SCRIPTURAL DEFINITIONS OF TERMS HAVING TO DO WITH DISPENSATIONAL TRUTHS
It has been my experience in discussing dispensational truths with other believers, that often times a Scriptural definition of a term will clear up doctrinal misunderstandings. I hope this paper will help solve difficulties that arise just from not having a Scriptural definition of a term. The following terms will be defined and or explained:
THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST
THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY
THE CHURCH OF GOD
THE CHURCH, WHICH IS HIS BODY
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. It 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 by 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”.
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“.
Let us continue with a consideration of the other occurrences of the Greek “oikonomia”.
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 phrase, “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 (i.e. how he handled) the preaching of the gospel. The “house” in this context 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.
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” refers to the dispensation of the mystery in which, it is often taught, that salvation is by grace without the works of the law. But as the paper on works and faith in salvation shows, God’s grace is not something new to the present dispensation. That is to say, God has never been a Respecter of persons with regard to salvation. As the above mentioned paper will show, God’s grace is a universal blessing, i.e. it transcends dispensations. Further, what brought about the present dispensation was God’s punishment of Israel and punishment is the exact opposite of grace.
Let us therefore, consider the “of” in the phrase dispensation of .…”. The word “of” in this phrase is usually taken to be the Genitive of Character which is defined by Dr. E. W. Bullinger in the Companion Bible as, “here the emphasis is always on the adjectival particle, which appears in the original as a noun in the Genitive Case. Ps. 2:6, Heb, ‘the hill of My holiness’ = ‘My holy hill’. Eph. 2:2, ‘Children of disobedience’ = ‘disobedient children. 2 Thess. 1:7, Greek ‘angels of His might’ ‘His mighty angels’.” It is because most understand the “of” to be the Genitive of Character that they understand the verse to speak of a dispensation of God’s grace, i.e. a dispensation which is characterized by God’s dealing in grace.
But the Greek does not tell us which Genitive is to be understood. Because, as stated above, the present dispensation is characterized by the results of the punishment of Israel, i.e. Her being set aside, not by God’s grace, 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.
So in Eph. 3:2 the “of” in the term ” dispensation of the grace of God” is the Genitive of Origin and should be understood as the dispensation that proceeds from God. In order to make this clear I will paraphrase this verse in accordance with the definition of the “of” as stated above. “If ye have heard of the dispensation that comes from God’s grace…”.
In short, 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 the “of” is not the Genitive of Character, but the Genitive of Origin. So the dispensation that was given to Paul proceeded from God’s grace.
In my opinion, the term “dispensation from the grace of God” tells us that God, through His grace, gave to Paul the revelation of the mystery. .
In this context, I believe that the “house is the “revelation of the mystery” which Paul was given to manage.
Eph. 3:9, “And to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery”. The KJV has translated “oikomonia” as “fellowship”. I will quote the note in the Companion Bible by Dr. E. W. Bullinger on that word. “The texts read “oikomonia” instead of “ koinonia”. The translations that use the older texts have “dispensation.
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 could paraphrase this verse to read, “…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 Col. 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 household in this context is, again, as it was in Eph. 3:2-3 the world.
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 “dispensation” is the management of a household.
Let us look further at Eph. 3:9, as that is the key to understanding dispensational truth. “And to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery”. Or, as has been suggested above, “…to make all men see what is God’s management of His household in accordance with the mystery”. In order to understand the management of God’s household in the dispensation of the mystery, we must, of course, understand what that mystery was. That mystery is explained in verse six and will be discussed below.
As one examines the mysteries of the New Testament it is clear that a mystery was something that had not been revealed until the God appointed time for its revelation. The mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven were mysteries that were revealed at God’s appointed time.
In terms of understanding dispensational truth, it is imperative that the student of God’s Word understands that there is only one mystery that had been hid in God until He revealed it to the apostle Paul. Eph. 3:9 reads, “And to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. We read of this one mystery that had been hid in God in Col. 1:26 also. “Even the mystery which hath been hid from the ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints”. That mystery will be explained in the section below.
THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY
Eph. 3:6 “That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel”. A better understanding of some of the Greek words used in this verse will help a great deal in determining the correct understanding of this verse.