Friday, December 23, 2011

Full Preterism and the Resurrection

The word preterist comes from the Latin word for “past,” and in the study of biblical prophecy preterism refers to the belief that prophetic events have already been fulfilled in the past. My notes on the Book of Revelation, for instance, would be described as “partial preterist,” because I take the view that most of the book’s prophecies have already been fulfilled.

There is also a form of preterism known as full preterism. This is the belief that all Bible prophecy has been fulfilled, including the second coming, the resurrection, and the judgment. Among brethren this view is sometimes called “the AD 70 doctrine,”
since its advocates believe the destruction of the Jewish temple in that year ushered in the consummation of all Bible prophecy.

I personally believe that full preterists are correct in seeing a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in many passages traditionally said to refer to the second coming (such as Mathew 16:27 and Revelation 1:7). I also believe that full preterists are driven by a desire to be true to Scripture, and to be consistent in their hermeneutic. I have profited from reading the criticisms of dispensationalism from these authors.

At the same time, I am in profound disagreement with their rejection of a future personal return of the Lord and future bodily resurrection. And while I believe it is possible to interpret many passages which speak of the Lord’s coming in connection with the fall of Jerusalem, I do not believe it is possible to interpret the New Testament passages on the resurrection in any way other than that there will be a bodily resurrection of all the dead on the last day (John 5:28-29; John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 15:23-26; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Indeed, I believe the resurrection is the “hair in the ointment” of full preterism. You may wonder how full preterists interpret the resurrection passages I just listed. From what I have read, there are basically two ways they look at these verses. One way is to say that the resurrection of the body is corporate, that it refers to the body of Christ rising from the grave of Judaism, just as a butterfly bursts forth from its cocoon. The other way I have seen full preterists deal with the resurrection is to argue that at death the righteous immediately receive a new spiritual body in paradise.

The root of both of these interpretations is a rejection of the bodily resurrection. One full preterist author explicitly denies the bodily resurrection as follows:

The people [Jews] were expecting an earthly king and kingdom, and the renovation of a literal temple and city. Quite naturally, this affected their concept of the resurrection, giving it fleshly overtones. The Pharisees especially were distinguished for their belief in a resurrection, but their concept of it had some faith destroying power among the Sadducees. Their rejection of the resurrection was due largely to the fleshly concepts taught and believed in that day…The Pharisees, however, accepted the doctrine, but held it in a gross and carnal form, which eventually had its fatal consequence regarding faith in Christ. (Max King, The Spirit of Prophecy, pages 217-218).

It is true that the Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection, but was their view a “gross and carnal” misunderstanding of the doctrine? I emphatically reject this charge. In Acts 23:6, Paul specifically identified himself with the Pharisees and against the Sadducees on this very issue. “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead.” Later, in Acts 24:15, he affirmed that he had “hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall be certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” If Paul was associating himself with the Pharisees on the resurrection simply as a political tactic, but actually believed that the Pharisaical interpretation of the resurrection was “gross and carnal,” then I would suggest that the apostle was guilty of disingenuity in the highest degree.

It is clear from these texts that Paul held the same belief in the bodily resurrection as did the Pharisees. That bodily resurrection of all who are in the grave has yet to occur, and for this reason I must reject the doctrine of full preterism. Further, I would argue that full preterists have traded away the biblical view of the resurrection for a view that has more in common with Greek philosophy than biblical truth. 


  1. Nice digestible summary of one of the basic problems in the concept. Thanks!

  2. Shane, I believe, like you, that the “hair in the ointment” for full-preterists is the resurrection. As I talked with and read behind these folks, it appears 1 Cor. 15 is the last thing that falls to their hermeneutic before they quit toying around with preterism and fully convert. Good job!

  3. [just saw this on the web. any reaction? Barb]

    70 AD Futurism !

    Preterists claim that the "Antichrist" and the "great tribulation" were fulfilled during the 70 AD period.
    If so, why do we find that the arrival of the Antichrist was still expected by writers who lived during and after 70 AD?
    Polycarp (70-167) wrote that "He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead."
    Justin Martyr (100-168) said that "[Antichrist] shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians...."
    Irenaeus (140-202) wrote that the ten kings (Rev. 17)"shall give their kingdom to the beast, and put the church to flight."
    It's not true that Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) "revived" futurism because it was never lost during the Middle Ages or prior to that period of time.
    Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) stated: "There remains only one thing - that the demon of noonday [Antichrist] should appear."
    Roger Bacon (1214-1274) spoke of "future perils [for the Church] in the times of Antichrist...."
    John Wycliffe (1320-1384) referred to "the hour of temptation, which is coming upon all the world, Rev. iii."
    Martin Luther (1483-1546): "[The book of Revelation] is intended as a revelation of things that are to happen in the future...."
    (Google or Yahoo "Famous Rapture Watchers" to see quotes from many Christian leaders throughout the Church Age which prove that they expected a future Antichrist and a future great tribulation.)
    Preterists use Matt. 24:34 ("This generation will not pass....") to try to prove a 70 AD fulfillment of "Antichrist." Since many of them see "these" (Matt. 25:46) fulfilled in the future in Rev. 20, why can't they apply futurism as easily to Matt. 24:34? After all, the word "this" is the singular form of "these"!
    Church history is fascinating, right?