Biblical Dispensations Defined
Pastor A.W. Weckeman Sept. 2016
The Change of Times and Seasons
As used in the Scriptures, the word dispensation refers to different administrations or stewardship, which occurs in specific time periods (ages) involving variations of God’s dealings with humanity. Dispensations concern accountability, responsibility, and faithfulness to the revealed will of God on the part of the steward. The “dispensation of the Law,” contrasted with the “dispensation of the grace of God,” vividly demonstrate the distinction between the two.
Law vs. Grace
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
A Dividing Veil (Ex.26:33) A Veil rent (Matt.27:51, Heb.10:19, 22)
Blots out the sinner (Ex.32:33) Blots out the sin (Col.2:14)
Curses the offender (Gal.3:10) Covers the offender (Rom.4:7)
Do and live (Deut.8:1) Done for the sinner (John 19:30, Matt.5:17)
Every mouth stopped (Rom.3:19) Every mouth opened (Rom.8:10)
Graven on stone – outward (2 Cor.3:3) Graven on the heart – inward (2 Cor. 3:3)
Judgment (Ezek. 18:20) Justification (Rom.3:24)
Love demanded (Deut.6:5) Love exhibited (John 3:16)
Nearness impossible (Ex.20:21) Nearness certain (Eph.2:12-15)
Prodigal stoned to death (Deut.21:20,21) Prodigal robed & feasted (Lk.15:20,22)
Retaliates (Ex.21:24) Redeems (Gal.3:13)
Sanctification demanded (Lev.11:44) Sanctification bestowed (1 Cor.1:30)
Three thousand slain (Ex.32:28) Three thousand saved (Acts 2:41)
Concise Definitions of Dispensations
“The word dispensation means literally a stewardship or administration. Therefore, in its Biblical usage, a dispensation is a divinely established stewardship of a particular revelation of God’s mind and will (i.e. innocence, conscience, human government, etc.) which brings added responsibility to the whole race of men or that portion of or that portion of the race to whom the revelation is particularly given by God. Associated with the revelation, on the one hand, are promises of reward or blessing for those responding to the obedience of faith, while on the other hand there are warnings of judgment upon those who do not respond in the obedience of faith to that particular revelation.” Clarence E. Mason Jr.
“A dispensation is God’s distinctive method of governing mankind during a period of human history, marked by a crucial event, test, failure, and judgment. From the divine standpoint, it is a stewardship, a rule of life, or a responsibility for managing God’s affairs in His house. From the historical standpoint, it is a stage in the progress of revelation.” Paul David Nevin
Seven Dispensations in the Bible:
1st Dispensation of Innocence– Genesis chapters 1-3. From the creation of man to the Fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
2nd Dispensation of Conscience-Genesis chapters 4-8. This dispensation extends from the Fall to the Flood.
3rd Dispensation of Human Government-Genesis chapters 4-11. From the Flood to the dispersion of Babel.
4th Dispensation of Promise-Genesis 12- Exodus 19. From the call of Abraham to Egyptian Bondage.
5th Dispensation of Law-Exodus 19- Acts 2. From the Exodus to the Crucifixion.
6th Dispensation of Grace– Acts 2-? From Pentecost to the Rapture of the Church.
7th Dispensation of the Kingdom–The Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.
In the Bible, a dispensation is a unique administration, a stage in the outworking of God’s plan throughout history, during which MAN IS TESTED IN RESPECT OF OBEDIENCE to a specific revelation of the will of God. Thus, scripturally speaking, a dispensation is NOT a period of time but a manner or method which God sets up to test man during a specific stage of God’s dealing with humanity.
“However, though the time period (age) ends, certain principles of the revelation (dispensation or stewardship) are often carried over into succeeding ages because God’s truth does not cease to be true…” C.E. Mason Jr.
“God who at sundry [different] times and in divers [various] manners spake IN TIME PAST unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” (Heb.1:1-2).
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John1:17).
“Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand MY [Paul’s] knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which IN OTHER AGES WAS NOT MADE KNOWN unto the sons of men, as it is now [AD 64] revealed…” (Eph.3:4-5).
“If you have heard of the DISPENSATION OF THE GRACE OF GOD which is given me to you-ward…” (Eph.3:2).
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and STEWARDS OF THE MYSTERIES OF GOD. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (1 Cor. 4:1-2).
“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the DISPENSATION OF GOD which is given to me for you.” (Col.1:25). [All emphasis mine].
Understanding God’s differing dispensations is essential to correct interpretation and, therefore, the key to “rightly dividing the word of truth.”