Taken from Studies in the Scriptures, August 1948
Occasionally, a brief reference is made in these pages to the crudities and absurdities of what is termed Dispensationalism, for some of our readers have been influenced by its evil teaching, and it becomes duty to seek to remove this stumbling-stone from their path. Others of our friends, though unacquainted with this erroneous system, need to be warned against the same. The movement was born a century ago, and has been proudly advertised and extensively propagated under the guise of "new light on God's Word"―an opening up of "the deeper things of God." It is a system of interpreting the Scriptures: an unwarrantable method of segregating its contents, which, if adopted, robs God's people of much of His Word. Not content with rightly distinguishing between what pertained unto those under the old and new covenants, and between what is spoken to the "saints" and to "the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 5:6), Old and New Testament alike are broken up into sections and labeled "for the Jew," "for the Gentiles," "for the church of God," and most of it "NOT to us." These modern Jehoikims (Jeremiah 36:23, 28) sever one passage from another, as they are arbitrarily alleged to belong to different dispensations or eras―both in the past and in the future.
Though posing as men of exceptional insight, as "profound Bible teachers," the Dispensationalists are far from being agreed among themselves as to how many separate eras are treated of in Scripture, or at what precise point one ends and another begins. Some claim there are but seven; others, twelve; while a few make them to be fourteen. The popular Scofield Bible teaches there are no fewer than four covered by the book of Genesis alone, and that a fifth starts in Exodus 19, under which God dealt with men on entirely different lines. Dr. Scofield says: "A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God." The first he styles, "The Dispensation of Innocency," which "ended in the judgment of the Expulsion (Genesis 3:24)." The second, "Conscience," which "ended in the judgment of the Flood." The third, "Human Government," and "the judgment of the confusion of tongues ended the racial testing." The fourth, "Promise," which "ended when Israel rashly accepted the Law." The fifth, "Law," which "extends from Sinai to Calvary."
Now the Greek word, oikonomia, meaning "house arrangement," occurs seven times in the New Testament. The first three occur in Luke 16:2-4, where it is rendered "stewardship," which connotes something radically different from an era! In no instance does the time element enter into the signification of the word! In 1 Corinthians 9:17, for example, Paul declared "a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me"—how utterly absurd would it be to conclude that an "age" had been entrusted to him! Rather, it was an evangelical stewardship or economy. "If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward" (Ephesians 3:2), "whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God" (Colossians 1:25). In neither of those verses is there the remotest reference to a section of history, but rather to an evangelical administration. As the business of a steward is to serve and distribute, so the apostle was called to dispense the Gospel to the Gentiles, to communicate to others what God had revealed to him. In Ephesians 1:10—the only other reference—the simple meaning is that God's plan or economy of salvation is to concentrate all in Christ, all the redeemed being united to one Head. Thus, the Scriptural usage of the word, "dispensation" signifies not an age or era, but a stewardship or administration of things received by commission.
What Scriptural authority, it may be asked, do the Dispensationalists have for their startling method of exegesis?―one quite unknown to the Reformers and godly Puritans! To what passages do they point as warrant for their emphatic assertion that the greater part of the Bible pertains not to those living in this Christian era?―wrongly denominated by them as "the Dispensation of Grace." Wrongly, we say, for as a distinguishing title, it is utterly misleading, seeing that God dealt in pure grace with all He chose in Christ, from the time of Abel until the day of Pentecost: see Genesis 6:8; Exodus 33:12; Jeremiah 31:2; Psalm 84:11; Proverbs 3:34; Nehemiah 9:31; and Jonah 4:2. Surely some very plain and emphatic "thus saith the LORD" is required by believers today when they are dogmatically informed that the whole of the Old Testament and much in the New has no direct reference to them. But no such divine authorization is forthcoming: nothing but an appeal to the sound of one verse, and a human guess upon another!
The first passage to which they have recourse is, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15)―which they affirm to mean partitioning one part to this dispensation and another to that. Let it be duly noted that this verse is not an exhortation to God's people at large, telling them how to handle His Word; but, instead, part of the instructions given to a minister of the Gospel; nor is there any intimation in the context that the Spirit was about to enunciate a revolutionizing principle for interpreting the Scriptures. If this verse be compared with Matthew 7:6; John 16:12; 1 Corinthians 3:2, etc., its meaning is clear: the occupant of the pulpit is to give diligence in becoming equipped to give his hearers "their portion of meat in due season" (Luke 12:42). For him to rightly divide the word is to minister it suitably to the cases and circumstances of his congregation―to sinners and saints, the indifferent and inquiring, babes and fathers, the tempted and afflicted, the backslider and the fallen.
The remaining passage is Luke 4:16-20, where in the synagogue of Nazareth, Christ read Isaiah 61:1, and for some reason or another stopped in the middle of verse 2. The unauthorized guess of the Dispensationalists is that our Lord omitted the next words "and the day of vengeance of our God"—almost always ignoring the additional "to comfort all that mourn"!—because that pertained to a future and distant era. Scofield's Bible says, "Jesus stopped at 'the acceptable year of the LORD,' which is connected with the first advent and the dispensation of grace; 'the day of vengeance of our God' belongs to the second advent and judgment." Thus, we are asked to believe that Isaiah 61:2 treats of two totally different "dispensations," and that the word "and" in the middle of it covers a period which has already extended for more than nineteen centuries! Anything more bizarre and ridiculous could scarcely be imagined. Facts refute it! Did not Christ plainly proclaim "the day of the vengeance of our God" when He asserted, "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell" (Matthew 11:23)? When He pronounced "woe" after "woe" upon the scribes and Pharisees? When He declared to the Jewish nation, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38)? When He announced of the temple, "There shall not be left here one stone upon another" (Matthew 24:2)? He did as certainly as He also comforted all that moment with a godly sorrow.
On those two verses (2 Timothy 2:15; Isaiah 61:2) has been based an entire system of interpreting the Scriptures, which is claimed to be essential to their right understanding and apportioning. That is all the support which this fanciful theory has! Never was so imposing a structure erected upon so flimsy a foundation. Never were credulous simpletons so easily beguiled as when they believed the ipsi dixit1 of these exegetical thieves, and allowed themselves to be deprived of much of God's Word by accrediting their assertions that much in the Prophets is "Millennial," that the Sermon on the Mount belongs to "the Kingdom age," and that most of the Revelation treats only of "the Tribulation period." Cease ye from man! Receive the whole Bible as God's Word to you and for you.
As a sample of the pernicious teaching of the Scofield Bible on this subject, we cite a part of its note on John 1:18: "As a Dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom 3:24-26; 6:4-5). The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ," etc. It betrays the greatest ignorance to assert that sinners were saved in a different way under the Mosaic economy. Limiting ourselves to the Psalms, we there see that there was, then, the same conviction of guilt and demerit (Psalm 32:3-5), the same inevitable condemnation on the ground of God's Law (Psalm 143:2), the same earnest carrying for undeserved mercy (Psalm 51:1), faith in His revealed character as a just God and Savior (Psalm 25:8), hope of pardon, resting on propitiation (Psalm 130:7), pleading of God's name or glory of all His perfections (Psalm 25:11), joy and peace in believing (Psalm 89:15-16), trust in God's faithfulness to His promises (Psalm 89:1-2), confidence in the righteousness of Another (Psalm 84:9), disowning of all ground for boasting (Psalm 115:1) as there is now! Thus the same Gospel which was "preached…unto Abraham" (Galatians 3:8) was proclaimed and believed in the days of David; and Jewish sinners were no more saved then by "legal obedience" than are Gentile sinners today. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine" (2 Timothy 3:16). Every part is needed by us: let none filch any from you.
- ipsi dixit – Latin, "he himself has said it"; any arbitrary or dogmatic statement.