Complementary Hermeneutics And The Early Church -- By: Bruce A. Baker

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 07:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: Complementary Hermeneutics And The Early Church
Author: Bruce A. Baker

Complementary Hermeneutics And The Early Church

Bruce A. Baker

Pastor, Open Door Bible Church
Belton, Missouri

The Major Issues


In the years prior to 1986, the major distinction between dispensationalism and other schools of theology was clear. Hermeneutics was the primary issue. Dispensationalists appealed to a consistent literal1 interpretation of the sacred texts so that Israel always meant national, ethnic Israel, and the Church always meant God’s redeemed people since Pentecost. Even those who were antagonistic to dispensationalism recognized that the real issue was a hermeneutical one. O. T. Allis, for example, writes:

One of the most marked features of Premillennialism in all its forms is the emphasis which it places on the literal interpretation of Scripture. It is the insistent claim of its advocates that only when interpreted literally is the Bible interpreted truly; and they denounce as “spiritualizers” or “allegorizers” those who do not interpret the Bible with the same degree of literalness as they do. None have made this charge more pointedly than the Dispensationalists. The question of literal ver-

sus figurative interpretation is, therefore, one which has to be faced at the very outset … .2

Allis goes on to say:

Literal interpretation has always been a marked feature of Premillennialism; in Dispensationalism it has been carried to an extreme. We have seen that this literalism found its most thoroughgoing expression in the claim that Israel must mean Israel, and that the Church was a mystery, unknown to the prophets and first made known to the apostle Paul. Now if the principle of interpretation is adopted that Israel always means Israel, that it does not mean the Church, then it follows of necessity that practically all of our information regarding the millennium will concern a Jewish or Israelitish age.3

Thus it is Allis’s contention that if one adopts a dispensational hermeneutic, one will “of necessity” come to a dispensational conclusion.

After 1986 and the introduction of progressive dispensationalism, however, the contention that hermeneutics is the primary distinction between dispensationalism and other schools of theology has been largely abandoned. Robert Saucy notes:

Non-dispensationalists are often accused of using a spiritualizing or even an allegorizing method of biblical interpretation, especia...

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