March 11, 2014
The reader will want to go back over the previous article, since this issue builds on that premise. There is only one biblical hermeneutic, and it produces a theology that is biblical. That one system is simply the normal, plain, clear, consistent, literal use of language. All other systems fall into one category and will allow the interpreter to insert into the text whatever he may choose. The one biblical system is scientific, and it is mathematical. If you use the system and its clearly defined rules, you will always come up with the same answer.
It is extremely frustrating to go to five different commentaries, written by experts, and find five different interpretations of a single passage. These scholars are supposed to be the authority, but it seems they cannot find a common answer. Since each text can have only one interpretation, one of those scholars may possibly be right, but…they could all be wrong, too. It makes one wonder if any of them is right and how many other things they may be wrong about. How can we ever be sure?
The answer is simple. It isn’t that they have different interpretations, but rather that they use different systems of interpretation. Since all those systems allow the reader to insert his own sincerely held views, the text becomes corrupted. The one biblical system, however, will deliver a correct message if its rules are obeyed.
WHERE WE BEGIN
One of the major problems in this discipline is where to begin. You have to begin and end with the Bible text. If you begin with a denominational creed, or a theological confession, you will end up with error because you began with error. If you begin with a covenant or reformed hermeneutic, it is impossible to end up with a theology that is biblical. This may shock you, but there is no such thing as a dispensational hermeneutic, so you cannot begin there if you want to know what the text says for itself. It is true that the use of the one biblical system will lead to a dispensational theology, but that theology rises from the text and not from a preconceived hermeneutic. For some, eschatology is not important; and they would say it doesn’t matter. If you begin with the text, use the biblical system, and obey the rules, it does matter. Foundational truth is not like a cafeteria or a dart board. The biblical hermeneutic is clear and plain, until such time as it is corrupted by a humanly devised system. It does matter that there is a Millennium, and it does matter where and when Christ is coming for His church. These are clearly stated with the normal hermeneutic.
THE WORD “LITERAL”
This is demonstrated in the accidental, or deliberate, misuse of the word “literal.” It is dishonest to say that those who hold a literal interpretation see everything as literal, meaning that even pictures are the real thing. There are some fine works on this subject, and the serious reader should consider reading them. The normal, plain, clear, consistent, literal use of language is just that. It is the text that tells us the answer, not some twisted grammatical pretzel. We take everything in the text as the normal, literal use of language unless the text clearly tells us it is some other form. Literal interpretation simply means that we accept what the Bible states, including language forms.
An illustration of this is Revelation, chapter 20. Five times at the beginning of this chapter you see the term “one thousand years.” What is the normal, plain, clear, consistent, literal use of this term in language? Even a first grader could answer that one! So why would anyone choose to corrupt the answer, as some scholars have done? The answer is that they use the wrong hermeneutical system - one that is humanly devised - and they begin with the wrong system. These intellectuals say that when it comes to eschatology, you have to use an allegorical system. Who gave them the authority to make such a conclusion? Are they smarter than a first grader? This reminds me of the Lucifer syndrome: “I will know as much as the most high God.”
Someone will very likely write and tell me that I am not being very charitable in this discussion. There are lots of things we do not know and about which God has not given us an answer. Those are the areas of charity. When the normal, plain, clear, consistent use of language that God has chosen to use is being trampled underfoot, I am not obligated to be silent.
We don’t seem to have any trouble shining a light on other people’s foibles, but we are not keen on our own being looked at. That is why we don’t use the same rule and rhetoric on our own crowd; but let me do that now. We complain about the misuse of interpretation and systems on the part of those who “sovereignly” decided that eschatology is allegory, while at the same time we do the very same thing in our own circles when the subject is church polity. We use literal interpretation until it comes to the doctrine of the church, and then we turn left. Of course, we are more “respectable” than they are. We “complicate to confuse” in order to get our own way when we really know that our practice in polity is nothing more than an adoption of cultural politics.
I am thankful for our forefathers in the faith. They have been a wonderful blessing to us, but they are not God and they are not perfect. Historical theology has great value, but those tenets are not the same as the Bible itself; and we should not be afraid to challenge things that jettison the plain teaching of scripture. A strongly held view that is wrong is still wrong, no matter how many years it may have been taught.
SHEPHERD’S STAFF – March, 2014
A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address, Shepherdstaff2@juno.com or http://shepherdstaff.wordpress.com.
Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min
March 6, 2014
Should We Overlook the Almost Rabid Contempt Many Conservative Evangelicals Express Toward Dispensationalism?
In various discussions with advocates of Calvinism, Lordship Salvation you will encounter men who reject a Dispensational approach to the Scriptures.
“And should we overlook the almost rabid contempt many conservative evangelicals express toward dispensationalism (which, as Kraus and Sandeen have noted, was born ‘from within the womb of orthodox Calvinism’)?”
The preceding excerpt, from an extended comment, was written by Dr. Gerald Priest and was posted by him at the pseudo-fundamentalist Sharper Iron site (3/8/2010). The excerpt appeared in regard to Dr. Kevin Bauder who was then and continues today to be, as Dr. Priest stated,
“quite lavish in his [Bauder’s] praise of conservative evangelicals while castigating so-called fundamentalists. Yet he has spent very little time warning us about the pitfalls and problems of conservative evangelicalism. What I fear is that we may be allowing a Trojan horse into the fundamentalist camp.” (For related reading see, Let’s Get “CRYSTAL” Clear on This: A Response to Kevin Bauder’s “Cannonball” Cogitations: “Foremost Defenders of the Gospel Today?”)
Introduction to Dispensationalism
There is nothing new I can add to a study of Dispensationalism. For centuries theologians on both sides of the debate have articulated principles of Dispensationalism far better than I could ever hope to. For this article I have drawn from several contemporary theologians, primarily fundamentalist men. The bulk of the following, however, I attribute to the late Dr. David L. Cummins. I have a set of recorded lectures he gave me on the subject of Dispensationalism. Much of what follows is a transcription from Dr. Cummings introduction to his lecture series on Dispensationalism.
|Dr. David L. Cummins (8/1929-8/2009)|
Several major theological systems have competed against each other since the Reformation. The theological system that has been competing with Dispensationalism is commonly known as Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology (CT) is Calvinistic theology. CT has been refined as it passed through the Puritans and modern-day followers in the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Reformed churches. CT places a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God and predestination.
Covenant theology is based on the theory that God has only one covenant with men (the covenant of grace) and only one people, represented by the Old and New Testament saints—one people, one church and one plan for all. These beliefs require the adherents of Covenant Theology to interpret prophecy in a nonliteral way.
Those who hold to Covenant Theology believe that there is, and has always been, only one people of God. They believe that Israel was the Church in the Old Testament, and the Church is Israel in the New Testament. Dispensationalism, on the other hand, is a system of theology with two primary distinctives: (1) a consistently literal interpretation of Scripture, especially Bible prophecy, and (2) a distinction between Israel and the Church in God's program.
Dispensationalism has been present in many forms for centuries.
Premillennialism can be found in the writings of early church fathers like Justin Martyr. “Premillennialism in Christian eschatology is the belief that Christ will literally reign on the earth for 1,000 years at his second coming.” It was not as developed as it is today, but it was present.
Amillennialism is a view in Christian eschatology named for its denial of a future, thousand-year, physical reign of Jesus Christ on the earth
Postmillennialism is an interpretation of chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation, which sees Christ's Second Coming as occurring after (Latin post-) the “Millennium” a Golden Age or era of Christian prosperity and dominance.
What follows will explore Dispensationalism, and demonstrate the biblical basis for a dispensational approach to Scripture. As we begin it is best to understand what Dispensationalism really is. Even without the use of that word we use a dispensational approach to primarily everything we read.
J. Edwin Hartell, “A Dispensation is a period of time during which God deals in a particular way with man in respect to sin, and man’s responsibility.”
Charles Ryrie, “A dispensation may be defined as a stewardship, administration, over-sight or management of others’ property…A distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose…the emphasis is put on the biblical meaning of the word itself.”
H. A Ironside, In The Heavenlies, p. 67, “A dispensation, an economy then, is that particular order of condition of things prevailing in one special age, which does not necessarily prevail in another.”
A dispensation then is God’s manner of dealing with His people in a given section of time.
Why Do We Need to Understand Dispensationalism?
Without a dispensational approach the Bible becomes a maze of confusion, and/or it becomes a non-divine book of errors and contradiction. From various passages we will illustrate how the Bible leads to confusion apart from a dispensational approach:
Joel 3:10 & Isaiah 2:4 “plowshares, swords” Which should we do? With a dispensational approach it is both, in a particular time
Matthew 10:5-6 & 28:19-20 “Go not to the Samaritans/Gentiles…teach ALL nations.” Which shall we do? Go only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” or to “all nations?
Psalm 51:11 & John 14:16 David had failed with Bathsheba and rebuked by Nathan. “Cast me not away…take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” “…that He may abide with you forever.”
Is man to pray that the Spirit remain in his heart and not leave him, or accept the promise of Jesus when He said the Spirit will abide forever? Both cannot be correct? Both are correct and can be reconciled through dispensational truth. Without dispensational truth, these words of Christ would be confusing.
Psalm 58:6 & Matthew 5:43-44 “Break their teeth.” “Love your enemies.”
An imprecatory Psalm asking God to act in retribution. Does Jesus contradict the Scriptures? Of course not.
Deut. 11:14-17 & Matthew 5:45 God withdrawing water from the wicked. “Sendeth rain on the just and unjust.” You cannot have it both ways! Either we cannot take the Bible literally or there is some way to reconcile these passages in the Word of God.
Without a dispensational approach the Bible becomes a confusing maze…it becomes a non-divine book of errors and contradiction.
Illustration: The school principal may sign a teacher’s first weekly paycheck for $250.00. The teacher would call and ask about this, the principal explains that this is his first week’s pay. The teacher, however, demands his full pay.
The principal explains that he has read the academy’s charter and by-laws drafted in 1970 which states that a high school teacher’s annual pay is $12,000.00 and therefore sent him the corresponding wages. The teacher replies that the principal been reading a document from under the old dispensation, that there have been revisions, and that I had better get with the new dispensation.
If we do not understand the time frame of historical events, the whole of history becomes confusing. If I were to read a book on America’s involvement in war I might be confused if I did not read with a dispensational approach.
On Monday I read about George Patton and WWII.
On Tuesday I read about George Washington, and am amazed that General Washington did not call in air strikes on the British.
On Wednesday night I read about General Pershing and WWI and question why he did not threaten to use the atomic bomb.
If I did not understand the differences in the time frame the history would be a confusing mess for me. And so it is with those who fail to understand the dispensational differences in the Bible.
This is why the failure to understand dispensational truth has lead some to despair. Some believers read the Bible from a “flat” dispensational view, that is, without any time barriers. A “Flat” view has lead some believers to a post-millennial position that says, the world is going to get better and better by the preaching of the gospel, and the church will bring back her King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
If the Bible is not accepted dispensationally…
1) Why don’t we sacrifice lambs on the altar for the forgiveness of sins?
2) Why don’t we stone a man who (defiles) picks up stick on the Sabbath? (Num 15)
3) Why did God intervene drastically in the past to destroy evil as in Sodom & Gomorrah; Yet, today we have similar scenes in San Francisco and other American cities that go without chastening?
Has God grown old or tired and decided to just let man have his way for now? Unless we understand that we are living in the Day of Man, the Dispensation of Grace, the day of God’s silence, we shall be overwhelmed by these questions.
Without a dispensational view you can pray prayers that do not belong in this dispensation: 1) Ask God to kill all the abortionists. 2) “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me” Hebrews 13:5 “I will never leave thee…”
In the study of Dispensationalism we are going to see that in each dispensation man has a specific responsibility to a primary revelation given by God in a period of time. Dispensations are characterized by man’s testing by God, by man’s failure, and then the judgment that falls from the hand of God. There is a progressive revelation as God unfolds new truth about Himself or His purpose for man, and mans ability to receive it. For example: Hebrews 1:1-2 “sundry times and divers manners…in these last days.”
With giving new revelations that God provides the relationship and responsibility between man and God is heightened as a new dispensation is begun. Dispensations are not sealed, self-contained units. Not an effort to put God into a box. Much of the revelation of the given dispensation is carried forward to the next dispensation, either in tact or with some adjustment. For example:
Under the Dispensation of the Law God said, “Thou shalt not steal,” (Exodus 20:15). Under the Dispensation of Grace can we steal? No! Through the dispensations we are dealing with God’s principles, thus the body of God’s revelation, which man is responsible for is cumulative. Therefore, I have more responsibility to God under grace than Adam had in the Dispensation of Innocence.
There is diversity, and yet there is unity in the dispensations: 1) Diversity in the sense that God provides sufficient revelation to create a new dealing of man with deity. 2) Because of the continuing principles from one dispensation to another there is a great similarity that provides unity.
Most scholars agree that there are seven definable dispensations; some say eight. They are the Dispensations of:
1) Innocence Genesis 1:1-3:24
2) Conscience Genesis 4:1-8:22-(Fall to the Flood)
3) Human Government Genesis 9-12 (Call of Abraham)
4) Promise (From the call of Abraham to Mount Sinai)
5) Law (From Mt. Sinai to the Cross)
6) Grace (From the Cross to the Rapture)
7) Kingdom (Second Coming to the Great White Throne)
In each dispensation we read of man’s:
4) God’s judgment
5) God’s provision
In every dealing of God there is a blood sacrifice: “Without shedding of blood there is no remission,” (Hebrews 9:22).
1) Innocence- an animal to clothe Adam and Eve
2) Conscience- Abel’s altar
3) Human Government- Noah’s altar
4) Promise- Abraham’s altar
5) Law- the sacrifice
6) Grace- Christ’s death
7) Kingdom- the memorial sacrifice
Faith is revealed in each of these Dispensations. Much of the complaint against dispensationalists is that there is a teaching among them that God saved men in different ways. That is a lie! No such teaching exists among dispensationalists!
SALVATION HAS ALWAYS AND ONLY BEEN BY FAITH!
Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness,” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3).
“Without faith it is impossible to please God,” (Heb. 11:6). Salvation has always been by faith!
Those who deny Dispensationalism read the same Bible I have, and it professes at least two dispensations. In the front of many Bibles it says, “HOLY BIBLE.” Then it will tell me that the books of the Bible are divided into Old & New Testaments. Old Testament: Genesis through Malachi. New Testament: Matthew through Revelation. For those who say, “There is no such thing as a dispensation,” the Bible clearly speaks of the dispensations. Paul recognized the dispensations. Four times the Apostle Paul speaks of the dispensations:
“For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me,” (1 Cor. 9:17).
“That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him,” (Eph. 1:10)
“If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward,” (Eph. 3:2).
“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God,” (Col. 1:25).
Those who say there are no dispensations hold within their hands a Bible that professes itself to be dispensational.
From the first dispensation we can prove that the Bible is dispensational.
In the dispensation of Innocence, when God created and placed Adam & Eve in the garden; how were they dressed? Clothed in the light of God, but naked as far human garments are concerned. Is that right or acceptable today? Of course not. Why is it not right? Would you protest? What if the say, “It is biblical, Adam and Eve did it.” They would be wrong because of dispensations. Even non-dispensationalists would have to agree that it makes sense to be clothed.
What would the diet of Adam and Eve have been? VEGETARIAN!
How many will go home to day to a Vegetarian meal? Why do many of us NOT eat as they ate? Is it unlawful to eat as they did? No! Then you and I must believe in dispensations.
Even though who deny dispensational truth, must in practice say that God has dealt with man in different ways in different period of times. This is what we will investigate, so that when we read the Bible we will realize the setting in which God gives instruction. Is it all true? Yes, but we understand the Scripture according to setting dispensationally.
It is dangerous to use the Bible as a sanctified Ouija Board. Some Christians say that they will use the Bible to find God’s will for me. They close eyes, flip the pages and stick their finger in on a verse and begin to read, and say, “This is what God wants me to do.” See- Matthew 27:5; Judges 7:17
Dispensational truth will bring the Bible into focus as how we are to interpret and apply the Scriptures.
February 13, 2014
Truth, for the true believer, is simply what God has to say about anything. It is interesting to note that in the Gospel of John this subject is dealt with often, and it is Pilate who asks the question in John 18:38. While it is correct that Jesus Himself is truth (John 14:6), John makes it clear that the Word of God is the truth (John 17:17) and that the Holy Spirit will lead the believer into all truth (John 16:13). Not only does this ministry of the Spirit as our guide and teacher lead us into truth, but that truth is used in our sanctification (John 17:17). The text also clearly states that the Holy Spirit will carry on that ministry of truth because He indwells the believer as He began to do at Pentecost (John 15:26; 16:7, 13).
In the church age, every believer has the advantage of access to the clear statements of the Bible text and the guidance of the indwelling Spirit. The Scripture, on which we depend for truth, was inspired in the original writings and is without error. Truth is stable and consistent within the text because its words and the whole were supervised by the pure oversight of the Holy Spirit.
SO, WHAT HAPPENED TO TRUTH?
Concepts are clarified as we stand back and look at the whole. For instance, there are only two religions in the world. One is Biblical Christianity, and the other is what I have come to call “Humianity.” All religions other than Biblical Christianity find part or all of their sources in flawed human thought. The names of those religions are irrelevant. Their beliefs are legion, but they all have the same source even if their degrees of error are wide as an ocean. Final truth is found in God’s Word. Even if those religions use some Bible and have some truth, that truth is negated by the infusion of human reason.
The same concept is true in the science of hermeneutics. There is only one biblical hermeneutic that God has given to the believer. Man has invented multitudes of hermeneutical systems, but once again they all fall into the same category. They are humanly devised so that there are only two hermeneutical systems: the one biblical system and the one whose source is man. There is a wide variety of systems outside the biblical one, but they are all one because they all use the same human source.
Truth is found in the clear statement of the text before man adds his convenient adjustments to the scripture. Theological error does not come from the Bible text; it comes from man’s attempt to force the Bible to agree with human thought. Truth is safe within the bonds of the biblical hermeneutic because this system is simply the normal, plain, consistent, literal use of language.
SO, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
There are many who confess that they practice this normal use of language. They even use it some of the time…but the minute man begins to play God and gets carried away with his own ideas, truth is lost. Failure to use the biblical system and the clear rules all the time creates the same human error.
I’m constantly reading from a number of sources and am amazed at how frequently writers ruin a perfectly good study of the text by finding ways to add their own thoughts to its content.
In the biblical hermeneutic, the very first step is exegesis. We are obligated to use the appropriate grammar, definition, syntax, etc. Now, this may sound simple - but it isn’t. It is far too easy to manipulate the text by forcing a meaning into it and then making that appear to be the only possible answer. This is a favorite trick used by grammarians. Remember, the Bible was not written for scholars. While we are grateful for the ministry of these godly men, God in His grace has given the rest of us believers a way to know when our theological leg has been pulled.
When the interpreter has finished with the issues of the language, all he has is a question; but he does not have an answer until he has completed the hermeneutical process. The next step for authentication is context. We all know that a text without a context is a pretext. Unfortunately, there are few who practice the rule, and this is the big bear trap. No interpretation that rests on one text can be trusted. If the teaching is central to the faith, it will be supported by both the micro and macro texts. Even here, though, it is possible to go astray; and this is another trick used by those who ignore the biblical hermeneutic. Contextual authority must be clearly identified by the text itself. That simply means that passages being considered must actually – and without question - apply to the subject under consideration.
The next step in the one biblical hermeneutic has to do with the historical setting of the content of the passage. This step enhances our understanding of the grammatical conclusion, but it does not create the doctrine. This is one of the reasons we don’t develop doctrine from the parables. On the other hand, this step is a bright light in exposing the insertion of theological systems into a text. The Holy Spirit was not acting in a foolish manner when He gave us historical settings that allow us to ask, “Does this illustration by God confirm the interpreter’s conclusion?”
This marvelous process of the one biblical hermeneutic is an affront to theological systems and constructs that make it possible for humans to press their ideas and conclusions on the text. Is it possible for anyone to ask, “What does the text say” and get the answer God put there? Yes, it is…if only we are sufficiently humble to admit we have been playing games with a holy book at the expense of truth. (To be continued)
Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min
A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address, Shepherdstaff2@juno.com