A Review of Hank Hanegraff’s Book, The Apocalypse Code/Part 2
|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.|
Hank’s Code denies full preterism. He lists two types: “partial- and hyper-preterist” the later of which he admits is “clearly heretical” (275). He claims that “orthodox preterist” hold future resurrection and second coming (269). But if these are literal events, then why are associated events in the same passage not taken literally? The Code offers several arguments for its form of preterism.
The Use of Words Like “Shortly” and “Quickly”
One of the most basic arguments for preterism, of either variety, is its contention that the New Testament use of words like “shortly” and “quickly” clearly refer to first century events, not distant events. Hank claims that the plain interpretation of near, soon, and at hand mean near future in Revelation 1:1, 3, 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6, 7, 10, 12, 20 and means “within John’s near future” (251). They claim that if Revelation were about the future, it would have been irrelevant to first century Christians (159). Yet, by the same token passages about the resurrection and second coming (which partial preterists admit is yet future) are relevant. Indeed, they are used to comfort and exhort believers in the present (cf. 1 Thes. 4:18; 2 Pet. 3:11). Further, if terms like “soon” mean in the near future, then the resurrection and second coming must also have been before AD 70 since Revelation speaks of both of these events as part of the revelation that would be fulfilled “quickly” (1:1,3: 22:6-12, 20). The truth is that standard Greek lexicons like Arndt and Gingrich define “quickly” (Gk: tachu) as “quick, swift, speedy” (p. 814). So, the term does not mean soon but suddenly. Likewise, the word “near” (Gk: eggus) does not necessary mean immediate future since it is used in both Testaments of events that were hundreds of years away (cf. Haggai 2:6-7; Heb. 10:37). Interestingly, The Code admits that A.D. 70 does not exhaust the meaning of these prophetic texts but is only the “predominant” meaning (92). If so, then, the terms must also refer to a more remote generation as well.
The Use of “You”
Another argument for the preterist view is that “you” in many texts must refer to the immediate first century audience (7). They cite Matthew 23:35 as proof: “On you may come all the blood shed on the earth . . . .” Ironically, that very verse proves the contrary since a “you” is used in it of the people who slew Zechariah in the Old Testament who was long dead. So, “you” can be used historically to refer to “your ancestors” just as it can be used proleptically of “your descendants.” For example, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you” (Mt. 5:11) in the Sermon on the Mount is not limited to Jesus’ immediate audience but also for future generations.
The Use of “This Generation”
The Code argues that “This generation appears fourteen times in the Gospels and always applies to Jesus’ contemporaries” (77, 81). But this begs the question by assuming references given in a prophetic context must be understood like all the other ones which are not. The best the argument could prove is that in all other non-prophetic references it means contemporaries which does nothing to prove what it means in a prophetic context. Also, it confuses sense and reference. In every instance it has the same sense/meaning, but in different instances it has a different referent. Further, as virtually all acknowledge, it can mean “this [Jewish] race” will not pass away–which it has not. Greek experts Arndt and Gingrich acknowledge that the term genera can have an ethnic use of “family, descent, . . . clan, then race (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 249, emphasis added). Furthermore, even if it is a reference to contemporaries, it might be the contemporaries in the future context when these things begin to happen. What is more, even The Code admits there is an “ultimate fulfillment [of Mt. 24] in the second coming of Christ” (136). So, even according to preterists, “this generation” extends beyond the immediate generation in its fulfillment.
The Alleged Early Date for John’s Writings
Preterists attempt to show the Book of Revelation was written before AD 70 in Nero’s time because of 666 being the numerical equivalent of Nero’s name (Rev. 13) and the reference to the sixth king who, according to their claim, was Nero (Rev. 17:10). However, other names also equal 666 like “Caesar of the Romans” in Hebrew and even the Pope’s name in Latin (see Eric Sauer, The Triumph of the Crucified, 121, 122). Further, it may be a symbolic way of referring to a man (man was created on the sixth day) who claims to be the triune (3 sixes) God (Ibid., 129). Further, the sixth king need not be Nero but could be the sixth great kingdom (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome [Ellicott’s Commentary, 7.613 and Seiss, The Apocalypse, 393]). What is more Revelation 11 may be referring to the Tribulation temple, not the one standing in AD 70 (213). Furthermore, there is strong internal evidence indicating that the conditions found in the seven churches (Rev. 2-3) reflect a time period of some considerable time after that of the last books written before AD 70 (like 2 Tim., 2 Peter, Hebrews). These later conditions include the absence of Peter and Paul, the apostasy of the church, more persecution and martyrdom, and John’s exiled condition on Patmos.
Furthermore, as even partial preterist Kenneth Gentry admits, there is “strong external witness” that John wrote after AD 70 during Domitian’s reign (260). Indeed, the earliest witness (Irenaeus) knew Polycarp (1st cent), the disciple of the apostle John. With him there is an unbroken series of early Fathers who held that John wrote after AD 70 including Irenaeus (2nd cent), Victorinus (3rd cent), and Eusebius (4th ent.). The significance of this cannot be overstated. For the early view of John does not destroy the futurist view (that the Tribulation is after AD 70). However, the late view totally destroys the preterist since it is referring to the Tribulation as yet future after AD 70.
As for the a priori argument that if John wrote after AD 70 he would have highlighted the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction (252), we need only observe that John is not writing a history of this whole period but only of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. So, there was no reason to refer to an event nearly 40 years later. The other Gospels were written before AD 70. So, they have predictions of Jerusalem’s destruction in them.
Finally, there are many things predicted of this period that were not literally fulfilled in AD 70 such as one third of the rivers drying up (Rev. 8:10) and “every living creature in the sea” dying (Rev. 16:3). There is no language in the Old Testament where any comparable judgment is described in this kind of language. Indeed, other Old Testament judgments on governmental opponents of Israel (like Pharaoh) were literal judgments like the plagues on Egypt (Ex. 7-12). The only way to avoid this conclusion is for the preterist to resort to hyperbolic spiritualizing away of the literal meaning of the text.
Examples of preterist spiritualizing abound in The Code. This is called looking for a “deeper” meaning (19). A more apt description might be reading beneath the lines rather than reading the lines. For example, the mark of the Beast on their forehead is said to be symbolic of identity with. But if it was not an observable mark, then how could it be recognized for identity in marketing? (12, 13). Literal judgment that fell on Egypt is said to be symbolized by “clouds.” Likewise, in Matthew 26:64 and Revelation 1:7 cf. Isa. 19:1 (26, 229) “clouds” are symbols of judgment This same spiritualizing is applied to Jesus’ literal second coming in Revelation 1:7. “Every eye will see Him” is said to be symbolic (27). Yet in the same text it speaks of Jesus being “pierced’ which comes from the same prophecy in Zechariah 12:10 which is also applied to Jesus’ literal piercing in John 19:37. Another example of The Code’s claim is that Revelation has much “fantasy imagery” (33). There is in fact no basis for such a fantastic claim.
In another false dichotomy, The Code asserts that Revelation is rich in the symbolism of the number 7 (62), as though this were reason not to take it literally. But both could be true. For example, 7 is the number of earthly perfection, but there are also 7 literal days in an earthly week and the 7 actual churches in Asia to whom John was writing. Likewise, 40 is the number of testing, yet Israel was tested for forty literal years in the wilderness and Jesus was tested after fasting for forty literal days. Denying a literal 144,000 Jews sealed during the Tribulation, Hank argues that 1000 is “figurative” in the whole Old Testament. But how about when it is used many times for numbering the actual people (Num. 1) or animals (2 Chrn. 9:25). The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 a said to be “figurative” (130) witnesses to the Antichrist. The Code calls them “literary characters” forming “composite image” of the Law and the Prophets(131). Yet The Code urges us to interpret the New Testament in the light of its Old Testament background. But there two literal witnesses (Moses and Aaron) brought down literal plagues on the Antichrist of their day (Pharaoh).
Also, the tree of life in the New Paradise is said to be symbolic, yet the one in the first Paradise was literal along with two literal people and another literal tree from which they ate literal fruit. Further, how can The Code embrace a literal resurrection to a New Paradise, unless it too is a literal place with literal trees. Here again, full preterism is more consistent, albeit, heretical. The fact is, were this amill preterism consistent, it would have to deny the historicity of Genesis 1-3. But the inspired New Testament refers to it as literal history (Luke 3; Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15; I Tim. 2; Mt. 19). Further, not only are 144,000 Jews (in Rev. 7, 14) taken as “figurative” of “relationships” (125), but according to The Code these Jewish tribes refer to Gentiles as well. Likewise, the literal earthly throne of David is made into a spiritual reign already begun (201) and which will last forever (145), involving no literal throne in Jerusalem (202). The author of The Code is so mesmerized by symbols that he even has symbols of symbols. Daniel 9’s “seventy sevens” is said to be a double symbol where the return under Nehemiah was symbolic of Judas Maccabeeus who was symbolic of the Messiah (193)!
The failure of the preteristic hermeneutic is nowhere more obvious when they claim that 2 Peter 3:10-13 was “fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in the events of AD 70” when he wrote: “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare . . .” (135). Nothing even close to this cosmic event occurred in AD 70! And to claim that this points forward to “an even greater day of judgment” only exacerbates the problem. Why not just admit that it does not refer to AD 70 at all but only the final judgment of the world by fire, as Noah’s flood refers to the first great judgment by water (2 Peter 3:6-7). Thus, it is not “inconceivable” (160) that Jesus was exhorting first century Christians by events that could happen much later since Jesus’ coming is imminent (Phil. 4:5) and could happen at any time.
The Code misunderstands and misconstrues dispensationalism, claiming the “heart of dispensationalism” is “two distinct people”(48) with “two distinct plans”(51), and “two destinies” (272). Most dispensationalist today believe there is only one God, one plan (with many phases), one purpose (to glorify God), one Gospel (Gal. 1:8 cf 3:8), one ultimate destiny of one people of God (Rev. 21-22) wherein differing parts of God’s greater family are united (Heb 12:23; Eph. 1:10). Nonetheless, God is faithful to His unconditional promises to his ancient people Israel. Thus, it is false that to affirm that “the true church is true Israel, and true Israel is truly the church” (1 Pet 2:4) (49). The mystery of Jew and Gentile being united into one body (Eph. 3:3-5) was, as Paul said, “hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints”in the church (Col. 1:26). This is so, even though the Old Testament made predictions about Gentile blessing during the period between Christ’s comings (Acts 15:17). Nonetheless, they had no idea of how Jew and Gentile would be united in one body (Col. 1:27). But even after the church began (Act 2), the promised earthly kingdom was offered to Israel (Acts 3:12-21). Indeed, Jesus implied the kingdom would yet be restored to Israel was yet to come (Acts 1:6-8). And Paul said there was yet a national restoration of Israel (Rom. 11:11-26) whom he calls “my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises” (Rom. 9:3-4).
The Code’s rejection of a future seven year Tribulation described in Revelation 6-18 is unfounded for several reasons.
First, as shown above, Revelation was probably written after AD 70 and, so, could not have been fulfilled by then.
Second, no literal interpretation of either Matthew 24-25 or Revelation 6-18 was fulfilled in AD 70.
Third, the Tribulation is described as just prior to Christ’s return and the resurrection (Rev. 19-20) which did not take place around AD 70. To claim they did is the heresy of full-preterism.
Fourth, it is not impossible for these events to be literal. Even symbols in Revelation have a literal meaning (1:20). Contrary to The Code (136), “Stars” (heavenly bodies) can and do fall out of the sky. And actual stars can die.
Fifth, even The Code admits there will be a tribulation before Christ returns, claiming Nero was the archetype of it (114, 136). As for a pretrib rapture, The Code ignores virtually all the biblical arguments for it (see Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Chap. 17 and Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Come). Contrary to The Code’s claim that there is no seven year tribulation in biblical text (61), Daniel 9:27 speaks of a seven year period in the end times that is determined to bring judgment on the Jewish nation. The book of Revelation speaks of the last half of this period as 42 months, 1260 days, and three and a half years (Rev. 11:2-3; 12:6) which The Code mistakenly adds together rather than seeing them as descriptions of the same time period (61).
As for the argument that prior to the 19th century all Christians were post-trib, even if it were true it would not prove anything. Even Hanegraaff agrees that only the Bible is the infallible basis for doctrine. So, ultimately the only thing that matters is what the Scriptures teach on this matter, not what the Fathers said.
Further, it is not true that the early Fathers did not believe in an imminent rapture (see Geisler, ibid.). And a realistic concept of imminence logically implies a pretrib view since no signs (such as are in the Tribulation) need to occur before it happens. What is more, The Code ignores the more important issue of premillennialism which has abundant support in the early Fathers (see Geisler, ibid., Chap. 16). And if believing an early view eliminates its opposing view, then Hanegraaff’s amill view is thereby eliminated. The truth is that time is not a test for truth. There are new truths and old errors. Indeed, covenant theology embraced by most preterist was itself a late invention of Cocceius in the seventeenth century.
If these non-essential differences in eschatology are not fundamentals of the Faith, then why exert so much energy on them? Why defend minor points of these minor doctrines as “absolutely certain”? The answer is: We shouldn’t. We should stick to the dictum: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty . . . .” Having said that, there is a fundamental here worth fighting over–the fundamental by which we derive the other fundamentals. That is to say, 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.
We began by agreeing with The Code on several important principles:
- 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, 23).
- 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).
Now let’s apply these concepts of The Code (with which we agree) to conclusions of The Code (with which we disagree).
First, contrary to this principle, The Code argued repeatedly that the pretib view should be rejected because it was late in appearing. However, heresies can be early, even in apostolic times (cf. 1 Tim. 4 and 1 Jn. 4), and (re)discovery of some truths can be later (like pretrib). The final question is not whether the early Fathers held it but wether the New Testament taught it.
Second, the part must be understood in the light of the whole because God does not contradict himself. But The Code spiritualizes the fulfillment of the Throne and Land promises in a way that contradicts what had been promised in the context in which was promised.
Third, in violation of this principle, The Code imposes a spiritual fulfillment model that is contrary to the literal Land and Throne promises made.
Fourth, as indicated in applying the first three principles, The Code repeatedly violates this principle by imposing a spiritual (typological) interpretation model on Scripture that is contrary to the literal truth of Scripture.
Fifth, as the contrasts below will reveal The Code does not interpret prophetic passages in the most obvious and natural sense. Rather, the sense is neither obvious nor natural. It is in fact fanciful.
Sixth, clearly the original Jewish audience of the Old and New Testament understood the Davidic throne promises to be literal. Hence, their response on Palm Sunday; their disappointment with Jesus’ death, and their last question to Christ about “restoring the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6-8).
Seventh, The Code often confuses a legitimate figure of speech with an illegitimate spiritualistic interpretation. For example, while there are figures of speech in Revelation 20 like “key” and “chain,” this is not grounds to conclude that there is not a literal Satan or a literal thousand year reign of Christ and two literal resurrections.
Eighth, on the surface it would appear that The Code fulfilled this principle, and in many ways it did. However, it over-extended by applying it to areas like the Abrahamic land promises and the Davidic throne promises. Unlike the Levitical sacrificial system (which were prototypes), these promises were not prototypes, and they have never been fulfilled as promised. But since God cannot break an unconditional promise (Rom. 11:29; Heb. 6:13-18), the land and throne promises must yet be literally fulfilled.
Ninth, The Old Testament is the background for understanding the New. This is why preterists fail when they do not take its predictions literal as meant by its authors and understood by their audience. Further, this is why their allegorical interpretation of the plagues in Revelation and the Two Witnesses fails to understand their background in the prototype of the Antichrist in Pharaoh with God’s two witnesses (Moses and Aaron) and the literal plagues they brought on him.
Tenth, ideas do have consequences, and the typological-allegorical idea has had severe consequences in the history of the church. Denying a literal fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel have led to anti-Semitism. For example, God said to Abraham “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” (Gen. 12:3). Others, like replacement theologians who replace literal Israel with a spiritual church, nullify the literal land and throne promises, thus opening the door to liberalism and cultism.
This brings me to my chief concern about The Code–it is based on an allegorical method of interpreting prophetic Scripture that, if applied to other teachings of Scripture, would undermine the salvation essentials of the Christian Faith. Let me illustrate the extent to which The Apocalypse Code goes in allegorizing away the literal truth of Scripture from above cited texts. It transforms –
- The plain meaning of the Bible into a so-called “deeper” meaning
- Literal promises into spiritual ones
- Unconditional promises into conditional ones
- Jewish tribes into Gentiles
- A thousand years into eternity
- A literal resurrection into a spiritual one
- Land Promises for National Israel into spiritual life in Christ
- A literal mark of the Beast into a mere symbol of identity with him
- Physical clouds into mere symbols of judgment
- A literal earthly throne of David into a heavenly reign of Christ
- Two literal witnesses into literary representatives of the Law and Prophets
- Cosmic judgment into the destruction of a small city (Jerusalem)
All of this Hank is fond of calling “Reading the Bible for all it is worth.” Well, for all it is worth, this is not reading the Bible; it is a serious misreading of the Bible. So serious a misreading it is that were it a reading on an essential doctrine of the Bible – like the virgin birth, the sacrificial atonement, the bodily resurrection, or the second coming–it would be a rank heresy!
It is sad that a man who has fought so hard for so long against cults and aberrant teachings has himself succumbed to a method of interpreting the Bible that is not significantly different from those used by the cults which he so vigorously opposes.