If you’ve ever spoken to a Preterist, you may have heard him/her discount Peter’s statement that “the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5: 8), by claiming that Paul said Satan would be crushed under the church’s feet “shortly” (Romans 16: 20). While to some the argument may sound like a good one, what the majority of folks don’t realize, is that Preterists are subtly making a “mental suggestion,” which requires Christians to reject both Peter and Paul as authoritative revelators of church-truth.
Nothing could be more dangerous for the spiritual welfare of believers, than to embrace Preterist hermeneutics and argumentation as a valid evangelical option. For the result of buying into their system is nearly always the same: a repudiation of the direct authority of the New Testament. Although opinions regarding the applicability of “all Scripture” (2 Tim. 3: 16) to the household of faith differ, Christendom has historically accepted the New Testament canon as containing the final assessment of truth for the church age. It was the belief in an authoritative canon that fueled the Reformers’ doctrine of “Sola Scriptura.” It is this presupposition on which evangelical Christians rely when they engage in personal witnessing, as well as pastoral and missionary work..
Preterism seeks to invert this understanding, by approaching sacred texts as mere historical documents divorced from canonical relevancy. The result is an interpretive system which gouges, tears apart, and distorts systematic New Testament teaching, far worse than Jehoiakim’s pen-knife (Jeremiah 36: 23), for it enables fallible men to add to and subtract from God’s word. Once the New Testament is subjected to such a process, Christians are driven off the foundation of Christ and His inspired, inerrant apostles (see Ephesians 2: 20-22), and are left to build their faith on every wind of doctrine that comes along. It was to prevent such a scenario from happening, that the risen Christ sent apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, and teachers to edify His body (Ephesians 4: 11-12). Paul explicitly affirmed that there is only “one body” and “one faith.” Because Preterists hold that the bulk of New Testament writings pertained exclusively to a first-century audience, they have, by positing a new set of teachings not contained in the Bible, broken the sevenfold “unity of the Spirit” taught in Ephesians 4: 4-6.
The study of canonicity is to determine which documents contain the authoritative teachings of the Christian faith. It is generally recognized by those with a smattering of church history, that the New Testament did not just drop out of the sky in A.D. 70. The canon developed over a process of time, during the first four centuries of the Christian era. The order of N.T. writings as we have them in our English Bibles, follows that of the Latin Vulgate compiled by Jerome (A.D. 382-405). That God used regenerate, spirit-led members of His body to weed out the numerous false writings and apocrypha that abounded in the early centuries, and to fix the canon in the form we have it today, is a fact which can hardly be denied by those who believe that God exercises a special providence over His church.
The Divine preservation and selection of the sacred texts is seen especially when we study the order of the Pauline church epistles (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, & Thessalonians). Noted Biblical scholar, and long-time secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society, E.W. Bullinger (1837-1913), writes:
“In all the hundred of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, the order of these seven epistles addressed to churches is exactly the same. We have examined the five most ancient in existence, viz., the Codex Vaticanus (Cent. IV.), the Codex Sinaiticus (Cent. IV.), the Codex Alexandrinus (Cent. V.), the Codex Ephraemi (Cent. V.), and the Codex Bezae (Cent. V. or VI.).
“The general order of the books of the New Testament takes the form of groups, viz., (1) The Four Gospels, (2) The Acts, (3) The General Epistles, (4) the Pauline Epistles, (5) and the Apocalypse. But while the order of these five groups varies in some of the MSS., and the Pauline epistles vary in their position with respect to the other four groups; and while the Pauline epistles themselves vary in their order (e.g., Hebrews in some cases following Thessalonians), yet the order of these seven addressed to churches never varies.
“And further, though the four Gospels vary in their order (even in the five most ancient MSS.), these seven epistles are never given in any order than that in which they have come down to us, and are given in our English Bibles. That order must therefore present to us the line of study marked out for the churches by the Holy Spirit...” (The Church Epistles, Invictus Press, 1997 edition, pg. 8-9).
The data given by Dr. Bullinger substantiates the claim that the New Testament was brought about by the providential hand of God. This alone explains its perfection. It must follow, therefore, that when any set of men, however sanctified, or endowed with ecclesiastical credentials, purports to set aside the direct authority of these writings, claiming thereby to have the final assessment of truth, those men must accept as a corollary of their claims, that the canon was not a product of Divine over-ruling, but a mere result of “chance and circumstance.” I mean, why would God perfectly preserve and arrange a canon of documents that no longer have direct authority? The evidence must be explained away, on some other grounds than that God had His hand in the formation of the canon. Such abnegation, however, is similar to that which atheists and agnostics employ when alleging that the perfection of God’s creation, seen throughout all of nature, is only a coincidence.
If what Preterists assert is true, then it is evident that the New Testament cannot be what Christians have always thought it to be. In fact, the canon itself is open to questions regarding its authenticity. Do we even have the whole Bible? The presumption creates a sharp division between Preterism, which holds that the canon went out of date in A.D. 70, and is therefore insufficient to give the final presentation of truth, and Futurism, which maintains that the New Testament preserves the final, infallible, and authoritative expression of Christian doctrine, to be guarded and kept by the church until our Lord’s return. The dispute is not one that can be brushed aside, or taken lightly. In actuality, it is a contest between the authority of God and the authority of men.
Hence, there are teachers in the professing church today, who would have us believe that one cannot understand the Bible except through their writings. The Scriptures are no longer enough. I was recently told that James Jordan’s 204 audio lectures on the Book of Revelation are necessary to understanding that book. But since Jordan’s interpretations are based on his own insulated (i.e., non-historical) private understanding, the implication was really that no one can understand the Apocalypse except James Jordan and his followers. This is presumption at worst, or pontification at best. People like James Jordan and Peter Leithhart (who really represent the underbelly of Reformed Christianity), while suggesting that the direct authority of New Testament writings ceased in A.D. 70, have used this allegation to undermine the teachings of Christ and His inspired apostles, and to bolster their re-formulation of the Christian faith and message. Behind it all is an unperceived shift of authority from God to man. To such teachers we can and must apply Christ’s denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees of His day: “For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men… Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered…” (Mark 9: 8, 13).
It is clear from the above, that Preterism is not a doctrine which can be accepted without adverse consequences by those who profess to be Christians. Every individual claiming to follow Christ will ultimately be held responsible for the decisions that he or she makes. We cannot expect that those who treat the inspired writings in such an irreverent manner as Preterists do, will escape chastisement when Jesus Christ returns to reward every man according to his works (Rev. 22: 12). Preterism is not merely an ideological choice. It is an apostasy from the “faith delivered once for all to the saints” (Jude 4). Not only must it be carefully guarded against, but its errors must be exposed on a daily basis, that more Christians do not fall for this counterfeit version of Christianity. Maranatha!