Friday, March 31, 2006

Dispensational and Covenantal Hermeneutics: Where is the Contention

What follows is some exploratory writing as I am currently trying to hammer out some issues regarding this topic.

Hermeneutics (the science and method of interpreting scripture) is at the foundation of both the Dispensational and Covenantal theologies. Both views hold a high regard for scripture and believe that it should be studied to find out what the authors through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit originally meant. If both groups hold to this then why do we end up in different places theologically?

Dispensationalists hold to a distinction between Israel and the Church. The reason they have this distinction is because when they read all of the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament, they take them literally. If the prophet said that God was going to establish the kingdom and rebuild the tabernacle, it means just that. There will be an earthly established kingdom with a tabernacle including the sacrifices in it. This promise is for Israel and not the church. Israel and the church have different purposes and promises and we should not confuse them. Another example of this is that David was promised to have an everlasting king seated on his throne. Dispensationalists do not believe this promise has been fulfilled, but will be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom when Christ rules on the earth (some progressive dispensationalist will disagree and say that Christ is now on the throne in heaven).

On the other hand Covenantal theologians say that we should not have this distinction between Israel and the Church. The Church is Israel. We have been grafted in and we are it. All of the promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ. Jesus is spiritually ruling over Israel (the Church) and will be on that throne eternally. Through the Church, Israel has been established.

How do these views play into the Hermeneutic discussion? The covenantal theologian charges the Dispensationalist with building his eschatology from the Old Testament and then forcing the New Testament to fit into this mold. On the other hand the Dispensationalist charges the Covenantal theologians with building his eschatology from the New Testament and then tries to make the Old Testament fit his mold. Both grougs would obviously reject these charges, but it is helpful to see this distinction. Ultimately the answer seems to revolve in how both groups relate the old and new covenants to each other.

I realize this is painting with an extremely broad brush and the answers are found in the details, but at this point I am simply trying to see the larger pictures then move in from there.

God Bless,



At Friday, March 31, 2006 5:13:00 PM, Anonymous Rob Somers said...

Good general synopsis Doug.

It seems to be a curious thing, but people tend to interpret any new truth through a filter of sorts, or perhaps a lense. So it is with hermeneutics. As one who has come from dispensational to reformed theology, I can say I have seen both sides. Specifically, I have seen each side with its own special pair of glasses. Its quite a thing really, to see a dispensationalist trying to understand covenant theology through a pair of dispensationalist glasses. It just does not work (I might add the same is true for covenant theologians, though obviously I do believe that of the two, covenantal theology is the more accurate reflection of truth). It makes it so that there is little common ground, for when one side is saying one thing, the other side is hearing something else - as you alluded to in another post about this matter, if I recall correctly, on the matter of the term 'dispensation.'

Anyway, I am looking forward to more of your 'exploratory writings.'

At Friday, March 31, 2006 5:16:00 PM, Blogger mxu said...

Thank you very much! This is a question that has crossed my paths more than a few times and I'm glad you're writing about it.

Any chance you can link us to some sources you're using?

At Friday, March 31, 2006 6:15:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Thanks Rob,

I look forward to more of your input as I hash this out.


At Friday, March 31, 2006 6:23:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...


For books, I'm mostly using systematic theologies. I like Lous Berkoff and Charles Hodge for the Covenantal guys, and Lewis Sperry Chafer and of course the Scofield Bible for the dispy guys. But what I have found to be the most helpful so far is S. Louis Johnson's lectures on this topic. He is very gracious man as he deals with both views. He is a Calvinist who taught theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and studied under Chafer. He is an extremely progressive dispy. In fact I'm not even sure he would call himself one. Anyway, you can get these lectures for free at Click on the theological series called "the divine purpose." It will take you to a page of 37 lectures on the topic.

God Bless,


At Friday, March 31, 2006 7:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug, Thanks for your comments at Fire and Hammer.
I appreciate these articles on the differences on these views.
I certainly am a "Dispensationalist" over "Covenant", but I am glad we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
I have to state that the reason I go with the dispensational view is that it does present the Old Testament promises to Israel literally. The promises concerning the first coming of Messiah was fulfilled literally, so it just makes good sense that those promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, etc. would be literally fulfilled.
To me it would be spiritualizing the Old Testament promises, and get God "Off the hook" to the nation of Israel, so to speak.
The way I feel about it is that if the promises to Israel are not fulfilled, as they were given, then what assurance do you and I have that God will keep His promises to us? Just a thought that I have.

At Friday, March 31, 2006 7:49:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...


As you know I have a great respect for your opinion, and what you just stated is a very strong point. In fact it is the point that keeps me the most sympathetic to the progressive dispensational view. Those are some of the thoughts that keep floating around my head.


At Saturday, April 01, 2006 9:48:00 AM, Blogger Gordon Cloud said...

Great series going here, Doug. The key hermeneutical difference between the two views is a literal interpretation (dispy) vs. an allegorical interpretation.

TA made a very good point concerning this concept.

I believe that Bible is intended to be interpreted literally. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the allegorical approach can easily become very subjective in nature. It could become easier to read interpretations into the text that simply aren't there. (Yes, I know, dispys can get a little carried away on interpretation of prophecy as well). I am not saying that this is always what happens, but it does seem to leave the door open a little wider.

I have been reading An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics by Mal Couch. He gives some good responses to some of Berkhof's Statements.

At Saturday, April 01, 2006 3:29:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Ritchie said...

from your previous post: and the Covenantal theologian tends to look at the progressive revelation of the Gospel.

That I can agree with...but I'm not sure that I would lump myself in the category that says that "the church is Israel".

So perhaps I am a hybrid of sorts...still need to do more investigating. Again, thanks for continuing to provide thought-provoking posts.

At Saturday, April 01, 2006 6:44:00 PM, Blogger bluecollar said...

Thank you for taking on this issue,Doug.

Mark Pierson

At Sunday, April 02, 2006 8:10:00 PM, Blogger jazzycat said...

I found this article helpful in trying to understand disp. better:



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