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Randy-WhiteI am both a dispensationalist and a precise thinker, so I love both. I am not a fan of the sloppy theology that is often seen in today’s pop-theology books (such as The Circle Maker, a book which so abuses Scripture that it should be summarily dismissed; or The Shack, which has its own version of a make-believe god that may be good for a spiritual

[but not Biblical] therapeutic massage, but is not of any further value). But this article is not about pop-theology; it is rather a warning to my fellow dispensational precision thinkers. The warning, to speak precisely, is this: Be careful not to claim more than you know.

One of the biggest black-eye-makers in dispensationalism is our tendency to sometimes claim more than can be claimed. It is dispensationalists, after all, who have most often erred in date-setting and other end-times errors. This is chiefly a dispensational error because non-dispensationalists avoid prophecy altogether. Given the two errors, I still choose dispensationalism.

One fundamental rule of dispensational interpretation is this: If the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense. This was claimed by David Cooper as “Cooper’s Law.”

To this, however, I would like to add “White’s Law.” My law is this: If the Bible does not say it, then do not claim it.

To give an example, let me point to Thomas Birks. I am a fan of the writings of many dead dispensationalists (and look forward to a series of Revived Classics featuring some of these great works, published through Dispensational Publishing House). Birks lived from 1810 to 1883 and was a prominent dispensational scholar out of Cambridge University. His works were filled with insight and precision. His brand of dispensational writing was not the same as mine (I disagree with him in many foundational matters), but he was dispensational, and he was precise. His works are not to be quickly dismissed—in spite of some grievous errors.

In his desire for precision in prophetic interpretation, Birks went further than the text would allow, and in doing so caused his works to be forgotten and unused.

For example, Birks had an intricate and precise measurement of time in the Bible. Speaking of the teaching of “Mr. [Grattan] Guinness,” he writes of the meaning of the 2,520 years as follows:

The period of seven times, or 2520 years, Mr. Guinness remarks, has a kind of natural primacy among numbers. Resolved into its factors it is—23. 32. 7. 5, or the continued product of the four first primes raised to the powers which give the greatest amount of factors. Thus the sum of the factors of 2520, including the number itself, is 9240. It is the most composite of all numbers, the sum of its factors being double itself+1680.[1]

With these convoluted schemes, Birks made several outlandish claims concerning the book of Revelation. For example, consider these points from his chronological listing of interpretation of the book of Revelation:

  1. The attendant earthquake is the first shock of the French Revolution.

  2. The four first seals relate to four steps of imperial change, and four states of the visible Church: Apostolic, Nicene Orthodox, Superstitious and Papal, and the last in the climax of its corruption.

  3. The fifth seal relates to the height of Papal power before the Reformation, and a time, χρόνος, intervenes before the sixth, while from the time of the oath, ch. 10:7, a time does not intervene.

  4. The sixth seal begins with the French Revolution.[2]

Why was Birks’ departure from “White’s Law” so troubling? We shall see more in tomorrow’s post.

(Read Part 2)

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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] Taken from Thomas Rawson Birks, Thoughts on the Times and Seasons of Sacred Prophecy (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1880).

[2] Ibid.