By Kenneth L. Gentry Jr.
Luke 18:8 is a favorite text for dispensationalists and their objection to the optimism of postmillennialism. On the surface this verse seems to contradict the hope-filled historical expectations of postmillennialism. But does it?
I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)
Regarding this verse dispensationalists House and Ice argue that: “This is ‘an inferential question to which a negative answer is expected.’ So this passage is saying that at the second coming Christ will not find, literally, ‘the faith’ upon the earth.”(1) Were this the case, postmillennialism would certainly be mistaken, for how could Christians be optimistic if the entire Christian faith is prophetically determined to disappear from the earth? Unfortunately for the pessimistic readings of this passage, this is not the case as we may see from the following observations:
First, this objection misses the point of Christ’s question. This passage is not dealing with Christianity’s future existence as such. In the context, the Lord is dealing with the matter of fervent prayer. In the Greek “faith” has a definite article before it, thus it refers to the faith already mentioned: the faith of the praying widow in Christ’s parable: “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Christ’s teaching is not touching on the question whether or not the Christian faith exists in the future, but rather: Will Christians still be persevering in prayer?
Second, this objection misconstrues the grammar in Christ’s question. We must note that the form of Christ’s question does not expect a “negative answer.” It is not a rhetorical question. The Funk-Blass-Debrunner Greek grammar notes that when an interrogative particle is used, as in Luke 18:8, “ou is employed to suggest an affirmative answer, me (meti) a negative reply.”(2) But neither of these particles occurs here. Thus, the implied answer to the question is “ambiguous,”(3) because the Greek word used here (ara) implies only “a tone of suspense or impatience in interrogation.”(4)
Third, this objection misunderstands the goal in Christ’s question. Christ appears to be focusing on his imminent coming in judgment upon Israel, not his distant second advent to end history. Christ clearly speaks of a soon vindication of his people, who cry out to him: “I tell you that He will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:8a; cp. Rev 1:1; 6:9–10). He is urging his disciples to endure in prayer through the troublesome times coming upon them, just as he does in Matthew 24:13, which speaks of the first century generation (Matt 24:34). In fact, the preceding context of Luke 18 speaks of Jerusalem’s destruction (Luke 17:22–37).
Fourth, this objection overlooks the implication contained in Christ’s question. In the final analysis, no evangelical millennial view supposes that absolutely no faith will exist on the earth at the Lord’s return. Yet, to read the postmillennial objectors, Luke 18:8 and its supposedly negative answer, one would surmise that Christianity will be totally and absolutely dead at his return.
1. H. Wayne House and Thomas D. Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1988), 229.
2. Blass and A. DeBrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. and ed. by Robert W. Funk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 226.
3. Funk, Greek Grammar, 226.
4.F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (2d. ed.: Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 127.