A Brief Theological Analysis of Hyper-Preterism
Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
From time to time I receive letters from men declaring themselves “reconstructionist” and “consistent preterist.” The “consistent preterist” believes that all prophecy is fulfilled in the A.D. 70 destruction of the Temple, including the Second Advent, the resurrection of the dead, the great judgment, and so forth. Due to my primary writing ministry against rapidly changing dispensationalism, I have not had time to deal extensively with the issue, but I do have some random thoughts that I will make public in this article. These thoughts are based on readings from their monthly publications and books, of which I have a great number.
Let me begin by noting that, in the first place, I do not know how anyone could credibly claim to be postmillennial and hyper-preterist, nor do I understand how they could claim to be reconstructionist, while maintaining their hyper-preterism. If all prophecy was fulfilled in the first century events, then who is to say it is the will of God for the gospel to exercise world-wide victory? There is no remaining word of prophecy to inform us of such. Furthermore, the hyper-preterist position cannot be theonomic in that in their view the Law came to fulfillment in the passing away of the Jewish order (Matt. 5:17-19). So a hyper-preterist cannot be a reconstructionist (theonomic postmillennialist) on exegetical grounds (although his heart might wish for the reconstructionist worldview).
Furthermore, there are numerous exegetical and theological problems I have with the hyper-preterist viewpoint. I deem my historic, orthodox preterism to be exegetical preterism (because I find specific passages calling for specific preterist events); I deem Max King and Ed Steven’s views to be theological preterism or comprehensive preterism (they apply exegetical conclusions drawn from several eschatological passages to all eschatological passages, because of their theological paradigm). Let me quickly list some of my present objections; hopefully I will later find time to sit down and work on this whole issue (since dispensationalism is in such radical transition and I have a ministry toward dispensationalists, I have tended to focus any spare time I can afford on dispensationalism).
First, hyper-preterism is heterodox. It is outside of the creedal orthodoxy of Christianity. No creed allows any Second Advent in A.D. 70. No creed allows any other type of resurrection than a bodily one. Historic creeds speak of the universal, personal judgment of all men, not of a representative judgment in A.D. 70. It would be most remarkable if the entire church that came through A.D. 70 missed the proper understanding of the eschaton and did not realize its members had been resurrected! And that the next generations had not inkling of the great transformation that took place! Has the entire Christian church missed the basic contours of Christian eschatology for its first 1900 years?
Second, hyper-preterism has serious implications for the perspicuity of Scripture. This viewpoint not only has implications for the later creeds, but for the instructional abilities of the apostles: no one in church history knew the major issues of which they spoke until very recently! Are the Scriptures that impenetrable on an issue of that significance? Clement of Rome lived through A.D. 70 and had no idea he was resurrected! He continued to look for a physical resurrection (Clement 50:3). Jude’s (supposed) grandsons still sought a physical resurrection (cf. Eusebius, EH 3:24:4). Whoever these men were, they come right out of the first generation and in the land of Israel with absolutely no inkling of an A.D. 70 resurrection or a past Second Advent. See also the Didache 10:5; 16:1ff (first century); Ignatius, Trallians 9:2; Smyrnaens 2:1; 6:1; Letter to Polycarp 3:2 (early second century); Polycarp 2:1; 6:2; 7:1. See also Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr.
Berkouwer rightly notes that the reason the resurrection found early creedal acceptance was because of the clear emphasis of the New Testament. The hyper-preterist view has serious and embarrassing implications for the perspicuity of Scripture and despite the fact we are now (supposedly) in our resurrected states and have the outpoured Holy Spirit and His gift of teachers who were to protect us from every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4)!
Third, the hyper-preterist system leaves the New Covenant Christian (in our post A.D. 70 era) without a canon. If all prophecy was fulfilled prior to A.D. 70 and if the entire New Testament spoke to issues in the pre-A.D. 70 time frame, we do not have any directly relevant passages for us. The entire New Testament must be transposed before we can use it.
Fourth, hyper-preterism suffers from serious errors in its hermeneutical methodology. When a contextually defined passage applies to the A.D. 70 event, the hyper-preterist will take all passages with similar language and apply them to A.D. 70, as well. But similarity does not imply identity; Christ cleansed the Temple twice and in virtually identical ways; but the two events are not the same. Furthermore, we must distinguish sense and referent; there are several types of “resurrection” in Scripture: the dry bones of Eze. 37; spiritual redemption in John 5:24; physical redemption at the grave in John 5:28; Israel’s renewal in Christ in Rom. 11:15; and of the Beast in Rev. 13:3. I hold that passages specifically delimiting the time-frame by temporal indicators (such as “this generation,” “shortly,” “at hand,” “near,” and similar wording) are to be applied to A.D. 70, but similar sounding passages may or may not be so applied.
Fifth, there is a serious problem with the removal of the physical resurrection from systematic theology. Christ’s resurrection is expressly declared to be the paradigm of our own (1 Cor. 15:20ff). Yet we know that His was a physical, tangible resurrection (Luke 24:39), whereas ours is (supposedly) spiritual. What happens to the biblically defined analogy between Christ’s resurrection and ours in the hyper-preterist system?
Sixth, there are numerous other theological and exegetical problems with a spiritual-only resurrection. For one thing, the hyper-preterist view tends to diminish the significance of the somatic implications of sin: Adam’s sin had physical effects, as well as judicial and spiritual effects; where are these taken care of in the hyper-preterist system? Death’s implications are not just judicial and spiritual, but also physical (Gen. 3:14, 19; Rom. 6:23). If Christians now are fulfilling the resurrection expectation of Scripture, then the gnostics of the early Christian centuries were correct! The physical world seems to be superfluous, in the hyper-preterist viewpoint. The anthropology of hyper-preterism is defective in this, not allowing the theological significance of the body/soul nature of man (Gen. 2:7). This can also have implications for the person of Christ and the reality of His humanity.
Seventh, regarding the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, we must wonder why Paul was mocked by the Greeks in Acts 17 for believing in the resurrection, if it were not a physical reality. We must wonder why Paul aligned himself with the Pharisees on the issue of the resurrection (Acts 23:6-9; 24:15, 21). We must wonder why we Christians still marry and are given in marriage, since Christ said in the resurrection we will not marry (Luke 20:35). We must wonder why the apostles never corrected the widespread notion of a physical resurrection, which was so current in Judaism (cf Josephus, Talmud, etc.). We must wonder why we “resurrected” Christians must yet die; why should we not leave this world like Enoch and Elijah? Furthermore, where and what is the resurrection of the lost (John 5; Rev. 20)? Paul considered Hymeneaus and Philetus as having made ship-wreck men’s faith by saying the resurrection is past (2 Tim. 2:17-18). A wrong view of the resurrection is a serious matter to Paul.
Eighth, practically I wonder on the hyper-preterist view what the difference our resurrection makes in this life? We get ill and are weak on the same scale as those prior to the A.D. 70 resurrection. Did this glorious resurrection of the “spiritual body” have no impact on our present condition? A hyper-preterist analysis might leave us to expect that Paul looked to A.D. 70 as an agent of relief from the groanings and the temptations of the flesh (Rom. 7:25), yet we still have such despite the supposed resurrection.
Ninth, Acts 1 clearly defines Christ’s Second Advent in terms of His ascension, which was physical and visible. For example, in Acts 1:8-11 Luke is careful to say the disciples were “beholding” Him as He ascended; He was received “from the eyes of them” ( v. 9b); they were “gazing” as He was “going” (v. 10); they were “looking” (v. 11); they “beheld” (v. 11). Clearly His ascension was a visible and glorious phenomenon involving His tangible resurrected body. And there was an actual visible cloud associated with it (v. 10). The angelic messengers resolutely declare “this same Jesus” (i.e., the Jesus they knew for over three years, who is now in a tangible resurrected body) will “so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (v. 11). The Greek on tropon literally means “what manner.” The Greek phrase “never indicates mere certainty or vague resemblance; but wherever it occurs in the New Testament, denotes identity of mode or manner” (A. Alexander, Acts, ad loc.). Consequently, we have express biblical warrant to expect a visible, bodily, glorious return of Christ paralleling in kind the ascension. The hyper-preterist position goes contrary to this clear teaching of Scripture.
Tenth, if A.D. 70 ends the Messianic reign of Christ (cf. hyper-preterist view of 1 Cor. 15:24, 28), then the glorious Messianic era prophesied throughout the Old Testament is reduced to a forty year inter-regnum. Whereas by all accounts it is a lengthy, glorious era. A problem with premillennialism is that it reduces Christ’s reign to 1000 literal years; hyper-preterism reduces it further to forty years! The prophetical expressions of the kingdom tend to speak of an enormous period of time, even employing terms that are frequently used of eternity. Does Christ’s kingdom parallel David’s so that it only lasts for the same time frame?
History and Church Errors
Eleventh, hyper-preterists eternalize time, by allowing history to continue forever. This not only goes against express statements of Scripture, but also has God dealing with a universe in which sin will dwell forever and ever and ever. There is no final conclusion to the matter of man’s rebellion; there is no final reckoning with sin. Christ tells us that the judgment will be against rebels in their bodies, not spiritual bodies (Matt. 10:28). The hyper-preterist system does not reach back far enough (to the Fall and the curse on the physical world) to be able to understand the significance of redemption as it moves to a final, conclusive consummation, ridding the cursed world of sin. The full failure of the First Adam must be overcome by the full success of the Second Adam.
Twelfth, hyper-preterism has serious negative implications for ecclesiastical labor. Is the Great Commission delimited to the pre-A.D. 70 era, due to the interpretation of “the end” by hyper-preterists (Matt. 28:20)? Is the Lord’s Supper superfluous today, having been fulfilled in Christ’s (alleged) Second Advent in A.D. 70 (1 Cor. 11:26)?