Dispensationalism is the teaching that history has been divided into seven different sections, or dispensations, in which the people of God in each time period have a different testing for sin and a different method of judgment by God. It dates back to the 1800’s, and is widely taught and believed among most Christian denominations today.
For reference, the seven dispensations are claimed to be:
- Innocence or Freedom – before the fall of Adam
- Conscience – Adam to Noah
- Government – Noah to Abraham
- Patriarchal rule – Abraham to Moses
- Mosaic law – Moses to the first coming of Yeshua
- Grace – the period between the first and second comings of Yeshua
- Millennium – the 1000 year reign of Jesus (Yeshua) on earth.
There are four fundamental tenets that accompany the idea of dispensationalism that this article will discuss. These four tenets are:
- A distinction between Israel and the New Testament church, which are two different peoples of God.
- There was a period of law and a period of grace, which are mutually exclusive.
- The New Testament church is a parenthesis in God’s plan, not foreseen in the Old Testament.
- There is a difference between the rapture and the second coming, which are divided by a seven year period of tribulation.
Tenet #1: Israel and the New Testament church are two different people of God.
Does Scripture teach two different bodies of God, with Israel and new covenant believers being separate bodies? 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 clearly states that there is one body, whether Jew or Gentile. Ephesians 3:6 states the Gentiles are fellow heirs of the same body, and Ephesians 3:21 states this is “throughout all ages”. John 10:16 says there is one fold with one shepherd. Other verses showing one body, one church, under one Messiah are Colossians 1:17-24, Ephesians 4:5, and Ephesians 5:23. Acts 7:38, when speaking of Yeshua, affirms that it was Him who was with the church in the wilderness (Exodus), clearly showing that the Israelites were His. Romans 11:1-36 begins with stating that God has not cast away the Israelites, and goes on at length to explain that the Gentiles were grafted in to Israel. The two bodies are merged as one under the Messiah.
Ephesians 2:11-13 speaks of when the Gentiles were strangers from the covenants but through Yeshua are now partakers of the covenants. All covenants in the Old Testament were made with Israelites or their descendents. With whom is the new covenant made? The Gentiles? No. You can search Scripture from beginning to end and never does the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob make any covenant with the Gentiles. Rather, the new covenant is made with the houses of Israel and Judah. (Hebrews 8:8) If the Gentiles are to partake of the covenant, they must be grafted in to Israel. In Matthew 15:24 Yeshua states that he was sent unto lost sheep of the house of Israel. He did not come for any other group. If he is not the Messiah of Israel, he is not the Messiah of anyone!
The Bible simply does not support the first tenet of dispensationalism. There is no Scriptural basis for claiming that there are two separate bodies of God. Any theology based upon this tenet is unstable and will not stand.
Tenet #2: There was a period of law and a period of grace, which are mutually exclusive.
What about the second tenet, that law and grace are mutually exclusive? Many people try to teach law and grace as opposites, but they are not! The opposite of law is lawlessness. The opposite of grace is judgment without mercy. You will find law and grace in the Old Testament, and you will find law and grace in the New Testament. (There are far too many examples to cite but here are a few: Genesis 6:8; Psalm 84:11; Matthew 5:17; 1 John 3:4) Law and grace are both very much part of God, and there is only one unchanging God in both the front and back of your Bible. If grace were the sole basis of the new covenant, then why does Hebrew 8:10 state that the new covenant consists of putting “my laws in their mind, and write them in their hearts”? There is no new covenant apart from the law of God.
Is it even possible to alter or overturn God’s law? God tells us that he does not change (Malachi 3:6), and that he will not alter the things that come out of his mouth (Psalm 89:34). Yeshua clearly stated that people were to not think he came to change the law (Matthew 5:17-19). Did God say he would not alter his law, but then give authority to Paul or anyone else authority to alter it? That is absurd on its face. Paul himself repeatedly states he never taught against the law of God (Acts 24:12-14; Acts 25:8; Acts 26:22). If he did, he would be a false prophet by the definition of Scripture (Isaiah 8:20), so even if he did teach against the law of God (as the false accusers of Acts 24:13 claimed he did) then he is a false prophet and should not be given any credence.
So the second tenet of dispensationalism falls just as flat as the first tenet. It is incompatible with Scripture, and any theology based on it is in error.
Tenet #3: The New Testament church is a parenthesis in God’s plan, not foreseen in the Old Testament.
Moving to the third tenet, one that tries to account for a lack of Old Testament mention of the lawless Gentile covenant. If God had intended to form a new church with a new law (or with no law), according to Amos 3:7 he would have told the prophets about this, but no prophet ever teaches that a new group of people with a new law will be raised up. Instead, the prophets revealed that the house of Israel would be rebuilt, such as in Amos 9:11, which is referenced in Acts 15:14-18. Acts 3:18-26 confirms this rebuilding of the house of Israel, with verse 25 specifying this new covenant church as “children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers.”
God declared the end from the beginning (Isaiah 48:10) and there is nothing unforeseen – certainly not a 2000 year period of time when a new church with new rules would be in effect. The third tenet is nothing more than a desperate failed attempt to explain away a complete lack of support in Scripture for a major part of their theory.
Tenet #4: There is a difference between the rapture and the second coming, which are divided by a seven year period of tribulation.
The fourth tenet also fails. Several of the parables in Matthew 13 leave no room for an imaginary rapture. The parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:30 shows that the tares are gathered first, then burned, then the wheat is gathered to the barn. It is further spelled out in Matthew 13:38-43. The rapture teaches the opposite, that the wheat is gathered, then seven years pass, then the tares are burned.
The parable of the net in Matthew 13:47-50 shows that at the end of the world the angels sever the wicked from among the just, while the rapture theory claims that the just have already been removed seven years prior.
The very clear words of Matthew 24:29-31 further prove this point. Yeshua plainly states that “immediately after the tribulation” the angels “shall gather together his elect”. It can’t possibly be any more clear than that! The elect are not gathered until after the tribulation. Anyone who says otherwise is directly contradicting Yeshua.
The real purpose of the theory of dispensationalism is to satisfy the itching ears of people who prefer a lawless existence that sees no tribulation hardship, but who still want to be saved. That might be a nice feel-good theory, but it is not what Scripture teaches. Dispensationalism is nothing but a failed attempt to free oneself from the necessity of obedience to God’s law. Those who teach and practice this lawlessness will find themselves on the wrong side when our shepherd returns to divide his sheep from the goats. (Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12)
In truth, dispensationalism is theological evolution in disguise. The knuckle-dragging apes had the law, but we upright Christians have progressed onward to grace. Please don’t stake your eternal salvation on the tenets of this theory, because they are directly contradicted by the clear words of Scripture.
Here are some final thoughts to remember. What does the New Testament teach about:
• how our love of God is measured? John 14:15: If you keep his commandments
• how to know if we know Yeshua? 1 John 2:3: if we keep his commandments
• why we have received grace? Romans 1:5: for obedience (not disobedience!)
• about God’s law? Romans 7:12: it is holy, just, and good
• who will have the right to the Tree of Life? Revelation 22:14: those who keep the commandments
May you show your love of God with the grace he has given you for obedience to his commandments, and may your name be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.