Sunday, February 7, 2010

Breaking the Apocalypse Code: The Dating Game, Part 1

In "Understating the Times" I reviewed chapter 10 of Breaking the Apocalypse Code in which Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice attempt to refute Hank Hanegraaff's view that most, but not all, of the events foretold in Revelation took place in the first century. Hitchcock and Ice claim Hanegraaff is "lacking exegetical justfication" when he sees a gap of more than 1,900 years in Revelation 20. But it is John the Revelator, not the "Bible Answer Man," who inserts this gap there, predicting an indeterminate length of time, following which the dead will be resurrected and the final judgment will take place.

I came away from that chapter more firmly convinced of the preterist position than I was before reading it. I started my review of Breaking with that chapter in part because the argument given by the authors is arguably the most dismal of any other chapter in the book. I do so not only because it is easiest to refute, but also because I think it should be remembered as I review the other chapters in the book. It is unlikely, in my estimation, that poor logic and exegesis will exist in isolation. It should cause us to treat with care the claims made elsewhere in the book.


"For LaHaye, everything hinges on proving that the book of Revelation was written long after the destruction of the temple in AD 70. If, like the rest of Scripture, Revelation was written prior to AD 70, his entire Left Behind juggernaut is compromised." (The Apocalypse Code, p. 109)

Chapter 11 of Breaking the Apocalypse Code begins with the above quote from Hanegraaff. The authors respond saying,

"The above statement by Hanegraaff is simply not accurate. Hanegraaff acts as if a futurist interpretation of Revelation is somehow dependent on an AD 95 date, which is not true. However, it is true that Hanegraaff's view of Revelation 1:1-20:6 is totally dependent on a mid-sixties date for Revelation." (p. 187)

Now, here I generally agree with Hitchcock and Ice. It is clearly we preterists, not futurists, whose eschatological model collapses with a late date for Revelation. As the authors of Breaking go on to say leading up to an examination of the evidence, it is primarily for polemic purposes that futurists argue fervently for a late date. Where I disagree, however, with the authors, and indeed likely many of my fellow preterists, is that I don't believe the evidence is terribly conclusive one way or the other. By and large, one comes to a conclusion regarding the dating of Revelation based on the eschatological model they think fits best with the rest of Scripture, and then view as being strongest that evidence which supports their foregone conclusion.

So I do not put forth a great effort in arguing for an early date. However, it frustrates me as one who appreciates truth and reasoned debate when futurists make the absurd claim that the evidence is strongly in their favor. Such is not the case at all, as we'll see as I review their so-called "evidence." In this first part of my review of this chapter, we'll look at the external evidence Hitchcock and Ice present.


"It is generally agreed that Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon, is 'Exhibit A' for the dating of Revelation...There is a direct geographical and personal link between the author of Revelation and Irenaeus. A more qualified, knowledgeable witness for the date of Revelation could hardly be imagined." (p. 189-190)

Dee Dee Warren often quotes Thomas Ice as saying, "when you talk to a Preterist, get ready to hear the words, 'this generation' at least eight dozen times." Similarly, I would say, "when you talk to a Futurist about the dating of Revelation, get ready to hear the name Irenaeus." Irenaeus is almost without fail brought up first as, well, as Hitchcock and Ice put it, "Exhibit A." I, however, call him "Exhibit Lame" (not Irenaeus himself, but how he's used in this debate), as we'll see why momentarily. Here's how the argument goes:

"In his class work Against Heresies, written in about AD 180, Irenaeus says that the apocalypse or apocalyptic vision was seen near the end of the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, whose reign ended in AD 96. Here is the exact statement by Irenaeus:

But if it had been necessary to announce his name plainly at the present time, it would have been spoken by him who saw the apocalypse. For it was not seen long ago, but almost in our own time, at the end of the reign of Domitian.

Hanegraaff makes two arguments to try to get rid of this statement that puts a stake in the heart of his view." (p. 190)

For the next two pages, Hitchcock and Ice go on to attempt to refute Hanegraaff's two arguments. Basically Hank's arguments are: 1) the structure of the original text is ambiguous, leaving the subject of that which "was not seen long ago" up for interpretation, and 2) Irenaeus is well-known for being in certain ways an untrustworthy source, and thus we must take what he says with a grain of salt. I don't really care for the second argument, so I'm not going to address the response given by the authors of Breaking. However, they do a poor job of "refuting" the first of Hank's points, basically saying, "No, you're wrong. Face it."

The reality is that the original text is ambiguous in its construction. What matters is the context, that which Irenaeus was trying to say. The question I would ask futurists who insist Irenaeus supports their date is simply this: In what way does John having seen his vision recently prove that it was not necessary for the name of the Antichrist to be known in Irenaeus' time? Had John seen it years earlier, would that prevent the name's being made known in Irenaeus' day? Of course not. Whether John had seen the vision toward the end of Domitian's reign or 30 years earlier is utterly irrelevant to Irenaeus' point.

Additionally, just prior to the words in question, Irenaeus says the number of the beast is found "in all the most approved and ancient copies" of the Apocalypse. It seems a little strange that Irenaeus would say the Apocalypse "was not seen long ago, but almost in our time," at the same time referring to its "ancient copies." On the other hand, if John saw his vision some 30 years earler, the oldest copies would be 30% older than those of an AD 95 vision.

Some preterists understand Irenaeus as saying that it was these "most approved and ancient copies" which were seen in Irenaeus' time. Their argument is that Irenaeus had said the "most approved and ancient copies" contained 666 as the number of the beast, whereas more recent copies contained 616. Irenaeus is saying that the original manuscript was seen recently and was able to be compared to the copies to determine whether 666 or 616 is the correct number. This seems a more likely interpretation since it, unlike that of Hitchcock and Ice, actually makes some semblance of sense in the context of the point Irenaeus is trying to make.

On the other hand, if it was John who was seen recently, then had it been important that the name of the Antichrist be revealed in Irenaeus' time, John would have said it when he was seen! It's so obvious! Had it been necessary to announce the name of the beast plainly in Irenaeus' time, John would have spoken it, because he was seen almost in Irenaeus' time! DUH!

So Irenaeus, insofar as his words are used to support the futurist date for Revelation, is "Exhibit Lame." The futurist interpretation thereof makes no sense, whatsoever. The preterist interpretations make more sense, in particular (in my opinion) that which views Irenaeus as saying it was John who had been seen recently. And again, Irenaeus' reference to Revelation's "ancient copies" suggests an earlier date. From the start, then, wee see hints at the fragile nature of the futurist argument.


Irenaeus is the first in a longish list of early Church Fathers the authors of Breaking would have you believe support a late date for Revelation. Next up? "Thirty years before Irenaeus, Hegesippus held to the late date of Revelation" (p. 192). No quote, only an endnote numbered 359. When you go to that endnote, what will you find? "See endnote 145." Flip to that and you'll find, "Diprose, Israel, 90." Go to where that work is cited, and you'll find an utterly irrelevant quote regarding an attitude toward Israel on the part of Origen.

Why no quote? Why no citation? In all honesty, I spent far longer than I would have preferred trying to locate the source of this bald assertion that Hegesippus, predating Irenaeus, "held to the late date." I'll acknowledge the possibility that I'm a hopeless incompetent, unable to perform simple searches online. I suspect, however, that the more likely explanation is that the claim is so tenuous that the authors hope their readers simply give up and buy their claim.

What I found is telling. From what I was able to gather, included in The End Times Controversy:The Second Coming Under Attack, edited by Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, was a work written by Mark Hitchcock entitled "The Stake in the Heart—The A.D. 95 Date of Revelation,” in which Hitchcock writes,

"Eusebius says, 'After Domitian had reigned fifteen years, Nerva succeeded. The sentences of Domitian were annulled, and the Roman Senate decreed the return of those who had been unjustly banished and the restoration of their property. Those who committed the story of those times to writing relate it. At that time, too, the story of ancient Christians relates that the apostle John, after his banishment to the island, took up his abode at Ephesus.' The key phrase here is, 'Those who committed the story of those times to writing relate it.' To whom is Eusebius referring? The context indicates he is referring to Hegesippus, whom he has just referred to twice as a source for his information."

This is sad, quite frankly. It is most definitely NOT Hegesippus to which Eusebius refers as the source of this information. By pointing to "Those who committed the story of those times to writing" as the "key phrase," Hitchcock attempts to give the impression that it was they who tell us John was banished under Domitian. But that's not what Eusebius says. He says that is "the story of ancient Christians." Another translation says John's banishment under Domitian was "according to an ancient Christian tradition." In other words, Eusebius has in mind two stories: one, committed to writing, tells the story of the Roman Senate returning those unjustly banished under Domitian; the other, "an ancient Christian tradition," relates that John's banishment was at that time. Origin of the latter, therefore, is not being attributed to the authors of the former.

Second, Hitchcock is right that Eusebius had just cited Hegesippus as a source for his information. But it was different information! He had just quoted Hegesippus at length, who told of Domitian himself freeing relatives of Jesus and issuing a decree to stop persecution of Christians. He then quotes Tertullian, who says Domitian had attempted to be as cruel as Nero, but later relented and freed many of those whom he had banished. It is at this point that Eusebius says "those who committed the story of those times to writing" tell a different story, the story of the Roman Senate freeing those whom Domitian had banished--not Domitian himself.

It is evident that Hitchcock is grasping at straws in a desperate attempt to disprove preterism by finding support for a late date. Clearly, there is no indication that Eusebius attributed the story of John's banishment under Domitian to Hegesippus. Whereas Hegesippus and Tertullian had written that Domitian had freed the banished, others had written that the Roman Senate had done so, and still another unwritten tradition held that it was in this context that John returned from Patmos. To claim Hegesippus, then, as early external evidence in support of a late date for Revelation is patently absurd, if not downright deceptive.


Next in Hitchcock's and Ice's list of alleged external evidences is Clement:

"And to give you confidence, when you have thus truly repented, that there remains for you a trustworthy hope for salvation, hear a story that is no mere story, but a true account of John the apostle that has been handed down and preserved in memory. When after the death of the tyrant he removed from the island at Patmos to Ephesus, he used to journey by request to the neighboring districts of the Gentiles, in some places to appoint bishops, in others to regulate whole churches, in others to set among the clergy some one man, it may be, of those indicated by the Spirit." (Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?)

Here is what the authors of Breaking have to say about Clement's words:

"[Clement] is clearly referring to some well-known tradition in the church. The only tradition that had been handed down and preserved at that time was the tradition that Revelation was written during the reign of Domitian. Had Clement intended someone other than Domitian, he no doubt would have named that person specifically in light of the established tradition of John's banishment under Domitian." (p. 193)

Now, had they been correct about Irenaeus and Hegesippus, maybe we would buy their claim here. But we've seen that Irenaeus, if anything, suggests an early date for Revelation, and that Hegesippus doesn't factor into the equation at all. As for the ancient tradition Eusebius refers to, he wrote of it long after Clement's death, so we really have no idea whether that tradition is the story to which Clement refers here.

On the other hand, Clement gives us some clues in this quote and elsewhere in his work that John was banished under Nero, not Domitian. First, citing Kenneth Gentry's Before Jerusalem Fell, R. C. Sproul says in The Last Days According to Jesus that "the tyrant" is likely a reference to Nero:

"Who is 'the tyrant?' Clement does not name him. Gentry amasses evidence to support the thesis that the tyrant is not Domitian, but Nero. Nero was regarded as the quintessential tyrant and was commonly know by the name Tyrant. Gentry cites the testimony of Apollonius of Tyana. 'In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India,' writes Apollonius. 'But this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs... And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mothers, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.'" (p. 144)

Second, in another of Clement's works, The Stromata or The Miscellanies, Clement writes, "For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, ends with Nero" (The Stromata, book 7 chapter 17, emphasis mine). He says, then, that the teaching of the apostles ended with Nero, but it is evident that Clement considered the author of the Apocalypse to be one of those apostles. In the very quote inluded by Hitchcock and Ice, Clement calls him "John the apostle."

In all honesty, I'm beginning to feel a bit bad for the authors of Breaking the Apocalypse Code. One by one we're seeing their house of cards collapse. Hegesippus, we've seen, is utterly irrelevant to their case, and Irenaeus and Clement, particularly the latter, support the preterist case far better. I think this betrays the frantic and desperate nature of the search Hitchcock and Ice are making for anything even remotely resembling evidence that casts doubt on the preterist position. Consider their next attempt at external support for a late date:

"Origen's relevant statement on the date of Revelation came from comments he made on Matthew 16:6. In those comments he said, 'The king of the Romans, as tradition teaches, condemned John, who bore testimony, on account of the word of truth, to the isle of Patmos.' The difficulty in this statement, as with Clement of Alexandria, is that Origen does not identify who he means by 'the king of the Romans.' However, the phrase 'as tradition teaches' points to Domitian as the king of the Romans because the tradition to which Origen alludes must have been handed down from Hegesippus and Irenaeus because at this time there was no other tradition in the church." (p. 193-194)

And another card falls. If we've seen any tradition at all, we've seen Irenaeus, and more so Clement, hand down a tradition identifying Nero, not Domitian, as he who banished John to Patmos. I don't think we have firmly established such a tradition, but the authors of Breaking are without any justification whatsoever for the claim that Origen "points to Domitian as the king of the Romans."


It is at this point that Hitchcock and Ice FINALLY present some evidence which actually supports their case. They quote Victorinius, Eusebius and Jerome, each of whom explicitly name Domitian as the emperor under whom John was banished to Patmos. Domitian goes so far as to claim that an ancient Christian tradition relates the story. Yet each of these wrote nearly a hundred years or more after Clement of Alexandria who, as we've seen, tell us John was banished by Nero, "the tyrant," as was suggested earlier by Irenaeus. This is hardly the "unbroken line of support from some of the greatest, most reliable names in church history" (p. 197-198).

In fact, there are other external sources gathered by Kenneth Gentry in Before Jerusalem Fell which support the early date, ranging from the suggestive to the rock solid. The point, however, is not that the external evidence proves the preterist case, but that it is inconclusive. As R. C. Sproul writes in The Last Days According to Jesus, "Gentry recognizes that the external evidence regarding the dating of Revelation is neiher monolithic nor homogeneous" (p. 145).

Hitchcock and Ice, in their desperate, flimsy attempt to sweep the preterist position under the rug, want you to believe that "The external evidence from church history points emphatically and overwhelmingly to the AD 95 date for the composition of Revelation" (p. 198). As we've seen, however, this statement is based on a shaky house of cards, the foundation of which--Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen--collapses with the breath of a whisper. If I were a betting man, I would not be placing my bet on their team in the dating game.

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