Toward a Preterist View of Romans 8
January 22, 2012
One of the interesting things about modern Christian scholarship is how the general direction is toward preterist conclusions. While many authors still maintain a futurist view of Bible prophecy, they are offering more and more excellent evidence for viewing eschatological texts from a fulfilled view.
A recent example of the trend comes from Dr. Peter Leithart. A few years ago Dr. Leithart wrote a book arguing for the first-century fulfillment of 2 Peter 3 titled The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of Second Peter
The comments below by Dr. Leithart relate to Romans 8:

19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (NKJV)

Dr. Leithart writes:
Paul is talking about the liberation of creation from bondage to decay and corruption into freedom. This raises the question of the time frame for the fulfillment of this prophecy. It is normally taken as a reference to the end of the world. The "redemption of the body" (v. 23) is taken as a reference to the general resurrection, and Paul is teaching that there will be a transfiguration of the whole creation when that occurs. Yet, it seems plausible to take this as a reference instead to the transformation of the creation that takes place as the new covenant replaces the old. Could Paul's prophecy here be taken in a preterist sense? Could the period of "anxious longing" (v. 19) be the apostolic age and the birth of a new age be the creation after the end of the apostolic age?


I'm not entirely convinced either way on the question of timing, though I'm inclined to follow a preterist interpretation. Let me offer some arguments in favor of a preterist understanding of this passage. First, Paul is clearly describing the fulfillment of prophecies from the Old Covenant about the renewal of the whole creation through the recreative word of Yahweh (e.g., Is 65:17ff; 66:22)...
A similar point could be made concerning prophecies from the NT. The notion of "birth pangs," which is implied by the references to "groaning" (Romans 8:22-23) and made explicit with the reference to "pains of childbirth" in v. 22, is found elsewhere in Jesus' Olivet discourse, referring to events that would take place before the generation passed (Matt 24:8; Mk 13:8). More generally, it's clear in the NT that the first generation of believers suffered tribulations that were unique in the history of the church (Matt 24:21; Rev 2:22; 7:14)... 
Second, Paul has raised the issue of "adoption" a few verses earlier in Romans 8 (vv. 15-17), and I suggested last week that Paul was still working within the biblical categories from the Old Testament. To say that Christians who have the Spirit are the "sons of God" is to say that Christians who have the Spirit are the true Israel. These are the same "sons of God" who are mentioned again in verses 19, 21, 23. That is, there is a time coming when the true sons of God will be revealed; the sons of God will be "revealed" and there will be a public "adoption" of the church as the true Israel. It would seem odd that this would be delayed until the final judgment and the general resurrection of the dead...
Third, as NT Wright points out, the "glorification" that Paul talks about here has to do with the restoration of humanity to a prelapsarian position of rule and authority (which, of course, goes beyond the position that Adam attained)... I agree with that. Now, if that's the case, it's hard to see how this could be a prophecy about the final resurrection. What, after all, will still need healing and restoration when Jesus returns? Will the general resurrection be followed by an ages-long ecological reclamation project? That's not how the passage is normally taken; instead, it's assumed that when the sons of God are adopted, creation will be transformed once for all and completely. But then what is there left for Jesus' younger siblings to do? It seems much better to say that the adoption of the true Israel, the true Adamic race, occurs with the definitive end of the old covenant at AD 70, and that the creation then begins to be liberated from its bondage to corruption, until it is finally and fully liberated at the final resurrection and judgment...  
If the preterist interpretation suggested above is correct, the sufferings of the "present time" refer to the "great tribulation" that Jesus said would accompany the shift from the old to the new...
On this understanding, in short, 'glorification" is not merely an eschatological prospect for believers. When the new covenant comes, the sons of God are exalted. 
(Editor's note: Consider how the remaining futurist application in the above article is based on a simple unexamined belief. Dr. Leithart simply assumes that "the creation" in Romans 8 must refer in some way to the physical universe. But what if Paul's "the creation" is a Covenant Creation rooted in Genesis 1?)

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