Summary of Dispensationalism
• Dispensationalism is a hermeneutic tool.
• Dispensationalists hold firmly to a literal, historical view of Scripture.
• Dispensationalists contend for the view that all the truth of God was not made known to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses or the prophets.
• Dispensationalists believe that the truth revealed in Scripture is progressive, having its full unfolding in Christ and in the New Testament.
I. WHAT IS DISPENSATIONALISM?
It is a system of Bible teaching or hermeneutics which holds:
1. That the revelation of truth from Adam to Christ was progressive and that none of the Old Testament writers or prophets had or knew all of the truth of God.
2. That through the various ages or periods of time, God revealed special portions of truth to man and placed man under a particular test regarding this revelation.
II. WHAT IS A DISPENSATION?
1. The word is the anglicized form of the Latin “dispensatio,” meaning, the action of dealing out or distributing. The idea is that of administering, dispensing or ordering. In other words, a dispensation is a system by which things are administered with some requirement or restraint.
2. Webster’s dictionary says, “a dispensing, a divine order.”
3. Charles C. Ryrie says, “The principle characteristic of a dispensation is the economic arrangement and responsibility that God reveals in each dispensation. Such responsibility is a test in itself. Most men fail the test, and then judgment follows. The Dispensational scheme has two perspectives: a cross-sectional aspect (which is sometimes misconstrued as cycles but which is in reality a spiral) and a longitudinal aspect (which emphasizes the unfolding progress of revelation and continuing principles throughout the ages of the dispensations).”
III. USE OF THE WORD “DISPENSATION” IN THE BIBLE
1. The verb “oikonomeo” is found once in Luke 16:2 where it is related to being a steward.
2. The noun “oikonomos,” found in Titus 1:7 and 1 Corinthians 4:1, is used 10 times and always translated “steward.”
3. The noun “oikonomia,” found in 1 Corinthians 9:17; Colossians 1:25; Ephesians 3:2, is used nine times and is usually translated “dispensation.”
4. The Lord Jesus used the term in two parables (Luke 12:42; Luke 16:1,3,8). In both, the word is used in relation to stewardship, responsibility, administration and management of another’s property.
5. The apostle Peter used the term in 1 Peter 4:10 when he wrote, “...as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
6. What Paul taught about dispensations:
• That faithfulness is required by the stewards to whom the mysteries of God are revealed (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).
• That a dispensation can terminate and is definitely connected with time (Galatians 4:2-4).
• That dispensations are related to specific revelation (Ephesians 3:2-6).
• That dispensations and ages are interrelated (Ephesians 3:9).
• He definitely mentions two distinct dispensations (Ephesians 1:10; 3:2), and uses them just as Dispensationalists use them.
• While the Bible does not name seven dispensations, Paul’s mention and use of the term does give credibility to the concept.
IV. CHARACTERISTICS OF DISPENSATIONS
There are five major characteristics to a dispensation:
1. A portion or deposit of God’s truth is revealed to man, along with God’s requirement of man, as to his conduct in the light of and relation to that particular revelation.
2. A designation of man’s stewardship or responsibility or faithful obedience regarding the revelation. Man is put to a definite test.
3. A time period or age during which this revelation and responsibility are dominant.
4. A record of man’s failure to fulfill his responsibility.
5. A record of God’s judgment resulting from this failure.
6. Dispensations are not merely periods of time. They are not various ways to be saved! But, they are different economies clearly recognizable in Bible history by new revelations of God’s will and truth accompanied by a new responsibility imposed on man to obey this revelation. These readily distinguished stages of revelation are called dispensations.
V. THE RELATIONSHIP OF DISPENSATIONALISM TO PROGRESSIVE REVELATION
1. A Dispensationalist contends that the Bible is not an exposition of a complete revelation but the story of a complete revelation progressively unfolding.
2. Dispensational study helps to promote accuracy in the observance of this progress in revelation. Illustration:
1. Paul, on Mars Hill, declared, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
2. “For the law was given by Moses, BUT grace and truth CAME by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
• While not a Dispensationalist, scholar Bernard Ramm wrote, “A clearer realization of progressive revelation has been due largely to the beneficial influence of Dispensationalism.”
3. The truth dispensed by God in any particular dispensation did not cease to be truth at the end of that period or economy. Revealed truth was both progressive and cumulative. For example, CONSCIENCE, while no longer a dispensation, remains a truth in our lives today (Romans 2:15; 9:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 4:2). Also LAW, while not now a dispensation, continues as an essential part of scripture and profitable to us today (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Romans 7:7; 15:4; Galatians 3:19, 24; 5:18).
VI. THE SINE QUA NON OF DISPENSATIONALISM
1. A Dispensationalist keeps Israel and the church distinct.
2. A Dispensationalist has a system of hermeneutics that is called literal interpretation.
3. A Dispensationalist recognizes that the underlying purpose of God in the world is, namely, His own glory.
VII. ANSWERING CRITICS
1. Some critics infer that Dispensationalists believe that scripture reveals various ways of salvation other than by grace through faith. God has always justified sinners on the basis of faith (Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6; Hebrews 11:7, 13:14-28).
2. Charles C. Ryrie says, "If by 'ways' of salvation is meant different content of faith, then Dispensationalism does teach various 'ways' because Scriptures reveal differing contents for faith in the progressive nature of God's revelation to mankind. But if by 'ways' is mental more than one basis or means of salvation, then Dispensationalism most emphatically does not teach more than one way, for salvation has been, is, and always will be based on the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ."
3. Some critics contend that Dispensationalism is divisive, that it destroys the unity of the Bible with adverse results. Dispensationalists contend for the inerrancy and verbal inspiration of scripture and further believe that they should be interpreted literally except when it is clear that a passage is allegorical. For those who reject these views, such an approach is indeed divisive! Furthermore, a Dispensationalist generally accepts the pre-tribulational, pre-millennial view of the coming of Christ. Many reject this view and consider it disruptive.
4. Charles C. Ryrie says, "Unity and distinction are not necessarily incompatible concepts. They may be quite complementary, as indeed they are in Dispensationalism."
5. Other critics attack Dispensationalism from a historical viewpoint. Since this position is historically recent, having been popularized by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren and then by the Scofield Bible, they label it “modernistic” and too recent to be correct. There were errors like infant baptism and baptismal regeneration in the early church. So, because a doctrine or position is old doesn’t make it right any more than a recent position makes it wrong. History is not the final test of truth! The only absolute test is whether a position or doctrine is in total harmony with biblical revelation.
VIII. A DISPENSATIONAL TIMETABLE
This chart simply presents the time period during which man is made responsible to obey a particular revelation. While there are seven periods suggested here, it is not necessary to hold to seven in order to be a Dispensationalist.
. DISPENSATIONAL BIBLE REFERENCESThis chart contains the five characteristics of a dispensation and provides the appropriate Scriptures.