Contend Earnestly: The Athanasian Creed and the Early Church: Clearly Amillennial

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Athanasian Creed and the Early Church: Clearly Amillennial

This is taken from an article written by Martin R. Bachicha and I found it quite interesting. Thanks to Mark at Here I Blog for the link. I have always been told by other premils that the early fathers were mostly premils. This starts the investigation and shows that this might not be true at all. I have been studying a lot lately on the subject of end times, Revelation and amillenialism. I have to say that I have definitely switched my view to leave behind dispensationalism, but not quite sure where that leaves me. I am looking forward to continually seek the truth of the Scriptures in what they teach, instead of what I have always been taught. Here is an article to show forth some of this, and next week I will be showing some insight on the main things that have switched my view of eschatology.

The Athanasian Creed and the Early
Church: Clearly Amillennial

By Martin R. Bachicha

Weren't the Early Church Fathers Premillennialists?

In 1976 Alan Patrick Boyd, a graduate student at Dallas Theological Seminary began a challenging undertaking, writing a masters thesis whose goal was to establish the prophetic faith of the early church fathers. His professor, Dr. Charles Ryrie of Dallas Seminary fame had boldly written "Premillennialism is the historic faith of the Church." But upon completing his thesis, Boyd concluded the following in response, "It is the conclusion of this thesis that Dr. Ryrie's statement is historically invalid within the chronological framework of this thesis [apostolic age through Justin Martyr]." [ 1] (Quoted by Bahnsen and Gentry, p. 235. [ 2] )

Thomas Albrecht, who has done additional research on this topic, also writes, "some premillennialists had attempted to show that premillennialism was the ‘pervasive view of the earliest orthodox fathers’ (House and Ice, Dominion Theology, p.202). But many additional scholars have shown this to be false, including Boyd, D.H. Kromminga, Ned Stonehouse, W.G.T. Shedd, Louis Berkhof, and Philip Schaff. According to Boyd, the best that can be said of the early Church father is that they were ‘seminal amillennialists’ (cf. Bahnsen and Gentry, p. 239). The early Church fathers … Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Papius, admitted that there were many other Christians who were quite orthodox and not premillennial." [ 3]

The following quote by the early church historian Eusebius from his classic work The History of the Church clearly demonstrates the amillennial, consummationist outlook held by the early church. Speaking of the grandsons of Jude, he writes: "the grandsons of Jude.... When asked [by the Emperor Domitian] about Christ and his kingdom--what it was like, and where it would appear--they explained that it was not of this world or anywhere on earth but angelic and in heaven, and would be established at the end of the world, when he would come in glory to judge the quick and the dead ...." [The History of the Church by Eusebius] from Charles Ludwig, Ludwig’s Handbook of New Testament Rulers and Cities. [ 4]

Eusebius is one of the early church fathers who most clearly denounces "chiliasm," as premillennialism was then called. In the same work he writes, "About the same time … appeared Cerinthus, the leader of another Heresy. Caius, in The Disputation attributed to him, writes respection him: ‘But Cerinthus, by means of revelations which he pretended as if they were showed him by angels, asserting, that after the resurrection there would be an earthly kingdom of Christ, and that flesh, i.e. men, again inhabiting Jerusalem, would be subject to desires and pleasures. Being also an enemy to the divine scriptures, with a view to deceive men, he said that there would be a space of a thousand years for celebrating nuptial festivals.’" Eusebius also writes of a tradition passed down by Polycarp regarding an encounter between the Apostle John and Cerinthus in a public bath, "He [Polycarp] says that John the Apostle once entered a bath to wash; but ascertaining that Cerinthus was within, he leaped out of the place and fled from the door, not enduring to enter under the same roof with him, and exhorting those with him to do the same, saying, ‘Let us flee, lest the bath fall in, as long as Cerinthus, that enemy of the truth is within.’"[ 5] Tertullianus is another early church father who attributes chiliasm’s birth to Cerinthus. He writes: "They are not to be heard who assure themselves that there is to be an earthly reign of a thousand years, who think with the heretic Cerinthus. For the Kingdom of Christ is now eternal in the saints, although the glory of the saints shall be manifested after the resurrection." [ 6]

Two of the preeminent creeds of the early church that contain verses that clearly lean towards an amillennial belief are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed contains the words "He [Christ] shall come again to judge the quick and the dead," implying that both judgement and the resurrection will take place at His coming. The Nicene Creed states that Christ "shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end." Note that Christ’s kingdom is viewed here as eternal, not as a temporal reign of 1000 years.

By far the early church statement of faith that most vividly presents the early church’s belief in an amillennial, "consummationist" eschatology is The Athanasian Creed. Attributed to Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria and the champion of the Council of Nicaea, around 325 A.D., the creed ends with these words: "He shall come again to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life eternal, and they who indeed have done evil into eternal fire. This is the catholic faith, which except a man have believed faithfully and firmly he cannot be in a state of salvation." Let us analyze these closing verses more carefully to see how they align with the belief system we know today as amillennialism, and how they oppose any belief in an earthly 1000 year reign of Christ.

1. "He shall come again to judge the living and the dead." This simply means that there will be those who are alive as well as those who are dead when He comes (1 Thess. 4:15). Notice that judgement of the living and the dead occurs at His coming (cf. Matt. 25:31-46), not a thousand years after His coming.

2. "At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies ...." Thus, at Christ’s coming all rise, the good and the evil alike (cf. John 5:28,29, Matt. 12:41,42). Not just the good, and then a thousand years later the wicked.

3. "... and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life eternal, and they who indeed have done evil into eternal fire." This is a clear reference to Matt. 25:31-46. Athanasius views this as taking place after the resurrection (or translation), making it a post-resurrection judgement. This is in sharp contrast to the dispensational view that Matthew 25:31-46 is only a judgement of "living, mortal Gentiles" who survived the tribulation. Note again that it (i.e. Matt. 25:31-46) is viewed as a judgement of all men, the Jew and the Gentile, the wicked as well as the good.

We must ask, why were the early church fathers so solidly amillennial? The first most obvious answer is that it reflected apostolic teaching, which means they were being obedient to God’s word (Acts 2:42, Ephesians 2:20). Most importantly, it is what the scriptures clearly teach, and being faithful students of the scriptures, they came to this rightful conclusion. Even the late Dr. George Eldon Ladd, a premillennialist, wrote "I admit that the greatest difficulty to any premillennialism is the fact that most of the New Testament pictures the consummation as occurring at Jesus’ parousia." [ 7] Lastly, amillennialism is the single view that most highly glorifies our Lord Jesus and His Second Coming. To demonstrate this point I will ask these questions. Which view glorifies our Lord Jesus more? A view that has the glorified Christ reigning eternally immediately after His advent from the New Heavenly Jerusalem in the glory of His Father (amillennial); or a view that has Jesus reigning temporally (i.e. for 1000 years) from an earthly Jerusalem, surrounded by mortal men, sinners (premillennial)? Which view magnifies His Second Coming more? A view where at His parousia He eternally judges all of mankind, the living and the dead (amillennial), or a view where this judgement doesn’t take place until a 1000 years after His coming (premillennial)? Which is more monumental an advent? A Second Coming where sin is utterly effaced and death is completely destroyed (amillennial)? Or a second coming where sin is not effaced and death is not destroyed until a 1000 years later (premillennial)? The answer is obvious. Let us give glory to our Lord Jesus and believe the true prophetic faith: Amillennialism, the one and only true Christian eschatology.


[1] "A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers [Until the Death of Justin Martyr]," unpublished master's thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977, p. 47), quoted in the web article, "Some Questions and Answers on Eschatology," by Thomas Albrecht. [Back]

[2] House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology, by Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. [Back]

[3] Tom Albrecht, "Some Questions and Answers on Eschatology," World Wide Web article. [Back]

[4] Quoted in the article "The Return of Nero" by Gary Stearman, Prophecy in the News, Vol. 16, No. 5, May 1996, p. 6. [Back]

[5] From Eusebius’ Eccleslastical History, Book 3, Chapter 23. Circa A.D. 324. [Back]

[6] From Tertullianus, The Writings of Tertullianus, Vol. 3, p. 433. [Back]

[7] George Eldon Ladd, The Meaning of the Millennium, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1977) edited by Robert G. Clouse, pp. 189, 190. [Back]

About the Author:

Martin Bachicha is a native of Albuquerque and is the author of The Kingdom of the Bride, a book on Bible Prophecy.

Martin Bachicha
4908 Sherry Ann Road NW
Albuquerque, NM 87114

He also writes a prophecy newsletter, The Kingdom of the Bride Prophecy Newsletter. To receive your free e-mailed copy, send an e-mail to

© Copyright 1999, Martin R. Bachicha, All Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...

Wondering if you have seen "Edward Irving is Unnerving" which is on Google. Fascinating article! Carl said...

As a newoomer to this blog, I am a little confused. By "early church fathers," are you referring to the apostles Peter, John, James, and Paul? Or are you refering to Catholic leaders who came afterwards?

If you are referring to the original first century church and to the teachings of the original apostles, then I would think your primary source would be the Bible, and the teaching of the Bible is clearly premillennialist.

Seth McBee said...

Pen Man.
Please actually read the article before commenting on it.

And by saying that the Bible is "clearly premillennialist" shows your cards before you argue a point. Which is fine, but know that I used to also believe what you are saying, until I actually read the Bible for what it says, instead of forcing a system onto the Bible so my chart on the wall made sense.

I'll actually be getting into eschatology on this blog in the coming weeks...feel free to bring your arguments to the table, as they will actually help the discussion.

Thanks for coming by and if you want, take a look at the article and please read the posts that come forward instead of commenting just to be heard.

Josh said...


The blog post is about some early Church creeds that reference Christ coming as a single event where the resurrection and judgment happen at the same time vice 1000 years apart.

The early creeds would have worded it this way because Jesus clearly teaches his coming as a single event throughout the gospels.

Personally, this hints (albeit very strongly)that premillennialism was far from the majority view and that the ecumenical creeds reflect the dominate view of the times. said...

Seth McBee:

I have read the article. I know that Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Papius have been mentioned as "early church fathers." My question is, does the term "early church fathers" go back to the beginning to include apostles such as Peter, Paul, James, and John in addition to Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Papius, etc.? This question is important because the article by Martin R. Bachicha starts with the question, "Weren't the Early Church Fathers Premillennialists?" I want to know if the term "early church fathers" in this question is all-inclusive to include the original apostles and all those who wrote the New Testament in addition to Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Papius.

If the term "early church fathers" includes the original apostles, I think it can be shown from the Bible that the teaching of the original apostles is that Christ will return and rule the earth for 1,000 years. At His coming, the saints will be raised immortal and reign with Christ ruling the nations. At the end of the 1,000 years there will be a general resurrection of all the dead as described in Ezekiel chapter 37, and salvation will be opened to them for the first time. At no time will the saints be at God's throne in heaven.

But if the term "early church fathers" only includes men like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Papius, and those who lived AFTER the original apostles, then I can understand that the conclusion of this article is not necessarily wrong. It is simply a description of the error the church had fallen into shortly after 70 AD. I can well accept the idea the that majority who claimed to be Christian after the time of the original apostles believed in amillennialism, even though amillennialism is wrong and unbiblical. This is an interesting bit of history, but has nothing to do with true doctrine.

I noticed that the article quoted several sources and referenced Bible scriptures, but the Bible verses referenced do not support what the quoted sources say. And the article did not quote the Bible.

The mainstream, traditional Christian churches today believe and practice a set of doctrines very different from what the Bible teaches, and the doctrinal errors believed and practiced today are generally not of recent origin. A falling away had begin even while the apostle John was still alive and the falling away increased after he died. Those who wrote in the second century onward are not reliable sources of true doctrine.

So my question about the meaning of "early church fathers" is key to the meaning of this post and the article. If it includes the apostles, then by saying or implying that the early church fathers did not believe in premillennialism, the article is saying that premillennialism was not believed by the apostles and is therefore wrong (I think you would agree that Peter, Paul, John, James, Matthew, Mark, and Luke had a correct understanding of true doctrine, so if they held beliefs incompatible with premillennialism, then premillennialism is wrong). On the other hand, if term "early church fathers" EXCLUDES the original apostles and New Testament writers and only includes those who came after, then the article is neutral in regards to whether premillennialism is right or wrong and is only showing that historically those who came after the apostles did not believe it themslves.

Darlene said...


Excellent article! Me thinks you might be persuaded to become Orthodox before too long. :)

While I was never a dispensatonalist, it was through reading the early Fathers, those who were martyred for their faith in Christ, that I became drawn to Orthodoxy. Now I am a Cathecumen waiting for the day when I will be chrismated into the Church.

Christ's blessings to you.


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