Archive for the ‘Dispensationalism’ Category

Responding to Ryrie regarding John Edwards and Dispensations

November 22, 2011

Someone wrote in to Jamin Hubner the following question:

In Ryrie’s book he mentions the dispensational scheme that Jonathan Edwards [sic] (not that Edwards was necessarily a dispensationalist) put forth in his work “A Compleat History or Survey of All the Dispensations”. Would this not pre-date Darby? As I have not read this work by Edwards, perhaps I am missing the context, but Edwards’ dispensational scheme has some similarities to the seven dispensations espoused by modern day dispensationalists.

The author of the comment is referring to the discussion of John Edwards (not Jonathan Edwards) in Ryrie’s book, “Dispensationalism.”  To answer the exact question, yes – it predates Darby.  On the other hand, as Ryrie himself points out, Edwards didn’t believe in a literal 1,000 year physical reign of Jesus on Earth.  There may be some similarities. 

There is an important answer to these questions: it is not the designation “dispensation” or the recognition that God has dealt with people differently in different epochs of time that is controversial about dispensationalism.  So, whether or not Edwards’ scheme of dispensations or dealings has some similarities to the schemes advocated by dispensationalists is a moot point.

Ryrie himself seems to recognize the mootness of such historical appeal.

Ryrie writes (shortly prior to his reference to John Edwards):

Dispensationalists recognize that as a system of theology it is recent in origin.  But there are historical references to that which eventually was systematized into dispensationalism.  There is evidence in the writings of men who lived long before Darby that the dispensational concept was part of their viewpoint.

After discussing some patristic and medieval authors, Ryrie explains:

It is not suggested, nor should it be inferred, that these early church fathers were dispensationalists in the later sense of the word. But it is true that some of them enunciated principles that later developed into dispensationalism, and it may be rightly said that they held to primitive or early dispensational-like concepts.

So, Jamin Hubner’s own response to the question seems a little strange:

Dispensationalists typically play the pre-Darby card in an effort to justify their system, but is rarely an adequate appeal. The idea is to make associations and draw similarities between Darby and previous thinkers (e.g. Ireneaus, Edwards, some Reformers, etc.) to say Dispensationalism goes back (for some, they would say to the Apostles, while others would say back to the Reformers, etc.). But in reality, the thinkers are simply not teaching Darbyism. Resemblances, vague parallels and similarities are not enough to dismount Darby as essentially the Father of Dispensationalism (nor dismount Scofield as perhaps the chief popularizer). But that’s not to say we shouldn’t acknowledge that Darby had previous influences and that attempts have been made to try and systematize redemptive history, address the application of biblical law, and solve various hermeneutical issues. Certainly there have been such attempts.

 And again:

One could list countless other references. But, it’s obviously absurd (and anachronistic) to say Calvin, Bavinck, or Spurgeon were Dispensationalists just because they speak of dispensations in redemptive history, and baseless to say from these facts that Darby’s specific thought found its ultimate origins in these particular thinkers (since Christians from virtually every period have been talking about changes in redemptive history and various epochs; perhaps the author of the Hebrews was the first to put it so starkly). Even organizing such Dispensations into a structure does not add up to the profound and distinctive marks of Darby and Scofield’s Dispensationalism (e.g. stark Israel/Church separation, hermeneutic regarding prophecy, premil pretrib eschatology including rapture of believers, etc.) – which is precisely what we mean by “Dispensationalism” today.

While there may be dispensationalists who make such claims, it seems pretty clear that Ryrie himself explicitly disavows such claims.  Instead, Ryrie makes much softer claims about doctrinal development, claims that don’t claim that the “profound and distinctive marks” of dispensationalism were present in the pre-Darby era.

Ryrie instead argues:

There is no question that the Plymouth Brethren, of which John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was a leader, had much to do with the systematizing and promoting of dispensationalism.  But neither Darby nor the Brethren originated the concepts involved in the system, and even if they had, that would not make them wrong if they can be shown to be biblical.

Indeed, under the title of “Straw Men,” Ryrie explains:

In discussing the matter of the origins of dispensationalism, opponents of the teaching usually set up two straw men and then huff and puff until they are destroyed.  The first straw man is to say that dispensationalists assert that the system was taught in postapostolic times. Informed dispensationalists do not claim that.  They recognize that, as a system, dispensationalism was largely formulated by Darby, but that outlines of a dispensationalist approach to the Scriptures are found much earlier.  They only maintain that certain features of what eventually developed into dispensationalism are found in the teachings of the early church. 

Another typical example of the use of a straw man is this line of argument: pretribulationalism is not apostolic; pretribulationalism is dispensationalism; therefore, dispensationalism is not apostolic.  But dispensationalists do not claim that the system was developed in the first century; nor is it necessary that they be able to do so.

So, in fact, folks like Ryrie (and I assume Fred Butler would fall in this camp) are not claiming that the early or even Reformation-era church held to a pre-mil, pre-trib rapture.

It may be useful in dealing with dispensationals, therefore, to be careful in distinguishing.  On the one hand, we grant that the use of the term and even a difference in dealings (on some level) are concepts that pre-existed Darby.  Indeed, using that same standard, it seems that we might be classified as “primitive dispensationalists” (using Ryrie’s standards) if we hold to covenant theology.  On the other hand, the more objectionable aspects of dispensationalism do not have the same noble lineage.

Ultimately, though, we agree with Ryrie that the test of history is not the ultimate test: the ultimate test is the test of Scripture.  If the teachings of dispensationalism are the teachings of Scripture, then we ought to hold them regardless of whether anyone held them between the time of the apostles and now.



The Old Testament Law – Tripartite Analysis

October 31, 2008

To provide some background for discussion of the law of God, it is important to understand the categories involved:


The law of God in the Old Testament is of three kinds:

1. Moral

Moral law, because it reflects the character of God, is enduring and immutable. It never was and it never will be permissible to worship any god but God, it never was and never will be permissible to worship God other ways than He ordains, it never was and never will be permissible to dishonor God’s name, it never was and never will be permissible to appropriate all seven days of the week for our work, it never was and never will be permissible to dishonor the authorities over us, to kill, to steal, to lie, to covet, and so forth. In short, it is always the case (for all history) that we must love the Lord our God wholeheartedly and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

2. Ceremonial

Under the Adamaic, Noahic, Abramic, Mosaic, and Solomonic administrations of the covenant of grace, the worship of God was manifested in certain outward ceremonies that were designed to point to Christ. Eminent among these ceremonies were the rite of animal sacrifice, the practice of tabernacle and later temple worship, and in some cases a specialized priesthood. These things all have been fulfilled in Christ, the one true and perfect sacrifice. He is our high priest and his sacrificial work is finished. Consequently there is no more sacrifice and no more priestly class among us. There were other associated ceremonies as well, such as dietary laws and laws related to physical cleanliness as a picture of spiritual cleanliness. All these ceremonial laws, being fulfilled in Christ, have been done away.

3. Civil / Judicial / Juridical

This third category of laws were the laws specific to the Mosaic administration of the nation of Israel. They are the laws by which the country was run. They are not binding on all humanity. Nevertheless, they are important as to their “general equity,” by which I mean that they show to us a just system of government. There are moral aspects of the civil law of Israel, and these moral aspects remain significant. There were circumstantial aspects, and these aspects necessarily vary under different circumstances. Finally, there were ceremonial aspects, and these aspects have been fulfilled or supplanted in the New Testament.

Errors Distinguished

There are four major (and numerous minor) errors that arise from holding to expired portions of the law (Judaizers and “Extreme” Theonomists) or to disposing of still-relevant portions of the law (“Extreme” Two-Kingdomists and “Extreme” Dispensationalists / Antinomians).

1. Judaiziers

Judaizers seek to impose part (or perhaps all) of the ceremonial law on Christians. Thus, for example, the Judaizers argue that it is necessary for Christians to be circumcised.

2. “Extreme” Theonomists

The term “theonomist” has a wide range of meanings. In some cases, folks who call themselves “theonomists” will insist that virtually all and every detail of the Mosaic law with respect to the Nation of Israel must be followed. The problem with this approach is that it overlooks the fact that the Mosaic law was tailored to two particular forms of government and accompanied a nation-state that has ceased to be.

3. “Extreme” Two-Kingdomists

I am using the term “extreme” here because I’m not sure all “two-kingdom” folks would say this description applies to them. In some cases, it appears that “two-kingdoms” folk treat the civil law of Israel as though it were entirely ceremonial. Thus, these folks say that the civil law is essentially done-away-with and consequently for instruction on how governments should be just, we must appeal exclusively to “natural law,” the light provided by God in general revelation.

4. “Extreme” Dispensationalists / Anti-Nominians

“Extreme” Dispensationalists and also Anti-Nominians take the view that all the laws of the Old Testament are done away with, including the moral law. This error arises from a failure to understand the nature of the moral law, and the relation of God to the law of God. God does not change, and consequently the definition of morality does not change.


The issue of God’s law is not a simple one to be handled carelessly or callously. We must be careful to observe to do all that God has commanded us, and yet we need to be careful not to bind men’s consciences beyond what the Word of God states. Excess in the first regard leads to legalism, excess in the second regard leads to antinomianism. There is one way to see the path to stay on it, without going either to the left or to the right: that one way is by careful attention to the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures.


The real Turretin on: Old Testament Salvation

August 30, 2008

JetBrane at Iron Ink has a nice post providing a quotation from the real Francis Turretin on the topic of the salvation of believers in the Old Testament (link). Although their temporal relationship to the true atonement was different than ours, Old Testament saints were saved the same way that we, New Testament saints, are.


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