Dispensations: Truth and Fiction
1 Corinthians 4:1–2
God's Plan for the Ages – Dispensations Lesson #04
April 1, 2014
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path," Proverbs 3:5-6. "They that wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint," Isaiah 40:31. "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness," Isaiah 41:10. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall defend your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus," Philippians 4:6-7. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth in thee," Isaiah 26:3. "For the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever." Isaiah 40:8
Before we get started we will have a few moments of silent prayers so you can make sure you are spiritually prepared for the study of God's Word this evening and then I will open in prayer. Let's pray. Father, we are so thankful we can come together this evening to study Your Word, to study about Your plan and purposes for human history. Father, we pray that as we study we will have our eyes open to Your plan, Your purpose, the flow of history, and the unique role that we play as believers in the church age. Now Father, we pray that You would help us to focus and concentrate this evening. We pray this in Christ's Name, Amen.
I pointed out last time that I wanted to do a few things differently on Tuesday night as we go through this series on God's Plan for the Ages. One of the things is this is really a basics series. Some people many not be familiar with dispensations, but I am trying to keep this fairly basic because it is fundamental to understanding the Bible; fundamental to understanding God's plan and purpose. So it is a good thing to encourage people who many not come on Tuesday night to come; to encourage people who many not come to West Houston Bible Church to come; and I also want this to be an atmosphere where we'll have some question and answer. I am gong to be asking some of the questions; so you have to be ready to provide some of the answers.
Going along with that, Brice is working up a thing on the website so that those who are out there live streaming, if they have a question on something that they want answer, on the left sidebar of the screen where you go on the live streaming tab, there is a place to click and it will open up a little dialog box where you can put in your name and email address to question and fire that off. When I stop a couple of times through the class to deal with questions; then if you have sent in a question we will get that. We will be able to let you participate as well.
We are looking at God's Plan for the Ages; tonight looking at dispensations. I call this Dispensations: Truth and Fiction because we want to understand what dispensationalism is really all about, but as we get toward the end we are going to see that there is a lot of fiction that is put out by people who are opponents of dispensational theology, people who don't agree with dispensational theology. It has always amazed me the kinds of just misrepresentations, deceptions, ad hominem arguments that are found among those who do not agree with the dispensational theology. So we need to understand what some of these claims are and find out how we can answer them if somebody were to ask us questions.
Now, just by way of review from last time; what are the three essential elements of dispensationalism? What are the three indispensable elements of dispensationalism? It should be pretty simple by the time we get through with this. It is like when we went through Genesis and we studied Abraham and everybody finally learned that there are three parts to the Abrahamic Covenant: land, seed and blessing. People could say that in their sleep. So what are the three indispensable elements of dispensationalism (see slide 4*)?
1. First of all it is what? A consistent literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of the Scripture, emphasis on "consistent" because other views will say they hold to literal interpretation of the Scripture, but it is not consistent. Now that whole field of interpretation or hermeneutics gets quite complicated and we will go into that at a surface level later on and as we go through this series.
2. As a result of a consistent literal interpretation what is the second thing? A distinction between God's plan for Israel and God's plan for the church; God has a plan for Israel and God has a plan for the church.
3. The third is what? The unifying theme of the Bible is the glory of God. The unifying theme of God's plan for history is His glory.
The second question I want to ask you is what is the one word, think about this; what is a one word definition or one word synonym that you could use for dispensation; since dispensation is somewhat of an antiquated term, by that I mean it is not found in any of the modern translations. You will find it in the King James/New King James. What is the one word that captures the definition of the Greek word OIKONOMOS, which is translated dispensation? What would be one word that would capture that? Administration or management, something along those lines.
Can you name one passage that we looked at last time where Jesus used various forms of this word? There are only two places in the Bible where Jesus uses that word group and one of those is in a passage that we looked at last time and that was? Luke 16. Very good; y'all are paying attention! You have got your notes in front of you, okay. For a brief working definition:
Dispensationalism is a theological system; that means that it is organized, logical. It does not mean that it is developed apart from Scripture. It is induced from Scripture using inductive reasoning as you look at the date of Scripture it is logically derived from Scripture. It is not developed apart from Scripture and then imposed upon the Bible. It is a theological system, which understands that God sovereignly governs the history of the human race through a sequence of divinely directed periods of time as he works out His plan to destroy sin and evil (see slide 3*).
So that locates us back to and ultimately it relates to the angelic conflict. So we looked at and reviewed already the three essentials of dispensationalism (see slide 4); and in defining a dispensation last time I said (see slide 6*):
1. It has an idea of the action of administering or ordering or arranging something; dealing out or distributing something.
2. Secondly, it is the act of administering or dispensing with some requirement.
So there is an element in the concept of stewardship or administration that includes a responsibility; an accountability as part of the idea of the dispensation. So a brief definition from Ryrie: It is a distinct and identifiable administration in the development for God's plan and purposes for human history. See slide 7*.
We looked at words last time; from the use of the word group in the New Testament (NT), we can come up with various concepts or various ideas that are part of the whole idea of a dispensation:
1. First of all, when we talk about a stewardship, a responsibility that is delegates; the one that does the delegating in terms of human history is God. He is the one who delegates the responsibility and He is the one to whom men are responsible in the discharge of their stewardship obligations.
Now what we are going to see; and I am going to tie this in as we go through this series of dispensations, something we call the divine institutions. We will plug that in as we go through the ages because that is not essential to dispensationalism, but it correlates with each dispensation because these relate to the ways in which God has set-up human history. There are obligations toward God and the human race is responsible to discharge their responsibilities toward God. Three times Paul mentions this in relationship to God in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Titus 1:7; Colossians 1:25.
Now a key passage here is the passage in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards"; there is the word OIKONOMOS, stewards, administrators, or managers "of the mysteries of God. … moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found faithful." It is used again in Titus 1:7 "For a bishop must be blameless as a steward." That is tying the role of the bishop, the EPISKOPOS, which is the EPISKOPOS, the PRESBUTEROS, the elder; their function described as shepherding the flock that God has given them. The word for shepherding is the verb for pastor. The noun is POIMEN and the verb is POIMAINO; and so the bishop-pastor. These are just synonyms focusing on different aspects of the role of a pastor. The pastor is a steward of God. So every pastor is given a responsibility to oversee the flock that God has given to them. Colossians 1:25, Paul refers to himself, "of which I became a minister according to the stewardship, the OIKONOMIA, from God which is given to me for you to fulfill the Word of God."
Now those first two verses are really important. Look at those; read it over just a second while you are sitting there. "Let a man so consider us as servants of Christ and stewards." Who is the "us" in the context? Does anyone want to take a stab at that? Huh? No? Who is writing? Paul. The "us" refers to the apostles. He is defending his apostleship in that context. He says, "We are servants of Christ" that would include not only the apostles, but those who were working with the apostles; and by extension this applies to anyone who is a pastor or in pastoral ministry; a missionary or something or that nature. We are stewards; this we have been given a responsibility related to something he calls the mysteries of God. What we are going to see here is that this term "mysteries of God" is a term that relates to revelation. In the Old Testament (OT) Israel was given the responsibility to be the custodian of the OT revelation. God revealed Himself through Moses, through Joshua, through Samuel, through Isaiah; through Daniel; Ezekiel, David, all the OT writers. Israel as an entity was responsible to collect, to preserve, and to disseminate the Scriptures.
Now in the NT the apostles and the prophets were the foundation of the church. They are given a responsibility to be custodians of the NT Scripture. This contained new revelation that had not been part of the OT revelation. Nothing in the OT is said about the church; there is no hint in the OT that there was going to be a 2,000-year parenthesis after the Cross that would include a new people of God composed of Jew and Gentile where the barrier between Jew and Gentile was also broken down. So Paul says, "We are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God; moreover, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." So 1 Corinthians 4:2 is explaining what the responsibility of the steward is. At the judgment seat of Christ Jesus is going to look at apostles and prophets and pastors and teachers and evangelists and there is only one issue; it is not how big was your church; it is not how much money you raised; it is not how many people you can converted; the issue is were you faithful to the gift that God gave you and to the responsibility that God gave you? That is the accountability for pastors.
I was at a church one time where the board was composed of four or five men; I think four of the five men were entrepreneurs. If you know entrepreneurs, they march to a different drummer. These entrepreneurs, one of them was a business consultant to get businesses off the ground; and I fought with them, in a friendly way, for the five and a half years I was a pastor there because they kept wanting me to set down measurable goals and objectives just like you would for a business for each year. But in the pastoral ministry you can't set down measurable goals like that. You can't say well this year we have fifty people in the church; next year we want to have 25 people. The result of the ministry is under the control of the Holy Spirit, not the pastor. The pastor's objectives are just to clearly teach the Word of God as best he can. This was a hard thing for these guys to get a good grip on; that you can't come up with definable goals; the church is not a business in that sense. What is required of a pastor is that he be found faithful to his gift, faithful in his study of the word, and faithful in his communication of the Word. That is what Paul is saying here. The responsibility of pastors as stewards; there is a responsibility. That is the idea we are looking at here (see slides*):
1. God gives men a responsibility.
2. Under the second thing that we see from these passages is the point I have just been emphasizing: that faithfulness is required of those to whom a dispensational responsibility is committed.
So if each administration, each dispensation, has a clearly identifiable responsibility; we will see that that comes from revelation. If each dispensation has an identifiable responsibility there is also someone who is clearly identified as the steward. It is a cooperate responsibility in many cases. In what we refer to the age of innocence, where there is just Adam and Eve, the steward, the primary responsible party was Adam. Usually it is a group, Israel in the age of Israel; the church in the church age. We see an illustration of this kind of responsibility as seen in Erastus, who as the city treasurer, indicated in Romans 16:23. He had a specific responsibility. He is called the treasurer in Rome; Paul mentions this in Romans 16:23.
3. A stewardship may end at an appointed time. It is not something that is permanent and irrevocable. It is for an appointed time; somebody who is appointed to a position has that position under a certain administration, but when that administration ends then it changes. So a stewardship may end at an appointed time and in this reference, Galatians 4:2, talking about the law of the stewardship under the law. That those under the law were under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the Father. So that word "until" indicates the end point. There was a responsibility identified for a period of time, and then it was to come to an end. Then a new purpose would be introduced. The second sentence there: this reference the end of the stewardship came because of a different purpose being introduced, which shifts to the fulfillment of the plan of salvation at the Cross and the introduction of the church age.
4. Dispensations are connected with the mysteries of God; that phrase I talked about just a minute ago. That is "new revelation." The mystery is not a conundrum you are seeking the solution to; it is not a puzzle you are trying to solve; a mystery is not a "how done it," where you are trying to identify the murder; a mystery in Biblical terminology is previously unrevealed truth. So dispensations are connected with this phrase "the mysteries of God" in several places. This shows that dispensation has a significant relationship with revelation from God. That is going to be inherent. How do you know when a dispensation shifts? Because God speaks. There is new information given, the role of the administration, the characteristics of the administration shift.
Ephesians 3:2, Paul says "if indeed you have heard of the dispensation;" there is the OIKONOMIA, the administration "of the grace of God." So, which dispensation is Paul talking about here in Ephesians 3:2? The church age. What we will see is that if you look at a couple of these verses in Ephesian 2 and Ephesians 3, Paul talks about a previous dispensation, which would be the Law; the present dispensation of grace, which is the church age; and a future dispensation. That is your strongest Scripture for a minimum of three dispensations.
5. The term dispensation, which emphasizes the administration aspect; and age, which emphasizes a time aspect, are connected ideas but the words are not interchangeable. For example, you can have an age such as the age of the Gentiles, the age of the Israel, or the church age, or Messianic age in the future, but that is not always identical with a dispensation. Dispensation has different features so that you have the original age of the Gentiles, which is really composed of three dispensations because there are three major breaks that occur.
If you just think about it. Do you think God is administering human history the same before the Fall of Adam as He does after the Fall of Adam? Is that the same? No. Obviously there is a major change there and it is accompanied by some revelation that we find in Genesis 3. Does God govern or oversee the administration of the human race the same between Adam and the Flood as he does after the Flood? No. We know that because after the Flood God gives a whole new list of obligations and responsibilities to Noah. So clearly, right there we have three different administrative periods, but they are all covered by the age of the Gentiles because the only basic group on the earth is Gentiles. God is working through all mankind specifically and He hasn't singled out Abraham yet or the Jews. So the terms are not the same.
Paul says that the revelation of the present dispensation was hidden "for ages," plural, the age of the Gentile and the age of the Jews, meaning simply a long period of time, not the same as a dispensation. It says something similar in Colossians 1:26. So dispensations operate within a time period, but in the church age it is the dispensation of Grace. In the Messianic age we call it the dispensation of Christ because Christ is the Messiah. We might refer to the Messianic age also as the Millennium. But in those cases the age and the dispensation are of the same length; they are identical, but they do not have to be identical.
6. So a dispensation operates within an age (see slide 19*):
a. God clearly separated out certain chronological divisions in human history, as seen in Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 3:8-9.
b. Paul mentions ages in three senses:
i. He talks about ages past that are before the church in Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 3:9.
ii. He talks about the present age in Titus 2:12, which is the dispensation of the grace of God in Ephesians 3:2.
iii. And he talks about ages future that is after the church age in Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 2:7; and in Ephesians 1:10 he talks about this as the "dispensation of the fullness of the times."
So as we looked at this earlier we saw in Ephesians 3:2 he has the dispensation of grace and then in Ephesians 1:10 "the dispensation of the fullness of times". So that is a minimum of two indicated there and here are the Scriptures. We have in Ephesians 1:10 "the dispensation of the fullness of time" and in Ephesians 3:8 it talks about grace and in Ephesians 3:9 he calls this the "this grace that is given." It is tied to "the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden." So there we see that there are previous ages. So we are deriving this concept, breaking down the dispensations from the Scriptures themselves. It is inductive; it is not something imposed upon the Scripture.
7. It is based on the use of the word in Scripture; a dispensation may be defined as a stewardship or an administration, or a management of others' property. God is the ultimate owner of the earth and that the human race is given responsibilities in relation to administering the responsibility given to him. So we see the emphasis in dispensation is on that administration responsibility (see slide 21*).
I keep coming back to that and you will see as we tie this together because this whole matter of definition is so important in establishing what we are talking about with dispensations. As I said before, too often when people think of dispensations they think of a timeline. Not that that timeline is wrong; it is just that that isn't emphasizing what the word dispensation is; dispensation is not a time word.
8. A dispensation is primarily a stewardship or a management relationship and not a period of time; of course, it operates within a period of time. It may seem like it is nit picky, but the word "age" is clearly a time word, but dispensation focuses on administration and responsibility (see slide 22*).
9. Time, ages and dispensations are not synonymous in their meaning, even though they may at times exactly coincide in the way it works out in history. A dispensation is basically the arrangement involved however there is no reason for alarm if the definition does not ascribe time to a dispensation (see slide 23*).
So let's look at some theological definitions from some of the well-known dispensationalists. Here we have C. I. Scofield. C. I. Scofield defined in his well-known notes from the Scofield Reference Bible, most of you may be familiar with that; although people in a younger generation may not be aware of the Scofield Reference Bible. C. I. Scofield was a decorated Confederate soldier from the Civil War. After the Civil War he was a lawyer. He ended up in St. Louis, Missouri where he was mentored by James Halls Brooks, who was a Presbyterian pastor, who was one of the fathers of dispensationalism in the United States (see slide 24*).
Scofield was a pastor of several churches including the Congregational church in Dallas that now bears his name, Scofield Memorial Church. He mentored Lewis Sperry Chaffer, who later founded Dallas Theological Seminary. Scofield and a number of other men like Dr. Chaffer and others spoke at prophesy conferences and Bible conferences that were held around the country. Now think about it in those days, people get upset because I go teach at a Bible conference; I am gone three days. I miss two Bible classes. Think about it, 1890, you are a pastor in Dallas; you are going to speak at the Niagara Bible Conference. That is three or four days on the train up there and three or four days on the train back; and if people are going to travel that far to go to a conference they are going to be speaking all day long every day for a whole week. So you are not just gone for two or three days, you are gone for weeks at a time. That was common back in the 19th century, for pastors to go speak at a conferences and to attend conferences of that nature.
So in the early 1900s Scofield was encouraged to write his notes, annotations on the Bible, and this is published it think around 1915; the second edition, which is the one most people are familiar with came out in 1917. He defined a dispensation as a period of time during which man is tested in respect to obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. What is wrong with that definition? Time! The first thing he says is that "a dispensation is a period of time." This is why you ask a lot of people and they immediately try to define dispensation as time. But if you do a word study you realize that "time" is not part of it. But he (Scofield) brought out some important characteristics that apply to each dispensation. There is specific revelation from God; this is how you know that there is a change. God reveals new information. There is a responsibility given that man is tested on in regard to obedience. So he says some very good things there.
Now here is another man, W. Graham Scroggie (see slide 25*). Scroggie was at one time pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle, which is a very ancient Baptist in London going back to the middle of the 17th century, the mid 1600s. It had some very famous pastors including John Gill and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Scroggie was pastor of several other churches and became the pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle during the time of the World War II, from 1938 to 1944. During that time in 1941 the Metropolitan Tabernacle was boomed in the London Blitz; and so this was a difficult time for that particular church. In fact, by the late 1960s it was down to just about 20 people. Now they have had the same pastor since 1970, Peter Masters, and they are huge. They are an enormous church again. But they have gone through their ups and downs.
Scroggie was a dispensationalist; he was Chasid in his view of the spiritual life. He studied some of that before; although he was firmly anti-charismatic; he was not Pentecostal; he wrote several things against the Pentecostal view of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. He was a strong dispensationalist; he wrote over thirty books during his active ministry. At times he was itinerate in the United States for about eight years in the early 1930s; he also traveled extensively in Australia and New Zealand. He wrote that "the word OIKONOMIA bears one significance and means "an administration," whether of a house, or property, of a state, or a nation, or as in the present study, the administration of the human race or any part of it at any given time. Just as a parent would govern his household in different ways, according to varying necessity, yet ever for one good end, so God has at different times dealt with men in different ways, according to the necessity of the case, but throughout for one great, grand end."
Now he is not saying, no dispensationalist is saying that we believe in two different ways of salvation, but we are often accused of that. Every dispensationalist believes that human beings are always saved by grace through faith. It is that the object of the promise differs in specificity as a result of the progress of revelation. In the OT they anticipated the fulfillment of the salvation promise; in the NT they look back to the fulfillment of the salvation promise; this is Graham Scroggie.
Now Charles Ryrie is well known in a more modern context. A group of scholars who were all protégés and disciples of Lewis Sperry Chaffer were well know and wrote quite a bit on dispensationalism and prophesy. Men like Dwight Pentecost, who is now 95 years old and still teaches one course a semester at Dallas Seminary even though he has throat cancer. Then you had John Walvoord, who was the president of Dallas Theological Seminary from the death of Lewis Sperry Chaffer in 1952 until he went to be with the Lord about 10 years ago. Then there is Charles Ryrie, who was in the late 1960s and 1970s, when I was at Dallas he was the head of the theology department. He wrote a book called Dispensationalism Today that came out in the early 1960s that became a standard textbook on dispensationalism. He revised it in the early 1990s and a lot of the things that I got out of my notes are from his book and some others.
I had Dr. Ryrie for a couple of courses. He was tough. I had him for senior theology; we had to read a section every day for class, read two or three chapters. You had to be prepared to answer whatever questions he asked you on that reading. You had assigned seats in class; he would start, every day he would mark where he ended the day before, and he would just go down the row and he would ask questions. He might ask you one question and you had six bys during the semester, where you could just say, "Nah, I am not going to answer that." Okay, you are off the hook today; and he would go to the next person. But he would go through and he would ask you a question and he might decide to ask you five or six questions of explanation. You never knew where it was going to go. You were graded on how well you handled yourself and how well you covered the answers. That was how you went through senior theology. He was great! Anyway, he (Ryrie) is considered one of the great thinkers and writers on dispensationalism. No body talks writes or discusses anything about dispensationalism without at least mentioning Ryrie's threefold sine qua non, which we reviewed at the beginning of this class. So he said that "a dispensation…"; he loved to write definitions and he was very concise. "A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God's purposes."
And then because we know and love him so much I thought I would bring Pastor Thieme's dispensation definition in. He said it is "a period of human history expressed in terms of divine revelation." What is wrong with that definition? Time; just like Scofield. Chafer incidentally, and I did not have time to go back and pull his quote; Chafer in his pamphlet on dispensationalism defined it as an administration. So Thieme says it is "a period of human history expressed in terms of divine revelation. History is a sequence of divine administrations"; see it is brought in as a secondary idea in the next sentence. "…divided into eras, each having unique characteristics, as well as certain functions in common with the other ages. These consecutive eras reflect the unfolding of God's plan for mankind; they constitute the divine viewpoint of history and the theological interpretation of history," which is an excellent statement.
Then, I was asked to write the article in the Tim LeHaye Study Bible on dispensationalism. See slide 28*; and as is my want, I read all the greats and I condensed mostly what others had already said and emphasized to one degree or another. I stated that "a dispensation therefore is a distinct and identifiable administration." That means it has certain characteristics. So you can distinguish one from another. They have distinct, identifiable characteristics, distinct identifiable "administration in the development of God's plan and purposes for human history. A closely connected, but not interchangeable, word is age, which introduces the time element. God manages the entirety of human history as a household, moving humanity through sequential stages of administration, determined by the level of revelation He has provided up to that time in history."
That brings in the important notion of the progress of revelation. "Each administrative period is characterized by revelation that specifies responsibilities, a test in relation to those responsibilities, failure to pass the test, and God's gracious provision of a solution when failure occurs." Where did I get that? Who did I get that from? I got that from Scofield. So I am bringing together major ideas from all of my mentors, Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, Thieme, and Scofield into condensing them into one paragraph. Now, how do we know when a new dispensation begins? There needs to be characteristics (see slide 29*). So let's stop here a minute and see if anybody has any questions on definitions; on any of the concepts that I have gone through so far.
Question: What is the dispensational view of the Adamic and the Noahic Covenants, specifically do these covenants extend to the church age partially or always?
Answer: They are eternal covenants. We will get into that in detail as we go through the each dispensation and the characteristics; but yes, I take it that the creation covenant gets modified twice because there are similarities between what God says to in Genesis 1-2. It is modified in Genesis 3 because of sin; and then it gets modified again when they come off the ark. I have not hear anybody comment on how they come off the ark in the new Noah movement. Somebody commented that the fallen angels, the Nephilim helped them build the ark, which that thought was just really bizarre. But, that continues because the sign of the Noahic Covenant is the rainbow; and that is in effect until the curse gets rolled back.
Question: I don't see why calling it a period of history necessarily puts a time frame on it. I mean there are different periods of history.
Answer: "A period of history" is a time word. This is where you get into basic lexicography. OIKONOMIA, which is the word translated "dispensation" doesn't have a time connotation. I mean you can go through all the English dictionaries; you go through all the Greek dictionaries; it doesn't have a time connotation. So technically, if you are going to define a word, you don't import as your major ideas, something that is not inherent; that cannot be derived from the usage of the word. Obviously, the administration occurs within a time frame. But it is not the primary idea in the word. This is what we do with word studies all the time. What does the word mean? What are the primary characteristics; what secondary characteristics are; that sort of thing? And this is what you get hung up on from critiques, non-dispensationalist, dispensationalists who define a dispensation as a "time"; you cannot support that from the usage of the word. They are right; you can support it from the usage of the word, "age," AIONOS, CHRONOS, KAIROS, these are other terms that are brought in that bring that idea to it. So, when you construct a definition: what is a dispensation? When you start off saying it is a "time" you are indicating that that is your primary characteristic of the reading of the word. The first thing that needs to be said is that it is an administration.
When does a dispensation begin? (See slide 29*) How are we going to define that? How are we going to know that we have gone through a change? Because you will hear some people who have said that the age of Israel is a dispensation; that goes from Abraham to Christ, to the Cross; or they will say that some people have taken the dispensation of the patriarchs out and they will not start the age of Israel until the giving of the Mosaic Law. How do you define this? It comes down to, as I have worked my way through this, is that God defines the administration. God defines the test, the information as to when things change; this is the way things are going to be; this is what I expect of man; and then, when He changes that there is always new revelation there first. This new revelation redefines the nature of the administration.
1. The first thing we have to look at is that there is new revelation given informing the human race that a change is taking place.
2. The second thing that needs to be brought out is when you go from one dispensation to another, some things continue the same and some things are different. Not everything changes. Some things continue the same; some things change.
For example, what I will emphasize is the way we know dispensations change through the OT for the most part is a new covenant is give. When a new covenant is given there are new responsibilities; there is obviously new revelation; there is new responsibility, new accountability for a group of people. Now some things will continue to be the same; for example, during the age of the Gentiles, both in the age of what we call the age of conscience, which isn't my favorite term for that age, for that dispensation or the dispensation of human government; you had patriarchal sacrifices, a blood sacrifice with preferably a sheep or a goat that was without spot or blemish. They clearly knew what the difference was between clean and unclean animals when God instructed Noah to put seven of very clean animal and two of every unclean animal on the ark. He did not define clean or unclean for Noah. So, obviously it had already been revealed; the disclosure of that information just isn't given anywhere in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. But it is assumed that Noah knew what he was talking about. So, obviously some things were continued and then they get modified. It continues, animal sacrifice is clearly present under the dispensation of the patriarchs, but it is modified and developed in many ways under the Mosaic Law under the dispensation of the Law.
3. The third thing is that from God's perspective dispensation is an administration or management of history. So, when God looks at this from divine viewpoint it is an administration of history. God looks at it that way because He is the ultimate overseer.
4. When man looks at it, we look at it from perspective of what is our responsibility? What does God expect of us? If we are a believer living in the church age God expects one thing; if we are a believer living under the Law God expects something else. So these would just be four things that indicate something about a dispensational shift from one thing to another.
Now, there are three major characteristics of a dispensation and then four minor characteristics of a dispensation. The three major characteristics of a dispensation are (see slide 30*):
1. First of all that there is new revelation that is given.
2. He, God, changes the way He administers history.
How did God administer history during the Garden of Eden? He is personally present. He is showing up everyday. He is giving instruction and guidance personally, individually to Adam and Eve. What does He do after the end of the age of innocence? Well, His presence still seems to be on the earth, but not in the same way. There is an indication of this because many of you have read in the King James Version that God grows weary of mankind and says that My Spirit will not strive with man anymore. But that word for "strive" is a hapax legomena and it has been discovered in the 20th century, when you look at Acadian and Ugaritic and other cognate languages, that all of the cognates for that word that is translated "strive" are words for remaining or abiding. It doesn't mean "strive." It means to abide. And that would make sense; that God continues in that period between the end of the age of innocence and the Flood, He is still walking with Enoch. You know, Enoch walked with God and he was not." There is more of a personal presence of God on the earth at that time. That is why he has not delegated human government yet; because God is still more intimately involved. But after the Flood God is "out of here;" He's not directly involved in the same way that He was prior to the Flood. So He changes the way that He administers history.
3. He changes man's responsibility as indicated in the covenants.
Then, the minor characteristics of a dispensation (see slide 31*):
1. A test.
2. A failure.
3. Minor features are not always present in every dispensational shift.
4. Then there is a primary steward.
In the church age it is the church; it is the body of Christ is the steward. In the dispensation of the Law it was Israel.
Now let's look at some things that dispensationalism is not (see slide 32*).Sometimes we are also accused of several things. Dispensationalism is not a recognition that dispensations exist. Every Christian is not going to the temple, as Lewis Sperry Chafer said, "You are not going to the temple to sacrifice a lamb every time you sin then you are a dispensationalist." Every person who recognizes that things were different before the Fall than they were after the Fall; and everyone who things that things were different before the Mosaic Law than they were after the Mosaic Law; and everyone who things that things are different after the Cross than they were before the Cross is in some sense a dispensationalist.
You can look at a number of reformed covenant theologians and they will have a dispensational scheme. That is why I keep coming back to the fact that having a timeline with a breakdown of dispensations, as we will see. Charles Hodge, a very famous Head of the Systematic Theology Department of Princeton in the mid-19th century, had a dispensational scheme. There were others before him that marked out the plan of history according to dispensations. But they were not dispensationalists. I have to come back to this fundamental idea of God working the administration and responsibilities and how those change.
So it is:
1. Not simply a recognition that dispensations exist.
2. Not related to a specific number of dispensations.
In fact, if you look at the Dallas Theological Seminary doctrinal statement, which is written by Lewis Sperry Chafer, there are only three dispensations that identified in that doctrinal statement: the dispensation before the church; the dispensation of grace; and the dispensation of the fullness of time coming out of those passages we just looked at in Ephesians. That is the minimum I would say that a person has to hold to to be a dispensationalist.
3. It is not equal to premillennialism.
When we talk about millennialism and premillennialism I will introduce the concept of historic premillennialism, which is a non-dispensational version of premillennialism. So dispensationalism is different. There are many premillennialists who are not dispensationalists.
So again, dispensationalism is (see slide 33*):
1. A consistent literal interpretation of Scripture.
2. A distinction between Israel and the church.
3. And an understanding that the unifying principle of history is the glory of God.
Now there is some misconceptions that I want to cover. You may hear these kinds of charges brought against dispensationalists every now and then. Frequently, dispensationalists are accused of teaching two different ways of salvation; that there is one way in the OT based upon the Law; and a different way of salvation in the NT. Is that true? Wait a minute, wait a minute; let's go look and see what C. I. Scofield said, you have to be careful, I am tricky?
Scofield in his note on John 1:17, where it talks about Moses brought the Law, but Jesus was full of grace and truth. Scofield summarized it (see slides 34 and 35*):
1. Grace is "the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man… not by works of righteousness which we have done." Titus3:4-5. Scofield goes on to say, it is therefore, constantly set, that is grace is therefore constantly set in contrast to law under which God demands righteousness from man, as under grace, He gives righteousness to man, Romans 3:21-22; Romans 8:4; Philippians 3:9. Then he says law is connected with Moses and works; grace is connected with Christ and faith; law blesses the good; grace saves the bad. Law demands that blessings be earned; grace is a free gift. That is not quite true. That is partially true; but it is not written well. It is very confusing. There is grace in the OT. But it gets worse!
2. His second point: As a dispensation grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ. The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation. Hello! Scofield clearly taught, not only in this note, but in other places as well, that in the OT the obedience to the Law was the condition of salvation. So is he teaching two different ways of salvation? Yes, he was! Did he at other times speak out of the other side of his mouth? Yes, he did! He is a little lordship too. So, there were some problems with this and this is what will happen, you will get critics of dispensationalism and they will go find these little statements made by …, or by Scofield, made by somebody else and they will take that as if every dispensationalist that has ever walked the streets of the earth believes that. So that is just one misconception about dispensationalism.
Another is, you will hear this from covenant theologians frequently, and I do not know if you hear this quite as much, I am not on top of all the current literature as I was at one time. There used to be a guy who would go through the Dallas Seminary library and he would have a little mimeographed page or two with these critiques of dispensationalism; and he would just stick those in random books around the library and accuse Darby of coming up with the Rapture idea from some ecstatic idea from Margaret McDonald at a church meeting in the 1830s; and that that is where Darby got the idea. This is a typical response of covenant theologians; is that dispensationalism is new in history and therefore, it is not Biblical. That is a false argument, a logical fallacy.
We demonstrated through the work of many people in the Pre-Tribulation Study Group over the last 25 years that there are numerous individuals from the 4th-5th century pseudo Ephraim document that was discovered in the early 1990s up through a lot of current material that has been presented by Bill Watson from Colorado Christian University, who is a historian who specializes in 17th and 18th century British theology, that numerous Puritans believed the church would not go through the Tribulation. Now some of them do not have a seven-year Tribulation; some of them have a three-year Tribulation. But it is not a mid-Tribulation position if it is a three and a half year Tribulation. They just have a short Tribulation. But they do not have the church going through the Tribulation at all. More and more discoveries of that type are being made.
It is important to understand that even though Darby is the systematizer, many of the ideas that are inherent to dispensational theology were present from the early church. A view of a premillennial return of Christ; a view that there was something of a distinction between Israel and the church; a view of literal hermeneutics, even though they practiced it somewhat inconsistently.
3. A third objection comes from Charismatics who claim that dispensationalists; they try to say that only dispensationalists are anti-charismatic. But most of the foundational works that were done in the early 20th century against the charismatic theology, Pentecostal theology, came from the Reform camp, not from dispensationalists. Charismatics try to claim that dispensationalists are anti-supernaturalists. "You just don't believe God can ever work a miracle; or you do not believe that God can heal anybody today." That is because you are a dispensationalist. This just shows that:
a. that they are basically ignorant.
b. that they don't understand church history.
Others teach that dispensationalists are antinomianism because we believe that Christians are not under the Law, the Mosaic Law; but that does not mean that we don't believe that God has established absolutes for the church age. So in conclusion, just to wrap up this first part before we get into looking a little more in depth at the details:
1. We have learned that God has a plan, which includes different time periods with different characteristics.
2. The apostles understood that there was a distinction between their time and the future time of the kingdom by asking the question, "Lord, is it at this time that you are going to restore the kingdom?' They also understood that there was a difference in their time and the time before the Cross when Israel was under the Law. They clearly understood that as a result of what Jesus said and taught, that there was something new that was transpiring and there were new responsibilities, but that was pretty much left for the apostle Paul, who was the primary apostle who was given the mystery doctrine related to the church age.
3. We see dispensationalism with emphasis on human responsibility. So it is very much a corollary to the first divine institution of individual human responsibility; that dispensationalism emphasizes the responsibility of an administrator during each of these various eras.
Next time we will come back and start getting a little more into some of the other issues as we go forward. We will look at each dispensation in time and what these responsibilities are. Does anybody else have any questions or want any clarifications?
Question: Robby, when you had your list of things of what institutes a new dispensation; isn't there a relationship between man's failure; he doesn't obey his covenant. So God says, I am passing judgment and I am giving you a new covenant. Do you think man's volition is somehow tied…
Answer: Yes, I've got that under the minor characteristics; not as an identification of when a new dispensation begins, because it doesn't begin because of "a" failure. There are many failures, evil. Think of a dispensation of human conscience. There are numerous failures and God gives grace again and again and again. So human failure is not a sign that a dispensation is ended.
Two questions from live streamers:
Question: I guess the idea of time is rough for me to wrap around; hasn't one dispensation followed another, as in the dispensation of Israel followed by the church?
Question: Please legitimize your use of the statement in the definition that "administrative period" is this making a statement of time?
Answer: I am not saying that time is irrelevant to dispensation. We have to understand technical language here. Dispensation, the word, you look at it; it talks about a steward; it talks about management; it talks about responsibility; time is not a part of the meaning of those words. That doesn't mean that if I hire a management consultant that there is not a time frame on the period of his employment. But that is not the primary idea in the term manager and in the term administrator. When you talk about an administration, obviously administration occurs within a time period. But the word administration does not have as part of its primary or secondary meanings the idea of time. But clearly it functions within a time. That is what is brought in by the other words: times, seasons, ages. So a dispensation occurs within a time frame, but the emphasis is on administration.
Now if you are not use to working with technical definitions, then it may look like I am trying to slice the baloney a little thin, but that is what you do when you are working through technical definitions. What is the primary meaning of the word? One of the other objections that come up from non-dispensationalist is that "you are using the word dispensational in a way which is not used in the Scripture." But there are at least two ways that OIKONOMOS is used in the Scripture exactly like we are talking about; we already talked about one earlier, the dispensation of the fullness of time. It is clearly how we are using the term. But we also have words like "atonement;" the word "atonement" is never used in the NT. It is used in the OT and actually the English word "atonement" is invented by English theologians who explain the concept from the OT. But when we develop it into a theological term it is consistent with its OT usage. It is not the same. So these are just important aspects of defining terms. A dispensation is an administration characterized by certain things that operates within a period of time. But the primary idea is not time; it is administration. But it does not happen within a vacuum.
You talk about "Nixon's administration;" what are we talking about? The characteristics of his administration. The first thing that comes to your mind is not 1968-1974, that is a time factor. When we talk about "Nixon's administration" we are talking about the people involved, the characteristics of that administration, things that were accomplishes, the Watergate Scandal, things like that. You are not thinking in terms of the temporal boundaries; that is the secondary idea. But obviously Nixon's administration occurred within a time frame. I hope that helps a little.
Question: … we view a lot of this in the past? It brackets in time automatically?
Answer: Yes it does. Time is not irrelevant to the concept. It is just not the main idea that is being emphasized.
Let's close in prayer. Lord, thank you for this time we have had together. Thanks for the questions; thanks for the interaction helping to clarify these ideas so that we make sure we understand how we are using the terms and what we are talking about as we seek to explain Your Word. Father, we pray that we might continue to desire to be more technical in our thinking, more precise as we come to understand what You have revealed that we may accurately apply it in our lives. We pray this in Christ's Name, Amen.
*Note that the slides for this class are available on the Dean Bible Ministries website for this class under Transcript: Slides