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Premillennialism Found Wherever Christianity Is First Introduced

January 17, 2013

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?”

  5. Gerry L.
    April 25, 2018 at 8:23 am

    This was particularly interesting to me as it mirrors my own personal experience.

    Long before I was actually saved, or had heard of dispensational views, I recall reading the Revelation Of John in a Bible without marginal notes or other comments on the text.

    I distinctly recall believing in a literal millennial future kingdom in which Satan was bound for a thousand years based on that reading.

    And though this was at a time of great darkness and difficulty in my life I found myself encouraged by this reading and experience.

    I conclude, because I now know that I was not truly saved at this time, being a “professor but not a possessor” of Christ, as some of the Puritans used to say, that this was an example of God acting in my life prior to my conversion in a way that encouraged me to go on in this life.

    Years later, when I found the Puritan and Reformed writings and embraced the doctrines of grace and realized how wrongly I had been previously taught dispensational views (after the experience just related) I began to question my premillennialism, thinking perhaps that these godly men who had known and taught the doctrines of grace and had also taught amillennial views perhaps knew better than I what was the correct view.

    As a result I went to God and confessed my ignorance and foolishness in accepting armenial views of salvation and pleaded with Him to show me the truth of eschatology, if I was wrong in this also, as I read one of the classical amillennial texts on this position.

    I did this in complete humility and a desire to know, and be taught where I was wrong.

    But as I read that work I found it a most confusing and convoluted mass of assumptions and presuppositions and, yes, eisegetical hermeneutics.

    I concluded that God had answered my prayer and made clear to me that this view was not the one He intended to convey in scripture.

    Years later, after reading more of the history of these views in the church, I was discussing them on line with a gentleman pastor of Amill. persuasion who assumed, and then proceeded to tell me, that my premillennialism was due to my reading premill ideas apart from the Bible, the exact opposite of my actual experience.

    In the years since, it has occurred to me that this is actually why many, if not most, Amill proponents adhere to their view. They were taught it, never really challenged it honestly, by a fair examination of the Word itself, and also, significantly, would face ostracism by their peer group if they did so and changed their views.

    As a result they never give it a fair hearing, in part because they fear men rather than God in this matter. I do not contend this is the case with all, but I suspect it is with some, if not many. Fear of man, and the desire of acceptance is an extremely powerful, and for many, subtle, force in our lives.

    Many good men and women have been influenced and deceived by it as an honest reading of the Bible clearly illustrates. I recall, as one example, the story of Jehoshaphat joining himself with Ahab in battle to his near destruction as just one example.

    And as Paul tells us this is one of “those things written for our admonition and instruction”.


    • April 27, 2018 at 7:25 pm

      Good points, Gerry, thanks for the comment. Yes, it’s something I have observed also, that many people take the “package deal” of Reformed theology + amillennialism — in their zeal and reaction against Arminian dispensationalism, they conclude that all of it must be wrong including premillennialism itself. But the hermeneutics of amillennialism are inconsistent – overly spiritualizing things in an “either/or” approach, whereas I see premillennialism as a “both/and” – yes, the spiritual truths, AND the literal fulfillment. Just as Christ literally came and suffered and died in history on this earth, He will return and reign in history upon this same earth. And just as the prophecies of His First Coming were fulfilled literally, so will be the prophecies regarding His Second Advent.

      • Gerry L
        May 5, 2018 at 8:30 pm

        I agree completely Lynda. It is such a beautiful, full, consistent view of scripture. No need to “explain away” things, no need to come up with preposterous explanations, the word just speaks for itself, and does so, as you say, consistently.

        It is so REASONALBE. It is frustrating that so few now bother to even engage it. But with Ryle, Bohnar, McChyene, Spurgeon and so many others, who were deep and clear thinkers in matters scriptural, we have some good company, who, though dead, yet speak.

        For me part of the beauty of it is how it complements the whole of Scriptural teaching. I am thinking for example of one cardinal lesson I believe the millennial experience teaches, and that is the total depravity of man.

        It is as if it is one final grand illustration of the grace of God in salvation. Namely, there will sit Jesus Christ Himself on the throne, ruling personally, in a restored earth with the Holy Spirit poured out as never before in history.

        No wars, peace on the earth, and Holiness, Holiness unto the Lord the rule of the day….for a thousand years…. but then, Satan loosed for a short time and the still existent old nature of man will exert itself in one last rebellion, before He seals up time and puts an end to this for ever.

        It seems so clear and obvious to me, and totally consistent with His plan of revealing His grace and mercy to men and angels in the face of their naked need.

        Thank you for your site Lynda, where I can fellowship with a living sister who understands and loves these precious truths of scripture.

        I only wish there were more of you, for it is lonely out here at times.

        In Him

      • May 7, 2018 at 1:09 pm

        Hi Gerry. Yes, there are relatively few of us, scattered around, who hold to covenantal historic premillennialism. If you are on Facebook, you may be interested in our group for this: Historic (Classic) Premillennialism. It is a private/closed discussion group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/premillennialism/

  6. Gerry L
    May 9, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Hi Again Lynda:

    Thank you for the invite to the Facebook discussion, a nd I am sorely tempted.

    If it were not Facebook, I would love to join you.

    But in view of the times, and Facebooks track record, I think I must pass at this time.

    What a pity, have you thought of hosting the discussion elsewhere?

    All my best,

    In Him

    • May 9, 2018 at 7:15 pm

      I understand your hesitation; Facebook does get a lot of negative publicity. The group feature is good and hasn’t had any problems. I also know a few people who created Facebook accounts with a fake name, a fictional last name to protect their identity. But I understand, it’s something that you’re not comfortable with. Lynda

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