Why Partial Preterism is Incorrect

Three Views of the Future
February 7, 2010 version

Almost all Christians agree that five key prophetic Bible passages refer to the same events: Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, Zechariah 14, and much of the Book of Revelation.

Futurism is the view of many (but not all) genuine Christians, that these end-time passages have their ultimate fulfillment in the future. Some variations: Pre-trib, Mid-trib, Post-trib, Pre-wrath, unknown time of rapture

Premillennialists vs. futurist amillennialists

Babylon refers to Rome, Babylon, or another city

However, all futurists agree these are all events which will be ultimately fulfilled in the future

Full preterism is an extremely strange view that everything in the entire Book of Revelation was fulfilled prior to 70 A.D., including a symbolic rapture of the saints, the Antichrist, Babylon in Revelation etc. They believe there is no coming of Christ after 70 A.D. This is so far from the truth that very few believe it.

Partial preterists are genuine Christian post-millennialists and amillennialists who agree that full preterism is not viable. However, they still believe that all the prophecies in Matthew 24:1-34, Mark 13:1-30, Luke 21:17-32 and some of the prophecies in Revelation were fulfilled by 70 A.D., Amazingly, they also believe Jesus returned in 70 A.D.! R.C. Sproul and Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. teach this.

The rest of this paper summarizes why they believe this, and why they are incorrect. But first, let's summarize what the relevant scriptures say.


What God's Word Says On the Future

Futurists, full preterists, and partial preterists agree that these scriptures refer to the same set of events. However, full preterists say all of these things have happened already.

Event

Bible Verses

...Beginnings of Sorrows

Watch out, many will come claiming to be Jesus

Mt 24:4; Mk 13:5-6; Lk 21:8

Wars and fighting come before the end

Mt 24:6-7; Mk 13:7; Lk 21:4; Rev 6:1-4

Christians persecuted, tried, and killed

Mk 13:9-13; Lk 21:12-19; Rev 6:9-11

Nation against nation...

Mk 13:8; Luke 21:10

Great earthquakes

Mt 24:7; Mk 13:8; Lk 21:11; Rev 6:12; 8:5

Famine

Mt 24:7; Mk 13:8; Lk 21:11; Rev 6:5-6

Plague and death come before God. of the earth killed.

Mt 24:7; Lk 21:11; Rev 6:7-8

Great signs in the heavens

Lk 21:11; Rev 6:12-14

Gospel preached to all nations

Mt 24:14; Mk 13:10

...Middle of the 70th Week

Abomination that causes desolation

Mt 24:15; Mk 13:14; Dan 9:27

Jerusalem surrounded by armies; flee to the mountains

Mt 24:16-20; Mk 13:15-18; Lk 21:20-24

Greatest distress ever

Mt 24:21-22; Mk 13:19-20

Many false Christs and prophets

Mt 24:23-25; Mk13:21-23

Sun turns dark and moon turns to blood

Mt 24:29; Mk 13:24; Lk 21:25; Rev 6:12-13

Stars fall from the heavens/sky; rolled up like a scroll

Joel 2:10; Mt 24:29; Mk 13:25; Isa 34:4; Rev 6:13

People very afraid and hide in caves from God's wrath

Isa 2:10-11; 19-21; Lk 21:26; Rev 6:14-17

Jesus comes with the clouds with great glory. All tribes will see Him and mourn.

Mt 24:30; Mk 13:26; Lk 21:27; Acts 1:7; Rev 1:7

Not know when Jesus will return

Mt24:36;Mk13:32;Rev3:3

Jesus / the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night

Mt 24:42-43; 1 Th 5:2;

2 Pet 3:10; Rev 16:15

Some taken and some left

Mt 24:31; Mk 13:27; Lk 17:31-36

Birds gorge themselves on flesh

Mt 24:28; Lk 17:37; Rev 19:17-21

 

Rationale for Preterism

Partial preterists believe all these events happened before 70 A.D., because of three Bible verses. In Mt 24:34; Mk 13:30; and Lk 21:32 Jesus said that this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.

In not accepting futurist interpretations of these verses, yet holding to the truthfulness of scripture, partial preterists have to believe all these things were fulfilled in "this generation", that is approximately forty years from the time they were spoken. Supporting their view is that Roman armies came starting in 67 A.D., and Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. Telling believers to leave the well-fortified city of Jerusalem and flee to the mountains when they saw armies approaching turned out to be life-saving advice.


Ramifications of Partial Preterism

Book of Revelation had to be written before 70 A.D. according to R.C. Sproul. Otherwise both partial and full preterism fall. There is no point in prophesying events that occurred in the past.

The Great Tribulation is already over. Christians should not be concerned about this past event in Israel and the Roman Empire.

There is no millennium on earth. Many preterists are post and a-millenialists, but all post and a-millenialists are not necessarily preterists. Amillennialism means that the millennium is going on now in heaven, the serpent is bound and cast into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:2-4) and we can rejoice that the nations are not being deceived anymore until the serpent is released. An alternate preterist view is that the millennium started after 70 A.D. and is on earth now.

There is at most a small gap, less than a generation, between the 69th and 70th week of Dan 9:24-27.

Metaphors include clouds for historical divine judgments on nations. "All the nations of the earth" means "all the nations of the land [of Israel]" On Luke 21:25-28 preterists use "massive doses of symbolic interpretation" according to Thomas Ice (p.97).

The sun and heavenly bodies being darkened did not physically occur. This is just a metaphor for great and catastrophic events that would occur.

All the tribes/people all saw the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30b; Mark 13:26). Christ returned to or near the earth in 70 A.D. to use the Roman armies to execute judgment on Jerusalem. Christ's return was invisible, yet all the peoples saw Him. Honestly, I am not too clear on how this works for them though.


What Does "This" Mean Here?

The Greek word here means "this" or secondarily "that", but is this the generation of 30 A.D. or the generation that sees the start of the fulfillment of the prophecy? One view among futurists is that these passages say it is approximately forty years from the start of the fulfillment of the first parts of the prophecy. The NIV Study Bible on Mark 13:30 p.1521 mentions this view among others, and Thomas Ice in The Great Tribulation Past or Future? p.103 advocates this view.


What Does "Generation" Mean Here?

Generation (people living at the same time or in a 40-year period) is often the best translation of genea. According to one source, it can mean only "generation", and nothing else, in 19 places in the New Testament. Here are 18 of them. Mt 1:17 (4 times); Mt 12:39; Mt 12:41; Mt 12:42; Mt 12:45; Mt 16:4; Mt 17:17; Mt 23:36; Lk 1:50 (2 times); Lk 7:31; Lk 9:41; Acts 13:36; Eph 3:5; Heb 3:10. In the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament, in Genesis through Ezra it can only mean generation in Gen 15:16; Gen 17:7; Gen 50:23; Ex 1:6; Ex 17:16; Ex 20:5; Ex 27:21; Ex 29:42; Ex 30:8; Ex 30:10; Ex 30:21; Ex 30:31; Ex 34:7; Num 14:18; Num 32:13; Dt 1:35; Dt 2:14; Dt 5:9; Dt 7:9; Dt 23:3; Dt 23:8; Dt 29:22; Dt 32:20. It also only means generation in Joel 1:3.

However, all should agree that genea cannot mean generation in two places: Acts 8:33 (descendants / offspring / race) and Luke 16:8 (kind of people). R.C. Sproul in his tape agrees that this meaning is a possibility in the end-time passages, though he says the primary meaning of generation is to be preferred.

Acts 8:33 says "...who will recount his [Jesus'] generation?" (Green's literal translation) Generation here has to mean descendants.

Luke 16:8 says, "...for the sons of this age are more prudent than the sons of light themselves are in their generation."

In the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament, it cannot mean generation in Gen 31:3; Num 15:14

Outside of the Bible, genea means only a generation in Herodotus 2,142 et al. Heraclitus in Plutarch def. orac c.11 and Plutarch l.c.

In a will (manuscript Papyrus Oxyrhynchus I 104) in 96 A.D., it means the man's "issue" (i.e. sons and daughters). It also means family in PSI III 240 (2nd century A.D.), PSI IV 713 (97 A.D.), P. Hal I 1 (3rd century B.C.) and the Syll 856 (2nd century A.D.) according to Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament by J.H. Moulton and G. Milligan p.122)

In 24 places genea can mean generation, descendants, or kind of people, or all the above, according to one source. For example, in Mark 8:12 Jesus said no sign shall be given to this generation. Was Jesus really referring to all his disciples, the 70, all early Christians, the crowds who were fed, who lived at this time? Or, was he referring to the unbelieving kind of people who lived at this time? In many cases the meaning is broad; it definitely means generation (in time) but also definitely means descendants. Here are 18 places.

Mt 11:16; Mt 24:34; Mk 8:12; Mk 8:38; Mk 9:19; Mk 13:30; Lk 1:48; Lk 11:29; Lk 11:30; Lk 11:31; Lk 11:32; Lk 11:50; Lk 17:25; Lk 21:32; Acts 2:40; Eph 3:21; Php 2:15; Col 1:26. In the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament, in Genesis through Ezra it can be either or both in Gen 7:1; Gen 17:9; Gen 17:12; Ex 3:15 (2 times); Ex 12:14; Ex 12:17; Ex 12:42; Ex 16:32; Ex 16:33; Ex 31:13; Ex 31:16; Ex 40:15; Lev 3:17; Lev 6:18; Lev 10:9; Lev 17:7; Lev 22:3; Lev 23:14; Lev 23:21; Lev 23:31; Lev 23:41; Lev 24:3; Num 10:8; Num 15:15; Num 15:21; Num 15:23; Num 15:38; Num 18:23; Num 35:29; Dt 32:5; Josh 22:27; Jdg 2:10. It also can mean either in Lam 5:19 (2 times).

Outside of the Bible, the two Greek lexicons at the end show that it has the same range of meaning. It also means a "birth" in Herodotus 3:33; Zenophon/Xenophon 1,2,8, "men of the same stock". It also means a "family" as early as Homer, and Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 5,1,5.

Rather than thinking genea has three meanings, to a Greek it had only one meaning: the same kind. It can refer to three kinds of relationships: primarily "latitudinal" (generation), "longitudinal" (family/descendants), and "type" (metaphorically as spiritual siblings/descendants).

Some futurists can see parts of these end-time passages having dual fulfillment, with the fulfillment of all the prophecies including Christ's return awaiting the future. Perhaps genea was the perfect choice of word to use here because it conveyed both immediate attention and allowed longer term aspects.


Copyist Error?

As a "red-herring", a one-letter manuscript change from genea to genia / gonea / genos gives the primary meaning of race. The earliest manuscripts that contain these three verses (Mt 24:34; Mk 13:30; and Lk 21:32) are Vaticanus (325-250 A.D.), Sinaiticus (340-350 A.D.). No early extra-biblical writings referred to these three verses except Tatian's Diatessaron harmony (written c.170 A.D.). However though pre-Nicene manuscripts are preserved with these verses, have the word gonea, it is difficult to envision genea as the same manuscript error in all three synoptic gospels plus the Diatessaron.

Conclusion: The sole reason for preterists believing that Jesus already returned with great power and glory in 70 A.D.., is a rejection that genea can have a broader meaning in these three verses than just the generation of Jesus' time. Yet it HAS to have the broader meaning in Acts 8:33 and Luke 16:8, and it CAN have the broader meaning in 24 other places in the Bible.


Recommended Reading

Thomas Ice and Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. The Great Tribulation : Past or Future? : Two Evangelicals Debate the Question. Kregel Publications 1999.

Moulton, J.H. and G. Milligan. Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament. Hendrickson Publishers 1930. p.122.

Thayer, J.H. (translator and reviser) A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament. (20th printing) Zondervan 1979. (p.112).


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