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Studies in the Epistles of the Mystery.
The Dispensation given to Paul (Eph. 3: 2).
pp. 23 - 25
We have seen that the imprisonment of Paul was very vitally connected with his
ministry to the Gentiles after the setting aside of Israel. That ministry he called "the
dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward".
Before going further into this chapter, let us see whether we can realize a little more
just what the apostle meant by the word "dispensation". The word is a translation of
oikonomia, which occurs nine times in the New Testament. Every reference is found
either in Paul's writings, or in those of his companion, Luke. In Luke 16: 2, 3, 4 the
word is rendered "stewardship". In I Cor. 9: 17; Eph. 1: 10, 3: 2, 9 (R.V.); Col. 1: 25
it is rendered "dispensation", and in I Tim. 1: 4 (A.V.) "edifying" occurs instead of
"dispensation", owing to a variant reading in MSS.
The cognate word oikonomos occurs ten times. Of these occurrences four are in Luke,
five in Paul's Epistles, and one in I Pet. 4: 10. It is mostly translated "steward".
Luke 12: 42; 16: 1, 3, 8 render it thus. So do I Cor. 4: 1, 2; Gal. 4: 2 (R.V.);
Tit. 1: 7; I Pet. 4: 10. Rom. 16: 23 uses it of "Erastus, the chamberlain of the city".
The steward is variously connected with charge over household goods and affairs, the
municipal oversight of a city, Paul's stewardship of the mysteries of God, the charge of
young children, the responsibility of a bishop, and the stewardship of the manifold grace
The Septuagint uses the word oikonomia in Isa. 22: 19, 21 to speak of the "station"
and "government" of Shebna who was the "treasurer; and it frequently uses oikonomos in
the expression, "that was over the household", as in Isa. 37: 2. Heb. 3: 1-6 in the
light of these references evidently has stewardship or a dispensation in view.
Coming back therefore to Eph. 3: 2 with these facts in mind we read again the
words, "Since ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to
you-ward". The dispensation was given to Paul as a steward of the mystery of God
(I Cor. 4: 1). The household over which he was placed is clearly defined in Eph. 2: 19.
His treasurership was to do with greater treasures than ever Shebna dreamed--they were
"the unsearchable riches of Christ"; "the riches of the glory of this mystery."
The dispensation which was given to Paul is called "the dispensation of the grace of
God". The dispensation given to Moses was that of law. What mysteries have been
made out of the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" which were given to Peter! Read in the
light of Isa. 22: 15-25 it is seen to be the symbol of stewardship. The trusted servant
who is "over the household", like Joseph in the house of Potiphar, had the keys. He shut
and no one opened, he opened and no one shut (Isa. 22: 22). Peter therefore had the
dispensation of the kingdom of the heavens committed to him. Paul and Apollos were