Methods of Interpreting Prophecy, Part 1

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Methods of Interpreting Prophecy, Part 1: A Review of Clifton Emahiser's article Roman Catholic Origin Of Both Futurism & Preterism

We are going to begin a new endeavor, and continue it, as we have time, interspersed with the other ongoing projects we have here on Christogenea Saturdays. We will simply call this series Interpreting Prophecy. We do not know if it will be two, or three, or fifteen segments. But we will continue this until we feel we have said the things which are necessary to say.

Tonight we shall start this series by presenting Clifton Emahiser's fall, 2010 article titled Roman Catholic Origin Of Both Futurism & Preterism Clifton begins by referring to another paper he had written at the time, answering the heresies of Ron Wyatt. We shall present the text of Clifton's paper, add some of our own comments, and also add some material from early Christian writers to show, in part, their view of Biblical prophecy.

Roman Catholic Origin Of Both Futurism & Preterism

In my Ron Wyatt, Honest?, Or Deceitful Fraud #3, I presented the historical interpretation of the “mark of the beast” at Rev. 13:18, and there were a few who objected, implying that it had to be something in the future! Biblical prophecy is based on a day equaling a year. A time = 360 years; a month = 30 years; and a day = one year. So if the “beast” is going to reign “forty and two months” at Rev. 13:5, that would amount to (30x42), or 1260 years. Therefore, if the tribulation were to last seven years, starting at 2010, that would take us to the year 3270 A.D., not seven calendar years!

It is plainly evident in three places of Scripture that very frequently in prophecy, a day should be interpreted as a year in history. The first is the “70 weeks” prophecy of Daniel chapter 9, and comparing it to the subsequent history of Judaea and the actual time of the advent of the Messiah, it is certain that each day in the 70 weeks period represented a calendar year. The second place is in Ezekiel, in chapter 4 where the prophet is told , as an example thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.” In this respect, Numbers 14:34 must also be noted. The third place is two-fold, where we see similar language in Isaiah chapters 34 and 63, and we shall read them both here at once: the first says “For it is the day of the LORD'S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion”, and the second “For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.” Understanding the Hebrew parallelism, we should see that in prophecy a day is a year. Once this method of prophetic interpretation is understood, the meaning of many prophecies come to light, especially where the durations of kingdoms and empires are concerned. Continuing with Clifton:

For some background on this subject, in 1887, Dr. H. Grattan Guinness, DD., F.R.A.S., English scholar, preacher, lecturer and writer, wrote a work entitled Romanism and the Reformation From the Standpoint of Prophecy. This book was republished in 1967, and within its pages he dedicated three chapters to pre-Reformation historical interpretation. Before the Reformation there was no other viewpoint. To impress this upon the minds of his readers, he quoted from scores of writers, historians and preachers who subjected prophecy to historical analysis for its interpretation. Portions from his works bear repeating for this study. The following excerpt is a quotation from Lecture 5, pages 112-113, as appeared in Old Fashioned Prophecy Magazine, Blackwood, New Jersey:

With many varieties as to detail we find there have existed, and still exist, two great opposite schools of interpretation, the Papal and the Protestant, or the futurist and the historical. The latter regards the prophecies of Daniel, Paul, and John as fully and faithfully setting forth the entire course of Christian history; the former as dealing chiefly with a future fragment of time at its close.”

Then Guinness’s Romanism and the Reformation, on page 114: “It is held by many that the historic school of interpretation is represented only by a small modern section of the Church. We shall show that it has existed from the beginning, and includes the larger part of the greatest and best teachers of the Church for 1,800 years. We shall show that the Fathers of the Church belonged to it; that the most learned mediaeval commentators belonged to it, that the confessors, reformers, and martyrs belonged to it, and that it has included a vast multitude of erudite expositors of later times. We shall show that all these have held to the central truth that prophecy faithfully mirrors the Church’s history as a whole, and not merely a commencing or closing fragment of that history ...”

Then, alluding to the pre-Reformation interpreters, Dr. Guinness in Romanism and the Reformation, states the following on pages 123-124 in his book:

It should be noted that none of the Fathers held the futurist gap theory, the theory that the book of Revelation over-leaps nearly eighteen centuries of Christian history, plunging at once into the distant future, and devoting itself entirely to predicting the events of the last few years of this dispensation. As to the subject of antichrist, there was a universal agreement among them concerning the general idea of the prophecy, while there were differences as to details, these differences arising chiefly from the notion that the antichrist would be in some way Jewish as well as Roman. It is true they thought that the antichrist would be an individual man. Their early position sufficiently accounts for this. They had no conception and could have no conception of the true nature and length of the tremendous apostasy which was to set in upon the Christian Church. They were not prophets, and could not foresee that the Church was to remain nineteen centuries in the wilderness, and to pass through prolonged and bitter persecution under a succession of nominally Christian but apostate rulers, filling the place of the ancient Caesars and emulating their antichristian deeds.”

Now for the most part this is true. I may want to dispute to some degree over what Guinness said about the early perception of the antichrist, but his portrayal is not entirely inaccurate, as we shall see.

The original Reformers were historicists, meaning that they understood the words of Biblical prophecy to be unfolding as history progressed. It will be shown here that some of the earliest Christian writers were also historicists, but from a much earlier perspective than the Reformers. We would assert that this is indeed the only correct view of prophecy, as the purpose of prophecy is to indicate historical events in advance, so that we know that God is true.

Some fools call this view “partial preterism”, meaning that historicists believe some of the prophecy was fulfilled long ago. We would assert that the phrase “partial preterism” in this sense is ridiculous. Because the historicist view of prophecy is indeed that part of the prophecy has been fulfilled in history, other parts are currently being fulfilled, and further parts still await fulfillment. That is historicism, that the Word of God is gradually unfolding as time progresses, and as it is revealed we learn that God is true.

The term “partial preterism” is more properly used of the gap-theory believers, who imagine that much of the prophecy only concerned events which occurred up until 70 AD, but that some of that same prophecy only concerns events far off into the future, and in between there is a long period of history about which the Word of God is silent. But even Futurists admit that there are great parts of the prophecy which are already fulfilled, mostly concerned with ancient Israel and with the advent of the Christ, so the term “partial preterism” is actually quite redundant and probably unnecessary.

Futurists recognize that some of the prophecy concerned ancient Israel and the advent of Christ, but that much of the prophecy, especially in Daniel and the Revelation, concerns surreal and distant events, rather than any of the recent past, present or near future.

Now, this is difficult for some people to grasp, but in the historicist view of prophecy, some futurist ideas are necessary. But it is the manner in which those ideas are expressed which separate the futurist from the historicist. Because prophecy is basically history written in advance, in poetic and symbolic language, any valid interpretation is going to necessitate a certain degree of futurist views, once it is recognized that at any given point in history some prophecy is not yet fulfilled. The earlier the historic existence of the commentator, the more futurist the viewpoint must be. A Biblical commentator of the second century who is a historicist would have more futurist views than a Biblical commentator of the twentieth century who is a historicist.

So futurist ideas were not entirely new in the time of the Reformation. Rather, there were futurists at an early time, some of whom for instance, seemed to be oblivious to the plain language of the epistles of John, and who insisted that the anti-Christ was an individual who would appear at some future date while ignoring the anti-christs who were all around them. So in the early Christian writers, popularly called the Ante-Nicene Fathers, there is an interesting mix of the historicist view, and some semblance of futurism because at that early time it was often necessary. While in some of those writers, the futurism may have seemed to be closer to what is seen in today's futurism, in others, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian, the futurism is really only historicism looking forward. However all the early Christian writers saw a historical unfolding of prophecy going forward, and none of them imagined a large gap where the prophetic word resumes near the end of time.

So it must also be said that historicists who realize that some prophecy is not fulfilled are not futurists, just like historicists who realize that much prophecy has been fulfilled are not preterists or partial preterists. These arguments are only posited by those who wish to cloud the issues. Rather, historicists see the concrete fulfillment of some prophecies in history, while they also await the fulfillment of certain other prophecies, looking forward to their historical fulfillment in the development of the ongoing reality of everyday life, and not in some fanciful and unreal fulfillment where everyday life is transformed into some surreal science-fiction scenario.

So futurism, as Clifton regards it in this paper, and also as Guinness regarded it in his book, was indeed rather novel at the time of the Reformation in one aspect: the futurists at the time refused to acknowledge the fulfillment of prophecy in history that the Reformers insisted had been evident in plain sight. So the futurists claimed that the prophecies which the Reformers esteemed to be fulfilled were really not fulfilled, and would not be fulfilled until some distant date.

To continue with Clifton's paper:

The Papal Origin of Futurism:

Next, we must investigate why, how and when Futurism wormed itself into post-Reformation church doctrine! It should be of specific interest when this kind of interpretation of prophecy entered nearly all the schools of prophetic interpretation. In his various writings, Dr. Guinness opens our eyes to this revealing portion of history, Guinness’s Romanism and the Reformation, p. 114:

We shall show that the futurist school of interpretation, on the contrary, is chiefly represented by teachers belonging to the Church of Rome; that the popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests of that apostate Church are all futurists, and that the futurist interpretation is one of the chief pillars of Romanism.”

At Guinness’s Romanism and the Reformation, p. 113, it is stated: “The former, or futurist, system of interpreting the prophecies is now held, strange to say, by many Protestants, but it was first invented by the Jesuit Ribera, at the end of the sixteenth century, to relieve the Papacy from the terrible stigma cast upon it by the Protestant interpretation. This interpretation was so evidently the true and the intended one, that the adherents of the Papacy felt its edge must, at any cost, be turned or blunted. If the Papacy were the predicted antichrist, as Protestants asserted, there was an end of the question, and separation from it became an imperative duty.”

Next from Guinness’s Romanism and the Reformation, pp. 164-165: “First, note the fact that Rome’s reply to the Reformation in the 16th century included an answer to the prophetic teachings of the Reformers. Through the Jesuits Ribera and Bellarmine, Rome put forth her futurist interpretation of prophecy. Ribera was a Jesuit priest of Salamanca. In 1585 he published a commentary on the Apocalypse, denying the application of the prophecies concerning antichrist to the existing Church of Rome. He was followed by Cardinal Bellarmine, a nephew of Pope Marcellus II, who was born in Tuscany in 1542, and died in Rome in 1621. Bellarmine was not only a man of great learning, but ‘the most powerful controversialist in defence of Popery that the Roman Church ever produced.’ Clement VIII used these remarkable words on his nomination: ‘We choose him, because the Church of God does not possess his equal in learning.’ Bellarmine, like Ribera, advocated the futurist interpretation of prophecy. He taught that antichrist would be one particular man, that he would be a Jew, that he would be preceded by the reappearance of the literal Enoch and Elias, that he would rebuild the Jewish temple at Jerusalem, compel circumcision, abolish the Christian sacraments, abolish every other form of religion, would manifestly and avowedly deny Christ, would assume to be Christ, and would be received by the Jews as their Messiah, would pretend to be God, would make a literal image speak, would feign himself dead and rise again, and would conquer the whole world – Christian, Mohammedan, and heathen; and all this in the space of three and a half years. He insisted that the prophecies of Daniel, Paul, and John, with reference to the antichrist, had no application whatever to the Papal power.”

As we shall see a little later, not all of these ideas were novel. Irenaeus, the second century Christian writer, also believed that a future antichrist would rule from the temple at Jerusalem, although at his time Jerusalem in Palestine lay desolate. The historian Flavius Josephus wrote of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem a hundred years before Irenaeus wrote, and he said that the city “was so thoroughly razed to the ground by those that demolished it to its foundations, that nothing was left that could ever persuade visitors that it had once been a place of habitation.” Evidently not even a wailing wall. But while not all of Bellarmine's ideas were novel, the way they were imagined to take place was novel. Irenaeus saw the historical development of the prophecy, which we hope to elucidate here, while Bellarmine disconnected it from the historical narrative and even from reality. Continuing with Clifton Emahiser:

From Guinness’s Romanism and the Reformation, p. 113: “There were only two alternatives. If the antichrist were not a present power, he must be either a past or a future one. Some writers asserted that the predictions pointed back to Nero. This became the Preterist view. This did not take into account the obvious fact that the antichristian power predicted was to succeed the fall of the Caesars, and develop among the Gothic nations. The other alternative became therefore the popular one with Papists. Antichrist was future, so Ribera and Bossuet and others taught. An individual man was intended, not a dynasty; the duration of his power would not be for twelve and a half centuries, but only three and a half years; he would be an open foe to Christ, not a false friend; he would be a Jew, and sit in the Jewish temple. Speculation about the future took the place of study of the past and present, and careful comparison of the facts of history with the predictions of prophecy. This related, so it was asserted, not to the main course of the history of the Church, but only to the few closing years of her history ...”

As we shall see, Irenaeus also suggested a literal three-and-a-half year rule of a future Antichrist, but did not project it into the futurist time frame.

The opinion that an Antichrist ruler would arise and rule from the temple at Jerusalem, which Irenaeus and other early Christians also had, comes from 2 Thessalonians chapter 2. But what we do not understand is how they interpreted Paul's words in the future tense, as all of the extent Greek manuscripts which we ave seen have all of Paul's verbs in the related passage to be in the past or present tense.

In a different book by Dr. Guinness entitled, The Approaching End of the Age, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1878, p. 95 he further enlightens us on the origins of futurism: “The third or Futurists view, is that which teaches that the prophetic visions of Revelation, from chapters iv. to xix., prefigure events still wholly future and not to take place, till just at the close of this dispensation ...

In its present form however it may be said to have originated at the end of the sixteenth century, with the Jesuit Ribera, who, moved like Alcazar, to relieve the Papacy from the terrible stigma cast upon it by the Protestant interpretation, tried to do so, by referring those prophecies to the distant future, instead of like Alcazar to the distant past. For a considerable period this view was confined to Romanists, and was refuted by several masterly Protestant works. But of late years, since the commencement of this century, it has sprung up afresh, and sprung up strange to say among Protestants. It was revived by such writers as the two Maitlands, Burgh, Tyso, Dr. Dodd, the leaders of the ‘Brethren’ generally, and by some Puseyite expositors also ...” [Followers of the English churchman Edward Bouverie Pusey, who died in 1882.]

Another noted author and church historian, who wrote extensively on prophecy, was Leroy Edwin Froom. In his book The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. II, he sheds some amazing light on portions of history:

As to Futurism, for some three centuries this view was virtually confined to Romanists, and was refuted by several masterly Protestant works. But early in the nineteenth century it sprang forth afresh, this time among Protestants Samuel R. Maitland, William Burgh, J.H. Todd, and more recently it has been adopted by most Fundamentalists. In 1826 Maitland revived Ribera’s Futurist interpretation in England. The Plymouth Brethren, organized in 1830 by John Nelson Darby, at Dublin and Plymouth, also laid hold of Maitland’s interpretation. And when the High-Church Oxford Movement (1833-1845) gained ascendancy in Britain, it rejected the Protestant Historical School of interpretation and generally adopted Futurism, though some among them swung to Preterism. Bursting into full flame in 1833, it seized upon Maitland’s interpretation as an argument in favor of reunion with Rome. German rationalism, on the other hand, increasingly flouted prophecy and prediction. Thus the Jesuit schemes of counter-interpretation were more successful than their authors had ever dared anticipate.”

Then, Joseph Tanner in his Daniel and the Revelation, p. 17, quoted by Leroy E. Froom where he expressed the tragedy of modern Protestantism playing into the hands of Romanism, The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Vol. II, 1948, p. 511:

It is a matter for deep regret that those who hold and advocate the Futurist system at the present day, Protestants as they are for the most part, are thus really playing into the hands of Rome, and helping to screen the Papacy from detection as the Antichrist. It has been well said that ‘Futurism tends to obliterate the brand put by the Holy Spirit upon Popery.’ More especially is this to be deplored at a time when the Papal Antichrist seems to be making an aspiring effort to regain his former hold on men’s minds.”

Now, we would equate the papacy with the second beast of Revelation chapter 13. And we would equate the papacy with the Little Horn of Daniel chapter 7. The Biblical grounds for those equations are substantial. But to consider the papacy or any pope or world leader a capital-A Antichrist is wrong, because it leads people off the track of the true antichrists: who are those who deny that Yahshua Christ was the Messiah, Yahweh the Father, manifest in the flesh. The confusion of the beast of Revelation and the Little Horn of Daniel with a capital-A Antichrist is an early one, but it is not one that the apostles themselves had made.

In all of this, Guinness, along with others, have enlightened the chronicles of history to reveal the origin of the futurists plotting. At any rate, Romanism did not regard the futurist interpretation of prophecy adequately enough to lay all questions and objections at rest. Therefore, they had to hatch-up another school of interpretation in response to all of those objections while simultaneously removing the Papacy from the Reformers’ disapproval.

The Papal Origins of Preterism

To place all of these objections and questions to rest, another school of interpretation was spawned. So just why, how and when did the Preterist school of prophetic interpretation enter the picture? Dr. Guinness, in his The Approaching End of the Age, responds with thought-provoking questions and observations, as follows, p. 93.: “The first or Preterist scheme [but not Alcazar’s brand], considers these prophecies to have been fulfilled in the downfall of the Jewish nation and the old Roman empire, limiting their range thus to the first six centuries of the Christian era, and making Nero Antichrist.

Modern Preterists in Christian Identity evidently take it further than that, limiting their range to the slim period from 32 to 70 AD.

This scheme originated with [rather intensely enlarged by] the Jesuit Alcazar toward the end of the sixteenth century; it has been held and taught under various modifications by Grotius, Hammond, Bossuet, Eichhorn and other German commentators, Moses Stuart, and Dr. Davidson. It has few supporters now, and need not be described more at length.”

We sort of wish Guinness had taken the time to describe it more at length.

Dr. Guinness mentions that Preterism had few adherents in 1887, yet in his day it was having a resurgence and is the position held by many Protestants of the Reformed faith. Those holding to the Preterist school of interpretation should give particular attention to Dr. Guinness’ comment taken from page 113 of Guinness’s Romanism and the Reformation:

Some writers asserted that the predictions pointed back to Nero. This did not take into account the obvious fact that the antichrist power predicted was to succeed the fall of the Caesars, and develop among the Gothic nations.”

This assertion comes from the interpretation of the Little Horn in Daniel chapter 7, for the most part, and also may have been derived from Revelation chapter 13. We would insist that to a great degree, it is correct.

LeRoy Froom in his book The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. II confirms the foregoing facts of history:

Rome’s answer to the Protestant Reformation was twofold, though actually conflicting and contradictory. Through the Jesuits Ribera, of Salamanca, Spain, and Bellarmine, of Rome, the Papacy put forth her Futurist interpretation. And through Alcazar, Spanish Jesuit of Seville, she advanced almost simultaneously the conflicting Preterist interpretation. These were designed to meet and overwhelm the Historical interpretation of the Protestants. Though mutually exclusive, either Jesuit alternative suited the great objective equally well, as both thrust aside the application of the prophecies from the existing Church of Rome. The one accomplished it by making prophecy stop altogether short of papal Rome’s career. The other achieved it by making it over-leap the immense era of papal dominance, crowding Antichrist into a small fragment of time in the still distant future, just before the great consummation. It is consequently often called the gap theory...

Today's Preterists have somewhat different motivations. For instance, the preterists among Identity Christians believe that Christ left the children of Israel to save themselves, and therefore Christians are supposedly in possession of the kingdom since 70 AD, all Biblical prophecy having been fulfilled. We immediately recall the moment in Scripture when the apostles had Christ Him “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” And He answered “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” If the apostles were to take the kingdom at the fall of Jerusalem, why did He not respond instead “when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies”? Today's Preterists are just as dishonest with prophecy as the medieval Romanists were. Returning to Clifton:

Concerning the two alternatives, presented by Ribera and Alcazar, consigning Antichrist either to the remote past or future, Joseph Tanner, the Protestant writer, gives this record:

“‘Accordingly, toward the close of the century of the Reformation, two of her most learned doctors set themselves to the task, each endeavoring by different means to accomplish the same end, namely, that of diverting men’s minds from perceiving the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Antichrist in the Papal system. The Jesuit Alcazar devoted himself to bring into prominence the Preterist method of interpretation, which we have already briefly noticed, and thus endeavoured to show that the prophecies of Antichrist were fulfilled before the Popes ever ruled at Rome, and therefore could not apply to the Papacy. On the other hand the Jesuit Ribera tried to set aside the application of these prophecies to the Papal Power by bringing out the Futurist system, which asserts that these prophecies refer properly not to the career of the Papacy, but to that of some future supernatural individual, who is yet to appear, and to continue in power for three and a half years. Thus, as Alford says, the Jesuit Ribera, about A.D. 1580, may be regarded as the Founder of the Futurist system in modern times’.”

This may be true in spite of the fact that Irenaeus had many of the same ideas at a much earlier time. Ribera had developed them in a much different fashion than Irenaeus had held them. Back to Clifton:

Next we witness Joseph Tanner in his Daniel and the Revelation, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1898, pp. 16, 17, as quoted by Rev. E. B. Elliott, A.M., Horae Apocalypticae; or, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, 1862, Vol. 4, 5th Edition, pp. 480-485 as quoted by Edwin L. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1948, Vol. II, pp. 486-088:

E.B. Elliott states precisely the same fact, only assigning slightly different dates; and many others, such as Dr. Candish, of Edinburgh, also support the charges. Thus the fact is established.

Rev. E.B. Elliott, quoted by Froom in the preceding paragraph, is that great English scholar from Cambridge University. In his four volume literary masterpiece, Horae Apocalypticae; or, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, Critical and Historical, Elliott supports the evidence thus far that both Preterist and Futurist interpretations of prophecy originated with Rome:

“‘It was stated at the conclusion of my Sketch of the History of Apocalyptic Interpretation, that there are at present two, and but two, grand general counter-Schemes to what may be called the historic Protestant view of the Apocalypse: that view which regards the prophecy as a pre-figuration of the great events that were to happen in the Church, and world connected with it, from St. John’s time to the consummation; including specially the establishment of the Popedom, and reign of Papal Rome, as in some way or other the fulfillment of the types of the Apocalyptic Beast and Babylon. The first of these two counter-Schemes is the Praeterists’, which would have the prophecy stop altogether short of the Popedom, explaining it of the catastrophes, one or both, of the Jewish Nation and Pagan Rome; and of which there are two sufficiently distinct varieties: the second the Futurists’; which in its original form would have it all shoot over the head of the Popedom into times yet future ...”

What all of this boils down to is that there are a lot of well-meaning Christians unwittingly going around today spouting the twisted doctrines of the Jesuit Ribera or the Jesuit Alcazar, thinking they are doing God a favor while interpreting prophecy, and nothing could be further from the truth! It should also be pointed out here that by-and-large most of the Jesuits were Kenite-Edomite-Canaanite-jews, or the spawn of Satan from Gen. 3:15! To repeat any tommyrot from such sources, without first confirming them, is tantamount to following Satan’s agenda! With the quotations used in this paper, you will notice that I have placed the rubbish of the Jesuit Ribera and the Jesuit Alcazar in their proper categories. One will have to pardon those in nominal churchianity, as their ancestors during the middle ages didn’t have access to Holy Writ, but today, we in Israel Identity don’t have any excuse! Therefore, the Israel Identity Christian should be following only the Historical school of Biblical, prophetic interpretation! I would urge each person reading this essay to examine all of the data presented here to determine whether these sources are valid or not. It would be irrational to take a position, one way or another, without doing so!

It might be argued that the sentiments of Guinness, Tanner, Elliot and Froom, along with others were simply anti-Catholic vilification and have no historical accuracy. On the other hand, Roman Catholics, as well as Protestants, harmonize in many cases of origin and interpretation, as the Roman Catholic writer G.S. Hitchcock demonstrates in his The Beast and the Little Horn, London, Catholic Truth Society Publication, 1911, p. 7:

The Futuristic School, founded by the Jesuit Ribera in 1591, looks for Antichrist, Babylon, and a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, at the end of the Christian Dispensation.

The Praeterist School, founded by the Jesuit Alcazar in 1614, explains the Revelation by the Fall of Jerusalem [in 70 A.D.], or by the fall of Pagan Rome in 410 A.D.”

So, the cry of “anti-catholic”, when one points out that futurism and preterism were invented and promoted by the Jesuits in the romish church simply doesn’t wash! There is no room for either futurism or preterism!

Now it is evident, as we shall see, that many of the ideas of the futurists have been around for 1,800 years. But so far as I can find in any of my studies, the idea of preterism was not found among any of the early Christian writers. There were no early Christian writers who thought that all prophecy was fulfilled by the advent of Christ, or by the fall of Jerusalem. But there were indeed early Christian writers who imagined that prophecy was unfolding in history.

I thought that one quick way to search for material on this topic in early Christian Writers, was in the Logos Bible Study program by searching the available references for the term “antichrist”, so that is what I did, and I was not disappointed. I am going to present the views of a few of those writers to show what they thought of this term, and their understanding of the term will also reveal a lot of their opinions of prophecy.

First, briefly, we have two citations from Ignatius of Antioch, who is believed to have died circa 110 AD:

The Epistle of Ignatius to Hero, a Deacon of Antioch

If any one denies the cross, and is ashamed of the passion, let him be to thee as the adversary himself. “Though he gives all his goods to feed the poor, though he remove mountains, though he give his body to be burned,” let him be regarded by thee as abominable. If any one makes light of the law or the prophets, which Christ fulfilled at His coming, let him be to thee as antichrist. If any one says that the Lord is a mere man, he is a Jew, a murderer of Christ.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians

Whosoever, therefore, declares that there is but one God, only so as to take away the divinity of Christ, is a devil, and an enemy of all righteousness. He also that confesseth Christ, yet not as the Son of the Maker of the world, but of some other unknown being, different from Him whom the law and the prophets have proclaimed, this man is an instrument of the devil. And he that rejects the incarnation, and is ashamed of the cross for which I am in bonds, this man is antichrist. Moreover, he who affirms Christ to be a mere man is accursed, according to the [declaration of the] prophet, since he puts not his trust in God, but in man. Wherefore also he is unfruitful, like the wild myrtle-tree.

Next is Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, who died around 202 AD:

From Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5 chapter 25, speaking of the second beast in the Revelation of Jesus Christ:

This chapter is subtitled: The Fraud, Pride, and Tyrannical Kingdom of Antichrist, as Described by Daniel and Paul.

And not only by the particulars already mentioned, but also by means of the events which shall occur in the time of Antichrist is it shown that he, being an apostate and a robber, is anxious to be adored as God; and that, although a mere slave, he wishes himself to be proclaimed as a king. For he (Antichrist) being endued with all the power of the devil, shall come, not as a righteous king, nor as a legitimate king, [i.e., one] in subjection to God, but an impious, unjust, and lawless one; as an apostate, iniquitous and murderous; as a robber, concentrating in himself [all] satanic apostasy, and setting aside idols to persuade [men] that he himself is God, raising up himself as the only idol, having in himself the multifarious errors of the other idols. This he does, in order that they who do [now] worship the devil by means of many abominations, may serve himself by this one idol, of whom the apostle thus speaks in the second Epistle to the Thessalonians: “Unless there shall come a failing away first, and the man of sin shall be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God.” The apostle therefore clearly points out his apostasy, and that he is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped—that is, above every idol—for these are indeed so called by men, but are not [really] gods; and that he will endeavour in a tyrannical manner to set himself forth as God.

From Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5 chapter 30, speaking of the second beast in the Revelation of Jesus Christ:

But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is: the name, however, is suppressed, because it is not worthy of being proclaimed by the Holy Spirit. For if it had been declared by Him, he (Antichrist) might perhaps continue for a long period. But now as “he was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the abyss, and goes into perdition,”as one who has no existence; so neither has his name been declared, for the name of that which does not exist is not proclaimed. But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that “many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

From Irenaeus, Book 3, chapter 16 of Against Heresies, discussing the nature of Christ:

For this reason also he has thus testified to us in his Epistle: “Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that Antichrist doth come, now have many antichrists appeared; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but [they departed], that they might be made manifest that they are not of us. Know ye therefore, that every lie is from without, and is not of the truth. Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is Antichrist.”

Later on in the same chapter:

Their doctrine is homicidal, conjuring up, as it does, a number of gods, and simulating many Fathers, but lowering and dividing the Son of God in many ways. These are they against whom the Lord has cautioned us beforehand; and His disciple, in his Epistle already mentioned, commands us to avoid them, when he says: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Take heed to them, that ye lose not what ye have wrought.” And again does he say in the Epistle: “Many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit which separates Jesus Christ is not of God, but is of antichrist.” These words agree with what was said in the Gospel, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Wherefore he again exclaims in his Epistle, “Every one that believeth that Jesus is the Christ, has been born of God;” knowing Jesus Christ to be one and the same, to whom the gates of heaven were opened, because of His taking upon Him flesh: who shall also come in the same flesh in which He suffered, revealing the glory of the Father.

So Irenaeus seemed to be divided. He understood the application of the word Antichrist as it was employed by the apostle John, but he did in fact await a future ruler capital-A antichrist with supernatural demonic powers.

Now to hear from Tertullian on the matter. He was a Christian apologist from Carthage, who died around 240 AD:

From Tertullian's The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 4:

Who are the ravening wolves but those deceitful senses and spirits which are lurking within to waste the flock of Christ? Who are the false prophets but deceptive predictors of the future? Who are the false apostles but the preachers of a spurious gospel? Who also are the Antichrists, both now and evermore, but the men who rebel against Christ? Heresies, at the present time, will no less rend the church by their perversion of doctrine, than will Antichrist persecute her at that day by the cruelty of his attacks, except that persecution make seven martyrs, (but) heresy only apostates.

From Tertullian's On the Resurrection of the Flesh chapter 24:

Again, in the second epistle he addresses them with even greater earnestness: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, nor be troubled, either by spirit, or by word,” that is, the word of false prophets, “or by letter,” that is, the letter of false apostles, “as if from us, as that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means. For that day shall not come, unless indeed there first come a falling away,” he means indeed of this present empire, “and that man of sin be revealed,” that is to say, Antichrist, “the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or religion; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, affirming that he is God. Remember ye not, that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things? And now ye know what detaineth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now hinders must hinder, until he be taken out of the way.” What obstacle is there but the Roman state, the falling away of which, by being scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce Antichrist upon (its own ruins)? “And then shall be revealed the wicked one, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.”

The Reformers must have loved Tertullian, if they actually read him, because it could be said that the Papacy had indeed been established upon the ruins of ancient Rome. So we see Tertullian display the understanding that men among the people of his own time were antichrists, but we also see Tertullian look forward to an Antichrist developing out of historic circumstances, and even if it did not happen exactly as Tertullian imagined, that a second coming of Christ would occur after the fall of Rome. This is remarkable, since Tertullian was writing around 200 AD.

But Irenaeus also, who wrote a couple of decades before Tertullian, in Book 5 chapter 26 of his Against Heresies, displayed the historicist understanding of interpreting prophecy where he spoke of the ten horns of Daniel and he said “In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord’s disciples what shall happen in the last times, and concerning the ten kings who shall then arise, among whom the empire which now rules [the earth] shall be partitioned. He teaches us what the ten horns shall be which were seen by Daniel, telling us that thus it had been said to him”

Next is Origen, the Christian theologian from Alexandria and student of Clement of Alexandria, who probably died around 254 AD. It must be noted that Origen was often in contradiction not only to other Christians writers, but especially to the apostles:

From Origen's Against Celsus, Book 6, Chapter 45:

But since Celsus rejects the statements concerning Antichrist, as it is termed, having neither read what is said of him in the book of Daniel nor in the writings of Paul, nor what the Saviour in the Gospels has predicted about his coming, we must make a few remarks upon this subject also; because, “as faces do not resemble faces,” so also neither do men’s “hearts” resemble one another.… For, far surpassing the help which these demons give to jugglers (who deceive men for the basest of purposes), is the aid which the devil himself affords in order to deceive the human race. Paul, indeed, speaks of him who is called Antichrist, describing, though with a certain reserve, both the manner, and time, and cause of his coming to the human race. And notice whether his language on this subject is not most becoming, and undeserving of being treated with even the slightest degree of ridicule.

From chapter 79 of the same book:

But if any one desires to see many bodies filled with a divine Spirit, similar to the one Christ, ministering to the salvation of men everywhere, let him take note of those who teach the Gospel of Jesus in all lands in soundness of doctrine and uprightness of life, and who are themselves termed “christs” by the holy Scriptures, in the passage, “Touch not Mine anointed, and do not My prophets any harm.” For as we have heard that Antichrist cometh, and yet have learned that there are many antichrists in the world, in the same way, knowing that Christ has come, we see that, owing to Him, there are many christs in the world, who, like Him, have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and therefore God, the God of Christ, anointed them also with the “oil of gladness.”

Here in this passage from the writing of Origen, we see a semblance of some of the very things about people which we today profess in our own Scriptural commentaries, namely that there are two types of people in the world: the Anointed people (small-c Christs) and the enemies of Christ (small-a Antichrists), even if Origen himself did not properly divide them along racial lines.

While I cannot fully substantiate this opinion as of yet, it nevertheless seems to me that in the third and fourth centuries the attitudes may have been changing. The plural antichrists who denied the Christ and rejected His doctrines seem to have fallen out of the dialogue, and the future Antichrist with supernatural abilities seems to have grabbed all of the focus.

Next we have Alexander, who was Bishop of Alexandria from 313 to 326 AD

From Alexander's epistles on the Arian heresy:

Since the body of the Catholic Church is one, and it is commanded in Holy Scripture that we should keep the bond of unanimity and peace, it follows that we should write and signify to one another the things which are done by each of us; that whether one member suffer or rejoice we may all either suffer or rejoice with one another. In our diocese, then, not so long ago, there have gone forth lawless men, and adversaries of Christ, teaching men to apostatize; which thing, with good right, one might suspect and call the precursor of Antichrist.

So Alexander would not consider the wicked men to be antichrists, but only said that one may suspect them to be a precursor of the singular Antichrist.

From the late third century Malchion, from The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes:

For we have been instructed beforehand with regard to you: we have been both warned and armed against you by the Holy Scriptures. You are a vessel of Antichrist; and no vessel of honour, in sooth, but a mean and base one, used by him as any barbarian or tyrant may do, who, in attempting to make an inroad on a people living under the righteousness of the laws, sends some select vessel on beforehand, as it were destined to death, with the view of finding out the exact magnitude and character of the strength possessed by the legitimate king and his nation: for the man is too much afraid to make the inroad himself wholly at unawares, and he also lacks the daring to despatch any person belonging to his own immediate circle on such a task, through fear that he may sustain some harm. And so it is that your king, Antichrist, has despatched you in a similar character, and as it were destined to death, to us who are a people placed under the administration of the good and holy King.

Like Alexander, Malchion seems reluctant to apply the antichrist label to men, and uses it to refer only to one particular individual, who also seems to be a future supernatural ruler. While we have not searched the material exhaustively, from this time the term antichrist as it was used by the apostle John seems to fade from the Christian dialogue. It is certainly worth further investigation.

An interesting perspective is found in the writings of Victorinus, who died around 304 AD, in his Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John, from the Thirteenth Chapter.

1. “And I saw a beast rising up from the sea, like unto a leopard.”] This signifies the kingdom of that time of Antichrist, and the people mingled with the variety of nations.

2. “His feet were as the feet of a bear.”] A strong and most unclean beast, the feet are to be understood as his leaders.

“And his mouth as the mouth of a lion.”] That is, his mouth armed for blood is his bidding, and a tongue which will proceed to nothing else than to the shedding of blood.

18. “His number is the name of a man, and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”]...

As a note, I have never seen more confusion on the topic of Antichrist than what can be read in the Treatise on Christ and Antichrist from The Extant Works and Fragments of Hippolytus found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume V. I will not repeat them here, but thought it merited a mention. Perhaps one day we can treat this topic more fully.

However what is important here, and which is especially evident in the words of Tertullian, is that we see the belief in a historical antichrist who would come to rule by earthly means at some time which was still in the future relative to these early Christian writers. But many of them, especially the earliest of them, also understood that many men who lived in their time were also antichrists.

It is clear that Tertullian's understanding was that the kingdom of the anti-christ would also arise from the ashes of Rome, after the fall of Rome. But even in the writings of the others, we see that they professed a historical unfolding of prophecy, and that a good deal of it was perceived to be in their future.

Futurism denies the fulfillment of prophecy as history progresses, and delays it far into the future. We may want to refer to it instead as procrastinationism. The belief that the Word of God never really actually happens.

Preterism is unknown in any of the early Christian writers. We may want to refer to it instead as obfuscationism, because it makes the Word of God unintelligible, and therefore denies His role in the guidance of man.

Preterism is humanism. It is the persuasion that man can save himself, because prophecy is complete and Yahweh no longer has any real efficacy in the world. Preterists uphold the idea that Jesus Christ finished His role, and has now relegated the work of salvation to man. It's a cool sounding humanism that resonates with Nationalist-minded Whites, but it boils down to the mistaken belief that man should be his own Messiah.