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Biblical Minimalism and "The History of Preterism"
 (Parts One and Two)

By Gary DeMar
President - American Vision
http://www.americanvision.org/

Gary DeMar Study Archive | Norman Geisler and "This Generation" | Norman Geisler, "You," & "Zechariah the Son of Berechiah" | Biblical Minimalism and the "History of Preterism" | Thomas Ice and the Time Texts | Will the Real Anti-Prophets Please Stand Up? | Time's Puff Piece: The Devil is in the Details | Dispensationalism : Being Left Behind | Zechariah 14 and the Coming of Christ | Defending the Indefensible | No Fear of the Text | The Passing Away of Heaven and Earth | Who or what is the Antichrist | Rapture Fever: Why Dispensationalism is Paralyzed | Identifying Antichrist | On Thin Ice | Using the Bible to Interpret the Bible | DeMar Articles

My preterist friends have not been able to find any early preterists in the early church. I would never say that there is no one in the early church who taught preterism. . . . Don't be foolish enough to say that nothing is out there in church history, because you never know. . . . There is early preterism in people like Eusebius. In fact, his work The Proof of the Gospel is full of preterism in relationship to the Olivet Discourse.1

The above quotation was uttered in 1995 by Tommy Ice. As we'll see in this and future articles, Tommy has not taken his own advice.

Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice have edited a new book dealing with the increasingly successful biblical criticism of dispensational premillennialism by preterist authors.2 Even with millions of copies of Left Behind being sold and war a factor in the Mideast, many thinking Christians are finding dispensationalism to be counter to what the Bible actually teaches. LaHaye, Ice, and the other contributors to The End Times Controversy are worried that they are losing their grip on a market they've taken for granted for so many years.

Of course, this is not to say that preterism is competing equally with shelf space carrying prophecy books in Christian book stores, radio broadcasts predicting that we are, once again, living in last days, and Bible colleges where dispensational beliefs are a requirement for graduation.3 Preterist materials are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the billion-dollar end-time industry that pads the wallets of failed and poorly studied prophetic prognosticators. Even so, preterist arguments are making inroads. Debates are being held on a regular basis around the country. I've debated at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) and Moody Bible Institute, two dispensational institutions.4 My book End Times Fiction, an analysis of LaHaye's Left Behind series, is in its fourth printing and can be found in most Christian, secular, and online bookstores along with my Last Days Madness. LaHaye and Ice must be feeling some heat since they seem threatened enough to deal with preterism in a full-length book treatment of the subject. LaHaye feels safe hiding behind a book dealing with preterism rather than engaging in a public debate where he would really have to defend himself.

Pastors are beginning to reassess their allegiance to the dispensational gods by holding seminars at their churches to introduce their people to a consistently biblical approach to Bible prophecy. This would have been unheard of just ten years ago. Radio audiences are much more sympathetic to preterist arguments every time I do a radio interview. I'm amazed at how many people who call in agree with me or at least are willing to give preterism a hearing.

The publication of The End Times Controversy is a great opportunity for preterists to get out their message since the authors quote extensively from preterist works. More astute Christians will follow the trail of end notes and books listed in the bibliography and read them. The brighter bulbs in the box will find preterist arguments convincing and reject the dispensationalism of their youth. Many will be surprised that over the centuries so many sound and trusted Bible expositors have been preterists.

To help them along, I will analyze some of the arguments outlined in The End Times Controversy just in case they find it difficult find their way through the dispensational swamp.

The Silent History of Dispensationalism

Ice hopes to rebut preterism by writing on "The History of Preterism" to show that preterism really doesn't have one. The odd thing about End Times Controversy is that five of the seventeen chapters use historical arguments to defend dispensationalism over against preterism. As anyone familiar with dispensationalism knows, there is scant evidence of anything resembling dispensationalism prior to 1830.5 Certainly there is no evidence of dispensationalism among the early church fathers up until the time of the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), which produced the Nicene Creed, a document that says absolutely nothing about dispensationalism6 or even premillennialism.7 In fact, as dispensationalist Patrick Alan Boyd concludes, even premillennialism is hard to find prior to Nicea.8 As a result of his study, Boyd admonishes his fellow dispensationalists "to be more familiar with, and competent in patristics,9 so as to avoid having to rely on second-hand evidence in patristic interpretation." He suggests that "it would seem wise for the modern system [of dispensational premillennialism] to abandon the claim that it is the historic faith of the church."10

Ice should have followed Boyd's counsel and the directives of dispensational icon Charles C. Ryrie before he decided to take on the historical argument against preterism. Knowing that dispensationalism has a recent history, and critics have used its novelty against the system, Ryrie responds:

The fact that something was taught in the first century does not make it right (unless taught in the canonical Scriptures), and the fact that something was not taught until the nineteenth century does not make it wrong, unless, of course, it is unscriptural. . . . After all, the ultimate question is not, Is dispensationalism--or any other teaching--historic? but, Is it scriptural?11

Agreeing with Ryrie on this point, we can ask, "After all, the ultimate question is not, Is preterism--or any other teaching--historic? but, Is it scriptural?" So even if it could be proved that no form of preterism can be found in first-century Christian documents, this in itself does not mean the Bible does not teach it. Ice knows of this argument, but like so much of The End Times Controversy, he conveniently leaves out evidence damaging to his position. William Cunningham's comments on the use of history to establish orthodoxy are instructive. Although written in the eighteenth century, the following reads as if Cunningham had Ice in mind:

Where there is not inspiration, there is no proper authority,--there should be no implicit submission, and there must be a constant appeal to some higher standard, if such a standard exist [sic]. The fathers, individually or collectively, were not inspired; they therefore possess no authority whatever; and their statements must be estimated and treated just as those of any other ordinary men. And when we hear strong statements about the absolute necessity of studying the fathers,--of the great assistance to be derived from them in interpreting Scripture, and in fixing our opinions,--and of the great responsibility incurred by running counter to their views, we always suspect that men who make them are either, unconsciously perhaps, ascribing to the fathers some degree of inspiration, and some measure of authority; or else are deceiving themselves by words or vague impressions, without looking intelligently and steadily at the actual realities of the case.12

While history is important and interesting to study, it is not authoritative. Just because someone wrote something nearly 2000 years ago does not make him any more of a biblical authority than someone writing today. In fact, the case could be made that the average second-year seminary student has much more material available to him than any of the early church fathers ever dreamed of having and therefore is better equipped to evaluate doctrinal issues.

Even proximity to the apostles is no guarantee of getting it right. There were well-intentioned people in the period prior to the destruction of Jerusalem who got things wrong and needed direct counsel to correct them (Acts 10; Gal. 2:11–14). A special council had to be called in order to clarify doctrinal issues (Acts 15). Even so, some still didn't get it (Gal. 1:6–10). Paul had to instruct the Thessalonian Christians on a matter of eschatology so they would not be "deceived" (2 Thess. 2:1–12). Peter writes that some of the things Paul wrote are "hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort" (2 Pet. 3:16). John warns his readers not to "believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1). Paul makes it clear that "even though we, or an angel from heaven should preach" a gospel contrary to what had been preached, that angel was to be "accursed" (Gal. 1:8).

Given what we know about the history of doctrinal issues in the infant church, it's surprising that Ice wants us to believe that the views of uninspired writers, of which we know almost nothing, writing decades after the death of most of the apostles, are to be taken as authoritative. What we do know is that the history of prophetic speculation has been a persistent embarrassment to the church.13 Many of the writers claimed as prophetic authorities believed that Jesus was coming back in their day! Ignatius writes around the year A.D. 100 that "the last times are come upon us,"14 words that echo those of the Apostle Paul when he writes that "the ends of the ages" had come upon him and the Corinthian Church (1 Cor. 10:11). They both can’t be right. Given a choice, I’ll stick with Paul. Cyprian (c. 200–258) writes "that the day of affliction has begun to hang over our heads, and the end of the world and the time of the Antichrist . . . draw near, so that we must all stand prepared for the battle."15 This was a constant theme in Cyprian’s writings. These men, along with most of their contemporaries, believed that they were living in the last days, that the time of the end was near for them. They were wrong because they misapplied the time texts. LaHaye and Ice repeat their errors, and in doing so, demonstrate that they've learned little from history.

Thomas Ice: "Biblical Minimalist"

Ice knows all of this, but he still plows ahead with an appeal to broad and unsubstantiated historical claims in his attack on preterism. As we will see, Ice follows the technique used by liberal "biblical minimalists":

! Nothing in the Bible can be considered historical unless the depicted person or event has a parallel history outside the biblical text.

! Biblical stories are myth, fiction, or legend unless they can proved to be otherwise by an appeal to non-biblical sources.

! The New Testament does not present a preterist interpretation unless we can find non-biblical writers who interpret prophetic texts in a preterist way.

Even though history is not authoritative, I'm willing to take the historical challenge outlined by Ice. He maintains that since all the post-New Testament writers of the first century were consistent futurists, preterism cannot be true. This is how Ice states the argument:

It is strange that there is not one shred of evidence that anyone in the first century understood these prophecies [in the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation] to have been fulfilled when preterists say they were. You would think that if a large body of Bible prophecy were meant to relate to a specific generation, as preterists contend, then the Holy Spirit would have moved in such a way so that first-century believers would have reached such an understanding.16 However, there has not yet been found any evidence that indicates that the first-century church viewed Bible prophecy this way. This fact provides a major problem for preterism, which thus far has proved insurmountable.

* * * * *

There is zero indication, from known, extant writings, that anyone understood the New Testament prophecies from a preterist perspective. No early church writings teach that Jesus returned in the first century.17 If we as God's people are to understand the prophecies of New Testament in this way, you would think that the Holy Spirit would have left at least one written record of this.18

I don't know about you, but I don't need some uninspired, non-canonical document to tell me what the Bible already says! As we've seen, this is the argument of "biblical minimalists": I won't believe what's in the Bible unless you can show me the same material "outside the New Testament."19 Of course, when evidence is found, the minimalist will claim, "It's not enough; it really doesn't prove the point; that's not the way I would interpret it." Jesus made it absolutely clear that He would return in judgment to destroy the temple, judge Jerusalem, and come on the clouds of heaven before the generation to whom He was speaking passed away (Matt. 24:34). When the Bible tells Ice and his fellow dispensationalists what was to transpire within a generation, and they do not believe it, then why would they be convinced by some uninspired document written decades after the fact? Ice sounds like the rich man who wants Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead and send him to his brothers to warn them about the perils of Hades:

"‘I beg you, Father, that you send [Lazarus] to my father's house--for I have five brothers--that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead’" (Luke 16:27–31).

If Ice does not listen to Jesus and the New Testament writers on this subject, neither will he be persuaded if some early church father interprets certain passages from a preterist perspective. Like the rich man's brothers, biblical minimalists all, Ice will find some excuse by demanding even more evidence. Once I supply the shred of evidence that he says does not exist, Ice will set a new higher standard of evidence. Ice wants to use the murky waters of history to divine what the Bible makes crystal clear.

End Notes

1. Thomas Ice, "Update on Pre-Darby Rapture Statements and Other Issues": audio tape (December 1995).

2. A preterist understands prophetic passages as being already fulfilled. "The term ‘preterism’ is based on the Latin preter, which means ‘past.’ Preterism refers to that understanding of certain eschatological passages which holds that they have already come to fulfillment. Actually, all Christians--even dispensationalists--are preteristic to some extent. This is necessarily so because Christianity holds that a great many of the Messianic passages have already been fulfilled in Christ's first coming." (Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion [Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1997], 162–163).

3. None of the contributors to The End Times Controversy teach at any of the mainline dispensational seminaries. Two are Ph.D. candidates at Dallas Theological Seminary. But DTS is a mixed bag eschatologically these days. Not only must Ice and LaHaye's brand of dispensationalism compete with preterism in the free market of ideas, it must also deal with "progressive dispensationalism" within its own camp.

4. These debates are available at www.americanvision.org.

5. Ice confronted me after our debate at BIOLA (February 2002) about Francis X. Gumerlock's statement in his The Day and the Hour (2000), a book published by American Vision and edited by me, that "The Dolcinites held to a pre-tribulation rapture theory similar to that of modern dispensationalism" (Day and the Hour, 80). If Ice wants to claim the Dolcinites as proto-dispensationalists, he can have them. Gumerlock quotes the Historia Fratris Dolcini Haeresiarchae in an end note (the English translation is Gumerlock's): "Again, [he believed, preached, and taught] that within the said three years Dolcino himself and his followers will preach the coming of the Antichrist; and that the Antichrist himself would come into this world at the end of the said three and a half years; and after he had come, Dolcino himself, and his followers would be transferred into Paradise, where Enoch and Elijah are, and they will be preserved unharmed from the persecution of Antichrist; and then Enoch and Elijah themselves would descend to earth to confront the Antichrist, then they would be killed by him; or by his servants, and thus Antichrist would reign again for many days. ‘Once Antichrist is truly dead, Dolcino himself, who would then be the holy Pope, and his preserved followers will descend to earth, and they will preach the correct faith of Christ to all, and they will convert those, who will be alive then, to the true faith of Jesus Christ" (91–92).

6. "An intensive examination of the writings of pretribulational scholars reveals only one passage from the early fathers which is put forth as a possible example of explicit pretribulationalism." (William Everett Bell, "A Critical Evaluation of the Pretribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology" [School of Education of New York University, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, 1967], 27). Emphasis added.

7. Gary DeMar, The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction (Atlanta: American Vision, 1988), 99–101.

8. Alan Patrick Boyd, "A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers (Until the Death of Justin Martyr)," submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Theology (May 1977), 90–91. In a footnote, the author states: "Perhaps a word needs to be said about the eschatological position of the writer of this thesis. He is a dispensational premillennialist, and he does not consider this thesis to be a disproof of that system. He originally undertook the thesis to bolster the system by patristic research, but the evidence of the original sources simply disallowed this (91, note 2)." Emphasis added.

9. Relating to the church fathers (pater) and/or their writings.

10. Boyd, 92. In a footnote on this same page, Boyd questions the historical accuracy of the research done on the patristic fathers by George N. H. Peters in his much referenced three-volume work, The Theocratic Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, [1884] 1988). Boyd sides with the evaluation of the amillennialist Louis Berkhof when he writes that "it is not correct to say, as Premillenarians do, that it (millennialism) was generally accepted in the first three centuries. The truth of the matter is that the adherents of this doctrine were a rather limited number." (Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines [London: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1937) 1969], 262). Boyd demonstrates with his research that dispensational author John F. Walvoord was wrong when he wrote that "The early church was far from settled on details of eschatology though definitely premillennial." (Walvoord, The Rapture Question [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1957], 137).

11. Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, rev. ed. (Chicago: Mood Press, 1995), 62.

12. William Cunningham, Historical Theology: A Review of the Principal Doctrinal Discussions in the Christian Church Since the Apostolic Age, 2 vols. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1862] 1979), 1:175

13. Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991) and Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity's Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000).

14. The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, chapter 11, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:54. Quoted in LeRoy Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1950), 1:209.

15. The Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle 55.

16. Those who read the Olivet Discourse did understand what the Holy Spirit was saying: "For all who were owners of land or houses" sold them because Jesus had told them that Jerusalem would be destroyed within a generation (Acts 4:34), and those who remained in Judea when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies fled to the mountains (Matt. 24:15–22).

17. Ice equivocates on the meaning of "returned." Partial preterists believe that Jesus’ return to judge Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was a coming similar to the way He promised to come in judgment against the churches in Asia Minor in Revelation (2:5, 16; 3:3) and the way "coming" is used to describe Jehovah's coming in Judgment against Egypt (Isa. 19:1), Babylon (13:6–10), and Israel and Samaria (Micah 1:2–4). These passages do not refer to a future physical and visible "second coming." The dispensationalist has Jesus coming invisibly in a "rapture" then again at the end of the tribulation period. This type of two-stage coming was certainly not taught in the early church.

18. Thomas Ice, "The History of Preterism," The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack, eds. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 37, 39.

19. "Most New Testament scholars and other historians of ancient times look to extracanonical Christian writings with serious interest, and some scholars seem to place a higher value on them than on the canonical writings." (Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000], 3).


PART TWO

Thomas Ice does not understand why so little (he says "zero") is said about the destruction of Jerusalem in first-century documents. He wants to know why the temple's predicted destruction was not used by the early church to prove the Christian case against Judaism and vindicate Jesus as a prophet. As has already been pointed out, there is very little in terms of published documents that has survived through the centuries. In addition, prior to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, "Jewish Christianity, as well as Gentile, had by this time established its own identity. . . . During the war and in the ensuing three or four decades . . . the separation of the Jewish Christians from Judaism became complete."1 The earliest Christian documents were written to and for Christians who had some knowledge of the gospel through preaching and teaching (2 Thess. 2:5), letters that have been lost (1 Cor. 5:9), and/or copies of what we know today as the New Testament. Why repeat what was common knowledge? There’s a lot that these documents do not mention.

G. W. H. Lampe argues that "the main principles of the Christian position had been established against Judaism well before the first Jewish war ended," that "the decisive event which vindicated Jesus as the Christ, the Lord, the Son of God, was not the destruction of his enemies but his resurrection from the dead and his exaltation to God's right hand."2 The New Testament focus was off the earthly Jerusalem and its temple and on the "heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22) and the temple above (Rev. 21:22). For forty years, from A.D. 30 to 70, the resurrection of Jesus was the center of controversy. Paul was on trial for the "resurrection of the dead" (Acts 23:6; 24:21). With the passage of forty years, the temple was no longer relevant. Lampe continues his argument:

From the letter to the Galatians Christians had learned that they were children of the Jerusalem which is ‘above’, the community which, because it enjoys the freedom of the Spirit, stands over against its antithesis, the earthly Jerusalem which is in servitude to the Law (Gal. 4:25–6, cp. Phil. 3:20). The foundations, once again, had been laid for the later development of the theme of the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ in Hebrews (12:22), the ‘new’ or ‘holy’ Jerusalem which, according to the Revelation of John (3:12; 20:9; 21:2), is to descend from heaven and in which the presence of God will not be focussed or localised in any temple, and for the reinterpretation by the Fourth Evangelist of the idea of a holy place, established by God for worship, in terms of community which worships in the Spirit and truth (John 4:21–3). Paul had already taught that the holy temple of God, indwelt by the Spirit, is the congregation of Christian people, the temple of the living God in which his presence assures the fulfilment of the covenant promise, ‘I will be their God and they shall be my people’ (I Cor. 3:16–17; 2 Cor. 6:16); and Paul had also shown that in a secondary sense each individual believer is the temple of the indwelling Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). In this ark of Christian theology, too, the foundations of later developments, such as the teaching of Eph. 2:21 and I Pet. 2:5, and, through a combination of the themes of the ‘temple of the Spirit’ and the ‘body of Christ’, of John 2:21, had been firmly laid in the years before the Jewish war.3

Ice gives the false impression to his readers that there is a large body of written material on the subject of eschatology composed by first-century writers. It's odd that Ice never quotes from one of these first-century documents to prove his point. In fact, he never tells us what first-century documents he has in mind or their subject matter. Of course, the reason Ice doesn't quote these documents is that they do not teach what he needs them to teach.

Contrary to what Ice claims, some dispensationalists are honest enough to admit that it's "not an easy task to piece together a picture of what early Christians thought about the end times. . . . [since] our sources for their thought in this area are relatively limited."4 In reality, there are only four first-century writings available for study today: The Didache, 1 Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas. Of the four, only 1 Clement and the Didache allude to Matthew 24. Ice demands that a "preterist has to prove that the early church writings interpreted passages such as Matthew 24:27, 30, 25:31, Acts 1:9–11, Revelation 1:7,5 and 19:11–21 as fulfilled in A.D. 70."6 Ice doesn't offer a shred a evidence that these passages were used by first-century writers to prove his unique brand of futurism. In fact, a study of the documents of the period will show that none of them quotes Matthew 25:31, Acts 1:9–11, or Revelation 1:7 and 19:11–21. In the end, Ice's argument from history is an argument from silence. "As every good student of history knows, it is wrong to suppose that what is unmentioned or undetailed did not exist."7

What follows is an analysis of first-century writings that address the topic of eschatology. Ice does not deal with any them in his chapter on "The History of Preterism."

A "Shred of Evidence" from the Didache

The Didache, also known as "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," is probably the oldest surviving extant piece of non-canonical literature. It claims to have been written by the twelve apostles, but this cannot be proved. While the full text of the Didache was not rediscovered until 1873, there are references to it in Clement of Alexandria's Miscellanies,8 Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History,9 and Athanasius’s Festal Letter.10 The Didache quotes five verses from Matthew 24 (4, 10, 11, 24, 30). The crucial time text of Matthew 24:34 ("this generation will not pass away") is not quoted, but Matthew 24:30 is: "The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven" (16.7–8). The verses are obviously used to describe future events. Of course, if the Didache was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then preterists have their "shred of evidence" that Ice says does not exist. Sure enough, a number of scholars believe that the Didache was composed before A.D. 70. In the authoritative work The Apostolic Fathers, we read the following:

A remarkably wide range of dates, extending from before A.D. 50 to the third century or later, has been proposed for this document. . . . The Didache may have been put into its present form as late as 150, though a date considerably closer to the end of the first century seems more plausible. The materials from which it was composed, however, reflect the state of the church at an even earlier time. The relative simplicity of the prayers, the continuing concern to differentiate Christian practice from Jewish rituals (8.1), and in particular the form of church structure--note the twofold structure of bishops and deacons (cf. Phil. 1:1) and the continued existence of traveling apostles and prophets alongside a resident ministry--reflect a time closer to that of Paul and James (who died in the 60s) than Ignatius (who died sometime after 110).11

The definitive work on the Didache was written by the French Canadian J.-P. Audet who concluded "that it was composed, almost certainly in Antioch, between 50 and 70."12 In an earlier edition of The Apostolic Fathers we read a similar conclusion: "In his very thorough commentary J.-P. Audet suggests about A.D. 70, and he is not likely to be off by more than a decade in either direction."13 Even liberal scholars, who tend to date all New Testament documents late, acknowledge the evidence for an early date for the Didache. For example, Stephen J. Patterson comments that the trend is to date the document early, "at least by the end of the first century or the beginning of the second, and in the case of Jean-P. Audet, as early as 50–70 C.E."14 So then, if the Didache was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, as a number of scholars suggest, then its use of Matthew 24 to describe events that were yet to take place, including the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 24:30), makes perfect sense given a preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse. Ice has his "shred of evidence."

A "Shred of Evidence" from James the Brother of Jesus

In Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, written in the fourth century, we learn of an incident that lead to the martyrdom of James the brother of Jesus. The original story comes from the second-century historian Hegesippus who wrote his notes on the history of the church between A.D. 165 and 175. When James was called on by a group of Scribes and Pharisees to set the what they believed was the truth of the claimed Messiahship of Jesus, Hegesippus reports James as stating that Jesus "is about to come on the clouds of heaven."15 Hegesippus is quoting what "James the Just" said to a group of Scribes and Pharisees who believed that people were "led astray after Jesus was crucified": "Why do you ask me respecting Jesus the Son of Man? He is now sitting in the heavens, on the right hand of great Power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven."16

The Greek word mellow, "about to," "communicates a sense of immediacy."17 "If the author had not wished to stress the immediate aspect of Christ's coming, he could still have stressed the certainty of Christ's coming with erketai, thereby omitting the immediate factor."18 After hearing James' obvious allusion to Matthew 26:64, the officials of the temple cast him down from the "wing of the temple" and later stoned him and beat out his brains with a club. "Immediately after this," Hegesippus writes, "Vespasian invaded and took Judea."19 James the brother of Jesus believed that Jesus' coming was "about to take place." Hegessipus identifies the coming of Jesus "on the clouds of heaven" with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

A "Shred of Evidence" from 1 Clement

Clement (A.D. 30–100), also known as Clemens Romanus to distinguish him from Clement of Alexandria who died in the third century, is noted for his letter to the Corinthians (1 Clement). The letter is commonly dated around A.D. 96, but there is good reason to date it earlier. John A. T. Robinson is sympathetic to George Edmundson's evidence that 1 Clement "was written in the early months of 70."20 The strongest argument for an early A.D. 70 date is that Clement states that temple sacrifices were being offered in Jerusalem at the time of its writing. This means the temple, which was destroyed in late A.D. 70, was still standing when Clement wrote his letter:

Not in every place, brethren, are the continual daily sacrifices offered, or the freewill offerings, or the sin offerings or the trespass offerings, but in Jerusalem alone. And even there the offering is not made in every place, but before the sanctuary in the court of the altar; and this too through the high-priest and the aforesaid ministers (41.2).

To give further support for an early A.D. 70 date is Clement's comments about what was taking place in "our generation," specifically the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. Keep in mind that Clement was born around A.D. 30 and would have been forty years old in A.D. 70, making him a part of the "this generation" of Matthew 24:34:

But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience (5.1–17. Emphasis added.).

Remember Ice’s criterion for establishing preterism in the first century: All we need is "a shred of evidence." There are a couple of items in this section of Clement’s letter that point to a pre-A.D. 70 fulfillment. As opposed to "ancient examples" to make his case, Clement instead dwells on "the most recent spiritual heroes," in this case, Peter and Paul who "suffered martyrdom" during the Neronic persecutions in the 60s. These are "noble examples furnished in our own generation," Clement writes. Jesus predicted in the presence of Peter: "They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you. . ." (Matt. 24:9; cf. John 21:18–19).

Of Paul, Clement writes, "After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west." It was Paul's plan to go to Spain (Rom. 14:24, 28). Compare this statement to what Jesus says in Matthew 24:14, a verse that LaHaye and Ice maintain has not been fulfilled.

"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come."

Clement, following the language of Jesus and Paul, states that the "whole world" (kosmos) had been "taught righteousness." Paul writes to the Romans that their "faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world [kosmos]" (Rom. 1:8). At the end of Romans we read that the gospel "has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith" (16:26). To the Colossians we learn that, according to Paul, the gospel "was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister" (Col. 1:23; cf. 1:6 [kosmos]).

Conclusion

Ice and LaHaye get off on the wrong foot in their analysis of preterism. The historical argument is a death blow, or to use Mark Hitchcock's metaphor from his chapter on the dating of Revelation, "A Stake in the Heart" to their brand of futurism. The earliest historical sources, the Didache, the testimony of James, the brother of Jesus, and 1 Clement demonstrate that preterism's history is a first-century history.

As time and opportunity permit, I will deal with Ice's other claims on the history of preterism even though they are rather inconsequential to the debate. Ice leaves out so many outstanding preterists that one wonders if he's trying to hide something from his mostly dispensational audience.

End Notes to Part One

1. Thomas Ice, "Update on Pre-Darby Rapture Statements and Other Issues": audio tape (December 1995).

2. A preterist understands prophetic passages as being already fulfilled. "The term ‘preterism’ is based on the Latin preter, which means ‘past.’ Preterism refers to that understanding of certain eschatological passages which holds that they have already come to fulfillment. Actually, all Christians--even dispensationalists--are preteristic to some extent. This is necessarily so because Christianity holds that a great many of the Messianic passages have already been fulfilled in Christ's first coming." (Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion [Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1997], 162–163).

3. None of the contributors to The End Times Controversy teach at any of the mainline dispensational seminaries. Two are Ph.D. candidates at Dallas Theological Seminary. But DTS is a mixed bag eschatologically these days. Not only must Ice and LaHaye's brand of dispensationalism compete with preterism in the free market of ideas, it must also deal with "progressive dispensationalism" within its own camp.

4. These debates are available at www.americanvision.org.

5. Ice confronted me after our debate at BIOLA (February 2002) about Francis X. Gumerlock's statement in his The Day and the Hour (2000), a book published by American Vision and edited by me, that "The Dolcinites held to a pre-tribulation rapture theory similar to that of modern dispensationalism" (Day and the Hour, 80). If Ice wants to claim the Dolcinites as proto-dispensationalists, he can have them. Gumerlock quotes the Historia Fratris Dolcini Haeresiarchae in an end note (the English translation is Gumerlock's): "Again, [he believed, preached, and taught] that within the said three years Dolcino himself and his followers will preach the coming of the Antichrist; and that the Antichrist himself would come into this world at the end of the said three and a half years; and after he had come, Dolcino himself, and his followers would be transferred into Paradise, where Enoch and Elijah are, and they will be preserved unharmed from the persecution of Antichrist; and then Enoch and Elijah themselves would descend to earth to confront the Antichrist, then they would be killed by him; or by his servants, and thus Antichrist would reign again for many days. ‘Once Antichrist is truly dead, Dolcino himself, who would then be the holy Pope, and his preserved followers will descend to earth, and they will preach the correct faith of Christ to all, and they will convert those, who will be alive then, to the true faith of Jesus Christ" (91–92).

6. "An intensive examination of the writings of pretribulational scholars reveals only one passage from the early fathers which is put forth as a possible example of explicit pretribulationalism." (William Everett Bell, "A Critical Evaluation of the Pretribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology" [School of Education of New York University, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, 1967], 27). Emphasis added.

7. Gary DeMar, The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction (Atlanta: American Vision, 1988), 99–101.

8. Alan Patrick Boyd, "A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers (Until the Death of Justin Martyr)," submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Theology (May 1977), 90–91. In a footnote, the author states: "Perhaps a word needs to be said about the eschatological position of the writer of this thesis. He is a dispensational premillennialist, and he does not consider this thesis to be a disproof of that system. He originally undertook the thesis to bolster the system by patristic research, but the evidence of the original sources simply disallowed this (91, note 2)." Emphasis added.

9. Relating to the church fathers (pater) and/or their writings.

10. Boyd, 92. In a footnote on this same page, Boyd questions the historical accuracy of the research done on the patristic fathers by George N. H. Peters in his much referenced three-volume work, The Theocratic Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, [1884] 1988). Boyd sides with the evaluation of the amillennialist Louis Berkhof when he writes that "it is not correct to say, as Premillenarians do, that it (millennialism) was generally accepted in the first three centuries. The truth of the matter is that the adherents of this doctrine were a rather limited number." (Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines [London: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1937) 1969], 262). Boyd demonstrates with his research that dispensational author John F. Walvoord was wrong when he wrote that "The early church was far from settled on details of eschatology though definitely premillennial." (Walvoord, The Rapture Question [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1957], 137).

11. Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, rev. ed. (Chicago: Mood Press, 1995), 62.

12. William Cunningham, Historical Theology: A Review of the Principal Doctrinal Discussions in the Christian Church Since the Apostolic Age, 2 vols. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1862] 1979), 1:175

13. Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991) and Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity's Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000).

14. The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, chapter 11, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:54. Quoted in LeRoy Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1950), 1:209.

15. The Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle 55.

16. Those who read the Olivet Discourse did understand what the Holy Spirit was saying: "For all who were owners of land or houses" sold them because Jesus had told them that Jerusalem would be destroyed within a generation (Acts 4:34), and those who remained in Judea when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies fled to the mountains (Matt. 24:15–22).

17. Ice equivocates on the meaning of "returned." Partial preterists believe that Jesus’ return to judge Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was a coming similar to the way He promised to come in judgment against the churches in Asia Minor in Revelation (2:5, 16; 3:3) and the way "coming" is used to describe Jehovah's coming in Judgment against Egypt (Isa. 19:1), Babylon (13:6–10), and Israel and Samaria (Micah 1:2–4). These passages do not refer to a future physical and visible "second coming." The dispensationalist has Jesus coming invisibly in a "rapture" then again at the end of the tribulation period. This type of two-stage coming was certainly not taught in the early church.

18. Thomas Ice, "The History of Preterism," The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack, eds. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 37, 39.

19. "Most New Testament scholars and other historians of ancient times look to extracanonical Christian writings with serious interest, and some scholars seem to place a higher value on them than on the canonical writings." (Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000], 3).

 

End Notes to Part Two

1. G. W. H. Lampe, "A.D. 70 in Christian Reflection," Jesus and the Politics of His Day, eds. Ernst Bammel and C. F. D Moule (London: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 156.

2. Lampe, "A.D. 70 in Christian Reflection," 157.

3. Lampe, "A.D. 70 in Christian Reflection," 157–158.

4. John D. Hannah, Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine (Colorado Springs, CO: NAVPRESS, 2001), 305. Hannah is department chairman and distinguished professor of historical theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. Hannah still popularizes the canard that "the Fathers embraced a premillennial understanding" of future events (306). Apparently, Hannah is not aware of Boyd's study of the period. Contrary to Hannah's assertions on premillennialism, Louis Berkhof concludes after his study of the period, "But it is not correct to say, as Premillenarians do, that it was generally accepted in the first three centuries. The truth of the matter is that the adherents of this doctrine were a rather limited number. There is no trace of it in Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Dionysius, and other important Church Fathers." (Louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines [London: The Banner of Truth Trust, (1937) 1969], 262).

5. LaHaye and Ice, End Times Controversy, 39. Revelation 1:7 is only quoted three times in the entire ante-Nicene corpus, none from first-century writings.

6. LaHaye and Ice, End Times Controversy, 39.

7. Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 14.

8. (Miscellanies, 1, 20, 100).

9. (Ecclesiastical History, 3.25).

10. (Festal Letter, 39).

11. Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, [1992] 1999), 247–248. Emphasis added.

12. John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 323.

13. Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 247. Holmes references J.-P. Audet, La DidachP: Instructions des Apôtres (Paris: Gabalda, 1958), 187–206.

14. Stephen J. Patterson, The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus: Thomas Christianity, Social Radicalism, and the Quest of the Historical Jesus (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 1993), 173.

15. Boyd, A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers, 288. Boyd cites Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.33. The correct reference is 2:22. The account is also told in William Cave, Antiquitates Apostolicae: Or, the History of the Lives, Acts and Martyrdoms of the Holy Apostles or Our Saviour, and the Two Evangelists, SS. Mark and Luke, 2 vols. in 1 (London: R. Norton for R. Royston, Bookseller to His most Sacred Majesty, 1677), 1:193

16. Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, "The martyrdom of James, who was called the brother of the Lord," 2.23 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1958), 77-78. The same account can be found in volume 8 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, 763.

17. Boyd, 28.

18. Boyd, 28. See A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 4th rev. ed., s.v. mellow, I.c.a., 502. This understanding of mellow refutes Ice's claim time words are used "as qualitative indicators (not chronological indicators) describing how Christ will return." (End Times Controversy, 35).

19. Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, "The martyrdom of James, who was called the brother of the Lord," 2.23 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1958), 77-78. The same account can be found in volume 8 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, 763.

20. Robinson, Redating the New Testament, 329.

What do YOU think ?

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Date:
22 Apr 2001
Time:
05:30:24

Comments

Really important materials!  Thanks, Gary.


Date:
23 Apr 2003
Time:
22:26:59

Comments

Good one


Date:
01 May 2003
Time:
12:52:13

Comments

Extremely well written. Let me encourage you to be a bit more compassionate towards the premillinialists. It's not easy having your entire belief system undermined when you've invested so much of your time and money in it. When I first read about Preterism, it 'rocked' my very foundation because it was so contrary to what I had always heard and believed, yet it was the most believable view of all. I understand how people are strongly affected by this. God Bless!!!!


Date:
01 May 2003
Time:
19:26:53

Comments

I find it interesting that dispensationalists claim that there is no evidence that 1st century Christians understood Jesus' words to refer to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, yet they mostly recognize that the Jerusalem church fled the country en masse in about 65 AD. Why did they flee if they didn't understand that the end was imminent? Waidmann


Date:
21 May 2003
Time:
00:40:20

Comments

Great piece Gary, Does Eusebius' reference about those Christians who obeyed the oracle of the Lord and fled prior the destruction of Jerusalem to Pella in Transjordan relate to Matt. 24:16 (Eccl Hist 3.5)? I also noticed that Ice made much of the claim that there is no clear preterist teaching in the patristic era (pp. 42-43), and that this demonstrates the "murky beginning" of preterism (Ice, ETC p. 66). This is a clear example of the genetic fallacy (an informal fallacy of logic), trying to refute an argument/position (preterism) by claiming that the origins of the argument are suspicious. Furthermore, in his section devoted entirely to eschatology, Augustine (354-430 AD) wrote "I pass over a large number of passages which SEEM to refer to the last judgment, but turn out to be ambiguous on careful examination, or to have more relevance to some other subject. They may refer, for example, to the coming of the Saviour in the sense that he comes throughout this present age in the person of his Church . . . . or the reference may be to the destruction of the earthly Jerusalem. For when he [Jesus] speaks of that destruction he generally uses language suitable to describing the end of the world . . . . the two events cannot possibly be distinguished except by comparing the parallel statements on this subject in the three evangelists, Mattew, Mark and Luke" (City of God 20.5) Since Augustine was writing in the patristic era, Ice's assessment of the history of Preterism seems flawed. I noticed Ice does not even mention Augustine.


Date:
30 Oct 2003
Time:
10:08:00

Comments

what are the merits and demerits of preterism?


Date:
23 Dec 2003
Time:
12:36:02

Comments

I find it interesting that an 'attack' of sorts must always be waged upon the dispensationalists in order to appear to gain the stronghold... I ask you: Where are the historical proofs and evidences of the early Christians' upholding of this preterist interpretation? Historical premils make an appeal to the prominent first and second century theologians and scholars. It wasn't until the church strayed from its Biblical roots (through Origen, Constantine, et al) that a different interpretation of eschatology began to take place. Regarding the writing of Revelation, the Apostle John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos during the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96) at which time he finished the canon of Scripture; Was that not AFTER the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70? Postmil preterism cannot support itself historically. Can we not see what is at stake with such wrongful Scriptural interpretation? J.P.

 

 

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