Preterism is a term that many Christians may never have heard. I know I am one of those Christians. It was not until my husband went to Bible college that I heard this term used. Preterism is a way of thinking about what the Bible says regarding the end times.
Bible scholars, teachers, pastors, and lay people do not all agree on the topic of preterism. There are different levels of thought and interpretation to what Scripture states.
My goal in writing this is to take a complicated topic and make it simpler. In this article we will discuss what preterism is and the arguments for and against its philosophy. We will also touch on how this type of thinking impacts our own understanding of the end times.
What Exactly Is Preterism?
The term preterism is used to describe the understanding of certain eschatological passages in the Bible. It is derived from the Latin word preter which means “past.” The study of preterism is centered on biblical prophecy and the debate of whether all end time prophecy has been fulfilled or not.
Preterists focus on the passages in Matthew 24, known as the Olivet Discourse, and Revelation 21-22. They also look for parallel passages in the Old and New Testaments. Time frame references are important to deciding what side of the argument you fall on.
There are three types of preterism. They are mild preterism, moderate preterism, and extreme preterism. Today we only find two active types: moderate and extreme.
Moderate preterism is sometimes referred to as partial preterism and stands on the belief that most of the prophecy regarding the end times has been fulfilled, but not all. Dr. Tim White, pastor at Open Door Baptist Church in North Carolina, states that partial preterists believe the events in Matthew 24:1-34 were fulfilled in AD 70 with the destruction of the Temple. Events after verse 34 are yet to come.
R.C Sproul, Gary DeMar, and Jay Adams are a few partial preterists to reference.
Extreme preterists are sometimes called full preterists and believe that all biblical prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70. They do not believe in a bodily resurrection. Extreme preterists say that we are actually living in an eternal state. This would mean we have passed through the millennium and are now living in the new heaven and earth spoken of in Revelation 21-22.
What Are the Arguments for Preterism?
The popular argument for preterism is grounded in a time stamp. They believe that A.D 70 is the critical moment that prophecy was fulfilled. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus is teaching his disciples about the end times. He says in verse 34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” A literal interpretation of this text would support preterism.
Preterists use other biblical passages, such as Matthew 10:23, 16:28, and Luke 9:27, to prove their viewpoint. Luke records a conversation between Jesus and Peter where they are discussing who people believe Jesus is. As Jesus explains what must happen to him, he states “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Again, one could interpret this text to mean that Jesus was referring to the generation of his time, not future generations.
Other arguments for a preterist view of prophecy relate to the Book of Revelation. Preterists say Revelation was addressed to first century readers. Their proof lies in the seven churches God sends a message to. Keith Mathison, professor at Reformation Bible College, notes that the use of “must soon take place” and “the time is near” are generalizations that prove John’s prophecy concerns events in his day.
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What Are the Arguments Against Preterism?
As with every argument, there are two sides to the story. We have discussed the for, now let’s look at the against.
One argument against preterism is related to a biblical perspective of history. This refers to the belief that God will restore order and reverse the curse of Eden upon his people. Paul tells us in Romans 8:18-23 that our present order is groaning and there will be a recognizable restoration or order. Peter says the same thing in 2 Peter 3:10-13. God did not create humankind to be in a state of chaos, therefore he will restore us, and we will realize our true purpose in creation.
A second argument relates to the pattern of biblical prophecy. Fred Zapsal writes “Preterism fails to recognize this ‘now and yet again’ and ‘now and not yet’ fulfillment of biblical prophecy, but it is pervasive throughout the prophetic Word.” Examples of this point lie in the prophecy such as the kingdom of God is here (Matt. 12:28) and is yet to come (Rev. 11:15). Paul says we are the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and John states yet we await it (Rev. 21:5). This argument warns us to not make the “not yet” parts of Scripture the “now” parts of thought.
Our third argument lies with Biblical descriptions of events regarding the coming of Christ. Jesus says in the Mount of Olives that his return will be visible. It will be personal. In Matthew 24:23-27, Jesus describes his coming as an event that no one can mistake or deny. Acts 1:9-11 says that Jesus will return as we saw him go into heaven. Writers of Scripture also tell us that our bodies will be resurrected. Romans 8:23 speaks of the redemption of our bodies while Paul says “who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
The last argument to discuss is related to when the book of Revelation was written. Preterists believe that all or some of the end time prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70 when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This would mean that Revelation would have been written in the AD 50s or 60s. Non-preterists do not agree because they believe that Revelation was written around AD 95 or 96.
What Is the Opposite of Preterism?
There are many different views of eschatological texts in the Bible. The one that is most opposite is the futurist view. This view says that the events of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation chapters 4-22 are yet to come. A futurist will divide the book of Revelation into three sections. The past, present, and future.
How Does a Preterists View Impact Our Understanding of the End Times?
For centuries, mankind has been trying to understand the events related to the end times. We want to know the who, what, when, and how. Understanding the last days is no easy feat, and I believe preterism could make it more difficult for some believers.
Taking a preterist view of the end times will lead you to the belief that all or some of end time prophecy has taken place. It’s up to you and God to figure out which ones. For some believers, this view could answer a lot of questions. Other believers could be more confused.
What believers need to be aware of is that a preterists view says that God is not coming back because He already has. This is a gloomy, depressing thought. If we are living in the new heaven and new earth now, then we don’t have a lot to look forward too. Our bodies are not renewed, and we are experiencing pain, tears, and natural disasters.
My Final Thoughts
While I believe there is a second coming of Christ, I cannot tell you what view to take. For your understanding to increase, you must be in the word. I strongly believe that God knows the plan and He will reveal His plan in His time. Sometimes we must avoid making the simple of message of God too complicated.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Thomas Bormans
Ashley Hooker is a freelance writer who spends her time homeschooling her two children, ministering alongside her husband as he pastors a rural church in West Virginia, and writing about her faith. Currently, she is a contributing author for Journey Christian magazine. She has taken part in mission trips with the NC Baptist Men during the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey in Mississippi and Texas. In her local church, she has served on various committees focusing in the area of evangelism along with traveling to West Virginia and Vermont to share the Gospel. Her dream is to spend her time writing and sharing the love of Christ with all she meets.