(Read Part 3)

God always demonstrates His goodness and kindness, His righteousness, His holiness, His faithfulness, His sovereignty and His grace-filled forgiveness. These attributes comprise the theological heritage of the Israelite covenants. The test for His people consists of comparing their goodness, kindness, righteousness, holiness, faithfulness, rulership and forgiveness to that of their God. This focus on sanctified living brings us to the transition from the Biblical covenants to the Biblical dispensations.

Biblical Dispensations
My purpose in turning to the topic of Biblical dispensations is to examine their relationship to and comparison with the Biblical covenants. The following is not intended to present a detailed identification and description of the dispensations.

A Biblical dispensation (oikonomia1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 9; Col. 1:25; 1 Tim. 1:4) identifies the “administration of a household.” The Greek word combines oikos (“house/household”) and nemō (“manage” or “administrate”). Such administration includes the rules of a household—how one ought to behave as a member of that household. Modern fathers employ the same concept when explaining to a 22-year old son his responsibility to live under house rules as long as he chooses to live under his parents’ roof. In the theological equivalent, God uses oral and/or written revelation to explain His will to His people, so that they might know how to live for Him. With new or added revelation, the requirements might change for the subsequent period of time.

For example, God’s household rules involving His people’s diet go through a series of changes:

  1. At creation God assigns to Adam and Eve a diet of vegetation (Gen. 1:29).
  2. After the fall, the Scripture makes no mention of a change in diet. However, some scholars believe that the use of animals for clothing might imply the use of the meat as food (Gen. 3:21). The raising of livestock (Gen. 4:2, 4, 20) might also imply that livestock became a source of meat in the post-fall diet.
  3. After the flood, God allows mankind to hunt and eat wild game (Gen. 9:2-4).
  4. When God presents the law to Israel, He limits the kinds of wild game that He permits His people to consume (Lev. 11; Deut. 14).
  5. In the New Testament, however, God withdraws the Mosaic dietary restrictions (Acts 10:9-15).
  6. With a return to Edenic conditions during the Messianic kingdom (Isa. 11:6-9), perhaps God once again restricts the eating of meat. However, the restriction might be back to a Mosaic condition—a potential implication based upon the millennial sacrifices described in Ezekiel (40:38-43; 43:18-27; 44:28-31; 45:13-25).[1]

In other words, if God reveals changes in His appointed diet for His people from one era to the next, then we could certainly look for similar progressive, time-limited changes related to other areas in the daily lives of His people. We hasten to point out, however, that such changes deal with sanctified living, not salvation.

Salvation remains the same throughout all periods of mankind’s history. Observe the following common theological elements regarding salvation:

  • The need for salvation remains the same: mankind’s fallen, disobedient, sinful condition.
  • The mode of reception remains the same: by faith, not by works.
  • The object of faith is always Messiah.
  • The work of the Messiah remains the same: His substitutionary sacrifice in His death and His subsequent resurrection from the dead.
  • The recipients remain the same: both Jew and Gentile—people from throughout the whole world.
  • The result is still unchanged: forgiveness of sins and a right relationship to God.

What elements have changed? Only the time perspective changes: the period of time prior to the work of Messiah in His death and resurrection and the period of time following His accomplished work. The people prior to Messiah’s work looked forward to the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies; the people living after Messiah’s work look back on the past fulfillment of the same Messianic prophecies. Therefore, Peter revealed that the ancient prophets never asked “Why?” “How?” “Who?” “What?” “For whom?” or “With what result?” They only asked “When?” and “In what kind of time?” (1 Pet. 1:9-12; cf. v. 11 in ASV, NIV, HCSB, NLT and NET Bible [see note also]). God gave progressively clearer revelation regarding the details of salvation from sin, but that revelation sufficed in every era so that people believed and were saved in every era from the fall to the present.

The student of Scripture can discover up to eight possible dispensations by identifying

  • the content of progressive stages in Divine revelation;
  • the changes in the household rules; and
  • the Divine judgments responding to continued and endemic disobedience to Divine revelation.

The association of text units with each dispensation rests upon the general purpose and content tied to a specific period of time bounded by two things: (1) an initial revelation; and (2) an ultimate judgment based on that revelation. A variety of texts relating to the dispensations might be found outside the general framework presented in the following outline, since the Old Testament books and their contents do not always follow a chronological sequence from Genesis through Malachi and prophetic material sometimes announces events far in advance of their occurrence.

The following chart presents a potential eight-dispensation[2] framework:


(To be continued)

Dr. William D. Barrick served as professor of Old Testament and director of Th.D. studies at The Master’s Seminary from 1997 to 2015. He remains active in ministry as a theologian and a linguistics expert whose service, writings and translations have spanned numerous nations and languages. He is also the Old Testament editor of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary from Logos Bible Software. We are most grateful to include him as a contributing author to Dispensational Publishing House.

Copyright © 2016 by Dr. William D. Barrick. Used by permission of the author.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Follow the hyperlinks for information on the other versions referenced with regard to 1 Peter 1:11.

[1] Space does not permit a discussion of the issue concerning the millennial sacrifices. For a succinct statement of the problem through a covenant theologian’s eyes, see Robert L. Reymond, “The Traditional Covenantal View,” in Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views, ed. by Chad G. Brand, pp. 17–68 (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), p. 33. For a dispensationalist’s response, see Charles H. Dyer, “Ezekiel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, ed. by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, pp. 1224–1317 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), p. 1305, and John C. Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” Grace Theological Journal 6, no. 2 (Fall 1985): 211–17.

[2] See Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965); and Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007).