Dispensations Encyclopedia


Dispensations or administrations are the various ordered dealings of God with men on the earth at different times. The Children of Israel in the Old Testament were in a different dispensation than we are in today. In the Millennium, inhabitants of the earth will live in a different dispensation than we are in today. Having an understanding of these changes in God's dealings is tremendously important. Our behavior as Christians is largely based on the principles that God has given to us in the present dispensation.

Dispensational truth really has to do with understanding God’s eternal purpose, and the methodical plan by which He will accomplish that purpose. It involves getting an understanding of the context of scripture before we make an application. For example, a scripture commanding parents to put to death a rebellious child is in the context of Israel under the Law, etc. 
The word “Dispensation”. The word dispensation is a compound word, being composed of two smaller words; “house” and “law”. Its primary meaning would be the administration of a household, including the law, rules, regulations, and administrative order of the household. There are four words which relate closely to dispensations. They are Strong’s numbers G3620-G3623. The words in this family all have to do with buildings or houses of some kind. For example, G3619 is “building” and G3624 is “house”.
The Economy Itself (Noun)
Oikonomia | trans-literated 'HOME-LAW' | Strong's G3622
definition: the management of a household or of household affairs
  1. Economy or Stewardship; reference Luke 16:2-4, 1 Cor. 9:17,
  2. Dispensation or Administration; reference Eph. 1:10, Eph. 3:2, Eph. 3:9, Col. 1:25
The Administrator of the Economy (Noun)
Oikonomos | trans-literated 'HOME-LAWer' | Strong's G3623 (see G3621)
definition: the manager of household or of household affairs
  1. An Economist or Steward; reference Luke 12:42; 16:1; 1 Cor. 4:1, 2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 4:10
  2. Governor; reference Gal. 4:2
  3. Chamberlain; reference Rom. 16:23
Building the Economy (Verb)
Oikodomia | trans-literated 'HOME-BUILDING' | Strong's G3620
definition: the act of building a house or strengthening an established order
  1. Further God's dispensation (administration); reference 1 Tim. 1:4
It is helpful to picture a large nobleman’s house, with dozens of rooms and dozens of servants. There is an administrative order to the house including certain laws set out by the lord or lady, regulations and instructions set out by the steward or chief butler, etc. All this might be referred to as the “law of the house” or the "dispensation". When the house gets a new owner, some of those things will change, and a new administration will be set up. God has not always kept the same “house law” down through the millennia. At times He has changed His economy with man (think of supply and demand), dispensing different things (supply), and requiring different things from man in return (demand).
Changes in dispensations. Has God always operated on the same "rules" toward men? A simple test:
  • Are Christians under the Law? No. (Rom. 6:14) Something has changed!
  • Are Christians to defend themselves with physical violence? No. (Luke 6:29) Something has changed!
  • Was the Spirit of God permanently on earth in the Old Testament? No. (John 3:34) Something has changed!

For a great example of how the "house rules" have changed, look at the restrictions God has put on eating meat and blood. Previous to the flood, God had only approved a vegetarian diet. Then, coming off the ark, Noah was told that man could now eat meat, but not the blood. In the Law, God told Moses that animals were divided into two classes; clean and unclean (Leviticus 11). The added restriction was that Israel couldn't eat the unclean animals. In Acts 10, God told Peter that the restriction on unclean animals had been repealed, but in Acts 15 we find that the prohibition against eating blood still remained. In the Millennium, hunting of animals will be completely eliminated (Hos. 2:18) with the exception of fishing (Ezek. 47:10)! So we can clearly see how the "house rules" changed with regard to meat, and yet the prohibition of blood remained constant!

Noah to Moses   The Law   The Church   The Millennium
All meat allowed
No blood
Only clean animals
No blood
All meat allowed
No blood
Only fish allowed
No blood
Whenever we read of God repenting (or changing His mind) it has to do with His dispensational ways. His moral ways never change (Mal. 3:6), and His eternal purpose never changes (Eph. 1:10).
A dispensation therefore, is an ordered dealing of God with men on the earth; i.e. a moral economy, comprised of certain principles that God has chosen to set forth on the earth for a specific purpose, with a view to the glory of His Son.
Dispensations and Ages. Titus 1:2 tells us that ages are certain epochs within the long range of time. Dispensations, on the other hand, are never defined in terms of time, although they do occur within the framework of time. It is important to distinguish between ages ('aion') and dispensations ('oikonomia').
Dispensations and Administrations. As we have already shown, the word 'oikonomia' is translated as both 'dispensation' and 'administration'. However, the word is used in slightly different ways to convey a slightly different thought, just as the words dispensation and administration convey slightly different thoughts. The word dispensation conveys the thought of something dispensed, or given by God. You might refer to a new law passed as a new dispensation. For instance, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 was a new dispensation of the Unites States government. The word administration conveys the thought of those new laws being carried out in practice. For instance, you might refer to the entire government of the United States over the years of 2009 to 2016 as the Obama Administration. So in scripture, there are certain principles that God gave at various times for His people on earth; principles which can be called 'dispensations'. There are also broad dealings of God with men where those principles are carried out; i.e. periods which can be called 'administrations'. There are two administrations that are explicitly identified as such in scripture, and a third that can be identified indirectly. These three administrations are: (1) the law, (2) the mystery, and (3) the millennium.
How many dispensations? Writers disagree on the exact number… I would say, if you look at God’s ways with men, you have to include government before Israel, and perhaps the calling of Abraham, in which case you have five dispensations. If you merely look at the collective people of God (Israel forward), you have three major dispensations, with their distinctive features:
  1. Dispensation of the law (man tested under law)
  2. Dispensation of the mystery (Spirit indwells us)
  3. Dispensation of the fullness of times (the Millennium)