Historicism, Futurism, Preterism

By Lawrence R. Kellie

This page will examine the history and meaning of the three principal methods of Biblical, more specifically prophetic, interpretation–Historicism, Futurism, and Preterism.


The Historicist school of prophetic interpretation results in a progressive and continuous fulfillment of prophecy. This continuous fulfillment starts in Daniel’s time (circa 600 BC), continues through John the Revelator’s time (circa 100 A.D.), on to the Second Coming of Jesus. (Froom, v1, p23)

This school of prophetic interpretation is not novel or new. Biblical scholars throughout the centuries, actually from 2 BC to the present, have ascribed to it. Daniel, John the Revelator, Hippolytus, Joachim, Wyclif, Luther, Knox, Newton, and Wesley (Froom, v1., p2) are examples of the prominent people who believed in and used historicist method of prophetic interpretation.

Another source, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Student’s Source Book (BSSB), lists the Waldenses, Hussites, Wyclif, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon, John Gill, and the martyrs Cranmer, Tyndale, Latimer, and Ridley as proponents of the historicist school of prophetic interpretation. (BSSB, No. 1258, p. 776.)

Shea, on page 25, states that the historicist declares “that the prophecies of Daniel portray an outline of human and ecclesiastical history and the story of the struggle between good and evil down to the end of time” (Shea 25), while BBSB adds that the book of Revelation also presents in symbols the “entire course of history of the church from the close of the first century to the end of time” (BSSB, No. 1257, p. 775).

This manner of prophetic interpretation, as I stated above, was used from approximately 2 B.C. to the present. Yet, you very seldom hear of the Historicist view of prophetic interpretation. What you mostly hear about is Futurism or Preterism. How did they evolve?

Evolution of Futurism and Preterism

Quite simply, the two alternative methods of prophetic interpretation were developed during the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation to oppose the historicist’s interpretation that the Antichrist was the Roman Catholic church.

The virtually unanimous interpretation of the papacy as the Antichrist of prophecy, by all Protestant groups in all lands, led Roman Catholic leaders to attempt to divert the accusing finger and to direct Protestant attention away from the medieval Catholic system. In this they were highly successful. Francisco Ribera and Luis de Alcazar, both 16th-century Spanish Jesuits, rose to meet the challenge by introducing plausible counterinterpretations of prophecy. (The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 4 [4BC], 42.)

These two opposing views, as will be seen below, confused the Protestant prophetic interpretation of Daniel and Revelation. (4BC 42)

Now to look at those two opposing, mutually exclusive views.


Futurism, developed by Francisco Riberia (1537-1591), owes its existence to the Counter Reformation. During the Protestant Reformation, the reformers, using Historicism, concluded that the system, as best represented by the Pope, of the Roman Catholic Church was the Beast of Revelation 13. Shea states:

The futurist interpretation of apocalyptic [prophecies] poses a … problem. It also leaves most of the history of the Christian era unaddressed by God except in general spiritual terms. After this lengthy historical and prophetic vacuum, futurists then see the prophetic voice again taking up a concern for the last seven years of earth’s history. (Shea 57.)

Futurism claims that most of the prophecies of the Apocalypse were fulfilled to ancient Rome. The rest is restricted to a literal Antichrist who will reign for 3½ literal years. Futurism further claims that the Antichrist will be an individual and not a system. This method of prophetic interpretation has a few prophetic events happening early in the Christian dispensation, a large gap of no prophetic interest, and a literal close of 3½ years instead of hundreds of centuries. (You will recognize this scenario as the current Dispensationalist view.)

Besides the short-term results of reducing the pressure being felt by the Papacy, Futurism has had an unexpected long-term result. Historicists believe that the 70-week prophecy and the 2300-day prophecy have a common beginning. Therefore, there are 1810 days (years) remaining after the 70 weeks have ended. By splitting the 70 weeks into two parts (69 weeks and one week), Futurism diverts attention away from the relationship between the 70 weeks and the 2300 days. This separation hides the significant events of 1844. Froom sums up this process: “Accordingly, confusion of the Historical School of interpretation, and its final breakdown, is now definitely under way.” (Froom3:658.)

Synopsis of Futurism

Since the Antichrist is in the future, it could not be the Papacy.

Summary of the Fallacies of Futurism

  • Futurism is designed to relieve pressure on Rome.
  • Futurism violates the principle of consistent prophetic symbolism.
  • Futurism makes prophetic time meaningless.
  • Futurism removes application from historical verification.
  • Futurism creates an arbitrary gap which is an unjustifiable device.
  • Futurism ignores the view of the early church.
  • Futurism cannot be correct if Preterism is correct. (Froom2:803-805.)


Preterists are committed to the view that the majority of the prophecies of the book of Daniel have already been fulfilled and therefore no significance for the present day. (Shea 25.)

The Preterist view of prophetic interpretation was developed by Luis de Alcazar (1554-1613), also as part of the Counter Reformation. It was developed to take the heat off the Pope, who was feeling some discomfort from the Reformers’ talk that the Papacy was the Antichrist.

The preterist view of apocalyptic prophecies and their time elements essentially leaves the whole Christian era, with the exception of a very small initial fraction, without any direct historical or prophetic evaluation by God upon the course of that history. (Shea 56.)

Preterism claims that the apocalyptic prophecies, especially those dealing with the Antichrist, were fulfilled before the Papacy ever ruled Rome. Since they were already fulfilled, the prophecies could not apply to the Papacy. The Preterist view ignores the fact that within the Old Testament itself is the foundation of prophetic interpretation and this foundation produces a broader view of God’s interaction with human history.

Synopsis of Preterism

Since the Antichrist had been fulfilled in the past, it could not be the Papacy.

Summary of the Fallacies of Preterism

  • Preterism is an expedient designed to shield Rome.
  • Preterism violates the principle of consistent symbolism.
  • Preterism glorifies the Papacy by ignoring the actualities.
  • Preterism denies the elemental principle of Bible prophecy.
  • Preterism, like futurism, leaves an explained gap.
  • Preterism offers no adequate fulfillments.
  • Preterism cannot be correct if Futurism is correct. (Froom2:803-805.)


Froom sums up this entire discussion quite well:

The Preterist finds only the contemporary meaning [at the time of the writer] of the Revelation as applicable to the early church, and the Futurist sees the prophecy as projected into a remote age to come, but the Historicist sees that the Revelation had its function first in counseling and encouraging the early Christians in the vicissitudes through which they were passing, while at the same time extending its prophetic pictures beyond their range of vision to the final victory. Otherwise its portrayal of the Second Advent, the judgment, and the kingdom of God have no meaning for our day. (Froom v.1, p.89.)

And that brings us to one of the purposes of this web site: To provide a place on the web for Historicist Christian writings as opposed to the prevalent futurist (dispensationlist) writings of most Christian authors. Since the Historicist school of prophetic interpretation influences other aspects of Christianity, I feel it is important to provide a place for the Historicist to share the true, time-tested meanings of prophecy and Biblical truths.


Froom, L.R.E. The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers. 4 Vols. Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing House, 1950.

Holbrook, F.B., ed. Symposium on Daniel. Biblical Research Institute, Hagerstown, MY: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1986.

Neufeld, D.F. and J. Neuffer, eds. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Student’s Source Book. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1962.

Nichol, F.D., ed. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. 7 vols. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1977.

Shea, W.H. Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation. Lincoln, NE: College View Printers, 1982.



    Today, the religion known as Judaism is based more on tradition than on scripture.

    2,000 years ago, Jesus rejected the traditional religion of the Hebrews, i.e. he rejected the rabbinic interpretations of scripture that had very nearly obscured the true meaning of the writings of the Hebrew psalmists and prophets of antiquity.

    Within a century after Jesus returned to heaven, there were Hebrews who referred to Christianity as a sect of the Hebrew religion and people in Rome who did so too.

    The pagan citizens of the Roman empire in general and the officials of the empire in particular were very anti-semitic. In spite of statements by John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostle, Paul, (see footnote) there came a time–I don’t know exactly when–the bishop of Rome began to represent Christianity as a new religion. There were very few laity in those days who had their own copies of even the Gospels and the Epistles. The laity depended on the clergy to read those writings to them and, of course, after the decision was made to represent Christianity as a new religion, the clergy just didn’t read those portions of the writings that contradicted their perspective. In their attempt to represent themselves as anti-semitic (and thus to please their pagan neighbors), the churchmen in Rome stopped reading from the Hebrew Bible (except for the Psalms and maybe the proverbs) during worship services, began to refer to Hebrews as guilty of deicide (killing God) and began holding worship services on “the venerable day of the sun”.

    In the sixteenth century, protestants rejected the Roman sacrament of penance and the Roman doctrine that the laity need the clergy to explain the scriptures for them. In the seventeenth century, baptists (whether or not they thought of themselves as protestants and probably even more so than Lutherans and episcopalians) rejected the Roman doctrine that an organization IS the church in favor of the doctrine that our relationship with the creator is personal–not through a religious organization.

    From the time of the inception of the papacy, there had been pockets of resistance to Roman doctrine–even in western Europe. I don’t know of any evidence that, before the seventeenth century, there were people who called themselves baptists or whose congregations were known as baptist. If you know of such evidence, please let me know. But there is reason to believe that in every generation of Christians for the last 2,000 years there have been some who have been immersed as a symbol of dying with Jesus and being raised to newness of life.

    In Rome, during the first three centuries after the birth of Jesus, people who believed Jesus was the true Messiah–particularly in Rome–had what they thought was a good reason to represent Christianity as a new religion. But in the United States in the twenty-first century, what other reason–except that it is a tradition borrowed from the Roman Church–can anyone have for representing Christianity that way?

    There is evidence from the writings of Darby himself that he based his eschatology on the writings of the Jesuit scholar, Francisco Ribera (1537-1591). Ribera, in turn, suggested the idea that the prophecies of the little horn (Dan. 7), the beast (Rev. 13:1-3) and the great whore (Rev. 17) should be interpreted as pertaining to a future dictator as a means of countering the prophecy interpretations of the protestants.

    In my view, while the possibility exists that the Inquisition might be revived in the future, it is the Muslim fundamentalists who, RIGHT NOW, seem to most closely meet the descriptions of those prophetic symbols.

    (You can use the word, “if”, in this next sentence, if you prefer, but I’ll use the word, “when”.) When a miracle-working false messiah appears (Matt. 24:24 & Rev. 13:13 & 14) and offers people world peace on condition that they accept him as the true Messiah, almost the whole world will be deceived. 2,000 years ago, most of the Hebrew people wanted an earthly Messiah. Most of them still do. The Muslims expect Jesus to return for the purpose of setting up an earthly kingdom. When (or if) such a false messiah is able to bring peace between the Arabic-speaking people and the Hebrews, how many Christians will reject that messiah in favor of waiting for the glorious appearing and the first resurrection as described in I Thessalonians 4?

    We aren’t saved by our theology. When Jesus returns, the distinction between the saved and the lost won’t be based on who holds which eschatological views.

    I suppose I’d like to escape the last tribulation as much as anybody. I just fear that futurist eschatology doesn’t prepare Christians to be ready for the tribulation I expect in my lifetime and I fear that futurist eschatology doesn’t prepare Christians to reject a messiah who will set up–or encourage his followers to set up–an earthly kingdom.

    In the light of scripture evidence that favors historicist interpretation, I think it deserves a closer look. Fortunately, the Internet now allows people to examine the historicist views of Christians who lived BEFORE the development of the nineteenth-century advent movement.

    FOOTNOTE: Matthew 3:9; Matthew 8:10-12; Romans 11:17-24; I Corinthians 5:7 & 8; Galatians 3:6-9 and verse 29

  2. Would it be correct to conclude that the vast majority of Protestants and Catholics are partial Preterist–Partial in that the great tribulation is fulfilled but the Second Coming and resurrection is future? –Partial Preterism as opposed to Full Preterism, since I’m sure Catholicism still believes in a future bodily resurrection at the Second Coming, which Full Preterism places all in the events of AD 70.

    Futurism would seem to be the next most common belief among Protestants, but I don’t think it is common among most mainline denominations, including Catholics, only among Baptist, Brethren, Bible, and Pentecostal-Charismatic type Churches.

    It seems there is a view among futurists-dispensationalists that the woman-whore on the beast of Revelation is the Catholic Church. Yet it does seem there is a common association of the fatal wounded head of the beast with Rome (being the 6th–in the past, 7th head-Rome revived, and finally the 8th-the Antichrist phase of the Great Tribulation); though there is a growing view it is the Ottoman Empire. The 7th head is the latter (up to WW1), and the 8th which is of the 7th is it’s revived form, the Turkish, Ottoman Empire. The head/beast is also an individual ruler-the Antichrist, someone who is mortally wounded but lives.

  3. Would it be correct to conclude that the vast majority of Protestants and Catholics are partial Preterist–Partial in that the great tribulation is fulfilled but the Second Coming and resurrection is future?

    Probably so; although I’d go farther and say that most mainline Protestants and Catholics likely don’t think about what their doctrinal position is, nor where it would fall on the spectrum. Having a firm eschatological view usually only exists in academics and dispensational fundamentalists.

    You’re probably correct that Futurism is only prevalent among those with a Dispensational view of Scripture (such as the denominations you listed). However, the root of Futurism as a viewpoint is firmly founded in the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation (even though the Church as a whole does not lean that way) in order to counter the attacks from the Reformers, who all preached a papal antichrist as doctrine.

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