Pristine Grace

The Tragedy of Early Dispensationalism
by Bob Higby

The Tragedy of Early Dispensationalism

     The original teaching of 'christianese' dispensationalism is not to be found in 19th century prophetic speculation regarding two separate peoples of God. Instead, it is clearly rooted in the Way of the first century that professed belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. The original eleven apostles did not at first interpret the words of Christ regarding the destruction of Jerusalem to mean that prophecies of future glory for physical Israel were ended. They did not perceive OT prophecies of latter-day salvation as strictly fulfilled in the gospel bringing experiential salvation to the nations. They were fully aware that their ministry was to extend beyond the borders of Judea and Samaria (Mat. 28:19), however, at the same time they fully expected a literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy regarding Jerusalem as the centerpiece of the renewed kingdom.

John 16:12-14 (KJV):
12 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. 
13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. 
14 He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.


Acts 1:6-8 (KJV):
6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 
7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 
8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 

Acts 15:1-5 (KJV)
1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.
5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

Acts 15:13-21 (KJV):
13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 
14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 
15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 
16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 
17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 
18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 
19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 
20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 
21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. 

Galatians 2:6-9 (KJV):
6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: 
7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; 
8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles. 
9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

     The historical compromise agreed to at the time of the famed 'Jerusalem council' was NOT according to what Christ had commanded the eleven apostles before his ascension. He never told them that they were to go and preach only 'unto the circumcision.' That was a delusion that the Holy Spirit took away from their thinking over a long time. It is true that on a much earlier occasion Christ had told them to preach only to the Jews (Mt. 10:5-6), however, that command applied strictly to that time and place. The gospel was not yet to extend to the nations at that point because Jesus had not yet been glorified following his death.

     At the time of the Acts 15 'settlement' there were clearly two views on Gentile salvation among the Jews professing Christ. The radicals mentioned at the start of Acts 15 were NOT dispensationalists; they clearly believed that the ONLY way of salvation was in keeping the old Jewish law. In contrast, the apostles in Jerusalem and the party of James believed that the nations could be saved without becoming Jews. They were forced to admit the reality of experiential salvation coming to the Gentiles through the apostleship and ministry of Paul. However, they also fully believed that God would restore the kingdom to Israel through a Jewish elect community who would keep the whole law and also believe in Jesus Christ. This elect people would remain distinct from the rest of the saved elect among the nations. Hence the party of James were clearly dispensationalists in their teaching and belief. For a long time the original apostles went along with such teaching; they perceived their ministry as 'unto the circumcision.' They were correct that their ORIGINAL ministry was indeed to the Jews, however, they did not yet perceive that their later ministry was going to include the nations at large. Conversely, Paul was chosen as the original apostle to the Gentiles but he was not to forever remain alone in that capacity.

     Understanding the historical situation of early Jewish dispensationalism provides a much clearer backdrop for interpreting the conflict between Paul and Peter mentioned in Galatians 2. Peter tried to stand on both sides of the fence; he clearly was drawn to the experiential liberty resulting from Paul's gospel of sola fide but also wanted to please the dispensationalists from James. He wanted to be part of both the Jewish and the Gentile elect! But according to the doctrine of James this was impossible; those committed to preach the gospel to the 'circumcision' had to stay part of elect Judaism and practice the whole law. So they were not to eat non-kosher food in fellowship with Gentile believers.

One of the obvious great sins of the Jerusalem Way was in failing to condemn, denounce, and excommunicate the radicals completely. Because this was not done, the radicals forever claimed that the founder of their Judaized 'christianity' was James--the true 12th apostle. Paul was openly declared by them to be an enemy of the truth. Their movement spread throughout the Greek-speaking world and they founded many whore churches of non-elect souls upon their heresy. It is the conviction of this writer that the epistle known as James was compiled by a post-apostolic Hellenistic author addressing the situation in these false Jewish churches; hence the extreme emphasis on the rich/poor distinction that did not exist in the Jerusalem Way. 

     Later views on a distinction between Jewish and Gentile destinies in Christ are only a resurrection of the early doctrine of James. Peter, John, and all of the other true apostles of Christ rejected this doctrine in the long run. Once the full light of the implications of the gospel dawned on their souls, they left Jerusalem and ministered to the nations in the same manner as Paul. Dispensationalism is not present in any of their writings. In fact, the opposite doctrine is taught throughout. Matthew records Christ as teaching that Judaism as an elect nation of God will be no more (Mat. 21:33-45). The gospel, epistles, and apocalypse of John are written to a Jewish and Gentile union of the elect with no distinction made; likewise the epistles of Peter and the Petrine gospel of Mark. The testimony of history is that God ended the delusion of early dispensationalism; a false teaching that James the Just tragically never gave up to his dying day.