Stephen Motyer has one of those surnames (like ‘Wenham‘) that is simply synonymous with significant theological writing. Steve is Lecturer in New Testament and Hermeneutics at London School of Theology. While his late father, Alec Motyer, may have written a larger number of books, Steve has also made some important contributions to theological writing for both academic and general readers.
His latest book, Come, Lord Jesus!, was published in 2016 by Apollos. I am grateful to IVP for a review copy of this book. Motyer’s book deals with an aspect of ‘eschatology’ (teaching about the ‘last things’). This is enough to create intense fascination on the part of some and intense aversion on the part of others. My own academic research, and subsequent book, was related to issues of eschatology, and so I have maintained a keen interest in this subject. In my view, a good grasp of eschatology, properly understood, is essential to a healthy perspective on both Biblical Theology and Christian experience.
I hope to blog through the chapters of this book, as I am able. I am going to start with his Preface and Introduction (pp. 11-25).
Motyer begins his Introduction with a wonderful opening statement (p. 15):
The second coming of Jesus Christ is the core of the biblical world view, the climax of the biblical message, the cornerstone of biblical theology, and the centrepiece of authentic biblical faith for the twenty-first century.
These words capture something of the grandure and importance of this topic. Whether Motyer can persuade his readers of the truth of the claim remains, of course, to be seen.
In the Preface, Motyer explains that the book was originally intended to form part of the ‘Bible Speaks Today’ (BST) series, but that it outgrew the constraints of the series. While Motyer still hopes to produce such a volume, the present volume is intended to be, as the subtitle indicates, ‘A Biblical Theology of the Second Coming of Christ’. While the book is larger than a typical BST volume, it still retains the readable quality associated with the BST series, so that a serious reader without formal theological training should still be able to read this book without difficulty. Indeed, while the prose is dignified rather than colloquial, Motyer nonetheless incorporates occasional comments relating to personal experience and application.
Returning to the Introduction, Motyer uses this short chapter to set the scene for the study. Two main themes are prominent:
First, Motyer emphasises the ‘whole Bible’ approach to the subject that he intends to take (p. 17):
A ‘biblical theology’ of the second coming is a sense of the way in which the message of the whole of Scripture surrounds and shapes the way in which we think of the second coming. … Most of the passages we will look at are found in the New Testament. … But the first section exploring the wider ‘biblical frame’ is absolutely vital, because it sets the scene for all that follows.
Second, Motyer wishes to be explicit about his ‘method and presuppositions‘ (p. 17). He notes the many different perspectives on ‘end time’ events, and then argues (p. 20):
Rather than getting into arguments about the details of differing prophetic schemes which combine prophetic passages in different ways, it is vital to go deeper and tackle the issue of method, because methods employed often determine outcomes achieved.
Motyer builds on the earlier work of Samuel Waldegrave in his 1854 Bampton Lectures to present four ‘interpretative principles’, which he lays out as follows (pp. 20-21):
- Context and role: The prophetic passages of the Bible cannot be separated out as a distinct stream, but must be interpreted within their different scriptural settings-indeed, within the setting of the whole canon of Scripture. We must seek carefully to see what the role of these prophetic passages is within the whole message of Scripture.
- Genre: Within this setting, we must pay careful attention to their literary genre, which will mean keeping an open mind about whether their language should be interpreted literally or not. A basic starting point is that they will probably let us know how to read them.
- Original purpose: God spoke his inspired word to others first, and so the meaning Scripture seems to have had in its original setting and for its original readers must feature largely for us in our reading today.
- Careful dialogue: It is certainly right to combine different passages, and to bring them into dialogue with each other-but principles 1 to 3 need to be applied carefully first, before we do this! We cannot presume that they can simply be merged like jigsaw pieces.
The remainder of the Introduction is devoted to further explanation of these principles.
While readers with prior theological training will be quite familiar with the principles that Motyer lays out, many Bible readers will perhaps not be. I hope that this clearly-expressed summary of good practice in biblical interpretation is read widely. It would certainly good for our reading of most passages of Scripture if we kept these principles in mind.
I hope to write further blogs on this book in due course, but for now I hope I have encouraged you to explore further this important theological subject and this new book.
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