Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Preterism of Mathetes [A.D. 65]

There is very little mention of specific eschatological events in Mathetes (meaning “disciple”) Epistle to Diognetus, yet there are some items of interest in relation to premillennial assumptions. While it is common to date the Epistle at a later date, it sees quite clear that it is a pre-70 AD work, due to contemporary events. Mathetes mentions the practice of Old Covenant Judaism, a religion that ceased to exist in 70 AD. In Chap. XI. — These Things Are Worthy to Be Known and Believed, Mathetes claims to have “been a disciple of the Apostles”, thus placing his work in the First Century.

Chap. III. — Superstitions of the Jews.
And next, I imagine that you are most desirous of hearing something on this point, that the Christians do not observe the same forms of divine worship as do the Jews. The Jews, then, if they abstain from the kind of service above described, and deem it proper to worship one God as being Lord of all, [are right]; but if they offer Him worship in the way which we have described, they greatly err. For while the Gentiles, by offering such things to those that are destitute of sense and hearing, furnish an example of madness; they, on the other hand by thinking to offer these things to God as if He needed them, might justly reckon it rather an act of folly than of divine worship. For He that made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and gives to us all the things of which we stand in need, certainly requires none of those things which He Himself bestows on such as think of furnishing them to Him. But those who imagine that, by means of blood, and the smoke of sacrifices and burnt-offerings, they offer sacrifices [acceptable] to Him, and that by such honours they show Him respect, — these, by supposing that they can give anything to Him who stands in need of nothing, appear to me in no respect to differ from those who studiously confer the same honour on things destitute of sense, and which therefore are unable to enjoy such honours.

Chap. IV. — The Other Observances of the Jews.
But as to their scrupulosity concerning meats, and their superstition as respects the Sabbaths, and their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and the new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice, — I do not think that you require to learn anything from me. For, to accept some of those things which have been formed by God for the use of men as properly formed, and to reject others as useless and redundant, — how can this be lawful? And to speak falsely of God, as if He forbade us to do what is good on the Sabbath-days, — how is not this impious? And to glory in the circumcision of the flesh as a proof of election, and as if, on account of it, they were specially beloved by God, — how is it not a subject of ridicule? And as to their observing months and days, (Comp. Galatians 4:10) as if waiting upon the stars and the moon, and their distributing, according to their own tendencies, the appointments of God, and the vicissitudes of the seasons, some for festivities, and others for mourning, — who would deem this a part of divine worship, and not much rather a manifestation of folly? I suppose, then, you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and error common [to both Jews and Gentiles], and from the busy-body spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal.”

Contrary to premillennial assumptions, Mathetes did not consider Judaism to be a “proof of election” or it practitioners to be “specially beloved by God”. Instead, Mathetes considered Judaism to be “a subject of ridicule”, and “a manifestation of folly”. If Mathetes believed in a future Jewish kingdom, he made no mention of it.

Mathetes also speaks of what appears to be the Neronic Persecution, following the statement that God “will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing”.

Chap. VII. — The Manifestation of Christ.
…This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing? ... Do you not see them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of His manifestation.”

Having Christians exposed to wild beasts is a description of Nero’s persecution.

“Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them.” (Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Chapter 2, Part 1).
While there is nothing conclusive about the eschatology in Mathetes‘ Epistle, what little we do have tends to support Preterism. The rejection of New Testament Judaism as being a Biblical religion is a recurring theme among the early church fathers, and is a sticky issue for any premillennialist who attempts to use patristics to support his modern eschatology.

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