In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eschatology of the New Testament

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Apocalypticism and Millenarianism
  • Second Temple Jewish Eschatology
  • Johannine Literature
  • Revelation

Biblical Studies Eschatology of the New Testament
by
Matthew Sharp
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0324

Introduction

The term “eschatology” is a neologism that literally refers to the doctrine (Greek: logos) of the last things (Greek: eschata). The term first emerged in the context of 17th-century Lutheran dogmatics where it referred to that branch of Christian theology that deals with matters such as the second coming (or Parousia) of Jesus Christ, final judgement, the end of the age, hell, and eternal life. In the comparative study of religion, eschatology can be used more broadly for beliefs pertaining to “the end,” which are commonly divided into three categories: personal eschatology (the individual fate of a human upon death), collective eschatology (the fate of humankind), and cosmic eschatology (the ultimate fate of the physical world). This article will chiefly deal with collective and cosmic eschatology in the New Testament and early Christianity. For personal eschatology, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Afterlife and Immortality.” To speak of the ultimate fate of the cosmos or of humankind is not necessarily to speak of its destruction. Many hopes labelled eschatological in Jewish and Christian tradition refer more to a definitive and divinely instigated change in the current order of the world, which reverses social hierarchies, judges the wicked, and instigates an eternal age of peace and justice. The overcoming of death and mortality is another important eschatological theme. A key characteristic of New Testament texts is that they regularly claim certain eschatological expectations have been fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as well as in the present experience of the spirit enjoyed by Jesus’ followers. Other eschatological events, on the other hand, are still expected to occur at an undefined (but often very near) point in the future. Much of the history of scholarship has thus been occupied with trying to determine how different authors understand certain eschatological expectations to have been realized, and what they still expect to happen in the future. On another level, scholars inquire into the function of eschatological language and what practical effects it was intended to have on the texts’ original audiences. The critical study of early Christian eschatology has proved one of the most challenging areas for modern theology to grapple with. At the same time, it has also provided one of the most fruitful resources for creative theological thinking. Many would argue that this dynamic is already present in the texts of the New Testament themselves.

General Overviews

Allison 2006 and Carroll 2000 provide short, accessible introductions to the topic focused on the primary texts. Aune 1992 is a thorough and near comprehensive overview of both the primary texts and secondary literature making it a standard reference work for its time. Filorama, et al. 2008 is helpful for detailing the ways eschatology has been studied in a broad range of contexts and disciplines. Frey 2011 and Marshall 1978 are particularly helpful for clarifying matters of definition and for their clear summaries of the history of research.

  • Allison, Dale C. “Eschatology of the NT.” In The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 2: D–H. Edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, 294–299. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006.

    Brief, synthetic overview highlighting the past, present, and future fulfilment of eschatological claims in the New Testament.

  • Aune, David E. “Eschatology.” In The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, D–G. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 594–609. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

    A standard reference work for early Christian eschatology including valuable information on Jewish and Greco-Roman backgrounds and a large bibliography.

  • Carroll, John T. “Eschatology.” In Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 420–422. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.

    Sets New Testament (NT) eschatology in the context of Old Testament (OT) prophetic tradition and Jewish apocalyptic literature. Highlights the rhetorical nature of eschatological language that seeks to engage the emotions and promote a particular way of life.

  • Filorama, Giovanni, Hans-Peter Müller, Andreas Lindemann, et al. “Eschatology.” In Religion Past and Present: Encyclopedia of Theology and Religion. Vol. 4: Dev–Ezr. Edited by Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski, and Eberhard Jüngel, 532–556. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008.

    Broad coverage of the topic with separate sections for religious studies, Old Testament, New Testament, history of dogma, dogmatics, ethics, philosophy of religion, Judaism, and Islam.

  • Frey, Jörg. “New Testament Eschatology – An Introduction: Classical Issues, Disputed Themes, and Current Perspectives.” In Eschatology of the New Testament and Some Related Documents. Edited by Jan G. van der Watt, 3–32. WUNT 2/315. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011.

    Excellent introduction to the history of modern debates over NT eschatology with a particular focus on the German theological context. Aims to clarify contested points of definition and categorization.

  • Marshall, I. Howard. “Slippery Words: I. Eschatology.” The Expository Times 89 (1978): 264–269.

    DOI: 10.1177/001452467808900903

    Identifies nine different meanings of the word “eschatology” in 19th- and 20th-century biblical scholarship. Functions as a useful overview of the history of scholarship through the lens of changing definitions.

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