A Brief Note On The History Of Amillennialism

There have always been three main types of Christian eschatology: chiliasm (historic premillennialism), postmillennialism, and amillennialism. From about the middle of the 19th century there developed subsets of chiliasm (e.g., pre-tribulational premillennialism etc). The same cannot be said of the nomenclature used to describe the views.

The term chiliast (a believer in a literal, earthly millennium) has long existed. Augustine used the term in City of God 20.7 (so Lewis and Short, s.v., Chiliastes). Calvin spoke derisively of “chiliasts.” The term postmillennial was widely used in the 19th century. The Oxford English Dictionary gives 1851 as its first example. The term amillennial, however, is probably about a century old. Remarkably, is still not so widely used as to merit an entry in the OED. The exact origin of the word is not known. Kim Riddlebarger tells me that some cite Albertus Pieters (1869–1955) as the source of the term. Others cite Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920). A search of Google Books shows no clear instances between 1850 and 1900. There are a few uses between 1900 and 1930. W. H. Rutgers used the term in his volume on premillennialism (1930) and Louis Berkhof used it in his Reformed Dogmatics (later Systematic Theology) in the early 1930s (HT: Drew Admiraal) but it does not appear to have become widely used in English until after World War II. By 1957 it was apparently sufficiently well-known that an editor at Christianity Today (vol. 1.18, p. 21) felt comfortable using the term without explaining it. I suppose that volumes such as D. H. Kromminga’s The Millennium in the Church: Studies in the History of Christian Chilliasm (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub, 1945) and Lorraine Boettner’s The Millennium (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub, 1957) helped to popularize the term.

I would be interested, however, to see earlier uses of the term amillennialism if you know of any.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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3 comments

  1. Your assessment of the term amillennialism appears to agree with Dr. Gaffin’s article “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism” pages 197-202. Gaffin concisely looks at Vos’s work and comes to some helpful observations in this essay which can be found in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique. Since you did not refer to Gaffin’s article I thought I would mention it because Gaffin starts out by clarifying which postmillennial view he is critiquing.

  2. Does a belief that Christ is coming (preceded shortly by the instant conversion of all Israel, too shortly for anyone to register it as the final harbinger of the Second Coming) at the end of a millennium that started at or shortly after Pentecost (when Satan was bound from deceiving the Gentiles any more, as in Revelation 20:3) count as postmillennialism, or amillennialism? I call it postpresentmillennialism, but is this an acceptable term?

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