A common rebuttal to the concept of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture is that it is “too new to be true.” This argument is based on the assumption that the doctrine was not developed until the early 1800s by a man named John Nelson Darby who was a leader among the Plymouth Brethren in England.
This assumption is not correct, but even if it were true, it would not invalidate the concept. The only true test of any theological doctrine is whether or not it lines up with the Scriptures. Furthermore, there are some very valid reasons why the concept of a Pre-Trib Rapture developed late in the history of the Church.
Societal Reasons for Delay
For one thing, in the early 5th Century, the Catholic Church adopted Augustine’s Amillennial interpretation of end time prophecy as the Church’s official end-time viewpoint.1 That meant that for the next thousand years, if anyone had the audacity to challenge that viewpoint, they risked being burned at the stake, together with their writings. So, we really have no idea how many people during that time may have come up with the idea of a Rapture separate and apart from the Second Coming and happening before the Tribulation.
Further, the Catholic Church kept the Bible from the masses. The church argued that only those ordained by the church had the right to interpret the Scriptures.
Also, Bibles had to be produced by hand, and were too expensive for the average person to purchase. And even if they had been available, the average person during the Middle Ages could neither read nor write (only 5% of the European population had any formal education by 1330).2 So, all they knew about the Bible was what the church shared with them, which was mainly the story of Jesus.
Serious public study of the Bible had to await several developments:
- The invention of the printing press in 1440, which made it financially feasible to get printed Bibles.
- The Reformation in 1517, which broke the domination of the Catholic Church.
- The translation of the Bible into the common languages of Europe — like English by William Tyndale and German by Martin Luther.
- The spread of literacy.
And speaking of the Reformation, when Luther had his confrontation with a Vatican representative at the Diet of Worms in 1521, he was told that his concept of “salvation by grace through faith” was “too new to be true” because it could not be found in the writings of popes, priests or Church Fathers.3 Luther responded by asserting that his doctrine could be found in the writings of a far more important person — namely, the Apostle Paul!4
A Biblical Reason for Delay
But there is another and more important reason for the delay in the development of the Pre-Trib Rapture concept, and it is a biblical one. The Lord told both Jeremiah and Daniel that many end time prophecies would not be understood until the time came for them to be fulfilled (Jeremiah 23:20, Jeremiah 30:24 and Daniel 12:8-9).
Here’s how the Lord expressed this truth to Daniel:
As for me, I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what will be the outcome of these events?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time” (12:8-9).
Again, the chronological development of a biblical doctrine is not the true test of its validity. One of the earliest doctrines developed among the Church Fathers was the concept of salvation by baptism, or “water regeneration.” The fact that it was an early doctrine did not make it true.
Nor would the recent development of the Pre-Trib doctrine invalidate it. As prophecy scholar Dr. Andy Woods has put it, “Consistency with the Scriptures determines an idea’s truthfulness, and not when the idea originated.”5
Recent historical events, like the re-establishment of Israel, and modern day technological developments, like the invention of nuclear power, are helping us to understand Bible prophecies that have never been understood before.
But the most important key has been the revival of literal interpretation. This natural way of interpreting the Scriptures characterized the early Church Fathers, but it was abandoned when Amillennialism became the endtime viewpoint of the Roman Catholic Church. From about 450 AD to the Reformation in the 1700s, Bible prophecy was spiritualized and interpreted allegorically. Many new discoveries have been made in Bible prophecy since the 1700s, simply because people started accepting the prophecies to mean what they say.
So, we are not talking about novel new truths. We are talking instead about the discovery of truths that were always in the Scriptures, but which were muddled by spiritualization or which awaited historical developments or technological discoveries.
In the second part of this study, we will look at the origin of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture viewpoint.
1) Saint Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, translated by Rev. Marcus Dods (Independently published in Coppell, TX in 2021). This is the edition that was originally published in Glasgow, Scotland in 1871.
2) “Medieval Education,” www.medievalchronicles.com, page 3.
3) Andy Woods, “The Rapture, Part 10,” February 6, 2013, www.bibleprophecyblog.com/ 2013/02/the-rapture-part-10.html, page 3.
5) Andy Woods, “The Rapture, Part 10,” www.spiritandtruth.org/teaching/documents/articles/ 138/138.htm?x=x, page 1.