"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2: 15)
The English word “dispensation” is translated from the Greek word oikonomia, and that word means “the management of a householdor of household affairs; specifically the management, oversight, administration, of other’s property; the office of a manager or overseer, stewardship” (Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon).
In the following verses the Greek word oikonomia is translated “stewardship”:
“There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses” (Lk. 16: 1-4).
Charles C. Ryrie gives the following characteristics of a dispensation: “(1.) Basically there are two parties: the one whose authority is to delegate duties, and the one whose responsibility is to carry out those charges.The rich man and the steward (or manager) play these roles in the parable of Luke 16 (v.1). (2.) There are specific responsibilities. In the parable the steward failed in his known duties when he wasted the goods of his lord (v.1).” (Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press, 1995, p. 26).
In this study the party who delegates duties or responsibilites is the Lord God, and the dispensations or stewardships are assigned to men:
“The dispensations are a progressive and connected revelation of God’s dealings with man, given sometimes to the whole race and at other times to a particular people, Israel. These different dispensations are not separate ways of salvation” (The New Scofield Study Bible, note at Genesis 1: 28).
The various dispensations, therefore, are the ways which God chooses to run the affairs of the world and they are not different ways of salvation. They are in regard to His "earthly purposes". It could be said that the various dispensations are the different ways which the Lord governs His creatures and thus they represent the various governments of God.
A note from The New Scofield Study Bible states,”Although the divine revelation unfolds progressively, the deposit of truth in the earlier time-periods is not discarded; rather it is cumulative. Thus conscience (moral responsibility) is an abiding truth in human life, though it does not continue as a dispensation. Similarly, the saved of this present dispensation are ‘not under law’ as a specific test of obedience to divine revelation, yet the law remains an integral part of the Holy Scriptures which, to the redeemed, are profitable for ‘instruction in righteousness’ (2 Tim.3:16-17; cp. Rom.15:4)” (The New Scofield Study Bible, note at Gen. 1: 26).