Lecture 4 The Biblical Basis for a Dispensation

  1. The Biblical Basis for a Dispensation
    1. How is the word dispensation used in the NT?
  1. Dispensation (or stewardship) comes from a Greek word from which we derive the word economy.

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The Greek word under discussion (oivkonomi,a, oikonomia), along with its cognates (words with common etymological origin. E.g., administer, administration, administrate, etc.) occur 23 in the Greek NT.

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  • Oivkonomi,a (oikonomia) occurs nine times (Luke 16:2-4; 1 Cor 9:17; Eph 1:10; 3:2, 9; Col 1:25; 1 Tim 1:4). This noun means stewardship; it refers to the office or function of a steward—not the steward himself. Most are not directly applicable to the understanding of dispensationalism. The point is to understand the meaning of the word.

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    Along the way, determine which verses apply to our discussion and why.

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    Luke 16:2-4 2 “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. 4 “I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’

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    1 Corinthians 9:17 For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.

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    Ephesians 1:10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.

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    Ephesians 3:2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;

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    Ephesians 3:9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things

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    Colossians 1:25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God

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    1 Timothy 1:4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.

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  • Oivkono,moj (oikonomos) occurs ten times (Luke 12:42; 16:1, 3, 8; Rom 16:23; 1 Cor 4:1-2; Gal 4:2; Tit 1:7; 1 Pet 4:10). This noun means steward; it refers to the person himself—not the office.

    Luke 12:42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time?

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    Luke 16:1 Now He was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions.

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    Luke 16:3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg.

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    Luke 16:8 “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.

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    Romans 16:23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother.

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    1 Corinthians 4:1-2 1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.

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    Galatians 4:2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.

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    Titus 1:7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain,

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    1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

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  • Oivkonome,w (oikonomeo) occurs once (Luke 16:2). This verb means to be a steward or a manager.

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    Luke 16:2 “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’

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  • Which ones did you find most applicable to our discussion?

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    1 Corinthians 9:17 For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.

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    Ephesians 1:10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him

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    Ephesians 3:2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;

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    Ephesians 3:9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things

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    Colossians 1:25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God

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    1 Timothy 1:4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.

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    1 Corinthians 4:1-2 1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.

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    Galatians 4:2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.

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    Did you notice something? ….That….

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  1. Dispensations (stewardships) are connected with the “mysteries of God.”

    A mystery is previously unrevealed truth now revealed (cf. Rom 16:25; Col 1:27).

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    *Therefore, there is a close relationship between dispensations and special revelation (1 Cor 4:1; Eph 3:1-10 [stewardship of the mystery]; Col 1:25-26). Why is there a new dispensation? Because of the fact that there is new special revelation.

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  2. Paul mentions three dispensations (as dispensationalists apply the term today).

    There may or may not be others, but Paul mentions just 3 dispensations.

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  • Ephesians 1:10 mentions the dispensation of the fullness of times (i.e., the Kingdom of God). The Kingdom of God, which will exist during the Millennium after Christ’s second coming, is the glorious culmination of God’s dispensational program.

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    Ephesians 1:9-10 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration, which is the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him

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  • Ephesians 3:2 refers to the dispensation characterized by Grace. This special revelation is characterized by God’s grace (John 1:17).

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    Ephesians 3:2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;

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    John 1:17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

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  • Colossians 1:25-26 teaches a past dispensation. Paul does not directly name the dispensation. He implies that a dispensation preceded the present dispensation of Grace. This special revelation concerned the stewardship of the Mosaic Law.

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    Colossians 1:25-26 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints,

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Principle: I believe we should decide on the number of dispensations based on what the Bible teaches, not on what we happen to see in the Scripture. Are there 7? Are there 3, 4, 5…? The answer will be determined by what the Bible explicitly teaches.

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  1. Either the Bible will tell us how many dispensations there are or…
  2. …the Bible will tell us the principles to determine what they are. Or…
  3. I observe differences; therefore, I see a dispensation.

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    Darby, Scofield, Ryrie, et. al., hold to 7 because they hold to 3. above and see new revelation with new responsibility, etc. They view this as the determining factor.

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    I would submit that the best way to determine the number of dispensation is to hold to (1. Above; or 2). There is at least not enough teaching that explicitly informs us what the principles are (we know new revelation is required). We can observe other things on our own, but that doesn’t mean God is meaning this or that portion of biblical history to be a dispensation.

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Let’s remind ourselves the definition of a dispensation.

Class Definition: “A dispensation is a stage in the progress of revelation that specifies the responsibility of man in God’s administration.”

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From the divine standpoint, it is an economy, or administration. From the historical standpoint, it is a stage in the progress of revelation.” From the human standpoint, it is a stewardship, a rule of life, or a responsibility for managing God’s affairs in His house.

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  1. How to Determine the Number of Dispensations

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1. Note how the New Revelation relates itself to the Older Revelation

  • Wait, why is it called the “Old” Testament?
    • 2 Co. 3: contrasts OT with NT. Calls the OC “old”
    • Heb. 8
  • Don’t forget 1 Co. 10. It is relevant.

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  • Talk through Mark 11-12. Gospel literature. Focus is discontinuity.

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    • Psalm 118 in Mark 11:9 and 12:10 prove one passage.
    • Zech. 9:9, fulfills Messianic authority: presents himself as king
    • Robbers den, Jer. 7 in Mark 11:17; pronounces judgment. Out with the old.
    • Fig tree withers (sandwiched)=OT way of relating to God is done; withered away.
    • NC way of relating to God, Mark 11:22ff (faith in God, faith and prayer, prayer and forgiveness)
    • Authority questioned; Jesus denies. (last of ch. 11)
    • Explains authority via resurrection. That’s the proof He has the right to do this.

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Conclusion: We are given specific instruction regarding how to relate to previous revelation. It is “Old”; vanishing away, withered, etc. However, we may see Moses (or God through Moses) telling God’s people how to relate to earlier revelation (“Abraham” in Deut. Deut 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:13; 30:20; 34:4). Why? Keep that answer in mind…

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2. Note how the Newer revelation relates itself to the Future

We saw Eph. 1:10

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To address this further let’s ask…

Debate: Does Israel have a future?

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The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-21; 18:17-19; 21:12-13; 22:17-18)

  1. Background: God sovereignly chose to bless Shem’s descendant Abram (Gen 11:26ff.).
  2. Recipient: Abraham and his descendants, i.e., Israel
  3. Promise: God promised three broad provisions: (1) land with defined boundaries (12:1; 13:14-17; 15:18-21); (2) seed (12:2; 13:16; 15:5, 13; 17:2-7); and (3) blessing—personal blessing to Abraham, national blessing to Israel, and universal blessing to all men (12:2-3). The sign of this covenant is the rite of circumcision (Gen. 17:10-14, 23).
  4. Fulfillment: (1) Already Fulfilled: God blessed Abraham personally and nationally. (2) Not yet fulfilled: The Messiah, Abraham’s seed, will enable the promises (particularly the land) to be fulfilled completely in the Millennium (cf. Lev 26:42; Zech 10:9–12; 14:1–21).

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Mary was looking forward to something (Magnificat sermon).

So, not only, in verse 49, has God done great things for Mary, but in future generations, verse 50, God’s covenant love will also be upon all of those who fear him.

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TRANS: So Mary focuses in on the future of redemption history when God saves sinners from their sin. And of course God will use this mother’s son, the Lord Jesus, to accomplish that great work. Continuing in verses 51-53, Mary continues her focus on what God will do in the future concerning salvation.

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Luke 1:51-53 51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53 “HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed.

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You can see the contrast between the proud and the humble. God has scattered the proud in verse 52; God has brought down rulers but he has exalted the humble. The hungry get filled and the rich are empty. So, you can see the contrast there between those high position and those of low estate.

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This is language to describe the total salvation of all of those who fear God. This salvation is so certain that it can be viewed as already having taken place. That’s the idea behind the wording that “he has” done these things. It is so certain to take place, that we can view it as already having happened. She’s so overtaken with the thought of her role in redemptive history that now, as her mind is making God bigger in her own sight, that she’s prophesying that the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises will happen.

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Paul, too, uses the exact same language in Romans 8:30. When describing our salvation, Paul recounts the past to the future when he writes, “and these whom He predestined, He also called [that all happened in the past]; and these whom He called, He also justified [that’s all past]; and these whom He justified, He also glorified [is that past?].

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That the same grammatical structure. But our glorification is so certain that it can be viewed as already having happened. That’s why it’s in the past tense in Mary’s song here.

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In other words, in Luke 1:51-53, this is the Lord righting every wrong. Those who genuinely and savingly fear God, can look forward to a new world order, one in which righteousness rules and those who are his will experience a reversal of their current distressing circumstances. And it’s through Jesus Christ that this restoration of the entire cosmos will happen. The entire universe will come underneath the perfect rule and reign of Christ. But especially in focus is the nation of Israel, His servant. The concept of Israel being God’s servant, as in Isaiah chapter 41-49, is a clear reference to the nation of Israel being God’s representative people on the earth. So Mary, this young 13 yr old mother theologian, has an understanding of the spiritual salvation of individuals and the national salvation of Israel through the babe in her belly. “God has given help to Israel his servant.” God promises to take special care of this nation of Israel in Jesus Christ.

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When is all this fulfilled? In the future, in the millennium and on into the new heaven and the new earth, when God through Christ rightly restores all of the created order, people will look around and be able to say that “God has given help to Israel his servant” as we all worship in Jerusalem in the Millennium and in the new Jerusalem in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

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ILL/APP: Even those who follow the teachings of that man who answers Bible questions on the radio, and that man himself, will look around in the literal 1,000 year reign of Christ and say indeed God has helped Israel. So is there a future for the nation of Israel? You betcha there is! To the extent that our future glorification is certain, so also God’s help to the nation of Israel yet in the future is certain.

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Amazing understanding that this girl has for the future of the nation of Israel. And this is all because of what God has done in the past, for Abraham. At the end of verse 54, the Lord is doing this in remembrance of his mercy, in remembrance of his covenant love just like, verse 55 now, just like he spoke to the fathers Abraham Isaac and Jacob, but, originally at the end of verse 55 there, God spoke to Abraham these things. How did God speak these things to Abraham?

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God promises Abraham in Genesis 12:3 “And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

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As well, God promises to Abraham in Genesis 17:7 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.

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God has made an everlasting covenant, a set of promises, God has promised to Abraham and his descendents certain things for ever. This is an everlasting covenant. It does not end. It goes on into the millennium and into the new heaven and new earth, forever.

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Conclusion: Exegetical evidence points to a future for the land of Israel.

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So, we have a past “dispensation”. We have a present dispensation, and a future dispensation.

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TRANS: How do we know these things? Because the Bible explicitly teaches it! It was revealed over time! This is progressive revelation. Over time, God revealed truth. That truth regulates man’s life and response to God.

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We know these are the primary dispensations because we have progressive revelation! Let’s remind ourselves of the definition of dispensationalism.

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We know we have a new dispensation when we we’re told how to relate to the old one!

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Class Definition: “Dispensationalism is an approach to the Bible to discover God’s progressive revelation of His purposes for man in history. Dispensationalists attempt to understand (1 the Bible as progressively revealed and (2 the different responsibilities of man in history contained in that new revelation. Distinctives of DT include a consistently literal hermeneutic that results in a distinction between Israel and the church.”

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3.Remember: Progressive revelation relates to the dispensations

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Thesis: My argument here is that Paul sees the dispensations as it relates to the progress of written revelation. In other words, Moses is our first writer of Scripture. It was through him that humanity received the first written revelation from God. Paul sees the dispensations as it related to Moses, the apostles, and the future. [salvation always by faith, including during Abraham, helps prove this]

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  • Progressive revelation means that God did not give us the Bible all at once; He revealed Himself to man progressively over a period of about 1500 years.

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    He unfolded His revelation in “many portions” (Heb 1:1) as He willed to give it and men were able to receive it.

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    Illustration: The doctrine of the tri-unity of God illustrates progressive revelation. One cannot conclusively prove the tri-unity of God without the NT because the doctrine is allowed but not directly taught in the OT. The OT emphasizes the unicity of God. This doctrine unfolds progressively throughout the Scriptures; the NT presents a clear, unmistakable doctrine of the trinity. Our NT understanding doesn’t not change the meaning of OT texts.

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  • God progressively revealed the dispensations. The newer dispensation relates to older dispensation according to the revelation of the newer dispensation

    If God enacts a new dispensation, desiring to relate to man in a new way, He gives revelation. We are specifically told about God’s administration and what the new responsibilities are.

    The inauguration of the OC brought in a new dispensation (Moses). The inauguration of the NC brought in a new dispensation (Jesus).

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Principle: If there are 3 or 7 dispensations, we must have information on how they relate for it to be a new dispensation! We are told what is “old” and what is “new” and so we know. We’re not confused and we can read about the differences. If there is no information on how the dispensations relate, then we don’t have a new dispensation.

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So, to sum up: Determine the number of dispensations by observing

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1. The newer revelation relates itself to the older revelation. (e.g., apostles relate NC to Mosaic Covenant by describing that as “old.”)

2. The newer revelation relates itself to the Future by calling it a dispensation. (Eph. 1:10, fullness of the times).

3. Progressive revelation informs us concerning what the relationship is between people in the new dispensation and the old laws of the dispensations (e.g., how the NC people related to the OC laws; “dead to the law”; “not under law”)

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This leads to a discussion on what ND’s characteristics of a dispensation are so we can rebut them. New revelation is required for a new dispensation, yes…anything else? We’ll approach this by critiquing ND.

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  1. ND: What are the characteristics of a dispensation?

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  1. ND: There are three primary characteristics essential to a dispensation.
    • God gives a substantial amount of new special revelation.
    • God’s governing relationship with the world changes substantially.
    • Man’s responsibility changes substantially.

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    Question: Why? This is ND, Ryrie, Walvoord, etc. Why these criteria? [[btw, I’m saying new, special revelation that tells us how to relate to the old dispensation]. What biblical explanation do they have for making these the characteristics of a dispensation other than that they think they observe these phenomena? Does the Bible really say that these are what mark a distinction or are you observing and drawing your own conclusions? Just because they observe some phenomena in the passage and then make up principles that they see, they then say… “It seems like” there are differences; therefore, these are God’s distinctions?! Sorry, if the new revelation says____ then that’s right. Who cares what I see; let’s let the newer revelation have its way and leave it at that. I don’t have the superintendence of the Holy Spirit like the writers of Scripture.

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    When you use substantially that’s subjective. That’s not being driven by Bible data.

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    Observe Bible text data and leave it there! Back to my personal conclusions above…

  • The NT relates itself to the OT by describing it as “old.” (you’re observing that fact)
  • The NT relates itself to the Future by calling it a dispensation (you’re observing that fact)
  • The nature of progressive revelation informs concerning the relationship between the dispensations.

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    CT does same thing with the covenant of grace (covenant that transcends both OT and NT since Adam). It’s not mentioned specifically, but since I observe common traits, therefore I conclude there must have been a common covenant. Therefore, there is continuity, therefore I baptize infants (Col. 2:11-12=tie between circum. with bapt.; Acts 2:38-39, but doesn’t preclude the requirement of belief, which is NT example).

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    Sorry, not going there. If I receive revelation that conforms to the 3 data above, great. That data is there because I’m told it in the Bible. The Bible tells me so.

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    In ND, there seems to be a disconnect between actual special revelation that we possess today and assumed revelation, i.e., revelation that must have been given to them or else God would not have judged. See Ryrie, Charles C. C.; Ryrie, Charles C. (2007-02-01). Dispensationalism (Kindle Locations 1003). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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    Here, Ryrie charts out his 7 dispensations. What in Gen. 3:7-8:14 determines that the responsibility of man is to “do good”? Faith only plays a part in 3 dispensations, really? I’d say a major responsibility of man is to believe for salvation, since works never played a role in salvation (Paul:Ga. Ro., works of the law; Abraham in Ro. 4).

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    So, why should I come up with my scheme? Isn’t Paul’s scheme the best? So, I hold to his criteria, not ND’s criteria. So, their #1 is out…

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    *The only reason we see dispensations at all is because of NC revelation

    *Therefore, we must look at the concept of a dispensation in the NC

    *We determine Paul’s principles of a dispensation (above)

    *Then, we can apply them to biblical history.

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But ND says….

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  1. ND: There are three secondary characteristics of a dispensation: test, failure, and judgment.

    ND: These are secondary because theoretically a dispensation could exist without them.

    • God tests man. For example, God tested Adam. This is practically synonymous with man’s responsibility.
    • Man fails God’s test. For example, Adam failed the test.
    • God judges man. For example, God judged Adam.

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    Ryrie, Charles C. C.; Ryrie, Charles C. (2007-02-01). Dispensationalism (Kindle Locations 518-519). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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    Whose theory? Why could they exist without them? Merely announcing that you’ve seen these historical observations doesn’t justify there being actually God’s dispensations. I observe historical phenomenon, therefore it’s God’s ‘dispensation’?

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    Take Adam for example (above). Yes, we see that these things happened to Adam and God did this for Adam. But the issue is, is God marking this off as a “dispensation” proper?

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    Does the Bible actually tell us so? Do we have a dispensation as marked off by the Bible’s actual criteria? No! This is man’s historical observation, man’s drawing conclusions. Just because I see patterns, doesn’t mean I can draw logical conclusions that God Himself is saying that this is a dispensation.

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So what are the bare bones of dispensationalism if I’m in such disagreement with ND?

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  1. What are the absolute essentials (i.e., irreducible minimum or sine qua non) of dispensationalism?

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How are we going to determine what the answer is? What does the Bible say….that’s how you answer the question.

  1. Negatively, some characteristics are not absolute essentials of dispensationalism.
    • Dispensationalism does not consist in recognizing different dispensations. Even covenant theologians recognize different dispensations.

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    Charles Hodge

    Postmillennial, and he held to 4 dispensations: Adam to Abraham, Abraham to Moses, Moses to Christ, and the Gospel dispensation.[1]

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    Louis Berkhof

    Louis Berkhof, an amillenarian, held to two dispensations.[2]

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    Anthony A. Hoekema

    Another amillenarian, Hoekema also argues against dispensationalism. He writes of the Old Testament as “the period of shadows and types.” The NT is “the period of fulfillment.”[3]

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    Loraine Boettner

    Postmillennialist. “Instead of setting forth God’s dealings with man under seven dispensations, the Bible sets forth two covenants, the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace. It then divides the Covenant of Grace into two dispensations or administrations, (1) that of the Old Testament, and (2) that of the New Testament.”

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    He proceeds to divide the Old Testament Covenant of Grace into four stages or covenants: (1) The revelation to Adam (Gen 3:15); (2) The Covenant with Noah (8:20–9:17 ); (3) The Covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:1–3); (4) The Sinaitic Covenant (Exod 20). [4] Dispensationalism anyone?

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    TRANS: Dispensationalism does not consist in recognizing different dispensations. Even covenant theologians recognize different dispensations.

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    • Dispensationalism technically does not consist in recognizing a certain number of dispensations. Some recognize 7 or 8. Others 2, 3, 4.

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    • Dispensationalism technically does not consist in holding to a premillennial return of Christ because covenant premillennialists (post-tribulationists) hold to a premillennial return of Christ. All dispensationalists are premillennial because of the literal, or normal hermeneutic.

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  2. Positively, dispensationalism consists of two absolute essentials.
    • Consistently interpret the Bible literally/normally. Men should consistently interpret the Scriptures literally (i.e., normally). It is inconsistent to interpret redemptive and narrative literature literally and prophetic literature figuratively (as covenant theologians do). This leads to…
    • Israel and the church are distinct. They differ in their origin, purpose, and destiny. This is the most basic and most important test of dispensationalism.

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Piper: the non-dispensational, dispensationalist.https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-does-john-piper-believe-about-dispensationalism-covenant-theology-and-new-covenant-theology

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Ok…sum up…

We know …

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How to determine the number of dispensations

Determine the number of dispensations by observing

*the only reason we know there are dispensations is because of the NC, so we better get our principles on what a dispensation is from the NC*

1. The new revelation relates itself to the older revelation. (e.g., apostles relate NC to Mosaic Covenant by describing that as “old.”; Moses possibly telling Israelites how to relate to Abrahamic covenant)

2. The newer revelation relates itself to the Future by calling it a dispensation. (Eph. 1:10, fullness of the times)

3. Progressive revelation informs us concerning what the relationship is between people in the new dispensation and the old laws of the dispensations (e.g., how the NC people related to the OC laws; “dead to the law”; “not under law”)

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What the absolute essentials of dispensationalism are

1. Interpret the Bible literally/normally across all genres which leads to

2. Israel and the church are distinct.

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So what are the dispensations then?

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  1. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (New York: Scribner’s Son, 1857), 2:373–77.

  2. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 293–301

  3. The Bible and the Future [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979], 195.

  4. Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, p. 155.

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