It probably comes as no surprise to most, but many incorrect assumptions have been made concerning God’s Word, the Bible. These erroneous notions have come about primarily as a result of not understanding God’s purpose in giving us His Word. The Bible is not a book of theology, morals, history, science, or any other topic for that matter. It is, in fact, a revelation of God, the creation and fall of man, the way of salvation, and God’s plan and purpose for the Ages. It deals with:

 

  1. Four persons – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and Satan.
  2. Three places – Heaven , Earth, and Hell.
  3. Three groups of people – The Jews, Gentiles (Nations), and the Church.

 

If a person doesn’t approach their reading and study of the Bible with this basic understanding, I am of the opinion that such a person will be woefully ill-prepared to rightly divide the word, as we are clearly admonished to do. [See 2 Tim. 2:15] God has a plan. You might say He has a clear agenda. The Apostle Paul said concerning this plan, this agenda; That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:[Eph. 1:10] I want you to notice the word, dispensation in this verse. It is a word that is tossed around quite a bit. Many preachers and Bible teachers refuse to teach anything on dispensations or dispensationalism because a lot of people hate the word and the term.

 

However, just because some don’t like a word that is clearly in scripture shouldn’t deter us from teaching it. After all, there are a good number in the Church that hate the words, blood, redemption, and cross. That fact shouldn’t stop us from teaching on them, anymore than should the fact that some don’t like the word dispensation keep us from teaching the truth on this subject. What is a dispensation?

 

The word dispensation as used here in this passage is from the Greek, oikonomia. It is the management or administration of a household. It describes the manner in which God has managed His household at any given point in time. The dispensations explain how God has related to and dealt with humanity down through the ages of time.

 

A dispensation is not an Age, although they can and have occurred within the various ages of time. Another way to say this is that a dispensation is not a set period of time, whereas an age is. For example, we speak of the “Church Age.” That is a specfic period of time detemined by the Godhead in eternity past, a period of aproximately 2,000 years. During this period of time or age, God has dealt with man on the basis of grace. So, we could say we live in the Church Age, during the dispensation of grace, which at this point has been the longest of the dispensations.

 

As we stated earlier some in the Christian Church reject the notion of dispensationalism out of hand due to the fact, they allege, that it is simply too new. In other words, critics of dispensationalism claim that this method of viewing and dividing scripture is relatively recent, debuting in the Christian Church around 1830, with the teaching of one Rev. J.N. Darby. Darby’s teachings were then popularized, so the story goes, by one C.I. Scofield, who in turn published them in the notes of his popular study Bible. And the rest is, as they say, history. We are led to believe that absolutely no one in the Christian Church prior to 1830 had ever heard of such a notion, much less taught, the idea of understanding and dividing the scriptures according to dispensations. All of this is a part of some vast conspiracy sold like so much “snake oil” to a gullible Christian public who has swallowed it. All of this of course was contrived to deceive believers and make a great deal of money in the process. At least these are the conclusions of “rapture fighter” and critic Dave MacPherson and a host of disciples who have followed in his footsteps. (As a side note, one merely needs to read the back story on Mr. MacPherson to understand that he clearly has an ax to grind with dispensationalists and with those of us who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture.)

 

The real question however that we must ask and answer is simply, is he and those who follow his line of reasoning, right in their conclusions? Is dispensationalism a new teaching? I believe that we can demonstrate it is not. For example, Augustine [A.D. 354 – 430] stated, “Distinguish the ages, and the scriptures will be in harmony.” Even farther back, Justin Martyr [A.D. 110 – 165], recognized differing economies in the Old Testament. Irenaus [A.D. 130 – 200] refers in his writings to four principal covenants given to the human race, particularly drawing a distinction between three covenants of the Old Testament and the Gospels. This is typical dispensationalism.

 

Another of the “Church Fathers”, Clement (A.D. 150 – 220), identified four dispensations: Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, and Mosaic. These men lived and taught various forms of dispensationalism long before modern times, not to mention 1830 and Darby’s time.

 

As we come to more modern times, we find the teachings of Pierre Poiret [1646 – 1719], who presented a seven-fold dispensational outline. Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards [1646 – 1719], published a 2 volume set entitled, “A Complete History or Survey of all The Dispensations.” Isaac Watts [1674 – 1748], recognized the dispensations as “conditional ages” wherein God had certain expectations of men and made conditional promises and prohibitions to them. This is just a brief history. We could give more examples, but I believe it should be clear that the teaching of dispensations has been taught in the Christian Church long before the times of both John Nelson Darby and C.I. Scofield.

 

The word, dispensation, does not appear in the Old Testament. We find it appearing in the New Testament a total of 9 times. Now, please don’t get the idea that since the word dispensation does not appear in the Old Testament that it is not an Old Testament teaching. We don’t find the word, devil in the Old Testament either; but I don’t know of anyone who would conclude from that there was no devil in the Old Testament. We certainly see dispensations, that is, God’s method of managing the affairs of His household, in the Old Testament. It should be clear to even the casual reader of the Bible that God is not dealing with man today as He did, for example, the Israelites during the Wilderness Wanderings and their subsequent entrance into the “Promised Land.”

 

Although there are a few minor variations, most who hold to what we could refer to as, “Dispensational Theology”, recognize seven dispensations. They are as follows:

 

  • The Dispensation of Innocence
  • The Dispensation of Conscience
  • The Dispensation of Human Government
  • The Dispensation of Promise
  • The Dispensation of Law
  • The Dispensation of Grace
  • The Dispensation of Divine Government – The Millienium

 

These seven dispensations represent how God has dealt with humanity down through the centuries. As should be obvious, five of the seven dispensations had come and gone long before any of us ever lived. None of us were alive during the past dispensations. Every one of us came into this world during the Church Age, under the Dispensation of Grace. When we by faith received Christ and His free offer of salvation, we became members of the Body of Christ and were adopted into the Family of God. Upon this occuring the Holy Spirit took up residence in our inner man (comprised of the soul and spirit), and wrote our name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We were no longer at odds with God. We were no longer seperated from God by our sin, but were in fact brought “nigh by the blood of Christ.”

 

This all occurred by grace through faith. We did not, and could not, ever merit it on our own. Thank God for His grace! Thank the Lord He is dealing with us on the basis of grace. What about before this grace came? How did God deal with people then? That is what the proceeding dispensations were all about. God has always had a method of dealing with man. We will examine the dispensations.

 

We’ll start next time at the beginning. I refer to the real beginning, the dateless past. It should be a fascinating look at God’s Word. Plan to join us if you can.

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