Dispensationalism: the Key to Bible Prophecy (part 2)

by Cris D. Putnam
Traditional Seven Dispensations

Traditional Seven Dispensations

I affirm Ryrie’s second point the basic dispensational philosophy of history as well. A philosophy of history is a systematic understanding in which past events and major sequences are unified and explained in light of a future ultimate meaning.[i] While all Christians believe the ultimate meaning is found in Christ, they disagree in the form and function. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,” (Eph 3:8–9, underline added). “The plan” is a rendering of the Greek οἰκονομία meaning “a plan which involves a set of arrangements (referring in the NT to God’s plan for bringing salvation to mankind within the course of history)—‘purpose, scheme, plan, arrangement.’”[ii]

In the second century, Irenaeus wrote, “He who, by Moses, instituted the legal dispensation, by which giving of the law we know that He spake to the fathers.”[iii] He then divides biblical history based on “four principal (καθολικαί) covenants given to the human race.”[iv] In the third century, church father Tertullian used the Latin word dispensatio to translate οἰκονομία and from that the English word dispensation derives. Hence, used in this way, a dispensation refers to a distinctive way in which God administers His relationship with mankind. As one can see, this line of thinking was present in primitive Christianity. In this way, nineteenth century dispensationalists were actually recovering theology that had been lost under centuries of Roman Catholic oppression.

As a system, dispensationalism has the most coherent philosophy of history because it accounts for the whole range of predictive prophecy. For example, the Old Testament predicts an earthly kingdom of universal peace (Is 2:2-4, 11:6-9, 65:17-25; Mic 4:1-5). Accordingly, futurist premillennialism accounts for the biblical data affirming that Christ will return to earth and rule over it for 1,000 years (Rev 20:4). Even so, I am willing to allow that “χίλια ἔτη” could be an idiom for a long period of time rather than insisting on precisely one thousand years. I agree with earlier divisions including the Adamic and Noahic dispensations found in revised dispensationalism. I somewhat appreciate the simplicity of the simple four-part structure associated with progressive dispensationalism: 1) Patriarchal (creation to Sinai); 2) Mosaic (Moses to Jesus ascension); 3) Ecclesial (ascension to second coming), and 4) Zionic (the millennial kingdom and eternal new creation).[v] However, Ryrie argues that progressive dispensationalists make the goal atemporal by conflating eternity and the millennium.[vi] While progressives place the millennial reign prior to the eternal state within the Zionic dispensation, it seems to confuse the matter. Thus, I agree with the older school that posits the eternal state as a distinct unit. Hence, my position entails: 1) Adamic; 2) Noahic; 3) Patriarchal; 4) Mosaic; 5) Church; 6) Millennial; 7) Eternal. These offer more explanatory scope than the abridged scheme presented by progressives. Ultimately, the exact number and name of the dispensations is not as important as one’s hermeneutic.

On the third point, a literal interpretation of scripture, I think the work of progressive dispensationalists is helpful. Literal interpretation needs to be informed by literary understanding (e.g. genre). While the historical grammatical hermeneutic is best, biblical scholarship is certainly more informed today than the days of Darby and Scofield. The radical bifurcation of the church and Israel advocated in classic dispensationalism goes too far. Classic dispensationalists posited the Church and Israel as eternally separate. The Rose Guide to End Time Prophecy is helpful:

      • Classic dispensationalists see the church as God’s heavenly people and Israel as God’s earthly people. These two groups will remain separate even in eternity. The church will be in heaven. Israel will be on the earth. (John Nelson Darby, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Cyrus I. Scofield)
      • Revised dispensationalists still see the church and Israel as distinct. At the same time, they expect the saved from both groups to coexist in eternity in glorified and resurrected bodies. Ethnic Israel is the physical seed of Abraham; prior to the end of time, the nation of Israel will still receive the land that God promised. God temporarily set aside the unbelieving nation of Israel so that he could bring together believing Gentiles with a remnant of believing Jews in the church. The church is the spiritual seed of Abraham and includes believing Jews and Gentiles. (John Walvoord, Charles Caldwell Ryrie, J. Dwight Pentecost)
      • Progressive dispensationalists are similar in many ways to new covenantalists. According to progressive dispensationalists, God has had one plan that he has unfolded from the beginning of time to the present. Each dispensation has simply emphasized a different aspect of this one plan. Jesus inaugurated a kingdom during his earthly ministry, and he will bring this kingdom to fruition in a future millennium. The nation of Israel will still receive the land that God promised to Abraham, and Jesus will govern Jews and Gentiles according to their separate nationalities during the millennium. The plan of God will, however, ultimately culminate with one people, joined together in the presence of God for all eternity.(Craig Blaising, Darrell Bock, Bruce Ware)[vii]

Even given classic’s extremes, they served as a needed corrective. Theology Professor at LBTS, Dan Mitchell cogently qualifies the final point, “It’s not so much the idea of a literal interpretation that marks the distinction, but it is the approach, do you approach the text inductively from Genesis forward or deductively from the fulfillment backward. If you have already decided that everything is fulfilled in Christ, then there really isn’t much to talk about in terms of future eschatology.”[viii] For these reasons, I believe the dispensationalism is superior to covenant theology and I find myself somewhere in the tension between the progressive and revised schools of thought.

This essay offered an analysis of dispensationalism. It sought to illustrate the value of the system by examining three defining points: the distinction between the church and Israel, the philosophy of history and a literal hermeneutic. The relationship between these points was shown. In the end, it seems that these points support the idea that dispensationalism is the key to biblical prophecy.



[i] Renald E. Showers, There Really Is a Difference! : A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1990). 22.

[ii] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 357.
[iii] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus Against Heresies” In , in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers With Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 424.
[iv] Irenaeus, “Against Heresies” 429.

[v] Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 123.

[vi] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 22.
[vii] Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy, Kindle Edition (2012-03-06). Kindle Locations 5406-5417.
[viii] Dan Mitchell, “Dispensationalism and the Interpretation of Prophecy,” LBTS: Theo 630 lecture video, 3:32-3:57.

Dispensationalism: the Key to Bible Prophecy (part 1)

By Cris D. Putnam
DISPENSTION-History-chartArguably from the inception of the church (although lost under Romanism), dispensationalism has been and still is the key to biblical prophecy. Since its recovery in the nineteenth century there have been three major versions: classic (Darby, Larkin and Scofield), revised (Walvoord, Pentecost, Chafer, and Towns), and progressive (Bock, Blaising, Feinberg and Saucy) dispensationalism. All divide history based on God’s covenants as successive revelations in the progression of God’s redemptive program and sustain a premillennial futurist interpretation of prophecy. As a founding member of the revised school, Charles Ryrie emphasized three elements: 1) Distinction between church and Israel;[i] 2) Philosophy of History;[ii] 3) Literal interpretation of scripture.[iii] He offers strong and compelling arguments against covenant theology which is the system of theology that centers on two contrived covenants: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.[iv] It typically dismisses God’s actual covenant promises to Israel and argues that most all of prophecy is fulfilled in Christ. While I’m largely in agreement with Ryrie that covenant theology is an artificial system lacking biblical support, I do think progressive dispensationalists make some good points.

Concerning point one, I strongly disagree with supercessionism (that the church has entirely superseded Israel or replacement theology). I believe God will fulfill His Old Testament promises as they were understood, not in the decontextualized manner applied to the Church found in Roman Catholicism and unfortunately most of evangelical covenant theology. In this sense, the reformers stopped short. God made specific promises to the descendants of Jacob and David concerning their ancestral line, the land and political sovereignty. Only the Mosaic covenant was conditional. The Abrahamic (Gen 12) and Davidic (2 Sam. 7) were unconditional and everlasting. The Davidic is often overlooked:

“And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’(2 Sa 7:10–17 cf. 1 Chron. 17)

Like the Abrahamic covenant, the Davidic covenant was irrevocable—“established forever” and despite innumerable acts of unfaithfulness on Israel’s part, God will be absolutely faithful. The Davidic covenant promises to Israel a political, religious, visible earthly kingdom, and God personally guaranteed that it would endure forever and that all nations would be blessed through it, based on His faithfulness.

“I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens. If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” Selah( Ps 89:20–37)

God spoke through the original inspired author who certainly did not have an ethereal metaphorical Israel in mind when he composed those words. David understood the promises in a matter of fact manner. I have never read a supercessionist reply to these passages that did not cast God in the role of a prankster who deceived David.

Paul writes in Romans that Gentiles are grafted into Israel. This implies God’s chosen people includes the church as well as a remnant of ethnic Israel, now and especially at the Second Coming (Rom 11:26-27, Zec 12:10). While the distinction applies in this current dispensation due to Israel’s supernatural blinding (Rom 11:25; 2 Cor 3:14; Mat 23:39), I believe we merge into one people at Christ’s return. Thus, I commend the holistic view described by Bock and Blaising, “God will save humankind in its ethnic and national plurality. But, He will bless it with the same salvation given to all without distinction; the same, not only in justification and regeneration, but also in sanctification by the indwelling Holy Spirit.”[v] It seems unlikely that ethnicity will much matter upon Christ’s return to rule from Jerusalem.

 

Next week part two picks up with the dispensational philosophy of history.



[i] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 148.

[ii] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 20.

[iii] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 102.

[iv] Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 32.

[v] Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 47.

 

The Significance of Eschatology in Theology and Preaching

By Cris Putnam
I believe eschatology is not only an essential element of theology and preaching it is a necessary one. I argue its necessity in light of its unfortunate marginalization by a large percentage of the nominal church. Accordingly, I contend that the answer to the Gospel’s greatest challenge is eschatological. The ancient philosopher Epicurus asked, “if there is a benevolent and sovereign God, then why is there so much evil and suffering?” The Bible has a coherent answer to the problem of evil. Scripture presents a God who knows the end from the beginning and reveals future events (Is 46:9-10). It predicts that evil will not prevail in God’s economy (Is 11:6-9, 2:2-4; Re 21:4) and a day of reckoning is coming (Is 13:9; Ob 15 ff; 1 Th 5:2; 2 Pe 3:10; Re 16:16). Rather than understanding the term apocalypse as the “end of the world,” end time prophecy is the revelation of redemption.

The great hope and significance of existence is wrapped up in God’s eschatological plan. New Testament scholar Gordon Fee writes, “The theological framework of the entire New Testament is eschatological.”[1] The Greek word for the “end” is eschaton, meaning when God brings our present age to consummation. Jesus announced the kingdom was at hand at his first coming (Mt 3:2; Mk 1:15) but later qualified that it will not be fully realized until his second coming (Mk 14:25; Rev 20:4). The kingdom is inaugurated but not realized, a paradigm called the “already-not-yet” in New Testament theology. Bock and Blaising explain that this “links the plan of God into a unified whole.”[2] Based on this, one can see that eschatology is not a fringe element of Christian theology rather the fundamental structure by which it is understood. Since this is the case, why is it marginalized?

Timothy Jones warns of two contrasting errors: 1) a slip into unjustified speculation; 2) a slip into skeptical cynicism.[3] Given the inherent tension in the “already/ not yet” both are understandable. On one hand, we long for the resolution of evil and it is only natural look to for signs. On the other hand, the last two thousand years of anticipation compounded by the constant barrage of secularism promotes skepticism. Of course, either extreme results in error. In the first case, Harold Camping’s date setting resulted in the slaughter and arrest of hundreds of Hmong Christians.[4] On the opposite end, people leave the church because they have no hope. It seems like God wants every generation to expect the Lord’s return. John uses its promise as a call to holy living (1 Jn 2:28). Paul writes “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” (Ro 13:11) In fact, he encourages Titus, back in the first century, to wait for the “blessed hope” (Tit 2:13). For this hope to encourage, one must believe it can actualize.

 

 



[1] Fee, Gordon D. ; Stuart, Douglas K.: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan Publishing House, 1993, S. 145.

[2] Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 98 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993).

[3] Timothy Paul Jones, Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy, Kindle Edition, (Torrence, CA: Rose Publishing, 2012), Kindle Locations 59-63.

[4] Nicola Menzie, “Harold Camping Linked to Huge ‘Massacre’ of 100′s of Hmong Christians” The Christian Post, http://www.christianpost.com/news/harold-camping-linked-to-hmong-christians-massacre-in-vietnam-52351/ (accessed 10/25/2012).

10 Nation European Union Newspaper Exegesis of Dan 7:24 & Rev 13:1

Here is some unabashed “newspaper exegesis”  based on: “As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings.” (Da 7:24) and “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.”(Re 13:1)

I don’t know if my newspaper exegesis is accurate but what are we to make of the fact that Hal Lindsay believed in a “ten nation confederacy of European nations” (Late Great Planet Earth, 1970)? As well as Dallas Theological Seminary President and prophecy scholar John Walvoord anticipating the formation of a revived Roman Empire composed of a ten-nation confederacy? Walvoord wrote on Daniel 7:24:

The interpreter of the vision states plainly in verse 23 that the fourth beast represents the fourth kingdom, an earthly kingdom which will be different from the preceding kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, that is, be worldwide in its sway. In the process, it will tread down and break in pieces the preceding kingdoms. By so much, the interpretation eliminates the idea that the fifth kingdom refers to the rule of God in the new heavens and the new earth (Rev 21 and 22) or that it is merely a spiritual kingdom which gradually gains sway by persuasion, such as the kingdom of God in the earth at the present time. By its terminology the interpretation of verses 23–27 demands that, for the fifth kingdom to overcome the fourth, the fifth must be basically a sovereign and political kingdom, whatever its spiritual characteristics. By so much, it also demands that this be a future fulfillment, inasmuch as nothing in history corresponds to this.
The ten horns of the vision in verse 24 are declared to be ten kings that shall arise. They clearly are simultaneous in their reign because three of them are disrupted by the little horn which is another ruler, but not given the title of king here. He also will be different from the first, that is, from the ten horns, and shall subdue three of them.
The endless explanation of critical scholars attempting to find these ten kings in the history of the Grecian Empire or to find them later in Rome, by their very disagreement among themselves demonstrate the impossibility of satisfactorily explaining this verse as past history. If the ten kings are in power at the end of the age, which also seems to be supported by the ten kings of Revelation 13:1; 17:12, it follows that they must be still future. The fact that they appear in the book of Revelation, written long after the fall of the Grecian Empire, plainly relates them to the Roman Empire in its final stage.

John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key To Prophetic Revelation, 174.
And in his Revelation commentary:
The monstrosity of seven heads and ten horns probably refers to the remnants of the confederacy which formed the Roman Empire in the beginning, namely, the ten nations of which three were overthrown by the little horn of Daniel 7:8. The ten crowns, therefore, refer to the diadems or symbols of governmental authority. The fact that they have the names of blasphemy (“names” is properly plural) indicates their blasphemous opposition to God and to Christ.

John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 198.

with that in mind read the below:

10 countries for a United States of Europe

Die Presse, 20 June 2012

Ten EU foreign ministers participating in a “study group for the future of Europe” aim to exert pressure to transform the EU into a federation along the lines of the US. Together they have prepared what the front-page headline in Die Presse describes as a “Plan for transformation into a European state.” On 19 June, the ten ministers* presented an initial report to the EU officials who will likely benefit the most from the initiative: Commission President José Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker.

More: http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/news-brief/2211991-10-countries-united-states-europe

Here is a link to a translation of the original German article.

Why Preterism Seems Absurd…

By Cris Putnam
There are a good deal of sincere well meaning biblical scholars that place the majority of events described in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation back in the first century. I am going to make this a running series that I will add to as time goes by. Each post will just add another nail in the coffin of what I believe to be an impossible interpretation.  It seems they fail to realize the distinction between Luke 21 and Matthew 24. Those passages are clearly speaking to distinct events and are even set in different locations.

Today’s reason is Jesus’ description of a great tribulation period, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” (Mt 24:21) Because even partial preterists place the abomination of desolation mentioned just above this passage (Mt 24:15) in the first century, they must put this time back then as well. But was the Jerusalem war of AD 70 the worst tribulation in history? Worse than the two World Wars? Worse than the holocaust? To avoid the clear implications of this text, our preterist friend switches to Luke:

Certainly no one would minimize those later tribulations — but a couple of clues work against such an argument. First of all, note Luke’s “translation” of this verse:

Luke 21:24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

Our proponent offers no comment at all on this verse, which clearly shows that Luke anticipated a fulfillment in terms of Jerusalem only — the final Diaspora, and the trodding down of Jerusalem by the Gentiles.

 

The Olivet Discourse: Preterist Exegesis

But this is not exegesis of the Matthew passage at all. One need not address the Luke passage because Luke 21 and Matthew 24 are clearly not the same teaching by Jesus. This reveals an over reliance on liberal scholarship. I suppose I need to establish this in detail with my next post. But for now, note that if  Matthew 24:15 occurred in AD 70 then the preterist necessarily holds that either the events of AD 70 have been unprecedented or the Bible is in error. The law of excluded middle applies. Matthew records Jesus as saying,  “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” Seriously folks! They would have us swallow that either the Romans sacking of Jerusalem was worse than World Wars I and II, the holocaust and the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki …or perhaps that Jesus was mistaken? Now that’s absurd… 

It seems to me the preterist is mistaken.