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A book that came out about 2 months ago contains a written account of a debate between Ken Gentry and myself. Ken Gentry is one of the leading proponents of Preterism.
I am familiar with Preterism because for 20 years I was involved with the Christian Reconstruction Movement, the movement that had revived this method of interpretation called Preterism. You might be interested to know that in 1843, when the journal Bibliotheca Sacra was first started, it taught Preterism. You can go back and look at the early articles Ė Scholars such as Moses Stewart and James Robinson wrote for the journal in those early years. It was not until 1934, when Dallas Seminary took control of Bib Sac, that it became a futurist organ.
Preterism is from the Latin word meaning "gone by" and it means that something has passed. What I tried to do in this book, in the first few chapters, was to present a positive case for Futurism, the position held by the CTS. Then in the rebuttal section, I tried to critique Preterism or interact with Preterism, because the Preterists always take the lead by going to their passages and arguing, then we respond. I found that hardly anybody has thought through how you inductively develop Futurism from the Bible. I tried a certain approach, but I would be thrilled if someone could improve on it.
Preterism is the belief that holds, and this is a quote from Gentry, "that the Tribulation prophecies occurred in the first century, thus are passed." Preterism encompasses different views of predictive prophecy, and it almost always begins with the Olivet Discourse. Most presentations that you hear will start with that passage. And, David Chilton, who later became a Full Preterist, wrote, "The Olivet Discourse is not about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70." Preterists approach the book of Revelation in the same manner.
In the newsletter Pre-Trib Perspectives Iím doing a series of articles on Preterism. In those articles I explain the connection that is made between the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation. Since John was the only one of the four gospels to not reference the Olivet Discourse, he wrote the book of Revelation to compensate for this "deficiency."
By and large, we would agree with that statement, yet then they say that the book of Revelation, quoting Chilton again, "Öis not about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is about the destruction of Israel and Christís victory over his enemies and establishment of the new covenant temple." Actually, the word "coming," as used in the book of Revelation, never refers to the Second Coming.
The latest convert to Preterism is R. C. Sproul. That declaration grabbed the attention of many people. Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute, is leaning toward Preterism, although he wonít say exactly where he is on that issue. The point is some visible people are buying into this. Sproul says, "Iím convinced that the substance of the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in A.D. 70 and that the bulk of Revelation was likewise fulfilled in the same time."
It is necessary to explain the difference between Preterism and Historicism because even well-educated evangelicals have a hard time articulating their dissimilarity. These concepts are 2 of the 4 possible views of Bible prophecy as it relates to time (past, present, future and timeless/atemporal). The Rapture of the Church, the 7-year Tribulation period, the Second Coming, and the Millennium are the topics in the Bible (and the passages that relate to those topics) that are at issue when it comes to the timing of eschatology.
To further complicate matters, there are at least 3 types of Preterism. The first is what I call Extreme Preterism, and it is gaining ground among scholars. Those in this camp like to call themselves Full Preterists. As noted before, David Chilton converted to it before he died. This is the view that there is no Second ComingÖand these people claim to be evangelicals! Another community where it is becoming a major influence is in the Church of Christ. In addition, most Internet sites that concern Preterism promote Full Preterism.
Equally incredible is their denial of a physical resurrection. They love J. Murray Harrisí book because they use the word "resurrection" and assert itís not physical. How can you have a resurrection thatís not physical? Thatís exactly what the resurrection is. Being born again is the new birth.
This line of reasoning goes back to the 4th century. At that time Augustine and Titonius introduced an allegorical interpretation of the word "resurrection" in Revelation chapter 20. They opened the door of legitimacy within orthodox scholarship for that kind of hermeneutic. They taught that you are resurrected when you become a believer. What implications! If there is no Second Coming or physical resurrection, then all that is associated with those events (the rapture, the millennium, etc.) will never happen.
The second view of Preterism is called Moderate Preterism. Moderate Preterism is how most people who are becoming Preterists today would identify themselves. They believe that most passages on Bible prophecy were fulfilled in the 1st century, passages such as the Book of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse. Extreme Preterists present as many as 10 passages that, according to their interpretation, equate the resurrection with the Second Coming. By contrast, Moderate Preterists understand the other portions of Scripture which speak to the Second Coming (the Olivet Discourse for example) as referring to Israelís destruction in AD 70.
Therefore, what differentiates Moderate Preterism from Extreme Preterism is the formerís belief in a future Second Coming. In common with Dispensationalism, they look to 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, and Acts 1 to substantiate their dogma. Personally, I donít see what keeps Moderate Preterists from becoming Extreme Preterists because the same interpretive approaches the Moderates use in Matthew 24 and Revelation can be applied equally to the few passages they retain. In fact, thatís what Extreme Preterists argue when they are fighting with a Moderate Preterist.
The third kind of Preterism is named Mild Preterism. Beckwith was a Mild Preterist, as reflected in his commentary on Revelation. In his book, he maintains that Revelation is about God defeating his two ancient enemies - the Jews in AD 70 and Rome in AD 313. Therefore, the book of Revelation was fulfilled by AD 313. Although such thinking is very similar to amillennialism, most Preterists are actually postmillennialists. In some sense, however, they are beyond millennialism. Why? Because they are in the new heavens and the new earth. Ken Gentry, who is as mild of a moderate Preterist as they come, even believes we are in the "already" phase of the new heavens and the new earth.
By the way, thereís also a liberal form of Preterism that is anti-supernatural.
Historicism is the view that teaches that the Church Age and the Tribulation are the same. According to historicists, the Tribulation started around AD 300 with the rise of Rome and the Antichrist. The seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments are being fulfilled by different European events which have taken place throughout Church history. In other words, one of the seal judgments may be the rise of Islam and their attempt to conquer Christianity. Or, one of the trumpet judgments may have been the rise of Napoleon and his conquest of Europe. The next event for these people is Armageddon. The only people, as a group, that are Historicists today are Seventh Day Adventists.
Historicism was the most widely held view in the United States until the Civil War. Jonathan Edwards was a postmillennial Historicist, as was Charles Hodge.
I donít consider Historicists to be real Preterists, and therefore you canít be a premill Preterist in the way that Iíve been talking about. Historicism teaches that (1) the Popes are the Antichrist, (2) the day-year chronology, (3) the seal trumpet bowl judgments were fulfilled during European events the last 2,000 years, and (4) theyíre big into date setting.
William Miller killed Historicism in America with great disappointment. Thatís why historians say that one of the greatest surprises after the Civil War in America was the rise of premillennialism as opposed to postmillennialism. But it rose in its dispensational form, which is futurism, and in a sense it rescued premillennialism by saying these events didnít happen in the past and theyíre not happening now because all of these events, like the Tribulation, are future, and certainly no one knows the date of the Rapture.
Dispensationalism, in its first 100 years, was popular because it was anti-date setting. Unfortunately, people are slipping back into Historicism by saying the Bible's prophecies are being fulfilled today. They are not! Weíre not in the Tribulation! Is the Second Coming happening? Are we in the millennium? Bible prophecy is not being fulfilled today - except for Israel being brought back in the land for preparation.
Now the stage is being set, but thatís not a fulfillment. Do you all understand that concept? I know some popular Bible prophesy teachers who canít understand that. Iíve been at these conferences ó 34 Reasons Why Prophecy is Being Fulfilled Today. If you believe that, youíre a Historicist. Iím sorry, if youíre a Historicist, you canít believe the pretrib Rapture because the Tribulation started way back there. You would have had to have been Raptured back there. So, to be a Historicist undermines preTribulationalism. These people donít realize that, but it does. Their opponents realize it. I believe in stage setting; Israel is in preparation.
Then there is Idealism. That is the view that the book of Revelation (or any other prophecy) is not related to timing. Itís basically inspirational things. Do you remember Greg Beale? - mid-70ís, Dallas graduate - heís a professor at Gordon-Conwell now. He just came out with a huge, 1,200 page commentary - heís an amill idealist.
It's maddening to read through it. I just bought it. It retails for $75.00, and I got a real deal for $60.00. I want to keep it because he has a lot of good information in there on what everybody believes. Heís an idealist and heís an evangelical. Almost all idealists used to be liberal, but now you want to be a scholar and all this kind of stuff.
Again, an idealist is a person who believes that the book of Revelation doesnít relate to timing. We donít know when anything is going to happen. Days donít really mean days - symbolism. So, what we get is basically a good sermon, "Weíre going to win!, weíve won and letís go rally the troops to hang in there whenever itís going to happen." It doesnít try to deal with the timing issues. Itís atemporal.
So, what Iíve put together here is a chart showing you the possibilities. You can be an amill Preterist, an amill Historicist, you canít be an amill futurist because if youíre in the millennium, thatís not futurism. Thatís the problem. I think you really canít logically be a futurist and be amill.
You canít be a Preterist and be premill - why? Because if the Tribulation already happened and weíre in the millennium and Christ already came in that way, then you canít be premill.
Secondly, you can be a Historicist and be premill, and you can be a futurist and be premill, but you canít be an idealist and be premill, because premillennialism is built upon the idea that Christ comes back before the millennium.
Whatís happening is that Preterism is challenging futurism. Idealism is not a factor out there and Historicism is not a factor. Preterists are rising up, coming mainly out of the Reconstructionist Movement, to do this. What is their theme verse? Does anybody know? Letís all say it together, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things be fulfilled." So, when you talk to a Preterist, get ready to hear the words, "this generation" at least eight dozen times if you have an extended conversation.
If they ever feel halfway threatened, they will say, "Well, we know what God said, and you dispensationalists believe in a literal interpretation, and it literally says this generation will not pass away until all these things take place."
In fact, thatís why R. C. Sproul and others believe Preterism is rescuing Christianity from liberalism. All the liberals were saying that the Bible taught that Christ was going to come back in the first century and he didnít and sure enough thatís what it says. So they believe that Preterism is rescuing Christianity because the liberals said Jesus said He was coming back in the first century and we donít want his prophecies to be wrong, so it was a non-bodily coming.
I think Sproul is sincere as he can be when he believes that he has adopted Preterism to rescue Christianity from these liberals. Ken Gentry says, "This statement of Christ is indisputably clear and absolutely demanding of first century fulfillment of the events in the preceding verses including the Great Tribulation." Brother Sproul says, "The cataclysmic course surrounding the Parousia as predicted in the Olivet Discourse obviously did not occur literally in A.D. 70."
This problem of literal fulfillment leaves us with three basic solutions that he says a person has to follow. Solution #1: We can interpret the entire discourse literally. Thatís what we would do as futurists. We can interpret the predicted events surrounding the Parousia literally, and interpret the time frame references figuratively. This method is employed by those who do not restrict the phrase to Jesusí contemporaries. In other words, heís saying that most evangelicals do not take the time phrase, "this generation", literally. They either say it refers to "this race", like Ryrie does in the Ryrie Study Bible, or Charles Hodge does in his Systematic Theology. It was a very popular view in the 19th century. Almost all commentators took genea to refer to race. In other words, this race of people, the Jewish people will not pass away until all these things are fulfilled. Personally, I think you canít support that interpretation lexically, and Preterists are correct that itís a wrong interpretation.
Or, the third solution is we can interpret the time frame references literally. In other words, "this generation", means this generation and the events surrounding the Parousia figuratively. Christ coming back through the Roman army, and talking about the change of the covenant from the Jewish to the Christian covenant. And all of Jesusí prophecies in the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled during the period between the discourse itself and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
I disagree. I would argue that you could come up with a different literal interpretation than what Sproul says is possible, and that is, an interpretation that I deny the question that you automatically go into the passage thinking "this generation" is a timing text. You have to challenge that assumption. I would argue that the phrase "this generation" is controlled by "all these things".
Itís true that every other use of the phrase "this generation" in the New Testament, does refer to Jesusí contemporaries because the context supports that. But, those are historical uses and Matthew 24 is a prophetic use. Therefore, if Matthew 24 is talking about a future time, then the timing of the phrase "this generation" is related to whatever time frame Christ is speaking of, right?
When I was at the conference, Sproul basically said that he just didnít like that view. Actually, somebody brought that up and wanted to know why canít my interpretation be correct, and he said he just didnít think that it is possible. He said, yes, it was theoretically possible, but he just doesnít think it is possible, so itís not one of the three possibilities. He wants to push us over into spiritualizing the phrase "this generation." Christ is saying that the generation that sees all these things occur will not cease to exist until all the events of the future Tribulation are literally fulfilled.
About 6 years ago, I was doing a radio debate with Gary DeMar and they closed down the interview with each guy - Gary and me - giving one reason why the other view was wrong. Then they went to a commercial break, and I had only 2 minutes. It dawned on me why the Olivet Discourse is not about the first century and itís future. The answer is, the Olivet Discourse is about Israel being rescued, delivered, saved from her enemies, right? Read it.
Mathew 24 and Mark 13 donít talk about the temple being destroyed, by the way. Who is being persecuted in the Book of Revelation? The whole idea of Preterism is that Israel was being judged in AD 70. We agree. Matthew 21, 22 and 23 talk about Israel being judged, and the end of chapter 23 talks about Israel being judged. Luke 21:20Ė24 speaks of Israel being judged in AD 70. It is a very clear passage.
The other parts of the Olivet Discourse do not talk about this, and they talk about Israelís deliverance from her enemies, not judgment, as Preterism wrongly insists. I blend that in with Zechariah 12, 13 and 14, which is even stronger, where it talks about Israel being surrounded by all the nations and God comes in and fights for her. When did this happen?! The best Iíve ever heard a Preterist come up with is that refers to the Jewish-Christian remnant in the first century that escaped the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That doesnít even begin to fit because they left before the siege. Vespasian was called back to Rome when Nero died. His son, Titus, re-exerted the siege a few months later, and all the Christians, if there were any remaining, as Josephus tells us, left the city because of Christís prophecy.
I raise this issue over and over again, going through Old Testament passages, into the New Testament about this pattern that God has for Israel of bringing them back into the land, taking them through the Tribulation, converting them and then giving them their blessing. That pattern is in the Old Testament dozens of times, and itís not contradicted by the New Testament. When did that happen? It didnít. Thatís the argument for futurism. God, before Israel ever put one little pinkie into the land of Israel, prophesied their history in Deuteronomy chapters 4 and 28Ė32. That is expanded upon by the prophets and taught, as well, in the New Testament.
The only way you can get around that is to do covenant theology - changing horses in mid-stream. Youíre riding along in the middle of the stream and here comes the Church, and it hops on Israelís horse and rides over to the other side of the stream. Why would He do that before one event of any of Israelís history has ever happened because it is prophesized in Deuteronomy? You canít interpret the text for that to have happened in that way.
For example, there are all kinds of things you can do when youíre interacting with Preterism. You can go through and show the differences between the Biblical text that they say happened in the first century and what actually happened. Randy Price, for example, came up with six comparisons.
They have to be like liberals and de-historicize the text. They have to say that itís not going to actually happen. This is simply allegorical language that isnít fulfilled historically. Yet they believe all the curses that are in Deuteronomy 28 (women eating their babies during the siege, etc.) literally happened. They take that as literal as can be, but they donít take the blessing section when Israel is ultimately going to be blessed literally.
In the future there will be a global regathering of the Jewish people and a universal revelation of the Messiah at Israelís rescue. Zechariah 12:14 mentions this; all the nations of the earth will be gathered against Jerusalem. By contrast, the AD 70 assault on Jerusalem was by the armies of one empire, Rome. Thus there must be two different Temples separated by at least 2,000 years. Of course, they get around that by saying that Rome wasnít a countryóit was an empire and made up of all kinds of people.
We could say the same thing about Babylon. There were all kinds of people in the Babylonian army from different national entities.
Consider also Luke 21:20Ė24:
"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.
Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city;
Because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.
Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people;
And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
Itís looking forward to a future time of the Gentiles. It goes on to say,
"Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
That hasnít happened. Thatís future. So then the Preterists go to the Book of Revelation and claim that tacu, means "soon." BAGD says the basic meaning is speed and quickness. It can mean something is going to happen soon chronologically, or it can refer to how something happened. In my study, the emphasis is on "how."
Blass/Debrunner lists four types of possible adverbs - two of which are adverbs of time and the other adverbs of manner. And guess what one Greek word they use as their example as an adverb of manner? tacu,!
In the Septuagint, you have all kinds of usages that refer to events that happened 600 to 800 years from when they were prophesied. So, if this means that something has to happen soon - say within a 40-year generation - there are all kinds of examples of that not happening.
If the Preterists are correct, then there is no longer any sea; no longer any death, crying or pain. Tell that to all the people who experience those things regularly.
In essence, they are saying thereís never going to be a time when pain will cease, etc. What a let down!
What do YOU think ?
Date: 01 Jul 2006
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