/ Nathan Eshelman

Preterism Exposed: the Heresy of Hymenaeus

I hope to present a polemic against what is called Full Preterism. Let me begin with some definitions. Polemics are that part of theology that deals with controversy and false doctrine as the Christian minister is called to contend for the faith and as a shepherd. A shepherd is called to kill wolves and to kick the dogs while protecting and comforting the sheep. As the heresy of full preterism is exposed; the sheep of Christ’s flock will be comforted by the comfort of Jesus Christ and his Spirit.

I want to draw your attention to First Corinthians 15:13-14 which says:

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

Full Preterism is the false doctrine or Christian heresy that teaches that all of the last day prophecies ended in 70AD: the second coming, the resurrection, and the great judgment. 

It is sometimes called hyper-preterism or covenant eschatology or full preterism. One said “Hyper-preterism is currently gaining a small, but tenacious, cult-like following.”

In other words, preterism says that the resurrection of the dead happened in 70AD and that all the prophecies of the Bible are fulfilled and past. This is based on the idea that the Olivet Discourse—Matthew 24 and its counter parts—has the disciples asking the question, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” The full preterist believes that Jesus spoke not only about the end of the age concerning the Temple; but all things were fulfilled in 70AD when the Temple was destroyed. 

This idea that all of the New Testament prophecy has been fulfilled is because of what is called the New Testament “time stamps.” The preterist misinterprets the already-not yet nature of Christian prophecy, misunderstanding the way that prophecy unfolds in history. Near and “this generation” lose their prophetic effect.

Preterist comes from the Latin for “past.” This false idea first came into theological writing in 1614 as a Spanish Jesuit Priest, Luis de Alcasar, attempted to write against the Reformation’s historicist position of the interpretation of prophecy. This false doctrine sat quietly for many years and then in 1878 James Stuart Russell wrote a book called The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry Into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord's Second Coming. Eventually this error died down again but in recent years a number of internet warriors and self-taught and self-appointed pastors and alleged theologians have again revived the idea that the resurrection is past and that the judgment is behind us and the world we are living in is what the hope of the Christian life looks like. 

And you might ask yourself whether this is a big deal. Who cares? Why waste time on fringe theology? Paul did not think that it was a waste of time. 

First Timothy 1:18-20: This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck,  of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Second Timothy 2:16-18: Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

Hymenaeus—who was in the faith at one time—began to teach the resurrection was past. Paul, as a result, says this teaching will destroy the faith of others and that it causes shipwreck. This teaching is a rejection of the faith—resulting in excommunication where Hymenaeus was handed over to Satan that he would learn not to blaspheme. 

The Preterist will say that the resurrection happed in 70AD. For the sake of argument, let’s say Hymenaeus was teaching this error in 40AD. Does 30 years really matter? Is it enough for Paul to excommunicate a man over, claiming he abandoned the faith? The Second Coming did not occur in 70AD and essentially what Paul is saying about Hymenaeus is that this belief puts him outside of the Christian faith—it puts him outside of the religion that we confess. 

There are many things in Christianity that we disagree on. Put all your Christian friends in your head and think about the ways that you differ from them: church government, baptism, how to administer the Lords Supper. We differ with other Christians on practices like Psalm singing or Christmas or the Lord’s Day. And we say these differences—which may be right or wrong—are “in family” differences.  But preterism—the idea that Christ has already returned and the dead have already arisen and that heaven and hell have passed away and that Satan is already bound and that the final judgment has happened—this is not a difference in theological emphasis any longer—but it is a difference in religion.

One said, “One of the reasons for rejecting full preterism needs to be the fact of the overwhelming teaching of the universal church. Throughout the two thousand years of church history, the only eschatological doctrine that has ever garnered universal agreement has been the conviction that full preterism is in error. That’s the only thing we all agree on. From the Apostles Creed on, we have confessed that “from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

The Full Preterist is not a Christian. Preterism and Christianity are different religions with different starting points and different end goals. Preterism—as Paul demonstrates with Hymanaeus—ceases to be a Christian professor and shipwrecks and abandons the faith. 

But why?

Exegetical Errors 
Besides the misreading of time stamps of the New Testament, allowing for things to be called “near” which have time distance, there are other texts in the New Testament which preterits need to contend. 

The preterist believes that resurrection—meaning new life—is not something that the Christian will experience at the last day, but is language referring to new life that we receive when we are converted or born again. The preterist believes that the church as a living person was raised from the ashes of Adam’s death. This redefinition becomes the resurrection. This is incompatible with I Corinthians 15 in which Paul says:

If there is no resurrection—then Christ is not risen and your faith is in vain. It is empty. 

If resurrection for you merely means new birth, then Christ did not have a bodily, physical, resurrection from the dead. 

And this is the hope of Christianity from all time. The exegetical errors of the Preterist are doing theological gymnastics with the Word of God. This does not bring more hope to the Christian life, but less. It is a hopeless false religion. Charles Hodge said: 

If they proved any thing, they proved what no Christian could admit, viz., that Christ did not rise from the dead. The denial of the resurrection of the dead involves the denial of the resurrection of Christ.

The Christian has always looked forward to the resurrection of the dead. Psalm 16 says: 

For thou wilt not leave my soul in the grave; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Job is the oldest book of the Bible and this hope of a bodily resurrection on the last day—at the total end of time—this was a hope that Job had as well. Job 19:25-27 says: 

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:  Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. 

After Job’s body was eaten by worms—on that last day—he will stand face-to-face with his redeemer and he will see him with his eyes and in his flesh. This is the hope of the Christian life. The world is moving ahead towards something—towards as a consummation—a telos and a purposeful end. Job knew that. The psalmist knew that. 

And Lazarus’s sister Martha knew that. Martha wept over the death of her brother Lazarus. In John 11 Lazarus dies and Jesus weeps because of the pain of sin upon his friend’s family. Jesus mentions that he was going to awake Lazarus from his sleep and Martha responds to him in John 11:24:

Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

Martha confessed there would be a resurrection at the last great day and her brother would be raised at the last day: telos, ending, purpose. This was her hope—hope in a bodily, corporal resurrection.

And Jesus does not correct her. 

He doesn’t say, “Oh that is not true. There is actually only new life. I will be raised and in 70AD judgment will come and that will be the end. Martha, there’s no bodily resurrection.” One said, “We must begin with the outline of history that had already been hammered out by the orthodox believers before the time their Messiah arrived. Like Martha, we also stand by graves with the knowledge that the resurrection is coming at the last day. We stand in the same place, and we stand with the same hope.”

The exegetical errors are great.

Historical Hindrances
If this were merely a matter of misinterpretation or an error in understanding something the early church believed that would be one thing. But Preterism is not that. This is not a matter of the Lord Jesus teaching one thing and the earliest of Christians teaching something totally different.  The early church—and the church of all time—has consistently looked ahead to the resurrection of the dead in the same way that Martha or Job or the Psalmist understood the resurrection to come. 

Is it true that the early church could have missed it? Professor Charles E. Hill asks:

Can we really believe that all these NT authors were unable to secure the transmission of their basic eschatological teaching to the next generation, leaving these teachings to vanish without a trace? Can we really believe that it remained for someone in the late 19th century to rediscover the core of NT eschatology?

It is not true. Nothing was lost. 70AD does change a lot, but it does not change everything. Hill would go on to say: 
Christians who are still weighing the exegetical arguments of HP will find ample cause in the historical record for grave concern about the credibility of the system.

Remember also that:

Hell is also transferred to the judgment of AD 70 for the hyper-preterist. The devil was said to be cast in hell in the same generation. Not too coincidentally, the Trinity and the present ministry of the Holy Spirit are both called into question. And since there can be no hint of a future hope in those aforementioned doctrines, hyper-preterism demands that all of the New Testament books were written before 70 AD. 

Sometime between 85 and 95AD, Clement of Rome wrote: “Let us consider, beloved, how the Master continually proves to us that there will be a future resurrection” So 15 years after 70—did Clement miss it? Did he fail to get the memo that Christianity had peaked and that end had come? 

Under Diocletian, the grandsons of Jude were persecuted. Jude was the half-brother of Jesus and that means that Jesus was their great-uncle. They were believers and were leaders in the early church. As they were brought to tho their death—one of Jude’s grandsons cried out concerning the coming judgment from Jesus when he said, “It would be at the end of the world, when Jesus would come in glory to judge the living and the dead and to reward every man according to his deeds.”

For the Preterist that was past. They would say that Jude’s grandsons died for a false hope. 

Or is the preterist wrong? 

Is it another religion? 


Ignatius right at the turn of the second century said, “These are the last times,” and speaks of hell as “unquenchable fire” awaiting heretics, and then connects Christ’s past resurrection with our future resurrection. He connects it to the hope that all Christians have and will have and have had—Martha and Job and the Psalmist before us. A fleshy resurrection to come and a great judgment at the end of time, all things the Preterist rejects. All things that are called essentials of the Christian faith. 

Remember Polycarp? Polycarp said that “Jesus promised to raise us from the dead” and then wrote of those, who like Hymenaeus in the Pastoral Epistles, denied the resurrection, saying “whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord for his own lusts, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, this man is the first-born of Satan.” 

First-born of Satan is not a Christian title. 

Preterism is another religion. 

There are dozens and hundreds of citations from the first two centuries that demonstrate this is an exegetical error and a historical hindrance to genuine Christianity. The creeds of the church stand as a witness against the Preterist and the whole of Christianity stands against Preterism. All of Christianity—all true Christians—confess:

I believe the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. 

And yet the Preterist digs his heals in with cult-like blinders on and says, “Not true. You’re wrong. That’s not right.” The Preterist deny the Gospel and deny the very Christ who bought them.  Galatians 1:8 says:

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

Let him be damed, for the Gospel is true and Preterism is “other.” That’s where Paul begin I Corinthians 15. He begins with a reminder of the basics of the gospel

Remember that Preterism is another gospel and a false-religion without hope. It is not merely Jesus Christ returned in 70AD, but the whole system of Christianity falls apart under Preterism. The whole of Christianity collapses under this hopeless heretical error. 

Practical Problems  
The practical problems with Preterism are many. The starting point of the practical problem begins when the Preterist tells you that he is merely wanting to uphold Sola Scriptura. He will say, “I don’t care what the creeds say or who cares about church history—I am just trying to maintain sola scriptura.”

There are two problems. The first is that the sola scriptura does not mean there are not other authorities, but the Scripture is the final authority. Creeds and church history are valuable, but Scripture is the final authority. The great Princeton professor Samuel Miller once said:  "The most ardent and noisy opponents of creeds have been those who held corrupt opinions." 

The second problem is that with all the claims of sola scriptura—the Preterist bases his entire system—all of his interpretation on the claim that the book of Revelation was written before 70AD. If it is was written before 70AD all these things in Revelation can be fulfilled when Jerusalem fell in 70. But if it is written after 70, then the whole system of the Preterist falls flat on its face. 

What’s so ironic about this is the Bible never tells us when the Book of Revelation was written—so much for maintaining Sola Scriptura as they understand it!  Also there are arguments for and against the early dating of Revelation and the church of all time has never taken a stance on when the book was written, because for genuine Christianity, our doctrines do not stand or fall if it was written before or after 70AD. 

So what falls practically because of Preterism? If Jesus returned in 70AD, what does that mean for the rest of the system of doctrine for the whole of the Bible. I want you to think through some of these things: 

We would have a Savior who has left the world behind without much or any of a victory in this world. The Scriptures point to a victorious Christianity Is this it? Is this our hope?

We would have a redemption that only redeems half the man—spiritual man, not physical man. This effects the image of God; this effects the wholeness of the person; essentially this is a resurgence of the Gnosticism that infected Christianity in the first few centuries.

We would never have an end—a telos—a purpose. We would live in a world without purpose.

We have the  number of elect ever fulfilled. We would have a Book of Life that has perpetually wet ink; and a covenant that cannot truly ever be fulfilled.

Spiritual warfare would be no more. Satan would have been been defeated. The armor of God is of no value and the third great enemy of the church is not a problem. All spiritual warfare has come to end.

All things have been fully realized. We see him as he is and the world as we know it would be the fulness of the kingdom of God. If this is true it would be worthless and hopeless. This is the great reign of righteousness? Nonsense.

Has every tear will been wiped away? The lion will lay with the lamb—do we see that? Is that a reality for you? Are you without sin and your family perfected in holiness? No. You see, Preterism is a system where the emperor has no clothes. It is false professors pulling the wool over each other’s eyes and just hoping for the best. Putting all their eggs in this basket that says that the whole of Christianity is wrong and some guy in strip mall church somewhere down south has it right. 

An eternal hell is changed or even abandoned. Hell now refers to something that "happened" and is finished. Suddenly "eternal" means something different and "torment" means something different. It is annihilationism. 

Think of this: if the reign of Christ—the millennium has come to pass—then the reign of Christ was essentially between 35-70AD; a far cry from even the most literal of interpretations. Clearly not the coming millennia of the confessional historicist.

The resurrection of the dead has happened. The Beatitudes are fulfilled Matthew 5. We live in the new heaven and new earth. The Lord’s Prayer is not needed. The Lord’s Supper is fulfilled. The nations have been baptized and discipled. We live in eternity. The Lord is the light and sorrow is no more. There is no more treasure to store. The final judgment has happened; the old order is done away with. We have ultimate peace.

And it is all nonsense. 

Friends it is a lie. A false Christianity. Preterism, as one said:

Contradicts the universal, historic, formal, corporate, public, systematic belief of the institutional Christian Church of all times.” And it fails both the basic logic test and the hope-value indicator test.

It is a false religion. Our religion is a religion of hope—one that moves from the groaning of a creation to the redemption of your body at the final resurrection. 

Romans 8 connects the coming resurrection with the groaning of the Christian who awaits and struggles as he lives in the world of bondage. 

For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. 23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

For the Apostle Paul the great hope of the Christian life is that the whole order of the world would work towards the consummation of all things. There is a creation that groans in travail as it awaits the full redemption of the sons and daughters of men—the redemption of our bodies. 

And this has been the hope of all Christians of all time. We anticipate a telos—an end or a purpose—and that end as we see in I Corinthians 15 is that the whole of Christ’s inheritance—the kingdom—would be delivered up to the father in display of the fulness of redemption over a whole redeemed kingdom. Preterism is not that.

Christianity is a religion of hope.

Preterism is a false religion without hope.

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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