulations. People who were waiting for it were dying, and their survivors were anxious that they would miss out. Some of those survivors likewise thought that they had missed out altogether, from the rumours apparently spread by Hymenaeus and Philetus and the like, and were being upset.
It may well be that by being false over the timing of the resurrection, Hymenaeus and Philetus would have entertained strange views of the nature of it, but the strange view was not simply that the resurrection was spiritual.
I, as a preterist, believe in a physical resurrection, but not a “natural” one to use Paul’s term in 1 Corinthians 15:44. I believe this resurrection was and is “spiritual” (again, using Paul’s term), and that it took place in our past, but in Hymenaeus and Philetus’ future, when Israel took the punishment for its sin just as foretold by Jesus in Matthew 23.
Call me a heretic if you will, but don’t compare me with Hymenaeus and Philetus.