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A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO THE QUESTION OF HOW MANY DISPENSATIONS THERE ARE IN GOD’S ETERNAL PLANS  

A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO THE QUESTION OF HOW MANY DISPENSATIONS THERE ARE IN GOD’S ETERNAL PLANS

 INTRODUCTION 

As the reader is most likely aware, there are many different views as to how many dispensations there are in God’s eternal purposes.  Many believe there are seven dispensations, others believe there are five; still others believe there are twelve or three.  I believe that the reason there are so many different views is that the question is approached incorrectly.  That is to say, each view is based on the premise that the answer to the question of how many dispensations there are is to be determined by how many times God did or said something that was somehow different in a specific period of time than at other times. But, in that case, the number of dispensations would depend entirely on each person’s view as to whether that difference was enough to constitute a different dispensation. In short, I believe that because the premise in determining what characterizes a dispensation, i.e. what God did or said, is not correct, there are so many differing views.

I believe a few examples will clarify that statement.

Dr. E. W. Bullinger suggests that the first dispensation was the creation of Gen. 1:1. But Dr. C. I. Scofield suggests the first dispensation is the “Age of Innocence” when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. There is no Scriptural basis on which to determine which view is correct because the premise i.e. “what God did or said”, is a man-made one, it is not based on Scripture.

Dr. Scofield wrote that the third dispensation was from Noah to the call of Abram, but Mr. Charles Welch wrote that the third dispensation was from Noah to Babel. Certainly there was a change on earth when God scattered the people of that time “abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth” (Gen. 11:8). But was it enough of a change to constitute a new dispensation?  Obviously, Dr. Scofield did not believe it was. My point is that we simply do not know which view is correct because the question of how many dispensations there are rests, in these cases, on the assumption that a different dispensation is determined by what God said or did differently than the previous dispensation. Again, it is that man-made premise that, in my opinion, is incorrect because the premise itself is not based on Scripture. And that is why there is no consensus as to how many dispensations there are in God’s eternal purposes.

My point is that the reason there are so many different views on how many dispensations there are in God’s eternal purposes is that the premise in answering that question is not based on Scripture. That is to say, the seemingly universal premise that a dispensation is characterized by something God did or said differently than before, is a man-made premise, and dependent upon each one’s personal decisions. And as we all know, these personal decisions vary.

The main point of this paper is that we must determine how God characterizes a dispensation. And I believe it will be clear that God characterizes a dispensation by a very specific characteristic given in His Word.

In order to come to a fully Scriptural answer to the question posed in this paper we will consider the following:

The Scriptural definition of the Greek word translated “dispensation”

How can one determine from Scripture what characterizes a dispensation in God’s eyes?

The dispensation of the fulness of times

When will the dispensation of the fulness of times begin?

The five dispensations of God’s eternal purposes

Appendix I: The “Lo-Ammi” Periods

Appendix II: A consideration of I Cor. 15:28

THE SCRIPTURAL DEFINITION OF THE GREEK WORD TRANSLATED “DISPENSATION”

My intention is to define the word “dispensation” from its Scriptural use. But more than that, I will suggest a synonym for “dispensation” that will fit into the contexts of each of its occurrences.

The Greek word translated “dispensation” is “oikonomia”, and is used in the New Testament eight times (the KJV have seven occurrences, but the older, more reliable, texts have eight occurrences. This seeming difficulty will be discussed below). The Greek word, according to Dr. E. W. Bullinger, is made up of two words, “Oiko” meaning “house” and” nomia” which means “law”. So literally, “oikonomia” means “house law“. The “house” must be determined from the context.

The first occurrences are in Luke 16:2-4, “…..How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship (Gr. “oikonomia”); for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship (Gr. “oikonomia”): I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do; that, when I am put out of the stewardship (Gr. “oikonomia”), they may receive me unto their houses”.

The term “house law” does not easily fit into an English translation. For that reason I believe that it would be helpful to find a synonym for “house law”. It is clear that the steward of Luke 16 is managing his master’s household. I would suggest therefore, the word “management” might be an adequate translation of the Greek “oikonomia”. “Management” is a word that is easier to adapt to the context of each of the occurrences of “oikonomia”, and it means more or less, the same as “house law”. So then, we might translate these verses as, “give an account of thy management“, and “when I am put out of the management“.

Let us continue with a consideration of the other occurrences of the Greek “oikonomia”.

We read in I Cor. 9:17, “For if I do this thing willingly I have a reward: but if against my will a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me, what is my reward then?” We might translate the second phrase of this verse as, “but if against my will a management (or stewardship) of the gospel is committed unto me….”. Paul was given the gospel to preach. His reward in regards to that preaching depended upon how he managed the preaching of the gospel. The “house” in this context therefore refers, metaphorically, to the gospel that Paul was to manage.

Eph. 1:10, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ….”.  There will come a time when God will bring all things together in Christ. At that time God’s management of His household will be in accordance with that fact. To rephrase that, in the fulness of times, God will gather all things together in Christ; that is how He will manage His household. We might translate this verse, “That in the management of the fulness of times, God might gather together in one, all things in Christ”. In this context, I believe we may conclude that the “house” is put metaphorically for the universe. (The discussion in the paragraphs below of the dispensation of the fulness of times will prove that it is yet future).

Eph. 3:2-3, “If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward; how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery…”. It is widely taught that the term “dispensation of the grace of God” is used to characterize the present dispensation as God’s grace in salvation. Let us consider that thought.

Many believe that the main difference between the present dispensation and the previous one is that saints in the previous dispensation were saved by the works of the law, or by grace through faith plus works, whereas in the present dispensation works are not required for salvation.  But as the paper on faith and works in salvation shows, faith is completed by works in every dispensation, including the present one. James put that truth quite succinctly when he wrote, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone” (James 2:17). And in verse 22 of that same chapter we read, “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect” (Greek “teleioo”, “complete”).

In point of fact, Paul wrote the exact same truth in Phil. 2:12 when he wrote, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Did Paul mean that one is saved by works?  Of course not! He was reiterating the same truth about which James had written in James 2. That truth again, is that works complete one’s faith and as the above mentioned paper shows, God’s grace in salvation is a universal truth, i.e., it transcends dispensations.  In short, there is nothing different in terms of God’s grace in salvation in the present dispensation than in any other dispensation.

Further, what brought about the present dispensation and indeed, as will be discussed below, is characterized by it, was God’s punishment of Israel in setting Her aside, and punishment is the exact opposite of grace.

Let us therefore, consider the “of” in the phrase “the dispensation of the grace of God”.  To begin, I believe that the “of” in the phrase “grace of God” is the Genitive of Possession which Dr. E; W. Bullinger defines as, “It may be said to answer the question ‘Who?’”. In other words, the phrase may be understood to say, “God’s grace”.

Now let us consider the “of” in the phrase “the dispensation of”. The word “of” in this phrase is usually taken to be the Genitive of Character. I believe a few examples will define the Genitive of Character.  Ps. 2:6, Heb, “the hill of My holiness” = My holy hill. The “of” tells us that in this verse, the hill is characterized as holy. Eph. 2:2, “Children of disobedience” = disobedient children. In this verse the “of” tells us that the children of this context are characterized as disobedient. 2 Thess. 1:7, “angels of His might”= His mighty angels.  In this verse the “of” is used to say that the angels are characterized as mighty.  It is because most understand the “of” to be the Genitive of Character that they understand Eph. 3:2-3 to speak of a dispensation which is characterized by God’s managing His household in grace with respect to salvation.

But because God’s plan of salvation is no different in the present dispensation than it has ever been, and because the present dispensation is characterized, not by God’s grace, but by His punishment of Israel when He set that nation aside, I believe that it behooves the student of God’s Word to reexamine what Genitive should be understood in this verse. That is to say, there is reason to consider that the “of” in the term “dispensation of the grace of God” is not the Genitive of Character, but is the Genitive of Origin. 

 The definition of the Genitive of Origin is given by Dr. E. W. Bullinger in the Companion Bible as “This marks the source from which anything has its origin”. I suggest that in Eph. 3:2 the “of” in the term,”dispensation of the grace of God” is the Genitive of Origin and should therefore, be understood as the dispensation that proceeds from God’s grace. In order to make this clear I will paraphrase this verse in accordance with the definition of the “of” stated above. “If ye have heard of the dispensation that comes from God’s grace…”.

In short, the term “dispensation from the grace of God” tells us that God, in His grace, gave to Paul the revelation of the mystery. The parallel verse, i.e. Col. 1:25 is discussed below and is more easily understood to mean, as suggested here, that it was God’s grace in giving to Paul the revelation of the mystery that is the subject of these parallel verses.

In this context, I believe that the “house” is the “revelation of the mystery” which Paul was given to manage.  (For a more complete explanation of the term “the dispensation of the grace of God” please see the paper on that subject).

Eph. 3:9, “And to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery”. The KJV has “fellowship”.  I will quote the note in the Companion Bible by Dr. E. W. Bullinger on that word.  “The texts read “oikonomia” instead of “ koinonia”.  In other words, the translations that use the older, more reliable texts discovered after the KJV was published, have “oikonomia” i.e., “dispensation”, not “koinonia”, i.e. “fellowship”.

I believe that the “of” in the phrase “dispensation of the mystery” is the Genitive of Relation which is defined, in part, by Dr. E.W. Bullinger as “the ‘of’ is equivalent to ‘pertaining to’”. So we may understand this verse to say, “…to make all men see what is God’s management of His household pertaining to the mystery”. In this context I believe we may conclude that the “house” is used metaphorically of the world.

Col. 1:25, “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you; to fulfill the word of God”. This is a parallel verse to Eph. 3:2-3. I believe that, as is true of Eph. 3 where, as discussed above, the “of” is the Genitive of Origin, so too in Col. 1:25 the “of” in the phrase “dispensation of God” is the Genitive of Origin. Therefore, we might translate this verse to read, “Whereof I am made a minister according to the management which was given to me from God for you to fulfill the word of God”. In Colossians Paul does not speak of the grace of God in his receiving the mystery, but only that he was made a minister of it.

The “house” in this context is, again, as it was in Eph. 3:2-3, the revelation of the mystery that Paul was given to manage.

Let us try to put these verses together in an attempt to clarify the meaning of “oikonomia”. In every occurrence the word “management” may be used to translate the Greek word. Therefore, we may conclude that the word “dispensation” refers to the management of a household.

 HOW CAN ONE DETERMINE FROM SCRIPTURE WHAT CHARACTERIZES A DISPENSATION?

As discussed in the introduction of this paper, I believe the reason there are so many differing views of how many dispensations there are in God’s eternal purposes is that the determination as to what characterizes a dispensation is in the eyes of the person suggesting what those dispensations are. In short, I believe that we must determine from Scripture how God characterizes a dispensation. And it is just how that determination is made that will be discussed in this section.

 As mentioned above, there are, in relation to God’s eternal purposes, just two dispensations mentioned as such in His Word.  That is to say the first three occurrences of the Greek word translated “dispensation” are in relation to how the unjust servant managed his master’s household.  The fourth occurrence is in I Cor. 9 which speaks of how Paul managed the gospel. The occurrences of the word “dispensation” in Eph. 3:2-3 and its parallel passage Col. 1:5-6 concern Paul’s management of the revelation of the dispensation of the mystery.

 But again, there are two verses that do concern dispensations in terms of God’s eternal purposes. The first one is found in Eph. 1:10 which reads, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ….”.

The second mention of a dispensation, as such, in relation to God’s eternal purposes is found in Eph. 3:9, “And to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery”. It is this dispensation that, in my opinion, is the “template” given in the Word that will determine what, in God’s eyes, characterizes a dispensation in terms of His eternal purposes.  That is to say, there is a specific element described in the Word of God with respect to the dispensation of the mystery that serves as a template for how God characterizes a dispensation. Let us, therefore, begin with a consideration of the dispensation of the mystery.

If we are to understand God’s management in the dispensation of the mystery we must, of course, understand what that mystery is that characterizes the dispensation of the mystery.

Let us begin by considering two passages from the Old Testament. We read in I King 8:53, “For Thou didst separate them (Israel) from among all the people of the earth, to be Thine inheritance….”. And in Lev. 20:24 we read, “……I am the Lord your God Which hath separated you from the people”. In other words, God separated Israel from all other nations. What was His purpose for that separation? I believe it was to have a nation through whom God would testify to the world as to Who He is.  Consider for example Josh. 9:9-10 which reads, “and they (the inhabitants of Gibeon, vs. 3) said unto him (Joshua), ‘From a very far country thy servants are come because of the name of the Lord thy God: for we have heard the fame of Him, and all that He did in Egypt’”. These men from Gideon came to talk with Joshua because they had heard of what God had accomplished in leading Israel out of Egypt, and wanted therefore to make peace with Israel. God could have led Israel out of Egypt in any way He chose, but He chose to do it in such a way as to inform the nations of Who He is.

With that in mind we are prepared to consider the mystery that characterizes the dispensation of the mystery as revealed in Eph. 3:6.

The paper on the mystery that had been hid in God proves from Scripture that that mystery is the fact that all nations are “sussoma”, i.e. literally “together bodies” in God’s eyes. In other words, in the dispensation of the mystery, God does not see Israel as a separated nation, He sees all nations as “together”, i.e. together nations. But the KJV ‘s translation of the Greek “sussoma” is “same body”. Let us consider that translation.

The Greek word “sussoma”  is made up of the prefix “sun” and the root “soma”. “Sun” is almost always translated “together” and “soma” means “body”.  As is true of many other languages, the adjective (in this case “sussoma”)  must agree in number with the noun it modifies. We read in “New Testament Greek” by D. F. Hudson published by NTC Publishing Group on page 14, paragraph five, “It is also most important to notice that adjectives must have the same function as the noun to which they refer, and must therefore, be in the same Case: they must also have the same number and the same Gender. A singular noun must have a singular adjective, a plural noun must have a plural adjective.…..”. In short, the KJV translation of “susomma” cannot be correct because “same body” is not plural. So in this case, because it is used to modify a plural noun (i.e. “ethnos”) it must be plural, i.e. “bodies”.

“Ethnos” translated “Gentiles” in Eph. 3:6 must mean “nations” (it is often translated that way) because it makes no sense to say that Gentiles are together bodies. In other words, one of the characteristics of the dispensation of the mystery is that the nations are “together bodies”. 

Further the paper on Jews and Gentiles in the dispensation of the mystery will prove from Scripture that God sees the people of all the nations as the same.  In short, I am suggesting that what characterizes the dispensation of the mystery is that God’s management of His household is consistent with the fact that no nation is separate from any other nation. And it is that characterization (or it’s opposite, i.e. God managing His household consistent with a separated nation) that is the “template” in determining what characterizes all dispensations.

Can we use the dispensation of the mystery as a “template” in determining how God characterizes all dispensations?  Yes, I believe we can.  That is to say, we have from Scripture itself a clear statement/template of what characterizes the dispensation of the mystery in God’s sight. This template is not dependent on what man chooses what God has said or done. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit saying in effect, “I have characterized the dispensation of the mystery as God’s management of His household consistent with the fact that no nation is separate from any other nation”. This then is, in my opinion, the template for how to determine what characterizes a dispensation.

To put this in other terms, we have in the Word of God a very specific characterization of the dispensation of the mystery. If we use that characterization (or the opposite of it) as our template in determining what characterizes all dispensations, we are not left to personal opinion, as to whether what God did or said characterizes a dispensation.

But it could be argued that one example may not be sufficient Scriptural evidence upon which to refer to that example as a “template” for other dispensations. Therefore, as the argument goes, we should not attempt to determine a dispensation that is not specifically called a “dispensation” in the Word.

It should be noted however that, as discussed below, the template holds true for the only other dispensation named as such with respect to God’s eternal plans, i.e. the dispensation of the fulness of times. But for the sake of thoroughness, let us first consider the question posed, i.e. can we use just one dispensation as a template?

We know from the fact that when Christ ascended to heaven as recorded in Acts one, that He had a visible body. I believe most take that visible body as evidence (i.e. a template) that when believers are raised from the dead, we too shall have a visible body. I believe there is good reason for that belief in that Christ is the “firstfruits” of resurrection. The “firstfruit” is not significantly different from the fruit that comes after it, i.e. those who will be raised from the dead after the “firstfruits”. So, once again, we have taken one example and applied it, with reason, to what is not mentioned in Scripture.

Is there reason to use the dispensation of the mystery as a template? I believe there is.  Again, as will be discussed below, the only other dispensation mentioned as such in the Word, is the dispensation of the fulness of times, and that dispensation fits our template perfectly.  That is to say, what characterizes the dispensation of the mystery is the same as that which characterizes the dispensation of the fullness of times, i.e. God is managing, and will manage His household consistent with the fact that no nation is separate from the others.

I believe that it is therefore, reasonable to conclude that, while we may not want to name other dispensations, there is, as will be shown below, a great deal to learn in terms of God’s eternal purpose from how God characterizes a dispensation.

We are now prepared to consider dispensations not mentioned as such in the Word. Our template (i.e. the dispensation of the mystery) is God managing His household consistent with the fact that no nation is separate from any other.  It is clear that in the previous dispensation God was managing His household in a manner consistent with the fact that Israel was a separated nation. That is to say, as proved in the Old Testament passages quoted above, the Bible does indeed teach that before the dispensation of the mystery, God did manage His household consistent with the fact that Israel was a separated nation. So our template remains viable.

As will be seen in the section below on the five dispensations in God’s eternal purposes, each of those five dispensations is characterized by whether God managed His household in a way that is consistent with one nation being separate from all others,  or not.

With that said, let us consider the dispensation of the fulness of times in order to determine if, as suggested above, it fits our template, i.e. the dispensation of the mystery.

THE DISPENSATION OF THE FULNESS OF TIMES 

In the section above I suggested that the dispensation of the mystery served as a template.  That is to say, once we understand what characterizes the dispensation of the mystery, we know from His Word how God characterizes all dispensations.

As we have learned, the dispensation of the fulness of times is one of only two dispensations mentioned as such in the Bible in terms of God’s eternal purposes. Does the dispensation of the fulness of times fit the suggested template? If it does, I believe that would lend veracity to the suggested template. Let us consider the dispensation of the fulness of times with that in mind.

Because many believe that the present dispensation is the dispensation of the fulness of times: that belief will be included in this discussion.

We read in Eph. 1:10, “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”.

The Greek word translated “fulness” in the phrase “the dispensation of the fulness of times” in Eph. 1:10 is, “pleeroma“. It is used 17 times in the New Testament. I believe that as we look at just a few of those occurrences, we will see how the Holy Spirit would have us understand the word.

We read in Mark 8:20, “……..how many baskets full of fragments took ye up?” This is, I believe,  the basic use of the word. It is used here to indicate that the baskets had no more room for any more fragments, i.e. they were completed.

The word is used in Rom. 13:10 where we read, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law”. I believe that Paul’s point is that love completes the law concerning one’s neighbors.

Now let us look at a passage which speaks of the fulness of a time. Gal. 4:4 reads, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law……”. I believe Paul’s point in this verse is that when all things were completed for the coming of Christ to earth, God sent His Son. The key point is that all things were ready or completed.

Now let us consider the term “the fulness of times” in Eph. 1:10. I believe that we may conclude that the term “fulness of times” refers to a time when all God’s plans have been completed and there is nothing else that needs to be done. In other words, in the dispensation of the fulness of times God will manage His household in such a way consistent with the fact that His eternal plans and purposes have been completed. Given that, for example, death still exists, I believe we must conclude that God’s plans and purposes have not yet been fulfilled in the present dispensation.

One reason that many believe that the present dispensation is the dispensation of the fulness of times may be based on Col. 1:25 which reads, “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God”.  May I respectfully remind the reader as to just what this verse refers?  As discussed above, the “of” in the phrase “dispensation of God” is the Genitive of Origin. Therefore, we might translate this verse to read, “Whereof I am made a minister according to the management which was given to me from God for you to fulfill the word of God”. In other words, the dispensation referred to in Col. 1:25 is what God gave to Paul to manage, i.e. the revelation of the mystery that had been hid in God.

 The revelation of the mystery that had been hid in God fulfilled the Word of God, but it is the mystery itself that characterizes how God manages His household, not the revelation of it. Let me rephrase this concept for clarity.

The mystery that characterizes the dispensation of the mystery is that God manages His household in a way that is consistent with the fact that no nation is separated from any other nation.  The fact that the revelation of the mystery completed the Word of God does not, in and of itself, constitute a management, it is simply the revelation of that management.

Let us continue with our consideration of Eph. 1:10 which speaks of a time when God will “gather together in one all things in Christ”. I believe that as we consider the meaning of the Greek word translated “in”, in the phrase “gather together….. in Christ”, it will be clear that the present dispensation is not the dispensation of the fulness of times. The Greek preposition translated “in” in this phrase is “en” and is defined by Dr. E. W. Bullinger in the Companion Bible as, “denotes being or remaining within, with the primary idea of rest and continuance”.

 Can we say that in the present dispensation all things in heaven and on earth are in, and remain, in Christ in a state of “rest and continuance”?  I think not. Let us, for example, consider Eph. 6:12 which reads, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”. The Greek word translated “high” in the phrase “wickedness in high places” is the same word that is translated “heaven” in every other occurrence of the word in Ephesians.

Eph. 6:10 speaks of believers wrestling “rulers of the darkness of this world”. That proves that not all things on earth are in and remain in Christ in a state of “rest and continuance”. The same is true of the phrase, “spiritual wickedness in high places”. Therefore, I believe that the Greek preposition “en” also proves that the present dispensation cannot be the dispensation of the fullness of times when all things in heaven and on earth will be gathered together in Christ.

Continuing with a discussion of the dispensation of the fulness of times, let us consider the Greek word translated “gather together”.  That word is “anakephalaioomai” and is used only one other time, i.e. in Rom. 13:9. Dr. E. W. Bullinger’s note in the Companion Bible on this word tells us that it means literally “head up”. So Eph. 1:10 tells us that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, Christ will head up all things in heaven and on earth.

The phrase “head up” may also lead some to conclude that the present dispensation is the dispensation of the fulness of times because we read in Eph. 1:22 that God, ”gave Him (Christ) to be the Head over all things to the church”. What does it mean that Christ is Head over all things to the church”? I believe the word “to” refers to all things that concern the church. That is to say, the phrase “to the church” limits that over which Christ is the Head. But in the dispensation of the fulness of times there will be no limits over which things Christ will “head up”. He will head up all things both in heaven and on earth”.

As mentioned above, the Greek word translated “gather together” in Eph. 1:10 is also used in Rom. 13:9. That verse reads, “….. ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, ‘ ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’”. It is the Greek word translated here “briefly comprehended” that is the same as is translated “gather together” in Eph. 1:10. What does the phrase “briefly comprehend” mean in this context? We must bear in mind the literal meaning of the Greek word translated “head up” as we answer that question. In other words, we need to determine what the Greek word means so that it is understandable in both contexts.

What was Paul’s point in Rom. 13:9? I believe that his point was that the very essence of all the commandments is that we love our neighbors as ourselves. Does that fit its usage in Eph. 1:10?  I believe it does. That is to say, Christ will head up all things and all things will be in a state of “rest and continuance” in Him, so that He will be the very essence of everything that exists both in heaven and on earth.

Let us consider the phrase “gather together in one all things in Christ”. What does it mean that all things will be gathered together (lit. “head up”) in one? I believe it means that there will be no difference in how God sees any living being in heaven and on earth.  In terms of the suggested template, the fact that all things in heaven and on earth will be gathered together “in one” is a key truth.  That is to say, if all are one in Christ in the dispensation of the fulness of times, obviously there can be no separated nation.

The other verse that characterizes the dispensation of the fullness of times, but is not mentioned as such, is I Cor. 15:28.

Let us first determine from the context that this verse does indeed refer to the dispensation of the fullness of times.  We read in verses 24-28, “Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.  For He (the Son) must reign till He (God) hath put all enemies under His (the Son’s) feet.  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For He hath put all things under His feet, But when He saith, ‘all things are put under Him’, it is manifest that He is excepted, Which did put all things under Him, that God will be all in all”. 

(We read in I Cor. 15:28, “……then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him That put all things under Him….. “. In I Cor. 15:28 Paul speaks of the Son being “subject” unto Him”. But Christ is the Son, and He is God.  God cannot be subjected to anyone. So as to not depart too much from the point of this paper but still address that seeming difficulty, I will address that issue in the Appendix II of this paper).

Please note that whereas in Eph. 1:10 Paul described the dispensation of the fulness of times as God managing His household in accordance with the fact that Christ will head up all things in heaven and on earth, In I Cor. 15:28 Paul wrote of God being “all in all”. I believe both passage refer to the same dispensation.

What does the phrase “that God may be all in all” mean? I believe it means that God will be the all-important and the only revered Being in the universe. The phrase “all in all” may be an example of the figure of speech aenigma which is defined By Dr. E. W. Bullinger in the Companion Bible as, “a truth expressed in obscure language”. A figure of speech is used to enhance a truth. What truth is being enhanced in this phrase? I believe that when we say to someone we love “you are my everything”, we are expressing the same thought as Paul expressed when he wrote that God will be “all in all”. Dr. E. W. Bullinger’s note in the Companion Bible gives an interpretation which is not significantly different than the one suggested. That interpretation is that, “There is an ellipsis and should read, ‘over all things in all places’, i.e. everywhere supreme”.

 The question before us now is, “how will God manage His household in the dispensation of the fulness of times, and will that management fit the suggested template”? Let us summarize what we learn from Eph. 1:10 and I Cor. 15:28. We learn that, at long last, in the dispensation of the fulness of times, Christ will head up all things in heaven and on earth so that God will be, to all that live, their “everything”, i.e. that He will be “everywhere supreme”.  And that everything in heaven and on earth will be “one” in Christ. 

For the sake of clarity I will list what we have learned about the dispensation of the fulness of times:

 All God’s plans and purposes will have been fulfilled which makes a separated nation to be a witness as to Who He is, unnecessary.

God will be “all in all” which again, makes a separated nation unnecessary. 

All things in heaven and on earth will be “one in Christ”, no nation separated but rather all are one.

Christ will head up all things in heaven and earth.

I believe that the list of what characterizes the dispensation of the fulness of times lends veracity to the suggested template, at least in the only other specific reference to a dispensation which has to do with His eternal purposes. That is to say, the characteristics given in the Word of God that describe the dispensation of the fulness of times is consistent with God managing His household with no nation being separate from any other nation.

 WHEN WILL THE DISPENSATION OF THE FULNESS OF TIMES BEGIN?

As discussed above, most base their views on what characterizes a dispensation  on the premise that a dispensation is determined by whether God had done or said something that in some way differs from the previous dispensation.  Based on that premise most believe that the dispensation of the fulness of times will begin with the creation of the new heaven and new earth.  That is to say, it is obvious that there will be a change from the present heaven and earth when the new heaven and earth are created, so the conclusion based on that man-made premise is that the dispensation of the fulness of times will begin with the creation of the new heaven and new earth.

However, as will be proved below, the description of the new earth given in Revelation chapters 21 and 22 is inconsistent with and contradicts the characteristics of the dispensation of the fulness of times as described in Eph. 1:10 and I Cor. 15:28. Let us consider what God has written concerning the new earth.

To begin, we must consider Rev. 21:24 which reads, “And the nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of it (the new Jerusalem)….”. Note the phrase, “of them that are saved”. The note by Dr. E. W. Bullinger in the Companion Bible on that phrase reads, “The texts omit”.  In other words, the first part of this verse should read, “And the nations shall walk in the light of it”. As will be shown below, it is clear that many of these nations are indeed not saved.

We read in Rev. 22:14-15, “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city”. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie”.  Let us consider also Rev. 21:8, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death”. (Most believe that the lake of fire will be done away with when the present earth will be destroyed. So as to not get too far from our topic, may I encourage the reader to consider the paper on unbelievers on the new earth which will show that the lake of fire will be, for a time of preparation, on the new earth). Let us add Rev. 21:27 to our consideration of these chapters. We read in that verse, “and there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie….”.

Note that Rev. 21:8 speaks quite specifically of unbelievers on the new earth, (“the fearful and unbelieving…”). Note also that Rev. 22:14-15 speaks of some being “without”? What does that mean?  The Greek word translated “without” is always used in reference to being outside of something. In point of fact the old English word “without” is also used to express being outside of something. In this passage it refers to some being outside the new Jerusalem which is the only city mentioned in chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation.  Note also that Rev. 21:27 tells us that there “shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth”. We learn from this verse that no one that defiles will enter into the new Jerusalem. Why would we be told that defilers would not be allowed into the city if there were no defilers on the new earth? In my opinion the reason we are told that defilers will not be allowed entrance into the new Jerusalem is to assure us that even though there will be defilers on the new earth for a time, they will not be allowed to defile the new Jerusalem because they will not even be allowed entrance into it.

We are not told who these unbelievers will be, but in my opinion, they will be those who had been born during the millennial reign but had not yet had the opportunity to accept or reject God’s salvation.

As the paper on sin on the new earth will show, there will be a time of preparation for the millennial kingdom, which I believe sets the precedence for a time of preparation for the dispensation of the fulness of times. In short, I am suggesting that the Bible teaches that, just as the millennial reign will have a time of preparation, so too the new earth will undergo a time of preparation for the dispensation of the fulness of times in order to deal with unbelievers.

In other words, Revelation chapters 21-22 are not about the dispensation of the fulness of times, they are about the preparation for the dispensation of the fulness of times. Consider that in the dispensation of the fulness of times God will be all in all.  But surely that cannot include unbelievers. And in the dispensation of the fulness of times death will have been conquered. But some will, during the time of preparation, be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. My point is that if we see the dispensation of the fulness of times as beginning with the creation of the new heaven and new earth, there are several contradictions in the Word of God.  That, of course, is entirely impossible and therefore the belief that the dispensation of the fullness of times will begin with the creation of the new heaven and new earth must be rejected.

But how are we to understand Rev. 21:4? That verse reads, “And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away”.

We know that there are no contradictions in the Word of God. And yet we do read in Rev. 21:8 that some who will live on the new earth shall be cast into the lake of fire after the new earth is established. How can there be no more death and at the same time some will be cast into the lake of fire to suffer,”the second death”? The answer to that question is found in the fact that Rev. 21:4 concerns the city of the new Jerusalem, not the entire new earth. Let us put this verse in context. We read in verses 2-4, “I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven…..and I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death…..’”. In short, the context concerns the new Jerusalem, not the new earth.

Because, as I have tried to show from Scripture, there will be, for a time of preparation, sin on the new earth, I believe we must conclude that the dispensation of the fulness of times will not be in evidence at the creation of the new earth.  But again, I do believe that there will be a period of preparation on the new earth, at the end of which, the dispensation of the fulness of times will indeed begin.

But if the creation of the new earth will not be the beginning of the dispensation of the fulness of times, how are to understand Rev. 21:6 which reads, “And He said unto me, ‘It is done’…..”. That is to say, if Christ said it was done, does that mean that there will be no preparation period because everything has already been accomplished?  Let us consider the Greek word translated “done”.

 The Greek word translated “done” in Rev. 21:6 is “ginomai”. May I respectfully remind the reader that the Greek word meaning “to complete” is, as stated above, “pleeroma”. What then does “ginomai” mean? We must, of course answer that question by how it is used by the Holy Spirit. We read in Matt. 7:28, “And it came to pass….” Here the Greek word “ginomai” is translated “came to pass” (See also Matt. 9:10, 11:1, 13:53 etc.). We read in Matt. 8:16, “When the evening was come…” (Gr. “ginomai”).  In this verse it is translated “was come”. 

Certainly in some occurrences one may be led to the erroneous conclusion that the Greek word can mean “to complete”. For example we read in Matt. 6:10, “Thy will be done on earth…”. But if the Holy Spirit wanted us to understand that this prayer asks for God’s will to be completed He would have used the word that means “to complete”.  Further, there are too many occurrences of the word, as shown above, where it cannot mean “to complete”. Therefore, I believe we must understand the word as used in Rev. 21:6 to mean that Christ was not saying that all things had been completed.

What was Christ saying in Rev. 21:6? We have determined the meaning of the Greek word translated “done” in that verse; now let us consider the context. We read in Rev. 21:2, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven….”. Verses 3-4 record the blessings to be enjoyed in the “holy city”. Verse 5 records Christ telling John to record what He is about to say, which was that “it is done”.  What is done?  If we are to answer that question from the context, I believe we must conclude that the holy city was “done, i.e. it had been created.

There is one more verse that should be considered when determining when, in relation to the creation of the new earth, the dispensation of the fulness of times will be in evidence. That verse is Rev. 21:3 which reads, “…..Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them…..”. I will preface my comments on this verse by stating my belief that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. With that said let us consider this verse. What is of paramount importance is the fact that the Greek texts translated literally read, “the tabernacle of God is with the men”. Note the very important word “the” in the phrase “the men”. It tells us that “men” is limited to those in the context.  In other words, God will tabernacle with the men of the new Jerusalem.

Actually, given that there will be some on the new earth who will be unbelievers, it makes perfect sense that God will not dwell with all men. That is to say, all those in the new Jerusalem will be believers, so God will live among believers in the new Jerusalem, but not among the sinful outside the holy city.

My point is, of course, that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, God will indeed be everything to everyone on earth and in heaven. But until the preparation period of the new earth is completed the dispensation of the fullness of times cannot begin.

THE FIVE DISPENSATIONS OF GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSES

The first dispensation

I believe there are five dispensations. The first is from the creation of Adam and Eve to the calling of Abram when God managed His household in accordance with the fact that there was no nation separated by God from all other nations.

But we read in Romans 1:22-24, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness……”.

Because of the sins described in Romans one, God gave up the world to those sins. We are not specifically told when in human history God gave them up, but I believe that after God gave them up He called Abram so that He would have a people through whom He would reveal Himself to the world. That would put God giving up the world just before the call of Abram.

The second dispensation

The second dispensation is from the call of Abram to the setting aside of Israel in the dispensation of the mystery.  The second dispensation was characterized by  God managing His household in accordance with the fact that God had a chosen/separated nation, i.e. Israel.

 The third dispensation 

The third dispensation is the dispensation of the mystery which will continue until the end times. The third dispensation is characterized by God managing His household in accordance with the fact that no nation is separated from any other nation in God’s sight.

The fourth dispensation 

The fourth dispensation will begin with the beginning of the end times.  In the fourth dispensation Israel will once again be at the center of God’s management of His household (please see the paper on that subject for the Scriptural evidence of that statement). The fourth dispensation then, will be characterized by God managing His household in accordance with the fact that Israel will be a separated nation from all other nations.

The fifth dispensation

I believe that the fifth dispensation is the dispensation of the fulness of times. It will begin after the preparation period needed to cleanse the new earth. It will be characterized in accordance with the fact that there will be no separated nation.

The following outline may make this view of the five dispensations more clear: 

A1 The first dispensation with no separated nation

B1 The second dispensation with a separated nation 

The template: The third dispensation with no separated nation 

A2 The fourth dispensation with a separated nation

B2 The fifth dispensation with no separated nation

 APPENDIX I “THE “LO-AMMI” PERIODS

The prophet Hosea prophesied that in the impending Babylonian captivity, God would set aside Israel as His chosen nation. We read in Hosea 1:9, “Then said God, ‘Call his name Lo-ammi; for ye are not My People, and I will not be your God’”. So for the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity, Israel was not God’s people.

In the paragraphs above I have tried to show that what characterizes all dispensations is God managing His household consistent with either having a separated nation or with having no separated nation. In the interest of thoroughness I believe we must consider the fact that there were times recorded in the Old Testament when God had set aside His chosen nation because of their disobedience to His Law. The question we must ask is, “was Israel’s relationship with the nations of the world a separated nation while She was Lo-ammi”? Or was Israel a “together nation” with all other nations as She is today in the dispensation of the mystery?  If the later, i.e., a “together nation” that would mean that there was a different dispensation during the Old Testament “Lo-ammi” periods.  Let us consider this question.

As mentioned in the section above, because of the great sins recorded in Rom. 1:22-24 of the people of all nations, God “gave them up”.  But God, in His grace, took them back at the cross.   We read in II Cor. 5:18-20, “And all things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation: to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their sins unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation”. The paper on the definitions of words having to do with God’s plan of salvation will prove from Scripture that reconciliation is not the same as salvation.  Consider for example, Rom. 5:10, which reads, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life”. Note the phrase “much more”. If reconciliation is the same as salvation Paul could not have said that salvation was “much more” than reconciliation.

Salvation requires man’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Reconciliation, on the other hand, is a unilateral act. God determined that He would reconcile the world unto Himself and nowhere in the Bible do we read that the world needed to accept that in order for it to be put into effect.

So the reconciliation of II Cor. 5:18-20 is the nations of the world being reconciled/reconnected to God by Christ’s death on the cross. Those nations which had once been given up as recorded in Romans one, were, at the cross, reconciled to God. Again, this reconciliation did not result in salvation, but it did allow for God to send apostles, especially Paul, to the Gentiles.

Israel was, at the time of the cross, still God’s separated nation (please see the paper on this subject for the Scriptural evidence of that statement). But because God had reconciled the nations of the world to Himself, for the first time since God had given up the nations, He sent His apostles to the Gentiles.

Now let us consider just what exactly was the relationship that God had with Israel when She was “Lo-ammi” during the Babylonian captivity? Appendix Number 60 in the Companion Bible shows how God’s Name, i.e. “Jehovah,” was hidden in the book but appeared in four different acrostics. Consider also that God protected Israel during that same “Lo-ammi” period as God, through Esther saved Israel from Haman.

 Let us also consider the different steps God took to reconcile the world unto Himself at the cross, and how He took Israel back from being “Lo-ammi”. That is to say, God took Israel back because He had said He would, but it took the shed blood of Christ on the cross for God to be reconciled to the world.

What does all this tell us of the relationship of Israel to the nations of the world?  That is to say, when Israel was “Lo-ammi” was She separated from the nations?

Let us, for the sake of clarity, assign levels of the relationship of Israel to the nations of the world at various points in history as recorded in the Bible. (I am not suggesting that the Bible actually speaks of levels, I use them only to clarify my views.) At the beginning the nations were at level one, but after God “gave up” the nations of the world we may think of those nations being at level zero. Then God chose Abram to be the father of Israel and Israel, being God’s chosen/separated nation was at level two. That is to say, Israel was at a higher “level” than any other nation had ever been because unlike any other nation, She had been separated unto God. When Israel became “Lo-ammi”, as recorded in the Old Testament, She was at level one. That is to say, even though Israel was “Lo-ammi”, She was still, in the Old Testament “Lo-ammi” periods, separated from all other nations, i.e. She was not at level zero with the rest of the nations. Then, when Israel was taken back by God after Her 70 year captivity, She was at level two again.

My point is that even in the Old Testament “Lo-ammi” periods Israel was still separated from all other nations of the world, and therefore God managed His household in accordance with that fact.

It should be noted however, that the dispensation of the mystery was a secret hid in God and was therefore unique. That mystery was that the nations were “together bodies”. Please see the paper on the uniqueness of the dispensation of the mystery for a more complete discussion of that uniqueness.

APPENDIX ll

We read in I Cor. 15:28 that “the Son will be subject to Him”. The Son is, of course, Jesus Christ.  But Christ is God, how can He be subject to anyone? The answer to that question requires a correct understanding of the trinity.

As the paper on the trinity suggests, “Father”, ”Son” and “Holy Spirit” are not three Persons of the Godhead, but rather three of the many titles of Jehovah. For example, we read in Is. 9:6 of the titles of the Son, (“unto us a Son is given”) one of which is “everlasting Father”. If the Father and Son are different Persons that makes absolutely no sense because the Son cannot be His own Father. If however, we see these titles as offices of Jehovah, as opposed to Persons, all is clear.

Let us consider the question, to Whom will the Son be subject?  Because the kingdom will be delivered up to God the Father, most assume that He will be subject to the Father. I suggest however, that we not make that assumption. As the paper on Jehovah proves from Scripture, Jesus Christ is both Jehovah and the manifestation of Jehovah and fulfills all the titles or offices of Jehovah.  I suggest that it is the title/office of “Son” that will be subject to God, i.e. Jehovah.  That is to say the office of Son will be subject to Christ Who IS Jehovah.

In short, we learn from I Cor. 15:28 that in the dispensation of the fullness of times, that because all of God’s eternal purposes will have been fulfilled, God will no longer require the office of “Son” through which to accomplish those purposes.

This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at:  janjoyce@aol.com