Interpretations: Dispensations

This site’s approach to understanding and interpreting the Bible, is dispensational. As Paul wrote to Timothy, study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth, 2Timothy 2:15. Paul is not telling Timothy to divide truth from error, rather, truth from truth. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, 2Timothy 3:16, but not all scripture is written to the Body-of-Christ. Most of scripture is directed to the nation of Israel, though it is written for all believers in Christ Jesus for learning, so that through patience and comfort of the scriptures we might have hope, Romans 15:4. That hope, which Paul wrote about many times in his epistles, is all about Christ Jesus. The hope looks forward to many promises believers in Christ Jesus have, because of our relationship with Him. These promises include looking forward to Him snatching up His church, Titus 2:13, being made heirs with Christ according to the hope of eternal life, Titus 3:7, Romans 8:17, Ephesians 1:18. What sums up the hope of the believer in Christ today, is to know the fulness God has prepared for Gentiles through the manifestation of the mystery, which is Christ in us, the hope of Glory, Colossians 1:26-27.

Paul, who is the apostle to the Gentiles, Romans 11:13, Galatians 2:8, wrote to the Body-of-Christ how the revelation of the mystery was given to him. These mysteries describe a new revealed truth, that believing Gentiles in Christ Jesus are fellow heirs with Christ, Ephesians 3:1-9, Romans 8:17. So, Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, are written to and for the Body-of-Christ. Reading all of scripture dispensationally will equip the reader to properly interpret it and understand how to apply the passages being read.

Therefore, this site views our present age as being in the dispensation of grace, Ephesians 3:2, where all believers in Jesus Christ are in the Body-of-Christ, Romans 12:3-5, 1Corinthians 12:27. Interpreting scripture dispensationally, is to understand God’s Word from His perspective; how He interacts with man throughout our past, present and future history. Since God is immutable, being the same yesterday, today and forever, Hebrews 13:8, and He is omniscient, all man’s activities to Him are history being played out in our present time. These dispensations are begun by God, and if they end, it is by God. Each dispensation is an economy of behavior God established for man to carry out His purposes. The succession of dispensations in total reveals the character of God and His plan for His creation. His plan results in all things being subdued, put under the feet of Christ Jesus, then the Son will be subject to the Father, so that God may be all in all, 1Corinthians 15:22-28.

Dispensationalism is a hotly debated concept, and not universally accepted across Christendom. The word “dispensation” is used few times in scripture, but the term is not defined generally.

  • Dispensation of the gospel, 1Corinthians 9:17
  • Dispensation of the fulness of times, Ephesians 1:10
  • Dispensation of the grace of God, Ephesians 3:2
  • Dispensation of God, to fulfill the Word of God, Colossians 1:25

When tied to the mysteries revealed to Paul, dispensationalism serves as a basis for the premillennial interpretation of future events. It is connected directly to the doctrine of the rapture, one of several revealed mysteries to the apostle Paul, and its sequential fulfillment. That is, the rapture will occur before the beginning of the tribulation.

People in recent centuries, have identified a number of different dispensations, yet there is not a correct number of dispensations that one needs to identify. Dispensations are observed patterns of God’s interactions with mankind through the ages as seen throughout scripture. The elements that make up a dispensation are that each has a steward, rules of behavior are given, then eventually failure on the part of man to fulfill all that God required, thus introducing a new dispensation. The beginning of a new dispensation does not necessarily require an end of the previous dispensation(s). Concurrent dispensations can exist.

John Nelson Darby, who lived in the 1800’s, was instrumental in defining Biblical dispensations in a concise, understandable fashion to interpret scripture. An article in Christianity Today, concisely describes the life of John Darby, a great scholar in his day. He changed the practice of describing Biblical history in discrete periods, to construct a methodology to clearly understand God’s interaction and progressive revelation with mankind. John Darby’s methodology was to:

  • Impose strict literalism in the interpretation of scriptures
  • Separate Israel and the church into two distinct peoples God used to spread His Word to the world
  • View the rapture of the Body-of-Christ as a separate event from the second coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the tribulation

Darby divided mankind's past and future into seven periods, which were later refined and popularized by Dr. C.I. Schofield. These refined descriptions of dispensations are part of his popular study Bible that was published in 1909. Dr. Schofield’s division of man’s past, present and future history into seven dispensations are:

  • Innocence, Genesis 1:28
  • Conscience, Genesis 3:7
  • Human Government, Genesis 8:15
  • Promise, Genesis 12:1
  • Law, Exodus 19:1
  • Church, Acts 2:1
  • Kingdom, Revelation 20:4

In the recent past, Dr. Charles Ryrie advanced the understanding of dispensational teaching, and segregated it from other competing forms of Biblical interpretations. He had significant influence on contemporary dispensational understanding from his many writings in the 1950’s, continuing on until his passing.

His simple definition is that “a dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose.” An economy in Christendom refers to God’s work through the world’s affairs by which God reveals Himself and His purpose. A key biblical term is “stewardship,” which Dr. Ryrie cited as an example, Luke 16:1-13. He also stated that God is the authority delegating responsibilities to man, and man is obligated to carry out those responsibilities as a steward. When a steward is unfaithful, then a new dispensation is ushered in.

The framework of this site utilizes the three principles of dispensationalism, developed by Dr. Ryrie where:

  • Scripture is interpreted literally
  • Israel is kept separate from the church, and
  • All glory is given to God

These three principles compliment the approach of Dr. Schofield’s seven dispensations. However, it should be noted that Dr. Ryrie identified three dispensations, though he did not argue against the seven. The three dispensations Dr. Ryrie listed were:

  • The dispensation of the fullness of times, Ephesians 1:10, which refers to a future period
  • The dispensation of the grace of God, Ephesians 3:2, which entails the current age
  • Another dispensation is implied concerning the past, when the mystery of Christ in the believer is revealed, Colossians 1:25-26

In Dr. Ryrie’s view, these three dispensations describe the law, grace and the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ.

This site will present all seven dispensations identified in the Scofield Study Bible, using timelines to enhance understanding of God’s work and revelation of Himself to mankind through the ages. In the next sub-section, the view of dispensations will be generalized in three parts; 1) the prophetic program of Israel, 2) the dispensation of grace (which contains the mystery program for the Body-of-Christ), and 3) the dispensation of the kingdom.

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Last edited: Jul 2022