Millennial Views-Part 6
|By: Dr. Renald Showers; ©2003|
|Although premillennialism was the predominate teaching of orthodox believers through the third century, eventually it was superseded by the amillennial position. Dr. Showers traces this change through the writings of early church leaders.|
Previous articles examined the writings of early Church leaders who indicated that Premillennialism (initially called Chiliasm) was the original major millennial view of the Church, and that it was the predominant view of orthodox believers from the first to the third centuries. This present article will begin to examine the beginning of the rejection of Premillennialism.
The Rejection of Premillennialism in the East
Although Premillennialism was the predominant view of orthodox believers from the first to the third centuries, eventually it was superseded by a new millennial view— Amillennialism (also called allegorical Millennialism by some). By the fifth century Amillennialism had been developed to replace early Premillennialism.
The rejection of Premillennialism began with some leaders of the Greek Church in the east during the second century. As early as 170 A.D. a church group (known as the Alogi) in Asia Minor rejected the prophetic writings from which the premillennial view was derived. This group “denounced the Apocalypse of John as a book of fables.”
Several factors contributed to this rejection of the premillennial view in the east. First was the Montanistic controversy which raged from 160 to 220 A.D. The Montanists were a church group which, because of certain beliefs which it emphasized, became controversial. Christians who did not hold to the Montanists’ views came to regard them as extremists and even heretics. Since the Montanists were premillennial by conviction, and because some carried their Premillennialism to extremes not supported by the Scriptures, some leaders of the Greek Church became suspicious of the entire premillennial view. They began to associate Premillennialism with extremism and heresy because it was advocated by a group that they considered extremist and heretical. Thus, Premillennialsim began to be discredited through guilt by association.
Second, some Church leaders feared the Premillennial teaching that Christ at His Second Coming would crush the Roman power and take over the rule of the world. They were afraid that this teaching would be “a source of political danger,” that it would prompt greater persecution of the Church from the Roman Empire. They concluded that it was expedient to sacrifice the premillennial view for the sake of avoiding more intense persecution.
Third, some churches were convinced that the premillennial emphasis upon the glorious Kingdom reign of Christ in the future drew attention away from the organizational structure and programs which they had developed. This caused them to fear that Premillennialism posed a threat to the very existence and function of the Church in the present.
Fourth, a strong anti-Semitic spirit developed in the eastern church. Because the majority of first century Jews had rejected Christ, and since so many of their descendants refused to believe in Him, 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 the Messiah in the future was the same hope that had motivated the Jews for centuries, that belief was increasingly “stigmatized as ‘Jewish’ and consequently as ‘heretical’” by eastern Gentile Christians. Once again Premillennialism was discredited through guilt by association.
Fifth, a new theology, known as Alexandrian theology, developed in the Greek Church. This new theology was formed by Origen (185-253 A.D.) and other Church scholars in Alexandria, Egypt. Because of his intellectual abilities, Origen became president of the influential theology school of Alexandria at the young age of eighteen years. Because of that position and his exceptional abilities, Origen had extensive influence.
Origen and his associates had intense interest in pagan Greek philosophy. They pursued it extensively. Origen studied under “the heathen Ammonius Saccas, the celebrated founder of Neo-Platonism.” Through time Origen and other Alexandrian Church scholars tried to integrate Greek philosophy with Christian doctrine. This attempted integration played a significant role in the development of the new Alexandrian theology.
Much of Greek philosophy advocated that anything which is physical or material is evil by nature, and only what is totally spiritual or nonphysical is good. Through this influence the Alexandrian scholars developed the idea that an earthly, political Kingdom with physical or material blessings would be an evil thing, and that only a totally spiritual, nonphysical Kingdom would be good. That idea prompted the Alexandrian theology to reject the premillennial belief in an earthly, political Kingdom of God with physical blessings.
The next article will examine the impact of the Alexandrian theology and Origen’s new method of interpreting the Bible.
For a comparison of the different Millennial views obtain the following book: Renald E. Showers, There Really Is A Difference! (The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. Telephone: 800-257-7843. Mailing address: P.O. Box 908, Bellmawr, NJ 08099).
- Ernest R. Sandeen, “Millennialism,” The Encyclopaedia Brittannica, Fifteenth Edition (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1974), pp. 12, 201.
- Adolph Harnack, “Millennium,” The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ninth Edition (New York: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1882), XVI, p. 316.
- Philip Schaff, History of the Church, Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), p. 787.