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The word “dispensation” is related to the Latin term dispensatio, which means “to weigh out” or “to dispense.” But the New Testament term related to “dispensation” is oikonomia, which has the basic meaning of managing the affairs of a household. It is used in various forms about 20 times in the New Testament, with such meanings as “managing,” “regulating,” “administrating,” or “planning.” In Biblical times the servant who did all these duties was referred to as the steward or manager of the house. He maintained the economy of the house. The theological definition of dispensationalism is defined by Charles Ryrie as “A distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s program.” A dispensation is basically an economy (from oikonomia), a system for operating the world household. If a person believes that God’s expectations of his people were different before Christ’s death and resurrection and after those events, then in principle that person accepts the basic notion of dispensationalism. Dispensationalists are those who hold to the doctrine of dispensationalism. There are a number of different dispensational schemes that are held by various dispensationalists. The differences between the schemes are the number of dispensations they recognize, the specific features of each dispensation, and the beginning and ending of each dispensation. Most dispensationalists believe there are about 6-8 dispensations, 7 being the most common view, but they are called by different titles in various schemes. One of the most popular schemes is that of C. I. Scofield, who created the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible. He recognizes the following seven dispensations: 1. Innocency – From creation up to the fall of man 2. Conscience – From the fall to the flood (the antediluvian period) 3. Human Government – From the flood to the calling of Abraham 4. Promise – From the calling of Abraham to the time of Moses 5. Law – From the giving of the Law to the death/resurrection of Christ 6. Grace – From the beginning of the church to the return of Christ 7. Kingdom – From the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom to its end There are some dispensationalists who have so many dispensations in their schemes that they are called ultradispensationalists, or sometimes hyperdispensationalists. They are small in number compared to the regular variety of dispensationalists. Those who reject dispensationalism and instead emphasize the continuity of God’s program from one era to another are often called covenant theologians. They see continuity of God’s expectations for man (Law) throughout all periods of biblical history, as well as continuity of God’s response when man fails (grace) through those same periods. From these two “covenants” (Law and grace) comes the name covenant theology.
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