A Response to Steve Gregg’s Defense of Hank Hanegraaff’s Partial Preterism

A Response to Steve Gregg’s Defense of  Hank  Hanegraaff’s Partial Preterism

by Norman L. Geisler

 


Points of Agreement with Steve Gregg

My comments will be divided into two basic categories. First of all, several areas in which we are in agreement will be mentioned. Second, comments on numerous points of disagreement with his defense of partial preterism, a view he shares with Hank Hanegraaff, will be discussed.

First, Steve Gregg is correct in acknowledging that Hank Hanegraaff’s view is a form of “partial preterism.” He chides Hank on his unwillingness to admit he is a partial preterist “for fear of alienating listeners.” He also observes that Hank’s phrase “exegetical eschatology” does not “reveal anything about the specific content of his eschatological ideas.” We agree that is not a descriptive phrase. Indeed, it appears to be a misnomer.

Second, Gregg rightly points to an inconsistency in Hanks view when he claims that he is using a “literal” method of interpretation when in fact he takes much of prophetic revelation in a non-literal way. Indeed, it would be more forthright to admit that it is not really a literal method of interpreting these prophetic texts at all.

Third, we also agree with Gregg’s criticism of Hank’s identification of the Neronian persecutions with “the Great Tribulation.” Of course, Gregg has his own problem of identifying it with only Judean believers. This does not solve the problem for preterists, for the many things predicted to happen to them simply never happened before A.D. 70–unless, of course, one completely allegorizes away the literal meaning of the text of Matthew 24-25 and Revelation 6-18. For these texts speak of one third of the stars falling from the sky, one third of human beings destroyed, and all the life in the sea dying! Surely, virtually everyone would agree that these events did not literally occur in A.D. 66-70. Hence, the only way to maintain their preterist view is to allegorize these scriptures.

Fourth, Gregg agrees with my criticism that Hank makes a false either/or dichotomy between the resurrection and the rapture, insisting that the former, not the latter, is the suffering believer’s real hope. But if this is so, then why do preterist like Gregg insist that terms like “soon” and “in a little while” have to refer to a first century event in order to be relevant to the believers to whom they were written? After all, they claim the resurrection is still future after 1900 years.

Fifth, Gregg agrees with me against Hanegraaff that it is an illegitimate argument to say that we should not believe something if “there is not a single passage in Scripture that teaches” it. If so, they we could not believe in the Trinity or inerrancy. However, Gregg then goes on to argue fallaciously that the pretribulational rapture should be rejected. We have shown elsewhere that there is good biblical grounds for accepting a pretribulational rapture (see Systematic Theology, vol. 4, chap. 17). In spite of all these arguments, Gregg confidently supposes that his one “four term fallacy” argument confuses different aspects of the “last day” and leaves no room for a pretrib rapture. By the same logic one could prove that there is no room for a Second Comings of Christ because His First and Second Coming are sometimes placed together in one Old Testament text (e.g., Isa. 61:1-2 cf. Lk. 4:19; Acts 2:17, 20) or are both viewed as part of the “last days” (Heb.1:2 cf. 2 Pet. 3:3-4). Likewise, there is no reason why the resurrection of the righteous cannot encompass both those who are resurrected before the tribulation and those who die after that and are resurrected at the end of the tribulation.

Points of Disagreement with Steve Gregg

Of course, there were many things on which Gregg agrees with Hank Hanegraaff in defense of their common view of partial preterism. A number of them will be noted here.

First, Gregg wrongly assumes there is a difference between the “historical-grammatical” and “literal” method of interpretation. In fact, the Latin title for the view is sensus literalis (the literal sense). Preterists and amills often mis-characterize the literal method as leaving no room for symbols and figures of speech. This is simply false (see ibid., vol. 4, chap. 13).

Second, Gregg unsuccessfully attempts to avoid the heresy of full preterism by claiming that the whole book of Revelation could have been fulfilled in A.D. 70 and the Second Coming and resurrection could be mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. This fails to note that the word “resurrection” always means physical resurrection in Scripture and that Revelation 20:6 speaks of the “first resurrection.” Further, to deny Revelation 19 is about the Second Coming is to miss the very climax of the Book of Revelation itself. The same is true of Revelation 22:12 which speaks of Christ’s Second Coming and his rewards. This is to say nothing of the final judgment scene of the “great white throne” in chapter 20 which did not occur in A.D. 70. This being the case, partial preterist are inconsistent in using the references to “soon,” “shortly,” and “near” to refer to A.D. 70, for then they must admit that there is no future resurrection and Second Coming–which is the heretical view of full preterism. As demonstrated from the Greek, “shortly” (tachu) means “quickly” or at a rapid rate. And “at hand” (Phil. 4:5; Jas. 5:8) means imminent, not necessarily what will happen in a short time. Likewise, even Gregg admits that terms like “a little while” (Haggai 2:6-7) can mean hundreds of years. Time is relative to God (2 Peter 3:9). If so, then their argument for preterism fails at this point. As for Hebrews 10:37, Gregg offers only his “opinion” without reasons that it is about A. D. 70, when it is clearly about Christ’s Second Coming as both the language and context indicate. For it speaks about our “reward” and “heaven” (vv. 34-35).

Third, if a prediction about an event hundreds of years yet in the future can be relevant to the readers (as Gregg admits about the resurrection/rapture), then there is no reason why distant predictions of how God will defeat evil and bring in everlasting righteousness cannot be relevant to the immediate generation to whom the prophecy was first given. No matter how distant Christ Second Coming is, it is relevant to our lives today, just as the predictions about His First Coming were relevant to Old Testament saints, even though they were made hundreds of years in advance. Paul comforts the Thessalonians with the prediction of the resurrection of loved ones which is already nearly 2000 years later and still not fulfilled (1 Thes. 4:13-18). So, contrary to Gregg, this does not make God a “tease.” For God is offering now the greatest comfort possible, namely, that eventually all suffering, pain, and death will be over (Rev. 21:1-4). We can take a lot now, if we know it will all be over later (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17).

Fourth, as for Rev. 22:10, Gregg totally overlooks our point that Daniel’s prediction was not fulfilled in John’s day because John was not told it was fulfilled in his day but only that it could now be understood by those who read it. But even Gregg has to admit this interpretation is “possible,” and his rejection of it is on the subjective grounds that he finds it “unconvincing” and “awkward.”

Fifth, Gregg reveals his hermeneutical colors when he rejects the literal nature of the plaques in Revelation claiming they are “apocalyptic” in contrast to the other similar biblical plagues like those on Pharaoh that were admittedly “historical.” The root problem with preterism, of both kinds, is the rejection of a consistent application of the historical-grammatical method of interpretation. Amazingly, Gregg believes that in the same “Olivet Discourse” there are many “genres [which] call for a different hermeneutic.” Indeed, he suggests there are three different hermeneutics in this one passage–part is “literal language, part is apocalyptic language, and part is parabolic”! No wonder preterism engenders such confusion.

Sixth, like other preterists Gregg has difficulty with the fact that many of the earliest Fathers rejected this view. Indeed, Ireaneaus who knew the apostle John’s disciple Polycarp rejected preterism, as did Victorinus and Eusebius after him. Gregg’s comments about them not accepting the canonicity of Revelation are both unsupported and irrelevant. The point is that they rejected the preterist position. Likewise, for his own private anti-patristic and allegoristic interpretation of these events, he dismissed a continuous strain of Fathers from just after the apostles through the fourth century who were opposed to preterism (see our Systematic Theology vol. 4, 665-668).

Seventh, Gregg points to early signs of apostasy in the NT as evidence against the argument that John wrote Revelation late. But this overlooks several import facts. There was nearly a generation between the time of Christ and the apostasy that characterized the church of Paul’s, Peter’s, and Jude’s epistles. Likewise, there is nearly another generation between the 60s and Domitian’s reign under which John wrote. Despite local problems earlier, the general character of the churches in Revelation differs significantly from those before A.D. 70.

Eighth, Gregg speaks against the literal interpretation as “a low view of prophesy” that claims a “prophet cannot discuss future developments before they arise.” Yet he seems blissfully unaware that this is precisely what the preterist do with Matthew 24-25 and the bulk of the Book of Revelation.

Ninth, Gregg dismisses the cumulative weight of ten arguments for the late date of Revelation (which strongly opposes preterism), using statements like “How do we know?” “This is not self-evident” and “This is as subjective as the previous point.” But he provides no definitive response to any objection or to the overall weight of all the objections to an early date for Revelation. And, unlike the futurists view, preterism is completely dependent on an early date for the Book of Revelation. Hence, the strong evidence for a late date for Revelation (after A.D. 70) is a strong argument against preterism.

Tenth, he wrongly argues that several possible literal interpretations of a passages, as futurists have of some texts, is justification for preterists taking different allegorical interpretations of these literal events. This is an insightful example of a false analogy.

Eleventh, it is amusing that Gregg uses a third century heretical teacher, Origen, as a basis for his amillennial view and dismisses earlier second century orthodox Fathers as a basis for futurism. Further, contrary to Gregg, Renald Showers (in Maranatha, Our Lord, Come!) has demonstrated that the very earliest Fathers believed in an imminent coming of Christ, not just the fourth century Ephraem. This is to say nothing of the inspired writings of the NT which proclaim Christ’s imminent return repeatedly (Jn. 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 1:7-8; 15:51-53; 16:22; Phil. 3:20-21; 4:5; Col. 3:4; 1 Thes. 1:10; 2:19; 4:13-18; 5:9, 23; 2 Thes. 2:1; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; Jas. 5:7-9; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 1 Jn. 2:28-3:2; Jude 21; Rev. 2:25; 3:10; 22:7, 12, 20 ). Passages like “The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5) and “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas.5:8) can hardly mean anything other than imminent, unless one is a full preterist and denies a literal future Second Coming, claiming Christ returned in the first century. He summarily dismisses all this with a vague “for all anyone can say” and a guilt-by-association with the Word of Faith movement!

Twelfth, after rejecting the early Fathers who were opposed to preterism, Gregg inconsistently appeals to the early Fathers to justify his amillennial views. He speaks of the pretrib beliefs before Ephraem in the fourth century as unsupported by earlier Fathers. Yet, he criticizes futurist who use the early Fathers to support their view (see “Sixth” above).

Thirteenth, he rejects the dispensational belief in a literal restoration of Israel which is firmly based in the historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture (see Geisler, ibid., chap. 15). Yet he claims to hold the historical-grammatical hermeneutic.

Fourteenth, Gregg makes the shocking statement that “to spiritualize the first resurrection may indeed be a violation of some arbitrary, humanly devises ‘literal…method of interpretation,’ but what of it?” First of all, the literal method is not humanly devised nor arbitrary. It is an undeniable method of interpretation since one cannot deny it without using it. So, the literal method of interpretation is literally undeniable. Here again, the root problem of preterism is laid bare. To use its own word, their interpretations of prophesy “spiritualize” a lot of prophecy. Incredibly, Gregg brushes off the inconsistency of taking one resurrection literally in the same passage which uses the same words to describe both resurrections by appealing to another passage in a different context that is talking about regeneration (Eph. 2:1), not resurrection. Even more strangely, he uses another text which is speaking about two literal resurrections (Jn. 5:28f) of the “dead” bodies “in the graves” which will “come forth” at the command of Christ to justify that there is only one physical resurrection. He ignores the sound exegesis of George Ladd (in The Blessed Hope), who is not a dispensationalist, but who demonstrates that Revelation 20 is speaking about two literal resurrections. Indeed, the very historical-grammatical hermeneutic which Gregg claims to embrace demands such an interpretation.

Fifteenth, Gregg incorrectly separates the “literal method of interpretation” from a “proper reading of the text.” But he surely would object if one considered it proper not to take these words of his literally. To show how blinded one can be by his own hermeneutical presuppositions, Gregg claims “there is no meaning of Revelation 20 plainer than the amillennial one.” Nothing could be further from the fact, since the same phrase “lived again” is used by the same author in the same text, one before and one after the “thousand years.” And Gregg admits it is a literal resurrection. Further, the two resurrections are said to be separated by “a thousand years,” a term used six times in five verses. Finally, the “thousand years” has a beginning and an end that is “finished.” The bookends of this literal time period are said to be two different literal events, one of which is called “the first resurrection.” Oddly enough, the amills take this to be the spiritual one (when the term “resurrection” is never used spiritually in the NT), and the other resurrection (which is not even called that as such) they believe is the literal resurrection. If one can use such a twisted contorted logic on this text, there is no surprise what a preterist can do with the same hermeneutical gyrations on other texts like those of Matthew 24-25 and Revelation 6-18. And perish the thought of what the preterist could do with the historicity of early Genesis or of the Gospels if they would ever become consistent with their allegorical interpretation!

Sixteenth, to borrow his own term, Gregg becomes “dislodged from reality” by denying that “orthodoxy is dependant on a proper literal…interpretation of the Bible.” How one can consistently hold orthodox theology on any other basis. Take for example the unquestioned orthodox belief in the literal death and literal resurrection of Christ. How can one derive this from Scripture with anything but a proper literal interpretation of Scripture? And yet by the same non-literal method of interpreting prophecy used by preterist, one would have to deny the orthodox teaching of the literal death and resurrection of Christ. In point of fact, full preterism is doctrinally unorthodox and partial preterism is methodologically unorthodox.

Seventeenth, one cannot help but be amazed at the audacity of some preterists. Gregg actually charges that I have not read the “majority of writers in the earliest centuries of Christianity.” How does he know this? In fact, I have read all of them and virturally all of their published writings. Further, I never asserted that they all employed a consistent “literalistic method” of interpretation, as Gregg alleges. I only contented that many of them, some of whom were close to the apostles, rejected the inconsistent partial preterist methodology.

Eighteenth, Gregg dismisses a massive array of unconditional promises that are based on the historical-grammatical interpretation which says that there will be a literal restoration of ethnic Israel to their land (see our Systematic Theology, vol. 4, chaps.14-16). None of the passages he cites deny this future for Israel, and numerous passages he does not cite affirm that there will be one (Gen. 12-17; 2 Sam. 7; Psa. 89; Mt. 19:28; Acts 1:6-8; Acts 3:19; Rom. 11, and many more). So strongly are these texts in favor of a literal restoration of the land and throne promises to ethnic Israel that even some non-premills like Vern Poythress and Anthony Hoekema have been forced to acknowledge such a future for Israel. And not to see that Paul is speaking of ethnic Israel in Romans 9-11 (which he calls Israel “my kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:2) to whom God gave “the covenants” and “Promises” (9:4) is a bold act of exegetical blindness. And it is this same “Israel” in this same passage of which Paul says they will be “grafted into their own olive tree” (11:24) because “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). Ironic as it may seem, a fundamental problem with reformed amillennialism is that it does not believe in unconditional election–at least not for Israel! As for the clear literal truth that Jesus will literally come again with his literal twelve disciples who sit on twelve literal thrones and reign over the literal “twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt. 19:28), the best Gregg can offer is “the suggestions” that “this is not the only way in which Matt. 19:28 can be interpreted.” Of course, it isn’t; there is the spiritualistic way Gregg interprets it as “a present reality.” But this is certainly not the result of the historical grammatical hermeneutic preterists profess to accept. Nor is his contention that Jesus “unambiguously” established His kingdom at His first coming, as any literal understanding of numerous passages reveals (see Matt. 19:28; Acts 1:6-8; 3:19-21; Rom. 11:11-36). For an example of straining out a hermeneutical gnat and swallowing a doctrinal camel, Gregg declares of Revelation 20 that “the passage says ‘a thousand years.’ It does not say, ‘a literal thousand years.’” The passage also says “the Devil” (v. 2) and not “a literal Devil,” but does this give us warrant for denying a literal Devil. It also speaks of “nations” (v. 3), martyrs (v. 4), “heaven” (v. 1), and even “Jesus” (v. 4). But surely all these are literal. Sure, there are figures of speech used in the text like “key” (v. 1), but the literal method of interpretation has always allowed for figures of speech about literal realities (see ibid., chap. 13). It simply insists that the figures of speech and symbols are about literal realities (cf. Rev. 1:20).

Nineteenth, when confronted with the obviously literal land promises to Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 13-15), Gregg replies, “I don’t find the word ‘literal’ in any of the passages cited.” Yet, he later says these literal promises were literally fulfilled in the days of Joshua–something that could not be true since they are repeated after Joshua’s time (Jer. 11:5; Amos 9:14-15; Acts 1:6-8; Acts 3:19-21; Rom. 11). As for insisting on the use of the word “literal” to determine whether a passage is literal, I would suggest that he look at the death and resurrection of Jesus passages again. The last time I looked the word “literal” was not in the resurrection accounts. Nor do I find it in Genesis 1-3. But there again, consistency of hermeneutic is not a primary characteristic of the preterist position. Further, it is far from “clear” that Heb. 4 or Gal. 4 teaches there is no ethnic fulfillment of the ethnic promises to Israel. On the contrary, it is a denial of both God’s unconditional grace and of the historical-grammatical interpretation of numerous passages already mentioned. Just because Abraham has a spiritual seed does not mean there are no promises for his ethnic offspring.

Twentieth, as to the promise that the land promises to Israel would be “forever,” Gregg says two things: 1) The Hebrew word for “forever” (olam) does not always mean eternal. While this is true, it is also true that it can. And when it does not, it certainly means a long period of time. But Israel has never occupied all the land designated in these promises for a long period of time. As all good interpreters know, the meaning of a word is discovered by its context. And the context of Psalm 89:37 declares that the Davidic covenant will be “established forever like the moon.” And the last time I looked the moon was still in the sky! 2) Greggs wrongly assumes God’s promises to Abraham and David were conditional, but they clearly were not. Abraham was not even conscious when God made a unilateral unconditional promise to him (in Gen. 15:12), and Psalm 89:31-36 declares that even “if they break my statutes,” God promised “Nevertheless My loving kindness I will not utterly take from him, nor allow My faithfulness to fail. My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed will endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me.” As Paul said of this same God, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). God has not given them back the land yet, but will in the future when the remnant returns to Him (e.g., see Gen. 13:17 and Deut. 30:16-20).

Twenty-first, to illustrate how wrong the allegorical method can be, Gregg boldly proclaims against the literal historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture, calling it “flawed,” saying that “the apostles believed that God had fulfilled the promise that David’s seed would sit upon a throne when Jesus arose and ascended to the right hand of God.” This flatly contradicts a literal interpretation of Scripture for several reasons. First, the Old Testament predictions about a descendant of David were about a Messiah who would sit on a literal throne of David and reign from Jerusalem and have literal descendants (2 Sam. 7; Isa. 11; 24; 32; 55; Psa. 89). Second, Jesus affirmed that he and his disciples would reign on literal thrones when he returned (Mt. 19:28). Third, the last thing Jesus said before he left earth in response to when he would “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6-8) was it was not for them to know when he would do it but that in the interim they should preach the Gospel to all the world. Only two chapters later Peter preached that if Israel would repent God would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 3:19-21). Finally, later the apostle Paul speaks of the literal restoration of ethnic Israel as an event yet to come after the fullness of the Gentiles has come (Rom. 11:24-26). A reasonable historical grammatical interpretation of these texts will inform a seeking reader that the Davidic covenant was not fulfilled by an invisible, spiritual reign from heaven where Christ is at God’s right hand. Rather, it awaits a literal fulfillment when Christ will reign from a throne on earth (in Jerusalem) of all Israel who inherited the land promised unconditionally to Abraham (Gen. 13-17) from Egypt to Iraq.

Finally, Gregg offers no arguments against the clear biblical promises that God has made these Abrahamic and Davidic promises with an immutable oath (as Heb. 6:17 and Psa. 89:20-37). These powerful arguments are simply dismissed by Gregg with the curt comment: “Sorry, but the New Testament writers simply disagree with Geisler’s claim that these promises ‘have never been fulfilled.’ See Luke 1:70-75 and 2 Corinthians 1:20.” We have already shown above that this is not the case. And there is nothing in Luke 1 nor 2 Cor. 1 to the contrary. Check them out. The first one is simply a prediction that the Messiah, son of David, would come and fulfill this covenant. It says nothing about whether it was completely fulfilled in Christ’s first coming and present session at the right hand of God. The second text (2 Cor. 1:20) is misapplied for several reasons: 1) That Christ fulfilled salvation promises does not mean he fulfilled the land and throne promises to Israel. 2) Even some reformed theologians (like Poythress and Hoekema) admit that there is still to come a literal fulfillment of these promises made to Israel. 3) Historical-grammatical interpretation of Old Testament land and throne promises cannot be allegorized away by amills and preterist misapplication of New Testament texts. As we have demonstrated elsewhere, this kind of twisted interpretation of Old Testament text is not exegesis but eisegesis. Indeed, it is a retroactive eisegesis that reads back into the Old Testament texts a meaning that was never there either in the expressed intention of the author or as understood by the people to whom he wrote (see ibid., chap. 13).

In brief, Gregg’s attempt to rescue the partial preterist position he shares with Hank Hanegraaff is a failure. It rests upon a methodologically unorthodox way of interpreting Scripture. If this same method were used on the Gospel narratives of the resurrection of Christ, the preterist would also be theologically unorthodox. Thus, while partial preterism itself is not heretical, its hermeneutic is unorthodox, and if applied consistently, would lead to heresy, as indeed it does in full preterism.

 

A Friendly Response to Hank Hanegraaff’s Book, The Last Disciple

A Friendly Response to Hank Hanegraaff’s Book, The Last Disciple

by Norman L. Geisler

 


There are many reasons I am writing this congenial response to Hank’s recent views expressed in
The Last Disciple. First of all, Hank and I are long time friends and have discussed this topic many times. Second, we both agree that the issue here is not one of orthodoxy vs. unorthodoxy since no great fundamental of the Faith is being denied on either side. We are both fighting in the same orthodox trench against the same unorthodox enemies of the Faith. Third, I have been a faithful defender of Hank against the many false charges leveled against him and have thereby earned the right to offer some friendly criticism of his view. Fourth, Hank knows I have a strong commitment to the premillennial futurist view opposed in The Last Disciple. Indeed, the imminent premillennial view has been a treasured part of Southern Evangelical Seminary’s doctrinal statement from the very beginning. As president, I have been asked by numerous constituents whether I agree with Hank’s position. In brief, my answer is that we agree on all the essentials of the Faith, but on the question of the last days Hank knows I do not agree with his opposition to the futurist view. Hence, as long-time friends, we just agree to disagree agreeably. It is in this spirit that I offer a friendly response to his book The Last Disciple (hereafter “LD”) and statements on it taken primarily from the interview (hereafter designated “I”) printed on the CRI web site (http://www.equip.org/abouthank/tyndale.pdf accessed on 1/20/05). In all fairness, Hank promises a fuller expression of his position in a forthcoming book. But based on what he has written, my comments will be listed after the citations from Hank Hanegraaff’s statements.

Introduction

A. LD claims to be “an alternative to the Left Behind view of Tim LaHaye” (LD, 393).

Comments: It is that, but it is also much more. It is in fact a strong rejection of the futurist view of the Tribulation as well as premillennialism. And like the preterist view, LD holds that the texts in the Mt. Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24-25) and in the Book of Revelation refer to Nero and the 1st century (see point “I” below) and not to any future seven year period dominated by the Antichrist and preceding the literal Second Coming of Christ to earth to reign. In short, LD is a critique of the basic futurist view held by Dallas Seminary, Grace Seminary, the Master’s Seminary, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Philadelphia Biblical University, most Bible Colleges in the country, and numerous Christian leaders who support the ministry of CRI. These include Dr. Wayne House, Dr. Ron Rhodes, Dr. J. P. Moreland, Dr. Barry Leventhal, Dr. Thomas Howe, and many of the faculty of the above institutions. In view of this, it is understandable that we offered here a brief response in support of the widely held futurist view.

B. LD claims not to be committed to “any particular model of eschatology” (LD, 393).

Comments: This statement can easily be misinterpreted. Everyone has an eschatology, formal or informal, including the authors of LD. The question is whether or not it is Bible-based, fits all the data consistently, and corresponds to the facts. Further, everyone is committed to their view in varying degrees. The authors of The Last Disciple claim to be “deeply committed to a proper method of biblical interpretation” (303). But methodology determines theology. Indeed, they speak of “remarkable evidence” for their view (I, #3) and of “no biblical warrant” for the opposing view (I, #6). They speak also of their interpretation of certain disputed terms which allegedly “demonstrate conclusively” that their view is right (I, #7). Clearly, they are committed to the view which opposes the standard futurist interpretation to which a great number of evangelical scholars, including myself, are firmly committed.

C. LD does not “call into question the orthodoxy of the Left Behindauthors”(395) and, thereby, the futurist view.

Comment: This is an important point. There is no charge of heresy here on either side, and there should not be (see “F” below). Certainly, the traditional futurist view has a strong basis in the early Church (see “P” below) and the above listed faculty and schools have provided biblical support for it. Indeed, the classic, exhaustive, and seldom read three volume set of George Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, offers biblical support for the imminent premillennial view. The common orthodox belief of all premillennial and amillennial views is a literal return of Christ and a physical resurrection of the dead. On this part of the future, there is basic agreement.

D. The authors of LD wish to “demonstrate the dangers inherent in the interpretive method . . . dispensationalists employ” (LD, 395).

Comments: We agree that the method of interpretation is crucial to one’s conclusions on last things. We also agree that the literal (historical-grammatical) method of interpretation is the correct one. We do not agree, however, as to who is more consistent in their use of this method. Dispensationalists see an inconsistency in the anti-futurist method since many predictions in Matthew 24-25 and Revelation 6-18 were not fulfilled in A.D. 70 – at least not literally. For example, the stars did not fall from heaven (Mt. 24:29), nor were one-third of humans killed (Rev. 9:18), and neither did all the creatures in the sea die (Rev. 16:3) in A.D. 70.

E. LD opposes “Placing the Beast [of Rev. 13] in the twenty-first instead of the first century” (LD, 395).

Comments: Although LD disavows the label of “partial preterism” as well as “post-millennialism,” this conclusion is in agreement with preterism. And if LD is right, then the rest of the Tribulation (Rev. 6-18) must be placed there too. But if it is taken literally, then it cannot be placed there since Jesus did not visibly return to earth in A.D. 70 (Mt. 24:30 cf. Rev. 1:7 and Acts 1:10-11). Nor did Christ literally execute all the judgments listed in Revelation 9 and 16 at that time. And since LD claims to hold a literal method of interpretation, then its consistency can be seriously challenged at this point.

F. LD affirms that “John was told not to seal up the prophecy because its fulfillment was [in the] fore future,” not in the “far future” as Daniel was told his was (Dan. 8:26; 12:4) (LD, 395).

Comments: Here again, this agrees with the partial preterist view that John is speaking about the first century, whatever applications it may have to later generations. But if Revelation 6-18 refers to the first century, then why not the whole book since John was told, according to LD, that all of Revelation was to be unveiled for the near future? And if this refers to the first century, then one is driven to full preterism which both sides admit is a heresy since it says the resurrection is past (2 Tim. 2:18). There is no consistent hermeneutical way to separate Rev. 19-22 from 6-18 on preterist grounds. Indeed, the seventh trumpet (Rev. 11:15) which is during the Tribulation announces the coming of Christ. And the verses speaking of a “soon” coming, as LD interprets them, refer to the whole book of Revelation from beginning to end (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10).

G. LD asserts that “John’s repeated use of such words and phrases assoon and the time is near demonstrate conclusively that John could not have had the twenty-first century in mind” (LD, 395; I, #3).

Comments: If so, then on this premise the whole book of Revelation (including the Second Coming and Resurrection – Chapters 19-20) must refer to the first century since the word “soon” applies to the whole book of Revelation (1:1; 22:10). In this case, full preterism follows which is heretical. So, while the conclusions of LD are not unorthodox, if this understanding is applied consistently to other texts, then the logical implications will lead to unorthodox conclusions. Hence, while doctrinallythis is an intramural orthodox discussion, nevertheless, methodologicallythis is a very important issue.

Further, these words do not refer to a soon event but a swift event. This is borne out by the Greek lexicons and dictionaries. The Greek word for “quickly” is tachu which occurs thirteen times in the New Testament (Mt. 5:25; 28:7, 8; Mk. 9:39; 16:8; Jn. 11:29; Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). Arndt and Gingrich (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 814) say it means “quick, swift, speedy.” It is what happens “quickly, at a rapid rate.” Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 616) agrees, saying, it means “quickly, speedily.” Likewise, Vine (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 913) concurs that it means “swift, quick . . . , quickly.” Hence, this term need not, as LD argues, refer to a first-century event but to the imminent coming of Christ whenever it occurs.

H. The LD view affirms that “Unlike the Left Behind authors, we believe that when John in Revelation says ten or more times that the events about which he is writing ‘must soon take place,’ or for which ‘the time is near,’ that is precisely what he means” (I, #4).

Comments: First, if this is precisely what he means in the whole book, then, as already noted, the heretical view of full preterism follows. Second, these may be interpreted, as the futurist holds, as indicating the imminence of Christ’s coming, namely, that it may happen at any time (see 1 Cor. 4:5; 15:51-52; 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:10; James 5:7-9; 1 John 2:28). The great Greek scholar A. T. Robertson said that by “quickly” in Revelation “I am coming (imminent) . . . is meant to be understood.” He adds, “we do not know how soon ‘quickly’ is meant to be understood. But it is a real threat” (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6.306). Noted New Testament scholar Leon Morris commented: “The imminence of the coming is repeated” (Morris, The Revelation of St. John, 258). In his classic commentary on Revelation, J. A. Seiss affirmed: “Everywhere the promised Apocalypse of the Lord Jesus is represented as close at hand, liable to occur at any moment” (Seiss, The Apocalypse, 523, emphasis added). The word translated “shortly”(Rev. 1:1; 22:6) is tachei which is from the same root as tachu (see above) and, like it, means swiftly or speedily. As such it does not necessarily refer to a soon but a sudden event. Further, as hermeneutical expert, Dr. Thomas Howe, has pointed out, John was not told to “unseal the revelation he received.” Rather, he was told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” This does not mean the prophecy was fulfilled in John’s day but that the words of the prophecy could be understood by those who read them in his day.

The word “near” (Rev. 1:3) is the Greek word eggus which means “near” or “at hand.” But this is a relative term like “short” and “long,” of which one can ask how near? And as measured by whom? What is long to us is short for God. Peter said, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Pet. 3:8). Further, there are clear biblical examples where a “short” time was really a long time for us. Hebrews 10:37 says Jesus would come in just “a little while” and it is nearly 2000 years since then, and He has not come yet. Haggai 2:6-7 says the time from his day (c. 500 B.C.) to the glorious temple to be rebuilt at Christ’s coming was only a “little while.” Even to Christ’s first coming this was 500 years, and the prophecy will not be completely fulfilled until His second coming which is over 2500 years already.

I. LD contends that “The Great Tribulation instigated by Nero is the antitype for every type and tribulation that follows before we experience the reality of our own resurrection at the Second Coming” (LD, 395).

Comments: It is understandable how a literal first century Tribulation could be an encouragement to later sufferers, but where in Scripture does it say it is an antitype for all future tribulations? Further, if LD takes this to refer to Nero and the first century, as it says repeatedly, then that is the meaning of the text. And that is what partial preterism means. So, in spite of any disavowal of the term, this is an anti-futurist view of these texts common to preterism.

J. “The Last Disciple series places the Great Tribulation precisely where it belongs, in a first-century milieu in which ‘the last disciple’ comforts believers in the throes of the mother of all persecutions” (LD, 395).

Comments: If the “Great Tribulation” meant by John in Revelation was “precisely” a first century event, then this is indistinguishable from preterism, no matter how many later applications are made of the text for future sufferers. If this is so, then there is no future “Great Tribulation” as futurists claim and the LD view is a form of preterism, despite any protests by LD authors to the contrary.

K. “The Last Disciple, then, will develop the necessary skills for reading Scripture – particularly the book of Revelation-for all its worth” (I, # 1).

Comments: In all candor, this is a bit of an over claim. I wish it were that simple, and given that the method used in LD deviates from the literal interpretation of many events in Revelation mentioned above, I don’t think the book accomplishes this goal. This is so especially in view of the fact that the authors admit the Old Testament background for the language and images of these New testament predictions. But if Revelation is patterned after the deliverance of His people through tribulation in the Old Testament, then why reject the view that the plagues of Revelation are as literal as those executed on Pharaoh in the Exodus after which Revelation is modeled? Further, if other parts of the prophecy Jesus gave in Matthew 24-25 are taken literally by LD and fulfilled literally, then how can it consistently deny a literal fulfillment of the others in the same text?

L. “There is also remarkable evidence for Nero as the Beast and his persecutions as the great tribulation” (I, #3).

Comments: Actually, the opposite is true. There is strong evidence that Revelation was written in the 90s well after Nero was dead during Domitian’s reign. If so, this would make the LD false. Briefly stated the evidence for dating Revelation in the 90s A.D. is as follows: First, this futurist view of the Tribulation, Antichrist, and/or even Millennium was held by many of the earliest Fathers including Irenaeus (2nd century) who said “It was seen not very long ago, almost in our own generation, at the close of the reign of Domitian” (Against Heresies 5.30.3). This was confirmed by Victorinus (3rd century) who wrote: “When John said these things, he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the mines by Caesar Domitian” (Commentary of Revelation 10:11). Likewise, Eusebius (4thcentury) confirmed the Domitian date (Ecclesiastical History 3.18). Second, other early Fathers after A.D. 70 refer to the Tribulation or Antichrist spoken of in Revelation as yet future (see Commondianus [3rd century], Instructions 44, and Ephraem of Syria [4th century], On the Last Times, 2). Third, the conditions of the seven churches (Rev. 2-3) fit this later period rather than that reflected in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Timothy which were written in the 60s. For example, the church at Ephesus in Revelation had lost its first love (Rev. 2:4) and others like Laodicea (Rev. 3:14f.) had fallen from the Faith. Fourth, it was not until the reign of Domitian that emperor worship as reflected in Revelation was instituted. Fifth, Laodicea appears as a prosperous city in Revelation 3:17, yet it was destroyed by an earthquake in c. A.D. 61, during Nero’s reign, and would not have recovered so quickly in a couple of years. Sixth, John’s exile on the island of Patmos implies a later date when persecution was more rampant (1:9). Seventh, the references to persecution and Martyrdom in the churches reflect a later date (cf. Rev. 2:10, 13 cf.). Eighth, Polycarp’s reference to the church at Smyrna (to the Philippians 11.3) reveals that it did not exist in Paul’s day (by A.D. 64) as it did when John wrote Revelation 2:8. Ninth, the Nicolaitans (of Rev. 2:6, 11) were not firmly established until nearer the end of the century. Tenth, there is not sufficient time on the early date for John’s arrival in Asia (late 60s) and replacement of Paul as the respected leader of the Asian Church (see discussion in Donald Guthrie,New Testament Introduction, vol. 2, chapter 7).

M. LD objects to “The pretribulational rapture model featured in theLeft Behind series [that] interprets Revelation 13, for example, in a strictly literal fashion” (I, #3).

Comments: It all depends on what is meant by “strictly literal.” If “strictly literal” means the unique interpretation of Tim LaHaye that the Antichrist resurrects himself, then we agree with LD that this is wrong. However, we must be careful not to paint all futurists with the same broad brush. There are a lot of them who do not agree with LaHaye here, including the commentary produced by the Dallas Seminary faculty (see Walvoord and Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, p. 960). And it would not be fair to leave the impression that LaHaye’s interpretation of Revelation 13 is essential to, or even characteristic of, the futurist view of Revelation. After all, if we take the text literally, it does not say the Beast was “resurrected” from the dead. It says that his deadly “wound” was “healed” (Rev. 13:12).

N. LD affirms that “As the characters in the novel deal with tribulation, they are sustained by the hope of resurrection that Jesus gives all of us, not with a belief that they are meant to be taken away from trouble by a rapture” (I, #4 cf. I, #5).

Comments: This is a false either/or when it is a both/and situation. The resurrection and the rapture take place at the same time, whenever that time is (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Even those who are raptured will receive their permanent glorified body at that time (1 Cor. 15:50-56). Of course, they are distinct events in the sense that the dead are raised “first” and those alive are “caught up” with them to “meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). But these events happen at the same time, and they both receive their permanent immortal, imperishable body at that moment (1 Cor. 15:50-56). So, the two hopes cannot be separated.

O. LD declares that “Prior to the nineteenth century all Christians-including all premillennialists-believed the rapture or the resurrection of believers and the second coming of Christ were simultaneous events and not two distinct happenings separated by at least seven years” (I, #6).

Comments: This is plainly and simply false. The early Ephraem manuscript (see Thomas Ice, When the Trumpet Sounds, 110-111) reveals the pretrib view was held as early as the 300s A.D. And even if the first known reference is later, truth is not determined by time. This is the fallacy of “Chronological Snobbery.” The amillennial view itself (with which this point in LD accords) is “late” since most of the early Fathers were premillennial including Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and the early Augustine. Other futurists (whose view is opposed by LD) include even earlier subapostolic writings like Irenaeus, Ignatius, the Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Papias, Clement of Rome, Lactantius, Methodius, Epiphanius, and others (see George Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, vol. 1, pp. 304, 324, 451) .

P. “First, there is not a single passage in Scripture that teaches a pretribulational rapture” (I, #6).

Comment: In one sense this is true, but it is very misleading. For in the strict sense, there is not a single passage of Scripture that teaches the Trinity either, but that does not mean it is not biblically based. And in this broader sense of biblically based, which must be allowed for the doctrines of the Trinity and inerrancy, the pretrib view is biblical as well (see Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Comes). For in the broader sense, these doctrines are not based on a single text but on all the data of Scripture on the topic put in a consistent systematic whole that best explains them with whatever varying degree of certitude (see Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, chap. 12).

Q. “There is no biblical warrant for LaHaye’s hypothesis that believers will be resurrected some one thousand seven years before the resurrection of unbelievers” (I, #6).

Comments: If this means there is no biblical warrant for believing in the pretrib view, then one must beg to disagree. Detailed reasons are listed in the forthcoming volume four of our Systematic Theology: The Church and Last Things (chapter 17). Or, if this means there is no biblical basis for believing there are two resurrections, one before and one after “the thousand years,” then one must strongly disagree. Even non-dispensationalists, like George Ladd, agree that a literal (historical-grammatical) interpretation of Revelation 20 demands a premillennial conclusion of a first physical resurrection before the thousand years and a second physical resurrection after it (see Ladd, The Blessed Hope). Just the phrase, “and the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:5) makes this view clear. The alternative interpretations must spiritualize (allegorize) this text. Indeed, to deny the premillennial view one must take the first resurrection as spiritual and the second one as literal. Ironically, only the first one is actually called a “resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6), though “live again”(Gk. ezasan) is used of both (vv. 4-5). Nowhere in Scripture is the word “resurrection” ever used in a spiritual sense. So, to spiritualize the “first resurrection” is a gross violation of the literal (historical-grammatical) method of interpretation.

R. “The plain and proper reading of a biblical passage must always take precedence over a particular eschatological presupposition or paradigm” (I, #7).

Comments: We agree. But if this is so, then the plain and proper reading of Revelation 20 will yield a futurist premillennial view contrary to LD. Yet LD opposes this futurist view in favor of a kind of amillennial view. (1) This conclusion is inconsistent with its alleged literal method of interpreting the Bible.

 

Conclusion

The basic goals of LD are admirable, and its basic doctrines are within orthodoxy. Nonetheless, the dialogue on methodology is important since orthodoxy is dependant on a proper literal (historical-grammatical) interpretation of the Bible. However, LD does not appear to measure up to the standards of its own alleged literal method. In rejecting a futurist (2)interpretation of Revelation, LD must reject a literal interpretation of many passages in Revelation and in Matthew 24-25 which they claim were fulfilled in the first century. And if this same non-literal method were applied to other passages like the Gospels, then it would undermine historical Christianity. Hence, the issue is of great importance. So, on this matter we must respectfully disagree agreeably with our good friend Hank Hanegraaff.

Yet I would suggest a more excellent way. LD rightly criticizes excesses in some futurists’ interpretation of some texts. But the same could be done for preterists’ interpretations which claim these predictions were fulfilled in A.D. 70. Would it not be better for LD to be content to show the inconsistencies of some futurists’ interpretations, rather than attacking the whole premillennial futurist scheme which is firmly rooted in the historical-grammatical interpretation of all of Scripture, including prophecy, and amply exhibited in the majority of writers in the earliest centuries of Christianity? For when the literal method is applied to the unconditional Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, it yields a futurist interpretation of Scripture which affirms that Christ will not only physically return to earth but He will also establish a literal kingdom (Mt. 19:28) and reign for a literal thousand years (Rev. 20), restoring the literal Land of Promise to the literal descendants of Abraham from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon, the territory of the Palestinians, and all the way to Egypt (Gen. 13:15-17; 15:7-21) “forever” (Gen 13:15). Likewise, the literal method of interpretation demands that there will be a literal throne of David on which the Messiah will actually reign on a throne in Jerusalem over the restored literal descendants of Abraham “forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-16). But these unconditional promises have never been fulfilled, even though God made them with an “immutable” oath (Heb. 6:17-18 cf. Ps. 89:20-37). However, if the Bible is to be taken literally, then the basic premillennial futurist view which LD critiques must be right. Indeed, if LD wished to take all of Scripture literally and consistently, then it would be better to affirm these unconditional promises which are at the heart of the premillennial futurist view, rather than occupy its time with criticizing excesses in some popular presentations of these views.


Notes

1. In personal conversation with Hank, he disavows both the premillennial and the postmillennial views by name, which in terms of the three basic views leaves him in the amillennial camp, though he is reluctant to use this word for his view.

2. Of course even partial preterists are “futurists” regarding the Second Coming and Resurrection. But they reject the futurist understanding of the bulk of Book of Revelation.

 

A Review of Hank Hanegraaff’s The Apocalypse Code

A Review of Hank Hanegraaff’s Book, The Apocalypse Code

by Norman L. Geisler

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.


Logical Fallacies

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.

False Disjunctions

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”!

False Analogy

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 bitting 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.


Hermeneutics

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.


Typology

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 Codesays 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.


Millennialism

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).


Preterists

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.


Spiritualizing

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 Codeurges 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 Codeembrace 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.


Dispensationalism

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).


Tribulation

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 Codemistakenly 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.


Conclusion

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:

  1. The date of a view has no necessary connection with the truth of the view (57).
  2. The part must be interpreted in the light of the whole (228, 230).
  3. We should not impose a model on Scripture but should derive it from Scripture (236).
  4. The literal method is the correct method of interpreting Scripture (10, 23).
  5. The “literal interpretation” is the one that takes the text “in its most obvious and natural sense” (230).
  6. The correct meaning is generally what the original audience understand by it (1)
  7. Literal is not the same as literalistic. The Bible uses symbols and figures of speech (10).
  8. Typology is an important part of biblical interpretation (161).
  9. The Old Testament is often the key to understanding the New Testament (161, 230).
  10. “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.


Other resources to consider:

 What’s Coming Next (DVDs by Dr. Geisler at http://ngim.org)

What the Bible Really Says? Breaking the Apocalypse Code by Dr. Thomas Howe

 

Why Hold to a Pre-Mill View?

Why Hold to a Pre-Mill View?

by Norman L. Geisler  

February 2, 2007

 


There are many arguments for premillennialism and several are noteworthy.
 Arguments for Premillennialism

Unless Premillennialism is True, God Lost the Battle in History

God started human history by creation human beings in a literal Paradise.  It had trees, plants, animals, and rivers (Gen 2).  It had a specific geographical location on earth, by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Iraq). There was no sin, evil, or suffering there.  Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment.

But this Paradise was lost by sin.  Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and brought sin, suffering, and death on themselves (Gen. 3:14-9) and on all mankind (Rom. 5:12).  Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden which was sealed off by a closed gate and guarded by an angel (Gen. 3:24).  In short, the Tempter won.  He brought death and its fear on mankind (Heb. 2:14).

Hence, if the Paradise lost is not a Paradise regained, then God lost the battle and Satan won.  If physical death is not reversed by physical resurrection, then Satan retains the ultimate victory.  And if a literal Paradise is not regained, then God lost what He created. But God is omnipotent and cannot lose any battle.  Hence, there must be a literal Paradise regained such as we have in the premillennial view of the millennium or else God did not reverse the curse and gain the victory over the Satan damaged earth and human race.

But God will regain the Paradise lost.  This He will do by a literal  resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12-19; Luke 24:39-43) (see Chap. 8) and by a literal reign of Christ on earth.  He will reign until death is actually1 defeated  (1 Cor. 15:24-27; Rev. 20:4-6).  But this will not be until the end of the millennium and the beginning of the New Heaven and Earth of which John says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).  So, only by a millennial reign will the true Paradise be restored.


Unless Premillennialism is True, History Has no End

It is widely acknowledged that a linear view of history (that history is moving forward toward a goal) is the result to the Judeo-Christian revelation. History is said to be His-story for God has planned and is moving history forward toward its End (Eschaton). But without a literal historical millennium there is no real End to history.  On a traditional amillennial view history mere ceases to be but never really comes to a climax.  It simply ceases to be and then the eternal state dawns.  For on the premillennial view, the millennium is not the first chapter of eternity; it is the last chapter of time.  It is the time when, by Christ’s reign, sin, suffering , and death will be finally overcome.   For only “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Cor. 15:24-25).  But Christ only does this through His millennial reign.  So without a literal millennium there is no real End to history.


Only Premillennialism Employs a Consistent Hermeneutic

To deny premillennialism is to deny the consistent application of the literal interpretation of the Bible.  For the non-premill view 1) it takes parts of the Bible literally but not all (e.g., prophecy); 2) It takes part of prophets literally (First Advent) but not all of the Second Advent; 3)  It takes part of the Gospels literally, namely, Christ’s death and resurrection  (Matt. 26-28) but not all of Jesus statements in the Gospels, namely, His statements about His Second Coming  (Matt. 19:28; Chaps. 24-25);  4) It takes part of a verse literally but not the rest.  When quoting Isaiah Jesus stopped in the middle of a sentence and pronounced it literally fulfilled (in His First Coming), but the rest of the verse speaks of His Second Coming  which must be taken literally too (cf. Isa. 61:1-2 cf. Luke 4:18-21);  5) It takes one resurrection literally but not the other (Rev. 20:5-6; John 5:28-29).  But the two are listed together in the same texts. Both are said to involve people coming out of graves (Jn. 5:25-28) where dead bodies are.

Further, if the non-literal (i.e., allegorical) interpretations of amills and postmills were applied to other sections of Scripture it would undermine the fundamentals of the Christian Faith.  If applied to Gen. 1-3, it would deny the historicity of Adam, the Fall, and the Doctrine of Creation.  (If the End isn’t literal, then why should the Beginning be literal?)  If applied to the texts on the Cross, it would deny the atonement.  And if applied to the resurrection narratives, it would deny Christ’s victory over death.  In short, applying the same hermeneutic, which non-premills apply to prophecy, to other parts of the Bible would deny all the fundamentals of the Christian Faith.

This is why premillennialism is a kind of hermeneutical fundamental of the Christian Faith.  There are three kinds of fundamentals:

1)  Doctrinal Fundamentals (e.g., the Trinity, Deity of Christ, Sacrificial Atonement, and Resurrection).  These are a test of evangelical authenticity.

2) Epistemological Fundamentals–Inspiration and inerrancy).  These are a  test of evangelical consistency (see Vol. 2, Part Two ).

3) Hermeneutical Fundamentals (Literal Hermeneutic and Premillennialism that results from it).  These too are a test of being evangelical consistent.  For to deny foundational fundamentals is logically to undermine salvific fundamentals as well.


Premillennialism Adds Urgency to Evangelism.

Premillenialism, especially in those who hold the imminency of Christ’s return (see Chap. 17), creates a certain sense of urgency not generated by the other views. For if Christ is coming before the millennium at a time we know not, then one must live in a constant sense of expectation.  Jesus said, “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13) and “Night is coming, when no one can work.”  If one believes his time is limited and Christ may come at any moment, then he will have more of a sense of urgency about evangelism.  This, of course, is not to say that there is no sense of urgency in the other views for everyone is going to die and some will die at any moment.  But there is a far greater sense of urgency if one believes it could be our last opportunity to reach anyone at any moment.  It is no coincidence that many of the modern missionary movements (William Carey, David Livingston, and Adoniram Judson) and evangelistic efforts (John Wesley, Billy Sunday, D. L. Moody, and Billy Graham) were headed by premillennialists.


Premillennial Immenency Adds an Incentive for Holiness

It is not that there are no other incentives for godliness, but certainly the imminent premillennial expectation is an added one.  For John declared: “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3).  So, the sense of imminency has a purifying effect on one’s life.  It also has a sobering effect.  As Peter said, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. 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. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Pet. 3:10-11).


Conclusion

Our spiritual forefathers did not put this in our doctrinal statement because they thought it was unimportant. To the contrary, premillennialism is based on a hermeneutical (interpretation) fundamental. The literal historical/grammatical fundamental on which it is based underlies all the salvation fundamentals of the Faith. Giving it up belies to serious problems for the future of the church. First, we are giving up the very basis for all the fundamental Christian doctrines. Second, there is the underlying tendency to sacrifice important doctrines for the sake of unity, fraternity, or multiplicity (growth). Yielding to this tendency set a bad precedent for future deviation on even more important issues. One final thought. It is of more than passing significance to note that few, if any, evangelical groups slide from premillennialism to liberalism. However, this is not true of non-premillennial views. It is not accidental that premillennialism is a safeguard against liberalism for some of the reasons already given.


1Death was officially defeated by the Cross and resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:14-15; 1Cor. 15:54-55). Yet death still reigns in that all men still die (Rom. 5:12). Death will not be actually defeated until after His Second Coming (Rom. 8:22-23; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; Rev. 21:4).

 

Note: This article was updated in 2009 and titled The Importance of Premillenialism.