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THE 7 DISPENSATIONS IN THE BIBLE

Dispensationalism is a method of interpreting history that divides God’s work and purposes toward mankind into different periods of time. Usually, there are seven dispensations identified, although some theologians believe there are nine. Others count as few as three or as many as thirty-seven dispensations. 

In this article, we will limit ourselves to the seven basic dispensations found in scripture.

Within Dispensationalism, dispensations are a series of chronologically successive dispensations of Biblical history. The number of dispensations held are typically three, four, seven or eight. The three and four dispensation schemes are often referred to as minimalist, as they recognize the commonly held major breaks within Biblical history. The seven and eight dispensation schemes are often closely associated with the announcement or inauguration of certain Biblical covenants. The variance in number relates to the extent of detail being emphasized by the author or speaker. Below is a table comparing some of the various dispensational schemes:


Range of Bible Chapters
Schemes Genesis 1–3 Genesis 3–8 Genesis 9–11 Genesis 12
to Exodus 19
Exodus 20 to
Acts 1
Acts 2 to
Revelation 20
Revelation 20:4–6 Revelation 20–22
7 or 8 Dispensational
Scheme

Innocence
or Edenic
Conscience
or Antediluvian
Civil Government Patriarchal
or Promise
Mosaic
or Law
Grace
or Church
Millennial Kingdom Eternal State
or Final
4 Dispensational
Scheme

Patriarchal Mosaic Ecclesial Zionic
3 Dispensational
Scheme
(Reformed or minimalist position)
Freedom Grace (Law) Grace (Gospel) Kingdom

These different dispensations are not separate ways of salvation. During each of them man is reconciled to God in only one way, (i.e. by God's grace through the work of Christ that was accomplished on the cross and vindicated in His resurrection). Before the cross, man was saved on the basis of Christ's atoning sacrifice to come, through believing the revelation thus far given. Since the cross, man has been saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom revelation and redemption have been consummated. On man's part, the continuing requirement is obedience to the revelation of God. This obedience is referred to as stewardship of faith.

Although the divine revelation unfolds progressively, the deposit of truth in earlier time-periods is not discarded, rather it is cumulative. Thus conscience (moral responsibility) is an abiding truth in human life (Romans. 2:15; 9:1), although it does not continue as a dispensation. Similarly, the saved of this present dispensation are "not under law" as a specific test of obedience to divine revelation (Galatians. 5:18; 2:16; 3:11), yet the law remains an integral part of Dispensational teaching.

The Law clarifies that, although Christ fulfilled the law for us, by it we have had the knowledge of sin(Romans 7:7), and it is an integral part of the Holy Scriptures, which, to the redeemed, are profitable for "training in righteousness" (2 Titus. 3:16–17; Romans. 15:4). The purpose of each dispensation, then, is to place man under a specific rule of conduct, but such stewardship is not a condition of salvation. In every past dispensation unregenerate man has failed, much like he is failing in the present dispensation, and will fail in the future until Eternity arrives. Salvation has been and will continue to be available to everyone by God's grace through faith. (The New Scofield Study Bible, 1984, pg. 3–4).
 
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DISPENSATION 1

The first dispensation is called the Dispensation of Innocence (Genesis 1:28-30 and 2:15-17). This dispensation covered the period of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In this dispensation God's commands were to (1) replenish the earth with children, (2) subdue the earth, (3) have dominion over the animals, (4) care for the garden, and (5) abstain from eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God warned of the punishment of physical and spiritual death for disobedience. This dispensation was short-lived and was brought to an end by Adam and Eve’s disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit and their expulsion from the garden.
A proof of the Dispensation of Innocence is this: God did not introduce the serpent to Adam! Everyone and everything was innocent.


DISPENSATION 2

The second dispensation is called the Dispensation of Conscience, and it lasted about 1,656 years from the time of Adam and Eve’s eviction from the garden until the flood (Genesis 3:8–8:22). This dispensation demonstrates what mankind will do if left to his own will and conscience, which have been tainted by the inherited sin nature. The five major aspects of this dispensation are 1) a curse on the serpent, 2) a change in womanhood and childbearing, 3) a curse on nature, 4) the imposing of difficult work on mankind to produce food, and 5) the promise of Christ as the seed who will bruise the serpent's  head (Satan). 


DISPENSATION 3

The third dispensation is the Dispensation of Human Government, which began in Genesis 8. God had destroyed life on earth with a flood, saving just one family to restart the human race. God made the following promises and commands to Noah and his family:

Take note: It was the dispensation of the government of the likes of Nimrod Cush;
the son of Cush, grandson of Ham, and great-grandson of Noah. (1 Chronicles 1:10, Micah 5:6)]


Noah’s descendants did not scatter and fill the earth as God had commanded, thus failing in their responsibility in this dispensation. About 325 years after the flood, the earth’s inhabitants began building a tower, a great monument to their solidarity and pride (Genesis 11:7-9). God brought the construction to a halt, creating different languages and enforcing His command to fill the earth. The result was the rise of different nations and cultures. From that point on, human governments have been a reality.

DISPENSATION 4

DISPENSATION 5

The fifth dispensation is called the Dispensation of Law. It lasted almost 1,500 years, from the Exodus until it was suspended after Jesus Christ’s death. This dispensation will continue during the Millennium, with some modifications. During the Dispensation of Law, God dealt specifically with the Jewish nation through the Mosaic Covenant, or the Law, found in Exodus 19–23. The dispensation involved temple worship directed by priests, with further direction spoken through God’s mouthpieces, the prophets. Eventually, due to the people’s disobedience to the covenant, the tribes of Israel lost the Promised Land and were subjected to bondage.

DISPENSATION 6

The sixth dispensation, the one in which we now live, is the Dispensation of Grace. It began with the New Covenant in Christ’s blood (Luke 22:20). This “Age of Grace” or “Church Age” occurs between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel 9:24. It starts with the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and ends with the Rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4). This dispensation is worldwide and includes both Jews and the Gentiles. Man’s responsibility during the Dispensation of Grace is to believe in Jesus, the Son of God (John 3:18). In this dispensation the Holy Spirit indwells believers as the Comforter (John 14:16-26). This dispensation has lasted for over 2,000 years, and no one knows when it will end. We do know that it will end with the Rapture of all born-again believers from the earth to go to heaven with Christ. Following the Rapture will be the judgments of God lasting for seven years.

DISPENSATION 7

The seventh dispensation is called the Millennial Kingdom of Christ and will last for 1,000 years as Christ Himself rules on earth. This Kingdom will fulfill the prophecy to the Jewish nation that Christ will return and be their King. The only people allowed to enter the Kingdom are the born-again believers from the Age of Grace and righteous survivors of the seven years of tribulation. No unsaved person is allowed access into this kingdom. Satan is bound during the 1,000 years. This period ends with the final judgment (Revelation 20:11-14). The old world is destroyed by fire, and the New Heaven and New Earth of Revelation 21 and 22 will begin.

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