Bible Dispensations


The  following information was presented to the writers at a specially important time in their Christian Walk; see: OUR WALK OF FAITH  (The Authors Experience) and was transformative in their understanding, and walk with Christ Jesus!  That was in 1986, and in the following years has produced much fruit for their work in

The original leaflet with the above mentioned information was by Charles Welch; but was enriched by the work of Dr. E.W. Bullinger in his Companion Bible, and his Appendixes 72, 181 and 195; and comments by Otis Sellers of the USA; to whom we express gratitude due to the transformative nature of the information.

What on Earth is that?  Never heard of such a thing!  That is the impression some people convey to you when you mention Dispensational Truth or Rightly Dividing the Word.  Curiously enough, most of them are already carrying it out up to a point and do not know it.  Supposing you ask them, “Are you proposing to take a young bullock for sacrifice this time?  Or a pair of turtle doves?  Or a heifer or a lamb?  They would either think you were “pulling their legs” or said goodbye to your wits.  If they took you at all seriously they would reply: “But we do not have to do those things now a days, we live in New Testament times.  The one Sacrifice has been offered----our Lord Jesus Christ----and those old sacrifices were all fulfilled in Him”.  Good.  So you have begun to Rightly Divide-----(i.e.: correctly to understand) the Word of Truth.  You have begun to discover that there are different Dispensations.  That is to say, different periods of time in the Word of God in which Divine differing regulations are in force.

Well, now, if we are to understand correctly the Word of God, it is essential for us to discover when the Dispensation (or period of time) in which we live commenced, and what are the regulations concerning it, otherwise we will try to understand and apply parts of Scripture which are not pertinent to the present.

Another thing which it is essential to discover is what is our understanding with regard to it?  Supposing we date the commencement of this Dispensation at the commence of our Lord’s Earthly ministry, what do we find.  Consider Matthew 5, for instance, just a verse or two here and there.  Verse 5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth”.  We wonder how many Christian people are expecting through meekness to “inherit the Earth”.  We are told elsewhere to “set our affections on things above, not on things on the Earth” (Col. 3:2).  Then verse 19----our Lord has been speaking of keeping the Law (verse 17), and He goes on: “Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven”.  Some people will be very low down in the Kingdom, having taught for years that there is no need to keep the Sabbath (Saturday and Jewish), but to keep more or less, mostly less-----the (Sunday and “Christian”) instead.  If we do not work ourselves on Sunday we allow our ”menservants and our maidservants” -----or at any rate, our wives to do a bit, also the electric light and gas companies and transport services.  It suits us that way.  Then go on to verse 42: “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away”.  If it was generally known that Christian people were carrying that out, we should soon have nothing left but loin cloths-----someone might even borrow that!  No, we do not carry that out-----it would not suit us that way.  Maybe after all we are trying to observe instructions which do not belong to us.

Suppose, then, we commence our Dispensation at the crucifixion.  What instructions are given after that?  Now, after the crucifixion and resurrection there are not very many.  The last two verses of Matthew’s Gospel say: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all Nations, Baptising them it the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”.  Most Christian organisations make some pretence of carrying that out up to a point, but what are the “all things whatsoever I have commanded you”?  They must include the “giving to him that asketh thee”, and the other things to which we have referred earlier.  Turn now to Mark’s Gospel.  At the end of Mark we have several verses.  Sometimes they are left in, sometimes they are left out due to manuscript variation.  The trouble is that Christian organisations do not know what to do with them.  For instance, after similar instructions to Matthew 28:20, Mark 16:17 says: “And these signs shall follow them that believe: in My Name shall they cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover. 

That is the difficulty.  These signs do not follow them that believe.  We would challenge any Christian to “drink any deadly thing” and prove it.  So, we are wrong in fixing the commencement of our Dispensation at the crucifixion.

The next great event is Pentecost.  Most Christians will say, “that’s it, that is the commencement of our Dispensation.  When the Holy Spirit came down as He did in Acts 2:2-4, that was the commencement of the Church, the Church of this Dispensation”!  We were taught that ourselves at one time.  Again let us look into it.  The scene is Jerusalem---significant to start with.  Peter addresses the crowd as “Ye men of Israel” (Acts 2:22).  He does not mention Gentiles!  Peter goes on to quote Psalm 16:8-11 (Acts 2:25-28).  What would Gentiles know of Psalm 16:8-11?  Who, then, were those “Parthians and Medes and dwellers in Mesopotamia”, etc.?  They were Jews and Proselytes.  It says so.  Jerusalem would be full of such because of the feast.  Peter had not been told that Pentecost was the beginning of the Church, he was speaking to visiting Jews, there for the Feast!  In fact, even after the stoning of Stephen we read (Acts 11:19), “Now, they which were scattered abroad …… travelled as far as …... preaching the Word to NONE but unto Jews only”. 

The Church of this Dispensation had not started then.  God was giving Israel another chance to accept Jesus as their Messiah! 

The parable of the fig tree-----the one in Luke’s Gospel Chap. 13:6-10; during three years the fig tree bore no fruit--–-“Cut it down”.  Verse 8: “And he answering said unto him, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it, and if it bear fruit well; and if not----after that”.  During the three years of our Lord’s ministry the fig tree (Israel) bore no fruit-—“Cut it down”.  Our Lord’s plea was “Give it one more chance”.  At Pentecost the chance came: Peter and the Apostles were digging and manuring.  The cutting down was postponed, but in the end it had to come, and that was at Acts 28-—read the last few verses.

Before we get there, however, we must consider further the story of the Acts of the Apostles.  At Pentecost, Peter says, in order to explain the unusual happening which were going on: “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel”.  (Gentiles knew nothing about the prophet Joel). 

“I will show you wonders in Heaven above, and signs in the Earth beneath: blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come.  Those words do not seem to fit there.  But still, we have met them before, Matthew 24:29-30: “The sun shall be darkened, the moon shall not give her light…..and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven…..and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory”. 

They are seen again in Revelation.  They refer to the tremendous happenings which are to take place at the Second Coming of our Lord-—when He shall come in “power” to set up His Kingdom upon Earth with Jerusalem as its centre.  Peter was expecting this.  It was Israel’s chance.  “Repent ye, therefore, and be converted…..and He shall send (again) Jesus Christ which before was preached unto you” (Acts 3:19-20).

All these great happenings were held back, awaiting the repentance of Israel.  Many encouraging signs were given.  They were speaking with tongues, in accordance with Mark 16.  “And many wonders and signs were done by the Apostles” (Acts 2:43). 

Then again a new grouping, with the new understanding was formed in their midst.  “And all that believe were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45). 

Those were the days when they could “give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt. 5:42), (see: Gathering of Christians and Holding Possessions in Common). 

Such things will be possible again at the “coming of the Lord” during the Millennial Kingdom.  All those momentous happenings were just preliminary foreshadowing of that great day.  The Church of this Dispensation did not begin at Pentecost.  We must move further on.

The next possibility is Cornelius.  (By the way, the Grecians mentioned in Acts 6 were “Hellenists”, or Greek--speaking Jews).  Cornelius and his friends were Gentiles.  If Cornelius himself could be considered a proselyte on account of his devotion (Acts 10:2), yet his “kinsmen and near friends” (verse 24) were certainly Gentiles.  Peter was resistant.  If he had not had the vision recorded in verses 11-17, he would never have gone!  It shows how the Children of Israel had grown to consider God as their National monopoly.  Instead of which God’s design was to use the Jew to proclaim His grace and Salvation throughout the world.  Peter, to whom was given the “keys of the Kingdom” (Matt. 16:19), was driven at last to open the door.  Was this, then the beginning of the Church of this Dispensation?  No! these Gentiles were entering in to partake of Israel’s blessing.   As Paul wrote later, they were: “partaking of the root and fatness of the olive tree” (Rom. 11:17).  The Jews were still God’s people they had not been set to one side at that stage.  The olive tree represented Israel, (see: OLIVE and its meaning; ).  After the story of Cornelius we find Peter drops right out of the picture. 

Now Paul had begun his work.  At Antioch (Acts 11:26)—not Jerusalem this time.  The centre has moved out.  Then the missionary journeys.  We notice that wherever he goes he always goes first to the Synagogue.  It is still the Jew first, and through the Jews to the Gentiles.  There is however a difference.  Those Gentiles were uncircumcised and Paul did not insist that they should be circumcised or carry out any of the other rites and ceremonies connected with the Law of Moses.  To clarify this matter, Paul travels to Jerusalem to consult with James and the other Apostles (see Acts 15).  The result of this visit is that a double code of instructions is issued.  For the Gentiles: “that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and fornication, and things strangled and blood”, and that is all (Acts 15:21).  For the Jews there was the Synagogue.  “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him being read in the Synagogue every Sabbath day” (Acts 15:20).  Is this, then, the Church of our Dispensation coming in?  No, not yet.  There is no dual code nowadays, neither do we obey some of those Gentile regulations, above as they are.  The effect of that great influx of Gentile believers might either have meant that the National repentance of the Jew was hastened, or that they hardened their hearts.  They could have been “moved to emulation”—-or spurned Christianity with hatred.  That was their last opportunity.  A fatal choice-—they hardened their hearts.

It is interesting to notice that at Corinth Paul leaves the Synagogue and enters into the house of one named Justus, “whose house joined hard to the Synagogue” (Acts 18:7).  It is as though-—in spite of the separation which seemed inevitable—God (through Paul) was still holding on to the Jew.  There is no complete separation yet.  The next Chapter (19) brings us to Ephesus.  Here we read “For three months Paul continued to speak boldly in the Synagogue…..and in the end the Apostle’s doctrine was publicly perverted by the Jews’….on this he openly separated himself…..and the Christian Church at Ephesus became a distinct body, “the headquarters being the school of Tyrannus".  The separation grew wider.

In Chapter 20 a great break takes place.  Paul (an orthodox Jew still) must be at Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost (verse 16).  It is a strikingly sad and sorrowful passage (vs. 16-38).  It says in verse 22: “And now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem not knowing the things that shall befall me there, save the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.  Verse 25, “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the Kingdom of God, shall see my face no more”.  Verse 38: “Sorrowing most of all that they should see his face no more”.  Again at Caesarea (Chapter 21) there is the same sad parting note (verse 13): “Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?  For I am ready, not so to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus”.  At Jerusalem we know that the whole venom and hatred of orthodox Judaism was vented against Paul, and the outcome is Paul’s appeal to Rome.  Which was the great centre of the world in those days and the last outpost of organised Judaism.  That was why Paul says, “I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21). 

All that happened there we are told in sixteen verses (Acts 28: 16-31).  “After three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together (verse 19).  Still the Jew first.  Paul says “Because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” (verse 20).  The hope of Israel—the only hope, and the last hope at that time!  “And when they agreed not” (verse 25).  Paul uttered these very solemn words, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people and say, Hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see and not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should be converted and I should heal them.  Be it known, therefore, unto you, that the Salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles and that they will hear it”.

That is the end.  So far as the Jew is concerned the olive tree is cut down.  For more than 2,000 years God has had no dealings with the Jew as a Nation.  They have been scattered all over the world, as He said they would be (Deut. 32:26). 

What follows is the beginning of a new Dispensation.  To Paul had been entrusted a further message, of which he tells us in the Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.  In Ephesians 2 it says (vs. 11:12) “Wherefore, remember that ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the Covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ”.  So, no longer has Israel the favoured place.  No longer is the Gentile dependent upon the Children of Israel for his knowledge of God.  He, as a Gentile, is “made nigh by the blood of Christ”.  Now the door is wide open, a new Dispensation has commenced!

What regulations have we then for the new era?  Well, we shall not expect to find them in the Old Testament, nor in the Acts of the Apostles, nor in the Epistle’s to the Corinthians, but are embodied in Paul’s last 7 letters giving the necessary information: Eph.; Phil.; Col.; Titus; Philemon; 1 & 2 Timothy!

Also; “Seek those things which are above”, in accordance with Colossians 3:1, and “hold fast the form of sound words”, in accordance with 2Tim. 1:11.  Instead of being grafted onto the olive tree, we are now the Church of the One Body in Christ (Col. 1:18).

Also we have special promises to look forward to, which were not indicated before.  The Old Testament reveals a promise made to Israel as a Kingdom upon Earth, its centre to be Jerusalem and its King the coming Messiah.  That promise will be fulfilled.  Its inhabitants will be the Children of Israel in resurrection and those upon Earth who will repent as one man and receive our Lord at His Second Coming, these will cry out in that day “Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him and He will save us” (Isaiah 25:9) & (Zech. 12:10).  Then a further promise was given to Abraham and to his seed-—the promise of a Heavenly city “for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).  “But now they desire a better country, that is an Heavenly; therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:16).  In Hebrews it speaks of “a better hope”, “a better resurrection”, “a better Covenant”, “better promises”There is, however, reserved for the Church of the One Body an even more glorious hope.  Humanly speaking it is still a “hope”.  In God’s sight it is an established fact, for it says (Eph. 2:4-6): “But God hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus”.  Those “Heavenly places” are “far above principality, and power and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21).

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