Archive for the ‘Bible Study’ Category
I hope that you will take a few minutes to read this special edition of the “ABI Blog.”
We have received letters threatening legal action related to the publication of my book The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? These letters were from a lawyer with a firm which “serves as litigation counsel for Charisma Media, publisher of The Harbinger by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and published by Charisma Media.”
Therefore, we are asking that concerned believers everywhere make this a matter of prayer—that the Lord would graciously give us wisdom and that He would protect us in the midst of this challenge. We also believe it is important to bring this matter to the attention of the Body of Christ and would encourage you to share this article with others given the millions of people who have now been influenced by The Harbinger and its author.
IS THIS MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING?
Some may be wondering if the controversy surrounding The Harbinger really is a big deal. I want to assure you that it definitely is – and it show no signs of slowing down. Last spring I suggested that The Harbinger could well end up being one of the most significant theological issues of 2012. As it turns out, this could extend well into this year. It was recently announced that The Harbinger passed one million copies sold (in just twelve months), and also achieved the distinction of being the longest running Christian book presently on The New York Times bestseller list.
And, the influence that Jonathan Cahn and his teachings are having through his book, the many interviews and his numerous messages continues to grow unabated. He was even the keynote speaker at one of the main annual (though not official) inaugural prayer breakfasts in Washington D.C. on January 21.
The author has said that he has been approached numerous times concerning turning The Harbinger into a movie and I would not be at all surprised if the production of a movie will be announced sometime this year. If that happens, the influence of The Harbinger will receive another significant boost and reach people who otherwise might not even be aware of it. Given the inevitable artistic license taken in most book-to-movie adaptations, with all the problems already in The Harbinger, what might we expect in a movie version?
THE THREAT OF LEGAL ACTION
The following is an excerpt from the lead article by T.A. McMahon in the February edition of The Berean Call monthly newsletter.
Although for decades we at TBC have been exhorting and encouraging believers to be Bereans (i.e., to check out everything they are being taught by searching the Scriptures-Acts 17:10-11), we too have experienced the increased intensity of the spiritual battle and witnessed its exponential growth. The latest issue, which we submit to you for prayer support, is a threatened lawsuit over the book we published by David James (The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?). The complaint is that the author used too many quotes from the New York Times best-selling book, The Harbinger, without permission from author “rabbi” Jonathan Cahn and publisher Charisma Media Publications (CMP). The complaint further states that our use of the quotes has inhibited the sales of The Harbinger and has thus financially damaged Cahn and CMP in an amount yet to be determined. In effect, we are being told that we must limit our documentation in warning the body of Christ of the biblical errors in The Harbinger. In other words, we cannot be Bereans or like the watchman of Ezekiel 3:17-19 without Cahn’s permission.
This is the first time in my 35 years of working with Dave Hunt and our addressing nearly every major religion, religious cult, aberrational Christian sect, unbiblical trend, religious publication, book, media production, etc., that any organization or individual has even hinted at suing us. Now, however, we are being threatened with legal action by those claiming to be in the church. More critical than the unbiblical action of a brother threatening to take another brother to court (1 Corinthians 6) is the issue of preventing the biblical evaluation of a work that is influencing hundreds of thousands of professing and confessing Christians, as well as those who don’t profess to know Christ. We have hired a copyright attorney to address the legal issues and have responded to the attorney for Cahn and CMP. Even so, we covet your prayers that the Lord will be glorified throughout the process.
In October we received the first letter from Charisma’s lawyer concerning my use of quotes from The Harbinger. This threat of litigation was followed by two additional letters about a month apart making various demands for specific information concerning sales of my book and actions that we must take, including specific deadlines for compliance. So, although this is the first time we have made this issue public in writing, we have had these threats hanging over our heads for several months.
Furthermore, the October letter was actually the second threat of legal action. The first threat came less than two weeks after my book became available in early August and concerned the original cover design of The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? In that first letter the attorney made the following charges:
Our client learned that you, along with author David James, are using a strikingly similar book cover design of The Harbinger in commerce in connection with your book The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction. The book cover of The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction infringes Charisma’s intellectual property rights in the trade dress of its book The Harbinger. No doubt exists that the cover for your book The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction is designed to confuse consumers into thinking that either (1) this book is actually The Harbinger and/or (2) that the book is sponsored, affiliated with or approved by Charisma.
The basis for the threat of legal action involves two primary points: 1) that we intended to confuse consumers and 2) that consumers would actually be confused. Regarding the first charge, it is pure speculation with no supporting evidence whatsoever. But more importantly, it is both judgmental and factually wrong. There was never any intention by anyone to deceive, mislead of confuse. A comparison of the two covers (shown below) makes this obvious.
Regarding the second charge, once again, even a cursory glance makes it clear that my book is a direct negative response to The Harbinger, and therefore, obviously neither produced by nor endorsed by Charisma Media. Of course, we wanted people to understand that my book is about The Harbinger, but almost every design element of my cover was intentionally different to avoid any question of copyright infringement.
However, as a demonstration of good faith we changed the cover without a fuss. Of course, because of our belief that it is vitally important for my book to be available as a response to The Harbinger, and given the threat, we were also concerned that the Charisma lawyers might try to tie things up in the courts and thus keep my book off the market.
Now, in an unexpected and inexplicable turn of events, the Charisma attorney claims in the most recent letter (of January 22) that the fact that we changed the cover is itself an admission of guilt on my part that we had indeed infringed copyright.
Mr. James eventually recognized that he had violated Charisma’s trade dress and changed the cover on his critique. That Mr. James infringed Charisma’s rights in its intellectual property with respect to the cover is without dispute. Yet, Mr. James’ admitted infringement is curiously absent from his recent diatribe against my client and its author.
Once again, this is not only pure speculation, but the allegation is factually wrong because neither I nor The Berean Call have ever believed that we ever violated Charisma’s trade dress. We did not intend to violate copyright. We intentionally
sought to avoid violating copyright. And we continue to believe that we were completely successful in not violating copyright. So, the charge that we admitted guilt in this matter is difficult to comprehend – even baffling.
Another odd aspect of this recent letter is that the Charisma lawyer attributed to me the article which was written by T.A. McMahon (referenced above), and called it a “diatribe against Charisma and Jonathan Cahn.” Earlier the letter also states that the article was published on my website—which is also wrong because the article is actually on The Berean Call website. Besides being a bit strange, these are unnecessary “unforced errors” that could have been easily avoided with even the least bit of research.
Returning to the second threat of legal action, the following are excerpts from the first letter concerning that threat.
Dear Mr. James,
Our firm serves as litigation counsel for Charisma Media, publisher of The Harbinger by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and published by Charisma Media. I write concerning your critique of The Harbinger, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction (“Fact or Fiction”) and your use of significant portions of The Harbinger’s original copyrighted work in your book. In short, we believe your use of The Harbinger‘s text, which comprises over 10% of your book, constitutes infringement of Charisma Media’s exclusive copyright in the text of your book. We further believe your considerable use of The Harbinger‘s text is not defensible under the fair use doctrine.
Although we have always been confident that my book is well within the boundaries of the fair use doctrine, unfortunately these threats of litigation made it necessary to seek the services of an experienced copyright lawyer. His well-informed opinion is that there is no basis for bringing a lawsuit against us and he sent his findings and conclusions to the Charisma Media attorney in the middle of December. Last week we received the fourth letter as a response to our legal counsel’s letter in which the Charisma lawyer completely rejected the argument in our defense.
Later in the letter, Charisma’s attorney goes on to make further allegations.
Specifically, Fact or Fiction was written with the specific purpose of deriving a financial benefit from Charisma Media’s copyrighted materials as evidenced by the original infringing cover for Fact or Fiction; you are profiting from the use of the text, but have not obtained consent or paid a license fee for its use. Although Fact or Fiction purports to be a critique of The Harbinger, your use of The Harbinger’s original and protectible expression, including extensive use of the dialogue created by Rabbi Cahn to analyze Isaiah 9:10, is usurping demand for Rabbi Cahn’s work and will continue to do so as long as Fact or Fiction remains in circulation.
Several things can be noted about the above allegations.
First, building on the unsubstantiated claim in the first threat concerning the cover of my book, they once again argue that I wrote the book for the specific purpose of deriving financial benefit from Rabbi Cahn’s work. And once again, this is pure speculation from a legal perspective, clearly judgmental from a moral perspective, and from a factual perspective it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Second, the phrase “purports to be a critique” clearly suggests that I intentionally employed a ruse in order to deceive the public by making my book only appear to be a critique, but with the real alleged purpose being to profit financially from Rabbi Cahn’s work. One has to wonder if someone could scan my book in even the most cursory way and then suggest that The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction is anything but a very serious and well-researched critique of The Harbinger.
Third, the Charisma lawyer contends that because of quoting The Harbinger to the degree that I did, demand for my book has undermined demand for their book. Through this they argue that I have been accumulating sales for myself while denying what would have been sales for Jonathan Cahn. Once again, it is difficult to express how far removed from reality this charge really is. When my book was released in early August, I believe the sales of The Harbinger were somewhere in the neighborhood of 700,000 copies sold. Then in January (as previously noted) it was reported that Jonathan Cahn had achieved two important milestones during the 2012 calendar year. The first was that his book had surpassed one million copies sold (meaning that nearly one third of his sales have happened since the appearance of Fact or Fiction). The second milestone was that at the end of 2012 it was the longest running Christian book currently on The New York Times bestsellers list.
Unfortunately, the most recent letter from Charisma’s legal counsel further expands the range of allegations and accusations against us to include a charge of defamation of character:
Second, I write to put you on notice that Mr. James’ recent fund raising efforts at the expense of both Charisma and Rabbi Cahn are defamatory in nature and intentionally designed to impugn both Charisma and Rabbi Cahn’s character for the benefit of Mr. James.
Once again, in this new threat, the Charisma lawyer gets so many factual things wrong that it should be almost embarrasing. He accuses me personally of 1) trying to raise funds with the article, 2) by defaming Charisma and Rabbi Cahn; 3) then claims that it was intentional, 4) and further alleges that it was designed to impugn their character, 5) and finally argues that I did it with the intent to accrue personal financial benefit to me.
Where do I begin?
1. I didn’t write the article and was only aware of it shortly before it was published on The Berean Call (not my) website. As previously noted, Tom McMahon wrote the article and it was approved by The Berean Call Board of Directors. (The full article can be found here: http://www.thebereancall.org/content/demise-biblical-discernment)
2. There is nothing in the article that makes any reference to money whatsoever. There is no appeal for funds and it was never intended to be a fund-rasing effort. The only thing that McMahon requests anywhere in the article is that believers make this a matter of prayer.
3. There was no intention to defame Charisma or Jonathan Cahn. There is a well-documented pattern of repeated attempts by Jonathan Cahn to contain and respond to any and all criticism of The Harbinger. This has happened time and again – and a video on YouTube is available where Cahn specifically (and quite cynically and sarcastically) responds to the critics of The Harbinger (with many swipes at things I have written and said)—and yet he offers no specifics whatsoever.
4. It seems to me that the accusation that I intentionally impugned Charisma and Jonathan Cahn’s character for the purpose of financial gain, while using demonstrably false information, is the very definition of defamation itself. Who has defamed whom? And since this is in the context of claiming that my book is damaging sales of The Harbinger this obviously raises the question of exactly who is pursuing this for financial gain. The reader can decide.
Returning to the accusation that I exceeded fair use of The Harbinger in my book and thus have violated copyright law, the following salient points are provided from the Citizen Media Law Project website.
The Four Fair Use Factors
1. Purpose and Character of Your Use
If you use another’s copyrighted work for the purpose of criticism, news reporting, or commentary, this use will weigh in favor of fair use. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569, 578 (1994). Purposes such as these are often considered “in the public interest” and are favored by the courts over uses that merely seek to profit from another’s work. Online Policy Group v. Diebold, Inc., 337 F. Supp. 2d 1195, 1203 (N.D. Cal. 2004). When you put copyrighted material to new use, this furthers the goal of copyright to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.”
In evaluating the purpose and character of your use, a court will look to whether the new work you’ve created is “transformative” and adds a new meaning or message. To be transformative, a use must add to the original “with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” Campbell, 510 U.S. at 579. Although transformative use is not absolutely necessary, the more transformative your use is, the less you will have to show on the remaining three factors.
Clearly, my book, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? meets this criteria. I am not seeking to merely profit from Cahn’s work as has been alleged. Rather my work is both completely transformative and is “in the public interest,” while putting the material in The Harbinger to a completely new use. There is no copyright violation.
2. Nature of the Copyrighted Work
In examining this factor, a court will look to whether the material you have used is factual or creative, and whether it is published or unpublished. Although non-fiction works such as biographies and news articles are protected by copyright law, their factual nature means that one may rely more heavily on these items and still enjoy the protections of fair use. Unlike factual works, fictional works are typically given greater protection in a fair use analysis. So, for example, taking newsworthy quotes from a research report is more likely to be protected by fair use than quoting from a novel. However, this question is not determinative, and courts have found fair use of fictional works in some of the pivotal cases on the subject. See, e.g., Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417, 456 (1984).
Once again, my book meets this criteria because as the author states in his note at the beginning of The Harbinger, “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story, but what is contained within the story is real.” Furthermore, Jonathan Cahn has stated publicly in a radio interview with Brannon Howse that his book is only 10% fiction and 90% factual. Again, there is no copyright violation.
3. Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used
Unfortunately, there is no single guide that definitively states how much of a copyrighted work you can use without copyright liability. Instead, courts look to how such excerpts were used and what their relation was to the whole work. If the excerpt in question diminishes the value of the original or embodies a substantial part of the efforts of the author, even an excerpt may constitute an infringing use.
If you limit your use of copyrighted text, video, or other materials to only the portion that is necessary to accomplish your purpose or convey your message, it will increase the likelihood that a court will find your use is a fair use.
Of course, if you are reviewing a book or movie, you may need to reprint portions of the copyrighted work in the course of reviewing it in order to make you points. Even substantial quotations may qualify as fair use in “a review of a published work or a news account of a speech that had been delivered to the public or disseminated to the press.” Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 564 (1985). However, substantial quotations from non-public sources or unpublished works do not enjoy the same protections.
There are two relevant and important issues in meeting the third criteria for fair use that can be observed. The first is that the “over 10%” of The Harbinger that I quoted (referred to by the Charisma attorney) is irrelevant when the other criteria are considered. The 10% is an arbitrary number with no legal significance. Far less than 10% can violate fair use if the other criteria are not met, while far more than 10% can be used if they are. Quotes from The Harbinger do comprise over 10% of my book, but they are also under 13%.
Similarly, I only quoted a little more than 10% of The Harbinger, which in the context of such an indepth and detailed critique is a very small amount. I could have easily quoted much more to further bolster my argument, but was careful to use no more than necessary to keep from being accused of taking things of out context.
However, more importantly, relevant to the second major point, my use of The Harbinger clearly qualifies as fair use because it is “a review of a published work…”
4. The Effect of Your Use Upon the Potential Market for the Copyrighted Work
In examining the fourth factor, which courts tend to view as the most important factor, a court will look to see how much the market value of the copyrighted work is affected by the use in question. This factor will weigh in favor of the copyright holder if “unrestricted and widespread” use similar to the one in question would have a “substantially adverse impact” on the potential market for the work…
Assessing the impact on a copyrighted work’s market value often overlaps with the third factor because the amount and importance of the portion used will often determine how much value the original loses. For instance, the publication of five lines from a 100 page epic poem will not hurt the market for the original in the same way as the publication of the entirety of a five-line poem.
This fourth factor is concerned only with economic harm caused by substitution for the original, not by criticism. That your use harms the copyright holder through negative publicity or by convincing people of your critical point of view is not part of the analysis. As the Supreme Court has stated:
[W]hen a lethal parody, like a scathing theater review, kills demand for the original, it does not produce a harm cognizable under the Copyright Act. Because “parody may quite legitimately aim at garroting the original, destroying it commercially as well as artistically,” the role of the courts is to distinguish between ‘[b]iting criticism [that merely] suppresses demand [and] copyright infringement[, which] usurps it.’”
The significance of this point cannot be overstated because the Charisma attorney contends that my book is usurping demand (his words) for his client’s book. However, it can be easily argued that the controversy surrounding the entire issue has only served to increase demand for The Harbinger as evidenced by the 300,000+ copies that have been sold since the release of my book.
In summary, although courts will balance all four factors when assessing fair use, the fair use defense is most likely to apply when the infringing use involves criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. In addition, some general rules of thumb can be helpful in analyzing fair use:
- A use that transforms the original work in some way is more likely to be a fair use;
- A non-profit use is more likely to be considered a fair use than a for-profit use;
- A shorter excerpt is more likely to be a fair use than a long one; and
- A use that cannot act as a replacement for the original work is more likely to be a fair use than one that can serve as a replacement.
One has to wonder why such an influential media empire like Charisma Media would threaten a lawsuit against an essentially unknown individual, particularly when my book falls so far within the boundaries of the fair use doctrine. But more importantly, why would a Christian organization (Charisma Media), with a Christian founder and CEO (Steve Strang), along with a local church pastor (Jonathan Cahn) threaten to sue another believer in this way, particularly in light of what the apostle Paul says about such lawsuits in 1 Corinthians 6?
None of this makes any sense from a biblical, ethical, legal or financial perspective. One has to wonder exactly what is the motivation behind this. Why is it so necessary to try make it so difficult to keep my book, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? on the market. Why all this effort to get it off the market?
One thing we do know is that my book is presently the only one that has been written and published which exposes the many significant problems in The Harbinger. And as the influence of The Harbinger in America continues to increase, the need for people to also read The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? is greater than ever. We hope you will take time to read it if you haven’t – and if you do, please take time to leave a brief review on Amazon.com because these are extremely important in the process of getting the message into the hands of more and more people.
Once again, we covet your prayers, not only in relation to the threatened legal action against us, but also concerning getting the important information in my book into the hands of believers who have been influenced, confused and misled by The Harbinger, the accompanying DVD and the dozens of interviews and messages by Jonathan Cahn.
If you want to stand with us in the midst of this challenge, please take a moment to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Paperback version available soon through Amazon.com)
The last three months have been quite incredible. Since Tom McMahon (executive director of The Berean Call) first contacted me on April 29 about my ABI article critiquing The Harbinger, we have been on a speeding train just trying to hang on.
I am extremely grateful to the entire staff of The Berean Call who have been with me every step of the way since my book was little more than just the article. Everyone involved has put in a monumental effort to make everything come together in a such a short time frame. Roy Zuck (who has been in publishing for decades) recently described this as being “almost unheard of in publishing circles.”
This is even more amazing given the extensive scrutiny the book has undergone to make sure we get this right. The book has gone through multiple rounds of editing by three different editors and as well as three critical readers who carefully examined it for accuracy, theology, logical arguments and overall tone. And finally, it has been read by an additional six theologians and ministry leaders, who along with two of the critical readers, have provided a total of eight initial endorsements. Besides these things, they have designed the covers and formatted the book in about one-fourth of the time usually allotted.
The level of controversy surrounding The Harbinger and concerned reviews has been virtually unprecedented in that so much of it has been generated within conservative evangelicalism. Although other recent books have caused a stir within the broader evangelical community, some have said they have never witnessed anything quite like this in their decades of ministry life.
Everyone agrees that America is in deep spiritual trouble and that the country is now or soon could be under God’s judgment. Everyone also agrees with Jonathan Cahn’s overall message, which is a broad call for national repentance. However, the serious disagreements center on whether the author has genuinely received this message from God and whether he has indeed discovered an ancient mystery in Isaiah 9:10 that correlates precisely with events over the last decade in the United States, beginning with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Those of us with deep concerns about the book are persuaded that he has not either case.
This is not simply an academic issue nor does it only involve inconsequential minutiae. The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? demonstrates that Cahn’s book is ultimately an illusion which gives the impression that God’s direct intervention is the only possible explanation for what is said to be the replay in America of events prophesied to Israel in Isaiah 9:10. As with any well-executed illusion, the audience is astounded by what they think they are seeing – but what they think they see does not actually correspond to reality. The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? pulls back the curtain and gives another “camera angle” so that the mechanics of the illusion become obvious.
This “reveal” shows that maintaining the illusion depends the mishandling of Scripture, faulty theology, misleading statements, the selective use of historical facts and unsupported speculation. Consequently, The Harbinger falls far short of the biblical requirements necessary to conclude that such a message is truly from God. The broad implications of this are significant and far-reaching.
I have written my book so that anyone can accurately, clearly and fairly understand what is in The Harbinger whether or not they have read that book. It should be helpful for those who wonder what all the commotion is about or who have been encouraged to read it by someone else. We also hope it will be helpful for those who have had reservations and concerns and for those who are not yet sure what to make of it. We are also hopeful that those who have embraced The Harbinger will take some time to read The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction and perhaps reconsider their views once they see there is another side to the whole issue.
It will also be available in Kindle format in about a week. In addition, I have finished recording the audio version of the book, which will probably be available shortly after The Berean Call annual conference next weekend. There has also been some discussion of possibly doing a Spanish version, including audio, but this has not yet been decided as far as I know.
I am looking forward to discussing the book with Jimmy DeYoung on his Saturday radio program (info at the Prophecy Today website). Brannon Howse has also invited Tom McMahon and me to join him for two full hours on his radio program on Monday and Tuesday beginning at 2:00 PM EST (1:00 CST) (www.worldviewweekend.com).
Next week I will be heading out to The Berean Call conference in Bend, Oregon. Tom McMahon has invited me to take one of his two sessions to discuss biblical discernment based on my book, using The Harbinger as a case study. We believe this is an important issue which needs to be addressed in a fair way. We also see it as a significant opportunity to help many believers as they think through how to consistently apply a biblical hermeneutic and carefully evaluate anything they might read or hear that purports to be a biblical message.
I want to sincerely thank all who have prayed for me and the entire process. We would also appreciate your ongoing prayers as we are unsure of what the overall reaction might be given the immense popularity and influence that has been enjoyed by The Harbinger and its author.
Note: The first chapter, foreword, preface and endorsements are also available for download in pdf format from the order page. (near the bottom)
President & Founder, Prophecy Today
“David James has done an excellent job in this book, a review of the book, The Harbinger, being very careful not to bring personality into focus but instead to take a critical look at the biblical aspects of the book. Having read the book a number of times, David studied the hermeneutic used in the book to examine the use of a single passage of scripture taken out of context to understand what the author had done to develop a fictional book while the same time telling the reader that everything in the book was real.
“I believe that David did the research required to give a fair look at Jonathan Cahn’s work and, at the same time, apply the age-old truths of Bible interpretation to help any potential reader of The Harbinger to be aware of the problems in this work. I know that David spent much time in prayer and consultation before he approached the writing of his review, and his only desire is to hold up the truth that we don’t get doctrine, or our understanding of Bible prophecy, from a fictional novel but from the Word of God, the Bible.”
President & Founder, Worldview Weekend
“All across America hundreds of thousands of people have purchased Jonathan Cahn’s book, The Harbinger. By far, the majority have given it rave reviews as well as promoted it, defended it, and recommended it to everyone they know. Unfortunately, this represents a pervasive lack of biblical knowledge and discernment in the church and is why many of us have written and broadcast our deep concerns about the book. I believe David James has used true discernment, extensive research, and biblical hermeneutics to reveal the dangerous message of The Harbinger. James’s research also defends the authority of Scripture against the increasing trend of experience, extra-biblical revelation and mysticism.”
Teaching Pastor, Faith Bible Church
Vineland, New Jersey
“Whether or not you’ve read The Harbinger, you must read David James thorough and thoughtful response in The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? The popularity of Cahn’s book has many Christians wondering if the Bible contains a secret message for America enveloped in the details of the 9/11terrorist attacks. I recognized a dangerous hermeneutic at work in Jonathan Cahn’s fast-paced novel but was daunted by the challenge of providing a response for my congregation. David James provides such a response. This book gives the reader a detailed, point-by-point analysis challenging Cahn’s barrage of data and “connect the dot” attempts. David James does this with clear biblical methodology while avoiding personal attacks against Cahn. This book is an example of the way that Christian dialogue should be conducted.”
ROY B. ZUCK
Senior Professor Emeritus of Bible Exposition
Editor, Bibliotheca Sacra
Dallas Theological Seminary
“Jonathan Cahn’s book The Harbinger has been a bestseller for many months. A messianic Jew, Cahn is the senior pastor of the Jerusalem/Beth Israel Worship Center in Wayne, New Jersey. The Harbinger presents the view that Isaiah 9:10-11 refers to the United States, and in particular to the catastrophe of 9/11 and the States’ subsequent economic problems. James masterfully demolishes Cahn’s efforts to relate this passage to the States, pointing up numerous hermeneutical and interpretive fallacies in Cahn’s approach. Anyone interested in The Harbinger needs to note the numerous errors in Cahn’s thinking, as presented in James’s excellent analysis.”
GARY E. GILLEY
Senior Pastor, Southern View Chapel, Springfield, Illinois
Director, Think on These Things Ministries
“Jonathan Cahn’s, The Harbinger, is a warning to America that God’s judgment is imminent unless the country repents and turns to the Lord, and that very soon. If the book is read merely as a novel warning our country to wake up spiritually, it has value, but the author makes immediately clear that “what is contained within the story is real” (p. 7). In other words, Cahn believes that God pronounced exacting judgment on America, and that judgment is found in Scripture, specifically Isaiah 9:10-11.
“Cahn determines that this text in Isaiah contains a mysterious prophecy directed not to ancient Israel but to modern America. At this point the author massages Scripture, American history, and current events in an attempt to prove that God’s judgment on the United States has been hiding in these verses but have now been unlocked by the careful investigation of Cahn. Once someone decides they can cherry-pick verses at will, change the meaning of these texts to fit his theories, and use random hermeneutical methods, anything can be “proven.” However, very few people will recognize what Cahn has done, and fewer still will do the hard work of investigating his interpretations.
“Here is where David James has greatly benefited the body of Christ. He has carefully, graciously and thoroughly analyzed the claims found in The Harbinger and found many of them lacking biblical support and historical accuracy. James has written this book not merely to expose error but to keep God’s people from being led astray by false teachings and improper hermeneutical approaches to Scripture. I believe he has accomplished these goals in The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?”
Executive Director, Pre-Trib Research Center
Pastor/Teacher and Church Planter, Community Bible Church, Omaha, Nebraska
“Just because something is popular within today’s evangelical community does not mean that it is biblical. The Harbinger is a popular book for many within evangelicalism that claims to provide a message from God, but it is not built upon a true biblical foundation. Dave James provides a fair biblical analysis for anyone wanting scrutiny of The Harbinger. I commend James’s book, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?, for those seeking the truth rather than popularity.”
Guarding His Flock Ministries
“In a fair and balanced way, Dave James exposes the eccentric biblical interpretations upon which The Harbinger is premised. He demonstrates biblical and theological inaccuracies contained in the story created by Jonathan Cahn, one which the author claims to be partially real. James connects the dots between multiple biblical, historical, and factual problems, which gives the reader the sense that The Harbinger has undertones of Anglo-Israelism and Christian Dominionism. Though perhaps not intended by the author, these concepts form an underlying philosophical framework upon which the theoretical “secret” of America’s future appears to be based. For readers possessing a heart to discern truth from error, The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? frames fundamental issues related to an accurate understanding of Bible prophecy in our modern world. Highly recommended.”
LARRY J. WATERS
Associate Professor of Bible Exposition
Dallas Theological Seminary
“One of the most asked questions in biblical prophecy today is, “Where does the United States fit into eschatology?” Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger tries to answer that question—however, he attempts to do so with many unfounded hermeneutical “jumps” that cannot be sustained. Dave James goes to great lengths to debunk Cahn’s theories and offers a balanced look at end-time prophecy and the USA. Where Scripture is silent, it is best not to impose one’s own presumptions on the text. For those interested in this subject, James offers extensive objections to Cahn’s presumptions.”
Does Isaiah 9:10 really contain an ancient mystery that holds the secret of America’s future?
Note: This review is an abridged version of a book of the same title.
A discussion between Dave James and Jonathan Cahn, moderated by Jimmy DeYoung can be found at this link.
The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17, NKJV)
The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn,1 is about a series of signs or omens which he believes have manifested in America beginning with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The author believes he has discovered an ancient mystery in Isaiah 9:10-11 that “explains everything from 9/11 to the collapse of the global economy.”2 Although he uses a fictional narrative as a framework, the book is based on what he believes are undeniable facts from the biblical text, the corresponding history of 8th century B.C. Israel and current events of the last decade in America. As Cahn states at the beginning of the book, “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story, but what is contained within the story is real.”3
The overall purpose of The Harbinger is to call America to repent for turning her back on God and moving away from the foundations upon which the country was built. It is also to warn of the danger of God’s judgment that this represents. Not only is this a valid message, but one that needs to be proclaimed. Jonathan Cahn is to be commended for his passion and commitment to sharing this message with as wide an audience as possible.
However, because of serious flaws throughout the book, the potential dangers may well outweigh the benefits. Many of the author’s views and ideas as presented in The Harbinger are misguided, having both significant exegetical and theological problems. Additionally, the book could well leave its readers with serious misunderstandings about how to appropriately interpret and apply the Word of God. Beyond this, it is also problematic because in trying to support his conclusions, Cahn appears to variously overstate his case, see prophetic fulfillment where arguably none exists and presses details to draw parallels between historical events beyond what the facts reasonably support.
Not only does The Harbinger fail to reveal a mystery in Isaiah 9:10, but in spite of the much-needed call to repentance, the book presents a danger to believers and unbelievers alike.
A Runaway Success
Released on January 3, 2012, The Harbinger has already established its place as one of the best selling books of 2012. According to “CharismaNews,” on January 22, the The Harbinger debuted at No. 10 on the NY Times best-seller list in the “print paperback” category and at No. 28 in the “combined print hardcover and paperback “ category. In just 10 days, it had gone to reprint four times. (Charisma House is the publisher of the book.)4
As of April 26, on Amazon.com, it was ranked at #1 in the “Christian Books and Bibles – Fiction” category, at #1 in the broader “Religion and Spirituality” category, #2 in “Christian Books and Bibles – Theology” category and at #50 for all books. There were also 346 reader reviews of the book on Amazon.com – with 282 giving it a 5-star rating.5
The founder of “World Net Daily,” Joseph Farah, has produced a two-hour documentary featuring Jonathan Cahn: “The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment.” On March 13, in an email alert, WND noted: “The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment DVD tops faith chart at Amazon.com…It is also the No. 8 most popular documentary of any kind and the 247th most popular video for sale.”
On the day of the book’s release, Jonathan Cahn was interviewed by Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, who said of the book, “This is one great book…This is the read you need to make…It is a prophetic word.” The author has also been interviewed on a number of other programs as well, giving the book very broad exposure.
Departure from a Biblical Hermeneutic
The heart of a biblical hermeneutic is the commitment to understanding the literary context of a passage. This is where Cahn’s thesis first runs into trouble. Nothing in the context gives any indication that either Isaiah or the Lord intended for Isaiah 9:10 to be understood as having to do with anything other than the Northern Kingdom in the 8th century B.C. Although the author has insisted in a moderated discussion with this reviewer that he does not believe Isaiah 9:10 is to, for or about America,6 the book paints a very different picture.
Although Cahn has tried to explain that the passage is only functioning as a “sign” to America, this is not a meaningful distinction. Biblical signs are revelatory and therefore prophetic, in that they signify that something is happening or is going to happen. And, this is exactly the way Cahn handles these “harbingers” in the book—meaning that in at least some way he actually does see a direct connection with Isaiah 9:10.
Also, if Isaiah 9:10-11 functions to demonstrate a pattern of God’s judgment, as Cahn believes, why is it not identified as such, either here or elsewhere in Scripture? If it is a predictable pattern as he suggests, why is there neither a precedent nor repetition of the pattern in the Bible? Yet, it is the author’s contention that the nine harbingers he believes he has found in Isaiah coincide precisely with recent historical events, beginning with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Furthermore, there is no mention of the first seven verses in the chapter. Yet, these form a critical part of the immediate context of Isaiah 9:10 and represent one of the most important messianic kingdom passages in the entire Old Testament. This is a significant omission when dealing with the subject of Israel’s judgment because it includes the unconditional promise that even in the face of the coming destruction Israel’s future is still sure. The kingdom will still be established and Messiah will rule from the throne of David forever.
A Prophetic Message?
Although Cahn says he does not claim to be a prophet, he does affirm that his message is prophetic. But, what else besides “prophet” would be an appropriate title for someone who believes he has discovered the hidden meaning of a biblical mystery and then proclaims this prophetic message as factual? He is doing more than simply relaying a message given by someone else. He is the originator of the message.
In the brief biography introducing the author, the back cover of The Harbinger has the following: “His teachings are seen on television and radio throughout the nation and are known for their prophetic significance and their revealing of deep mysteries of God’s Word.”
Others have also identified Cahn’s message as prophetic and him as a prophet. For example, in September, It’s Supernatural aired shows that were produced around interviews with Jonathan Cahn. Of these host Sid Roth said, “This may be—no, this is the most important prophetic show you will ever see.”7
On Amazon.com, the book description includes the following:
Hidden in an ancient biblical prophecy from Isaiah, the mysteries revealed in The Harbinger are so precise that they foretold recent American events down to the exact days. The revelations are so specific that even the most hardened skeptics will find it hard to dismiss or put down. It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood thriller with one exception… IT’S REAL.8
Fact or Fiction?
Even though categorized as “fiction,” the story is prefaced by: “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story, but what is contained within the story is real.”9 In other words, the book conveys what Cahn considers to be biblically accurate and historically factual. However, the lines between what is fact and what is fiction is not at all clear.
For example, the story centers around a set of small clay discs that are said to date from 8th century B.C. and connected with Isaiah’s prophecy. The purpose of the nine seals is to reveal the ancient mystery and to authenticate that their message comes from God. But do these seals really exist as an archeological find or are they simply part of the fictional storyline? The answer is not clear in the story and it seems very likely that many readers will think these seals do exist, although they do not.
In addition, rather than simply adding an element of authenticity to the story, the nine harbinger seals only make things more confusing for the reader. The obvious question is, “Does this mean that the author is using them as a literary device to suggest that his views are authentically from God (though perhaps confirmed in some other way)? “Are they inherently fact or fiction?
In the The Harbinger, the nine seals are given over a period of time, to journalist Nouriel Kaplan by a mysterious figure identified only as “The Prophet.”10 Kaplan and The Prophet are the primary characters in the book, along with a third lesser character, Ana Goren, a Manhattan publishing executive, to whom Kaplan tells the story of his encounters with The Prophet. Are The Prophet and Kaplan purely fictional characters or do they in some way represent real people? Do they represent two different people, a compilation of multiple people or are they rather just two aspects of the same person? Given the central role of The Prophet, is there really someone who is believed to be a prophet who gave the author his message? Or is the answer actually somewhere between the two? Based on the way the story develops and then concludes in the last chapter, one has to wonder if The Prophet and Nouriel Kaplan, when taken together, actually represent Jonathan Cahn. Are they fictional characters or are they real?
In the second half of the book, Kaplan has a dream about the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem which includes the biblical king Solomon. However, when Solomon turns around, he has unexpectedly transformed into George Washington on the Temple Mount. Is this dream just a literary device in the story or did the author actually have a similar dream? Although he has stated that he did not have a dream as described in the book, it is clear that the idea for the dream sequence did not develop in a vacuum. Could it simply represent Cahn’s contemplation and thought process as he sought to arrive at a meaningful interpretation of some of the events in America over the past decade? Once again, the crucial question is: “Fact or fiction?”
Another major issue is the interpretation of events in America since 9/11. Can the author’s interpretation of the events rightly be considered to be facts as he apparently does? For example, Cahn believes that God removed His “hedge of protection” from the United States which allowed the successful attacks on the World Trade Center. He also believes that these attacks marked the beginning of God’s judgment upon the nation.
However, to claim to know these things with the absolute certainty claimed by the author is to claim insight into the very mind of God, including His specific purposes and plans for America in this generation. Although one might speculate and form opinions, these things cannot be known for sure unless God were to personally reveal them. So, does the author believe he has received this necessary revelation? And if so, is he right? Is God using him as a prophet? Has God given him special insight into an ancient mystery? Has God truly shown him that his confidence in the veracity of his conclusions and interpretation is justified? Or does his message amount to nothing more than speculation? Fact or fiction?
The Mystery of Isaiah 9:10: A Direct Link between Israel and America?
The author denies that he is arguing for a direct connection between Israel and America and maintains that the passage only demonstrates a pattern of God’s judgment. Likewise, he concludes that recent events in America, beginning with 9/11, are only parallels to that specific pattern. Yet, in multiple places the book gives the very clear impression that these are more than simply parallels and that a direct connection does exist. Based on what is clearly stated in the book, it is difficult to conclude that this is not precisely what Cahn intended to convey at the time. The following are just a few of the numerous examples.
[Ana Goren] “How could an ancient mystery have anything to do with September 11?”
[Nouriel Kaplan] “An ancient mystery behind everything from 9/11 to the economy . . . to the housing boom . . . to the war in Iraq . . . to the collapse of Wall Street. Everything in precise detail.”11
[The Prophet] “The Assyrians are the fathers of terrorism, and those who mercilessly plotted out the calamity on 9/11 were their spiritual children, another link in the mystery joining America to ancient Israel.”12
[Kaplan] “So if the ancient mystery is joined to America, then somehow 9/11 has to be linked to the words ‘We will rebuild.’” 13
[The Prophet] “Well done, Nouriel. So what would we expect to find in Washington DC?”
[Kaplan] “Some link between this city and the ancient vow,” I said. “Somehow Isaiah 9:10 has to be connected to Washington DC.”14
[The Prophet] “And all referring to America’s campaign to defy the calamity of 9/11, as he links it all to the judgment of ancient Israel. 15
[The Prophet] “Solomon was the king of Israel. Washington was the first president of the United States. There was something in the linking of ancient Israel and America, as with all the other mysteries.”16
Cahn’s belief in a direct prophetic link between Isaiah 9:10 and the United States could not be more clear. As such, the author’s theory about this direct connection unambiguously forms the “factual” basis for the entire story.
The Mystery of Isaiah 9:10: A Driving Force?
Not only does Cahn seem to believe that there is a connection, but he also presents Isaiah’s words as functioning as a driving force in specific events in America over the last decade, set into motion by the attacks of 9/11. According to The Prophet, because of the link between Isaiah 9:10 and Israel, once the pattern is set into motion, each step of the progression must inevitably take place.17
The cause/effect relationship is also confirmed in his The 700 Club interview on January 3, 2012:
[The mystery] even has determined the actions and the actual words of American leaders. A mystery that goes back two and a half thousand years and is a warning of judgment and a call of God—a prophetic call of God.18
This comes perilously close to being a mystical view of the prophetic Scriptures because biblical prophecies do not function this way. Any prophecy as specific as Isaiah 9:10 also has a unique, specific future referent in view which sets parameters and limits on what constitutes literal fulfillment. That what is being suggested about Isaiah 9:10 sounds more like a sort of mystical incantation than a prophecy is reinforced when the author introduces the idea of “The Isaiah 9:10 Effect” later in chapter 15.
Undoubtedly, Jonathan Cahn did not intend to give this impression. But he would not be the first person to unintentionally confuse genuinely spiritual approaches with unbiblical and dangerous mystical ones.
America: A New Israel?
In the April 4 discussion, as well as in email correspondence, the author has stated that he does not believe that America is the “New Israel” or has replaced Israel in God’s program. However, a number of exchanges between The Prophet and Nouriel Kaplan could easily leave The Harbinger’s readers with a different impression. The Prophet builds the case for the connection by referencing the thinking and intentions of America’s founders:
[The Prophet] But there was one other—a civilization also conceived and dedicated to the will of God from its conception . . . America. In fact, those who laid its foundations . . .”
[Kaplan] “The Founding Fathers.”
[The Prophet] “No, long before the Founding Fathers. Those who laid America’s foundations saw it as the new Israel, an Israel of the New World. And as it was with ancient Israel, they saw it as in covenant with God.”19
Although the author denies this, the argument of the book seems to specifically depend on the idea that America’s founders and early leaders had indeed established the nation to be in a covenant relationship with God similar to that of ancient Israel. If it were not for this belief there would be no book. However, God established a covenant relationship with only one nation through His covenant with Abraham. Abraham entered into the covenant by faith, forever establishing Israel as a unique nation in a unique relationship with God that would be enjoyed by no other nation.
While The Harbinger does not state that God has completely rejected national Israel, there is no reference to either modern-day or future Israel at all. This is a significant omission because the sense one gets from the book is that Israel had failed to heed the warnings of the prophet and was subsequently permanently annihilated. This impression is compounded by the fact that there is no mention of Isaiah 9:1-7 (as noted earlier).
Granted, it is beyond the scope of The Harbinger to present a fully-developed eschatology. However, all we know from the story is that ancient Israel did not repent and was therefore destroyed. The story then jumps to the vision the founders had for America to be the New Israel. Again, this gives the impression that Israel met its final end, which is precisely the warning the author is communicating to America if there is no repentance.
The Ancient Mystery: The Nine Harbingers
As previously noted, the fictional part of the story centers around a “mystery” connected with nine small, engraved clay discs.[20.Page 9.] The original purpose of the nine seals was to warn the Northern Kingdom of Israel of progressive stages in God’s judgment as prophesied in Isaiah 9:10.
“The bricks have fallen down,
But we will rebuild with hewn stones;
The sycamores have been cut down,
But we will replace them with cedars.” 20
The nine seals were “harbingers” of impending events in the passage that would take place if Israel did not heed them as warnings— events which would ultimately lead to a catastrophic final judgment resulting in Israel’s total destruction and collapse. And although the nine seals are only part of the fictional narrative, they do represent nine actual “harbingers” or signs which the author believes he has identified in the Isaiah passage. He also believes that he has discovered an ancient mystery—a pattern of judgment represented by these signs, that is being manifested once again in the United States of America. This is what the author means when he writes, “…what is contained within the story is real.”
NOTE: A thorough treatment of all nine harbingers is being included in a book-length response to The Harbinger by this author. Each of the nine harbingers has problems comparable to those discussed in this review.
The First Harbinger: The Breach
Concerning Israel: God’s removal of his “hedge of protection” which allowed the Assyrians to attack
Concerning America: God’s removal of his hedge of protection which directly led to the breach of America’s security, providing an opening for the terrorists to attack on 9/11
While God protects whomever, whenever and however He chooses, a “hedge of protection” is a very specific type of protection. Such protection is mentioned only twice in the Old Testament: once in Satan’s accusation against God concerning Job (Job 1:10) and once concerning the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:5). In the New Testament, it appears in only one parable which is also about Israel (Matthew 21:33; Mark 12:1). There is no indication anywhere in Scripture that any other nation ever has or ever will be protected in this particular way.
In the absence of any scriptural support, how can it be claimed with any certainty that 9/11 marked the removal of God’s hedge of protection? Furthermore, even if God ever has provided such a hedge of protection around America, is it not possible to also argue that it is still in place? There has not been another terrorist attack since 9/11—even though the motivation, intent and plotting to launch more attacks has continued to the present.
Also, if America enjoyed God’s hedge of protection, then what about Pearl Harbor? Hawaii was an American territory and therefore the attack was against America and on American soil. The next year, the Japanese captured and occupied two Aleutian islands of the Alaska territory. In the War of 1812, Detroit was captured by the British and Washington D.C. was captured and burned. Mexico invaded Texas in the Mexican-American War. In 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed by foreign nationals with the intent of taking down both towers. Was God’s hedge of protection not in place when these breaches occurred? If not, when was it put into place or put back into place?
Third Harbinger: The Fallen Bricks
Concerning Israel: The bricks which were originally used to build the city walls
Concerning America: Bricks that fell from buildings when the World Trade Centers collapsed.
Fallen bricks meant the Northern Kingdom lay in ruins. However, as tragic as they were, the 9/11 attacks involved only a few buildings, not an entire city, let alone the entire nation. And although there had been an airport security breach, this was not a breach of America’s military defenses, even when the attack on the Pentagon is considered.
The pattern of forcing current events into the Isaiah 9:10 prophecy continues with the author’s discussion of the bricks themselves. The fallen bricks in ancient Israel were the ruins of a destroyed city, while fallen bricks were only incidental in the World Trade Center attacks. In fact, it has been suggested that it was the lack of masonry construction that allowed the collapse of the towers.21
Fourth Harbinger: The Tower
Concerning Israel: A spirit of defiance against God when Israel would declare that the destroyed city would be rebuilt
Concerning America: The declaration by America’s leaders that the destroyed towers would be rebuilt
On the fourth clay seal is the image of a tower which is described as looking like the Tower of Babel. With nothing in the text about a tower (more on this later), how does this fit in? In the story, it is connected with a “spirit of defiance” which prompts the declaration by ancient Israel to rebuild the leveled city with hewn stone—and in the case of the WTCs, to rebuild a tower at Ground Zero.
Israel knew that the Assyrian attacks were a judgment they had brought upon themselves. When they declared that they would rebuild, they were shaking their fists in defiance of both their enemies and their God.
This is not what happened in the wake of 9/11. Yet, in both the book and the documentary by World Net Daily, the author attempts to build the case that America’s leaders were proudly and arrogantly acting in defiance against God when they spoke of rebuilding (even though they didn’t realize it).22 This is very misleading because although standing in defiance of America’s enemies, they were demonstrably not standing in defiance of God.
The explanation of the ninth harbinger seems even more misleading. In the book, Cahn gives the impression that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle concluded a speech on 9/12/2001 by quoting Isaiah 9:10.23 But, that was not the end of the speech. In the documentary by World Net Daily, Cahn specifically states that Daschle closes the speech with, “That is what we will do and we will rebuild, and we will recover.”24 However, this is not how the speech ended. There were two more sentences not shown in the documentary:
The people of America will stand together because the people of America have always stood together, and those of us who are privileged to serve this great nation will stand with you. God bless the people of America.25
By invoking God and thinking he was comforting Americans by using the Bible (albeit wrongly), his intent was clearly not defiance against God—it was exactly the opposite. To fail to include or mention his last two sentences is very misleading.
On September 11, 2004, then vice-presidential candidate John Edwards was speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus Prayer Breakfast. Cahn attempts to frame his speech as another unwitting act of defiance against God. However, an honest reading of the speech26 shows that defiance of God was the furthest thing from his mind.
However, he explains that both Daschle and Edwards were defying God without realizing it. In spite of their intentions, Cahn postulates that God was inspiring them to unknowingly pronounce judgment upon America.27
But how does he know that God is inspiring America’s leaders to prophecy? Unfortunately, he presents his speculation as fact. This is undoubtedly not part of the fictional storyline.
The author attempts to defend his theory by referencing Caiaphas, who unwittingly prophesied concerning the death of Christ (John 11:49-52) Cahn concludes that Daschle and Edwards intended to say one thing, but their words carried a far different meaning. However, that is not what happened with Caiaphas. His words were inspired to mean exactly what he intended. He just didn’t know how right he actually was. Once again, the author’s exposition of the biblical text does not stand up to scrutiny and the supposed parallel is simply not there.
Finally, Cahn appeals to the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) to bring the idea of a tower into Isaiah 9:10. The Septuagint has “let us build for ourselves a tower.”28 However, this phrase is not in the Hebrew text.
Furthermore, he doesn’t inform his readers that in contrast to the Hebrew text, the Septuagint indicates that it is Israel that cuts down the sycamores. And rather than planting cedars, they, too, are cut down—apparently for the purpose of building the tower. So, the Septuagint eliminates the sixth and seventh harbingers. It is extremely misleading and ethically questionable to pick one phrase out of a translation in order to prove a point when the passage as a whole has a very different meaning.
The Isaiah 9:10 Effect
The Harbinger is roughly divided into two major parts. Chapters 1-13 lay a foundation for the author’s arguments as he attempts to correlate the nine harbingers of Isaiah 9:10 with events of the last decade in America as evidence for the first wave of God’s judgment. In the second part of the book, chapters 14-22, Cahn presents a second wave of God’s judgment, a “second shaking,” as a final warning of impending severe judgment if America persists on its present path and refuses to repent. The “Isaiah 9:10 Effect” is introduced in chapter 15 and is used to explain the second shaking, which is the collapse of the entire American economy. The Prophet explains the Isaiah 9:10 Effect as follows:
“The attempt of a nation to defy the course of its judgment, apart from repentance, will, instead, set in motion a chain of events to bring about the very calamity it sought to avert.”29
Thus, the Isaiah 9:10 Effect is presented as having prophetic force, going far beyond a simple parallel or pattern. Cahn believes that the Isaiah 9:10 Effect is what has driven the course of events since the 9/11 terrorist attacks:
[Kaplan] “And they connect 9/11 to the economic collapse?”
[The Prophet] “Not only do they connect them . . . they determined them . . . down to the time each would take place.”
[Kaplan] “An ancient mystery?”
[The Prophet] “Yes, an ancient mystery upon which the global economy and every transaction within it was determined, a mystery that begins more than three thousand years ago in the sands of a Middle Eastern desert.”
Thus, the Isaiah 9:10 Effect is presented as an inviolable principle that once set in motion, the corresponding prescribed outcome is inevitable. Furthermore, it is discussed as if it were completely biblical, yet nothing even remotely similar to this theoretical principle is mentioned or implied anywhere in the Word of God.
The theory of the Isaiah 9:10 effect also raises an obvious, but very important question: Are there any other prophetic passages in the Old Testament that also function in a similar way? How many other prophecies directed to Israel can be correlated to historical events in the United States? Is there also a “Genesis 12:1-3 Effect?”—or a “Joshua 1:6 Effect?” Are such principles to be found throughout the Old Testament or is Isaiah 9:10 the only such passage (which would seem unlikely if the Isaiah 9:10 Effect were true)?
The bottom line is this: If a theological idea cannot be supported by the Bible, then someone simply made it up. Unfortunately, this is precisely the nature of the Isaiah 9:10 Effect—it is made up.
The Shemitah as a Mystery
In the Law God commanded that every seventh year Israel must allow the land to completely rest with no harvesting, reaping or any other work in the fields. In addition, all who owed money to creditors were to be released from their debts (Deut. 15:1-2). This was the Shemitah (or “release” in Hebrew).
Humanly speaking, the Shemitah should be crippling for any nation that attempted to practice it. However, Israel was not just any nation. It was the one special nation God had raised up to be His chosen people. God would demonstrate His love and faithfulness to Israel by providing enough in the sixth year to meet the nation’s needs the following year. Conversely, Israelites would demonstrate their faith in God as individuals and as a nation by obeying the command to keep the Shemitah and trusting Him for the results.
The author correctly has The Prophet stating that the Shemitah was never given to nor binding upon any nation other than Israel.30 However, in an apparent contradiction, he also believes that hidden in the Shemitah is a mystery that is now affecting the United States31—a mystery that extends to even the precise timing of events to the day.32 He argues that God has imposed a Shemitah upon the United States as He did when Israel had turned from Him and failed to voluntarily observe the Shemitah for centuries. In what seems to be an attempt to mitigate this contradiction, he presents the Shemitah as a principle as he did the Isaiah 9:10 Effect. Yet, as is true of the Isaiah 9:10 Effect, Scripture nowhere presents the Shemitah as either a mystery or a pattern or a universal principle connected with God’s judgment.
The Shemitah as a Principle
In order to lay a foundation for the argument that the Shemitah is a principle, the author makes the following assertion through the words of Nouriel Kaplan: “Seven years—the biblical period of time that concerns a nation’s financial and economic realms.”33 While Israel was on a seven-year cycle as required by God, this statement further suggests that the Bible indicates that seven years represent a natural economic cycle in general. However, once again, there are no biblical passages to support this idea.
Furthermore, extensive internet research does not reveal any uniform conventional wisdom or consensus among economists or financial experts that seven years is a natural economic or financial cycle (although apparently it has been suggested a couple of times). Things are said about various cycles that range from three to ten years, but cycles of specifically and exactly seven years apparently do not exist. And, yet, the Shemitah was precise to the exact day.
Cahn’s theory that the Shemitah is a principle thus appears to be yet another example of speculation raised to the level of fact, which is once again misleading. Yet, the second half of the book is built on this theory.
The Shemitah as a Sign
According to Cahn, the Shemitah is not only a principle, but is also a sign which is “given to a nation that has driven God out of its life and replaced Him with idols and the pursuit of gain. The issue is the Shemitah as a sign of judgment, the sign that specifically touches a nation’s financial and economic realms.”34
However, if the Shemitah is genuinely a sign from God, then it is a predictor of things to come because a biblical sign is revelatory. Therefore, if God warns that judgment will come through a particular set of events, when those events begin to happen they signify that the prophesied judgment is underway. On the other hand, in the absence of such a prophetic warning, even if identical events happen, it cannot be known with any certainty that God is executing judgment. For example, even though God judged Egypt through a locust plague, that another region of the world also experiences a swarm of locusts does not necessarily mean that those people are under judgment.
Because the Word of God does not give the required prophetic warning concerning America and the Shemitah, there is no Scriptural basis to interpret recent events as a sign that God is imposing a Shemitah as judgment upon the nation.
The Shemitah and America
What, then, could bring someone to suggest any sort of connection between the Shemitah and America? The only potential explanation would seem to be that the author, in some sense, believes the founders were right about America being in covenant with God, even if not as a new Israel per se, at least patterned after Israel’s covenantal relationship with Him. This is not to suggest that Cahn believes that national Israel has been replaced and has no future in God’s program. Unfortunately, there seems to be a significant disconnect between what the author says he believes about this and the ideas he presents in the book.
The Case for the Shemitah
The examples Cahn uses to demonstrate that America is going through an imposed Shemitah feel contrived. In contrast, the Shemitah in ancient Israel was simple. The Israelites were not to work the land and the wealthy lenders were required to forgive the debts owed to them by average people. When God imposed the Shemitah on Israel, He forced them to stop working the land completely by taking the nation into captivity. And, as captives, the wealthy were brought down to the level of their debtors and the financial system completely collapsed. The imposed Shemitah was not simply a sign, it was the judgment itself. It meant utter devastation. Almost everyone lost almost everything.
Since the situation with America has been significantly different, the author must go to great lengths in an attempt to support his interpretation of both the Bible and history. He has clearly done extensive research and has assembled an impressive array of facts and figures. Because he writes and speaks with conviction and authority, he makes a case that initially seems compelling—and one that has persuaded a lot of people that he is right.
However, upon closer examination, little of what is presented concerning America remotely resembles the Shemitah imposed by God upon ancient Israel. The first major component of the imposed Shemitah, forcing the land to lay completely fallow, has no contemporary parallel, even if possible economic modern-day equivalents are considered. Nothing in this regard indicates that an imposed Shemitah might be underway.
An analysis of the other major component, concerning credit and debt, reveals that the parallels proposed by the author are not much closer. He draws his support almost exclusively from the failure of a few large financial institutions and the response of the federal government. He cites four corporations.: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG.
However, this doesn’t follow “the ancient pattern.” Ancient Israel was overrun by a foreign army with everything of value either destroyed or taken. In sharp contrast, even though the U.S. and global economy has gone through a serious contraction and certainly many have been hurt, it has not been even close to the scale, relatively speaking, of the utter devastation that occurred in Israel.
As the author rightly notes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were rescued by the federal government when the Federal Financial Housing Authority placed them under conservatorship. They did not collapse.35
When Lehman Brothers filed the largest bankruptcy in history after being denied a federal bailout, the U.S. and world markets were rattled for weeks. However, the analysis in the book includes overstatements and what feels like spin in the effort to find support. Although The Prophet states that the fall of Lehman Brothers triggered the implosion of the American and global economies,36 the fact is that they did not implode. They were seriously shocked, even damaged, but they did not collapse.
Unfortunately, because the failure was staggering in terms of dollars ($639 billion in assets and $619 billion in debt),37 the reader’s initial reaction might be that the author has made his case on this point—but he has not. If both the assets and debt of Lehman Brothers, at $1.25 trillion are added together, this represents only an extremely small percentage of the world economy. Even when compared to just the American economy, which has an estimated value of $188 trillion in assets,38 it comes out to only about 0.6%—a far cry from what happened when God judged Israel and imposed a Shemitah.
The author continues to try to build his case by citing the September 29, 2008 stock market crash as the “greatest single-day stock market crash in Wall Street history.”39 However, in only one place does the author note that it was the biggest drop in terms of points not in terms of percentage. At the same time, he repeats over and over that it was the “biggest crash in Wall Street history.” The fact is that at just 7%, the drop in the Dow Jones industrial average did not even rank in the top ten.40
To be fair, the Dow did drop a total of about 25% in the two weeks following the defeat of the bailout bill in the U.S. Congress on September 29. Once again, however, this does not rank in the same league as the market collapse in 1929 when it fell 48% in just over two months. By the time the crash had run its course, stocks had lost 90% of their value.41 Was God imposing a Shemitah in 1929? What about the other major market crashes that are in the top ten?
Even the above examples do not exhaust the numerous overstatements in this section, but they do give a sense of just how statistics can be used to prove almost anything.
King Solomon and George Washington
Confirmation of the Israel-America link
As previously noted, Kaplan, the journalist, has a dream about the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem under king Solomon (chapter 19). Although the author has said that this dream is simply part of the fictional storyline, it seems unlikely that there is not a specific reason behind connecting Solomon and George Washington given what is in the previous eighteen chapters. Why does Solomon transform into George Washington on the Temple Mount? This suggests that Cahn does, in fact, believe that there is much more than some superficial parallelism between the establishment of ancient Israel and the establishment of the United States as an independent nation.
Although preceded by kings Saul and David, it was Solomon who built and dedicated the temple. This finalized the establishment of Israel as a nation because it was then that God came to dwell among His people once again—not in a temporary tent, but in a permanent structure. So, too, the inauguration of George Washington finalized the establishment of the United States as a nation. The factual message that Cahn believes he is communicating through this fictional literary device is unmistakable (and not too surprising).
At this point, it would seem difficult for the author to continue to deny that he has clearly connected ancient Israel and America together. In fact, that he believes they are linked is stated explicitly in the book:
[Kaplan] “Solomon was the king of Israel. Washington was the first president of the United States. There was something in the linking of ancient Israel and America, as with all the other mysteries.”42
Mosaic or Abrahamic Covenant?
Also, despite denials to the contrary, Cahn seems to affirm, once again, that America is in a covenant relationship with God. As part of his explanation of the dream, The Prophet says, “The nation’s ground of consecration will become its ground of judgment.”43 A few pages later, Kaplan has traced the consecration of the United States to God’s purposes to the first capital, New York City—and more specifically to St. Paul’s Chapel, “The place where America was dedicated to God”44—which is located at Ground Zero.
In other words, a harbinger had been manifested in America, just as it had been in Israel. The place of Israel’s consecration, the temple, was destroyed, while the place of America’s dedication, Ground Zero, was also destroyed. Immediately following the above quote, The Prophet continues: “The Temple Mount represented the nation’s covenant with God. So its destruction was the ultimate sign that the covenant was broken.” In other words, the destruction of the place of consecration was a sign that the nation’s covenant with God had been broken—both Israel’s covenant and America’s covenant.
By insisting on pressing every detail as he has, Cahn has either tipped his hand as to what he really believes or has made a serious mistake that needs to be corrected because no one could come to any other conclusion but that he is saying Israel and the United States are both God’s chosen covenant nations. When combined with the fact that he only refers to Israel’s destruction, but never its restoration as modern-day Israel or its future hope as the center of the Messianic Kingdom, he gives the unmistakable impression that America actually does constitute a new Israel.
Another serious question is that of precisely which covenant was broken? Was it the Mosaic Covenant or the Abrahamic Covenant? The foundation of America has been in view throughout the book, but it was upon the foundation of the Abrahamic Covenant that the nation of Israel was established. If Cahn is somehow proposing that Israel managed to break the Abrahamic Covenant, then that means God is finished with national Israel. If that is not what he is suggesting, then The Harbinger needs to undergo some serious revisions to clear up the theological confusion caused by this ambiguity.
Confirmation of prophecy to America
In chapter 20, the author once again demonstrates that there is a discrepancy between what he now says he meant in the book and what he actually wrote. He emphatically denies that Isaiah’s prophecy is to America. However, he explicitly states that there is a prophetic word from Solomon to America:
[The Prophet] “So the message is twofold. There’s another part to it, another prophetic word, and this time from King Solomon.”
[Kaplan] “From King Solomon to America?”
[The Prophet] “For that nation that has turned from God, for that nation from which the smiles of heaven have been withdrawn.”
[Kaplan] “And this word came during the dedication of the Temple?” I asked.
[The Prophet] “It came when the dedication was finished”45
Preparing for Eternity
As stated in the beginning of this review, the author is to be commended for his desire to proclaim a message of repentance to America. His target audience is believers and unbelievers alike, which is one reason he chose to use the fictional format. He also rightly notes that national repentance can only take place at a personal level, when people individually turn to God. Because of this, chapter 21, “Eternity,” is arguably the most important one in the book. The challenge to be spiritually prepared for the day of judgment is quite clear as The Prophet states: “And no one is exempt. Each must stand before Him.46
Unfortunately, there are some issues which diminish the impact this chapter could have. A believer, or even an unbeliever who already understands the gospel would understand what the author is talking about. However, there are a few things which are either not stated, are unclear or require the reader to “connect-the-dots”—a difficult task without some prior exposure to Christianity.
Although the author does present the idea that Jesus is God in one place in the dialogue,47 it could be easily missed by an unbeliever. Neither is Jesus identified as “the Son of God.”
The book does talk about God putting himself in our place, “In our life, in our death, in our judgment . . . the sacrifice”48 which is a very good statement. However, while the Cross at Ground Zero is mentioned, the connection with Jesus and what He did is not. What is not clearly stated is that Jesus died on the cross, shedding His blood for our sins.
It was Jesus’ death that secured the forgiveness of sin and it is His resurrection that provides the sure hope of eternal life. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 that Jesus’ resurrection is an essential component of the gospel and in Romans 10:9 that one must believe in His resurrection to be saved. However, there is no mention of the resurrection in The Harbinger.
As previously noted, Isaiah 9:10 is in the context of one of the most important messianic passages in the Bible. Yet, the problem of not mentioning Jesus’ resurrection is compounded by the fact that His return is not mentioned either. Although Cahn repeatedly emphasizes the danger of coming judgment, nowhere does he tie it to the Second Coming of Christ. Neither does he mention the hope of the peace that will come to the earth during Christ’s rule over the promised millennial kingdom.
Cahn describes what someone must do to be saved:
[The Prophet] “By receiving . . . by letting go . . . by letting the old life end and a new one begin. By choosing . . . by opening your heart to receive that which is beyond containing—the presence . . . the mercy . . . the forgiveness . . . the cleansing . . . the unending love of God.”49
However, it is never explained that it is by simple faith that one “receives, lets go, chooses or opens one’s heart.” Neither faith in Christ, nor believing in Christ, nor trusting in Christ for one’s salvation are ever discussed. Someone with no biblical background would not understand what The Prophet means when he speaks of partaking in the infinite sacrifice.50 Unfortunately, the gospel is almost obscured in the midst of the many words, while things which could have made it much more clear are missing.
The Tenth Seal
In addition to the nine harbinger seals, there is a tenth, which is Kaplan’s personal seal. In the last chapter of the book, which deals with the tenth seal, the author seems to reveal the connection between himself and Nouriel Kaplan. It actually seems likely that Kaplan is Jonathan Cahn himself.
Kaplan is Jewish, as is the author. Kaplan is from the priestly line of Levi, as is the author. Kaplan becomes a messianic believer in Christ, as is the author. Kaplan has been given a prophetic message by God, as the author apparently believes is true of himself. Kaplan is commissioned and anointed to become a prophet himself, just as many are saying of the author. Kaplan is to be a “watchman on the wall” to warn of impending judgment, just as the author sees himself. And finally, Kaplan is encouraged to get out the message by writing a fictional novel, as has the author.
Jonathan Cahn wrote The Harbinger to call America to repent and turn to God, as well as to warn the nation that it is in danger of coming under the judgment of God if it fails to do so. This is a legitimate and very important message. He also rightly recognizes that the danger faced by the nation is ultimately a personal spiritual matter for each American.
This message could have been communicated in any number of ways, including through a fictional novel. That is not the main problem. The real problem arises from the way he has inappropriately handled the Word of God, from the many instances of speculation concerning the interpretation of historical events, and from the many overstatements and misleading statements he has made in order to make his case for an ancient mystery hidden in Isaiah 9:10.
Unfortunately, The Harbinger is a distraction from properly understanding the Word of God, particularly prophecy and so can legitimately be characterized as dangerous. It conveys what the author believes is a prophetic message, but the book clearly does not meet the tests for a prophetic Word from God. The Harbinger is misleading and therefore does not legitimately achieve what it sets out to do. Believers run the risk of embracing a misguided view of Scripture and a distorted view of history, while unbelievers will likely end up either skeptical or confused or both.
Cahn apparently anticipated that the book would encounter opposition, launching a “preemptive strike” against his critics:
[Kaplan] “They’ll do everything they can to attack and discredit it.”
[The Prophet] “Of course they will,” he said. “Otherwise they’d have to accept it.”
[Kaplan] “But not only the message.”
[The Prophet] “No, the messenger as well.”
[Kaplan] “They’ll do everything they can to attack and discredit the one who bears the message.”
[The Prophet] “Yes,” said the prophet. “The messenger will be opposed, vilified and hated, mocked and slandered. It has to be that way, just as it was for Jeremiah and Baruch.”51
To be clear, this reviewer is not an enemy of the Word of God or of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I accept the Bible as literally true and that all biblical prophecy will be fulfilled. I agree that America is truly on a dangerous path and could well find itself under God’s judgment, if that has not already begun. Americans do need to repent.
- Jonathan Cahn is the senior pastor of Jerusalem / Beth Israel Worship Center in Wayne, New Jersey. On the church’s website, it is suggested that Beth Israel is perhaps the largest Messianic congregation in the United States. He is generally referred to as “Rabbi.” ↩
- The Harbinger, from the back cover. ↩
- The Harbinger, p. v. ↩
- http://charismanews.com/us/32649-warning-book-to-america-debuts-on-two-new-york-times-best-seller-lists ↩
- As of April 23, 2012. http://www.amazon.com/The-Harbinger-ancient-mystery-Americas/dp/161638610X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid =1332454190&sr=8-1 ↩
- On April 4, 2012, Dr. Jimmy DeYoung moderated a discussion between Jonathan Cahn and this author which is available on the Prophecy Today website (www.prophecytoday.com) ↩
- http://www.sidroth.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=10457&news_iv_ctrl=0&abbr=tv_ (at the 8:21 mark) ↩
- http://www.amazon.com/The-Harbinger-ancient-mystery-Americas/dp/161638610X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332907071&sr=8-1 ↩
- Page v. ↩
- In the book, “The Prophet” is not capitalized, but it is capitalized here and elsewhere for clarity. ↩
- Page 3. ↩
- Page 38. ↩
- Page 61. ↩
- Page 104. ↩
- Page 109. ↩
- Page 195. ↩
- Page 141. ↩
- Beginning at the 2:15 minute mark: http://www.cbn.com/media/player/index.aspx?s=/mp4/SUB109_JonathanCahn_010312_WS ↩
- Pages 18-19. ↩
- Isaiah 9:10, NKJV ↩
- http://www.cement.org/masonry/pp_fire_towers.asp ↩
- At the 21:10 mark, DVD #1. ↩
- Page 117. ↩
- At the 44:38 mark, DVD #1. ↩
- http://wfile.ait.org.tw/wf-archive/2001/010913/epf407.htm ↩
- http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=84922#axzz1M02bgo9D ↩
- Page 117. ↩
- Page 66. ↩
- Page 136. ↩
- Page 159. ↩
- Page 159. ↩
- Page 161. ↩
- Page 161. ↩
- Page 159. ↩
- http://problembanklist.com/fhfa-conservators-report-why-fannie-mae-and-freddie-mac-failed-0183/ ↩
- Page 161. ↩
- http://www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/09/lehman-brothers-collapse.asp#axzz1sMPT0MMA ↩
- http://rutledgecapital.com/2009/05/24/total-assets-of-the-us-economy-188-trillion-134xgdp/ ↩
- Page 164. ↩
- http://money.cnn.com/2008/09/29/markets/markets_newyork/index.htm ↩
- http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/bierman.crash ↩
- Page 195. ↩
- Page 198. ↩
- Page 206. ↩
- Pages 221-222. ↩
- Page 227. ↩
- Page 232. ↩
- Page 232. ↩
- Page 233. ↩
- Page 232. ↩
- Page 251. ↩
For years there has been a discussion among missiologists and linguists concerning the proper translation of certain biblical passages into various languages in the Muslim world. Over the years, the discussion has turned into a debate and more recently into a full-blown controversy that has gained a lot of momentum over the last few weeks. The present controversy centers around specific decisions by Wycliffe Bible Translators, SIL International and Frontiers (an exclusively Muslim ministry) concerning the translation of the “Father-Son” (“divine familial”) language in a number of Bible versions created for the Muslim world.
Note: In the case of Frontiers, this issue was addressed in a 2007 article by Thomas Cosmades (a Turkish-born missionary and evangelist) where many other significant translation problems were noted.
As part of the groundswell of opposition to these changes, Biblical Missiology initiated a petition campaign aimed at trying to persuade the above-mentioned organizations to reconsider publishing these translations. It appears that in response to the petition, as well as concerns within those organization, Wycliffe and SIL have temporarily suspended their plans to approve their publication.
In recent weeks, the debate over the translation of the divine familial terms (words translated into English as Son of God, Son, and Father) has grown. It is the policy of Wycliffe USA that the literal translation of divine familial terms be given preference. If the accuracy of the meaning would be lost when using a literal translation, Wycliffe USA, along with SIL, has sought to provide clear guidance for the translation teams. It is this allowance, in rare cases, that is the point of debate. While Wycliffe USA believes this approach has allowed for accurate and clear translation of the divine familial terms, the concerns that have been raised in recent weeks deserve prayerful consideration.
(6 February 2012) In light of a number of questions raised about our Best Practices Statement on the translation of Divine Familial Terms, we recognize it is important to have a fuller dialogue with our many partners globally and benefit from their input to our approach in Scripture translation related to this issue. Since questions about our commitment to these translation principles have been raised, we will proactively engage to understand the concerns, clarify misunderstandings, and where indicated, adjust practice.
Therefore, SIL announces that as of today, February 6, 2012, in situations where we are involved and partnering with others in translation, and have the responsibility to do so, we will put on hold our approval of publication of translated Scripture around which this criticism is focused.
I have not found any indication that Frontiers USA has followed Wycliffe and SIL, and appear to be standing by the following statement:
When reached for comment, Frontier’s director Bob Blincoe defended the Turkish translation stating, “If it has the Turkish-Greek interlinear, it is faithful to the original Greek.” When pressed further how “protector” and “guardian” could be equivalent to “Father” and “proxy” and “representative” to the “Son” in the translation, he said, “It has the original Greek, it is true to the exact Gospel of Matthew.”
As part of the petition campaign, Biblical Missiology created an informative and well-written FAQ (published prior to the above statements by Wycliffe and SIL) that outlines the major issues and concerns surrounding this controversy. Below are extensive quotes from the article followed by my response to the matter of “culturally relevant/ sensitive translations” in general and “Son of God” specifically.
Years of private exhortations, meetings with agency leaders, internal dissent from agency staff including resignations over the issue, criticism and earnest appeals from national believers most affected by the translations, group discussions, conferences of proponents and critics, missiological articles, and church and denominational admonitions, have all failed to persuade these agencies to retain “Father” and “Son” in the text of all their translations.
In the summer of 2011, a group of Insider Movement advocates and critics met to openly and respectfully discuss their differences. The issue of Muslim Idiom Translation was a major focus. At that conference, there were hopeful signs that progress had been made, including a commitment to faithfully translate familial terms. Then three things happened in the fall of 2011 to dispel those hopes. First, Wycliffe/SIL issued policy statements allowing the use of alternative terms. Second, Wycliffe/SIL leaders published an article that presented their rationale for these changes. Third, Wycliffe/SIL demonstrated their commitment to this translation practice by posting an online version of Frontiers’ translation of Matthew, which replaces “Father” with “guardian” and “Son” with “representative.”
As reported in Christianity Today, an SIL meeting in Istanbul resulted in a Best Practices statement that said translations “should promote understanding” of the term “Son of God.” It did not, however, include the more objective requirement that the term is translated faithfully and accurately in the text of the Bible. Lest there be any doubt that alternative language is permissible, the same sentence added, “while avoiding any possible implication of sexual activity by God” (emphasis added).
Wycliffe’s Translation Standards indicate that in Muslim contexts “where it has been demonstrated that a literal translation of ‘Son of God’ would communicate wrong meaning, an alternative form with equivalent meaning may be used.” Who decides what a “wrong meaning” of “Son of God” is? The reader? The translator? Why not translate the term accurately and faithfully, and offer explanation as needed? Further, the examples of an “alternative form with equivalent meaning” to “Son of God” deeply trouble us. For example, the controversial Turkish translation uses “representative of God” rather than “Son of God,” thus failing to convey Jesus’ deity and the familial relationship of a father to his son.
For years, SIL Translation Consultant Rick Brown has been publishing articles promoting alternative terms for “Father” and “Son,” arguing, for example, that “Muslims have heard that Christians call Jesus the ‘offspring of God,’ and this has been presented to them repeatedly as exhibit A in the case against Christianity and its ‘corruption’ of the Bible. So there is a dire need to correct these misunderstandings and to invalidate the accusation in a timely manner. This can be done in communications of every sort, but by all means it should be done in the Scriptures” (emphasis added)
In the Turkish text of Matthew, “Son” is rendered as “representative” or “proxy,” and “Father” is translated as “protector” or “guardian.” Turkish Christian leader Thomas Cosmades expressed in a 2007 letter his deep concerns of the Frontiers translation, describing it as a “lamentable and hazardous wager.” While the Frontiers translation had been produced years ago in hardcopy, it was SIL’s decision to post it online that confirmed their commitment to publishing Bible translations that remove “Father” and “Son” from the text.
Wycliffe/SIL justify using alternative terms to Father and Son because they say Muslims cannot hear these terms in relationship to God without inferring that God had sex with Mary, a blasphemous notion in Islam—and Christianity as well. There are at least two problems with this justification: it is not true and it is not biblical. The justification is not true in that native speakers of Arabic, Turkish, Bangla, and other languages say their words for “Father” and “Son” do not have these sexual implications—and certainly not any more than other languages.
Other Arabic speakers reject the notion that their commonly used terms are inadequate. As Jihan Husary says, “Arabic is my native language so I can affirm that there is no valid reason to change those terms in Arabic.”
Regardless of whatever is actually said in the footnotes—which itself has been controversial—our focus is that in various ways, “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” do not appear in the text of some translations.
In late January 2012, SIL released a statement saying, “SIL restates emphatically: SIL does not support the removal of the divine familial terms, ‘Son of God’ or ‘God the Father’ but rather requires that Scripture translation must communicate clear understanding of these terms.” On a first reading, that sounds acceptable. But given other statements that explicitly allow alternative terms, SIL likely means that in some cases they will relegate the terms to the footnotes or introductions. To us, that is still removing them from the text. Note that rather than explicitly committing to keep “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” in the text, they instead promise to “communicate clear understanding of these terms.” That is a subjective commitment that in practice has led to translations such as Matthew 28:19 in Arabic, “Cleanse them with water in the name of God, the Messiah and the Holy Spirit,” which is not a faithful or accurate translation of the verse.
When reached for comment, Frontiers’ director Bob Blincoe defended the Turkish translation stating, “If it has the Turkish-Greek interlinear, it is faithful to the original Greek.” When pressed further how “protector” and “guardian” could be equivalent to “Father,” and “proxy” and “representative” could be equivalent to “Son,” Blincoe said, “It has the original Greek, it is true to the exact Gospel of Matthew.”  We disagree. Attaching an interlinear (a separate document matching Turkish words with biblical Greek) still leaves the Turkish text replacing “Father” with “guardian.” Senior Turkish pastors and Christian leaders opposing the translation have signed the petition, including Engin Duran who says, “I am a Turkish Pastor and I don’t wan’t to use this wrong translation in my church. How dare they can publish such a wrong translation and distribute it in my country? Already Muslims in my country believe that the Bible is changed by men and these mission agencies are making it harder for us!”
The reaction of national Christians is overwhelmingly and strongly negative. Bangladeshi Christians have produced a short video expressing their concerns. On February 8, 2012, the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan wrote a letter to “Christian leaders and believers worldwide” criticizing SIL and Wycliffe’s translation practices and “justifications for the sake of convenient translations.” Additionally, church leaders in places like Iran, Turkey, and Malaysia have called for an end to these translations, but to no avail.
Further research reveals that the above may only be the tip of the iceberg:
According to Joshua Lingel of i2 Ministries, “Even more dramatic a change is the Arabic and Bangla (Bangladesh) translations. In Arabic, Bible translations err by translating ‘Father’ as ‘Lord.’ ‘Guardian.’ ‘Most High’ and ‘God.” In Bangla, ‘Son of God’ is mistranslated ‘Messiah of God’ consistent with the Quran’s Isa al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah), which references the merely human Jesus. [source]
According to reports, of the roughly 200 translation projects Wycliffe/SIL linguists have undertaken in Muslim contexts, about 30 or 40 remove the terms father and son with reference to God and Jesus. [source]
The Commendable Work That Has Been Done
The Lord has unquestionably used Wycliffe, SIL and Frontiers for decades to reach untold numbers for Christ through their tireless efforts to get the Word of God into the “heart language” of great numbers in largely unreached people groups. I am inexpressibly thankful for these organizations and for the individual missionaries who in so many cases have forsaken all to follow the Lord in faithful obedience to the Great Commission. I would not want anything I write to be misconstrued as disparaging in any way the ministry that has been accomplished for Christ or impugning the motives of anyone either individually or collectively. My intention is not to be critical of these men and women of God, but it is rather to offer a critique of a philosophy of ministry and of methods that may flow from that philosophy.
Response to Culturally-Sensitive Translations and Changing Familial Terms
Pragmatic versus biblical approaches
Over the past 10-20 years, it seems that there has been a broad shift toward pragmatic approaches to philosophy of ministry, and away from thoroughly biblical ones. More than once, I have heard the catch-phrase, “Whatever it takes!” as a sort of ministry motto.
Of course, this idea flows from a very sincere desire to reach the world with the gospel and the truth of God’s Word. I would suggest, however, that somewhere along the line, “whatever it takes” has undergone a shift away from “whatever the cost” to “whatever works.”
This is not simply a matter of semantics – it represents a paradigm shift. If “whatever it takes” takes on the pragmatic meaning of “whatever works,” it simply doesn’t work as a philosophical foundation. For example, lying often actually works, i.e., it can be used to achieve a desired outcome, but it is obviously not a commendable method. The same can be said of many things that sometimes work (even if temporarily) such as cheating, robbery, violence, etc.
And unfortunately, pragmatism’s philosophical twin is the idea that “the end justifies the means.”
Combined together, the argument for a culturally-sensitive philosophy of translation for “familial terms” related to the Father and Jesus might go as follows:
- We are called to make disciples of all nations.
- Because the eternal destiny of individuals is at stake, nothing is more important than seeing them trust Christ for salvation.
- However, some cultures, because of unique customs, worldviews, and religions find certain aspects of Christianity inherently objectionable, making them extremely resistant to “normal” methods of ministry.
- Therefore, in order to effectively penetrate these people groups with the gospel, we must find ways to overcome, minimize or otherwise get past their objections by using methods and means that are culturally sensitive.
- When trying to reach Muslims with the gospel, we must find ways to translate “familial” terms in a way that adequately describes the relationship between the Father and Jesus, while not offending their cultural / religious sensibilities in way which can cause them to reject the gospel out-of-hand.
- The substitution of familial terms in these passages has essentially no substantive impact on the overall meaning being communicated by the biblical authors. (This will be questioned later.)
- Reports from missionaries in the Islamic world indicate that Muslims are much more receptive to the gospel and the teachings of Christianity in general once these terminology obstacles have been removed – and that many are coming to Christ largely because of these culturally-sensitive translations.
- The translators, organizations and missionaries using these translations are in no way denying the deity of Christ or that Jesus is the Son of God, so there are no fundamental theological compromises or changes taking place at the personal or organizational level.
- Whatever concerns and objections might be raised concerning such culturally-sensitive translations pale in comparison to the overwhelming positive results of seeing multitudes of Muslims turn to Christ.
As one missiologist, Rick Brown (who has worked in Africa and Asia since 1977), puts it in a February 2010 interview with Christianity Today:
“Missionaries can live in a Muslim culture for decades, blaming Muslims for being ‘resistant’ to the gospel, when the problem actually lies with linguistic and cultural stumbling blocks,” Brown told Christianity Today. “Once these are removed, many Muslims are quite open and interested in knowing more about Jesus.
The question that must be raise, however, is whether these arguments legitimately justify implementing this particular culturally-sensitive approach to translation?
Objections by Middle East Pastors and Christian Leaders
If we’re going to attempt some sort of contextualization in any cross-cultural context – particularly when it involves translation issues – we need to listen carefully to the born-again believers in that culture, and especially to those whom the Lord has entrusted with ministry responsibilities.
As reported in Christianity Today (“The Son and the Crescent”), Georges Houssney founder-director of Horizons International (a ministry to Muslims), was asked in 1974 to contextualize an Arabic translation by using terms from the Koran. Pastors and Christian leaders throughout the Middle East reacted vigorously (sometimes threatening violence) to a 32-page test booklet which combined the birth narratives of Jesus from Matthew and Luke. In this version, “Son of God” was translated “beloved of God.”
He visited dozens of pastors throughout the Middle East and asked why they objected so strongly. They offered several reasons. They saw the booklet’s terminology as conceding too much to Islam. It threatened to confuse both Muslims and Christians, especially new believers who struggled to adjust to a more literal translation used in churches. They believed it would embolden Muslim apologists who teach that the Bible has been tainted due to translations that differ in significant ways.
Others pastors said Muslim apologists would notice that translators had borrowed phrases from the Qur’an and would claim that this proved the Qur’an’s superiority to the Bible. Or that Muslims would regard the translation as a nefarious plot to dupe Muslims into reading the Bible.
Finally, pastors noted that a translator who adopts words from the Qur’an risks leading readers to import their prior understandings to the Bible. In other words, if the Bible calls Jesus Isa, Muslims may associate him with the Qur’an’s account, which denies that he died on the cross, for example. Houssney eventually released a more literal translation.
Inspiration, Inerrancy, Infallibility, Sufficiency, Authority
These five inseparably-linked concepts form a logical progression that speaks directly to this issue.
The biblical view of inspiration is that process by which the Holy Spirit carried along the biblical writers to faithfully, accurately and completely write the very words of God. (This does not imply any sort of dictation theory.)
2 Peter 1:19–21
(19) And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; (20) knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, (21) for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
2 Timothy 3:16–17
(16) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
It is broadly accepted by conservative evangelical scholars that the inspiration of the Scriptures extends to the grammar, syntax and vocabulary of the original manuscripts. This means that every word reflects a perfect decision by God so that His precisely-intended meaning would be conveyed by the specific words of the text.
From this flows the concept that the original text is without error. To say that the text was perfect is not to say that it cannot be expounded upon, but it does mean that it cannot be improved upon. In other words, there is no upside to employing different words, while there is a potentially huge downside, not the least of which is actually tampering with the Word of God:
(18) For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; (19) and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Of course, John is specifically referring to the book of Revelation, but from Moses’ words we understand that John’s warning is based on a fundamental principle involving a prohibition and warning from God concerning anything He says.
(2) You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.
(32) “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.
This principle is also seen in the provisions in the Mosaic Law concerning false prophets:
(20) But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ (21) And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’— (22) when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
By way of application, this would necessarily extend to the substitution of words that would alter the meaning of what God has said. However, this is exactly what has happened with the Turkish translation of Matthew 28:19 cited above in the FAQ by Biblical Missiology. In that translation it is reported that “Son” has not actually been translated, but actually replaced by “Messiah.”
NOTE: After much searching, I have not been able to find this specific translation on the internet, so I cannot independently confirm what has been reported. I am relying on the fact that it has been widely reported and has not been refuted by the organizations in question. That it is accurate is further confirmed by the decision to put a temporary hold on publishing these translations.
This goes far beyond the “word-for-word” versus “thought-for-thought” (“dynamic equivalence”) translation discussion. Dynamic equivalence seeks to accurately render the Greek and Hebrew with phrasing that carries the equivalent meaning in the target language. Even this is approach is fairly vigorously debated, but culturally-sensitive translations sometimes carry only a somewhat-related idea, but nothing approaching an equivalent one.
In the context of the inspiration-authority continuum, the obvious question is, “if words and phrases with different meanings are used to translate the original, do we still have an inerrant, infallible, sufficient and authoritative text?” Or more pointedly, “Do we still have the Word of God?”
In fact, it would seem that we are left with something far less than even paraphrases, which in most cases at least represent attempts to accurately render the concepts in the original text albeit with contemporary phrasing. (This is not meant to endorse the use of paraphrases in place of actual translations.)
In the same CT article cited above, David Abernathy, a translation consultant in Africa expresses his concerns about the theological issues at stake:
“As much as Christian theologians have used the term and concept of ‘Word’ throughout the history of theology, they did so with the understanding that this eternal Word was also a person who was [the] eternal Son,” Abernathy wrote. “It is the eternal sonship that makes sense of calling him the eternal Word, but when that sonship is removed, the Trinity as we know it dramatically changes. There is no eternal Father-Son relationship, only an eternal God-Word relationship, which is conceptually very foreign to the doctrine of the Trinity as it has always been understood. The historic Christian understanding of the Trinity essentially collapses.”
J. Scott Horrell, professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and an adjunct professor at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS), writes in St. Francis Magazine:
Ingrained in Islamic cultures, the words “Son of God” elicit the image that Jesus is God’s offspring through physical relations with a woman. Conversely, central to Christian faith is the invitation to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
What is the bottom line? Both terms “Father” and “Son” for God are repugnant to the Muslim. Yet in the Bible and Christian faith these words take on more meaning than mere metaphors or titles, rather they become the divine names that most disclose the divine relations. Without the Son there is no Father, and without the Father there is no Son. In the developing theology of the New Testament, the names “Father” and “Son” assume the force of being not merely external (or economic) descriptions but intrinsic to God’s own deepest reality. Again it must be asked, if “natural” terms replace “Son,” “Son of God,” and even “Father” in Muslimsensitive translations, then what other language allows us access into this intimate reality? If such designations were rejected by the Qur’an in explicit opposition to Christian faith—even if Muhammed misperceived these terms—what might serve as licit alternatives?
I have addressed the following questions: First, exegetically, are non-word-for-word renditions of Jesus as the “Son of God” omitting too much? My response is that the multi-layered meanings of “Son of God,” as in the Gospels, often point beyond the limited concepts of those in Jesus’s immediate world. Replacing Sonship language—as uttered from heaven at the baptism and the Transfiguration, by Satan in the temptations, and by demons as early testimonies to Jesus’s supernatural origin—can detract from the canonical text’s post-Easter implications. Jesus’s own Father-Son language reaches the deepest levels of divine self-disclosure.
To confess Jesus as the “Son of God” is finally to recognize both his essential equality with the Father and his eternal filial relationship. As for translation of the “Son of God,” all translation is unavoidably interpretation. Biblical translation carries the special responsibility of bridging not just from the text to the receiving culture. It further functions as an invitation to enter the Christian faith—the faith of the church. Therefore, especially in regard to the phrase “Son of God” when related to Jesus, extreme care should be exercised lest the rich meanings of the deity of Christ and his eternal relationship with the Father be subverted.
“Son of” (singular) versus “Sons of” (plural)
One argument that is sometimes employed as part of the justification for an alternate translation to “Son of God” is the use of “son” to denote something other than a familial or lineal relationship. Cited examples include “sons of the kingdom,” “sons of this world,” “sons of light,” “sons of this age,” etc.
These examples do demonstrate that “sons of” (plural) does not necessarily imply a familial / lineal relationship, although naturally, in many instances, this is the way it is used. However, it must also be noted that of the 274 uses of “son of” (singular) with only one exception, it always denotes a familial / lineal relationship. This difference in usage seems to be significant. (The single exception is in reference to the Antichrist, whom Paul calls the “son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3).)
Jesus’ other titles, besides “Son of God,” must also be considered. For example, Matthew refers to Jesus as “the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1) for the purpose of demonstrating his familial connection to Abraham as part of his presentation of Jesus as the Jewish King. Matthew also uses “the Son of David” as part of his argument that Jesus has a familial connection to David that makes him a legitimate candidate to be the Davidic King.
Furthermore, “Son of David” is used a total of 17 times in the gospels, which is the third most frequently-used title after “Son of Man” and “Son of God.” The familial / lineal connection is clearly a significant part of His identity and directly related to His claim to the throne of David.
The most frequently-used title for Jesus is “Son of Man” which occurs 87 times in 83 verses. While Matthew’s genealogy begins with Abraham and moves forward, Luke’s genealogy begins with Mary and traces Jesus lineage backward, all the way to Adam – establishing the fact that Jesus is also truly a member of the human family.
This leaves us with Jesus’ second most frequently-used title: “Son of God.” It seems inescapable that given the purpose for the titles “Son of David” and “Son of Man” to establish a familial connection to David and to the entire human race, “Son of God” is explicitly, if not primarily, for the purpose of designating His familial relationship with God the Father.
First Century Jews
All of the writers of the New Testament were Jewish except for Luke. And all except James and Jude use the phrase “Son of God” in some way – for a total of forty-two times. Although it is frequently a record of the taunts and accusations against Jesus by His enemies, it is always referenced matter-of-factly and never challenged as to its accuracy.
Mark begins his gospel:
Mark 1:1: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
John the Baptist is quoted as saying:
John 1:34: And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
John 1:49: Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Jesus Himself challenged Nicodemus:
(18) “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 11:27: She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
And John makes it clear that believing Jesus is the Son of God is at the very heart of the gospel and essential to the faith necessary to receive eternal life:
John 20:31: but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
These all stand in remarkable contrast to the violent reaction this identification frequently elicited, particularly by the Jewish religious leaders. Certainly no less than modern-day Muslims, first-century Jews, apart from the work of the Spirit of God, regarded such a claim as both extremely repulsive and the height of blasphemy. In their view, such claims demanded nothing less than Jesus’ death. However, this is a title that Jesus used of Himself – and which was also proclaimed by the Father at Jesus’ baptism when He said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). This is also significant because it is a departure from the “son of” construction, and therefore informs us as to how “son of” should be understood.
The Work of the Holy Spirit
An important factor that culturally-sensitive translators seem to not take into account is that it is only the work of the Spirit of God in someone’s heart that can overcome all objections to the gospel related to Jesus’ identity. This is true not only concerning Him being the Son of God (as if that were the only issue). The obstacles to faith for every sinful human being includes the fact that He is also the Savior, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Creator, the Lord of Glory, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
The New Testament also makes it clear that the open recognition that Jesus is the Son of God, was not a problem in a cross-cultural setting any more than it was with the Jews, when the Holy Spirit is at work.
Matthew records the declaration by a Roman centurion who witnessed Jesus’ death:
Matthew 27:54: So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
In the book of Acts, we find the confession of an Ethiopian who was an attendant in a royal court:
(34) So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”
(35) Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
(36) Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
(37) Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Summary and Conclusions
Goals and Motivating Factors
A number of goals and motivating factors can be identified as driving forces behind culturally-sensitive translations:
- To reach as many as possible with the truth of the gospel and God’s Word in general, and see as many as possible come to faith in Christ.
- To minimize or remove as many cultural, religious and philosophical obstacles as possible which are perceived to be hindering ministry efforts among Muslims.
- To provide culturally-sensitive, alternate translations for biblical phrases and terms which are inherently offensive to Muslims, while remaining true to the meaning of the original text.
- To change false perceptions that Muslims have about what Christian’s believe and teach.
Missionaries who have adopted this approach to translation report large numbers of Muslims who are reading the Bible for the first time, as well as large numbers of Muslim converts – perhaps in the tens of thousands world-wide. This is seen as undeniable evidence for the philosophical and theological correctness of the culturally-sensitive approach.
Preliminary Analysis and Evaluation
Based on the initial research and study of the issues surrounding culturally-sensitive translations of divine familial terms, I have come to the following preliminary conclusions.
- Any approach that exchanges words which do reflect the contextual meaning of the original text for ones which are not genuine synonyms undermines the doctrines of the inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency and authority of Scripture.
- To the degree that translated words depart from the contextual meaning of the original text, to that degree the translation ceases to be the Word of God.
- There are biblical prohibitions against tampering with the Word of God – against adding or subtracting from that which God has revealed and there are warnings of potential serious consequences if this is done.
- A significant number of pastors and Christian leaders who are native speakers of the target languages and who live and minister among Muslims have reacted against culturally-sensitive translations in ways ranging from deep concern to outrage.
- God could have easily inspired the proposed alternate words in the first place. However, even though God desires that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, in His wisdom He has inspired specific words and concepts that He knew beforehand would be offensive to Muslims.
- Given the familial / lineal meaning and purpose of Jesus’ titles “Son of Abraham,” “Son of David” and “Son of Man,” that “Son of God” can be understood and replaced with non-familial terms cannot be easily justified.
- The offense to sinful men from any culture is not limited to “Son of God,” but is much more broadly connected to Jesus’ identity as the Savior, King, Lord, Alpha and Omega, Lamb of God, etc. Changing just “Son of God” only potentially lessens one of a myriad of offenses, not the least of which is the offense of the cross.
- The offense of “Son of God” to Muslims today, is no less an offense to the Jews of today or to those of the first century. Yet, “Son of God” has always been understood to be Jesus’ claimed identity – both by His enemies and by those who embraced Him as Lord and Savior. In spite of this, there has never been an attempt (of which I’m aware) to change these familial terms when ministering to Jews or any other people group.
- It is only the work of the Holy Spirit, not the methods of men, that can overcome all obstacles, objections and offenses caused by the person and work of Jesus Christ.
- For those who reject Jesus as Savior, changing the familial terms is not helpful. For those who accept Jesus as Savior, changing the familial terms is not necessary.
- To change the divine familial terms is to change the gospel itself.
- Pragmatic approaches, even when they appear to produce positive results, cannot be justified if they violate biblical principles.
The issue of culturally-sensitive translations seems to be part of a larger trend in missions called the Insider Movement, which is what could be termed as a “hyper-contextualization” philosophy of cross-cultural ministry. It includes a method for reaching Muslims with the gospel sometimes referred to as Camel Evangelism – and a sort of synthesis of Christianity and Islam, pejoratively referred to as “Chrislam.” I plan to discuss this movement in future articles.
That this is an issue at all points to the fact that we live in a fallen world that is at enmity with God and openly rejects the person and work of Jesus to bring the hope of salvation to all men. The Muslim rejection of Jesus as the Son of God is but one symptom of the underlying problem.
The task of fulfilling the Great Commission is faced with many obstacles, not the least of which are connected to cultures and religions. It is certainly commendable and wise methodology to be aware of and sensitive to cultural issues and to take steps to avoid causing unnecessary offense. This includes ministry philosophy and methodology. Our task is not to simply exchange one set of cultural norms for another by imposing our culture upon theirs. However, it is our task to bring the truth to bear upon every culture, which happens through individuals having their lives changed through a personal relationship to Christ.
The way in which we communicate that truth may vary from culture to culture, but the content of that truth is unchanging – and must not be changed.
Imagine the difficulty of trying to put together a 2500-piece jigsaw puzzle if you had all the pieces, but not the box with the picture. You could examine all the details with as much care and precision as possible, but it would be very difficult to figure out how the pieces relate to one another and how each one fits into the overall picture. And even if you were to successfully assemble several groups of pieces scattered around the picture by matching colors and patterns, it would still be very difficult to figure out how these groups fit together when they don’t seem to match up in any obvious way. It wouldn’t take very long for most people to resign themselves to the fact that this is about as far as they will ever get.
Unfortunately, this is the way many try to understand the Bible – spending a lot of time looking at the details, but without having the big picture as a point of reference. They read the same familiar passages over and over, realizing that they must fit together in some way, but find it daunting and perplexing to try to move much beyond this. Or going back to the puzzle analogy, some have even concluded that the pieces don’t really fit together to form a single picture, but are really just parts of many different, unrelated pictures. This can all make it virtually impossible to understand and appreciate the fact that God has a plan that He has been sovereignly and faithfully executing throughout history.
I am very thankful that I came to realize this through the book What on Earth is God Doing? Satan’s Conflict with God by Renald Showers and the course he taught (based on the book) at the Word of Life Bible Institute in 1986. The book and course together had a profound impact in shaping my understanding of the Bible because they allowed me to see how all the pieces fit together to form the big picture. This laid a foundation for both my studies and my teaching over the last 25 years.
In 2000, I began teaching a course I called “Conflict of the Ages: Satan’s War Against God,” which began with an introduction to dispensationalism and then took Dr. Showers’ basic theme and approach and developed them within the context of dispensationalism. I have since taught this course seven or eight times and have always been excited to watch as many students started to see the big picture of the Bible and how it all fits together.
I will be teaching a similar course, “God’s Plan throughout the Ages,” in about a month, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It will be one of two courses that will be taught during the next School of Prophets conference which will be held January 30 to February 3 at the Willow Valley Inn. The course Dr. DeYoung will be teaching is the Book of Daniel These are being offered as graduate-level courses in the School of Prophets master’s and doctoral programs, but are open to anyone who would like to take them for credit or just audit them.
There is still room for those who would like to attend. For more information you can go to the Lancaster Conference website by clicking on the conference ad to the right or this link: www.schoolofprophets.org/lancaster.
If you have been considering enrolling in the School of Prophets, these courses offer a great opportunity to get a jump start on the program with 6 credits in just 20 class-hours (along with the reading and course paper).
Predictably – and appropriately, conservative Bible teachers, theologians and pastors have uniformly condemned Harold Camping’s adamant declarations that the Rapture would occur before the end of the day on Saturday, May 21, 2011. It is now being widely reported that Mr. Camping has since admitted that he is neither infallible nor a “genius”, while inexplicably insisting that God’s judgment, did in fact begin on May 21:
On May 21, this last weekend, this is where the spiritual aspect of it really comes through,” said Camping. “God again brought judgment on the world. We didn’t see any difference but God brought Judgment Day to bear upon the whole world. The whole world is under Judgment Day and it will continue right up until Oct. 21, 2011 and by that time the whole world will be destroyed.” (source)
There is little that I can add to what has already been said by many others about knowing the timing of the Lord’s return and false prophets, so the focus of this article is what I consider to be the greatest tragedy to come out of this whole matter – the wholesale dismissal of the idea of Christ’s return and the coming judgment of God. Many others are expressing the same concern.
Of course, there are many tragic stories in connection with Family Radio’s world-wide campaign to proclaim Camping’s apocalyptic message. Some faithful followers quit their jobs, sold their possessions, and emptied savings and retirement accounts in order to provide Family Radio with the funds needed to warn the world of impending judgment. The Guardian’s sister newspaper, The Observer cited a figure of more than $100 million that went into advertising around the world in countries from Israel to Iraq, from the Philippines to Viet Nam. When I was in Hungary last week, I heard reports of Camping’s followers handing out pamphlets on the streets of Budapest.
Some churches have even prepared to counsel those who might be contemplating suicide under the duress of staggering losses. [source]
On Friday, a mother in California slit the wrist and throat of her two daughters before slitting her own in order to keep them from having to endure the post-Rapture judgments. This double-murder / suicide attempt was averted at the last minute by a neighbor who discovered them in time to get the authorities and emergency crews to the home in time to save them. [source]
The Christian Post has reported that a teenage girl in Central Russia did commit suicide by hanging herself on Saturday. According to her diary entries, she did not consider herself to be one of the righteous whom God would take to heaven.
We are not righteous people, only they will go to heaven, the others will stay here on Earth to go through terrible sufferings. “I don’t want to die like the others. That’s why I’ll die now.”
Others who did not take such drastic measures, are still trying to cope with the ongoing realities of life with little of their lives left intact. Emotions among Camping’s followers have ranged from bewilderment to delusion, from despair to anger, from depression to outrage. It will probably be months before a clear picture emerges of the magnitude of the personal devastation.
However, as terrible and heart-wrenching as all these things are, I believe the greatest tragedy of Camping’s failed predictions began to quickly unfold on Saturday and Sunday across social networks and internet forums. One social media analytics company noted that on Twitter, 67% were joking about the “event,” 10% were criticizing Camping and 9% were planning “end-of-the-world parties.” [source]
All Facebook has published a “Top 10 Rapture Facebook Status Updates” list, which includes, among others.
Craig Gunnet: Rapture… brb
William J. Tjaden: …I think the rapture is starting! Ten minutes ago there was a bunch of people waiting at the bus stop down the street, and now they’re all *gone*!!!
Philip Lemoine: If you can’t think of a rapture joke, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world.
Sally Stevens: I’m setting the date for the Rapture to really happen on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 and am taking donations as of now…
Many got in on the act by posting pictures such as these:
The whole story has spawned innumerable headlines, articles, and media reports, as well as countless blogs. And of course, the late-night comedians have had a field day with this. On an unprecedented scale, we are witnessing the open and unashamed mocking of the Rapture and the entire notion of the outpouring of God’s wrath in connection with Christ’s second-coming.
This, I believe, is the greatest tragedy – that fewer than ever before will take seriously the issue of the return of Christ and the coming judgment; that it will be more difficult than ever to persuade people of the need to be spiritually prepared for an event which they believe has no basis in reality – being promoted by a small army of unbiblical and unbalanced religious zealots with an escapist and elitist mentality.
The skepticism, mockery, jokes and even anger and disdain by some for all things Christian was inevitable. And yet, the Apostle Peter warned that exactly these kinds of responses would intensify even as the time of the return of Christ actually draws closer.
2 Peter 3:1–13 (NKJV)
(1) Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), (2) that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, (3) knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, (4) and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (5) For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, (6) by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. (7) But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
(8) But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (9) The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
(10) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (11) Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, (12) looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? (13) Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
As Peter notes, God’s merciful restraint in withholding judgment will be misinterpreted as being proof-positive that all such prophecies are nothing more than the rants of a long line of deluded doomsayers (like Harold Camping, for example). To add to the tragedy, a growing number of those who continue to insist they are “evangelical” are joining the scoffers’ chorus.
However, be certain of this: The Lord is coming. During the first phase of His return, the Lord will come as the Bridegroom, to meet His Bride, the Church, in the air. Then, after seven years of increasingly severe judgments, Christ will come to the earth as the Lion of Judah, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords – accompanied by the armies of heaven. At that time He will execute swift and sure justice against the enemies of God and establish His kingdom on the earth. This is not a fantasy or wild speculation.
1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 (NKJV)
(13) But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. (14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. (15) For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. (16) For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (18) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
And because no more biblical prophecies are left to be fulfilled before the trumpet of God sounds, the Rapture could happen at any moment (meaning its timing cannot be predicted).
Revelation 19:11-16 (NKJV)
(11) Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. (12) His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. (13) He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. (14) And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. (15) Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. (16) And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Revelation 22:20 (NKJV)
He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’
Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus!
You couldn’t watch or listen to the news for more than a few minutes this week without hearing about the Florida pastor’s plan to burn Korans on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
After it was reported that General Petraus had expressed his concerns that this could very easily put American soldiers and expatriates at risk in Afghanistan and other countries, I wrote an email to Pastor Jones asking him to reconsider his plans – both as a brother in Christ and as a fellow leader in ministry.
I don’t know if he actually received or read my email. But given that both the State Department and the White House have found it necessary to weigh in on this, my words seem fairly insignificant anyway.
It is now being reported that others are also planning to burn copies of Islam’s holy book, even though Pastor Jones may be ready to change his mind. (Although even as late as 6:00 PM on Friday evening, Fox News is reporting that it still isn’t certain exactly what he is finally going to do.)
I’m quite sure that even though emotions might be running high on the eve of 9/11, there are probably few, if any, ABI readers who would remotely consider such a plan as being anything but ill-conceived and misguided for any number of practical reasons. But the bigger question is whether or not there are biblical principles that should guide and inform our thinking about this. Does the Bible have anything to say about what we can and should do concerning such religious materials – things that arguably contribute to the kind of evil worldview that spawned those horrific events nine years ago?
In the Old Testament we find multiple examples of God’s clear instructions to burn and destroy everything related to the worship of false gods. However, the historical context (Israel’s conquest, settlement and rule over Canaan) and God’s purpose for commanding such actions are equally clear – and we, as Christians, are not at all in a similar situation. On the other hand, there is an incident in the New Testament that does give insight into what is almost certainly the right strategy for us in this age.
In Acts chapter 19, we find an extended report concerning Paul’s two-year ministry in Ephesus (a city in the region that would later be at the heart of the Ottoman empire). As you may recall, at the end of those two years, Paul and his ministry team found themselves in an extremely dangerous situation. The entire city was in an uproar and they were out for blood. Crowding into the city’s amphitheater, the angry mob dragged Gaius and Aristarchus in with them as they shouted religious chants against them for two hours nonstop.
Do you remember what it was that ultimately sparked this riot? A religious book-burning!
But, who was it that was burning whose books? It was a group of men who had responded to the proclamation of the gospel – men whose hearts had been completely changed through faith in Christ – men who consequently burned their own religious books (worth a small fortune)!
I wonder if there might be a lesson there…
(This article is available in downloadable and printable PDF, 2 column article format: Click here to download)
According to an April, 2009 article on MSNBC, a Washington Post/ABC poll released that month became the first to indicate that the number of Americans supporting same-sex marriages (49%) is now greater than those who oppose it (46%). Although the two numbers are within the typical poll margin-of-error of each other (±3%), there does seem to have been a significant shift in attitudes over the preceding 5-year period, when a Post/ABC poll put the percentage in-favor at just 32% in 2004.
Between 1982 and 2007, Gallup reported a significant shift in attitudes toward the acceptability of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. In 1982, only 34% indicated that homosexuality “is an acceptable alternative lifestyle” with 51% indicating that it is not. However, in 2007 the numbers had more than reversed with 57% of Americans stating it is acceptable and only 40% indicating their belief that it is not.
On the other hand, one encouraging statistic is that over 80% of evangelicals still oppose gay marriage, with a statistically negligible shift since 2004 (according to a 2008 Pew Research Center poll). However, the pressure is on evangelicals because in the mainline churches only 40% oppose same-sex marriage – essentially the same as the Post/ABC poll results for the general population.
The “Homosexuality-Neutral” View of Scripture
Coinciding with the increasing social pressure to accept the homosexual lifestyle, is additional pressure by those who take this a step further by seeking to defend their views on biblical grounds. In most cases, the passages which have been historically understood to condemn homosexual behavior are interpreted as being at most “homosexuality-neutral” (my term). In other words, it is argued that these passages were not intended to address the issue of loving homosexual relationships, but rather inappropriate sexual behavior in general, that in some cases simply happened to involve homosexual acts.
To many — not all — liberal/progressive believers, the Bible is silent on loving, consensual same-sex sexual behavior. God accepts persons of all sexual orientations and approves of sex that is consensual, non-manipulative, safe and within a loving, committed relationship. Liberals and progressive have a range of beliefs concerning save, consensual, and casual sex by heterosexuals, bisexuals or homosexuals.
However the Bible condemns:
• Male rape of other men.
• One of two behaviors:
–- Either men engaging in ritual sex in Pagan temples, or
–- Men having sex in a woman’s bed.
• People having sex that violates their sexual orientation. For example:
–- Heterosexuals having sex with a member of the same sex.
–- Homosexuals having sex with a member of the opposite sex.
• Men sexually abusing children. The passage also condemns young victims of sexual molestation.
• People engaging in bestiality: having sex with non-humans.
Some gay Christians would contend that the Bible condemns only promiscuous homosexual behavior (not homosexuality in general), just as it condemns heterosexual promiscuity.
Passages Cited as Affirming Same-sex Relationships
Beyond arguing against traditional interpretations of certain passages, some Christian gay groups also cite other passages which they claim affirm same-sex relationships. One such group is Gay Christianity 101, which contends that the relationship between David and Jonathan was explicitly homosexual (reference):
Did God bless David and Jonathan, a same sex couple in romantic, committed, sexual partnership? The Bible devotes more chapters to their love story than any other human love story in the Bible. What does God intend us to learn from that dramatic emphasis?
Many gays believe that Jonathan and David were same sex lovers, based on the way God presents their story in scripture and based on the Hebrew words used to describe their relationship.
Although Gay Christianity 101 acknowledges that this is not the view of even most gay Christians, it is the one, as a gay-friendly ministry, they hold and promote. After presenting six other possible interpretations, it is concluded that a seventh one best fits the text. (reference)
David loved Jonathan. In reminiscing about Jonathan, David describes Jonathan’s love to him as “wonderful, passing the love of women-wives.”
To make David’s statement refer to platonic friendship, ‘I was closer to Jonathan than to any of my close female friends’ is a woefully inadequate understanding of the text.
Because Jewish men in David’s time did not have close, platonic friendships with females to whom they were not related by blood or marriage, it better fits the text to accept David’s statement at face value.
The romantic, emotional, sexual love between Jonathan and David was more wonderful than the romantic, emotional, sexual love between David and his wives.
It is also suggested by some that Ruth and Naomi had a sexual relationship as did Daniel and Ashpenaz (both in a brochure on the state of Connecticut’s website, Homosexuality and the Bible, p. 13). Other passages which are said to involve homosexuals who are not condemned (and therefore at least implicitly affirm them), include Matthew 8 and Luke 7 concerning the Roman centurion, and Acts 8 concerning the Ethiopian eunuch.
In the remainder of this article (and at least one subsequent article), it will be demonstrated that the attempts to find homosexuality-compatible interpretations fail to adequately handle the relevant passages, while the historical condemnation of homosexuality has solid biblical support.
Arguments for the Neutrality of Scripture Regarding Homosexuality
GENESIS 19 AND THE CITY OF SODOM
In dealing with the exegesis of 19:5, the author of an article titled “Bible Abuse Directed at Homosexuals” makes the following argument:
The key verb here, transliterated ya,da (or yadha’ ) , is usually translated as “know.” This verb appears 943 times elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, where it generally means “to know a fact” or “to know a person well.” It has an obvious sexual connotation in only ten of these cases, all of which involve heterosexual relationships.
The translation, then, could have the following meanings:
* Gang rape the angels (a common way to humiliate men – especially enemies – at the time);
* Engage in consensual homosexual sex with them (possibly what the NIV translators intended with “have sex with them”);
* Interrogate them. (The city had in the recent past been sacked, and the strangers might have been spies sent to check out the fortifications which provided some protection for the trade routes that passed the city.)
In choosing the proper meaning, consider this. In Biblical times, travel was slow and dangerous, and safe places to rest were few. Travelers could only pray for the hospitality of strangers – an important theme in the Bible. And Jews, having been ill-treated travelers in Egypt, had particular reason to be hospitable, and emphasis on it permeates Jewish law. For many reasons, hospitality, once offered, could not be breached.
Gay Christianity 101 also endorses the inhospitality view (reference):
For almost 1800 years after the events in Sodom, Jewish prophets in the Bible and Jewish authors outside the Bible, understood this story to be about inhospitality, not homosexuality. Sodom is mentioned 48 times in the Bible and never in those 48 passages is homosexuality given as the cause of God’s judgment. Isn’t that interesting? Have you given that astounding fact the weight it deserves in your thinking about this true story?
Some contend that rather than the sin of the Sodomites being homosexuality in general, it was that they intended to homosexually rape the angels (who appeared as men) as a means of humiliating them as their enemies. (reference)
Most feel that Genesis 19 is totally unrelated to consensual same-sex behavior.
It is obvious that Lot wanted to protect the angels from the city mob. The people of Sodom, having recently been under attack by foreigners, might have been worried that the angels were really military spies. Alternately, the mob might have wanted to humiliate the strangers with homosexual rape which is as abhorrent as heterosexual rape.
Furthermore, concerning Sodom, Gay Christian 101 states what it calls “six surprising facts” (reference):
1. Genesis 19 never mentions homosexuals in Sodom.
2. Genesis 19 never mentions a homosexual act being committed in Sodom.
3. Scripture never mentions a same sex relationship in Sodom.
4. Scripture never tells us that the inhabitants of Sodom were homosexuals.
5. Scripture never tells us that God destroyed Sodom because of homosexuality.
6. Sodomite, in scripture, never refers to homosexuals. Every time sodomite is used in scripture, it refers to cult, shrine, temple prostitutes who worshiped the Canaanite fertility goddess.
A BIBLICAL RESPONSE
Sodom and Gomorrah are first mentioned in Genesis 10:13, with the second reference in chapter 13:10-13, where the men of these cities are characterized as being “exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.” In other passages in Genesis (7:19; 15:1; 16:10; 17:2, among others) where the Hebrew is translated “exceedingly” by the NKJV the context indicates that the word carries the force of “beyond measure.” That the lack of hospitality, even to the point of actual ill-treatment, would be described as “wickedness beyond measure” seems very unlikely.
And while it is true that the author of Hebrews writes, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2), it seems immediately apparent that the problem in Sodom was not simply that of not being hospitable. Even if their treatment of strangers went so far as to warrant a rebuke in that Near-Eastern culture, the suggestion that God would have utterly destroyed these cities for this reason just does not seem to merit serious consideration.
The suggestion that the passage could possibly refer to the men of Sodom simply wanting to interrogate the angels just doesn’t seem plausible as a cause for inviting God’s judgment. For a country on a war-footing, having genuine concerns about the motives of foreigners who just showed up could hardly have been considered outrageously wicked behavior. Also, there is nothing in the text that indicates there was concern that these foreigners might be spies in the first place. And of course they had made no initial attempts to hide as they planned to spend the night in the town square (19:2).
Furthermore, the men of the city threatened to treat Lot worse than they intended to treat these strangers, which is clearly a threat of violence (19:9). But even if the treatment that the strangers would receive as captives under interrogation would have been sufficient to warrant judgment by God, this is ultimately a moot point. God had already determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah prior to the angels entering the city.
The passage certainly rules out the possibility that the men of Sodom were hoping for a consensual same-sex encounter with the angels (who were obviously thought to be men). But even though gang-rape is fairly clearly in view, neither was this intended detestable act the reason for their coming destruction. Again, God’s stated intent, prior to their arrival, was to wipe out the entire society – because of a lifestyle so wicked and so prevalent that fewer than even ten decent people could be found.
Sodom and Gomorrah were apparently Canaanite – a culture known to be one of the most morally reprehensible in history. The Canaanite fertility cult involved both heterosexual and homosexual encounters with male and female shrine prostitutes. With this in mind, consider this question: Is it reasonable to think that the “beyond-measure” wickedness of these cities could have somehow excluded sexual debauchery as at least a significant part of the basis for their annihilation?
Additionally, the overall flow of the narrative seems to suggest a direct connection between the incident with the angels and Sodom’s societal wickedness. What they were demanding was not something new to them. And certainly it must be asked if such an utterly wicked warfare tactic like gang-rape could even be considered if sexual debauchery were not already characteristic of the entire culture. And, as we know, all the men of the city came out and surrounded Lot’s house.
At this point, it could be argued that we’re still not talking about loving, monogamous same-sex relationships – but about a culture that was characterized by adulterous relationships, both hetero- and homosexual. However, I think there is one more element of the story that specifically pinpoints homosexual behavior itself as the ultimate trigger for the execution of God’s wrath (independent of whether or not it was occurring in a “loving, monogamous” relationship).
The inescapable problem with the homosexuality-neutral view of Genesis 19 involves Lot’s daughters. No one on either side of the debate would defend rape of any kind as morally acceptable. So, whether the rape would be against Lot’s daughters or against the angels (again, who were thought to be men) is another moot point in and of itself.
This means that there had to be some incredibly significant reason why Lot would be willing to allow even his own daughters to be brutally raped by an out-of-control mob rather than turn over the two angels to them. (And nothing indicates that Lot had any reason to think his guests were not men.)
So, what was this additional factor that struck terror in Lot’s heart as he contemplated this no-win situation? Could it be that Lot so clearly understood that homosexuality is such a detestable abomination in the Lord’s sight that he was unwilling to allow the sin of a homosexual encounter to be added to the sin of rape?
Earlier it was noted that not even ten righteous people were to be found in Sodom. But the obvious implication is that there was not a single person in Sodom who was not guilty of whatever specific sin (or category of sin) was in view. Given the overall wickedness of the Canaanite culture – which even included child sacrifice – what could have been the unique sin of Sodom and Gomorrah among all of the Canaanite cities?
And there is yet another factor that hasn’t been noted concerning Genesis 13:13:
But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.
The word translated “men” does not simply mean “people” in the generic sense – it literally means “men,” i.e., “the males of Sodom.”
So, it appears that the “exceedingly” wicked sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was uniquely committed by the men of those cities – and it involved all of the men. As bad as it would have been for the men to gang-rape their enemies, or worship their gods through encounters with male shrine prostitutes – the overall situation was worse than that. The society was dominated by male homosexuality. And the seriousness of this situation brought the complete destruction and utter desolation of those cities as God hurled fire and brimstone – annihilating every man, woman and child – and everything that had life. Only the judgment of the Flood exceeded the judgment that God brought upon Sodom and Gomorrah on that day.
In the next article in this series, we will examine other passages to see if the biblical record as a whole supports the view that homosexual behavior, independent of the context in which it occurs, is the sin that incurred God’s wrath in Genesis 19.
(This article is available in downloadable and printable PDF, 2 column article format: Click here to download)
Homosexuality and the Believer’s Identity in Christ
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13, NKJV)
There are many things that distinguish Christianity from the religions of the world, not the least of which is the believer’s identity in Christ. In other religions, philosophies and worldviews, one’s identity – how we view and value ourselves, and how we are viewed and valued by others – is inseparably tied to an endless list of things like ethnicity, gender, appearance, physical and mental abilities (or disabilities), skills, talents and anything else that we think helps us to order the world around us. We use these to identify ourselves and others, while also usually comparing ourselves to others.
However, in Christ our unique identity as individuals is properly found only in and through our relationship with Him. For those of us who have trusted in Christ for salvation, we are first and foremost children of God. As such, we are heirs and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:16–17, NKJV)
Through faith in Christ and his finished work on the cross, God mercifully forgives our sin and graciously gives us the free gift of eternal life.
But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22–23, NKJV)
Whatever we may have been through our physical birth has been transformed through our spiritual rebirth.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV)
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, NKJV)
A Manufactured Complexity
Unfortunately, more and more within the church are asking, “What does this have to do with homosexuality?” And unfortunately, more and more are answering, “Very little, if anything.” However, this has not been the historically-accepted view – and with good reason: God has clearly and unambiguously condemned homosexuality in the Scriptures as sinful. And yet, that this is true is being increasingly challenged – even by some who would identify themselves as part of the evangelical community.
These challenges to the historical view seem to fall primarily along two lines of reasoning. The first has to do with the issues of physiology that I mentioned in the first article in this series. This challenge ultimately seeks to discredit the accuracy and authority of the Bible on the basis of ignorance on the part of the biblical writers. And in reality, it is simply part of the tired, yet oft-repeated argument that the Bible was written by people in ancient societies who lacked the cultural sophistication and scientific knowledge that we now possess. Therefore, we have wrongly condemned something that the Bible wrongly condemns.
The second line of reasoning is arguably more insidious because it superficially gives the impression that the inspiration and authority of the Bible is being kept intact. In this case, it is argued that it is not the accuracy of the text that is being challenged, but rather, the historical interpretation of the text. In other words, the contention is that for centuries even scholars have misinterpreted the passages which mention “homosexuality.” It is maintained that the inherent meaning of certain words has been misunderstood or that there has been a failure to understand the cultural context. Therefore, we have wrongly condemned something that the Bible doesn’t really condemn.
However, I believe that both lines of reasoning unnecessarily introduce layers of complexity to an issue which is not nearly as complex in general as it is often made out to be (even though it may be somewhat complex in certain instances). Whether intentional or not, the apparent complexity introduced by both the quest for the “homosexual gene” and for obscured meanings in the biblical text must be ultimately viewed as being driven by the pursuits of those whose hearts are darkened by sin and who seek to suppress the knowledge of the truth.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:18–19, NKJV)
Scientific Evidence and the Word of God
Although, I presented some fairly well-documented evidence of the scientific complexity in the first article, my point was to demonstrate that genuine awareness of these issues does not require that we abandon God’s Word in dealing with them. We need to understand that evidential complexity does not necessarily equate to spiritual complexity. While it may be true that humans are psychologically complex, this doesn’t mean that solutions to psychological problems must necessarily be equally complex. Biblical solutions, though often not easy to implement because of our sin nature, don’t involve complicated concepts or convoluted methods.
Yet, when we encounter such complex scientific evidence for the first time, it can be a faith-shaking experience. This can happen, for example, when we start getting into the issue of creation versus evolution. And of course, whole ministries have been established for countering the claims of the scientific establishment that the evidence unequivocally proves evolution to be true.
However – and this is an extremely important point – the issue is not the evidence itself. Everyone has access to the same evidence. It is not as if the evolutionists have access to one set of evidence and creationists have access to different set. The real issue is the interpretation of the evidence. Therefore, the task of those who trust the Bible as God’s inspired, infallible and inerrant Word is to reconcile what may appear to be contradictions between the Scriptures and the evidence.
However, apparent contradictions are not reconciled by simply ignoring the evidence. That is dishonest. But neither are they reconciled by ignoring clear biblical texts nor by irresponsibly re-interpreting those texts. True reconciliation occurs when both the Bible and the evidence are properly interpreted. This is the essence of the task of apologetics. And it is a central part of the ministry of The Alliance for Biblical Integrity as we seek to apply a biblical hermeneutic to the tough issues and difficult questions that threaten to weaken the church in this generation.
Sorting It All Out
In future articles I will address how to apply biblical principles to the physiological issues and potentially-related temptations which I noted in the first article. However, in the next article I will begin to examine the biblical passages that directly address the issue of homosexuality and respond to some of the exegetical challenges that form the basis for the second line of reasoning used by an increasing number of opponents of the historical view.e-mail
This is the first in a series of articles on the topic of “Homosexuality and the Bible.” However, the series will not necessarily be presented in consecutive blogs.
A Faltering Consensus
The consensus among conservative evangelicals is that the Bible provides the final and authoritative word on all aspects of life. Historically, there has also been broad consistency in how the Bible has been understood and biblical principles have been applied to a variety of moral issues, including homosexuality. However, this consensus seems to be slowly dissolving in the face of seismic shifts in the views of society toward homosexuality and those who engage in homosexual behavior. As society as a whole closely tracks with the downward spiral into the spiritual and moral abyss of homosexual behavior, very explicitly described by Paul in Romans chapter one, the church is following remarkably close behind. Behaviors and lifestyles that would have been broadly condemned as sinful by virtually the entire evangelical community just a generation ago are being increasingly viewed as acceptable and normal.
This naturally raises the question as to how this is even possible when the Bible seems to so consistently and unambiguously condemn such practices, and goes so far as to clearly warn of eternal consequences for those who would choose a homosexual lifestyle. Part of the answer may be related to some of the complexities that have not often been acknowledged or considered (or at least openly addressed in my experience) by many conservative evangelicals. When the hard questions aren’t asked or dealt with sufficiently, God’s people can find themselves ill-equipped to respond biblically when challenged—or they can find their faith shaken when they first become aware of some of the more difficult issues.
Note: Although some may find parts of this article to be controversial, my purpose is to show that an awareness of some of the more difficult biological issues surrounding gender and sexuality do not require us to abandon the historical, conservative evangelical position concerning homosexuality.
A Complex Issue
Perhaps the first complication involves the definition of homosexuality itself. Historically, homosexuality has been viewed as a choice and defined in terms of being a learned behavior rather than being an inherent aspect of someone’s nature . In other words, by definition, in this view, a homosexual is someone who engages in homosexual behavior. It is what someone does, not who someone is.
In this historically-prevalent view, homosexuality is considered to be unnatural, learned and morally wrong. This is consistent with the sense of justice which says that God would only condemn and judge evil behavior—things that we might choose to do, rather than those things over which we have no control – such as our gender, for example. On the other hand, those who may experience feelings of same-sex attraction, but choose to not act upon these urges are not generally considered to be homosexual and of course they are not guilty of sin if these feelings do not go beyond the realm of temptation. In essence, this view presumes that everyone is naturally a heterosexual at birth and that homosexuality is a life-style choice, often thought to stem from homosexual experiences while growing up, either through sexual abuse by older children or adults, or because of curiosity and experimentation.
However, a search of the internet for the phrase, “scientific studies on homosexuality” shows that opinion remains divided on the answer to the question, “Are homosexuals made or are they born?” Some studies seem to indicate that genetics may play a role in sexual orientation and that homosexuality has a biological basis, while other studies suggest it does not or are inconclusive.
For example, when asked if homosexuality was rooted solely in biology, gay gene researcher, Dean Hamer, replied, “Absolutely not. From twin studies, we already know that half or more of the variability in sexual orientation is not inherited. Our studies try to pinpoint the genetic factors…not negate the psychosocial factors” (Anastasia, 1995, p. 43). In addition, brain researcher Simon LeVay has acknowledged that multiple factors may contribute to a homosexual orientation (LeVay, 1996). (NART website)
And there are apparently additional issues that I had never even thought about until doing some research for this series. These do concern matters of physiology and biology, and should at least be taken into account as we seek to develop informed convictions in this matter. Though rare, some people are actually born with what is termed “ambiguous genitalia” which include characteristics of both male and female sexual organs – or internal sex organs of one sex, with external sex organs of the opposite sex. In this situation, at the chromosomal level most are still either males (XY chromosomes) or female (XX chromosomes), with no particular “sexual identity issues”. But in terms of social interaction and personal relationships, such physiological ambiguity can understandably present some very difficult emotional challenges, let alone spiritual ones.
In some very rare cases there are abnormalities such that there is a male / female mix at the chromosomal level. In less rare cases, the “intersexed” person is either a male or female at the chromosomal level, but primarily have the external genitalia of the opposite sex. In the latter case, even though, again, there may not be a conflict between their chromosomal sexual identity and their psychological sexual identity, there is a conflict between their chromosomal sexual identity and their physical appearance.
Such physiological factors seem to raise some important practical questions:
Biblically, with whom may a person with these congenital defects enter a marriage relationship and engage in sexual relations?
Are such people alone free to choose a partner of either sex?
Or must they marry someone who is of the opposite sex at the chromosomal level, even though they are essentially the same sex at the external physical level?
Or are they required to live a life of celibacy to remain morally pure?
Admittedly, very few of us will never encounter such a person and some may feel it is misguided to bring such rare occurrences into the discussion. However, especially for those of us in ministry, we have a responsibility try to find biblical answers to life’s questions that sometimes turn out to be more complex than we may have supposed. We must be able to give godly counsel to fellow-believers concerning their life-decisions in this area. Perhaps because of my background in science and engineering, as I have pondered this and many other issues in light of the Scriptures, I am frequently reminded of the care required to avoid repeating some of the blunders of the past—as happened with Galileo, for example.
And beyond these cases of physically inter-sexed individuals, there seem to be other situations that also require biblical wisdom and spiritual maturity to handle appropriately. In my experience, there seem to be “degrees” of masculinity and femininity such that these rather subjective areas are not defined by rigid boundaries marked off by our identity as either a male or female (even assuming no physiological abnormalities). Even when chromosomes are not an issue, hormones and other factors seem to be. Some men seem to have more effeminate characteristics and mannerisms, while some women seem to be “less feminine” in any number of ways. And there seems to be an unbroken continuum between the two, such that these characteristics may be more or less pronounced in any given person apart from any personal intent or desire to appear or act in a way that is gender-ambiguous.
When both biological and environmental factors are taken into consideration, it is not difficult to understand how and why some may experience genuine internal conflict and have to deal with truly unwanted sexual urges and temptations. And this is undoubtedly not limited to the issue of homosexuality, but to sexuality in general.
Furthermore, it seems that all of us have different areas of weakness and tendencies toward particular types of sin to varying degrees. Some struggle with anger, while others struggle with honesty. Some struggle with worry, while others struggle with fear. Some struggle with laziness, while others struggle with lust. And while it is not too difficult for us to sympathize with those with whom we share common struggles, it can be difficult for us to understand how others can genuinely struggle with things that are not a particular problem for us. But the fact is that any struggle in any area can lead to moral failure if we fail to withstand the temptations that inevitably come.
Certainly there are those who simply choose to fulfill their sexual desire in sinful ways that are condemned by the Bible. There is a troubling and growing trend within the more conservative evangelical community that has existed for a long time within the broader liberal church—that of changing attitudes toward homosexuality. This behavior and lifestyle is being accepted on various grounds, including the argument that the Bible does not label as sinful committed same-sex relationships. In the next article in this series I will be looking at the relevant biblical texts to discuss whether or not such a position is biblically defensible.
On the other hand, we need to recognize that difficult genuinely physiological gender-related situations do exist, even though we may them awkward, distasteful or even repulsive. We all know of a few men who don’t exactly fit the mold of what is commonly considered to be “manly.” We all know a few women who are less feminine than others. Yet, during the twenty-five years I have been a believer, I don’t recall some of these particular issues ever being addressed or even mentioned in any context.
I think we have an obligation to both respond biblically to clearly sinful behavior, as well as to provide godly instruction and biblical counsel when fellow-believers experience problems that cannot be merely condemned as matters of choice alone. The sufficiency of Scripture allows us to confidently tackle the tough issues of life with neither fear nor apology. In a future article, I will delve into the matter of ministry to those who have particular struggles in this area.