Dispensational Distortions – That is Quite a Gap

07Jan12

That’s Quite a Gap

I remember the first time I saw a Dispensational Timeline graph. These popular posters or pamphlets sport a timeline of proposed events that run from nearly 500 years before Christ all the way up until some time in our near future.

The most famous may be the ones created by Clarence Larkin in his work, Dispensational Truth. I remember my best friend Steve and I were looking for something to read during a Sunday Night service when we were in Junior High. Perusing the carousel of tracts out in the Church foyer we found one with many charts from Mr. Larkin and the graphs and Bible verses caught my eye and my interest.

During the service I started to seriously read one particular graph describing the timeline of the book of Daniel. As I recall the picture was that of a large stature that was patterned after the image from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the four part statue. The timeline described how the first nation represented by the head of gold was that of Nebuchadnezzar’s own nation Babylon. This would be followed by the nation of Medo-Persia, then Greece then Rome.

But then the image changed in quite a bizarre way. The toes of the stature stretched across the entire timeline of history all the way up to the present and into the future. The printed information informed me that the toes represented the revived Roman Empire that would be reestablished during the “end times” and there the final footnote (pun intended) of history would be written.

It was explained to me that since the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah the Kingdom which was to appear as a rock formed not with hands that was to come and crush the fourth empire (Rome) was postponed until the future when the Roman Empire was revived and then would meet her end with the return of Christ.

When I asked the Pastor as that time he informed that this coincided with Daniel’s 70 week prophecy of Daniel chapter 9. There I heard of 70 weeks of years equaling 490 years. The time went up to the time of Christ except the final week which was postponed until the revived Roman Empire and the rapture of the Church.

I was confused!

But of all of the information I remember from that graphic the most startling was the toes the stretched from the first century all the way into some time into my future. And all I could ever think if from that day forward was “those are some really long toes!”

 

THE GAP THEORY

One the most interesting and completely exclusive characteristic to Dispensationalism is the concept known as the Gap Theory. Also called the Parenthesis Theory, this characteristic is the lynchpin to the entire Dispensational system. And the idea is exclusive in that no other view of eschatology shares this distinction. It is unique, original and a very recent development when set against the timeline of Church history.

Just what is the Gap Theory?

The gap theory teaches that the totality of Messianic prophecy can be found in four verses in the 9th chapter of Daniel. These verses describe a span of 490 years and supposedly teach the introduction and fulfillment of the Messianic Kingdom. The first 483 years ran in perfect succession, but when the Jews rejected Jesus, the final seven years were “postponed” until some time in our future creating a “gap” in the timeline of biblical history. When the church is raptured the “prophetic clock,” which was stopped at Christ’s first coming will resume and the seven final years of the Jewish economy will commence during a time knows as the Great Tribulation.

The quick thumbnail sketch above should serve as a definition for this unique proposition and we will flesh out the details of this view both here and later in the book when we discuss Daniel chapter 9 and the 70 week prophecy.

But before continuing with the discussion of this unique view it is important to note we are not overstating the importance of this characteristic to the Dispensational view. Note the quotes below by leading dispensationalist as to the importance of understanding the Gap Theory and the idea of the postponement of the Kingdom of God.

“All prophecy stopped at the end of the 69th week” CI Scofield

“[the] interpretation of Daniel 9 is of major importance to pretribulationism” John Walvoord

“no other utterance is more crucial” David McClain

“[Daniel 9 is] the indispensable chronological key to all New Testament prophecy” Dwight  Pentecost

“No other portion of Old Testament prophecy is more important to the Dispensational understanding of the future than Daniel’s 70 week prophecy…the entire system rests on this passage…” Charles Ryrie

Notice the emphasis Ryrie gives this passage. Much like the previous chapter where Mr. Ryrie announced that Dispensational system rests upon the Church/Israel distinction, here he argues that the defining passage that would account for these distinctions in Daniel 9. So, according to Ryrie the entire system rests on this passage.

Unfortunately this is also a passage that is confusing, difficult and troubling. Not only that it was not until 100 years ago or so ago that this passage was understood in the same way the Dispensationalist teach it. That means this pivotal and crucial chapter went unheeded and misunderstood for the first 1800 years of Church history.

We will not be presenting a exegesis of the passage in question at this point since the focus here is on the Dispensational creation of a gap or parenthesis of time between the 69th and 70th weeks. We will, though, present a more detailed exposition of the passage when we address the Abomination of Desolation as discussed by Jesus in the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24.

Let us consider the passage in question and see what problems arise from the Dispensational expectation. We will also examine Daniel 2 and the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s stature.

Daniel 9:24  “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.25Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolate.”

The above is how it actually appears in the book of Daniel. Below is the exact same passage as it appears in the Dispensational paradigm.

Daniel 9:  24  “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.25Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.

(2000 + Years)

And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolate.”

So just what are the problems with the position that allows for the gap or parenthesis of time? There are five basic problems with the Dispensational Gap theory as expressed in Daniel 9.

  1. Nothing n the passage allows for a gap of any length, let alone over 2,000 years, to be inserted into the passage. When a time text is used within a prophetic passage it must be fulfilled within the time constraints of that passage or the trustworthiness of the word of God can come into question.

There are divisions of time within the framework of the passage including a division of time lasting 7 “weeks,” 62 “weeks” and one “week.” Some Dispensationalist have argued that this linguistic division allows for a literal division of time and to view those divisions as potentially separate epochs of time is acceptable.

The problem here, though, is that there are no commentators that try and argue that there is a gap of parenthesis of time between the seven and 62 weeks. The only place in which a gap is inserted is between the 69th and 70th weeks. This is purely arbitrary given the nature of the passage and the construct which demands that 490 years have been determined to complete those items listed within the context.

  1. Nowhere else in Scripture is a gap of time inserted into a time text driven prophecy. There are examples throughout the scriptures in which God delays and promised event such as in the delay of the destruction of Nineveh. But within these delays we discover that God originally set the timing with one condition or another.

In the case of Nineveh we are told from the beginning that if Nineveh is to repent then the promised destruction within 40 days would be avoided. But in all similar cases the condition is listed and God reveals that a delay has been provided for and/or fulfilled. There are no cases in which an arbitrary delay of gap is inserted without explanation of condition.

  1. A gap calls into question the trustworthiness of God and God’s supposed knowledge of future events. By this I mean that if God determines through His prophet to declare that a particular event or events will take place within a specific deadline then those events must take place within the time parameters or God must be considered a liar.
  1. A gap calls God’s sovereignty into question along with omniscience as it makes His knowledge of the future look quite limited. This also impacts the understanding we may have about God’s knowledge of future events. If an “unknown” parenthesis of time is to be inserted into this passage then one must ask whether god was truly familiar with the events of the future. If God knew that Jews would reject Jesus and need to postpone the 70th week but did not make the information available to His prophets then God is a liar. If He did not know that the Jews would reject Jesus as Messiah necessitating the insertion of the proposed gap, then God’s omniscience is in doubt.

The Dispensationalist is on the horns of a dilemma as by placing a gap into the passage in question He has placed two severe doubts in the mind of the reader regarding the nature and power of God Almighty.

  1. What about the 70 year captivity? In the passage Daniel references the soon coming end of the 70 year captivity. He is praying for God’s direction as the time of the Babylonian exile was coming to a close. In fact, the 70 years of seven is the basis for the 490 years. What if after 75 years Daniel and the Israelites were still being held in captivity? Would not Daniel question God’s veracity?

Would you believe that God would respond with…”Hey Daniel…I just put a “gap” in between year 69 and 70. When you are released that will be the 70th year!” That would obviously be foolishness and so is placing an unknown, indeterminable gap in the Daniel passage.

The only reason the gap is inserted is because it is necessary for the dispensational timeline to work. It is not exegetically valid and should be abandoned for the sake of the truth.

REALLY LONG TOES

As we close out this chapter we will look very quickly at the previously mentioned stature dream found in Daniel 2.

Daniel 2:31″You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. 32The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, 33its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.”

The above passage deals with the four great kingdoms leading up to the Roman Empire. Because of the necessity to place a gap of 2,000 plus years, there is also a need for the toes of the final kingdom to be stretched over the same two millennia and into the future until the rise of the revived Roman Empire.

This is what Gary DeMar called Silly Putty Exegesis; stretching the passage to make it fit your system rather than making your system fit the Scriptures! Just as in the above discussion of the gap, or parenthesis of time, inserted into Daniel 9, the Dispensationalist is forced to insert a gap into Daniel 2. This is done despite the fact that there is no exegetical reason for this.

This is a blatant practice of esiegesis, which is the importation of ideas into a text rather than allowing the text, its context and the panoply of Scripture to dictate the interpretation of the passage. As mentioned previously there is no warrant for an insertion of a gap here or anywhere is Scripture and to do so is to force upon the word of God something that it is not stating.

When we discuss the Olivet Discourse we will readdress many of the concerns listed here and also deal with the inevitable problems of the Dispensational esiegesis of this and other passage to make the timing fit their system.

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3 Responses to “Dispensational Distortions – That is Quite a Gap”

  1. 1 john

    Excellent job exposing the flaws in dispensationalism. I do have an objection to your post though. What is your basis for assuming Rome is the forth kingdom in Daniel’s vision? The author mentions four empires by name (Babylon, Media, Persia and Greece). All visions within the book follow the same patterns whereby each kingdom is presented one after the other. There seems to be no room to insert Rome. Also, since the work was composed during the Seleucid era, this would also fit the termination of the prophecy to be with Greece.

    Great post,
    John

    • 2 low5point

      One would be hard pressed to find anyone that separates the two nations as they grew in prominence together, but had to world power stance until they merged. Some argue this was done by Cyrus and I do not have much to argue against that. But I have yet to find anyone that does not combine them as one nation given that they did not gain the prominence needed to be considered a “great” nation until they merged.

      They are almost always seen as one nation with the name Medo-Persia.

      Also, I date the call to restore from the call by Artaxerxes II because it was his call under Nehemiah that was to restore the city (which the what is described in Dan 9), while the call for restoration under Cyrus was just to rebuild the Temple.

      Given the Messianic nature of the prophecy and its description of the end of God’s dealing exclusively with the nation of Israel, the timing of Artaxerxes call also leads us directly to the time of Christ.

  2. Wow! I have been writing about this for years! I got excommunicated from an Amillennial church in 1983 and am working with others to establish churches where Christ is front and sent and prophecy is early Christian. Please see my site @ http://www.atavistbiblicalchurch.com. It would be great if we could collaborate. Let me know.


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