Defining Dispensationalism

By Jerry Wierwille

The first part of this class that covers biblical frameworks, begins by giving an overview of Dispensationalism that includes an explanation of the principles, structure, and unique features of this biblical framework and how it operates as a hermeneutic for interpreting the story of Scripture.

Dispensationalism — “Dispensationalism is a system of thought used to interpret the Bible. It considers biblical history as divided by God into ‘dispensations,’ which are defined periods of time in which God administrates his redemptive plans and relates to humanity through certain distinct principles and revelation.”

Dispensation — “A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose.” (Ryrie)

Hermeneutic — “A framework or set of principles that is used in the process of interpretation.” Hermeneutics are guiding principles and presuppositions that form the rational basis for how to draw conclusions from biblical data.

The Development of Dispensationalism

  1. The foundational period: 1885–1920 (John Nelson Darby).
  2. The classical period: 1920–1950 (C.I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer).
  3. The defining period: 1950–1990 (Alva J. McClain, John F. Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, Charles C. Ryrie).
  4. The progressive period: 1990–present (Darrell L. Bock, Craig A. Blaising, Robert
    L. Saucy).

The Tenets of Dispensationalism

  1. A clear distinction between Israel and the Church
  2. A consistent “literal interpretation” hermeneutic to all areas of Scripture
  3. The glory of God as the underlying purpose of God in history

Three Reasons Supporting a Strict, Literal Interpretation of Scripture

  1. Philosophically, the purpose of language itself seems to require literal interpretation.
  2. Biblically, the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the first coming of Christ — His birth, His rearing, His ministry; His death, His resurrection — were all
    fulfilled literally.
  3. Logically, if one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost.  There would be no check on the variety of interpretations that a person’s imagination could produce if there were not an objective standard, which the literal principle provides.

Dispensations in the Bible

The word “dispensation” is a translation of the Greek word oikonomia.

oikonomia – Lit. “the management of a household,” but in reference to God, it refers to the arrangement of his relationship with humankind and the administration of his plans
of redemption.

There are TWO dispensations directly mentioned in Scripture.

  1. Dispensation of the Grace of God / Sacred Secret
    1. Ephesians 3:2-3, 9
    2. Col 1:25
  2. Dispensation of the Fulness of Times
    1. Ephesians 1:9-10

Seven Dispensations in the Bible

  1. Innocence (Gen 1:1– 3:7)
  2. Conscience (Gen 3:8 – 8:22)
  3. Human Government (Gen 9:1 – 11:32)
  4. Promise (Gen 12:1– Exod 19:25)
  5. Law (Exod 20:1– Acts 2:4)
  6. Grace (Acts 2:4 – Rev 20:3)
  7. Kingdom (Rev 20:4-6)

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