Lecture 5 The Dispensations in the Bible

  1. The Dispensations in the Bible

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Preliminary note on the number of dispensations: Traditionally, 7 dispensations are presented. The question is, am I willing to say that God is saying that there are 7 dispensations? In answering that question, the Bible student should wrestle with the following.

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  1. Should I personally observe historical phenomenon throughout revealed biblical history and develop dispensations myself? If I do this, I will likely adhere to more than 3 dispensations. Am I willing to say that God says there are 7 dispensations?
  2. Should I exegete Scripture to determine the number of dispensations and let the Bible tell me explicitly and leave it at that? Am I willing to say that God says there are these dispensations?
    1. If the Bible explicitly teaches what the principles are to determine the dispensations (“_____ is a principle to determine a dispensation”), then I’ll have divine revelation to divide biblical history into a certain number of dispensations.
    2. If the Bible explicitly teaches what the actual dispensations are (“______ is a dispensation”), then I’ll have divine revelation to divide biblical history into a certain number of dispensations.

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    That’s what we tried to do with the principles we arrived at from Paul.

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    But does any of this matter? Ryrie says It’s “minor!”

    “The number of dispensations in a dispensational scheme and even the names of the dispensations are relatively minor matters. Presumably one could have four, five, seven, or eight dispensations and be a consistent dispensationalist as long as the scheme is true to the three essentials of dispensationalism” (Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 45).

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    If this is minor, then what are we attempting to say by determining the number of dispensations? If Ryrie therefore, doesn’t claim to speak for God on the fact that there are 7 dispensations, then who cares, at all? I want to hear from God, don’t you? Who cares what I say concerning how many dispensations there are? Ryrie says you have to have from 4-8 dispensations, he left out three, oddly.

    2 or 3 is what Paul mentions! What’s wrong with keeping it simple and leaving it with 3? Or could it be that the focus in the OT is the covenants (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, New) and there are 2 dispensations, the present church age and the future (tribulation, millennium).

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    That’s what I teach, the 2 (3?) dispensations as mentioned by Paul (maybe 1 mentioned by Moses?)

    It is not difficult, however, to derive seven dispensations. Yes, there could be 7 in God’s eyes. But where does the Bible start? Does it start with Moses, who wrote it, or with Adam? Do you start your history with the author who wrote or with what he wrote about?

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    Paul relates the present dispensation to Moses, not to Adam or the other men.

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So, it’s easy to observe data in Scripture and come up with 7 dispensations. Beginning with the three dispensations Paul mentions (“Law,” Grace, and Kingdom), ND would say that the other four are readily observable by noting three major historic events: the Fall (Adam to the Fall), the Flood (Fall to the Flood), and the call of Abraham (Flood to Abraham); Abraham to Moses.

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But why these historical events? Why these ‘major’ events? What makes you the one to choose these? How do you know God is saying this? They don’t claim this! As Ryrie says “the number is minor”…. But who wants man’s system? That tells me that ND is not necessarily attempting to arrive at God’s statements, but simply describing a system.

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The reason that it is minor is precisely because man has come up with the number of dispensations. Right?

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ND readily recognizes the difficulty in delineating some of the finer aspects of the early dispensations is that the Bible does not give very much revelation about them. Only eleven chapters (Gen 1-11) are devoted to the first three dispensations, and only sixty-nine chapters (Gen 1-Exo 19) are devoted to the first four. The first four dispensations (over half) only occupy 1/17 or less than 6% of biblical revelation.

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And the question regarding those first four chapters is, what did God reveal? We have what Moses wrote because of God’s inscripturation. We could assume that the folks living in that time period had the revelation that we have about that time period (Genesis). But we really don’t know what, say, the age of Conscience had apart from quotations from God in Genesis.

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Paul mentions 2(3?) dispensations (as dispensationalists apply the term today).

There may or may not be others (or there may be sub-dispensations), but Paul mentions just 3 dispensations (perhaps just 2).

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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 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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    Colossians 1:24-26 24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, 26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

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Disclaimer: Note the transition times.

  • The Mosaic Covenant
  • The New Covenant/Dispensation of God’s Grace to the Gentiles
  • The Fullness of the Times (at the Second Coming).

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Where else do you have significant changes within the dispensations? I could ask, “Now, but what do you do with previous to Moses?” Or “are there anymore that can be subdivided?”

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This proves my point. In other words, the reason you have to ask this question, proves that these are the ones God focuses on. God’s not focusing on the subdivisions or our data would have given us the answer.

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  1. Was the guy who lived 1 day into the time of Christ required to believe Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah?
  2. When was the proper response to the new revelation required for salvation?

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You’re asking these questions, but the Bible doesn’t answer them.

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Again, my contention is that Paul sees the dispensations as it relates to the progress of written revelation (so pre-Moses would out). In other words, Moses is our first writer of Scripture. Paul sees the dispensations as it relates to Moses, now to the first coming. And off to the future…

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  1. The Past “Dispensation:” “Dispensation in Suspense” (Creation to Christ)
  1. The Term

    This is Paul’s “past dispensation.” Notice, it concerns a mystery revealed in the NC. If you experience a biblical mystery, you are awaiting something yet to be revealed. You are in suspense. You could say “the dispensation in waiting” or simply leave it at “the past dispensation.”

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    Colossians 1:25-26 could teach a past dispensation. Paul does not directly name the dispensation. He implies that a dispensation preceded the present one.

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    Colossians 1:25-27 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, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

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  2. New Revelation

    The revelation as progressively revealed through Moses, David, prophets, et. al. That is, the entire OT, Genesis to Malachi.

    During this time, God is governing and making promises to man through covenants.

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    • Noahic Covenant (Gen 9:8-17 [cf. 6:18; 8:20-22])
    • The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-21; 18:17-19; 21:12-13; 22:17-18)
    • The Mosaic (Sinaitic, Old) Covenant (Exo 19-24)
    • The Priestly (Levitical) Covenant (Num 25:10-13)
    • The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:8-16; 1 Chron. 17:7-14; cf. Psa 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 144)
    • The New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34; cf. Isa 42:6; 49:8; 54:10; 55:3; 59:21; 61:8; Jer 32:40; 50:5 [cf. 24:4-7]; Ezek 16:60; 34:25; 37:26 [cf. 11:14-21; 36:22-33]; Hos 2:18)

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  3. Man’s Responsibility

    Faith in God’s revelation (“Walk with God” Gen. 5:24. Anything else?). Why? Because Paul, in Romans and Galatians, constantly speaks of salvation always being by faith. E.g., Ro. 4. Faith is evidenced to be alive when works are performed (keeping the law, baptism, etc.), but it’s the faith that saves. This could be expressed differently previous to the Law vs. after the Law. But it’s the concept that’s important today. Abraham was justified by faith, not works. So also is everyone who is saved.

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  1. The Dispensation of God’s Grace to the Gentiles (1st Coming of Christ to 2nd Coming of Christ)
  1. The Term

    The term grace comes from John 1:17 and Eph 3:2. The dispensation of grace is especially characterized by the grace that came with the life and death of Jesus Christ. It does not mean that there was no grace previously; just that the grace of God that has always been was fully realized and also justified (Ro. 3:21ff).

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  2. New Revelation

    The new revelation consists in the new provisions and commands that result from the life and death of Jesus Christ (i.e., the NT). This includes the previously unrevealed revelation that God joined both regenerate Jews and Gentiles together to form the church (Eph 2:15).

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  3. Man’s Responsibility

    Man’s responsibility in this dispensation is not limited to the 4 activities below. It includes obeying God’s cumulative Word (OT and NT).

    • Repent of your sins, and trust the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation (Acts 3:19; 16:31; Ro. 10:9-13).
    • Walk worthy of your calling (Eph. 4:1; Ro. 12:1; etc.)
    • Make disciples, baptize them, and teach them (Matt 28:18-20).
    • Serve God through a biblical local church (Acts 2:41; Eph 4).

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  1. The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times: (2nd Coming of Christ to ?).

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  1. The Term

    The dispensation of the fullness of times (Eph 1:10). Christ will personally rule the world from the throne of David for 1000 years.

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  2. New Revelation

    The new revelation will be, at least, from the new light that comes with the direct rule and reign of Christ (Isa 2:3). The Kingdom will not be an exact reinstitution of the Mosaic Law. Some aspects of the Mosaic Law in the fullness of times are omitted (e.g., the Ark of the Covenant, tables of the Law). Others are added (trees of healing, Ezek. 47:12; Rev. 22:2) and some continue (millennial sacrifices for ‘covering’ “forgiveness”-; Ezek. 40-48). We will practice Christ’s Millennial Law and it will have some continuity with the Mosaic Law.

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  3. Man’s Responsibility

    Revelation 14:6-7 6 And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7 and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” [also Isa. 2?]

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    Repent, fear God.

    Sacrifices, etc.

    Ruling

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    This always has and always will be man’s responsibility; it’s eternal. Resurrected saints who participate in the Millennium (OT saints, church saints, and tribulation martyrs) will be in their glorified bodies (sinless).

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Now, how did we know these things? Because we see directly it in the Bible!

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