Anti Nicene Fathers
Do the beliefs of the early church fathers have any bearing on the view we hold today, concerning our eschatology?
Well! If their views are found to be in line with the canonical books of the Bible, they should.
If we are to use the views of past and present scholars, in forming our viewpoint on eschatology, i.e. such scholars as, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Lloyd Jones, Charles Finney, Jonathan Edwards and more modern day scholars, such as Chuck Missler, John Macarthur, RC Sproul, all of whom hold different views on eschatology.
Then it follows that the early Christian father’s views, have much to offer in our bible study today.
The prominent bible teachers from the first three centuries of the early Christian church must carry a lot of weight in the way we approach this very important subject.
To begin with, men such as Polycarp, a Bishop of Smyrna (c.70-160 AD), who was a disciple of the Apostle John, the writer of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, and was bishop of one of the recipient churches of the seven letters from Revelation, must have an advantage over us in the fact that he knew the Apostle personally and would very likely have understood exactly what the Apostle John taught.
Likewise Papias (c.60- 130 AD), a bishop of Hierapolis; Clement (c.80-140 AD), a bishop of Rome; and Ignatius (c.98-117 AD), a bishop of Antioch. All of which lived at the time of the writing of Revelation.
Note: Bishop ( Presbyter/Elder. Greek Presbuteros ) were always plural in the early churches. The New Testament evidence itself seems to favour a plurality of elders as the standard model. The book of Acts tells us that as the apostles planted churches, they appointed “elders” to oversee them (Acts 11:30;” Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul”. Acts 14:23; “And when they had ordained them elders in every church”, Acts 15:2; “should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” Acts 20:17 “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church”. ). Likewise, Titus is told to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5).
It was only from the end of the second century, do we find churches being overseen by a single bishop (monepiscopacy).
If we are to examine the views of these early church fathers, we would find that the most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, this is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment.
We would also find that Pre millennialists of the second century included Justin Martyr (c.100-165 AD);
"I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion (temporal 1000 year reign), and [believe] that such will take place, as you
assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise." (Dialogue with Trypho, CHAPTER LXXX -- THE OPINION OF JUSTIN WITH REGARD TO THE REIGN OF A THOUSAND YEARS. SEVERAL CATHOLICS REJECT IT.)
And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal
resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place. Just as our Lord also said, 'They shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, but shall be equal to the angels, the children of the God of the resurrection.'” (Dialogue with Trypho, CHAPTER LXXXI .
Irenaeus, the late 2nd century bishop of Lyon (c.120-202 AD), was an outspoken Pre millennialist. He is best known for his voluminous tome written against the 2nd century Gnostic threat, commonly called Against Heresies. In the fifth book of Against Heresies, Irenaeus concentrates primarily on eschatology. In one passage he defends Pre millennialism by arguing that a future earthly kingdom is necessary because of God's promise to Abraham.
He wrote “The promise remains steadfast... God promised him the inheritance of the land. Yet, Abraham did not receive it during all the time of his journey there. Accordingly, it must be that Abraham, together with his seed (that is, those who fear God and believe in Him), will receive it at the resurrection of the just.”
In another place Irenaeus also explained that the blessing to Jacob “belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom when the righteous will bear rule, after their rising from the dead. It is also the time when the creation will bear fruit with an abundance of all kinds of food, having been renovated and set free... And all of the animals will feed on the vegetation of the earth... and they will be in perfect submission to man. And these things are borne witness to in the fourth book of the writings of Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp.” (5.33.3)
Apparently Irenaeus also held to the sexta-/septamillennial scheme writing that the end of human history will occur after the 6,000th year. (5.28.3)
Also his disciple Hippolytus (c.236 AD), presbyter and teacher in Rome; and from the African school, Tertullian (c.150-225 AD). Both held to the Pre millennial view.
Pre millennialists of the third century are Cyprian (c.200-258 AD),
Commodian (c.200-270 AD), Nepos (c.230-280 AD), Coracion (c.230-280 AD),
Victorinus (c.240-303 AD), Methodius (c.250-311 AD), and Lactantius (c.240-330 AD).
It would seem that it was only from the beginning of the Fourth Century, that Post Millennialism and “A” Millennialism became more popular.
It would appear that Constantine's Edict of Milan, issued in AD 313, began the eschatological change in thinking. The Edict of Milan also caused a monumental change-- from the well-grounded Pre millennialism of the ancient church fathers to the “A” millennialism or Post millennialism view, that would dominate eschatological thinking from the fourth century AD to at least the middle part of the nineteenth century.
Christian millennialism through history - The early church.
It does appear that the early church believed in millennialism in a form known as "chiliasm" (from Greek chilioi, meaning "thousand"). (Chiliasts).
This belief flourished into the second and third centuries, during which the Christians generally expected the imminent return of Christ in the face of persecutions in the Roman Empire.
Perhaps the first Christian leader to express the Pre millennial faith was Papias (c.60-130 AD), a bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, who described the millennial rule of Christ upon earth as “characterized by miracles and natural blessings”.
Very little is known of Papias, apart from what can be inferred from his own writings. He is described as "an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp" by Polycarp's disciple Irenaeus (c. 180).
Eusebius, the historical writer of the 4th century, who was also an avid supporter of Constantine and was made Bishop of Caesarea in 313 AD, which was the same year that the Edict of Milan was issued, adds that Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis around the time of Ignatius of Antioch.
Eusebius concludes from the writings of Papias that he was “a chiliast, understanding the Millennium as a literal period in which Christ will reign on Earth”.
A quote from FRAGMENTS OF PAPIAS FROM THE EXPOSITION OF THE ORACLES OF THE LORD.
Amongst these he says that “there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth”. (Papius V1).
Having said this, Eusibus chastises Papias for his literal interpretation of figurative passages, writing that Papias "appears to have been of very limited understanding", and felt that his misunderstanding misled Irenaeus and others”.
Justin Martyr, discussing his own Pre millennial beliefs in his dialogue with Trypho (chap. 110), observed that “such beliefs were apparently prevalent among Christian adherents”.
When Constantine the Great (c. 272-337 AD) legalized Christianity in the fourth century, hostility toward Christianity was replaced by government support. So, Pre millennialism started to fade away in favour of “A” millennialism, which had already been developed by Alexandrian theologians such as Origen (c.185-c.254 AD), who interpreted the Bible allegorically.
Origen’s idealising tendency to consider the spiritual alone as real, fundamental to his entire system, led him to combat what he considered, “the "rude" or "crude" Chiliasm of a sensual beyond”.
“A” millennialism, with its belief that the Christian hope is not to be on earth but in heaven, was accepted by Augustine (354-430 AD).
According to Augustine, the first resurrection figuratively refers to the conversion experience, while the millennium symbolically means the Christian era.
Other beliefs of Augustine, who was a former gnostic, lived between 354 and 430 AD, and introduced the following heretical views into church and made them popular.
The supreme authority of the Roman church.
Purgatory ( suffering for ones own sins in Purgatory ).
Prayers for the dead. ( That their suffering in purgatory would be shortened. )
The damnation of un baptized infants and adults.
Sex is sinful also within a marriage because depravity is inherited (hence the rise of monasteries)
Mary never committed sin, and we do well to worship her/pray to/through her.
Apocrypha is included in the Scriptures.
Eucharist is necessary for salvation.
Giving people the official ”saint” title.
Augustine interpreted Bible prophecy allegorically; among other things teaching that the Catholic Church is the kingdom of God.
He was among the first who taught “A”-millennialism and that the nephilim were descendents of Cain instead of (as the Bible says) a mixture of angels and female human beings.
Following Augustine, the Medieval Catholic Church continued the teaching of “A” millennialism. Chiliasm was suppressed by the dominant Catholic Church, but survived through various "fringe" groups of Christians during the mediaeval period.
During the Reformation, Anabaptists and Hugenots helped to revive Pre millennialism and it was adopted among some Puritans during the Post-Reformation era.
At the Council of Ephesus in 431AD, Pre millennialism was condemned as superstition.
The Church had little problem with doctrines such as the antichrist, the final battle between good and evil, but the idea of a literal kingdom of 1000 years was viewed with considerable suspicion.
The earliest reformers leant towards Pre millennialism. This Pre millennialism was known as Historic Pre millennialism.
Jan Huss, Peter Waldo ( Waldensians ), John Wycliffe ( Lollards ) were Pre Millennialist, as were the Anabaptists and Hugenots.
Later reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, favoured the teachings of Augustine of Hippo and taught Post millennialism or “A” millennialism, as did the Roman Catholic Church.
It is probably well known that the Reformation did not develop Christian doctrine in the area of eschatology very strongly. In part this was due to the fact that, in general, the Reformers accepted the long-standing, “A”millennial eschatology of Augustine, set forth c. AD 400. And partly this was due to the fact that the various doctrines that belong to eschatology were not all that controversial at the time of the Reformation.
The Reformers did not develop the doctrines of eschatology, at least not very far. Witness the fact that neither Luther nor Calvin produced a commentary on the book of Revelation. They basically repeated what the church had held for over a thousand years. This passed on through the protestant reformation and into the Presbyterian churches.
In the early 19th century there was a revival of Pre millennialism. Around 1840, John Nelson Darby taught Pre millennialism known as Dispensational Pre Millennialism.
It is dispensational Pre Millenialism that first taught the notion of a pre-tribulation rapture.
This Pre millennialism was taught in the Brethren churches and followed into the Pentecostal churches and Evangelical churches and the Charismatic movement.
Pre Millennialism has become once again the predominate view in Evangelical churches.
Whilst there has been a falling away from the Post millennial view, which says that the world will get better and better and will result in the evangelization of the whole world, before Christ returns.
“A” Millennialism is still the main view of the Reformed churches.
Of course the writings of the pre Nicene fathers are not accepted as Canonical writings. However we can read them and come to an understanding of the positions they took regarding Eschatology and their views on the millennial kingdom.
It seems that the majority of the pre Nicean fathers leaned towards a form of millenarianism. That is the 1st, 2nd and 3rd century fathers.
The 4th century was influenced by Constantine's Edict of Milan and the emergence of Augustine of Hippo who held to the “A” millennial view.
The church seemed to settle with this view until the early reformers, Jan Huss, Peter Waldo ( Waldensians ), John Wycliffe ( Lollards ), the Ana Baptists and Hugenots, who stood against much of the Roman Catholic teachings.
The following reformers like Luther, Calvin etc, continued to hold to the accepted view of Augustine and therefore never developed their eschatology.
The change came in the early 19th century, when there was a renewed interest in the teaching of the last days.
Whether we are in the millennial reign of Christ now, as the Post millennialists believe, or whether the one thousand reign of Christ is a figurative time, spanning the age between the death of Christ and the Second Advent, as the “A” millennialist believe. (Non millennial).
Or that the one thousand year reign of Christ is a literal reign of Christ on the earth as is the view of the Chiliasts or Pre millennialists, we can only come to a conclusion by doing what the early Bereans did and that is, test the scriptures daily, to see whether these things are so.
Whatever the early church fathers believed, whatever was taught by scholars after the 4th century and throughout the church age, whatever is preached from our pulpits by the modern day teachers, ALL, must be tested against the
accepted canonical scriptures of the Bible and only then can we come to our conclusions.