You are hereWinds of Change
Winds of Change
by Duncan McKenzie
I just wanted to share a couple of things that I think represent winds of change in the scholarly community concerning preterism. Actually they are probably more like breezes than winds, but at least they are in the right direction. I just wanted to share a couple of things that I think represent winds of change in the scholarly community concerning preterism. Actually they are probably more like breezes than winds, but at least they are in the right direction. I just purchased the new Revised Expositors Bible Commentary (# 13: Hebrews-Revelation (Zondervan 2006). Alan Johnson wrote the commentary on Revelation in it. He is not a preterist by any means. In fact on the subject of preterism he wrote, “I believe that the preterist’s view, and to a lesser extent the preterist –futurist view is mislead” ( pg. 587) (The preterist-futurist view would be someone like Mounce or Ladd; one who sees a first century fulfillment and an endtime fulfillment).
Anyway, I don’t think anyone needs to run out and get this commentary but I wanted to share some of what Johnson wrote on the preterist approach. To me it is evidence that we are showing up more on the scholarly radar screen (although he seems a little irritated by us). Johnson wrote the following on preterism (I have edited parts of it).
According to this view, Revelation describes what was happening in the time of the author; it is a contemporary and imminent historical document dealing with the evil Roman Empire. So the main contents of chs. 4-22 are viewed as describing events wholly limited to John’s own time. This approach identifies the book with the Jewish apocalyptic method of producing “tracts for the times” to encourage faithfulness during intense persecution. One version of this view sees the fall of Babylon the Great as God’s judgment on an apostate Israel in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Yet the same interpreters see the beast of chs. 13 and 17 as the pagan nation of Rome (so K.L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, 1989)…
A second type of preterist interpretation sees the fall of Babylon the Great as the fall of the Roman Empire. The two beasts of ch. 13 are identified respectively as imperial Rome and the imperial priesthood…
A new spate of conservative books, influence by James Stuart Russell’s The Parousia (1987; repr. Bradford , Pa.: International Preterist Association) and emphasizing the preterist interpretation, has recently appeared. There is a hard view and a soft view among these interpreters. The hard view, or full preterist, sees everything in the book as having been fulfilled during John’s day in the destruction of the temple, including the second coming of Jesus, the resurrection, and the judgment of the world (so Don K. Preston, Who Is This Babylon, self published 1999); the soft, or partial preterist, view is held by those who cannot bring themselves to accept that the second coming and the resurrection have already occurred (so R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).
Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Bible Expositors Commentary, Revised Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) 585-586.
I had to look up the definition of the word “spate;” I could gather from the context it meant “a lot of.” Webster’s gives the following definition of spate: 1. a.) flash flood b.) a sudden, heavy rain. 2. an unusually large outpouring , as of words.
A new spate of conservative books kind of sounds like an annoying storm or weeds popping up. For that matter, a hard view and a soft view sounds a bit like pornography (hard core preterism and soft core preterism). At least we are acknowledged as theologically conservative (i.e. we have a high regard for the trustworthiness of Scripture). Again, Johnson seems a little irritated by us (maybe we are raining on his parade) but at least we are mentioned. To be honest however, our mention is probably more due to the fact that we are getting too big to ignore.
Let me share another quote from a recent commentary on Revelation (Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005). Smalley is also not a preterist but I find the following statement by him regarding the current reevaluation by scholars of the assumption that Revelation was written under Domitian to be encouraging.
It has been frequently assumed that the Apocalypse may be dated to the reign of the Emperor Domitian, the last representative of the Flavian house (AD 81-96), as a response to fierce persecution which took place during his reign. But this view has recently been challenged seriously, both because encouragement in the face of persecution may not be regarded as the single motive behind the composition of Revelation, and also on account of the insecurity surrounding the evidence of imperial oppression during the time of Domitian. The leaves the way open to revive the alternative view, common among nineteenth-century scholars, that Revelation was written between AD 64, as a result of the persecution under Nero, and AD 70, the fall of Jerusalem (see the summary of the research representing these two positions in Robinson, Redating [the New Testament, London: SCM Press, 1976] 224-26). As it happens, I believe that it is perfectly possible to locate the writing of Revelation in the reign of Vespasian (AD 69-79); and I have argued that the book emerged just before the fall of Jerusalem to Titus, Vespasian’s son, in AD 70…I suggest that this conclusion fits the internal and external evidence for the dating of Revelation; it is also supported by the theological thrust of the drama itself. For the members of John’s circle, the earthly Jerusalem and its Temple would have been a central holy place in which to encounter God, and also a spiritual centre of gravity. If Jerusalem were about to be destroyed, the vision in Rev. 21-22 of a stunning and emphatically new holy city, where God’s people will dwell eternally in a close covenant relationship with him, would provided exactly, and at the right moment, all the spiritual encouragement they needed
[Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 2-3]
I don’t think one needs to run out and buy this commentary either, but I find Smalley’s statement all the more encouraging because he is not a preterist. Smalley calls himself a “modified idealist” (“Revelation is a symbolic portrayal of the timeless conflict between the forces of good and evil, God and Satan. But this involves a final consummation in judgment (sic) and salvation, even if that finality is not depicted in terms which are precisely chronological”). Smalley, 15-16
Personally, I see Revelation as being written more like five years before AD 70 (c. AD 65). It was written shortly before the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week, a period of three and a half years, AD 67-70 (a.k.a. forty-two months; a.k.a. a time, times and half a time; cf. Rev. 13:1-7) that ends with the destruction of Jerusalem (Dan. 9:26-27; cf. Dan. 12:1,7) and the Second Coming (cf. Dan. 7:21-25).
Allow me to digress on the question of the date of Revelation. The position that the book was written under Domitian never did fit what Revelation says about its date of writing. Revelation 17:9-10 says,
“here is the mind which has wisdom: the seven heads [of the beast] are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is…”
In figuring who the sixth ruler is, there are two factors to consider. 1. Whether to start the count with Julius or Augustus. 2. Whether to include the three short live Caesars of AD 68-69 (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius). Here are the first twelve Caesars:
1. Julius Caesar (49-44 BC)
2. Augustus (31BC- AD 14)
3. Tiberius (AD 14-37
4. Gaius a.k.a. Caligula (AD 37-41)
5. Claudius (AD 41-54)
6. Nero (AD 54-68)
7. Galba (AD 68-69)
8. Otho (AD 69)
9. Vitellius (AD 69)
10. Vespasian (AD 69-79)
11. Titus (AD 79-81)
12. Domitian (AD 81-96)
With the solution that I (and most other conservative preterists) propose, that one starts with Julius Caesar, the five fallen are Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, the one reigning is Nero (AD 54-68). This fits perfectly the preterist contention that the book of Revelation was written near the end of Nero’s reign (around AD 65) right before the Jewish war of AD 66-70. The latest one can legitimately make the “five have fallen one is” of Revelation 17:10 would be to start the count of the emperors with Augustus instead of Julius. If one then doesn’t count the short lived emperors (Galba, Otho and Vitellius) this would make the five that had fallen, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, the one reigning would be Vespasian (69-79). Notice that even using this late date method of counting, one comes up with Revelation being written in the decade of the AD 70’s. This is approximately two decades short of the proposed time of AD 95 that the late date advocates maintain.
If Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign then Revelation 17:10 should either read, “eleven have fallen one is” (if one starts the count with Julius Caesar and includes the three short lived emperors in the list) or “ten have fallen one is” (if one starts the count with Augustus and includes the three short-lived emperors), or “eight have fallen one is” if one starts with Julius and excludes the three short lived emperors or “seven have fallen one is” (if one starts with Augustus and excludes the three short lived emperors). Saying that Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign simply can not legitimately be made to fit Revelation’s text of “five have fallen one is.” As Ladd noted, “no method of calculation satisfactorily leads to Domitian as the reigning emperor…”[ George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 229.]
If one wants to see what a book written during the reign of Domitian looks like one should look at 2 Esdras (a.k.a. IV Ezra). In that book, the beast (an eagle, a symbol of Rome) has twelve wings, representing twelve kings (Julius-Domitian) and three heads, which are the last three of the twelve kings (Esdras 11:1-9). The three heads represent the Flavian dynasty, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, (2 Esdras 12:10-30).
To summarize: Depending on whether one starts with Julius or Augustus and includes or excludes Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, then Domitian is either the 8th, 9th, 11th, or 12th. ruler of Rome. One can not legitimately make him the 6th ruler (as Rev. 17:10 requires).
It is fun to be part of a move of God. Preterism is slowly becoming more of a deluge. I don’t see a spate of historicist or idealist work on eschatology coming out. Dispensationalists are on the defensive, reacting more to us instead of providing anything that inspires (or course their only inspiration anyway was that of escape). Could it be that God is up to something? A sovereign move on His part? Naaaah.
With a few exceptions (e.g. Ken Gentry), it would seem that preterism is trickling up from the rank and file to the scholars more than trickling down from them. Ezekiel 47 comes to mind, where the water flowing from the Temple (symbolic of the life giving properties of the Holy Spirit, cf. John 7:38-39; Rev. 22:1) keeps getting deeper and deeper. Let the rain continue; let it become more of a spate! Let the naysayers try to stop the water’s flow! Blessing and honor and glory and power to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, forever and ever! (Rev. 5:13). Viva la preterist revelucion!