The Leaven of Ultradispensationalism

  • What New Testament Books are Relevant to Christians?
  • Was there Another Legitimate Gospel?
  • Did Paul only preach to Gentiles?
  • Were Old Testament Saints justified by the Law, or were they also under Grace?
  • And indeed is the Old Testament relevant to Christians?
  • Who are "Abraham's seed"? Only Jewish Christians, or Gentiles also?
  • Are Christians under the Abrahamic Covenant?
  • Does Paul declare that Old Testament (Jewish) saints were jusfied by faith?
  • Well then what was the difference between Jew and Gentile?
  • Paul applies the Law of Moses to Christians
  • Paul reckons God's dealing with Israel in the Law to be relevant to Christians
  • What is the present and future role of physical Israel?
  • Underlying motivation of Ultradispensationalism
  • Covenant Theology
  • The New Covenant
  • What New Testament Books are Relevant to Christians?

    Much as I have treated the whole New Testament as being relevant to Christians, yet some people among those who hold an "ultradispensational" theology propose that certain books in the New Testament should not be applied to Christians.

    There are some who propose that the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) should be cut out. There are those who go further and propose that other books should be cut out of the Christian life, like Hebrews and some go on to cut out John's writings and Peter's, even eliminating the whole New Testament, including what Jesus said, except for Paul's writings.

    In this paper I would like to consider whether such an idea has any merit from a Biblical standpoint. And by "Biblical" I mean whether such an idea is internally consistent with what the whole Bible says. I will presume that none of the writers of the Bible were heretics teaching false doctrine. And there is nothing in the Bible where such accusations of heresy were made between the writers. Rather they tend to affirm one another.  We see an example of this in

    2Peter 3:15,16 "Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."
    There are those who propose that because Paul agreed to make the Gentiles his main ministry target and the other apostles the Jews, that therefore the message to Jews is not relevant to Gentiles. And therefore the letters of Peter only apply to Jews. Yet we find even in this verse in 2nd Peter he says, "Paul also wrote you" Though Peter and Paul for a time focused on a different ministry target, their essential message was the same. To say that the letters of John, Peter are not relevant to Christians today is like saying that the book of Corinthians is not relevant today because that was then, this is now or that it was addressed to the Corinthians Christians and not to 21st Century Christians. Yes there are things in the letters particular to the people addressed. For example Paul writes to Timothy, "When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments."2 Timothy 4:13  Does that mean that I as a 21st Century Christian must now go Troas to try and find Paul's cloak for him? No! But does that mean that the whole book of 1st Timothy is not relevant to me? No! But "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." Col 3:11

    The differences between Jews and Gentiles are like those between slaves and freemen. They have to do only with things on the surface. But there is only one gospel of salvation for all. Yes there are things spoken particular to Jews, but the promises are fulfilled in Christ.

    Was there Another Legitimate Gospel?

    Is there a gospel to the Jews which is fundamentally different than that preached to the Gentiles? There are those who say there is because they cannot resolve the paradox between a number of Jesus' teachings or that of some of the apostles with that of the teachings of Paul. Whereas I propose that they have simply misunderstood some aspects of Paul's message. Is there a different means of justification for the Jews compared to that for the Gentiles? No! Even Paul affirms that.
    Romans 1:16  "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."
    Paul condemned as heretics those who preach any other gospel than his. "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" Galatians 1:8 And since we presume he does not reckon the other apostles to be be eternally condemned, we can logically conclude that since he affirms there is only one gospel and no other, that his is indeed the same as Jesus and the other apostles.

    Did Paul only preach to Gentiles?

    As we've seen in Romans 1:16, his gospel applied to Jews and Gentiles. And Peter in 2nd Peter acknowledged Paul's writings to be relevant to his readers as well. And if we examine Paul's writings indeed they often address Jews as well as Gentiles as in Romans chapter 2 and 3. And in practice the book of Acts reveals that Paul, upon entering a city would often preach to the Jews first. But let us examine the book of Romans more thoroughly, as it is often viewed as a rather comprehensive presentation of Paul's gospel. In it does Paul present a different means of justification for Jews than for Gentiles? No!
    "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." Romans 10:1-4

    "For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-- the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Rom 10:12,13

    "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Rom 3:20-24

    Were Old Testament Saints justified by the Law, 
    or were they also under a covenant of Grace? 
    And indeed is the Old Testament relevant to Christians?

    Galatians 2:16 "know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be  justified." (Here Paul as a Jew is speaking to Peter as a Jew)

    Galatians 3:11 "Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, The righteous will live by faith." (quoting Habakkuk 2:4, yet applying it to all - both Jews and Gentiles)

     Galatians 3:21-24 "if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." (Here Paul states that no law was ever given that could justify a person,and therefore no one in the Old Testament was ever justified by obeying a law)

    Who are "Abraham's seed"? Only Jewish Christians, or Gentiles also?

    Galatians 3:28,29 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

    Rom 9:6-8 "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring."

    The above verse in Galatians clarifies this to incorporated not only Jewish Christians, but Gentiles as well. But in fact it eliminates Jewish unbelievers from being reckoned children of Abraham. The distinction is not Jew versus Gentile, but rather believer versus unbeliever. The Jew - Gentile distinction is irrelevant when it comes whether one is regarded as Abraham's offspring. That's what the Bible teaches. Futhermore this verse in Romans 9:6 not only equates "Abraham's offspring" with just believers (regardless of ethnic background), but also equates such with "Israel".

    This is particular significant in that while some ultradispensationalists propose that there was a message to "Israel" which is not relevant to Christians and that only Paul's writings are relevant to Christians, Paul himself reckons the whole Christian community of believers to be "Israel", regardless of their ethnic backgound!

    But what is this "promise" that Paul speaks of and applies to Christians?

    Are Christians under the Abrahamic Covenant?

    In Galatians Paul goes on to say:

    "He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.  Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.  For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise." Galatians 3:14-18

    Christians are under the Abrahamic covenant. The covenant of grace made to Abraham was never nullified. It preceeded the Law of Moses and was in existence during the time the Jews were under the Law of Moses and it exists today. What is different? Simply that it has been more fully revealed. The gospel of grace that Paul preached was a revealing of what was in effect all the time. I will elaborate on these concepts later, but my point is that even in the Old Testament salvation by faith was in effect.

    Does Paul declare that Old Testament (Jewish) saints were jusfied by faith?

    In fact in illustrating salvation by faith Paul gives an example from an Old Testament Jew - King David, saying "David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.'" Romans 4:6-8 In fact if we read the next verse "Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? ", it was apparent in Paul's mind that the issue was not whether Old Testament saints were jusfied by faith, but whether that principle applied to Gentiles. There is no basis for ultradispensationalists to propose that there ever was a time when Jews were justified by the Law. Paul then goes on to used Abraham as an example of a Gentile also justified by faith.

    Well then what was the difference between Jew and Gentile?

    Not status, but Role! Paul himself being ethnically a Jew clarified this somewhat.
    "What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! [Primarily being] that they have been entrusted with the very words of God." Rom 3:1,2
    The Jews were a symbolic microcosm of the Church. They were like actors playing a part in a drama which symbolized something bigger. They were entrusted with the responsiblity to carry the Word of God down through history till the coming of the Messiah. They were to provide an environment through which the Messiah could fulfill his mission. And God's interaction with them also incorporates what is reckoned God's revealed Word.

    But God was really speaking to all people through the Jews. In particular the promises given Israel have relevance to Christians. Yes it is true that we have to consider the issue of literalness in inferring applications from the Old Testament. For just as the play is symbolic, so also it is not so much what is literally said that is applicable to the audience (the Church), but rather the spritual meaning. But there are many examples of this in the New Testament.

    Paul applies the Law of Moses to Christians

    For example, while in Galatians Paul vehemently denies that anyone can be justified by obedience to the Law of Moses, nonetheless he does infer applications from the Law of Moses and applies them to Christians (Yes, even to Gentile Christians!) A case in point is where twice he quotes Deut 25:4 and applies it to Christians:
    1 Corinthians 9:9  For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned?

    1 Timothy 5:18  For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages."

    In these cases he applies it to justify Christians being payed for Christian service. He also goes back to Genesis to apply verses related to the proper role relationships between men and women. (1Tim 2:11-14; 1Cor 14:34) The whole Bible is relevant to Christians.

    Paul reckons God's dealing with Israel
    in the Law to be relevant to Christians

    Paul inferred applications from the books of Exodus and Numbers, applying them to Christians (Yes, even Gentile Christians)

    1Cor 10:1-6 "For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. ..."

    Is the "play" still ongoing?
    (What is the present and future role of physical Israel?)

    Unbelieving Jews are Children of the Flesh and are not under the New Covenant but are only under the covenant of law. As unbelievers they shall "never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son."

    Galatians 4:
    22 it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.
    23  His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
    24  These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.
    25  Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.
    26  But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.
    27  For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband." {27 Isaiah 54:1}
    28  Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
    29  At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.
    30  But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son."

    The free woman's son incorporates not just believing Jews, but all believers, as the context indicates. (The people he's writing to happen to be primarily Gentiles)

    What about believing Jews? They are incorporated into the Christian community, there being no difference between Jew and Gentile believer on essential matters.

    And also there will be a time in the future when a mass of unbelieving Jews will become believers and inherit the New Covenant promises.

    "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.  And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins." Rom 11:25-27
    In Romans we find Paul speaking of "Israel" in two different senses. Previously I showed him speaking of "Israel" as being equivalent to the Church. But here he speaks of it in an ethnic sense, incorporating only Jews. (The part which is hardened is the unbelieving Jews) "All Israel" refers not to Israel of all time, but all Jews living at a certain time - the return of Christ - will come to believe.

    Should believing Jews follow the Law of Moses? That's a bit of a gray area, but I think that the apostle Paul serves an excellent example to follow, as he was not only a Jew, but a Jew of the strictest sect - the Pharisees, and had studied Judaism under Gamaliel, a well-known Jewish teacher. This is his practice:

    "To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law."1Cor 9:20,21

    What is the underlying motivation behind those who through false theology attempt to eliminate much of the Bible as being irrelevant to the Christian life?

    Of course when we speak of motivation we move into the realm of speculation and must be careful not to slander. However it has been my observation that two kinds of people hold this kind of view. One kind are the ultra-legalists. They generally align themselves with the group of the circumcision whom Paul condemned, and reckon Paul to be a heretic, but generally accept the synoptic gospels, but reject John and and Paul's writings, holding sometimes a rather ambiguous position on the other letters.

    The other group are the free-grace easy-believism ultradispensational Calvinists (Not all Calvinists, but a subset). They generally reject any scripture that implies there being any correlation between salvation and behavior. They mainly accept Paul's writings and the gospel of John  and not much more. Naturally they have some trouble when Paul himself speaks of there being a correlation between salvation and behavior (such as 1Cor 6:9,10), as well as 1st John which is very explicit on the matter, for which reason some reject 1st John as well. Such passages in the letters they do accept, they attempt to get around through bizzare interpretations, not keeping to sound principles of interpretation.

    Their proposition is that the faith that saves is a trivial thing and that there is not necessarily any correlation between belief and behavior. To them if a person "prays to receive Christ", or in some cases like in "The Recovery Movement" (Watchman Nee's group) if a person simply says the words "O Lord Jesus", he is reckoned saved regardless of whether the person continues in the faith and regardless of whether or not they go on to live a lifestyle of sin.

    I've written extensively on these issues of saving faith and How to Become a Christian and so forth. But let's consider just a few verses just from John and Paul's writings here on the matter, which they can't so easily cast aside:

    The faith that qualifies one for salvation is an enduring faith:

    1Cor 15:2 "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain."

    Col 1:22,23 "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel."

    There is a correlation between one's behavior and one's salvation status.

    1Cor 6:9,10 "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (In fact verse 11 indicates that they did indeed change their behavior after being saved)

    1John 3:9,10 "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." (John is speaking in a lifestyle sense as indicated by the greek tense)

    And I would like to ask the ultra-dispensationalists under what dispensation do you believe what John says was true? Is it not true of Christians today? Yes indeed!

    Those who are immature in their understanding of these concepts might be led to believe that these speak of a works-based salvation, whereas in reality they are speaking not of obtaining a salvation status, but of revealing it. ("This is how we know" is quite a different idea than "This is how we obtain".) Simply stated, once one has been born of God, it is inevitable that they will continue in the faith and in a lifestyle consistent with that faith. Yes it is true that Once Saved Always Saved as has written:

    "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.
    For if they had belonged to us, (Once Saved)
    they would have remained with us; (Always Saved)
    but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." 1John 2:19

    But what also it says here is that there are  inevitable outworkings, such as endurance of faith and endurance practicing the Christian life in the Christian community which reveal one has been born of God.

    Obedience to God's commands is an inevitable outworking of being born of God, as John says, "For this is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world." 1John 5:3,4 So if you're not overcoming then you've not been born of God.

    Yet these are heretical to many a "free-grace" type. For they reckon these ideas to be a gospel of legalism. They speak evil of things they don't understand.

    Covenant Theology

    Covenant theology is the idea that throughout history God has established two categories of covenants with mankind - Grace and Law. These were both present throughout history, but were revealed to different degrees and in different manners as history progressed. (Just as a side note, covenants are different than contracts. Contracts are benefit-oriented, while convenants are relationship-oriented)

    The basic principle behind the covenant of grace is that one is graciously reckoned righteous by faith.
    The basic principle behind the covenant of law is that one is reckoned righteous through obedience to a set of commands.

    The covenant of law never actually justified anyone, but God used it to bring conviction of sin and by doing so directed people to the covenant of grace. For this reason the covenant of law is often presented beside the covenant of grace. For example in the early chapters of Romans Paul speaks of the covenant of law so as to bring conviction of sin so as to prepare his readers to hear the covenant of grace. And Jesus does the same, as in responding to the rich man of Luke 18:18+. And this resolves many supposed contradictions that ultradispensationalists read into such texts.

    The New Covenant

    Lu 22:20  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."

    Mt 26:28  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

    1Co 11:25  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."

    From the context of Hebrews, it appears that this is the same as the new covenant mentioned in Hebrews. What was written to the Jewish Christians in Hebrews is applicable to Gentile Christians as well. For the only difference is one's ethnic background, which is not essential in matters of salvation.

    Heb 8:8  But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

    Hebrews 8:10-12 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

    This covenant is now in effect for all believers - Jew and Gentile alike. It will also be in effect for all Jews when all Jews become believers at the second coming. Unlike previous forms of the covenant of grace, this convenant incorporates not just the forgivness of sins (Justification), but also Sanctification (the inward transformation of the person affecting his outward behavior) and a personal relationship with God.

    Sanctification: "I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts."

    Personal Relationship: "No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest."

    Justification: "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

    These are all true for believers in Christ. This is the covenant in his blood.

    Verses quoted from the NIV version

    The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources