Chapter 8: The Hermeneutic of Scripture

Kenneth L Gentry

Narrated By: Aidan McGuire
Book: He Shall Have Dominion
Topics: ,


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Chapter Text

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)

An issue that has received much attention in the eschatological debate among evangelicals is hermeneutics: the principle of biblical interpretation. How are we to approach the prophecies of Scripture? For instance, what are the historical expectations of eschatological significance set forth by the Old Testament prophets? Although I will not go deeply into hermeneutic discussion,[1] it is necessary that certain aspects of the debate be highlighted. There are full-length books that more than adequately set forth the principles of biblical interpretation.[2] Three particularly relevant issues that I will consider are literalism, preterism, and Israel.

Literalism and Prophecy

It has been especially since the rise to prominence of dispensationalism in the late nineteenth century that interpretive principles have become a major focus of eschatological discussion.[3] One of the leading arguments of dispensationalists is their claim to consistent interpretive literalism. Ryrie sets forth interpretive literalism as a sine qua non of dispensationalism: “Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of literal interpretation…. The dispensationalist claims to use the normal principle of interpretation consistently in all his study of the Bible.”[4]

Ryrie is a prominent dispensationalist. A few examples of literalism from his writings serve as illustrations of the dispensational approach to hermeneutics. He chides Mickelsen for suggesting that the ancient weapons and chariots of Ezekiel 39 (which both Ryrie and Mickelsen deem to be in the future) are symbolic equivalents of modern weaponry: “If specific details are not interpreted literally when given as specific details, then there can be no end to the variety of the meanings of a text.”[5] Here the principle of consistent literalism is so vigorously held that we are left with what non-dispensational evangelicals would consider an absurdity, despite attempted explanations.[6]

Elsewhere, Ryrie writes: “Jerusalem will be exalted (Zech. 14:10), and there is no reason to doubt but that this will be literal and that the city by means of certain physical changes shall be exalted above the surrounding hills”![7] Of the “future” battle of Gog and Magog, Ryrie suggests: “A cavalry in this day of jets and atom bombs? It does seem unbelievable. But Ezekiel saw the mighty army from the north coming against the land of Israel on horses (Ezekiel 38:4, 15).”[8] Can anyone accept such views as reasonable, especially since it is so easy to understand these elements as figurative?

Ryrie gives three arguments for the literalistic hermeneutic.[9] (1) “Philosophically, the purpose of language itself seems to require literal interpretation…. If God be the originator of language and if the chief purpose of originating it was to convey His message to man, then it must follow that He, being all-wise and all-loving, originated sufficient language to convey all that was in His heart to tell man. Furthermore, it must also follow that He would use language and expect man to use it in its literal, normal, and plain sense.” (2) “[P]rophecies in the Old Testament concerning the first coming of Christ – His birth, His rearing, His ministry, His death, His resurrection – were all fulfilled literally. There is no non-literal fulfillment of these prophecies in the New Testament.”[10] (3) “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.”

Despite the vigorous assertions of dispensationalists, “consistent literalism” is an impossible ideal. Consider the following problems for the Ryrie-style consistent literalist.

The Philosophy of Language Argument

The immediately striking point about Ryrie’s first proof is that it is a preconceived hermeneutic. This is quite evident in Ryrie’s statement that “principles of interpretation are basic and ought to be established before attempting to interpret the Word….”[11] Does not his approach to language function disallow the possibility of a spiritual interpretation at the very outset? Why must we begin with the assumption of literalism? May not so rich a work as the Bible, dedicated to such a lofty and spiritual theme (the infinite God’s redemption of sinful man), written by many authors over 1,500 years employ a variety of literary genres? No symbols? No metaphors? No analogies?

Even dispensationalists admit that biblical revelation often does employ figures of speech. But this brings up the very controversy before us: when is prophecy to be interpreted literally, and when figuratively? Poythress rightly suspects that dispensationalists “may have conveniently arranged their decision about what is figurative after their basic system is in place telling them what can and what cannot be fitted into the system. The decisions as to what is figurative and what is not figurative may be a product of the system as a whole rather than the inductive basis of it.”[12] This fact is evidenced in Ryrie’s statement that “The understanding of God’s differing economies is essential to a proper interpretation of His revelation within those various economies.”[13] In other words, you must have a dispensational framework (“understanding God’s differing economies”) in order to do “proper interpretation”![14] Feinberg agrees: “Every prophecy is a part of a wonderful scheme of revelation; for the true significance of any prophecy, the whole prophetic scheme must be kept in mind and the interrelationship between the parts in the plan as well.”[15]

The dispensationalist presumption of a consistent literalism is unreasonable. “To assert, without express authority, that prophecy must always and exclusively be one or the other, is as foolish as it would be to assert the same thing of the whole conversation of an individual throughout his lifetime, or of human speech in general.”[16]

In addition, Ryrie’s first argument begs the question. Ryrie argues that because God created language, “the purpose of language itself seems to require literal interpretation” on the basis that “it must … follow that He would use language and expect man to use it in its literal, normal, and plain sense.”[17] This is not very convincing.[18] Is Jesus literally a door (John 10:9)?

Finally, the dispensational practice of hermeneutics tends to be immune to criticism by its exclusion of countervailing evidence. As Poythress demonstrates, dispensationalists apply prophecies in a non-literal way by calling them “applications”[19] or “partial fulfillments,”[20] or by classifying them as spiritual level fulfillments,[21] or arguing that sometimes original prophecies contained figures themselves. Poythress queries, how can we know this in advance?[22] His point is well-taken.

The First-Coming Fulfillment Argument

This literalism argument is one of the most frequently employed. But it also suffers from question-begging. Pentecost holds that this is “one of the strongest evidences for the literal method.” He vigorously asserts: “When the Old Testament is used in the New it is used only in a literal sense.” “No prophecy which has been completely fulfilled has been fulfilled any way but literally.”[23] Walvoord argues that “the literal fulfillment of promises pertaining to the first coming is a foreshadowing of the literal-fulfillment of promises pertaining to the second coming.”[24] They need to prove this, not just assume it.

The New Testament does not support this bold claim. To say that all prophecies that were fulfilled in the New Testament were fulfilled literally requires that one’s system already be in place. In other words, there is no such thing as hermeneutical neutrality. The interpretation of a passage is grounded in the expositor’s original presupposition. Literalism definitionally writes off all non-literal fulfillments. It ignores Old Testament prophecies of the establishment of the kingdom that find fulfillment in the ministry of Christ, though not as a literalistic, political conception (Matt. 12:28; Luke 17:20-21).[25] These prophecies must find fulfillment beginning in the first century, for the prophecies of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is associated with them, did come to pass (Acts 2).[26]

Even apart from the debate regarding Christ’s kingdom, the dispensationalist argument is unfounded. For instance, although Matthew often interprets Old Testament prophecies literally, he does not always do so. Crenshaw and Gunn have carefully demonstrated that “out of 97 OT prophecies only 34 were directly or literally fulfilled, which is only 35.05 percent.”[27] They show there are other types of fulfillments than literal ones in the New Testament. Typical fulfillments are used by Matthew: God’s calling Israel up out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1) was fulfilled when the young Jesus returned from His flight to Egypt (Matt. 2:15). Analogical fulfillments are also used, as when the weeping of Rachel for her children (Jer. 31:15) is fulfilled in Bethlehem’s weeping for its children (Matt. 2:18).

Types are fulfilled in their antitypes. There are a number of types that come to fulfillment and are spiritually transformed in the New Testament. For instance, historical Jerusalem is typical of its antitype, the heavenly city. Paul sets the New Covenant over against the Old Covenant, and the heavenly Jerusalem over against the earthly Jerusalem in teaching that Christianity represents the heavenly Jerusalem: “For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:25-26; cf. 22-31). The writer of Hebrews does the same, when he says that New Covenant Christian converts (Heb. 12:24) from Old Covenant Judaism are now come “to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-23). John sees the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to earth in the establishment of Christianity (Rev. 21:1, 2).[28] This was the heavenly city that Abraham ultimately sought beyond the temporal (and typical) Promised Land promise (Heb. 11:10, 16).

Premillennialist LaRondelle insightfully observes: “In dispensationalism we face the fact that the hermeneutic of literalism accepts Christian typology for some selected historical parts of the Old Testament. But it suddenly rejects each typological application of God’s covenant with Israel to Christ’s new covenant with His Church. This seems to be an arbitrary, speculative use of typology with the Old Testament.”[29] This is a telling admission on his part.

A classic and eschatologically relevant spiritual fulfillment of the Old Testament in the apostolic era is found in Acts 2.[30] Peter interprets the Davidic kingdom prophecies in general (Acts 2:30) and Psalms 16:8-11 (Acts 2:25-28) and 110:1 (Acts 2:34-35) specifically as coming to fulfillment in the ascension and session of Christ: “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2:30-33).

Later, Paul preaches that the Davidic promise to Israel has been fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ: “And we declare to you glad tidings; that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You,’ And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David’ ” (Acts 13:32-34).

The Objectivity Argument

Because of the alleged “objectivity” factor, it is common for dispensationalists to deem liberal any employment of a non-literal interpretation of any particular passage of Scripture:

Although it could not be said that all amillennialists deny the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, yet, as it will be shown later, it seems to be the first step in that direction. The system of spiritualizing Scripture is a tacit denial of the doctrine of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures…. Thus the allegorical method of amillennialism is a step toward modernism.[31]

Elsewhere, we read that postmillennialism “is a system of theology based upon a subjective spiritualizing of Scripture” that “lends itself to liberalism with only minor adjustments,”[32] Consequently, “it is a fact that there are few, if any, theologically liberal premillenarians because premillennialists follow the literal method of interpreting all the Bible.”[33]

Of course, literalism is not necessarily protective of orthodoxy. It is easy to point out that many cults approach Scripture literalistically – and erroneously. Consider the Mormon doctrine that God has a literal, tangible body. After citing Genesis 1:26-27 regarding Adam’s creation “in the image and likeness of God,” LeGrand Richards, an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-day Saints, writes: “Attempts have been made to explain that this creation was only in the spiritual image and likeness of God…. Joseph Smith found that he was as literally in the image and likeness of God and Jesus Christ, as Seth was in the likeness and image of his father Adam.”[34]

Besides being naïve, the dispensational claim to “consistent literalism” is frustrating due to its inconsistent employment. For instance, several Old Testament prophecies regarding David’s reign in the millennium are not always literally understood. Dispensationalist H. A. Ironside writes: “I do not understand this to mean that David himself will be raised and caused to dwell on the earth as king…. [T]he implication is that He who was David’s Son, the Lord Christ Himself is to be the King.”[35] On what basis can a consistent literalist allow this view?

Neither is it necessary that Elijah’s coming as prophesied in Malachi 4:5-6 be literally understood. Pentecost writes: “The prophecy is interpreted by the Lord as being fulfilled, not in literal Elijah, but in one who comes in Elijah’s spirit and power.”[36] Here he breaches two hermeneutic principles of his dispensationalism: He allows the New Testament (Luke 1:17) to interpret the Old Testament (Mal. 4:5-6), and he drops his consistent literalism. This is convenient but illegitimate.

The “millennial” sacrifices in the prophecy of Ezekiel 45 are expressly said to “make reconciliation” (Ezek. 45:15, 17, 20), using the piel of the Hebrew kaphar (as in Lev. 6:30; 8:15; 16:6ff[37]). But Pentecost notes that “the sacrifices will be memorial in character. “[38] Yet this question needs to be faced by self-professed literalists: what literalist, reading the phrase “make reconciliation,” would surmise that this was only “memorial”? Where is the consistent literalism here?[39] Some dispensationalists allow that this passage “is not to be taken literally,” but is merely “using the terms with which the Jews were familiar in Ezekiel’s day.”[40] This is convenient but illegitimate.

Isaiah 52:15 says of Messiah: “So shall he sprinkle many nations.” The New Scofield Reference Bible comments: “Compare the literal fulfillment of this prediction in 1 Pet. 1:1-2, where people of many nations are described as having been sprinkled with the blood of Christ.”[41] Literal? When was Jesus’ blood literally sprinkled on the nations? This sounds more like “spiritualizing” than “consistent literalism.”

Of Isaiah 13:17-22, we learn that these verses “predict the destruction of the literal Babylon then existing. The verses also look forward to the destruction of both political Babylon and ecclesiastical Babylon in the time of the Beast.”[42] At Revelation 18:2 we read: “The term ‘Babylon’ in prophecy is sometimes used in a larger sense than mere reference to either the ancient city or nation….”[43] I agree. This is exactly the case. This same approach is true in many other such cases, as with Israel (Gal. 6:16; Heb. 8:6-13), David’s throne (Luke 1:32; Acts 2:29-31), circumcision (Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11), sacrifices (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5), the temple (1 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 2:19-22), the tabernacle (Acts 15:16; Heb. 9:11), and so forth. But, when it suits them, dispensationalists vigorously argue for literalism. For instance, of Isaiah 9:7 we read: ” ‘The throne of David’ is an expression as definite, historically, as ‘the throne of the Caesars,’ and does not admit of spiritualizing… “[44]

The catastrophic judgment prophecy in Jeremiah 4:23-28, where the heavens become black and the mountains shake and all the birds flee, is not to be understood literally, according to Charles R. Dyer. ‘Jeremiah pictured God’s coming judgment as a cosmic catastrophe – an undoing of creation. Using imagery from the Creation account (Gen. 1) Jeremiah indicated that no aspect of life would remain untouched.” The universal catastrophe imagery had to do with “the approaching army of Babylon.”[45] John A. Martin, writing in the same dispensational commentary, explains the language of Isaiah 13:10-13, where the sun, moon, and stars are darkened and the earth is moved out of its place: “The statements in 13:10 about the heavenly bodies (stars… sun… moon) no longer functioning may figuratively describe the total turnaround of the political structure of the Near East. The same would be true of the heavens trembling and the earth shaking (v. 13), figures of speech suggesting all-encompassing destruction.”[46] Politics? Figures of speech?

Rather than such “objective” interpretations, the Christian exegete must allow the New Testament to interpret the Old Testament. “The Christian interpreter comes to the Old Testament with a different theological perspective than the Jewish expositor.”[47] As Van Gemeren well states: “Christian students of the Old Testament must pass by the cross of Jesus Christ on their return to the Old Testament, and as such they can never lose their identity as a Christian.”[48] Simply put: “We cannot forget what we have learned from Christ.”[49] This approach to biblical interpretation allows the conclusive revelation of God in the New Testament authoritatively to interpret incomplete revelation in the Old.

The dispensationalist resists this: “As a result of the covenant of grace idea, covenant theology has been forced to place as its most basic principle of interpretation the principle of interpreting the Old Testament by the New.”[50] But the Scripture suggests that even the prophets could not always fathom their own predictions,[51] because of the nature of predictive prophecy (Num. 12:8). Nor could the pre-resurrection, pre-pentecostal disciples.[52] Nor could the last prophet of the Old Covenant era, John Baptist (Matt. 11:2-6). Why not? Because “with respect to eschatology, people in the Old Testament were not in the same position as they were for short-range prophecy…. The exact manner of fulfillment frequently could not be pinned down until the fulfillment came.”[53] The conclusive New Testament revelation was needed (Heb. 1:1-2).

The Emmaus disciples. holding to current literalistic Jewish conceptions. needed to have Christ open the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:32. 45). Christ rejected the political Messianism of the literalistic Jews.[54] The Jews had a dullness of understanding[55] that seems to be accounted for (at least partially) in that “the prevailing method of interpretation among the Jews at the time of Christ was certainly the literal method of interpretation.[56] After all, when Christ confronted Nicodemus. He pointed to this very problem: ‘Jesus answered and said to him. ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?… If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?’ ” (John 3:10. 12). Literalism plagued the Jews throughout Jesus’ ministry.[57] Few would dispute the fact that the Jews of Christ’s day looked for a political Messiah (John 6:14-15; 18:33-36). The Emmaus disciples were rebuked for just such a conception (Luke 24:17-21. 25-26). Christ suffered, then entered immediately into His glory.[58] The cause of Israel’s rejection of Christ is due (at least partially) to their not knowing He fulfilled prophecy (Luke 19:42-44; Matt. 23:37, 38)[59]

Consequently, “it is irresponsible to jump unprepared into

the area of end-time prophecies of Scripture. By considering such apocalyptic portions of Holy Scripture by themselves, in isolation from the total prophetic-messianic framework, one will necessarily fall into the pitfall of a geographic and ethnic literalism.”[60] The whole concept of progressive revelation points to this truth. Thus, the historical-grammatical analysis “cannot be separated from interpretation ‘in faith.’ The Bible requires continual submission of our understanding to what the spirit of God has inspired (1 Cor. 2:12-15).”[61]

In recent years, literalism – the previously popular, linchpin hermeneutical argument, promoted by leading Dallas Seminary dispensationalists – has been losing adherents. For instance, John S. Feinberg, a noted contemporary dispensationalist, has admitted that on hermeneutics, “Ryrie is too simplistic.”[62] Nevertheless, we find that less well-informed dispensational authors still insist on identifying a broader hermeneutic as the danger of a non-dispensational eschatology.[63]

Preterism and Prophecy

Another important hermeneutic issue (but one that does not have a necessary relation to the broader question of postmillennialism, in that not all postmillennialists adopt it), is that of preterism. The term “preterism” is based on the Latin preter, which means “past.” Preterism refers to that understanding of certain eschatological passages which holds that they have already come to fulfillment. Actually, all Christians – even dispensationalists – are preteristic to some extent. This is necessarily so because Christianity holds that a great many of the Messianic passages have already been fulfilled in Christ’s first coming.[64] On these points, Christians differ from the “futurism” of Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Jews today and also in antiquity have insisted that Christians are misapplying the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecies to past events. Of the incarnation as revealed in prophecy, early church father Athanasius wrote: “So the Jews are trifling, and the time in question, which they refer to the future, is actually come.”[65]

The preterist approach teaches, for instance, that many of the prophecies of Revelation and the first portion of the Olivet Discourse have already been fulfilled. Matthew 24:1-34 (and parallels) in the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.[66] In Revelation, most of the prophecies before Revelation 20 find fulfillment in the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). The preterist has strong exegetical indicators undergirding his system, which I will briefly illustrate. But first I need to refer to my hermeneutic.


The Exegetical Basis of Preterism

It should always be the Christian’s hermeneutic practice that: (1) the clearer (didactic discourse) statements interpret the less clear (figurative imagery) and (2) Scripture interprets Scripture. I will briefly illustrate the preteristic argument from the Olivet Discourse and Revelation, based on these two principles.[67] I contend that rival views frequently dishonor both principles.

The Olivet Discourse. The fulfillment of Matthew 24:4-33 in the destruction of Jerusalem is a most reasonable and even necessary conclusion. Even futurists are pressed to admit to some preteristic elements in the discourse. Dispensationalists generally hold that: “The Olivet discourse did predict the coming destruction of Jerusalem, which is today a past event, but at the same time the bulk of the passage deals with the yet future events of Christ’s coming and the end of the age.”[68] Amillennialists Hendriksen, Lenski, and Berkhof, as well as postmillennialists Alexander and Henry, hold that this passage merges both the A.D. 70 event with the Second Advent.[69]

That Matthew 24:4-33 en toto has been fulfilled seems quite obvious on the two following bases.[70] First, its introductory context strongly suggests it. In Matthew 23, Jesus sorely rebukes the “scribes and Pharisees” of His own day (Matt. 23:2f1), urging them finally to “fill up then the measure of your fathers” who killed the prophets (23:31-32).[71] Christ says that they are a “generation” of vipers (23:33) that will persecute and slay His disciples (23:34). He notes that upon them will come all the righteous blood shed on the earth (23:35). He then dogmatically asserts: “[V]erily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation” (23:36).[72]

Then, in Matthew 23:37-24:2, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, and declares that its temple will be destroyed, stone-by-stone, despite His disciples’ surprise. It is of these things that the disciples ask, “When shall these things be?” As a matter of historical record we know the temple was destroyed, stone by stone, in August, A.D. 70.

Second, its express temporal indicators demand it. We must not miss the clear references to the contemporary expectation. Enclosing the relevant portion of the discourse, we have Christ’s own time-element designation. In 23:36, he dogmatically asserts “all these things shall come upon this generation.” He closes the relevant portion of the prophecy by repetition of the time frame: Matthew 24:34 says, “Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” And

just forty years later Jerusalem was destroyed! Contextually the “this generation” of Matthew 24:34 must speak of the same idea as that of Matthew 23:36.

In verse 34, the matter is solemnly affirmed by Christ. He is quite dogmatic when He begins a statement with: “verily.” Thus, Christ emphatically draws the disciples’ attention to what He is about to say, just as He did in 24:2, where He made the statement that led to the whole discourse.

In addition, the dogmatism of His statement is further underscored. He does not just tell them; He emphatically introduces what He is about to say by saying, “I tell you.” He has not left the temporal expectation to them to figure out. Furthermore, the literal rendering of the Greek reads: “Truly I tell you that by no means passes away generation this until all these things happen.”[73] The “by no means” is a strong, double negative (ou me). Jesus places it early in His statement for added emphasis. He is staking His credibility,[74] as it were, on the absolute certainty of this prophetic pronouncement.

But what does He so dogmatically and carefully tell them? Whatever the difficult apocalyptic imagery in some of the preceding verses (e.g., vv. 29-31) may indicate, Jesus dearly says that “all these things” will occur before “this generation” passes away. He employs the near demonstrative for the fulfillment of verses 2-34: these events will come upon “this generation:’ He uses the far demonstrative in 24:36 to point to the Second Advent: “that day.” The coming “tribulation” (24:21; cf. Rev.

1:9) was to come upon “this generation” (23:36; 24:34; cf. 1 Thess. 2:16) and was to be foreshadowed by certain signs (24:4-8). But the Second Advent was to be at “that” far day and hour, and was not to be preceded by particular signs of its nearness, for no man can know it (24:36). Preterism is well-established in Matthew 24:3-34, as many early church fathers recognized.[75]

The Book of Revelation.[76] The past fulfillment of most of the prophecies in Revelation 4-19 is compellingly suggested by the various time indicators contained in its less symbolic, more didactic (instructional) introduction and conclusion.

Revelation 1:1 opens the prophecies of Revelation and prepares the reader to understand them: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly [en tachei] come to pass:’ He repeats this assertion using different, though synonymous, terminology in Revelation 1:3c, when he says “the time is at hand” (kairos eggus). He again repeats these ideas as he closes. Revelation 22:6: “These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done” (genesthai en tachei). Revelation 22:10: “And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (ho kairos gar eggus estin). The point is clear: John expected imminent fulfillment.

The text-bracketing temporal indicators, pointed to by preterists, cannot lightly be dismissed. John is writing to seven historical churches (Rev. 1:4, 11; 22:16), which are expecting troublesome times (Rev. 2-3). He testifies to being with them in “the tribulation” (Rev. 1:9, en te thlipsei). He expects those very churches to hear and understand (Rev. 1:3; 22:10) the revelation (Rev. 1:1) and to heed the things in it (Rev. 1:3; 22:7), because of the nearness of the events (Rev. 1:1,3; 22:6, 10). One of the agonizing cries from his fellow sufferers receives emphasis. In Revelation 6, the martyred souls in heaven plead for God’s righteous vindication: “They cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, o Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer” (Rev. 6:10-11).

Original relevance, then, is the lock and the time-texts the key to opening the door of Revelation. What terms could John have used to speak of contemporary expectation other than those that are, in fact, found in Revelation 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10 and other places?[77]

Preterism has a sound basis in historical and textual exegesis, as illustrated from the Olivet Discourse and Revelation.

Israel and Prophecy

The role of Israel as a distinct people radically distinguished from the Church is the leading feature of dispensationalism. In fact, as Poythress suggests, this theological presupposition is probably the raison d’etre of the literalistic hermeneutic: “The dualism of Israel and the church is, in fact, the deeper dualism determining when and where the hermeneutical dualism of ‘literal’ and ‘spiritual’ is applied.”[78] Non-dispensational evangelical exegetes are in agreement against the radical Israel/Church dichotomy of dispensationalism.

It is important that non-dispensationalists grasp the significance of dispensationalism’s understanding of Israel, for herein lies a fundamental error of the entire system. This crucial error distorts the entire idea of the progress of redemption, the unity of God’s people, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the interpretation of Scripture.

Ryrie points to the distinctiveness of Israel as the first of the three sine qua non of dispensationalism: “A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the Church distinct.”[79] Elsewhere, he is even more detailed:

(1) The Church is not fulfilling in any sense the promises to Israel. (2) The use of the word Church in the New Testament never includes unsaved Israelites. (3) The church age is not seen in God’s program for Israel. It is an intercalation. (4) The Church is a mystery in the sense that it was completely unrevealed in the Old Testament and now revealed in the New Testament. (5) The Church did not begin until the day of Pentecost and will be removed from this world at the rapture which precedes the Second Coming of Christ.[80]

The Scripture does not support such theological assertions, as I will demonstrate.

Israel in Scripture

The Israel of the Old Testament is the forerunner of and continuous with the New Covenant phase of the Church, which is the fruition of Israel. Thus, New Testament Christians may even call Abraham our father (Rom. 4:16) and the Old Covenant people our “fathers” (1 Cor. 10:1). This clearly evinces a spiritual genealogical relation. Employing another figure, we are said to be grafted into Israel (Rom. 11:16-19) so that we become one with her, partaking of her promises (Eph. 2:11-20). In fact, the Lord appointed twelve apostles in order to serve as the spiritual seed of a New Israel, taking over for the twelve sons of Old Covenant Israel. Both the names of the twelve tribes (as the Old Covenant representatives) and the twelve apostles (as the New Covenant representatives) are incorporated into the one city of God, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12, 14).

Dispensationalists strongly assert that “the Scriptures never use the term Israel to refer to any but the natural descendants of Jacob.”[81] Nevertheless, we are designated by terms associated with the Old Covenant people: we are called the “seed of Abraham,”[82] “the circumcision,”[83] “a royal priesthood,”[84] “twelve tribes” (Jms. 1:1), “diaspora” (1 Pet. 1:1), the “temple of God.”[85] Do not these terms clearly speak to the essence of Israel’s covenantal identity? The Jews trusted in and boasted of descendeney from Abraham,[86] and circumcision was a distinguishing covenantal mark of the Jews[87] – yet these concepts are applied to Christians. Peter follows after Paul’s thinking, when he designates Christians as “stones” being built into a “spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5-9). But he does more; he draws upon several Old Testament designations of Israel and applies them to the Church: “… a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation.”[88] He, with Paul, also calls Christians “a peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:10; Titus 2:14), which is a familiar Old Testament designation for Israel.[89]

If Abraham can have Gentiles as his “spiritual seed,”[90] why cannot there be a spiritual Israel? In fact, Christians are called by the name “Israel”: “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). Although dispensationalists attempt to understand Galatians 6:16 as speaking of Jewish converts to Christianity “who would not oppose the apostle’s glorious message of salvation,”[91] such is surely not the case, as we shall see.

The entire context of Galatians is set against claims to a special Jewish status or distinction, as urged by dispensationalists. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28). In Christ, all racial distinction has been done away with. Why would Paul hold out a special word for Jewish Christians (“the Israel of God”), when he had just stated that there is no boasting at all, save in the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14)? After all, “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). That new creation is spoken of in detail in Ephesians 2:10-22, where

Jew and Gentile are united in one body. This is the Church.

It is important to note, as does Poythress, that the Church is not a “straight-line” continuation of Israel. It fulfills Israel through Christ.[92] All God’s promises are “yea” and “amen” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Since we are all the sons of Abraham (Gal. 3:29) through Christ, we receive the fullness of blessing through Him (Rom. 8:17; Eph. 1:23; Col. 2:10).

The well-known and vitally important “New Covenant” is originally framed in Jewish terminology: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31[93]). But despite the contortions dispensationalists go through to avoid the obvious – some even declaring there are two New Covenants[94] – this New Covenant specifically comes to existence in the days of Christ. We should note that the New Covenant is specifically applied to the Church: (a) Pentecost is quite correct, when he writes of the establishment of the Lord’s Supper: “In its historical setting, the disciples who heard the Lord refer to the new covenant… would certainly have understood Him to be referring to the new covenant of Jeremiah 31.”[95] What could be more obvious? (b) In fact, the sudden appearance of the “New Covenant” designation in the New Testament record, without qualification or explanation, demands that it must refer to the well-known New Covenant of Jeremiah (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). The apostle to the Gentiles even promotes the New Covenant as an important aspect of his ministry (2 Cor. 3:6). He does not say he is a minister of a “second new covenant” or “another new covenant.” In short, “One Church-one New Covenant.”

Hebrews 8, on everyone’s view, cites Jeremiah’s New Covenant in a context in which he is speaking to New Testament Christians. Yet Ryrie argues that “the writer of the Epistle has referred to both new covenants”![96] This is literalism?

Though Ryrie dogmatically affirms “Israel means Israel” via his literalistic hermeneutic, he does so on the basis of an inconsistently applied principle. Elsewhere, Ryrie fails to demand that “David” means “David.” He cites Jeremiah 30:8-9 as proof of Messiah’s millennial reign: “They shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them.” Then he says: “[T]he prophet meant what he said – and what else can we believe… ?” He cites also Hosea 3:4-5, where “David their king” will be sought in the millennium, then comments: “Thus the Old Testament proclaims a kingdom to be established on the earth by the Messiah, the Son of David, as the heir of the Davidic covenant.”[97] This is literalism?

Other passages illustrating how the Church fulfills prophecies regarding Israel are found in the New Testament. Citing Amos 9:11-12, James says God is rebuilding the tabernacle of David through the calling of the Gentiles (Acts 15:15ff).[98] In Romans 15:8-12, Paul notes that the conversion of the Gentiles is a “confirming of the promises to the fathers.” And at least one of the verses brought forth as proof speaks of Christ’s Messianic kingdom rule (Rom. 15:12). In Acts, the preaching of the gospel touches on the very hope of the Jews, which was made to the fathers (Acts 26:6-7). The promises did not set forth a literal, political kingdom, but a spiritual, gospel kingdom. Psalm 2 begins its fulfillment in the resurrection of Christ – not at the Second Advent (Acts 13:32-33). The prophecy was fulfilled.

Ryrie’s argument that “Church” never includes the unsaved Israelites is not a good argument. Not only do we not discover unsaved Israelites in the Church, neither do we find unsaved Gentiles there – if by “Church” Ryrie means the invisible Church. But if he is speaking of the visible Church, there surely were unsaved Israelites in it, just as there were unsaved Gentiles caught up in it during the first century. The idea of the Church is not racial; it represents a purified Israel (Rom. 2:28-29), not a wholesale adoption of the Jewish race. Ryrie’s argument is irrelevant. The Church fulfills OT prophecy.

Regarding the “parenthesis” or intercalation view of the Church, I have already noted that there were Old Testament prophetic passages that did apply to the calling of the Gentiles in the New Testament. They spoke of the Church. Another illustration in addition to those given above is Paul’s use of Hosea 1:9-10 and 2:23. In Romans 9:24-26, Paul interprets these very strong Jewish-contexted verses as referring to Gentile salvation in the New Covenant phase of the Church: fulfilled prophecy.

Neither should we deem the New Covenant era, international Church as a mystery that was “completely unrevealed in the Old Testament,” as Ryrie does. The clarity of the revelation increases in the New Testament, and the audience that hears it expands, but the revelation itself was given in the Old Testament. The question is: for whom was the revelation a mystery?

Ephesians 3:3-6 reads: “By revelation he made known unto me the mystery… which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ.” In Romans 16:25-26, Paul points out that the “mystery” of Gentile salvation was hidden only from the Gentiles (which in Ephesians 3 Paul calls “the sons of men”), not from the Old Testament prophets, for he defends his doctrine of the mystery from “the scriptures of the prophets.” He speaks of “the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” Paul says that the “mystery” that was kept secret is “now made manifest” to “all nations,” not just to Israel. The Church is no “parenthesis.”

In Luke 24:44-47, the Lord taught that it was necessary for Him to die in order to fulfill Scripture in bringing salvation to the Gentiles. “All things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations.”

The distinction between Jew and Gentile has forever been done away with. Paul points out this fact in Ephesians 2:11-16: “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh… at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.”

Thus, “there is neither Jew nor Greek… for ye are all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28) and “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision” (Col. 3:11). Yet dispensationalists see the Church as a temporary parenthesis in God’s plan! After the Great Tribulation, they teach, the Church will be superseded by a rebuilt Jewish temple and its animal sacrifices!

Many of the early church fathers – even those claimed as premillennialists by modern dispensationalists – understood the Church to be the recipient of Israel’s promises. It is appropriate at this point to cite the Th.M. dissertation of Dallas Seminary-trained historian Alan Patrick Boyd: “The majority of the writers/writings in this period [A.D. 70-165] completely identify Israel with the Church.”[99] He specifically cites Papias, 1 Clement, 2 Clement, Barnabas, Hermas, the Didache, and Justin Martyr.[100] Boyd notes that “In the case of Barnabas,… he has totally disassociated Israel from the precepts of the Old Testament. In fact he specifically designates the Church to be the heir of the covenantal promises made to Israel (4:6-7; 13:1-6; 14:4-5).”[101] Elsewhere, Boyd writes: “Papias applied much of the Old Testament to the Church.”[102] Of Hermas he notes “the employment of the phraseology of late Judaism to make the Church the true Israel….”[103] Of Justin Martyr, says Boyd, “he claims that the Church is the true Israelitic race, thereby blurring the distinction between Israel and the Church.”[104] While dispensationalists may be embarrassed by Boyd’s discoveries, they had better take them seriously.


The Bible is the revelation of the holy and gracious God to sinful, rebellious man. It is a vast and deep work touching on time and eternity that was written over a period of fifteen centuries by “holy men of God [who] spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Because of the richness of its expression and the glory of its content, it must be approached with a holy reverence for God and a fearful appreciation of its own majesty and grandeur. The Scripture is not a cold mathematical formula that may be scientifically worked out. It is the living Word of God to man concerning the plan of redemption.

There are, of course, general rules of interpretation that are essential to recognize if one is to understand its message. Postmillennialists follow the general evangelical approach to Scripture known as the grammatico-historical hermeneutic. This view is shared with evangelical premillennialists and amillennialists. Postmillennialists stand with these over against the peculiar literalism common to dispensationalism.

It is not always the case that the “plain and simple” approach to a passage is the correct one. This is why Jesus can be heard saying, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.” This is why He often was misunderstood in His preaching – as noted so often in John. Biblical interpretation requires careful thought and reflection, rather than mechanical manipulation.

In the material presented above, I focused in on three critical issues in order to illustrate the reasonableness of the postmillennial use of hermeneutics. Those issues were literalism in kingdom prophecy, preterism regarding certain judgment passages, and the function of Israel in Scripture. Objections are frequently urged against these views by some expositors, particularly dispensationalists. So, instead of rehearsing the common principles of biblical interpretation – principles that are found in many hermeneutics manuals – I concentrated on these points of contention. The remainder of the book will illustrate the postmillennial hermeneutic in action.

[1] For the most part my hermeneutic will be illustrated below in the actual exposition of key passages in Part III: Exposition.

[2] An excellent study in prophetic hermeneutics is Hans K. LaRondelle’s The Israel of God in Prophecy: Principles of Prophetic Interpretation (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University, 1983), even though he is premillennial (non-dispensational). See also: Vern Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, (1987). Milton Terry’s classic on the history of interpretation is also helpful: Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, [n.d] 1983).

[3] For the evolution of literalism in fundamentalism, see: George M. Marsden,

Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).

[4] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), pp. 86, 89.

[5] Ibid., pp. 89-90. Elsewhere he suggests that horses will playa role in Armageddon because of Ezekiel 38:4, 15. Ryrie, The Living End (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976), p. 54.

[6] “With the worldwide catastrophes evident during the first three and one-half years of Daniel’s 70th Week (Matt. 24:6-8; Rev. 6), a reversion to more primitive methods of warfare might become possible.” Charles H. Dyer, “Ezekiel,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., 2 vols. (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983). 1:1301.

[7] Charles C. Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Bros., 1953), p. 148.

[8] Ryrie, The Living End, p. 54.

[9] Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pp. 87-88.

[10] See also: Charles L. Feinberg, Millennialism: The Two Major Views (3rd ed.; Chicago: Moody Press, [1936] 1980), p.”41; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958), p. 10; Robert P. Lightner, Last Days Handbook (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990), pp. 126-127.

[11] Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 86.

[12] Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists. p. 53. For a discussion between Poythress and two leading dispensationalists over Poythress’ arguments. see: Grace Theological Journal 10:2 (Fall 1989) 123-160.

[13] Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 31.

[14] This is despite Ryrie’s complaint: “Thus the nondispensationalist is not a consistent literalist by his own admission, but has to introduce another hermeneutical principle (the ‘theological’ method) in order to have a hermeneutical basis for the system he holds.” Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 94.

[15] Feinberg, Millennialism, p. 40.

[16] J. A. Alexander, Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, 2 vols. in one (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, [1875] 1977), 1:30.

[17] A problem of which dispensationalists seem to be unaware is the question as to whom a prophecy is “plain.” The dispensational practice is to try to make it plain to the 20th-century reader. What about the ancient audience to whom it was written?

[18] Pentecost follows suit: “Inasmuch as God gave the Word of God as a revelation to men, it would be expected that His revelation would be given in such exact and specific terms that His thoughts would be accurately conveyed and understood when interpreted according to the laws of grammar and speech. Such presumptive evidence favors the literal interpretation, for an allegorical method of interpretation would cloud the meaning of the message delivered by God to men.” Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 10.

[19] J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), p. 80.

[20] For example. Psa. 69:25 in Acts 1:20. Feinberg, Millennialism, p. 51.

[21] For example, the Church’s participation in the New Covenant. John F. Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), pp. 502-503.

[22] Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, pp. 53-55.

[23] Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 10-11. See also: H. Wayne House and Thomas

  1. Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), pp. 321-323.

[24] John F. Walvoord, The Nations, Israel, and the Church in Prophecy, 3 vols. in I (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 3:61.

[25] This whole matter will receive careful exposition in Chapter 11, below.

[26] See Isa. 32:14-17; Ezek. 36:25-27;Joel 2:28ff. Cf. John 7:39; 16:12ff.

[27] Curtis Crenshaw and Grover Gunn, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (Memphis: Footstool, 1985), p. 22. See their helpful chart on pages 14-22.

[28] For a brief statement regarding the New Jerusalem/Church connection, see Chapter 17, below. It seems dear from the time statements in Revelation following the New Jerusalem imagery that this must come to pass not long after John wrote (Rev. 22:6, 7, 10). See my forthcoming book, The Divorce of Israel: A Commentary on the Revelation.

[29] LaRondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy, p. 48.

[30] We will treat another important passage below: Acts 15:15-17, p. 169.

[31] Ryrie, Basis of the Premillennial Faith, pp. 34, 35, 46.

[32] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), pp. 34, 35.

[33] Lightner, Last Days Handbook, p. 106.

[34] LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and Wonder (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1958), p. 16. There are even non-Mormons who point to the biblical references to God’s “hand” as indicative of a body: F. J. Dake, Annotated Reference Bible (Atlanta: Dake Bible Sales, 1965), New Testament, p. 280.

[35] Harry A. Ironside, Expository Notes on Ezekiel the Prophet (New York: Loizeaux Bros., 1949), p. 262, cited in J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 498-499. Cf. Ryrie, Basis of the Premillennial Faith, p. 88. Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, p. 60.

[36] Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 311-313; cf. E. Schuyler English, “The Two Witnesses,” Our Hope 47 (April 1941) 666.

[37] Often sacrifices in Scripture speak figuratively of prayer (Psa. 141:2), praise (Psa. 44:6; Jer. 17:26; 33:11), thanksgiving (Psa. 107:22; 116:17), joy (Psa. 27:6), righteousness (Psa. 4:5; 51:19), confession (Psa. 66:13), contrition (Psa. 51:17), and so forth.

[38] Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 525. See also Charles C. Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 1299.

[39] The whole idea of a re-instituted sacrificial system is repulsive to the biblical scheme of things (see Hebrews). The dispensational system presents an unnecessary confusion here. Consider: By Christ’s appointment, the Lord’s Supper is the sign of the New Covenant (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). It is to be kept until He comes (1 Cor. 11:25-26). But in the dispensational system, when Christ comes to establish the New Covenant with Israel for a millennium, the Lord’s Supper (which is the sign of the New Covenant) will be done away with while the sacrificial system (which is an Old Covenant foreshadowing of Christ’s redemptive labor, Heb. 10:1-3) will be reinstituted as a “memorial.” And this memorial will be done in His very presence!

[40] The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 888, note 1 (at Ezek. 43:19).

[41] Ibid., p. 758, note 3.

[42] Ibid., p. 724, n 3.

[43] Ibid., p. 1369.

[44] Ibid., p. 721. Poythress (p. 24n) cites many examples of non-literalism in the notes of the original Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, [1909] 1917): Gen. 1:16; 24:1; 37:2; 41:45; 43:45; Exo. 2:2; 15:25; 25:1, 30; 26:15; Ruth Intro; Ezek. 2:1; Zech. 10:I; John 12:24. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, p. 24n.

[45] Charles H. Dyer, ‘Jeremiah,” Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1:1136, 1135.

[46] John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” ibid., 1:1059.

[47] LaRondelle, Israel of God in Prophecy, p. 7.

[48] Willem Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption: The Story of Salvation from

Creation to the New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), p. 21.

[49] Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, p. 104.

[50] Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 187.

[51] 1 Pet. 1:10,11. See: Dan. 8:27; 12:8; Zech. 4:13; Rev. 7:13-14; 17:8-9. Young defends the view that Daniel did not understand his prophecies in Dan. 8:27 and 12:5. E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), p. 182.

[52] Matt. 16:21-22; Luke 18:31-34; John 2:22; 20:9,

[53] Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, p. 107.

[54] Matt. 23:37-38; Luke 19:41-42; 24:21-27; John 6:15; 18:36.

[55] 2 Cor. 3:14; cf. Matt. 13:15; John 8:12; 12:46; Acts 28:26-27; Rom. 11:7-8. The dullness led eventually to their ascribing Satanic influence to Christ (Matt. 12:22-28).

[56] Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 17. See also: Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), ch. 1. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Boston: W. A. Wilde, 1950), pp. 48f. In fact, the fundamental idea of a premillennial kingdom seems to be traceable back to the literalistic Jewish conception, and thus it may be said that “premillennialism is a descendent of ancient Judaism.” William Masselink, Why Thousand Years? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1930), p. 20. See also: Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), p. 234; Henry B. Swete, Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids: Kregal, [1906] 1977), p. cxxxiii; Feinberg, Millennialism, pp. 34-35.

[57] See: John 2:19-21; 3:5-7; 4:10-15, 31-38; 6:31-35, 51-58; 8:21-22, 32-36; 8:51-53; 9:39-40; 11:11-14; 13:33-37; 18:33-37.

[58] Luke 24:26; 1 Pet. 1:11. Cf. John 12:23-24; Phil. 2:8-9.

[59] Ultimately, their spiritual condition is the source of their rejection, with the misapprehension of prophecy a result of that.

[60] LaRondelle, Israel of God in Prophecy, p. 7. As Young notes: “In speaking of the future or Messianic age, Isaiah, as a prophet of the Old Testament, uses the thought forms and the figures which were current in that age. It is obvious that the language of the prophet cannot be interpreted in a consistently literal sense. Rather, Isaiah takes the figures which were the property of the Old Testament economy and makes them the vehicles of expression for the truths of salvation and blessing which were the characteristics of the age of grace.” E. J. Young, Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 1:99.

[61] Van Gemeren, Progress of Redemption, p. 27.

[62] John S. Feinberg, “Systems of Discontinuity,” Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, Feinberg, ed. (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), p. 73. One major theologian who converted from dispensationalism is former Dallas Seminary professor S. Lewis Johnson, who warns of the anti-apostolic nature of literalism, which he says interprets “woodenly.” S. L. Johnson, The Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), p. 83.

[63] House and Ice, Dominion Theology, ch. 14; Dave Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988), ch. 12; Hal Lindsey, The Road to Holocaust (New York: Bantam, 1989), ch. 3.

[64] See the list of thirty-one such passages in House and Ice, Dominion Theology, pp. 321-322.

[65] Athanasius, Incarnation 40:1.

[66] In this I differ from some preterists who go much farther and claim all of the Olivet Discourse has been fufilled, and even the Second Advent, resurrection, and judgment at the destruction of Jerusalem. See: Milton Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.); J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Study of the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (Grand Rapids: Baker, [1887] 1983). Max R. King, The Cross and the Parousia of Christ: The Two Dimensions of One Age-Changing Eschaton (Warren, OH: Writing and Research Ministry, 1987).

[67] For additional insights into the preteristic approach to the Olivet Discourse, see Chapter 15; for Revelation, see Chapter 17. See also: David Chilton, The Great Tribulation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987). J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (n.p.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1971).

[68] House and Ice, Dominion Theology, p. 271. See also: Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 249. Warren W. Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1989), 2:86. John F. Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, p. 381. Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2:76. James F. Rand, “A Survey of the Eschatology of the Olivet Discourse,” Bibliotheca Sacra 113 (1956) 166.

[69] William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew (New Testament Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973), pp. 867-869. R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of Matthew’s Gospel (Columbus: Wartburg, 1932), pp. 929-930. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), p. 704. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, [1721] n.d.), 5:356-360. Joseph A Alexander, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker, [1858] 1980), p. 363.

[70] The preterist view is held by amillennial theologians also: George L. Murray, Millennial Studies: A Search for Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1948), p. 110; Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to St. Luke (International Critical Commentary) (New York: Scribner’s, 1910), p. 338. A. B. Bruce, Synoptic Gospels (The Expositor’s Greek Testament) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), p. 296. William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 479-480. A dispensationalist has even been moved close to this view, and has stated: “The manner in which dispensationalism has traditionally handled this section is thus weak on several fronts…. Contemporary dispensationalists should rethink this area of NT exegesis.” “It must be concluded that the futurist view, held by traditional dispensationalists, is unconvincing. It does not satisfactorily handle the contextual emphasis on the fall of Jerusalem….” David L. Turner, “The Structure and Sequence of Matthew 24:1-41: Interaction with Evangelical Treatments,” Grace Theological Journal 10:1 (Spring 1989) 7,10.

[71] As did John Baptist before Him (Matt. 3:1-12).

[72] The phrase is found in Matthew 1:17; 11:16; 12:39-45; 16:4; 17:17; and 23:36. It is only with great difficulty that any of these references may be given a meaning other than the contemporary generation in Jesus’ day. In the five other instances in Matthew where the word genea is coupled with the near demonstrative to read “this generation,” it clearly refers to the generation then living. These passages are Matthew 11:16; 12:41,42,45; and 23:36. In Scripture the idea of a “generation” of people involves roughly twenty-five to forty years. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Nashville: Broadman, 1930), 1:194. See: Num. 32:13; Psa.95:10.

[73] Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), p. 108

[74] He contrasts the durability and integrity of His prophetic word here with that of the material universe (24:35).

[75] See especially Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:7:1-2; The Clementine Homilies 3:15; and Cyprian, Treatises 12:1:6, 15. For more detail, see Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., House Divided: The Break-up of Dispensational Theology (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), pp. 276-282.

[76] See Chapter 17, below, for a brief outline survey of Revelation. For more detail regarding preterism in Revelation, see my Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989).

[77] For ancient preterist exposition, see: Andreas of Capadocia and Arethas. For more references see: Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, pp. 133-145.

[78] Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, p. 24.

[79] Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 44. See also: Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 9. Walvoord, The Nations, Israel, and the Church in Prophecy, “Nations” section, pp. 56ff. Feinberg, “Systems of Discontinuity,” Continuity and Discontinuity, pp. 81ff. House and Ice, Dominion Theology, pp. 29ff.

[80] Ryrie, Basis of the Premillennial Faith, p. 136.

[81] Feinberg, Millennialism, p. 230. See also: The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1223. “The term Israel is nowhere used in the Scriptures for any but the physical descendants of Abraham.” Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 127.

[82] Rom. 4:13-17; Gal. 3:6-9, 29.

[83] Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11.

[84] Rom. 15:16; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10. See: Exo. 19:6.

[85] 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 1:16; Eph. 2:21.

[86] We read often of “the God of Abraham” (Gen. 28:13; 31:42, 53; Exo. 3:6, 15-

16; 4:5; 1 Kgs. 18:36; 1 Chr. 29:18; 2 Chr. 30:6; Psa. 47:9; Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:37; Acts 3:13; 7:32). The Jews expected blessings in terms of their Abrahamic descent (Matt. 3:9; 8:11; Luke 3:8; Luke 13:16, 28; Luke 16:23-30; 19:9; John 8:39,53; Rom. 11:1; 2 Cor. 11:22).

[87] Circumcision is the special sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel (Gen. 17:10, 13). Circumcision is mentioned 86 times in the Scriptures; the uncircumcised are mentioned 61 times.

[88] 1 Pet. 2:9-10; Exo. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:6.

[89] Exo. 19:5; Deut. 14:2; 26:18; Psa. 135:4.

[90] New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1223 (at Rom. 9:6).

[91] Ibid. See also: Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 139; Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 89; Donald K. Campbell, “Galatians,” Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1:611.

[92] Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, p. 126.

[93] See also: Ezek. 11:16-21; Joel 2:32; Zeph. 3:12-13.

[94] See Ryrie, Basis of the Premillennial Faith, ch. 6, and Pentecost, Things to Come, ch. 8, for more detail. There has been a serious division even within dispensational circles over the function of the New Covenant as illustrated in Ryrie’s work. Those views are: (1) The Jews Only View. This is “the view that the new covenant directly concerns Israel and has no relationship to the Church” (p. 107). (2) The One Covenant/Two Aspects View: The one “new covenant has two aspects, one which applies to Israel, and one which applies to the church” (p. 107). (3) The Two New Covenants View. This is Ryrie’s view; it actually “distinguishes the new covenant with Israel from the new covenant with the Church. This view finds two new covenants in which the promises to Israel and the promises to the Church are more sharply distinguished even though both new covenants are based on the one sacrifice of Christ” (p. 107).

[95] Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 126.

[96] Ryrie, Basis of the Premillennial Faith, p. 121.

[97] Ibid., pp. 86-87, 88. (emphasis mine)

[98] O. Palmer Robertson, “Hermeneutics of Continuity,” Continuity and Discontinuity, ch. 4.

[99] Alan Patrick Boyd, “A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers (Until the Death of Justin Martyr)” (Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary Master’s Thesis, 1977), p. 47.

[100] Papias, Fragment 6; 1 Clement 3:1; 29:1-30:1; 2 Clement 2:1-3; 3:5; Barnabas, Epistles 2:4-6,9; 3:6; 4:6-7; 5:2,7; Hermas, Similitudes 9:16:7; 9:15:4; 9:12:1-13:2; the Didache (14:2,3), and Justin Martyr (Dialogue 119-120, 123, 125). See Boyd, “Dispensational Premillennial Analysis:’ pp. 46, 60, 70, 86.

[101] Boyd, ibid., p. 46.

[102] Ibid., pp. 60-61

[103] Ibid., p. 70.

[104] Ibid., p. 86.