Monday, October 08, 2007

2 Peter 3 and the renewed creation

I've been (not very systematically) compiling arguments, thoughts, and biblical texts in support of the view that this creation (renewed and transformed) will continue into eternity.

One of the texts considered to be a little bit problematic for this sort of view is 2 Peter 3:10-13 (bold bits my emphasis).

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Thus it could be argued that language of dissolution, melting, passing away, burning up, suggests a reading of 'new' in v13 that means 'totally (or 'almost entirely') new'. But, there's more to be said on 2 Peter;

1. Just before these verses Peter has already spoken of a previous destruction of the world:

5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

It doesn't take a very imaginative reading of Genesis 6-9 to argue that the destruction (it 'perished' v6) of the world in Noah's day did not involve a complete annihilation of the whole cosmos. v7 explicitly parallels this event with the judgment stored up for the present 'heavens and earth' as described in 10-13. This alone suggests the judgment of the day of the Lord is one of transforming and purifying rather than annihilation.

2. In 3:7 Peter indicates that the day of the Lord means the 'destruction of the ungodly' and yet it has been well documented that this destruction (understood in the context of the whole bible) does not mean annihilation. The same can be said by analogy of the destruction-type language used of the creation.

3. And all of that's without going into a discussion of what the actual words for 'dissolution' or 'passing away' refer to, or how they are used elsewhere in the bible (which others have done). Even without those studies the context at the very least implies that we can (and of course we should) try to reconcile 2 Peter 3 with the continuation envisaged in passages like Romans 8:19-21.

All of the discussion above hinges on an understanding of 'the day of the Lord' in 2 Peter being about the end of history judgment rather than AD70 judgment. The New Testament talks of both these judgment days, so at the very least the possibility of an 'AD70 reading' needs to be considered. The next post will attempt (tentatively) to do that.

1 comment:

DavidF said...

Gale Z. Heide, "What is New about the New Heaven and the New Earth? A theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3" in JETS, 40/1 (March 1997) is good fun.