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Prophetic Speculation Out of Kilter and Hurting the Bible’s Authority
Jan 24, 2011
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Dead birds . . . Dead Cows . . . Dead Fish. Some Christians see these events as signs that the end is near. So-called “on-line theologian” Paul Begley is one of them. TIME magazine quotes Begley: “There’s something biblically going on with the signs of the second coming of Christ.” He is using Hosea 4:3 for support:

Therefore the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes Along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky, and also the fish of the sea disappear.

The context for this passage is very clear. It refers to the northern kingdom of Israel that would later be taken into captivity by the Assyrians (“Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel”: 4:1a). Hosea 4:3 is not an end-time eschatological passage; it doesn’t have anything to do with signs related to the Second Coming. A local judgment of Israel is in view. “For the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land,” that is, the land of Israel (4:1c, 16). Israel is accused of “playing the harlot” (4:15). Reference is made to prophets and priests (4:5–6).

Egypt suffered a similar attack on its land and people (Ex. 6–11). While these plagues resulted in the end of Pharaoh and his armies, they were not signs of the Second Coming. We shouldn’t forget the period of extended drought during the prophetic ministry of Elisha. Leon J. Wood comments:

As in the time of Elisha, the drought devastated the environment—the land, cattle, birds, and fish (cf. 1 Kings 17–18). It made the land dry up (lit. “mourn”); and “all who live in it”—meaning the beasts and the birds—“waste away” (let, “wither”). It had even brought death to the fish through the drying up of streams and ponds.(1)

We should be very careful when we make prophetic pronouncements based on current events. There is a long history of prophetic presumption that ended in prophetic embarrassment and ridicule of God’s true prophetic Word.(2)

Early in his ministry, the late Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984) “agonized over the dating of Old Testament historical events and what they might mean for premillennialist prophecy in the twentieth century. After one period of study, done in light of early events of World War II, Schaeffer speculated that the end was coming soon.” Schaeffer’s mentor, Allan MacRae, offered the following sound advice in a letter dated June 27, 1940:

Such upheavals as we are now witnessing have occurred at many periods in history, although modern mechanical inventions make them cover a wider territory within a shorter interval. Also, the radio and similar news-spreading devices make us more immediately aware of what is going on.(3)

Trying to link current events to prophetic texts to make predictions about when the “rapture” might be or the Second Coming is similar to linking scientific discoveries to the Bible. When the latest scientific discovery is later nullified by a new discovery, the biblical link is made null and void.

[T]his is similar to the temptation to which we all succumb when dressing to go out to a party. We have a quick look in the mirror and think. “Yeah, this outfit looks pretty good; hair’s not too bad; everything looks right.” Ten years later, when we look back at a photo taken that evening, we are aghast at our attire—how in the world could we have allowed ourselves to go out looking like that? The mistake, of course, is to presume that what we are wearing at that moment is not hideous from the perspective of ten years hence, or even another ten years later.(4)

Let me offer a typical example. With the rise in technology, speedier microchips, eBooks, and gargantuan storage drives, information on almost any subject is only a few key strokes and a click away. Modern-day prophecy writers believe that Daniel 12 is describing the modern-day information age. Here’s an example from Hal Lindsey:

The angel told Daniel his vision would be unintelligible to generations other than the one to whom it was addressed, a generation whose hallmark would be that of ever-increasing knowledge.

Thanks to Bell Labs’ 1948 invention [of the transistor], Moore’s Law of Computer says that today’s computers get twice as smart every 18 months to two years. That means we get twice as smart.(5)

The angel also identified the generation of the time of the end as one in which “many would go to and fro”—the generation that witnessed the birth of rapid mass transportation.

* * * *

Many run “to and fro,” knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate, and more books have been written about the prophet Daniel in this generation than in the last 2,500 years combined.

Henry Morris follows a similar approach, as did other prophecy writers before him. How do we know, following Morris’ logic below, that in the distant future, people won’t be traveling even faster than they are today, and information won’t increase even more than it has in the past century?

[W]e are being told that, near the time of the end, people in large numbers would be “running”—not merely “traveling,” but (literally) “racing”—from one location to another and back again. At any rate, it is profoundly true that travel and speed have increased in our times to a degree that could never have been predicted at all except by supernatural inspiration. In Isaac Newton’s day—no less than in Daniel’s day—about the fastest a man could travel would be on a swift horse. But Newton, who was probably the greatest scientist of all time, as well as a diligent student and believer of Daniel’s prophecies, claimed on the basis of this verse that men would someday be able to travel as fast as 50 miles per hour, even from country to country. A century later, Voltaire, the French anti-Christian Deist, ridiculed this statement, suggesting that Newton’s Christianity had affected his reason.

The fact is that the scientific era which Newton, as much as any one man, introduced, has seen—just in the past century or little more—invention of the steam locomotive, then the automobile, then the airplane, now the space-ship hurtling through space at incredible speeds. This prophecy could hardly have been fulfilled more explicitly than it is now being fulfilled in this “time of the end.”

The other half of the prophecy—“knowledge shall be increased”—could well be translated “science shall be increased,” for the two words are synonymous in meaning and derivation. The scientific and technological advances in just the past generation are legion—radio, television, electrical appliances to do almost everything, super-highways, nuclear power, computers, automation, radar, plastics, microchips, robots, and on and on. Less than two centuries ago, all the scientists in the world probably could have convened in one large auditorium; now there are millions of them, working in hundreds of scientific disciplines. . . .(6)

Like so many prophetic speculators, their exegesis is guided more by newspaper headlines than the Bible. John Cumming (1807–1881) practiced a similar form of “newspaper exegesis” in his day. Robert H. Ellison, in an insightful study of Cumming’s views on Bible prophecy, makes the following observation: “[Cumming] asserts that it is ‘neither hasty nor irrelevant’ to compare ‘ancient prophecy’ with daily press reports and states that ‘This use of the modern newspaper is all the originality I claim.’”(7) Here are some examples of Cumming’s “newspaper exegesis” as detailed by Ellison:

Cumming’s use of current events to interpret ancient Scripture gets rather ingenious at times. He claims, for example, that Daniel’s phrase ‘And knowledge shall be increased’ [Dan. 12:4] can also be translated ‘And knowledge shall be flashed along’, a rendering which anticipates the telegraph, the ‘mysterious whispering wire’(8) that can transmit a message to ‘the most distant capital of Europe’ in less than an hour’s time. Even more inventive is his interpretation of the prophecy he sees in Isaiah 18:1–2—‘Woe to the land . . . beyond the rivers of Ethiopia: That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters’. He asserts that the phrase ‘vessels of bulrushes’ is literally ‘vessels of that which drinks water’, a phrase which many have perplexed the translators working in 1611 [when the King James version of the Bible was published] but which can now be seen as a reference to the steamship, a ‘vessel whose . . . motive force from beginning to end, is water’.(9)

Cumming also saw “railway traveling”(10) to be a reference to “many shall run to and fro” (Dan. 12:4). Current prophecy writers like Lindsey are just as ingenious when they see modern transportation systems and computer technology as a fulfillment of Daniel 12:4.(11) This is such a discredited interpretation that it’s embarrassing to read that anyone actually still believes and teaches it. Even many die-hard dispensationalists reject the idea that the “increase in knowledge” refers to “the recent explosion in knowledge.”(12)

So what does “knowledge will increase” mean? James B. Jordan, in his commentary on Daniel, The Handwriting on the Wall, offers a helpful explanation:

Those who take verse 4 as referring to events at the end of history believe that Daniel’s prophecy is “sealed up” until that time. Only as the second coming of Christ draws near will we be able to understand prophetic truth. Hal Lindsey, of course, believes that the end is near and that he, unlike previous generations of Christian thinkers, understands the previously hidden prophetic truth. The sealing of the book, however, does not mean that it cannot be understood, but rather that the angel has told Daniel all that he is going to say at this point in history. The book is unsealed in Revelation 5–6, and in Revelation 22:10 the completed book is left unsealed because there is no more to be said.

Prophetic speculators take note of the fact that with the coming of railroads, automobiles, and airplanes, people “go to and fro” much more than ever before in history. Scientific knowledge has also boomed in recent years. We can say, of course, that a thousand years from now people may be going to and fro even more than they do now, and there will be even more knowledge around, so how can anyone know that our own generation is the time verse 4 is pointing to?

The real point, of course, is that this kind of “interpretation” of verse 4 is possible only by wrenching the text completely out of its context and then dreaming up possible meanings. . . . [T]here is plenty of going to and fro in Daniel 11 and that is pretty clearly what verse 4 refers to. . . .(13) [T]he increase of knowledge is pretty obvious: As time goes along and the predictions in Daniel 11 are fulfilled decade by decade, the prophecy will be better and better understood.(14)

The Hebrew word for “knowledge” in Daniel 12:4 is not a reference to a mass collection or library of data.(15) Knowledge is used as revelational information about God and His works. The Hebrew word has the meaning of “understanding, wisdom, i.e., a knowledge with focus on moral qualities and its application (Ge 2:9; Pr 2:5).”(16)

It’s most likely that the knowledge being described in Daniel 12:4 is related to the new covenant and the coming of the promised Redeemer. Since the focus of the Bible is on Jesus (Luke 24:25–27), we should expect that this is what God had in mind when the angel told Daniel that “the knowledge” will increase. What redemptive significance does a fatter set of encyclopedias have to do with God’s redemptive plan for His people? Zacharias and Elizabeth (1:5–25), Joseph and Mary (1:26–56), Simeon (Luke 2:25–32) and Anna (2:36–38) had an increase in knowledge as the realities of the old covenant were unfolding in their day. The Scriptures “testify” about Jesus (John 5:39). Jesus uses Daniel 7:13 as the defining event in His ministry (Matt. 24:30), something His accusers should have understood (26:64). This is the “increase in knowledge” that the angel was describing. Prophecy writer Thomas Ice recognizes that the interpretation followed by Lindsey, Morris, and so many other pop-prophecy analysts found on the Internet have misread and misapplied Daniel 12:4.(17)

It could be argued that the New Testament itself is the increase of knowledge: “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Then there is the negative side to the promise of an increase in revelational knowledge: “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52).Endnotes:

  1. Leon J. Wood, “Hosea,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed., Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 7:184.()
  2. See the Introduction to Gary DeMar’s Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future.()
  3. Quoted in Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 17.()
  4. Conor Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 308.()
  5. This is a non sequiter. Just because computer chips can calculate at fast speeds does not make them “smart,” and it certainly doesn’t mean that we get any smarter. A case could be made that as computers process more information at ever faster speeds, we actually lose the need to retain information since we become reliant on electronic devices to store information. See, for example, Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008).()
  6. Henry Morris, Creation and the Second Coming (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1991), 20–22.()
  7. Robert H. Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics: Some Victorian Perspectives on the End Times,” Leeds, Centre Working Papers in Victorian Studies: Platform Pulpit Rhetoric, ed. Martin Hewitt, vol. 3 (Horsforth, Leeds: Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, 2000), 83, note 20.()
  8. John Cumming, Behold, The Bridegroom Cometh: The Last Warning Cry with Reasons for the Hope That is in Me (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1865), 357–358. Also see pages 189–190.()
  9. Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics,” 77.()
  10. Quoted in Ellison, “John Cumming and His Critics,” 79.()
  11. Ed Hindson and Lee Fredrickson, Future Wave: End Times Prophecy, and the Technology Explosion (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2001); Peter Lalonde and Paul Lalonde, Racing Toward  . . .  The Mark of the Beast: Your Money, Computers, and the End of the World (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994).()
  12. Mark Hitchcock, The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 176–177.()
  13. “run to and fro—not referring to the modern rapidity of locomotion, as some think, nor to Christian missionaries going about to preach the Gospel to the world at large [Albert Barnes], which the context scarcely admits; but, whereas now but few care for this prophecy of God, ‘at the time of the end,’ that is, near its fulfillment, ‘many shall run to and fro,’ that is, scrutinize it, running through every page. Compare Hab 2:2 [John Calvin]: it is thereby that ‘the knowledge (namely, of God’s purposes as revealed in prophecy) shall be increased.’” (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, et al., A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments [Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997], Dan. 12:4).()
  14. James B. Jordan, The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007), 624–625.()
  15. “An increase in travel toward the end of the age is not the idea of the phrase ‘will go here and there.’ In a number of Old Testament passages (e.g., 2 Chr 16:9; Jer 5:1; Amos 8:12; Zech 4:10), [the] Hebrew . . . denotes ‘to go here and there’ in search of a person or thing, and that is the meaning here. An ‘intense’ searching seems indicated by the verb form. The purpose of this search will be ‘to increase knowledge.’ Yet Gabriel was not predicting a mere surge in scientific ‘knowledge,’ and so forth, in the last days. The article appears with ‘knowledge’ (lit., ‘the knowledge’), showing that a particular kind of ‘knowledge’ was intended, that is, when and how Daniel’s message is to be fulfilled. As the time of fulfillment draws nearer, the “wise” will seek to comprehend these prophecies more precisely, and God will grant understanding (‘knowledge’) to them.” (Stephen R. Miller, Daniel [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001], 18:321).()
  16. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), DBLH 1981, #6.()
  17. Thomas Ice, “Running To and Fro.” Ice gets a lot right in this article but applies its fulfillment to a post-rapture Great Tribulation.()
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About author

Gary DeMar

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).

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