Friday, September 05, 2008

Jack Van Impe on Canada and the End Times

I can honestly say that, when it comes to the area of eschatology, I am somewhat strange. I not only enjoy talking about eschatology, but I also believe that the area of eschatology is important to Christianity, and I am concerned about certain views of eschatology that are popular today. I mean, if I am going to be challanging relationship authors to be consistent in their exegesis of the text of scripture, then I believe we need to point out when people misuse the text of scripture to try to support certain views of eschatology.

Jack Van Impe is a very popular author on the subject of eschatology. I remember that, when I first started studying the subject of eschatology, Jack Van Impe was someone who was recommended to me. Now, let me tell you, Jack Van Impe seems to never run out of breath. He went through Bible verses so fast the first time I heard him that I had to tape the program, and then stop and start it so that I could write down what he was saying. When I started researching what he was saying, I was shocked. I still remember his misuse of Revelation 4:1 when he said that this referred to the rapture, when the language is very clearly addressed to John! He tried to get around that by saying that these people were crowned, and you cannot be crowned until the resurrection of the just. However, the text he cited actually said that you cannot be *rewarded* until the resurrection of the just. What if this was the "crown of life?" I could not believe how bad this stuff was.

I have been following Gary DeMar's study of Ezekiel 38 and 39 on his radio program and blog. DeMar is currently working on a book I am anxiously awaiting on Ezekiel 38 and 39 called Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future.

For some reason, the other day, I was looking at Jack Van Impe's website, and I found the following comments:

In the war with Russia in Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39 Ezekiel 38:13 mentions Tarshish and all of the young lions. The symbol of America is the Bald Eagle and the symbol of England is the Lion, so Tarshish and all her young lions, all the English speaking nations of the world including Canada come against Russia.

So, now, not only do we have Russia and Moscow in Ezekiel 38 and 39 because of the similar sounds between Russia and the Hebrew term varo, and between Moscow and the Hebrew term %v,m, [Which we now know to have been in Anatolia], but we also have Canada thrown in there for good measure because of this argument from young lions. This interpretation is full of problems. First of all, the Hebrew term rypiK. is often times used in the prophetic works as a metaphor for an army. For instance, the book of Jeremiah, in prophesying what is obviously the destruction of Judah, says the following:

Jeremiah 2:14-15 Is Israel a servant, or is he a houseborn servant? Why is he made for spoil? Young lions [rypiK.] are roaring over him. They lift up their voice. They have desolated his land; his cities are burned without an inhabitant [Translation mine].

Other examples of this usage is Isaiah 5:25-29, Isaiah 31:4, Jeremiah 25:36-38, 51:36-39, Ezekiel 19:1-7, Hosea 5:9-15, Amos 3:2-11, Micah 5:8-9, Zechariah 11:1-3. In fact, in all but three passages in which this term is used in the prophets it is a metaphor for a military army. There are a few usages found in Ezekiel 32:2 and Ezekiel 19 which appear to be referring to the leader of an army rather than the army itself. BDB lists Nahum 2:12 there, but it is also possible that it is referring to the "Nineveh" of verse 9. There is another usage refers to a Cherub in Ezekiel's vision of the temple in Ezekiel 41:19. However, none of these usages are very helpful to Jack Van Impe's interpretation. Also, it is interesting that, in all of those instances, it is context which rules rules out the understanding of rypiK. as a metaphor for an army.

This is what is so devistating for Jack Van Impe's interpretation of this passage. Not only does the context of Ezekiel 38 not rule out taking rypiK. as a metaphor for an army, it actually confirms it! The whole text of Ezekiel 38-39 is talking about a battle between nations. This is exactly the context in which we find the other usages of this term when the term is used as a metaphor for an army! Again, I have to ask, why is it that Jack Van Impe is willing to depart from the norminative usage of rypiK. in this context, and take rypiK. to be referring to the symbols of nations so as to insert some notion that English speaking nations are going to come against Russia [an idea which would have been totally foreign to the people of Ezekiel's day]?

Also interesting is the fact that there is a textual varient here. The Septuagint and Theodotion's Greek edition have kai. pa/sai ai` kw/mai auvtw/n which would suggest that the Hebrew rpiK. should be repointed as rp'K'! This would mean that the text would be translated, "Sheba, Dedan, all the merchants of Tarshish, and all her villages will say to you..." That totally changes everything. Now Jack Van Impe's argument is totally gone. In fact, this is the way the NIV and the NASB translate this passage.

However, making it worse or Jack Van Impe, is the fact that there have been two proposed readings that are likewise possible. The most likely of the two is a reading proposed by Leslie Allen in her commentary on this passage. She suggests that the text should read hyrk meaning "merchants." This fits well with the parallelism to yrex]so, and she suggests that it was changed because of the uniqueness of this word within the corpus of Ezekiel's prophecies.

Koehler-Baumgartner and the BHS suggest the reading h'yl, This is a little more difficult as it would have to be a wholesale change from the original reading. While there are many commentators who prefer this reading, it seems odd that the text would stray that much from the original, unless it were an intentional change. Allen suggests that it could be possible if the change came from hyrK.

Certainly this text-critical issue is far from settled. However, any one of these readings would make Van Impe's interpretation impossible.

So, in essence, we have Jack Van Impe giving us an interpretation of a text that is utterly out of the norm of the usage of rypiK., and, an interpretation that depends upon rypiK. being the correct reading of the text when there are several different possibilities for the original of this text.

I think, ultimately, the main problem here is Van Impe's interpretational methodology. You see, this form of dispensationalism has a bad habit of allowing current events to determine the meaning of the text rather than allowing the Bible itself to unlock the symbolism it uses. Van Impe is absolutely positive that these texts in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are referring to events that are going to happen in our lifetime, and that things that are going on right now in the world have a direct relationship to what is written here. When you take that perspective, you end up using the headlines to interpret the text of scripture, rather than using scripture to interpret itself. Now, I obviously have not settled the issue of the overall interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39. That is something that would require another article. However, I hopefully can contribute to stopping this interpretation from getting to popular, before it becomes as bad as the argument that this text is talking about Russia!

Also, I thought it was rather funny to read his comments on Postmillenialism [my view of eschatology]. You see, Postmillenialism is really booming in Africa. We have churches there that believe that the whole continent, yea, the whole world can be one for Christ. It is in light of this that we read the following question and answer:

It thrills my heart to listen to your weekly program and hear the most important event to take place - the second coming of Jesus - being portrayed so beautifully and forthrightly. I had virtually given up on the church in South Africa, which seems to follow all the false prophets and teachers who want to Christianize the world for Jesus and then invite Him back when the whole world is converted. I guess they just don't read the Bible or believe in the literal translation of it. May the lord continue to richly bless you and your ministry! Maranatha - even so come quickly, Lord Jesus

Sid Fenwick
South Africa

I know what the denomination is in South Africa, and it's one that comes out of Holland, and most of them an amillennialists, they don't believe there's going to be a thousand-year reign of Christ, and then there are the post-millennialists, and that thing died years ago. How ridiculous that we're going to make the world perfect and then invite Christ to come back. Jesus said iniquity is going to abound until He returns, Matthew 24:12 and Second Timothy 3:13 tells us that evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse deceiving and being deceived. It’s going to get so bad in Revelation 9:20 they're worshiping demons. Try to make it perfect before Jesus comes, you can't do it. Believe the Bible - Christ is coming to set up his kingdom.

Of course, none of the issues associated with these passages are even addressed. For instance, Matthew 24:34 is not addressed, and how the contrast between verses 13 and 14 which proves that he was talking to Timothy and his time are not even addressed. Also, Revelation 1:1, 3 was not addressed which shows that this is not talking about some future event. Not only that, but notice the ignorance of Van Impe. He seems to think that postmillenialism is dead. Has he not heard of the Christian Reconstructionist movement? Has he not heard of Keith Mathison and R.C. Sproul? Also, it is amazing that the questioner talks about interpreting the Bible literally. Go read any dispensationalist interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39. They try to turn all of the weapons into missles, and try to turn horses into horsepower. The reality is that they are more than willing to depart from their literal hermeneutic.

Again, the issue here is much deeper than just a simple misinterpretation of a text. It is entire hermeneutical issue. Van Impe is reading the text through the lens of the headlines rather than through the lens of scripture. As a result, he is poisoning Christians against one another. If they don't happen to buy into his dispensational premillenial scheme, then they just don't believe the Bible. No, actually, we just do not agree with his interpretation of the Bible. I only hope that Jack Van Impe will have the courage of his convictions to stop doing this to the body of Christ. I wish both sides could dialogue on this issue. However, given the responses on his Q and A webpage, it is not likely to happen any time soon.


RedKnight said...

Perhaps Jack Van Impe is an Anglo-Israelist. And therefore feels that the Britons are descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel.

Paul said...

Adam, you're absolutely right when you say: "Van Impe is reading the text through the lens of the headlines rather than through the lens of scripture." And as a dispensationalist, the hermeneutical approach used by the likes of Jack Van Impe, Hal Lindsey, Grant Jeffrey, etc. is quite embarrassing.

I'd like to recommend a three-part debate between Bob Enyart and Gary Demar on the subject of dispensationalism and the end times. It's quite interesting. Enyart actually starts out by agreeing with Demar's criticism (that he makes in his book "End Times Fiction") of the "newspaper headline" type of hermeneutics of many dispensationalist "prophecy experts."

Enyart has a different take on dispensationalism than the Van Impe's of the world and I don't think Demar knew what to make of his arguments at first. Demar seemed to want to argue points that he anticipated based on his debates with other dispensationalists, and Enyart kept repeating over and over where he was in agreement with Demar (for example, that "This generation" in Mark 13:30 meant the generation to whom Christ was speaking, and not some generation in the distant future as most dispensationalists contend). It was kind of funny. :)

Listen to the debate at these links: