Rightly Dividing the Word

Grover Gunn*

I can distinctly remember the time during my college days when a Christian whom God used in my life gave me a short introduction to dispensationalism. He quoted 2 Timothy 2:15 from the King James Version and pointed out the importance of "rightly dividing the word of truth." He then went over with me the seven dispensations of the Scofield Reference Bible:

  1. from creation to the fall, Innocency;
  2. from the fall to the flood, Conscience;
  3. from the flood to the Abrahamic covenant, Human Government;
  4. from the Abrahamic covenant to the Mosaic covenant, Promise;
  5. from the Mosaic covenant to the cross, Law;
  6. from the cross to the rapture, Grace; and
  7. from the second advent to eternity, Kingdom.1
Now that I have rejected dispensationalism, I still regard this set of divisions, apart from any hidden significance that the names of the various dispensations might have, as a reasonable way to divide the dispensations, except that I am no longer a premillennialist or a pre-tribulation rapturist. I also no longer believe that 2 Timothy is directly referring to dividing Biblical history into different divine economies. The American Standard Version translates this verse "handling aright the word of truth," which I believe better conveys the verse's intent. Nevertheless, regardless of how one interprets that verse, Christians have recognized from earliest times that God has worked through different spiritual economies in different ages. Dividing Biblical history into different dispensational periods is not distinctive of dispensationalism. To say that all Christians who do not today offer animal sacrifices and who do not today worship on Saturday are at least incipient dispensationalists is extremely simplistic.2 The particular number and choice of historical division points presented by Scofield do not define dispensationalism either. The true distinctives are found on a more subtle level.

I believe that one can begin to see at least one real distinctive of dispensationalism's "rightly dividing the Word" by examining Scofield's definition of a dispensation: "A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God."3 Now it is true that in every divine economy, God gave further revelation of Himself and His will, and man was responsible for responding to that revelation in obedience. It is also true, as pointed out by dispensationalists, that man apart from God's saving grace will always fail the test of obedience because of man's depraved nature. God's judgment upon man's disobedience is seen in the expulsion from the garden, in the flood, in the confusion of tongues at the tower of Babel, in the Babylonian captivity, in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and in the judgment on the final rebellion (Revelation 20:7-10). Yet, although there is truth in Scofield's definition and scheme, there is also error. Dispensationalists and Reformed theologians disagree about the relationship that revelation given to past dispensations has to the present dispensation. Dispensationalists teach that such past revelation is not binding today except to the extent that it is reaffirmed in the revelation given specifically for this present dispensation. Past revelation that is reaffirmed for the present is said to have a secondary and indirect application today due to the presence of timeless principles. In contrast, Reformed theologians teach that past revelation continues to be binding today except to the extent that it was time bound or situation specific in its original application or to the extent that it has been modified by the more recent Biblical revelations because of the developments in God's program for the ages. An example of such a modification would be the New Testament's teaching that the people of God in this age are no longer to externally administer the Old Testament ceremonial laws, although the spiritual import and message of these laws continue to be valid. Like Christ, the Reformed theologian emphasizes the continuing relevance of God's former revelations (Matthew 5:17-19), whereas the dispensationalist puts the emphasis on the nonbinding nature of past revelation that is not specifically reaffirmed for today. This difference in emphasis is implied in Scofield's statement that each dispensation is related to "some specific revelation," as if each dispensation is limited to the revelation specifically directed to that dispensation.

To better appreciate the distinctives of dispensationalism's "rightly dividing the word," one needs to think through the dispensational explanation of Biblical history. A good place to start is the Abrahamic covenant and the dispensation of Promise. Here God provided a salvation administered on a by-faith basis and administered without moral conditions.4 All went well for the people of God until Mount Sinai where a rash and tragic mistake occurred. There the people of God rashly abandoned their unconditional by-faith covenant position and instead tragically accepted the conditional and legalistic Mosaic covenant. Drs. Scofield and Chafer give the following explanations of Mount Sinai:

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.5

When the Law was proposed, the children of Israel deliberately forsook their position under the grace of God which had been their relationship to God until that day, and placed themselves under the Law. ...

While it is certain that Jehovah knew the choice that the people would make, it is equally certain that their choice was in no way required by Him. ... The surrender of the blessings of grace should have been allowed by these people on no condition whatsoever. Had they said at the hearing of the impossible law, "None of these things can we do. We crave only to remain in that boundless mercy of God, who has loved us, and sought us, and saved us from all our enemies, and who will bring us to Himself," it is evident that such an appeal would have reached the very heart of God. And the surpassing glory of His grace would have been extended to them without bounds; for grace above all else is the delight of the heart of God. In place of the eagles' wings by which they were carried unto God, they confidently chose a covenant of works when they said: "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." They were called upon to face a concrete choice between the mercy of God which had followed them, and a new and hopeless covenant of works. They fell from grace. ...

Upon the determined choice of law, the mountain where God was revealed became a terrible spectacle of the unapproachable, holy character of God. ... He who had brought them to Himself under the unconditional blessings of grace, must now warn them lest they break through unto the Lord and perish. ...

The children of Israel definitely chose the covenant of works, which is law, as their relationship to God.6

It is instructive to contrast this traditional dispensational evaluation of Mount Sinai with the Biblical evaluation of Mount Sinai:

According to dispensational authorities such as Dr. Chafer, by-faith salvation based upon an imputed righteousness was abandoned at Mount Sinai and was not resumed until after Mount Calvary.7 During this period of law, there was no divine enablement and the people of God obeyed the law in the power of the flesh.8 Many, if not most, dispensationalists teach that there was no enablement through a universal indwelling of the Holy Spirit among the Old Testament saints,9 and some also teach that there was no enablement through regeneration under the old covenant.10 If the Old Testament saints did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit or a new nature, then they were limited to the energy of sinful flesh in their obeying God's law.

If one considers the period from the Abrahamic covenant to the end time church rapture, the Mosaic covenant was a legalistic parenthesis in a by-faith administration of grace that began in the dispensation of Promise and resumed in the dispensation of Grace.11 If one considers the period from the Mosaic covenant to the end of the millennium, the church age is a parenthesis of grace in a meritorious administration of law since the post-rapture tribulation is a recontinuance of the dispensation of law and since the millennium will be a period of legalistic kingdom law that is similar to Mosaic law.12 It is only fair to mention that some recent dispensationalists have, in various degrees, modified this excessively rigid dichotomy between law and grace in their explanations of redemptive history and have begun to drift toward the teachings on law and grace more traditionally held by Reformed theologians.

The next major development in the dispensational explanation of the Bible is the dispensational interpretation of the Gospels and the early chapters of Acts. According to dispensationalism, John the Baptist was announcing and Jesus was offering a Judaistic political kingdom. Even though this was the sort of kingdom that the dispensationalists say the Jews were expecting and wanting, Israel as a nation rejected Christ and His offer. In judgment upon Israel's unbelief, Christ postponed the Jewish kingdom and inaugurated the parenthetical and previously unrevealed church age. Because of this analysis of the ministry of Christ, dispensationalists see the Gospels as a complex combination of truth relating directly to three different dispensations: law, grace, and kingdom.13 The preaching of John the Baptist14 and Christ's Sermon on the Mount were legal discourses related to Jewish kingdom truth and not directly intended for the church age. For example, Dr. Chafer in his Systematic Theology gave the following dispensational analysis of Christ's Sermon on the Mount:

There is in the Sermon on the Mount a recognition of the Father and the Messiah-Son, but no reference will be found to the Holy Spirit whose indwelling and limitless ministry is so great a factor in this age of the Church. There is no reference to the death of Christ with its redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation values. There is no regeneration and no mention of the faith principle as a way into the saving grace of God. There is a reference to faith as a life principle (Matt. 6:25-34), but this is in no way related to salvation from sin. The great truth of a New Creation procured and secured through the resurrection of Christ is wholly wanting in this address. The phrase in Christ with its infinite meaning relative to positions and possessions is not present, nor is even one of those positions or possessions hinted at throughout its more than one hundred verses. No enabling power whereby these great demands both in character and conduct may be realized is intimated. It represents a human responsibility. The great word justification could not possibly be introduced nor that imputed righteousness upon which justification is founded. How far removed is a mere man-wrought righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20) from the "gift of righteousness" bestowed on those who receive "abundance of grace" (Rom. 5:17)! And how great is the difference between those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6) and those who are "made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21)! Thus, also, great is the difference between those who are in danger of hell fire (Matt. 5:22,29-30) and those who are justified on a principle of perfect divine justice who have done no more than believe in Jesus -- even the ungodly (Rom. 3:26;4:5). Thus, again, note should be made of the divergence between those who obtain mercy by being merciful (Matt. 5:7) and those who have found everlasting mercy even when dead in sins (Eph. 2:4-5), likewise between those who hope to be forgiven on the ground of their own forgiveness of others (Matt. 6:12-15) and those who for Christ's sake have been forgiven (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). And, yet again, consideration must be given to a distinction between those who follow a course -- strait and narrow -- with the goal in view that they may find life at the end of that path (Matt. 7:14) and those to whom eternal life has been given as a present possession (John 3:36; Rom. 6:23; 1 John 5:11-12). Finally, far removed is a situation in which some hear the Lord say, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:23) and an assurance that one trusting in Christ "shall never perish" (John 10:28; Rom. 8:1).15 Dr. Scofield said: ...the Lord's prayer is, dispensationally, upon legal, not church ground; it is not a prayer in the name of Christ ... ; and it makes human forgiveness, as under the law it must, the condition of divine forgiveness; an order which grace exactly reverses ... .16 Dr. Charles C. Ryrie said: It is usually charged that dispensationalists teach that the Sermon on the Mount is all law and no gospel. To those who object to this claim, we merely ask, Where can one find a statement of the gospel in the Sermon?17

Dispensationalists regard the Sermon on the Mount as the Messiah's manifesto of the kingdom He would have then set up if Israel had accepted Him. Israel, however, did not accept Him, and Jesus began looking away from the prophesied Messianic age and the earthly people (the Jews) to the unrevealed, parenthetical church age and the heavenly people (the church). The parables of Matthew 13, which obviously refer to the church age, are interpreted by dispensationalists as an initial explanation of some of the unexpected mysteries of the coming age due to this postponement of the Jewish millennium and the unrevealed introduction of the church age. According to Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost:

This thirteenth chapter holds a unique place in the development of the Gospel. ... Christ shows that both He and His forerunner have been rejected (11:1-9), and this rejection will result in judgment (11:20-24). ... In chapter 12 the rejection comes to a climax. ... As the chapter closes (12:46-50) the Lord indicates that He is setting aside all natural relationships, such as Israel sustained to Him and to covenant promises by a physical birth, and establishes a new relationship, based on faith. ... Since this kingdom was the subject of an irrevocable covenant it was unthinkable that it could be abandoned. The chapter gives the events in the development of the kingdom program from the time of its rejection until it is received when the nation welcomes the King at His second advent.18

The mystery form of the kingdom, then, has reference to the age between the two advents of Christ. The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven describe the conditions that prevail on the earth in that interim while the king is absent. These mysteries thus relate this present age to the eternal purposes of God in regard to His kingdom.19

Dr. Pentecost gives his dispensational interpretation of these parables of the kingdom in mystery form. The parable of the wheat and the tares "has primary reference to Israel during the tribulation period." The parable of the mustard seed teaches that the church age "is characterized by abnormal external growth." "That which was to be an herb has become a tree -- it has developed into a monstrosity" and has become the resting place for metaphorical birds representing the enemies of God's program. The parable of the leaven reveals "that there will rise a religious system that will introduce a corrupting element into the doctrine of the person of Christ." The parable of the hid treasure depicts "the relationship of Israel to this present age" and the parable of the pearl of great price relates to the Christ's church which, "like a pearl, can only become His adornment by being lifted out of the place in which it was formed [i.e., the rapture]."20

After giving the parables of the kingdom in mystery form, Christ began speaking of both the coming parenthetical church age and the future Jewish tribulation and millennium when the prophesied but postponed kingdom program would be resumed. Matthew 16:18 is where Christ first openly revealed His plans to establish the church.21 As we noted in a previous chapter, dispensationalists argue that Christ's statement "I will build My church" is a strong argument that the church was then an absolutely new spiritual entity. Matthew 18:17 is where Christ gave church truth on discipline. The Olivet discourse (Matthew 24) is a detailed prophecy of the seven year Jewish tribulation period after the church rapture. The upper room discourse (John 14-16) that occurred a few days later is church truth. The apostles in Acts 1:6 represented the Jewish remnant when they asked the risen Christ if He were then going to restore the kingdom to Israel. In Acts 2 on Pentecost, the disciples preached church truth. According to some dispensationalists, the apostles in Acts 3:12-26 again offered the Judaistic kingdom to the Jewish nation one last time.22 If the Jews had accepted this reoffer, the church rapture would have then occurred and the seven year Jewish tribulation period would have begun after an extremely short church age.

After Pentecost, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was called and the emphasis progressively turned away from Israel to the formation of the largely Gentile church. The rest of the book of Acts is viewed by dispensationalists as definitely church truth. A problem for the dispensationalist is the frequent reference to the kingdom both in Acts and in the epistles written during that period. Dispensationalists explain that the kingdom there referred to is not the theocratic Messianic kingdom of Old Testament prophecy but instead is either God's nontheocratic sovereign rule of providence or is "the kingdom in mystery form" of Matthew 13, which dispensationalists interpret as a name applicable to the non-kingdom church age. Dispensationalist Dr. Paul Lee Tan explains the present relevance of the kingdom as follows:

It is true that the kingdom promised by the prophets was postponed when the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ was rejected. Nevertheless, during the present inter-advent age, the kingdom is anticipatorily present and has its present outworkings.23 Explanations such as these do not satisfy the ultradispensationalists who view Acts and the epistles of that period as Jewish truth and not as truth for the later Gentile Pauline Body and Bride of Christ church.

Most dispensationalists believe that the parenthetical church age will end with a secret rapture before the beginning of a seven-year Jewish tribulation period which is identified as the seventieth of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9. The saints who are alive at that time will be translated into resurrection bodies and then be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) Dispensationalists define the "dead in Christ" who are resurrected just before the rapture as the deceased saints who were saved after the Pentecost of Acts 2. According to Dr. John F. Walvoord:

The expression "the dead in Christ shall arise first" (1 Thess. 4:16) seems to include only the church.

The Old Testament saints are never described by the phrase "in Christ."24

After the tribulation, Christ will return and resurrect the saved of all ages, except, of course, the "in Christ" saints who were resurrected or raptured seven years earlier. The earth will be populated by the believers who survived the tribulation period, and all the resurrected saints of all ages will go to abide in the heavenly Jerusalem that will descend to hover over Palestine during the millennium.25 Christ will bind Satan, set up a national, Jewish kingdom and reign both on earth and from the heavenly city for 1000 years. Death will be rare or even non-existent except as a penal measure for overt sin.26 The spirits of wicked millennial residents who die will go to hell to await the final judgment, and I have heard the opinion that millennial saints who die during the millennium will be immediately resurrected and will enter the heavenly city as resurrected saints. At the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed and will inspire a military revolt which Christ will quickly put down. The earthly millennial saints will be judged and translated into resurrected bodies and the eternal state.27 Then the unsaved dead of all ages will be resurrected and condemned with Satan to the lake of fire at the great white throne judgment. The earth will be purged with fire, the new heavens and the new earth will be formed, the heavenly city will descend to earth, and eternity will begin.

This is the basic dispensational explanation of redemptive history. A significant difference between this view of redemptive history and the Reformed view of redemptive history is the unifying theme. In Reformed interpretation, the unifying theme that is the key to understanding the development of redemptive history is the saving work of Jesus Christ. God created Adam and gave him the earth to rule and to subdue. Because of Adam's fall into sin, the earth was cursed and man became a servant of sin and Satan. God immediately promised a coming Seed of woman who would overcome Satan and reverse the effects of the fall. The rest of redemptive history is the developing story of the restoration of fallen man's earthly inheritance and authority through the work of the Seed Redeemer on behalf of His people. The theocracy of Old Testament Israel fits into this redemptive drama as a localized pledge and prefiguration of the coming perfect kingdom rule and everlasting earthly inheritance that the Christ will establish for His people and as the national means through which the Christ was brought into the world. Through the historical work of Jesus Christ, Satan was defeated and Jesus of Nazareth, who is fully man as well as fully God, was exalted to the place of all authority in heaven and on earth. In this age, Christ is exercising His authority, the nations are being discipled, and Christ's universal rule over men is being extended to the uttermost parts of the earth. The drama of redemption will find its ultimate and final fulfillment in the glorified new earth of Revelation 21 after Christ returns.

The dispensationalist rejects this concept of a Christological-soteriological unity to redemptive history and also claims to be the only one to have an adequate concept of progressive revelation. Dr. John F. Walvoord makes the following observations:

Covenant theology is the view that all the dispensations from Adam to the end of human history are aspects of God's soteriological program. In other words, the dispensations are different presentations of the way of salvation in a gradually unfolding progression. The tendency of this viewpoint is to regard God's general purpose as essentially that of saving the elect, to blend the various Biblical revelations regarding Israel, the Gentiles, and the church into one stream, and to minimize the differences between the various dispensations. In contrast, the dispensational theology, while not disputing the view of the unity of God's plan of salvation, finds in the various dispensations periods of stewardship which are not directly related to salvation. In a word, the dispensationalist does not consider the program of God for salvation as the sole purpose of God, and in fact denies that some of the dispensations are basically soteriological.28 According to Dr. Charles C. Ryrie:

The covenant theologian in his zeal to make Christ all in all is guilty of superimposing Him arbitrarily on the Old Testament. He does the same with the doctrine of the Church and with the concept of salvation through faith in Christ.29

The hermeneutical straitjacket which covenant theology forces on the Scriptures results in reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament and in an artificial typological interpretation.30

Only dispensationalism does justice to the proper concept of the progress of revelation. ... Covenant theology ... because of the rigidity of its unifying principle of the covenant of grace can never show within its system proper progress of revelation. ... Only dispensationalism can cause historical events and successions to be seen in their own light and not to be reflected in the artificial light of an overall covenant.31

Dispensationalism alone has a broad enough unifying principle to do justice to the unity of the progress of revelation on the one hand and the distinctiveness of the various stages in that progress on the other. Covenant theology can only emphasize the unity, and in so doing overemphasizes it until it becomes the sole governing category of interpretation.32

Despite Dr. Ryrie's bold claims, dispensationalism provides an inadequate basis for demonstrating the unity of the Word of God.

What is the unifying theme that holds together the dispensational explanation of redemptive history? I believe it is the theocratic kingdom. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer traces the theocratic kingdom from the time of the judges to eternity33 and Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost traces it from Eden to eternity.34 The church age fits in this explanation of redemptive history as a parenthesis in the progression. It would even be hypothetically possible to omit the church age altogether. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer has said the following about the parenthetical nature of the church age:

But for the Church intercalation -- which was wholly unforeseen and is wholly unrelated to any divine purpose which precedes it or which follows it -- Israel would be expected to pass directly from the crucifixion to her kingdom; for it was not the death of Christ and His resurrection which demanded the postponement, but rather an unforeseen age. It should require no great effort to note that the recognition of this age -- wholly unforeseen, wholly unrelated, and itself a strict intercalation -- is the key to the understanding of the entire program of God in the ages, and without that key only confusion would result.35 My opinion is that a unifying theme that can logically omit a most important and significant stage of development is not an adequate unifying theme.

Dr. Charles C. Ryrie teaches that the glory of God is the unifying theme in redemptive history:

No dispensationalist minimizes the importance of God's saving purpose in the world. But whether it is God's total purpose or even His principle purpose is open to question. The dispensationalist sees a broader purpose in God's program for the world than salvation, and that purpose is His own glory. For the dispensationalist the glory of God is the governing principle and overall purpose, and the soteriological program is one of the principal means employed in bringing to pass the greatest demonstration of His own glory. Salvation is part and parcel of God's program, but it cannot be equated with the entire purpose itself. ... the unifying principe of covenant theology is in practice, soteriological. The unifying principle of dispensationalism is doxological, or the glory of God as He manifests His character in the differing stewardships given to man.36 Reformed theologians believe that the glory of God is the final purpose in all that happens but not the unifying theme that ties together the drama of redemptive history. Because God's glory is the final purpose in all that happens, every segment of redemptive history is related to God's glory. But finding a common factor in those segments is not the same thing as demonstrating that a certain theme is progressively developed and revealed in those segments.

Dr. Ryrie lists five purposes through which God's glory is manifest in redemptive history: "the program of redemption, the program of Israel, the punishment of the wicked, the plan for the angels, and the glory of God through nature."37 Closer examination will reveal that these are not five independent purposes whose only common link is the glory of God. "The punishment of the wicked, the plan for the angels, and the glory of God through nature" are related progressively and developmentally to "the program of redemption." In redemptive history, the angels function as "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14) and as agents of the punishment of the wicked and as members of the divine court. The "plan for the angels" in redemptive history is primarily a sub-purpose under "the program of redemption" and "the punishment of the wicked." Even when the angels appear in redemptive history as members of the divine court, they are a part of some vision of God that is a revelatory part of "the program of redemption." "The punishment of the wicked" is but the other side of the coin of "the program of redemption." And "the glory of God through nature" is a basis of judgment for the wicked (Romans 1:20) and a basis of praise for the redeemed (Psalm 19). It is also related to "the program of redemption" in that the glorified new earth will be the eternal inheritance of the saints. When one gets to the real kernel of this doxological unifying theme with its five sub-purposes, one finds a theocratic kingdom program for Israel and a soteriological program with four sub-purposes. The theocratic kingdom program for Israel is inadequate as a unifying theme of redemptive history, and the dispensationalists reject the soteriological program as a unifying theme. To accept the soteriological program as the unifying theme would logically result in a soteriologically united people of God, which would destroy dispensationalism.

Dividing Biblical history into a progression of dispensations is not unique to dispensationalists. All theologians do that. What is characteristic of the consistent dispensationalist is that he suffers from an acute case of "hardening of the categories." Having in practice rejected the typological and organic union of the two testaments that is found in Christ and His saving work, the consistent dispensationalist has instead adopted a two-program, two-people view of Biblical history in which the church age is a logically unnecessary parenthesis in the divine program and, from the perspective of the Old Testament prophets, a divine afterthought and adjustment. My own opinion, to use a pun, is that consistently interpreting Scripture through the rigid grid of dispensational assumptions has the potential for turning Biblical bread into theological shredded wheat. Fortunately, many dispensationalists today are mild dispensationalists who are not all that rigid when it comes to dispensational interpretation and theology and who have had little actual exposure to the classical and definitive dispensational works by men such as Chafer and Scofield where these dispensational dichotomies are more rigidly pressed.

End Notes

1 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), page 84; C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1909), page 5 note 4 on Genesis 1:28.
2 "(1) Any person is a dispensationalist who trusts the blood of Christ rather than bringing an animal sacrifice. (2) Any person is a dispensationalist who disclaims any right or title to the land which God covenanted to Israel for an everlasting inheritance. And (3) any person is a dispensationalist who observes the first day of the week rather than the seventh. To all this it would be replied that every Christian does these things, which is obviously true; and it is equally true that, to a very considerable degree, all Christians are dispensationalists. However, not all Christians, though sincere, are as well instructed in the spiritual content of the Scriptures as others, nor have they seen the necessity of recognizing other and deeper distinctions which do confront the careful student of the Word of God."
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dispensationalism (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1936), page 9.
3 C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible, page 5 note 4.
4 "This [Abrahamic] covenant, being without human condition, simply declares the unchanging purpose of Jehovah. It will be achieved in pure grace, apart from every human factor, and its accomplishments are eternal."
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 4:235.
5 C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible, page 20 note 1 on Genesis 12:1.
6 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:162-164. See also Charles L. Feinberg, Millennialism: The Two Major Views, Third and Enlarged Edition (Chicago: Moody Press, 1936), page 217.

I might mention that the Bible's evaluation of Mount Sinai and the response of Israel to the law is in marked contrast to Dr. Chafer's evaluation (Deuteronomy 5:27-28).
7 "Men were just and righteous as related to the Mosaic Law, but none had the righteousness of God imputed to them on the ground of faith except Abraham, he who was so evidently marked out and raised up of God to anticipate and illustrate (cf. Romans and Galatians) the New Testament doctrine of imputed righteousness; so of Abraham alone Christ said, 'Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad' (John 8:56)."
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 6:74.

"A distinction must be observed here between just men of the Old Testament and those justified according to the New Testament. According to the Old Testament men were just because they were true and faithful in keeping the Mosaic Law. ... Men were therefore just because of their own works for God, whereas New Testament justification is God's work for man in answer to faith (Rom. 5:1)."
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 7:219.

Dr. Chafer has here made the same error of interpretation that was common in Judaism: "God expects those who are within the covenant, and who on this basis have been declared to be in right relationship with him, to live as children of the righteous Lord. ... Where a mistake could be made, and in fact was made in later Judaism, was to think that God's declaration of righteousness was dependent upon an individual Jew's meticulous fulfillment of the laws within the covenant made with Moses on Mount Sinai. Actually, righteousness as an ethical quality of blamelessness came as a result of God's declaration of right standing before him within his covenant of grace, and not the opposite way around. The Pharisee in Luke 18 represents the way in which the whole pursuit of righteousness can go wrong. He stopped looking to the Lord as the giver of righteousness and concentrated on seeking to achieve righteousness to present to the Lord at the end of his life."
Peter Toon, Justification and Sanctification (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1983), page 18.
8 "The law, being a covenant of works and providing no enablement, addressed itself to the limitations of the natural man. No more was expected or secured in return from its commands than the natural man in his environment could produce. The requirements under the law are, therefore, on the plane of the limited ability of the flesh. On the other hand, grace, being a covenant of faith, and providing the limitless enablement of the power of the indwelling Spirit, addresses itself to the unlimited resources of the supernatural man."
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:247.

"The law system provided no enabling power for it achievement."
Ibid., 4:51.

"...but one of these three divine economies [i.e. law, grace, kingdom] provides directly and purposefully divine enablement for every requirement which it places upon the individual; that is, no mention is made in two of these economies of a provision of divine enablement for their fulfillment. However, in the present economy, both supernatural standards of action are announced and complete ability by the Spirit is provided for their fulfillment."
Ibid., 4:156.

"The Law of Moses presents a covenant of works to be wrought in the energy of the flesh; the teachings of grace present a covenant of faith to be wrought in the energy of the Spirit."
Ibid., 4:211; compare Ibid., 4:234.

"This same indwelling of the Holy Spirit becomes, as well, an age-characterization. This is a dispensation of the Spirit, a period of time in which the Holy Spirit is the believer's all- sufficient Resource both for power and guidance. In this age the Christian is appointed to live by a new life-principle (cf. Rom. 6:4). The realization of the Spirit's presence, power, and guidance constitutes a wholly new method of daily living and is in contrast to that dominance and authority which the Mosaic Law exercised over Israel in the age that is past."
Ibid., 6.122-123.

"The basis of Law is a covenant of works; that of grace is a covenant of grace. Human merit is the foundation stone of the Law; the merit of Christ is the foundation of grace. ... A covenant of works is grounded in what the flesh can do; a covenant of grace is based upon faith in what God has done and is willing to do."
Charles L. Feinberg, Millennialism: The Two Major Views, pages 216-217.

Dispensationalist Dr. Charles C. Ryrie acknowledges the error of the above: "Dispensationalists have often pictured the Law as a period when enablement was completely lacking. It is true that there was a sharp contrast between the enablement under the law and the work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17), but it is not accurate to say that there was no enablement under the law."
Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), page 120.
9 Dr. John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954,1958), pages 71,73,75; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, page 120; C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible, page 982; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), page 271.
10 "At this point the question of what constituted the right relation of a Jew to God within the scope and purpose of Judaism might be asked. It is the Covenant theologian who advances at this point the assumption that the saints of the old order were regenerated and on the same basis of relationship to Jehovah as is accorded the saints of the New Testament. Such an assumption is needful if their theory is to be sustained."
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 6:104-105; compare 3:215 and 6:111.
11 "Since the covenant of grace which is based on human faith was established in the promise made to Abraham, the covenant of law, made four hundred years later, and added only for a temporary purpose, cannot disannul it. The reign of law, with its covenant of works, ceased with the death of Christ. Its purpose had been accomplished, and its appointed time had expired. Thus the by-faith principle which was announced in the Abrahamic covenant is brought again into force, through the death of Christ."
Ibid., 4:229.

"The example of Abraham who believed Jehovah and it (his faith) was counted unto him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6) was ever before Israel, and David has described the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works (Romans 4:6); nevertheless, Israel stumbled over the stumbling stone of human merit ... Their [Israel's] trouble was ignorance. They did not know the truth that faith in God would, as witnessed by Abraham, David, and the prophets, bring about, through divine grace, an adjustment all-satisfying to God -- even a righteousness as perfect as Himself."
Ibid., 3:79.

"Let it be restated that Abraham is the pattern of a Christian under grace and not of a Jew under law."
Ibid., 3:84.

"The Law of Moses, to be sure, was an ad interim dealing in effect only until Christ should come. For the time being it gave to sin the character of transgression (Rom. 5:13; Gal. 3:19). It was preceded (Ex. 19:4) and followed (John 1:17) by grace."
Ibid., 7:225-226.

"The nature of a covenant which is based on human works is obvious. Whatever God promises under such a covenant, is conditioned on the faithfulness of man. Every blessing under the Law of Moses was so conditioned, and every blessing in the kingdom relationship will be found to be so ordered. Turning to the kingdom teachings of Christ wherein the issues of personal conduct and obligation in the kingdom are taken up, it will be seen that all the kingdom promises to the individual are based on human merit. ... It is a covenant of works only and the emphatic word is do. "This do, and thou shalt live" is the highest promise of the law. ...

"Turning to the Law of Moses, we discover that it presents no other relation to God than this same covenant of works:. ...

"By these references to the Law of Moses and the law of the kingdom, it may be seen that both of these systems are based wholly on a covenant of works."
Ibid., 4:211-212.

"... The kingdom teachings, like the Law of Moses, are based on a covenant of works. The teachings of grace, on the other hand, are based on a covenant of faith. In the one case, righteousness is demanded; in the other it is provided, both imputed and imparted, or inwrought. One is of a blessing to be bestowed because of a perfect life, the other of a life to be lived because of a perfect blessing already received."
Ibid., 4:215-216.

"The tribulation period, also, seems to revert back to Old Testament conditions in several ways; and in the Old Testament period, saints were never permanently indwelt except in isolated instances, though a number of instances of the filling of the Spirit and of empowering for service are found. Taking all the factors into consideration, there is no evidence for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers in the tribulation."
Dr. John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, page 230.


"The Gospels are complex almost beyond any other portion of Scripture, since they are a composite of the teachings of Moses, of grace, and of the kingdom." Lewis Sperry Chafer,
Systematic Theology, 4:172.

"The Synoptic Gospels, though on the surface presenting a simple narrative, are, nevertheless, a field for careful, discriminating study on the part of the true expositor. In these Gospels Christ is seen as loyal to and vindicating the Mosaic Law under which He lived; He also anticipates the kingdom age in connection with the offer of Himself as Israel's King; and, when His rejection is indicated, He announces His death and resurrection and the expectation concerning a heavenly people (Matt. 16:18) for whom He gave Himself in redeeming love (Eph. 5:25-27)."
Ibid., 4:12.

"If critical scholars assume it possible to claim two Isaiahs on the evidence afforded in the difference in style and subject matter which the two parts of Isaiah's writing set forth, there would be by far more conclusive proof of at least three Christs. It seems not to occur to a certain group of theologians that these discourses not only introduce principles which, for a doctrinal standpoint, are irreconcilable, but also happen to be addressed to classes which are differently related to God and to Christ."
Ibid., 5:96.

14 Ibid., 4:214-215.
15 Ibid., 5:112-113; compare 4:216f.

"Sad, indeed, is the spectacle when Christians assume that the Sermon on the Mount represents the high calling of the Church and attempt to modify the character of sovereign grace to the end that it may conform to a merit system."
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 5.109.
16 C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible, page 1089-1090 note 1 on Luke 11:1; see also page 1002 note 1 on Matt. 6:12. Compare Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:221-222.
17 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, page 108.
18 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 140-142.
19 Ibid., page 143.
20 Ibid., pages 146-149.
21 Ibid., page 201.
22 C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible, page 1153 note 1 on Acts 3:20; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 469.
23 Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Publishers, 1974), page 311.
24 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), page 154; compare John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), page 280.
25 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 291,302,317,324-326; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 411,414-415,542,546; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pages 146-147.
26 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 277; John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 317-318.
27 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 277,328.
28 Ibid., pages 79-80.
29 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, page 187.
30 Ibid., page 190.
31 Ibid., pages 19-20.
32 Ibid., page 35.
33 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 5:333-358.
34 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 433-494.
35 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 5:348-349.
36 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pages 102-103.
37 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pages 211-212.

* Grover Gunn is the Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA), Jackson, Tennessee. Visit his website for many excellent articles and sermons: http://grovergunn.net/andrew/andrew.htm.