What is the origin of the pre-tribulation rapture of Christians?

Any Moment

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

This is not a fully fledged article in support or in opposition to the pre-tribulation rapture teaching. It is designed to give an overview of some of the public discussion on the Internet in the 21st century.

In my discussing on Christian Forums, I encountered this kind of opposition to a pre-tribulation Rapture:

The rapture position being a very late opinion in church history. If it wasn’t for John Nelson Darby and his disciples we wouldn’t be talking about it today….[1]

Dean, your questions have nothing to do with the PreTrib rapture and its inventor. You are creating rabbit trails to protect your pet doctrine. Dispensationalism is a shoe horn theology where you take a passage and shoe horn it into a place, that contextually, it just doesn’t fit. You shoe horn the rapture into Revelation.

The Dispensational PreTrib Rapturism didn’t exist before 1800.[2]

Of course such provocative statements would cause a pre-tribulation Rapture proponent to respond:

Again sir, what of Enoch and Elijah?
Only Elisha knew of this.
And nobody but Moses was it revealed to about Enoch.
Were these not “secret”?
And one of the gretest (sic) secrets of all: what happened to the resurrected saints in Mt. 27:52.
Did God raise them nly (sic) to put them back in the grave?
No sir. Moses was dead and buried thousands of years before Christ, yet he was seen alive and well at the mount of transfiguration.
So here again, just because something wasn’t taught before a certain time, does not mean that its (sic) untrue or heresy.[3]

I replied to JM and Dean:

It seems to me that the eschatological differences you are having with your back and forth challenge could be related to the two major disagreements in evangelical theology over the details of future events surrounding Christ’s return. These seem to be associated with:

(1) Christ could return at any time. There are verses that indicate this (e.g. Matt 24:42-44, 50; 1 Cor 16:22; 1 Thess 5:2; Heb 10:25; James5:7-9; Rev 22:20), and

(2) There are signs that precede Christ’s return, one of which is that the Gospel must be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10. Other signs are in passages such as Mark 13:7-8; Matt 24:23-24; 2 Thess 2:1-10; 1 John 2:18.

Are these two different approaches causing the disagreement or are there some other issues. If so, what are they?[4]

1. What is the pre-tribulation rapture?

Norman Geisler provided this definition:

Pretribulationism holds that the Rapture of the church occurs before the Tribulation, during which the church, Christ’s bride, will be in heaven, standing before His judgment seat (2 Cor. 5:10) and preparing for His return to earth. Pretribulationism holds that Christ’s coming for His saints will be in the air and before the Tribulation; after the Tribulation, Christ will come with His saints and to earth to reign for a thousand years (Geisler 2005:612).

2. Others who taught pre-tribulation rapture

John Nelson Darby lived from 1800-1882 according to church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette (1975:1185). Darby was previously an Anglican clergyman from Ireland. Was there any pre-tribulation teaching that is alleged to be prior to J N Darby? See:

  1. Margaret Macdonald (1830 Pre-trib vision);
  2. Edward Irving (1792-1834);
  3. Manuel Lacunza (AD 1731-1801). This Wikipedia article on Lacunza gives an idea of his view.

(image courtesy ALO Photography)

David MacPherson has attempted to expose some of the pre-tribulation teaching in The Incredible Cover-Up (1975) and The Great Rapture Hoax (1983). There are critiques of David MacPherson’s research, e.g. HERE.

In MacPherson’s 1983 publication there is a quote from a letter written in 1834 by Francis Sitwell who became one of the 12 apostles of the Catholic Apostolic Church (associated with Edward Irving) in 1835. The letter reads:

It is because the time of the world’s doom draweth nigh, it is because the time of the sealing is come, it is because the Lord is nigh, even at the door. It is because there is no safety where you are, because you cannot be sealed where you are, it is because if you are not sealed you must be left in tribulations, while those who have obeyed His voice shall be caught up to meet Him (Sitwell in MacPherson 1983:63).

For an overview of the historical origins of the pre-tribulation rapture, see Tim Warner, The Origin of the Pretribulation Rapture Doctrine, that gives some of the information to which I referred. Also see this article in the theological journal from Dallas Theological Seminary, Bibliotheca Sacra 159, July – September 2002, ‘A Rapture Citation in the Fourteenth Century.

I replied to JM,

You don’t seem to have liked the fact that I used Norman Geisler’s research to identify a chronological logical fallacy by claiming that the pre-trib rapture, being late in exposition, does not necessarily make it invalid. I have not used an appeal to authority as a logical fallacy. I have simply used another’s research to show the nature of a chronological fallacy when applied to the pre-trib rapture. Surely you also use another’s research to save you having to do it yourself. That is what I did and did not appeal illogically to an authority.[5]

3. Beware of denying the validity of a doctrine because of  its lateness

Historically, there could have been others before J N Darby who promoted this view. Some say that Darby got the pre-trib rapture from Edward Irving (1792-1834). Others claim it could have come from Margaret MacDonald (ca. 1830). Still others go a little bit further back to Emmanuel Lacunza (AD 1731-1801).

However, post-tribulation, premillennialist, George Eldon Ladd, wrote that

We can find no trace of pretribulationism in the early church; and no modern pretribulationist has successfully proved that this particular doctrine was held by any of the church fathers or students of the Word before the nineteenth century (Ladd 1956:31).

Norman Geisler, who is a dispensational pretribulationist, claimed that those who object to pretribulationism as a late doctrine are committing the logical ‘fallacy of chronological snobbery which wrongly argues that truth can be determined by time’ (Geisler 2005:631). His point was that time has no connection with truth as something can be new and true just as it is possible to have something that can be old and false.

He claimed that with the discovery of Ephraem of Syria’s teaching (from ca. AD 306-373), it can be established that pretribulationism was taught in the early church. Earlier in this volume, Geisler established that premillennialism was taught in the early church shortly after the time of the apostles. His view is that the imminence of Christ’s return was emphasised from the start of the church, that ‘pretribulationism is based on a realistic concept of imminence’, and that ‘there is ample New Testament evidence to support pretribulationism’ (Geisler 2005:632).

Geisler covers such material in the 17th chapter of this volume, ‘The Tribulation and the Rapture’ (Geisler 2005:597-661).

Therefore, I cannot be adamant that the pre-tribulation rapture was not taught in the early church. However, I have not been convinced to this point in time, but I have not pursued all of Geisler’s material.

For further details to challenge the pre-tribulation rapture teaching, see my articles,


Geisler N 2005. Systematic Theology, vol 4. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Ladd, G E 1956. The Blessed Hope. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Latourette, K S 1975. A History of Christianity: AD 1500 – 1975, vol 2, rev ed. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.

MacPherson, D 1975. The Incredible Cover-Up. Medford, Oregon: Omega Publications.

MacPherson, D 1983. The Great Rapture Hoax Fletcher N. C.: New Puritan Library.


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Rapture false doctrine’, JM #24. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7716090-3/ (Accessed 1 February 2013).

[2] Ibid., JM #26.

[3] Ibid., DeaconDean #28.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #43.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen #74.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 23 July 2019.Horizontal Clipart Green Line - Green Line Transparent Background ...