Short Explanation of “Dispensation”

From J. Vernon McGee, Ephesians, p. 47 (teaching on Ephesians 1.9-10)

Dispensation is another word like mystery. It is often misunderstood, and a great many people think it is a dirty word. It is a great word! Some Bible teachers won’t even use the word because it is a word that is hated. There are a lot of words in the Bible that are hated—words like blood, and redemption, and the cross. Paul says the cross is an offense, but that cannot keep us from preaching about it. The Bible teaches dispensations, and so we will not avoid the subject at all.

“Let me say first of all that a dispensation is not a period of time. That is where dispensation differs from the word age. We hear the ‘age of grace’—that is a period of time. Dispensation is an altogether different word that is translated in several different ways. It can mean ‘a stewardship,’ ‘an order,’ or ‘an administration.’ An English transliteration of the Greek word would be ‘economy.’ It is an order or a system that is put into effect. It is a way of doing things.

“For example, girls in school take a course called home economics or domestic economy. They learn how to run a household. When a woman has her own home, she may decide to have baked beans one night and a roast the next night. She set up the order of meals and that is the way she organizes her schedule. Down the street the mother in another family decides they won’t have a roast that night, but they will have fish. That is the way she runs her house, and she has a right to run it like that.

“There is also a political economy—a subject that is taught in our colleges today. A lot of young men go into that field, and they learn how to run a government, the way to run a nation. England runs her government differently than we do over here. Each has a right to its own system and I wouldn’t say that either place has the right system. Russia has an entirely different system, and we certainly wouldn’t better ourselves by taking theirs. Countries even have different systems of running traffic. In England, they drive down the left side of the street! I enjoyed kidding our driver when we were in England, ‘Look out, there comes a car on the wrong side of the street!’ ‘That’s all right,’ he would say, ‘I’m going on the wrong side myself.’ In England the right side is the left side. Now that is confusing to a poor American visiting over there.”

“A dispensation may fit into a certain period of time, but it actually means the way God runs something at a particular time; it is the way God does things. It is evident that God had Adam on a different arrangement than He has for you and me. I thing even the most ardent anti-dispensationalist can understand that the Garden of Eden was different from Southern California today. And God dealt with Adam in a different way than he deals with us. (Now, I will admit that when people first moved out to Southern California, they thought it was a Garden of Eden. I thought so, too, when I first came here, but now it is filled with smog and traffic [and sinful abominations]!

“Now God has never had but one method to save folk; everything rests upon one method of salvation. The approach and the man under the system have been different, however. For example, Abel offered a lamb to God, and so did Abraham. The Old Testament priests offered lambs to God. God had said that was the right way. But I hope you did not bring a lamb to church last Sunday! That is not the way God tells us to approach Him today. We are under a different economy.

“‘Of the fulness of times.’ [Ephesians 1.10]. What is the ‘fulness of times’? I can’t go into all phases of that, but God is moving everything forward to the time when Christ will rule over all things in heaven and earth. This is the fulness, the pleroma, when everything is going to be brought under the rulership of Jesus Christ. The pleroma  is like a vast receptacle into which centuries and millenniums have been falling. All that is past, present, and future is moving toward the time when every knee must bow and every tongue must confess that Jesus is Lord. This is the mystery that is revealed to us, ‘That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.’ We learn this about Christ, that God ‘hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him; (Hebrews 2.8). This states very clearly that we have not yet come to that time. We are under a different dispensation today; we live under a different economy. But God has revealed this to us that is to come to pass, something that had not been revealed in the past.

“Heaven and earth are not in tune today—we are playing our own little tune. We have our rock music going down here, while the only Rock up there is the Lord Jesus. He is the Rock: He is that precious Stone that is the foundation upon which the church rests today. And the day will come when heaven and earth will be in tune and all things will be gathered together in Christ.”

For more on dispensationalism see Dispensation Theology versus Covenant Theology

Note. That universality of the church will begin at the marriage of the Lamb. See Revelation 19.7-10; Hebrews 19.22-24.

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