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."1 Rosenthal
gives no documentation, he merely asserts that this is true. However,
he is wrong. He is undoubtedly relying upon the questionable work
of Dave MacPherson.
Another thing amazing about Rosenthal's declaration is that a
few paragraphs later in the article he characterizes his opposition
as those who "did not deal with the issues, misrepresented
the facts, or attempted character assassination."2 This description
is exactly what he has done in his characterization of pre-trib
rapture origins. Why would Rosenthal make such outlandish and
unsubstantiated charges about the pre-trib rapture?
THE BIG LIE
One of the things that facilitated the Nazi rise to power in Germany
earlier this century was their propaganda approach called "The
Big Lie." If you told a big enough lie often enough then
the people would come to believe it. This the Nazis did well.
This is what anti-pretribulationists like John Bray3 and Dave
MacPherson4 have done over the last 25 years. Apparently the big
lie about the origins of the pre-trib rapture has penetrated the
thinking of Robert Van Kampen5 and Marvin Rosenthal to the extent
that they have adopted such a falsehood as true. This is amazing
in light of the fact that their own pre-wrath viewpoint is not
much more than fifteen years old itself. Rosenthal must have changed
his mind about pre-trib origins between the time he wrote his
book The Pre-wrath Rapture of the Church (1990) and the
recent article (Dec. 1994) since, in the former, he says that
the pre-trib rapture "can be traced back to John Darby and
the Plymouth Brethren in the year 1830."6 Rosenthal goes
on to say, "Some scholars, seeking to prove error by association,
have attempted (perhaps unfairly) to trace its origin back two
years earlier to a charismatic, visionary woman named Margaret
MacDonald."7 Even this statement is in error, since the Margaret
Macdonald claim has always been related to 1830, not 1828. However,
Rosenthal is correct in his original assessment that these charges
are "unfair" and probably spring out of a motive to
"prove error by association," known as the ad hominem
Pretribulationists have sought to defend against "The Big
Lie" through direct interaction against the charges.8 In
a rebuttal to these charges I made in 1990, I gave two major reasons
why "The Big Lie" is not true. First, it is doubtful
that Margaret Macdonald's "prophecy" contains any elements
related to the pre-trib rapture.9 Second, no one has ever demonstrated
from actual facts of history that Darby was influenced
by Macdonald's "prophecy" even if it had (which it did
not) contained pre-trib elements.10 John Walvoord has said,
The whole controversy as aroused by Dave MacPherson's claims has
so little supporting evidence, despite his careful research, that
one wonders how he can write his book with a straight face. Pretribulationalists
should be indebted to Dave MacPherson for exposing the facts,
namely, that there is no proof that MacDonald or Irving originated
the pretribulation rapture teaching.11
There is a third reason why MacPherson's theory is wrong, Darby
clearly held to an early form of the pre-trib rapture by January
1827. This is a full three years before MacPherson's claim of
DARBY AND THE PRE-TRIB RAPTURE
Brethren writer, Roy A. Huebner claims and documents his
belief that J.N. Darby first began to believe in the pre-trib
rapture and develop his dispensational thinking while convalescing
from a riding accident during December 1826 and January 1827.12
If this is true, then all of the origin-of-the-rapture-conspiracy-theories
fall to the ground in a heap of speculative rubble. Darby would
have at least a three-year jump on any who would have supposedly
influenced his thought, making it impossible for all the "influence"
theories to have any credibility.
Huebner provides clarification and evidence that Darby was not
influenced by a fifteen-yea-old girl (Margaret Macdonald), Lacunza,
Edward Irving, or the Irvingites. These are all said by the detractors
of Darby and the pre-trib rapture to be bridges which led to Darby's
thought. Instead, he demonstrates that Darby's understanding of
the pre-trib rapture was the product of the development of his
personal interactive thought with the text of Scripture as he,
his friends, and dispensationalists have long contended.
Darby's pre-trib and dispensational thoughts, says Huebner, were
developed from the following factors: 1) "he saw from
Isaiah 32 that there was a different dispensation coming . . .
that Israel and the Church were distinct."13 2)
"During his convalescence JND learned that he ought
daily to expect his Lord's return."14 3) "In
1827 JND understood the fall of the church. . . 'the ruin of the
Church.'"15 4) Darby also was beginning to see a gap
of time between the rapture and the second coming by 1827.16 5)
Darby, himself, said in 1857 that he first started understanding
things relating to the pre-trib Rapture "thirty years ago."
"With that fixed point of reference, Jan. 31, 1827,"
declares Huebner, we can see that Darby "had already understood
those truths upon which the pre-tribulation rapture hinges."17
German author Max S. Weremchuk has produced a major new biography
on Darby entitled John Nelson Darby: A Biography.18 He
agrees with Huebner's conclusions concerning the matter. "Having
read MacPherson's book . . ." says Weremchuk, "I find
it impossible to make a just comparison between what Miss MacDonald
'prophesied' and what Darby taught. It appears that the wish was
the father of the idea."19
When reading Darby's earliest published essay on biblical prophecy
(1829), it is clear that while it still has elements of historicism,
it also reflects the fact that for Darby, the rapture was to be
the church's focus and hope.20 Even in this earliest of essays,
Darby expounds upon the rapture as the church's hope.21
SCHOLARS DO NOT ACCEPT THE BIG LIE
The various "rapture origin" theories espoused by opponents
of pre-tribulationsm are not accepted as historically valid by
scholars who have examined the evidence. The only ones who appear
to have accepted these theories are those who already are opposed
to the pre-trib rapture. A look at various scholars and historians
reveals that they think, in varying degrees, that MacPherson
has not proven his point. Most, if not all who are quoted
below do not hold to the pre-trib rapture teaching. Ernest R.
This seems to be a groundless and pernicious charge. Neither Irving
nor any member of the Albury group advocated any doctrine resembling
the secret rapture. . . . Since the clear intention of this charge
is to discredit the doctrine by attributing its origin to fanaticism
rather than Scripture, there seems little ground for giving it
Historian Timothy P. Weber's evaluation is a follows:
The pretribulation rapture was a neat solution to a thorny problem
and historians are still trying to determine how or where Darby
got it. . . .
A newer though still not totally convincing view contends that
the doctrine initially appeared in a prophetic vision of Margaret
Macdonald, . . .
Possibly, we may have to settle for Darby's own explanation. He
claimed that the doctrine virtually jumped out of the pages of
Scripture once he accepted and consistently maintained the distinction
between Israel and the church.23
American historian Richard R. Reiter informs us that,
[Robert] Cameron probably traced this important but apparently
erroneous view back to S. P. Tregelles, . . . Recently more detailed
study on this view as the origin of pretribulationism appeared
in works by Dave McPherson, . . . historian Ian S. Rennie . .
. regarded McPherson's case as interesting but not conclusive.24
Posttribulationist William E. Bell asserts that,
It seems only fair, however, in the absence of eyewitnesses to
settle the argument conclusively, that the benefit of the doubt
should be given to Darby, and that the charge made by Tregelles
be regarded as a possibility but with insufficient support to
merit its acceptance. . . . On the whole, however, it seems that
Darby is perhaps the most likely choice--with help from Tweedy.
This conclusion is greatly strengthened by Darby's own claim to
have arrived at the doctrine through his study of II Thessalonians
Pre-trib rapture opponent John Bray does not accept the MacPherson
He [Darby] rejected those practices, and he already had his new
view of the Lord coming FOR THE SAINTS (as contrasted to the later
coming to the earth) which he had believed since 1827, . . . It
was the coupling of this "70th week of Daniel" prophecy
and its futuristic interpretation, with the teaching of the "secret
rapture," that gave to us the completed "Pre-tribulation
Secret Rapture" teaching as it has now been taught for many
years. . . . makes it impossible for me to believe that Darby
got his Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching from Margaret MacDonald's
vision in 1830. He was already a believer in it since 1827, as
he plainly said.26
Huebner considers MacPherson's charges as "using slander
that J. N. Darby took the (truth of the) pretribulation rapture
from those very opposing, demon-inspired utterances."27 He
goes on to conclude that MacPherson
did not profit by reading the utterances allegedly by Miss M.
M. Instead of apprehending the plain import of her statements,
as given by R. Norton, which has some affinity to the post-tribulation
scheme and no real resemblance to the pretribulation rapture and
dispensational truth, he has read into it what he appears so anxious
F. F. Bruce, who was part of the Brethren movement his entire
life, but one who did not agree with the pre-trib rapture said
the following when commenting on the validity of MacPherson's
Where did he [Darby] get it? The reviewer's answer would be that
it was in the air in the 1820s and 1830s among eager students
of unfulfilled prophecy, . . . direct dependence by Darby on Margaret
Macdonald is unlikely.29
John Walvoord's assessment is likely close to the truth:
any careful student of Darby soon discovers that he did not get
his eschatological views from men, but rather from his doctrine
of the church as the body of Christ, a concept no one claims was
revealed supernaturally to Irving or Macdonald. Darby's views
undoubtedly were gradually formed, but they were theologically
and biblically based rather than derived from Irving's pre-Pentecostal
I challenge opponents of the pre-trib rapture to stick to a discussion
of this matter based upon the Scriptures. While some have done
this, many have not been so honest. To call the pre-trib position
Satanic, as Rosenthal has done, does not help anyone in this discussion.
Such rhetoric will only serve to cause greater polarization of
the two views. However, when pre-trib opponents make false charges
about the history of the pre-trib view we must respond. And respond
we will in our next issue where we will present a clear pre-trib
rapture statement from the fourth or fifth century. This pre-trib
rapture statement ante-dates 1830 by almost 1,500 years and will
certainly lead to at least a revision of those propagating The
1 Marvin J. Rosenthal, "Is the Church in Matthew Chapter
24?" Zion's Fire (Nov-Dec 1994), p. 10. 2 Ibid.
3 John L. Bray, The Origin of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Teaching
(Lakeland, FL.: John L. Bray Ministry, 1982).
4 Dave MacPherson, The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin (Kansas
City: Heart of America Bible Society, 1973). The Late Great
Pre-Trib Rapture (Kansas City: Heart of America Bible Society,
1974). The Great Rapture Hoax (Fletcher, N.C.: New Puritan
Library, 1983). Rapture? (Fletcher, N.C.: New Puritan Library,
1987). The Rapture Plot (Monticello, Utah: P.O.S.T. Inc.,
5 Robert Van Kampen, The Sign (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway Books,
1992), pp. 445-47.
6 Marvin Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church (Nashville:
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), p. 53. 7 Ibid., pp. 53-54.
8 Some of the pre-trib responses include the following: R. A.
Huebner, The Truth of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Recovered
(Millington, N.J.: Present Truth Publishers, 1976); Precious
Truths Revived and Defended Through J. N. Darby, Vol. 1 (Morganville,
N. J.: Present Truth Publishers, 1991). Gerald B. Stanton, Kept
From The Hour, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956). John F. Walvoord,
The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
1979). Robert L. Sumner, "Looking For The Blessed Horrible
Holocaust!" A book review of The Late Great Pre-Trib Rapture
in The Biblical Evangelist (Vol. 10, Num. 1; May, 1975);
"Hope? Or Hoax?" The Biblical Evangelist (Vol.
18, Num. 3; Feb., 1984). Hal Lindsey, The Rapture: Truth Or
Consequences (New York: Bantam Books, 1983). Charles Ryrie,
What You Should Know About the Rapture (Chicago: Moody
Press, 1981). Tim LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm: Why Christians
will Escape All the Tribulation (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah,
1992). Thomas D. Ice, "Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational
Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret Macdonald," Bibliotheca
Sacra 147 (1990), pp. 155-68; "The Origin of the Pre-Trib
Rapture," Part I & II, Biblical Perspectives,
vol. 2, no. 1, Jan./Feb. 1989 & vol. 2, no. 2, Mar./Apr. 1989;
"Did J. N. Darby Believe in the Pretrib Rapture by 1827?"
Dispensational Distinctives, vol. I, no. 6, Nov./Dec. 1991.
9 The following books are some of those which have the full text
of Macdonald's utterance: MacPherson's Cover-Up, and Hoax.
R. A. Huebner, The Truth of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Recovered
(Millington, N.J.: Present Truth Publishers, 1976), pp. 67-69.
Hal Lindsey, The Rapture: Truth Or Consequences (New York:
Bantam Books, 1983), pp. 169-172. William R. Kimball, The Rapture:
A Question of Timing (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985),
10 Ice, "Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture
Did Not Begin with Margaret Macdonald," pp. 158, 161.
11 Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation, p. 47.
12 R. A. Huebner, Precious Truths Revived and Defended Through
J. N. Darby, Vol. 1 (Morganville, N. J.: Present Truth Publishers,
13 Ibid., p. 17. 14 Ibid., p. 19. 15 Ibid., p. 18. 16 Ibid., p.
23. 17 Ibid., p. 24.
18 Max S. Weremchuk, John Nelson Darby: A Biography (Neptune,
N. J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1992). 19 Ibid., p. 242.
20 J. N. Darby, "Reflections upon the Prophetic Inquiry and
the Views Advanced in it" The Collected Writings of J.
N. Darby, vol. 2 (Winschoten, Netherlands: H. L. Heijkoop,
reprint 1971), pp. 1-31.
21 Ibid., pp. 16-18, 25, 30.
22 Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British
and American Millenarianism 1800-1930 (Grand Rapids: Baker
Book House, 1970), p. 64.
23 Timothy P. Weber, Living In The Shadow Of The Second Coming:
American Premillennialism 1875-1982 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan
Publishing House, 1983), pp. 21-22.
24 Richard R. Reiter, The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational?
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publication, 1984), p. 236.
25 William E. Bell, A Critical Evaluation of the Pretribulation
Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology (Ph.D. diss., New
York University, 1967), pp. 60-61, 64-65.
26 Bray, Ibid., pp. 24-25, 28 27 Huebner, p. 13. 28 Ibid., p.
29 F. F. Bruce, Review of The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin
in The Evangelical Quarterly, (Vol. XLVII, No. 1; Jan-Mar,
1975), p. 58.
30 Walvoord, p. 47.