In our two previous articles we explored the issue of an
expositon of the Bibleís philosophy of history. We noted that, in order
to be valid, any attempt to exposit the Bibleís philosophy of history
must contain the following six necessary elements: (1) an ultimate purpose
or goal for history toward the fulfillment of which all history moves, (2)
the recognition of distinctions or things that differ in history, (3) a
proper concept of the progress of revelation, (4) a unifying principle
which ties the distinctions and progressive stages of revelation together
and directs then toward the fulfillment of the purpose of history, (5) a
valid explanation of why things have happened the way they have in the
past, why things are the way they are today, and where things are going in
the future, and (6) appropriate answers to mankindís three basic
questions: Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?
A very significant attempt to exposit the Bibleís
philosophy of history is known as Dispensationalism or Dispensational
A Definition Of Dispensational Theology
Dispensational Theology can be defined very simply as a
system of theology which attempts to develop the Bibleís philosophy of
history on the basis of the sovereign rule of God. It represents the whole
of Scripture as being covered by several dispensations of Godís rule.
The Meaning Of The Word Dispensation
The word which is translated dispensation in the
New Testament is oikonomia, from which the English word economy
is derived. The New Testament word is a combination of two wordsóoikos,
which means house, and nemo, which means to dispense,
manage, or hold sway (Liddell and Scott, An Intermediate
Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1900, p. 528).
Thus, the word literally means house dispensing or house
managing. It "relates primarily to household administration"
(Otto Michel, "Oikonomia," Theological Dictionary of the New
Testament, Vol. V, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,
1967, p. 151).
The English word dispensation sometimes refers to
"the system by which things are administered" and "the
divine administration or conduct of the world" (The Oxford English
Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1933, III, p. 481). Theologically
it is "A religious order or system, conceived as divinely instituted,
or as a stage in a progressive revelation, expressly adapted to the needs
of a particular nation or period of time" (Ibid.).
The English word economy in its theological usage
refers to "The method of the divine government of the world, or of a
specific department or portion of that government" (Ibid.,
III, p. 35).
The Usage Of The Word For Dispensation In The New
The word oikonomia appears nine times in the New
Testament. In six of these appearances (Luke 16:2-4; 1 Corinthians 9:17;
Ephesians 3:2; Colossians 1:25) it is translated stewardship or dispensation
and refers to a responsible office or ministry entrusted to oneís care
by a higher authority. In the other three appearances (Ephesians 1:10;
3:9; 1 Timothy 1:4) it is translated dispensation, fellowship, and edifying
in the King James Version and administration in the New American
Standard Bible. In these three passages it refers to a particular way of
God administering His rule over the world. Ephesians 1:10 is of special
interest, because it appears to refer to the particular way that God will
administer His rule over the world in the future Millennium (the
Millennial Dispensation). Ephesians 3:9 and 1 Timothy 1:4 refer to the
particular way that God administers His rule now (the present
A Definition Of The Term Dispensation As It
Relates To Dispensational Theology
In light of the usage of the word for dispensation in
the New Testament, the term dispensation as it relates to
Dispensational Theology could be defined as follows: a dispensation is
a particular way of God administering His rule over the world as He
progressively works out His purpose for world history.
Essential Characteristics Of Each Dispensation
In order for each dispensation to be distinct from all
other dispensations, it must have three essential characteristics. First,
it must have a particular way of God administering His rule. Each
dispensation is characterized by a unique ruling factor or combination of
ruling factors. Second, it must involve a particular responsibility for
man. Each dispensation makes mankind responsible to obey God in accordance
with the dispensationís unique ruling factor or combination of factors.
Third, it must be characterized by divine revelation which had not been
given before. In order for mankind to know Godís new way of ruling and
the new responsibility, mankind must have these things revealed to it.
Thus, each new dispensation requires new revelation from God (Charles C.
Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, Chicago, Moody Press, 1965, pp.
37-38). For example, the Apostle Paul indicated that the present
dispensation is definitely related to new revelation which God gave to the
apostles and New Testament prophets (Ephesians 3:2-10).
Secondary Characteristics Of Each Dispensation
The fact that each new dispensation involves a newly
revealed responsibility for mankind indicates that each dispensation also
has three secondary characteristics. First, each dispensation applies a
test to mankind. The nature of the test is whether or not mankind will
perfectly obey Godís rule by fulfilling the responsibility which is
characteristic of that dispensation. Second, each dispensation
demonstrates the failure of mankind to obey the particular rule of God
which characterizes that dispensation. Third, each dispensation involves
divine judgment because of mankindís failure (Ibid., pp. 38-39).
The next article will present several important points
of clarification concerning the dispensations of Godís sovereign rule
over the world. It will also examine the first dispensation.
For more information related to attempts to exposit the
Bibleís philosophy of history obtain the following book: Renald E.
Showers, There Really Is A Difference! (The Friends of Israel
Gospel Ministry. Telephone: 800-257-7843. Mailing address: P.O. Box 908,
Bellmawr, NJ 08099).