Home > amillennialism, apologetics, church history, dispensationalism, eschatology, hermeneutics, premillennialism > Premillennialism Found Wherever Christianity Is First Introduced

Premillennialism Found Wherever Christianity Is First Introduced

Non-premillennialists’ protests to the contrary, the historical record of Christianity is quite clear, that for the first 300+ years the Christian church was premillennial — and no other views were held during that time.  Yet even this week, in the comments at Sam Storms’ post at the Gospel Coalition, someone claimed that all three views (amillennial, postmill, and historic premill) were around in those years. In another online discussion a few weeks ago, people claimed that both the non-literal allegorizing hermeneutic and actual amillennialism were around before Augustine — that Augustine merely “systematized” amillennialism.

To set the record straight, a few quotes regarding the early Christian church:

John Walvoord, on a study through the early history of eschatology:

The importance of Augustine to the history of amillennialism is derived from two reasons. First, there are no acceptable exponents of amillennialism before Augustine, as has been previously discussed. Prior to Augustine, amillennialism was associated with the heresies produced by the allegorizing and spiritualizing school of theology at Alexandria which not only opposed premillennialism but subverted any literal exegesis of Scripture whatever. Few modern theologians even of liberal schools of thought would care to build upon the theology of such men as Clement of Alexandria, Origen or Dionysius. Augustine is, then, the first theologian of solid influence who adopted amillennialism.

From Mal Couch’s History of Allegory:

Origen’s allegorical interpretations, including his views on Bible prophecy, gained wide acceptance in the church of his day. His influence, followed by Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity and Augustine’s teaching in the fourth century, are usually cited as the principal causes of premillennialism’s eventual replacement by amillennial eschatology.

The allegorical hermeneutic developed before Augustine, and amillennialism from allegorical hermeneutic? Yes.  Actual amillennialism before Augustine? No.

Augustine did not merely systematize something already in existence.  He continued the allegorical approach to scripture, started by questionable men, and applied that approach to eschatology, bringing about the amillennialism (in his “City of God”), making such an allegorical hermeneutic “acceptable” in the early stages of what became the Roman Catholic Church.

Even aside from the original church history in Rome, though, we can look at the pattern of early Christianity in any society where it is first introduced.  Here, we find that in parts of the world that were unreached by the later Roman Empire and Roman Catholicism, countries in which the Christian message was only recently received, the young believers in these countries — with no outside influence, only their Bibles to guide them in their understanding of biblical doctrine — are premillennial.

John MacArthur has mentioned this in reference to recent Russian believers. Jesse Johnson also recently noted this, in reference to the mission work being done in a closed country in the Himalayas:

Nevertheless, this nation’s believers have been protected from much of what has damaged evangelicalism in the West. There are no Catholics in the country (that we know of), and the charismatic movement is only beginning to creep in. All of the believers are baptistic, premillennial, and evangelical—and they arrived at those positions without any real influence other than the Scriptures.

If the other millennial views are really viable, and really valid interpretations of God’s word, then surely the young believers in these other countries — unaffected by our Judeo-Christian Western European heritage — would have reached those same conclusions. If the non-literal, allegorical understanding of amillennialism or postmillennialism were that obvious in the reading of the scriptures, why do believers in these other countries fail to see it?

  1. January 17, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Very informative – and uplifting.

    • January 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      Thanks, Bography.

  2. January 17, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I thank you for allowing me to comment on your article, first and foremost. Yet I could take just one early church father, namely Justin Martyr and refute what you have written.

    You state that everywhere Christianity went the church was premillennial and that all the church fathers were premillennial for the first 300 years. Yet this is untrue. I used to hold to dispensational premillennialism for years and wrote an entire commentary on Revelation from this view.

    The problem was that I made claims like this because I heard them, but never researched them. This is what most dispensationalist do. For instance a man named Alan P. Boyd went through Dallas Theological seminary and studied under Ryrie. Alan wrote his doctrinal dissertation on the early church fathers view of the millennium. His goal was to show that they were dispensational. This is because men like Ryrie had told him for several years that dispensationalism went back to the early church.

    Alan P. Boyd found out through his research that there was no dispensationalism in the church till John Nelson Darby and it was popularized by Scofield.

    Justin Martry himself stated that there were many Christians, of his day, who did not believe in a millennium. He wrote around 180 A.D. Matter fact there were very few church fathers who were premillennial.

    • January 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      I am not here specifically talking about dispensationalism (since that word has different meanings and associations to different people), but basic premillennialism. I agree that the pre-trib rapture timing (one of the big tenets of classic dispensationalism) is not easy to find or prove in the literature before the 19th century, and so that is not my focus.

      As for Justin Martyr, I’m aware of that comment: what he said was that all those who were of a believing nature, “right minded”, were premillennial. The standard amongst believing men was premillennialism, so much so that even Augustine in his early years was also premillennial. As noted in the Walvoord quote, and as has been noted elsewhere, the only men who didn’t believe in premillennialism, pre-Augustine, were those who took their allegorizing idea far away from historic Christianity, those who strayed into all kinds of non-biblical ideas regarding the basic nature of Christ and other basic essentials of the faith.

      • January 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm

        Phew, Lynda, you saved me. I was just about to phone the local Imam.

      • January 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm

        You say that the standard among believing men was premillennialism; yet in your article you said no other view was held during that time. This is contradictory.

        But even if the standard was premillennial we need to watch what we try to prove with the early church fathers. Some of them held some weird views on many things. Like Papias who claimed that the millennium would be a time when fruit would grow so big that one had to have a cart in order to haul a grape around.

  3. January 17, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks for your comments, reformedontheweb. I believe what I said in this post was clear enough, including the quotes which give details: that the allegorizing hermeneutic (applied to all of scripture) started among the liberal heretics in those early years, but actual amillennialism began with Augustine. Also I think it is understood that “all” and no other view is in reference to mainstream, believing Christianity (what this blog is about), not whatever any other religions or heretics might believe — just as you, as a Calvinist, no doubt recognize that the meaning of “all” in the Bible does not always mean every single individual in the world but “all” within a recognized group (the context makes it clear).

    I’m not trying to prove anything beyond the simple contrast between the literal understanding of premillennialism, and the later developed amillennialism under a different hermeneutic: from a look at early church history as well as in societies not influenced by Western Civilization (Augustine and Roman Catholicism), those which only heard the gospel message much later, apart from secular notions handed down to us from the Greeks. I’m not familiar with Papias (the Christian history lectures and books I’ve read never even mentioned him); but holding “weird views,” speculating about what life would be like during the millennium, only proves that he did indeed have a literal understanding about the future kingdom of God upon the Earth, and like a lot of us even today, he liked to speculate about what that wonderful age, that utopia, would be like — which is a far cry from the spiritualizing hermeneutic which says that there is no physical kingdom, it’s only “spiritual” with no physical, literal reality.

  4. January 18, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    From a commenter at another recent blog post, discussing this very issue of the origins of amillennialism, a relevant comment here:

    “The Reformed Anglicans (Sydney Anglicans and UK Conservative Evangelicals like Reform, which is the Reformed circles i’m familiar with) are honest enough to admit that the visible church was premillennial within the first 3 centuries after Christ. For example, see Michael Reeves’ The Breeze of the Centuries (IVP Press) in particular the chapter on Irenaeus. It’s no shame to honestly admit that amillennial is a newcomer, why do you dodge it?”

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