The Historical Problems with Preterism
I am more familiar with Preterism than I care to be. I will be frank in that I believe it is one of the biggest false doctrines in the church today. If you don’t know what Preterism is let me give it to you in a nutshell:
The belief that all prophecies in Matthew 24-25 and Revelation 6-18 were fulfilled prior to 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Army. The period commencing after this event is known as the Church Age or Millennial Reign.
We won’t even get into the literal or figurative definition of Millennial (Thousand year) Reign. Let me also preface this with the suggestion if you don’t have wade into the knowledge of Preterism then don’t. In my opinion it is a complete waste of time. I was drug into this debate when I had a rogue employee who was causing grief in several churches over his zealousness for this topic.
The position that I want to discuss is the historical issues that plague Preterism. Most scholars agree that the Book of Revelation was written between 88 and 92 AD. Preterists argue that John wrote Revelation during the reign of Nero in the 60’s AD and not during Domitian’s reign (81-89 AD).
The question I want to present to you today is: “What was the age of the Apostle John when he walked with Jesus?” This gives us a key how old John was in 60 AD and 80 AD. You see John was old and frail when he wrote Revelation and his epistles. Stories have people carrying him into churches because he couldn’t walk. One has to be advanced in years to be in that state. (It is true injuries could’ve have caused that but no where is it mentioned that he suffered that and that he was the only disciple not to die a martyrs death but from old age)
Let’s look at an obscure passage to help us determine John’s age:
Matt 17:27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
This is an interesting scene that is usually over looked but it points out some important cultural things about John’s age. The first thing we see is that only Jesus and Peter pay the tax. What about the other disciples? Was Peter alone with Jesus? Jesus wasn’t alone with Peter but only Peter and Jesus had to pay the tax because they were of age. You only paid a temple tax when you were over twenty years old. So this shows us that of the disciples who were present (likely Peter, James, and John) the rest of them were under the age of twenty. This would fall in line with how old disciples were who followed Rabbi’s during that time. Grown men with families did not follow Rabbis. Teenage boys who showed promise in the Torah followed renowned Rabbis.
If that is the case then John is probably between sixteen and eighteen at this time, which was likely 32 AD. If this is the case then John would’ve only been at most fifty years old in 64 AD and probably not the old man who is ready to die of natural causes. If you have him penning the book in 88 AD then he would be close to seventy five years old and more likely to be old and frail from all of the travels and the attempted boiling in a vat of oil.
So you see there is a history problem with Preterism based on the age of John when he walked with Jesus. He just wasn’t old enough in 60 AD to exhibit the characteristics that history attributes to him in his old age, couple that with the fact that there is no mention of Nero persecuting Christians outside of Rome and you have some major obstacles to overcome to prove this theory.
Hi, Chuck – let me bounce a couple of things off of you. First of all, I, like you, don’t think that preterism has much substance behind it at all. The dating of the book of Revelation is enough to dismiss preterism. The historical and theological back flips necessary to establish preterism takes a trained gymnast.
I hesitate, though, to label it a false doctrine. I think it is wrong, but not false. I see something as false that leads someone away from the person and work of Jesus Christ – denying deity, atonement, etc. (Christology/soteriology). Preterists think I am wrong – I sure hope they don’t think I’m false because my eschatology is different than theirs.
The argument from Matthew about the age of John – I’ve never heard that before and in reading the text I am far from convinced. Arguments from silence rarely speak with much authority.
What do you think?
I understand what you are saying about false doctrine but since I have witnessed first hand how it has led several people away from the Lord I have to keep it in that category. The arrogance it produces in it’s proponents is nothing short of damaging to the local church. Like Calvinism the proponents have to adhere to a strict line of reasoning and are always looking to prove themselves and argue.
I also understand where you are coming from with your view on the text. I did extensive study on the Jewish Rabbinical system of Jesus’ day and realize that the age of most of the disciples were under the age of 20. I know this flies in the face of many of the pictures we see but warrants consideration considering that most of the disciples didn’t leave a wife or family (with the exception of Peter) because they hadn’t married yet.
I know people will argue semantics but if you study the history about the temple tax you will see the veracity of my statements. Thanks for calling me on it though. I really appreciate it.
Hi, Chuck – my challenge with the Mt. 17 passage isn’t centered around Jewish customs and the ages of Jesus’ disciples (and that was interesting, thank you). My comment is directed to the fact that no other disciples are mentioned in the text, except Peter. It may be implied that other disciples were in the house, but that is the argument from silence. Anyway, even if it were true, it is not dissuasive concerning preterism.
As to your first point, you actually know people who have abandoned the faith once they embraced preterism? What is it about preterism that led them away from the person and work of Jesus?
Chuck the attempted boiling in a vat of oil could leave anybody crippled at any age even though they did not die from it.making your case seem absurb.I am no preterist, I simply believe God such as mtt16:28 there were some standing there which did not taste of death till they seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom.I believe God over anyman,no matter what,some call me a preterist,thats fine they can call me what they won’t but I answer to my Father who is God the same one you have,I did not even know what a preterist was,but through my own personal journey and the internet I was accused of somthing I knew nothing about but what I do know is I have a peace that no man can take.I know that by taking a step back and started checking my sources things started getting much clearer.The accuser is the one that gets cassed down think about that one.I just used the points you had already pointed out about Johns condition.Many blessings Chuck wanted to give you somthing to think about.I will make no apoligies for what I know to be true,and am most happy to discuss different views as long as they don’t accuse me because when the accusations start flying I know where they are.I am not right only God and his word will be all that remains,the rest will pass.
I think you bring up an interesting point about the age of John and the other disciples during the life and ministry of Christ. I certainly hadn’t considered a couple of the things you’ve said.
I too am not a Preterist. But, like Tim would see it as bad interpretation, incorrect exposition, but not false doctrine. So I second his question, you’ve seen people abandon their faith as a result of preterism?
Telling people that God did not do what he said he was going to do,tell me Chuck what direction will that lead a person,to the Lord or away?
Hi, Terry – what did God say He would do that Chuck is denying?