John Nelson Darby's Original Dispensational Scheme

By Ed. F. Sanders

John Nelson Darby is considered 'the father of dispensationalism'. He was the first one to construct a system of theology based on the idea that God dealt with man by dispensations rather than the historic understanding that God deals with man through His Covenants. However Darby was inconsistent in his references to the dispensations, sometimes mentioning a dispensation but then stating that it is not really a dispensation1.

In Larry Crutchfield's book The Origins of Dispensationalism: The Darby Factor2, he reconstructs Darby's original dispensational scheme from his voluminous writings. Crutchfield spends two full chapters (73 of the book's 237 pages) describing Darby's original plan of the dispensations. Following is his reconstruction:

1. Paradisaical State: Innocency - from creation to the fall (not a dispensation*)

2. Conscience: from the fall to the flood (not a dispensation*)

3. Noah: from the flood to the call of Abraham

4. Abraham: from the call of Abraham to the giving of the Law at Sinai

5. Israel:

Under the Law

Under the Priesthood

Under the Kings (from Moses to Nebuchadnezzar)

6. Gentiles: from the captivities until the second advent

7. Present/Spirit/Christian/Gentile/Church: from Pentecost to the Millennium. (there are at least these five names given for this dispensation in Darby's writings!!).

8. Millennial Kingdom3 (the thousand-year reign of Christ)

9. Eternal State (not a dispensation*)

NOTE: See the article How Many Dispensations? A Chart Comparing Various Dispensational Schemes which shows Darby's scheme compared to C.I. Scofield and others.

(1) See the article by J. N. Darby The Apostasy of the Successive Dispensations,  (pp. 124-130, The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby, Vol. 2, Ecclesiastical No. 1, William Kelly, ed, Stow Hill Bible and Trust Depot, 1962).

(2) Larry V. Crutchfield, The Origins of Dispensationalism: The Darby Factor,: University Press of America, 1992

* Indicates the 3 dispensations that Darby describes--that he says are not really dispensations! (J. N. Darby, op. cit.)