Friday, August 19, 2005

Psalm 90:4 and the Church Fathers

In a previous article, I referred to the patristic belief in a young earth and the fact that some of those fathers associated their young earth view with eschatology. That eschatology is usually premillennialism, another doctrine rejected by untraditional traditionalists. I want to give some examples.

Michael Green writes:

"This verse, Ps. 90:4, became, in the second century, the main proof-text of chiliasm, the doctrine that Christ would reign for a thousand years on earth at the parousia. This belief became almost an article of Christian orthodoxy from the time of the writing of Revelation to Irenaeus.” (2 Peter & Jude [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1987], n. 3 on p. 39)

As early as The Epistle of Barnabas in the first half of the second century, we see an association between a young earth and eschatology:

"The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation thus: 'And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.' Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, 'He finished in six days.' This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, 'Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years.' Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. 'And He rested on the seventh day.' This meaneth: when His Son, coming again, shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day." (15)

Irenaeus wrote:

"For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: 'Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works.' This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year." (Against Heresies, 5:28:3)


"And 6,000 years must needs be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come, the rest, the holy day 'on which God rested from all His works.' For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they 'shall reign with Christ,' when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse: for 'a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.'" (On Daniel, 2:4)

Cyprian wrote:

"It is an ancient adversary and an old enemy with whom we wage our battle: six thousand years are now nearly completed since the devil first attacked man....the divine arrangement containing seven thousand of years" (Treatise 11; Preface, 2; On the Exhortation to Martyrdom, 11)

Commodianus wrote:

"We shall be immortal when six thousand years are accomplished." (Writings, 35)

Victorinus wrote:

"And in Matthew we read, that it is written Isaiah also and the rest of his colleagues broke the Sabbath -that that true and just Sabbath should be observed in the seventh millenary of years....Wherefore, as I have narrated, that true Sabbath will be in the seventh millenary of years, when Christ with His elect shall reign." (On the Creation of the World)


"Therefore, since all the works of God were completed in six days, the world must continue in its present state through six ages, that is, six thousand years. For the great day of God is limited by a circle of a thousand years, as the prophet shows, who says 'In Thy sight, O Lord, a thousand years are as one day.' And as God laboured during those six days in creating such great works, so His religion and truth must labour during these six thousand years, while wickedness prevails and bears rule. And again, since God, having finished His works, rested the seventh day and blessed it, at the end of the six thousandth year all wickedness must be abolished from the earth, and righteousness reign for a thousand years; and there must be tranquillity and rest from the labours which the world now has long endured." (The Divine Institutes, 7:14)

Augustine, who once was a premillennialist, wrote:

"Those who, on the strength of this passage [Revelation 20:1-6], have suspected that the first resurrection is future and bodily, have been moved, among other things, specially by the number of a thousand years, as if it were a fit thing that the saints should thus enjoy a kind of Sabbath-rest during that period, a holy leisure after the labors of the six thousand years since man was created, and was on account of his great sin dismissed from the blessedness of paradise into the woes of this mortal life, so that thus, as it is written, 'One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,' there should follow on the completion of six thousand years, as of six days, a kind of seventh-day Sabbath in the succeeding thousand years; and that it is for this purpose the saints rise, viz., to celebrate this Sabbath. And this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God; for I myself, too, once held this opinion." (City of God, 20:7)

Robert Bradshaw also cites Hilary of Poitiers, Firmicus Maternus, Sulpicius Severus, Tyconius, and Gaudentius of Brescia. Brian Daley refers to Julius Africanus holding a similar view (in Everett Ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], p. 239).

It should also be noted that we see possible reflections of this concept in patristic passages where it isn't stated as explicitly as it is in the passages quoted above. Justin Martyr, for example, cites Psalm 90:4 with regard to the millennial kingdom (Dialogue with Trypho, 81), and elsewhere he refers to the earth as young (First Apology, 31).