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Notes on Daniel: Definition of "Preterist"

By Jay Rogers
Published April 27, 2008

Here is the dictionary definition of preterist.

PRETERIST: 1. One whose chief interest is in the past; one who regards the past with most pleasure or favor. 2. (Theol.) One who believes the prophecies of the Apocalypse to have been already fulfilled. Farrar.

Preterism means a belief in past fulfillment. Historicism means a belief in ongoing historical fulfillment. Futurism means a belief in a future fulfillment.

The terms futurist, preterist and historicist deal with how much prophecy has been fulfilled at what time. According to the definition above, these terms describe the approach of the interpreter, not the viewpoint of the biblical prophet.

If that were the case, all prophets would be futurists until they lived to see their prophecies fulfilled. Then they would become historicists. A year later, they would become preterists. of Course, such a way of understanding the terms is ridiculous.

A partial preterist is one who believes that the prophecies of Daniel, Matthew 24 and Revelation are mostly fulfilled. The difference between a partial preterist and a historicist is that the historicist thinks that these prophecies are being fulfilled in a progressive ongoing manner in history.

Of course, Daniel’s prophecy deals with events in history after he lived. It is not the prophet Daniel who is preterist, but the interpreter who believes that Daniel’s prophecies were fulfilled at about the time that the New Testament canon was completed — around AD 70.

It is further problematic to call the Reformers (and those who believed Pope Leo and Islam were foretold in Revelation) “historicist” when they believed that prophecy was being fulfilled in their day. Their view was similar to today’s futurists who place the fulfillment of nearly every biblical prophecy in the not too distant future. However, from our perspective, the view of the Reformers was historicist.

To avoid confusion, we might attach dates to the following definitions.

AD 70 — Preterist — One who believes that most of the so-called “apocalyptic” prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew 24 and Revelation were fulfilled prior to AD 70.

AD 1500 — Historicist — One who believes that most of the apocalyptic prophecies have an ongoing fulfillment throughout history — a view similar to some of the Reformers of the 1500s.

AD 2000 — Futurist — One who believes that most of the apocalyptic prophecies are yet to be fulfilled — a view held by most evangelical Christians in the 21st century.

A few of these apocalyptic prophecies of the Bible are ongoing in history, especially Daniel 12; Revelation 20; and Matthew 24:36-25:46 (the last part of the Mount Olivet Discourse).

Some fulfilled prophecies do have an application beyond the specific kings and kingdoms mentioned. But the specific prophetic symbolism could not have been directly fulfilled by historical figures after the time of the Apostles.

The “little horn” of Daniel 7:25 refers specifically to Nero. The historicist applies this symbol the the entire Roman Empire and to later pagan institutions that arose from the influence of Greece and Rome. That application can be easily made. However, extending the interpretation of the “little horn” beyond AD 70 is irrelevant to the context and purpose of Daniel.

On the other hand, the “little horn” of Daniel 8:25 refers specifically to Antiochus. Some of the details of chapter 8 are so specific that it could not refer to any other person. Then the some of the same language and imagery of Daniel 8:9,10 is used again in Daniel 9:25-27, but this time to refer to Titus and the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, which Jesus interprets in the Mount Olivet Discourse passages.

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