Kenneth Gentry

Developer of a new postmillennial preterism
Kenneth Gentry grew up in a dispensational Christian environment in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which included a high school youth group led by Kay Author. Ken graduated from Tennessee Temple College in his hometown and then went off to a dispensational Seminary in Indiana, known as Grace Theological Seminary. It was at Grace that he got involved in Reformed Theology and moved away from dispensationalism, first to amillennialism, which put him on the road to eventually becoming a postmillennial preterist. After two years, he left Grace and transferred to Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi where he finished his Master of Divinity. While at Reformed, he came under the influence of the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen and was discipled into the Christian reconstruction movement, from which he gleaned and developed his postmillennial preterism. A number of other reconstructionists were also students at Reformed Seminary during this time and they also became advocates of postmillennial preterism under Dr. Bahnsen’s tutelage. They include: Gary DeMar, the late David Chilton, and James Jordan.

Upon graduation, Ken became a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) serving a couple congregations in the South, while continuing his education at Whitefield Theological Seminary in Florida from where he earned his Th. M. and Th. D. He wrote his doctorial dissertation on the date of the Book of Revelation, which has been published as Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (American Vision, [1989] 1998). It is in this work that he argues for an early date (pre-A.D. 70) of the giving of the Book of Revelation to the Apostle John. This is a necessary component for the preterist theory. In the last decade, Dr. Gentry has moved to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and is now Dean of Faculty and Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Classical College in Elkton, Maryland.

Dr. Gentry has developed into an advocate for both postmillennialism and preterism. While Dr. Gentry is concerned for both postmillennialism and preterism, the latter has become the hotter issue within evangelicalism. Works by Dr. Gentry include the following: He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology (Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), The Beast of Revelation (American Vision, [1989] 2002), Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil (Covenant Media Press, 1999).

There are three different views of the millennium (the 1,000 years of Christ’s rule): Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism. Postmillennialism, according to Gentry is a system of eschatology which believes that the millennial kingdom began during Christ’s first coming and has continued for the past 2,000 years. He believes that the church has replaced Israel, whom God divorced. Gentry believes that the fundamental nature of this kingdom we now live in is spiritual rather than physical and that Christ reigns mediatorially through His people. Over time, he believes that a majority of people will be converted to Christ and they will gradually transform society into the kingdom of Christ, without His personal presence on earth. Once this has been achieved, then there will be a long period where righteousness will abound, wars will cease, and prosperity and safety will flourish. At the end of this extended period, earth history will be brought to an end with the personal, visible bodily return of Jesus Christ and His judgment of mankind (Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 169-73).

Since the focus of this article is upon Dr. Gentry’s preterism, let me just say that postmillennialism is wrong because of its allegorical hermeneutic, replacement theology, and confusion of the current church age with the millennium. Further, a natural, proper reading of the Book of Revelation, even though it uses symbols, has Christ returning physically in Revelation 19:11-21, just like He said in Acts 1:9-11, and then setting up His 1,000 year reign upon planet earth upon that return. Simply put, premillennialism is true rendering postmillennialism biblically impossible because the events of Revelation 19 (Christ’s return) will occur before the events of Revelation 20 (the millennium).

Perhaps the best way to understand the preterist approach to prophecy is to see it in relation to the other possible interpretative systems of prophecy. Simply put, the approaches are the only four possible ways to relate to time: past, present, future, and timeless. These are known as Preterism (past), Historicism (present), Futurism (future), and Idealism (timeless). Preterism is defined by Dr. Gentry as follows:

The term “preterism” is based on the Latin preter, which means “past.” Preterism refers to that understanding of certain eschatological passages which holds that they have already come to fulfillment. . . .The preterist approach teaches, for instance, that many of the prophecies of Revelation and the first portion of the Olivet Discourse have already been fulfilled. Matthew 24:1-34 (and parallels) in the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In Revelation, most of the prophecies before Revelation 20 find fulfillment in the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). (Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, p. 159)

Fellow preterist, Gary DeMar says, “A preterist is someone who believes that certain prophecies have been fulfilled, that is, their fulfillment is in the past.” (Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, (American Vision, 1999), p. viii.) Thus, a preterist interpretation of a given prophecy would attempt to explain it as an event that has already taken place in the past. Preterists are those who believe that the future is in the past. As noted above, Dr. Gentry (along with all preterists) believes that Christ’s Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), and virtually the entire Book of Revelation, were fulfilled through events leading up to and including the destruction by the Romans of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70. Dr. Gentry says the following about Matthew 24:34:We must recognize that a simple reading of Matthew 24:34 provides an unambiguous assertion that all of the things Christ the Great Prophet mentioned up to this point–;i.e., in verses 4 through 34–were to occur in the very generation of the original disciples: . . . The phrase “this generation” his is identical to the “this generation” phrase of Matthew 23:36. . . . The woes He had just pronounced on the cannot be catapulted 2000 years into the future. . . . the whole impetus to this discourse is Christ’s reference to the destruction of the historical Temple to which the disciples pointed . . . Just as surely as fig leaves indicate approaching summer (24:32), so do the events of Matthew 24:4ff signify the destruction of the Temple. (Kenneth Gentry, “Dispensationalism As a Non-Prophet Movement,” Dispensationalism in Transition, Vol. V, No. 5; May 1992, p. 1.)

Dr. Gentry begins his argument for a first century fulfillment of Revelation by noting its similarity to the Olivet Discourse.It is an interesting fact noted by a number of commentators that John’s Gospel is the only Gospel that does not contain the Olivet Discourse, and that it would seem John’s Revelation served as His exposition of the Discourse. (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 130).If, as seems likely, Revelation is indeed John’s exposition of the Olivet Discourse, we must remember that in the delivery of the Discourse the Lord emphasized that it focused on Israel (Matt. 24:1,2, 15-16; cp. Matt. 23:32ff.) and was to occur in His generation (Matt. 24:34). (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 131)

Thus, since preterists believe that there is a parallel between what is taught in the Olivet Discourse and Revelation (I agree that both refer to the same events), they naturally would have to believe that Revelation was fulfilled in the first century (I disagree that either has been fulfilled).”One of the most helpful interpretive clues in Revelation is . . . the contemporary expectation of the author regarding the fulfillment of the prophecies. John clearly expects the soon fulfillment of his prophecy,” (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 133) says Gentry.

Preterist declare that every use of “this generation” always refers to Christ’s contemporaries, therefore, Matthew 24:34 must refer to the first century. But how do we know that almost all of the other New Testament uses of “this generation” refer to Christ’s contemporaries? We learn this by going and examining how each is used in their context. For example, Mark 8:12 says, “And sighing deeply in His spirit [Jesus is speaking], He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.” Why do we conclude that “this generation,” in this passage refers to Christ’s contemporaries? We know this because the referent in this passage is to Christ’s contemporaries, who were seeking for a sign from Jesus. Thus, it refers to Christ’s contemporaries, because of the controlling factor of the immediate context.When interpreting the Bible you cannot just say, as Gary DeMar and many preterists do, that because something means X . . . Y . . . Z in other passages that it has to mean that in a given verse. NO! You must make your determination from the passage under discussion and how it is used in that particular context. Context is the most important factor in determining the exact meaning or referent under discussion. That is how one is able to realize that most the other uses of “this generation” refer to Christ’s contemporaries.

Matthew 23:36 says, “Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.” To whom does “this generation” refer? In this context, “this generation” refers to Christ’s contemporaries because of contextual support. “This generation” is governed or controlled grammatically by the phrase “all these things.” All these things refer to the judgments that Christ pronounces in Matthew 22-23. So we should be seeing that in each instance of “this generation,” the use is determined by what it modifies in its immediate context. The scope of use of every occurrence of this generation is determined in the same way.

The same is true for Hebrews 3:10, which says, “Therefore I was angry with this generation.” “This generation” is governed or controlled grammatically by the contextual reference to those who wandered in the wilderness for forty years during the Exodus.

Now why does “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 (see also Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32), not refer to Christ’s contemporaries? Because the governing referent to “this generation” is “all these things.” Since Jesus is giving an extended prophetic discourse of future events, one must first determine the nature of “all these things” prophesied in verses 4 through 31 to know what generation Christ is referencing. Since “all these things” did not take place in the first century then the generation that Christ speaks of must be future. Christ is saying that the generation that sees “all these things” occur will not cease to exist until all the events of the future tribulation are literally fulfilled. Frankly, this is both a literal interpretation and one that was not fulfilled in the first century. Christ is not ultimately speaking to His contemporaries, but to the generation to whom the signs of Matthew 24 will become evident. Dr. Darrell Bock, in commenting on the parallel passage to Matthew 24 in Luke’s Gospel concurs:What Jesus is saying is that the generation that sees the beginning of the end, also sees its end. When the signs come, they will proceed quickly; they will not drag on for many generations. It will happen within a generation. . . . The tradition reflected in Revelation shows that the consummation comes very quickly once it comes. . . . Nonetheless, in the discourse’s prophetic context, the remark comes after making comments about the nearness of the end to certain signs. As such it is the issue of the signs that controls the passage’s force, making this view likely. If this view is correct, Jesus says that when the signs of the beginning of the end come, then the end will come relatively quickly, within a generation. (Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), pp. 1691-92.)

The whole preterist argument goes up in smoke since they have reversed the interpretative process by declaring first that “this generation” has to refer to Christ’s contemporaries, thus all these things had to be fulfilled in the first century. When one points out that various passages in Matthew 24 were not fulfilled, preterists merely repeat their mantra of “this generation,” so that all these things had to be fulfilled in the first century. Bible teacher, Charles Clough explains things as follows:Let’s think about pronouns like “this/these” and “that/those”, especially as used in eschatological texts. Pronouns substitute for object-nouns previously mentioned or implied in the context. Demonstrative pronouns help locate where the object is within the speaker’s perspective. “This” points out an object that is visualized as nearby to the speaker; “that” points out an object that is visualized as further away from the speaker. By carefully observing which demonstrative a speaker uses, the listener can learn where the speaker locates himself relative to the objects that are spoken of. Everyday speech as well as the objects that are spoken of. Eschatological texts are no exception.Experienced readers of OT prophecy know that such a shifting back-and-forth between a present-centered perspective and a future-centered one is common in eschatological passages. Readers repeatedly observe shifts in temporal viewpoint from the present to the future then back to the present as in Psalm 2 and many other places. In Isaiah 12, for another example, the text speaks of a future time as “that day” (12:4), a day located further away from the speaker. It shows that the speaker visualizes himself as in the present looking into the future. The text then, however, shows that the speaker has moved into the future and now speaks about saving works of the Lord as nearby in his perspective (“Let this be known . . .”).

Preterists think that Jesus throughout all of His discourse in Matthew 24 never moves away from a present-centered perspective. In such a perspective “this” and “these” would refer to things present and “that” and “those” would refer to things in the future. Indeed, Jesus has this present-centered perspective when speaking of the future time of his coming. He uses “that” and “those” in such expressions as “those days” and “that hour” (24:19, 22, 29, 36). He also speaks of the past flood of Noah as “those days” (24:38). The objects Jesus speaks about are remote to His vantage point in the present.

However, when He speaks of specific events in that future time (wars, famines, earthquakes, astronomical catastrophism), He uses the demonstrative pronoun “these” (24:8, 33) indicating that in His perspective the prophesied phenomena are now in the foreground. No longer is He standing in the present looking into the future. Now He stands in the future looking at its feature “close up”. He focuses upon these future works of God as though He and his audience are there in that future time looking at them as they occur. And it is while He has this future-centered perspective looking at these feature close up, that He utters the sentence “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (24:34). In this context it is clear that “this generation” belongs in the same visualized foreground as the events themselves. The generation Jesus has in mind is the generation who get to see these Tribulation judgments. Thus He uses the near demonstrative pronouns “this” and “these” that tie both the objects viewed and the viewers together in that same future time. If He had meant to say what the preterists think He is saying, He would have remained in the present-centered perspective, looking into the future and uttering something like this: “This generation will not pass away until all those things take place.” (Notes from a Bible class by Charles Clough of Bel Air, MD, privately printed.)

We are beginning to see that Dr. Gentry”s error known as preterism is based upon the misinterpretations of a few key passages. While Matthew 24:34 and the phrase “this generation” is their central passage, their dependence upon the so-called “time text” of Revelation becomes important in their attempts to “preterize” most of end-time Bible prophecy. Thus, the term “quickly” becomes the basis for their insistence that the Book of Revelation was fulfilled in the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem.What Bible verses do preterists appeal to in an effort to support their understanding of Revelation? “One of the most helpful interpretive clues in Revelation is . . . the contemporary expectation of the author regarding the fulfillment of the prophecies. John clearly expects the soon fulfillment of his prophecy” (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 133), says Dr. Gentry. I hope to show that these terms are more properly interpreted as qualitative indicators describing how Christ will return. How will He return?; it will be “quickly” or “suddenly.”

A form of the Greek word for “quickly” (t-chos) is used eight times in Revelation (1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6; 22:7; 22:12; 22:20). t-chos and its family of related words can be used to mean “soon” or “shortly” as preterists believe (relating to time), or it can be used to mean “quickly” or “suddenly” as many futurists contend (manner in which action occurs). The t-chos family is attested in the Bible as referring to both possibilities. On the one hand, 1 Timothy 3:14 is a timing passage, “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long.” On the other hand, Acts 22:18 is descriptive of the manner in which the action takes place, “and I saw Him saying to me, “Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.””

The “timing interpretation” of the preterists teaches that the t-chos word family used in Revelation (1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6, 7, 12, 20) means that Christ came in judgment upon Israel through the Roman army in events surrounding the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. But how would the “manner interpretation” of the futurist understand the use of the t-chos family in Revelation? Futurist, Dr. John Walvoord explains:

That which Daniel declared would occur “in the latter days” is here described as “shortly” (Gr., en tachei), that is, “quickly or suddenly coming to pass,” indicating rapidity of execution after the beginning takes place. The idea is not that the event may occur soon, but that when it does, it will be sudden (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Rom. 16:20). A similar word, tachys, is translated “quickly” seven times in Revelation (2:5, 16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). (John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Moody Press, 1966), p. 35.)
Dr. Gentry is correct to note universal agreement among lexicons as to the general meaning of the t-chos word family (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 138), but these lexicographers generally do not support the preterist interpretation. Dr. Gentry”s presentation of the lexical evidence is skewed and thus his conclusions are faulty in his effort to support a preterist interpretation of the t-chos word family. We now turn to an examination of how the t-chos word family is used in Revelation.

Support for the Futurist Interpretation
1. The lexical use. The leading Greek lexicon in our day is Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich (BAG), which lists the following definitions for t-chos: “speed, quickness, swiftness, haste” (p. 814). The two times that this noun appears in Revelation (1:1; 22:6), it is coupled with the preposition en, causing this phrase to function grammatically as an adverb revealing to us the “sudden” manner in which these events will take place (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament (AMG, 1992), s.v. 5034, p. 1148). They will occur “swiftly.” The other word in the t-chos family used in Revelation as an adverb is tach”s, which all six times occurs with the verb “rchomai, “to come” (2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). BAG gives as its meaning “quick, swift, speedy” (p. 814) and specifically classifies all six uses in Revelation as meaning “without delay, quickly, at once” (p. 815). Thus, contrary to the timing assumption of preterists like DeMar and Gentry, who take every occurrence as a reference to timing, BAG (the other lexicons also agree) recommends a translation descriptive of the manner in which things will happen (Rev. 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20).

A descriptive use of t-chos is also supported by the over 60 times it is cited as the prefix making up a compound word according to the mother of all Greek lexicons, Liddell and Scott (p. 1762). G. H. Lang gives the following example:

tachy does not mean soon but swiftly. It indicates rapidity of action, as is well seen in its accurate use in the medical compound tachycardia (tachy and kard”a=the heart), which does not mean that the heart will beat soon, but that it is beating rapidly. Of course, the swift action may take place at the very same time, as in Mt 28:7-8: “Go quickly and tell His disciples . . . and they departed quickly from the tomb”: but the thought is not that they did not loiter, but that their movement was swift. Thus here also. If the Lord be regarded as speaking in the day when John lived, then He did not mean that He was returning soon, but swiftly and suddenly whenever the time should have arrived . . . it is the swiftness of His movement that the word emphasizes. (G. H. Lang, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Selected Studies (Conley & Schoettle, 1945, 1985), pp. 387-88)
2. The grammatical use. Just as BAG is the leading lexicon in our day, the most authoritative Greek grammar is one produced by Blass, Debrunner, and Funk (Blass-Debrunner). Blass-Debrunner, in their section on adverbs, divides them into four categories: 1) adverbs of manner, 2) adverbs of place, 3) adverbs of time, 4) correlative adverbs (pp. 55-57). The t-chos family is used as the major example under the classification of “adverbs of manner.” No example from the t-chos family is listed under “adverbs of time.” In a related citation, Blass-Debrunner classify en t-chei as an example of “manner,” Luke 18:8 (p. 118). Greek scholar Nigel Turner also supports this adverbial sense as meaning “quickly.” (Nigel Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, ed. by James H. Moulton, Vol. III, Syntax (T. & T. Clark, 1963), p. 252)

Not only is there a preponderance of lexical support for understanding the t-chos family as including the notion of “quickly” or “suddenly,” there is the further support that all the occurrences in Revelation are adverbs of manner. These terms are not descriptive of when the events will occur and our Lord will come, but rather, descriptive of the manner in which they will take place when they occur. These adverbial phrases in Revelation can more accurately be translated “that when these events begin, they will take place with “rapid fire” sequence or “speedily.” This is its contextual usage here” (Mal Couch, Gen. Ed., A Bible Handbook To Revelation (Kregel, 2001), p. 200)

3. The Old Testament (LXX) use. It is significant to note that the Septuagint uses t-chos in passages which even by the most conservative estimations could not have occurred for hundreds, even thousands of years. For example, Isaiah 13:22 says, “. . . Her (Israel) fateful time also will soon come. . .” This was written around 700 B.C. foretelling the destruction of Babylon which occurred in 539 B.C. Similarly, Isaiah 5:26 speaks of the manner, not the time frame, by which the Assyrian invasion of Israel “will come with speed swiftly.” Isaiah 51:5 says, “My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait for Me, and for My arm they will wait expectantly.” This passage probably will be fulfilled in the millennium, but no interpreter would place it sooner than Christ’s first coming, at least 700 years after it was given. Isaiah 58:8 speaks of Israel’s recovery as “speedily spring(ing) forth.” If it is a “timing passage,” then the earliest it could have happened is 700 years later, but most likely it has yet to occur. Many other citations in the Septuagint from the t-chos family can be noted in support of the futurist interpretation of the usage in Revelation.

4. The date of Revelation. Dr. Gentry, followed by almost all preterists have to date the writing of Revelation before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. I think this is a very weak view that has been dealt with my Mark Hitchcock’s chapter.

5. A “timing” interpretation would require an A.D. 70 fulfillment of the entire book of Revelation. Revelation 22:6, “And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place.” This is passage #6 from Gary DeMar’s list of “time indicators” for Revelation as noted above. However, Gentry cites Revelation 20:7-9 as a reference to the yet future second coming. (Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 254; 276; 418) This creates a contradiction within Gentry”s brand of preterism. Since Revelation 22:6 is a statement referring to the whole book of Revelation, it would be impossible to take t-chos as a reference to A.D. 70 (as Gentry does) and at the same time hold that Revelation 20:7-9 teaches the second coming. Gentry must either adopt a view similar to futurism or shift to the extreme preterist view that understands the entire book of Revelation as past history and thus eliminating any future second coming and resurrection.

Preterists attempt to create a kind of first century “virtual reality” (Robert L. Thomas, “Theonomy and the Dating of Revelation,” The Master’s Seminary Journal Vol. 5 (Fall 1994), pp. 186-88) in which they use the so-called “time texts” for the purpose of casting the reader of Scripture into a sense that the New Testament eschatology was fulfilled via events surrounding A.D. 70. Robert Thomas explains:

Gentry . . . is a master in using words to take his readers back to the future, i.e., in creating virtual reality that many will not distinguish from reality itself. He does this by stating his “correct” view first, then often following it up with a long list of writers to support that view. This has the effect of blinding the reader on three sides so that he can see only what Gentry wants him to see in front of him. Only after the reader’s exposure to the positive evidence for his view does the author turn to evaluate some of the weaknesses of that viewpoint. By this time, the merits of other viewpoints have become lost in the shuffle (Thomas, “Dating of Revelation,” p. 187).
Preterism rises and falls upon the validity of their so-called “time texts.” Once they have confidently asserted that they are related to A.D. 70, they use that starting point to expand their preterist framework, until it has swallowed up the entire New Testament. However, I have shown that their starting point the time texts is false. Since it is false at their own prescribed starting point, it does not make any sense at all to preterize the other New Testament passages to which they normally desire to extend their understanding. If the infection is stopped at its source, then there is no danger of the gang green spreading throughout the rest of the body. Hopefully, those who have been captured by the false reality of preterism will take a more sober look at the wonderful future plan that our Lord has in store for all of His people. Maranatha!