Three Dispensations

God has had three arrangements for governing man.  Every Bible student should know this.  Failure to understand this, and to be able to distinguish between the three arrangements leads to all sorts of confusion.  Let’s review the three dispensations.

1.  Patriarchal Dispensation (Star – light Age)

Bible: Genesis 1 – Exodus 20                          Time: Approximately 2500 years

A patriarch was a male leader of a family or tribe.  God communicated with such men as: Adam (Genesis 2:16-17), Noah (Genesis 6:13-16), and Abram (Genesis 12:1-3).  There was no written law from God for man to follow.  However, God did communicate to man in various ways (Genesis 15:1; 22:11, 15; 31:11; 31:24; 46:2; Exodus 3:1-10).  This dispensation was the only arrangement in place between Genesis 1 – Exodus 20, a period of approximately 2500 years.

While it is true that we do not know everything instructed by God during this dispensation – they had no written law from God which we can read – still we know somethings: (1) Murder was forbidden (Genesis 9:6) .  (2) Fornication and adultery were forbidden (Genesis 38:24; 39:7-9).  (3) Idolatry was forbidden (Genesis 35:2-3).  (4) They were not to consume blood (Genesis 9:4).  (5) They were to work (Genesis 2:15; 3:19).  (6) They were to clothe themselves (Genesis 3:21).  (7) They appear to have been taught to abstain from: (a) things offered to idols; (b) consuming blood; (c) consuming things strangled; and (d) fornication (Acts 15:19-20; 21:25).

This dispensation is sometimes called the Star – light age.  It is so-called because details about God’s redemptive plan through Christ seem only dimly revealed.

2.  Mosaic Dispensation  (Moon – light Age)

Bible: Exodus 20 – Acts 2                                   Time: Approximately 1500 years

Israel’s descendants received a new dispensation at Sinai (Exodus 20).  This was a written system of laws (Exodus 24:4-7; 31:18; 32:15-16; 34:1; Deuteronomy 9:10-11; 31:24-26; Joshua 8:34-35; 24:26-27; 1 Kings 2:1-3; Acts 15:21; etc.).  It contained a total of 613 commandments.  It also contained written prophesies concerning a coming Messiah (Luke 24:44; John 5:39; Acts 8:30, 35; 17:11; 18:28; 26:22, 27-28; 28:23).  This dispensation was given to Israel alone (Exodus 20:1-2; 31:16-17a; Deuteronomy 5:2-6 cf. 4:37; 5:15; Nehemiah 9:13-14).

The rest of humanity continued under the Patriarchal Dispensation {Romans 2:11-12 [Those without the law = Gentiles without the law of Moses.  Those in the law = Israelites with the law of Moses.  Clearly, the gentile world was not without any law, because without accountability to law they could not sin (Romans 4:15; 1 John 3:4)]; Acts 15:1-21; 21:18-25 [The distinction between gentile and Israelite is still evident in this transitional period of time ]}.

The Biblical record focuses in on Israel at this point.  However, we should not take this to mean that there were no God-fearing gentiles.  Prior to the giving of the Mosaic law, we read of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20), Job (The book of Job), and Jethro (Exodus 18:12, 17-24).  After the giving of the law, Jesus spoke of other sheep (John 10:16), and we read of Cornelius (Acts 10:16).

Why was the Mosaic Dispensation given?  (a)  It was given to provide civil laws for Israel to live by as a nation (Deuteronomy 22:8; Exodus 21:28-29).  (b) It was given to Israel as a tutor or a schoolmaster (Galatians 3:24).  “Lit. ‘child-leader’ …a slave, to whom in wealthy families the general oversight of a boy was committed.  It was his duty to accompany the charge to and from school, and never to lose sight of him in public, to prevent association with objectionable companions, to inoculate moral lessons at every opportunity, etc” (I.S.B.E., Vol. 4, p. 2702).

The tutor separated and protected the child from bad influences.  Even so, the Mosaic law separated Israel and made her a distinct people with a recognizable distinct seed-line by which a Savior would appear.  This dispensation is sometimes called the Moon-light Age.  God’s redemptive plan through Christ begins to shine a bit brighter.

The tutor helped the child learn lessons.  Even so, the Mosaic law provided continuous lessons on man’s sin problem (Romans 7:7; Galatians 3:21b-22; Hebrews 10:1-4).  It also taught by written prophecy of a coming Savior (Romans 3:1-2; Luke 24:44; John 5:39; Acts 8:30, 35; 17:11; 18:28; 26:22, 27-28; 28:23).  The Mosaic system, itself, foretold of a coming new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Hebrews 8:7-13; 10:15-18).  There would be differences.  (1) The Israelites of old became Israelites (God’s chosen people) by physical birth.  They had to later be taught of God.  However, under the New Covenant one must first be taught (John 6:45 cf. Isaiah 54:13; Acts 18:8 cf. Galatians 3:26-28).  (2) Sin under the Mosaic system was remembered every year on the Day of Atonement (Hebrews 10:1-4 cf. Leviticus 16:11-15).  The New Covenant makes it possible for sin to be remembered no more (Hebrews 10:17-18).

3.  Christian Dispensation (Sun-light or Son-light Age)

Bible: Acts 2 – Revelation 22                            Time: Approximately 2000 years and counting

This dispensation is for all humanity (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47).  Christ reconciled them both (Jew and Gentile, B.H.) to God in one body (church of Ephesians 1:22-23) through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16).  The gospel is God’s power to save both Jew and Greek (Romans 1:16).  “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord overall is rich to all who call upon Him” (Romans 10:12).  “There is neither Jew nor Greek… all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The foundation of this dispensation is the teaching of Jesus and His apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20).  (1) Just as Moses first declared the law and then ratified it with blood (Exodus 24), Even so, Jesus did (Hebrews 9:16-19).  Jesus taught new covenant legislation (Luke 16:16; Matthew 18:15-17).  His blood ratified the covenant (Matthew 26:28).  (2) The Holy Spirit provided the apostles with perfect remembrance of what Christ taught, and guided them into revealing all truth God wanted us to have (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-14).  We will be judged by these words (John 12:48; Romans 2:16).

This dispensation is sometimes called the Sun-light Age.  It is so-called because it is during this dispensation that God’s redemptive man through Christ is finally brightly seen.  It is sometimes called the Son-light Age because this brightness shines through the Son.

Our relationship to the Old Testament: (1) We are not under the specifics of the old law [Romans 7:4 cf. 7:7 (Exodus 20:17)].  (2) Yet, there are great principles that we should learn from the Old Testament record (Romans 15:4a; 1 Corinthians 10:11).  It teaches us of: (a) man’s origin; (b) the origin of the home; (c) how man is tempted; (d) how God views sin; (e) the behavior of Biblical faith (Hebrews 11); (f) the patience of Job (James 5:11); (g) don’t fall short of the promised land (1 Corinthians 10; Hebrews; Jude 5).  (h) Type-antetype pictures may help us to understand the New Testament principles better (Hebrews 10:1; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 Peter 2:5, 9, etc.).  (i) Old Testament prophesies help build faith and identify the Christ; (j) There are 373 direct quotations from the Old Testament contained in the pages of the New Testament.  Plus, there are many, many more indirect quotations and allusions.  It would be very difficult (if not impossible) to understand some New Testament passages without a working knowledge of the Old Testament.

Proofs that we are not under the Mosaic Dispensation: (1) Most of humanity never was under the Mosaic Dispensation (Exodus 20:1-2; 31:16-17a; Deuteronomy 5:2-6 cf. 4:37; 5:15; Nehemiah 9:13-14).  (2) If  Jesus is our High Priest, then we must be under a different dispensation (Hebrews 7:12-14).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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