Preterists?

Can someone explain to me the position of the “preterists”? I had assumed that had something to do with that confusing tense construction in Greek, but it has reference to Christians who believe that Jesus ALREADY came back in 70 A.D. This position is held, as I understand it, by some conservative Calvinists who, if they are Presbyterians, would have to subscribe to the Nicene Creed, which commits a person to believing that “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”

Why do preterists believe what they do? Are they breaking from historical Christian orthodoxy?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.thegoodcity.com Jon Swerens

    Are we talking about preterists or partial preterists?

    I know Calvinists who are partial preterists — I have some sympathy for the position myself — but none who are full preterists.

  • http://www.thegoodcity.com Jon Swerens

    Are we talking about preterists or partial preterists?

    I know Calvinists who are partial preterists — I have some sympathy for the position myself — but none who are full preterists.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    But, Jon, what does it even mean? This is a totally new category for me. What is a “partial preterist”? The belief that Jesus only partially came back? I’m asking because I just don’t know anything about these positions.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    But, Jon, what does it even mean? This is a totally new category for me. What is a “partial preterist”? The belief that Jesus only partially came back? I’m asking because I just don’t know anything about these positions.

  • Philip A

    The term “preterism” is a reference to how much of biblical (especially New Testament) prophecy is fulfilled, and how much is left for the future. Its counterparts are historicism, which sees Revelation as a prophetic vision of church history from the closing of the canon until the end; and futurism, which interprets Revelation, etc., as referring to events that are all future, even to us today.

    There are those who call themselves orthodox- or partial-preterists, who basically believe that Revelation was written before AD 70, and that it and most of Matthew 24 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, and hence God’s final judgment and divorce of apostate Israel after their rejection of the Messiah. Kenneth Gentry, a Presbyterian, is a well known advocate of this position. They would all stop their preteristic interpretation of Revelation at chapter 20, and affirm a final judgment and resurrection at the end of the age, hence maintaining the Nicene eschatology.

    Others have taken the hermeneutic to it fullest extent, and interpret ALL of NT prophecy as fulfilled in 70 AD, claiming that as Christ’s final return and judgement. Hence a denial of the Nicene eschatology, and having to affirm in some sense that we are all running around in our glorified bodies! I don’t know much more detail than that, and my non-glorified arthritic body is telling me to wrap up this comment!

    To me, (crypto-Lutheran Reformed that I am), both variations seem to be over-reactions to the Dispensational system, but still seem to retain some of the literalist dogmatism. The position seems to be common among neo-Calvinists who have recently escaped from fundamentalist bapticostalism. I must confess to having dabbled in the orthodox version of preterism before making it all the way home to Heidelberg.

  • Philip A

    The term “preterism” is a reference to how much of biblical (especially New Testament) prophecy is fulfilled, and how much is left for the future. Its counterparts are historicism, which sees Revelation as a prophetic vision of church history from the closing of the canon until the end; and futurism, which interprets Revelation, etc., as referring to events that are all future, even to us today.

    There are those who call themselves orthodox- or partial-preterists, who basically believe that Revelation was written before AD 70, and that it and most of Matthew 24 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, and hence God’s final judgment and divorce of apostate Israel after their rejection of the Messiah. Kenneth Gentry, a Presbyterian, is a well known advocate of this position. They would all stop their preteristic interpretation of Revelation at chapter 20, and affirm a final judgment and resurrection at the end of the age, hence maintaining the Nicene eschatology.

    Others have taken the hermeneutic to it fullest extent, and interpret ALL of NT prophecy as fulfilled in 70 AD, claiming that as Christ’s final return and judgement. Hence a denial of the Nicene eschatology, and having to affirm in some sense that we are all running around in our glorified bodies! I don’t know much more detail than that, and my non-glorified arthritic body is telling me to wrap up this comment!

    To me, (crypto-Lutheran Reformed that I am), both variations seem to be over-reactions to the Dispensational system, but still seem to retain some of the literalist dogmatism. The position seems to be common among neo-Calvinists who have recently escaped from fundamentalist bapticostalism. I must confess to having dabbled in the orthodox version of preterism before making it all the way home to Heidelberg.

  • fw

    #3 Phillip A

    ok. clarity. now how would you define a crypto-Lutheran reformed?

  • fw

    #3 Phillip A

    ok. clarity. now how would you define a crypto-Lutheran reformed?

  • Andrew

    I am a former Calvinist and quite familiar with this debate:
    A “partial preterist” (sometimes just called a preterist) believes that most prophecies (Matt 24, the book of Revelation) were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the events leading up to it, with His final return still to come. Most today are post-mill. and see most of the world being converted before that final return. See books like He Shall Have Dominion, by Ken Gentry and even RC Sproul’s The Last Days According to Jesus.

    Preterists (often called hyper-preterists) believe everything, including Christ’s final return, have already taken place. This group is not considered orthodox by anyone in the first group. The book The Parousia by James Stuart Russel represents this postion.

    http://www.preteristarchive.com/ , has articles form both sides – I think.

  • Andrew

    I am a former Calvinist and quite familiar with this debate:
    A “partial preterist” (sometimes just called a preterist) believes that most prophecies (Matt 24, the book of Revelation) were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the events leading up to it, with His final return still to come. Most today are post-mill. and see most of the world being converted before that final return. See books like He Shall Have Dominion, by Ken Gentry and even RC Sproul’s The Last Days According to Jesus.

    Preterists (often called hyper-preterists) believe everything, including Christ’s final return, have already taken place. This group is not considered orthodox by anyone in the first group. The book The Parousia by James Stuart Russel represents this postion.

    http://www.preteristarchive.com/ , has articles form both sides – I think.

  • Andrew

    Sorry Philip – yours wasn’t posted when I started typing.

  • Andrew

    Sorry Philip – yours wasn’t posted when I started typing.

  • http://prouty.wordpress.com/ Les Prouty

    The mosy common Calvinist position is partial preterism. This means that:
    1. Jesus will return in the future bodily and there will be a final judgement.
    2. Most of the Olivet Discourse happened in the first century when Jerusalem fell and the temple was destroyed. Matt. 29-31 refers to Jesus “coming on the clouds” in this 1st century judgement.
    3. Much of Revelation is past (1st century) and also refers to that 1st century horrific time of tribulation.
    Partial Preterism is considered orthodox while full preterism (the second coming has already occured) is not.
    A contemporary partial preterist example is R.C. Sproul.
    And me.

  • http://prouty.wordpress.com/ Les Prouty

    The mosy common Calvinist position is partial preterism. This means that:
    1. Jesus will return in the future bodily and there will be a final judgement.
    2. Most of the Olivet Discourse happened in the first century when Jerusalem fell and the temple was destroyed. Matt. 29-31 refers to Jesus “coming on the clouds” in this 1st century judgement.
    3. Much of Revelation is past (1st century) and also refers to that 1st century horrific time of tribulation.
    Partial Preterism is considered orthodox while full preterism (the second coming has already occured) is not.
    A contemporary partial preterist example is R.C. Sproul.
    And me.

  • Philip A

    fw,

    My first reaction is to be snarky and say that it means we actually bother to read Calvin on more than just predestination, but….

    What I mean by crypto-Lutheran/Reformed is that I’m confessionally Reformed, holding to what we call the Three Forms of Unity, which are the Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt. Historically, the continental Reformed churches had much more in common with the Lutherans than most modern day neo-Calvinists would seem to suggest. You’ll find us talking more about Law & Gospel and Word & Sacrament than the so-called “five-points of Calvinism”, and affirming things like the Theology of the Cross, the Two Kingdoms, vocation, etc. For some reason, a lot of modern Presbyterians and other folks calling themselves Reformed have the impression that an affirmation of the distinction between Law and Gospel is an implicit denial of the third use of the law; hence the accusation that we’re too Lutheran.

    Andrew,

    No problem!

  • Philip A

    fw,

    My first reaction is to be snarky and say that it means we actually bother to read Calvin on more than just predestination, but….

    What I mean by crypto-Lutheran/Reformed is that I’m confessionally Reformed, holding to what we call the Three Forms of Unity, which are the Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt. Historically, the continental Reformed churches had much more in common with the Lutherans than most modern day neo-Calvinists would seem to suggest. You’ll find us talking more about Law & Gospel and Word & Sacrament than the so-called “five-points of Calvinism”, and affirming things like the Theology of the Cross, the Two Kingdoms, vocation, etc. For some reason, a lot of modern Presbyterians and other folks calling themselves Reformed have the impression that an affirmation of the distinction between Law and Gospel is an implicit denial of the third use of the law; hence the accusation that we’re too Lutheran.

    Andrew,

    No problem!

  • http://www.johndcook.com John

    There are three podcasts on preterism on the Reclaiming the Mind podcast. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/aggregator/sources/5

  • http://www.johndcook.com John

    There are three podcasts on preterism on the Reclaiming the Mind podcast. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/aggregator/sources/5

  • http://www.indefenseofthefaith.org/ Glenn

    Gene,

    I would recommend reading Peter Leithart’s book on 2 Peter. From what I have read of Peter, he does an excellent job presenting an orthodox Preterist view of the New Testament. This commentary on 2 Peter is said to be specifically written from a Preterist point of view. Here is the Google Books link below with excerpts and everything you need to find out where to buy it if you decide to read it.

    The Promise of His Appearing

  • http://www.indefenseofthefaith.org/ Glenn

    Gene,

    I would recommend reading Peter Leithart’s book on 2 Peter. From what I have read of Peter, he does an excellent job presenting an orthodox Preterist view of the New Testament. This commentary on 2 Peter is said to be specifically written from a Preterist point of view. Here is the Google Books link below with excerpts and everything you need to find out where to buy it if you decide to read it.

    The Promise of His Appearing

  • Rev. Bob

    I find this conversation quite interesting. I wonder why partial-preterism is considered distinctly “Calvinist” here. Why could I Lutheran not hold to a partial-preterist viewpoint? In my understanding (which I typically consider Amillennial), there is a great amount of merit to the idea of partial-preterism (Olivet Discourse fullfilled in 70 AD, Revelation referring primarily to the world in which John lives, etc.). Do the two work together or are they mutually exclusive views?

  • Rev. Bob

    I find this conversation quite interesting. I wonder why partial-preterism is considered distinctly “Calvinist” here. Why could I Lutheran not hold to a partial-preterist viewpoint? In my understanding (which I typically consider Amillennial), there is a great amount of merit to the idea of partial-preterism (Olivet Discourse fullfilled in 70 AD, Revelation referring primarily to the world in which John lives, etc.). Do the two work together or are they mutually exclusive views?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Right, Rev. Bob. I believe I have heard Lutherans articulate this “partial preterist” position. Does anyone know more about where Lutherans might come down on this? Lutheran eschatology is amillennial, but are various interpretations of Revelation, such as this one, considred adiaphora?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Right, Rev. Bob. I believe I have heard Lutherans articulate this “partial preterist” position. Does anyone know more about where Lutherans might come down on this? Lutheran eschatology is amillennial, but are various interpretations of Revelation, such as this one, considred adiaphora?

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I hope Lutherans can be partial preterists, because I am one!

    I don’t think that most views of eschatology make it into the confessions, so they would be adiaphora so long as they don’t contradict other doctrines. Of course you also need a Biblical argument.

    One thing that I liked about partial preterism is that the problem with Matthew 24:34 “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” goes away. We say all these things did happen in that generation. I know there are arguments for other interpretations of the word translated as ‘generation’, but they are very strained.

    I was convinced of partial preterism by a book proposal I was asked to review. Then I had the thought, “Well, if this is true, shouldn’t I expect secular historians at the time to give SOME indication that something happened?” The only thing I had on my shelves at the time was Josephus. (This was before the Internet age.) I pulled down Josephus, looked up the siege of Jerusalem, and saw a reference to people seeing armies in the heavens. I still don’t know what to make of that, but it was funny to look for something like that and find it.

    I found someone’s online presentation of some of the material from Josephus. I have not read the entire piece and don’t necessarily endorse it. But people may find it interesting:
    http://www.bible.ca/pre-flavius-josephus-70AD-Mt24-fulfilled.htm

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I hope Lutherans can be partial preterists, because I am one!

    I don’t think that most views of eschatology make it into the confessions, so they would be adiaphora so long as they don’t contradict other doctrines. Of course you also need a Biblical argument.

    One thing that I liked about partial preterism is that the problem with Matthew 24:34 “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” goes away. We say all these things did happen in that generation. I know there are arguments for other interpretations of the word translated as ‘generation’, but they are very strained.

    I was convinced of partial preterism by a book proposal I was asked to review. Then I had the thought, “Well, if this is true, shouldn’t I expect secular historians at the time to give SOME indication that something happened?” The only thing I had on my shelves at the time was Josephus. (This was before the Internet age.) I pulled down Josephus, looked up the siege of Jerusalem, and saw a reference to people seeing armies in the heavens. I still don’t know what to make of that, but it was funny to look for something like that and find it.

    I found someone’s online presentation of some of the material from Josephus. I have not read the entire piece and don’t necessarily endorse it. But people may find it interesting:
    http://www.bible.ca/pre-flavius-josephus-70AD-Mt24-fulfilled.htm

  • fw

    #13 Rick Ritchie.

    Nice to hear from you. What you say makes a great deal of sense. I lost your email address. I hope all is well with you. fwsonnek@gmail.com. The Lord´s Peace be with you and your family Rick!

  • fw

    #13 Rick Ritchie.

    Nice to hear from you. What you say makes a great deal of sense. I lost your email address. I hope all is well with you. fwsonnek@gmail.com. The Lord´s Peace be with you and your family Rick!

  • JLarson

    This is all very interesting for me as my family has recently moved out of a dispensational Baptist church and into Reformed circles. So I’ve been exposed to lots of new stuff in the past ten years: TULIP, infant baptism, postmillenialism, amillenialism, Christ as the transformer of culture, etc.–all of which I’d never heard prior to c. 1998. One of the most interesting things is to read about people like Me, and find out that there are Lots of people going through such changes (to varying degrees, of course).

    And while I can’t comment with an abundance of authority, those who like Gentry and Sproul seem to have a solid basis for being involved in this world.

  • JLarson

    This is all very interesting for me as my family has recently moved out of a dispensational Baptist church and into Reformed circles. So I’ve been exposed to lots of new stuff in the past ten years: TULIP, infant baptism, postmillenialism, amillenialism, Christ as the transformer of culture, etc.–all of which I’d never heard prior to c. 1998. One of the most interesting things is to read about people like Me, and find out that there are Lots of people going through such changes (to varying degrees, of course).

    And while I can’t comment with an abundance of authority, those who like Gentry and Sproul seem to have a solid basis for being involved in this world.

  • Andrew

    On my journey to Lutheranism, the Lutheran pastors I talked to about partial preterism did not seem to care that I held many of their views. And I have not found anything in my study of the Book of Concord that would rule it out. But I still have much to learn…

  • Andrew

    On my journey to Lutheranism, the Lutheran pastors I talked to about partial preterism did not seem to care that I held many of their views. And I have not found anything in my study of the Book of Concord that would rule it out. But I still have much to learn…

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  • Bror Erickson

    I guess I could add another qualifier to the description of my theology with partial preterist, having never heard the term but believing the content as it has been laid out here for all of my adult life.
    Mostly because I never thought of the signes the Jesus lays out in Matt. 24 as being something that has to happen in the future, or that when fulfilled it would require Jesus to come back this very moment. I guess I hold a position that while these signs were fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem, they are still being fulfilled today, at least some of them are (I mean last I checked there were many wars and rumors of wars circulating.) I also never thought these signs were really meant to be looked for in a way that would say Jesus is coming back at 12:30 tomorrow afternoon. Nor do I believe you have to read Revelation as being written before 70 A.D to come up with a partial preterist view. I just beleive that Jesus will come back as a thief in the night, meaning he won’t bother to knock first, he will just break in and commence judging. And that based on Acts Chapter 2 and Peters sermon there it seems he could do this at anytime, and could have done it at anytime since he gave that sermon.

  • Bror Erickson

    I guess I could add another qualifier to the description of my theology with partial preterist, having never heard the term but believing the content as it has been laid out here for all of my adult life.
    Mostly because I never thought of the signes the Jesus lays out in Matt. 24 as being something that has to happen in the future, or that when fulfilled it would require Jesus to come back this very moment. I guess I hold a position that while these signs were fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem, they are still being fulfilled today, at least some of them are (I mean last I checked there were many wars and rumors of wars circulating.) I also never thought these signs were really meant to be looked for in a way that would say Jesus is coming back at 12:30 tomorrow afternoon. Nor do I believe you have to read Revelation as being written before 70 A.D to come up with a partial preterist view. I just beleive that Jesus will come back as a thief in the night, meaning he won’t bother to knock first, he will just break in and commence judging. And that based on Acts Chapter 2 and Peters sermon there it seems he could do this at anytime, and could have done it at anytime since he gave that sermon.

  • John Tape

    The following is from the introduction of the Concordia Self Study Bible. You may find it helpful.

    Interpreters of Revelation normally fall into four groups:

    1. Preterists understand the book exclusively in terms of its first-century setting, claiming that most of its events have already taken place.

    2. Historicists take it as describing the long chain of events from Patmos to the end of history.

    3. Futurists place the book primarily in the end times.

    4. Idealists view it as symbolic pictures of such timeless truths as the victory of good over evil.

    The interpretation of the Historicists is no doubt the preferable view. It is important to realize, however, that the visions are not to be explained as if they were successive to each other chronologically. Each major vision from the seven seals to the seven bowls (see Alternate Outline below) discusses a different aspect of the same period—namely, the entire NT era, from Jesus’ ministry to his second coming.
    Hoerber, Robert G., Concordia Self-Study Bible, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House) 1998, c1984.

  • John Tape

    The following is from the introduction of the Concordia Self Study Bible. You may find it helpful.

    Interpreters of Revelation normally fall into four groups:

    1. Preterists understand the book exclusively in terms of its first-century setting, claiming that most of its events have already taken place.

    2. Historicists take it as describing the long chain of events from Patmos to the end of history.

    3. Futurists place the book primarily in the end times.

    4. Idealists view it as symbolic pictures of such timeless truths as the victory of good over evil.

    The interpretation of the Historicists is no doubt the preferable view. It is important to realize, however, that the visions are not to be explained as if they were successive to each other chronologically. Each major vision from the seven seals to the seven bowls (see Alternate Outline below) discusses a different aspect of the same period—namely, the entire NT era, from Jesus’ ministry to his second coming.
    Hoerber, Robert G., Concordia Self-Study Bible, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House) 1998, c1984.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    The above four categories are helpful. But do remember that someone might be a preterist with regard to Matthew 24 and be an historicist with regard to the book of Revelation as a whole. This is one of many cases where different positions arise when certain texts are or are not seen as talking about the same events.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    The above four categories are helpful. But do remember that someone might be a preterist with regard to Matthew 24 and be an historicist with regard to the book of Revelation as a whole. This is one of many cases where different positions arise when certain texts are or are not seen as talking about the same events.

  • Tim Buley

    Lutherans tend to hold to Historicism not preterism. I find no need to be tied to the early date idea of Revelation. See Mike Horton’s review of Hank Hanegraaff’s The Apocalypse Code at. The White Horse Inn.

  • Tim Buley

    Lutherans tend to hold to Historicism not preterism. I find no need to be tied to the early date idea of Revelation. See Mike Horton’s review of Hank Hanegraaff’s The Apocalypse Code at. The White Horse Inn.


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