God does not change in His person, principles, or promises (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), but He certainly does change in His dealings with man. If you don’t understand that, the Bible will be a confusing book to you. We cannot possibly obey everything in the Bible.
Consider the basic issue of what we are to eat:
1. Adam (Gen. 1:29) = no meat
2. Noah (about 1500 years later, Gen. 9:3-4) = meat without blood
3. Moses (about 1000 years later, Lev. 11:46-47) = clean meats
4. Paul (over 1500 years later, 1 Tim. 4:1-5) = nothing is to be refused
We must distinguish moral truth and dispensational truth. There are moral principles that never change. For example, murder is wrong in every dispensation. The sabbath day is an example of dispensational truth. God gave Israel sabbaths to observe, not the Body of Christ (Col. 2:16). Paul reaffirmed 9 of the 10 commandments (Rom. 13:8-10).
All scripture is profitable for us (2 Tim. 3:16) but we will not gain the profit that God has for us in His word unless we study it His way (2 Tim. 2:15). It is fitting that we find these two great statements in the last book that was written.
I. Mandate – What we are to do - STUDY
II. Motive – Why we are to do it - to shew thyself approved unto God
III. Method – How we are to do it - rightly dividing the word of truth
All the Bible is the word of truth, but we must recognize and consistently maintain the divisions that God put in His word if we are going to understand it. What was truth for Israel under the law may not be truth for the Body of Christ under grace. This is the dispensational approach to Bible study. The context of 2 Tim. 2:15 interprets what it means to rightly divide the word of truth (vs.15-18). Hymenaeus and Philetus did not deny the truth of resurrection, they failed to rightly divide it.
All Bible students divide the Bible to some extent, but most do not rightly divide it. We must be careful not to invent our own divisions (e.g. Acts 28 position) or ignore the ones that God placed in His word (e.g. Acts 2 position).
There has always been at attack on dispensationalism. Many simply do not understand the matter which is proven by how they misrepresent it when they attack it (Prov. 18:13). We believe the WHOLE Bible. We are not chopping it up and trying to get rid of any part of it. We are not exalting Paul, but simply acknowledging that God chose him to be the pattern and spokesman for this present age of grace (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Tim. 1:16). It is not about Paul as a man, but what Christ revealed through him for us (Eph. 3:1-13).
A “dispensation” (1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2; Col. 1:25) is basically a dealing out, distribution, or dispensing of something. It is an administration. Dispensations are not periods of time. Ages are periods of time, but dispensations operate within ages.
A dispensation is marked by five things:
1. Divine revelation (clear changes in God’s dealings with men)
2. Human spokesman (e.g. Moses for the Law and Paul for the Mystery)
3. Human responsibility to the revelation (testing)
4. Human failure (every dispensation ends in apostasy except last one)
5. Divine judgment (no remedy for apostasy)
1. Prophecy (Acts 3:21, Israel, earth)
2. Mystery (Rom. 16:25, Body, heaven)
Threefold division (Eph. 2:11-13, 7):
1. Time past (Genesis thru Acts)
2. But now (Romans thru Philemon)
3. Ages to come (Hebrews thru Revelation)
In the Bible, seven is God's number of perfection, and eight is the number of a new beginning. I believe there are seven dispensations in human history and that the eighth and final dispensation (of which there will be no end) is the "dispensation of the fulness of times" (Eph. 1:10). That is when God’s purposes as revealed in the times of human history will have finally come to their fulness.
1) Innocence (Gen. 1-3)
2) Conscience (Gen. 4-8)
3) Human Government (Gen. 9-11)
4) Promise (Gen. 12-Ex. 19)
5) Law (Ex. 20-Acts 8, transition)
6) Mystery (Rom.-Phile.)
7) Kingdom (Heb.-Rev.)