In Search Of The Origins Of The PreWrath Doctrine
Part 2: Rosenthal, Van Kampen And The Early Church Fathers?
By Ed Tarkowski

There are in the Church today "new revelations" as it heads off into apostasy through a restoration of apostles and prophets. I say that to bring to mind that this is a time for new things. "New" revelations - it would be almost impossible to count them, yet they are dangerous to the Christian unless they can be shown to be supported Biblically throughout the history of the Church. To me, PreWrath is new, and that means it needs checking over. It certainly isn't in the class of Toronto which has brought all types of weirdness into the Church, but it is new and that is bothersome. How often have we heard it said that God has delivered into the hands of the Church in Paul's day the faith He would have us contend for, once for all.

This leads to another question that I have not found a satisfactory answer to. My questions are pretty much what Rosenthal stated in his book, "The Prewrath Rapture of the Church":

"Perhaps at this point an important question must be answered. If the thesis of this book is correct; if the church is to be raptured prewrath, at the opening of the seventh seal and, therefore, sometime within the second half of the seventieth week of Daniel, why has this position never been enunciated before? Why, only after more than nineteen hundred years into the church age, does this view appear on the scene? Is it simply a new and fanciful position set forth by an extremist? This is a legitimate issue deserving a satisfactory response.

". . . . In no sense is it claimed that the early church believed in a systemized prewrath Rapture as presented in this book. It is asserted, however, that the prewrath Rapture is consistent with what is factually known of the position of the early church" (p. 265).

I, too, believe "this is a legitimate issue deserving a satisfactory response." Yet, I have not heard one as of yet, nor do I see it as "consistent with what is factually known of the position of the early church." Bob Gundry, in his book, "First The Antichrist" (pp 148-149), states,

"Early in the third century Hippolytus wrote,

"'Now concerning the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall on the church from the enemy [he has been speaking about the Antichrist and about the Antichrist's persecution of the saints and continues in the same vein]. . . . That refers to the 1,260 days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the church (Treatise on Christ and the Antichrist 60-61).'

"Then in chapters 62-67 Hippolytus quoted biblical passages extensively that describe the tribulation and Jesus' subsequent return (Daniel 11-12; Matthew 24; Luke 21; 2 Thessalonians 2; Revelation 20), tied these passages to the future experiences of the church, and equated the return with Paul's description of the church's rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4."

This early church quote clearly states that the church is to go through the full 1,260 days of the last half of Daniel's 70th week. Read Gundry's comments in the context of this important point:

"Now concerning the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall on the church . . . . That refers to the 1,260 days during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the church."

Rosenthal didn't refute these statements, but instead says Prewrath is "consistent with what is factually known of the position of the early church." No, it is not. In his book, "The Sign" (pp. 447-451), Van Kampen also quotes Hippolytus as Gundry quoted the early Church Father above, and he, too, is not consistent with this early Church Father. He prefaces his quoting Hippolytus with these words:

"The term POSTTRIBULATIONAL was never used in the early church simply because there was no Pretribulational or other view [including Prewrath as it differs from Posttribulationalism-Ed] from which it needed to be distinguished."

Something, then, has happened between then and now because Prewrathers are now saying that the early Church basically believed in Prewrath without naming it that while actually sounding like he is defending Posttrib. Read it carefully again. But, Hippolytus quote shows,

  1. Posttribulationism was the view of the early Church, whether it was called anything or not

  2. Prewrath has vital differences in its doctrine and it was not, by Hippolytus quote, the doctrine of the early Church

Van Kampen then goes on to say,

"But the fact is that the vast majority of the early church Fathers believed that the end-time church would go through Antichrist's persecution. That also is the basic tenet of the prewrath position."

It's also the basic tenet of the Posttrib position, but not in the same way. The early church believed we would go ALL THE WAY THROUGH the tribulation and that the tribulation ended on the last day of Daniel's 70th week, where prewrath does not. It proposes that the Great tribulation ends 6 months to 1-1/2 years before the end of the week. This is a crucial point and will be when the time arrives to go through that period of persecution. This, to me, is a dishonest statement, purposeful or not, and the reason I say that is because of what Van Kampen says next:

"The prewrath view SIMPLY EXPANDS on the position of the early church fathers by showing that Christ's Day-of-the-Lord judgment (the seventh seal), which immediately follows the Rapture, will cut short the great tribulation by Antichrist before the conclusion of the seventieth week of Daniel."

No, this ISN'T EXPANDING ON the belief of the early Church Fathers - IT IS CHANGING IT:

  1. The early church believed we would go all the way through the tribulation period to the end of Daniel's 70th week and there be raptured

  2. Prewrath adherents believe the Rapture will occur 6 months to a year and a half before the end of Daniel's 70th week.

Van Kampen then goes on to quote Hippolytus and others from Gundry's book. It must be remembered that many of the quotes of the early Church Fathers could be taken as both Prewrath or Posttrib. But some of them cannot be, being Posttrib in content, such as Hippolytus. There is no record of any of these early Church saints indicating that we would be raptured at a time that was quite distant from the end of Daniel's 70th week. This fact adds weight to some other quotes from the early Church that would point strongly to a Posttrib belief, though unnamed Posttrib at the time because it was the only doctrine concerning the Church and the tribulation. For instance, Tertullian wrote:

"That the beast Antichrist with his false prophet may wage war on the Church of God. . . . Since, then, the Scriptures both indicate the stages of the last times, and concentrate the harvest of the Christian hope in the very end of the world" (On Resurrrection of the Flesh, xxv; cf. Scorpiace, xii).

I don't believe the PHRASE "in the VERY END of the world" can legitimately be taken as 6 months to a year and a half before the end of Daniel's week. If you read all the quotes from the early Church Fathers, there is absolutely nothing in them that points to a Prewrath doctrine alone. Posttrib, yes - Prewrath, no. They are different doctrines, with Prewrath being sort of a souped-up Pretrib belief system that wants to attach itself to Posttrib while discrediting it to give itself legitimacy. In spite of the early Church Fathers NOT writing down ANY TERMINOLOGY supporting Prewrath, but only supporting Posttrib, these things are ignored. But, in spite of this witness, Prewrath goes on as though it was a legitimate belief in the early Church. Here are some examples of such quotes by Prewrathers Van Kampen and Rosenthal. Quoting Posttriber Gundry from his book, "The Church and the Tribulation," Van Kampen quotes Gundry as saying,

"'the antiquity of a view weighs in its favor, especially when that antiquity reaches back to the apostolic age. For those who received their doctrine first-hand from the apostles and from those who heard them stood in a better position to judge what was apostolic doctrine than we who are many centuries removed'" (p. 172).

Van Kampen then, a paragraph later, goes to comment on Gundry's statement in defense of those questioning the newness of the Prewrath doctrine:

". . . . The basic answer is that, far from [Prewrath] being a new position, it was rather the position of the early church and of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (the most eminent orthodox leaders of the church from the end of the apostolic age until the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325). The only thing new about the prewrath position is its name, which it is given only to avoid being confused with the other positions" (pp. 447-448).

Van Kampen's last sentence in that quote wiped out Posttribulationism as a legitimate belief and replaced it with Prewrath as a viable doctrine supported by the early church. It was not, though reading these paragraphs might tend to make one think it was if the subtleties of it aren't acknowledged. On page 448, Van Kampen goes on quoting Gundry as "Gundry gives more further helpful information." But Gundry is giving helpful information in support of Posttribulationism, not Prewrath, but Van Kampen treats this as though what Gundry is saying is in support of Prewrath. Gundry is not doing that at all. In fact, when Gundry wrote his book in the 1970s, Prewrath didn't even exist. It is a "new thing" that came into the Church in the early 1990s.

Rosenthal does just about the same thing regarding the early Church fathers. On page 266 of his book, he says,

". . . it must be remembered that no view of the Rapture can be said to be ancient with age and, thus, able to claim antiquity as support of its orthodoxy."

From what I can see, that just isn't true.