A system of order for a household by which the steward dispenses rules and provides for the household according to the owner’s requirements. God uses dispensations to show something to humans about themselves.
Copyright © 2017 Luther Walker. All rights reserved.
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This book is only valuable where it correctly represents the concepts that are in the Word of God. Although the author strives to accurately explain the Word of God, he encourages the reader to always compare every precept presented with Scripture, for it is only God’s Word that is authoritative in the life of a believer.
“Dispensation” comes from a Greek word that is a combination of the words, “house” and “law”. It is the standard by which a household is managed.
Dispensation is not unique to Scripture. The concept of a steward running a household by the standards that the master sets are well recorded in human history, dating back thousands of centuries. Today we do not tend to use the word “dispensation”, rather, we use “administration”; however, the concept is the same. Scripture uses this well-known concept of a dispensations (or administration) to reveal to us what God is doing in relation to humans and how to properly discern the standards God has set for the household we are in. In Luke 12:42, 43 we have an example of what a steward does. "Who is the faithful steward and wise whom the lord may set over his servants, to give portions of food in due season? Happy is this slave, which the lord, having come, will find doing thusly."
Scripture defines what a dispensation is and gives us the standard by which we can discern all of the dispensations that are revealed by God. Scripture specifically states two of the dispensations, the dispensation of grace, and the dispensation of the fullness of times. Along with these two dispensations, when we examine how the concept of a stewardship works in Scripture and history we are provided with a solid foundation for the requirements for any dispensation. Applying these standards will result in a proper understanding of the seven dispensations revealed in Scripture.
Therefore, all dispensations must have:
- An owner of the household – In Scripture this is always God.
- A set of rules for the household that are not the same as the previous or other dispensations. e.g. Abraham was not under law, as Israel was not under grace.
- A different steward for each dispensation that manages the household.
- Those who make up the household.
Scripture instructs us to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to the God, an unashamed workman cutting straight the Word of the Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). God would not have told us to cut the word straight if we did not need to make distinctions in Scripture. It is very clear that some parts of the Scriptures are for only the Jewish nations, where other parts are specific to the Christian. Rightly dividing the Word is correctly identifying information that is to be learned for our understanding and admonishment, but not practices, and the doctrine we are to live by today.
The purpose for a dispensation is that God is showing something to humans about themselves. This is done through circumstances and standards affecting either the entire human race or a select portion that God chooses to deal with at that time. Unlike an age, which reveals to intelligent beings something about God, dispensations are restricted to humans and within time.
The sixty-six books of the Bible span thousands of years of human history and beyond. It begins before God created humans and ends with the creation of new heavens and a new earth where righteousness settles down and feels at ease (2 Peter 3:13; Job 38:7 When the angels saw the universe created; Ezekiel 28:13 Lucifer reigned from earth before humans were created). Within the pages of the Bible, we see changes in the relationship and expectations that God has with and for humans, and the failure of humans to follow Him, which ultimately brings destruction. In the garden of Eden, Adam was not allowed to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17 the tree was the knowledge of that which is beneficial and that which lacks in character. But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil do not eat from it because in the day you eat from it dying you will die). Upon eating from the fruit of this tree, Adam’s spirit was separated from God (Romans 5:12-21), he became subject to physical death, and he was expelled from the garden (Genesis 3:1-24 God told Adam that if he ate of the tree, dying he would die). Having been barred from the garden, the expectation then for humans was to properly govern the manner of their lives by the knowledge of good and evil that they now possessed and rule over the nature they inherited from Adam (Genesis 4:6-7). However, again humans failed by choosing evil over good and God judged the earth by bringing a flood (Genesis 6:17). After the flood, God instructs Noah that humans are to govern themselves and capital punishment is implemented (Genesis 9:1-7). Again, they failed to follow God's instruction, rejected God, and sought their own way; therefore, they brought judgment upon themselves (Genesis 11:1-9; Romans 1:18-32). This judgment brought about multiple languages and the division of the continents, which forced humans to spread out across the earth (Genesis 10:25). Having scattered them, God then approached Abram and ultimately offers him four covenants (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 15:7-21; Genesis 17:1-14). These covenants included a promise of land that Abraham and his descendants were to guard (In Genesis 17:5 God changed Abram's name to Abraham). However, Abraham's descendants rejected God's way and destruction came yet again (Exodus 19:3-8 The Israelites said, "You keep telling us what to do and we will do it". They did not accept guarding the covenant of promise.). Rather than living by promise, now the children of Abraham had to live by law, which again ends in failure, even though they are the ones that requested it from God. Through the failure of those living under law, God brought about a new standard in which humans are to live by grace out from faith (Romans 6:14, 15; Galatians 2:21; Romans 1:17 the just will live out from faith. Hebrews 11:1 – faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of accomplished deeds not seen.). This is our current state. Unfortunately, this will also end in failure. The final dispensation is revealed in the millennial kingdom where Christ will rule over the earth from the New Jerusalem (Revelation 20:6 [The church will reign with Christ]; Matthew 5:1-7:28 the rules for those who will live in the millennial kingdom – not for the Church) and righteousness will be the rule of His kingdom. However, even being in a perfect world and knowing God, humans will choose to reject Him again and bring judgment upon themselves (Revelation 20:9)
With all this information, how are we to know what to apply to our lives? What is the standard by which God expects us to live today? Are we to apply all the Scriptures to our lives, even though that produces conflict? In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul states that a workman is to rightly divide, or cut straight the Word of God. This dividing has to do with what is applied for practice and what is to be known, but not practiced (All Scripture is God breathed and profitable towards teaching [information learned but not practiced], towards reproof, towards correction, towards child training in righteousness [doctrine to be practiced]). When it comes to the topic of rightly dividing Scripture, we could look at the different words for doctrine; however, I want to discuss not so much the specific doctrine by which we live, but how we identify the areas in Scripture that we apply to our lives as Christians.
In order to understand why steward (οἰκονομος) and dispensation (οἰκονομια) have any significance in what parts of Scripture we can apply to our Christian lives, or even why we would divide Scripture, first we need to look at what they mean and how they are used, then we can apply to Scripture what we have learned and understand not only how to divide Scripture properly, but also why we should divide it. Since we are looking at how steward (οἰκονομος) is used in Scripture, we are also going to see two other areas that this word is used in which it has significance in our lives today but does not relate to dividing Scripture (Dividing is only being used in the sense of what information is for practice and what is for learning. The whole of Scripture is for the saint today and no part is left out. It is just as important to know the God we serve as it is to follow His instructions). The first area is the likeness of a Pastor to a steward, and the second use is how we are to manage our Spiritual gift as stewards. We will begin with discussing what steward (οἰκονομος) and dispensation (οἰκονομια) mean and their application in dividing Scripture properly, then we will discuss the other two uses.
Οἰκονομια, means “dispensation” or “administration”, and is used 9 times in Scripture to describe either a period in human history or a stewardship (Luke 16:2 – 4; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Ephesians 1:10; 3:2, 9; Colossians 1:25; 1 Timothy 1:4). Οἰκονομος, means “steward”, and is used 10 times in Scripture for the servant placed over the household to manage it (Luke 12:42; 16:1, 3, 8, 23; 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2; Galatians 4:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10). These words come from a combination of two Greek words: house (οίκος) and law (νόμος [The verb of νόμος is νἐμω which means to administer or dispense]). By putting these two words together we get the meaning “house law”, which comes across in English as dispensation.
The concept of a stewardship is not a foreign idea to Scripture or human history. Throughout Scripture, there are many examples, in many different cultures that show how a household functioned under a stewardship. When we observe these examples, we find three common requirements. For each house there was a master, a steward, and those who were in the house, whether slaves or children. The master owned, and ultimately ruled over the house; however, often he appointed a steward who oversaw the daily tasks of the house; assigned work, dispensed supplies, and managed the affairs of the house. In Luke 12:42, 43 we have an example of what a steward does. "Who then is the faithful steward and prudent, whom the lord may set over his servants to give the grain, dispensing in due season? Happy is that slave, whom the lord, when having come, will find doing thusly." The Septuagint (Old Testament translated into Greek) uses steward (οἰκονομος) fifteen times to translate the Hebrew word “al havaith” (עַל-הַבָיִת); which has the same basic idea. In Genesis 15:2 Abraham had a steward named Eliezer, who would have inherited Abraham's possessions if he remained childless. In Genesis, Joseph, the son of Israel (Jacob), whose brothers sold him as a slave, became the steward of the nation of Egypt. Before he became the steward of Egypt, he was placed over the house of the one who purchased him. As a steward, the entire household was put in his hands, in so much that the master did not even know what he had, only the food that he ate(Genesis 39:1-6). When Joseph is placed over all of Egypt, he is given authority to rule the people and only Pharaoh himself was greater (Genesis 41:40-45). Even during Jesus' time upon the earth stewards were still in use. Jesus uses an example based upon an unjust steward in Luke 16:1-9. "Now He was also saying to the disciples, there was a certain rich man who had a steward, and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward." This steward was responsible for developing and protecting the rich man's possessions. However, he was found to be wasting them and was therefore removed from his stewardship. Also, in the New Testament, Romans 16:23 informs us of Erastus, the steward of a city. Erastus would be the man that managed the affairs of the City. From these sections of Scripture, we can determine that the normal use of the words for dispensation and steward refer to a household and the management of the house, which requires a master of the house, a steward, and individuals that are a part of the house; however, we still need Scriptural support to divide the Scriptures up by dispensations.
Scripture is not designed to be taken allegorically; rather, just like any other historical account it is to be taken literally, according to the normal use of language. Therefore, we cannot just take any concept and apply it to Scripture and expect it to be true. The New Testament was written in the common Greek language of that day, so it should be translated accordingly as any other document from that time period. We can apply the concept of a dispensation to dividing Scripture only because God applies it within His Word and by it reveals them to us. In Ephesians 1:9, 10 Paul is writing about the fact that God has made the mystery of His desirous will known to us. His will, the one according to His good pleasures and purpose, is that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He will gather all things together in Christ. Here God uses "dispensation" to describe a period of time in which He will bring all humans under the direct authority of Christ as He reigns from the New Jerusalem. Ephesians 3:2 states that Paul was given the stewardship over the dispensation of grace. "Since indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God, the one given to me for you." This dispensation is a period of time in human history that was kept secret from the beginning of the ages, but was given to Paul to bring it to light, Ephesians 3:9. As the steward of the dispensation of grace, God entrusted Paul with the mysteries that pertain to this dispensation, 1 Corinthians 4:1. A mystery is information about God’s plan that was kept hidden but has now been revealed, Colossians 1:26. The mystery of Israel's blindness (Romans 11:25), the Christ(Ephesians 3:4), the man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:7), Christ in you (Colossians 1:27), the faith (1 Timothy 3:9), not all will see death (1 Corinthians 15:51), and godliness (1 Timothy 3:16) were all entrusted to Paul and as the steward of this dispensation he passed those on to us, those of the household of grace. Scripture even states that Moses was over a household and draws a contrast between the house Moses was in and Christ's house (Hebrews 3:6). Hebrews 3:4-6 "For every house is prepared by someone, but the One who prepared all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all his house as an attendant (θεράπων, a willing attendant or trusted servant), for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later. But Christ according as a Son over his house, whose house we are if we hold fast the boldness and boast of hope firm until the end."
Since God has divided sections of human history into dispensations, we can legitimately take this same concept, using the principles He reveals in identifying a dispensation, and apply it to the whole of Scripture to determine accurately the number of dispensations revealed to us through His Word. However, we do not want to divide Scripture excessively, that is, to make more dispensations than exist. We need to apply this concept correctly. In order to prevent going astray, we should set some guidelines according to the normal use of the words steward (οἰκονομος) and dispensation (οἰκονομια). Through the use of these words, we see that there must be a master of the household, a steward, and those within the house. The steward is a part of the house, but is put above those within the house to provide instructions from the master for the household. When it comes to Scripture, the master of the house is obviously God, so that part is covered. Therefore, each dispensation must have a steward and those who are in the household before it can qualify as a dispensation. Also, as we examine Scripture, we will see that the same steward is never placed over more than one house and the same rules are not applied to different houses. Therefore, we are not going to have a change in dispensation with the same steward, or a change in stewards within the same dispensation, or using the same rules for more than one dispensation. (If the same rules were used, then there would be no need to change the dispensation). In order for someone to be considered as the steward of a dispensation, God would have given him specific instructions on the standards that those in the household are to live by and is therefore responsible for passing these instructions on to all others in that household, or specifically stated to be the steward of a dispensation in Scripture. With this in mind, let us look at Scripture as a whole.
When we go back to Genesis, we do not have to read very far to find God giving instructions to Adam on the standard by which he and all others at that time were to live. He could eat from any of the trees of the garden except for the tree in the midst of the garden; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:16, 17 "and the LORD God commanded the man, saying, from any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it dying you will die." Adam then passed this information on to Eve. There is not a specific record of Adam passing it on, however, God gave the instructions to Adam before He formed the woman and when Satan tempts Eve, she gave a slightly different version. She stated that not only are you not to eat of the tree, you are not to even touch the tree, which Adam no doubt added to God's instructions, Genesis 3:1-3. If God had told her the rules, then she would not have added more information to them when Satan tempted her. This is the first recorded dispensation of Scripture. God gave Adam instructions, and he was expected to relay those instructions to everyone else. Now at this time the only other human was Eve; however, this still meets the requirements for a dispensation. God is the master, Adam is the steward, and Eve is a member of the house.
Since God did not choose to state when each dispensation started and ended, in order to keep them straight in our minds we can name the dispensation. The easiest way to do this is to take the characteristics of the dispensation and use it for the name. In the case with Adam and Eve, when they were in the garden both were in a state of innocence; they did not have the knowledge of good and evil. The standard they were to live by was to remain innocence – Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, if we call this period in human history the Dispensation of Innocence we have a title that immediately identifies with the household. The Dispensation of Innocence ended when Adam broke the law and God administered punishment (Although Eve ate from the tree first and broke the law she did it out of ignorance, Adam on the other hand was not deceived by Satan; rather, he chose to disobey God, 1 Timothy 2:14). This punishment involved spiritual death, subjection to physical death, a curse upon the earth, the requirement to eat by the sweat of the brow, pain in child birth, and expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:14-24). The length of this dispensation was about 100 years. In Genesis 5:3, when Adam had his third son he was 130 years old (Genesis 5:3). Since God created time (Genesis 1:14-16) before He created humans there is no reason to take this age as anything other than Adam’s actual age, including his time in the Garden. The issue with Cain and Abel had already happened when Seth was born, so subtracting for the time it would have taken them to grow into men it leaves us with about 100 years in the Garden.
Now, Adam is no longer the steward and humans can no longer access the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, nor eat of the fruit of the other trees in the garden because the way to them has been blocked by Cherubim (Genesis 3:24), the highest created form of spirit beings, and are therefore not under that law anymore. Now that humans know the difference between good and evil, it is their responsibility to properly govern the manner of their lives according to their conscience. The conscience is the part of our mind that lines up our actions with what we know is good or evil and when our actions violate this knowledge, it causes us grief (Romans 2:15); otherwise, it excuses our action. Although Scripture does not specifically state that the next dispensation is the Dispensation of Conscience, by looking at the characteristics of how humans were to govern their lives we find it was by the knowledge of what is good and evil; by their conscience.
In the fourth chapter of Genesis, we are brought into the lives of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam, during a time when both brought an offering before the Lord. Cain knew what was acceptable for an offering but chose rather to offer the works of his own labor. Since it was not suitable, God did not look upon it and this caused Cain to become angry (Genesis 4:4,5). Shortly after that, God specifically told Cain what was expected of humans at that time. If he did well he would be approved. However, if he did evil, then the sin nature lies at the door and he was to rule over the desires from his sin nature (Genesis 4:7. In verse 14 Cain tells God that his perversity is too great for him to bear. This is often translated punishment; however, the Hebrew word “עון” means perversity and is used to describe the sin nature.). Cain was the one that was given these instructions by God and should have passed them on, but rather he chose to slay his brother as a sacrifice (Genesis 4:8; 1 John 3:12 – the Greek word translated slaughter is a word that is used for how a sacrificed animal is slain). God did not give Cain a law like Adam was given; rather, Cain was responsible for properly using the knowledge that he had. Although Cain was punished for slaying Abel, he was still liable as the steward to dispense the instructions he received from God to the household; therefore, the dispensation does not end until every intent of the thoughts of humans become evil continually all the day long (Genesis 6:5) and the whole earth was filled with violence (This violence is more of an indifference type of violence, that is, it is not people going around killing each other anytime they meet; rather, they if they could get and advantage over another to cause them harm they would take that opportunity to do evil). Humans have failed again, and judgment was upon them (Genesis 7 – the Noahic flood). This is the second time in history that they have brought a disastrous punishment upon themselves through disobedience and rejecting God. This dispensation lasted about 1600 years and was abruptly ended by God bringing a flood that not only opened the fountains of the deep, but also collapsed the ice canopy over the earth (Genesis 1:7; Genesis 7:11).
After the flood, God gives Noah instructions on the conduct that He would require of humans. In this new administration, a person is now liable with his own life if he murders another person. In addition, the dietary requirements of humans have changed, allowing them to eat animal flesh, and they were to spread out and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1-7). Under the Dispensation of Conscience when Cain slew Abel, God marked him so that no one else would kill him and sent him away to be a vagabond (Genesis 4:12). Under this new dispensation, Noah is instructed that if a person takes the life of another, his life is to be taken by men (Genesis 9:6). The failure of this dispensation was twofold. Those that murdered where not put to death and the people did not scatter to fill the earth; they disobeyed God and chose to stay together (Genesis 10: 9; Genesis 11:1-4). Again, God has not placed a law upon humans like He did with Adam; rather, they are to properly govern themselves. It took only three generations before God’s standard was rejected by humans. Nimrod became a hunter of mighty men and setup the kingdom of Babel through violence (Genesis 10:8, 9 The Hebrew adjective “mighty” in this passage is in the predicate position, “He was a hunter of mighty ones”, not in the attributive position, “a mighty hunter”. Nimrod is not described as a might hunter, but one who hunts might men, which are men of authority. Therefore, he setup his kingdom through violence). Rather than obeying God, humans chose not only to stay together in the valley of Shinar, but also rejected Him and began worshiping the creation, even making a tower to worship the heavens (And they said, “Let us give and build for us a city and a tower with reference to the heavens …” Genesis 11:4) and to survive the punishment from God that they knew would be brought upon them because of their actions (Romans 1:18-32). As a result of their failure, God brought a division of languages (Genesis 11:7; Genesis 10:25) that still remains to this day, and broke up the continent; therefore, forcing humans to scatter across the earth (Genesis 11:5-9). Within 100 years of the flood, humans went from knowing God to rejecting Him, worshiping sticks and stones, and were doing the very same corruption they were involved with before the flood that had brought judgment upon the entire world. Although they anticipated a flood would result from their corruptions, God made a covenant with Noah and all flesh upon the earth that He would not again flood the entire earth (Genesis 9:11). This was the second time that the earth had been destroyed by a flood (2 Peter 3:5; Genesis 1:2 When Lucifer sinned, God covered the earth with water, destroying his throne, Isaiah 14:12-15.), it would not happen again; however, that did not mean that humans would not bring punishment upon themselves again through disobedience. Since the entire world at this time spoke the same language there was nothing to slow the spread of corruption from the sin nature. By making it so they cannot speak the same language, God was actually merciful to humans in this judgment.
The next dispensation, which would be the fourth one so far, is one that can be characterized as a dispensation of promise because God takes one man out of all of humans and makes four covenants with him based upon promises. Abraham, who was known as Abram before God changed his name (Genesis 17:5), was given the promise of land for him and his descendants. It starts with a personal promise to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, in which God stated He would make him a mighty nation, to bless those who bless him, to curse those who curse him, and by him all the families of the earth will be blessed. The first land covenant that God made with Abraham is in Genesis 15:18-21. This covenant was for a specific section of land that God would give Abraham and his descendants. God gave the second land covenant to Abraham in Genesis 17:1-8 where, at first glance it seems as though God is expanding on the first covenant; however, the second covenant involves a greater portion of land than the first, and that Abraham would be the father of many nations. In additions, once a covenant is made it cannot be modified or annulled (Galatians 3:15). As the steward of the Dispensation of Promise, Abraham was instructed by God that he and his seed were to guard His covenant, and that the third covenant was to stand as a sign of the second covenant (Genesis 17:9, 11). The third covenant was circumcision (Genesis 17:11-14).
There is a fourth covenant in Genesis 22:17 given to Abraham; however, this covenant was not for his seed as in plural, but for one seed. This one seed, who would be many, would possess the gates of his enemies and all the nations on the earth would be blessed in him. In Galatians 3:16 Paul states that this seed is Christ. Therefore, this covenant does not apply to the dispensation of promise. Rather this is a promise that the Messiah or as we now know Him, God the Son, will be incarnated through the seed of Abraham.
When God first gave Abraham a covenant, He also foretold what would happen to the nation of Israel. God spoke of a time that the whole nation would serve another nation for four hundred years, then God would take them out of that land and bring them into the land promised to Abraham in the first land covenant (Genesis 15:13-16). The failure of the dispensation of promise came after the nation of Israel was miraculously brought out from under slavery by the hand of God to stand before Him at Mount Sinai. There, through Moses, God reiterated the standard by which the nation of Israel was to live because upon hearing Him speak the people were afraid and did not wish for God to speak to them directly (Exodus 20:18, 19). They were to guard the covenant of land that was promised to their father, Abraham, and God would make them a nation of priest. However, rather than accepting this standard, the nation chose to show God how righteous they could be by their own actions and they responded with, "You keep on telling us what to do and we will do it" (Exodus 19:8: The action in the verb “do” is incomplete. They will keep on doing whatever the Lord says. You can also see in the context and by the response from God that the people rejected the promise. In verse nine God makes an offer to them to be a nation of priests, in verse 12 the people, who would have been priests, were not allowed to touch the mountain, they could not communicate with God as a priest; rather, they were given a priesthood from their brethren.). They rejected promise and requested law. Therefore, that is exactly what they received.
With Moses as the steward (Hebrews 3:2), God gave the Law and changed the dispensation from promise to law (Romans 3:19, 20). Although the people who are in the house did not change, the steward, and the rules of the household did change. The majority of the Old Testament and the beginning of the Gospels in the New Testament deals with the Dispensation of Law (Up until John 13 the gospels main speak of a time when man was still under law). During the Dispensation of Law, Israel was required to live by the Mosaic Law. Although God was not directly dealing with the Gentiles, a Gentile could become a proselyte of Judaism and have access to God in a limited way. The ultimate failure of this dispensation was Israel's rejection of the Messiah that God promised to provide through the seed of David (Romans 10:3).
The resurrection of Christ out from among dead men and the subsequent giving of the Holy Spirit by God the Father to all those who put their faith in Christ's death for their sins, and resurrection from the dead, ushered in a new dispensationActs 2:1-4; John 20; Luke 24; Matthew 28; Mark 16). Those who are in this household are not under the Mosaic Law, or any other law for that matter (Galatians 5:18; Romans 6:15). In this dispensation, all those in the household are to live by faith (Romans 1:17; Galatians 2:20; 3:11). Unlike the last two dispensations, access into this house is granted to both Jew and Gentile equally (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11; Romans 1:16).
The last dispensation mentioned in the Scriptures is found in Ephesians 1:10, the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. During this dispensation, Christ will reign over the earth from the New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12; 21:2), the church saints will reign with Him (Revelation 3:21; 4:4; 11:16; 2 Timothy 2:12), Israel will possess the land of the first covenant, Satan will be bound (Revelation 20:2), the world system will be destroyed (Psalm 2:8), and the sin nature is subdued by God's law being written in the hearts of the people (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Jesus himself gave the rules for this dispensation in Matthew chapters five through seven. The standard by which humans will live is very strict compared to other dispensations; however, with Satan bound, the sin nature subdued, and the world system destroyed, men will not have the distractions and negative influences of past dispensations.
When dividing Scripture, we do not want to overdo it. We do not want to make divisions where there are no divisions. Through the study of οἰκονομος and οἰκονομια, we can see that God makes specific distinctions between households; also referred to as dispensation. Although in the earlier dispensations, God does not specifically state what dispensations they are, we have an ample amount of information on the dispensations of Law, Grace, and the Fullness of Times, which gives us a proper standard to measure any division of Scripture by to ensure we are correctly dividing the Word of God. Excessive divisions in Scripture produces a theology that goes against what God is revealing in Scripture. Rather than taking and properly applying all of God's revelation for the grace believer, parts of Scripture are left out and others are misapplied. Some of these parts are very critical to our understanding of God's opinion of us and therefore affects how we govern our lives before Him. Those who tend to make unwarranted divisions in the Scriptures are often referred to as hyper-dispensationalists. They make a division in the dispensation of grace from what they call the Jewish-church and the Gentile-church. However, God does not use οἰκονομος and οἰκονομια in describing any division of time within the dispensation of grace. Not to mention there are many other Scriptures which speak against two churches, such as Galatians 3:28 where Scripture states that in Christ there is no difference between Jew and Gentile (Colossians 3:11; Ephesians 2:11-19 states that the wall separating the Jew and Gentile has been removed and both are now equally a part of the household of God.). We need to be cautious that as we divide Scripture we do not violate it. A division in Scripture is not going to cause disagreement within the Word of God that requires an allegorical interpretation of the Word to ignore the problem; rather, it should bring clarity. It is also not to be used to remove difficult passages to understand. When we do not apply the proper divisions to Scripture or do not apply any divisions, we begin to mix up the rules of the households and ultimately cause confusion and dissension. Two of the more dominant theologies that do not divide Scripture are covenant and reformed theology, although many times these two are blended together. I took a quote from a website that I thought did a rather good job of summing up covenant theology. "Covenant theology is based on the theory that God has only one covenant with men (the covenant of grace) and only one people, represented by the Old and New Testament saints—one people, one church and one plan for all. These beliefs require the adherents of covenant theology to interpret prophecy in a nonliteral way. "…"Those who hold to covenant theology believe that there is, and has always been, only one people of God. They believe that Israel was the Church in the Old Testament, and the Church is Israel in the New Testament. The promises of land, many descendants, and blessing to Israel in the Old Testament have been “spiritualized” and applied to the Church in the New Testament because of Israel’s unbelief and rejection of their Messiah. Those who hold to covenant theology also do not interpret prophecy in a normal sense. As an example, in Revelation 20, the thousand-year reign of Christ is spoken of. Covenant theology would say that the number 1,000 is symbolic and really does not mean a literal 1,000 years. They would say that we are in the millennium right now, that the reign of Christ with His saints is going on in heaven right now, and that the 1,000-year period is symbolic, beginning with the first coming of Christ and ending when He returns." Covenant theology ignores the divisions in Scripture that God Himself makes. Therefore, in order to prevent conflicts, it requires that the Scriptures are taken allegorically, which ultimately leads to perverting the meaning of the Scriptures; basing the understanding of Scripture upon the reader’s interpretation rather than its true literal meaning. Law is mixed with grace as the means by which a Christian is to live, even though Scripture specifically states that the Christians are not under any quality of law, but under grace (Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:18). Reformed theology tends to do the same things as covenant theology when it comes to dividing scripture and is often called covenant theology. However, reformed theology is much harder to define because it does not hold to a specific belief other than the denial of dispensations. Although reformed theology claims to believe in the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God and salvation by grace, there is a lot of division within its ranks, especially when it comes to how a person is saved and the Christian life. From reformed theology, we get a lot of false gospels, such as "make Jesus the Lord of your life," "repent of your self-ruled life", "accept Jesus into your heart", “repent of your sins”, and so on; rather than going by Scripture which states in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 that to be saved you must believe that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. Also, there is a large amount of confusion over what Scripture is applied to the Christian and how it is applied. These dissensions are the reason it is difficult to define reformed theology as a whole.
When dividing Scripture, we cannot just make a blanket statement that certain books only apply to one dispensation or another, context within each book should be considered. We know there is a definite distinction between the Old and New Testament. Christians are under the New Covenant, which is a better covenant that is built upon better promises (Hebrews 8:6). Although the Church is not under the Mosaic law, or any modification of it, the Old Testament is still for the Church, just not for practice; rather, it is for our admonishment (1 Corinthians 10:11). Properly dividing Scripture according to the rules God set on dispensations does not ignore any part of His Word; rather, it put them in a proper category so that we keep the information we are to learn but not practice, separate from the doctrine we are to put in to practice. Take for instance, events that took place during the life of Jesus in the Gospels. The Mosaic Law was still in effect and God expected the Jews to keep it throughout the majority of the Gospel accounts. It is not until John chapter thirteen that Jesus begins to reveal the new relationship that is coming between God and man. A new relationship that is made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This relationship was coming because those of the dispensation of law not only rejected God's law, but also were about to put the promised Messiah to death. Therefore, when reading through the Gospels it is important to take the context into consideration. Such as Matthew chapters 5 through 7, which cannot be applied to the Christian life because the context does not allow it. Jesus is speaking to the Jews about the rules of the Kingdom that He is offering, the one that God had promised. These Jews had no concept of, nor had Jesus revealed to them, the fact of his death, burial, and resurrection.
Rightly dividing the Word of God requires that we follow God in His division of Scripture, always consider the context, and do not apply something to our lives as Christians for practice that is for another dispensation.
Within the requirements for an Elder (Pastor) [Titus 1:4, 5 Titus is to appointed elders in each city. The overseer (Bishop) in 1:7 is used synonymous with elder.] that Paul is giving to Titus in Titus 1:7, he states that a Bishop is like a steward. Paul uses ὡς to express this likeness. A Bishop (Pastor) is not the steward of the dispensation, but rather his position is likened to that of a steward. A Bishop is to provide spiritual food so the saints have what they need to grow spiritually (1 Peter 5:2 feed the flock). However, a Bishop's similarity to a steward is not in the realm of ruling over the church. In 1 Peter 5:3, Peter states that elders are not to use their position to lord over the church. Lording over is expressed by the word κατακυριεύοντες, which means, “to hold in subjection”, or “exercise lordship over”. The same word is used in the description of how the gentile leaders treat their subjects when they hold a position of authority (Mark 10:42 the ones recognized as ruler lord their position over the gentile). An elder (Pastor) does not have this kind of authority over the church. Rather he is likened to a steward because he is responsible for spiritually feeding and shepherding the Church.
The Spiritual gift of Pastor even teacher was given to the Church for the edification of the Body as the members grow in their faith to bring a oneness in faith and a full experiential knowledge of the Son of God, so that the members of the Church are able to live up to God's opinion of them, no longer being tossed around by every wind of teaching by the trickery of men (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Each one of us, when we are placed into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, are given a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:13; 1 Peter 4:10 each one receives a gift). As part of the Body of Christ, we are to use our gift for the edification of the saints (Ephesians 4:12). In 1 Peter 4:10, we are instructed to use our gift to serve others within the Body of Christ in a similar manner as a steward. Just as Peter likened an elder to a steward, here he compares you to a steward in the realm of your Spiritual gift. You should be dispensing your Spiritual gift to the other saints to supply what they need for their edification.
An Elder is like a steward in the realm of providing Spiritual food for the Church. However, since we all are a part of one Body, and the Body has many parts, all of the other saints also have a part in providing for the Body (Ephesians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). The active Spiritual gifts today are: Evangelist (Ephesians 4:11); Pastor even teacher (Ephesians 4:11); serving (Romans 12:7 διακονίαν); helps (1 Corinthians 12:28); teacher (Romans 12:7 Different from a pastor); exhorter (Romans 12:8) ; giving (Romans 12:8); faith (1 Corinthians 12:9); administration (1 Corinthians 12:28 κυβέρνησι ςa governing, government;) organization (Romans 12:8 προΐστημι to be over, to superintend, preside over); and mercy (Romans 12:8). Each one of us who are in the Body of Christ has been given one of these Spiritual gifts and we are to use that gift similar to how a steward would provide for the needs of the household, dispensing it accordingly to the fulfillment of the needs of the saints.
There were Spiritual gifts that were given to the Church in its infancy so that the Saints were able to receive instructions from God on how to live properly in the dispensation of grace before the completion of the revelation that God was presenting through the Apostles. The gifts that are no longer active are: Apostle (Ephesians 4:12); prophet (Ephesians 4:12); the word of wisdom (Corinthians 12:8 wisdom is using knowledge correctly); the word of experiential knowledge ( 1 Corinthians 12:8 this is a knowledge that related to how the church was to function – and experiential knowledge.); gift of healings (1 Corinthians 12:9); working of miracles (1 Corinthians 12:10); discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10); speaking in another language (1 Corinthians 12:10 – this is a language that is known and goes to the point of being accurate even to the dialect, Acts 2:7-11. It was used to proclaim the wonderful works of God.); and interpretation of languages (1 Corinthians 12:10 the ability to understand what another person, who is using their spiritual gift of speaking in another language, is saying when they are not speaking in your language.). These gifts are no longer in use because we now have the full revelation (1 Corinthians 13:7-10 the thing in part is revelation. Once the revelation has been completely given, the gifts that are used to bring and validate the Word of God are no longer necessary). God is not giving any new revelation. Therefore, all the gifts that relate to and provide proof of revelation are no longer active within the Church.
The active gifts are all gifts that have to do with edifying the Church and allowing it to function in a proper manner. Each gift is of great importance to the Body, no gift is greater than any other gift. As a part of the Body of Christ you need to be dispensing your gift to the saints, regardless of what it is, or whether others see you using it. For just as preaching and teaching are vital for the health of the Body, so is administration, organization, faith, helps, ministries, mercy, giving, and exhortation.
Through the use of steward (οἰκονομος) and dispensation (οἰκονομια), God reveals in Scripture that there are different dispensations. Each of these dispensations has different standards, which are dispensed by a steward appointed by God. The purpose of these dispensations is to show humans something about themselves. By taking God at His Word and dividing Scripture properly, we begin to understand what God expects of us as members of the household of grace. It also becomes clear that not every part of Scripture is for our practice. Since we are in the dispensation of Grace, it is important that we understand how God expects us to conduct our lives. We are not under law, so what is the standard then? We determine this by rightly dividing the Word of God and applying to our lives for practice only the sections that address the saints of the dispensation of Grace. The other parts we use for their intended purpose; learning about God, admonishment, and encouragement.
Although we do not apply the standards of other dispensations to how we live, that does not mean they are of no value to us. We can learn through the failures of other dispensations what not to do (1 Corinthians 10:11). Adam failed because he knowingly broke the law of God (2 Timothy 2:14 Adam was not deceived by Satan). The results of his disobedience affected the entire human race (Romans 5:12-21). We learn from the dispensation of conscience that our conscience cannot be trusted as the sole source of truth because during the time when humans were to govern themselves by their conscience to do what is good, they failed, and their thoughts became completely corrupted (Genesis 6:5). Before trusting our conscience, we should make sure it lines up with what God says. During the dispensation of government, the refusal of humans to govern themselves resulted in the complete rejection of God, to the point that humans changed the image of the incorruptible God to that of corruptible man, beasts, and insects (Romans 1:19-32). Yes, humans opted to worship nature, sticks and stones, rather than the true living God. In the dispensation of promise, all the Jews needed to do was to take God at His Word; however, they chose to show God through their actions how righteous they could be before Him (Exodus 19:8). The dispensation of Law shows us that by our actions alone we cannot please God (Romans 3:20), our actions must be based upon faith. Ephesians 3:2 states that God gave Paul the dispensation of grace. This is the dispensation that we are in now. We are to live by faith, taking God at His Word, not by any law (Romans 1:17). Will we fail? Will we not learn from the past?
Since God has given us information on the next dispensation, we can also learn from it. During the dispensation of the fullness of times, humans who live upon the earth will enjoy a perfect environment. Satan will be bound, the world system will be destroyed, the law of God will be written upon the hearts of the Jews, and Christ will reign over the earth in the New Jerusalem. However, even in such perfect conditions, humans ultimately reject God and choose to follow Satan (Revelation 20:7-9).
In considering the usage of steward (οἰκονομος) and dispensation (οἰκονομια) we can see that they play a significant role in our understanding of Scripture. God divides human history into households. Therefore, we should have the same approach to Scripture and only apply the sections of God's Word to our lives for practice that are addressed to those who are in our dispensation. Besides understanding that we should divide Scripture, the study of steward (οἰκονομος) and dispensation (οἰκονομια) also teaches us that in a similar manner as a steward we should use our Spiritual gift for the edification of other saints. God has put us in the Body of Christ and has supplied for us what we need to function as a member of Christ's Body. Just as a Pastor is similar to a steward in giving the saints what they need from God's Word to grow spiritually, so we should use our gift so that others may grow and be encouraged, while rightly dividing God's Word.