The Greek words oikonomia and oikonomos and the lexicons, oikonomia is compounded from oikos (an inhabited house) and nomos (which is a derivative from the root /nem -, nom-, with the idea of administering, ruling, legislating, and which means law, when it is used judicially.
This word was used by Plato, Xenophon, and by the common people of that day whenever the great dynastic, opulent households then existing were spoken about. At the......time of the writing of the N.T., it meant "the management of a household or of family affairs. "
We wish to cite the following authorities as they give the first and primary meaning of this word oikonomia (and its related word oikonomos, the house steward). That the "management" element in these words should lead to secondary meanings is to be expected, since what is done by the steward may in our minds overshadow the reference to the persons with whom the thing is done. It is a common fault of all of us to delight in the promises of the Word of God without considering to whom and with whom they were made.
Before citing these authorities on the Greek words, we wish to state that a household steward in the Hebrew is not expressed by a single word but by a circumlocution, asher al habbayith, "who is over the house," bayith indicating the" household and the other servants (the steward himself being a servant or a freed man), a usage seen in Gen. 43:16 and 44:1. See also I Kings 4:6, 16:9, 18:3; II Kings 10:5, 15:5; and Isa. 22:15, where the reference is not to one over a private household, but to one who was superintendent of the king's household at large, approximately equivalent to a court marchal, a marechal du palais. The former is well illustrated in Gen. 24:2, where Abraham's servant ruled over all that Abraham possessed. The setting in which we see Joseph in the house of Potiphar as overseer provides the three elements involved in the term: the house with its honor, position and wealth, the steward, and the management.
In the items below, we list under (1) the definitions of oikonomia and under (2) those of oikonomos.
Parkhurst, Greek Lexicon: 1. Properly, a dispensation, administration or management of family affairs; a stewardship
2. A person who manages the domestic affairs of a family; a steward.
The Analytical Greek Lexicon 1. The management of a household, a stewardship. 2. The manager of a household, a steward.
Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon 1 From Xenophon and Plato down, the management of a household or of house-hold affairs. 2. The manager of a household or of household affairs; esp. a steward, manager, superintendent (whether free- born, or as was usually the case, a freed man or slave) to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the care of receipts and expenditures, and the duty of dealing out the proper portion to every servant and even to children not yet of age. Cf. Luke. 12:42,
I Cor. 4:2, Gal. 4:2.
Robinson, Lexicon of the New Testament 1. Economy, management of a household or of household affairs. 2. A house-manager, overseer, steward. One who had authority over the servants or slaves of a family, to assign their tasks and portions: with which was also united the general management of affairs and accounts.
Skeat, Concise Etymological Dictionary (under economy): 1. The management of a household. 2. One who man-ages a household.
Lidell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon 1. The management of a household. 2. One who manages a household.
Robert Young, Analytical Concordance To The Bible (under dispensation) 1. Law or arrangement of a house. 2. A house manager (steward).
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 1. Administration of a household or estate. 2. A house-distributor, i.e., manager or overseer.
Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
1. Primarily signifies the management of a household or of household affairs. A dispensation is not a period or epoch (a common but erroneous use of this, word), but a mode of dealing, an arrangement of administration of affairs.
2. Primarily denotes the manager of a household or estate.
Green, A Greek Lexicon 1. The management of a household. 2. The manager of a household.
Universal Dictionary (under "economics"): 1. The science of the management of a household or of domestic concerns. The management, regulation, and government of a household or household affairs.
E. W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance Of The New Testament 1. Administration of a household. Actively, the administrative activity of the owner or steward. Passively, that which is administered. 2. A house-manager.
Some deductions. From the above data we gather that involved in a Biblical dispensation (oikonomia) are the following:
1. A household (households) with its honor, position and wealth.
2. The management or government of that household or family.
3. The manager (oikonomos) or steward of that family’s affairs.
On the basis of these three points, we would define as one dispensation (oikonomia) all that has to do with Abraham's household, i.e., Israel and those Gentiles blessed in Abraham and made his seed (Rom. 4:13-18; Gal. 3:7-9, 14, 29) or those who share his hopes and promises either in the land (Gen. 15:7), with Israel (Gen. 17: 4-14), or in the kingdom of heaven (of, from) with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matt. 8:11), or as joint-heirs with Abraham of the world (Rom. 4:13), the New Jerusalem with its new earth (Heb. 11:8-16). We would place together and as a different dispensation that household of believers spoken of in the post-Acts letters of the Apostle Paul, those who are blessed "in Christ," in the "super-heavenlies" with all spiritual blessings that the wealth and riches of grace can bestow without any reference to Abraham, Israel, the New Covenant, the land, the old earth, or the New Jerusalem.
The household of Abraham in its varied history has had many stewards of truth. In an effort to gain Israel's repentance, Christ sent out twelve at one time (Matt. 10) and on another occasion seventy. The Apostle Paul's early ministry was to Abraham's personal seed, then to those Gentiles (having no dispensational position of their own) during the period of the Acts, who were made Abraham's seed and grafted into Israel's Olive Tree (Rom. 11 and Gal. 3).
The stewardship of truth for this present out-calling, this household of the mystery, has had its stewards first of all, that "prisoner for Gentiles," the Apostle Paul, then those seven or eight "grace" apostles associated with him in his prison ministry as he unfolded the secret will (Eph. 1:9, 10), the secret dispensation (Eph. 3:9), God's hidden dispensation (Col. 1:25, 26), God's dispensation of grace (Eph. 3:2). In conjunction with this household and directed to it, is a secret concerning the person and position of the ascended and seated Christ of Glory, "far above all." This mystery concerns a Gentile...company or family "placed as sons" in the Son and their being seated, glorified, and filled with God's own fullness in the Son of His Love (cf. Eph. 3:1-8; 1:22, 23; 4:13; and Col. 2:9). There is no "Israel of God" or Jews blessed as Israelites today. Any saved Jew is of "one body" (Eph. 2:14-16) with Gentiles, "in Christ" apart from all prior affiliations: with Abraham's position, promises, covenants and hopes.
From Adam to Abraham? After the advent of the family of Abraham it is easy to see the varied events, programs, etc., as working out God's ultimate destiny for that great and complex family household. A natural question comes to mind, and that is: What about those living believers before Abraham? Where do they fit in?
Deut. 32:8 pre-dates Israel's kingdom thus: "When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel." The author of the book of Hebrews joins together in one bond and one hope all those from Abel to those to whom he writes (cf. Heb. 11:4-40). In the book of Romans (2:26), Paul speaks of a time when certain Gentiles were counted for Circumcision if they by nature (though ignorant of the law of Moses) kept the righteousness of the Law. No Gentile is being thus counted today. That God dates Abraham and Israel's things from the foundation of the world is seen in considering the following scriptures:
From - secrets of the prophetic kingdom (Matt. 13:35)
From - the kingdom "sheep" nations appraised of their future inheritance in relation to Israel (Matt. 25:34)
From -God's rest and invitation for Israel (Heb. 4:3-8)
From - the Lamb slain in relation to the kingdom people (Rev. 13:8)
From - the book of life in relation to the kingdom People
From - the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21)
It is interesting to note that all that pertain distinctively
to this present dispensation has been:
Kept hidden from ages, from generations (Col. 1:26), Untrackable (Eph. 3:8), In other ages not made known (Eph. 1:5),
From the beginning of the world, hidden in God (Eph. 3:9).
God has been pleased to use two terms in connection with the "foundation of the world" (see Greek texts) and places those in Abraham's calling on this side ("from…") and those in the household of the Secret (those in the dispensational position of Paul's post-Acts epistles) on the other side ("before the foundation").
Besides those verses that deal with the glory of the Son (before …, John 17:4), the Father's love in the Son (before …, John 17:24), and Christ, the Wisdom of God and Christ foreknown (before..., I Cor. 2:7; I Pet. 1:20), we have those verses of Scripture directly addressed to us that deal with a people chosen in Christ (before…, Eph. 1:4), a people of God's own purpose and grace given before the world began (II Tim. 1:9), an elect of a promise before the world began (Tit. 1:2). If this concept is borne out in Scripture, then God has given us an insight into His great purposes respecting (1) a household for the earth (old and new) -- Abraham and his family; and (2) a family of sons in Christ for the heavenlies, along with the Princes and Magistrates of that realm, and in Christ over them (Eph. 1:21-23).
Conclusion. We would therefore conclude that there are two vast Bible dispensations, that these have to do only with those who are of God. We agree that while some things are common to both, the great areas of differences are so very extensive as totally to change the character, hope, practices, and destiny of those receiving truths pertaining to the one or the other.
Whereas just two vast dispensations may seem like an over-simplification to some or not, nonetheless we would ask that this great subject be restudied and reevaluated, considering the three elements we have isolated as characteristic of the Biblical oikonomia-concept: (1) the household; (2) the house-management; and (3) the household manager, or steward.
CONCORDANCE OF THE TWO TERMS
The Hebrew text relating to Steward and Stewardship should be consulted in the following verses:
I Kings 1:2, 4 (sokhen: fem. sachan)
Isa. 22:15; 51:18 (mehahel: under nahal)
Luke 16:2, 3, 4
I Cor. 9:17
Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 9
I Tim. 1:4
Isa. 22:19, 21 (LXX)
Luke 12:42; 16: 1, 3, 8
I Cor. 4:1, 2
I Pet. 4:10