The Theology of Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Baptist, Conservative, Dispensational
Note: These first two paragraphs also begin my discussion of “Israel- Church Differences.”
INTRODUCTION: Israel disappeared as a nation on earth in A. D. 135 and reappeared in 1948. In the time period spanning A. D. 135 to 1948 every major denomination came into existence with the theology which makes it distinctive from other churches. This includes the current theology of the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists and charismatic churches such as the Assembly of God and the Church of God.
During this time period (135-1948) all of these churches formulated their doctrines of eschatology (last things). They were forced to explain all of the O. T. texts which give unconditional promises to national Israel. And, since national Israel had not existed since A. D. 135 they reinterpreted all of those texts as references to “spiritual Israel” which they called the Church. Although this is understandable and although we might have done the same thing under the circumstances, it is wrong.
“Hermeneutics” is the science which furnishes the principles of interpretation. It is the pre-conceived foundation which theologians and denominations begin with before they write even one word about how they think the Bible should be interpreted. There is a progression of wide differences in the principles used by conservatives to moderates to liberals. Usually that progression is pre-determined by one’s view of Scripture and divine inspiration itself. Conservatives have the highest viewpoint of a God-breathed Word with the least errors and the least human involvement. Liberals have the lowest viewpoint of a God-breathed Word with the most errors and the most human involvement. And, as discussed in my very first article on God, one’s viewpoint of a personal God affects all of theology.
This discussion focuses on conservative principles of interpretation. Conservatives generally agree that a personal God can and has preserved a reliable record of His will in the pages of our current translations. Their main point of disagreement is the definition of the Church itself and its relationship to Israel. Many conservatives (and probably all liberals) teach that national Israel is outside of God’s New Covenant plans and has been totally replaced by the Church as God’s primary focus. Some try to allow for a separation between Israel and the Church but do not base any future blessing of Israel on unconditional Old Covenant promises. Dispensationalists insist that the word “Israel” both in prophecy and everyday usage always refers to the national of Israel. See my section on “Israel: Unconditional Promises.” There are simply far too many literal clear plain unconditional promises made to Israel in the Old Testament to allow anything other than a literal fulfillment.
- LITERAL: This is the “plain” and “normal” interpretation. It begins with a conviction that a personal God is fully capable of preserving His Word to His people in a common-sense plain literal normal fashion. God invented communication. Words in the Bible should be interpreted in the same way as understood by those who first heard them.
The literal principle is also called the grammatical-historical interpretation in which the grammar and history of the word are considered. Again, the question must be asked: “What did these words mean to those who first heard them?”
- EVIDENT: When the Bible uses words as parables, allegories, symbols or figures it will be clearly evident. If it is not evident from the context the principle is to interpret the words exactly as if they were being presented literally today.
- CONSISTENT: God does not use a word to mean one thing in one context and an entirely different thing in another context. Again, this is especially true of the words “church” and “Israel.” Failure to be consistent results in confusion and wild speculation. Denominations such as the Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists and many more interpret “Israel” as a term which only describes their particular church. Non-literalists will concede that the word “Israel” refers to the nation in the Old Testament. The word also occurs 47 times in the New Testament beyond the four Gospels. It is impossible to say that “men of Israel” in Acts includes Gentiles. When Paul wrote in Romans 9:6 “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel,” he was not discussing Gentiles. He was teaching that believing Christians within national Israel constitute true spiritual Israelites in the eyes of God. An inconsistent hermeneutic interprets only a few of the 47 occurrences of “Israel” in the New Testament as the church to include Gentiles. This ignores the context of the early church which was often composed of large numbers of both Jews and Gentiles. It is also inconsistent to say that the word “Israel” can occasionally refer to the “Church” but that the word “Church” never refers to national Israel.
- PROPHECY IS LITERAL: Prophecy is not an exception. The prophecies of the first coming of Jesus Christ were fulfilled literally and the prophecies of the second coming of Christ will also be fulfilled literally. The Old Testament prophecies which describe the second coming of Christ to national Israel must be interpreted literally. That is the way they were intended to be interpreted by those who first heard them from the prophets. God cannot compromise His character with wholesale deception of plain words.
Conclusion: Long before the Zionist movement emerged, long before the end of World War I gave Great Britain control of the former Ottoman Turkish land of Palestine and long before Israel became a nation in 1948, a few brave bold literalists were mocked by predicting that Israel would again become a nation because of the unconditional prophecies of the Bible. Darby, Kelly, Larkin, Scofield and others are no longer the laughing-stocks of theologians because they insisted on literal hermeneutics. The last-day stage has already been set by God to fulfill the many unconditional prophecies made to national Israel. The pieces are in place and the Church will be a part of God’s last-day program by evangelizing the Jews as seen in Romans, chapter 11.
- 2 Tim 2:15 Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
For almost three hundred years the early church distinguished between the Law —with its Temple, priesthood, circumcision, Sabbath days, unclean foods and tithing requirements— and God’s instructions for the church. This distinction used “dispensational” hermeneutics. Only after the church became a hierarchy with a ruling priesthood which appropriated most of the laity’s spiritual gifts did the church begin comparing itself to Old Covenant laws and priests. That change effectively ignored the dispensational distinctions until the late 1800s. Martin Luther understood the distinctions correctly but he was not called a dispensationalist.
“Dispensationalism” (as I understand it) does not change God’s plan of salvation which has always been by grace through faith alone. It merely states that God has expected different standards of conduct and rules to maintain fellowship (not relationship) throughout the ages.
(1) INNOCENCE: Gen 1:28 to 3:6. Adam lived in the presence of God a sinless person who was unaware of the existence of sin. God fellowshipped with Adam (and only Adam) in such disposition. He was definitely treated with different expectations from God which cannot be denied.
(2) CONSCIENCE: Gen 4:1 to 8:14. From the entrance of sin into the world until the flood, God’s principle way of revealing Himself to mankind was conscience. This is not a denial of the existence of law; rather it is a denial of the existence of written law as a special revelation. Mankind was accountable for what God had revealed to him through nature and conscience. Also Romans 1.
Rom 2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
Rom 2:15 Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.
(3) CIVIL GOVERNMENT: Gen 8:15 to 11:9. Four things make this period of time different from others. a) animals will fear man; man can eat animals; animals will eat man; and man can impose the death penalty which implies human government. Progressive revelation was evident.
(4) PATRIARCHAL RULE: Gen 11:10 to Ex 18:27. With Abraham God chose one lineage to treat better than others. The difference cannot be denied. This dispensation does not affect others.
(5) LAW: Ex 19:1 to John 14:30. From Moses to Calvary God chose to treat one nation better than others. This dispensation does not affect others. A radical departure between dispensational theology and most other theologies begins here. The Law of Moses (the Law of God) in its literal written form was not given to anybody other than national Israel. The Gentiles are still being judged according to their God-convicted faith response to His moral universal law as revealed through dimmed nature and conscience (Rom 2:14-16).
(6) GRACE: Acts 2:1 to Rev 19:21. Although all believers are saved by grace through faith alone, in this dispensation grace is predominant in every aspect of God’s revelation of Himself especially through Jesus Christ. God has changed from his special revelation to national Israel and is again dealing with all mankind on the same level of responsibility.
(7) MILLENNIAL KINGDOM: Revelation 20:1-15. God will keep his scores of unconditional promises to national Israel during a 1000 year literal reign on earth. Salvation is still by grace through faith but the pure fundamental basics of the Law are used as illustrative teaching aides.
One does not have to understand, agree with, or believe in this scheme of dispensations in order to be saved. It is merely a teaching aid. My presentation is not necessarily in agreement with other dispensationalists.
However, we do believe that our “rightly dividing” of the Word is far superior to that of Covenant Theology and others who blend the two theologies. The Calvinistic/predestination approach is inconsistent to its own hermeneutics when it spiritualizes God’s promises to national Israel to the Church.
- Jer 31:35 Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divides the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name:
- Jer 31:36 If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.
Rom 11:29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
God pre-destined national Israel to be His chosen literal nation on earth. He sealed that pre-destination with scores of unconditional promises beginning with Abraham and repeated to David and many prophets. God has placed His own name on the line for national Israel and He cannot and will not disavow His promises.
- Ezekiel 36:22 Therefore, say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sakes, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but FOR MY HOLY NAME, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.
- Ezekiel 36::23 And I WILL VINDICATE THE HOLINESS OF MY GREAT NAME which /has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. That the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord God, when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.