The Origins of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture
Compiled by John Mathew Thekkel M.A.,Ph.D. (Dr .Sunny Ezhumattoor )
Many "historians" make bold claims about the original history of Pre-Tribulationism. Anti-Rapture advocates have claimed such tainted sources for Pre-Tribulationism as Jesuit Emanuel Lacunza in 1790, Edward Irving, various other members of Irving’s congregation, a prophecy by an adult lady at Irvingite service in 1830, and most famous false claim is that supposedly given by a fifteen year old Scottish young woman named Margaret MacDonald in the spring of 1830. If any one of these were actually true, then the others would have to be false. Apparently none of these speculative theories were convincing enough to anti-rapturist so they continued to produce new ones.
Recently, a pre-wrath advocate Marvin Rosanthal wrote that the Pre-Tribulation Rapture was of satanic origin and unheard of before 1830. Rosanthal, says "Satan the father of lies, gave to a fifteen year old girl named Margaret MacDonald a lengthy vision." Without documentation or correct source, Rosanthal is relying upon the questionable work of Dave MacPherson.
Over a quarter of a century John Bray and Dave MacPherson have probably been the most out spoken disseminators of various origin of the Rapture propaganda. Apparently the longer one opposes Pre-Tribulationism, the more he appears to be attracted to the various "historical" theories being developed concerning the origins of the Pre-Tributationism Rapture.
Dave MacPherson the dean of anti-Rapture propaganda, has long argued that Pre-Tribulationism was invented through a prophecy of a fifteen year old girl-Margaret MacDonald-who attended Irving’s church, and that J.N. Darby stole the idea from her in a underhanded fashion.
One of the commonly repeated reasons for opposing pretrib is that it is a new and novel doctrine beginning no earlier than John Nelson Darby. Alexander Reese, who is an outstanding opponent of pre-tribulationism , stated that it is" a series of doctrines that had never been heard of before" that is , before the nineteenth century. Reese charged that the followers of Darby " sought to overthrow what, since the Apostolic Age, have been considered by all premillennialists as established results." The fact is that the development of most important doctrines took centuries, and it is not surprising that even in the twentieth century new light should be cast on our understanding of scripture. If the doctrine of Trinity did not receive permanent statement until the fourth century and thereafter, beginning with the council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and if the doctrine of human depravity was not a settled issue of the church until the fifth century and after, and if such doctrines as the sufficiency of scripture and the priesthood of the believer were not recognized until the Protestant reformation, it is not to be wondered at that details of eschatology, always difficult, should unfold slowly. Many people believe that the antiquity of a doctrine give credence and enhances truthfulness beyond that of a more recent doctrine. History of a doctrine is important, however its importance is mainly in discovering how people formulated it, discussed it, or perverted it. Whether it is old or new, to be true, a doctrine must be in the Bible, not simply in church history- past or recent.
Some of the early church fathers taught baptismal regeneration, but that does not make it a true doctrine. The early church did not spell out a Pre-Tribulation Rapture that scarcely makes it an untrue doctrine.
Development in eschatology recently did not come to preeminence until the modern period of church history, which began after the reformation.
The rise of Pre-Tribulationism, by George Eldon Ladd, who is an opponent of Pre-Tribulation Rapture.A second outgrowth of the prophetic awakening of the early nineteenth century was Darbyism, or Dispensationalism, which had its birth within the Plymouth Brethren movement. A Pre-Tribulation Rapture is an essential element of this system. The Brethren movement had its beginnings in Dublin in 1825 when a small group of earnest men, dissatisfied with the spiritual condition of the Protestant church in Ireland, met for prayer and fellowship. In 1827, J.N. Darby entered the fellowship. Although there was an interest from the start in prophetic truth, its center of emphasis was "the nature and unity of the church of Christ" (the title of Darby’s first tract) in reaction to the deadness and formalism of the organized church and the ordained ministry. Outstanding among the new groups which arose in Ireland and England was the fellowship in Plymouth from which the movement derived its name. Leader of the Plymouth fellowship for many years was B.W. Newton, a man of considerable learning and scholarship. Two other outstanding Brethren were S.P. Tregelles, recognized by the entire world of Biblical Scholarship for his contribution to the study the history of the Greek text of the new testament, and George Muller, the great man of prayer. J.N. Darby (1800-82) saw church as a special work of God, distinct from the program for Israel. This truth integrated with his pre-millennial eschatology, led him to believe that the rapture would occur before the tribulation and that, during the tribulation, God would turn again to deal specially with Israel.
Attempts have been made to discredit Darby’s Pre-tribulation view by claiming that he did not get it from the Bible but from a heretic and a mystic. The heretic was Edward Irving (1792-1834) who was deposed in 1833 from the Church of Scotland on the charge that he held to the sinfulness of Christ's humanity. Prior to this, manifestation of tongues and healing appeared in his church in London, and his congregation had become a rallying point for millennial expectations.
The, Irvingite eschatology is unclear. The Irvingites did not teach imminency, or that the seventeenth week of Daniel would intervene between the Rapture and the Second Advent. These were doctrines that Darby clearly taught in the Powerscourt conference of 1833. A historian gives a proper description on this subject.
"Darby’s opponents claimed that the doctrine [of the rapture] originated in one of the outburst of tongues in Edward Irving’s church about 1832. This seems to be a groundless and pernicious charge. Neither Irving nor any member of the Albury group advocated any doctrine resembling the secret rapture. As we have seen, they were all historicists, looking for the fulfillment of one or another prophecy in the revelation as the next step in the divine time table, anticipating the second coming at Christ soon but not immediately. There is no connection between Darby’s Pre-Tribulationism ant the Irvingite teaching.
This mystic was an adolescent named Margaret MacDonald (1815-40), who lived in Port Glasgow, Scotland, and who, it is alleged influenced both the Irvingites and Darby with regards Pre-Tribulation rapture. That is the charge leveled by Dave MacPherson in "The incredible cover up." Let me quote excerpts from Macpherson's report of Margaret McDonald's hand written account of her 1830 per-tribulation revelation, that we may see if she in fact did teach a pre-tribulation rapture. " The spiritual temple must and shall be reared, and the fullness of Christ be poured in to his body, and then shall we be caught up to meet him - The trial of the church is from Anti-Christ. It is by being filled with the spirit that we shall be kept-- O it is not known what the sign of the son of man is -- I saw it was just the Lord himself descending from Heaven with a shout-- Now will The Wicked be revealed, with all power and signs and lying wonders, so that if it were possible the very elect will be deceived- This is the fiery trial which is to try us."
Charles Ryrie explains this perfectly:
"This adolescent distinguished spiritual believers from other believers and saw only the spiritual ones participating in the rapture. MacPherson wrongly concluded from this that MacDonald meant to teach a Secret coming. In reality, she was teaching the partial- rapture view.
She saw the Church ("us") being purged by Anti-Christ. MacPherson reads this to mean that the Church will be raptured before Anti-Christ arises, ignoring the "us." In reality, Macdonald saw the Church enduring Antichrist’s persecution of the tribulation days.
MacDonald identified the sign of the coming of the son of man (Matt. 24:30), which clearly appears at the end of the tribulation, as being seen at the same time as the rapture. MacPherson says MacDonald either believed in a very short Tribulation period, or, more likely to him, she understood that only spirit-filled believers would see the sign before the wicked one was revealed. In reality, Macdonald reveals by this statement a complete confusion. Though taken at the face value, her vision equated the sign at the end of the Tribulation with the rapture- hardly pre-Tribulationism."
By Darby’s own testimony, his ideas came from the Bible, particularly his understanding of the distinctiveness of the church in 1826-1828). His belief that the rapture would be a considerable time before the Second Coming was developed before 1930 and the concept of parenthesis between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel around 1830.
Historian Roy A Huebner documents the fact that J.N. Darby first began to believe in the pre-tribulation rapture and develop his dispensational thinking while Convalescing from a riding accident during December 1826-and January 1827.
If this is true, then all of the origins of the rapture conspiracy theories fall to the ground in a heap of speculative rubble. Huebner provides clarification and evidence that Margaret MacDonald, Lacunza, Edward Irving, or the Irvngites did not influence Darby. In fact, none of these even taught any form of pre-tribulationism. These are all said by the detractions of Darby and the pre-tribulation rapture to be bridges, which led to Darby’s thought.
Darby’s pre-tribulation and dispensational thoughts, were developed from the following factors:He saw from Isaiah Chapter 32 that there was a different dispensation coming-- that Israel and the church were distinct. Even opponents of dispensationalism realize that Darby’s original dissatisfaction with the Church of England was not over teaching on prophecy. His dissent was for more intimate fellowship with Christ, which he felt was becoming increasingly impossible in the established system. In explaining why he left the Church of England, he said "It was that I was looking for the body of Christ (which was not there, but perhaps in all the parish not one converted person); and collaterally, because I believe in a divinely appointed ministry. If Paul had come, he could not have preached (he had never been ordained); if a wicked ordained man, he had his title and must be recognized as a minister; the truest minister of Christ unordained could not. It was a system contrary to what I found in scripture."
During his convalescence J.N.D. learned that he ought daily to expect his Lord’s return.
In 1827 J.N.D. understood the fall of the church-- "the ruin of the church."
Darby also was beginning to see a gap of time between the rapture and the Second Coming by 1827.
Darby said later that he first started understanding things relating to take pre-tribulation rapture "Thirty year ago". With that fixed point of reference Jan. 31 1827". We can see that Darby had already understood those truths upon which the pre-tribulation rapture hinges.
German author Max S. Weremchuk has produced a major new biography on Darby: "a biography". He agrees with Huebner’s conclusions concerning the matter. "Having read MacPherson’s book -- says Weremchuk" I find it impossible to make a just comparison between what Miss MacDonald "prophesied" and what Darby taught. It appears that the wish was the father of the idea, Dr. John Walvoord echoes Weremchuk "the whole controversy as aroused by Dave MacPherson’s claim has so little supporting evidence, despite his careful research, that one wonders how he can write his book with a straight face. Pre-tribulationists should be indebted to Dave MacPherson for exposing the fact, namely, that there is no proof that Macdonald or Irving originated the pre tribulation rapture teaching."
F.F. Bruce, who was one of the greatest Bible teachers of this twentieth century was part of the Brethren movement. But he did not agree with the pre-tribulation rapture. He said the following when commenting on the validity of MacPherson’s thesis:" :where did he (Darby) get it ? The reviewer’s answer would be that it was in the air in the 1820s and 1830s among eager students of unfulfilled prophecy-- direct dependence by Darby on Margaret McDonald is unlikely".
Dr. Walvoord’s assessment is likely close to the truth.
"any careful student of Darby soon discovers that he did not get his eschatological views from men, but rather from his doctrine of the church as the body of Christ, a concept no one claims was revealed supernaturally to Irving or MacDonald. Darby’s views undoubtedly were gradually formed, but they were theologically and Biblically based rather than derived from Irving’s pre-Pentecostal group.
Opponents of the pre-tribulation rapture should stick to a discussion of these matters based upon scriptures, as some do. The fact that so many anti-pre-tribulationists are preoccupied with finding some historical information to discredit the rapture, must mean that they are weak when it comes to finding proof for their views from the Bible.
Instead, so many feel a need to slander some godly men in their failed attempts to cover up their weak argument from the Bible".
This writer believes that many anti-rapture theories are not logical because of the fact that the doctrine of the rapture is intertwined with many other doctrines such as dispensationalism, premillennialism, and the distinctiveness of the church from Israel. Darby and William Kelly taught that by the act of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the present age began and the body of Christ was formed. An impartial study of various New Testament principles would reveal that Darby's teaching of rapture alone was not "borrowed" as some allege, but is formulated simultaneously with other aforesaid doctrines.
Today 100% of Pentecostals, 98% of Plymouth Brethren, and 95% of Southern Baptists accept the doctrine of pre-tribulation rapture.