Thursday, October 14, 2010

Una Visión para el Mundo Hispano (A Vision for the Hispanic World) By: Bojidar Marinov

 “America is ungovernable. Those who served the revolution have plowed the sea. The only thing to do in America is to emigrate.” (Simon Bolivar)

These words were written by Simón Bolívar, the Liberator of Latin America, a month before he died at the age of 47. At the time he was writing this letter he had sent several crates with his belongings to Europe in preparation to emigrate. His plans were thwarted by his final battle with tuberculosis. One of the most successful revolutionaries of the world, the only man in history who had two nations named after him even while he was still living, died embittered against his own people, and declared his political and military successes “plowing the sea.” Bolívar started his career of a revolutionary having the political ideal of the newly founded United States. He was himself an admirer of Thomas Jefferson. However, later in life Bolívar declared that the Jeffersonian ideals cannot work in Latin America. The reason, he said, was that Hispanic America is subject to the “triple yoke of ignorance, tyranny, and vice.” Seldom do we see modern politicians so honest about the true state of their own constituents.

Two generations later, the Mexican President Porfirio Díaz, after succeeding in turning Mexico into a modern nation at par with the United States and the European nations, uttered his famous words: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” Díaz was not a moral politician by any stretch of imagination; but his frankness in expressing his true opinion about Mexico’s problem deserves admiration.

Both men, Bolívar and Díaz, knew the real problem of Latin America – its fundamental worldview. Díaz understood that “far from God” made Mexico “poor.” Bolívar knew that his country was under the yoke of ignorance and vice. They understood very well that Latin America had a worldview problem, and therefore it had a moral problem, and therefore it had political, economic, and social problems. They were not fooled even by their own liberal ideologies. Neither of them expected Hispanic America to see better times until that worldview changed.

And neither of them did anything about it.

Both Bolívar and Díaz preferred political, military, and administrative means to achieve their goals. Neither invested time or efforts in changing the basic worldview of their peoples; both preferred to treat the symptoms instead of cure the sickness. While both produced outstanding institutional changes in their respective nations, the basic worldview of the population remained the same, and therefore the political legacy and ideals of both perished, to be replaced by ideologies and practices hostile to that legacy.

And they are not alone. Since its liberation in the 1820s, Latin America has seen numbers of attempts at social reforms that only sought institutional change. The region has seen bloody revolutions, coups, political rivalries, and attempts at economic reforms. School systems were established, infrastructure was built. New slogans were adopted, or old slogans were warmed up for a new use. Experts were invited from the United States and Europe, to teach new methods of administration and implement legal structures. Nothing worked. In the final analysis, Latin America remained in the grip of widespread poverty and corruption. Simón Bolívar’s dream to see his countrymen build a society like British or Americans never came true.

And there is a reason for it. The reason is that Britain and America were not built on the actions of politicians and revolutionaries but on the writings of thinkers. Thomas Jefferson didn’t create the liberty in America; John Calvin did. The military victories of George Washington didn’t establish the United States; the sermons of John Witherspoon did. In both Britain and America, it was the underlying comprehensive worldview of Reformed Christianity that created and sustained the culture. Without it, both the United States and Britain would have been only another Mexico. If Reformed and Puritan writers didn’t do their job in changing the very worldview of the English-speaking world, if they didn’t lay the intellectual foundation for the Christian civilization with liberty and justice for all, there would be no Washington, no Jefferson, and no America. The failure of the Hispanic world to produce a just and prosperous society can be traced to the fact that it lacked Reformers – and I mean the Reformers, Luther, Calvin, and their intellectual and spiritual heirs today. Without their intellectual foundation, nothing can ever be changed in Latin America – no matter how many bloody coups and revolutions and administrative measures.

Unfortunately, the Protestant churches in Latin America have been following the example of politicians. Most of the evangelical activity has been only institutional effort – planting churches, with very little worldview teaching. In fact, most of the missionaries to the region have had no idea of a comprehensive Biblical worldview. Their efforts have been short-term oriented, and their message has been truncated only to the salvation of the individual. As an article in Christianity Today noted a while ago: “If short-term mission trips produced long-term results, Mexico would be the most Christianized country in the world.” The new methods of “business evangelism or “community evangelism” may produce a few short-term fruits; but in essence, they are just another exercise in institutional change without real worldview change. As long as Latin America remains captive to the alliance of paganism – for the masses – and secular humanism – for the educated elites – there will be little hope for any real and lasting change. And the church isn’t doing much to challenge that worldview dominance of paganism and secular humanism. Again, without a comprehensive change in the worldview of the people, there is little hope for any lasting change in any other area of life.

But there is a better way. Like every better way it is the longer way. It may take generations. It certainly took several centuries in Europe before the Reformation could produce societies with liberty and justice for all. A culture that is “far from God” needs generations to come back to him, as a culture. But it won’t happen by political reforms, nor by planting more churches; and it won’t happen by more short-term evangelistic trips. A culture is “far from God” only because it has a worldview that is hostile to God. And unless that worldview is challenged and destroyed, and replaced with a worldview based on the Bible, nothing else is going to change.

But where can the peoples of Latin America find an alternative worldview?

Addressing the Congress of Angostura in 1819, Simón Bolívar admonished the delegates to “establish this Areopagus to watch over the education of the children, to supervise national education, to purify whatever may be corrupt in the republic, to denounce ingratitude, coldness in the country’s service, egotism, sloth, idleness, and to pass judgment upon the first signs of corruption and pernicious example.” His call was earnest but he could point to no standard to tell them what is “corrupt” and what is pure, what is “pernicious example,” and he had no way to explain why “egotism, sloth, and idleness” were necessarily evil. Simón Bolívar himself learned from British and American authors. They weren’t available in Spanish. The whole body of literature that permeated the English-speaking world wasn’t available to his countrymen. There was no intellectual foundation.

There still isn’t.

And herein lies the opportunity for a Christian missionary. He can supply that intellectual foundation that will challenge the reign of paganism and secular humanism, and teach Latin America what is corrupt and what is pure. He can supply the worldview that will bring the region near to God. He can confront the ignorance, tyranny and vice with the ideas of knowledge, liberty, and righteousness.

He must start translating to Spanish books explaining the comprehensive Biblical worldview, for every area of life. Make them available in a language that is native to over 400 million people. And use the Internet to transcend the national borders. The political fragmentation of Latin America is a blessing from God – it restraints tyrants. (Imagine a Hugo Chavez over all Latin America.) The unity of language is a blessing too – ideas can travel as far the Internet servers go. A book translated in Spanish and posted online will possibly reach tens of millions of people – more than any missionary can do, at the portion of the cost. It can’t be banned, it can’t be stopped by any dictator. It can teach people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks in a year, for hundreds of years. A book is a full-time missionary – better than a human missionary.

There are such books available: from Chalcedon Foundation, American Vision, and other organizations that in the last decades have worked to create such intellectual foundation in America. The Hispanic world doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel. It only needs to take what has been created and apply it to its own conditions.

Such a project will take long time. It may be a project for a whole generation of Christians – to build the “book base” of Christianity. It will take the slow and painstaking process of translating one word after another, one sentence after another, one page after another, thousands of pages. It will take commitment that Spanish America is not used to. The solutions that have been tried so far have been quick, short-term – and unsuccessful. If a Christian missionary is to challenge the world system, he must look beyond his own generation, and he must refuse to succumb to the temptation to look for quick results. Biblical worldview books translated in Spanish must be his goal, even if he sees no other results than just having them on a website. The books translated must cover every area of life from a Christian perspective – personal life, family, church, education, government, economics, science, international relations, business ethics, taxation, money and banking, etc. Nothing should be outside of the scope of the Christian civilization. Every solution must be presented according to the Law of God, as laid down in the Bible.

When such a foundation is created, there will be no other place to which the peoples and the leaders of Latin America could look for answers. When a problem arises, there will be only one place that will have logical solutions within a consistent framework. No other religion or philosophy has such a consistent framework. Anyone who rejects the Biblical solutions will be left with nothing to offer. Christianity will triumph by default – for the sheer inability of its enemies to offer anything of value.

There are some beginnings. Five titles of American Vision are translated in Spanish. They have already born fruit in many places.

There is a man who started translating several years ago. His name is Donald Herrera Terán, and he is the Pastor of a Reformed church in Costa Rica. He has a web-site with several books and many articles translated: He is the fruit of the Spanish translation of Gary North’s Unconditional Surrender. His translations will produce more fruit.

Unconditional Surrender

I want to conclude with a call to the Hispanic Christians who read American Vision: You have a unique opportunity to change a whole hemisphere and bring it to Christ. Make a commitment to translate a few hours a week. Take a few articles at the beginning. Learn to type fast and translate fast. Learn the patience of sitting in front of that screen and type the letters one by one. Every letter you type will stay there for decades, long after you are gone, and will instruct people in the faith that you will probably never meet. You have the chance to make history.

Contact Donald Herrera Terán at – he is far ahead in the job – and ask him what must be translated. Coordinate with him, and commit to contribute to his web-site. You have at least 100,000 pages of Biblical worldview books that must be translated. One man cannot do it in his life-time but 10 committed men can. One hundred committed men can achieve the goal within two or three years without any major commitment. When you have it all online, you will be surprised at the results.

And my call is to American Christians: The time of expensive, short-term oriented, saving-souls-only missions is over. God will not honor such efforts anymore, no matter how much money we pour into them. Europe in the last decades has shown the failure of that truncated, limited approach. The time has come when the mission field is becoming a battlefield of worldviews more than it is a fight for a few souls. If you care for Latin America, make wise decisions as to what you support. Invest in foundations for the future – and what better foundation than having books in Spanish with real Biblical solutions to real world problems?

Simón Bolívar was wrong. Emigration is not the only thing to do in Spanish America.

Original source of this article:


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dispensationalism: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow, By: Crenshaw and Grover Gunn


This helpful book is a must for those interested in understanding or evaluating Dispensationalism. The authors were raised within this system and trained at its leading seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary. Not only is it a straightforward and accurate presentation and critique of this approach to the Bible, it accomplishes these goals without being arrogant and boastful. As the preface contends, it is not the purpose of the book to attack or ridicule Dispensationalism, “I ask my dispensational brethren to receive this books in love, for it was prompted in a desire to be true to God’s Word.

This book is divided into two sections, each written by one of the authors. Part one focuses on the principles of interpretation that arise from the Bible and that differ from the “literal” hermeneutic of Dispensationalism. It also highlights the theological and practical tendencies of this system. Part two is an in-depth critique of the major components, interacting with actual references of leading proponents of this approach. Covering many issues, including the relationship of Israel and the Church as well as Christian Zionism, this part of the book is saturated with a multitude of verses, some of which I did not know existed! There are also three useful appendices.

Crenshaw and Gunn’s book is important, not simply for its incisive analysis but because it is an accessible read for laymen and ministers alike. It is not technical, yet its insight into the weakness of this uniquely American system is profound. For those on the edge of leaving Dispensationalism it will benefit greatly.


This is a very dangerous book. Dangerous for the Dispensational school because it demolishes the eschatological presuppositions of  this system. But on the other hand, it is truly liberating because it doesn't hesitate to tell the truth as it is.

This book is the responsible that many Dispensationalists have said after reading it: "I will never call myself a Dispensationalist again". If you are a person who is afraid of seeing your long cherished eschatological system shaken and in peril of being demolished, then DO NOT READ this book. But, if you are not afraid of that, then ENJOY IT and welcome to the CLUB.

Daviel D'Paz

Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow: Part (1)

Dispensationalism: Defining the Basic System

Part of our church’s antiquated cooling system is a water tower that uses a float mechanism to regulate the water level. Unhappily, this exposed float presents an inviting diversion for children who happen by. A few of the men in the church have commented periodically for several years that we need to install a protective screen over the float but no one has yet gotten around to doing it. This year someone completely broke off the float, and I had to go by the hardware store to get a new one. There by the plumbing supplies stood Rommy, a good Christian friend and the leader of an influential community Bible study. A few years before, Rommy and his family had left a theologically liberal church and had joined a newly forming dispensational Bible church. I had had opportunities to try to explain to Rommy why I had come to disagree with dispensationalism but had had little success. I remember well the time Rommy had looked me straight in the eye and had said with deliberate seriousness, “Grover, I am a dispensationalist.”

I greeted Rommy, and he looked up from the faucet parts. Immediately he thanked me for the copy of my little self- published book on dispensationalism that I had mailed him. And then Rommy made another statement that burned itself indelibly upon my consciousness: “Grover, I want you to know that after reading your book, I am never again going to call myself a dispensationalist.” The Lord had established the work of my hand in a way far beyond my expectations, and I was grateful.

I wondered exactly what in the little book had been used of God to help effect this dramatic reversal. Was it the exegesis of some verse? Was it the logical force of some theological argumentation? Rommy soon answered my question. It was the list of the seven dispensational teachings that I find most objectionable. There in the hardware store, Rommy told me repeatedly that he did not hold to a single one of those teachings.

I do not believe that Rommy’s situation is all that unusual.

Today there are many Bible believing Christians who have to some degree been influenced in their understanding of prophecy and the church by dispensationalism. And yet many, if not most, of these do not have a clear understanding of dispensationalism as it has been classically defined by writers such as Dr. C.I. Scofield and Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer. They have not consistently thought through dispensationalism as a system or even become familiar with its controlling presuppositions. They are largely unaware of many of the theological and exegetical conclusions to which this system naturally and logically leads.

My own conviction is that many people who are now favorably disposed toward dispensationalism would not be if they were only better exposed to the dispensational theological system.

A person’s theological system is his basic understanding of what the overall teachings of Scripture are and how they interrelate. A verse of Scripture taken strictly alone can often have more than one meaning. One important characteristic of the correct meaning of any verse is that the correct meaning must harmonize with the overall teaching of Scripture, which is summarized in the theological system. The interpreter’s job is, on the one hand, to interpret Scripture with the help of his theological system, and on the other hand to constantly evaluate and adjust his system in the light of Scripture. The interpreter must ever seek to insure that his theological system is indeed consistent with all the teachings of Scripture and also logically consistent within itself. This is a lifelong process for the interpreter. Really it is a life’ long process since the interpreter always builds on the work of previous interpreters and since the job is never completely finished.

The first step in arguing against the dispensational system is to define and document what I mean by the dispensational system.

Dispensationalism is today the reigning system in many Christian circles, and the task of proclaiming that the king is naked is never pleasant or popular. Before I assume this unpopular task, I want to try to make sure that people understand what I am talking about when I refer to dispensationalism. In this chapter I will be discussing the recent development of dispensational theology, the fundamental Christian teaching which dispensationalism contradicts, and the three foundational presuppositions of dispensationalism.

The dispensationalists themselves have said that their system, which first began to be taught in the early nineteenth century, is a rediscovery of truths lost since the early days of Christianity.

When I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, Alan Boyd, an unusually gifted student, studied in the original Greek the early church writings up to the death of Justin Martyr to gather evidence that dispensationalism was indeed the system of early Christianity. Specifically, he was historically evaluating in a master’s thesis Dr. Charles C. Ryrie’s claim: “Premillennialism is the historic faith of the Church.” [1] Alan’s conclusion was that Dr. Ryrie’s statement was invalid, [2] and he stated “based on classroom and private discussion,” that Dr. Ryrie had “clarified his position on these matters.” [3] Alan found the prophetic “beliefs of the period studied” to be “generally inimical to those of the modern system.” [4]

He concluded that there is no evidence that several of the church fathers who are routinely claimed by dispensationalists as fellow premillennialists were even premillennial, that the premillennialists in the early church “were a rather limited number.” [5] He concluded that those church fathers who were premillennial, such as Papias and Justin Martyr, had little in common with modern day dispensationalists. [6] Alan, as a dispensationalist, explained his findings as an example of the rapid loss of New Testament truth in the early church. [7] In other words, there is no extant concrete evidence that dispensationalism or anything significantly resembling it was ever taught in the church any time until the nineteenth century. [8]

Dispensationalists like to contrast themselves with covenant theologians because they can claim that covenant theology is almost as recent a theological innovation as is dispensationalism. [9] What they appear to be referring to is covenant theology as a highly structured system that involves the doctrine of the covenant of works and which explains God’s dealings with Adam in the garden of Eden in covenantal terms. Covenant theology so defined is, like dispensationalism, a recent development in the history of doctrine, [10] but I personally do not believe this is a valid comparison. Dispensationalism is a foundational system that offered a new and different paradigm for understanding the church and prophecy. The covenant of works is a relatively minor doctrine that built on a previously accepted doctrinal foundation and that is not universally accepted among opponents of dispensationalism.

My purpose is to contrast dispensationalism, not with the covenant of works or with a highly structured covenant theology, but with the general teaching that God has had one basic plan of salvation through the ages that has resulted in one salvifically united people of God through the ages. This teaching that in the midst of the dispensational changes of covenant administration throughout redemptive history, there has always been one basic plan of salvation and one people of God has in general been the historic position of the church and is specifically the position found in Reformed theology.

God’s plan of salvation as administered through the ages has found its unity in Christ, the one Mediator between God and man and the one who is the same yesterday, today and forever. God’s eternal covenant of grace from eternity past to eternity future has always been based upon the historical work of the incarnate Christ, whether that work was historically future or past. And God’s covenant of grace has always been administered through faith in Christ, whether Christ was the one to come or the one who has come. This position finds eloquent expression in the words of the Reformer John Calvin:

… since God cannot without the Mediator be propitious toward the human race, under the law Christ was always set before the holy fathers as the end to which they should direct their faith. [11]

… apart from Christ the saving knowledge of God does not stand. From the beginning of the world he had consequently been set before all the elect that they should look unto him and put their trust in him. [12]

… all men adopted by God into the company of his people since the beginning of the world were covenanted to him by the same law and by the bond of the same doctrine as obtains among us. … [the patriarchs] participated in the same inheritance and hoped for a common salvation with us by the grace of the same Mediator. … God’s people have never had any other rule of reverence and piety. [13]

The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation: [14]

….The Lord held to this orderly plan in administering the covenant of his mercy: as the day of full revelation approached with the passing of time, the more he increased each day the brightness of its manifestation. Accordingly, at the beginning when the first promise of salvation was given to Adam, it glowed like a feeble spark. Then, as it was added to, the light grew in fullness, breaking forth increasingly and shedding its radiance more widely. At last — when all the clouds were dispersed — Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, fully illumined the whole earth. [15]

The Reformed faith holds that the Bible contains a unified progression of revelation in which God has one basic people who form the universal church. While acknowledging that God’s final purpose in every detail of history is His own glory, the Reformed faith teaches that God’s plan to save a people through the death of Christ is the unifying purpose that runs like a scarlet thread throughout redemptive history from Genesis to Revelation and ties it all together. There is an essential unity to God’s people throughout the ages and a basic continuity in God’s program throughout the ages.

This teaching on the unity of God’s people and the continuity of God’s program is the fundamental teaching with which dispensationalists disagree.

Dispensationalists hold Biblical revelation to be an interrupted progression in which God has two basic peoples: the earthly seed, Israel, and the heavenly seed, the church. Dispensationalists tend, in various degrees, to deny that redemption through Christ is the basic unifying purpose in Scripture and to deny the basic continuity of God’s plan of salvation in the Old and New Testaments. This two-people view of redemptive history can also lead to strong theorized dichotomies between law and grace, between conditional and unconditional covenants, between earthly and heavenly purposes, and between Jewish and Christian end-time prophetic events.

As dispensationalist Dr. John F. Walvoord explains, dispensationalism “maintains sharply the distinctions between law and grace, between Israel and the church, between earthly and heavenly, and between prophecies being fulfilled and those which will be fulfilled in the millennium.” [16]

When one examines in more detail the basics of the dispensational system, one finds three bedrock concepts.

The first of these is a literalistic and Jewish understanding of Old Testament prophecy and the Messianic kingdom such that these require a future fulfillment in terms of a resurrected Old Testament order with certain enhancements and variations. The dispensationalist argues that the nature of the kingdom announced by John the Baptist and offered by Jesus Christ should be understood in terms of the popular Jewish understanding of the kingdom at that time, and that the Jews at that time were expecting a literal restoration of Davidic political rule. [17] Similarly, the dispensationalist views the Messianic kingdom as a glorified extension of the Mosaic ceremonial law [18] and the Davidic political kingdom.

In reality, there is no strong evidence of a unified Jewish view of the kingdom at the time of Christ. The Jewish understanding of the Messiah and the coming kingdom was varied. [19] What we do know is that among the various understandings of the Messianic kingdom at the time of Christ, there was a national and political hope that expected the earthly restoration of an idealized Davidic kingdom with deliverance from national enemies and the national exaltation of Israel. The disciples at times gave possible evidence of being influenced by such a view of the kingdom (Matthew 20:21; Acts 1:6). The dispensationalist assumes that this national, Jewish understanding of the kingdom was the correct view.

The dispensationalist defends his view of the Messianic kingdom with a literalistic interpretation of Old Testament prophecy. An easy way to explain the dispensational system of interpretation (i.e., hermeneutic) is to illustrate it with a general description of the millennial situation expected by respected dispensational authorities based on their general interpretation of prophecy.

Dispensationalists are expecting literal and cataclysmic topographical changes in the land of Palestine. The Mount of Olives will be split in two to form a new valley running east and west. Mount Zion will be elevated above all the surrounding hills and the rest of Palestine will be transformed from a mountainous terrain to a great fertile plain. [20] There will be an earthly Jerusalem from which Jesus will exercise his earthly Davidic rule and a heavenly Jerusalem hovering over Palestine from which Christ will co-reign with the church. The heavenly city will have a foundation 1500 miles square and will be either a cube or a pyramid that is 1500 miles high. [21] The land in general and the temple area will be enlarged. The land will be redistributed to the twelve Jewish tribes, and the temple described in Ezekiel’s temple vision will be built. The Old Testament priestly and levitical orders will be reestablished under the sons of Zadok, and the offering of bloody sacrifices will be reinstituted. From the temple, a small flow of water will come forth whose volume will progressively increase with distance from the temple, becoming a mighty river within a little over a mile from the temple. The river will flow south through Jerusalem and divide to flow west into the Mediterranean Sea and east into the Dead Sea, which will be transformed into a fresh water body full of fish and surrounded by vegetation. [22] Jerusalem will be the center of a world government system, national Israel will be exalted, and the Gentile nations will be subordinated as Israel’s servants. [23] This is the basic millennial situation as described by Dr. John F. Walvoord and Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, who are influential and respected dispensational authorities.

The interpretation of prophecy with the degree of literalism necessary to produce the above view of the Messianic kingdom is the first foundation stone of dispensationalism.

The second foundation stone is the parenthesis theory.

According to this theory, the church age is an unforeseen parenthesis or interjection in the Jewish program prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. If the Jews had not rejected Jesus, the Jewish kingdom age would have begun at Christ’s first coming, according to this theory. But since the Jews did reject Christ, the prophetic program was supposedly interrupted, and the church age, totally unforeseen by the Old Testament prophets, was interjected. The kingdom program is to resume where it left off in the future in the dispensational tribulation and millennium after the church age.

According to dispensationalism, no Old Testament prophecy can refer directly to the parenthetical church age. These prophesies must be fulfilled literally in the context of a recontinued Old Testament Jewish economy. This parenthesis theory is the logical implication of the dispensation literalistic hermeneutic. If the dispensational interpretation of the Old Testament prophets is correct, then these prophecies are not pointing to the church age and there must be a future Jewish age if these prophecies are going to be fulfilled.

This parenthesis doctrine is dogmatically asserted by Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder and first president of Dallas Theological Seminary, in the following statement about the beginning of the church age:

“Up to that time Judaism had not only occupied the field, but had been engendered, promoted and blessed of God. It was God’s will for his people in the world. The beneficiaries of Judaism were as intrenched in their religious position and convictions and as much sustained by divine sanctions as are the most orthodox believers today. The new divine program had intentionally been unrevealed before its inauguration. It came, therefore, not only with great suddenness, but wholly without Old Testament revelation. The case would be nearly parallel if a new and unpredicted project were to be forced in at this time to supersede Christianity. The unyielding prejudice and violent resistance which arose in the Jewish mind was in direct ratio to the sincerity with which the individual Jew cherished his agelong privileges. Added to all this and calculated to make the new divine enterprise many-fold more difficult was its bold announcement that the despised Gentiles would be placed on equal footing with the Jew. …

… In fact, the new, hitherto unrevealed purpose of God in the out-calling of a heavenly people from the Jews and Gentiles is so divergent with respect to the divine purpose toward Israel, which purpose preceded it and will yet follow it, that the term parenthetical, commonly employed to describe the new age-purpose, is inaccurate. A parenthetical portion sustains some direct or indirect relation to that which goes before or that which follows; but the present age is not thus related and therefore is more precisely termed an intercalation. The appropriateness of this word will be seen in the fact that, as an interpolation is formed by inserting a word or phrase into a context, so an intercalation is formed by introducing a day or a period of time into the calendar. The present age of the Church is an intercalation into the revealed calendar or program of God as that program was foreseen by the prophets of old. Such, indeed, is the precise character of the present age.” [24]

Dr. Charles C. Ryrie, a more recent dispensationalist, has said:

The Church is not fulfilling in any sense the promises to Israel. … The church age is not seen in God’s program for Israel. It is an intercalation. … The Church is a mystery in the sense that it was completely unrevealed in the Old Testament and now revealed in the New Testament. [25]

This parenthesis view can also be vividly seen in the dispensational interpretation of Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy. According to the dispensationalists, the church age is a prophetically unforeseen parenthesis between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth week of Daniel’s seventy weeks (Daniel 9:20-27). The seventieth week is identified with a future seven year tribulation period that precedes the millennium and during which God’s program for Israel will be resumed.

The third foundation stone of the dispensational system is the dichotomy between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church.

According to dispensationalism, the Old Testament saints are not in the church universal, which is the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. The New Testament church is God’s heavenly people while Old Testament and millennial Israel is God’s earthly people. According to Dr. C.I. Scofield and Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, leading dispensationalists in an earlier generation, the earthly seed Israel is to spend eternity on the new earth, and the heavenly seed, the church, is to spend eternity in heaven. In other words, the dichotomy between Israel and the church even lasts throughout eternity.

More recent dispensationalists have put the saints of all ages together on the new earth in eternity but maintain their dichotomy throughout eternity by eternally excluding Old Testament saints, tribulation saints and millennial saints from the Body and Bride of Christ.

This dispensational teaching on the dichotomy between Israel and the church is found in the following quotations:

Israel’s distinction, glory and destiny will always be earthly. They will also be a spiritual people, Jehovah’s possession. There is no division, however, between the saved Jew and the saved Gentile of this dispensation, both being in the Church. But after the Church is complete, at the end of this dispensation, there will of necessity be a division. The “holy Jerusalem” of Revelation 21 is the “bride, the Lamb’s wife,” for whom is the “new heaven,” while the “new earth” will be for Israel, the tabernacle of God is to be with them, and “God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” The distinctive New Testament spiritual and heavenly blessings are for the Church; those blessings of and on the earth, for Israel. [26]

Judaism is not the bud which has blossomed into Christianity. These systems do have features which are common to both — God, holiness, Satan, man, sin, redemption, human responsibility, and the issues of eternity — yet they introduce differences so vast that they cannot coalesce. Each sets up its ground of relationship between God and man — the Jew by physical birth, the Christian by spiritual birth; each provides its instructions on the life of its adherents — the law for Israel, the teachings of grace for the Church; each has its sphere of existence — Israel in the earth for all ages to come, the Church in heaven. To the end that the Church might be called out from both Jews and Gentiles, a peculiar, unrelated age has been thrust into the one consistent ongoing of the divine program for the earth. It is in this sense that Judaism, which is the abiding portion of the nation Israel, has ceased. With the completion and departure of the Church from earth, Judaism will be again the embodiment of all the divine purpose in the world. [27]

The fact that revelation concerning both Israel and the Church includes truth about God, holiness, sin and redemption by blood, does not eliminate a far greater body of truth in which it is disclosed that Israelites become such by natural birth while Christians become such by a spiritual birth; that Israelites were appointed to live and serve under a meritorious, legal system, while Christians live and serve under a gracious system; that Israelites, as a nation, have their citizenship now and their future destiny centered only in the earth, reaching on to the new earth which is yet to be, while Christians have their citizenship and future destiny centered only in heaven, extending on into the new heavens that are yet to be . … [28]

That God is continuing His work of redemption in calling out a people for His name in the Church the Body of Christ we gladly affirm, but we also insist that this Body of Christ is distinct from any previous body of redeemed people in its nature, characteristics, time, and promises. [29]

… the Church in a technical sense is strictly limited to those who have accepted Christ in this age. Therefore, the Church is a distinct body of saints in this age. [30]

The marriage of the Lamb is an event which evidently involves only Christ and the church. … While it would be impossible to eliminate [Old Testament saints and tribulation saints] from the place of observers, they can not be in the position of participants in the event itself. [31]

Reformed theology disagrees with all three of these dispensational foundation stones. According to Reformed theology, the people of God from all ages will together be members of the Body and Bride of Christ and will enjoy eternity together on the new earth. Old Testament Israel is seen as organically related to the New Testament church like childhood is related to adulthood in the life of a man (Galatians 4:1-7).

Many of the Old Testament prophecies about Israel — even Old Testament prophecies that refer to ceremonial law, the tribes, the ancient enemies of Israel, and so on — are seen as being fulfilled in and through the church in this age. Obviously, there is a clear and even dramatic contrast between the Reformed and the dispensational understandings of the church and prophecy.

The thesis of this book is that the Reformed understanding of prophecy and the church is Biblically sound and the dispensational understanding is an artificial imposition upon Scripture.

End Notes:

1 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1953), page 17, compare page 33.

2 Alan Patrick Boyd, “A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers (until the Death of Justin Martyr)” (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977), page 89.

3 Ibid., unnumbered preface.

4 Ibid., pages 90-91.

5 Ibid., page 92, footnote 1.

6 Ibid., page 89.

7 Ibid., page 91, footnote 2.

8 “. . . until brought to the fore through the writings and preaching and teaching of a distinguished ex-clergyman, Mr. J.N. Darby, in the early part of the last century, it is scarcely to be found in a single book or sermon through a period of sixteen hundred 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 all shades of thought; the literature of the Reformation; the sermons and expositions of the Puritans; the general theological works of the day.”

Harry A. Ironside, The Mysteries of God (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1908), pages 50-51. Quoted in Daniel Payton Fuller, “The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism” (dissertation, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1957) page 29.

9 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), pages 178-183.

10 “It is difficult to discover the genealogy of the doctrine of the Covenant of Works which appeared in fully developed form in the last decade of the 16th century.”

John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray: Volume Four: Studies in Theology, Reviews (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), page 219.

11 John T. McNeill, editor and Ford Lewis Battles, translator, The Library of Christian Classics, Volume XX: Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), pages 344-345 (II.VI.2.).

12 Ibid., page 347 (II.VI.4.).

13 Ibid., pages 428-429 (II.X.1.).

14 Ibid., page 429 (II.X.2.).

15 Ibid., page 446 (II.X.20.).

16 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), page 224.

17 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), pages 446-447; John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, page 213; Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Publishers, 1974), pages 300-301.

18 Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost objects to the association of the dispensational millennium with the Mosaic system:

“The kingdom expectation is based on the Abrahamic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the Palestinic covenant, but is no way based on the Mosaic covenant. It is insisted that the covenants will be fulfilled in the kingdom age. This does not, however, link the Mosaic covenant with the kingdom necessarily. It is therefore fallacious to reason that because one believes in the fulfillment of the determinative covenants he must also believe in the restoration of the Mosaic order, which was a conditional covenant, non-determinative and non-eschatological in intent, but given rather to govern the life of the people in their relation to God in the old economy. One great stumbling block that hinders the acceptance of literal sacrifices in the millennium is removed by observing that, while there are many similarities between the Aaronic and millennial systems, there are also many differences between them that make it impossible that they should be equated.”

Dr. Pentecost, however, goes on to argue:

“It can thus be seen that the form of worship in the millennium will bear a strong similarity to the old Aaronic order.”

“The very fact that God has instituted an order strangely like the old Aaronic order is one of the best arguments that the millennium is not being fulfilled in the church, composed of Gentiles and Jew, in the present age.”

J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 518-519.

19 “As to the contents of the future expectation thus indicated, there was a great diversity of conceptions. For a knowledge of what was actually believed in some circles prior to and at the time of the birth of Christ, the pseudoepigraphic and apocryphal writings of the period are especially important. But they are far from unanimous in their eschatological outlook. It is, consequently, very difficult to state accurately what the future outlook of the Jews actually was at the beginning of the Christian era. Alongside of utterances that start from the prophecies of the restoration of the people of Israel and of the house of David, other writings lay more emphasis on the supernatural-transcendent character of the great time of salvation.”

Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962), page 10.

20 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 320-321; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 509-510; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, pages 147-148.

21 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 578,580; John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 327-328, 334.

22 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 309-315,320; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 509-511.

23 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 495-507; John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 299-304.

24 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 4:40-41.

25 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, page 136.

26 C.I. Scofield with Ella E. Pohle, compiler, Dr. C.I. Scofield’s Question Box (Chicago: Moody Press, 1917), page 70.

27 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:248-249

28 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:30.

29 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, page 144.

30 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, page 138.

31 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 227.

“From these Scriptures the evidence is conclusive that the Church is the Bride of Christ and that Israel will have her place of honor in the kingdom as companions of the Bride.”

Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:133.

Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow: Part (2)

Dispensationalism: Israel and the Church

The consistent dispensationalist is a theologian in the grip of an idea — the idea that there is a strong dichotomy between Israel and the church. This idea is a relatively modern theory in the history of doctrine that was initially developed and popularized by J. N. Darby (1800-1882), the father of dispensational thought. During a period of convalescence in 1827, Darby meditated on the fact that the true Christian through the baptizing work of the Spirit is in union with Christ and therefore is seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:4-7). With this on his mind, Darby read in Isaiah 32:15-20 about a prophesied outpouring of the Spirit upon Israel that would bring earthly blessings upon the people of God. Darby took this Scriptural data and concluded it to imply a strong contrast between earthly blessings prophesied for Israel and heavenly blessings promised to the Christian in the New Testament.

From this Darby developed his theory that God has two peoples, an earthly people and a heavenly people. [1]

In 1840, Darby gave the following summary of his new ideas on prophecy:

Prophecy applies itself properly to the earth; its object is not heaven. It was about things that were to happen on the earth; and the not seeing this has misled the Church. We have thought that we ourselves had within us the accomplishments of these earthly blessings, whereas we are called to heavenly blessings. The privilege of the Church is to have its portion in the heavenly places; and later blessings will be shed forth upon the earthly people. The Church is something altogether apart — a kind of heavenly economy, during the rejection of the earthly people, who are put aside on account of their sins, and driven out among the nations, out of the midst of which nations God chooses a people for the enjoyment of heavenly glory with Jesus Himself. The Lord, having been rejected by the Jewish people, is become wholly a heavenly person. This is the doctrine which we find peculiarly in the apostle Paul. It is no longer the Messiah for the Jews, but a Christ exalted, glorified; and it is for want of taking hold of this exhilarating truth, that the Church has become so weak. [2]

This summary statement demonstrates that Darby had come to interpret Scripture in terms of the dispensational dichotomy and parenthesis theories. He had come to view the Jews as the earthly people of God with an earthly purpose, destiny and hope, the Christians as the heavenly people of God with a heavenly purpose, destiny and hope, and the church age as the heavenly parenthesis in the earthly program.

Reformed theology, of course, strongly disagrees with this radical dichotomy between Israel and the church. Reformed theologians do recognize Biblical distinctions between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church but not a strong dichotomy. The Biblical distinctions between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church involve an organic progression analogous to the development of a child into an adult (Galatians 4:3-4). The organic development brought about during the time of the New Testament includes the unprecedentedly clear revelation through the Incarnate Word and His apostles, the historical accomplishment of the prophesied Messianic atonement, the outpouring of the Spirit in unprecedented fullness, the cessation of the burdensome Mosaic ceremonial laws, and the universalization of the kingdom previously limited to the Jewish nation.

In the midst of these developmental changes, there was also a strong continuity with the Old Testament program. Although God often dealt with Old Testament Israel in terms of earthly institutions and promises, these were pictures of the same heavenly realities later spoken of in the New Testament and there was a genuine spiritual dimension in the lives of the Old Testament saints. And although the New Testament often speaks in terms of heavenly and spiritual realities, the Christian is still in the world and has been given the earthly task of being the light of the world, the salt of the earth and the discipler of the nations.

Here are two antithetically opposed systems in regard to the relationship between Israel and the church. To determine which system is correct, we must go to Scripture. A New Testament passage that speaks to this issue is Ephesians 2:12-21, a passage in which the Apostle Paul contrasts the covenant status of Gentiles in general under the old covenant with that of Gentile Christians under the new covenant. In this passage, Paul first reminds the Ephesian Christians of their former spiritual poverty before their coming to faith in Christ in the new covenant age.

As “Gentiles in the flesh,” they were uncircumcised and were therefore without what had been in former times the sign and seal of God’s covenant (verse 11). Paul then in verse 12 summarizes what had once been these Ephesian Gentiles’ covenant status:

… at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.

As the uncircumcised, they had been “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” (verse 12). Outward membership in God’s covenant community does not guarantee inward membership and salvation, but it is important. Outward membership in Old Testament Israel had not been without its advantages, to say the least:

What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there in circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. Romans 3:1-2

… Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. Romans 9:4-5

... salvation is of the Jews. John 4:22

The “Gentiles in the flesh” under the old covenant had been without these advantages due to their alienation from Israel. The word here translated “being aliens” is a strong term used at times to speak of estrangement from God due to moral abominations (Ezekiel 14:5,7-8 LXX; Hosea 9:10 LXX). After the formation of the nations at the tower of Babel, God had chosen one man, Abraham, to father the one nation, Israel, through which He would exclusively administer His covenants until the universalism of the new covenant age when His people would be from every tribe, nation and tongue. During that period of Jewish particularism, God had “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16), allowing them to remain in their bondage to demonic paganism and therefore in a state of alienation from God and His people.

As “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,” the “Gentiles in the flesh” had been, most significantly, “without Christ.” Under the old covenant, the Jews, of course, had not known the historically manifested Jesus of Nazareth, but they had known the Messiah yet to come through the “covenants of promise” (verse 12). Paul in a sermon addressed to physical Jews stated that;

… the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; … Acts 13:32b-33

The uncircumcised Gentile’s relationship to these promises had been that of the “stranger,” a general term for the foreigner or alien who was without the rights associated with citizenship in the covenant community.

Paul then contrasts this former position of spiritual poverty with the covenant status in this age of Gentiles who believe in Christ. Contrary to their former status, they are now “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (verse 19). Each major word in this statement is worthy of close examination. According to verse 12, the “Gentiles in the flesh” had been “strangers from the covenants of promise,” but now the Gentiles in Christ are “no more strangers or foreigners” (verse 19). The Greek word here translated foreigners is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to the resident aliens who lived in Israel and had certain legal rights but who were not citizens in Israel and could not partake of the Passover (Exodus 12:45 LXX). This word literally means “the one beside the house,” and Paul states that to be no longer a foreigner is to be “of the household of God,” a symbolic expression for membership in God’s people under both the old and the new covenants (Numbers 12:7; 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:5-6). The Gentiles in Christ are also now “fellow-citizens with the saints.” In the Greek, the word translated fellow- citizen in verse 19 is closely related to the word in verse 12 translated commonwealth in the King James Version. In the New International Version, this word from verse 12 is translated citizenship, a translation which better shows the close affinity of this word with the one translated fellow-citizen. The Gentile in the flesh had been alienated “from the commonwealth of Israel,” but the Gentile Christian is now a “fellow-citizen with the saints.” The “saints” are God’s holy people, the people of the covenant. The Christian is a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20; Revelation 3:12) and therefore a fellow-citizen with with the saints of all ages (Hebrews 12:22-23).

Verses 13 and 17 also relate to our discussion. In verse 13, the Gentile Christians at Ephesus are referred to as “ye who sometimes were far off.” Then in verse 17, the apostle says,

And (Christ) came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.

As we have seen from verse 13, those who are referred to as “afar off” are the pagan Gentiles who had lived as “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.” Who then are those referred to as “them that were nigh.” Many believe that this term has reference here to the Jews at Ephesus who had heard the Gospel message. [3] Peter used some similar terminology in his Pentecost sermon to the Jews at Jerusalem:

For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

The Jew as a member of God’s covenant people was already provisionally near to the Gospel since the Gospel was the fulfillment of the covenants of promise that had been made with Old Testament Israel. Of course, if the Jew persisted in rejecting the Messiah, he was cut off from the true covenant people, but the Gospel was offered to the Jew first and then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16). In verse 13 of Ephesians 2, Paul says,

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

Let us assume that the terms “near” and “far” do refer to the respective relationships of the Jew and the pagan Gentile to the Old Testament covenants of promise at the time of the transition between the old and new covenants when the new covenant Gospel was first being offered. Then Paul in verse 13 is teaching that the pagan Gentile who believed in Christ had been made an heir in new covenant fullness of those Old Testament covenants of promise which formerly had exclusively belonged to Old Testament Israel.

This passage is not teaching that the Gentile Christian has become a member of Old Testament Israel. Ephesians two teaches that the Gentile believer has become a member of the church of Messianic fullness, which Paul calls “the new man” (verse 15) and which Paul speaks of as a building built upon the foundation of the New Testament apostles and prophets (verse 20). The importance of this passage is that it stresses both the newness of the church and the continuity of the church with God’s previous covenant program. The answer to Gentile alienation from Israel and her covenants is membership in the new man, which makes one a fellow-citizen with God’s covenant people and a member of God’s house. These terms have roots in the Old Testament, and this passage fits in well with the Reformed teaching that the New Testament church is Old Testament Israel come to new covenant maturity. The dispensational interpretation of this Ephesians passage puts all its emphasis on the teaching in this passage that the New Testament church is a “new man.” [4] True, there is a significant newness to the New Testament church, but that fact does not nullify the equally valid teaching in Ephesians 2 that the New Testament church has a strong relationship of organic continuity with Old Testament Israel.

Is the newness of the new covenant church the newness of maturity that occurs in a context of organic continuity with the past? Or is the newness of the new covenant church best explained by the rigid dispensational dichotomy and parenthesis theories? For the dispensationalist to assume automatically and dogmatically that the “new man” has no organic continuity with the Old Testament covenant people is to commit the logical fallacy of begging the question.

Under the Mosaic covenant, only practicing Jews were members of God’s covenant people. In this age of the new covenant, however, believing Jews and Gentiles are together full members of God’s holy people (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14) and unbelieving individual Jews and Gentiles are together outside the camp of covenant blessings.

There are two ways this equalization of spiritual status between Jew and Gentile could have been effected. In line with the dispensational dichotomy and parenthesis theories, the Old Testament covenants could have parenthetically become inoperative.

According to Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, “… the Jew has been removed from the place of special privilege which was his in the past age and leveled to the same standing as the Gentile …” [5]

According to Dr. John F. Walvoord, “In the present age, Israel has been set aside, her promises held in abeyance, with no progress in the fulfillment of her program.” [6]

And the new and distinct privileges of the church could have been introduced for believing Jews and Gentiles alike. Or, in line with the Reformed teaching that the church age is an exalted continuation of the Old Testament covenant program, believing Gentiles could have been elevated to the privileged position of spiritual Israel by being made full heirs of the Old Testament covenants in new covenant fullness. Believing Jews would have remained in spiritual Israel during the transition between the old and new covenants, and unbelieving Jews would have been cut off from the covenant people in judgment (Romans 11:20). To be cut off from the church in judgment was to be reduced in the eyes of the covenant people to the religious status of a pagan (Matthew 18:17).

Ephesians 2 supports this second suggestion through its teaching that believing Gentiles today participate in the covenants of promise that formerly had been limited to the commonwealth of Israel.

Another relevant passage is Romans 11, in which Paul discusses the status of Jews in the church age. The olive tree of Romans 11 stands for the privileged position of blessing that belonged to Old Testament Israel (compare Jeremiah 11:16; Hosea 14:6). It is an olive tree whose roots are firmly established in the Old Testament covenants made with the Jewish patriarchs.

Before looking at Paul’s use of the figure, let us examine how we should expect Paul to use the figure if he really were a dispensationalist.

Since, according to dispensationalism, all the Jews in this parenthetical age are cut off from their Old Testament privileges, we should expect Paul to teach that all the branches on the olive tree of Israel were broken off at the beginning of the church age. Like the clock of the Jewish prophetic program that supposedly stopped ticking at the beginning of the church age, the old Jewish olive tree would have to stand dormant during the church age until that future tribulation period and millennium when God again resumes the Jewish prophetic program. It would be like the Jewish train that is waiting on the side track until the church train passes by on the track of history, to use another illustration popular with dispensationalists.

Also, since according to dispensationalism, God’s program for the church is totally distinct from God’s program for Israel, we should expect Paul to teach that at the beginning of the church age a new olive tree representing the church was divinely planted. And all the believing Jews who were broken off from the olive tree of dormant Israel and all the believing Gentiles who were formerly in the wild olive tree of paganism are in this age grafted into the olive tree of church blessings. But this, of course, is not what Paul teaches. Paul instead teaches that only unbelieving Jews were broken off from the olive tree of Israel. Jews who accepted Christ remained where they always had been — in the olive tree of Israel. And believing Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree of Israel. This Romans 11 explanation of the status of Jews in the church age strongly implies that the church is spiritual Israel in this new covenant age.

Another passage which shows the strong continuity between Israel and the church is Hebrews 3:5-6. This passage refers to both Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church as God’s house, which demonstrates their unity as the one people of God. This passage builds upon Numbers 12:7, where the term God’s house definitely does refer to Israel. [7] This passage also demonstrates the organic progression between the testaments with its message that the Christ of the new covenant era, who is a Son over God’s house, is superior to Moses of the old covenant era, who was a servant in God’s house.

Another passage that speaks to the issue of the Biblical relationship between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church is Revelation 21. Revelation 21 reveals that the New Jerusalem is symbolic for the saints of all the ages. The city’s twelve foundation stones, having the names of the twelve apostles written upon them, represent the New Testament saints. And the city’s twelve gates, having the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on them, represent the Old Testament saints (Revelation 21:12,14). The New Jerusalem, a city whose citizenship includes the saints of all the ages, is in this passage called the Bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2,9-10). The Bride of Christ is elsewhere defined as the church universal, the Body of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33). This means that both Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church are together in the Body of Christ.

The conclusion that Old Testament saints are included in the New Jerusalem is further confirmed by Hebrews 11 and 12. Hebrews 11 sets forth examples of faith in the lives of Old Testament saints and ends with the following comment on the salvific status of the Old Testament saints:

And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

Following this, in Hebrews 12:22-24, the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are described as follows:

But you have come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

A comparison of the above verses can leave little doubt that both Old Testament and New Testament saints are citizens of the heavenly city. Hebrews 12:22-23 teaches that “the spirits of just men made perfect,” are included among the New Jerusalem inhabitants, and Hebrews 11:39-40 gives evidence that this designation is inclusive of the Old Testament saints.

Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost attempts to explain away the implications of the above reference to the New Jerusalem as the Bride of Christ by arguing that though the New Jerusalem does contain all the saints of all the ages, the city takes its “chief characterization” from the New Testament church, which alone is the Bride of Christ. [8]

Dr. C.I. Scofield has a different explanation:

The “Lamb’s wife” here [Revelation 19:7] is the “bride” (Rev. 21.9), the Church, identified with the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12.22,23), and to be distinguished from Israel, the adulterous and repudiated “wife” of Jehovah, yet to be restored (Isa. 54.1-10; Hos. 2.1-17), who is identified with the earth (Hos. 2.23). A forgiven and restored wife could not be called either a virgin (2 Cor. 11.2,3), or a bride. [9]
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer suggests the following:

It is named for the Bride of Christ and probably because she has some superior right to it; yet other peoples and beings enter her gates. [10]

And Dr. John F. Walvoord says the following:

The New Jerusalem is given detailed revelation and is described in general “as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). The figure of marriage is used for the church, for Israel, and here for the city in which the saints of all ages will dwell. The fact that the marriage figure is used for more than one entity in Scripture should not be considered confusing, nor should the city be identified specifically with the church. It is rather that the New Jerusalem has all the beauty and freshness of a bride adorned for her husband. [11]

Another significant passage that speaks directly to this issue is Matthew 21:43, a statement which Christ made to the Jewish leaders near the end of His earthly ministry: “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruit thereof.”

The question that this statement raises is, What is this nation that was given the kingdom of God?

The obvious answer is the church, which is elsewhere designated a nation (1 Peter 2:9). If the church was given the kingdom program that God had first administered through Old Testament Israel and had previously rooted in the Old Testament covenants, then there is a strong continuity between Israel and the church. If the church assumes the Old Testament kingdom program begun with Old Testament Israel, then the church truly is the Israel of the new covenant.

A common dispensational answer to the above question is that the kingdom will be given “to the nation Israel when she shall turn to the Lord and be saved before entering the millennial kingdom.” [12]

This means that the whole church age must intervene between the first clause of the verse in which the kingdom is taken away from physical Israel and the second clause in which the kingdom is given to another nation!

Some dispensationalists do admit that this verse is teaching that the kingdom in some sense has been transferred in this age from Old Testament Israel to the New Testament church or to the believing Gentiles of this age. [13] Those who make this admission must define away through qualifications the significance and meaning of this transfer if they are to maintain their dichotomy between Israel and the church with their two separate and distinct programs. Whenever dispensationalists admit that the kingdom is related to the church, they usually interpret it as either the kingdom in mystery form of Matthew 13 or as God’s non-theocratic rule of providence.

Additional insight into the transition of the kingdom from Old Testament Israel to the New Testament church can be found in the Biblical teaching on the Messianic Good Shepherd. The Messianic Good Shepherd was both to dispossess the “bad shepherd” leaders of Israel and to judge between members of the flock of Israel (Ezekiel 34:7-31). Jesus Christ took the kingdom away from the leaders of Israel who had opposed Him and gave the kingdom to the “poor of the flock” (Zechariah 11:7,11), the righteous remnant within the nation who were His disciples. In Luke 12:32, Jesus said to His disciples: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” His disciples were the true sheep in Israel, for the true sheep within the flock of Israel were those who recognized the Messianic Shepherd, listened to His teachings, and obediently followed Him (John 10:14,27). Those Jews who rejected Christ did not believe because they were not true sheep (John 10:26).

Jesus also taught that He also had sheep outside of the fold of His Jewish disciples (John 10:16). Jesus was here speaking of the Gentiles who would later believe and be incorporated into His church. Though these had not yet believed, Christ spoke of them as those chosen and predestined to be His from before the foundation of the world. This statement parallels the Lord’s later visionary commandment that instructed Paul to continue preaching in Corinth because “I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:10).

In John 10:16, Christ said that these Gentile sheep were at that time outside of His present fold of disciples and that He would lead them into His one flock. [14] The word translated fold in John 10:16 literally refers to a walled court (compare John 10:1) and brings to mind a picture of Israel walled off from the Gentile nations by her ceremonial laws. Jesus was to lead these Gentile sheep into His one flock, “for He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Ephesians 2:14).

The new covenant people of God are one flock with no distinction between Jew and Gentile.

The use of the flock metaphor in John 10 demonstrates the relationship of continuity between old covenant Israel and the new covenant church. Both old covenant Israel and the new covenant church are spoken of as God’s flock. [15] Christ’s sheep are those for whom He savingly died (John 10:11) and to whom He has given eternal life (John 10:28). Since salvation is found in Christ alone, God’s true sheep are the saints of all ages.

Taken together, this data on the Good Shepherd teaches that Jesus took the kingdom away from the leaders and members of old covenant Israel who rejected Him, gave this kingdom to the righteous remnant within the nation who received Him in faith, and then added to this one flock the believing Gentiles.

This message given under the figure of the one flock is similar to the message that Paul teaches in Romans 11 under the figure of the one olive tree. Both John 10 and Romans 11 teach the essential unity of the people of God through the ages as one flock and one olive tree and illustrate the organic progression and the developmental continuity in the transition between the old and new covenants.

Another group of passages that are relevant to our discussion of the continuity question consists of passages which give the church a Jewish name. The most commonly discussed of these is Galatians 6:16, where Paul refers to the church as the Israel of God.

Dispensationalists argue that Paul here was referring exclusively to the Jews in the early church and not to the church as a whole. [16]

But one must remember that one of Paul’s main themes in Galatians is the teaching that the Jews have no special privileges over the Gentiles in this age (Galatians 3:28). Christ has broken down the religious dividing wall between Jew and Gentile in the Christian church (Ephesians 2:14). If Paul then gives the Jews in the church a special status or recognition by referring to them exclusively as the Israel of God, then Paul would have destroyed his own argument. He would have played into the hands of the Judaizers by giving them a valid reason for arguing that Gentile Christians could improve their covenant status by becoming Jewish proselytes as well as Christians.

According to dispensationalists, believing Jews and Gentiles in the church are together heirs of spiritual promises, but Jews, believing and unbelieving, are exclusive heirs of national promises. [17]

Since Paul taught that there is no Jew or Gentile in Christ (Galatians 3:28), he must have been referring to the whole church when he spoke of the Israel of God in Galatians 6:16.

If this interpretation is correct, then this verse would be best translated “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God” as in the New International Version, and the true Israel of God in this age would be defined as all those who walk by the rule of not boasting except in the cross of Christ.

Elsewhere the church is called the diaspora, a technical term for Jews living in Gentile nations (1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1); the twelve tribes (James 1:1; Revelation 7:4; Luke 22:30); a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession (1 Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 1:6; Titus 2:14; compare Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 7:6); Jews who are Jews inwardly (Romans 2:28-29); the circumcision (Philippians 3:3; compare Colossians 2:11, Romans 2:29); comers unto Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22); citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26); children of promise like Isaac (Galatians 4:28); Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise of Abraham (Galatians 3:29).

Typically, dispensationalists argue that these Jewish names given to the church refer only to believing Jews in the church.

There are some cases where the New Testament does make a limited reference to believing Jews, as in Romans 9:6: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” That verse is contrasting believing Jews and unbelieving Jews.There, however, are many other cases where Paul is clearly referring to the whole church when he uses a Jewish title. For example, Paul defined the circumcision as those “which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). The circumcision is a title for Israel (Ephesians 2:11), and this description of the true circumcision in this age is inclusive of all true believers, both Jew and Gentile. All Christians are spiritually circumcised (Colossians 2:11-12), and “he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart” (Romans 2:29).

It is also relevant that Jesus in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 called the Jews who were then persecuting the churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia, those “which say they are Jews, and are not” and “the synagogue of Satan.” These verses clearly show that those ethnic Jews who rejected Christ were no longer considered a part of the true Israel. Paul said in Romans 3:28: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh” (Romans 3:28).

The relationship between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church is not one of strong dichotomy but one of organic, developmental continuity. If the Bible presents any group as being in a dichotomous relationship with spiritual Israel, it is not the New Testament church but New Testament Phariseeism, which developed into what is today called normative Judaism. The New Testament age differs from the Old Testament period in its non-bloody rituals and its greater spiritual fullness, but the saints of both ages constitute the one people of God who are together the Body and Bride of Christ.

End Notes

1 Daniel Payton Fuller, “The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism” (dissertation, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1957), pages 38-41.

2 Ibid., page 45; quoting from J.N. Darby, “The Hopes of the Church of God,” Collected Writings (William Kelly, editor; 35 volumes; second edition; London: G. Morrish, n.d.), 2:571-572.

3 “In Eph. 2:13 Gentile Christians are reminded of God’s gift that those who were once far from God, …, have been brought near to Him by Christ and become His children. In Eph. 2:17, which sets Is. 57:19 in the context of salvation history …, the Gentiles are told that to them, who are far from God …, Christ brought peace and salvation no less than to the Jews, so that the distant and the near, Gentile and Jewish Christians, experience as the great mystery of God through Christ their union into the new people of God.”Gerhard Kittel, editor; Geoffrey W. Bromily, editor and translator, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), 4:374.

See also Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 4:74; John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (reprint: Minneapolis: James and Klock Christian Publishing Co., 1977; original: Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1883), pages 169-170; William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition on Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), pages 213-214; T.K. Abbott, The International Critical Commentary: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clerk, 1897), page 60.

4 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), page 165.

5 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:248.”The Gentile was not elevated to the level of Jewish privilege; but the Jew was lowered to the level of the hopeless Gentile, from which position either Jew or Gentile might be saved through grace alone into a heavenly position and glory.”

Ibid., 4:75.

6 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, page 136. Yet on page 165, Dr. Walvoord argues that “Israel is not reduced to the bankruptcy of Gentiles–to become ‘strangers from the covenants of promise’ …” Dr. Walvoord’s point may be that although unbelieving individual Jews are not heirs of spiritual blessings, all Jews, believing and unbelieving, remain heirs of the national promises, in dispensational theory (page 169). On page 136, he says, “Promises may be delayed in fulfillment but not cancelled.”

7 Compare Exodus 16:31; 2 Samuel 1:12; Jeremiah 31:31; Matthew 10:6; 15:24; Acts 2:36.

8 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), page 576; compare page 227.

9 C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1909), page 1348 (note on Revelation 19:7).

10 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 5:367.

11 Dr. John F. Walvoord, The Church in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1964), page 161.

12 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, page 71.

13 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: The New Testament, note on Matthew 21:43; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 465-466.

14 This distinction between the flock and the fold in John 10:16 is not made clear in the King James Version where both Greek words are translated fold.

15 Israel: Psalm 74:1; 78:52; 79:13; 95:7; 100:3; Isaiah 40:11; 63:11; Jeremiah 13:17; 23:1; 50:6; Ezekiel 34:31; Micah 7:14; Zechariah 10:3; 13:7; Matthew 10:6; 15:24. Church: Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:2-3.

16 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pages 139-140. According to Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, there is no spiritual Israel in this age:

“There is a distinction between the true church and true or spiritual Israel. Prior to Pentecost there were saved individuals, but there was no church, and they were a part of spiritual Israel, not the church. After the day of Pentecost and until the rapture we find the church which is His body, but no spiritual Israel. After the rapture we find no church, but a true or spiritual Israel again. These distinctions must be kept clearly in mind.”

J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 199.

Dr. Pentecost defines Jewish Christians as those “who would be a part of spiritual Israel” (Ibid, page 89). I assume him to mean by this that Jewish Christians are those Jews who, because of their faith, would be a part of spiritual Israel if this were not the parenthetical church age.

17 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, page 169.