A Dispensationalist is a Christian who sees in Scripture certain clear divisions in the progress of revelation in which God governs history. At its best this is done on the basis of the covenants revealed in the Bible. A “dispensation” (Greek, oikonomia) is an administration or economy, wherein, within a certain period of time (known to God, but afterwards revealed to man), God pursues His plan through the lives of men. The term oikonomia is made up of two other words: oikos, meaning house, and nemo, meaning to administer, manage, or dispense. Literally, an oikonomia is a house-management or household administration. In its theological usage it is well suited to describe what we might call a divine economy. This is much the way the word is used in Ephesians 1:10; 3:2, 9; Colossians 1:25-26, and 1 Timothy 1:4. These passages also show that Paul held to the reality of certain dispensations in the broad sense given above.
Not unsurprisingly therefore, even Covenant theologians often speak of dispensations. For example, both Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof employ the term much like Dispensationalists do. Willem VanGemeren speaks of “epochs.” The number of these administrations is open to debate. Though commonly held, the seven dispensations articulated by C. I. Scofield are not the requisite number in order to be admitted into the ranks of Dispensationalist thinkers. The present writer, for instance, questions the theological value of some of these “economies” except perhaps as markers helping one trace the flow of God’s acts in biblical history.
A characteristic of Dispensational theology is the consistent use of what is called the “grammatico-historical” method of interpretation. Here ‘consistent’ applies in principle, although not always in practice. Whether dealing with biblical narrative, or poetry, or prophetic literature, the Dispensationalist applies the same hermeneutics to each genre. This certainly does not mean that the genre is ignored; clearly, for example, so-called apocalyptic literature is not the same as historical writing or wisdom literature. But Dispensational scholars do not believe that one needs to change hermeneutical horses midstream when one passes, say, from Matthew 23, (Gospel narrative), to Matthew 24-25, (which many scholars would describe as apocalyptic or at least prophetic). They believe that exploring the grammatical sense of a passage within its context, and throwing whatever historical light they can upon a text, will yield the intended meaning. To drift away from this is to get caught up in the currents of the academic fads of the day; whatever is or is not in vogue should not dictate biblical interpretation. Read more about What is a "Dispensationalist" Theology?