“Hyper-preterism is an appropriate term for any preterist who holds that sin, salvation, the church, the gospel, and God’s eternal character, plan and expectations came to an end in AD 70. Conversely, it is not appropriate as a label for a preterist who merely believes that the Old Testament system came to an end at that time, along with the general resurrection of souls out of Hades, all coinciding with the promised Parousia. We rejoice in God’s continuing application of his work of redemption accomplished once for all times for all his people, past/present/future, through his Son.” — Bruce Thevenot
In part because the church has never had a formal discussion about eschatology, there is a diverse array of opinions on this subject among Christians. Eschatology is the Theological Wild West.
Even among preterists there is much disagreement. It is my opinion that some preterists (partial-preterists) do not go far enough in acknowledging what happened in AD 70. Other preterists (hyper-preterists) go too far.
Hyper-preterism is a term used to describe taking the past fulfillment of biblical prophecy beyond what the Bible teaches. I am concerned that hyper-preterism is damaging the preterist cause, indeed is damaging to Christianity. Just how bad is this problem? Well, here is what one vocal advocate posted on his website: “I believe biblical Christianity ended on Earth when Jesus Christ returned at the destruction of Jerusalem around 70 A.D.”
While there have been other attempts at defining hyper-preterism, I will give it a go myself. As I see it, there are seven errors that define hyper-preterism:
- OVER-LITERALIZING THE TERM “ALL IS FULFILLED.” Just as in modern English, the Bible sometimes uses the word “all” or “every” in a sense other than “every last thing.” Context and reason are determinative. Even hyper-preterists cannot consistently cling to this mantra. For example, when Peter said that the “end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7), he obviously did not mean literally all things because we are here! This idea is at the root of the ridiculous “Israel Only” idea that has poisoned preterism.
- THE IDEA THAT SOTERIOLOGICAL (SALVIFIC) WORKINGS OF GOD ENDED IN AD 70, WHICH OFTEN RESULTS IN UNIVERALISM. Just because all specific prophecies have been fulfilled does not mean that God’s work ended in AD 70. This error stems from the failure to grasp that (a) The Kingdom of God was instituted progressively during the 40-year transition period, commencing with Jesus’ First Advent (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 11:20). So, the Kingdom of God was not tied to AD 70. (b) Jesus’ reign in the New Covenant Kingdom continues indefinitely into the future (Daniel 7:13-14; Luke 18:29-30; Ephesians 1:21; 2:7; 3:21; Hebrews 1:8-12; 5:6; 6:20; 7:16-28; Revelation 11:15; 14:6). (c) God’s judgment continues into the future (2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27), and (d) God did not quit working (Psalm 46:1; Isaiah 40:28; Matthew 18:14; Luke 11:10; John 16:13; Romans 8:38-39; Hebrews 9:14; 13:8; Revelation 3:20; etc.)! The conclusion of universal salvation, given the multitude of passages in the New Testament about the exclusivity of Christ and the necessity to believe in Him alone for salvation, is an incredible twisting of Scripture (Matthew 7:21-23; John 3:16, 18, 36; 6:47; 8:1; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 9:14-18; 10:4-13; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:23; 5:10-12; etc.).
- THE NOTION THAT SIN LITERALLY ENDED IN AD 70. This error is related to #2 above, as it also contributes to universalism. It is, frankly, an outrageous biblical error that places these hyper-preterists outside of Christianity itself, in my opinion. This error is so obvious from the Bible that it hardly seems necessary to address it, but since some hyper-preterists are so vocal in this, we are forced to address it. The sinful nature of man is a doctrine that separates Christianity from all other worldviews and religions. All others, including Islam and secular humanism, teach that man is basically good and is perfectible by law and education. And especially for the Christian, to deny sin opens the door for any and all immorality. This error also means that repentance and confession are no longer necessary—an incredible conclusion that cannot be condemned loudly enough.
Those who hold to this idea often appeal to Romans 4:15 which states that “where there is no law, there is no transgression.” (cf. Romans 5:13b) So, it is argued, since the Mosaic Law is no longer valid, there is no longer any such thing as sin. Answer: This objection is clearly twisting Scripture by appealing to a passage in a wooden literal way, and without considering the greater context. Indeed, moral law existed prior to the law of Moses. Think about God’s judgment against the sins of Noah’s neighbors, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Canaanites, etc. The New Testament affirms the validity of the Ten Commandments, at least in some manner—after the institution of the new covenant at Jesus’ first advent. So, the only reasonable explanation of this passage is the one given by the highly respected commentator John Gill, who explained: “The law of Moses was added for the better discovery and detection of sin.”
The Bible teaches that mankind has a sinful or “fleshly” nature which is universal and runs deep. Take the time to go back and read these passages: Genesis 6:5, 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; Job 14:1-4; 25:2-6; Psalm 14; 51:3-5; 53:1-3; 58:3-5; 143:1-2; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 53:6; 55:8-9; 59:2; 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Daniel 9:1-11; Mark 7:20-23; Romans 3:9-20; 5:12-21; 7:13-25; 8:5-8; 14:23; Galatians 5:16-21; Ephesians 2:1-3; James 2:10-11; 1 John 1:8-10. The nature of man did not change at Christ’s Parousia!
It’s worth reiterating that the New Covenant World began at Christ’s First Advent, not at the Parousia, and continues forever (Daniel 7:13-14; Luke 18:29-30; Ephesians 1:21; 2:7; 3:21; Revelation 11:15). Paul and the other New Testament writers, while teaching that the Law of Moses had given way to grace, frequently also taught that this fact did not nullify demands for righteous living (Romans 3:31; 6:1-23; 2 Peter 2:2; 1 John 3:3-10). In fact, Paul taught that the unrighteous would not inherit the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-20; Galatians 5:19-21)!
The law continues as it is “written on our hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 2:15; 1 Timothy 1:5; Hebrews 10:16), which the honest Christian will have to admit when he or she examines himself. In other words, we have a conscience. These hyper-preterists have somehow managed to dismiss reality by letting their consciences become seared through wishful thinking. This is SOCIOPATHIC! As the Bible teaches, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8), and whenever we stumble on one point we are guilty of breaking the whole law (James 2:10)! If they justify the notion that they are without sin—because of an interpretation of the New Testament—looking into their own hearts (not to mention their past actions) should force them to see that they must have misinterpreted the New Testament. (Maybe they should take the Good Person Test: http://www.areyouagoodperson.org).
It is difficult to know how these hyper-preterists have come to the understanding that they do not sin. But I suspect that some of it can be traced to the high percentage of them that have come out of legalistic backgrounds. Even after coming out of legalism, they have yet to grasp the doctrines of grace. It may also be that these people are merely living in a utopian dream world in which there is no judgment against them or their friends. This, of course, is the same tired idiocy of liberalism. (If you don’t like the implications of what is true, just deny it and it goes away.)
4. THE COLLECTIVE (CORPORATE) BODY VIEW OF THE RESURRECTION (“CBV”). This is the idea that resurrection is nothing more than corporate justification of Israel. While there is, indeed, an element of justification in eschatology, I believe that the Bible is clear that the Christian hope rests on the promise of a bodily resurrection (described in the Bible as spiritual, immortal, or glorified body) to heaven. Jesus said that we will be like angels in heaven (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25). At the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah had recognizable spiritual bodies. The CBV, if accepted as a stand-alone concept of resurrection, muddles the Christian hope of heaven. Its error results from a failure to understand that there are two types of resurrections: a soteriological “resurrection” of the living (Romans 6:1-14, Ephesians 2:1-7; Colossians 2:12-14; 3:1-4; 1 John 3:14; etc.) and an immortal-body eschatological resurrection of the dead out of hades to heaven (Daniel 12:2-13; Matthew 25:3-46; John 6:39-40; 2 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 20:11-15; etc.). While this will garner a lot of disagreement even from solid full-preterists whom I respect, I am persuaded that these two types of resurrections are necessarily different, not only in time but in nature. These are related, as one must be justified in order to get to heaven, but they are different.
5. OVER-SPIRITUALIZING THE RESURRECTION BY SAYING THAT HEAVEN IS ON EARTH, OR THAT HEAVEN OFFERS NOTHING BETTER THAN WHAT WE HAVE ON EARTH. This stems, I think, from at least three things:
It is a failure to appreciate that the idiom “(new) heaven and earth”—just as in modern English—is not the same thing as heaven itself. I discuss this at some length in my book, but this should be pretty obvious when you stop to think about it.
As above, it is a failure to understand that there are two types of resurrections: a soteriological “resurrection” of the living and an immortal-body eschatological resurrection of the dead. While this will garner a lot of disagreement even from solid full-preterists whom I respect, I am persuaded that these two types of resurrections are necessarily different, not only in time but in nature. Many futurists quickly notice that some preterists limit resurrection to a spiritualized-only version, and it becomes a stumbling block for them to pursue the preterist viewpoint.
In addition, these hyper-preterists apparently think we are in heaven now because of a gross over-literalization (or misuse) of such passages as 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 and 1 John 3:2, which imply that since AD 70 we have seen Jesus “face-to-face” and have seen Him “as He is.” Obviously no living person has seen Jesus literally face-to-face and these passages cannot be used legitimately to say that we are in heaven now.
6. THE IDEA THAT WE MUST NECESSARILY GIVE UP THE SACRAMENTS OF BAPTISM AND THE LORD’S SUPPER, BASED ON CERTAIN PASSAGES, ESPECIALLY 1 CORINTHIANS 11:26. This passage may suggest that the Lord’s Supper should cease at the Parousia in AD 70. It is true that the New Testament focuses intensely on the imminent Parousia, as that would mark the fulfillment of Jesus’ eschatological promises. But 1 Corinthians 11:26 does not preclude celebrating the Lord’s Supper after AD 70. “Until” does not equal “terminate.” It strikes me as ironic that some preterists are so intent on challenging futurists (especially dispensationalists) about interpreting the Bible in a wooden-literal sense, when these same preterists are guilty of the identical error! How can it NOT honor Jesus to continue with these wonderful institutions today? To think otherwise is sadly legalistic.
7. THE NOTION THAT GENESIS DOES NOT SPEAK OF GOD’S CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE. This idea, often called “covenant creationism,” says that since the “end times” are about the end of the old covenant, Genesis is all about the creation of God’s covenants with mankind. In Revelation, we find “the new heaven and new earth,” which is about the new covenant. Thus, in Genesis, the statement that God “created the heavens and the earth,” is about the creation of the old covenant rather than about the physical universe. Indeed, covenant creationists may conclude that the Bible NEVER speaks about God creating the physical universe. But that idea denigrates the nature of God. And it simply does not hold up biblically, as there are numerous times in Scripture (in addition to Genesis 1:1) that we find statements about God’s creation of the physical world (Job 38; Psalm 8:3; 96:3-10; 102:25-27; 121:1-2; 139:13-16; Isaiah 44:24-25; 51:13; Jeremiah 10:11-16 (“all things”); 31:35-38; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6; Acts 4:24; 14:15; 17:24, 25, 28; Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:16-17). Covenant Creationism not only fails on inspection, it leads to some very dangerous doctrines. For example, they may deny that mankind has a sinful nature resulting from Adam’s fall. But Paul in Romans 5 directly ties the Christ’s salvation as the antidote to Adam’s curse. This is a fundamental tenant of the Christian faith. The reader may discern that this error too is related to the heresy of universalism, because if man’s sin is not an issue, then all men can be saved.
Hyper-preterists, indeed, have a lot in common with standard ole liberals: Everything and nothing are true. We need to go back to basics. So, let me conclude this article with a declaration of the gospel, which Christians have in one form or another given to the world for two thousand years, and which I proclaim again but in a preterist format:
The gospel is Jesus’ perfect life, his atoning death, his resurrection, and his completed redemption at his AD 70 Effectual Divine Presence—which is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.
For more information, see the article at my Faith Facts website “What is the Gospel?”:
Charles Meek is the author of CHRISTIAN HOPE THROUGH FULFILLED PROPHECY: Is Your Church Teaching Error about the Last Days and Second Coming? (An Exposition of Evangelical Preterism), which is available at Amazon.com.