What is the difference between Bible dispensations and the doctrine of dispensationalism?

Some preachers talk about the dispensations of the Bible. Then they condemn dispensationalism. What’s the difference?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

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What is the difference between a “dispensation” and the denominational doctrine of “dispensationalism”?

These two words are sometimes confused. But the issue is not that difficult.

What Is a Bible Dispensation?

The Greek word oikonomia is rendered “dispensation” several times in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 9; Col. 1:25).

Sometimes the word suggests the idea of managing a household and is rendered as “stewardship” (Lk. 16:2, 3, 4; 1 Cor. 9:17). On other occasions, the word implies a plan that has been arranged (Eph. 1:10; 3:9). The term may suggest appropriate training in divine instruction (1 Tim. 1:4).

In popular usage, the word dispensation often refers to a period of time. In Bible parlance, it frequently refers to the major epochs of time in which God has operated in implementing the plan of redemption.

The Patriarchal Dispensation

The Patriarchal Dispensation extended from the creation to the commencement of the Mosaic period, at which point God selected the Hebrews as a special people through whom he would send the Christ (Gen. 12:1ff; Dt. 7:6).

In the patriarchal age, God spoke to man through select prophets. Worship was administered by the fathers of each family (cf. Job 1).

The Mosaic Dispensation

The Mosaic Dispensation began at Sinai, when Jehovah gave the law of Moses to the Hebrews. By doing so, he separated them from the other nations of the world as his own special people. They would be a redemptive tool preliminary to the sending of his Son (Gal. 3:24-25; 4:4).

Only Israel was under this code. The balance of humanity remained under the patriarchal system. The Mosaic religion was terminated at the cross (Col. 2:14ff). It ended in a political sense with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

The Christian Dispensation

The Christian Dispensation began on the day of Pentecost and will be terminated at the return of Christ (Isa. 2:2-4; Dan. 2:44; Joel 2:28-30; 1 Cor. 15:24-26). At that point, the eternal order of all things will be set.

What Is the Doctrine of Dispensationalism?

This is a system of dividing history into seven dispensations, each corresponding to one of the days of the creation week.

The theory was popularized by C. I. Scofield in his Reference Bible (1909). These dispensations are alleged to be:

  • Innocence
  • Conscience
  • Human Government
  • Promise
  • Law
  • Grace and
  • Kingdom

Supposedly we are living in the Grace dispensation now, and the Kingdom period will commence when Christ returns to earth to set up his millennial kingdom.

This entire theory is a fabrication that contradicts the Scriptures in numerous places. Some of the false elements of this theory, along with Scripture references that refute them are:

  • Christ came to reestablish David’s kingdom but was surprisingly rejected by the Jews. However, the following passages clearly show that God foretold of his rejection by the Jews (Psa. 118:22; Isa. 53:1ff).
  • As a result of the Jewish rejection, the kingdom was postponed. Yet, the kingdom was clearly established by Christ (Mk. 9:1; Mt. 16:19; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:6, 9).
  • The church was a “plan B” set up in place of the postponed kingdom. No, the church was always in the mind of God according to his eternal plan (Eph. 3:10-11).
  • Certain “signs” point to the imminent return of Christ. But Christ declares that no one, not even himself knew the time of his return (Mt. 24:34-36; Mt. 25:5).
  • Christ comes to earth three times: the first coming in the incarnation; the second coming at the invisible “rapture;” the third coming to begin his “millennial reign.” But the Hebrews writer affirms he shall appear a second time (Heb. 9:28).
  • The Lord’s return to earth will begin his reign. But Christ reigns now (Lk. 19:15; 1 Cor. 15:24-25).

This fanciful doctrine must be rejected because it contradicts the word of God.