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Historicism (Christian eschatology)

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Title: Historicism (Christian eschatology)  
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Subject: Christian eschatology, Eschatology, Left Behind, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Olivet Discourse, Whore of Babylon, Seven churches of Asia, Anti-Catholicism, John Cumming (clergyman), Futurism (Christianity)
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Historicism (Christian eschatology)

Historicism is a method of interpretation in Christian eschatology which associates biblical prophecies with actual historical events and identifies symbolic beings with historical persons or societies. The historicist school of prophetic interpretation results in a progressive and continuous fulfillment of prophecy and contained the viewpoint of almost all Protestant Reformers from the Reformation into the 19th century.[1] The main texts of interest are apocalyptic literature, such as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, and historicist methods have been applied to ancient Jewish history, the Roman Empire, Islam, the Papacy, the Modern era, and even into the end time.


Historicism was the belief held by the majority of the Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, and others including John Thomas, John Knox, and Cotton Mather, while the Catholic church tried to counter it with alternative views such as those put forward by the Jesuit Luis de Alcasar during the Counter Reformation.[2][3] This alternate view served to bolster the Catholic Church's position against attacks by Protestants,[4][5] and is viewed as a Catholic defense against the Protestant Historicist view which identified the Roman Catholic Church as a persecuting apostasy and the Pope with the Anti-Christ.[5]

Historicists claim that prophetic interpretation reveals the entire course of history of the church from the close of the 1st century to the end of time.[6] Historicist interpretations have been criticized for inconsistencies, conjectures, and speculations. There is no agreement about various outlines of church history. Historicist readings of the Book of Revelation have been revised as new events occur and new figures emerge on the world scene.[7]

One of the most influential aspects of the Protestant historicist paradigm was the speculation that the Pope could be Antichrist. Martin Luther wrote this view, which was not novel, into the Smalcald Articles of 1537. It was then widely popularized in the 16th century, via sermons and drama, books and broadside publication.[8] Jesuit commentators developed alternate approaches that would later become known as preterism and futurism, and applied them to apocalyptic literature;[9][10] Francisco Ribera[11] developed a form of futurism (1590), and Luis de Alcazar a form of preterism, at the same period.[12][13][14]

The historicist approach has been used in attempts to predict the date of the end of the world. An example in post-Reformation Britain is in the works of Charles Wesley, who predicted that the end of the world would occur in 1794, based on his analysis of the Book of Revelation. Adam Clarke, whose commentary was published in 1831, proposed a possible date of 2015 for the end of the papal power.[15]

In 19th-century America, William Miller proposed that the end of the world would occur on October 22, 1844, based on a historicist model used with Daniel 8:14. Miller’s historicist approach to the Book of Daniel spawned a national movement in the United States known as Millerism. After the Great Disappointment some of the Millerites eventually organized the Seventh-day Adventist Church,[16] which continues to maintain a historicist reading of biblical prophecy as essential to its eschatology.[17]


Early interpretations

Prophetic commentaries in the early church usually interpreted individual passages rather than entire books. The earliest complete commentary on the Book of Revelation was carried out by Victorinus of Pettau, considered to be one of the earliest historicist commentators, around 300 AD.[18][19] Edward Bishop Elliott, a proponent of the historicist interpretation, wrote that it was modified and developed by the expositions of Andreas, Primasius (both 6th century), Bede (730 AD), Anspert, Arethas, Haimo of Auxerre, and Berengaudus (all of the 9th century).[20] The 10th-century Catholic bishop Arnulf of Orléans was, according to Elliott, the first to apply the Man of Sin prophecy in 2 Thessalonians 2:3–9 to the papacy.[20][21] Joachim of Floris gave the same interpretation in 1190,[20] and the archbishop Eberhard II, in 1240.


Protestant Reformers had a major interest in historicism, with a direct application to their struggle against the Papacy. Prominent leaders and scholars among them, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, John Thomas, John Knox, and Cotton Mather, identified the Roman Papacy as the Antichrist.[22] The Centuriators of Magdeburg, a group of Lutheran scholars in Magdeburg headed by Matthias Flacius, wrote the 12-volume "Magdeburg Centuries" to discredit the papacy and identify the pope as the Antichrist. The fifth round of talks in the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue notes,

William Tyndale, an English Protestant reformer, held that while the Roman Catholic realms of that age were the empire of Antichrist, any religious organization that distorted the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments also showed the work of Antichrist. In his treatise The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, he expressly rejected the established Church teaching that looked to the future for an Antichrist to rise up, and he taught that Antichrist is a present spiritual force that will be with us until the end of the age under different religious disguises from time to time.[24] Tyndale's translation of 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2, concerning the "man of lawlessness" reflected his understanding, but was significantly amended by later revisers,[25] including the King James Bible committee, which followed the Vulgate more closely.

Rather than expecting a single Antichrist to rule the earth during a future Tribulation period, Luther, John Calvin and other Protestant reformers saw the Antichrist as a present feature in the world of their time, fulfilled in the papacy.[26] Debated features of the Reformation historicist interpretations were the identification of; the Antichrist (1 and 2 John); the Beasts of Revelation 13; the Man of Sin (or Man of Lawlessness) in 2 Thessalonians 2; the "Little horn" of Daniel 7 and 8, and the Whore of Babylon (Revelation 17).

Isaac Newton's religious views on the historicist approach are in the work published in 1733, after his death, Observations upon the Prophesies of the Book of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John.[27] It took a stance toward the papacy similar to that of the early Protestant reformers. He avoided predictions based on prophetic literature, taking the view that prophesy when it has been shown to be fulfilled will be proof that God's providence has been imminently active in the world. This work regarded much prophesy as already fulfilled in the first millennium of the Christian era.


The 19th century was a significant watershed in the history of prophetic thought. While the historicist paradigm, together with its pre- or postmillennialism, the day-year principle, and the view of the papal Antichrist, was dominant in English Protestant scholarship during much of the period from the Reformation to the middle of the 19th century (and continues to find expression in some groups today), it was not the only one on offer in the broader pre- or non-critical marketplace.[28] Arising in Great Britain and Scotland, William Kelly and other Plymouth Brethren became the leading exponents of dispensationalist premillennial eschatology.[29] By 1826, literalist interpretation of prophecy took hold and dispensationalism saw the light of day.[30] The dispensationalist interpretation derived from the historicist model of interpreting Daniel and Revelation and the theory that there was a gap in prophetic fulfillment of prophecy proposed by Futurism, but dispensationalism took a decidedly anti-Catholic position.

Historicist views


Visions of Daniel

The Protestant historicist interpretation of the four kingdoms, in the Book of Daniel, is the following traditional view: Neo-Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece under Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire.[31] Additionally, the "little horn" in Daniel 7:8 and Daniel 8:9 is viewed by historicists as the Papacy.

Adam Clarke, writing in 1825, offered an alternative 1260-year period from 755 AD to 2015, based upon the Pope's elevation from being a subject of the Byzantine Empire to being the independent head of the Papal States by means of the Donation of Pepin.[15]

Prophecy of Seventy Weeks

The vision of the 70 weeks is interpreted as dealing with the Jewish nation from about the middle of the 5th century BCE until not long after the death of Jesus in the 1st century CE and so is not concerned with current or future history. Historicists consider Antiochus Epiphanies irrelevant to the fulfillment of the prophecy.

The historicist view of Adventists on the prophecy of seventy weeks, in Daniel 9, stretches from to , and that the refers to the events of Jesus Christ's ministry.[32] The Seventh-day Adventist interpretation of Daniel chapter 9 presents the 490 years as an uninterrupted period. Like others before them they equate the beginning of the 70 weeks "from the time the word goes out to rebuild and restore Jerusalem," of Daniel 9:25[33] with the decree by Artaxerxes I in 458/7 BCE which provided money for rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem and allowed for restoration of a Jewish administration.[34] It ends 3½ years after the crucifixion.[35] The appearance of "Messiah the Prince" at the end of the 69 weeks (483 years)[33] is aligned with Jesus' baptism in 27 CE, in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. The 'cutting off' of the "anointed one"[33] refers to the crucifixion 3½ years after the end of the 483 years, bringing "atonement for iniquity" and "everlasting righteousness".[36] Jesus is said to 'confirm' the "covenant"[37] between God and mankind by his death on the cross in the Spring (about Easter time) of 31 CE "in the midst of"[37] the last seven years. At the moment of his death the 4 inch (10 cm) thick curtain between the Holy and Most Holy Places in the Temple ripped from top to bottom[38][39][40] marking the end of the Temple's sacrificial system. The last week ends 3½ years after the crucifixion (i.e., in 34 CE) when the gospel was redirected from only the Jews to all peoples.

Some of the representative voices among exegetes of the last 150 years are E. W. Hengstenberg,[41] J. N. Andrews,[42] E. B. Pusey,[43] J. Raska,[44] J. Hontheim,[45] Boutflower,[46] Uriah Smith,[47] and O. Gerhardt.[48]

The historicist view of Jehovah's Witnesses on the prophecy of seventy weeks is that the timeframe spanned from 455 BCE to 29 CE, with the final "week" being fulfilled by 36 CE.[49][50][51]


Great Tribulation

Most historicists see Matthew's reference to "great tribulation" ( Matthew 24:29) as parallel to Revelation 6:12–13, having an end when Christ returns.[52]

Historicists believe that mankind has always been in the Tribulation and point to the following in the rest of the New Testament which shows the "tribulation", that almost every reference applies to what true Christians go through, rather than what they escape from.

( John 16:33) - Jesus Christ said to His followers, "In the world YOU shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

( 2Thessalonians 1:4) - Paul wrote of the many "persecutions and tribulations" which "the churches of God" were enduring in the 1st century (Christians were thrown to the lions in the coliseum, eaten by wild dogs, burned at the stake and lit up as torches in Nero's garden).

( Revelation 7:14) - God's final people "came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." They did not escape it, but endured through it, being purified.

This gives clear biblical evidence that Christians have always gone through "tribulation" and will endure tribulations until the end.

This view is also called Classical Posttribulationism, an original theory of the Post-tribulation rapture view which holds the position that the church has always been in the tribulation because, during its entire existence, it has always suffered persecution and trouble. They believe that the tribulation is not a literal future event.[53][54]

Historicist have also applied the Tribulation to the period known as "persecution of the saints" as related to Daniel 7 and Revelation 13.



See also



  1. ^ Horae Apocalypticae - A Commentary on the Apocalypse, Vol. 4, pps. 562, 563.
  2. ^ Farrar 1882.
  3. ^ Froom 1954, p. 509.
  4. ^ Stuart 1845, p. 464.
  5. ^ a b Newport 2000, p. 74.
  6. ^ Seventh-day Adventist Bible Student's Source Book, No. 1257, p. 775
  7. ^ Pate, C Marvin; Hays, J Daniel; Duvall, J Scott (2009). Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. ISBN . 
  8. ^ Tinsley, Barbara Sher (1 January 1992). History and Polemics in the French Reformation: Florimond de Raemond, Defender of the Church. Susquehanna University Press. p. 80. ISBN . 
  9. ^ Newport 2000, pp. 21–2.
  10. ^ Shipton, Warren A; Belete, Ebenezer A (19 September 2011). Visions of Turmoil and Eternal Rest. Author House. pp. 22–3. ISBN . 
  11. ^ Ribera, Francisco, In Sacrum Beati Ioannis Apostoli & Evangelistiae Apocalypsin Commentari [Commentary on the Apocalypse of Saint John Apostle & Evangelist] (in Latin) 
  12. ^ de Alcazar, Luis, Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse .
  13. ^ Boyd; Eddy (2002), Across the spectrum: understanding issues in evangelical theology .
  14. ^ Youngblood, Ronald F; Bruce, FF; Harrison, RK, eds. (1995-08-15). New illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. pp. 1140–41. ISBN . 
  15. ^ a b Clarke, "Daniel 7 verse 25 in Context", Commentary on the Bible, Sacred texts .
  16. ^ Newport 2000, p. 22.
  17. ^ Holbrook 1983.
  18. ^ Desrosiers (2000), An introduction to Revelation, p. 32, One of the very first commentators on Revelation, Victorinus of Pettau (c. 300), was a proponent of this method. .
  19. ^ Rusconi (1996), Opere di Gioacchino da Fiore. Strumenti [Works of Gioacchino of Fiore. Instruments] (in Italian), p. 12, His reading was historicist in the sense that he held that the images and symbols of the book could be tied to specific historical events. 
  20. ^ a b c Elliott, Edward Bishop (1862), "Appendix I", Horae Apocalypticae IV (5th ed.) 
  21. ^ Froom 1950, pp. 541–42.
  22. ^ The AntiChrist and The Protestant Reformation
  23. ^ See Building Unity, edited by Burgess and Gross
  24. ^ Tyndale, William, Parable of the Wicked Mammon, c. 1526, (facsimile copy of later printing, no ISBN number, Benediction Classics, 2008)at pages 4-5
  25. ^ "Tyndale's Doctrine of Antichrist and His Translation of 2 Thessalonians 2", R. Davis, New Matthew Bible Project. (A shorter version of this article was also published in the Tyndale Society Journal No. 36, Spring 2009, under the title Tyndale, the Church, and the Doctrine of Antichrist)
  26. ^ Froom 1948, pp. 244–45: "The reformers were unanimous in its acceptance. And it was this interpretation of prophecy that lent emphasis to their reformatory action. It led them to protest against Rome with extraordinary strength and undaunted courage. ... This was the rallying point and the battle cry that made the Reformation unconquerable."
  27. ^ Newton, Isaac (1733, J Darby and T Browne), Observations upon the Prophesies of the Book of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John, London: Project Gutenberg  .
  28. ^ Newport 2000, pp. 14–15.
  29. ^ McClune (1979), "An Exposition of the Book of Isaiah", Central Bible Quarterly 22 (4): 28  .
  30. ^ Stitzinger (2002), "The Rapture in Twenty Centuries of Biblical Interpretation", Master's Seminary Journal 13 (2): 168 .
  31. ^ McDowell, Sean, ed. (2009). Apologetics study Bible for students: hard questions, straight answers. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers. p. 899. ISBN . 
  32. ^ Seventh-day Adventists believe (2nd ed), pp. 358–59
  33. ^ a b c Daniel 9:25
  34. ^ Ezra 7:15-26 "With this money be sure to buy ... offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem ... then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold ... anything else needed for the temple of your God that you are responsible to supply ... appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God."
  35. ^ Based on General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists 2005, pp. 358–359
  36. ^ Daniel 9:24
  37. ^ a b Daniel 9:27
  38. ^ Matthew 27:51
  39. ^ Mark 15:38
  40. ^ Luke 23:45
  41. ^ E.W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament (reprint; McDill AFB, FL, 1973), pp. 803-930
  42. ^ J.N. Andrews, The Commandment to Restore and to Rebuild Jerusalem (Battle Creek, MI 1865)
  43. ^ E.B. Pusey, Daniel the Prophet, 2nd ed. (New York 1885), pp. 184-269
  44. ^ J. Raska, Zur Berechnung der Siebzig Wochen Daniels, Theologisch-Praktische Quartal-schrift 54 (1904), pp. 13-27
  45. ^ J. Hontheim, Das Todesjahr Christi und die Danielische Wochenprophetie, Katholik 34 (1906): 12-36, 96-128, 176-88, 254-81
  46. ^ Boutflower, In and Around the Book of Daniel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, 1963), pp. 168-211
  47. ^ Smith, Uriah (1878). The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. p. 828. 
  48. ^ O. Gerhardt, Die messianische Weissagung Daniel 9:24-27, NKZ 38 (1927): 561-87
  49. ^ "11". Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy!. PA: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. 
  50. ^ "How Daniel’s Prophecy Foretells the Messiah’s Arrival". PA: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. 2009. 
  51. ^ Insight on the Scriptures II. PA: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. pp. 899–901. 
  52. ^ Smith, Uriah, Daniel and Revelation, pp. 437–49 .
  53. ^ Benware, Paul N, "13: The Posttribulation Rapture View", Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach, Chicago, IL, US: Moody, p. 240 .
  54. ^ Rugh, Greg, Eschatology – Different Rapture Views, Bible BB .
  55. ^ Glabach, Wilfried E (2007). Reclaiming the book of Revelation: a suggestion of new readings in the local Church. New York: P Lang. p. 11. ISBN . 
  56. ^ a b c d e f Girdlestone, Henry AB (1847). Notes on the Apocalypse: an enquiry into the mystery of the seven stars and seven lamp branches of the Apocalypse (digital). London: William Edward Painter. p. 4. Retrieved Oct 3, 2006. 
  57. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Cook, Frederick Charles, ed. (1881). The holy Bible, authorized version, with comm: a revision of the tr. by bishops and other clergy of the Anglican Church (digital) IV. London: John Murray. pp. 582–3. Retrieved Feb 21, 2007. 
  58. ^ The Prophecies of Daniel & the Apocalypse, 1733 .
  59. ^ Henry, Matthew, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 6. Acts to Revelation, Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell 
  60. ^ Gill, John, Commentary of the Whole Bible .
  61. ^ Henry, Matthew; Scott, Thomas (1838). Jenks, William, ed. The comprehensive commentary on the Holy Bible: containing the text according to the authorized version (Digital) 6. Boston: Fessenden & Co. p. 155. Retrieved Jan 8, 2008. 
  62. ^ Moyise, Steve, ed. (2001). Studies in the book of Revelation. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. p. 24. ISBN . 
  63. ^ Froom 1946, pp. 744–5.
  64. ^ "Revelation", Notes on the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1884–85 .
  65. ^ The Seventh Vial, Open library .
  66. ^ Birks, Thomas Rawson (1843), First Elements of Sacred Prophecy, London: WE Painter .
  67. ^ Guinness, Henry Grattan (1905), History Unveiling Prophecy, Or, Time as an Interpreter .
  68. ^ Lee 2000.
  69. ^ Lee, Francis Nigel (2000), John's Historicistic Epistles .
  70. ^ Lee, Francis Nigel (2001), Biblical Predictions not Preterist but Historicist (2nd ed.) .


  • Eijnatten, Joris van (2003), Liberty and concord in the United Provinces: religious toleration and the public in the eighteenth-century Netherlands, Leiden: Brill, ISBN  .
  • Froom, Le Roy Edwin (1946), Part I, Colonial and Early National American Exposition. Part II, Old World Nineteenth Century Advent Awakening, The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation 3, The Review and Herald Publishing Association .
  • Froom, Le Roy Edwin (1950), Early Church Exposition, Subsequent Deflections, and Medieval Revival, The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation 1, The Review and Herald Publishing Association .
  • Holbrook, Frank B. (1983), What Prophecy Means to This Church, Adventist Ministry .
  • Lee, Francis Nigel, The Non-Preterist Historicalism of John Calvin and the Westminster Standards .
  • Newport, Kenneth GC (2000), Apocalypse and millennium: studies in biblical eisegesis (1 ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN  .
  • Nichol, Francis D (1980), Bible commentary, SDA .

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