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Historicism is a method of interpretation in Christian eschatology which associates biblical prophecies with actual historical events and identify symbolic beings with historical persons or societies. The main texts of interest are apocalyptic literature, such as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, and historicist methods have been applied to ancient Jewish history, the Roman Empire, Mohammedism, the Papacy, the Modern era and even into the End time.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Historiography of historicist interpretations
- 3 Historicist views of Daniel
- 4 Historicist views of Matthew
- 5 Historicist views of Revelation
- 6 Advocates
- 7 See also
- 8 Footnotes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
One of the most influential aspects of the Protestant historicist paradigm was the speculation that the Pope could be Antichrist. Martin Luther wrote this view, which was not novel, into the Smalcald Articles of 1537. It was then widely popularized in the sixteenth century, via sermons and drama, books and broadside publication. In response to the historicist approach, Jesuit commentators developed alternate approaches that would later become known as preterism and futurism, and applied them to apocalyptic literature.
The historicist approach has been used in attempts to predict the date of the end of the world. An example of this is seen in post-Reformation Britain in the works of Charles Wesley who predicted that the end of the world would occur in 1794, based on his analysis of the Book of Revelation. Adam Clarke, whose commentary was published in 1831, proposed a possible ending date of 2015.
In nineteenth century America, William Miller proposed that the end of the world would occur on October 22, 1844, based on a historicist model used with Daniel 8:14. Miller’s historicist approach to the Book of Daniel spawned a national movement in the United States known as Millerism. After the Great Disappointment some of the Millerites eventually organized the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which continues to maintain a historicist reading of biblical prophecy as essential to its eschatology.
Historicist interpretations have been criticized for inconsistencies, conjectures, and speculations. There is no agreement about various outlines of church history. Historicist readings of Revelation have been revised as new events occur and new figures emerge on the world scene. The SDA church defends its continued subscription to historicism, by acknowledging that William's interpretation was flawed, but nonetheless salvageable.
Historiography of historicist interpretations
Early historical interpretations
Prophetic commentaries in the early church usually interpreted individual passages rather than entire books. The earliest complete commentary on the Book of Revelation was carried out by Victorinus of Pettau, considered to be one of the earliest historicist commentators, around 300 AD. Edward Bishop Elliott, a proponent of the historicist interpretation, wrote that it was modified and developed by the expositions of Andreas, Primasius (both 6th century), Bede (730 AD), Anspert, Arethas, Haimo of Auxerre, and Berengaudus (all of the ninth century). The 10th century Catholic bishop Arnulf of Orléans was, according to Elliott, the first to apply the Man of Sin prophecy in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-9 to the papacy. The same interpretation was given Joachim of Floris in 1190 and the archbishop Eberhard II in 1240.
Protestant historicist interpretations
Rather than expecting a single Antichrist to rule the earth during a future Tribulation period, Luther, John Calvin and other Protestant Reformers saw the Antichrist as a present feature in the world of their time, fulfilled in the papacy. Debated features of the Reformation historicist interpretations were the identification of; the Antichrist (1 and 2 John); the Beasts of Revelation 13; the Man of Sin (or Man of Lawlessness) in 2 Thessalonians 2; the "Little horn" of Daniel 7 and 8, and the Whore of Babylon (Revelation 17).
Isaac Newton's religious views saw him write on the historicist approach, seen in the work published in 1733 after his death:  Observations upon the Prophesies of the Book of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John. It took a stance toward the papacy similar to that of the early Protestant reformers. He avoided predictions based on prophetic literature, taking the view that prophesy when it has been shown to be fulfilled will be proof that God's providence has been imminently active in the world. This work regarded much prophesy as already fulfilled in the first millennium of the Christian era.
The 19th century was a significant watershed in the history of prophetic thought. While the historicist paradigm, together with its pre- or postmillennialism, the day-year principle, and the view of the papal Antichrist, was dominant in English Protestant scholarship during much of the period from the Reformation to the middle of the nineteenth century (and continues to find expression in some groups today), it was not the only one on offer in the broader pre- or non-critical marketplace. Arising in Great Britain and Scotland, William Kelly and other Plymouth Brethren became the leading exponents of dispensationalist premillennial eschatology. By 1826, literalist interpretation of prophecy took hold and dispensationalism saw the light of day. The dispensationalist interpretation derived from the historicist model of interpreting Daniel and Revelation and the theory that there was a gap in prophetic fulfillment of prophecy proposed by Futurism, but dispensationalism took a decidedly anti-Catholic position.
Historicist views of Daniel
Visions of Daniel
The Protestant historicist interpretation of the four kingdoms, in the Book of Daniel, is the following traditional view: Neo-Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece under Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire. Additionally, the "little horn" in Daniel 7:8 and 8:9 is viewed by historicists as the Papacy.
Adam Clarke, writing in 1825, offered an alternative 1260-year period from 755 AD to 2015, based upon the Pope's elevation from being a subject of the Byzantine Empire to being the independent head of the Papal States by means of the Donation of Pepin.
Prophecy of Seventy Weeks
The historicist view of Adventists on the prophecy of seventy weeks, in Daniel 9, stretches from 457 BCE to 34 CE, and that the final "week" of the prophecy refers to the events of Jesus Christ's ministry.
Historicist views of Matthew
- Great Tribulation
Historicists believe that mankind has always been in the Tribulation. This view is also called Classical Posttribulationism, an original theory of the Post-tribulation rapture view which holds the position that the church has always been in the tribulation because, during its entire existence, it has always suffered persecution and trouble. They believe that the tribulation is not a literal future event.
Historicist have also applied the Tribulation to the period known as "persecution of the saints" as related to Daniel 7 and Revelation 13.
Historicist views of Revelation
Notable and influential commentaries by Protestant scholars having historicist views of the Book of Revelation, were:
- Clavis Apocalyptica (1627), a commentary on The Apocalypse by Joseph Mede.
- Anacrisis Apocalypseos (1705), a commentary on The Apocalypse by Campegius Vitringa.
- Commentary on the Revelation of St. John (1720), a commentary on The Apocalypse by Charles Daubuz.
- The Signs of the Times (1832), a commentary on The Apocalypse by Rev. Dr. Alexander Keith.
- Horae Apocalypticae (1837), a commentary on The Apocalypse by Rev. Edward Bishop Elliott
- Vindiciae Horariae (1848), twelve letters to the Rev. Dr. Keith, in reply to his strictures on the "Horae apocalypticae" by Rev. Edward Bishop Elliott
- Lectures on the Apocalypse (1848), a commentary on The Apocalypse by Christopher Wordsworth
The non-separatist Puritan, Thomas Brightman, was the first to propose a historicist interpretation of the Seven Churches of Revelation 2-3. He outlined how the seven Churches represent the seven ages of the Church of Christ. A typical historicist view of the Church of Christ spans several periods of church history, each similar to the original church, as follows:
- The age of Ephesus is the apostolic age.
- The age of Smyrna is the persecution of the Church through A.D. 313.
- The age of Pergamus is the compromised Church lasting until A.D. 500.
- The age of Thyatira is the rise of the papacy to the Reformation.
- The age of Sardis is the age of the Reformation.
- The age of Philadelphia is the age of evangelism.
- The age of Laodicea represents liberal churches in a "present day" context.
The age of Laodicea is typically identified as occurring in the same time period as the expositor. Examples of this is how Brightman viewed the age of Laodicea as the England of his day. In the Millerite movement, each church represented a dateable period of ecclesiastical history. Thus, William Miller dated the age of Laodicea from 1798–1843, followed by the End of days in 1844.
The traditional historicist view of the Seven Seals spanned the time period from John of Patmos to Early Christendom. Protestant scholars such as, Campegius Vitringa, Alexander Keith, and Christopher Wordsworth did not limit the timeframe to the 4th Century. Some have even viewed the opening of the Seals right into the early modern period.
Seventh-day Adventists view the first six seals as representing events that took place during the Christian era up until 1844. Contemporary-historicists view all of Revelation as it relates to John’s own time (with the allowance of making some guesses as to the future).
The classical historicist view of the first four trumpets are identified with the pagan invasions of Western Christendom in the 5th century A.D. (by the Visigoths, Vandals, Huns and Heruli) , while the fifth and sixth trumpets have been identified with the assault on Eastern Christendom by the Saracen armies and Turks during the Middle Ages. The symbolism of Revelation 6:12-13 are said by Adventists to have been fulfilled in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the dark day of May 19, 1780, and the Leonids meteor shower of November 13, 1833.
Vision of Chapter 10
The classical historicist view of the vision of the angel with the little book, in Revelation 10, represents the Protestant Reformation and the printing of Bibles in the common languages. The Adventists take a unique view applying it to the Millerite movement; the "bitterness" of the book (Rev 10:10) represents the Great Disappointment.
The classical historicist view takes a number of different perspectives, including that the two witnesses are symbolic of two insular Christian movements, such as the Waldenses, or that the Reformers are meant, or the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is usually taught that Revelation 11 corresponds to the events of the French Revolution.
Beasts of Revelation
The historicist views of Revelation 12-13 concern prophecies about the forces of evil viewed to have occurred in the middle ages. The first beast of Revelation 13 (from the sea) is considered to be the pagan Rome and the Papacy or more exclusively the latter.
In 1798, the French General Berthier exiled the Pope and took away all his authority, which was restored in 1813, destroyed again in 1870 and later restored in 1929. Adventists have taken this as fulfillment of the prophecy that the Beast of Revelation would receive a deadly wound but that the wound would be healed. They have attributed the wounding and resurgence in Revelation 13:3 to the papacy, referring to General Louis Berthier's capture of Pope Pius VI in 1798 and the pope's subsequent death in 1799.
Adventists view the second beast (from the earth) symbolizes the United States of America. The "image of the beast" represents Protestant churches who form an alliance with the Papacy, and the "mark of the beast" refers to a future universal Sunday law. Both Adventists and classical historicists view the Great whore of Babylon, in Revelation 17-18, as Roman Catholicism.
Number of the Beast
Adventists have interpreted the number of the beast, 666, as corresponding to the title Vicarius Filii Dei of the Pope. In 1866, Uriah Smith was the first to propose the interpretation to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The Centuriators of Magdeburg, a group of Lutheran scholars in Magdeburg headed by Matthias Flacius, wrote the 12-volume "Magdeburg Centuries" to discredit the papacy and identify the pope as the Antichrist.
Ian Paisley, MEP and the leader of the Free Presbyterian Church, loudly denounced then-Pope John Paul II as an antichrist in 1988 while the pontiff was giving a speech at a sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
- Martin Luther (1483–1546)
- Thomas Brightman (1562–1607)
- Alexander Forbes (1564–1617)
- Joseph Mede (1586–1639)
- Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704)
- Isaac Newton (1642–1727)
- Campegius Vitringa (1659–1722)
- Robert Fleming (1660–1716)
- Matthew Henry (1662–1714)
- John Gill (1697–1771)
- Friedrich Adolph Lampe (c.1670–1729)
- Charles Daubuz, M.A. (1673–1717)
- Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687–1752)
- Bishop T. Newton (1704–1782)
- Thomas Scott (1747–1821)
- George Stanley Faber (1773–1854)
- William Cuninghame of Lainshaw (19th Century)
- William Miller (1782–1849)
- Alexander Keith (1791–1880)
- Edward Bishop Elliott (1793–1875)
- Albert Barnes (1798–1870)
- Christopher Wordsworth (1807–1885)
- James Wylie (1808–1890)
- T.R. Birks (1810–1883)
- Henry Grattan Guinness (1835–1910)
- Basil Atkinson (1895-1971)
- Ian Paisley (b. 1926)
- Francis Nigel Lee (1934–2011)
- Apocalyptic literature
- Biblical criticism
- Historical criticism
- New historicism
- Great Apostasy
- Great Disappointment
- Shepherd's Rod
- Summary of Christian eschatological differences
- Barbara Sher Tinsley (1 January 1992). History and Polemics in the French Reformation: Florimond de Raemond, Defender of the Church. Susquehanna University Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-945636-29-8.
- Newport 2000, pp. 21–2
- Warren A. Shipton; Ebenezer A. Belete (19 September 2011). Visions of Turmoil and Eternal Rest. AuthorHouse. pp. 22–3. ISBN 978-1-4567-8160-6.
- sacred-texts.com: "Commentary on the Bible" Daniel 7 verse 25 in Context
- Newport 2000, p. 22
- Holbrook 1983, p. [Provide page number]
- Pate, J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, C. Marvin (2009). Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. ISBN 978-0-310-57104-9.
- "One of the very first commentators on Revelation, Victorinus of Pettau (c. 300), was a proponent of this method.", Desrosiers, "An introduction to Revelation", p. 32 (2000).
- "His reading was historicist in the sense that he held that the images and symbols of the book could be tied to specific historical events.", Rusconi, "Opere di Gioacchino da Fiore. Strumenti", p. 12 (1996).
- Edward Bishop Elliott, Horae Apocalypticae, volume IV, Appendix I, fifth edition, 1862
- Leroy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers, volume I (1950) pages 541-542
- Froom 1948, pp. 244, 245, "The reformers were unanimous in its acceptance. And it was this interpretation of prophecy that lent emphasis to their reformatory action. It led them to protest against Rome with extraordinary strength and undaunted courage. ... This was the rallying point and the battle cry that made the Reformation unconquerable."
- In Sacrum Beati Ioannis Apostoli & Evangelistiae Apocalypsin Commentari
- Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse
- Boyd & Eddy, "Across the spectrum: understanding issues in evangelical theology" (2002)
- Harrison, general editor, Ronald F. Youngblood ; consulting editors, F.F. Bruce, R.K.; Thomas Nelson Publishers (1995-08-15). Nelson's new illustrated Bi ble dictionary (null ed.). Nashville: T. Nelson. pp. 1140–1141. ISBN 978-0-8407-2071-9. More than one of
- Newport, "Apocalypse and millennium: studies in biblical exegesis", pp. 14-15 (2000)
- McClune, foreword to "An Exposition of the Book of Isaiah", in Central Bible Quarterly (22.4.28), 1979 (4)
- Stitzinger, "The Rapture in Twenty Centuries of Biblical Interpretation", Master's Seminary Journal (13.2.168), 2002
- McDowell,, Sean [general editor] (2009). Apologetics study Bible for students : hard questions, straight answers. Nashville, Tenn: Holman Bible Publishers. ISBN 978-1-58640-493-2.|p=899
- Seventh-day Adventists believe (2nd ed), pp. 358-359
- "11". Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy!. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.
- "How Daniel’s Prophecy Foretells the Messiah’s Arrival". Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. 2009.
- Insight on the Scriptures (Vol. II ed.). Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. pp. 899–901.
- Smith, Uriah, Daniel and Revelation, pp.437-449
- Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach. Moody Publishers (Chicago, IL, USA). Ch. 13: The Posttribulation Rapture View. pg. 240
- ESCHATOLOGY - Different Rapture Views - Greg Rugh
- Mede, Joseph (1627). Trans. by Robert Bransby Cooper, ed. Clavis Apocalyptica (Digital) (A translation ed.). England. Retrieved Apr 4, 2006.
- Eijnatten, Joris van (2003). p. 84. Missing or empty
- Daubuz, Charles (Copy, 1842). Peter Lancaster, Matthew Habershon, ed. A Symbolical Dictionary (Matthew Habershon's ed.). J. Nisbet & Co. p. vii.
- Keith, Alexander (1832). The Signs of the Times (Digital) (as denoted by Fulfilment of Historical Predictions, Traced down from the Babylonish Captivity to the Present Time, Second Edition, Vol. I ed.). Edinburgh: William Whyte & Co. Retrieved Apr 16, 2007.
- Elliott, Edward Bishop (1847). Horae Apocalypticae (Digital) (or a Commentary on the Apoc., including also an Examination of Dan, Vol. I ed.). London: Seeley, Burnside, and Seeley. Retrieved May 19, 2009.
- Elliott, Edward Bishop (1848). Vindiciae Horariae (Digital) (Twelve letters to the Rev. Dr. Keith, in reply to his strictures on the "Horae apocalypticae" ed.). London: Seeleys. p. 296. Retrieved Sep 5, 2007.
- Wordsworth, Christopher (1849). Lectures on the Apocalypse (Digital) (Hulsean Lectures 1848 on the Apocalypse ed.). London: Francis & John Rivington. Retrieved Aug 17, 2007.
- Thomas Brightman, The Works of Thomas Brightman, A Revelation of the Apocalypse (London: 1644), p. 40f
- Moyise, edited by Steve (2001). Studies in the book of Revelation. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-567-08814-7.
- Eijnatten, Joris van (2003). Liberty and concord in the United Provinces : religious toleration and the public in the eighteenth-century Netherlands (null ed.). Leiden: Brill. pp. 84–5. ISBN 978-90-04-12843-9.
- Cook, Frederick Charles (1881). See Joseph Tyso’s table from "An Exposition of the Books of Daniel and the Revelation". p. 583.
- Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (2005). Seventh-day Adventists Believe (2nd ed). Pacific Press. pp. 378–380.
- Newport 2000, p. 16
- SDA Bible commentary
- Leroy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers, volume IV (1954) pages 1124-1126
- F. N. Lee (2000), John's Revelation Unveiled, 169ff.
- Seventh-day Adventists Believe (2nd ed), pp. 190-197, 382
- Seventh-day Adventists believe (2nd ed).
- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, 223
- Marvin Harris. Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches. p. 196.
- See Building Unity, edited by Burgess and Gross
- 666 Truth
- "Islam and The Papacy in Prophecy", Endtime Issues no. 86, 6 July 2002. See responses from leading Adventist theologians: http://www.biblicalperspectives.com/endtimeissues/eti_90.html
- Glabach, Wilfried E. (2007). Reclaiming the book of Revelation : a suggestion of new readings in the local Church. New York: P. Lang. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-4331-0054-3.
- Girdlestone, Henry (1847). Notes on the Apocalypse (Digital) (an enquiry into the mystery of the seven stars and seven lamp branches of the Apocalypse ed.). London: William Edward Painter. p. 4. Retrieved Oct 3, 2006. More than one of
- Cook, Frederick Charles (1881). Frederick Charles Cook, M. A., ed. The holy Bible, authorized version, with comm (Digital) (a revision of the tr. by bishops and other clergy of the Anglican Church, Vol. IV ed.). London: John Murray. pp. 582–3. Retrieved Feb 21, 2007.
- The Prophecies of Daniel & the Apocalypse. 1733
- Acts to Revelation, vol. 6 in Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell
- Commentary of the Whole Bible
- Henry & Scott (1838). William Jenks, ed. The comprehensive commentary on the Holy Bible: (Digital) (containing the text according to the authorized version, Volume 6 ed.). Boston: Fessenden & Co. p. 155. Retrieved Jan 8, 2008. More than one of
- Froom 1946, pp. 744–5.
- Revelation in Notes on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1884–85
- The Seventh Vial
- Birks, T. R. 1810-1883. (1843). First Elements of Sacred Prophecy: ... London: W. E. Painter.
- History Unveiling Prophecy, Or, Time as an Interpreter by Henry Grattan Guinness
- Lee, Francis Nigel 1934–2011. (2000) The Non-Preterist Historicism of John Calvin and the Westminster Standards
- Lee, Francis Nigel 1934–2011. (2000) John's Historicistic Epistles
- Lee, Francis Nigel 1934–2011. (2001) Biblical Predictions not Preterist but Historicist (2nd Ed.)
- Newport, Kenneth G. C. (2000). Apocalypse and millennium : studies in biblical eisegesis (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-77334-8.
- Holbrook, Frank B. (1983), What Prophecy Means to This Church, Ministry
- Froom, Le Roy Edwin (1950). Early Church Exposition, Subsequent Deflections, and Medieval Revival. The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation 1. The Review and Herald Publishing Association. p. 1006.
- Froom, Le Roy Edwin (1946). PART I, Colonial and Early National American Exposition. PART II, Old World Nineteenth Century Advent Awakening. The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation 3. The Review and Herald Publishing Association. p. 802.
- Brug, John, A Scriptural and Historical Survey of the Doctrine of the Antichrist (a Confessional Lutheran perspective)
- The Historicism Research Foundation – run by Parnell McCarter, and which is advised by Dr. Francis Nigel Lee of Queensland Presbyterian Theological College.
- The Non-Preterist Historicalism of John Calvin and the Westminster Standards by Francis Nigel Lee
- Jon Paulien's articles The End of Historicism? Reflections on the Adventist Approach to Biblical Apocalyptic - part 1, part 2 (PDF) in the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society (supportive).