By Stephen Sizer*
Musalaha Theological Seminar
Jerusalem, September 1997
I would like to begin by putting dispensationalism within its historical context.
The term 'Evangelicalism' denotes a broad spectrum of theological opinion arising out of the Reformation, Puritanism and Revivalism. Tertullian was one of the first to use the term around AD 200 in his defence of biblical truth against Marcion. Martin Luther used the term to describe John Hus, but it was Thomas More who introduced the word to the English language. In a 'vitriolic attack' on William Tyndale in 1532, More referred to those 'evangelicalles'. The distinctive doctrines of Evangelicalism include a belief in the supreme authority of scripture over tradition (sola Scriptura); in the literal interpretation of scripture; adherence to the historic creeds; the need for a personal faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and holiness; and a belief in the imminent, visible and personal return of Jesus Christ.
Within Western evangelicalism there are many strands defined by adherents as much as by opponents. These include those of fundamentalist, conservative, and liberal. This spectrum has sometimes been simplified into the three categories of right, centre and left. The fastest growing and most influential of these is fundamentalism, also known in the United States as the 'Evangelical Right'. Fundamentalism draws its support primarily from the Baptist, Pentecostal and Independent Bible churches. The term 'fundamentalist' derives from a series of tracts entitled 'The Fundamentals' published from 1910 onwards in an attempt by American conservative evangelicals to defend the basis of historic Christianity and repudiate what they saw as 'modernism' and theological liberalism. The term 'fundamentalism' was first used by Curtis Lee Laws, the editor of the Baptist Watchman Examiner, in 1918 to describe the movement within Baptist circles dedicated to such a position.
Within contemporary Evangelicalism and American Fundamentalism in particular, the most influential theological interpretation of history is known as premillennial dispensationalism.
Traditionally there have been three mutually exclusive interpretations of the references to a millennial reign of Christ in Revelation 20 depending on whether it is understood literally or figuratively. These are amillennial, postmillennial, and premillennial. Premillennialists hold to the belief that Christ will return prior to the millennium, and will reign on earth for a thousand years with the risen saints. Premillennialists are themselves divided on the question as to when the so called 'rapture' will occur. Four distinct positions have and continue to be held within premillennialist circles The traditional view is known as pre-tribulationism. Some dispensationalists have come to hold alternative views known as mid-tribulation, post-tribulation and pre-wrath tribulation. We don't have time to examine them today but I will just mention the main one - pre-tribulationism.
J. N. Darby influenced by Edward Irving and followed by C. I. Scofield and the early dispensationalists such as Lewis S. Chafer and Charles Ryrie held to this position. Ryrie describes pre-tribulationism as 'normative dispensational eschatology' and 'a regular feature of classic dispensational premillennialism'. Pre-tribulationist premillennialists believe that Jesus Christ will return in the air to secretly 'rapture' true believers before the Tribulation begins on earth. After seven years of tribulation, Christ will return with His saints to overcome the Antichrist and his forces and establish God's millennial kingdom on earth. One popular exponent of this position is Tim LaHaye.
Are you ready for Christ's return? Do you believe that at any instant you could find youself hurtling through the skies to meet your Lord face to face? Are you confident that God will spare you and your loved ones the horrifying judgment of the Tribulation...Are you living your life as if each moment could be your last on earth?
At the late 19th Century Niagara Prophetic Conferences attended by men like D. L. Moody and C. I. Scofield, alternative views of the chronology of the rapture, already present in the increasingly sectarian Brethren circles, emerged here also and caused considerable internal division within dispensational circles. This came to be known as the 'Rapture-Rupture'
4.1 The Origins of Dispensationalism
J.N. Darby is regarded by many as the father of premillennial dispensationalism and the most influential figure in the development of its prodigy, Christian Zionism. However, William Kelly and Edward Irving played no small part in the restoration of premillennial speculations out of which Darby's dispensationalism arose. Charles Ryrie the foremost dispensationalist scholar today attempts to show how latent dispensational ideas can be found in earlier times - for example in the writings of an amillennial Calvinist named John Edwards (not Jonathan) (1637-1716), a French mystic, Pierre Poiret (1646-1719), and the hymn writer, Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Ryrie does, however, concede that the 'system' of dispensationalism is recent in origin.
Coad, the Brethren historian claims to trace Darby's views back to the works of a Jesuit, Francesco Ribera of the sixteenth century, whose writings were later popularised in the nineteenth century by another Spanish Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza. Lacunza used the pseudonym Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, allegedly a converted Jew, for his book, 'The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty' which Edward Irving translated into English. Irving's 203 page preface to the translation superimposed his own prophetic speculations about the end of the world, predicting, like Darby, the apostasy of Christendom, then subsequently the restoration of the Jews and finally the imminent return of Christ.
4.1.1 J.N. Darby
Darby had been ordained into the Church of Ireland in 1825 with a burning desire to convert Roman Catholics through the work of the Home Mission. His own writings indicate that he apparently achieved a degree of success.
He claimed that Catholics were 'becoming Protestants at a rate of 600 to 800 a week' which amounted to something of a revival. However, when his Bishop insisted that converts also swear an oath of allegiance to the English Crown, Darby protested that this was unthinkable because it was, 'unscriptural, and derogatory to the glory of Christ'. His Bishop was unmoved, so Darby, remaining resolutely consistent with his own emerging theological stance, took the logical step of renouncing the visible church, both Anglican and Dissenting, as apostate. 'This manifestation of the glory of Christ by the Church in unity no longer exists.'
His analysis of the contemporary ecclesiastical scene was to become increasingly pessimistic, judgmental and sectarian. His repeated response was to declare 'The Church is in ruins.' He went on to insist that this was not merely the result of denominational division but that, '...the entire nature and purpose of the church has become so perverted that it is diametrically opposed to the fundamental reason for which it is instituted'. The prevailing eschatology arising from the 18th Century Great Awakening was essentially postmillennial, inspiring great optimism and the rise of world-wide missionary endeavour. This Darby, and others like Irving, opposed strongly and vigorously. In a lecture given in 1840, Darby insisted,
What we are about to consider will tend to show that, instead of permitting ourselves to hope for a continued progress of good, we must expect a progress of evil; and that the hope of the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord before the exercise of His judgment, and the consummation of this judgment on the earth, is delusive. We are to expect evil, until it becomes so flagrant that it will be necessary for the Lord to judge it...I am afraid than many a cherished feeling, dear to the children of God, has been shocked this evening; I mean, their hope that the gospel will spread by itself over the whole earth during the actual dispensation.
During the period 1826-1828 he began meeting with a few influential friends for prayer, study and fellowship in 1828 they established what in effect became an informal house church. Their meetings drew others disenchanted with the religious establishment and soon developed into a close knit and exclusive connection of fellowships known as the 'Brethren'. Darby was the undeniable founder of the Brethren movement. Doctrinally, he was the primary influence in expressing and propagating what came to be the distinctive theology of the Brethren, forging and maintaining a rigid, almost fanatical creed of doctrinal purity, in what he and others believed were the final days of history.
Darby's distinctive premillennial views were inevitably influenced by those of a similar persuasion whom he met, for example, at the Powerscourt prophetic conferences held near Dublin in the early 1830's, which came to be shaped by his dominating and charismatic leadership. These exclusive prophetic gatherings which focused on a pessimistic interpretation of world events and the imminent return of Christ, confirmed both Darby's denunciation of the established churches, and also his own prophetic calling. Coad insists, 'He felt himself an instrument of God, burdened with an urgent call to His people to come out of associations doomed to judgement.'
For Darby, 'Separation from evil was the divine principle of unity,' since doctrinal error led, he claimed, to 'gross moral contamination.' Not surprisingly perhaps, Charles Spurgeon observed in Darbyism, a growing tendency to isolationism, obscurantism and a party spirit. Darby was a charismatic figure, a dominant personality, persuasive speaker and zealous missionary for his dispensationalist beliefs. He personally founded Plymouth Brethren churches as far away as Germany, Switzerland, France and the United States.
The churches Darby planted with the seeds of a separatist premillennial dispensationalism, in turn sent missionaries to Africa, the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand, so that by the time of his death in 1885, around 1500 Plymouth Brethren churches had already been founded world-wide. His views also came to influence the Bible and Prophetic Conferences associated with Niagara and other centres in North America from 1875.
During his lifetime, Darby wrote more hymns than the Wesleys, travelled further than the Apostle Paul, and was a Greek and Hebrew scholar. His writings filled forty volumes.....If Brightman was the father of Christian Zionism, then Darby was its greatest apostle and missionary...
4.1.2 Darby's Innovative Dispensational Scheme
Darby was not the first to discover 'dispensations' within Biblical history, nor was his own scheme universally accepted even within Brethren circles. He was the first however to promote a form of dispensationalism, in which he perceived that biblical history was broken into discreet dispensations, distinguished by an irreversable and sequential change in the means by which God has apparently dealt with mankind. This enabled Darby to speculate about an imminent change of dispensation in which true believers would soon be 'raptured' to heaven and replaced by the Jews who would be the people of God on earth during the final millennium.
...the dispensations themselves all declare some leading principles or interference of God, some condition in which He has placed man, principles which in themselves are everlastingly sanctioned of God, but in the course of these dispensations placed responsibility in the hands of man for the display and discovery of what he was, and the bringing in their infallible establishment in Him to whom the glory of them all rightly belonged.....in every instance, there was a total and immediate failure as regarded man (sic), however the patience of God might tolerate and carry on by grace the dispensation in which man thus failed in the outset; and further, that there is no instance of the restoration of a dispensation afforded us, though there might be partial revivals of it through faith.
Darby recognised that his interpretation was novel, but insisted this was for two reasons. First, because others had not studied the Scriptures correctly.
The covenant is a word common in the language of a large class of Christian professors...but in its development and detail, as to its unfolded principles, much obscurity appears to me to have arisen from a want of simple attention to Scripture.
The second reason Darby insisted that his interpretation was correct was because he believed the Lord had revealed it to him personally and directly.
For my part, if I were bound to receive all that has been said by the Millenarians, I would reject the whole system, but their views and statements weigh with me not one feather. But this does not hinder me from enquiring by the teaching of the same spirit...what God has with infinite graciousness revealed to me concerning His dealing with the Church.
But I must, though without comment, direct attention to chapter 32 of the same prophet; which I do the rather, because it was in this the Lord was pleased, without man's teaching, first to open my eyes on this subject, that I might learn His will concerning it throughout.
In response to public reaction to his doctrine of the dispensations, he wrote,
...I believe it to be the one true Scriptural ground of the church...I am daily more struck with the connection of the great principles on which my mind was exercised...Christ coming to receive us to Himself; and collaterally with that, the setting up of a new earthly dispensation, from Isaiah XXXII...It was a vague fact that received form in my mind long after, that there must be a wholly new order of things...
Even Coad, in his otherwise positive history of the Brethren Movement, admits that 'For the traditional view of the Revelation, another was substituted.'
James Barr is less sympathetic arguing premillennial dispensationalism was,
'...individually invented by J. N. Darby...concocted in complete contradiction to all main Christian tradition...'
Referring to Darby's dispensational ideas, Bass concludes,
'Such a concept is singularly missing from historic Christian theology...Darby is pointedly correct in stating that this came to him as a new truth, since it is not to be found in theological literature prior to his proclamation of it. It is not that exegetes prior to his time did not see a covenant between God and Israel, or a future relation of Israel to the millennial reign, but they always viewed the church as the continuation of God's single program of redemption begun in Israel.
Darby's contribution then, to the development of Christian Zionism and a rigid differentiation between the Church and Israel arose out of ecclesiastical expediency, his novel dispensational speculations and an independent and rigid literalist hermeneutic. These led him to formulate two innovative doctrines concerning the Church and Israel. Both marked a significant departure from Christian orthodoxy and evangelicalism in particular.
The first might be termed a 'replacement theology'. Darby taught that Israel would soon replace the Church, rather than the Church having replaced, superseded, incorporated or indeed become, Israel. To accomplish this, Darby postulated his second distinctive doctrine involving two stages to the return of Christ instead of one, the first being to secretly gather the Church to heaven in a 'rapture' leaving a revived and gathered nation of Israel to rule on earth for the millennium.
4.1.3 Darby's Ecclesiology - A Replacement Theology
Darby strong and repeated condemnation of the visible Church as apostate, clearly influenced his innovative belief that the Church era was now merely a 'parenthesis' of the Last Days soon to be replaced by Israel as God's chosen people on earth. 'Satan having beguiled the Church, the church is in the position of earthliness and united in system with the world.'
Darby regarded the church as merely one more dispensation that had failed like the previous five. Each in turn had lost its place in the divine economy and was under God's judgement. Just as Israel had been cut off, so he believed the Church would be. Just as only a small remnant of Israel had been saved, so would only a small remnant of the Church be saved. The remnant taken from the ruins of the Church would conveniently be, he claimed, his own followers, also known as 'the Assembly'. His answer to the condition of the visible Church was not to insist on the need for a new reformation, national repentance or even a revival, since to attempt to restore or repair the ruins would actually be sinful.
We insist on the fact that the house has been ruined, its ordinances perverted, its orders and all its arrangements forsaken or destroyed; that human ordinances, a human order, have been substituted for them; and what merits all the attention of faith, we insist that the Lord...is coming soon in His power and glory to judge all this state of things.
To those who saw things differently, Darby repeatedly asserted, 'The house is in ruin, and you are bad imitators acting from your own leading and wrongly.'' Because Darby insisted on there being irreversible and progressive dispensations, in which the Church was merely one such dispensation, he deduced, a priori, that there could be no future earthly hope for the Church. He argued that the Scriptures do not,
...present the restoration of a dispensation; it never justifies its actual condition; though grace may...effect revivals during the long suffering of God, the dispensation, as such, is actually gone, that the glory of the principle contained in it may shine forth in the hands of the Messiah. The attempt to set this dispensation on another footing, as to its continuance than those dispensations which have failed already shows ignorance of the principles of God's dealing for the calling of God was always by Grace..
Instead he speculated that the Church would soon be replaced in God's purposes on earth by a revived national Israel.
The Church has sought to settle itself here, but it has no place on the earth...[Though] making a most constructive parenthesis, it forms no part of the regular order of God's earthly plans, but is merely an interruption of them to give a fuller character and meaning to them (the Jews).
Darby, through his rigid literalist interpretation of Scripture, regarded the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham as binding for ever, and that the promises pertaining to the nation of Israel, as yet unfulfilled, would find their consummation in the reign of Jesus Christ on earth during the millennium. He thereby encouraged an essential dichotomy between those promises that applied to Israel and those to the Church. In an article in the Christian Witness published in 1838, and attributed to Darby, he went further arguing that,
There are two great subjects which occupy the sphere of millennial prophecy and testimony - The Church and its glory in Christ, and the Jews and their glory as a redeemed nation in Christ - the heavenly people and the earthly people. The habitation and scene of the one being the heavens; of the other, the earth.
In a lecture entitled, 'The Hopes of the Church of God', Darby claimed that Israel was the theatre through which God had displayed His character.
It is in this people, by the ways of God revealed to them, that the character of Jehovah is fully revealed, that the nations will know Jehovah, and that we shall ourselves learn to know him'
Following his literalist interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, every promise and prediction concerning Israel that did not appear to have been fulfilled completely must, according to his logic, apply to the future.
The great object of prophecy...is, the combat which takes place between the Second Adam and Satan. It is from this centre of truth that all light which is found in Scripture radiates. This great combat may take place either for the earthly things...and then it is in the Jews; or for the Church...and then it is in the heavenly places. It is on this account that the subject of prophecy divides itself into two parts, the hope of the Church, and those of the Jews...
In his developing scheme, Darby therefore laid the foundation for a dispensationalism in which the Church was seen as a mere parenthesis to God's continuing covenantal relationship with Israel, which would be His primary instrument of rule on earth during the millennium. This fundamental error appears a result of Darby's narrow sectarian ecclesiology, indeed one that he superimposed on Scripture by virtue of his dispensational framework.
It is not that exegetes prior to his time did not see a covenant between God and Israel, or a future relation of Israel to the millennial reign, but they always viewed the church as a continuation of God's single program of redemption begun in Israel. It is dispensationalism's rigid insistence on a distinct cleavage between Israel and the church, and its belief in a later unconditional fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant, that sets it off from the historic faith of the church.
H. C. Leupold, professor of Old Testament exegesis at the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, in his commentary on Genesis 12:3 and the promise made to Abraham, makes the following critique of Darby's dispensationalism,
Now surely, as commentators of all times have clearly pointed out, especially already Luther and Calvin, this promise to Israel is conditional, requiring faith...History is the best commentary on how the promise is meant. When the Jews definitely cast off Christ, they were definitely as a nation expelled from the land. All who fall back upon this promise as guaranteeing a restoration of Palestine to the Jews...have laid into it a meaning which the words simply do not carry.
4.1.4 Darby's Eschatology - An Imminent Secret Pre-Tribulation Rapture
It was into this dispensational scheme that Darby and his contemporary Edward Irving postulated two stages to Christ's imminent return. First, there would be an invisible 'appearing' when Christians would meet Christ in the air and be removed from the earth, a process which came to be known as 'the rapture of the saints'. With the restraining presence of the Holy Spirit removed from the world, the Anti-Christ would arise. His rule would finally be crushed by the public 'appearing' of Jesus Christ. Darby argued that, regarding the rapture,
The Church's joining Christ has nothing to do with Christ's appearing or coming to earth. Her place is elsewhere. She sits in Him already in heavenly places. She has to be brought there as to bodily presence..
...We go up to meet Christ in the air. Nothing is clearer, then, than that we are to go up to meet Him, and not await His coming to earth; but that this coming to receive us to Himself is not His appearing is still clearer...
..This is the rapture of the saints, preceding their and Christ's appearing ...so that at their rapture He has not appeared yet...This rapture before the appearing of Christ is a matter of express revelation, as we have seen from Colossians 3:4.
In commenting on 1 Thessalonians 4:15, in his Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, Darby asserts,
Observe, also, that this revelation gives another direction to the hope of the Thessalonians, because it distinguishes with much precision between our departure hence to join the Lord in the air, and our return to the earth with Him.
Critiques argue that these passages actually say nothing about any secret rapture in any dispensational sense, still less that the Church will be removed and return later to earth with Christ at His public appearing. Bass insists, 'Only by involved exegetical interpretation can the pre-tribulation rapture be supported.'
Darby's interpretation actually denies what the passage teaches (the blessed hope of the Church does have to do with the coming of Christ) and affirms what it does not teach (the blessed hope is the secret going and later public returning of the church). Darby admitted as much that his doctrine of the rapture was an innovation, the result of 'express revelation', indeed he seemed quite pleased with the reaction to it.
The rapture of the saints to meet the Lord in the air, before His manifestation to the earth, and the existence of a Jewish remnant in whom the Spirit of God is graciously working before the Lord manifests Himself to them for their deliverance, is happily attracting the attention of Christians. It has made sufficient way to be the occasion of renewed opposition...
Following his literalist hermeneutic, Darby insisted that the tribulation would end seven years after the rapture when Jesus Christ would return to Jerusalem to set up his kingdom from which he would rule the world for a thousand years. Indeed Darby made the 'pre-tribulation rapture' yet one more of his exclusive tests of Brethren orthodoxy.
It is this conviction, that the Church is properly heavenly, in its calling and relationship with Christ, forming no part of the course of events of the earth, which makes the rapture so simple and clear, and on the other hand, it shows how the denial of its rapture brings down the Church to an earthly position, and destroys its whole spiritual character and position.
His attitude toward those who disagreed with his doctrine of the secret rapture was scathing,
...Wherever this is enfeebled, Satan is at work....He who awaits Christ's appearing, as the time in which he is to go to be with Him, has denied the proper hope and proper relationship of the Church with Christ. On this point there can be no compromise. Ignorance of privilege is one thing...the denial of it another
He regarded disinterest in his teaching of the rapture as a sign that the church was apostate and his own 'Assembly' elect.
The rapture of the saints before the appearing of Christ, strange as it may appear to some, has nothing to say to the church, directly or exclusively; but as we form part of those caught up, it of course, interests us in the highest degree.
Darby and his supporters clearly believed the 'secret rapture' would occur in their own life time and certainly before the end of the 19th Century. Looking back, Blair Neatby, writing his history of the Brethren in 1901 reflects,
If anyone had told the first Brethren that three quarters of a century might elapse and the Church be on earth, the answer would probably have been a smile, partly of pity, partly of diapproval, wholly of incredulity. Yet so it has proved. It is impossible not to respect hopes so congenial to an ardent devotion; yet it is clear now that Brethrenism took shape under the influence of a delusion, and that delusion was a decisive element in all of its distinctive features.
Among Darby's supporters however, 'his delineations of millennial glory dazzled the minds of his hearers.' Despite its novelty, Darby's belief of the 'pre-tribulation rapture' became central to his doctrine of the Church as well as his dispensational eschatology, and subsequently came to be 'a foundation for contemporary Christian Zionism'
4.2 Darby's Dispensationalism Criticised and Refined
Darby's novel ideas were not left unchallenged even within Brethren circles. B. W. Newton, his chief assistant in Plymouth, confronted Darby arguing that these views were heretical and a departure from Biblical orthodoxy. Darby's intransigence led to one of many splits within the Brethren movement, and with former colleagues like Irving from the prophetic conference days in Albury. Strong differences also repeatedly emerged within the Brethren movement, particularly between Darby and Newton, as to the implications of his new doctrines concerning the rapture and the relationship of the Church to Israel. If the Church had already been removed before the Antichrist could persecute them, who then would be the remnant persecuted under his rule? For Darby, a Jewish remnant would reign on earth after the rapture and remain faithful to the Law under persecution, seeing the literal fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies still to be realised. The church however, Darby insisted, would play no part in this earthly reign. 'This remnant has neither the church's heavenly blessings nor the church's hopes.'
Newton and other Brethren leaders saw Darby's elevation of Israel above the Church as 'full-blown heresy' since the Church in Scripture is made up of both Jews and Gentiles who are now one in Christ, and Darby's scheme, followed logically, implied two distinct and separate ways to salvation. Samuel Tregelles, an early Plymouth Brethren and Biblical scholar was another who rejected Darby's interpretation as the 'height of speculative nonsense.'
If the Church were removed and a Jewish remnant were the fruit of God's redemptive work apart from Christ then it must be the result of 'another' Gospel condemned by the Apostle Paul in Galatians.
Newton and others within the Brethren sought to devise alternative, less problematic interpretations of the future to Darby's system which, even to those favourably disposed to the Brethren, like Coad, admitted was built on a 'completely new structure of Biblical interpretation.' These included what came to be known as 'the partial rapture.' In 1836, for example, Newton contradicted Darby's scheme arguing, 'Accordingly, the resurrection glory of the saints is as distinctly connected with Israel and Jerusalem, as with the earth.'
Newton also argued that the New Testament writers spiritualised the promises in the Old Testament to the inheritance of a literal land.
It is thus that the descriptions which in the Old Testament are confined to the earthly city, are used by the Apostles to express the glories of Jerusalem which is above; for these are the expansion and heavenly antitype of the typical (though real) glories of Jerusalem below. They both belong to the same system - they are different courts of the same glorious temple visibly united yet distinct.
Newton postulated a millennial reign whereby the dispensations were not consecutive and in which Israel would be restored under the same covenant of faith as the Church, not one in which, as Darby claimed, national Israel would be restored and the Church excluded. Newton did not see the means of blessing as parallel and distinct but converging, both on the basis of grace through faith, and a foretaste of heaven. In 1838 Newton sought a reconciliation between Darby's dispensationalism and more orthodox Covenant theology. In a paper called 'The Dispensations' he argued that in Abraham,
This covenant therefore must be everlasting, and all that ever will be effectually blessed either in earth or in heaven, hand upon it as a covenant of promise. Upon this covenant the natural seed of Abraham, Israel according to the flesh is secretly sustained now...
...But not only the earthly Jerusalem and the land, the Heavenly Jerusalem likewise does equally rest upon the covenant of promise to Abraham; for the promise was not made simply to Abraham, but equally to his seed, i.e. Christ (Galatians iii). 'And therefore if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed and heirs according to promise.'
Like Darby, Newton believed that the Church would be raptured, and that the Jews would be restored, but instead, he brought together Darby's views of the 'heavenly' Church and 'earthly' Israel arguing this would all occur after the tribulation and return of Christ, not before and that the remnant of Jews in Jerusalem would be brought to faith in Messiah and so too be blessed.
The dispensation, therefore, which commenced with Abraham, is necessarily an eternal one, for (though many earthly and temporary blessings yet to be accomplished were included in it), it had respect to a heavenly and eternal city-Jerusalem which is above...the manifestation of Sarah blessing is altogether future and will not be shown forth in its power until the whole family both in earth and heaven, Jerusalem above and Jerusalem below, are alike manifestly brought under its bond of blessing.
Restored Israel in Jerusalem, will in many respects resemble the Church now. Not indeed, in suffering, for that is a privilege possessed by the Church of the first-born distinctly. But as it is now said of the Church, that they are a chosen generation, a royal Priesthood; so it is written of Israel in that day, that they shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
It seems inexplicable that Darby should have ignored these attempts by other Brethren leaders like Newton to accommodate themselves to his own idiosyncratic doctrinal position, nor recognise that their views fitted the Scriptures more convincingly than his own speculations.
Only the supposition of a mental block can explain Darby's total failure to acknowledge that what was proposed was a strengthening, not a weakening, of his own system. Not only did it bring his teaching back into accord with the basic Reformed orthodoxies, without denying anything essential in it, but it also cured the dangerous Docetic tendencies that were latent in Darby's own vivid distinction between the exclusively earthly hopes of Israel and the exclusively heavenly hopes of the Church. It is significant that a tendency to Doceticism has always been a serious flaw in Darbyite thinking.
Friction between Darby and Newton came to a head in 1843 when Newton published his Thoughts on the Apocalypse, and Darby felt impelled to attack it. Coad summarises the split between Darby and Newton.
Newton, to Darby, was depriving the Church of its glories in Christ. The simple thought that Newton's system did nothing of the kind, but that it rather added the glories of the redeemed Israel to the glories of the redeemed Church, seems never to have entered Darby's mind.
Darby's response to opposition was to charge his critics with sectarianism and to excommunicate them. Darby led the 'Exclusive' Brethren and Newton the 'Open' Brethren. George Muller and others tried to remain neutral, refusing, as Darby insisted, on excommunicating those who remained in fellowship with Newton. Those who suffered his wrath in this way included Groves, Muller, Harris and Newton, and by 1865 without them, his hold over the Exclusive Brethren gradually waned. Darby's Exclusive Brethren underwent further schism splitting into three parties by 1881, known after the names of their leaders as the Darbyites, Kellyites and Cluffites.
4.3 Darby's Influence on the Rise of Modern Dispensationalism
Professor Francis W. Newman was a contemporary of Darby and offers this assessment of his impact on those who came under his influence.
For the first time I perceived that so vehement a champion of the sufficiency of the Scriptures, so staunch an opposer of creed and churches, was wedded to an extra-scriptural creed of his own, by which he tested the spiritual state of his brethren.
...this gentleman has every where (sic) displayed a wonderful power of bending other minds to his own, and even stamping upon them the tones of his voice and all sorts of slavish imitation. Over the general results of his action I have long deeply mourned, as blunting his natural tenderness and sacrificing his wisdom to the Letter, dwarfing men's understandings, contracting their hearts, crushing their moral sensibilities, and setting those at variance who ought to love, yet oh! how specious it was in the beginning! he only wanted men 'to submit their understanding to God,' that is to the Bible, that is to his interpretation.
From 1862 onwards, as his influence over Brethrenism in Britain waned, Darby focused his ministry more and more on North America, making seven journeys in the next twenty years. During that time he had a considerable influence on such evangelical leaders as Dwight L. Moody, William Blackstone and C.I. Scofield, as well as the emerging Bible and Prophecy Conference movement which,'...set the tone for the evangelical and fundamentalist movements in North America between 1875 and 1920.'
Krauss, the church historian claims that by 1901, following a good deal of controversy at these prophetic conferences toward the end of the 19th Century,
...the dispensationalists had won the day so completely that for the next fifty years friend and foe alike largely identified dispensationalism with premillennialism.
Darby's influence over D.L. Moody came about through one of Darby's disciples, a young evangelist Henry Moorehouse who impressed Moody with his 'extraordinary' preaching. According to his son, Moody's message and style were revolutionised, 'Mr Moorehouse taught Moody to draw his sword full length, to fling the scabbard away, and to enter the battle with the naked blade.' Newman, a contemporary American historian confirmed the strong influence Darby and his colleagues had over Moody,
The large class of evangelists, of whom Dwight L. Moody was the most eminent, have drawn their inspiration and their Scripture interpretation largely from the writings and the personal influence of the Brethren.
Bass, in his definitive critique of Dispensationalism concludes,
The line of continuity from Darby to the present can be traced unbroken from the works of his contemporaries, C.H. Mackintosh, William Trotter, William Kelly, and F.W. Grant, through the intermediary works of W.E. Blackstone, James Hall Brooks, A. J. Frost, G. Campbell Morgan, Harry Ironside, A.C. Gaebelein, C.I. Scofield, and his Scofield Bible, to the contemporary adherents of his views...Suffice it to say that he stamped his movement with his own personality. Much of its spiritual atmosphere undoubtedly belongs to his influence; and certainly its interpretative principles, its divisive compartmentalization of the redemptive plan of God, its literalness as to prophetic interpretation, and its separatist spirit may be traced to this personality. Perhaps it is too broad a summary to say that Darby's personality influenced directly the spirit of contemporary dispensationalism, but certainly the pattern which he set into motion is reflected in it.
Similarly, George Marsden, in his history of the rise of fundamentalism between 1870 and 1930, traces the considerable influence of Darby's dispensationalism on the American evangelical world of Moody and Scofield.
This new form of premillennial teaching, imported from England, first spread in America through prophecy conferences where the Bible was studied intently. Summer conferences, a newly popular form of vacation in the age of the trains, were particularly effective. Most importantly, Dwight L. Moody had sympathies with the broad outlines of dispensationalism and had as his closest lieutenants dispensationalist leaders such as Reuben A. Torrey (1856-1928), James M. Gray (1851-1925), C. I. Scofield (1843-1921), William J. Erdman (1833-1923), A.C. Dixon (1854-1925), and A. J. Gordon (1836-1895). These men were activist evangelists who promoted a host of Bible conferences and other missionary and evangelistic efforts. They also gave the dispensationalist movement institutional permanence by assuming leadership of the new Bible institutes such as the Moody Bible Institute (1886), the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (1907), and the Philadelphia College of the Bible (1914). The network of related institutes that soon sprang up became the nucleus for much of the important fundamentalist movement of the twentieth century. Dispensationalist leaders, in fact, actively organized this antimodernist effort. Notably, they oversaw the publication between 1910-1915 of the widely distributed twelve-volume paperback series, The Fundamentals.
Darby's dispensational views would however probably have remained the exotic preserve of the dwindling and divided Brethren sects were it not for the energetic efforts of C.I. Scofield and his associates to introduce them to a wider audience in America and the English speaking British Empire and bestow a measure of respectability through his Scofield Reference Bible. The publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 by the Oxford University Press was something of a innovative literary coup for the movement, since for the first time, overtly dispensationalist notes were added to the pages of the biblical text. What distinguishes Darby's scheme and subsequent dispensationalists from the earlier attempts to categorise redemptive history is the conviction that the dispensations are irreversible and progressive. While such a dispensational chronology of events was largely unknown prior to the teaching of Darby and Scofield, the Scofield Reference Bible became the leading bible used by American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists for the next sixty years.
4.4 A Summary of Traditional Dispensational Doctrine
4.4.1 The Seven Dispensations
Dispensationalists claim to find in Scripture evidence of seven distinct dispensations during which mankind has been tested in respect of specific revelation as to the will of God.
1. Innocence (Genesis 1,28);
2. Conscience or Moral Responsibility (Genesis 3,7)
3. Human Government (Genesis 8,15);
4. Promise (Genesis 12,1);
5. Law (Exodus 19,3);
6. Church (Acts 2,1);
7. Kingdom (Revelation 20,4)
In each, mankind, including in the sixth dispensation, the visible Church, has failed the test according to the distinct way in which God responded to humankind. These dispensations began with Creation and will end, it is claimed, in the Millennial kingdom. What distinguishes Darby's scheme and subsequent dispensationalists from earlier attempts to describe phases in biblical history is the conviction that God's way of dealing with humanity in previous dispensations were and remain, irreversible and progressive. These dispensations are seen by proponents as 'providing us with a chronological map to guide us.'
4.4.2 Israel and the Church
Dispensationalism claims that God has two separate but parallel means of working, one through the Church, the other through Israel, the former being a parenthesis to the later. As Ryrie insists, "A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the church distinct." Thus there remains a distinction, 'between Israel, the gentiles and the church.' Chafer elaborates this dichotomy,
The dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity.
Dispensationalism therefore refutes the supposition inherent in covenant theology that God has one purpose for all people and that in Jesus Christ the earthly is transformed into the heavenly.
This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist, and it is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive. The one who fails to distinguish Israel and the church consistently will inevitably not hold to dispensational distinctions; and one who does will.
Darby's insistence on two dispensations, one for the Church and another for Israel is the basis on which much non-evangelistic but triumphalist Christian Zionism views Israel, the stance taken for example by the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, the Messianic Testimony, and in large measure, Christian Friends of Israel. This framework expects the revival among Jews to occur after Jesus returns.
4.4.3 Literalist Hermeneutic
Dispensationalism is based on a hermeneutic in which all Scripture, and especially the prophetic, must always be interpreted literally. Scofield, who popularised and synthesised Darby's theology, taught,
Not one instance exists of a 'spiritual' or figurative fulfilment of prophecy... Jerusalem is always Jerusalem, Israel is always Israel, Zion is always Zion...Prophecies may never be spiritualised, but are always literal.
Chafer likewise criticises non-dispensational theology for giving a spiritual interpretation to earthly realities. Ryrie insists that dispensationalism and, in particular, 'this distinction between Israel and the church is born out of a system of hermeneutics that is usually called literal interpretation.' One is left in no doubt that such an interpretation is the only consistent one for evangelicals who claim to hold to a literal as opposed to liberal allegorical hermeneutic. Ryrie asserts,
To be sure, literal/historical/grammatical interpretation is not the sole possession or practice of dispensationalists, but the consistent use of it in all areas of biblical interpretation is.
Based on such an interpretative principle, dispensationalists hold that the promises made to Abraham and Israel must await future fulfilment since they were never completely fulfilled in the past. So, for example, it is an article of normative dispensational belief that all Israel will be literally saved; that the boundaries of the land promised to Abraham and his descendants will be literally instituted; that Jesus Christ will return to a literal and theocratic kingdom centred on Jerusalem in the State of Israel.
For dispensationalists then, the church is relegated to the status of a parenthesis in God's future and literal kingdom rule. This will be centred on Jerusalem during the millennium in which the Temple will be rebuilt and sacrifices restored. Often this kind of dogma, based on forced exegesis, is also asserted by those who are uncomfortable with or disillusioned by Jewish resistance to proselytism and who rest in the belief that 'all Israel will be saved' when or after Christ returns.
4.5 Progressive Dispensationalism
A new generation of younger dispensationalists among the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary have attempted to redefine their movement as 'progressive dispensationalism'.
They distance themselves from what they regard as the the 'na´vetÚ' of the founder's vision, distinguishing the traditional dispensationalism of Lewis Chafer and Charles Ryrie from 'Scofieldism', as well as from 'the popular 'apocalyptism' of Lindseyism'. They regard themselves as 'less land centred' and less 'future centred'. Ryrie is sceptical, however, unwilling to concede to such revisionism. He prefers to describe the position of theologians such as Blaising and Bock as 'neo-dispensationalist' or 'covenant dispensationalist', for holding for instance to a 'slippery' hermeneutic.
Ryrie similarly insists on distinguishing normative dispensationalism from 'Ultradispensationalism'. This is rooted in the teaching of Ethelbert W. Bullinger (1837-1913) and his successor Charles H. Welch, who, according to Ryrie, have merely carried dispensationalism to its 'logical extremes'. Ultradispensationalists hold for instance, that the Church did not begin at Pentecost but in Acts 28 when Israel was set aside; the Great Commission of Matthew and Mark is Jewish and therefore not for the Church; the Gospels and Acts describe the dispensation of the Law; only the Pauline prison epistles, that is Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, relate to the Church Age; water baptism is not for the Church Age; and Israel, not the Church, is the Bride of Christ. Their teachings are perpetutated today by the Berean Bible Society, Berean Expositor, Berean Publishing Trust and Grace Mission.
4.7 Dispensationalism Summarised
Following Scofield's literalistic hermeneutic, most contemporary premillennial dispensationalists of what ever type, equate the State of Israel with biblical Israel; the Jews are still regarded as God's 'chosen people'; and consequently people of Jewish descent have a divine right to the land in perpetuity.
Crucial to the premillennial dispensationalist reading of biblical prophecy, drawn principally from Daniel and Revelation, is the assertion that the Jewish Temple will be rebuilt on the Temple Mount as a precursor to the Lord returning to restore the Kingdom of Israel centred on Jerusalem. This pivotal event is also seen as the trigger for the start of the war of Armageddon. Premillennial Dispensationalism has come to dominate American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism especially through the influence of Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute, to the point where the two (Evangelicalism and Dispensationalism) are virtually synonymous. Leading exponents include Charles Ryrie, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, Eric Sauer, Hal Lindsey and Mike Price. The movement has grown in popularity within evangelical circles, particularly in America and especially since 1967, coinciding with the Arab-Israeli Six Day War and a few years later in 1970 with the publication of Hal Lindsey's blockbuster 'The Late Great Planet Earth.'
1. The Significance of the Scofield Reference Bible for Dispensationalism
Both critics and advocates alike acknowledge the unparalleled influence of the dispensational Scofield Reference Bible upon Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism during the first half of the twentieth century.
The various millennial currents were most effectively solidified in The Scofield Reference Bible. The significance of the Scofield Reference Bible cannot be overestimated.
James Barr claims that in the 1950's half of all conservative Evangelical student groups were using the Scofield Reference Bible, and that it was,
The most important single document of all fundamentalism...which has been the normal religious diet of many millions of readers. Its name itself makes clear what it is, A private interpretation...Both serious biblical scholarship and the established traditions of the major churches were alike ignored.
Craig Blaising, professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, and a dispensationalist, similarly acknowledges,
The Scofield Reference Bible became the Bible of fundamentalism, and the theology of the notes approached confessional status in many Bible schools, institutes and seminaries established in the early decades of this century.
Ernest Sandeen the historian explains some of the reasons for its popularity,
The Scofield Reference Bible combined an attractive format of typography, paraphrasing, notes, and cross references with the theology of Darbyite dispensationalism. The book has thus been subtly but powerfully influential in spreading those views among hundreds of thousands who have regularly read that Bible and who often have been unaware of the distinction between the ancient text and the Scofield interpretation.
In his Introduction, Scofield claimed that, over the previous fifty years there had been an 'unprecedented' degree of interest in Bible study, '...free from merely controversial motive' and that from this '...new and vast exegetical and expository...' body of literature which was '...inaccessible for bulk, cost, and time to the average reader', Scofield had taken, the '...winnowed and attested results...' of this fifty years of study and that they were now '...embodied in the notes, summaries, and definitions of this edition.'
He insisted that 'Expository novelties, and merely personal views and interpretations, have been rejected.' In distinguishing his own from previous bible reference systems, which he regarded as '...unscientific and often misleading...' Scofield insisted that in his new system,
...all the greater truths of the divine revelation are so traced through the entire Bible, from the place of first mention to the last, that the reader may himself follow the gradual unfolding of these, by many inspired writers through many ages, to their culmination in Jesus Christ and the New Testament Scriptures. This method imparts to Bible study and interest and vital reality which are wholly lacking in fragmented and disconnected study.
The Scofield Reference Bible is not only noteworthy for its distinctive but very selective dispensational footnotes but also for its comprehensive italicised headings embedded in the Scriptural text. These not only include chapter and paragraph titles but in many cases, provide verse by verse headings in chapters deemed significant to dispensationalists, that would otherwise prove obscure were it not for such 'helps'.
For example, in Isaiah 11, entitled 'The Davidic kingdom set up' additional headings guide readers carefully through the chapter ensuring a dispensational reading,
(1) The King's ancestry (11,1); (2) The source of the King's power, the sevenfold Spirit (11,2); (3) The character of his reign (11,3-5); (4) The quality of the kingdom (11,6-8); (5) The extent of the Kingdom (11,9); (6) How the kingdom will be set up (11,10-16)
Scofield's Reference Bible has undergone significant revision since it was first published in 1909. Scofield completed the first revision in 1917, apparently with the help of seven consulting editors - Henry G. Weston (President, Crozier Theological Seminary); James M. Gray (Dean, Moody Bible Institute); W. G. Moorehead (Professor, Xenia U.P.Theological Seminary); Elmore Harris (President, Toronto Bible Institute) William J. Erdman; Arno C. Garbelein & Arthur T. Pierson, several of whom were D.L. Moody's colleagues. Canfield argues that the addition of these names together with their academic qualifications was merely cosmetic, to give an air of respectability Sandeen goes further arguing,
Just what role these consulting editors played in the project has been the subject of some confusion. Apparently Scofield only meant to gain support for his publication from both sides of the millenarian movement with this device.
The 1945 revision slips in an eighth consulting editor, William L. Pettingill, while The New Scofield Reference Bible published in 1967 was edited by Dr E. Schuyler English.
2. Scofield's Dispensational Hermeneutic: 'Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth'.
In his book 'Rightly Dividing the Word of God', Scofield explains the foundational dispensational presuppositions which have determined his theological framework, the notes of his later Scofield Reference Bible, and in particular, for our purposes, his views of the relationship between Israel and the Church.
These periods are marked off in Scripture by some change in God's method of dealing with mankind, in respect of two questions, of sin, and of man's responsibility. Each of the dispensations may be regarded as a new test of the natural man, and each ends in judgment - marking his utter failure in every dispensation.
Not one instance exists of a 'spiritual' or figurative fulfilment of prophecy...Jerusalem is always Jerusalem, Israel is always Israel, Zion is always Zion...Prophecies may never be spiritualised, but are always literal.
Scofield's 'literalism' extended even to exact verbal phraseology. This led him to claim there to be seven dispensations, eight covenants (Heb. 8:8), and eleven great mysteries (Mt. 13:11).
3. Scofield's Seven Dispensations
Scofield defines his dispensations as periods of time, '...during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God...' In the Introduction to the Scofield Reference Bible, he explains, following mention of the 'remarkable results of the modern study of the Prophets, in recovering to the church...a clear and coherent harmony of the predictive portions...' how,
The Dispensations are distinguished, exhibiting the majestic, progressive order of the divine dealings of God with humanity, the 'increasing purpose' which runs through and links together the ages, from the beginning of the life of man to the end in eternity. Augustine said: 'Distinguish the ages, and the Scriptures harmonize.'
Whether Augustine understood 'ages' in terms of Scofield's dispensations is doubtful. Nevertheless, Scofield claimed that seven such dispensations were 'distinguished' in Scripture.
1. Innocence (Genesis 1,28)
2. Conscience or Moral Responsibility (Genesis 3,7)
3. Human Government (Genesis 8,15)
4. Promise (Genesis 12,1)
5. Law (Exodus 19,3)
6. Church (Acts 2,1)
7. Kingdom (Revelation 20,4)
Scofield's rigid adherence to these dispensations requires him to make some novel assertions to ensure consistency. So for example, in describing the transition between his fourth dispensation of promise to his fifth dispensation of law, Scofield argues,
The descendants of Abraham had but to abide in their own land to inherit every blessing...The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law (Ex. 19. 8). Grace had prepared a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage (Ex. 19. 4); but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law.
Similarly, in his introduction to the Gospels, Scofield imposes stark divisions before and after Calvary which lead him to the assertions that, 'The mission of Jesus was, primarily, to the Jews...The Sermon on the Mount is law, not grace...the doctrines of Grace are to be sought in the Epistles not in the Gospels.' In introducing the sixth dispensation of grace, Scofield even teaches the possibility of salvation by works when he writes,
As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 3. 24-26; 4. 24, 25). The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ...The predicted end of the testing of man under grace is the apostasy of the professing church...
It is with the more precise prophetic speculations Scofield offers in his sixth and seventh dispensations concerning the relationship between Israel and the Church which have had such a profound effect on the rise of subsequent Dispensationalism. As has been noted, in 'Rightly Dividing the Word of God', Scofield laid out the dispensational presuppositions which determined his theological framework,
These periods are marked off in Scripture by some change in God's method of dealing with mankind, in respect of two questions, of sin, and of man's responsibility. Each of the dispensations may be regarded as a new test of the natural man, and each ends in judgment - marking his utter failure in every dispensation.
Such a pessimistic view of human history is no where more evident than in what Scofield teaches about his sixth dispensation, the church-age.
4. The Denigration of the Church within the Purposes of God
Historic Christianity has traditionally seen some form of continuity between the Old and New Covenants, and in the relationship between Israel and the Church, national Israel being in an anti-type and precursor for the Church. Scofield concedes as much, although through his notes, he systematically attempts to prove such a view erroneous in favour of a 'failing' church syndrome. Indeed he insists that the Church has not replaced or succeeded Israel as the people of God. In his introduction to the Four Gospels, he argues,
...in approaching the study of the Gospels, the mind should be freed, so far as possible, from mere theological concepts and presuppositions. Especially is it necessary to exclude the notion-a legacy in Protestant thought from post-apostolic and Roman Catholic theology-that the Church is the true Israel, and that the Old Testament foreview of the kingdom is fulfilled in the Church.
Scofield has been criticised for applying an obscure, arbitrary and indeed excessive form of typology to reinforce the belief, no doubt influenced by Darby, that the Church age will ultimately end in failure and apostasy to be replaced by a revived national Israel who will enjoy the blessings of the final kingdom dispensation.
Given that four of his seven dispensations are based around events recorded in the first twelve chapters of Genesis, (and a fifth in Exodus), it is perhaps not surprising that Scofield finds in these texts the basis for his entire scheme. So for example, in a footnote to Genesis 2:23, Scofield asserts that Eve is a 'type of the Church as bride of Christ.' As with some of his other 'types' this one appears arbitrary and speculative. Scofield offers a list of New Testament cross references, presumably in the belief that they validate his teaching. These are John 3:28-29; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-32 and Rev. 19:7-8. In none of these, however, is there any justification for such an assertion. Eve is not even mentioned. There are only two references to Eve in the New Testament, and only once by way of comparison. In 2 Cor. 11:3 Paul warns the Corinthians that they are in danger of being deceived like Eve. Even this verse therefore does not teach that they, the Corinthians were deceived, still less that Eve could or should be regarded as a type for the universal Church.
From Genesis 3:14, Scofield further claims that the 'Adamic Covenant conditions the life of fallen man-conditions which must remain till, in the kingdom age, 'the creation also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God' (Rom. 8.21).' The verse quoted actually refers to creation not people. By such typology, in which Eve and the so-called Adamic Covenant represent the state of the Church, Scofield prepares the ground for his teaching that the dispensation of the Church is destined to end in apostasy and failure.
Then from Genesis 11:1, Scofield sees the Tower of Babel as yet another striking type for the professing Church.
The history of Babel (confusion) strikingly parallels that of the professing Church...ending in a man-made unity-the papacy...[and] ...the confusion of tongues-Protestantism with its innumerable sects.
Linking Isaiah 13 with Revelation 17, Scofield insists the latter reference predicts the destruction of 'apostate Christianity', which he also described as 'ecclesio-Babylon' In a speculative but rather confusing footnote to Revelation 17 and the identity of Babylon, Scofield insists that there are actually 'two' Babylons.
Two 'Babylons' are to be distinguished in the Revelation, ecclesiastical Babylon, which is apostate Christendom, headed up under the Papacy; and political Babylon, which is the Beast's confederated empire, the last form of Gentile world-dominion. Ecclesiastical Babylon is 'the great whore' (Rev. 17. 1), and is destroyed by political Babylon (Rev. 17. 15-18)...
But the language of Rev. 18. (e.g. vs. 10, 16, 18) seem beyond question to identify 'Babylon,' the 'city' of luxury and traffic, with 'Babylon' the ecclesiastical centre, viz. Rome.
By such typology, Scofield intends his readers to concur that even the dispensation of the Church will end in 'judgment-marking...utter failure' This is at variance with New Testament teaching which assures of the permanence and ultimate victory of the Church over evil.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18)
In other places Scofield's scheme appears to contradict the New Testament. So in Matthew 13, for example, in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the Lord explains that the wicked will be removed first. Scofield however, insists the believers will be taken out first at the rapture. Likewise his footnote to Acts 1:11 ignores the fact that the Angel promises that all will see Jesus when He returns and not the few in some 'secret rapture.'
Clearly those who have subsequently accepted Scofield's scheme, especially since 1948 such as Hal Lindsey, who have been preconditioned to expect the return of Jews to Palestine, are generally pessimistic about the role of the Church, and see in the founding of the State of Israel, evidence not only of the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, but of an impending Jewish revival and imminent return of Christ.
5. The Elevation of National Israel to a Superior Role over the Church
Scofield applied his typology to the relationship between Israel and the Church. Starting with a cross-reference from Genesis 11:1 and the story of Babel, he guides his readers to Isaiah 13:1 and the 'burden of Babylon' where Scofield claims,
Isa. 3.14 gives the divine view of the welter of warring Gentile powers. The divine order is given in Isa. 11. Israel in her own land, the centre of divine government of the world and channel of divine blessing; and the Gentiles blessed in association with Israel. Anything else is, politically, mere 'Babel'
This notion that Gentiles are 'blessed in association with Israel', is the principle motivation for the International Christian Embassy who believe Christians are called to 'comfort Zion' rather than bear witness to Jesus as Messiah. Scofield provides Christian Zionists such as the ICEJ with justification when he takes the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 and applies it to Abraham's descendants,
(5) 'I will bless them that bless thee.' In fulfilment closely related to the next clause. (6) 'And curse him that curseth thee.' Wonderfully fulfilled in the history of the dispersion. It has invariably fared ill with the people who have persecuted the Jew-well with those who have protected him. The future will still more remarkably prove this principle. (Deut. 30. 7; Isa. 14. 1, 2; Joel 3. 1-8; Mic. 5. 7-9; Hag. 2. 22; Zech. 14. 1-3; Mt. 25. 40, 45).
The New Testament consistently speaks of there being one true vine or one olive tree, symbols portraying the unity within the one elect people of God made up of both Jews and Gentiles, who by faith are thereby all declared to be children of Abraham. However, in his introduction to the Gospels, Scofield insists,
Do not, therefore, assume interpretations to be true because familiar. Do not assume that 'the throne of David' (Lk. 1.32) is synonymous with 'My Father's throne' (Rev. 3. 21), or that 'the house of Jacob' (Lk. 1.33) is the Church composed both of Jew and Gentile.
Following J.N. Darby, Scofield taught that God has two separate plans, one for Israel, another for the Church, each having a separate identity and eternal destiny, Israel's on earth while the Church's in heaven. So in commenting on Matthew 16,18, and Jesus' promise to 'build my church,' Scofield claims,
Israel was the true 'church' but not in any sense the N.T. church-the only point of similarity being that both were 'called out' and by the same God. All else is contrast.
In a footnote to Acts 7:38, apparently attempting to explain away the term used by Stephen of Israel as 'the church in the wilderness' Scofield insists,
Israel in the land is never called a church. In the wilderness Israel was a true church (Gr. ecclesia = called-out assembly), but in striking contrast with the N. T. ecclesia (Mt. 16. 18, note).
In commenting on Romans 11:1, Scofield insists on maintaining this distinction. To do so however, he has to distinguish between 'earthly' and 'heavenly' fulfilment of Biblical prophecy,
That the Christian now inherits the distinctive Jewish promises is not taught in Scripture. The Christian is of the heavenly seed of Abraham (Gen. 15. 5, 6; Gal. 3. 29), and partakes of the spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 15. 8, note); but Israel as a nation always has its own place, and is yet to have its greatest exaltation as the earthly people of God.
So, with reference to Romans 11:5, in which Paul insists a remnant of believing Jews existed in his day, Scofield extrapolates that,
During the church-age the remnant is composed of believing Jews...During the great tribulation a remnant out of all Israel will turn to Jesus as Messiah and will become His witnesses after the removal of the church (Rev. 7.3-8).
To justify this continued distinction between Israel and the Church even under the New Covenant, Scofield claims Israel is the earthly wife of God and the Church the heavenly bride of Christ. Commenting on Hosea 2:2, Scofield writes,
That Israel is the wife of Jehovah (see vs. 16-23), now disowned but yet to be restored, is the clear teaching of the passages. This relationship is not to be confounded with that of the Church to Christ (John 3.29, refs.). In the mystery of the Divine tri-unity both are true. The N.T. speaks of the Church as a virgin espoused to one husband (2 Cor. 11.1,2); which could never be said of an adulterous wife, restored in grace. Israel is, then, to be the restored and forgiven wife of Jehovah, the Church the virgin wife of the Lamb (John 3.29; Rev. 19. 6-8); Israel Jehovah's earthly wife (Hos. 2, 23); the Church the Lamb's heavenly bride (Rev. 19.7)
In a footnote to the last reference, Revelation 19:7, Scofield insists,
The 'Lamb's wife' here is the 'bride' (Rev. 21. 9), the Church, identified with the 'heavenly Jerusalem' (Heb. 12. 22, 23), and to be distinguished from Israel, the adulterous and repudiated 'wife' of Jehovah, yet to be restored (Isa. 54. 1-10; Hos. 2. 1-17), who is identified with the earth (Hos. 2. 23).
Scofield reaches this conclusion, guided by his literalistic interpretation and thereby needing to avoid setting Scripture against Scripture, because, 'A forgiven and restored wife could not be called either a virgin (2 Cor. 11: 2,3), or a bride.'
Such novel teaching of an 'earthly wife' and 'heavenly bride' is in plain contradiction to passages such as John 10:16 and Romans 11:24, neither of which, interestingly, warrant any comment by Scofield.
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10,16)
After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to
nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! (Romans 11,24)
Here Paul is emphasising that Gentiles were and would be grafted into the faithful remnant of Jewish believers who constitute the olive tree. This is neither equated with national Israel, nor with a separate olive tree, but affirms that, at some future time believing Jews will also be grafted in once again. Paul is therefore teaching quite explicitly that there is one olive tree into which both Jews and Gentiles have and will be grafted. In the face of those who in his own day regarded Gentile believers as inferior and who wished to keep Jewish and Gentile believers separate, Paul insisted,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one
in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3,28-29)
Paul uses similar analogies of 'one new man' (Ephesians 2:13-16), and, 'fellow heirs, and of the same body' (Ephesians 3:4-6), to emphasise that God has taken two peoples and made them one in Christ. By insisting, however, on arbitrary divisions in biblical history marked off, '...by some change in God's method of dealing with mankind...' each ending '...in judgment' and '...utter failure in every dispensation,' Scofield through his literalist hermeneutic, sets in tension Old testament Scripture with New testament Scripture, divorces Israel from the Church, and thereby confuses the future with the past. This is made more apparent still by the way in which Scofield insists that unfulfilled prophecies concerning national Israel will be fulfilled in the future.
6. Prophetic Promises of a Revived National Israel
Like Darby, Scofield taught that it was God's intention to restore the nation of Israel to Palestine, rebuild the Temple, and re-institute the priesthood and sacrificial system. 'According to the prophets, Israel, regathered from all nations, restored to her own land, and converted, is yet to have her greatest earthly exaltation and glory.' In his note relating to Haggai 2:9, Scofield claims, for instance, that there will be a fourth and fifth temple built in Jerusalem.
In a sense all the temples (i.e. Solomon's; Ezra's; Herod's; that which will be used by the unbelieving Jews under the covenant with the Beast [Dan. 9.27; Mt. 24. 15; 2 Thes. 2. 3,4]; and Ezekiel's future kingdom temple [Ezk. 40-47.]), are treated as one 'house'-the 'house of the Lord,'
Scofield finds evidence for this view in Leviticus 23:23-25 and an unusual typology related to the feast of Tabernacles.
This feast is a prophetical type and refers to the future re-gathering of long-dispersed Israel. A long interval elapses between Pentecost and Trumpets, answering the long period occupied in the Pentecostal work of the Holy Spirit in the present dispensation. Study carefully Isa. 18. 3; 27. 13 (with contexts); 58. (entire chapter), and Joel 2. 1 to 3. 21 in connection with the 'trumpets,' and it will be seen that these trumpets, always symbols of testimony, are connected with the re-gathering and repentance of Israel after the church, or Pentecostal, period is ended.
This highly speculative scheme is simply imposed on a series of texts that teach nothing of the sort. For example, Leviticus 23:23-25 reads,
The LORD said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites, 'On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.'
It is surprising that Scofield should begin to base his belief in the return of the Jews to Palestine and the rebuilding of the Temple on the basis of passages such as this. In one of the cross references given, Joel 2, Scofield is forced to re-interpret later verses to avoid reversing the chronological order of the chapter. The earlier portion of the chapter, he claims, refers to the future restoration of Israel. However Peter, on the great Day of Pentecost, quotes from the latter part, Joel 2:28-32 to explain how the events predicted were occurring that day. To get round this, Scofield insists,
Acts 2.17, which gives a specific interpretation of 'afterward' (Heb. acherith = 'latter,' 'last'). 'Afterward' in Joel 2. 28 means 'in the last days' (Gr. eschatos), and has a partial and continuous fulfilment during the 'last days' which began with the first advent of Christ (Heb. 1. 2); but the greater fulfilment awaits the 'last days' as applied to Israel.
So Scofield teaches that a 'greater fulfilment' of this passage refers to a future blessing awaiting Israel rather than that which occurred on the Day of Pentecost at the birth of the Church. Once again national Israel is placed in a superior position to that of the Church. To perpetuate this artificial division, in the cross-reference to Acts 2:17, Scofield has to distinguish between the 'last days' of the Church and the 'last days' of Israel.
A distinction must be observed between 'the last days' when the prediction relates to Israel , and the 'last days' when the prediction relates to the church (1 Tim. 4. 1-3; 2 Tim. 3. 1-8; Heb. 1.1,2; 1 Pet. 1. 4,5; 2 Pet. 3. 1-9; 1 John 2. 18, 19; Jude 17-19). Also distinguish the expression the 'last days' (plural) from the 'last day' (singular); the latter expression referring to the resurrections and the judgment (John 6. 39, 40, 44, 54; 11. 24; 12. 48). The 'last days' as related to the church began with the advent of Christ (Heb. 1. 2), but have especial reference to the time of declension and apostasy at the end of this age (2 Tim. 3. 1; 4. 4). The 'last days' as related to Israel are the days of Israel's exaltation and blessing, and are synonymous with the kingdom-age (Isa. 2. 2-4; Mic. 4. 1-7). They are 'last' not with reference to this dispensation, but with reference to the whole of Israel's history.
To justify his dispensational scheme and a glorious future for Israel in the Kingdom age, Scofield concedes that the Scriptures speak of two occasions when national Israel returned to Palestine, but insists a third return is also predicted.
The gift of the land is modified by prophecies of three dispossessions and restorations (Gen. 15. 13, 14, 16; Jer. 25. 11, 12; Deut. 28. 62-65; 30. 1-3). Two dispossessions and restorations have been accomplished. Israel is now in the third dispersion, from which she will be restored at the return of the Lord as King under the Davidic Covenant (Deut. 30. 3; Jer. 23. 5-8; Ezk. 37. 21-25; Lk. 1. 30-33; Acts 15. 14-17).
Scofield's argument for a third return is based on two important deductions that follows from his literalist hermeneutic. First, that Israel had never taken all the land promised to Abraham, and second, that Messianic promises had not been fulfilled during the first advent. In linking these two together, Scofield speculated that the return to the land would follow the return of the Lord, a chronology that is contradicted in the conflicting notes on Deuteronomy 30:3-5, written with hindsight in the New Scofield Reference Bible published in 1967. In a note on Deuteronomy 30:3, Scofield argues,
The Palestinian Covenant gives the conditions under which Israel entered the land of promise. It is important to see that the nation has never as yet taken the land under the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant, nor has it ever possessed the whole land (cf. Gen. 15. 18 with Num. 34. 1-12). The Palestinian Covenant is in seven parts,
(1) Dispersion for disobedience, v. 1 (Deut. 28. 63-68. See Gen. 15. 18. note).
(2) The future repentance of Israel while in the dispersion, v.2.
(3) The return of the Lord, v. 3 (Amos 9. 9-14; Acts 15. 14-17).
(4) Restoration to the land, v. 5 (Isa. 11. 11, 12; Jer. 23. 3-8; Ezk. 37. 21-25).
(5) National conversion, v. 6 (Rom. 11. 26, 27; Hos. 2. 14-16).
(6) The judgment of Israel's oppressors, v. 7 (Isa. 14. 1, 2; Joel 3. 1-8; Mt. 25. 31-46).
(7) National prosperity, v. 9 (Amos 9. 11-14)
In the New Scofield Reference Bible, Scofield's extensive note on Deuteronomy 30:3 is omitted and readers are invited to refer to a new note attached to Deuteronomy 28:20, not originally present in Scofield's earlier versions.
The phrase 'until you are destroyed (shamad, Heb.) and until you perish (`avad, Heb.)' is echoed in reverse order in v. 63 -- 'to destroy (`avad) you and bring you to nothing (shamad).' Between these two phrases the same idea is expressed seven times with one of the same verbs, shamad (vv. 24, 45, 48, 51, 61) or `avad (vv. 22, 51). This emphasis on the destructive consequences of disobedience, however, should not be misunderstood as predicting an end to the nation. The destruction promised is that of the disobedient generation's relationship to the Promised Land of blessing (cf. vv. 63-68). That the Lord's covenant promises to Abraham and to his believing descendants would not be nullified by the nation's disobedience is shown by the Lord's promise of Israel's physical and spiritual restoration in 30,1-6.
Scofield and his later dispensational revisionists, ignore or minimise the seriousness of the injunctions contained in this very passage of Deuteronomy which plainly teaches that occupation of the land would always be conditional on obedience, a principle Moses was concerned to impress upon Israel before she entered the land, a principle subsequently demonstrated throughout Israel's history, and in particular under the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. The attempt by Scofield's revisers to make Deuteronomy 30:1-6 speak of a final restoration to the land is undermined just a few verses further on in Deuteronomy 30:11-20 where Moses reiterates the same warning.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. (Deuteronomy 30,17-19)
Scofield's dispensational hermeneutic nevertheless requires a futuristic interpretation of this passage on the grounds that Israel has never yet received all the land allegedly 'unconditionally' and literally promised under the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, Scofield insists, logically, she must do so one day. So, in a footnote to Isaiah 10, he writes,
The order of events in Isa. 10., 11., is noteworthy. Isa. 10. gives the distress of the Remnant in Palestine in the great tribulation (Psa. 2. 5; Rev. 7. 14), and the approach and destruction of the Gentile hosts under the Beast (Dan. 7. 8; Rev. 19. 20). Isa. 11. immediately follows with its glorious picture of the kingdom-age. Precisely the same order is found in Rev. 19., 20...That nothing of this occurred at the first coming of Christ is evident from the comparison of the history of the times of Christ with this and all the other parallel prophecies. So far from re-gathering dispersed Israel and establishing peace in the earth, His crucifixion was soon followed (A.D. 70) by the destruction of Jerusalem, and the utter scattering of the Palestinian Jews amongst the nations
The argument concerning God's possible future purposes for a revived national Israel therefore stands or falls on whether the promise made under the Abrahamic Covenant has or has not yet been fulfilled. In Genesis 15:18 we are told,
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates...
Then, in Deuteronomy 6, Moses says,
See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers--to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--and to their descendants after them. (Deuteronomy 1,8)
But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. (Deuteronomy 6,23)
In these passages Moses reminds the Israelites that God had rescued them from Egypt in order to fulfil the promise made to Abraham that his seed would inherit the Promised Land. God reaffirms that same promise to Moses' successor, Joshua.
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. (Joshua 1,6)
The question then arises, did Israel do so? While it is true that, the Jews have never exercised political sovereignty over all the land between the Nile and the Euphrates, nevertheless the Book of Joshua makes clear that the covenant promise was indeed regarded as having been fulfilled in that generation.
So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war. (Joshua 11,23)
So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (Joshua 21,43-45)
It is significant that we are told Joshua took 'the entire land' because the Lord had given 'Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers'. To the claim that certain promises have yet to be fulfilled, Joshua is emphatic, 'Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.' Likewise, Nehemiah, writing after the second exile, looked back to the first exile and could testify in praise to God for the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham,
You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers... You made their sons as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their fathers to enter and possess. (Nehemiah 9,22-23)
These passages record the first re-gathering of the Israelites to the Promised Land and Nehemiah even refers to the metaphorical promise to make Abraham's descendants 'as numerous as the stars in the sky' (cf. Genesis 22:17). It is significant, however, that Scofield gives no footnotes to these passages, nor offers any cross-references to them. Instead he relies on a literalistic interpretation of Genesis 15:18 that leads him to contradict these other passages of Scripture. This selective approach is not the only occasion in which Scofield, in his notes, mishandle Scripture in order to maintain his dispensational scheme. He does the same with the second exile. The Prophets, while warning of judgment and chastisement also offer, in varying degrees of explicitness, the promise of a second return. After 70 years this was fulfilled under Zerubbabel, and recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. However, Scofield insists they refer to a third return on the premise that certain Messianic promises have not yet been completely fulfilled literally. An example he gives is Jeremiah 23:5-8,
The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety....'So then, the days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when people will no longer say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' but they will say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.' Then they will live in their own land.
In a footnote to this passage, Scofield asserts,
This final restoration is shown to be accomplished after a period of unexampled tribulation (Jer 30. 3-10), and in connection with the manifestation of David's righteous Branch (v. 5), who is also Jehovah-tsidkenu (v. 6). The restoration here foretold is not to be confounded with the return of a feeble remnant of Judah under Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel at the end of the 70 years (Jer. 29. 10). At His first advent Christ, David's righteous Branch (Lk. 1. 31-33), did not 'execute justice and judgment in the earth' but was crowned with thorns and crucified. Neither was Israel the nation restored, nor did the Jewish people say, 'The Lord our righteousness.' Cf. Rom. 10. 3. The prophecy is yet to be fulfilled (Acts 15. 14-17).
Another passage Scofield insists supports his belief in a 'third' return is Ezekiel 37 and the vision of the valley of dry bones.
Having announced (Ezk. 36. 24-38) the restoration of the nation, Jehovah now gives in vision and symbol the method of its accomplishment. Verse 11 gives the clue. The 'bones' are the whole house of Israel who shall then be living. The 'graves' are the nations where they dwell. The order of the procedure is, (1) the bringing of the people out (v. 12); (2) the bringing of them in (v. 12); (3) their conversion (v. 13); (4) the filling with the Spirit (v.14). The symbol follows. The two sticks are Judah and the ten tribes; united, they are one nation (vs. 19-21). Then follows (vs. 21-27) the plain declaration as to Jehovah's purpose, and verse 28 implies that then Jehovah will become known to the Gentiles in a marked way. This is also the order of Acts 15. 16, 17, and the two passages strongly indicate the time of full Gentile conversion.
It is difficult to conceive how such an entirely futuristic interpretation would have brought comfort to the Jewish exiles in Babylon to whom Ezekiel was sent to minister. Acts 15:15-17 is given as a cross-reference both here and also to Jeremiah 23. For Scofield, Acts 15 was, 'Dispensationally...the most important passage in the N.T.' since it contains James' summary of the decision reached by the Apostles and elders that Gentile believers were not required to undergo circumcision or be commanded to keep the law of Moses as some of the Pharisees had insisted (Acts 15:5-6). James appeals to Amos 9:11 as proof that what they had been witnessing since Pentecost, in seeing Gentiles come to faith, had been predicted long ago and was therefore consistent with God's will.
'After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things' (Acts 15,16-17)
Scofield reads considerably more into this passage however. So much so that he obscures its most obvious and direct meaning. The reason Scofield believes 'dispensationally', it to be '...the most important passage in the N.T.' is because,
It gives the divine purpose for this age, and for the beginning of the next. (1) The taking out from among the Gentiles of a people for His name, the distinctive work of the present, or church-age...Precisely this has been in progress since Pentecost. The Gospel has never anywhere converted all, but everywhere has called out some. ('After this [viz. the out-calling] I will return.' James quotes from Amos 9. 11, 12. The verses which follow in Amos describe the final re-gathering of Israel... (3) 'And will build again the tabernacle of David,' i.e. re-establish the Davidic rule over Israel (2 Sam. 7. 8-17; Lk. 1. 31-33). (4) 'That the residue of man [Israelites] may seek after the Lord' (cf. Zech. 12. 7, 8; 13. 1,2). (5) 'And all the Gentiles,' etc. (cf. Mic. 4. 2; Zech. 8. 21, 22). This is also the order of Rom. 11. 24-27.
Scofield has interpreted the 'After this..' as meaning that 'after James' or 'after Pentecost', in fact at least 1,900 years 'after', God would some day 'rebuild the tabernacle of David'. In doing so Scofield ignores the fact that James is actually quoting Amos and a chronology seen from Amos' perspective, to explain what had happened since the time of Amos and the amazing conversion of Cornelius and other Gentiles which had caused such a stir (Acts 15:2-4) and necessitated this potentially divisive meeting between Paul and Barnabas, the Apostles and Elders.
James appeals to the prophets to vindicate the universality of the Gospel and the Gentile mission in particular. If dispensationalists see this as 'spiritualising' the Old Testament text, then they should acknowledge that it is James under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who does so. The 'remnant' Amos refers to were Israel's enemies, the Edomites not Jews, who would, he predicted, come under Messiah's rule. By using the passage to teach some predetermined chronological and futuristic plan for national Israel, Scofield takes away the heart of the passage which implicitly focuses on the wonder of Christ's work at Calvary as the reason Gentiles were turning to God (Acts 15:26). It is a simple fact that nowhere is a third re-gathering 'to the land' mentioned anywhere in the Bible.
Each passage quoted by Scofield refers either to the first or second re-gathering to the land, or as in the case of Amos 9, to the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is significant that following the rebuilding of Solomon's temple in 516 B.C. there are no biblical references in either the Old or the New Testament to any return to the Land. From the perspective of the New Testament, the 'Land' has ceased to have any significance in the future purposes of God. So for example, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reinterprets and universalises the promises made in Psalm 37.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace....those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be cut off... the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. (Psalm 37,11, 22, 29)
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5,5)
Similarly, when Paul is listing the present benefits that still pertain to Israel in Romans 9, significantly, he does not mention the land as one of them.
...the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Romans 9,4-5)
Unperturbed by such omissions Scofield constructs a detailed 'end-times' scenario which forms the basis of much contemporary 'Armageddon' theology.
7. Conclusions: The Legacy of Scofieldism on Dispensationalism
In the 1890's during Scofield's pastorate in Dallas he was also head of the Southwestern School of the Bible, the 'forerunner' to Dallas Theological Seminary. In 1890 Scofield also began his Comprehensive Bible Correspondence Course through which tens of thousands of students around the world were introduced to dispensationalist teaching about a failing Church and a future Israel. Scofield directed the Course until 1914 when it was taken over by the Moody Bible Institute. It is perhaps therefore not surprising then that these two institutions, the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and Dallas Theological Seminary have continued to be the foremost apologists for Scofield's dispensational views, and of Christian Zionism in particular, since then.
In this seminar I want to address some of the implications or ramifications of Dispensationalism upon the contemporary political scene here in Israel/Palestine.
During the 1940's both prior to and after the founding of the state of Israel, liberal Protestant Christians such as Reinhold Niebuhr were the principle allies of Israel. However with the annexation of the West Bank in 1967, Liberal Protestants and organisations such as the World Council of Churches increasingly distanced themselves from Zionism, while at the same time fundamentalism grew both in political power and identification with Israel.
In a detailed history of the rise of twentieth century American right-wing fundamentalism prior to 1970, entitled 'The Politics of Doomsday', Erling Jorstad traces the anti-modernist, anti-communist and anti-foreign agenda of the movement. There is significantly, however, no reference to Israel. Similarly, George Marsden's historical overview of the rise of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in America between 1870-1930, shows that despite some evidence of anti-Semitism, there was little interest in contemporary Israel.
1. The 1967 War and the Rise of Dispensational Zionism
The 1967 Six Day War and its aftermath appears to mark a watershed in Evangelical Christian interest in Israel and Zionism. For example, Jerry Falwell did not begin to speak about modern-day Israel until after Israel's 1967 military victory.
Falwell changed completely. He entered into politics and became an avid supporter of the Zionist State...the stunning Israeli victory made a big impact not only on Falwell, but on a lot of Americans...Remember that in 1967, the United States was mired in the Vietnam war. Many felt a sense of defeat, helplessness and discouragement. As Americans we were made acutely aware of our own diminished authority, of no longer being able to police the world or perhaps even our own neighbourhoods...Many Americans, including Falwell, turned worshipful glances toward Israel, which they viewed as militarily strong and invincible.
They gave their unstinting approval to the Israeli take-over of Arab lands because they perceived this conquest as power and righteousness...Macho or muscular Christians such as Falwell credited Israeli General Moshe Dayan with this victory over Arab forces and termed him the Miracle Man of the Age, and the Pentagon invited him to Vietnam and tell us how to win the war.
The combination of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, the capture of Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, and the defeat on both occasions of the combined Arab armies, increasingly came to be seen as significant fulfilment's of biblical prophecy by a new generation of American and European dispensational premillennialists.
Coincidentally and very significantly, the New Scofield Reference Bible, a revision of the 1917 version, edited by Dr. E. Schuyler English and a team of dispensationalists including John F. Walvoord, was published in 1967 which, given its timing, must have fuelled interest in Dispensational Zionism. Ironically, English had edited a young person's version of the Scofield Bible, entitled the Holy Bible, Pilgrim Edition, some twenty years earlier, in 1948. It is interesting to note that the popular edition of the Scofield Reference Bible was published in 1917 coinciding with the Balfour Declaration and in the words of Lord Cecil, 'the rebirth of a nation'; the youth edition of Scofield with the War of Independence in 1948; and the 'new' edition of Scofield with the Six Day's War of 1967.
Billy Graham's father-in-law, Nelson Bell, the editor of the prestigious and authoritative mouthpiece of conservative Evangelicalism, Christianity Today, appeared to express the sentiments of many American Evangelicals when, in an editorial in 1967 he wrote,
That for the first time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives a student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible.
2. Hal Lindsey and Popular Dispensationalism
The most influential of all Fundamentalist writers is Hal Lindsey. He has been described by Time Magazine as 'The Jeremiah for this Generation', and by his own publisher as 'The Father of the Modern-Day Bible Prophecy Movement.' Lindsey is a prolific writer, with no less than eight books dealing with the end times, his own radio and television programmes, seminars, Holy Land Tours, and for $40 per year, his monthly International Intelligence Briefing.
Lindsey's most famous book, The Late Great Planet Earth has been described by the New York Times as the '#1 Non-fiction Bestseller of the Decade.' It has gone through more than 100 printings with sales, by 1993, in excess of 18 million, with a further 30 million copies in 31 foreign editions. Despite dramatic changes in the world since its publication in 1970, most significantly, it remains in print in its original unrevised form. Lindsey has, perhaps not surprisingly, since become a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs to both the Pentagon and Israeli Government.
This particular kind of reading of history, coloured by a literal exegesis of selected biblical scriptures, is dualistic, triumphalist and confrontational. Lindesy's latest book, The Final Battle, includes the statement on the cover "Never before, in one book, has there been such a complete and detailed look at the events leading up to 'The Battle of Armageddon.'" It asserts that the world is degenerating and that the forces of evil manifest in godless Communism and militant Islam are the real enemies of Israel. Various speculative apocalyptic scenarios are postulated, centred upon a great battle at Megiddo between massive armies that will attempt but fail to destroy Israel. These will only hasten the return of Jesus Christ to be the King of the Jews who will rule over the other nations from the rebuilt Jewish temple on the site of the destroyed Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem will be the spiritual centre of the entire world...all people of the earth will come annually to worship Jesus who will rule there.
3. Dispensationalism and Armageddon Theology
One of the reasons some fundamentalists appear so enthusiastic about such a terrible scenario to occur may have to do with the doctrine of the secret rapture in which they believe they will escape the slaughter. Just before the final conflagration they believe Jesus will,
...'rapture' true Christians into the upper air, while the rest of humankind, was being slaughtered below. 144,000 Jews would bow down before Jesus and be saved, but the rest of Jewry would perish in the mother of all holocausts.
Authors such as Lindsey also Goldberg, a professor of Theology and Jewish Studies at the Moody Bible Institute, offer detailed illustrated plans ostensibly showing future military movements of armies and naval convoys leading up to the battle of Armageddon.
The Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary have played no small part in promoting a Fundamentalist and Zionist eschatology among thousands of American ministers and missionaries. Charles Dyer, a professor of Bible exposition at Dallas even includes photographs allegedly showing Saddam Hussein reconstructing Babylon to the same specifications and splendour as Nebuchadnezzar. Dyer warns that this is evidence that Hussein plans to attempt to repeat Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Israel, the only Arab ever to have done so. 'The Middle East is the world's time bomb, and Babylon is the fuse that will ignite the events of the end times.'
An indication of how seriously Fundamentalists take the military aspect of their apocalyptic scenario can be seen from the content of the itinerary used by Jerry Falwell in his Friendship Tour to Israel in 1983. It included meetings with top Israeli government and military officials and an,
.....On-site tour of modern Israeli battlefields...Official visit to an Israeli defence installation...strategic military positions, plus experience first hand the battle Israel faces as a nation.
The demise of the Soviet Union, the rise of militant Islam, the 'success' of the Allies in the Gulf War, and the approaching third millennium have only fuelled more imaginative speculations among Fundamentalists, while the same anti-Arab prejudices and Orientalist stereotypes persist.
Long ago the psalmist predicted the final mad attempt of the confederated Arab armies to destroy the nation of Israel...The Palestinians are determined to trouble the world until they repossess what they feel is their land. The Arab nations consider it a matter of racial honour to destroy the State of Israel. Islam considers it a sacred mission of religious honour to recapture Old Jerusalem.
Following the Gulf War, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism hired the Fundamentalist musician Pat Boon to promote pilgrimages in North America through a series of costly advertisements in Evangelical journals and on television. According to Wagner there are a number of Evangelical Dispensational Zionist leaders even more right wing than Falwell and Robertson, who in the 1980's had direct access to Reagan and the White House. These include Terry Risenhoover and Doug Kreiger who were very influential in gathering American support for the Jewish extremist organisation, the Temple Mount Faithful. These particular Christian and Jewish Zionists believe that the Moslem Dome of the Rock must be destroyed and the Third Jewish Temple built in order to ensure the return of Jesus.
To such Fundamentalists the existence of a Palestinian Christian church is either ignored completely, or maligned as theologically Liberal and spiritually dead, an irrelevancy in the inexorable movement of world history leading to the imminent return of the Jewish Messiah. Basilea Schlink, for example, berates the Palestinian Intifada as 'terrorism....aimed solely at destroying Israel.' Her uncompromising views are typical of many other Zionists who elevate the State of Israel to a privileged status far above any human sanction or criticism.
Anyone who disputes Israel's right to the land of Canaan is actually opposing God and his holy covenant with the Patriarchs. He is striving against sacred, inviolable words and promises of God, which He has sworn to keep.
4. 1980 and The International Christian Embassy
The founding of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in 1980 represents in some senses the coming of age of Dispensational Christian Zionism as a high profile concerted international movement. The ICEJ was opened with the express intention of bringing comfort and support to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. It was built at a time when other governmental embassies were being moved out of Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in protest at Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem. Their promotional material includes the following explanation.
When the vision of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was first given it was expressed in the following concerns; to care for the Jewish people, especially for the newborn State of Israel which includes standing up for the Jews when they are attacked or discriminated against, and for Israel to live in peace and security....to care that the world wide body of Christ will be rightly related to Israel in comfort, love and prayer for her well-being, to care for the nations whose destinies will be increasingly linked to the way in which they relate to Israel, the care and preparation for the coming of the Lord.
Among other things the work of the ICEJ specifically includes promoting Zionist pilgrimages, and imposing a Zionist agenda on pilgrimage itineraries. ICEJ are not alone in offering explicit support for Israel. Doug Kreiger, an Evangelical Fundamentalist listed over 250 pro-Israel evangelical organisations operating in America and founded between 1980-1985
There are a number of similarities between 19th century British and 20th Century American attitudes to Israel. In both, as the international power broker of their day, the blend of religion and politics became inextricably entwined. In the closing decades of the 19th and early 20th Century, there was a convergence of British strategic colonial interests and Dispensational Zionism within significant segments of the intellectual and political intelligensia. Likewise current American foreign policy in the Middle East largely coincides with that of the powerful Dispensational Zionist lobby. Both parties, now as then, favour a strong and dominant pro-American presence in the Middle East whether for pragmatic reasons of military strategy, or because it conforms to their particular eschatology. Among a consensus of American Dispensational Fundamentalist leaders, these twin motives, religious and political are unashamedly connected and intrinsic to a predicted apocalyptic scenario which one writer has gone so far as to describe as, 'Operation Desert Storm II.'
In 1976-77 several events occurred simultaneously which had the effect of accelerating the influence of Dispensational Zionism as a political phenomenon in America.
A religious and political marriage was consummated between American Zionist organisations, Israeli leadership, and Fundamentalist Dispensational Zionists.
In 1977 the Likud party under Menachem Begin came to power on an expansionist Zionist platform using biblical phraseology to justify the settlement of the West Bank. It was Begin for example who first renamed Israel and the Occupied Territories as Judaea and Samaria. In America the Jewish lobby realised the potential significance of wooing the political endorsement of the powerful 50-60 million Evangelical block vote through their fundamentalist leadership. With this in mind, in 1979, the Israeli government honoured Jerry Falwell with the Jabotinsky Award in appreciation of his support of Israel. They also provided him with a Lear jet to assist in his work on their behalf.
The downfall of President Carter, in part due to his support for a Palestinian homeland and consequent loss of the Fundamentalist block vote; the exploitation of the media by a group known as 'Evangelicals' Concern for Israel' including well known figures as Pat Boone and Vernon Grounds; the rise of Moral Majority as a political campaigning organisation under Jerry Falwell; and the election of Ronald Reagan as a President who publicly subscribed to a Fundamentalist premillennial dispensational theology, all combined to give a considerable boost to the Zionist cause. In the 1980 presidential elections, Wagner claims that 80% of Evangelicals supported the conservative wing of the Republican party, and Ronald Reagan in particular.
The election of Ronald Reagan ushered in not only the most pro-Israel administration in history but gave several Christian Zionists prominent political posts. In addition to the President, those who subscribed to a futurist premillennial theology and Christian Zionism included Attorney General Ed Meese, Secretary of Defence Casper Weinberger, and Secretary of the Interior James Watt....Once the Reagan Administration opened the door, leading Evangelical Christian Zionist televangelists and writers were given direct access to the President and cabinet members. Rev. Jerry Falwell, Christian Zionist Televangelist Mike Evans and author Hal Lindsey among them.
'White House Seminars' became a regular feature of Reagan's administration bringing Dispensational Zionists into direct personal contact with national and Congressional leaders. In a conversation reported in the Washington Post in April of 1984, Reagan told the chief Israeli lobbyist, Tom Dine,
You know, I turn back to the ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if-if we're the generation that is going to see that come about. I don't know if you've noted any of these prophecies lately, but believe me they certainly describe the times we're going through.
For Fundamentalists such as Jerry Falwell and Mike Evans, America is seen as the great redeemer, her role in the world providentially and politically preordained. The two nations of America and Israel are like Siamese twins, linked not only by common self interest but more significantly by similar religious foundations. Together they are perceived to be pitted against an evil world dominated by Communist and Islamic totalitarian regimes antithetical to the values of America and Israel. So for example, Mike Evans, founder and president of Lovers of Israel Inc, in the following quotations from his book, Israel, America's Key to Survival, almost mimics and plays on the apocalyptic scenario of Benjamin Netanyahu, offering 'biblical' grounds for their countries mutual survival.
If America goes down, then the whole world goes down. Nothing will remain of the world. If America was not around, the Soviet Union would take over the world in three days. Their goals are to destroy America...to destroy it...to reduce it to nothing; and they feel they can effectively do it through terrorism.
Only one nation, Israel, stands between Soviet-sponsored terrorist aggression and the complete decline of the United States as a democratic world power...Surely demonic pressure will endeavor to encourage her to betray Israel. This must not happen. Israel is the key to America's survival. For God has said of the nations who will oppose Israel, "Yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted...I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curseth thee..."(Isa.60:12; Gen. 12:3)...As we stand with Israel, I believe we shall see God perform a mighty work in our day. God is going to bless America and Israel as well. It is not too late. I believe this is the greatest hour to be alive, and the key is unity, standing tall, proclaiming with a voice of love our commitment to the House of Israel, and to the God of Israel.
Similarly, Ramon Bennett, author of 'Saga: Israel and the Demise of the Nations' and spokesman for Arm of Salvation, a Dispensational Zionist organisation based in Jerusalem, emotively dedicates his book, 'To the men of the Israeli Defence Force who display immense courage when facing impossible odds. To the grieving parents, wives, children, sweethearts, sisters and brothers and friends, whose tears have watered the parched earth of Eretz Yisreal.'
The International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem has, since 1980, become the semi-official voice of this coalition of Christian religious and political Zionist organisations, frequently cultivated, exploited and quoted by the Israeli Government when ever a sympathetic Christian view point is needed to enhance their own policies, and rebut Western criticism. For example, in October 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu the Israeli Prime Minister spoke at the Jerusalem 3000 rally organised by the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, to support Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem. Following the provocative opening of an underground tunnel by the Israelis from the Western Wall through the Moslem Quarter, he was cheered when he insisted the tunnel, 'is open. It will stay open. It will always stay open.'
5. The 1993 Oslo Peace Accord and the Palestine National Authority
Not surprisingly the 1993 Peace-Accord signed by the Israeli Government and the PLO has been sharply criticised by Dispensational Zionist groups who see it as a threat to the realisation of Eretz Israel. In particular they have opposed the handing back of the West Bank and the threat to the status of the Jewish settlements. For example, Theodore Temple Beckett, Chairman of the Christian Friends of Israel Community Development Foundation, as well as President of the Colorado-based Foundation for Israel, has initiated an 'adopt-a-settlement program among American Evangelical Churches. The Jewish town of Ariel has already been adopted by Faith Bible Chapel in Denver. By the end of 1995 it was Beckett's expectation that around 70 Jewish settlements would have been adopted by churches,
...with larger churches adopting larger settlements and smaller churches adopting smaller settlements and giving all a morale boost to show them they are not alone and are loved by many.
On the 21st December 1995, just hours before the Israeli's handed over administrative responsibility for Bethlehem to the Palestinian National Authority, the Voice of America radio station carried a news report claiming some Evangelical Christian groups had called for a boycott of Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem in protest.
Nine Christian Organisations have called their faithful not to go to Bethlehem this Christmas, to protest the transfer of the City to Palestinian rule. One of those Groups is called Bridges for Peace. Its Director is Clarence Wagner.
'There are millions of Evangelical Christians and other Middle East Christians who are concerned about the fact that Bethlehem has been unilaterally turned over to the Palestinian Authority, which is under the aegis of the PLO, and therefore has placed Bethlehem under Muslim control. Historically, Islam has not respected Christian holy sites. And here, Manger Square, the birthplace of Jesus, one of the holiest shrines in Christianity, is sort of quietly being turned over to a Muslim authority and no one is saying anything like, 'What will this mean for the future?...We have no idea what the experience under the PA will be, particularly if more fanatical Islamic Fundamentalism does increase in the years to come.'
...But the Latin Patriarch of the Holy Land, Michel Sabbah...sharply criticizes those who are calling for a boycott of Bethlehem this Christmas.
'They are our brothers, every human being is our brother, but they are coming from abroad and they are bringing in the country feelings from abroad which do not correspond to the views and to the needs, spiritual and human, of the Land. This Land needs reconciliation. So, this is what we need, and not people coming from outside to tell us to boycott this and boycott that.'
The International Christian Embassy, quoted in the Sunday Times, on Christmas Eve 1995 predicted that the celebrations that night would, '...look more like Arafat's birthday than that of Jesus.' Ray Borlaise, writing in the Prayer Bulletin of Intercessors for Britain in January 1996, made similar criticisms of the transfer of power in Bethlehem, but apparently on sound theological grounds,
It is plain from Zechariah 12 that Jerusalem will become a contentious issue leading to conflict. Many feel that Ezekiel 38 & 39 will take place in the last days and will be a conflict between Islamic countries and Israel. There may be previous skirmishes before that battle takes place on the 'mountains of Israel' - some areas of which have just been handed over to the Palestinians. We sense that the peace may falter causing Samaria and Judea to pass back into Jewish hands. Will God allow Bethlehem, the burial place of Rachel, the town of Ruth and the birth place of David (let alone that of Jesus) to remain in Arab hands when it was promised to Abraham, Issac (sic) and Jacob as an eternal inheritance? (Genesis 17)
Borlaise, in one short paragraph, makes a number of typical Christian Zionist assumptions. He assumes, for example, that selectively chosen ancient Hebrew writings relate directly to contemporary events, and will thereby some how determine future events, conveniently ignoring other prophetic passages in which God warns of the expulsion of the Jews from the land as and when they fail to act righteously and with justice. It is also interesting that Borlaise not only refers to the Occupied Territories, as 'Judea and Samaria,' but also assumes that because Bethlehem had an historical significance in Jewish history between 3,500 - 2000 years ago, contemporary Jewish people have some divine right to occupy and confiscate the land of those living there prior to 1967.
At the Third International Christian Zionist Congress, held in February 1996 under the auspices of ICEJ, similar views are reflected in the following resolutions which were passed unanimously. Notice how they demonstrate the explicit religio-political agenda of ICEJ.
Further, we are persuaded by the clear unction of our God to express the sense of this Congress on the following concerns before us this day,
1. Because of the sovereign purposes of God for the City, Jerusalem must remain undivided, under Israeli sovereignty, open to all peoples, the capitol of Israel only, and all nations should so concur and place their embassies here.
2. As a faith bound to love and forgiveness we are appreciative of the attempts by the Government of Israel to work tirelessly for peace. However, the truths of God are sovereign and it is written that the Land which He promised to His People is not to be partitioned... It would be further error for the nations to recognize a Palestinian state in any part of Eretz Israel.
3. To the extent the Palestinian Covenant or any successor instrument calls for the elimination of Israel or denies the right of Israel to exist within secure borders in Eretz Israel, it should be abolished.
4. The Golan is part of biblical Israel and is a vital strategic asset necessary for the security and defense of the entire country.
C. The Islamic claim to Jerusalem, including its exclusive claim to the Temple Mount, is in direct contradiction to the clear biblical and historical significance of the city and its holiest site, and this claim is of later religio-political origin rather than arising from any Qur'anic text or early Muslim tradition.
7. While Gentile believers have been grafted into that household of faith which is of Abraham (the commonwealth of Israel), replacement theology within the Christian faith, which does not recognize the ongoing biblical purposes for Israel and the Jewish People, is doctrinal error.
8. Regarding Aliyah, we remain concerned for the fate of imperiled Jewish People in diverse places, and seek to encourage and assist in the continuing process of Return of the Exiles to Eretz Israel. To this end we commit to work with Israel and to encourage the Diaspora to fulfill the vision and goal of gathering to Israel the greater majority of all Jewish People from throughout the world.
6. Netanyahu and Dispensationalists
Under Netanyahu's influence, the Israeli government remains enthusiastic to nurture the support of Dispensational Zionists. Exploiting the association of Megiddo with the apocalypse, Israeli planners and architects, with Netanyahu's blessing, have began creating a three dimensional 'virtual Megiddo'. While some critics have described it 'Apocalypso', Israeli officials are keen to capitalise on the millions of additional visitors, 'expected to flock to mark the end of the millennium in gloomy style.' Ze'ev Margalit, the official in charge of the development claimed, ...the beauty of this place is that it has a 6,000-year history that can take people back to the dawn of civilisation, a vibrant present and an apocalyptic future. Anxious to avoid creating a 'Disneyland of the apocalypse', Margalit added, 'There are a lot of different ideas on how to deal with this. It is easy to get kitsch and we must avoid that. So we will leave a lot to the imagination.' Keen to encourage greater numbers of Christians to visit Israel leading up to the Millennium, Netanyahu has recently taken part in programmes broadcast on Evangelical radio stations.
Boosting evangelical tourism dovetails with his plans to deepen Israel's ties with leaders of America's Christian far right, many of whom are sympathetic to Zionism...Netanyahu has a long history of nurturing these ties. He believes the conservative Christian influence in American public opinion, and particularly within the Republican party controlling congress, can be used to counter liberal Democrats such as President Bill Clinton, who want Israel to cede land to the Palestinians.
Armstrong is not alone in tracing in Western Christian Zionism evidence of the legacy of the Crusades. Fundamentalists have, she claims, 'returned to a classical and extreme religious crusading.' Ruether also sees the danger of this kind of Dispensational Zionism in its, 'dualistic, Manichaean view of global politics. America and Israel together against an evil world.'
This 'simple dualism' and 'highly dogmatic thinking' is something a number of sociologists have observed as common to much American Fundamentalism in particular.
It is so; God chose the Jews; the land is theirs by divine gift. These dicta cannot be questioned or resisted. They are final. Such verdicts come infallibly from Christian biblicists for whom Israel can do no wrong-thus fortified. But can such positivism, this unquestioning finality, be compatible with the integrity of the Prophets themselves? It certainly cannot square with the open peoplehood under God which is the crux of New Testament faith. Nor can it well be reconciled with the ethical demands central to law and election alike.
7. The MECC and a Critique of Dispensational Zionism
The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), representing the indigenous and ancient Oriental and Eastern Churches, has been highly critical of the activities of Dispensational Zionists, and the ICEJ in particular. They assert, for instance, that the ICEJ has aggressively imposed an aberrant expression of the Christian faith and an erroneous interpretation of the Bible which is subservient to the political agenda of the modern State of Israel. Indeed they represent a tendency to,
...force the Zionist model of theocratic and ethnocentric nationalism on the Middle East...(rejecting)..the movement of Christian unity and inter-religious understanding which is promoted by the (indigenous) churches in the region. The Christian Zionist programme, with its elevation of modern political Zionism, provides the Christian with a world view where the gospel is identified with the ideology of success and militarism. It places its emphasis on events leading up to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice today.
In 1988 the MECC went further insisting that Dispensational Zionism had no place in the Middle East and should be repudiated by the universal Church because it was 'a dangerous distortion' and significant shift away from orthodox Christocentric expressions of the Christian faith .
(This is) ...a fundamental disservice also to Jews who may be inspired to liberate themselves from discriminatory attitudes and thereby rediscover equality with the Palestinians with whom they are expected to live God's justice and peace in the Holy Land.
Although ICEJ's support for Israel is primarily political, MECC has been concerned more with its theological basis, and ICEJ's attempt to sacralize a political ideology beyond human criticism or ethical standards and to treat the security of a Jewish State within the entire land presently occupied as a fundamental axiom of their supra-historical eschatology. The declarations following the first, second and third Christian Zionist Congresses, organised by ICEJ in 1985, 1988 and 1996, according to MECC, show a significant shift away from orthodox Christocentric expressions of the Christian faith. Based on the writings of ICEJ's spokesman, Rev. Jan Willem van der Hoeven, MECC argue that the 'Christian Zionist',
......is placed in a reductionist eschatology by engaging in actions designed to bring 'comfort and support' to modern political Israel. Accordingly, Jesus is de-emphasised, as is His death and resurrection, while salvation and judgment are redefined.... Christians will be judged solely according to their actions on behalf of the state of Israel. True Christians are those who leave their Gentile background and become 'Israelites of God'
It is therefore perhaps not surprising that among the Middle East churches generally, Dispensational Zionism is regarded as a devious heresy and an unwelcome and alien intrusion into their culture, which advocates an ethnocentric and nationalist political agenda running counter to their work of reconciliation, and patient witness among both Jews and Moslems. As one leading Anglican cleric described it, 'Making God into a real estate agent is heart breaking...they are not preaching Jesus any more.' They are, in the words of another Palestinian clergyman, 'instruments of destruction' Another senior churchman was equally forthright,
Their presence here is quite offensive....projecting themselves as really the Christians of the land... with total disregard for the indigenous Christian community.
Similarly outspoken criticisms of the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church (ITAC) have been made by Palestinian Anglican clergy.
CMJ are propagating Zionism rather than Christianity. It is working against the interests of the Anglican Church in Israel.
Essentially, Dispensational Zionism fails to recognise the deep seated problems that exist between Palestinians and Israelis; it distorts the Bible and marginalises the universal imperative of the Christian gospel; has grave political ramifications and ultimately ignores the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of indigenous Christians. It is a situation that many believe Israel exploits to her advantage, cynically welcoming American Christian Zionists as long as they remain docile and compliant with Israeli government policy. Consequently,
Local Christians are caught in a degree of museumization. They are aware of tourists who come in great volume from the West to savour holy places but who are, for the most part, blithely disinterested in the people who indwell them. The pain of the indifference is not eased insofar as the same tourism is subtly manipulated to make the case for the entire legitimacy of the statehood that regulates it.
Kennth Cragg offers this astute critique of Christian Zionism,
The overriding criteria of Christian perception have to be those of equal grace and common justice. From these there can be no proper exemption, however alleged or presumed. Chosenness cannot properly be either an ethnic exclusivism or a political facility.
Dispensational Zionism appears, at least in the eyes of its critics, to offer an uncritical endorsement of the Israeli political right and at the same time shows an inexcusable lack of compassion for the Palestinian tragedy. In doing so it has apparently legitimised their oppression in the name of the Gospel.
In the light of this principle, it is legitimate to ask whether dispensationalism is not orientated more from the Abrahamic Covenant than from the Cross. Is not its focus centred more on the Jewish kingdom than on the Body of Christ? Does it not interpret the New Testament in the light of Old Testament prophecies, instead of interpreting those prophecies in the light of the more complete revelation of the New Testament?
Bass insists that,
No part of historic Christian doctrine supports this radical distinction between church and kingdom. To be sure they are not identical; but dispensationalism has added the idea that the kingdom was to be a restoration of Israel, not a consummation of the church.
Clearly such views, whether promulgated by respectable Christian theological institutions like Dallas Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute, Jewish fanatics such as Baruch Ben-Yosef and the Temple Mount Yeshiva, or simply by naive members of pilgrimage parties, are anathema to the majority of Jews, Christians and Moslems living in Israel and the Occupied Territories who see in all forms of fundamentalism religion used as a blunt weapon of political oppression.
It is perhaps pertinent to remember Jesus made peacemaking a condition of being called "Children of God."
As we try and bring these two days together there are two essential questions I want to try and answer this morning, one political and one theological. They are multi-faceted and interwoven.
The political question is this. How should we as Christians view the situation in Israel/Palestine today, where two peoples claim the same territory? Specifically, do we believe the Israeli authorities should continue to resist Palestinian aspirations to autonomy and statehood? Should they continue to occupy, settle and annexe more and more of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, creating small urban Bantustan reservations for Palestinians living under military occupation within a exclusive Jewish state. Or, do we believe that the Palestinians have fundamental human rights and freedoms not only enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but intrinsic to the Scriptures themselves? For example, to live in the land of their birth, to freedom of movement, to work, education and religious practice, and collectively to the right of self determination, political expression, autonomy and nationhood. May I say at this point that I oppose anti-Semitism (remembering also that the Arabs are a Semitic race also) and I do affirm the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure but internationally recognised borders. That is the essential political question.
The central theological question is this: Does possession of the land by Jewish people today, and the existence of the State of Israel, have any theological significance in terms of the fulfilment of biblical prophecy within the purposes of God? Or should we believe that this understanding of the Land is inconsistent with the Gospel proclaimed by, and summed up in, Jesus Christ? The question is whether we have good biblical and theological reasons for giving wholehearted support to the Zionist vision? Or do we find in Scripture grounds for criticising and rejecting this ideology as sub-Christian or heretical? Essentially it is a question of whether there is one covenant or two, one body or two, the Church or the Church and Israel. At the outset, I want to insist that this is not a debate between evangelicals and liberals. As someone who is critical of Dispensational Zionism, I nevertheless affirm the full inspiration and authority of Scripture. Although we may disagree in our interpretation of Scripture, I hope not in our view of inspiration.
I want to draw out seven propositions taken from Scripture. Each of these can stand on their own, but each also forms a vital link in a logical and progressive argument based on the flow of biblical history and revelation. For this outline I am indebted to Colin Chapman, in particular, and to Palmer Robinson, Naim Ateek, Peter Walker, Don Wagner and many others.
1. The Relationship of the Old Covenant to the New Covenant
I believe that Dispensational Zionism errs most profoundly because it fails to appreciate the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the ways in which the latter completes, fulfils and annuls the former. It is fundamental that we read the Scriptures with Christian eyes, and that we interpret the Old Covenant in the light of the New Covenant, not the other way round. Here are just a few verses that should guide us in our hermeneutical approach to the Old Covenant.
16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. CColossians. 2:16-17
8:1The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.
3Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." 6But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. Hebrews 8:1-6
10:1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Hebrews 10:1
Under the Old Covenant, revelation from God came in shadow, image, form and prophecy. In the New Covenant we have reality, substance and fulfilment. The question is not whether the promises of the covenant are to be understood literally or spiritually. It is instead a question of whether they should be understood in terms of Old Covenant shadow or in terms of New Covenant reality. This is the basic hermeneutical assumption I will make.
So, for example, there is the sacrifice of animals and food which anticipate the offering of the body of Christ. There is a transportable tabernacle foreshadowing the abiding presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ. We have the Israelites wandering through the desert and God providing them with manna from heaven, water from a rock and a serpent on a pole. All these images found their fulfilment not in more manna, or more water or in a higher pole but in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ which the Old Covenant forms could only foreshadow. By their very nature the Old Covenant provisions must be seen as shadowy forms rather than substantial realities.
The same principle applies to the promises concerning the Land which are also serving as revelational shadows, images, types, prophecies, anticipating God's future purposes, not only for one small people the Jews, but the whole world, revealed fully and finally in Jesus Christ. Hebrews sums this up succinctly.
1:1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. Hebrews 1:1-2
2. The Meaning of the Abrahamic Covenant
We must begin our consideration of the Abrahamic Covenant not in Genesis 12 but Genesis 2. The covenant began with Gods creation of a paradise, represented in the garden. This was the place where people could receive all of God's blessings and commune in fellowship with Him. This is where the image of land begins in the Bible. This land of paradise was lost in the Fall but a foretaste of heaven is reflected in the imagery of the promise made to Abraham.
12:1The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. Genesis 12:1
In Genesis 15:18 God is more specific and indicates the extent of that land, "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates" (This prophecy has been fulfilled in so far as Ishmael's descendants do indeed extend throughout the Middle East. Neither Ishmael nor Isaac had been born when this promise was given). In Genesis 17 the promise is repeated and amplified.
17:1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers." 3Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4"As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." Genesis 17:1-8
The promise that God is going to give access to the land again is restated to Moses and the land is described as flowing with milk and honey in Exodus 3:8 and a number of other passages in the Pentateuch.
8So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Exodus 3:8
These images are paradigms. The land of the Bible is not and never ever did flow with milk and honey. It is a beautiful land but the biblical imagery points to a restored paradise in the future. From the very beginning this Old Covenant shadow would have to wait for the New Covenant for the actual fulfilment of the promise. The land in the Old Covenant was not an end in itself.
The tabernacle, the place of worship in the Old Covenant was never intended to have a settled location in God's plan of redemption. It pointed to Christ who would tabernacle among His people in the incarnation and since Pentecost through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The sacrificial system could never atone for sins but only foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of the sinless, perfect Son of God. So the patriarch Abraham receives the promise of the land but he himself never possessed it. This is not to spiritualise the promise away. It will ultimately be experienced in paradise. This was the promise of the covenant, not the permanent and everlasting possession of the Middle East. In Hebrews 11 we learn that by this non-possession the patriarch learned to look forward to the city with foundations whose architect is God. This is the only legitimate interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant.
10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. 13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:10-16
It is important to stress once again, in Hebrews, heavenly does not mean allegorical or spiritual or non-literal. It is just the reverse, as C.S. Lewis tries to describe in Great Divorce, the heavenly is the consummate true state of things, it is the consummate true reality. In the same way, the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly city for which the Patriarchs were looking is not a nebulous ethereal idea. It is the ultimate reality which we can only foretaste in our present state.
It is significant to note at this early stage in Genesis how the role of Jerusalem is central. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizadeck, the priest king of Jerusalem (Genesis 14:20). At this significant place Abraham offered his son Isaac as an offering to God (Genesis 22). But in both these shadowy events pointed to the greater realities of the New Covenant, ultimately realised in the heavenly priesthood of Christ after the order of Mechizadeck (Hebrews 7) and the once for all sacrifice of the Son of God at Calvary.
One more thing about the Land. The Land never belongs to Israel in the Torah. The Land belongs to God. Land cannot be permanently bought or sold. It cannot be permanently given away, let alone stolen or confiscated. The Land is never at the disposal of Israel for its national purposes. Instead it is Israel who are at the disposal of God's purposes. The Jews remain tenants in God's Land.
23" 'The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Leviticus 25:23
There are four aspects to the Abrahamic covenant (Messiah - Genesis 22:18; Great Nation -Genesis 12:2; Inheritance of Land - Genesis 22:7, 13:14-15, 15:18f, 17:2-8; Prosperity - Genesis 13:16, 15:5-6, 17:2-80). Any interpretation of the land aspect of the Abrahamic covenant cannot be divorced from the other strands of the covenant. As Christians we have no difficulty in seeing the fulfilment of the promise in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Him God has indeed first, blessed people of all nations, second, by drawing them into a covenant relationship with God in which, third, there is now neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, members of one holy nation. If these three strands of the one covenant find their fulfilment in Christ in His Church, how can we put the promise concerning the land into a totally different category?
Don't be misled by the statement God made to Abraham that the land would be "an everlasting possession." Insisting on literal fulfilment is a double-edged sword. In 1 Chronicles 15:2, for example, David insists that the Levites would carry the ark of the Lord and minister before Him for ever. Is that being fulfilled literally on earth or figuratively in Christ? In 1 Chronicles 23:13 God promises that the Aaronic priesthood would continue "for ever". Is that being fulfilled literally now on earth or figuratively in Christ? In 2 Chronicles 33:7 God says that he has put his name in the temple in Jerusalem for ever. Is that being fulfilled literally now on earth or figuratively in Christ and the Church? In 1 Chronicles 23:25, God promises that He has come to dwell in Jerusalem for ever. Is that being fulfilled literally now on earth or figuratively in Christ and the Church? Likewise in 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God promises that a descendent of David will sit on his throne for ever. Is that being fulfilled literally on earth or figuratively in Christ? Let me address another form of wooden literalism Dispensational Zionists are particularly partial to.
You will find some who insist that because the Jews have never literally occupied the entire land promised to Abraham, from the Nile to the Euphrates, this promise must still await future fulfilment. Hence their support not only for the settlement of the West Bank but the rest of the Middle East. Such reasoning ignores the way the Old Testament writers themselves understood the promise made to Abraham. God reaffirmed that same promise to Joshua.
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. (Joshua 1,6)
The question then arises, did Israel do so? While it is true that, notwithstanding the aspiration depicted on the modern Israeli national flag, the Jews have never exercised political sovereignty over all the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. Nevertheless the Book of Joshua makes clear that the covenant promise was indeed regarded as having been fulfilled in that generation.
So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war. (Joshua 11,23)
So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (Joshua 21,43-45)
It is significant that we are told Joshua took 'the entire land' because the Lord had given 'Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers'. To the claim that certain promises have yet to be fulfilled, Joshua is emphatic, 'Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.'
Likewise, Nehemiah, writing after the second exile, looked back to the first exile and could testify in praise to God for the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham,
You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers... You made their sons as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their fathers to enter and possess. (Nehemiah 9,22-23)
These passages record the first re-gathering of the Israelites to the Promised Land. Nehemiah even refers in the past tense to the fulfilment of the metaphorical promise to make Abraham's descendants 'as numerous as the stars in the sky' (cf. Genesis 22:17). Since the promise given to Abraham concerning the Land is to be understood as intimately bound up with the covenant relationship with and blessings for all peoples of the world, to insist on an interpretation that now gives people of Jewish origin an exclusive title deed to Palestine in perpetuity runs contrary both to the promise itself within its Old Covenant context as well as its New Covenant fulfilment. The four strands of the Abrahamic covenant comprise a package deal and are interwoven together not only in pre-figurement and in their fulfilment in and through Christ.
3. The Promise of Exile and Return
The possession of the land was never perfected. Dominion over the land remains a struggle and tantalising possibility which never comes to full realisation. Solomon even at the zenith of his reign and power ruins the prospect by importing foreign gods and tolerating the noisy and abominable worship assemblies of his heathen wives and their priests just the valley from the Temple Mount. During this period invading armies sent by the Lord chasten the people for defiling the Land. In fulfilment of the promises made through Moses and the Prophets, they are dispossessed and driven out, exiled from the promise of the Land that had been given to their forefathers. Jerusalem was safe from foreign armies as long as shekinah glory of God dwelt in her midst. That is the significance of Ezekiel's visions in which step by step he sees the departure of God's glory from the city.
Once the shekinah glory of God had departed, Jerusalem was as vulnerable as any other place on earth. Its was no longer a consecrated city guaranteed God's protection. The exile and dispersion of Jerusalem's inhabitants could not be averted. But the history of the Jews under the old covenant did not end with the exile. At God's appointed time about 49,000 returned in contrast to the estimated 3 million that had come out of Egypt a thousand years before. They returned to only a small part of the original territory and built only a small replica of Solomon's temple. But God's prophets were not distracted from their vision of the greatness of God's redemptive work. In fact they paint a picture of restoration so glorious that it cannot be contained within the boundaries of the Old Covenant form of realisation. Haggai and Zechariah, for example give us a picture of what is to come to God's people that breaks all the bonds of the Old Covenant shadow forms. Zechariah 2 says that Jerusalem shall be a city without walls, so expansive it cannot be measured. Instead it would have a wall of fire around it. The reconstructed temple would manifest a greater glory than Solomon's magnificent structure.
9'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the Lord Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the Lord Almighty." Haggai 2:9
The language of the restoration prophets is inspiring but the reality experienced under the Old Covenant was much less impressive. Indeed this extravagant picture of a great city without stone walls, a wall of fire around it and into which the Gentile nations come streaming totally breaks the bonds of the Old Covenant. This vision found its fulfilment only in the days of the New Covenant since when people worship not in Jerusalem or Samaria but everywhere since the shekinah glory of God is present with every child of God. So, according to the irreversible fulfilment values of the New Covenant, it is the Jerusalem above not the Jerusalem below that is the mother of us all. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. Galatians 4:26. Here again we are not talking about some esoteric nirvana. This Jerusalem is not a spiritual concept or phenomenon. Indeed, according to Hebrews 12:22, when ever we assemble for worship, we are meeting in the presence of the angels in the real Jerusalem.
22But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, Hebrews 12:22
Once this consummation has been reached, never again would the revelation from God suggest that his people should aspire to the paradigms of the Old Covenant. Retrogression to the older shadowy forms of the Old Covenant were forbidden. God's children have become temples in which His shekinah glory dwells. To suggest therefore that the shekinah is to return to a single local geographical shrine to which we must come to worship is to regress from the reality to the shadowy, to re-erect the dividing curtain of the Temple, to apostasize from the New to the Old Covenant, because it is to impugn the atoning work of Christ.
4. The Ethical Requirements of the Covenant Relationship
The promise of land was never an unconditional right, but always a conditional gift. During the wilderness wanderings, God prepared his people with these promises,
'Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. Leviticus 18:24-28
On the basis of such a passage, the present brutal, repressive and racist policies of the State of Israel would suggest another exile on the horizon rather than a restoration. As one Jewish friend put it to me last week, how sinful do you need to be to get to be on God's hit list?
With reference to the treatment of aliens, 36x in the Hebrew scriptures the Jews were warned to be compassionate to strangers and aliens because they knew what it felt like to be aliens in Egypt.
Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him for you were aliens in Egypt. Exodus 22:21
'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33-34
The Exodus story, retold at every Passover was meant to remind the Hebrew people that they should be freed from the need to dominate and persecute. In the Psalms the inheritance of the land is celebrated as one of the greatest blessings of redemption. Psalm 37, for example, encourages the Jews not to despair over the prosperity of the wicked. They are told to trust in the Lord's promises that they shall inherit the land. In the context of other promises concerning the Land this must always be seen in terms of conditional residency rather than permanent possession. 6x over in this Psalm this virtually identical phrase is used.
1Of David. Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;
2for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
3Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
8Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil.
9For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
18The days of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure forever.
27Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.
28For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off;
29the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.
34Wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are cut off, you will see it. Psalm 37:1-40
This psalm was celebrated regularly in the assembled congregation of God's people and so it must have had the effect of strengthening the concept in the minds of the people that this land was a gift of God to them. Clearly not to the wicked, nor the unbelieving from among Israel, but only to the righteous and faithful was the assurance given that the land of redemption would be theirs.
Isaiah's great prophecy begins with a similar warning,
16wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:16-17
27Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. 28But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord will perish. Isaiah 1:27-28
Jeremiah reiterates the corollary. 4Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know, for you have kindled my anger, and it will burn forever." Jeremiah 17:4
Daniel and Nehemiah are individuals who personified the individual and corporate repentance required before God would bring back his remnant. (Daniel 9:1-19; Nehemiah 1:4-11). Thus when God does bring the remnant back to the Land, he does so in accordance with the conditions described in Deuteronomy 30:1-5.
30:1When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. Deut. 30:1-5
So repentance is always a condition of return. The assertion that the events subsequent to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 indicate God's blessing on the Jewish people is totally without foundation in Scripture.
Indeed, since the Temple was destroyed in 70AD and the Jews exiled from the land, as Jesus taught, as a judgement for their failure to recognise Him as the Messiah (Luke 19:41-44), the repentance required in the terms of Deuteronomy 30 would, from the perspective of the New Covenant, require recognition of Jesus as Messiah as a condition of return. Never therefore can the promise of the land be claimed by those who fail to exercise true faith and faithfulness in the Redeemer provided by the Lord in the Covenant. Never is the Land promised to Israel apart from faith and obedience.
To affirm that the Land is Israel's apart from the practice of justice and mercy is to contradict the most basic prophetic lesson of redemptive history in Scripture.
My question to Dispensational Zionists is therefore this. If you appeal to Genesis to claim the promise of the Land, what about Exodus and the commandments not to steal, kill and covet? If you believe in the predictive element of prophecy, what about the prophetic demand for justice? Isn't the present Israeli governments policy of forcibly Judaizing occupied East Jerusalem a 20th century parallel to Ahab stealing Naboth's vineyard? Where are the Elijah's among the Dispensational Zionist's who, out of love for the Jewish people, are prepared to speak a prophetic warning to the Ahab's in the government of Israel today? I believe we have every right to insist, that the stronger the claim to the Land is made allegedly on the basis of scripture, the more Dispensational Zionists must expect and indeed invite the whole world to judge what the Jews have done in the Land by the moral standards of those same Scriptures.
5. The Land in the Teaching of Jesus
Teaching about the Land is conspicuous by its absence in the teaching of Jesus. There are four or five explicit references to the Land in the Gospels and these are indirect. The strongest is found in the Beatitudes. In Matthew 5:5 Jesus quotes from Psalm 37:11. The blessing of the meek and the inheritance of the land as described in the Psalms is echoed by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet it is not the Land but the earth that they will inherit. The Greek term for earth here is the same word used in the Septuagint for land yet the context of Jesus Beatitudes requires that the perspective be stretched beyond mere possession of Palestine. Either that or all Christians who live by the Sermon on the Mount possess the land of the Bible by their meekness. Since the Land was such a fundamental part of Judaism at the time of Christ, his silence can only have been deliberate.
Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord only to die accursed on a cross and so pollute the land, and by that act and its consequences to shatter the geographic dimension of the religion of his fathers. Like everything else, the Land also in the New testament drives us to ponder the mystery of Jesus, the Christ, who by his cross and resurrection broke not only the bonds of death for early Christians but also the bonds of the land. (W.D. Davies)
Like the prophets, Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem as a judgement on the Jewish people (Luke 19:41-44). But unlike them he did not promise there would be another return to the Land. Instead he predicted the coming of the kingdom of God in terms drawn from Daniel's vision of the Son of Man coming to the Ancient of Days to receive his kingly authority (Matthew 24:30-31; Luke 21:25-28; cf. Daniel 7:13-14). It can only have been deliberate that Jesus had so little to say specifically about the Land and so much about the world (78x in the Gospels alone).
6. The Land in the Teaching of the Apostles
The turning point for the Disciples comes with the resurrection encounters and Pentecost. Until this point they seemed to share the same understanding of the land as other Jews of the 1st Century. They had looked forward to God's decisive intervention in history which would restore political sovereignty to the Jews within the Promised Land.
This is reflected in the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, 21we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Luke 24:21
It must also have been the idea in the minds of the disciples, when, before the ascension, they asked, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" Acts 1:6. John Calvin comments, "There are as many mistakes in this question as there are words." Jesus reply shows him correcting not only their concept of time but also their view of ministry.
7He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:7-8
The nature of the kingdom of God now re-defines the meaning of chosenness. The extension of the kingdom of God throughout the world necessitates their exile from the land and indeed the turning of their backs on Jerusalem for ever. They are sent out into the world but never told to return. Subsequent to Pentecost, the Apostles use Old Covenant language concerning the Land in new ways. So for example, Peter speaks of an inheritance which unlike the Land, "can never perish, spoil or fade." (1 Peter 1:4). Paul likewise asserts, 32"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:32
In his letter to a predominantly Gentile church in Ephesus Paul applies the promise of the inheritance of the land specifically to Gentile children of Christian believers who are obedient.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honour your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." Ephesians 6:1-3
The fifth commandment promised that obedient children would live long on the land the Lord God was giving them. Now Paul applies the same promise to the children of Christian parents living 700-800 miles from the land of the Bible. These children of Gentile and Jewish Christians who submit willingly to the authority of their parents will, Paul promises, enjoy long life on the earth.
Land in the New Covenant context has now come to fulfilment in the purposes of God. The limitations of the land type under the Old Covenant has been broken so that it stretches as far as the Great Commission to the uttermost ends of the earth. In his letter to the predominantly Gentile church in Galatia, Paul says,
21Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
24These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. .....28Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." 31Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. Galatians 4:20-31
In a quite shocking way Paul compares Jerusalem and its bondage to Hagar and her slave children, and compares the Gentile Galatian believers to Isaac as children of the promise. This criticism surely applies to the modern city of Jerusalem just as much as it did in the days of the apostles. The present Jerusalem is in legalistic slavery with its children, captive to the minority religious political parties. It must not be presumed that those living in Jerusalem today without faith in Jesus as the Christ are the elect, chosen of God unto salvation. It must not be presumed that they are. Peter Walker in his new book on Jerusalem points out how Paul refuses to allow Christians to link the earthly Jerusalem to the Jerusalem above since she is still spiritually in Arabia. Theologically nothing has changed since that assessment. Jewish people need to hear of the Gospel of grace and freedom from the law found in Jesus, not affirmed by Christians, in their nationalistic legalism.
"Access to the "Jerusalem above" had nothing to do with the Jerusalem below... Christian identity...was not bound up with the physical Jerusalem... The Christian gospel did not offer a new validation for Jerusalem; on the contrary, the Christian Church needed to be set free from the 'slavery' that was inherent in the 'present Jerusalem' The Cross of Christ had had profound repercussions, leading to the death of many things (cf. 6:12-15); one of these, paradoxically, was Jerusalem itself." (p. 131-132)
There may be some among those who are not now believing who one day will believe. But we cannot presume that they are the elect of God until they have proven so by confession of Jesus as the Messiah. Apart from a turning and repentance in faith which is the same requirement of men all over the world the inhabitants of the present Jerusalem continue to be in slavery, without God and without hope in the world. To suggest anything else is to slight Jesus Christ and his sacrifice and at the same time imperil the souls of men by encouraging false presumption. Chris Wright summarises the main argument of Hebrews well,
Hebrews affirmation of what "we have" are surprisingly comprehensive. We have the land, described as the rest into which we have entered through Christ, in a way which even Joshua did not achieve for israel (3:12-4:11); we have a High Priest (4:14, 8:1, 10:21) and an Altar (13:10); we have a hope which in this context refers to the reality of the covenant made with Abraham (6:13-20). We enter into the Holy Place, so we have the reality of the tabernacle and the temple (10:9). We have come to Mount Zion (12:22) and we are receiving a kingdom, in line with Haggai 2:6 (12:28). Indeed according to Hebrews (13:14), the only thing we do not have is an earthly, territorial city. 14For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14
Peter Walker makes similar observations, on the radical call of Hebrews,
"...a call to make a decisive break with the past at a time when there was much pressure to invest in the Temple and Jerusalem with a future... Christian believers had a new calling-to identify with Jesus, not with Jerusalem." (p. 234)
Walker's book is a healthy antidote to the earth bound and materialistic theology of much Dispensational Zionism, preoccupied as it is with the rebuilding of an earthly Temple, with supporting Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem and their conquest of most of the Middle East to fulfil the Abrahamic promise. Walker convincingly shows through this comprehensive analysis of the New Testament material that,
...Jerusalem has lost whatever theological status it previously possessed. The way the Old Testament ascribes to Jerusalem a special, central and sacred status within the on-going purposes of God is not reaffirmed by the New Testament writers. Instead they see God's purposes as having moved forward into a new era in which the previous emphasis on the city (as well as on the Land and the Temple) is no longer appropriate. The coming of Jesus has been its undoing...Jesus expressed his true love for Jerusalem not by acceding to its agendas but by denying them. Those who follow in his steps and who truly love Jerusalem may similarly have to resist some of the enticements which this city offers. (p. 319, 326)
There is no suggestion that after Pentecost, the Apostles believed that the Jewish people still have a divine right to the Land, or that the Jewish possession of the Land would be an important let alone central aspect of God's plan for the world.
"...any passion they might have had for Jerusalem had been transformed by reflecting on a different kind of "passion" -Jesus' death outside the city's wall." (xi)
In the Christological logic of Paul, the Land, like the Law, both particular and provisional had now become quite irrelevant.
7. The Future of the Jewish People
Paul looks forward to a more glorious future for the Jewish people (Romans 9-11) In Romans 9 where Paul emphasises how the Lord has not forgotten the Jewish people and that their hardening toward the Gospel would be temporary, he lists the blessings they have received.
...the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. Romans 9:4-5
Paul omits only one blessing, the Land. There is no suggestion that the future salvation of the Jews is related in any way to the Land. Paul's silence about the Land does not suggest that he still held on to a Jewish theology of the Land, rather that he had modified it very considerably. So, in interpreting the promises made to Abraham in Genesis, Paul insists,
13It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. Romans 4:13
Abraham's descendants would inherit not the Land but the world or cosmos. For Paul the children of Abraham are those Jews and Gentiles who through faith in Christ have been made righteous. The promise of the Land has become a promise of the world.
Now the imagery of the land is a picture of restored paradise, that finally has come to consummation. It is not however just a returning to paradise, to the Land flowing with milk and honey, that never did ever really flow with milk and honey, but a reconstructed cosmos with resurrected people. This is the Land that has been promised, a new heaven and a new earth, something that at least equals or exceeds the state of man as he was originally created and placed in the land of paradise. It is no longer merely a portion of the earth that is the consummation of God's work of redeeming the fallen world, but instead the whole of the cosmos participates. In Ephesians 3 Paul rightly understands the Old Covenant shadow as a mystery that has at last been revealed.
4In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. 6This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Ephesians. 3:4-6
The fundamental question Dispensational Zionists must answer is this. What difference did the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus make to the traditional Jewish hopes and expectations about the Land and People?
We cannot interpret the Old Covenant as if the coming of Jesus made little or no difference to these particular aspects of the hopes of first century Judaism. Dispensational Zionists seem to read the Old Testament with the spectacles that the first disciples wore before the resurrection encounters with the risen Christ and Pentecost. They seem to believe the coming of the kingdom of Jesus meant a postponement of Jewish hopes for restoration rather than the fulfilment of those hopes in the Messiah and Messianic community.
Ironically the Old Testament gives no hint about a 1000 year millennium on earth. The constant emphasis in the New Testament is upon the absolute nature of the Second Coming of Christ, a finality which allows no further work of salvation on earth.
Those who hold to a Covenant Theology see in the process of redemptive history a dramatic movement has been made from type to reality, from shadow to substance. The Land that once was the specific locale of God's redemptive working served well under the Old Covenant forms as a picture of paradise lost and promised, lost then promised, but under the New Covenant fulfilment this Land has been expanded to encompass the world, indeed the entire cosmos. The exalted Christ rules from the heavenly Jerusalem demonstrating His sovereignty over all the nations. A regression to the limited forms of the Old Covenant must not be encouraged. The reality must not give way to shadow. Why should we want the shadow when we have the reality? It is more than this though. Some would suggest that the warning contained in the calling to persevere found in Hebrews 10 is addressed to Jewish believers tempted to remain loyal to their legalistic Hebrew roots, locked into a theology based on land, temple, law and sacrifice.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:19-29)
The choice before us is ultimately a choice between two theologies. One based primarily on the shadows of the Old Covenant and one based on the reality of the New Covenant. An exclusive theology that focus on the Jews in the Land and an inclusive theology that focuses on Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world. It is a choice between an exclusive Armageddon theology of racial segregation and war and an inclusive theology of justice, peace and reconciliation.
To answer the question posed at the beginning, politically, Israel will only be able to maintain its hold over the Occupied Territories with continued massive funding from America and by superior military might. She will never enjoy peace with her neighbours until she acts with justice and reciprocity toward the Palestinians.
Until then there will never be peaceful coexistence. Justice delayed is justice denied. Israel is a materialistic society, an apartheid state practising repressive and dehumanising measures against the Palestinians in flagrant disregard of the United Nations and UN declaration of human rights. Theologically, Dispensational Zionists who endorse such practice would do well to heed Joshua's final words,
14"Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15But just as every good promise of the Lord your God has come true, so the Lord will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord's anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you." Joshua 23:14-16
Like Isaac's children Jacob and Esau, it is time to stop fighting over the birthright and start sharing the blessings.
* Articles used with permission of the author Stephen Sizer. Visit the Christ Church website for many excellent articles and sermons by Rev. Sizer.