Definition of a Dispensation
“Dispensation” comes from a Greek word which is a combination of the words “house” and “law”. It is the standard by which a household is managed.
Dispensation is not unique to Scripture. The concept of a steward running a household by the standards that the master sets are well recorded in human history, dating back thousands of centuries. Today we do not tend to use the word Dispensation, rather, we use Administration; however, the concept is the same. Scripture uses this well known concept of a dispensations (or administration) to reveal to us what God is doing and how to properly discern the standards God has set for the household we are in.
Biblical Evidence for Dispensations
Biblical Requirements for a Dispensation
Scripture defines what a Dispensation is and gives us the standard by which we can discern all of the dispensations that are revealed by God. Scripture specifically states two of the dispensations, the dispensation of grace, and the dispensation of the fullness of times. Along with these two dispensations when we examine how the concept of a stewardship works in Scripture and history we are provided with a solid foundation for the requirements for any dispensation. Applying these standard will result in a proper understanding of the dispensation revealed in Scripture.
All dispensations must have:
- An owner of the household
- A steward that manages the household
- Those who make up the household
Scripture is not designed to be taken allegorically; its designed to be taken literally, according to the normal use of language. We can apply the concept of a dispensation to dividing Scripture only because God applies it. In Ephesians 1:9, 10, Paul is writing about the fact that God has made the mystery of His desirous will known to us. His will, the one according to His good pleasures and purpose, is that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He will gather all things together in Christ. Here God uses “dispensation” to describe a period of time in which He brings together all things in Christ. Ephesians 3:2 states that Paul was given the stewardship over the dispensation of grace. “Since indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God, the one given to me for you.” This dispensation is a period of time in man’s history that was kept secret from the beginning of the ages, but was given to Paul to bring it to light, Ephesians 3:9. As the steward of the dispensation of grace, God entrusted Paul with the mysteries that pertain to this dispensation, 1 Corinthians 4:1. A mystery is something that was kept hidden but has now been revealed, Colossians 1:26. The mystery of Israel’s blindness, the Christ, the man of lawlessness, Christ in you, the faith, not all will see death, and godliness were all entrusted to Paul and as the steward of this dispensation he passed those on to us, those of the household of grace. Scripture even states that Moses was over a household and draws a contrast between the house Moses was in and Christ’s house. Hebrews 3:4-6 “For every house is prepared by someone, but the one who prepared all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all his house as an attendant27, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later. But Christ according as a Son over his house whose house we are if we hold fast the boldness and boast of hope firm until the end.”
Since God has divided sections of man’s history into dispensations, we can legitimately take this same concept and apply it to the whole of Scripture to determine accurately each time God divides mankind into different households. However, we do not want to divide Scripture excessively, that is, to make more dispensations than there really are in Scripture. We need to apply this concept correctly. In order to prevent going astray, we must set some guidelines according to the normal use the words dispensation and steward. Through the use of these words, we see that there must be a master of the household, a steward, and those within the house. The steward is a part of the house, but is put above those within the house to manage and care for the house. When it comes to Scripture, the master of the house is obviously God, so that part is covered. Therefore, each dispensation must have a steward and those who are in the household, before it can qualify as a dispensation. Also as we look through Scripture we will see that the same steward is never placed over more than one house and the same rules are not applied to different houses. Therefore, we are not going to have a change in dispensation with the same steward, or a change in stewards within the same dispensation, or using the same rules for more than one dispensation. (If the same rules were used, then there would be no need to change the dispensation). In order for someone to be considered as the steward of a dispensation they must be given instruction by God on the standards that those in the household are to live, and are therefore responsible for passing these instructions on to all others in that household, or specifically stated to be the steward of a dispensation in Scripture.