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Bible Q

What is ‘Preterism’ and is it taught in the Bible?

Preterism is a term (from the Latin praeteritus, gone past) which is used by scholars of prophecy, particularly in relation to the Olivet prophecies of Jesus and the Book of Revelation, to say that some of these prophecies had a first fulfillment, or only fulfillment, in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.

The most famous example of a prophecy related to AD70 is probably this one, where Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem:

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24)

Almost all commentators on the New Testament, ancient and modern, accept that these words were fulfilled when the Christians in Jerusalem took advantage of a temporary loosening of the siege by the Roman army to flee the city to Pella in Perea. The incident is recorded by the early historian Eusebius (History of the Church 3, 5, 3) and elsewhere.

Preterist interpretation of Revelation

However the application of other items in the Olivet prophecy, and of any part of the Book of Revelation, to AD70 is more controversial; not least because it is not known for certain whether Revelation was written before or after the siege of Jerusalem. It is not within the remit of this forum to take a view. But in answer to the question ‘What is Preterism and is it taught in the Bible?’ perhaps the most useful thing to be said is that some prophecies in the Old Testament are in the New Testament understood as having more than one fulfillment – one famous example being the interpretation of the Emmanuel prophecy (Isaiah 7, originally relating to a child born of a maiden circa 715 BCE, whose birth would preface the deaths of the kings Rezin and Pekah) by Matthew in application to Jesus as a new Emmanuel child born to a literal virgin. So there is some precedent in the New Testament for dual fulfillment of a prophecy.

Full Preterism

Occasionally, more in internet forums than in printed texts or church pulpits, another form of ‘Preterism’ is encountered which applies not just to parts of the Olivet prophecy or parts of Revelation to AD70, but every single statement in the New Testament about the last days. One of the best known advocates for this view is the former Church of Christ pastor Max R. King whose book The Cross and the Parousia (1987) argues that the return of Christ, the resurrection, and final judgment were all spiritually fulfilled in AD70. Consequently King denies any visible return of Christ, any future resurrection or judgment and any kingdom of God on earth.

Given that there can be no evidence for any invisible return or invisible spirit resurrection of the dead in AD70, this is an argument that requires no proof of those presenting it other than assertion that it happened, but a survey of all the New Testament verses comparing the future resurrection of believers and the resurrection body, to Christ’s own physical resurrection body, shows that the idea of an invisible spirit ‘resurrection’ is not in Bible terms supported by a single verse about resurrection or life from the dead.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

This view, sometimes called hyper-preterism by its critics, is so unusual, however, there is no need to discuss it in depth here. Please search the BibleQ website for other answers on death, the resurrection and the kingdom of God.

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