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Particulars of Christianity:
313 Preterism


When Was Revelation Written?

Preterism Part 1: The Basics and Partial Preterism
Preterism Part 2: Olivet and the Transcendent "You"
Preterism Part 3: The Remaining "Proof Texts"
Preterism Part 4: Appealing to Josephus
Preterism Part 5: Uninterrupted Futurism into 2nd Century
Preterism Part 6: Nero, History, and Biblical Details
Preterism Part 7: Scripture and a Delayed Coming
Preterism Part 8: Brief Summary of Conclusions
Behold I Come Quickly
Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass
When Was Revelation Written?
A Throne of His Own

Addendum: "The Time Is At Hand"




In the other articles in this section we have provided a decisive demonstration that Preterism is an unbiblical view of eschatology. However, before Preterists can even begin to argue with the points we have addressed in those articles, there is one very large obstacle they must first overcome. That obstacle is the date when Book of Revelation was written or more appropriately when the vision was seen by John.

The Book of Revelation has been traditionally dated by scholars to have been written in or about 96 AD. Obviously this date would completely prevent anyone from accepting the Preterist theory that the events described in Revelation took place some 25 years earlier in 70 AD. Preterist scholars quickly recognize that dating the book in 96 AD utterly destroys their theory, therefore, they must challenge this dating. And so they have.

So where do we get this date? From Irenaeus' work, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chp. 30, written in the mid to late 100's AD. Let's take a look at the quote.

"Teitan too, (Teitan, the first syllable being written with the two Greek vowels e and i), among all the names which are found among us, is rather worthy of credit. For it has in itself the predicted number, and is composed of six letters, each syllable containing three letters; and [the word itself] is ancient, and removed from ordinary use;ÉAnd besides this, it is an ancient name, one worthy of credit, of royal dignity, and still further, a name belonging to a tyrant. Inasmuch, then, as this name "Titan" has so much to recommend it, there is a strong degree of probability, that from among the many [names suggested], we infer, that perchance he who is to come shall be called "Titan." We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign. 4. But he indicates the number of the name now, that when this man comes we may avoid him, being aware who he is: the name, however, is suppressed, because it is not worthy of being proclaimed by the Holy Spirit. For if it had been declared by Him, he (Antichrist) might perhaps continue for a long period." - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Chp. 30

This is the main source traditional scholars use to a date when John was given the Revelation. Until the development of Preterist doctrines, its reliability has stood the test of time. Scholars, and indeed, Preterists themselves, can find no basis for suggesting that Irenaeus is mistaken with regard to history here. The specific part of this quote that is used to date the Book of Revelation is as follows.

"for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign."

Most scholars interpret the pronoun "that" in the phrase "that was seen" to be "the apocalyptic vision." This seems to make sense and to flow naturally allowing the pronoun "that" to stand in for the nearest previous noun "vision." This assumes the least confusing grammar for the statement. Given that Domitian reigned from 81-96 AD, if John wrote near the end of his reign, that would place the writing of Revelation somewhere in the 90's.

Irenaeus states clearly "For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign." The key question, therefore, is what Irenaeus' was referring to by the phrase "that was seen." What was seen towards the end of Domitian's reign (which would be sometime near 96 AD or so)? Was he referring to "him who beheld the apocalyptic vision" (John) or was it "the apocalyptic vision" itself?

Traditionally, this short phrase has been taken to indicate "the apocalyptic vision" itself. This seems particularly logical because Irenaeus is referring to something, which was "seen." His use of "seen" reflects the apocalyptic vision that he had just previously said was "beheld" by John. This interpretation seems to provide the most intuitive and simple understanding of the syntax, and this is exactly the way in which Irenaeus' words have been traditionally been interpreted.

Preterists attempt to get around this interpretation by asserting that it was John, not John's vision, that was seen towards the end of Domitian's reign. In doing so they allow for a more confusing grammatical structure of this passage in which "that" refers not to the immediately preceding noun "vision," (which would be the most natural reading of the text), but instead they insist "that" refers to the next closest preceding noun, "John."

This is a solid example of circular reasoning. One wonders how Preterists would read this statement if the phrase Domition's reign were replaced with Nero's reign. The point of this exercise is to demonstrate a very simple truth. One wonders what it is that the Preterists find so compelling to cause them to disagree with scholars traditional dating?

On this point we cannot ignore the fact that the entire Preterist doctrine hangs in the balance on this one simple question. With that in mind, there is little doubt that what Preterists find so compelling to cause them to disagree with the traditional date is the fact that their theory cannot survive so long as the traditional date stands.

It is not that Preterists read this short excerpt from Irenaeus and believe that the traditional interpretation is impossible or even implausible. Rather, what the Preterists have done is to go into this text and find a loophole, a loophole without which their entire theory could not survive.

And the solution to their problem was easy enough to find, simply change the pronoun "that" from a reference to the vision and make it instead a reference to John himself. In this sense, we can see that Preterists are not primarily concerned with how Irenaeus SHOULD be read but instead with how Irenaeus CAN be read. The reason they are focused on the versatility of the meaning of "that" is simply because it is the only available loophole to keep Preterism alive in the face of the Traditional model.

On this point, Preterists' do not have the luxury of being nonbiased. They simply have to find a way to avert the traditional dating. So, there interpretation of Irenaeus here has nothing to do with an objective, accurate judgment of what the author probably meant. Instead, it has everything to do with finding a way around the traditional dating of Revelation.

This interpretation, however, deprives us of any information as to when "the apocalyptic vision" was "beheld." We would have no idea whether it was written in the 60's, 70's, 80's, or 90's AD. Under the Preterist theory there would be no way to know.

Logically speaking, it is not necessary that Preterism provide us with a way to firmly date Revelation. Their failure to provide firm evidence for a date in itself does not invalidate their theory or their interpretation of Irenaeus. It does however bring to light their bias.

In other words, if we interpret Irenaeus as the Preterists want we are left without any certain date for the writing of Revelation. That means, it could have been written at any point prior to John's death. If it was not written in the 90's, it could have been written in the 70's or 80's. Yet the Preterists argue that it was written in the 60's. And why? Since apart from Irenaeus there is no direct source for dating Revelation, we have no other choice but to assume the only evidence Preterists have for an early dating of the book is their own theory that it was fulfilled in 70 AD. Any date after 70 AD would negate their entire theory.

Let's take a look at it one last time in the simplest format.

Hypothesis: The prophecies in the book of Revelation were fulfilled in 70 AD.
Test the Hypothesis Using Existing Evidence: Scholar's traditional date for the writing of Revelation is around 96 AD.
Preterist Conclusion: Tradition scholars are wrong because the hypothesis is true.

Or in other words, Preterists throw out the existing evidence simply because it disagrees with their hypothesis. Then they reconfigure the evidence to fit with their pre-existing conclusions. The Preterists are clearly molding the evidence to arrive at their desired conclusion. This is faulty logic and their assessment should be rejected as biased.

There could be no clearer case of bias and no clearer case of circular reasoning. The Preterists early dating of Revelation is driven entirely by the assumption that Preterism is true. According to their line of thinking, since Preterism is true and Jesus came back in 70 AD, Revelation could not have been written after 70 AD. Therefore, traditional scholars are wrong and Irenaeus could not have meant that the vision was seen in the end of Domitian's reign. As we can see, Preterists start their analysis of Revelation's date by assuming that Preterism is true. Here they have a clear conflict of interest and their exegesis is operating in reverse.

Preterists' convenient re-interpretation of Irenaeus' statement betrays their bias in the matter. Furthermore their insistence and confidence in this unwarranted supposition is highly suspicious, nonobjective, and quite unscholarly to say the least.

But, for the sake of argument, let's assume for a moment that the Preterist interpretation of Irenaeus' statement is correct. Let's assume that it is "John" and not "the apocalyptic vision" that was seen near the end of Domitian's reign. Is the scenario that they are depicting a reasonable one? Not at all. Let's take a look at the logical outcome of their interpretation. A Preterist view unequivocally upholds the following.

1. John was a witness and disciple of Jesus during Jesus' life on earth.
2. John understood that Jesus would return in his lifetime from what Jesus taught him regarding his return. This information he effectively taught to the Church of his day.
3. God used John to record and instruct the church with regard to the teachings of Jesus' through his own ministry and through the writing of one Gospel, and three epistles.
4. God revealed to John a vision of Christ's return in the 60's AD.
5. John witnessed and lived through the fulfillment of Jesus' revelation, prophecy and teaching regarding his return when these events occurred in 70 AD.

(Here's where we see the breakdown in plausibility.)

6. John lived for another 25 years or so after his "apocalyptic vision" was fulfilled and Jesus returned in 70 AD.
7. During these 25 years after Jesus return, John (the writer of one Gospel, three epistles, and recorder of "the apocalyptic vision" describing Jesus' return), did not manage to successfully communicate the fact that his "apocalyptic vision" had been fulfilled 25 years earlier in 70 AD.
8. (By extension) Either God chose not to use John to inform the Church that Jesus' second coming and the apocalyptic vision were fulfilled in 70 AD, or God did chose to use John in this way but for one reason or another John did not accomplish that mission.
Based on the above Preterist scenario and the fact that all orthodox church writers and scholars for at least two centuries after 70 AD upheld a Futurist view of eschatology, one of the four highly unreasonable conclusions must be drawn regarding John, the church, and Jesus' return in 70 AD.

1. John DID NOT understand that his "apocalyptic vision" had been fulfilled in 70 AD and so did not teach this to the church.
2. John DID understand that his "apocalyptic vision" had been fulfilled in 70 AD yet chose not to teach this to the church.
3. John DID understand that his "apocalyptic vision" had been fulfilled in 70 AD and attempted to teach this to the church, but was completely ineffective and wholly failed in this task.
4. John did understand that his "apocalyptic vision" had been fulfilled in 70 AD and effectively taught this to the church only to have his teaching on the matter universally rejected by the church.

One last item to remember on this point: we have no record of either John or any other member of the early Church writing to instruct the Church that the events prophesied in the New Testament surrounding the return of Christ ever came to pass in 70 AD. If those events did come to pass, then the Church was left with no instruction regarding that fact.

In summary, we conclude that Preterists have failed to demonstrate an objective, reasonable basis for rejecting the traditional interpretation of Irenaeus' statement. And therefore, Preterists have failed to make the case for a pre-90's dating of Revelation. This is based on two points, which we have argued thoroughly above. One, the traditional intepretation of Irenaeus' statement and the traditional dating of Revelation are inherently more reasonable, intuitive, and simple from a grammatical standpoint. Two, the unavoidable, logical extensions of the Preterist view on this matter inevitably lead to an absurd understanding of how the early Church arrived at a Futurist doctrine.