Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism (Part 5)

Part 5: Forward to the Past
by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com


In my past four blogs (seven, if you have a time machine and have driven into the future and have already read all of them) I have been presenting Paul’s case against dispensationalism as found in his Epistle to the Ephesians. Just as evangelicals use “The Romans Road to Salvation” as an evangelistic tool, I believe we can reach out to dispensationalists by employing “The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.”

We need to understand an important reality: dispensationalism is not simply an eschatological outlook, a prophetic construct. Rather it is a whole, complex, and distinctive theology. And as a theological system it differs from mainline evangelical theology in many areas, impacting most of the formal loci of systematic theology.

Dispensationalism’s theological problems arise from its devastating mistakes regarding: (1) the role and function of Israel, (b) the proper apostolic interpretation of prophecy, (iii) the unified, progressive nature of redemptive history, and (four) . . . I forgot what I was going to say. These system errors (at least the first three I mention, since I cannot remember the fourth — though I am sure it was a good one) are absolutely destructive of a biblical construct for systematic theology.

One of the most remarkable and disturbing aspects of dispensationalism is its inherent redemptive retrogression. Dispensationalism necessarily requires a future re-institution of blood sacrifices to be conducted in a rebuilt temple under the direction of a new, formal line of priests. It rejects the biblical view that Christ is the final redemptive blood-letting in that he is the conclusive, perfect fulfillment of the sacrificial system. Though in the millennium “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid” (Isa 11:6) and though “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together” (Isa 65:25), the lamb and the kid had better keep a wary eye out for any approaching priest.

Once again, Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians exposes dispensational error. And this time one of their most bizarre errors. Let us see what Paul has to say about the matter.

The Rebuilt Temple and the Old Testament

In order to exalt Israel, to restore her to where she left off in redemptive-history, to re-institute her sacrificial system, and to employ a long line of priests, dispensationalism applies its off-and-on-again literalistic sleight-of-hand hermeneutic to argue for a rebuilt temple. As they read the Old Testament (divorced from any knowledge of Christ, the Apostles, and the New Testament) dispensationalists note Old Testament statements regarding the temple which suggest to them that it will be built again in the future.

For instance, the Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Kregel, 1996; hereinafter, DPT) states that:

“the prophecy of a future Jewish temple in Jerusalem . . . is part of the greater restoration promise made to national Israel. This promise, made at the close of the first temple period (cf. Isa. 1:24–2:4; 4:2–6; 11:1–12:6; 25–27; 32; 34–35; 40–66; Jer. 30–33; Ezek. 36–48; Amos 9:11–15; Joel 2:28–3:21; Micah 4:–5; 7:11–20; Zeph. 3:9–20), made again by the prophets who prophesied after the return from captivity (cf. “Dan. 9–12; Hag. 2:5–9; Zech. 8–14; Mal. 3–4), and reaffirmed in the New Testament (cf. Acts 3:19–26; Rom. 11:1–32) contained inseparably linked elements of fulfillment. . .” (DPT 404).

Before I proceed further I must briefly comment on DPT’s listing of prophetic passages, using its first two cited prophecies by way of example: Isaiah 1:24–2:4 and Isaiah 4:2–6.

Regarding the Isaiah 1:24–2:4 proof-text: Oddly enough, dispensationalism’s (occasional, though erratic and sometimes dizzying, but always fun) literalistic approach to this prophecy produces an absolute absurdity. It requires the ridiculous notion that Jerusalem will actually “will be established as the chief of the mountains, / and will be raised above the hills” (Isa 2:2b). Somehow Jerusalem will remain intact as the tectonic upheaval and its consequent mountain-thrusting forces raise Mount Zion to new heights.

Furthermore, despite the enormous difficulties involved in scaling this mountain, “all the nations” will stream to it — even though it is now on a mountain higher than Mt. Everest (apparently snow tires will be much more effective in the millennium than they are today).

What is more, Jerusalem itself will dwarf the mountain upon which it sits, for it will be 1500 miles high — according to the often-literalistic, ever system-building hermeneutic approach to Revelation 21:16. And yet the world population (using today’s figures, which probably are lower than those of the peace-enhanced millennium) of six billion people will gather three times a year in Jerusalem for worship festivals (Deut 16:16). The traffic congestion will be awful, probably worse than the famed Orange Crush in Orange County, California where I-5 and Highways 22 and 57 come together.

Despite the enormous height of the orogenically (tectonics + volcanism = orogenesis) re-shaped mountain and the even more impressive size of the city, the upper winds apparently will be stilled (perhaps due to their being over 1470 miles above the earth’s atmosphere — they surely will have petered out at that distance). After all, according to DPT’s second set of proof-texts (which does not even mention a temple, by the way) the smog will be suffocating — virtually on the order of the thermal-inertia-induced Venusian atmosphere. Note that the verse states (literalistically!) that “the Lord will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke” (Isa 4:5). Thus, the “whole area of Mount Zion” — not part of it, that would not be literalistic! — will be covered by “smoke.” Apparently this is at least partly due to the automotive exhaust emitted by enormous number of cars necessary for carrying six billion people to the thrice-yearly festivals.

But we are analyzing Paul’s “The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.” What does Ephesians have to say about all of this? I mean what does it say about all of this beyond that fact that Jesus is enthroned “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph 1:21) which (according to dispensational exegesis) matches perfectly with his ruling from a 1500 mile high Jerusalem?

The Rebuilt Temple and Ephesians

We have been seeing that Paul is not a dispensationalist. What is more, we have noted that his letter to the Ephesians serves as a blatant, point-for-point rebuttal to dispensationalism. Let us now consider Paul’s understanding of the rebuilt temple.

Paul is a blatant spiritualizer, according to the dispensational system. For in Ephesians 2:19–22 he states:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

The Apostle certainly believes in a rebuilt temple, but not one built of stone. He sees “the whole building”as currently in his day already “being fitted together” and “growing into a holy temple in the Lord.”He allows this despite the fact that the earthly temple is still standing as he writes. And despite the fact that the millennium still lies off in the distance (already almost 2000 years distant, at least). Remember: the prophecies of the glorious, rebuilt temple refer to the millennial temple, not the tribulation temple because “the tribulation temple will be built by unbelieving Jews . . . [whereas] the millennial temple will be built by the Messiah (Zech. 6:12–13) and redeemed Jews” (DPT 404).

To make matters worse, Paul sees the rebuilt temple in spiritual terms because it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with “Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” And the current and ongoing building process involves Christians themselves as the building stones for “you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” This is why Jesus could inform the Samaritan woman: “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. . . But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:21, 23). And Jesus presents this “coming” hour as a permanent, final reality not to be withdrawn as a new order of localized, physical temple worship is re-instituted.

This is no stray statement by Paul: he returns to this theme time-and-again. We read of his conception of the spiritual temple in the following verses:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (1 Cor 3:16–17)

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19)

“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will Dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people’” (2 Cor 6:16).

The third sample in 2 Corinthians 6:16 is important because it specially applies Old Testament prophecy to the New Testament spiritual temple. Notice how Paul argues: “We are the temple of the living; just as God said, ‘I will Dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” The Old Testament backdrop to this “just as God said” statement is Ezekiel 37:27: “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.”

What is remarkable about all of this is that this Paul takes this statement from Ezekiel’s prophecy of Israel’s dry bones coming back to life. Thus, Paul commits two hermeneutic sins: (1) he applies a prophecy regarding Israel to the church and (2) he spiritualizes God’s prophetic dwelling, applying it to God’s spiritual indwelling his people, rather than God’s building a new temple.


Paul’s writings destroy dispensationalism — which may explain why dispensationalists prefer to take Old Testament texts on their own, apart from any New Testament understanding. Truly, Paul provides a tract for our times, an “Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism (4)

Part 4: Promises, Promises
by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com


In this blog I am continuing a study in Ephesians which shows that Paul’s theology contradicts the foundational teachings of dispensationalism. As I noted in the preceding articles (which I have cleverly named: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3): It seems almost as if Paul intentionally designed Ephesians to undermine dispensationalism. Ephesians is virtually a tract to reach out to dispensationalists. Thus, I am outlining “The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.”

Of course, if you are a dispensationalist you might initially be tempted to thump your desk (being careful not to strike your mouse so that you lose your Internet connection) and loudly yodel: “Ah ha!!! So then: you admit dispensationalism existed in the first century!!! I rest my case!!!” (Dispensationalists use abundant exclamation points when they speak or write: such is their excitement.)

However, this clever response will not do. After all, in Ephesians 4:11 Paul notes that God “gave some as apostles, and some as prophets.” Indeed, he himself is an apostle possessing prophetic powers, for elsewhere he clearly states: “I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge” (1 Cor 13:2). Thus, he could well have been looking down the unfolding centuries to Dublin, Ireland in October, 1827 when J. N. Darby fell off his horse and struck his head so hard that he came up with the idea of dispensationalism. (When most of us fall of our horses and strike our heads we do not come up with whole new theological constructs. But such was the genius of Darby: he could multi-task.)

Furthermore, we must remember that Paul was not only prophetically-gifted but deeply concerned for his flock. Thus while originally among the Ephesians (Acts 20:17) he prophesied: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking silly things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30. Note: some manuscripts of Acts have the Latin word sillius [“silly”] here instead of the Greek word diestrammena [“perversities”]. This textual variant suggests that Paul knew theological innovators were often comedians.)

(I would also point out that 1 Tim 4:1 reads: “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to silly spirits and doctrines of dispensationalists” [1 Tim 4:1]. I confess though that this textual reading also includes two variants that may be translated “silly” and “dispensationalists.” Apparently early copyists realized that Paul was speaking of the year 1830 when the dispensational system was finally completed and presented to the world — just in time for the Powerscourt Conferences in 1831–33.)

Israel’s Promises and Jesus’ Church

Now let us move on in our study of Paul’s anti-dispensational polemic. Actually, let us back-up. In my last blog I worked my way through Ephesians 2:19. I will now return to Ephesians 2:11–12 to demonstrate the unthinkable: Paul applies to the new covenant church the old covenant promises given to Israel. This single theological truth absolutely destroys dispensationalism.

In the dispensational view Paul failed to “rightly divide the word of truth.” He foolishly read the Old Testament in the light of the interpretive teaching of Jesus and his divinely-inspired apostles. He should have continued reading the Old Testament as if Jesus had never come and had never rebuked the Jews for misinterpreting Scripture (Matt 22:29; Mark 12:24; Luke 25–27; John 5:39). He should have not depended on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to assist him in understanding the Scriptures. Dispensationalists even argue that he committed a hermeneutic stumble when he wrote in Ephesians “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph 1:17; cp. John 14:26; 16:13; Acts 2:16–18; Rom 7:6; 8:5; 1 Cor 2:10–15; 2 Cor 3:6; Col 1:9; 2 Pet 1:21).

One of the classic problems dispensationalism has created for itself revolves around the new covenant. Jeremiah 31:31–34 speaks of a new covenant that will supersede (uh oh!) the old covenant: “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.”

Unfortunately for dispensationalism and their flawed hermeneutic, Jeremiah’s prophecy states that this new covenant will be made “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” Given their random, only-when-needed-to-save-the-system literalism, the dispensational system forbids the establishing of the new covenant with any other people group than Israel. This has generated intense debate within dispensationalism, leading to their proposing four different approaches to Jeremiah’s rather simple prophecy. Apparently, this is their favored way of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Indeed, they actually read that text as: “rightly dividing over the word of truth,” that is, they divide themselves up into warring camps while deconstructing biblical texts.

The problem for dispensationalism arises from Jesus’ own teaching. The Lord clearly establishes this new covenant when he ordains the Lord’s Supper as one of the two sacraments for his new covenant church: “And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” (Luke 22:20; cp. 1 Cor 11:25). What Jesus is effectively doing is declaring a “new Israel”: the new covenant church.

In my last blog I noted that Paul saw Jew and Gentile merged — permanently — in one body, the church (Eph 2:11–19). Now I would note that in the early part of that text he teaches that this new, merged body — the church — receives the Old Testament promises given to Israel. Consider Paul’s statement to these Gentile Christians: “remember that you were at that time [before your conversion] separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12).

What is happening here? Paul is speaking of matters involving “the commonwealth of Israel.” He is declaring that before these Gentiles came to Christ they were “strangers to the covenants of promise.” This necessarily means that now that they have come to Christ they are no longer strangers to the covenants of promise. That is, they are now recipients of “the covenants of promise,” which include the distinctive Abrahamic Covenant with Israel (Gal 3:16–18). After all, he goes on to say that though they were “a that time” (Eph 2:12) excluded and strangers they now “have been brought bear by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13) and that Christ “broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” that separated Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14).

Thus, if Gentiles are no longer “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel,” if Gentiles are no longer “strangers to the covenants of promise,” if Gentiles “have been brought near,” if Jew and Gentile are merged into one body , and if that which distinguishes Jew and Gentile has been “broken down” (the “dividing wall”), then by parity of reasoning: the Gentiles receive the promises given to Israel. How can it be otherwise? The two are now one, so that the promises to the old covenant people belong to the new covenant people who have been merged with them.

Is this not demanded by Christ’s own establishing of the Lord’s Supper as the new covenant sacrament for his church? Was not Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 1:5; 11:13; Gal 2:8; 1 Tim 2:7), a promoter of the new covenant, calling himself a “servant of the new covenant” (2 Cor 3:6)? Did he not explain the new covenant sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 11:23–25ff) — which he received from the Lord himself (1 Cor 11:23a)?

Of course, the application of Jewish promises and prophecies is abundantly taught throughout the New Testament (which is why dispensationalists want to interpret the Old Testament alone, as if Christ had not come). But our interest is here in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. This apostle to the Gentiles includes Christian Gentiles among the members of “the commonwealth of Israel” and under “the covenants of promise.” Thus, he sees the church as the recipient of the old covenant promises and prophecies.


That’s all. I’m tired.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism (3)

Part 3: Separating What God Has Joined Together
by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

Don’t you think the British have a funny way of pronouncing “aluminum”? I only mention this because an important key to good writing is opening with an effective “hook” to grab your reader’s attention. Now that I have your attention please go to the next paragraph.

This is my third installment in my series titled “The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.” (Now you can see why I didn’t want to open with this rather boring sentence. No zest whatsoever. In fact, it wearies me to think about it.) In my mission work among the dispensationalists I have found that Ephesians is a helpful epistle for exposing several of their leading theological errors — and in a compressed, self-contained format. It is almost as if Paul wrote it as a tract to reach out to them as he ministered among the Jews in the synagogues (for that is precisely where you would find the dispensationalists gathering to learn more about their old covenant future in the millennium where they will be the Jews’ servants).

Irony in the Theology of Ephesians

It is ironic that Ephesians would be so helpful for summarily critiquing dispensationalism. After all, the word “dispensation” occurs only four times in the Bible (in the King James Version) and two of them are in Ephesians (Eph 1:10; 3:2). That the word also appears in Colossians 1:25 is expected since it is known as the “twin epistle” of Ephesians because it covers much of the same material and in the same general order. Colossians is as similar to Ephesians as Jude is to 2 Peter. And it as similar to Ephesians as Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth is to all other dispensational books.

Nor should we be surprised to find the word “dispensation” in 1 Corinthians 9:17. After all, that church suffers a great number of debilitating problems. Indeed, the word “ignorant” occurs in the Corinthian corpus more than in any other epistles sent to one community: 1 Cor 10:1; 12:1; 14:38; 2 Cor 1:8; 2:11 (KJV).

The irony of Ephesians being a contra-dispensational missive is intensified when we note another startling fact. In the NASB version exactly twenty-five verses in Ephesians contain words that start with the exact same letter as does the word “rapture”: redemption (1:7, 14; 4:30); riches (1:7; 3:8, 15), reason (1:15; 3:1, 14; 5:14), revelation, reveal, or revealed (1:17; 3:3, 5), riches or rich (1:17; 2:4, 7), raised (1:20; 2:6), right (1:20), rule (1:21), rest (2:3), result (2:9; 4:14), remember (2:11, 12), reconcile (2:16), referring (3:4), read (3:4), rulers (3:10; 6:12), rooted (3:16), reference (4:22; 5:32), renewed (4:23), righteousness (4:24; 5:9; 6:14), rather (as an adverb, not as the family name of the former CBS news anchor, 4:28; 5:4), respect (5:33), render (6:7), receive (6:8), and resist (6:13).

This indisputable phenomenon can be no more an “accident” of translation history than the fact that the seven churches of Revelation outline church history with dates involving precise increments of tens. According to the Scofield Reference Bible each age of the church both starts and ends with dates that are perfectly divisible by ten. Furthermore, that exactly twenty-five words would start with “r” in an English translation cannot be an accident. As everyone knows, twenty-five is the sum of two twelves (the number of the tribes of Israel), with a one thrown in just for fun.

Getting Our Bearings

In my two preceding installments I noted that: (1) Christ is currently enthroned as Messianic king (Eph 1:20-23). He is not awaiting a postponed kingdom opportunity as per dispensationalism. (2) We are currently ruling and reigning with him (Eph 2:6). We are not awaiting a postponed kingdom of priests as per dispensationalism. These are debilitating observations for dispensationalism which is rigorously premillennial, expecting Christ’s future kingdom and our future reigning with him.

In this article I will show that God has merged Jew and Gentile into one body — finally and forever. This one point all by itself destroys the whole dispensational scheme. After all it contradicts one of its two foundation stones: the distinction between Israel and the church. (The other fundamental is the “literal” interpretation of Scripture which is used randomly as a deus ex machina to make the system appear to work.)

The Jew and Gentile Merger

The leading classic dispensationalist scholar of the last fifty years is Charles C. Ryrie. On p. 39 in his important 1995 work Dispensationalism he reiterates his 1966 observation from the book’s first edition: “A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the church distinct.” According to Ryrie: “A. C. Gaebelein stated it in terms of the difference between the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God.” He then states rather dogmatically (and self-destructively): “This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist.”

In introducing the sine qua non of dispensationalism (p. 38) he discounts three issues that some might consider essential. He notes that “distinguishably different economies [in God’s] governing the affairs of the world” is not distinctive — despite the system’s name “dispensationalism.” He then points out more narrowly that even “the number of dispensations” is not a fundamental issue — despite the dominant affirmation among dispensationalists of seven distinct dispensations. He finally denies that “the issue of premillennialism” is determinative of dispensationalism.

When he finally comes to stating the sine qua non he begins with the Israel / church distinction. This is a fatal admission, for it contradicts the clear New Testament revelation and destroys the flow of redemptive history. Let us see how this is so.

We must note two aspects of the matter that come back to haunt the system. In dispensationalism’s two-peoples-of-God theology they must hold that God (1) distinguishes Jew and Gentile and (2) that he does so permanently (at least in history, though many carry the distinction into eternity). How are these observations fatal to the system? And in light of our study in Ephesians, how do we see that problem in Paul’s epistle?

We must first ask the question regarding the dispensationalist’s assumption: Who makes up the people known as “Israel”? The obvious answer is “Jews,” the genetic offspring of Abraham. But then the question arises in the debate: Does God establish a new entity in redemptive-history which also includes Jews? The answer is: Yes. The church of Jesus Christ. In fact, it was established in the very context and on the foundation of Israel.

Indeed, Paul notes very clearly and forcefully that God merges Jew and Gentile into one body, which we now call the church. He even encourages the Gentiles with the knowledge that they are now included among God’s people and are partakers of their blessings. They are not separate and distinct from Israel but are adopted into her. Note Ephesians 2:11–19:

“Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household.”

Note very carefully what Paul states and how it contradicts the notion of a distinction between Jew and Gentile, between Israel and the church:

1. Paul states that the Gentiles were “formerly . . . at that time . . . excluded from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2:12). This is an observation about their past condition.

2. He argues that the Gentiles were “formerly . . . at that time . . . strangers to the covenants of promise” (plural covenants / singular promise). This is an observation about their past condition.

3. He reiterates the Gentiles’ former condition that has now been changed: “But now in Christ you who formerly were far off have been brought near” (Eph 2:19). This is their new experience and condition.

4. He resolutely declares that Christ has effected “peace” in that he “made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Eph 2:14). This is their new experience and condition.

5. He restates this once again by noting that Christ made “the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph 2:15). This is their new experience and condition.

6. He will not leave the matter alone, for he recasts this very thought noting that Christ determined to “reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” This is their new experience and condition.

7. He refuses to cave to the Jews and dispensationalists of his day by insisting that Christ “came and preached peace to you [Gentiles] who were far away” (Eph 2:17). This is their new experience and condition.

8. He comes dangerously close to becoming a classic bore when he states still again that “through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18). This is their new experience and condition.

9. He risks never being able to enroll in Dallas Theological Seminary by absolutely and positively refusing to cease and desist as he becomes stuck in a groove like a broken record (Or to update this cliche: like a CD with a child’s candy-sticky fingerprint on it. I don’t think this will ever catch on though. We are stuck with the older cliche. But as a writer I hold the rule: “Avoid cliches like the plague.” So let’s forget this whole cliche enterprise and move on): “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens” (Eph 2:19). This is their new experience and condition.

10. He risks becoming an absolute and detestable bore at rapture parties by droning interminably: “but you are fellow citizens with the saints [obviously the Jews], and are of God’s [singular] household” (Eph 2:19). This is their new experience and condition.

11. When will it all end? Can we never rapture out of this endless loop-cycle? Paul states once again that the Gentiles are a part of “the [singular] whole building, being fitted together” and “are being built together” (Eph 2:21). This is their new experience and condition.

How many different ways can the denial of a distinction between Jew and Gentile be stated? I am exhausted in laboring through this repetitive passage. Paul’s theology has absolutely no place for the first sine qua non of dispensationalism. And remember: sine qua non means “without which [there is] nothing.” That is, “without this element there is no system.” Though it is an essential definitive precondition for dispensationalism Paul will not allow it to stand.

Elsewhere Paul claims to be a “master builder” who is intent on laying “a foundation” (1 Cor 3:10). But here he becomes a one man wrecking crew. He has removed dispensationalism’s chief cornerstone. Like Jesus commanding Lazarus’ friends to “remove the stone” (John 11:39), Paul single-handedly removes this foundation stone. It is almost as if Paul were demanding: “raze it, raze it, to its very foundation” (Psa 137:7). Dispensationalism is not built upon a rock but upon sand. But “if the foundations are destroyed what can the rapturists do?”

But this represents only my first complaint about the matter before us. There is still another. If you read the passage carefully (I dare say you could even read the passage recklessly — even left-handedly — and come to the same conclusion) you will note that the whole tenor of Paul’s theological observation is that: Jew and Gentile have been merged into one body forever. There is absolutely nothing in the passage that hints at or even will allow that this union into one new body is temporary. Everything about the passage demands that this merger be permanent.

Read it again and try to find any intimation that this merger of Jew and Gentile is just temporary until the Rapture or the millennium or whatever. You will find nothing that leads to that conclusion and everything that militates against it:

“Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's [singular] household.”

Christ did not preach a temporary “truce” between Jew and Gentile, but a permanent “peace.” He did not suspend the enmity between Jew and Gentile for awhile but “put to death the enmity.” He did not bring the two peoples together for a time (nor even for a time, times, and half a time) but he permanently created a new man. Dispensationalism’s theology requires that ultimately we must separate what God has joined together. It allows the rebuilding of the dividing wall.


I don’t know how badly a system must miss the mark before its adherents admit their mistake and leave it behind. It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. I would say that dispensationalism is a farce resigned to confusion.

If you are still having trouble escaping dispensationalism, I highly recommend that you get our DVD “The Late Great Planet Church.” You really need to rapture out of the system.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism

Part 2: The Rise of the Christians
by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

In my previous blog I began relating to Reformed Christians a useful theological tool that I call “The Ephesians Road Out Dispensationalism.” I developed this instrument about twenty years ago after long and fruitless interactions with dispensationalists which transpired over a number of years. This is the second installment expositing this evangelistic tract.

Background to Product Development

In my eschatological debates twenty and thirty years ago I had fruitlessly attempted to prove the impossible. I was trying to convince my dispensationalist friends that the rapture was not going to occur on the day we were engaged in discussion. Day after day they laughed me to scorn. Day after day I continued to fail in convincing anyone that the rapture was not going to occur that very day. My success was being hampered by their annoying habit of continually looking upwards to the clouds while I was trying to point out Scripture texts to support my argument. This kept my seed arguments from finding root. My seed could find no purchase.

Those debates inevitably ended at midnight — the very close of the day. At that moment the dispensationalist would confidently assert: “Maybe tomorrow.” As I pulled my hair in frustration, I would hear them walking off lost in song: “Coming again, coming again / Maybe morning may be noon, / Maybe evening and maybe soon.” All I could do was stumble away with my head bowed low in exhaustion while humming: “You load sixteen tons and what do you get, / Another day older and deep in regret” (my apologies to Merle Travis — or George S. Davis; the original authorship of this song is still in dispute). I began to surmise that engaging in debate with a dispensationalist is a lot like saddling a cow: It is a whole lot of work, and there is not much point in it.

But I began to rethink my methods. Through this process of self-examination arose The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism. Previously I had found it extremely difficult to pull dispensationalists away from their network diagrams, Venn diagrams, Bachman diagrams, block definition diagrams, model diagrams, dot-and-cross diagrams, existential graphs, bar charts, message sequence charts, pie charts, tree charts, flow charts, line charts, bubble charts, radar charts, candlestick charts, Kagi charts, Gantt charts, Pareto charts, PERT charts, Pournelle charts, sparklines, histograms, cartograms, nomograms, box plots, scatterplots, probability plots, tube maps, value streaming maps, Karnaugh maps, stereographic projection graphs, Dymaxion graphs, wave-number frequency graphs, and so forth.

For the life of me I could not convince them that these charts and graphs were only in recently-produced study Bibles and not in the original biblical manuscripts. Too many dispensationalists were convinced that archaeologists were on the very brink of discovering the Scofield Reference Bible in the original Greek. After all, Joseph Smith was so successful in finding his Reformed Egyptian hieroglyphic golden plates on September 22, 1823 near his home in Manchester, New York (though the angel Moroni promptly took them off and hid them)! Archaeologists were so fortunate as to discover the Hebrew Copper Scroll in Cave III at Khirbet Qumran on March 14, 1952 (though some Bedouin shepherds attempted to sell them to antiquities dealers in downtown Cairo)! Why, why, why then may we not expect biblical scholars to find near Scofield’s birthplace in Lenawee Country, Michigan, at least some aluminum foil wrappers containing the original Greek version of the Scofield Scrolls? Such was the depth of their trust in their early church fathers, Darby, Scofield, and CHM.

My debates became even more difficult with the work of Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin of Forethought, Inc. in Sunnyvale, California. They created the original version of a computer software program that was eventually to become Powerpoint. When this presentation tool was sold to Microsoft in 1987 it was only a matter of time before it would be obtained by televangelists. It began to empower dispensationalists even more: Now they could change their charts and graphs at the first seismic readings of another earthquake or of early onset volcanism causing harmonic tremors. No longer were they trapped with expensive canvas wall charts that were outdated and in need of revision. They could now quickly and easily change their presentations each day. Their charts would appear always fresh and engaging; their arguments persuasive and convincing. And in color (not their arguments but their Powerpoint presentations; televangelists never use colorful language).

But enough history. Let us get down to our exegesis of The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism. Hopefully you will find this helpful in ministering among native dispensationalists. In my first installment I noted that in Ephesians Paul clearly declares Christ was enthroned as king in the first century. And this proved that his kingdom was not postponed until there could arise CNN to report the sudden disappearance of millions of Christians. Christ’s kingdom and kingly rule began at his first coming. His kingdom was not postponed, causing God to establish Plan B for history in the establishment of the Church.

We Presently Rule with Christ

To add insult to injury, Paul continues his anti-dispensational diatribe in his little missive. His next step transforms Ephesians into dispensationalism’s right strawy epistle. The heck with James! Dispensationalists find Ephesians quite a bit more strawy because immediately after affirming Christ’s first century enthronement he takes the next logical step. He declares that all those who believe in Christ (beginning in the first century) are enthroned with Christ! All the hopes of ruling over cities during a future millennium are destroyed in this maneuver. How dare he! But alas, there it is in black and white (unless you have a red-letter edition of the Bible, in which case it would appear in black and white and red).

Note once again the clarity of Paul’s theology:

“God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4–6).

And where had Paul just stated that Christ was seated? According to Ephesians 1:20–21 God “raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” He is at God’s right hand ruling over all.

Say it ain’t so! According to the plain-and-simple method of literal interpretation our enthronement must wait until after the second coming of Christ in the rapture, the resurrection of believers, the conversion of the Jews, the building of the temple in Jerusalem, the unveiling of Antichrist, the outbreak of the great tribulation, the destruction of two-thirds of the Jewish race, the arising of the beast, the formulation of the revived Roman Empire, the imposing of the mark of the beast for buying and selling, the third coming of Christ at the second advent, the battle of Armageddon, the sanctification of temple for millennial use, and the establishment of the global Department of Redundancy Department.

Why does Paul speak in the past tense by using the aorist verbal forms of “raised” and “seated?” Ah! Perhaps these are aorist futures which really mean he will in the future raise us and seat us! Why does he teach that Christians in the first century are already enthroned with Christ, that is, that they are already ruling and reigning with him in his kingdom? Paul is surely not rightly dividing the word of truth. He has mixed dispensations. He is not interpreting literally. He has strayed from Scofield’s notes. Perhaps this is proof for a late-date for Revelation! Paul obviously did not have verse 4 of Revelation 20 to guide him in his entire eschatological and theological understanding.

Or has Paul missed the mark? Maybe it is the late-blooming (1830) dispensational construct that is mistaken. Maybe Paul knew exactly what he was talking about. Maybe we as Christians are already enthroned with Christ.

Indeed, may I be so bold as to suggest that maybe he, Peter, and John actually know the truth? After all, Peter calls first-century Christians a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:9), i.e., a kingdom of priests. And even John, long before he speaks of the millennium (which occurs in only one chapter in all of the Bible, which happens also to be its most difficult book) and our reigning with Christ as kings and priest (Rev 20:6), states in the past tense: “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6).

To make matters worse, Paul even mentions the celebration of Christ’s enthronement in Ephesians 4. He speaks of his enthronement in terms reflecting a formal Roman triumph where the conquering ruler returns to his capital and divides the spoil with his jubilant citizens. In Ephesians 4:8 Paul states regarding the heavenly-enthroned Christ: “When He ascended on high, / He led captive a host of captives, / And He gave gifts to men.”


Thus, once again we see how Ephesians can function as a counter to dispensationalism. It is truly a tract that could be titled “The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.”