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There are several ways the Bible can be divided to understand it's parts, and understand it as a whole. Dividing the Bible according to periods of time, called Dispensations, is one way. The most obvious division is the Old and the New Testament, but there are several other divisions. If we understand these divisions, and how God deals with man in each time period, it will help keep us from error. To ignore these dispensations, and the promises that go with each period, is to fall into error. God dealt with Adam and Even in their innocence before they fell, and this is called the Dispensation of Innocence. After Adam sinned, he was conscious of wrong doing and God dealt with him differently in the time period called the Dispensation of Conscience. Skipping forward to the time of Abraham, God dealt with man differently, establishing the nation of Israel, and giving man what is called the Abrahamic Covenant. In the time of Moses, God gave man the law, known as the Mosaic Covenant, and the time period was called The Dispensation of Law. So we see that God deals differently with men in different periods of time, and we will call them Dispensations. A dispensation, then, is a period of time in which God deals in a specific way with man in respect to sin and man's responsibility.

From Adam to the new heaven and a new earth, Revelation 21:1, we find God dealing with mankind in seven unequal time periods. We refer to these time periods as Dispensations, but the Bible sometimes calls them ages, as in Ephesians 2:7. In each of these Dispensations in which God is dealing with mankind, mankind is given a test, and we see his failure and God's judgment. From God's view, a dispensation is an economy or administration. From mankind's view, it is a stewardship, or a responsibility, to manage God's affairs. This failure of mankind has occurred in each Dispensation, and will continue to fail until Christ sets up His kingdom in the Dispensation of the Kingdom. In each dispensation there is a pattern. God gives those in the dispensation a responsibility, they fail to keep it, they are then judged, and God then extends His grace. In every dispensation we find that salvation is ONLY by grace through faith. The Old Testament saints were saved by faith in the promised Redeemer, the Messiah or Christ. In the New Testament, today, we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, who has died for our sins according to scriptures, 1 Corinthians 15:3. We are saved by faith, through grace, and not by doing good works, Ephesians 2:8-9. Once we have accepted Jesus as our Lord, THEN we are to do the good works, Ephesians 2:10.

The Greek word Oikonomia is translated dispensation, and means a stewardship, administration, management, direction, arrangement, order, or plan. In the different dispensations, God is using a different means in each to govern mankind.

It is important that we understand how God has been dealing with man in each time period of the Bible. We cannot understand what God's Bible is trying to teach us if we cannot relate each Bible passage to the correct time period, or Dispensation. Some passages apply to only one, other passages apply to more than one. If we apply a Bible passage to the wrong dispensation, our understanding will be faulty and bring confusion.

Before getting into the individual dispensations, it would help to have an overview of the three groups that God deals with, the Gentiles, the Jews, and the Church. Beginning from Genesis up to the calling of Abraham out of his home country, we have the age of the Gentiles. During this time, all mankind was treated as one body, and all were descendants of Adam. God revealed Himself during this time to Adam, Enoch, Noah, and other prophets.

After the calling out of Abraham, there begins to be a distinction within mankind. God calls Abraham and begins the Jewish nation. This time period is called the age of the Jews. There is now a division in mankind at this point, the Jews and the Gentiles (all people who are not Jewish) and it is the Jews to whom God now reveals Himself. God chose a nation (The Jewish nation of Israel) to do the following:
1. They were to be God's witnesses in the midst of idolatry, Isaiah 43:10-12; Deuteronomy 4:5-8.
2. To show the other nations the blessings of serving the one true God, Psalms 144:15; Deuteronomy 33:26-29; 1 Chronicles 17:20-21.
3. To supply the writers for, and to preserve, the inspired Word of God, Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Romans 3:1-2.
4. They were to be the nation from whom the Messiah would come, Genesis 3:15; 12:3; 21:12; 28:10; 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 55:3; Matthew 1:1.
Israel is still to inherit the land and enter into the Millennium which will be ruled by Jesus Christ. We see that all Israel will eventually be saved after the rapture of the church, Romans 11:25-27.

Next we have what is called the age of the church, which begins at Pentecost, Acts 2:1, and ends after the rapture of the church. This is an age where there is no longer a distinction between the Jew and the Gentile, they are now one in the church, Romans 10:12; Galatians 3:28. This is an age that was previously hidden and called a mystery, Ephesians 1:9-10; 3:9.

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The time period for this dispensation is from the creation of man to his and fall.

  • 1. Man's state at the beginning of this dispensation is one of sinlessness. Adam and Eve were the only two human beings that did not have inherited sin, and had committed no sin. Adam was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and was perfect, in a state of innocence, but when he disobeyed God, he brought sin and death into the world, Romans 5:12.
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  • 2. Their responsibility in this dispensation was to obey God (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-17). Adam had a choice, to obey God and live, or to disobey God and eat of the fruit of the tree and die. See the Edenic Covenant for additional details.
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  • 3. Adam's failure was his disobedience (Genesis 3:1-6), he followed Eve and ate of the fruit of the tree, knowing that he was disobeying God, 1 Timothy 2:14. His responsibility was to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Genesis 2:17.
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  • 4. Adam's failure brought the judgment of God on Adam and Eve which was a curse and death, Genesis 3:7-19.
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  • 5. God showed mercy, by the promise of a Redeemer, which is Jesus Christ, by killing an innocent animal and providing skins to cover their sin, Genesis 3:15. The killing of animals introduces the principle, "without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin", which would be later expanded, Hebrews 9:22.

Adam had a choice in this dispensation to obey God and live or to disobey God and die. Today, we have a similar choice, to choose Christ and live, or to refuse Christ and be cast into the lake of fire.

The Edenic Covenant is related to this dispensation. There are eight covenants, four of these are between God and individuals, and four are with groups of people. Check this covenant for additional information.

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This dispensation picks up from where the Dispensation of Innocence ended, the fall of Adam, and continues to the worldwide flood. If we add the years from Adam to the 600th year of Noah's life, when the flood came, we have a total of 1,656 years from the creation Adam to the flood.This dispensation is associated with the Adamic Covenant.

  • 1. Because of the fall, Adam and Eve now had knowledge of good and evil, or conscience, Genesis 3:22; 3:7. The "Dictionary.com" defines conscience as 1. the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action: to follow the dictates of conscience. 2. the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.
    Conscience first became active at the fall of man, when he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We need to remember that the conscience can also be seared making it insensitive to right or wrong or sin, 1 Timothy 4:2.
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  • 2. Man was now given another opportunity to prove himself true to God. Since man now had the knowledge of good and evil, it brought all mankind under the responsibility to do good and not evil, Genesis 3:7, 22; 4:4.
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  • 3. Man failed their responsibility to do good. Instead, man became wicked and evil, Genesis 6:5-6, 11, 12. During this dispensation, man is given a free choice to either do good or evil. In today's world man is also given a free choice, to accept Christ and have eternal life with God, or to reject Christ and have eternal life in a lake of fire, John 3:15-16; Revelation 20:15.
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  • 4. Because of this wickedness God brought a worldwide flood upon the earth to destroy all mankind, except Noah and his wife, his sons and their wives, Genesis 6:7, 13; 7:11, 12, 23.
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  • 6. Noah and his family were saved by Grace, Genesis 6:8-9; 7:1; 8:1. Mankind is saved by grace in all dispensations. Salvation has always been by grace, and always will be. In the Old Testament, man was looking forward to the coming Messiah, first mentioned in Genesis 3:15. After the death of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and His resurrection, we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins according to scriptures, 1 Corinthians 15:3. We are saved by grace through faith and not works, Ephesians 2:8-9, and then we are to do good works, Ephesians 2:10.

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After the flood, the earth was now for Noah and his descendents, and God gave them the power to govern it. This dispensation extends from the Flood to the dispersion at the Tower of Babel. From the Flood to the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel is approximately 429 years.

  • 1. Noah was righteous and blessed, and was given the power to govern and the responsibility to replenish the earth. Genesis 7:1; Hebrews 11:7.
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  • 2. Man's responsibility was to scatter and multiply,to replenish the earth, Genesis 9:1, 6.
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  • 3. Man failed to scatter as God had required. They built a city and a tower to avoid being scattered abroad throughout the earth, Genesis 11:1-4.
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  • 4. God's judgment for their failure was to confound their language and scatter them upon all the face of the earth, Genesis 11:5-8.
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  • 5. In this dispensation man is given the authority to carry out capital punishment for anyone that sheds another person's blood capital murder). So man is given the authority to exercise judgment and punishment. Genesis 9:6.

This dispensation is associated with the Noahic Covenant, which is an everlasting covenant (Genesis 9:16), meaning it is still in effect today. Therefore, today, if anyone sheds another's blood, such as murder, that person's blood is to be shed by our government. It is called capital punishment and is still in effect today, Genesis 9:5-6, 16.

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Out of those who were dispersed from the tower of Babel God called Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham, and entered into what is called "The Abrahamic Covenant.

He promised Abraham a land, a natural (or earthly seed), and a spiritual (or heavenly seed).

Other promises made were conditioned upon faithfulness and obedience. This dispensation extended from the call of Abram to the giving of the Law. This covered a period of about 430 years.

  • 1. Abraham was called out of his country to a land that God would reveal to him. Abraham and his descendants were to be heirs to the promise. The following are God's promises listed in Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:5:
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  • to make him a great nation
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  • to bless him and make his name great
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  • he was to be a blessing
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  • to bless those who bless Abraham
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  • to curse those that cursed Abraham
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  • in him all the families of the earth would be blessed
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  • 2. They were told not to go into the land of Egypt, Genesis 26:2-3.
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  • 3. Man later disobeyed, and left the land of Canaan and went into the land of Goshen, Genesis 47:1.
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  • 4. God brought judgment for their failure by allowing them to go into bondage in Egypt, Exodus 1:8-14.

It is important to note that they lost their blessings, but did not lose their promises.

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This dispensation begins at the giving of the Ten Commandments on Sinai and extends to Calvary when Jesus died, fulfilling the Law. This dispensations is associated with The Mosaic Covenant. It is during this dispensation that the entire Old Testament was written, and it's primary application is to the Jews. The covenant is with Moses and the children of Israel as a nation at Sinai.

The events of this dispensation are as follows:

  • In the beginning of this dispensation God, in grace, had delivered the people from the Egyptian bondage, and now offered them the law, Exodus 19:3-4.
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  • Their responsibility was to keep the law. They said, "all that the Lord hath spoken we will do." Exodus 19:5-6; Romans 10:5.
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  • Man failed once again, they rejected all the commandments of God and served Baal, 2 Kings 17:7-17, 19; Acts 2:22-23.
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  • God, in judgment, allowed them to be carried away into captivity because of their failure, Deuteronomy 28:63-66; 2 Kings 17:1-6, 20; 25:1-11; Luke 21:20-2.
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  • God showed grace in this dispensation, by promising them a Saviour that would come, Isaiah 9:6-7; Galatians 4:4-5.

The law was temporary, and was to be made void by the coming New Covenant, Jeremiah 31:31-33; Hebrews 8:13; 10:9. It was added because of their transgressions until the Seed, Jesus Christ, should come, Galatians 3:19. Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, Matthew 5:17. Later, we see that Jesus did fulfill the law perfectly, and because of this we are saved through faith in Him, and no one will be saved by works of the law, Galatians 2:16.

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All of the New Testament was written in the early days of this dispensation. The gospels connect The Dispensation of Law to the Dispensation of Grace. This dispensation begins with the establishment of the Church and ends with the second coming of Christ.

  • At the beginning of this dispensation, man is in a state of sin and lost, Matthew 18:11; Romans 3:19, 23.
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  • Man's responsibility is to repent and believe, John 1:11-13; 3:36.
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  • Man's failure is seen in his rejection of Christ, who is already rejected by the Jews, and crucified by Jew and Gentile. The end of this testing period will find an unbelieving world and an apostate Church, Luke 19:12-14; 18:8; Matthew 24:37-39.
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  • The coming judgment for this world of the Dispensation of Grace will be everlasting punishment at the second coming of Christ, 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12; Revelation 20:15.
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  • When Christ returns in the air, all believers, dead or alive, will be caught up to meet Him in the air, 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
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  • Then there there will be the Great Tribulation, which lasts for seven years, Matthew 24:21-22; Zephaniah 1:15-18; Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 30:5, 7; Revelation 7:14.
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  • Next Christ Himself will return to the earth and execute the judgments, and this will end this dispensation, and begin The Dispensation of the Kingdom Matthew 24:29, 30; 25:31-46.
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  • Even in this dispensation God shows His grace toward man. He provided a way through Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins, Colossians 1:14; Ephesians 1:7; Acts 26:18.

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The Dispensation of the Kingdom extends from the second coming of Jesus Christ, (when He comes to the earth, not to be confused with His coming in the air at the Rapture) to the end of the one thousand year reign of Jesus Christ, in which, He will reign over restored Israel and over the earth. The seat of His power will be Jerusalem and the believers of The Dispensation of Grace will reign with Him, Acts 15:14-17; Isaiah 2:1-4; Revelation 19:11, 21; 20:1-6; Isaiah 11:1-16.
  • Mankind, during this dispensation, is responsible to be obedient, to remain undefiled, and to worship the Lord Jesus Christ, Isaiah 11:3-5; Zechariah 14:9.
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  • Man's failure can be seen at the end of the dispensation, when some follow Satan and wage war on the saints, Revelation 20:7-9
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  • Man's judgment for this rebellion was that fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them, Revelation 20:9. With this battle the dispensation closes.
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  • The next event is the Great White Throne Judgment when the wicked dead are raised and will be judged and cast into a lake of fire, Revelation 20:11-15.
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  • Next comes the new heaven and a new earth which will last for eternity, Revelation 20:3, 7-15; 21:22.

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