I will assume that one who claims to be a dispensationalist accepts the dictionary definition for “dispensation.” According to dictionary.com, we have:
1. an act or instance of dispensing; distribution.
2. something that is distributed or given out.
3. a certain order, system, or arrangement; administration or management.
a dispensing with, doing away with, or doing without something.
6. Roman Catholic Church.
Note, in particular, definition 4c under “Theology”:
A divinely appointed order or age
Then, an “age,” or period of time, can rightly be referred to as a “dispensation.” And, it is this definition which is claimed today by those who state that they are “dispensationalists.”
Or, is this the case? Perhaps it is definition 4b under “Theology”:
an appointment, arrangement, or favor, as by God
But, this is essentially a restatement of “3.”:
a certain order, system, or arrangement; administration or management
When reference is made to an “administration” of God, reference is also being made to a period of time. I have heard many a dispensational pastor make use of the word “administration” in his sermons.
So, for our purposes, we need not consider any definitions under "Theology.”
The word, “dispensation,” is found 4 times in God's Word:
1Co_9:17 For if I do this thing willingly, I
have a reward:
but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
Eph_1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
Eph_3:2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you- ward:
Col_1:25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;
It is apparent that definition 3 cannot be applied in any of these instances. In all but one, definition 1 would apply. In the other, Ephesians 1:10 (apparently in agreement with Revelation 10:6), definition 5 would apply.
The sources of the teaching that a dispensation is either a period of time or an administration of God is found predominantly in the nineteenth century teachings of only two men: John Nelson Darby and C.I. Scofield. And, it is these teachings I regard as heretical in that they deny the Scriptural use of the word, “dispensation.”
Finally, when I state that I am not a dispensationalist, I must, in clarification, state that I am not a Scofield dispensationalist, but, rather, a Biblical dispensationalist.