Recently, Grant Jeffrey [and a few other pre-tribbers] have produced a translation of a document reportedly written by Ephraem of Syria in the fourth century. This document contains a statement that Jeffrey claims is a clear reference to a pre-trib rapture. Jeffrey is demanding that post-tribulationists, in future printings of their books, recant their often stated theme, that post- tribulationism is ancient and pre-tribulationism is modern. He writes; "A number of these [posttrib] authors will have to drastically revise the next edition of their books based on the discovery of new pretribulation rapture texts from the writings of the early church." His conclusion is as follows.
"I believe Ephraem the Syrian's A.D. 373 manuscript, On the Last Times, the Antichrist and the End of the World, fully meets the challenge of Dr. William Bell and Rev. John Bray's $500.00 challenge. This new evidence clearly refutes the dogmatic declarations of many that there is no evidence that anyone ever taught the pretribulation rapture before A.D. 1830. The biblical truth of the glorious rapture of the church prior to the Tribulation was definitely taught in the early church. As I have shared in my earlier books, the truth of the pretribulation rapture is supported by the clear insistence on the imminent return of our Lord found throughout the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. In addition, as I pointed out in my Apocalypse book, the apocalyptic fourth vision of The Shepherd of Hermas from A.D. 110 declared that the elect will escape the Great Tribulation. This finding of the pretribulation rapture in Ephraem's writings illustrates that the biblical truth of God's blessed hope and deliverance of the saints was upheld by a remnant of the faithful from the beginning of the church until today." [When the Trumpet Sounds, pg. 125]
Apparently Grant Jeffrey is quite confident he has found the smoking gun. But he also claimed the Shepherd of Hermas teaches a pre-trib rapture. As we saw earlier, this is clearly a misrepresentation. And, we have demonstrated that the early Church did not believe in an imminent rapture, as Jeffrey claims. So far, Jeffrey has grossly overstated his evidence. It is clear, from Grant Jeffrey's own words, that he was determined to find evidence of pre-tribulationism in the early Church no matter what. He writes, "Over the last decade I came to the conclusion that the pretribulation rapture is taught so clearly in the New Testament that it is virtually impossible that no one ever taught this doctrine in the 18 centuries before 1830." [pg. 108]. Usually, someone that determined to find his "evidence" will eventually find it.
The quotation Jeffrey refers to is from a document called "Pseudo-Ephraem," because scholars doubt it is genuinely from the hand of Ephraem of Syria, in the fourth century. When Jeffrey dates his quote as A.D. 373, he is assuming the document is genuinely Ephraem's. This is highly doubtful. Here is the quotation he provides.
"For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins."
This quote, even if not from Ephraem of Syria, seems impressive on the surface. But before we accept it as proof that pre-tribulationism was taught before the 18th century, we need to consider some important facts.
First, a well respected scholar, Dr. Robert H. Gundry, chairman of the Department of Religious studies at Westmont College, has recently authored a book entitled, "First the Antichrist." On pages 161 -188, he gives several other quotes from Ephraem which show conclusively that Ephraem believed the trumpet sound, and resurrection and translation of believers would occur after the tribulation. So, this alleged pre-trib statement, if it is indeed such, would directly contradict Ephraem's other statements.
Secondly, the sentence before and the sentence following this alleged pre-trib statement shed additional light on the passage.
"See to it that this sentence be not fulfilled among you of the prophet who declares: "Woe to those who desire to see the Day of the Lord!" Because all saints and the elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins. And so, brothers, most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of the world comes to the harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their hands, awaiting the empire of the Lord."
If this passage does indeed teach a pre-trib rapture, two things are required. First, it must be shown what Ephraem means by the word "tribulation." This is vitally important because this word is not a technical term referring to the seventieth week in the Scriptures. It has come to mean this in modern times. We refer to the time of Antichrist as "the Tribulation." This was not the case with the biblical writers.
The word "tribulation" [Greek - "thlipsis"] appears some 44 times in the New Testament. Of those, only five are referring to what we call "The Tribulation." See: Matt. 24:21,29, Mark 13:19, 24, & Rev. 7:14.
In the Church Fathers we also find the common use of this word without referring to Daniel's 70th week. Occasionally they use the term, "tribulation," or "great tribulation," as Jesus did in Matthew twenty-four. This, however, does not refer to the period of time, but to the intense trouble. Usually they use other terms like "the times of Antichrist," to refer to the period of time we call "the Tribulation." [In fact Pseudo Ephraem used the term "time of Antichrist" eight paragraphs later.] The word "tribulation" simply means trouble or distress. It certainly could refer to the trouble of the seventieth week, but we must not take this for granted. But if not the seventieth week, then what could it mean? The answer is found in the preceding sentence. Ephraem cautions believers by quoting Amos.
"Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light. [Amos 5:18]
Then he says: "Because all saints and elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is about to come..." Clearly he is claiming that the Lord will rescue believers just before judgment falls on the Day of the Lord. In order to be sure what the author is saying, it is also crucial that we know what he believed the "Day of the Lord" was. Post-tribulationists say the Day of the Lord is the day of the second coming after the seventieth week when Christ defeats the Antichrist at the final battle. Pre-tribulationists claim the Day of the Lord includes the entire seventieth week. If the author of Pseudo-Ephraem believed the Day of the Lord included the seventieth week, and, if he used the word "tribulation" in a technical sense referring to the seventieth week, then he indeed believed in a pre-trib rapture. But, if he believed the Day of the Lord was at the end of the seventieth week, and if he used the word "tribulation" as simply meaning "distress," as it is normally used in the Bible and other writings of the Church Fathers, then he was not teaching a pre-trib rapture at all. He was saying Christians would be caught up just before the Day of the Lord [the battle of Armageddon] and would be spared the distress [tribulation] associated with it.
The Scriptures teach that the Day of the Lord is after the tribulation. [ Click here for the article "The Day of the Lord."] All of the Church Fathers who touched on the timing of the Day of the Lord, also believed it followed the seventieth week. [ Click here for quotes from the early Church Fathers regarding the Day of the Lord.]
The Church Fathers uniformly associated the Day of the Lord with the coming of Christ after the seventieth week. It is most likely the author of Pseudo-Ephraem also believed this, since associating the Day of the Lord with the seventieth week is an invention of modern pre-tribulationists. [Even the early pre-tribulationists like Mackintosh, Scofield, Larkin, and Blackstone believed the Day of the Lord followed the seventieth week.] If Ephraem also used the term "tribulation" in a general sense meaning "distress," as was the norm in the Bible as well as the writings of the Church Fathers, then Grant Jeffrey's positive proof turns out to be a dud. Look at the quote from Ephraem again with this in mind.
"See to it that this sentence be not fulfilled among you of the prophet who declares: "Woe to those who desire to see the Day of the Lord!" [The day of Christ's coming at Armageddon to destroy the sinners] Because all saints and the elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation [distress] which is about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world [the bloody battle scene] because of our sins." [Brackets mine]
The point of Ephraem's statement is Christians would be spared the gory sight of the wicked being slaughtered at the battle of Armageddon. Notice again the double emphasis on the word "see."
"See to it that this sentence be not fulfilled among you of the prophet who declares: "Woe to those who desire to see the Day of the Lord!" Because all saints and the elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins."
The sentence following Jeffrey's quotation strongly suggests that the author of Pseudo-Ephraem was still speaking of the last day, the "Day of the Lord."
"And so, brothers, most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of the world comes to the harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their hands, awaiting the empire of the Lord."
It seems the author is identifying the rapture with the harvest at the very end of the world, of which Jesus taught in His parable of the wheat and tares, and in Revelation fourteen. The rapture would be immediately followed by the "empire of the Lord." This is an obvious reference to the Millennial Kingdom. All of this fits snugly with the post-trib position.
It seems to me that the vigorous searching for some hint of pre-tribulationism has caused Grant Jeffrey to project modern concepts into ancient quotations that the author never intended. One out-of-context quote does not establish a belief in a pre-trib rapture, especially in the face of other quotes from Ephraem which show a belief in a post-trib rapture.
Even if it could be proven that this document is genuinely from Ephraem of Syria, and that he was pre-trib, at best it would only show that pre-tribulationism was developed earlier than previously thought, in the 4th century, at the earliest. It still does not damage the main post-trib historical argument. Christians living in the first few centuries of Christianity were unanimously post-trib. And, this fact speaks directly to the question of what the Apostles, including Paul, actually taught.
Grant Jeffrey, on page 91 of his book, "Apocalypse," gives another quotation he says comes from "Lactantius' Commentary on the Apocalypse." He then proceeds to quote the very same passage he had previously attributed to "Victorinus' Commentary on the Apocalypse." I don't know how this mistake was made, but, Lactantius did not write a commentary on Revelation. One might suspect that this was just an editing error. But, Jeffrey makes another major blunder, by listing the "Didache" on page 87, and his quote from it, and then a few pages later, listing "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," and the very same quote again. These are exactly the same document. [The word "Didache" is the Greek word for "Teaching" and is the short name for "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles"]. Jeffrey quotes the same passage a second time, as though it added more to his pile of evidence. Are these simply editing errors? Or, is there something more going on here?
What can we say in conclusion, regarding all of this alleged evidence? I think it is fairly obvious to the unbiased reader, that Grant Jeffrey has injected his own ideas into the writings of the Church Fathers. Consider his statement in the book, "When the Trumpet Sounds."
"Over the last decade I came to the conclusion that the pretribulation rapture is taught so clearly in the New Testament that it is virtually impossible that no one ever taught this doctrine in the 18 centuries before 1830." [When the Trumpet Sounds, pg. 108].
I don't know about you, but it looks to me like Grant Jeffrey has manufactured his own evidence. At best, we could say his work in this area is heavily biased. At worst, it is downright fraudulent.
I encourage the reader, who is confused by all the claims and counter claims, to obtain a copy of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and read these authors for yourself. You can look up the quotes being used, and read them in their larger context. This is the only way to really get a feel for their perspective
İRon Wallace, http://www.biblefragrances.com.
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