What is Dispensational Bible Study?
by Shawn Brasseaux
BEHOLD THE CONFUSION: RELIGIOUS TRADITION
Have you ever wondered why there is so much confusion and debate among and within “Christian” circles and churches? These professing Christians all quote the Bible, they all claim to believe the Bible, and yet, it is quite a surprise to learn that they all disagree regarding what the Bible actually teaches! All 38,000-plus denominations in Christendom claim to be serving and following “Jesus Christ,” and yet, they all believe mutually exclusive doctrines and practice opposing rites and rituals. How can they all be following Jesus Christ while all doing different things?! The Church the Body of Christ is supposed to be united; nevertheless, schisms, strife, and contradictions abound. Why?
Let me give you some of the most popular examples of the literally thousands of major arguments in Christendom:
- Many churches believe that faith and works are necessary for salvation, quoting Matthew 19:17 and James 2:24; the remainder of churches believe that salvation is by faith alone, using Romans 3:28, Romans 4:5, and Ephesians 2:8,9.
- Some groups believe that water baptism is necessary for salvation, relying on Mark 16:16 and 1 Peter 3:21; others hold that it is merely a testimony of salvation, citing Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38; still others do not water baptize at all, relying on 1 Corinthians 1:17, 1 Corinthians 12:13, and Ephesians 4:5.
- Some churches participate in “snake handling,” “devil exorcism,” “tongue talking” and “healing services,” citing Mark 16:17,18 and James 5:15; others completely reject those practices, quoting Romans 8:18, 1 Timothy 5:23, and 2 Timothy 4:20.
- Some churches argue that we must observe the Saturday Sabbath, citing Exodus 20:8-11, while others believe there is no Sabbath day to keep today, quoting Romans 6:14 and Colossians 2:16. (There are even groups that argue that we must observe Sunday, the alleged “Christian Sabbath!”)
- Some groups teach that Christians can lose their salvation, following Psalm 51:11, Matthew 24:13, and Hebrews 6:4-6; other groups believe Christians are eternally secure in Christ, relying on Romans 8:35-39, Ephesians 4:30, and 2 Timothy 1:12.
- Some churches teach tithing, according to Malachi 3:8-11, while other churches believe that we are not under an obligatory giving system, citing Romans 6:14 and 2 Corinthians 9:7.
- Some argue that we should confess our sins to God daily, quoting Matthew 6:12,14,15 and 1 John 1:9. Other groups believe that we should confess our sins to priests, using John 20:23 and James 5:16. Still, others believe that confession of sins is unnecessary because Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins and we are already forgiven of all of our sins, citing Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 2:13.
- Some groups say we are bound to keep the Mosaic Law, using Exodus 20:1-17 and 1 John 2:3,4, while others say we are under grace, not law, citing Romans 6:14 and Galatians 5:1-5.
Amazing huh? All of these groups are using Bible verses to support these opposing views!! How is this possible?! If the Bible has all of these conflicting views, then exactly what does God expect us to believe?! What is the solution to this abounding confusion and these so-called Bible “contradictions?” Firstly, understand that “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). The problem is not God’s Word; God’s Word is infallible, perfect, and completely sound. Sinful mankind and Satan, not God, are to blame for the gross theological errors and false teaching in Christendom. Never, ever blame God for the confusion that Satan and mankind generate using religious tradition and human “wisdom.”
If people would simply use the Bible God’s way, all of the doctrinal confusion in Christian circles would disappear. Alas, people prefer their religious tradition, so they do not care to submit to God’s Word. The Lord Jesus Christ rebuked the religious leaders of His day: “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition“ (Mark 7:9 KJV). These people approach God’s Word with denominational biases and reach denominational conclusions, instead of seeing what the Bible actually said and to whom it said it. What makes it all the more disturbing is that the pastors and teachers who should be dispelling confusion and doubt are only adding to the preexisting confusion by failing to use God’s Word God’s way themselves. These church leaders only teach God’s Word as their denominational system interprets it, instead of letting the Bible’s testimony speak for itself and mean what it says, where it says it, and to whom it says it.
BEHOLD THE SOLUTION: 2 TIMOTHY 2:15
If we use God’s Word, God’s way, there will be no contradictions and no confusion. The Bible will only make sense to you if you approach it the way God designed it to be studied (that is “rightly divided”). Read what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:15, as found in the King James Bible:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
The only verse in the Bible that tells you to “study” the Bible tells you how to study it. When you “rightly divide the word of truth,” you are recognizing the distinctions/divisions that God has made in His Word. Through various dispensations (sets of directions), God gave different instructions to various groups of people. (For instance, compare the differing diets that God gave in Genesis 1:27-29, Genesis 9:1-4, Leviticus 11:2, and 1 Timothy 4:3-5.) We must be careful to never insert directions into the dispensations in which they were never given. Confusion results when we combine all of the Bible’s instructions as though they were spoken to one group of people. There are several dispensations in Scripture given to different people at various times and we must never confuse them. It is this very failure to rightly divide the word of truth that gives rise to all of the conflicting doctrines (what we discussed in our introductory remarks).
Let us now discuss the basics of “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
THE TWO PROGRAMS IN GOD’S WORD
Genesis 1:1 KJV, the first verse in the Bible, reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” God divides the heaven from the earth. (This is true even at the end of the Bible, in Revelation 21:1.) Furthermore, God has designed one program to operate in each of these realms. There are two programs in the Bible: the “prophetic program” and the “mystery program.”
The Apostle Peter says in Acts 3:21 KJV that he is preaching that “which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 16:25,26a KJV that he is preaching “according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest….”
Obviously, if words mean anything, Peter and Paul are speaking of two different things. Something “spoken since the world began” cannot be the same as something “kept secret since the world began.”
The prophetic program focuses on the nation Israel and an earthly kingdom (Exodus 19:5,6; Deuteronomy 4:20), where Gentiles (non-Jews) receive salvation through that kingdom (Isaiah 60:1-3). On the other hand, the mystery program focuses on the Church the Body of Christ and a heavenly kingdom (Ephesians 2:6,7; Ephesians 1:22-23), where Gentiles receive salvation without Israel’s kingdom (Romans 11:11,12,25). Surely, if we are to avoid confusion, we must keep those two programs and their respective directions separated (“rightly divided”).
Sadly, most of Christendom combines all of these Bible verses into one program, ignoring the differences between the program that involves Israel’s kingdom and the mystery program that does not involve Israel’s kingdom. Again, this haphazard handling of the Bible is the source of the spiritual confusion and the alleged Bible “contradictions.” They are mixing opposing directions God gave in different dispensations (these directions were not given in the same dispensation).
Today, the Apostle Paul writes that the prophetic program that was operating in the “Old Testament,” the Four Gospels, and the early Acts period is temporarily suspended. We are currently living in the “Dispensation of the Grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2), the mystery program, which the Lord kept secret in the Old Testament but has since revealed it to mankind through the ministry of the Apostle Paul (Romans 16:25,26; Ephesians 3:1-11). Why did God hide it prior to Paul? It was to keep the devil from knowing His entire plan, so Satan could crucify Jesus Christ, and thereby would actually defeat himself (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)!
WHOM SHOULD WE FOLLOW TODAY?
It is often mistakenly assumed that we need to “follow Jesus” (that is, the red letters of the Four Gospels). Yet, when we consider the Scriptures, this makes no sense whatsoever. Can we sinners follow the sinless Lord Jesus Christ? OF COURSE NOT!
Romans 11:13 KJV says that Paul is “the apostle of the Gentiles.” As previously stated, the ascended Lord Jesus Christ revealed to Paul alone “the revelation of the mystery” (Romans 16:25,26), His secret (mystery) program to deal with the whole world (Jews and Gentiles) on the basis of grace and Christ’s finished crosswork on Calvary. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus Christ ministered to Jews only in Matthew through John (Matthew 10:5-7; Matthew 15:24; John 4:22; Romans 15:8). Jesus had no ministry to us Gentiles because He had to save Israel first! It is not until we come to Paul’s ministry when God begins to deal with Gentiles. This is one basic fact of Scripture that most church members have never been told.
Jesus Christ urged His followers to obey the Mosaic Law, and commanded them to teach others to do the same (Matthew 5:17-19). Contrariwise, God through Paul tells us, “ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14,15). Obviously, we cannot follow both of these instructions. We cannot follow Jesus’ earthly ministry because we are not Jews. Furthermore, “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more” (2 Corinthians 5:16). We do not know Jesus Christ after His earthly ministry (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Rather, we follow Him according to His heavenly ministry (as He is revealed in Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon).
God set forth Paul to be our “pattern” as to how we receive salvation (1 Timothy 1:15,16). In addition, Paul writes, “Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). In the Christian life, we follow Paul as he follows Christ. In Paul’s epistles alone we find the doctrine, duty, walk, and destiny of the Church the Body of Christ. Paul is God’s spokesman to you, just as Moses was God’s spokesman to Israel. If you want to learn what God has to say to you today, you must go to Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon. To reject Paul is to reject Christ who sent Paul to you, and to reject Christ is to reject God the Father (Matthew 10:40; John 13:20). Paul wrote: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). The test for spirituality today is NOT following Jesus in His earthly ministry, but obeying what God the Holy Spirit says today through the Apostle Paul.
YOUR CHRISTIAN LIFE AS A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH THE BODY OF CHRIST
We are not the nation Israel, for in our dispensation, Israel is temporarily “fallen,” “cast away,” and “spiritually blinded” (Romans 11:11,15,25). We Christians are members of the Church the Body of Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 1:22,23). What God has to say to us is different from what He told the nation Israel in the “Old Testament,” the Four Gospels, and the early part of Acts. It is important to understand how your Christian life operates as a non-Israelite, as a Gentile living in the Dispensation of the Grace of God and a member of the Church the Body of Christ. If you want to be spiritually “edified” (“strengthened”) and spiritually “perfected” (“matured”), you need to study and believe the Pauline epistles of Romans through Philemon (Ephesians 4:12).
God wants to “stablish” (stabilize) your Christian life and inner man by using a three-fold process. God wants you to understand the life that He has given to you in Christ Jesus, so that you can better understand what He is doing today, and then you can, by faith, follow Him and do the same. This is how we discover and do God’s will for our lives. The Bible says in Romans 16:25,26 KJV:
“25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:”
Notice the three-fold process of Christian edification:
- “my gospel“—Paul’s Gospel, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, is the foundation of the Christian life
- “the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery“—this is Paul’s epistles of Romans through Philemon, the sound doctrine (building materials) which we use to build on that foundation
- “the scriptures of the prophets“—this is all of the Holy Scriptures, in light of the doctrine revealed to Paul.
This is why studying the Bible rightly divided is so important. We study all of the Bible, Genesis through Revelation, but we follow the design of Christian edification as laid out in Romans 16:25,26. If we refuse to follow the dispensational layout of Scripture, and most people do refuse it, then we will be going against what God is doing today, and our Christian lives will be in shambles (which is why Christendom is in such pitiful shape!).
DO WE ONLY STUDY PAUL’S EPISTLES? (NO!)
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). All of the Bible is God’s Word, so we study all 66 books of the King James Bible (Genesis to Revelation). But, unlike most churches and professing Christians, we study the entire Bible according to the “revelation of the mystery,” (in light of the Pauline epistles, Romans through Philemon). All of the Bible is for us, but not all of the Bible is to us and not all of the Bible is about us (remember, most of the Bible is written to and is about the nation Israel, not us). We follow God’s design for Christian edification, and we seek God’s approval, not man’s approval (2 Timothy 2:15).
When studying a particular Bible passage, you first need to establish the following, in this order:
1. who is writing/speaking,
2. to whom are they writing, and
3. what are they writing.
Again, keep in mind that Paul’s epistles of Romans through Philemon are what God has to say to you, and the rest of the Bible deals with another program, Israel’s program. If Paul does not instruct you to do it, then God does not expect you to practice it in your life.
WHY HAVE I NOT HEARD THIS BEFORE?
Are you shocked by what you have just read? Does the Bible make more sense now? So, why have you never heard this before? I would strongly suggest that you ask your pastor, Bible teacher, or priest why he never told you any of this. You might be surprised at his answer!