PREMILLENNIAL DISPENSATIONALISM

(Problem of the Prophetical/Hermeneutical

Unity of Scriptures of the Old/New Testaments)

 

                      What does the term Dispensationalism mean?

 

                      The essence of this eschatological viewpoint is the distinction of what is addressed to Israel and what is addressed to The Church.  What is addressed to Israel is earthly in character and is interpreted literally.  Dispensationalism divides the course of history into a number of distinct epochs.  During each dispensation (epoch) God works out His control over the world (e.g. Darby and Scofield, Chafer, Feinberg, Gaebelein, Pentecost).

 

                      There have been at least three schemes of interpretation of the relationship of the Old and New Testaments:  (1) Covenant Theology, (2) Dispensationalism and (3) my Theology of Promise.  The heart of these hermeneutical schemes is the view of the destinies of the Kingdom of God, Israel and The Church (see esp. Vern S. Poytress, Understanding Dispensationalism (Academic Books, Zondervan Pub. House, 1987).

 

I.  Theological Issues:

 

                      1.  The issue of The Church’s inheritance of the Old Testament promises.

                      2.  To which Old Testament promise is Christ heir?

                      3.  To which of these promises are Christians heirs to in Christ?  (Colossians 2.9-10)

                      4.  The unity of God’s promises and purposes are at stake (Romans 8.22-23,32)

                      5.  The nature of Old Testament symbolism (e.g. priesthood, Temple, Hebrews)

                      6.           How is The Bible to be employed in the controversy?  (Hermeneutic bridge between Old and New Testaments; prophecies in the New Testament.  How do the NT authors employ the OT via quotations?  (see my list of OT references in the NT from Greek NT)

                      7.  How does the Hebrew Epistle’s use of the OT address our dilemma?

                      8.           The Last Trumpet (I Cor. 15.51-53 as a problem to pre-tribulationists contra the pre-tribulational rapture) An obvious problem in reconciling I Cor. 15.51-53 and Matt. 24.31 with Dispensationalist’s theory (the Rapture and the Return of Christ as simultaneous, the 7th trumpet in Revelation 11.15)

                      9.           What is Literal Interpretation?  (Scofield Bible) (Words, grammar, sentences, pericopes, controlling narrative, e.g. Parables, Imagery in the Book of the Revelation)

                      A.  Ecclesia (Etymology and Meaning)

                      B.  Plain?  (why the remark that - Paul has many things hard to understand (Isaiah 6; Matt.

                                           13.14; Mark 6.52; Acts 8.30 (Isa. 53); 28.29; Romans 11.25 (mystery, Ephesian mystery; II

                                           Cor. 1.14; Luke 15 - two dimensions, the story/parable (shepherd/sheep, coin, son; Nehemiah

                                           8.8; II Tim. 2.14;

                      Context--whole/salvation concerning leaders of God’s people and The People

 

II.      Viewpoint of The Old Testament:  Is there a text in this house? (Deconstructionism)  Israel

                      (Romans 9-11)

 

                      A.  Prophecy and Grammatical Historico Interpretation

                                           1.           What was the author’s intention? (not psychological speculation about what was going on in the author’s mind)

                                           2.  What was the audience was prepared to hear?

                                           3.  Postmodern Readers’ Response hermeneutics

                                           4.  Human readers are not inspired!

                                           5.  Is subjective reading possible?

                                           6.  What meaning is justified in finding in The Text?

                             7.       What controls possible meaning of prophecy vs. narrative structure (Genesis 1-3, Satan in the Garden; Matthew 4, Satan at The Temptation; Matt. 26.36-46, Satan at Gethsemane; Satan intensifies his efforts in The Church and with Christians).

                                           8.  Compare Philo Judaeus, the Qumran Community and Jewish Apocalyptic literature.

 

                      B.  Israel’s Hope: e.g. actual interpretation but justified or warranted)

 

                                           1.  What does the text say?

                                           2.  How did the original audience interpret the text?

                                           3.  Prophecy - prediction fulfilment and preaching.

                                           4.  Intertestamental interpretation

                                           5.  Prophecy and Promise (Isaiah 7 - Israel and Jesus)

                                           6.  Isaiah 40-66 is suggesting a second Exodus, the way through the wilderness, 40.3; is language describing a way from captivity earlier, Egypt now Babylon, to the Promised Land (compare with Scofield Reference Bible (the mountain symbol means Kingdom (Daniel 2.35; Revelation 15.1; 17.9-11)

                                           7.  Israel’s hope is not rooted in their expectation over transformation of the land of Palestine, but rather in the coming Messiah.  Christ is the center of all Messianic expectation.

 

                      C.      Israel Is A Kingdom of Priests:  How was Israel supposed to understand themselves?  The whole nation was to be a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation (Exodus 19.6).  As priests they were to serve God in holiness (Leviticus 19.2) in order to bring the knowledge of God to all the Goyim of the world (Genesis 12.3; Deut. 4.6-8).

                                           1.  How is Israel to understand its own priestly role?  (Aaronic priesthood, priesthood and

                                                                 Temple worship; Jesus - Temple, Atonement - Priesthood - see esp. Hebrews; the land of

                                                                 Palestine was analogous to Eden (Isaiah 51.3).

                                           2.           The Aaronic priesthood was modeled after a heavenly pattern (Exodus 19.5-6; 25.40; 28, the Temple/Tabernacle).

                                           3.  Prophecy of Malachi - 3.3-4; Romans 12.1; 15.16; Phil. 4.18; Heb 10.1-3; 13.15; Ezekiel

                                                                 44-46.

                                           4.  Prophecy of Jeremiah - 24.1-14; 31.31-34; Jews in Millennium; use in the NT?

                                           5.  The New Covenant, the Lord’s Supper - I Cor. 11.24-26; Heb. 10.11-22, the House of Israel, the House of Judah.

                                           6.  Prophecy, Promise and Polyvalency of meaning - Isa. 7 - Jesus’ Birth.

 

                      D.     Israel as a Vassal of The Great King:  Israel is a servant of The King.  God is King over

                                           Israel (Deut. 33.5; I Sam. 8.7).  Israel was a special kingdom of priests over which He rules by His law (Exodus 19.6).  The Covenant that God made with Israel is analogous to the suzerainty treaties that the Hittite kings made with the vassals

(M. Kline, Treaty of The Great King (Eerdmans, 1972; “The Covenant of The Seventieth Week,” in The Law and The Prophets (ed. J.H. Skelton (Nutley: NJ: Presbyterian Reformed, 1974, pp. 452-69, see esp. discussion of Daniel 9 in context of Amillennialism; Images of The Spirit (Baker, 1989);

                                           C.N. Kraus, Dispensationalism in America: Rise and Development (Richmond: Knox Press, 1958);

                                           G.E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About The Kingdom of God (Eerdmans, 1952; classical premillennialism;

                                           H. Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Zondervan, 1970). Popular dispensationalist rapture theory;

                                           E.D. Radmacher, “The Current Status of Dispensationalism

                                           and Its Eschatology,” in Perspectives On Evangelical Theology, ed. K.S. Kantzer and S. Gundry (Baker, 1979), pp. 163-76).

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                         Dispensationalist Approach to Typology

 

                      How is the typological approach related to the grammatical-historical in New Testament Typology?  There is nothing in the Old Testament itself that encouraged any symbolic reflection.  Too often, NT typology has been isolated from the OT symbolic overtones that were already there in OT times. Uncontrolled typological hermeneutics smacks too much like postmodern hermeneutics, i.e., the reader or audience is the source of the meaning of a text.  Whatever it means “to me” is its only available meaning.  Without grammatico-historical control, any text can be “made” anything that makes a text relevant to the reader.  Therefore hermeneutics is not to decode a given truth of a text but emphasize the radical shift from Truth to Relevance in postmodern Revisionist History or  Hermeneutics mode (see my papers--“Postmodern Revisionist History,” “New Hermeneutical Horizons in Logic, Epistemology and Language Communication,” “Philosophical and Psychological Horizons of Postmodern Hermeneutics” and “Prophets of the Hermeneutical Revolution.”)

 

                      Can we expect eschatological prophecies to operate in exactly the same way as OT histories and institutions when they involve symbolic overtones, have two dimensions, the symbol itself and what the symbol symbolizes?  Moreover, the symbols do not merely symbolize some timeless spiritual truth: the two dimensionality is bound up with the fact that Old Testament revelation is primarily and shadowy in character.  These two dimensions must be kept in mind in fusing the horizons between eschatological prophecy and fulfilment (e.g. Polyvalency Semantics; see my papers of Nida and Pike’s Tagmemics). 

 

                      E.         The Temple as a Type:  (see my paper, The Apostle Paul and The Temple of God.  The

                                           Temple was a place that signaled God an appointed place of His Presence in an earthly place and time; on The Temple see esp. I Cor. 3.16-17; 6.19; Ephesians 2.19-22; all of Hebrews and my paper, What Is A Metaphor A Metaphor of?)

 

                      The fullness of God’s promise will be ultimately realized in the new Jerusalem, in the new heaven and new earth.  Here we will not dwell as disembodied spirits but people with resurrected bodies.  Here we will dwell in the Holy of Holies, a Temple of His presence.  Here we encounter both symbols and typology from the Old Testament. 

 

                      Since grammatical-historical interpretation will find the same symbolic, typological significance within prophecy, it shows how prophecy also has an organizationally unified relation to the New Testament believers.  Contra Dispensational interpretive theory, we must integrate the typological interpretation with grammatical-historical interpretation.  The significance of type is not fully discernible until the time of fulfilment.  Later scripture must be interpreted with earlier scripture for full fusion of hermeneutical horizons.  The unity of interpretation is bound up with the fact that the Bible has one author, God.  This fact is the basis of expectation of a unified and self-consistent message from beginning to end.  I propose the Theology of Promise as this unifying factor, with Christ the ultimate fulfilment of all of God’s promises.  “All the promises of God are YES in Jesus.”  We must develop a fusion of grammatical-historical interpretation that takes seriously symbolic and typological overtones of both Old Testament history and Old Testament prophecy and willingness to enrich the results of grammatical historical interpretation with insights that derive only from considering earlier and later Scripture in unison.  I would propose the New Testament use of the Old Testament as a control guide in this procedure.  The question of the Church continues in relationship to Israel and the Kingdom of God.

 

                      Surely the Epistle to the Hebrews is the single most important text to consider in a discussion of dispensationalism (see my critical outline with extensive bibliography on the Hebrew Epistle). The book is filled with implications for any serious discussion, but perhaps one passage will do for our brief discussion in Hebrews 12.22--24.  We are told here that Christians participate in the heritage of Mt. Zion and Jerusalem.  Here is an emphatic denial of a disjunction between Israel and the Church.

 

                      In our passage the central concern is the significance of the mention of Mt. Zion and a Heavenly Jerusalem (12.22).  Is the Hebrew passage implying that Christians coming to Mt. Zion are the fulfilment of Old Testament prophetic passages like Isaiah 60.14 and Micah 4.1-2?  For example, Christ’s sacrifice, according to the whole Book of Hebrews, is the anti type of Old Testament animal sacrifices.  Christ’s cross is the endpoint, the finished product, to which the Old Testament historical sacrifice pointed.  Christ’s sacrifice is also the fulfilment of prophesies of a perfect sacrifice, not only Isaiah 53 but the phrase of Daniel 9.24--“To atone for the wickedness.”  Hebrews says that Abraham was expecting the city and the promise also to the Goyim (Gentiles) who are included in the blessing.  Abraham understood this as a fulfilment and who can say otherwise?  But surely this fulfilment has future dimensions.  Extreme Dispensationalists deny that the fulfilment includes the Gentile Christians.

 

The Heavenly Jerusalem in Hebrews 12

 

                      It exists by virtue of the presence of Christ as high priest with His sprinkled blood (Hebrews 12.24, Isaiah 60.14, Micah 4.1-2). All Old and New Testament Messianic prophecies fulfil and deepen the foundational promises made to Abraham concerning his inheritance of the land.  Hebrews asserts that Abraham was “looking forward to the city without foundations.  There are considerable differences over the nature of the material in Revelation 21.1 - 22.5.

                      In the midst of diversity almost everyone agrees that there is a close relation between Revelation 21.9-22.5 and Revelation 21.1-7.  There is no sound argument against Revelation 21.9-22.5 being the eternal state, which has features with the Millennium.  The New Jerusalem described in both 21.1-7 and 21.9, 22.5 is in fundamental continuity with the heavenly Jerusalem of Hebrews.  Compare the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21, which comes down from heaven, the location of the Jerusalem of Hebrews 12.22, which will not pass away, even with the shaking of heaven and earth.  Hebrews tells us that Abraham was looking for the heavenly Jerusalem (11.10,16).  (See the Dispensational controversy in J. Walvoord’s book, Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids, 1959), p. 326; W.A. van Gemeren, “Israel As The Hermeneutical Crux in The Interpretation of Prophecy,” Westminster Theological Journal 46 (1954): 254-297).

 

                      The New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 describes the situation at a latter point in time than does Hebrews 12.28.  Jerusalem, along with the Temple, was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Roman army.  The false idea of two parallel destinies, heavenly and earthly, falls away.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The New Earth

 

                     Some dispensationalists might object to the distinctions between heaven and earth.  The Church participates in the heavenly Jerusalem, but Israel must yet have an earthly fulfilment in an earthly Jerusalem in the millennium.

 

                      In Revelation 21, the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth.  The earthly fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy finds its climax in Revelation 21-22.  Abraham certainly participates in this earthly fulfilment.  Other Jews will participate; Jewish Christians are not disinherited from their Jewish heritage just because they imitate Abraham’s faith.  Gentiles also participate because they are co-heirs by virtue of union with Christ, the Jew (Ephesians 3.6).  In Revelation 21-22 a strict isolation between heavenly and earthly “destinies” is not possible.  In the new earth Christians are related to the earthly realization of the Abrahamic promise (see my paper, “Relationships: Israel, the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenant and The Church”).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

The Final Destiny of Israel and Christians

 

                        The passage in Revelation 21-22 is valuable because its emphasis on the New Earth shows that the final destiny of Christian and Israel is similar.  Rigid form of Dispensationalism emphasizes the idea of two distinct destinies as different in heaven and earth.  Hebrews 12 is valuable because it shows that Christians already experience a foretaste of the fulfilment of Revelation 21-22, and hence they are related to the Old Testament “Jewish promises.”  Clearly we have a vertical alignment of Church and Israel running on parallel tracks and toward a historical typological alignment of the Church and Israel as belonging to successive historical stages.  Here is a fusion of Old Testament prophecies and the Church, not a literal fulfilment in the millennium as proposed by Erich Sauer (e.g. Erich Sauer, The Dawn of World Redemption, A Survey of Historical Revelation in The Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1953); he allows multiple fulfilments.  (Also his The Triumph of The Crucified: A Survey of Historical Revelation in The New Testament (Eerdmans, 1953)); dispensational. 

 

                      A summation of Crucial Areas of Exploration:  (1) The entire book of Hebrews provides the most extensive discussion anywhere in the Bible of the interpretation of the Old Testament.  (2) Matthew’s citation from the Old Testament provides indisputable cases of fulfilment as well as in Acts.  (3)  Revelation 21.1-22.5, though it does not quote directly from the Old Testament, it is filled with Old Testament language and allusions.  Here the crucial challenge is polyvalency of fulfilment of prophecies in the millennium and/or the consummation of an even greater fulfilment.  It integrates images applying to the Church (Galatians 4.26) and Old Testament prophecy directed to Israel (e.g. Isaiah 60.19-22; Ezekiel 47).  This procedure can constructively approach the question in the total Biblical context about the unity of the people of God and the nature of literal fulfilment. 

                      How does the New Testament use of the Old Testament relate “One Christ and Two Testaments?”  I declare that the only way out of this hermeneutical maze is covered by “The Theology of Promise” which covers all covenants and unifies One Bible and Two Testaments through One Messiah -- “All the promises of God are yes in Jesus” II Corinthians 1.20.

 

Important References

 

C.I. Scofield, ed., The New Scofield Reference Bible (NY: Oxford, 1967); Scofield Bible Correspondence School Course of Study, 7th edition, 3 volumes.

H.N. Ridderbos, The Coming Kingdom (Presbyterian Reformed, 1962).

Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ: An Examination of Teaching of J.N. Darby and His Followers (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, n.d. - classic premillennialism).

D.P. Fuller, “The Hermeneutic of Dispensationalism” Th. D. dissertation, Chicago: Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1957 - classic premillennialism.

For postmodern hermeneutics see S.E. Fish, Interpretive Communities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980, esp. 268-92.  The role of worldview and interpretive standards in the determining of meaning in Deconstructionism.

A.D. Ehlert, A Bibliographic History of Dispensationalism (Baker, 1964).

P. Fairborn, The Interpretation of Prophecy (reprint, London: Banner of Truth, 1964).

G.W.A. Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in American Dispensationalism, described from a dispensationalist perspective.

W.J. Beecher, The Prophets and The Promise (NY: Crowell, 1905).

O.T. Allis, Prophecy and The Church (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Reformed, 1945).  Amillennialism, a classic against dispensationalism.

E.R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism (British and American Millennialism) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

L.E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith: Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation (four volumes) (Review and Herald, Washington D.C., 1950) - a Seventh Day Adventist scholar.

 

See my paper “The Only Expected Man in History: Messianic Prophecy in The Old Testament.” (The Restoration Heritage’s response to the millennial question--Walter Scott’s dispensationalism and Alexander Campbell’s, “Sermon on The Law.”

 

James Strauss, Lincoln, IL 62656