Dispensationalism is more than 200 years old

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by mnw, Jan 18, 2006.

  1. mnw

    mnw
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    I am going to put up two posts. The first quotes men from around 100AD making statements that equate to pre-millenialism.

    Saying, "Oh, dispensationalism is only 200 years old and Darby made it up." is not true in my opinion and I wanted to express why.

    Antiquity does not necessarily equate to truth. However, premillennialism was believed by the early church.

    My second post addresses how amillenialism crept in...

    Papias – 70-163

    Papias served as bishop to the church at Hierapolis, Phrygia. His vicinity to the Apostle John in nearby Ephesus afforded him unique access to teachings concerning eschatology. Papias also had regular fellowship with John’s disciple, Polycarp.

    In the fourth section of Papias’ “Oracles of Papias” he supposedly quotes the Lord in saying, “The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five and twenty metretes of wine...” The historian Eusebias speaks of this and other similar quotes in his Ecclesiastical History, book III, Ch.39 when he states, “The same person, moreover, has set down other things as coming to him from unwritten tradition, amongst these some strange parables and instructions of the Saviour, and some other things of a more fabulous nature. Amongst these he says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on earth.” Being an amillennialist Eusebias looked upon Papias’ writings with some disdain, but none-the-less, our goal of proving the prevalence of pre-millennialism in the early church is only strengthened by his record of Papias’ writings.

    Polycarp – ce100-156

    This godly man studied, reportedly, under the Apostle John who received the Revelation and committed it to writing. Surely this Christian had an advantage over us all in understanding exactly what John meant in Revelation! Polycarp’s student, Irenaeus, is considered one of the greatest defenders of the early church doctrine and his writings concerning eschatology are extensive as he studied prophecy beginning in Genesis and then through out all Scripture, so for the sake of time and space we will just look at a single statement by Polycarp.

    Polycarp asked these questions “But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord? Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world? As Paul teaches.” Now the only Scriptural occasion on which Christians shall judge the world is during the millennial reign of Christ. In the amillennial scheme this does not fit in anywhere. Polycarp spoke as if it were the predominant belief that saints would judge the world. In a surprised manner he questions the reader as if to say, “Who doesn’t know this?” The most natural meaning of this is that the amillennial believers of this time were a very small minority and that the majority expected a literal millennium.

    Irenaeus – 120-202

    Now Irenaeus, who studied under Polycarp who in turn studied under the Apostle John, also wrote a vast amount concerning the Millennium. Unlike any before him he confronted and disputed heretical teachers. He lived between 120-202 AD and eventually became bishop of Lyon. Irenaeus wrote a five volume work titled, “Ad versus Haereses” which translates as “Against Heresies.” In book five, chapters 23-36 he provides a defence for a future restoration of Israel, a millennial reign and God’s final judgement occurring after the millennium. Further, he argues against allegorising any of these precious truths. Apparently the allegorising of Scripture had already begun to occur. This lengthy quote gives a very clear indication what the early church expected:

    “The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth: as the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times, and say: The days will come, in which vines shall grow, each having ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in each one of the shoots ten thousand dusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five and twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me. In like manner [the Lord declared] that . . . all animals feeding [only] on the productions of the earth, should [in those days] become peaceful and harmonious among each other, and be in perfect subjection to man.”

    No commentary is needed as clearly Irenaeus took a literal approach to interpreting Scripture. But Irenaeus did not stand alone, his contemporary, Justin Martyr also clearly wrote of a literal millennium.

    Justin Martyr – 100ce-167ce

    Justin was an enthusiastic premillennialist despite the fact that by his day opposition to “chiliasm” was growing. In one of his “arguments” with Trypho, most probably a hypothetical Jew, he writes,

    “And Trypho to this replied, I remarked to you sir, that you are very anxious to be safe in all respects, since you cling to the Scriptures. But tell me, do you really admit that this place, Jerusalem, shall be rebuilt; and do you expect your people to be gathered together, and made joyful with Christ and the patriarchs, and the prophets, both the men of our nation, and other proselytes who joined them before your Christ came? Or have you given way, and admitted this in order to have the appearance of worsting us in the controversies? Then I answered, I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho, as to say one thing and think another. I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise . . .. But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.”

    In a much more concise statement Justin states, “I and as many as are orthodox Christians in all respects do acknowledge that there shall be a resurrection of the body and 1,000 years reign in Jerusalem.” "Dialogue with Trypho", chapter 80

    Justin’s views were built upon not just New Testament writings or mere hearsay but upon the writings of Old Testament saints such as Ezekiel and Isaiah. Clearly he expected a resurrection of the dead, a literal thousand-year reign in Jerusalem and blessings upon that great city and the rest of the world. Some criticise Justin as paving the way for the allegorical movement. He is charged with having made the Old Testament mean more for the Church than the synagogue and in so doing opened the door to allegorical thought but this is open to dispute. However, this quote does reveal the expectancy of the early church.

    Hippolytus –? -235ce

    This bishop of a church in Rome died for his faith sometime around 235AD but during his life he authored many works regarding eschatology. His work, “In De Christo et Antichristo” (The Christ and Antichrist”) documents his belief of a coming Antichrist and tribulation period. Hippolytus’ commentary on Daniel details his belief in a millennium and links Daniel and Revelation in their descriptions of end times. His commentary on Daniel is the oldest Scriptural commentary that is available.

    Ephraim The Syrian – 306-373

    Published in 376AD he wrote a book he entitled “Anti-Christ and the End of The World.” It has only been in the last few decades that his works were translated into English and made available for study. As a testament to his character and the quality of his hymn writing and sermons some are still used in Syrian churches even today. Here is an excerpt from his writings.

    “Let us prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ so that He may draw us from the confusion which overwhelms the world. Believe you me, dearest brothers, because the coming of the Lord is nigh. Believe you me, because the end of the world is at end. Believe me because it is the very last time. Because all Saints and the elect of the Lord are gathered together before the Tribulation which is about to come and are taken to the Lord in order that they may not see at any time the confusion that overwhelms the world because of our sins. And so brothers most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of this world comes to the harvest and angels armed and prepared hold sickles in their hands awaiting the empire or kingdom of the Lord.”

    We must take note of the fact that this writer expected a time of tribulation, before which the saints would be removed, and both events precede “the empire or kingdom of the Lord.” This kingdom cannot mean the same thing as the amillennialist would like it to be because of the preceding events this Ephraim expected.

    Barnabas -

    It would appear the earliest example of a Christian writer documenting his expectancy of a literal millennium is to found in Barnabas. (Not the Apostle but some “lay-Christian”) In the 15th chapter of his epistle he teaches, from Genesis 2:2, not only a creation account but a “spiritual projection for God’s dealings with mankind.” Here Barnabas writes, I
    "Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, "He finished in six days." This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. "And He rested on the seventh day," This meaneth: when His Son, coming again, shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day." (Chapter 15 of the Epistle of Barnabas)

    Barnabas went beyond the seven days and saw an eight as representing the eternal rest. Much could be laid against him for putting a time limit upon the Lord in his reference to the 7 days being 7,000 years, but he is probably no more or less guilty than many today that try to read too much into world events. While Barnabas may have been wrong he is certainly not alone in that error. The writings of men like Hal Lindsey sometimes do more harm than good as they stray from the sure facts and foundation of the Word of God into unknown realms of imagination and speculation. However, the fact remains that he anticipated a literal millennium. It is worthwhile to note that early believers gave such credence and took such support from this letter that the authors of the Codex Sinaiticus placed it after the Revelation. This was not to say it was inspired but it could well have been looked upon as a worthy commentary. (The character of those people who put together this codex is material for another time.)
    Conclusion

    Volumes more could be included as the majority of believers in the early church did indeed hold to the chiliast, or pre-millennial view. Quite early on the allegorising of Scripture did occur but until the marriage of church and state this practice was not received on the whole. However, more will be said about this transition in the next section. Walvoord in his book, The Millennial Kingdom, sums up his chapter on amillenialism in the early church with this statement: “Amillenialism in the first three centuries rests for the most part on silence, on one disputed representative in the first century, none in the second and a fallacious and destructive principle of interpretation in the third century.”
     
  2. mnw

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    The Millennium Concept in Transition

    During the first and then on into most of the second century there were few if any proponents of amillenialism or opponents of premillenialism. If, as some critics of premillenialism write, we have little evidence for our eschatology in the early church then they have none whatsoever. Not until Gaius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Dionysius, all dating from about 190, do we find any kind of serious objections to pre-millennial thought. Clement brought into the theological realm his love for Greek philosophy. As he applied allegorical methods to his philosophy so he applied allegory to his theology. The inconsistent hermeneutic of allegory had taken root and would increase with the teachings and writings of his student, Origen. This trend continued with Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria in the latter part of the third century. This rise in amillenialism corresponds almost exactly with the political changes taking place under Constantine. During the lives of these men a battle between the two schools of thought raged fiercely. This was particularly true with the amillennial Dionysius and the ardent premillennialist Nepos. Though amillenialism was on the increase it was not until Augustine that the changes become firmly entrenched in the churches and it was with Augustinian theology that the church would hold to until well after the work of the reformation. More will be covered on this area in the next section. First we must deal with the Millennium concept in transition.

    In his article, A Survey of Early Pre-millennialism, Eric Frank lists three reasons for the shift from a solid pre-millennial stance to the amillennial.

    First, we find the guilt by association method of attacking a doctrine. Although many good and godly men attested to a literal reign of Christ so did many heretics and wicked men. A man who has been labelled as the arch-heretic of the Apostle John, Cerinthus, an early Gnostic leader, gave the millennial reign of Christ such a carnal and wicked interpretation, one in which the saints would spend their time indulging every physical lust, that many were repelled from the truth of chiliasm. Thereby using the guilt by association method of accepting or rejecting doctrine. The Montanists were strong adherents to the chiliast viewpoint, a group with many heretical views.

    Second, the error of some of the early church writers, such as Justin Martyr, in not upholding the distinction between the church and Israel led to an allegorical system of interpreting Scripture. Not much will be said of the contrasts between covenant and dispensational theology at the moment, as this will be covered in more detail later. However, the reaction of men like Augustine, Origen and Dionysus to the supposed carnal nature of the chiliast’s millennial expectation led them to reject this doctrine and embrace amillenialism. In chapter 20 of “The City of God”, Augustine of Hippo detailed his beliefs concerning the millennium. In his view the millennium referred to the church and the saints are now ruling with Christ, the thousand year reign of Christ became the “whole duration of this world”, Satan was bound at Calvary and is no longer capable of seducing people of nations and one day Satan will be loosed for a three and a half year period to wage war against the church and finally Christ will return. While amillenialism may differ in some of these, much like dispensationalists will differ in certain areas, the cause and effect are the same. The cause of the vastly different doctrine is the hermeneutic employed and the effect is a spiritualising of all things eschatological.

    Third, the apparent delay in Christ’s return led many to believe it would not occur, or rather, that it was never a prospect in the first place. The marriage of Church and State in the Edict of Milan in 313 bore a deathblow to premillenialism for that time. Instead of looking for hope in Christ’s imminent return the saints became comfortable in the world.

    Saucy in his “Progressive Dispensationalism” gives four reasons for the transition from premillenialism to amillenialism.

    First, an antagonism between Jew and Gentile developed and when in 66-70 when the Jews revolted and the Christians fled instead of supporting the Jews the schism widened dramatically. This widened further still when the Council of Jamnia (90) declared all who departed from the Jewish faith were cursed.
    Second, the destruction and dispersion of the Jews in 70 and 132-135 gave rise to some that God had entirely rejected Judaism and vindicated Christianity. The doctrine of the restoration of Israel suffered a decisive blow with this heretical school of thought

    Third, as the Jewish people refused Jesus Christ as Lord more and more as time passed some began to see them not so much as people needing to be converted but as enemies of the Gospel.

    Fourth, as the Jew and Gentile gap increased Gentiles and not Jews dominated the church. The Jewish roots were lost, as noticed above the Jewish hearts seemed hardened to the Gospel, hope for Israel’s restoration was lost and a door opened for replacement theology.

    Many have no doubts that it was the Edict of Milan in 313 that was the catalyst for the sweeping changes in eschatological thought. In Paul Johnson’s, A History of Christianity he quotes the historian Jerome. In this quote Jerome made a telling statement concerning the drastic change from Christianity being a persecuted minority to the State religion, "one who was yesterday a catechumen is today a bishop; another moves overnight from the amphitheatre to the church; a man who spent the evening in the circus stands next morning at the altar, and another who was recently a patron of the stage is now the dedicator of virgins." Jerome also wrote that "our walls glitter with gold, and gold gleams upon our ceilings and the capitals of our pillars; yet Christ is dying at our doors in the person of his poor, naked and hungry."

    During this time the churches focus turned from a hope in the world beyond the grave to the world in which they presently lived.

    In a lengthy, but worthwhile quote, Johnson writes concerning the disappearing doctrine of chiliasm in eschatology, “After Christianity, contrary to all expectation, triumphed in the Roman empire, and was embraced by the Caesars themselves, the millennial reign, instead of being anxiously waited and prayed for, began to be dated either from the first appearance of Christ, or from the conversion of Constantine and the downfall of paganism, and to be regarded as realized in the glory of the dominant imperial state-church.

    Instead of being aliens and strangers in this world, Christians found themselves utterly at ease in the city of man as well as the city of God. Indeed, Augustine's City of God was the first comprehensive theology to result from this standpoint

    Augustine believed that history runs on two parallel tracks: the City of God (God's people) and the City of Man (human endeavour as typified by human government). He taught that the people of the City of God must support and uphold the ordered peace of human government, the City of Man. He believed that the two cities have a common task: to secure "those lesser goods" without which human existence would become impossible."
    No one can argue that the early Christians held to a pre-millennial faith similar, if not identical, to that which premillenialists hold today. The quotes from the proponents and opponents of chiliasm and the records from historians all direct us to the conclusion that the early saints expected a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on Earth. So, what happened to the chiliast dominance of the early church? Why did the leaders and then the majority of Christians reject this doctrine in favour of amillenialism? The seven reasons listed above, given by Saucy and Frank make the reasons for us clear. Amillenialism does not appear to have grown from a theological discontentment but from a discontentment with the lifestyle of a minority of the adherents of the literal kingdom and from a misunderstanding of the Biblical foundation for a literal millennium. It is also the outgrowth of a social dogma, that of anti-Semitism. As the gap between Jew and Gentile widened and as each group caused grief to the other the theology soon reflected the personal social feelings. Let me be clear is stating that I do not believe each amillennialist is racist or anti-Semitic. As Justin Martyr in his writings made clear, many good and godly men stand on each side of the divide. During his day as during ours there are great preachers and teachers who hold to amillennial eschatology. However, anti-Semitism did fuel the initial growth of amillenialism in the first few centuries.

    As the church became married to the world after the Edict of Milan their eyes gradually but definitely turned from the Heavens to the earth, their hearts no longer yearning for the return of their blessed Redeemer. Their prayers no longer contained earnest cries for deliverance from this wicked, temporal existence but they instead became comfortable in their grand buildings and socially acceptable meetings. The interpretation of Scripture became marred but individual feelings and pagan thought as the line between the church and the world slowly wore away.

    Thus the newfound amillennial foothold in the church was the herald of the dark ages. It is important to stress that many godly men are amillennial, however, Walvoord succinctly states the vital link between amillenialism and Roman Catholicism: “While amillenialism does not lead necessarily to the conclusions drawn by the Roman Catholic Church, the conclusions that were reached would have been impossible without the amillennial viewpoint.” (The Millennial Kingdom – Walvoord – page 96.) They were times of true darkness as the “holy” Catholic Church deemed it unnecessary for the common person to have the Scriptures for their own. They withheld, hid and world have put out if they could the Light of Jesus Christ were not for the faithful few who stood firm throughout the medieval period. During this time there were no doubt always those who upheld the pre-millennial view but they were a definite minority. Not until after the reformation dust had settled and since the last 200 hundred years has eschatology became a topic of careful study in which premillenialism has once again come to the forefront of Christian doctrine.
     
  3. Helen

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    excellent posts. Thank you.

    Are you the original author of this material? It would be wise to say that if you are, for with posts that long it is often suspected that they are 'cut and paste.'
     
  4. mnw

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    Hi Helen, thanks.

    Yes, I wrote them for a paper in Bible School two years ago. It is part of a dissertation on the Millennial Kingdom.
     
  5. gb93433

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    Which dispensational theory are you promoting? The old line of Chafer, Larkin and Scofield or the progressive using Ryrie as an example?
     
  6. mnw

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    There are elements where I find them all true.

    My main point is that dispensations exist and that a literal, 1000 year millennium is one of them. I believe in the rapture, then the Tribulation and then the Millennium.
     
  7. EdSutton

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    mnw, have you ever thought about how upsetting this could be to one group of folks? The group with the motto of: "My mind's made up! Don't disturb me with the facts!"

    Ed
     
  8. Plain Old Bill

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    Good post MNW.
     
  9. Brother James

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    There is a great difference between the historic pre-mill position and todays false doctrine of dipensationalism.
     
  10. gb93433

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    Progressive dispensationalism is much like Mormonism in that it is always changing. However most modern-day dispensationalists do not believe what Larkin, Chafer and Scofield promoted.
     
  11. webdog

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    Amen [​IMG] Preach it!
     
  12. OldRegular

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    I hope your dissertation was corrected before publication. Dispenationalism and Historic Premillennialism are not the same. I don't know of anyone who has studied the subject who claims that the doctrine of premillennialism was not held in the early Church. That is why it is called Historic Premillennialism. It is also called Covenant premillennialism because these people believed that God had only one people, the Church.

    Regardless of what you wrote classic dispensationalism is the invention of John Nelson Darby and is less than 200 years old.

    Thank God some dispensationalists are beginning to see the light, or read some Bible other than Scofield, and are moving away from classic dispensationalism. They call their movement progressive dispensationalism and are very close in theology to Historic Premillennialism.
     
  13. Gold Dragon

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    I don't think anyone would argue that premillenialism is only 200 years old. Dispensationalism however is. The age of a theology does not determine its rightness.
     
  14. EdSutton

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    Gold Dragon wrote:
    "I don't think anyone would argue that premillenialism is only 200 years old. Dispensationalism however is. The age of a theology does not determine its rightness."

    Well said in the last sentence. That is absolutely correct. It's the one before it that could use some work. That one is true only if 'Dispensationalism'. I suggest it predates this somewhat- like about 1700 years. As Peter and Paul both spoke of dispensations.
    Ed
     
  15. mnw

    mnw
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    Old Regular, you just have a very small portion of the entire document.

    Gold Dragon, I'm sure you'll notice I already made that point about antiquity not equating to truth at the very beginning of my post.

    And as for the "Scofield is to blame" advocates. I used a Scofield Bible for about ten years and never knew anything about dispensationalism. So, in my account Scofield did not teach me anything to do with dispensationlism.

    Do you believe in the Old Testament and the New Testament? Then to some degree you are a dispensationalist.
     
  16. Gold Dragon

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    Just in case you guys were wondering, I am a critic of dispensationalism.

    I believe God progressively revealed things to mankind. I also use the historical-grammatical hermeneutic which many dispensationalists subscribe to.

    That is about as far as the similarity goes.
     
  17. OldRegular

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    God always has and always will dealt with mankind from the standpoint of Grace.
     

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