Preterism is a variant of Christian eschatology which holds that some or all of the biblical prophecies concerning the Last Days or End Times refer to events which actually happened in the first century after Christ's birth. The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, meaning "past". Adherents of Preterism are known as Preterists.
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 of 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".
Some Partial Preterists choose to label the belief as "Kingdom Eschatology" due to an emphasis put upon the implications of the Partial Preterist belief . These proponents believe that emphasis should be put upon the present Kingdom of God and its practical nature, including the differences of the implications of preterism in contrast to some futurist beliefs that Christ is not yet ruling in the Kingdom and that there will be a physical kingdom of Christ on the earth after the Church Age, rather than an emphasis upon prophecies that have already been fulfilled.
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, 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 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).
Partial Preterism is generally considered to be a 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 Dispensationalism. 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 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.
The influence of preterism on Christian thinking in regard to the Middle East crisis cannot be underestimated. One of the basic tenets of preterism is that Israel's establishment in 1948 was not a fulfillment of biblical prophecy and therefore would be viewed as insignificant in terms of God's dealings with man, the second coming, and signs leading up to the second coming. Since preterism views those signs and the second coming as past events and that the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 by the Roman armies was the decisive event to end the Old Covenant era and Mosaic economy, events in the 21st century are moot concerning biblical prophecy. If Israel is no longer a special nation chosen by God, then it would logically follow that any support from Christian Zionists to continue the establishment of Israel to the neglect of Palestinians would be to undermine the Christian principle of loving one's neighbor. Islamic fundamentalist terrorism has vindicated its attacks against Israel, Britain, and the United States primarily because of the miliary and financial backing Israel receives from Britain and the U.S.
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., wrote the book "Before Jerusalem Fell" (1989) to provide evidence in support of an earlier date. The book was meant to be an exegetical and historical argument for the pre-A.D. 70 composition of Revelation.
Other commentators have noted that the book of Revelation does not mention the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, but rather speaks of it as still standing. If the book had been written after 70 A.D., they reason, surely John would have mentioned such an important event as the destruction of the temple.
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