Roy A. Huebner
“And the steward said within himself, What shall I do; for my lord is taking the stewardship from me?…”
The man was the steward (administrator) of the house, and he was to take care of the ordering of that house. He was to administer the affairs of that house in accordance with the mind of him who had entrusted him with that stewardship. This is the thought of a dispensation. It is the ordering of a house.
The steward is under responsibility to discharge appropriately as it has been committed.
1 Corinthians 9:16-17
“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.“
Paul had a dispensation of the gospel committed to him. Paul speaks of the gospel of the glory for he saw the Lord there in his experience. The twelve had seen the Lord up until that point. The starting point for Paul’s ministry has its starting point in the glory. There was something added to what Paul preached, and it was given (dispensed) to him as a special administration.
“Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.”
The “dispensation (administration) of the fulness of times” is not a period of time; although, it occupies a period of time. That can seem hard to understand, but we must understand the force of the word as it relates to what is to take place.
It refers to the administration which is committed to the Lord Jesus Christ when He assumes the position publically of being the Head over everything. Head over everything in the earthly scene — as already prophesied in the OT (Psalm 8). Head over everything in the heavenly scene — the mystery disclosed only in the NT.
“The fulness of times” – everything moves towards this great moment in the ways of God with man — the previous periods having been the necessary preparation for it.
The Lord Jesus Christ, unlike others, fulfills His charge perfectly – “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). To Him it does not say that it was taken away — He delivers it up to God.
Ephesians 3:2, 9
“If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward…And to make all men see what is the fellowship (JND – ‘administration’) of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ”
This was a special deposit dispensed and committed to the apostle Paul, and he had the special responsibility to give this revelation to the saints.
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God.”
We see here, again, that a time period was not committed or dispensed to Paul. God committed a stewardship, a responsibility. He was a servant of the Lord.
Titus 1:2 – Ages (αἰώνιος)
“ In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world (JND – ‘ages’) began.”
In an age (a period of time), you can find a particular dispensation (or administration), which is committed to the responsibility of some servant of the Lord.
-Government, committed to Noah (Genesis 9)
-Law, committed to Moses
-The Administration of the Fulness of Times, committed to Christ
A dispensation then is the ordering of a house, a stewardship, an administration, a deposit of truths and ways of God that has been committed to a servant, and this occurs usually in a particular period of time called an age.
Helpful Quotes from Written Ministry
In J.N. Darby’s translation of the Bible, it might be noticed that he preferred the use of the word administration.
Darby wrote the following:
“I do not hold to the word dispensation, although it is generally used to specify a certain state of things, established by the authority, during a given period. A dispensation is any arranged dealing of God in which man has been set before his fall, and having been tried, has failed, and therefore God has been obliged to act by other means.”“The Dispensations and the Remnants,” Collectania, p. 41-12, (1839).
Edward Dennett wrote about this as follows:
“The word before us, οἰκονομία — (Eph. 3:2), and translated ‘dispensation’ there — is a compound word uniting two, which mean respectively ‘house’ and ‘law’; so that to give its exact counterpart in English, it would stand thus — ‘house-law’; and its obvious and primary meaning would be — the law, rules, regulations or administration, of a household. The word itself is quite familiar to our English ears and tongues, in an Anglicised form — ‘economy.’ This term (correctly used in such phrases as ‘political economy’), in current usage is mainly taken in the sense of carefulness in expenditure, or in the dispensing of means or substance; a portion undoubtedly, though far from being all, that pertains to proper household rule. As employed in [Scripture], and in the phrase ‘dispensational truth,’ it looks at the world as a great house-hold or stewardy, in which God is dispensing, or administering, according to rule of His own establishing, and in whose order He has from time to time introduced certain changes, the understanding of which is consequently needful, both to the intelligent interpretation of His word and to intelligent action under Him.”The Christian Friend, pp. 67-69, (1876).
On Ephesians 1:10, William Kelly wrote the following:
“The word ‘dispensation’ (οἰκονομία) has no reference to a particular period or age (which is in the New Testament expressed by (αἰών). It means ‘stewardship,’ or rather ‘administration,’ the particular form here meant being the summing, or heading (ἀνακεφαλαιόω) up of all things, heavenly and earthy, under Christ. This will be in the age to come, when Christ shall be displayed as Head over all things, and the glorified saints shall reign with Him.”W. Kelly, Lectures on the Epistle of Paul, the Apostle, to the Ephesians, London: Morrish, p. 27, note, n.d.