Is dispensationalism a theological framework or a hermeneutical approach?
Dispensationalism pretends to be a “literalistic” hermeneutical approach, but it is in fact a contrived framework which results from a single, fundamental error. The fact that this error is so foundational is the reason why its “prophetic plan” is so complicated.
The basic error bookends the Christian Church:
- The Jew-Gentile division was permanent, thus:
- The current Christian priesthood is temporary, thus:
- The current priesthood must be removed and the Aaronic one reinstated at some point.
The entire prophetic framework is really just this three-fold lens which, to maintain the basic tenet, misclassifies great sections of the Bible. It also necessitates an incredibly fragmented approach to Bible history and the biblical texts.
Most if not all of the post-exilic promises of restoration in the prophets are removed from their historical context and applied to the modern state of Israel, and all of the predictions concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 in Daniel and the New Testament are applied to some future event.
For instance, the invasion Israel by Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38-39 is taken to be a modern invasion of Israel (the identity of the invaders is always taken from the current news headlines). However, the structure of the book and the content of the chapters shows it is a prophecy of the events in the book of Esther (un-walled cities, Haman-Gog / Haman the Agagite, etc.), a proposed slaughter and plundering of all Jews between India and Ethiopia. This victory was the vindication of a resurrected Israel before all nations — back then.
The misinterpretation allows authors to write best-selling books about a coming invasion, and republish them every few years with different villains.
Also, since the Revelation is “level-pegged” step by step with Ezekiel (but concerning the second temple instead of the first), Revelation uses Gog and Magog as an allusion to describe the end of this current age (in which God is working behind the scenes as He did in Esther). Dispensationalists believe these passages speak of the same battle, even though the specifics are very different.
The idea of “dispensations” is not unbiblical, but the cycle of the various covenants must be taken as a progression. It is chiastic, but it is progressive, and the prophets always allude to previous cycles to explain what is coming — such as the wolf and lamb, the branch, etc. (from Noah) to explain the restoration of the Land of Israel from beneath the flood of the nations. Its failure to understand allusions to previous events means that the allusion is often taken to be another prophecy concerning the same event.
Because the events of the Jewish war are seen as merely a postponement, dispensationalists have a terrible time with the book of Hebrews. It doesn’t fit their system at all. It’s like looking at green through a red filter. It just comes up black. Their interpretive grid acts as a “Mosaic veil.”
It is ironic that it is not the current priesthood of all nations which is bookended by the “one-nation” Aaronic priesthood. It is the other way around. Circumcision was a temporary division, beginning with the blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek (a Noahic priest “of all nations”) and ending with a new Melchizedekian priesthood of all nations, the Church of Christ.
So it is not:
ONE NATION – ALL NATIONS – ONE NATION
ALL NATIONS – ONE NATION – ALL NATIONS
For more on this (and a nifty diagram), see chapter 38 of God’s Kitchen, “The Forbidden Feast.”
The downside of dispensationalism is that is has no mind for types and symbols (at least not ones concerning Israel). The upside is that all the dispensationalists I have known have a very high regard for Scripture and Bible chronology.
For the antidote to this doctrinal delusion, see James B. Jordan, The Future of Israel Re-examined.