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Dispensationalism: Understanding Dispensations in the Bible

Dispensationalism is based on biblical passages where a series of chronologically successive "dispensations" occur in periods of bible history. In these periods God relates to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants. As a system, dispensationalism is known as Administrations.

One of the most important underlying theological concepts for dispensationalists is progressive revelation. While some nondispensationalists start with progressive revelation in the New Testament and refer this revelation back into the Old Testament, dispensationalists begin with progressive revelation in the Old Testament and read forward in a historical sense. Therefore there is an emphasis on a gradually developed unity as seen in the entirety of Scripture.

Biblical covenants are intricately tied to the dispensations. When these Biblical covenants are compared and contrasted, the result is a historical ordering of different dispensations (administrations). Also with regard to the different Biblical covenant promises, dispensationalists place emphasis on to whom these promises were written, the original recipients. This has led to certain fundamental dispensational beliefs, such as a distinction between Israel under The Law of Moses and the Church under the Grace Administration.

The theology of dispensationalism consists of a distinctive "end times" perspective, as all dispensationalists hold to premillennialism and most hold to a pretribulation rapture. Dispensationalists believe that the nation of Israel is distinct from the Church, and that God has yet to fulfill His promises to the national of Israel. These promises include the land promises, which in the future result in a millennial kingdom where Christ, upon His return, will rule the world from Jerusalem for a thousand years.

The Meaning of the Word Dispensation

The word which is translated dispensation in the New Testament is oikonomia, from which the English word economy is derived. The New Testament word is a combination of two words, oikos, which means house, and nemo, which means to dispense, manage, or hold sway. Thus, the word literally means house dispensing or house managing. It "relates primarily to household administration"

The English word dispensation sometimes refers to "the system by which things are administered" and "the divine administration or conduct of the world" Theologically it is a religious order or system, conceived as divinely instituted, or as a stage in a progressive revelation, expressly adapted to the needs of a particular nation or period of time.
The English word economy in its theological usage refers to the method of the divine government of the world, or of a specific department or portion of that government

The Usage Of The Word For Dispensation In The New Testament

The word oikonomia appears nine times in the New Testament. In six of these appearances (Luke 16:2-4; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Ephesians 3:2; Colossians 1:25) it is translated stewardship or dispensation and refers to a responsible office or ministry entrusted to one’s care by a higher authority. In the other three appearances (Ephesians 1:10; 3:9; 1 Timothy 1:4) it is translated dispensation, fellowship, and edifying in the King James Version and administration in the New American Standard Bible.

In these three passages it refers to a particular way of God administering His rule over the world. Ephesians 1:10 is of special interest, because it appears to refer to the particular way that God will administer His rule over the world in the future Millennium (the Millennial Dispensation). Ephesians 3:9 and 1Timothy 1:4 refer to the particular way that God administers His rule now (the present dispensation known as the Grace Administration).

A Definition Of The Term Dispensation As It Relates To Dispensational Theology

In light of the usage of the word for dispensation in the New Testament, the term dispensation as it relates to Dispensational Theology could be defined as follows: a dispensation is a particular way of God administering His rule over the world as He progressively works out His purpose for world history.

It is a well documented fact, supported by even a casual read through the Bible, that there are different periods of time where God treats groups of people differently. These times where God made a promise to these groups then proceeded to treat those people differently are known as Dispensational Administrations.

According to Futurist Eschatology, there are 7 different administrations spanning over 6,000 years each having a unique set of rules by which God governs. They are listed as:

  1. Original Paradise
  2. Patriarchal Administration
  3. Law Administration
  4. Christ Administration
  5. Grace Administration
  6. Tribulation
  7. Millennial Reign

Understanding to which administration the Bible is written can mean the difference between rightly dividing the Word of Truth and being deeply confused in error. 

The biggest argument about dispensationalism is about whether born again Christians under the grace covenant should obey the covenant of Israel concerning the Law of Moses. Many Christians believe that we are no longer under the law because Christ fulfilled the law and it was thus abolished. That is not correct. The law is still in effect, just ask any Jew! God did not cancel His promise to the people of Israel including the Jewish people just because He made a new covenant promise with a wider group of people (Jews and all Gentiles).

When God makes a new covenant that event begins a new dispensation administration. That new covenant does not mean the old covenant in now void. It also does not mean that the former dispensation is over ruled by the new dispensation. They each continue to operate in parallel. Many times a new covenant will supersede an old covenant because it is based on a more robust promise or it involves easier participation. Such are two of the many major differences contrasted between the Law of Moses and the Grace Administration.

Here’s the thing, since we all have freedom of choice as a gift from God, we each enjoy the freedom to choose which covenant we want to live under. If you choose the law then you will be subject to all 613 covenant commandments. God will honor you for your obedience to it. If you choose to accept and live under the grace covenant then you are considered a born again Christian and are held responsible for knowing what God expects from you under that promise.

If you truly want to know the truth of God's Word then you must understand dispensationalism. This is vitally important so that you know exactly whom God is speaking to in which dispensational administration and whether it applies directly to you or not.

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About the author Minister Daniel Sweet

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