Rapture Theology’s Ominous Origins

by Fr. John A. Peck

Origins of the Rapture actually don’t go back that far, but farther than you may have been taught (if you were taught!).

First of all, the word ‘rapture’ is not even included in the Scriptures, and was unknown as a theology or a doctrine by the Church for well over 1,800 years.Where then did it come from and when did it begin?

Its origins are in the counter reformation move of Papal Rome in the 16th century after Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. It is less well known that the pope at that time authorized three Jesuit Priests to reinterpret Daniel’s 70 weeks of prophecy; the Book of Revelation; and Ezekiel. The goal of these jesuits was to take the heat of the reformation away from the papacy and the protestant association of the Anti-Christ with the pope.   The three Jesuits were:

  1. Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) of Salamanca,
  2. Luis de Alcazar (1554-1621) of Seville, and
  3. Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine (1542-1621).

The doctrine  – called futurism  – which would later become ‘the rapture’ originated and was submitted by Francisco Ribera in 1585. His Apocalyptic Commentary was on the grand points of Babylon and the Anti-Christ which are now known as the rapture doctrine. Ribera’s published work was called “In Sacram Beati Ionnis Apostoli & Evangelistate Apocoalypsin Commentari” (Lugduni 1593). You can still find these writings in the Bodleian Library in Oxford England.  The work was considered flawed and faulty, and was ordered buried in the Church archives, out of sight, by the pope himself.

Unfortunately, over 200 years later a librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the name of S. R. Maitland (1792-1866) was appointed to be the Keeper of the Manuscripts at Lambeth Palace, in London, England. In his duties, Dr. Maitland came across Francisco Ribera’s rapture theology and he had it republished for the sake of interest in early 1826 with follow ups in 1829 and 1830.

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This was spurred along with the Oxford Tracts that were published in 1833 to try and deprotestantize the Church of England.   John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) (A Leader of the Plymouth Brethren) became a follower of S.R. Maitland’s prophetic endeavors and was persuaded. Darby’s influence in the seminaries of Europe combined with 7 tours of the United States changed the eschatological view of the ministers which had the trickle down effect into the churches.

Another contributor to the rapture ideology came through Emmanuel Lacunza (1731-1801), a Jesuit priest from Chile. Lacunza wrote the “Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty” around 1791. It was later published in London in 1827. The book was attributed to a fictitious author name Rabbi Juan Josafat BenEzra.

Edward Irving (1792-1834) contended that it was the work of a converted Jew and proved that even the Jewish scholars embraced a pre-tribulation rapture line of thought. It wasn’t long until he had persuaded others to follow his line of thought which gave birth to the Irvingites. However, when chaotic disturbances arose in Irving’s services during the manifestations of these “gifts”, the Church of Scotland took action, dismissing Irving from his position as minister in 1832.

In 1830 during one of Irving’s sessions before his dismissal, a young Scottish girl, named Margaret MacDonald, fell into a trance. After several hours of “vision” and “prophesying” she revealed that Christ’s return would occur in two phases, not just one. Christ would first come visibly to only the righteous, then He would come a second time to execute wrath on the unrighteous in the nations. This rapture was promoted by Irving claiming he, too, had heard a voice from heaven commanding him to teach it.   In March 1830, in Port Glasgow, Scotland, 15 year old Margaret McDonald made claim of her visions. Robert Norton published Margaret’s visions and prophecies in a book entitled, “The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets in the Catholic Apostolic Church” (London, 1861).

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The ultimate result of Irving’s dismissal was the formation of the Catholic Apostolic Church, which still exists until this day. Irving’s movement grew and became the basis of modern day pentecostalism.

There is good evidence that John Nelson Darby, the father of modern dispensationalism, visited Margaret Macdonald in her home during her ecstatic episodes. He began to teach the rapture as a result, provided the idea with theological underpinings necessary for it to be considered legitimate, and his teachings were embraced by the Plymouth Brethren.

Darby’s teachings were embraced radically by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). Scofield adopted Darby’s (Ribera’s) school of prophetic thought into the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909 which was heralded at that time as the “book of books”, and continues to legitimize this false teaching in the eyes of many protestants.

The natural evolution of this movement has resulted in the recent emergence of the “Toronto Blessing” (Laughing Spirit) phenomenon, a bizarre experience of uncontrollably ‘laughing in the Spirit.’

Although the modern day view of every believer being taken away in a rapture is different from all of the thoughts that came before it, there is little doubt to it’s error.

  • Lacunza asserted that only those believers that partake of the sacrament of the Eucharist would be raptured;
  • Margaret McDonald said the rapture would only take those that were filled with the Holy Spirit; and
  • Norton claimed that only those that had been sealed with the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands would be raptured.

As you might imagine, confusion ensued.

Today’s common belief among believers in the rapture is that only ‘true believers’ will be raptured – a form of the invisible Church teaching so common to protestant ecclesiologies. Belief in the rapture has become so widespread among today’s “evangelicals” and “fundamentalists” that many sitting in the pews assume that the teaching dates back to the apostles themselves.

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The Rapture as a topic has been a big money maker. The Left Behind series of 16 books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, dealing with Christian dispensationalist End Times and focus, not surprisingly, on the Rapture. The series was first published 1995-2007 by Tyndale House, a firm with a history of interest in dispensationalism. This series has been adapted into three action thriller films, and three PC video games.

Of course, Harold Camping who has also profited greatly from his teachings on the Rapture,  is not the first false prophet to set a date for the Rapture, nor will he be the last. He declared previously that the Rapture would take place on September 6, 1994.

Regardless of whom one regards as the originator of the teaching — whether Ribera, Lacunza, Irving, Darby, or Margaret MacDonald – one thing is obvious; the “rapture” theory is of recent heterodox origin,  has no basis in Scripture, the Fathers, is mentioned nowhere in antiquity, nor was it ever a teaching of the Christ, or His Apostles.

It is not now, nor has ever been, an Orthodox Christian teaching – and that is saying something.

Compiled from various sources, including:

Catholic Origins of the Futurism and Preterism

A History of the Foundations of Futurism and Preterism (this source cites the book by LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic faith of Our Fathers, The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, Vol. 2, Review and Herald, Washington, D.C., 1948, excerpted, pp. 464-532.)

Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver website

Wikipedia: Rapture

24 thoughts on “Rapture Theology’s Ominous Origins”

  1. “Compiled from various sources.”

    Could someone please add footnotes citing those sources? What we have here is interesting, but not very credible as it’s just a list of assertions.

    I could at least cite this article — but there’s no author listed. I’d hate to try to cite it as “Hey, I read in some anonymous article on the Internet.” 🙁

  2. This is the most detailed explanation of the origins of the Rapture theology that I’ve ever seen. Great historical information. I would like more explanation as to why such a belief would bolster the arguments of the Roman Catholic counter reformation over and against Protestantism. Is it that the original “theory” was that only RC’s or those aligned with Pope wold be eligible for rapture and salvation?

    I agree, if we could fill in a few blanks I wold love to use this article as a teaching tool and in conversations with Evangelicals. Please give us a little more. Thank you.

    P.S. An Evangelical pastor I know understands the word “rapture” to refer to St. Paul’s teaching that the living and the dead with be caught up (raptured) to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17) at the last trumpet and without reference to anything prior to the Second Coming of Christ.

    1. It is not necessarily that the rapture arguments would bolster the Roman Catholic Church against the Protestants. Rather those arguments would deflect the charge of Rome being the “whore of Babylon.” If the Rapture had yet to happen, and the great whore of Babylon would not come into prominence until after the Rapture, then it would be impossible for the Roman Catholic Church of that time to be the great whore of Babylon. If that were to have been true, then part of the Protestant claim for separating from the Roman Church would be undone.

      Once part of the Protestant edifice began to be undone, it would then have been significantly easier for the Roman Church to start taking apart much of the rest of the logic behind Protestantism. However, as the article points out, the logic behind rapture theology was found to be so untenable that the Pope had the document buried. Thus, the Protestants were able to continue to call Rome the whore of Babylon with a certain degree of impunity.

  3. Fr. John A. Peck,

    The word Rapture may not be in our English Bibles nor in the Greek, but the word or a form of the word can be found in the Latin Bible.

  4. Very good article overall, with some historical information and connections I hadn’t know before (the Catholic origins and the reemergence of the doctrine from the library). Two quibbles: Pentecostalism didn’t grow from Irvingism but had a completely different origin path, and Pentecostalism didn’t even originally embrace Dispensational theology (I teach at a Pentecostal University). Also, the Toronto Blessing foolishness is not a natural or inevitable outgrowth of rapture theology and has its own matrix of origin.

    I know it’s tempting to try to connect all the different dots with the same damning scarlet thread, but that works mainly in crime novels and conspiracy theories, not real history. 🙂

    There is also, by the way, a large and growing Evangelical populace that does not hold to the Rapture, of which I am a part.

  5. Dear Fr John,
    Thank you very much for this spiritual enrichment revelation of Rapture Theology. May I translate it partially or wholly into some article or book that I intend to write? Of course, with full attribution and weblinks.

      1. Dear Fr John,
        I regret that I had missed few words in my request above.
        It should read as: May I translate it partially or wholly into Chinese or Indonesian language in some article or book that I intend to write?
        Sorry for the discrepancy. Many thanks.

  6. Father, thanks for this article! I’ve heard this as the clear and simple reading of the Last Things since I was 14 (now 58), and would love to read how the Church understands Scripture such as I Thess 4, Rev. 4ff., and the Peaceful Kingdom passages in the Prophets. Not gainsaying here, but needing a key to unlock what I have long assumed to be an airtight fit. Thanks, again, for your faithfulness in this calling!

    1. Sure – it’s referring to the Second Coming of Christ.

      The rapture is nonsense precisely because there is no ‘third’ coming of Christ.

      1. Fr. John. This is exactly right. If people read carefully into the rapture teachings Christ comes a third time. The first one is the incarnation, the second one is the rapture and the third one is, if i’m not mistaken, the 1000 year reign or he final battle (depending on how our framework plays out) Thank you for exposing this.

        1. Larry, thanks for writing. You don’t miss a thing!

          It gets pretty convoluted at times, so I don’t blame anyone trying to wade through it all. I’m most distressed when the belief in the Rapture becomes the hallmark of the ‘true Christian’. Many folks I know have been shunned, ostracized and booted out of their own churches because they refuse to accept the Rapture. Worse, they are sometimes considered heathens (unsaved and not Christian) by their own family or church members! God forbid!

  7. Another book that goes into some of this history is SEVENTY WEEKS by Robert Caringola, available on Amazon. That was the book that turned me away from Dispensationalism.

  8. In the fullness of time, knowledge of God’s plan is always revealed, emphasis on HIS time table. Documenting teaching from 1517, at date that is clearly a landmark in bringing knowledge and understanding to all levels of economic personhood , is testimony of God’s plan. I trust that in all things that encouragement to God’s people is the goal. For me,the priesthood of the believer is my refuge and thru this all are free to discern for themselves what is revealed to them…freedom as so well describe in the accompied video. Thanks for posting this on facebook . I was engauged to seek all interpretations.

  9. Once again, Rome proves itself the mother of errors. One need only take the seventh pronouncement of the NC creed to heart. “And He shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, of Whose kingdom there shall be no end.” This pretty much says that the idea of multiple comings is rubish.

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