Friday, June 27, 2008

Dispensationalism: defined?

I recommend subscribing to the Theological Word of the Day. Each day you'll be mailed a new term, brief definition, and sometimes some recommended reading.

But the last two have been... uneven. I'll pick on today's definition at this blog, and perhaps the other, later, at Pyromaniacs.

The word? Dispensationalism. Here's their definition in full:
A biblical hermeneutic paradigm common in conservative fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian theology. Originating from the Plymouth Brethren in the nineteenth century and popularized in the Schofield Reference Bible in the twentieth century, dispensationalism has three primary characteristics: 1) the call for a consistent literal or “normal” hermeneutic, 2) the separation of Israel from the church, 3) the separation of human history into several distinct epics, “economies,” or dispensations in which God relates to mankind in a distinct way. With regard to soteriological history (history of salvation), dispensationalism teaches that salvation has always been by faith alone, by grace alone, yet the content of the Gospel has been progressively revealed through biblical history. Dispensationalism has a variety of forms and has gone through some recent developments.
Well. For starters, I think I like referring to it as a "biblical hermeneutic paradigm." This correctly takes the focus off of counting or slicing dispensations (which everyone does), charts (which many do and anyone can), or even the timing of the Rapture (which all positions affirm, but with differing temporal location). It correctly isolates the issue as a hermeneutical issue. That, I like a lot.

However.

"Schofield"? Best-selling study Bible since the start of the last century? How about "Scofield"? Eek.

And then after a good beginning and two good distinctives, it slips on the third: "the separation of human history into several distinct epics, 'economies,' or dispensations in which God relates to mankind in a distinct way."

Um, no.

Every Biblical system distinguishes at least two different economies (hel-lo? Old Testament? New Testament?). Most would also grant that pre-Fall is a different set of expectations, and post-Second-Advent is another. Well, that's four — unless the individual is just so angry at dispensationalists that he'll Gumby up words to keep himself different.

But look: if you feel free to eat ham, go to church on Sunday, and ask God for forgiveness explicitly on the basis of Jesus' blood rather than offering an animal sacrifice .... gotcha!

Probably Ryrie's third distinctive is a better one: seeing the glory of God as the center of history, rather than man's redemption.

Thus far, my quibbles.

49 comments:

James Kubecki said...

Well said! I think Frank beat you to the punch on well-argued quibbling over definitions of cessationism, though (granted, not TWOTD's, but, still).

DJP said...

Thanks.

Well, I (A) love Frank, (B) think he can't possibly write enough posts, but (C) have my own take and angle and (D) think that, as long as there are still good brothers and sisters (mostly) unintentionally propping up Bentley and Hagin and Hinn, the position deserves another whack or two.

Stefan said...

Dan: This is germane to today's post (bear with me), but you were asking yesterday about denominations that are credobaptist, elder-led, reformed (by implication), and dispensationalist.

It's not a denomination, but the website GotQuestions.org is "almost" reformed (4-point Calvinist: see What is Arminianism and is it Biblical?) and dispensational (see What is Dispensationalism and is it Biblical?). While I half disagree with their eschatology (I'm posttrib), they have a lot of biblically sound definitions and introductory articles on a whole host of topics.

Getting back to yesterday's question, it may be more a question churches than denominations. For example, our church is five-sola, four-and-a-half-point, credobaptist, complementarian, and elder-led, in a denomination that is largely Arminian, congregational, and egalitarian. (Despite that, we wouldn't voluntarily leave the denomination, for the same reason Frank counsels believers to not leave their churches.)

As for millennialism, our senior pastor takes Spurgeon's approach: posttrib premill, but knows that delivering the Gospel is of more immediate need to the many non-believers who attend than dwelling on the timing of 1 Thess 4:16-17 and 1 Cor 15:51. ...But (to bring things full circle), our website links to various GotQuestions.org pages to help website visitors learn about Jesus Christ.

As for pastoral openings, I have not been a believer or member long enough that I am in a position to recommend someone and be taken seriously—and we're in Canada. Your senior pastor at your church, however, must surely have connections to other biblical churches....

DJP said...

He's Presbyterranean. He'd love it if I'd "go over the wall" on the sticking-issues and become PCA. But I've certainly done all I could to do my part to communicate to him that I'd love any help, leads, or anything.

ChosenClay said...

Dan, since you've brought up the topic, “Dispensationalism defined”, could you give me your opinion as to the definition put forth in the booklet "What the bible says about the people of God"

See here:

Is this a fair and accurate definition of Dispensationalism?

In His Name

Mark

ChosenClay said...

Dan, sorry but I forgot to say "click" the online PDF version to read it.

Mark

DJP said...

No; and I remind you (and all) that I generally discourage comments that, instead of interacting with the post itself, amount to little more than links-to-something-else.

candyinsierras said...

One question that doesn't seem to get answered satisfactorily in my church is the presence of a modern day Israel, and why it exists if God does not have a purpose for Israel. What say you about the Israel issue?

DJP said...

"Oopsie."

(c;

DJP said...

More seriously, Candy, I've heard/read replacement types flatly state that the existence of Israel has no significance whatever.

Odd, that, isn't it? Has any people ever been so deliberately and repeatedly targeted for extinction, yet survived so distinctively?

Of course, that doesn't mean that God hasn't gone back, or pulled a "Fooled you!" on His promises to ethnic Israel. But it does accord nicely with that perspective, doesn't it? If Israel had utterly gone the way of the Assyrians and Hurrians and Hittites and Babylonians, it would be hard to make the case that they had a future in God's plan.

Stefan said...

Dan: I only posted the links to suggest a website to you that defines Christian terms, but probably gets dispensationalism right. And since they're also reformed (reformational, not baby-baptizing reformed, of course), I thought it might interest you.

But anyhow, the points you raised in your deconstruction of the TWOTD's definition are well taken.

As for Candy's question, the only satisfactory answers are that God has yet to fulfil His prophetic promises to Israel (the dispensationalist viewpoint—right?), and/or He will bring a large number of them and bring them into the Body of Christ at some future time (Romans 11)—or a combination of the two in the millennial Kingdom.

(Please rebuke or delete if I'm taking things off topic.)

Fred Butler said...

I've heard/read replacement types flatly state that the existence of Israel has no significance whatever

Oh Dan, you theological naif. Didn't read Sam Waldron's book against John MacArthur? There is no such thing as replacement theology, its Fulfillment theology.

I bet Replacement theology is a term Hal Lindsey made up to sell more books.

Replacement theology, good grief.

LeeC said...

Um, no. Replacement theology certainly was not a term coined by Lindasy. As far as I know it came from it's popish inventors who seem quite pleased with it's convolutions.

Semper reformata.

Lee

DJP said...

If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?

Gavin said...

“If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?”
Four legs. A tail is not a leg regardless of its name.

DJP said...

There y'go.

Mike Riccardi said...

Dan,

I'm wondering why you like the name: hermeneutic paradigm. Wouldn't we call dispensationalism, covenant, NCT, a branch of theology? If so, don't we want to arrive at our theology by a hermeneutic, and not use a hermeneutic based on our theology?

One of the stronger points against covenant theology that Dick Mayhue has made is showing how covenant theologians make no bones about calling Covenant Theology a hermeneutic. That always proved to be circular. You're presupposing certain things and reading Scripture according to your presuppositions.

I dunno... what do you think about all this?

DJP said...

OK, I don't like it anymore.

DJP said...

BUT SERIOUSLY....

Good question. Here's what I mean, put too briefly:

Apply a consistent normal-language hermeneutic, a consistent grammatico-historical hermeneutic, and you end up (equally) Calvinistic and dispensationalist.

You CANNOT argue that Romans 8:29-30 guarantees the security of the believer, but Jeremiah 31:35-37 does not guarantee a future for ethnic Israel.

For starters.

Mike Riccardi said...

LoL...

I don't think it was too brief. Given the context of the post and other comments, I get exactly what you're saying.

And I agree with you. I just had a discussion yesterday with a group of guys that I meet with composed of four pretty theologically-familiar Christians and one new Christian reading Revelation for the first time. He had a question about when the Rapture happened. Listening to the Covenental explanation from a good friend of mine always makes me chuckle. As fastidious as he is in knowing and loving the Scriptures, and as insistent as he is about their clarity, the gymnastics used to make, for example, Jer. 31 mean something different than Romans 8 is just astounding.

It all comes down to the question: "Who is Israel and who is the Church, and by what hermeneutical principle(s) do you arrive at that answer?"

Mike Riccardi said...

Wouldn't mind seeing an extended BibChr or Pyro series on that.

DJP said...

Won't happen on Pyro. I want to do one here, am waiting on this and that.

Highland Host said...

Personally I think Ryrie's third distinctive is just silly. Perhaps some Arminians see man's redemption as the centre of history, Calvinists don't, whether they're Dispensational or not. Now, undoubtedly Dispensationalists DO hold the glory of God to be the centre of history (I'm British, that's how we spell it), it's just that plenty of Christians who aren't Dispensational do as well, so it's kind of useless as a distinctive. Like 'has four legs' is as a distinctive of spaniels. All other dogs have four legs as well (by nature, I mean).

DJP said...

Really? You haven't read CT writer after CT writer who reduce everything and every epoch to one overarching (never-specifically-revealed) Covenant of Redemption, so that all history is about the unfolding of that single covenant, and all the (explicitly-revealed) covenants are hammered down to conform to it?

If so, we've been reading and hearing different CT thinkers.

Celestial Fundie said...

I agree that Covenant theology makes man's redemption central to history.

This is a good post.

Highland Host said...

Yes, but GOOD Covenant theologians point out that both redemption and damnation have as their end the glory of God! Ther redemption of man is not an end in itself but a means by which God is glorified in His Saints.

I'm not sure that you Dispensationalists hear what other people hear you as saying, which is this: "You people don't think that God is doing everything for His own glory. We're theocentric, you're anthropocentric." Man, that's as silly as if I were to say that you believe that in the Old Covenant men were saved by virtue of the animal sacrifices!

Like I say, that's what I seem to be hearing. As I also say, you can't really believe that Calvin was anthropocentric. Can you? So am I taking 'centre of history' in a different way from you? If I am, maybe that's the reason why you think CTs don't make the glory of God the centre of history - you use the same words, but with different meanings.

By the way, would you say that most modern dispensationalists hold that 'every dispensation ends in failure', and that the dispensations are all periods of testing? I ask because I only know classical dispensationalists here in England.

DJP said...

I'll be very candid with you in responding to your question, HH. I'm not comfortable saying what modern dispensationalists believe, because I'm not up-to-date enough on my reading. Working a secular job, homeschooling, and blah-blah-blah, I've had other priorities in my reading. It's a lack I mean to remedy once I get into fulltime ministry, Lord willing.

My own view is that history is a test, each Divine law and each stewardship is a test; and, being sinners, even redeemed, we do fail. Paul's picture of the "last days" of the current dispensation — even among professed believers (2 Timothy 4:3-4), is not very bright.

I'll refer your question to someone who might be better able to answer it.

Highland Host said...

Fine. Know of any good introductory books on the subject other than Ryrie?

Mr. Phillips, the Westminster Confession says the following:

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death. (Chapter 3: of God's Eternal Decree, section 3)

"It pleased God the Father, son and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, widsom and goodness, in the beginning to create, or make of nothing, the world and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good" (Chapter 4. Of Creation, section 1.)

" God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (Chapter 5: of Providence, section 1)

Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptations of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. (Chapter 6: of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and the Punishment thereof)

Are you really saying that the Westminster theology doesn't make the glory of God the final end of all His actions?

Highland Host said...

PS. I have dealt with your accusation in more detail on my Strict and Particular blog.

Paul E said...

"Fine. Know of any good introductory books on the subject other than Ryrie?"

If you are genuinely interested, my first recommendation is one that has been around a while but is still a great read: "The Greatness of the Kingdom" by Alva McClain. My second is "Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology" by Arnold Fruchtenbaum. My third is a more recent book: "Future Israel" by Barry Horner.

Highland Host said...

Well, I'd rather get what Dispensationalists believe from them than the other side. I've got Horner, but interestingly he insists that what he's teaching is historic pre-millennialism, not Dispensationalism per se.

Highland Host said...

DJP. You said: "Really? You haven't read CT writer after CT writer who reduce everything and every epoch to one overarching (never-specifically-revealed) Covenant of Redemption, so that all history is about the unfolding of that single covenant, and all the (explicitly-revealed) covenants are hammered down to conform to it?"

That's not the same as saying that God's ultimate goal in history is redemption, it's the equivalent to saying that Dispensationalists teach that God's final goal in his dealings with men is the testing of humanity in terms of obedience. It is simply not fair for us to say that, so why is it fair for you to say that we say that God's ultimate aim in history is human redemption?

I may sound a little annoyed. That's because I don't like being told what I believe by you, any more than you'd like being told that you believe that people in the OT were saved without reference to Christ. I think the Westminster Divines, Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof are better authorities as to what Covenant theologians believe than Charles Ryrie, or Dan Phillips.

DJP said...

Truth is, HH, you always sound more than a little annoyed, invariably. I don't know that you've ever managed to say as much as "howdy" without sounding ticked-off about something. It's becoming wearing.

Yes, clearly you're irritated. We get that. Sorry. Hope you feel better soon.

You still haven't answered my question. Being peevish and defensive isn't an answer.

I didn't tell you what you believe. If you don't believe what I observed that many do believe, then I guess I wasn't talking about you, was I?

Are you unable to grant that someone can say "Oh yes, it's all about the glory of God," but then while he handles the actual details of the text, he hammers everything down to what (it emerges is) his real theme — for instance, a putative single, textually-questionable covenant of redemption? If massive amounts of uncongenial details are made subservient to this theory, is one not allowed to observe that the theory has overwhelmed the evidence? Is someone's stated belief or priority always his actual belief or priority?

Highland Host said...

Mostly because I only tend to post on comments that tick me off, so yes, I do always sound annoyed when I comment. Because I'm in the UK I often come in on the end of a comment thread, and my positive point has often been made already. Let me therefore say that I appreciate everything else you say, which is probably why I was so amazed that you actually think that Ryrie's third distinctive is a good one.

But, Mr. Phillips, if I am not a dispensationalist and actually believe that God's end in all His actions is His own glory, does that not still falsify the claim that holding that God's end in all His dealings with men is His own glory is a distinctive of dispensationalism? The Gospel Standard Strict Baptist writers in the UK (J.C. Philpot, William Gadsby, John Warburton, etc.) also believe as I believe, and express the fact that God has His own glory as His ultimate end in all He does in sermons and other writings. Now as I understand it for something to be a distinctive of a theological system, it must be something that system teaches and others do not. Thus Trinitarianism isn't a Dispensational distinctive because all Christians believe it. So to say 'such-and-such is a dispensational distinctive' appears to say that 'if you are a dispensationalist you probably don't hold to this.'

I think you misunderstand. You see, would it not be possible for a writer to say of Dispensationalists "Well, you say it's all about the glory of God, but when it comes down to it, their great theme is the distinction between the Church and Israel"? I think of Dr. MacArthur's controversial Shepherds' Conference speech. Someone could very well say that of that speech, or Barry Horner's 'Future Israel'. But that would be wrong. Just because a man in a work on the Covenant of Redemption focuses on the Covenant of Redemption no more means that he thinks that God's ultimate goal is that of redeeming men than the fact that Barry Horner in a book about the distinction between Israel and the Church focuses on that distinction means that he thinks that God making two peoples for Himself is His ultimate goal. Of course a person's stated belief or priority is not always their stated belief or priority, but we have to be quite careful in judging a person's priorities from their writings. After all, if you read that controversial MacArthur sermon, you might come away thinking that a distinction between Israel and the Church is his priority. That would not be fair, but it's what you're doing with Covenant Theology writers.

Now you may disagree about a Covenant Theologian's view of the covenant, that's your right. But honestly I'm not sure that you actually understand what you're saying here. You see, it seems to me that your point about a single covenant of redemption really has more to do with the first distinctive of Ryrie, the Church-Israel distinctive, than it has to do with his third. We all grant that one. But to say that holding to a single covenant of redemption means that you don't believe that God's aim in all His dealings with men is His own glory is in my mind something of a non sequitur. It doesn't follow that because I don't make some sort of absolute distinction between Israel and the Church, or I believe that God has only one covenant that is nevertheless administered in different ways, I therefore don't REALLY believe that God is working all things for His own glory.

Otherwise you are taking Ryrie's third distinctive and elevating it to the point of a presupposition.

But I have rabbited on for too long.

DJP said...

Well, let's get back to specifics. You fault me most heartily for the point on which I put least emphasis, and sometimes (in conversation — which, I understand, we haven't had) none at all.

Reminder: the definition stated that the third distinctive of dispensatioanlism is "3) the separation of human history into several distinct epics, “economies,” or dispensations in which God relates to mankind in a distinct way."

I found fault at that, with length. Given your apposite remarks about what is and isn't a "distinctive," I take it you agree with my demurral.

And then I said, "Probably Ryrie's third distinctive is a better one: seeing the glory of God as the center of history, rather than man's redemption."

"Probably...better" indicates that I don't see it as a major distinctive, either. I'm not prepared to say it isn't one, though, for the reasons I laid out in my previous comment.

Highland Host said...

Not in the face of the Westminster Confession? You're a braver man than I am, Gunga Phillips! For me, I am not willing to accuse men on inference. Could you give some names? I give:
"The final aim is the glory of God. Even the salvation of man is subordinate to this." (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology [Banner of Truth 1958) P. 115.) and "It is explicitly taught that the glory of God, the manifestation of His perfections, is the last end of all His works... God, as infinitely wise and good, seeks the highest end; and as all creatures are as the dust of the balance compared to Him, it follows that His glory is an infinitely higher end than anything that concerns them exclusively." (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology [Thomas Nelson, 1871] Vol. 1 P. 567)

I hoped that you would understand that the reason why I only took issue with you on this is because otherwise I agree with you! This is merely my rather strong way of saying that it's no better than their third.

DJP said...

I think I've invited you to call me "Dan," before. If you'd like to make it "Gunga Dan"... go for it. (c:

Let me try to reword what I said earlier, even in the forbidding face of the WC: one's practice can belie one's theory. (Every Christian knows this, of course.)

To be specific: many would claim to be practitioners of grammatico-historical exegesis, and would indeed bear out that claim in many regards. But when they find a predictive passage about Mount Zion, and tell me it's about the missionary work of the Christian church (— as no less a giant [and WC adherent] than the great E. J. Young does, on Isaiah 2), I reserve the right to raise an eyebrow at the claim, and to suggest that something other than grammatico-historical exegesis is producing the conclusion.

Your points are solid and well-made; I simply reserve the right to withhold judgment until further reading of my own, for the reasons stated. I myself stress the first two as dispensational distinctives.

Highland Host said...

And I agree the first two are dispensational distinctives. They're very good ones. I think the term 'dispensationalism' makes people long for some mention of dispensations as a third distinctive, because it sounds like it ought to fit. How about: "The separation of God's dealings with men into a series of dispensations defined as periods in which God tests man according to obedience to some specific revelation of His will?" I know it's Scofield's definition, but I think it moves in the right direction.

Of course it's possible to belie in practice what one says up front. So Dr. MacArthur condemns spiritualizing, yet in 'Because the Time is Near' he spiritualizes Revelation 3.10 to refer to the pre-trib rapture. However, simply because he does that does not make me exclaim that therefore the application of a single 'normal hermeneutic' is not a dispensational distinctive since Dr. MacArthur, though he says he tries to apply one, does not do so in Revelation 3.10. Again, Dr. C.I. Scofield (whose name I always seek to spell correctly, even if my spellchecker confuses him with Phillip Schofield) was a dispensationalist, and so he would have said that the Bible must be interpreted with a single normal hermeneutic. But again, I reach the first chapters of Revelation, and there he is saying that Revelation 2 and 3 should be interpreted in 'four senses'. Do I then say that Dispensationalists don't really believe in that distinctive? No, I merely note that we all fail to consistently apply our theology, pick up the pages that fell out of my great-aunt's 1917 Scofield and move on.
And I reserve the right to raise an eyebrow at the claim, and to suggest that something other than grammatical-historical exegesis is driving the claim!!!

You see my point? If we use the failings of writers to always write according to their professed beliefs as a reason to say 'huh, lookit that lot, they don't believe that, so we can't say they REALLY held to that,' it applies to both sides. Even in the solid face of a 'normal hermeneutic' one's practice can belie one's theory!!!

[Note: the use of three exclamation points is an old English way of indicating a remark that is intended to be taken humorously]

Paul E said...

HH, I have appreciated some of your thoughts presented earlier. Thank you.
I have a few questions with reference to your last post concerning Mac’s spiritualization (which would include me as well), of Rev 3:10.
Employing the grammatico-historical hermeneutic to:

NAS Revelation 3:10 'Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.

and asking the basic questions which this process implies, ie: Who is talking, who is He talking to, what is the historical background etc. Then asking the immediate questions, What is the hour of testing that will come upon the whole earth? What does it mean to be kept from the hour of testing?

And at this stage in the exegetical process, employing (properly), the principle of “the analogy of Scripture”, what would your conclusions?

Highland Host said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Highland Host said...

Paul e. Thank you for your comment. I hold to what I have said about MacArthur and Scofield and other Dispensatioal writers spiritualizing Revelation 3.10. Scofield is quite open that the reason he finds a prophetic sense (he actually distinguishes four senses in the letters to the seven churches, which surprised me) in the letters is that he has to find a prophecy of the Church Age in Revelation somewhere, and he thinks that the rest of the book refers to events after the Rapture.

But to get to my exegesis of the text. Christ is writing here to the literal first-century Church at Philadelphia. That is obvious from the context. To import into the text (as e.g. C.I. Scofield does) the idea that these passages must be prophetic (his language) is not exegesis, it is eisegesis. The historical background is the Church in the first century, and it is to that we must direct our attention. I agree here with Thomas Goodwin that the prophetic part of Revelation does not begin until chapter 4.
A little depends on when the book was written, but not much. There were a number of persecutions of Christians that affected the whole Roman Empire in the centuries from the writing of Revelation to Constantine. It is my suggestion that it is the most reasonable reading of the text to take the 'hour of testing' as referring to one or more of these persecutions. To be 'kept from it' would then refer to the Church at Philadelphia being preserved from the rigours of Roman persecution during this forthcoming empire-wide persecution. I am not alone in this, as Adam Clarke, Andrew Fuller, and John Wesley take the same view.

At this point it will be objected that the text says that it will come 'upon the whole earth'. But this is the same Greek word that is used in Luke 2.1 when Augustus Caesar decreed that the whole world be taxed, and in Acts 11.28 when Agabus prophesied a famine that would affect the whole world. The word here is oikomene, and while its primary meaning is 'inhabited earth', it also has the meaning 'Roman empire in Luke 2.1 and Acts 11.28. I would contend that here also the reference is to the Roman Empire. Augustus did not try to tax the Americas, and the famine of Acts 11.28 is highly unlikely to have been global, as such things do not happen.

Furthermore, the Church at Philadelphia ceased to exist in the 14th century, so that church (even if we refer to a continutity from the first century) will not exist in any future great tribulation. Thus any attempt to make the passage refer to an event that is still in OUR future is to say that this text does not actually refer to the literal Church at Philadelphia at all. Now if one agrees with C.A. Coates that these churches are merely figures representing the history of the Church age, one may hold that opinion, but that these are figures cannot be derived from the literal sense of the text.

Frank Turk said...

Um, wow.

I'm going to bookmark this post and come back to it. It's a good thing I'm blogging again ...

:-)

DJP said...

It's a good thing I'm blogging again

Ah.

Troll.

Paul E said...

HH, Greetings!

Thank you for taking the time to clearly articulate your position. Purposing to be a faithful workman in rightly dividing the book of Revelation is no walk in the park (even though I’d rather being doing that then walking in the park). It is one of the most challenging books to cut straight. Here goes.

There are at least three reasons why I do not believe that the “hour of trial” refers to one or more of the persecutions during the Roman Empire, as you suggest.

The first is concerning the word Oikoumenee, used 15 times in the NT, I agree that it can mean: “The world as an administrative unit, the Roman Empire (in the hyperbolic diction commonly used in ref. to emperors, the Rom. Emp. Equaled the whole world. (BDAG pg 699). However it is more commonly used as all the inhabited earth, such as these two examples: Mt 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come. Acts 17:31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."

Besides Rev 3:10, Oikoumenee is also used two more times by John: Rev 12:9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Rev 16:14 for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. Both of these uses are properly translated “whole world”, meaning all the inhabited earth. In light of these points, there is no reason to apply a lesser geographic meaning (the Roman Empire), to oikoumenee in Rev 3:10, but to understand it as the whole inhabited earth.

The second is the purpose of the hour of testing, found in the immediate context. Because they had “kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing”. Note that the testing is not towards the church (as some of the Roman persecutions were), of which you mentioned, but instead was “to test those who dwell on the earth”. They had already been undergoing persecution and were characterized as being of “little strength” vs8. The promise of the Lord that He would keep them from that hour must have been truly encouraging. If “hour of trial” were Roman persecutions, in what sense would they be kept from the hour of trial if that hour of trial refers to greater persecution which they had to go through?

The third is the context of the book of Revelation as a whole. The Revelation itself unpacks the details of a time of great tribulation which comes upon all the earth. Rev 6:17 says “for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” There is much representation in Scripture of a future time of great tribulation. One reference should be sufficient, Mt 24:21 the Lord taught that before His coming there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall be. The Roman persecutions clearly did not qualify as such. So, in light of these observations, I believe the prophetic time of God’s wrath, known as the tribulation period, best fits the explanation of “the hour of testing which is to come on the whole world”.

I am out of time, thanks for the interaction.

Paul E said...

HH, I neglected to state that I agree with your position that the letters were sent to real churches, and though I understand why Scofield, Walvoord and others would symbolically cast these churches as periods of history, I do not concur.

Highland Host said...

It's precisely because the letters were sent to real Churches that I am not comfortable applying Revelation 3.10 to some yet-future date. The 'you' of Rev. 3.10 is the Church at Philadelphia, not the Church at large. This local church no longer exists, and therefore cannot be kept from the great tribulation by being raptured (granting those two positions). Therefore to apply Revelation 3.10 to the rapture before the great tribulation at least requires one to spiritualize the 'church at Philadelphia' as a type of faithful churches existing at the time of the Rapture.

I just don't buy that. In effect you are saying that, whilst the other promises to the other six churches really belong to the churches, this promise does not. AS I have said, although oikoumene in the majority of cases refers to the whole inhabited earth, it can also refer to the Roman empire, and IN THIS CASE I think that makes the most sense IF the promise is really addressed to the local Church at Philadelphia, which is the plain reading of the text.

I'm off on a short vacation this week-end, so expect no responses until Monday.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

As someone who hasn't read enough about the Dispensationalist versus Covenant schools, but has read Fantastic stuff on non-eschatological matters by both Dispy's and CT'ers, is there a 3rd way, a happy compromise, a Via Media, a Both/And solution that pleases no one and offends no one?

On a related note, if you subscribe to a doctrinal taxonomy, would you place the Dispy/CT debate on eschatology/Israel/hermeneutics as a 1st-order doctrine, 2nd-order doctrine, or lower? And why?

Paul E said...

HH, Greetings.
In your last post you stated: “Therefore to apply Revelation 3.10 to the rapture before the great tribulation at least requires one to spiritualize the 'church at Philadelphia' as a type of faithful churches existing at the time of the Rapture.”
Not so. To consistently employ a grammatico-historical hermeneutic to this passage does not require one to spiritualize the 'church at Philadelphia' as a type of faithful churches existing at the time of the Rapture.” I realize that other dispensationalists may have drawn such conclusions, as you have mentioned, however there are those of us, who consider ourselves Dispensationalists (of sorts), who do not. I am quite comfortable with the interpretation I have provided earlier. Allow me to add a few more points for further clarification.
One is the fact that our Sovereign Lord did indeed keep the church at Philadelphia from that hour of testing, as that event, even as of this writing, has not taken place. You may balk at that conclusion as if this makes the Lord’s promise appear empty. Then I would ask, what of His Second coming? Immediately after the promise to keep them from the hour of testing, He states: “I am coming quickly”. Has He come yet? Is this an empty promise? I shudder to even ask! Our finite understanding of His statement “I am coming quickly” is obviously not His omniscient meaning. In His unquestionable sovereignty and providence, He has yet to come for His bride. With the preterist position hardly convincing, He is also still “restraining”, until the appointed time, then the lawless one will be revealed (2Th 2:3-12), and thus usher in the Day of the Lord.
Another reason is that the church at Philadelphia, in light of the persecution they were enduring, probably rejoiced at those words of encouragement from the Lord. It is highly doubtful with respect to all the teaching on this subject during the first century, that this would be new information for them. He was probably confirming what they had already been taught. However, there would be nothing that would equal hearing this commendation and promise from the Lord, directed specifically to them, and especially during that time. There is another, yet different example of a church that was in a similar situation, let’s consider Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica. They were shaken and disturbed because one or more false teachers had come in and told them that the day of the Lord has come and they were now in it. Paul wrote to encourage them, and set them straight, reminding them that he had already taught them these things before. In 2Th 2:5 where it says: “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things”. This means that this subject was not new to them. Interestingly, “the word “telling” e;legon is in the imperfect tense, indicating that on different occasions (as opposed to once), he had talked to them about these things, these very eschatological truths. It shows that apocalyptic teaching had a regular place in the apostle’s ministry”. (1&2 Thessalonians, Hiebert, pg335).
In conclusion, there is no reason to divert to a double hermeneutic, instead of consistently applying a grammatico-historical hermeneutic, in order to arrive at an acceptable interpretation of Rev. 3:7-11.

Now, having made these points above, I feel the necessity to make the express point that we can, within the proper exercise of exegesis, draw an application to the church today from Rev 3:10-11. Since we believe the doctrine of the great tribulation has been taught in several places in Scripture, in Mt 24:1-29, for one. And since we believe the Bible teaches that His elect will be translated before this period begins (1Th 4:13-18). Can we not apply the same promises made to the church at Philadelphia, to the church today, since this doctrine is taught elsewhere (though we understand the historical setting and proper interpretation requires clarity first in the text in Rev 3:10-11)? By application I mean, are we not as a church today, to look expectantly for His imminent return as in that day? Can we not be comforted by these same truths as the brethren in Philadelphia were? Would any of that fall into the category of spiritualizing the text?

Highland Host said...

It wouldn't count as spiritualizing the text if you took t as an application, not as the original meaning of the text. My great objection with MacArthur is that he takes the text in Revelation 3.10 as actually teaching the pre-trib rapture. If the Church at Philadelphia no longer exists (it does not, although I am reliably informed that it probably ceased to exist as a Greek Orthodox Church in the 20th century, not the 14th), then it cannot be raptured, and Our Lord would have known this. Thus we make a distinction between the strict meaning of the text (which is what we get from exegesis) and an application of that text to the present day. So the warnings and promises in Revelation 2 & 3 are applicable by analogy to modern-day Churches that are in similar states.

But to make the PRIMARY MEANING of the passage something that has no possible application to those to whom it was originally given is another matter. That is te complaint often laid agaist replacement theology's interpretation of various Old Testament texts (I do hold, on the basis of Romans 11, to a future restoration of Israel to Messiah and the Land), and I contend that the same is true if one takes Rev 3.10 as referring to the Rapture of the Church, which even on your own principles will not keep the Church at Philadelphia from the hour of testing.

My conclusion is that this is not a good proof-text for the Rapture, any more than from your persepective Isaiah 2 is a good proof-text for the glorious victories of the Church.