The wide spread ignorance of Christian history among Christians is the reason this article is necessary. Many have taken advantage of such ignorance to distort the doctrine of the rapture while arguing against it by revising history. One recent example of this is a four and a half hour DVD documentary by Good Fight Ministry entitled, “Left Behind or Led Astray? Examining the Origins of the Secret Pre-Tribulation Rapture.”  Such anti-rapture campaigns have affected Christianity as indicated by recent polls that expressed the younger generation of pastors are avoiding the topic of the rapture either because they don’t believe in it or are not sure about it. In this article the goal is not to establish what the Bible says about the rapture but rather to debunk the false claims that history is silent about the rapture doctrine until the 1800s.

First we will acknowledge the use of the word “rapture” being Latin was used by the Church Fathers. An anonymous author wrote “Five Books in Reply to Marcion” in which probably the earliest use of the Latin word gives us an understanding of what is meant when it is referenced. This author writes in poetic fashion:

Noble Elijah, (memorable facts !)

Was rapt; who hath not tasted yet death’s dues;

Since to the orb he is to come again…

And, in a chariot raised aloft, was borne

To Paradise’s hall…1)Uncertain Author, “Five Books In Reply To Marcion,” Book III:191-194, 206; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 4, p. 154; accessible at http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf04/anf04-30.htm#P4150_726717

 

The editors indicate the word in Latin is “raptus” in the footnote. The quote above reveals the Elijah being “rapt” up to heaven will also return to earth “the orb” as will the saints that are raptured out retun to earth at the second coming of Christ (Jude 1:14; Revelation 19:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:13, etc.)The same text uses the word in reference to Paul’s experience discussed in 2 Corinthians 12.

Him did Paul as well

(Forechosen apostle, and in due time sent)

When rapt into the heavens, behold: and sent…2)Uncertain Author, “Five Books In Reply To Marcion,” Book III:302-304; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 4, p. 155; accessible at http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf04/anf04-30.htm#P4150_726717

 

Around 250 A.D., Cyprian also used the word in reference to Paul “even after his rapture to the third heaven and paradise…”3)Cyprian, “The Epistles of Cyprian,” Epistle V:2; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 5, p. 283; accessible at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050605.htm From the use of the word in early Latin Christian authors, it is clearly meant to be understood as being raised up to heaven, and in the case of Elijah specifically we can know that it was bodily, while Paul himself discussed whether it was “in the body… or out of the body” (2 Corinthians 12:2).

It is obvious that, both Elijah and Enoch experienced the same “rapture” which in the New Testament  refers to as “translated” [μετετθη, μετεθηκεν] “translation” [μεταθεσεως] (Hebrew 11:5) which means “transfer or transport, exchange, change or carry.” Clement of Alexandria Identifies, again, a bodily resurrection in connection with the idea of translation. “Further the Gospel says, that many bodies of those that slept arose,— plainly as having been translated to a better state. There took place, then, a universal movement and translation through the economy of the Saviour.”4)Clement of Alexandria, “Stromata,” Book VI, chap. 6; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 2, p. 491; accessible at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02106.htm)  Here, Clement is obviously speaking of Matthew 27:52-53, and the Scripture give us no clues as to what happened to these risen saints that were seen in Jerusalem. Could Clement have been attempting to express that they were raptured out of the world? The editors add a comment in the footnotes stating, “in connection with John v.25, we may suppose that the opening of the graves, at the passion and resurrection, is an intimation of some sublime mystery, perhaps such as here intimated.”5)The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol.2, p. 491, footnote 5 Paul speaks of the rapture in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 as a “mystery.” An early Christian apocryphal entitled “The Gospel of Nicodemus” relates that two of the dead saints that arose were confronted by Annas and Caiaphas, the high priest, to give an account of what they saw and heard while they were yet dead and in hades. These two men allegedly write their testimony and in the Greek form “they immediately disappeared”6)The Gospel of Nicodemus: Part II.—The Descent of Christ into Hell, (Greek Form)” Chap. 11(27) ; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 8, p. 438; accessible at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/08072a.htm and in the Latin form “being suddenly transfigured, they became exceedingly white, and were seen no more.”7)The Gospel of Nicodemus: Part II.—Christ’s Descent into Hell, (Latin First Form)” Chap. 11(27) The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 8, p. 453; accessible at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/08072b.htm

Concerning Joe Schimmel’s anti-rapture DVD entitled, “Left Behind or Led Astray? Examining the Origins of the Secret Pre-Tribulation Rapture,” Paul Wilkinson wrote a rebuttal of the documentary, saying:

 “Chapter 2 of the DVD is devoted to the teaching of the ‘Church Fathers’ –theologians, apologists and bishops within the Church who rose to prominence after the time of the apostles, and who are venerated as saints by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches. Joe Schimmel asserts that the ‘Church Fathers’ never taught a pretribulation Rapture. Despite admitting that the ‘Church Fathers’ are not authoritative, one of his experts, Joel Richardson, makes the following claim:

“If this [a pre-tribulational Rapture] is what was taught by the Apostles, we would see it in the writings of the early Church writers; it doesn’t exist.”

Following the same line of argument, Jacob Prasch hails Irenaeus (c. 130-202), Bishiop of Lyons, as a “Pivotal figure” due to the fact that he was a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of the Apostle John. Prasch hails Irenaeus as “probably the single most important of the Church Fathers in understanding what the Apostles taught and believed”.8)Paul Wilkinson, “‘Left Behind or Led Astray’ – Exposed,” p. 9-10; accessible at http://www.pre-trib.org/data/pdf/Wilkinson-LeftBehindorLedAstra1.pdf

 

Wilkinson’s rebuttal consisted of a polemic against the Church Fathers teaching of replacement theology in order bring their teachings into disrepute as if this somehow discredits the Church Fathers to a degree that if they did not teach the rapture it is irrelevant. A more suitable argument would be that they did indeed teach the rapture, specifically Irenaeus. Ed Reese writes, “Irenaeus is considered the first writer to deserve the title of theologian, using both the Old Testament and New Testament in building his theology. Irenaeus presented the premillennial view that Christ would return to rapture the church before the tribulation and prior to His triumphant Millennial Rule.”9)Ed Reese, Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies, AMG Publishers (Chattanooga, Tennessee: 2007), p. 12 Irenaeus connects the Scriptural references of Enoch, Elijah, and Paul being raptured and applies it to what will happen in the future with the consummation of all things when the saints will return with Christ.

For Enoch, when he pleased God, was translated in the same body in which he did please Him, thus pointing out by anticipation the translation of the just. Elijah, too, was caught up [when he was yet] in the substance of the [natural] form; thus exhibiting in prophecy the assumption of those who are spiritual, and that nothing stood in the way of their body being translated and caught up. For by means of the very same hands through which they were moulded at the beginning, did they receive this translation and assumption…. Wherefore also the elders who were disciples of the apostles tell us that those who were translated were transferred to that place (for paradise has been prepared for righteous men, such as have the Spirit; in which place also Paul the apostle, when he was caught up, heard words which are unspeakable as regards us in our present condition), and that there shall they who have been translated remain until the consummation [of all things], as a prelude to immortality.10)Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” Book V, Chap. 5; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 1, p. 530-531; accessible at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103505.htm)

 

With this background of Irenaeus’ premises, we can see his later expression of exact wording that is unmistakably teaching a pre-tribulation rapture.

And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.11)Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” Book V, Chap. 29; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 1, p. 558; accessible at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103529.htm

 

Irenaeus also reckon the temple being rebuilt and desecrated by the antichrist as a fulfillment of Daniels prophecy of the abomination of desolation, which is also connected in context with a discussion about the seventieth week prophecy identifying the week as seven years of tribulation 12)Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” Book V, Chap. 225; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 1, p. 553-554; accessible at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103525.htm It is evident that the pre-tribulation rapture was taught by this early Church Father. To claim it was not is to revise history. It is significant that Irenaeus was the first to write with a systematic deduction of theology, for the most part applied proper methods of interpreting scripture, is in a line of succession from Polycarp and the apostle John, while many of the other early Christian authors had more of an influence from Hellenistic thinking. It is true that the teaching of the rapture did not persist as a preeminent doctrine as it has been in our days. However, neither did a literal physical return of Christ remain as a doctrine after the fourth century among the majority of those calling themselves Christians. As the literal interpretation of scriptures began to be rejected, the doctrine of a literal millennial kingdom was denied (a doctrine called “Amillennialism”). For this reason, “when Irenaeus’s tract against heresy was translated into Latin in the early fifth century, the translator omitted the millennium from its text.”13)Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. (New York, NY.: 1986), p. 266 Thus, the influence of this great theologian teachings on the pre-tribulation rapture was all but lost when Latin became the major language for Christianity. As interpretations became more heavily dependent upon allegorical methods, sound doctrine faded away and the heresies or Romanism arose. From Rome’s false gospel, the Reformers broke off; and those who deny the rapture today have more in common with this line of theologians than they do with the earliest authors of the Christian era. Sadly, they reject the Bible for what it plainly teaches and are either ignorant of, or purposely revise history to defend their false doctrines and denial of the rapture.

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