Millennial Views Following the Ante-Nicene Church: Origen and Allegory – Part 1

The death of Lactantius in A.D. 325 marked the end of Premillennialism as a commonly held belief in the church until after the Reformation of the 16th century.  No doubt there were some saints that read the Scriptures and believed what they said on the Messianic Age, but extant teachings on the matter are few.  Even before the fourth century, there were teachings against Premillennialism.  However, these were undeveloped, with the critics typically demeaning many prophetic accounts, and in some instances even removing Revelation from their canons.  So early as the year 170, a church party in Asia Minor—the so-called Alogi—rejected the whole body of apocalyptic writings and denounced the Apocalypse of John as a book of fables.[1]  Most groups are not so honest in their rejection of the plain reading of Scripture.  Others claim to view Revelation and other prophetic writings in the Bible as inspired by God.  However, the normal meanings of these prophecies are often obfuscated or ignored in favor of uncovering some hidden meaning.  These secret meanings are often so foreign to the text that the original audience would never have arrived at them.

OrigenORIGEN AND ALLEGORY

The method of interpreting Scripture in this way is known as the allegorical hermeneutic.  It was first promoted and largely developed by Origen at the turn of the third century.  Origen (185-254 A.D.) was steeped in Greek philosophy and that perspective greatly influenced his approach in understanding Scripture.  This necessitated a militancy against Premillennialism.  For Greek Philosophy typically viewed matter as being flawed or even evil, while the nonphysical part of reality was good.  Only a nonphysical and purely spiritual kingdom was acceptable to Origen and those in agreement with his Alexandrian theology.  Origen provided no unified alternative view to the many prophecies on the future earthly reign of the Messiah as a system.  Instead, various passages on the matter were each relegated to having vague “spiritual” meanings, if they were addressed at all.

It is difficult to overestimate the level of influence Origen and his allegorical hermeneutic had in shaping much of the Christian world’s approach to Scripture.  One of his students, Dionysius, strongly opposed the promotion of Premillennialism through exegesis by the Egyptian church bishop Nepos.  On what followed, Harnack recounted:

Dionysus became convinced that the victory of mystical theology over “Jewish” chiliasm would never be secure so long as the Apocalypse of John passed for an apostolic writing and kept its place among the homologoumena of the canon…In the course of the 4th century it was removed from the Greek canon, and thus the troublesome foundation on which chiliasm might have continued to build was got rid of…late in the Middle Ages, the Book of Revelation—by what means we cannot tell—did recover its authority, the church was by that time so hopelessly trammelled by a magical cultus as to be incapable of fresh developments.[2]

MORE REASONS

Harnack’s explanation reveals that Dionysus was also motivated by a distaste for Judaism.  Theologian Renald Showers elaborated on the influence of anti-Semitism:

Gentiles who professed to be Christians increasingly called Jews, “Christ-killers” and developed a strong bias against anything Jewish.  Because the premillennial belief in the earthly, political Kingdom rule of Messiah in the future was the same hope which had motivated the Jews for centuries, that belief was increasingly “stigmatized as ‘Jewish’ and consequently ‘heretical’” by eastern Gentile Christians.[3]

Some of the same people who claimed to worship a Jew as God in the flesh and hold up the Scriptures that were written by Jews (cf. Rom. 3:1-2), were at the same time eager to separate themselves from what was Jewish.  What absurdity!  Unfortunately, this attitude is still commonplace in much of the Christian world to various degrees.  The disassociation of the Bible from its Jewish context, background, and authorship has led to systemic deficits and blind spots in all areas of Christian theology.  The very fact that the people the Tanakh or Old Testament was originally written to understood it to teach a literal and earthly reign of the Messiah is a strong reason to embrace it.  It is true that most of the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day rejected him.  But this is not because they believed in the Scriptures too much.  Rather, they did not believe in what was written (cf. John 5:46-47).

Showers listed three other primary reasons for the rejection of Premillennialism in the early Church.  First, the Montanists, a sect of Christians often deemed as heretical, happened to include Chiliasm among their doctrines.  Premillennialism predated Montanism and was established orthodox eschatology, but still unfairly suffered from the guilt by association fallacy.  Second, some believers feared that the Romans would increase their persecution of the church if it was taught that Jesus would return and destroy their empire.  Third, a few were concerned that the focus on the return of Jesus to reign on the earth diverted attention away from the daily work of the church.[4]  None of these reasons are based upon the responsible exegesis of Scripture.  The veracity of any doctrine must be determined by Scripture alone.

Much more detailed information on these issues can be studied in an entry by Adolph Harnack entitled “Millennium,” found in the 1901 edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica, in Philip Schaff’s, History of the Christian Church and in Renald Showers, There Really is a Difference! A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology.[5]

[1] Adolph Hamack, “Millennium,” The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Twentieth Century edition (New York: The Werner Company. 1901), vol. XVI: 316.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Renald E. Showers, There Really is a Difference! A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1990), 128.

[4] Ibid., 127-128.

[5] The Harnack and Schaff works are available free of charge in Google Books.

 

Comments

  1. Tracy fyler says:

    From Issac Newton’s commentaries on Daniel starting with Gen.1:26 Only by pride comes contention but with the well Advised Wisdom …maturing innocent beings in The Father’s : Heart,Mind,Will,Purpose …Requires testing especially since man choose treasonous Tree of Knowledge thus self relating from deceitful heart Jer.17:9 beginning at no beginning and working to no end. Repeating History Ecc.1:9 thru Deception and Pride continually. Eve not well informed (no prohibition to touching or examination of fruit only its assimilation), Adam overtly self confident. The Passion of Messiah, from His temptations in the wilderness to sweating blood in the Garden to the Excruciating Cross… The heavenly pattern 2 Cor.5:15 Matt.10:38,39 John 5:19,30 Rom. 8:18 …
    Now see How All Creation Groans and Travails waiting for Manifested of the sons of God thru biblical adoption process being tutored into mind will and purpose of the Father , Rom.8:19-23 An important question one should answer , WHY
    did Jesus stop in middle of prophecy concerning His Ministry in Luke 4:18-21? While reading Isaiah 61:1-3?? The answer of course is John 3:17 for second half of verse 2 deals with day of vengeance and comforting those who mourn during His second (spiritual 3.5 year ministry) during great tribulation period to complete The all important Eph.4:13 Jn.17:20,21 This completes the very unique week of Dan.9:27 thank You Father for Isaac’s insight … For Romans 5:1-5 Acts 14:22 thru Jer.29:13 + Heb.11:6 I’d the way of The Master. First Christ is formed in His People then Resurrection and Rapture before bowls of wrath poured out. Yeshua first John 2:19 then second resurrection us in Him
    Rev.20:4-6 see also time frame in Rev.1:19 applied to travail and birth of Rev.12:2,5 along with Isaiah 66:6-9*
    Now back to Dan.12:1-3 Jesus said peace be unto you,as the Father sent Me so send I you…Jn. 1:12 ,14:12 Matt.28:20
    As it is written the glory of the ladder house will be greater than the former again in Ecc.chapter 7:8
    (7 = Covenant , Kingdom , Divine
    Completion …while 8 = Rebirth ,
    Resurrection ) Alas … Better is the End of a matter than the Beginning thereof and Patient in spirit better than proud in spirit…Matt. 24:21 verse 22 is likely the result of Rev.6:12 collapsing from as it was in the days of Noah Gen.10:25 to Rev.8:12 law of angular motion speeds rotation of earth. Remember in the mouth of 2 or 3 witnesses let every word be established Rev.4-10 revelation of End given by Angel beginning of judgements has over 40 similarities to Rev.14-19 being revelation of End given by John showing results of same judgements.

    Which happens to apply to Jn.6:66
    And especially to Matt.13:47 w=6 in Hebrew thus www Rev.13:17,18
    The Great Net that separates also in corresponding 666th chapter “The Preacher”, Ecclesiastes 7 counting from Gen.chp.1 as in Ecc.
    7:27 also in verse 12 Hebrew gematria word for profit/prophecy only word in bible = 666 this # is found extensively in Gen.1;1 see “the beginning of wonders” Vernon
    Jenkins

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