The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to be a faithful leader by laboring over the Scriptures; he called it "Rightly dividing the Word of God" (2 Tim. 2:15). "Rightly dividing" is the KJV translation of the Greek ὀρθοτομοῦντα (orthotomounta) which means "to cut straight." Paul, as a tent-maker (Acts 18:3), used this word because it was exactly what he wanted Timothy to do: "cut up the Word of God" into precise, usable pieces. Why would he say that? And how does one cut apart the Word of God?
In order to understand a particular passage of Scripture, one needs to know to whom does it apply? Did God intend for it to apply to a specific situation, or did He want believers throughout the generations to recognize it as being His will for our lives, as well? For instance, does God want you to abstain from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Does He want me to build a huge ship and call it the Ark? Will He command you to offer your child on an altar to Him? Of course not; those instructions were given to Adam, Noah, and Abraham, and never repeated again.
The understanding that much of God's Word describes God's will for a specific individual, a generation, a nation, etc., and not for everyone, gave birth to the matrix of studying the Bible called Dispensationalism. Throughout the history of the Bible, there have been specific periods, or ages, where God has held man responsible as stewards of His Truth. A simple way of dividing time, as recorded in the Bible, would be into three periods: 1) when there were only Gentiles; 2) when there were both Gentiles and Jews; 3) when there are Gentiles, Jews, and Christians. Each of these three, from Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Jesus, and from Jesus until now, covers about two thousand years.
In this theological approach to studying the Word, most scholars recognize seven dispensations. But for the sake of this study, I want to simplify things in order to demonstrate how it works. In the first two thousand years, God dealt with the entire population of the world as a whole. In order for individuals to be "in good standing" (righteous in the eyes of God), he or she needed only to trust Him, and live according to His will for his or her life.
During the two thousand years between Abraham and the Resurrection of Jesus, God's focus was upon His chosen people, Israel. Over time, He gave them specific instructions called the Law, which included male circumcision, unique dietary laws, and they were to set apart the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. In their obedience to His instructions, they demonstrated that they trusted God. Their obedience, coupled with animal sacrifice for when they failed to obey, allowed Righteous God to declare them righteous as well.
To be continued, Lord willing.