ARGUMENTS AGAINST PRETERISM

PMT 2014-024 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.Arguing

In this blog article I am offering a brief response to Dr. Charles Hill’s critique of preterism. His objections are generally quite commonly alleged against the preterist approach to Revelation. Hopefully, these will help preterists in their own defenses of their approach to Revelation.

Fallacious Arguments

1. Genetic fallacy. Hill opens by poisoning-the-well for several paragraphs. He claims that the Jesuit Alcazar gave “birth” to Revelational preterism in 1619 as a defense of Romanism. Response: (1) This is the genetic fallacy, and totally irrelevant to preterism’s legitimacy. (2) It is erroneous: a thousand years before, the Greek fathers Arethas and Andreas either applied or noted that others applied several Revelation prophecies to Jerusalem’s fall. Just prior to Alcazar, in fact, commentators Hentenius (1547) and Salmeron (1570) provided preterist expositions, though not as fully and systematically. (3) Protestant scholars quickly picked up on preterism: Westminster divine Lightfoot (1658) and Westminster nominee Henry Hammond (1653), as well as Hugo Grotius (1630) and Jean LeClerc (1712).

2. Bifurcation fallacy. Hill continues well-poisoning by next mentioning heretical nineteenth century hyper-preterists. Response: (1) This bifurcation fallacy pits “consistent [hyper] preterism” over against “Reformed…orthodoxy,” as if these were the only options. Besides our book is discussing the “Reformed tradition”; hyper-preterism is outside confessional bounds. (2) His procedure is dangerous: Does hyper-Calvinism discredit true Calvinism?


Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond  (ed. by Darrell Bock)
Presents three views on the millennium: progressive dispensationalist, amillennialist, and reconstructionist postmillennialist viewpoints. Includes separate responses to each view
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


3. Question begging. Hill fallaciously argues that for preterists to remain orthodox they must hold Revelation 20:7–22:5 is still future. Response: (1) This is question-begging: he assumes this passage is future, though this is a key point in the dispute. (2) His empthymematic argument requires the suppressed premise that orthodoxy requires this portion of Revelation to be future. Theoretically Revelation might have nothing to do with our future at all. What canon of orthodoxy requires future eschatology be derived from Revelation (rather than elsewhere)? (3) Revelation is a symbolic book that may speak of contemporary realities in language elsewhere associated with future prospects.

4. Erroneous Assertions. A few samples will suffice: (1) Hill wrongly claims that 20th century preterists are relatively few. Recent commentaries disagree: Preterism “is the view held by a majority of contemporary scholars” (Alan Johnson); “is characteristic of most contemporary interpreters” (Robert Mounce); is held by “most modern scholars” (Leon Morris). (2) Hill mistakenly argues that admitting some portions of Revelation are future tends “to reduce preterism practically to elimination.” Response: Preterists argue that events deemed “near” are now past (Revelation on the whole); but Revelation 20 is the one place that John himself extends beyond his time frame: it speaks of “1000 years.” (3) Regarding “the seven heads of the beast from chapter 17” Hill erroneously asserts that “the preterist has to assume that this prophecy refers to the destruction of Jerusalem.” But the heads refer to Rome; the woman on the beast refers to Jerusalem.

5. False conclusions. Hill allows as an argument against preterism that Revelation speaks to “first century” realities, but argues that they “have repercussions and later manifestations” until the end. Response: (1) How does this undercut preterism? Though Sodom’s sin and destruction were discrete historical occurrences, they serve as a paradigm for later, similar episodes (Isa 13:19; Jer 49:18; 50:40; Lam 4:6). Does this mean that the prophecy against Sodom did not really look to the historical event? Neither do later Revelation-like episodes require that the original events were not the specific focus of Revelation. (2) Does Hill really expect numerous seven headed beasts marking men with 666? Numerous Armageddons? Numerous sealings of 144,000? Numerous 1000 year reigns? And so on? (3) Does he himself not argue that several Revelation battles are “still future realities”? Why are they not repeated through history? (4) Hill’s argument reduces to this: Hill says these things recur throughout history; John says these things are “shortly to come to pass.”

6. Hasty generalization. Hill believes his presentation will “conclusively disprove the preterist approach” as “not viable.” But due to the tentative nature of his presentation it is impossible to jump to his assured conclusion: (1) He argues frequently: “in my opinion,” “if,” “it seems that,” “very unlikely,” “we do not know exactly,” “this seems,” “which seems,” “would appear,” “probably,” “Revelation seems,” and so forth. (2) He asserts “once we make these admissions” — but preterists do not! (3) He reduces to one battle, the various battles because they “sound like” each other. But similarity does not demand identity: note similar OT judgments (Isa 13; 34; Joel 2); Jesus’s two temple cleansings (Jn 2:14; Mk 11:15); the feeding of the multitudes (Mt 14:15-21; 15:32-39). But I must move on.

Legitimate Arguments

1. Dating Revelation. Hill assumes the late-date “alone would rule out” preterism. Response: (1) Alcazar held to the late date. He believed that the Jewish judgments in chapters 6-12 were past. (2) Many preterists apply Revelation to Rome’s fall centuries after the late-date. I disagree with both of these, however. (3) Hill’s late-date arguments have been answered in my Before Jerusalem Fell.

2. Future beast. Hill argues the battle of chapters 16, 17, and 19 (which involve the beast) is connected with 20:8-9, which means “these figures have some future manifestation.” Response: (1) Hill is inconsistent: Does he not expect “repercussions and later manifestations”? Why not here? (2) Hill is mistaken: The battle of 20:8-9 ends with the devil being cast into hell where the beast already is from an earlier time.

3. Quickly happen. Hill offers a two-pronged response to preterism’s emphasis on the near-time designates: First, many of the events begin in the first century, but continue throughout history. Second, preterism cannot explain the universal judgment (20:12-13), resurrection (20:11-15), and the “fullness and totality” of the New Earth if they insist on “face value” of these terms.

Response: (1) Which is it? Do “near” and “shortly” mean Revelation prophecies “begin” soon (his first point)? Or do they not (second point)? Hill suggests both! (2) Why does Revelation labor to present concrete historical judgments, when we actually should read them as recurring themes? (3) John’s New Earth prophecy derives from Isaiah 65:17 (cp. 2Co 5:17) which must be pre-consummational, for birth, death, sin, and curse continue in it (v.20; see Calvin, Isaiah). (4) What becomes here of Hill’s begin-in-the-first-century approach?

4. Christ’s judgment (Rev 22:12). Hill complains that A.D. 70 “can hardly be described as a universal” punishment and that “similar NT language” speaks of the end. Response: (1) Apocalyptic scholars agree that local catastrophes often appear in universal terms by such formula language (e.g., Isa 13:1-17). For instance, Beale (who agrees with Hill) admits: “On the surface, 6:12-17 looks like a final judgment because of its language of cosmic upheaval. Nevertheless, the OT typically uses such wording to indicate figuratively God’s judgment and destruction of evil kingdoms” (Revelation, 123). (2) How does Hill deal with Acts 2:16-17 which occurred at Pentecost but looks universal? (3) Since Hill redefines “near”/”soon” how can he resist redefining “repay every one” (especially in light of its context, 22:10)? (4) Again, similarity (elsewhere in the NT) does not demand identity.

5. Visionary temple (Rev 11). Hill argues: On the preterist principle of a literal temple John’s prophecy “failed” for it “was most certainly destroyed” in A.D. 70. Response: (1) I answer this in Four Views on the Book of Revelation (65-67). (2) John speaks of the “temple” and “outer court.” Elsewhere in the NT the “temple” can represent believers (1Co 3:16-17), the “outer court” never does. Hill allows a distinction between the inner/outer temple — and so do I: The inner represents true believers while the outer represents the external temple system which was “ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:13; cp. Rev 1:1,3). Thus, as in Luke: the physical temple was destroyed (Lk 21:6) while the inner temple of God’s true people was preserved (Lk 21:18-21).

6. Marriage of the Lamb. Hill complains of “two great problems”: First, the preterist allows God two wives between A.D. 30 and 70. Second, the marriage appears in both Revelation 19 and 21, placing it in the New Earth after the millennium and last judgment of Revelation 20.

Response: (1) The first “problem” is no more difficult than in the space of a few verses Isaiah’s portraying Israel as both God’s wife (Isa 50:1) and son (Isa 49:15). Is God married to his son? Nor than Christ’s holding seven stars in his right hand while placing that hand on John (Rev 1:16-17). Apocalyptic drama can present its message in vivid terms that might seem contradictory in reality. (2) The second “problem” is answered by noting that Revelation 20 allows a singular distant glance into the future, while Revelation 21 returns to the “near” time (see above).

7. Missed Point. Hill derisively writes off preterism as missing Revelation’s “whole point” and as an unproductive enterprise. He asserts: “Revelation is not essentially about national or ethnic Israel but Christ’s kingship and Lordship over all.” Response: (1) Hill writes as if the demise of Israel — after 1500 years of OT prominence — is a minor issue. Yet the Gospels, Acts, Romans, and Hebrews (especially) give great space to relating her failure. For example, Peter Walker observes: “one of the frequently observed paradoxes in Matthaen studies is that this Gospel, which at one level can rightly be seen as the most Jewish one, is at another level the most severely ‘anti-Jewish.'” (2) Preterism does not undermine the universal kingship of Christ: it illustrates it through Christ’s total destruction of Christianity’s first enemy, apostate Israel (1Th 2:14-16; Ac 2:16-20, 40), just like Pharaoh’s conquest (Ro 9:17; Ex 15; Ps 135).


When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyperpreterism
(ed. by Keith Mathison)

A reformed response to the aberrant HyperPreterist theolgy. Gentry’s chapter critiques HyperPreterism from an historical and creedal perspective.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com

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11 thoughts on “ARGUMENTS AGAINST PRETERISM

  1. scaldaferriLeandro February 24, 2014 at 8:35 am

    Excellent article!

  2. icecave7 February 24, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Very well presented–thank you Dr. Gentry.

  3. Jeremiah April 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Very helpful article, indeed, Dr. Gentry! I will pass this one on to others.

    I must make a statement about your analogy of “consistent” preterism (hyper-preterism) to Preterism is like hyper-Calvinism to Calvinism. I do not believe that is an accurate contrast. Now I know you are a Calvinist, Dr. Gentry, and I am not. I am not pointing out what I believe to be a flaw in your contrast above as some leverage to bring an attack on Calvinism. I am really doing it for the sake of the Preterist position by undermining the implication that hyerpreterism is just “consistent” preterism. Please allow me to give the following reasons:

    1) Hyper preterists (HP) come to their conclusions not because they are being consistent with the teachings of Preterists. Or, to say it another way, they are going where Preterists cannot comfortably commit themselves to go. Preterism does not have hermeneutical dilemma’s where passages create tensions that require the theologian to say “it is a mystery how these work together”. There are passages which refer to 70AD destruction and some others that refer to the distant future. Period. Hyper-preterism, thus, is a system that fails because of poor hermeneutics. They take a small handful of verses out of context, and force them onto others throughout the corpus of Scripture. Hence, they are not being “consistent” but simply, aberrant in every way.

    2) Hyper-Calvinism (HC), on the other hand, is an issue of “consistent” Calvinism. This does not necessarily imply that they are right or that “historic” Calvinism is wrong. In fact, HC proponents should have listened to their Calvinistic theologians and paid better attention in class. The idea of both monergism and meticulous-sovereignty of the normal Calvinist model would “logically” (note: “logically” does not necessarily mean it is right) lead to God being the author of evil. This is done by seeing that if God is sovereign in that all is fore-ordained by His will, then even the thoughts of man’s heart are because of His pre-ordained will, including the sin that is there. For to say is completely from man apart from God, would give him autonomous authority. However, this would fly in contradiction to numerous Scriptures where it is both explicitly said God does not commit evil, but by the definition of God’s holiness as well. So where, rightly, a Calvinist cannot understand how God fore-ordains all things in accordance to His sovereignty and yet, is not evil, is a mystery. It is beyond normal human comprehension like the Trinity is. This also is true concerning HC’s view of not needing to preach as a logical consequence of a Calvinist’s understanding of election. But again, HC do not stop that logical progressions with the other parts of Scripture that give the other side of the coin.

    All to say, that I believe the contrast you make does a hindrance to Preterism because of the implication I just described above.

  4. Kenneth Gentry April 21, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks for your note. However, I believe the comparison stands. Your admission that you are not a Calvinist helps me see where you are missing the analogy. Your understanding of evil and God’s sovereignty is not properly explained. However, that is another topic. Thanks for reading. And interacting.

  5. jeremiahcourter April 21, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    I definitely enjoy interacting. 🙂

    But let’s just say for the sake of argument, I agree with you that I am misunderstanding the analogy based on a mishap on my part in describing the model of God’s sovereignty vs. evil, doesn’t my first point still stand? Hyper preterist are not taking anything “too far” (i.e., consistent or to absurdity) but are 1) taking passages out of context and 2) torturing other texts by making their small handful of “out of context passages” and putting them into others where they do not belong. Unless, of course, you believe that is precisely what Hyper-Calvinists due then we will just have shake hands and move on.

  6. jeremiahcourter April 21, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    After all, such a temptation does not exist in Preterism as far as I can tell. That, is ultimately, my point.

  7. Kenneth Gentry April 22, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    I agree with you that HPs engage in anti-contextual exegesis and that they torture other texts. We are not in disagreement over that. But I see these problems in HyperCalvinism. They believe their logic holds: if God sovereignly saves people, we do not need missionaries or need to present the gospel, they say. Despite the fact that the NT shows missionaries and people presenting the gospel.

  8. Jeremiah April 22, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    That is actually my point. Hyper-preterists are IGNORING other texts and allowing their other doctrine such as say, Unconditional election, to “overrule” the scriptures that talk about preaching and missionaries. Now, the hyper-Calvinists are understanding Unconditional election correctly. If they were to write out their definition, it would match a Calvinist definition. According to a Calvinist, they are interpreting the texts supporting Unconditional Election in an appropriate context. BUT after that everything goes south with how they wash over other verses that say they must also still preach and so forth…

    Hyper-Preterist don’t IGNORE anything (well…I suppose they might at times). Their problem is that they take their “core” verses out of context FROM THE START and then proceed forward and apply it to other verses that have nothing to do with it. This requires further distortion, eisegesis, and torturing the text. I think HC just use the trump card of TULIP and don’t balance one doctrine with another. I think where HC go wrong is they do not say to themselves, “how it all works in the divine plan with Unconditional election and the necessity to preach is a MYSTERY”. Instead they follow the “logic” of Unconditional election at the cost of ignoring the other verses as inferior (but perhaps this last sentence is where I am wrong).

    I mean, help me out here, Dr. Gentry, am I confusing something here? Again, I am not trying to nitpick on a passing comment you said, it just stood out to me as potentially misleading…perhaps?

  9. Kenneth Gentry April 23, 2014 at 9:19 am

    I agree with you (supposing a typo in your first sentence where you mention “Hyper-preterists” but seem to be referring to Hyper-Calvinists) regarding Hyperpreterism. I still believe the two are similar in their errors. Obviously not EVERY Hyper-Calvinist argues as every other one. There are variations in their systems. But both systems have proponents who make both logical errors of theological extension as well as exegetical errors by suppressing certain texts, as well.

  10. Ron July 2, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    The basic to understand preterism is: The temple in Jerusalem was the symbol of heaven and earth: The Holy of Holies the centre point of heaven and earth, the cornerstone from which God´s creation started! So when Jesus spoke about heaven n earth passing away, the Jews thought of their temple and their covenant with God.
    When Jesus died, heaven darkend, the earth shook and the veil in the temple was torn in two. He had predicted it to the highpriest: He would see him return in judgement in his lifetime: Heaven and Earth will pass away.

  11. Kenneth Gentry July 3, 2015 at 11:19 am

    You are partly correct. About the significance of the temple, that is. The earthly temple’s destruction was a harbinger of, a pointer to, the final judgment at the end of history when Christ returns bodily, visibly, and powerfully to finish God’s redemptive plan for history. AD 70 was a “day of the Lord,” like many OT “day of the Lord” events. Each historical day of the Lord is a distant adumbration of the final, consummating Day of the Lord.

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