Issues long sine settled have sometimes an extraordinary way of presenting themselves again just as if nothing had ever happened meanwhile. One such is the "Acts 28:28 frontier"; and the reader will have noticed that it has cropped up several times recently. This is not in accordance with any wish of mine, but solely because correspondents have written to me about it and thereby revealed that there still remains much misunderstanding concerning the matter.
To a slight extent I have been to blame for this. In our Vol. 14, No.4, p. 147 (August, 1952) I announced that I would cease writing about this subject. This announcement was premature. Before that year was out, I had to reopen the matter (p. 244). Yet it is only right to say that I made the announcement under pressure, because it had been strongly represented to me that many readers had become bored with the whole discussion. Nevertheless, I did realize I had left some loose ends, several of which were subsequently dealt with.
Recently nemesis has overtaken me and I have been obliged to do what I would have liked to have done in 1952, and would have done had I given less consideration to the opinions of others: clear up the outstanding matters.
The latest manifestation of this whole question is along the general lines of a paper in The Berean Expositor, Vol. 33, No.9, p. 153, which purports to be "an examination of objections to the teaching that Acts 28 is a dispensational boundary of the first importance." Though published about seventeen years ago, this appears to be authoritative; so a brief examination may serve to clear up some of the residual difficulties. Further statements were put out in May, 1953, and May, 1954, but they do not supersede or contradict anything in the Vo1. 33 paper, and what was new in them has already been dealt with in The Differentiator.
The paper begins with a discussion of "'The Jew Dismissed,' which is the truth of Acts 28 itself." As usual, this is inaccurate, for it is a perversion of Acts 28:25, which does not say "they were dismissed" in any reputable version. The English A.V. and R.V. have "they departed." Darby has "they left." Rotherham's second Edition, "they were for breaking up." Even the very rough and faulty paraphrase of "The New English Bible" does better with "they began to disperse." In short, all these recognize that the verb is not Passive and that nobody dismissed anyone. And, in actual sober fact, "they were dismissed" occurs only in Acts 15:33, which has nothing whatever to say about any dismissal of the Jew. A touch of hard fact, and the whole "Dispensational Keystone" crumbles!
The paper goes on to discuss a very silly challenge that "the dismissal of the Jews in Acts 28 is 'local' and neither national nor final." As there was no "dismissal" this challenge falls to the ground; but it serves one useful purpose in explaining to some extent how the "Acts 28:28 frontier" theory succeeded so well. With such intellectually contemptible opposition, almost any theory would win adherents.
Next comes a reference to "the national blindness which has since settled upon all Israel." Here we have another excursion into the world of fantasy, for Scripture is completely silent about any such thing. Yet, to drive the point home, we are assured that "in Acts 28 the prefigured blindness fell (Acts 28:25-27)." Then why did Luke so conspicuously fail to mention the circumstance, either in those three verses or anywhere else? It was most remiss of him to show so little regard for the convenience of our wonderful modern teachers!
Of this supposed "prefigured blindness" in Acts 28:25-27 the paper then says: "Consequently, for the first time, the salvation of God was sent to the Gentiles without the mediation of the Jew" (My italics). Another bad omission by Luke, for he fails to say anything of the words I have put in italics. It would be interesting to discover, for instance, what Jews mediated in Acts 17:4 and 12, for Luke says nothing of that sort, and the essence of Paul's Evangel is its disregard and even repudiation of all such fleshly privilege.
We are told of Acts 28 that "here the impending judgment falls"; but, again, Luke is completely silent. Next, we learn that "from time to time. . . a newly created 'New Man' takes the foremost place." This is true, but not the whole truth; and as stated it is very misleading, for though "new humanity" is referred to in Eph. 2:15; 4:24, with the word "create" in the context of each (but nowhere else), "new creation" occurs in 2. Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15 only, and both of these epistles were written before Paul's pronouncement in Acts 28:28. We must not separate "new humanity" from "new creation."
Then, presently, we are told that: "The 'dismissal' of Israel pronounced with such solemnity in Acts 28, and the dismissal of Israel pronounced with equal gravity in Matthew 13, 23, 24, are related to one another as de jure is to de facto. Often a period intervenes between the sentence as pronounced and the sentence as executed." This is simply fiction. What sentence was "pronounced"? What sentence was "executed"? Presumably by "sentence" is meant either the word krima or the word apokrima in the Greek; though the first occurs in Matt. 7:2; 23:14 and Acts 24:25, and nowhere else in those two books, and the latter in 2. Cor. 1:9 only. None of these have any bearing at all on this issue. It is utter nonsense to talk of Acts 28:25-28 as the pronouncement of a sentence. Paul refers there to a declaration made to their fathers, and to God's saving work being despatched to the Gentiles. What sort of "sentence" was what for the sons of those fathers?
Neither was any "sentence" pronounced on the Jews in Matthew 13:10-15. The Lord Jesus was simply announcing that something had happened: that in these people the prophecy of Isa. 6:9, 10 had become completely fulfilled. The verb here, anaplEroutai, is in the Middle Voice. Nothing had been done TO the people. They had done it all by themselves and their unbelief had ensured that the prophecy quoted from Isaiah had achieved its complete fulfilment. All the talk about "judgment" and "sentence" is quite unreal as also is the distinction here between de jure and de facto and of any period between the pronouncement of a sentence and its execution. There was no delay after Matt. 13:14, 15. None of the ideas we have been discussing appear either in Matt. 13:10-15 or in Acts 28:25-28. They are inventions to bolster up the theory.
Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the paper in The Berean Expositor is the assertion that presently follows: "At Pentecost a stay of execution was granted and a second appeal made." The only sort of evidence in support is given thus: "The prayer from the cross, 'Father, forgive them,' was heard. The Apostles were bidden to tarry at Jerusalem until endued with power from on high, and then to preach once again to this same people." Really, anything more outrageous would be hard to imagine! According to this idea, forgiveness is no more than "a stay of execution"! If that is what the Lord Jesus meant, why did He not pray: "Father, grant a stay of execution"?
What the Lord Jesus actually asked in Luke 23:34 was not: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," but "Father, forgive them; for they are not aware what they are doing." The last word, poiousin in the Greek, is in the Present Tense, which by its nature indicates something going on at the time. It cannot, therefore, refer to something long past as, by then, the events preceding Matt. 13:14, 15 certainly were. So it cannot be a prayer for forgiveness of those past events; therefore it must be for the events then in progress, the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. On that ground alone, it cannot be a prayer for "a stay of execution" of a sentence pronounced in Matt. 13:14, 15, even if that had been in any sense a "sentence" which it certainly was not.
The idea of forgiveness being no more than the postponement of a sentence and the granting of a fresh opportunity to repent degrades and stultifies the whole idea of forgiveness. When God forgives, He forgives. He does not merely suspend sentence. Punishment does sometimes follow on forgiveness, but always it is for repetition of the sin. Fresh sinning may bring punishment, or it may bring fresh forgiveness; but the sin formerly forgiven remains forgiven. This is often denied, but no Scripture support can be quoted for such denial.
To declare that Pentecost was a stay of execution consequent on the prayer "Father, forgive them" is to make Pentecost dependent on that prayer having been heard. Scripture gives no support whatever to so strange a notion.
After this oddity of exegesis, the paper in The Berean Expositor moves for a while on to solid ground, when it says with reference to the verb anaplEroO, fill up, in Matt. 13:14: "No word could more definitely indicate that this prophecy was at that time completely, nationally, and finally, fulfilled" (Vol. 33, p. 157). It even acknowledges that in repeating Isa. 6:9, 10 in Acts 28:26, 27 Paul did not say that it was "fulfilled" then; for he declared plainly that it was spoken to their fathers. All this is good and sound, and is confirmed on p. 158 thus: "Isa. 6:9, 10, while repeated in Acts 28, was really fulfilled in Matthew 13." Any logical mind would accept this unquestionable fact; but logic is promptly set aside, for within half a page we read: ". . . we must reach the conclusion that the dismissal of the Jew at Acts 28 is national and final."
Could unreason go further?
Lastly, we are told that "the theme, 'Acts 28 the Dispensational Boundary,' . . . has been examined and reexamined and challenged but never refuted." Well, here we have before us an exposure of the mass of errors to be found in the very special presentation of this theme in The Berean Expositor, Vol. 33, No.9. Will this be examined and reexamined—or merely ignored, as usual?
Such treatment of Scripture as this paper in The Berean Expositor displays is particularly discreditable among people whose special claim is that they are "Bereans." Their daily search through the Scriptures must have been strangely perfunctory.
R.B.W. Last updated 20.2.2006