Historicist Hermeneutic: No Longer Feasible?

Discussion in 'Revelation & Eschatology' started by jomawh, Aug 3, 2017.

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  1. jomawh

    jomawh Puritan Board Freshman

    I've been on an eschatology kick lately. In particular I've been examining the Historicist interpretation Revelation as held by many (most?) of the magisterial Reformers and the Puritans. As someone who kind of just "fell into" the Idealist hermeneutic in frustration with Preterism and Futurism ("You know what- you're both right, you chumps!"), Historicism's unique claims regarding the Papacy as the Antichrist spoken of in scripture and the Reformed confessions, its epoch-based approach to the latter days, and its distinguishing between the Kingdom (present) and the millennium (yet future), have all intrigued me as perhaps taking the best elements from Preterism and Futurism and trying to make them fit into a cohesive narrative.

    In his three-part series entitled "Historicism: Is It Tenable?", Brian Schwertley (former RPCNA minister- now doing his own thing, apparently?), an orthodox Preterist, makes the case here (1:40) that all of the dates put forth by the historic Historicist commentators regarding the destruction of the Papacy and the ushering in of the thousand-year golden age have passed (the latest having been in 1987), thus proving the unfeasibility of the hermeneutic. He further states that all of the historicist interpreters argued that the witnesses who were martyred in the "city where our Lord was crucified" meant Rome, which all standard hermeneutics would direct towards Jerusalem (3:00)

    How would an historicist counter these arguments?
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2017
  2. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    "In that he calls the place where their dead bodies lie, and so, by consequence, where this slaughter is to be executed, ‘the city where our Lord was crucified.’ Which is not spoken of Jerusalem, but of Rome; that being here called the great city, which, chap. 17:18, is called ‘the city which then ruled over the kings of the earth;’ which can be none but Rome. And to make this good, we are to know, that the jurisdiction of the Roman empire was then in John’s time called ‘the city.’ And therefore the whole world was called Orbis Romanus, the Roman world. And in like manner now, all kingdoms subjected to the Pope are called the church of Rome, as together making that great city. And in that world the city of Rome was the regal palace, from whence issued out edicts and commands over all. And in such a sense it is said, ‘the city where Christ was crucified;’ because it was the Roman power and authority by which he was put to death, though it were done at Jerusalem, for thither did the jurisdiction of Rome reach; and therefore Christ says, ‘they should deliver him up unto the Gentiles,’ Matt. 20:19,—that is, the Romans, who then had trodden down that holy city, and got the command of it; the Pharisees owning Cæsar for their king. And thus now for the killing these witnesses, it must be that the beast of Rome shall again recover so much owning and acknowledgment in the places of the Reformation, whether by secret combination or by professed avouchment God only knows, where the witnesses are to be killed; so as, for his sake, and at his instigation, these Pharisees, either as joining with him, or else using the help of his party, shall kill them. And so far must the beast have a hand in it, that he may truly be said to do it; and that in order to the further advancement of his power in those places." (Goodwin, Works, 3.160)

    "This great City is set out in three properties, which are spiritual, that is, mystically to be understood; So, 1 Corinth. 11, they all eat that spiritual food, &c. that is, something represented by these names, which is to be understood in a spirituall sense and not literally, but as she is called MYSTERIE, BABYLON, &c. Chap. 17:5 because their is a mysterious resemblance, so here she is called spiritually Sodom, that is, for luxury, pride, fulnesse of bread and spirituall uncleannesse, abominable, Ezek. 16:2. Egypt, that is, having and exercising a spirituall tyrannie over Gods people, and abounding in spirituall Idols, as, Egypt did in a more grosse way, for which Israel could not sacrifice among them. 3. It is said, that our Lord was crucified there; not literally, but spiritually as the word before cleareth, and as that word also doth clear that is, either not only was He crucified at Jerusalem, but also there, or it is spiritually Egypt, also spiritually our Lord was crucified there, which cannot agree to Jerusalem, neither to Egypt nor Sodom at that time literally taken: neither were it any mysterie, or spiritually to be understood of Jerusalem (which never getteth the name of the great City) literally. And it is rather designed by that paraphrase, where our Lord was crucified, than by Jerusalem, because mystically the true Church is still in this Book set out by that. This part of the description agreeth to Rome, 1. In that under its dominion, Christ was crucified, and by its Authority, to wit, by a President of theirs Pontius Pilate; for, He was delvered to the Gentile. 2. In respect; of His Members, Ordinances, &c. there He had been long persecuted and crucified in them and put to open shame, Heb. 6:6. In the street of this city, that is, publickly by their Authority, as malefactors used to be in the streets: this is not private murther, but open avowed persecution. See for this, Petrarcha, lib. Epist, sine titulo Epist. 16. who wrote three hundred years since." (Durham, Commentary on Revelation, 418)

    I personally don't see a problem with this interpretation.

    As for the days/years issue, Schwertley seems to be a bit off. I'd read Durham and Goodwin yourself to get the issues straight.

    For a better "timeline" on historicism, see here:
  3. jomawh

    jomawh Puritan Board Freshman

    See, now this makes sense. How can it be said that Jerusalem is the city being referred to here in consideration of the fact that Jerusalem never ruled over the kings of the earth? The only alternative is Rome.

    The "Jerusalem politically belonged to Rome" argument seems weak at first glance, but reading this Jerusalem just can't meet the description of the city in question.

    Thanks for pointing me in a direction, Brother. I didn't think it would be as simple as "Well, all the later dates the Puritan historicists gave have proven themselves off, we can throw Historicism in the dustbin."
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2017
  4. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    While I have some sympathy with the historicist idea that Revelation is a road-map of history, the problem is that historical identifications with elements in Revelation become, if not fanciful, at the very least, highly debatable. It is my opinion (along with Poythress) that Revelation has seven cycles of seven, wherein each cycle crescendos from the previous cycle, thus climaxing each cycle with the second coming.

    Each of the four main interpretive approaches to Revelation has strengths and weaknesses. The strength of the preterist is that John wrote Revelation to a certain audience at a certain time, and any interpretation which fails to take this into consideration will get considerably jumbled. However, preterists go too far when they limit the applicability of Revelation to the first-century (either too much, as in partial preterists, or much too much, as in the heretical full preterists). Revelation is part of the canon. It must apply not only to the first-century audience, but also to the church of all ages. It does speak of the second coming of Christ and the new heavens and new earth, and not just in the last three chapters.

    The futurist approach's strength is in recognizing the references to the second coming, and giving them full weight. Futurists tend to forget, however, the historical situatedness of Revelation. They also forget (sometimes) Revelation's canonical status, applying to the church of all ages. They have, therefore, the corresponding and opposite strengths and weaknesses of the preterite positions.

    The strength of the historicist position is in recognizing Revelation's canonical status, and that therefore it must apply to the church of all ages. The weakness has been already identified above, as its historical identifications are quite tenuous. I find myself thinking, "Yeah, possibly, but couldn't it also mean a dozen other historical events?"

    The strength of the idealist position is in recognizing the cyclical (or better yet, spiral) nature of Revelation. Some idealist positions have a weakness, however, in de-concretizing the imagery of Revelation, and making just about everything quite vague.

    I believe that the strongest interpretation of Revelation will take elements of truth from all the four approaches, while seeking to minimize their weaknesses. As such, there are three main areas of applicability, all of which have to have their day in court: the first century, the history of the church, and the second coming of Christ. This is why I advocate a modified idealist approach wherein the beginning and the end both get full attention, and not just the cycles of how God works in history. I believe that John is describing over and over again (seven times, in fact) the time between the first and second coming of Christ.
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  5. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    I'm not really answering your question (I don't think I'm qualified), but I will say that some of the things you find appealing about historicism can be embraced without embracing a historicist view of Revelation. This is particularly true of what you refer to as "Historicism's unique claims regarding the Papacy as the Antichrist spoken of in scripture and the Reformed confessions." This is not as unique as you might think. There are a number of us who hold this view of the Antichrist while maintaining an idealist reading of Revelation. Note that the WCF does not quote Revelation when dealing with the topic:

    This certainly implies a particular reading of II Thessalonians 2, and certain portions of the Johannine epistles, but it doesn't directly treat Revelation.
  6. jomawh

    jomawh Puritan Board Freshman

    And that's the rub, isn't it? Preterists can make a strong case for the Roman Emperor and Historicists can make a strong case for the Pope- the Idealist can simply say "they both were, and more are to come."

    I haven't come across any Idealists who hold that the Pope is the Antichrist. Do you have any references or names I could look into? I'm genuinely curious.
  7. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    David Silversides, Todd Ruddell, and Matthew Winzer are three that come to mind.

    Rev. Silversides preached a series on Revelation.

    Rev. Ruddell has chapter-by-chapter (as opposed to verse by verse) treatments of every chapter in the Bible on his church's website. You can look up the relevant chapters there: http://www.christcovenantrpc.org/audio/scripture-readings/. He (and others) also did a conference on the Antichrist in February: http://www.christcovenantrpc.org/audio/conferences-lectures/pope-is-antichrist/

    Rev. Winzer's wrote a lot of posts here on the Puritan Board on these subjects. I wish I could point to a better resource than that, but his posts were always very helpful.
  8. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    The main problems to me with that understanding of revelation is just how do we agree upon what historical person/time is being cited, and what if the papacy is not the Antichrist per say then?
  9. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    It should be noted that historicists do understand certain passages in a "preterist" sense. They understand and acknowledge that there was a direct audience, but also acknowledge (as Rev. Keister has pointed out) that the book is for the church in all ages.

    Although there have been some historicists that make specific claims regarding time periods, the general ideas seem to be consistent with many authors of old. I don't see how these interpretations of time periods are problematic.

    The only way one can know for certain what historicists teach, is to read them. :)
  10. ADKing

    ADKing Puritan Board Junior

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