Reviewed by Greg Brothers, assistant editor of Signs of the Times.

In interpreting prophecy, or so it says in volume 7 of The SDA Bible Commentary, one has but three options: historicism, futurism, and preterism. The Re formers (and Adventists) espoused the first; Catholics responded with the latter two. The choice--at least for conservative Protestants--is clear.

But this argument leaves one question unasked: How did Christians interpret prophecy before the Protestant Reformers came along with historicism?

That's the question Emmerson answers in his book Antichrist in the Middle Ages. Based on the author's doctoral studies at Stanford, Antichrist traces the "life and times" of the title character, as described in medieval Bible commentaries, sermons, plays, poems, and art.

At the center of medieval apocalypticism, as Emmerson demonstrates, was the antichrist. History was thought to be a "great controversy" between God and Satan, with the battles of the past and present foreshadowing the final conflict between this demonic figure and the forces of righteousness.

This meant that, no less than the Christ whom he parodied, antichrist had had his "types" down through the ages. Medieval Christians believed that while many antichrists (pagan invaders, evil kings, even wicked popes) had already come and gone, the antichrist would appear just before Christ's second advent. The antichrist, however, was given a new identity during the Reformation. No longer an individual to come, it was thought by Protestants to represent an institution already in existence: the papacy. This view, of course, was hotly denied by Catholic exegetes, many of whom defended the "conservative consensus" of the Middle Ages.

Whether the medieval view of the antichrist should be normative is, of course, outside the scope of this book. As Emmerson himself notes, different times and different places have feared different antichrists.

It does appear, however, that The SDA Bible Commentary's attempt to trace the history of prophetic interpretation is, at best, simplistic. Certainly more than three alternatives exist in the interpretation of prophecy. And certainly preterism and futurism are more than "just" Catholic responses to Protestant historicism; all three are heirs (how ever legitimate) of the medieval view.

Emmerson's book, in other words, must be taken into account in any future defense of historicism as a means of prophetic interpretation. For that reason alone the serious Bible student should buy this book.

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Reviewed by Greg Brothers, assistant editor of Signs of the Times.

February 1991

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