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.
- "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.
- "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.
- "... 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.
 "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]
 House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology, by Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. [Back]
 Tom Albrecht, "Some Questions and Answers on Eschatology," World Wide Web article. [Back]
 Quoted in the article "The Return of Nero" by Gary Stearman, Prophecy in the News, Vol. 16, No. 5, May 1996, p. 6. [Back]
 From Eusebius’ Eccleslastical History, Book 3, Chapter 23. Circa A.D. 324. [Back]
 From Tertullianus, The Writings of Tertullianus, Vol. 3, p. 433. [Back]
 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.
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