Thursday, November 18, 2010

Don Koenig's "The Prophetic Years": A Critical Assessment

Don A. Koenig manages and provides content for his own website, titled, “The Prophetic Years Bible Prophecy and Revelation Commentary.” (www.thepropheticyears.com) Koenig’s website spans from a statement of his faith and beliefs, “Survival Guide for Dummies – Surviving the next tens years in America,” [SIC], and scripturally-defended philosophy on religious pluralism. The site is divided into three main areas: collections of writings titled “The Prophetic Years: For Many Reasons Why We Are in End Times”, “Imminent Danger to the United States”, and “The Revelation of Jesus Christ Through the Ages”. This critique will address commentary of the book of Revelation. This critique will be organized into two basic categories. The first examines presentation, which will include website aesthetic, online usability, and professionalism. The second category will examine literary content and textual analysis.

The title of Koenig’s comprehensive work is, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ Through the Ages: A Complete Literal Common Sense Interpretation of the Prophecies.” Once the Revelation commentary is navigated from the Prophetic Years homepage, the aesthetic is perhaps well described as efficient. Entirely in arial font and a white backdrop, web-users may be struck by a no-nonsense tone, aside from a graphic of foreboding clouds and the occasional hot pink font color. Within the separate pages for each chapter, the font is black and the background is white. Though not stated explicitly, perhaps Koenig intended the lack of color, literally and metaphorically, and visually pleasing layout to communicate professionalism and academic seriousness to his readers. Instead, this reader received the drab layout as a lack of follow-through on Koenig’s part. In Koenig’s behalf, if he must choose to err either on the side of flamboyant, clownish aesthetic or unappealing monotony, he opts for a more dull but academic website layout.

Each chapter is addressed individually and are listed top-to-bottom in sequence. The bottom portion of the Revelation commentary homepage lists three ways of downloading the commentary in book form, the PDF format representing the most user-friendly method (for Mac users) as it requires no additional downloads. Koenig’s organizational choices facilitate easy maneuverability through the site and the chapters. The structure is concise and straightforward. Koenig includes a title page, acknowledgement, foreword, and introduction before the individual chapters. The presence of a foreword and an introduction and the self-aware attitude found in them reflect academic intentions for his work, though the content of the prolegoma bear their own issues to be addressed later in this critique. The chapter commentaries proceed verse-by-verse with commentary between each. Koenig uses a 1769 version of the King James Bible.

Moving on to content issues and textual analysis, the foreword will be examined. Koenig’s foreword contains a jarring duality between an attitude of conventional academia while reflecting unfamiliarity with conventional academic methods. Koenig prepares his reader with intellectual skepticism, writing, “All prophecy teachers and all theologians make errors and that is the major reason why every book you read will have some differences.” Koenig directly proceeds from this sentence to write the following dogma: “All serious students of prophetic scriptures and eschatology should agree foremost that the judgments in the book of Revelation are literal events that will take place on the earth.” Aside from the issue that Koenig’s proposition is quite difficult to defend textually and philosophically, his statement is a symptom of a larger systemic error throughout his commentary. The systemic error is that the premises that Koenig takes as axioms are in need of defense and explanation themselves. The premises of his interpretations of Revelation are creative, under-explained interpretations of other canonical scriptures.

Though the qualifications that Koenig cites for himself contain no formal education and instead being an evangelical Christian, the presence of his own website, personal study, and mere awareness of different “end time” prophecy speculations, it must be stated that Koenig does demonstrate a deep knowledge and awareness of his field (Revelation qua end times), albeit drawing, in part, from personal experience and casual conversation. His introduction lays out a variety of interpretive traditions, including preterist, idealist, and historical interpretations. The futurist view, which Koenig subscribes to, is laid out with various sub-categories. Koenig’s failure to provide sufficient evidence for his claims is a recurring weakness akin to the criticism found in the foreword. Koenig writes in his introduction:

Although all these [interpretative] views have some theological merit and all may contain some Christian truths within the theology, only one view holds the truth that Revelation is a book of prophecy that is meant to be understood by all. Only the futurist view makes common sense, is honest in following communication rules of language (by not taking liberties with the intent of the author without reason) and allows unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible to take place literally as written.

[For clarification: The bold font is Koenig’s doing, not the author of this critique.] Koenig does not, however, go on to explain any of these three pieces of evidence for the futurist view in any satisfactory depth. Readers of Koenig and the book of Revelation must ask, “What is meant by ‘common sense’?” A philosophical issue that Koenig must resolve is that of synthesizing his claims of common sense interpretation and literal readings with the inferences that characters in the book represent other figures, like when Koenig, without explanation, infers that the lamb in Ch. 5 is Jesus, not a literal lamb. Though the lamb is commonly interpreted as Jesus, the philosophical issue remains of how one can actually interpret this book literally and still place it in our known universe.

Koenig bolsters his arguments in Ch. 2 by incorporating other sources, namely Chuck Missler and Tim Lahaye. Unfortunately, this is the only presence of secondary sources. All other commentary draws from Koenig’s own reading, backed by cross-referencing other scriptures from the Protestant canon.

From here, interpretations of individual verses will be examined for specific interest and representation of underlying, reoccurring themes in the commentary. Koenig continues to run into problems related to literal reading of the text as he interprets the fourth plague in Ch. 16, verses 10 and 11. The verses indicate that an angel poured its vial, or bowl, onto the sun and humanity was scorched. Koenig rejects the notions that this indicates nuclear warfare or a vanished ozone layer because the text “plainly says” that the vial is poured on the sun and not the earth. Instead, Koenig asserts that this is in reference to a nova, the ignition of hydrogen to the surface of a white dwarf star creating nuclear fusion. While it is admittedly an unreasonably high expectation of the author John to have language to speak of astrophysics, Koenig is outside the limitations of common sense interpretation, those limitations that he set for himself. There is nothing in the book of Revelation that makes a literal reference to any one astrophysical phenomenon over another. Assumptions like these undercut the integrity of Koenig’s work.

Koenig establishes his premises and theological framework as early as the foreword. For the most part, he remains consistent in his metaphysical and theological paradigm. In his commentary on Ch. 13, he writes that he feels that many other biblical interpreters and scholars gauge conflicts described in Revelation in human military terms alone. He urges readers to incorporate the supernatural powers and effects invoked by God, Satan, and angels or demons. While his interpretation of the text involves much interpretative license, Koenig is true to his initial assertions, and he follows clear and logical causal chains that are based upon those initial premises.

In regard to the number of the beast, Koenig himself expresses caution, skepticism, and, perhaps, exasperation with contemporary claims of identifying the beast by its number. He points out the recurrence of the numbers 6 and 7 and suggests that they may correlate in some fashion to humanity and God. He also points out the numerical values of letters in Greek and Hebrew alphabets. But he cautions readers “not get carried away with speculation about who the man is.” Consistent with the rest of his commentary, however, Koenig does offer a confident view on the number that is unsubstantiated by anything but his speculation. According to Koenig, there is no point in attempting to identify the beast by the number 666 because the individual will change his name after he has been incarnated by Satan.

Koenig approaches the book of Revelation with a mindset that values reason, discernable argumentation, and professionalism. Some of the weaknesses of Koenig’s commentaries could be easily remedied, such as grammatical errors fixed by peer review or a proofreader. Other, more fundamental issues, however, will require far more work. At the stake of his work’s academic integrity, Koenig must provide more exhaustive evidence for his claims. Especially with Revelation, scholars and readers alike must speculate. Speculation is not the issue. Koenig’s fundamental issue is substantiating his claims. To critique “The Revelation of Jesus Christ Through the Ages” in single sentence, Koenig’s commentary on the book of Revelation is professional in spirit, though, ultimately, undisciplined.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your assessment of Mr. Koenig's work.

    ReplyDelete