The History of the Rapture

This doctrine is new; it was never taught or even discussed prior to the 1830’s. It seems to have first come from a “prophetic vision” by Margaret Macdonald, a woman in 1830, who was a part of the cult group the “Irvingites,” while having an emotional experience. Through a “mingled prophecy and vision” (breakdown), and saying “the power of the Holy Spirit,” she came up with this. She was very ill and delusional according to physicians and learned observers at the time. How, how, how did this get to doctrinal status? In spite of her condition, people believed her. Not ministers trained in the Word, not those who were pious Christians, not those with discernment, but those seeking a new fad and emotional experience, just as so many do today. By the way, she was a cultist! Then another cult group in England picked this up by the name of “The Catholic Apostolic Church,” headed by Edward Irving (1792-1834). After that, another cult group called the “Millerites,” predicted the return of Christ on October 22, 1844. It did not happen; that should have been a clue, but this would not die.

At the same time, this belief was then picked up by Irish born minister, lawyer, evangelist and author, John N. Darby in 1930, who took this new fad to America in 1862 to 1877. He was looking for a “hook” in his motivational Bible speeches to attract crowds in England and on his visit to the Americas, USA, and Canada. People who knew him said he was not well schooled in the Bible or original languages, read into the Bible all kinds of ridiculous ideas. Many people today still believe in him, especially Baptists who love this guy; he is a favored son.

I have his commentaries and find them insightful in places and they are also posted in our sister site But you have to be very discerning and know the Bible before reading them, so you can filter out the garbage to get to the pearls. He was, in fact, a failed lawyer who was very “intolerant to criticism” and prideful. This should be another clue. He managed to become an Anglican priest in 1826 and his theories were rejected by all in his denomination. He then developed a poor method of biblical interpretation called dispensationalism (The Problem with Dispensationalism!)—another clue.

But he is a testament on how God uses our foolishness. He founded the Plymouth Brethren Church and has been very popular amongst fundamentalists. The very popular commentary of the Bible he produced has many great insights and with great financial backing, he was able to give free copies to just about every preacher and minister in England and America who were starved for resources. Many only had a Bible and that was it. A well-done commentary, or so they thought, was received with open arms. And this spurred on countless sermons. But he did not do his homework in the Bible. It is filled with errors and illogical content amongst the good stuff, as he put in many of his not so well thought out ideas as fact. Then his theories were picked up by another great reference, the very first study Bible, given out to just about every preacher and evangelist beginning in 1909, and one we still have today, The Scofield Study Bible.

Where are the Bible passages for this? Is this not clear in Scripture? Many people think so, but take a look for yourself. The most popular Bible references are John 14:2–3; 1 Corinthians 15:49–55; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-7. The best thing to do is read the passages in their context and you will clearly see for yourself what they say. If you “read into” them, you can make them say anything as you “feel” the words. But God calls us to faith and to reason, as these texts also state!

What happened? How did this get all mixed up? Scofield took the Latin word, raeptius, which is an equivalent of the Greek word harpazo used in the 1 Thessalonians 4:17 passage. Harpazo means “caught up” as we previously saw and the Latin means more like “taken away”. It is believed he anglicized it to be the first to use the term Rapture. By the way “caught up” and “taken away” are used in most newer English translations of the Bible. The word caught up or taken away is correctly placed. But in the English, not knowing what this means may cause all sorts of runaway thinking.

Then this was further popularized the book, Jesus Is Coming by evangelist William Blackstone, who also sought hooks to motivate people and not so much the Lord, or it seems so from his writings. This work sold more than one million copies. Then the rapture gets a new day by in 1957, when respected Theologian from Dallas Seminary, Dr. John Walvoord, wrote a book called, “The Rapture Question.” He has done great work in Romans and I love what he did with Hebrews, but it seems he did not check his facts and read into the passage a presumption he saw as fact because it was in his favorite work, Scofield Study Bible. But he did not declare it a dogmatic fact, but left it open for further research and debate. Apparently he did not “exegete;” he “isogeted.” (By the way, his one volume commentary, The Bible Knowledge, is very well done, except he tends to read in ideas that are not there and he gets Revelation completely wrong.) Then, the rapture gets popular with the publication of Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, which sold over 15 million copies; his other works and even other popular authors keep spinning this tail.

Some proponents such as Hal Lindsey have taught that Early Church Fathers such as and Origen even Augustine taught the dogma of a Rapture. This is just very bad scholarship at Clement best or lying at worst. I poured over their writings trying to prove a rapture and I never found it. Now with modern software it is easier to search, still not there. Then I asked for the references from the people who think the Church has taught this before; I looked them up; not there either. The emperor has no clothes; they never said it or even alluded to it.

So if someone insists this is a valid doctrine, ask for the Scripture references, then ask for any solid biblical scholarship on it. You will find none as I did not. Yes, many great people think this is true and teach it passionately. They get so caught up in it, pun intended, they do not look it up. Many have made grievous errors by thinking like this such as one of my heroes, Chuck Smith who dogmatically predicted that Jesus would return in 1981. Smith recanted and feels ashamed and forgiven.

I personally went to Hal Lindsey to interview him for this article, which in 1991 was a seminary paper. I was for the rapture view then. However, following that meeting, I knew it was as wrong as my professor had said. Hal was prideful and condescending; he also was not able to answer any of my questions, such as to exegete the key words in the 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 passage, and refused to look at the references he said taught this. I had copies with me. I was there to prove him right, but he proved himself wrong.

So the history of a rapture started out as a prophetic vision inspired by the emotional breakdown of a cultist, that then was picked up by emotional zealots and more cultists unconcerned for biblical truth. Furthermore, it was used as a hook by a prideful preacher who only wanted to give out his nonsensical theorems, then by other evangelists not concerned or trained in the Word. Afterwards, it creeps into the first study Bible, then popular books, and now is it is in the landscape of popular Christian thought.

27 thoughts on “The History of the Rapture

  1. Whew, what a great blog – and one that I can really relate to. Speaking of pretrib history, journalist/historian Dave MacPherson seems to be the leading expert on it since he has researched it for many years and has produced many books and internet articles on it. Readers can check him out if they Google “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “X-Raying Margaret,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Letter from Mrs. Billy Graham,” “Revisers of Pretrib Rapture History,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived” etc. and also obtain his bestselling book “The Rapture Plot” which I bought at Armageddon Books online. If history isn’t anyone’s cup of tea and they want great scholarship dealing with the theology of the pretrib view, they won’t go wrong if they obtain the eye-opening prophecy books by Joe Ortiz (see Author House online). I am finding that lots of Christians these days are finding out these long-hidden facts about pretrib and are abandoning it in droves! Mary

  2. WOW… nicely researched. There are a few more crazies that got there hand on this idea early on. But all in all well documents evolution of the rapture Doctrine. Thank you.

    • If you have some more “crazies” go ahead and list them…this is what this blog is for…your ideas and research too….be blessed!

  3. Brother
    After reading your blog I decided to print it out and use it as part of a Bible study….an example of what not to do
    You refer to the irvingites as a cult, but upon futher research I found that they believed in the Gospel, the trinity and salvation by grace, the had a few interesting twist’s on the five fold ministry, but that hardly makes them a cult.
    So be careful “brother” who you call a cultist, if you indeed know Him who is the savior, you may very well be condemning your own brothers and sisters just because you dis agree on some interpretation’s of scripture.
    In Christ

  4. We stand by what we said, perhaps you may want to do some actual research and not glean info from said periodicals with revisionist bias…the Irvingites and Millerites were indeed a cult, booth socially and doctrinally….

  5. Well, regardless of church history, that fact of the matter is we have Scripture (1 Thess. 4:16-17, 1 Cor. 15 to name just a couple of passages) that teaches the catching up of the saint to be with the Lord in the air in a new and glorified body (call it what you will). When this will take place is a further matter of debate but to say the rapture (from the Latin) is a recent invention of crazed and sick minds ridiculous. This was taught clearly by the Anti-Nicene fathers and only fell out of popular theology after the merge of the Roman government with Christianity. Many other orthodox beliefs were changed during that era also.

  6. Wow, some of you guys are so focussed on justifying your opinions about the rapture you are becoming less than charitable. Personally I hope the rapture is a reality however I am inclined to doubt it having read all scripture refs quoted. It’s fair to say Jesus would want us to focus more on overcoming our defects than debating whether the rapture’s for real. God bless all.

    • Well said, I felt the same way. When I see people getting riled up and not just calmly presenting their research then the “testing of the spirit” becomes clear very quickly.

  7. So, I’m putting together a presentation on pretribulationism in my eschatology class for school, and that’s what brought me to this article. While I’m always open to looking into different sides of every point, as long as their well researched (and prove so by siting their sources {{{HINT TO AUTHOR OF ARTICLE}}}), I found this particular blog to be full of opinion with very little source siting to back it all up.

    I’ll remain objective enough to take what you said and research the groups you’ve mentioned, but you really offered nothing of any substance to anyone really seeking to learn anything other than your opinion.

    NOTE TO READERS– Don’t swallow this article as truth. Research the matter for yourself, and START WITH SCRIPTURE. Opinionated people can be extremely detrimental to anyone’s learning process if not discerned and taken in stride.

    In Christ,


    • You said, “don’t swallow this article as truth. Research the matter for yourself, and START WITH SCRIPTURE. Opinionated people can be extremely detrimental to anyone’s learning process…” I say you are absolutely correct! This blog is based on inductive research, not reading in opinions, and each article is a snippet, so you may want to see the entire series or the “About” and the entire research is here for your answers,

      Be blessed!

      Phil 1:6

  8. References

    From the Books

    “The Early Church Fathers”
    The Shepherd of Hermas, 2; 23:5.(An early Church Father whom many say came up with this theory)
    Blackstone, William. Jesus is Coming (1878). Now published by Kregel (1989).
    Boyer, Paul. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1992), page 75.
    Benware, Paul. Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pages 197-198.
    Ice, Tommy. “Morgan Edwards: A Pre-Darby Rapturist,” The Conservative Theological Journal, April 1997, pages 4-12.
    Denny, Timothy J. and Ice, Thomas D. “The Rapture and an Early Medieval Citation,” Bibliotheca Sacra, July-September 1995
    LaHaye, Tim. “Target Number One,” Pre-Trib Perspectives, September 2002, pages 1-3.
    Lindsey, Hal, The Rapture, Bantam Books (1983), p. 25
    Gundry, Robert, “The Church and The Tribulation”, Zondervan (1973)
    Scofield, C. I. The Scofield Study Bible (London: Oxford University Press, 1909).
    Larkin, Clarence. Dispensational Truth (Philadelphia, 1920).
    Keeley, Robin, Eerdmans’ Handbook to Christian Belief, Wm B Eerdmans Publishing, (1982), p.415
    Lindsey, Hal. The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970).
    LaHaye Tim and Jenkins, Jerry. The Left Behindbook series.
    Chris Nelson. (2002-06-18). “A Brief History of the Apocalypse; 1971 – 1997: Millennial Madness” Retrieved on 2007-06-23.
    MacPherson, Dave. The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin (Heart of America Bible Society, 1973).
    MacPherson, Dave. The Incredible Cover-Up: Exposing the Origins of the Rapture Theories (Plainfield, NJ: Logos 1975)
    Rosenthal, Marv: “The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church: Is It Biblical?”, Regular Baptist Press (1991)
    Snobelen, Stephen D., Isaac Newton and Apocalypse Now. 2007
    “The World Did Not End Yesterday”, Boston Globe(Associated Press), 1992-10-29.
    Walvoord , John, “The Rapture Question, 1957.”
    From the Web:

    “St. Ephraem”in the Catholic Encyclopedia on the Internet.
    Ed Reese, “Henry (Harry) Allan Ironside”









    12. http://www.raptureready.coml/




    16. is here because it is funny and make an excellent sermon illustration to this article)



    © 1991, 2008, R. J. Krejcir, The Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development,,

  9. I have read the passages you mentioned. What do you say they mean if not “rapture?” I understand it is a made up word, but if I call a rose by a different made up name it is still a rose. From the scripture it states that at some time the Lord will return, and those of us still alive will be transformed (after the dead). There is also the part about being caught up into the sky. Without reading into it I take each point literally.

    You warned not to read into it, but if the notion of rapture is reading into the passages, then what do you say they mean?

  10. I was raised Pentecostal, but I don’t believ the rapture theory…I too studied the origin and went to Israel with my dad, who is a pastor…we witnessed to many Palestinians and Jews, unfortunately we tagged along with a calvary chapel group that made fun of us for being Pentecostal even to the point of pretending to be slain in the spirit and mocking/blasphemy of the holy spirit. I wrote chuck smith when we returned and he didn’t even reply. A week after our return an earthquake hit west covina, Ca and the only damage was to that Calvary chapel church…their roof split down the middle ! I have no respect for chuck smith or his teachings, other than ur hero chuck, I would say you are right on the money. We did not push our beliefs on anyone from Calvary chapel, but the chastised us for witnessing g to the locals…said we were there to sight see not witness. Nice bunch…Jesus would be proud…not!

  11. Chuck Smith says that Catholics are basically Christians! I guess he missed the 50 million slain Christians over the last 600 years by the Jesuit Order of the Roman Catholic Church. Darby sighted a Jesuit priests writings on the book of Revalation in 1630 named Francisco Ribera. Darby who is called the father of the Rapture theory actually got his theory from a jesuit preist. I guess he missed the counter reformation movment, which by the way still exists today. The catholic church is behind nearlly all the decietful false doctrines that exist in the protestant church today. Calvary Chapel is a false witness and is a movement just like the Pentacoslal is a movement not a Church. The office of prophet is closed as well as physical healing, other toungues and the likes. There are no new Apostles to Christ or Prophets. Ribera coined futerism as a doctrine and Darby turned it into a false doctrine. The Rapture is not biblical and Christ will only return to you after you die to bring your soul with him into heaven. Heb. 9:27,28 KJV: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall appear the second time without sin unto salvation”. the word men is plural that means all men will die first then Judgment. The rapture is false and does not happen period. Toungues Prophecy Healing and name it claim it pentacostal preachers lie like an old rug. Paul

    • Sorry, Paul, but I only read your misinformed statements today. Perhaps this will help you understand that prophecy has not yet ceased in spite of what some believe 1 Cor. 13:8 states.
      “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away” (1 Cor. 13:8).
      G1108 γνῶσις gnōsis gno’-sis From G1097; knowing (the act), that is, (by implication) knowledge: – knowledge, science.

      “And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:3).
      How can one proclaim prophecy or prophesying has ceased since Rev. 11:3 has not been fulfilled yet?

      If you receive a prophecy from a true prophet (Jesus had warned about false prophets in the future), you may be quite amazed at what God can reveal to them about your own private life. I also have a friend who has been instrumental in several healings brought forth by Jesus after his prayer.
      You would do well to not just believe everything a particular minister tells you. Research the Word, Jesus Himself, and listen to other viewpoints before declaring questionable things. Blessings to you.

    • Thanks Paul. I was looking for the connection to the Catholic priest and the doctrine of the rapture. I was surprised that the original article did not point out this link. As for the gifts of the Spirit being active today – I pray we will see the genuine work of the Spirit in whatever way God desires to bring His presence. Sticking to Scripture and seeking to be a vessel for God’s work alone. I appreciate your humble apology too.

  12. Sorry to leave a bitter taste, I am not usually bitter and am sorry, please forgive my rant. I am blessed to have a savior in Jesus that will raise me up in the day of judgment and hope to be found cleansed of my sin!

    Peace be with you!

  13. Try reading the bible from genesis to revelation and not by imputing and impuning your understanding on it by a retrograde application of what the new testament says. Then you might understand eschatology and the things of the latter end.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s