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History and Premillennialism 

Part I
(The Early Church)

The Amillennialist often argues that their nonliteral view of the Millennium, with its spiritualizing method of interpreting the Old Testament Kingdom prophecies and applying them to the Church, was the predominate view and hermeneutic of the early church. However, based on historical facts this argument is rendered false. The following information is extracted from Chafer's Systematic Theology, Vol. IV, Eschatology.

Chiliasm: From the Greek word meaning 'one thousand.' It refers in a general sense to the doctrine of the millennium, or kingdom age that is yet to come, graphically described by the Old Testament prophets. "The distinctive feature of the doctrine is that He (Christ) will return before the thousand years and therefore will characterize those years by His personal presence and by the exercise of His rightful authority, securing and sustaining all the blessings on the earth which are ascribed to that period. The term chiliasm has been superseded by the designation premillennialism..."

THE CHILIASTIC EXPECTATION CONTINUED UNTIL THE ROMAN APOSTASY

Along with justification by faith and almost every other vital doctrine, chiliastic expectation was lost in the dark Ages. That it was held by the early church fathers is evident beyond doubt. Out of a mass of such testimony but one need be quoted here, and that by Justin Martyr. This testimony, like many others, being so direct and far-reaching, has been attacked by opponents of chiliasm much as infidels are wont to attack the Word of God itself. George N. H. Peters' presentation of Justin's declaration is reproduced in full:

"Our doctrine [of the Kingdom] is traced continuously from the Apostles themselves, see that (Prop.72, Obs. 3, note 1) the first fathers, who present Millenarian views, saw and conversed either with the Apostles or the elders following them. So extensively, so generally was Chiliasm perpetuated, that Justin Martyr positively asserts that all the orthodox adopted and upheld it. Justin's language is explicit (Dial. with Trypho, sec.2); for after stating the Chiliastic doctrine, he asserts: "it to be thoroughly proved that it will come to pass. But I have also signified unto thee, on the other hand, that many -- even those of that race of Christians who follow no godly and pure doctrine -- do not acknowledge it. For I have demonstrated to thee, that these are indeed called Christians; but are atheists and impious heretics, because that in all things they teach what is blasphemous, and ungodly, and unsound" etc. He adds: "But I and whatsoever Christians are orthodox in all things do know that there will be a resurrection of the flesh, and a thousand years in the city of Jerusalem, built, adorned and enlarged, according as Ezekiel, Isaiah, and other prophets have promised. For Isaiah saith of this thousand years (ch. 65:17) 'Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind; but be ye glad and rejoice in those which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem to triumph, and my people to rejoice,' etc. Moreover, a certain man among us, whose name is John, being one of the twelve apostles of Christ, in that revelation which was shown to him prophesied, that those who believe in our Christ shall fulfil a thousand years at Jerusalem; and after that the general, and, in a word, the everlasting resurrection, and last judgment of all together. Whereof also our Lord spake when He said, that therein they shall neither marry, nor be given in marriage, but shall be equal with the angels, being made the sons of the resurrection of God." -- The Theocratic Kingdom, I, 480

Chafer goes on to write:

There have always been those, as Justin Martyr testifies with regard to his day, who oppose the plain teaching of the Bible on the millennial question. Modern denials move in one of three directions. They belittle the Scriptures bearing on the theme; they belittle the subject itself; or they belittle the scholarship of those who defend chiliasm. Some modern writers seem to realize but little that chiliasm or premillennialism was the all-but-universal belief of the early church, or the extent of that conviction in all centuries when any truth has been received at all. It is hardly worthy of any scholar to assert that this is a modern departure, or, if held in the early centuries, was looked upon as a heresy. It has been conceded that it was "lost," along with other vital truths, at the end of the third century and remained hidden until the Reformation. It, like other truths, has had to be rediscovered and restated, all of which requires much time and study.

Peters lists those influential men who were Pre-Mill advocates down through the 3rd Century. Of the influential men during all that time ALL but four were Pre-Mill. For the complete quote see Volume IV, Chapter XIV, V, pg. 271.

Pre-Mill Advocates of the 1st Century:
1. Andrew
2. Peter
3. Philip
4. Thomas
5. James
6. John
7. Matthew
8. Aristio
9. John the Presbyter

Peters states regarding the above: "These all lived between A.D. 1-100; John, it is supposed -- so Mosheim, etc. -- died about A.D. 100. (All these are cited by Papias, who, according to Irenaeus, was one of John's hearers, and intimate with Polycarp. John is also expressly mentioned by Justin. Now this reference to the apostles agrees with the facts that we have proven: (a) that the disciples of Jesus did hold the Jewish views of the Messianic reign in the first part of this century, and (b) that, instead of discarding them, they linked them with the Sec. Advent)."

10. Clement of Rome A.D. 40-100
11. Barnabas A.D 40-100
12 Hermas A.D 40-150
13 Ignatius A.D. 50-115
14 Polycarp A.D. 70-167
15. Papias A.D. 80-163

None can be cited in this century to be against The Premillennial view.

Pre-Mill Advocates of the 2nd Century:
1. Pothinus A.D. 87-177
2. Justin Martyr A.D. 100-168
3. Melito A.D. 100-170
4. Hegisippus A.D. 130-190
5. Tatian A.D. 130-190
6. Irenaeus A.D. 140-202
7. The Churches of Vienne and Lyons - a letter A.D. 177
8. Tertulian A.D. 150-220
9. Hippolytus A.D. 160-240
10 Apollinaris A.D. 150-200

None can be cited in this century to be against Premillennialism. The common belief of the Church was Chiliastic (Premillennial).

Pre-Mill Advocates of the 3rd Century:
1. Cyprian A.D. 200-258
2. Commodian A.D. 200-270
3. Nepos A.D. 230-280
4. Coracion A.D. 230-280
5. Victorinus A.D. 240-303
6. Methodius A.D. 250-311
7. Lactantius A.D. 240-330

There were only four in this century that opposed the Premillennial view:
1. Caius (or Gaius), wrote about A.D. 210
2, Clemens Alexandrinus, died A.D. 202, great influence on Origin
3. Origin A.D. 185-254
4. Dionysius A.D. 190-265

There were others who were influenced but these are the "champions" mentioned as directly hostile to Premillennialism

Daniel Witby:

Added to this is the admission of Daniel Whitby (1638-1726), an English theologian who, almost more than any other, opposed the chiliastic view. Peters quotes him from his Treatise on Tradition as follows:

"The doctrine of the Millennium, or the reign of saints on earth for a thousand years, is now rejected by all Roman Catholics, and by the greatest part of Protestants; and yet it passed among the best Christians, for two hundred and fifty years, for a tradition apostolical; and, as such, is delivered by many Fathers of the second and third century, who speak of it as the tradition of our Lord and His apostles, and of all the ancients who lived before them; who tell us the very words in which it was delivered, the Scriptures which were then so interpreted; and say that it was held by all Christians that were exactly orthodox." "It was received not only in the Eastern parts of the Church, by Papias (in Phyrgia), Justin (in Palestine), but by Irenaeus (in Gaul), Nepos (in Egypt), Apollinaris, Methodius (in the West and South), Cyprian, Victorinus (in Germany), by Tertullian (in Africa), Lactantius (in Italy), and Severus, and by the Council of Nice" (about A.D. 323). Even in his Treatise on the Millennium, in which he endeavors to set aside the ancient faith by his substitution of "a new hypothesis," he acknowledges, according to Justin and Irenaeus, that (ch. 1, p.61) there were "three sorts of men: (1) The Heretics, denying the resurrection of the flesh and the Millennium. (2) The exactly orthodox, asserting both the resurrection and the Kingdom of Christ on earth. (3) The believers, who consented with the just, and yet endeavored to allegorize and turn into a metaphor all those Scriptures produced for a proper reign of Christ, and who had sentiments rather agreeing with those heretics who denied, than those exactly orthodox who maintained, this reign of Christ on earth." (Vol. IV, Chpt. XIV, General Features Of Eschatology, A Brief Survey of the History of Chiliasm, pg. 264)
Daniel Whitby was the father of the Post-Millennial view. But he well understood that for the first three centuries those who were called "exactly orthodox" held the Premillennial view, and attributed this view also to Christ, His Apostles and those who came before them (i.e., O.T. believers).

AS TO PREMILLENNIALISM BEING A NEW THEORY:

It is a common practice with some theologians to brand chiliasm (premillennialism) as a modern theory, not remembering that, in its restored form, even justification by faith is comparatively a modern truth. Both justification by faith and chiliasm are taught in the New Testament and were therefore the belief of the early church. These doctrines, like all other essential truths, went into obscurity during the dark Ages. The Reformers did not restore all features of doctrine and along with justification by faith they retained the Romish notion that the church is the kingdom, fulfilling the Davidic covenant, and appointed to conquer the world by bringing it under the authority of the church. (Chafer, Vol. 4, Eschatology, Introduction. pg. 257)


Part II
(The Historians)

THE RECOGNITION BY WORTHY HISTORIANS OF THE PLACE CHILIASM (PREMILLENNIALISM) HELD IN THE EARLY CHURCH

The following list with their declarations is taken from the pamphlet, The History of the Doctrine of Our Lord's Return, by Dr. I.M. Haldeman:

Eusebius, the early historian of the Church, admits that most of the ecclesiastics of his day were millenarians. That is -- they believed in the coming of Christ before the millennium. Gieseler, "Church History," Vol. I, p. 166, says "Millenarianism became the general belief of the time and met with almost no other opposition than that given by the Gnostics." Dr. Horatius Bonar says, in his "Prophetic Landmarks," "Millenarianism prevailed universally during the first three centuries. This is now an assured historical fact and presupposes that chiliasm was an article of the apostolic creed." Muncher says, p. 415, History of Christian Doctrine, Vol. 11: "How widely the doctrine of millenarianism prevailed in the first three centuries appears from this, that it was universally received by almost all teachers." W. Chillingworth says: "Whatsoever doctrine is believed or taught by the most eminent fathers of any age of the church, and by none of their contemporaries opposed or condemned, that is to be esteemed the Catholic doctrine of the church of those times. But the doctrine of the millenarians was believed, and taught by the most eminent fathers of the age next after the apostles, and by none of that age opposed or condemned, therefore it was the Catholic or universal doctrine of those times." Stackhouse, in his "Complete Body of Divinity," says: "The doctrine was once the opinion of all orthodox Christians." Bishop Thomas Newton says: "The doctrine was generally believed in the three first and purest ages." Bishop Russell, Discourse on the Millennium, says: "On down to the fourth century the belief was universal and undisputed." Mosheim, Vol. I., p. 185, or his "Ecclesiastical History" says: "That the Saviour is to reign a thousand years among men before the end of the world, had been believed by many in the preceding century (that is, the second), without offense to any."...Neander, the eminent church historian, says in his Church History, page 650, Vol. I.: "Many Christians seized hold of an image which had passed over to them from the Jews, and which seemed to adapt itself to their own present situation. The idea of a millennial reign which the Messiah was to set up on the earth at the end of the whole earthly course of his age -- when all the righteous of all times should live together in Holy Communion..." Gibbon, the author of that immense work, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," cannot be accused of sympathy with Christianity.... In the first volume of his work, p.532, he writes: "it was universally believed that the end of the world was at hand. The near approach of this wonderful event had been predicted by the apostles. The tradition of it was preserved by their earliest disciples, and those who understood in their literal sense the discourses of Christ Himself were obliged to expect the Second and glorious Coming of the Son of Man before that generation was totally extinguished." And now, mark you what he says: "As long as for wise purposes this error was permitted to exist in the church, it was productive of the most salutary effects on the faith and practice of Christians who lived in the awful expectation of that moment." ... "The ancient and popular," --note, I pray you, the ancient and popular--"The ancient and popular doctrine of the millennium was intimately connected with the Second Coming of Christ: As the works of creation had been finished in six days their duration in their present state, according to tradition, was fixed to six thousand years. By the same analogy it was inferred that this long period of labor and contention, which was now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years, and that Christ with His triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon the earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection." "The assurance of such a millennium ... was carefully inculcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate disciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was preceptor to the son of Constantine. It appears to have been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers, and ... it seems so well adapted to the desires and apprehensions of mankind that it must have contributed in a very considerable degree to the progress of the Christian faith." ... "But when the edifice of the church as almost completed the temporary support was laid aside. The doctrine of Christ's reign upon earth was at first heralded as a profound allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism." Kitto, in his encyclopedia of "Biblical Literature," under the head of article "Millennium," states that the millenarian doctrine was generally prevalent in the second century, and that it received its first staggering blow from Origen, followed by Augustine, Jerome, and others in the fourth century. In the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," under article "millennium," the writer, a no less distinguished scholar than Adolf Harnack, D.D., Professor of Christian History in the University of Giessen, Germany, says: "This doctrine of Christ's second advent, and the kingdom, appears so early that it might be questioned whether it ought not be regarded as an essential part of the Christian religion." Sheldon, "Church History," Vol. I., p. 145, ch. 6, testifies that "premillenarianism was the doctrine of the Christians in the first and second century. The fathers expected anti-Christ to arise and reign, and meet his overthrow at the personal coming of the Lord. After which the Kingdom of Christ for a thousand years, would be established on the earth." Crippen, History of Doctrine," P. 231, sec. 12, says that "the early Fathers live in expectation of our Lord's speedy return"; on p. 232 he remarks: "They distinguish between a first resurrection of the saints and a second or general resurrection. These they supposed would be separated by a period of a thousand years, during which Christ should reign over the saints in Jerusalem." ... "While the church was alternately persecuted and contemptuously tolerated by the Roman Empire, the belief in Christ's speedy return and his millennial reign was widely entertained." ... "When the Church was recognized and patronized by the state, the new order of things seemed so desirable that the close of the dispensation ceased to be expected or desired." Smith, "New Testament History," p. 273, says: "Immediately after the triumph of Constantine, Christianity having become dominant and prosperous, Christians began to lose their vivid expectation of our Lord's speedy advent, and to look upon the temporal supremacy of Christianity as a fulfillment of the promised reign of Christ on earth." --Pp. 14-20,24
The Biblically based doctrine of Premillennialism disappeared when Christianity became a world power:

VI. CHILIASM BEGAN TO BE RESTORED IN THE REFORMATION

The entire character of Biblical testimony was changed by Gnostic and Alexandrian influences, and, along with all vital truth, the church lost her conception of the purifying hope of Christ's return, and, eventually, under Constantine, exchanged the divine program of a returning Lord for a world-conquering church. Of this, Dr. James H. Brooks (Maranatha, p. 536) quotes Bengel as saying: "When Christianity became a worldly power by Constantine, the hope of the future was weakened by the joy over the present success." Similarly, Auberlen (Daniel, p. 375) has this to say: "Chiliasm disappeared in proportion as Roman Papal Catholicism advanced. The Papacy took to itself, as a robbery, that glory which is an object of hope, and can only be reached by obedience and humility of the cross. When the Church became a harlot, she ceased to be a bride who goes out to meet her bridegroom; and thus Chiliasm disappeared. This is the deep truth that lies at the bottom of the Protestant, anti-papistic interpretation of the Apocalypse" (both references cited by Peters, op. cit, I, 499) (Chafer Vol. 4, p. 277-278).

Chafer quotes Peters who quotes Cotton Mather (1663-1728), son of Increase Mather (1639-1723), sixth president of Harvard University:

It is well known, that in the earliest of the primitive times the faithful did, in a literal sense, believe the "second coming" of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the rising and the reigning of the saints with Him, a thousand years before, "the rest of the dead live again," a doctrine which, however, some of later years have counted heretical; yet in the days of Irenaeus, were questioned by none but such as were counted heretics. It is evident from Justin Martyr that the doctrine of the Chiliad was embraced among all orthodox Christians; nor did this Kingdom of our Lord begin to be doubted until the Kingdom of Antichrist began to advance into a considerable figure, and then it fell chiefly under the reproaches of such men as were fain to deny the divine authority of the Book of Revelation, and of the Second Epistle of Peter. He is a stranger to antiquity who does not find and own the ancients generally of the persuasion. Nevertheless, at last men came, not only to lay aside the modesty expressed by one of the first Anti-Millenarians, namely, Jerome, but also with violence to persecute the Millenary truth as an heretical privity. So the mystery of our Lord's "appearing in His Kingdom" lay buried in Popish darkness, till the light thereof had a fresh dawn. Since the Antichrist entered into the last half-time of the period allotted for him, and now within the last seven years, as things grow nearer to accomplishment, learned and pious men, in great numbers, everywhere come to receive, explain, and maintain, the old faith about it. -- Quoted by Peters., I, 541-42
The Literal Method Of Interpretation Does Not Change:

"The prophetic story is largely the fulfillment of the Abrahamic, the Palestinian, and the Davidic Covenants. It includes, also, the realization of the two divine purposes -- the earthly purpose centered in Israel and consummated according to Psalm 2:6, and the heavenly purpose centered in the Church and consummated according to Hebrews 2:10. It is here declared with complete assurance that, as prophecies which are now fulfilled were fulfilled in their natural, literal, and grammatical meaning, in like manner all that remains -- reaching to eternal ages -- will be fulfilled in the natural, literal, and grammatical way which the predictions imply. None could question with fairness that the prophecy now fulfilled has followed the literal method to the last detail. It is therefore both unreasonable and unbelieving to suppose that, to relieve some incredulity, the predictions yet unfulfilled will be realized in some spiritualized manner."

Chafer On The Allegorical Method Of Interpretation Of The Prophetic Scriptures:

"In sheer fantastical imagination this method surpasses Russellism, Eddyism, and Seventh Day Adventism, since the plain, grammatical meaning of language is abandoned, and simple terms are diverted in their course and end in anything the interpreter wishes" (Eschatology, Vol. 4 p. 281-282).

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