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The Biblicist Website makes the same error, claiming that “The term chiliasm has been superseded by the designation premillennialism...".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)


Bryan said...

It's interesting that when I've debated premillennarians, they've almost become Catholic in their defense of their view. Certainly tradition holds weight, and I know that to say that they do equate premill tradition with Scripture is a straw-man, but it really seems like it.

A weird quote that I read recently comes from Michael Haykin in his book "Defence [sic] of the Truth:"

"...Charles E. Hill has demonstrated in a ground-breaking study that alongside this eschatological tradition [premillennialism] there is another tradition, just as ancient, if not older that would not have been at home within the premillennial camp. In fact, this amillennial perspective, for so we may call it, became so influential in the patristic era that after the Council of Nicaea (325) it is rare to find a Christian leader who opts for premillennialism." (pg. 48)

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks for the quote Bryan.

I recall reading awork by one Dispentional Grad Student at Dallas Theological Seminary who set out to prove that premillennialism was the predominant view in church history. Though he is still to this day a premillennialist, he came to the honest conclusion that premillennialism among early church fathers was not all that common. Unfortunately, I cannot recall his name right now.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. The Hill reference is also appropriate in the comments. You may find the following work interesting as well.
Eschatology and Pain in St. Gregory the Great
The Christological Synthesis of Gregory's Morals on the Book of Job

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Anonymous, I'll check these out, though premillennialism seems to have all but disappeared after the 4th Century. If you read the rest of my blog, you will see that true premillennialism was rare amont the antenicene fathers as well, and the brand that did exist has very little resemblance to the modern version.

Once I finish the AN Church Fathers, I'll post a summary lists of their beliefs with links.

Mark said...

You said "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. "

Papias (Friend of Polycarp and hearer of the Apostle John)in his THE EXPOSITION OF THE ORACLES OF THE LORD, 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.

I think this show both points that you wanted.

Regards a Brother in Christ

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Mark,

Papias was the first premillennialist, as I showed in this post. So was Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Commodianus, and Hippolytus. However, I have covered nearly three centuries of the church fathers so far, and they are the only ones who can rightfully be labeled as premillennialists. There are a handful of others who may have been, but the vast majority of the early church fathers were clearly amillennial.

Puritan Lad said...

Correct link for Papias.

Anonymous said...

As an uneducated in church university or theology; which I believe a prerequisite to being unhindered in reading the Bible, I've found it un-necessary to be pre or a-millennium concerning this teaching. The millennium being unsupported and passed on from an original Jewish error describing the chosen as rulers (for a time) over all the people. Understand I believe Christianity is a Jewish religion, and today God offering a new covenant, both Jew and Gentile together being spliced into the full family of God.
I would not mind your critiquing my web-article study:

DeWayne said...

As 'anonymous' saying that the Millennium is a holdover error from Jewish origin, I gave the wrong web-article address for my study concerning this teaching, it should have been:

And again I accept any and all critique.

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks for the comment DeWayne,

I've been kind of busy as of late, but I'll try to find some time to critique your article soon.

I must ask why you believe that "an uneducated in church university or theology" is "a prerequisite to being unhindered in reading the Bible". Don't you think that a serious Bible student should know something about the life, times and history of the Bible, as well as some of the original language?

In the end, one must be either premillennial, amillennial, or postmillennial. If there is another option, I'll be open to listen.

DeWayne said...

Puritan Lad
Yes I do believe that a serious student of the Bible needs some idea of the times, customs, etc, however this is precisely in great part what those that translated had already accomplished in good measure.
More importantly I believe the word (not text or translation) is Spiritually discerned, and a serious student contacts the Master instructor for the living word.
Perhaps this is where I might add, some of the religious training in this effort has been that which has led many astray.
As the Chillioi 'Thousand' used eight times, and unusually six (singularly) in Rev-20 and called a Latin Millennium, has two seperate beginnings and only one single ending, the context points not to a literal time period, but an encapsulation of 'events' described (during) this Thousand. Check out also the decreed covenant both a Thousand generations, also being Forever, the important and issue is the covenant.
As you can see the 'Thousand' is both pre and amillennium, and because it is fiction, is neither.
Again I seriously suggest you read in detail my article at

DeWayne said...

An interesting reading is an article put out by Hasten the Light Ministries:

An excerpt about one of the early church leaders teaching about the Millennium was Cerinthus, the following appears to give an interesting report, saying:
Cerinthus lived in the days of the apostle John. We will now call your attention to the attitude of the beloved apostle toward this Millennial teacher.

Irenaeus, who was born about 120 A. D. and was acquainted with Polycarp, the disciple of John,

[Eusebius's Eccl. Hist., V. 24], states that while John was at Ephesus, he entered a bath to wash and found that Cerinthus was within, and refused to bathe in the same bath house, but left the building, and exhorted those with him to do the same, saying, "Let us flee, lest the bath fall in, as long as Cerinthus, that enemy of the truth, is within."—Eusebius's Eccl. Hist., III. 28.

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Dewayne. Very interesting. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any of the writings of Cerinthus. The earliest premillennialist that I find was Papias.

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EricfromAz said...

We need to form our echatological views based upon scripture first, and the aid of believers of the past. Popularity contests in regard to one view does not make that view wrong or right. It takes alot of study and furthermore a true interest in the truth and that being said: "we should" admit when we are or could be wrong in our stance and not simply dig our heels in because it was the first stance we believed as baby christians.

Puritan Lad said...

Right On Eric. Sola Scriptura.

I am a postmillennial partial preterist myself, and I agree that our doctrines should come from Scripture first. However, most premillennialists will argue that the early church was premillennial, and that non-millennial views are "Roman Catholic" corruptions. Therefore, I have undertaken this study (on hold for a while) to show that such claims are totally without any foundation. There was premillennialism is the early church, but it was rare, and considered to be a strange teaching. Not only that, but the form of premillennilism that did exist bears no resemblance whatsoever to the modern version.

Anonymous said...

Puritan Lad, according to research and findings, the first Millennium teaching (Greek Chilioi) included sensual indulgences, in modern times this was dropped and primarily the teaching revolving around belief of a period when some would rule over others with Christ.
This period of ruling appears to be a teaching before Christ Jesus, the teaching of Christ warning about ruling as by the Gentile rulers, and instead sought those that would serve, that I take meaning to reign with Christ in works predestined.

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Anonymous said...

Tell me what you think Jesus referred to (Mat 25:31-46) "When the Son of Man comes in his glory"? Also to be brief Acts 1:6. After the resurrection of the Lord the disciples still imagined that at that time He would restore the kingdom to Israel. When the disciples say "kingdom" are they not referring to the "kingdom of heaven"? Is this not the same "kingdom" for which He sent His disciple to preach, (Mat 10:5-18)? Granted believing in a millennial kingdom saves none, for it is not the gospel that saves. Therefore, people alive at the second advent of Christ enter by the works of helping Jews, the Lords "brethren". The "kingdom of heaven" could easily be, because it is ruled by heavenly entities. Completely different from the "Kingdom of God", Paul preached. My suggestion is study, refraining from pleasing your own idea's, a sin of the body we live-in. Trust no one, Early Father's or Reformers-get the truth for yourself.

Alan Fuller said...

Barnabas didn't actually say He would begin the eighth day after the seventh. Here is what he said.

...Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world... XV

He says "when giving," not after. He will begin the eighth day while the seventh is in progress. That is an important difference. It is not premillennialism as Schaff asserts.

Anonymous said...

On the blog about the premillennialist who stated he could not find many early pre's in the Church. I believe it to be this article.

Anonymous said...

Just look around at the current situation both in the world and many churches as well. For those who have eyes to see and ears to simply is so simple a child can see. A humble child of God. Saved by Grace and that in Christ alone. Never have i seen such a falling away , but not from religion, for many wordly and prosperity churches now swell to ranks of tens of thousands. No , it is a falling away from Truth, from scriptures, from the true faith and firstlove of Christ.
Who said give these things no thought, no worries. He feeds the sparrows , he clothes the fields. he will provide. Let us be content with our food and clothes. Let us not worry about the morrow, for today has plenty enough evil to combat with. Let us not love the world nor the things that are in it. Let us set our affections of things above in Heaven, where Christ is seated not on earthly things, ambitions, pursuits of advancement, more money, pleausers.
For all of these do choke the word.
Let us all rreturn to our first love, Christ . Let us walk as he did, he did all for the glory of GOd, and all for others. Let us take joyfully the spoiling of our goods, truly knowing that we have a better and enduring substance above in Christ. The true treasures. Let us run from the false prosperity gospel of man, and run to the true prosperity gospel of Christ. Who said store not up for yourselves treasures on earth. Store them up in heaven.
Give to those who cannot repay and you shall be recompensed at the day of ressurection. So many have strayed from the first love, and went a whoring after the pleasures of the world. But i am here to speak truth. Be dead to the world, and alive unto Christ. Moritfy your memebers. Live after the spirit and not the flesh. For who ever lives after the flesh shall die. I pray for us all. Hear his voice and follow only truth. For many, and i say many, false prophets , apsotles etc have made havoc on the Church. They indeed appear as men of righteousness........but both their faith and trust is not by every word of God. Instead being decieved and decieving they teach as though they hear him.....but have indeed mixed pursuits of the world, ambitons , cares and pleasures of life in with it.
From such turn away. I beg, i plead ......come back to our First love. Be blessed in Christ Puritan Lad. And if you yourself have been in error, i pray you repent and stand firm in the true faith. God desires none to perish....and for all the evils i did, all i deserved was the wrath of GOd.......but instead it was Grace.
So my prayer hopes and desires is for us all to come back to our First love and follow him. Amen. if you desire email me at

Greg Vasquez said...

@Puritan Lad... you wouldn't happen to know of a book or work that teaches, specifically the escatology of the early church fathers? I hope to learn more of their views as an added help in my study of scripture. But not sure if I have the time to read the stacks of their writings to single out their end times views. Gracias

Greg Vasquez said...

@Puritan Lad... you wouldn't happen to know of a book or work that teaches, specifically the escatology of the early church fathers? I hope to learn more of their views as an added help in my study of scripture. But not sure if I have the time to read the stacks of their writings to single out their end times views. Gracias

dlarryb said...

Meanwhile, exegetical exposition of Scripture produces only one eschatology - premillennial.

Puritan Lad said...


Which Scriptures would you be referring to? Is this something you wish to defend, or merely assert>

Anonymous said...

The Kingdom of God we know is not on this earth, but in heaven called also Paradise, and at this time within us (as HS).
Christ assured that He was going to prepare a place for us, that He would return to take the saints back to be where He is, saying some would know the way?
Satan was cast out of heaven but once, Isaiah describing this saying into the grave/Hell and the pit/Abyss, Rev-20 confirms this. Paul in 2Thess tells us Christ now holds Satan back, altho Satan and his are spiritually active in the world now.
Revelation-12 describes after Satan cast out of heaven, saying a loud voice from heaven announces this bringd salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Chris.
This means that the upright and righteous after Christ rising in victory over death, brought these having a part in the first resurrection, also giving gifts to men. The Apostle then teach at death the saints now go to be with the Lord.
This means those now (saved) having the HS are also part of those that (now) reign with Christ.
Revelation-20 read fully describes the end/last days ending in judgment, all wicked destroyed along with this corrupted heavens and earth.
The only scripture describing a people ruling over others in end/last days, is at the release of Satan from the Abyss, and that for only a short time. Eternity is not a Thousand years.

Puritan Lad said...


Jesus said that he had ALL authority, in heaven and on earth. Was he wrong?

I agree that Christ is returning, but cannot find any mention of an earthly millenniun in Scripture.

Why does 2 Thess. mention the temple? You tell us that "2Thess tells us Christ now holds Satan back" (even though that's not what it says.) I have other questions concerning this, as well as the other passages, but we'll get there. But you haven't shown anything that mentions a premillennial advent or an earthly millennium.

Dee Dee Warren said...

Cerinthius was a heretic... not so great an example

Dee Dee Warren said...

Cerinthius was a heretic. Not a good example.

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Dee Dee,

I just subscribed to your podcast. Good stuff.

DeWayne said...

The disciples were most certainly talking about a Holy Kingdom, much as Christ warned the Pharasee in doubt and error, saying they would not see it with their close observation, nor would others say here or there it is, Christ said the Kingdom (spiritual) was within. Christ also told about the eternal Israel, saying in His Fathers house were many rooms, Christ saying He was going to prepare a place for the saints, and He would return again to take the saints to be where He was. Revelation saying it as New Jerusalem) is revealed or comes down out of heaven.

Apostle John is quoted as saying about the earliest teaching in 1st century church by Cerinthus...
[Eusebius's Eccl. Hist., V. 24], states that while John was at Ephesus, he entered a bath to wash and found that Cerinthus was within, and refused to bathe in the same bath house, but left the building, and exhorted those with him to do the same, saying, "Let us flee, lest the bath fall in, as long as Cerinthus, that enemy of the truth, is within."—Eusebius's Eccl. Hist., III. 28.

The Latin "Millennium" did not even exist until around 382AD, when Pope Damasas had saint Jerome translate the NT Greek text into Latin, the Greek 'Chilioi' (plural Thousands in English) was translated into Mille, a fixed thousand.

Michael Wiley said...

This conversation has been going on a long time -- 07-2012 --- cool. I want to point this out about the church fathers. Saying, "the church taught" or "the church believed" based on the writing of the church fathers is a bit off base. It's like a researcher in the year 2525 looking at the thousands of commentaries written in the 19th - 21st. centuries and saying, "the church taught this." I suppose it would be correct, since across 30 thousand different churches in protestant world some churches did teach it.
BUT protestants don't get this: for the first 1159 years of Christianity, there was one church, defending the faith of the church.
Within that church there were sincere theologians that taught differences. BUT what the church thought and taught as accepted dogma can only be found in their creeds. That's why they wrote them.

According to the Creeds? AMillennial!

Anonymous said...

I believe it worth mentioning, the Catholic church in 382AD had this Latin 'Millennium' translated from the original Greek numeric 'Chilioi'.

Since then, the Catholic church has strongly condemned the commonly taught millennium teachings. Saying the Kingdom of Christ began at His ministry, and saints reign-serve with Christ since this same ministry.

Anonymous said...

I must say that I have studied partial preterist postmillennialism and partial preterist historic premillennialism; however, I accept never. I believe in realized millennialism and accept a partial preterists view. The millennium is the Church Age and will last until Jesus returns to establish the new heavens and new earth. As an Amillennialist, I can believe that the world has gotten better; however, there will be no paradise again in this world. The prophesies of the Old Testament refer to the Church or the new heaven and new earth. There will be one general judgment and a general resurrection. The millennium will last for an indefinite period of time.

Charles Miller, BA, MAR

Puritan Lad said...


The purpose of this post is to counter the argument that Premillenialism has always been the predominant view of the church. What better way to answer the question then to examine the writings of the church fathers?

Now as to whether or not they were correct, that is another question. We may solve it only by going to the source, Holy Scripture. Error in interpretation does not equal lack of clarity.