This is Part 1 of a three part review of Hagee’s very confused, very popular book on Israel: John Hagee, In Defense of Israel: The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State (Lake Mary, Flo.: FrontLine, 2007).
This book was written by New York Times best-selling author John Hagee, pastor of a 19,000 member megachurch in San Antonio. It presents the argument that the Christian Church is biblically obligated to support the political state of Israel on the basis of its fulfillment of biblical prophecy (pp. 84-85) and for the well-being of America (p. 84). It is virtually a hagiography for the Jews which borders on Judeolatry. Hagee almost implies that the Jews and Israel can do no wrong, for he does (as we shall see) call upon Christians to support them as we do God himself: unconditionally.
As I begin this review I have two confessions to make: (1) I had never read a Hagee book before, and (2) I never will again. This work presents dispensationalism gone to seed. The fact that he is a widely popular, multi-million selling, and influential Christian writer demonstrates the tragedy that “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6).
Hagee presents his argument so vigorously that he effectively demands that we as Christians and America as a nation are obligated by Scripture itself to support the modern political state of Israel in anything it does. For instance, on the back cover he boasts of his “twenty-six years of unconditional support of Israel and the Jewish people.” He demands that “every Christian in America has a biblical mandate to stand in absolute solidarity with Israel” (p. 84, emph. mine) because “we are commanded to love [the Jews] unconditionally” (p. 92). These levels of obligation should be reserved only for obedience to God himself. As Hagee admits regarding his first trip to Israel: “We went as tourists and came home as Zionists” (p. 12).
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In extolling Israel Hagee virtually proclaims the superiority of the Jewish race over all other races: “The entire world and especially the United States, owes a debt to the Jewish people. The contributions of the Jewish people are staggering” (p. 99). And he does this while repeatedly rebuking Christianity for creating anti-Semitism: “anti-Semitism has its origin and its complete root structure in Christianity, dating from the early days of the Christian church” (p. 17; cp. pp. 74, 121, 125, 145). He laments: “It is not Jews and Judaism who have lost credibility; it is a loveless Christianity that has lost credibility” (p. 149). He never rebukes Israel for anything, even deflecting its role in Christ’s crucifixion by blaming it on just a few corrupt leaders.
He rebukes Christianity while extolling the religion of Judaism — even worshiping with Jews (p. 144), receiving their religious benediction (p. 45), declaring Jerusalem “my spiritual home” (p. 12), speaking of them as his “spiritual brothers” (pp. 36, 173), and stating that they are “quite literally God’s children” (p. 51, emph. his — what in the world does this mean?) and the “family of our Lord” (p. 92).
Hagee even implies that the Jews do not need to convert to Christ, because “the message of the gospel was from Israel, not to Israel” (p. 134). Though not expressly stated by Hagee, this seems to be implied in his book, for he never calls upon the Jews to accept Christ, and sympathetically explains that we should not expect them to do so because of our treatment of them through the ages: “But the idea that the Jews of the world are going to convert and storm the doors of Christian churches is a myth…. After two thousand years of anti-Semitic replacement theology that says ‘the church is the real Israel,’ thus denying the Jews their rightful place in the economy of God, they are not about to convert” (148). He also sponsors joint, public meetings with them that have “as an unbendable ground rule” that the meetings would be “nonconversionary” (p. 46).
In this work Hagee beautifully weaves strands of incompetence with cords of error to create a tapestry of Judeolatry. This book contains almost as many errors as it does pages. Due to space limitations I will only briefly list some of them. It is necessary, however, to survey evidence of his biblical and historical incompetence to demonstrate how his theological error is simply the conclusion of that incompetence. This will show how dangerous he is as an influence in the Church.
Hagee’s Historical and Biblical Incompetence
He declares that Christianity began to be anti-Semitic in the first century (p. 145) and has been so for 2000 years (p. 118). But elsewhere he states that it became so three hundred years after Christ (p. 18) or has been so for only 1000 years (p. 34). Which is it?
He attempts to show that we must side with the Jews by arguing that Jesus uses a Greek word for “brothers” in Matthew 25:40 that means “relatives according to the flesh” (p. 7), which means it must refer to “the Jewish people.” This verse reads: “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” Yet the word is constantly used of spiritual brothers in the New Testament (e.g., Rom 12:10; 14:10, 15; 1 Cor 6:6; 7:12; 8:11; Jms 4:11), even in Matthew itself (e.g., Matt 12:46-50; 18:15-20; 23:88-11). It obviously means spiritual brothers in Christ here in Matthew 25:40, for in Matthew Jesus frequently speaks of the Jews persecuting his followers (Matt 10:17-19; 23:32-36). Acts shows Jews casting Christians into prison, as per Matthew 25:36, 39 (Acts 5:17ff; 8:3).
Regarding an historical matter, Hagee states that “Titus marched from Rome in A.D. 70” to lay “siege to the city of Jerusalem” (p. 18). Actually Titus began his movement toward Jerusalem from Alexandria, Egypt (Josephus, Wars 3:1:3; 3:4:2).
In one place Hagee speaks of Hitler in a contradictory fashion. He notes on p. 35 regarding “Christian” / “Catholic” Hitler that had Jesus “lived in Europe in 1940” he “would have slowly choked to death on the poisonous gas” of the Nazi gas chambers. But in the very next paragraph he provides a quote from Hitler as an illustration of a “Christian” anti-Semite: “Christ was the greatest early fighter in the battle against the world enemy, the Jews.” If Hitler thought he was following Christ in battling the Jews, why would he kill Christ whom he claimed to emulate as a “Christian”?
Hagee argues that Romans 9-11 has “no connection to the preceding or succeeding” text in the book and “stand alone, completely unique in their theme” (pp. 51-52). Yet this passage fits very nicely in his argumentative flow throughout Romans. Paul writes this passage in order to demonstrate that despite Israel’s rebellion against God, salvation is still for the Jews (Rom 1:16; 2:10; 3:1-4, 29; 4:13) and God’s sovereignty (Rom. 8:26-39) has not failed, though the Jews seem to provide evidence that it has (Rom 9:6; 10:1; 11:1). Thus, immediately after the last verse of Romans 11 Paul write: “Therefore I urge you…” (Rom 12:1). “Therefore” never follows unconnected passages; this codicil is well placed in its larger context. It is not an intrusion bearing “no connection to the preceding or succeeding” text.
In one astonishing gaffe Hagee confuses the virgin birth with the immaculate conception of Mary! “Because of Mary’s immaculate conception, Jesus had just one Jewish parent” (p. 93). On that same page he also states that Acts 11:26 occurred “forty years after the crucifixion,” which would be around AD 70. However, Acts 11 transpires in the early AD 40s during “the reign of Claudius” (Acts 11:28). Claudius was emperor from AD 41-54. It is impossible to date the event forty years after Christ’s crucifixion which occurred in AD 30.
On p. 95 Hagee states that Jesus went to his first Passover “at the end of his twelfth year, which would have been his thirteenth birthday.” Yet Luke 2:42 reports that he did so “when He became twelve,”that is, near or shortly after his twelfth birthday.
Hagee speaks of “the apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament” (p. 98). Yet Paul only wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, and most of these epistles were rather short (only three contain more than six chapters). Luke’s large books (Luke and Acts) comprise the greatest quantitative proportion of the New Testament, 25% of its volume. In the Greek text Luke/Acts contains 37,932 words, whereas Paul’s writings contain 32,407 words.
Incredibly Hagee declares that as a child Jesus studied the Mishnah and the Talmud (p. 96). This is impossible! The Mishnah was compiled around 200 AD, and there are two Talmuds, with the earliest one compiled over 200 years later than the Mishnah. On that same page he also contradicts himself by declaring that in Jesus’ day Judaism was the only monotheistic religion with a Supreme Being (p. 96). Yet on p. 61 he had already correctly noted that Zoroastrianism was a monotheistic faith with one transcendent creator God. It was established more than 500 years before Christ.
Hagee continues his stumbling, for on p. 97 he speaks of “the creation of the world in seven days,” whereas the Bible presents its creation in six days (Gen 1; Exo 20:11; 31:17). On that page he also writes that “Judaism … gave us the patriarchs,” whereas it was the descendants of the patriarchs who established Judaism hundreds of years later in the time of Moses (see: Jacob Neusner, Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, 346).
Hagee suggests that a Jew named “Haym Salomon, may have been the true author of the first draft of the U.S. Constitution” rather than James Madison (p. 105). This despite the fact Salomon died two years before it was written. On p. 122 he defines the term “deicide” as meaning “killers of Christ,” though etymologically it means “killers of God” (Latin: deus).
On p. 126 he states that “the high priest Caiaphas … did not in any way represent the Jewish people” because “he was a political appointment of Herod.” But at least in that one way he represented the Jewish people! More significantly though, Matthew speaks of “the chief priests and the elders of the people” (Matt 26:3).
Furthermore, after Paul rebukes the high priest without realizing who he was, we read an interesting interchange in Acts 23:4-5. Paul speaks of the Rome-appointed high priest as protected by biblical law: “But the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, ‘I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”’” Paul did not protest his illegitimacy as “God’s high priest.” In addition, the Mishnah and Talmuds (which Hagee extolls) recognize the high priests as representatives of Israel (e.g., m. Hor. 3:4; b. Yoma 1:1), as does Josephus (Wars 2:14:8; 4:5:2; 5:5:7; Life 1:2 ).
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In another historical blunder, on p. 127 Hagee comments that Caiaphas “was appointed by Herod.” Actually he was appointed by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus over twenty years after Herod died.
Hagee argues that the Jewish people were not responsible for Christ’s death, only their leaders who were few in number. Then he states “the justice of God would never permit judgment for the sins of a handful of people to be passed to an entire civilization of people” (p. 131). This leaves him with no theological explanation for the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 and the 2000 years of Jewish oppression. Though Jesus sees the Temple and Jerusalem’s destruction as resulting from God’s judgment (Matt 23:32-24:2, 16-17).
Hagee makes the incredible assertion that “the Pharisees in the school of Hillel were as mad as hornets because Jesus would not endorse Shammai’s teaching on ‘divorce for every cause’” (p. 129). This is a bizarre analysis of their differences with Christ on divorce. But as a matter of historical fact these two schools warred against each another, the one school would not have been upset with Christ for discounting the view of the other school, especially since he would be siding with one of the schools!
Regarding the antagonism between Hillel and Shammai, Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner writes: “According to the Talmud, the tendency of Hillel’s academy towards moderation was shaped by the personality of Hillel himself…. By contrast, members of the House of Shammai took on the characteristics of their teacher, Shammai, who is know [sp.] for intemperance and severity,” so that “the disputes of the Houses of Hillel and Shammai comprise the largest corpus of materials cited in the names of authorities active prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E.” (Neusner, Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, 293).
In a strange analysis of the Great Commission, on p. 134 (and 145) Hagee argues that the Commission was to be preached to every “creature,” which shows that “Gentiles were considered creatures” like “dogs”! He obviously does not know Greek, for the Greek word ktisis means “creation,” like when we are made a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). We are not made “new dogs.”
In another odd maneuver on p. 147 Hagee points to the plural “My people” in Isaiah 40:1 and argues that this shows there are “two groups of people in this verse,” by which he means Israel and the Church. But the fact is that “My people” in the plural is used scores of times in referring to the one people Israel (e.g., Exo 3:10; 5:1; Isa 5:13; 10:24).
On p. 154 Hagee writes that Jesus “gave us three sermons” that “are prophetic in nature”: Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. But these are one sermon recorded by three different Gospel writers.
And now all of this leads us to consider his leading and most astounding theological errors. But you will have to wait for my next article.