Vol. 18 New Series June, 1956 No. 3

The paper "Our Celestial Destiny" in this number is of greater length than is usual with me. This is because it deals with two distinct issues, both of high importance. The particular issue is covered by its title; but I must here refer more specifically to the general issue, which is no less than how we are to understand Scripture.

Mr. O. Q. Sellers professes to find the key to Ephesians in a remarkably loose paraphrase of Eph. 1:7-10 by Dr. Weymouth. His ground for accepting this paraphrase without question is that "it is Dr. Weymouth's understanding of what the Greek says set forth in his own words. His opinion is: worthy of great respect."

I wish to make it perfectly plain that I have no quarrel at all with this sort of paraphrase—as a paraphrase. It is when such works masquerade as, or are treated as, something better than translations that I object very strongly indeed. Properly used, as an adjunct to an adequate translation, a paraphrase can be very valuable in helping towards a fuller understanding of the translation, for even with the best of translations our human infirmity often precludes full understanding. Even in this particular instance, I allow willingly that there is some truth in what Dr. Weymouth says, and truth which we ought not to set aside. The mistake comes about when Dr. Weymouth's opinion is treated as if it enshrined the whole truth. This is not fair to him either; for I am certain that he was more modest and humble about his attainments than are those who adulate him so uncritically. No doubt his opinions are worthy of respectful consideration; but that does not confer infallibility on him. There are plenty of scholars who are or were reputed to be of the highest eminence and authority; yet who were capable of writing utter folly.

The famous French critic, Alfred Loisy, "brilliantly" demonstrated "that John's Gospel was a purely speculative work, without independent historic tradition," according to Professor Preserved Smith of the U.S.A., who himself considered that "the earlier Evangelists really did treat their subject with great freedom." According to Loisy, Luke was "not a scrupulous historian." According to Smith again, Loisy "thinks Mark quite capable of inventing anecdotes in the interest of the Apostle of the Gentiles." Turning to Germany, the even more famous Harnack describes Luke's "third source" (containing all not found in Q and Mark) as one "whose authenticity is almost entirely dubious, and one; which must indeed be described as for the most part legendary." In fact, according to Harnack, the main motive of his writing his gospel was to supersede the insufficiently edifying Mark, of whom he had the poorest opinion. Wrede refers to Paul's "occasional violence and unscrupulousness" and informs us that his Christology was pre-Christian. These scholars have counterparts in Great Britain, but generally such extremes of folly are not fashionable.

So much for scholarship when divorced from faith. I am not trying to make out that Dr. Weymouth's scholarship is of this sort, but that distortions in the guise of paraphrase lead eventually to it.

Perhaps Mr. Sellers will now tell us whether he would have followed Dr. Weymouth so faithfully if the latter's opinions had not happened to agree with his own?

One further point: it is but a step from such complete submission to one human authority to complete submission to another. As an authority, the Pope and his advisers far outweigh any single scholar, even Dr. Weymouth. Why, then, not submit to the Pope? Here is the red light. Let us take warning.

Another issue which I could not consider without too great a digression from my theme is the statement by Mr. Sellers that "it has long been said that Ephesians belongs to a parenthesis, an intercalary period that is not a part of God's prophetic revelation. . .. It sets forth a calling of believers which are distinct and unique from that calling which is seen in the Acts period."

This is neither entirely true nor entirely clear; and so far as I am aware no really satisfactory proof has ever been attempted. For a long time now I have been exposing the fallacies inherent in the notion of a "dispensational" boundary line at Acts 28:28; but for all the notice men like Mr. Sellers and Mr. Welch take of what I have said, I might just as well have remained silent. Their case lies in ruins around their feet, but they still proclaim it as an established certainty.

When an old idea which has long since been discarded crops up again as a brand-new discovery, it is bound to evoke large-scale controversy; and a recent article belonging to this class has proven to be no exception. The article in question is entitled "The Earth, not Heaven, is the future Home of God's Redeemed" in "The Word of Truth," Vol. 13, No.3, July, 1955.

In discussing the question whether any class of God's people is destined for celestial life, after it, over pages of preliminary matter, Mr. Otis Q. Sellers cites Eph.3:15 and points out, rightly I believe, that there is no teaching in this verse of a heavenly destiny for any man. Then he goes on to Phil. 3:20; but it is superfluous to discuss this passage until he has answered Mr. Thomson's case. So far, so good; but at this point he branches off into wholly irrelevant matter. What is said in Hebrews and in Isaiah has nothing whatever to do with the destiny of the joint-body of Ephesians. So far as this issue is concerned we may take as read some four out of the seven pages of his paper. I am not asserting that what he writes in the four pages is not largely true, but that it is irrelevant to the subject and that he could have said all that needed to be said about it in this context in four lines of print.

And that is all! Yet Mr. Sellers apparently expects us to understand a case which he makes no adequate effort to state. In another paper in the same issue he tells us, correctly, that he does not understand Ephesians; yet he makes no attempt too discover what Ephesians actually teaches about our calling among the celestials. How can we be expected to understand his case, let alone accept it, until he shows that he understands it himself?

It would, however, be unfair to omit to add that in a later issue of his periodical (Vol. 14, No.2) Mr. Sellers does refer to the occurrences of "en tois epouraniois" (in the heavenlies) in Ephesians; yet, even so, he gives nothing which can properly be described as proof of his case. I shall examine his ideas later on.

Early in the first article, Mr. Sellers says: "If I am wrong, it should not be too difficult to marshal a great army of Scripture and prove me wrong." But, unfortunately, the boot is on the wrong foot in this over-confident declaration. He has elected to champion an old and discredited idea. It is for him to prove his case; not for us to work it out for him, and then to disprove it.

To begin with, it is necessary to declare that no progress whatsoever in understanding the Scriptures can be achieved unless writers are willing to define their terms precisely and scripturally at the start. Mr. Sellers writes:—

Nobody on earth can hold so vague a line against anything. Who are "the redeemed" to which Mr. Sellers is referring? Has he in mind all the redeemed irrespective of class or calling; is he referring to redeemed Israel, or to the joint-body church, or to the redeemed from among the Gentiles during the Millennium or at some other time? To me this sort of vagueness is quite extraordinary in one who writes the following about Ephesians in the very same issue:— Here Mr. Sellers acknowledges the existence of different callings of "believers." Admittedly for some, earth is to be the future home; but only by a daring leap in the dark can we deduce that this is true for all. I cannot find that he has made any attempt to justify this leap; or, I must add, the last sentence in the passage quoted being regarded as part of Ephesians truth; though he does go on to supply what he, presumably, regards as sufficient evidence from elsewhere for his separation of the supposed two callings, as follows:— This statement calls for the strongest possible protest. If Mr. Sellers really thinks that these four texts prove his proposition, then it is his business to explain just how they do it. In actual fact, they do not even as much as suggest the conclusion he claims to draw from them. It is demonstrably false. Any concordance of the Greek Scriptures will show that God's government is referred to in the Prison Epistles and His grace in the earlier epistles. I do not like this sort of thing at all! Far too many people are sufficiently lazy to accept these four references as they stand without bothering even to look them up, let alone consult such a work as Wigram's Concordance to check the facts. Such people are simply asking to be misled; but that does not excuse the one who misleads them.

The attitude of Mr. Sellers to Mr. Welch's "dispensational" teaching is quite remarkable. He seems to accept it without question where it is wholly unsound and, to reject it where it is true or not far from the truth. He accepts its queer idea of a special Ephesians parenthesis and yet rejects its one wholly sound feature, its emphasis on the entirely celestial character of the Secret. Strangely enough, he supports its false translation of "epouranion" by "super heavenly," an eccentricity in which these gentlemen are, I believe, alone. Yet if they had troubled to peruse the index of "Greek Word Elements" in the Concordant Version, they would have found that out of some 190 words used in the Greek Scriptures incorporating the preposition "epi," it needed to employ the prefix "super" in only 4, namely, in English, supervise, supervision, supervisor and the very unusual word super induction. These exceptions exist solely on account of peculiarities of the English language, as this prefix normally means "over" and corresponds with "huper" in the Greek, as with such words in English as superior,superiority, superabound, superexceed.

Neither Mr. Welch nor his followers who support "superheavenly" as the translation of "epouranion" have ever explained why we should not render "epigeion" by "superearthly." Did the Lord Jesus really teach Nicodemus superearthly things? Was it so very shameful of the Philippians to be disposed to superearthly things (Phil. 3:19)? Would that more Christians were so disposed, instead of to things which are merely of earth! And why should superearthly things be also soulish and demoniacal (James 3:15)? Is Paul quite correct in asserting that if our superearthly tabernacle house should be demolished (that is, presuming he does so assert), we have a building of God in the heavens (2. Cor. 5:1)? It is, to say the least, rash and temerarious to suggest that we have a superearthly tabernacle now.

No. "Superearthly" simply will not do; and therefore there is no good reason to suppose that "superheavenly" will as the rendering of "epouranion."

It seems that Mr. Welch has used this word "superheavenly" in conjunction with his support of the incorrect rendering "far above all" of Eph. 1:21. This mistake in the A.V. was exposed in detail by Mr. Knoch years ago, but in spite of that, its devotees have declined to abandon it. Nobody can greatly blame Mr. Welch for being deceived by the blunder of the translators of the A.V.; but all Christians ought to be willing to acknowledge and retract plain errors when they are pointed out to them. We all make mistakes; and Mr. Welch would have gained in stature and repute if he had been willing to admit these.

In another paper, however, Mr. Sellers does venture on to the ground which Mr. Welch seems to have avoided, and declares "that the Greek word epigeios means super-earthly."

(The Word of Truth, Vol. 14, No.2, p. 29). Unfortunately, his explanation and justification of this has yet to appear, so we must await it with patience. It will make curious reading. But in the same issue (p. 48) he writes:

Why he leaves out the (supposed) super-earthly in this enumeration is a puzzle, which I am thankful it is not my lot to have to solve.

This quotation, too, affords a revealing example of his faulty methods of exegesis. If it is "possible for men to achieve the stature of the super-heavenly ones" on earth, why should it not be possible for such men to achieve that stature in the "super-heavens" themselves? It may suit his theory to have them excluded; but that matters nothing at all, unless he can show that Scripture itself excludes them. Presumably he thinks that it is inappropriate for men to dwell in so exalted a position—that is what his words appear to imply—but, even so, there remains a wide gap in his reasoning, if it be worthy of such a term. If men were permitted to achieve the stature of "super-heavenly" ones, just why have they to be excluded from "superheavenly" realms? If his whole system were not inherently artificial, such questions could not arise.

We can now consider what the expression "en tois epouraniois" means. This is peculiar to Ephesians, and occurs five times: Eph. 1:3; 1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12. Mr. Sellers rightly draws attention to two points: the expression may be either masculine or neuter, and it is plural. These are most adequately allowed for in the C.V. rendering "among the celestials." Nobody has yet found a better. Until this is accomplished I shall be content to follow the C.V. here. But although Mr. Sellers' two points are correct, he promptly rules that the expression is masculine, and he declares that "it should be translated 'among the super-heavenly beings' or 'among the super-heavenly ones.' whichever may be preferred." Once more, he fails to justify his choice. He is careful to avoid answering the question: "Why should we not translate it by 'among the celestial things'?" As Greek grammar leaves the choice open, it is equally open to us to choose according to the context, or even to avoid choosing at all and to accept the term as it is, as referring to both celestial things and celestial beings. Perhaps it should be added that Mr. Sellers is quite right to reject the reference to "places." The word "place" (topos) is absent from the contexts and occurs only once in the epistle (Eph. 4:27).

The first occurrence of "en tois epouraniois" reads as follows: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ. . .."
Mr. Sellers comments as follows:

Really, it is superfluous to comment on this extraordinary interpretation, which has scarcely a single point of contact with the original, and is altogether alien to what the Apostle Paul actually wrote.

It would be interesting to learn how Mr. Sellers justifies rendering "ho eulogEsas" by "has spoken well concerning" or "en" by "in regard to"; but he prudently keeps his own counsel. I would add that I am in doubt about the idiomatic rendering "with," and inclined to prefer "in." Beyond question, the verb "eulogeO" is literally "well-say," and the English word "eulogize" certainly means speaking well of someone. But we cannot generally employ the literal basic meaning. of the Greek concordantly; indeed, we seldom can do so anywhere. For example, look at the word in the C.V. Concordance which comes before this form, stratologeO, war lay (say), which means "enlist." Hundreds of examples can be found.

The first occurrence of "eulogeO," Matt. 5:44, may be ignored, as the text is uncertain; but the second, Matt. 14:19, is unequivocal: we cannot declare that the Lord Jesus eulogized or spoke well of the five cakes and the two fishes. "He blesses them." must stand. In the next two, Matt. 21:9 and 23:39, "blessed" is plainly the proper word. In Matt. 25:34 "well spoken of the Father" is perhaps possible, but hardly appropriate. In Matt. 26:26, the idea of the Lord Jesus speaking well of the bread, or eulogizing it, is simply fantastic. The reader may well refer also to 1. Cor. 10:16; 14:16; Gal. 3:9; and to the occurrences of "eulogia," blessing.

Continuing his argument, or what passes for one, Mr. Sellers declares:—

The more accurate rendering says ". . . rousing Him out of dead ones and seating Him at His right hand among the celestials, up over every sovereignty and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named. . . ."

About the next occurrence Mr. Sellers says:—

That is all. Mr. Sellers leaves out God's reason for this. The relevant part of the passage to this discussion includes v. 7 and should read:—". . . and He jointly rouses and jointly-seats us among the celestials, in Christ Jesus, in order that, in the on-coming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus."

This understatement is bad enough, the next passage is far worse, for he says:—

To me, this is easily the most shocking of the lot, for what Paul actually says is:—" . . . and to enlighten all as to the stewardship of the secret, of that which has been hidden, from the eons, in God, Who creates the all; that now, to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials may be made known, through the church, the multifarious wisdom of God; in accord with the purpose of the eons which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord; in Whom we have the boldness and access in confidence, through His faith." (Eph. 3:9-12). The reader will easily perceive that what Mr. Sellers says here not only absurdly minimises Paul's words but actually contradicts them flatly. Read as Paul wrote them, these four verses state plainly that the scope of our future service is to make known the multifarious wisdom of God. TO the sovereignties and authorities among the celestials. We have the privilege of knowing these things—that is, provided we do not wilfully shut our eyes. Some day, through us, this privilege will be open to them. That anyone should fail to perceive this is astounding.

If perchance some objector should point out that, at this present moment, we are actually on earth and not seated among the celestials, that we have not yet been roused, and that Eph. 2:5, 6 therefore refers to our spiritual standing at this present moment; I will not contradict him. But I must point out that this is only half the story and by far the least important half and, what is more, wholly misleading if we add mentally "and nothing else" after "moment"; as some seem inclined to do. These verbs are timeless. They focus down to a point of time only when the purpose for which God does these things begins to operate, that is to say, "in order that, in the on-coming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus." In these things we have as yet no accomplished act, but we have an accomplished fact. We know that notwithstanding all pain, all sorrow and separation and discouragement, all frustration, at this present moment; our place is assured in God's purpose; we know that it is a place so transcendently glorious as to be utterly beyond imagining in our state in this life. Present gloom and (let us not forget) present happiness are given to us now to serve as a foil to the glory which is to be. And we must not dwell too much on the gloom, however hard it is to bear; for, for us, there is, or at least can and should be, present happiness far beyond the lot of the rest of humanity—the deep inward security and serenity and joy in the assurance of God's special love for us, the all embracing love which fills, or ought to fill, our lives. It is because of God's richness in mercy, "because of His vast love with which He loves us" that He joint-vivifies us and joint rouses us and joint-seats us among the celestials.

With the eye of faith, not the eye of flesh, do we have to gaze on these glories now; for we must never allow ourselves to forget that they are so transcendently glorious that one glimpse of them would blast our soulish bodies, rotting with mortality, into nothingness. We must await our resurrection bodies. Then and then only shall we be equipped for that celestial Love and Life which is ours in spirit now.

These things are essentially celestial; and unless they are to flower and come to fruition among the celestials, their celestial character is, and must ever be, meaningless; a mere figment of the imagination.

To crown his case Mr. Sellers cites Eph. 6:12 and comments thus:—

So he says; but, on the contrary, this conception in Mr. Sellers' mind simply confuses hopelessly what is perfectly clear as it stands. Paul says that it is ours to wrestle with the "pneumatika," "the spirituals of the wickedness among the celestials." It is not at all difficult to perceive his meaning provided we take his words as they stand. Characteristically, no proof of his sweeping statements is offered by Mr. Sellers.

He then informs us that "what these passages really teach is that there will be a super-heavenly people serving God upon this earth." Anyone can make such assertions and tell us, as he does, that "volumes could be written upon each one of the five passages in Ephesians where en tois epouraniois appears"; but most people will, I hope, agree with me that Mr. Sellers might well have written rather more, to rather more purpose. On such a weak and sketchy foundation those volumes would be a lamentable waste of time; whereas a few lines of logical proof of his deductions would have given to his article the clarity and precision it so sorely lacks.

Until he or someone else can put up a far stronger case for believing that "the promise and hope held out to God's present calling" is an earthly One or a terrestrial one, or a super-earthly one (if anyone prefer this strange term), I shall continue to believe and teach and proclaim that it is celestial; and I shall have the plain words of the Apostle Paul behind me in so proclaiming.

It is so easy to put up the façade of a case, as Mr. Sellers has done here, by neglecting every consideration or objection which can be presented against it and by ignoring every problem which is not immediately explained or explained away by it. That sort of thing gets us nowhere. For example, Mr. Sellers has quite a lot to say about the Old Testament hope, and he correctly points out that the promises to Abraham and his seed according to flesh and the statements in the Hebrews Epistle are concerned with glories which will exist on this earth. All this is a commonplace to scientific Scripture students. We know that all God's earthly promises centre around Israel. That fact permeates the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospels, and the Epistle to Hebrews, and lies at the back of Paul's Epistles and is even explicit in Romans 9 to 11. But, all this being so, how can it possibly be true that the future home and sphere of activity of God's celestial people, the church which is Christ's body, is to be on earth also? For Israel to discover when they come into their inheritance that they have been quietly supplanted in their position of God's representatives and ruling power over this earth in favour of super-heavenly people with super-heavenly bodies, would be far worse than an agonizing shock; it would be a palpable, and utterly shameful, breach of faith on God's part. I reject such an idea utterly, and I must (to be entirely candid) turn my back on anyone who accepts it.

Mr. Sellers finds "the real key to Ephesians" in Chapter 1:7-10. He says:—

I have reproduced Dr. Weymouth's paraphrase here exactly as printed; except that, as none of the original is in italics, I have put in italics those words or ideas which are not to be found in Paul's words as he wrote them; which I translate as follows as accurately as I am able and as literally as English can permit: In this translation I have put in italics the words which Dr. Weymouth leaves out, but actually his paraphrase is so discordant that I have been unable to tell for certain what Greek word he has in mind; so if I have misrepresented him, the fault is his own. It should be added that hardly one of his verbs is given its correct tense. For "we are having" he writes "we have," for "lavishes" he writes "lavished," for "making known" he writes "made known."

If the Apostle Paul really meant to express the ideas which Dr. Weymouth and Mr. Sellers attribute to him, it is a very great pity that he did not put himself to the trouble of doing so explicitly, and so set the matter at rest once and for all. There are, and always have been, plenty of people who imagine that they know better what Paul intended to say than he himself did. From the writers of commentaries, and expositors in general, one might well suppose that Paul's epistles were full of obscurities. The obscurities are there, sure enough, but they come from the expositors, not from him. Personally, I prefer to believe God's Apostle.

Examination of these two versions of the passage will disclose that Dr. Weymouth has not only added words which Paul did not use and left out Some which he did; but rendered Some very loosely. I understand that Mr. Sellers objects to the rendering "the Universe" here and elsewhere in the 1930 C.V.; yet he enters no objection to "the whole creation" in Dr. Weymouth's paraphrase. I can perceive no real distinction between these; and I certainly think it is for Mr. Sellers to explain his position here. In my translation, above, I contented myself with "the all," so as to avoid any contentious side issues; but I must say that I cannot for the life of me see how "the all" in this context can possibly mean anything less than the Universe.

Mr. Sellers says of Dr. Weymouth that "he saw that all the wonderful work that God is now doing as revealed in Ephesians is in harmony with God's purpose for the government of the world when the times are ripe for it. The work that God is now doing will have its place and fulfill its purpose in the day when He governs this earth." This view is misleading in the extreme, not because it is not in Some measure true so far as it goes; but because, as an exposition of this passage it is such an understatement, so utterly inadequate, as to be an absolute travesty of Paul's words. It is as if one looked upon some superb scenery and described it as "Pretty," or labelled one of Beethoven's symphonies as "Elegant." The all on the earth is indeed included in the heading up; but it is, and must be, essentially subordinate to the all in the heavens, inasmuch as the heavens infinitely exceed the earth. And Mr. Sellers has the audacity to add the comment: "This is the key of Ephesians." Really!!

This brings me to what is, in my eyes, the most objectionable thing Mr. Sellers has ever (so far as I am aware) written:

Here is a bold attempt to close any discussion before it can even be opened. So be it! Mr. Sellers is here proclaiming that he prefers Dr. Weymouth's opinions to what the Apostle Paul actually said. If that be so, all who truly believe God's Word MUST part company with him; for there can be no compromise over this. To be entirely candid, it is not worth while discussing any matter with one who so bluntly proclaims that his mind is closed.

R. B. WITHERS Last updated 4.2.2006