Partial Preterism Absent in at Least the First Two Centuries of the Church

Futurism was the singular voice in the orthodox early church—a historical fact that partial preterists don’t like very much.

Full Preterism was condemned in the Bible and the early church as a heresy. It is still considered heresy today in orthodox Christianity, because the resurrection and Jesus’ return is still in the future.

It was not until about the fourth century that there emerged a few individuals who, for various reasons, wanted to affirm that most eschatological prophecies in the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation had already happened (e.g. Antichrist’s great tribulation); yet they still wanted to hold that the resurrection is still in the future. We call this “partial preterism.”

Nevertheless, the fact is in at leat the first couple of centuries of the church the singular understanding was futurism, not partial preterism. The following primary literature documented from the first two centuries demonstrates this point.

First, the Didache, a first century Christian document, is an incredibly problematic document for partial preterism, because it explicitly ties the future resurrection together with the Antichrist’s figure.

(1) Watch over your life: do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming. (2) Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for all the time you have believed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time. (3) For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters will abound, and the sheep will be turned into wolves, and love will be turned into hate. (4) For as lawlessness increases, they will hate and persecute and betray one another. And then the deceiver of the world will appear as a son of God and will perform signs and wonders, and the earth will be delivered into his hands, and he will commit abominations the likes of which have never happened before. (5) Then all humankind will come to the fiery test, and many will fall away and perish; but those who endure in their faith will be saved by the accursed one himself. (6) And then there will appear the signs of the truth: first the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet, and third, the resurrection of the dead— (7) but not of all; rather, as it has been said, “The Lord will come, and all his saints with him.” (8) Then the world will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven. (Did 16:1–8, Apostolic Fathers, 3rd ed., Edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes).

Second, the church in the second century considered the Antichrist as future:

Irenaeus, Haer. 3.6.5 (ANF 1:420), “and Antichrist shall be lifted up”; Tertullian, Res. 24 (ANF 3:563), the Man of Lawlessness will be revealed after the fall of the Roman Empire; Lactantius, Inst. 7.17 (ANF 7:215-15). This puts a large question mark on the preterist interpretation, which implies that no one would think to look for eschatological signs after the day of the Lord had come in AD 70. Yet the earliest of the church fathers continued to regard 2 Thes 2:4 as wholly future. Beyond that, preterists have found a great deal of difficulty in satisfactorily identifying any one historical person as the Man of Lawlessness. (284n50, Gary Shogren, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Zondervan 2011), 284).

 

 

 

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