Origen was a Preterist!
In this article, we show that the earliest and greatest of the “church fathers” was a confirmed Preterist.
Orthodoxy and the Patristic Writers
Christians today probably are not as familiar with the
“patristic writers” and “church fathers” as men of former ages
were. We do not read early church history or the treasury of
writings that have come down to us as perhaps we should.
We take for granted the apologetic proofs of Christ in
the Old Testament and Psalms that fill so much of their
writings. The issues
that fill their pages seem obscure or irrelevant to our day; the
heresies they wrote about no longer exist and we feel no need to
acquaint ourselves with them.
Hence, we tend to neglect the writings of early church
If there is
an up-side to this, it is that we tend to rely more upon the
Bible as our rule of faith and practice, rather than the example
and precedent of former times.
However, the down-side of not reading the church fathers
is that we lose an important source for defending ourselves and
demonstrating our place in the historical faith of the church.
When men accuse us of being “unorthodox” because we are
Preterists, charging that we have departed from the traditional
teaching of the church, what are we to answer? What if one of
the earliest and greatest church fathers was a Preterist? Would
not that information be useful in answering a charge that
Preterism is heterodox?
Preterists may take heart:
We have just such a witness in Origen.
Who Was Origen?
period following the apostles,
185-254) was born in
writings were voluminous.
His friend and patron, Ambrosius, bore the expense of
seven amanuenses and an equal number of transcribers, as well as
girls practiced in calligraphy, to make copies for publication
of the works dictated by Origen.
Jerome says that he wrote more than any individual could
read. Epiphanius related that his works amounted to 6,000
writings. His magnum opus
was the Hexapala, a critical edition of the Greek and Hebrew
scriptures set in six columns, including versions of the 1)
Hebrew, 2) Hebrew transliterated into Greek, 3) Aquila of
Sinope, 4) Symmachus the Ebionite, 5) a recension of the
Septuagint, 6) Theodotion.
His works published in the Ante-Nicene Fathers include
A Letter to Africanus
about the History of Susanna,
A Letter to Gregory,
and Contra Celsus.
Origen’s Early Writings
reputation has been forever marred due to some of his early
introduction to the Ante-Nicene Fathers gives the following as
points where Origen departed from the mainstream in his
1) The souls of men had existed in a previous state, and that their imprisonment in material bodies was a punishment for sins which they had then committed.
2) The human soul of Christ had also previously existed, and been united to the Divine nature before that incarnation of the Son of God which is related in the Gospels.
3) Our material bodies shall be transformed into absolutely ethereal ones at the resurrection.
All men, and even devils, shall be finally restored through the
mediation of Christ.
and fourth admittedly are serious.
The second seems to affirm only that Jesus was God, or
the Spirit of God, before his incarnation and became a “Son”
only by his conception the virgin’s womb, a view that is quite
prevalent and perfectly orthodox today.
The third, that only the spirit of man is the object of
the resurrection, not physical bodies, represents the view held
today by the probable majority of Christians and all Preterists.
The first, that the soul of man preexisted, has close
affinity to Greek notions about the immortality of the soul and
its reincarnation after a thousand-year sojourn in Hades.
It would thus appear that Origen retained certain notions
derived from the Greeks, and that they found their way into his
theology, in the same way “purgatory” would later take up
permanent residence in the Catholic Church.
The fourth, Universalism, was attached to Origen’s
eschatology. When he composed
De Principiis, Origen
was still a futurist, who believed in the impending destruction
of the world. His
understanding of Isaiah’s “new heavens and earth” (Isa. 65:17;
66:22; cf. II Pet. ),
“So then, when the end has been
restored to the beginning, and the termination of things
compared with their commencement, that condition of things will
be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it
had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed,
and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone
is the one good God becomes to him ‘all,’ and that not in the
case of a few individuals, or in a considerable number, but He
Himself is ‘all in all.’”
rejected the idea that the physical creation would be wondrously
regenerated, and chided those holding such view as thinking no
deeper than the “letter” and falling into the literalism of the
“Certain persons, then, refusing
the labour of thinking, and adopting a superficial view of the
letter of the law…say that after the resurrection there will be
marriages, and the begetting of children, imaging to themselves
that the earthly city of Jerusalem is to be rebuilt, its
foundations laid with precious stones…Such are the views of
those who, while believing in Christ, understand the divine
Scriptures in a sort
of Jewish sense, drawing from them nothing worthy of the divine
literalism described by Origen is identical with Lactantius’
view of the earth after the second coming, and
reminds us Justin Martyr’s and Tertullian’s notions of the earth
during the millennium.
It is also identical with the “material new creation” of
modern day Postmillennialsts like Keith Mathison and Kenneth
How much more blameworthy Origen should be deemed for his
views than these others we will not venture to say.
There is reason to believe, however, that Origen
eventually renounced his Universalism, for he speaks of God
abandoning the wicked, and of eternal punishment.
Thus, we may look with charity upon this great man and
early church father.
Certainly, that was the view of Eusebius who devoted almost the
entire sixth book of his "Ecclesiastical History" to Origen and,
in collaboration with the martyr Pamphilius, composed the
"Apology for Origen."
His Later Writings – Origen the Preterist
errors show up in Origen’s early works,
Contra Celsus was
composed in his old age and should be received as the final
statement of Origen’s views.
It is also in Contra Celsus that we find Origen abandoned his futurism, and became
a Preterist. Written against a Greek Philosopher, Book IV opens
with Origen stating that Celsus had arrayed himself against both
Jews and Christians, deriding the idea that God would come to
“Above all is it necessary to
show, as against the assertions of Celsus which follow those he
has already made, that the prophecies regarding Christ are true
predictions. For, arraying himself at the same time against both
parties – against the Jews on the one hand, who deny that the
advent of Christ has taken place, but who expect it as future,
and against Christians on the other, who acknowledge that Jesus
is the Christ spoken of in prophecy – he makes the following
statement: ‘But that certain Christians and (all) Jews should
maintain, the former that there has already descended, the
latter there will descend, upon the earth a certain God, or Son
of God, who will make the inhabitants of the earth righteous, is
a most shameless assertion and one the refutation of which does
not need many words.’”
the outset that where we would expect Celsus to allege
all Christians held that Christ was already come or descended,
instead we find that only
certain Christians affirmed this. All Christians naturally
affirm that Jesus is the Christ and the historical facts
recorded in the gospels.
But only some
Christians (apparently a goodly number) were affirming Christ’s
"full descent." The
explanation for this anomaly becomes clear as Origen’s book
unfolds: The “descent” of God Celsus derides is not merely the
incarnation, but his coming in wrath and judgment.
It should be
borne in mind that the prophets did not distinguish between the
“first” and “second” comings of Christ, but treated the coming
of the Messiah as a
All through the Old Testament, there is but one coming of the
scriptures treat Christ’s first and second comings as an
historical unit, with no appreciable separation in time or event
intervening between them.
So closely conjoined were Christ’s comings that it is
only by hindsight that we are able to distinguish them in the
prophets; readers in Old Testament times could not have done so.
Indeed, the very notion of a “second coming" is
conspicuously absent from the Old Testament and could not have
occurred to the disciples had Christ not instructed them
concerning his temporary departure “to receive unto himself a
kingdom, and to return” (Lk. -27).
To mention but a few examples, Isaiah describes the birth
of the Savior to the virgin, his rejection and death, and the
destruction of his enemies without anything to distinguish these
events in point of time (Isa. 7:14; 9:6, 7; 53; 66:1-6, 15).
Similarly, Zechariah describes scenes of Christ’s death
and crucifixion in one breath, only to describe his coming in
wrath in the next (Zech. 12:11; 13:6; 14:1-3) and Joel, Haggai,
Habakkuk, and Malachi omit Christ’s “first” coming altogether
(Joel 2:28-32; Hag 2:6, 7; Hab. 2:3; Mal. 3:2; 4:1-6).
certain Christians apparently recognized this fact and it is the
full descent of Christ that is thus being questioned.
Hence, in chapter eleven, Celsus charges that Jews and
Christians, misunderstanding that floods and conflagrations
occur in regular cycles determined by the planets, wrongly
attribute these to the wrath of God:
“The belief has spread among
them, from a
misunderstanding of the accounts of these occurrences, that
after lengthened cycles of time, and the returns of and
conjunctions of planets, conflagrations and floods are wont to
happen, and because after the last flood, which took place in
the time of Deucalion, the lapse of time, agreeably to the
vicissitude of all things, requires a conflagration; and this
made them give utterance to the erroneous opinion that
God will descend, bringing fire like a
Here then is
the descent which Celsus mocked and Origen is concerned to prove
Christ has fulfilled: a coming or descent
In response to the charge of Celsus, Origen first denies
that the deluge or conflagration were the result of planetary
conjunctions occurring at regular cycles, and rather attributes
them to divine wrath;
“But we do not refer either the
deluge or the conflagration to cycles and planetary periods; but
the cause of them we declare to be the extensive wickedness, and
its (consequent) removal by a deluge or a conflagration.”
Origen defends the idea of God “coming down” to earth, affirming
that scriptural usage shows that this language is
“And if the voices of the
prophets say that God ‘comes down,’ who has said, ‘Do I not fill
heaven and earth? saith the Lord,’ the term is used in a
sense. For God ‘comes down’ from His own height and greatness
when He arranges the affairs of men, and especially those of the
the bodily descent of God is also accommodative language, not to
be taken literally:
“And as custom leads men to say
that teachers ‘condescend’ to children, and wise men to those
youths who have just betaken themselves to philosophy, not by
‘descending in a
manner; so, if God is said anywhere in the holy Scriptures to ‘come
down, it is understood as spoken in conformity with the usage
which so employs the word, and in like manner also with the
expression, ‘go up.’
But if the
“coming down” of God is figurative, and is not literal or
bodily, Origen also affirms that the
fire of Christ’s
conflagration is merely figurative:
“But it is in mockery that Celsus
says we speak of ‘God coming down like a torturer bearing fire,’
and thus compels us unseasonably to investigate words of deeper
meaning, we shall make a few remarks, sufficient to enable our
hearers to form an idea of the defense which disposes of the
ridicule of Celsus against us, and then we shall turn to what
follows. The divine
word says that our God is ‘a consuming fire,’ and that ‘He draws
rivers of fire before Him;’ nay, that he even entereth in as ‘a
refiner’s fire, and as a fuller’s herb,’ to purify His own
people. But when He is said to be a ‘consuming fire,” we inquire
what are the things which are appropriate to be consumed by God.
And we assert that they are wickedness, and the works which
result from it, and which, being
called ‘wood, hay, stubble,’ God
consumes as a fire.
The wicked man, accordingly, is said to build upon the
previously-laid foundation of reason, ‘wood, and hay, and
stubble.’ If, then,
any one can show that these words were differently understood by
the writer, and can prove that the wicked man
builds up ‘wood, or hay, or stubble,’ it
is evident that the fire must be understood to be material, and
an object of sense. But if, on the contrary, the works of the
wicked man are spoken of
under the names of ‘wood, or hay, or stubble,” why does it not
once occur (to inquire) in what sense the word ‘fire’ is to be
taken, so that ‘wood’ of such a kind should be consumed? For
(the scripture) says: “The fire will try each man’s work of what
sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built
thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work be
burned, he shall suffer loss.”
Here we have
Origen’s answer to Celsus’ mock that God comes down as a
“torturer bearing fire.”
First, the coming
down is figurative; second, the
bodily form is merely
accommodative, not literal; third, the
fire of Christ’s wrath
is also figurative. In connection with this last, a survey of
the texts quoted by Origen shows all are traditional “second
12:26-29 - “Our God is a
Dan. 7:9, 10
- “His throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as
burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before
Mal. 3:2, 3
– “But who may abide the
day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he
is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap.”
- “Every man’s work shall be made
manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be
revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of
what sort it is.”
These “second coming” passages, coupled with Origen’s figurative understanding of prophetic language, show that Origen viewed the second coming in terms precisely as Preterists do today, and prima facie prove Origen was firmly in the Preterist camp.
Destruction of the World by Fire
As we have
seen, in his early days Origen believed the scriptures taught
that creation was marked for impending destruction associated
with Christ’s return. His later writings, however, show that
Origen changed, and came to understand the language of prophecy
in less literal terms.
Specifically, Origen believed Christ’s bodily descent
with fire at his second coming was to be figuratively
there is more. If
the “fire” associated with Christ’s advent was figurative, then
the destruction of the world by conflagration was also
And if its destruction was figurative, then the new
heavens and earth were also necessarily figurative
These are logical corollaries from which there is no escape.
Thus, Origen’s writings evidence a profound paradigm
shift away from the literalism normally associated with
futurism, to a paradigm more in terms with Preterism. But
understanding prophetic language figuratively is not the same as
believing that the prophecies were already fulfilled.
What proof do we have of this?
In chapters twenty through twenty-two, Origen provides
full evidence of his Preterism.
“In the next place, as he
represents the Jews account in a way peculiar to themselves for
their belief that the advent of Christ among them is still in
the future, and the Christians as maintaining in their way that
coming of the Son of God
into the life of men
has already taken place,
let us, as far as we can, briefly consider these points.
According to Celsus, the Jews say that ‘(human) life, being
filled with all wickedness, needed one sent from God, that the
wicked might be punished, and all things purified in a manner
analogous to the first deluge which happened.’
And as the Christians are said to make
to this, it is evident that he alleges that they admit these.
Now, where is the absurdity in the
coming of one who is, on account of the prevailing flood of wickedness, to
purify the world, and to
treat every one according to
his deserts? For it is
not in keeping with the character of God that the diffusion of
wickedness should not cease, and
all things be renewed.”
points here should be noted:
1) Christians affirmed that the advent of Christ had
already taken place. As
we will see, this included the second coming.
2) Both the Jews and Christians affirmed a universal
flood. 3) The Christians made statements
additional to those
regarding the flood.
These statements were comprehended in 4) the coming of Christ to
5) purify the world and render everyman according to his works.
statements in No.’s 4 (“render everyman according to his
deserts”) and 5 (“all things be renewed”) are almost certainly
references to Matt. ,
28 and Rev. 21:5, and confirm that the “additional statements”
of Christians (No. 3) are to the conflagration associated with
Christ’s second coming.
prefaced, Origen then states that the world has
already undergone destruction by fire and was being renewed:
“We do not deny, then, that the
purificatory fire and the
destruction of the world took place
in order that evil might be swept away,
all things be renewed;
for we assert that we have
learned these things from the sacred books of the prophets.”
told us that the “fire” of prophetic utterance is not literal,
Hence, it is not to a literal conflagration in history (e.g.,
“But according to Celsus, ‘the
Christians making certain
to those of the Jews, assert that the
Son of God has been already sent
on account of the sins of the Jews; and that the Jews having
chastised Jesus, and given him gall to drink, have brought upon
themselves the divine wrath.’
And any one who likes may convict this statement of
falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation
was overthrown within
one single generation after Jesus had undergone these
sufferings at their hands. For forty and two years, I think,
after the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, did the destruction
3, above), Origen mentioned certain “additional statements” of
the Christians in reference to the coming of One to purify the
world. Here, the
identical phrase occurs again, showing that he is now explaining
what the substance of those “additional statements” was;
viz., that the Son of
God had already been sent
(No’s 1 and 4, above) within the very generation following
Christ’s crucifixion to punish the Jews and destroy
Comparison of Origen’s Statements Regarding the Coming of Christ
Comments on left reflect what Origen said
would occur at Christ’s coming; those on right show that he saw
them as already fulfilled.
“In the next place, as he represents the Jews account in a way peculiar to themselves for their belief that the advent of Christ among them is still in the future, and the Christians as maintaining in their way that the coming of the Son of God into the life of men has already taken place, let us, as far as we can, briefly consider these points. According to Celsus, the Jews say that ‘(human) life, being filled with all wickedness, needed one sent from God, that the wicked might be punished, and all things purified in a manner analogous to the first deluge which happened.’ And as the Christian are said to make statements additional to this, it is evident that he alleges that they admit these. Now, where is the absurdity in the coming of one who is, on account of the prevailing flood of wickedness, to purify the world, and to treat every one according to his deserts? For it is not in keeping with the character of God that the diffusion of wickedness should not cease, and all things be renewed.”
“We do not deny, then, that the purificatory fire and the destruction of the world took place in order that evil might be swept away, and all things be renewed; for we assert that we have learned these things from the sacred books of the prophets.”
“But according to Celsus, ‘the
Christians making certain
additional statements to those of the Jews,
assert that the
of God has been
already sent on account of the sins of the
Jews; and that the Jews having chastised Jesus, and
given him gall to drink, have brought upon themselves
the divine wrath.’
And any one who likes may convict this statement
of falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole
Jewish nation was overthrown within one single
generation after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at
their hands. For forty and two years, I think, after the
date of the crucifixion of Jesus, did the destruction of
Sense in which World Destroyed and All
But in the case of the
Christians, the Roman Senate, and the princes of the time, and
the soldiery, and the people, and the relatives of those who had
become converts to the faith, made war upon their doctrine, and
would have prevented (its progress), overcoming it by a
confederacy of so powerful a nature, had it not, by the help of
God, escaped the danger, and risen above it, so as to defeat the
whole world in its conspiracy against it."
The evidence of Origen's Preterism is irrefutable. He interpreted the "coming down" of God, his bodily descent, the fire of his wrath in terms exactly as Preterists do today, and he expressly states that Christ came to destroy the Jewish nation, styling this event the destruction of the world and its purification by "purgatorial fire." Preterists may thus rest easy knowing their convictions in fulfilled eschatology are within the pale of the historic faith of the early church.
 Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p 223.
 From this view, Origen never changed: “We, therefore, do not maintain that the body which has undergone corruption resumes its original nature, any more than the grain of wheat which has decayed returns to its former condition. But we do maintain, that as above the grain of wheat there arises a stalk, so a certain power is implanted in the body, which is not destroyed, and from which the body is raised up in incorruption.” Origen, Contra Celsus V, xxiii.
 In fact, purgatory shows up in Origen’s Contra Celsus: VI, xxvi, Ante-Nicene Fathers VI, pg. 585.
 “So, in the last times, when the end of the world is already imminent and near, and the whole human race is verging upon the last destruction…”
 Origen, De Principiis, III, vi, 3; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, pg. 345. Cf. De Principiis, I, vi, 1-viii, 4; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, pp. 260-267.
 Origen, Contra Celsus, II, xi, 2; Ante-Nicene Fathers IV, pg. 297.
 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, LXXXIX- LXXXI, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. I, pp. 238-240; Tertullian, Against Marcion, III, xxv; Ante Nicene Fathers, Vol III, p. 342; Lactantius, Divine Institutes, XXIV; Ante-Nicine Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 219.
 “The same omnipotent God who made all the nations will convert all the nations…The whole creation will not be completely set free from corruption until the Second Coming (cf. Rom. 8:19-23). It is the progressive aspect of the redemption of creation. Sin affected more than the souls of men; it affected all of creation. In Revelation 21-22, we see that the redemptive work of Christ is as world wide in scope as were the effects of God’s curse. The original purpose of God for creation will finally be accomplished.”
Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (P&R, Publishing, 1999), p. 82, 157.
 “But we say that the soul of the bad man, and of him who is overwhelmed in wickedness, is abandoned by God.” Contra Celsus, IV, v; Ante-Nicene Fathers, IV, p. 499. “The multitude needs no further instruction than that which the punishment of sinners; while to ascend beyond this is not expedient, for the sake of those who are with difficulty restrained, even by fear of eternal punishment, from plunging in any degree of wickedness, and into the flood of evils which result from sin.” Contra Celsus: VI, xxvi, Ante-Nicene Fathers VI, pg. 585
 “This work was written in the old age of our author, and is composed with great care; while it abounds with proofs of the widest erudition. It is also perfectly orthodox; and, as Bishop Bull has remarked, it is only fair that we should judge from a work written with the view of being considered by the world at large, and with the most elaborate care, as to the mature and finally accepted views of the author.” Rev. Fredrick Crombie, Introductory Note to the Translation of Origen, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, p. 233.
 Contra Celsus, IV, i; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, pg. 497.
 Contra Celsus, IV, xi; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, pg. 501.
 Contra Celsus, IV, xii; Ante-Nicene Father, Vol IV, pg. 501.
 Contra Celsus, IV, xiii; Ante-Nicene Father, Vol IV, pg. 501, 2.
 Contra Celsus, IV, xii; Ante-Nicene Father, Vol. IV, pg. 502.
 Contra Celsus, IV, xiii; Ante-Nicene Fathers IV, pg. 502.
 Contra Celsus, IV, xx; Ante-Nicene Fathers IV, pg. 505.
 Contra Celsus, IV, xxi; Ante-Nicene Fathers IV, pg. 505.
We were recently challenged on this statement of Origen,
our detractor alleging that
 Contra Celsus, IV, xxii; Ante-Nicene Fathers IV, pg. 506.
 Contra Celsus, I, v; Ante-Nicene-Fathers, pg 398.
To receive Kurt Simmons’ e-mail newsletter, The Sword & The Plow, click the Subscribe link:
All rights reserved.