By John Henry

August 19, 2012


"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:  A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;  A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;  A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;  A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;  A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;  A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Some have erroneously claimed that dispensationalism is a relatively modern system of theology first proposed by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and propagated by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). But the doctrines have been contained in the Scriptures since their writing, and evidence proving that the early church believed in the principles of dispensationalism.  The 2nd Century writings of Irenaeus (115-202 AD) who was a disciple of Polycarp (70-156 AD), who was a disciple of the Apostle John, who was taught personally by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Irenaeus saw four distinct periods (dispensations): 1) From the Creation to the Flood, 2) From the Flood to the Law, 3) From the Law to the Gospel, and 4) From the Gospel to Eternity.  Others from the ante-Nicene period (late 1st to early 4th centuries) such as Tertullian (160-225 AD) could be cited.  The Word of God is clearly seen to be divided into dispensations of time.  The dispensational interpretation of the Scriptures are essential for correct understanding of the Bible.

2 Timothy 2:15:  "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."


God delineates seven periods of time or dispensations in the Bible. The Greek word oikonomia which is translated "dispensation" is found 7 times in the New Testament.  It is translated "stewardship" when it pertains to the oversight, administration and management of anothers property, money and affairs which were entrusted to him (Luke 16:2-4).  It is translated "dispensation" when it pertains to God's call of men to serve in the gospel ministry (1 Cor. 9:17), and when it pertains to God's "dispensation" of the ages (Eph. 1:10, 3:2, Col. 1:25). 

In the Bible it has to do with man's oversight, administration and management of his affairs, and God's dispensation and administration of time.  In a general sense God's Word speaks of His divisions of time on this wise:

Acts 17:26, 30-31:  "And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined THE TIMES BEFORE APPOINTED, and the bounds of their habitation. ... And THE TIMES OF THIS IGNORANCE God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:  Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." (cf. 1 Pet. 4:6; Eph. 4:8-10)

The times of this ignorance were the times before the giving of the Law of Moses.  The dispensations of 1) Innocence, 2) Conscience, 3) Human Government, and 4) Promise.  We will examine these later.

The Bible speaks of three basic dispensations of time:  1) The Old World, 2) This Present Evil World, and 3) The World to Come.

2 Peter 2:4-5:  "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;  And spared not THE OLD WORLD, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly ..." (cf. 1 Pet. 3:20)

Galatians 1:3-4:  "Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,  Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from THIS PRESENT EVIL WORLD, according to the will of God and our Father ..."

Mark 10: 29-30:  "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospelís,  But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in THE WORLD TO COME eternal life."

Time Past & The Last Days:

Hebrews 1:1-2:  "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds ..." (cf. Time Past: 1 Pet. 2:10; Eph. 2:11; Last Days: Isa. 2:2; Mic. 4:1; Acts 2:17; Gen. 49:1; 2 Tim. 3:1; James 5:3; 2 Pet. 3:3)

Time past in contrast with these last days:  Time past here consist of the first 4,000 years of the history of the World from Creation to Christ.  These last days are the last 3,000 years of time as we know it, before God makes "all things new" (Rev. 21:5).  These two divisions of time (4,000 years and 3,000 years) are parts of the millennial week of 7,000 years, before the recreation of all things (cf. Isa. 65:17, 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13).

Psalm 90:4: "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night."

2 Peter 3:8:  "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."

The Lord Jesus spoke of the 7th Dispensation, the Millennial Sabbath in these words:

John 6:39-40, 44:  "And this is the Fatherís will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.  And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. ...  No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." (cf. John 11:24; Hosea 6:2;  Note: Only this last Dispensation is 1,000 years long.  The other dispensations are of varying lengths. The present Dispensation of Grace for example has lasted about 2,000 years.)

The Times of The Gentiles:

The Lord Jesus Christ prophesied of the fulfillment of "the times of the Gentiles" at the end of the Tribulation (Luke 21:20-27) in these words:

Luke 21:20, 24:  "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. ... And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES be fulfilled."

The Times of The Gentiles began with the Babylonian Captivity of Judah when Daniel and Ezekiel (Dan. 1:1-2, 2:25; Ezek 1:1-2) were taken into the captivity (Dan. 2:28-45; 7:2-9, 17-27) and will run through to the end of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 13:1-10; 19:11, 19-20).  The Times of The Gentiles began about 606 BC.

Ezekiel 30:2-5:  "Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Howl ye, Woe worth the day!  For the day is near, even the day of the LORD [the Tribulation] is near, a cloudy day; it shall be THE TIME OF THE HEATHEN.  And the sword shall come upon Egypt, and great pain shall be in Ethiopia, when the slain shall fall in Egypt, and they shall take away her multitude, and her foundations shall be broken down.  Ethiopia, and Libya, and Lydia, and all the mingled people, and Chub, and the men of the land that is in league, shall fall with them by the sword." (Note: The words "heathen" and "Gentiles" are synonymous meaning: nations.)

Revelation 11:1-3:  "And there was given me [John] a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.  But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth."


First a word of caution:  The seven dispensations of time have nothing whatsoever to do with salvation. There are false teachings that say that there are different methods of salvation in the various dispensations.  These teachings of Dispensational Salvation are called Hyper or Ultra Dispensationalism. This heresy teaches that salvation during the various dispensations may be by works, grace or a combination of the two.  However, there is but one way of salvation which is by the grace of God through faith.  This is true in every dispensation.

Dispensational Salvationists like to point to the first of the dispensations, the Dispensation of Innocence, to make their point.  During this Dispensation Adam and Eve were created without sin, but through disobedience fell from that pure state.  When they fell they tried by their works to cover themselves with "fig leaves" (Gen. 3:7), a type of salvation by works, but God immediately gave the prophecy of the virgin born "seed" of the woman (the Saviour, Jesus) who would have his heel bruised by Satan (be crucified), but He would bruise Satan's head (Gen. 3:15).  Adam and Eve believed this prophecy and "... God make coats of skins, and clothed them" (Gen. 3:21) which was a picture of Him clothing them with His own "righteousness" (Isa. 61:10; Ps. 132:9; Rom. 13:14; Rev. 19:8; Matt. 22:11-13), because "... without shedding of blood is no remission (Heb. 9:22; Rom. 3:21-22).  Note that Adam and Eve were properly clothed before the end of this first dispensation and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Titus 3:5:  "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."

Dispensational Salvationists also love to point to the Dispensation of Law as a proof of their erroneous Doctrine of Salvation.  They claim that people were saved by their works during this Dispensation.  However, this is not possible, unless people were made of something other than flesh during the Age of Law.

Galatians 2:15:  "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall NO FLESH be justified."

Romans 3:19-20:  "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall NO FLESH be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin."

During the ages before the Dispensation of Grace (also called the Church Age) people looked forward to the coming of the "seed" of the woman, the "Messiah" while now we look back to His first coming.


Dispensationial Chart

Each of the dispensations begins with a covenant between God and man, is eventually broken by man, and results in the judgment of God. The seven dispensations are:  

1. The Age of Innocence
Scripture: Genesis 1 to 3.  The Duration: From the Creation to the Fall of Adam and Eve into sin.  According to the age of Adam given at the birth of his third son, Seth, which was after the death of Able, this Dispensation lasted well under 130 years (Gen. 5:3).  The Promise:  Man was given "dominion over ... the earth." (Gen. 1:26-28)  The 1st Covenant of God with man: was that man was to "subdue" and have "dominion" over the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), but he must not eat "... of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ..." least they "... surely die" (Gen. 2:17).  God's Judgment: 1) God "greatly multipl[ied] ... sorrow" of women in child birth (Gen. 3:16); 2) the institution of the scientific Law of Entropy and death (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:18-22; 1 Cor. 15:21), and 3) man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:23-24).  Effects:  Two terrible long lasting effects of the Original Sin: 1) The Serpent received rulership of the world (Rom. 6:16; 2 Cor. 4:3-4; Matt. 4:8-10; Eph. 2:2; John 16:7-11);  2) the effect of Adam's sin is that all mankind inherited Adam's sin nature (Rom. 5:12, 19; Job 14:4, 15:14; Ps. 51:5). 

2. The Dispensation of Conscience
Scripture: Genesis 4 to 6.  The Duration: From the Fall of Adam to Noah's Flood. If we give 100 years for the first Dispensation then this Dispensation would have been about 1,556 years in duration (The 1st 2 dispensations together were 1,656 years).  The Promise:  God had "respect" unto the offering of the "firstlings of [the] flock" (Gen. 4:4) which pictured Jesus, the "seed" of the woman (Gen 3:15)  The Covenant: "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. ..." (Gen. 4:7).  God gave mankind a natural conscience (Rom. 2:14-15), and allowed it to govern his behavior.  Man's Failure:  Man's corrupt sin nature inherited from Adam and Eve led most to ignore their own conscience and reject God's will.  This resulted in great wickedness in the earth "... and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5).  God's Judgement: God therefore destroyed the world in the Great Flood, saving only Noah, his 3 sons and their wives.  Effects:  The atmosphere and face of the Earth were drastically changed.

3. The Dispensation of Human Government
Scripture: Genesis 7 to 11.  The Duration: From Noah's Flood to the Call of Abraham. This Dispensation lasted about 430 years.  The Promise:  God promised never to destroy the earth with a flood again, and said, "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth." (Gen. 9:13)  The Covenant:  God said, "And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. ... Whoso sheddeth manís blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." (Gen. 9:1, 6)  Man's Failure:  Men would not "replenish the earth" nor punish that murderer Nimrod, but rather followed him in his rebellious quest for a world government and false religion of astrology in Babel. (Gen. 10:8-10).  God's Judgement:  An abrupt end came upon the construction of Nimrod's religious center, the Tower of Babel, when God "... scattered them abroad ... and they left off to build the city. ...  because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth." (Gen. 11:8-9)  Effects:  A one world government and false religion was arrested and slowed, but the false religion went into all the world taking many forms.

4. The Dispensation of Promise
Scripture: Genesis 12 to Exodus 12. The Duration: From Abraham to Moses. This Dispensation was approximately 430 years long.  The Promise:  God told Abraham, "... I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." (Gen. 12:3)  This blessing would be through Abraham's seed through his wife, Sarah (Gen. 17:15-16), not Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid (Gen. 16), who of Abraham bore Ishmel. God has blessed the world through Abraham in that through his seed came both the written word of God, and the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. The Covenant: God commanded Abram saying, "Get thee out of thy country, ... unto a land that I will shew thee" and He promised to make him "a great nation" (Gen 12:1-2). God also promised to give the Land to his "seed ... for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:8)  Man's Failure:  Israel, Abraham's grandson, left the land that God gave him as the result of the sin of 10 of his sons who sold Joseph into slavery.  Israel and his remaining 11 sons went down into Egypt where there was food during a great famine and remained there.  God's Judgement:  Israel's descendents rather than returning to the Land God gave then stayed in Egypt and eventually became slaves in Egypt and remained there 430 years (Ex. 12:40-41; Acts 7:6; Gal. 3:17). Effects:  Positive effects are that through Abraham we now have the whole Bible and the Son of God has given his life "for the sins of the whole world" (2 John 2:2).  Negative effect: Abraham and Sarah's sin in the affair with Hagar created enmity between Sarah and Hagar, and between the descendants of Israel and Ishmel which continue to this day in the Israeli - Islamic problem.

5. The Dispensation of Law
Scripture:  Exodus 12 to Matthew 27.  The Duration:  From Moses to the Death of Jesus. The duration of this Dispensation was about 1495 years.  The Promise:  "The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet [Jesus] from the midst of thee [Israel], of thy brethren, like unto me [Moses]; unto him ye shall hearken." (Deut. 18:15)  The Covenant:  Keep the Law which centered around these two commandments:  1) "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:  And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." (Deut. 6:4-5; cf. Matt. 22:38)   2) "Thou ... shalt love thy neighbour as thyself ..." (Lev. 19:18; cf. v 19; Matt. 22:39)  Man's Failure:  Israel for the most part did not keep the Law.  God's Judgement:  The Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ (Isa. 53:4-6, 10-11; Ps 22:14-18; Luke 23:26-46); and the Diaspora (scattering) of the Nation of Israel and destruction of the Temple (Matt. 23:37-39, 24:1-2).  Effect: The responsibility of caring for the Scriptures transferred from Israel to Christ's church (1 Tim. 3:15; Matt. 28:20, 21:43-44; 1 Pet. 7-10).  The Gospel taken into all the world by the church.  Israel's 1,878 year diaspora of wandering and persecution among the nations from 70 AD until May 14, 1948. 

6. The Church Age
Scripture:  Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20; Acts 1:1-11 to Revelation 4:1.  The Duration: From the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and giving of the Great Commission to the Rapture of the saints.  This Dispensation has now lasted about 1980 years.  The Promise:  "In my Fatherís house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.  And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." (John 14:2-4)  "... I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matt. 28:20).  The Covenant:  "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you ..." (Matt. 28:18-20)  Man's Failure:  Most people have not and will not receive God's free gift of salvation through faith in the Son of God.  God's Judgement:  The 7 year "Tribulation" (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:21), which "shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time" (Dan. 12:1) is in reality the last 7 years of the Dispensation of Law (Dan. 9:24-27).  Seen from the perspective of the lost of the earth at the time it is called, "the time of Jacobs trouble" (Jer. 30:7) and it is also called, "the day of the LORD" 21 times by 8 Old Testament prophets.  Seen from the perspective of heaven by born again Church Age believers the New Testament calls the period, "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 1:8), "the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6), "the day of the Lord Jesus" (1  Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14), and "the day of Christ" (Phil. 1:10, 2:16; 2 Thess. 2:2).  Effect:  Most people do not receive the salvation that Jesus provided and will be punished through eternity (Matt. 7:13-14).

7. The Millennial Kingdom
Scripture:  Revelation 11:15 to 20:10.  The Duration:  Beginning at the mid-point of the Tribulation and running to the casting of Satan into the Lake of Fire. We should be into the Millennium sometime within our generation.  The Promises:  Speaking of Tribulation saints Jesus said, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." (Matt. 24:13)  Believers during the Tribulation who "endure unto the end" will enter the Millennium to populate it.  Only the saved will enter the Kingdom (Matt. 25:31-46; cf. Ps. 69:21-33; Isa. 53:4; Zech. 13:7; Rev. 3:5; 1 John 5:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:55-57)  That old serpent, Satan will be bound for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3).  "And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.  And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one." (Zech 14:8-9)  The Covenant:  "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.   And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatriceí den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." (Isa. 11:6-9, cf. 65:25) "And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Mic. 4:3).  Man's Failure:  In spite of a perfect climate, all wildlife tamed, world wide peace, and Jesus Christ ruling the world from Jerusalem there will still be people who will be born during the Millennial Kingdom that will not receive the free gift of salvation in Christ.  God's Judgement: "And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,  And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.  And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.  And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Rev. 20:7-10)  Effect: The end of the Millennial Reign of Christ will usher in eternity (2 Pet 3:10-13).  "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.  And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful." (Rev. 21:4-5; cf. Isa. 65:17-19)


1.  Catholicism and Reformed Theology replace Israel with the church.  This provides for much confusion in understanding Bible prophecy. Their replacement of literal Bible interpretation with the allegorical method is the cause of the confusion.  The dispensational interpretation of the Word of God requires literal interpretation of the Scriptures and refutes Replacement Theology.

2.  "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christís at his coming.  Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.  For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." (1 Cor. 15:22-26)

3.  One other reason for the dispensations is the chess game between the Almighty and Lucifer to prove to both man and angels that God is just and righteous by making manifest to all by allowing Satan to run his wicked course and show his own self up for the usurping, power hungry, murdering deceiver that he actually is.

"And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:  To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,  According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:  In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him." (Eph. 3:9-12)

"Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:  Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.  Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into." (1 Pet. 1:10-12; cf. Ex. 25:20)

"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14)

"And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;  Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:  Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." (Eph. 2:1-3)

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:10-12)

"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." (1 Tim. 3:16)

"Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." (Eph. 1:21)

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