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Preterism is a variant of Christian eschatology which holds that most or all of the biblical prophecies concerning the End Times refer to events which have already happened in the first century after Christ's birth. Because of its claims that Ancient Israelmarker was supplanted by the Christian church at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Preterism has sometimes been identified as replacement theology. The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, meaning "ahead of" (as a preposition) or "beforehand" (as an adverb), and indicates the belief that many or all such events occur "ahead of" the time at which the belief is articulated (viewing time as a whole from the perspective of an entity outside time) or "beforehand" as from the perspective of an entity existing in time. Adherents of Preterism are known as Preterists.

History of Preterism

Proponents of Preterism sometimes argue that this position was the original eschatological understanding of the Early Christian church., a claim contested by Historicists. One Preterist has been said to hold that the view was developed in the 17th 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 the Book 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 part of a growing development of more systematic Preterist expositions of Revelation. Later, though, it appears that Abauzit recanted this approach after a critical examination by his English translator, Dr. Twells.

The earliest American Full Preterist work was 'The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ: A Past Event', which was written in 1845 by Robert Townley. Townley later recanted this view.

Key Verses

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This predicted event has been variously interpreted as referring to: (1) Jesus' transfiguration; (2) his resurrection; (3) the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost; (4) the spread of the kingdom through the preaching of the early church; (5) the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in AD 70; or (6) the second coming and final establishment of the kingdom. View (6) is unacceptable, for it would imply that Jesus was mistaken about the timing of his return. The immediate context seems to indicate the first view, the transfiguration, which immediately follows ( ; ; ). This view does satisfy that "some" disciples would see the glory of the son of man, but it does not satisfy that "he will repay every man for what he has done." the same situation occurs with views (2) through (4). Only view (5) of the judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70 satisfies both conditions (reinforced with ), as a preterist would argue.

Preterist divisions

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. Partial preterists may be considered heterodox because they advocate, in effect, two Second Comings, one at A.D. 70 and another at the end of the age. Full preterists, in contrast, conform to the creeds, allowing only one Second Coming.

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

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 in A.D. 70 when the Roman general (and future Emperor) Titus sacked Jerusalemmarker 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 Romemarker, or even the city of Jerusalem. Some adherents of Partial Preterism see the Emperor Diocletian as the fulfillment of the "little horn" prophecy of Daniel 7. But this is a minority view. The great majority of Partial Preterists believe that Jerusalem was a "great harlot" destroyed by God in A.D. 70.

Most 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 held exclusively with the nation of Israelmarker (including biblical proselytes) until the year A.D. 70. (see also New Covenant and The Fig Tree). The "Last Days", however, are to be distinguished from the "Last Day", which is considered to still be in the future and entailing 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 Heaven 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 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 that the Creeds are in conformity with what the Scriptures teach.

Despite being separated from the eschatological disputes of the West, the eschatological view historically held by the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Church is that of the amillennialist Partial Preterists although these Churches may not explicitly state this as their position.

Full Preterism

Full Preterism differs from Partial Preterism in that Full Preterists believe that 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, True 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 bodily return, but rather a "return" in glory manifested by the physical destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple in A.D. 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) and that both the living and the dead were raised, changed, caught away and glorified together into one/corporate matured New Covenant Body of Christ. Some versions of Full Preterism teach that the righteous dead obtained an individual 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 that this judgment is ongoing and that it takes effect upon the death of each individual (Heb. 9:27).

Other Full Preterists believe that because the Book of Revelation was signified (or "symbolized," according to its first verse, Revelation 1:1), the Lake of Fire was only A.D. 70’s Gehenna (Jerusalem’s garbage dump, not Hell) as it burned. And this burning was just aionios (pertaining to an age), not eternal. The hermeneutic of audience relevance confines this judgment and punishment to the first century.

The New Heaven and the New Earth are also equated with the New Covenant and the Fulfillment of the Law in A.D. 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 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.

Full Preterism is sometimes viewed as heretical, based upon the historic creeds of the church (which would exclude this view), and also from Biblical passages that condemn a past view of the Resurrection or the denial of a physical resurrection or transformation of the body — doctrines which most Christians 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 still in the future (i.e., pre-A.D. 70). Their critics assert that if the Resurrection has not yet happened, then 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 believe that Preterists, in departing from a "grammatical, contextual, historical" method of interpretation, have erred greatly in matters of doctrine. One of the foundational assertions of Preterists is that the first century Church believed a major eschatological event would take place in their lifetime. The Thessalonians were being reassured that they hadn't missed the coming of "the day of the Lord". They weren't corrected regarding their anticipation of Christ's coming. Many "time texts" in the New Testament are used to support this claim, e.g., , , , , and Rev. 1:1-3. However, Futurists point out that a careful analysis of some of the expressions employed (e.g., "near," "soon," and "at hand"), based on a study of Old Testament usage, gives no indication that imminency requires immediacy. See , , , , .

It is also contested whether the term "generation" (a translation of the Greek genea) means "race" or "nation," as the context of many verses would imply. Even if the term were used to denote Christ's contemporaries, the grammatical structure of verses such as and does not necessitate a first-century fulfillment. Futurists claim, moreover, that the uniform belief of the early church regarding the futuricity of Christ's second coming militates against the Preterist view.

Preterists maintain that Futurists misunderstand the various metaphors, idioms and prophetic language that the New Testament employs. Preterists claim that many of these are proven to be idiom and metaphors by their use in the Old Testament, and are not meant to be taken literally, e.g., being seen "coming in clouds," , and the reference to a "thousand" years in Rev. 20:2, ( , ).

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, the absolute removal of Satan's influence from the Earth and the restoration of the Earth from its fallen state.

Futurism stands opposed to both schools of thought.

Preterism versus Historicism

Expositors of the traditional Protestant interpretation of Revelation known asHistoricism have often maintained that Revelation was written in A.D. 96 and notA.D. 70. Edward Bishop Elliott, in the classic Horae Apocalypticae (1862), argues that John wrote the book in exile on Patmosmarker "at the close of the reign of Domitian; that is near the end of the year 95 or beginning of 96". He notes thatDomitian 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. Irenaeus 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 Revelation was written, and have even held to an early date while Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., makes an exegetical and historical argument for the pre-A.D. 70 composition of Revelation.


See also


  1. Farrar, Frederic, 'The Early Days of Christianity', volume 2 (1882)
  2. 'The Early Church And The End Of The World', DeMar, Gary, and Gumerlock, Francis X, 2006, ISBN 0-915815-58-3
  4. 'This view of the contents of the book had been merely hinted before, by Hentenius, in the Preface to his Latin Version of Arethas, Par. 1547. 8vo.; and by Salmeron in his Praecludia in Apoc. But no one had ever developed this idea fully, and endeavoured to illustrate and enforce it, in such a way as Alcassar', Stuart, Moses, ‘A Commentary On The Apocalypse’, page 464 (1845)
  5. ‘The praeterist view found no favour and was hardly so much as thought of in the time of primitive Christianity. Those who lived near the date of the book of Revelation itself had no idea that its groups of imagery were intended merely to describe things then passing, and to be in a few years completed. This view is said to have been first promulgated in anything like completeness by the Jesuit Alcasar, in his "Vestigatio Arcani Sensus in Apocalypsi" (1614). Very nearly, the same plan was adopted by Grotius. The next great name among this school of interpreters is that of Bossuet the great antagonist of Protestantism’, Alford, Henry, ‘The New Testament For English Readers’ (1872)
  6. 'Now with regard to the Præterist Scheme, on the review of which we are first to enter, it may be remembered that I stated it to have had its origin with the Jesuit Alcasar', Elliott, EB, 'Horae Apocalypticae', Volume IV, 4th edition (1862)
  7. Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 509 (1954)
  8. 'It has been usual to say that the Spanish Jesuit Alcasar, in his Vestigatio arcani sensus in Apocalpysi (1614), was the founder of the Præterist School', Farrar, Frederic, 'The Early Days of Christianity', volume 2 (1882)
  9. 'Alcazar was the first to apply Preterism to the Apocalypse with anything like completeness, though it had previously been applied somewhat to Daniel', Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 509 (1954)
  10. 'It might be expected, that a commentary which thus freed the Romish church from the assaults of Protestants, would be popular among the advocates of the papacy. Alcassar met, of course, with general approbation and reception among the Romish community', Stuart, Moses ‘A Commentary On The Apocalypse’, page 464 (1845)
  11. 'It is hardly surprising, given this general context, that the relatively few English Catholic commentators who turned their hands to the interpretation of these same passages should be concerned to counter this widely held, if somewhat variously presented, Protestant view. The response came in three basic forms: preterism, futurism, and 'counter historicism' - a term that has been created for the purposes of this discussion', Newport, Kenneth GC, 'Apocalypse and Millennium: Studies in Biblical Eisegesis', page 74 (2000)
  12. Drue Cressener, 'The Judgments Of God Upon The Roman Catholic Church, &c.', preface (1689)
  13. 'The Preterist view was soon adopted and taught, with various modifications, by the Protestant Hugo Grotius of Holland in his Annotationes (1644)', Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 510 (1954)
  14. Newport, Kenneth GC, 'Apocalypse and Millennium: Studies in Biblical Eisegesis', page 74 (2000)
  15. 'all that this very learned man was guilty of in this matter, was but this, his passionate desire of the unity of the Church in the bands of peace and truth, and a full dislike of all uncharitable distempers, and impious doctrines', Hammond, Henry, 'Treatise On The Epistle of Ignatius’ (1655)
  16. 'When Grotius' authorship of the book was detected, it turned all orthodox theologians against him', Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 510 (1954)
  17. 'But those who argued for the preterist interpretation of the Book of Revelation, and for that matter the futurist interpretation also, were playing to empty galleries, until at least the fourth decade of the nineteenth century. Their views were anything but popular and those who followed them could soon find themselves branded with the infamous mark of the papal beast', Brady, David, 'The Contribution of British Writers Between 1560 and 1830 to the Interpretation of Revelation 13.16-18', page 158 (1983)
  18. Hammond, Henry, 'Treatise On The Epistle of Ignatius' (1655)
  19. ‘…appeared to me to be the meaning of this prophecie, hath, for this main of it, in the same manner represented it self to several persons of great piety and learning (as since I have discerned) none taking it from the other, but all from the same light shining in the Prophecie it self. Among which number I now also find the most learned Hugo Grotius, in those posthumous notes of his on the Apocalypse, lately publish'd', Hammond, Henry, ‘Paraphrase and Annotations’, introduction to Revelation (1653)
  20. 'This volume contained a brave but lonely attempt to introduce the preterist interpretation of the Book of Revelation to English soil', Brady, David, 'The Contribution of British Writers Between 1560 and 1830 to the Interpretation of Revelation 13.16-18', page 158 (1983)
  21. 'For most divines in the (early) Enlightenment the choice between the preterist approach of Grotius and the historicist approach of Cocceius was not a difficult one: there was a strong predilection for the latter’, Van Der Wall, Ernestine, 'Between Grotius And Cocceius: The 'Theologica Prophetica' Of Campegius Vitringa (1659-1722)', in 'Hugo Grotius, Theologian: Essays in Honour of G. H. M. Posthumous Meyjer', series in 'Studies in the History of Christian Thought', volume 55, page 202 (1994)
  22. …in 1791 J. G. Eichhorn (1752-1.827), the noted German rationalist, revived and republished Alcazar's Preterist interpretation', Froom, Leroy Edwin, 'The Prophetic Faith Of Our Fathers', volume 2, page 510 (1954)
  23. 'The great mass of the religious public became, at last, wearied out with the extravagances and the errors of apocalyptic interpreters. This prepared the way for ABAUZIT, in his Essay on the Apocalypse (see p. 443 above), to broach the idea, that the whole book relates to the destruction of Judea and Jerusalem. His starting point was, that the book itself declares that all which it predicts would take place speedily. Hence Rome, in chap. xiii - xix. points figuratively to Jerusalem. Chap.xxi. xxii. relate to the extension of the church, after the destruction of the Jews', Stuart, Moses, ‘A Commentary On The Apocalypse’, page 470 (1845)
  24. Stuart, Moses, ‘A Commentary On The Apocalypse’, pages 470, 417, 471-472 (1845)
  25. ""Essay upon the Apocalypse," (was) written to show that the canonical authority of the book of Revelation was doubtful, and to apply the predictions to the destruction of Jerusalem. This work was sent by the author to Dr. Twells, in London, who translated it from French into English, and added a refutation, - with which Abauzit was so well satisfied, that he desired his friend in Holland to stop an intended impression." (Lange) (1857)
  26. "We, on the contrary, fulfill every thing by that magic phrase, "the destruction of Jerusalem." But can we really and seriously refer these passages which I have quoted from Paul, to the destruction Jerusalem? Can we truly say that the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, let that mean what it may, exhausted all their meaning ---the meaning which was the thought in Paul’s mind when he wrote them? I must confess I cannot" (Townley in 1852)
  28. Sproul, R.C. The Last Days According To Jesus 155.
  29. Allison, Jr., D. C. (Winter 1994). "A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology". Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 113, No. 4 (Winter, 1994), pp. 651-668.
  30. “Finally something must be said, despite its difficulties, concerning the book of Revelation. The above presentation adds some weight to the quite controversial thesis that the city which is to be destroyed (the ‘great whore’ that has become drunk with the blood of the saints) is to be identified, not with Rome, but with Jerusalem. As with any interpretation of Revelation there are problems with this, but there are also some strong arguments in favour.” N. T. Wright, "Jerusalem in the New Testament" (1994)
  31. Sam Frost, David Green, Ed Hassertt, Michael Sullivan, House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be?
  32. Bullinger, E.W. (1922) The Companion Bible, Appendix 155.
  33. Elliot, E.B.: "Horae Apocalypticae", Vol 1, page 47. Seely, Jackson and Halliday, London, 1862
  34. Elliot, E.B. (1862). "Horae Apocalypticae", Vol I, page 32. Seely, Jackson and Halliday, London, 1862.
  35. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., K. L. (1989). Before Jerusalem Fell. Retrieved from
  36. The Revelation of John. Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1976.
  37. The Return of Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972.
  38. "The Revelation to John." In A New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969.
  39. The Revelation of St. John the Divine. Harper's New Testament Commentaries . New York: Harper, 1966
  40. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John . 2 vols. Edinburgh: 1920.
  41. Revelation . AB. New York: Doubleday, 1975
  42. Breaking the Code Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993
  43. The Revelation of St. John . Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969
  44. The Lamb's Supper: Mass as Heaven on Earth,1999
  45. The Apocalypse of St. John: A Commentary . London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1969
  46. The Apocalypse of St. John. New York: Macmillan, 1906

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