Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period Part 1 Israel and the Church in the Ante-Nicene Fathers -- By: Larry V. Crutchfield

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 144:575 (Jul 1987)
Article: Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period Part 1 Israel and the Church in the Ante-Nicene Fathers
Author: Larry V. Crutchfield


Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period
Part 1
Israel and the Church in the Ante-Nicene Fathers

Larry V. Crutchfield

Bible Instructor
Baumholder Military Community, Baumholder, West Germany

The Fundamental Issue

One of the charges commonly leveled against dispensationalists is that theirs is an entirely new doctrine having no historical antecedents before the Plymouth Brethren leader John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). “No dispensational writer,” declares Clarence B. Bass, “has ever been able to offer…a single point of continuity between what is today known as dispensationalism and the historic premillennial view.”1 Not only is it claimed that there is no point of continuity, but as Millard J. Erickson asserts, “No trace of this theology can be found in the early history of the church.”2

However, dispensationalists like Charles C. Ryrie and Arnold D. Ehlert maintain that “features” or rudimentary concepts of dispensational theology were held by the Fathers of the early

church and later by certain individuals after the Reformation.3 While they readily admit that modern, systematized dispensationalism must be traced to Darby,4 they nonetheless insist that there are historical and theological antecedents for this system of theology to be found as early as the patristic era, especially before the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325.

This is not to suggest that in the church’s early history her leaders were dispensationalists in the modern sense of the word. Principles of hermeneutics, for example, were inconsistently applied and the science of biblical interpretation was in a state of flux throughout this period. In addition to this, the doctrine of eschatology has been one of the last doctrines to come to the fore as a topic for theological discussion.5 In light of the relative recency of systematized eschatology, it is not surprising to find confusion on the subject in the early church. However, many of the Fathers set forth principles that later evolved into dispensationalism.

Four elementary features of dispensationalism are found in the early church: (1) the year-day, or sex-/septa-millennial tradition;6 (2) belief in God’s dispensational arrangements with mankind throughout salvation history; (3) the premillennial return of Christ; and (4) a return of Christ believed to be imminent.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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