What Are Dispensations ?




God’s Three Dispensations


Hebrews chapter 1, and verse 1,  says;   “God, having spoken long ago, to the fathers, in the prophets, in many portions, and in many ways, has in these last days, spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

There’s an interesting phrase in that verse;  “In many portions”.  What that means, is..  “in many parts..  one part at one time, and another part at another time”.   That’s how God has spoken to mankind through the ages.  God didn’t disclose His will to man, all at once.  And in disclosing His will, “in portions”, He basically created what we call “Dispensations”.

God spoke TO the fathers, He spoke IN the prophets, and He spoke IN His son.  Three “Dispensations”.


What’s a Dispensation?


The definition of a dispensation, is..  “a system of rule or law, of a government, or of an organization, or of a community of people, especially as existing at a particular time.”  So when God gave a set of laws to govern mankind, during a specific period of time, you can see why we call it a “dispensation”.

When we read the bible, it’s quite obvious that Adam and Eve, and  Noah, and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, were governed by a different set of laws than we today are.  They weren’t governed by the laws of the new testament, because it was the death of Christ that brought into force, those laws of the new testament.

We’re told in  Hebrews 9, verses 16 & 17;  “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity, be the death of the testator.  For a covenant is valid only when men are dead;  For it is never in force while the one who made it lives.” 

Now it’s equally obvious that all those people that I mentioned earlier, weren’t governed by the Law of Moses either.  And the scriptures clearly show that fact.

God had made a promise to Abraham, back in  Genesis 12, and verse 3,  that said;  “..In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”   Then we read in  Galatians 3, and verse 17;  “..The law (the Law of Moses) which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.” 

Therefore, since the Law of Moses didn’t come until four hundred and thirty years AFTER the promise was given to Abraham, and since Abraham died, only a hundred years after the promise was made, and even Jacob, his grandson, died 198 years BEFORE the Law of Moses came, then it’s obvious that none of those people were governed by the Law of Moses.  Those people were governed by a law, different from either the law of Moses, or the law of Christ.


The Patriarchal Dispensation


From Adam, all the way down through Jacob, and even for another 198 years after Jacob, God governed mankind with various laws, and sometimes specific laws were given to specific people.  And this period of time lasted for approximately 2500 years.  And we call that period of time, the “Patriarchal dispensation”.   Then came the Law of Moses, which was given to the nation of Israel, in the wilderness, beginning at Mt. Sinai.  And this law was a much more extensive law than the patriarchal law had been.  This was the first “written law” of God.  And this law remained in effect for another 1500 years.   We call this period of time, the “Mosaic Dispensation”.

The law of Moses was never intended to last any longer than that 1500 year period, and the scriptures verify that fact, in  Galatians chapter 3, verse 19,  with these words;  “Why the law then?  It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels, by the agency of a mediator, “until the seed should come”, to whom the promise had been made.”   

And we know that the “seed” spoken of there is Christ, because it says in  verse 16;  “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed.  He does not say, “And to seeds”, as to many seeds, but rather to ONE, “And to your seed”, that is Christ.”  


So then the law of Moses was designed to last only until Christ, “the seed”, should come.  That’s why  verse 24  says;  “Therefore the law has become our tutor (some versions say, “our school master”) to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” 

And in the fullness of time, the seed did come, and man began to be taught a new law.  And this new law was put into force, after the death of the testator, Jesus Christ.   And this law will last until the end of time.  Christ and His law, “reigns” right here and now.  And were told in  1 Cor 15, verses 25 & 26;  “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be abolished, is death.”   Therefore, when death is abolished , through the resurrection of the dead, on the last day, then even that law will come to an end.

And so the “Christian dispensation”, is the time period when we are governed and ruled, by the law of Christ, the new covenant.


God Spoke to the Fathers


Let’s think back to the beginning, and the Patriarchal Dispensation.  The word patriarch, means “father”.  It was God’s will during this period of time, to deal directly with the fathers, as the head of the household.  The laws were given by God, directly to the fathers, and then the fathers would instruct the rest of the family in following the laws of God.

There’s a verse in  Genesis chapter 2,  where God gave a law to Adam, in  verse 17,  saying;  “But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat..”  And it was Adam’s responsibility, to teach that law to Eve.

In  Genesis chapter 6,  it was Noah who found favor with God, and God commanded him to build an ark for his salvation.  And God told Noah directly, in  verse 15;  “But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark.   You AND your sons, and your wife, and your son’s wives with you.”   But there is no evidence of God ever speaking to the rest of Noah’s family, because it was Noah’s responsibility to teach his family, God’s laws.

And in  Genesis chapter 18,  God spoke of Abraham, and said in  verse 19;  “For I have known him, (in other words, God had direct contact with him) in order that he may command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, by doing righteousness and justice, in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham, what He has spoken about him.” 

That verse pretty much sums up how God governed His people during the period of time, from Adam, to Moses.  And God’s laws weren’t very extensive at this early stage of man’s existence.  At first there was only the one law given to Adam.  That was the law concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  (Gen 2:17)   But then after both Adam and Eve had sinned, another law had to be given, and that was the law of a sacrifice upon an alter.   Now although we have no record of that law being given, we do read about Cain and Abel following this law in  Gen chapter 4,  Even though Cain choose not to follow it very closely.  But to atone for man’s sin, a sacrifice had to be made, and blood had to be shed.

That’s something that has never changed.  As we learn from  Hebrews 9, verse 23;  “..And without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” 

We don’t really read about very many specific commands of God during the patriarchal dispensation.   We know about the command given to Adam.   And we know about the command that God gave to Noah.  And we read about some commands that God gave to Abraham. 

And listen to what we read concerning Job and his family, in the last part of  Job 1, verse 5;  “..Rising up early in the morning, and offering burnt offerings for the number of them all, for Job said;  Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts;  Thus did Job continually.”   Job did this, as the head of his family, as the patriarch.


A Primitive Law, for a Primitive Time


But this was a primitive time in man’s history, the first 2500 years that man existed.  And it’s very probable, that God only gave to man, such laws, as man was able to understand and to obey.   But no matter how simplistic the laws of God may have been, during this primitive time, God still expected man to fully live up to the demands of each and every law that He imposed upon them.  Maybe you remember the scripture that we studied recently from  Luke 12, verse 48;  “And from everyone who has been given much, shall much be required;  And to whom they entrusted much, of him they shall ask all the more.”  

God only expects of us, what we are capable of doing.  But, God does hold us accountable, to render to Him, according to our abilities, and according to His commands.  So then remember, no matter how simple, or how complex, God’s laws may be, God has always demanded complete obedience.

So then the laws of the Patriarchal dispensation, were primitive laws, for a primitive people.



The Mosaic Dispensation


When man entered the period of the Mosaic Dispensation, God gave His first written law.  And although the ten commandments, which were literally written in stone, were still very basic, many of the other hundreds of laws and commands became a lot more complex.  But the people must have been “ready” for such a complex set of laws, or God wouldn’t have given them.  It’s said that there were 613 different laws contained in the Jewish Torah.  The Torah is the Hebrew name for the law of Moses given in the first five books of the old testament.

And guess what law was paramount to the laws of the Mosaic Dispensation?  The law of sacrifice on an alter, and the shedding of blood.  Just like in the patriarchal dispensation, sacrifice and the shedding of blood was an absolute necessity.  And although the blood of those animals couldn’t remove any sin, God still used them, to teach the people about the need for a blood sacrifice, for sin.

As we read in  Hebrews chapter 10, and verses 3 & 4;  “But in those sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins year by year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats, to take away sins.” 

Hebrews 10, verse 1  says;  “For the law, since it has only a SHADOW of the good things to come, and not the very image of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect, those who draw near.”    To make someone perfect, is to make them to be without sin.  But the scripture says these sacrifices were but  “a shadow of the good things to come”.  

In  Hebrews chapter 8, and verses 4 & 5,  it says that  “..there are those who offer the gifts, according to the law, who serve as a copy, and a shadow, of the heavenly things..” 

Hebrews chapter 9, verse 13  says;  “..the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the purifying of the flesh.”   The phrase..  Purifying of the flesh”, means..  to purify what is physical.  It means that physically, these sacrifices made people acceptable to God once again.  But those sacrifices couldn’t purify the spirit, because they were only  “a shadow of the heavenly things..”   In this case “the heavenly thing” is the blood of Christ, the blood of God Himself.   But God was teaching the people about sacrifice, and about the eventual forgiveness of sins.  


The Christian Dispensation


We learn from  Galatians 4, verses 4 & 5;  “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”   When the fullness of the time had come..  the Christian dispensation came into being.

God had added His laws to mankind, as mankind progressed, and as he was able to understand and obey those laws.  The complete law of Moses, wasn’t given to the very first man, Adam.  And it wasn’t even given to Abraham, the man to whom the promise was given.  But when the time was right, the law of Moses, the old covenant did come.

And just like we read from  Galatians 3, verse 24;  “Therefore the law has become our school master, to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”   So then that first covenant law, prepared man, and led him, to yet another law, the new covenant in Christ. 


In  Acts 17, verses 30 & 31,  we’re told;  “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all men, everywhere should repent;  Because He has fixed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness, through a man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to ALL men, by raising Him from the dead.” 

There was a long period of time, through which two different dispensations had passed, (about 4,000 years)  when man would have no doubt, been unable to comprehend, the Christ, and salvation in Christ.

Adam couldn’t have understood it;  Noah couldn’t have understood it;  Nor could even Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob.  And the nation of the Israelites could barely understand it, though they had the prophecies about Christ.  But, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son..” 


And in the meantime, before Christ, God “overlooked” those times of ignorance, when man evidently didn’t have the capability to comprehend  “the unfathomable riches of Christ”.  But now, in these last days, when God has spoken to us in His Son;  “NOW, God is declaring that all men, everywhere should repent.”   And we can understand that, can’t we?   Sure we can..  We understand that we need to Repent, and we know that that means to change our minds.  We need to decide to turn FROM our old sinful ways, and turn TO God and His righteous ways. 

And we understand, that even before we can repent of any sins, we need to believe in God the Father, and in God the Son.  (Hebrews 11:6 and John 8:24)  And we understand that we need to always be to confess that belief openly and willingly.  (Mathew 10:32-33)  And after we make that change in our lives by repenting, we understand that we still need to be forgiven of those sins that we’ve turned from, by being baptized in water, (immersed) simulating a burial of the old sinful self, and the resurrection of a new creation in Christ;  Raised to walk in newness of life.  (Romans 6:3-4)  


I think that we are truly blessed, to be living in this period of time, the period so properly called, the “Christian dispensation”;  And that God has enabled us all to understand His plan of salvation through Christ.






This article has 16 Comments

  1. Thanks for this great insight. The knowledge shared is so relevant for our teaching. I’m a member of Phebe Church of Christ, Liberia.

    1. Thank you James. May God bless you in your faith. Do you have any questions about what is written here? I hope you will read other lessons also and please leave me your comments.

  2. Thank you for this lesson, very useful as the religious world is mixing up. I am Isaac Sam, Minister with Church of Christ, Use Ikot Ebio Offot, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.

  3. Thanks for the article. You have helped me a lot. Am Cidreck Macheso from Mangochi, Malawi a member of the Church of Christ.

    I have established that failure to understand these dispensations leads to wrong interpretation of Jesus’s ‘I have not come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it’ text which most of the people fail to decode it. Thanks once again. Keep on imparting knowledge to us.

  4. Thanks a lot for this article.
    I’m a member from Ghana, Church of Christ, Dechem via Goaso in the Ahafo Region.
    Its has given more understanding of the “Three Dispensation”

  5. Great piece of work. Thanks very much for the indepth explaination of the topic The Three Dispensation.Am a member of Pobiman church of Christ Accra Ghana.

    1. Hi Reuben. thanks for your kind words. Also thank you for viewing our website and taking the time to read the article. I’m always encouraged by the fact that people from all over the world have the opportunity to read and hear the words of God, through efforts like this. Although the bible doesn’t use the word “dispensations” there is still a clear teaching on the subject. I pray that all people would come to an understanding of the various ways that God has not only communicated with man throughout history, but also of how God’s laws have changed throughout history. Of course this was all in accordance to His divine plan from eternity. Thank you again, Is there anything I can do for you sir? God bless.

  6. Dear Sir/Madam. please I am from a small church of Christ in Nottingham UK and I’m pleading if you can email or post me this lesson. tosk2980@gmail.com. Anthony Osei-Sarfo, 184 Newmarket Road, Nottingham UK. NG68TY. Thanks

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