A History of Preterism

When did the preterist interpretation first arise in church history? This question poses a big problem for preterists. If the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation were fulfilled in the first century, why is there no evidence in the early church writings that the church understood things in this way?

There is zero indication from known, extant writings that anyone understood these teachings in this way. No early church writings teach that Jesus returned in the first century.

Not until the post-Reformation period did Preterism begin to show up on the church’s radar. The first clear preterist was Spanish-Catholic Jesuit Luis Alcazar (1554–1613) in his Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse.1 Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) of Holland was “the first Protestant recruit to Preterism.”2 Grotius was “extremely liberal in his religious views” and took a critical approach, called “the historical-philological method,” to interpreting Scripture.3 Grotius was ecumenical in spirit.

He expressed a desire for the unity of the church and was willing to make such extensive concessions to restore union with Rome that he was accused of converting to Roman Catholicism. The reason for his irenic approach was his desire as a Christian and a statesman to bring peace and unity to a world torn by religious wars.4

Henry Hammond (1605–1660) is called the “Father of English Biblical Criticism”5 and first taught Preterism in his Paraphrase and Annotations Upon all the Books of the New Testament (1653). “This volume,” noted David Brady, “contained a brave but lonely attempt to introduce the preterist interpretation of the Book of Revelation to English soil.”6 He followed Grotius closely and “acknowledged his indebtedness in this matter” to him.7

The preterist interpretation rarely appeared in Protestant scholarship until the 1800s. It gained a wide following among German liberals who did not believe the Bible contained predictive prophecy. In the late 18th century, J. G. Eichhorn (1752–1827) introduced a version of Alcazar’s Preterism in 1791 to the liberal German rationalists. Wrote LeRoy Froom: “Soon he was joined by other rationalist scholars, such as G. H A. Ewald (1803–1875), G. C. F. Lucke (1791–1855), W. M. L. De Wette (1780–1849), Franz Delitzsch (1813–1890), and Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918).”8

Nineteenth-century British scholar E. B. Elliott called Preterism “the German Praeterist School that was about this time rising more and more into notice and influence: a School characterized by considerable mental acuteness, research, and philological learning; and at the same time by much of the hardihood and rashness of religious skepticism.”9 Nevertheless, the interpretive outcomes of this liberal school are the ones evangelical preterists primarily follow today.

The father of American Preterism is clearly Moses Stuart (1780–1852) of Andover Seminary who “introduced Preterism into the United States about 1842.”10 Dr. Stuart’s commentary on the Apocalypse was a two-volume work that taught the milder form of Preterism that prophesied the defeat of God’s two ancient “enemies”: Israel and the Roman Empire.11 Enoch Pond said of Dr. Stuart’s commentary on Revelation that it was “borrowed mostly from the Germans.”12

Around the 1970s Preterism began its current rise in American evangelicalism. Before its recent upswing, contemporary forms of Preterism tended to be found only within academic circles, providing an occasional commentary here and there. The preterist rise to more popular visibility likely began simultaneously within the ranks of the Churches of Christ and, as it received renewed attention, within the Reformed tradition by the publishing of Jay Adams’s The Time Is at Hand (1966)13 and J. Marcellus Kik’s An Eschatology of Victory (1971).14

However, the most significant impetus to the current rise of Preterism has to be its widespread adoption and propagation by those within the Christian Reconstruction movement.15 Reconstructionist attraction to Preterism appears to have been adopted by the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen and spread through him to many of his disciples who, in turn, propagated it to others like R. C. Sproul.

  1. Le Roy Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1950), 1:507.
  2. Ibid., 2:506.
  3. Ibid., 2:521.
  4. G. Clouse, “Grotius, Hugo,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984), 489.
  5. Froom, 2:524.
  6. David Brady, The Contribution of British Writers between 1560 and 1830 to the Interpretation of Revelation 13:16–18 (Tubingen, Germany: J.C.B. Mohr, 1983), 158.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Froom, 2:510.
  9. B. Elliott, Horae Apocalypticae, rev. ed. (London: Seeleys, 1851), 4:535.
  10. Froom, 2:510.
  11. Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse (1845; reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001).
  12. Enoch Pond, “Review of Professor Stuart on the Apocalypse” <covenanter.org/Postmil/AntiPreterist/pondreview.htm>.
  13. Jay Adams, The Time Is at Hand (Greenville, SC: A Press, 1966).
  14. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1971).
  15. See Gary North and Gary DeMar, Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t (Tyler TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991). For a critique of this movement, see H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? An Analysis of Christian Reconstructionism (Portland: Multnomah, 1988).

11 thoughts on “A History of Preterism

  1. Thank you for posting this well written and well documented History. Preterism is becoming a strong contender for the hearts and minds of Christians and knowing the historical roots and origin of the heretical teaching is a huge help when dealing with the deceived.

    1. Full preterism is equally heretical as dispensationalism, which wasn’t taught in the church until the 20 century in the USA.

      1. Don, i was thinking of a close statement as yours, but a bit different. Either preterism i believe is more dangerous to Christians than dispensationalism. Full preterism denies the second coming of Christ being future. Both deny certain aspects of the Bible’s teaching which is very problematic. But they do teach the second Coming and the rapture with their viewpoint. Both will deceive the believers into believing a lie that could be very problematic when the 70th week of Daniel happens along with the antichrist.

      2. Hello Don,
        I am interested to understand your comment on the heretical dispensationalism. Can you explain what that is or please direct me to some reading materials on the subject?
        Thank you!
        T. A.

  2. As in the documentary Amazing Grace, the church history in that video starts with Augustine, and doesn’t include the 300 years of history before Augustine. Sad. And misleading. This article is not the full story and has a bias to discredit the teaching.
    If only you could discredit the teaching with authority – God’s word. Yet that’s not what you did in this article. Straw men, ad hominem. Classic tactics when you don’t have a biblical argument. I could do the same in regard to how many foolish end of the world warnings (with dates that have passed) that have been stated by well known Christians.

    God’s word is the only rule. When humble Christ followers sit down and examine his word and set aside their pride, the truth is there for all to see. But if you want to wait for the rapture as taught by many today, and ignore context, go ahead. After all, you were predestined for salvation or eternal damnation from before the foundation of the world according to Calvin. Yet that’s not what God’s word says about being predestined.

    Study the language in revelation and see where that same language was used in the OT and what it meant. That’s where the truth is about the end of the age. Not in this article.

    1. The article was about the origin of Preterism, not the Biblical proof against it. The extra-biblical evidence against Preterism, however, referenced in the article, is pretty telling: no one shared that perspective at the time, and it originated with the catholics to fight against the reformation, and it only infected Protestantism by connecting through unbelievers (read, liberal theologians). Nothing of any redemptive significance happened in 70AD.

      1. His people denied Him, His message and His authority all the way to the cross. He returned in 70 AD and His people continue to deny His presence, His authority and the Kingdom.

  3. Mr. Ice has written an excellent article on the origin of Preterism. What he has shared is truly enough for any Christian to grasp the fact that Preterism is a false doctrine. Preterists, however, utilize the tactic that anyone who disagrees with them is either “uniformed” or “ignorant” of the scriptures or their doctrine. Unless you have researched every iota of their doctrine and know it better than the Bible itself, well, you have no right to claim that preterism is false. But do we also need to learn every iota of every false doctrine out there before we can dismiss any of them? If we did, we would never end our research, and would never have time to serve the Lord. Likewise, we don’t need to know every iota of a counterfeit bill to know it’s counterfeit.

    Jesus said in John 6:39, “this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of ALL which He hath given (past tense) Me I should lose nothing, but should raise IT up again at the LAST DAY.”

    The “ALL” and the “IT” in this verse pertains to the CORPORATE BODY of Christ, which He will resurrect on the “LAST DAY.” It’s quite obvious that the “all” which the Father had already given Him, even before He was crucified (implying before the foundation of the world, because God knows the end from the beginning), includes all who have been saved for the past 2,000 years, none of which have been resurrected. I don’t know about anybody else, but I have never seen the apostles walking down the street in their resurrected bodies preaching the gospel, nor John Baptist, Mary, King David, Moses, Noah, Ruth, or any of the prophets. No, the day of resurrection for the entire corporate Body, from Abel to the last tribulation saint, is still future.

  4. Honest question here. As a person that attends a church that is largely partial-preterist, I lean toward the pre-wrath view of eschatology. In other words, I’m not a preterist, but I’m not dogmatic in my views either. So I’m not trying to debate or argue from a specific standpoint. With that said, what about the Clementine Homilies (2nd century), Eusebius (3rd-4th century), Andreaus of Cappadocia (5th century)? All of them attributed the siege on Jerusalem in ad70 as fulfillment of the eschatological prophecies found in Daniel, the Gospels, and the Revelation of John.

  5. The interpretation of the Bible will be a problem with no end,so I just worry to love God, my neighbor, I used to be a futurist,but now I’m a full preterist it makes more sense to me,I don’t ask you to become a preterist, but to be free of religion and stay where you are if you are happy.

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