Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow: Part (3)

The Parenthesis Theory and the Church in Prophecy

The most basic disagreement between dispensationalism and Reformed theology centers around the relationship between the New Testament church and Old Testament Israel. According to dispensationalism, the church age is a parenthesis in the Jewish kingdom program prophesied in the Old Testament. The New Testament church at Pentecost, they teach, was an absolutely new entity, a mystery to which no Old Testament prophecy had directly referred. They teach that all the Jewish kingdom prophecies referred to a Jewish millennial kingdom that was postponed until after the unexpected church age because of the Jewish rejection of Jesus.

Of course, Reformed theology disagrees with this teaching. Reformed theology recognizes both that the church at Pentecost was something new in a relative sense and that the church is built upon and continues the Old Testament kingdom. Just because the butterfly (the heavenly people) emerging from the cocoon is new on the scene does not mean that it has no direct relationship to the caterpillar (the earthly people) that built the cocoon. Also, the kingdom program’s being taken from the Jewish leadership because they rejected Jesus does not mean that the kingdom program itself was postponed. According to Reformed theology, the church is spiritual Israel come to dispensational maturity and is the fulfillment of many prophecies made about Israel in the Old Testament.

Which of these two opposing views of the relationship between Israel and the church is correct? From the nature of the question, one should expect to find some clues to the correct answer by studying the New Testament’s use of Old Testament prophecy. If the New Testament ever quotes any Old Testament prophecy as referring directly to the New Testament church, then a basic element of the dispensational system is thereby discredited. Unfortunately for the dispensationalists, there are such quotations in the New Testament.

Probably the best known such Old Testament prophecy is Joel 2:28.

Now take note: this prophecy comes from the Jewish Old Testament. According to dispensationalists, the Old Testament prophets were absolutely and completely ignorant of the coming church age. They supposedly had been led by God to believe that the coming of the Messiah would be followed by the dispensational Jewish millennium, not by a church age. Also, the prophecy of Joel was addressed to Israel and the children of Zion (Joel 2:23,27), not to the church. Since Israel means Israel, and since church means church, a prophecy about Israel can have no direct relationship to the church, according to the dispensationalists. Now comes the test: What does the New Testament have to say about the fulfillment of Joel 2:28?

We find Joel 2:28 quoted by Simon Peter in Acts 2:16-17 on Pentecost, the birthday of the New Testament church! The Holy Spirit was on that day poured out upon the church in unprecedented fullness, and Peter explained this phenomenon by saying, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,” and then by quoting Joel 2:28-32. If words are to be taken in their normal and literal sense, it is hard to imagine how one could communicate more clearly that an event was a fulfillment of prophecy than with the words this is that.

The Bible also indicates that Joel 2 continues to be fulfilled throughout this age. In his Pentecost sermon, Peter indicated that the outpoured Spirit as a gift promised in prophecy was also for “all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39), a reference to pagan Gentiles who would believe. The blessings of the Pentecost outpouring were extended to believing uncircumcised Gentiles in Acts 10. Now that the blessings of the new covenant have been ushered in and extended to all nations, the Holy Spirit is poured out in fulfillment of Joel 2 every time a person is regenerated (Titus 3:5-6).

Consistent dispensationalists, because of their presupposed theological system, have difficulty with such an understanding of Joel 2. They cannot even admit that Pentecost where Peter said “this is that” was an outpouring of the Spirit foreseen by the prophet Joel. Dispensationalists believe that Joel’s prophesied outpouring will occur in their yet future Jewish tribulation period and millennium, in an age in which there is no baptizing work of the Holy Spirit. [1] There is a note of irony here. The Pentecost outpouring is identified as the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; 10:44-48; 11:15-18), that divine work that puts one into the Body of Christ, the church universal (1 Corinthians 12:13). Yet dispensationalists say that the true outpouring, the one genuinely foreseen by the prophet, will occur in an age in which there is no baptizing work of the Holy Spirit, for dispensationalists have no place for either the church or the baptism of the Holy Spirit in their earthly millennial program.

How do dispensationalists deal with Peter’s words at Pentecost? The following quotation from Merrill F. Unger is typical of many dispensationalists’ understanding of this passage:

Peter’s phraseology “this is that” means nothing more than “this is [an illustration of that] which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). In the reference there is not the slightest hint at a continued fulfillment during the church age or a coming fulfillment toward the end of the church age. The reference is solely in an illustrative sense to Jewish listeners at Pentecost. Fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy is still future and awaits Christ’s second coming in glory and a copious spiritual outpouring ushering in kingdom blessing (cf. Zech. 12:10-13:1; Acts 1:6,7). [2]

According to another dispensational writer:

Peter says that the events of Acts 2 are what Joel spoke of but not necessarily the fulfillment of what Joel spoke of! [3]

The writer goes on to speak of the Pentecostal event as containing “a breakthrough” and “a specimen” of the kingdom age prophesied by Joel. Dispensationalists feel free to interpret Peter’s words “this is that” in a less than literal manner so they can interpret Joel’s prophecy with a dispensationally strict literality.

Interestingly, the ultra-dispensationalists believe that Joel’s prophecy did have a direct fulfillment on Pentecost. [4] According to ultra-dispensationalists, there are three peoples of God: Old Testament Israel, the early Jewish Petrine church, and the later Pauline “Body of Christ” Christian church. Since ultra-dispensationalists associate Pentecost exclusively with the early Jewish church and not with the Christian church, they can allow a fulfillment of Jewish prophecy in Acts and still consistently maintain the dispensational dichotomy between Israel and the Christian church. Just as dispensationalists believe the Sermon on the Mount to be Jewish truth not directly related to the church, so some ultra-dispensationalists believe the book of Acts and all the New Testament epistles written during that time period to be Jewish truth not directly related to the Christian church.

Dispensationalists argue for their futuristic view of Joel’s prophecy from the prophecy’s mention of cataclysmic events in the heavens. They ask when in the church age was the sun turned to darkness and when did the moon become blood? In the Old Testament, however, similar language was used to describe the national disasters prophesied for Babylon (Isaiah 13:10), Egypt (Ezekiel 32:7-8), and Edom and the Gentile nations in general (Isaiah 34:4-5). Historical accounts of the fall of ancient political empires may be boring to us, but there was nothing boring about the prophecies of such events for the ancient Jews. The prophesied fall of these powerful, antagonistic pagan powers were events poetically comparable to the fall of stars and the darkening of the sun. For the ancient people who were exposed to the splendor and glory of, for example, ancient Babylon, the fall of that city would have seemed about as likely as the fall of the heavenly bodies that ruled the sky. The Bible speaks of the sun and moon as rulers over the heavenly realm (Genesis 1:16) whose continuing rule is a metaphor for permanency (Jeremiah 31:35-36). This is my understanding of this language. Others view such language as a literal description of the second coming of Christ and believe that the prophets spoke of these ancient national judgments in terms of the final judgment or in conjunction with a description of the final judgment. What is certain is that Biblical prophetic language sometimes associates cataclysmic events in the heavens with the fall of supposedly infallible and everlasting political systems. First century Judea was no mighty political power but it was God’s chosen nation and regarded by first century Jews as under God’s protection. Its fall and destruction was unthinkable.

I believe Joel used this language associated with cataclysmic national judgments to refer to the general principle that God pours out His wrath upon His enemies as well as His Spirit upon His people. The conquering Messiah throughout the new covenant era leads the horsemen of the Apocalypse in judgment against those nations that reject Him (Revelation 6). This general principle about the outpouring of God’s wrath had a special application in God’s judgment upon the apostate Jewish nation in 70 A.D. (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, there were literal signs and wonders in heaven and on earth–the darkening of the sun, the quaking of the earth, the rending of the rocks, the opening of graves (Matthew 27:45-54). Some who observed these extraordinary events were filled with fear and smote their breasts (Matthew 27:54; Luke 23:48), indications that some may have recognized these events as warnings of a coming divine judgment. Peter in his Pentecostal sermon exhorted his Jewish listeners to “be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:40). This exhortation had reference to salvation from this coming national judgment which Jesus had prophesied, and history testifies that the Jewish church was delivered from that catastrophe. Also, when Jesus prophesied this national judgment, He used apocalyptic language similar to that found in Joel 2 (Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:11,25). This interpretation of Joel 2 finds further support in John the Baptist’s statement that the Messiah would baptize not only with the Holy Spirit but also with the fire of judgment (Matthew 3:10- 12; compare Malachi 3:1-2; 4:5-6).

The prophecy in Joel as quoted by Peter also spoke about “wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, fire and vapor of smoke” (Acts 2:19). In Jewish literature, the phrase signs and wonders is almost always associated with Moses and the deliverance of Israel from Egypt through mighty acts of God. [5] The last words of the Five Books of Moses are:

And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. In all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharoah, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34:10-12 – (compare Acts 7:36)

Joel’s mention of “blood, fire and vapor of smoke” pointed to the Nile’s being turned to blood and the plague of outpoured hail and fire and to the fire and smoke on Mount Sinai. Also, his mention of the darkened sun suggested another of the ten plagues upon Egypt. The age of the Messiah was to include new wonders like those associated with the exodus from Egypt (Micah 7:15). Peter proclaimed that Jesus was “a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs” (Acts 2:22). Indeed Jesus was the prophesied Messianic prophet like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18; Acts 3:22). The apostles (as well as those supernaturally gifted by the apostles through the laying on of hands) continued to perform Messianic signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 8:13; 14:3; 15:12) as signs of their genuine apostleship (2 Corinthians 12:12). The mention of signs and wonders in Joel’s prophecy is no basis for teaching that it has yet to find a direct fulfillment.

Lastly, dispensationalists sometimes argue that only their system can adequately explain the cessation of the gift of prophecy after the age of the apostles. Dispensationalists argue that if the kingdom period prophesied in Joel 2 is the church age, then this age should be an age of continuing prophecy and miracles in the daily lives of believers. [6] There is a note of historical irony here. Dispensationalists argue that only their system can adequately counter charismatic claims that the revelatory gifts of tongues and prophecy should be a normative experiences throughout the church age. And yet many Pentecostals who were exposed to the dispensational system through the Keswick movement readily accepted the dispensational system as compatible with their own. [7]

Joel prophesied the Messianic age of the Spirit in which all the people of God would receive the Spirit and spiritual gifts in new covenant fullness. In the Old Testament, the gift of prophecy was associated with the coming of the Spirit in power upon a person (Numbers 11:25,29; 1 Samuel 10:10; 19:20). Joel’s prophecy described the new covenant age of spiritual fullness in terms of prophesying, dreaming dreams and seeing visions, all of which the Old Testament associated with the prophetic office (Numbers 12:6). Joel’s message was that there was coming an age in which all God’s people would receive the Spirit with a fullness and power that was then associated with the prophetic office. And indeed in this age, the least in the kingdom are greater than the greatest of the old covenant prophets (Luke 7:28). I see no need to interpret Joel’s prophecy as meaning that the whole new covenant age is to be characterized by literal dreams, visions and prophecies. It was in time past when God spoke in these divers manners through the prophets (Hebrew 1:1). Joel, ministering “in time past,” simply spoke of the then unknown future in terms of the working of the Spirit in that age.

There was, admittedly, a more literal fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy during the days of the apostles and the New Testament prophets. This was the period during which the New Testament canon was not completed, the apostles were still performing signs and wonders as proofs of apostleship, the extraordinary revelatory gifts of the Spirit were common among the people of God, the Jewish age had not yet ended with finality through the destruction of the temple, and the church was adjusting to the differences between the old and new covenants. This apostolic period was foundational and not normative for the new covenant age (Ephesians 2:20). Through the inspired committing of the apostolic revelations to Scripture and the completing of the New Testament canon, the faith was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Now, through this completed and all sufficient revelation, all the people of God have access to a greater prophetic revelation than was ever granted to any prophets of old. With the written Word and the illuminating work of the Spirit, the people of God are now no longer dependent upon the prophetic elite for divine teaching (1 John 2:27). This is the age in which all God’s people know the Lord from the least to the greatest of them (Jeremiah 31:34). [8] God’s perfect revelation through Jesus Christ has been committed to Scripture. Many prophets and righteous men longed to see what we now see through the completed Bible but did not see it.

I see a parallel between the difficulties the modern day dispensationalist has accepting a direct fulfillment of Joel 2 among Christians in the church age and the difficulties which some early Jewish Christians had accepting a fulfillment of Joel 2 among the uncircumcised Gentiles. To prepare Peter the Jew for this event, God gave him a special instructive vision (Acts 10:9- 16). And in Acts 10:44-45, we read of the total surprise experienced by some of the Jewish students of prophecy in the early church when Joel 2 found its first fulfillment among believing uncircumcised Gentiles at the house of Cornelius:

While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the believing uncircumcised Gentiles even as He had been poured out upon believing Jews at Pentecost (Acts 10:47; 11:15). Joel 2 had specifically prophesied that the Spirit would be poured out upon “all flesh,” but these early Jewish Christians had apparently assumed that this universal term referred strictly to the Spirit’s being given without reference to sex, age or economic status within Israel. This new covenant outpouring upon uncircumcised Gentiles did not fit their preconceived understanding of the prophet’s message. The issue of the spiritual equality of uncircumcised Gentile believers within new covenant Israel continued to plague the early church and was not officially settled until the Jerusalem council of Acts 15.

At the Jerusalem council, there was additional New Testament revelation on the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. This Old Testament prophecy is quoted in Acts 15:13-17 in James’ speech at the Jerusalem council:

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men shall seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom My name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.

The issue before the council was the status of Gentile Christians in the church age. Some Jewish Christians were contending that it was necessary for all Gentile Christians to be circumcised and to be required to observe all the Old Testament ceremonial laws. In other words, some Jewish Christians wanted all the Gentile converts to become Jewish proselytes, to become members of Israel in the Old Testament sense. At the Jerusalem council, Peter argued that in the church age, neither Jew nor Gentile had to bear the yoke of observing the ceremonial law in order to receive the full covenantal status of a true Jew. Peter pointed out that God had given the Holy Spirit at Cornelius’ house just as freely to uncircumcised Gentile believers as He had given Him to Jewish believers. Paul and Barnabus then related “what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.” Then James made his climactic speech in which he pointed out that the words of the prophets agreed with what Peter had said about God’s taking “out of (the Gentiles) a people for His name” for the first time at Cornelius’ house. Here we have the words of the Jewish prophets, who were supposedly ignorant of the church age, agreeing with and confirming an event in the church age. James then paraphrased Amos 9:11-12, a prophecy which in the context of Amos promised that sometime after the destruction of northern Israel by Assyria, God would again return to Israel in a visitation of blessing to rebuild and to restore the Davidic kingdom so that “all the Gentiles, upon whom (God’s) name is called,” “might seek after the Lord.” James viewed this Old Testament prophecy about Gentiles’ being included in the covenantal program as being fulfilled by the inclusion of uncircumcised Gentile believers in the New Testament church.

The dispensationalists have their own interpretation of James’ use of Amos 9 at the Jerusalem council. I believe the following paraphrase fairly represents the dispensational interpretation of Acts 15:15-17 found in the Scofield Reference Bible: [9]

After God has taken out a people for His name from among the Gentiles to form the church (which Simeon related would occur first before the second advent), the second advent of Christ will occur and Christ will reestablish the Davidic rule over Israel in order that Israelites may seek after the Lord and also in order that all the millennial Gentiles may do the same.

The dispensationalists stress the words after and first in James’ speech. They teach that James addressed the issue of Gentile equality in the church by pointing out that the newly inaugurated and parenthetical period of Gentile blessing must come first and the prophesied period of Jewish blessing must come afterwards. The dispensationalists interpret this as prophetic evidence that there was to be a time of Gentile blessing and that God’s special millennial program for Israel had not been abandoned. [10]

There are several inaccuracies in the above that make the exegesis unacceptable. [11]

First, the phrase “after this” in Amos does not refer to “after God has taken out a people for His name from among the Gentiles to form the church,” an interpretation that puts the time reference after the entire church age in a Jewish millennium. “After this” does not relate chronologically to James’ previous statement about Peter’s testimony concerning the calling of the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 15:14). “After this” must be related chronologically to the context in Amos. The prophecy of Amos was directed primarily against the northern kingdom of Israel, and the context of Amos 9 refers to the prophesied scattering of the northern kingdom of Israel, which was fulfilled by the Assyrians under Sargon in 722 B.C. (Amos 9:9-10). Therefore, the phrase “after this,” which is James’ paraphrase of Amos’ phrase “in that day” (compare Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17), referred to the time of the establishment of the New Testament church, which was the prophesied spiritual renewal in Israel after the prophesied scattering.

If dispensationalists interpret “after this” to mean after the church age, then that interpretation contradicts the dispensational parenthesis theory. According to the parenthesis theory, the church age was not foreseen in any Old Testament prophecy. If Amos knew about the church age as a period of Gentile opportunity before the Jewish millennium, then the parenthesis theory is wrong. If Amos did not know about the coming church age, then “after this” could not mean after the church age.

Dr. John F. Walvoord seems to interpret “after this” as meaning after the times of the Gentiles. The times of the Gentiles in dispensational interpretation is that period from the Babylonian captivity to the end of Daniel’s seventy weeks during which Jerusalem is under Gentile political rule. The church age is a parenthetical interruption in the dispensational times of the Gentiles, which are now accomplished except for the future seven year tribulation period, which is the seventieth of Daniel’s seventy weeks. [12]

Dr. Walvoord identifies the “this” of “after this” with “the period of Gentile opportunity” and “the Gentile period.” Dr. Walvoord then argues that James was quoting Amos’ statement that the restoration of the Davidic kingdom would occur after the Gentile period as evidence that the divine visitation upon the Gentiles which began at Cornelius’ house in Acts 10 was to occur first before the millennial period of Jewish blessing. [13]

In another book, Dr. Walvoord says the following:

It was difficult for the Jews to understand that for the time being the Gentiles should have a place of equality with Israel, in view of the many prophecies in the Old Testament which anticipated Israel’s pre-eminence and glory…

… it seems that “after these things I will return” refers to the return of Christ after the period of Gentile prominence which began in 606 B.C. and is destined to continue until the second coming. It is after these things–i.e., judgment on Israel, their scattering, and discipline–that Christ will return and build again the tabernacle or tent of David…

… The divine order therefore is judgment on Israel and blessing upon Gentile first, to be followed by judgment on Gentile and blessing on Israel. This is not only the order of the Old Testament, but it is the order of this portion in Acts … [14]

If Dr. Walvoord is saying that “after this” means “after the times of the Gentiles,” then that interpretation does not contradict the dispensational parenthesis theory. That interpretation, however, does take away any relevance the Amos passage would have had to the controversy over the spiritual equality of Gentiles in the church age. All the passage would have said is that after the time of Gentile political rule over Jerusalem, Gentile political superiority over Israel will end and the Davidic political kingdom will be restored. Amos’ prophecy would have said nothing about the church age and nothing about spiritual equality for Gentiles. According to dispensational theory, there is no spiritual equality for Gentiles during the “times of the Gentiles” except during the parenthetical and unrevealed church age, of which Amos would have been totally unaware. Is Dr. Walvoord saying that James’ argument was that just as there is to be no Jewish political superiority until after the times of the Gentiles, so by analogy the Jew is to have no spiritual superiority over the Gentiles until after the times of the Gentiles? This, however, would not be a valid argument. The Jews will have spiritual superiority over the Gentiles in the last seven years of the times of the Gentiles, according to dispensationalism. During the future seven year tribulation period, which is after the parenthetical church age and is the last of Daniel’s seventy weeks, the Old Testament economy will be restored.

Second, the word first in the sentence “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name,” does not mean first in sequence before a Jewish millennium. James is referring to Peter’s testimony about the introduction of the Gospel into the house of Cornelius (Acts 15:7-9; Acts 10), where the Gospel was introduced to uncircumcised Gentiles for the first time and therefore sequentially first before the miracles wrought among the Gentiles through Paul and Barnabas.

Third, the clause “I will return” does not refer to the second advent. This clause is not found in the Amos passage, and some commentators suggest that it may be based on Jeremiah 12:15 where the return is a return of favor and a divine visitation of blessing. The Hebrew of Jeremiah 12:15 literally says “I will return and have compassion,” and the New International Version translates this as “I will again have compassion.” The same Greek word translated return in Acts 15 is found in the LXX translation of Genesis 18:10 & 14. There the Angel of the Lord promised to return to Abraham and bless him with a son through Sarah. This was fulfilled through a visitation of blessing recorded in Genesis 21:1-2, not through a literal bodily return. The concept of a visitation of blessing is not uncommon in the Old Testament. [15]

Fourth, the phrase “the residue of men” does not refer to Israel. There is no reference to Israel in this quotation from Amos 9, yet the Scofield Reference Bible specifically identifies the phrase “the residue of men” with “Israelites.” This phrase is the Septuagint translation of the original Hebrew “the remnant of Edom.” One can view this as a paraphrase that interpretatively viewed Edom as symbolic for all the Gentile enemies of Israel (compare Isaiah 34:1-5). Or the explanation may be that the early Hebrew text did not have the vowel points and the Hebrew words for Edom and mankind (i.e., adam) without the vowel pointing are almost identical. Regardless of the correct explanation for the paraphrase, this passage specifically states that the house of David would be reestablished in order that Gentiles might seek the Lord. The passage from Amos points to the Messianic age as a time of special spiritual blessings upon Gentiles, and James used this teaching as an argument for recognizing and accepting God’s spiritual blessings upon the Gentiles in the church age. The dispensational position is that the Messianic age spoken of in Amos is not the church age but a yet future Jewish millennium and that James quoted Amos to prove that the time of special Jewish blessing follows the time of Gentile blessing. The Amos passage, however, presents the Messianic age as a period of Gentile spiritual blessings, not as an age of Jewish blessing following an age of Gentile blessing.

Fifth, the dispensational interpretation fails to see the obvious connection between “the heathen, which are called by My name” in Amos 9:12 (Acts 15:17) and Cornelius’ household where “God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name” (Acts 15:14). In the dispensational interpretation, the first phrase refers to millennial Gentiles and the second phrase refers to church age Gentiles.

Sixth, the dispensational interpretation of this passage does not relate well to the issue of the spiritual equality of Jews and Gentiles in the church, the issue before the Jerusalem council. Dispensationalist Charles L. Feinberg apparently agrees with me that James quoted a prophecy about Gentiles in the Messianic age as an argument for the religious equality of Jews and Gentiles in the church age:

It was left to James to make the concluding remarks. He pointed to the testimony of Peter, which showed conclusively that God was visiting the Gentiles “to take out of them a people for his name.” Then followed his statement as to the harmonization of that with the return of the Lord and the setting up of the Davidic kingdom with the conversion of those in Israel and the Gentiles also. [16]

I view the church age as the fulfillment of Amos 9 and Dr. Feinberg does not in accordance with the parenthesis theory. He instead sees Amos 9 as referring to the dispensational millennium and relates it to the church age as a “harmonization.” But what is harmonious between the dispensational millennium and the church age spiritual equality of believing Jews and Gentiles?

■According to dispensationalist Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, Israel in the millennium “will be exalted above the Gentiles,” “the Gentiles will be Israel’s servants,” and “the distinction of Israel from the Gentiles will again be resumed.” [17]

■According to Dr. Feinberg, “The nations in the kingdom will recognize the favored condition of Israel …” and “… Israel will also rule over the nations under the direct command of the King.” [18]

■According to Dr. John F. Walvoord: “In contrast to the present church age in which Jew and Gentile are on an equal plane of privilege, the millennium is clearly a period of time in which Israel is in prominence and blessing.” [19]

If the dispensational interpretation of the millennial situation is correct, then the party of the circumcision who wanted Gentiles admitted into the church as they had been admitted into the synagogue (i.e. as circumcised proselytes) could have made better use of this passage than did James. [20] They could have argued that the prophesied inferior status of spiritually blessed millennial Gentiles is evidence for a similarly inferior status for church age Gentiles.

Scofield in his reference Bible notes described this passage in Acts 15 as “dispensationally … the most important passage in the New Testament.” [21] He was perhaps correct, but not in the sense that he intended. The correct interpretation of this passage demonstrates that, contrary to dispensational claims, a prophecy about Israel and the Jewish Davidic covenant is here declared to be fulfilled in and through the Christian church in the church age.

I would like to discuss the New Testament’s use of one last Old Testament prophecy. We read in Acts 13 that Paul spoke to the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch about Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. Acts 13:44-48 records what happened on the following Sabbath:

And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabus waxed bold, and said, It is necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

Here we have Paul quoting Isaiah 49:6, one of the many Old Testament prophecies about the spiritual blessings that were to come upon the Gentiles in the age of the Messiah. [22] If the dispensationalist is to hold to his parenthesis theory with strict consistency, he would directly relate these prophecies about the nations to millennial Gentiles and relate these prophecies to the church age only indirectly. According to the parenthesis theory, the Old Testament prophets were totally ignorant of the coming church age and spoke no prophetic word about the church age. Also, some of these prophecies spoke about the coming spiritual blessings upon the Gentiles in terms of the Old Testament system of worship. For example, Malachi 1:11 says:

For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering; for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.

For the consistent dispensationalist, these prophecies have no direct reference to the church age. Therefore, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost is only being consistent when he uses Isaiah 49:6 as a proof text for the statement: “the fact of Gentiles’ participation in the millennium is promised in the prophetic Scriptures.” [23] Paul, however, believed that he was an agent for an actual fulfillment of this prophecy.

The Old Testament prophets spoke about the coming day when Israel would enlarge her tent to include the Gentiles (Isaiah 54:2). All three of the Old Testament prophecies that we have examined in this chapter have related to this theme of the day when God’s covenantal blessing would be upon all flesh and not just upon physical Israel. In all three cases, we have seen that dispensationalists refer these prophecies to a future Jewish millennium and the New Testament refers these prophecies to the present church age. The New Testament’s use of Old Testament prophecy contradicts the dispensational parenthesis theory.


End Notes

1 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), pages 271, 486; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible: The New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), pages 208-209 (note on Acts 2:16-21); John B. Graber, “Ultra-Dispensationalism” (dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1949), pages 88-89.

2 Merrill F. Unger, New Testament Teaching on Tongues (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971), page 26.

3 Joseph Dillow, Speaking in Tongues: Seven Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), page 105. See also Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Publishers, 1974), pages 183-185.

4 John B. Graber, “Ultra-Dispensationalism,” page 85.

5 Gerhard Friedrich, editor; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 7:216, 221.

6 Joseph Dillow, Speaking in Tongues: Seven Crucial Questions, page 101.

7 “Dispensationalism, which fit so well with the Pentecostal and holiness ideas of the ‘Age of the Spirit,’ easily gained acceptance in the new Pentecostal movement, even though Scofield-type dispensationalists maintained that tongues ceased with the apostles.”

George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: 1870-1925 (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), page 94.

“The Keswick movement, as we shall see, was absolutely crucial to the development of Pentecostalism. . . . that wing of the Pentecostal movement which had earlier connections with Wesleyanism became Pentecostal by accepting Keswick (i.e. Calvinist) teachings on dispensationalism, premillennialism and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

Robert Mapes Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), page 43.

8 “The correct understanding of the words results from a right perception of the contrast involved, viz. that under the old covenant the knowledge of the Lord was connected with the mediation of priests and prophets.”

C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes: Volume VIII: Jeremiah, Lamentations (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), 2:40.

9 C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1909), pages 1169-1170 (note on Acts 15:13); see also Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1953), pages 102-103; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 133; John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), pages 204-207; John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), pages 91-93; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible: The New Testament, page 236 (note on Acts 15:15-17).

10 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 205-206; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible: The New Testament, page 236 (note on Acts 15:15-17).

11 See also William Everett Bell, Jr., “A Critical Evaluation of the Pre-tribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology” (dissertation, School of Education of New York University, 1967), pages 197-203.

12 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 314-316; C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible, page 1345 (note on Revelation 16:19).

13 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, page 205.

14 John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy, pages 91-93.

15 paqad: Genesis 21:1; 50:24-25; Exodus 13:19; Ruth 1:6; Psalm 65:9; Jeremiah 15:15; 29:10; 32:5; shub: Genesis 18:10,14; 2 Chronicles 30:6; Psalm 6:4; 80:14; 90:13; Isaiah 63:17; Jeremiah 12:15; Zechariah 1:3; Malachi 3:7.

16 Charles L. Feinberg, Millennialism: The Two Major Views, Third and Enlarged Edition (Chicago: Moody Press, 1936), page 154. See also Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, pages 128-130.

17 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 507, 508, 519-520.

18 Charles L. Feinberg, Millennialism: The Two Major Views, page 186.

19 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 302-303.

20 Daniel Payton Fuller, “The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism” (dissertation, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1957), page 347, footnote 18.

21 C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible, page 1169 (note on Acts 15:13).

22 Psalm 22:27-30; 68:29-31; 72:8-11,17; Isaiah 2:2-5; 11:9-10; 19:24-30; 42:1-4; 45:14; 49:6-7,22-23; 52:10; 54:1-3; 60:3f.; 65:1; 66:19; Jeremiah 16:19; Amos 9:11-12; Zechariah 2:3-13; 8:20-24; Malachi 1:11.

23 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 508.

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