What is a Dispensation?

Our word “Dispensation” comes from the Greek word “οἰκονομία,” the word we get “economy” from. It literally means “the laws by which a household is operated, or the way the master of a house arranges his household.”

For many years, “Dispensation” has been used to denote a period of time. This is because our understanding of history and the Bible, and therefore God’s dealings with mankind, is linear, based on time.

However, outside of the constraint of time, we see that God’s dealings are not specific “chunks of time,” but are instead based on God’s Covenants with different people. As we look through history as presented in the Bible, we will understand how God dealt differently with different people at different times.

A “Dispensation” always takes place within an “age” or a time period, but as we will see, some aspects of the Covenants span many “ages,” and some behave even more peculiarly, skipping 2,000+ years, only to show up once again!

We will study each of the Covenants or “Dispensations” in detail, but for now we will simply give an overview of history, from God’s perspective, in a linear timeline.

First, we must understand, according to 2 Timothy 2:15, that the way to study the Bible is to divide it. It is a NEGATIVE action, not a positive one. Thus, we must find the divisions in the Scriptures, so we can begin our study.

The first and most obvious division is between the books of Malachi and Matthew: the Old and New Testaments. Being that a “Testament” is a “covenant,” or set of rules (i.e. “last will and testament”), we must understand that something in changing!! After all, “Things that are different are not the same!”

Hebrews 9:16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

There is obviously a change between the Old and New Testaments: to deny this is to deny the very clear words of Scripture. For the majority of the Old Testament, the Jews were required to keep the Law of Moses (Deut. 6:25), but in the New Testament, through the writings of Paul, we see that we are no longer under the bondage of the Law (Gal. 5:1).

So we see that there is one very obvious division: the difference between the Law and the Grace of God under the new covenant.

More divisions in “house rules” occur in Genesis 3, Genesis 9, Genesis 12, Exodus 20, 2 Chronicles 21:7, Matthew 3, Acts 9, Acts 15, Revelation 4, and Revelation 21.

Let’s quickly go over the different time periods that we will be dealing with in our study of the Covenants

We’ve made a basic division between the “Law” and God’s “Grace.” However, that isn’t exactly right. We have to understand the following:

  • Adam was innocent and sinless, and God dealt with him according to a WORK, Genesis 2:15-17
  • After Adam’s sin, man possessed a conscience, which he was expected to live by, trying to please God (i.e. Abel’s accepted blood offering), Gen. 3:22, 4:4, Cain’s punishment (not death), 4:9-15
  • After the Flood, God instituted individual human responsibility for murder in capital punishment, Gen. 9:5-6
  • God called Abram (Abraham) our of Haran and began dealing with him as an individual, and then his sons and his descendants, the nation of Israel. Abraham and his sons are called “Patriarchs,” Gen. 12:1-3
  • God called Israel out of Egypt and gave them the Law to live by, which included sacrifices for when they broke the law and sinned. The Law was later called a “schoolmaster” by Paul, because it could never be lived up to perfectly, Exodus 20
  • When Christ, and John before Him, preached to Israel, they offered The Kingdom, the literal, physical reign of Christ on earth. The Jews ultimately rejected this offer, and God allowed the Gentiles to experience His grace and to be grafted into the Body of Christ, the Church, Matthew 3:1-2, 4:17, Matthew chaps. 5 and 7
  • With the rejection of Christ by Israel, there occurred a “Transitional Period,” a time when things were switching over from Israel to the Gentiles, because “blindness in part is happened unto Israel.” The first two Gentiles to be saved were the Eunuch (Acts 8:26-38) and Cornelius (Acts 10).
  • After Acts 15, when the Apostles figured out that Salvation was by Grace through Faith alone, we understand that we are now in the “Church Age,” a time when God deals with all men (Acts 17:30) according to His Grace alone.
  • After the Rapture of the Church, The Kingdom will once again be offered to a remnant of Israel during the seven-year Tribulation, and they will ultimately turn to Christ and accept Him as their Messiah (Rom. 11:26)
  • The Millennium follows the seven-year Tribulation period, where Christ literally sits on a throne in the city of Jerusalem and rules with a rod of iron (Rev. 12:5, 19:15), Isaiah 9:7

This is a very brief overview, and we will go into much more detail as we go along, but hopefully this illustrates the need to STUDY in order to not “be ashamed.” See, the reverse is also true: if we do not study, we WILL be ashamed.