Saturday, November 12, 2011

Will the earth be destroyed, according to 2 Peter 3:10? (Tom Wright)

It is often thought that 2 Peter 3:10 speaks of the earth being burned up in the future. In a previous post I referred to Dr Christopher Wright's view on this matter. In this post I will refer to Bishop Tom Wright's view on this verse. The following is taken from his devotional commentary, Early Christian Letters for Everyone, pages 119-120.

"As with the rest of the New Testament, Peter is not saying that the present world of space, time and matter is going to be burnt up and destroyed. That is more like the view of ancient Stoicism - and of some modern ideas, too. What will happen, as many early Christian teachers said, is that some sort of 'fire', literal or metaphorical, will come upon the whole earth, not to destroy, but to test everything out, and to purify it by burning up everything that doesn't meet the test. The 'elements' that will be 'dissolved' are probably the parts of creation that are needed at the moment for light and heat, that is, the sun and the moon: according to Revelation 21 they will not be needed in the new creation. But Peter's concern throughout the letter is with the judgment of humans for what they have done, not with the non-human parts of the cosmos for their own sake.

The day will come, then, and all will be revealed. All will be judged with fire. That is the promise which Peter re-emphasizes here over against those who said, at or soon after the end of the first Christian generation, that the whole thing must be a mistake since Jesus had not, after all, returned. Many in our own day have added their voices to those of the 'deceivers' of verse 3, saying that the early Christians all expected Jesus to return at once, and that since he didn't we must set aside significant parts of their teaching because, being based on a mistake, they have come out wrong. But this merely repeats the mistake against which Peter is warning - and, in fact, this is the only passage in all first-century Christian literature which addresses directly the question of a 'delay'. It doesn't seem to have bothered Christian writers in the second century or thereafter. They continue to teach that the Lord would return, and that this might happen at any time (hence: 'like a thief', in verse 10, picking up an image from Jesus himself)."

(Click here for the previous post on this topic.)


Peter said...

So I take it N.T. Wright believes the fire will destroy sinners, buildings, etc. but have no effect on all of the Christians who are living on the earth at this time?

SF said...

Peter, good question. I think I should not interpret what N. T. Wright means for you, in case I misrepresent him. But I note that Wright uses the words "test" and "purify". Anyway, it's best to let Bishop Tom Wright's book speak for itself. Check it out when you have a chance.