Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dispensationalism in Translation

Jamin Hubner continues to dabble with internet apologetics. Never missing an opportunity to bash dispensationalism, he writes,

The reason the word "dispensation" doesn't appear in newer translations is for the same reason we don't see alot of the same words: there are better translations. And in the case of οἰκονομίαν there is "stewardship" or "economy." But, I guess it makes sense: if you want to prove Dispensationalism, you had better use a translation that contains the word "dispensation," regardless if that translation is really the "best" or not.

The subject of Jamin's post this time is KJV-onlyism and hyper-dispensationalism. It is true that hyper-dispensationalists, as a group, are for the most part KJV-only. Most folks, however, are probably not aware of this fact. Hyper-dispensationalists are a fringy bunch of wackos that normal Christians these days have never encountered. Their churches are small and non-influential. It would be like me saying that the New Wine Apostolic Pentecostal Church or the Strict Baptist "Gospel Mission" Churches are KJV-only.

But Jamin's target happens to be much larger. He's aiming at Dispensational theology as a whole. While it is true all Dispensationalists would agree with Jamin that hyper-dispensationalists are fringy and teach theological error, much in the same way all serious minded Calvinists believe hyper-Calvinists are fringy and teach theological error, Jamin, however, thinks ALL dispensationalists are fringy and teach theological error.

I reckon this is a typical perspective from a young man who is still in his "cage stage" as a new Reformed Covenantalist.

But moving back to the citation at hand. Does one need for the Bible to say "dispensation" (in this case, the KJV particularly) in order to believe the Bible teaches dispensationalism? Is a modern Bible translation the "silver" bullet for Dispensational theology?

First, the English word "dispensation" is transliterated from the Latin, "dispensatio" which means exactly what Jamin says it means, "an economy," "stewardship," "management." Though I would agree that a clearer, English translation of the original oikonomos and oikonomia would be "economy" or "stewardship," that still does not explain what Paul meant by the use of those terms. This is something Jamin doesn't explain. In other words, one does not need the English word "dispensation" in his Bible (i.e. the KJV) in order to believe Scripture teaches the theological concepts of "dispensationalism."

A few quotes may help clear up some misconceptions on Jamin's part:

From Craig Blasing's article in Progressive Dispensationalism, 108, 109, 111:

The apostle Paul uses both oikonomos and oikonomia to describe God's relationship with the world. Most of these uses refer to Paul's own office as an apostle of Jesus Christ. God, the Master of the world, entrusted to Paul, along with others, the apostolic responsibility of proclaiming a new revelation. Paul referred to this revelation as the mystery (or mysteries) of God and Christ ...

this use of the word dispensation refers to a new order, a new arrangement in the overall relationship between God and humankind. ...

The relationship between God and human being should be thought of as a dispensation, a management relationship which He has instituted. ...

As Paul discusses this new dispensation in his letters, three things stand out about it: (1) It is structured by certain features of a new covenant which God inaugurated to fulfill and replace the covenant He made with Israel at Sinai; (2) no distinction of race, gender, or class are being drawn in the bestowal of blessings from this new covenant - they are given to all who believe in Jesus Christ; and (3) the new dispensation is being revealed in the community that gathers in the name of Jesus Christ, the church...

... [B]y using the word dispensation (oikonomia), the Bible presents a way of understanding God's relationship with human beings in terms of arrangement (dispensations) which He has instituted in the course of history. He manages the way in which human beings are to relate to Him and to one another through these arrangements which He has set up. The church is the new dispensation which God has organized through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. It differs in important respects from the dispensation that was in place prior to Christ. And yet it is not wholly different. This dispensation is the fulfillment of the previous one, and as we will see, it looks forward to a future arrangement in which all the promises and covenant of God will be completely and eternally fulfilled.

And then from Rolland McCune, who holds a more classic understanding of Dispensationalism, from his, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, vol 1, 107:

...dispensations are "distinguishable economies." That is, there are some features in each particular economy that make it sufficiently different from the previous or following economies. The feature creating such distinctions is revelation, specifically progressive revelation. In other words, not all revelation calls forth a new economy. .... these various economies with their progressive revelation are part of "God's purpose." It is God who charts the course for history, dispensing new revelation and inaugurating new economies according to His own will.

So how exactly does re-translating the word "dispensation" dismantle Dispensational theology?

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Blogger P.D. Nelson said...

"So how exactly does re-translating the word "dispensation" dismantle Dispensational theology?"

It doesn't.

BTW the Berean Bible Churches that he references in the article has a church up here in the PNW, my late Mother-in-law was a member and always trying to get my wife and I to join. When I read some of their rabid anti-Calvinist screed and their statements regarding baptism as belonging to the "Jewish Dispensation" I knew they were to be avoided.

3:28 PM, September 19, 2011  
Blogger Pastor Howard Brown said...

Soundly reasoned. Thanks.

9:59 PM, September 24, 2011  

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