Vol. 21 New Series April, 1959 No. 2

Several times the problem of finding out what happened to make Dr. Bullinger in 1907 drastically change his views about Paul's Epistles has been referred to in these pages, but no help has been received, though a matter has come to light that only increases the mystery. In "The Berean Expositor," November, 1949, p. 103, Mr. C. H. Welch gave a very interesting account of his first interview with Dr. Bullinger towards the end of 1908, during which he put it to the Doctor that, while he drew the Dispensational Boundary at Acts 28, he seemed to stultify his position by treating

Then Mr. Welch adds:

(1) Galatians.                 (1) Ephesians.
(2) 1. Thessalonians.                (2) Philippians.
(3) 2. Thessalonians.                 (3) Colossians.
(4) Hebrews.                 (4) Philemon.
(5) 1. Corinthians.                (5) 1. Timothy.
(6) 2. Corinthians.                (6) Titus.
(7) Romans.                   (7) 2. Timothy.

This was not clear to me, so I asked Mr. Welch for an elucidation. He wrote:

All this seems clear enough but for the circumstances that, well over a year before, in "Things to Come" for April, 1907, p. 39, Dr. Bullinger had published a similar table to the one quoted above, in an article unsigned and separate from the section "Contributed Articles." Why, then, did he pretend to Mr. Welch that all this was a fresh idea to him? Why was he so enthusiastic over being told something that he had himself set out in his own magazine long before?

This paper in April, 1907, must have been written by Dr. Bullinger himself, because in it he refers to "our separate work on the Church Epistles." It is quite true that in the April, 1907, paper Dr. Bullinger treated Paul's Epistles at first from the point of view of the Canonical order, but the fact remains that the bulk of his article was about their (supposed) Chronological order and covers much of the same ground as Mr. Welch suggested in the interview. On this account Dr. Bullinger could not possibly have been genuinely taken by surprise over what Mr. Welch states they talked about. The Doctor never attempted to refute the case he had set out in that excellent work "The Church Epistles," one of his best; and it is hard to see how he could have set about the task. Its central theme, the basic doctrinal unity of Paul's Epistles, is unchallengeable.

The oddest thing of all about Mr. Welch's account is what follows in "The Berean Expositor" for March, 1950 (Vol. 35, No.8, pp. 148, 149). Here, referring to the 1908 interview, Mr. Welch tells us that when it occurred the outline taken from" The Berean Expositor," Vol. 1, p. 83 "was suggested." But this outline is identical in its lay-out of the Epistles with the one published by Dr. Bullinger himself in "Things to Come" for April, 1907, p. 39, and not Mr. Welch's list as quoted above.

So we are left wondering which list really was used in the interview and why Dr. Bullinger did not draw Mr. Welch's attention to the fact that he had already devised and published that shorter list himself.

There are three differences between the two lists. Dr. Bullinger's in April, 1907, places 1. Thessalonians first and makes no reference to the Epistles to Hebrews and Philemon. Otherwise they agree in their arrangement of the Epistles. Anyhow, the discrepancies make no difference to the point put to him by Mr. Welch, who declares that all he was wanting to do was to take Acts 28:28 to Its logical conclusion. This, no doubt, is so; but whether he succeeded is quite another matter. How can Hebrews be regarded as in sequence between 2. Thessalonians and 1. Corinthians? In what way does 2. Corinthians lead up to Romans; or Galatians to 1. Thessalonians? According to his "boundary" theory, these early epistles are all supposed to be part of the Evangel of the circumcision, being addressed primarily to Israel. This is wholly untrue. If it were true, the earliest, Galatians, by this hypothesis, must be read in direct sequence with the speeches made in the first half of Acts. What could these supposedly Jewish Galatians have thought of their epistle? No! This simply will not do. Galatians is obviously a pendant to Romans, not the other way round, as Mr. Welch's classification suggests, and it leads up to Ephesians. Nor is there any logic in regarding Hebrews as the core and centre of the early six admittedly Pauline epistles. So far from shedding light on them, it involves their interpretation in inextricable confusion. That alone should call a halt to such speculations. This is a matter which can be considered on its merits, apart from any views we may have about Acts 28:28. The issue is simply this: which order of Paul's Epistles is the more objective: the Canonical or the Chronological? Mr. Welch's case is "that the Canonical order was uninspired." Just how he knows this, I cannot imagine. His opinion implies that the Chronological order was inspired. If that is so, why is it not made plain to us beyond a peradventure? Considering that Mr. Welch and Dr. Bullinger were unable to agree as to what that Chronological order was, the circumstance that they agreed on its inspiration is all the more extraordinary.

One point should be mentioned: the Canonical order is in three sets, each in order of length, ranging from Romans with 34,691 letters in the C.V. text to Galatians with 11,198; then Ephesians with 12,108 to 2. Thessalonians with 4,071; then 1. Timothy with 8,898 to Philemon with 1,590. Yet this is not so striking as it seems, when one reflects that a second epistle, being probably supplementary in character, is likely to be briefer than its predecessor; and Galatians is in a sense supplementary to Romans, and Philippians and Colossians to Ephesians. So there is no real evidence that the Canonical order is "uninspired" or that it was so arranged for convenience, or that it is less significant than the Chronological order would be—if we knew it.

Even now, no light has been thrown on what really happened to Dr. Bullinger in the closing months of 1906. In November and December of 1906 he printed the sixth and seventh of a series on Acts in which he held to this relatively sound conception of its relation to Paul's Epistles. By February, 1907, he had to all appearances abandoned it completely. What had happened meantime?

In conclusion, I would emphasize that I am not attacking Dr. Bullinger in any way. All I am concerned here to point out is that Mr. Welch's assertions exhibit Dr. Bullinger in a very curious light. As to whether these assertions are or are not true, I have no means at all of forming an opinion. I am simply drawing attention to such documentary evidence as is available to me. It is very regrettable that Dr. Bullinger should have been led astray in his ministry by the false doctrine started by Mr. Coles; but apart from that, his memory is still revered by me and will continue to be.

R.B.W. Last updated 15.10.2005