Easton's Bible Dictionary
(Gr. oikonomia, "management, " "economy").
(1.) The method or scheme according to which God carries out his purposes towards men is called a dispensation. There are usually reckoned three dispensations, the Patriarchal, the Mosaic or Jewish, and the Christian. (see COVENANT, Administration of.) These were so many stages in God's unfolding of his purpose of grace toward men. The word is not found with this meaning in Scripture.
Dispensations of Providence are providential events which affect men either in the way of mercy or of judgement.
Noah Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language
1. (n.) The act of dealing out; distribution; allocation; often used of the distribution of good and evil by God to man, or more generically, of the acts and modes of his administration.
2. (n.) That which is dispensed, dealt out, or appointed; that which is enjoined or bestowed
3. (n.) A system of principles, promises, and rules ordained and administered; scheme; economy; as, the Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations.
4. (n.) The relaxation of a law in a particular case; permission to do something forbidden, or to omit doing something enjoined; specifically, in the Roman Catholic Church, exemption from some ecclesiastical law or obligation to God which a man has incurred of his own free will (oaths, vows, etc.).