If a dispensation concerns the affairs of men on earth, then the first dispensation cannot begin until the creation of mankind. Therefore, a study of the dispensations begins at the beginning, Genesis 1. As the Scriptures open, the reader finds God creating mankind, putting him in the garden, blessing him, and giving him responsibilities on the earth.
The first dispensation is commonly called the dispensation of Innocence which refers to the moral state of Adam and Eve in the garden. The thought is that they were not yet sinners, and that their holiness was not yet confirmed. The term innocence, however, does not convey adequately either God’s governing rule or man’s responsibility. God does not give man the responsibility of remaining innocent. He does, however, enjoy fellowship with Adam and Eve, as they enjoy fellowship with one another. As described below, fellowship seems to be a better description of God’s means of governing mankind.
Genesis 1:29-30 and 2:15-17 reveals God’s will for mankind when he placed Adam and Eve in the Garden: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Man’s responsibility was to take care of or manage the garden. He was responsible to tend the garden and to guard the tree of good and evil. When telling the story of Eve, Moses lends the reader additional insight into Adam’s work. Adam classifies all of the animals in the garden, and then God creates Eve for Adam. This gives a clue to God’s management during the first dispensation.
Adam could not enjoy fellowship with the animals according to Genesis 1:18. He did enjoy fellowship with Eve, and they both enjoyed fellowship with God on a daily basis (Gen. 3:8). When they sinned, the fellowship that Adam and Eve enjoyed ended. They were ashamed before each other. Moreover, their fellowship with God was broken, for when he came to be with them, they hid themselves from him. Thus, God managed the affairs of mankind on earth on the basis of fellowship. Taking care of the garden and tending the animals was a means to an end, not the end in itself.
The first dispensation ended when man was expelled from the garden. It is a logical ending because once he is expelled, he can no longer fulfill his responsibilities. After casting Adam and Eve out of the garden, God uses a new ruling principle—he changes the way in which he manages the affairs of mankind on earth.