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Rightly Dividing Wrongly

God's progressive process of redeeming the world has been done through covenants and dispensations.  These terms somewhat overlap, though not always.  You can generally find various Christian denominations, sects, and theological systems somewhere along a continuum from intellectual legalism on one extreme and behavior legalism on the other.  And placing too much emphasis on either covenants or dispensations can lead one away from the solid middle ground and into one of these two forms of legalism.  This closely mirrors other articles in which I've written about how the same demons of the early Church still haunt us today, specifically in the form of Sadducees and Pharisees.  Pharisees were meticulously concerned with one's behavior and observance of the Mosaic Law.  Sadducees, on the other hand, had largely sold out to the world and disregarded large sections of Scripture.

Today we see Pharisaical sects in the form of large swaths of liturgical Christianity (especially Catholicism), the Hebrew-Roots Movement, some proponents of "Lordship Salvation", and various dyed in the wool cults.  They give lip service to Christ, but are deeply offended by the simple gospel message of Jesus' complete substitutionary atonement and resurrection.  Their faith is in their behavior and supposed adherence to greatly varying interpretations of Mosaic and biblical law.

We see Sadducee-like sects in any of a number of belief systems that incorporate universalism, pseudo-universalism, demythologization, and a defense of lawlessness.  In previous articles I've dealt specifically with Sadducee-like groups that are clearly outside of the Christian faith while still claiming adherence to Christianity, but I want to zero in on another errant theological system that is on many of your minds because it's gaining a great deal of internet exposure.  That would be hyper-dispensationalism, which was popularized by the Anglican theologian E. W. Bullinger.

I want to start by saying that I believe that many in this group are, in fact, true believers and brothers and sisters in Christ.  They aren't so far gone, as some say, that they are unsaved.  By no means.  However, they stand on very shaky ground with Scripture generally, and even specifically with soteriology.  Their soteriological issue is not with their understanding of the gospel, but with the true object of their faith.  But more on that in a minute.

Below is a simple diagram that lays out the three schools of Christian thought along a continuum.  Classic dispensationalism overlaps with both of the other schools in key areas, but holds a solid, Scriptural, middle-ground.

Like covenantalism, classic dispensationalism holds to the applicability of biblical covenants pertinent to specific groups and/or ages.  It also holds to the practical applicability of the whole counsel of Scripture to the Church.  It differs, however, because classical dispensationalism maintains the Scriptural distinction between national Israel and the Church.  It also maintains the simplicity of the gospel (Christ died for our sins and rose again).

Like hyper-dispensationalism, classic dispensationalism agrees that the history of mankind can be broken out into different administrations or dispensations of time in which God ministered to people in unique ways.  It is agreed that through faith the Church gains the spiritual promises to Abraham and is "grafted in" to the olive tree of Israel and the patriarchs, but that the Church remains a unique entity promised particular things not promised to Israel.  A significant point of disagreement, however, is that hyper-dispensationalism equates each dispensation with a particular soteriological system, whereas traditional dispensationalism understands that salvation has always been by act of God alone through faith alone and that the dispensations have worked together to bring about the Promised Seed and His redemption of the world and those who have faith in Him.

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Why Should We Hold To [Standard] Dispensationalism?

I found a great summary on this from GotQuestions.org that echoes what I've said about the need for a literal interpretation of Scripture and traditional dispensational theology:

Dispensationalists hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible as the best hermeneutic.  The literal interpretation gives each word the meaning it would commonly have in everyday usage.  Allowances are made for symbols, figures of speech, and types, of course.  It is understood that even symbols and figurative sayings have literal meanings behind them.  So, for example, when the Bible speaks of 'a thousand years' in Revelation 20, dispensationalists interpret it as a literal period of 1,000 years (the dispensation of the Kingdom), since there is no compelling reason to interpret it otherwise.

There are at least two reasons why literalism is the best way to view Scripture.  First, philosophically, the purpose of language itself requires that we interpret words literally.  Language was given by God for the purpose of being able to communicate.  Words are vessels of meaning.  The second reason is biblical. Every prophecy about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament was fulfilled literally. Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection all occurred exactly as the Old Testament predicted.  The prophecies were literal.  There is no non-literal fulfillment of messianic prophecies in the New Testament.  This argues strongly for the literal method.  If a literal interpretation is not used in studying the Scriptures, there is no objective standard by which to understand the Bible.  Each person would be able to interpret the Bible as he saw fit.  Biblical interpretation would devolve into 'what this passage says to me' instead of 'the Bible says.'  Sadly, this is already the case in much of what is called Bible study today.

Furthermore, in addition to maintaining biblical literalism (i.e., accepting what the Bible plainly says), classic dispensationalism holds a solid middle ground in terms of soteriology and the gospel.  The biblical distinction between national Israel and the Church is maintained (though not necessarily spiritual Israel), and a proper understanding of the simplicity of the gospel is also maintained.  Salvation is rightly recognized to be by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone via His atoning death and resurrection.  Covenantalism and hyper-dispensationalism begin to drift from Scripture in a number of ways as I'll explain below.

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Before I dig deeper into some of the fundamental problems with hyper-dispensationalism, I want to first clarify why covenantalism misunderstands biblical history and makes several major assumptions that cannot be supported by Scripture.

The first and gravest error made is in parting the Mosaic Law into civil, ceremonial, and moral aspects.  The Bible makes no such distinctions.  The Law is the Law.  Covenantalism holds the moral law as still applicable to Christians.  Now there is no argument to be had about the righteousness of the moral law and how we should, indeed, still obey precepts ("Thou shall not murder... Thou shall not commit adultery..."), but Christians must firmly stand their ground with regard to the applicability of moral law to salvation.  Some covenantalists can rightly recognize that we are saved by faith alone, but by establishing the moral law as Church Age-applicable, the next logical step is to say obeying its precepts is necessary for salvation, and, in fact, many denominations hold to this requirement in one form or another.  By doing that, they've abandoned the gospel and have become alienated from Christ.

Biblical law has always been given as an all or nothing proposition.  Either you keep it all perfectly all of the time, or you're cut off.  There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  That's why covenantalism can lead directly to behavior legalism if you follow it to its logical conclusion.  It can be deadly.  The Law is holy and righteous and good, but we are no longer under any of it.  Christ died for all of our sins and rose again.  That's the gospel.

Another significant issue with covenantalism is the invention of a framework to try to make the biblical text fit into said framework, rather than letting the text speak for itself.  A "covenant of works" and a "covenant of grace" are said to encapsulate all of God's covenants, but the Bible makes no such overarching groupings.  Rather, the biblical covenants served distinct purposes all centering around the person of Jesus Christ and His mission to redeem a corrupted creation.  And not all of the covenants pertain to salvation.

Finally, covenantalism is upheld by gross allegorizations of biblical prophecies and eschatology completely out of line with how language is used and how prophecies were fulfilled literally at Jesus' first coming.  In many ways, Protestant covenantalists cast off medieval Catholic teaching on soteriology, but retained Catholic teaching on eschatology.  For instance, the Bible contains a myriad of promises to national Israel of a literal second return to the land, the reestablishment of an independent state, an earthly kingdom in the messianic era, the full possession of Eretz Yisra'el, the restoration of David's throne (for his heir), and so forth.  Even New Testament apostolic teaching on the distinctions between Israel and the Church are largely allegorized and ignored (e.g., Acts 15, Rom. 11).

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Hyper-dispensationalism (also called "ultra-dispensationalism", "Bullingerism", and "right-dividing") is the polar opposite of covenantalism.  Whereas classic dispensationalism was developed as a framework to define the literal truth of the Bible in its own terms, hyper-dispensationalism takes that framework and applies it in a much more rigid way, to the point of going beyond the text.  It is unbiblical and is built on several faulty assumptions, some of which may impact a right understanding of salvation:

1. The twelve apostles were only sent to Israel.  The first assumption that is made that undergirds the others is that the ministry of Jesus and His twelve apostles was exclusive to the Jews.  It is true that Jesus "was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Mt. 15:24), however, it is false to suggest that He did not minister to Gentiles.  His mission was focused, but Gentiles were impacted.  As a matter of fact, in the very passage in which "right-dividers" place so much emphasis, Jesus does not use His Israel-only mandate as an excuse not to heal a Gentile woman's daughter.  He tells His apostles that He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel and then heals the Gentile girl anyway (Mt. 15:28).  Similarly, Jesus answers another Gentile's request when He heals a centurion's servant (Mt. 8:5–13).  Hyper-dispensationalism attempts to place God in a box that He doesn't place Himself in.

Next, we move on to the apostles' mandate and it's here that we see the plain words of Scripture disprove the whole "right-dividing" paradigm.  Like Jesus, the apostles were also sent exclusively to the Jews—initially.  Based on this limitation, hyper-dispensationalism will unscripturally discriminate between the apostles and Paul and also their writings.  But hyper-dispensationalism neglects the direct commands of Christ to the apostles post-resurrection:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations [ἔθνος w/ the definite article: the Gentiles], baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'
- Matthew 28:16–20

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; He rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.  He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized [with the Holy Spirit, not water, see Acts 1–2] will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
- Mark 16:14–16

Then He opened their minds [the eleven apostles; see Lk. 24:33] so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, 'This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His Name to all nations [ἔθνος w/ the definite article: the Gentiles], beginning at Jerusalem.
- Luke 24:45–47

He said to them: 'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you [baptism of the Holy Spirit; see Acts 1–2]; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'
- Acts 1:7–8

Whereas pre-resurrection the apostles were sent out only to the lost sheep of Israel, post-resurrection their mandate was to preach the gospel to all, including Gentiles.  Scripture couldn't possibly be more clear.  Rather than rightly dividing, "right-dividers" are in fact wrongly dividing here and cannot uphold a literal hermeneutic with their view.

Side Note: Notice above in Luke 24 that Jesus proclaims the entire gospel message of His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins!

2. The Church was a mystery that began with Paul.  It's true that the Church was a mystery hidden in ages past (Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26; cf. 1 Cor. 2:7), but it was a mystery repeatedly hinted at in the Old Testament (e.g., Deut. 32:21, 43; Isa. 2:2–4; 11:10; 52:15; Dan. 7:13; Acts 15:14).  Again, hyper-dispensationalism attempts to rigidly place God in a box that Scripture itself doesn't place Him in.  The mystery was fully revealed in the days of Paul, but it was a mystery already present in the ancient Jewish writings that could have been seen with the insight of a Holy Spirit-directed person.

Additionally, those New Testament passages calling the Church a mystery, also discuss the gospel itself in the same context.  The gospel was also a mystery that hadn't yet been fully revealed, but the Old Testament had very clear references to it (e.g., Isa. 53).

3. The Church did not begin on Pentecost.  Christianity has historically held that the Church started on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Christ rose from the dead for it was on this day that Jesus, now ascended and glorified, sent the Holy Spirit to baptize the gathered believers.  The dead spirits of believers came alive again (see here).  However, hyper-dispensationalists hold that the Church did not begin until after the stoning of Stephen (mid-Acts) or when Paul declared in Acts 28:28 that God's salvation had been sent to the Gentiles (post-Acts).

In the hyper-dispensational paradigm, Pentecost is seen as the beginning of a period of transition in which the Jews had one last chance to believe and for the Kingdom to be established in Israel.  This is incorrect and unsupported by Scripture.  Jesus had already set Israel aside.  Their opportunity wasn't at Pentecost, it was at the Triumphal Entry when He came into Jerusalem to the very day of the completion of Daniel's first 69 weeks of years.  The people hailed Him as King, but within just days the religious leaders made them into traitors who turned on the One they had just given their allegiance to.  Judas wasn't the only betrayer.  Then some 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven, leaving Israel for some 2,000 years.  It was this ascension that fulfilled the words of the prophet Micah:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
   though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
   One who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
   from ancient times.

Therefore Israel will be abandoned
   until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
and the rest of His brothers return
   to join the Israelites.
- Micah 5:2–3

James says as much in Acts 15:14–18 (echoed by Paul in Rom. 11):

Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for His Name from the GentilesThe words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

'After this I will return
   and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
   and I will restore it,
that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
   even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things'—
   things known from long ago.

Notice again that the Old Testament prophets were in agreement that God would first take a Gentile people before returning to the Jews!  Scripture is crystal clear.  This is right-division.

Let's take a look at the supposed beginning point of the Church in Acts 28:28:

Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!

Hyper-dispensationalism prides itself on being literal and picking apart every word, so why not the same here? ἀπεστάλη ("has been sent") is in the aorist form, which is generally past tense in Greek.  This was a statement of a fact that already was.  There were already newly founded Gentile communities of believers (churches) all over the eastern Mediterranean region.  Paul's most gospel-centric writings, including those discussing the rapture of the Church, had already been written well before Acts 28 (e.g., Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, etc).

No matter which way you slice and dice Scripture, the first entrants into the Church were Jews.  These were not some separate body of believers.  Paul was a Jew.  The apostles were Jews.  Those of varying languages gathered at Pentecost were Jews, and so forth.  The Church has always been a body of Jews and Gentiles together because Christ's death removed the dividing line between both groups (Eph. 2:11–22; cf. Mt. 27:51), but the Church started with Jews.

Pentecost was the clear beginning point, demarcating the start of the Church.  Just as Jesus had promised, His witnesses would have their start in Jerusalem, and from there the movement would go on to the uttermost parts of the earth.  And just as John had prophesied, the water baptism of the old covenant would make way for the Spirit baptism of the new.  It was just ten days before that Jesus had set Israel aside—for a season—that He might begin the process of taking a predominantly (though not exclusively) Gentile body of believers to Himself to provoke the Jews to jealousy (Deut. 32:21; Rom. 10:19).

We can gain even more clarity when we go back to the original language of Acts rather than what English translators have supplied.  The key word is μετανοέω ("to think differently; be persuaded; change your mind; convert").  You know this word as "repent", but "repent" is widely regarded as a very poor translation borrowed from Latin.  In fact, a number of scholars recognize this word as the most significant mistranslation in the Bible.  "Repent" is derived from the Latin word from which we get "penitent" and "penance".

Repentance is commonly understood to mean turning from sins, feeling sorry, or amending one's ways.  That is simply a wrong understanding of biblical μετανοέω (metanoéō).  Metanoéō and its accompanying nounal form metanoia simply mean to change one's mind or to be persuaded.  It often carries a deeper connotation of conversion—to be so persuaded by something in heart, soul, and mind, that you change your conviction to something else.  According to the LXX, God "repents" many times (Gen. 6:6-7; Ex. 32:12-14; 1 Sm. 15:11; 2 Sm. 24:16; 1 Chr. 21:15; Ps. 106:45; Jer. 4:28; 18:8; 26:3, 13, 19; 42:10; Jl. 2:13-14; Am. 7:3, 6; Jon. 3:9-10; 4:2).

The metanoia in the New Testament is a change of mind from unbelief to belief.  It's to be persuaded that the gospel message is true.  Thus, Peter's message to the crowd gathered at Pentecost wasn't "turn from your sins and get dunked in water," it was, "believe the gospel message I just preached to you and receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit that the 120 disciples just received."

Turning from your sins is a natural consequence of a heart that believes in Jesus, but it isn't repentance.  Biblical, New Testament repentance is to be persuaded about Jesus and who He claimed to be, and to believe in the gospel message.  Read more about repentance here.

4. Dispensations have a unique soteriological system.  Hyper-dispensationalism loudly (and rightly) proclaims salvation through faith alone because of our inability to do anything good in our flesh, yet, ironically, it turns and presents a false gospel in other dispensations.  This is perhaps my biggest beef with the wrong division of "right-dividers".  It is one of the most dangerous flaws in the system.  God's plan to redeem the world through Christ via the gospel was being enacted from the very beginning when Adam and Eve sinned in Eden.  Jeff wrote an excellent article highlighting the gospel in Genesis 3–4 here and I wrote all about the history-spanning plan of redemption here.

Works were never the basis for salvation in a previous dispensation nor will they be the basis in the future. This is a major point I want to raise. You can argue both ways until you are blue in the face, but sola fide is a central theme found in Genesis all the way through Revelation. From Abraham whose faith was counted as righteousness, to David who broke the Law and did not pay its due penalty (death)—the multiple death-deserving lawbreaker whom God established an everlasting covenant with! From righteous Abel who brought an acceptable blood sacrifice, to the High Priest Joshua whom God clothed in His own righteousness in Zechariah 3; and from the prostitute Rahab and the Gentile Namaan to the Prophet Habakkuk whose declaration "the just shall live by his faith" formed the very basis of Paul's explanation of salvation through faith alone in Romans.

Why was the Law given and why the focus on works in the Old Testament and the gospels? Here is the answer:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
- Romans 3:19–20

  • The Law only speaks to those under it.  It is holy and good and true, but we are not under it (Rom. 3:31; 6:14).
  • It makes the whole world accountable to God, because its stringent requirements are such that not even one person will be declared righteous by obeying it.
  • The Law makes us conscious of our sin.

To say that works are the basis of salvation in a previous dispensation or in a future dispensation is in effect to state that only Church Age Christians will be saved, because the Bible is repeatedly and emphatically clear that no one has or ever will be justified by works.  All are fallen.  None are good.  No one does right.  No one seeks God.

To say that those in the Old Testament (or those in the Tribulation or in the Millennial Kingdom) will be saved by works is to say that their situation is entirely, completely, unalterably hopeless.  It's shutting the door of salvation in their face.  No!  Salvation has only ever been on the basis of grace via the atoning sacrifice of God's Son.  See the gospel in Genesis 3–4 and Isaiah 53 in particular.

The gospel was declared to Adam and Eve beforehand in Genesis 3:15–16.  A blood sacrificethe first death in creationprovided a sufficient covering for our first parents (Gen. 3:21).  This was the declaration of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world:

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
- Revelation 13:8

Why does Christ appear as a Lamb-as-if-slain in Revelation?  Because He was the Lamb slain in Genesis.  And in Genesis Adam and Eve lost their access to the Tree of Life, but in Revelation 22 we regain it.  And right in the middle of this Genesis to Revelation story is the incarnate Christ on the Cross, who bore all of our sins in His body on the tree (1 Pt. 2:24; there's a little Peter for you, fyi!).

I'm saved because Christ died and rose again.

You're saved because Christ died and rose again.

And Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Rahab and Namaan; King Darius and King Nebuchadnezzar; all of these, if any, will be saved only because Christ died and rose again.

Again, why was the Law given?

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
- Isaiah 53:6

After the Fall in the Garden, no one would seek God.  No one would listen.  Everyone turned to his own way and in the end, our ways can only ever lead to death.  So the Law was given to condemn us.  Yes, you heard that correctly.  It finally made us realize that we are each accountable to God for our thoughts and behaviors and if we approach Him with labor He will accept nothing less than perfection.  It finally made us see that we need Him and this life and what our eyes see are not all there is.  We must turn back, repent (metanoia; which means to change your mind, convert), and place our faith in Him.  And only then can imperfect creatures such as we are become acceptable to a perfect God.

So regarding the Law: believe it, obey it, teach it.  It's true.  But do not, under any circumstances, look to it as the path to salvation.  That's not what it is and that's not why it was given.

5. Many New Testament books are not written to the Church.  I've already dealt with this from the apostolic perspective—the apostles were clearly sent to both the Jews and Gentiles—but I want to point out that just because a book was written to a particular audience, doesn't mean it doesn't have general applicability.  The books and letters themselves do not even claim particular applicability!  In fact, Paul wrote to Timothy that:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
- 2 Timothy 3:16

Timothy was a Gentile!  So James isn't applicable because it was written to the Diaspora and the gospels aren't applicable because they contain messages in which Jesus preached to the Jews.  I suppose that means that Galatians, Romans, and 1 Corinthians aren't applicable to us either since they were written to those particular churches.  Again, the books and letters themselves contain no claim of particular applicability!  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful.  All.

It goes without saying that the New Testament's readership has been almost exclusively Christian for these past 2,000 years.  I'm sure God knows that.  He knew what He was doing when He breathed into men to compose the work.

We don't rightly divide Scripture by neglecting whole books.  We rightly divide Scripture by studying the whole counsel of God and rightly applying it.  We rightly apply the Law by recognizing how it condemns us and exposes our great need for the Savior.  We rightly apply the gospels by learning what God's true heart is for how we should love and treat one another and who the person of Jesus is.  We rightly apply the epistles by understanding that the gospel (already prophesied in the Old Testament and revealed in the gospels) is simple and the only message through which anyone can be saved, and furthermore, we learn in the epistles how Christians ought to live.  And we rightly apply prophecy by recognizing that it all points to Christ and should be accepted for its plain, literal meaning if at all possible.

Again, Jews and Gentiles are saved by the same Jesus through the same gospel.


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I hope this article has been informative and has helped clear up some confusion.  If anything, I pray it will steer all towards the straight and narrow path of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  And this brings me to my final point: faith is a conviction, not knowledge or understanding.  Isn't it obvious that you can know certain things, but not believe them?  You might know about Islam, but not believe it.  You might know about NASA's moon landings, but have conviction they didn't happen.  Knowledge and understanding are just thoughts in your head.  Conviction is why you think and act the way you do.  Conviction is what drives you.

Faith = Conviction = Belief = Trust

Besides presenting a false gospel to the future dispensation and causing confusion in this one, I fear that hyper-dispensationalism, if taken to its logical extreme, might lead some away from Christ now.  Intellectual legalism is just as real as behavior legalism.  Just as you can trust in your behavior instead of the Savior, you can trust in your knowledge instead of Him, as well.  Knowledge doesn't save you.  Jesus does.  We are saved by faith alone, but not faith in words or how well we can recite 1 Corinthians 15:3–4.  We are saved by faith alone in an actual Person named Jesus Christ who came and died for us.  There are many who may not be able to perfectly recite the gospel, yet are very much convicted that Jesus died for their sins and rose again.  And there may be some who can perfectly recite the gospel, yet have no true inner conviction in the real person of Jesus who actually did the dying and rising again.  Don't trust in your behavior.  Trust in Christ.  And don't trust in your beliefs.  Trust in the One behind them.

Just like the early Church had to deal with infiltration by those trying to bring Christians back under the yoke of the Mosaic Law (Judaizers), so too we have to deal with Pharisaical sects like the Hebrew-Roots Movement.  But there was another false teaching that the early believers had to deal with head on in the 1st and 2nd centuries, and it came from an entirely different angle.  It was called Gnosticism.

The "Christian" Gnostics taught that the deity of the Old Testament was vengeful—even evil.  And they taught that Jesus had come to give us secret knowledge, so that we could be free from the flesh.  Moral codes were shunned as fleshly concerns, so that people could live lawlessly.  So they chopped up Scripture into parts they liked and didn't like and were left with little to nothing of the real Jesus.  I can't help but think hyper-dispensationalism might be defined as Gnosticism-lite.  It's one small step in that direction: over-dividing and neglect of Scripture, obsession with perfect knowledge, and in some instances, no clear adherence to biblical morality.

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What I mean is this: Individuals among you are saying,

'I follow Paul,'

'I follow Apollos,'

'I follow Cephas [Peter],'

or 'I follow Christ.'

Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?
- 1 Corinthians 1:12–13

Whether, then, it was I [Paul] or they [the apostles], this [the gospel] is what we [Paul and the apostles] preach, and this [the gospel] is what you believed.
- 1 Corinthians 15:11

I love you all, dear brothers and sisters.  Stay strong in the LORD.  Stand firm in the faith.  Don't buy into every new teaching, but test everything.  Don't be as infants "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine..." (Eph. 4:14).  Our redemption draws near.


Post A Comment


  1. <3


    And I recognize that last part there. ;)


    1. Many won't consider Luke or his Gospel either.

      Luke was not an Apostle, and he was a Gentile. And the New Testament was written in Greek.

      Makes it hard to make a case for all the Gospels being only for the Jews.

    2. And Romans 1:16 shows what Paul's "My Gospel" is...

      "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..."

    3. Ephesians 4:4-6.

      There is one body and one Spirit,
      just as you were called to one hope when you were called;
      one Lord,
      one faith,
      one baptism;
      one God and Father of all,
      who is over all and through all and in all.

    4. One. everlasting. gospel.

      Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

  2. OUTSTANDING good brother!! Enjoyed seeing you in Big D!

  3. I needed to read this! This just answered soooo many questions I had racing in my mind! Thank you for writing this!


    1. I'm glad to hear that Justin. Thank you for reading!

  4. Great thanks Gary! This article is exactly right to me now! Studying it! Much Blessings!

    1. Alla D, Blessings. Thank you for letting us know it was up &, ofc, we lift you up to Grace, amen, and Wisdom and Insight befitting, Maranatha!

    2. Thank you Jimboni for prayer, I need it really! Praying for you and yours! Amen!

  5. Thank you!!!! Well said and great information.

  6. Thank you Gary. Very good. The part that there is no more water baptism though is confusing as Scripture is also clear on that, especially Matthew 28:19 where we are to go out into all the world making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I'm not saying you need it to be saved, but it was the way people publicly identified with the Way, with following Christ. We are commanded to do it as a step of obedience. We are not commanded to baptize with the Spirit, as only God can do that. Thoughts? I appreciate you stepping out and bringing some clarity on the topic above. Thank you so much, and blessings to you for your faithfulness.

    1. Yes, you're 100% correct. Water baptism is a Christian ordinance along with Communion. However, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is something God does whenever a person believes in Jesus.

      All believers experience this baptism.

    2. I talk about this in detail here:

      All About Baptism

  7. Gary, what a blessing! YOU NAILED IT - WE MUST STOP DIVIDING AND START APPLYING! May I reiterate . . .

    "We don't rightly divide Scripture by neglecting whole books . . . We rightly APPLY the Law by recognizing how it condemns us and exposes are great need for the Savior. We rightly APPLY the gospels by learning what God's true heart is for how we should love and treat one another and who the person of Jesus is. We rightly APPLY the epistles by understanding that the gospel (already prophesied in the Old Testament and revealed in the gospel) is simple and the only message through which anyone can be saved, . . . "

    That's it! Nothing more, nothing less. Blessings - Sherry

  8. Gary, ok, I get it, so THAT"s what you've been doing. OK, then. Time well spent, Maranatha! Clean, crisp, concise, all of which I found in a syllabus as I am rarely any of them. Honoring of Christ and Truth, John 4:24, while feeding His Sheep, John 21:17 (there's a little Peter for ya) thank you.

    BTW, while Pastor Greg Laurie comes to mind, I cannot recall, but at a PromiseKeepers conference we dove into Hellenism lurking behind much of the seductions of our modern age, being endemic to the Greeks, ofc, as is our 'Western' civilization, ala Plato, esp, and Socrates and Aristotle, surely, as well. Platonic Thought rang out in your close, "And they taught that Jesus had come to give us secret knowledge, so that we could be free from the flesh." and its parallel erupting, atm, on YTC. This is Hellenism, by definition, ala Platonic, esp. The 'Higher' and the 'Lower'.

    Western minds love this model and fall into its lure and traps like moths to flame for as long in history as the bug. Abandon the lower, carnal, devote oneself to the higher, (flagellation, fasting, code adherence, dirt brownies at The Our Lady of Pain and Torture bake sale, immersion in some esoteric 'understanding' reserved ONLY for those 'worthy, etc.), and THEN you can swim in wanton whatever (Narcissism, legalism, hedonism, pickoneism)without worry as you are above such things, don't you know. What? Yep, it's that twisted and incredibly common amongst them Wascawy eeweets. Or intellectually legalistic Evangelicals, of many stripes as one finds about everywhere atm, Maranatha! Well, at least the illogical part, not meaning to imply other such nonsense, just making a point. You've got me rambling, again, great article!

    1. Yep, it took some time to put this together (: I'm still at my battle station.

  9. Were uncircumcised gentiles baptized in water by John the Baptist? No.
    Were uncircumcised gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit before Peter's dream about unclean animals? No. (Gentiles are unclean)
    Before Paul met with the Jewish leaders in Galatians and Acts 15, were uncircumcised Gentiles being physically circumcised and ordered to follow the Mosaic Law in order to be Jewish Christians? Yes!
    Thus, Gentiles were no longer gentiles after they converted into Christ's Kingdom of Jews.

  10. "Were uncircumcised gentiles baptized in water by John the Baptist? No."

    Technically, the Bible doesn't say one way or another. But supposing you're correct, that would make sense since he was the last OT prophet and the new covenant wasn't yet established.

    "Were uncircumcised gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit before Peter's dream about unclean animals? No."

    Again, the Bible doesn't say. Perhaps God gave Peter his vision because the apostles weren't yet sharing the gospel to the Gentiles as they had already been instructed to do (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:14-16; Lk. 24:45-47; Acts 1:7-8). The apostles were imperfect people who required quite a bit of prodding.

    Either way, as I had already pointed out, the first Christians were Jews. It started in Jerusalem and spread from there.

    "Before Paul met with the Jewish leaders in Galatians and Acts 15, were uncircumcised Gentiles being physically circumcised and ordered to follow the Mosaic Law in order to be Jewish Christians? Yes!"

    Were *all* being circumcised? No. Did that circumcision add anything to their salvation before the apostolic decision in Acts 15? No. Paul was already preaching faith alone and Peter was in agreement:

    "The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: 'Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?' " - Acts 15:6-10

    1. Ah... There it is... :) And from Peter too!

      "God, who knows the heart..."

      Beautiful! Thanks Gary!

      As for "Thus, Gentiles were no longer gentiles..." from Anonymous

      Jews were no longer Jews either according to Paul as we find in Galatians 3:28.

    2. Nice!! And, btw, Galatians is regarded as one of Paul's two earliest writings (:

  11. VERY good article and much needed for today. My head spins with all the different interpretations and view points. Praying always for HIS truth and we need to keep seeking Him through this last sprint to the end!! I cannot wait to sit with Jesus!!

    1. Me too. I can't wait.... ughhh... so ready. Let's go!

      Just stay on that straight and narrow.

      Christ alone
      Grace alone
      Faith alone

      One gospel for all: past, present, and future.

  12. Thank you so much for your time and diligence in writing this!! I believe it to be very timely, as the great falling away is happening more and more and people even say that the Holy Spirit will be taken from the earth when the bride is raptured, thus leaving tribulation saints and the remnant of Israel to their flesh/works instead of faith through the Holy Spirit to continue to work to bring may to believe and overcome by the blood of Jesus and the word of their testimony (faith). The gospel message will not change during the 70th week of Daniel and the Holy Spirit will be necessary to bring more believers into the faith and overcome what they will be required to endure. Grace is the pure gospel even in the 70th week of Daniel and so, Holy Spirit must be here for those who will be added to the body (not as the bride who will be raptured) but still, the church as there will be no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave, nor free, but the middle wall has been torn down and we all are aged by grace through faith alone in the finished work of Jesus' dieing for our sins, rising again and giving us His spirit. Blessings and thank you so much for this excellent teaching of gospel of grace/faith alone! Watching, praying, and continuing to labor for lost to come in...

  13. Gary, I want to thank you and everyone at unsealed.org. All these wonderful articles have been like a online discipleship course for me. Thank you for addressing this topic. So much falsehood has been propelled through the internet and YouTube and discernment has been a key factor when testing the spirits. I too was a dog like the Canaanite woman in the eyes of the God of creation, but my faith in Christ Jesus has set me free from the penalty of my sin. The mind changed 180 degrees when I saw, heard, the truth of Christ, I still struggle with sin and know without the blood atonement of Christ I would still be a dog cause I cannot fulfill the law. Only Christ could. Thank you for another great article and to everyone at unsealed.org that have helped me understand and grow in my walk. Blessings

  14. The point I was trying to make was that Gentiles were NOT being sealed/indwelt with God's Holy Spirit until AFTER Peter had his dream about the unclean becoming clean (Gentiles being made clean by God, where as before, gentiles were unclean vs Jews). Now hyperdispensationalists get it wrong with mid Acts as the beginning of the Church. It started with Christ on the cross. But there was a separation of James, Peter, and John going to the physically circumcised, whereas Paul and Barnibus went to the gentiles. And James did write his letter to the Jews (the 12 tribes scattered abroad). People always seem to skip over this point as being unimportant. *No... James wrote his letter to the gentiles too*.. Ah No... He didn't. The separation happened. It's real. As to why? Because God revealed to Paul that he was the apostle to the gentiles. God revealed to Peter that the gentiles had been made clean by God. Our primary doctrine should be from Paul today. I'm not a hyperdispensationalist. They also think there are 2 bodies of Christ... Strange. There is only one body of Christ, and Christ is the head. But Paul IS the apostle to the Gentiles. He stated it over and over.

    1. Just because James wrote to the dispersed Jewish Christians doesn't mean that it didn't apply to all Christians, just as Paul's epistles apply to all too. YOU ARE pushing the hyperdispensationalist lie. You have no idea why they split the work load of evangelism early on that way. But it was Jews to Jews and Jews to gentiles. The GOSPEL was the same. Later, all apostles would eventually evangelize some gentiles too, so why make a big deal out of 'Paul for the gentiles' lie -- there is NO EXCLUSIVITY.

      Personally, I think the reason for the original division of work, from God, was because Paul was a Pharisee. He needed to be able to have "Jewish" scholarly legitimacy and be able to explain the Messiah from the OT scriptures and give sound NT basis correctly from the OT. God had made him a Jewish lawyer for a purpose. Many people always leave out of the gospel message that part "ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES" It PROVES the legitimacy of Jesus as the Messiah from the TRUE God YHWH from the OT where we get our world view and history from Adam to Jesus. Paul could not go back to the Jews because he was a traitor in their eyes, that is the reason, even after years, when he openly went to the temple they tried to kill him and it lead to his long captivity in Rome. In addition, I think Jesus chose his disciples from average Jewish men (not religious leaders) on purpose too! I think to humble the Jewish religious leaders, because they should be able to recognize God' sovereignty, His OT message from Moses about the Messiah, and the power of the Holy Spirit which is convicting them of their sin. You are blowing the work division WAY out of proportion. Paul is the apostle to the gentiles THAT HE REACHED FIRST and God knew he was His choice who was capable of writing most of the NT for ALL!!

    2. Oh, and one last thing. It is the amazing foresight of God to make Paul the main writer of the NT to post-apostolic people, since He knew they would try and de-legitimize His son as the Messiah, especially Jews. So, Paul it IS written to Jews! Ones who would come to Christ to help their faith -- knowing that the proofs are from a true Hebrew scholar. After all, Paul was desperate to provoke the Jews to jealousy to save them, then and NOW. And Paul saves us from the BIG error of replacement theology. God made Paul an apostle to the gentiles for ALL believers!

  15. "Can faith save him?"
    "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."
    That was James' entire point. He argued "no". Faith can't. It isn't enough. "He" had to have works.

    Paul penned that Grace thru faith is what saves you. This is 100% diametrically opposed to what James wrote in chapter 2.

    Many here change James 2's meaning to say something James didn't write or mean. James was talking about works relating to the laws of Moses. If you had no works, your faith was dead.

    When I get to heaven, I will sit down with James and Paul and sort this out. Until then, the only thing that makes any since at all between James and Paul is the fact that James addressed his letters to the 12 tribes abroad.

    I will not change the meaning of what James wrote in chapter 2 to mean something he didn't write. It means exactly what he wrote.

  16. How do you think this teaching ties into the thought of not accepting the mark of the beast in the Tribulation? I ask because I've read of this action being added to the "faith alone" (in other words, Trib saints can be saved only if they have faith AND don't take the mark - it seems like this is adding a work to salvation). How does this reconcile to the idea that faith alone in all eras is the only saving thing?

    1. That's a good question. We discussed that some in the comments section here: https://www.unsealed.org/2018/09/the-pre-trib-rapture-is-solid-biblical.html

      Also, I talk about a possible scenario for the MoB that reconciles sola fide in my article The Day of the LORD under the section "The Abomination of Desolation".

  17. I'm going to nicely requote what Gary quoted in this latest article and hope that people will apply it to James Chapter 2...

    "There are at least two reasons why literalism is the best way to view Scripture. First, philosophically, the purpose of language itself requires that we interpret words literally. Language was given by God for the purpose of being able to communicate. Words are vessels of meaning. The second reason is biblical. Every prophecy about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament was fulfilled literally. Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection all occurred exactly as the Old Testament predicted. The prophecies were literal. There is no non-literal fulfillment of messianic prophecies in the New Testament. This argues strongly for the literal method. If a literal interpretation is not used in studying the Scriptures, there is no objective standard by which to understand the Bible. Each person would be able to interpret the Bible as he saw fit. Biblical interpretation would devolve into 'what this passage says to me' instead of 'the Bible says.' Sadly, this is already the case in much of what is called Bible study today."

    1. The key word in the whole James 2 debate can be found in James 2:14. The word is λέγῃ.

      Every word counts.

      Btw, here's my take on James 2.

    2. So simple question:
      When you are going about boasting your works before men as James requires in James 2:18, but not before God (Romans 4:2), to show that your "faith is genuine" as "demonstrated faith", is this demonstration counted as faith? or debt to God?
      I'll fall back to Romans 4:2 and Romans 4:4 here to see how Paul answers the question.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. I agree that salvation is only by Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross, and being convicted by the Holy Spirit of this, ie. being born again. I also agree that we need to be testing everything to scripture (the whole Word) because not on jot or tittle has been removed until the very end when heaven and earth pass away, as Yeshua says in Matthew 18. When we do this, some believers in Yeshua will be convicted by the Holy Spirit to keep the 7th day Sabbath, commemorate God's holy days, and keep God's dietary laws, instead of going to church on Sunday, celebrating Christmas and Easter, as if these have any basis in scripture, which of course they don't. A true believer in Yeshua will understand that all their good works are like filthy rags and that salvation cannot be earned. But they will desire to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. They will understand that the parable of the sower is a warning after we are saved, that we must be diligent in our walk with God, obeying Him to the best of our abilities, and being so thankful for the promise of 1John 1:9; otherwise we may become hard hearted and indifferent to sin and risk being among those described in Hebrews 6. It does say in the end, those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, and that is good news for those we long to see saved, who seem to be lost now.

  20. For some much needed (solid and thorough) teaching (beyond Eph 2) on the grace given by our LORD to us......

    This is a hidden gem for such a time like this.

    So You Believe On & Love Jesus But Won't Bend The Knee?
    From Charles Lawson
    33min - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5Qd7cSc4TU

    A key moment in this teaching is at the 25min mark which (to me) is the crux of the biscut for one's "true" salvation in Jesus Christ.

    1. Timely article by Grant Phillips @ Rapture Ready today with a very strong teaching in support of the teaching above (re: true salvation):

      Who is Jesus to you? What's in a Name?

      "Is Jesus Christ the Lord of your life or have your knees become so stiff you refuse to bow to Him? Are you so blinded by Satan’s lies you refuse to confess His name as Savior and Lord?

      Man can be very stubborn, but even the demons who followed Satan know Jesus is God.

      “Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ.” (Luke 4:41)

      It is too late for them. It isn’t too late for you if you will come to Him now. I close with one final verse of Scripture.

      “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

      Full article: https://www.raptureready.com/2019/07/30/whats-name-grant-phillips/

  21. Outstanding. Thanks Gary.

    Yeah it was always didn't sit right with me when I heard preachers say that in OT People were saved by works.

    In this dispensations we are saved by grace through our faith

    And during the trib they are Saved by faith plus works.

    So I think it was YTC: Gregg Jackson that said in the old testament people were saved by looking FORWARD to the cross, and believing that a SAVIOR would come to redeem them.

    And in this dispensation: it is looking BACK to the cross and believing that Jesus was/is the SAVIOR who was prophesied to come and save us from their sins.

    I believe in the TRIB period that it is faith plus works. The only important work being not taking the mark of the beast.

    In that period of poverty, war, sickness,lack of medicine, famine and hunger, I cannot imagine God would Eternally punish a starving Tribulation Saint who steals a hen or a loaf of bread.

    I cannot imagine that God would Eternally punish a tribulation saint who humanely ends their partner's life because their partner has infection, sepsis, or is in severe pain. Or killed a man who was trying to harm his family.

    Or that God would Eternally punish a tribulation saint who lied to the authorities saying there were no other Christians or Jewish people hiding in their house.

    Or that God would Eternally punish a tribulation saint who really coveted a person's warm jacket during the cold winter months.

    So the old testament is full of murderers, liars, adulterers who were the patriarchs of the OT whose faith was accounted as righteousness. So the trib period will be the same. Faith plus the one work of not taking the mark of the beast.

    Just my opinion anyway.

    1. Hey Jordan,

      If you're saved by faith, then you're saved by faith.

      If you're saved by works, then you're saved by works.

      But you cannot say that we'll be saved by both FAITH + WORKS !

      Unless you're confused about an imaginary future 'tribulation period', then of course you're willing to settle for something as outrageous as FAITH + WORKS.

      So which is which now? Just FAITH? or including WORKS?

    2. Anonymous,
      Your twisting what i said and misunderstanding my point, try reading it again see if it makes sense the 2nd time.

    3. "So I think it was YTC: Gregg Jackson that said in the old testament people were saved by looking FORWARD to the cross, and believing that a SAVIOR would come to redeem them.

      And in this dispensation: it is looking BACK to the cross and believing that Jesus was/is the SAVIOR who was prophesied to come and save us from their sins."

      Well said!

  22. Gary great article. One of your paragraphs boils it all down perfectly:"So regarding the Law: believe it, obey it, teach it. It's true. But do not, under any circumstances, look to it as the path to salvation. That's not what it is and that's not why it was given." I'm with you on James, and think what James was saying is because God is our Heavenly Father, we His children truly love Him, so how can we not do good things, and how can we not do our very best to follow His righteous laws. Doesn't mean any of that will save us, but we do it out of love and respect for Him. Similar to the things we do for our earthly Dad (and of course Mom). If you truly love someone, we give them our best because you want to, not because we have to.



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