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Dividing the Word

Dividing the Word
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"DISPENSATIONALISM" A PAPER SUBMITTED TO PROFESSOR RAY A. KING PROFESSOR OF CHURCH HISTORY BY LEON BIBLE LAURENS, SOUTH CAROLINA NOVEMBER 1997 1. INTRODUCTION Dispensationalism is one of the most widely held systems of theology among Bible believers today, particularly in the United States. With this in mind, a study of Dispensationalism is certainly called for by both the adherents and detractors of this system. What is a dispensation? For the understanding of this word most modern day scholars would go to C.I. Scofield, who would be looked upon by many as the authority in this study. C. I. Scofield says in his reference Bible; "A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. Seven such dispensations are distinguished in Scripture." A look at the etymology of the English word also gives insight to the understanding of this word. The English word dispensation is an Anglicized form of the Latin dispensation, which the Vulgate uses to translate the Greek word. Three principle ideas or connected to the meaning of the English word: 1) The action of dealing out or distributing; 2) the action of administering, ordering, or managing; the system by which things are administered; and 3) the action of dispensing with some requirement. For our theological purposes the word is defined by the same dictionary as "a stage in a progressive revelation, expressly adapted to the needs of a particular nation or period of time... Also, the age or period during which a system has prevailed." For a Biblical understanding of the word dispensation a search of the Greek is the most oikonomia means an administration, a stewardship of a household or estate, a dispensation. The word dispensation comes from two Greek words, oikos, a house and nomos, a law. As applied to the various ages, it means a moral or probationary period in human and angelic history. Paul the apostle uses the word dispensation a number of times in his writings. Three which stand out are: 1) To refer to a future period of time. Ephesians 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 2) To refer to the dispensation of grace. Ephesians 3:2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3) To refer to the fact that in dispensations mysteries are made clear. 3) Colossians 1:25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; 26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: With this brief introduction let us look at the history of Dispensationalism in America and the role it has played in shaping theology. 2. A BRIEF HISTORY OF DISPENSATIONALISM IN AMERICA The period from the end of the Civil War to the opening on the twentieth century was one of development and change in America. In such an environment new social theories and solutions which were being introduced began to take root and grow. This gave rise to the Bible conference movement, and it was out of this movement that a unique method of interpretation know as Dispensationalism was birthed. Some argue that Justin Martyr (110-165), Irenaeus (130-200), Clement of Alexandria (150-220), Augustine (354-430), and other early church fathers all had dispensational concepts in their teachings. While an argument may be made that Dispensationalism started with the early church, and while authors such as Ryie contend that the Premillennialism of the early church runs parallel with Dispensationalism, it cannot be argued that modern day Dispensationalism started with the teachings of J.N. Darby and the Plymouth Brethren. John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) began as a lawyer, but after two years in the profession turned to ministry in the Church of England. During this time (1825) Darby suffered a leg injury which required a period of convalescence. During this time Darby came to two wonderful conclusions. 1) that his position was in heaven with Christ, and 2) that he should abandon self-efforts to fulfill the law as a means of salvation. These being valid conclusions to which most Christians would agree. However, Darby was unable to reconcile the earthly promises made to the nation of Israel with these conclusions and seeing himself as a New Testament believer. As a solution to this problem, Darby began to compartmentalize the Scriptures, and to suggest that the Church and Israel where two dissociated groups of people. This was the beginning of Dispensationalism as we know it today. In Darby's theology he came to understand that a Dispensation is an economy, any order of things that God has arranged on earth. The primary characteristics of a dispensation include government administration, responsibility, and revelation to fulfill both. Secondary characteristics include testing, failure, and judgment. When a group fails to the test to exercise their responsibility given to them by God, judgment falls and ends the dispensation. In the years after Darby's death (1882), another movement that was instrumental in the spread of Dispensationalism, began to take shape, fundamentalism. This movement was a response of the believing church to the attacks of liberalism. Fundamentalism brought on the Bible conferences which had as a central theme, prophecy. These conferences were dominated by the dispensational, pretribulational prophetic scheme, and thus Fundamentalism became, then, largely a dispensational movement. In time, some of the leaders of this movement began to question the pretribulation rapture teaching. It was in the winter conference of 1900-1901 that two opposing camps where formed. It was during this time that Dispensationalists redoubled their efforts. Two men who lead the fight where A. C. Gaebelein and C. I. Scofield. These leaders were quite successful in their defense of Dispensationalism. In fact Kraus says " The dispensationalists had won the day so completely that for the next fifty years friend and foe alike largely identified Dispensationalism with Premillennialism. C. I. Scofield (1843-1921) produced his very popular Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. This Bible was probably the greatest influence to the spread of Dispensationalism in modern times. Scofield believed that the bible could be understood by anyone if it were only studied according to its dispensational divisions. Scofield's dispensational definition and outlines have become the standard for contemporary American Dispensationalism. After World War 1 many Dispensational Bible colleges formed. Led by Dallas Theological Seminary (1924), these schools have served to reinforce the popularity of Dispensationalism by seeking to fill the void of scholarly support for the movement. While some difficult days for Dispensationalism have come, it continues to be a dominate force in the twentieth-century. 3. DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY Dispensational theology is a system that embodies three essential concepts: 1) The church is distinct from Israel, "a man who fails to distinguish Israel and the Church will inevitably not hold to dispensational distinctions," 2) God's overall purpose is to bring glory to Himself. Eph.1:6, 12, 14, and 3) Dispensationalists employ "a consistently literal principle of interpretation." This principle "is as the heart of dispensational eschatology." The church is seen to be different from Israel for two reasons. 1) Its character. Israel was a nation of people all Jews. The church is a group of believing Jews and Gentiles baptized into the body of Christ. 2) Time. The church began after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, whereas Israel was before. This mystery of the church was not revealed to Israel. God's overall purpose of bringing glory to Himself is seen in each dispensation as God reveals His revelation of His plan to each group of people. While these two doctrines above state the primary beliefs of dispensationalists, there is a quality of the Dispensationalist which should be mentioned. That quality is the way scripture is interpreted. Dispensationalists use the historical-grammatical method of interpretation. In other words a "literal" interpretation of scripture is employed. This is an interpretation that does not spiritualize or allegorize scripture. Literal/historical/grammatical interpretation is not the sole possession or practice of Dispensationalists, but the consistent use of it in all areas of biblical interpretation is. 4. VARIOUS DISPENSATIONAL SCHEMES Throughout the history of various modern times dispensational scholars, the schemes have been many and varied. A survey of the basic schemes would be as follows: Pierre Poiret (1646-1719) - Infancy, Childhood, Adolescence, Youth, Old Age, Renovation of All Things. John Edwards (1639-1716) and Isaac Watts (1674-1748) - Innocency, Adamical, Noahical, Abrahamical, Mossaical, Christian. J. N. Darby (1800-1882) - Paradisical state, Noah, Abraham, Israel, Gentiles, Spirit, Millennium. James M. Gray (1851-1935) - Ednic, Antediluvian, Patriarchal, Mosic, Church, Millennial, Fullness of times, Eternal. C. I. Scofield (1843-1921) - Innocency, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace, Kingdom. Of course Scofield's scheme would be the most prevalent in the present day. 5. SCOFIELD'S DISPENSATIONAL SCHEME Scofield taught that the Scriptures divide time into seven unequal periods, usually called Dispensations (Ephesians 3:2), although these periods are also called ages (Ephesians 2:7). These periods are marked off in Scripture by some change in God's method of dealing with mankind, or a portion of mankind, in respect of the two questions: of sin, and of man's responsibility. Each of the dispensations may be regarded as a new test of the natural man, and each ends in judgment-marking his utter failure in every dispensation. Five of these dispensations, or periods of time, have been fulfilled; we are living in the sixth, probably toward its close, and have before us the seventh, and the last-the millennium. Scofield's Scheme is as follows. 1. Man Innocent. The Dispensation of Innocence. From the creation of Adam to the expulsion from Eden. (Genesis 2:15-3:21) 2. Man under Conscience. The Dispensation of Conscience. From the fall of Adam to the flood of Noah. (Genesis 3:22-8:14) 3. Man in Authority over the Earth. The Dispensation of Human Government. From the flood of Noah to the tower of Babel. (Genesis 8:15-11:32) 4. Man under Promise. The Dispensation of Promise. From the tower of Babel to the exodus out of Egyptian bondage. (Genesis 12:1-Exodus 12:37) 5. Man under Law. The Dispensation of Law. From the exodus out of Egypt to the coming of Jesus Christ preaching the Kingdom of God. (Exodus 12:38-Matthew 2:23) 6. Man under Grace. The Dispensation of Grace. From the first coming of Christ to the second coming of Christ. (Matthew 3:1-Revelation 19:10) 7. Man under the Personal Reign of Christ. The Dispensation of the Millennium. From the second coming of Christ to the last rebellion of Satan on Earth.(Revelation 19:11-20:15) 6. DALLAS THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY DOCTRINAL STATEMENT Without question, the leader in the study of Dispensationalism today would be Dallas Theological Seminary. Dispensationalism is included in Article 5 of their Doctrinal Statement. CONCLUSION Dispensationalism seems to be a simple way of looking at the history of man. Whether one admits it or not it is my belief that everyone views life as a dispensation. The life of man is a dispensation. Man goes from an infant to a toddler, from a toddler to a young child, from a young child to a pre-teen, pre-teen to a teenager, teenager to a young adult, The same could be said of marriage. Marriage begins with dating, then the honey moon stage, then the newlywed, then the young parents, then the average typical family with children, then the empty nesters, then the old married couple. The schooling system could also be viewed in this light. School begins with kindergarten, then grammar school, then junior high, high school and college. Seminary is dispensational with a Freshman, Middler, and Senior status. Most people recognize at least two dispensations of Biblical history. Law and Grace. Berkhof writes of two basic dispensations. Old and New. But, within the Old he sees four different periods. Therefore it seems that the basic understanding of periods of time is common in our understanding of the Bible. Theological implications aside, it seems that Dispensationalism is a positive framework in which to view Scripture. It is this writer's view that there are many who are dispensational without being a Dispensationalist. Kimbro who was definitely not a Dispensationalist stated that: 1) To recognize the existence of dispensations does not make one a Dispensationalist; 2) To be Premillennial does not make one a Dispensationalist; and 3) To interpret the Bible literally does not make one a Dispensationalist. At this point in my theological studies I believe that these statements of Kimbro would best fit this writer. BIBLIOGRAPHY Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Michigan, Eerdmans, 1941. Couch, Mal. Dictionary of Premillennial Theology. Grand Rapids: Michigan, Kregel Publications, 1996. Dake, Finis J. Dake. God's Plan for Man. Lawerenceville: Georgia, Dake Publishing, 1949. Ehlert, Arnold D. A Bibliographic History of Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1965. Kimbro, Reginald C. The Gospel According to Dispensationalism . Toronto: Canada, Wittenburg Publications, 1995. Kraus, Norman. Dispensationalism in America. Richmond: Virginia, John Knox Press, 1958. Morgan, G. Campbell. God's Methods with Man. New York: New York, Fleming H. Revell Company 1898. Ryie, Charles, Dispensationalism Today. Chicago: Moody Press, 1965. Scofield, C. I. Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth. Neptune: New Jersey, Loizeaux Brothers, 1896. __________ Scofield Reference Bible. New York: Oxford, 1909. Talbot, Louis T. God's Plan of the Ages. Grand Rapids: Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company 1936.