Hank Hanegraaff Delivers a Lesson in "Grammar Manipulation"
BIBLE PROPHECY can be a point of contention, something that is not relieved by touting one's faithfulness to "exegesis" while "superimposing" a theology onto Scripture. Unfortunately, Hank Hanegraaff's new book The Apocalypse Code is guilty of both and deserving of examination.
The Apocalypse Code is billed as "the code breaker for the Book of Revelation." Judging by the content, Hanegraaff's cryptography fails. In truth, he spends more time constructing his own system of interpretation and pillorying Tim LaHaye than looking at Scripture in context. Hanegraaff implies that LaHaye's interpretation of Scripture is equivalent to Bill Clinton's lying about sex,1 hardly setting an example for "a clarion call for biblical fidelity."2 Nevertheless, he introduces something called "exegetical eschatology," complete with acronyms (L.I.G.H.T.S.). Evidence of his system's "biblical fidelity" comes up wanting. Consider his comments concerning the words of Jesus in Matthew 24.
According to Hanegraaff, when Jesus says "you," or "this generation," he always (without exception) means those hearing him. He overrides the explicit statements of Jesus with his theology as a willing accomplice.
In Matthew 24, the disciples ask Jesus a clear question: "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matthew:24:3). In his answer, Jesus precisely lists events that must occur prior to his "coming, and of the end of the world." These include false Christs (v. 5), wars and rumors of wars (v. 6), nation (ethnos) rising against nation (v. 7), and famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in diverse places (v. 7). These things are just "the beginning of sorrows" (v. 8). Here are a few others: Believers will be hated of all nations for the Lord's name's sake, the world will see the rise of many false prophets, the preaching of the gospel will act as a witness to all nations, and the "man of sin" (Daniel:9:27) will stand in the holy place. Jesus is speaking of things encompassing more than Israel in AD 70. No one can say that the suffering (although great) experienced at the hands of Emperor Titus was "great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew:24:21). There was no danger of all flesh being wiped out in AD 70, nor had the Jews suffered anything as devastating as the Holocaust. It just doesn't fit.
To "explain" Matthew:24:34, Hanegraaff trots out a homey (although entirely inappropriate) analogy: "Suppose I say to my children, ‘I tell you the truth, this day will certainly not pass away until I have taken you all to Disney World.' Do you suppose they might scratch their heads and wonder whether I had a future generation of children in mind?"3 However diligently his children might scratch their heads, his analogy bears no reasonable comparison to the passage. If Hanegraaff laid out specific criteria as (Jesus did) that must be met prior to the trip, his children might very well conclude that the trip would be delayed. That is, if they were paying attention to the words of their father.
In verse 34, Jesus states clearly that "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." All these things had not been fulfilled by AD 70's destruction of the temple. Clearly, his words are not limited to those disciples hearing him. Of necessity Hanegraaff must impose his own grammatical rules. As noted, he insists that every occurrence of "this generation" means only the generation spoken to (Matthew:24:34, Mark:13:30, Luke:21:32). We have already discussed Matthew 24, but the passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21 parallel Matthew's account, clearly containing things unfulfilled by AD 70.
Sadly, to assist in twisting Scripture, Hanegraaff enlists the help of noted atheists such as Bertrand Russell, whom he introduces as the "world-class philosopher and leading intellectual."4 Yet Psalm:14:1, calls the God-denying Russell "a fool." Hanegraaff's comments concerning Tim LaHaye are certainly not as kind as for Bertrand Russell: "LaHaye's rebuttal...is about as believable to a discerning skeptic as Clinton's quip, ‘it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.'" 5 Hanegraaff cites Russell as an "authority" when the atheist's position is agreeable.
Russell's words are presented without challenge and Hanegraaff quotes a passage from Why I Am Not a Christian, containing this Christ-rejecter's interpretation of the words of our Lord. Russell charges that when Jesus said, "take no thought for the morrow, and things like that...it was very largely because He thought the Second Coming was going to be very soon."6 What rubbish! He should know that, but he gives Russell a free ride. Expediency, like politics, creates strange bedfellows.
He goes on to quote Albert Schweitzer, "the great missionary physician and New Testament Scholar..."7 He should also have written "liberal heretic." Nevertheless, Schweitzer is quoted because what he says supports the self-appointed "Bible Answer Man." Regarding the definition of "near," what did Jesus say? Prior to Matthew:24:34 is verse 33, stating, "When ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors." Did "all these things" occur prior to AD 70? Certainly not!
Hanegraaff's attempt to establish a preferred meaning is similar to how Jehovah's Witnesses attack the deity of Christ. Their premise is that a word must always have the same meaning regardless of context. The JWs singled out the Hebrew word lechem, which is often (but not always) translated "bread." For consistency, they argued, should it not always mean just "bread?" In truth, "lechem" has been translated "bread," "meat," "meal," and, according to Jewish commentators, can also refer to any part of a sacrifice.
In conclusion, having neglected the context of Scripture, and by insisting upon artificially imposed definitions, Hanegraaf's chronology relies upon faulty reasoning, inadequate illustrations, and the opinions of those whose only qualifications are that they agree with him.