Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Amillennialism of Ignatius [A.D. 30-107]

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, was martyred during the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98-117). In His Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter XI, he states:

“He also died, and rose again, and ascended into the heavens to Him that sent Him, and is sat down at His right hand, and shall come at the end of the world, with His Father’s glory, to judge the living and the dead, and to render to every one according to his works.”

He places Christ’s coming “at the end of the world”, thus denying any earthly millennium. In addition, the purpose of His coming is “to judge the living and the dead, and to render to every one according to his works”, not to reign from some earthly temple made of human hands.

In addition, Ignatius knew nothing of any special covenant with Christ-rejecting Jews. In the same Epistle, Ignatius writes:

“It is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end. For where there is Christianity there cannot be Judaism.” (Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter X).

Ignatius’ “Replacement Theology” continues…

“If any one preaches the one God of the law and the prophets, but denies Christ to be the Son of God, he is a liar, even as also is his father the devil, (Comp. John 8:44) and is a Jew falsely so called, being possessed of mere carnal circumcision.” (Epistle to the Philadelphians, Chapter VI)

Thus, Ignatius is clearly Amillennial, and his views on Judaism would be rejected by today's premillennialists.

Note: I am using the term “amillennial” in a broad sense, based solely on writings concerning the timing of the resurrection and judgment when compared to the Second Advent. Postmillennialism is a possibility here as well, as both schools lump all three events together.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Inconclusive Eschatology of Polycarp [A.D. 65-100]

In Chapter 7 of Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, Polycarp mentions the resurrection and the final judgment, but makes no mention whatsover of a millennium. He also defines antichrist biblically, not expecting him to be a future, worldwide dictator.

Chap. VII. — Avoid the Docetae, and Persevere in Fasting and Prayer.
“For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist;” (1 John 4:3) and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from (Comp. Jude 1:3) the beginning; “watching unto prayer,” (1 Peter 4:7) and persevering in fasting; beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God “not to lead us into temptation,” (Matthew 6:13; Matthew 26:41) as the Lord has said: “The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41).

What little information we can glean from Polycarp’s eschatology supports amillennialism, though it is far from conclusive.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Preterism of Mathetes [A.D. 65]

There is very little mention of specific eschatological events in Mathetes (meaning “disciple”) Epistle to Diognetus, yet there are some items of interest in relation to premillennial assumptions. While it is common to date the Epistle at a later date, it sees quite clear that it is a pre-70 AD work, due to contemporary events. Mathetes mentions the practice of Old Covenant Judaism, a religion that ceased to exist in 70 AD. In Chap. XI. — These Things Are Worthy to Be Known and Believed, Mathetes claims to have “been a disciple of the Apostles”, thus placing his work in the First Century.

Chap. III. — Superstitions of the Jews.
And next, I imagine that you are most desirous of hearing something on this point, that the Christians do not observe the same forms of divine worship as do the Jews. The Jews, then, if they abstain from the kind of service above described, and deem it proper to worship one God as being Lord of all, [are right]; but if they offer Him worship in the way which we have described, they greatly err. For while the Gentiles, by offering such things to those that are destitute of sense and hearing, furnish an example of madness; they, on the other hand by thinking to offer these things to God as if He needed them, might justly reckon it rather an act of folly than of divine worship. For He that made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and gives to us all the things of which we stand in need, certainly requires none of those things which He Himself bestows on such as think of furnishing them to Him. But those who imagine that, by means of blood, and the smoke of sacrifices and burnt-offerings, they offer sacrifices [acceptable] to Him, and that by such honours they show Him respect, — these, by supposing that they can give anything to Him who stands in need of nothing, appear to me in no respect to differ from those who studiously confer the same honour on things destitute of sense, and which therefore are unable to enjoy such honours.

Chap. IV. — The Other Observances of the Jews.
But as to their scrupulosity concerning meats, and their superstition as respects the Sabbaths, and their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about fasting and the new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and unworthy of notice, — I do not think that you require to learn anything from me. For, to accept some of those things which have been formed by God for the use of men as properly formed, and to reject others as useless and redundant, — how can this be lawful? And to speak falsely of God, as if He forbade us to do what is good on the Sabbath-days, — how is not this impious? And to glory in the circumcision of the flesh as a proof of election, and as if, on account of it, they were specially beloved by God, — how is it not a subject of ridicule? And as to their observing months and days, (Comp. Galatians 4:10) as if waiting upon the stars and the moon, and their distributing, according to their own tendencies, the appointments of God, and the vicissitudes of the seasons, some for festivities, and others for mourning, — who would deem this a part of divine worship, and not much rather a manifestation of folly? I suppose, then, you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and error common [to both Jews and Gentiles], and from the busy-body spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal.”

Contrary to premillennial assumptions, Mathetes did not consider Judaism to be a “proof of election” or it practitioners to be “specially beloved by God”. Instead, Mathetes considered Judaism to be “a subject of ridicule”, and “a manifestation of folly”. If Mathetes believed in a future Jewish kingdom, he made no mention of it.

Mathetes also speaks of what appears to be the Neronic Persecution, following the statement that God “will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing”.

Chap. VII. — The Manifestation of Christ.
…This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing? ... Do you not see them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of His manifestation.”

Having Christians exposed to wild beasts is a description of Nero’s persecution.

“Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them.” (Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Chapter 2, Part 1).
While there is nothing conclusive about the eschatology in Mathetes‘ Epistle, what little we do have tends to support Preterism. The rejection of New Testament Judaism as being a Biblical religion is a recurring theme among the early church fathers, and is a sticky issue for any premillennialist who attempts to use patristics to support his modern eschatology.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Amillennialism of the Didache [60-200 AD]

The Didache, otherwise called “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles”, is said to support premillennialism. As we shall see, this claim is totally unwarranted.

Chap. 16 - Watchfulness; the Coming of the Lord.
Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time. For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead -- yet not of all, but as it is said: "The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him." Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.”

It is clear that the writers of the Didache held to a futurist view of the Lord’s Coming at the time this work was written. As with Clement of Rome and the Shepherd of Hermas, dating is the key. Scholars have suggested dates ranging from the time of the Apostles to the third Century.

“The Didache ("The Teaching") is one of the most fascinating yet perplexing documents to emerge from the early church. The title (in ancient times "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles") was known from references to it by Athanasius, Didymus, and Eusebius, and Serapion of Thmuis (4th century) has a quotation from it in his Eucharistic prayer [Richardson] p. 163. But no copy was known until 1873, when Bryennios discovered the codex Hierosolymitanus, which contained the full text of the Didache which he published in 1883. Since then it has been the focus of scholarly attention to an extent quite out of proportion to its modest length. Yet such basic information as who wrote and where and when remain as much as mystery as when it was first discovered… Dating the Didache is difficult because there is a lack of hard evidence and it is a composite document. It may have been put into its present form as late as 150 CE, though a date considerably closer to the end of the 1st century seems more probable. The materials from which it was composed, however, reflect the state of the church at an even earlier time. A very thorough commentary, [Audet], suggests about 70 CE and he is not likely to be off by more than a decade.” (From The Development of the Canon of the New Testament).

Here are some dates proposed by scholars.

Jean-P. Audet: “50-70 AD.”
Stephen J. Patterson: “end of the first century or the beginning of the second.”
Stevan Davies: “written sometime in the late first or early second century.”

If, in fact, the Didache was written prior to AD 70, then we have possible evidence for preterism. Otherwise, a reader of the Didache would have to conclude that it supports either amillennial or postmillennial futurism. The Didache teaches that the resurrection of the dead precedes the coming of the Lord, but mentions absolutely nothing about a millennium.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Papias [A.D. 70-155], the first Premillennialist???

While we have no direct writings of Papias, he was quoted by a number of later church fathers. From these, we have been able to obtain Fragments of Papias in a work entitled “Oracles of the Lord”. Papias was apparently a premillennialist, though it is said that he learned this Doctrine “from unwritten tradition” and “strange parables and instructions of the Saviour” (The inspired Word of God makes no mention of an earthly millennium). Eusebius writes the following concerning Papias:

“The same person, moreover, has set down other things as coming to him from unwritten tradition, amongst these some strange parables and instructions of the Saviour, and some other things of a more fabulous nature. Amongst these he says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth.” (Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord - Fragment VI).

Through this second hand account, we see that it is likely that Papias was the earliest to hold to Premillennialism in some form or other.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Inconclusive Eschatology of The Shepherd of Hermas [A.D. 60-210]

It is very difficult to draw any sort of eschatological conclusion from the Shepherd of Hermas, due to the literary style of the work, and the controversy surrounding it’s author and date. Nonetheless, I found it worthwhile to examine the Shepherd due to the claims by some that it supports the premillennial view, as well as to leave no stone unturned. The Shepherd makes many references to the kingdom of God, but always deals with it as a present reality, a Spiritual kingdom. Then again, so do many premillennialists. The author says nothing about a millennium, and even references to the Second Advent are questionable. The writer viewed the great tribulation as yet future, yet expected to take place in the lifetime of his listeners.

“Ye therefore that work righteousness be steadfast, and be not double-minded, that ye may have admission with the holy angels. Blessed are ye, as many as endure patiently the great tribulation that cometh, and as many as shall not deny their life.” (Vision II, 2:7)

“Go therefore, and declare to the elect of the Lord His mighty works, and tell them that this beast is a type of the great tribulation which is to come. If therefore ye prepare yourselves beforehand, and repent (and turn) unto the Lord with your whole heart, ye shall be able to escape it, if your heart be made pure and without blemish, and if for the remaining days of your life ye serve the Lord blamelessly. Cast your cares upon the Lord and He will set them straight.” (Vision IV, 2:5)

When was the Shepherd of Hermas written? If it can be established that the writing was prior to 70 AD, then we have strong evidence for preterism. The work makes no mention of the Destruction of Jerusalem, but that is merely an argument from silence. Kenneth Gentry explains the difficulty in dating the Shepherd.

“The indeterminate status of the dating of The Shepherd is directly related to the problem of ascertaining its authorship. Lightfoot’s analysis of the matter will guide our thinking.’ Was it written by (1) the Hermas greeted by Paul in Romans 16:14, as Origen suggests? Or by (2) the brother of Pius I (c. A.D. 140-150), as the Muratorian Canon (c. A.D. 180) teaches? Or by (3) some unknown Hermas who lived in the time of the bishopric of Clement of Rome (A.D. 90-100), as Zahn, Caspan, and others argue? Unfortunately, an assured conclusion on the date of The Shepherd may never be reached.” (Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, p. 86)

It is quite clear that the Shepherd of Hermas borrows imagery from the Book of Revelation. R. H. Charles explains:

“The fact that Hermas used the same imagery as [the Apocalypse] may be rightly used as evidence that he knew it. Thus the Church, (Vis. ii. 4), is represented by a woman (cf [Rev] 12:1 sqq.); the enemy of the Church by a beast (Vis. lv. 6-10, [Rev] 13) out of the mouth of the beasts proceed fiery locusts, (Vis. iv. 1, 6, [Rev] 9:3) whereas the foundation stones of the Heavenly Jerusalem bear the names of the Twelve Apostles, ([Rev] 21:14), and those who overcome are made pillars in the spiritual temple, ([Rev] 3:12), in Hermas the apostles and other teachers of the Church form the stones of the heavenly tower erected by the archangels, (Vis. iii. 5. 1). The faithful in both are clothed in white and are given crowns to wear, ([Rev] 6:11 etc., 2: 10; 3:10; Hermas, Sire. viii. 2. 1, 3).” (R. H. Charles, The Revelation of St. John)

Despite this repeated use of the Book of Revelation by the author of the Shepherd, he makes no mention whatsoever of an earthly millennium. However, this is still an argument from silence. Therefore, the eschatological position of the Shepherd of Hermas remains undetermined. It is certainly not support the claims of premillennialists.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Clement of Rome [A.D. 30-100] - Amillennial Preterist

The premillennialist appeal to the apostolic fathers is built on two flawed premises.

1.) The earliest church fathers were less prone to error than later fathers, since they lived closer to the time of the apostles.

2.) The earliest church fathers were premillennialists.

With regard to the first premise, it is entirely unfounded. It is quite apparent that heresy can sneak into the church very quickly, particularly in light of the influence of Judaism in the early church (the source of much premillennial thinking). Most of the New Testament was written to correct doctrinal errors that crept in to the church within decades of its birth. How much more error could be expected a century or more later? It could be argued that church fathers in later periods would be more trustworthy, as they were able to learn from the mistakes of earlier fathers.

With regard to the second premise, the purpose of this blog series is to refute it. If church history is the strongest leg that Premillennialism is standing on, it is about to fall over.

In order to understand the eschatology of Clement’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, we must first establish the date of its writing. The popular, but not real compelling, date is around 96 AD, and since Clement makes illusions to the parable of the fig tree and relates them to a future coming, Premillennialists often use Clement to support futurism.

“The all-merciful and beneficent Father has bowels [of compassion] towards those who fear Him, and kindly and lovingly bestows His favours upon those who come to Him with a simple mind. So let us not be double-minded; neither let our soul be lifted up on account of His exceedingly great and glorious gifts. Far from us be that which is written, "Wretched are they who are of a double mind, and of a doubting heart; who say, These things we have heard even in the times of our fathers; but, behold, we have grown old, and none of them has happened to us.." You foolish ones! compare yourselves to a tree: take [for instance] the vine. First of all, it sheds its leaves, then it buds, next it puts forth leaves, and then it flowers; after that comes the sour grape, and then follows the ripened fruit. You perceive how in a little time the fruit of a tree comes to maturity. Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, "Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;" and, "The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom you look."”

Yet a close examination of Clement’s Epistle shows that is was clearly written before 70 AD, as it speaks of Judaism being practiced in Jerusalem

"Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his own order, living in all good conscience, with becoming gravity, and not going beyond the rule of the ministry prescribed to him. Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin-offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers already mentioned. Those, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished with death. You see, brethren, that the greater the knowledge that has been vouchsafed to us, the greater also is the danger to which we are exposed."

With that in mind, we can see that Clement expected Christ to come “soon and suddenly”, and “speedily”, warning that He “will not tarry”. Like the time frame references in Scripture, there is no mistaken about the timing of Christ’s coming in I Clement. If Clement is to be taken seriously in terms of eschatology, only a preterist interpretation would suffice. If it was assumed that Clement was writing of Christ’s Second Advent as opposed to His judgment “coming” against apostate Israel (Matthew 16:27-28, Matthew 21:33-45), then we would have to conclude that He was just plain wrong.

Clement writes of the resurrection (Chapters 24 through 28) and the final judgment (Chapter 35), yet makes no mention of a millennium. If Clement, who wrote so much in terms of eschatology, actually believed in an earthly reign of Christ, then it would have been a tremendous oversight for him not to include it. Therefore, it must be concluded that the end times views of Clement of Rome are best described as amillennial preterist.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Eschatology of the Early Church

In my last few debates with premillennialists concerning eschatology, the discussion has led away from Scripture and towards discussions about what the early church fathers believed. Premillennialists claim that their view was the predominant view in the early church, and that the “Roman Apostasy” was responsible for its absence until shortly after the Reformation. It is this subject matter, as well as other historical issues, that prompted this blog.

First and foremost, I need to put church history in its proper place. The absence of an earthly “millennium” in Scripture is reason enough to reject it, even if every church father in history held to it. Scripture is the final test of doctrinal truth, not popular vote. That said, we should also be very slow to overturn a doctrine that has been established by the church fathers for centuries. It is arrogant to ignore the works of men who have labored in both Word and Doctrine, so church history does carry some weight when interpreting Scripture.

In light of this, was premillennialism the predominant view in the early church? In order to answer that question, we need to carefully define what we are looking for. Dr. Michael Vlach confuses chialism with premillennialism when he writes,

“The doctrine of Premillennialism has strong support in church history. In fact, Premillennialism was the prevailing millennial view for the first 300 years of church history. As the historian Philip Schaff states, “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment". (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:614).”

The Biblicist Website makes the same error, claiming that “The term chiliasm has been superseded by the designation premillennialism...". This is simply not true. A chiliast is one who simply believes in a literal millennium, and that would include classical postmillennialists as well. In order to establish premillennialism in the early church, it will need to be shown that,

1.) The Church believed that Christ’s Return would take place before the millennium.

2.) The Church believed that the millennium was a literal earthly reign.

It is difficult to establish the eschatological beliefs of many church fathers, as some seemed to change their view over time, and others were just inconsistent. However, once premillennialism is clearly defined as above, we shall see that true premillennialism was rare in the early church (it did exist), and those who did hold this view had other eschatological beliefs that are inconsistent with the modern view.

“But it is not correct to say, as premillenarians do, that it was generally accepted in the first three centuries. The truth of the matter is that the adherents of this doctrine were a rather limited number. There is no trace of it in Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Tatian, Athenogoras, Theophilus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Dionysius, and other important church fathers.” (Louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines, p. 262).

“Among the Apostolic Fathers BARNABAS is the first and the only one who expressly teaches a pre-millennial reign of Christ on earth. He considers the Mosaic history of the creation a type of six ages of labor for the world, each lasting a thousand years, and of a millennium of rest; since with God “one day is as a thousand years.” The millennial Sabbath on earth will be followed by an eighth and eternal day in a new world, of which the Lord’s Day (called by Barnabas “the eighth day”) is the type.” (Phillip Schaff – History of the Christian Church Vol. II, p. 617)

Friday, October 5, 2007



This blog is for the purpose of examining Christianity in the light of History. I will attempt, to the best of my ability, to examine church doctrines in the light of church history, and examine the faith of men throught history, particularly American and European History.

Comments are Welcome, as I can always learn from others. However, comments, while disagreeable, must be respectful, and should address the topic at hand.

God Bless,

Puritan Lad