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'Dispensationalism' is a technical term in theology which generally refers to different contextual frameworks, including consideration of agreements God had with the people being addressed.
God's only law for Adam, for example, was not to eat the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:16-17). As a second example, Noah was told in Genesis 9:1-4 that he could eat literally anything that moves, while Moses was given the law which greatly restricted the foods the Jews could eat (Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14).
As a foundational concept, if we carefully interpret Scripture in terms of Who and When, then we are generally thinking in terms of 'Dispensations.' Is the passage speaking to the Nation of Israel under the Law of Moses, or addressed to New Testament Christians? Dispensations are best thought of as Who and When markers used for context of biblical passages.
Dispensationalism is opposed by Covenant Theology which allows "the New Testament to reinterpret the Old Testament," in violation of normal, literal interpretation.
Dispensationalism maintains a clear distinction between the Church and Israel.
Dispensationalism opposes the idea that the Church replaces Israel as the recipient of God's promises (known as 'Replacement Theology' or 'Supersessionism'). Rather, Dispensationalists hold that promises made to Israel will be fulfilled to the literal Nation of Israel.
Dispensationalism maintains a clear distinction between the Church Age and the Kingdom of Christ.
Covenant Theology teaches that the 70th Week of Daniel has been fulfilled, there will be no future Millenial Kingdom, and that the Kingdom of Christ is the current Church age. This is in opposition to the Dispensationalist's interpretation of future fulfillment of the 70th Week of Daniel (the Tribulation period) and a literal future Millenial Kingdom (Revelation 20).
As Dispensations are specifications of context, there are some variations, but the traditional norm defines the following seven dispensations:
Innocence - The Time of Adam and Eve, from Creation until the Fall
Conscience - The Antediluvian period from the Fall until the Flood
Human Government - Starts with the covenant between Noah and God, after the flood. For the Gentile nations, this dispensation is not superseded until the Church Age, but for the Jewish people, this is superseded by the Law.
Promise - (Jews only) Starts with the call of Abraham and his covenant with God which required the identification evidence of circumcision.
Law - (Jews only) Starts with the covenant between God and the Nation of Israel at Mt Sinai, Israel agrees to perpetually follow all the (613) laws of God provided by Moses. For the Jews, the convenants of Promise continue, but the dispensation of Human Government, based on the Noahic Covenant, is superseded.
Grace/Church Age - (All people, including Jews) - Starts with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, which supersedes the Law by fulfillment, as evidenced by the tearing of the veil and by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (along with "many of the bodies of the saints"). The Church Age ends with the Rapture of the Church.
Millennial Kingdom - (all people, including resurrected believers) The Millennial Kingdom starts with Jesus Christ establishing His kingdom on Earth after the battle of Armageddon. This kingdom lasts a literal 1,000 years and ends with the final judgements of men and angels.
Tribulation - The Tribulation period is not considered a dispensation, but it is a literal seven-year period of judgement on Earth, which begins after the Church Age and ends with the return of Jesus Christ and the battle of Armageddon.
The Eternal State - The Eternal state of God, the angels, and mankind, is not considered a dispensation, but is instanced by the creation of a new heavens and a new earth and a new Jerusalem.
See my Dispensations Table (PDF).
(C) Copyright 2022 Dainel Stanfield, this document may be distributed freely, but may not be sold or modified.
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