Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Premillennialism of Tertullian [A.D. 181]

Tertullian was a lawyer and Christian Apologist who is known as the Father of Latin Christianity. He later joined a heretical group known as the Montanists, who held to continuing revelation and viewed their own prophecies as superior to the Canon. Though most Montanists were Modalists, Tertullian and a few early Montanists were Trinitarian.

Tertullian was indeed a premillennialist, but his premillennialism has little in common with the modern version. He based his view of the millennium on the Montanist prophets, who held that the new Jerusalem would come to Phrygia in Asia Minor.

“But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem, “let down from heaven,” (Revelation 21:2) which the apostle also calls “our mother from above;” (Galatians 4:26) and, while declaring that our πολίτευμα, or citizenship, is in heaven, (Philippians 3:20) he predicates of it that it is really a city in heaven. This both Ezekiel had knowledge of (Ezekiel 48:30-35) and the Apostle John beheld. (Revelation 21:10-23) And the word of the new prophecy which is a part of our belief, attests how it foretold that there would be for a sign a picture of this very city exhibited to view previous to its manifestation. This prophecy, indeed, has been very lately fulfilled in an expedition to the East.” (Against Marcion – Book III - Chap. XXIV. - Christ’s Millennial and Heavenly Glory in Company with His Saints)

Tertullian held that Antichrist would come at the fall of the Roman Empire, and bring the end of all things.

“There is also another and a greater necessity for our offering prayer in behalf of the emperors, nay, for the complete stability of the empire, and for Roman interests in general. For we know that a mighty shock impending 43 over the whole earth — in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes — is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire. We have no desire, then, to be overtaken by these dire events; and in praying that their coming may be delayed, we are lending our aid to Rome’s duration.” (Apology, Chapter XXXII.)

“Remember ye not, that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things? And now ye know what detaineth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now hinders must hinder, until he be taken out of the way.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-7) What obstacle is there but the Roman State, the falling away of which, by being scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce Antichrist upon (its own ruins)? “And then shall be revealed the wicked one, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming: even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10) (Resurrection - Chap. XXIV. - Other Passages Quoted from St. Paul, Which Categorically Assert the Resurrection of the Flesh at the Final Judgment.)

Despite his strange views on the millennium, Tertullian held to a past fulfillment of both Daniel and the Olivet Discourse. He considered Daniel’s Seventy Week prophecy to have seen it’s fulfillment in the First Advent of Christ and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem.

“In such wise, therefore, did Daniel predict concerning Him, as to show both when and in what time He was to set the nations free; and how, after the passion of the Christ, that city had to be exterminated. For he says thus: “In the first year under Darius, son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who reigned over the kingdom of the Chaldees, I Daniel understood in the books the number of the years.…And while I was yet speaking in my prayer, behold, the man Gabriel, whom I saw in the vision in the beginning, flying; and he touched me, as it were, at the hour of the evening sacrifice, and made me understand, and spake with me, and said, Daniel I am now come out to imbue thee with understanding; in the beginning of thy supplication went out a word. And I am come to announce to thee, because thou art a man of desires; and ponder thou on the word, and understand in the vision. Seventy hebdomads have been abridged upon thy commonalty, and upon the holy city, until delinquency be made inveterate, and sins sealed, and righteousness obtained by entreaty, and righteousness eternal introduced; and in order that vision and prophet may be sealed, and an holy one of holy ones anointed. And thou shalt know, and thoroughly see, and understand, from the going forth of a word for restoring and rebuilding Jerusalem unto the Christ, the Leader, hebdomads (seven and an half, and) 70 and an half: and it shall convert, and shall be built into height and entrenchment, and the times shall be renewed: and after these 70 hebdomads shall the anointing be exterminated, and shall not be; and the city and the holy place shall he exterminate together with the Leader, who is making His advent; and they shall be cut short as in a deluge, until (the) end of a war, which shall be cut short unto ruin. And he shall confirm a testament in many. In one hebdomad and the half of the hebdomad shall be taken away my sacrifice and libation, and in the holy place the execration of devastation, (and) until the end of (the) time consummation shall be given with regard to this devastation.” (An Answer To The Jews - Chap. VIII. - Of the Times of Christ’s Birth and Passion, and of Jerusalem’s Destruction)

Tertullian did have a futuristic view of Daniel 2, though it is clear that his view was influenced by his presuppositions concerning the end of all things at the destruction of Rome. Tertullian clearly held that Christ Advent in Daniel 2 would smite the Roman Empire. He knew nothing of a fifth world kingdom.

“Now these signs of degradation quite suit His first coming, just as the tokens of His majesty do His second advent, when He shall no longer remain “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence,” but after His rejection become “the chief corner-stone,” accepted and elevated to the top place of the temple, even His church, being that very stone in Daniel, cut out of the mountain, which was to smite and crush the image of the secular kingdom. (Daniel 2:34) Of this advent the same prophet says: “Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days; and they brought Him before Him, and there was given Him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away; and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (see Daniel 7:13-14) (Against Marcion, Book III - Chap. VII. - Prophecy Sets Forth Two Different Conditions of Christ, One Lowly, the Other Majestic. This Fact Points to Two Advents of Christ.)

Tertullian wrote an entire treatise objecting to the Jewish rejection of the Messiah, though it isn’t clear whether or not he held to replacement theology. But while it is clear that Tertullian was a premillennialist, his views do not support modern premillennialism. Furthermore, Tertullian is certainly no champion of Christian Orthodoxy.

1 comment:

Brian Simmons said...


I just saw your blog for the first time, and enjoyed reading your posts. Although I agree with some of your points, I don't think it's fair to say that Tertullian wasn't a defender of orthodox Christianity. Most scholars consider him orthodox. In fact, his writings had a significant impact on the Anglican reformation. In any event, Tertullian's Montanism was certainly not the cause of his Chiliasm. His belief is typical of the North African school in general. See, e.g., Commodian & Lactantius. The Chiliasts follow the teachings of Papias, Polycarp, Irenaeus, etc. The Alexandrian school popularized the rampant allegorizing of SCripture. but this was a later outgrowth of philosophic thought. It probably has little connection with the primitive Christianity of the early church. At any rate, I doubt it's accurate to present Tertullian's beliefs as aberrant from orthodoxy. Rather, I would consider it the other way around, and say that Clement Alexandrinus, Origen, etc. made the first rift in the foundations. Many of the great spiritual revivals/ reformations since that time have been characterized by a return to Chiliasm. In my mind, this is what the Book of Revelation is all about.

Peace and Health,