Below are three stand alone articles, which have all appeared in Spiritual Blessings Magazine at various times.
Each article addresses the question, “What is a Dispensation?”. Each has been written from different authors, approaching the question from three slightly different angles. Together, the three articles complement each other and present a multi-faceted answer to the question at hand.
What is a Dispensation? (article No.1)
In Scripture a dispensation is a set of operating conditions God has in force, often with a particular group of people. These conditions may last a set period of time; however, time is not really essential to the meaning.
“Dispensation” is translated from the Greek word oikonomia and comes across into English in the form of our word “economy”. It may be seen then, that even though it may have a beginning and an end, a dispensation is related more to the ideas of “administration” and “management” than time.
Luke 16 reinforces this notion:
“There was a rich man whose manager (oikonomos) was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in…`Give an account of your management (oikonomia)’ “ Luke 16:1,2.
In this passage, oikonomia = “dispensation”; oikonomos = “one who dispenses”.
The following are just some of the varying conditions (or dispensations) to be found in Scripture:
Innocence: Paradise, in which dwelt Adam & Eve
Law: most of the O.T.; Israel dominant
Acts ch.10-28: Israel dominant, but Gentile believers also included
After Acts 28 (Now): Jew & Gentile equal
If we compare different dispensations with each other we notice some similarities and some differences. In all dispensations we find that: God loves man, mankind falls short of God’s standards, God offers mankind a way of meeting His standards, etc.
In contrast though, we find sometimes that: Jews and non-Jews may be treated differently in one dispensation and equally in another; believers in one dispensation may be required to offer up sacrifices whilst other dispensations do not require sacrificial offerings; the performing of miracles and speaking in tongues may play an integral part in one dispensation and yet be unimportant in another; and so on.
So, how does recognising dispensations affect our understanding of the Bible?…..
We can either endeavour to be faithful to the conditions of our current dispensation, or ignore the differences and try to live according to conditions which no longer exist. In the early church, many Gentile believers were falsely being directed to live under laws of Moses which were not applicable to those who had placed their faith in Christ.
At least one modern day equivalent is found in believers attempting to live by the conditions found in the book of Acts, and the epistles written during that time. We must remember though, that one of the conditions in force then was the working of fantastic miracles, including the raising from the dead (Acts 20:9-12) and being struck dead for lying (Acts 5:1-10). Can we honestly say that such events are common place among the church today? We don’t think so.
Taking the conditions of one dispensation and applying them to another has been an unfortunate practice of believers for centuries. It is often suggested of the Bible that “every promise in the Book is mine”. While it is certainly true that God keeps every promise He makes, we should remember that not every promise is made to us under the present dispensation. It is for this reason we say that … all Scripture is FOR us, but not all Scripture is ABOUT us.
What is a Dispensation? (article No.2)
Many Christians seem to have a confused idea of the meaning of the word “dispensation” as it is used in the Scriptures. Many take the word to mean “a period of time” but time is not the primary meaning of the word.
We are familiar with the local (dispensing) chemist, and when we take a doctor’s prescription to him he dispenses it for us. We certainly waited for the medicine, but time is not what is handed over the counter. It is the contents of the package, or whatever we receive, which is the dispensation.
Just so in The Word of God. It is important to know when a dispensation starts and finishes, but it is the nature, or character of it which is so vital. Is it about us or Israel for example?
The translators of the New Testament used the word dispensation when they translated the Greek word oikonomia. This Greek word means ‘stewardship’, and the chemist is acting as steward when he dispenses our prescription for us.
Some of Those Who Have Dispensed
Similarly, God has used people down through the ages to dispense the things He has wanted done and made known. The story of Joseph being entrusted to Pharaoh to faithfully distribute corn during the seven year famine gives us a picture of dispensing as a faithful steward should. Moses was used by the Lord to dispense the Law to Israel.
There is no change of dispensation between Malachi and Matthew because even though we know the Lord Jesus is the Saviour of the world, yet we are clearly told that:
“Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers”. (Romans 15:8)
Likewise Peter dispensed to Israel the things concerning their Messiah, the One they had recently crucified (Acts 2:36).
Paul was the one apostle specially chosen by the risen Lord to dispense to Gentiles special phases of God’s plan. He said in the book of Romans: “I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” (Romans 11:13)
Paul was given a dispensation which operated during the Acts period. The Acts period ran from the crucifixion to Paul’s last plea to the Jews in Rome which you can read about in Acts 28.
“A dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me” (1 Corinthians 9:17) said Paul, which dispensation was dealt out during this earlier ministry. After Israel were put aside at the end of the book of Acts, Paul revealed that he had been entrusted with another dispensation called: The dispensation of the grace of God or The Mystery (Ephesians 3:1,2).
In Ephesians 3:9 he said his mission was to make all men see what it is, i.e., to shed light on its character. The Mystery is the dispensation which is in operation now.
In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul gives the doctrine concerning this wonderful dispensation in chapters 1, 2 & 3. Then the regulations of it in chapters 4, 5 & 6. This letter is balanced by doctrine and practice, which should also be the case in our own lives.
Unfortunately, many denominations want to imitate or claim the things which belong to Israel. “We should all possess supernatural gifts”, or “we are now the true Israel” they suggest. “God has finished with that nation, and the promises made to them are now ours”. This is confusion.
The salvation which is in Christ Jesus is available to us, but the promises God made to Israel will be fulfilled to and for them when God is ready.
Just as it is unwise to take medicine dispensed for someone else, so it is spiritually unwise to take promises and commands which belong in other dispensations. We must not expect God to keep promises which were never made to us. Many Christians have been disappointed because God has not kept promises they have “claimed”. Neither does He expect us to keep commands not for us.
We need to study The Word and find which dispensation is current. Redemption by the blood does not change, but God’s administrations, or dispensations, do. We must rightly divide the Word if we wish to be unashamed.
The dispensation which is in operation today is called The Mystery.
What is a Dispensation? (article No.3)
When two different groups of people (such as the Israelites under the Law and the church of today) are living under different conditions as set by God, we say that they are living under different dispensations.
The differences between one dispensation and another may be compared to the changes that take place after an election. After a new political party is voted into office, they will often change some of the conditions under which people live. New laws may be introduced in the areas of health care, and education, for example. However, many of the conditions will not change. Cars will still drive on the same side of the road as before, and stealing will continue to be against the law. The Bible may be viewed in a similar way.
When we compare the different dispensations in the Bible with each other we will notice some similarities and some differences. In all dispensations, we’ll see that:
God always loves man;
Mankind always falls short of God’s standards;
God always offers mankind a way of meeting His standards.
However we’ll also find that, in some dispensations:
Jews and non-Jews may be treated differently in one dispensation, and treated equally in another;
believers in one dispensation may be required to offer up sacrifices, whilst other dispensations do not require sacrificial offerings;
the performing of miracles and speaking in tongues may play an integral part in one dispensation, and not be as important in another.
We believe that the current dispensation began at Acts 28.
Click on this link to read more about the Different Conditions Before and After Acts 28.