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Atheist reading the Bible to try understand

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Hi, for full disclosure I classify myself as an atheist. Recently my friend gave me a bible and suggested I should try reading it. Out of respect for them and their beliefs I decided I would try reading it. If nothing else it can't harm anyone to gain a comprehensive understanding of what Christians believe.

I'm currently reading it cover to cover and am currently at Isaiah chapter 29.

I've been discussing online with people on other sites to try understand various peoples interpretations of the Bible. I've come to realise there are many different interpretations.

Most seem to speak of the Bible with similar attitudes with minor discrepancies on interpretation and meanings of certain commandments or translations.

However a group of people have been commenting to me only in private messages not in view of other people. This has happened across multiple platforms.

People have sent me links to a website called the rapture countdown and a the word Dispensationalism keeps coming up whenever they message me.

Ive looked it up and see it is a group of Christians that believe the Bible is to be taken literally.

My questions are: Is Dispensationalism something commonly believed amongst Christians? Why do these people not post publicly? What are people's general thoughts on this?

Now I wish to make clear I do not fully understand the beliefs of Christians, this is why I'm reading the Bible. My intention is not to mock or insult anyone's religion only to learn what you believe and I have absolutely no interest in trying to make anyone question their beliefs. Im just trying to understand.

Any insight in to this would be appreciated. Thank you.
 

WIP

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I believe parts of the Bible are meant to be taken figuratively while other parts are meant to be taken literally. One must learn to discern which is which and the best way to do that is to get to know the author, God Himself. If I tell you that it is raining cats and dogs would you believe there are actually cats and dogs falling from the sky? You know the answer is no because you are able to discern what I mean.

One thing that I have learned in the multiple times that I have either read or listened to the Bible is that a big part of its purpose is to help us know God. As you have been reading and are now into Isaiah, pay attention to how many times you have or will hear God say something like, "So they will know that I am God," or something else similar to this. Having done a study I know there are close to 150 references of this type in each, the Old and New Testiments.

What I believe God desires is more than just knowing that He exists but that we have a personal devout relationship with Him. You are currently reading in the Old Testament. There is a lot of historical background being presented in the Old Testament and the one thing that it all points to is the coming Messiah, the Christ, Jesus. You'll be introduced to Him in the New Testament beginning with the four Gospels.

The way I look at the Bible is to see it as God's autobiography which was put in writing through those He inspired. To know God you'll need to finish the whole story because it all fits together and pulling one piece out of context is not going to be the true story.
 
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Quantrill

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Hi, for full disclosure I classify myself as an atheist. Recently my friend gave me a bible and suggested I should try reading it. Out of respect for them and their beliefs I decided I would try reading it. If nothing else it can't harm anyone to gain a comprehensive understanding of what Christians believe.

I'm currently reading it cover to cover and am currently at Isaiah chapter 29.

I've been discussing online with people on other sites to try understand various peoples interpretations of the Bible. I've come to realise there are many different interpretations.

Most seem to speak of the Bible with similar attitudes with minor discrepancies on interpretation and meanings of certain commandments or translations.

However a group of people have been commenting to me only in private messages not in view of other people. This has happened across multiple platforms.

People have sent me links to a website called the rapture countdown and a the word Dispensationalism keeps coming up whenever they message me.

Ive looked it up and see it is a group of Christians that believe the Bible is to be taken literally.

My questions are: Is Dispensationalism something commonly believed amongst Christians? Why do these people not post publicly? What are people's general thoughts on this?

Now I wish to make clear I do not fully understand the beliefs of Christians, this is why I'm reading the Bible. My intention is not to mock or insult anyone's religion only to learn what you believe and I have absolutely no interest in trying to make anyone question their beliefs. Im just trying to understand.

Any insight in to this would be appreciated. Thank you.

Welcome.

I have known atheists who study the Bible, even to the point of taking classes, just to try and refute it and Christians. I'm not saying that is why you are doing it, but you did say it couldn't hurt to study and know what we believe. My point is this; it can hurt if you are not seeking God. It can become an inoculation and keep you from the real thing.

As to your question, yes, Dispensationalism is a commonly believed doctrine among Christians. But not all Christians agree with it. It is not a cult, nor is it heresy. Dispensationalist's agree with the all important fundamentals of the faith, which are the Trinity, Jesus Christ as the 2nd Person of the Trinity, Christ's death, burial, and resurrection from the dead, and His ascension to the Father, and His future return to earth, and our salvation by faith in Christ.

I am Dispensationalist, and post publicly. There have been many discussions on Dispensationalism, the Rapture, etc.

We do hold to the literal interpretation of the Bible. But literal interpretation simply means a normal interpretation. If a symbol is being used, we recognize it as a symbol. If an allegory is being used, we recognize it as an allegory. But we don't interpret all of Scripture symbolically or allegorically.

The miraculous nature of the Bible leads to many miraculous events recorded. Just because they are miraculous doesn't mean they are to be taken figuratively or symbolically. They are just miraculous. If you have a Book written by God, you must expect it.

Quantrill
 

Truthfrees

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Hi, for full disclosure I classify myself as an atheist. Recently my friend gave me a bible and suggested I should try reading it. Out of respect for them and their beliefs I decided I would try reading it. If nothing else it can't harm anyone to gain a comprehensive understanding of what Christians believe.

I'm currently reading it cover to cover and am currently at Isaiah chapter 29.

I've been discussing online with people on other sites to try understand various peoples interpretations of the Bible. I've come to realise there are many different interpretations.

Most seem to speak of the Bible with similar attitudes with minor discrepancies on interpretation and meanings of certain commandments or translations.

However a group of people have been commenting to me only in private messages not in view of other people. This has happened across multiple platforms.

People have sent me links to a website called the rapture countdown and a the word Dispensationalism keeps coming up whenever they message me.

Ive looked it up and see it is a group of Christians that believe the Bible is to be taken literally.

My questions are: Is Dispensationalism something commonly believed amongst Christians? Why do these people not post publicly? What are people's general thoughts on this?

Now I wish to make clear I do not fully understand the beliefs of Christians, this is why I'm reading the Bible. My intention is not to mock or insult anyone's religion only to learn what you believe and I have absolutely no interest in trying to make anyone question their beliefs. Im just trying to understand.

Any insight in to this would be appreciated. Thank you.
the best way to read the bible is as a message from God to you - God reaching out to you

dispensations is part of theological ideas - theological ideas is where people start arguing and disagreeing and calling each other names like heretic etc

if you get bogged down in theology you will miss God your Creator Savior Deliverer Healer Provider Protector Teacher reaching out to you to start a close deep relationship with you

iow man wants you to join his theological camp - God wants you to join His family and have a close deep personal walk with Him

the basic message of the entire bible is God loves us - God wants us to turn to Him and do things His way so that we treat others well - God wants to help us with everything we need - we all need God because He is perfect and He made a way for us to walk by His Spirit and power

in short as you read the bible ask God to reveal to you if He is real or not - then He will amplify His help to you to understand what He wants you to know from the bible as His daily message to you
 

Serving Zion

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Hi, for full disclosure I classify myself as an atheist. Recently my friend gave me a bible and suggested I should try reading it. Out of respect for them and their beliefs I decided I would try reading it. If nothing else it can't harm anyone to gain a comprehensive understanding of what Christians believe.

I'm currently reading it cover to cover and am currently at Isaiah chapter 29.

I've been discussing online with people on other sites to try understand various peoples interpretations of the Bible. I've come to realise there are many different interpretations.

Most seem to speak of the Bible with similar attitudes with minor discrepancies on interpretation and meanings of certain commandments or translations.

However a group of people have been commenting to me only in private messages not in view of other people. This has happened across multiple platforms.

People have sent me links to a website called the rapture countdown and a the word Dispensationalism keeps coming up whenever they message me.

Ive looked it up and see it is a group of Christians that believe the Bible is to be taken literally.

My questions are: Is Dispensationalism something commonly believed amongst Christians? Why do these people not post publicly? What are people's general thoughts on this?

Now I wish to make clear I do not fully understand the beliefs of Christians, this is why I'm reading the Bible. My intention is not to mock or insult anyone's religion only to learn what you believe and I have absolutely no interest in trying to make anyone question their beliefs. Im just trying to understand.

Any insight in to this would be appreciated. Thank you.
Hello there atheist, welcome to ChristianForums.net! I can see that you have been posting with others online and yet none of their words have turned you around completely from being an atheist. I'm sure that some of the things they have said will have made an impact of sorts and others may have said things that will prove to work against your faith. But it is to be expected that changing a person's way of thinking may require time and many minor adjustments.

So the bible contains information that you need to have knowledge of in order to be able to consider the views that contribute toward faith. It is good to get all that information into your mind where it may reside in your memory and it can be used by your mind when considering things. In addition to that, it can be used by the Holy Spirit when others speak to you, because our words might be able to remind you of the things that you have read in the bible. Sometimes the Holy Spirit even speaks through a person in order to do that work of building-up your knowledge and insights. It is normal that people will usually not recognise that the Holy Spirit is speaking when that happens, but it doesn't necessarily invalidate the purpose of His doing so as long as you are able to decide accurately on the ideas that come to mind and in that way He can lead you to have the understanding that He is planning for you. So as long as you stay on the path of discussing things and questioning things, accepting the truth when it applies and not falling into feign just for the sake of "belonging" or whatever... then you'll end up coming to the conclusion that God is in fact doing that kind of work in these ways. As to your questions here I do have some thoughts to offer:

You speak of the rapture and dispensationism, which are doctrines taught in some circles in Christianity that not all Christians agree about. What is important to keep in mind is that those words don't appear in the bible (try searching for "dispensation" and "rapture" in the bible) - they are concepts that have been developed to answer certain questions, and those questions have come about from people who have not immediately understood what the bible is teaching. Maybe if you have read any of the New Testament, you would remember Jesus saying famously "If the blind leads the blind, they will both fall into a pit". That sort of language is poetic, meaning to speak of the inability of a person to see the truth rather than the literal meaning of a person who has no eye sight. There's a lot of that poetic language in the bible, and the understandings that are being conveyed by the spiritual concepts are what eventually grows into the knowledge that Jesus is referring to. The disciples who were with Jesus asked Him "why do you speak in parables?" and He explained to them that whoever is able to see the meaning of the parables will see more through them, but those who do not see will be made even more blind by them. It is because a person really needs to love the truth in order to accept the things that Jesus teaches, and even in these days when we speak in ways that have deep meaning, there are people who really don't see that deeper meaning - yet they will be fervent Christians and very enthusiastic teachers. They are the types that Jesus spoke of as being false teachers and blind guides. Of course He was speaking of people who were of the Jewish religion (that was the equivalent of what Christianity is today - because the religion of Christianity came about when the Jews forfeited their claim to the kingdom of God by crucifying Jesus Christ - consider Matthew 21:33-45). In many ways the Christians have also forfeited their claim to the kingdom of God over the years, because to be Christian really means that we need to be like Christ Himself. When that proves too difficult or unattractive, then a person claiming to be Christian needs to begin living contrary to what their conscience and what God expects of them - yet they will continue to call themselves Christian because they don't want to give up the benefits of being Christian - they just want to be a sinner too. So the New Testament mentions that happening, and says that as a result of the false teachers, there were false teachings creeping in among the churches. That was happening right after Jesus had been resurrected, some two thousand years ago, and if you spend time observing people of the Christian religion you will even see them doing the same thing these days. So that's why you see so much disagreement among Christians: it is because for one reason or another they just can't hold to the truth when it matters, so they become cut off from the truth and having their own belief system, and then looking for support from others to prop them up. That's probably largely why they approach you privately, because they have a deep desire to convince you to join them and they are taking extra steps to try and have influence over you without the competition. You'll understand what the New Testament is saying about that side of human nature when you read it knowing that religion can produce people like that. Getting back to the doctrines you mentioned:

Rapture is a doctrine that supposes the faithful believers will be physically lifted out of the earth when the most destructive time is about to happen. Obviously it depends upon a view that God is going to bring such destructive times upon the earth, and that it hasn't already happened. To speak in that way is to make predictions about the future, and when people do that, they base their predictions upon the things written in the bible that is called "prophecy". The thing about those prophecies is that they are written in a way that is very deep and purposefully imaginative - in fact the style of prophecy is such that it is hard to form a definite picture of what it is saying, and that is why the ideas about how prophecy should be interpreted are wide and varied. In addition to that, the interpretations that people teach, such as the rapture, usually involve the combination of several independent prophecies - as for instance, the man who is known as St. John was one of Jesus' twelve disciples. He wrote the vision of the book of Revelation that gives the most graphic descriptions of the return of Jesus, yet the doctrine of the rapture comes primarily from a small writing of St. Paul, who is the one who wrote 1/4 of the New Testament, but who was converted to Christianity after the resurrection of Jesus and who is known to have never met Jesus in the flesh prior to that time. So when you read the writing of St. John, it is clear that he is giving his own independent account of a vision that he received from God but he is not making any references to the comments made by St. Paul - and in a similar way, it is not apparent that St. Paul even knows about the vision that St. John had written, but instead he seems to be describing the inside knowledge that he had come to understand by having discussed religion so much in his years as a Christian. Therefore, it is best to keep in mind that prophecy is an insider's knowledge, and it is meant to be knowledge that God Himself reveals to us when He decides that it is useful for us to know it. If you start asking questions of those people who are approaching you privately to try and find out their purpose and intention, maybe you will be able to find out whether they are in possession of genuine insider's knowledge or whether they have themselves been duped into joining the culture of believers in order to "belong". There's a word for that: it is called "rote" knowledge, and when you get into the book of Jeremiah you will see how that man was particularly persecuted by those types of believers because they didn't accept the things he said and he wasn't interested in making compromises for them.

(split into two posts because of the character limit)
 

Serving Zion

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(continued from the previous post)

Dispensationalism: what that teaches is that God has a plan for the eventual growth of the church by giving power and understanding in stages. Whereas it is possible to see that the power of God does operate in that way (as an insider you would be seeing changes to spiritual awareness happening globally and not simply growing organically as you would expect if it were spreading through the mixing of individuals and cultures) - and that there have been times in history when churches and indiviuals have been manifesting miraculous power. While that's all true and observable, the idea that God is somehow restricting that knowledge and power because it doesn't fit with His timing is, I think, pretty unfair to God, and I think that the bible has a lot to say to us individually about the fact that God would far rather be able to do the same things through us as He was doing through Jesus - yet it is our own shortcomings that are holding Him back. Jesus said "if you have faith with no doubt then nothing will be impossible for you" and He also said "the works that I am doing, you will be doing also - and even greater works you will do because I am going to be with my Father in heaven". So it's clear that God doesn't desire to hold back any of the dispensation of the kingdom.

So... what's left to cover now? I have said so much to you today! ...

Yes, there is the general gist of the bible and the Christian faith. Ok, so we understand that the bible teaches that God made a world without sin. It was a paradise. There was no selfishness and no lying. It was all "very good" in His eyes. Then one day, sin found a way to get into the world, and every single person ever since has been made into a sinner. Now I am of the view that when babies are born into the world, they don't have any knowledge of sin, and they don't have any desire to tell fibs or to be selfish. Of course they cry because they are hungry or distressed, but that's not a sinful thing to do, it is a normal response to discomfort and a call for help. But over time they learn sinful habits, and they even come to learn that sinfulness is a way to prosper in the fallen world - and it is the sin in the world that teaches them to be like that. Thus, everyone comes to be a sinner before they even come to an age of independence. Then independence comes, and what happens is that children grow up to outsmart their parents and to outsmart their teachers and they begin going behind the back of any authority when it suits them, intending to rely upon deceit to evade conviction. In order to do that, they also need to deceive themselves, and that is why Jesus teaches us that we need to be born again - to have a "new life" where we are again like a child - being innocent and blameless - ok, still having to unlearn some of the sinful ideas we had come to believe, but in each time if doing wrong, we are not intending to deceive by doing so, and are willing to make adjustments in order to do what is right. That's what children are like, if you observe them being raised in a loving environment. So part of that process of being born-again is to overcome the fear of either being punsihed or deprived, or ashamed of admitting that what we are doing is wrong. It is about being able to step out of that deceitful way ("walking in the darkness") and stepping into the light where we never need to hide anything ("walking in the light"). In that way you can see how the story of Adam and Eve shows us the struggle that is natural: they had immediately forgotten the nature of God: that God is love! Instead of immediately running to God saying "Daddy! I made a mistake!" they ran away and hid themselves and tried to hide their nakedness. It tells us a lot about the importance of trust in a relationship between parents and children, as to how good those children will become. See, children don't start off as being liars, but they learn to tell fibs when they figure out that it's the only way to avoid nasty punishments or to get the nice things that they want. As a result of learning that sin nature, we are afraid to come to God because we think that He's going to say "aha! You admit your own sin then!" and that's why He gave up His only-begotten son when it came down to it: He wants to show us that He doesn't have any interest in punishing us for our sins, in fact that He would rather sacrifice His most precious son if it would show us that we can trust Him and turn to Him so that He could heal us. There's a bit more to it than that too, because there is a certain power that sin has over us according to the writings that are in the bible that is the covenant that the offspring of Abraham entered into through Moses that involves lots of bloodshed and stuff that thankfully Jesus has done away with. So it means that now He has made the covenant with God to replace the former covenant of bloodshed, that there's no more need for us to take on the guilt of shedding innocent blood because of our sins, but in order to have the feeling of being forgiven, all we need to do is turn away from the sin that makes us hide from God and just do our honest best to do what's right as He leads us in the knowledge of it from day to day. If you want to read more about the gospel of Jesus Christ in that way, there's a nice little booklet here at this link:

www.christianforums.net/blog/the-gospel

What that does is from page to page takes a topic and shows a handful of verses from the bible about that topic. As you consider what those verses are saying in context of that topic, you come to understand what the Gospel is all about, and it will help you see the rest of the bible in that context. If you are coming from the background of an atheist then it provides a good kick-start to the bible that Christians who are raised with the bible would take for granted.

Hopefully this has all been helpful and interesting for you. I wouldn't normally write such a long post but you seemed to be genuine and I thought you could make use of it :)
 

Cyberseeker

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My questions are: Is Dispensationalism something commonly believed amongst Christians? Why do these people not post publicly? What are people's general thoughts on this?

Now I wish to make clear I do not fully understand the beliefs of Christians, this is why I'm reading the Bible. My intention is not to mock or insult anyone's religion only to learn what you believe and I have absolutely no interest in trying to make anyone question their beliefs. Im just trying to understand.

Any insight in to this would be appreciated. Thank you.

Hi AthiestStudying. Just a few pointers from me: Bible teachers like to compartmentalize the major doctrines to help us from getting lost. Dispensationalism belongs to the 'compartment' dealing with eschatology (prophecy). You would do better, IMO, to study the claims of Jesus, that he was the Son of God.

But back to your question: Many modern churches follow the 'Dispensational' view point and older churches follow the 'Covenant Theology' viewpoint. Below is a brief comparison showing the main differences. Hope it helps.

Dispensational Theology
  1. God has two distinct people – Israel and the Church.
  2. The Church age was a parenthesis in God’s dealing with Israel.
  3. God’s promises to Israel were postponed till after the rapture.
  4. After a Jewish tribulation revival, their ‘dispensation’ will resume.
  5. Worship in the millennium includes re-instituted temple sacrifice.
  6. The promised temple is an example of what must yet be fulfilled.
  7. Modern Israel proves not all promises are fulfilled in the Church.
Covenant Theology
  1. God has always only had but one spiritual people.
  2. The Church (incl. Jew & Gentile) actually is true Israel.
  3. God’s promises to Israel are fulfilled in Christ’s Church.
  4. There will be a revival of Jews but it will be into the Church.
  5. Redemption is in the cross and sacrifice is finished forever.
  6. Even if a temple gets rebuilt it is unnecessary and irrelevant.
  7. The modern restoration of the nation of Israel is coincidental.
 
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I think you may be starting in the wrong place in the Bible if you are seeking to have a better knowledge of what Christians believe.

There are things written in the Bible for us and not necessarily to us. Most of the Old Testament is for us, for our general education about who God is, and how He goes about things. Also it gives the good, bad, and ugly side of people, in how they related to God and each other. The historical books are basically the history of Israel. Basically, the rise and fall of Israel. The prophetical books contain the preaching of the prophets who warned Israel of the consequences of failing to remain faithful to Him. The Psalms are basically prayers and the musical lyrics of Israel. Ecclesiastes is the account of someone who had it all at one time, but in spite of his status and riches, life became pretty meaningless, and he expresses his disillusionment of life.

The Gospels detail the life and ministry of Jesus, and my advice is to stop reading where you are at, and read the Book of John. There is a good dramatization of John on Youtube, which is essentially the book of John acted out. It gives a very clear picture of who Jesus was and what He was about. Reading the other three Gospels add to it and give a good, solid background to what Jesus did and taught. The other books of the New Testament are extensions of the Gospels, and understanding those books is base on what you learn through the Gospels.

Then the Old Testament becomes into perspective, and is then seen as the "back story" to the Christian faith.
 

Degas

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Hey there.
My questions are: Is Dispensationalism something commonly believed amongst Christians? Why do these people not post publicly?
It would be more relevant from a deep sensationalist view point to post publicly :lol

Now, why are you an atheist? Because you haven't experienced God's Love. If you had, you wouldn't care whether each and every word in the Bible is too be understood literally or not.
 

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Hi ASB! Welcome to CF! I have heard the term and know a little of what dispensationalism is, but I wouldn't get caught up on the different theologies right now anyhow. I am for what Paul said about reading the NT first. It is shorter for one, but I think if you are looking to understand Christianity, the gospels sum it up. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. John is a really good book to understand who Jesus Christ is, His life, His death, and resurrection, and He is the center of what Christianity is all about. Jesus Christ is what we all have in common as Believers. Christian simply means "follower of Christ." There was an amazing movie that tackled the Bible and it's authenticity. I think it was called "Case for Christ", but could be wrong. But it sounds like you might find some interest in it.

I think it is good to know different views of the Bible, but only after you know the foundations. The Bible was written by forty authors over a period of 1500 years. Yet they all come together. Once you learn of Christ, start looking up the Old Testament prophecies. Those OT writers didn't know anything of Christ, yet history shows Christ fulfilled things every single prophecy they said... Over 300 prophecies fulfilled. Very slim chance of that happening with one man I would say.
 

for_his_glory

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Hi AtheistStudyingBible and a late welcome to CF from me :wave2

You have been given much to think about so I will just answer your question about Dispensationalist in whom I disagree with their theology. Please fill free to ask any question as there are no stupid questions, but you will get some stupid answers at times. Just keep reading and keep questioning as God will reveal himself to you through His word.

Dispensationalist only believe that literalsim is the best way to view scripture. They also believe there is no non-literal fulfillment of messianic prophecies in the NT. If a literal interpretation is not used in studying scripture there is no objective standard by which to study scripture.

Dispensationalist hold that the church has not replaced Israel in God's program and that the OT promises to Israel have not been transferred to the Church.

To sum it up dispensationalism is a theological system that emphasizes the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy and recognizes a distinction between Israel and the Church and organizes the Bible into two different dispensations or administrations.

Dispensationalism - en.m.wikipedia.org

The first systematic expression of dispensationalism was formulated by the father of dispensationalism by John Nelson Darby sometime during the late 1820's and 1830's in British Isles in whom began the dispensation movement. Darby's development was the culmination of various influences which produced within his thought one of the most literal approaches to Bible interpretation in history and a theology which distinguishes God's plan for Israel from God's plan for the Church. The most well known feature of dispensational theology is the much debated pretribulation rapture theory. Notice the word theory. Theory is just the carnal minds way of interpreting something. Darby was succeeded by the theologian C. I. Scofield, Harry A. Ironside, Lewis Sperry Chafer, William R. Newell and Miles J. Stanford, each of whom identified Pentecost (Acts 2) with the start of the Church as distinct from Israel.

Grace Movement Dispensationalist believe the Church started later in Acts and emphasize the beginning of the Church with the ministry of Paul. Advocates of this "mid-Acts" position identify the start of the Church occurring between the salvation of Saul in Acts 9 and the Holy Spirit's commissioning of Paul in Acts 13. The "Acts 28" posits that the Church began in Acts 28 where the Apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9, 10 concerning the blindness of Israel, announcing that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentile world, Acts 28:28.
 
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