"Present Orientation": Preterism's Secret Social Science Weapon

Now and then we have noted social-science clues that support understandings of the Bible that tend to work against preferred modern, American views. We have one to offer now that refutes dispensationalism/futurism (as well as a view called historicism) -- making it quite clear that there is a serious burden upon anyone who wants to argue for an "our future" fulfillment for the bulk of the passages in the Bible.

Pilch and Malina in The Handbook of Biblical Social Values [189f] describe the "time orientation" of the Biblical world as one that is present-centered. Unlike moderns, who are "future-centered" (always planning for the future), the ancients concentrated on the present. This was reflected in the teachings of Jesus about not worrying about tomorrow, for today had enough troubles of its own.

Pilch and Malina observe that a present-oriented society, when faced with a problem, roots their solution in the present. The past was a secondary preference for orientation; the future, a distant third. Even elites "showed complete indifference to the future" and long-range planning as such was non-existent.

How does this orientation support a preterist understanding of the NT?

The present-orientation of the ancients makes it highly improbable that any part of the Olivet Discourse, or of Revelation, would be concerned with anything beyond the lifetime of the readers/hearers of those materials. It also makes it quite impossible, as dispensaltionalists are wont to claim, that passages like Is. 13 refer to what is for us a future destruction of Babylon.

Now a pushback that is immediately obvious is, "But there were events predicted that were beyond the lifetimes of those present! Look at Isaiah predicting Cyrus! And even preterists say that past the millennium of Revelation, and elsewhere, there are predictions about the resurrection of all people!"

That is so, but it is clear that such incidences are few, far between, and extremely short on detail. It is also a point that the majority of such prophecy is typological in nature (like Is. 7:14), not actual predictions by past writers of the future, but use of the text of the past by writers in the present. Rather than reflecting a future-orientation by the OT, such usage reflects a past-orientation by the NT.

Even the passages about the future resurrection are made possible only within the framework of Jesus' own resurrection; as Pilch and Malina put it, in this view, something "is forthcoming when its later presence is already guaranteed by its present presence...." Hence appeal to Christ as "firstfruits" of the resurrection is sensible in context.

In light of the present-orientation of the Biblical world, futurists will be hard-pressed to explain why the message of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation ought to be understood as a message into the distant future, of which the readers of the Bible would have had no concern or conception. Futurism renders the Bible irrelevant and seriously decontextualizes its message.