To be updated

Posttribulationist Dave MacPherson claims that this teaching began with a prophecy given by a teenage Scottish lass by the name of Margaret MacDonald, which she wrote down and sent to Edward Irving, a minister in the Church of Scotland who presided over the Caledonian Church in Regent Square, London, and who was eventually deposed by the church in his home town of Annan on grounds of heresy. He further claims that John Nelson Darby, the father of modern dispensationalism, derived his pretribulationism from MacDonald, whose prophecy he ascribes to occult influences.

Pretribulationists rightly contend that while MacDonald spoke of a secret coming of Christ for his saints, she did not teach a pretribulation Rapture. In fact, she spoke of the fiery trial that the Church would go through during the rule of the Antichrist, which is the posttribulationist position.

They wrongly contend, however, that Irving and his followers did not teach pretribulationism. I will shortly be posting several articles written by Irving and his followers in the early 1830s for the Irvingite magazine, Morning Watch, clearly promoting a pretribulationist view, on this site.

One of the members of Irving’s church, Robert Baxter, a lawyer from Doncaster gave what purported to be a prophecy saying that the Holy Spirit was the “restrainer” of 2 Thessalonians 2, and that when the Holy Spirit in a holy body of believers in the Church was taken away at the Rapture then the “man of lawlessness” would be revealed. Baxter later renounced Irvingitism and ascribed this prophecy to the operation of Satan.

The question now is: Did Darby derive his pretribulationism from the heretic Irving? Or did he devise it independently from his understanding of the Bible?

That Darby came into contact with Irvingites at the Powerscourt prophetic conferences held at Powerscourt in County Wicklow in the early 1830s suggests he might have derived it from Irving.

However, Pretribulationist author, Huebner, argues that Darby derived his dispensationalism directly from the Bible and that he did so while convalescing from a riding accident during December 1826 and January 1827, three years before Irving started to teach pretribulationism.

Drawing on Huebner, pretribulationist author Thomas Ice, writes:

Darby’s pre-trib and dispensational thoughts, says Huebner, were developed from the following factors: 1) “he saw from Isaiah 32 that there was a different dispensation coming . . . that Israel and the Church were distinct.” 2) “During his convalescence JND learned that he ought daily to expect his Lord’s return.” 3) “In 1827 JND understood the fall of the church. . . ‘the ruin of the Church.'” 4) Darby also was beginning to see a gap of time between the rapture and the second coming by 1827. 5) Darby, himself, said in 1857 that he first started understanding things relating to the pre-trib Rapture “thirty years ago.” “With that fixed point of reference, Jan. 31, 1827,” declares Huebner, we can see that Darby “had already understood those truths upon which the pre-tribulation rapture hinges.”

I haven’t yet read Huebner’s book, Precious Truths Recovered and Defended Through J. N. Darby, Vol. 1, but it seems to me from what Ice has written that the case for Darby having independently arrived at his dispensationalist views as early as 1827 is far from proven.

Indeed, MacPherson shows that at this time, Darby was still operating within the traditional historicist paradigm in his understanding of Biblical prophecy.

Whatever the case, there is a further parallel between Darby’s teachings on prophecy and those of the Irvingites.

In his, Notes on the Epistles to the Thessalonians, Darby writes, concerning the identity of “that which withholdeth” of 2 Thessalonians 2:6:

Verse 6. “What withholdeth.” It is not in order to prevent the revelation of the lawless one that God has put a restraint; it is to prevent his being revealed before his time. The adversary is always ready for evil. In the day that God takes away the bridle, Satan will immediately shew himself at work to drag men into apostasy.

“That which restrains;” the Greek means a thing. What is it? God has not told us what it is, and this, doubtless, because the thing which restrained then is not that which restrains now. Then it was, in one sense, the Roman empire, as the fathers thought; who saw in the power of the Roman empire a hindrance to the revelation of the man of sin, and thus prayed for the prosperity of that empire. At present the hindrance is still the existence of the governments established by God in the world; and God will maintain them as long as there is here below the gathering of His church. Viewed in this light, the hindrance is, at the bottom, the presence of the church and of the Holy Spirit on the earth.

The view the the mysterious “restrainer” of 2 Thessalonians 2 was the Holy Spirit within the Church was taught by the Irvingites and featured in Baxter’s “prophecy” cited above. It was later popularized in Scofield’s Reference Bible. Did Darby derive this second feature of his dispensationalist scheme from the Irvingites?

This page is page parent to the following articles:

A Newly-Converted Christian Comes Across the Pretribulation Rapture Theory

The Case for Pretribulationism Examined

God’s Prophetic Calendar Foretold in the Old Testament Feasts

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3 Responses to “2. The Origins of Pretribulationism”


  1. 1 Stephen Amy January 27, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Appendix D: The Warning Against Apostasy
    2 Thessalonians 2
    One of the major subjects relevant to the Christian life and to the study of prophecy is “the falling away,” often called “the apostasy.” The Scriptures reveal that a time would come when professing Christians would fall away from the faith, love would grow cold, and sound doctrine would not be generally taught or endured (Matt. 24:12; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1, 4:3). The second and third chapters of Revelation explain that five of the seven churches addressed will be found in various states of rebellion prior to the Lord’s coming.

    In 2 Thess. 2, the apostle Paul discusses apostasy in the context of its relationship to the events surrounding the day of the Lord and our gathering together with Him.
    Apostasy Precedes That Day
    The nature of Paul’s words reveals his concern and frustration. Someone was trying to convince the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord had already arrived, and had consequently shaken their “composure” (2:2). To prevent deception (2:3), the apostle points to key events that must precede the day of the Lord (2:3-8):

    • The coming of apostasy (i.e., “falling away”)
    • The man of lawlessness to be revealed (2:3)
    • The man of lawlessness to present himself as God (2:4)
    Holding Fast Prevents Apostasy
    The apostle offers evidence that should convince the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord had not arrived (2:6-7). He does this by presenting them with the fact that a condition prevails in the church which is the opposite of apostasy. To describe this condition the apostle chooses a word, “hold fast,” which was also used by the Lord Jesus to describe the opposite of apostasy. , The Thessalonians were familiar with this word and the condition that it communicated since the apostle had previously used it when he wrote “hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). He notes the Thessalonian experience of “holding fast” (2 Thess. 2:6) as evidence that the apostasy has not yet occurred.
    A Problem for Us (Not the Thessalonians)
    Unfortunately, the Greek is difficult to translate in 2 Thess. 6-7, and there are consequently many different translations of these key verses. A plausible translation of verses 6-7 that would preserve the context could read:

    “And now you know the experience of holding fast, which means that he, the man of sin, will be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already working; only he who holds fast now is effective until he is out of the midst” (2:6-7). (“Until he is out of the midst” is a way of stating “until those who hold fast are not central in the church.”) “And then that lawless one will be revealed” (2:8). (Italics added for clarity.)

    In other words, the apostle is effectively saying:

    “You Thessalonians are holding fast, a condition which is the opposite of apostasy. Thus the man of lawlessness will be revealed at another time. Lawlessness is already working, but the man of lawlessness will not be revealed until the one who holds fast is no longer characteristic of the church.”
    Revelation of the Lawless One
    In verse 8, the apostle again discusses the revelation of the man of lawlessness. In verse 3, he had stated, “the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” Now, having finished discussing apostasy (2:6-7), he concerns himself with the man of lawlessness (2:8-12).
    No Mysterious Restrainer
    Some believe that the Holy Spirit is presented here, the Holy Spirit is viewed as restraining the appearance of the man of lawlessness, and the man of lawlessness will appear when the Holy Spirit is taken out of the world.

    However, the context does not support the Holy Spirit as the subject of verses 6 or 7, and no other passage of Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit will be taken out of the world before or during the day of the Lord.

    In addition:
    • No other Scripture refers to the Holy Spirit as “he who now restrains” (NASB).
    • The Scriptures do teach that the Holy Spirit is present among men on earth before and during the day of the Lord. Mark 13:11, Acts 2:17-21 cf: Joel 2:28-32, Zech 12:10, Ezek. 39:29 cf: Ezek. 37:14.
    • The work and ministry of the Holy Spirit is apparent on earth during the tribulation in Rev. 11, which describes two witnesses who “prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days” (11:3). Read in light of 2 Pet. 1:21, “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God,” Rev. 11 begs the conclusion that the two witnesses are moved by the Holy Spirit who is present in them.
    • 2 Thess. 2:7 does not say that anyone is “taken” anywhere. Of the dozens of times that this common Greek word is translated in the New Testament, this is the only passage where “taken” appears. (Compare the translation in the Revised Standard Version.)
    • Even if the Holy Spirit were the “restrainer” that is “taken,” neither the English translations nor the Greek text indicate that He is taken out of the world. Such an interpretation would be a suggestion or hypothesis, but not the clear teaching of the passage.
    Conclusion
    As the apostle concludes his remarks in this section of his letter, he states, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught” (2:15). Such a concluding remark is consistent with a discussion wherein Paul labored to make the point that the Thessalonian experience of holding fast was proof that apostasy and the day of the Lord had not arrived.

    If we fail to read and understand from the Scriptures the relationship between holding fast and apostasy, then we are bound to discover the relationship between apostasy and the day of the Lord.

    Stephen Amy

  2. 2 Stephen Amy January 28, 2008 at 5:00 am

    Do you think that the historical position is correct on the book of Revelation, then consider this. Lord’ Day as used by John in 1:10 is NOT describing the day of worship as it would later in history.

    “The Lord’s Day” Revelation 1:10*

    10ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι ἐν τῃ̂ κυριακῃ̂ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ἤκουσα ὀπίσω μου φωνὴν μεγάλην ὡς σάλπιγγος [1]
    [1] Black, Matthew ; Martini, Carlo M. ; Metzger, Bruce M. ; Wikgren, Allen: The Greek New Testament. Third edition (Corrected). Federal Republic of Germany : United Bible Societies, 1983

    John’s unique use in the New Testament (1:10) of the dative expression, in the Lord ’s Day (ἐν τῃ̂ κυριακῃ̂ ἡμέρᾳ), appears to be influenced by the repeated use of the similar dative expression in that day (ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῃ̂ ἡμέρᾳ) in the Septuagint (LXX), to designate the day of the Lord (Zech 12-14, etc.). This observation seems to have been overlooked by those who insist that John’s use of Lord’s day refers to Sunday (Thomas, Osborne). John would have been quite familiar with the dative construction of in that day from the Septuagint (Zech 12:8 ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῃ̂ ἡμέρᾳ) and could have quite easiliy used the dative in the Lord’s day with the same intended meaning. John had just finished quoting Zechariah 12:10 (Rev 1:7) where we find a passage (Zech 12-14) with repeated used of in that day (LXX) referring to the day when the Lord comes. [The above I believe to be the simplest and most plausable explanation.]

    The context of Chapter One: (1:1) “revelation of Jesus Christ…”, (1:7) “Behold He is coming with the clouds…”, (1:8) “the One who is to come…”, point to Lord’s day as John’s choice of words to describe the eschatological day of the Lord. To propose, as some do, that John would believe it necessary to reveal what day of the week he received the Revelation, and leave out the time frame for the events, is nothing short of unbelievable, and without precedent among God’s prophets. Another way of stating this is that the prophets of God always gave the time frame surrounding the events of their prophecy, but never found it necessary to give us the day of the week they received the prophetic word from God.

    [It is noteworthy that, just as the coming of Christ is announced with a trumpet (1 Thess. 4:16; Matt.24:31), so is all that John reveals to us here (Rev. 1:10).]

    The Lord’s Day expression is never used in the Bible to designate Sunday, the Sabbath, or a day of the week meant for worship (unless, as Mounce, p. 76, and others argue, this is the meaning here). Thomas (vol. 1, p. 91) suggests that this is possibly “the first use of this name for Sunday.” But all the writers of the New Testament who made any reference to Sunday, including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul, designated Sunday exclusively with the phrase “first day of the week” (cf. Mt. 28:1, Mk. 16:2, 9; Lk. 24:1, John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). The translation should read “in the Lord’s day” not “on the Lord’s day.”

    Thomas (ibid.) says the Lord’s Day is used “a short time after the writing of the Apocalypse” to designate Sunday. But, a check of his sources raises questions about this conclusion. The Didache (14:1) has the word for Lord, but does not have the word day, the expression under discussion does not appear. Ignatius’ Epistle to the Magnesians, in a similar style, simply has the word Lord, but not day. The Gospel of Peter (Evangelia Petri) likewise makes no mention of day. Melito of Sardis (165-175 AD) is claimed by Eusebius to have written a paper entitled, The Lord’s Day, but again the word for day does not actually appear in the title, and the contents of the book have not survived for our examination. And the time when Melito wrote, between 165-175 AD, is certainly not “a short time” after John wrote the book of Revelation.

    [Note: “Etymology is not particularly helpful as a guide to the meaning of a term in any given context. Semantic context is the more reliable guide.” Reference Manual for New Testament Interpretation (© various). This document reflects the latest edition of a variety of sources prepared or employed by various professors who have taught New Testament exegesis at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary over many years.]

    Later in church history (as in our day) Christians would refer to Sunday, or the day set aside for worship, as “the Lord’s day.” However, “the day of the Lord,” “that day,” and “the day” are used throughout the Bible to designate the eschatological day of the Lord, the event when the Lord Jesus comes again. John is saying that the Revelation he received pertained to the time concerning the events surrounding the coming of the Lord Jesus. The observation (Thomas, op. cit.) that John uses the dative of Lord (adjectival, “Lord’s day”) contributes nothing to his argument that the meaning is Sunday. The genitive is the customary case for adjectives; the dative for adverbs (Wallace, p.76). Peter, using the genitive as John uses the dative, writes (2 Peter 3:12), “God’s Day,” της του θεου ἡμέρας an adjectival use of God in the genitive with the noun day. This is especially noteworthy in that Peter uses this construction as a synonymous way of stating “the day of the Lord,” which he had referenced in the same passage (ἡμέρα κυρίου 2 Peter 3:10). Walvoord says, “The adjectival form can be explained on the ground that in the Old Testament there was no adjectival form for “Lord,” and therefore the noun had to be used” (p.42). Nothing from history, or from the way John uses the Greek language, compels us to conclude that by “Lord’s day,” he meant anything different than “day of the Lord.” Kittel observes, “A genitive του κυρίου might have been used instead of the adjective.” [Gerhard Kittel, Editor. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, 1976), p.1096] The attempts to import the later future meaning of this phrase, “Sunday,” into the present context is an example of the exegetical fallacy (Carson, p. 32) described as “semantic anachronism.” The reader should refer to Carson’s discussion of μάρτυς (Rev. 2:13).

    It is especially critical to note that at the outset John is giving us the time frame of the events and revelation he is about to show his readers. All that follows is to be found in the Lord’s Day. Compromising this point has resulted in the mess we are in today with all the different suggestions for other time frames for the events portrayed in the Revelation given us by John. Please prayerfully consider re-thinking and changing your position if yours is different. Remember the warning at the end of the book.
    ________________________________________
    Isn’t it ironic to see the warnings at the end of Revelation 22, look at the mess our evangelical teachers have made of the book of Revelation, and then raise our eyes to the horizon where we see the coming means of the plagues warned of for those who would tamper with this book.
    ________________________________________

    *Sorry the Greek accents did not come through correctly in every word.
    Stephen

  3. 3 Stephen Amy January 28, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    I hope it is clear from my last two posts that I am not pre trib or dispensationalist or reformed. I believe believing Israel is part of the church as much as any gentile, but will realize the fulfillment of certain promises as believing sons of Abraham and be used in a distinct way during the geat tribulation, while the gentile members of the church are for the most part out of the picture–apostate. This is apparent in Rev 11 where we see the Temple (whole church of Jews and gentiles) measured between those who worship at the altar (Jewish believers), and outer court (gentile believers). We see these two distinct groups of believers throughout the book of Revelation: Among the 7 churches there are the 2 Jewish churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, and the 5 gentile churches; then there is the 144,000 of the 12 tribes of Israel and the great multitude of all nations; again we see those who worship at the altar (called the two witnesses, 2 lampstands that stand, two olive trees)and the outer court cast out; then there is the woman laboring to give birth (Israel) and other believing offspring fleeing(gentiles). When the tribulation begins it is true that the gentile church will not be effectively part of the picture on earth, but not becasue of the rapture–but because of apostacy and the destruction caused by the abomination of desolation. The Jewish Christians, the two churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia, who are also the 144,000 of the book of Revelation will be the center of attention.


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