Two words often used as synonyms when treating dispensationalism are nevertheless quite different in their specific meaning. These should be considered separately.
1. Age. (aiwv). This term, which is translated world thirty-one times in the Authorized Version of the New Testament, means a block or period of time. It hardly need be said that there is no observable relation between the English noun world and a period of time. By reason of this confusion in terms, the whole revelation respecting successive ages was soon lost to view because of the translation. A clear illustration of how the translators worked is set forth in Hebrews. 1:1-2, which in the popular Authorized Version reads: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." Here the translation worlds has come from aiwv and by this term it is here declared that Christ arranged or programmed the successive ages of time. The disclosure is not the same as in verse 10 of the same chapter which states that Christ created all material things. No estimate could ever be made of the misunderstandings which have followed this error in translation. The same is true of the thirty-one instances where the rendering world is used in place of age. A notable passage on this point is Matthew 13:38-40: "The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world" (cf. Matt. 13:49; 24:3; 28:20; Mark 4:19; 10:30; Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 2:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 11:3). Here in the first instance the field is said to be the cosmos world, while in the second and third instances the harvest is the consummation of the age, and not the end of the material world as the Authorized Version translation implies. In another notable passage—Matthew 24:3—reference is not made to the present age, but to the Jewish age which has yet seven years to run after this one has been completed. The disciples knew little of this present unforeseen age at the time that Christ was speaking. The sign of the end for the Jewish age, however, is declared in Matthew 24:15 and in answer to the question respecting this age as seen in verse 3. The evil one referred to by Christ as the sign is described in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10 and there it has been said that he will not appear until the removal of the Church. The Mosaic age, which extended from the giving of the law to the law's end in the death of Christ, was interrupted by the intercalary age known as "the times of the Gentiles," which intercalation period began with the captivities and ends with the glorious reappearing of Christ. Accounting for a portion of this Gentile era God did measure out 490 years relative to Israel, which time along with "Gentile times" was nevertheless broken into by the present unforeseen intercalary age of the Church. The final tribulation period is measured in time by definitely predicted years for Israel, while the character of that period is delineated by the feet and toes of the colossal image which record the end of Gentile times.
2. Dispensation. Translated from the word okovo^ia, meaning primarily stewardship, a dispensation is a specific, divine economy, a commitment from God to man of a responsibility to discharge that which God has appointed him. The Apostle declares of himself: "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of
Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward" (Eph. 3:1-2). A stewardship was committed to the Apostle for him to receive, formulate, and proclaim the sacred secret respecting the hitherto unrevealed fact and provisions of saving grace as they are demonstrated in the Church. In uncounted instances Covenant Theology is disturbed by the recognition of dispensational distinctions; even the new manifestation of divine grace becomes one of those disturbing features of truth. If there be, as Covenant theologians contend, but one covenant of grace and that covenant operating uniformly in every age, to what, indeed, must the Apostle be referring when he asserts that a dispensation respecting a hitherto unrevealed economy of divine grace is committed unto him? Regardless of an unproved and unscriptural notion which may be embraced by a great number of men who have done no more than to receive without investigation what is taught in their schools, in the present age God is making a distinct and peculiar demonstration of His grace through the Church, which is Christ's Body. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. 3:8-10). Thus it comes about by means of this company of redeemed Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 3:6), which company has not existed as such in any other age, that the mystery or sacred secret, hidden from past ages, is made known and that revelation reaches to angelic hosts. Because past, present, and future ages (cf. Eph. 1:10; 3:1-6) are so clearly defined in the Scriptures, Covenant theologians acknowledge different ages or time-periods, but then they treat them as merely different ways of administering one and the same divine purpose. Regardless of every feature known to earlier ages, it will be seen that the Word of God builds all its doctrinal structure on an age past, a present age, and a future age. To deny these varied divisions, however, gathered as they are about the different revealed purposes of God, is to cease to be influenced duly by the precise Scripture which God has spoken.
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