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Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Structure of Salvation History, Part 2: What About Dispensations?

After my previous post, Mike asked whether or not I see dispensations in the Bible; and, if so, what their relation is to the covenants. Excellent question-- I'm glad you asked.

Yes, I acknowledge the existence and importance of dispensations (just as most covenantalists do).

"Dispensation" comes from the Latin dispensatio, which was used to translate oikonomia from the Greek. An oikonomos was the servant in charge of a household: an estate manager, or steward.

Sometimes, Paul refers to particular stages in salvation history as oikonomia's, or dispensations.

In Eph. 3:9 (see v.4ff) Paul refers to our current stage as the "dispensation of the mystery of Christ." Of course, his contrast with the previous stage implies that it was a dispensation too.

In Gal. 4, Paul is arguing that we are not under the Law like a child is under an oikonomos (see esp. v.1-2). This seems to be an intentional application of "dispensation" terminology to the Mosaic Covenant.

In Eph. 1:9-10, Paul refers to a dispensation during which all things are summed up in Christ. In context, this probably refers to our current dispensation; but, Paul's concept of "inaugurated eschatology" leads me to believe that he also had the future Millennium in mind when he said this.

So, Paul seems to use the word "dispensation" (stewardship, arrangement, administration, management) to refer to three different stages in salvation history. It seems appropriate to apply this terminology to all stages of salvation history.

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Dramatized Exegesis