PRETERIST ESCHATOLOGY, also known as "preterism" or "realized eschatology" is that echatological viewpoint which regards the majority of Biblical prophecy as having been fulfilled before the conclusion of the first century of the Christian era.
This view is contrasted with two others, commonly called "the futurist" and "the historicist" viewpoints. As the names imply, futurism sees the bulk of biblical prophecy as remaining unfulfilled until a future time, while historicism sees the fulfillment of biblical prophecy as occuring through the history of this present church eon.
Preterism has had many proponents especially from the period of the Reformation forward. Among them may be included such notable theologians as the puritan divine John Owen, and Canon F. W Farrar. The list of contemporary theologians holding this view includes James Stuart Russell, Marcellus Kik, Greg Bahnsen, Ken Gentry and Jay Addams to name a few.
Within the preterist camp there are differences of opinion as to just how much of Biblical prophecy is to be considered "preterate" or past. Those who feel that there are still some prophecies yet to be fulfilled are called "partial preterists" or sometimes "historic preterists" while those who feel that 100% of biblical prophecy is past are known as " full preterists" or by the pajoritive term "hyper-preterists" as their "partial preterist" opponents call them. Among the "full preterists" are Max King,
Proponents of Preterism commonly argue that this position was the original eschatological understanding of the early Christian church., a claim contested by Historicists. Other Preterists hold that the view was developed in the 16th century, a view also held by many non-Preterists.
There has historically been general agreement that the first systematic Preterist exposition of prophecy was written by the Jesuit Luis De Alcasar during the Counter Reformation. Preterist Moses Stuart noted that Alcasar's Preterist interpretation was of considerable benefit to the Roman Catholic Church during its arguments with Protestants, and Preterism has been described in modern eschatological commentary as a Catholic defense against the Protestant Historicist view which identified the Roman Catholic Church as a persecuting apostasy.
Due to resistance by Protestant Historicists, the Preterist view was slow to gain acceptance outside the Roman Catholic Church. Among Protestants it was first accepted by Hugo Grotius,  a Dutch Protestant eager to establish common ground between Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church. His first attempt to do this was entitled ‘Commentary on Certain Texts Which Deal with Antichrist’ (1640), in which he attempted to argue that the texts relating to ‘Antichrist’ had their fulfillment in the 1st century AD. This was not well received by Protestants, but Grotius was undeterred and in his next work ‘Commentaries On The New Testament' (1641-1650), he expanded his Preterist views to include the Olivet prophecy and Revelation.
Preterism still struggled to gain credibility within other Protestant countries, especially England. The English commentator Thomas Hayne claimed that the prophecies of Daniel had all been fulfilled by the 1st century (‘Christs Kingdom on Earth’, 1645), and Joseph Hall expressed the same conclusion concerning Daniel’s prophecies (‘The Revelation Unrevealed’, 1650), but neither of them applied their Preterist views to Revelation. However, the exposition of Grotius convinced the Englishman Henry Hammond. Hammond sympathized with Grotius’ desire for unity among Christians, and found his Preterist exposition useful to this end. Hammond wrote his own Preterist exposition in 1653, borrowing extensively from Grotius. In his introduction to Revelation he claimed that others had independently arrived at similar conclusions as himself, though he gives pride of place to Grotius. Hammond was Grotius’ only notable Protestant convert, and despite his reputation and influence, Grotius’ interpretation of Revelation was overwhelmingly rejected by Protestants and gained no ground for at least 100 years.
By the end of the 18th century Preterist exposition had gradually become more widespread. The first Full Preterist exposition was finally written in 1730 by the Swiss Protestant and Arian, Firmin Abauzit (‘Essai sur l'Apocalypse’). This was the beginning of a series of Full Preterist expositions of Revelation, all of them deriving ultimately from Abauzit.
The two principal schools of Preterist thought are commonly called Partial Preterism and Full Preterism. Preterists disagree significantly about the exact meaning of the terms used to denote these divisions of Preterist thought.
Some Partial Preterists prefer to call their position Orthodox Preterism, thus contrasting their agreement with the creeds of the Ecumenical Councils with what they perceive to be the Full Preterists' rejection for the same. This, in effect, makes Full Preterism unorthodox in the eyes of Partial Preterists and gives rise to the claim by some that Full Preterism is heretical. (Partial Preterism is also sometimes called Classical Preterism or Moderate Preterism.)
On the other hand, some Full Preterists prefer to call their position Consistent Preterism, reflecting their extension of Preterism to all biblical prophecy and thus claiming an inconsistency in the Partial Preterist hermeneutic.
The correct labeling of the positions in relation to each other is a matter of heated dispute amongst some Partial Preterists and Full Preterists who would reject those labels and argue for others, most notably, which view may simply be called "preterism".
Sub-variants of Preterism include one form of Partial Preterism which places fulfillment of some eschatological passages in the first three centuries of the current era, culminating in the fall of Rome.
In addition, certain statements from classical theological liberalism are easily mistaken for Preterism, as they hold that the biblical record accurately reflects Jesus' and the Apostles' belief that all prophecy was to be fulfilled within their generation. Theological liberalism generally regards these apocalyptic expectations as being errant or mistaken, however, so this view cannot accurately be considered a form of Preterism.
Partial preterism is the older of the two views, dating back to even the 2nd century Church fathers. Partial Preterism holds that prophecies such as the destruction of Jerusalem, the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and the advent of the Day of the Lord as a "judgment-coming" of Christ were fulfilled c. AD 70 when the Roman general (and future Emperor) Titus sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple, putting a permanent stop to the daily animal sacrifices. It identifies "Babylon the Great" (Revelation 17-18) with the ancient pagan City of Rome or Jerusalem. Some adherents of Partial Preterism see the Emperor Diocletian as the fulfillment of the "little horn" prophecy of Daniel 7. Partial Preterism is also known by several other names: Orthodox Preterism, Historic Preterism, Hypo-Preterism (a term used by some opponents of the partial preterist position and considered to be derogatory by partial preterists), and Moderate Preterism.
Most (but not all) Partial Preterists also believe that the term Last Days refers not to the last days of planet Earth, or the last days of humankind, but rather to the last days of the Mosaic Covenant, which God had exclusively with the nation of Israel until the year AD 70. (see also New Covenant and The Fig Tree). The "last days", however, are to be distinguished from the "last day", which is considered still future and entails the last coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous dead physically from the grave in like manner to Jesus' physical resurrection, the Final Judgment, and the creation of a literal, non-covenantal New Heavens and New Earth free from the curse of sin and death which was occasioned by the fall of Adam and Eve. Thus Partial Preterists are in agreement and conformity with the historic ecumenical creeds of the Church and articulate the doctrine of the resurrection held by the early Church Fathers. Partial preterists hold that the New Testament predicts and depicts many "comings" of Christ. They contend that the phrase Second Coming means the second of a like kind in a series, for the Scriptures record other "comings" of God even before Jesus' judgment-coming in AD 70. This would eliminate the AD 70 event as the "second" of any series, let alone the second of a series in which the earthly, physical ministry of Christ is the first. Partial Preterists believe that the new creation comes in redemptive progression as Christ reigns from His heavenly throne, subjugating His enemies, and will eventually culminate in the destruction of the "last enemy", i.e., physical death (1 Cor 15:20-24). In the Partial Preterist paradigm, since enemies of Christ still exist, the resurrection event cannot have already occurred.
Nearly all Partial Preterists hold to amillennialism or postmillennialism. Many postmillennial Partial Preterists are also theonomic in their outlook. Partial Preterists typically accept the authority of the Creeds on the basis that they believe the Creeds are in conformity to what the Scriptures teach.
Full Preterism differs from Partial Preterism in that Full Preterists believe all prophecy was fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem, including the resurrection of the dead and Jesus' Second Coming or Parousia. Full Preterism is also known by several other names: Consistent Preterism, Covenant Eschatology, Hyper-Preterism (a term used by some opponents of the Full Preterist position and considered to be derogatory by Full Preterists), and Pantelism (the term "Pantelism" comes from the Greek and means, "all things having been accomplished"). Full Preterism holds that Jesus' Second Coming is to be viewed not as a future-to-us bodily return, but rather a "return" in glory manifested by the physical destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple in AD 70 by foreign armies in a manner similar to various Old Testament descriptions of God coming to destroy other nations in righteous judgment. Full Preterism also holds that the Resurrection of the dead did not entail the raising of the physical body, but rather the resurrection of the soul from the "place of the dead", known as Sheol (Hebrew) or Hades (Greek). As such, the righteous dead obtained a spiritual and substantial body for use in the heavenly realm, and the unrighteous dead were cast into the Lake of Fire. Some Full Preterists believe this judgment is ongoing and takes effect upon the death of each individual (Heb. 9:27). The New Heavens and the New Earth are also equated with the New Covenant and the fulfillment of the Law in AD 70 and are to be viewed in the same manner by which a Christian is considered a "new creation" upon his or her conversion.
Full Preterists typically reject the authority of the Creeds to condemn their view, stating that the Creeds were written by uninspired and fallible men, and that appeals should be made instead to the Scriptures themselves (sola scriptura).
Influences of Preterism within Christian thought
Partial Preterism is generally considered to be an historic orthodox interpretation as it affirms all eschatological points of the ecumenical Creeds of the Church. Still, Partial Preterism is not the majority view among American denominations founded after the 16th century and meets with significant vocal opposition, especially by those denominations which espouse Dispensation-alism. Additionally, concerns are expressed by Dispensationalists that Partial Preterism logically leads to an acceptance of Full Preterism, a concern which is denied by Partial Preterists.
Although Full Preterism is viewed as heretical by many, this condemnation is not universal. Many of those who condemn Full Preterism do so not based solely upon the historic creeds of the church (which would exclude this view), but also from biblical passages that they interpret to condemn a past view of the Resurrection or the denial of a physical resurrection/transformation of the body — doctrines which many Christians (but not all) believe to be essential to the faith. Critics of Full Preterism point to the Apostle Paul's condemnation of the doctrine of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18), which they regard as analogous to Full Preterism. Adherents of Full Preterism, however, dispute this assertion by pointing out that Paul's condemnation was written during a time in which the Resurrection was yet future (i.e., pre-AD 70). Their critics assert that if the resurrection has not happened yet the condemnation would still apply.
Preterism versus Futurism
Like most theological disputes, the divide between Preterism and its opposite, Futurism, is over how certain passages of Scripture should be interpreted. Futurists assert that Preterists have ignored prophecy recently fulfilled and spiritualized prophecies they interpret as describing literal, visible events, whereas Preterists believe that Futurists do not take certain passages such as Matthew 16:28 literally enough and do not give sufficient weight to scriptures that seem to show that the first century Church believed that a major eschatological event would certainly take place in their lifetime. Many "time texts" in the New Testament appear to indicate this, e.g., Matthew 10:23, Matthew 16:27-28, Matthew 24:34, Matthew 26:64, and Rev. 1:1-3. Full Preterists would assert that there are passages which also place the Second Coming and Resurrection at that time (Dan. 7:18; 12:1-7). Partial Preterists, however, assert that there are additional long-term indicators and futuristic goals of the Consummation that include the complete eradication of sin and the restoration of the Earth from its fallen state.
Preterism versus Historicism
Expositors of the traditional Protestant interpretation of Revelation known as Historicism have often maintained that Revelation was written in AD 96 and not AD 70. E.B. Elliott, in the classic Horae Apocalypticae (1862), argues that John wrote the book in exile on Patmos "at the close of the reign of Domitian; that is near the end of the year 95 or beginning of 96". He notes that Domitian was assassinated in September of 96. Elliot begins his lengthy review of historical evidence by quoting Irenaeus a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Iraneus mentions that the Apocalypse was seen "no very long time ago [but] almost in our own age, toward the end of the reign of Domitian". Other Historicists however have seen no significance in the date that Revelelation was written, and have even held to an early date.
John A.T. Robinson "Redating the New Testament" and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., "Before Jerusalem Fell" (1989) sekk to provide evidence in support of an earlier date. Gentry's book is an exegetical and historical argument for the pre-A.D. 70 composition of Revelation.
1. Farrar, Frederic, 'The Early Days of Christianity',
volume 2 (1882)
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