Home > Dispensationalism, Prophecy and Mystery, Right Division > Introduction to Right Division of the Bible

Introduction to Right Division of the Bible

Dr. Mike Johnston

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Rightly dividing the word of truth according to the specific program, time period, and gospel message helps us understand why the Body of Christ will not go through Israel’s tribulation.

Interestingly, the Biblical expression “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) has been somewhat marginalized by Bible teachers using it as a catch phrase. Ironically, the conclusions they draw are suspect since assembled from the wrong division between the Testaments.

I’ll explain.

Conventional wisdom convinced us that the Old Testament is for Israel – which is true, but that it ended with Malachi, which is NOT true. The New Testament didn’t begin until the death of Christ the Testator (Matt. 27; see Hebrews 9:16-17).   Now traditionalists will contend this is inconsequential nonsense – and for them it probably is. However, for those of us committed to right division, we understand that ignoring this facilitates error by basing our study on an improper division between testaments that can only lead to wrong interpretations and improper conclusions. One example ignored routinely is the division between the Testaments.

Since the NT didn’t begin until sometime after the crucifixion (Matt. 3-27), Jesus’ teachings are a furtherance of the Old Covenant narrative (we will discuss later) extending through the Gospel of John. This includes the Sermon on the Mount, Mysteries of the Kingdom, and the Olivet Discourse. [1] We believe a more accurate division for the Bible exists between …

Two Programs:
Prophecy and Mystery

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

Right division recognizes the seven dispensations (see Appendix [i]) which show us the means and the methods God used in dispensing His truth to a variety of men throughout Biblical history. Boiling it down, God has two overarching programs we’ll discuss more fully in an upcoming chapter: One from prophecy for Israel and earth, and the other from mystery for the Body of Christ and heaven. Both of these programs have separate participants, purposes and ordinances (Jer. 33:25); existing “since the world began” (Acts 3:21; Rom. 16:25).

In the Providential panorama, all Scripture exists to either explain or enhance the prophetic program for Israel concerning earth, or the mystery program for the Body of Christ concerning heaven.

Prophecy program:

“As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began” (Luke 1:70). “Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21).

Mystery program:

“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25).

As important as these two programs are to exegesis, they need to be observed from a correct dispensation which we find spanning across …

Three Time Periods:
Time past, but now, ages to come

The two programs – heaven (mystery-Body) and earth (prophecy- Israel) – extend across three periods: Past, Present, Future. Our Apostle Paul (Rom. 11:13) reveals them in context as follows:

“That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus … Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (excerpted from Ephesians 2:7-13).

3 Time Periods
“Time past” (Eph. 2:11-12)



Genesis – John

“But now” (Eph. 2:13)

Body of Christ, Heaven


Romans – Philemon

“Ages to come” (Eph. 2:7)



Hebrews – Revelation

  • Past – “time past” – (Eph. 2:11-12) –Prophecy Program for the nation Israel (which includes her history) – (Genesis – Acts)
  • Present – “but now” – (Eph. 2:13) –Mystery Program of the Body of Christ exclusive of the nation Israel – (Romans – Philemon)
  • Future – “ages to come” – (Eph. 2:7) –Prophecy Program to be fulfilled through the nation Israel – (Hebrews – Revelation)

We now come to a critical yet controversial subject regarding …

Two Primary Gospels:
Gospel of Circumcision and the Gospel of Uncircumcision

2 Primary Gospels
“Time past” (Eph. 2:11-12)



Genesis – John

Kingdom gospel to the circumcision
(Matt. 4:23; Gal 2:7)

“But now” (Eph. 2:13)

Body of Christ, Heaven


Romans – Philemon

Grace gospel to the uncircumcision
(Acts. 20:24; Gal. 2:7)

“Ages to come” (Eph. 2:7)



Hebrews – Revelation

Kingdom gospel to the circumcision
(Matt. 24:14; Gal. 2:7)

If you’re ever itching for a fistfight, explain to a carnal Christian the word gospel means “a good message” (Strong), and that there are several of them listed in the Bible [2] God addressed to certain people in specific time periods.

Two primary Gospels – God’s good news – exist within the harmonious framework of the three specific time periods quoted from Paul a moment ago:

  • Gospel during the Prophecy Program: the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35) – is good news to the Jews which Christ preached “in time past” connecting Israel to the Abrahamic Covenant and the circumcision (Gen. 17; Gal. 2:7) and Davidic Covenant (earthly Kingdom from David’s seed (2 Sam. 7:8-16). [3] Bear in mind the church must be removed at the rapture allowing for Jewish tribulation evangelists in the “ages to come” to once again preach this gospel of the kingdom message heralding the Lord’s return to inaugurate His Davidic Kingdom in Jerusalem (Matt. 24:14). [4]
  • Gospel during the Mystery Program: the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) – is good news for Jews and Gentiles who come to Christ by faith and are saved, justified, sanctified, glorified, and spiritually baptized into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) where we are seated in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6) and sealed forever (Eph. 1:13-14) apart from anything other than faith in Christ’s shed blood which permanently removes our sin from us. By Paul’s own words this was a “but now” gospel unique for the uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7), never before preached or taught: “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). Dr. William MacDonald observes that this “is the thrilling message of God’s undeserved favor to guilty, ungodly sinners who deserve nothing but everlasting hell. It tells how the Son of God’s love came from heaven’s highest glory to suffer, bleed, and die on Calvary in order that those who believe on Him might receive forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, 1995) This is the only gospel of salvation (Eph. 1:13; see 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Gal. 1:6) for this dispensation. [5]

Chart: Prophecy and Mystery Time Triad

“Time past”

(Eph. 2:11-12)


Profitable for us

“But now”

(Eph. 2:13)


Personally to us

“Ages to come”

(Eph. 2:7)


Profitable for us

for Israel, a Nation
Old Covenant[Kingdom presented and rejected]

Which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his

holy prophets

since the world began

(Acts 3:21; see Luke 1:70)

of the Church, a Body
New Covenant<- [Began at the death of Christ] ->

… according to the revelation of the mystery, which was

kept secret

since the world began

(Rom. 16:25; see Eph. 3:1-9)

for Israel, a Nation
Old Covenant (continues)[to be ratified at the Revelation]

For these be the days of vengeance, that all things

which are written

may be fulfilled

(Luke 21:22)

in Adam

earthly kingdom

Christ prophesied as Messiah


Dispensation of the Law

Gospel of circumcision

(Gal. 2:7)

Gospel of the kingdom

(Matt. 4:23; 9:35)


Revelation (Zech. 14:3-4)

in Christ

heavenly inheritance

Christ is Head of Body

Apostle Paul

Dispensation of Grace

Gospel of uncircumcision

(Gal. 2:7)

Gospel of the grace of God

(Acts 20:24; see 1 Cor. 15:1-4)


Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18)

in Adam

earthly kingdom

Christ becomes the Messiah


Dispensation of the Law

Gospel of circumcision

(Gal. 2:7)

Gospel of the kingdom

(Matt. 24:14)


Revelation (Rev. 19:11)






Blind, asleep, lost

(Rom. 11:7,8,25)


For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery … that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in

(Romans 11:25)


Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth (Revelation 3:10)






Aware, awake, saved

(Dan. Rom. 11:25-26)



Daniel’s 70 Weeks – Dan. 9:24-27 Jacob’s trouble/Day of

trouble/Day of the Lord

Coming of the Messiah

Davidic Covenant/New Covenant

Resurrection (John 5:28-29)

Ages to come

Matt. 24; Rev. 6-19 Tribulation/Great Tribulation/Hour of temptation

Revelation of Christ

Millennial Kingdom

Resurrection (Rev. 19-20)

[1] Pause to remember the number of times Matthew 24 is offered in proof of a post trib rapture when the fact is, the passage is Jewish and has no bearing on the Body of Christ whatsoever. We will discuss this much more in depth later in our treatise.

[2] Salvation in God’s economy has always involved faith and grace that He dispensed separately to particular individuals at any given time. For instance, Adam and Eve never heard the Name Jesus Christ, but God pictured His sacrifice by shedding the blood of innocent animals to cover their sin (Gen. 3:21). They apparently demonstrated their faith the moment they put on this new clothing.

[3] God made 5 unilateral Covenants with Israel and none with the Body of Christ. Bear in mind our status: “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise …” (Ephesians 2:12).

[4] This includes the gospel of circumcision (Gal. 2:7), which is good news for the Jews preached “in time past” linking them to the Abrahamic Covenant, the foundational contract for Israel’s relationship with God. It formed the groundwork for the promises that would be revealed in the other covenants. The Lord Jesus Christ, James, Peter (Cephas) and John were all ministers of the circumcision (Rom. 15:8; Gal. 2:7-9). [Old Covenant, Dispensation of the Law]

[5] This includes the gospel of uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7), which is is good news for Gentiles as Paul explains, “Ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13). [No Covenant, Dispensation of Grace]


Dr. C.I. Scofield

From his classic work Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, Dr. CI Scofield writes: The Scriptures divide time (by which is meant the entire period from the creation of Adam to the “new heaven and a new earth” of Rev. 21: 1) into seven unequal periods, usually called dispensations (Eph. 3:2), although these periods are also called ages (Eph. 2:7) and days, as in “day of the Lord.”

These periods are marked off in Scripture by some change in God’s method of dealing with mankind, or a portion of mankind, in respect of the two questions: of sin, and of man’s responsibility. Each of the dispensations may be regarded as a new test of the natural man, and each ends in judgment, marking his utter failure in every dispensation. Five of these dispensations, or periods of time, have been fulfilled; we are living in the sixth, probably toward its close, and have before us the seventh, and last: the millennium.

From the Old Scofield Study Bible: [i] dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. Seven such dispensations are distinguished in Scripture. (see Gen_1:28)

The First Dispensation: Innocence (Gen 1:28). Man was created in innocence, placed in a perfect environment, subjected to an absolutely simple test, and warned of the consequence of disobedience. The woman fell through pride; the man deliberately. (1Ti_2:14) God restored His sinning creatures, but the dispensation of innocence ended in the judgment of the Expulsion (see Gen_3:24)

The Second Dispensation: Conscience (Gen 3:23). By disobedience man came to a personal and experimental knowledge of good and evil — of good as obedience, of evil as disobedience to the known will of God. Through that knowledge conscience awoke. Expelled from Eden and placed under the second, or ADAMIC COVENANT, man was responsible to do all known good, to abstain from all known evil, and to approach God through sacrifice. The result of this second testing of man is stated in (Gen_6:5) and the dispensation ended in the judgment of the Flood. Apparently “the east of the garden” (Gen_3:24) where were the cherubims and the flame, remained the place of worship through this second dispensation.

The Third Dispensation: Human Government (Gen 8:21). Under Conscience, as in Innocency, man utterly failed, and the judgment of the Flood marks the end of the second dispensation and the beginning of the third. The declaration of the Noahic Covenant subjects humanity to a new test. Its distinctive feature is the institution, for the first time, of human government — the government of man by man. The highest function of government is the judicial taking of life. All other governmental powers are implied in that. It follows that the third dispensation is distinctively that of human government. Man is responsible to govern the world for God. That responsibility rested upon the whole race, Jew and Gentile, until the failure of Israel under the Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 28 – (Deu_30:1-10)) brought the judgment of the Captivities, when “the times of the Gentiles” (See); (Luk_21:24); (Rev_16:14) began, and the government of the world passed exclusively into Gentile hands; (Dan_2:36-45); (Luk_21:24); (Act_15:14-17). That both Israel and the Gentiles have governed for self, not God, is sadly apparent. The judgment of the confusion of tongues ended the racial testing; that of the captivities the Jewish; while the Gentile testing will end in the smiting of the Image (Da 2.) and the judgment of the nations (Mat_25:31-46).

The Fourth Dispensation: Promise (Gen 12:1). For Abraham, and his descendants it is evident that the Abrahamic Covenant (See Scofield) – (Gen_15:18) made a great change. They became distinctively the heirs of promise. That covenant is wholly gracious and unconditional. The descendants of Abraham had but to abide in their own land to inherit every blessing. In Egypt they lost their blessings, but not their covenant. The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law (Exo_19:8). Grace had prepared a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage (Exo_19:4) but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law. The Dispensation of Promise extends from (Gen_12:1) to (Exo_19:8); and was exclusively Israelitish. The dispensation must be distinguished from the covenant. The former is a mode of testing; the latter is everlasting because unconditional. The law did not abrogate the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal_3:15-18) but was an intermediate disciplinary dealing “till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made”; (Gal_3:19-29); (Gal_4:1-7). Only the dispensation, as a testing of Israel, ended at the giving of the law.

The Fifth Dispensation: Law (Exo 19:8). This dispensation extends from Sinai to Calvary — from Exodus to the Cross. The history of Israel in the wilderness and in the land is one long record of the violation of the law. The testing of the nation by law ended in the judgment of the Captivities, but the dispensation itself ended at the Cross.

(1) Man’s state at the beginning (Exo_19:1-4).

(2) His responsibility (Exo_19:5); (Exo_19:6); (Rom_10:5).

(3) His failure (2Ki_17:7-17); (2Ki_17:19); (Act_2:22); (Act_2:23).

(4) The judgment (2Ki_17:1-6); (2Ki_17:20); (2Ki_25:1-11); (Luk_21:20-24).

The Sixth Dispensation: Grace (Joh 1:17).

Grace. Summary:

(1) Grace is “the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man. . . Not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit_3:4); (Tit_3:5).

It is, therefore, constantly set in contrast to law, under which God demands righteousness from man, as, under grace, he gives righteousness to man (Rom_3:21); (Rom_3:22); (Rom_8:4); (Phm_3:9). Law is connected with Moses and works; grace with Christ and faith; (Joh_1:17); (Rom_10:4-10). Law blesses the good; grace saves the bad; (Exo_19:5); (Eph_2:1-9). Law demands that blessings be earned; grace is a free gift; (Deu_28:1-6); (Eph_2:8); (Rom_4:4); (Rom_4:5).

(2) As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom_3:24-26); (Rom_3:4); (Rom_3:24); (Rom_3:25). The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation, (Joh_1:12); (Joh_1:13); (Joh_3:36); (Mat_21:37); (Mat_22:24); (Joh_15:22); (Joh_15:25); (Heb_1:2); (1Jo_5:10-12). The immediate result of this testing was the rejection of Christ by the Jews, and His crucifixion by Jew and Gentile (Act_4:27). The predicted end of the testing of man under grace is the apostasy of the professing church:

(see “Apostasy”

(See Scofield) – (2Ti_3:1); (2Ti_3:1-8); and the resultant apocalyptic judgments.

(3) Grace has a twofold manifestation: in salvation (Rom_3:24) and in the walk and service of the saved (Rom_6:15).

The Seventh Dispensation: the fullness of times (Kingdom) (Eph 1:10)

The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. This, the seventh and last of the ordered ages which condition human life on the earth, is identical with the kingdom covenanted to David. (2Sa_7:8-17); (Zec_12:8).


(Luk_1:31-33); (1Co_15:24); and gathers into itself under Christ all past “times”:

(1) The time of oppression and misrule ends by Christ taking His kingdom. (Isa_11:3-4).

(2) The time of testimony and divine forbearance ends in judgment. (Mat_25:31-46); (Act_17:30-31); (Rev_20:7-15).

(3) The time of toil ends in rest and reward. (2Th_1:6-7).

(4) The time of suffering ends in glory. (Rom_8:17-18).

(5) The time of Israel’s blindness and chastisement ends in restoration and conversion. (Rom_11:25-27);


(6) The times of the Gentiles end in the smiting of the image and the setting up of the kingdom of the heavens.

(Dan_2:34); (Dan_2:35); (Rev_19:15-21).

(7) The time of creation’s thralldom ends in deliverance at the manifestation of the sons of God. (Gen_3:17); (Isa_11:6-8); (Rom_8:19-21).


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