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.”  Alan’s conclusion was that Dr. Ryrie’s statement was invalid,  and he stated “based on classroom and private discussion,” that Dr. Ryrie had “clarified his position on these matters.”  Alan found the prophetic “beliefs of the period studied” to be “generally inimical to those of the modern system.” 
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.”  He concluded that those church fathers who were premillennial, such as Papias and Justin Martyr, had little in common with modern day dispensationalists.  Alan, as a dispensationalist, explained his findings as an example of the rapid loss of New Testament truth in the early church.  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. 
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.  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,  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. 
… 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. 
… 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. 
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: 
….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. 
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.” 
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.  Similarly, the dispensationalist views the Messianic kingdom as a glorified extension of the Mosaic ceremonial law  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.” 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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 . … 
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. 
… 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. 
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. 
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.
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.