What is Dispensationalism?


The Bible (KJV) says, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” (Eph. 1: 10).

In theology a dispensation is a dispensational interpretation of history. C. I Scofield says, “A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.”

John N. Darby (1800-1882) is considered the founder of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was advanced by L. S. Chafer, E. W. Bullinger, J. F. Walvoord, J. D. Pentecost, and C. C. Ryrie, but was popularized by C. I. Scofield through his Scofield Reference Bible.

C. I. Scofield identifies seven dispensations. H. L. Willmington (Willmington’s Guide to the Bible), identifies nine dispensations. He includes The Tribulation as a dispensation and The Eternal State as a dispensation.

In each dispensation there is an entity that represents God’s authority and man is responsible for submitting to that authority and when he fails is accountable to God.

According to both Scofield and Willmington the dispensations are as follows.

(1). The Dispensation of Innocency: (Gen. 1: 26-3: 6) Man was created in innocency, . . . in a perfect environment, (given)  . . . a simple test, and warned of the consequences of disobedience. They failed the test (1 Tim. 2: 14). God restored them but the dispensation ended in the judgment of their Expulsion (Gen. 8: 20).

(2). The Dispensation of the Conscience: (Gen. 3: 7-6: 7) By their disobedience man came to a personal and experimental knowledge of good and evil. Through that knowledge conscience awoke and man was responsible for doing all known good, and to abstain from all known evil. Man failed once again (Gen. 6: 5)  and this dispensation ended in the judgment of the Flood (Gen. 6 -8).

(3). The Dispensation of Human Government: (Gen. 6: 8-11: 9) Man is responsible for governing the world for God. That man governed for self and not God is apparent. Man failed again and this dispensation ended with judgment of the confusion of tongues at Babel (Gen. 11: 9).

(4). The Dispensation of Promise: (Gen. 11: 10-Ex. 18: 27) Israel, the descendants of Abraham had to only dwell in their land to inherit God’s promised blessings. When they went to Egypt, they lost their blessings but not the covenant God made with Abraham that including his seed. This dispensation ended when Israel rashly accepted the Law (Ex. 19: 8).

(5). The Dispensation of the Law: (Ex.19:1-Acts 1: 26) This dispensation extends from Sinai to Calvary—from the Exodus to the Cross. The testing of the nation of Israel by law ended in the judgment of the Captivities, but the dispensation actually ended at the Cross.

(6). The Dispensation of Grace: (Acts 2: 1-Rev. 5: 14) This dispensation begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition for salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation (Jn. 1: 12; 13: 3). The immediate result of this testing was the rejection of Christ by the Jews, and His crucifixion by Jew and Gentile (Acts 4: 27). The end of this dispensation is the rapture of the church and the judgment of God on a Christ-rejecting world through the Tribulation Period.

(7). The Dispensation of the Kingdom/ Fulness of Times/ Rule of the Lamb: (Rev. 20: 4, 5- Rev. 22: 21) This dispensation is seen by Scofield as beginning at the end of the Tribulation and the start of the Millennial Reign of Christ (Rev. 20) and to continue on through and include the eternal state with a new Heaven and a new Earth (Rev. 21). It is seen by Willmington as ending at the close of Christ Millennial Reign (Rev. 20: 15) where he identifies the Dispensation of the New Creation of the Lamb as beginning and then going on eternally.

In this dispensation all things are headed up and summed up in Christ Who will rule and reign. (A). The time of oppression and misrule ends with Christ taking the throne of the kingdom (Is. 11: 3, 4). (B). The time of testimony and divine forbearance ends in judgment (Mt. 25: 31-46). (C). The time of toil ends in rest and reward (2 Thess. 1: 6, 7). (D). The time of suffering ends in glory (Rom. 8: 17, 18). The curse of sin is lifted (Gen. 3: 17; Is. 11: 6-8; Rom. 8: 19-21). At the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20: 11-15), sin and sinners are eternally eradicated from the presence of God by being cast into the lake of fire. (E). All God’s covenant promises to Israel are fulfilled (2 Sam. 7: 8-17; 2 Chr.13: 5; Ezek. 40-48; Zech. 12: 8).

Finally all things are reconciled back to God through Jesus Christ and He will deliver the kingdom back to the Father (1 Cor. 15: 24).

James H. Cagle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *