Black, David Alan. Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. 2nd ed. Gonzalez, FL: Energion, 2010.
Black proposes an expansion of the Griesbach or Two-Gospel hypothesis. In framing his position, Black takes patristic testimony about the Gospels seriously. He uses the patristic evidence to develop a plausible back-story that explains how the external and internal evidence favors a Matthew, Luke, Mark order to Gospel composition.
According to Black, the following can be concluded from the Fathers:
1. Matthew wrote his Gospel first in a Hebrew style.
2. John wrote his Gospel last.
3. Differences exist about the placement of Luke and Mark. Both are given the second and third places by different authors.
4. Peter stands behind the creation of Mark. He orally delivered in Rome testimonies of what he saw Jesus do and say and Mark faithfully recorded Peter’s words.
From this evidence Black proposes the following backstory. Matthew wrote his Gospel first for the Jews. Luke then wrote his Gospel as part of Paul’s Gentile mission. Because Luke was not an eyewitness, his Gospel needed validation. Peter validated Luke’s gospel by speaking in Rome about his eyewitness remembrances regarding the material in Matthew and Luke. Mark records Peter’s memoirs. Once Peter validates Luke’s Gospel, it may be released. John later writes his gospel. This account is, of course, speculative—but no more so than Q is speculative.
Black also proposes the following internal evidence:
1. "The pericope order and the zigzag phenomenon"
This can be accounted for by Peter speaking with both Gospels open before him and moving back and forth between the two as he recounts his memoirs. Black accounts for omissions in Mark by saying that Peter is only recounting what he personally witnessed (thus the birth narratives are dropped).
2. "The extra detail of Mark"
The extra detail fits with the scenario of an eyewitness who knows the other Gospels but who adds in vivid details that he recalls.
3. "The minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark"
These agreements "are prima facie evidence for literary contact between Matthew and Luke" (42).
4. Markan conflation of Matthew and Luke
Black says literary signs of conflation have been documented, though he does not detail them.
The strength of Why Four Gospels? is its attempt to account for both patristic and internal evidence is its approach to the Synoptic problem. Its weakness is the dependence Black seems to place on his hypothetical reconstruction.
McKnight, Scot. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
McKnight’s basic thesis is that evangelicals are not really evangelicals but soterians. They have lost the fullness of the gospel story by reducing the gospel to a transaction that provides individual salvation from sin. McKnight does make a number of valid critiques. For instance, McKnight criticizes some evangelicals for emphasizing the transaction of getting saved that discipleship in minimized. Other critiques are harder to evaluate. McKnight roundly criticizes what he calls a soterian emphasis in evangelicalism, but at other times he asserts that such an emphasis is important. Similarly, he says that church began to get the gospel wrong with the Reformation’s emphasis on soteriology, but he also says that Reformation brought about much needed reforms to problems in the medieval church. McKnight seems to have an antipathy toward systematic theology and a marked preference toward story (Biblical Theology?). He clearly rejects the idea that having the correct atonement theory is necessary for a right understanding of the gospel.
I would agree with McKnight that the gospel is more than the "getting saved transaction." I further agree that understanding the Bible’s storyline and grasping the significance of Jesus as Messiah are all important for fully understanding the gospel. Thus I am willing to see the gospel as the good news that Jesus is the Davidic King who will fulfill the kingly task that Adam and Eve failed to rightly exercise. But the central problem in Scripture from Genesis 3 onward is sin. All other problems flow from this basic one. And the kingdom Christ is building only has kingdom citizens as they are transferred one by one from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son. And this is possible only through the atonement. I thus see no reason to pit story and systematics, individual soteriology and worldwide shalom against each other.
Hoffecker, W. Andrew. Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton. American Reformed Biography. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2011.
Charles Hodge seems to be the favorite whipping boy for how not to do theology, even among evangelical theologians such as John Frame and Kevin Vanhoozer. Common complaints are that Hodge relied overmuch on common sense realism and the scientific method of his day and that Princeton Theology became over intellectualized by reducing theology to propositions based on facts collected from Scripture. While the Princeton method is not above criticism, much of the criticism lodged against it is unfair. Hoffecker, who had already written a book on Princeton’s piety, demonstrates in this biography that genuine Christian piety played a large role in Hodge’s life and ministry.
Hoffecker also ably walks the reader through the various theological controversies in which Hodges engaged, from debates between Old and New School Presbyterians, to his exchanges with Nevin, to the debates surrounding the Civil War to Darwinian Evolution—and more. Hoffecker is an excellent guide to these topics.
In all, this is an excellent biography exposing the thought of a significant, but much maligned, American theologian.
Backus, Isaac. An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty against the Oppressions of the Present Day. Boston: John Boyle, 1773.
Liberty could be called one of the core values of the American people. But do Americans understand what liberty is. Backus begins his Appeal with a discussion of the nature of liberty. He comments that many people believe that liberty is the freedom to act as one pleases, but this is only true when one’s highest pleasure is to love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as one’s self (9). Because of this false conception of liberty Backus comments that many people wrongly believe that submission to government means sacrificing liberty. Backus responds that this false notion first appeared in Eden when Satan tempted Eve to disobey God. The reality is much to the contrary: "It is so far from being necessary for any man to give up any part of his real liberty in order to submit to government, that all nations have found it necessary to submit to some government in order to enjoy any liberty and security at all" (8).
Backus’s appeal for religious liberty therefore is not that Christians should be free from governmental interference in whatever they do, including religion. He argues instead that God has established two kinds of government in the world: civil and ecclesiastical. The one kind of government should not usurp the rights of the other. In support of this view he notes that Solomon follows God’s plans for the temple and does not interfere with worship, that Daniel followed Persian civil laws but not laws about worship, that Romans 13, which speaks of the civil magistrate as a servant of God, only addresses the duties of men toward their neighbors. Though Christians are to render to civil government what is owed to it (Isa 29:13; Matt 15:9), Scripture does not give the civil government the power to tax for the support of ministers of the gospel.
Backus argues that the civil government usurps the headship of Christ when it sets up standards for ministers that go beyond those established by Christ in the New Testament, when they impose on communities worship not found in Scripture (pedobaptism) and when they support by taxes men who should live by preaching the gospel (1 Cor. 9:13; Gal. 6:6-7). This usurpation must have negative consequences. Backus notes two: ministers become the king’s ministers rather than Christ’s because they find themselves under the king’s ecclesiastical laws and supported from his treasury. Second, orthodoxy ends up being determined by the majority population in particular areas rather than by true conformity to Scripture.
The remainder of the work details the sufferings of the Baptists in New England under the standing order. Writing just before the outbreak of the American Revolution, Backus makes good use of drawing a parallel between complaints about taxation without representation and the taxation of the Baptists to support the Congregational standing order.
Blaising, Craig, Alan Hultberg, and Douglas Moo, Three Views on the Rapture: Pretribulation, Prewrath, or Posttribulation. 2nd ed. Counterpoints. Edited by Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
This second edition of Three Views on the Rapture is a fine work in the multiple views genre. The quality of argumentation in this book is also high. Moo, who contributed to both the first and second editions, comments several times that he found his opponents’ argumentation superior in this volume in comparison to the arguments found in the first edition.
Blaising’s case for the pretribulation rapture can be summarized as follows: 1 Thessalonians 4-5 teaches that Christians will be spared from the wrath of God poured out on the earth during the day of the Lord. The rapture is the stated means by which believers are spared. Furthermore, by harmonizing the teaching of Daniel about the end and the Olivet Discourse, it becomes clear that the ultimate day of the Lord equals Daniel’s seventieth week, which equals the period described in the Olivet Discourse. The book of Revelation supports this view by correlating the tribulations it describes with the OT day of the Lord. Revelation 3:10 supports the pretribulation rapture by promising the Philadelphian Christians (as representative of the church) that they will be spared from the hour of trial which shall come on the whole earth. By adopting this view, one is able to explain why some texts present the parousia as unexpected and preceded by no signs while other passages say the parousia is preceded by signs. The pretribulationalist understands the parousia to be a complex event. The rapture will occur first and will not be preceded by sings, but the return of Christ to earth to begin his reign will be preceded by signs. The pretribulationalist is also better able to account for the conversion of a remnant after the rapture and resurrection who will be able to populate the Millennium as mortals.
Hultberg says that "the prewrath position rests on two major theses: that the church will enter the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week and that between the rapture of the church and the return of Christ to earth will be a significant period of extraordinary divine wrath" (109). The following points support the first thesis: (1) the Olivet discourse is addressed to the disciples as representative Christians, who will see the abomination of desolation, (2) Parallel language connects 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 and Matthew 24:31 together as rapture passages; (3) 2 Thessalonians 2:3 indicates the rapture is preceded by the abomination of desolation; (4) Revelation presents the church entering the tribulation since the letters to the seven churches are both letters to first century churches and eschatological predictions—and letters to Smyrna and Thyatira indicate the church will enter the tribulation; (5) the rapture occurs at Rev. 7:9 and Revelation 14. In support of the second thesis: (1) Paul is clear that Christians will not experience God’s wrath (Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9), and in some texts this wrath is clearly connected to the parousia; (2) The parousia must be a complex event rather than an instantaneous event to make sense of all Scripture says about it; (3) Revelation displays rapture, wrath, return sequences.
Moo begins his essay by emphasizing that the church will face tribulation throughout history. Though he does not deny there is a final tribulation, he consistently minimizes it. His main point is that the end time is not something distinctively future. It is a time the church has been living in since its inception. Similarly, Moo understands Daniel’s seventieth week to run through the entire church age. Moo also disassociates the final tribulation from the day of the Lord (a point to which he returns repeatedly throughout his essay). This allows him to minimize the wrath of God during the tribulation and emphasize the persecution of God’s people. Moo does not, however, deny that God pours out his wrath at the very end in a way that affects the whole earth. But he argues that this sword cuts two ways since there are some of God’s people on earth during the tribulation under anyone’s scheme. He resolves this problem by noting that believers in the OT were often affected by judgments directed toward others. Much of the rest of Moo’s article argues that there is no clear evidence for a rapture distinct from Christ’s return to earth. He notes the words used to describe the second coming do not distinguish comings. Nor do the main rapture passages (John 4:3; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:13-18) indicate the second coming happens in two stages. In fact, a number of passages disassociate the day of the Lord from the tribulation and tie it to the descent of Christ. Thus when 2 Thessalonians 2 places events of the tribulation before the day of the Lord, it is placing the tribulation before the rapture. Moo finds confirmation for his view in the Olivet Discourse (which he thinks refers largely to the church age) and it’s one return of Christ in Matt 24:31, 40-41. Likewise, Revelation (which also largely refers to the entire church age) never refers to a rapture, though it does place the first resurrection in close connection to the return of Christ to set up the millennium. Since there is a resurrection in connection with the rapture, and since this is the first resurrection, the rapture cannot precede this point in time.
Evaluation of this topic is exceedingly complex. Rapture positions are determined by correlating facts from a wide variety of passages. This in itself makes the topic complex, but the complexity is compounded by interpretational difficulties encountered in the key texts. This means that the debate is not merely over how key facts are systematized; the debate extends to the level of what facts can be deduced from a series of debated texts.
Strengths of Moo’s position
1. Moo has the simplest position. All parousia and rapture texts refer to the same event.
2. The absence of any clear mention of the Rapture in Revelation favors Moo’s position.
3. Moo’s rejoinder that all positions have believers on earth when God pours out his wrath, coupled with his observation that the Bible often indicates that believers can be indirectly affected by judgments directed toward others undercuts the primary objection to his view.
Weaknesses of Moo’s position
1. Moo repeatedly appeals to inaugurated eschatology in support of his position. But inaugurated eschatology would indicate that there are initial fulfillments to be followed by fuller final fulfillments. Moo doesn’t seem to fully reckon with these fuller, final fulfillments. He grants there will be a final tribulation, but he routinely minimizes it to emphasize that the church has always gone through tribulation. This seems to evade the issue under discussion.
2. In connection with the appeals to inaugurated eschatology, Moo applies Daniel’s seventieth seven, much of the Olivet discourse, and much of Revelation to the church age. Regarding Daniel, since the previous 69 sevens referred to periods of seven years, it would seem that the final seven should be understood as a period of seven years rather than as an undefined period of time. With the Olivet Discourse, even if the abomination of desolation did refer to the destruction of the temple (itself a debated interpretation), it would seem, given the context of the prophecy in Daniel, that that event was typological of a final fulfillment in connection with Antichrist. Overall approaches to Revelation are debated, but I find a generally futurist approach (see Grant Osborne’s BECNT commentary) more compelling than generally idealist approaches (see Greg Beale’s NIGTC commentary); Moo opts for the latter.
3. Moo’s consistent downplaying of the tribulation as a time of God’s wrath and his relegation of the day of the Lord to Christ’s actual return to earth disregards compelling data to the contrary presented by both Blaising and Hultberg. Moo even grants in his rejoinder that the Old Testament evidence may stand against his position. Replying that the New Testament alone should determine the matter is hardly a sufficient reply.
4. Moo also has trouble with some particular texts. His attempt to understand Revelation 3:10 in light of John 17:11-12, 15 fails on the grounds that Revelation speaks of being kept from a time period rather than from the evil one. Moo’s understanding of Revelation 20:4 also runs into problems. Moo understands first resurrection in an absolute sense as the first resurrection since the resurrection of Christ. This not only fails to reckon with the resurrection recounted in Matthew 27:52-53 but also requires displacing 20:4 chronologically (since the resurrection mentioned there is post-parousia). This is unlikely since 19:11-20:10 is best understood as a single vision with the subject of ἐκάθισαν being the armies that returned with Christ to earth (see Svigel, TrnJ, 22.1, pp. 51-52).
I find evidence for an extended day of the Lord / parousia persuasive. I also remain convinced that promises that the church (in general) will be spared the wrath of God during this time period, and since I find Moo downplaying events that he concedes will happen (e.g., a final tribulation), I find his view less than persuasive.
Strengths of Hultberg’s position
1. The discussions of and warnings about tribulation events in the Olivet discourse, Thessalonians, and Revelation could indicate that Christians will experience some tribulation events (though it does not necessitate this).
2. His arguments for the parousia as a complex event connected with the outpouring of God’s wrath.
Weaknesses of Hultberg’s position
1. It is difficult to find the Rapture in Revelation 7:9, and Revelation 14:16 seems too ambiguous to bear the weight of the position.
2. I find it unlikely that the first five seals opened in are not the outpouring of God’s wrath. Hultberg argues that simply because God is the opener of the seals does not mean that the seals are outpourings of God’s wrath because God is in control of all things. But this minimizes the symbolism of the sealed scroll. This was a scroll that only the Lamb who had been slain was worthy to take and open. There is much more going on here than mere sovereign control over the affairs of earth.
3. Though the exegesis of 1 Thessalonians 2:3 is tricky, I’m convinced that the text is saying that the day of the Lord is not present unless two other things are also present. The first of these is the apostasy and the second is the revelation of the man of lawlessness. I’m not convinced that the verse is saying these two things must precede the day of the Lord.
Hultberg’s arguments for the rapture of the church before the outpouring of God’s wrath mirror Blaising’s own argumentation. His arguments that this wrath occurs during only part of the seventieth week are more inferential and rest on more debatable texts.
Strengths of Blaising’s position
1. Blaising makes an impressive case for correlating Daniel’s seventieth seven, the tribulation, and the day of the Lord.
2. Blaising makes a solid case that the church will be spared from God’s wrath in the final day of the Lord. Though some texts are debatable, his argumentation on texts such as Revelation 3:10 and 2 Thessalonians 2 was sound.
Weaknesses of Blaising’s position
1. Blaising’s interpretation of the Olivet Discourse struck me as unique. It is a complex passage, and Blaising may well be right, but the uniqueness of his approach struck me as a potential weakness.
2. Blaising does have to deal with the problem of tribulation saints (whom he regards as part of the church, rightly in my estimation) being on earth during the outpouring of God’s wrath during the day of the Lord.
Blaising has constructed the most convincing pretribulation argument that I have encountered. He has abandoned many of the less convincing arguments that are often proposed in support of pretribulationalism. I also found Blaising’s argumentation more convincing than Hultberg’s or Moo’s. He seemed to best understand the significance of the Day of the Lord prophecies and their connection to the parousia as a complex event. He also rightly recognized that God promised the church deliverance from this time period of special judgment. The most damaging objection is the presence of saints in the tribulation period. I think that Moo provides the best theological explanation for the presence of these saints in a period of God’s wrath. But this theological explanation does not counteract God’s promises that he will, in general, remove his people from the day of his wrath. The tribulation saints are an anomaly because they were saved after the rapture of the church (on the pretribulation view), and the presence of an anomaly does not entirely overthrow Blaising’s position.
Overall this second edition has greatly improved upon the first. This may now be the best introductory resource to the topic of the rapture.
Barrett, Michael. "The King James Version: Its Tradition, Text, and Translation." In The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit. Edited by Joel R. Beeke and Joseph A. Pipa. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2012.
Barrett offers a defense for the continued use of the KJV. He is respectful of those who take positions other than his on the issue of textual basis. In the end, however, I was left wondering why someone who takes his position on textual basis does not opt to use the NKJV. He argues that it is reasonable to expect people to learn the older vocabulary and syntax of the KJV. But why make this artificial obstacle a requirement to reading the Word of God?
Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God. London: SPCK, 1992. [Read Part III: First-Century Judaism within the Greco-Roman World]
Wright provides a helpful outline of Israel’s history from the Babylonian captivity through the beginning of the rabbinic era. He provides sketches of the major Jewish groups of this time period: Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, and others. He investigates worldview topics such as temple, land, torah, racial identity, festivals, monothiesm, election, covenant, redemption, and eschatology, the kingdom of God, and justification. Wright’s treatment of the first-century Jewish perspective of these topics is often helpful. His footnotes provide an entry into the broader literature. Nonetheless, readers should be aware that the evidence on this time period is fragmentary. Thus Wright is providing a reconstruction beliefs based on materials that are sometimes earlier and sometimes later than the period under consideration. Furthermore, these materials often need interpretation. Thus when Wright says the Jews were not concerned with postmortem salvation but with political deliverance, I wonder if he is drawing too sharp a dichotomy with too little evidence. A couple times Wright says that those who think the Jews were concerned about personal salvation or personal merit know more about the Pelagian controversy than they do about the first century. But I saw nothing in the evidence Wright displayed has so far said ruled out concern with individual salvation or the possibility that, well-intentioned as they might be, the Pharisees did not move toward what might later be called semi-pelagianism. Nor does Wright consider that later Christians may have correlated the semi-pelagianism they knew with the Pharisees based on the Bible’s portrayal of the Pharisees. The Scriptural portrayal of the Pharisees, even if not a full-or bed portrayal, is, one must say, accurate in all that is presents. All in all, this is a helpful section when read with discernment.
Carson, D. A. "The Biblical Gospel," in For Such a Time as This: Perspectives on Evangelicalism, Past, Present and Future. Edited by Steve Brady and Harold Rowdon. London: Evangelical Alliance, 1996.
In this article Carson reflects on the connection between the kingdom and the gospel. He argues that the kingdom and the cross cannot be separated since both are closely tied to the gospel. He further argues that the gospel must be located in the storyline of Scripture because it makes sense only from within that storyline. When detached from the storyline, statements of the gospel may sound orthodox and yet be another gospel. Carson concludes by warning against simply assuming the gospel while focusing on other issues and against making the gospel the starting point of the Christian life and looking to any number of other things to continue the Christian life.
Carson, D. A. "What Is the Gospel?—Revisited." In For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
Carson begins his essay with an extensive survey of Gospel words in the LXX and New Testament. He then draws out some conclusions. First, and most mundane, gospel as a genre category post-dates the writing of the New Testament books. Second, Carson suspects that the Old Testament influences the meaning of the gospel word-group more than the imperial cult of the Roman Empire. Third, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether the content or the proclamation is being emphasized in gospel contexts. The gospel is tied closely to its proclamation, and words are necessary to do this. Fourth, "Gospel" has "wide and narrow senses." Sometimes the gospel refers broadly to "the whole good news of what God has done in Christ Jesus and in consequence will do" (161). Other times it refers more narrowly to personal salvation. These are not competing gospels, they are different aspects of the same gospel. Carson is especially concerned about the tendency of some to discard the personal aspect of the gospel for a focus on the demands of the kingdom or to what Christ will achieve ultimately. This, in Carson’s view, becomes "only a tiring and tired moralism." Further, Carson argues that announcing what Christ has done carries an intrinsic demand to those who hear the good news. The personal aspect of the gospel cannot be left behind. Fifth, even though the gospel contains words of judgment to those who reject it, it is still the good news. Sixth, the gospel is not just the starting point of the Christian life but undergirds all of the Christian life. Failing to realize this results in trying to accomplish nearness to God through mysticism or other means. Seventh, we must beware of reading connotations that have developed around the English word "evangelist" back into the Greek word. Carson argues that an evangelist is one who preaches the gospel whether it is to Christians or those in need of salvation. Eighth, the historicity of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are essential to the gospel being truly good news. Ninth, we understand the gospel better when we understand the problems the gospel addresses: the guilt of sin, alienation from God, the wrath of God, estrangement from other people, the cursed creation, spiritual death, idolatrous hearts. Likewise, the gospel points forward to God’s purposes: through the gospel God provides forgiveness, resurrection, justification, transformation, faith, obedience and more.
In this essay Carson addresses the same problems that McKnight addresses in The King Jesus Gospel, but he does so in a way that accounts for all of the biblical and theological data without creating false dichotomies.
Gathercole, Simon. "The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom." In God’s Power to Save: One Gospel for a Complex World?. Edited by Chris Green. Apollos, 2006.
Gathercole challenges the old position that the gospel of the kingdom (presented in the Gospels as taught by Jesus) and the gospel of Paul are two different gospels. In the past this has led to the charge that Paul, not Jesus, is the founder of Christianity. More recently some have argued that evangelicals need to rid themselves of their fixation on Paul and justification and develop a better appreciation for the Gospels and the kingdom. Gathercole argues that this position presupposes the Gospels and epistles were written "in isolation" from each other. Gathercole finds this an implausible historical reconstruction. He instead proposes a theologically unified New Testament with a unified perspective on the gospel.
Gathercole defines the gospel as "God’s account of his saving activity in Jesus the Messiah, in which, by Jesus’ death and resurrection, he atones for sin and brings new creation" (149). Gathercole demonstrates that all three of these elements are presented both in Paul and in the Gospels.
Merkle, Benjamin L. "Who Will Be Left Behind? Rethinking the Meaning of Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35," Westminster Theological Journal 72, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 169-79.
These two texts, in the context of Christ’s return, refer to two men in a field, two women grinding at a mill, two in one bed, and one of each pair is taken and the other left. Merkle notes an impressive list of commentators who take the view that those who are taken are raptured and those left behind are judged: Hagner, Marshall, Geldenhuys, Nolland, Green, Bock, Morris, France (TNTC, not NICNT), Hendriksen, Bruner, Wilkins, Fitzmyer, and Ellis. Merkle, however, wishes to argue the contrary position. Those taken are judged and those left the righteous.
1.1 Merkle first looks to the Old Testament to demonstrate that throughout the prophets the righteous are left behind as a remnant while those taken into exile are judged. Merkle believes that this language about taking and leaving behind in connection with the OT destruction of Jerusalem would have shaped the people’s understanding as they heard Jesus talk of a future destruction of Jerusalem.
1.2 Merkle then turns to the New Testament. He argues that Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35 should not be read in light of 1 Thessalonians 4:17. First, the nearer contexts within Matthew and Luke should be canvassed before turning to Paul. Second, since the texts from Matthew and Luke are apocalyptic and prophetic, one should look to other prophetic/apocalyptic literature for the key, not to epistolary literature. Third, Paul is giving comfort in 1 Thessalonians while Jesus is speaking of judgment. The contexts are thus different.
1.3 Merkle thus turns to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke to see how leaving and taking language is used. He notes that in the parable of the weeds, the weeds are taken and gathered up out of the kingdom. In Matthew 24 itself, the righteous are told to flee to the mountains in those days. Merkle says this is to avoid being taken by the enemy as when Jerusalem fell in Old Testament times. In both Matthew 24 and Luke 17 a comparison is made to the flood in which the wicked are taken away by the flood but Noah and his family remains. Likewise Luke 17 uses Lot as an example. The people of Sodom were taken away, but Lot remained.
1.4 Merkle then evaluates the arguments for the position that those left are the wicked and those taken are the righteous.
1.4.1 Some note that "taken" often refers to taking someone with you. Merkle notes, however, the word can also be used for taking someone as a prisoner.
1.4.2 Others argue that the term for left "is consistently used to refer to something that is abandoned or forsaken" (175). Merkle grants this, and his response is somewhat fuzzy. He seems to think that there is a play on words with Jesus’s saying that "there will to be left here one stone upon another" so that one use of the word reflects judgment and the other mercy.
1.4.3 Some connect Matthew 24:40-41 || Luke 17:34-35 with Matthew 24:31. In that passage Jesus gathers his elect from the four winds. Merkle objects that gathering and taking are not necessarily the same. Furthermore, in the parable of the weeds the word for gathering the elect in Matthew 24:41 occurs in Matthew 13:30 of gathering the wheat into the barn. This gathering takes place after the weeds are gathered to be burned (using a different Greek word for gather). Merkle speculates that when 1 Thessalonians 4:17 refers to those "who are alive, who are left," being raptured, those who are left might be those left after the ungodly have already been taken away.
1.4.4 Some claim that the Noah and Lot parallels favor understanding the righteous as those taken and the wicked as those left behind. Noah and his family enter the ark and leave the others behind to destruction. Lot is taken by the angels from Sodom, which he leaves behind for judgment. Merkle objects that with Noah the text is clear that the Flood took away the unrighteous (Matt. 24:38-39). He finds confirmation of this view in Genesis 7:23.
2.1. Regarding the Old Testament background, I was not convinced that the texts Merkle leaned on consistently supported his point. To be sure, being taken into exile was a judgment. But I was not convinced that all the texts about "remaining" were spatial. Some simply seemed to be referring to God leaving a remnant of true worshippers. Some of that remnant was doubtless taken into exile. This seems demonstrated by the passages Merkle appeals to from Ezra, in which the reference is to those who have returned. Furthermore, the book of Daniel would indicate that the remnant may include those taken to exile, and the end of Jeremiah demonstrates that those left behind were not especially righteous. Merkle concedes this in note 6 but does not acknowledge that it weakens his argument.
2.2 Regarding the relevance of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, only Merkle’s first argument is strong. The near context should play a more determinative role than a more distant text. But It is difficult to understand how 1 Thessalonians 4 can be dismissed as epistolary rather than prophetic literature. These are not two mutually exclusive genres, and if texts about the return of Christ are not prophetic, it is hard to know what is. Likewise, only if the broader context of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is ignored can it be said that the passage is about comfort to the exclusion of being about judgment.
2.3 Of his arguments from the nearer contexts in Matthew and Luke, the parallels with Noah and Lot are the strongest. The appeal to fleeing from Jerusalem is the weakest. The parable of the weeds, as Merkle notes, can hardly be determinative.
2.4 Regarding counter-arguments, Merkle is weakest at points 1.4.2 and 1.4.3 above, and strongest at points 1.4.1. and especially 1.4.4.
2.5 Overall, I would say that Merkle’s view is a possibility. The parallel with Noah is the strongest evidence in his favor. Too often, however, he makes his case on the basis of word usage with words that I’m not convinced are technical terms or by drawing parallels with passages that do not seem clearly relevant (the parable of the weeds) while dismissing passages that are relevant (1 Thess. 4:17).
2.6 As a footnote, I found it odd that Merkle opened the article by tarring his opponent with references to Thief in the Night and the Left Behind series. Most of those cited as taking the opposing view were not dispensationalists whereas, as mentioned in note 24, traditional dispensationalists Walvoord, Ryrire, and Geisler all hold to the view Merkle is advocating.