The family is under serious threat today and we need to address this.

The biblical teaching

The Bible is quite clear in its teaching about the family:

God created humanity male and female

 “God created man in his own image … male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Our society often focuses on people with a homosexual or bi-sexual orientation but, according to Scripture, these orientations are divergences from God’s intention. Obviously, we are called to love our homosexual or bi-sexual neighbour as much as our heterosexual neighbour. There is no excuse for doing otherwise, whatever emotional reactions we may experience. We must show compassion. But loving our neighbour does not mean accepting his/her sexual orientation as normal or approving of his/her behaviour. The Bible clearly teaches that God intended humanity to be male and female and the Genesis passages teach:

  1. It is not ideal for a man to be solitary.
  2. The best companion is a woman.
  3. Woman can also be his sexual partner with whom he can form a new family unit and, if possible, reproduce.

 God intended heterosexual marriage

 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The term ‘marriage, is not used at this early stage but it is clear that God intended the couple to form a new, stable family unit. Jesus quotes this in Matt 19:4-6. Nowhere does the Bible (Old Testament or New Testament) contemplate an approval of homosexual behaviour or marriage. Some people try to argue that the Bible only condemns homosexual promiscuity etc., but would accept a loving, faithful homosexual (sexually active) relationship. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf pages 5, 7 on my website which shows this is not the case.

The reasons God intended heterosexual marriage include the following:

A heterosexual marriage brings the benefit of sexual complementarity

 Genesis uses metaphorical descriptions but they are conveying important principles (just as Jesus did in his parables). Having created a male human, God says: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Man in isolation is not ideal. Genesis goes on to indicate that the only adequate partner for a man is a woman, not another man. (The same can be said for a woman. Woman in isolation is not ideal. Genesis indicates that the only adequate partner for a woman is a man, not another woman.). Obviously, same-sex companionship can be a deep relationship. But Genesis speaks of a search being made for a complementary partner and the only adequate partner is someone of the opposite sex. (Obviously someone with a homosexual orientation will not find fulfilment with a person of the opposite sex, which is a serious problem for them. However, although we must be compassionate, we have to face the fact that everyone has to practice self-control and self-denial in the area of sex, e.g. before finding the right partner in marriage or for couples where health problems make sexual relationships impossible. And, of course, significant numbers of heterosexuals remain single).

We might legitimately add that children need the benefits of sexual complementarity in their parents. One aspect of the family is educating children and they need to be educated in the differences between male and female. For this they need both a male and a female role model. Many single parents (divorced or otherwise) do an excellent job of providing parenthood but this does not alter the fact that children are missing out on the benefits of complementarity in parents. The current sexual revolution has not yet lasted long enough for psychological studies on the effects on children and grandchildren to show up all the damage contemporary society is inflicting on the young.

  1. A heterosexual marriage provides for reproduction

Having created male and female humans, “God blessed them and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen 1:28).  God intends reproduction to be very important, where physically possible, in marriage because it guarantees the survival and growth of the human race. Same-sex couples may have children (by adoption, genetic donation, etc.,) but these children miss out on the benefits of sexual complementarity in parents.

God intended marriage to be regulated by society

The Old Testament law regulates marriage and divorce. The law restricts whom a man can have sexual relations with or marry (Lev 18:6-18; 20:11-12, 14, 17:19-21; Deut 22:30) and to whom he can will his property (Deut 21:15-17). If a man falsely accuses his wife of sexual immorality he is not allowed ever to divorce her (Deut 22:13-19). Adultery is forbidden (Ex 20:14). If a man commits adultery he must be punished (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22). If a man marries a second wife he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights (Ex 21:10).  When a man dies his brother in law must marry his widow and this responsibility is governed by the elders of the town (Deut 25:5-10).

Jesus places restrictions on divorce, as does St Paul (Mt 5:32; 19:3-9; 1 Cor 7:10-15). So clearly God intended marriage to be regulated by society and not to be a purely private decision.

  1. God intended children to be brought up in the family

 This is clear throughout Scripture but is particularly so in the 5th commandment: “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex 20:12). This is not to say that the nuclear family of two parents and children is the only pattern in the Old Testament. Often there was an extended family. There was also polygamy in the Old Testament but this was disapproved of in New Testament times. Always, however, the family was based on heterosexual marriage.

The universality of the family

It is easy to speak of the family being a universal norm but it is not quite as simple as that, especially nowadays. As we mentioned there are extended families as well as nuclear families. There are other variations in certain cultures. Then, of course, there are single-parent and, more recently, same sex households.

Professor G P Murdock surveyed the family in 250 different cultures in 1949 and concluded that the nuclear (or extended) family was definitely universal. He defined the family as “A social group characterised by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship and one or more children, own or adopted, of the socially cohabiting adults.”[1]

However some dispute Murdock’s view, referring, for example, to the Israeli kibbutz movement. A kibbutz is “a voluntary democratic community where people live and work together on a non-competitive basis.”[2] Others point out that, whereas the kibbutz has taken over some family roles e.g. education, the family still functions, protecting the children in the early stages of socialisation. Another exception is said to be the Nayar people in Kerala, India. They had extended families (based on the female line) which are run by the oldest male. Some have doubted the accuracy of this historical information.

Others point out that the typical family before the modern era was not the intimate, caring family many have imagined. Before the industrial revolution children in poorer families joined in the family trade. After the industrial revolution children as young as 6 or 7 worked in factories or coal mines. But this doesn’t alter the fact that the nuclear (or extended) family was the norm.

In fact some claim that the industrial revolution encouraged the nuclear family. As work became available in cities parents moved, leaving behind the wider family.

Since the 1970s the nuclear family has reduced by one third and other family models (such as single parent families) have increased threefold. Nevertheless the nuclear family is still very significantly present in British society.

The functions of the family

It is the context for procreation

It is obvious from Scripture, physiology and common sense that God intended marriage to be heterosexual in order to create the family. Arguments to the contrary, however popular, are special pleading.

The nuclear family provides the context for a stable, committed and permanent heterosexual relationship between an individual couple. If individuals are involved in temporary sexual relationships these relationships are inevitably comparatively shallow emotionally. Hence the depth of a loving commitment possible in heterosexual marriage is important for the production and raising of children.

It is a “cradle of love.”

The Roman Catholic Church has stated: “The human being is made for love and cannot live without love.”[3] This requires a small circle of intimate associates. Only the family can provide this love, the wider community would be unable to do so. It means that “Each person is recognized, accepted and respected.”[4]

It provides male and female role models

It is important that children experience these roles in the intimate setting of the family. The father-child relationship differs from the mother-child relationship. They complement one another and are important for the children to experience.

Ecologist Edward Goldsmith wrote[5]: “There are a number of different family bonds, such as those that hold together a father with his daughter, a mother with her son, a mother with her daughter, a man with his younger brother, a girl with her younger sister, a brother with his sister. These bonds are all different and also asymmetrical. The relationship of a father to his daughter, for instance, is very different from that of a daughter to her father.[6] The relationship of a father to his children differs even more noticeably from the mother’s relationship with her children.

It is important that children experience these complementary roles and learn from them. It will ensure they are better adjusted to life in the community. G.P. Murdock commented that adults gain fulfilment both from these heterosexual relationships and as a result of the strong emotional bonds with their children which are sustained most easily in the nuclear family. These strong emotional bonds are conducive to the efficient socialisation of the children.[7]

The Roman Catholic Church comments: “Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarities are oriented towards the good of marriage and the flourishing of family life.”[8] It adds that in homosexual relationships there is an “absence of the conditions for that interpersonal complementarity between male and female willed by the Creator at both the physical-biological and the eminently psychological levels. It is only in the union of two sexually different persons that the individual can achieve perfection in a synthesis of unity and mutual psychophysical completion”[9]

Linda J. Waite (Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago) writes that children raised by their own married biological parents experience less poverty, less drug and alcohol use and less crime and delinquency; they gain more education; they are more likely to marry; and they have better mental health compared with children from other family arrangements. They provide the best environment for raising children.[10]

It provides security

This is not just physical provision and security (food, clothing, shelter) but psychological security. This allows children to develop their personalities in safety. The family is also an economic unit which ensures that the members are protected financially.

It forms the basis of society

Edward Goldsmith wrote: “The family … is the universal basis of all human societies and social structures.”[11] Anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski wrote that the typical family, a group consisting of mother, father and their progeny is found in all communities.

The Roman Catholic Church stated: “The first and fundamental structure for ‘human ecology’ is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person.”[12]

Reasons why the family is the basis of society

It is the basic unit of social behaviour

It trains children in social attitudes, avoiding excessive individualism. As the Roman Catholic Church puts it, the family is “the first and irreplaceable school of social life, and example and stimulus for the broader community relationships marked by respect, justice, dialogue and love.”[13]

It is the prime teacher of moral, spiritual and social values

As the Catholic Church puts it, “The family, in fact, constitutes ‘a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and of society’. By exercising its mission to educate, the family contributes to the common good and constitutes the first school of social virtue, which all societies need. In the family, persons are helped to grow in freedom and responsibility, indispensable prerequisites for any function in society. With education, certain fundamental values are communicated and assimilated … As well as being a source, the parents’ love is also the animating principle and therefore the norm inspiring and guiding all concrete educational activity, enriching it with the values of kindness, constancy, goodness, service, disinterestedness and self-sacrifice that are the most precious fruit of love”[14] The child learns about love, cooperation, toleration, sacrifice, obedience and discipline in the family. These qualities enable him to grow into a good citizen.

It has to be acknowledged that many married couples fall short of providing a good example to children. But the failures of or within marriage do not invalidate the basic principle.

Professor Talcott Parsons (who was Professor of Sociology at Harvard) wrote of ‘basic and irreducible functions’ of the family:

  1. The ‘primary socialization of children’

This takes place largely in the family in early childhood. It involves ‘the internalization of society’s culture’ i.e. social values being absorbed and accepted by the child and ‘the structuring of the personality’ i.e. the culture of society becoming part of the child’s personality.  He added that ‘if culture were not internalized – that is, absorbed and

accepted – society would cease to exist, since without shared norms and values social life would not be possible.’

  1. The ‘secondary socialization of children’

This takes place when the child is older and the family is less involved. There is increasing influence from the child’s school and peer group.

  • The ‘stabilization of the adult personalities of the population of the society’.

When the primary and secondary socialization of children has taken place in the family, it needs to be kept stable in adult life. The emphasis is on the marriage relationship and the emotional security this can provide. So, again, the family is crucial. Parsons added: “This function is particularly important in Western industrial society, since the nuclear family is largely isolated from kin. It does not have the security once provided by the close-knit extended family. Thus the married couple increasingly look to each other for emotional support.”

Conclusion

The family, based on heterosexual marriage, is fundamentally important.  This is clearly taught in Scripture but it is also confirmed by logical examination. It regulates procreation, avoiding the chaos and damage of ‘free love.’ It provides a stable, loving secure environment for children (and also for adults). It affords children male and female role models. It is crucial to society as the primary context in which children can learn moral, social and spiritual values.

However, there is today an increasing attack on (heterosexual) marriage and the family which needs to be seen as leading to a very serious undermining of society and which will do enormous damage if left unchecked. I examine this in my next paper “Attack on marriage and the family.”

Tony Higton

 

[1] G.P.Murdock, Social Structure (1949), New York: Free Press.

[2] http://kibbutzprogramcenter.org/about-kibbutz/

[3] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 223

[4] Ibid 221

[5] http://www.edwardgoldsmith.org/30/the-family-basis-of-social-structure/?show=all

[6] George Peter Murdock, Social Structure, The Free Press, New York 1965, quoted by Goldsmith.

[7] G.P. Murdock, Functionalism and the Family

[8] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 224

[9] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 504

[10] Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially (2000).

[11] The Ecologist, Vol. 6 No. 1 and Vol. 6 No. 2, 1976.

[12] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 467.

[13] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 493

[14] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 238-239

We live in an age when attitudes towards sex are changing radically with unprecedented speed. It is easy for Christians to become so taken up with what we see as sexual immorality or even depravity that we don’t discern the more serious effects of this revolution. The most serious effect is the destruction of the family in its biblical sense of a heterosexual couple committed for life, normally having children and bringing them up in their own home.  And this will lead to the undermining of society which will have very serious consequences.

The Bible makes it clear that the heterosexual family is fundamental to the welfare of society. Whatever symbolism is used in the Genesis account, the principle of marriage is clear. “It is not good for man to be alone” – he needs a suitable partner – a woman (Gen 2:18). There is an essential complementarity in the marriage relationship. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Obviously heterosexual marriage is fundamental to reproduction. It provides complementary role models for children (and they can learn from both parents, of opposite sexes). Parents must not act unreasonably towards their children but “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4; Col 3:21). Children are urged to honour their parents (Ex 20:12; Eph 6:1-3; Col 3:20). Jesus confirms this understanding of marriage in Matthew 19:4-6 as does Paul in Ephesians 5:25-33.

The fact that there are examples of polygamy in the Old Testament does not undermine the principle of heterosexual marriage, nor does it alter the fact that the fundamental biblical idea of marriage is of a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, as Genesis makes clear.

It is so obvious that heterosexuality is the norm since only 1.5-3% of the population is homosexual. (It could be lower if young people were not encouraged to think they might be homosexual). Only those who have been brainwashed by homosexual equality propaganda could think otherwise. It’s an “emperor’s new clothes” situation. Having said that, homosexuals as people are equal to heterosexuals and should be treated with respect. But that is quite different from saying that homosexual behaviour is equal to heterosexual behaviour within (heterosexual) marriage.

 

The biblical vision is that well-functioning heterosexual marriages and their associated families will add to and maintain communities, will stabilise and strengthen those communities and will train children to be good citizens.

Some people are deliberately aiming to destroy the heterosexual family. Others have different aims but will have the effect of furthering this destruction.

Those campaigning for the destruction of the family

MARXISTS

Many, but not all, socialists in the 19th and 20th centuries rejected the family in favour of “free love” – unrestricted sexual relationships based purely on mutual love. Marx and particularly Engels criticised the family. Marx argued that in early human history sexual promiscuity was the order of the day. There was complete sexual freedom including incest. He and Engels argued that the family brought about the idea of private property, inheritance of property together with the oppression of women and children. They held that the abolition of private property (in socialism) and the abolition of inheritance would lead to the dissolution of the family.  The absence of private property would mean everyone would benefit from the economic opportunities in society. There would be no need for the financial support provided by the family. Instead of (‘slave’) labour in the family, women would work in factories and there would be communal child care which would remove the fear of unwanted children. Thus women would be liberated.

Engels wrote in Principles of Communism that communism “will make the relations between the sexes a purely private affair, which concerns only the two persons involved; a relationship which is in no way the concern of society. This attitude is made possible because private property will have been abolished and the children will be educated communally.”

Charles Fourier, a 19th century socialist philosopher believed monogamy was contrary to human nature and consequently an impediment to human happiness. He also believed that children should be raised, not in family units, but communally. His vision was of society being one big happy family.

In the 1920s Leonid Sabsovich, the leading Soviet urban planner under Lenin and Stalin advocated that children should be the property of the state, not the family. Children should be moved to specially designed children’s towns at a distance from the family.

Other communists have said that a preference for one’s spouse and authority over one’s children violates the principle of equality, which proclaims that we must treat everyone exactly the same.

RADICAL FEMINISTS

In the pre-industrial era men and women tended to work together in farming, etc., (accompanied by their children) but after the industrial revolution women were expected to stay at home doing domestic jobs and looking after children, whilst men went out to work. This gave men more power and created a much more patriarchal society. Many radical feminists advise women to avoid heterosexual relationships because they involve patriarchal (male) dominance. They see family as facilitating power relationships very much in favour of men. They also object to the large amount of unpaid labour which stay-at-home wives undertake.

Some feminists are influenced by Marxism and believe the family supports capitalism. For example Margaret Benston wrote that “As an economic unit, the nuclear family is a valuable stabilizing force in capitalist society. Since the husband–father’s earnings pay for the production which is done in the home, his ability to withhold labour from the market is much reduced.”[1] Also, within the family, children learn to conform and to submit to authority. The foundation is therefore laid for the obedient and submissive workforce required by capitalism.

Germaine Greer is a radical feminist who believes that “it is men who need marriage more. Married men score much higher on all measures of psychological well-being than unmarried men, whereas single women tend to be more content than married women.” She believes the only answer is segregation – women doing without male partners. She has been criticised for not taking seriously the progress made by women in recent times.

Michèlle Barrett and Mary McIntosh (1982) were influenced by Marxist feminism. They believe the family undermines life in the community – “the family ideal makes everything else seem pale and unsatisfactory”. Family members are so taken up by their family relationships that they neglect other social contacts. For example, they claim that the family encourages people to view life in other institutions (such as children’s homes, old people’s homes and students’ residences) as shallow and lacking in meaning.

GAY LIBERATIONISTS

In 1971 the Gay Liberation Front published its Manifesto. Peter Tatchell, the well-known gay campaigner said in 2013 that this manifesto was almost “the LGBT equivalent of the Communist Manifesto.” It envisaged an alternative society. The LGBT struggle was “part of the broader anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist movement, striving for the emancipation of all humankind. It critiques homophobia, sexism, marriage, the nuclear family, monogamy, the cults of youth and beauty, patriarchy, the gay ghetto and rigid male and female gender roles.” “Erotic shame and guilt would be banished. There would be sexual freedom and human rights for everyone.” “What’s required is a revolution in culture, to overturn centuries of male heterosexual domination and the limitations of traditional gender roles.”

The Gay Liberation Front’s Manifesto stated: “The oppression of gay people starts in the most basic unit of society, the family, consisting of the man in charge, a slave as his wife, and their children on whom they force themselves as the ideal models. The very form of the family works against homosexuality.” “Our entire society is built around the patriarchal family and its enshrinement of these masculine and feminine roles. … It is because of the patriarchal family that reforms are not enough. Freedom for gay people will never be permanently won until everyone is freed from sexist role-playing and the straightjacket of sexist rules about our sexuality. And we will not be freed from these so long as each succeeding generation is brought up in the same old sexist way in the Patriarchal family.”

However, whereas lesbian and gay organisations in the 1970s were often very anti-family, since the 1980s the opposite has been the case and there has been the move towards same sex marriage.

Speaking of same sex marriage, Judith Stacey, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and Sociology at New York University admits: “If we define the current ongoing effort to remake contemporary family life as the post-modern family … the term post-modern signals the end of a familiar pattern of activity and emergence of new areas of endeavour whose activities are unclear and whose meanings and implications are not yet well understood. Thus, the post-modern is characterized by uncertainty, insecurity, and doubt.”[2]

She claims that by the late 1980s, 6–14 million children were being brought up in gay and lesbian families. She says that research indicates that gay and lesbian relationships are at least as suitable for raising children as heterosexual marriages, that there is virtually no difference in the psychological well-being and social development of children with gay or lesbian carers and those with heterosexual carers. She added: ‘The rare small differences reported tend to favour gay parents, portraying them as somewhat more nurturant and tolerant, and their children in turn, more tolerant and empathetic, and less aggressive than those raised by non-gay parents.’

She believes children raised in gay and lesbian families are more likely to try homosexual relationships for themselves. But she does not believe the development of the postmodern family has no disadvantages. She acknowledges that it creates a certain degree of unsettling instability.

However, same sex marriage is not just a different form of marriage (and family). It contradicts fundamental aspects of family. It undermines marital complementarity and the fact that children are intended to have both a mother and father. It undermines the obvious fact that marriage is heterosexual because it is intended to lead to procreation. In other words, it serious undermines the divine intention about marriage. It involves homosexual social values being absorbed and accepted by children. And, as Judith Stacey says, it encourages children to try homosexual relationships.

The Church’s failure

The way things are going, it is only a matter of time before much of the western church will accept (and celebrate) same sex marriage. Already some denominations have.

The Church of Scotland recently discussed a report which advocated allowing ministers to celebrate same sex marriage. It has been committed to the church’s Legal Questions Committee to check the practicalities of a move to allow same-sex marriage in church. The Episcopal Church of Scotland has just approved (by only a one vote majority) same sex marriages taking place in church. It was reported that several prominent evangelical pastors in the US back same sex marriage.

The Church of England is maintaining a conservative position but, to a significant extent, is giving the impression that it will eventually change. I firmly agree that we should treat homosexuals as people with respect and apologise when we don’t. But the church has so overdone the apologising that it has given the impression that it is insecure in its position over same sex marriage. We seem to be intimidated by gay propaganda, especially being called ‘homophobic.’ Homophobia literally means ‘fear of man’ or ‘fear of the same’ but recently it has come to mean ‘fear of homosexuals.’ The Christian disapproval of homosexual behaviour has nothing to do with the fear of homosexuals but ‘homophobic’ has become an effective ‘put-down’ word. It often makes the church weaken the biblical position on homosexual behaviour.

Gay propaganda

The media can, of course, be a power for good. But it also has the power to change public opinion in unbiblical ways ways. Ever since the 1960s society has been transformed in its view of sexuality. Heterosexual couples living together, childbirth outside marriage, sex before marriage have all become widely acceptable and one of the main influences has been indoctrination by the media. To question these practices nowadays would seem archaic. And the same thing has happened, especially in the last 25 years, with homosexual behaviour. Same sex marriage is not so established in public opinion but it will be.

Then there is sex education in schools. Inevitably this has changed in line with public opinion.  This year’s annual conference of the National Union of Teachers called for compulsory teaching of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues “throughout all phases of state education”, including in nurseries.

Peter Tatchell comments: “The right to love a person of either sex, to engage in any mutually consensual sexual act, and to enjoy a happy, healthy sex life, is a fundamental human right. This right to sexual self-determination should be promoted in every school, to create a culture of sexual rights where every young person understands and asserts their right to determine what they, and others, do with their body. This ethos of ‘it’s my body, I’m in charge’ is the best possible protection against people who try to manipulate and pressure youngsters into having sex.” He says schools should not promote any particular sexual orientation and he advocates schools teaching children about the whole range of sexual activities.

Allen Young, a member of New York’s Gay Liberation Front says: “Only because our capitalist values and nuclear family structure coerce children into sex roles do they become limited in their sexuality.”

The danger is already present of young teenagers who formerly would have known little about homosexual practice, now experimenting or even asking for gender changes, who, but for modern propaganda, would have grown up to form a heterosexual relationship.

The way things are going it is inevitable that marriage and the family are going to be increasingly undermined by a society indoctrinated by the sort of view Tatchell is advocating.

Other undermining of marriage and the family

Single parenthood

I am aware that many are lone parents as a result of divorce or unplanned pregnancies and many of them make every effort to be good parents, caring for their children. However the British Social Attitudes Surveys also show an increase in the acceptance of parenthood outside marriage. In 1989, 70% agreed that ‘people who want children ought to get married.’ In 2000 it was 54%. In 1961 2% of the population lived in homes with children and a single parent. In 2005 it was 12%.[3] In 1972 7% of children lived in single parent families. In 2002 it was 23%.[4]

Sarah McLanahan and Karen Booth of the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1991)refer to various American studies claiming that children are harmed by single parenthood. They say that such children have lower earnings and experience more poverty as adults; that are more likely to become lone parents themselves; and that they are more likely to become delinquent and engage in drug abuse.

Sara Arber, Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey found that the children of single parents suffered more ill-health than other children unless their parent was fully employed.

Sociologist David Morgan says the evidence suggests the children of single parents fare less well than those from two-parent households. In addition, many such children will experience the confusion and insecurity of their mothers forming successive relationships with different men.

Divorce

Divorce rates have been rising and this has obvious ill effects on both parents and children. However the remarriage rate is also high.

Conclusion

The rate of marriage in the UK is still quite high but marriage is declining as an institution. Cohabitation outside of marriage is widespread and single parenthood is growing. Also the divorce rate has grown considerably. Then there is the issue of same-sex marriage which, however popular, undermines the nature of marriage and the family.

Ecologist Edward Goldsmith wrote: “The institution of the family has decayed in modern times, so converting society into an alienated agglomeration of disconnected individuals, susceptible to arbitrary, remote and authoritarian governance.”[5]

We need to recognise and watch these trends because ultimately they will cause enormous damage to individuals, families and society. Marriage and the family are under serious threat and so is society.

Tony Higton

[1] Margaret Benston, “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation”, Monthly Review, 21 (4), September 1969.

[2] J. Stacey, Brave New Families. New York: Basic Books, 1990.

[3] HMSO, 2002a; Social Trends 2006.

[4] Social Trends 1998, 2006.

[5] http://www.edwardgoldsmith.org/30/the-family-basis-of-social-structure/?show=all

God’s relationship with the world

The Lord sustains the whole cosmos and everything in it at every moment. The writer to the Hebrews makes this clear:
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). All that happens could not take place without him sustaining what causes it. Hence the prophets can say God performs all judgments in his wrath. But that is omitting reference to secondary causes, which is particularly the case in the Old Testament. He has given free will, desires and a sense of need to human beings which can lead to wrong action and negative consequences. Those consequences can be seen as judgment but they are not God directly intervening in judgment.

Not all divine judgment is by means of secondary causes. God has, of course, sometimes intervened directly in judgment. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) is surely an example of this.

God also intervenes positively, often in answer to prayer. He can intervene to protect people from negative events which threaten them. In his great mercy he often intervenes to protect the impenitent sinner from the negative effects of his sin. On the other hand, where someone is an impenitent sinner, he can decide not to intervene and so such people experience either the negative results of their behaviour or the negative events which threaten them. They bring it on themselves but it can be described as divine judgment because the Lord decided not to intervene in protection.

So God often works through “the changes and chances of this mortal life” – sometimes in judgment. Here are some examples:

• The sons of Eli were living sinful lifestyles and their father rebuked them. But they “did not listen to their father’s rebuke for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death” (1Sam 2:25). In other words, God decided not to intervene to protect Eli’s sons in battle and they were both killed.

• Amos says the Lord caused lack of food in Israel and withheld rain from crops. He struck the gardens and vineyards, with blight and mildew. He also sent plagues (Amos 4:6-10). It is unlikely that God did this by direct intervention. Rather, he simply did not intervene to protect them from these problems and provide for them.

• The Lord is said to have put Saul to death (1 Chron 10:14) But it was the Philistines who actually carried it out. Literally, “Saul died because he disobeyed God. God removed his protection from him.”

• Amaziah, King of Judah, wouldn’t listen to a prophet warning him against going to war and so he was defeated in battle. The writer comments “Amaziah, however, would not listen, for God so worked that he might deliver them into the hands of Jehoash, because they sought the gods of Edom” (2 Chron 25:20). Literally, because of Amaziah’s persistent idolatry God didn’t intervene to convince him of the truth of the prophet’s warning. Events took their course.

• Isaiah speaks of the Lord’s “work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem” (Isa 10:12). But he goes on to say that Assyria was an instrument in God’s hand (i.e. God allowed Assyria to conquer) and would be judged for arrogantly thinking it had conquered by its own power (Isaiah 10:24-25). God allows Assyria’s selfish, violent expansionism to punish Israel but then he punishes Assyria for it’s wrong attitudes towards his people, namely the Babylonians conquered the Assyrians. God worked through the military action of these powers.

• Jeremiah quotes the Lord speaking of himself carrying out the actions of Babylon – actions which would normally be carried out when a dominant superpower invades a country. He works through ordinary human events (Jeremiah 27:6-11). Similarly Jeremiah speaks of Nebuchadnezzar carrying Judah into exile (29:1) but then says God carried Judah into exile (29:4, 7, 14). So God uses the selfishness, pride and violence of human beings in his purposes but they are still free in their decisions and responsible for their actions. Jeremiah says God will respond to national repentance by averting destruction (Jeremiah 18:7-10). This must mean that when there is repentance God restricts human evil and selfishness and demonic activity but often allows them in cases of no repentance. Human selfishness and evil and demonic activity is widespread bringing trouble and suffering to others. God does not literally need to bring that trouble and suffering but simply not to restrict and hold it back.

• Paul said that “God gave [the Jewish people] a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear,
to this very day.” Actually it is Satan, the God of this world, who blinds the mind of unbelievers. God simply didn’t intervene with many of them to bring them to faith.

How do we recognise God’s judgement in action today?

We need to be careful in concluding that some event is an example of God’s judgment, not least because God is very merciful, even towards persistent sinners. We can follow the approach taken in Scripture briefly outlined above, namely, recognising that God does judge people by not intervening to protect them from the results of their actions or “the changes and chances of this mortal life.”

If someone persists in wrong or unwise behaviour they may reap the result of that behaviour. This may simply be the natural result or, for example, human punishment of bad behaviour. On an analogy with Scripture, this could sometimes be seen as divine judgment. It could be in the sense that the person is reaping the result of flouting rules which God has written into creation, e.g. health rules. We often half-jokingly say when someone reaps a negative result from wrong behaviour “That’s judgment on you.” Or it may be in the sense that humans (police, law courts) are enforcing the law which is based on God’s order for society. Paul refers to this in Romans 13:1-5
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

The New Testament specifies various failings which will lead to judgement. In many of them it is not clear if it refers to judgment in this life or after death. The following are specified as leading to judgment: selfish anger (Matt 5:22), judgmentalism (Matt 7:1-2), rejecting the Gospel (Matt 10:15; John 12:48), careless words (Matt 12:36), hypocrisy (Matt 23:13; Rom 2:1-5), sexual immorality (heterosexual and homosexual), idolatry, greed, drunkenness, slander, swindling, idolatry, stealing (1 Cor 6:9-10), witchcraft, hatred, discord, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy (Gal 5:19-21, Eph 5:5-6) ungodly church leaders (1 Tim 3:5-7), grumbling (James 5:9), going back on commitment to Christ (1 Tim 5:11-12).

However there are two passages which clearly speak of judgment in this life. Paul teaches that taking Communion unworthily can lead to sickness or even death (1 Cor 11:29-34). Pauls writes: “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and ill, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.” This “judgment” is divine discipline which is intended to have a beneficial effect on the believer.

Both Paul and Peter teach that judgment sometimes takes the form of the undeserved suffering of believers which can build them up (2 Thess 1:4-7; 1 Peter 4:16-18). Paul writes: “among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Again this is divine discipline which strengthens them as they endure it in faith.

Peter writes: “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” Again this “judgment” is divine discipline.

So we may recognise God’s judgment on the church. Many churches don’t really pray (beyond brief prayers at services), don’t preach the Gospel in any effective way and don’t seek to put into practice the New Testament teaching on the church. The result is decline. The church has sometimes not handled the tragic issue of sexual abuse properly. The result is scandal. The House of Bishops seems to be “generally speaking, generally speaking” over the issue of homosexual partnerships/marriage. The result is that society ignores the church. And so it goes on.

We may also recognised God’s judgment on the world when human failing leads to negative consequences. This will include such things as:
• Self-seeking politics and military action leading to:
o War
o Terrorism
o Oppressive regimes
• Irresponsible attitude towards creation leading to:
o Global warming
o Other ecological disasters.
• Turning away from Christianity leading to
o Breakdown of biblically-based morality.
o Increasingly dominant influence of Islam
• Immoral, irresponsible behaviour, including sexual behaviour, which causes:
o Disease
o Epidemics
o Pandemics
• Sexual immorality leading to:
o Undermining of marriage
o Breakdown of the family
o Harm to children

Of course, these negative consequences spread to many innocent people.

It is more difficult to speak of God’s judgment when it involves natural disasters: earthquakes, volcanos, floods, tsunamis, tornados, meteor/asteroid impacts. These are all natural events inherent to nature as we know it. Jesus speaks of earthquakes and disturbances in the heavens as signs pointing to his return but he does not say they are judgments. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which may have been caused by an earthquake, is, of course, seen as judgment, as is the Flood, so it is not illegitimate in principle to see natural disasters as judgment. But it surely requires a clear word from the Lord to recognise a particular natural disaster as judgment.

Judgment and Compassion

How do we reconcile the idea of God’s judgment (especially affecting innocent people) with divine compassion? There are various considerations:

1. God “judges” even faithful believers through suffering and persecution (2 Thess 1:4-7; 1 Peter 4:16-18) so no-one, even an innocent person, is immune from experiencing such “judgment.” All human beings are vulnerable to suffering but God seeks to build up character, faith and perseverance through suffering. His grace is therefore available to all innocent sufferers. We too must be available to innocent sufferers to give help and support.

2. God is merciful even to those who deserve judgment. We must be too. We should not limit our compassion to innocent sufferers. The guilty may be brought to repentance through our kindness. On the other hand, the very judgment they experience may help bring them to repentance.

3. We believe in a God who became incarnate to experience the worst human suffering in order to show his love and to bring us salvation. So even God, in his perfection, is not immune to suffering. Suffering is an inevitable part of human life.

Matt 4:17 “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus was a teacher but he didn’t just come to give a series of lectures or to tell religious stories. Jesus was a healer but he didn’t just come on a healing campaign. Jesus was the baptiser in the Holy Spirit but he didn’t just come to give people exciting experiences. Jesus was a founder of the church but he didn’t come just to encourage people to be religious. No, primarily his message was that the rule of God had drawn near in his presence. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17). His rule is an everlasting rule (Dan 7:27) of righteousness, justice and peace to be established over the whole earth (Isa 32:1; Mic 5:2; Zech 9:10; Rom 15:12). So Jesus’ message was an eschatological message of his coming rule on earth. He was and is calling individuals to submit to that divine rule now and we need to proclaim the same message. What we see of the rule of God now is a foretaste of what we shall see in the future.

Matt 2:4-6 “When [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

Matthew, quoting Micah 5:2, is predicting that, as messiah, Jesus will restore the kingdom of David. He will rule over Israel. We don’t see that happening yet. That is the ‘high peak’ of the fulfilment of prophecy. But, as is common in climbing a mountain, a nearer peak obscured a valley between it and the high peak. In other words, Micah saw the two peaks: the first was the coming of messiah and the second his ruling over Israel. We now live in the ‘valley’ between the two. The Lord has redeemed us through the cross and resurrection but soon we shall reach the ‘high peak’ when Jesus returns.

 

We have noted the “Now and the Not Yet” of biblical prophecy. This speaks of lesser and greater fulfilments of prophecy.

We have also noted that early in Holy Week Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple (which was brought about by the Romans 40 years later in AD70). But he also prophesied the End Times and urged his disciples to look out for both early (recurring) and later signs of his Return (see Matthew 24). We then quoted various scholars who agree with this interpretation. 

 

Jesus’ prophecies here are typical of biblical prophecy:

·         Prophecy can have an early and a later fulfillment.

·         Prophecy can “concertina” future events widely separated in time to appear close together.

 

There are other examples of the dual reference of biblical prophecy:

 

1.      Joel 2:28-3:2 is seen as a prediction of the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2: “And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”  But the prophecy goes on beyond the Day of Pentecost to the future day of the Lord: “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls ‘In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel, because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.”

 

2.      Sometimes people, events or statements in the Old Testament are seen as symbolizing and prefiguring Jesus, and events in the New Testament. Traditionally the Old Testament symbol or prefiguring has been called a “type” and the New Testament equivalent the “antitype”. So Jesus sees Jonah as a “type” of himself and his death and resurrection: “He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:39-42).

 

3.      A similar approach is described in the IVP NT Commentary series, referring to Jesus on the Mount of Olives speaking of both AD70 and the still future End of the Age in Luke 21. It refers to how divine history was read by the Jews, as well as by the prophets in the 1st century AD.

“The belief was that God’s judgment followed certain patterns. How he judged in one era resembled how he would judge in another. Because God’s character was unchanging and because he controlled history, such patterns could be noted. Thus deliverance in any era was compared to the exodus. One event mirrored another. Exilic judgments, whether Assyrian or Babylonian, were described in similar terms. This ‘mirror’ or ‘pattern’ interpretation of history has been called a typological-prophetic reading of the text, with the ‘type’ reflecting a basic pattern in God’s activity. This way of reading history sees events as linked and mirroring one another. Sometimes the events are described in such a way that we modern readers would not readily notice that distinct events are being discussed. Sometimes a text offers clarifying reflection after more events detailing God’s program have been revealed.

Jesus’ eschatological discourse links together two such events, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the events of the end signaling his return to earth. Because the events are patterned after one another and mirror one another, some of Jesus’ language applies to both.”[i]

 

However, some scholars are critical of the idea of the dual reference of biblical prophecy. Some of this has been focused on Isa 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  This was an immediate historical reference. King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel had attacked Jerusalem and the Lord spoke to King Ahaz of Judah through Isaiah, urging him to seek a sign that he (the Lord) would protect him. But Ahaz refused ‘to put the Lord to the test.’ Isaiah said this refusal was trying the patience of God and the Lord would give him a sign. Such a sign would be fulfilled within a year or two. The word “virgin” could be translated “young woman” and the name Immanuel could be another name for Isaiah’s son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, whose birth is recorded in Isaiah 8:3, see 8:8.

 

Matthew understands Isa 7:14 as predicting the virgin birth of Jesus: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matt 1:22-23).

Some scholars say this is not a second fulfilment but it is Matthew using Isa 7:14 as a parallel, an association of ideas. This would have been quite an acceptable thing to do in Matthew’s day. The same could be said of 1 Cor 14:21 “In the Law it is written: ‘With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’”  Paul is, of course, referring to speaking in tongues and he is quoting Isa 28:11-12. But Isaiah is saying God will “speak” to rebellious Israel through the Assyrians, i.e. through an invasion by Assyria. It does not seem likely that Isaiah had in mind what the New Testament calls ‘speaking in tongues.’

Andrew Perriman writes about Jesus reference in Matthew 24 back to the prophet Daniel (for example Matthew 24:30 and Daniel 7:13) and says this is not a case of two fulfilments but “that Jesus would have understood perfectly well the original historical frame of reference [in Daniel’s day] but intentionally re-uses the symbolism to interpret an analogous state of affairs [in the 1st century AD] …. Jesus, therefore, does what prophets often do: they retell biblical stories and arguments in a new context in order to give faithful but troubled Israel understanding and hope …. He saw the historical relevance of the analogy and creatively retold Israel’s story, centred on himself, in light of it. That cannot be understood to mean that Daniel 7-12 intrinsically has two fulfilments. Nor does it mean that we can take any prophecy willy-nilly and claim that whatever relevance it may have had under the particular historical conditions of the first three centuries, it still has relevance for the church today. That cannot be ruled out, but it must be done with prophetic and scriptural discrimination.[ii]

Perriman believes that Matthew 24 refers only to the AD30-70 period which, as I have already said, I believe to be a mistaken view. However he does allow for biblical prophecies to have “relevance to the church today” so long as the relevance is worked out “with prophetic and scriptural discrimination.”

 

Professor John Walton[iii] makes some interesting comments. He is quite clear that, strictly from the point of view of language, there is no strong argument for understanding the Hebrew word in Isa 7:14 as “virgin.” He goes on to point out that in ancient Israel prophecy, as a word from God, was regarded as not just predicting a future event but as having an important effect on the future. This effect would not necessarily be foreseen by the prophet. It would develop as time progressed. So Isaiah wouldn’t necessarily have foreseen the virgin birth and the child who really was “God with us” but he would have been quite happy with Matthew’s use of his prophecy. Isaiah would have expected that the fulfilment of his prophecy might have developed

Peter speaks of this – Old Testament prophets expecting a major future fulfilment but not knowing what it would be. He was referring primarily to prophecies like Isaiah 53. Peter writes: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

However, it must be borne in mind that the New Testament writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to interpret the Old Testament prophecies as they did. We must be very careful if we do the same because we don’t have that special inspiration.

A good number of scholars do accept the dual fulfilment of prophecy. Professor R V G Tasker, speaking of the Virgin Birth, says Matthew “is led to see in it a fulfilment of the words spoken by God through His prophet and recorded in Isaiah vii. 14. …. this prophecy was in fact more far-reaching than the prophet himself was aware.” It was not limited to the historical fulfilment in the 8th century BC.[iv] Professor Herman Ridderbos says Isaiah was not speaking of a miraculous birth but that nevertheless the prophecy obtained its essential fulfilment in Christ.

 

Commenting on Ridderbos, Professor G C Berkouwer wrote: “Thus the event in Mathew 1 (this birth) is not simply a “coming true” of an earlier prediction but a fulfillment which, on the one hand, is related to the faith in Ahaz’ day and with the name “Immanuel.”[v]

Speaking of the Book of Revelation, Professor Robert Mounce writes: “The predictions of John, while expressed in terms reflecting his own culture, will find their final and complete fulfillment in the last days of history. Although John saw the Roman Empire as the great beast that threatened the extinction of the church, there will be in the last days an eschatological beast who will sustain the same relationship with the church of the great tribulation. It is this eschatological beast, portrayed in type by Rome, that the Apocalypse describes. Otto Piper notes that many modern interpreters overlook the distinction between the historical fulfillment of prophecy and its eschatological fulfillment. The pattern of imperceptible transition from type to antitype was already established by the Olivet Discourse, in which the fall of Jerusalem becomes in its complete fulfillment the end of the age.”[vi]

 

It seems quite acceptable to believe in the dual fulfilment of biblical prophecy whilst accepting that the Old Testament prophets did not necessarily have the second (main) fulfilment in mind, even though they may have been “trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing.” However the New Testament writers, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recognised the second fulfilment. The same thing applies to New Testament prophecies. The writers made predictions which sometimes referred to 1st century events and did not necessarily have a second major fulfilment in mind. Similarly Jesus made predictions which his hearers may have applied only to 1st century events. But it is clear that some of these predictions do have a second major fulfilment which is still future. We have to be careful, though, in seeking a correct understanding of these predictions.



[ii] Andrew Perriman, How many times is a prophecy fulfilled? http://www.postost.net/2010/10/how-many-times-prophecy-fulfilled

[iii] John H Walton, Isa 7:14: What’s in a name? Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, (September 1987) 289-306,  http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/30/30-3/30-3-pp289-306_JETS.pdf

[iv] R V G Tasker, The Gospel according to Matthew, Tyndale, London, 1961, p. 34.

[v] G C Berkouwer, The Work of Christ, Studies in Dogmatics Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1965, p. 115

[vi] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1977, p. 44f

 

I have recently defended my understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the End Times in Matthew 24, including by quoting various scholars. Here is an outline of Jesus’ teaching (plus a little from Paul and Revelation):

 

We might call the preliminary signs “Reminders of the End” because they are repeated and Jesus said when we see them “The End is not yet.” However they can and should remind us that the End is coming. Obviously when they occur, our first concern should be to pray and show compassion for those adversely affected by the occurrences.

       I.            THE PRELIMINARY (REPEATED) SIGNS (OR REMINDERS OF THE END)

                Wars, uprisings (Matt 24:6-18)

                Famines (Matt 24:6-18)

                Earthquakes (Matt 24:6-18)

                Pestilences (Luke 21:11)

    II.            THE INTERMEDIATE SIGNS

Persecution (Mt 24:9ff)

Turning away from the faith (Mt 24:10)

False prophets and messiahs (Mt 24:11, 24)

Worldwide evangelism (Mt 24:14)

 

 III.            THE IMMINENT SIGNS

Cosmic disturbances (Mt 24:29)

The Jewish people regaining control of Jerusalem (Lk 21:24).

The rebellion and deceptive ‘signs and wonders’ of the man of lawlessness (Antichrist) who proclaims himself to be God (2 Thess 2:1-12)

The sudden financial collapse of the world system (‘Babylon’) (Rev 18)

 

As you may know, I have written an important article on all this, entitled “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is available at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf. It is a quite long article, so I plan to summarise it on Facebook for the benefit of those who might find that helpful. This will be my policy, to put articles on the blog and summaries on Facebook.

However, from time to time I will comment on current events relating them to the signs of the End, because that is what Jesus encouraged us to do. The first one is now written and I will add a description of it very soon.

 

The purpose of this paper is to show that there is a good deal of scholarly opinion that in Matthew 24 (and Mark 13, Luke 21) Jesus is referring to the signs pointing towards his Second Coming, as well as to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.

There are three main views about these chapters:

 

1.      Jesus was only speaking about the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD70.

 

2.      Jesus was only speaking about the signs of the return of Christ.

 

3.      Jesus was speaking about both.

 

In my paper on “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” (see

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf ) I added an appendix critiquing the views of N T Wright.  He claims that these chapters which have long been understood as referring to a still future return of Jesus in glory actually refer to the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem

and the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

 

In my paper “Which aspects of the teaching of Jesus on the Mt of Olives refer to the Second Coming?” (see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=349#_edn1) I refer to the views of Dick France. He and others interpret “the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven” as a reference to Daniel 7:13-14 in which Jesus is not referring to his return to earth but as “coming to God to receive vindication and authority.”[1] They interpret “all the peoples of the earth” mourning when they see the Son of man returning as “all the tribes of the land” (i.e. Israel) mourning at the events of AD70. They see the angels gathering the elect as the worldwide growth of the church after AD70 and the kingdom being preached to all nations as meaning only those nations known and reached between AD30 and AD70.

 

I give my reasons for rejecting interpretations 1. and 2. above and for believing that Jesus is speaking both about AD70 and about his future return in my two papers. Then I came across a paper I wrote some 20 years ago which recorded a fair amount of scholarly opinion on the matter and which I have updated. I include this material below as an appendix to the above papers. These scholars may differ on their interpretation of various aspects of the Olivet discourse but they do relate the passage to the events leading to the Return of Christ as well as to those of AD70.

Professors W D Davies and D C Allison in the International Critical Commentary on Matthew write that they are “unpersuaded” by Dick France that Matthew 24 is only about the events around AD70.[2]

They write: “

“Our own view holds that w. 4ff. are a depiction of the entire post-Easter period, interpreted in terms of the messianic woes.21 This means that the discourse, which freely mixes experience with topoi [literary conventions], concerns the past, the present, and the future. What has happened will continue to happen and only get worse: ‘the mystery of lawlessness is already at work’ (2 Thess 2.7). Whether the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 is directly referred to in vv 15ff. or is instead indirectly included in the tribulations of vv. 15ff. we are uncertain. But if the former, AD 70 does not exhaust the significance of vv. 5ff, which plainly envisage eschatological events to come. So the answer to the disciples’ two-part question in v. 3 is this: the temple will be destroyed during the tribulation of the latter days, which runs from the first advent to the second; and after that tribulation the end—whose date cannot be known—will come.”[3]

 

Professor Leon Morris says:

“There is a problem for the student in that sometimes what Jesus says refers to the coming judgment on Jerusalem, a judgment that was consummated in the destruction of the city in A.D. 70, and sometimes what he is saying refers to the judgment at the end of the age.We may well argue that there is a theological unity between the two judgments, and that some of what Jesus says could apply equally well to both.”[4]

 

He adds:

Some commentators take the whole discourse to refer to a single judgment. They hold that Jesus confidently expected his return within a comparatively few years and that there would be a judgment on Jerusalem as part of the judgment of the whole world. But the language used is against this. Far from promoting speculations that he would soon return in glory, Jesus seems to be discouraging this kind of thing (cf. vv. 6,8,14, and 23-28). And we should not overlook the important fact that he said quite plainly that he did not know the date of his coming back (v. 36). If he did not know it, how could he say confidently that it would occur within a few years?”[5]

Professor F D Bruner writes:

“The emphasis in Matthew’s version of the sermon is certainly on the end of the world, but the destruction of Jerusalem is everywhere that end’s classic precursor. Thus Jesus’ sermon about current events, especially the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, becomes a window through which to see Jesus’ view of end events, especially the coming of the Son of Man … The destruction of Jerusalem was the prototype of the end of the world … we most profitable read Matthew’s sermon when we read it in this irridescent way, seeing both Jerusalem’s end and Jesus’ coming in most texts, not always being sure which of the two events is meant …”[6]

Professor Robert Mounce says:

“It is helpful to remember that apocalyptic literature is a genre that does not share our Western concern for orderly continuity. If we allow Matthew the freedom to enlarge on a specific discourse delivered by Jesus by adding material from other settings, we are not at all surprised to find the chapter as fluid as it appears. It is not uncommon for prophetic material to move between type and antitype without calling attention to exactly what is happening. Predictions of the future were of necessity couched in language taken from the prophet’s own setting.”[7]

 

He adds: “Biblical prophecy is capable of multiple fulfillment.”[8]

Professor Douglas Hare writes of Matthew 24:

“….it speaks of a series of future events climaxing in the arrival of Jesus in glory…..”[9]

 

He adds that the prediction of the destruction of the temple

provides the basis for the apocalyptic discourse, which addresses two fundamental concerns of early Christians: When will Jesus come in glory, and what are we to do in the meantime? The structure, accordingly, is relatively simple: (a) events prior to the great tribulation (24:3-14); (b) the abomination and the great tribulation (24:15-28); (c) Jesus’ coming in glory (24:29-31); (d) the time when all this will happen (24:32-44); (e) three parables about faithful waiting (24:45—25:30); and (f) the judgment of the pagans (25: 31-46).”[10]

 

He also writes:

It is sometimes argued that for Matthew the events of verses 15-21 have already occurred: ‘the abomination of deso­lation’ refers either to the siege of Jerusalem or to the final capture of the temple by the armies of Titus and the offering of pagan sacrifice on the holy site; the flight that follows is either the migration of the Jerusalem church to Pella east of the Jor­dan prior to the siege or the escape of refugees following the fall of the city; the great tribulation of verse 21 describes the desperate situation in Palestine in the months following the Roman victory. All of this is most improbable. The flight of which verses 16-20 speak is not any historical event, and most certainly not the escape of refugees from the burning capital in the summer (not winter) of 70 C.E. It is not clear why Matthew’s version adds ‘nor on a Sabbath’ in verse 20, since it seems to acknowledge that the flight will take place whether it is winter or on a Sabbath or not, but it certainly indicates that the event has, for Matthew, not yet taken place; there would be no point in praying about a past event. No, it is best to treat these various events as representing familiar apocalyptic motifs.”[11]

 

He adds that in view of the teaching about the “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2:3-4 who “sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God”

It seems likely, therefore, that Matthew understands the abomination of desolation as referring to some supernatural Antichrist.”[12]

Professor R V G Tasker quotes B C Butler with approval:

Matthew xxiv. 5-14 gives a straightforward anticipation of the whole of future history (in reference to the question about the consummation of the age), warning the disciples that secular catastrophes must not be taken as signs of the imminent end of history; forecasting, briefly, the world’s persecution of the Church; and working to a poignant climax which foretells defections from the Church, false prophets and spiritual decay and treason within the Christian body itself,… and reaching its culmination in the prophecy of the universal proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom—‘and then will come the end.’”[13]

 

Professor C E B Cranfield, writing on the parallel passage, Mark 13, says that it is an eschatological prediction of the End leading to the return of Christ. He writes that although we must take careful note of Jesus’ teaching and we cannot know the time of his return we must nevertheless take note of the signs of the End:

“To disregard the signs of the End as a mere relic of Jewish apocalypticism is to be in danger of reducing eschatology to something purely academic and of losing sight of its relevance to the present. For the signs are reminders in the midst of history of the coming Lord.”[14]

He continues:

“It may well be asked whether the disparagement of this chapter by much recent scholarship has not resulted in a serious impoverishment and weakening of the Church’s life. Its insistence on the signs is perhaps a help to faith and obedience that we cannot afford to dispense with; for the recognition that the events of history are signs of the End and pointers to the coming Lord rescues eschatology from the realm of merely academic discussion and makes it relevant for faith and obedience. As our faith recognizes the signs as they occur, we are again and again put in remembrance of our Hope, and our gaze, that is so easily distracted from the Lord who is coming to us, is again and again directed back to him. The events of the present become for us reasons for lifting up our heads (Lk. xxi. 28) and so many summonses to renewed penitence, obedience and joy.”[15]

 

He goes on to point out that 2 Thess 2:3-10 supports the identification of the “abomination that causes desolation” with the Antichrist. He says that neither an exclusively historical nor an exclusively eschatological interpretation is satisfactory but rather a mingling of the two.[16]

 

Scholars also comment on the difficult verse: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30).

The interpretation of “generation” (“genea”) in Matthew 24:34

 

Professor Robert Gundry makes a very helpful comment on Jesus’ condemnation of the Jewish leadership in Matthew 23:29-36:

“Retribution for all the righteous blood of the OT martyrs will take the form of the tribulational events yet to be described as fulfilling the forecast concerning ‘this generation.’ By context ‘this generation’ means the scribes and Pharisees (‘lawyers’ in Luke). Matthew’s next verse narrows the reference further to the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem. But his involving them in the by­gone murder of an OT prophet (v 35) shows that he does not take ‘this generation’ in a sense chronologically limited to Jesus’ contemporaries, but in a qualitative sense concerning the ‘unbelieving and perverted’ in the whole of Israel’s history (see 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17 and synoptic parallels for the same qualitative emphasis in pre-Matthean tra­dition; cf. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). Hence, we read, ‘in order that on you may come … you murdered [for a centuries-old incident]… will come on this generation.’ In other words, if the ‘you’ who constitute ‘this generation’ includes those who murdered Zechariah in OT times, ‘this generation’ can hardly bear the chronological limitation usually imposed on it cf. Ex 20:5 34:7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:9.”[17]

 

The inference is, of course, that if “this generation” in 23:36 is clearly not chronologically limited to the literal present generation, the same is true of “this generation” in 24:34.

 

Professor Robert Mounce writes:

“If genetai (happened) is taken as an ingressive aorist, the sentence would indicate that before the generation alive at the time had died, all things described in connection with the end will have started to take place.[18]

 

Leon Morris quotes Professor D A Carson as saying:

“All that v.34 demands is that the distress of vv.4-28, including Jerusalem’s fall, happen within the lifetime of the generation then living. This does not mean that the distress must end within that time but only that `all these things’ must happen within it.”[19]

 

Dr David Hill quotes Professor C H Dodd:

“It is probable that we have here an example of that `shortening of historical perspective’ which is so frequently in the prophets. ‘When the profound realities underlying a situation are depicted in the dramatic form of historical prediction, the certainty and inevitability of the spiritual processes involved are expressed in terms of the immediate imminence of the event’”[20]

 

Donald English comments on Mark 13:

“The best solution to hold together all the diverse considerations in [Mark 13] seems to be that which joins to the destruction of Jerusalem and the ultimate Parousia as two parts of God’s one activity, the former prefiguring the latter.  The `signs of the end’ begin when Jesus’ ministry is complete and Jerusalem’s destruction was terrible evidence of the end times. Jesus’ generation would see that, and proleptically would be recipients of the promise of the rest.”[21]

Robert Mounce writes about Matthew 24:34: “One thing we do know is that by the time Matthew wrote, the mission of the Twelve was history and the parousia had not taken place.”[22] It is not likely therefore that Matthew was referring to the AD30-70 generation.

Tony Higton

 

 


[1] R T France, Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, IVP, Leicester 1985, p. 344.

[2]W D Davis & D C Allison, Matthew 19-28, International Critical Commentary,  T & T Clark,  2004 p. 328

[3] Ibid, p. 331.

[4] The Pillar NT Commentary, The Gospel according to Matthew, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 593

[5] Ibid., p. 594

[6] F D Bruner Matthew: A Commentary – Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28, p. 473.

[7] Robert Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, Incorporated, 1991, p. 222.

[8] Ibid, p. 228.

[9] Douglas R Hare, Matthew, Interpretation, a commentary for teaching and preaching, Westminster John Knox Press, Lousiville, 2009, p.  273.

[10] Ibid., p. 274.

[11] Ibid., p. 277.

[12] Ibid., p. 277.

[13] B C Butler, The Originality of St Matthew, 1951, p. 80 quoted in R V G Tasker, The Gospel according to St Matthew, Tyndale Press, London 1961, p. 224.

[14] C E B Cranfield,, The Gospel according to Saint Mark, Cambridge University Press, 1959, p. 389.

[15] Ibid., p. 391.

[16] Ibid., p. 402.

[17] Robert Gundry, Matthew: a commentary on his handbook for a mixed church under persecution, Eerdmans  Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1994, p. 472

[18] Robert Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, Paternoster Press 1995, p. 228.

[19] D A Carson, Matthew: Chapters 13-28 v. 2 (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), Zondervan 1995, III, p. 97 quoted in Leon Morris, The Pillar NT Commentary, The Gospel according to Matthew, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 612.

[20] C H Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, p. 71 quoted in Dr David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, New Century Bible, Oliphants, London, 1972).

[21] Donald English, The Message of Mark, IVP, Leicester, 1992, p.209

[22] Robert Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, Incorporated, 1991, p. 95.