Tom and Dave James answer the question: "How can the average person know whether Jonathan Cahn's bestseller is true to the Scriptures?"
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24?/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in. This week, Tom continues his visit with special guest David James, author of the new book The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?, a critical review of the book The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn. And now, along with his guest David James, here’s TBC Executive Director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/?7, a program in which we encourage our listeners to be like the Bereans of Acts:17:11. They listened to the Apostle Paul and were commended for searching the Scriptures daily to see if what he was preaching was true to God’s Word. That’s the only way Christians can truly discern truth from error regarding what they’re being taught, no matter who or what is the source.
As Gary mentioned, our topic for today is a book that is atop the New York Times Best-seller List, titled The Harbinger, authored by Jonathan Cahn. Our guest is Dave James, the author of The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?, which in fact takes issue with Jonathan Cahn’s best seller, a book that is obviously growing in its influence among Christians and non-Christians alike.
Dave, welcome back to the program.
Dave: Thanks, Tom, great to be with you again.
Tom: Dave, as you know, in our last discussion on our last program, we were talking about an issue related to—a very important issue related to your book The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? Now, speaking as the publisher, a major reason that we wanted to publish your book was only in part our concerns about the biblical errors found in The Harbinger that were deceiving multitudes of Christians. But what perhaps was even more important in your book is a terrific lesson in applying hermeneutics in order to understand what is being taught in God’s Word. [Laughing] I know that is a theological-sounding word, but—well, Dave, tell us! We’re concerned about hermeneutics. What is hermeneutics? Why should we be concerned?
Dave: Yeah, well, actually hermeneutics—it’s a very simple concept. Just a real brief definition would be the principles we use to interpret the Bible. So it’s a set of principles, and so there are principles that we use, for example: we understand that the Bible is to be understood in a literal way, according to the grammar of the text in its historical context. So that’s a literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic. So there are a set of principles that are consistent with that.
Tom: Yeah, so is that just for scholars? Is this just for guys in Seminary and Bible College, or whatever?
Dave: Well, you know, actually, we do that all the time in everyday conversation. In other words, when you and I are carrying on even this conversation, you listen to what I say, and there’re some basic principles of communicating in English that we both have agreed on that if we weren’t using those—if we were using a different hermeneutic—I would say one thing, and you would be understanding me to be saying something else, and we would never get any communication going on.
Tom: Yeah, so in fact, we both know English; we both have a sense of grammar—how words are put together to form sentences; we both have an understanding, and we can straighten each other out with regard to the definition of the terms, but for the most part, we’ve got a vocabulary and we understand the terms, so…isn’t that—as you’re saying—that’s the way we go about communicating. So that’s what hermeneutics is. Maybe a little bit…you know, we can add a little bit more to it, but foundationally, basically, that’s how we understand what another person is saying to us and particularly the Scriptures—how when we read the Scriptures —that’s what I love about the Word of God! It’s objective. Men didn’t make it up. It’s God’s Word. But God uses words. They have context. When He’s communicating, when He’s…we either have men making up some ideas about what they think about God, or we have God communicating to us, and He’s going to communicate to us in an organized fashion. And it’s objective. What do I mean by that? Objective meaning, Dave, let’s say we have five people sitting down at table, and we’re doing a Bible study. Everybody gives their view of what a particular passage of Scripture said. And so it comes around to me, and I say, “Hey, listen, the four of you—I don’t agree with that.”
So they say, “Well, Tom, here, let’s do it this way. Let’s take a look at the language…or the context—let’s begin with the context.” And then objectively, they could say, “Here seems to be the context.” They read verses before the particular passage and after the particular passage, and they put it in context.
Then, they say, “Well, what about the meaning of words? Would we agree that this word means such-and-such, and such and…?”
Here’s my point: As we go through those things—you know, and I’m open to being corrected, I’d say, “Wait a minute. You guys are right. You have…” And in fact, what they have done is they’ve objectively looked at how, you know, what the passage says, how it relates to, again, hermeneutics, how it fits within the language, the syntax, the context, the meaning of words, and so on, and they can objectively convince me of what they’re agreeing upon. Unless I’ve just got my heels dug in and I’m just off on my own, you know, singing my own tune, objectively I can come back to that and say, “Hey, guys, thanks a lot for straightening me out on that. You know, I was missing that point, missing this point, and so on.” I mean, isn’t that what it’s all about, Dave?
Dave: Yeah, you know, we have to have some baseline rules that we agree on coming into this, and when it comes to the Bible, or any kind of communication, one of the fundamental things we agree on is that the meaning lies in the text. The meaning comes from the words. And, for example, when I’m teaching how to study the Bible, one of my favorite lines is, “If it’s not in the text, somebody made it up.” Because it’s the words that carry the meaning.
And you mentioned the idea of context—you know, using the analogy of even our conversation right now, if somebody gets a recording of this conversation we’re having, and they would just happen to turn it on right now as I say this, they’d say, “What is he talking about?” So if they have a recording, they can back up three or four minutes and they can say, “Okay, this is what they were talking about.” That provides the context so they understand exactly why we said what we said at a particular point. And that’s what you have to do with the Scriptures.
Tom: And, you brought up a saying that you like to use. What about the saying, “A text out of context is a pretext.” In other words, it’s an opportunity to make up what you want, because you’ve taken something out of context.
Tom: Now, Dave, regarding The Harbinger—your book lays it out, I think, very clearly. But let’s give our listeners an example. We believe—and I’m saying this as the publisher as well—that The Harbinger seriously errs regarding hermeneutics. Can you give me some examples of that?
Dave: Sure. Let me start by saying this: as our critique, my critique, of the book has been critiqued, including by the author Jonathan Cahn, he and those who are defending him say that his hermeneutic is exactly right—that he is interpreting the passage Isaiah:9:10 exactly the way it should be understood.
The problem is that it doesn’t deal with the context. It deals with the verse very much in an isolated way. It deals with it pretty well in its historical context, but it doesn’t deal with it in its literary context. And here’s what I mean by that—the book starts and ends with Isaiah:9:10, which talks about “The bricks have fallen, we will rebuild with hewn stone; the sycamores have been cut down, we will rebuild with cedars.” Why does the author say that? Where does that come from?
Well, it’s warning of judgment, but it follows one of the most important Old Testament passages that is not mentioned anywhere in The Harbinger. And the passage that precedes that talks about the fact that in the face of coming judgment, that the Lord will give a Son, and He says that this Son who will be given will called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The Prince of Peace….It talks about the fact that He will have an everlasting kingdom, that He will sit on the throne of His father David, and there will be no end.
You cannot understand Isaiah:9:10 unless you deal with that. And here’s the reason why: God made unconditional promises to the nation of Israel concerning the fact that in the end, God will establish His Kingdom on the earth, and Jesus Christ will rule from the throne that was established with King David, and it will be an eternal throne over the earth. And even though Israel is going to be destroyed, it is temporary, and that God is going to restore Israel and keep His eternal promises.
Well, what happens in The Harbinger, none of that is mentioned. So what happens is The Harbinger says, okay, Israel was destroyed, just like this prophecy. Then he jumps to America and says, “These things have been playing out on American soil—the same things we see in Isaiah:9:10, bricks falling, cedars falling, stones being laid, other trees being planted—those things have been playing out since the terrorist attacks, and America needs to heed this warning or its end will be the same as Israel.”
Well, the problem is it leaves out the fact that Israel is going to be restored because God is faithful to His promises. So we have no idea what Isaiah is talking about or the context, which makes the whole premise, from a hermeneutical standpoint, of The Harbinger faulty from the very beginning.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Let me add to that. First of all, talking again about context—now you started with the beginning of Isaiah 9, but when you look at Isaiah:9:10 and then you look at 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and so on, you see this is a specific judgment—and you mentioned Israel, yes, Israel—but the judgment is against the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It’s not a warning; it is a judgment. They have been in rebellion—the Northern Kingdom’s been in rebellion. They’re going to—we know, later, they’re taken captive by Assyria—but in that process, up to that point, this is what is going to take place to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. That is the context. And to think that you can apply that to America, to 9/11— a text taken out of context is a pretext, and this is the pretext of the entire book The Harbinger. It is just dead wrong from the get-go.
Dave: Yeah. One way that Jonathan Cahn has tried to deal with that is by saying, “No, I’m not saying that Isaiah:9:10 is to, for, or about America. But rather Isaiah:9:10 is a template of God’s judgment. But it falls apart there, too, because if you’re looking at things from the perspective of a biblical hermeneutic, if you’re going to call something a template or a pattern, a template is something that is repeated over and over and over again. In other words, this establishes a pattern, and you should be able to find other examples in Scripture—in fact, he uses the phrase, “The Isaiah:9:10 Effect,” so that if one or two things that are found in Isaiah:9:10 happen, then you can expect events 3, 4, 5, and 6 to also happen. If it’s a template—if it really is a biblical template—you should be able to find another place in Scripture where that happens, or two or three. But you don’t find any. And what you have in place of that is in 2010, ’11, and ’12, an author has looked back and identified these things in Isaiah, and then after the fact, saw what he thinks are some parallels, and say, oh, because this happened, you could expect events 3, 4, 5, and 6 to happen in America, and if that happens, that means you should have been able to see that in August of 2001, if in fact Isaiah was a template for judgment.
That means somebody should have been able in August of 2001 to look at that and say, “There’s coming another judgment of God, and this, this, this, and this will happen.” But nobody could have predicted that because that template does not exist. It’s not a template.
Tom: Along that line, we see people say, “Yeah, I know, you guys are—you seem to be nitpicking over certain things, but God—God is going to judge America because America has a covenant with God.”
Now, that was certainly more than implied not only in The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn, but we see it’s reinforced in the DVD produced by WorldNetDaily. Folks, we’ve got a problem here. You cannot—we mentioned this in our previous program—you cannot look to God to use erroneous ideas, false teachings, wrong hermeneutics, taking things out of context, and then saying, “Well, you see, it’s got everybody’s attention in America, and therefore America will repent, or hopefully they’ll repent, or we’re calling them to repentance.”
You don’t call somebody to repentance on erroneous doctrine, on false doctrine, on false teaching. How does that play out? Well, they’re missing the truth. They’re missing the Word of God, and saying something good is going to happen. It doesn’t work that way.
Dave: Right. And we don’t need to take fiction and confuse the issues. You know, the truth is America is deserving of judgment, as are every other nation in the world. Yes, God was invoked by some of the founding fathers, but if you look at what they said, some of them thought that they were establishing a new Israel—that America was going to replace Israel.
Now, Jonathan Cahn absolutely does not agree with that. He believes that the promises of national Israel stand, but he’s applied these same promises and given the impression that America is somehow in some sort of covenant relationship with God when the Bible gives us no indication that any other nation, let alone America, any other nation but Israel will be in that covenant relationship, which again is another hermeneutical problem.
Tom: Yeah, again, for people who haven’t read The Harbinger, perhaps haven’t even read, you know, your book, our book, there’s an issue here that…they don’t need to read either book! Number one, we talked about…we’ve mentioned, we’ve gone over the false application, the taking something out of context and applying it to biblical prophecy directed at the Northern Kingdom of Israel specifically. So that’s a problem there. The other thing that should be very obvious to people—you’ve just articulated, but we need to go over it again—God only has a covenant with one nation, the nation of Israel.
“Oh, yeah, but, you know, Jonathan Cahn with regard to George Washington, with regard to, you know, his inauguration, that well, America through the president, consecrating America to God.” Well, you know, we can do anything we want. You know, we can consecrate—do whatever we want. But that is not a covenant relationship with God. God makes the covenant. Nobody else does.
Now you referred to our founding fathers. What you pointed out, these were the Pilgrims, the Puritans, who were looking for another land because they were being persecuted, and when they arrived here, they wanted to consecrate this country to God. But in doing so, as you pointed out, it was almost replacement theology. This was going to be the new Israel. They used those terms—erroneously, wrongly.
So that’s a problem that’s incorporated in all the issues we’ve been talking about. But my point here is, very simply, God does not have a covenant with any nation outside of Israel, and America does not have a covenant with God. Those two things should be enough for anyone to recognize that The Harbinger is erroneous. It’s a false teaching. It’s a book that does not—even though the heart of it may be to try and get America to repent, that’s not the way, the biblical way, that you go about it, in my view.
Dave: Well, an interesting thing is when you start making hermeneutical errors—or we can just call them interpretation errors—they tend to multiply, and the interesting thing is, going back to the founding fathers, they made serious hermeneutical errors, and those errors, the way they understood the Bible, led them to misapply the Scriptures to their situation. So they handled it wrongly.
Then, The Harbinger, in many ways, builds upon their erroneous handling of the Scriptures, so you’ve almost got a compounding effect in this whole thing, and that’s what happens when you start moving away from what the Scriptures say.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Dave, what I want to do—we’ve got about 5 minutes left in this program—but I want to talk about the times that we’re in. You know, when the disciples asked Jesus about the times of His coming and when He would return, and what would they be like, His first words—this is Matthew:24:4, He said, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” And then in Matthew:24:24, He talks about the elect—the signs, the wonders, many things that would take place, false Christs, false teachers, and so on—that these times would be so delusionary, deceptive, that if possible even the elect could be deceived.
So I know that’s your heart in what you do. This is what we’re trying to do at The Berean Call. We’re trying to encourage people to recognize these things, to get into the Word of God, to understand the Word of God. Because if they don’t, if they don’t have that habit, that desire, that perseverance, to read the Scriptures daily, then they’re going to be up for grabs, I mean, don’t you think so?
Dave: Certainly. I think just over the past decade, if you look at the various books, there’s one or two books a year that come out in addition to various teachings people can hear on TV and radio, there just seems to be a dearth of biblical knowledge among the average believer, and in churches, even, that have been conservative—historically conservative, Bible-based churches—so many people just don’t seem to have a basic understanding of Scripture. I often say, Nobody walks into a trap that has the word “TRAP” written over it! And our enemy will deceive by disguising things. And you can use the truth to deceive, so if you mix enough truth in with error—you put a drop of cyanide in a glass of water, it’s mostly water. But it’s dangerous.
Tom: Yeah. And again, it’s not—it’s our exhortation, we’re trying to encourage, we’re trying to help people with regard to these things that are coming along, but you know, each one of us, if we call ourselves believers, if we truly have understood the gospel that Jesus paid the full penalty for our sins, that there is no other way… You know, Peter at Pentecost says, “There’s no other name under heaven or on earth by which we must be saved.” If we understand that only Christ, only the God-Man could pay the full penalty for our sins, well, and we believe that with our heart, then we have accepted the gift of eternal life, that we are His, but nevertheless, we are baby Christians when that takes place, and maturity only comes from applying ourselves to the Word of God.
I mean, how else are we going to live godly lives and please the Lord except by the Word of God? So if people out there, our listeners—whoever you might be—I mean, I have to search my own heart in this. If I’m being just spoon fed, I don’t care if it’s through The Berean Call, or books, or whatever it is—if it’s a spoon-fed deal, then it’s really not my faith. I’m not going to grow in it. I’m going to be dependent on this person or that person or this book or whatever. No, we are personally accountable for what we believe and why we believe it, and God’s going to hold us accountable for that when we stand before…as believers, we stand before Christ at the Bema Seat for rewards, I think the Lord’s going to remind us of some things that we bought into that certainly did not produce fruit, and that’s what your life in Christ is all about. He saved us. But now we’re to be, you know…Acts…well, not Acts, but Ephesians:2:10: We’ve been saved unto good works. We can’t do them unless we know God’s Word and God’s truth.
Dave: Yeah, we have to be in His Word every day, and not just a five-minute or ten-minute reading, as good and as important as that is, but we need to be taking time to study, because if we don’t study, we won’t know the context and we’ll misapply and misunderstand and misapply His Word.
Tom: Great. Thanks, Dave! We really appreciate you being on our program—inaugural program, by the way. These are our first two programs, but the Lord willing, we’ll be keeping these things before the body of Christ, in Jesus’ name.
Dave: Thank you so much!
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24?/7 with T.A. McMahon. David James’s book The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? is published by and available through The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of materials to help you in your study of God’s Word. For more information, contact us at P.O. Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708; call us at 800-937-6638; or visit our website at www.thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in, and we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/?7.