I was recently invited to a Facebook group called Defenders of Biblical Dispensational Premillennialism in the 21st Century. Having heard about dispensationalism and premillennialism here and there, I saw this as an opportunity to learn about the view in the best possible way: going straight to those who hold it. I asked them this:
I don’t hold to Dispensational Premillennialism because I really have no understanding of it. As far as I know, I was never taught it and none of my pastors or teachers believe it. Can someone explain or link an article about the basic beliefs? How does this differ from any other eschatological view? (I haven’t seriously studied the end times.) After that, why is this important? You might be correct in your viewpoint, but why does it matter and why should I care?
To which they responded with over two dozen responses and links to various articles. I read every one of the responses and articles they posted. I also performed my own research. All the relevant articles I read are listed in the Sources section below. When I started, I intended this to be a simple response on a Facebook group, but this quickly became a summary of the dispensational premillennialism (DP) viewpoints and a discussion of what I thought about it. I thought this would be a great post for my blog. Besides, I wasn’t sure how well Facebook would handle over 2,000 words in a comment…
After reading through the multitude of posts and links, I have realized I was taught a premillennial view on the end times (although, I wasn’t taught too much, admittedly). Dispensationalism, I was not taught at all. Here is my summary of what DP is from the posts from the members of Defenders of Biblical Dispensational Premillennialism in the 21st Century.
Summary of Dispensationalism
1) A consistent, literal interpretation of the Bible.
This was mentioned in virtually every article. Literal to the grammatical and historical context of whatever passage being dealt with at the time. In particular, prophecy should be taken as literal statements, unless there is significant evidence literary devices are in use.
2) The literal interpretation implies a premillennialist view.
3) A clear distinction of the different periods of the Bible.
Pre-Fall Age, Post-Fall Age, Israel Age, Church Age, Tribulation Age, Millennial Age, Eternity Age
4) A clear distinction between Israel and the Church
The NT never equates the Church and Israel and always refers to them as separate entities.
5) Many OT prophecies apply only to Israel
As the Church is not Israel, Israel is the only group that can fulfill them.
6) The Church will go away and Israel will return to fulfill OT prophecies.
The rapture is the primary method of accomplishing this.
End Times Beliefs
A brief summary of the premillenialism part of DP.
1) Church Age
We are currently in this age.
2) Rapture of the Christians
This happens at an undetermined point in the future. There will be no warning.
This is most of the bad things listed out in Revelation.
4) Christ Returns
This is where the “pre” in “premillennialism” comes from. Christ returns before the millennium. There will be many signs.
5) Christ rules on the Earth for 1000 literal years
7) Eternal Age
Is this an accurate summary? Did I leave anything significant out? Click here for a visual summary of the premillennial view. For an overview of some of the other views on the millennium, see Four Views on the Millennium by Blue Letter Bible.
Difficulties With Dispensationalism
Now that I understand the DP position much better now, I have several questions, along with some disagreements with the view. Hopefully, someone can provide answers.
Does DP change the way we live practically?
It seems to me it would not change anything about how I live, tell the gospel, or live as a Christian.
Does DP affect other parts of theology?
I mean outside of the specifically DP doctrines. If we hold to dispensational premillennialism, does that change or inform other parts of theology? (E.g. soteriology, theology proper, etc.)
How do we know the prophecies haven’t been fulfilled already? Or, that some of them are not dual soon-and-later prophecies (as several prophecies are in the Bible)?
Why is there such an emphasis on the different periods (dispensations) of the Bible?
What does this explain? Why is this required? It would seem only natural for there to be different periods of the Bible and wouldn’t need a full doctrine. It seems almost as obvious as Jesus existing—there’s no reason to have a doctrine saying, “Jesus existed”, because it is so obvious from the Bible, history, and other doctrines.
There seems to be very little support for the rapture
Within the DP viewpoint, it seems to be simply assumed. As this is the main method to move the Church out of the way of Israel’s restoration, the lack of defense here is surprising. While I was raised Southern Baptist and have been taught the rapture, I have never had someone lay out why we should believe such a thing. Notably, Dr. William Lane Craig has stated there is no scriptural support for this doctrine and that it was invented in 1827 by John Darby. (Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 2)) I should note that I am speaking of the rapture itself, not the pretribulational rapture. One must determine a rapture will take place before determining the hour. This entire topic is one I wish to study further in the future.
Distinction between Israel and the Church
I have serious difficulty seeing the distinction claimed. Many of the verses claimed as evidence for this distinction are easily refuted by looking at the context. In fact, many of passages cited are actually evidence for a unified Israel and Church, not separate. Here are some clear passages for the unified view. Some are cited by the dispensationalists as evidence for their view, but it is clear from the context their interpretation is in error.
Shows Paul considers the Gentiles and Israel to be the same tree, though Israel has been cut off because of their unbelief and will eventually be grafted back in.
Thomas Ice cited Eph 2:15 as an evidence that Israel and the Church are separate.
The fourth evidence that the church is distinct from Israel is the unique relationship between Jews and the Gentiles, called one new man in Ephesians 2:15″ (118). During the current church age God is saving a remnant from the two previous entities (Israel and Gentiles) and combining them into a third new object-the church. This unity of Jews and Gentiles into one new man covers only the church age, from Pentecost until the rapture, after which time God will restore Israel and complete her destiny (Acts 15:14-18). 1 Corinthians 10:32 reflects just such a division when it says, “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” — Thomas Ice, Israel / Church Distinction: The 4th Foundation [Emphasis original]
However, Ice completely misses a few verses later where Paul states we have been built on the foundation of Christ and now the whole building grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph. 2:20–21) Clearly, Paul is making the point we are united in Christ, not divided.
1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1
Ice also asserts 1 Cor. 10:32 is evidence of a division, but the context tells another story. Paul is discussing food practices relating to various cultures. The Greeks ate food sacrificed to idols, Jews would not. Obviously, the new Christians had some questions whether they should eat the food sacrificed to the idols. Paul tells them to not worry about it unless someone else does: “Everything is lawful, but not everything is beneficial.” You, as a follower of Christ, have this freedom of eating anything, but do not upset or destroy your friendships over this freedom. Don’t offend others with this freedom: “Do not give offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in all things. I do not seek my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.” Paul’s point is to not offend needlessly: the ones you offend with your freedom may reject Christ because of you.
Galatians 3:28–4:7 is a particularly damning passage for the view that there is a separation between Israel and the Church. Galatians shows we are considered descendants of Abraham and full heirs of God. If we are descendants of Abraham, how are we not Israel? Israel is made up entirely of descendants of Abraham via Isaac, and Christians are children of Sarah (Gal. 4:21–31). Ice tries to dismiss this point by saying Gentile believers only “participate in the spiritual (i.e., salvation) blessings that come through Israel (Rom. 15:27; 1 Cor. 9:11, 14).” However, Romans 15:27 has no bearing here: the text is talking about providing for material needs. 1 Cor. 9:11 also is talking about material needs (such as helping the poor and hungry), but 1 Cor. 10:1 says “our fathers” are Israelites. If this isn’t proof enough the Church are now considered descendants, I don’t know what is! The amount of cherry-picking in dispensational articles is disturbing. I’ve only bothered to write out a refutation of a single point of a single article, I could go on a lot more, but I think my point has been established by now. For a group to so passionately say they are for the literal interpretation of the Bible, they consistently take single verses out of context, read their own beliefs in, and get their preconceived conclusions out. It’s eisegesis, plain and simple. All one needs to do to see this is take the verses cited and read the paragraphs before and after. You can do this in any translation, too—it’s not a matter of a more modern translation or anything of that sort.
NT Never Equates the Church with Israel
Much emphasis is placed on word studies where the NT “never equates the Church with Israel”. Given that Christians were attempting to differentiate Christianity from Judaism and show there is now a new way of operating, wouldn’t the distinction be natural? E.g.: That’s the old way of doing things, this is the new way of doing things. Besides, a good portion of Israel were set on destroying Christians, so it would make perfect sense to maintain an “Us vs Them” nomenclature.
Prophecy and Rapture
Without the preconceived notion that the Church is not considered Israel, we can now easily say the OT prophecies can apply to the Church. Furthermore, if there is a distinction, the prophecies could apply only to ethnic Jews or Israel as a nation-state. Even if the prophecies do distinguish between the Church and Israel, there is no reason to suppose the Church must be raptured away to allow Israel’s restoration, if indeed there will be such a thing. Now, there is the possibility for the rapture to be necessary to call the saints away before the tribulation so they avoid God’s wrath. This view relies on the premises that A) the tribulation is God’s wrath (as opposed to other parts of the end times or hell itself) and B) that Christians are to be spared from the tribulation wrath. Do we have evidence these statements are true?
Literal Interpretation of the Bible
Considering that I have found many of the verses to be taken out of context, I question how important the dispensationalist’s most important doctrine is: namely the historical-grammatical-contextual literal interpretation of the Bible. I’m very much concerned with what the Bible actually says, regardless of whether it fits with whatever theory we may or may not have.
Distinction Between the Church and Israel
The evidence for a NT distinction between the Church and Israel is tenuous at best, and flat-out against it at worst. All the other dispensational beliefs are constructed on this one; with this distinction having no solid evidence to stand on, everything else comes crashing down.
Prophecies Applying to Israel
With the distinction between Israel and the Church gone, we no longer need to strictly hold OT prophecies apply only to Israel. The Church can fulfill these prophecies as we are now considered full heirs to Abraham.
The rationale for the rapture seems to be based on very ambiguous passages, problematic premises, and have a questionable history. I find it hard to agree with a view with such dubious support, though it is a topic I need to research further before I take a hard stance against all versions of the rapture view.
Christ’s 1,000 Year Reign
I tentatively agree with Christ returning before the literal 1000 year reign, although I need to study Revelation more before I would describe myself as a premillennial.
I disagree with dispensationalism. Of this, I am quite certain. Separation of Israel and the Church is the linchpin of the view and the evidence is simply against it. There will need to be considerable new evidence to persuade me otherwise; as I have examined the scriptures and found passages clearly denying a separation, I seriously doubt such evidence can be gathered.
I do not favor a pre-tribulational rapture, but I am not certain. I favor premillennialism, but I am not certain.
Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved. http://netbible.com
Discussion from the Facebook group “Defenders of Dispensational Premillennialism in the 21st Century”
Matthew Allen, Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology Baptist Bulletin, Why Dispensationalism Still Matters Blue Letter Bible, Four Views on the Millennium William Lane Craig, Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 2) William Lane Craig, Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 3) Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Dispensations of God Arnold Fruchtenbaum, The Wife of Jehovah and the Bride of Messiah Grace Thru Faith, Are God’s Wrath And The Great Tribulation The Same? Middletown Bible Church, Dispensationalism: A Clarifying Statement in View of the Confused Theological Climate Thomas Ice, Dispensataional Hermeneutics Thomas Ice, Futurism: The Third Foundation Thomas Ice, Israel/Church Distinction: The 4th Foundation Thomas Ice, The First Foundation: Consistent Literal Interpretation Thomas Ice, Premillennialism: The Second Foundation Thomas Ice, What Is Dispensationalism? Nathan E. Jones, Why I Believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture: 11 reasons why Jesus will come back before the Tribulation Michael J. Vlach, Various Forms of Replacement Theology Michael J. Vlach, Zechariah 14 and the Coming Worldwide Kingdom Michael J. Vlach, Zechariah 14 and the Timing of the Kingdom Michael Vlach, Three Categories of Supersessionism Michael Vlach, Theological Implications of Zechariah 14 Andy Woods, Dispensational Hermeneutics: The Grammatico-Historical Method Andy Woods, Dispensational Hermeneutics: The Matter of Genre Andy Woods, Israel-church Differences