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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Anti-Semitism and Dispensationalism

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director,

Dispensationalists have a strong commitment to Israel at all costs. Their commitment to Israel is so all-controlling that they even posit a millennial age in which Israel will dominate all other nations — reducing even to the lowest level those nations committed to Christ during that time. Herman Hoyt, past president of Grace Theological Seminary writes:

“The redeemed living nation of Israel, regenerated and regathered to the land will be head over all the nations of the earth. . . . So he exalts them above the Gentile nations. . . . On the lowest level there are the saved, living, Gentile nations.” (Herman Hoyt, “Dispensational Premillennialism,” in Robert G. Clouse, The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views [Downer’s Grove, Ill: Inter-varsity Press, 1977], 81).

This is, of course, a form of racism (race determines priority) and even could be described as “anti-Gentilism” (race determines exclusion).

Yet, they deem as anti-Semitic any eschatological view that applies Israel’s covenant promises to the church and sees the church as the final phase in God’s redemptive dealings with man. Hal Lindsey even wrote a whole book on the subject titled, The Road to Holocaust. In their view non-dispensational theology is not only biblically deficient but morally corrupt.

For instance, Tim LaHaye associate, Thomas Ice, has written that “historically replacement theology (the church replaces the Jews as the new or true Israel, and Israel has no future as a distinct nation within God’s plan) has been the theological foundation upon which anti-Semitism has been built within the confines of Christianity. (Ice, “Hal Lindsey, Dominion Theology, and Anti-Semitism,” Biblical Perspectives, 5:1 [Jan.-Feb., 1992], p. 2).

Their moral charges against non-dispensational theological systems fail miserably for two significant reasons (among several dozen more):

First, dispensationalism inadvertently involves the New Testament itself in anti-Semitism. How so?

They frequently cite the standard academic works on anti-Semitism that link “replacement theology,” “supersessionism,” or “church fulfillment theology” with this sinful form of racism in history. Sadly, they do not carefully read those academic works which they so excitedly quote. These book invariably trace anti-Semitism back to the New Testament itself! We see this in the following titles of books and academic articles:

• Gregory Baum, Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic? A Re-examination of the New Testament. Rev. ed. Glen Rock, N.J.: Deus, 1965.
• Norman A. Beck, Mature Christianity in the 21st Century: The Recognition and Repudiation of the Anti-Jewish Polemic of the New Testament (Rev. ed.: New York: Crossroad, 1994).
• John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti -Semitism in the Gospel Story (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995).
• Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew: Twenty Centuries of Anti-Semitism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992).
• T. A. Burkill, “Anti-Semitism in St. Mark’s Gospel,” New Testament 3 (1959): 34–52.
• W. R. Farmer, Anti-Judaism and the Gospels (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity, 1999).
• Riemund Bieringer, Didier Pollefeyt, and Frederique Vandecasteele, eds., Anti–Judaism and the Fourth Gospel (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox, 2001).
• L. T. Johnson, “The New Testament’s Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient Polemic,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989): 419–41.
• R. R. Ruether, Is the New Testament AntiSemitic? (2d. ed.: Glen Rock: N. J.: Paulist, 1965).

Such works argue that Christianity’s claim that Christ is the only way of salvation – and even that he is the Jewish Messiah, are anti-Semitic and must be removed from Scripture!

Second, to make matters worse: dispensationalism ends up encouraging current-day actions that will (they admit!) lead to a wholesale slaughter of the Jews. What do I mean?

Dispensationalists delight in Israel’s 1948 re-establishment as a nation. They rejoice in the great number of Jews who have already and will yet return to Israel. They gladly encourage modern Israeli policies that draw Jews back into the Land. The excitedly look for the rebuilding of the Jewish temple — by Jews who have returned to the land of Israel.

For instance, The Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible exults: “the regathering of a people once scattered among the nations of the world is evidenced that God is at work in fulfilling His prophetic word” (p. 1080). On the same page it continues: “the most exciting, documented evidence that the Lord’s return could be close at hand is the activity surrounding preparations for the rebuilding of the temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”

Another book focusing on the rebuilding of the temple does the same. Don Stewart and Chuck Missler dedicate their book, The Coming Temple (1991): “To our wonderful friends in Israel this book is lovingly dedicated.” In still another work Ready to Rebuild (1992) on p. 25 we read: “Today many Christians are excited about the very real potential for the rebuilding of Israel’s Temple in Jerusalem.”

But even while encouraging Jews to return to Israel, dispensationalists teach that “Zechariah predicts that two-thirds of the Jewish people in the land will perish during the Tribulation period.” (LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, 1101). John Walvoord, in his Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (1990, p. 332) states of Zechariah 14:8–9: “This prophecy will be fulfilled in the Great Tribulation when two out of three of the Jews in the land attempt to flee their persecutor, the future world leader, will perish, and only one-third will escape.”

Should they not be warning Jews not to return to Israel? Would not it be more wise and compassionate to warn Jews what will befall them after they return?

Dispensationalism is trapped in a Catch-22: On their theological view of Israel and their eschatological view of history, they must encourage Jews to return to Israel. But on their exegetical understanding of prophecy, they know that after they have returned, fully two-thirds of them will be destroyed. This should be deemed a form of anti-Semitism!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Literally Abused: The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism

by Jerry Johnson
Copyright 2009 - All Rights Reserved

Before the so-called Enlightenment took hold in the 18th Century — putting Man and Human Wisdom rather than God at the center of academia — theology was considered by universities throughout the Western world to be the “Queen of the Sciences.”

As a result of the Reformation, most scholars rightfully understood what the Bible clearly teaches:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Psalm 111:10


Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

They recognized that man was a fallen, fallible and finite creature — a reality that tainted ever aspect of his nature – including his intellect. Therefore, the search for truth and understanding in any field — for example, philosophy or science — needed to begin with theology, the study of the nature and mind of a perfect, infallible and infinite Creator. Only in Him could man find the unshakeable foundation upon which to stand and attempt to study and make sense of the cosmos.

I hope to demonstrate that no matter how numerous, godly and sincere dispensationalism’s adherents may be, their system nevertheless is deeply in error and has led to all manner of beliefs and practices that are contrary to the revealed will of God. And the result has been a rapid decline of the Church in both character and influence.

I know for some these are fighting words. They aren’t meant to be. They are born out of a deep love for God, His truth and the world we are called to serve.

In actuality, we are not the one who picked the fight! It was forced upon us by a number of dispensational proponents over the last one hundred years. They’re the ones that have accused non-dispensationalists of everything from not taking God at His Word, to sowing the seeds of liberalism, even laying the charge of the anti-Semitism that led to the Nazi Holocaust.

And there’s something else as well.

Any discerning Christian knows that the Western world, what used to be called Christendom, has deep, deep problems. We are surrounded by indicators that when it comes to the banquet choice God sets before nations:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Deuteronomy 30:19

Our appetite for destruction has become increasingly insatiable. Narcissism, greed, violence, paganism, pornography, child abuse and pedophilia; the breakdown of the family; our obsession with vacuous and increasingly evil entertainments; the advance of humanistic governments, laws, schools, penal systems, philosophies and worldviews; and, perhaps most significantly, our surrender before two specific evils that the Bible suggests may well be the last signs that a culture has consummated its covenant with death:

• militant sodomy - see Romans 1:26-27
• child sacrifice (abortion) – see Psalm 106: 35-38)

…all this and much more should shatter our complacency and — are you ready for this? — our complicity. Because the most sobering fact of all is that these evils have found there way into the church; that Augustine’s distinction between the City of Man and the City of God has become increasingly blurred. We have, as Pogo famously observed, “met the enemy and he is us.”

This is the ultimate disaster. The praying, gospel-preaching, Great Commission-empowered Church is the salt and light of the world, God’s foundational solution for the world’s problems. And when the salt loses its saltiness, the “meat of culture” will inevitably rot.

No doubt most dispensationalist leaders would agree with this “state of the nation” analysis — though they would likely attribute it to the great falling away they see prophesied in scripture, many have boldly fought against this apostasy, For example, Dr. Tim LaHaye and his wife, Beverly, through their organization, Concerned Woman for America.

But we are convinced that no matter how godly and well-intentioned dispensationalists are, their theological system has inevitably produced a harvest of ideas and practices that have contributed to the very evils they join us in hating and ultimately leading to the decline of God’s Word and the Church in the world. Why do we say this? Well, because this is consistent dispensationalism.

For example, C.I. Scofield, wrote,

“It is true that the great body of the churches believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, BUT they have turned aside the greater part of their resources, to the attempt to reform the world, to educate the world, and, in short, to anticipate the next dispensation in which those things belong, and to do the work that is distinctly set apart for restored and converted Israel in her Kingdom Age.” C.I. Scofield, The Biggest Failure of the Church Age

Likewise, Dave Hunt, a popular dispensational writer echoes these sentiments with these words,

“The Great Commission does not involve exerting a Christian influence upon society. We are not to "change society," but to "convert individuals." There is much talk today about "changing the world for Christ." In fact, though, there is no Biblical teaching or example to support that popular slogan.” Dave Hunt, The Berean Call, Updated excerpt from Whatever Happen to Heaven (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1988) pg. 84-86

Given the magnitude of the destruction we now face — what could very well be the end of the Western world as we’ve known it — we believe that we have no choice but to do what a young monk named Martin Luther did — figuratively nail our 95 points of contention to the door of the Church and pray that God, in His wisdom and mercy, will grant us not only revival and reformation, but, in the words and command of our Lord and Savior – the grace and ability to “disciple the nations.”

If He doesn’t, the downward moral spiral of our day and age will pale in comparison to the harvest of judgment that America and the nations of Western Europe will experience. And we may fine the word “ICHABOD” “the glory of the LORD has departed” written over doorpost of the western church.

And please, please don’t grasp at the straw that God will somehow yank us out of the mess we helped create. The very idea is contrary to God’s character, His Word, and the history He has written over the ashes of other nations who have chosen self-rule over God’s, death over life.

One of the challenges in building a consensus about anything is understanding that there is no such a thing as a “naked fact” – that everything − from sunsets to quantum particles, history to eschatology − is seen through a lens of some kind, a grid of presuppositions that will first determine what we decide the facts are − and then how we will interpret them. And it’s just as vital we remember this when considering theology − what God has revealed to us in the scriptures.

“I’m at an age now where I normally need a pair of glasses to read my Bible. But there is another form of glasses we all wear when we look into God’s word. It is what theologians call our “hermeneutic.”

Dr. Louis Berkhof explains that hermeneutics is,

“…the science that teaches us the principles, laws, and methods of interpretation.” Louis Berkhof, Principals of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1950) pp. 11.

Or to say it another way hermeneutics is the system of interpreting the Bible and figuring out what exactly God is communicating to us.

The key here is to have the right glasses on, to view the Bible through the lens of the proper hermeneutic. And this comes − first and perhaps most importantly − through humility and a complete willingness to obey whatever the Scriptures show you. But the second key is diligent study and in letting the Bible interpret the Bible, bringing every thought captive in obedience to Christ.

And its here where people – even very good and sincere ones − can get into trouble. By leaning − even without realizing it − on other perspectives − be they Greek or American or rationalistic or romantic or any of a thousand other humanistic systems of thought − one’s hermeneutical lenses can get dirty. And error will inevitably result.

So what is the primary purpose or goal of hermeneutics? Dr. Robert L. Reymond explains,

“the exegete (or Bible student)…must seek to put himself in the authors linguistic, historical, and religious shoes to discover the writers intended meaning.” Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Second edition – Revised and Updated, 1998) pp. 49.

So just how does a Christian living in the twenty-first century understand something that was written in the first century? How can we put ourselves in the words of Dr. Reymond “in the writer’s linguistic, historical and religious shoes?”

Understanding the time in which something was written, to whom it was written and why - is enormously helpful. This is the essential nature of the “historical” in the grammatical-historical hermeneutic. As an example, suppose you read an article that identified a “gay event” that took place at Carnegie Hall. If you did not know that the article was written in the year eighteen ninety nine, but assumed it was written at the beginning of the 21st century, the phrase “gay event” would have a radically different meaning and the absences of this fact would ultimately lead to the wrong conclusion.

With the introduction of dispensationalism many of the established rules of interpretation were redefined, ignored and sometimes overthrown. Dispensationalist from Darby to Scofield and beyond reversed the method of the Reformation opting for a rationalistic scheme that started, not with the Scriptures, but with themselves.

They constructed new rules of interpretation, many times using the same terminology, but redefining the meaning and application. Please know that this is not a groundless charge. Early dispensationalist admitted to this; even boasting in it. When they could not find anyone who agreed with their new interpretation, they encouraged their followers to jettison the historic creeds, confessions and commentaries of the previous sixteen centuries.

Quoting Harry A. Ironside, a Plymouth Brethren who later became the pastor of the Moody Memorial Church,

"In fact, until brought to the fore, through the writings and preaching of…Mr. J. N. Darby, in the early part of the last century, it is scarcely to be found in a single book or sermon throughout a period of 1600 years! If any doubt this statement, let them search, as the writer has in a measure done, the remarks of the so-called Fathers, both pre and post-Nicene, the theological treatises of the scholastic divines, Roman Catholic writers of au shades of thought; the literature of the Reformation; the sermons and expositions of the Puritans; and the general theological works of the day…" Harry A. Ironside, The Mysteries of God (New York, NY; Loizeaux Brothers, 1908), pages 50-51.

This rejection led to a humanistic understanding of linguistics and gave primacy of Biblical interpretation, not to the Scriptures themselves, but to fallen man. I do not have the time to cover every aspect of the dispensational hermeneutic, therefore we will deal with the two major upheavals that this system of interpretation brought to the table and hopefully convince you that these rules or principles caused radical paradigm shifts and introduced new understandings that no other Christian believed or practiced during the first eighteen hundred years of Christian history.

Dispensationalists believe that their system is a result of simply reading God’s Word and taking it a face value. Non-dispensationalists so the charge goes, do not approach the Bible with this simply child like faith, but instead “spiritualized” the text and “allegorized” the meaning.

On nearly every front in every discussion, dispensationalists claim that they alone interpret the Bible correctly by using what they call consistent literalism. Their method of reading and understanding God’s Word, so they say, is superior to all others and too many supreme test of orthodoxy.

Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary explains,

“As a former dispensationalist I was mesmerized with the literal hermeneutic…I was satiated with the confidence that this principle of interpretation was the cornerstone of any true approach to Scripture, and paraded it before all as the bedrock of the dispensational method. This `literal' approach produced in me a calm lethargy to anything the [non-dispensationalist] could say. Any argument they could make was disarmed in advance with such statements as this: `They do not advocate a literal hermeneutic.'" Curtis I. Crenshaw, Dispensationalism: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (Memphis, TN: Footstool Publications, Fifth printing 1995) pp. 1.

How did this understanding of Biblical interpretation become the “cornerstone” for Dr. Crenshaw and so many others? He was simply echoing the words of his professors at Dallas Dr. Charles Ryrie who wrote,

“…only dispensationalism provides the key to consistent literalism.”

C.I. Scofield went so far as to say,

“Unless one interprets each passage of Scripture dispensationally, one is in a hopeless quandary and can never expect to understand the Bible.” C. I. Scofield, What Do The Prophets Say? (Philadelphia, The Sunday School Times Co., 1918), pp. 9.

It would not be an overstatement to say that the word literal is the arch principle of the dispensational interpretive method. Ironically, getting them to define it is another thing. Reflecting on his years at Dallas Seminary Dr. Crenshaw noted,

“No one seemed to know precisely what literal meant…There was a mysticism that shrouded the term, giving it force but little content…” Curtis I. Crenshaw, Dispensationalism: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (Memphis, TN: Footstool Publications, Fifth printing 1995) pp. 1.

Dr. Charles Ryrie attempts to give “literal” a theological definition as it would apply to the Word of God. Regrettably, he ends up having a word with an ambiguous definition at best. He explains literalism as that which the interpreter should give,

“…to every word the same meaning it would have in normal usage, whether employed in writing, speaking, or thinking.” (pg 80).

Of course, the problem with this definition is obvious! Now we need to understand what he means by the “normal usage”? And by the way, who gets to define what is normal? Jews? Gentiles? Liberals? Conservatives? 2nd Century Romans or 21st century Americans?

Dr. Ryrie attempts to defend this definition of literalism by claiming that it fits into “the received laws of language.” However, he never explains what these received laws of language are and just who received them?

Dr. Crenshaw notes,

“Since Ludwig Wittgenstein’s studies in linguistic analysis, no two philosophers have surfaced such “laws” on which they can agree nor a sound philosophy of language.” Curtis I. Crenshaw, Dispensationalism: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (Memphis, TN: Footstool Publications, Fifth printing 1995) pp. 2.

He concludes with this devastating remark,

“Such statements further indicate that the dispensational hermeneutic is derived from a humanistic concept of literal. By assuming the sovereignty of man and the neutrality of philosophy and facts, Ryrie has ‘straight jacketed’ Scripture with his humanistic notion of literal.” Curtis I. Crenshaw, Dispensationalism: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (Memphis, TN: Footstool Publications, Fifth printing 1995) pp. 3.

Beside this subjective and incomplete definition, Ryrie insist that,

“…the dispensationalist's….use the normal (or literal) principle of interpretation consistently in all his study of the Bible.” Pg 82

Is this true? Do dispensationalists employ consistent literalism?

After years of wrestling with many inconsistencies with respect to the dispensational view of what is “literal” and reflecting on what they had been taught in schools like Dallas Seminary, many former dispensationalists have been shocked by how often their teachers and professors violated their own definition of consistent literalism. Dr. Keith Mathison explains,

“John Walvoord…insists that when an Old Testament prophecy refers to Israel, it must mean the literal nation of Israel; but when the same Old Testament prophecy speaks of other nations, such as Assyria or Philistia, (according to Walvoord) it only refers to the land once inhabited by these nations. Whoever may be inhabiting these lands [now] may fulfill these prophecies.” Keith Mathison, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed), pg 6-7

“This is not consistent literalism.” Ibid

The New Testament, especially the Gospel of John is full of examples where people erred by failing to distinguish Jesus' use of figurative language. When Jesus said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it” in (John 2:19) the Jews mistakenly assumed He meant the actual physical temple. As a result of taking His words literally, they sought to kill Him (Matt. 26:61). Nicodemus' anthro-literalism led him to question if being "born again" meant to "enter a second time into his mother's womb" (John 3:4). When Jesus spoke of "a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life" the Samaritan woman erred and wanted a actual drink of water (John 4:10-15). John records these blunders by his first century audience and they are found in practically every chapter. But these examples should be sufficient to demonstrate that a “consistent literal interpretation” is impossible and can even lead to wrong conclusions.

This tendency to disallow the use of figurative words and phrases is pursued so aggressively that sometimes dispensational have crossed the line from literalism to hyper literalism; and in some circles this has lead to an aberrant theological position.

For example, one dispensational writer argued that God must have a body since the Bible teaches that he has arms, hands and sits on a throne. Finnis J. Dake, Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible (Atlanta, GA: Dake Bible Sales, 1965), NT pg 280.

Of course Darby, Scofield, Ryrie, in fact most dispensationalist would vehemently disagree with Finnis Dake’s hyper- literalism and probably shudder to think that he was in their camp; though no doubt on the fringes. But it does make one wonder, would Finnis Dake charge these men with “spiritualizing” the text and not taking the Bible “literally”?

Another example that comes down to us through the annals of Church history can be found in the debate that raged between two Reformers; Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. The issue centered on the meaning of a single word spoken by Jesus in Mathew 26:26 as He instituted the Lord’s Supper.

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.”

Dr. John Gerstner explains that during this debate,

“There [was] no disagreement about the words this, my, or body…The debate concerns the interpretation of the word is.” Pg 89

Can you believe it? In the final analysis, it really does depend on what is, is.

Dr. Gerstner continues,

“[Luther said] is is to be taken literally; that is, it is to be understood to mean literal identity of body and bread, or blood and wine. [Zwingli said] that is is to be taken non-literally or metaphorically; that is, to mean ‘represents.’”

Despite Ryrie’s proclamation of the “received laws of language” there is nothing linguistically, per se, which demands that we interpret this passage one way or the other. When the dust of opinion settles it ultimately depends on ones theology; not grammar.

What is interesting to note is that most dispensationalist, by in large, maintain a Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper; that the bread and wine are symbolic and that the table is simply a memorial. In the end they spiritualize the word “is” not taking it literally.

Dr. O.T. Allis rightly concludes, "While Dispensationalists are extreme literalists, they are very inconsistent ones. They are literalists in interpreting prophecy. But in the interpreting of history, they carry the principle of typical interpretation to an extreme which has rarely been exceeded even by the most ardent of allegorizers." Prophecy and the Church, pp. 21, 22, 24

Dr. Allis makes an extremely important point. A historical narrative is the type of writing you would expect to find words to have, more often than not, a straight forward meaning. Prophecy, by its nature tends to be more figurative. Dispensationalists reverse this order and give to prophecy an unwarranted literalism. And dispensationalists have not only been inconsistent in its application, but down right contradictory in defense of their method.

In his book The Basis of the Premillennial Faith Charles Ryrie writes,

“The system of spiritualizing Scripture is a tacit denial of the doctrine of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures which this author holds.”

A few chapters later this avowed "literalist" says,

"Although much of prophecy is given in plain terms, much of it is in figurative language, and constitutes a problem of interpretation."

Later he dismounts his Trojan horse when he explains,

"In conclusion it may be stated that in connection with the use of figurative language, the interpreter should not look for the literal sense of the words employed in the figure, but for the literal sense intended by the use of the figure"

Well, which is it? As William E. Cox noted,

“It is amusing indeed to have read, just a few pages before that this man called any and all "spiritualizing" a tacit denial of the Bible.”

So how did dispensationalist come up with their idea of literal? In all fairness to Dr. Ryrie, he really believes that his understanding comes from the Bible itself.

“…the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the first coming of Christ — His birth, His rearing, His ministry; His death, His resurrection — were all fulfilled literally. That argues strongly for the literal method.” (PG 81)

Another leading dispensationalist put it this way,

"All of fulfilled prophecy has been fulfilled literally." William L. Pettingill, God's Prophecies for Plain People (Findlay, Ohio: Fundamental Truth Publishers, 1923), pp. 228.

Though literally true, many Old Testament prophecies concerning the Lord Jesus’ first advent would make no sense if one understood them literally. For example, the first prophecy found in the Bible concerning Christ coming to redeem his people is – (show on screen) Genesis 3:15,

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

If we applied the dispensational definition of literal to this prophecy we would not expect its fulfillment to be a conflict between a literal man and a literal serpent, rather than between Christ and Satan. Instead of Christ hanging on the cross (symbolizing the bruising of His heel) would we not have an image of Him literally chasing a snake around and stepping on its head with His foot?

Besides Genesis 3:15 there are other Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ first advent in which figurative language was used?

In fact, many of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus’ first advent were recorded using metaphors, symbolism and figures of speech.

One study noted that approximately 65% of such prophecies were written in symbolic language; not the so-called literal language. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Dispensationalism: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (Memphis, TN: Footstool Publications, Fifth printing 1995) pp. 9.

Looking at the New Testament and the book of Revelation

“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.” 13:1-2

Of course, we are not saying that dispensationalist believe it is a literal beast having literally seven heads or a genetic mutation between an actual leopard, bear and a lion. But the question the dispensationalists must answer is, “why not?”

That dispensationalist claim to take the Bible literally, especially when it comes to prophecy, may be one of the biggest shams of modern times. A simple examination of their works prove that they consistently employee non-literal explanations. For example, Hal Lindsey in his book There’s a New World coming gives this interpretation to the previous mentioned passage,

“What do the ten horns with ten crowns represent…”

Our question is, if we take the text “literally” why do the have to represent anything? Lindsey continues,

“In Biblical symbology horns almost always represent political power. In this case the Beast’s ten horns picture ten nations that will form a confederacy which the beast will rule during the tribulation.” Hal Lindsey, There’s A New World Coming, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1984), pp. 173-174.

Again we ask, is this consistent literalism? To counter this argument Ryrie’s writes one of the most confusing statements and in the end, betrays his own belief in literalism,

“Symbols, figures of speech and types are all interpreted plainly in this method and they are in no way contrary to literal interpretation. After all, the very existence of any meaning for a figure of speech depends on the reality of the literal meaning of the terms involved. Figures often make the meaning plainer, but it is the literal, normal, or plain meaning that they convey to the reader.” Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966], 1995), pp. 80-81.

That is one peculiar statement. This is what we have been saying all along. However, for some twisted reason when we say it we are accused of not taking the Bible literally. This is a prime example of talking out of both sides of your mouth.

Of course symbols, types and figures of speech have a literally meaning - which is our point. Though they have a literal meaning, you don’t take them literally. A good example can be found in the 1970s song Convoy by C.W. McCall. There is a line in that song that went like this

“Pigpen this here’s the rubber duck and I’m about to put the hammer down?”

Putting the hammer down has a literal meaning, but the words are figurative! It meant putting the full strength of you leg and foot on the gas pedal or accelerator. It had nothing to do with a literal hammer or literally putting it down. (Show judges gavel being brought behind in slow motion.)

Perhaps E.P. Barrows said it best,

'The youthful student of Scripture should be reminded, first of all, that its figurative language is no less certain and truthful than its plain and literal declarations. The figures of the Bible are employed not simply to please the imagination and excite the feelings, but to teach eternal verities' E. P. Barrows, Companion to the Bible (New York: 1869) pp. 557.

As already note, the issue between dispensationalist and non-dispensationalist is not that we “spiritualize” the Bible and they take it “literally.” Both believe it to be the literal Word of God and literally true. The real question is when should the words and phrases meant to be taken literally and when are they to be understood figuratively?

Dr. Mathison hits the nail on the head when he writes,

“The fact is that nobody can be absolutely literal in his interpretation of Scripture. The Bible itself will not allow it. There are some insurmountable scriptural problems that occur if one attempts to be consistently literal in his approach to interpretation.”

We often hear dispensationalist say that words should be understood in their literal sense unless such literal interpretation involves a manifest contradiction or absurdity. Sometimes called the “golden rule of interpretation” many put it this way,

“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense…”

Hal Lindsey proudly states,

“This is the method [he] diligently sought to follow.” Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books, eighth printing 1971), pp. 50

This may be simplicity at its finest, but when one tries to put it into actual practice its simplicity is not so easily applied. Dr. Milton S. Terry comments upon this very statement,

"It should be observed, however, that this principle, when reduced to practice, becomes simply an appeal to every man's rational judgment, and what to one seems very absurd and improbable may be to another altogether simple and self-consistent." Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise of the Interpretation of the Old and New Testament (New York, NY: Phillips & Hunt, 1883), pp. 247

During the nineteen sixty and seventies it seemed as if dispensationalism had captured they minds and hearts of the church. But during the nineteen eighties many of their own scholars began lifting the veil of the so-called literalism and, much to their chagrin; the curtain of dispensationalism tore. Many who had formerly been associated with the classical and modern forms peaked inside; and for the first time they saw that the wizard was a man. And so began the progressive dispensational movement.

Various "progressive dispensationalists" have rejected as inadequate the so-called literalist hermeneutic of Darby, Scofield and Ryrie. The inability of the movement to define and apply consistently their self proclaimed literalism has dispensationalists debating among themselves, searching for definition and meaning; questioning the man-made idol of their system.

The late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson a professor for twenty-seven years at Dallas Seminary summarized the problem of the seminaries literalism as follows: "Failing to examine the methodology of the scriptural writers carefully, and following too abjectly and woodenly the limited rules and principles of human reason's presuppositions, we have stumbled and lost our landmarks along the pathway toward the understanding of the Holy Scripture. Scriptura sui ipsius interpres [Scripture is its own interpreter] is the fundamental principle of biblical interpretation."

So how do we decide when to take something literal or figurative? This of course is the sixty four thousand dollar question which brings us to the second innovative principle put forth by dispensationalist.

An axiom on how to study the Bible that is the often attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo goes like this,

“The New Testament is in the Old Testament contained; and the Old is in the new explained.”

Though we believe that,

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” II Tim. 3:16-17

We must remember that the Scriptures are progressive in nature (Heb. 1:1-2). The New Testament writers in no way contradicted the Old Testament! On the contrary, they viewed the New as a true expansion and fulfillment.

A.W. Pink, pastor and former dispensationalist concurs,

“The New has all its roots in the Old, so that much in the one is unintelligible apart from the other…That it is entirely unwarrantable for us to suppose that the message proclaimed by the Lord Jesus was something new or radically different from the early communications of God.”

The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old. As the Apostle Paul wrote,

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Colossians 2:16-17

The things Paul mentions are elements of the ceremonial law. They were shadows. And as the writer of Hebrews points out, shadows are not the things themselves. The great Baptist commentator John Gill explains,

“[as shadows] it had not neither the things themselves, nor Christ, the substance of them, so it did not give a clear revelation of them, as is made in the Gospel, nor exhibit a distinct delineation of them, such as an image expresses; it only gave some short and dark hints of future good things, but did not exactly describe them.”

The Old Testament is full of shadows and types; things that are not very clear. Now the question before us is who should we look to in helping us interpret these shadows and types? In other words, who is the best or preeminent authority to interpreter the Old Testament for us? Is it the Pharisees, the Ethiopian eunuch, modern-day newspapers, or Christ and His Apostles? (put as a question on the screen with multiple choice answers A. B. C. or D….)

The Bible is its own best interpreter. And the New Testament is the Old Testament's primary infallible interpreter. God’s Word, therefore, exhibits, within its sacred pages, both the principles and methods of a sound trustworthy exegesis; Jesus and His Apostles are our infallible guides as to what Moses and the prophets meant.

Instead of a Christo/Apostolic method (giving Christ and His Apostles preeminence in interpreting the Old Testament), the early dispensationalist advocated what has become known as “the Law of first mention” sometimes called the “first-occurrence principle.”

B.W. Newton, one of the leaders in the Plymouth Brethren movement explains this so-called “Law”:

"I find in Scripture a principle of interpretation, which I believe, if conscientiously adopted, will serve as an unfailing guide as to the mind of God as contained therein. The first mention of a thing, the very first words of any subject of which the Holy Spirit is going to treat, is the keystone of the whole matter." J.D. Hartill, Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books, 1947) pp. 70.

A more practical definition comes from the pen of J. Edwin Hartill, dispensational author and professor of Bible at Northwestern College,

“The first time a thing is mentioned in Scripture it carries with it a meaning that will be carried all through the Word of God.” Ibid.

How important was this new light principle to the forming dispensational movement? According to A.T. Pierson, longtime friend of C.I. Scofield and consulting editor for the original Scofield Reference Bible, he called it,

“…the Divine Law of Firsts." Roel Velma, The Law of First Mention, (Hattem, The Netherlands) published on-line

The argument for the certainty of the first mention principle takes two forms. The advocates first argue that God never changes, therefore, what He states the first time and the meaning He applies to a Word must never change. Second, is the appeal that in the Bible there is only one speaker; namely God Himself.

On the surface this seems to make sense. Of course we agree. God never changes and though He used forty-two authors to write His word, He is the One voice that is speaking. However, in the final analysis, inspiration and language simply do not work that way. How would you like to have your words limited to the sense they had the first time you spoke them?

Let us state plainly, the “first mention” method can be useful, but only to a certain point. If left unchecked it can very quickly lead to absurdity. Either one's conclusions become nonsense, or they become justification for doctrinal bias.

On another note, to refer to it as the “first principle” or “Law of First Mention” would mean that its application would be absolute. As Abraham Kuyper noted,

“…a sharply drawn distinction of conceptions and a constant usage of words is foreign to the Scripture.” Abraham Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954) pp. 496

Any hermeneutic, and for that matter, any system of doctrine must be firmly guided and subjected to the whole of God’s Word; not a proof text that takes a writers thought out of context. As A.W. Pink observed,

“…we place first and foremost the need for recognizing the inter-relation and mutual dependence of the Old and New Testaments. We do so because error at this point inevitably results in a serious misunderstanding and perverting of not a little in the later Scriptures. We do not propose to enter into a refutation of the modern heresy of "dispensationalism," but…After a long and careful comparison of the writings of that school…it is our conviction that that eminent reformer[s were] far more deeply taught by the Holy Spirit than those who claimed to receive so much "new light on God’s Word" a century ago. Arthur W. Pink, Interpretation of Scripture, Chapter 4

As an example of the problems inherent in the first mention method consider Cain. He was the first person in the Bible to bring a botanical offering to God and that offering was rejected (Gen 4:2-5). Should we therefore conclude that all such offerings will be rejected? Of course not, because in Deuteronomy 26:1-4 God commands an offering of fruit to be brought by the children of Israel and placed on His altar.

Or better still what about the prophecy found in Malachi 4:5 predicting the return Elijah?

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”

In fact, if one used the first mention method they would never see this being fulfilled in John the Baptist as Jesus said it was. If they were consistently literal, they should conclude, as the Scribes and Pharisees did that it would be Elijah himself and not someone in the spirit and power of Elijah.

The great Reformed commentator Matthew Henry agrees,

“The Jewish doctors will have it to be the same Elijah that prophesied in Israel in the days of Ahab—that he shall come again to be the forerunner of the Messiah…” Matthew Henry, The Comprehensive Commentary (Brattleboro, VT: The Brattleboro Typographic Company, 1839), Volume III, pp. 920.

In fact, this question was posed by the disciples to the Lord Jesus,

“And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.” Matthew 17:11-13

During the first century the Jews had thoroughly corrupted God’s Word. Greek philosophy and their own apathy led many to funnel their understanding through a man-made literal interpretive grid. Matthew Poole notes,

“They knew him not, their tradition blinded them so as they could not discern the prophecy of Malachi fulfilled in [John the Baptist] him…”

Again citing John Gill,

“[John the Baptist]…was not Elijah the prophet that lived in Ahab’s time, and was called the Tishbite; for John’s answer is to the intention of their question, and their own meaning in it…he was the Elias that was to come; for he was the person meant by him in Mal 4:5 though not in the sense the Jews understood it.” Commentary john 1:21

It would appear that the so-called first mention method fed right into the dispensational position of literalism; the one confirmed the other. This type of circular reasoning is both fallacious and unfounded. This anthro-iteralism blinded the 1st century Jewish mind to the Lord Jesus’ advent. The question now before is simple, “should we trust this method of interpretation for understanding His second advent?

Perhaps this is what led Dr. S. Lewis Johnson of Dallas Seminary to rejected much of the modern dispensational hermeneutic and embrace a methodology that gave primacy of interpretation to Christ and His Apostles?

“…the New Testament understanding of the Old Testament is the true understanding of it…” S. Lewis Johnson, The Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), pp. 83.

These two new rules, “consistent literalism” and the “law of first mention” are the bedrock of the dispensational distinction between the Church and Israel and if they are abandoned, then like the walls of Jericho their house of cards will crumble.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Israel in Scripture Made Easy

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director,

I will soon start work on a new volume in our "Made Easy" series of books published by The working title of this book is: Israel in Scripture Made Easy. In it I will outline and exegetically demonstrate the significance, role, and destiny of Israel according to biblical law and prophecy.

I will be demonstrating that Israel was always intended to be a stepping-stone to the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ, an early stage in the progress of redemption. She was never intended to be an end in herself. Thus, I will be discussing the Abrahamic Covenant, the conquest of the Land, the role of Israel in biblical theology and prophecy, her judgments in history, her final judgment in AD 70, and her future conversion.

I will show that she no longer has a special status among the peoples of the earth, she will never be exalted above the nations, and that she will never rebuild her temple and begin offering sacrifices. In doing this, I will show that she has served her glorious purpose already and that Christ is the fulfillment of the Land promise.

If you have any questions you would like to see me cover, please post a note here on the blog. Or email me at:

After I complete that project (which I must first research, then write), I already have planned the following "Made Easy" series books: Daniel's Seventy Week Made Easy and Dismantling Dispensationalism Made Easy.

If you have any ideas for future "Made Easy" series books, send me a note. Our work here at is having an impact on many dispensationalists. A good impact, that is.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Christ, Israel, and the Church

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director,

Dispensationalism has two key commandments that call its followers to true obedience:

“First, thou shalt always, forever, and without fail hold, maintain, defend, promote, and even suffer martyrdom for a distinct and dominant future for geo-political Israel — thou and thy house after thee.”

Indeed, the distinction between Israel and the Church embodied in this commandment is a sine qua non of the whole system. For dispensationalists, everything rises or falls on the question of Israel. Which being interpreted means that the whole system ultimately falls. (That is why their frequent calls for the Rapture always fail: it is not due to their lame excuse that they hit some dense clouds and dropped back down to earth.)

In this regard dispensationalism differs from the teaching of Jesus — and of the whole New Testament. But not to worry, for this is only the first and great commandment. But there is a second commandment that is like unto it:

“Second, thou shalt surely interpret the Old Testament without reference to Jesus or his tiny band of Apostles — for what do they know, since they ante-date Scofield? Yea, and thou shalt be satisfied no matter what Jesus saith.”

On these two commandments hang the whole system and the mass-market paperback industry — and its publishing houses.

In this blog I will select some insightful quotations from an important older article that absolutely demolishes the dispensational view of Israel by demonstrating that this was not Christ’s view: R. T. France, “Old Testament Prophecy and the Future of Israel” published in the Tyndale Bulletin (vol. 26: 1975). I highly recommend your reading, studying, memorizing, copying, distributing, and promoting this article to erstwhile dispensationalists. It is a marvelous exposition of Christ’s teaching about Israel, and the Church’s replacement of Israel as drawn from Christ’s teaching in the Synoptic Gospels. I keep a copy of this article beside my bed for devotional study, world without end. Amen.

By the way, you can find and download this article in pdf format at:

Now, let’s get to work.


France opens by noting the large use to which Israel is put in modern evangelical circles. He laments: “Anyone who dares to question the relevance of Old Testament prophecy to the Jewish people of today and the political state of Israel is quickly, and often quite unfairly, charged with anti-Semitism (a strangely inappropriate word when applied to a political conflict in which both sides are overwhelmingly Semitic!).” You have probably been tarred-and-feathered on this very charge. He then warns that “our theology should not be based on sentiment or on political expediency, but, as far as possible, on objective exegesis.”

As he turns to the exegesis of this question he notes that “the attitude of Christianity’s founder is surely crucial to the debate.” Of course, that is a no-no in dispensational thinking because of their Second Great Commandment cited above. The nerve of letting Jesus direct our understanding of the Old Testament and Israel! This will not stand!

France’s article provides six key observations regarding Jesus’ teaching on Israel. I will clip some of his observations from his article while using his own headings to organize them. These ought to arouse your appetite and bed her back down.

1. The Note of Fulfillment
“Mark introduces Jesus’ ministry with the declaration, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.’ (Mark 1:15) Luke, makes the same theme even more prominent by opening his account of the ministry with the dramatic episode of Jesus’ manifesto in the synagogue at Nazareth, focused on the declaration, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’. (Luke 4:21) At the other end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sums up his ministry by expounding ‘in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.’ (Luke 24:27, 44-47).”

. . .

“While other Jews looked forward to the fulfilment of Old Testament hopes, the New Testament
writers looked back and saw them already fulfilled in Christ.”

. . .

“Two conclusions relevant to this paper therefore suggest themselves. (a) Jesus saw in his own coming the age of fulfilment of the messianic hopes of the Old Testament; the emphasis is on present, not future, fulfilment. (b) His conception of Messiahship had as little as possible to do
with the political future of the Jewish nation.”

. . .

“There are, of course, some cases where Jesus looks to the future for a fulfilment of certain Old Testament prophecies. But it is a remarkable fact that these are apparently entirely prophecies of judgment.... But I have found no instance where Jesus expects a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy other than through his own ministry, and certainly no suggestion of a future restoration of the Jewish nation independent of himself. He himself is the fulfilment to which Old Testament prophecy points, the ultimate horizon of the prophetic vision.”

. . .

2. The Note of Warning

“The rather unexpected popular identification of Jesus with Jeremiah in Matthew 16: 14 is to be accounted for by the reputation of Jeremiah as a prophet of doom. In contrast with the fierce optimism of the apocalyptic hopes of Qumran, Jesus, with his constant warnings and threats of both personal and national disaster, must have seemed to his contemporaries a second Jeremiah, a one man opposition to the nationalist hopes of his fellow-citizens.”

. . .

“There is a note of urgency about his mission to Israel, seen most strikingly in the instructions to the Twelve to travel light, not to waste time in greetings, and to keep moving on without staying to plead with the unresponsive (Mark 6:8-12 and parr.; Matthew 10:23).9 This is the last chance to repent; if it is refused now it will be too late (Luke 19:42-44).”

. . .

“In all it is no wonder that Jesus could be compared with Jeremiah, as a prophet of doom. Of course he did not gloat over the coming disaster: it was his own people whose downfall he predicted, and he did it in grief not in triumph. But the verdict, however unpalatable, is clear: the rebellion of God’s people has culminated in their rejection of his last call to repentance, and they are on the edge of disaster.”

. . .

3. The Rejection of the Jewish Nation?

Jesus “foresees nothing less than the total destruction of the Temple, of Jerusalem as a whole, and even of country towns like Bethsaida and Capernaum. And there is in his warnings an inescapable note of finality. The blood of all the prophets from the beginning will be required of this generation: it is the final reckoning. The Lucan version of the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem contains the solemn words, ‘These are the days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written’ (Luke 21:22). The note of climax we have seen in Jesus’ declaration that in him all the hopes of the Old Testament were finding fulfilment is paralleled by this idea of the coming disaster as the culmination of all Israel’s rebellion. Matters have come to a head, for good and evil.”
. . .

“The note of finality is even stronger in the metaphors used in Mark 13:24-25 in connection with the fall of Jerusalem.14 The words of these two verses are drawn from two Old Testament passages, Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4, which are predictions respectively of the fall of Babylon and of Edom. Here, as in many prophetic oracles, astronomical metaphors are used to depict catastrophic changes in the life of nations, and in both it is apparently the final destruction of the nations concerned that is in view. Jesus’ application of this prophetic imagery to the coming destruction of Jerusalem suggests a similar prediction of its final eclipse.”

4. Jesus as the True Israel

“Christian claims to be the true Israel often contain the assertion that it was in Jesus, the one true servant of God in contrast with the disobedience of the rest of the nation, that Israel’s ideal was realized and its destiny achieved, that the people of God became focused in this one true Son of God, so that Jesus is Israel, and it is to this fact that the Christian church, the body of those who are ‘in Christ’, owes its status as the people of God.”

“The Synoptic Gospels give some evidence of a tendency by Jesus to apply to himself, without further explanation, Old Testament texts which originally referred to Israel.”

. . .

5. The Church as the True Israel

“A common Old Testament metaphor for Israel is the flock of God. Jesus frequently takes this up, picturing himself as the shepherd, and his followers as the flock. In Luke 12:32 he addresses them as the ‘little flock’ to whom the Father will give the kingdom. He takes up Zechariah’s picture of the smitten shepherd, and applies it to himself and to his disciples as ‘the scattered sheep (Mark 14:27, quoting Zechariah 13:7). Thus an Old Testament figure for Israel is applied specifically and exclusively to the disciples.”

. . .

The “‘radicalism’ in Jesus’ view of the impact of his ministry is focused in one of his most deliberately significant acts, the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Variation in the wording of the different records does not affect the central point, that he presented the wine as his ‘blood of the covenant’. Whether or not the actual phrase ‘new covenant’ is taken to be original (with 1 Cor 11:25 and the longer text of Luke 22:20), Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy (31:31-34) was undoubtedly in his mind. The phrase ‘blood of the covenant’ (in Mark and Matthew) alludes to Moses’ words in Exodus 24:8, the covenant ceremony from which Israel’s status as the people of God stemmed. It is this covenant that Jeremiah said would have to be replaced, and this Jesus is doing, sealing it with the sacrifice of his own death. It is his people, redeemed by his death, who ‘do this in remembrance of him’, who are the beneficiaries of this new covenant. It is they who are now the true people of God.”

. . .

“Two elements in the teaching of Jesus must therefore be held in balance, Israel, as represented by the Jewish nation of his day, can no longer be called the people of God, and a new covenant community is taking its place. Yet there is not a complete break, for this new community is the godly remnant of Israel, in whom all Israel’s hopes and ideals are coming to fulfilment. ‘The new community is still Israel; there is continuity through the discontinuity. It is not a matter of replacement but of resurrection.’”

. . .

“It seems, therefore, that, far from looking for some future regathering of the Jewish people to Palestine, Jesus actually took Old Testament passages which originally had that connotation, and applied them instead to the gathering of the Christian community from all nations, even, in one case, to the exclusion of some Jews! This is a graphic illustration of the conclusion towards which this section has been leading, that Jesus ‘saw in the circle of those who received his message the sons of the Kingdom, the true Israel, the people of God . . . who, having received the messianic salvation, were to take the place of the rebellious nation as the true Israel.”

. . .

6. Israel and the Jews

“Their rejection of Jesus’ appeal is the climax of their continued acts of rebellion, and their last chance to repent has been lost. They now face not only a temporary punishment such as they often received in the Old Testament period, but the final loss of their privileged status.”
. . .

His final words in this article well-capture his point: “A Christian use of the prophecies of the Old Testament can hardly ignore the hermeneutical lead given by Jesus and his disciples.” Amen!


This article only presents a selection of important conclusions stated by R. T. France. You really need to read his article to get his actual exegesis. Hopefully this has whetted your appetite. You perhaps can see why I always buy commentaries by R. T. France!

But now, are you hungry for more evidence about the error of dispensationalism’s view of Israel? Stay tuned. I will soon begin work on a new “Made Easy Series” book: “Israel Made Easy.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Another Dispensationalist Recognizes the Literalism Error

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director,

The average dispensationalists that you see on the streets holding signs that the end is near invariably defend their doomsday expectations on the basis of an alleged literalistic interpretation of Scripture. The next volume of’s DVD expose, The Late Great Planet Church (vol. 2), will explode this error (not literally, mind you: we will not use any pyrotechnic devices). But for now this blog will once again show the ground-shifting going on among intellectual dispensationalists (this should not be unexpected since dispensationalist are always excited about earthquakes, tsunamis, and such).

Dispensationalism is effectively suffering a brain-drain. Indeed, the book I will briefly report on in this blog is the theological equivalent of Draino. The book will help unclog the flimsy literalism system — if any best-selling dispensational author will read it (and I mean “it” literally: none of this simply reading the cover of the book, but the book itself).

The author of the book I will be dealing with, is Dr. D. Brent Sandy. He is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. (I attended its seminary, Grace Theological Seminary, for two years while I was still a dispensationalist. In fact, it was while I was a student at GTS that I raptured out of the system. Thus, for me Winona Lake ironically became Ground Zero in the collapse of my dispensationalism.) He has written an excellent book on hermeneutics titled: Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (2002).

Be aware, I will not be reviewing this book. Also, please understand that I do not agree with every point Dr. Sandy makes. I will basically just cite some of his statements that undermine the dispensational hermeneutical system. His work is another of those academic books that demonstrate that dispensationalism is collapsing from within. I highly recommend your reading it, especially if you feel a sense of call to do mission work among the dispensationalists.

If you enjoy watching a theological system such as dispensationalism implode, you may want to pop some popcorn and read this nail-biter book. (I confess that I don’t normally recommend eating popcorn while reading such a page-turning thriller, but I will break that practice. My reason for not encouraging such generally is that I like popcorn so much that I try to discourage others from eating it so the world supply of popcorn will not be too greatly diminished. But since you are reading about pop-theology, popcorn seems quite appropriate.)

As you read the citations below keep in mind dispensationalism’s (alleged) sine qua non. One of the two leading sine qua non is: “Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of literal interpretation . . . . The dispensationalist claims to use the normal principle of interpretation consistently in all his study of the Bible” (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism [Chicago: Moody, 1995], 80). Not so anymore! Consider the following statements by this leading dispensational scholar.

On p. 45 Dr. Sandy asks a question regarding prophecy: “conditional or unconditional?” This of course is a key issue in demanding a future Davidic kingdom complete with a rebuilt temple and renewed sacrificial system. But Sandy states: “Can prophecies be conditional? Can prophecies be given in hyperbole? Unfortunately it is not always clear even in retrospect what parts of the covenant were unconditional, what parts conditional or what parts hyperbolic” (p. 47). So much for the plain, simple method of interpretation! I can hear the populist dispensationalists screaming “blasphemy!” while stopping up their ears and running from the bookstore.

In the conclusion to his chapter titled “What Makes Prophecy Problematic?” Sandy writes: “What makes prophecy problematic? To understand the prophetic word correctly, we must recognize that the language of prophecy may be poetic, emotive, conditional, hyperbolic, figurative, surreal, oral and uncertain about fulfillment” (p. 56). Whoa! This is not your grandmother’s dispensationalism (neither is it my grandmother’s dispensationalism — but I don’t suspect you are interested in what Mama Lanham believed, so I will forgo further discussion).

Notice that Sandy did not say: “What makes prophecy problematic? Nothing!” Nor did he say: “What makes prophecy problematic? To understand the prophetic word correctly, we must recognize that the language of prophecy may be poetic, emotive, conditional, hyperbolic, figurative, surreal, oral and uncertain about fulfillment — except where literal, which is most of the time.” Bravo!

On p. 64 he warns: “The point is, if we force all forms of language to play by one set of rules, we will be hopelessly confused.” Excellent!

Over and over again he expresses doubts about “face value” prophecy, which is a pet phrase found frequently in Ryrie and so many other dispensationalists. For instance, on p. 57 he cites several prophecies then asks:

“Do we take this language at face value? Will God really bring about each of these kinds of judgment and blessing? Will wild animals from all over the earth gorge themselves on sinners? Will rivers of milk flow through the countryside? Those things are certainly possible with an all-powerful God. But it is equally possible that such statements were not intended to be taken at face value.”

No saving face for this dispensationalist!

In several places in his book, Sandy refers to the word “forever” (e.g., 42, 98, 101, 222). This is significant for any “face value” approach to interpretation. And it is absolutely destructive of the dispensationalist linchpin argument that the Abrahamic Covenant promises Israel the Land “forever,” therefore requiring a future fulfillment in the Millennium (which itself is not forever!). Sandy lists the following verses stating this prophetic hope for Israel: Gen 13:15; Exo 32:13; 1 Kings 9:5. But then he has the nerve to list a good number of verses where “forever” obviously does not “designate perpetuity in the present world” with a “notion of its being without end” (p. 99).

Sandy even has the audacity to ask on pp. 98-99 regarding 2 Sam 7:9—11, 16 and Jer 33:17–18:

“But in what sense has David’s throne endured forever? In what sense have sacrifices been offered forever. There have been major interruptions: the destructions of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, by the Seleucids and by the Romans. It is certainly a curious way to think of forever if it only means part of the time.”

He argues and proves that “Forever may designate perpetuity only within earthly existence, it may be hyperbolic, and it may designate surely in the sense of intensification” (p. 101).

Dr. Sandy, though a dispensationalist teaching at a leading dispensational college, is not far from the kingdom!

P.S. If you can read this sentence you have excellent eyesight. If not, never mind.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dispensationalism, Definition, Revelation, and Contradiction

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director,

Dispensationalism is a new, innovative, naive, peculiar, cumbersome, complicated, contradictory, and incoherent system of theology. Other than these problems, however, it is apparently quite compelling. It is compelling to tens of millions of Christians who themselves are often "innovative, naive, peculiar, cumbersome, complicated, contradictory, and incoherent" and who are usually captured when they are "new" to the Christian faith as recent converts. I know that was true for me as a young convert to Christ — until I raptured out of the system so that it was "left behind."

Let me explain what I mean in declaring dispensationalism to be such.

The Significance of Definition

Dispensationalism is big on definitions. And rightly so. Complicated and convoluted systems require definitions in an attempt to explain them to the uninitiated.

In chapters 2 and 3 of Charles Ryrie’s important and classic work Dispensationalism (1995), he discusses at length the whole question of definition. In fact, he opens chapter 2 with this sentence: "There is no more primary problem in the whole matter of dispensationalism than that of definition" (p. 23). Unfortunately, he must admit in the first sentence of the very next paragraph: "To say that there is a great lack of clear thinking on this matter of definition is an understatement. Both dispensationalist and non-dispensationalists are often guilty of lack of clarity."

Even the Foreword by Frank E. Gaebelein agrees that oftentimes dispensationalism’s own followers are confused: "dispensationalism has at times been the victim of its adherent who have pressed unwisely certain of its features." If the system is confusing to its enthusiastic followers, this surely explains why it is even more so to its concerned opponents. Definition, then, is crucial.

Yet even while defining the issues, dispensationalism begins to stumble — showing that the system is indeed cumbersome, complicated, contradictory, and incoherent. In this blog I will note that even in its own definition dispensationalism involves the system in dialectical tension that causes it to collapse from within. I will show this by focusing on the leading advocate of normative dispensationalism, Dr. Charles C. Ryrie.

But first let me briefly note:

The Significance of Ryrie

Dr. Ryrie was formerly professor of systematic theology and dean of doctoral studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and is a very important figure in the most popular form of dispensationalism. The Twentieth-Century Dictionary of Christian Biography (1995, p. 300) calls Ryrie "one of the key theologians supporting dispensationalism." The Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (p. 385) declares that "he has made an inestimable contribution to the Christian world," noting that his "writings have consistently been on the theological cutting edge." In a recent festschrift in Ryrie’s honor, titled Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond (2008, p. i), Dr. Christopher Cone presents him as "tremendously influential in the grounding of dispensational theology."

Ryrie published his most important and theologically influential book, Dispensationalism Today in 1966. This book was continuously in print in that edition until updated, revised, and given a new name in 1995: Dispensationalism. It has remained the standard for explaining and defending dispensationalism, being called a "classic text" in Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (p. 385). Dr. Craig Blaising of Dallas Theological Seminary notes that "the importance of this work for the self-understanding of late twentieth-century dispensationalism cannot be overstated."

So then, my demonstrating Ryrie’s confusion in defining the system cannot be written off with a cavalier: "Oh, that’s just Jack Van Impe rambling away because he heard about an earthquake somewhere!" When its leading spokesman stumbles at the very level of definition, this is a serious problem for dispensationalism as a system.

(Please note: unless otherwise noted all page references below are to Ryrie’s Dispensationalism.)

The Significance of Errors

The very name "dispensationalism" raises the important question: "What is a ‘dispensation’?" If you are committed to a system called "dispensationalism," you certainly need to know what a "dispensation" is. Otherwise you would be as confused as a person who thinks he is a capitalist because he lives in the capital of Cuba.

Ryrie is no lightweight. He possesses great understanding of the system as such and exercises enormous influence as a proponent of it. According to him a "a concise definition of a dispensation is this: "A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose" (p. 28). This is a succinct and widely-held definition that no dispensationalist could reject and still remain a dispensationalist.

But before I move on, I must mention a second crucial matter of definition. According to dispensationalists theologians dispensational distinctions are God-revealed distinctions — thus, they are God-imposed historical realities. Ryrie notes that "distinguishing the dispensations is God’s, not man’s work" (p. 29). Regarding the relationship between two particular dispensations, Ryrie observes that "God himself through John make[s] these distinctions" (p. 36).

The revealed character of dispensations is extremely important. After all, it results in the elements defining each dispensation, which involve a "distinctive revelation, responsibility, testing, failure, and judgment" (p. 28). Note in this quotation that each dispensation involves a "distinctive revelation"— that is, a distinctive revelation from God. And this revelation obligates man to a particular "responsibility"during that specific dispensation — to God. And it results in a particular form of "testing" distinctive to that dispensation — which testing is designed by God for those people in their dispensational settings. Thus, the dispensational structure of history is revealed by God in his word, according to dispensationalists.

But as we can see in Ryrie’s attempt to explain dispensationalism serious problems arise. The claim to distinguishable dispensations as a revelation from God undermines the system as it is defined and presented.

It is crucial that we note the vital word "distinguishable." Each dispensation is distinguishable from the other. Therefore, however many dispensations there are, they must be distinguishable — by definition! The word "distinguishable" is important to Ryrie as we see how frequently it occurs in his discussion (29, 32, 34, 37, 38, etc.).

Indeed, Ryrie even notes that dispensations are "distinguishably different" (p. 29) because they involve "distinguishing features" (p. 29). Every dispensations’ features "are distinctive to each dispensation and mark them off from each other as different dispensations" (p. 29). Thus, they result in "definite and distinguishable distinctions" (p. 32), each of which individually "distinguishes each [dispensation] from the other" (p. 33). Ryrie notes of certain dispensations that "here is unquestionably a distinguishable and different way of running the affairs of the world" (p. 34). Do you get the impression that the quality of distinguishableness is significant?

With these words in his chapters on definition, Ryrie has just shot himself in the foot. And all dispensationalism is limping because of it. But how so? Let me point out the following destructive tendencies in these definitional issues which (necessarily) involve "distinguishable" distinctions.

First, though the dispensations involve a "distinctive revelation" (p. 28), Ryrie admits of his own (and the majority view) that "a sevenfold scheme of dispensations is neither inspired nor nonnegotiable" (p. 51). How can this be if dispensations are: (1) "distinguishable" and (2) God-revealed? Why are not the distinct dispensations God-revealed if each has a "distinctive revelation"?

Second, Ryrie notes that the number of dispensations is not even a crucial matter in the debate: "Is the essence of dispensationalism the number of dispensations? No, for this is in no way a major issue in the system" (p. 38). Well, why not if God reveals distinguishable dispensations? This is like saying the number of persons in the Trinity is not crucial to the concept of the Trinity. If the dispensations are distinguishable, they ought then to be countable — and their number ought to be known and secure.

Third, Ryrie goes even further when he states: "the number of dispensations in a dispensational scheme and even the names of the dispensations are relatively minor matters. Presumably one could have four, five, seven, or eight dispensations and be a consistent dispensationalist" (p. 45). And in the final analysis he can say that his view of the number of dispensations is only "likely seven in number" (p. 56).

But now: what happens to their God-revealed character as distinguishable economies? And what of the obligations within each distinctive dispensation which devolve upon those living within their particular dispensation (rather than in another dispensation)? And what of dispensations being defined by particular testings from God peculiar to that and only that dispensation? This does not make sense. The number of dispensations, by the very nature of the case, must be significant, set, and secure — if the definition and God-revealed character of dispensationalism is true.

Fourth, Ryrie confesses that "most dispensationalists see seven dispensations in God’s plan (though throughout the history of dispensationalism they have not always been the same seven). Occasionally a dispensationalist may hold as few as four, and some hold as many as eight" (p. 46). How can this be? If there are four dispensations, then the revelation of God and the tests upon man will be different from a situation in which there are seven dispensations.

In fact, in a festschrift in honor of Ryrie, the editor himself argues for twelve dispensations! Christopher Cone in Dispensationalism Tomorrow & Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie (2008): "A synthetic overview accounting for God’s doxological purpose seems to unveil no less than 12 dispensational divisions in Scripture" (Cone, p. 150). This is incredible! Did God "reveal" four, seven, or twelve distinguishable dispensations? Dispensationalists are not sure!

Fifth, Ryrie argues all of this in the same book in which he warns: "the distinguishable yet progressive character of dispensational distinctions prohibits that they should be intermingled or confused as they are chronologically successive" (p. 37). He is quite logical when he demands that since the dispensations are "distinguishable" they cannot be "intermingled or confused" — otherwise they would not be distinguishable.

Yet, Ryrie admits that the number of dispensations remains uncertain — which means that some dispensationalists are intermingling or confusing the matter despite their own definition. And Ryrie himself even allows the prospect of various numbers of dispensations — despite his claim that they cannot be mingled or confused. I am confused!

Sixth, we find that, having gotten into his own hand-crafted coffin, Ryrie deftly drives in the final nail carefully securing it shut. And he does not use a thin-shank finish nail: this is one of those nails known as a HurriQuake Disaster Resistant Fastener. It cannot be pulled out once driven in. Here Ryrie commits a huge self-destructive error when he states: "The understanding of God’s differing economies is essential to a proper interpretation of His revelation within each of those various economies." This is a significant enough statement that is also cited on p. 82 of The Popular Encyclopedia of the Bible. But where is the problem?

This statement introduces dialectical tension into Ryrie’s whole argument: If we must understand God’s differing economies in order to properly interpret the revelation within each of those economies, should we not know exactly what each of those economies is? Should we not have a clear understanding that there are in fact seven — or four or twelve — specific dispensations? How can the system allow any number of dispensations if you must interpret the revelation within those economies?

Furthermore, Ryrie’s statement requires you to presuppose dispensationalism as a system before you can interpret the Scripture. We should think, though, that you must understand Scripture first, then draw out Scripture’s system. But this is not the case with dispensationalism, for Ryrie clearly states: "The understanding of God’s differing economies is essential to a proper interpretation of His revelation within each of those various economies."


Somehow dispensationalism keeps surviving one failed Antichrist prediction after another. It endures one failed rapture date after another. And what is worse, its best theologians have created an unduly complex system that is so burdensome that it incorporates internal contradictions. I don’t know how they do it and continue on. That is why I am "against Dispensationalism" (as per our blogsite name).

(By the way, to increase my books sales: I believe the Antichrist is a guy named Larry Cleveland and that the rapture will be on March 4 [(but I am not sure in what year].)