The “seven dispensations” of Scofield’s Bible
Have you ever heard, my dear reader, of Dr. C. I. Scofield? Do you know that he added certain “explanatory notes,” which must serve as interpretation and guide in reading the King James Version of the Scriptures? Did you know too that this Bible has been instrumental in leading thousands and hundred thousands in the error of Dispensationalism? Whether you know this or not it will serve you well as a believer of all the prophetic Scriptures to read what I and many others before me have said to refute this error of “dispensationalism” with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
The Scofield Bible was first published in 1909, some seventy years ago. And its influence for evil has been very great, as an evil leaven in the body of the truth of the gospel. Scofield and his assistants manipulate with the terms: Gospel, Covenant, Dispensation, Church, kingdom and other related concepts which deal with the salvation of the “Israel of God,” the church in the world. And the method employed by Dr. Scofield is that, instead of writing his notes in a separate Commentary, he places his notes in key positions in the Bible, so that his readers will read the Bible through the spectacles of Dr. Scofield. (Compare Dr. L. Boetner’s THE MILLENNIUM, pages 369-373.)
We desire the reader to keep in mind that we are not interested in giving a history of Dr. Scofield’s work, dating about from 1843, (which incidentally is a time when such heresies as Christian Science, Mormonism, and Seventh Day Aventism appeared) but we are interested in some of the basic teaching and constructions, which are today the structural teachings of Dispensationalism in America.
We have another interest, a more pinpointed interest.
Our interest centers on the question whether the presentation of Dispensational Premillennialists squares with the pattern of sound doctrine which is unto godliness, as revealed in all the prophetic writings, as these are in turn interpreted infallibly by Christ and by His Spirit in the holy Apostles.
Such is our interest. To this task we have set ourselves. And therefore we ask the question: does Dispensationalism really teach the pattern of sound doctrine that the church is the temple of the living God, the dwelling-place of God by the Spirit, and that His temple is the “true temple” (Heb. 8:2)? Does Dispensationalism teach that both Jew and Greek have the same right to enter into this temple as reborn children of God, belonging to Christ, and therefore are both Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:26-29)? When Dr. Scofield advocates the “seven dispensations,” and likewise teaches that there are “seven covenants” and differentiates in such a way that he virtually teaches that there is not one only Gospel, but that there are “four gospels,” is that rightly dividing the Word of truth? You must know that the text in II Timothy 2:15 has been made by Dispensationalists a veritable slogan. They prate as such who rightly divide the word of truth when they divide the history of the world into “seven dispensations.” It is averred that we who do not thus interpret the Scriptures do not rightly divide the truth. And, incidentally, since the days of John N. Darby, the outstanding leader of the “Plymouth Brethren,” a man who labored about 1830, it has been affirmed that now the new light and new and proper insight was afforded by the Spirit to the church; things which had been hid from the faithful spouse of Christ for well-nigh nineteen centuries after Christ, now suddenly were revealed!
Now we are given the burden to show that this “new light” is not any new light at all, but that it is a preaching contrary to the pattern of sound doctrine, as this is the warp and woof of all the prophetic Scriptures, fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection.
And so we repeat the question: Does dispensationalism really cling to Christ, the Head over all things in heaven and on earth, in the eternal Commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:14, 15)? Do Dispensationalists, in the very structural truths which they teach, teach the full counsel of God concerning the purpose of God with the earthly Canaan, earthly temple in relationship to the “better country” (Heb. 11:16) and of the earthly temple which “Moses pitched” in relationship to the “perfect tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man”? In their insistence that “Israel” only refers to the Old Testament Jewish nation, and in their teaching that this earthly temple will be rebuilt in the time of the future “Millennium” for’ a restored earthly Israelitish Commonwealth, do they teach the pure doctrine of the Gospel of grace, and of justification? Is this teaching not an evil leaven that leavens the entire lump of the truth in Christ?
We believe it is an evil leaven.
We believe that here we touch on the crux of the whole matter. It is not a building on the only foundation which is laid, and besides which no other foundation can be laid, which we find in the teaching of Dispensationalism, with its “seven dispensations.”
It is asserted by Dispensationalists that when one rejects their brand of “literal interpretation” of the Scriptures, there is but one option left, namely, that we fall into what they denominate as being “allegorization” of the Word, a certain erroneous “spiritualizing” of it. When one teaches that the Old Testament tabernacle was not a “true tabernacle” but was only a type and picture of it, and that the transactions in the sacrifices were parabolic figures of the real sacrifice at Calvary, that is “spiritualizing” it. I ask in all candor: what of it? Does not Scripture itself speak of putting spiritual things with spiritual (I Cor. 2:13, 14)?
When dispensationalists speak of “literal interpretation” they apply this their “hermeneutic” especially to those prophecies which speak of “Israel, “Judah,” “temple,” “David,” etc. Literal Israel means historic, Old Testament Israel, while to speak of the church as “Israel” is not speaking literally. The term Israel is used, however, by the Holy Spirit, in Galatians 6:16, to denominate to the church. “Israel,” there, is the spiritual name of the church, the true descendants of Father Jacob, as he received his new name at the brook Jabbok (Gen. 32:24-32). That is the entire point of the Holy Spirit in Romans 2:28, 29 and in Romans 9:6b where we read, “For they are not all Israel which are of Israel”!
We will, therefore, not be stampeded into retreat by the bald and repeated assertions that we are using the “allegorizing” method of interpretation when we say that according to Scripture the true Israel refers to both Jew and Greek, as they are reborn saints, born from the power of the promise, and, therefore, are free-born sons of Sarah. Any literal interpretation which is used to deny that “Israel” in the Old Testament was not the Jewish nation per se, but that it referred to the believing Seed of Abraham is set in the service of Satan’s lie (John 8:38, 39). Such literal interpreters contradict Jesus’ word, and reject the truth which makes men free (John 8:32-34).
In the light of the foregoing we can now pass judgment on the attempt to teach “seven covenants,” “seven dispensations,” and “four gospels.”
We will for the time being limit ourselves to the question of Scofield’s “seven dispensations.” These are included in the “Explanatory Notes” in the Bible going by his name. Now, it is really a sacrilegious thing to speak of any man’s Bible. God forbid that any should call the Bible by my name. But we will quote it in quotation marks.
The “seven dispensations” of which Scofield speaks are the following: Dispensation of “Innocence” (Gen. 1:28); of “Conscience” (Gen. 3:23); of “Human Government” (Gen. 8:20-11:9); of “Promise” (Gen. 12:1); of “Law” (Ex. 19:8); of “Grace” (John 1:17); of “Kingdom” (Eph. 1:10).
Let it be understood that these dispensations are really a new and essentially different way of God’s dealing with man, each time as a means of “trial,” wherein man must live up to certain conditions. Thus the dispensation of “Law” has no “Grace” in it, and the Dispensation of “Grace” has no “Law” in it. Grace was, according to this view, not revealed under the time of the shadows and types in the Old Testament tabernacle. Should grace be revealed in the time of the “law” then the Law would not be a law, and the dispensation of law would not be a distinct “dispensation,” a time and peculiar method of God in dealing with men. This “dispensation” extends from the time of Israel at Sinai till Calvary, from Exodus to the Cross.
Now this manipulating with the term “dispensation” is far from correct, neither is it innocent; it is a plain contradiction of the plain and explicit teaching of Scripture on this point. This term is employed only by the Holy Spirit through Paul. The term is in the English virtually the Latin translation of the Greek termoikonomia. The Latin term as given in the Vulgatetranslation is dispensatione. Paul speaks of this “dispensation” in Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 3:2; Colossians 1:25. In each of these passages Paul speaks of the peculiar office which God gave him in connection with the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, as a fulfillment of the promises made to the father. He must according to this dispensation of the grace be a preacher in all the world under heaven (Col. 1:23). This is the dispensation of the time that fills all other periods of time before in the Old Testament Dispensation. Hence, it is called the “dispensation of the fullness of times.” This is the time in which, through Christ’s glorification at God’s right hand, all things are now placed under one Head: Christ (Eph. 1:9, 10, 11)! This is made known according to the mystery of God’s will. And in Ephesians 3:2 the term is used in connection with the ministry of Paul, which is such that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and of the same body with, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel (Eph. 3:6). This is the mystery spoken of by Jesus in John 10:16: “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold (stable); them also I must bring and they shall be (become = geneesetai) one flock and one Shepherd.” In passing we would remark that this reference from John 10:16 precludes and excludes the teaching and contention of some Dispensationalists, that theirs is a “Gospel of Paul” in distinction from the Gospel of Jesus. There is but one gospel: the glad tidings that the promises of God, all the promises, are yea in Christ, and in Him Amen to the glory of God.
(will be continued)