My Critique of Dispensationalism Part 1

Dispensationalists believe that Grammatico-Historical is the best interpretative method for Scripture. In addition, they believe in a literal hermeneutic, saying they employ literalism unless it makes no sense. However, we will show their eschatological interpretations do not make sense because of their overreliance on the literal hermeneutic. A cursory examination of Grammatico-Historical, shown below, would indicate it advocates no one rigid hermeneutic.

Dispensationalists also believe in progressive revelation, which says that each successive dispensation supersedes the previous one. But, at the same time, they believe the New Testament must be interpreted in light of the Old, and therefore, the Old Testament takes priority over the New. That is simply wrong and contradictory on several fronts. First, the Old and New Testaments are both God’s inspired Word. Thus, they correlate to each other; one does not take precedence over the other. Second, Christ of the N.T. fulfills the O.T. prophecies of Him, so if anything, one can say the O.T must be interpreted in light of the New. And third, the N.T. dispensation of Grace succeeded the O.T. dispensation of Law; therefore, it should supersede the O.T by their own definition. Christ fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17).

Dispensationalists are premillennial and are, therefore, futurists. They have proposed that the Old Testament covenantal promises to the patriarchs, from Abraham to David, are unfulfilled and not fulfilled until the Millennium. Based on that, dispensationalists say the New Testament church (from Pentecost to the Rapture) is separate from national Israel. Thus, Christ will snatch the church, i.e., the Rapture, before the Great Tribulation, which dispensationalists say is Daniel’s seventieth week. The church comes back with Christ after the Tribulation and Armageddon for the Millennium, with some actually saying the church will serve Israel (Pentecost; Things to Come; p. 508). The church, therefore, is a “parenthesis.”

There is much more to dispensationalism than that, but we will begin with those mentioned elements. Therefore we will start with first things first, Grammatico-Historicism.

Years ago, Milton Terry, writing his highly acclaimed Biblical Hermeneutics, described the Grammatico-Historical method of interpretation thus: “Its fundamental principle is to gather from the Scriptures themselves the precise meaning which the writers intended to convey. It applies to the sacred books the same principles, the same grammatical processes, and exercise of common sense and reason, which we apply to other books” (p. 173, emphasis added).

Having established his point, Terry goes on to say: “A fundamental principle in the Grammatico-Historical exposition is that words and sentences can have but one signification in one and the same connection (emphasis added). The moment we neglect this principle, we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture” (p. 205). Just prior, writing on the meaning of words, he says this, “Without an accurate knowledge of the meaning of his words, no one can properly either understand or explain the language of any author” (p. 202).

He later says this about double-sense: “We may readily admit that the Scriptures are capable of manifold practical applications (emphasis Terry); otherwise they would not be so useful for doctrine, correction, and instruction in righteousness (cites 2 Timothy 3:16). But the moment we admit the principle that portions of the Scripture contain an occult or double-sense, we introduce an element of uncertainty in the sacred volume and unsettle all scientific interpretation” (p. 493)—hardly stuff of literalism, as words have many applications, but one meaning; we must employ common sense and reason, and we must discern what the writers intend to convey – not what the reader wants it to say.

In his thesis, Genesis of the End, an Understanding and Evaluation of the Hermeneutics of the Millennial Positions, Gregory Michael Peterson summed up the dispensationalist position quite succinctly. But, curiously, on the matter of Grammatico-Historical, he said this, “According to dispensational premillennialist Robert L Thomas, ‘it is the primary method of interpretation for many conservative Protestant exegetes’” (p. 9).

Then, he went on to laud Terry on several occasions. First, he said this about Grammatico-Historicism, “The best definition that has the clearest understanding is from another amillennialist” (cites Terry). He then quoted a passage from Biblical Hermeneutics of which was this: “We may name the Grammatico-Historical as the method which most fully commends itself to the judgment and conscience of Christian scholars” (p. 10)

Also, in that passage that Peterson felt worthy of quoting Terry was this, “He [the exegete] will inquire into the circumstances under which he [the author] wrote, the manners and customs of his age, and the purpose or object which he had in view. He has a right to assume that no sensible author will be knowingly inconsistent with himself or seek to bewilder and mislead his readers. Understanding and grasping this definition is paramount to the following chapters, not only because this hermeneutic applies to all parts of Scripture, but this definition is agreed upon by all millennial positions” (p.10, emphasis added).

Peterson undoubtedly quickly felt compelled to identify with “conservative Protestant hermeneutics” by citing Terry and his work several times (pp 5, 9, 10, 15). So let us say we agree that the Grammatico-Historical method is the most suitable even while Peterson is representative of dispensationalism, in general. In my next article, I will begin to point out the inconsistencies by Peterson and those of the dispensationalist position. Until then.

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