I'm trying to understand the difference between these two terms. Are they the same, or are they different? (see definitions below) The Easton Bible dictionary appears to define "dispensation" as an "age" of sorts, whereas the IVP pocket dictionary appears to conflate "dispensationalism" with some eschatological beliefs. Are they two separate things, would it be true that you could use the word "dispensation" and not have people assume your talking about "dispensationalism"

So are they different words, is my summarised understanding above correct?

Dispensation (Easton)

(Gr. oikonomia, “management,” “economy”).
The method or scheme according to which God carries out his purposes towards men is called a dispensation. There are usually reckoned three dispensations, the Patriarchal, the Mosaic or Jewish, and the Christian. (See COVENANT, Administration of.) These were so many stages in God’s unfolding of his purpose of grace toward men. The word is not found with this meaning in Scripture.

dispensationalism (IVP pocket dictionary)

A system of theology popularized mainly in twentieth-century North America, especially through the influence of the Scofield Reference Bible. The dispensationalism delineated by Scofield suggested that God works with humans in distinct ways (dispensations) through history; that God has a [Theological Terms, p. 40] distinct plan for Israel over against the church; that the Bible, especially predictive prophecy, needs to be interpreted literally; that the church will be secretly raptured from earth seven years prior to Christ’s second coming; and that Christ will rule with Israel during a literal thousand-year earthly reign. Contemporary, or progressive, dispensationalism remains thoroughly premillennial but rejects the ontological distinction between Israel and the church as two peoples of God, seeing them instead as two salvation-historical embodiments of a single people. (Pocket dictionary)


3 Answers 3


Dispensationalism is a framework based on dispensations, just as Covenant Theology is a framework based on covenants. But both dispensations and covenants can be considered in their own right, and both can be discussed by people who don't accept the frameworks based on them.


From this web page:

Dr. Scofield defines a dispensation as a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. He teaches in the Scofield Bible that there are Seven Dispensations: (1) The Dispensation of Innocency: before the Fall; (2) The Dispensation of Conscience: before the Flood; (3) The Dispensation of Human Government; (4) The Dispensation of Promise: from the calling of Abraham until Mt. Sinai; (5) The Dispensation of the Law: from Mt. Sinai to the cross of Christ; (6) The Dispensation of Grace: from the cross of Christ to the Second Advent; (7) The Dispensation of the Kingdom: the Millennium.

In a sense, the word dispensation can be used somewhat interchangeably with the word covenant, provided we change Dr. Scofield's inclusion of the words "a period of time" (which are found in his definition of what exactly constitutes a dispensation) to perhaps the expression "an economy in the outworking of God's purposes for humankind." In that sense, Christ on the night in which he was betrayed announced a new economy (or covenant, or testament) which superseded the old. Rather than the blood of animal sacrifices being the means whereby people could receive temporary forgiveness for sins, the blood of the Lamb of God shed at Calvary would become forever the basis for sin's forgiveness.

In the same way, he took the cup [of salvation] after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you" (Luke 22:20 CEB, my emphasis).

The Old Covenant certainly pointed to the New Covenant in type-to-antitype fashion, but the New superseded the Old, a truth the writers of Hebrews and Galatians took great pains to explain.

Dr. Scofield would likely turn over in his grave if he knew how his suggested outline of biblical history has been twisted, distorted, and maligned in modern times. We moderns tend to think our being moderns makes--ipso facto--our methods of "rightly dividing the word of truth" somehow superior to the methods of previous generations.

I may be wrong, but I think if Dr. Scofield were alive today, and someone were to ask him if the way he assigned different dispensations to the stages through which God revealed progressively himself and his will and word to his creatures was "Gospel truth," he would likely say, "God forbid!" Moreover, I'd like to think he himself would ask a follow-up question of someone who challenged his dispensational methodology; namely, "Do you yourself have a better method in mind?" In which case, he would likely listen patiently and humbly to his interlocutor's explanation.

As with those who espouse covenant theology, dispensationalists recognize the sui generis nature of God's word, the Bible. Part of the Bible's uniqueness derives from what has been called "the analogy of Scripture." Although in itself somewhat controversial, this concept has been embraced by Bible scholars down through the centuries.

Martin Luther, for example, expressed this principle with the words, Scriptura sui ipsius interpres--Latin for “Scripture is its own expositor.” In like manner, the Westminster Confession of Faith affirmed, “When there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture . . . it must be searched and known by other places [in Scripture] that speak more clearly.”

Now exactly how this unity is interpreted has varied from tradition to tradition, from denomination to denomination, and even from Christian to Christian, ever since the canon of Scripture was closed! Going back to the verse above, from which I quoted an excerpt,

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

Just as there is unity within diversity in holy writ, there is I suggest a unity within diversity in the various ways sincere students of the word in every generation "rightly . . . [divide] the word of truth."

Is there truth in Dispensationalism? Of course there is. Is there truth in Covenant theology? Of course there is. Does either of those two methods encapsulate all of God's truth? Of course not. As the apostle Paul said so eloquently,

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known (1 Corinthians 8-12 KJV, emphases are mine).

In other words, every method of explaining the unity of Scripture in some all-encompassing way is bound to fall short. That there is unity, however, in the ways in which the saints, past and present, chose to explicate the unity of Scripture, speaks to me of both the inexhaustible ways and the variety of ways in which God communicates to us through the ministers of his living and abiding word.

Of course, there are doctrinal lines which must not be crossed, and here we can look to the decisions made by some of the great councils of the past for guidance; for example, the First Council of Nicaea (C.E. 325).

In conclusion, is there only one way to express the truth of the unity of Scripture? Of course not. Why, then, do we tend to cling so tenaciously to one particular methodology of interpreting God's word of truth over another method, refusing to grant other believers who espouse a different paradigm the liberty to do so? In light of the controversies and the attendant polarization surrounding the debate between dispensationalists and covenant theologians, the latter of whom accuse the former of "replacement theology," I invoke the following wise words:

"In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity."

  • Hello Rhetorician - I love the quote which is part of the core ethos of the Evangelical Free Church of America. "In essentials, unity, In non-essentials, liberty and in all things, charity." It is based on this core value of unity without uniformity that Calvinists and Dispensationalists can both worship together in the EFCA - and choose to be unified around Christ.
    – Tennman7
    Jan 3, 2021 at 19:28

They are two separate words which share the same root. The best example is Creation and Creationism or Creationist, or Theism and Theology.

Dispensationalism is the overall worldview - framework or lens by which one sees and processes the Bible, and applies it. It's the entire belief-system and it interprets scripture from beginning to end by identifying specific markers and patterns with how God acts and deals with his people and the world in specific time periods.

A Dispensation is simply the age or different era that is marked by how God related to his people.

This article is a good overview - It should be noted that while Dispensationalists agree on the lens or framework - they disagree on the number.


One example is that according to Dispensationalism - we are now in the church age, and this age or dispensation is nearing the end, as evidenced by many end-times signs being fulfilled. One of the biggest things to happen was Israel becoming a nation in one day - an fulfilling prophecy.

Another example is the new treaty between Russia, Turkey and Iran, which happened in 2020, and the prophecy of famines, and Christ's words that there would be nation against nation and false teachers.

Another huge sign is the intense level of interest and new videos about the 3rd temple and the special breeding of red heifers in Israel, and pestilances, and the Abraham accords, which are seen by many as being the "Covenant with Many" in Daniel.

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