Residual complications of dispensational theorizing still beset us to some extent. This is unavoidable after half a century of unchecked thinking along such lines among many of the most advanced students of Scripture. As we have all been influenced in some way by it, we cannot expect to be able to shake off all its effects immediately, especially as such a variety of different systems has worked itself out into militant sects.
One such system directly concerns what I wrote about the calling of the Twelve in my second paper on the Epistle of James. In this the language used was very guarded. I confined myself to writing of "the Twelve" and to "Israelites in association with them"; and I took care to avoid going as much as one hair's breadth beyond what Scripture actually says about them. This caution was on account of awareness of the many rash and even downright unscriptural things that have been written about James and "the Jerusalem Church."
For there is no warrant whatever for thinking or writing as if the assembly or ecclesia at Jerusalem comprised all those of the Twelve still living, or that it comprised the whole of the Circumcisionist party, or even all those Christians who either did not hear the Apostle Paul's Evangel or declined to accept it. The simple truth is that we have not been told. We should therefore refrain from speculating about the unknowable.
All we can say with confidence about the church at Jerusalem during the period of Paul's ministry is that Peter and some others, at least, of the Twelve were associated with it, and that there was a Circumcisionist party in it composed of people who considered that a part of their duty was to attempt to force circumcision on those Christians from the Gentiles who followed Paul. Also we know that James, the Lord's brother, was prominent in the church at Jerusalem. He may have been appointed by the Holy Spirit, through the Twelve, to take charge of it, to be its "bishop" in the original sense of the word. Such supervisors (or bishops) had been so appointed in Ephesus (Acts 20:28). Supervisors and servants are referred to in the opening words of Philippians (1:1). In 1. Tim. 3:1-7 the duties of a supervisor are laid down, followed by a statement of the duties of servants and wives. More is said of the supervisor in Titus 1:7-9. All this appears in connection with churches connected with Paul; but it is hard to imagine any reason why it should not have been in practise valid for all churches, including that at Jerusalem, for there is nothing about it specifically linked to Paul's Evangel. As regards direct evidence, the matter must be left at that; for these four references comprise all we are told directly about supervisors except in 1. Peter 2:25, where Christ is spoken of as "the Shepherd and Supervisor of your souls." The fact that He is so spoken of by Peter "to chosen exiles of dispersion" suggests that his hearers were not unacquainted with supervisors. Indeed, further on in the same epistle (5:2) the elders are exhorted to "shepherd the flocklet of God among you, supervising, not of compulsion, but voluntarily. . .." Moreover, in Heb. 12:15 those addressed are exhorted to be "supervising." These are the only occurrences of the verb, and they both point in the direction indicated above.
James certainly appears to have been exercising some such office in Jerusalem, and there is not so much as a hint, anywhere, that the Twelve disapproved.
Nevertheless, James has been bitterly attacked for the part he took at Jerusalem. Several of these attacks have been met and refuted by Mr. Thomson and myself in our Vol. 16, p. 249 (R.B.W.); Vol. 16, p. 252 and Vol. 17, p. 19 (A.T. This paper in the two parts as indicated is most admirable and a crushing reply to those who would traduce James. No answer to it has been attempted); Vol. 17, p. 93 and p. 153 (R.B.W.).
One of life's harshest lessons that we have to learn is that it is impossible to convince anyone against his will. We find from Scripture that God can, and sometimes does, achieve this; but apparently it is one of His reserved powers, seldom exercised, and probably never permitted to His creatures. However much we may struggle to convince a determined opponent, success always eludes our grasp even when we present unchallengeable facts. For example, about two years after the last of the papers listed in the previous paragraph was published, and even though the facts were available to him, the traducer of James could still bring himself to write of "the leaders of the Circumcision saints, led by their self-appointed head, James, the brother of Jesus." (Unsearchable Riches, Nov., 1957, p. 352). Yet is it not the extreme of presumptuousness for any man to criticise James while himself using utterly unscriptural terms and making utterly unscriptural assertions? For the writer of those words could ransack the Scriptures from end to end without finding the term "Circumcision saints" or anything at all like it, or even a suggestion, let alone a statement that James appointed himself head of these people or, indeed, of anyone else.
There was a Circumcisionist party (ek peritomEs), who are referred to six times (Acts 10:45; 11:2; Rom. 4:12; Gal. 2:12; Col. 4:11; Titus 1:10. See our Vol. 11, p. 174; 13, p. 72; 15, p. 14). In the first two and the fourth they are associated with Peter, who in the last of these was said to be afraid of them. Only in this one is there any reference to James in the context; and even here there is no reason to suppose that they actually were associated with him; for all that can fairly be got out of this verse is that those who came from James might have reported Peter's conduct to the Circumcisionists afterwards. In any case, the passage supplies no proof at all that James was associated with these people, but only that some of his followers might have been. Yet in this curious obsession the writer quoted above was outclassed by one of his contributors, nearly twelve years. before (January, 1946), who, over the initials E.H.C., set out a series of ideas about the Evangel of the circumcision of which he supplied no sort of proof. He found it "in the so-called gospels and Acts" and asserted that "as a matter of fact it had been initiated by John the Baptist." He even asserted that "it was proclaimed to those who were in touch with God (John 1:11)." Not only does this verse say nothing of the sort, but evangel is not to be found in John's Gospel and circumcision only twice (John 7:22, 23). But facts, real facts, make no impact on vendors of sham "facts."
Throughout, both men seem blissfully unaware that, outside John 7, this favourite word of theirs, circumcision, is not even mentioned in the Gospels. It is never used by the Twelve. Once only is it used by anyone associated with them, and then only in a historical account by Stephen (Acts 7:8). James, who is supposed to be so deeply involved in it, never mentions it, nor covenant either for that matter! Apart from the Lord's institution of His Supper, the Gospels mention covenant only once, in Luke 1:72. Alone of the Twelve, Peter does mention it—once only, in Acts 3:25. And that is all the Twelve, Stephen and James have to tell about either. Just compare these real facts with the spurious ones we have been examining.
As I have pointed out before, circumcision and uncircumcision are never to be found in the Greek Scriptures in the plural; yet the latter is rendered as if it were plural in the C.V. of Rom. 2:27 (are discharging) although in the previous verse it is correctly treated as singular, and in v. 25 the former is also treated as singular, as it should always be. That this was forgotten when the Preface to the 1930 C.V. was prepared is a tragedy, for it treats both words as plurals therein (third page after p. 60 of the "Introduction"). It also says of "the Greek revelation" these words: "Excepting Paul's epistles, all is directly related to the Circumcision"; whereas, apart from John's Gospel and Acts, Paul is the only one who uses the word at all. No wonder confusion reigns supreme in the C.V. about these two words.
The truth is that covenant and these two words are the trio on and around which hangs every issue that can be reckoned with any correctness at all as "dispensational"; for a person either is under covenant with God, or is not under covenant with God. Since Paul alone in the Greek Scriptures deals with this issue, Paul uses these two words exclusively, apart from the six exceptions, which are either historical or descriptive of certain people.
If Scripture students would recognize this fact and control their thinking by it, a vast amount of talk, and of writing, which is, frankly, rubbish could be scrapped, together with the main cause of disputes and divisions among us.
Probably behind the attacks on James is the delusion that he and the rest of the brethren at Jerusalem did not belong to the church of God. In turn, behind this, ultimately, is confusion about the meaning of the word ekklEsia, church. As I have pointed out before, such confusion could never have come about if Christians had always taken proper care to know what they meant when they used this word. It means assembly or called-out company—any assembly, according to context. This appears very plainly when we look at its three occurrences in Acts 19 (vv. 32, 39, 41), in the first and third of which it means a mixed throng consisting of Jews and of worshippers of Artemis, and in the second a legal assembly. So when we have to use the word ekklEsia we simply must take care that we are using it in accord with the Scripture context we have in mind.
So when, in another paper, I refer to an extract from the C.V. (1930) Note to 3. John 7 as unscriptural, I do so because in it the word churches is used so ambiguously. "In early days" there were more than "two entirely distinct churches," always assuming that any churches can be "entirely" distinct. We know that there was a church at Jerusalem, another at Ephesus, another at Corinth, another at Berea, another at Thessalonica. All these were composed of God's people, so they were part of the church of God. Many of their members belonged to a section of the church of God, those who had heard and received Paul's Evangel and become members of the church which is Christ's body. The Twelve were members of the church of God; but it was not open to them to become members of the body, for their calling was an entirely different one. Yet they were God's people, His chosen ones; and so belonged to His assembly or church. Even the employment of the word "distinct" is at best questionable and ambiguous, at worst erroneous; for all these churches were "connected with the kingdom proclamation" in a sense (faulty though this expression is), because all God's people are in His kingdom. This stands out at once from a concordance of the word kingdom.
Lastly, it is misleading to assert that the hope of Israel has "passed away." It is in abeyance now, it has been in abeyance ever since the events recorded in Matthew 13. That is simply because there are now none of Israel according to flesh who have that hope, not that the hope itself has been withdrawn.
Let us pray that among us justice may now be done to James, the brother of the Lord Jesus. That is the least amendment due by way of repentance for the great wrong that has been done to his memory.
R.B.W. Last updated 13.11.2005