In an effort to get at the truth about what happened in 1907 to cause Dr. Bullinger and a large proportion of his followers to embrace the theory of the "Acts 28:28 Frontier," I drew attention some time ago to the important part played by J. J. B. Coles at the very start, early in that year, as its originator. At last he is receiving due recognition, indeed exaggerated recognition, after a half century of neglect, from Mr. O. Q. Sellers, who has described him as a "careful student" (The Word of Truth, January, 1958, p. 36). As I was careful to give him such credit as was his due, I consider that it is therefore incumbent on me to see to it that he does not get credit beyond his due; and to show that "careful" is, a most inappropriate word to describe his published studies.
In his opening "broadside" in "Things To Come" for February, 1907, he wrote of the fulfilment of Isa. 6:9-10 thus (p. 16):
"The Lord Himself had twice referred to this awful sentence of
judicial blindness, but it was left to the Apostle Paul to follow in
the steps of Isaiah and to say, 'Here am I, send me' (to deliver
this solemn message)."
That is a plain misstatement. Matt. 13:10-17 was not a mere reference but a very definite pronouncement. It is Paul who in Acts 28:25 refers to Isaiah's words.
Then Mr. Coles writes:
"The earlier Epistles, especially 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 1.
Corinthians, were written before the close of the historical period
covered by the Acts, when the Parousia, or return and Kingdom
of Christ, was still being offered to Israel and the nations."
But "parousia" means "presence," not "return and Kingdom." It was never anywhere "offered." And what does "especially" mean here, except to confuse the issue? A more careless and slipshod statement would be hard to find anywhere. Then we are assured that this "offer" was being made "within those thirty years covered by the Acts." I wish we could be offered some proof instead.
Finally, just before his close, the conjuror produces his
"That Parousia will surely come, notwithstanding the long
postponement; for none of God's words will fall to the ground:
but may not the 'blessed hope,' as in Phil. 3, and 1. Tim. 1, and
Titus 2, be fulfilled even before that more public Parousia
No "careful" or really honest, student could write such a specimen of argument by insinuation. It is a deliberate attempt to mislead.
Unfortunately, all this, apparently, appealed immensely to Dr. Bullinger who, two months after, made it clear that he
had wholeheartedly accepted Mr. Coles, including his methods;
as the following quotation will show (p. 39 ):
"We have to remember that these Churches, though among the
Gentiles, were composed largely (and probably in some cases
almost exclusively) of Hebrew believers. . . . These Churches,
formed before Acts 28, were composed, as we have said, chiefly
of the 'elect remnant,' the 'heavenly calling' with some
Gentiles. . . ."
Put this against Rom. 11:13; 1. Cor. 10:18; 12:2; Gal. 2:2 and 7; 1. Thess. 1:9; 2:14 and the folly of it becomes manifest at once. How such a fine scholar as Dr. Bullinger could have permitted himself to make such assertions is incomprehensible. What is perhaps even more astounding is that he appears to have got away with it! He even produces
a fresh flight of fancy of his own:
"In Thessalonians we get the special revelation of the Rapture
to meet the Lord in the air. We can see at once how out of
place it would have been to speak of this as being 'received up in
glory' (as in 1. Tim. 3:16); and of the change of our vile bodies
into glorious bodies like that of Christ (as in Philippians 3)."
How we can be expected to "see" anything so obviously untrue is not explained. It is a good general rule to avoid like the plague any teacher who expects us to see the invisible.
Little more of much significance was published on this theme till July, 1908, by which time the new heresy had firmly established itself in "Things To Come."
Soon after (October, 1908) Mr. Coles revealed his final
objective, the destruction of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 as an effective
hope for ourselves, thus:
"Moreover, in Phil. 3:20, 21, there is a translation 'to glory'
referred to which it appears was presented to faith for accept-
ance in lieu, it would seem, of the rapture connected with the
Parousia (1. Thess. 4:13-18) which, owing to the unbelief of
Israel (both in Judea and throughout the Dispersion) had to be
postponed. 'Postponed,' not abrogated, for the Rapture (as in
1. Thess. 4:13-18) may follow some time after the translation in
Phil. 3:20, 21. This mystery was hidden in or during the Age-
times, but is plainly set forth in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the
most profound of all the books of Scripture."
This shocking passage should be pondered as an awful warning attempt to force Scripture at all costs to conform to them. Note the "it would seem" and the "may."
That this seedling of gross error soon bore fruit in Dr. Bullinger's mind is shown by the following quotations from an editorial paper in "Things To Come" for December, 1908. No wonder it is so hard now to present the truth of all this.
"To make the matter plainer we would note that many have
seen, in reading the Apocalypse, that place must be found for
several Raptures, beside the one mentioned in 1. Thess. 4 and
the other referred to in Phil. 3:14.
In Matt. 24:40, 41 and Luke 17:34-37, John 14:2 and Rev.
7:9-17, we have specific Raptures referred to. In Rev. 11:12,
we have the Ascension of the two witnesses. In 12:5 we have
another; while chapters 14 and 15 may refer to one of these or
to further Raptures. These will all doubtless take place after this
present dispensation of grace has been closed; but, in the face
of these, why may not our 'calling on high' (Phil. 3:14 and 1. Tim.
3:16) take place before any of them? And why may not 1. Thess.
4, which was open to Israel as a nation (until Acts 28), be the
one referred to in Matt. 24:40, 41, Rev. 7 or in John 14:2; and
taking place even prior to that?
Since I particularly applied myself to the study of the Thessalonian Epistles it has become plain to me that they are almost always the ultimate objective of the inventors of heresies. This is highly significant.
Two years after his campaign opened, Mr. Coles appears to have dropped out and his place taken by Mr. C. H. Welch in "Things To Come." We are not told why.
Thanks to my efforts, the facts available are now better known and Mr. Coles has at last received recognition as the one who convinced Dr. Bullinger and many others of a nonexistent fundamental "dispensational" boundary at Acts 28:28. How he accomplished this is still a profound mystery.
R. B. WITHERS. Last updated 15.10.2005