There ought not to be any doubt either as regards the Greek Scriptures; and perhaps there never would have been any had not the Roman Church deliberately ignored Romans 9, 10 and 11 and declared itself to be the "New Israel." Since this term is wholly unscriptural we can, in turn, ignore it and the claim which goes with it; but unfortunately we cannot ignore its implications and the claims which have resulted from them, including even the name which by common consent has been given to the Greek Scriptures, namely "The New Testament." As confusion always breeds fresh confusion, even this name is ambiguous; for so-called Orthodoxy has been unable to decide whether "covenant" or "testament" is meant. Therefore it is best to avoid the generally accepted name and to speak always of the "Greek Scriptures."
Directly the concept of a supposed "New Israel" is accepted by the mind, it displaces as something permanently finished and discarded the "Old Israel," another unscriptural term. There is no trace of such a happening anywhere, not even temporarily, let alone permanently.
Here I must confess that hitherto I have been following others in a
serious mistake by writing of "Israel's casting away" as if it applied
to all Israel.
Rom. 11:15 reads literally—
"For if the casting-away of them is world-conciliation, what their taking-back if not life out of dead ones?" To whom does "their" apply? The statement refers back to their offence in vv. 11, 12, their eyes in v. 10, their table in v. 9, back to "the rest" (v. 7) who were calloused: that is to say, Israel except for the chosen or elect (eklogE) who (v. 5) are a remnant according-to-choice (Kat eKlogEn) of grace. From Rom. 11:25 we learn that callousing in part has come about to Israel. Those of Israel who have suffered this callousing are cast-away; they are the bulk of Israel, but we must never allow ourselves to forget that there remains the remnant. The very existence of the remnant is a standing witness against the idea that Israel has been superseded by any sort of new Israel. There is no break of continuity. The callousing, the casting-away, are vitally important realities which dominate the scene. For all practical purposes Israel has at the present time vanished from God's plans; but their eclipse is only temporary, and there still remains a remnant. Lest there should be any doubt about this, the olive tree allegory says "Now if some of the boughs are broken out. . ." (Rom. 11:17). Some, not all.
To begin with, it is very curious that the idea of "callous" should occur, as to the Gospels, in Mark and John alone, and not where one might at first thought expect it, in connection with Matt. 13:14, 15. Furthermore, very little of Mark's Gospel is peculiar to him, though there is a good deal more than the critics allow; and these three occurrences are notable examples. Mark 3:1-6 is parallel to Matt. 12:9-13 and Luke 6:6-11, and the three repay careful analysis. Mark 6:49-52 is parallel to Matt. 14:26-33, and Mark 8:16-21 to Matt. 16:7-12. In these alone the verb pOroO is in the Middle Voice; and to bring this over into English I suggest that the first should read "but their heart was callous" and the second "Is your heart still callous?" In each, their state is something which proceeds from themselves, not something inflicted on them as in the other occurrences. Mark takes no account of any judicial callousing.
John 12:40 occurs in a section of this Gospel which is peculiar to it and which follows in order after Matt 21:22, Mark 11:17 and Luke 19:47. It is not, as some have assumed, parallel to Matt. 13:14, 15. The second half certainly echoes it, but the first is closer to Rom. 11:8 and the quotation in John 12:38 is repeated in part in Rom. 10:16. So the passage is really related to Romans 9-11 rather than to Matthew 13; and in a sense this section of Romans is a commentary on it.
As a partial explanation of all this, I suggest that the "pachunO" passages belong to where the sentence of Isa. 6:9, 10 is pronounced to Israel and that the "pOroO" passages to where the announcement is for general information. Why this should be so is not yet plain; but it may be that the intention was to warn us against the very error into which so many have fallen. namely, placing the crisis for Israel any where but at Matt. 13:14, 15. This and Acts 28:26, 27 present the matter from Israel's point of view, the rest from a non-Israel point of view.
I regret having to make this lengthy digression, but there has been so much confusion about the matter in the past that we simply cannot afford any more. It is unsafe to leave any loose ends.
To return to the "broad hint" above mentioned; Rom, 11:5-7 shows us an elect remnant and the rest calloused. Matt. 13:1-17 shows us the disciples chosen to know the secrets of the Kingdom of the heavens and the rest (vast throngs) cut off from them by stoutened hearts, heavy ears and shut eyes. And who were the disciples? The Twelve and a few who followed them—the remnant of Israel, the faithful Israelites. Israel and Israel alone is in view throughout. And there is one thing which stands out in the Gospels—the remnant was never very large after Matt. 13:14, 15. At the Cross it dwindled almost to nothingness. Though at Pentecost it seemingly flared up into a great throng, there evidently was only a relatively small number whose enthusiasm went deeper than surface appearances.
Now perhaps the point of this lengthy preface emerges for the reader. There is always Israel, throughout this era, from start to finish. Matt. 13:14, 15 signalizes the extinction of the status of the bulk of Israel, the vanishing of Israel's hopes till the day of their taking back (Rom. 11:15) but, though hidden, there remains a remnant throughout. Though hidden? Yes, surely; for is not that, the whole point of the reference to Elijah in Rom. 11:2-5? To Paul it must have seemed that he only was left, had he not remembered that once it seemed the same to Elijah. Israel counts for nothing now; the Old Covenant is vanishing, but the living germ of Israel's future glory and of the New Covenant is not extinguished, it is only dormant.
It is perfectly right to speak of "the casting-away of those who were calloused" or "the casting-away of all Israel except the remnant"; but the former way of putting it will be misleading unless we keep in mind that "the calloused" were and are, in fact, all Israel except a remnant, and a hidden remnant at that. To turn the whole notion upside down and talk as if it were the remnant that is in full view now and the calloused hidden from sight—that is simply to embrace error with both arms.
This point is much more important than is apparent at first sight, for there exists a whole series of systems which depend on this upside-down notion. The Roman Catholic Church regard themselves as the New Israel, that is to say, the remnant; for they contend that what they speak of as the Old Israel is permanently calloused and cast-away. Others think of the British with other nations racially similar as the true Israel and apparently yet others vary this theme some what. Others teach that the Church is the remnant. I do not propose to discuss these ideas, partly because experience has shown that positive constructive teaching is not only the most useful but also the least likely to evoke hostility, and partly because I have not yet succeeded in understanding the cases (so far as they have been presented to me) for any of these systems. It appears that when one gets really down to the point that, one and all, they require the seeker to accept their basic suppositions blindly, as something which has to be received by an act of faith. In actual fact, an initial act of faith is required for every creed; but there is a world of difference between submission to the dogma of some particular teacher and submission to the authority of the Sacred Scriptures as they are in the originals, free from all human tampering.
Part of the trouble in some quarters springs from a modern theory still held by some that Romans 9, 10 and 11 is a description of a temporary state of affairs now superseded by a new dispensation based on the fuller revelation of the Prison Epistles, a revelation made possible by the pronouncement of Acts 28:26-28. Those who hold this do not seem to have realized how self-contradictory their theory is. Romans 9-11 deals with the period of the callousing of all Israel except the remnant, which period is (according to their teaching) inaugurated by Acts 28:28 and apparently also terminated with the supersession by Acts 28:28 of Paul's earlier epistles, including the so-called dispensational section of Romans, that is, these very three chapters. At least, that is how I under stand the teaching after many years study of it. Needless to say, it is not so stated; but that is what it amounts to, the two views of the callousing always being kept well apart.
Israel is the collective name of the people who are in covenant with God. Where covenant with a part of humanity exists, there is Israel also. Those who come into covenant with God become a part of Israel in this collective sense: Though in general such people were descendants of Abraham; yet all who sought the privilege could conditionally enter into it and become part of Israel. In other words, the essential requirement for being one of Israel was, and is, God's covenant. Once that position of privilege is achieved, it can be forfeited by unbelief; yet because God is what He is, there is no end to His mercy and grace; and He has declared that such forfeiture will not be permanent. That is the truth set out in Romans 9,10 and 11.
When the twelve tribes split into ten and two, the divisions were described as Israel and Judah respectively, the latter being the name of the chief tribe of the two. Yet, so far as their covenant position was concerned, the latter remained "Israel." What they had in common outweighed their differences.
The crux is "Covenant." Where covenant is repudiated, so far "Israel" ceases to exist—but only so far. The individual of Israel according to flesh may break the covenant and lose in some measure the covenant blessings; but he cannot break away from covenant and become as if there were no covenant unless God permits him to do so.
If it were true that covenant had now ceased to exist, there would now be no "Israel" at all. But it is not true. For some 1900 years the Old Covenant has been near to vanishing. Yes, near: but it has not vanished, and it will not, until it vanishes into the glory of the New Covenant. There will always be something of Covenant, even if only in the back ground, as at present, until the great Reconciliation is consummated; so till then there will always be the Covenant People, Israel.
If it were true that Covenant had become universal among all God's people, then all would be "Israel." But it is not true. Paul's Evangel is the Evangel of the akrobustia, the uncircumcision; of something which in its very essence is incompatible with peritomE: circumcision the badge of Israel's covenant standing.
These are the governing facts about Israel. Their covenant standing permeates nearly all Scripture; its temporary forfeiture was the subject of prophecy, but the meaning of it was a secret which God reserved for His saints from among the Gentiles, as they alone could be made to understand it (Rom. 11:25-32). The revelation which leads up to this secret begins with the 9th chapter of Romans and is the least understood section of the epistle.
Many devout, sincere and well-meaning people have nevertheless managed to get into a state of great confusion over this subject. This is entirely the result of wildly ir~ rational speculation in certain quarters. The results are invariably one-sided; some writers seizing on one aspect of the truth and some on another, each party ignoring what is not convenient to their theories.
Since the essential requirement of being one of Israel is covenant relationship with God, it follows that those who are not in covenant with Him are not Israel. That automatically excludes the Gentiles. It also excludes, in some sense at least, those who have broken their covenant. Do such then become Gentiles? No; because the covenant is not broken on God's side, and He has made it fully clear that in due time those who are cast away will be taken back (Rom. 11:12-15). Nevertheless the fact remains that" not all those out of Israel, these are Israel" (Rom. 9:6-8). How are we to clear up the dilemma?
It is not a real dilemma at all. The problem arises entirely out of our own stupidity and ignorance. The Apostle Paul is really perfectly clear in Rom. 9:6-8. Israel is the sum total of the children of the promise; that is to say, they are the Covenant People. What Paul is pointing out is that, in fact, only those of that company who are actually children of God are truly Israel. Later he tells us that the others are at present cast away, though some day they will be received back and all Israel shall be saved.
God is reckoning the children of the promise unto seed (Rom. 9:8); and as if to forestall the very heresies we are examining, Paul adds the explanation that the purpose of God may be remaining according to choice; not out of acts, but out of Him Who is calling (Rom. 9:11). Those of Israel who now are the children only of the flesh are not children of God; but His choice is not to be thwarted by temporary failure. This failure, indeed, is in order that God's choice shall be completely fulfilled. So we are told that the casting-away is world-conciliation; and, this being so, "what their taking-back if not life out of dead ones?" This leads up to the revelation of the secret behind God's choice, in Rom. 11:25, 26. All Israel shall be saved, according to prophecy (vv. 26, 27). Paul is here pointing to the New Covenant as set out in Heb. 8:8-12. When the New Covenant is concluded, there will no longer be any of Israel who are not children of God and it will therefore no longer be true that "not all those out of Israel, these are Israel" (Rom. 9:6). The circumstances in view in Romans 9—11 will no longer exist.
The plain fact is that "Israel" in the fullest sense consists not of those who are Israelites according to flesh only, but of those who are Israelites according to promise, that is, Israelites in spirit as well. We need, however, to be clear in our minds that this is only an approximation to the truth. Scripture is silent about "spiritual Israel," and therefore we should be too.
We are not told so much about this matter as many confident teachers seem to imagine; and the reason is that it is only indirectly any business of ours. The discussion of Israel's affairs is not carried out to satisfy our curiosity or to give our minds food for speculation and wild guesses; but to furnish the necessary background far our own expectation and blessings. What is not revealed to us is no business of ours. All that Paul says in Romans and Galatians on the subject is one-sided; it relates to the matter from our own standpoint and that of Paul's Evangel, that is to say, from the Evangel of the akrobustia point of view. From the Evangel of the peritomE standpoint, so far as it is open to our investigation, we have to approach the matter from consideration of the covenants; that is, we must go to the Hebrew Scriptures and to the Epistle to Hebrews.
As we have already seen, the statement of Isa. 6:9, 10 was made to Israel; first to the vast throngs in Matt. 13:14, 15, and a generation afterwards to the Jews of the world-metropolis as something which had been proclaimed to their fathers. The consequence of the former was the betrayal and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus; that of the latter was the departure of the Jews from Paul and their state of confused disputation ever since. Although all it conveyed to them was that the saving-work of God had been despatched to the Gentiles and that they Would hear on their own account; yet that told them plainly enough that Israel's position of privilege had become in abeyance. Exasperation and rage was the natural consequence of the pronouncement of Matthew 13; but Paul's reminder of it in Acts 28 brought no such reaction. The Roman Jews had seen for themselves the turn of events; and they could not shut their eyes to the actual facts, but only to the significance of them.
So instead of a non-existent "Spiritual Israel" the Apostle Paul speaks of "the seed"; and we shall presently find that this is not a term which can be confined to Israel according to flesh.
Often the best way to deal with such teachers is to point to matters of fact which cannot be gainsaid. They themselves often unwittingly give us a hint of how best to do so. Since it is a key doctrine of the exponents of the error under discussion that Israel according to flesh is displaced by "Spiritual Israel" (which of course is, for them, "the Church"); the claim of the Jewish people to be Israel must necessarily be rejected. This gives a valuable test of their doctrine.
In the first place, it is most important to note that Scripture does not claim to instruct us in matters which we can discover for ourselves. It does not mention the multiplication table, or the law of gravitation, or radio activity. Al though it prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem, it leaves us to learn of the fulfilment from secular sources. Nearly nineteen centuries have passed since the ink dried on the last pen strokes of the Greek Scriptures and, this being so, it is irrational to suppose that we can discover whether those who now call themselves Israel are entitled so to do by making far-fetched deductions from Paul's epistles. The question is a matter of fact and of secular history, and admits of only one answer there from, that Israel's claims are entirely sound. Not only are true Christians true Rationalists as well, we are the only ones who are entitled to that much-abused name! Let us shun irrationalism. Where we find it, we invariably also find false doctrine, heresy and schism.
Any doctrine which asserts or even merely implies that "Israel" does not mean Israel but something else, stands self-condemned. It may seem plausible at first, but soon the cloven hoof shows itself in such terms as "Spiritual Israel," "a new Israel," "Israel of the New Testament," "New Testament saints," "Anglo-Israelism" and the rest.
"But," it may be retorted, "you have not yet proved that Israel and the Jews are the same people."
This theme must be left for another chapter; so it is sufficient meantime to point to the Apostle Peter's speech in Acts 2. He begins by exclaiming "Men! Jews!" (v. 14). Later, he exclaims "Men! Israelites!" (v. 22). Later "Men! Brethren!" (v. 29). His final peroration begins "Let all Israel's house know certainly. . .." To forestall a possible objection that the 1930 C.V. does not say "Jews" but "Judeans" in v. 14, the Greek here is exactly the same as in v. 5 and the mistake has been corrected in the later edition. I will not venture to declare that this settles the question finally, for someone's ingenuity may discover a way to get round it; but I do contend that it is for the objector to show that Peter was addressing two separate groups and that when he addressed "all Israel's house," he did not, in fact, mean anything of the sort. I hope it will not give offence to declare a preference for believing Peter.
The plain fact of the matter is that actually we have three courses open to us. We can identify Israel with "the calloused." This is the Catholic error and in practice means writing off "the old Israel" permanently. Or we can follow the novel idea which identifies Israel with "the remnant" and fills the gap with an election of Gentiles. This odd notion is as if one had met with a street accident and lost all one's overcoat but a torn piece of cloth and a button. "Never mind," says a friend, "you can make it up with other material and fresh buttons." Or we can accept Scripture as it stands and take the middle course, which is the inclusive way and the only logical way. We can acknowledge both the calloused and the remnant as Israel, and believe God in accepting what Paul tells us in Rom. 11:5-7 at its face value.
The extraordinary doctrine that the remnant is the real
Israel and the deficiency left by the calloused has to be made
up with Gentiles to comprise a new Israel or the Israel of God,
is the very opposite of the truth and, indeed, a complete negation of
it. As to this, what Paul writes of himself is quite decisive. He
declares that his kin according to flesh are Israelites (Rom. 9:3, 4),
that he himself is of Israel's race of Benjamin's tribe, Hebrew of
Hebrews (Phil. 3:5, 6); yet he adds that he has deemed these a forfeit,
that because of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his
Lord he has forfeited them all, and deemed it all refuse. "But no!" say
some teachers in effect, "Ephesians 2 tells us that the remnant and the
Gentiles in flesh have become a new Israel": though actually it says
nothing of the kind. In fact, they are really telling us that Paul did
not know what he Was talking about when he wrote the things quoted
above; and that he not only remained one of Israel but that the
Gentiles who received his Evangel became of Israel too, or else were
without knowing it lost Israelites themselves. This is sheer unbelief.
The Apostle Peter in his first Pentecostal speech, Jerusalem.
"I cannot state too strongly that the man who' has not yet seen that the Israel of the Scripture is totally distinct from the Jewish people, is yet in the very infancy, the mere alphabet, of Biblical study, and that to this day the meaning of seven-eighths of the Bible is shut to his understanding."
One who thinks he knows better than the Apostle.
Somebody once suggested compiling a list of apostolic "mistakes." Such a work would throw a most instructive light on the follies of expositors! It could begin with the supposed mistake of electing Matthias as the twelfth apostle. Then would come the Apostle Peter's words quoted above, which must have been a sheer blunder if our modern confusionists are correct in their teaching also quoted above. Then another choice specimen would be the idea that the Apostle Paul was quite mistaken in imagining that what he called "secrets" were anything of the sort—and so on. If such folk are to be believed, God's apostles must have been a pretty poor lot. Nevertheless, most of us will prefer to follow these humble and holy men of God with humble and holy minds; but it is as well for us to be fully aware that others have a different outlook and no humility or modesty in expressing it.
Peter's first Pentecostal speech really settles the matter for anyone who is willing to bow to the authority of God's Word. He considered the Jews and Israelites he was addressing to be representative of all the house of Israel. Nobody ventured to contradict him at the time—such an extreme of irreverent folly has been left to our enlightened days. However, we cannot have too much evidence; so a tolerably complete survey of the subject is in order and will occupy this chapter.
One effective way of insinuating error is to ask some question which seems straightforward enough and then to append a number of statements or questions which suggest the erroneous answer desired. Let us keep in mind that the Apostle Paul warned the Apostle Tirnothy and through him ourselves to refuse stupid and crude questions, being aware that they are generating fighting. Indeed they are! Yet they are a favourite exercise among those who are victims of error about Israel. One such writer asks "Was Abraham a Jew?" and properly replies that of course he was not. Then why ask so silly a question? Presently we learn the reason for this apparently pointless waste of time—it is an attempt to show somehow that the Jews are not the seed of Abraham to whom belong the promises, and not Israel. This is one of the oldest of controversial dodges, stating something so obvious as to be undeniably true in the hope of slipping in another idea which is highly questionable. To discover the meaning of Jews and Israel and Gentiles, Hebrews and Greeks and Hellenists, in the Greek Scriptures, we must consult the Greek Scriptures, and not the Hebrew Scriptures, which were completed centuries before. Otherwise we are like people trying to understand the mind and organisation of the United States of America, now, by studying English history before the Wars of the Roses. Such study is by no means unimportant, but at the best it is only ancillary.
Just before the British left Palestine, one newspaper wrote with foreboding about "the deplorable increase of anti-semitism among the Arabs"! Such an absurd contradiction in terms displays the confusion of thought which exists. Such confusion among us also, as Christians, is inexcusable and even more deadly. That a distinction of some kind exists between "Israel" and "the Jews" is undeniably true; that it is in any way comparable with the distinction between these two terms and "the Gentiles" is not only quite untrue, but a dangerously misleading idea, since it also is based on hopelessly confused thinking. This we will presently proceed to show.
A writer contributing to "The Roundtable" (March-April, 1948) quoted no less than thirteen Jewish authorities denying that they were Israel. This was very interesting; but equally unconvincing when one reflects that there are vast numbers of Jews who think otherwise. What is somewhat surprising is that anyone should expect to derive enlightenment from these Jewish disputations. Acts 28:29 taken with the records of subsequent history should be sufficient to warn us against such an idea. Perhaps reflection on this may shake the confidence of those who have so readily dismissed this verse as spurious in the teeth of the preponderating evidence in its favour. With eyes blinded and hearts calloused, what Jewish rabbis believe is more likely to be wrong than right.
In the days on earth of the Lord Jesus and His apostles, Greek was the universal language of the known civilized world. There can be no reasonable doubt that He and they used Greek. The few occasions when Aramaic, the then current dialect of Hebrew, was used. were quite evidently exceptional. Even those writings which were primarily addressed to Israelites, Hebrews and the epistles of Peter, James and Jude, were almost certainly written in Greek. No direct evidence exists of a Hebrew or Aramaic original of any of the Greek Scriptures, nor is there evidence that any of them were translations. These facts can mean only one thing, that these Scriptures were meant for all to read. Even Peter, writing to a limited audience primarily Hebrew, and plainly referring to the Hebrews Epistle (2 Peter 3:15), in the very next verse commends all the epistles to his readers.
Thus we need offer no apology for putting most of our study into the Greek Scriptures. Moreover, we must always bear in mind that much of the Hebrew Scriptures consists of a revelation developing from a rudimentary stage. The Old Covenant was made with Abraham, yet quite a time elapsed before "Israel" appeared and still further time before the link between Israel and covenant was made completely plain. What was developing up to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ became explicit only after His ascension; and only in the Scriptures then written can we find the truth in its fully developed form.
One point needs to be guarded. Israel, Jews, chosen expatriates of dispersion (1 Peter 1:1), the twelve tribes, those in the dispersion (James 1:1), Hebrews, Israelites, are not interchangeable terms. Each has its own special shade of meaning or usage, and we ought to take the utmost care to ensure that our usage of them is the same as in Scripture. Yet they are all names belonging to the same class of people, those who have the peritomE; and they need to be explicitly distinguished from the Gentiles, who have the akrobustia and who are therefore an entirely different class of person.
The first reference to Israel in the Greek Scriptures, in Matt. 2:6, is also the first of the three passages in which Israel occurs in the same context as Judah, the others being Heb. 8: 8 and Rev. 7 : 4, 5. This is very significant, inasmuch as it shows that we are not considering a hypothetical "new Israel" made out of a remnant of the "old Israel" reinforced with Gentiles in the Apostle Paul's day, but something going back at the latest to the time of the separation of Judah from Israel. It is significant too that the next passage referring to Israel is about the return of Joseph, the little Boy, and His mother to the land of Israel—the only occurrence of that expression in the Greek Scriptures (Matt. 2:20, 21). There is no element of "spiritualizing" in this. They actually did return to Palestine, and it was literally to Israel land that they returned; which is a very remarkable fact if the Jews who inhabited the country were not Israel at all.
The conjunction in Heb. 8:8 refers back to Jer. 31:31-34 and forward to the future conclusion of the New Covenant. Thus it adds its testimony to the foregoing by maintaining the continuity of Israel and Judah through the intervening period of well over two thousand years, and this is confirmed by the last enumeration of the twelve tribes in Rev. 7:4-8.
This concept of one new humanity is what Galatians is leading up to in its closing words. In Christ Jesus (the title particularly associated with the church which is His body) "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation" (Gal. 6:15). No wonder Paul was able to write as he did in Philippians 3! These three passages are Paul's last references to Israel; and it is again. very significant that after his great declaration in Gal. 3:15, he invokes peace and mercy On his fellow-members of the new creation and, true to his unchanging love for his kinsmen according to flesh, on Israel also. And note as well, that, lest we might be tempted to deduce that God's declared purposes for His People Israel have become obsolete, Paul reminds us that Israel are "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).
On the strength of the single occurrence of this expression, some are attempting to make out that Paul's ministry was devoted to creating a new Israel, which they suppose the Israel of God to be. Really the whole thing is too absurd to be worth a moment's consideration! It will be profitable however to point out that if this idea were the truth it would mean that Paul was busy bringing Gentiles under covenant in circumcision and therefore under law—the very thing against which his Epistle to the Galatians is One sustained protest!
Let us get this clear. The Evangel of the akrobustia (uncircumcision) is concerned only with the state of akrobustia, that is, with Gentiles. It is not applicable to Israel as such, and concerns the individual Israelite only if he be willing to follow Paul's example and to regard his peritomE and all the other privileges of his according to flesh as refuse (Phil. 3:8). It brings neither of them into the states of peritomE or akrobustia; it leaves both concepts behind, creating the two kinds of people, in Christ Jesus, into one new humanity.
Perhaps someone may try to make out that this new humanity is precisely what Israel is to be. The answer to that is complete and final: "If so, why call it Israel?"
In the days when soldiers wore scarlet in battle they were glaringly apparent to ordinary eyes even at long distances; but placed against a field of fresh green they would have been totally invisible to a colour-blind man. Something like this is the trouble with the confusionists. To the normal mind, the notions "Israel" and "Gentiles" are intensely contrasted, as are scarlet cloth and green grass; but to a small minority the contrast is invisible. To them the Greek Scriptures are a closed book and Paul could be deleted without making any noticeable difference to their theology; for it is Paul more than any other writer who stresses the fundamental difference between the two concepts and whose whole evangel falls to the ground if that difference is not in view from start to finish.
As regards Eph. 2:12, it is necessary to point out that "alienate" is in the Middle Voice. This particular example is difficult to make plain in English; but the idea is that this alienate state is something which the Gentiles have brought about on their own account. We might almost say that they have held aloof from the citizenship of Israel. Even though individuals became proselytes from time to time, the Gentiles as a whole held aloof. The passage thus rules out, finally and completely, any idea that the Gentiles could ever have been lapsed Israelites.
Some of the confusion which has arisen is due to the unfortunate choice by some versions of "nations" for every occurrence of "ethnE," instead of "Gentiles." In English we can speak of Israel as being One of the nations, but never as one of the Gentiles. This ambiguity in the Greek word is extremely helpful to the framers of new heresies concerning Israel. I have examined this point in Vol. 14, No. 1.
In two other passages, Acts 4:27; 9:15, Israel and the Gentiles are also in juxtaposition; but this time, side by side in the dock—in the first with Herod and Pontius Pilate also; in the second in connection with the ministry and testimony of Paul and what he was to have to suffer. Surely it is highly significant that such should be the only points of contact while the other nine are as divergent as possible?
The twelve tribes of Israel are spoken of in Matt. 19:8 and Luke 22:30. These in themselves kill the idea that the Lord Jesus was dealing with anything but the whole of Israel.
An interesting feature of 1. Corinthians is that more than any other it is linked up to matters outside Paul's epistles. It alone refers directly to the fathers in the wilderness (10:1), to Israel according to flesh (10:18), to the Lord's Supper (11:20-26), to the historical aspect of the Evangel recorded in the Gospels (15:3-7) and, most important from our present point of view, to the existence of sects or parties within the church (1:12). The reference to a party "of Cephas," has been held by some to mean that Peter was one of those who evangelized the Corinthians. This does not follow at all! Indeed, one party is named as "of Christ," and certainly Christ in person did not visit the Corinthians to evangelize them. The church at Corinth appeared to be wide open to every sort of influence except God's Spirit; that of Thessalonica appeared to be open to practically no influence except His. Our tragedy is that most, if not all, churches of the present day are Corinthian rather than Thessalonian.
These ten passages repay a thorough examination. Taken together they shatter the figment that Israel and Jews are "totally distinct" ideas. These points of conjunction occur at some of the key points of the Greek Scriptures. To deny that Israel and the Jews are the same people is not only to make nonsense of the whole ten, it is to approach perilously close to blasphemy in attempting to correct not only Peter, John and Paul, but the Lord Jesus Himself.
My chief fear is that some readers will regard the idea as utterly ridiculous and possibly will want to dismiss me with contempt for even discussing it at all. I beg them to read this paragraph first; for I solemnly assure them that other readers do seriously believe it. For my part, I believe these others to be sincere and earnest, so, in my view they are entitled to be taken seriously. Therefore, I feel it is a plain, duty to examine their teaching carefully comparing it with Scripture; and I assure the others that in this examination they will find matter profitable to themselves.
Just as a truth is complete in itself and not only can stand on its own, feet without any propping-up from external sources but support all other truth with which it comes in contact; so an error is incomplete in itself and needs other errors to maintain it, and these still other errors, till it corrupts the whole of our thinking. To employ another figure, it is like a stone thrown into a pond as it were, the place where the stone struck not only being itself agitated but spreading its agitation in widening circles till every part of the pond is affected. So with the truth about Israel and the Jews, it fits in with all other Scripture truth; but the false separation, of the two ideas making them as poles asunder wrecks history and prophecy and the whole of our understanding of Scripture.
During the preparation, of the last two chapters, I have had an un,easy feeling that some readers may be inclined to turn, away from the subject as merely academic and therefore unpractical; so it is time to make it plain that this is by no means the case. It is of the utmost practical importance to know for instance, whether Israel's promised Land is being improperly occupied by shysters who have no right to be regarded as Abraham's children, or whether the stage is rapidly being set there for the tremendous drama of the end time with Israel in its centre. If the former, then even with the rapid changes of scene so characteristic of our terrible age of universal restlessness, much time and many world-shaking events must supervene before the Land can be cleared for the true Israel to enter and start to take their inheritance. If the latter, then not only is all in readiness for our glorious receiving-up in accordance with 1. Thess. 4:16, 17; but, unless some delay altogether outside human anticipation is in waiting our glorification must soon take place. Our business is to be continually listening for the shout which will raise our dead and transfigure our bodies; not to be watching for times and seasons; but if such events in time forcibly obtrude themselves on our attention so that we cannot help noticing them that fact in itself underlines the nearness of our great moment and our listening should become ever more intent.
Nothing which can be imagined could be more practical than this! A true listening attitude cannot but utterly transform our life. The realization in practise that each moment may be our last moment of mortality, so that its successor would be the first of immortal life and power and glory, invests each act of our lives with infinitely solemn meaning. We go forward with the glow of that glorious dawn shining in our faces and filling our days, sanctifying our every thought and act.
On this account, a final settlement of the vexed question of what Israel is and whether the Jews are really Israel becomes of vital. importance to us all; and this chapter is devoted to cleaning up the remaining problems connected directly therewith.
Moreover, if the ingathering of the Jews which is now proceeding is not the ingathering of Israel but a counterfeit of the real thing, how comes it that Scripture prophecy is silent about such a spurious fulfilment of its forecasts? A counterfeit ingathering would involve something far more serious than merely a false dawn; it would mean a false dawn which could necessarily postpone the true dawn for some years and possibly decades or even centuries. It would involve disaster not only for the true Israel, but for us who are called out of Gentiles, in akrobustia, as well. For Israel it would mean an indefinite postponement of their hopes; for us it would mean that and more. Far more, infinitely more indeed; for our hopes would not simply be postponed but completely frustrated and even destroyed. We are expecting something which not only may occur at any moment but will set in motion the train of prophetic events which will eventuate in the fulfilment of Israel's own expectation. But if the Land is firmly in the possession partly of a spurious Israel and partly of Arabs and Egyptians, of which at least the former will have to be ejected forcibly before the first steps towards the ingathering of the true Israel can even begin; it means that a considerable series of events outside prophecy must supervene. I would not dare to assume that there will be no delay whatever between our calling-away to meet the Lord in the air and the resumption of God's earthly programme according to Prophecy; I would only point out that there is no trace either in History or Prophecy of such a hiatus, however brief; and still less of one of substantial duration, for the indications are all the other way. For instance, immediately after the pronouncement of Matt. 13:14, 15 the Lord Jesus began to instruct His disciples about the new order which had abruptly come into existence; and God made no delay after the call of Abraham. We would naturally expect then, that immediately after the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:16, 17 and the removal of all obstacles to the resumption of God's earthly plans for His earthly People Israel, He would promptly set the machinery in motion for it. Such promptitude would hardly be possible if meanwhile a large-scale counterfeit had established itself.
In writing the foregoing I wish to guard one point. I do not mean that the fulfilment of the prophecy of 1. Thess. 4:16, 17 will necessarily be followed at once by the fulfilment of other prophecies; but simply that the beginning of their fulfilment will supervene, i.e. the preliminary groupings of events and nations which will lead up to that fulfilment. What I am objecting to is the idea of a mass of irrelevant events having to occur before the fulfilment of prophecy.
First, however, there is another name, "Greek," which several times comes in the same context as "Jew"; and this pair is best examined first.
"Greek" does not occur nearly so frequently as "Gentiles." Out of fourteen occurrences of the former in Paul's Epistles no less than twelve are in juxtaposition with "Jew" or "Jews"; the two exceptions being Rom. 1:14 and Gal. 2:3. The former is of special interest, as "Gentiles" occurs in the immediate context; and the Gentiles are, by implication, divided into Greeks and barbarians: the barbarians being those who did not speak Greek, the then universal language among civilized peoples. Incidentally, the weight of evidence is very heavily against the popular belief that the Lord Jesus and the Twelve carried on their ministries in any language but Greek, except perhaps on a very few isolated occasions, the very few examples of Aramaic being specially mentioned because they were so exceptional. The Jews were not to be classed as "barbarians."
Even the latter occurrence, Gal. 2:3, is not really an exception; for there is an implied contrast, in that the Jews had compelled the Greek Titus to submit to circumcision and thereby come under the yoke of Judaism.
Of the ten occurrences of "Greek" in Acts, five read "Jews as well as Greeks." Of the rest, Acts 16:1 implies a sharp distinction, as also does Ads 16:3; 17:4, 5; 21:27, 28. There remains Acts 18:14-17. There is good textual evidence that Acts 18:17 should read: "Yet all the Greeks, getting hold of Sosthenes. . ."; but we can waive the point here, as the case is amply strong enough without it.
The last two occurrences of "Greek" are in John 7:35, and 12:20. The latter once more implies a contrast with the Jews. The former, the first occurrence of all, is perfectly clear; yet among some there seems to be an extraordinary confusion about it. This is partly due to the serious mistranslation in the A.V. and the irrelevant note in the 1930, C.V. Here, the Lord Jesus declared He was going where the Pharisees could not be coming; and the Jews, in their completely unspiritual state, jumped to the conclusion that He was "about to go to the dispersion of the Greeks and teach the Greeks." The Greeks were at that time dispersed throughout the known world. How else, in point of fact, could their civilization have been so universal otherwise? This passage alone is quite sufficient to prove that the Greeks were not Jews.
Where this relationship is not emphatically in view, another pair of contrasted words is used: Jew and Greek. Their force when so used has just been discussed. Israel and Gentiles are always used collectively or plurally. As shown in the second reference, above, "Gentile" in the singular can never be used for either "goi" or "ethnos" in the singular; and even "ethnikos" is only once used in the singular, namely in Matt. 18:17. The individual of Israel is an Israelite (israEleitEs). This word occurs nine times of which only two are in the singular, John 1:47 and Rom. 11:1. These two are significant; for though both refer to sons of Israel according to flesh, only true and faithful sons of Israel are in view. Of the plural instances, five are exclamatory appeals to the true men of Israel, the last being a false appeal by apostate Jews (Acts 2:22; 3:12; 5:35; 13:10; 21:28) and two are by Paul (Rom. 9:4 and 2 Cor. 11:22). The word is unsuitable for use when special emphasis on being "of Israel" is lacking.
Where the special title of honour "Israelite" is inappropriate, the Covenant People themselves used the word "Jew" to express their distinctive national status. This name at first was applied to members of the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin (2 Kings 16:6, the first occurrence) but later it became the description of all Israelites, when regarded as distinct from other people, and was used by all to distinguish the Israelite's national status. This is plainly seen in the passage where Paul proclaims himself an Israelite (Rom. 11:1, 2) and the one where he describes his brethren according to flesh as Israelites (Rom. 9:3), as contrasted with the two places in between where he refers to Jews (Rom. 9:24; 10:12). In 2 Corinthians 11, where also he declares himself an Israelite, we find the only mention of Jews in the immediate context of this word—in describing the blows inflicted on him by them!
To restrict "Jew" to the two tribes and "Israelite" to the ten, is a tempting simplification; but the simplicity so won is only apparent, and insuperable difficulties are introduced. The plain fact is that the Greek Scriptures do not conform to any such distinction. Take, for example, Acts 2, already referred to; and note that vv. 5 and 15 refer to Jews and v. 22 to Israelites. This appeal is to "all the house of Israel," and in Acts 4:10 it is to" the entire people of Israel." Finally, in Acts 13:24, Paul clearly states that John proclaimed "a baptism of repentance to the entire people of Israel." The "sons of Israel" are spoken of in Acts 5:21; 7:23, 37; 9:15; 10:36; Rom. 9:27; 2 Cor. 3:7; Heb. 11:22; Rev. 2:14; 7:4; 21:12. The last six, at least, certainly refer to all the twelve tribes, and it is hard to see why the same should not apply to the rest. Moreover, "Judah" occurs seven times, only, in the Greek Scriptures. The first two, in Matt. 2:6, have "Thy people Israel" in the same context. This is strong confirmation. If the Jews were and are of the two tribes alone, the rarity of occurrence of "Judah" calls imperatively for an explanation; and Paul, being of Benjamin's tribe, should not have called himself an Israelite, but a Jew. No! This device will not do.
The statement of the Lord Jesus to the Canaanitish woman in Matt. 15:23 is in itself really conclusive as to this matter. If "Israel" means "Israel as distinct from Judah," then Judah was outside the Lord's commission. If, too, as some teach, all Israel was dispersed outside the Land, and the Lord Jesus Himself never left the Land, His commission could never have been carried out.
There is nothing novel in all this. Dr. Bullinger himself drew attention to it in Things to Come, 1908, p. 23. He stated that in the Hebrew Scriptures, after the separation of the two kingdoms, "Judah was constantly reinforced by the godly among the ten Tribes who would not conform to their idolatrous practises. In 2 Chron. 30:25, we are told how they 'came out of the land of Israel and dwelt in Judah.' Compare verse 21 and ch. 11:16, 17 where we read how they 'strengthened the kingdom of Judah.' In chs. 15:9; 19:8; 23:2; 31:6, we have further and abundant evidence on this point. All these passages are worth attentive reading." He also pointed out that in Luke 2:36 Hannah was out of the tribe of Asher; and Zacharias and Barnabas were Levites.
In Acts 26:6 Paul speaks of the twelve-tribed people. The quotation from Micah 5:2 in Matt. 2:6 implies all the twelve tribes; who are referred to in Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30; Jas. 1:1; Rev. 21:12; but not even once in the Greek Scriptures is there any reference to the Ten Tribes or the Two Tribes. This alone should have sufficed to warn those who write so freely about "the lost ten tribes" that something is amiss with their theories.
In these three short quotations the C.V. inserts an unnecessary definite article no less than seven times! Such discordance tends to hide the fact that of all the occurrences of "Jew" in Paul's epistles, only four have the definite article, namely, Rom. 2:28; 3:1; 1 Cor. 9:20; (first occurrence) and 1 Thess. 2:14. The reader would do well to ponder these and to note that in all the rest, 22 in all, the definite article can well be omitted in accordance with the Greek. The A.V. too is wrong no less that eleven times. It is difficult to see any reason or excuse for such looseness.
" Jews" and" Gentiles" occur less closely in the same -context in a number of other passages. The first, Acts 11:18, 19, shows very significantly that the Jews regarded themselves as an altogether separate people. Even though the Circumcisionists (Acts 11:2) admitted that "God gives repentance unto life to the Gentiles also"; they still spoke "the word to no one except to Jews only." Incidentally, this passage displays the glaring unsuitability of the word "nations." No nation has ever repented unto life and none ever will until Israel does. Acts 21:25 affords another example.
The remaining passages are Acts 13:45, 46; 14:2-5; 18:5, 6; 21:11; 21:19-25; 26:20, 21; 28:28, 29 and Rom. 2:14-24.
Finally, we have to consider another contrasted pair of words, "hebraios" and "hellEnistEs," "Hebrews" and "Hellenists." Both occur together in Acts 6:1; the former also in 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5 and the inscription of the Hebrews Epistle (pros hebraious); the latter in Acts: 9:29. From Acts 6:1 we learn that these constituted two parties among the disciples, but from Acts 9:29 we learn that some Hellenists were definitely unbelievers. Acts 11:20 presents some difficulty, for the best textual evidence favours "Hellenists" here, though there is a fair case for "Greeks" also and the C.V. adopts the latter. After the Apostle Peter's speech in Acts 11:4-17, evangelism of Greeks by some disciples would certainly not have been out of order. But if these Cyprian men and Cyrenians had evangelized Hellenists, the contrast with v. 19 might seem to imply that the Hellenists were not Jews, which is certainly untrue. Perhaps, however, v. 20 was not intended to be in contrast with v. 19; but, if so, it is difficult to see why such special point should be made of evangelizing one section of the Jewish community; so on balance I would reject the reading "Hellenists" here in favour of Greeks.
Returning to Acts 6:1, I wish particularly to commend the admirable note in the 1930 C.V., the writer of which deserves special credit for having emancipated himself from the generally held tradition that the ministries of the Lord Jesus and of the Twelve were carried on in the Aramaic dialect of Hebrew. One statement in it I must reproduce: "The usual definition of a Hellenist, 'a Greek-speaking Jew' is not adequate, for all Jews spoke Greek." This statement is enlarged on also in the preface to the Hebrews Epistle. Personally, I conceive the difference as pretty much like the modem distinction between "Orthodox" and "Liberal" Jews.
So long as the Apostle Paul remained a Jew he was a "Hebrew," and even when he abandoned his peritomE he could still remind all that he had been zealous for the Law, that as regards flesh he was Hebrew of Hebrews. The Epistle to Hebrews is addressed to this party. It has no message for Hellenists as such; as indeed is obvious when we study it, for it is a sealed book to those who are not in some sense Hebrews. In a way this is applicable even to ourselves; for we are spiritual Sons of Abraham and, like him, strangers and pilgrims in this world.
Some have suggested that the "hebraios" and the "ek peritomEs," the Hebrews and the Circumcisionists, are one and the same. That is not so. The latter were a sect of the Hebrews, and in so far as they overstressed circumcision, a heretical sect. Here, again, we must refrain from blurring and confusing the very real distinctions which God has made in His Word.
Now that the matter has cropped up again I would like to correct the note on pp. 72-74 in the Differentiator, Vol. 13, No.2. On p. 72, 10 lines from bottom, I should have written "proof (?)." There is no evidence whatever that Luke was a Gentile; and readers who have this issue are asked to correct accordingly. As to p. 73 the paragraph beginning "Perhaps, too, . . ." should be deleted; as my studies under "PeritomE and akrobustia" have shown that I was somewhat in error. Please read in its place:
"Why should 'Circumcisionists' not mean 'those who practise or promote' circumcision (peritomE)? I can discover no reason; and I now suggest that this is the very thing they did! If the idea is an error, will someone refute it from Scripture? The whole point of the complaint by the Circumcisionists in Acts 11:1-3 was that Peter was associating with men having akrobustia (uncircumcision). It would have been futile if peritomE had not been the vital matter in their eyes."
I have since been asked how would I like to receive such criticisms as those in the note? That is easily answered. If I could not refute them I would acknowledge my error as frankly as I have just done. Only the spiritually immature pretend to be above criticism.
On pp. 16, 17 of The Differentiator for February, 1953, I discussed the use of the term 'The Circumcision' as a supposed synonym for" Israel." I do not think that my case will prove easy to refute; but correspondence with my colleague, Mr. Alexander Thomson, has indicated that some modification is called for. I realized at the time that the crucial passage might prove to be Gal. 2:6-9. It seemed to me quite clear then, and so I postponed discussing it till it came up naturally in my series on the Greek Scriptures (see April, 1953, p. 62).
This consideration was given in the June, 1953 issue (pp. 103-106), and two of the points made have now been shown to be erroneous. First there is a translation error (top of p. 104). I ought to have noticed that the Greek word for "operates" contains the word "en" (in) and would naturally be followed by the Dative Case. So will readers please correct "as to" in lines 1 and 2 to "in." It is not a big matter, but we cannot be too accurate.
The most important point comes on p. 105. Mr. Thomson insists that here "tEn peritomEn" would be read by any Greek as meaning a people or a company of people. His knowledge of Greek is so vastly greater than mine that I cannot attempt to dispute the point. I must gratefully accept the ruling that here "the circumcision" is figuratively used to mean "the people who have the circumcision," or if we keep to the Greek word, as before, "the people who have the peritomE."
But we must not jump to the conclusion that this is necessarily the case elsewhere, for a figurative usage is always a secondary one; or that the expression here means "Israel," just Israel without any qualification. What I have said as to that still stands.
For the question at once arises: Were Israel then, and are they now, a people who have the peritomE?
Will readers please turn back to p. 57-59 of the April, 1953, issue, when they will see that "people who have the peritomE" must mean people who put law into practice and not merely bear the physical sign of covenant privilege. How can we possibly declare that the bulk of Israel then and now, namely those of Israel who have transgressed the Law and whose peritomE has become akrobustia, are entitled to be called "the people who have the peritomE?" Obviously We cannot.
From this arises another point, which I discussed, but not quite adequately, on pp. 104, 105 above mentioned. We must now take it that the division in Gal. 2:9 was between "unto the Gentiles" and "unto the people who have the peritomE." The former, then, was essentially the sphere of Paul, the latter the sphere of Peter.
But, as a matter of historical fact, Paul ministered to Jews as well as Gentiles (to the Jew first); Peter unlocked the Kingdom to Gentiles as well as Jews (Acts 2 and 10). The problem thus presented is far easier to solve than appears at first glance. We are here dealing with a subject strictly within the context of this epistle, Galatians. Peter had had the Kingdom Keys commission, to unlock the King dom. This was completed before the meeting in Jerusalem here recorded, and, apart from matters arising out of it, Acts has no more to say about Peter. His contacts with the Gentiles were, so far as the Acts history relates, strictly limited to this theme. So when, seventeen years after Paul's return to Damascus from Arabia, he visited Jerusalem a second time as recorded in Galatians, the subject under discussion was Paul's Evangel, "the Evangel which I am heralding among the Gentiles" to use his own words. It was THIS which became the dominating theme here (Gal. 2:2, 5, 7, 14), and the governing question was: What was to be, by agreement, Peter's attitude to it? The answer is in the last part of Gal. 2:9. Paul and the apostles with him were to be "for the Gentiles"; James, Cephas and John "for the people who have the peritomE.". These three representatives of the Twelve here recognized finally two things: the validity of the evangel which Paul was heralding among the Gentiles, and the fact that their own ministry was for the people who have the peritomE.
Four times in Galatians 2 is the evangel entrusted to Paul referred to: yet not once specifically is that entrusted to Peter, but only by implication (in Paul's words, "perceiving that I have accepted in trust the Evangel of the akrobustia according as Peter of the peritomE"). Paul simply went out of his way to say as little as he could about Peter's evangel. He does not even call him "Peter" except this once, but sticks to Peter's old Hebrew name Cephas, and reminds him that he is "all along a Jew" (2:14). It is truly remarkable how the one reference to him as Peter is where his evangel is referred to. Is it going too far to deduce that we ought to regard the evangel of Peter as something to be thought of apart from the ministry of Cephas under consideration in the rest of this chapter?
The part where Paul sums-up the agreement is written in what is, for him, unusually obscure language. No doubt he felt embarrassed at having to discuss the ministry of the Twelve and particularly that of Cephas whom, presently, he is forced to disclose that he had to reprove. Indeed, he slides away from the words of this reproof into a general exhortation which sums-up in a wonderfully concise way the main teaching of Romans. With his instinctive good taste he spoke about the sphere allotted to Cephas and the rest of the Twelve as little as he possibly could. From our point of view he said too little, but, in fact, Peter's commission "unto the peritomE" is none of our business and we have no right to complain if that aspect seems obscure to us. What concerns us is the agreement that each side should have clear1y defined separate spheres. The whole matter is somewhat hard to clarify; but that should not trouble us if we school ourselves to leave peritomE, covenant and the Millennial Kingdom to the people to whom they belong, the people who have the peritomE.
The truth of the matter is that Peter's evangel is not. the subject under discussion at all. It comes in only to emphasize this fact and that it was something altogether separate from Paul's. I still contend that Gal. 2:9 has no bearing on the question of whether and when the Evangel of the peritomE was or is to be proclaimed.
Far from weakening my case, as I thought at first, I believe that this correction actually confirms it. The chiefest of the Twelve were to concern themselves with the people who have the peritomE. No wonder the Twelve thereafter vanished from view; for Paul's Evangel made the continued existence of such people the anachronism which it still continues to be. The" Christian Jew" who imagines he can follow Paul and still keep his peritomE is a contradiction in terms. That, some day, there will again be people who have the peritomE, and that they will be God's Elect, is a most important truth. Their guide, the extant writings of James, Cephas and John, will lead to the proclamation of the Evangel of the peritomE to all Israel.
The Note here in the 1930 C.V. reads as follows:—"When the law failed utterly, and Israel was far gone in apostasy, the prophet fell back upon God's unconditional promises and made the memorable statement 'The just by faith shall live' (Hab. 2:4). Now that Israel is again apostate, this rule once more supersedes the law."
Is this true?
This short passage from Habakkuk is quoted three times: here in Romans, in Gal. 3:11, and in Heb. 10:38; and it has been acutely pointed out that these three in order emphasize the three key words in it: the emphasis in Romans being righteousness, in Galatians faith and in Hebrews getting life.
What I am suggesting is that the above-quoted Note takes an altogether too narrow view of this announcement. It thereby becomes a half-truth, and its last seven words a positively misleading one. I suggest, indeed, that the rule has always been true from the time of Abraham onwards, that it sums-up Acts 13:38, 39 and the first four chapters of Romans, that in Hebrews 10 it has hardly any direct connection with the Law, and that only from the special point of view of Galatians is its relationship with the Law such that it can properly be described as superseding it.
The Note suggests that the rule came into force only when Israel reached a certain degree of apostasy, that some time after Habakkuk wrote it was again relaxed; and then, by the time Paul wrote Romans and, even earlier, when he made his first recorded speech, in Acts 13, it had come into force again. As we go on critically examining it, such a view begins to raise difficulty after difficulty; and all because it arbitrarily confines Habakkuk's words to certain limited, but unspecified, periods. If its author had tried at the start to ascertain just what those periods were, he might have convinced himself that he was mistaken.
Suppose, instead, that we provisionally assume that this rule states a permanent truth; and let us see what the consequences will be. Anyone who may cavil at this is reminded that the C.V. Note is no more than an assumption either and that the test of any assumption is simply whether it fits all the facts. We can do nothing at all without making some assumptions. We can hardly even think, unless we assume first of all that we and the world around us exist and are not a figment of imagination; and even with the latter assumption we have to make the exceedingly unlikely further assumption that a figment of imagination can th,ink or even exist when there is no real person to imagine it.
For the present, let us confine our attention to the Apostle Paul's teaching on the subject. When we have mastered that, it will be possible to turn with profit to other Scripture writers. Now that the so-called 'dispensational' position of Acts is cleared up, We no longer need have any inhibitions over studying Paul's output as a whole. It is quite true that his first recorded speech was addressed primarily to Israelites, his brethren, sons of Abraham's race; but it is also, secondarily, to those fearing God (Acts 13:16, 26). There is therefore nothing in it which is unsuitable for others beside Israel to hear or contrary to the evangel which Paul proclaimed. It is simply at this point his manifesto to Israel, to the Jew first; and v. 43 tells us that after it many of the Jews followed Paul. The crowning point of this speech is in vv. 38, 39, which read:—"Let it then be knowable to you, men, brethren, that through this One is being announced to you pardon of sins; and from all which, in Moses' law you could not be made righteous, in this One everyone who is believing is achieving righteousness." This statement sums-up Paul's Evangel as set out in Romans and re-stated, in the face of apostasy from it, in Galatians. There are two sides to it, what the Law cannot do; what in Jesus, Saviour and Son of God, everyone who is believing can do. The first four chapters of Romans develop and extend this theme, but they add to it nothing fundamnetally novel. Even when Paul sums-up in Phil. 3:4-9 his doctrine of righteousness, he says nothing on this subject which differs in essentials from what he said in Acts 13:38, 39. And, note, his first statement, that in Acts, was primarily to Israelites. In Philippians Paul puts the matter into a wholly spiritual context, conformably with the Secret of Ephesians 3; but even so he begins with an Israelite, himself, beginning in fleshly standing which he then has to repudiate.
The C.V. Note describes Hab. 2:4 as God's unconditional promise, and rightly. The question therefore arises: Is this promise subject to the flux of time, or is it a permanent as well as an unconditional promise?
The fourfold statement of the promise plainly indicates the answer to be the latter; for two, the first and the last, are addressed to Israel, to Hebrews; and the other two to all the saints of the world-metropolis Rome and to the Galatians, largely Gentiles, who are in danger of apostatizing to Judaism, respectively. So far as Hab. 2:4 by itself goes there is no distinction in practise between individuals of Israel and of the Gentiles.
This point will be developed at length presently: mean while we should observe the corollary of it, namely that the unconditional promise of Hab. 2:4 must therefore be wholly independent of the distinction between circumcision and uncircumcision (peritomE and akrobustia), and therefore that the difference between the evangels characterised by these two concepts is irrelevant to the promise of Hab. 2:4. When, therefore, I have deplored the intrusion of matters relating to the attainment of righteousness into the study of the contrasts between the Evangels of the peritomE and of the akrobustia, I have had in mind this promise of Hab. 2:4 in general and Romans 4 in particular. I am, in fact, contending that the attainment of righteousness, on the one hand, and matters relating exclusively to these two aspects of the Evangel, on the other, are wholly distinct, and should be kept distinct in our minds. Much of our confusion over God's Evangel comes from unnecessary confusion of these issues.
Such confusion over the very nature of the Evangel, not simply over details of it, is practically universal. Some might, perhaps, be inclined to blame the Apostle Paul for not setting out the Evangel more explicitly. Indeed, it is arguable, from the purely human and fleshly point of view, that he ought to have set out his message neatly in tabular form with headings, sub-headings and cross references. Nevertheless, the fact remains that neither he, nor the Lord Jesus Himself, nor anyone else in Scripture, ever attempted such a feat. Except for the author of Hebrews, who may perhaps have been Paul himself, no Scripture writer is more systematic than Paul; yet no one can deny that if a thoroughly systematic lay-out be regarded as the perfect way, even Paul falls far short of perfection. But let us pause first to consider what such a systematic lay-out implies. First, it would save us the trouble of thinking and searching for ourselves. Second, and much the more important; the Bible, however extended in bulk (and it would have to be enormously comprehensive) would still be finite in scope. Like the best human writings, it would be good enough so far as it went, but it would only go so far: once its contents were memorized, there would be nothing more left to learn. The Roman Church has produced such a neat Theology. Given sufficient time and attention, it is theoretically possible to master the lot; in practise the Roman Catholic theologians are continually endeavouring to fill up the gaps with fresh decisions and new dogmas, an endless task. It was not God's intention that we should be in any way automata; doing right without knowledge or effort, learning His mind without thought; like certain lowly marine organisms absorbing without will or struggle or discrimination whatever happens to drift within reach.
Recently we have had an outstanding example in our study of 1. Thess. 4:13-18. Paul could have settled all our problems in one short sentence. Paul did nothing of the sort. So we have been forced to make the effort ourselves; and in a way it is a supreme effort, for the issue itself is extraordinarily simple: just when must the fulfilment be, before or after that of certain other prophecies? Here we are forced to examine all the implications of the alternatives. Accepting one of them leads inevitably to certain conclusions. These conclusions can be tested against Scripture, thus enabling us to judge which of those alternatives is the truth. We are, in fact, compelled to use the spiritual insight and the intelligence and reason with which God has endowed us. It is for those who object to 'reasoning' to say what else we can do with the problem.
Over God's Evangel the issue is not so plain at first sight. In fact, it does not become apparent till we have to seek an answer to the question: What precisely is the Evangel? Only when we try to give a clear answer does our mental confusion become apparent.
The first step to clear understanding is to appreciate the fact, with all it implies, that the attainment of righteousness is our initial problem before we have any evangel at all and the initial requirement as well of the Evangel itself—the evangel in its broadest sense and without any reference to any question relating to the standing of Jews or Gentiles; to covenant and its sign, or the absence of covenant obligations, limitations and privileges.
Here, however, a point arises which ought to be clarified at once, lest a fresh source of confusion be introduced.
In Chapter 31 of "The Greek Scriptures Historically Considered" I wrote:
"Whether repentance and what it implies is in fact open at all to any particular sinner depends on . . . whether the said sinner is to be called upon to repent as a Jew or as a Gentile: in peritomE (that is, circumcision) or in akrobustia (uncircumcision)."
The contradiction between this and what is earlier written in this present chapter is purely on the surface; it vanishes as soon as we achieve more than a superficial notion of the subject. Righteousness is attained by faith only, whether in circumcision or in uncircumcision; but whether at any point of time such faith is in practise open to any particular sinner is an altogether different matter. At present nobody is, or can be, called upon to repent and believe the Evangel as a Jew; for so long as he tries to do so, that is as a Jew, he is at cross purposes with the Evangel as it exists at present, he is unaware that the Old Covenant is being nullified and the New Covenant has not yet been concluded; and therefore his attempt to act as if the opposite condition were in force is self-stultifying. To put it slightly differently, for the sake of clearness, the attainment of righteousness, as a thing in itself, is permanently a matter of faith and of faith alone; the conditions in which that faith can operate effectively vary according to whether covenant or reigning grace is in operation. Under the conditions which hold good at present, any Jew may believe the Evangel and is invited to do so; but if he is genuinely to believe the Evangel, he absolutely must believe as a sinner, and as a sinner in equality of condemnation with the Gentiles who do not believe, and not as a. man holding special rights by reason of his covenant standing. Such an equality of condemnation cancels his special standing as a Jew; so, in believing, he now has to surrender it, ceasing to be a Jew. In fact, he must believe, if at all, as an individual human being, he cannot believe as a Jew. But this does not mean that it will be impossible in days to come for the Jew, the covenant man, to repent as a covenant man who has broken his covenant, to believe as a covenant man who acknowledges his failure and sin but has become of faith as Abraham was and thus receives God's righteousness through faith, and who therefore in and through this faith can renew his covenant with God and receive all the promised blessings of the New Covenant. There is all the difference in the world between coming to God as a sinner without any claim at all and as a sinner who has broken his covenant and forfeited his rights, yet humbly seeks to renew them in repentance and faith.
Those who deny that there is any validity at all in 'dispensational' distinctions and who insist that there is but one evangel and one righteousness are, as often with heretics, right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. They would have us suppose that the evangel for us is exactly the same as that proclaimed by John the Baptist and our Lord. Yet if anyone were to address a Jew on the assumption that his position is much the same now as it was then, he would provoke incredulity if not scorn. No doubt it would be claimed that the Evangel has changed the situation. Indeed it has; and this is the essence of our case: but the change is not in the nature of the fundamentals of the Evangel, but in the circumstances of its proclamation. The wrath of the Jews against Paul was not on account of his proclaiming the Evangel to Gentiles, but in proclaiming the Evangel to Gentiles as Gentiles. And I venture to declare my conviction that after the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-18 corresponding conditions will exist for a while. Many will continue to give out the superficial religion which passes for Christianity in the churches, some will even become 'believers.' The shock of the sudden resumption of God's direct dealings with the world will ensure this. But, being ignorant of God's plan for the world, of 'dispensational' matters, they will not properly understand what has taken place, and they will be highly indignant over the proclamation of the Evangel to Jews as Jews. They will declare that a purely Jewish evangel has been superseded permanently; whereas the truth will then be that it is the purely Gentile evangel which has been superseded. In short, the operation of Paul's Evangel, our present condition, is temporary; and not permanent up to the end of the world as Catholic theology insists.
It is of the essence of Paul's Evangel that it is a temporary phase of God's earthly purposes. Throughout, it proclaims that Israel's privileges and expectations are in abeyance; but, throughout, it makes perfectly plain that they are no worse than this, that the day will come when they will exist again and be triumphantly vindicated and fulfilled. There is hardly any greater heresy than daring to write "Finis" to the literal fulfilment of Hebrew Prophecy.
There should be no need to explain again that the Evangel of God has two aspects, one relating to Paul's Evangel now in force, the other to the proclamation of the covenant aspect of the Evangel after the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-18. Nor should there be any need to point out that what is peculiarly God's Evangel is based on the promises through God's prophets and is concerning His Son; so we can now go on to examine it in more detail.
First, after the introductory matter in Romans 1, comes an indictment of human beings who effect evil. Then at Rom. 2:11 arises the question of the place of law, and Paul writes: "For there is no partiality with God; for whosoever sinned without law, without law also will perish, and whosoever sinned in law, through law will be judged." This is plain enough. Sin brings its consequences, whether with or without law; so the question of the presence or absence of law is not strictly relevant to the problem of sin and righteousness.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to show that with or without law the whole world is sub-righteous as to God (Rom. 3:19), that is to say, does not and cannot attain to the standard of righteousness which God requires; and this Paul proceeds to do here as regards the Jew, having already indicted the Gentiles. He sums up in Rom. 3:9-18 and the vital part of his statement is concealed in most versions. His words should read: "Not one goes on being righteous, not even one: Not one goes on understanding. Not one goes on seeking out God. All deviate—at the same time they are reduced to uselessness—not one goes on doing kindness. . .." It is quite untrue and unfair to say that no one is righteous at all or seeks out God at all. Many people are frequently and even predominantly righteous in their living and kindly in their actions; but what is here stated is that not one of them can do these good things continuously and consistently. In other words, they cannot of themselves attain to the standard of righteousness required by God. Their righteousness, such as it is, fails to come up to God's standard and is therefore of itself wholly insufficient. There is only one remedy for this—the manifestation of Divine righteousness, "yet Divine righteousness through Jesus Christ's faith unto all and on all ones having faith" (3:22). It is unfortunate that English idiom forces us to render the Greek by "who are believing" instead of the literal "ones having faith," for this obscures the fact that faith is the key word of the statement. And it is faith which rings like a great bell again and again through what follows.
So Paul, in Romans 4, leads his argument back to what is historically the root of the matter—Abraham's righteousness.
The climax of the previous argument is the statement
(3:30) that God will be making righteous, through the faith, two things:—peritomE (circumcision) out of faith, and
akrobustia (uncircumcision). Chapter 4 is the explanation of this cryptic statement.
It begins as follows:—
"What, then, shall we assert Abraham, our forefather according to flesh, to have found? For if Abraham was made righteous out of works, he has a boast, but not toward God. For what is the scripture saying? 'Now Abraham believes God, and to him it is reckoned unto righteousness.'"
The fatherhood of Abraham which Paul has in mind here is according to flesh. This fact is a reminder that we are still studying God's Evangel and that we are not yet in the part of Paul's writings addressed solely to those whose standing is in spirit, not in flesh at all. Yet even so, although flesh has not yet lost its place, Paul suppresses firmly all thought of anyone, even Abraham, being made righteous out of works and this immediately after the question and answer of Rom. 3:31: "Are we, then, nullifying law through the faith? . . . . Nay, we are sustaining law.
Paul goes on to confirm the blessedness of righteousness
apart from works, as follows:—"Now to him who is working, the
wages are not reckoning by way of favour but by way of debt. Yet to him
who is not working, yet believing on Him making righteous the
irreverent one, his faith is reckoning unto righteousness. Even as
David also is declaring the happiness of the man to whom God is
righteousness apart from works:
This leads us to the crucial passage concerning Abraham's
fatherhood; for here the issue has to be made plain regarding the
relationship of the covenant state to the non-covenant state, the
peritomE (circumcision) or the akrobustiai (uncircumcision), to faith.
So Abraham is father first in connection with akrobustia, and only second in connection with peritomE.
But Paul does not say "in connection with," and I have done so at this point only as a first approximation to the truth, to make it a little easier to grasp. He does say "father of peritome," but even then has to qualify his statement. He does not say "father of akrobustia" because there is no fatherhood in akrobustia in itself—it has to be qualified also—but, "father of all those who are believing throughout akrobustia." The non-covenant state has to be fertilized by faith, as it were brought into union with Divine life by faith, by "Jesus faith." So has the covenant state also. It is the nature of what I have for want of a better term provisionally called "fertilized by faith" which is crucial.
Abraham is father of peritomE to two classes. I have already discussed the term "Circumcisionists" pretty fully (Vols. 11, p. 174; 13, p. 72; 15, pp. 14, 62, 211, 285); here they are plainly those who are faithful to the Evangel of the circumcision, the peritomE, or what they imagined it to be when Acts was in progress. In days to come they will be the New Covenant People. The second class are stated, in a somewhat roundabout way, to be followers of Abraham. Why in this roundabout way? The answer is in Gal. 6:15-16: "For in Christ Jesus neither peritomE nor akrobustia is anything, but new creation; and as many as, regarding this rule, will be observing the fundamentals—peace on them and mercy, and on the Israel of God." Abraham is, then, father of peritomE to two classes; to the New Covenant People, the Israel of God; and to those who, beginning in the covenant state, follow Paul in renouncing their covenant position, and in the non-covenant state of akrobustia following Abraham in pure faith. If there were not this class, there would have been no place for the Apostle Paul himself who, though he never forgot he was an Israelite, chose "Jesus faith" in akrobustia.
This is, or should be, plain enough; but why "believing throughout akrobustia" in Rom. 4:11?
Here I believe we have got down to bedrock, to the ultimate fundamental difference between the covenant evangel and the non-covenant evangel. Both need to be received in "Jesus faith," which is essentially for us the faith of Abraham which is reckoned for righteousness. But the former leads at once, by the very nature of covenant, to law-works; and when the New Covenant is concluded with the houses of Israel and Judah such law-works will be perfect and complete because God's Law will be engraved on the hearts of His Covenant People Israel. The latter, the non-covenant evangel, leads to nothing even remotely like that. It never leads out of th.e domain of unadulterated faith. It does lead to work, to work of faith (1. Thess. 1:3) and toil of love and endurance of expectation; but it never leads to law-works, to covenant, to the seal and obligations of covenant. Our faith involves believing throughout akrobustia, a continual steady unwavering walk of faith, and never at all of sight as it would be under New Covenant glory. In the present conditions with Paul's Evangel in force such walk of sight is wholly out of the question; and well it is for us that it should be so; for though our walk is a continual series of stumbles and staggers and falls, it is ever and always of FAITH pure and unadulterated. The falls are in flesh, the faith is in spirit.
The Greek word 'ergon' is rendered in the C. V. by both 'work' and 'act.' This is rather unfortunate, because only a student who is careful enough to check against the Greek in, say, Rom. 3:20 and 4:2 will discover that only one word, not two, in the original is under discussion. There is a Greek word for 'act,' though not in the Greek Scriptures, and as the rendering 'work' is plainly the basic meaning, it seems un necessary to use 'act' at all.
Not very much is said about this word in Romans, by itself. The first reference is to the righteous judgment of God, "Who will be paying to each according to the works of his; to those indeed, according to endurance in good work, seeking glory and honour and incorruption, eonian life. . . ." (Rom. 2:6, 7) This is rendered very literally in order to stress the point that its second occurrence of the word is singular; and therefore the forms 'good acts' or 'good works' are definitely misleading. The next occurrence (2:15) is the only place where 'the work of the Law' is to be found; but the words come into the same context in James 1:25, and the two passages may instructively be placed side by side. The next (3:27) clearly means 'law-works,' as discussed later on in this chapter.
Not till we reach Rom. 4:2 and 6 do we find righteousness and works in juxtaposition. This passage was re-translated in our previous chapter. It is to be noticed that Paul does not say here what is said in 3:20. He does not say that it is impossible to re made righteous by works, but rather that nobody ought to wish to be. If Abraham had managed to be, he would have something to boast in, but not toward God. Such a boast would have been a bad work; thus good works would have led to a bad work, which is self-contradictory. And the second occurrence implies that the attainment of righteousness by works would not bring happiness, which itself implies too that it would be a bad work. Nevertheless, Paul here puts the point very mildly. He is, as it were, guarding himself (and us) against any suggestion that works in themselves are anything but good, unless they are evil, which is outside this context. The point is that it is better, enormously better, to be righteous out of faith than to be righteous out of works, even if the latter were practicable. What he is condemning without any qualification whatsoever, is any attempt to be righteous out of law-works.
Presently we propose to study the relation between works and law. Meanwhile we should observe that for Abraham the question of law did not arise, since the Law, law in its perfect form, had yet to appear. So no question arose for him of becoming righteous through law-works; and for Paul's purpose it is sufficient to make the point that he was not made righteous by works at all, in any form. Evidently Paul had no illusions about the readiness of people to go astray on the slightest excuse. Yet, even so, it is equally evident that very few people have taken his hint here; for this passage has been widely and successfully perverted into a proof-text in support of antinomianism. The 1930 C.V. Notes on Rom. 4:1 and 4 are excellent so far as they go, and I would not have it thought that I oppose their general view; yet it is a pity that they do not make the point fully clear that Rom. 4:5 must be interpreted strictly within its context, which is the attaining of righteousness, not the maintaining of righteousness. We are told that God's "present gifts are absolutely spoilt the moment we connect them with any suspicion of merit or work." Entirely true, and a vitally important truth, so long as we are quite clear in our minds it is the giving of the gifts which must not be tainted with any suspicion of merit or work. For they can also be absolutely spoilt in practise the moment we connect them with any idea that receiving His gifts immediately excuses no from any requirement to do good work thereafter. On the contrary, the moment we receive God's righteousness we have undertaken an obligation to continue to be righteous. The great truth enunciated in Eph. 2:9 is to be balanced by the equally great truth in Eph. 2:10.
We find no further reference to work in Romans until we reach Rom. 9:11. Here the word is set against 'choice' or 'election.' Again God has refused to be in any sense under obligation to any of His creatures. In Rom. 11:5, 6 this point is developed further. The choice is declared to be the choice of grace, works and grace being shown to be incompatibles.
Personally, having read what a number of commentators have to say about Rom. 2:14, 15, I have come to the conclusion that the almost universal human tendency to complicate everything has been at work. "For whenever the Gentiles, having no law, may be doing by nature what the Law demands; these, having no law, are to themselves law, who are displaying the work of the Law written in their hearts. .." Any difficulty found in the words 'are to themselves law' is destroyed when we read them in the light of what immediately follows. The rendering 'a law to themselves' is very unfortunate, in that it is so often used as meaning 'a law of their own making' or 'a law designed to suit their own purposes," in Great Britain at any rate. This is a good example of the importance of the translator having a very full understanding of English idiom, and also of the principle that, in translating from the Greek, the article 'a' should be avoided so far as possible.
The occurrences in Romans 2 are plain enough; but the last, at the end of v. 27, should be noted. It means something more than 'a transgressor of the Law' though that is bad enough; the Jew here is 'transgressor of law': he is denying and destroying the whole principle of law. Again, the 'a,' though it makes smoother reading, is best avoided. At the end of Rom. 3:20 the C.V. correctly avoids 'a' but instead inserts 'the' which is not in the Greek. Read, simply, "for through law is recognition of sin." In v. 19 it should be "in the Law," no more difficult to understand than "in circumcision," &c. in Rom. 4:10. In 3:27 and 31 there is no 'the' before 'law' in any of its four occurrences: again, it is the principle of law which we are to have in mind. The same applies in 4:13-15. In v. 13 'the Law' could not possibly be meant, since it was not given till long after Abraham's day.
Paul's declaration in these two passages is as much a truth for the Jews as it is for the Gentiles. In Romans 2 and in the first half of the third chapter the Jews are in the foreground; but the second half covers both Jews and Gentiles; and in Romans 4 Abraham is in view as essentially a Gentile. There is no sign that the declaration has ever been abrogated, or ever will be. Never was it God's intention that righteousness should be achieved by works of law. That was not the function of the Law; and we shall never understand what is until we appreciate the fact. And it should be observed that in Romans 3 Paul speaks of "Jesus Christ's faith" (v. 22) and of "the one out of faith of Jesus" ; that is, the one who is marked out as having "Jesus faith," the same sort of faith as Jesus Himself had. Our attention is not directed to any law-works done by the Lord Jesus, and with that fact we must bear in mind that in this same epistle we are told that Christ has become circumcision-Servant for the sake of God's truth to confirm the promises of the fathers (Rom. 15:8) who are fathers of Paul's own relatives according to flesh (Rom. 9:5).
"Jesus faith" is the right faith as much for Israel as for ourselves. Righteousness by law-works is as impracticable for them as it is for us. These are not special truths applicable only for those called out of Gentiles, in uncircumcision. With the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus they became universal and permanent revealed truths.
Now I wonder if it is going too far to suggest that the Lord Jesus never attempted righteousness by law-works? Certainly there was nothing in Him, no taint of sin and weakness, which precluded Him from succeeding in such an endeavour. That He did not carry out such an attempt seems fairly evident, apart from any other considerations, from the several accounts of where strenuous efforts were made to judge Him for supposed breaches of the Law. Not that He did actually break the Law, but He certainly transcended it. For Him to have achieved righteousness by law-works would have meant giving a standing to the Law which does not belong to it and for which it was never intended. The Pharisees were pre-eminently those of the Jews who were concentrating all their 'efforts on gaining righteousness by law-works ; and if the Lord Jesus had done likewise He, succeeding, would surely have been the greatest Pharisee of them all. This does not mean that they would have hated Him any the less; but they would have been without even their shadow of excuse for hating the grace which He displayed instead of their unadulterated legalism. In Him grace reigned. Because it reigned in Him, it now reigns through righteousness, for eonian life, in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 5:21). Through Jesus Christ; not Christ Jesus—a title which is not found at all in Romans 5.
Moreover, if He had achieved righteousness by law-works instead of by faith, He would have done what is declared to be beyond the power of anyone else. This deed would have put a barrier between Him and the whole of humanity which could be surmounted only at the cost of making it impossible for Paul to have written Rom. 3:20.
For God's Son came out of woman, came under law (Gal. 4:4). He was peritomE Servant, circumcision Servant. In some unique way which is probably beyond understanding in our present state, He was all that, He was the perfect prototype of what Israel will be under the New Covenant; and yet, because of "Jesus faith," He was also the perfect prototype of the Church which is His body, of which He was to be Head. That latter side, our own side, is led up to by Paul in Romans, defended in Galatians, and displayed in full glory in the Prison Epistles. True 'Dispensational Truth' is concerned to clarify our minds as regards the distinction between these three lines of revelation in the Greek Scriptures, namely: first, the grace and the truth which came through Jesus Christ for all, whether Jews or Gentiles, of which "Jesus faith" is the starting point; second, the truth concerning the circumcision, which is only outlined in Romans and serves chiefly as a foil for the third; the truth concerning the uncircumcision, opened up in Romans, crowned and completed in the Prison Epistles.
At this point I would remind my readers of what I wrote in Vol. 14, No.5, pp. 234-239, particularly about the occurrences of the verb 'dikaioO' in the present tense of the middle voice, and the summary under the heading "Paul versus James?" on p. 236; of which this present chapter is really an expansion. It is very noticeable how these particular occurrences of 'dikaioO' and the term 'law-works' go together: between them they cover the context of the latter except Rom. 9:31, 32; and in this last it is really implied, because Israel in pursuing a law of righteousness were really endeavouring by means of law-works to achieve righteousness. So complete is the set of quotations in those pages that little is left to say except with regard to Gal. 5:4.
I made the point then that Gal. 5:1-6 is the one and only passage concerning the verb 'dikaioO' in the present tense of the middle voice which is in any way to do with circumcision, and thus the only one which is in any sense "dispensational." This is true, in spite of the fact that Gal. 2:16 follows a passage which has to do with circumcision; for in Gal. 2:14 there is a change of subject. Previously Paul and Cephas had come to an agreement. There is no suggestion whatever that any question subsequently came about of breaking or annulling this agreement. But, subsequently at Antioch, Paul with stood Cephas to the face. Why? The word 'gar' (for) supplies the answer. First he ate with. the Gentiles. Then, when some came from James, he drew back. The offence of Cephas, and those who transgressed with him including Barnabas, was hypocrisy. It is true that the matter of circumcision lay in the background, but no more than that. The issue at this point was not whether Gentiles should become proselytes to Judaism; but whether those who had not be come proselytes ought in any circumstances to be ostracised by Cephas and his friends and associates.
In Gal. 5:1-6 the issue is genuinely "dispensational"; it is whether flesh circumcision itself has any point or meaning at the present time, let alone validity; and the answer is definitely negative.
To understand fully just why; we need to go back, not only to the immediately preceding context in Galatians 4, but first to Romans 4 again.
This we will attempt in the next chapter; but meanwhile we ought to examine James' Epistle. Although at first sight this carries us a little off our theme; it is nevertheless desirable for completeness sake and because of the need to witness against the bad practice of neglecting this epistle. Yet we must ever bear in mind that there is some truth behind this practice, which arose mainly as a protest against appropriating to ourselves what belongs exclusively to Israel.
The preface to James lays down plainly that it is addressed to "the Twelve Tribes, the ones in the dispersion." It is therefore not part of Paul's Evangel; but neither is it part of the Evangel of the circumcision. It is present truth; but truth for and concerning the twelve Tribes: and only in a secondary sense is it applicable to others. So we might expect to find, as we do find, that the way the words 'works' and 'law' are used is different from what occurs in Paul's Epistles. One thing, however, is unexpected and, at first sight, surprising: no reference to law-works is to be found anywhere and only two to 'the Law,' and it may well be that these two are really only referring to the first occurrence, in James 2:8: "If, howbeit, royal law you are discharging, according to the scriptures: 'You shall be loving your neighbour as yourself; ideally you are doing. Now if you are showing partiality, you are working sin, convicting yourselves by this law as transgressors. For anyone who should be keeping whole this law, yet be tripping in one thing, has become liable for all." Although this last statement is certainly true of the Law, there is no good reason why we should go outside the context, outside' royal law ' in the opening words. James 2:11 reads "transgressor of law"; 2:12 reads "freedom's law." In 4:11 the C.V. correctly renders the word without 'the.'
James 1:25 poses a problem: "Now he who peers into mature law: that of the liberty. . . ." (Greek: of the freedom). What liberty? This is the first occurrence of the word outside Paul's Epistles, the only others being, without the article James 2:12; 2 Peter 2:19, with the article 1. Peter 2:16. This last should read "as free and not having this freedom for cover of evil." So it is hard to avoid the conclusion that James is really referring to the previous occurrences of the word (in the canonical order) Rom. 8:21; 1. Cor. 10:29; 2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 2:4; 5:1, 13; particularly the last two.
To my mind, this makes it very hard to resist the conclusion that
James, as Peter openly in 2 Peter 3: 15, is tacitly pointing his
readers to Paul. He does not discuss law-works, because Paul already
says all that needs to be said. He
does not discuss the Law, because Hebrews on the one hand. and Paul's
Epistles on the other, say all that needs to be said about that. But,
on the other hand, he has much more than Paul to say about work and
works (15 occurrences) as regards Abraham, because the Jews were
naturally more interested in his works than Paul's converts from the
Gentiles. Yet in all that James says there is nothing to conflict with
anything taught by Paul.
"For not through law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed, for him to be world-heir; but through faith-righteousness. For if those out of law are heirs, the faith has become void and the promise has vanished; for the Law is producing indignation. Now where law is not, neither is transgression."
In these three verses we find 'law' three times and 'the Law' once. In the first, 'the Law' would be an impossible reading, if only because the Law was not given until long after Abraham's death. It had to wait till Moses. Obviously, too, there was some difference between the circumcision given to Abraham and that by Moses. The former usage of the word links it to covenant, the latter to the Law. This does not mean that there were two different kinds, but simply two different aspects of it. The important thing is to keep in mind that the prior linkage is to covenant. Law comes in only afterwards. First, then, we have the assurance that the promise to Abraham is not through law. It exists in its own right through faith-righteousness and is independent of the law principle.
But why has the faith become void if those out of law are heirs? For two reasons. First, that given in Rom. 3:21-26: in brief, the fact that faith-righteousness is apart from law, so that any attempt to have it through law merely makes it void. Second, that given in Rom. 3:19, 20: through law is the recognition of sin. But here Paul goes further. The Law is producing indignation. Where law is not, neither is transgression. There he leaves the matter for the present, and turns his attention to the crucial point: faith. So we read (v. 16) regarding the promise to Abraham: "Therefore it is out of faith that it may be in accord with grace, for the promise to be firm to the entire seed; not only to those out of law, but to those out of faith of Abraham."
In Romans 2 to 4 inclusive the word 'charis' (grace, favour) occurs only three times, as follows:
With everything thus taken out which is not relevant to this particular aspect of the argument, the idea becomes luminously clear. Law in any form has nothing to do with faith, nor is it of the smallest avail as a substitute for faith. Furthermore, it is in direct conflict with grace (we get that from 3:19, 20; 4:4, 13-14). The promise to Abraham has to be in accord with grace; so it cannot be out of law, but must be out of faith. BUT, when it is out of faith, the promise is firm to the entire seed: not only to those out of law, but to those out of Abraham faith. This places the Law in its proper position. Where faith has the priority, the Law can take its proper place as regards those to whom it is given, but, needless 'to say, to nobody else; yet the promise is firm to the entire seed, and to both classes of the entire seed. One side belongs to those out of the Law, the other to those out of Abraham faith apart from law.
This is a repetition in other terms of verses 11, 12, only relating to promise as well as fatherhood. On one side, those who are of Abraham faith throughout uncircumcision, on the other those out of the Law and circumcision. It should be noticed here that I have deliberately ignored the C.V. rendering of v. 16 and placed 'only' after 'not' instead of after 'the Law'; going back, in fact, to the A.V. ("not to that only which is of the law"). We will seldom go astray if we follow the A.V. usage with 'only.' Here its misplacing in the C.V. seriously weakens the contrast.
Paul then reinforces the case for the double fatherhood of Abraham by a quotation, going on thus: "Who (according as it stands written: 'Father of many nations I have appointed you') is father of all of us in the sight of One Whom he believes—God—the One vivifying the dead and calling the things not in being as if they were; who, beyond expectation, believes upon expectation, for him to become father of many nations, according to the assertion, 'Thus will thy seed be.' And not becoming infirm as to the faith he considers his own body as already become deadened (being somewhere about a hundred years old) and the deadening of Sarah's womb; yet with regard to the promise of God was not made to doubt by unbelief, but was invigorated by faith, giving glory to God, being fully assured also that what He has promised He is also able to do. Wherefore, also, it is accounted to him for righteousness."
It is most noteworthy how Paul presses home repeatedly the paramount importance of faith. How anyone, after this, can suppose that righteousness might exist in any way except through faith, is a mystery.
Lastly, Paul sums-up as follows: "Now it was not written because of him only, that it is reckoned to him; but because of us also (to whom it is about to be reckoning) who are believing on Him Who roused Jesus our Lord from among dead ones: Who was given up because of our fallings-aside and was aroused because of the making of us righteous."
There the matters stands until it has to be taken up again in Galatians to cope with the problems produced by the actions of the Jerusalem Church and the Circumcisionist Party. Galatians was probably written a considerable time before Romans, yet much of it is a protest against departure from the teaching summed-up in Rom. 4:13-15. This fact by itself is sufficient to explode the teaching that there is any general significance in the chronological order of Paul's Epistles.
"Tell me, those willing to be under law: are you not hearing the Law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one out of the bond-maid and one out of the free-woman. But the one, indeed, out of the bond-maid, according to flesh has been begotten; yet the one out of the free-woman, through the promise. Which is allegorizing; (a) For these women are the (b) two covenants; one, indeed, from Mount Sinai, generating into slavery, which indeed is Hagar. For (c) this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, yet is in line with the Jerusalem which now is, for she is in slavery with her children. Yet the Jerusalem above is free, which is mother of all of us. .For it is written: (d) Be gladdened, sterile one; who art not bringing forth; burst forth and implore, thou who art not travailing; seeing that many are the children of the desolate, rather than of the one who has the husband. Now YOU, brethren, as Isaac, are children of promise. But, even as then, the one who according to flesh is begotten kept persecuting the one according to spirit; thus also now. But what is the Scripture saying? "Cast out this bond-maid and her son, for by no means shall the son of the bond-maid inherit along with the son of the free-woman." Wherefore, brethren, we are not the bond-maid's children, but the free-woman's."
Notes: (a) Or, suggestive of another meaning. (b) Some texts omit "the." (c) Some texts read 'de,' yet. (d) Isaiah 54:1.
Placed side by side the two passages about Abraham are illuminating, and are remarkable for their unlikeness. Romans 4 regards Abraham as the prototype of God's Evangel: everything centres round his faith, his righteousness, fatherhood, uncircumcision and circumcision. Law and promise come in" but in relation to these only. Galatians 4:21-39 does not mention the first four, above; but freedom, motherhood,. children, covenant; and law and promise in relation to them only. Surely the reason for this should be evident? In Galatians Paul is writing to those who have believed, in part at least, his teaching in Rom. 3:19-26; yet have failed to understand and believe its context. And not only its context in Romans 1-4, but in time—its "dispensational" position in fact. The word "dispensational" has long been a trouble to me. For reasons already explained at length (Vols. 12, p. 219 ; 14 p. 237; 15 p. 255) such expressions as "the Dispensation of Acts," "the Church Dispensation," "the Kingdom dispensation," etc., must be rejected totally. Moreover, the word "dispensation" is strictly speaking itself unscriptural as the description of period of time characterized by some special feature. Yet there are such periods of time, and there is no other word which according to current usage can be employed to express the fact. Recently I have put the word in inverted commas whenever I have been unable to avoid using it, and for the present this seems to be the best solution, even though unsatisfactory and open to misunderstanding. So at this point I would like to re-state what I believe to be the truth of the matter in this context.
At the call of Abraham God introduced a new principle to humanity, faith-righteousness. This established his fatherhood of all out of his faith.
After calling Abraham God introduced another new principle—covenant with Abraham and with those to whom Abraham was father according to flesh. With this covenant was eventually given the Law through Moses, starting a period of time characterized by God having special dealing with His Covenant People. This "dispensation" was not strictly continuous. Sometimes Israel were reckoned as God's People; at others they were 'lo ammi,' not His People; but it was continuous in the sense that no alternative arrangement of any kind was made.
Then came the Incarnation and the appearance of Israel's promised Messiah, His rejection and the great crisis of Matt. 13:14, 15; though, throughout since Abraham, the principle of faith-righteousness still remained. A new "dispensation" had begun. Although the bulk of Israel was apostate, the Remnant was faithful and recognized by God; for Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth, had come, and the grace and the truth remained in force ever since. Yet, so far, still nobody but Israel, even though only their Remnant, was thus recognized. Still no real provision existed for those to whom Abraham is father, but not according to flesh. In that, respect there was no "dispensational" boundary-line in the accepted sense; neither is there at Acts 28:28, for this refers only to Israel. All it tells us about the Gentiles is that the saving-work of God was sent to them at some past time, not at that very moment.
The events narrated after Matt. 13:14, 15 took their course. Eventually Paul was given his special commission. Its full implications are not disclosed until we get to Romans. Then, and then only, do we find detailed God's special dealings with non-covenant people, with those having the akrobustia, the uncircumcision. Romans 1 to 4 is unique in Scripture in that it sets out God's Evangel, the Evangel as it embraces both sides: for those under covenant and for those not under covenant, the Gentiles. Only here do we find the universal aspects of the Evangel set out from the "dispensational" angle, the others being found in John's Gospel and Epistles.
Having laid the general foundation thus, Paul goes on in Rom. 5-8 to build up the non-covenant, Gentile, aspect of the Evangel as far as it concerns primarily the individual; in Rom. 9-11 its impact on Israel and the world, in the remaining chapters its relation to corporate life, and finally in the great doxology at the very end, a pre-view of the glories of the Prison Epistles.
So the period between Matt. 13:14, 15 and the close of Paul's ministry is one of transition. As soon as it started, no reason existed why the Evangel should not be proclaimed to Gentiles as such, as Paul did, except the fact that no person was yet so commissioned. For the question whether the Evangel is to be proclaimed to any particular kind of person, and whether it is for that person and at that moment linked to or severed from covenant, depends solely on God's will at that moment as shown in His declared calling at that moment.
At this moment of writing, it is impossible for anyone whatever to proclaim validly a circumcision, covenant evangel.
Now we may under,stand why Gal. 4:21-31 differs so much from Romans 4. In Galatians Paul is addressing people who come under his Evangel, or claim to, but who are trying to apostatize to legalism. In v. 21 he does not say: "Tell me, those willing to be under the Law," but "under law." No doubt most, if not all, of these errant Galatians were trying to come under the Law through the influence of the Circumcisionists; but, as in the Thessalonian Epistles, Paul had in mind a far wider audience than that. Most of those who need now to listen to his words are in no danger of succumbing to the lure of Judaism. The snare now is legalism, whether of the Roman Catholic type, or that of the many Protestants. who proclaim what are in essence various systems of law-works. All these people are wanting to come in some way under law.
To them Paul asks: "Are you not hearing the Law"? Seen in this light, what follows the question ought to be easy to grasp. Those who want to come under law may be sons, but they are sons out of the bond-maid, according to flesh begotten. This is the position under present conditions where what is according to flesh counts for nothing. So, now, such sonship means bondage. Also it means ineligibility for any inheritance; for Gentiles, having no standing according to flesh and therefore no heir-ship either, cannot inherit the promises which are according to flesh.
This is a hard saying, but it is inescapable.
In the allegory the two women are the two covenants; and the question arises: Which two covenants?
One, indeed, from Mount Sinai. That is plainly the Mosaic Covenant, and this is explicitly represented as the covenant "from Mount Sinai, generating into slavery, which. indeed is Hagar." The other one, then, corresponds to the free-woman, defined as the Jerusalem above, mother of us all. The only covenant which corresponds to that is the New Covenant, which has yet to be concluded with the houses of Israel and Judah. No other covenant exists which will fit into. the allegory. But here a problem arises. We have two women and two covenants; but Mount Sinai, the Jerusalem which now is, and the Jerusalem above—three entities; not two.
The rendering: "yet is in line with Jerusalem which now is" has been retained in the foregoing translation, but with some misgiving; for the word 'sunstoichei' (occurring here only in the Greek Scriptures) is related to others carrying the ideas of 'fundamentals' and 'elements,' and it seems to me that the passage may well contain the idea that Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, yet fundamentally the same as Jerusalem which now is. Both are in slavery with their children, so, logically, both represent the bond-maid.
What, then, is meant by the statement that the Jerusalem above is mother of all of us? I suggest that Heb. 11:8-10 supplies the answer. All God's people, by faith, on earth, are sons of Abraham and therefore figuratively sons of his expecta tion as well. What our actual relation to that city is, we are not told except in the figure; but we must always bear in mind that our own expectation is above and among the celestials, and so cannot be completely severed from anything else so situated, even though no part of it.
All that belongs to covenant, what is according to flesh, is now in slavery: the covenant of Sinai because it is utterly broken; the covenant of Jerusalem because, for the present, it is sterile. The Jerusalem which now is, is in slavery with her children, and must so remain till her Lord and Messiah can return to Mount Olive to Covenant itself is now sterile. To attempt to carry on along the lines of the covenant of Sinai means being cast out as in bondage to legalism; and the New Covenant has yet to be concluded with the houses of Israel and Judah; so as yet has no validity at all. Neither of the two is of any use now. Both are in bondage. Only the Jerusalem above is free; so only one whose mind is set on what is above can have freedom now.
This does not mean that we have any part in the Jerusalem above as such, whatever our present and eventual relation to it may be. Any idea along this line must be finally shut out. The passage is not addressed to those willing to be under grace, but to those willing to be under law; and our interpretation of it must be kept within that context.
In fact, Galatians can be very misleading if in reading it we fail to keep wholly within its context. It is the one epistle which explicitly, and in its historical setting, clears up the relations between the Apostle Paul and the Twelve. Even the predominantly historical book, Acts, does not do so finally as Galatians does. Romans relates circumcision and uncircumcision to the Evangel and to Abraham; it makes perfectly plain that the former pair of ideas are two entirely divergent concepts and lead to two fundamentally different aspects of the Evangel: but when in Chapter 5 Romans develops Paul's Evangel it leaves Peter's Evangel entirely out of sight, below its horizon, as it were. The occasion for writing Galatians was an attempt by some to reject Paul's Evangel in favour of what they conceived to be Peter's. But already (indeed, long before) matters had passed beyond the stage where such an attempt would have been even plausible, let alone proper. Anything purporting to be an evangel of law is, under present conditions, an evangel of slavery. But an evangel is good news, and a prospect of coming under the yoke of slavery is bad news; so an evangel of slavery is a contradiction in terms, a thing by its very nature an impossibility.
R. B. WITHERS. Last updated 14.1.2006