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Dispensations vs. Ages

May 15, 2007

If it were not for the Scofield Bible, the idea of Dispensationalism would probably have remained a minority idea and not been a serious problem in the Church today. However, the situation is what it is, and it is there to test our hearts and see if we will believe the Scriptures or the traditions of men.

In his note in Gen. 1:28, Scofield defines Dispensationalism: "A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect to some specific revelation of the Will of God."

Really? Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:17 (KJV), "dispensation of the gospel is committed to me." The NASB reads, "I have a stewardship entrusted to me."

The Greek word used is oikonomia ("economy") and means "administration or stewardship." It only means dispensation in the sense of dispensing something--as in stewardship. It is not about periods of time, as is currently taught. Yet Scofield taught that there were 7 Dispensations:

1. Innocence (creation to the fall of Adam)

2. Conscience (the fall to the flood)

3. Human Government (the flood to the call of Abraham)

4. Promise (from Abraham to Moses)

5. Law (from Sinai to the Cross)

6. Grace (from the Cross to the Second Coming of Christ)

7. The Millennium (from the Second Coming to the Great White Throne)

These subdivisions of time may provide us with a somewhat useful outline of history, if used properly. However, the problem came when they taught that each had its own peculiar revelation that was exclusive to the others. Furthermore, they used these subdivisions of time to explain away certain biblical mandates, as if they were "for another time" and no longer relevant to us today.

For example, they take Christ's Sermon on the Mount and relegate it to the Law Dispensation, making it irrelevant to us today, except as a matter of interest in what God used to require of mankind. By slavishly requiring the Law Dispensation to end only at the Cross, the Gospels themselves are said to be part of the Law which was done away with at the Cross.

Instead of taking Jesus' word for it that "the law and the prophets were proclaimed until John," or again, instead of believing John 1:17 that "the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ," the Dispensationalists arbitrarily put the end of the law at the Cross, rather than at the end of John's ministry.

Likewise, the idea that law somehow ended with grace pits law against grace, rather than showing how justice and mercy work together. I showed in my book, Secrets of Time, that grace was at the basis of the law of Jubilee. And did not the law command us to love God and our neighbor as ourself (Deut. 6:5)? Did not the law command us to hold no grudge against our neighbor (Lev. 19:18)?

It was the Jewish traditions that portrayed a vengeful god that was devoid of grace. Dispensationalism agrees with them and then makes Jesus a new God whose character is quite the opposite of the Old Testament Yahweh. Well, so much for the unity of God!

Even as there is no righteous application of the law without grace and mercy, so also is there no true grace without the justice of the law. Paul never put away the law, but showed its true purpose in convicting the world of sin, so that "all the world may become accountable to God" (Rom. 3:19). In Rom. 4:15 Paul tells us that where there is no law, there is no transgression (or sin).

A graceless world would be a terrible place. A lawless world would be equally bad. But if you put them together and apply them by the mind of Christ, the result is both love and accountability that brings people to spiritual maturity without destroying them.

Scofield's note on Gen. 12:7 says, "At Sinai the (Israel) exchanged Grace for Law. They rashly accepted the Law."

In his note on Exodus 19:3, he says, "It is exceedingly important to observe . . . that the Law was not imposed until it had been proposed and voluntarily accepted."

Scofield would have us believe that Israel "rashly accepted the Law," when God offered it to them. Once they accepted it, they were stuck with it. Is this really what happened? No, it is not. God gave His law to them because He loved them (Deut. 33:2, 3), not because He was tempting them with something evil. David says in Psalm 19:7 that the law was "perfect, restoring the soul." Paul Himself said (during this so-called Dispensation of Grace) that the law is "holy, and just, and good" (Rom. 7:12).

The problem was not the law itself, but the imperfection of the people--their inability to be perfect. Paul says that the law is spiritual, but that people are carnal (Rom. 7:14). Our inability in no way makes the law evil. The law is a reflection of the mind of a perfect God, not the mind of the devil. It reveals God's character. It is rather in the carnal mindedness of men like Scofield that the law is turned into an evil thing.

What is most strange to me is that Dispensationalists could teach that grace will come to an end and be replaced by a golden age of Jewish laws and traditions, including animal sacrifices. Of course, some like Bullinger explain this by saying that there are two salvations and two separate rewards for believers. Jewish believers will inherit the earth and live under law, while "Gentile" believers will inherit heaven and live under grace.

Of course, this makes no sense. Which realm will the Apostle Paul inherit? And was Paul saved by the law because of his impeccable genealogy of the tribe of Benjamin?

Is it not so much better to stay with the sure Word of God, which separates time primarily in terms of Old and New Covenants? Personally, I have found it helpful to divide the time since Moses into the Passover Age, the Pentecostal Age, and the Tabernacles Age. This way of thinking does not put law and grace in opposition to each other.

Instead, it implies differing measures of the Holy Spirit, with corresponding ways in which God deals with men. The problem at Sinai was NOT that the people rashly accepted the law, but rather that they REFUSED to hear the law, whereby it could have been written on their hearts. Hence, the problem was that they were only capable at the time of receiving an external law on tables of stone. This problem was overcome on Pentecost, that second Sinai experience, when the disciples were given opportunity to break the curse brought about by Israel's decision NOT TO HEAR (Ex. 20:18-20).

Thus, the Passover Age was a time where the law was imposed upon the majority externally. Its righteous character went contrary to their natural carnality. Only a small measure of the Spirit was administered, and so few people's hearts were changed.

The Pentecostal Age was a time where a greater measure of the Holy Spirit was given, so that a greater opportunity existed for people to receive the law written on their heart (nature). Yet even so, this was an Age of Saul, as opposed to David, and so the leaven yet remained. Pentecost is thus a transitional age into the greatest of ages, that Tabernacles Age that is now coming. Only by the feast of Tabernacles can men's nature be fully transformed into the image of Christ.

It is a three-step plan of salvation pictured in the feasts. You might say it is a course on "How to Achieve Perfection in Three Easy Steps." Well, maybe not so easy! But the plan is revealed in the feasts nonetheless. So I find it to be much more preferable to Dispensationalism in understanding the Gospel and the Divine Plan.


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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