(Read Part 5)

We learned last time that dispensational and covenantal theology differ in their approach to hermeneutics. This week’s post will finish our study of that topic, and of all the “Issues of Contention” that underscore the difference between these two understandings of the sacred text.

Hermeneutics (continued)

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

Throughout the exegesis demonstrated by covenant theologians, we see an overdependence on figurative language, typology and allegory, while the clear, simple language of Scripture is ignored. Many of those passages that are spiritualized have clear, unconditional kingdom promises to Israel.

Our default setting as exegetes must be to take the reading in a literal way unless context indicates a figurative nature.[1] And, remember, even figurative language has a literal meaning to convey. Dispensationalism is a theological system, not a hermeneutic. We should become dispensational by conviction once we practice a consistently literal hermeneutic throughout Scripture—not because we go to the text with an agenda or presupposition from a theological construct.

Dr. Charles C. Ryrie wrote,

“If plain or normal interpretation is the only valid hermeneutical principle and if it is consistently applied, it will cause one to be a dispensationalist.”[2]

One more hermeneutical caveat to mention is the need to recognize the implications of progressive revelation. A careful study of Scripture shows the different dispensations or ages in which God has interacted with mankind. Each revelation from God has been incomplete apart from the Incarnate Word and the Written Word of God. As time progressed, so did God’s revelation.

The New Testament is a more complete revelation of God, especially of Christ, than the Old Testament. The church is a mystery unrevealed in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:1-13). Furthermore, the kingdom of God that is spoken of in the Old Testament is elucidated in Christ’s kingdom parables during His earthly ministry. Paul knew more of God’s complete revelation than John the Baptist, as the ministry of Christ was between their two ministries. God used to speak through prophets, then through His Son, but now and forever through His Word (Heb. 1:1-3). Though covenantalists acknowledge different applications of the covenant of grace, they try to unify the work of God, suggesting He always works the same way.

Covenant theologian James Orr criticizes these inconsistencies in saying:

It failed to seize the true idea of development, and by an artificial system of typology, and allegorizing interpretation, sought to read back practically the whole of the New Testament into the Old. But its most obvious defect was that, in using the idea of the covenant as an exhaustive category, and attempting to force into it the whole material of theology, it created an artificial scheme which could only repel minds desirous of simple and natural notions.[3]

We must admit that the Old Testament prophets did not know all that would be revealed in the New Testament. As time moved on, God revealed more. Yet, just because Jesus and the apostles would give more specifics regarding the kingdom of God, this does not mean they were speaking of a different kingdom than the Old Testament authors. Progressive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret the original meaning of the Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels out the original meaning.

Again, we cannot allow our theology to change our hermeneutic. I am dispensational because a consistently literal hermeneutic brought me here. Our theology must flow out of a proper handling of Scripture that develops, informs and changes our theology.

Our systematic theology is based on Biblical theology. Biblical theology is developed by careful verse-by-verse handling of the Word of God in its historical-grammatical context, taking it in its normal sense unless clued in by the author to do otherwise.

(Read Part 6)

Review the entire series:

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

Read Part 5

Dr. Parker Reardon is a graduate of Word of Life Bible Institute, Pensacola Christian College and The Master’s Seminary, where he received a doctorate in expository preaching. He is currently serving as the main teaching elder/pastor at Applegate Community Church in Grants Pass, Ore., and as adjunct professor of theology for Liberty University and adjunct professor of Bible and theology for Pacific Bible College. Reardon’s sermons and writings may be accessed at BiblicalExpositor.org. It is with great eagerness that we present him as a contributing author to Dispensational Publishing House for the benefit of our readers.

Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Parker Reardon. Used by permission of the author.

Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995
by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

[1] Several helpful articles on the literal interpretation of Scripture will be listed in an upcoming installment in this series.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), p. 20.

[3] Ibid., p. 19.