Common Misconceptions About Dispensationalism

If you’re a Dispensationalist, like me, then I am sure you’re beginning to become all too familiar with common misconceptions/myths leveled against our theology. It seems nowadays that all I do on social media is correct misconceptions about our position.

In this blog article I will attempt to once and for all correct several misconceptions that the opposition makes about our theology.

#1 – Dispensationalism was invented by Darby in the 1800s

This claim “Dispensationalism was invented by Darby in the 1800s” is by far the claim I hear the most often repeated by anti-dispensationalists. I am not sure why anti-dispensationalists feel this is a good argument, because giving me a historical lesson on Darby’s involvement with Dispensationalism is hardly a refuter to the position. It would actually need to be demonstrated why Dispensationalism being “invented” by Darby would be an issue and why we should reject any position that arose in the 1800s?

I would start by correcting the statement that Dispensationalism was invented by Darby. The word invented is used on purpose to make it appear like Dispensationalism came out of nowhere and Darby magically came up with new doctrines that no one in church history had ever heard of. This charge is false. Dispensationalism was ‘systematized‘ by Darby not ‘invented‘. There is a world of difference in the usage of both these words. Darby, using already existent theology, brought together several doctrines using a well-known hermeneutical method (the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic). It was the usage of this well known methodology that led him to see things like, Premillennialism, the Pre-Tribulational Rapture as distinct from the Second Coming, a distinction between Israel and the Church, distinctive ages known as dispensations, Daniel’s 70th week as future, etc. Note: All of these doctrines will be shown to pre-date Darby. This is going to be important as we move through these misconceptions.

Another point that is worth bringing up at this point is, why do the anti-dispensationalists only target Dispensationalism regarding its systematized dating? Why is no other position attacked this way? Take for instance New Covenant Theology or Progressive Covenantalism, have you ever heard an anti-dispensationalist use the argument that these positions are too new and we can’t trust them because they were created in the 21st century? They don’t. Why? Because for one they usually aren’t this caught up on the literature to even know about their existence, and secondly, they wouldn’t because they don’t see these positions as harmful as Dispensationalism to their own doctrines. I have always found it interesting that Dispensationalists don’t use the same argument against anti-dispensationalists. They don’t dismiss say Covenant Theology as unbiblical because it was systematized later, but because it doesn’t comport with totascriptura. Van Til even acknowledged the late systematization of Covenant Theology “[Covenant Theology] was not the expressed doctrine of the early church. It was never taught by church leaders in the Middle Ages not even mentioned by the primary leaders of the Reformation1, but why do Covenant Theologians fail to apply the same standard? Why do they fail to see that even their own proponents date it late? Covenant Theology could easily be dated in its systematized form to the 17th century compared to Dispensationalism which was systematized in the 19th century. Are we honestly prepared to reject things because of the time in which they were systematized? If so, Covenant Theologians should be prepared to reject their own position as formed too late in history.

Back to the misconception. Now, we admit that Darby systematized the doctrines, but we will prove that he didn’t invent them. If we were to lay out some of the doctrines that were expressed by Darby we will see that they pre-date even him.

a.) The literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic

Was this doctrine invented by Darby? No, it was a methodology that was adopted well before Darby by Jewish Rabbis and the early church fathers.

Bernard Ramm posits that, “Ezra is considered the first of the Jewish interpreters and the ultimate founder of the Jewish, Palestinian, hyperliteralist school” and that, “This is generally admitted to be the first instance of Biblical hermeneutics.2 Palestinian Jews developed several rules and principles of interpretation but often got carried away with letterism, numerology, and allegorism. The literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic was carried forward into the Syrian School of Antioch. It can hardly be said that Darby invented this method of hermeneutics.

b.) Premillennialism

Was this doctrine invented by Darby? No, it was a doctrine that was adopted well before Darby by the Jews and the early church fathers.

Nathaniel West in his work, The Thousand Year Reign, states: “Targum, Talmud and Midrash, alike, upon the basis of Ps. lxxii:7, have denominated the “Yemot Meschicah” or “Days of Messiah,: as the period following His Advent in glory.3 It was clear that the Jews saw the Messiah’s advent followed by his kingdom established on earth.

Scholars also generally agree that Premillennialism was also taught in the early church: “The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius.4 and “There is general agreement among scholars that the view of the early church was premillennial. That is, Christians held that Christ would rule over a literal, earthly kingdom for one thousand years, assisted by raptured saints. No church father of the first two centuries are known to have disagreed with this view. The following may be listed as those who favored it: from the first century, Aristio, John the Presbyter, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias; from the second, Pothinus, Justib Martyr, Melito, Hegisippus, Tatian, Iranaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus.5 Harnack, Erickson, Wilken, Pelikan, Orr, Murray, Erdman, etc. agree with this assessment.

c.) Dispensational Arrangements

Was this doctrine invented by Darby? No, it was a doctrine that was adopted by many before to break up the Scriptures into periods of time.

Thomas Ice says that the fathers had “Crude, but clear, schemes of ages and dispensations are found in ante-Nicene fathers such as Justin Martyr (110-165), Irenaeus (130-200), Tertullian (c. 160-220), Methodius (d. 311), and Victorinus of Petau (d. 304).6

d.) Gap Between Daniel’s 69th and 70th week

Was this belief invented by Darby? No, it was a belief that was adopted by Irenaeus and his pupil Hippolytus. They believed that the 70th week was still future and disconnected from the previous 69 weeks.

David Currie, a critic of the rapture, says “Irenaeus was a contemporary of Clement of Alexandria. He and his pupil Hippolytus are the only two writers from this early in the Church who believed in a still-future fulfillment of Daniel’s seventieth week.7

e.) Israel and the Church Distinction

Was this belief invented by Darby? No, it was a belief that was held by the early church.

Larry Crutchfield states in his Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period Part 1: Israel and the Church in the Ante-Nicene Fathers: “The Fathers (1) distinguished between the church and national Israel, (2) recognized distinctions among the differing peoples of God throughout biblical history, and (3) believed in the literal fulfillment of covenant promises in the earthly kingdom.8 It wasn’t until the conflation of Israel and the Church by Justin Martyr that this distinction really began taking off. However, it can be stated clearly that there was a distinction made in the early church between Israel and the Church.

f.) Pretribulational Rapture

Was this belief invented by Darby? No, it has been demonstrated by many Dispensationalists that it pre-dates Darby.

William Watson in his work titled “Dispensationalism Before Darby: Seventeenth-Century and Eighteenth-Century English Apocalypticism” states, “Those clearly pre-trib Rapture: Ephriam Huit 1643, John Browne 1654, John Birchensha 1660, Samuel Hutchinson 1667, Joshua Sprigg 1676, Sayer Rudd 1734.”9 His work was extensive in examining quotes from those that pre-date Darby and demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that Darby was not the originator of the idea.

Here are some more pre-Darby rapturists:

Ephraem of Nisibis (306-373)
“We ought to understand thoroughly, therefore, my brothers, what is imminent or overhanging. . . . Why therefore we do not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that He may draw us from the confusion, which overwhelms all the world. . . . For all the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins.”10

“In this sermon, Pseudo-Ephraem develops an elaborate biblical eschatology, including a distinction between the rapture and the second coming of Christ. It describes the imminent rapture, followed by 3½ years of great tribulation under the rule of Antichrist, followed by the coming of Christ, the defeat of Antichrist, and the eternal state. His view includes a parenthesis between the fulfillment of Daniel’s sixty-nine weeks and his seventieth week in Daniel 9:24-27.”11

Brother Dolcino (d. 1307)
“Again, [Dolcino believed and preached and taught] that within those three years Dolcino himself and his followers will preach the coming of the Antichrist. And that the Antichrist was coming into this world within the bounds of the said three and a half years; and after he had come, then he [Dolcino] and his followers would be transferred into Paradise, in which are Enoch and Elijah. And in this way they will be preserved unharmed from the persecution of Antichrist. And that then Enoch and Elijah themselves would descend on the earth for the purpose of preaching [against] Antichrist. Then they would be killed by him or by his servants, and thus Antichrist would reign for a long time. But when the Antichrist is dead, Dolcino himself, who then would be the holy pope, and his perserved followers, will descend on the earth, and will preach the right faith of Christ to all, and will convert those who will be living then to the true faith of Jesus Christ.”12

“This paragraph from The History of Brother Dolcino indicates that in northern Italy in the early fourteenth century a teaching very similar to pretribulationism was being preached. . . . While not suggesting that pretribulationism was the dominant view of the rapture in the Middle Ages, it is likely that such teaching did not occur in a vacuum and that others besides Dolcino were aware of it. It can reasonably be assumed that the Apostolic Brethren (who numbered in the thousands) believed, as did their leader, that when the Antichrist would arrive, they would be transferred to paradise and be preserved there from his persecution in the tribulation.”

“Two things are fairly certain from The History of Brother Dolcino. Dolcino and the Apostolic Brethren believed that the purpose of the rapture was related to escape from end-time tribulation and persecution of Antichrist. And Dolcino and the Apostolic Brethren believed that there would be a significant gap of time between the rapture of the saints to Paradise and their subsequent descent to earth. Because of this, The History of Brother Dolcino stands as yet another literary witness for the existence of pretribulationism before the nineteenth century. As such a witness, it once again challenges evangelicals to re-evaluate their thinking about the history of the pretribulation rapture, especially those views that place the origin of the teaching, or its initial recovery, within the last two hundred years.”14

“A recent study of the fourteenth-century text, The History of Brother Dolcino, composed in 1316 by an anonymous source, reveals another important pretribulational passage.”15

Ephraim Huit (1591-1604)
“[D]eliverance from outward trials is expressed by the Lords coming in the clouds … in the deliverance of his Church, from Egypt, and preservation in the wildernesse is described by his riding on the heavens … Secondly, this coming of the Son of Man in the clouds is memorable event, not long before the general judgment, where of it was a foregoing signe, and must therefore teach some other … some appearance. Thirdly, upon this comming of the Son of Man in the cloudes the kingdom is given to the Iewes … but upon the Incarnation of our Lord, the kingdom was taken from the Iewes, and given to the Romanes  …. [I]f any here should object [to] the summoning of the Elect by the sound of a trumpet but this trumpet is heard only by the Elect, so that to me it seems to intend some voyce, and call of the Lord, whereof the reprobates are incapable: [O]ur Lord Mat 24.30. & his beloved disciple Iohn Rev 1.7. do couple this coming of the Son of man in the Cloudes with that holy wailing of the Iewes in their conuersion … Zac 12.10.”16

John Browne (1627-1677?)
“the hundred fourty and four thousand, who are called Virgins, cannot be said to be the Virgins that attend the Spouse, the Lamb’s Wife, seeing that they are upon the Earth after the said Spouse is taken up … .. [T]his a hundered and fourty four thousand is the Women that flyeth into the wildernesse.  .  . [T]he Virgins do go forth to meet the Bridegroom”17

“Now this Gospel of the Kingdom.  .  .  must be preached in all Nations before that time come … then will follow the calling of the two Tribes of Judah and Benjamin to Jerusalem … and then the City is built, which bringing back of the ten Tribes will not be compleated till after the Saints are taken up, when as before that time both Jerusalem and the Temple will be built, and Sacrifice offered . . . After the calling of the two Tribes for to build and inhabite Jerusalem, the next remarkable thing that will in those days fall out to be, is the rising or manifesting of the Beast , and ten Hornes, or Kings”18

John Birchensha (1605-1681)
“Jesus Christ (at this Juncture of time) will come in the Clouds. . . . They shall ascend up into heaven … to meet the Lord in the Ayre … warre will continue until a little before the next coming of Christ.  During which time the world will be full of Great Troubles, and the Lord in this Age, as in former times, will punish the inhabitants of the earth, because with many Tribulations, they do continually afflict and persecute the people of the most high God.”19

Joshua Sprigg (1618-1684)
”[O]ne of them holds forth the secrecy of his coming, and the other holds forth a gradual coming. …[I]t is Christ’s spiritual and powerful coming and appearance in the saints, that is the great object of our expectation, and that which must do our business for us.  It is not his appearing in the clouds, it is not his down upon the earth, and manifesting his glorious visible person . . . it is that that must quicken us at the last day and raise our bodies out of the dust, and make us live the life of glory.”20

Increase Mather (1639-1723)
“[W]hen Christ comes, Believers shall see the King … in all his Glory, and shall go with him to the Land that is very far off. Heaven is the Land that is very far off. Christ has assured believers it shall be thus, John 14.2 In my Fathers House are many Mansions, that is in Heaven. … He will not go back to Heaven and leave them behind him. No, they shall sit together with him in Heavenly places, The Armies of Heaven will follow him. When He shall come to judge the world, the Saints in Heaven will come with him… We are as sure to be raised up together in that Blessed day, when the Great God our Saviour Christ shall appear, and as sure then to ascend into Heaven and all the holy Angels shall come with him. Not some only, but all of them. And yet more, all the Saints in Glory shall them come down from Heaven to wait upon him. Zach.14.5 The Lord thy God shall come, and all his Saints with him. … For he will cause all that are Dead to come forth out of their Graves in that day, but every one in his own order. He shall no sooner Appear, but Believers shall rise out of their Graves: 1 Cor.15.23 … before the dispensation of judgment, which begins with the Glorious Appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ shall be finished … They shall be with him when he comes to Judge the World: they shall come with him and never be separated from him any more. 1 Thes.4.17 So shall we ever be with the Lord.”21

Morgan Edwards (1722-1795)
“II. The distance between the first and second resurrection will be somewhat more than a thousand years. I say, somewhat more—, because the dead saints will be raised, and the living changed at Christ’s “appearing in the air” (I Thes. iv. 17); and this will be about three years and a half before the millennium, as we shall see hereafter: but will he and they abide in the air all that time? No: they will ascend to paradise, or to some one of those many “mansions in the father’s house” (John xiv. 2), and disappear during the foresaid period of time. The design of this retreat and disappearing will be to judge the risen and changed saints; for “now the time is come that judgment must begin,” and that will be “at the house of God” (I Pet. iv. 17) . . . (p. 7; The spelling of all Edwards quotes have been modernized.)”22

g.) Future for Ethnic Israel

Was this belief invented by Darby? No, the belief that there was a future for Ethnic Israel was held by many throughout church history.

Iain Murray right says: “This same belief concerning the future of the Jews is to be found very widely in seventeenth-century Puritan literature. It appears in the works of such well-known Puritans as John Owen, Thomas Manton and John Flavel. … It is also handled in a rich array of commentaries, both folios and quartos – David Dickson on the Psalms, George Hutcheson on the Minor Prophets, Jeremiah Burroughs on Hosea, William Greenhill on Ezekiel, Elnathan Parr on Romans and James Durham on Revelation: a list which could be greatly extended.23

Van Den Berg concurs, “[For] virtually all Dutch theologians of the seventeenth century, ‘the whole of Israel’ indicated the fullness of the people of Israel ‘according to the flesh’: in other words, the fullness of the Jewish people. This meant that there was a basis for an expectation of a future conversion of the Jews—an expectation which was shared by a large majority of Dutch theologians.24

In the words of Watson, “Very little of what John Nelson Darby taught in the mid-nineteenth century was new.25 Dispensationalism was not a bunch of random doctrines that Darby magically invented, they were a series of rightful conclusions that came from a proper and consistent application of the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic.

#2 – Darby took the pre-trib rapture from margaret macdonald

It amazes me how many anti-dispensationalists I see using this argument. The notion that Darby got the doctrine of the pre-trib rapture based upon D. MacPherson’s claims from Margaret MacDonald has been thoroughly addressed by scholars.

Here are some direct quotations to put this notion to rest:

Todd Strandberg — “I would like to conclude by saying that no evidence whatsoever points to MacDonald as the source of pretribulationism.”26

F.F. Bruce — “It was in the air in the 1820s and 1830s among eager students of unfulfilled prophecy, . . . direct dependence by Darby on Margaret MacDonald is unlikely.27

F.F. Bruce — “Any careful student of Darby soon discovers that he did not get his eschatological views from men, but rather from his doctrine of the church as the body of Christ, a concept no one claims was revealed supernaturally to Irving or MacDonald. Darby’s views undoubtedly were gradually formed, but they were theologically and biblically based rather than derived from Irving’s pre-Pentecostal group.28

John F. Walvoord — “The whole controversy as aroused by Dave MacPherson’s claims has so little supporting evidence, despite his careful research, that one wonders how he can write his book with a straight face. Pretribulationalists should be indebted to Dave MacPherson for exposing the facts, namely, that there is no proof that MacDonald or Irving originated the pretribulation rapture teaching.29

John F. Walvoord — “MacPherson made these charges against pretribulationism and then afterward went to great lengths to find historic verification. . .. Readers will be impressed that as a newsman MacPherson builds a strong case for his position, but will be less impressed when they begin to analyze what he has actually proved.30

John F. Walvoord — “Readers of MacPherson’s Incredible Cover-Up will undoubtedly be impressed by the many long quotations, most of which are only window dressing for what he is trying to prove. When it gets down to the point of proving that either MacDonald or Irving was pretribulationist, the evidence gets very muddy. The quotations MacPherson cites do not support his conclusion.”31

John L. Bray — “The only thing new in her revelation itself seems to be that of just Spirit-filled Christians being caught up at the second coming of Christ following heavy trials and tribulation by the Antichrist.”32

John L. Bray — “It seems to me that Margaret MacDonald was saying that Christians WILL face the temptation of the false Christ (antichrist) and be in “an awfully dangerous situation,” and that only the Spirit IN US will enable us to be kept from being deceived; and that as the Spirit works, solvili the antichrist; but the pouring out of the Spirit will “fit us to enter into the marriage supper of the Lamb,” and those filled with the Spirit would be taken while the others would be left. . . . Margaret MacDonald did teach a partial rapture, of course, but this did not necessarily mean that the teaching included a tribulation period FOLLOWING THAT for the other Christians. … . It would not be right to take for granted that Margaret MacDonald believed in a tribulation period following the appearing of Christ unless she had definitely said so. Rather, it would be more logical to think that her view would have been the same as prevalent among the futurists at that time, that is, tribulation then the second coming.33

John L. Bray — “He [Darby] rejected those practices, and he already had his new view of the Lord coming FOR THE SAINTS (as contrasted to the later coming to the earth) which he had believed since 1827. … . It was the coupling of this “70th week of Daniel” prophecy and its futuristic interpretation, with the teaching of the “secret rapture,” that gave to us the completed “Pre- tribulation Secret Rapture” teaching as it has now been taught for many years. [This] makes it impossible for me to believe that Darby got his Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching from Margaret MacDonald’s vision in 1830. He was already a believer in it since 1827, as he plainly said.”34

Charles Ryrie — “She saw the church (“us”) being purged by Antichrist. MacPherson reads this as meaning the church will be raptured before Antichrist, ignoring the “us” (pp. 154-55). In reality, she saw the church enduring Antichrist’s persecution of the Tribulation days.35

Ernest R. Sandeen — “This seems to be a groundless and pernicious charge. Neither Irving nor any member of the Albury group advocated any doctrine resembling the secret rapture. . .. Since the clear intention of this charge is to discredit the doctrine by attributing its origin to fanaticism rather than Scripture, there seems little ground for giving it any credence.36

Timothy P. Weber — “The pretribulation rapture was a neat solution to a thorny problem and historians are still trying to determine how or where Darby got it. . .. A newer though still not totally convincing view contends that the doctrine initially appeared in a prophetic vision of Margaret MacDonald. … Possibly, we may have to settle for Darby’s own explanation. He claimed that the doctrine virtually jumped out of the pages of Scripture once he accepted and consistently maintained the distinction between Israel and the church.37

Richard R. Reiter — “[Robert] Cameron probably traced this important but apparently erroneous view back to S. P. Tregelles. . .. Recently more detailed study on this view as the origin of pretribulationism appeared in works by Dave McPherson. . .. Historian Ian S. Rennie . . . regarded McPherson’s case as interesting but not conclusive.38

William E. Bell — “It seems only fair, however, in the absence of eyewitnesses to settle the argument conclusively, that the benefit of the doubt should be given to Darby, and that the charge made by Tregelles be regarded as a possibility but with insufficient support to merit its acceptance. . . . On the whole, however, it seems that Darby is perhaps the most likely choice with help from Tweedy. This conclusion is greatly strengthened by Darby’s own claim to have arrived at the doctrine through his study of II Thessalonians 2:1-2.36.39

Roy A. Huebner — “using slander that J. N. Darby took the [truth of the] pretribulation rapture from those very opposing, demon-inspired utterances.40

Roy A. Huebner — “…did not profit by reading the utterances allegedly by Miss M. M. Instead of apprehending the plain import of her statements, as given by R. Norton, which has some affinity to the post-tribulation scheme and no real resemblance to the pretribulation rapture and dispensational truth, he has read into it what he appears so anxious to find.41

Michael J. Svigel — “Contrary to some popular treatments of the subject, including those of MacPherson and Reid, the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture in the modern era did not actually begin with Edward Irving and his followers. Irving seems to have held a partial prewrath secret rapture view, not a pretribulation position. That is, not all believers would be rescued prior to the pouring out of God’s wrath (“prewrath”) but only those who are among the spiritually mature and holy (“partial”). This rapture would be both unannounced and perhaps even unnoticed by most (“secret”), since the remnant of the holy was thought by the Irvingites to be relatively small compared to the large mass of nominal or carnal Christians. In 1831, only three years before his death, Irving advanced such a partial prewrath rapture, and this only ambiguously and with great hesitation. At one point he closely associated the event of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 with “the second coming of Christ, with all his saints, to establish his kingdom over all the nations under the whole heaven.” Later, however, he clarified that this event, though constituting a single return, is actually complex, including a rapture of the church prior to Christ’s execution of wrath. Did Irving understand a secret rapture for the faithful as a rescue from wrath? Yes. Did he understand a catching up of the whole church prior to the seven-year tribulation? No.42

Don’t let these arguments fool you, Darby did not get the pre-trib rapture from Margaret MacDonald.

#3 – Dispensationalists teach multiple ways/means of salvation

Another common misconception that has been stated to me numerous times is that we advocate for multiple ways of salvation. This is false. Dispensationalists have repeatedly stated that they affirm a single unified plan of salvation from Genesis to Revelation.

Here are several quotes from Dispensationalists that deny this charge:

Are there two ways by which one may be saved? In reply to this question it may be stated that salvation of whatever specific character is always the work of God in behalf of man and never a work of man in behalf of God. This is to assert that God never saved any one person or group of persons on any other ground than that righteous freedom to do so which the Cross of Christ secured. There is, therefore, but one way to be saved and that is by the power of God made possible through the sacrifice of Christ.43

It is important to note that dispensationalists have never advocated the position that there are two ways of salvation: Mosaic law for Old Testament people of God and faith for the New Testament people. Admittedly, isolated statements have been made that might lead one to conclude that dispensationalists hold to two ways of salvation, but these statements have generally been clarified.44

Although dispensational interpreters have clearly affirmed, explained, and reiterated time and again their belief that the dispensations are not methods of salvation but rules of life, and that man has always been saved by faith through the blood of Christ in every age, these affirmations are usually ignored. … What dispensationalists do believe is that salvation is always by grace through faith, and that the dispensations are rules of life, never the basis or cause of salvation.45

… there are not two ways of salvation. All salvation of God stems from the Savior, the Son of God, and His work on the cross. … The two great essentials of salvation remain the same from the salvation of Adam to the last soul which God takes to Himself in the future. Faith is the condition and the death of Christ is the basis.46

Let it be stated categorically that Dispensationalism has not and does not believe that the Law of Moses was a means of salvation. This concept is rejected because it would make salvation by means of works. Salvation was and always is by grace through faith. While the content of faith has changed from age to age, depending on progressive revelation, the means of salvation never changes. The law was not given to serve as a means of salvation (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16; 3:11, 21).47

Let one point be absolutely clear: No one was ever saved in any dispensation on any other ground than the finished work of Christ. In all the ages before the cross, God justified men by faith; in all the years since, men have been justified in exactly the same way. Adam believed God and was clothed with coats of skin, a picture of one becoming the righteousness of God in Christ. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. Nevertheless, afterwards he was circumcised; but that circumcision, the apostle tells us, was simply a seal of the righteousness he had by faith. And throughout all the Old Testament dispensation, however legalistic Jews may have observed the ordinance of circumcision and thought of it as having in itself some saving virtue, it still remained in God’s sight, as in the beginning, only a seal, where there was genuine faith, of that righteousness which He imputed.48

Even non-dispensationalists have acknowledged, in writing, that Dispensationalists affirm one means of salvation.

In light of this significant revision in the New Scofield Reference Bible and the arguments of such dispensationalists as Ryrie and [John] Feinberg, the old charge should be dropped. One must proceed from the acknowledgment that dispensationalism recognizes a single way of salvation throughout the scripture. Salvation is now and has always been by grace alone — Sola Gratia! This agreement is a cause for joy; its acknowledgment should not be made grudgingly.49

All these comments indeed are salutary. The concern on the part of the editors of the “new” Scofield Bible to make it plain that there is only one way of salvation for men must be commended.50

We gratefully acknowledge their [dispensationalist’s] insistence that in every age salvation is only through grace, on the basis of the merits of Christ.51

#4 – Dispensationalists are hyper/wooden literalists

Another claim that I hear often is that we are ‘wooden’ literalists. This means that we only interpret the scriptures woodenly and don’t allow for figurative language in our study of God’s Word.

Let’s see what Dispensationalists say:

When you read the Bible assume God is speaking in normal language, common everyday communication. If it says man, it means man. If it says the man went somewhere, it means he went somewhere. If it says he built a house, it means he built a house. This is understanding Scripture in the literal sense of language. Scripture employs are similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and figurative language throughout. Even sarcasm is employed as a literary device. Those devices are used alongside normal, literal language to help illustrate or punctuate what Scripture is saying to the reader. There is seldom confusion in what God’s Word says or how it says it.52

Of all the rules, a literal interpretation is the crux. Yet it is very often misunderstood or misstated. Thus, when speaking of literal or normal interpretation, it is important to carefully clarify and define both what is not meant as well as what is meant. Literal interpretation does not refer to “wooden literalism,” that is, failing to take into account figures of speech and symbols that are common to all language and communication. For instance, if I were to tell someone that my dog “kicked the bucket,” no one familiar with the idiom would take that to mean that my dog actually used his leg to kick a plastic bucket. Everyone knows it’s a figurative way of saying that my dog died. Literal interpretation is not wooden literalism. It’s an umbrella term that encompasses both “plain literal” and “figurative literal” language.”53

This [literal, grammatico-historical] method, as its adherents have explained times without number, leaves room for all the devices and nuances of language, including the use of figure, metaphor, simile, symbol, and even allegory.”54

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.55

Bernard Ramm corrects this notion that literalists are wooden: “To interpret Scripture literally is not to be committed to a “wooden literalism,” nor to a “letterism,” nor to a neglect of the nuances that defy any “mechanical” understanding of language. Rather, it is to commit oneself to a starting point and that starting point is to understand a document the best one can in the context of the normal, usual, customary, tradition range of designation which includes “tacit” understanding.56

It is clear then that Dispensationalists do not advocate for a wooden literal view of the scriptures, but that they are axiomatic in that they view the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic as the necessary starting place when coming to a text.

#5 – Dispensationalists are anti-calvinistic

Supposedly some Reformed brothers and sisters believe that Dispensationalism and Calvinism are mutually exclusive. This is untrue. Many have demonstrated that Dispensationalists are typically Amyraldians (4-point Calvinists) but that there are plenty who affirm the 5-points (myself included).

It often surprises people when I tell them that Darby was a Calvinist and that he was considered by D.L. Moody as an extreme Calvinist. Read what Turner says: “Mr. Darby was invited by D.L. Moody to give a series of Bible readings in Farwell Hall. These were attended by many lovers of the Word of God, but unfortunately suddenly came to an abrupt end as the two clashed over the question of the freedom of the will. Mr. Darby held to what Mr. Moody considered extreme Calvinism on this point, affirming that so perverted was man’s will he could not ‘will’ even to be saved… Mr. Moody insisted that man as a responsible person was appealed to by God to turn to Him and would be condemned if he did not… The controversy became so heated one day that Mr. Darby suddenly closed his Bible and refused to go on.57

Kraus affirms a direct correlation between Dispensationalism and Calvinism, “Taking all this into account, it must still be pointed out that the basic theological affinities of dispensationalism are Calvinistic. The large majority of men involved in the Bible and prophetic conference movements subscribed to Calvinistic creeds.58

Marsden admits to strong Calvinistic ties as well, “In fact the millenarian (or dispensational premillennial) movement had strong Calvinistic ties in its American origins. The movement’s immediate progenitor was John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), who broke with the Church of Ireland and became the leader of the separatist Plymouth Brethren group. During his later career Darby spent a great deal of time proselytizing in North America. He found relatively little interest there in the new Brethren sect, but remarkable willingness to accept his views and methods of prophetic interpretation. This enthusiasm came largely from clergymen with strong Calvinistic views, principally Presbyterians and Baptists in the northern United States. The evident basis for this affinity was that in most respects Darby was himself an unrelenting Calvinist. His interpretation of the Bible and of history rested firmly on the massive pillar of divine sovereignty, placing as little value as possible on human ability. The organizers of the prophetic movement in America were predominantly Calvinists. In 1876 a group led by Nathaniel West, James H. Brookes, William J. Erdman, and Henry M. Parsons, all Presbyterians, together with Baptist A. J. Gordon, initiated what would become known during the next quarter-century as the annual Niagara Bible Conferences for prophetic study. To achieve wider publicity, virtually this same group in 1878 organized the first International Prophecy Conference, which became the model for similar conferences held every decade or so until the end of World War I. These early gatherings, which became the focal points for the prophetic side of their leaders’ activities, were clearly Calvinistic. Presbyterians and Calvinist Baptists predominated, while the number of Methodists was extremely small, a Calvinistic movement with a strong interest in complex details of prophetic interpretation might have seemed contrary to the prevailing trends of the day. Even to revivalist evangelicals like D. L. Moody, who accepted the outlines of premillennialism, this doctrinal rigor was unappealing. John Nelson Darby puzzled over how Moody could on the one hand accept the prophetic truths concerning God’s sovereignty in history, and yet inconsistently allow room for a non-Calvinist view of human ability when it came to personal salvation.”59

There are no good reasons to believe that Dispensationalists cannot be Calvinistic in their soteriology. It is clear that they certainly can be and that there is nothing in history that would prohibit them from being a Dispensationalist and a Calvinistic. If anything, the history of Dispensationalism has strong Calvinistic ties.

#6 – Dispensationalists are Gnostic Escapists

Recently, there have been statements going around that Dispensationalists are Gnostic escapists. I point you to an article that I have written that directly rebuts this.

#7 – Dispensationalists are Pessimistic

Recently, the claim that Dispensationalists are pessimists and don’t care about society in this age has been circulating. I address this in a recent article as well.

#8 – Dispensationalists are Antinomian

This charge often comes to the forefront when discussing the Law with the Reformed crowd. They seem to think that because we see the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law at the coming of Christ that we are no longer bound to any Law60 and that we are in fact anti-law. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Dispensationalists do no believe that we are governed by the Mosaic Law, because that was for Israel, but rather the Law of Christ.

Many dispensationalists believe that Christians today are under a new law–the Law of Christ in which the moral laws of God are communicated.61

The Christian is to love the law of God. Grace does not free the believer from obedience to the will of God. However, Christians are not under the expression of the law as it was given to Israel. Instead, we may use the Mosaic legislation as examples of how we may respond individually and corporately; we may gain wisdom from it. Christians are, however, to obey the will of God as it is expressed in the New Testament–the law of Christ–and the law revealed in the Adamic and Noahic covenants.62

Just as the Mosaic law was normative for the Jew, the Law of Christ is binding for the Christian.63

The only solution (which I have never seen proposed by anyone else) that seems to do full justice to the plain sense of these various Scriptures distinguishes between a code and the commandments contained therein … The Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Tim 4:4), some old ones (Rom 13:9), and some revised ones (Rom 13:4 with reference to capital punishment). All the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has. Specific Mosaic commands that are part of the Christian code appear there not as a continuation of part of the Mosaic Law, or in order to observed in some deeper sense, but as specifically incorporated into that code, and as such they are binding on believers today. A particular law that was part of the Mosaic code is done away; that same law, if part of the law of Christ, is binding. It is necessary to say both truths in order not to have to resort to a nonliteral interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3 or Hebrews 7 and in order not to have to resort to some sort of theological contortions to retain part of the Mosaic Law.64

#9 – Dispensationalists are anti-lordship

This is a half-truth. There are some Dispensationalists that are anti-lordship but it can hardly be said that all Dispensationalists are anti-lordship. One simply needs to look at the work of John MacArthur to see someone who perpetuates the doctrine of Lordship.

…several leading dispensational theologians have explicitly rejected the non-lordship view. John MacArthur and Robert Saucy, for example.65

#10 – Dispensationalists believe that we are going to return to sacrifices and a temple

This is accurate, but what does this mean? Do Dispensationalists believe that we are going to go back under the Mosaic Law again? That we are returning to types/shadows? That Christ’s work wasn’t enough. No. Dispensationalists believe that we are moving forward though there may be lapses into past practices (cf. Ezekiel 40-48, Zechariah 14). The Dispensationalist believes that these prophecies of the Old Testament remain unfulfilled and that we will see a literal fulfillment under the New Covenant, not a return to the Mosaic Covenant.

Now, the often-heard charge that Dispensationalists believe that the sacrifice of Jesus was insufficient because the atonement sacrifice was made once and for all, yet we see a return of sacrifices is absurd on several levels. The absurdity falls on the one that thinks that animal sacrifices were efficacious and that animal sacrifices have ever, or will ever, take away sin. Hebrews tells us that animal sacrifices could never take away sin, so why would we think if they were reinstated in the future that they would suddenly make the work of Christ insufficient? Why would they suddenly become effectual? The answer is that they won’t. A proper study of Ezekiel 40-48 shows that there is no atoning sacrifice, why? Because Jesus completed the sacrifices and therefore there is no requirement for anyone to sacrifice one. The sacrifices that are depicted in the Millennial Kingdom are those that are for purification (of the sanctuary). The sanctuary will become unclean and impure by accidental sin and it will require cleaning or purging. None of this takes away from the Lord’s work.

Also, I would add that we see Paul offering similar sacrifices after the Lord’s death in Acts 21:26.

Then Paul took along the men, and the next day, after purifying himself together with them, he went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

If, Paul completed purification sacrifices after Jesus died are we to think that Paul was trampling over the Lord’s work? Absolutely not. He didn’t see an issue here in offering purification sacrifices in the temple and there won’t be any issue in the future when sacrifices are likewise offered to cleanse the sanctuary.


These are just some of the oft-repeated charges that are made against Dispensationalists. We hope that by spreading this information we are informing anti-dispensationalists about misinformation that they are spreading. These corrections are important to furthering the dialogue between dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists. The sooner we get past these types of bad arguments and common myths the sooner we will be able to work together to further our understanding of Scripture.


  1. Cornelius Van Til, Covenant Theology, Twentieth Century Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1955), I, 306. Brackets added by me.
  2. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Third Revised Edition, 1970), 45-46.
  3. Nathaniel West, The Thousand Year Reign of Christ, (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993), 349.
  4. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2:614.
  5. Leon J. Wood, The Bible and Future Events (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 35.
  6. Thomas Ice, A Short History of Dispensationalism, May 2009, Also check out Larry V. Crutchfield, Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period Part 1: Israel and the Church in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Bibliotheca Sacra [BSac 144:575 (Jul 87) pp. 254-276].
  7. David B. Currie, Rapture, (‎Sophia Inst Pr, 2003), 424.
  9. William C. Watson, Dispensationalism Before Darby: Seventeenth-Century and Eighteenth-Century English Apocalypticism, (Lampion House Publishing, LLC, 2015), 178.
  10. Pseudo-Ephraem, The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Ephraem, Sermon on the End of the World, Latin Translation.
  11. James F. Stitzinger, The Rapture in Twenty Centuries of Biblical Interpretation, TMSJ 13/2 (Fall 2002), 158.
  12. Francis Gumerlock, A Rapture Citation in the Fourteenth Century, Bibliotheca Sacra 159 (July-September 2002): 349-362. 8.
  13. Ibid. 349-362. 17.
  14. Ibid. 349-362. 18.
  15. James F. Stitzinger, The Rapture in Twenty Centuries of Biblical Interpretation, TMSJ 13/2 (Fall 2002), 159.
  16. Ephraim Huit, The whole Prophecie of Daniel Explained, by a Paraphrase, Analysis and briefe Comment, (London, 1643), 196-199.
  17. John Browne, A Brief Survey of the Prophetical and Evangelical Events of the Last Times (London, 1654), 2-3.
  18. Ibid., 12-13.
  19. John Birchensha, The History of the Scripture, (London, 1660), iii, 80.
  20. Joshua Sprigg, News of a New World From The Word and Works of God, Compared together, (London, 1676), 8-9.
  21. Increase Mather, The Blessed Hope, and Glorious Appearing of the Great God our Saviour, (Boston, 1701), 23, 33, 122, 131.
  22. Morgan Edwards, Two Academical Exercised on Subjects Bearing the following Titles; Millennium, Last-Novelties (Philadelphia: self-published, 1788). See Thomas Ice, “Morgan Edwards: Another Pre-Darby Rapturist,” Pre-Trib Perspectives (Vol. II, No. 4; Sept/Oct 1995), pp. 1-3.
  23. Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy, 43.
  24. J. Van Den Berg, Puritan Eschatology, 140.
  25. William C. Watson, Dispensationalism Before Darby: Seventeenth-Century and Eighteenth-Century English Apocalypticism, (Lampion House Publishing, LLC, 2015), 177.
  26. Todd Strandberg, Margaret MacDonald is Not the Mother of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture by RR@admin2, published 2016/07/19, Last Modified 2018/02/09.
  27. F.F. Bruce, Review of The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin in The Evangelical Quarterly, (Jan-Mar, 1975), 58.
  28. Ibid.
  29. John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), 40.
  30. Ibid., 42-43.
  31. Ibid., 44.
  32. John L. Bray, The Origin of the Ρre-Tribulation Rapture Teaching, (Lakeland, FL: John L. Bray Ministry, n.d.), 21-22.
  33. Ibid., 20-21.
  34. Ibid., 24-25, 28.
  35. Charles Ryrie, What You Should Know about the Rapture, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 71.
  36. Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenaralism 1800-1930, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 64.
  37. Timothy P. Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillennialism 1875-1982, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 21-22.
  38. Richard R. Reiter, The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 236.
  39. William E. Bell, A Critical Evaluation of the Pretribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology, (PhD diss., New York University, 1967), 60-61, 64-65.
  40. Roy A. Huebner, The Truth of the Ρre-Tribulation Rapture Recovered, 13.
  41. Ibid., 67.
  42. Michael J. Svigel, What Child is This? A Forgotten Argument for the Pretribulation Rapture, in Evidence for the Rapture: A Biblical Case for Pretribulationism, (Moody Publishers, 2015), 226-227.
  43. Lewis S. Chafer, Editorial, Bibliotheca Sacra Vol. 102, No. 405 (1945), 1.
  44. Wayne G. Strickland, The Inauguration of the Law of Christ with the Gospel of Christ: A Dispensational View in Five Views on Law and Gospel, (Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996), 235.
  45. Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, (Rockville, Md., Assurance, 1984), 255.
  46. John Walvoord, Series in Christology-Part 4: The Preincarnate Son of God” Bibliotheca Sacra Vol. 104, No. 416, (1947): 422.
  47. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries Press, 1989), 590-591.
  48. Harry Ironside, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, 57-58.
  49. Fred Klooster, The Biblical Method of Salvation: A Case for Continuity, in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments (Westchester: Crossway Books), 133.
  50. O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, (Phillipsburg, N.J, Presbyterian And Reformed Pub. Co, 1985), 216.
  51. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 194.
  52. John MacArthur, Should I Interpret the Bible Literally?, Friday, November 7, 2014.
  53. Mark Hitchcock, The End : A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days, (Carol Stream, Ill., Tyndale House Publishers, 2012), 52.
  54. Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), 139.
  55. David L. Cooper, The God of Israel, 3.
  56. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 3rd rev. ed. e-book, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1970), 102.
  57. W.G. Turner, John Nelson Darby, (London, 1944), 21-22. The account is also found in H.A. Ironside, A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement (1942) rpt (Neptune, New Jersey, 1985), 81, and J.F. Findlay, Jr., Dwight L. Moody: American evangelist, 1837-1899 (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1969), 126-127.
  58. C. Norman Kraus, Dispensationalism in America: Its Rise and Development, (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1958), 59.
  59. George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: 1870–1925, [New York: Oxford University Press, 1980], 46.
  60. More particularly, we want to examine the error of Dispensationalism which teaches that Christians are not under the law in any sense…”
  61. Michael J. Vlach, Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths, (Theological Studies Press, Los Angeles, 2008), 43-44.
  62. H. Wayne House & Thomas Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse, An Analysis of Christian Reconstructionism, (Multnomah Press, Portland, Oregon, 1988), 118-119.
  63. Wayne G. Strickland, The Law, The Gospel, and the Modern Christian, Five Views, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1993), 277.
  64. Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999), 351-352.
  65. Michael J. Vlach, Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths, (Theological Studies Press, Los Angeles, 2008), 45.


6 thoughts on “Common Misconceptions About Dispensationalism

  1. I am an avid reader of ideology, philosophy, history, mythology and theology. Dispensationalism is something that is new to me. I have enjoyed reading the your blog very much! I have only just found it today…

    God bless you,

    Liked by 1 person

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