Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dispensationalism, Historic Premillennialism, and the Restoration of Israel

As I continue with my thoughts on how Dispensational Premillennialism (DP) differs from Historic Premillennialism (HP) I want to make some additional comments regarding my earlier statement in another blog that DP differs from HP in that DP affirms a restoration of national Israel while HP does not affirm this. The Orange Mailman expressed strong rejection of my claim:

. . . Vlach states something that is just flat-out not true.  You can tell because he cites no source whatsoever to back up his claim.  He states that Historic Premillennialists do not believe in a future restoration of the nation of Israel.  I quoted in the comments section from Ladd himself where he states that there would be a future restoration of the nation of Israel.  Older premillennialists also held out this hope.  So will there be a retraction of certain aspects of Vlach’s post?  I doubt it. ( then offers a quote from Ladd where Ladd uses the term "restoration" in regard to Israel:

Consider this quote from The Gospel of the Kingdom which concerns Romans 11:26.  " It is quite impossible in light of the context and the course of Paul’s thought in this passage to understand "all Israel" to refer to the Church….  But secondly, there is to be a greater turning to the Lord on the part of Israel after the flesh, of such proportions that Paul can say that "all Israel," i.e., Israel as a whole, will be saved….  When God’s purpose for the Gentiles is fulfilled, so this verse implies, Jerusalem will no longer be trodden down.  There will be a restoration of Israel; "all Israel will be saved." "Since Ladd uses the term "restoration" for Israel, does this mean I was wrong in my affirmation that only DPs believe in a restoration of Israel? I don’t think so.

This is a case where we have different understandings of the term, "restoration." Ladd and DPs use the term in different ways. I and other dispensationalists use the term "restoration" more specifically to mean that Israel will not only be saved but restored as a nation in the sense of having a specific role to play to other nations in the millennium and perhaps beyond. While Israel and all believers are saved in the same way and have the same spiritual blessings in Christ, the nation Israel has a role to play in the millennium that is not shared with other groups.

I think Arnold Fruchtenbaum is right when he states that Dispensationalists believe in both the salvation and restoration of national Israel (see Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology) while non-dispensationalists do not affirm both. HPs usually affirm a salvation but not a restoration of Israel. Restoration goes beyond salvation and indicates that national Israel will lead the nations in service, worship, and example when Jesus returns to earth—just as the OT predicted (see Isa 2). It is this meaning of "restoration" that DPs affirm and HPs usually do not. In his book, The Millennial Maze, Stanley Grenz makes this point when explicitly comparing HP with DP:

According to historic premillennialists the object of the prophesies of a golden age is not a future regathered nation of Israel, as in dispensational thought, but "spiritual Israel"—the church. The group that will enjoy the millennial blessings, therefore, is not composed of an end-times restored nation of Israel, the natural offspring of Abraham, but the true Israel of God composed of Abraham’s spiritual children in all generations. (Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze, IVP, 1992, 136).Grenz also says:

Historic premillennialists continue likewise to reject the dispensationalist understanding of the tribulation and the millennium, which views them in terms of God’s program for his Old Testament people. These eras do not belong to some purported Israel phase of salvation history, historic premillennialists argue. (Grenz, 130).Grenz appeals to historic premillennialist, Clarence Bass, who says that historical premillennialists believe, "that the church is indeed spiritual Israel; that the covenantal relations of God to Israel have indeed passed over to the church." (Clarence C. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism, Baker, 1960, 152.)

Russell Moore, who appears to take a Ladd-like view of HP states his difference with DP on this issue: "Dispensationalists, even progressives, mistakenly speak of the millennial Israel as having a 'mediatorial' role in dispensing the blessings of God to the nations." For Moore, "Scripture presents this mediatorial role as belonging to Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). (The Kingdom of Christ, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 118.)

When I read George Ladd and other HPs after Ladd (Grudem, Erickson, Moore, etc.), I sense that many HPs affirm a salvation of Israel and some even see Israel "restored" in the sense of being placed in their land. But I do not see them (at least Ladd and post-Ladd HPs) saying that the nation Israel will have a mediatorial role of leadership, service, and example to the other nations as prophesied in the OT. The closest thing I have seen to this is a chapter by Richard Hess, where he argues for a literal restoration of Ezekiel’s temple in the coming millennium (see "The Future Written in the Past: The Old Testament and the Millennium," in A Case for Historic Premillennialism, ed. Craig Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, Baker, 2009, 23-36).

My purpose here has not been to argue which side is right although as a dispensationalist I believe DP is correct. But I think it fair to say that DP affirms a restoration of Israel as a national entity with a role to play to other nations in a way that HP does not.


  1. Dr. Vlach,

    Thank you for your clear presentation of the issues. You mentioned there may be some HP's who see Israel "in the land" during the Millennium. When you're able could you provide a reference. This is not a challenge and I realize you may have been giving HP's the benefit of the doubt. Once again, thank you for your work and ministry.

  2. Ron,

    The works by men like Horatius Bonar, C.H. Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle that Barry Horner has posted on his Future Israel Ministries site are probably a good place to start. Horner links two articles by Dennis Swanson on Spurgeon's millennial views as well.

    Alexander Keith is another older HP who placed heavy emphasis on the literal fulfillment of prophecy. A book of his on that subject went through many editions in the 19th Century. Others of a more futurist bent like Benjamin Wills Newton, a rival of Darby's among the Brethren who was post trib, are worth a look as well. Many of these older HP works, along with many older DP books, are available on Google Books.

    But I do suspect Dr. Vlach is right in saying that the function of restored Israel in the millennium is probably still somewhat different with the more strongly premil HP's who take a more literal view of unfulfilled OT prophecies. Some don't appear to go into much detail on the issue of Israel's role after the regathering and restoration. Ryle says that "Israel means Israel" in most cases, but since I haven't read him through I don't know how much detail he gets into on the issue. Given the volume of the writings of men like B.W. Newton and Alexander Keith on eschatology, they may have gone into much more detail, but I haven't begun reading them.

  3. Hello Mike. Thank you again for a post seemingly dedicated to my comments on the web. I feel honored.

    Originally you stated that "Thus, historic premillennialists often believe in a salvation of Israel but not a restoration of national Israel." You also stated in the comments "Orange Mailman, just so you know, as I study Historic Premillennialism I'm mostly studying Ladd and HP's that have followed him. I'm looking for the most recent and mature expressions of HP roughly in the last 50-60 years. Since Ladd is often looked to as the prime example of HP I spend a lot of time on him." So when I take the primary source that you are studying and provide a quote that states he believes in a restoration of Israel, your response is basically that even though he uses the term "restoration", it doesn't count because when he uses the term restoration and when you use the term restoration, we mean two different things. That's a very interesting response.

    There is a saying that the devil is in the details. There is some truth to that and your comment may not be far off. Since Ladd uses that term when you mentioned that HP's don't believe in it, it would rest on you now to provide some evidence as to what was meant on his part as opposed to what is meant on the part of Progressive Dispensationalists. The problem is that PD is so recent, I wonder if they have established a framework upon which they have agreed which lays out what is meant by a future restoration of Israel and how the body of Christ relates to that.

    I would not be adverse to the idea of a "new Israel" if the terminology were defined. I appreciated The Presence of the Future and The Gospel of the Kingdom as I did not find the term the new Israel in there. Instead, Ladd demonstrated the continuity of the kingdom between the ministry of Christ and that of the apostles/church. He also showed the continuity between Israel and the church, but not using the term "new Israel" in those works.

    The problem with using the term the new Israel is the baggage that comes with it. After all, CT believes that the church is the new Israel, and we all know they are wrong about everything (heavy sarcasm). But what if CT has come valid points that have been routinely dismissed by dispensationalists?

    All me to introduce one additional word to the equation which will change our perspective. The church is the new covenant Israel. Now what would you say to that? Obviously, the Israel that experienced the redeeming work of Christ is under the new covenant. However, Israel after the flesh has not. In that sense, Israel is new and a part of the church. However, the church does not replace Israel as a future hope of restoration was held by Peter in Acts 3 when the people of Israel repented. The eschatological pouring out of the Holy Spirit was occurring in real time and space, and now all that remained was for the nation of Israel to repent and nationally receive the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and enter into that national new covenant as Jeremiah 31 originally foretold. Like I wrote, the devil is in the details.

    Thank you for clarifying your reasoning why you feel you are not misrepresenting. I find it lacking, but it's your blog. You proved me wrong on Ladd, but you proved me right on retraction.

    Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

  4. Ron, sorry for the delay in my response. I was on the road again for several days. I think Chris is right on his sources. I recommend you to Horner's "Future Israel" or Dennis Swanson's article on Charles Spurgeon.

  5. Thank you to both Dr Vlach and Chris Poe. Very much appreciated.