History | Doctrines | Links | PDF Files



The Beliefs of Dispensationalism

The "new light" which J. N. Darby is said to have received, came, in fact from his inability to reconcile the God who gave the law to Israél with the God who brought grace to sinners through Jesus Christ. In Darby's mind law and grace were a contradiction and could never be reconciled. Darby viewed the law given by the God of the Old Testament as something that was so inferior to the grace which came by Jesus Christ. So much so that he despised the law of God and, like his followers after him, ridiculed those who believed it had its place in Christian theology.  As much as Darby may have imagined he had received new light, his ideas were purported over a thousand years earlier by Marcion. The parallel between Darby's and Marcion's beliefs are startlingly similar. In fact Marcion

"concluded that there must be two Gods: the Creator God of the OT, who was characteristically a God of Law, who involved himself in contradictory courses of action, who was fickle, ignorant, despotic and cruel. The Supreme God, Marcion held, was wholly a God of Love who had remained completely hidden until he was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ."

Robert I Bradshaw. Marcion: Portrait of a Heretic

In order to reconcile in his own mind the God of the Old Testament with the Christian God, Darby concluded, like Marcion, that the true God of the universe, the God of love, was not revealed to mankind until He appeared in Jesus Christ, and that before Christ, God had revealed Himself to mankind in different ways. Based on this theory Darby decided that if God had revealed Himself in one way to Israel and in another through Christ then He must also have revealed Himself in different ways to Abraham, to Noah, to Adam, etc. Darby's theory of dispensationalism, therefore, is based upon his mistaken perception of God, of the God who declared "I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Malachi 3:6).

The striking similarity between Darby's view and Marcion's, regarding the personality of God, is a worrying one when we consider that Marcion is considered a heretic. Take, for instance, Marcion's belief that the Old Testament God was "characteristically a God of Law, who involved himself in contradictory courses of action." This was exactly what Darby believed and is the premise on which his dispensational theory is founded.

Like Marcion, Darby believed that God the Creator, who walked in the cool of the day with His creature Adam, revealed Himself differently through each epoch of history. Because Darby could not reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament, he assumed God had revealed Himself in different ways, always hiding His true identity in order to test man's obedience. This for Darby was the God of the Old Testament.

Because Darby felt so strongly that what he believed was in fact the truth and that he had it on Divine authority, not only did he reject all his own Christian friends who disagreed with him, but also the whole historical testimony of orthodoxy Christianity. Darby regarded the historic orthodox Christian interpretation of Scripture to be wrong, renouncing the visible church, both Anglican and Dissenting, as apostate. Charles Spurgeon "observed in Darbyism, a growing tendency to isolationism, obscurantism and a party spirit." (Stephen Sizer. Dispensationalism Defined Historically. 1997).

Darby was, in fact, founding a new religious movement, which in time would infiltrated and influence many Christian groups, primarily in America. Today this movement is identified as Pre-millennium Dispensationalism and is, in fact, one of the largest Christian sects in American. It exercises considerable power over many American churches and even national politics.

Again, because Darby believed that he was right and that everyone else was wrong, he put it down to the fact that other people had never read the Bible properly. Darby opposed the Christian belief regarding an Old and New Covenants, claiming that

"The covenant is a word common in the language of a large class of Christian professors...but in its development and detail, as to its unfolded principles, much obscurity appears to me to have arisen from a want of simple attention to Scripture."

For Darby, God was not a Covenant God but a Dispensational God, one who treated men differently in each of his supposed dispensations. Darby had great difficulty in understand God's dealings with Biblical Israél and looked elsewhere for answers. In fact, he adopted the views of Francesco Ribera, a sixteenth century Jesuit writer, whose works were later "popularised in the nineteenth century by another Spanish Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza. Lacunza used the pseudonym Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra, allegedly a converted Jew, for his book, 'The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty' which Edward Irving translated into English." Darby found in Ribera and Irving a philosophy of Israél which appeared to answer his own dilemma; Darby assumed that these views must be right, especially as they seemed to give an answer to his own dilemma, even though such views contradicted those of historical orthodoxy Christianity. Sadly, Darby failed to see that God's promises to the Jews were fulfilled in Christ and His Church.

This view of Israél espoused by Darby has been one of the most divisive teachings of the last hundred and fifty years. Like his other views it has caused deep division where ever it has been propagated. In recent years those who disagree with Darby's view regarding God's dealings with Israél have been branded as preaching displacement theology. This altogether obnoxious description of historical orthodox Christian theology is the result of rejecting the clear teaching of Scripture and placing one's own private interpretation upon prophecy [II Peter 1:20].

The Christian theologian James Barr regarded Darby's pre-millennial dispensationalism as,

"...individually invented by J. N. Darby...concocted in complete contradiction to all main Christian tradition...

Such a concept is singularly missing from historic Christian theology...Darby is pointedly correct in stating that this came to him as a new truth, since it is not to be found in theological literature prior to his proclamation of it. It is not that exegetes prior to his time did not see a covenant between God and Israel, or a future relation of Israel to the millennial reign, but they always viewed the church as the continuation of God's single program of redemption begun in Israel."

Darby viewed the Church for whom Jesus gave himself that He might redeem it from "all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14), as an after thought in God's dealings with mankind. Darby insisted that it was the Jews who were God's main interest, not the Church, and that His promises to them would one day be fulfilled in some future Jewish kingdom. He states that the Church of Jesus Christ, the Bride for whom He sacrificed all, that which is the very fulfilment of God's promises to the Israél of God, is

"...a most constructive parenthesis, it forms no part of the regular order of God's earthly plans, but is merely an interruption of them to give a fuller character and meaning to them (the Jews)."

Darby actually believed, therefore, that the Church of Jesus Christ is "merely an interruption" in God's purposes for the Jews. Stephen Sizer observes that,

"Darby, through his rigid literalist interpretation of Scripture, regarded the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham as binding for ever, and that the promises pertaining to the nation of Israel, as yet unfulfilled, would find their consummation in the reign of Jesus Christ on earth during the millennium. He thereby encouraged an essential dichotomy between those promises that applied to Israel and those to the Church."


Sizer also noted that

"In a lecture entitled, 'The Hopes of the Church of God', Darby claimed that Israel was the theatre through which God had displayed His character.

'It is in this people, by the ways of God revealed to them, that the character of Jehovah is fully revealed, that the nations will know Jehovah, and that we shall ourselves learn to know him' "


This, of course, is totally contrary to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who declared that God had appointed him to,

"make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Ephesians 3:9-11) [emphasis added]

Sizer continues,

"Church was seen as a mere parenthesis to God's continuing covenantal relationship with Israel, which would be His primary instrument of rule on earth during the millennium. This fundamental error appears a result of Darby's narrow sectarian ecclesiology, indeed one that he superimposed on Scripture by virtue of his dispensational framework."


One contemporary of Darby, Professor Francis W. Newman, attempts to explain what sort of man Darby was,

"For the first time I perceived that so vehement a champion of the sufficiency of the Scriptures, so staunch an opposer of creed and churches, was wedded to an extra-scriptural creed of his own, by which he tested the spiritual state of his brethren.

...this gentleman has every where displayed a wonderful power of bending other minds to his own, and even stamping upon them the tones of his voice and all sorts of slavish imitation. Over the general results of his action I have long deeply mourned, as blunting his natural tenderness and sacrificing his wisdom to the Letter, dwarfing men's understandings, contracting their hearts, crushing their moral sensibilities, and setting those at variance who ought to love, yet oh! how specious it was in the beginning! he only wanted men 'to submit their understanding to God,' that is to the Bible, that is to his interpretation."


And Henry Craik, an associate of Darby, describes the results of Darby's rash and unprofitable intrusions into things not revealed.

"Oh, what a terrible thing is party spirit! Am I not justified in discarding and avoid it? The truth is, Bretherenism as such, is broken to pieces. By pretending to be wiser, holier, more spiritual, more enlightened, than all other Christians; by rash and unprofitable intrusions into things not revealed; by making mysticism and eccentricity the test of spiritual life and depth; ... by grossly offensive familiarity of speaking of such sacred matters as the presence and teaching of the Holy Ghost; and by a sectarianism all the more inexcusable, that it was in the avoidance of sectarianism that Bretherenism originated; by these and similar errors, the great Scriptural principles of church communion have been marred and disfigured."

A more recent author says,

"..one finds very little discussion of God's love in dispensationalism. Darby regarded history as a rigid system with rigid rules with little allowance for grace. He came up with a scheme that satisfies those who want to be able to give a definite answer to any question and can tolerate no uncertainty in matters of God."

H. Drake

Wherever Darby went in an effort to enforce his belief-system on others, his powerful, yet unpleasant manner was felt by all and division amongst brethren was usually the only result he obtained. Seeing his influence declining over the British assemblies, Darby looked elsewhere to spread his unorthodox and controversial beliefs, and set sail for America.

We have already covered how dispensationalism began and the premise upon  which it was founded. We will now look more closely at some of dispensationalism's major doctrines.

As we have also seen, dispensationalism denies the historical orthodox Christian interpretation of Scripture; i.e. that held by all true Christian believers since the time of the Apostles. Dispensationalists professed to have received special light which others have not received and, therefore, their own method of Bible interpretation is, they believe, far superior to that of all others, in every generation of Christians and every Christian era since Christ. Of course, as the reader will immediately recognize, this sort of philosophy is the bases of all error and the precedent upon which all cults and sects are founded.

Dispensationalists believe that God has two separate but parallel means of working - one through the Church, the other through Israel (the former being a parenthesis to the latter). According to dispensationalists there is, and always will be, a distinction between Israel, the Gentiles and the Church. The Marcion also stressed the radical nature of Christianity vis-à-vis Judaism. In his theology there existed a total discontinuity between the OT and the NT, between Israel and the church, and even between the God of the Old Testament and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Stephen Sizer informs us that,

"John Nelson Darby is regarded as the father of dispensationalism and its prodigy, Christian Zionism. It was Cyrus I. Scofield and D. L. Moody, however, who brought Darby’s sectarian theology into mainstream evangelical circles. R. C. Sproul concedes that dispensationalism is now ‘...a theological system that in all probability is the majority report among current American evangelicals.’

Most of the early popular American radio preachers such as Donald Grey Barnhouse, Charles E. Fuller, and M. R. DeHaan were dispensationalists. Today, virtually all the 'televangelists'  such as Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, Paul Crouch, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart and Billy Graham are also dispensationalists.

Other leading dispensationalist writers include Charles Ryrie, Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, Eric Sauer [German writer. Ed.], Charles Dyer, Tim LaHaye, Grant Jeffrey and Hal Lindsey. Notable political proponents include Jimmie Carter and Ronald Reagan.  Probably the most significant Christian organisations to espouse dispensationalism have been the Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary and the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem."

Steven Sizer: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4531.htm

However, many of their own leading lights, such as A. W. Pink, Donald G. Barnhouse, Philip Mauro, and G. Campbell Morgan, to name but a few, eventually denounced Dispensationalism as unbiblical and misleading, and warned others against its teachings.

Dispensationalism, whilst parading as Fundamental is, in fact, a sect, and not part of historic orthodox Christianity. Like Jehovah Witnesses, Dispensationalists also have their own Bible version. This is known as the Scofield Reference Bible, in which the doctrines of Dispensationalism, distort, colour and deny, the truth of Holy Scripture. Not only so, but Dispensationalism, purporting to be Christian, is far more dangerous to undiscerning and gullible believers, as it has a "form of godliness", whilst "denying the power thereof." (II Tim. 3:5)

Concerning Darby's ability to understand Scripture, one writer has stated:

"I believe the following nonsense is more than sufficient to completely disqualify his entire system of bible interpretation as being simply the product of an addled mind in addition to disannulling any notion whatsoever that the man was ever called of God to teach anything.

'Further remark, the commission to the twelve was not from heaven, nor consequently immediately connecting with heaven, but from Galilee, and a commission to bring the nations into connection with an accepted remnant of Jews on earth - not to bring Jew and Gentile into the body in an ascended Christ, which was Paul's commission especially, preaching withal reconciliation from heaven to every creature under it.' "

Another writer says,

"...dispensationalism greatly appeals to the "Greek linear thinking" that characterizes the modern West, but has the outstanding weakness of connecting concretized aspects of Torah, prophets, epistles, gospels, and apocalyptic literature as if they were a single literary genre and without taking into account the cultural differences, let alone biblical contexts, in which each of these were set. The desire to have definite answers overcame all the rules of good biblical hermeneutics"

It was Darby who first insisted that: ‘The Jewish nation is never to enter the Church’ [The Hopes of the Church of God (London: G. Morrish, n.d.), p. 106.]. Scofield later developed this idea further, and states:

"Comparing then, what is said in Scripture concerning Israel and the Church, we find that in origin, calling, promise, worship, principles of conduct and future destiny, all is contrast."

C. I. Scofield, Scofield Bible Correspondence Course. 19th edn. p. 23.

Lewis S. Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary and a student of C. I. Scofield, elaborates on the dispensationalist theory about Israel and the church:

The dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity.

Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dispensationalism (Dallas, Seminary Press, 1936), p. 107.

Chafer states that, ‘Israel is an eternal nation, heir to an eternal land, with an eternal kingdom, on which David rules from an eternal throne,’ that is, on earth and distinct from the church who will be in heaven.

Lewis Sperry Chafer. Systematic Theology. 1975.  Vol. IV. pp. 315-323.

According to Dwight Pentecost, who was a former member of Chafer's seminary;

Scripture is unintelligible until one can distinguish clearly between God’s program for his earthly people Israel and that for the Church.

Things to Come. 1958. p. 529.

Lewis Chafer also declared that Dispensationalism had;

"...changed the Bible from being a mass of more or less conflicting writings into a classified and easily assimilated revelation of both the earthly and heavenly purposes of God, which reach on into eternity to come.

Dispensationalism. Bibliotheca Sacra 93 (October 1936), 410, 416, 446-447.

Contradicting the clear teaching of Christ's Apostles that the New Covenant is for the seed of Abraham the fulfilment of the Old Covenant, dispensationalists teach that the promises made to Abraham and through him to the Jews, have been postponed because the Jews of Jesus day rejected His apparent offer of an earthly kingdom. They maintain that because the Jews rejected Christ's offer and crucified Him, God put into place plan 'B', that is to say the Church of Jesus Christ. According to dispensationalist teaching God originally had not intended that the Church should exist, but was an after through based on the fact that the Jews of Jesus day messed up His plans by refusing Christ's offer of an earthly kingdom. Not only do dispensationalists believe such unbiblical and preposterous nonsense, they  also teach that God's promises to Abraham, instead of being fulfilled in Christ, will be fulfilled in some future age.

Sizer says;

"...it is an article of normative dispensational belief that the boundaries of the land promised to Abraham and his descendants from the Nile to the Euphrates will be literally instituted and that Jesus Christ will return to a literal and theocratic Jewish kingdom centred on a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.  In such a scheme the Church on earth is relegated to the status of a parenthesis[1], a ‘Plan B...’[2], and ‘...a sort of footnote or sidetrack in contrast to God’s main mission to save ethnic, national Israel.’[3]

1. [John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question.1979), p. 25]

2. [Keith A. Mathison, Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?.1995]

3. [Michael Horton, ‘The Church and Israel’ Modern Reformation May/June (1994), p. 1.]

From the above we see that the cased again Dispensationalism being unbiblical is without doubt a mighty one. Those who trust in this system of doctrine are asked to read and consider carefully the articles on our links page.

* "...you consider Dr. Barnhouse to have been a dispensationalist.  Although for many years he professed to be one, in his full maturity he abandoned and sought to repudiate it." Miles J. Stanford.



The election of Israel as people of God may be traced from Abraham (Gen. 12; compare Gal. 3:29; Rom. 9:7-8). However, the relationship between Yahweh and Israel began in the Exodus. Exodus 19 represents a special covenant form with both conditions (v. 5) and promises of the covenant (vv. 5b-6). The condition of the covenant was obedience; the promise was that "you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples." This promise involves a God-people and people-God relationship which is the centre of the Old Testament. This promise was inherited by the church as the true Israel or the new Israel (Rom. 9:6-8; 1 Cor. 10:18-21; Gal. 6:16). Here is the unique position of the church as the people of God in the divine order (Rom. 9:25-26; 1 Cor. 6:14-17; Titus 2:14; Heb. 8:10; 1 Pet. 2:9-10; Rev. 21:3). See Church; Covenant; Election; Israel, Spiritual.

The faith of Israel became more concrete when the remnant idea was developed from corporate salvation out of the divine wrath and judgment. To the remnant fell the status and condition of God's long purpose for His people. The remnant as the chosen one is explained by Jesus in Matthew 22:14. Most of all, Jesus Himself is the remnant. Truly, the church carries the ideas from the Old Testament that the remnant in the figure of the Servant is the witness of universal salvation and the agent of a final revelation. The servant of Yahweh represented by Israel would be a light to the nations. The universal character of Israel's vocation is most clearly expressed here. The idea of God's people in the Old Testament culminates in the person of the Servant who is the idea of the remnant personified as an individual.

Christ claimed His servant-messiahship, for He is the Son of David, fulfilling the promise of God in the Old Testament. Jesus is the King but rejected every political interpretation of His messianic vocation. His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). He is the Suffering Servant, who gave His life as a ransom for many and thereby inaugurated the New Covenant.

The role of servant-messiah developed another dimension in its collectivity, that is, church. The servant idea is determinative for an understanding of the priesthood of the whole church. Christology (Christ) is related to ecclesiology (church) (2 Cor. 4:5). Christians are servants sharing that servanthood which the Servant par excellence creates. The call into peoplehood is a call into servanthood. The church is truly the people of God.

Holman Bible Dictionary
Trent C. Butler (Editor)


The church, one gathering of all believers under the lordship of Christ as the continuation of God's work with Old Testament Israel. This is in contrast to most references in the Old Testament to religious or secular assemblies or to those in the New Testament that designate a local congregation of Christians, but never in any way mean a building.

Israel is the name given to the descendants of Jacob and to the grouping of people in the twelve tribes coming from Jacob's sons. In Old Testament times they constituted the people of God, for He chose them as His own for faithful service. Scripture is clear that Christ came to earth to establish His heavenly kingdom as a substitute for the Jewish kingdom that had failed (Matthew 21:43). Throughout the New Testament the church is spoken of as the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom is presented as an actual entity ruled by God, a spiritual acceptance of the rule of God, or Jesus Christ, the One fully in submission to God and a personification of the kingdom. Paul distinguished between genealogical Israelites and the true “Israel of God,” God's people, those who believe the good news and receive the peace and mercy of God (Galatians 6:16). Spiritual Israel, the Christian church, has supplanted the Jews as the elect people of God (Romans 9:6-13; 1 Peter 2:9). Spiritual Israel includes Jews who believe in Jesus. Christians are divided as to the fate of Israel. This centres on interpretation of passages such as Romans 11:25-36; 2 Corinthians 3:16.

Such interpretations seek to understand the mystery of divine election which began with Israel and climaxed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The history of divine election includes Israel's disobedience by depending on human achievement rather than divine mercy which led to their rejection of Jesus, and will climax in the salvation of “all Israel” (Romans 11:26). The point at which interpretations differ is the meaning of all Israel. Is spiritual Israel the church, Israel of all generations from Abraham to the end of time, Jews at the end of the ages, or the remnant of believing Jews included in the church or brought into the church in the last days? Many interpretations have been made. What is certain is that God in His grace of election opens the door to salvation by faith to all people regardless of the race or tradition out of which they come.

J. William Thompson and Trent C. Butler
Holman Bible Dictionary
© Holman Bible Dictionary. Published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved.

Links >>


History • Doctrines • Links • PDF Files

Copyright © 2007-2020 Christian Ministries. All Rights Reserved