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ACTS 24:15 AND THE ALLEGED NEARNESS OF THE RESURRECTION

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  16 Comments

(Update: Please note that this study was corrected and expanded under the title: “Acts 24:14 Revisited.” Please see that article for the fuller presentation.)

Acts 24:15 is claimed by hyperpreterists as evidence that Paul expected the eschatological resurrection of the dead to occur soon (in conjunction with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. In the NASB the verse reads:

having a hope in God, which  these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.

The supposed evidence for hyperpreterism lies in the phrase “there shall certainly be a resurrection.” Here the Greek words behind “there shall certainly be” is mellein esesthai. Since the base word mello can mean “about to,” this statement is thought to demonstrate that Paul stated that the resurrection is “about to” happen. This is a misreading of Paul. Consider the following:

First, lexically the word mello has several possible meanings. It does not always mean “about to.” According to the Arndt-Gingrich-Danker Lexicon it can mean: “to take place at a future point of time and so to be subsequent to another event, be about to” or “to be inevitable, be destined, inevitable.” Thus, the mere appearance of the word in Acts 24:15 does not demand that it mean “about to” or “soon.” We have to look at other factors to determine its function here.

Second, syntactically when mello appears in the future infinitive (as in Acts 24:15) it indicates certainty. We find samples of  this in Josephus, classical Greek, and patristic usage. In the Arndt-Gingrich-Danker Lexicon (p. 500) we read that when mello is used  with a future infinitive it “denotes certainty that an event will occur in the future.” That, and nothing more. This is why all the standard translations of the Acts 24:15 do not translate mello as expressing nearness, but simply as a future fact (NIV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, etc.). The NASB (cited above) has an excellent rendering: “having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”

Third, contextually: Paul’s argument in Acts 24 supports this idiomatic usage: he is on trial for his life, having been brought to court by Jews. His clever maneuver is to divide his opponents against themselves: the Pharisees believe in a resurrection of the dead; the Sadducees do not (Acts 23:6-7). Thus, Paul argues for the certainty of the resurrection (by use of this idiomatic expression) and concludes: “For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today” (Acts 24:21). He is not on trail for declaring the resurrection near, but for declaring it at all.

(Note: this article was updated to correct a typo that caused confusion. See the new article: “Acts 24:15 Revisited.” It also expands on the evidence presented in this article.)

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

16 responses to ACTS 24:15 AND THE ALLEGED NEARNESS OF THE RESURRECTION

  1. Dr. Gentry,

    This was the locus classicus for Hyper Preterists such as myself. However, upon sober exegesis, it is not a “prooftext” at all. At least it cannot claim to be an indubitable text in favor of the HP. “Mello” sharpens the ambiguity of the “future” tense with an idea of “certainty”, and hence, in contexts that happen almost immediately or within an extremely small amount of time, “about to” applies. When someone of something is “about to” happen, the immediate context indicates such thing (like, “the ship is about to break apart”; “there is about to be a famine”.

    Upon further searching (including Liddell and Scott), there are no hard and fast constuctions that automatically “mean” the translation, “about to”. Rather, the idea of “about to” (something to happen almost immediately) is indicated by context, and not by whether it is in the infinitive followed by the aorist, or present, or any of the other constructs in which this word occurs.

    Of course, as a former Hyper Preterist, I myopically found a “few” examples of “about to” in a few translations, and noted the lexicons, then, with one fell swoop determined that “mello” ALWAYS means “about to”! If I tell my wife I am “about to” take out the trash, and do it three years later, I don’t think she could trust me anymore.

  2. Dr. Gentry,

    This also brings up the idea of “near” or “at hand” – in the lexicons, we have the choice to consider whether this means “distance” (my glass of milk is “near”), or time, July Fourth is “near”. Thus, “the kingdom of God is near” can mean “If I drive out demons…then the kingdom has come upon you” (near in terms of “right here”). Now, true, other diectic markers can show “near” in terms of “time” like “some of you standing here will not die…” and I do not wish to take away from the near-time aspect of many passages that would indicate the coming destruction of Old Covenant Israel. However, many of the so called “time texts” we used turn about to be wrongly interpreted. The NT distinguishes between the “last day” (punctuated with the resurrection of the dead – John 6), and the near-time “coming” of the LORD in typical “day of the LORD” language. Would we not expect the Last Day to be described in the same typical language? Of course we would. I would also offer that there are many “Days of the son of man” in between 70 AD and the Last Day. Or, did God stop “deposing kings and setting them up” according to his judgments? That is what some Hyper Preterists suppose!

    • Is the last day the end of time, or is it the last day of the old covenant? I thought the New Covenant was an everlasting covenant? The New Testament setting or context is the 1st century, therefore we who are 2000 years later have no one with apostolic authority to say this is that as in Acts 2, so it is anybodies guess about the end isn’t it? Jesus who is the eschatos of the eschaton of our eschatological hope keeps his promises, 100% of them right? And does not Daniel foretell the end to come in the 1st century? ( Dan:12). Who’s to say there are many “Days of the son of man” after AD70? Has not God shown his reign is forever in His word, without end? Isn’t one of the main keys to understanding scripture…. His (Gods) Covenant with His people Israel ?

      • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. February 15, 2012 at 6:30

        The “last day” is the end of time when the resurrection occurs (John 6:39-40). The new covenant lasts through to the end of history, then it comes to permanent and perfect expression in eternity. No, Daniel does not speak of the end in the first century. See: Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion.

      • What if the first resurrection was fulfilled in the first century and the rest of the dead, which would include us, is not fulfilled until after the thousand years are finished? James Stuart Russell didn’t seem to spiritualize the resurrection of the dead (correct me if I’m wrong), and he believed something similar to that if I understand his book correctly. Your thoughts, please.

        Chris

      • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. March 15, 2012 at 6:30

        I believe Revelation’s “first resurrection” was fulfilled in the first century. In fact, I believe it was fulfilled at AD 70 (see my book “Navigating the Book of Revelation” (http://www.kennethgentry.com/products/Navigating-Revelation-%28pb-book%29-30%25-off%21.html).

        However, I believe that what Rev is speaking about is a spiritual resurrection, a redemptive transaction that occurs in heaven as the martyred saints are vindicated. We must be careful in dealing with the Book of Revelation in that it is so highly symbolic. Christ was the first one of the eschatological resurrection, but the eschatological resurrection will occur at the end of history as a physical reality (reflecting Christ’s own resurrection).

      • Mr Cruz,

        Please do not buy into the hyperpreterist distortion of orthodoxy. Without fail, when one mentions the “end of time”, the hyperpreterist contends that the New Covenant never ends. Well, who among the reformed orthodox have ever said that the New Covenant ends? I have yet to read of one.

        Notice what you did?…”Is the last day the end of time, or is it the last day of the old covenant? I thought the New Covenant was an everlasting covenant?”

        You just equated “time” with the “new covenant”. That is a hyperpreterist mistake, not an orthodox one.

      • Tim, I understand your concern, but you appear to lump all “scholars” together. There are liberal scholars, atheistic scholars, and conservative, Bible believing, Jesus loving scholars. Stick with the latter.

        Second, what separates YOU from the rest of the screwed up crowds that apparently cannot read or understand the Bible? Do you know how many times the “be a Berean” line is used by virtually every view that claims that this is “all” that they are doing?

        Your problem, therefore, appears to stem from a much more deeper question: how do we know that we know that we have the “correct interpretation” of “what the Bible says”?

  3. Thanks Sam for the question, I “know” I was once blind, but now I see. I know there are many others with the same story as mine (“Jesus loving scholars”) though I am not a scholar. Rome to this day still thinks it has the “correct interpretation ” of the Bible. Many of my brothers in Jesus think they have the “correct interpretation”. We’ve got to stick to the main and plain things, Israel is its subject, Christ is its fulfillment, audience relevance, context, difficult in light of clear, and scripture interprets itself. Everyone agrees to these things, but we are all not as faithful to these things as we should be. I think this is why there is so many “correct interpretations” Again Thanks.

  4. David Carraway February 24, 2012 at 6:30

    Mr. Gentry,

    In Acts 24:15 the phrase in question (about to be/shall certainly be) is:

    mellein (is about) V-PNA (Verb-Present Infinitive Active)
    esesthai (to be) V-FN (Verb-Future Infinitive)

    So how is it wrong to translate mellein in a way that denotes nearness when it is a Present tense verb? Is it because esesthai is a Future tense? If so then the article seems to be a little misleading when it states:

    “Second, syntactically when mello appears in the future infinitive (as in Acts 24:15) it indicates certainty.”

    I say misleading because mellein itself is not a Future Infinitive; only esesthai. Is it because mellein is combined with a Future Infinitive verb that makes it denote certainty? And if the Present Infinitive Active combined with the Future Infinitive is meant to denote certainty, then could not Paul be affirming that the resurrection was “is about (mellein) to certainly be (esesthai)?”

    It seems that even if in this instance mellein is intended to mean “shall certainly be,” because of it being combined with a Future Infinitive verb, that it does little to denounce the nearness of the resurrection in the first century, seeing that all the other events the resurrection is to occur with were being expressed by Jesus, the Apostles and the other writers of the New Testament as happening in the not too distant future.

    Thank you for your time

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. February 27, 2012 at 6:30

      Mr. Carroway:

      A typo in this article-post has caused you some confusion. In the posting I wrote: “Second, syntactically when mello appears in the future infinitive….” I should have written: “Second, syntactically when mello appears with the future infinitive….”

      I will rework this article for my February 28 posting, not only to remove the typo (and hopefully, the resulting confusion that it created), but also to add some new material that enhances the argument. The posting to which you refer was actually the heart of an old email I wrote to someone around fifteen years ago. At that time I was even using the older version of the Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon, whereas in tomorrow’s re-casted article I will use the most recent edition, now known as the Arndt-Gingrich-Danker Lexicion. Hence, you will note different pagination when I cite the Lexicon.

      I hope the tweaking of the article will be helpful.

      • David Carraway March 1, 2012 at 6:30

        Thank you for taking time to respond Mr. Gentry. I look forward to reading the revised article.

    • David, all of this posturing over the word “mello” and what form(s) it is found with is proving too much. When one scans the Lexicons, one will not find them consistent. Even in translations (take, Young’s for example), he does not consistently apply “about to”. I have Wuest translating as “about to” in one place, then, in the same form, “going to” in another place! I can literally find several examples of this as I have studied this term a good deal (also in Liddell and Scott, LXX). Louw and Nida (their Lexicon) ranges the word in terms of its definition(s). It gives no “form” in terms of verbal endings. That is, it matters not what form it appears with (present, future – with infinitive, without infinitive, participle, etc.). Form (aspect; aktionstarte) does not tell us nor inform us of MEANING. This is what is useful in Louw and Nida. Thus, “mello” (67.62) can mean “about to”; “must be” (71.36); “to extend time unduly” “to wait” (see Acts 22.16 “what are you waiting (mello) for?”; and “unlimited extent of time beginning with the time of the discourse” and thus “future” (see I Tim 6.19).

      Thus, I do not think, in all of this, that the “form” the verb appears with has no aspect as to meaning (translation). Arguing that “mello” MUST mean “about to” in 24.15 is a moot point based on all of the scholarly material, noting their own inconsistency, and the inconsistency in translation point to the fact of what Louw and Nida state: form does not dictate meaning; context does.

  5. The ‘alleged’ nearness of the resurrection is not proved or disproved by the use of the word mello at all – in whatever form it appears here in this text; but by the argument that Paul is using in his preaching over several chapters already, that the resurrection of the dead in which the fathers put their hope in God, had indeed begun in Jesus. And having appeared to Paul, he was sent forth as His witness, to announce this truth to all who would hear just as the Law and Prophets had said He would do.

    Straining at gnats in order to swallow a camel seems like a practice to accomplish hermeneutical blindness, not better exegesis!

    Robin

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. March 14, 2012 at 6:30

      Robin:

      Excellent point! The certainty of the resurrection is Paul’s point. That certainty has been proven by Christ who has already been raised. Paul argues this vigorously in 1 Corinthians 15:12ff:

      “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”

      And that certainty which Paul emphasizes in Acts 24:15 points to the future hope “that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15). 1 Corinthians 15:20 declares that “now [already!] Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.”

      Thanks for your point. You are correct that hyperpreterism strains at gnats. As I said in the article: “It is not helpful to a new movement to base an important argument on the single appearance of an ambiguous verb in an attempt to overthrow 2000 years of Christian orthodoxy.”

  6. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. March 26, 2012 at 6:30

    Two resurrections are taught in John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15.

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