What is a Dispensation?
God's Plan for the Ages – Dispensations Lesson #03
March 25, 2014
Let's focus on what we are going to study this evening and go to the Lord in prayer. We will have a few moments of silent prayer to begin with, so you can make sure you are spiritually prepared, then I will open in prayer. Let's pray. Father, we are so thankful for the many blessings You have given us and for the way in which You have prospered us as believers and the fact that we live in a free country and we are still free to teach Your Word, believe Your Word, and proclaim the truth of the Gospel. We pray that that might continue. We pray that despite the many forces that are arrayed against the truth in this nation; so many politicians, the many judges who seek to dismantle the historical foundation of this nation; we pray that You would preserve it. We pray that You would give wisdom to those who are even as we speak fighting cases before the Supreme Court that are important for the future of this nation in terms of continuing the establishment principles upon which this nation is founded. Father, we pray for us as a church; that we might not lose sight of the fact that we are here on this earth to be a witness to Your grace, a witness to the truth of the Scriptures; and that whatever else may transpire in our lives, the reason we are here is to make that testimony known before the angels and before mankind. Now, Father, as we study Your Word and learn about Your plan tonight, we pray that You would help us in this study. We pray this in Christ's Name, Amen.
Now one of the things I want to do or begin to do a little differently in this series is in terms of methodology. Usually I come in, I teach for an hour, and then we go home. But I want to give this opportunity, some of you have studied a lot of things about dispensations; some people have questions. I want to have an opportunity for a little more Q&A in the course of this particular trip through dispensations as we study it. So, keep that in mind, write down any questions that come to you. Every now and then I will say, "Does anybody have any questions?" That is your opportunity to raise your hand. You may not think of any questions. You may not think that your question is that bright. My mothers always use to say, and my mother was almost always right; that the only dumb question was the question that is not asked. And so, people need to ask. If you have that question, then somebody else probably has that question. And there are some people who probably never have questions; they are never going to raise their hands and say, "This is my question.…" But, you may have the question and so they are going to be glad that you ask the question. Sometimes when you get in situations like this there are a few people who ask a lot of the questions; everybody else is just glad that they do. So, don't be self-conscious about that.
So we are studying about dispensations and the question that we want to ask tonight or the one that we want to answer to some degree is, "Just what in the world is a dispensation?" It is very important to define terms. We can avoid a lot of confusion by simply having accurate definitions and defining what we are talking about; and dispensation is one of those terms, because like many words that we use in Christianity, it is becoming an antiquated term. The reason it is becoming antiquated is because it is not a word that is used in modern translations as we will see. It was used in the King James Bible and I think in some passages even in the New King James. But in modernized translations, such as the NIV (New International Version), New American Standard Bible, ESV (English Standard Version), and many of the others, they don't use the word dispensation anymore. So I will make a prediction to you here, because I have been around long enough to recognize that the more things change the more things stay the same, is that just as people say, "Well rapture can't be a Biblical doctrine because you don't find the word "rapture" in the Bible." It won't be long before dispensationsis not a Biblical doctrine because you cannot find the word in the Scripture. What we will discover is that the word is a more antiquated English word and was used in the translation of the New King James Bible, which was the dominate Bible in the 19th century when dispensationalism was developed. So it has a very solid Biblical background and Biblical foundation.
Now just by way of review, what in the world did we start off with? We started off, remember, talking about the key things that are mentioned by most dispensational theologians as distinctive to dispensationalism:
1. One of those has to do with the infallibility of Scripture.
2. Another has to do with the fact that human history must be set within the context of Satan's revolt against God.
3. And a third thing would be the importance of our hermeneutic. How do we understand Scripture?
I talked more about that last time. But in the first lesson I came up with this working definition for dispensationalism. I noted first of all that it is a theological system. That just means that we have taken a lot of different things that the Bible says related to God's plan of the ages and we have organized that in a logical systematic manner; that is what a theological system is. There are a lot of different theological systems: Pentecostal theology is a theological system; Roman Catholic theology is a theological system; Lutheran theology is a theological system; Reformed theology, that which has its source in Calvin's theology is a theological system. So there are many theological systems. Each theological system has its own way of interpreting the Scripture; even those that came out of the Reformation where the crying word was "literal interpretation." They were only consistent with that to a certain degree. And one of the things that makes dispensationalism distinctive is this emphasis on a consistent literal interpretation.
So, dispensationalism is a theological system, which understands that God sovereignly governs the history of the human race through a sequence of divinely directed administrations marked by distinctive periods of time as He works out His plan to destroy sin and evil. What we see is that history, therefore, has a purpose and that is the destruction of sin and evil; and that God oversees history, so history isn't a bunch of random events; it is not like Henry Ford said, "One damned thing after another." But it is a sovereignly guided and directed process. It may appear chaotic from this side, but it is not chaotic in terms of the mind of God and control of God. Last time I pointed out that Charles Ryrie crystallized the essence of dispensationalism into these three main ideas, which he called by a Latin phrase, sine qua non, which literally means "without which nothing," just the essential elements [see slide]:
1. First of all, a consistent literal historical grammatical interpretation of the Bible.
The reason people like that is because it makes sense to them when they read their Bible; that they can open their Bible and they read what the passage says and then somebody expounds on the passage, explains the passage, and they can go home and read it again and say, "Oh, I can follow that; it opened that passage up to me. It means what it says, and it is not just taking it into some sort of allegorical, spiritualized realm where the meaning of the passage doesn't really have anything to do with the words that I read on the text."
2. And the key word here is "consistent;" as a result of that we see the second point is that God has a plan for Israel and a plan for the church. Israel is not a code word for the church in the Old Testament (OT); Israel means Israel; the Jewish people, the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the church refers to the church, that is those who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ; beginning on the Day of Pentecost in AD 33 and extending until the rapture of the church. God's plan for Israel is distinct from God's plan for the church.
3. The third thing the church writes in dispensational theology is it recognizes that the overall purpose of God's plan for His Creation is His Glory, His Essence, glorifying Himself, vindicating His Essence against the charges of Satan and the fallen angels and of fallen atheistic mankind; that God is not really righteous and or just.
Now the golden rule of interpretation as stated by D. L. Copper, David Cooper:
"When the plan sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise."
That is a great definition; take it at its face value in terms of the normal use of language unless there is something there to indicate that it should be taken another way. What are some clues that we might think about that would indicate that maybe the passage isn't to be taken literally. What would be a couple of obvious things that we might think about that would indicate that a passage was not to be taken literally?
Can anybody think of any? Parables; as soon as you know it is a parable you know that it is talking in some sort of representative analogy. It is not talking about literally historical events, but it is telling a story for the purpose of communicating a spiritual principle. What is another clue that something is not to be taken literally? The signs; could be, like in Revelation; that would be another one. What is another clue? What about poetry? Especially in some modern Bibles they offset poetic sections and you discover that not only are the Psalms set in poetry, but much of The Revelation and the Prophets are setoff in poetry; and poetry is not going to use language in exactly the same way that legal literature will use language. The language often stands for something. There is more of a use of metaphor and simile in poetry than you have in legal literature, but it is still within the norm of language. So that a metaphor or simile has a common usage in a language, which can be discovered in evaluating how it is used in other contexts.
So that is what we looked at. So one of the ways that we established this last week was to look at how prophesy that has been fulfilled in the past; how that prophesy was fulfilled. Was it fulfilled literally or was it fulfilled symbolically. In other words, we look at, for example, the destruction of Tyre; we discovered that the prophesy regarding the destruction of Tyre actually took place in Austin TX. Oh, no it didn't. It took place in Tyre, how unusual. A literal name was fulfilled in a literal location; and how it was destroyed described exactly how it was destroyed a couple of hundred years later after the prophesy to a tee. So that shows us examples of how the Bible interprets itself. Now tonight I want to go into the next section where we are defining the concept of dispensations in understanding this; and one of the problems you run into in understanding dispensationalism is that often it has been presented in a somewhat confusing manner to people. I would suggest that for many of us, when we first hear the term dispensationalism, one of the first things that goes into our mind is something to do with 'time.' In fact, if I go back to my opening slide, what do we see in that opening slide? What do we see? We see something similar to a clock; it reminds us of a clock; and it is the march of time.
Is time really the key? That is what many people think. So we need to evaluate that a little bit because we will discover that time is not the key idea in the concept ofdispensations; but it is present in some sense. Open your Bibles to Acts 1:6-7; this is just a tremendous passage because of some of the vocabulary that is here. When is this taking place? It is taking place after the resurrection of our Lord; as a matter of fact, it is taking place just prior to His ascension when he is going to just take off into the heaven. For the first time in the history of the world people are going to see a human being just elevate right off the ground and just take off right through the heavens and that is what happens when the Lord Jesus Christ departed the earth. He assembled His disciples together and gave them a command to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. Now there is a verse that in some theological systems had been interpreted allegorically. The command was to "wait," "wait," "wait for the promise of the Father." The Old King James translated that "tarry." In the early 20th century, late 19th century, that was taken out of context, translated allegorically and applied to everyday Christians that once they were saved they needed to "tarry." They needed to "tarry" by the altar of the church; they needed to "tarry" and wait and wait for the Holy Spirit to come. But they were waiting for the wrong thing because the Holy Spirit already came. But see, that is just an example I thought I'd point out of non-literal interpretation. Literal interpretation makes us understand that Jesus is talking to the eleven; they are in a specific location in Jerusalem and He tells them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Spirit. That promise was fulfilled in Acts 2. So you can't try to apply that anymore. It can't be applied anymore. No principle can be applied because it was historically conditioned.
In Acts 1:6 Jesus said, "And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, 'Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?'" What had they been talking about? For the last forty days they had been talking about the kingdom. Jesus was teaching them about the kingdom. In Acts 6:3 we read that after the resurrection He presented Himself alive with many infallible truths. See Jesus demonstrated with proofs the reality of the resurrection. Faith is not apart from proof. Faith is based on logical historical reality that can be demonstrated. It is not contrary. We live in a culture today where people want to make private; faith should be public. It impacts the public arena because faith impacts everything we think, say and do. So faith has a place at the table in the public arena and everybody that says it is not is simply an enemy of the Cross and an enemy of Christ and an enemy of the Scripture, and an enemy of Truth. And so Jesus presented Himself with these many infallible truths during the forty days and taught them speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
And so at the end of forty days, what question did they ask Him? They said, 'Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?' They understood the kingdom to be a literal geo-political kingdom with the headquarters of the King in Jerusalem. But Jesus' response is interesting. He didn't say, 'You silly boys, don't you know that this is a spiritual kingdom; that this kingdom is where I am going to go and it is going to be from heaven.' He didn't correct them that way. So if the amillennialist, that is a term meaning no literal future kingdom; if the amillennialist were right, then the answer is wrong. But He does not correct their concept of the kingdom. He corrects their desire to know the timing. He says, Acts 1:6-7, 'It is not for you to know the times or epochs.' He uses these two terms here 'times and epochs' in order to talk about the structure of God's plan in the future. He is saying that the timing issues and the issues relating to identification of these events are not for you to know. The Father has fixed these by His own divine authority.
Now what is interesting is that twenty years later, somewhere around twenty years later, the apostle Paul is writing to the congregation at Thessalonica. Now we just got through with our study in Acts, so you know that when Paul went to Thessalonica it was on his second missionary journey. He was on a relatively short period of time, two to three months, so he wasn't there for five, ten, fifteen years, and then he finally got around to teaching the doctrines related to the future and the doctrines related to God's plan. He is there for three months maybe and he is teaching them about God's plan and purposes for human history. And he uses the same terms that the apostles/disciples used in Acts 1 [see slide.] Paul writes to the Thessalonians 5:1, he says, "Now as to the times [CHRONOS] and the epochs (or "seasons" as used in the Old King James), brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you."
Why, because they didn't need to know it? No, because he had already taught them about it. So they were informed by Paul about God's plan for the future. Now the disciples, the day before Pentecost, asked a question related to timing and Jesus says, "It is not for y'all to know this." But twenty years later this is a common part of basic biblical teaching. What changed? What changed is that the apostle Paul came on the scene in God's timing and revelation related to God's plan and purposes and what we call dispensationalism, God's mystery doctrine of the church, were revealed during that period of time because the basic information about the coming church age was still somewhat veiled by the time Jesus ascended to heaven. He has taught His disciples; He had taught a few (things); there were a few things he had taught, for example, John 13-17 in the Gospel of John. But basically this was something that had not been announced in the OT, which is why it is called the mystery of the church. Mystery does not refer to a riddle; it doesn't refer to some sort of 'who done it;' it refers to the fact that God has not revealed something and now it has been revealed. So the point that we see from this is that God has a plan; He has now revealed that plan to us so that we can understand the dynamics and structure of that plan and therefore, we need to study it so that we can properly understand His Word.
So there are three things that we can derive from:
1. First of all, we see that God definitely has a plan, which includes different time periods that have different characteristics.
There are different time periods with different characteristics. Most people sort of recognize that; if you are not taking a sacrifice to the temple in Jerusalem you recognize that some things that were common in the OT period are not practiced at all today. If you are not looking for a physical priesthood that derived from the lineage of Aaron, then you know that some things are different; some things are not the same. So God has these different time periods. The apostles clearly saw that the time they lived was different from the time of the kingdom as Jesus described it. And so they could identify from where they were that there was a period that they were living in that was different from the future period and the period which they were living was different even though…; [this is not in the text but I think we can infer it…] the time they were living in was different from the time prior to the Cross. So there you can identify at least three different time periods, three different ways in which God was addressing the human race; that is the first thing we can conclude.
2. The second thing we can conclude is that Jesus' answer indicates that the temporal boundaries, that is the time limits for these ages, are determined in the decrees of God, under God's authority.
He determines when a period of time ends and another period of time begins. It is under His control. God's determined the beginning and the end of each of these time periods and there is certain characteristics that we can identify so that we know what time period applies to what areas of responsibility in the Scripture.
3. And then a third thing that we can see from comparing these passages is that the apostle Paul clearly taught about prophesy and God's plan for the ages even in the short period of time he had in Thessalonica.
He considered this to be part of foundational doctrine that every single believer needed to understand. Some people get the idea, well, prophesy, that is off in a distance somewhere; it is awfully confusing, awfully difficult; I don't really need to know. I just need to be concerned with the here and now. But that wasn't the viewpoint of the apostle Paul or the other writers of Scripture. Prophesy was important to understand and especially God's plan was important to understand.
So we recognize that there are different ways in which God is overseeing history just from looking at these two passages. So how can we understand, describe and talk about these things? One of the words that we use is the worddispensation. What is a dispensation? Now we just blew through a couple of important passages there in 1 Thessalonians and Acts 1; and so I want to see if anybody has any questions or confusion they want clarified. If you do, just raise your hand. If I ignore you for a while that will be find I will get to a point where I can stop and I'll call on you. But I want to give you the opportunity to ask or address any areas of uncertainty or confusion.
What is a dispensation? [See slide.] How do we understand this? Well, let's break the word down etymologically. Etymology simply tells us the history of a word, its derivation. But the derivation of a term doesn't have or may not have anything to do with its meaning in a passage. That is a common fallacy that plagues many Bible teachers. They go back and they look at the background to a word. Sometimes it can open up things and help us to understand things; but other times it just tells us how people used the world 500 years before it was used in the New Testament (NT) and it doesn't tell us anything about how the word is used in the NT.
We have an example in English. We have the English word 'charity' that is used in 1 Corinthians 13 in the King James Bible. In 1600 'charity' had a completely different connotation than it does today. When you look at the word 'love' today, which is how we translate the same word AGAPE in 1 Corinthians 13; when we look at the fact that we translate it 'love' today; what we think of as 'love' is not what we think of when we use the word 'charity.' So we can do a historical search on the etymology of the word 'charity' and it is not going to help us understand AGAPE very much.
That is the problem with etymology; but sometimes it helps us just to understand an English word a little bit and why we are using that word. Since 'dispensation' we don't find in most modern translations of the Scripture, we need to understand that just a little bit. It comes from the Latin word, dispensatio, which means to deal out or to weigh it out, to dispense or to distribute something. It is used in a kind of context where somebody has a finite set of resources and they are distributing those resources to other people; and that comes under the general category of administration, how something is administered or managed. So that is where it relates to the Greek words that are used. So the Latin word dispensatio comes from this idea of dispensing or distributing something. [See slide.]
Now in the Webster's Third New International Dictionary there are several meanings that are listed. I thought it was kind of interesting that the first meaning that they offer is that the word dispensation refers to:
1. "A divine ordering and administration of worldly affairs." What is the key word there? Now that is a hard question since I underlined it. What is the key word? Administration; do we see a time based word there? No, not at all; it is just administration, which is important because that is the key meaning of the Greek term that we have in the NT.
2. The second meaning that Webster's lists is the idea of "a system of principles, promises, and rules divinely ordained and administered." So here it is talking about what? Rules that are administered; again the main idea is administration or management, not time. Yet, time is often the first thing that people thing about, not administration.
3. Now in the third meaning it states a period of history. Now only in the third meaning do we bring in an idea related to time. "A period of history during which a particular divine revelation has predominated in the affairs of mankind;" and there it brings in the idea related to divine revelation, which is very important in understanding dispensationalism.
4. And then the fourth meaning is "the general state or ordering of things."
So what we want to conclude from this, that is important, is to recognize that a dispensation takes place in time; it is going to be bordered by temporal factors, but it isn't necessarily related to time. It is related to administration or management. That is maybe a different way for some people to think about what dispensationalism is all about. The concepts of administration and management bring in some corollary ideas such as responsibility and accountability that are not necessarily inherent when we think about the time factor. So administration and management brings in some relationship to responsibility. So there is a couple of things that we can conclude from this and that is that the concept of a dispensation relates to the action of administering or ordering something. How is this going to be administered or managed? The idea of dealing our or distributing something. The second meaning, the act of administering refers to the act of administering or dispensing. There is a type of with some requirement.
What are some related terms? This is important just to help us understand the time factor. I'm not saying that a dispensationis totally unrelated to time. I am just thinking that for many of us we've seen all these wonderful charts of the ages that the first idea that comes into our mind is that a is a time. Dispensation is an administration. Time is a secondary idea. Now, some of the words I want to look at now are time words. This is important because time is part of the issue. What did the disciples say, 'Is it at this time that You are going to bring in the kingdom?' So time is not unrelated.
1. The first word is the word AIONOS.
This is one of the words that is used in Acts 1:7 and Jesus answered, the times and the seasons. It is a word used in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2. Excuse me, AIONOS refers to a period of time in human history. So it talks about an age. Now one of the things that I think is important is that there are certain ages in history that have certain characteristics. They may include subdivisions of dispensations. So we have an age from Adam to the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. There are three dispensations, three different ways that God administers history because there is new revelation given. There is revelation given in Genesis 1; there is a modification given in Genesis 3; there is another modification given in Genesis 9; but there is one thing that the history from Genesis 1-12 has in common. That is that God is working through the whole of the human race and they are all Gentiles. There is no Jews; there is no separate Jewish entity until the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. So this is the Age of the Gentiles, then you have another age that comes that is related to Israel and that begins in Genesis 12 when God calls Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldees and go to a land that God would show him and God working specifically through Israel dominates from then until Israel goes out under divine discipline in AD 70 when it is replaced by a new age or era of the church. So these are broad categories, broad ages. They are not necessarily defined by some of the more detailed aspects of a dispensation. So we have an age from the word AIONOS.
2. Then we have another word, CHRONOS [see slide.] CHRONOS is used in Acts 1:6-7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 and translated 'times' in both passages. Jesus said, 'It is not for you to know the times, CHRONOS.' CHRONOS looks at time in chronological order in terms of its sequence of events.
So it looks in terms of those sequences of events: what comes first; what comes second; what comes third; what comes fourth; and so what Jesus is saying is it is not at this time for you to know the chronology, the sequential unfolding of events. But when you look at Revelation, the Book of Revelation, obviously there is a sequential unfolding of events. So Jesus is not making an absolute statement in Acts 1:7 that we are never to know these things, but that it wasn't the right time for the disciples to be filled in on those events that would come with the new revelation related to the NT through the apostle Paul.
Now there are sequential events in the OT, for example, in the Age of Israel; I should change that terminology, in fact I am going to do it right while we are talking about it…. The Age of Israel has a sequence of three main ears. There is a period of the Patriarchs. Now what we will see is that each of these is marked by specifically new revelation. That is how when we listened to Dr. Johnson; Dr. Johnson did not clarify this. He kind of alluded to something related to this and he was taking dispensation in a broader sense. I would disagree with that because I think the way we know how an administration, how the requirements and responsibilities of administration change is through new revelation and that is given through the Covenant. We will look at that in detail in the next week or two. But for now, just think about this, the Age of Israel covers three basic dispensations that are sequential: there is the period of the Patriarchs; then there is the dispensation of the Law; then there is the Tribulation. Each of those have distinct requirements for Israel and distinct characteristics. So you can't just call of them the Age of Israel and stop there. There is much more to it. There is much more detail given in Scripture. So this is CHRONOS referring to the times and sequential events that take place.
3. Then we have another word that is used and that is the word KAIROS [see slide.] KAIROS has to do with time as a concept; time as a concept and it relates to, especially can relate to a point in time or a moment.
In that case it can be synonymous with AIONOS and indicate an age or an epoch; but because it is time it brings in the idea that there are certain specific boundaries, a way in which these can be definitely addressed or identified. This is a word that is translated 'seasons' in Acts 1:5 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2. CHRONOS, the sequence of events, and 'seasons' indicating time periods that are fixed by identifiable boundaries.
4. Then the other word that comes out of the Greek that we use is the word OIKONOMOS. OIKONOMOS is a noun, OIKONOMIA is also a noun. OIKONOMOS refers to the steward or the administrator; and OIKONOMIA talks about the management or administration that the administrator governs with, that he enacts, that he oversees. OIKONOMOS is a word from which we get our English word economy and it means to manage something, to regulate it, to administer it, to oversee it. So the administration means the way in which things are, the way the business is conducted, the way in which things are carried out.
So it would involve certain standards or rules. So what we see is as we go through the dispensations is some of the rules are going to stay the same and some of the rules are going to change. One rule that never changes is that salvation from Genesis to Revelation is always by grace through faith. It is always in an object that God gives. It is not a vague object; it is the object of the Savior. But in the OT that object is somewhat ambiguous; it is the promise of the Seed; it is the promise of the Messiah Who would come to provide redemption. But a lot of this specifics were uncertain because there only revealed progressively through the OT. Adam knew more than I think Genesis tells us, but he doesn't know as much as for example David will know. David knew a more than he let on or that the OT tells us. Why do I day that? Because when you think about Abraham in the OT it says, "He looked forward to a city that was built without hands." Where does it say that in Genesis? It tells us that in Hebrews 11. So we know from Hebrews 11 also that he understood resurrection. He counted on the fact that God would raise Isaac from the dead. But there is no mention of resurrection, no mention of his belief in resurrection in Genesis 22.
So there are clearly things that the OT Patriarchs knew and understood that we aren't told about, but some hint are given to us later on in some of the NT Books. So we know that there are some things, but they did not know everything. I think that it goes too far to think that in the OT they understood crucifixion or that they understood some of those factors. They might have understood to some degree that the Suffering Servant is going to be a substitute for us; that is clear from Isaiah 53. I don't know how clear that would be much prior to that. There are certainly pictures of substitution; there is the substitution of the ram; you can go back further than that; there is the substitution of the animals in Genesis 4 that God killed to provide the coverings for Adam. There is substitution with the ram in Genesis 22 that was provided for Isaac in his place. There is the substitution of the blood, the sacrifice at Pesach, at Passover in Exodus; clearly there is evidence of that. How detailed that needed to be understood by the believer in the OT is a question where there is a lot of debate. I think it is at least clear that there is a promise of the Seed, Messiah Who is going to redeem people from their sin and the belief was in the future fulfillment of that promise. That is clear in the OT, at least that much.
So there is clearly these differences. That changes after of course the Cross. So God administers through revelation and there is a progress of revelation. Daniel knew more than Isaiah and Isaiah knew more than David. David knew more than Abraham and Abraham knew more than Adam. That is the progress of revelation. Now the word OIKONOMOS is a combination of two Greek words: OIKOS meaning house and NOMOS meaning law; OIKONOMOS, so it is the rules of the house. When you were five years old your parents had certain rules of the house. You had to be in bed at a certain time; if you went outside of the house; if you were going to leave the property of your home you had to let them know. You could not go down the street without adult supervision. As you got a little older you might be allowed to go a little further; you might have restrictions on how far you could ride your bicycle. When you got a little older you could stay up a little later; there were some television shows you couldn't watch when you were little, but as you got older you could watch them. The rule changed not because your parents were inconsistent, although they might have bee, but because as you grew and matured it created a different environment, circumstances changed, but they all reflected an underlying absolute of providing what was best for you as a child in terms of your development. So that is the idea that we have, that God manages history in relation to the way in which He is revealing Himself to the human race.
Now the concept of economy, which is where the word we derive from OIKONOMOS based upon Random House's Webster Dictionary is the management of the resources of a community, country, etc.; the disposition of regulation of the parts or functions of any organic whole. It is an organized system. That is what we look at in dispensations. Each era is an organized system. There are rules; there are regulations; there is a regulation of the parts and functions and it is the overall management of those spiritual resources within a certain period of time. So that helps us understand the basic concept here in terms of the word for dispensation. So when we come into English the word dispensation indicates a distinct and identifiable administration. Notice, I don't say that it is a period of time; that gets us pointed in the wrong direction right off the bat. It is a distinct and identifiable administration in the development of God's plan and purposes for human history. Scripture where this is used: Ephesians 3:2; Colossians 1:25-26.
Now there are three different forms of this word that are used in the NT:
1. OIKONOMEO is the verb. It means to administer. That is used one time in Luke 16:2 and it is translated "to be a steward;" a steward is someone who administers or manages resources. We talk about giving is stewardship. God gives us financial resources and we need to manage those resources and part of our management of our financial resources has to do with using a portion of that for the Lord's work.
2. OIKONOMOS is the noun. It is used ten times in these passages: Luke 12:42; Luke 16:1; Luke 16:3; Luke 16:8; Luke 16 is a key passage in understanding dispensations, the use of the term. Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Galatians 4:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10.
3. OIKONOMOS is a noun and then it is used as a noun also in OIKONOMIA, but it is referring not to the stewardship or manager, but the management, he work of administration by the administrator.
4. Now Jesus uses this term in Luke 16.
So let's turn to Luke 16; just at the beginning of Luke 16. This is called The Parable of the Unjust Steward. 'He' in Luke 16:1 is talking about Jesus, "And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward." Steward is the word OIKONOMOS, a manager, he is the business manager for the wealthy man; he is handling his resources; he is handling his possessions, managing all that he has. There's a certain rich man who had a manager, a business manager, and an accusation was brought to him that his business manager is embezzling his money, wasting his goods. So in Luke 1:2 "And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship;" see that is that second word third word, OIKONOMIA; it is the administration of the OIKONOMOS, give an account of your administration, your management, for you can no longer be the manager, the steward.
Luke 16:3 "Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord (master) taketh (is taking the management) away from me … I cannot dig (I can't do manual labor is what he is saying); to beg I am ashamed (and I can't be homeless; I can't beg)." So he is threatened with the loss of his income. Now there is a couple of things that we can observe from just the usage of the word [see slide]:
a. In the sense of administration there is two parties involved. There is the wealthy man, the boss, analogous to God and the administrator who is given a responsibility. So one of the parties has the authority to delegate responsibility to the other and the other has the responsibility to carry out their duties. So inherent within this meaning of this term is the idea that there is a steward, an entity, a person or an entity, such as Israel or the church that is given a responsibility. So when we look at when we get to the end of this, what I am not going to get fully covered tonight; but when we get to the end of this and we talk about a dispensation; one of the reasons that I don't agree with the fact that the Age of the Gentiles or the Age of Israel is a dispensation is because of the revelation that is given through the covenants within those structures there are different designations of responsibility. The responsibilities under the Adamic Covenant in Genesis 3 are modified and changed under the Noahic Covenant. They may both be in the same age, but something different is expected of human beings between Adam and Noah then between Noah and Abraham. So that indicates that the management situation has changed as a result of revelation. So the One Who is in authority, God, determines what those responsibilities are.
b. The second thing that we observe here is that there are specific responsibilities for the manager, for the steward. God says this is what I expect of you. It is not a guessing game. Well, I am going to just go out and do what I think would make God happy. It doesn't matter what I think; what matters is what God has revealed.
c. The third thing that we see is that accountability and responsibility are part of the arrangement. God expects and will account from the manager in terms of the responsibilities designated. And at any point in time the steward or the manager may be called to explain how he has fulfilled his responsibilities. If he has not done well,
d. then fourth, a change can be made at anytime if unfaithfulness is found. Now the key idea in stewardship here that we are going to see is that faithfulness is what God is really looking for; faithfulness relates to obeying that which has been set forth and has been identified as the responsibility of the manager.
That brings us to the next section, which is quite a long section in my notes; and that is certain key ideas that are present in dispensations that we derive from various uses of the word. So, what I basically pointed out tonight and what I really want to drive home is that a dispensation is marked off by certain responsibilities given to a manager, someone who is an administrator, who is holding a trust from God to administer his responsibilities the way God has defined them. The key idea in dispensation is not time; it is administration, which brings in the idea of accountability and responsibility, but it is with that period of that administration is within a timeframe. So time isn't something forgotten; it is something that is there, but the key idea is that we have a responsibility to perform as members of the church; in the OT Israel had a responsibility before that; the Gentiles has a responsibility; as so that is determined by God's revelation.
So we will come back next time and get into some of the concepts related to dispensations. Does anybody have any questions? Anybody forget their question? So we will come back next time and press on…
Father, thank you for this opportunity to look at this important concept of how You are administering history, delegating responsibility to different members of the human race; that these responsibilities are not covert; they have been revealed to us and we can come to understand them. And by identifying these different responsibilities we can see that You work through the human race in different ways during different periods of time. It is important to recognize that and recognize those distinctions if we are going to properly interpret Your Word. So Father, we pray that You will help us understand what we are learning so far and how this applies to the understanding of Your Word. We pray this in Christ's Name, Amen.