Waltke Lays The Axe To The Root Of Dispensationalism

On the other hand, dispensationalists commit a fundamental hermeneutical blunder when they simplistically base their views, on an ill-defined notion of “the normal, plain” meaning of Scripture, and even worse, against its own fundamental principle, disallow the analogy-of-faith principle that could correct their errors. Vern Poythress brilliantly perceives that they read the text not “plainly” but “flatly,” failing to see adequately the symbolic import.12 for example, the temple on Mount Zion always participated in the heavenly reality, and cannot be distinguished from it (cf. Heb 12:22). Moreover, dispensationalists fail to appreciate fully the significance that the church has become fellow heirs of Israel’s covenants through its union with Abraham’s Seed, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 4:16–17; 11:11–24; Gal 3:26–29; Eph 2:19). Paul’s illustration of the one olive tree in Romans 11 suggestions that the elect comprise, one covenant community, rooted in the patriarchs, and not two, and that the covenant community is essentially not a national group, because the Gentiles, who are not treated as political states, are grafted into it.

Bruce Waltke, “Dispensational and Covenant Theologies” in William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey ed. Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 64–65.


12. Vern Poythress, Understanding, Dispensationalists (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987).


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  1. I always had a hard time with the idea that we can’t interpret scripture like the apostles. I was always bothered by the disconnect between the interpretation the bible uses and the one I was used to. I often tried to find constructions that allow the apostles hermaneutic to be right without changing my own theology. Soon after becoming a “Calvinist” (predestinarian) I actually spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out how to interpret the bible like the apostles, without accepting “replacement theology” or infant baptism.
    It didn’t work.
    While that study never directly yielded any results, it did indirectly do so. I am now reformed in my theology. Protestant. Abrahamic in my view of baptism.

    This is very similar to when I rejected the abiding validity of the ceremonial law (Hebrew roots). The word just kept gnawing away at the roots of my bad theology until I couldn’t keep the structure standing.

    I am still struggling with amillenial interpretations of certain old testament prophecies, mostly in Issiah (and so currently I would be postmil), but given all that I was wrong on, this could be dispensationalist baggage that will be removed by God in due time.

    • Dr. Clark,
      I listened to some of those. I will probably listen to the others too. My main problem is some of the seemingly temporal prophecies of temporal blessings (the passage where Assyria, Israel and Egypt are all saved comes to mind).

      By the way, just to clarify, I am already off the theonomy-covenanter bandwagon on most other issues.

      • Samuel,

        The main thing here is to learn to read the Bible as the Apostles did. The pre-mil and post-mil hermeneutic(s) fail here. There’s just no evidence in the NT of any interest in an earthly golden age. So, the question arises, how was it that the Apostles were reading those prophecies?

        They weren’t reading those as though they were about this world. Look at how Hebrews 11 speaks. Are we to think that Moses gave up the riches of Egypt for the sufferings of Christ but the prophets are to be understood to be this worldly? That seems incongruous.

        Heaven is a real place and that’s where our citizenship is.

    • Dr Clark,
      I understand that argument and am also very aware of some of the problematic stuff that postmillennialism often comes with. I will probably take another look on these passages quite soon. Last I did so, I abandoned the postmillennial exegesis of some, but not others.
      By the way, it seems, from a reading of his commentary, that John Calvin had a similar problem. He says very postmillennial things in the passages I am struggling with, and then he says very amillenial things elsewhere.

      • Calvin was no postmillennialist.

        Your definition of postmillennial may need some adjusting.

        Calvin excoriated any idea of an earthly glory age as Judaizing. Have you read the Second Helvetic Confession, ch. 11? The Augsburg Confession, which Calvin signed? They both condemned what we call postmillennialism.

        The quotations are on the postmil resource page.

        It won’t help to go back to the passages if you’re reading them badly. The hermeneutical question is prior.

    • You have definitely been giving me some food for thought. I will keep trying to think through the issue for sure.
      And I guess I may have read Calvin wrong, but if I recall correctly he does interpret certain parts of Isaiah in ways most Amillenials do not. I guess affirming a positive future event or two doesn’t necessarily constitute postmillennialism.
      Have a blessed Lord’s Day

    • Dr. Clark,
      I read the passages in question again, and it seems something got corrected in my thinking since I did so last time. I guess the “due time” I mentioned in my original comment was now.
      Thank you for helping a stranger on the internet to think through these things.

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