In Search Of The Origins Of The Pretrib Doctrine:
Part 4: The Birth Of The Pretribulation Doctrine In The 1800s

Before getting into this chapter, an important statement has to be made concerning Futurism. Historism believes that the Antichrist and all that surrounds his appearing develops throughout history all the way to when Christ returns at the end of the age. This was the viewpoint of the Reformers who applied these prophecies directly to the pope and Rome. A Counter Reformation was implemented through the Jesuits of the Middle Ages that countered Historism's prophetic view with one called "Jesuit Futurism." This view as introduced by the Jesuits stipulated that prophecies concerning the appearing of Antichrist had nothing at all do with Papal Rome of that time, but with the man of sin's appearance at the end of the age. This, actually, was the viewpoint of the early Church, though it must be taken into consideration that the Catholic Church had not yet come into existence.

The point to made here is this: the early Church fathers, as shown in Part 2, held to Futurism, but not for the purpose the Jesuits developed it, which has been called "Jesuit Futurism." The early Church fathers promoted Futurism because that is what the Scriptures said. Futurists today do not negate the probability that Rome and its pope will indeed have something to do with the appearance of the endtimes. More and more it appears Rome will have a part in the last days, and Christians today are watching and praying as we draw near to the time of Antichrist's coming on the scene. The Catholic system and pope is certainly a major player in what will be manifested in the few short years ahead.

Because of the Historical view of prophecy from the Middle Ages up to the Reformation, a series of writings by various authors were published to counter the Historic view of prophecy. These books were written from a Futurist point of view to take Rome out of the fire regarding the pope at that time being the Antichrist. They were not written because of a desire to return to the doctrine of Futurism held by the early Church.

JESUIT Priest and Doctor of Theology

The Spanish Ribera was a Jesuit, a doctor of theology, who started writing (1585) a 500 page commentary on the book of Revelation six years before his death (1591). The commentary was written from an Historic viewpoint because of the belief that Catholicism and its pope were the Antichrist system and the Antichrist himself. It was that the heat would be taken off of the Catholic Church as a candidate for the Antichrist and his rule. It placed these events into a future period of three-and-a-half years just prior to the return of Christ (this agreed with the teachings of the early Church fathers). The conclusion that was to be drawn from Ribera's commentary, it was hoped, was that the Catholic Church of his time could not, therefore, be the Antichrist system headed by the Pope of Rome. Ribera's commentary would have some influence on those who would eventually put the Pretribulation doctrine together.

In his commentary, Ribera believed that the rapture would occur 45 days before the end of the 3-1/2 year tribulation period (also shades of the future PreWrath doctrine). This was the first time the second coming was split into two separate comings, one for the Church and then one at the end of the age with the raptured Church returning with Christ in wrath.

JESUIT Scholar, the most prominent of his time

Also during this period, acclaimed Jesuit apologist Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, wrote "Polemic Lectures Concerning the Disputed Points of the Christian Belief Against the Heretics of This Time." His purpose in doing so was to refute the Historic theory of figuring Daniel's 1260, 1290 and 2300 days as years, relegating these to actual days, e.g., 1260 days, etc. By doing so, the reign of Antichrist was pushed into a future time and negated Catholicism and its pope as the man of sin and his system during his time.


In a book titled, "Hidden Beast 2," E. H. Skolfield writes this Lacunza:

"There was a Spanish family living in Chili named de Lacunzas. In the year of our Lord, 1731, they had a baby boy. Fifteen years later, the lad was sent to Spain to become a Jesuit priest. Twenty-two years later after that, in 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from Spain because of their brutality. The now Father Manuel de Lacunza y Diaz had to move. He went to Imola, Italy, where he remained for the rest of his life.

"In Imola, he claimed to be a converted Jew. Under the alias of 'Rabbi Ben Ezra' he wrote a book. The title: 'The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty.' In that book he theorized that the church would be 'raptured' (taken up to be with the Lord) some 45 days before the real return of Jesus to the Earth. During that 45 days (while the church was in heaven with the Lord) God would judge the wicked still on earth."

This last sentence shows shades of PreWrath doctrine of today, though that was put together during the 1990s.

Lacunza wrote his manuscript in Spanish and it was published in 1812 under a pseudo-name, Juan Josafa [Rabbi] Ben-Ezra. By doing so, his book would more easily be accepted by Protestantism. This proved true as it was placed on Rome's Index of prohibited books, which only made it sought out by the Protestants.

Lacunza emphasized a return to interpreting prophecy literally from the Futurist viewpoint. He wrote of a future Antichrist and a 1260-day (literal days) tribulation, events just preceding the coming of the Lord. He wrote in opposition to the 'year-day' theory of the Historicists (1260 days = 1260 years). He did not promote a pretribulational rapture of the saints at the future time of the Antichrist. His rapture of the saints occurred 45 days before the end of Daniel's 70th week, probably an influence from Ribera. Lacunza's book would have a dramatic influence on Edward Irving and his formation of the Pretribulation doctrine. It most likely influenced Irving to add another coming of Christ to the one described in Scripture.

BAPTIST Minister

Edwards wrote the earliest paper on the Pretribulation doctrine, using no references to anyone in the past. It was not written as a document to be seriously considered as the following will show:

"The earliest published reference to a pre-tribulation rapture occurred in 1788. Around 1740, a young Baptist named Morgan Edwards wrote an essay for eschatology class on his views of Bible prophecy. This essay was later published in Philadelphia (1788) under the following title: Two Academical Exercises on Subjects Bearing the following Titles; Millennium, Last-Novelties. In the article, Edwards made statements which expounded his views concerning a pre-tribulation gathering of the Church. As far as can be determined, Edwards views concerning a pre-trib rapture gained no notoriety nor was this doctrine given any credence in the Church" (The Fallacy of Rapture Theology as revealed by the Word of God by David Redmond).

Tim Warner gives ample reason why Morgan's writings on a Pretrib rapture were not taken seriously by anybody:

"Even the discovery of Morgan Edwards' book does not eliminate the ghost of Edward Irving for pre-tribbers. There is a clear tracable history back-tracking the development of modern pre-tribulationism through dispensational seminaries (like Dallas Seminary), the Scofield Bible, early pre-trib prophecy conferences, the Plymouth Brethren, J. N. Darby, and finally the Irvingites, and even Margaret MacDonald's visions. However, despite the earlier date (32 years earlier), there is no apparent connection between Morgan Edwards' (1788) "Millennium" book and modern pre-tribulationism. So, if Morgan Edwards' theory did not take hold in some group, or if his book did not fall into the hands of Irving or Darby, then he might as well have developed his theory on Mars! Because, it had no impact at all on modern pre-trib development.

1. Morgan Edwards apparently did not rely on other works. In fact, while he occasionally referred to others, he wrote in opposition to the historicist / a-millennialism of the times. Not once did he refer to another writer to support his rapture theory (although he did appeal to the Church Fathers in support of his literal Millennium). That he considered his theory 'new' and novel, is clear from the verse he chose to put on the title page:

"'May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? for thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: We would know, therefore, what these things mean. ACTS xvii. 19. 20'

"2. The opening statement in his essay indicates his total lack of confidence in his new theory. And, it shows that Morgan was simply writing his essay following the instruction of his professor, to use the LITERAL method in all cases except where that would lead to absurd conclusions. This was contrary to the accepted Protestant way of treating prophecy at the time. Morgan also stated that his following the literal hermeneutic was strictly for this exercise alone, and that he did not wish to be seen as a literalist. In other words, this whole essay was hypothetical!

"'And is it come to my lot to treat of the Millennium, or Christ's thousand years reign on earth? Thousand pities, sir, that you had not allotted the task to one of these older and abler students! But, since it is your pleasure, I will do my possible: and in the attempt will work by a rule you have often recommended, viz. 'to take the scriptures in a literal sense, except when that leads to contradiction or absurdity.' I need say no more to inform you, sir, that I wish to be understood as a minister of the letter only while I treat of the said Millennium. Very able men have already handled the subject in a mystical, or allegorical, or spiritual way: and could I rest satisfied with their sentiments, and deliver them perhaps with applause; as that would show my reading, - and at the same time, free a novice from the affectation of singularity and taking too much upon him, like another son of Levi.'

"His statement, 'I wish to be understood as a minister of the letter only while I treat of the said Millennium,' indicates his apparent discomfort with the literal method he was required to use by his professor! Historicists of his day saw literal interpretation as a 'Jewish' thing. Paul wrote that 'the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.' It was common for a-millennialists to use this verse to justify 'spiritual' interpretation. Hence, Morgan equated literal interpretation with 'the sons of Levi.' Later in the discourse, after apparently months of studying his topic, young Morgan seemed to be much more comfortable with 'literalism.'

"3. Morgan's professor's reaction to his work is very telling. Following is the closing statement of his 'Millennium' essay, followed by his professor's assessment.

"Morgan: 'I wonder, Sir, if your patience be not exhausted with the length, and perhaps, nonsense of my sermon?'

"Professor: 'You finished your discourse with a supposition that the length and nonsense of it had tried my patience. If you used lightness you are to blame. But as I hope you are always in earnest when you study the things of God, I have to assure you that the novelty and ingenuity of your attempt have entertained me not a little. And when you are more master of time than at present, I advise you to study your subject closely, and you will see cause to alter some parts of your plan, and correct errors of others.- You also dropped a hint or two touching the New Heaven and the New Earth, which sounded a little strange. Let us hear what you have to say on those subjects, when it comes your turn to appear in that desk again'" Morgan Edwards and the Pre-Trib Rapture By Tim Warner

It is obvious that the idea of a pretribulation rapture was strange to Edwards and his professor. Why would it be if there really was such a doctrine before this?

ANGLICAN CHURCH Scholar, Lawyer, Librarian

Scholar and Librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Maitland read Lacunza's book and promoted Futurism after 1826. He taught a literal 3-1/2 year tribulation and a personal Antichrist. There are strong indications that Maitland borrowed from both Ribera and Lacunza in his writings. Being the Librarian at Lambeth Palace, London, he found Ribera's book on the shelf and had it reprinted as a matter of public interest.


At the age of 15, Margaret was a member of Edward Irving's congregation and in 1830 had a vision of a Secret Rapture. There is debate whether what she saw depicted a pretrib, partial pretrib, midtrib, or posttrib rapture. I have read it through carefully over and over again and it even sounds posttrib. Personally, I think it is a bunch of demonic gibberish that isn't easy to put a label on. In spite of the confusion now resident amongst researchers, one thing is for sure: the idea of a Secret Coming of Christ as opposed to one final visible coming was introduced through her vision. This is the main point that should be emphasized, regardless of whether it is placed in any scenario. The fact of a secret coming where all the world does not see Him was apparently incorporated into the pretrib doctrine by Edward Irving, who in turn influenced Darby. You can read Macdonald's vision by clicking here or wait to read it as the next section in this series.

PRESBYTRERIAN Minister, later founded CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH (charismatic)

It was Irving who translated Lacunza's work from Spanish into English in 1827, titling his work, "Preliminary Discourse to the Work of Ben Ezra - Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty." He was also affected by Margaret Macdonald's vision, writing the following in a letter to a Mr. Chalmers:

Irving points out in his letter to Chalmers that he felt conviction and reproof concerning her papers, which very likely had the "secret coming" described in them. It is also possible he was affected in this way because of Margaret's emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church as the fire and eye of God in readying the believer for tribulation and meeting Christ face to face. This latter subject of her vision dominates what she saw. Scripturally, the vision raises many questions, let alone trying to decide if it is Pre-, Mid-, Pretrib Partial or Posttrib. Though Irving most likely used the "secret coming" of her vision and the "split second coming" of Lacunza to conclude a pretrib rapture, he also had in his church at this time a restoration of prophecy, tongues and other manifestations. He is known as the father of Pentecostalism because of these manifestations.

As to whether or not Irving used the 45 days of Lacunza and Ribera to, over time, move their rapture of 45 days before the end of the tribulation to a full seven year Pretrib rapture, the following quote would seem to support that idea:

"Because the symbolism of types can be interpreted according to other influences, once sound Biblical hermeneutics are ignored, the interpretation of the feasts varied significantly from year to year. Irvingites shifted the rapture from feast 6 (of Lev 23s 7 feasts) to feast 5, then feast 4 and even feast 3 within the first few years"(2) (Paul Fahy, Understanding Ministries)

According to Bob Gundry, Edward Irving was most likely the first to publicly make the suggestion of a pretribulational rapture of the Church. A minister of the Church of Scotland, he attended the prophetic conferences (1826-1830) held by Henry Drummond at Albury Park, England. When Irving first suggested the secret coming of Christ, the controversial idea split those in attendance into factions.

Iain H. Murray, in The Puritan Hope - A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy, IX. The Eclipse of the Hope, says that it was during Irving's attendance at Albury (1826-1830) that he shared the "secret rapture" before the tribulation with another return at the end of it. He says this was also prevalent in Irving's London congregation.

There are some references in literature of the 1800s stating that the secret coming was never mentioned before Irving started promoting it in its various stages of assemblance. These may not have had knowledge of Macdonald's relating her vision to Irving:

Thomas Croskery (Londonderry, Ireland) - "...this idea of the Lord removing his church secretly...was never heard of till it was proclaimed in one of the delusive utterances of the Irvingites in 1832."(3)

In 1880, William Reid in a book on Brethrenism, wrote that "Edward Irving contributed to the notion of...the secret rapture of the saints."(4)

Irving also the Secret Coming Rapture at the Powerscourt prophecy conferences at Powerscourt Castle in Dublin, Ireland in 1830.

ANGLICAN Minister, later leader in the PLYMOUTH BRETHREN

Darby attended the Powerscourt prophecy conferences in 1830. It was there that he most likely heard about Macdonald's vision of a Secret Rapture promoted by Irving. Irving most likely introduced these ideas which were picked up by Darby, but it was Darby who synthesized the various points of the Pretribulation doctrine over a period of years to bring it to its final form (Irving died in 1834). This did not happen overnight, but it took a period of many years to finalize the doctrine. The doctrine did not find easy acceptance, caused divisions and bred confusion during the years he worked on it. I have read where it was during Darby's visits to Switzerland from 1838 to 1845 he began to pull the doctrine together and share it openly. Years later (1859-1874), Darby would take the message to America where it was readily accepted.

WILLIAM KELLY (1820-1906)

Revised Darby's notes to make it appear that Darby was the one who started the Pretrib doctrine and not Irving. A thorough report can be read in "William Kelly's Journal The Pinnacle of Pre-Trib Pilfering!" By Dave MacPherson.


Based his notes on the writings of J. N. Darby in his 1909 Scofield Reference Bible. By 1930, one million copies were printed and hit the Bible Colleges in America, spreading the Secret Coming doctrine.

The pieces Irving put together for the beginnings of the Pretribulation doctrine came from Ribera, Bellarmine, Lacunza - all Jesuits - and Margaret Macdonald's vision. Most damaging was Macdonald's vision, which was based on an occult experience that injected into the Church a Secret Coming of Jesus for the Church. From the Middle Ages on, many would fall for the false hope of this pieced together doctrine.

(1) Mrs. Oliphant, "The Life of Edward Irving," biography, Hurst and Blackett, London, 1865.
(2) Edward Irving's "Morning Watch."
(3) Dave MacPherson, William Kelly's Journal The Pinnacle of Pre-Trib Pilfering! citing Thomas Croskery, "The Plymouth Brethren," Art. III (The Princeton Review, Jan., 1872), pp. 61-62.
(4) Ibid., citing William Reid, Plymouth Brethrenism Unveiled and Refuted (Edinburgh: Wm. Oliphant & Co., 1880), p. 10.