Posted by: mattcolvin | June 20, 2014

Perriman on the Problem with a Particular Parousia

I am on an Andrew Perriman kick, having finished his book on Romans, The Future of the People of God, and more recently having devoured his book on women in the church, Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul. The latter is the best book I have read on women’s ordination from either perspective, pro or con. Perriman defends the practice; I still reject it. Nonetheless, I found his exegesis impressively careful, responsible, honest, accurate, and helpful. I hope that Bp. Hicks and the ACNA committee on Holy Orders will study the book. I will write a review of Speaking of Women later.

I have just started a third Perriman book, The Coming of the Son of Man, subtitled “New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church”. I am not now, nor have I ever been, one to call myself “emergent”, and I see little in Perriman’s work that strikes me as squishy or radically heterodox in the way that the “emergent church” movement is usually characterized (think Brian McLaren). I found his work on Romans highly stimulating, and I am enjoying his take on eschatology so far. Here’s a choice quotation:

“[Jesus warns] against being misled by false declarations about the presence of the Messiah (Mark 13:21-23; Matt. 24:23-26; cf. Luke 17:23). The fear, quite clearly, is that in a time of great suffering and confusion his followers might easily be persuaded to run after any prophet or demagogue brandishing the hope of salvation or escape. The fear was not unfounded. Both Menahem, son of Judas of Galilee, and Simon Bar-Giora presented themselves in Jerusalem during the course of the war as Israel’s rightful king (J.W. w.17.8 §433-438; 4.9.3-8 §503-544)…

“What should alert the disciples most clearly to the spuriousness of such claims is the knowledge that the Christ, when he comes, will not be found in any particular location, whether out in the wilderness or in a private room. The parousia of the Son of Man, Jesus tells them, will not be spatially restricted in this way – as the presence of an individual in some place or other – but will be like lightning, which illuminates the whole sky (Matt. 24:27; Luke 17:24). This powerful image has usually been understood to describe the effulgence of Christ’s bodily coming at the end of the age. The contrast, however, is not with the ordinariness of these imposters – after all, they will “perform great signs and wonders” – but with the false announcements about a concrete, localized and embodied mode of being. A more careful reading of the simile suggests that it signifies the immaterial and universal nature of Christ’s presence. The significance of the lightning is not so much that it is bright – though that is certainly a connotation – but that it “comes from the east and shines as far as the west.

“A similar contrast is made at the beginning of Luke’s displaced apocalyptic discourse: the kingdom of God is said not to be a matter of physical observation, but is “in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). Jesus tells his disciples that they will long to see “one of the days of the Son of Man.” But he will not be present in such a way that people will be able to point him out: “‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here'” (17:23). “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be [in his day]” (17:24). What the form of the simile emphasizes is not the particular point at which the bold travels from heaven to earth, the place of a physical descent, but the illumination of the whole sky. Again, it is the extent of the presence of the Son of Man that is at issue here. Jesus’ argument directs the disciples’ imagining away from the idea of a localized and material manifestation of the Son of Man to something global and intangible.”



  1. You’re making me want to read Perriman’s “Speaking of Women.” I’ll look into it.

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