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EARTHQUAKES AND THE END TIMES: A GEOLOGICAL AND BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE

Steven A. Austin and Mark L. Strauss
Institute for Creation Research
Fenruary 2, 2005


(Unpublished manuscript of January 14, 1999. These authors
published a simplified, less technical version of this paper in
1999 under the title "Are Earthquakes Signs of the End Times?: A
Geological and Biblical Response to an Urban Legend," Christian
Research Journal, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 30-39.)

INTRODUCTION


According to a number of Christian writers and teachers on Bible
prophecy, Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse that a pronounced
increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes would occur
just prior to His return to the earth. Many of the same writers and
teachers claim that the decade of the 1990s has experienced a
pronounced increase in both the frequency and intensity of
earthquakes as compared to the earlier decades of the twentieth
century. This coincidence of Jesus' prophetic statement and recent
seismic events is viewed by these writers and teachers as clear
demonstration of the nearness of the return of Christ.

Hal Lindsey, the world's best known Bible prophecy teacher and
author of 17 books on prophecy, writes in one of his latest books:

Earthquakes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, just
as the Bible predicts for the last days before the return of
Christ. History shows that the number of killer quakes remained
fairly constant until the 1950s - averaging between two to four
per decade. In the 1950s, there were nine. In the 1960s, there
were 13. In the 1970s, there were 51. In the 1980s, there were 86.
From 1990 through 1996, there have been more than 150. 1

What is the source of Lindsey's statistics? In his book Planet Earth
2000 A.D. Lindsey cites the United States Geological Survey (USGS)
in Boulder, Colorado.2 Yet he does not give details of the report
(author, date, report name, location, etc.).3 Lindsey's earthquake
frequency numbers have been widely circulated by popular prophecy
speakers such as Chuck Missler and Jack Van Impe.4 However, Missler
and Van Impe do not give any further information on the source of
Lindsey's statistics.

Grant R. Jeffrey, another Bible prophecy teacher and author of nine
best-selling books, could be the source of Lindsey's statistics. Two
years before Lindsey's statement was published, Jeffrey wrote:

However, since A.D. 1900, the growth in major earthquakes has been
relentless. From 1900 to 1949 it averaged three major quakes per
decade. From 1949 the increase became awesome with 9 killer quakes
in the 1950's; 13 in the 60's; 56 in the 1970's and an amazing 74
major quakes in the 1980's. Finally, in the 1990's, as [sic] the
present rate, we will experience 125 major killer quakes in this
decade (Source: U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Report, Boulder,
Colorado).5

J. R. Church and Gary Stearman, editors of the magazine Prophecy in
the News, argued that data show a pronounced increase in the
frequency of the largest earthquakes in the 1990s. Church writes of
a distinct increase in our century.6 Stearman gives specific numbers
of earthquakes, and he cites as his source the October 11, 1995
issue of the newspaper Philadelphia Inquirer:

According to that newspaper the number of Richter magnitude 6.0 and
greater earthquakes worldwide has been increasing from nine in the
1950s, to 13 in the 1960s, to 51 in the 1970s, to 86 in the 1980s,
and to more than 100 in the 1990s.7

The computer-searchable archives of the Philadelphia Inquirer reveal
no article on earthquake frequency in that newspaper on October 11,
1995 and no other issue of that newspaper during the decade of the
1990s.8 What is the source of Stearman's statistics? When several
readers of Stearman's article confronted him with much more
earthquake data than in the mysterious citation from the newspaper,
he apologized in print for the bad statistics, but, then, after his
apology, reaffirmed that earthquakes are indeed increasing.9

John Hagee, founder and pastor of the 15,000-member Cornerstone
Church in San Antonio, authored the book Beginning of the End which
became a New York Times bestseller. Hagee references a report from
the National Earthquake Information Center of the U.S. Geological
Survey: "the number of large earthquakes (magnitude 6.0 or greater)
have stayed relatively constant." and notes within the government
report "the last decade has produced substantially fewer large
earthquakes than shown in the long-term averages."10 Remarkably,
Hagee goes on to contradict directly the government report: " it is
true that the Bible predicts that earthquakes will increase in the
last days, and the number of earthquakes measured has increased 1.58
times between 1983 and 1992."11 The documentation given to support
the supposed increase is faulty. Adequate reason is not given as to
why the conclusion of the government report (i.e. decreasing
earthquakes) is to be rejected.12

A different set of earthquake frequency numbers appears in the
recent writings of Peter and Paul Lalonde. These new statistics are
used to indicate a very large increase in earthquake frequency in
the 1990s:

Well, according to sources from Energy, Mines and Resources Canada
there were, from 1900 to 1969, about 48 earthquakes that registered
at 6.5 or more on the Richter Scale. This is an average of 6 per
decade. From 1970 to 1989 there were 33 earthquakes measuring 6.5 or
more. This is an average of 17 per decade. From January 1990 to July
1990 there were 10 earthquakes of 6.5 or greater. This is 10 major
earthquakes in just six months. And from July 1990 to October 1992
there were 133 earthquakes which measured at 6.5 or greater. This
averages out to 600 per decade.13

What is the specific source within Energy, Mines and Resources
Canada that supplied these statistics? Again, details are lacking.
In light of such slipshod documentation, we are concerned about the
widespread claim within the Christian community that earthquakes are
on the increase. Can these recent statements be supported by
rigorous documentation? Or have the deployment of more seismographs
during the last few decades made detection and cataloging of
earthquakes more complete, thereby enhancing the perception of
increase? Does the public have the perception that earthquakes are
on the increase because earthquakes now afflict our larger urbanized
populations, and, therefore, are more often reported by the media?
We believe the public perception and media characterization promotes
the self-sustaining "urban legend" even among the Christian
Church.14 This "legend" widespread in western culture regards
earthquakes of the twentieth century to be on the increase. We will
cite data that directly confront the urban legend.

EVALUATING EARTHQUAKE DATA

The year 1997 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the general
deployment of standardized and calibrated seismographs. It started
with nine seismograph stations in 1898 that were capable of
detecting, locating and measuring earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or
larger (M 7.0) anywhere in the globe. As a result, major
earthquakes have been monitored globally and continuously for more
than 100 years. By 1931 there were 350 stations operating worldwide
that were locating and measuring M 6.5 earthquakes globally. By the
1950s the system of seismographs could locate all M 6.0 events
occurring globally. Today a network of more than 4,000 seismograph
stations is locating and measuring more than 10,000 events with
magnitude less than 5.0 each year.

Global earthquake data for the century have been synthesized and are
available from several sources. These are usually extensive lists
giving each earthquake as a time, location and magnitude. Before we
look to the earthquake data of the twentieth century for possible
increase in frequency and magnitude, we need to be able to evaluate
the suitability of catalog data. Three important properties are
required of data used for frequency analysis. Data must be (1)
accurate, (2) complete and (3) uniform.

Accuracy. Earthquake data need to satisfy several technical
requirements; the most important of which is accuracy. The
consortium of seismological institutions has set standards. Normally
the seismogram from the region of the earthquake is used to estimate
"authoritative" earthquake parameters (time, location, fault
mechanism and magnitude). Also, other institutions farther away from
the epicenter may estimate parameters (usually not considered
"authoritative"). The submission process by the member organizations
generates the authoritative composite catalog.15 Even with
procedures for standardization, some noteworthy problems exist.
Japanese and American seismologists usually differ with each other
by 0.2 magnitude unit for the strength of surface waves of a
particular earthquake.16 Newspapers cannot be relied on for accurate
data because they often do not cite the authoritative values
established by the working relationship between the organizations.
Completeness. An earthquake catalog needs to be complete, not
missing any events within the defined boundaries of the catalog.
Complete data sets must be established by the painstaking process of
checking numerous authoritative records. Some catalogs, which might
be assumed to provide complete records, actually have noteworthy
deficiencies.17 For example, many events smaller than magnitude 6.5
(M < 6.5) have not been located or properly measured for the early
decades of the century. One of the most extensive global catalogs of
the present century, the Tsapanos Catalog, contains data on 9700
earthquakes of our century. This catalog is considered "complete"
for M 6.5 beginning in the year 1930 and "complete" for M 6.0
beginning in the year 1952.18 Therefore, a complete record for M <
7.0 for the early part of the century does not exist. Because of
these limitations, we cannot compare effectively the frequency of
events of M < 7.0 from the first and second halves of the century.
However, the global synthesis of M 7.0 is good, even for the
earlier decades of the century. For example, the Tsapanos Catalog
has been claimed to be "complete" for M 7.0 from the year 1898. 19
Uniformity. The final quality of a good earthquake catalog is
uniformity. There have been some small changes to the seismograph
design during the last one hundred years which require
back-calibration of the records to insure uniformity with recent
measurements.20 Early characterization of shallow earthquakes (focal
depths less than 70 kilometers) and deep earthquakes (focal depths
greater than 70 kilometers) required different magnitude measurement
scales. Several magnitude scales have been used over the years -
Richter magnitude (ML), surface wave magnitude (Ms), body wave
magnitude (mb), moment magnitude (MW), and energy magnitude (Me).21
It has been recognized that the older ML, Ms and mb scales do not
properly characterize the full wave-frequency range of the energy
radiated by an earthquake. The Ms scale, although widely used, does
not characterize deep-focus earthquakes and great earthquakes (M
8.0) very well. Therefore, newer magnitude scales use properties of
the fault system (MW) or the total radiant energy spectrum (Me) to
estimate the strength of an earthquake. These last two scales work
for shallow and deep earthquakes as well as the largest earthquakes.
However, MW and Me scales were not devised until recently, and, if
used, require the recalibration of data from the major part of the
early century to insure uniformity.

GLOBAL CATALOGS

Having stated the requirements for a catalog being accurate,
complete and uniform, we can recommend five global catalogs of
twentieth-century earthquakes.

(1) The Zirbes Data File. The National Earthquake Information Center
(NEIC) of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) maintains in
Denver data on four million earthquakes from earliest records
beginning in 2100 B.C.22 The summary data file currently updated
yearly by Madeleine Zirbes of the NEIC includes global frequency
data from this century for both shallow and deep earthquakes.23 The
Zirbes file attempts to deal uniformly with the characterization of
earthquakes (M 7.0) of all focal depths globally.

(2) The "Worldwide Earthquake Database." Four million seismic events
from 2100 B.C. to 1995 A.D. are collected into a composite catalog
called the "Worldwide Earthquake Database." Data are distributed by
the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) of the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Numerous data
files are included in the "Seismicity Catalog," a two-volume CD-ROM
produced in cooperation with the NEIC. The component file called
"1900.EQ" within the "Seismicity Catalog" 24 gives time, location
and magnitude for 17690 M 6.0 earthquakes, and 5667 M 6.5
earthquakes globally from 1900 through 1995. The file lists shallow
and deep earthquakes globally, lacks rigorous uniformity, and
appears to be complete for M 6.5 after about 1930, and M 6.0
after about 1951.25

(3) The Abe Catalog. Seismologists K. Abe and S. Noguchi from the
Earthquake Research Institute of the University of Tokyo published
an excellent global catalog of large, shallow earthquakes (Ms 7.0)
for the period from 1897 to 1980.26 This database is the early
effort to apply rigorous standards to make an accurate, complete and
uniform catalog for large shallow earthquakes. The catalog has a
supplement adding deep-focus, global earthquakes (mb 7.0) for 1904
through 1974.27 The accuracy, completeness and uniformity of other
catalogs should be evaluated by comparison to this noteworthy
standard.

(4) The Pacheco and Sykes Catalog. Javies Pacheco and Lynn Sykes of
Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory at Columbia University have
published a global catalog of 697 shallow, large earthquakes (Ms
7.0) which they argue is accurate, complete and uniform for the
period 1900 to 1989.28 This catalog, which is a revision of the Abe
Catalog, normalizes the surface wave magnitude values of Abe with a
particular assumption of uniform seismicity throughout the century.
The normalizing assumption has generated significant debate.
(5) The Tsapanos Catalog. Greek seismologists have produced a global
catalog of 9700 earthquakes with M 5.5 from the period 1898 to
1985.29 The catalog of shallow and deep earthquakes is claimed to be
complete for M 7.0 from 1898, for M 6.5 from 1930, for M 6.0
from 1952, and for M 5.5 from 1966.

THE GEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE:

ARE EARTHQUAKES INCREASING?

If the popular notion of many prophecy teachers (Lindsey, Missler,
Van Impe, Church, Jeffrey, Stearman, Hagee, Lalonde, etc.) is
correct, two assertions about twentieth-century earthquakes must be
true:

(1) a noteworthy deficiency of big earthquakes existed in the
first half of the century,and
(2) an obvious increase in the frequency of big earthquakes
occurred since 1950.

These two assertions must be made by prophecy teachers so as to
support a notion of the unique "earthquake sign" occurring in the
1990s. Both assertions, we maintain, are false. Using the best
earthquake catalog data and statements of seismologists, we have
concluded exactly the opposite:

(1) a noteworthy excess of big earthquakes existed in the first
half of the century, and
(2) an obvious decrease in the frequency of big earthquakes
occurred since 1950.

Global Earthquake Data. The frequency of this century's biggest
earthquakes is summarized in Figure 1. The frequency of the biggest
earthquakes (M 7.0) by year from 1900 through 1997 is shown in
Figure 1a. The data source for Figure 1a is the "Zirbes Data File"
from the NEIC. Figure 1a shows a total of 1960 events, an average of
20.0 M 7.0 earthquakes per year. Of the 20 events, an average of
one per year is a "great" earthquake (M 8.0), and an average of 19
per year are "major" earthquakes (7.9 M 7.0). Figure 1b shows
the frequency of M 6.5 earthquakes beginning in the year 1931,
when the seismograph detection system became established well enough
to record a "globally complete" set of these larger events. Figure
1b displays a total of 4593 events, an average of 69 M 6.5 events
per year. The data source for Figure 1b is file "1900.EQ"
distributed by the NGDC.30

Lines and curves are also plotted to the data in Figure 1. Both
graphical plots of global frequency data contain a dashed line
showing the best-fit linear equation through the data. In both of
the plots the best-fit linear equations have negative slope
indicating an overall decreasing frequency, not increasing frequency
with time. This decreasing seismicity trend is opposite of the
common statements of many prophecy teachers.

The earthquake data of Figure 1 also reveal a space-time frequency
pattern that specialists acknowledge is strongly nonrandom.31
Because our century's frequency data are strongly nonrandom within
both of the magnitude classes, two best-fit polynomial curves have
been plotted to discern possible patterns of variation in earthquake
frequency. The best-fit curves in Figure 1 are polynomial functions
having the mathematical form f(x) = a0 + a1x + a2x2 + ... + anxn. A
remarkable pattern is evident from both best-fit polynomial curves.
Both curves indicate a thirty-year period, but are strongly out of
phase, suggesting some type of cyclic frequency pattern for the
biggest earthquakes of our century. The cyclic pattern is apparently
characteristic of some type of periodic tectonic process working
itself out in the twentieth century. The cause of earthquake
periodicities, however, remains a mystery. These patterns, which
have been an important topic of scientific discussion, are beyond
the scope of this paper.32

Is there a noteworthy deficiency of big earthquakes (M 7.0) in the
first half of the twentieth century as many prophecy teachers
suppose? No, there is a noteworthy excess. The global earthquake
frequency data can be used to argue just the opposite of the popular
urban legend. For the data in Figure 1a we note 1093 big earthquakes
for the first half of the century (1900 to 1949). That is an average
of 22 big earthquakes per year. For the nearly completed second half
of the century (1950 to 1997) we note just 867 big earthquakes. That
is an average of just 18 big earthquakes per year. When 1999 is
completed, it is likely that the second half of the century will
have about 900 big earthquakes. For M 7.0 events, the second half
of the century, therefore, is expected to have about 200 less
earthquakes than the first half. Zirbes writes:

We continue to hear from many people throughout the world that
earthquakes are on the increase. Although it may seem that we are
having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater
have remained fairly constant throughout this century, and,
according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in
recent years.33

Has there been a noteworthy increase in the frequency of big
earthquakes (M 7.0) since 1950 as many prophecy teachers insist?
No, there appears to have been a significant decrease. Figure 1a
shows that the frequency of big earthquakes in the 1950s averaged
20.9 events per year, slightly above the average for the entire
century.

There seems to have been a decline in frequency through the 1960s
(20.4 events per year), 1970s (20.4 events per year), and 1980s
(11.2 events per year). Those are the decades when Hal Lindsey says
that the frequency of big earthquakes was increasing. From 1990
through 1997 there has been an average of 17.3 big earthquakes per
year, which is still under the average of 20.0 earthquakes per year
for the entire century. It is evident that the M 7.0 frequency
data do not confirm the urban legend. Hal Lindsey is aware of the
Zirbes Data File and the evidence from the USGS that M 7.0
earthquakes are not increasing in our century.34 His response is:
The USGS traditionally defined a major earthquake as being "6.5
magnitude or greater, and causing significant death or damage."
That is still the category heading used when they compile their
own statistics. By the simple expedient of raising the minimum
magnitude level for the basic criteria, earthquake statistics can
be manipulated to support their contention of no increase in major
earthquakes.35

Is the USGS "selectively manipulating"36 its magnitude criteria
(choosing to show data for M 7.0 instead of M 6.5) for the
purpose of concealing the obvious increase in frequency as asserted
by Lindsey? His claim of malpractice or deception by seismologists
of the USGS is easily refuted by going to the M 6.5 frequency plot
in Figure 1b. This frequency plot is where the obvious rate increase
of the 1980s and 1990s should be most apparent, according to
Lindsey. However, we see that Figure 1b (a plot from data of file
"1900.EQ") has general declining frequency with time like Figure 1a.
The declining frequency is indicated by the best-fit linear
equations shown by dashed lines possessing negative slopes in Figure
1a and 1b. No evidence of pronounced frequency increase is evident
from Figure 1 for the 1980s and 1990s above earlier decades.
Another significant property of our century's data is evident in
Figure 1. The figure shows that many prophecy teachers have grossly
underestimated the number of larger earthquakes, especially in the
earlier part of our century. Lindsey's statistics for M 6.0
earthquakes appear in Table 1. His statistics seem to demonstrate
increasing frequency of M 6.0 earthquakes globally, thus,
supporting the urban legend. However, Table 137 compares Lindsey's
numbers from his unspecified USGS source with the numbers for
equivalent decades from the NGDC data file "1900.EQ". Because much
higher frequency of M 6.0 earthquakes has been demonstrated from
"authoritative" sources (e.g., NGDC data files), Lindsey's
statistics are proven incomplete, and, therefore, faulty for the
purpose of frequency analysis. Lindsey's conclusion concerning
increasing global frequency, which has been derived from the faulty
statistics, must be in error as well. Similar global earthquake
statistics and conclusions of Jeffrey,38 Stearman,39 and Lalonde40
must also be incorrect.

Regional Earthquake Data. Regional earthquake catalogs should show
the recent increase in earthquake frequency if the urban legend is
correct. What about California? Has there been a significant
increase in earthquakes within America's most populated state? Hal
Lindsey says yes:

There has been a rapid increase in major California quakes in the
last 15 years.Since 1980, the state has experienced 18 quakes
worse than 5.0. That is the same number of 5.0-plus quakes the
state experienced in the entire century before 1980.41

But, again, we must ask from where did Lindsey get these statistics?
No documentation is given. Lindsey's statement that only 18
magnitude 5.0-plus earthquakes occurred in California from 1900 to
1980 is contradicted by numerous seismicity catalogs of the region.
Our search of the California region's historic seismic records
revealed 408 earthquakes with M 5.0 for the period 1900 through
1979.42 Because California's seismograph systems were not well
established until 1932, a significant number of M 5.0 events were
not located and measured before 1932. We can make a strong argument
for more than 400 earthquakes with M 5.0 in the California region
from 1900 through 1979, not just 18 earthquakes during that period
as Lindsey supposes. Two USGS geologists Ross Stein and Thomas Hanks
constructed their "Southern California Catalog" that is complete for
M 6.0 earthquakes from 1903 through 1997.43 They provide superb
documentation for the Southern California region of 28 earthquakes
(M 6.0, 1903 through 1979). They ignored the more frequent but
less well-documented earthquakes with M < 6.0, and they ignored all
of Northern California. Still they have 28 earthquakes, a higher
number than Hal Lindsey obtained for the whole state, for a longer
time, and for a lower magnitude. Lindsey's California earthquake
statistics must be incomplete.

Is there evidence that California's M>5.0 earthquakes have increased
during the last half of the century as Lindsey supposes? Because of
the much higher frequency of M 5.0 that we have demonstrated from
"authoritative" sources, Lindsey's statistics are proven to be
faulty and his conclusion, therefore, becomes vacuous. Hutton and
Jones performed a detailed study of M 5.0 events since 1932 in
Southern California and found no significant region-wide rate
change, including the period after 1980.44 They start with the year
1932 because that is the year when the data are believed to become
"complete" for M 5.0 events. Stein and Hanks say of Southern
California, "...we find no evidence that the rate of seismicity is
increasing, now or at any other time since 1900." 45 They contradict
both the statistics and the conclusion of Lindsey.

What about the region of Japan? As the world's most seismically
active region, Japan should have an interesting story to tell. Does
it show a recent increase in the frequency of earthquakes as the
urban legend supposes?46 The "Japan Catalog"47 is complete for M
6.0 from 1885 to 1980. Abe's catalog of global earthquakes (large,
shallow quakes between 1897 and 1980) was compared to the Japan
Catalog (large, shallow quakes around Japan between 1885 and 1980).
Variation of earthquake frequency between the entire world and the
region of Japan was demonstrated to be synchronous by sophisticated
statistical tests.48 Ogata and Abe wrote, "The occurrence rate of
earthquakes in the two areas is high in the period of 1920's through
1940's and low in the last 30 years."49 That similar pattern of
variation between Japan and the rest of the world did not show
increase in frequency in the last half of the century. Here, again,
we have an important statement that directly confronts the urban
legend.

THE BIBLICAL EVIDENCE:

DID JESUS PREDICT AN INCREASE IN EARTHQUAKES
BEFORE THE END?

If earthquakes are not on the increase, then what shall we make of
the biblical evidence that earthquakes will increase in the last
days? As noted above, Hal Lindsey says that earthquakes will
continue to increase "just as the Bible predicts for the last
days."50 If earthquakes are not increasing, does this mean that the
return of Christ cannot be near? Closer examination of the New
Testament evidence will reveal that Lindsey's statement is wrong on
both counts. Not only are earthquakes not increasing, but also the
biblical text never indicated that they would. The popular
conception that an increase of earthquakes in frequency and severity
is a key sign of the temporal nearness of the end results from a
misreading of the biblical text.

Earthquakes in Biblical Literature. Earthquakes and other
cataclysmic events often carry theophanic significance in Scripture,
demonstrating God's awesome power. At Mount Sinai the LORD's
presence was indicated by smoke and the shaking of the mountain
(Exod. 19:18; cf. 1 Kings 19:1151 ; Ps. 68:8; Job 9:6; Hab. 3:6).
When the New Testament church prayed "the place where they had
gathered together was shaken" and the Spirit's presence was
manifested (Acts 4:31). Paul and Silas were freed when God's power
and presence was manifested in an earthquake (Acts 16:26). The most
unusual earthquakes were associated with the crucifixion and
resurrection of Christ. When Christ died on the cross, an earthquake
shook the temple and rent the curtain of the temple from top to
bottom (Matt. 27:51). No human agency rolled away the stone that
sealed Christ's tomb; it was the angel in the presence of the
earthquake (Matt. 28:2).

More specifically, many seismic theophanies are manifestations of
God's anger and righteous judgment (cf. 1 Sam. 14:15; Ps. 18:7,8;
Isa. 5:25; 13:13; 29:6; Joel 3:16; Amos 1:1,2; 8:7,8; Mic. 1:3-7;
Nah. 1:5,6; Hag. 2:6, 21). The Day of the LORD is the most elaborate
judgment motif of Scripture. That day is without fail marked by
earthquakes and associated celestial disturbances (Isa. 2:19, 21;
13:13; 24:18; 29:5-6; Ezek. 38:19-22; Joel 2:10; Zech. 14:4, 5). For
example, Isaiah's description of the destruction of Babylon has
cosmic overtones:

Therefore I shall make the heavens tremble,
. . . And the earth will be shaken from its place
At the fury of the LORD of hosts

. . . In the day of His burning anger. (Isa. 13:13).
Yet during the awesome shakedown of heaven and earth, "The LORD will
have compassion on Jacob" (Isa. 14:1), and all creation will
recognize God's working (Isa. 14:3-8). When Israel is attacked by
the armies of Gog, those armies are demolished at the decree of the
LORD by earthquake and cosmic hailstones (Ezek. 38:17-23). Zechariah
is even more explicit about the extraordinary geologic upheaval in
the Holy Land associated with the Day of the LORD. A final
earthquake at the LORD's return will split the Mount of Olives,
uplift Jerusalem on its site, and depress the surrounding Judean
Mountains (Zech. 14:1-10).

Earthquakes are also associated with God's self-revelation in the
eschatology of the book of Hebrews (Heb. 12:25-29). The author warns
his readers not to refuse to heed the God who speaks as he spoke at
Sinai ("And His voice shook the earth then," Heb. 12:26; cf. Exod.
19:18). The author then passes through history from Sinai to the
promise of a great cosmic upheaval of the end time ("Yet once more I
will shake not only the earth but also the heaven," Heb. 12:26; cf.
Hag. 2:6). God's ultimate purpose is to give believers "a kingdom
which cannot be shaken" (Heb. 12:28) so that the faithful, having
perceived his extraordinary power, can "offer to God an acceptable
service with reverence and awe" (Heb. 12:28).

Such passages provide the eschatological backdrop for the book of
Revelation, where earthquakes are symbols of God's final judgment
upon the earth. They appear as climactic judgments throughout the
book, producing terror, awe and destruction among the earth's
inhabitants. Five earthquakes are described. These are at the
opening of the sixth and seventh seals (6:12; 8:5), just before and
after the seventh trumpet (11:13, 19), and during the seventh bowl
(16:18). This last earthquake is identified as the greatest ever on
earth (16:18), splitting Jerusalem into three parts and destroying
the cities of the nations.

Although demonstrating the awesome power and presence of God, these
passages do not indicate an increase in earthquakes in the present
age. For those who follow a futuristic and dispensational
interpretation of Revelation, these earthquakes occur during the
Great Tribulation, not before it. They are not precursors to the Day
of the LORD, but evidence of its presence.

The Olivet Discourse. The only biblical evidence which might suggest
an increase in earthquakes in the present age appears in Jesus'
Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (pars.). The discourse is set in the
context of Jesus' statement concerning the destruction of Jerusalem
(24:1) and the disciples' question: "Tell us, when will these things
happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of
the age" (24:2). Two questions are here asked, the first relating to
the destruction of Jerusalem and the second to Jesus' return (which
is linked to the end of the age). The interpretation of the
discourse is problematic because it is difficult to tell which
question Jesus is answering at any particular point in the
narrative. Is the discourse primarily about the destruction of
Jerusalem or the coming of the Son of Man? Or is it both? If both,
then was Jesus mistaken in concluding that the Son of Man would
return at the time of the fall of Jerusalem? Or does the destruction
in some sense serve as a preview of the judgment associated with the
coming of the Son of Man?52

Our primary concern is with the first part of the discourse, where
Jesus warns against being deceived by false christs or being alarmed
at wars, rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes:
And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one
misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the
Christ,' and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and
rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things
must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise
against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places
there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are
merely the beginning of birth pangs." (Matt. 24:4-8)

Among dispensationalists there are two main interpretations of these
verses. As we shall see, neither confirms that earthquakes will
increase as the present Church age draws to a close.
(1) Some dispensationalists see the whole of the Olivet Discourse as
relating to the tribulation period. Verses 4-8 are usually said to
concern the disturbances of the first half of the tribulation while
verses 9-26 concern the second half - the Great Tribulation.53

Evidence for this is claimed in the similarity between the events
described in verses 4-8 and those associated with the seven seals of
Revelation 6.54 For advocates of this view, the earthquakes
identified in verses 7-8 are not part of the present Church age, but
rather the tribulation period. In this case, even if the birth image
in verse 8 were to indicate an increase in earthquakes (which is not
necessary - see discussion below), this increase occurs during the
tribulation, not during the present Church age. Present (Church age)
data concerning earthquake frequency has little or no bearing on the
text.

(2) Other dispensationalists (as well as many
non-dispensationalists) claim that verses 4-8 (or verses 4-14)
concern not the tribulation period, but general signs which are
characteristic of the present age. Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote that
the events described in verses 4-8 "are the characteristics of the
unforeseen intervening or intercalary age"55 - that is, the Church
age. John Walvoord similarly affirms that "verses 4-14 are general
prophecies that can find fulfillment throughout the present age,
with verses 15-30 fulfilled in the Great Tribulation."56 He adds,
however, that these former events "are repeated in the Great
Tribulation when what was perhaps partially fulfilled earlier then
have a very literal and devastating fulfillment."57 The primary
evidence that verses 4-14 are signs characteristic of the present
age are their general nature and the fact that Jesus identifies them
as events which do not indicate the end ("but that is not yet the
end") and so should not provoke apocalyptic fervor ("see that you
are not alarmed").

Assuming for the sake of argument that this latter view is correct,
why would Jesus feel the need to warn against taking such events as
evidence of the end? The likely answer is that the apocalyptic
expectations of the Jews at this time often associated catastrophic
events with the nearness of the end. In the third vision of the
apocryphal book of 2 Esdras (= 4 Ezra), Ezra asks the Lord when the
signs he has been showing him will take place. The Lord responds:
Measure carefully in your mind, and when you see that some of the
predicted signs have occurred, then you will know that it is the
very time when the Most High is about to visit the world that he
has made. So when there shall appear in the world earthquakes,
tumult of peoples, intrigues of nations, wavering of leaders,
confusion of princes, then you will know that it was of these that
the Most High spoke from the days that were of old, from the
beginning. (2 Esdras 9:1-5 NRSV; cf. 2 Baruch 27:7; 70:8)

Cataclysmic events, whether natural disasters or human conflicts,
naturally raise expectations for a soon end.58 Hagner captures the
disposition of human thought concerning war, "The horror and human
suffering connected with war are bound to raise eschatological
thoughts - and they have indeed throughout history."59
In this latter view, then, Jesus warns his disciples against
mistaking catastrophic events in human history with the cataclysmic
events that will characterize the End. Dispensational writers who
take verses 4-14 as part of the present age recognize this
qualitative difference between the "general signs" of verses 4-14
and the "specific signs" which follow in verses 15-26. John Walvoord
writes,

Taken as a whole, the opening section, ending with Matthew 24:14,
itemizes general signs, events, and situations which mark the
progress of the age, and, with growing intensity, indicate that
the end of the age is approaching. These signs, however, by their
very characteristics and because they have occurred throughout the
present age, do not constitute a direct answer to the question of
"the sign" of the coming of the Lord.60

While Walvoord affirms that these are events common to the present
age and that they, therefore, do not constitute the answer to the
disciples' question ("what will be the sign of your coming?"), he
jumps to the unwarranted conclusion that these "general signs" will
increase in intensity as the end of the age approaches. But Jesus
did not indicate such an increase. He rather downplayed their
significance and encouraged his followers not to be alarmed or
disturbed by them. He certainly did not say to count their frequency
and calculate the end.

Eschatological Birth Pains. The only statement which might suggest
an increase in famine and earthquake activity is the final clause,
"But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs
(hwdne)" (Matt. 24:8). Because birth pains begin small and then
increase in intensity and frequency, this passage could be
interpreted to mean that earthquakes will start small and infrequent
and gradually increase. When they reach their greatest severity and
frequency, they will give birth to the new age.

But is this the correct way to interpret this clause? If so, the
lack of seismic increase we have noted above would confirm that
Jesus' return is not near. This would then contradict the many
biblical statements that it is near! But there is good reason to
believe that Jesus' words do not indicate an increase in frequency
or severity of these "general signs," but only indicate their
continued recurrence until the end of the age.

The image of eschatological birth pains was not new with Jesus, but
was a common one in Jewish apocalyptic and later rabbinic writings.
The "messianic woes" or "birth pains of the Messiah" referred to a
period of suffering that would immediately precede the coming of the
messianic age.61 The primary conceptual significance of this image
was not that the pain would increase in intensity, but rather that
the present period of suffering would be followed by the joy of new
birth (i.e., salvation and restoration). Pain will give way to
rejoicing for those who persevere.

The apostle Paul uses the birth image in a similar way in Romans
8:18-25. The present creation - for which salvation has been
achieved but not consummated - "waits eagerly for the revealing" of
the children of God (v. 19). This period of waiting is
metaphorically described as groaning and suffering "the pains of
childbirth (sunwdnw)" (v. 22). The point is not that creation's
pain is growing worse and worse, but that the pain itself (the
residual effects of humanity's fall) provokes eager longing for the
new birth (the consummation of salvation).

Paul uses the birth image elsewhere to illustrate the abruptness of
the arrival of the Day of the LORD. It will be unexpected "like a
thief in the night" and "like labor pains" on a pregnant woman (1
Thes. 5:2,3). Paul's two images are reminiscent, of course, of the
Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:8,43,44). Obviously, Paul is not saying
here that we can predict our Lord's appearance by noting precursor
birth pains.

CONCLUSION

A number of prophecy teachers say that a pronounced increase in
frequency and intensity of earthquakes has occurred in the latter
part of the twentieth century, a worldwide trend fulfilling a
prophecy made by Jesus. Contrary to these prophecy teachers, no
obvious trend is found indicating an abnormal increase in the
frequency of large earthquakes during the last half of the twentieth
century. Neither is there a noteworthy deficiency of earthquakes in
the first half of the century. Graphical plots of global earthquake
frequency indicate overall a decreasing frequency of earthquakes
through the century. The decades of the 1970s, 80s and 90s
experienced a deficit of larger earthquakes compared to earlier
decades of the century. The 70s, 80s and 90s are precisely those
decades that many prophecy teachers suppose, erroneously, show a
dramatic surplus of larger earthquakes. Regional earthquake data
from California and Japan also do not argue for increasing
earthquake frequency in the latter decades of our century.
At the time of Christ the Jews had a heightened anticipation that
wars, famines, pestilence and earthquakes communicated signs having
apocalyptic significance. Jesus responded to apocalyptic
expectations in the Olivet Discourse. Whether one interprets Matthew
24:4-14 as (1) events which will occur during the tribulation
period, or (2) general signs of the present age, there is no clear
scriptural warrant for the claim that earthquakes will increase
dramatically prior to the return of Christ. In the former
interpretation, these earthquakes would be part of the tribulation
period and so of little significance for any increase in earthquakes
during the present Church age. In the latter interpretation,
earthquakes are seen as recurring catastrophic events common to the
present age - events that must not be misinterpreted as "signs" of
an immediate end. It is ironic that a passage that intentionally
teaches that earthquakes are not indicators of the "end of the age"
should be so frequently interpreted as teaching exactly the opposite.

Jesus' statement, "all these things are merely the beginning of
birth pangs" (Matt. 24:8), has been misunderstood to imply that pain
would increase steadily in time. The birth image associated with
such signs does not point (necessarily) to an increase in pain with
time. Paul's understanding of creation's pain (Romans 8:18-25) is
not that pain will grow steadily worse, but that the present period
of suffering provokes eager longing for the new birth and the
consummation of the coming age. The author of Hebrews sees a similar
hope, not in anticipating a future "sign" of increasing earthquake
activity, but in the coming of a sudden cosmic cataclysm producing a
"kingdom which cannot be shaken" (Heb. 12:28).

Figure 1. Global frequency of the largest earthquakes during
the twentieth century. Graph (a) shows the frequency of M
7.0 earthquakes during the entire century (1960 events). Graph
(b) shows the frequency of M 6.5 earthquakes after 1930
(4593 events). In both plots a general decrease in earthquake
frequency is evident through the twentieth century.

Table 1. Numbers of M 6.0 earthquakes worldwide in the
twentieth century. The numbers of earthquakes reported in the
National Geophysical Data Center file called "1900.EQ" greatly
exceed those reported by Hal Lindsey from his unspecified U.S.
Geological Survey source.

REFERENCES

1 Hal Lindsey, Apocalypse Code (Palos Verdes, CA: Western Front
Ltd., 1997), p. 296. The term "killer quake" is not defined. See
also Hal Lindsey, Planet Earth 2000 A.D. (Palos Verdes, CA:
Western Front Ltd., revised edition, 1996), p. 85, where Lindsey
says these statistics refer to earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and
greater. Lindsey has been writing about the twentieth century
increase of earthquakes for almost 30 years. See his book The Late
Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. 52, that
sold over 20 million copies.
2 Lindsey, Planet Earth 2000 A.D., p. 86. Table 1 lists Lindsey's
earthquake statistics.
3 Lindsey's citation here is suspicious. Though he claims to be
using a USGS source, his endnote (p. 105) refers only to the Los
Angeles Herald Examiner, May 22, 1984. One wonders how a newspaper
published early in 1984 could provide data for an increase in
earthquakes in the 1980s and 1990s.
4 Chuck Missler and Mark Eastman, Alien Encounters (Coeur d'Alene,
Idaho, Koinonia House, 1997), pp. 170-172. On page 170 the authors
say: "In the last 100 years there has been a dramatic increase in
the frequency and intensity of earthquakes worldwide." Jack Van
Impe, "News about Natural Phenomena, Killer Earthquakes on the
Rise," Intelligence Briefing at website:
http://www.jvim.com/IntelligenceBriefing/May1997/nature.html
5 Grant R. Jeffrey, Prince of Darkness (Toronto: Frontier Research
Publications, 1994), pp. 310, 311. Jeffrey gives no information on
how a copy of this report can be obtained (author, date, report
name, and location). Furthermore, the numbers from Jeffrey's USGS
source differ slightly from Lindsey's USGS source. Which is the
better USGS source? Jeffrey repeats these statistics in his later
books The Signature of God (Toronto: Frontier Research
Publications, 1996) p. 194, and Armageddon: Appointment with
Destiny (Toronto: Frontier Research Publications, revised edition,
1997), pp. 251, 252. In Armageddon (p. 252) Jeffrey is very
confident in his earthquake statistics: "Anyone who examines the
record of massive increases in earthquakes in our century must
acknowledge that this is extremely unusual. The increase is
unprecedented in recorded human history and, in light of the
Bible's prophecies, these statistics provide incontrovertible
evidence that we are living in the last days.
6 J. R. Church, "Riders of Revelation 6, Mount Up!," in William T.
James, Foreshocks of Antichrist (Eugene, Harvest House, 1997), p.
336: "Nevertheless, when one looks at modern records, one
invariably sees a steady increase in earthquake activity, ranging
across the spectrum from large events to small tremors.
7 Gary Stearman, "Are Earthquakes on the Increase?" Prophecy in
the News 16 (June 1996): pp. 3-5. These are the numbers cited by
Lindsey.
8 We searched the archive of the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 22,
1998 on the Internet at URL: http://www.phillynews.com. We
searched all earthquake articles of the 1990s through June 1998.
9 Gary Stearman, "Earthquakes Are Indeed on the Increase,"
Prophecy in the News 16 (October 1996): pp. 27, 28.
10 John Hagee, Beginning of the End (Nashville, Thomas Nelson
Publishers, 1996), p. 193.
11 Hagee, Beginning of the End, p. 193.
12 Hagee, Beginning of the End, p. 193. Hagee, Beginning of the
End, p. 98, "the number of earthquakes recorded has risen from
2,588 in 1983 to 4,084 in 1992." Here Hagee has committed a
serious error by citing the "No Magnitude" row in the National
Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) worldwide seismic frequency
table. He supposes erroneously that the "No Magnitude" row is the
total number of earthquakes that have been located globally for
both of the years. The NEIC "Preliminary Determination of
Epicenters" database (PDE) for 1983 locates 9,842 events globally
(2,588 events with no magnitude data given), and that database for
1992 locates 19,548 events globally (4,084 events with no
magnitude data given). The apparent doubling of earthquake
frequency from 1983 to 1992 is caused by significant improvement
by 1992 in the detection and location of magnitude less than 5.0
earthquakes. For magnitude greater than or equal to 5.0, the PDE
locates 1813 events in the year 1983, but locates only 1668 events
in 1992. For magnitude greater than or equal to 6.0, the PDE
locates 140 events in 1983, but locates only 127 events in 1992.
The data might better argue for decreasing frequency with time,
contrary to the conclusion of Hagee. The above numbers were
obtained on december 28, 1998 by going to the NEIC files on the
Internet at: http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov and then going to the
NEIC-PDE data using the "Search Earthquake Data Base" function.
The earthquake data file cited by Hagee contains the cautionary
statement, "As more and more seismographs are installed in the
world, more earthquakes can be and have been located." See the
summary NEIC-PDE data file at:
http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/eqlists/eqstats.html which closely
resembles the source of Hagee's numbers. Therefore, our analysis
shows Hagee's argument for increased earthquake frequency in the
1990s to be seriously flawed. Charles Capps in End-times
Events-Journey to the End of the Age (Tulsa, Harrison House, 1997)
commits a similar error by citing the much-increased
lower-magnitude location ability within the most recent NEIC data:
"A recent U.S.G.S. report shows there were 4,139 earthquakes in
1970 -and 19,996 in 1996." Capps concludes, "...earthquakes are
definitely on the increase." (p. 13).
13 Peter and Paul Lalonde, 301 Startling Proofs & Prophecies
(Niagara Falls, ONT: Prophecy Partners Inc., 1996), p. 248. The
Lalonde earthquake frequency numbers have been widely quoted in
popular publications. For example, we found the above Lalonde
quote reprinted in Daymond R. Duck, Revelation: God's Word for the
Biblically-Inept (Lancaster, PA: Starburst Publishers, 1998), p.
242. The Lalonde statistics were rephrased by Jack Van Impe, "Last
Days: Hype or Hope?," Perhaps Today (September, October 1996),
viewed on August 20, 1998 on the Internet at:
http://205.244.46.136/PerhapsToday/SeptOct1996/last.html. Van Impe
says: "In Matthew 24, Jesus predicted such fearful signs just
before His return. He said they would be like birth pangs -
increasing in frequency and intensity as the time of the end drew
near.... From 1900 through 1969, a 70-year period, there were only
48 quakes of 6.5 magnitude or greater. But from July 1990 through
1992, a three-year period, there were 133 great quakes!" For other
statements about the apocalyptic increase of earthquakes in the
1990s see David Allen Lewis Signs of His Coming (Green Forest, AR:
New Leaf Press, 1997): "there have been more earthquakes in the
last 50 years than in the previous 1,500 years." (p. 24). Lester
Sumrall, "Famines, Pestilence, Earthquakes, as Man Rebels," in Bob
Anderson et al., Earth's Final Days (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf
Press, 1995), p. 68 says: "In this century, there have been more
earthquakes than all the rest of history put together. Every 10
years, earthquakes double in number, and so it has been for the
last 10 decades. During the later part of this decade, earthquakes
will occur with increasing regularity, creating terror and panic
throughout the world. Jesus said that was one of the signs of His
coming." If earthquakes are increasing so rapidly in the 1990s,
then what is there to prevent Christ's return? Therefore, in Larry
Wilson, The Revelation of Jesus (Brushton, NY: Teach Services,
1992), p. 1, we find the former Seventh-day Adventist pastor
predicting four global earthquakes beginning about 1994 and ending
in 1998 with the Second Coming of Christ.
14 For a recent survey of thinking on earthquakes and other
natural disasters as apocalyptic signs see Richard Abanes,
End-time Visions: The Road to Armageddon? (Nashville, Broadman &
Holman, 1998), 428 p. For a review of authors before the 1990s who
advocated the increase in frequency and intensity of
twentieth-century earthquakes see the chapter "Earthquakes and
Historical Facts" in Carl O. Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst, The
"Sign" of the Last Days - When? (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1987),
pp. 46-87.
15 Interested researchers can investigate the Council of the
National Seismic System (CNSS) composite catalog on the Internet
at URL: http://quake.geo.berkeley.edu/cnss.
16 O. J. Perez and C. H. Scholz, "Heterogeneities of the
Instrumental Seismicity Catalog (1904-1980) for Strong Shallow
Earthquakes," Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 74
(1984): p. 685.
17 An incident illustrates why earthquake catalogs need to be
checked carefully for completeness. In 1997 we consulted the
"Worldwide Earthquake Catalog" maintained by the Council of the
National Seismic System (CNSS) for seismic events of the 1990s.
The CNSS "Worldwide Earthquake Catalog" was examined at Internet
URL: http://quake.geo.berkeley.edu/cnss on december 28, 1997.
Because this is a composite database assembled from the records of
the thirty member organizations, we might assume it to be a
"complete" catalog. However, when we consulted records maintained
by CNSS member organizations, we found them to include earthquakes
not in the composite database. We even found many earthquakes of
the early 1990s with M 7.0 that were not in the composite
database. The lesson is obvious: careful study must be conducted
before an earthquake catalog can be said to be "complete." It
takes a deliberate process to make a "complete" catalog.
18 T. M. Tsapanos and P. W. Burton, "Seismic Hazard Evaluation for
Specific Seismic Regions of the World," Tectonophysics 194 (1991):
p. 154.
19 Tsapanos and Burton, "Seismic Hazard Evaluation for Specific
Seismic Regions of the World," p. 154.
20 K. Abe, "Complements to 'Magnitudes of Large Shallow
Earthquakes from 1904 to 1980'," Physics of the Earth and
Planetary Interiors 34 (1984): pp. 17-23.
21 For an excellent summary of earthquake magnitude scales see W.
Spence, S. A. Sipkin and G. L. Choy, "Measuring the Size of an
Earthquake," Earthquakes and Volcanoes 21 (1989): pp. 58-63. The
paper has been posted on the Internet at URL:
http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/general/handouts/measure.html.
21 For an excellent summary of earthquake magnitude scales see W.
Spence, S. A. Sipkin and G. L. Choy, "Measuring the Size of an
Earthquake," Earthquakes and Volcanoes 21 (1989): pp. 58-63. The
paper has been posted on the Internet at URL:
http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/general/handouts/measure.html.
22 An Internet site with National Earthquake Information Center
databases and summary files is open to the public. The Internet
URL for the NEIC home page is http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov.
23 The Internet site at URL
http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/eqlists/7up.html contains the
summary data listing
24 National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Seismicity
Catalog (Boulder, CO: National Geophysical Data Center, 1996), two
volumes on CD-ROM disks. A description and current updates to the
"Worldwide Earthquake Database" and its Seismicity Catalog are
maintained on the Internet at URL:
http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/seg/hazard/earthqk.html
25 The file "1900.EQ" is part of the global NGDC "Seismicity
Catalog" on CD-ROM. The data file has not been screened rigorously
for duplicate events below magnitude 6.5, and some of the events
of lower magnitude, which normally might be supposed to be
aftershocks or foreshocks, are likely duplicated listings.
Therefore, the data file "1900.EQ" probably overestimates the
frequency of magnitude 6.0 events globally.
26 K. Abe, "Magnitudes of Large Shallow Earthquakes from 1904 to
1980," Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors 27(1981): pp.
72-92. K. Abe and S. Noguchi, "Determination of Magnitude for
Large Shallow Earthquakes 1898-1917," Physics of the Earth and
Planetary Interiors 32 (1983): pp. 45-59. K. Abe and S. Noguchi,
"Revision of Magnitudes of Large Shallow Earthquakes, 1897-1912,"
Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors 33 (1983): pp. 1-11.
K. Abe, "Complements to 'Magnitudes of Large Shallow Earthquakes
from 1904 to 1980'," Physics of Earth and Planetary Interiors 34
(1984): pp. 17-23.
27 K. Abe and H. Kanamori, "Temporal Variation of the Activity of
Intermediate and Deep Focus Earthquakes," Journal of Geophysical
Research 84 (1979): pp. 3589-3595.
28 J. F. Pacheco and L. R. Sykes, "Seismic Moment Catalog of Large
Shallow Earthquakes, 1900 to 1989," Bulletin of the Seismological
Society of America 82 (1992): pp. 1306-1349.
29 T. M. Tsapanos, E. M. Scordilis and B. C. Papazachos, "A
Homogeneous and Complete Catalog for World's Great Earthquakes
Covering the Time Period 1898-1985," Publication of the University
of Thessaloniki, Geophysics Laboratory (1988): p. 182.
30 The NGDC statistics come from the file "1900.EQ" contained in
volume 2 of the CD-ROM called "Seismicity Catalog" issued in 1996
jointly by the NGDC and the NEIC. Anyone wishing to evaluate
completeness of earthquake statistics globally for M 6.0 cited
by prophecy teachers should consult this file. The file is in
ASCII code that can be read by any word processor and imported
into a spread sheet. Because the file "1900.EQ" is not
copyrighted, the authors can make a copy available on floppy disk
to anyone requesting it.
31 Abe and Kanamori, "Temporal Variation of the Activity of
Intermediate and Deep Focus Earthquakes." J. Xanthakis, "Possible
Periodicities of the Annually Released Global Seismic Energy (M
7.9) during the Period 1898-1971," Tectonophysics 81 (1982): pp.
T7-T14. Y. Ogata and K. Abe, "Some Statistical Features of the
Long-Term Variation of the Global and Regional Seismic Activity,"
International Statistical Review 59 (1991): pp. 139-161. I.
Liritzis and T. M. Tsapanos, "Probable Evidence for Periodicities
in Global Seismic Energy Release," Earth, Moon, and Planets 60
(1993): pp. 93-108. Y. Ogata and K. Katsura, "Analysis of Temporal
and Spatial Heterogeneity of Magnitude Frequency Distribution
Inferred from Earthquake Catalogues," Geophysical Journal
International 113 (1993): pp. 727-738.
32 Researchers suggest the inhomogeneity of earthquakes may be
related to some type of internal global fluctuation within the
earth, perhaps a variation in the large-scale motion of the earth.
Could a slight wobble during the earth's rotation correlate with
the inhomogeneous data? Is there occasional chaotic motion within
the earth's liquid outer core that correlates with earthquakes in
the crust? Earthquake frequency cycles appear to be real, but the
cause remains speculative. An observer might say it is like
monitoring birth pangs. When will the next ones come? How long
will we have to wait? The observed earthquake frequency pattern is
consistent with creationist ideas suggesting overall exponentially
declining tectonism and volcanism following a recent geologic
upheaval such as Noah's Flood. The data may present a problem for
the skeptic of the doctrine of Creation and the opponent to the
reality of Noah's Flood. Such a uniformitarian skeptic would want
to say, "everything goes on as it has since the beginning of
creation" (2 Peter 3:4 NIV). The skeptic might not want to
acknowledge such a declining pattern over time.
33 M. Zirbes, "Are Earthquakes Really on the Increase?" National
Earthquake Information Center Web site Documents (Denver, CO:
United States Geological Survey, updated 14 October 1997). This
document was viewed in december 1997 at URL:
http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/general/handouts/increase_in_earthquakes.html

34 Lindsey, Planet Earth 2000 A.D., p. 88.
35 Lindsey, Planet Earth 2000 A.D., p. 88.
36 Lindsey, Planet Earth 2000 A.D., p. 89. "By selectively
manipulating the criteria used to determine a 'major quake,' the
USGS can effectively argue against any increase in seismic
activity." Lindsey's assertion of selective manipulation is
demonstrated to be incorrect by data displayed in Figure 1b.
37 Lindsey's statistics for M 6.0 earthquakes in Table 1 come
from Planet Earth 2000 A.D., p.85,86.
38 Jeffrey, Prince of Darkness, pp. 310, 311, and Jeffrey,
Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny, pp. 251, 252
39 Stearman, "Are Earthquakes on the Increase?"
40 Lalonde and Lalonde, 301 Startling Proofs & Prophecies, p. 248.
41 Lindsey, Planet Earth 2000 A.D., p. 86. On page 85 Lindsey
says: "One of the major birthpangs Jesus predicted would increase
in frequency and intensity shortly before His return is
earthquakes. Those of us who live in California are only too aware
of the increase in earthquake activity in recent years."
42 Our computer search of "authoritative" records revealed the
date, location and magnitude of 408 earthquakes with M 5.0
during the eighty-year period from 1900 through 1979 in the
California region. We located these authoritative records for M
5.0 by accessing the "U. S. Geological Survey Earthquake Data
Base" of the NEIC on the Internet at URL
http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov. For the period 1900 through 1974, we
searched at the NEIC website the California Division of Mines and
Geology catalog ("CDMG") and located 364 earthquakes. For the
period 1975 through 1979, we searched by rectangular areas the
Preliminary Determination of Epicenters catalog ("PDE") and found
an additional 44 earthquakes. Our search was conducted totally
within the NEIC database for M 5.0 records on August 28, 1998.
43 R. Stein and T. Hanks, "M 6.0 Earthquakes in Southern
California during the Twentieth Century: No Evidence for a
Seismicity or Moment Deficit," Bulletin of the Seismological
Society of America 88 (1998): pp. 635-652. Their catalog can be
accessed through the Internet at URL:
http://quake.wr.usgs.gov/study/deformation.
44 L. K. Hutton and L. M. Jones, "Local Magnitudes and Apparent
Variations in Seismicity Rates in Southern California," Bulletin
of the Seismological Society of America 83 (1993): pp. 313-329.
Hutton and Jones document 63 M 5.0 events in Southern California
from 1932 through 1979, many more than the 18 events for all of
California that Lindsey supposes from 1900 through 1979.
45 Stein and Hanks, "M 6.0 Earthquakes in Southern California
during the Twentieth Century: No Evidence for a Seismicity or
Moment Deficit," p. 635.
46 In Planet Earth 2000 A.D. (page 85), Lindsey refers to a recent
earthquake increase in Japan: "But California is not the only
place where earthquake activity has increased. There has been a
destructive series of quakes in Armenia, Australia, Japan, China,
India as well as California."
47 T. Utsu, "Catalog of Large Earthquakes in the Region of Japan
from 1885 through 1980," Bulletin of the Earthquake Research
Institute, University of Tokyo 57 (1982): pp. 401-463 (in
Japanese).
48 Y. Ogata and K. Abe, "Some Statistical Features of the
Long-Term Variation of the Global and Regional Seismic Activity,"
International Statistical Review 59 (1991): pp. 139-161.
49 Ogata and Abe, "Some Statistical Features of the Long-Term
Variation of the Global and Regional Seismic Activity," p. 131.
50 Cf. The Late Great Planet Earth, p. 52, where he writes that
Jesus said these signs "would increase in frequency and intensity
just like birth pangs before a child is born."
51 Although in 1 Kings 19:11 the point is that God did not speak
in the earthquake, the expectation is that he normally would have.
The gentle whisper is contrasted with God's more typical
theophanic manifestation of power.
52 For summaries of the various views see D. A. Carson, "Matthew,"
in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, ed. Frank E.
Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), pp. 491-495; J. Dwight
Pentecost, Things To Come. A Study of Biblical Eschatology (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), 277-278.
53 See Pentecost, Things To Come, pp. 278-279; idem, Thy Kingdom
Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990, pp. 250-252; L. Barbieri,
"Matthew," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary. New Testament (eds.
J. Walvoord & R. Zuck, Wheaton: Victor, 1983), pp. 76-77. A
modification of this interpretation extends the first half of the
tribulation to verse 14.
54 See Pentecost, Things To Come, pp. 278-279.
55 L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary
Press, 1948), p. 120.
56 J. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Handbook (Wheaton: Victor,
1990), p. 381. While Walvoord is here describing various views
(not identifying his own), this view is also expressed in his
commentary on Matthew: Matthew. Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago: Moody,
1974), p. 184.
57 Walvoord, Bible Knowledge Handbook, pp. 382-383.
58 Josephus describes an interesting episode which occurred
following a severe earthquake in Judea in 31 B.C., an earthquake
which reportedly killed 30,000 people. Hearing exaggerated reports
of the devastation, the Arabs to the East seized the opportunity
and invaded the territory of Herod the Great, embroiling his
nation in war. When many of Herod's demoralized troops interpreted
the earthquake as an evil omen, Herod responded with a speech
declaring it to be an event without divine causation: "Do not let
the convulsions of inanimate nature disturb you or imagine that
the earthquake is a portent of a further disaster. These accidents
to which the elements are subject have physical causes, and beyond
the immediate injury inflicted bring no further consequences to
mankind." (Josephus, War, 1.19.4 [376-377]; tr. H. St. J.
Thackeray, Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1961).
59 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28 (Word Biblical Commentary 33B;
Dallas: Word, 1995), p. 691.
60 J. F. Walvoord, Matthew, p. 184.
61 For references see G. Bertram, Theological Dictionary of the
New Testament, Vol. 9, ed. G. Friedrich; tr. and ed. G. W.
Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 670 ff.; Hagner,
Matthew 14-28, p. 691.

* Steven A. Austin is Chairman of the Geology Department at the
Institute for Creation Research in Santee, California. Mark L.
Strauss is Associate Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary
San Diego in San Diego, California.

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