The Origin and History Of The Pretribulational Rapture Theory(1)

By Arthur D. Katterjohn

For 1800 years after the death of Christ, the Church believed and taught the approaching but posttribulational Return of the Lord, with the Resurrection and the Gathering-together of all believers unto Himself at that time. Not one early church father or writer ever taught that the Lord would come before the tribulation, even though they felt that His coming might be within their lifetime. 

Around 1830 however, a young woman (Miss Margaret MacDonald, according to some sources) claimed that the Holy Spirit had revealed to her that the true Church would be "raptured" (caught-up) to heaven BEFORE the tribulation. This "estatic utterance" gave birth to the modern doctrine of pretribulationalism and all its related phraseology. There was no definite teaching that there would be this secret rapture of the Church at a secret coming until this supposed "revelation". 

This new doctrine was presented by a Rev. Edward Irving at the Powerscourt House Conference in Ireland, where it received the enthusiastic support of John N. Darby, C. H. Mackintosh, and other Plymouth Brethren leaders, and ultimately influenced such men as C. I. Scofield, James M. Gray, Arno C. Gabelein, R. A. Torrey, Harry A. Ironside, and Lewis Sperry Chafer. Some early Brethren such as S. P. Tregelles and B. W. Newton opposed this "new" theory, and others such as Alexander Reese, Henry W. Frost, William J. Erdman, and Charles R. Erdman continued to teach the historic viewpoint. 

The present popularity of pretribulationalism is due largely to the widespread use of the Scofield Bible, and the many recent authors such as Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, E. Schuyler English, and William Pettingill. Many evangelical publishing houses, periodicals, seminaries, Bible schools, faith missions, and popular Bible Radio Teachers are responsible for its continuing presentation, along with many prophetic charts, prophetic conferences, gospel songs, and a host of recently published prophetical paperback books, such as The Late, Great Planet Earth.   

The list of present-day men of God who still teach the Historic posttribulational view include Oswald J. Smith, George E. Ladd, Harold J. Ockenga, Leon Morris, Carl F. H. Henry, Merrill C. Tenney, J. Barton Payne, Norman F. Douty, Norman S. MacPherson, C. S. Lovett, Harold Lindsell, S. I. McMillen, and many, many others. 

Sources for the above statements include: George Eldon Ladd - The Blessed Hope; J. Barton Payne - The Imminent Appearing of Christ; Samuel P. Tregelles - The Hope of Christ's Second Coming; and Wesley G. Edwards - The Day of Vengeance.  Readers are urged to write Mr. Dave MacPherson, Director, Heart of America Bible Society, 5528 Lydia St., Kansas City, Missouri, 64110(2) for the latest research materials on "The Unbelievable Pretrib Origin."

However, as God seems once again to be working with the nation of Israel, as many prophecies are beginning to be fulfilled, and as we see this age coming to a close, many more teachers, pastors, and students are beginning to see the many discrepencies between pretribulationalism and the Word of God, and are beginning to speak out concerning the responsibilities of the Church to prepare for the greatest persecution yet to come. Many Christians, after serious study of the Word of God, have found that Scofield and Christ disagree, and that Christ's words must prevail, in matters of prophecy, as well as in everything else. There is a growing movement toward the Historic Premillennial view throughout this country, especially among the younger Christians, who see this age coming to a close very soon.

The QUESTION: Is the Pretribulational Rapture clearly taught by Scripture, or is it merely a popular teaching, presented by many godly, sincere Christians, who
are passing on what they themselves were taught, without a careful examination of God's Word? The latter seems to be the most accurate answer.

(1) From The Rapture - When? p. 31, by Arthur Katterjohn, former professor at Wheaton College. Katterjohn is also the author of The Tribulation People, Creation House, Carol Stream, Ill.

(2) Address no longer valid. Dave MacPherson has written several books on the subject. You can find his books listed on and other popular booksellers. Or try our Book Search page.

(3) See my article The Origin Of The Pretribulational Rapture Theory for a summary of other theories and Dave MacPherson's article debunking attempts by some to prove a pre-Darby origin.

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