A Review of Hank Hanegraff’s Book, The Apocalypse Code/Part 1
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2012|
|While minor points of end times events are not essential salvation doctrines, nonetheless, the hermeneutic by which we derive teachings about end times and other doctrines is a fundamental–it is a hermeneutical fundamental. In short, we must defend the literal historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible since it is the means by which we understand the salvation fundamentals.|
Points of Agreement
There are numerous things with which we are in agreement with the author of The Apocalypse Code. First and foremost, I agree with Hank on all the essential salvation doctrines of the Christian Faith, including the fundamental teachings about the future physical return of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of all men and the final judgment. So, the intramural debate on the millennium and tribulation is not one of the great essentials of the Faith. Further, we agree that:
- The date of a view has no necessary connection with the truth of the view (57).
- The part must be interpreted in the light of the whole (228, 230);
- We should not impose a model on Scripture but should derive it from Scripture (236);
- The literal method is the correct method of interpreting Scripture (10, 14,230);
- The “literal interpretation” is the one that takes the text “in its most obvious and natural sense” (230);
- The correct meaning is generally what the original audience understand by it (1);
- Literal is not the same as literalistic. The Bible uses symbols and figures of speech (10);
- Typology is an important part of biblical interpretation (161);
- The Old Testament is often the key to understanding the New Testament (161, 230);
- “Ideas have consequences” (47).
Strangely, the differences between our views comes not so much in these basic principles, but in the interpretation and application of them.
Since one’s conclusion are no better than his premises and the logic (or illogic) by which he draws conclusions from them. We will begin our evaluation of The Apocalypse Code (hereafter, The Code) by looking at its logic. A careful examination off the text in the light of the laws of logic and deviations from them reveals some serious flaws. First of all, the general argument of the book turns out to be a classic Straw Man fallacy.
Straw Man Fallacy
The Code takes one particular form of the premillennial view, in which it sees extremes, and tacitly uses it to dismiss all who hold to premillennialism. A case in point is Tim LaHaye’s view that Satan can resurrect the dead, as he did in the case of the Antichrist (Rev. 13). Most premills do not hold this interpretation, and it is not essential to the premill or pretrib view to do so. But the implication is left by The Code that by destroying this straw man one has said something telling against the pretrib and premillennial views as well. Hence, one popularized and sometimes sensationalized extreme is set up as a straw man to attack a general futurist view held by an untold number of churches, a vast number of Seminaries and Bible Colleges, and numerous radio guests and authors associated with Hank’s own Christian Research Institute. So what is going on here is not merely an attack on a popular version of pretribulationaism but a subtle broad brush assault on all premill and futurist beliefs.
Guilt by Association
Another logical fallacy found in The Code is Guilt by Association. For example, arguments against a pretrib position in particular do not thereby affect premillennialism in general. There are many premillennialist who are not pretrib, including midtrib, prewrath, and posttribs. Hence, what argues against pretribs does not thereby destroy either premillennialism or even dispensationalism–a point that The Code is not anxious to acknowledge. Yet it implicitly dismisses one with the other by the guilt of association.
The Code also contains many False Disjunctions. The example from anti-dispensationalist John Gerstner is a case in point (81). The Code agrees that either one holds that Israel’s land promises will be fulfilled in a piece of land east of the Mediterranean or else it will be fulfilled in Christ Himself. But this is a false either/or disjunctions since it could be both, as the returned Jews share their place in a literal kingdom in Israel under the Christ (Messiah). Another false either/or in The Code is: God is either pro-Jew or pro-justice. But there is no reason He cannot be both by faithfully fulfilling His promise to both Jews (to give them their land) and Gentiles to give believing non-Jews a place in His earthly kingdom too. Another false dichotomy is: either God’s promises will be fulfilled in an earthly Jerusalem or else in a heavenly city (198). But the heavenly city is said to come down to earth from heaven in Revelation 21:2. Another example is the statement: “It is Paradise–a new heaven and a new earth–not Palestine for which our hearts yearn” (225). For the believing Jew restored to his land under his Messiah it can be both. Why can’t it be both when the heavenly city comes to earth and the Lord’s prayer is literally fulfilled: “Thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven”!
Hanegraaff’s Code also makes false analogies. For example, it argues that just as race has no consequence in Christ, neither does real estate (182). This reference to our spiritual status in Christ allegedly negates God’s unconditional land promise to Abraham’s literal descendents. But this clearly does not follow. It is a false analogy.
A Text Out of Context
In general The Code repeatedly takes the Old Testament promises to Jews out of their original context by replacing Israel with the New Testament church. The “Replacement Theology” is a classic example of taking texts out of their context. In particular, The Code also takes a quote from our book out of context in an attempt to support their view by showing that I believe John was written before AD 70 (154-156). I never said any such thing. I was merely emphasizing that most, “if not all,” of the New Testament was written early. I never said, nor do I believe that John wrote Revelation before A.D. 70. I have held the late date for John’s Gospel and The Apocalypse for the last fifty years! I merely admitted the possibility, not probability, of an early date for John’s writings. The claim that I used John 5 and Revelation 11 to show these books were written before AD 70 (157) is based on an error in a footnote not caught in proof reading that was made by my co-author.
A Genetic Fallacy
This fallacy supposes a view is wrong because it came from a questionable or bad source. This fallacy occurs in The Code when it dismisses the dispensational pretrib view because of its alleged source in John Nelson Darby (40–41) whom Hank calls a “disillusioned priest” from the 19th cent. By the same logic one could reject modern scientific inventions because some were derived from questionable sources like Tesla’s AC motor from a vision while reading a pantheistic poet and Kekule’s model of the benzine molecule from a vision of a snake biting its tail!
The Fallacy of Chronological Snobbery
The Code utilizes this fallacy to advance its cause by pointing to the alleged late time period that pretrib premillennialism appears in church history (40-44). But the truth is that truth is not determined by the time of its discovery. Most widely held scientific views appeared relatively late in the history of the world, namely, the last few centuries. It is well known that many heretical teachings are old and some orthodox teachings are relatively new. Time is no sure test of truth. What is more, premillennialism, which The Code rejects, appears early in church history (2nd cent.), and covenant theology which most amillennialists accept appears late (17th cent).
Besides logical fallacies, there are repeated false charges like pretribs believe that certain texts are speaking to 21st century Christians (117,129,144, 159, 181). This fails to understand the realistic concept of imminence held by pretribs that affirms Christ may come at any time. Hence, the text is applicable to any age, including the 21st century, but it was not directed at any century in particular. In addition, The Code is also filled with overstatements and exaggerations. These include the following:
Overstatement and Exaggerations
There is a wild comparison of John Nelson Darby dispensationalism with Darwin’s evolutionary dogma (37f., 69). Other than the time period in which they wrote there is very little agreement between the two. Also, dispensationalists are bedeviled as “socially disinherited, psychologically disturbed, and theologically naive” (44). I personally take offense at this and believe Hank owes an apology to his former employee Dr. Ron Rhodes, some of his frequent guests and writers, like Dr. Wayne House, Dr. Thomas Howe, and myself, to mention only a few dispensationalist. Likewise, The Code makes the unnecessary, unkind, and excessive statement that dispensationalism is associated with the “cultic fringe” like Mormonism (44). In one incredible exaggeration The Code blasts pretribulationism as “blasphemous” (63-64). One only loses credibility by such statements. A close second for exaggeration is the contention that believing in unconditional land promises for Israel “borders on blasphemy”(225). As a matter of fact, it borders on unbelief to deny that God’s unconditional promises to Israel will not be fulfilled just as He predicted them and as the original audience understood them (1). Further, the well established view (by early and continuous testimony) that John wrote after AD 70 is called “incredible” (157) by Hank. That in itself is a rather incredible position in view of the facts (see below). And The Code boasts concerning the highly disputed number of the Antichrist it is “absolutely certain that 666 is the number of Nero’s name” (146)! This is in conflict with The Code’s contention elsewhere that other prophetic details like those in Daniel 9 (247). It is strange that a relatively obscure point of eschatology on a non-essential doctrine should be held as “absolutely certain” and yet some essential doctrines with less certainty is a sad testimony to the skewed perspective in The Code.
While we have many points of agreement with The Code on the method of interpretation (see above), there are some significant differences in Hanegraaff’s amill form of partial preterism. A few call for comment.
First, The Code made a false dichotomy between the method of interpretation and the model of eschatology (2, 3), falsely claiming that it is doing the former, not the latter. The truth is that one’s methodology leads to one’s theology, as is clear from the discussion below showing how Hank’s preteristic bad methodological procedures lead to his bad theological premises.
Second, The Code made a common mistake by claiming that one must make an up-front determination of genre before a passage can be interpreted properly (20). The truth is that one cannot even know the genre of a text unless he first uses the historical-grammatical (i.e., literal) method of interpretation to determine its genre.
Third, the book reveals a misunderstanding that in the progression of revelation things always move from lesser (earthly) to greater (heavenly), not the reverse (224). This is misapplied in an attempt to show that God will not fulfill His unconditional promises to the nation of Israel. But God’s purpose in reaching the Gentiles does not negate the necessity of His later fulfillment of His unconditional Throne and Land promises to Israel (cf. Rom. 11).
Fourth, there is an inconsistency in Hank’s partial preterist interpretation of the Tribulation as having its primary fulfillment in A.D. 70 but allowing for further applications in the future and his contention that the ultimate fulfillment is greater than the near ones. On the one hand, he argues that the “predominant” meaning of the Tribulation texts is that it will be fulfilled “soon” in AD 70. On the other hand, he believes there are lesser future applications, since the AD 70 events do not exhaust their application. For Revelation foretells final-future events that are not exhausted in the AD 70 events (34). Hank says “John . . . uses final consummation language to describe near-future events” (135). On the other hand, he claims that 2 Peter 3 is fulfilled in 70 AD even though its “cosmic language” did not apply predominantly to AD 70 but points forward to an “even greater day of judgment” at the Second Coming (135). If so, then all the terms like “quickly” and “near” apply to far distant events too–in which case preterists lose some of their better arguments.
Fifth, there is a serious misunderstanding of typology in The Code. This deserves special attention since it is at the heart of the issue.
In his own summary of the book, Hanegraaff declares: “All the types and shadows of the old covenant, including the holy land of Israel, the holy city Jerusalem, and the holy temple of God, have been fulfilled in the Holy Christ” (224-225, emphasis added). Few Bible scholars would dispute the typology of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system. The New Testament clearly teaches that “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). And the book of Hebrews shows emphatically how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament priesthood and sacrifices (19, 85). Adam is the prototype of Christ, as 1 Corinthians 15 says (15, 171). Jesus tabernacled among us (Jn. 1:14) and fulfilled the tabernacle and temple types (215). Jonah was a prototype to which Jesus referred (Mt. 12:40-42). As The Code says typology means “Old Testament person, event or institution prefigures a corresponding great reality [antitype] in the New Testament” (169).
However, there is no biblical principle of typology that says the literal and unconditional Davidic throne and Abrahamic land promises are fulfilled in Christ, as The Code wrongly contends (224-225). There is no principle of typology that negates the land promises to Abraham’s literal descendants “forever” by claiming that “the lesser is fulfilled and rendered obsolete by the greater” (201). One could agree in a sense that “The importance of understanding typology can hardly be overstated”(262), but it can also be easily overextended, as The Code does. Nor is it a proper New Testament typological interpretation of the Old to claim it is an ultimate corrective of Zionism’s (223) affirmation of a literal fulfillment of God’s unconditional promises to Israel.
Israel’s Land and Throne Promises
God promised unconditionally that He would give the land from Egypt to Iraq to Abraham’s literal descendants forever (Gen. 12, 13, 15, 17). The land promise was a unilateral covenant since Abraham was not even conscious and only God passed through the sacrifice (Gen. 15), thus unilaterally ratifying it. Likewise, the Davidic throne promise that a descendant of David would reign on his throne forever was unconditional (2 Sam. 7). Indeed, Psalm 89 declares that He will fulfill it even if they disobey God because He cannot “allow His faithfulness to fall” (15:33). He said, “Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David; His seed shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before me” (vs. 36-37). Now on any literal interpretation of these texts – and as understood by Hank’s own principle this is what the original audience would have understood (1)–this calls for a literal future fulfillment just as dispensationalists contend. And to deny a literal interpretation of these Land and Throne promises, claiming they are only a shadow of what we have in Christ (174), is a classic misuse of typology. Further, the unconditional nature of the promises flies in the face of The Code’s contention that Land promises were “inviolately conditioned upon belief and faithfulness”(196).
Speaking in the context of God’s faithfulness to Israel, Paul declares “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). It is indeed ironic that the very covenant theologians who believe in God’s unconditional election of the Church are the ones who so strongly deny His unconditional election of Israel. And, ironically, they use God’s promises to Israel to do it.
To spiritualize this away as fulfilled in Christ (50, 171) and the New Testament Church (174) is simply a violation of the literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutic. Indeed, it is contrary to Hank’s own principle that the true meaning is the one the original audience would have understood it to be (1). Clearly, the Jews understood this predictions about future Messianic kingdom to be literal. This is to is to say nothing of the principle that prophecies should be understood in same literal sense in which Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s first coming were literally fulfilled. Hence, predictions surrounding Christ’s second coming should also be understood literally. And to claim that it can’t be fulfilled literally because the Ten Tribes lost their identity in Assyrian captivity (126), is an insult to the omniscience of God. Certainly He who names and numbers the stars (Isa. 40:20) and will reconstruct the dispersed particles of our decayed bodies in the resurrection both knows who those lost tribes are and how to regather them. And it is a strange twist of logic to claim that Abraham’s spiritual descendants (believers today) will fulfill God’s land promise to Israel because they will get more than was promised to Israel: they will get the “cosmos” according to Romans 4:13 (178). The question is not whether Abraham’s spiritual seed will get more than God promised but whether his literal descendants will get less than the Land He promised them. After all, through Abraham all the families of the earth were to be blessed (Gen. 12:3).
There is also an equivocation about the Land promises in The Code. On the one hand, it claims they are “irrelevant” in God’s redemptive purposes in Christ (194). On the other hand, it claims Land promises were fulfilled: near future–Joshua; far future–Jesus; final future–Paradise (182–179). Then, it insists that they were fulfilled in Nehemiah 9:8, 22-24 (180). Indeed, some claim they were already fulfilled in Joshua (21:43-45). Yet The Code claims they await a future spiritual fulfillment in Jesus the true Israelite (181,182,194. 197). Further, if, as Hank contends, the land promises were “inviolately conditioned upon belief and faithfulness”(196), why then must there be some kind of fulfillment of them forever in the “final future–Paradise” (182, 179). Reversing, the usual order, The Code declares that “John . . . uses final consummation language to describe near-future events.” (134–135). Which is it? Is the near event the predominant referent or the far event?
I will leave it to the preterists to untangle this prophetic pretzel, but one thing is certain: There never has been a literal fulfillment wherein the nation Israel has possessed all the land given by God from Egypt to Iraq “forever,”that is, as long as the sun and moon are in the sky (Psa. 89:37-37). So, any other interpretation given, such as that in The Code, is not a literal one.
This same equivocal literal/spiritual interpretation is evident in The Code’s Amillennialism. It affirms that there will be no millennial golden age (202, 236, 256). Yet even non-dispensational premills like George Ladd demonstrated that a literal understand of Revelation 20 demands a premill view. In spite of this Hank insists on spiritualizing “a thousand years,” claiming is not “a literal prophetic chronology.” Rather, the two resurrections at either end of the millennium are said to be “symbolic chronological bookends to highlight a qualitative, not quantitative vindication of martyrs”(256, 275). This so-called symbolic qualitative victory is a hermeneutical spiritualization that manifests an exegetical stretch of a preterists imagination. Particularly this is so since Hank believes, as do other amills, that Revelation 20 speaks of a literal resurrection and a literal Devil. Why then is the rest of the passage to be taken symbolically? Also, how can a thousand years represent eternity. The thousand years have a beginning and an end. It has one resurrection before it and one after it. It has a limited time when Satan is in prison after which he will be “released.” Both resurrections are referred to by the same Greek term “come alive.” Yet amills insist that there is really only one physical resurrection here, claiming the other is a spiritual regeneration. Yet the word “resurrection” is always used elsewhere of a physical resurrection in the Bible. Further, “one general resurrection of the dead” (276) which Hank affirms is contrary to the fact that the plain meaning of the text says that only part of the dead were resurrected before the millennium and the “rest of the dead” were not raised until after the millennium. Amill preterism seriously falters at this point. Indeed, the futurists premill view is firmly planted in the early Fathers, including luminaries like Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexander, Tertullian, and even the early Augustine. Other futurists (anti-preterists) include Irenaeus, Ignatius, The Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, Papias, Clement of tome, Lactantius, Methodius, Epiphanius, and others (see George Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, vol. 2, pp. 304, 324, 451).