16 October 2008

the coming of the son of man

Andrew Perriman, The Coming of the Son of Man (Tyrone: Paternoster, 2005).

Here is a book which has been on my reading list since its release, but which only recently (finally!) made it onto my desk.  In fact, it was while attending LST's biblical studies conference in September 2008 that I was introduced to Andrew Perriman.  After interacting with his paper on eschatology in Romans and sitting next to him through dinner, I knew that this was a book to prioritize on the list - here is a world class biblical theologian who offers fresh air into the arena.  And, yes, this book lived up to my expectations greatly.

The greatest benefit from reading this book is that it seeks to establish biblical eschatology within the context of the original authors/hearers.

The greatest challenge from reading this book is that it seeks to establish biblical eschatology within the context of the original authors/hearers.

What I mean to say here is that it would be fairly easy, I suppose, to assume that Perriman's eschatological reading is bound to the experiences of the first century Jewish Christians and nothing more.  In fact, some of the passing critiques I have heard about this book is just that - that everything for Perriman is dependent upon his preterist reading.  After working through the book I would argue against such a reading as failing to grasp the overall thesis of the work, while at the same time be willing to concede that some of Perriman's conclusions are not as clear as one might hope for (leaving some of his argument open to the criticisms).

The primary thesis of the book is found in the belief that New Testament eschatology, which is rooted in Second Temple Judaism, which told an important story about the coming of the Messiah, must be read in its original context in order to be understood.  This is key to understanding Jesus as an historical figure, and the only way in which we can properly understand the perspective of ancient Israel, the gospel accounts, or the early church.  In fact, most biblical scholars (who aren't fundy kooks or left behind idiots) would most likely agree that any text in Scripture cannot mean for us today that which it could not mean for the original audience (although, it might be able to mean more).  If we agree with this, then we are off and running to understand Perriman's work.

Thus, the book moves through some of the Old Testament background - beginning specifically with the Daniel narrative - and then through Jesus' teaching and activity in the Gospels, and then through the rest of the New Testament.  I'll not belabor the chapter-by-chapter argument which he provides.  In reading the material found in the Gospels Perriman draws back the reigns of the many wild assertions which fill Jesus' words throughout the Olivet Discourse (et. al.) into a first-century Jewish-Christian context.  In other words, he blocks the reader from simply reading the end-times scenario here as something which applies only to Western Christians living in the 21st century and returns to a reading which understands that Jesus was addressing first century Jews living in Roman occupied Jerusalem while waiting for God's Messiah.

A more accurate reading of the New Testament is found here: "But we should not lose sight of the fact that salvation is the response of God to a particular set of circumstances" (227).  This is absolutely true.  In fact, the entire Jewish faith is built upon this concept (i.e., Passover, the exodus event, many psalms. . .).  Only when we understand the timely nature of the message can we understand the timelessness of its truth.  We cannot apply a message into a contemporary situation if we never understood it in its original context.

At the end of the day, this is a good reading of New Testament eschatology.  In fact, it does more justice to the biblical text than many other competing voices.  I do not leave it without some of my own questions and contentions of how he handles specific points here and there, but these amount to minor quibbles in view of the strong contribution which Perriman has made to the field of work here.  This is highly recommended.

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