Is History Linear or Cyclical?


Monarch Butterfly





It is not accurate to say the Bible gives us a linear, not cyclical, worldview or view of history. Scripture combines both.

God’s redemptive revelation breaks the cycle of pagan worldviews but maintains and redeems the cycles of the created order. This in fact is a key aspect of biblical revelation: Redeeming the cycles of “nature” (seasons, agriculture, sun, moon, stars, human birth and death) from pagan understandings and idolatry and attempted manipulation through rituals, magic, and sacrifices.

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever.” – Romans 11:33–36


International Representative, Manchester Wesley Research Centre in Manchester, England. Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Has taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder's main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of Wineskins, Community of the King, and most recently, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth.


  1. It is of course true that biblical history and revelation is linear – God’s covenant and promises are moving ahead in history; the Kingdom of God in fullness is a certain promise. In his resurrection Jesus broke and defeated the cycles of death and destruction. But what he introduced is not straight-line “progress” into the future but rather dynamic cycles of life and healing that will redeem and heal all the proper, necessary, ecological cycles of the dynamic created order.

  2. Their is a difference between Christian theology and Eastern Philosophy. Reincarnation is cyclical but Christian theology has resurrection to new life, the only life. The difference between Philosophy and Theology is that Philosophy seeks to have an understanding of the meaning of things through ma’;s reasoning but Theology seek to have an understanding of the meaning of things through God’s understanding in the Word of God.

    • Thank you, Brian.
      Christian theology of course rightly understood is revelation accommodated to our understanding and language limits. This side of the Great Transition we all continue to “see through a glass darkly,” but then we shall know as we are known.