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The Biblical Dispensations

The Biblical Dispensations

Note: You may click on most of the Biblical references and access the Bible verse listed.

 “A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect to his obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God” (New Scofield Reference Bible p. 3).  Many times the word “age” is used interchangeable with the word “dispensation”.  They are not quite the same.  This word, translated “world” which appears thirty-one times in many translations of the Bible means a block or period of time.  The word “dispensation” comes from a word meaning stewardship.  “A dispensation is a specific, divine economy, a commitment from God to man of a responsibility to discharge that which God has appointed him” (Chafer’s Systematic Theology).

“The dispensations are a progressive and connected revelation of God’s dealings with man, given sometimes to the whole race and at other times to a particular people, Israel.  These different dispensations are not separate ways of salvation.  During each of them man is reconciled to God in only one way, i.e. by God’s grace through the work of Christ that was accomplished on the cross and vindicated in His resurrection.  Before the cross, man was saved in prospect of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, through believing the revelation thus far given him.  Since the cross man has been saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ in whom revelation and redemption are consummated” (New Scofield Reference Bible p. 3).

It has been said that the dispensations shed more light on God’s whole message of divine revelation than any other aspect of Biblical study.  They begin with a new fresh start of promise and end in man’s failings.

It is generally recognized that there are seven dispensations given in the Bible.  However, there appears to be eight ages with the last one taking us into eternity. Scofield and Chafer both list the dispensations as Innocence (Gen 1:28); Conscience or Moral Responsibility (Gen 3:7); Human Government (Gen 8:15-17); Promise (Gen 12:1); Law (Ex. 19:1-8); Grace (Acts 2:1-4); Kingdom (Rev 20:4-6).

1.  Innocence: Age of Liberty – Begins with the creation of man (Gen 1:26-27) and ends at Genesis 3:6.  Adam and Eve were given the responsibility of being fruitful, having dominion over the creation and living off the fruits and vegetables of the land.  It ends in disobedience with man and woman eating the forbidden fruit.

2.   Conscience: Age of Human Determination – Begin with Adam’s and Eve’s eyes being opened and they knew they were naked (Gen 3:7) and continues until Gen 8:14-16.  During this period, sin becomes so bad that God’s destroys Man with the flood.  Man needs more that a conscience.

3.  Human Government: Covenant with Noah – This dispensation covers the period from Genesis 8:15-17  to Genesis 11:9.  During this period God entered into a new covenant with Noah, established human government, and permitted the people to eat meat.  It ends with rebellion and God’s scattering the people over the earth with different languages to walk according the ways of Satan.

4.  Promise: Covenant with Abraham – This dispensation begins in Genesis 11:10 and extends through Exodus 19:2.  The following quote is a good summary of the dispensation. “The dispensation of promise established clearly the principle of divine sovereignty, provided a channel of special divine revelation to the nation of Israel, continued provision of divine redemption and blessing, revealed the grace of God, and promised a witness to the world.  Like the other dispensations, however, it ended in failure as far as bringing conformity to the will of God, and it laid the ground work for bringing in the law as a schoolmaster to bring believers to Christ (Gal 3:24)” (Chafer/Walvood Major Bible Themes p. 132).

5.   Law:  The Mosaic Covenant – The dispensation of law begins in Exodus 19:3 and extends to the Cross.  However, some believe that the next dispensation did not begin until the day of Pentecost.  The Mosaic Covenant was a highly structured and detail social and religious order given by God for the theocratic reign of God.  The commandments, judgments and ordinances governed the daily life of the God’s chosen people.  Under the law the people were to be a light unto the gentiles and through them to reveal the God of Creation to the world.  The law also served as a schoolmaster to reveal sin and to bring believers to Christ.  They were saved based on a promise and their response to God’s provision for the forgiveness of sin.  The Covenant was also a system of shadows and types which looked forward to Christ and the work He did on the cross (See the book of Hebrews).  This period ends with a blind Israel rejecting their Messiah.

6.   Grace: Age of the Church – The dispensation of grace begins with the day of Pentecost and continues until the rapture of the Church (Rev 4:1).  This dispensation was hidden from the Old Testament writers and the Apostle Paul called it a mystery (Eph 3:1-13).  During this age God is calling out a special people of both Jew and Gentile to be the bride of Christ.  Salvation is by faith in the shed blood of Jesus.  Each believer enters into the New Covenant relationship and is indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  Members of the church as the bride of Christ are joint heirs with Christ in His kingdom.  They will have a special and unique role in eternity.  However, this period will end with rebellion against God and with apostasy in the organized church.

7.   Kingdom: The Theocratic Reign of The Messiah – This is the last of the ordered dispensations and begins with Christ return to earth to establish His kingdom as King of kings and Lord of lords.  This time period is also referred as the millennial period or thousand-year reign of Christ.  Scofield says that: “The millennium is that period of time during which Christ will reign upon the earth, a time of universal peace, prosperity, long life and prevailing righteousness”.  During this period divine grace is revealed in fulfillment of the New Covenant relationship with God.  Satan and demons will be inactive during most of the time and justice will be swift for any rebellion against the King.  The bible says the Christ will rule with an iron rod with justice and righteousness.  The kingdom will also be a period of failure (Isa. 65:20-22, Zech. 14:16-19, and there will be rebellion at its close (Rev 20:7-9).

This is the final dispensation of testing.  At the conclusion there will be a final judgement where evil is destroyed.  However, this is not the end of the ages.  There is one more age where we go into eternity with Christ on the throne reigning over a new heaven and a new earth.

Note:  References for materials used above are from the Scofield Reference Bible, Chafer’s Systematic Theology and Chafer/Walvood Major Bible Themes