Covenants and Ages
God's Plan for the Ages - Dispensations Lesson #05
April 8, 2014
One of the questions that came up several times last week; I want to address it one more time before we move forward; had to do with the definition and I am emphasizing the fact that a dispensation means an administration. Now why do I do that? There are several of us who grew-up hearing definitions based upon Scofield's definition that starts off, "a dispensation is a period of time." Even though it may include the idea of administration in there; it introduces the idea of administration as a secondary characteristic. The primary characteristic when you say something is 'x' that should be the primary thing. Now, if you look at the King James, which is about the only translation that used the English word dispensation. If you look at passages like Ephesians 1:10, as we define this; it is translated a Greek word, OKONOMIA with the English word "dispensation." So if we are going to define dispensation for all of us who are fans of the original language, then we have to start with what the Greek word means, not with a subsequent theological definition that is read into the Scripture. There are reasons for this.
So, when we look at the Greek word, for example on this first slide I have pasted in the three meanings given for OIKONOMIA in the Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich Version (BDAG), Third Edition Greek Lexicon. The three meanings listed for OIKONOMIA are:
1. Responsibility of management, management
2. State of being arranged, arrangement, order, plan
3. Program of instruction, or training
Now at the risk of over emphasizing my point, does anybody see a time word in those three meanings? No.
We look at the Liddell, Scott, Jones Dictionary (LSJ), the meaning of OIKONOMIA is:
1. Management of a household or family, husbandry, thrift
2. Generally, direction, regulation, administration
4. In Egypt, office of OIKONOMOS
6. Plan, dispensation
7. In bad sense, scheming
Again, time is not a part of the denotation of this word; so, the same thing in the Abbott-Smith Lexicon (see slide #6.)
Now, the reason this is important is if you define dispensations primarily a period of time, you don't include important factors that are related to stewardship. If you emphasize the primary meaning as being an administration, then what you get with that word are aspects related to responsibility and accountability where we develop the fullness of our understanding of a dispensation related to these tests of revelation. If it is simply a period of time you don't have a Biblical exegetical foundation for bringing in those important ideas. And that is what is significant when we look at an administration of God's plan for history; the emphasis on the human responsibilities; revelation that God has given for that time period and how God is holding mankind accountable for that revelation during that administration. This is what the essence of dispensationalism is. One of the things I was pleased to hear from so many people from the Chafer Conference we just had, was that they were awakened to the fact that most of us have been awakened to.
I remember realizing and coming to grips with some of this as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, studying dispensationalism; that dispensationalism isn't a time chart. It isn't just a timeline of the plan for the ages. Dispensationalism is a fully orbed theological system that is the result of a consistently applied literal interpretation of Scripture. So, to reduce it as it has been in many minds in popularly, as simply understanding God's Plan for the Ages does a tremendous injustice to the concept and the theology of dispensationalism. There is a lot to unpack here, when we talk about dispensationalism, understanding the responsibilities that God places in each one of these periods. If you have something other than administration as the primary idea in the definition; you have also failed, there is a big debate on this, and you can read about it anywhere on-line. But, you are describing a term and not defining it. And what we have to start with is a good definition to understand it, rather than simply describing it.
That is hard for some words. Love is a notoriously difficult word to define. Most definitions are simply describing characteristics of love, but they are not defining or giving the core meaning of the word love. There are a number of words that we have in English, especially the abstract words that make that difficult. So, we have to emphasize this concept of administration because it brings such a load of significance to understanding these periods of time. They are aspects of the administration of God.
Now, when we talk about dispensational schemes; I pointed out last time that the Scofieldian idea of seven dispensations has sort of taken root because of the popularity of the Scofield Reference Bible. And for some dispensationalist that has taken on a life of its own, an authority of its own and they really don't want to get away from Scofield's breakdown. But I think that there are some areas that we can tweak with Scofield's understanding. Scofield was not the final word; in fact, if you look at the development of ideas within dispensationalism, within traditional dispensationalism, there have been notable changes but they have not caught the popular view because they don't have a vehicle such as the Scofield Reference Bible to promote them.
This is a historical chart that is in Dr. Ryrie's book on dispensationalism and it shows some breakdowns in the periodization of human history according to the Bible (see slide #7.) Pierre Poiret, who was a French theologian, said the:
1. First dispensation was the "creation to the deluge" or creation to the flood
2. Second the "flood to Moses"
3. Third, from "Moses to the prophets"
4. Then, "prophets to Christ"
He doesn't have an Abraham in there at all. He doesn't see what we call the "age of the law" start until Moses. Then it is Moses to the prophets and the prophets to Christ.
5. Then he has a period "manhood and old age."
So he is using sort of a maturity model as he is breaking this down.
6. Then he refers to the final kingdom, Paul refers to it in Ephesians 1:10 as the "fullness of time"; here it is the "renovation of all things."
Isaac Watts, who was a premillennialist and also a well known hymn writer, saw a breakdown at the beginning, a period of "innocence." He see a clear break between the period before the fall and after the fall, which he identified as the "Adamical" dispensation; then the period from the "Noahical" dispensation, from Noah to Abraham, and then from Abraham to Moses. He saw the entire period of the Law as one dispensation; then after that, a "Christian" dispensation.
James Hall Brooks is interesting because he was a pastor of a Presbyterian church in St. Louis, Missouri, and he was a mentor to C. I. Scofield. When C. I. Scofield was in St. Louis he learned much about dispensationalism from James Hall Brooks, so he did not attend his church and there was a certain mentorship there. James Hall Brooks held to a first period, the period of "Eden," then the "Antediluvian," which means before the fall; then the "Patriarchal" dispensation from the Flood to Moses. The "Mosaic" dispensation; then, he is one of the few who has; there are several who had the "Life of Christ" as a separate dispensation, which he identified as the "Messianic" dispensation. Now that is interesting because some of us have been exposed to others who have taught, and I believe there is a Biblical defense for it, but we have to understand why.
You can't just say it is distinct, it is unique, and so it ought to be. There needs to be a solid theological rational for why you break these periods the way we do. And that is what I will show as we go through this. That you don't just come in and say, "Well because something changed here or there or there is a major figure, that that should be a dispensation. There needs to be a specific reason for that and I think Scofield provided that with his concept that there is a new revelation, there is a responsibility given, a test that is in relation to that responsibility, a failure and then a shift takes place with new revelation. That provides a very solid paradigm for identifying why you are making your period shift, your dispensational shift, and the administration shift at each time. I think that on that basis we can see and we will see it when we get there; that the age of the Messianic dispensation, the first advent, is distinct and unique for a number of reasons. The last one is Scofield's breakdown: innocence, conscience, and human government; then promise, this would be from Abraham to Moses; the dispensation of the law, the dispensation of grace, and the dispensation of the kingdom (see slide #7).
So the question that we really need to address is how does God advance the dispensations? How do we know when we have gone from one dispensation to another looking at it from the lens of Scripture? What are the keys to being able to address that question? I believe that the key is understanding a covenant; that covenants are a form of divine revelation, which spell out specific responsibilities to the human race as well as spelling out certain consequences for failure. Now those are not present in every covenant, but when there is a new covenant that is given, then that covenant has new revelation and new accountability. We will look at ages a little later on. This is why an age is not a dispensation because when we look at the broad time periods that have certain similar features, such as the age of the Gentiles, when God is working through the entire human race between Creation and the call of Abraham that is the age of the Gentiles; you have numerous things that shift inside that age and that is why the dispensation has to be narrower than an age.
Sometimes, as I pointed out last time, an age is basically identical with the dispensation. For example, some people will refer to the church age as the age of grace and there is debate as to whether you say church age in the dispensation of grace or the other way around; but whatever, there are identical. It started at the Day of Pentecost and ends at the rapture in this time period. We will look at the characteristics later on.
So what moves history in terms of divine revelation has to do with the concept of covenant? What is a covenant? A covenant is a form of a contract. It is not identical to a contract; there is a little bit of a difference between a covenant and a contract, but they are similar in that they are legal documents where one party is bound to another party in a legal agreement. So we define a covenant as a contract between God, who is the party of the first part. All the Biblical covenants are described in Scripture. God initiates the covenant and He makes a sovereign disposition obligating Himself in grace to bless man, who is the party of the second part. What that means is God is willing to limit Himself to a written or verbal contract with man in terms of what God is going to do for the human race under that contract. So God obligates Himself and is willing to bind Himself to that contractual agreement. He is not operating in a willy-nilly sort of fashion, which is what you have in every other religion. No other world religion has God binding Himself in a legal agreement of this nature to the human race (see slide #9).
Now when we look at the covenants there are three covenants between God and the Gentiles (see slide #10):
1. Edenic covenant, which is the Creation covenant
2. Adamic covenant, after the Fall
3. Noahic covenant, after the Flood
The Noahic covenant is still in the effect and is in effect until God creates the New Heavens and the New Earth. The covenants are closely related. There are clear modifications of the covenant because of the impact of sin on the human race.
Then there are five covenants between God and Israel:
1. Abrahamic covenant
2. Palestinian or Land covenant
3. Mosaic covenant
4. Davidic covenant, 2 Samuel 7:8-16; Psalm 89:20-37
5. New covenant, Jeremiah 31:31-34
So let me put this up in terms of a chart and in terms of what I just said (see slide #10). We start with the Gentile Covenants; there is the Creation covenant that is spelled out in Genesis 1:27-28 and there are elements of it in Genesis 2 as well. It is clear that the language God uses is language that becomes part of covenant language later on in Scripture even though the word covenant is not used there. We will get into this a little later on to show why I believe this is a covenant. It is clearly a covenant that takes place. This covenant ends with the Fall. It brings a totally new set of circumstances to the human race and to Creation and therefore, the original covenant has to be modified to meet the new circumstances, the new realities brought about by sin. That revision of the original Creation covenant we call the Adamic Covenant that is described in Genesis 3:14-19.
That is the primary governing document until the Flood occurs and after the Flood the earth goes into another stage of deterioration due to the corruption of sin and God modifies the covenant again and we refer to this as the Noahic Covenant given in Genesis 9:1-7. The Noahic Covenant is in effect until the New Heavens and New Earth. So every time you see a rainbow it is a reminder that the Noahic Covenant is still in effect and all of the provisions of the Noahic Covenant are still in effect. So we have these three Gentile covenants.
Then there are the five covenants that are between God and Israel (see slide #11):
1. The Abrahamic Covenant
2. The Palestinian or Land Covenant
I don't like the Palestinian Covenant because from the time that Scofield wrote, the early dispensationalist in the 19th century, Palestine was a synonym for Israel. The term Palestine has been cooped by the Arab population after Arafat turned the term over to the Arab inhabitants of Israel. So it has a different meaning today then it did a hundred years ago. So it is better to refer to this as the Land Covenant, sometimes I call it the Real Estate Covenant, when God promises a specific piece of real estate to Israel.
3. Then there is the Mosaic Covenant
4. The Davidic Covenant
5. And the New Covenant to Israel
Of these covenants, we usually talk about them and I will describe these terms a little more in a minute, as conditional versus unconditional; that the Mosaic Covenant is a conditional covenant and the other covenants are unconditional. That is important concept that is traditional terminology. I think that, especially when you look at Hebrews 8, which develops the application of the New Covenant to the church. The point that the writer of Hebrews is making is that the New Covenant replaces the Mosaic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant was never intended to be a permanent covenant. That is why the New Covenant was given to replace what was always intended to be a temporary covenant.
So it seems from the theology of Hebrews that the emphasis that God has in distinguishing these two types of covenants is more the idea of temporary versus permanent. There are conditions even in so called unconditional covenants, but the covenant itself and the existence of the covenant is not conditioned upon the obedience of Israel; so a little more technically accurate term is really a temporary versus permanent. Now these Jewish covenants, there are five, the unconditional or permanent are grounded on the Abrahamic Covenant. There are four of these. The Abrahamic Covenant, which promised to Israel a specific piece of land, a blessing through the seed or descendants of Abraham, and worldwide blessing. Each of the three elements was expanded on in subsequent covenants; so that the land promise is expanded in the land or real estate covenant in Deuteronomy 30. The Davidic Covenant is expanded on, I mean the seed promise is expanded on in the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7; and the promise of worldwide blessing is expanded in the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31.
Those are permanent covenants that God promised that the blessing comes to the entire human race as mediated through Israel. From Genesis 1-Genesis 11 God is working exclusively through all human beings, all the Gentiles, but He limits Himself starting with the call of Abraham to work through the entire human race and bless them through Abraham and his descendents. One temporary or conditional covenant is the Mosaic Covenant as described in Exodus 20-40, as well as other passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So that is the breakdown of the covenants; each time God modifies a covenant or gives some new revelation there is a shift in terms of the dispensation. So now let's talk about these two terms. First of all, any questions at this point? No questions.
Now we have the two terms, conditional covenant and unconditional covenant (see slide #13.) In a temporary or conditional covenant this is where there is a proposal of God whereby He promises in a conditional compact with man, by the formula "if you will", to grant special blessings to men providing he fulfills certain conditions. God says basically, if you are obedient then I will bless you. This is what is seen in the Mosaic Covenant. If Israel fulfills the Mosaic Covenant then God will keep them in the land and God will bless them; but if they are disobedient to the covenant God will remove them from the land. Those conditions also sort of relate to the Abrahamic Covenant because God promised Israel the land unconditionally, but they can't live in the land unless they are spiritually obedient. So there is an implied condition there. If they are disobedient God is not going to cancel the Abrahamic Covenant. But they are not going to benefit from it because God is not going to let a spiritually rebellious people live in the land.
So that is sort of how the Mosaic Covenant will connect to the Abrahamic Covenant. There is a temporary nature. That is what the writer of Hebrews brings out. God never intended the Mosaic Covenant to last forever. It was just a temporary law code for Israel until the Messiah came to fulfill it. So the permanent or unconditional covenant is when God by a sovereign act establishes an unconditional contract with man or He declares this in the sense that announcing to Abraham, "I will do this." It is not at all conditioned on Abraham's response. In fact, in the covenant ceremony with Abraham it was typical or traditional in the ancient Near East that when you were signing a serious treaty or contract, you would have your sacrificial animals, split them in half, lay the halves of the carcass on each side of a path and the two contracting parties to the covenant would walk between the halves of the sacrifice; indicating that they are both bound by that covenant to bring it to pass.
When God was establishing this contract with Abraham, He caused a deep sleep to fall on Abraham, so that God symbolized by a smoking torch that passed alone between the sacrifices, the halves of the animals, that that indicated that God alone was binding Himself to that contract and He was going to provide and make sure that that contract would be fulfilled. So that the Abrahamic Covenant becomes an eternally bound promise of God to the Jewish people; and that means that God ultimately will fulfill every aspect of that covenant regardless of how the recipient responds. The existence of that contract is not dependent upon the behavior of the second party of the human party. So the Jewish covenants are all unconditional and God will ultimately fulfill them; all of them are unconditional except for the Mosaic Covenant.
So really, the only covenant that is conditional, some say the Edenic Covenant is conditional, because God would bless them, they would have eternal life within Eden as long as they were obedient and once they were disobedient then they were out of the garden. So I can understand that as being a conditional covenant. Usually we don't talk about the concepts of conditional and unconditional with the Gentile covenants. They are connected to one another as we will see and they govern how man is to operate under God's authority in relation to the Creation. So we can say that the Edenic Covenant or the Creation Covenant is conditional in some sense; more so then the others. The Mosaic Covenant is clearly conditional or temporary. But the unconditional covenants that continue are the Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, the Land, the Davidic and the New Covenant.
Just looking at the covenants with Israel; what can we say about the nature of these permanent covenants with Israel (see slide #17)?
1. First of all they are understood as literal covenants. They are not to be spiritualized; they are not to be allegorized in some sort of sense where the terms of the covenant no longer refer to the literal physical statements.
What I mean by that is that is that when God promises a land to Abraham and his descendants that is bordered by the great sea, the Mediterranean, the River of Egypt, the River Euphrates, that doesn't get transferred in the church age to be an illusion to heaven. If you read Genesis 15 you can't get out of that that those dimensions that God gives to Abraham for the land that he promised him; God's just really talking about heaven here. A literal interpretation means that God is talking about a literal piece of real estate. But in Covenant Theology, what they will say is because Israel broke God's law and Israel rejected the Messiah, then that land that is bordered by the River of Egypt, the Great Sea, and the River Euphrates, that no longer applies, that piece of real estate is no longer promised to Israel, and that promise now becomes a spiritual promise to the church and it refers to our heavenly destiny.
So that you have phrases like the "Promised Land" now in the Old Testament (OT) become allegorized to relate to heaven. "Crossing into the Promised Land" would then be allegorized to mean "crossing into heaven" so that "crossing the Jordan River" becomes allegorized as "death and being transferred to heaven." And if you listen to some old Negro spirituals then that is what you are hearing when it talks about "crossing over the river." You are going into heaven. They are taking a spiritualized promise and there was a lot of influence from Presbyterian Covenant Theology in the South during the time prior to the American War Between the States.
In the mid to late 1700s there was an enormous migration of Scot-Irish Presbyterians cross the Atlantic Ocean and they primarily went to the South. There was a number that went North, but the vast majority of them went into the South, went into the Carolinas, went in to Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama; most of my ancestry was part of that migration; and they were all influenced by Covenant Theology, in fact, I ran across a genealogy that was done on my family going up through my father's side and his mother's side. I had never seen this before; this was done during the 1930s and 1940s. All these people are Scot-Irish Presbyterians and their names are that way. I have got one ancestor who was imprisoned by the British along with Andrew Jackson back during the time of the American Revolution.
That is what they were, but I got into one side of this family and there were seminary presidents and theologians and Presbyterian pastors. The fruit on the tree was just about to kill the tree with all these Presbyterian pastors on this on side going up through the period of World War II a number of them became chaplains in the Marine Corp and in the Navy. It was almost exclusively the Navy and Marine Corp type military service. In fact, on that side it also went back to one who listed in the Marines and in the first six months we had a Marine Corp and then after the American War for Independence he went to seminary at what was the Old Log College before it was Princeton. Then he became the first chaplain in the United States Navy. So there is a rich heritage there; but that influenced a lot of these Negro spirituals.
People like Stonewall Jackson, Thomas Jonathan Jackson, who was from Virginia, and he was a profoundly committed Calvinist and covenant theologian in his thinking. He would spend every Sunday afternoon teaching the Bible to a group of slaves; and since they didn't have watches they weren't always on time. In order to teach them time discipline Jackson would lock the door of the church promptly at three o'clock so that if they weren't there on time they could not get in. He would teach them the Bible from a Covenant perspective. His chief of staff during the Civil War was Robert Lewis Dabney, who later became a founder of the Austin Presbyterian Seminary and is known as one of the greatest southern Presbyterian theologians. So these covenant ideas, the spiritualization and allegorization of the OT was very popular especially in the South. So that is what they would do.
I remember years ago when I was first up in Preston City I went to an Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Boston. It was one of those moments when you become the fly on the wall and Elliot Johnson, who as the speaker at the last Chaffer Conference and Ed Bloom, who is one of my favorite professors; he had pastored Bethel Independent Presbyterian here. I did not always agree with Ed, but he made me think. Those were my favorite professors at Dallas were the ones who made you think. And Ed Bloom was standing there and Bruce Waltke came over. Now Waltke was one of the great names for OT Theology at Dallas. He was Charlie Clough's mentor when Charlie went through seminary. Dr. Waltke was the Head of the OT Dept. But after he left Dallas he sort of was like a chameleon, every school he went to he became influenced by their theological system. He kind of morphed over a period of five years to being a dispensationalist to being a five-point Calvinist and holding to Covenant Theology. And these guys had all been through seminary together back in the early 1960s and they were close friends and allies when they were on the faculty at Dallas.
So it was really interesting, I had just gone over to talk to Ed and to Dr. Johnson, so I was standing there when Dr. Waltke came over; I am just like the fly on the wall; and they were sort of joking with each other and Elliot said, "Well, are you still mistranslating the OT thinking that the land God promised to Israel is heaven?" and Waltke said, "Of course it is." Ed Bloom said, "You need to go read Romans 9 again." So it is interesting to see that little banter between them. But that shows that this is real. This is what out there that you run into a lot of people who are influenced by Covenant Theology they no longer interpret those passages in the OT and those covenants in a literal manner.
2. The second thing we observe with these permanent covenants is that they are eternal. They carry their results into eternity itself (see slide #18).
So in the New Heavens and the New Earth there will be a New Jerusalem and there will still be a destiny for Israel that is distinct from the destiny of the church. Now much later on in this series we will talk some about progressive dispensationalism; but one of the ideas that came out of early dispensationalism and was still held by traditional dispensationalist, is that there is an eternal destiny for the church that is different from the eternal destiny to Israel. In the new progressive dispensationalism all the people of God sort of just merge together sometime after the millennium. So they are covenants; they maintain those distinctives; they go on for eternity.
3. The third thing that we note is that the permanent covenants with Israel are unconditional; they do contain certain conditions within them for experiencing the blessings promised. They are not conditioned related to God's promise. They do not bind God or condition God's ultimate blessing. God will fulfill His promises and that is not dependent upon Israel's response (see slide #19).
4. A fourth observation is that these covenants are made with a covenant people with Israel; they are not made with the church (see slide #20).
They (the covenants) are made with a distinct group. So that when you come to the New Covenant and it says I am making a New Covenant with the house of Judah; you can't say once Jesus comes that the church becomes a covenant partner. The church will benefit as we see from the New Covenant, but God did not make a New Covenant with the church. You don't have that language. Now there are some verses here that are important to understand about the permanence with Israel. For example in Romans 9:4 Paul describes the Israelites as those "to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises." In the church age Paul writes that these covenants still belong to Israel. God has not negated His covenants to Israel because they rejected Christ as the Messiah.
Again in Ephesians 2:11-12 (see slide #21) Paul writes, "Therefore remember, that formerly you the Gentiles," the Ephesians were mostly Gentiles; they were "Gentiles in the flesh," you "who are called 'Uncircumcision' by the so-called 'Circumcision,' that is the Jews who were emphasizing their relation to Moses; you "who are called 'Uncircumcision' by the so-called 'Circumcision,' which is performed in the flesh by human hands - remember that you," that is you Gentiles, "were at that time separated from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise," those covenants of promise refers to the Abrahamic promise, the Land Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant; "strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." So these covenant promises are with Israel and they are made with Israel and those promises do not get transferred to any other group.
So finally the principle of the timing of the provisions that the covenant can be made at a certain point in time, but that doesn't mean that every feature of the covenant would go into effect at that time. The Davidic Covenant, for example, is made with David, but the ultimate fulfillment of that covenant occurs when the Messiah comes and establishes His kingdom. The New Covenant was given in Jeremiah or described in Jeremiah 31. The sacrifice that establishes that covenant is the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, but it does not begin the New Covenant. The New Covenant does not begin until Jesus returns at the Second Coming and establishes the Messianic Rule, because that is our destiny to participate in the Messianic Kingdom and the New Covenant and to be blessed by that. Paul says we are ministers of the New Covenant today, not because we are in the New Covenant, but because by proclaiming the Gospel the people who respond to the Gospel will be secured a place and a role and a position in the New Covenant when it is established. So, in that sense we are ministers of the New Covenant, but that is still a future concept. It does not mean that the New Covenant in effect today.
So in some of these covenants some provisions go into effect immediately, for example, with the Abrahamic Covenant; some provisions went into effect immediately and remember in the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15 God promised there would be a 400 year period of enslavement in Egypt. That did not come about until a couple of hundred years after the beginning of the Abrahamic Covenant. So just because a covenant goes into effect does not mean that all of its provisions immediately went into effect.
The last thing about covenants is that some covenants become the basis for a new dispensation when they go into effect; not necessarily when they are announced. The Davidic Covenant and the Land Covenant and the New Covenant don't really go into effect until the Messiah returns. That is why they don't start new dispensations. The Abrahamic Covenant started a new dispensation. The Mosaic Covenant started a new dispensation. But the other three covenants, the Land Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant don't go into effect until Jesus returns; of course, that is the basis for the new and final dispensation, the age of the Messiah. Mentioning the age of the Messiah, that take us to the next concept, which is understanding the Ages of Human History (see slide #22) in contrast to dispensations. Anybody have any questions?
Question: With technical terms such as Rapture and Trinity we have an advantage over the apostle Paul who was not able to frame his understanding with these terms. Is the same thing true when we speak of dispensationalism?
Answer: Yes, I think so. I think there is clearly what theologians call "development of doctrine," which really means the development of our understanding of doctrine. I believe that the writers of Scripture understood more than what we know that they understood. For example, when you read Genesis you don't get any idea that Abraham understands the doctrine of resurrection at all, but in Hebrews 11, the writer of Hebrews says that Abraham had full confidence when he was going to sacrifice Isaac because he knew that God would raise him from the dead. But you can read Genesis 22 all day long and you never get that out of Genesis 22. So it is obvious that the writers of Scripture and these heroes of the OT knew a lot more than what the OT tells us. I think that the apostle Paul knew more than what is revealed in Scripture and why he can say what he says is because he understands this broader framework. But he does not have the terminology clearly.
We understand the Trinity better than Paul did because he did not have a term for it. We understand the hypostatic union better than Paul did because he did not have a term for it and vocabulary is important. That is how God want us to go through that. So yes, I think we have a much better, clearer understanding on the details of Scripture because we've been thinking about it longer than they did. That is not to say that what they knew and understood was wrong; it is just that it was not as fully developed as what we understand today.
Follow-up: All dispensationalists are premillennialist, but not all premillennialist are dispensationalists. Can you provide an example of this; what does the covenant theologian's view of the millennium?
Answer: In Covenant Theology they are primarily amillennialists or postmillennialists. But you do have some, and I am not sure that it is not Covenant Theology, it is a different system, sort of a hybrid, but there is a view called 'historic premillennialism.' An example of that is a group that founded the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. These are people who are very pro Israel. They are premillennial and God is going to fulfill all of His promises to Israel literally, but they write all this anti-dispensational stuff. They really do not like dispensationalism. They are premillennial and they are pro Israel and they interpret all of the prophesies, all of the covenants literally. That is known as 'historic premillennialism.' There are some other differences to that, but that is a quick answer.
Let's look at "ages" (see slide #23.) The term 'age' as we are going to use it is an era or an epoch of time marked by certain boundaries or occurrences where there is a definite fixed period of time. The Scripture uses the term "ages" numerous times; whereas a dispensation is an administration within an "age." There are certain features that bind an "age" together. For example, in the first age, which is the Age of the Gentiles, God is working through all the Gentile people. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. There are three covenants given that change how God is administering history, which is why we can't just say we are going to call it an Age of the Gentiles, an Age of Israel, and leave it at that. There are clear administrative shifts that take place in Genesis 3 and again in Genesis 9. That is what demarcates these as dispensations and subdivisions of an "age."
The same thing with the Age of Israel; there is a massive shift that occurs in Genesis 12. God is no longer going to work broadly with the entire human race. They failed before the Flood; they failed again at the Tower of Babel; from Genesis 12 on God is going to work exclusively through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. How many people knew that? God called Abraham out of Ur; how many other people in the world knew that there was a shift and how God was dealing with the human race? No one; but the shift nevertheless occurred objectively and historically. God from that point on was just going to work through Abraham, but not everybody knew it. You see that same kind of a transition period that occurred at the beginning of Acts.
We just studied Acts; we saw that. How may OT type saints, believers in the coming of the Messiah, Jewish believers in the coming of the Messiah, who were living in Rome or living in Spain or living in North Africa or living in Babylon who were believers in the Messiah just like you have with the prophet Simeon in Luke 2. They were believers in the OT Messiah, but Jesus came and died in AD 33. How many of them knew; they did not have internet; they did not have telegraph; they did not have even a pony express; and so if they died two, three, four, five years after Jesus died on the Cross they would not have heard that everything has shifted now. The church started. They were living in that kind of transition period; but nevertheless, there was a shift that occurred. They are caught in that transition period.
So, we are studying about "age" versus dispensation.
The first age is the Age of the Gentiles. This is covered in Genesis 1-11 and it covers three dispensations (see slides #24-25):
1. Dispensation of Innocence
Innocence is a great term to use; there are two different meanings to innocence. Someone who is sort of naïve; someone who is easily taken advantage of; someone who is young; but it has a legal concept. Remember, the Bible is built around the concept of "law." Justification is a legal concept; righteousness is a legal concept. Prior to the Fall man is legally innocent; he is not guilty of sin. He is innocent. So this is a good term to use for the first dispensation. It fits the legal structure of the Scripture. So that is from Genesis 1:28, the creation of man to Genesis 3:8, which is when they Fall. That begins a new dispensation.
2. Dispensation of Conscience
Now I have never been real happy with that term, the Dispensation of Conscience or Human Conscience, but that is the term that has been used; so I will leave that alone for right now. This covers the Scriptural period from Genesis 3:9 to the Flood, Genesis 8:14.
3. Dispensation of Human Government
Genesis 8:15, a real foundational document is the giving of the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 9.
So those three dispensations are dispensations because there is:
1. New revelation given
2. New responsibility given
3. New test given
The way God is administering human history shifts based upon that new revelation, but what it has in common is that God is working through the entirety of the human race. It has certain characteristics:
1. One language throughout all the human race
2. One race; they still did not get along, which shows that unification of the human race is not a solution to the problem because the problem isn't communication, the problem is sin; but ever since the Tower of Babel man has tried to identify the problem as communication and that is a real problem. Anybody who has been on the mission field and tried to communicate the Gospel to somebody who is in another culture with another language knows how difficult the language barrier is. A lot of problems can be solved if we just spoke the same language. But it does not solve the real problem in the human race, which is sin.
3. Skipped [No canon of Scripture (revelations, but not in written form)]
4. In the Age of the Gentiles salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ, in the promised Messianic seed, which we know as Jesus Christ; they did not know the Name, but the salvation looks forward to the promise of the "seed of the woman" who will provide redemption for mankind.
5. No distinct administrative entity in the "age"; there are in the dispensation, but not in the "age." That is tie difference between an "age" and a dispensation.
6. The divine institutions are all developed in the Age of the Gentiles; all five divine institutions are developed and they are attacked by Satan and that brings in the angelic conflict aspect
Now I am going to stop there because the hour is up and the next topic I am going to cover is an introduction to the Divine institutions. I think I am going to wait and bring in one other aspect before we go further and that is to relate the angelic conflict to the dispensations before I get into the Divine institutions. So this is one of the things that I am doing. I am bringing in trying to connect all these dots for us as we go through the ages and the dispensations connecting the angelic conflict because that is significant to dispensational theology.
Just on a note, we live in a world today when not everybody really gets it. I have a man who participates in my Friday morning pastors' group. He is a little bit older than I am. He has a background, retired military, retired pilot, calm disposition, and he has been going to a seminary; I am not going to mention the name; and sitting in some lectures on Isaiah and the professor is teaching that Isaiah 14 has nothing at all whatsoever to do with the fall of Satan. This is a very well known dispensationalist; so this is not uncommon. It is common today; it was uncommon thirty years ago and before because traditional historical dispensationalists all related the dispensations to the fall of Satan.
You go back and read Ryrie; you read Clarence Larkin; you read Scofield; you read Chafer; you read Talbot; you read all of these guys. They all start with the Fall of Satan. But not that you have people who have bought into a false hermeneutic on Isaiah 14 and sometimes Ezekiel 28; that these are not referring to the Fall of Satan. All of a sudden you create the same problem that you have in Covenant Theology, you divorce the message of the Bible and the overall understanding of God's plan and purpose from a whole segment of God's creatures, which are the angels. This is a really serious problem and it shows. Everything seems to be sort of falling apart and fragmenting in our culture including theology. So that is a point of contention. I just thought you should be aware that these are all battlefields. Almost every point I am teaching is being contested by somebody today. It is just a crazy world out there.
Anyway, let's go ahead and close in prayer. Father, we thank you for this opportunity to study to think through the aspect of dispensations again and begin to work our way through how you work through the OT and the different ages and dispensations and to come to understand that all of human history has a plan and a purpose. You are administering human history for a purpose in order to teach certain key principles through the experiment or the laboratory of human volition. Father we pray that you will us to understand that that it might make the Bible come alive for us in a new and fresh way. We pray this in Christ's Name, Amen.