Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Inconclusive Eschatology of The Shepherd of Hermas [A.D. 60-210]

It is very difficult to draw any sort of eschatological conclusion from the Shepherd of Hermas, due to the literary style of the work, and the controversy surrounding it’s author and date. Nonetheless, I found it worthwhile to examine the Shepherd due to the claims by some that it supports the premillennial view, as well as to leave no stone unturned. The Shepherd makes many references to the kingdom of God, but always deals with it as a present reality, a Spiritual kingdom. Then again, so do many premillennialists. The author says nothing about a millennium, and even references to the Second Advent are questionable. The writer viewed the great tribulation as yet future, yet expected to take place in the lifetime of his listeners.

“Ye therefore that work righteousness be steadfast, and be not double-minded, that ye may have admission with the holy angels. Blessed are ye, as many as endure patiently the great tribulation that cometh, and as many as shall not deny their life.” (Vision II, 2:7)

“Go therefore, and declare to the elect of the Lord His mighty works, and tell them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation which is to come. If therefore ye prepare yourselves beforehand, and repent (and turn) unto the Lord with your whole heart, ye shall be able to escape it, if your heart be made pure and without blemish, and if for the remaining days of your life ye serve the Lord blamelessly. Cast your cares upon the Lord and He will set them straight.” (Vision IV, 2:5)

When was the Shepherd of Hermas written? If it can be established that the writing was prior to 70 AD, then we have strong evidence for preterism. The work makes no mention of the Destruction of Jerusalem, but that is merely an argument from silence. Kenneth Gentry explains the difficulty in dating the Shepherd.

“The indeterminate status of the dating of The Shepherd is directly related to the problem of ascertaining its authorship. Lightfoot’s analysis of the matter will guide our thinking.’ Was it written by (1) the Hermas greeted by Paul in Romans 16:14, as Origen suggests? Or by (2) the brother of Pius I (c. A.D. 140-150), as the Muratorian Canon (c. A.D. 180) teaches? Or by (3) some unknown Hermas who lived in the time of the bishopric of Clement of Rome (A.D. 90-100), as Zahn, Caspan, and others argue? Unfortunately, an assured conclusion on the date of The Shepherd may never be reached.” (Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, p. 86)

It is quite clear that the Shepherd of Hermas borrows imagery from the Book of Revelation. R. H. Charles explains:

“The fact that Hermas used the same imagery as [the Apocalypse] may be rightly used as evidence that he knew it. Thus the Church, (Vis. ii. 4), is represented by a woman (cf [Rev] 12:1 sqq.); the enemy of the Church by a beast (Vis. lv. 6-10, [Rev] 13) out of the mouth of the beasts proceed fiery locusts, (Vis. iv. 1, 6, [Rev] 9:3) whereas the foundation stones of the Heavenly Jerusalem bear the names of the Twelve Apostles, ([Rev] 21:14), and those who overcome are made pillars in the spiritual temple, ([Rev] 3:12), in Hermas the apostles and other teachers of the Church form the stones of the heavenly tower erected by the archangels, (Vis. iii. 5. 1). The faithful in both are clothed in white and are given crowns to wear, ([Rev] 6:11 etc., 2: 10; 3:10; Hermas, Sire. viii. 2. 1, 3).” (R. H. Charles, The Revelation of St. John)

Despite this repeated use of the Book of Revelation by the author of the Shepherd, he makes no mention whatsoever of an earthly millennium. However, this is still an argument from silence. Therefore, the eschatological position of the Shepherd of Hermas remains undetermined. It is certainly not support the claims of premillennialists.

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