Preterism is a view in Christian
eschatology which holds that some or all of the biblical prophecies concerning the Last Days refer to events which took place in the first century after Christ's birth, especially associated with the destruction
of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, meaning past, since this view deems certain biblical prophecies as past, or already fulfilled.
Preterism is most dramatically contrasted with
Futurism, the view that most prophecies regarding the
End times, and passages referring to
Last Days, Great Tribulation, and Judgment are still future and will immediately precede the
return of Christ. Proponents of preterist views generally fall in one of two categories: Partial Preterism or Full Preterism.
Partial Preterism, the older of the two views, 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 circa 70 AD 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.
Most Partial Preterists also believe 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 national Israel until the year AD 70. As God came in judgment upon various nations in the
Old Testament, Christ also came in judgment against those in Israel who rejected him. These
last days, however, are to be distinguished from the "last day," which is considered still future and entails the
Second 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 (rather than covenantal) New Heavens and a New Earth, free from the curse of sin and death which was brought about 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 second of a like kind in a series, for the Scriptures record other "comings" even before the judgment-coming in 70 AD. This would eliminate the 70 AD 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 physical death, the "last enemy" (1 Cor 15:20-24). If there are any enemies remaining, the resurrection event cannot have occurred.
Nearly all Partial Preterists hold to
postmillennialism. Many postmillennial Partial Preterists are also
theonomists in their outlook.
Partial Preterism is generally considered to be an historic orthodox interpretation as it affirms all items of the ecumenical Creeds of the Church. However, Partial Preterism is not the majority view among American protestant denominations and meets with
significant vocal opposition, especially by those 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.
Full Preterism differs from Partial Preterism in that it sees all prophecy fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem, including the resurrection of the dead and Jesus' Second Coming or Parousia. Full Preterism is also known by other names, such
as Consistent Preterism or Hyper-Preterism (a somewhat derogatory term). A related but more recent term is Pantelism, which some regard as an extension of Full Preterism rather than the same thing.
Full Preterism holds that Jesus'
Second Coming is to be viewed not as a future-to-us bodily return, but rather a "return" 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 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.
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 Hymaneus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18), which they regard as analogous to full preterism.
Adherents of Full Preterism, however, dispute this assertion by claiming that any biblical condemnation of a past resurrection was written during a time in which the Resurrection was yet future (i.e., pre-AD 70) as well as claiming different interpretations
of other proffered biblical passages. Furthermore, Full Preterists reject the authority of the Creeds to condemn their view, stating that the Creeds were written by uninspired and fallible men and are simply in error on this point and need to be reformed.
A growing movement, there has been a strong push by Full Preterists for acceptance as another valid Christian eschatological view; however, to date, no major conservative denomination or group has officially accepted this view as normative, though several
have issued a condemnation.
Example argument from Scripture
The sayings in Matthew 24 concerning the "Great Tribulation" are seen in preterism as being fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem cuminating in AD 70. Support for this claim is drawn from Jesus' saying that "this generation will
not pass away until all these things have taken place," which has the appearance of limiting the events described to an event that was going to take place in the first century.
Potential difficulties arise when critics of preterism point out that Matthew 24 also refers to the coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven. The claim is then made that since this refers to the return of Jesus in the air, and this never happened
in the first century, the preterist approach must be mistaken. The preterist reply has been to point out that there is no reason to assume that this "coming" is the second coming of Christ hoped for in the New Testament. In the Old Testament
God speaks of coming to His people in judgement. In Isaiah 19, as a striking example, the prophet refers to the impending judgement on Egypt, and we are told "See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and is coming to Egypt." The language of God
coming to us, and even the language of riding the clouds, does not necessarily refer to the second coming of Christ that Christianity generally affirms.
Objections to Preterism
Although Preterists are at general agreement among themselves regarding key eschatological issues, weighty objections have been brought against Preterism by advocates of Futurism.
Dispensationalists argue that the Preterist view of Christ's
Second Coming is flawed, as it ignores the fact that God's covenant with Israel was "everlasting," and therefore cannot have ended in A.D. 70. It is also asserted that Preterists confuse
verses which speak of a "scattering" with those that predict a "restoration" of the covenant nation. (Deuteronomy 30: 1-10). Most Dispensationalists teach that Israel was dispersed in A.D. 70. However, textual support is brought
in to show that a future regathering and national restoration of Israel is in order. Futurists have sometimes claimed that Preterism logically leads to Anti-Semitism and replacement theology.
- Thomas Ice and
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? Two Evangelicals Debate the Question. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999.
- Stan Moody,
Crisis in Evangelical Scholarship: A New Look at the Second Coming of Christ. Phoenix, AZ: ACW Press, 2001.
- Jerry Newcombe,
Coming Again—But When? A Fascinating Look at the Beliefs Surrounding Christ's Return. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1999.
- Gentry, Kenneth L., Jr.
Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil. Texarkana, AR: Covenant Media Press, 1999.
- Gentry, Kenneth L., Jr. The Beast of Revelation, Revised Edition. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2002.
- R. C. Sproul,
The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.
- Larry T. Smith,
The Coming of the Lord, the Last Days, and the End of the World as Taught by Jesus and His Apostles. El Campo, TX: Rightly Dividing the Word, 2000.
- Kelly Nelson Birks,
The Comings of Christ: A Reformed and Preterist Analogy of the 70th Week of the Prophet Daniel. 1st Books, 2002.
- John S. Evans,
The Four Kingdoms of Daniel: A Defense of the "Roman" Sequence with AD 70 Fulfillment. Xulon Press, 2004.
- Ward Fenley,
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ Already Happened. Sacramento: Kingdom of Sovereign Grace, 1997.
- Samuel M. Frost,
Misplaced Hope: The Origins of First and Second Century Eschatology. Colorado Springs: Bimillennial Press, 2002.
Critics of Full Preterism from Partial Preterist viewpoint