Biblical Dispensations and Covenants


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In order to rightly divide the word of truth, we must understand the context of God's word, which to at least some extent, is impacted by history and timing. This Bible study delves into the dispensations of time, revealing God's relationship with mankind in each.

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Biblical Dispensations and Covenants

  1. 1. 1 The Seven Dispensations Understanding the seven dispensations is necessary to rightly divide the Word of God, meaning to correctly understand the Bible. Everything written in the Bible is written for us, but everything written is not necessarily written to us. For example, some commandments, promises, blessings and warnings given to Israel in the Dispensation of Law do not apply to the Christian Church today in this Dispensation of Grace. We are not under the law but under grace. Instructions given to Adam and Eve do not apply to us today. The dietary restrictions given by God to Israel do not apply to us today. We must follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul as they apply to Church in this Dispensation of Grace.
  2. 2. 2 Romans 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin [leading] to death, or of obedience [leading] to righteousness? Ephesians 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth--in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him you also [trusted], after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 3:2 If indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, 7 of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. The resurrection not only gave Jesus Christ life but gives eternal life to all who believe. The resurrection gives the believer the power to live a victorious Christian life filled with the Holy Spirit. We are saved by His life. The Scriptures divide time (by which is meant the entire period from the creation of Adam to the "new heaven and a new earth" of Rev. 21: 1) into seven unequal periods, usually called dispensations (Eph. 3:2), although these periods are also called ages (Eph. 2:7) and days, as in "day of the Lord." These periods are marked off in Scripture by some change in God's method of dealing with mankind, or a portion of mankind, in respect of the two questions: of sin, and of man's responsibility. Each of the dispensations may be regarded as a new test of the natural man, and each ends in judgment, marking his utter failure in every dispensation. Five of these dispensations, or periods of time, have been fulfilled; we are living in the sixth, probably toward its close, and have before us the seventh, and last: the millennium.
  3. 3. 3 I. Innocence "This dispensation extends from the creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7 to the expulsion from Eden. Adam, created innocent and ignorant of good and evil, was placed in the garden of Eden with his wife, Eve, and put under responsibility to abstain from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The dispensation of innocence resulted in the first failure of man, and in its far-reaching effects, the most disastrous. It closed in judgment: "So he drove out the man." See Gen. 1:26; Gen. 2:16,17; Gen. 3:6; Gen. 3:22-24.)" Salvation Gospel in this dispensation: Do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." II. Conscience "By the fall, Adam and Eve acquired and transmitted to the race the knowledge of good and evil. This gave conscience a basis for right moral judgment, and hence the race came under this measure of responsibility -- to do good and eschew evil. The result of the dispensation of conscience, from Eden to the flood (while there was no institution of government and of law), was that "all flesh had corrupted his way on the earth," that "the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually," and God closed the second testing of the natural man with judgment: the flood. See Gen. 3:7, 22; Gen. 6:5,11-12; Gen. 7:11-12, 23.)" Salvation Gospel in this dispensation: Do good and not evil, or love what is good and hate what is evil. Genesis 3:22 Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"-- 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. III. Human Government "Out of the fearful judgment of the flood God saved eight persons, to whom, after the waters were assuaged, He gave the purified earth with ample power to govern it. This, Noah and his descendants were responsible to do. The dispensation of human government resulted, upon the plain of Shinar, in the impious attempt to become independent of God and closed in judgment: the confusion of tongues. (See Gen. 9: 1, 2; Gen. 11: 1-4; Gen. 11:5-8.)" Salvation Gospel in this dispensation: Believe God and build an ark. Genesis 6:16 "You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it [with] lower, second, and third [decks]. 17 "And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which [is] the breath of life; everything that [is] on the earth shall die. 18 "But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark--you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you.
  4. 4. 4 IV. Promise "Out of the dispersed descendants of the builders of Babel, God called one man, Abram, with whom He enters into covenant. Some of the promises to Abram and his descendants were purely gracious and unconditional. These either have been or will yet be literally fulfilled. Other promises were conditional upon the faithfulness and obedience of the Israelites. Every one of these conditions was violated, and the dispensation of promise resulted in the failure of Israel and closed in the judgment of bondage in Egypt." "The book of Genesis, which opens with the sublime words, "In the beginning God created," closes with, "In a coffin in Egypt." (See Gen. 12:1-3; Gen. 13:14-17; Gen. 15:5; Gen. 26:3; Gen. 28:12-13; Exod. 1: 13-14.)" Salvation Gospel in this dispensation: Believe God's promise. Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you. V. Law "Again the grace of God came to the help of helpless man and redeemed the chosen people out of the hand of the oppressor. In the wilderness of Sinai He proposed to them the covenant of law. Instead of humbly pleading for a continued relation of grace, they presumptuously answered: "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." The history of Israel in the wilderness and in the land is one long record of flagrant, persistent violation of the law, and at last, after multiplied warnings, God closed the testing of man by law in judgment: first Israel, and then Judah, were driven out of the land into a dispersion which still continues. A feeble remnant returned under Ezra and Nehemiah, of which, in due time, Christ came: "Born of a woman-made under the law." Both Jews and Gentiles conspired to crucify Him. (See Exod. 19:1-8; 2 Kings 17:1-18; 2 Kings 25: 1 -11; Acts 2:22-23; Acts 7:5152; Rom. 3:19-20; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3: 10.)" Salvation Gospel in this dispensation: Obey God and keep His commandments. Exodus 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth [is] Mine. VI. Grace "The sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ introduced the dispensation of pure grace, which means undeserved favor, or God giving righteousness, instead of God requiring righteousness, as under law. Salvation, perfect and eternal, is now freely offered to Jew and Gentile upon the acknowledgment of sin, or repentance, with faith in Christ." "Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29). "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47). "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." (John 5:24). "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish" (John 10:27-28). "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). The predicted result of this testing of man under grace is judgment upon an unbelieving world and an apostate church. (See Luke 17:26-30; Luke 18:8; 2 Thess. 2:7-12; Rev. 3:15-16.)
  5. 5. 5 The first event in the closing of this dispensation will be the descent of the Lord from heaven, when sleeping saints will be raised and, together with believers then living, caught up "to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thess. 4:16-17). Then follows the brief period called "the great tribulation." (See Jer. 30:5-7; Dan. 12:1; Zeph. 1:15-18; Matt. 24:21-22.) After this the personal return of the Lord to the earth in power and great glory occurs, and the judgments which introduce the seventh, and last dispensation. (See Matt. 25:31-46 and Matt. 24:29- 30.)" Comment: Some teachers number the Tribulation as one of the dispensations, while combining the dispensations of Promise & Law. However, we see the Tribulation as a special period during which human civilization crumbles under the weight of the combined features of its ages long rejection of God. Salvation Gospel in this dispensation: Confess Jesus as Lord and believe in His resurrection. Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. VII. Kingdom Reign "After the purifying judgments which attend the personal return of Christ to the earth, He will reign over restored Israel and over the earth for one thousand years. This is the period commonly called the millennium. The seat of His power will be Jerusalem, and the saints, including the saved of the dispensation of grace, namely the church, will be associated with Him in His glory. (See Isa. 2:1-4; Isa. 11; Acts 15:14-17; Rev. 19:11-21; Rev. 20:1-6. But when Satan is "loosed a little season," he finds the natural heart as prone to evil as ever, and easily gathers the nations to battle against the Lord and His saints, and this last dispensation closes, like all the others, in judgment. The great white throne is set, the wicked dead are raised and finally judged, and then come the "new heaven and a new earth." Eternity is begun. (See Rev. 20:3,7-15; Rev. 21 and 22.)"
  6. 6. 6 Dispensational Truths and the Biblical Covenants A Covenant is an agreement or contract between men, or between men and God. Generally it is based on certain conditions agreed upon. Sometimes, as between God and man, it is unconditional. God’s covenants with man originate with Him, and generally consist of a promise based on the fulfillment of certain conditions. God has made eight Covenants with man. They all relate to the earth. Each one introduces a New Dispensation. Six of them were given to individual and representative men, as Adam, Noah and Abraham, and went into effect during their lives except the one given to David, which took effect at the birth of Jesus. Each one has a time element and expires at a certain time. Four of them are distinguished by a sign.
  7. 7. 7 I. The Edenic Covenant Genesis 1:28-30; 2:15-17 This Covenant was given to Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, before the Fall of Man. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Innocence” which was conditioned on obedience. The Seven Conditions of this Covenant were:  To Replenish the Earth with an earthly race of people, the first or Pre-Adamite Race having become extinct, through the earth having been thrown into a chaotic condition. Gen 1:2.  To Subdue the Earth to the needs of the human race. What this means is not clear, unless it means to so control the forces of light, heat, electricity, gravitation, etc., as to enable man to use them to supply his needs.  To have Dominion Over the Animal Creation. Not over the domestic animals only, but over wild creatures as well. This is beautifully described in Psa 8:3-9.  To Restrict Themselves to a “Vegetable Diet.” And from Gen 1:30 it would appear that the animal creation, before the Fall, was limited to a vegetable diet.  To Till the Garden in which God had placed him. This was doubtless a pleasure and not a task. There was no curse upon the earth at that time. It was not until after the Fall that “thorns” and “thistles” and “weeds” made the cultivation of the soil laborious. Gen 3:17-19.  To Abstain From Eating of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Man was created innocent like the infant. He did not know what sin is. His environment was such that he would have remained innocent if he had obeyed God, and refused to eat of the “Tree” which opened his eyes. The moment he ate of that “Tree” he broke the Covenant and knew the difference between good and evil.  The punishment of disobedience was Physical Death. And this would have happened to both Adam and Eve at once if God in His Grace had not intervened and instituted a new covenant, known as the “Adamic Covenant.” II. The Adamic Covenant Genesis 3:14-19 This Covenant, like the first, was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before their expulsion. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Conscience.” It was without conditions, and embodied a “Curse” and a “Promise.” The Curse The Curse was fourfold. As to the Serpent The Serpent was Satan’s tool, and from being a most beautiful and attractive creature became a loathsome reptile. It still retains traces of its former beauty and grace. It was condemned to crawl upon its belly and eat dust.
  8. 8. 8 As to the Woman Her state was changed in three particulars. 1) Multiplied Conception. If Adam and Eve had any children before the “Fall” it is not revealed. It is certain Cain was not conceived until after their expulsion from the Garden. Gen 4:1. By “Multiplied Conception” is probably meant that there would be several children born at a time. This would be necessary to rapidly replenish the earth. As a matter of necessity the children of the same parents intermarried, as there were no other human beings on the earth at that time. 2) Sorrowful Motherhood. That is, child‐birth was to be accompanied with much pain and anguish. If sin had not entered, child‐birth would doubtless have been painless, and motherhood a pleasure and children a delight. 3) Headship of Man. Woman was created the equal of man, but because she caused his fall she lost her equality and man was given the Headship over her. Gen 3:16. As to the Man The ground was cursed for his sake, and whereas it had been a pleasure to look after the Garden, now he would have to secure a living from the soil by hard labor and the “sweat of his face,” which would wear out his system and end in physical death. As to the Ground Henceforth it was to be cursed with “thorns” and “thistles.” That is, with everything that would make the cultivation of the earth difficult. The Promise The Promise was that the “Seed” of the Woman (Christ) should bruise the “Serpent’s” head, while his “seed” should bruise Christ’s heel. Here is the Promise that Christ shall redeem the world from the power of Satan, and restore the human race and the Earth to their condition before the Fall. This Covenant reaches until the Renovation of the Earth by Fire.” III. The Noahic Covenant Genesis 8:20-22; 9:1-17 Man having proved himself a failure under the “Dispensation of Conscience,” God sent a Flood to destroy the race from off the earth, sparing only Noah and his family. After the Flood Noah offered a “sacrifice” which was well pleasing to God, and God made an unconditional Covenant with Noah. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Human Government.” It contained the following provisions.  That God would not curse the ground any more, nor destroy all the living. And that the “day” and the “night” and the “seasons” should not cease.  That Noah and his descendants were to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.  That they should have dominion over the animal creation as before.  That from that time they were not to be restricted to a “vegetable” diet, but could eat meat, if they drained the blood from it. Gen 9:3-4.  The law of “Capital Punishment” was established. Gen 9:6. This has never been abrogated, though the manner of enforcing it has been more clearly laid down in the account of the Cities of Refuge. Num 35:1-34.  That the earth shall never be destroyed again by the “waters of a Flood.” The “Sign” of this Covenant is the Rainbow, and the Covenant reaches until the “Renovation of the Earth by Fire,” of which it is the Type.
  9. 9. 9 IV. The Abrahamic Covenant. Genesis 12:1-3 The Tower of Babel episode was a turning point in human history. (Gen 11:1-9). Up to that time the human race was a unit. There was neither Jew nor Gentile. The race had become idolatrous. To remedy this God decided to call out an individual of the seed of Shem, and of him form a separated people and nation. The man selected was Abraham. The “Call” came to him while dwelling at Ur of the Chaldees, in Mesopotamia. He obeyed. The Covenant then made with him was afterwards enlarged and confirmed to his son, Isaac, (Gen 26:1-5), and in turn to his grandson Jacob (Israel), Gen 28:10-15. The Covenant was unconditional and ushered in the Dispensation of the Family. It contained seven promises.  “I Will Make of Thee a Great Nation.” This was to be fulfilled in a twofold way. o Natural Posterity. “As the dust of the earth.” This has been fulfilled through Isaac and through Ishmael. Gen 17:20. o Spiritual Posterity. “As the stars of heaven.” Gal 3:6-7; 3:29.  “I Will Bless Thee.” This was fulfilled temporally in flocks and herds and lands. Gen 13:14-18; 15:18-21; 24:34- 35. Abraham was also blessed spiritually. Gen 15:6.  “And Make Thy Name Great.” Abraham, next to Christ, is the outstanding name in the Scriptures.  “And Thou Shalt Be a Blessing.” Abraham was a blessing to the people of his own time and to the world, as through him came the chosen seed. Gal 3:14.  “I Will Bless Them That Bless Thee.”  “And Curse Him That Curseth Thee.” These last two have been wonderfully fulfilled in the past history of the Jewish people and will be more wonderfully fulfilled in the future. Every nation that has treated them well has been blessed and every nation that has mistreated them has suffered.  “In Thee Shall All the Families of the Earth Be Blessed.” This promise is fulfilled in Christ spiritually and shall be fulfilled temporally in the Millennium when the Gentile nations shall be blessed through Israel. Deu 28:8-14; Isa 60:3-5; 60:11; 60:16. After Abraham’s faith had been tested in the offering up of Isaac this Covenant was reaffirmed and confirmed. Gen 22:15-18. It was an Everlasting Covenant. Gen 17:1-8. The “Sign” of this Covenant is “Circumcision” (Gen 17:9-14), and the Covenant extends to the “End of Time,” taking in the New Earth. We must not forget that the “Adamic” and “Noahic” Covenants were not done away with or superseded by the “Abrahamic” Covenant. The “Abrahamic” Covenant is confined to the Hebrew Race, while the others cover the whole Gentile world. The Dispensations of “Conscience” and “Human Government” still continue as to the Gentiles. V. The Mosaic Covenant The “Mosaic Covenant” was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, shortly after the Exodus from Egypt. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Law.” It was conditioned on obedience, and may be divided into three parts.  The Moral Law. Exd 20:1-26. This consists of the Ten Commandments.  The Civil Law. Exd 21; 22; 23; 24.  The Ceremonial Law. Exd 25:1-40:38. This includes the Tabernacle, the Priesthood, and the order of service. The “Sign” of this Covenant is the Sabbath. Exd 31:12-18. This Covenant continued in force until the Jews were scattered at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It will be renewed when Israel is converted and restored to their own land, and will then be known as the “Palestinian Covenant,” which Covenant ends with the “Renovation of the Earth by Fire.”
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  11. 11. 11 VI. The Davidic” Covenant 2 Samuel 7:4-17 This Covenant was given to King David, through Nathan the Prophet, at Jerusalem. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Grace.” It has but one condition, based on disobedience, this would lead to chastisement and postponement of the promise, but not its abrogation. The Covenant contains four promises.  A Davidic House. 2Sa 7:13. That is the posterity of David shall never be destroyed.  A Davidic Throne. 2Sa 7:13. The Kingdom of David shall never be destroyed. At present it is in abeyance, but it will be set up again. Since the “Captivity” but one King of the Davidic family has been crowned and He with “thorns” (Mat 27:29), but He will receive the Kingdom and return when Israel’s chastisement is over, and the time comes to restore the Kingdom to David’s Son. Luke 1:30-33.  A Davidic Kingdom. David’s Son is to have an earthly “sphere of rule.” It will be over the Millennial Earth. “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” Psa 72:1-20. It Shall Be Unending. “Thine House and thy Kingdom shall be established Forever; thy Throne shall be established Forever.” 2Sa 7:16. The “Sign” of this Covenant is a Son. Luke 1:30-33; 2:12. This Covenant extends to the “End of Time.” VII. The Palestinian Covenant. Deuteronomy 30:1-10 This Covenant was given to Israel through Moses, and is conditioned on the repentance of Israel. It will go into effect after their return to Palestine and their repentance. It ushers in the “Millennial Dispensation” and ends with it. VIII. The New Covenant Hebrews 8:7-13 This Covenant has not yet been made. It is to be made with Israel after they get back to their own land. It is promised in Jer 31:31-37. It is unconditional, and will cover the Millennium and the New Heaven and New Earth. It is based on the finished work of Christ. Mat 26:28. It has nothing to do with the Church and does not belong to this Dispensation. It is the “Eighth Covenant,” and speaks of Resurrection and Eternal Completeness.
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