Preterism and Eschatology

Q: I have recently heard of a school of thought known as “preterism.” What is this school and what do you think of it?

A: I happen to subscribe to it, as do numerous others including (Catholic) Scott Hahn and (Protestant) David Chilton. The general thesis of preterism is that the bulk (though not all) of the book of Revelation was fulfilled in the first century or otherwise in the first few centuries (by the conversion of Constantine). There is still, however, the future Second Coming, General Judgment, New Creation, and Eternal Order. Many preterists identify the Whore of Babylon as Apostate Jerusalem (which was destroyed in A.D. 70), though others identify it as Pagan Rome.

Basically, there are three ways to approach the events of Revelation. Everyone (who is orthodox) accepts that the beginning of the book (chapters 1-3) apply to the first century and the end of the book (end of chapter 20 through chapter 22) apply to the end of history; the argument is over where the middle (chapters 4 through the first half of chapter 20) apply. The first option (preterism) says it applies to the first century or the first few centuries — that it is bunched up toward the First Coming; the second view (historicism) says that it is spread more or less evenly between the First and Second Comings; and the third view (futurism) says that it is bunched up toward the Second Coming.

For a discussion of the exegetical basis of preterism, see my piece, “The Flow of Time in Revelation.”

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