Preterism is a Christian eschatological view which interprets some (Partial Preterism) or all (Full Preterism) prophecies of the Bible as events which have already happened. This school of thought interprets the Book of Daniel as referring to events that happened in the 2nd century BC, while seeing the prophecies of Revelation as events that happened in the first century AD. Preterism holds that Ancient Israel finds its continuation or fulfillment in the Christian church at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, which Webster's 1913 dictionary lists as a prefix denoting that something is "past" or "beyond". Adherents of preterism are commonly known as preterists. Preterism teaches that either all (Full Preterism) or a majority (Partial Preterism) of the Olivet discourse had come to pass by AD 70.
Historically, preterists and non-preterists have generally agreed that the Jesuit Luis de Alcasar (1554–1613) wrote the first systematic preterist exposition of prophecy - Vestigatio arcani sensus in Apocalypsi (published in 1614) - during the Counter-Reformation.
The first systematic preterist exposition of prophecy was written by the Jesuit Luis de Alcasar during the Counter Reformation. Moses Stuart noted that Alcasar's preterist interpretation was of considerable benefit to the Roman Catholic Church during its arguments with Protestants, and preterism has been described in modern eschatological commentary as a Catholic defense against the Protestant Historicist view which identified the Roman Catholic Church as a persecuting apostasy.
Due to resistance by Protestant Historicists, the preterist view was slow to gain acceptance outside the Roman Catholic Church. Among Protestants it was first accepted by Hugo Grotius, a Dutch Protestant eager to establish common ground between Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church. His first attempt to do this was entitled ‘Commentary on Certain Texts Which Deal with Antichrist’ (1640), in which he attempted to argue that the texts relating to Antichrist had their fulfillment in the 1st century AD. This was not well received by Protestants, but Grotius was undeterred and in his next work, ‘Commentaries On The New Testament' (1641–50), he expanded his preterist views to include the Olivet prophecy and Revelation.
Preterism still struggled to gain credibility within other Protestant countries, especially England. The English commentator Thomas Hayne claimed that the prophecies of the Book of Daniel had all been fulfilled by the 1st century (‘Christs Kingdom on Earth’, 1645), and Joseph Hall expressed the same conclusion concerning Daniel’s prophecies (‘The Revelation Unrevealed’, 1650), but neither of them applied their preterist views to Revelation. However, the exposition of Grotius convinced the Englishman Henry Hammond. Hammond sympathized with Grotius’ desire for unity among Christians, and found his preterist exposition useful to this end. Hammond wrote his own preterist exposition in 1653, borrowing extensively from Grotius. In his introduction to Revelation he claimed that others had independently arrived at similar conclusions as himself, though he gives pride of place to Grotius. Hammond was Grotius’ only notable Protestant convert, and despite his reputation and influence, Grotius’ interpretation of Revelation was overwhelmingly rejected by Protestants and gained no ground for at least 100 years.
By the end of the 18th century preterist exposition had gradually become more widespread. The first full preterist exposition was finally written in 1730 by the Protestant and Arian, Frenchman Firmin Abauzit (‘Essai sur l'Apocalypse’), who worked in the then independent Republic of Geneva as a librarian. This was part of a growing development of more systematic preterist expositions of Revelation. Later, though, it appears that Abauzit recanted this approach after a critical examination by his English translator, Dr. Twells.
Preterists, full and partial, believe that it is becoming increasingly popular due to more accurate translations of the Bible – with Young's Literal Translation being a key work.
Schools of preterist thought
The two principal schools of preterist thought are commonly called partial preterism and full preterism. Preterists disagree significantly about the exact meaning of the terms used to denote these divisions of preterist thought.
Some partial preterists prefer to call their position orthodox preterism, thus contrasting their agreement with the creeds of the Ecumenical Councils with what they perceive to be the full preterists' rejection of the same. This, in effect, makes full preterism unorthodox in the eyes of partial preterists and gives rise to the claim by some that full preterism is heretical. Partial preterism is also sometimes called orthodox preterism, classical preterism or moderate preterism.
On the other hand, some full preterists prefer to call their position consistent preterism, reflecting their extension of preterism to all biblical prophecy and thus claiming an inconsistency in the partial preterist hermeneutic.
Sub-variants of preterism include a form of partial preterism which places fulfillment of some eschatological passages in the first three centuries of the current era, culminating in the fall of Rome. In addition, certain statements from classical theological liberalism are easily mistaken for preterism, as they hold that the biblical record accurately reflects Jesus' and the Apostles' belief that all prophecy was to be fulfilled within their generation. Theological liberalism generally regards these apocalyptic expectations as being errant or mistaken, however, so this view cannot accurately be considered a form of preterism.
Partial preterism (often referred to as orthodox preterism or classical preterism) may hold that most eschatological prophecies, such as the destruction of Jerusalem, the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the advent of the Day of the Lord as a "judgment-coming" of Christ, were fulfilled either in AD 70 or during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Nero.
Some partial preterists identify "Babylon the Great" (Revelation 17–18) with the pagan Roman Empire, though some, such as N.T. Wright, David Chilton, and Kenneth Gentry identify it with the city of Jerusalem. Most interpretations identify Nero as the Beast, while his mark is often interpreted as the stamped image of the emperor's head on every coin of the Roman Empire: the stamp on the hand or in the mind of all, without which no one could buy or sell. However, others believe the Book of Revelation was written after Nero's suicide in AD 68, and identify the Beast with another emperor. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that Revelation was "written during the latter part of the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, probably in AD 95 or 96". Many Protestant scholars agree. The Second Coming, resurrection of the dead, and Final Judgment however, have not yet occurred in the partial preterist system.
Full preterism differs from partial preterism in that full preterists believe that the destruction of Jerusalem fulfilled all eschatological or "end times" events, including the resurrection of the dead and Jesus' Second Coming, or Parousia, and the Final Judgment. Other names of full preterism include:
- preterism (because the term itself means "past")
- consistent preterism
- true preterism
- hyper-preterism (a pejorative term used by opponents of preterists)
- pantelism. (The term "pantelism" comes from two Greek roots: παν (pan), "everything", and τελ- (tel-), referring to completion).
Full preterists argue that a literal reading of Matthew 16:28 (where Jesus tells the disciples that some of them will not taste death until they see him coming in his kingdom) places the second coming in the first century. This precludes a physical second coming of Christ. Instead, the second coming is symbolic of a "judgment" against Jerusalem, said to have taken place with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. For this reason, some people also call full preterism "the AD 70 Doctrine."
Detractors of full preterism often refer to the school as hyper-preterism. Many evangelicals regard full preterism as outside of Christian orthodoxy.
Influences within Christian thought
Partial preterism is generally considered to be a historic orthodox interpretation as it affirms all eschatological points of the ecumenical Creeds of the Church. Still, partial preterism is not the majority view among American denominations founded after the 16th century and meets with significant vocal opposition, especially by those denominations which espouse Dispensationalism. Additionally, Dispensationalists are concerned that partial preterism logically leads to an acceptance of full preterism, a concern which is denied by partial preterists.
Full preterism is sometimes viewed as heretical, based upon the historic creeds of the church (which would exclude this view), and also from Biblical passages that condemn a past view of the Resurrection or the denial of a physical resurrection or transformation of the body — doctrines which most Christians believe to be essential to the faith. Critics of full preterism point to the Apostle Paul's condemnation of the doctrine of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18), which they regard as analogous to full preterism. Adherents of full preterism, however, dispute this assertion by pointing out that Paul's condemnation was written during a time in which (their idea of) the Resurrection was still in the future (i.e., pre-AD 70). Their critics assert that if the Resurrection has not yet happened, then the condemnation would still apply.
Interpretation of the Book of Revelation
Preterism holds that the contents of Revelation constitute a prophecy of events that were fulfilled in the 1st century. Preterists believe the dating of the book of Revelation is of vital importance and that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Preterism was first expounded by the Jesuit Luis de Alcasar during the Counter Reformation. The preterist view served to bolster the Catholic Church's position against attacks by Protestants, who identified the Pope with the Anti-Christ.
Interpretation of the Great Tribulation
In the preterist view, the Tribulation took place in the past when Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70 during the end stages of the First Jewish–Roman War, and it affected only the Jewish people rather than all mankind.
Christian preterists believe that the Tribulation was a divine judgment visited upon the Jews for their sins, including rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah. It occurred entirely in the past, around 70 AD when the armed forces of the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.
A preterist discussion of the Tribulation has its focus on the Gospels, in particular the prophetic passages in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, the Olivet discourse, rather than on the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation. (Preterists apply much of the symbolism in the Revelation to Rome, the Cæsars, and their persecution of Christians, rather than to the Tribulation upon the Jews.)
Jesus' warning in Matthew 24:34 that "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" is tied back to his similar warning to the Scribes and the Pharisees that their judgment would "come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:36), that is, during the first century rather than at a future time long after the Scribes and Pharisees had passed from the scene. The destruction in 70 AD occurred within a 40-year generation from the time when Jesus gave that discourse.
The judgment on the Jewish nation was executed by the Roman legions, "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet" (Matthew 24:15), which Luke presented to his Gentile audience, unfamiliar with Daniel, as "armies" surrounding Jerusalem to cause its "desolation." (Luke 21:20)
Since Matthew 24 begins with Jesus visiting the Jerusalem Temple and pronouncing that "there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (vs. 3), preterists see nothing in Scripture to indicate that another Jewish temple will ever be built. The prophecies were all fulfilled on the then-existing temple that Jesus spoke about and that was subsequently destroyed within that generation.
“When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom of God with power.”
This predicted event has been variously interpreted as referring to:
- Jesus' transfiguration
- the resurrection
- the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost
- the spread of the kingdom through the preaching of the early church
- the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem in AD 70
- the second coming and final establishment of the kingdom
- the coming of Jesus Christ in vision to the apostle John in revelation.
Many preterists find view 6 unacceptable because it implies a mistake on the part of Jesus about the timing of his return. Many preterists believe the immediate context seems to indicate the first view, the transfiguration, which immediately follows (Matthew 17:1–9; Mark 9:2–10; Luke 9:28–36). This view seems to satisfy that "some" disciples would see the glory of the Son of Man, but it does not satisfy the statement that "he will repay every man for what he has done". The same situation occurs with views 2 through 4. Only view 5 (the judgement on Jerusalem in AD 70) appears to satisfy both conditions (reinforced with Revelation 2:23; 20:12; 22:12), as a preterist would argue.
- The Beast in preterist theology
- Book of Revelation
- Christian eschatology
- Covenant theology
- Summary of Christian eschatological differences
- Whose name, written in Aramaic, can be valued at 666, using the Hebrew numerology of gematria), a manner of speaking against the emperor without the Roman authorities knowing. Also "Nero Caesar" in the Hebrew alphabet is נרון קסר NRWN QSR, which when used as numbers represent 50 200 6 50 100 60 200, which add to 666. The Greek term χάραγμα (kharagma, "mark" in Revelation 13:16) was most commonly used for imprints on documents or coins.
- Farrar 1882.
- Froom 1954, p. 509.
- Stuart 1845, p. 464.
- Newport 2000, p. 74.
- Cressener, Drue (1689), "Preface", The Judgments of God Upon The Roman Catholic Church, &c.
- Froom 1954, p. 510: ‘The Preterist view was soon adopted and taught, with various modifications, by the Protestant Hugo Grotius of Holland in his Annotationes (1644)’
- Newport 2000, p. 74.
- Hammond 1655: ‘all that this very learned man was guilty of in this matter, was but this, his passionate desire of the unity of the Church in the bands of peace and truth, and a full dislike of all uncharitable distempers, and impious doctrines’
- Brady, David (1983), The Contribution of British Writers Between 1560 and 1830 to the Interpretation of Revelation 13.16–18, p. 158,
But those who argued for the preterist interpretation of the Book of Revelation, and for that matter the futurist interpretation also, were playing to empty galleries, until at least the fourth decade of the nineteenth century. Their views were anything but popular and those who followed them could soon find themselves branded with the infamous mark of the papal beast.
- Hammond, Henry (1653), "Introduction to Revelation", Paraphrase and Annotations,
…appeared to me to be the meaning of this prophecie, hath, for this main of it, in the same manner represented it self to several persons of great piety and learning (as since I have discerned) none taking it from the other, but all from the same light shining in the Prophecie it self. Among which number I now also find the most learned Hugo Grotius, in those posthumous notes of his on the Apocalypse, lately publish'd.
- Brady 1983, p. 158: ‘This volume contained a brave but lonely attempt to introduce the preterist interpretation of the Book of Revelation to English soil
- Van Der Wall, Ernestine (1994), "Between Grotius And Cocceius: The 'Theologica Prophetica' of Campegius Vitringa (1659–1722)", Hugo Grotius, Theologian: Essays in Honour of GHM Posthumous Meyjer, Studies in the History of Christian Thought, 55, p. 202,
For most divines in the (early) Enlightenment the choice between the preterist approach of Grotius and the historicist approach of Cocceius was not a difficult one: there was a strong predilection for the latter.
- Stuart 1845, p. 470: ‘The great mass of the religious public became, at last, wearied out with the extravagances and the errors of apocalyptic interpreters. This prepared the way for ABAUZIT, in his Essay on the Apocalypse (see p. 443 above), to broach the idea, that the whole book relates to the destruction of Judea and Jerusalem. His starting point was, that the book itself declares that all which it predicts would take place speedily. Hence Rome, in chap. xiii–xix. points figuratively to Jerusalem. Chap. xxi. xxii. relate to the extension of the church, after the destruction of the Jews'
- Stuart 1845, pp. 470, 417, 471–72.
- Lange (1857),
‘Essay upon the Apocalypse,’ (was) written to show that the canonical authority of the book of Revelation was doubtful, and to apply the predictions to the destruction of Jerusalem. This work was sent by the author to Dr. Twells, in London, who translated it from French into English, and added a refutation, – with which Abauzit was so well satisfied, that he desired his friend in Holland to stop an intended impression.Missing or empty
- Townley (1852),
We, on the contrary, fulfil every thing by that magic phrase, "the destruction of Jerusalem." But can we really and seriously refer these passages which I have quoted from Paul, to the destruction Jerusalem? Can we truly say that the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, let that mean what it may, exhausted all their meaning — the meaning which was the thought in Paul’s mind when he wrote them? I must confess I cannotMissing or empty
- The Birth Pangs: An Obstetrician Unveils Jesus' Timeline for Earth's Final Travail, p. 92.
- Sproul 1998, p. 155.
- Allison, DC jr (Winter 1994), "A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology", Journal of Biblical Literature, 113 (4): 651–68, doi:10.2307/3266712.
- Hindson; Caner, Ergun, eds. (May 2008), The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity, Harvest House, p. 405.
- Cory 2006, p. 61.
- Garrow 1997, p. 86.
- Wright, NT (1994), Jerusalem in the New Testament (PDF),
Finally something must be said, despite its difficulties, concerning the book of Revelation. The above presentation adds some weight to the quite controversial thesis that the city which is to be destroyed (the ‘great whore’ that has become drunk with the blood of the saints) is to be identified, not with Rome, but with Jerusalem. As with any interpretation of Revelation there are problems with this, but there are also some strong arguments in favour..
- Cory 2006, p. 61
- Garrow 1997, p. 86.
- The Catholic youth Bible: New American Bible including the revised Psalms and the revised New Testament, translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources (rev ed.). Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press. 2005. ISBN 978-0-88489-798-9.
- Just, Felix (2002-02-02). "666: The Number of the Beast". Catholic resources. Retrieved 2006-06-06.
- Hillers, DR (1963). "Revelation 13:18 and a Scroll from Murabba'at". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 170 (170): 65 es. doi:10.2307/1355990. JSTOR 1355990. (subscription required (. ))
- Brown, Raymond E; Fitzmyer, Joseph A; Murphy, Roland E, eds. (1990), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, p. 1009
- Head, Peter M (2000), "Some Recently Published NT Papyri from Oxyrhynchus: An Overview and Preliminary Assessment" (PDF), Tyndale Bulletin, UK: CAM, 51: 1–16.
- Spilsbury, Paul (2002), The throne, the lamb & the dragon: A Reader's Guide to the Book of Revelation, InterVarsity Press, p. 99.
- Catholic Encyclopedia, Our Sunday Visitor, p. 861.
- LaHaye, Tim, Understanding Bible Prophecy for Yourself, p. 126.
- Berthold-Bond, Daniel, Hegel's grand synthesis: a study of being, thought, and history, p. 118,
notes in consensus that Revelation was written around 95 AD.
- Rhodes, Ron (Feb 2010), The Popular Dictionary of Bible Prophecy, Harvest House, p. 232.
- Frost, Samuel; Green, David; Hassertt, Ed; Sullivan, Michael, House Divided: Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology. A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be?
- Rhodes, Ron (March 2010), 5-Minute Apologetics for Today, Harvest House, p. 316.
- Wohlberg, Steve (2005), End Time Delusions: The Rapture, the Antichrist, Israel, and the End of the World, Destiny Image, p. 115.
- Clarke (2000), AD 70 (PDF) (lecture manuscript) (39th), KC COFC.
- The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity, p. 405.
- Garland 2007, p. 114.
- Anderberg, Roy (2008). The Return of Christ: A Biblical Study. p. 174.
- Sproul 1998, p. 156.
- Riemer, Michael (2000). It Was At Hand. p. 12.
- Garland 2007, p. 117.
- "The Whore of Babylon". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 2007-05-11.
- Who Is This Babylon, Don Preston Foreward
- Froom 1954, p. 509: ‘Alcazar was the first to apply Preterism to the Apocalypse with anything like completeness, though it had previously been applied somewhat to Daniel’
- Matt 16:28
- Brady, David (1983), The Contribution of British Writers Between 1560 and 1830 to the Interpretation of Revelation 13.16–18.
- Cory, Catherine A (2006), The Book of Revelation.
- Preston, Don (2006), Who Is This Babylon, Ja Management Ibc, ISBN 978-1-937501-02-0
- Farrar, Frederic (1882), The Early Days of Christianity, 2.
- Froom, Leroy Edwin (1954), The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 2.
- Garland, Anthony (2007), A Testimony of Jesus Christ, 1.
- Garrow, Alan John Philip (1997), Revelation.
- Hammond, Henry (1655), Treatise on The Epistle of Ignatius
- Newport, Kenneth GC (2000), Apocalypse and Millennium: Studies in Biblical Eisegesis.
- Sproul, RC (1998), The Last Days According to Jesus.
- Stuart, Moses (1845), A Commentary on The Apocalypse.
- Gumerlock, Francis X. (2012), Revelation and the First Century: Preterist Interpretations of the Apocalypse in Early Christianity.
- Preterist Berean Bible church in Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Full Preterist Christian Church in Brady, Texas
- Preterist New Covenant Fellowship in Georgetown, Texas
- International Preterist Association
- United Preterist Movement
- Preterist Theopedia Homepage