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).

15 thoughts on “A History of Preterism

  1. 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.

    1. I’m a FP as well, but we, who currently are in the minority must be able to give a good defense as to what and why we believe what we do believe, wouldn’t ya say? I’d suggest John L. Bray’s book MATTHEW 24 Fulfilled

  2. 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.

    1. Just how many AntiChrist are there? One? Ten? Hundreds? Or is there the spirit of AntiChrist as in 2nd John 7? What of 1st John 2: 18-22? What of 1st John 2:18 being the LAST hour, much less the LAST DAY? Does ALL mean ALL, ALL of the time?

  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. 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.

  5. 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. 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.

        1. both preterist and futurist interpretations are inaccurate. all the reformers, from Wycliffe to the Wesley’s interpreted Daniel and Revelation as historical with some pertaining to future events. that was the main reason they looked to the papacy as fulfilling the description of the man of sin, the antichrist. in old English the prefix anti did not necessarily mean against. it also meant “in the place of.” there were anti-kings and popes. they were not against the kings or popes but ruled while they were away or indisposed. when, under the influence of the pope in 538, the last of the Arians were destroyed, (Arianism was started by Arius and it taught that Jesus was not divine, just a man). those 3 peoples were the Vandals, Heruli, and the Ostrogoths, fulfilling the prophecy that the little horn would uproot 3 of the 10 horns that came up from the 4th beast in Daniel 7. the great words against the most High, blasphemies, you can find them on line. from that time, 538 AD, the papacy rules Europe, not just in ecclesiastical matters but civil as well, under threats to kings and queens to take their crowns away and even to excommunicate. he ruled until 1798 when during the French revolution, Napolean sent general Berthier to Rome, take him prisoner, bring him back to France, where he died in a prison cell. other popes, later, were elected but their properties, land and possessions, were confiscated and all civil authority was ceased. also, the 70 week prophecy of Daniel 9 is all about the Messiah. where the prophecy mentions “and He shall be cut off, but not for Himself,” and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease, was fulfilled at the crucifixion when the temple vail was rent into, showing that the sacrifices were not accepted any longer. and the end of the last week was finished at the stoning of Stephen when the Christians started leaving Jerusalem and the gospel started going to the gentiles. from there you have Saul (Paul) conversion on the road to Damascus and Peter going the home of Cornelius. there are no dates in history where this prophecy meats except for this. Cyrus and Darius gave decrees to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. just the temple. later when there were complaints about the Jews rebuilding the walls as well, there was a stop. and another inquiry was made by Artaxerxes, in which, if you read it in the Ezra i think chapter 7, he basically tells Ezra to do all that he seems fit to do. also it was the end of the decrees made. that was in 457 BC. if you go 69 weeks (483 years) you come to 27 AD. (there is no 0 BC or AD. it goes from 1BC to 1AD) 27AD is when Jesus went to John the Baptist to be baptized and started His ministry at 30 yrs old. the gospel was to go to the Jews for the remainder of that last week. in the midst of it, Jesus was crucified in 31 AD, taking away the need for the sacrifices and oblations, and the Stephen’s stoning in 34 AD. this is the only time frame that fits the prophecy. in all the time prophecies given, God has never separated the time, just as the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw. it ran straight from his time until the end, when the Stone cut without hands would break and destroy it.

      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.

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