Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period Part 2: Ages and Dispensations in the Ante-Nicene Fathers -- By: Larry V. Crutchfield

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 144:576 (Oct 1987)
Article: Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period Part 2: Ages and Dispensations in the Ante-Nicene Fathers
Author: Larry V. Crutchfield


Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period
Part 2:
Ages and Dispensations in the Ante-Nicene Fathers

Larry V. Crutchfield

Bible Instructor
Baumholder Military Community, Baumholder, West Germany

It is possible to find in the writings of the Fathers divisions of human history based on God’s dealings with mankind. These are systems based not on an arbitrary division of human existence into predetermined chronological ages, as C. Norman Kraus charges,1 but on God’s program for humanity within the context of salvation. The early church fathers recognized that at various times the method of God’s dealings with men and the content of the divine revelation to them had undergone change to counteract the creature’s failure and to facilitate his approach in obedience to God. Yet these Fathers saw but one basis throughout human history for man’s justification before God: faith in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Among those whose doctrine of ages and dispensations has survived from the ante-Nicene period are Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and to a minor degree Victorinus of Petau. This study will focus on Justin and Irenaeus, with occasional

references to Tertullian and Methodius as appropriate. The dispensational outline found in Victorinus of Petau is similar to the others (see Appendix A), but the absence of detail in his scheme makes meaningful evaluation of it virtually impossible.

The Early Concept of Ages and Dispensations

Barnabas’ year-day tradition is the earliest budding of the dispensational understanding of God’s dealings with man. Barnabas indicated that boundaries have been set for the times of man, the kingdom rest, and the beginning of eternity.2 Furthermore within the time of man’s allotted 6, 000 years, God has had His special people Israel, who failed. Therefore He established a new people with whom He deals on the basis of newly revealed principles. While sacrifices, burnt offerings, and oblations were the acceptable means of approach to God in the old era, according to Barnabas, Christ Himself is the “human oblation” in the present age.3 This latter age, suggested Ignatius, is “a dispensation founded on faith in [Jesus Christ] and love for Him, on His Passion and Resurrection.”4 It is distinct from what Clement terms “every age that has passed,”5 and as Hermas implies, from “the age that is to come, in which the elect...

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