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1830: the birth of modern eschatology
(study of "Last Days" prophecy)

  • 1830 was the origin of the best known Protestant view of prophecy.
  • The period 1830-44 was the single most important dated period in prophecy. No other date has been agreed on by so many people before the event.
  • Are the two facts linked? Was the Bible right?
  • To understand the significance of 1830, we need to first delve into the confusing world of eschatology...

See also:
Christian history
A second opinion

Introduction: 1830 or 1948?

It is often assumed that the most important date for millennial prophecy is 1948, the creation of the modern state of Israel. This certainly is a significant date, because the Bible foretold that Israel would return to her homeland. But according to the Bible, 1830 is even more important:

  1. 1948 was important for the Jews, principally the descendants of Judah. Most of the other eleven tribes are still lost.
  2. Having a physical homeland is only a small part of the prophecies of restoration - it is less important than what they do there: living righteously and building the temple. Those parts are still not fulfilled.
  3. The Bible is a testimony of Jesus Christ. The restoration of the knowledge of Christ is the most important thing - all other prophecies (homeland, temple, signs and plagues, etc.) are secondary.
  4. The Bible identifies the year 1830 at least six times. It never precisely identifies the year 1948.
  5. The books with the most future prophecy - Daniel and Revelation - hardly mention the Jewish homeland, but they spend several chapters on the restoration of the gospel, centering on 1830. Even Ezekiel hardly mentions it: Chapter 37 gives us the uniting of the Bible and Book of Mormon, then chapters 38 and 39 go straight to the batttle of Armageddon. The rest of the book deals with the temple that is yet to be built.

I conclusion, the year 1948 is important, but the Bible is far more interested in the year 1830.

An overview of prophetic "end time" beliefs.
See the excellent "ReligiousTolerance" site at http://www.religioustolerance.org/millenni.htm and the equally impressive Charles Spurgeon site at http://www.spurgeon.org/eschat.htm

Most prophetic web sites are Darbyist. Most "evangelicals" or "fundamentalists" are Darbyist. The majority of those who discuss the millennium are now Darbyist. But it was not always so.

What is "Darbyist" anyway, and how did this state of affairs come about? Let us review the different churches' views of the millennium. (N.B. if you don't like the term "Darbyist", I apologize. It is just easier to say than "mainly pre-tribulation dispensational pre-millennialism")

Many people believe that the differences between the various views of prophecy are minor not important. If you still think that Christianity is united, or basically all the same, visit religioustolerance.org

1. Historic Premillennialism: the original

Also called the "covenant" position, or "Chiliasm," after the Greek word for 1,000. This is how most people would classify the LDS position. Christ will come again, there will be a thousand years of peace, then Satan is loosed for a final battle. After that, Satan is cast out forever and there is a new heaven and a new earth. This was the dominant Christian view during the first three centuries. But after Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the fourth century CE, this was declared a heresy and suppressed."

2. Amillennialism: the medieval view

Also called Nonmillennialism or realized millennium). Popularized by St. Augustine (354 - 430 CE). After a few hundred years when the Second Coming hadn’t happened, the church decided that the "millennium" was just symbolic of the triumph of the medieval church. The official position of the Roman Catholic church, Anglicans, Lutherans and some Baptists (though differing views are usually accepted).

3. Dispensational Premillennialism: popularized from 1830

Also called "Darbyism" after John N. Darby who promoted this view around 1830. It was further popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. It is similar to historical Premillennialism except: (1) the tribulation (apostasy) is defined as precisely seven years. (2) The rapture (being caught up to meet Christ is the air) is separated from the Second Coming. (3) Israel and the church are seen as separate. The time between AD 70 and the rapture is called "the church age" (or church dispensation), which is said to be ignored in prophecy.

3a. Varieties of Dispensational Premillennialism

In true Protestant fashion, Darbyism has split off into several competing views. In the words of ReligiousTolerance.org: "All theories appear to contradict some passages in the Bible.":

1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture: (or "pre-trib") The Rapture happens just before the Tribulation. But this contradicts the Olivet Prophecy of Jesus, which implies that "the elect" will be present right to the end. This is the most popular of the Darbyist views.

2. Post-tribulation Rapture: (or "post-trib") The Rapture happens after the Tribulation. But this requires us to either (a) know the time of he Second Coming beforehand (it comes seven years after the start of the Tribulation), or effectively have two Second Comings, both of which are known to unbelievers. If the real Second Coming is some period after the rapture, so what? By that time the whole world knows it's going to happen so it is no longer a surprise.

3. Mid-Tribulation Rapture: (or "mid-trib") The Rapture happens 42 months into the Tribulation. Same problem as post-trib.

4. Pre-wrath Rapture: Almost post-trib but not quite.

5. Partial Rapture: a combination of the above, depending on faithfulness.

4. Postmillennialism

Also called "Christian Reconstruction", "Kingdom Now Theology" or "Dominion Theology. This belief arose during the early 19th century. People perceived a gradual movement towards social perfection, so they felt that the Church could create the millennium through its own efforts. Everyone will become a Christian, and then Christ will return. Many commentators see this as quite sinister, since the only way to ensure the church rules the world (without Christ organizing it personally) is by force.

5. Preterism

This is based on the phrase "this generation" in Matthew 24. Preterism states that most of the millennial prophecies were fulfilled in New Testament times, mainly with the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) and eruption of Vesuvius (AD 79). In my opinion this ignores the great Second Coming scriptures, and does not explain why none of the apostles or early saints who survived the period seemed to notice.

6. No millennialism

Most liberal Christian theologians largely ignore the contents of the book of Revelation and predictions of end times.

How the book of Revelation is interpreted

If you study such things, you will also come across some other phrases that do not refer to the millennium directly, but refer to how the Book of Revelation is interpreted:

Continuists. These people see Revelation as describing the whole 2000 years of the history of the church.

Simple Futurists. According to these, only the first three chapters relate to historical events. Then the book jumps 2000 years (or more) and all the rest is about the Second Coming.

Extreme Futurists. These teach that everything in Revelation is about the Second Coming (including the first three chapters, which are said to be about the Jews in the resurrection).

It almost goes without saying that Christianity without a living prophet is very, very confused.

(NB ... the LDS view solves the problems)

The Latter-day Saint view claims to be revealed from heaven. As such we should expect it to not only be similar to the earliest recorded views, but also to solve the problems in the various competing views. This is just what it does.

When each view was popular
See http://www.religioustolerance.org/millenni.htm and http://www.spurgeon.org/eschat.htm

Note that we are talking about the dominant views here. There is always the occasional person who holds a different view. As each view becomes fashionable, its adherents search for someone - anyone - who taught this in earlier centuries. Darbyism is a classic example. One critic once offered $500 to anyone who could prove that a pre-tribulation rapture was taught by anyone before 1830. Eventually a couple of isolated pre-1830 examples were found, but even here they did not have the other elements (dispensations, seven year tribulation, etc.)

Some views (Preterism, for example) were never dominant. (The Preterists of course could argue that this is because all the Preterists in the first century were taken up into heaven, so nobody was left to write about it!)

The early church: historic pre-millennialism

"Virtually all historians acknowledge that a premillennial faith was the dominant eschatological belief in the church from 'the apostolic age until the time of Augustine.'"

Those who disagree with this view naturally claim that their own view was also believed at an early time. But even the critics admit that this was the dominant view. The church would pass through a period of tribulation, then Christ will come again and reign for 1000 years. It seems pretty simple to me.

From Augustine: amillennialism

Once amillennialism became the official view, it stuck. Mainly because the previous view was declared a heresy and suppressed.

The Great Protestant Reformers were amillennial

Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, etc. all believed that the thousand year millennium is not literal, although they did believe in a literal Second Coming. However, they could not entirely dismiss the early church's descriptions of the millennium, so said that part of it referred to a future period.

John Calvin wrote:
"But a little later there followed the chiliasts, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years. Now their fiction is too childish either to need or to be worth a refutation."

The Puritans were amillennialist. The classic text is Institutio Theologiae Elencticae of Francois Turretin (1623-87). Turretin has been called "something of a gloomy amillennialist."

The dominance of amillennialism went right into the nineteenth century. "The outstanding delineation of an amillennial position was that of Patrick Fairbairn (1805-75), professor at the Free Church College in Aberdeen: The Interpretation of Prophecy (1856)"

But in the early nineteenth century, something happened. Climaxing in 1830, Christianity entered a more spirit filled phase. People were reading the Bible in unprecedented numbers, and daring to follow it wherever it seemed to lead. Around the world, people began to feel that, perhaps the medieval church was wrong. Perhaps the early saints were right. Perhaps the millennium would be real after all.

The nineteenth century

"Postmillennialism was the "dominant evangelical position" of the 19th century in both America and England. It was born out of an optimistic view of Christianity's growing impact on society and the legacy of Puritan theology."

"However, it remains true that the position of "Historic Premillennialism" was widespread and growing in influence in Victorian England."

But something happened in 1830

In the years before 1830 people had been expecting the imminent fulfillment of the great Bible prophecies. All the evidence is that the prophecies were fulfilled with the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Spring of 1830.

Something else also happened in the spring of 1830, across the Atlantic, in Port Glasgow, Scotland. A fifteen year old called Margaret Macdonald made a series of prophecies. She claimed the long expected gift of tongues. She said that the Second Coming would be in two parts - the rapture first, and the main event later.

Why did this matter? Because men like Irving and Darby had been expecting some kind of great prophetic event (see below, and the page on Christian churches in 1830). But when it happened, at the home of Peter Whitmer in New York State, they were looking at the other side of the world.

In the nineteenth century both the restored gospel and Darbyism remained relatively small. But come the twentieth century, both (I hesitate to say "the wheat and the tares") grew up in parallel. The more people heard of the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies, the more they also heard of the Darbyite version.

"John Nelson Darby and the "Brethren" were very influential and began spreading their system [Darbyism] by the late 1830's. … In the nineteenth century it remained a minority version among premillennialists, but this intense form of apocalyptic expectation was to achieve much greater salience in the twentieth."

The twentieth century

Postmillennialism was popular when everything seemed to be going well. But it lost popularity when Christianity seemed to be retreating.

"With the conclusion of the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Cold War and threat of atomic confrontation; postmillennialism, as a system, was thought to be dead or at least dying."

That left Historical premillennialism. But, after the perceived problems with the 1844 prophecies, it had become a little vague. It must have been embarrassing to say "the Bible says the apostasy will end, and we thought it would be around 1830 or 1844, but we think we were wrong".

In the 1920s in America in particular (according to the Elwell dictionary), Evangelicals needed a precisely defined and easily defended position to counter liberal theology. Darbyism, already popularised by the 1909 Scofield Bible, stepped into the brink. It offered a reassuringly precise view of prophecy. It took care of all the prophetic numbers. And since everything was always at some undefined moment "in the future", nobody had to worry about its fulfillment. More on Darbyism later.

Before 1830-1844, informed Bible readers felt that something was about to happen:

Elsewhere on this site I argue that the dates were right, but their significance was misunderstood. The apostasy had been denied for too long for people to recognise the nature of the restoration which being prophesied.

John Wesley and 1836

According to "Knowing the Day and the Hour" at http://www.novia.net/~todd/rap777.html John Welsey, founder of Methodism, wrote that "the time, times and half a time" of Revelation 12:14 ended in 1836 "when Christ should come" (A. M. Morris, The Prophecies Unveiled, p. 361).

According to LDS belief, the great reformers were inspired men who prepared the way. Throughout the Christian world, Wesley is a highly respected church leader and man of God. It may be no coincidence then, that according to Doctrine and Covenants section 110, the Lord Jesus came to accept his temple in 1836, as foretold by Malachi.

Irving, MacDonald, Darby, and 1830

According to The Arminian Magazine (Fall, 1984) at http://wesley.nnc.edu/arminian/05-1_84.htm

"It was Edward Irving that first became convinced that the world was not moving toward better conditions [the postmillennial position], but worse. He believed that directly before man there lay a period of terrible suffering. By the year 1824 he concluded that almost all biblical prophecies had been fulfilled and the coming of the Lord could not be over a few years away. Finally his movement set the date of June 27, 1835."

"It was in 1830 that Margaret MacDonald, a follower of Irving, received her revelation. Darby tells about his visit to the MacDonald home in his book, The Irrationalism of Infidelity. He too then began teaching a pre-trib rapture."

More reasons this period was important

The following items are mainly from the Preterist site at http://www.preterism.com/dispensational/chapter1.htm. They disagree with the 1830-1844 conclusions, but appear to report them fairly.

"John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) developed and popularized the view that God had an earthly purpose for Israel and a heavenly purpose for the Church. This particular doctrinal formulation - that God has two distinct and separate purposes in the historical process - was unknown in the history of the church until this time. The questions naturally arise, "Why did this teaching appear at this time?" and "What developments in particular brought Darby to such a prophetic outlook?"

"It appears that there were two basic undercurrents that made the season ripe for a blossoming of prophetic millennial interest. The first is the influence of Jesuit thinking concerning Christ's second coming, and the second is the general outlook that certain recent political events had great implications for the fulfillment of prophecy."

The Jesuit who read EVERYTHING

"Although the Jesuits Francesco Ribera (ca. 1585) and Pierre Lambert (d. 1813) produced writings that contributed to the rise in Darby's era of interest in Christ's future coming, a most diligent Jesuit scholar, Manuel De Lacunza (1731-1801) must be the focus of attention.

(Footnote: Edwin LeRoy Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. III, pp.324ff. Lacunza read 1000 large volumes of the Church Fathers, all of the commentaries available (p.308). See Coad, 'A History of the Brethren Movement,' p.128; and Croskery, 'Plymouth-Brethrenism,' p.viii.)

"After some thirty years of intense study, he completed his large work, 'The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty.' In it, among other things, he condemned the contemporary Roman Catholic priesthood as being corrupt, and took a futuristic view as he approached the book of Revelation and the appearance of Antichrist. Around 1824 Lacunza's work was banned by Pope Leo XII, and was placed on the 'Index Librorum Prohibitorum.'

"In 1826, Edward Irving (1792-1834) came across the 1812 Spanish edition of 'The Coming of the Messiah' during his travels. Irving felt burdened to make this work available on a broader basis. To this end he translated the Spanish edition (and before publication compared his translation with a Latin edition) which appeared in English by 1827 in two volumes. This Jesuit work was subsequently much discussed at the Albury Park Prophetic Conferences which were started by Henry Drummond and lasted from 1826-1830. Both Darby and Irving made appearances at this prophetic conference during the course of its short existence. As a result of this conference, a compilation entitled Dialogues On Prophesy was printed in 1828-1829."

The common belief of the time

"It is common knowledge that "millennial expectations are woven into the fabric of early nineteenth century life in both Europe and America." [Ernest Sandeen, "Toward A Historical Interpretation of the Origins of Fundamentalism," Church History, March, 1967, p.69.] The reason for this was that "the events of the French revolution were regarded generally as a fulfillment of prophecy. The impending end of the world was anticipated." The specific rationale for this reasoning was the wide-spread feeling that the 1260 years of Daniel terminated at the French Revolution. This "end-time" feeling was so strong that not a few people were emboldened to set definite dates for Christ's return. These dates settled mainly in the early 1840's. After 1844, because Christ did not return as predicted, prophetic interest declined."

But haven't people been predicting the end of the world throughout history?

Yes and no. At first glance, some books and web sites (see www.religioustolerance.org for some links) list a large number of failed doomsday prophecies covering all time periods. But look more closely. Most are sloppy about what they include - usually giving little or no detail about the alleged source of each prophecy. If we restrict ourselves to those prophecies that are based purely on the Bible (and not on pyramids, tradition, new visions, etc.) the numbers are greatly reduced. The "Book of Predictions" for example (London: Corgi, 1982) lists 38 people who predicted the end of the world at different times. But only about 4 or 5 dates are obtained purely from the Bible. And of these, 1844 stands out as pre-eminent.

1844 was The Big Date in prophecy

Of all the dates offered for the fulfilment of end-time prophecies, 1844 stands head and shoulders above the rest. The realisation that Christ did not return has gone down in history as "thegreat disappointment", and spawned several new churches (most notably the Seventh Day Adventists). Look up "Millerites" in any good encyclopedia.

For the fulfillment of the 1844 prophecy (though not exactly as many people expected), see the page on the 2300 "day" prophecy.

But the events and inspiration which led to this conclusion climaxed in 1830.

The significance of Darbysim and 1830

The dominance of Darbyism: "the main trunk of apocalyptic thinking"

According to http://www.religion-online.org/cgi-bin/relsearchd.dll?action=showitem&id=189

"Whether we rely upon "hard" poll data, or sales figures of books and periodicals, or an endless stream of anecdotal evidence, Darbyite Premillennialism proves to be one of the most resilient and widely held belief systems that has ever gripped the American imagination. … Hal Lindsey's 'The Late Great Planet Earth' sold 9 million copies within eight years of its publication in 1970. By 1990 that number had soared to 28 million. …

" 'When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture,' Paul Boyer ... focuses almost exclusively upon Darbyite Premillennialism, which might be called the main trunk of apocalyptic thinking in modern America. … 'When Time Shall Be No More' is so thoroughly researched and so comprehensive in scope it is difficult to imagine that any critical historian will try to retell the story for decades to come"

Darbyism began in 1830

This is from a pro-Darbyist web site, reviewing the critics of Darbyism at http://www.novia.net/~todd/tt14.html

"One of the most vocal and sensational critics of the rapture is Dave MacPherson, who argues that, "during the first 18 centuries of the Christian era, believers were never 'Rapture separaters' [sic]; they never separated the minor Rapture aspect of the Second Coming of Christ from the Second Coming itself.""

"A second critic, John Bray, also vehemently opposes a pretribulational rapture, writing, "this teaching is not a RECOVERY of truth once taught and then neglected. No, it never was taught-for 1800 years nearly no one knew anything about such a scheme." More recently, pre-trib opponent Robert Van Kampen proclaimed, "The pretribulational rapture position with its dual parousias was unheard of in church history prior to 1830." In our previous issue of Pre-Trib Perspectives, I noted that pre-wrath advocate Marvin Rosenthal has also joined the chorus."

"Gary North's derisive description of the rapture as "the Church's hoped-for Escape Hatch on the world's sinking ship," [he also refers to as being] invented in 1830."

The pro-Darbyists naturally claim that some people did teach a pre-trib rapture before 1830. But even if that is the case, there can be no question that it was popularised in 1830. And there is still no evidence of a pre-trib rapture being taught alongside the seven year tribulation, distinction between Israel and the church, etc. before 1830.

The 1830 origins of the "seven year tribulation" theory

The page on Matthew 24 discusses how various unbiblical ideas developed. The "all in the future" Great Tribulation was invented by Ribera in 1591. But it was not until 1830 that it was treated as being specifically seven years long. The Elwell Evangelical Dictionary notes that the "seven year" theory belongs to the Darbyists:

"One group, which describes itself as "historic" premillennialists, understands the great tribulation to be a brief but undetermined period of trouble. Another group, dispensational premillennialists, connects it with the seventieth week of Dan. 9:27, a period of seven years whose latter half pertains strictly to the great tribulation."

Darbyism is finally being questioned

According to http://www.kipertek.com/forerunner/champion/X0035_U.S._News_-_millenni.html:

"If you didn't see US. News & World Report's cover story on the new clash over the Bible's millennial prophecies (December 19, 1994), do yourself a favor and take a few minutes at your local library to make a photocopy of the article for your future study and reference. The article by Jeffery L. Sherer succinctly describes the growing discomfort of many Christian leaders and theologians over the dispensational premillennial theory of Christ's Second Coming which has been advanced in popular literature, such as Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth. ...

"As the predictions of the doomsdayers are inevitably refuted by the facts of history, more evangelicals are revising their end-times prophecy charts. Many are shifting to the historical stance of the Church prior to 1830. Some now assume the historical premillennial view which assigns the predictions of the enigmatic book of Revelation to "sometime in history" but not necessarily our generation. Others are adopting an amillennial view or a more optimistic postmillennialism. U.S. New's report on the shifting "end-times" paradigms among evangelicals (although tainted in places by secularism) is forthright and says more than most evangelical publications dare."

What is wrong with Darbyism?

Why make it complicated?

The simplest argument against Darbysim is that it complicates matters. Historic Premillennialism is pretty simple. Amillennialism is even simpler, and easily refuted from the Bible. With just those two views to look at, Bible readers of the early nineteenth century could clearly see the fulfillment of prophecy. But now Darbyism has muddied the waters.

Is Darbyism Biblical?

This is from http://www.catholic.com/answers/tracts/premid.htm (a Catholic site):

"This problem is highlighted by Baptist (and premillennial) theologian Dale Moody, who wrote: "Belief in a Pretribulational Rapture . . . contradicts all three chapters in the New Testament that mention the Tribulation and the Rapture together (Mark 13:24-27; Matt. 24:26-31; 2 Thess. 2:1-12). . . . The theory is so biblically bankrupt that the usual defense is made using three passages that do not even mention a Tribulation (John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:52). These are important passages, but they have not had one word to say about a Pretribulational Rapture. The score is 3 to 0, three passages for a Post-tribulational Rapture and three that say nothing on the subject. . . . Pretribulationism is biblically bankrupt and does not know it" (The Word of Truth, 556-7)."

Is Darbyism a "Satanic Deception"?

From http://www.according2prophecy.org/raptures.html

"Recently, pre-wrath advocate Marvin Rosenthal wrote that the pre-trib rapture was of Satanic origin and unheard of before 1830. "To thwart the Lord's warning to His children, in 1830," proclaims Rosenthal, "Satan, the 'father of lies,' gave to a fifteen-year-old girl named Margaret McDonald a lengthy vision."

Dave MacPherson, reviews the evidence against Darbyism in his book "The Three R's: Rapture, Revisionism, Robbery-Pretribulation Rapturism from 1830 to Hal Lindsey." he considers Margaret MacDonald's visions of 1830 to be occult influenced. He develops the theme in his books The Incredible Cover-Up and The Great Rapture Hoax.

Conclusion: the great decoy

If you wanted to prevent people from finding something, what would you do? Fight against it? Ignore it? Or provide decoys?

The Bible foretold that the Kingdom of God would be restored in 1830, and the restoration would be complete by 1844. Informed Bible readers of the early nineteenth century knew that something very important was about to happen in this period.

And so it did. The true church was restored in the spring of 1830, so fulfilling numerous ancient prophecies.

But at the very same time the true church was restored, in the spring of 1830, a decoy, a new alternative gospel, arose. That other gospel took root and is now the dominant belief among fundamentalists. But those who study it realise that it is new and unbiblical.

Now more and more people are questioning Darbyism. Darbyism is weakening, while the restored gospel is growing from strength to strength.


the bottom line

Those non-Mormons who see 1830 as the defining moment in modern prophecy are right, but the truth is far more significant and wonderful than they realise!


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