Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What Is Your Favorite Gap?

One thing that I appreciate about dispensationalists is that they refreshingly admit when they are having trouble making their system work. Rather than bore their readers with exacting exegesis, dispensationalists admit that their system has gaps in it and just throw it out there for their audience. In fact, one of the more distinctive aspects of dispensationalism is its admission that it is full of holes: When the system cannot explain an important eschatological text, they declare: “There is a gap here! There must be!”

Daniel’s Famous Gap
Perhaps dispensationalism’s most famous — and most important — gap is the one they impose upon Daniel’s prophecies of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24–27. This prophecy is deemed by dispensationalists such as John F. Walvoord to be a linchpin in the dispensational system. In this prophecy Daniel uses the image of Seventy Weeks to represent a period of 490 years, with each “week” representing seven years.

Daniel breaks those 490 years into three sections: The first period is seven weeks (Dan 9:25; i.e., forty-nine years), then follows the second period of sixty-two weeks (Dan 9:25; you will have to compute the actual number of years by multiplying 7 x 62. I am no mathematician; I don’t do such high-level mathematical computation). Then finally the last week (Dan 9:27; I can handle this since there is none of this “carrying” business: it represents seven years).

But a problem arises for dispensationalists: Their best book sales deal with the great tribulation by which they frighten people to buy their novels so that they can become millionaires in order to invest their retirement into long-term real estate ventures. Consequently, they cannot allow that the last “week” follows immediately upon the preceding sixty-nine weeks — despite it appearing to do so when reading Daniel’s prophecy.

If they allowed this consecutive computation of the weeks-of-years, it would mean that the tribulation occurred in the first century when the Jewish temple was forever destroyed in A.D. 70 — just as Christ prophesied it would be. For the dispensationalist this would not make sense: Why is that such an important event? Big deal! So Israel worshiped by sacrifices for 1500 years from the time of Moses and the tabernacle. Big deal! So Israel worshiped in a temple for a 1000 years since the time of Solomon (except for a brief interruption during the Babylonian captivity). Big deal! Why would the final cessation of the sacrificial system, the rendering null and void the entire levitical system, and the absolute destruction of their central, unifying temple mean anything of significance to redemptive-history?

How then do they escape the obvious consecutive flow of weeks? By their own version of deus ex machina. They impose a gap between the sixty-ninth week and the seventieth. A gap arises on the scene to save the day. That is, the sixty-ninth week reaches until Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but then the next week leaps into the distant future over 2000 years distant! Consequently, they impose a gap in the record. Though the whole period of prophetic interest is 490 years, dispensationalists say that this measuring device must have a gap of over 2000 years before the last seven years starts. Voila! Prophecy doesn’t fit? No problem! Look for the gap.

The Old Testament’s Many Gaps
We also find the system’s tendency to impose gaps in various Old Testament prophecies that speak of the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Many prophecies read as if Christ comes to earth in the incarnation to establish his kingdom. For instance, consider Isaiah 9:6–7:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

This (and many similar verses) appears to teach that Christ is born into history in the first century and that he establishes his kingdom then. But this will not do for dispensationalists. You can’t sell books by telling people that Christ established a spiritual-redemptive kingdom in the first century. Readers of the National Inquirer and others need something a little more exciting than that.

Thus, once again the necessity of a gap. Those prophecies that speak of Christ’s coming to establish his kingdom are not to be read consecutively. According to dispensationalists we must read these prophecies as teaching that Christ comes in the first century, then he returns to heaven for 2000 years or so, then he returns once again to establish his kingdom.

Looking at these Old Testament prophecies, they say, is like looking at mountain ranges: the farther mountain ranges in one’s view appear to be right behind the closer ones. But we know there is a great distance separating them. Likewise, must we read all those Old Testament prophecies that speak of Christ coming and establishing his kingdom

Matthew’s Gap
In Matthew 23–24 Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (Matt 23:37), declares her temple desolate (Matt 23:38), then leaves the temple only to have the disciples come and remind him of its magnificence (Matt 24:1). To this Jesus responds: “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt 24:2). In surprise the disciples ask him: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3).

Then beginning in Matthew 24:4 the Lord launches into his great eschatological discourse, known as the Olivet Discourse: “And Jesus answered and said unto them. . .”

You would think Matthew might record Jesus’s answer to their surprised question about the destruction of the temple that sparks the discourse. But in the dispensational view he does not. All classic dispensationalists say that Matthew’s record of Jesus’ response does not record the answer to their specific question — which involves issues that would dramatically affect them. Rather, Matthew only records the part of Jesus’ answer that refers to events 2000 or more years into the future. Hence, another infamous dispensationalist gap.

This time, though, it is not necessarily a gap in prophetic time, but a gap in the revelational record of Matthew. Jesus’ reply to his disciples’ questions — as recorded by Matthew (and Mark!) — totally skips over any answer to it and begins deliberating upon events that will not occur for thousands of years. But you must admit: this makes the dispensational system work admirably!

Dispensationalism is an unworkable system that is literally full of holes (i.e., gaps). To make their system function dispensationalists must lay the Scriptures on a Procrustean bed. Much like Damastes (called Procrustes) of old, dispensationalists must either stretch or chop up things to make them fit their predetermined system. A Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced; dispensationalism is a Procrustean bed, an arbitrary standard.

But now, my readers, what are some of your favorite dispensational gaps? Everyone knows Daniel 9; most are familiar with the mountain-valley theory of prophetic interpretation; some even know of Matthew’s gap. Dispensationalism, though, does not just apply to Daniel, or to Matthew, or even to the Old Testament in general. Dispensationalism’s gap theory applies throughout the biblical record. You must have a favorite make-it-work gap. Please let me know by replying to this blog

Perhaps we could start a collection of gaps and publish a multi-million selling book? I will split the profits with you — 2000 years after I receive them.