Vol. 21 New Series June, 1959 No. 3

That Scripture visualizes different companies of the redeemed is well known. That it tells us very little about all—except two of these is also well known but seldom acknowledged; and of late years the matter has been considerably confused by the doctrine of "The three spheres of blessing." Much labour has been expended by its supporters in developing and defending this idea; but little of it is of any avail because the idea itself lacks precision. Sometimes it appears to mean "three distinct companies of the redeemed" sometimes "three different locations of the redeemed"; and the two ideas seem to change over from foreground to background according as the exigencies of controversy demand.

There is no difficulty in grasping the notion that the church which is Christ's body forms one company, Israel under the New Covenant another company or set of people, the gentiles who are deceived at the close of the thousand years (Rev. 20:8) yet another. Nor is there any difficulty in perceiving that the church which is Christ's body, the celestial Jerusalem (Rev. 21:9-23) and the gentiles in Rev. 21:24 are or contain also three sets of people. The latter two of each three are certainly not the same set at the same time; and the question whether the former become the latter in the New Creation, or whether any of them do, is not explicitly answered. Also which company (if any of the foregoing) the 144,000 (Rev. 7:2-8; 14:1-5) and the vast throng (7:9-17) belong to is not stated. The same applies to "the one conquering" (3:12). Now, I cannot see that there is anything improper,or unbecoming, still less wicked, in anyone feeling Or even expressing regret that God has not thought fit to be more explicit over these matters, though I doubt whether any really spiritual person would take such a line, and I do not care to do so myself; but I do consider that it is improper or worse for anyone to try to repair these supposed deficiencies: on their own account. The doctrine of "the three spheres of blessing" is, I contend, such an attempt.

I would not quarrel with the use of the non-Scriptural word "spheres" or its author's suggested equivalent, "distinct provinces within which the distinctive blessings of the various callings revealed in Scripture are naturally confined," except for the circumstance that both "spheres" and "provinces" are question-begging and therefore can only add a fresh confusion of their own to an already difficult problem. In the foregoing paragraph, eight companies of people that are mentioned in Scripture are listed. On what authority can we reduce these eight to three spheres or provinces? We can say that some exist now and some are wholly future. We can say that the destiny of one, the church which is Christ's body, and perhaps others for all we know, is celestial; indeed, among the celestials. We can point out that the Jerusalem now celestial in location will descend and, while remaining celestial in character, become terrestrial in location; and that the companies of Gentiles will be on earth. But why we should speak of "spheres" is far from evident. What we do know can be stated, and is stated in Scripture, quite plainly without the use of that word.

Apparently the idea behind its invention in this context is something like that of a three-floored building, the bottom floor "earth," the second "the heavens" and the third "the super-heavenlies," "far above" the second. But, as already shown elsewhere, the Scriptures know nothing of the third.
True, the author of the "three spheres" view says:

Even setting aside the fact that "place" is not found here in the Greek and that "among the celestials" is a much better rendering, it has yet to be shown that there is any intervening "sphere" between this "sphere" and the earth. In an attempt to achieve this we are shown Gal. 3:14 and asked: The answer is to be found in the context. Verse 10 announces All this is here and now, not in some "sphere." In fact, all thought of "earth" or "heaven" or some "super-heaven" is entirely outside the passage and foreign to its whole thought. Nor is there any notion of "inheritance" in it. Such considerations are, however, pointedly ignored by the exponents of "three spheres." Instead, we are jumped to vv. 28, 29, to the grand revelation that through faith we are all one in Christ Jesus. But this is not to be accepted as it stands. Oh no! Instead we are told: But why drag in Ephesians? Or the Secret of Eph. 3:6-12? Galatians does not refer to the Secret; but it leads up to it, whatever this writer may assert. And Ephesians looks back to Galatians and Romans, otherwise whence comes the righteousness in Eph. 4:24; 5:9; 6:14 if not from the faith expounded in these epistles? The whole thing is quite simple, provided that we refuse to follow this writer's confused thinking. At first, because we are of faith, we are Christ's. Then, because we are Christ's, we are Abraham's seed, and heirs. The fleshly distinction of Jew and Greek has vanished, so that presently we can pass on to the truth that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but New Creation" (Gal. 6:15). This is the firm foundation upon which Ephesians is built, and without which it could never have been. This "three spheres" theory puts a wall of partition between Galatians and Ephesians, that is to say, between one part of Paul's Evangel and the other; for, the Secret is, by definition, based on Paul's Evangel. Such separation is not simply an impossible idea, it is an outrageous one.

The Secret of Eph. 3:6-12 is not as Mahomet's coffin reputedly was—suspended between heaven and earth—but solidly based on Paul's Evangel—the whole of it.

R.B.W. Last updated 21.11.2005