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Theological Interpretation of Scripture (The Framework)

There are two general theological systems used for understanding and interpreting the Scriptures; the Covenantal System and the Dispensational System. For a more detailed discussion of the problems with covenant theology refer to Chafer's Systematic Theology.

Table 1 compares some of the distinctive features of these two theological systems.

One of the key areas of profound difference in the above two theological systems is in relation to the distinction between Israel and the Church. Table 2 summarizes some of these differences.

Figure 1 shows the relationship between the Church and the covenants.

Figure 2 shows the actual dispensations.

Table 1 - Comparison of the Two Theological Systems

 

Covenantal

Dispensational

Date Founded in the 17th century Founded in the 19th century
Founders Reformation theologian J.Cocceius Brethren theologian J.N. Darby
Churches Reformed churches Fundamental Evangelical churches
Biblical Exposition Figurative interpretation of much of Scripture. The normal literal interpretation of Scripture
Primary Focus Man and the salvation of man God and the glory of God
Israel Israel has been replaced by the Church Israel is distinct from the Church
Position Earthly Heavenly
The Law Under the Law of Moses Under Grace and not under the Law
God's Time Periods Considers two periods - that before the Fall, and that after the Fall. Considers several periods marked out by God's covenants. The church occupies a distinct period
Theological Validity Only that of the early church or the Reformation theologians The Bible only. Non Reformed theologians are no less credible than those of the Reformation
Primary Bible Emphasis Gospels Epistles
Church Teaching The Law of Moses and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels Primarily the Epistles which were written directly to the Church
Christian Growth Man is responsible to obey the Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, the Law, and the Creeds The basis is the new life in the Spirit and the believer's identification with Christ's death and resurrection
Christ's Resurrection Not given primacy The basis for the new life in Christ
Holy Spirit He is not given primacy over the believer's obedience to the Bible He is vital for every area of the new life. It is not I but Christ.
Christian Blessing Focused on this life and earthly blessings The Christian has every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies
Millennium Amillennial, derived from the Roman Catholic idea that the Church is the Kingdom Millennial. There will be a literal future reign of Christ on the earth
Social Responsibility Improvement of society This world will end in destruction

Table 2 - Differences Between Israel and the Church

 

Israel

The Church

Extent of Bible Israel occupies ~ 85% of the Bible The Church occupies ~ 15% of the Bible.
The Divine Purpose God's purpose for Israel is earthly, and they will continue as a nation on the earth when it is created anew God's purpose for the Church is heavenly, and she will continue as the bride of Christ in the new heavens
Birth Israelites become what they are by physical birth.  Each one is born from human parents and their future inheritance is from their parents Christians become what they are by spiritual birth. Their new birth is by God and they are His children. Their inheritance is immediate from God
Nationality Israel belongs to the earth and to the world-system.  Though above all nations in God's reckoning, they are still in the world as one of its nations The Church is composed of all nations, including Israelites, and has no citizenship here, but instead the believers are strangers and pilgrims.
Ministry Israel was to be a witness for God to all the nations of the earth.  However, she undertook no missionary work, and proclaimed no gospel The Church is to be a witness for Christ in the world. Her members are given the task of evangelizing the people of the world
The Death of Christ The nation rejected Christ giving him to the sacrificial death of the cross; yet they will be saved as a nation on the basis of that same sacrifice A present and perfect salvation to the praise of God is the portion of the Church through the offering of Jesus Christ on the cross
The Father To Israel God is known by His primary titles, but not as the Father of the individual Israelite The Christian is actually begotten of God and has every right to address Him as Father
Christ To Israel, Christ is Messiah, Immanuel, and King To the Church, Christ is Savior, Lord, Bridegroom, Head, and Life
The Holy Spirit The Holy Spirit occasionally came temporarily upon individuals to carry out unusual tasks All born again Christians are permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit
Governing Principle For fifteen centuries the Law of Moses was Israel 's rule of daily life Members of the Body of Christ are under the principle of God's grace and are not under the law
Divine Enablement The Law provided no enabling power. There was constant failure because of the weakness of the flesh to which the Law was addressed The indwelling Holy Spirit enables the believer to live the victorious new life imparted from the risen Christ
Christ's Return He returns as King to gather Israel into the land He returns for His Bride and takes her with Him into heaven's glory
Position Israel was declared to be God's servant Christians are members of the family and household of God
Christ's Reign Israelites are appointed to be subjects of the King in His earthly kingdom The church will reign from heaven with Christ over His future earthly kingdom
Priesthood Israel has a priesthood The Church is a priesthood
Judgment Israel must yet come into judgment The Church will not come into judgment because Christ has born that judgment

Figure 1 - Relationship of the Church to the Covenants

Church and Covenants
 

Figure 2 - The Dispensations

Dispensations
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