PRETERISM IN HISTORY

PMW 2019-036 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

The preterist perspective is making its presence felt in current prophecy discussions. Unfortunately, dispensational eschatology, which arose in the 1830s and is built on the futurist system, thoroughly dominates evangelical preaching, education, publishing, broadcasting today, and day dreaming. Consequently, evangelical Christians are largely unfamiliar with preterism, making it seem to be the “new kid on the block.” Preterism, however, is as hoary with age as is futurism. And despite its overshadowing in this century, it has been well represented by leading Bible-believing scholars through the centuries into our current day.

PATRISTIC CHRISTIANITY

One of the best known and most accessible of the ancient preterists is Eusebius (A.D. 260-340), the “father of church history.” In his classic Ecclesiastical History he details Jerusalem’s woes in A.D. 70. After a lengthy citation from Josephus’s Wars of the Jews, Eusebius writes that “it is fitting to add to his accounts the true prediction of our Saviour in which he foretold these very events” (3:7:1-2.) He then refers to the Olivet Discourse, citing Matthew 24:19-21 as his lead-in reference and later Luke 21:20, 23, 24. He concludes: “If any one compares the words of our Saviour with the other accounts of the historian concerning the whole war, how can one fail to wonder, and to admit that the foreknowledge and the prophecy of our Saviour were truly divine and marvelously strange” (3:7:7).

Another ancient document applying Matthew 24 to A.D. 70 is the Clementine Homilies (2d c.): “Prophesying concerning the temple, He said: ‘See ye these buildings? Verily I say to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another which shall not be taken away [Matt. 24:3]; and this generation shall not pass until the destruction begin [Matt. 24:34]….’ And in like manner He spoke in plain words the things that were straightway to happen, which we can now see with our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be among those to whom the word was spoken” (Clem. Hom. 3:15).

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) discusses Daniel’s seventieth week as a past event: “The half of the week Nero held sway, and in the holy city Jerusalem placed the abomination; and in the half of the week he was taken away, and Otho, and Galba, and Vitellius. And Vespasian rose to the supreme power, and destroyed Jerusalem, and desolated the holy place” (Miscellanies 1:21).

The famed premillennialist Tertullian (A.D. 160-225) writes of the Roman conquest: “And thus, in the day of their storming, the Jews fulfilled the seventy hebdomads predicted in Daniel” (An Answer to the Jews, 8).

Even the Book of Revelation is applied to A.D. 70 by many in antiquity. In his Interpretation of the Revelation Andreas of Cappadocia (5th c.) noted that “there are not wanting those who apply this passage to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus” (Rev. 6:12). Later he commented: “These things are referred by some to those sufferings which were inflicted by the Romans upon the Jews” (Rev. 7:1). According to noted church historian Henry Wace, Andreas’s commentary is “the earliest systematic exposition of the book in the Greek church.” Andreas himself informs us that he wrote it in order “to unfold the meaning of the Apocalypse, and to make the suitable application of its predictions to the times that followed it.”

Arethas of Cappadocia (6th c.) also provides us a commentary on Revelation which, according to Wace “professes to be a compilation” though “no mere reproduction of the work of his predecessor, although it incorporates a large portion of the contents of that work.” Arethas specifically applies various passages in Revelation to A.D. 70 (Rev. 6-7).

MEDIEVAL AND REFORMATION CHRISTIANITY

Jumping ahead in history, we find the Spanish Jesuit Alcasar (1614) who greatly systematized the preterist approach to Revelation. About this same time great reformed preterists flourished, such as Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and Jean LeClerc (1657-1736).

In fact, one of the finest intellects of the Westminster Assembly had a strong preterist tendency in his historicist approach to the Olivet Discourse and Revelation: John Lightfoot (1601-1675). In his Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica (1674; rep. 1989) Lightfoot offered a fine preterist exposition of Matthew 24 (2:308-321), with allusions to 2 Thessalonians 2. Of the Thessalonian passage he argued that the “restrainer” therein “is to be understood of [the emperor] Claudius enraged at and curbing in the Jews” (2:312).



In the Days of These Kings: The Book of Daniel in Preterist Perspective
by Jay Rogers
This orthodox preterist analysis of Daniel is not a book, but a library. Extremely helpful for the postmillennial orthodox preterist.
For more study materials, go to: KennethGentry.com/


Lightfoot even adopted the view that Revelation 1:7 speaks of “Christ’s taking vengeance [on] that exceeding wicked nation” of Israel (2:319 and 422). There he interpreted Christ’s coming as a providential judgment upon “those who pierced him” (the Jews) from among “all the tribes of the land [literally]” (Israel). Though Lightfoot was more broadly an Historicist, he view allowed him to suggest that Revelation’s overall theme is Israel’s judgment: “I may further add, that perhaps this observation might not a little help (if my eyes fail me not) in discovering the method of the author of the Book of the Revelation” (3:210). This led him to conclude that the “judiciary scene set up [in] Rev. 4 and 5, and those thrones Rev. 20:1” speak of “the throne of glory” and “is to be understood of the judgment of Christ to be brought upon the treacherous, rebellious, wicked, Jewish people. We meet with very frequent mention of the coming of Christ in his glory in this sense” (2:266).

MODERN CHRISTIANITY

Moving even closer to our own day, the great hermeneutics scholar Milton S. Terry (1840-1914) published much on the preterist scheme. His preterist convictions abundantly appear both in his classic text Biblical Hermeneutics (1885; rep. 1974) and in a separate work Biblical Apocalyptics (1898; rep. 1988). The renowned Swiss-American church historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) also published a preterist view of Revelation in his classic History of the Christian Church (1:825-852).

One of the finest preterist commentaries on Revelation ever published was Commentary on the Apocalypse by the noted American Congregationalist, Moses Stuart (1780-1852). The still popular commentary on Revelation by Methodist scholar Adam Clarke (1762-1832) follows much of Lightfoot’s commitment to an A.D. 70 focus, as does that found in The Early Days of Christianity by renowned Anglican historian, F. W. Farrar (1831-1903). Baker Book House has republished The Message from Patmos (1921, rep. 1989) by David S. Clark, father of Presbyterian apologist Gordon S. Clark.

CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIANITY

Entering our own generation, several reformed expositions have helped fuel the current revival of preterism. J. Marcellus Kik’s An Eschatology of Victory (1971) developed the Olivet Discourse in great detail for us. Even more recent works include: David Chilton’s The Great Tribulation (1987), Gary DeMar’s Last Days Madness (1991), and my Perilous Times (1998).


An Eschatology of Victory
by J. Marcellus Kik
This book presents a strong, succinct case for both optimistic postmillennialism and for orthodox preterism. An early proponent in the late Twentieth-century revival of postmillennialism. One of the better non-technical studies of Matt. 24. It even includes a strong argument for a division between AD 70 and the Second Advent beginning at Matt. 24:36.

For more Christian educational materials: www.KennethGentry.com


The first phase of the current revival of preterist commentaries on Revelation include The Time Is At Hand (1966) by Jay E. Adams and Search the Scriptures: Hebrews to Revelation (1978) by Cornelis Vanderwaal. More recently still we have The Days of Vengeance (1987) by David Chilton, Revelation: Four Views (1996) by Steve Gregg, and my contribution to Marvin Pate’s Four Views on the Book of Revelation and my forthcoming The Divorce of Israel: A Redemptive-historical Interpretation (2019). R. C. Sproul’s The Last Days According to Jesus (1998) employs preterism as an apologetic tool in defense of the integrity of the prophecies of Jesus (Olivet) and John (Revelation).

Evangelical (and reformed) preterists (e.g., R. C. Sproul) take seriously the time texts of Scripture and apply those prophecies to A.D. 70, a redemptive-historical event of enormous consequence. They argue that there God finally and conclusively broadened his redemptive focus from the Jews to all races (Matt. 28:19), from the land of Israel to all the world (Acts 1:8), and from the temple-based worship to a simpler spiritual-based worship (John 4:21-24). Where such time markers are absent from eschatological texts, though, evangelical preterists apply the prophecies to the Second Advent at the end of history. The judgments in A.D. 70 are similar to those associated with the Second Advent (and to the Babylonian conquest in the Old Testament) and are actually adumbrations of the Second Advent.

So, the preterist urges the Christian interested in biblical prophecy to go “back to the future.” That is, in many cases we must go back to the original audience and look to the near future. And to understand the historical nature of preterism itself, we must look beyond the current debate to the stream of interpretation running throughout Christian history.

Unfortunately, we must also recognize a preterist problem in:

ABBERATIONAL CHRISTIANITY

As we consider the history of preterism we should be aware of its various branches. Just as premillennialism has cultic (e.g., Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses), dispensational (e.g., Scofield and Ryrie), and historic (e.g., Ladd and Kromminga) expressions, so preterism has three main divisions today.

Liberal preterists (e.g., James Moffatt, Expositor’s Greek Testament 1940) generally view prophecies of A.D. 70 as ex eventu pronouncements, that is, as “after the event” pseudo-prophecies. Revelation especially is deemed an editorialized compound of various Jewish and Christian oracles generated from historical responses to Jerusalem’s destruction. Liberal preterists correctly recognize the A.D. 70 focus of many judgment prophecies, but wrongly deny the predictive nature of inspired prophecy. Their works often contain valuable historical and grammatical gems that may be sifted from the rubble of critical exegesis.


Have We Missed the Second Coming:have-we-missed-the-second-coming
A Critique of the Hyper-preterist Error
by Ken Gentry

This book offers a brief introduction, summary, and critique of Hyper-preterism. Don’t let your church and Christian friends be blindfolded to this new error. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

For more Christian educational materials: www.KennethGentry.com


Hyper-preterists (e.g., J. S. Russell’s, The Parousia, 1887, rep. 1983, 1997) provide many fine insights into preteristic passages. Unfortunately, they go too far by extending valid observations gathered from temporally-confined judgment passages (texts including such delimitations as “soon” and “at hand”) to passages that are not temporally constrained and that actually prophesy the future Second Advent of Christ. This school of preterism tends to focus all eschatological pronouncements on A.D. 70, including the resurrection of the dead, the great judgment, and the second advent of Christ. Consequently, they leave the stream of historic orthodoxy by denying a future return of Christ and are even pressed by system requirements to deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. This view has developed a cult-like following of narrowly focused and combative adherents.

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2 thoughts on “PRETERISM IN HISTORY

  1. James May 3, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    “They leave the stream of historic orthodoxy…” Historic orthodoxy means what? What a dominant group of theologians or church authorities has agreed upon? I think it’s much safer to argue from the Scriptures and leave it at that. Sola Scriptura, as is claimed by Bible-believing Christians, is the standard and is good enough on its own. Furthermore, using descriptors like “cult-like” “narrowly focused” or “combative” lend nothing to the argument but are just ad hominem distractions.

  2. Kenneth Gentry May 7, 2019 at 9:12 am

    “Historic orthodoxy” is the position of the historic church that is rooted in Scripture. In the NT we read:

    “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)
    “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Eph. 4:14)

    Christianity is an historical religion created by a supernatural faith. The texts cited above call upon the living Church to remain steadfast in her historical faith despite all the challenges she will face on earth. And though these verses also hold out the promise of victory, Warfield has perceptively observed: “the chief dangers to Christianity do not come from the anti-Christian systems. . . . It is corrupt forms of Christianity itself which menace from time to time the life of Christianity.” Consequently, as the Church weathers the lightning storms of external opposition and the howling winds of internal corruption while she sails forward through time, she must appreciate her creedal past as “the ballast that will steady [her] in the storms of the present” (David F. Wells).

    Hyper-Preterism is a corrosive theological fad that has recently arisen within the context of Christianity. It is seeping into evangelical and conservative churches. The creedal argument against it is an historical argument rooted in the historicity of the Christian faith. The creedal argument points out the significance of the debate. We must defend the historic, corporate, public, universal, systematic Christian faith. The creedal argument is not the final word in the debate, but the first word. It is not as our only concern, but a crucial concern. Reflection upon the creedal question establishes the important desire to promote the “universal doctrine” of the Christianity against all forms of aberration and error, such as held by the “Christian” cults of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and others. Creeds represent “the public doctrinal inheritance of the Christian tradition” (Stephen Sykes). As R. J. Rushdoony aptly puts it: “The creed is the door to the house of faith.”

    Though all evangelical, creedal Christians recognize the ultimate and unique authority of Scripture as the very word of God, the popular maxim “no creed by Scripture” is torn with dialectical tension, for the declaration “no creed but Scripture” is a creed itself.

    In Jehovah’s Witnesses literature we read a Hyper-preterist-like complaint: “To arrive at truth we must dismiss religious prejudices from heart to mind. We must let God speak for himself…. To let God be true means to let God have the say as to what is the truth that sets men free. It means to accept his word, the Bible, as the truth. Our appeal is to the Bible for truth.” This same book (Let God Be True) spurns creeds as “man-made traditions,” “the precepts of men,” and “opinions.”

    In this regard, evangelical historian Nathan Hatch writes: “The first Americans to underscore the right of private judgment in handling the Scriptures were, oddly enough, ministers who opposed the evangelical tenets of the First Great Awakening. . . . [T]heological liberals became increasingly restive with strict creedal definitions of Christianity. . . . Well into the nineteenth century, rational Christians, many of whom swelled the ranks of denominations such as the Unitarians and the Universalists, argued against evangelical orthodoxy by appealing to the Bible. . . . Charles Beecher defended his rejection of his father Lyman’s orthodoxy by renouncing “creed-power” and raising the banner of “the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.”

    Hence the importance of creedal orthodoxy.

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