PMW 2020-037 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Dispensationalists pride themselves in being consistent literalists. Not only so, but they warn that taking a non-literal approach in Scripture involves one in “encroaching liberalism. For instance, Charles Ryrie writes:
Although it could not be said that all amillennialists deny the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, yet, as it will be shown later, it seems to be the first step in that direction. The system of spiritualizing Scripture is a tacit denial of the doctrine of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. . . . Thus the allegorical method of amillennialism is a step toward modernism. [Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, 34, 35, 46.]
Alleged literalism is probably one of the most important arguments for keeping dispensationalism alive and well on Planet Earth. It seems so obvious; it takes so little effort to understand. We need to lovingly confront our dispensational friends with a reality check. In this and the next article I will be focusing on dispensationalism’s literlism errors.
The problem of naivete
This argument is simply not at all persuasive and is embarrassingly naive. We must note that literalism does not necessarily protect orthodoxy. We may easily point out that many cults approach Scripture literalistically — and erroneously.
Three Lectures by Kenneth Gentry. Reformed introduction to classic dispensationalism, with analysis of leading flaws regarding the Church, kingdom, redemptive history, and Christ. Helpful for demonstrating errors to dispensationalists.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Consider the premillennial cult of Mormonism. They teach that God has a literal, tangible body. After citing Genesis 1:26–27 regarding Adam’s creation “in the image and likeness of God,” LeGrand Richards, a former Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-day Saints, writes:
“Attempts have been made to explain that this creation was only in the spiritual image and likeness of God. . . . Joseph Smith found that he was as literally in the image and likeness of God and Jesus Christ, as Seth was in the likeness and image of his father Adam.” [LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and Wonder, 16].
This is blatantly false as well as enormously heretical. Yet it is the produce of an attempted literalism. Dispensationalist friends: Rather than being warmed and filled, you need to be warned and chill!
The problem of consistency
Besides being naive, the dispensational claim to “consistent literalism” is frustrating due to its inconsistent employment — despite contrary claims. For instance, some dispensationalists do not interpret certain Old Testament prophecies about David’s millennial reign literally. H. A. Ironside writes: “I do not understand this to mean that David himself should be raised and caused to dwell on the earth as king. . . . The implication is that He who was David’s Son, the Lord Christ Himself is to be the King.” [Harry A. Ironside, Expository Notes on Ezekiel the Prophet, 262. Cf. Ryrie, Basis of the Premillennial Faith, 88. Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, 60.] On what basis can a consistent literalist allow this view?
Neither is it necessary that we understand literally Elijah’s coming which Malachi prophesies in Malachi 4:5–6: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.“ And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” Pentecost writes: “The prophecy is interpreted by the Lord as being fulfilled, not in literal Elijah, but in one who comes in Elijah’s spirit and power.” [Pentecost, Things to Come, 311–313]
Walvoord recognizes the problem but hesitates: “It was clear that Elijah was a type of John and to some extent that John the Baptist fulfilled Elijah’s role. But, predictively, it is difficult to determine whether the future one will come in the spirit and power of Elijah or be Elijah himself.” [Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, 339–40.]
House Divided: The Break-up of Dispensational Theology
By Greg L. Bahnsen and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This book demonstrates that dispensational theology has been shattered by its own defenders. They are no longer willing to defend the original system, and their drastic modifications have left it a broken shell.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
On their “consistent” literal hermeneutic, why should this be difficult? Does not Walvoord himself open this very book with these words: “Unmistakably, the evidence is overwhelming that God means exactly what He says as prophecy after prophecy has already been literally fulfilled”? [ Walvoord, PKH, 7.] Thus, this leading, scholarly advocate of the literalistic approach to Scripture breaches his own declared principle of literalism — and in a book that opens with his expressly stated declaration that we must interpret Scripture literally.
I hope you will join me again in my next installment. Dispensational literalism is a canard. And it needs to be exposed as such.
OLIVET IN CONTEXT: A Commentary on Matthew 21–25
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.
If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!
Tagged: hermeneutics, literalism
Excellent article, as always, Dr. Gentry! Any update on the Revelation commentary? (By the way, shouldn’t the title refer to “literalism” instead of “literlism”?)
Blessings from TX,
Yes. That is a typo. I have now corrected it. Thanks.
For my Revelation commentary, see my note “Gentry Commentary News” at the top of my home page. https://postmillennialworldview.com/commentary-news/
“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). The literalism in dispensationalism is simply absurd. I’ve heard dispensationalists say that the horses and swords in Revelation indicates that after nuclear war the earth will be plunged back into times before cars and modern weapons. In other words, they say that things will be LIKE they were in the first century, but of course Revelation is about thousands of years after the first century. They also certainly don’t take the time indicators in Revelation literally at all. Are we to take Revelation 13 and 17 literally? What about the Old Testament language of judgment on individual nations where the sun goes dark, stars fall, etc. (Isa 13, 19, 34, etc.)? We must compare spiritual things with spiritual, and quite frankly, we should look at history to find fulfillment of prophecy rather than speculating about the future assuming basically no prophecies are fulfilled until the end of time. Covenant theology is a much better way of making sense of and harmonizing scripture.
Hello Mr. Gentry,
In reference to the picture relating to this article (very good article) at the top of the page with the Bible being read upside down? Nice touch!!
Hi, Pastor, Ken. You made reference to “certain Old Testament prophecies about David’s millennial reign…”, to which you gave the H. A. Ironside comment. For the record, would it be too much trouble for you to add the specific OT passages on this point, either in response to me or as an edit to your article?
Eze. 34:23–24: “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the LORD have spoken.”
Eze 37:24: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all hve one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.”
I may be stumbling into postmillienialist theology but, hopefully, it is the Holy Spirit leading me. I come from an upbringing that was vague on eschatology (in the Disciples of Christ denomination with a sprinkling of Baptist teaching). Since rededicating my life to Christ in February of 2019, lest I slide further into being a Laodocian, I’ve been consuming sermons with an insatiable appetite, thank the Lord. Much of what one hears on Moody Radio and its many cousins is premillenial. They don’t self brand themselves this way very often. Rather it is delivered as the obvious truth. I’ll tell you, I didn’t really start having my doubts until supporting one of those ministries and receiving a book called “The End Time in Chronological Order” by Ron Rhodes. What I expected to be an easy read that would stitch together the various eschatological references I’d been hearing ended up engendering more questions than answers.
A short while after this, I “stumbled” across postmillienialist theology. I was skeptical at first but, the proof being in the pudding, I feel like I have more answers than questions for a change. I’ve only recently discovered your material and will, God willing, be digging into it much deeper. This article caught my eye because I had been thinking, so far, that while the pretribulation rapture and thousand years on earth may be sticking points, we all agree on dispensationalism, right? Clearly not. Thank you for your steeped and insightful stance. At the very least, as I’m still on the fence, I will have greater appreciation for postmillenialism and Covenant (or federal?) theology as I get further into it.
Please pardon a couple editorial notes. I’m a software engineer by trade, not an editor, so take them for what you will.
1. In the second sentence, “encroaching liberalism” is missing its closing quote.
2. In the last paragraph of the “The problem of naivete” section, in the “Yet it is the produce of an attempted literalism.” sentence, it seems a like “the produce of an” should read “the product of”.