This short article is by no means intended to be an exhaustive explanationbof dispensational theology or an absolute rebuttal of divergent views. It will however, provide the reader with a brief understanding of this so-named system of study.
What is dispensational theology?
In a nutshell, dispensational theology is simply the biblical method of interpretation that God has established in the scriptures.
Let me explain: Since the Bible is not to be privately interpreted (2 Peter 1:20) and we know that the Bible contains no errors, inconsistency or contradictions, God has laid out a system of study that guarantees correct interpretation every time we read the Bible.
This system of study is really God’s way of validating His own word and is known as “rightly dividing the word of truth”(2 Tim. 2:15).
The name of “dispensational theology” or “dispensationalism” is the most common name for this approach to Bible study.
In simpler words, we are to make proper divisions in the scriptures. If we don’t they will seemingly contradict.
For example, the Bible makes a commandment against the eating of pork (Lev. 11:7), but later allows it (1 Tim. 4:4). The first example is for Old Testament Jews under the Mosaic Law, the last command is for New Testament Christians. There is no contradiction. Different messages for different people.
If a passage of scripture seems to contradict another passage, it may be that you are not making a proper division.
The name “dispensationalism” comes from the word “dispensation.” Although it is true that most people think the word “dispensation” means “a period of time,” and most Bible teachers use the word “to reference a period of time”1the word actually has to do with administrations of truth (methods or systems) that God has dispensed during a period of time.
Notice the following definitions:
1. To distribute. Note the origin of the word: Dispense comes ultimately from Latin dispender “weigh out” (partial source of English spend) . . . It had a derivative, dispensare, denoting repeated action; hence “pay out, distribute,” senses which passed into English via Old French dispenser.
2. The English definition is:
a.the act or an instance of dispensing; distribution.
b.something that is distributed or given out.
c.a specified order, system, or arrangement; administration or management.
3. The Greek word “oikonomia” (oikonomia) comes from the verb that means to manage, regulate, administer, and plan. The word itself is a compound whose parts mean literally ‘to divide, apportion, administer or manage the affairs of an inhabited house.’44.It is from this Greek word that we derive our English word, “ecumenical,” and “economy.”
The following verses contain the word“dispensation:” 1.Col. 1:252.1Cor. 9:173.Eph. 1:104.Eph. 3:2
Notice how hard it is to force the meaning of “a period of time” into these verses (especially Col. 1:25).
So a dispensation is not an actual time period, but rather the administrations of truth that God has dispensed or the actual dispensing of that truth.
Since our biblical mandate for studying the Bible is to “rightly divide” it, dispensationalists typically make divisions outlining these “administrations of truth.” In dividing or sectioning off portions of scripture, as previously stated, time periods have been referenced as dispensations.
Most dispensationalist teachers list seven main dispensations (these were made popular by C.I. Scofield and the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909, 1917):
6.Grace (or Church Age)
Larkin adds the eighth as the “Perfect Age,” and identifies it as the “dispensation of the fullness of times.”But as we have noted, dispensations are not really time periods.
So, the best approach in dividing the scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15) is to note the various covenants that God has established.
There are eight well defined covenants in scripture:
1.The Edenic Covenant (Gen. 2-3)
2.The Adamic Covenant (Gen. 3)
3.The Nohaic Covenant (Gen. 8-9)
4.The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12-22)
5.The Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 19-34)
6.The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7)
7.The New Covenant (Jer. 31; Matt. 26)
8.The Eternal Covenant (Rev. 21-22)
Within these eight covenants we see the working of God (or dispensations) that were previously mentioned along some that might or might not be classified as dispensations (i.e. “gospel of the kingdom,”“transitional periods” etc...).
Dispensational theology is also a biblical viewpoint by which the Christian understands God’s plan and purpose for man (both past and future).
"We are to make proper
divisions in the scriptures.
If we don’t they will
For example, a dispensationalist understands that God’s revelation is not always identical to different groups under different circumstances and time periods. For example, the revelation of God to Noah was “build a boat.” To us such a mandate would not be applicable. God’s revelation for righteousness to someone under the Old Testament Law was to “do his commandments” (Deut. 27:10; Deut. 6:25). Today, righteousness is only found by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom.3:21,22). In the future tribulation period and kingdom age, the dispensation and revelation is different. Those in the tribulation period will be saved by faith and works (Rev. 14:12; 22:14). And no one will be saved by faith in the Millennial Kingdom. Faith is related to those things which are “not seen” (Heb. 11:1) and in the kingdom age Jesus Christ will be SEEN on the throne in Jerusalem.
Dispensational theology is also recognized for taking the Bible in a literal sense.
This is called the grammatical-historical method, but basically means that the Bible says what it means and means what it says. The general rule of thumb is that the Bible is to be taken literally unless it is absolutely impossible to do so. There are some cases where symbolism or allegories are used, but for the most part the Bible is straight forward and “plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge” (Prov 8:9).
For example when the Bible speaks of “hell fire” (Matt. 5:22; 18:9; Mark 9:47) it is literal not symbolic. And when the Bible speaks of the return of Jesus Christ to this earth to rule and reign over the earth it is literal (Isa. 9:7; Matt. 19:28; 25:31; Luke 1:32 etc...).
Dispensational theology makes proper division and separation of doctrine and doctrinal application.
This comes by following 2 Tim. 2:15. Since the Bible speaks of three people groups (Jews, Gentiles and the Church –1 Cor. 10:32), the dispensationalist is careful to denote which group certain doctrinal portions are aimed at.
Misapplication of scripture happens when one fails to properly divide the scripture by taking a verse out of doctrinal or dispensational context.
Below are a few divisions that a Bible believing dispensationalist may maintain:
1.Differences between how God dealt with Jews, Gentiles and the Church (as previously mentioned).
2.Differences between the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23) and the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).
3.Differences between salvation conditions in the Old and New Testaments.
4.Differences in the work of the Holy Spirit in the two Testaments.
5.Differences in the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God (Rom. 14:17).
6.Differences in the first and second advents of Christ.
7.Differences in the rapture of the church and the revelation of Jesus Christ.