In the study of Christian eschatological thought, virtually no attention has been given to past interpretations of the biblical phrase the new heavens and earth. John Duff uncovers the interpretations of this phrase that were extant in seventeenth-century England. These interpretations fall into two basic camps-those that understood the phrase metaphorically and those that understood the phrase literally.Some English divines believed the new heavens and earth referred to the new age of the gospel that commenced in the first century CE. At that time, God flung open the doors of salvation to Gentiles while at the same time bringing judgment to the Jewish nation for its failure to recognize and embrace Jesus as Messiah. This epic transition was fittingly described as a new heavens and earth.A second group of English interpreters believed the phrase stood for a yet future time when the political and religious circumstances of the world would change for the betterment of the church for one thousand years. The new heavens and earth stood for a future millennium in which Christ would establish his reign over the world prior to the day of resurrection and final judgment. Theologians who accepted a literal understanding believed the new heavens and earth described the renovation of the physical creation at the final judgment. Among this group, differences of opinion existed with respect to how much of the world would need cleansing, what creatures would be restored and of what use would a renovated world serve. The idea that the earth, and not heaven, would be the final abode of the saints emerged among a few obscure writers.
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Dr. phil. John H. Duff is Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, MI, USA.
"The author argues his case well from primary sources by breaking new historical ground. Using sound historical-theological methods, under the direction of Richard Muller (9), he arranges his material both chronologically and thematically. . . . the breadth of his English primary source material is superb." --Ryan M. McGraw, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
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