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Does Mormonism teach Historical Preterism?
This past Sunday, for the Gospel Doctrine class that I teach in our ward, the lesson was on Matthew 24 and entailed about the coming of Christ. As I prepared for this lesson, much of the information brought me back to those days when I was outside of the Latter-day Saint faith, and when I had began studying about Preterism. According to the Lesson Manual, I have come to the conclusion that what the manual instructed is based on the Historical Preterist (HP) doctrine and position.
What is Historical Preterism?
HP can be defined as follows:
"A) Umbrella term covering all those who believe that the only slight amount of Bible prophecy was totally fulfilled in the early centuries of the Christian era. Determined by looking at where the authors find a "transition" from the past to the future using the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24/25 and the Apocalypse of John. B) This class has roots dating back to the first century, such as in the writings of Barnabus and Clement, and finds greater development in the writings of Justin Martyr and Eusebius. The Catholic and Orthodox churches maintained HP through the Middle Ages. Today's contemporary forms were largely developed in the writings of Calvin, Luther, Grotius and Lightfoot. C) portion of prophetic fulfillment is yet ot be revealed at the "last day." Transitions in the Middle of Matthew 24, or in the Middle of the Apocalypse of John. (Historical Preterism: Minor Fulfillment of Matt. 24/25 or Revelation in Past). "
Preteristic Divisions today
Today, there are divisions among those who hold to the Preteristic traditions and teachings. There are two main divisions in the Past Fulfillment. The Partial and the Full preterist viewpoint. We already defined the Historical (Partial) viewpoint. Thus, we must briefly define the Full Preterist viewpoint.
Full Preterist (or Modern Preterism) is based on the idea and interpretation that majority of Matthew 24/25 and Revelation of John had been fulfilled in the First Century.
There is another system of belief that is different from the Historical and Modern viewpoints of Past fulfillment. This is the Preterist Idealism introduced by Todd Dennis and presented at the First annual "Carlsbad Eschatology Conference" in 2007. This system of thought teaches that the historical fulfillment of prophecy constitutes only the "shadows" of an eternal spiritual substance which believers obtain "in Christ." (See Preterist - Idealism).
Another division are those who would be considered Hyper-Preterists where they hold to the belief that end of the world culminated at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and that because of it, we are now living in the New Earth/New Kingdom while the whores and sorcerers live outside the gates.
Where does the Latter-day Saint Church stand on the Preterist viewpoint?
This was the main question I kept asking myself while preparing the lesson manual. For this reason, I will provide material from the New Testament Gospel Doctrine Teachers Manual and go through the basic understanding of where and how Latter-day Saints are Historical Preterists (Whether we knowingly or unknowingly understand this doctrine).
"What is the Sign of Thy Coming?"
The lesson gives the following scriptures for consideration:
1) Joseph Smith - Matthew (JS-M)
2) Matthew 24
3) Mark 13
4) Luke 21
The lesson breaks up the content of discussion between two distinct prophesies that Christ made on the Mount of Olives (Matthew, Mark, Luke and Joseph Smith - Matthew all refer to the same event known as the Olivet Discourse. Matthew 23-25 is the full context of the Olivet Discourse where Christ pronounced woes upon the Jewish Religious leaders. Matthew 25 concludes the discourse Christ gave on the Mount of Olives).
Following the guidelines laid out in the NT Teachers Manual, the discussion is on the two questions the disciples asked. These two questions are - Destruction of the Temple and the signs of Christ's coming. The manual then distinguishes the transition between the prophecy of the Destruction of the Temple with that of the Signs of Christ's second coming in Joseph Smith Matthew 1:20-21. JS-M 1:1-20 is the answer to the first question and JS-M 1:21-55 is Christ's answer to the Signs of the second coming of Christ.
The lesson then asks the GD Teacher to explain to the class that although many Jews did not believe their great city and temple could be destroyed, the Lord's prophecies were fulfilled in A.D. 70. Believing that the Messiah would come and help them in battle, the Jews revolted against the Romans in A.D. 66. Four years later the Romans had destroyed the entire city. Those who listened to the Savior and fled into the mountains were spared. Those who did not heed this counsel were scattered and destroyed.
The question arises as to where is the true transition of the text in Matthew 24? There is the claim that the actual transitional text is that of Matthew 24:34-36 because Christ has not finished discoursing the judgment that would befall Jerusalem, the Jews, and the Temple's destruction. Here, Christ uses the term Generation, and it has a reference to the immediate generation - or the contemporaries of Christ. In fact, when we look at Matthew 24:1-36, we find that Christ knows exactly when, what, and how the end will come. Pertaining to the Second Advent, there are no real signs, there are parables of how people will live. There is the switch between "days" and "day" in the discourse, and the one interesting aspect is that the time of tribulation is an extended period of time that goes beyond 70 A.D.
To fully understand the Transitional Text Theory of Matthew 24, one of the best resources I have consulted is that of Kenneth Gentry. Regardless of where the text transitions from and two, the disctinction is made that there are two distinct prophesies outlined in Matthew 24.
Hence, it is my solid understanding that as Latter-day Saints, we hold to the Historical Preterist viewpoint, even though many members may not identify with the full understanding of this position and its historical significance as pertaining to the Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
And, finally, when we come to read Doctrine and Covenants 45, we find that Jesus Christ actually revealed to Joseph Smith the fulfillment of the Destruction of Jerusalem, and in what manner he distinguished the two prophecies.