What are the origins of ‘Left Behind’ eschatology?
The famous books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have been an enormous success. Though fiction, they present a particular and questionable end times theology of uncertain origins.
David Bennett has tried to unravel the origins of these Left Behind beliefs, including such controversial teachings as a pretribulation rapture of the Church, a two-stage return of Christ and the sharp distinction between Israel and the Church.
In 2009 David Malcolm Bennett was awarded a PhD, through the University of Queensland for his dissertation “The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology”. It was published in America in January 2010. It has 418 pages and costs US$22.99.
‘The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology’ is available now:
Amazon.com // Koorong.com // XulonPress
Did the early church fathers mention a pre-tribulation rapture?
One suggestion often made is that a pre-tribulation rapture is to be found in the Shepherd of Hermas, an ancient document, probably written early in the second century. However, after examining that document thoroughly I am prepared to say that that teaching is not there.
In fact, I have found that none of the Church Fathers of the first three centuries of Church history taught the collection of teachings that can be fairly described as Left Behind. Some specific teachings do appear, and some do not. Irenaeus, Tertullian and Lactantius are the closest to Left Behind but all three also taught important ideas incompatible with Left Behind. Full details are in the book.
I have also examined a sermon by Ephraem the Syrian (or one of his followers) and the teachings of Fra Dolcino, a medieval apocalyptist, to see whether they taught a pretribulation rapture, as some claim. The results of that specific research appear in “The Evangelical Quarterly” for April 2008, under the title “Raptured on not raptured: that is the question.” This article can be seen on: biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/2008-2_143.pdf
Did Joseph Mede present a ‘Left Behind’ theology in the 17th century?
In slightly more recent times Joseph Mede, a seventeenth century English scholar, wrote a letter that presented four hypothetical understandings of how the rapture might occur. One of these suggestions while not consistent with the pre-tribulation rapture of Left Behind is similar to it and may have been a source from which it emerged. I deal with this on pages 135-37 of my Origins of Left Behind book. I also suggest how his idea might have been used later, see pages 219-20.
The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology
– by David Malcolm Bennett
The book has eight chapters as below, with a bibliography and index.
Chapter 1 What is Left Behind?
Chapter 2 The Early Church and Beyond.
Chapter 3 From the Reformation to the early Eighteenth Century.
Chapter 4 Morgan Edwards and the Baptists.
Chapter 5 From the French Revolution to Edward Irving.
Chapter 6 John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren.
Chapter 7 The Popularization of Left Behind Eschatology.
Chapter 8 Conclusion and Postscript
Reviews of ‘The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology’
Alan S Bandy has called this volume an “extremely well-written and informative” book (Alan S. Bandy, the Rowena R. Strickland Assistant Professor of NT & Greek, Oklahoma Baptist University).
Answers to Criticisms
For some answers to criticisms that have been made of the book see
Some matters have been researched since my Origins book was written. To see this research log on to
David Malcolm Bennett is interviewed in the documentary Left Behind or Led Astray. For more information see http://wordpress.com/page/originsofleftbehind.wordpress.com/19
A REPORT ON WILLIAM WATSON’S “DISPENSATIONALISM BEFORE DARBY”
William Watson has written a lengthy book about the existence of dispensational ideas before John Nelson Darby, called Dispensationalism Before Darby. I have examined his book carefully, and written a report on it. Click on the link below to see it.
WAS IRENAEUS, DISPENSATIONAL, PRETRIBULATIONAL AND PREMILLENNIAL?<
A REPORT ON
SCRIPTURAL ACCOUNT OF THE MILLENNIUM (1802)
BY BENJAMIN GORTON (b. 1758)
By David Malcolm Bennett
Is Gorton’s Book Significant?
I obtained this book when I began researching the Origins of Left Behind Eschatology, to see whether Gorton might have been an early influence on those ideas. I have read it twice. Though some of his ideas fit in with Left Behind, others do not and he is unclear on a couple of crucial points. Gorton was a moderately important figure in America in his day, though how many read his book is unknown. Ellen White of the Seventh Day Adventists did, Thomas Jefferson knew of it, but other references to it are few. It probably was not an influential work. However, one never knows. It only takes one reader to adopt its thinking and pass it on, and it can influence a host. It is very unlikely, though, to have influenced the development of Left Behind.
The book is a large collection of Scriptures collected together and printed in full under various headings, with occasional explanations by Gorton. I think that some of the Scriptures in these selections are linked in inappropriate ways. It also has a summary of his ideas at the end (pp.205-12).
He insists on a literal interpretation of Scripture, which at various points seems to be unnaturally literal. In this he is very like Left Behind interpreters. He doesn’t distinguish between different types of Scripture: history, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, etc. In this his thinking is again very like Left Behinders. He also argues that Old Testament (OT) prophecies related to Christ’s first coming were all fulfilled literally and that, therefore, all biblical prophecies related to Christ’s Second Coming will also be fulfilled literally, as do Left Behinders. That some OT prophecies related to Christ’s first coming were fulfilled figuratively, not literally, is ignored (e.g. Is. 7:14/Matt. 1:21-23; Is. 9:1-2/Matt. 4:12-17; Mal. 4:5/Matt.11:11-14; Lk. 1:17; Jn. 1:21). Gorton could have been an influence on this kind of thinking, though it seems to have emerged in different countries at about the same time, prompted by the French Revolution being regarded as a literal fulfilment of biblical prophecy.
He expected the Jews to return “soon” to Palestine (so presumably in the first half of the 19th century) and does seem to regard them as in some sense still God’s people and distinct from the Church. He does not, however, draw the distinction between the Jews and the Church clearly. What he says may be an early form of Left Behind thinking on the Jews, though whether the architects of that idea in the late 1820s and early 1830s (Edward Irving and John Nelson Darby) had read Gorton is, I think, unlikely. I have certainly found no record of it.
He only seems to expect Christ to return once, not twice as in Left Behind, but that will be before the Millennium. When Christ does return everyone will know about it. It will not be secret.
Summary (see especially pp.205-12)
Gorton’s scheme can be summarised in this way:
The Jews return to Palestine;
Christ returns physically and visibly to earth and remains there to rule;
Dead Saints are resurrected;
Ezekiel’s Temple is built and Christ will live in it;
The Millennium on earth, with Christ reigning;
The General Resurrection;
The Last Judgment.
© David Malcolm Bennett (2013)
David Malcolm Bennett has previously written a book entitled Why Left Behind Should Be Left Behind. This book places Left Behind teachings under the biblical microscope and finds them wanting. It also presents an end times view that is biblical and rational in a simple but not simplistic way. It costs US$14.99.
If you wish to obtain copies of these books, contact one of the following:
David Malcolm Bennett is a Christian researcher and writer based in Brisbane, Australia, who has the gift of doing quality historical research and presenting it in a readable form. His books include The Altar Call: Its Origins and Present Usage (his MTh thesis, awarded with merit) in 2000 and The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology (his PhD thesis) in 2010. He has also written The Sinner’s Prayer: Its Origins and Dangers, and biographies of William Booth, Catherine Booth, John Wesley, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Edward Irving and C.T. Studd. He is also the editor of The Letters of William and Catherine Booth of Salvation Army fame and of The Diary and Reminiscences of Catherine Booth. In 2022 he was appointed a Fellow of The Salvation Army Historical Society.