Vol. 25 New Series February & April, 1963 No.s 1&2
ACTS AS HISTORY

Part 1
History can be one of the least satisfactory of all studies. All too often, the historian produces a distorted presentation of events and, on top of that, a biassed interpretation of them; and when he has finished, the student who reads his work will be liable unconsciously to distort and misrepresent both, according to his own preconceptions of how events ought to have turned out.

With the historical portions of the Sacred Scriptures the former trouble does not arise, for nobody has been able to demonstrate the existence of any such flaws in them; but distortions and misrepresentations by students exist. It is our misfortune that these tend to have a great influence, often indeed greater than does the truth. By way of illustration one need only think of the "Acts 28:28 frontier" theory devised by J. J. B. Coles, and carried on by his successors to this day in defiance of the fact that it has been completely refuted.

About this enough has been said already; for it is not the only error of its kind and perhaps not even the most important, although its exponents seem to think it is.

One thing all these errors and distortions have in common: they minimize and underrate the importance of Pentecost.

The followers of Coles seek to overshadow Pentecost by the events recorded at the close of Acts, even though no more than a glance at the book's concluding verses suffices to show that the narrative ends very quietly indeed, with nothing remotely comparable with the spectacular events at the start. Why, then, do they devise so strange an idea? Probably the most general reason is committal to the theory that at Pentecost Israel was given a chance to repent.

Long ago it was acutely observed that there was no "chance" about such a matter as that. God is not affected by "chance" in managing His affairs. Well, then, let us put it differently, and say that Israel was given an opportunity to repent. This may at first sound harmless enough, to some people at least, but let us look into what it implies. This is nothing other than that Israel could have repented. In other words, this means that at Pentecost all future history was in the balance, depending on whether Israel chose one way or the other. If Israel chose one way, God would have to act accordingly to keep His promises; if the other way, He would have to act in an entirely different way.

Not let us not mince matters, but declare plainly what this means. It is, in ordinary language, no other than that God had to bet on what choice Israel would make. If the bet came off, well and good; and He could proceed with setting up the promised earthly Kingdom. If the wager failed, He would be forced to arrange for alternative plans as an improvisation to meet the emergency. So far as I am aware, no one yet has cared to set out the Supposed position so bluntly; but if any reader should object to this conclusion (and my frank statement of what this dispensational theory implies) it is for him to find a flaw in the statement, if he can. And I would emphasize once again that the dilemma is not mine. To continue to be absolutely frank, I regard the whole theory behind it as nothing short of blasphemous; and my concern here is to make the point beyond dispute by displaying in ordinary speech what it means.

Those who indulge in speculations such as this dispensational theory always take care to guard themselves; here, by asserting that God knew before hand what choice Israel would make. To this fancy, the answer is complete and crushing. If the result was known beforehand, then it is mere playing with words to declare that Israel had a choice. There is no choice if all you have is a foregone conclusion.

The foregoing has been written with some slight trepidation; for I am well aware that it is bound to give deep offence in certain quarters, as there are plenty of people who cannot bear to be confronted with truth stripped of all the pretences so many love to weave about it. Yet we all ought to recoil with horror from a system which can dare to think of God as taking chances and having drastically to alter plans when the gamble fails to come off. So let us face it and acknowledge frankly that all "might have happened" notions about Scripture are wrong and dangerous. Those who devised this theory often make great play—and rightly—with the supreme importance to us of the Prison Epistles; yet they seem blind to the fact that at the very threshold, Eph. 1:4, stands as sentinel a plain assurance that what happened during Acts was no matter of taking a chance or giving an opportunity but the deliberate working-out of God's preordained plan.

Nobody can justly claim to have produced any Scripture proof at all that at the beginning of Acts God's plans hung in the balance. Once only have I seen any genuine attempt to admit that this issue exists, so, I suppose, to that extent a mite of credit is due for acknowledging at least that here was a serious problem. It is in a paper by Dr. Bullinger in "Things to Come" for February, 1909, p. 16:

Against "Romans" he has a footnote, "Except, of course, the Doxology written and added by Paul later on, when in Rome itself." For this no evidence exists. A more pitiable evasion cannot be imagined. Whether he realized it or not, he was in effect regarding God as a harassed person being forced to prepare hasty improvisations as previous plans began to go awry.

Dr. Bullinger added: "But we have to do with what is written." How sound and true! And what a pity he failed to act thus! Is it credible, in any way, that the whole of God's immediate plans could have been thwarted, or at best drastically amended, if Israel had elected to "throw a spanner into the works" by deciding, after all, to repent?

The Apostle certainly called on Israel to repent (Acts 3:19-21); and as we know well from other Scriptures, in due course that appeal is to be heard and obeyed, and all God's promises to Israel are to be fulfilled. What we are not told, anywhere at all, is that Israel's repentance could have taken place there and then, and, as a matter of history, it did not. Some find it easy to ask: "Why could not Israel's repentance have taken place then?"; yet it is equally easy to ask why it did not take place at the ministry of John the Baptist or of the Lord Jesus Himself. Perhaps someone may be rash enough to reply that the circumstances were different—and they certainly were, in one most important particular. When these earlier proclamations were made, the sentence foretold in Isa. 6:9-10 had not been pronounced. When the Apostle Peter made his proclamations, Isaiah's sentence had been pronounced. That is the point. It is the governing consideration that underlies everything that Peter said and did. It explains the reference to the prophecy of Joel in his first proclamation. Peter was not appealing so much to the Israel of that day as to the Israel "in the last days" (Acts 2:17). When those last days are close upon Israel, then will Joel's prophecy be carried out in full. At Pentecost there was no more than a token fulfilment, an earnest of things to come; for Pentecost was much more than another proclamation to Israel, it was the coming of the Holy Spirit and the unlocking of the Kingdom, immediately to Israel and then subsequently to the Gentiles. This implied far more that the repentance of Israel, great and marvellous though that will be when the time comes for it. Pentecost was the start at the working out of the consequences of the sentence foretold in Isa. 6:9-10 and pronounced in Matt. 13:14-15 and of the death and resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus which followed necessarily from His rejection.

This leads us to consideration of another misconception about Pentecost: that it was a display of God's power and blessing that achieved only partial success and presently quietly fizzled-out. This notion lies hidden at the back of the minds of most of us; and it is only right to say that, superficially, there is some ground for it. For the narrative in Acts shows quite plainly that the spectacular side of Pentecost disappeared comparatively soon; and so far as the record itself is concerned, so did the visible results in conversions, till in the last ten chapters not one person is described as being induced to believe. Of such occurrences, the final one is recorded in Acts 18:8. Thereafter, we read three times of those who "have believed" (Acts 19:18; 21:20, 25); the other occurrences of the verb (18:27; 19:2, 4; 22:19; 24:14; 26:27, 27) being irrelevant to this point. As has been observed before, Luke's account in Acts does not end, but tail off, like a river dwindling into desert sands; and the cessation, in the account, of any reference to new believers is a case in point. This is not to say that there were none, but simply that none are recorded.

Before considering this idea further, there is another misconception that ought not to be overlooked: that Acts records the birth of the Church and its subsequent bursting of the bonds of Judaism and its spreading out into the world. This is perhaps the most harmful of all, because it is so very near to being true in itself and because it leaves out so much of the truth. These two aspects of it must be examined in turn.

Although Acts has nothing to say about "the church" being in this era Christ's body, it does record the call of the Apostle Paul and the start of his ministry among Jews and Gentiles forming churches, the members of which were later, in his Epistles, shown to be members of that ecclesia or assembly, called-out company, which is Christ's body. In that sense, therefore, Acts does record the birth of that assembly. Even so, only in Acts 16:5; 18:22; 20:17, 28 are such companies called a church or churches.

Moreover, Acts does not exclusively refer to "the church" in this sense. The first occurrences certainly refer to the assembly which formed as the result of the preaching of the Apostle Peter at Pentecost, see Acts 2:47 (some texts), 5:11; 8:1, 3; 9:31; 11:22, 26, etc.

Here we pause for a moment, because the last of the passages in this list contains a fact which the dispensational extremists have naturally overlooked completely: that it Was the church at Jerusalem that delegated the first of the apostles outside the Twelve, and that it was this apostle who led Saul (who was to be Paul) to Antioch. What plainer indication could there be that, at that point of time, "the church" included not only Jews who heard and obeyed the call of the Apostle Peter but was beginning to include those who were to be in due course the assembly described as Christ's body? Peter unlocked the Kingdom to Jews first and then to Gentiles; by so doing he carried out his function as the rock foundation upon which the Lord Jesus Christ was to build what He called "My Church"—the whole assembly of God's people irrespective of considerations of covenant or of whether their calling was to be earthly glories or among the celestials, irrespective of whether it was to be to membership of the church which is Christ's body in this era or of the church of God's Covenant People in days to come.

Yet it was the kingdom that was unlocked by Peter, not the church. So what Acts records is primarily the unlocking of the kingdom and its subsequent bursting of the bonds of Judaism and its spreading out into the world. Thus, the error of Christendom about "the Church" becomes the truth when we substitute "the kingdom."

In short, by substituting "church" for "kingdom" or by confusing the two, Christendom subtracts from the truth and, to adjust the balance, is forced to add ideas that are wholly false. In effect "the kingdom" is tacitly abandoned so far as Israel is concerned. Instead, a world-wide sort of Church-kingdom is visualised as spreading out in this era and superseding the Millennial Kingdom promised to Israel. Simultaneously, a bowdlerised form of Paul's ministry is used to supersede that of Peter, not only temporarily and for this present era (which is the truth for Paul's ministry as a whole) but for all future time, thus bringing to naught all God's purposes for His earthly People.

A curious development of this error was encountered as this paper was being drafted: from the fact that Saul was told that by persecuting Christians he was persecuting Christ, it is alleged that he learnt the lesson that "the congregation of the faithful is Christ's body." This is a typical example of the loose thinking that passes for Theology nowadays. What he learnt was what he was told: exactly that. Those who persecute any of Christ's people—members of His body now, faithful Israelites after we have been snatched away—will be persecuting Him also. Christians only mislead themselves when they drag into one passage of Scripture ideas which are foreign to it because they belong to an altogether different context.

The confusion of Christendom here is in its failure to distinguish between the ideas of kingdom and church, plus its blind refusal to perceive that the word assembly or church is wide enough to include the whole of God's people, not only in this present era of reigning grace but the coming era of judgment and the Millennium that is to follow it.

The confusion of the extreme dispensationalists here is in their failure, which is that of Christendom turned round, so to speak. Christendom throws Israel out of Acts; our extremists throw us out.

If we turn to Wigram's concordance we will find a very significant contrast between the usages of the words church and kingdom. The former occurs three times in Matthew and thereafter not at all until Acts. The latter occurs dozens of times in the Gospels, forty-six in Luke's alone. Now, Acts is Luke's sequel to his Gospel; so he does not need to say a great deal about the kingdom. He links it on twice at the start (Acts 1:3, 6); and twice at the close he emphasizes its essential link with Paul's ministry. In between, it appears only four times. So Luke established it securely in the background of his narrative, leaving himself free to go on to other matters. As he has nothing to say about church in his Gospel, the appearance of the word in Acts is for him a new topic, though in the Greek Scriptures as a whole it follows on logically from Matt. 16:18.

Nevertheless, the dispensationalists were right in contending that truth specially for the church which is Christ's body is absent from Acts. We cannot deduce any of this truth from anything in Acts even though, once we know this truth, we can place it and the Acts account in correct relationship with one another. This relationship, however, is nowhere defined. Simply, the Acts account leaves room for the church which is 'Christ's body, but tells us nothing whatever about it.

The church which is Christ's body has no history. "The church," the called-out company in Acts is seen recruiting members from place to place, but no more than that. Of what became of those members, what they were taught when they were members, what they did—just nothing is revealed. Of the emancipation of Gentile believers from the bonds of covenant, we are told. Of how the existence of this emancipation was made known to the apostles and to the Jews, we are told. Of the reasons for it, of what lay behind it, of its doctrinal basis, we are told nothing at all in Acts. What we do know, we gather from the epistles of the Apostle Paul; and, as history, this is but the faintest outline of what actually occurred.

It is true that Acts records personal victories of the apostles over such evils as divination at Philippi and magic at Ephesus; but if we consider these, and the judgments recorded early in Acts, objectively; we must see that they form a bridge between the displays of God's power in the Hebrew Scriptures and the powers of the eon to come. By their very nature they are outside the context of the church which is Christ's body.

Part 2
The first part of this paper has cleared the way for consideration of the idea previously referred to, that the Pentecostal glory and power were only temporary in their effects. In themselves they certainly were temporary, for they had served their purpose for the present. The complete fulfilment of Joel's prophecy (Acts 2:16-21) is for the future when the Day of the Lord shall dawn. The reason why Acts tails off as it does is simply that in it Luke had fulfilled the task he had set himself to undertake. This is very obvious when we come to reflect on it quietly. Writing as he was under the orders of the Holy Spirit there was no need for him to carry out the usual rules of literary composition, with a carefully contrived climax and general clearing up of loose ends at the close. His Gospel and Acts are History; but they refuse to conform to the ordinary rules of History as we like to understand them nowadays. In the same way, the Four Gospels are Biography, but not according to our conventions; they give no "assessment" of the ministry of the Lord Jesus, no "evaluation" of His contribution to current religious teaching, none of the things that "religious" biographers of our day so highly esteem.

In themselves the Pentecostal glory and power lasted but a short time. In their effects they were permanent and far reaching. Humanly speaking, it is quite extraordinary how little Luke manages to say about them. He indicates from time to time that many believed (Acts 2:41-47; 4:4, 31-35; 5:12-16; 6:1, 7, etc.); yet it is noticeable, going through these, how little is said beyond noting that fact—nothing comparable with what Paul tells in 1. Thess. 1:5-10. The whole of it is with the greatest care kept as far as possible within the terms of reference Luke defined for himself in Acts. Only here and there do we obtain glimpses of vast spiritual activity (by comparison with anything in our times) going on, as it were, behind the scenes; and it appears that few have ever realized that they are only glimpses.

The Apostle Paul's first speech, in Antioch Pisidia, briefly recites certain historical facts about Israel in days then long past. Then he refers to John the Baptist and to the coming of the Lord Jesus and the fulfilment of Scripture concerning His rejection, death and resurrection—all as if he were simply reminding his hearers of things by then verifiable in the written Scriptures (Acts 13:16-37)—and then he adds an unmistakeable reference to his teaching in the first four chapters of Romans (v. 39). This last strongly suggests that the speech as recorded is but a summary, setting out the salient points of much more that he must have said. And, as I have pointed out recently, it is certain from Acts 17:1-3, 11 that at the time Paul had reached Thessalonica he could point to the Gospels as accepted Scripture. Yet this is all.

Only when we get to Paul's Epistles do we find indications that tremendous activity had been in progress. At Pentecost there was a sudden vast eruption of spiritual power in Jerusalem, but only brief accounts of what was accomplished elsewhere are found in Acts or elsewhere apart from 1. Thessalonians and Romans. In the latter we get a glimpse of what the display accomplished generally, although even so it appears only incidentally. There are similar but nothing like so revealing greetings in 1. Corinthians, Philippians and Colossians. Yet this incidental disclosure in Romans is generally treated as if it were quite unimportant. No doubt this is due to its position in the epistle; yet, surely, by this time we should have learnt not to regard any Scripture as unimportant.

The long list of greetings in Romans 16 is not only interesting in itself but deeply significant in what it implies. Paul began it by commending to the Romans "Phoebe, our sister, as being servant of the church that is in Cenchrea, that you should be receiving her in (the) Lord in a manner worthy of the saints" (Rom. 16:1, 2). Here is a strong suggestion that this lady was the actual bearer of the epistle. Certainly she was a person of great prominence and importance in Paul's eyes. Next comes another woman and her husband Aquila who, as we learn from Acts 18:1, was a Jew, "a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy. . . because Claudius prescribed that all the Jews depart from Rome." So these two were evidently travellers to Rome with Phoebe, like wise Epanetus "firstfruit of Asia for Christ."

As I began to write the preceding paragraph, it suddenly struck me that hitherto I had been assuming that the list of names in Rom. 16:3-15 was of people in Rome to whom Paul was sending his own salutations, as in the closing words of the three epistles noted above and even in what follows, in Rom. 16:21-24. It is remarkable how blind one can be! No, indeed! When one perceives the point, it becomes evident that a considerable party was accompanying Phoebe to Rome, even including two apostles, namely Andronicus and Junias. Not only those named above, but a number of others are noted, of whom two had groups of their own: Aristobulus and Narcissus. In addition there are "Rufus. . . and his mother and mine," five others "and the brethren with them" and another group "and all the saints with them." Then Paul adds a greeting to the Roman church from "all the churches of the Christ."

The presence in the party of the two apostles suggests strongly that the church in Rome was already flourishing and expanding to such an extent that apostles were needed to guide and supervise it—and this some years before Paul visited Rome himself. And yet we are assured by some unbelievers that Paul himself was one of the founders of the church at Rome.

Quite incidentally, to all appearance, Paul tells us that the two apostles he names "came to be in Christ before" him. So, it will be recollected, did Barnabas also. This means that three of the apostles named with Paul had received the Evangel from the Twelve, even though they eventually came to belong to a different order of apostles from the Twelve. The corollary of this is the point that I have been repeatedly making, that in essence there is one Evangel, and that the conditions separating one set of believers from another is simply whether the Evangel is believed under the operation of covenant or whether it is believed while covenant is inoperative. For the Twelve, the former was the case; for these three under consideration, the latter. Hence these three, not being bound to covenant as were the Twelve, could go forward with Paul in the Evangel of the uncircumcision.

However, this is a digression from our point here, which is that the great spiritual awakening at Pentecost had, independently of Paul, operated actively as far afield as Rome long before he himself had been brought there. This, in a way, is more striking than the immense spiritual activity of the Thessalonian church, discussed fully in our Vol. 14, pp. 57 to 66, for it demonstrates that such activity was not simply the product of Paul's ministry but existed independently among those who heard the call of the Apostle Peter related in the earlier chapters of Acts and, following his call, went far and wide to build up churches. This, indeed, has all along been the prevailing tradition among Christians; though many of us, I fear, have for "dispensational" reasons chosen to reject it. Yet we should have recollected that if Peter wrote an epistle, as apparently he did, from Babylon, his action can only mean that he had not quietly sat down in Jerusalem but had travelled a long way as a missionary. There is no reason to deduce from this that he had ministered to Gentiles as Paul did. The point of the vision of the sheet in Acts 10 was not that Peter should devote himself to evangelizing Gentiles but that he should not regard them as common and unclean and therefore oppose the evangelizing of Gentiles as Gentiles instead of as proselytes in the way done hitherto, if it were done at all.

What made possible the building of the church was the unlocking of the kingdom by Peter. When he unlocked it to Israel a great surge of evangelistic effort was released. Many believed, and spread their belief in every direction, though mainly and perhaps exclusively among Jews. That was the beginning of "the church," the whole called-out company of God's people—and this quite independently of Paul and even of whether there was ever going to be any Paul at all or anything like his Evangel; that is, so far as most of those who took part were aware or needed to be. The then unrealized fact that soon, and thereafter for a very long time indeed, the church was to be recruited exclusively from Gentiles and from a few Jews who (like Paul) had become Gentiles by deliberately surrendering any claim to covenant standing, made no difference to the fact that it was Peter's proclamation in the first instance that induced his hearers and those who passed on the message to believe. No doubt at that time many genuinely supposed that the Evangel was, and would continue to be, "of the circumcision" in spite of what was recorded in Matthew 13. It is arguable that one of the purposes for which Acts was written was to show the mistaken ness of such an idea; indeed, just as mistaken as was the question of the apostles recorded at the start of Acts and, in actual fact, involved in it. Yet it was just as natural an idea as that behind the question—natural, that is to say, in the sense that it is the sort of idea that the ordinary soulish man might be expected to have. People have to start from somewhere in any adventure, whether it be physical, intellectual or spiritual; and Peter and those who heard him had to start from where they actually stood at the time, not from where we in the light of further revelations might suppose they ought to have been. So, first, the kingdom was unlocked. Then, and then only, was it possible for anyone to go forward.

On account of the fulfilment of Isa. 6:9, 10 in Matt. 13:14, 15, to go forward along the way of covenant had become impossible for the present, and so remains; but, like every other novel idea, this had to be discovered, often painfully; and by many it has not been discovered yet. So it might be expected that the first who listened to the Apostle Peter believed what J. J. B. Coles and his followers insist that they should have believed: that Israel might repent and that Messiah might promptly come and restore the Kingdom to them. Slowly they learnt the truth and, with the commissioning of the Apostle Paul, some went along with it and followed him. Of such, one, Barnabas, had very soon to become an apostle; two of Paul's kinsmen who "came to be in Christ" before him had, by the time Romans was written, become apostles also; even though, like Barnabas, they had heard and followed Peter or those associated with him. None of these were of the Twelve. Like Paul, with whom they had become associated in due course, they must have abandoned their covenant standing and gone on into the celestial glories to which his Evangel led. Yet this does not contradict the fact that they started from the starting-line (so to speak) of Pentecost. The evangel they originally received proceeded from the Twelve; though presently they were to believe Paul's Evangel and join an order of apostles different from the Twelve.

On the other hand, though the Twelve were acquainted with Paul's Evangel and all that went with it, eventually at any rate; they became aware as soon as they heard of it that what in it that was strictly of Paul was not for them. They did not and could not surrender their special calling as the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb. As to whether others remained with them we are not directly told; but the existence of the Circumcisionist Party strongly suggests that these at least did so; and the tone of the epistles written by James and Peter suggests that there was a considerable company who had heard and received the Pentecostal proclamation but had not been called to go forward to the revelation entrusted to Paul. Nowhere is it even suggested that the Circumcisionist Party and, for that matter, those to whom James and Peter wrote, were in any way wrong in one lot being Circumcisionists or in the other retaining their standing as the Twelve Tribes, even though in the dispersion. If they had been wrong, it would have been easy and indeed righteous and proper for the apostles to have said so openly; but no hint, even of such a reproof exists. The Circumcisionists merit, and receive, reproof—but not for being Circumcisionists. Their offence was endeavouring to tamper with the rights of others, of those who had followed Paul.

When Paul's Evangel was promulgated the standing of all these people as Israelites had become an anachronism, though probably few of them knew it. Some may well have heard and received Paul's novel ideas; but as regards any others, if they were not specially called upon by God to follow him, there was no sufficient reason why they should have elected to do so. For those Jews and proselytes called after Paul's Evangel came into force, the matter was very different. For them, to go back to the Twelve was to turn back from the truth. That is why any sort of Circumcisionist Party, started after Paul's Evangel had been presented to both Jews and Gentiles, would not only have been an anachronism but grossly mistaken and even improper. Paul had shown with unmistakeable plainness that under present conditions any sort of attempt to go back to covenant and all it implies is wholly wrong and reprehensible. Nevertheless, we must not dare to use this fact to attempt to unsettle what had already been settled finally before Paul's Evangel came into force.

Lest it should be contended that I am trying to "have it both ways," I would point out that it is not I who would be accused, but Scripture itself. For Israel as a whole, the great change took place at Matt. 13:14, 15; but it was no change at all for the few who had believed and followed the Lord Jesus. Their calling is not open to any change of mind. So, though it had become "undispensational," it remained in force for them so long as they remained on this earth. Only if individuals among them, such as the three apostles already referred to, were called at a later time to go on to Paul's Evangel, could their standing be altered. The very fact that one has to describe their position as "undispensational" itself shows that the notion of rigid time-dispensations is itself unscriptural.

What has given "Dispensationalism" so much of its strength and influence is that it is to a considerable extent true. That the period covered by Acts was a period of transition is unquestionable, and in so far as the Dispensationalists teach this they are undoubtedly correct. Where they go astray is by insisting that it was something more than this, namely, a transitional dispensation during which the future was in the melting pot so that the outcome of its opening events was fluid and uncertain. This was not the case, and never has been.

Those who think in this manner fail to realize that though in detail the future is indeterminate, God has complete control, so that however individual events may turn out the final result will be moulded to conform to His plans. He knew beforehand that at Pentecost the bulk of Israel would refuse to hear and obey the Apostle Peter; yet that foreknowledge made no difference to the individual of Israel, whether he chose to obey or to refuse. Those acquainted with modem Physics will see the point readily; for in a mass of gaseous material the average velocity of its molecules is determined at any instant, yet that of any individual molecule is altogether indeterminate. Needless to say, perhaps, this is an illustration, not an analogy; for the individual molecule has neither free will nor real identity, one of any particular substance being exactly like another and altogether indistinguishable. The point is that after Pentecost, what the individual Jew chose to do did not affect God's immediate plans, but only what the Jews collectively chose to do.

All our trouble over understanding Acts comes from failure to appreciate that it is history. When, in February, 1907, J. J. B. Coles' paper "The Acts of the Apostles Considered Historically and Dispensationally" was published it caused a great stir among the more advanced Scripture students. It also led many of them seriously astray. We have taken over half a century to discover the root cause of this, apart from the gross inaccuracy of the paper as a whole; namely, that it considered Acts only "dispensationally" and not historically at all. What "history" there is in the paper is carefully moulded to suit the "dispensational" theories of its author and is entirely subordinate to them. There is just enough of history in it to serve as a peg from which to hang the predominant dispensationalism. Now, at long last, we have managed to straighten out our understanding of the historical side of the Gospels and Acts; and the mass of misstatement and conjecture in Coles' paper is seen as it really is. The inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in the removal of the fulfilment of Isa. 6:9, 10 from its true place in Matt. 13:14, 15 to the close of Acts can now be seen as they really are: the consequence of forcing an absurd anachronism on the narrative.

So it turns out there is no problem to face about the rapid spreading of the Pentecostal proclamation. That is what might be expected and what Scripture indicates did take place. Where a mystery does present itself is why this sudden vast wave of spiritual force suddenly ceased to exist, so that within what cannot be more than a decade or so after Paul's arrival in Rome no trace of it can be found except a number of largely apostate churches and many apocryphal writings distinguished from Scripture not only by their feebleness but by the fact that everyone of them is contrary to Scripture. This point we can presently investigate.

R.B.W. Last updated 20.2.2006