Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dispensational Overview of Biblical History

Dispensational Overview of Biblical History
David Q. Santos

The Bible is God’s word to man. It is authoritative in all that it says from the creation to the end of this age. God’s plan for this world is revealed as a God centered doxological program. This program is contained in His progressive revelation. As students and scholars approach the Bible they must first understand the full scope or “big picture” of God’s progressive revelation. There are several methods that can be used to understand God’s progressive revelation. The most comprehensive method is to observe the dispensations that are found in Scripture. This work will present evidence for the observation of dispensations as well as use these dispensations to provide a synthetic overview of Scripture.

The Moody Handbook of Theology says that a dispensation may be defined as “a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose.”[1] Chafer adds to this definition writing, “As a time measurement, a dispensation is a period which is identified by its relation to some particular purpose of God—a purpose to be accomplished within that period.”[2] A dispensation has two key components; 1) a time period in which man has been assigned a stewardship within God’s economy; and 2) This stewardship is designed to advance God’s doxological purpose for mankind. Paul used the term dispensation in his writings. One author summarized this by writing’

Several distinct examples of dispensations can be seen in Paul’s usage. In Ephesians 1:10 Paul indicates that God planned a “stewardship” or “dispensation” in which all things would ultimately be summed up in Christ. Paul describes this future dispensation as “the fullness of the times,”[3]

Both dispensational and covenant theologians find it useful to recognize multiple “dispensations” in Scripture. There have through history been many different dispensational schemes.[4] Ryrie notes that “the number of dispensations in a dispensational scheme and even the names of the dispensations are relatively minor matters.”[5] This can be seen in the writing of Charles Hodge (1797-1878) who breaks the Covenant of Grace into four dispensations”[6] giving Hodge a scheme of five dispensations. In short, many theologians, both dispensational and non-dispensational find it useful to recognize multiple “dispensations” in their theological system.

A number of schemes have been used over time. For example, the Scofield Reference Bible identifies seven dispensations.[7] Cone uses a more complex system that may provide clarity to the “recognition of the cumulative nature of revelation”[8] It is most critical to recognize this cumulative nature of God’s revelation. Cone lists twelve dispensations[9] which will be used in this overview of the Bible.

Planning-Eternity Past (John 17:24; Acts 4:28; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20); God existed before He created the universe. He is eternal and self existent. Ryrie describes this attribute of God writing, “The attribute of eternity means that God exists endlessly. His existence extends endlessly backward and forward (from our viewpoint of time) without any interruption or limitation caused by succession of events.”[10] It is God’s nature to be creative and to be glorified. Prior to the foundations of the world the creator God set a plan into action designed to create beings in whom all of His attributes could be revealed allowing for this creation to glorify Him simply for who He is. He knows the entire plan from beginning to end. Acts 15:18 says “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” God set His plan in motion at the point of creation knowing all that would take place.

Prelude-Innocence of Man (Gen. 1:1-3:6) (Scofield-Innocence): This is the first dispensation involving God’s creation. According to Chafer it “extended from the creation to the fall of Adam”[11] although in the twelve dispensation system the duties and the fall of man are separated. The creation was the entire universe which included man whom God placed in a perfect garden with only one rule; which was “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Adam, who was created in God’s own image, lived in direct fellowship with God. But as man’s champion Adam fell to sin, illustrating that man does not possess an intrinsic ability to live up to God’s standards.

Plight-Failure of Men (Gen. 3:6-6:7) (Scofield-Conscience): This dispensation spans from Genesis 3:6 all the way to the account just prior to the flood. Man’s conscience and his in ability to live up to God’s standard is seen again. During this dispensation “…conscience was, apparently, the dominating feature of human life on the earth and the basis of man’s relationship with God.”[12] This conclusion of this dispensation is “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil.” God sent a messenger, Noah, to warn of the coming judgment that was rejected causing all mankind to be cleansed, leaving only the remnant of Noah and his family.

Preservation & Provisions-Common Grace & Human Government (Gen. 6:8-11:9) (Scofield-Human Government): This dispensation spans from the calling out of Noah and preservation of he and his family from the world wide flood to the call of and promise to Abraham. Chafer summarizes this dispensation, writing that it is “characterized by the committing of self-government to men, and is terminated by the introduction of a new divine purpose.”[13] Mankind chose to rely on their might and turn from God as seen in the building of the tower of Babel. This even led to a judgment where “God confused the one language men were using, then scattered them across the face of the whole earth.”[14]

Promises Pronounced (Gen. 11:10-Ex. 18:27) (Scofield-Promise): This dispensation provides a turning point in God’s revelation. Couch points out that, “It is important for theological understanding, from this point on to look first at the covenants before analyzing the dispensations that rest upon them. In a sense, the covenant is the base or ground floor with the dispensation built upon it.”[15] At this point in time God lays the foundation for his “soteriological and kingdom schematic.”[16] God makes a covenant with Abraham and his family that will provide the framework for His entire doxological plan.

Prerequisite Portrayed-The Broken Covenant: the Tutor (Ex. 19:1-Mal 4:6; Gal. 3:24-25) (Scofield-Law): This dispensation contains two contrasting elements. First, the Mosaic covenant which is a conditional covenant that serves as a test of Israel. The people of Israel were commanded to keep every point of the law. The law served as a tutor in order to show the need for a savior. In contrast, is the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant with its three points; land covenant, Davidic covenant, and a covenant of inhabitants to fill the land which becomes the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31.

Promises Proffered-The Kingdom Offered (Mt. 1:1-12:45) (Scofield-Grace): From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” God had sought a holy people to dwell with since the beginning creation. God became a man (Jn. 1:1; 14-18; 14:8-9; Heb. 10:20) in order to establish the kingdom of God at which time He could dwell with mankind.

Postponement & Propitiation-The Kingdom Postponed & New Covenant Ratified (Mt. 12:46-Acts 1:26): The nation of Israel rejected their God who came in the flesh therefore postponing the kingdom of God. During this period Jesus begins to teach exclusively in parables in order to hide the truth from those that rejected Him. This dispensation ends with Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.

Participation-The Church Age (Acts 2:1-Rev. 3:22): After Christ ascended to heaven the Holy Spirit came to empower believers in a new dispensation; the church age. In this dispensation the Holy Spirit maintains a unique ministry of empowering believers and giving gifts to the church for its edification as well as convicting believers and nonbelievers of sin. The church is a unique to this era and is not found in the Old Testament. Being separate from Israel, the church cannot advance Israel’s prophetic program nor take its inheritance. This era ends with the rapture of the church and the continuation of Israel’s program.

Purification-The Tribulation, Jacob’s Trouble (Rev. 4:1-10:10; Jer. 30:7): Daniel’s Seventieth week will begin the day of the Lord or the time of Jacob’s trouble in which Israel will be refined by fire with the rest of the unbelieving world. In this era God will pour out his wrath on a world that rejected Christ and continues in sin. It concludes with the second coming of Christ to preserve the remnant of Israel.

Promises Performed-The Kingdom Initiated-(Rev. 19:11-20:6) (Scofield-Kingdom): The kingdom dispensation begins with the marriage supper of the Lamb and the establishment of the Davidic kingdom where Christ will rule and reign from Jerusalem. Satan is bound for most of this time period only to be released for a final revolt and subsequent judgment on mankind who will once again reject their king. During this period the Church will rule and reign with Christ while Israel inhabits the Earth and gives instruction to the surviving Gentiles.

Acts 15:13-17 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:

16 ‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the Lord who does all these things.’

Postscript-Eternity Future (Rev. 20:7-22:21). At the end of the millennial Kingdom a final and complete judgment will take place called the “great white throne judgment” in which all the dead not previously resurrected will rise from the dead. The Lamb’s book of life will be examined for each person’s name. If they are not found in Christ they will receive punishment. The world known now will pass away with a fervent heat prior to the creation of a new heaven and earth with a New Jerusalem where God can finally dwell with His holy people.

The Bible provides God’s progressive revelation. Throughout history He has chosen to give his program to mankind piece by piece allowing them to fail. This served the purpose of allowing man to fail which in turn illustrates the need for a savior as well as man’s inability to live up to God’s most holy standard. This understanding should lead men to repent of sin and turn to their savior Jesus Christ the Son of God Most High. Maranatha!!!

Work Cited

Chafer, Lewis Sperry, Systematic Theology, Originally Published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993).

Cone, Christopher, Dispensational Definition & Division Revisited. Dispensationalism Tomorrow & Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie, (Fort Worth TX. Tyndale Seminary Press. 2008).

_____ Four Pillars of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism Tomorrow & Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. (Fort Worth TX. Tyndale Seminary Press. 2008).

Couch, Mal, “The Relationship Between the Dispensations and Covenants,” Conservative Theological Journal Volume 2 (Tyndale Theological Seminary, 1998; 2002).

Enns, Paul P., The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1997, c1989).

Hodge, Charles, Ed. Edward N. Gross. Systematic Theology: Abridged Edition, (Grand Rapids. Baker Book House. 1988).

Ryrie, Charles Caldwell, Basic Theology : A Popular Systemic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999).

_____ Dispensationalism. (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute. 2007).

Scofield, C.I. Rev. D.D. Scofield Reference Bible-Reproduction of 1917, (Greenville, SC. Stonehaven Press).
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[1]Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1997, c1989), 517.
[2]Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Originally Published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 1:40.
[3] Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 517.
[4] Seven of such schemes are illustrated very well in Ryrie’s Dispensationalism. Charles Caldwell Ryrie. Dispensationalism. (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute. 2007), 81.
[5] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 51.
[6] Charles Hodge, Ed. Edward N. Gross. Systematic Theology: Abridged Edition, (Grand Rapids. Baker Book House. 1988), 348-350.
[7] C.I Scofield. Rev. D.D. Scofield Reference Bible-Reproduction of 1917, (Greenville, SC. Stonehaven Press), 5.
[8] Christopher Cone,. Four Pillars of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism Tomorrow & Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. (Fort Worth TX. Tyndale Seminary Press. 2008), 28.
[9] Christopher Cone. Dispensational Definition & Division Revisited. Dispensationalism Tomorrow & Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie, (Fort Worth TX. Tyndale Seminary Press. 2008), 151-61
[10]Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology : A Popular Systemic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999), 41.
[11]Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Originally Published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 1:40.
[12]Ibid, 1:40.
[13]Ibid, 1:40-41.
[14]Mal Couch, “The Relationship Between the Dispensations and Covenants,” Conservative Theological Journal Volume 2 (Tyndale Theological Seminary, 1998; 2002), 2:418.
[15]Ibid, 2:418.
[16] Cone, Dispensational Definition, 153.

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