Relationship Of Dispensations
The following is an extract from
the article: THE
RELATIONSHIP OF DISPENSATIONS
, by Kenneth L. Gentry, (c) 1997.
(For more info see our article How Many
""But what is a
dispensation?* According to revised dispensationalists (Ryrie,
Walvoord, Pentecost-era dispensationalism), a "dispensation" is "a
distinguishable economy in the outworking of God's purpose. If one were
describing a dispensation he would include other things, such as the
ideas of distinctive revelation, testing, failure, and judgment"
(Ryrie, D2, p. 28). Ryrie adds: "The
distinguishable yet progressive character of dispensational
distinctions prohibits that they should be intermingled or confused as
they are chronologically successive" (D2, p. 37)....
A dispensation, then, is a specific, distinguishable, God-ordained,
revelation-defined period of time in the outworking of God's plan in
history. Ryrie insists: "Dispensational theology
[recognizes] definite and
distinguishable distinctions" (D2, p. 32). In showing the
difference between the dispensation of law and that of grace, Ryrie
notes: "Here is unquestionably a
distinguishable and different way of running the affairs of the world" (D2,
p. 34). Each dispensation by the very nature of the case should have a
distinctive character. And according to Ryrie that distinguishing
character should be determined by a certain set of principles,
especially: "(1) the different
governing relationship with the world into which God enters in each
economy; and (2) the resulting responsibility on mankind in each of
these different relationships" (D2, p. 33)....
Ryrie writes: "Is the essence of
dispensationalism in the number of dispensations? No, for this is in no
way a major issue in the system" (D2, p. 38). Later he observes: "Most
dispensationalists see seven dispensations in God's plan (though
throughout the history of dispensationalism they have not always been
the same seven). Occasionally a dispensationalist may hold as few as
four, and some hold as many as eight. The doctrinal statement of Dallas
Theological Seminary (Article V) mentions only three by name"
(D2, p. 46)....
Especially are we prompted to wonder about these variations among
"distinct" and "distinguishable" economies when Ryrie admits: "The Bible does name
two dispensations in the same way that dispensationalist do (and
implies a third). Granted it does not name seven, but, since it does
name two, perhaps there is something to this teaching called
dispensationalism" (D2, p. 27). Why
does not the Bible clearly name all of them?....
This is remarkable in that since a dispensation is
a "distinguishable economy" it would seem that it should DISTINGUISHABLE.
And if distinguishable, why then do we discover several different
enumerations of the dispensations in the system known as
"dispensationalism"? The word "distinguishable" is defined in the Webster's
New Twentieth-Century Unabridged Dictionary as follows: "capable
of being distinguished; that may be separated, perceived, known, or
made known, by points of difference; as, a tree at a distance is
distinguishable from a shrub.".....
Ryrie defines his own use of "distinguishable": "the word 'distinguishable' in the
definition points out that some features are distinctive to each
dispensation and marked off from each other as different
dispensations.... The distinguishing features are introduced by God" (D2,
p. 29). Ryrie is surely correct: the very character of
dispensationalism demands that the dispensations be "distinguishable."
Why then are they not? Why is there variation between dispensational
Ryrie admits there is a disagreement in this area among some
dispensational scholars. Leading dispensationalists are not able
confidently to "distinguish" the dispensations. Perhaps some of the
distinguishable economies are not so distinguishable after all. The
dispensational label maker has jammed!.....
This diversity of opinion among dispensational schools is all the more
intriguing in light of Ryrie's confident
declaration: "Nevertheless, on the basis of the definition of a
dispensation as a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God's
purpose, it is not difficult to deduce how many dispensations are
revealed in Scripture." (D2, p. 46). If it is "not
difficult," then what is the problem among dispensationalists? If they
can't figure out their "not difficult" system based on their own "plain
interpretation" hermeneutic, how can they expect non-dispensationalists
to be persuaded of the validity of the system?.....""
Emphasis mine (ed.)
Charles C., Dispensationalism
(2d. ed.: Chicago: Moody, 1995).
Charles C., Dispensationalism
Today (Chicago: Moody, 1965).
About the author:
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. is a theologian at Bahnsen Theological Seminary
and serves as Research Professor in Theology at Christ College in
Lynchburg, Virginia. Gentry received his B.A. from Tennessee Temple
University (1973, cum laude), a M.Div. from the Reformed Theological
Seminary (1977), and a Th.M. (1986) and Th.D. (1987, magna cum laude)
from Whitefield Theological Seminary. He is well known for his book Before
Jerusalem Fell (1989), which argues the case for the dating of
the writing of the Book of Revelation before the destruction of