Preterist Problems

It is written:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32)

There is a school of thought known as preterism which teaches that all Bible prophecy (the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the Day of Judgment, the end of the world, etc) occurred when the nation of Rome destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Ken Gentry has written an excellent refutation of preterism, one that is worthy of deep consideration; and in this brief study, we will examine some of the basic issues regarding preterism.

The first thing to notice is the unfortunate popularity of this doctrine with some within churches of Christ.

“This modern movement arose largely from among members of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, known as the Church of Christ (e. g., Foy E. Wallace, Jack Scott, Jesse Mills, Gene Fadely, Max King, Tim King, Don Preston, Ed Stevens, Tom Kloske, and Kurt Simmons).” (Kenneth L Gentry Jr, Have We Missed the Second Coming?: A Critique of the Hyper-preterist Error, 604 (Kindle Edition); Fountain Inn, South Carolina; Victorious Hope Publishing)

“Hyper-preterism has arisen among Christians (largely from within the Church of Christ sect) who express little interest in the creedal integrity of the historic Christian faith.” (Kenneth L Gentry Jr, Have We Missed the Second Coming?: A Critique of the Hyper-preterist Error, 1517 (Kindle Edition); Fountain Inn, South Carolina; Victorious Hope Publishing)

For a people who have historically been devoted to the principle “speaking as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11) and who hold to the principle of “preach (ing) the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2), this is an embarrassing acknowledgment.

While some in the churches of Christ have been taken with this doctrine, it actually finds a much older home in Roman Catholicism. One author (Bill Cooper) describes the evidence which he believes demonstrates that the Book of Revelation was written before the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D. He is quick, however, to point out that this early date does not lend credence to preterism:

“However, the fact that John wrote his Book of Revelation under Claudius or Nero, should not be taken to mean that they were the subjects of his Book. He wrote in their time, but did not write of their time. That is the extreme view of preterism, (known as Full Preterism), the idea that the Book of Revelation’s prophecies were all fulfilled by AD 70. For some preterists that includes the Resurrection and even the Second Coming of Christ, and they say that from our standpoint at least, John’s Book of Revelation should be regarded as a purely historical work. What we and the earth we’re standing on are still doing here 2000 years later is not explained, but this idea had its source in the First Council of Trent, the Vatican’s counterthrust to the Protestant Reformation, and we even know the name of the man who was to spend his life developing it. He was a Jesuit named Luis De Alcazar (1554–1613), the author of Vestigatio Arcani Sensus in Apocalypsi, or ‘Investigation into the Hidden Meaning of the Apocalypse,’ which was published in the year 1614. The purpose of his book was to destabilise the main thrust of Protestantism that the pope of Rome was the very Antichrist foretold in John’s Revelation, and that the Church of Rome was Mystery Babylon, the Mother of Harlots who sits on the seven hills of Rome. The papacy had lost much ground in the early-mid 16th century over this identification and it was vital that the process be challenged, stemmed, or better still, reversed, and this was best achieved by convincing the world that the events which John wrote of, all belonged to an earlier age than the papacy. So whoever the Antichrist was, it couldn’t have been the pope; and whatever the Harlot was, it couldn’t have been the Roman Catholic Church, because neither the papacy nor the church had existed when Revelation was written during Nero’s reign…The fact, therefore, that the Book of Revelation was written around half way through the Eyewitness Period, should not be taken as a source of encouragement for those who follow Alcazar. It is evidence for the early writing of Revelation, but nothing more than that.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity of the New Testament Part 2: Acts, the Epistles and Revelation, 1697-1736 (Kindle Edition))

Second, let us also make an important distinction between what Gentry calls “hyper-preterism” and what we may style “partial-preterism.” There is no denying that some Bible prophecies have been fulfilled (cf. Luke 1:1-4); the danger lies in trying to make the fulfillment of all Bible prophecy fit within the first century time-frame. (For the sake of clarity, when I use the term “preterism” or “preterist” I am referencing this idea of “hyper-preterism”unless otherwise noted).

In order to try and do this, preterists must twist Scriptures out of their contexts and give words meanings which were never intended.

Gentry provides some examples.

The first comes from Jesus’ statement in Luke 17:22-37, which preterists often claim is Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24). Since much of the Olivet Discourse applies to the generation then living in Jesus’ Day (Matthew 24:34-note that hyper-preterists claim that ALL of Matthew 24 applies to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century), it is then argued that this sermon of Jesus in Luke 17:22-37 must apply equally to the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century.

Of course, the problem is that these are two different sermons!

“Actually, the two texts record different sermons. The Lord presents the discourse recorded in Matthew 24 on the Mount of Olives (Matt 24: 3) after looking out over Jerusalem (Matt 23: 37). Whereas in Luke 17 he is on his way to Jerusalem (cf. Luke 17: 11; 18: 31; 19: 11). In Matthew, Jesus is answering his disciples regarding their question about the temple’s future (Matt 24: 1–3). In Luke 17 he is interacting with the Pharisees (Luke 17: 20–23) about the coming of the kingdom when he turns to speak to the disciples. No one is commenting on the temple, as in Matthew 24: 1–2. In fact, we find Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse four chapters later in Luke 21: 5–24.” (Kenneth L Gentry Jr, Have We Missed the Second Coming?: A Critique of the Hyper-preterist Error, 46-47 (Kindle Edition); Fountain Inn, South Carolina; Victorious Hope Publishing)

Context is everything in studying the Word of God; and when a passage of Scripture is removed from its’ context, all sorts of strange teachings may abound.

Let’s have another example.

In describing the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus says:

Luke 21:22-For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

Does Jesus here intend to teach that “all” prophecy would be fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem? This is certainly the claim of preterists. However, context tells a far different story!

“They wrongly interpret the statement as if Jesus is speaking universally of absolutely all prophecies that have ever been written when he states that “all things which are written” will be fulfilled in AD 70. They hold, therefore, that no prophecy remains. This would mean that prophecies regarding the resurrection of all men, the second coming, and more came to pass in AD 70. Unfortunately, they base their argument on deficient hermeneutics. Consider the following observations. The particular context The context explains the particular “all things” Christ has in mind. He is not speaking universally of absolutely all biblical prophecy. He is referring only to the judgment prophecies regarding Jerusalem’s destruction. Note that the disciples’ pointing out the temple’s stones sparks the discourse (Luke 21: 5). Then Jesus declares that “these things” will not be left one upon another (21: 6). Then the disciples ask “when therefore will these things be?” (21: 7). Jesus responds with the prophecy regarding Jerusalem’s destruction (21: 8–24), for he is dealing with Jerusalem’s surrounding and desolation (21: 20). Then he declares “these are the days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (21: 22). Clearly his focus is on Jerusalem and her temple….“On the Hyper-preterist exegesis Christ’s statement would be erroneous to the point of absurdity. Are “all” prophecies fulfilled in AD 70? What about the virgin birth (Isa 7: 14; Matt 1: 22–23)? Christ’s crucifixion (Luke 24: 26–27)? His resurrection (Luke 24: 45–47)? After all, also appearing in Luke’s Gospel is the Lord’s statement regarding his crucifixion—which occurred long before AD 70: “For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘and he was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22: 37). These prophecies are certainly “written” in the Old Testament. Yet they clearly are fulfilled before AD 70.” (Kenneth L Gentry Jr, Have We Missed the Second Coming?: A Critique of the Hyper-preterist Error, 50-52 (Kindle Edition); Fountain Inn, South Carolina; Victorious Hope Publishing)

Perhaps the most obvious way that preterists mishandle Scripture arises from a study of Matthew 24 itself (the Olivet Discourse).

There is no doubt that in Matthew 24:4-34, Jesus references the destruction of Jerusalem. Indeed, each of the “signs” that Jesus makes note of there occurred before and during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

However, Christ goes on to describe another Day in which the world itself would be destroyed. He makes it clear that He is changing the topic of the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 24:36:

Matthew 24:36-But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.

Notice the phrase “but of that” which opens up the verse. It is the Greek phrase peri de, and usually indicates a change of topic. For example, look at how the phrase is used in various places in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 7:1-Now concerning (peri de) the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

1 Corinthians 7:25-Now concerning (peri de) virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy.

1 Corinthians 8:1-Now concerning (peri de) things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.

1 Corinthians 12:1-Now concerning (peri de) spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:

In each of these passages, the phrase peri de serves as an indicator that a change in topic is under discussion.

So in Matthew 24:4-34, Jesus discusses the destruction of Jerusalem; but then in Matthew 24:36 ff, He changes topic!

Gentry notes:

“So now for our purposes: in Matthew 24: 36 peri reaches back to the disciples’ second question of the two that were raised in v. 3. Having dealt with their first question in vv. 4–35, he now returns to consider their second one. By this structuring of the passage we see that v. 36 introduces new material differing from vv. 4–35. At this point he moves away from his AD 70 prophecy and begins speaking of his second advent at the “end of the age,” which he will cover in 24: 36–25: 46.” (Kenneth L Gentry Jr, Have We Missed the Second Coming?: A Critique of the Hyper-preterist Error, 76 (Kindle Edition); Fountain Inn, South Carolina; Victorious Hope Publishing)

Preterists often deny this change in topic and teach instead that Jesus continues discussing the destruction of Jerusalem throughout Matthew 24 and 25.

Preterism is based upon a system of Bible interpretation which tears Scripture out of context and assigns meanings to words which are often clearly erroneous.

Third, how is it that these momentous events (the Second Coming, Day of Judgement, resurrection of the dead, ushering in Heaven, etc.) have happened (as preterists maintain)-without the notice of the Christians throughout history? Notice what John says regarding the Second Coming:

Revelation 1:7-Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.

Paul also writes:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

The angels of God agree:

Acts 1:9-11-Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10  And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11  who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

All of these passages (and many others could be added) speak of the fact that every person will know when the Second Coming occurs.

Yet preterists would have us believe that no one in the Christian Age understood that the Second Coming happened within the first century, until the last hundred years!

Gentry has this for us:

“It would be most remarkable if the entire church that came through AD 70 missed the proper understanding of the eschaton and did not realize its members had been resurrected. And that the next generation had no inkling of the great transformation that took place. Has the entire Christian church missed the basic contours of Christian eschatology for its first 1900 years? Has the “blessed hope” really been a “blasted hoax” all these years?…“On the Hyper-preterist view, Clement of Rome lives through AD 70 and yet has no idea he is resurrected, for he continues to look for a physical resurrection (1 Clement 50: 3). Jude’s (supposed) grandsons still seek a physical resurrection (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3: 20: 1ff). Whoever these men are, they come right out of the first generation and from the land of Israel with absolutely no inkling of an AD 70 resurrection or a past second advent. See also the Didache 10: 5; 16: 1ff (first century); Ignatius, Trallians 9: 2; Smyrnaens 2: 1; 6: 1; Letter to Polycarp 7: 2 (early second century); Polycarp 2: 1; 6: 2; 7: 1. See also Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr.” (Kenneth L Gentry Jr, Have We Missed the Second Coming?: A Critique of the Hyper-preterist Error, 39-40 (Kindle Edition); Fountain Inn, South Carolina; Victorious Hope Publishing)

The foundation of preterism is fundamentally flawed.

The Second Coming did not occur in 70 A.D., but make no mistake: Jesus WILL come again one Day!

Will you be ready for the Return of the Lord?

Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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