The Dispensations of God
One way to gain an overall perspective of God’s special revelation is to focus on the Biblical covenants (as we recently did). Another way to understand the meta-story of the Bible — “to rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) — is to focus on the doctrine of the kingdom of God, to understand the typological significance and fulfilment of the feasts of the LORD during the inter-advent period and also to focus on the mysteries of the New Testament. Today, however, we focus on the dispensations of God.
Understanding the meanings of two Greek words helps to grasp the concept of a dispensation. The first Greek word, oikonomia, means “to manage”, “to regulate”, “to administer” or “to plan”. Forms of the word oikonomos (Luke 12:42; 16:1, 3, 8; Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Galatians 4:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10) and of the word oikonomia (Luke 16:2, 3, 4; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Ephesians 1:10; 3:2, 9; Colossians 1:25–26; 1 Timothy 1:4) appear about 20 times in die New Testament.
The second Greek word, aion, means “age” and emphasises a dispensation in its element of time. The term “dispensation” therefore refers to a specific way God administers His program and His will in the world but also covers a period of time. God administers His economy, rule, authority and program in some different way than the previous dispensation.
A dispensation is therefore a distinguishable stewardship in the outworking of God’s plan. From the perspective of human beings, a dispensation means we have been given a specific stewardship, responsibility and task.
The apostle Paul refers to at least three dispensations, namely a future period of time or dispensation in Ephesians 1:10, the current dispensation of grace is mentioned in Ephesians 3:2 and Paul also refers to a previous dispensation in Colossians 1:25-26.
There are seven facets or elements involved in each of the seven dispensations:
First, each dispensation has one or more names which somehow show what the basic rule of life was (or is, or will be) for that particular dispensation.
Second, each dispensation has a chief person to whom special revelation was given.
Third, each dispensation provides a responsibility to man as a result of the new revelation given in step 2.
Fourth, there is a specific test.
Fifth, the specific test is eventually followed by a specific failure.
Sixth, there is a judgment that brings the dispensation to an end.
Seventh, each dispensation has something that characterises divine grace.
The following table summarises the seven dispensations with their respective seven facets or elements.
This post along with the table above is a partial summary of an article written by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum of Ariel Ministries.
If you would like to read more about this topic, see:
Malan, J.S., 2010, The dispensations of God — do you have the correct perspective?, Bibleguidance.
Malan, J.S., 2015, A dispensational transition with dramatic consequences, Bibleguidance.
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