By RANDY WHITE, D.Min.
Founder and CEO
As you consider the title of this series, perhaps you find yourself saying, “I do not even know what a dispensation is.” If that is the case, this series is actually just right for you. We are going to begin with some very simple concepts and work our way up from there.
Let us take an introductory look at what dispensations are and what dispensationalism is. It is really a manner of looking at the Bible. I have found that so many people can testify to the fact that once a person gets a grasp of this set of ideas called dispensationalism, you will actually find that your Bible suddenly comes to life and you are able to read it and understand it in a new and fresh way. You will look at it and say to yourself, “Oh, that is why I could not figure it out before—I did not have the right grid to look through.”
The first question that we must consider, then, is this: “Is there a need for an interpretive grid when it comes to studying the Bible?” Another word for an interpretive grid would be a lens. How many of you, like me, need to keep lenses close by? The only time I do not need to have lenses is when I am reading my large print Bible; otherwise I have to have lenses in order to see. Now, in a different way you must have a lens or a grid that helps you to interpret the Bible.
Let me give you an example of why you must have both.
The Bible certainly contains many promises. But what kind of interpretive grid do I need in order to determine if can I take a certain promise and claim it as my own? You will certainly be very disappointed if you claim some promises that are not yours. In fact, we call that “name it and claim it” theology. That is where you just look at a promise, you take it, you name it and say it is yours—but it might not be yours. Of course, we could give so many examples of that type of thing, but the main thing I want to impress upon you in this article is that we need an interpretive grid because we must know how to interpret the Bible.
In order to do this, we will first take a look at what skeptics might call contradictions found in the Bible. In reality, these are contradictions between what the Bible says in a certain place and what we experience in our lives. You see, what the Bible says in any given place may not match my particular experience in life. They may not always go together, and that could especially be true if I do not know how I am to interpret that passage that I am looking at.
For example, consider Matthew 5:5, which states:
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Let me ask you an important question: Which meek are going to inherit the earth?
Here are some suggestions. Is it Mother Theresa? Who are some other people that the world considers to be meek? They would certainly be people like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis. Who could be more meek than any of them? Yet Mother Theresa did not inherit the earth. Do we then need to redefine the word meek?
Or do we have to reinterpret what it means to “inherit the earth”?
Perhaps we could make up our own definitions for these words, but is that really what the text says? If words mean anything, we must always examine what the text of Scripture actually says.
In fact, in both Hebrew and Greek, the words for both land and earth are the same words, and you can use them almost interchangeably—depending on the context—when speaking about land, earth or dirt. The bottom line is that you are talking about real estate when you use these words.
Well then, do we have the authority to say that the phrase “inherit the earth” really means something else—such as that the meek will receive spiritual blessings? No! We must interpret the text literally.
You see, Matthew 5:5 is really not talking about any of those concepts that we could invent and insert into the text, nor does it have to fit our preconceived notions about what it should mean.
Instead, every time I come to the Bible I must begin with this premise: “If the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense.”