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Biblical Studies

Progressive Dispensationalism: Old Testament Types and Prophetic Certainties
by Ed Vasicek

Note: The latter part of this paper explains Progressive Dispensationalism; the first part explains one possible path to bring us there.

As I was reading Robert Saucy's thoughtful book, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, Saucy highlighted what should be (but often is not) an obvious thought in the realm of hermeneutics (principles of Bible interpretation):

Typology, it is generally agreed, does not eliminate the historicity of the type. This is universally accepted with regard to the historical Israel's living under the old covenant. But what about Israel of the eschatological time portrayed in the prophets, the Israel related to the reign of the future Davidic king? The church is often viewed as typologically replacing Israel in these prophecies. What, then, happens to the historicity of the type, if the type is not historical Israel living under the old covenant, but the future Israel enjoying messianic salvation under the new covenant? (p. 31)

In other words, why should we take Old Testament history literally, since the church draws applications from that history, while many allegorize Old Testament prophecy? We recognize that drawing an application from the Torah does not mean the events recorded in the Torah were not literal. So why should we negate the literal fulfillment of God's promises to Israel just because the church draws application from them? We shouldn't.

Although Saucy and I came to embrace the same hermeneutical paradigm (Progressive Dispensationalism), we arrived there by differing routes. My observation, namely, that most prophecy has a near, less literal fulfillment and a distant, more literal fulfillment led me to see that the eschatological promises made to Israel are first fulfilled in the church (in a less literal way) and then fulfilled more literally to the literal descendents of Jacob (ethnic Israel) in the End Times.

But Saucy's comments activated my gray cells when it comes to the realm of Old Testament types, particularly the typology of the Law (as indicated by Hebrews 10:1a, "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves").

What is prophecy, but history written "in advance?" When God speaks, his declarations about our future are no less certain than His recollections of those past. To claim that God redefines His terminology, as does Replacement Theology (e.g., "Israel no longer means the genetic descendants of Jacob") and that He changes terms and conditions after the fact (transforming unconditional promises to conditional) or allegorizes what is originally clearly literal is absolute nonsense. This would be considered underhanded in our society, but it is shady in the realm of theology as well. But when we accuse God of this redefining of terms, the implication is that God does not know what the future holds; He must change His plans in response to human decisions. Things weren't going so well with Israel, so now God is going to redefine who and what Israel is! It doesn't matter how Jeremiah understood God's prophecies (Jeremiah 31:35-37, for example), or how David or Abraham understood them; God is now redefining terminology so He can move away from the original understanding of the contract. Sorry, I don't buy that.

If we believe in a Sovereign, Omniscient God Who exists outside the realm of time, a God Who sees all events of all time at every moment, it follows that prophecy is just as certain as history. From God's perspective, there really is no difference.

Combining Saucy's insights with my "near/less literal, far/more literal" view of prophecy gives us a mirror reflection for history, with the church characterized by the "less literal" application in both instances; here is the paradigm I would like to suggest.


When it comes to prophecy, there is a difference between its style and that of narrative history. Many prophecies were given in the poetic genre, which is why we have the "more literal" and "less literal" categories (vs. literal and less literal).

Understood in this manner, Progressive Dispensationalism becomes simple to understand. It also becomes an obvious hermeneutic in line with the tenor of Scripture.

So, in a nutshell, Progressive Dispensationalism

  • Is NOT Replacement Theology; God will keep His promises made to �Israel according to the flesh,� the genetic descendents of Jacob.

  • Acknowledges a future 7-year Tribulation followed by a 1,000 Millennium with Christ personally present and reigning from Jerusalem.

  • Believes that the nation of Israel (in the Millennium) will be exalted as a nation with a rebuilt Temple and sacrifices (that the Messianic Age is compatible with Temple worship is demonstrated in Acts 21:17-26).

  • Is similar to David Stern�s �Olive Branch Theology� espoused in Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel.

  • Does see the church fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies, but in a less literal sense or in an incomplete sense; the church was anticipated in the Old Testament, but not clearly; hence, the term mystery is not defined as "previously unrevealed," but "previously revealed unclearly."

  • Views the church as being blessed through Israel; God has never stopped working with Israel (some Jews believe, and He is provoking others to jealousy; they will rebuild the Tribulation Temple largely in unbelief; although the 144,000 will be saved during the earlier part of the Tribulation, most Jews will not believe until the Battle of Armageddon according to Zechariah 12).

  • Essentially recognizes the more literal fulfillment of prophecy (which is Traditional Dispensationalism�s strong suit) but does not ignore how the New Testament authors quote and apply the Old Testament to the church (Traditional Dispensationalism�s weakest suit and the reason we need a better paradigm).

  • Is a "now, but not yet" viewpoint (as argued by C. Marvin Pate); the Kingdom Age is, in a sense, breaking forth now, but will have a complete fulfillment during the Millennium.



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