How does a dispensational (administrational) view of Scripture help to resolve apparent Bible contradictions?

We believe that many theological arguments could be settled, and many apparent “contradictions” resolved, if the truth of administrations were more widely understood. Carefully reading the Bible shows many changes in the way God has related to mankind. There have been changes in sacrifices, the time and place of worship, dietary restrictions, financial giving, etc. The list is extensive. Also, recognizing the dispensational aspect to the unfolding of Scripture explains why people often continued some practices even after God eliminated any requirement for them.

For instance, Ephesians 4:5 says there is only “one baptism” relevant to the Church. If water baptism is still to be practiced by the Church, then there are two baptisms, the other being the baptism of the spirit (Matt. 3:11; Acts 1:5; 1 Cor. 12:13, etc.). Christians who do not have a dispensational viewpoint must resort to vague assertions of the value of water baptism—most saying that although it is not required for salvation, it should still be practiced. Interestingly, that still does not solve the problem that in the Church today there are, in practice, two baptisms, one of water and one of spirit. A dispensational understanding of Scripture solves the apparent contradiction by noting that water was part of the administrations before Pentecost, and the “one baptism” of Ephesians is baptism in holy spirit.

The fact that the disciples of the first century Church continued to practice water baptism can be easily explained within a dispensational framework. Al­though God’s requirement had changed on the Day of Pentecost, His people had not yet relinquished their old customs and practices. The words of the risen Christ to his disciples, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with holy spirit” (Acts 1:5) were not enough to change centuries of entrenched custom. [1] However, Ephesians 4:5, written years later to clarify the new administration, succinctly settled the question by saying there is “one baptism.”

There is another, very glaring contradiction created by non-dispensational thinking that is very simply and elegantly explained by recognizing that not even Jesus knew about “the Sacred Secret.” Jesus Christ told his disciples in Matthew 16:28 that some of them would not die before they would see him come to es­tablish his Kingdom. And again in Matthew 24:34 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened,” referring to the events that would precede the inauguration of his Kingdom. These statements seem to be clear and straightforward, and refer to the literal, future Kingdom of which he spoke so often. He appeared to believe that his Kingdom would be established soon after his death and resurrection. His disciples also believed in the imminence of this Kingdom. When they were assembled with him before his ascension, they asked Jesus if he would be finally establishing his Kingdom at that time (Acts 1:6-11). He replied that only the Father knew, and that until it happened they had a job to do—to preach the Gospel and be his witnesses.

As the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament make known, the Kingdom was not established at that time, and was deferred to an unknown future time. The problem then becomes explaining how Jesus could have been so mistaken about something that was such an integral part of his message: the soon coming of the Kingdom. If Jesus always did the will of God and spoke truly from his Father’s heart, then how could he have not known that the Kingdom was not coming when he said it was?

Theologians have attempted to explain this by saying that he was not referring to the coming of his literal Kingdom, but was referring to either his Transfiguration or to the Day of Pentecost. They argue that he “came into his glory” in a temporal way at the Transfiguration. But the Transfiguration was an unknown future event, of which there was no prophetic anticipation or fore­warning by Jesus. How could he have expected his disciples to know that he was talking about something of which they would have had no advanced knowledge? Would they not have naturally thought he was talking about the well known Kingdom that they and their ancestors had expected for years? There is simply no good reason to equate the well known and expected “Kingdom” with an unknown and unexpected vision of that Kingdom.

If Christ were speaking of the Transfiguration, then what he actually said does not make any sense at all and is not even factual. He said, “some who are standing here will not taste death [i.e., die] before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28). However, the Transfiguration occurred shortly after Christ made the statement. In Matthew, the Transfiguration oc­curs in the very next chapter, less than a month after his statement that some would not die. It is safe to say that all of his disciples were still alive a month later. Perhaps one of them had died within a month’s time, but that is still no justification for him to say that only “some” would be alive. Furthermore, since only Peter, James and John were present at the Transfiguration, and they were strictly told to tell it to no one (Matt. 17:9), Christ saying to his disciples that “some” would not die before it makes no sense.

The only reason that anyone says that the Transfiguration or the Day of Pentecost is what Christ was talking about in Matthew 16:28 is that the people he was speaking to died without seeing his Kingdom, which makes Christ clearly mistaken in what he said. Without an adequate explanation, this fact is a rather stark embarrassment to the Christian faith. But this is precisely the kind of apparent contradiction that is resolved by having a dispensational view of Scripture.

Jesus, just like the prophets of Old, could not go beyond what was previ­ously written in Scripture or had been particularly revealed to him. Draw­ing from what the prophets had written, he would have expected certain events to take place in a certain order. His first coming would have been in suffering, and end in death. After being resurrected, he expected a time of Tribulation before establishing his Kingdom. He would have had very good scriptural reason to believe that this Tribulation would come very shortly after his death and resurrection. According to the prophet Daniel, the time of the Tribulation would be seven years, a lot less than the duration of the generation Christ was speaking to. This teaching of Christ’s is also repeated in Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32.

The words Christ used when he said that “This generation will not pass away until all these things be fulfilled” were simple and straightforward. “All” those things were not fulfilled, and the generation is dead and gone. If the end of the world had come during that generation, everyone would applaud how accurate and simple to understand Christ’s words were. The only difficulty is caused when we think that he cannot be wrong about the timing of his coming. However, as has been pointed out, he only spoke what God revealed to him, and God had hidden the time, even from His own son. The Grace Administration has delayed Christ’s coming. Thus, a dispensational view of Scripture resolves this contradiction quite simply and elegantly.

Endnotes

[1] Interestingly, the words of the risen Christ about outreach were also misunderstood. Although Christ said to go to “all creation” and “to the ends of the earth” (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8), for years the disciples went only to Jews. They finally went to the Gentiles only when the Lord Jesus gave Peter a vivid revelation (Acts 10:9-23). Even then, Peter’s traditional belief was so ingrained in him that he argued with the Lord about it.

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