Ten Weaknesses of Seventh-day Adventist Historicism

Every method of interpreting biblical prophecies has strengths and weaknesses. Here are 10 things about Seventh-day Adventist historicism that strike me as weaknesses. Adventist historicism is the belief that the primary purpose of the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation is to foretell selective important events from their times until the second coming of Jesus and beyond. The Sabbath school lessons for April, May, and June of this year use this method.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/views/2023/ten-weaknesses-seventh-day-adventist-historicism

one assumption i think being made in this interesting list is that all apocalyptic prophecy is completely understood…i don’t think it is, even if attempts have been made…i think it’s possible that historicism will appear more coherent when - and i believe when is the way to view it - everything is completely understood…

gauging from when previous generations understood the times in which they were living from an apocalyptic perspective, complete understanding may come after heaven…

The big problem with apocalyptic stories (prophecy or otherwise) is that we try to understand them through eisegesis. Almost every generation has done it. The only generation where this has validity is the generation of first readers/hearers. We can’t understand apocalyptic stories or prophecy in the same way because we are not the generation of first hearers or readers of any prophecy.


I would suggest that this point isn’t made strongly enough. That is, the “artful” presentations were written specifically, and only, to the original readers, to circumstances they were facing. The symbolism was a means to hide the meaning from outsiders as the writers rehearsed previous events leading up to the (then) present crisis and then made predictions of how Yahweh would soon resolve the oppression by direct intervention. As such, they can also be viewed as propaganda tracts to motivate the original readers to action.

Of course, recognizing this would also entail the realization that the prognostications were failures in that the predicted intervention did not occur as expected. The certainty of those who think that the writers were recipients of divine revelation, and that therefore the predictions could not fail, is the impetus for historicism. The same premises are also foundational for dispensational beliefs regarding the predictions relating to Israel.


The SDA method pre-supposes the notion that the so-called prophetic writings are cryptic puzzles with hidden meanings and symbolism, obscured for centuries. It pre-supposes the idea that a “3-Omni” god would intentionally allow a message vital to all humans to be hidden for centuries, and that when such meaning was de-coded, it was done in an obscure colonial backwater of the former British empire, and to this day remains essentially unnoticed by the vast majority of humanity.


If a prophetic interpretation fails in some way–in the detail, in the application, in the fulfillment–you would think we would know it. But prophecies are not really falsifiable. Instead they are re-interpreted to make the original prophecy or the later interpreter correct. I find this intellectually dishonest, or at the least a case of confirmations bias. It’s time to abandon the historicist method and consider these ancient writings as works of art, not history or science, and enjoy their artful constructions as best we can.


“We are in no rush.” This is the last sentence because it is the most important one. This is the last sentence because it is the most certain one. This is the last sentence because it is the most timely one.

At least things frustrate positive change in Christian denominations. They are to:

  1. Rush things;
  2. Insist that all members of the global church move in the same direction at the same speed;
  3. Recruit selected specialists to produce binding position statements and the like;
  4. Use coercive administrative power either to promote or to prevent it;
  5. Question the integrity, intelligence or qualifications of those who see things differently;
  6. Take ourselves and our ideas too seriously.

I taught on a healthcare campus for forty-six years. Not once did any clinician ask me what to say when a dying patient asks whether preterism, historicism or futurism is the best way to interpret Biblical prophecies.

There are two primary ways to prompt change. The first is the splash method. The second is the seep method. The seep method is usually best.


It has been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Our founding pioneers failed to predict the second coming of Jesus and as if our church leaders never learned their lessons, they continue to use the Bible to foretell the future.


Yes, even though…

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory…"
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come." - Jesus

I guess they missed this one whilst proof-texting Daniel & Revelation.


Said no Review Article ever.

Sales-that is, evangelism-must be time sensitive to be effective.

So before every altar call, the preacher amps up the pressure by saying you must make a decision now.

After all, you might die tonight or Jesus may arrive tomorrow morning.

So yes, Adventism is in a big hurry and the chances of it rethinking its approach to Daniel and Revelation are pretty much the same as someone inventing a rounder circle, given that these two books are an essential part of their high pressure sales pitch.



The number one sales motivator…fear of loss.


And the number one effect of the gospel…loss of fear.


This is my list of the weaknesses of SDA historicism:

  1. The prophecies in the Gospels are often ignored. And there is no attempt to integrate those prophecies with Daniel & Revelation. For example, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has never formally identified one or more of the false messiahs and false prophets foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:24. When Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump, two prominent antichrists, arose, the Church failed to formally identify them, be relevant, lead, and speak with a prophetic voice.
  2. SDA historicism has been ironically unimaginative and underinclusive. The counterfeit trinity has a counterfeit copy of every aspect of the Trinity and the Kingdom of God. But there is a surprising lack of inquisitiveness among SDAs about what all of those counterfeit copies are. For example, while we can see that Sunday sacredness is a counterfeit of the Sabbath, what about the other nine Commandments? Modern abortion laws seem to me to constitute a counterfeit of the Sixth Commandment, as the Dragon mocks God for teaching that a soul comes to be at birth rather than at conception and for legislating that the accidental death of a fetus is not a serious matter. Counterfeit prayer? That’s easy. Evangelical leaders laying hands on Trump or a football coach making a spectacle of himself on the fifty-yard line. Etc.
  3. Historicism, preterism, and futurism are clumsy categories that the bona fide hermeneutist would not typically use. A major weakness of historicism is that it is a veneer that is placed upon the biblical text, with the result that such a veneer often substitutes for a hermeneutics-informed exegesis.
  4. Historicism clashes with free will and represents a hermeneutically unsound understanding of history, particularly with respect to effects caused by human agency and contingency.
  5. The dichotomizing of prophecy into classical prophecy and apocalyptic prophecy is probably hermeneutical error. Again, to place upon the biblical text a veneer of one or the other rather than exegete the text according to sound hermeneutics is not the way to go.
  6. The SDA literature has rigged the end times to make it impossible for an SDA to be deceived. All of the end-time deceptions set forth in this literature are easy for an SDA to avoid. Consequently, many SDAs have been and will be deceived by deceptions that were never anticipated. But historicism provides a false sense of security that SDAs know exactly what will happen, and therefore, will ultimately prevail in a battle of wits against the Dragon.
  7. An unfortunate result of historicism is the Great Apostasy Myth, which holds that between Bible times and the Protestant Reformation the church went bust and nothing of any spiritual value occurred. Consequently, SDAs are woefully ignorant of this time period. If indeed, the entire sweep of time constitutes a text, and the hermeneutical circle functions so that our understanding of a part informs our understanding of the whole and vice versa, then SDA ignorance of this time period necessarily results in lack of understanding of other time periods, including the last days.
  8. We see historicism function nicely in Daniel. But the presupposition that Revelation is methodologically identical to Daniel is probably wrong.
  9. Historicism as a tool to apply the prophecies and teachings of Revelation to particular aspects of modern life today is not employed by the smart biblical scholars in our faith community, who are afraid to venture a guess or speculate about anything, but by marginally educated pastors, evangelists, and administrators, some of whom happen to be crackpots.

These are only nine, but David Larson has given more thought to this matter than I have. I appreciate his excellent and thought-provoking essay.


What better offer can be available to sell a system? Never die. Along with the second most effective sales motivator…FREE.

The question then begs, “But is it true or fraudulent?” We always get back to the two most important questions:

What do I know?


How do I know it?


One thing occurred with certainty. This should be a serious concern for those who view the Bible as the ultimate authority for belief. It was during this time period following the first century into the fourth and fifth centuries (the supposed period of great apostasy) that the choices were made of which writings to canonize and which to discard or suppress. The arbitrary processes and criteria for choosing that which would become the New Testament should make any true believer shudder. Those who disdain tradition in order to uphold sola scriptura, are sawing off the branch on which they sit.

It should be acknowledged, for better or worse, that it was during the period of the second century to the fifth century that the pattern was set for Christianity, whether Catholic, Protestant, or “remnant”. All are dependent upon the choices made during that timeline.


If one believes in the process of canonization, that is, that god stopped speaking to humans 2,000 years ago and that only certain author’s writings are published with our creator’s imprimatur, then nothing much has happened during the past two millennia other than what Umberto Eco referred to as “divine recapitulation”.

On the other hand, if one believes that god is not done with his creative efforts and that he, she or it is constantly revealing himself in the ever evolving processes of nature, as well as through our ongoing observations of the universe, then biblical hermeneutics is like examining one ancient manuscript on astrology under a microscope rather than going for a walk under the stars or watching one YouTube video on the Webb Telescope.

Further, if a proper method of tea leaf interpretation of Daniel and Revelations is necessary to determine god’s plan for the future, or if a PhD in Iron Age history is required before one can obtain access to god’s kingdom, then with all due respect to the scholarship exhibited in the article and ensuring comments, I’m personally disinclined to pay any attention to any of it. That is, my most basic instinct is to do the opposite of worship a god whose best means of communication is in a virtually undecipherable code, nor do I feel any affinity or affection for a creator who only speaks in words which are rendered effectively incomprehensible after two thousand years of a literary version of “Through the Grapevine”.

IOW, I’d rather do KP duty in Hades’ cookhouse rather than spend a few eternities in heaven listening to god explain his divine but ultimately stale “comedy” routine.


This thought seems apropos here: “Never judge a philosophy for its abuse.” --Augustine

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This is in response to points 2 and 3 with which I agree:

Before diving into a point of contention, I must disclose that I am a firm adherent of the seventh-day Sabbath, the sanctuary message as it relates to Christ’s ministry on behalf of humanity, and the inspiration of Ellen G. White. With that said …

Is the United States in prophecy?

We have been told “for it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10), and from the field of academia we have been instructed to take from the text (exegesis) instead of reading into the text (eisegesis). Neither of these principles have been applied in the interpretation of Revelation 13 by Seventh-day Adventist theologians and scholars.

Taking from the text and adding line upon line, what identity is unearthed for the second beast of Revelation 13?

The beast that rises out of the earth has horns like a lamb, it is lamb-like. In the fifth chapter of Revelation standing before God’s throne is a Lamb as if it had been slaughtered, and with the Lamb’s blood people from every tribe, language, people, and nation are ransomed for God to serve him as priests. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him he declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The second beast of Revelation is not Jesus, but it looks like Jesus; this beast is a counterfeit. Jesus foretells His impersonation: Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’—do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:23-27). The beast rising out of the earth is an allusion to another impersonation, King Saul’s encounter with the Witch of Endor and the supposed spirit of Samuel the prophet (1 Samuel 28). The ascended spirit was not Samuel because it is written: you shall die (Genesis 2:17); the dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence (Psalm 115:17); and, the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing … their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun … there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going (Ecclesiastes 9:5,6,10).

The lamb-like beast performs signs and wonders even causing fire to fall from the sky. At the showdown on Mount Carmel fire was not permitted to fall on the sacrifice to Baal (1 Kings 18), but when the restraining power is removed (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7) consuming fire will fall. As Jesus foretells the signs and wonders that will be before His return, so an inspired Paul reiterates Jesus’ prediction, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). As there is a genuine, “He makes his angels winds, His servants flames of fire” (Hebrews 1:7), so there is a counterfeit, fallen flames of fire that materialize. Paul also says, “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

When Revelation was written an understanding of the Greek gods would have been cultural knowledge. 666 is the number of the Sun and is seen on magic squares and amulets called Sigilla Solis – Sun Seals (666 is calculated by adding 1 through 36; 666 is the Sun’s number because the Sun possesses the sum of the heavenly powers represented by the numbers 1 through 36; to the King of Tyre, Yahweh says, “Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.” [Ezekiel 28:12]; Yahweh’s sign/seal/signet is the seventh-day Sabbath [Exodus 31:16-17; Ezekiel 20:12,19-20]); the god of the Sun is Apollo; Apollo in Hebrew is Abaddon which means destroyer or destruction (Revelation 9:11). Apollo presides over civil and religious law; by the power vested in the beast of 666 all are to be destroyed who do not worship its image. (The first day of the week was named Sunday in honor of Apollo. Was this commemoration the precursor to the image for the beast?) Peter says of Satan, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8); and, in His taunt of the King of Babylon, Yahweh says, “Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who would not let his prisoners go home?’ ” (Isaiah 14:16-17). Not to be overlooked, Job’s story provides an up-close account of Satan’s destructive nature.

The beast that rises out of the earth speaks like a dragon. In the twelfth chapter of Revelation the “great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” The beast’s words and actions will oppose the declarations of God and the Lamb. Speaking about the devil, Jesus says, “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). From his mouth the dragon makes war with “those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:15-17). The second beast of Revelation 13 speaks like a dragon because it is the dragon - it is Satan.

To find the United States in prophecy someone has to read into the text of Revelation 13. (Some of masonic persuasion believed the United States was the New Atlantis, the Phoenix rising from the ashes. This might be the origin for the belief that the United States is the second beast of Revelation 13. William Miller was a former mason and it is probable that other Adventist pioneers had masonic backgrounds.) Following the principles of exegesis and “line upon line,” the beast that comes up out of the earth is the supernatural manifestation of Satan as Christ.

Or… for a moment we could pretend to be Jewish believers in the early Messianic community. As such, we would instantly recognize all the OT references and allusions and they would give us perspective on the message of this new scroll being circulated. We would understand the message of comfort and the call for continued fidelity. We would understand that more things would have to happen in the conflict between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Darkness–hence, the message of comfort and call to faithful endurance. We would hear the gloriously successful conclusion of the conflict and we would be reassured! But through all of the OT symbolism, we would hear symbols of: 1. how things have always gone in a world where people don’t worship the one true God and where they reject his instructions for life, and 2. how God has faithfully led and saved his people. From our Jewish background, we would understand that these symbols could and would work themselves out in a multitude of different ways and times–not just in our own time, but also throughout all future time until the conclusion of the conflict. If we could hear this book in the way an early Jewish believer could, and then someone asked us whether a “proper” interpretation would be preterist, historicist or futurist, I suspect we’d say, “Yes! Yes, these are symbols of the ways things have gone before and how things will continue to be and, yes, with things likely getting a lot worse before they finally get better!” If we could read this book through our Jewish reading glasses, we might see (or remember) how prophecies can have multiple “fulfillments” and then we could also see how our varied interpretations can actually work to build up the community of faith–including helpful analyses like David Larson’s that help us see weaknesses in having just a historicist view.

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