Vol. 26 New Series June & July, 1965 No.s 2&3
CONFUSION ABOUT PAUL'S MINISTRY

Part I
Commenting in the paper "The Necessity For Repentance" on the fact that by the year 1917 A. E. Knoch had freed himself from some of the fetters of Coles' "Acts 28:28 frontier" theory; I remarked that, nevertheless, he was still impeded by them to some extent, and some of his followers to an even greater extent.

This comes out very plainly in a reply to four questions, made in an article, "The Gentiles in Acts" in "Unsearchable Riches" Vol. 17, p.329 (November, 1926). The questioner had grasped (though rather feebly) the fact that Gal. 6:15 is presupposed in what is revealed in Ephesians, that the oneness of the church which is Christ's body was affirmed in Rom. 12:4, 5; 1. Cor. 12:12-28, and that the secret of Rom. 11:25-28 was revealed long before Ephesians was written on the supposed "line of demarcation" in Acts 28:28 had been made.

In the course of the reply, the treatment of the Apostle Paul by the Jews at Corinth (Acts 18:4-6) is summarized, and the extraordinary remark is made: "Now Paul had turned to the nations before, but had not left the synagogue in doing so." This directly contradicts the plain statement in Acts 17:22, describing Paul's speech in Athens. Moreover, nothing is said of any synagogue throughout Acts 16, where (vv. 13-15) there is an incident of his ministry "outside the gate beside a river."

Then we are told that the remark in Acts 19:21: "Now, as these things were fulfilled. . ." is "the prelude to what may be termed Paul's written ministry." But the account neither says nor implies this. Yet we are told immediately: "The apostle is in Ephesus at the time of these words, and doubtless wrote the two Corinthian epistles from there; later he goes to Macedonia and Greece (see Acts 20:1) and at this juncture he writes Romans and Galatians." All very positive, very assured, yet completely destitute of any Scripture authority. Apart from those who have specially studied the subject, who would ever guess from this that the statement itself is mere guesswork? Yet its foundations are wholly subjective: it seems to fit satisfactorily, or fairly satisfactorily, into the narrative, so it is promptly accepted as truth. Nevertheless, it is never sufficient to show that a theory fits the facts, unless it can be shown also that it is the only theory to fit the facts and that we are in possession of all the facts. Neither condition is fulfilled in this theory.

As if that concoction of conjecture were not enough, we are immediately treated to the assertion: "The Roman epistle was written from Corinth about Acts twenty." Possibly this may be near the truth; but it is still only a guess. All we can affirm for certain is that Romans was written some time before Paul began his journey to Rome, but, from Rom. 15:32, when he already knew he was to go there.

The point is, and it is a vitally important one, that we do not know for certain the order of composition of Paul's Epistles. We know the order in which the epistles bearing his name have come down to us, that is, the Canonical order. I have already given my reasons for thinking that this is probably the order of composition as well, for in this arrangement his case is set out in logical sequence. But, so far as we can discover at present, that is all; and we certainly ought not to attempt to build on any theories, no matter how plausible, as if they were established facts; which is what Coles and his follower have done in the paper under discussion. Consequently, when we find this writer taking for granted that he knows when the Corinthian, Galatian and Thessalonian epistles were written, we may confidently dismiss him as an unsafe guide.

On the insecure foundation he had laid for himself, this writer proceeds to build up his reply to his questioner. He starts by assuming that Paul had made to believers the written statement in Rom. 11:25-28, "but the public announcement to the Jews themselves is deferred until the apostle reaches Rome." Apparently he expected that his readers would not trouble to check the references for themselves, since he surely must have noticed the unquestionable fact that the two passages are quite different and have hardly any point of contact. He points out that the quotation from Isaiah 6 is the only public utterance of this Scripture, which is true; but he omits to add that it was something which the Holy Spirit speaks through Isaiah "towards their fathers." It certainly was a public announcement—of what had happened a generation before. Yet it was news only to the Jews; for the original announcement to the disciples (Matt. 13:14, 15) had long since been published in this Gospel to every believer and enquirer; and confirmed in the Romans Epistle by the very fact that such an epistle had been written to Romans, and by the contents of its own first four chapters. What is told in Rom. 11:25-28 is prefaced by the preceding verses as well as Chapters 9 and 10, which themselves confirm the announcement in Matt. 13:14, 15. So the secret of Rom. 11:25-28 was a real secret, only then revealed, and based securely on what had been revealed before.

An effort is then made to show that in "the callousness in part" of Rom. 11:25, the "in part" denoted the exception of "the Remnant," which is probably true in part; but then comes yet another baseless guess: "None were added to this remnant after Acts twenty-eight." The only reference to "the Remnant" is Rom. 11:5, "Thus, then, in the current season also, a Remnant according to choice of grace has come to be." So the statement can be true only if "the current season" ended at Acts 28. This phrase occurs as well in Rom. 3:26; 8:18; 2. Cor. 8:14, not one of which supports this idea but, rather, contradicts it. Moreover, 2. Cor. 6:2 says, "Lo! Now is season most acceptable! Lo! Now is salvation's day!" Certainly we cannot accept the idea that salvation's day ended for the Corinthians or for us at Acts 28:28.

The callousing is "until the fullness of the Gentiles may be entering"; but the writer of the reply gives this a very curious twist, in this way: "Thus the blindness is not absolute, it is only relative, it is limited until 'the complement of the nations comes in' (11:25)." This can only mean that the "blindness," i.e. the callousing, was to become absolute when the fullness of the Gentiles may be entering. That this is no misrepresentation of this writer's position is plain from what follows: "Will Israel see the lesson which is being enacted before them? . . . . But Israel persists in her defection. They have killed the Lord Jesus and their prophets and forbid the apostles to speak to the nations (see 1. Thess. 2:15, 16)." (Note: Even this is inaccurate! The ones forbidden were not the apostles in general, but "us," that is, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy).

This is very ingenious; but we are left wondering why the Apostle Paul did not say so plainly, if there were any truth in it. Also, if the entering of the fullness of the Gentiles meant that then the callousing became complete, why did Paul add immediately "And thus all Israel shall be saved"? Dimly realizing this difficulty and trying somehow to meet it, this writer cites 1. Peter 1:10, 11; 2:7, 9, 10; and he concludes: "The sum of all this is, the nations have not replaced Israel, despite her defection." He goes on and on; but he never meets the fatal objection to his theory: the fact that the Evangel of the uncircumcision was being presented to the Gentiles long before the events of Acts 28:25-28.

He does, however, make a gallant last-ditch effort. He tells us: "The Abrahamic promises place Israel in the premier position—a great nation—but also include the other nations." This is a most misleading statement! The premier national position of Israel is certainly part of the Abrahamic promises, but it does not include the other nations; for there are other blessings that do. Indeed, he even lists them as "the spiritual portions of the blessings, those which deal with sin and bring righteousness, life and salvation (see Rom. 4 and Gal. 3 and 4)." He recognizes that righteousness could be proclaimed to individuals as it was to Abraham, and then on the basis of Acts 7:5 and Heb. 11:39 he suggests that the blessing is incomplete: "This is just the position of the nations during Paul's ministry prior to Acts 28, and this is so as a consequence of Israel's defection and apostasy." How this can be so, he does not explain; neither does he reveal what he means by speaking of this as "righteousness corresponding to justification" —a most mysterious phrase! We read on, but not even a glimpse do we get of how the position of the Gentiles in this respect, as regards Abraham's blessings, had been changed since Acts 28. There is no change; and we may be certain that if there had been, this writer would have produced it instead of a mass of verbiage.

Instead, we get some very curious statements, such as: "During the period reaching from Acts 13-28, which we have termed the dispensation of the 'transition,' everything is in a state of flux." It was not. During that period Paul was evangelizing the Gentiles, and the hostility of those of Israel who rejected him continued precisely as it had operated against the Twelve. There was no "transition," no "flux" at all.

Then, to make matters worse, we are informed that the "body" was at that time "a peculiar assemblage composed of Jew and Gentile on the ground of grace and faith." But it was never that. There is no such distinction in the body, anywhere at all. This lie keeps cropping up again and again, till one is tempted to despair of ever killing it. Why is this? One is almost forced to think that the famous allegory in Gal. 4:21-31 is the close of the epistle for these curious thinkers, if one can call them that! Otherwise, surely even they would pause before asserting that the distinction between Jews and Gentiles, circumcision and uncircumcision, ever existed within the church which is Christ's body. Our worst enemies are not clever infidels or the ordinary worldly person, but the woolly-minded would-be teachers who, unable to take in more than a few facts at a time, and unwilling to take the trouble even to assemble all the available evidence first, nevertheless dare to generalize on the basis of these few facts of theirs, plus a mass of conjecture, and blandly ignore what does not suit them.

Their persistent, inaccuracy appears in the next assertion, which confronts us with the remarkable discovery that "the pre-prison epistles make it evident that the nations were partakers of Israel's blessings (Rom. 15:27)." But what this passage actually says is: "For if as to the spirituals of theirs the Gentiles have fellowship, they ought in the fleshlies to minister to them also." So it is the spirituals that the Gentiles can participate; not the blessings, which are fleshly as well as spiritual, and to which Paul does not here refer.

Lastly, we are told that in Ephesians: "No longer are the nations waiting for Israel's kingdom." They never were, and this assertion is an unqualified perversion of Scripture.

One further matter arises out of this: the suggestion that the Apostle Paul had several different ministries. In the paper it comes indirectly in the extraordinary assertion: "At the beginning of Romans Paul says he was severed to the gospel of God. Clearly then, he was not attached to it before." Yet what Paul really says in Rom. 1:1 is: "Paul, slave of Christ Jesus, callable apostle, having severed into God's Evangel." This is the only Scripture occurrence of the verb aphorizO in the Middle Voice. There are eight other occurrences of the verb, of which one is very much to the point here; for Acts 13:2 records the Holy Spirit's command: "By all means separate Barnabas and Saul into the work toward which I have called them." So the separation took place at the very start of Paul's ministry, while he was still Saul, not at the moment when he began to write to the Romans, as the remark quoted above implies. This is a typical instance of a very common method of inventing false doctrine: assuming that the first reference to some matter is, by that very fact, the moment it first came into existence. Even without Acts 13:2 it is obvious to anyone with any common sense that in Rom. 1:1 Paul is not relating when he severed into God's Evangel. He is simply asserting a fact. However, this matter of the alleged different ministries is only incidental here, so its consideration is left to Part 2.

Before passing on to these other matters I would like to express my great regret that it should be necessary to criticize the published teaching of our brethren. Some may think that I ought to display more love. Love of whom or what? Of Him Who is the Truth? Surely there is no better way of showing such love than by defending His Truth. Of the brethren who have erred? Surely to demonstrate their error is the truest kindness. James, who is not highly regarded by some expositors, nevertheless made this clear in his closing words. Better than our dispensational extremists, James understood what is real love towards those who have gone astray. Our duty to God and therefore to His Truth comes before our duty to our fellows. Any idea of the latter that detracts from the former must be false and ultimately evil, no matter how full of grace some teachers may declare it to be. However uncomfortable the facts, facts they are, and we ignore them at our peril. But why wait till now? Why, indeed? Those who have been waiting for over forty years—and done nothing about the matter—these are the ones who ought to answer that question.

Part 2
This outrageous teaching, referred to at the close of the first part of this paper, made me decide to examine for myself the doctrine of "Paul's Five Ministries." It is set out in "Unsearchable Riches," Vol. 16, 1925, p. 81, the supposed five ministries being covered respectively by (1) Acts 9:1-30. (2)Acts 13:1—14:26. (3) Acts 15:1—19:20. (4) Acts 19:21—28:31. (5) After Acts 28. But the fact elucidated in the paragraph closing Part 1 made it plain that the events described in Acts 13:1, 2 carry right on to the Romans Epistle; so the ministry to which Paul was separated covered (2) and (3) and probably part of (4); for, as already noted, Acts 19:21 gives essentially the same message as Rom. 15:29. The fifth period in this scheme is supposed to begin after the "two whole years" of Acts 28:30. The writer of the article implies that Ephesians was not written till after that period, and rightly, for obviously Paul had no chain during that period; so Ephesians must have belonged to a subsequent imprisonment of which we otherwise know nothing. This is confirmed by the fact that Paul's chain in Acts 28:20 was "on account of the expectation of Israel," whereas his imprisonment in Ephesians was" for you, the Gentiles."

Actually, the whole of Paul's ministry pivots on Romans. Though the epistle starts with God's Evangel (1:1, mentioned again in 1:16; 15:16) concerning His Son (see also 1:9); reference is soon made to Paul's Evangel (2:16) which also closes the epistle. "The Evangel" occurs in 10:16; 11:28. "God's Evangel" is the glad message as a whole, for it "is God's power into salvation to everyone who is believing—to Jew first and to Greek as well. For in it God's righteousness in un veiling, out of faith, into faith." This general message having been set out in Romans 1-4, Paul turns to the uncircumcision side of it, which is his Evangel, that of the uncircumcision; nevertheless the circumcision side of it is covered sufficiently in Romans 1-4. What is set out therein will afford, in the hands of the prophets God will certainly send, ample material for the proclamation of Peter's Evangel, the Evangel of the circumcision, after we have been withdrawn from this earth and the Evangel of the uncircumcision with us.

Paul's Evangel is referred to as his Evangel in twelve passages distributed right through his epistles, from the start of his ministry to its close, from Rom. 2:16 to 2. Tim. 2:8; and it takes into account the whole of God's dealings with humanity. The first occurrence deals with judgment both of Gentiles and Jews; in its context is the fact that Jesus Christ is of the seed of David. The last reminds us of this. Both refer to His resurrection. So Paul's Evangel runs like a golden thread throughout his ministry in the epistles and, although it is not specified in Acts, it lies behind and beneath everything he said and did, even his great opening speech, which, very near its start, refers to David and David's seed (Acts 13:22, 23). In this speech there is nothing whatever that is inappropriate for those to whom the epistles are addressed; except that the speech itself is addressed to "Men, Israelites, and those fearing God" in conformity with the principle "To Jew first" but plainly not excluding believing Gentiles. He repeats this idea in extended form in v. 26, and presently he refers to David again (vv. 34-36). And then, just before the close, he says: "Through this One, to you, forgiveness of sins is being announced; and from all which you were not enabled in Moses' law to be made righteous, in this One everyone believing is achieving righteousness" (vv. ,38, 39). This is a clear lead into Romans and it establishes the essential oneness of Paul's ministry from start to finish. Moreover, bearing in mind that Peter had unlocked the Kingdom to the Gentiles and that God had given repentance into life to them also (11:18), the purpose of the link with John the Baptist in 13:24, 25 becomes luminously clear. Paul in his speech was proclaiming the Evangel to Jew first, but already the way was open to the Gentile, and, this proclamation having been inaugurated and the Apostles Paul and Barnabas having made the position clear, the next step could be taken and they did in fact begin presently to form assemblies of Gentiles. The two Apostles even tell the Jews: "It was necessary for the Word of God to be spoken first to you"; and immediately "Yet you are thrusting it from you and you are judging yourselves not worthy of the eonian life; lo! we are turning to the Gentiles!" (13:46) And they did!

Thus, it is altogether erroneous to speak of Paul's "ministries," let alone "five ministries." This fact must not be taken as meaning that Paul's ministry was a static affair, that he did not develop his theme, extend his message as time passed and events moved forward, for he certainly did. But it does mean that his ministry was a consistent, unified proceeding, moving with definite purpose from its start to its completion, not a series of stops and fresh beginnings.

We are now able to examine the case that was presented for allotting to Paul the five alleged ministries set out a while back. In the presentation of these, we were informed that "the third section is that period where Paul worked in conjunction with the Twelve." Yet we can search Acts 15:1 to 19:20 in vain to find any work in conjunction with the Twelve, who are not even mentioned in the passage and in Acts are found so named only in Acts 6:2. Neither did Paul work in conjunction with the Apostles, except only the Apostle Barnabas. Between 15:2 and 16:5 the Apostles are referred to six times, more frequently than any where except Acts 2:37 to 6:7; but examination of these discloses nothing of such work with the Twelve Apostles. This idea is a typical example of the sort of inaccuracy that works so much evil among us. Saying "the Twelve" instead of "the Apostles" may not seem to matter very much, though it displays disrespect for the exactitude of Scripture; but declaring that in making an explanatory visit to them Paul was working "in conjunction with them" is an inexcusable distortion of God's Word.

Next, we are told that "the theme is the 'sure mercies of David.'" This is strange indeed, for Paul's words here quoted are from one of the four references to David in Acts 13, in the supposed second ministry, not the third at all. Further, "the Bereans were able to check his assertion from the Scriptures" on this theme—true, up to a point, but a most improper limitation to place on the account, considering what Luke himself states about Paul's mission to the Thessalonians, just before. According to Luke, his theme is both the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophecy that Christ must suffer and rise from among dead ones, and the Gospels, that "This is the Christ—the Jesus whom I am announcing to you." Yet, in spite of this, We are then told: "This is the viewpoint in the Acts: it is the gospel of Messiah and subsequent to Acts 19:20 the apostle is able to say he has fully preached this gospel (Rom. 15:19) but not so the gospel of God's grace (see Acts 20:24)." In view of this, let us have another look at what Paul says in Rom. 15:18-20: "For I will not be daring" (or "I am not daring," in some texts) "to be talking of any of which Christ does not affect through me, into obedience of Gentiles, with word and with work, in power of signs and wonders, in power of holy spirit; so that I, from Jerusalem and around as far as Illyricum, should have filled the Evangel of the Christ. Yet thus am I ambitious to be evangelizing, not where Christ is named, lest on another's foundation I should be building." If we take this at its face value, it locates the circuit in which Paul filled the Evangel of the Christ and strongly suggests that he is proposing another and different circuit. It certainly does not declare that Paul would not be evangelizing the Christ again.

Moreover, as nobody appears to deny that the Prison Epistles were written after Romans, we may turn to Ephesians for a verdict on the matter; and we find Paul referring to the title "Christ" by itself twenty-seven times in this epistle alone, of which twenty-two have the Article the as in Rom. 15:19. If this is not proclaiming good news of the Christ, what is?

A futile attempt is made to drive a wedge between what Paul said to the Athenians and wrote to the Romans. The former, we are told, "is based on Luke's commission"! So this authority presumes to set up an opposition between what Luke relates in Acts 17:5 and Paul writes in 1. Thess. 2:16. It does not appear to have occurred to this writer that the two were probably not referring to the same matter and that even if they were, there is no contradiction. Another of his assertions is: "1 Corinthians has its historical basis in Acts 19." A guess, but hardly an inspired one!

What follows is so confused that I am unable to derive a definite idea of what this writer means. He writes about "the consequent fruit from the wild olive," and says: "A point in this direction will be reached, termed 'the fulness of the nations.'" What this means, I cannot even guess. Then he says "There will arise a remnant out of the nations. . . ". Wherever does he get that from? Scripture never refers to any such "remnant." Then we read concerning the reference in Romans to the "body": "Beyond this Ephesians informs us that now Jew and gentile in the actual eventuation of their salvation do not revert to the priority of Israel." Such absurdly stilted verbiage is not only the badge of the third-rate mind, it is an ideal vehicle for concealing its writer's meaning—or lack of it.

All this appears to be a clumsy attempt to insert into Scripture the idea that the olive allegory was intended to continue only till Acts 28:28. What is supposed by this odd writer to have happened to "the fulness of the nations" then is not stated; but as it seems to be only "a point," perhaps this does not matter. We do, however, find the long-exploded notion that "the root" represents Israel, and that "During the Acts the 'day of the Lord' is impending." Furthermore, we also read concerning the Secret of Romans 11: "If Israel will not go to the nations, God will go to them Himself."

This last is derived from a heresy I have come across before, but have not dealt with specifically, as occasion has not previously arisen. This is that Israel's casting-away was the consequence of their refusal to bring the Evangel to the Gentiles.

Though it is entirely unscriptural, what makes this proposition so difficult to deal with is that, apparently, nobody has ever deemed it necessary to offer any evidence at all in support of it. Its exponents declare it with the same calm confidence as others might announce that twice two makes four. Yet the plain, unquestionable fact is that the whole of Israel's troubles spring from their unbelief and, since the Lord Jesus came to them, from their refusal to accept Him as the Christ. Nowhere in the Greek Scriptures is Israel asked immediately to evangelize the Gentiles. Certainly there is a requirement for them to do so; but its time is undefined and certainly not yet, and the task is to be completed at the consummation of the eon (Matt. 28:16-20). No conditions are attached, no hint is there of disobedience to it. Beyond question, it has not been fulfilled, and cannot be till the time comes. Mark's Gospel records at the very end a commission so similar that it is hard to see how it can be other than identical. Again, its precise terms have never been fulfilled, either by the Eleven, or the subsequent Twelve, or by any successors, real or supposed. Furthermore, Acts gives no indication that any of these groups were required to carry out either commission and no trace of either being carried out or of anyone attempting to or failing to carry them out, and no suggestion of blame for such failure. If Israel refused to carry out a commission to evangelize the Gentiles, why are Acts and the Epistles so conspicuously silent about it?

Israel's troubles were due to unbelief, theirs and no one else's. So are ours. And no unbelief works greater harm than that which displays itself in careless handling of Scripture and deliberate attempts to bend it into conformity with predetermined dogma. Yet the disgrace of this unbelief rests chiefly on our predecessors who set the bad example and misled those who followed them into carrying on the evil work. I am not in a position to judge those who have carried it on, still less condemn them, for what they did under the influence of an overpowering delusion, for I was once deluded by it myself; but I deeply deplore the fact that they never managed to shake off this influence or, apparently, even try to do so. They for being led astray, and their followers for their abject failure to be "Berean," deserve our compassion. We must not judge them, for that is not our prerogative; yet it is our duty to judge and unsparingly condemn the evil they have done.

In closing, I consider that a personal statement is due; and I wish to express shame at the way, well nigh forty years ago, I accepted the teachings criticized in these two papers without a qualm. That so many others did likewise is no excuse. Even if we do not label ourselves as "Bereans" it is our plainest duty to act as they did. Yet, in practise, many of us have accepted as unquestionable truth a whole set of dogmas which are not only outside Scripture but incompatible with it, solely on the ground of the authority of certain teachers who have, when eventually challenged, proved in these matters to be blind leaders of the blind. We are in no position to condemn them, for, though we ourselves are among the ones who have been "the blind," we have no business to be blind. Against what is recorded of the Bereans we stand under judgment for our failure to emulate them. The light was available for us; but instead of following it we have pursued the little flickering lamp which was kindled by Coles and passed on to successors like-minded to himself. The harm we have suffered through the doctrine that repentance is not for people like ourselves cannot be measured; but that idea is only one of the consequences of the Coles theory, the most lethal perhaps, but not the only harmful one. Some of the others have been dealt with in these and earlier papers; perhaps more should be examined in due course, although with these studies as examples the Christian ought to be able to do the work for himself. However, enough has been said to bring us to our senses over these matters, provided we have not become so calloused by error that the idea of repentance is now beyond our reach. Let us, then, change our minds and, forsaking man's opinions, bring forth the fruits of repentance by turning back to God's Holy Word.

R.B.W. Last updated 23.3.2006