Proposition No. 5:
In what manner can Paul’s use of the word dispensation be explained?
Before looking into the Scriptures where this word is found, it might be well to recall the usual meaning attached to this word. In the conception of many dispensation refers to a period of time in human history marked off by two epochs. We frequently hear about the different dispensations, Innocence, Conscience, Government, Promise, Law, Grace, and Righteousness.
First, we shall see how the lexicon defines the original word, oikonomia. It is the management of a household, or more specifically, the management, oversight, administration, of other’s property. In second place, let us consider the different words used by translators as they render the thought into English. Some use dispensation, others, administration, one or two economy, and the Revised Version, margin, uses stewardship.
Let us now examine the Bible use of the actual word. It is found in Luke’s Gospel where the unjust steward’s reproof and scheme (chapter 16:1-9) provide an excellent illustration of its meaning: “How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship (dispensation); for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, what shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship (dispensation): I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship (dispensation), they may receive me into their houses.”
The apostle Paul uses the exact word four times. He applies it three times to himself, and once to the blessed Lord Jesus. Let us notice the first three. Paul declares that from God he received a stewardship in the gospel, “A dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me,” (1 Cor. 9:17). He also asserts that he received a stewardship of the mystery, “If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given unto me to you-ward. How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery,” (Eph. 3:2-3). The mystery is that blessed fact, hidden in ages past, that God takes souls out from among both Jews and Gentiles to form His Church. In the third application of the word to himself, Paul explains that he had received a stewardship relative to Inspiration, “Wherefore I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given me for you, to fulfil, (complete) the Word of God,” (Col. 1:25) Paul, doctrinally speaking, completed the
Canon of Scripture.
In Eph. 1:10, the apostle transfers the picture to Christ. The Eternal Son of the Father, The True Steward properly administer the purposes of God, and head up all things in One. Here all things are seen to be in the hands of Christ.
From these considerations it appears that our word, dispensation, might better be understood as management. Of course the picture provides room for the original proprietor, his manager, and the properties entrusted to the manager for his administration. Paul felt that God had entrusted to him the Gospel, the Mystery, and part of the plan of Inspiration, to be properly administered by him, and he felt that as a steward he was responsible to his Lord.
It might be well to view all the dispensations in human history in the light of Eph. 1:10. A dispensation being more that just a period of time, but being rather a special manner in which God through Christ administered his dealings with man. He administered man for a season under innocence, and then under conscience, today under grace, and eventually, the Mighty Administrator will head up all things according to the purposes of God.
Should others have thoughts upon this interesting word, we would be pleased to hear from them.
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The office of a bishop, or overseer was, in Paul’s estimation, more than an office. It was a WORK (1 Tim. 3:1), and the principal part of the work was TO TAKE CARE OF THE CHURCH OF GOD (v. 5).
The only other occurrences of the word in the New Testament are in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34-35). How did the Smaraitan traveller take care of the wounded man? With the utmost gentleness and devotion. With his own hands he tended the gaping wounds, placed him on his own beast, and took him to a place of shelter. When forced to leave the object of his solicitude, he sees to it that all needed care is provided.
Does anyone feel called to undertake the good work for which an overseer assumes the office? Let him learn from the actions of the Samaritan in the parable the nature of the loving care that he is to exercise among the people of God.
In a word, he is to take care of the church of God in a spiritual sense, as the Good Samaritan did in a literal sense for the man whom he found stripped and wounded on the road.
From H. P. B. in The Bible Student.
Submitted by F. W. Schwartz.