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Dispensational distinctions – the principle of rightly dividing the word

Dispensationalism is a hermeneutical system that comes from the word meaning stewardship. Distinguishing dispensations is a Biblical hermeneutic interpretation of the whole history of man. By using a consistent literal interpretation it organizes the differences where God acted with mankind and employed different activities that changed. A literal interpretation also takes into account figurative language, symbols and patterns. This all makes a large difference when one interprets prophecy. Because these all relate to a literal fulfillment.

There are different types of dispensational views. Some break it down to two dispensations, making the distinction of the law covenant and the new covenant. However, there are more than two covenants, some see as many as seven. C.I. Scofield, of the Scofield Bible, (along with other dispensational teachers), have taught this.

There are numerous changes through the ages; certainly the introduction of the gospel reveals a change in dispensations, from law to grace. While many point to Darby as an originator,  this concept was employed by some in the early church and developed into a systematic theology as were many other portions and topics of the Scripture.

There are those who vehemently oppose dispensationalism pointing out that not until the 1800s was it taught John Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren movement. While he and others may have introduced some new facets to this, even the Ante-Nicene Fathers, the early church pastors and apologists had some similar divisions that modern dispensationalists hold.

The Bible speaks of Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Christ, and from Christ to the tribulation that will lead mankind into the Millennium and afterwards an eternal state.

Without understanding the different Covenants one cannot see distinct dispensations, this is essential in rightly dividing the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15), or one can come to the conclusion of the church being Israel, or the church always existing.

The word times, ages is aion in Greek, in Eph. 1:10 “ that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth-- in Him.”

Eph. 3:2 “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you”

The word for dispensation in Greek is oikonomia; meaning an administration (of a household or estate); specifically, a (religious) “economy”:

Thayers the management of a household or of household affairs

a) specifically, the management, oversight, administration, of other's property

b) the office of a manager or overseer, stewardship

c) administration, dispensation

Dispensation- Gr. oikonomia, means “the management of household affairs.” the mystery of the gospel would become known in this last dispensation, it was not known before.

God the Father is the Dispenser of the Gospel benefits that comes by Christ the Son and through the Holy Spirit to those who are believers put in the body, the Church.

1. The coming of Jesus at the first advent, “in the fullness of time,” was one of these “times.”

2. The descent of the Holy Spirit, when “Pentecost was fully come” (Acts 2:1) is another.

3. The conversion of the Jews at the end of the tribulation, “when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

4. The second coming of Christ, the “restitution of all things,” the millennial kingdom. The messianic age begins with the king physically present on earth to rule the nations.

4. The new heaven and earth, finishes “the dispensation of the fullness of times.” in Eph 2:7 “The ends of the ages' (1 Cor. 10:11); “the times to come.” Before the new order of things.

We have a Bible word for “AGE.” The Bible refers to “ages past” (Eph. 3:5), “ages to come” (Eph. 2:7), and “all ages” (Eph. 3:21) all in the same letter by Paul.

Another word is TIME.” also in Eph. 1:10 -- “the fulness of times...” The word times can have various meanings, one of its meanings is of a period of time during which God is working out His purposes, sometimes it separated by new command or covenants. The Bible speaks of the “times of the Gentiles” (Lk. 21:24), the “times of the restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21), and “this present time” (Rom. 11:5).

In Acts 1:7 we find the phrase “the times,” referring to Gods plan. These are also called “the seasons.” Gods great calendar which was expressed in the Feast days. These periods of time are where God is working out His eternal purposes toward fulfillment. These periods in the Bible are called “dispensations,” “ages,” “times.” Some are general some are more specific.

Whether one sees this many dispensations, they have to concede there are at least three where God dealt with man differently.

1) The Garden of Eden. Pre Mosaic - without the Mosaic law, (Jn.1:17): This dispensation, is a time of innocence when man did not know of sin. We have no time measurement for this, it could have been months or years, we know that Adam lived to 930 after he sinned. We do not know the age of when he failed the test by the temptation that came to Eve by the Serpent.

After sin Mankind was outside the garden and reproduced under sin. The people of God did not have circumcision, the Sabbath or Mosaic laws i.e. or the priesthood. They did have the moral law which continued instilled in them as the image of God man was created in.

From the fall of Adams fall to the Flood (Genesis 4-8; 1,600 years). There was no law, but there were prophets sent by God, such as Abel, Enoch, and Noah. God left man to grow his sinfulness. Man corrupted the earth and had to be destroyed in the flood, with only Noah and his family being saved to continue the human race. This period lasted roughly.

At this period God changed the food from (Gen.1:29, 2:9). After the judgment by the flood we read that God said: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

Man went from being a strict vegetarian to adding meat to his diet of eating vegetables. But there were restrictions with eating the meat (Gen. 9:3-4).

After the Flood to the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 9-11, 400 years.) God gave Noah and his children new commandments. First, replenish the earth (Gen. 9:1). And He commanded them to put murderers to death (Gen. 9:5-6). He established a covenant in that He promised never to destroy the world with a flood (Gen. 9:8-17).

It is later when the Mosaic law is given that animals are put into two categories to eat “that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” (Lev. 10:10). Prior to the flood mankind did not eat meat, after the flood mankind was given permission to eat meat. Early on animals were in two categories, clean and unclean for sacrifices. Later in the Mosaic covenant to make Israel a distinct people they were clean and unclean for food.

The time period from Abraham to the giving of the Law to Moses for the first time to mankind (Gen. 12-50, 430 years). During this period, God began building a nation through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham was given a covenant (Gen.12) the rite of circumcision and was used to build a nation that would be separate unto God, called Israel. Israel was made from the 12 sons of Jacob and brought into Egypt. Thus preparation for the giving of the law.

Moses was given 613 commandments, the Law to rule Israel as a separate nation among all other nations (1,500 years.) This was the single preparation for Christ (As Paul teaches in Gala. 2-3) Israel is brought into the land of promise that was told to Abraham. The law was given to reveal sin not to save men from sin. It foreshadows Christ by symbols, commands and types.

It is important to understand that men were never saved by keeping the law. Salvation has always been by grace through faith in God’s Word (Romans 4:1-8).

Man comes out from under Law to being in Christ (which will last until the end of the Church Age, do far nearly 2,000 years.) The church age officially begins with the book of Acts, by the Holy Spirit being sent and indwelling all believers, both Jews and Gentiles. God intention has been to call out people from the nations of the earth to be co rulers and reign under the Messiah in the Millennium period (1,000 years).

The Great Tribulation (Revelation 3-18) Man living under a false Messiah and Gods Judgment: This period will last seven years, where God prepares Israel to repent and anticipate the return of the true Messiah, Jesus Christ. Judgments are continually poured upon the world (liken to Egypts plagues). The judgments that fall on Israel will cause her to awaken from her sleep and spiritual blindness call on Christ to return (Zech 12:10), thus the whole nation will be saved together.

These are condensed explanations of specific time periods of Gods dealings with man we call dispensations.

The current administration we are living under, is a new covenant (not the law of Moses). It is in an age of Grace where God does not immediately judge people and nations but is holding off until the day of judgment (Acts 17:29;2 Pt.2:9). We are also allowed to eat any food we want now; there is no distinction of clean or unclean.

What we learn is that God does not change in His nature but He has given different commands to mankind throughout our history in dealing with mankind. These are all different economies. What we have is Adam and Eve: first in paradise (pre and post sin), then not permitted in the garden. Noah: capital punishment is now mandated (flood and covenant, new beginning). Abraham (people of Israel formed and another covenant and a promise of land). Moses (a Law Covenant, people of Israel established, land is lived in), they have the law, the priesthood and kings and judges as a theocracy. Jesus the age of grace, though grace was throughout mankinds history it now is the primary principle instead of judgment (reconciliation to the world is through Israels covenant Rom.11; the Gentiles and Jews become one body). This time of grace continues for men to repent until the Tribulation; where a time of judgment commences and ends with the Messiahs return; and the renovation of the earth is established under the Messiahs rule.

Paul writes in Eph. 3:2 “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you.”

(oikonomia- the management of a household or of household affairs

a) specifically, the management, oversight, administration, of other's property

b) the office of a manager or overseer, stewardship

c) administration, dispensation

The beginning of the church dispensation we see Gods dealing with Israel as a distinct entity they were not replaced by the church, or are the church. Individual Jews believed in Christ and became members of the church, just as individual Gentiles believed and became part of the church. Israel stays separate and has a different prophetic future as a nation than the church.

“The times of the Gentiles” (Ezek 30:3; Lk. 21:24; Rom.11:25) between the first and second comings of Jesus. It takes place from the first generation until late in the last generation of the present dispensation we are now in.

Unfortunately certain positions in this system of theology hold to a belief that the supernatural ceased with the death of the first century apostles, known as cessationism. Not all hold to this rigid interpretation.

Before 1948 only dispensationalists believed Israel would be brought back into the same land because they took the Bible literally and understood its inevitability by the covenants. Some today still do not acknowledge this as having any significance.

Covenant theology, Kingdom now and Emerging Church advocates reject any kind of dispensational theology.

The common denominator they share is that they (many) confuse the church with Israel, and this is often done by interpreting prophecy allegorically. They still hold to the commission from Genesis 1 and Isaiah 2:4 and Matthew 5-7 but the covenant of grace which continues to the end of the age we are commanded to fulfill until He returns can be considered secondary to some (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). They are more concerned with establishing a government or influences into the secular world.

Dispensationalism is seen as “escapology” because many people believe in building the kingdom on earth, something Jesus clearly said is not going to happen by the church but will ONLY take place at his second coming. When He returns, another age begins. This is why Jesus spoke of the end of the age, where man would rule over man by their governments. That it would culminate by a false messiah ruling over mankind temporarily deceiving the nations (Rev.13). The Millennium commences after Jesus is king over al the nations and judges the sheep and the goats (Mt.25, this a new dispensation that lasts 1,000 years according to the Bible.

During the Mosaic economy the Lord used Israel. The kingdom of God was unique to Israel (I Chronicles 28:4, 5). Israel (the Hebrews) became the corporate body through whom God worked during the Law Dispensation, carrying out His plans and purposes because they alone were given the law as a nation and people. But now God is calling out from among the Gentiles, the nations, a people for His name (Acts 15:13,14). This body is known as the body of Christ, or the Church. The present dispensation God's plan is “to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord ...” (Eph. 3:9-11)

The Old Testament prophets did not speak of the dispensation of the Church Age in specifics.  This dispensation of time we are in was a mystery to them; which means a truth which has not previously been revealed. Mark 4:11 Jesus spoke to his disciples, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables” (Matt. 13:11)

Paul, also addresses this mystery that is contained in the new covenant Rom. 11:25 “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”

1 Cor. 2:7 “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, (aion) 1) forever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity 2) the worlds, the universe 3) a period of time, an age. This is about the gospel, that is to both Jews and Gentiles, it is of “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev.13:8) Gods revealed plan to all.

Eph. 1:4 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,” “Those written in the Lambs book of life will inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: (Matt 25:34).

1 Peter 1:20: “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” So we have an overall perspective but we also have it segmented, into different dispensations.

Heb. 9:26 “He …, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” This last dispensation ends the continual sacrifices and unites those who were given to do them under Moses and those who were not.

1 Cor. 10:11 “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” Clearly Paul is distinguishing the different periods of time that are portioned out by God.

Age - Gr. aion - from the same as 104; properly, an age; by extension, perpetuity (also past); by implication, the world; specially (Jewish) a Messianic period (present or future):

Eph. 3:5 “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: so at a certain period of time this mystery was made known.”

The gospel is found in the Old Testament but it is hidden as a mystery until it was revealed by the apostles. We had to wait for Jesus to come and fulfill all the law and the prophecies to take us out from under the law and its penalties and put us in grace by establishing a new covenant and ending the old dispensation.

“And no man puts new wine into wineskins…” the whole Old Testament system, the Old Testament Covenant was not intended to be permanent. Gal.3:17-18, 22-25).

Eph. 3:9-10 “and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”

Col. 1:26: “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.” The mystery being the gospel that saves people by the Messiah, both Jew and Gentile.

Jesus speaks of an end of the age, the age of grace (not law.) Matt 13:39: “the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.”

Matt 24:3 saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

Eph 1:10: “that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth-- in Him.”

For example in Heb 1:1-2 “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.”

Various times Gr. polumeros - adverb from a compound of 4183 and 3313; in many portions, i.e. variously as to time and agency (piecemeal):

Clearly the writer is distinguishing over history the different ways God spoke and how He speaks to us today with the complete revelation through the person the new covenant is based on.  God is managing mankind, later on the nation Israel, so we can understand the ages, different ages (time periods) in the way He has mankind relate to him as he continued the revelation of himself.

For the most part, all those that adhere to a dispensational view will make a distinction between Israel under the law and the church established under grace; two separate covenants. They will distinguish the different promises and not merge them or confuse them, not assign a new language that determines the church as the new Israel or a continuation of Israel as a generic assembly of saints. They see God's promise of the land to the physical descendents of Abraham, not to the church and they do not disregard or spiritualize the promises away from Israel and apply it to the church.

Dispensationalists recognize two distinct people, Gentiles and Jews, and distinguish Israel and the church. They also recognize a 3rd entity that was before Israel was established.

Dispensationalists believe all spiritual believers in Christ are the seed of Abraham but there is a natural physical seed of Abraham, direct descendents whom the land was promised to that has still not been fulfilled.

This is the age of grace that begins in Acts 2:1 until the Tribulation period. It is when the fullness of Gentiles happens, then Israel as a people will be saved. Clearly Paul had this in mind as he wrote The fullness of times as a future dispensation.

Non dispensationalists see the same people and ways from the Old Testament continuing in the new dispensation. Some see the content of the message as the same, however, the subject has changed, not the substance (faith).

The basis of salvation has always been through every age by faith, but the content of that faith was by animal sacrifices and then by the last Adam, the Son of God himself. It was always by blood but the animals only covered mans sin until the dispensation of grace came through Christ crucified once for all.

The second coming of Christ brings a “restitution of all things,” the millennial kingdom has the king physically present on earth. The Bibles teaching on the kingdom as the beginning of a new dispensation, where everything on earth changes once the Messiah is present.

It is after the reign of 1,000 years the new heaven and earth finishes “the dispensation of the fullness of times.”

Eph. 2:7 “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Here are dispensations, for us to understand his grace in a greater way. We go from the lowest state man that was made in the image of God and fell, to a renewed man (the process of sanctification) to our exalted state of glorification, the conquering sin and death.

 What does seem to be a  great divide is that dispensationalists see the church in an apostasy at the end and only a remnant holding to the word, while others, non dispensationalists, believe in a worldwide revival before Christ returns or have the church ruling over the earth before He returns. This is a significant difference in eschatology. The only way this can be postulated is that the prophecies of the end have already occurred (preterism). Which certainly cannot make sense as we see the condition of the world and the church today. In other words our eyes being open, we being watchful will confirm which theology is more accurate. For prophecy must be fulfilled literally and to the points it was written or it has not been fulfilled

Dispensationalism teaches there is more to the New Testament than revealing or explaining the old. But there were new commands given, and the old Mosaic laws passed away while the new was established. That we are not under the law as believers but under grace (Rom.6:14) and the world to a retain extent is also under this grace until the time of judgment comes. There is a real literal Tribulation ahead and a physical kingdom on earth coming, not a spiritual one continuing since Pentecost.

 To deny that the Bible mentions dispensation by both word and used with the covenants is to ignore the Scripture. How many dispensations there are can be discussed (this is determined by how the word is used) but to say there are none is to be willfully ignoring the scripture.




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