Hardly anything is more difficult than explaining something which apparently is quite obvious; and even now, after studying again the ideas of others, I am not satisfied that I have put completely clearly the point I made on p. 195.
Perhaps instead of saying that Paul did not address the Jews of Rome as Jews, I should have said exclusively or distinctively as Jews, as men having the sign and standing and privileges of covenant. He definitely was addressing Jews, not Gentiles; but my point is that he was not giving them doctrine contrary to or incompatible with what he was proclaiming elsewhere to Gentiles. For instance, he was not promising (and never had promised) that the Messianic Kingdom would be set up if they repented or that the New Covenant would be concluded. He was not telling them that Gentiles could come into fellowship with them only as proselytes and only if they were circumcised and obeyed the Law of Moses, or that they needed to continue zealous of the Law and retain their covenant standing.
The reaction of many readers to this will be to retort: "Of course he was not! No sane person would ever suppose that he was." I agree. But, very unfortunately, many expositors have written as if they did suppose this very thing.
Put baldly like that, its untruth is evident. The trouble is that it is suggested, rather than stated in plain words with all its implications set out as above. Thus toned down, with its harsh contrast to Paul's Evangel veiled, it has won an influential following and has to a greater or less extent permeated the thinking of nearly all of us including, until fairly recently, myself. The vestiges of this theory in many minds are the reason why it is so hard for them to grasp completely the truth that in the Acts period, and after, Peter could not proclaim his circumcision evangel and Paul had no such evangel at all.
What evangel did Paul proclaim to these Roman Jews? If it was his own uncircumcision evangel, how can we affirm that he was addressing them exclusively and distinctively as Covenant People, rather than on equality with everyone else, as sinners? If it was Peter's circumcision evangel, how can we square Paul's explicit undertaking in Gal. 2:6-10?
That the vestiges of this theory do remain, and even more than vestiges, can easily be shown. For instance, Mr. Sellers in "The Word of Truth," Vol. 13, p. 129, says: "It has now been 19 years since I came to the conclusion and conviction that Paul's declaration in Acts 28:28 marks a dispensational boundary line. I believe that the hour when these words were spoken marks the beginning of the dispensation or administration of the grace of God. It was at this point that God's kingdom program and purposes were suspended and a new work began. There are many partial dispensationalists who grudgingly admit this. The sheer logic of this position and the facts recorded in Acts force this admission from them." For further confirmation I need only refer to Mr. Welch's writings.
There was nothing novel, long before the call of Paul, in evangelizing Gentiles. All those described as proselytes in Matt. 23:15; Acts 2:10; 6:5; 13:43 were Gentiles who had been thus evangelized. The word proselyte means one who could come towards Israel's God by special favour. The aim was to bring these Gentiles into the fold of Israel, that is, to bring to an end their standing, or want of standing, as Gentiles. Yet before Peter unlocked the Kingdom to them there was no evangel for them, as Gentiles who desired to remain Gentiles.
In the conditions which now exist, the position is completely reversed. At present, there is no evangel, for Israelites, as covenant people who desire to remain Israelites, that is, to retain their covenant and its sign. And we should observe that always the name Jew and Israelite imply covenant standing and privilege.
A part, and an important part, of the aim of the Gospels and Acts is to record and, to some extent, to explain this change. The full explanation is found in Paul's Epistles. Once we understand how complete the change is, we can readily follow the steps by which it took place. The fundamental mistake of all Dispensationalists is the assumption that it occurred abruptly. By this error they blur and confuse all the issues.
Mr. Welch, and Mr. Sellers also, place this supposed abrupt change at Acts 28: 28. So for them, before this crisis, Paul was proclaiming one thing; and after it, another. Mr. Sellers does not actually say this; but if he does not mean it, I am quite unable to understand what he does mean. He tells us that this hour marks the beginning of a new dispensation. "A new work began." I have never been able to find anywhere a plain statement of what this new work was. Before this hour Paul was proclaiming the Evangel of the uncircumcision. Did he at Acts 28:28 change or abandon it? If so, for what? If not, in what way could continuing his Evangel be properly called "a new work"?
In spite of all his recent writings on "The Dispensational Frontier," Mr. Welch has done nothing towards answering this question. From his earlier writings one gathers that Acts 28:28 wrought "a dispensational change, in which the Abrahamic blessings were set aside." If this is his view, then Romans 4 and much of Romans 3, on which it is based, must be set aside too. We are not told what is to be put in their place; Nevertheless elsewhere he strongly defends Romans as authoritative where doctrine is concerned. Is not the teaching of Romans 3 and 4 doctrine? Romans and Galatians were written and in circulation long before Acts 28:28. Did this supposed crisis cause them to be superseded, or did it not?
What happened in the closing verses of Acts is actually quite simple. Paul received the foremost of the Roman Jews. From what is stated in Acts 28:21, 22 it is quite plain that there was no hostility to him on their side. So Paul "expounded" to them all day. Some were persuaded by what was taught, yet some disbelieved, and the meeting dissolved: The only hint of harshness of any sort was Paul's pronouncement in vv. 25-28; yet it can hardly be described as harsh to them personally. He was telling them in plain words a fact of history.
What did Paul expound? The answer surely is in the next page of Scripture in the canonical order—his letter, written a few years before, "to all who are in Rome, beloved by God, callable saints." Nothing in Acts 28:23 contradicts this. No doubt Paul said much more than he wrote in Romans; but there is no possible ground for assuming that he said anything opposed to it or out of step with it, or that he avoided it. In the absence of any scrap of indication to the contrary, we may take for granted that he presented the first four chapters of Romans to them, also the ninth, tenth and eleventh. By that time, Rom. 11:25-32 was no longer a secret, so there is no reason whatever why it should have been kept back. Its disclosure to these Jews would have been a most fitting preliminary to his closing declaration. That Paul was "persuading them concerning Jesus, from the Law of Moses as well as the prophets" conflicts with this in no way at all; as a glance at Rom. 1:1-7, 16, 17; 2:17—3:26; 4:13-32 and Chapters 9—11 will show.
"But," someone may argue, "he did not tell them the truths of the Prison Epistles." Perhaps not; but only "perhaps"; for we do not actually know one way or the other. If Paul could disclose the profound truths of Romans 5—11, there is really no sufficient reason why he should not have been able at least to indicate the further revelations, or to disclose that they existed. The obstacle is not that a certain moment of time had not arrived, but that his audience was probably not spiritually fit for the revelations. The same sort of difficulty would have existed with a similar party of unbelieving Gentile Romans; and would most likely have been even greater. The Jews did at least have the Hebrew Scriptures before them and had been familiar with them all their lives.
In truth, any argument along such lines is futile. We sever the tangle at one stroke when we perceive that the transcendent facts of the Prison Epistles are based upon, and are the logical development of, Paul's Evangel of the uncircumcision and cannot be severed "dispensationally" from it.
So we come back to the point at issue in this paper. Is there any evangel to-day for Jews as such, that is, as a specially favoured election according to flesh from humanity? Was Paul addressing the Jews of Rome as Jews, as under covenant privilege, exclusively and distinctively?
My point is that he was not presenting to them a Jewish evangel; that he was not presenting the Evangel of the circumcision which, according to Gal. 2:6-10, had been entrusted to Peter and explicitly not to himself. Nowhere is there any suggestion that Peter was not to address Gentiles, or Paul Jews. On the contrary, we are told that on occasion both things occurred.
There is no trace either that Peter ever presented such a covenant, Jewish, evangel, even to Jews; but what Peter was not on any account permitted to do was to proselytize Gentiles, to attempt to make them Jews, to evangelize circumcision to them.
Neither was Paul. Indeed, if Peter could not, Paul even less could do so if that were possible. So, when Paul addressed the Roman Jews, he certainly addressed Jews, but equally certainly not as Jews, paying due attention to their covenant standing and fleshly privileges. He could, and did, address them on exactly the same terms as he did Gentiles. Do not misunderstand me here. I am not saying that he did not open somewhat as he did in Acts 13:16, for he was addressing Jews; but simply that his proclamation was in line with Acts 13:38, 39 and therefore with his epistle to the Romans: that it was an evangel to those who according to flesh had the circumcision; but not that it was the Evangel of the circumcision.
In the face of what Paul had already written to all in Rome, in Romans 2 and 3; it is simply unthinkable that he would have addressed the Jews there, a few years later, as if he had never written any such things; that he would have admitted that their ancient superior standing remained to them. Why should he have in practise contradicted his whole teaching? And not only in Romans, but what he taught, even earlier, in Galatians?
If Paul could have presented to them a purely Jewish, covenant, evangel; as actually will be presented to Jews in days to come, there is no evident reason whatever why they should not have believed. The operative word is the IF; for, as a matter of fact, that could not have been done, because it would have been an anachronism, or what is sometimes 'Called' undispensational. There are two obstacles, the present insensitiveness in part of the Jews and the existence of :another evangel, the Evangel of the uncircumcision holding the field. Until those two obstacles are removed, the presentation of a purely Jewish evangel, even to Jews, is impossible. There was, and is, no longer any saving-work for the Jews, as Jews, as the favoured covenant people; but only as individual sinners, as Gentiles. Because all rights according to flesh are now forfeited, so far as the Evangel is concerned all men are Gentiles.
The whole of the difficulty which people have encountered in this comes from failing to get rid of the last vestiges of the idea that Gal. 2:6-10 speaks of the evangel to the uncircumcision and that to the circumcision. So long as we persist in looking at these as evangels TO somebody; that is, thinking of the recipients of the Evangel instead of the nature of the Evangel; we are bound to remain in a state of mental confusion about the whole subject. Yet the matter ought to present no difficulty. Israel is essentially the covenant people. But in this present period covenant is in eclipse, grace reigns; so now there are no covenant people at all. That being so there can be no covenant evangel either. If there had been any legitimate covenant evangel, we may be sure that there would have been some record of its proclamation by Peter. It is unthinkable that we would be left open to suppose that, once again, he would have denied his Lord by his silence. That he did remain silent about it, is a plain fact of Scripture; and it may well be that this enforced silence was the bitterest part of his cross.
R B. WITHERS. Last updated 13.4.2006