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THE DISPENSATION OF THE FULNESS OF TIMES

THE DISPENSATION OF THE FULNESS OF TIMES

The following subjects concerning the dispensation of the fulness of times will be discussed:

A DEFINITION OF TERMS

WHEN IS THE DISPENSATION OF THE FULNESS OF TIMES?

THE CHARACTER OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE FULNESS OF TIMES

A DEFINITION OF TERMS

There are three terms that must be understood if we are to correctly understand the dispensation of the fulness of times. They are “dispensation”, “fulness” and “gather together”.

Dispensation

Let us begin with the word “dispensation”. The Greek word translated “dispensation” is “oikonomia”. It is made up of two words, “Oiko” meaning “house” and” nomia” which means “law”. So literally, “oikonomia” means “house law“.

The first occurrences are in Luke 16:2-4, “…..How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; 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: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me unto their houses”. To use the literal meaning of “oikonomia” we might translate this phrase, “Give an account of your house law”. It is clear that “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 synonym 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“.

So the term “the dispensation of the fulness of times” refers to how God will manage His household in the fulness of times.

Fulness

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.

“Gather Together”

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.

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 so that He will be the very essence of everything that exists both in heaven and on earth.

WHEN IS THE DISPENSATION OF THE FULNESS OF TIMES?

Because many believe that the present dispensation is the dispensation of the fulness of times let us consider that belief.

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”.

 I believe that the belief that the present dispensation is the dispensation of the fullness 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 fulfil the word of God”. Certainly the revelation of the mystery that had been hid in God fulfilled the word of God, the Bible, but it is, in my opinion, clear that God’s plans and purposes have not been completed. Therefore I do not believe that the Bible teaches that the present dispensation is the dispensation of the fullness of times. But let us continue with Eph. 1:10.

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 “rulers of the darkness of this world”. That phrase 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 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.

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”. We learn from this verse that Christ is the Head of 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 fullness 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”.

If the present dispensation is not the dispensation of the fullness of times, when will that dispensation be in evidence?

We have seen in the section above that the dispensation of the fulness of times will be a time in which God will manage His household in accordance with the fact that all His plans have been accomplished. That leads us to I Cor. 15:28, “And when all things shall be subdued, unto Him then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him That put all things under Him, that God may be all in all”. The context is clearly about a time when all things will have been accomplished so that God will be all in all. And the dispensation of the fulness of times is a dispensation which will see all things having been accomplished. Therefore, I believe that we may conclude the Eph. 1:10 and I Cor. 15:28 speak of the same time.

When is the dispensation of the fulness of times? Again, the context of I Cor. 15:28 is about God’s plans being completed. And we read in I Cor. 15:26 that “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death“.  This will be accomplished at the end of the millennium when death and hell will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:19). (I will say that I believe that there will be a period of preparation on the  new earth which is discussed in the paper on unbelievers on the new earth during a time of preparation, but that would take us to far afield of our discussion of the dispensation of the fulness of times).*

THE CHARACTER OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE FULNESS OF TIMES

Let us once again consider I Cor. 15:28, “And when all things shall be subdued, unto Him then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him That put all things under Him, that God may be all in all”.

The phrase “all in all” may be an example of the figure of speech aenigma which is defined 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”.

Now let us add together 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, God will be to all that live their everything.

* The bold type in the quotations were added.

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

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