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PRETERISM REBUTTED?

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  March 17, 2014 — 8 Comments
When Shall These Things

Noted scholar Dr. Charles Hill’s has written a critique of preterism which was intended for a “views” book. Though this book was never published, I would like to respond to his objections since they represent well-reasoned arguments by a well-seasoned scholar. 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.

Unfortunately, we must begin with:

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?


Book Special
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).


Book Special

When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyperpreterism
(ed. by Keith Mathison)
A reformed response to the aberrant HyperPreterist theology.
Gentry’s chapter critiques HyperPreterism from an historical and creedal perspective.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

8 responses to PRETERISM REBUTTED?

  1. You didn’t cite the material you are responding to regarding Mr. Hill. Could you please do that – thank you.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. April 13, 2014 at 6:30

      I actually can’t do that. It was a debate book manuscript but the book was never published. But I hope some of my responses “out of the blue” might be helpful nevertheless.

  2. Concerning your #5 on Rev. 11 and seeing the “inner” being NC true believers and the “outer” the OC system “ready to vanish” in (Heb. 8:13) – have you considered “the first” is the OC system “ready to vanish” (the Holy Place) that had legal standing until AD 70 and the Most Holy Place is the NC system which would continue beyond AD 70 (Heb. 9:1-10/Rev. 21:16)? Also, would you agree with Milton Terry that the Second Appearing of Christ in Hebrews 9:26-28 took place at the end of the OC age? Thank you.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. April 14, 2014 at 6:30

      I believe Rev 20 is the one section of the Revelation that looks beyond the near-term to the distant implications of AD 70. I believe Satan was bound in AD 70 but is not cast into the Lake of Fire until after the “thousand years.” If we can fit 1000 years into “near” time structure, then it would seem we could fit “near” into 1000 years, thereby destroying the preterist system. That is, if we can say 1000 years fits into the near term, then why not 2000 or 3000? What then becomes of the nearness of the near?

  3. On #6 – In the OT God was married to Israel. But when she split He was married to two sisters. He remained married to OC Judah/Jerusalem which became a harlot. Between AD 30 – AD 70 He was betrothed to NC Jerusalem. Between AD 67-70 don’t we see the divorce/stoning/burning of the OC harlot first wife and the marriage of the NC/NJ bride? I don’t see the problem here? It is not metaphorical sin on God’s part to be married to one and be betrothed to another. It is also consistent to OT law isn’t it?

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. April 14, 2014 at 6:30

      This is covenantal imagery. Such imagery can shift according to the needs of the prophecy. For instance, Israel is called both God’s son and God’s wife. This does not imply that men can marry their sons making them their wives.

      In Jer 3 we find Israel presented as both “sons” and a faithless wife:

      Jer 3:1: “God says, ‘If a husband divorces his wife And she goes from him And belongs to another man, Will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; Yet you turn to Me,’ declares the LORD.”

      Jer 3:14: “‘Return, O faithless sons,’ declares the LORD; ‘For I am a master to you, And I will take you one from a city and two from a family, And I will bring you to Zion.'”

      In that chapter Israel is presented as a male son (Jer 3:14) and as female harlot (Jer 3:6).

  4. I know you might not want to touch this with a ten foot poll, but I don’t see the godly men of the OT being “in sin” for having more than one wife. In some cases the law required it – the passing of a brother required another brother to marry his wife (nothing says this is limited to single brothers of the deceased brother). So for God to be married to an unfaithful wife while betrothed to another isn’t a problem.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. April 14, 2014 at 6:30

      Revelation is using covenantal imagery for its symbolism, with God’s “wife” being his covenant people. The standard for marriage is one wife, as Jesus states in Matt 19:5-6 and Paul in 1 Tim 3:2. The judicial thrust of Revelation plays on the creation ordinance of one man / one wife. Scripture teaches that God only has one people (e.g., Rom 11:17-19; Eph 2:12-17).

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