Norman Geisler on preterism/B>

Though Norman Geisler died in 2019, his works remain posted, including a critique of preterism, which we herein reply to. The first article by Geisler we will discuss is not a critique of preterism directly, however, but rather a defense of premillennialism. As a reminder, preterism is usually called "amilliennial," but I do not prefer that designation myself; although I hold that Christ rules from the throne in heaven now, and that the "thousand years" of Revelation is happening now and simply means an unspecified long period, I do not deny a future reforming of the fallen creation. Premillenialism combines all three of these things into one package, but I do not.

To that extent, I do not appreciate Geisler's assessment that amillenialism "denies this literal future reign of Christ and claims that Christ is currently reigning over the world spiritually." The current reign is literal; to call it simply spiritual is to adhere to a false dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural. Christ reigning in heaven does not make this reign any less "literal," and nor does the fact that we may not in the process have Christ seated in heaven on a literal wooden throne complete with splinters and jewels. Geisler may be accurately describing some amillennial views, but not mine.

For today, however, we will simply look at Geisler's "arguments for premillennialism."

1. Without a Millennium God Lost the Battle in History

He did? I'd like to know who made that rule up, especially since the criterion Geisler offers here assumes that an amillennial view does not ever think the creation will be restored to its pre-fall state. I certainly do not think this; I simply don't think it will be tied to the premillennial pattern of a fixed 1000 year period, with all the dispensational accoutrements. So this isn't reason to believe premillennialism over (at least) my view.

2. Without A Millennium History Has no Climax

Again, I'd like to know who makes these rules up, but it's also not correct; I'd place the climax at the final resurrection of all men, at which time also everything else Geisler seems to indicate is missing from amillennialism (such as Christ destroying all dominions) will happen as well. If that's not sufficient "climax" for Geisler or anyone else, then maybe someone's been watching too many Hollywood movies.

3. Without a Millennium God Would Break an Unconditional Land Promise to Abraham.

Oh, really? That's news to me. I can live with the idea that Israel still has the land grant, though in my portrait of things, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. At the same time, Geisler's admonition that Israel has never taken the whole of the prescribed land yet doesn't mean a great deal: Although Geisler rightly notes that the promise doesn't depend on our obedience, the ability to take advantage of all terms of it does. The "reward" for disobedience is specified within the covenant itself, and includes exile and loss of land.

As things now stand, the current nation of Israel isn't doing a whole lot to fulfill its covenant obligations. There's no Temple and no sacrifices. Observance of the law is found among some groups, and I daresay fewer by proportion than in Jesus' time. They are also in disobedience for failing to listen to the prophet like Moses (eg, Jesus), as they were warned in Deuteronomy. So if the terms of the covenant are indeed still good as Geisler argues, I wouldn't be looking for Israel to claim the whole grant any time soon.

Geisler goes on to say that, "according to the Bible it will yet be fulfilled (Matt. 19:28; Acts 1:6-8; Rom. 11) in the future in the thousand year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-6)." Well, I'm afraid for each of those, I see more in the way of Geisler reading premillennial doctrine into the text rather than finding it there. Which is to be expected, since none are specific enough by themselves to support any millennial view, save Revelation (on that see below).

The bottom line is, Israel's failure to stay obedient long enough to advantage the whole land grant isn't a failure of promise on God's part, as Geisler implies it would be.

4. Without a Millennium God would Break an Unconditional Throne Promise to David

Again, news to me. Here again, the fault is that Geisler thinks David's throne MUST be on solid dirt here on Earth for this promise to be kept. Since there's no descendant of David "reigning on a literal throne in Jerusalem" in amillennialism, he thinks this fails. But nothing, not even the verse he appeals to in this regard (Matt. 19:28), says a word about a throne in Jerusalem as we know it. The closest he comes to this is Rev. 20:1-6, but here as is often the case, the dispensational eschatology wrenches the genre of apocalyptic into a literalism never intended, and while we have Jesus on a throne there, Jerusalem doesn’t appear until our 21:2. As it is, this is what I offer, based on Daniel 7 and Matthew 25, in the main: Jesus rules on a throne in heaven (not a literal wood and splinters throne, but having all the power and authority that implies, literally); we, the body of Christ, inhabit the New Jerusalem right now . The apocalyptic genre by itself tells us not to expect a bricks and mortar Jerusalem to descend to the dirt. I think it speaks for itself that rather than appeal to a Biblical scholar versed in the genre of apocalyptic, Geisler instead turns to a hymn by Isaac Watts for validation.

5. Only Premillennialism Employs a Consistent Hermeneutic

Hmm. Pardon me while I say, "yeah, right." Actually, as noted above, I'm the one trying to read Revelation as an apocalyptic. Geisler accuses amillenialists of inconsistent hermeneutics, but even he will admit that there are passages in the Bible one does not take literally, so the real question is not consistency, but who is doing the best job of representing the contextual parameters of the text.

In this regard, Geisler impeaches himself when he says amillenialists take "part of the Gospels literally, namely, Christ’s death and resurrection (Matt. 26-28) but not all of Jesus’ predictions made in the Gospels, namely, His statements about His Second Coming (Matt. 19:28; Matt. 24-25); ...." But here again, he's assuming that sitting on a throne in heaven isn't involving some "literal" action. There's nothing "spiritualized" about this: While it might be said, again, that there's no actual chair upon which Christ places his body in heaven -- for Daniel 7, too, is of the apocalyptic genre -- the assumption of power is literal and real, not merely "spiritual".

Geisler's further warnings of a slippery slope in which we'd end up denying doctrines like the atonement (!) are simply showboating. As I noted here in a prior series, Geisler has trapped himself in a hermeneutic which fails to respect those contexts of the text which he happens to disagree with.

6. Premillennialism Adds Urgency to Evangelism.

Basically the argument is, if you think the world will end soon, you'll evangelize more. Really? Then why do so few Christians even now evangelize? It doesn't seem to be working, in spite of Geisler's appeal to premillennial preachers like Moody and Graham; that's less than .00001% of the Christian population. Even so, the amillenial view (or at least mine) holds that the final resurrection and judgment could come at any time, so there's as much urgency there as there is for premillennialism. It's not any "greater" urgency for premillennialism.

7. Premillennial Imminency Adds an Incentive for Holiness

Basically, the same reasoning as above; if you think the world will end soon, you'll behave better. But the same reply applies: a) it doesn't seem to be working for most Christians anyway; b) there's as much "equivalent" urgency as I see it.


Geisler also discusses four objections to premillenialism that he considers worthy of some discussion, but only two (the third and fourth) touch on anything I might say. So we'll skip the first two.

Objection Three: Premillennialists are not Consistent It is objected that even the premill view takes some prophetic passages symbolically and figuratively, such as the seven “stars” (angels),“lamp stands” (churches), and “beasts” (world powers) in the book of Revelation. If so, why should not “a thousand years” be symbolic of a long period of time and “144,000” from the “twelve tribes of Israel” (Rev. 7, 14) be symbolic of the Church, and so on.

This is indeed a point similar to one I would make: Really, preterism and dispensationalism both recognize some level of metaphor in the text; but the dispy view takes more literally than the preterist view. Geisler offers six responses.

First, figures of speech are not contrary to a literal interpretation since even they are based in a literal meaning. For example, just because there is a “key” (a symbol of secure containment) to the bottomless pit where the Devil is consigned for a thousand years does not mean there is no real Devil.

I agree. But I know of no one who is saying there was no real devil, so I have no idea what specific application Geisler is trying to make here.

Second, the Book of Revelation identifies many things as symbols, but it gives their literal meaning (cf. Rev. 1:20).

Also agreed. So again, what point is being attempted here? This is not a rebuttal in any sense to arguments concerning to what level symbols are symbols, and literal things are literal things.

Third, all these symbols represent literal people, things, and events. Fourth, the worlds “tribe” and “resurrection are never used figuratively in the Bible. Even symbols have a literal meaning (Rev. 1:20).

Agreed and agreed. And none of this (again) rebuts and preterist point, save that heretical hyperpreterists reinterpret "resurrection".

Fifth, the rule of thumb still stands: “If the literal sense makes good sense, then seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense.”

Actually, this "rule of thumb" -- Geisler's first real "argument" here -- is heavily biased towards a Western and modern literary view. Biblical peoples, as we have noted, had a much more "dramatic" orientation in their language, and that means we'd best be a lot more cautious before assuming that a "literal sense" actually makes "good sense." Beyond that I can say nothing without specifics.

Finally, amillennial interpretations are inconsistent for in the same passage (Rev. 20) they take one “resurrection” literally and the other one spiritually.

The inconsistency is merely on the surface. See on that point below.

Objection Four: The Prophecies about Israel are fulfilled spiritually by the Church. According to this “replacement theology,” Israel was disobedient and lost the conditional promises God made to them. Thus, God replaced Israel with a new “spiritual Israel” (Gal. 6:16) known as the Church who fulfill the “new covenant” made with Israel (Jer. 31 cf. Heb. 8).

My view is slightly different. Mine is not a "replacement" theology, but a grafting-in theology. Israel always has been defined as those loyal to YHWH, according to Romans 11. Today that can be anyone -- whether they are descended from Jacob or not.

Geisler responds to the above objection, but it is of none effect against a point I made before: The Deuteronomic covenant requires Israel to be on the lookout for a prophet like Moses. That's Jesus, as Geisler and I would both agree. And that means as long as an adherent to the Deuteronomic covenant isn't listening to Jesus, they're in disobedience -- continually. So there's no way they can be granted the blessings of Deuteronomy -- and in turn, the only possible fulfillment now existent can be that in which Jesus reigns over his Body, those who are now loyal to YHWH. That doesn't mean we get the Holy Land, of course; that's not in the new covenant.

In conclusion: Geisler sides with those who call premilleniallism a "fundamental." He concludes by threatening a slide down a slippery slope, but as I have said in an article on John Walvoord, who made the same kind of threat:

The main point here is Walvoord’s appeal to a “slippery slope” which he apparently felt would cause us to cascade down the whirlpool of misinterpretation. In a sense he was correct, though: Once the door of possibility opens, it does open more. But that begs the question of whether the slope is one we ought to be going down in the first place. Walvoord looks into the maelstrom and sees darkness and death; we see paradise and Pellucidar. I see Walvoord warning us that we should not understand the Bible as people in its day would understand it – though he would not have seen it that way, but rather as taking us away from a proper hermeneutic – that happened to match with modern perceptions as opposed to ancient ones.

In the end, the “slippery slope” warning is little more than an attempt to coerce by way of threat that something held dear will be lost. And it is true that some Christians hang on to the modern hermeneutic, kicking and screaming, lest they lose other parts of it as well. On the other hand, much thankful feedback has come my way from persons who saw the dropping of the hyper-literalist hermeneutic as a burden from which they were gladly relieved. And I daresay those reflections were from persons I’d regard as more mature on their faith.

Geisler calls premillennialism "a safeguard against liberalism," but as far as I can see, it's mainly a safeguard against being exposed to new ideas that threaten the status quo.


We next have a look at Geisler's review of Hanegraaff's Apocalypse Code (AC). Again, since I have not read AC, my comments will be limited to what affects my own views directly -- which turns out not to be much.

After outlining some points of agreement with AC, Geisler outlines what he perceives to be "logical fallacies" in AC. Most of these can't be adequately judged without reading AC itself, but I find some hard to swallow even as phrased. For example, Hanegraaff is accused of committing the "straw man fallacy" by using what is said to be extreme views in LaHaye's works to dismiss all premillennial views. However, Geisler does not quote anything in AC to indicate that this is what is being done, and indeed says that it is only an "implication" he gets from the text. In the same way, the fallacy of "guilt by association" is charged, but no quote is offered to show what is claimed, and again it is only said to be found "implicitly". Quite frankly, this sort of mind-reading has no place in any serious critique. It is tempting to ask (imply) if Geisler is simply so out of his element here that he feels the need to impress readers with a listing of logical fallacies -- the sort of tactic I have seen atheists use frequently. Yes, I just did to Geisler what Geisler did to Hanegraaff. I'll leave it at that.

It takes a while for Geisler to get past his list of reputed (or implied) fallacies in AC, and there's little to nothing to evaluate in terms of actual argument against a preterist view in general. Some points about the land promise, which we discussed in a prior entry, are used here as well, but there's still nothing that reverses my observations concerning the inevitable and continuing disobedience of any person who signs on to the OT covenant but ignores Jesus as the predicted prophet like Moses. Other points, like a first and second resurrection in Revelation, we have noted earlier as well. I can gather from some of Geisler's comments what some of Hanegraff's arguments are (or at least, what he THINKS they are), and they don't seem to reflect any I would use; for example, it would be of no relevance to me that the "loss" of ten tribes means that the dispensational promises can't be fulfilled; the "loss" of those tribes isn't a certainty at all.

One point of notice for me is where Geisler asks: Also, how can a thousand years represent eternity. The thousand years have a beginning and an end. I don't know if AC says that the thousand years is "eternity" -- but I don't. I say it is a long, unspecified time of length unknown to humans. After all this, we finally get to some arguments on various topics, and I'll comment according to topic if I find anything that connects with my views. In some cases I have no comment as I would not use the same arguments as AC.

The Use of Words Like “Shortly” and “Quickly” -- Geisler finds preterists inconsistent on this point: Yet, by the same token passages about the resurrection and second coming (which partial preterists admit is yet future) are relevant. Indeed, they are used to comfort and exhort believers in the present (cf. 1 Thes. 4:18; 2 Pet. 3:11).

That's true, but irrelevant: For an agonistic person, as with Jesus, resurrection would be a significant vindication of personal honor, in contrast to also-then-present sufferings and judgments by the world; it would therefore not matter in the least how far in the future that resurrection would occur, for it would still be a comfort to believers. It is also added: Further, if terms like “soon” mean in the near future, then the resurrection and second coming must also have been before AD 70 since Revelation speaks of both of these events as part of the revelation that would be fulfilled “quickly” (1:1,3: 22:6-12, 20). Well, no, not really. These are quotes from the open and close of the book, and the promise of resurrection of all men is divided from the rest of the chronology with the thousand-year block. So that divorces it from the "quicklies" in Chs. 1 and 22. However, just in case, Geisler adds that "quickly" in Greek can also mean "speedily" -- with which we do agree. However, for my part, the time text that tells the story is in Matthew 24, not in Revelation, and we'll get to that shortly.

The Use of “This Generation” -- Yes, this one I do use, and Geisler doesn't offer a lot to convince me he's got a solution. It is rightly noted that "this generation" used by Jesus always refers to Jesus’ contemporaries. Geisler's retort that this "begs the question by assuming references given in a prophetic context must be understood like all the other ones which are not" is actually itself a rather shameless effort at special pleading, and itself a begged question that "prophetic context" in some way changes the meaning of "this generation" in a way that conveniently accords with his point of view. Geisler also hauls out the standard idea that the word "generation" can also mean "race," but this too amounts to special pleading in light of the other usages, and Geisler's bare citation of a single lexicon entry is not sufficient scholarly evidence upon which to draw a conclusion. (See also critique by DeMar linked below.)

The Alleged Early Date for John’s Writings -- Geisler notes the equation of 666 with Nero, but rather than answer this, offers a wide variety of wild speculations about what else it could mean. However, in not one case does he offer any serious argument for why any of his alternatives fit the data better than Nero, and to the extent that he also offers candidates he would obviously never agree with (e.g., the Pope's name in Latin!) it is clear that Geisler's intention here is merely to cloud the waters, not actually analyze Nero as a candidate and determine his fitness. Geisler further provides a very brief argument for dating Revelation early, but it is not overcome by our own analysis (link below). He further dismisses the preterist reading by assuming literalist and fundamentalist exegesis for predictions of such things as the rivers drying up (Rev. 8:10). Here it is clear that Geisler has not studied preterism to any serious depth, for otherwise he would know that it requires no literal drying up of rivers to be fulfilled; rather, within the genre of Revelation as an apocalypse, this is symbolic language, most likely representing the destruction of commerce and sustenance, which for ancient peoples was what a river was all about. Geisler does not deal with these genre considerations at all; he simply dismisses them as a "resort" (and later "spiritualizing") to avoid a literal meaning. But whether a literal meaning is required is the very point at issue, and until Geisler comes to grips with both the genre of apocalypse AND the dramatic orientation of speakers and writers in agonistic societies, his own "resort" to literalism is merely a case of spinning his exegetical wheels.

Spiritualizing --A good example of Geisler's failure to come to grips with this reality is found here, on a point with which I agree with AC, based on the description: For example, the mark of the Beast on their forehead is said to be symbolic of identity with. But if it was not an observable mark, then how could it be recognized for identity in marketing? Well, that's really rather simple: In the agonistic and collectivist world of the NT, there was no privacy, and plenty of what we'd call gossip: A Christian who behaved as he ought to have would stand out like a sore thumb in that pagan setting, and word of that would spread to everyone in town. So there's your recognition. Geisler is unwittingly anachronizing modern ideas of privacy into the text. Genre analysis also fails Gesier when he says: The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 a said to be “figurative” (130) witnesses to the Antichrist. The Code calls them “literary characters” forming “composite image” of the Law and the Prophets(131). Yet The Code urges us to interpret the New Testament in the light of its Old Testament background. But there two literal witnesses (Moses and Aaron) brought down literal plagues on the Antichrist of their day (Pharaoh). True, but Exodus is in the genre of historical narrative, while Revelation is -- again -- an apocalypse. The two witnesses of Revelation may well hearken to Moses and Aaron; more likely I think is that they mean a "sure" testimony to the truth, based on the legal stricture that what is said by two witnesses is true. Whatever the case, genre tells us a message Geisler apparently does not hear.

Tribulation -- Geisler doesn't even deal with any arguments for the 7 year period as fulfilled in the Jewish war of 67-73; that is merely dismissed once again based on the assumption of literalism being the only option. There's nothing of note in the rest, or nothing new, or applicable specifically to anything I've written. Geisler closes: It is sad that a man who has fought so hard for so long against cults and aberrant teachings has himself succumbed to a method of interpreting the Bible that is not significantly different from those used by the cults which he so vigorously opposes. Well, then, let me put in my two cents: it is sad that a man who has fought so hard for so long against cults and aberrant teachings has himself advocated a method of interpreting the Bible that is misinformed, decontextualized, and enslaves us to Western and modern presuppositons, in ways that are not significantly different from those used by snake handlers, King James Onlyists, and other fringe groups. I'm being somewhat facetious. But as I said in an article on a related subject: The main point here is Walvoord’s appeal to a “slippery slope” which he apparently felt would cause us to cascade down the whirlpool of misinterpretation. In a sense he was correct, though: Once the door of possibility opens, it does open more. But that begs the question of whether the slope is one we ought to be going down in the first place. Walvoord looks into the maelstrom and sees darkness and death; we see paradise and Pellucidar. I see Walvoord warning us that we should not understand the Bible as people in its day would understand it – though he would not have seen it that way, but rather as taking us away from a proper hermeneutic – that happened to match with modern perceptions as opposed to ancient ones.

In the end, the “slippery slope” warning is little more than an attempt to coerce by way of threat that something held dear will be lost. And it is true that some Christians hang on to the modern hermeneutic, kicking and screaming, lest they lose other parts of it as well. On the other hand, much thankful feedback has come my way from persons who saw the dropping of the hyper-literalist hermeneutic as a burden from which they were gladly relieved. And I daresay those reflections were from persons I’d regard as more mature on their faith.

This is an ideological battle, however, and we cannot afford to lose it. A church body that will not move off immaturity will not be equipped to equip, much less convert, an entire world.