Q&A: Dispensationalism

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:

  1. The Jew-Gentile division was permanent, thus:
  2. The current Christian priesthood is temporary, thus:
  3. 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:




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.

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3 Responses to “Q&A: Dispensationalism”

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    It’s a fantastic point, Mike. When we fail to see Israel as a means to an end – the salvation of all peoples – we miss the whole point. Thanks for this.

  • Jeff Says:

    [Yo Bully. Sharing what I saw on the web. You may want to comment on it. Lord bless.]

    Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart !

    “church” RAPTURE “church”
    (present age) (tribulation)

    In early 1830 Margaret was the very first one to see a pre-Antichrist (pretrib) rapture in the Bible – and John Walvoord and Hal Lindsey lend support for this claim!
    Walvoord’s “Rapture Question” (1979) says her view resembles the “partial-rapture view” and Lindsey’s “The Rapture” (1983) admits that “she definitely teaches a partial rapture.”
    But there’s more. Lindsey (p. 26) says that partial rapturists see only “spiritual” Christians in the rapture and “unspiritual” ones left behind to endure Antichrist’s trial. And Walvoord (p. 97) calls partial rapturists “pretribulationists”!
    Margaret’s pretrib view was a partial rapture form of it since only those “filled with the Spirit” would be raptured before the revealing of the Antichrist. A few critics, who’ve been repeating more than researching, have noted “Church” in the tribulation section of her account. Since they haven’t known that all partial rapturists see “Church” on earth after their pretrib rapture (see above chart), they’ve wrongly assumed that Margaret was a posttrib!
    In Sep. 1830 Edward Irving’s journal “The Morning Watch” (hereafter: TMW) was the first to publicly reflect her novel view when it saw spiritual “Philadelphia” raptured before “the great tribulation” and unspiritual “Laodicea” left on earth.
    In Dec. 1830 John Darby (the so-called “father of dispensationalism” even though he wasn’t first on any crucial aspect of it!) was still defending the historic posttrib rapture view in the “Christian Herald.”
    Pretrib didn’t spring from a “church/Israel” dichotomy, as many have assumed, but sprang from a “church/church” one, as we’ve seen, and was based only on symbols!
    But innate anti-Jewishness soon appeared. (As noted, TMW in Sep. 1830 saw only less worthy church members left behind.) In Sep. 1832 TMW said that less worthy church members and “Jews” would be left behind. But by Mar. 1833 TMW was sure that only “Jews” would face the Antichrist!
    As late as 1837 the non-dichotomous Darby saw the church “going in with Him to the marriage, to wit, with Jerusalem and the Jews.” And he didn’t clearly teach pretrib until 1839. His basis then was the Rev. 12:5 “man child…caught up” symbol he’d “borrowed” (without giving credit) from Irving who had been the first to use it for the same purpose in 1831!
    For related articles Google “X-Raying Margaret,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “Pretrib Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived” by D.M., “Pretrib Rapture Pride,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” and “Scholars Weigh My Research.” The most documented and accurate book on pretrib rapture history is “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books online) – a 300-pager that has hundreds of disarming facts (like the ones above) not found in any other source.

  • MarkO Says:

    yes indeed, Dispensationalists do have a difficult time with the Book of Hebrews especially if they happened to believe that it was written by St. Paul.