On Clark's Millennial Arguments

[This was a short paper written for my eschatology course at Sangre de Cristo Seminary.] 

On Clark’s Millennial Arguments


Gordon Clark grew up the son of a Presbyterian minister, David S. Clark (1859-­1939) who had written in favor of postmillennialism. (See: David S. Clark, The Message from Patmos, Reading, PA: Christian Faith and Life, 1921) The first record of Clark himself mentioning eschatology is in a letter to the President and Trustees of Wheaton College of March 3, 1936 in which he writes that he does not think Christ’s return will be premillennial, but is not sure if he is “post­millenarian or a­millenarian.”1
In 1937, however, Clark made an abrupt shift in position. Following numerous readings on the topic suggested by Wheaton College president J. Oliver Buswell, Clark accepted premillennialism and so was offered a full time position at the college where premillennialism was part of the college’s “Standards of Faith and Doctrinal Platform.”2
At the time Clark was in a difficult position regarding employment. He had just finished a year as a visiting professor at Wheaton and had just heard from the University of Pennsylvania that he did not have a job to come back to. Thus, one might question whether Clark’s acceptance of premillennialism in 1937 was purely pragmatic. Yet Clark was not one to compromise principle. And further, his arguments in favor of premillennialism in later years indicate that he did not waver from the position once accepting it.
In two of his books Clark explicitly takes a position on the question of millennialism. In the first, What Do Presbyterians Believe (1965), it is evident that Clark held to historic premillennialism.3 The second place is in his unpublished systematic theology, Introduction to Theology (circa 1974) where he devotes an entire chapter to eschatology and explicitly takes the position of historic premillennialism. There he writes, “The argument of the present volume is not so much that the Bible teaches it [premillennialism] unmistakably, as that postmillennialism and amillennialism can in no way be fitted into the Biblical data, and hence only premillennialism is left.”
In these two books Clark presents a number of arguments in favor of premillennialism. This article will analyze 4 of his arguments. The first three are arguments against amillennialism, postmillennialism, and dispensationalism. The final argument is for historic premillennialism.
Before we begin, however, it should be noted that Clark’s version of premillennialism is unlike any standard view. Though he held that Christ’s return will precede the millennium, he did not press the millennium to be a literal 1000 year reign, but only of necessity a long period of time.4
Argument #1. There is a millennium taught in Scripture. (Against amillennialism)
In What Do Presbyterians Believe,Clark writes,
“Of the three views the denial of a millennium seems least tenable. The Bible in four consecutive verses explicitly mentions a period of a thousand years. Further, the passage refers to conditions on earth rather than in heaven because during the period Satan cannot deceive the nations as he formerly did, and after the period he deceives them again. This period of time may come before or after Christ’s return, and the accompanying events may be in one order or another, but the Bible definitely predicts such a period in history.” ( p. 270)
Similarly, in Introduction to Theology,Clark writes,
First, Rev. 20 mentions a millennium. The verse must mean something. It clearly means a period of time. Vision though the chapter may be, it refers to events on earth. This much refutes amillennialism.
Amillennialists, however, do not deny the existence of the millennium, but rather hold that the millennium is “realized” — that is, that the millennium is the present church age which began at Pentecost. Thus, on Clark’s definition of terms, since there must be a millennium, those who today are called amillennialists are really postmillennialists of a certain variety, since Christ’s coming will be after the present church age. That there is “such a period in history” can be equally agreed upon by all four of the major eschatological positions (including amillennialism) and thus Clark’s argument gains no ground.
Argument #2. The possible chronology in Revelation prefers premillennialism over postmillennialism. (Against Postmillennialism)
In What Do Presbyterians Believe,Clark writes,
If Christ’s return is mentioned in chapter nineteen, it comes before the thousand years of chapter twenty. (p. 271)
In Introduction to Theology,Clark writes,
His [B. B. Warfield’s] thesis is not simply that the scriptures are silent as to a millennium, but that they “definitely exclude the whole conception”. To sustain this position Warfield assumes that each of the seven sections of Revelation begins with the first advent and pictures history on to the second advent. He calls this ” the principle of recapitulation.” This is, of course, an assumption. It is the assumption of some very estimable theologians, from Augustine to Hengstenberg. But others would say that any assumption begs the question.
Naturally, all will agree that if Revelation is purely chronological from chapter 19 to 20, then premillennialism is established. But just as Clark says that Augustine’s view (the principle of recapitulation)begs the question, does not his own supposition of a chronological view do likewise, for Clark does not provide a reason why the text must be chronological?
Argument 3. The “First Resurrection” of Rev. 20:5 is not necessarily a bodily resurrection. (against dispensationalism)
In Introduction to Theology,Clark writes,
The word resurrection and its equivalents do not always, do not usually, mean a bodily resurrection from the grave. Ephesians 2:1­6 identify resurrection and regeneration. Indeed, the New Testament designates the initial act of the Holy Spirit in saving a sinner as a resurrection, and uses this term more frequently than terms expressing a new birth.
George Eld0n Ladd makes the same argument in The Meaning of the Millennium, Four Views, He writes,
“The ‘spiritual’ interpretation of the first ezesancannot be objected to on the grounds that the New Testament does not teach any spiritual resurrection, for it clearly does. Ephesians 2:1­6 teaches that we, who once were dead in sins, have been made alive and have been raised from the dead with Jesus Christ. This is clearly a resurrection of the spirit which occurs when one comes to faith in Jesus Christ.”
In Ephesians 2:6 (And hath raised usup together, and made ussit together in heavenly placesin Christ Jesus) the “hath raised us up” is συνήγειρεν, but in Revelation 20:5, the ressurection is a different root, ἀνάστασις. This weakens Clark’s argument.
Argument #4. The end­time events don’t necessarily occur simultaneously because parousia can mean presence rather than coming. (For premillenialism)
In What Do Presbyterians Believe,Clark writes,
Much is made of the Scriptural scheduling of many events at the return of Christ, and the conclusion is then drawn that all these events are simultaneous. But the Scripture does not speak of the coming of Christ in the ordinary English sense of an arrival. The Greek word is parousia, and it means presence, rather than coming. It is used in pagan literature to denote a king’s tour of inspection. During the tour many things can happen at different times, and yet all are “at” his presence. Hence it cannot be insisted upon that all that occurs at Christ’s Parousia must be simultaneous. Various events can be placed at various times during the span of the millennium. (p. 272)
Similarly, in Introduction to Theology,Clark writes,
Many postmillennial and amillennial objections are based on the idea that the second coming is an instantaneous event; for example, there is an hour of not more than sixty minutes when all who are in their graves shall come forth to a resurrection including both saved and lost. Hence a thousand years cannot intervene. Other events which premillennialists separate in time must likewise be simultaneous. But the parousia is not an instantaneous coming. It is a presence. In classical Greek Sophocles and Aristotle both use the word to denote a being present, especially a royal visit. In the New Testament parousia very definitely means a presence; (cf. I Cor. 16:17, II Cor. 10:10, Phil. 2:12, and particularly II Peter 1:16). Since a royal visit, a tour of inspection in one of the king’s provinces, can last several months, why cannot the visit of the King of kings last a thousand years? Therefore the meaning of the term parousia disposes of several objections to premillennialism.
This is a good argument, but rather than establishing premillennialism (or any other view) it only casts possible doubt on amillennialism, making it more difficult for the amillennialist to prove his case since he will have to look in a place other than those which appear to make coincidental the various end time events.
Overall, Clark presents some arguments that help us think critically about the issues of the millennium. He perhaps keeps us away from some exegetical mistakes, but fails to sufficient build his case for his view, historic premillennialism.

1 “With respect to article seven, I hold to what I consider the traditional Calvinistic position. I believe that Christ will return visibly, bodily, with flesh and bones as he appeared after the resurrection. I do not believe it will be a premillennial return. I consider the framers of the Westminster Confession wise in not too strictly defining the succession of future events, and I should add that I am perturbed at some modern tendencies to chart the future. I am not sure that I am a postmillinarian, nor an amillenarian; but I cannot affirm that I am a premillinarian.”
2 “See: part 7: “We believe in that ‘blessed hope’, that personal, premillennial, and imminent return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
3 This book was an expanded version of his 1956 What Presbyterians Believe which did not explicitly take a position on millennialism and noted “But none of the three main views is so clearly taught in Scripture that its acceptance should be a requirement for ordination to the ministry.” (p. 120)
4 “First there is the binding of Satan for a thousand years. It is just nit­picking to debate whether the thousand years are precisely 365 x 24 x 60 x 1000 minutes. This precise number of minutes or years may indeed by symbolical; but it must be symbolical of a long period of time.” (ST)

3 thoughts on “On Clark's Millennial Arguments”

  1. It might be worthy of note that while the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 8 is decidedly postmillennial/amillennial with its statement that Christ “shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world” Clark makes no comment on this statement in his exposition of the Confession, “What do Presbyterians Believe?”

    1. Perhaps a premillennialist would try to interpret “the end of the world” more broadly so that (1) “Christ shall return,” (2) reign “1000 years”, and (3) “judge men and angels” are all at “the end of the world.”
      But, when the (premillennial) Bible Presbyterians formed their denomination, they felt the need to change the Westminster Confession of Faith on this point.
      They changed this to read “end of the age” rather than “end of the world.”

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