I want to offer some discussion on models of eschatology. Understanding the two major models can be very helpful in making sure our views on eschatology are based on the Bible and not the ideas of Plato.
According to Craig Blaising, there have been two broad models of eternal life that have held by Christians since the time of the early church. The first he calls, the “spiritual vision model.”[i] This model is influenced by Platonism.[ii] With this model, heaven is viewed primarily as a spiritual entity. Heaven is the highest level of ontological reality—the realm of spirit as opposed to base matter. “This is the destiny of the saved, who will exist in that nonearthly, spiritual place as spiritual beings engaged eternally in spiritual activity.”[iii] The spiritual vision model, Blaising argues, is a combination of biblical themes and cultural ideas that were common to the classical philosophical tradition. The biblical themes the spiritual vision model draws upon include:
1. the promise that believers will see God.
2. the promise that believers will receive full knowledge.
3. the description of heaven as the dwelling place of God.
4. the description of heaven as the destiny of the believing dead prior to the resurrection.[iv]
In addition to the biblical themes, the spiritual vision model also drew upon cultural (Greek) ideas that were common to the classical philosophical tradition:
1. a basic contrast between spirit and matter.
2. an identification of spirit with mind or intellect.
3. a belief that eternal perfection entails the absence of change.[v]
According to Blaising, “Central to all three of these is the classical tradition’s notion of an ontological hierarchy in which spirit is located at the top of a descending order of being. Elemental matter occupies the lowest place.”[vi] Heaven is realm of spirit as opposed to matter. Heaven is a nonearthly spiritual place for spiritual beings who are engaged only in spiritual activity. This heaven is also free from all change. Eternal life, therefore, is viewed primarily as “cognitive, meditative, or contemplative.”[vii] The spiritual vision model has led many Christians to view eternal life “as the beatific vision of God—an unbroken, unchanging contemplation of the infinite reality of God.”[viii]
In his book, Models of the Kingdom, Howard A. Snyder points out that a purely spiritual view of the kingdom, which he calls “the kingdom as inner spiritual experience model,” “may be traced to the influence of Platonist and Neoplatonist ideas on Christian thinking. . . .”[ix] According to Snyder this model “draws to some degree on Greek philosophical roots.”[x] He also states that “One can sense the Platonism lying behind this model.”[xi] Snyder says: “Historically this model has often been tainted with a sort of Platonic disdain for things material, perhaps seeing the body or matter as evil or at least imperfect and imperfectible. It is thus dualistic, viewing the ‘higher’ spiritual world as essentially separate from the material world.”[xii]
The spiritual vision model was inherently linked to allegorical and spiritual methods of interpretation that were opposed to literal interpretation based on historical-grammatical contexts. Blaising also notes that the spiritual vision model “was intimately connected with practices of ‘spiritual interpretation’ that were openly acknowledged to be contrary to the literal meaning of the words being interpreted.”[xiii] “The long term practice of reading Scripture in this way so conditioned the Christian mind that by the late Middle Ages, the spiritual vision model had become an accepted fact of the Christian worldview.”[xiv]
With my next blog I will introduce the other model of eschatology—the New Creation Model.
[i] Craig A. Blaising, “Premillennialism” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 161.
[ii] Ibid., 162. Snyder calls this approach “the kingdom as inner spiritual experience model.” “As a distinct model it may be traced to the influence of Platonist and Neoplatonist ideas on Christian thinking and especially to Origen” Howard A. Snyder, Models of the Kingdom (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1991), 42.
[iii] Blaising, “Premillennialism,” 161.
[vii] Blaising, “Premillennialism,” 162.
[ix] Snyder, Models of the Kingdom, 42.
[x] Ibid., 52.
[xii] Ibid., 54.
[xiii] Blaising, “Premillennialism,” 165.