THE GENTILES IN EPHESIANS

Volume 28, Number 1, February 1967

Note: The paper, "The Gentiles in Ephesians" is assembled from a lengthy letter, almost treatise, he (Alexander Thomson) wrote years ago to another person. R. B. W.

What we term "dispensational" subjects are all very well if they are the means to a truly noble object. But if they lead merely to endless wranglings and disputes, well; our days are very much numbered on earth.

Hitherto I have not been able to avoid the feeling that you have rather been seeking to find flaws in Major Wither's chapters than to find something that might be true and helpful. In other words, I feel that you have been reproducing one of the characteristics of the Scots. It is far too easy a method of conducting a campaign merely to concentrate on picking out flaws.

While it is nice of you to say I am a staunch friend of Major Withers, let me say that I have not accepted everything just as it stood, and in some cases after I have read in advance some of his chapters, I have suggested considerable changes. It may be that in one case a whole chapter has had to be recast.

While it is quite true that some readers of "The Differentiator" cannot rise as high as to follow Major Withers's articles—just as many readers of Unsearchable Riches never could follow A.E.K. along the same lines,—let me tell you there are certainly some very intelligent readers in Britain. One elderly lady in Manchester wrote about a year ago that she had been delivered from C. H. Welch's errors thereby, and she had been a faithful ally of Welch for a long period, but found she could no longer honestly follow his views.

Another, an old gentleman of seventy-four years, writes that he is back re-studying Major Withers's first chapter, and I gather the intention is to go over all the chapters again up to the latest, and get a better grasp of them as a series. Another old gentleman in my own city, a foreman baker even though he must be well over eighty years old, is greedily reading every word. A very intelligent student, his view about twenty years ago regarding the "Body" was that it was a Gentile body only, and he could give some very stout reasons for what he meant by that. He did not of course mean that the Body excluded Jews. I expect his view was that as the individual existence of the Hebrew Nation as a whole was about to end, with Jews becoming scattered among all nations, it became true that any Hebrew believers who accepted Paul's message sank into the same category as Gentiles were in. So that "as to spirit the Gentiles to be joint-allotte (Gentiles), and joint-body (Gentiles), and joint-partaker (Gentiles). . .." Observe that three expressions which in the Greek are adjectival are usually taken as nouns. Observe that not one word is said about Jews or Hebrews. Observe that a big assumption is always made that all the time Paul has in his mind something he keeps back and does not say, that the preposition joint infers something. What Paul does state, very clearly, is that he is "the prisoner of Christ Jesus for (huper) you, the Gentiles" (Eph. 3:1). Could he not have added, "and the Jews"? Why do we always need to assume something which is not stated? Why cannot we take the Scriptures as being as accurate as a legal document ought to be? I love to examine legal documents, not only to seek to follow their terms but to make sure that their terms are thoroughly water-tight, excluding anything that they should not say.

Does not Paul give us one clue in Eph. 3:5 in saying the secret of the Christ "to different generations was (or, is, if you like) not made known to the sons of humanity, as it is (or was, if you like) now revealed. . . . ."? He brings in all humanity. Stepping back to chapter 2:11 et sequita we find Paul is speaking to the Gentiles in flesh, who were once excluded from certain privileges. Here he does refer to the "so-called Circumcision in flesh" and to Israel. Here there are undoubtedly two which are made one. But these two are created, in Himself, into one new humanity. He reconciles both, in one Body, as regards God (as regards Divine things), through the Cross, killing the enmity in it (the enmity already mentioned).

Nothing is said in any of these passages about the Gentiles being raised to the level which Israel possessed or should have possessed.

There is an entirely new creation which will take in believing Gentiles and Jews. But why must we infer that the thrice repeated joint in chapter 3:6 means that the jointness consists in a distinct mixture of Jews (who remain Jews) and Gentiles? In other words, may not the word joint (sun) bear a meaning quite different?

Should we shut our eyes to what is stated in Col. 1:26 and 27, where Paul refers to a secret concealed from the eons, now made manifest? God wants (ethelEsen) to make known what are the riches of the glory of this secret among the Gentiles, which is, Christ among you (i.e., the Gentiles) the expectation of the glory !

Why is Israel never hinted at here?

You appear to believe that the secret is the truth that both the Jew and the Gentile believers are risen together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. At least, you state the well-grounded ones think so. Presumably you follow them or belong to them. That is one of the consequences of the secret I do not deny. But is it not the secret which we get in verse 6 of Eph. 3, and there alone? Now this secret mentions only Gentiles. Your legal document, your title deeds, are here so very precise that you have improved upon them!

The translation of Romans 4:17 found in the A.V; and the C.V. I regard as rather mischievous. Would it not be better to understand the statement as literally, "Father of many Gentiles I have placed thee"? To read nations makes us think of actual nations as such. Abraham was at first as you know a Gentile, before he became, or was made, virtually or partly a Hebrew.

The Gentile Body which Paul reveals seems to me to be something far grander, far more like God, than the almost makeshift thing we have been taught.

Besides, in most "joint" affairs there is a union of some kind in which both parties have a certain proportion of weight or influence or honour. Marriage is truly a joint affair, and husband and wife should share equally. In trading companies there are sometimes a number of partners. If there were ten partners all having a ten per cent. interest, we might say they were joint partners. But if there were only two partners, one with a ninety-nine per cent. interest and the other with a one per cent. interest, the affair does not have by any means the same air of being a truly joint concern. If, however, there was one partner who held a very predominating interest, say, nine hundred and ninety-nine shares out of a thousand, and another who held only one share, it would become really farcical to say the venture was "joint."

Now that illustrates the composition of this "Joint Body" so-called.

I do not think it would be any exaggeration to say the proportion of Jews to Gentiles within the Body cannot be more than one in ten thousand, if it is so large. Of course I refer to their state by nature, people born Gentiles and born Jews. So I reason it is quite ridiculous to say the Body is a Joint Jew­Gentile one. The whole idea is merely a pious inference, due to the fertile mind of men like Dr. Bullinger and those who went before him. And what makes this view far more effective is that those Jews who became "converted" (which is a double process with them) very very rarely, if ever, give up their peritomE and their law. They will still cling to their law with intense tenacity.

Have you ever known or heard of a single Jew who embraced Christianity and entered into the wide catholic (universal) Gentile spirit that Paul possessed? That is, without the narrowness of the Hebrew law and religion?

Very probably you have heard of the notable living Christian Jew in Jerusalem, Abram Poljak. He will not tolerate Christian missions to Jews and recommends that all preaching of Christ to Jews must be done through the synagogue only. A Jewish printer, Hugh J. Schonfield, in his "Judaism and World Order" virtually appeals to the Christian world to come back to the Holy Mother Church of Judaism! He would give Christianity its place—he cannot avoid so doing, but he seems to have no place for the Lord Jesus, except as a great Jew.

I shall ask once more: Do you know one single Jew who has fully accepted Paul's teaching? I do not deny that such can exist. But I should like to hear of one case. Conversely, do you know of one Jew who has left quite behind his whole Judaism?

I think Withers was perfectly in order to state that the Jew "must first renounce utterly his Jewish standing, he must become a Gentile in the same sense as Abraham when he was in uncircumcision." You say, "Very clever!" And you ask, When was Abraham anything else than a Gentile either before or after circumcision? In asking this, you entirely miss the carefully put point by dragging forward the red herring. Take his words as they stand, without colouring them. The statement is absolutely true. No one is denying that Abraham was not a Jew, but a Syrian. Nevertheless, Gen. 14:13 tells us Abram was a Hebrew. Funny thing that he also spoke the language of the Jews. All this too, before he was made out to be righteous by his faith.

Surely it must be very evident, quite apart from the texts we have been studying, that the Jew, before he can enter into the blessings made known by Paul, must sink his nationality altogether. Just as we, by becoming enlightened, become citizens of a heavenly homeland (politeuma) and rise above our earthly nationality, and so must the Jew forsake all his nationality, and become similarly "stateless" so far as earth is concerned.

Surely you must see that to be a Gentile before the choosing out of the Jewish nation was something rather different from being a Gentile after there was that Jewish nation. But has this feature escaped you?

I imagine that C. H. Welch's fame rests to a great extent on the fact that he has ever claimed that he has not required to change his mind to any great extent all these past forty years. That might be another way of saying that he has refused to learn anything worth while during all that time. His views about a literal and national Hebrew kingdom to come during the first century are grotesque in the extreme. That alone for me spoils all he says about "dispensational" matters.

As for his treatment of Matt. 13:14, I would recommend to you a study of the Greek verb you mentioned here, anapleroo, ana, you will say, means up. Quite right. But it is in use in Greek with another meaning. It will be found in the C.V. Concordance, at page 354, with the force of "again, apiece, respectively, back, over again, anew." Page 8 of the Greek Elements will furnish some very apt illustrations of this idea, where up will not make good sense.

What I meant in saying I refused to believe that Paul's teaching required to be readjusted in his latest epistles, was that his earlier epistles do not become readjusted except to the extent they state something was only temporary. Thus, it is ridiculous, surely, to argue that the Lord's Dinner must be re­adjusted or put out of date by some inference in Paul's later epistles. If Paul taught and wrote that it was to continue till He come, then it must continue so. No later Scripture can break an earlier Scripture. Our principle is that Scripture cannot be broken. Welch, however, does thus often break Scripture. For many years it has seemed very foolish to me that Paul should write certain directions for the saints which were to remain in operation only for a very few years. That is not like the Holy Spirit. We ought to see matters in their historical setting. But people accustomed to reading daily newspapers cannot get things into their minds historically.

Paul was engaged in launching a ship that was to sail for at least nineteen hundred years.

For quite a considerable number of years I have been becoming more and more suspicious of the theory that in Acts 28:28 we have a grand crisis of the eons. Had I been a judge I would have thought it was a very harsh sentence to make out guilty a meeting of Jews who seemed to know nothing or next to nothing about Paul and his Gospel, until he appeared. It seems the height of madness to make one meeting of strangers respon­sible for the casting aside of a whole nation. From what we are usually told regarding that grand crisis of the eons, that roomful of courteous and patient Hebrews committed the crime of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. They must have been even worse criminals than the mobs who would fain have pelted Paul with stones.

Paul is very careful not to insult the gathering which in all probability produced the first Christian-Hebrew ecclesia in Rome. When he had the delight of beholding that "some" (hoi) believed what he told them, even if another "some" (again hoi) did not believe, it would have been grossly outrageous for him to bring forward the Isaiah quotation and fling it at them all, as though it was true of them all.

What Paul is doing is, he is reminding them of a fact of history which they knew, how that Isaiah had spoken to their forefathers regarding their blindness. The inference is that the Nation is still as a whole blind, but certainly not that that meeting at Rome was blind.

You say it is "evasion" to argue thus. To arrive at that idea, you must be obsessed with the idea that the same Holy Spirit was the one who "dismissed" them, and the idea that the Isaiah quotation contains within itself some mystical power, as though it was an incantation which brought down a curse. Why does not Paul state directly that Isaiah is talking to those assembled Jews themselves? Here is where it is you who evade the point. That is for you to explain.

Again, I say, it is utterly ridiculous to take one single meeting of Jews, and lay upon them the burden of precitipating a grand crisis of the eons. Even had that one meeting gone on year after year in an utterly stubborn attitude, surely that could never produce a crisis of the calibre you seem to see. You seem to overlook that Paul was a total stranger to these Hebrews, as they were to him. Could one day's argument be any fair test, sufficient to damn them for good?

I can assure you that there is no disagreement between Withers and myself (although you appear very eager to find some) in the matter of Acts 28:28. When I maintain that here we have no boundary line for the Gentiles, you jump to the conclusion that only from now on will the "Gentiles hear" the Gospel. Who says so? What a pity you did not know enough Greek to understand that in Greek a future tense can be a continuous tense at the same time, just as the present tense is. If I say I will have my breakfast, must that signify that I have never had breakfast before? I would never insult you by asking you to reason in that fashion. Here again is Paul giving a fact of history. Not only so, but he states that this salvation-work or salvation-operation (sOtErion, not the abstract sOtEria) was sent to the Gentiles. You would say, presumably, No; it is only being sent now, and only now will they "hear-for-themselves" (middle; akousontai, not akousousin).

It is perfectly legitimate to understand that statement as, "and they (or themselves) will-go-on-hearing-on-their-own account." Of course that will be rather clumsy in English. Is it not here that we find Paul seeking to provoke some of his flesh to emulation or jealousy? The Isaiah quotation must have made some of them to think furiously after breaking up. That, and the fact stated that the Gentiles were already hearing God's truth for themselves.

As Withers has well put it, all this is an elucidation of what had already taken place. You make me even clearer about this than I was before. It was a history of a certain epoch that Luke was writing. Obviously the Acts must be a follow-on to Luke's Gospel. The inspired writers never ramble.

I should not be surprised if the fertile brain of Charles H. Welch has, somewhere, shewn a fine parallelism between the final verses of Luke's Gospel and the final verses in Acts. In the one case (Luke 24:47) "and repentance for forgiveness of sins (must) be proclaimed in His name, (they) beginning from Jerusalem, unto all the Gentiles," and in Acts 28:28 "to the Gentiles is this salvation-operation of God dispatched, and they will be hearing."

Parallelisms and O.T. quotations can be used to destroy the plain meaning of Scripture.

To revert to Eph. 3:6: Why could not Paul have revealed that the Gentiles were to be in spirit joint-heirs, etc., "with Jews"? But that is what he does not say. If he does not say so, then why must we infer it? If you complain that Withers in his chapter on "The Secret" does not tell his readers what the secret is, I should say that is far better than telling them what it is not, as you appear to do. I am sure at least that A.E.K. taught the secret revolved around the thrice repeated Greek proposition joint. You appear to say it consists of "both the Jew and the Gentile believers are risen together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus." In another place you say, "I utterly deny that there is a Jew or a Gentile in the three-fold unity of Eph. 3:6." However, I am not saying this is inconsistency. You may be meaning something different from what I see in your statements.

History is history and goes on being, taking place even long before it is recorded in books. I ought not to need to state such a simple fact. History books generally do not present history. What they give is just a few of the outstanding events in time.

The early ecclesias in the time of Paul had a history. I expect these ecclesias were very much the same as what we have today, in most respects. It is not likely that in assemblies chiefly Gentile they would know much or anything of the O.T. and perhaps not much about the Jews. I cannot somehow think that Gentile believers were all agog to discover what was the fate of Israel to be. Far more likely they were concerned with their own blessings and their own future.

I cannot think that the new teachings and secrets made by Paul in writing to the Ephesians would startle the readers very severely. To translate Greek mustErion as "secret" is, as you are sure to know, not all the truth. It is the kind of secret that only a believer can enter into. He enters it by initiation, and when he becomes initiated into one of the secrets, he is sure to be led on and on into the others, provided he does not draw back. One cannot learn one of the secrets without groping for the others and eventually entering into them. In other words I take it that the secrets are not of the greatest use or blessing if learnt only piecemeal, a single one or only one or two. We need them all to get a proper picture of God's truth.

That is why Paul writes in 1 Cor. 13:2, "And if ever I may have prophecy, and may be perceiving the secrets all" (ta mustEria panta). This struck me with some force many years ago, and seemed to point to the likelihood of Paul even at an early date knowing privately all the secrets, even though he was not then at liberty to divulge them. Only as a whole could he understand them all. It is evident also that some of the zealous among the brethren were groping for further light before the time, as Paul seems to have divulged things privately to some who were eager for the truth.

Just look at the efforts many zealous students have been making for years to get things cleared up among themselves. Why, I have been trying to do this for forty years in the Greek and Hebrew texts.

Thus I think it is utterly absurd that the Ephesian saints suddenly learnt something hitherto totally unknowable in their chapter 3, or that the Church, the Body of Christ, suddenly got a complete jolt in another direction. God does not act thus towards his own saints.

That is why I detest the ideas of Welch about a sudden new departure which synchronized with the end of the Acts. God works among His own people by integrated movements, gradual adjustments, not by means of earthquakes or volcanoes. Thus I would stand by the quotation you make from page 21 of the January/February, 1950, issue of "The Differentiator." What you now believe, I believed or tried to believe thirty-five or forty years ago, but for many years I have believed as Withers believes. Nor do I think you have brought forward one fact that will move us in the least. I really think you are wasting time writing to me on this subject. It seems to me that you are far more ready to pull others to pieces than to learn. The aim of all the teaching of the Scriptures should be that we attain more of the spirit of Christ. If we get some measure of that, we shall not need to look down our noses at anyone.

(Note by R. B. W.-Ordinarily I would not care to reproduce such praise of myself; but as I get so little in print and as the context is of great importance, for once I feel that I may be excused.

It is about time that all should know that I am not the only one to challenge the theories about Acts introduced in 1907 by J. J. B. Coles and expounded at great length by his most prominent disciple, C. H. Welch.

In fact, he has to some extent departed from Coles's doctrine as it originally was propounded and apparently still is by his followers; for he says of the quotation of Isa. 6:9 and 10, by the Lord Jesus in Matt. 13:14 and 15, "No word could more definitely indicate that this prophecy was at that time completely, nationally and finally fulfilled." "Isa. 6:9 and 10, while repeated in Acts 28, was really fulfilled in Matt. 13." (The Berean Expositor, volume 53, pages 157 and 158). In spite of this, he averred that "A stay of execution was granted." No proof is offered, for there is none; and, indeed, the consequence of this fulfilment is what the pronouncement is all about (Matt. 13:11-14 and verse 16 onward). There was no time for a stay of execution. Something had already happened to "them" as the direct result of their unbelief.

Nevertheless, not one of us is infallible; and I, too, have to confess to a past error about this matter. Volume 10, No.2, page 21, I wrote of Acts: "The account tails off, leaving every question unanswered but one—the question with which Acts starts. And the answer is 'No.'" This is not quite true, for I should have said, "leaving every question about Israel unanswered but one, etc."

The context of what I wrote shows that I chiefly had in mind Israel and what concerns Israel; and in that context what I wrote is true. In every other respect, Acts is a history of triumphant success, leading up to Paul's unhinderable ministry in the world metropolis, Rome. God's plans do not fail. What happened in Matthew 13 was an essential part of them, and what followed this part of this plan was wholly in accord with it, even though for the time being it involved virtual extinguishment for Israel. We must not forget that in due time what pertains to us as His people chosen from the Gentiles will disappear on earth too. That disappearance will be its moment of triumph.

After asking several questions, which I answered, Mr. Welch let the discussion drop. As I had other matters then to attend to, I did not trouble to pursue it; but there was, in fact, much more to be said, as his treatment of the subject has all along been very superficial.

To begin with, the verb in Matt. 13:14, anaplEroutai, is present tense, middle voice; so is filled up is incorrect, as it means something already accomplished, even if only just accomplished. Rotherham, as usual, gets much nearer with is being fulfilled. If we transport ourselves in thought to that moment of time, we get the idea that the Lord is saying to His disciples that, in the throng around, Isaiah's prophecy is in process of fulfilling itself on its own account, almost, one might say, automatically by the process of cause and effect. Thus, no question of any pronouncement of judgment or sentence arises, and certainly none of doom.

In a letter to me at about that time, A.T. asked "But where is the 'doom' pronounced in Matthew 13? The prophecy mentions only a darkened and dulled condition of mind. True, that would infer disagreeable consequences, if there was no change of heart. Welch has been interpreting this passage in the light of what happened to Jerusalem in year 70." He adds: "Even this prophecy in Matthew 13 is made known apparently to the disciples alone."

A.T. goes on to write, "Here is a point I have just observed in Rotherham (first and fifth editions) at Matt. 13:14. He renders by ‘And again is being fulfilled in them. . . .' I looked up Greek texts to see whether any of the manuscripts contained the word palin, ‘again,' but found it not, then deemed Rotherham means the ana-to stand for 'again.' See C.V. Concordance, page 354, up, ana-'respectively,' 'again,' 'apiece.' This is a distributive adverb, not the preposition ana meaning up. The adverb is found at Matt. 20:9 and 10; Mark 6:40; Luke 9:3 and 14; and other four places, rendered in A.V. 'everyman'; 'by' hundreds; 'by' fifties. I admit, of course, that to 'fill up' would seem to be quite a legitimate meaning. Yet strange to say, on looking it up in Modern Greek, we find anaplErO, ‘I refill; I replace; I substitute; I re-present.' Here we meet with the ideas of 'again' and 'over again.' Now what Isaiah was told in his chapter 6 was true of his generation. And it was again true when the Lord came. It is quite true that the same features were being manifested again. There was a re-filling of Isaiah's words, or a re-fulfilment of them. At Acts 28:25 Paul hints to the Roman Jews that what the Holy Spirit talked through Isaiah to (pros, toward) the fathers was still and again true."

If this is sound (and being by Rotherham it probably is), gone once and for all is any idea of judgment, sentence, doom, being pronounced by Isaiah, or the Lord Jesus, or the Apostle Paul. All the evidence points the opposite way, to a prophecy fulfilling itself progressively and, indeed, still being fulfilled at this present moment.

A.T. writes also: "Luke 23:34: No one can claim that the Lord's statement, "Father, Forgive them," applies to the whole nation. It is no plea for national forgiveness. It seems to apply only to those who were crucifying Him. But I suppose this would be reckoned as a quibble. If the Jews at Rome were an integral part of the nation, what could they know about the Crucifixion events?

Reverting to Luke 23:34, will Welch mean that some, or the nation, were "forgiven" by means of the prayer of the Lord? It is hard for us Gentiles to think of forgiveness being so temporary. In any case, the hardness of heart of the nation had already become so serious, by the time of the pronouncement of Matt. 13:14, that even if "Father! Forgive them" referred only to the Crucifixion events, the actual putting of the Lord to death, the nation still had to answer for their hardness of heart. Furthermore, Luke 21 makes it quite clear that the doom of the nation was imminent and irreversible. Any "forgiveness" could not avert that doom.

Acts 7:60; Can Welch imagine this is a prayer by Stephen for the forgiveness of the whole nation? The case is entirely personal. Stephen was generous enough to wish that his own murderers might be let off. And the chief of them was later let off. Rotherham: "Lord! Thou mayest not set down to them this sin!" C.V.: "Lord, Thou shouldest not stand this sin against them!"

Upon consideration I think Welch has been rather wild when he composed his effusion, because some of his factors are very irrelevant, such as Matt. 22:4-7 and 23:38. It is certainly for him to state his case first and say what he means. He has some interpretation of these passages in his mind, but we do not know what it may be.

Little more needs to be said at present beyond pointing out once more that the whole idea of crisis is throughout an illusion conjured up by the desire of some expositors to find a crisis. No doubt, for the disciples it came as a surprise (Matthew 13:10); but in fact it is no more than a calm narration of an example of a phenomenon found again and again: if men turn away from truth which is presented to them, that truth presently ceases to be available to them. That is why the followers of Coles and his successors have to a large extent become proof against the truth. Yet, if they had paid even a little attention to what is actually written in Matthew 13:10-17, and in Acts 28:23-28, about the Jews of Rome, they would have seen that the latter was about their fathers, something that had happened a generation earlier).

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