Henry Alford on the Millennium
and First Resurrection
(Revelation 20)

Henry Alford (1810-1871) was a biblical scholar in England.  He was dean of Canterbury from 1857-1871 and is often referred to as "Dean Alford."   His great work was an edition of the Greek New Testament.  He wrote the words to the well known hymn, "Come Ye Thankful People Come."   He also wrote exegetical notes on the Greek New Testament which is now titled Alford's Greek Testament, from which the following quotes are taken.


Note:  Alford lived in the 19th century, a time when the majority of Bible students held to an amillennial position or a postmillennial position.  Both of these positions denied a literal thousand year kingdom and both taught that at the end of time there would be one general resurrection for both the saved and the unsaved and one general judgment. The minority position, held by the Plymouth Brethren, George Peters, and some others, taught that there would be a millennium kingdom, the character of which would match that which is described in all of the great prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the Messiah and His glorious worldwide reign.  They also taught that there would be two resurrections:  the first resurrection for the saved and the second resurrection for the unsaved and these two would be separated by a period of a thousand years (see Revelation 20:4-6).  It should also be noted, as Alford does, that the premillennial view was universally held by the early church.

The following is taken from  Alford's Greek Testament, the Prolegomena [book of Revelation], Volume IV, Part 1, p. 252

On one point I have ventured to speak strongly, because my conviction on it is strong, founded on the rules of fair and consistent interpretation.  I mean, the necessity of accepting literally the first resurrection, and the millennial reign. It seems to me that if in a sentence where two resurrections are spoken of with no mark of distinction between them (it is otherwise in John 5:28, which is commonly alleged for the view which I am combating),--in a sentence where, one resurrection having been related, "the rest of the dead" are afterwards mentioned, --we are at liberty to understand the former one figuratively and spiritually, and the latter literally and materially, then there is an end of all definite meaning in plain words, and the Apocalypse, or any other book, may mean any thing we please. 

It is a curious fact that those who maintain this, studious as they generally are to uphold the primitive interpretation, are obliged, not only to wrest the plain sense of words, but to desert the unanimous consensus of the primitive Fathers, some of whom lived early enough to have retained apostolic tradition on this point.  Not till chiliastic views had run into unspiritual excesses, was this interpretation departed from
[Alford's footnote:  The student will find a good account of the history of opinions on this subject in Herzog's Encyclopadie, the article entitled, "Chiliasmus."]

The following is taken from Alford's Greek Testament, Volume IV, Part II, his note under Revelation 20:5 ("This is the first resurrection"):

It will have been long ago anticipated by the readers of this Commentary, that I cannot consent to distort words from their plain sense and chronological place in the prophecy, on account of any considerations of difficulty, or any risk of abuses which the doctrine of the millennium may bring with it.  Those who lived next to the Apostles, and the whole Church for 300 years, understood them in the plain literal sense:  and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence of antiquity, complacently casting aside the most cogent instance of consensus which primitive antiquity presents. 

As regards the text itself, no legitimate treatment of it will extort what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion.  If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, where certain "souls lived" at the first, and the rest of the "dead lived"  only at the end of a specified period after that first,--if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; --then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to any thing.  If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardly enough to maintain:  but if the second is literal, then so is the first, which in common with the whole primitive Church and many of the best modern expositors, I do maintain, and receive as an article of faith and hope.


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