The True Historical Premillennial View: Not George Ladd’s Version


From the material available online today, many would conclude that “historic premillennialism” refers to the teaching of 20th century theologian George Elton Ladd—and no other view.  See, for example, Michael Vlach’s article “How Does Historic Premillennialism Differ from Dispensational Premillennialism?”,  this “Eschatology Comparison” chart, and this article “An Historical Premillennialist Takes Issue With Pretribulational Dispensationalism.”

Similar to how many people associate the specific teachings of classic dispensationalism with any reference to dispensationalism, here too is a real point of confusion: the failure to recognize the different beliefs within the label of “historic premillennialism”–or any form of premillennialism other than “dispensational premillennialism.” Occasionally people mention “covenant premillennialism” to highlight the view of some, such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, who believed premillennialism yet who held to the theological covenants of Covenant Theology (as contrasted with the Calvinist disp-premill emphasis on the biblical covenants).   “Historic premillennialism” is the more common term, though, and yet George Ladd’s version of premillennialism could more accurately be called “contemporary (non-dispensational) premillennialism.”  As a commenter at the last link above pointed out, “Ladd’s overall position appears to be of more recent vintage than Classic Dispensationalism. Thus I find it ironic that he’s now considered to be the standard bearer for Historic Premillenialism. He departed significantly from the historic premillenialism of men like Horatius Bonar, J.C. Ryle and C.H. Spurgeon, just to name a few. None of the above men were pretrib, but they all believed in a physical restoration of the Jews to the land, which today is generally regarded as a dispensational distinctive.”

In recent years Barry Horner has done much in researching and publishing the history of millennial views, as in his “Future Israel” book and related website, as well as this work available online: “Judeo-Centric Eschatology: An Ethical Challenge to Reformed Theology.”  In this publication, Horner suggests another term to describe the truly historical premillennial view:  Judeo-Centric Premillennialism.  Chapter Five especially looks at the views of many premillennialists from centuries past, sketching out the details concerning “Israel and Judeo-centric Premillennialism beyond the Reformation” followed by “Israel and the Contemporary Historic Premillennialism of George Eldon Ladd.”

As Barry Horner explains regarding true historic premillennialism as opposed to the current day George Ladd version:

“… (then) explanation is made that one believes in a glorious future time when the redeemed people of God, distinctively comprising national Israel and the Gentile nations, will enjoy the consummation of their salvation on an earth of renovated spiritual materiality where the glorious, spiritually tangible and substantial Jesus Christ will reign from Jerusalem in the midst of Israel. At this juncture, the common response is that such a belief identifies one as a dispensationalist, especially since Ladd is said to have not incorporated such particularity concerning Israel within his premillennialism. In other words, if a person was an historic premillennialist, he would not retain any clear-cut distinction between Israel and the church, but especially within the one redeemed people of God in their future manifestation. When one then points out and specifically names a number of notable Christians who were not dispensationalists, such as Horatius Bonar, J. C. Ryle, and C. H. Spurgeon, even postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who nevertheless believed in the aforementioned scenario, that is, Israel and the Gentile nations retaining their distinctive identity under the earthly reign of Christ, the frequent response is that of a blank stare.”

…we will most definitely maintain that, in general, both historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism have upheld a diversity involving Israel and the Gentile nations within the redeemed people of God. Reluctance on Ladd’s part to bring Judeo-centric clarity and definition into his eschatology at this point places him outside the overwhelming emphasis of historic premillennialism. Hence, in this most important aspect of premillennialism, his perspective is decidedly not historic or normative.

The outline of this chapter further explains:

1. The two peoples of dispensational premillennialism:

… earlier belief in two new covenants was eventually abandoned by Walvoord, Ryrie, and presumably Fruchtenbaum, in favor of the one new covenant revealed in Jeremiah 31. … further development … has more willingly accepted the implications of this one new covenant for the redeemed, whatever distinctions they might incorporate…. Israel and the church are in fact one people of God, who together share in the forgiveness of sins through Christ and partake of his indwelling Spirit with its power for covenant faithfulness, while they are nonetheless distinguishable covenant participants comprising what is one unified people.

2. The one people of classic historic premillennialism: classic historic premillennialism, with exceptions acknowledged, nevertheless has specifically upheld the place of national Israel within the people of God of the church of Jesus Christ.

3. The one people of Jesus Christ’s assembly/church according to Scripture.

In a world where Gentile Christianity predominates, there is a necessity to offer some considerations here concerning the “Church” which name has, over the centuries, been “Gentilized” so that its mention is commonly identified with Gentile congregations, indeed a Gentile kingdom of God…. Hence the New Jerusalem shall not only acknowledge the twelve gates named after the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, but also the twelve foundation stones named after the twelve apostle, all twenty-four names being Jewish.

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  1. September 14, 2012 at 9:09 am

    What, in your opinion Lynda, would one really be giving up substantially, if one were to bail Dispensational theology all together in favor of the Amillennial view?

    • September 14, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      I’m not sure how to answer that question, since I see the pairings of premillennial versus Amillennial, and dispensationalism versus covenant theology, not “dispensational theology” in contrast with “the Amillennial view.”

      But for the basics of what I believe:

      1. Literal, historical grammatical hermeneutic applied consistently; and a different hermeneutic concerning the OT, a different understanding of how the NT authors used the OT. That what is taught in the OT does not have to be repeated in the NT to be considered valid. The issue of NT application of an OT text rather than a reinterpretation; a “both/and” approach, that a NT reference and application of the OT does not negate the original OT meaning. The following points flow out of this hermeneutical approach.
      2. Emphasis on the dispensational biblical covenants set forth explicitly in the scriptures, especially the unconditional Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants – as contrasted with the theological covenants of CT, which are not explicitly stated in scripture: the Covenant of Works / Cov of Grace / Cov of Redemption
      3. Distinction between Israel and the Church. Spiritual unity in salvation: one people of God, with different functional identities: Jews do not become Gentiles or vice versa, just as men and women retain their functional identities, though all are in Christ. A future role for Israel as a nation: Israel will be saved (not every single individual but the nation as a whole including its leadership) and restored with a unique identity and function in a future millennial kingdom upon the earth.
      4. “Spiritual materiality”: just because something is spiritual does not negate the possibility of physical aspects. Christianity is not the same as Greek-influenced ideas about spiritual=good, material=carnal=bad. True Christian spirituality exists in believers today (who have physical bodies). There is nothing carnal and thus “unspiritual” about the concept of a literal physical kingdom of God upon the Earth, with Christ literally reigning from headquarters in the New Jerusalem, a physical city upon the renewed Earth during the Kingdom.

  2. September 15, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Having (almost) followed your discussion here and the linked chart…the article reference does not link…I would like to ask a question related to your recent post about the essentials. Seeing this complex network of differing views held by…and apparently shifting among…well-respected and presumably sincere Christian students, can you explain how one particular path through this maze is “essential” and what the penalties are to be wrong on these “essentials?” Admittedly truth is still truth even though the vast majority are in error, but does disagreement arising out of sincere study of scripture by folks who are presumably all committed to its authority and proper use constitute critical error?

  3. September 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I just checked the links here and they all work, so not sure what you’re referring to there. As to your question, I believe I answered that in some of my follow-up comments in the post about the non-essentials (reference especially the comment which mentions Tony Garland and the believers of the first century over-emphasizing the Second Coming versus the present day believers emphasizing the First Coming over the Second Coming, etc.).

    All further comments on this post need to be on-topic: views concerning historic premillennialism.

  4. September 18, 2012 at 2:15 am

    This was very informative. I did not know Spurgeon’s own view until this post…and I always associated historic Premill with Ladd until now.

    • September 18, 2012 at 7:51 am

      Thanks, Jim (finally someone who gets the point of this post). Yes, I’ve often come across people confused about “historic premill” and thinking it’s something other than what it really is (historically) as compared to the contemporary version, so wrote this as something to refer people to, whenever the topic comes up.

    • Rick
      September 18, 2012 at 8:18 am

      I don’t think the post was that hard to get Lynda; it wasn’t nearly as confusing as all the different views that different theologians have formulated to try and get a handle on what the whole Premil thing actually is. I find it somewhat telling that there need to be so many versions of it: if it’s anything at all …. it’s confusing. And I’m not sure Scripture needs nor was intended to be so difficult.

      • September 18, 2012 at 8:51 am

        Thanks, Rick. Clarification: finally someone who gets the point of the post AND who comments about the post itself, showing that he understands what the post was about.

  5. Pauline
    October 12, 2013 at 7:02 am

    Lynda trying hard to understand this. You know I do struggle with theology. Is the HP different by maintaining the one people of God and being post trib . What other differences are there. Can you make it simple for me please.

    • October 12, 2013 at 9:49 am

      Hi Pauline. In simple terms, the main difference between historic/classic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism is the rapture timing — and the one people of God is found (only) with a post-trib rapture view. Classic dispensationalism took a more extreme difference between the church and Israel, the two new Covenants etc. Today’s moderate dispensationalism removes some of that and (at least officially) downplays the rapture’s importance, but the very fact of the pre-trib rapture creates two people of God — by its saying that one group, the Church, gets raptured seven years before Christ’s return and spends those years in heaven, while another group stays on Earth and experiences the Great Trib. This is also why post-trib premillennialists generally do not call themselves dispensationalists. And now, as a post-trib premillennialist, I prefer to use the term classic/historic premillennialist rather than “dispensationalist.”

      See also the following post from earlier this year: https://scripturethoughts.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/the-differences-between-historic-and-futurist-premillennialism/ I would now modify that somewhat, on item 3 and 5. Some historic/classic premillennialists, such as B.W. Newton, S.P. Tregelles, Nathaniel West and others, were very clearly futurist, and wrote a lot about the post-trib rapture and the events of the Great Tribulation. Hope this helps and is simple enough.

  6. Pauline
    October 12, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Thank you Lynda some thoughts to ponder

  7. October 27, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Lynda, have you come across/read Dieter Thom’s book. If yes, any opinions? http://dieterthom.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/a-classic-premillennial-eschatology-by-dieter-thom1.pdf

    • October 28, 2014 at 6:36 am

      Thanks for the link, Bography. I had not seen this, or heard of this author, but it looks interesting and I’ll read at least some of it as time permits this week. I see from the introductory comments that he is pre-wrath, which is a slight variation on classic premillennialism, a view I do not adhere to, though pre-wrath is a minor difference.
      Have you read it, and any observations/opinions about it?

  8. June 2, 2015 at 9:01 am

    Tony-come-lately here.

    I’m sure I’m missing something obvious, but after reading your “basics” (Sep 14, 2012) several times, I still could not understand your implied contrast between the “literal, historical grammatical hermeneutic” affirmed before the semicolon of your first sentence and “a different hermeneutic concerning the OT.” Is the latter hermeneutic different from the literal, historical grammatical hermeneutic affirmed? If so, what is the alternative hermeneutic appropriate for the OT? Thanks for any light you can shed on your meaning.

    Also, what does “CT” in paragraph 2 stand for?

    Thanks for alerting me to Horner’s Bible reading plan.

    Tony Flood

  9. June 2, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Hi Tony,

    “CT” is abbreviation for Covenant Theology.

    I think what I meant was in reference to different interpretations of OT prophetic texts: in reference to amillennialist interpretation applying such passages to the church age rather than to a future age, as contrasted with premillennial interpretation – passages that speak of a future “golden age” that is different from our own age and yet different from the eternal state. And also, texts that speak of Israel’s future restoration in that millennial age, which are interpreted by some amill/postmill such that there is NO future wide-scale salvation or restoration of ethnic Israel. (Though some amills/postmills do affirm future wide-scale salvation of ethnic Israel at the time of Christ’s Return.)

    Lynda

  10. June 2, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Thanks, Lynda, but for my prosaic mind too much of your answer (which I appreciate your taking the time to give me) is missing verbs that clearly relate the enumerated possible objects of belief to your own position. (I have to relate your sentence fragments back to the contrast you were making a few years ago.) I now understand you to be saying that it’s those OTHER folks who have a different hermeneutic for the OT but YOU consistently apply a literal, historical grammatical hermeneutic to the OT. Is that accurate? Thanks again. — Tony

    • June 2, 2015 at 10:05 am

      Yes: that non-premillennialists have an inconsistent hermeneutic in reference to these OT texts.

  11. June 2, 2015 at 11:22 am

    Thanks, Lynda. We’re on the same page, at last. — Tony

    P.S.: Writer-to-writer: your use of “that” in your latest reply set up a dependent clause. The idea on which it depends, however, was left to the reader’s imagination. In addition to my natural obtuseness, orphaned clauses in your “basics” summary probably contributed to my initial failure to understand. Kudos to you on your well-organized, stimulating, and attractive blog. — T.

  12. June 7, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Technically, Ladd sought to go back to the early Church fathers — Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Lactantius, Julius Africanus — and to so-called “salvation-history” scholars like J. C. K. von Hofmann and Oscar Cullmann — in his efforts to recoup a non-Dispensational approach to premillennialism. In his “Commentary on the Revelation to John” and “Last Things” books, he does seem to make room for Revelation 11 as referring to a final upsurge of ministry to Israel…but it is admittedly very weak. In fairness, also, it was Robert Clouse in his comparative perspectives book, “The Meaning of the Millennium”, that tagged Ladd’s position as “historic” premillennialism, not so much Ladd seeking to seize that label or position for himself (though you don’t actually charge him with doing that), West, Zahn, and especially some Puritan and English/Scottish scholars in the evangelical camp (oddly including many Presbyterians!!! –most of whom were not themselves Jewish in background) did, as you so well point out, put Israel back in the picture, without succumbing to the novelties of Dispensational, pre-trib rapture theology. That you for setting up this blog, it deserves to be “heard” and perused thoroughly!

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