Preterism is a Christian eschatological view that interprets prophecies of the Bible as events which have already happened. Daniel is interpreted as events that happened in the second century BC while Revelation is interpreted 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 is listed in Webster's 1913 dictionary as a prefix denoting that something is "past" or "beyond," signifying that either all or a majority of Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70. Adherents of preterism are commonly known as preterists.
History of preterism
One of the earliest references to preterism comes from Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 263 – 339). In his 'Theophania' he states:
But the things which took place afterwards, did our Saviour, from his foreknowledge as THE WORD OF GOD, foretel [sic] should come to pass, by means of those which are (now) before us. For He named the whole Jewish people, the children of the City; and the Temple, He styled their House. And thus He testified, that they should, on their own wicked account, bear the vengeance thus to be inflicted. ... And, it is right we should wonder at the fulfilment of this prediction, since at no time did this place undergo such an entire desolation as this was. ...
He pointed out moreover, the cause of their desolation when He said, "If thou hadst known, even in this day, the things of thy peace:" intimating too His own coming, which should be for the peace of the whole world. ...
But, when ye shall see it reduced by armies, know ye that which comes upon it, to be a final and full desolation and destruction. He designates the desolation of Jerusalem, by the destruction of the Temple, and the laying aside of those services which were, according to the law of Moses, formerly performed within it. ...
The manner moreover of the captivity, points out the war of which He spoke; "For (said He) there shall be (great) tribulation upon the land, and great wrath upon this people : and they shall fall by the edge of the sword." We can learn too, from the writings of Flavius Josephus, how these things took place in their localities, and how those, which had been foretold by our Saviour, were, in fact, fulfilled. ... On this account He said, "Let those who are in its borders not enter into it, since these are the days of vengeance, that all may be fulfilled which has been written." Any one therefore, who desires it, may learn the results of these things from the writings of Josephus.
Proponents of preterism sometimes argue that this position was the original eschatological understanding of the Early Christian church, a claim contested by historicists and futurists. One preterist has been said to hold that the view was developed in the 17th century, a view also held by many non-preterists.
There has historically been general agreement with non-preterists that 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' (1641-1650), 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 those time 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.
The earliest American full preterist work was 'The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ: A Past Event', which was written in 1845 by Robert Townley. Townley later recanted this view.
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 one 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 holds that most eschatological prophecies, such as the destruction of Jerusalem, the Antichrists, 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, 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 committed suicide in AD 68, and identify the Beast with another emperor. The Catholic Encyclopedia has noted that Revelation was "written during the latter part of the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, probably in AD 95 or 96". Additional Protestant scholars are in agreement. The Second coming and the resurrection of the dead, however, have not yet occurred in the partial preterist system.
Full preterism differs from partial preterism in that full preterists believe that all eschatology or "end times" events were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem, including the resurrection of the dead and Jesus' Second Coming, or Parousia, and the Final Judgment. Full preterism is also known by several other names: preterism (because the term itself means "past"), consistent preterism, true preterism, hyper-preterism (a pejorative term used by opponents of preterists), and Pantelism. (The term pantelism comes from two Greek roots: παν (pan), "everything", and τελ- (tel-), referring to completion—another attempted pejorative label that never caught on).
Full preterists argue that a literal reading of Matthew 16:28 (where Jesus tells the disciples that some of them would not taste death until they saw 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 that is said to have taken place when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. For this reason, some people also call full preterism "The AD 70 Doctrine."
Full preterism is often referred to as hyper-preterism by its detractors. Full Preterism is considered by many evangelicals to be outside of Christian Orthodoxy.
Influences of preterism within Christian Thought
Partial preterism is generally considered to be an 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, concerns are expressed by Dispensationalists 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 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. 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 only affected 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: (1) Jesus' transfiguration; (2) his resurrection; (3) the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost; (4) the spread of the kingdom through the preaching of the early church; (5) the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in AD 70; (6) the second coming and final establishment of the kingdom; or (7) the coming of Jesus Christ in vision to the apostle John in revelation. View (6) is unacceptable to many preterists because it implies that Jesus was mistaken 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 that "he will repay every man for what he has done." The same situation occurs with views (2) through (4). Only view (5) of the judgment 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
- On the Theophania, 1843 edition of Samuel Lee, pp. 246, 248, 251, 252-253
- Farrar, Frederic, 'The Early Days of Christianity', volume 2 (1882)
- 'The Early Church And The End Of The World', DeMar, Gary, and Gumerlock, Francis X, 2006, ISBN 0-915815-58-3
- 'REVIEW OF PROFESSOR STUART ON THE APOCALYPSE: WITH OCCASIONAL REFERENCES TO THE COMMENTARY OF PROFESSOR COWLES', Pond, Enoch (1871)
- 'This view of the contents of the book had been merely hinted before, by Hentenius, in the Preface to his Latin Version of Arethas, Par. 1547. 8vo.; and by Salmeron in his Praecludia in Apoc. But no one had ever developed this idea fully, and endeavoured to illustrate and enforce it, in such a way as Alcassar', Stuart, Moses, ‘A Commentary On The Apocalypse’, page 464 (1845)
- ‘The praeterist view found no favour and was hardly so much as thought of in the time of primitive Christianity. Those who lived near the date of the book of Revelation itself had no idea that its groups of imagery were intended merely to describe things then passing, and to be in a few years completed. This view is said to have been first promulgated in anything like completeness by the Jesuit Alcasar, in his "Vestigatio Arcani Sensus in Apocalypsi" (1614). Very nearly, the same plan was adopted by Grotius. The next great name among this school of interpreters is that of Bossuet the great antagonist of Protestantism’, Alford, Henry, ‘The New Testament For English Readers’ (1872)
- 'Now with regard to the Præterist Scheme, on the review of which we are first to enter, it may be remembered that I stated it to have had its origin with the Jesuit Alcasar', Elliott, EB, 'Horae Apocalypticae', Volume IV, 4th edition (1862)
- Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 509 (1954)
- 'It has been usual to say that the Spanish Jesuit Alcasar, in his Vestigatio arcani sensus in Apocalpysi (1614), was the founder of the Præterist School', Farrar, Frederic, 'The Early Days of Christianity', volume 2 (1882)
- 'Alcazar was the first to apply preterism to the Apocalypse with anything like completeness, though it had previously been applied somewhat to Daniel', Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 509 (1954)
- 'It might be expected, that a commentary which thus freed the Romish church from the assaults of Protestants, would be popular among the advocates of the papacy. Alcassar met, of course, with general approbation and reception among the Romish community', Stuart, Moses ‘A Commentary On The Apocalypse’, page 464 (1845)
- 'It is hardly surprising, given this general context, that the relatively few English Catholic commentators who turned their hands to the interpretation of these same passages should be concerned to counter this widely held, if somewhat variously presented, Protestant view. The response came in three basic forms: preterism, futurism, and 'counter historicism' - a term that has been created for the purposes of this discussion', Newport, Kenneth GC, 'Apocalypse and Millennium: Studies in Biblical Eisegesis', page 74 (2000)
- Drue Cressener, 'The Judgments Of God Upon The Roman Catholic Church, &c.', preface (1689)
- 'The Preterist view was soon adopted and taught, with various modifications, by the Protestant Hugo Grotius of Holland in his Annotationes (1644)', Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 510 (1954)
- Newport, Kenneth GC, 'Apocalypse and Millennium: Studies in Biblical Eisegesis', page 74 (2000)
- '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', Hammond, Henry, 'Treatise On The Epistle of Ignatius’ (1655)
- 'When Grotius' authorship of the book was detected, it turned all orthodox theologians against him', Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 510 (1954)
- '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', Brady, David, 'The Contribution of British Writers Between 1560 and 1830 to the Interpretation of Revelation 13.16-18', page 158 (1983)
- Hammond, Henry, 'Treatise On The Epistle of Ignatius' (1655)
- ‘…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', Hammond, Henry, ‘Paraphrase and Annotations’, introduction to Revelation (1653)
- 'This volume contained a brave but lonely attempt to introduce the preterist interpretation of the Book of Revelation to English soil', Brady, David, 'The Contribution of British Writers Between 1560 and 1830 to the Interpretation of Revelation 13.16-18', page 158 (1983)
- '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’, Van Der Wall, Ernestine, 'Between Grotius And Cocceius: The 'Theologica Prophetica' Of Campegius Vitringa (1659-1722)', in 'Hugo Grotius, Theologian: Essays in Honour of G. H. M. Posthumous Meyjer', series in 'Studies in the History of Christian Thought', volume 55, page 202 (1994)
- …in 1791 J. G. Eichhorn (1752-1.827), the noted German rationalist, revived and republished Alcazar's Preterist interpretation', Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 510 (1954)
- '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, Moses, ‘A Commentary On The Apocalypse’, page 470 (1845)
- Stuart, Moses, ‘A Commentary On The Apocalypse’, pages 470, 417, 471-472 (1845)
- ""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." (Lange) (1857)
- "We, on the contrary, fulfill 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 cannot" (Townley in 1852)
- The Birth Pangs: An Obstetrician Unveils Jesus' Timeline for Earth's Final Travail p. 92
- Sproul, R.C. The Last Days According To Jesus 155.
- Allison, Jr., D. C. (Winter 1994). "A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology," Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 113, No. 4 (Winter 1994), pp. 651-668.
- The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity, p.405 Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, Harvest House Publishers, May 2008.
- The Book of Revelation, Catherine A. Cory
- Revelation, Alan John Philip Garrow
- “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.” N. T. Wright, "Jerusalem in the New Testament" (1994)
- Cory 2006, p. 61
- Garrow 1997, p. 86
- sources, translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient (2005). The Catholic youth Bible: New American Bible including the revised Psalms and the revised New Testament (Rev. ed. ed.). Winona, Minn.: Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 978-0-88489-798-9.
- Just, Felix (2002-02-02). "666: The Number of the Beast". Retrieved 2006-06-06.
- Hillers, D.R. (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. Note: website requires subscription.The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990. 1009
- Some Recently Published NT Papyri from Oxyrhynchus: An Overview and Preliminary Assessment by Peter M. Head, Tyndale Bulletin 51 (2000), pp. 1–16 http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/Tyndale/staff/Head/NTOxyPap.htm#_ftn39
- (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 (charagma, "mark" in Revelation 13:16) was most commonly used for imprints on documents or coins.
- Paul Spilsbury (2002), The throne, the lamb & the dragon: A Reader's Guide to the Book of Revelation, InterVarsity Press; p. 99
- Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 861
- Understanding Bible Prophecy for Yourself by Tim LaHaye p. 126
- Hegel's grand synthesis: a study of being, thought, and history By Daniel Berthold-Bond p. 118, notes in consensus that Revelation was written around 95 AD
- The Popular Dictionary of Bible Prophecy, p.232, by Ron Rhodes, Harvest House Publishers, Feb 2010.
- Sam Frost, David Green, Ed Hassertt, Michael Sullivan, House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be?
- 5-Minute Apologetics for Today , p.316, by Ron Rhodes, Harvest House Publishers, Mar 2010.
- End Time Delusions: The Rapture, the Antichrist, Israel, and the End of the World, p.115 Steve Wohlberg, Destiny Image Publishers, 2005.
- See, for example, .
- The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity p.405
- Garland, Anthony (2007). A Testimony of Jesus Christ - Volume 1. p. 114.
- Anderberg, Roy (2008). The Return Of Christ: A Biblical Study. p. 174.
- Sproul, RC (1998). The Last Days According to Jesus. p. 156.
- Riemer, Michael (2000). IT Was At Hand. p. 12.
- Garland, Anthony (2007). A Testimony of Jesus Christ - Volume 1. p. 117.
- "The Whore of Babylon". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 2007-05-11.
- 'Alcazar was the first to apply Preterism to the Apocalypse with anything like completeness, though it had previously been applied somewhat to Daniel', Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 509 (1954)