Dr. Scofield defines a dispensation as a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. He teaches in the Scofield Bible that there are Seven Dispensations: (1) The Dispensation of Innocency: before the Fall; (2) The Dispensation of Conscience: before the Flood; (3) The Dispensation of Human Government; (4) The Dispensation of Promise: from the calling of Abraham until Mt. Sinai; (5) The Dispensation of the Law: from Mt. Sinai to the cross of Christ; (6) The Dispensation of Grace: from the cross of Christ to the Second Advent; (7) The Dispensation of the Kingdom: the Millennium.
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. Seven such dispensations are distinguished in Scripture.
The First Dispensation: Innocency. Man was created in innocency, placed in a perfect environment, subjected to an absolutely simple test, and warned of the consequence of disobedience. The woman fell through pride; the man deliberately. 1 Timothy 2:14 God restored His sinning creatures, but the dispensation of innocency ended in the judgment of the Expulsion Genesis 3:24
The Second Dispensation: Conscience. By disobedience man came to a personal and experimental knowledge of good and evil–of good as obedience, of evil as disobedience to the known will of God. Through that knowledge conscience awoke. Expelled from Eden and placed under the second, or ADAMIC COVENANT, man was responsible to do all known good, to abstain from all known evil, and to approach God through sacrifice. The result of this second testing of man is stated in Genesis 6:5 and the dispensation ended in the judgment of the Flood. Apparently “the east of the garden” Genesis 3:24 where were the cherubims and the flame, remained the place of worship through this second dispensation.
The Third Dispensation: Human Government. Under Conscience, as in Innocency, man utterly failed, and the judgment of the Flood marks the end of the second dispensation and the beginning of the third. The declaration of the Noahic Covenant subjects humanity to a new test. Its distinctive feature is the institution, for the first time, of human government–the government of man by man. The highest function of government is the judicial taking of life. All other governmental powers are implied in that. It follows that the third dispensation is distinctively that of human government. Man is responsible to govern the world for God. That responsibility rested upon the whole race, Jew and Gentile, until the failure of Israel under the Palestinian Covenant (Deu 28.- 30:1-10 ) brought the judgment of the Captivities, when “the times of the Gentiles” (See) ; Luke 21:24 ; Revelation 16:14 began, and the government of the world passed exclusively into Gentile hands ; Daniel 2:36-45 ; Luke 21:24 ; Acts 15:14-17 . That both Israel and the Gentiles have governed for self, not God, is sadly apparent. The judgment of the confusion of tongues ended the racial testing; that of the captivities the Jewish; while the Gentile testing will end in the smiting of the Image (Da 2.) and the judgment of the nations Matthew 25:31-46 .
The Fourth Dispensation: Promise. For Abraham, and his descendants it is evident that the Abrahamic Covenant (See Scofield “Genesis 15:18“) made a great change. They became distinctively the heirs of promise. That covenant is wholly gracious and unconditional. The descendants of Abraham had but to abide in their own land to inherit every blessing. In Egypt they lost their blessings, but not their covenant. The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law Exodus 19:8 . Grace had prepared a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage Exodus 19:4 but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law. The Dispensation of Promise extends from Genesis 12:1 to Exodus 19:8, and was exclusively Israelitish. The dispensation must be distinguished from the covenant. The former is a mode of testing; the latter is everlasting because unconditional. The law did not abrogate the Abrahamic Covenant Galatians 3:15-18 but was an intermediate disciplinary dealing “till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made” ; Galatians 3:19-29 ; 4:1-7 . Only the dispensation, as a testing of Israel, ended at the giving of the law.
The Fifth Dispensation: Law. This dispensation extends from Sinai to Calvary–from Exodus to the Cross. The history of Israel in the wilderness and in the land is one long record of the violation of the law. The testing of the nation by law ended in the judgment of the Captivities, but the dispensation itself ended at the Cross.
(1) Man’s state at the beginning Exodus 19:1-4 .
The Sixth Dispensation: As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ Romans 3:24-26 Romans 4:24 Romans 4:25 . The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation, ; John 1:12 John 1:13 ; 3:36 ; Matthew 21:37 ; 22:24 ; John 15:22 John 15:25 ; Hebrews 1:2 ; 1 John 5:10-12 . The immediate result of this testing was the rejection of Christ by the Jews, and His crucifixion by Jew and Gentile Acts 4:27 . The predicted end of the testing of man under grace is the apostasy of the professing church: See “Apostasy” (See Scofield “2 Timothy 3:1“) 2 Timothy 3:1-8 and the resultant apocalyptic judgments.
The Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. This, the seventh and last of the ordered ages which condition human life on the earth, is identical with the kingdom covenanted to David. 2 Samuel 7:8-17 ; Zechariah 12:8
“All dispensational distinctions in the Bible are important but it is especially important to learn about our present dispensation because this enables us to distinguish our identity as members of the Body of Christ with teachings that God has put into His written Word specifically about us. Through dispensational Bible study we understand why things aren’t the same in all parts of the Bible, many so called “contradictions” are eliminated, and we enjoy allowing the Bible mean what it says without thinking events in the Bible can only be true if they can now be duplicated. Without this knowledge we cannot benefit as we should from the dispensational teachings of grace that God has provided for our knowledge, obedience and joy. Let us study to show ourselves approved unto God as workmen who need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” via Light From the Bible