I have a tendency to underestimate Roger Hutchinson. After each exposure of the absurdities in his latest attempt to resolve a biblical discrepancy, I think that surely his embarrassment has been so complete that he will not risk further humiliation, but as his latest what-it-really-meant explanation of a glaring biblical discrepancy shows, he is back for still more. This time, he is riding to the rescue of Jesus himself, who promised that he would return before the generation living then had passed away. Since the promise failed to materialize, biblicists like Hutchinson have been saddled with the burden of trying to convince rational readers that Jesus didn't really meant what he clearly said. Specifically, Hutchinson's latest venture into Never-Never Land was prompted by Brian Rainey's explication of the word genera (generation) in Matthew 24:34, where Jesus said that "this generation" would not pass away until various events accompanying his second coming had been "accomplished." Elsewhere, Rainey has replied to Hutchinson's "solution" to this problem, but I'd like to have a piece of the action too. I seem to have a character flaw. When a biblicist puts his foot into his mouth, I can't resist the temptation to shove it even farther in, and Hutchinson has certainly put his foot into his mouth on this issue.
The statement in dispute is clear enough: "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place" (Matt. 24: 34). The problem arises from the obvious fact that "these things" that Jesus referred to were signs and wonders that would accompany his second coming, which he had described in the verses immediately preceding this statement. Since Hutchinson seemed to agree in his article that the "language [in this passage] is similar to that found in Revelation 6:12-13," which "describes the end of the world," there is no need for me to waste time analyzing Matthew 24 to show that Jesus was clearly talking about signs and wonders that would accompany his second coming and the end of the world. This is a point that Hutchinson has apparently conceded.
The only task before us, then, is to determine what Jesus meant when, after having described events that would accompany his second coming, he said to his apostles that "this generation" would not pass away until all "these things take place." The most sensible interpretation is that he was simply telling his disciples that their generation (the people living at that time) would not pass away until he had come again, but Hutchinson can't accept the most likely meaning of the statement, because the promise didn't happen. He, in fact, even used the failure of the promise as an argument that "this generation" couldn't have meant the generation contemporary to Jesus.
The language describes the end of the world. These events have not occurred and certainly did not occur in the first century. Consequently, the generation that is contemporary to these events could not yet have lived. The events described in Matthew 24:15-31 will all be experienced by one generation. That generation will be living when the world comes to an end (p. 6).
We see here that Hutchinson has resorted to an old familiar inerrantist tactic. He has attempted to prove biblical inerrancy by assuming biblical inerrancy. In this case, he is arguing that if Jesus predicted that "these things" would happen at a certain time, they would necessarily have happened at that time, but since they didn't happen in the lifetime of his contemporaries, Jesus couldn't have meant that these were "things" that the people living at that time would see; otherwise, there would be an error in the Bible, and there are no errors in the Bible. In other words, Hutchinson has begged the very question that he is obligated to prove. His fallacious reasoning fails to consider even the possibility that Jesus could have made a prophecy that failed.
When we consider this logical fallacy in relation to the absurd interpretation that Hutchinson assigned to a word with a rather obvious meaning, we can see just how unlikely his resolution of Jesus's prophecy failure is. He cited Matthew 23:34-46 in a strained attempt to make "generation" (genea) mean people of an undetermined, extended period of time who would be inclined to kill prophets, but a look at the full context of the statement shows that Jesus was clearly directing it to the scribes and Pharisees who were his contemporaries.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, "If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets." Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell (vs:29-33. emphasis added).
The passage then goes on to read as Hutchinson quoted it in his article, but when the four verses above that he passed over are considered with the rest of the passage that he quoted, it is clear to see that Jesus was addressing the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees of his own time and that it was to them that he would send prophets for them to kill so that they would be proven to be no more righteous than the ancestors they had hypocritically denounced for killing prophets. Obviously, Jesus wasn't speaking about people in the remote future who would kill prophets but was referring to people of his time, who in their own future would prove their hypocrisy by doing the very thing they had condemned in their ancestors. The fact that he repeatedly used the second-person plural (you) shows that his comments were directed at the audience he was speaking to.
That Jesus used the word "generation" (genea) in this sense when addressing his audiences can be seen by examining a passage that Hutchinson cited but didn't bother to quote in full.
Matthew 12:38-42: Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from you." But he answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here (emphasis added).
The word in question (genea) was used three times in this passage, but Hutchinson alluded to only one of them in a duplicitous attempt to make it appear that the word, as Jesus was using it, meant all people of whatever time who seek after signs, but the two other uses of the word in this context shows very clearly that the term "this generation" was being used in reference to the people who were Jesus's contemporaries. Notice that Jesus said in verse 41 that the men of Nineveh would rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it? Why? What reason did Jesus give for saying this? They [the men of Nineveh] had repented at the preaching of Jonah, but a greater than Jonah was here, i. e., preaching to the people who were living at that time and hearing Jesus preach. He said the same thing in reference to the Queen of the South. She had come from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but a greater than Solomon was here, for the people of that time to hear. Surely, even Hutchinson will admit that Jesus meant that he was the one who was greater than Jonah and Solomon, and if that were the case, then his statements about the judgment make no sense at all unless "this generation" meant the people living at that specific time, who had had the opportunity to hear Jesus himself preach.
Hutchinson further argued that "this generation" could not have meant the contemporaries of Jesus, because he was clearly prophesying things that would happen at the end of the world, and earlier in the chapter he had said, "(T)his gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14). Hutchinson went on to say that "(i)t does not seem likely that this [the preaching of the gospel in all the world] would have happened in the lifetimes of the disciples given the enormity of the task" (p. 5, this issue). I'll just quickly note that Hutchinson is again trying to prove biblical inerrancy by assuming biblical inerrancy, because he is arguing that since it is unlikely that the gospel could have been preached in all the world within the lifetimes of the apostles, Jesus couldn't have meant that the end of the world could happen in the lifetime of "this generation." Otherwise, there would be another error in the Bible. His fallacious reasoning again fails to recognize even a possibility that Jesus could have made an incorrect prophetic statement. However, since Hutchinson is a biblical inerrantist, I can answer this quibble by just referring him to his own inspired, inerrant word of God, because the apostle Paul claimed that the gospel of which he had been made a minister had been "preached to every creature under heaven" (Col. 1:23). On this point, then, I'll just leave Hutchinson to argue with his own beloved apostle Paul.
The most damaging argument against Hutchinson's desperate attempt to rescue Jesus from the embarrassment of an obviously failed prophecy in Matthew 24:34 is the fact that the New Testament clearly taught that there would be an imminent return of Jesus. In speaking to another audience, Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matt. 16:28). Biblicists have made all kinds of attempts to rescue Jesus from this gaffe too. Some claim that the promise was fulfilled in the very next chapter when Jesus was transfigured with Moses and Elijah "on a high mountain," others claim that it was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the kingdom of Jesus or his church was established, but neither event will satisfy the criteria of this "coming" that were presented in the larger context of the prophecy.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the son of man will come in the glory of his father with his angels, and then he will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the son of man coming in his kingdom (Matt. 16:24-28, emphasis added).
The central theme of the speech that Jesus made on this occasion was the need to save one's soul, and to stress the importance of this, Jesus emphasized that he would return someday to judge everyone according to his works. He described this as a "coming" in which he would be accompanied by angels. In neither the transfiguration in Matthew 17 nor the establishment of the church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) were angels involved, and judgment according to each person's works did not occur in either instance. The more reasonable interpretation of the speech in Matthew 16 is that Jesus was warning his audience that he would return someday to judge them and that he made the subject more urgent to them by warning that some of those who were hearing him speak would be alive to witness his return and the judgment that would accompany it.
There is not enough space left in this issue to analyze all of the New Testament passages that warned of an imminent return of Jesus, so I can only quote some of them and comment briefly on selected ones. The writer of 1 Peter said, "But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers" (4:7). James likewise said that "the coming of the Lord is at hand" (5:8). John warned, "Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18). In his letter to the church at Philadelphia, Jesus said, "Behold, I am coming quickly" (Rev. 3:11), and this warning was repeated three times at the end of Revelation (22:7, 12, 20). The word quickly should not be interpreted to mean that whenever Jesus does come again, his coming will take place quickly, because the word translated "quickly" in all four verses was tachu, which conveyed the sense of "shortly," "soon," and "without delay." In other words, the writer of Revelation had Jesus warning that he was coming "soon" or "shortly."
We have yet to see Hutchinson's reaction to passages like these, but since he is a typical inerrantist, he will no doubt tie himself into verbal knots arguing that shortly didn't mean shortly, soon didn't mean soon, at hand didn't mean at hand, etc. Anyone who has spent any time at all discussing with biblical inerrantists the passages that taught an imminent return of Jesus knows that this is the track they most often take. Their favorite "proof text" is 2 Peter 3:8, "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." From this, they argue that "soon" or "at hand" are meaningless terms to God, because time itself is meaningless to him, and so they rationalize that even though almost 2,000 years have gone by and Jesus hasn't yet returned, this doesn't mean that New Testament writers were wrong when they said that his coming was "at hand," because "one day to the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." The fallacy in this line of reasoning is that if God actually did inspire the Bible, he certainly didn't inspire it for his own benefit but for the benefit of ordinary humans, who think that "soon" means soon, "at hand" means at hand, etc. What sense would it make for an omniscient, omnipotent deity to "inspire" information about when Jesus would return in language that was meaningful only to him?
Hutchinson, once again, is writhing in the throes of verbal
snares that he has caught himself in as he continues his frantic
efforts to defend the inerrancy of the Bible. The face-value meaning of
the language in Matthew 24:34 clearly indicates a prediction that Jesus
would return in the lifetime of his contemporaries. That interpretation
is also consistent with various passages that taught an imminent return
of Jesus, so Hutchinson once again has embarked on a hopeless trip to
prove that the Bible doesn't mean what it clearly says. And he has the
gall to accuse skeptics of slanting their investigations to achieve the
conclusions they seek.