Rightly Dividing the Word of God
Classical Dispensationalism(1)

1. Dispensationalism is a theological system which arose in the beginning of the 19th century.

        John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was one of the leaders of the Brethren Movement in Great Britain who developed this new way of looking at the Bible.

        Brethren Movement spread to the U.S. and gained momentum with the Niagara Bible Conferences in the 1870s.

        Dispensationalism popularized in 1909 when C.I. Scofield published his Scofield Reference Bible

        Dallas Theological Seminary is perhaps the greatest producer of Dispensational theology in all its flavors.

2. Dispensationalism is a theological system which makes a fundamental distinction between Israel & the Church.

        Charles Ryrie, "The essence of Dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church" (Dispensationalism Today, p.47)

        J. Dwight Pentecost, "The church is manifestly an interruption in God's program for Israel (Things to Come, p.201)

        Charles Ryrie, "The church stands distinct from Israel and did not begin until the day of Pentecost, and thus did not exist in the Old Testament period..." (Basic Theology, p.399)

        John F. Walvoord, "Dispensational ecclesiology [Ed. note: doctrine of the church] defines the church as a distinct body of saints in the present age having its own divine purpose and destiny and differing from the saints of the past or future ages" (The Millenial Kingdom, p.224)

        There is a movement within Dispensational camps (called "Progressive Dispen-sationalism") which has begun to blur the lines of demarcation between the Church and Israel. There are even a few Dispensationalists who believe that there is one people of God.

        Keith Matheson, "The essential doctrine of Dispensationalism [i.e., the distinction between the Church and Israel] cannot be found prior to the nineteenth century."

3. Dispensationalism's effect: shuts off 2/3 of the Bible from Christians

       John MacArthur, "Paul said that he was a minister of the New Covenant. Since he was responsible to preach the New Covenant, I think it is compelling for us to herald the New Covenant too. What we find then is that we must primarily preach Christ and herald the New Covenant, which is the New Testament literature, the mystery now unfolded that was hidden in the past...Occasionally for variety I will sprinkle in an Old Testament series such as a study of Daniel or a character study." (Rediscovering Expository Preaching, p.341-342)

According to many radical Dispensationalists, one cannot use Scripture from the OT, or even from the Gospels (since they were before Pentecost), to formulate or substantiate doctrine for Christians. "Well, that's from the Old Testament"

4. Is there one people of God throughout the ages? (Or, does God have two brides?)

The NT refers to God's people in the OT as the "church".

        Matthew 18:17, "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church [ekklesia], and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

        Acts 7:38, "He was in the assembly [ekklesia] in the desert, with the angel who spoke to Him on Mt. Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us."

The NT uses epithets given to Israel to describe the Church.

        Exodus 19:5-6, "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then our of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.

        1 Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into wonderful light."

        Revelation 1:6, "[To Him who] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father--to Him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen." (c.f. 5:9-10)

The New Testament connects Christians with Israelites in the closest possible terms

        Galatians 3:7, 29, "Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham...If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs ac-cording to the promise."

        Romans 11:11-24, Believing Gentiles are grafted into the Olive Tree that unbe-lieving Jews were broken off of, but there is only one tree.

        Ephesians 2:11-22, The believer's citizenry belongs in "Israel".

        There is one household of faith: Ephesians 2:19-22, Hebrews 3:1-6

5. Implications for Interpreting the Bible

If God is doing the same work of redeeming a people for Himself throughout the entire Scripture, then what are the implications for interpreting the Bible correctly?

From Let the Reader Understand, p.58

Scripture "is redemptive in purpose, focused on Christ, and written for the church."

Ultimately, any interpretation of a biblical passage is incomplete until it asks:

        How does this passage function in God's plan of redemption for His people, and where does it fit in the unfolding history of that plan?

        How does the passage point to Jesus Christ; that is, how does this (OT) passage partici-pate in the entire OT's movement toward, and focus on, Jesus Christ; or how does this (NT) passage build on the completed fulfillment of God's plan in Jesus Christ?

        How does this passage, having been focused on Christ, instruct those who are in Christ, the church? How does it help us to follow Him, know Him, or grow in Him?


(1) Quoted from an article Rightly Dividing the Word of God 2002-2003, Texas A&M Reformed University Fellowship

For more info see articles How Many Dispensations? and What Is Dispensationalism?