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The Real History of Dispensationalism

Frankly, I have grown tired of people who cast off Dispensationalism solely on the grounds that they believe it to be a recent development, with its supposed founder, C. I. Scofield. If this were true, the argument might have some merit, however it can be easily shown that Dispensationalism has roots that date back to Justin Martyr.

Before I go any further in this article, I'd like to acknowledge two books that have provided me with much of the information used and highlighted in this brief article: 1. Dispensationalism Today, by Charles C. Ryrie (Chicago: Moody, 1965) 2. The Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns (Chicago: Moody, 1989) The above mentioned two books have provided a great amount of necessary and truthful information. Unfortunately, this will likely not matter to some how much evidence is provided regarding the actual history and longevity of dispensationalism. For them, it will remain a "new" formula and therefore it should be seen with a jaundiced eye at best and discarded at worst. The most difficult part of discussing any "system" of interpretation within Christendom is that emotions run high due to the fact that they are based on an individual's personal beliefs. No one likes it to be suggested that they could very well be wrong about something they have held for some time. It is the rare individual who can discuss differences of theological opinion without the intensity most often seen in people who object to one another's political viewpoints. Of course, what I'm not referring to is the difference between actual Christianity and a cult. It is important for the Christian to be able to defend the faith against the heresies that cults espouse. However, within Christendom, there will likely always be differences of opinion, this side of eternity. If those differences do not affect a person's theology of salvation (Soteriology), then there is little to no harm. If however, a system of theology or interpretation begins to stray from Scripture so that it finds itself diametrically opposed to a portion of Scripture, then it should be left. What we are talking about here though is the difference between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism essentially. While both systems belief that salvation is by grace alone and that it comes through faith which is a gift of God, the method of interpreting Scripture is in question. While the former interprets prophecy in an allegorical way, the latter tends to use a literal method here and elsewhere in Scripture. In spite of these differences and in spite of the fact that this particular article will not solve the issue, I would like to present evidence that shows that dispensationalism, far from being the "newbie" on the religious block, has deep historical roots. Early Developments In order to gain an accurate picture of dispensationalism, it is necessary to turn back the hands of time to A. D. 110-165, during the life of Justin Martyr. In his book Dialogue with Trypho, he recognizes "several differing economies in the Old Testament."[1] It is clear that for Martyr, there are distinct ages or eras; one prior to circumcision and the law, then one after God's revelation to Abraham in which circumcision became necessary, then after the law was given to and through Moses, in which it was found necessary to keep the Sabbath. One can clearly see that Martyr held to a form of dispensationalism since he recognized different economies within God's progressive revelation. The next individual to maintain and further clarify the dispensations that God has used was

Irenaeus (A. D. 130-200). Irenaeus "refers in his writings to four principal covenants given to the human race, particularly drawing a distinction between three covenants of the Old Testament and the gospel. This distinction is typical of dispensationalism."[2] We then move onto Clement of Alexandria (A. D. 150-220) who "identified four dispensations: Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, and Mosaic."[3] Augustine (A. D. 354-530) comes along next and refers to changes from one economy in God's plan to another as "the changes of successive epochs."[4] While Ryrie is quick to point out (and on this Enns agrees) that it would not be correct in referring to these men as Dispensationalists as we think of Dispensationalism today, it is obviously clear that they "enunciated principles which later developed into dispensationalism, and it may be rightly said that they held to primitive or early dispensational concepts."[5] Developments in the Middle Ages Having stated all of this, our real starting point in the modern era begins with Pierre Poiret (1646-1719). Pierre was a French mystic and philosopher who wrote a six-volume systematic theology which was titled L'O Economie Divine. This is purely a modified Calvinistic approach and a premillenial work in which he lists a seven-fold dispensational scheme, which included Infancy, Childhood, Adolescence, Youth, Manhood, Old Age, Renovation of All Things. Each of these specific economies or dispensations referred to a specific biblical period, all of which culminated in a literal Millennium. John Edwards (1637-1716) followed Poiret, publishing two volumes called A Compleat History or Survey of All the Dispensations. In this work, he attempted to show how God had dealt with the creation until the end of the world. His outline for dispensationalism was far more involved than Poiret's. We then move onto Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who was really the precursor to Scofield's system of dispensationalism. Watts' identification of dispensationalism was more defined. His outline closely resembles Scofield's, with the exception of the Millennial Kingdom. Watts included six separate dispensations, which are as follows: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Innocency Adamical Dispensation of the Covenant of Grace Noahical Dispensation Abrahamical Dispensation Mosaical Dispensation Christian Dispensation

Modern and Recent Developments John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) is the next scholar in systematizing dispensationalism. In short, Darby's system included seven separate economies: 1. 2. 3. 4. Paradisaical state to the Flood Noah Abraham Israel 1. Under the law 2. Under the priesthood 3. Under the kings 5. Gentiles 6. The Spirit 7. The Millennium

Darby's contribution beyond this systematizing was that in each of the individual economies, Darby believed that man was placed under certain conditions, with the resultant responsibility before God. C. I. Scofield (1843-1921) is the next biblical scholar and proponent of dispensationalism and probably the most well known, by today's standards. As has been mentioned, it is normally asserted that dispensationalism had its start with Scofield, when in point of fact, it has been clearly shown that a form of dispensationalism has been in effect since Justin Martyr. Scofield systematized dispensationalism to include seven categories: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Man Man Man Man Man Man Man Innocent Under Conscience in Authority Over the Earth Under Promise Under Law Under Grace Under the Personal Reign of Christ

Summing Things Up It is likely that Scofield tends to be seen as the starting point of dispensationalism due to the Scofield Reference Bible, published in the early 1900s. However, it is abundantly clear from history that dispensationalism has roots that predate Scofield by at least eighteen centuries. Far from being a recent development, dispensationalism can be found in some form during the first century, which is only shortly after the last apostle died. The system of Dispensationalism bears serious consideration and is certainly worthy of our attention.

[1]Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody 1989), 513 [2] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody 1965), 70