John MacArthur’s Flood geology and 2 Peter

John MacArthur, esteemed Fundamentalist pastor and author, thinks that 2 Peter 3.3-7 was written as a prophecy condemning modern geology and the principle of uniformitarianism.

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.

He’s not alone, of course. We’ve heard this for years, but recently a friend brought to my attention that he’s still spreading this pathetic exegesis to his followers.

Uniformitarianism, or gradualism, is simply the assumption that the laws governing nature in the past are the same as the laws of nature we see today, and thus that the universe’s present configuration is explicable by immutable laws of nature. In geology it is usually juxtaposed against catastrophism, the idea that violent cataclysms (such as earthquakes, usually) are necessary to account for key aspects of modern earth’s geophysical features.

MacArthur (who should make use of some basic training in one of the scientific disciplines) writes in a couple recent blog posts (1, 2) that the basic scientific principle of uniformitarianism is anti-Christian and contradictory of Scripture.

This is patent nonsense. 2 Peter has nothing whatsoever to do with warnings of people who would some two thousand years later believe that the way nature works at its basic levels remains uniform over time. The claim that 2 Peter 3 was written as a long-preemptive attack on the concept of uniformitarianism is an old creationist saw based on clumsy hermeneutics and dispensationalist eschatology, blindly keying off the buzzword “flood”.

Perhaps the worst offense in this interpretation is the assumption that it’s talking to us rather than addressing something meaningful to the original audience. 1 Peter 1.20, Acts 2.17, Hebrews 1.2, and James 5.3 all clearly indicate that these early Christians believed they were already in the “last days” during the time of — probably long before — 2 Peter was written. The point is that 2 Peter, when talking about “the last days”, was actually addressing a specific belief that was occurring at that time and not “prophesying” the rise of modern geology. As always, we must properly contextualize this text in order to recover the author’s intent.

2 Peter was not trying to counteract the denial of a particular past cataclysm (a global flood), but rather a denial of God’s eventual judgment through cataclysm. Conservative and liberal scholars agree that this book was among the last in the NT written. The earliest believers obviously believed they were in the “last days” and were beginning to succumb to the ridicule of the skeptics and the doubts of the disillusioned. 2 Peter 3 is an attack on the conclusion that God would not intervene drawn on the undeniable basis that He hadn’t done so nearly as soon as expected. The author of 2 Peter was doing his level best, from chapter 1 on, to establish that the delay in judgment (3.9) did not indicate the irrelevance of righteous living in anticipation of the eschaton even despite modified expectations of its imminency.

Obviously, this has nothing to do with gradualism or the Flood of Noah. But we should notice that the Flood’s global nature seems to have been assumed. If that is true, the author was clearly misinformed. But then again, we already know his sources weren’t the most reliable: he borrowed from the Epistle of Jude, an obscure text whose author quoted the pseudepigraphical 1 Enoch as an accurate record of prophecy as uttered by the “seventh from Adam”, Enoch.

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