The Thessalonian epistles follow Colossians in the canonical order of the Greek Scriptures. How this canonical order was settled we do not know and probably never will know in this life. All we can say is that it is invariable, or almost so, among extant MSS., as regards the Apostle Paul's epistles; and that it follows the natural sequence of experience in the comprehension of them.
This sequence is beautifully brought out in Dr. Bullinger's early book "The Church Epistles." He points out that Romans is the foundation treatise upon which are based all that follow. The two Corinthian epistles deal with departure in practise from the teaching of Romans, and Galatians with doctrinal departure from it. Then Ephesians crowns Romans doctrine with the declaration of the Secret; Philippians and Colossians dealing in turn with practical and doctrinal departure, respectively, from the teaching of Ephesians. The Thessalonian epistles stand by themselves, completing the sequence of nine epistles, written to seven churches. There is, however, no evident parallel with those dictated by the glorified Lord Jesus to the seven churches in Asia.
In this book Dr. Bullinger refers to the promise and prophesy of the Lord Jesus in John 16:12-15. He goes on to ask how, when, and where this promise and prophecy was fulfilled. He adds: "Does this promise refer to us only as individuals, and to a subjective personal communication of the Holy Spirit to each individually? Or, are we to look for some formal and special realization of the Lord's words? If this guidance is not individual, neither can it be collective, or find its fulfilment in the Church of God as a whole. . . . . Surely, when we take these words of Christ. . . . we are to look for some specific fulfilment of such a definite promise as this. . . . . Where are we then to look for this, if not in the epistles addressed to churches, as such, by the Holy Spirit? The seven epistles of the Holy Spirit by Paul had already been written and read, and neglected and practically forsaken, when Christ sent His own seven to those seven churches in Rev. 2 and 3. This is evident when we compare Acts 19: 10 with 2 Tim. 1:15. Some would tell us to go back to the first three centuries to find primitive Christianity in its purity. But these Scriptures show that we cannot even go back to the first century. The only successors the Apostle knew of were likened to 'grievous wolves' . . . . In these epistles we have the perfect embodiment of the Spirit's teaching for the churches. These contain the 'all truth' into which the 'Spirit of Truth was to 'guide' us. Where are we to look for this 'all truth,' if not here? These contain the things which Christ could not speak on earth, for the time for such teaching was not then. These contain the 'things to come,' which the Spirit was to show. These 'glorify' Christ. These contain the "things of Christ" which the Spirit was to receive and show unto us. Where else are we to look for the fulfilment of the Spirit's mission as the great Teacher, if not here?" (pp. 10-12).
So simply and so clearly does he put the matter that it is hard to see how it can be better phrased, except for a few minor verbal changes. Hence I have ventured to quote him at length, here and later on. I think however that it should be pointed out that the late date of Revelation is by no means certainly established; nor is this interpretation of 2 Tim. 1:15 beyond cavil: yet, even so, the argument is not seriously affected. Outside the canonical Scriptures no writing exists of that era which does not display a practically complete apostasy from them.
The Thessalonian epistles differ from Romans and Ephesians in one important particular: the latter are both treatises rather than epistles. They are expositions of doctrine; its showing forth rather than correction of departure from it. There is in them little which is personal except exhortations and messages to individuals. But the Thessalonian epistles are highly personal, as personal as 2 Corinthians and Philippians; but they are crammed full of commendation and praise, with only one brief hint of reproof (2 Thess. 3:11) and no trace of blame. There is little in them of formal exposition; and what we find is, significantly, to do with the future presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. These two come last of the Church Epistles because, as Dr. Bullinger so well puts it, there are no epistles beyond this, because there is no higher truth to be taught. . . . . This is the highest Form in the school of grace, where the Holy Spirit is the great Divine Teacher. 'All the truth' culminates here—the 'all truth' into which He was to guide the Church of God. It is led from the depths of degradation (in Romans) to the heights of glory (in Thessalonians), caught up to be for ever with the Lord, and left there in eternal blessing 'in' and 'with' Christ." (p.22).
He says elsewhere (p. 16):—"The Epistles to 'the Church
of the Thessalonians' are the epistles in which the special
revelation is given concerning the coming again of the Lord
Jesus. If we have 'ears to hear,' this fact speaks to us,
and it says:—
Until they have learnt what is taught concerning
their standing and their walk, they will be occupied
with themselves, and will have no use for the truths
connected with the Lord's coming again!"
If we turn to the Thessalonian Epistles themselves and
read them as they were written and without any previously conceived
theories in mind, we discover that the situation is
entirely different to what Dr. Bullinger declares it to be in
his last book, and that it completely confirms our findings. Once
again, he says:—
"Thessalonians stands alone. . . . There is an entire absence of reproof and correction, both as to practice and doctrine. There are a few exhortations, it is true, but there is no blame: nothing but unqualified thanksgiving and praise for their faith and love and hope from beginning to end. Indeed, we have here a model church—the only one of all the seven which is specially spoken of as a church—'The Church of the Thessalonians,' as though it were the only one worthy of the name; the only one which exhibits the full results of having learnt the lessons taught in Romans and Ephesians. The saints of 'the church of the Thessalonians' could have passed an examination in the doctrines taught in those two epistles. Hence, their wonderful character, individually and collectively." (The Church Epistles pp. 205, 206).
He then goes on to quote examples of reproof in other epistles—2 Cor. 12:20, 21; Gal. 1:6; 3:1; Phil. 3:18, 19; Col. 2:8; and by contrast with them, the words of praise in 1 Thess. 1:2, 4, 7; 2:13; 3:9. 2 Thess. 1:3, 4; 2:13; 3:4. He then adds:—"There was no need of laboured argument to prove the fundamental doctrine of resurrection, as in 1 Cor. 15. No fear lest he had bestowed upon them labour in vain, as in Gal. 4:11. No tearful warnings against strife and vain-glory, as in Phil 1:15, 16; 2:3, 3:18, 19. No need of asking 'If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?' as in Col. 2:20." (ibid pp. 207, 208).
He then points out how remarkable this church was for its missionary activity (1 Thess. 1:8), having evangelized a tract of country about as large as Great Britain.
To those who may still have any doubts I would make this suggestion. Read the practical exhortations to the saints in the three great Prison Epistles; and then read straight on to 1 Thessalonians. Can anyone who does this without prejudice say honestly that the Thessalonians did not follow out these practical exhortations in every way? They had become models, types, to all who are believing (1:7)—a perfect model church, indeed. They had accepted the word they heard from Paul and his fellow apostles, Sylvanus and Timothy (note well, not the Twelve) as the Word of God, as truly it was (2:13); which word was operating in them. They became imitators of the churches of God which are in Christ Jesus in Judea (2:14). The superficial reader might exclaim at this: "A Jewish church!"; but that simply will not do! Some of Israel followed the Apostle Paul into uncircumcision and by faith with him became members of the one body; and there is no reason why we should make an exception in this respect of those in Judea itself. The Lord's title used here—Christ Jesus—is, above all others, that connected with the church which is His body, and is wholly severed from everything pertaining to Israel's calling in circumcision. We need look no further than Ephesians for proof of this (Eph. 1:1, 5; 2:7, 10, 13, 20; 3:1, 11, 21). Moreover, the Thessalonians suffered the same by their own fellow-tribesmen as their brethren in Judea had suffered by the Jews. This places them beyond question as Gentiles, suffering at the hands of those of their own race who had not turned back to God, as they had done, from the idols.
The Thessalonians were, indeed, Paul's glory and joy! (2:20) This is also the theme of the next chapter: "For what thanksgiving are we able to repay to God concerning you for all the joy with which we are rejoicing because of you in front of our God, night and day beseeching exceedingly to see your face and to readjust the deficiencies of your faith." (3:9, 10). And what is this readjustment? The further glorious revelation of the fourth chapter—how that at the shout of command from the Lord Himself they are to be snatched away to meet Him in the air, "so that thus shall we always be together with the Lord."
What praise can be higher than what is here given, what revelation can be grander when we contemplate it in the light of the blessings and glories displayed in the rest of the Apostle Paul's epistles?
Contrast this outburst of praise and commendation, which has no equal anywhere else in the Scriptures, with the rather slighting tone of those who would persuade us that these people were not members of that glorious church which is Christ's body, but simply one of a few small assemblies of Israel, here and there, which obeyed the call of the Apostle Peter and the rest of the Twelve to repentance, whose hope was that of Israel, who were all zealous of the Law (Acts 21:20), who needed to leave the rudiments of the word of Christ and be brought on to maturity (Heb. 6:1), who were in danger of shrinking back. (Heb. 10:26-39).
Within a few weeks of the appearance of Chapter 15, I was severely reproved for harking back to Mr. Coles and the events of 1907. I am unrepentant; for that year marked a major crisis for "Things to Come" and for the Christians who studied it, resulting among other things in the virtual abandonment of what is the missionary epistle, 1 Thessalonians. When apostasy sets in it is the best that falls first, so this epistle had to bear the brunt of the onslaught. From that time on, these Christians began to decline in numbers and influence. Not since the 1914 war has there been in Britain anything comparable with "Things to Come." Some rested on what they supposed was final achievement; others did indeed go ahead, and they produced work of great importance; yet the fact remains that those directly influenced by Dr. Bullinger have shrunk into a little group of sects.
It is a fact of history that where sectism appears, there real missionary effort languishes. The warring of sects and the winning of converts do not go together.
Every so often, God raises up a company of people who burn with missionary zeal. These folk always have as well a fresh insight into some aspect of Scripture; and it is also a fact of history that presently the new insight hardens into a dogma and the company into a sect, while the missionary zeal evaporates. Although 2 Thessalonians is free from any element of reproof (except in 3:11); there is a slight ,difference in atmosphere from the first epistle which suggests that even these folk were in the danger of which I am speaking; for instance the closing exhortation to be imitating and obeying the Apostle Paul.
Is it actually impossible for us to choose a different course? Much new light has come to us in recent years, yet little warmth with it. Why are we not burning with enthusiasm to win back those brethren who have parted from us over Dr. Bullinger!s dispensational teaching, now that we have won back the Kingdom truth which we lost; and, even more important, to bring in those altogether outside, especially now that we have something better to offer them? There can be no doubt that much of our lack of zeal—and by "us" and "our" I mean here those who have been influenced by Dr. Bullinger—comes from our neglect of Paul's earlier epistles. We lack Thessalonian zeal because we lack Thessalonian doctrine.
New light has come with the recovery of Kingdom truth and the re-unification of Paul's epistles. The combination of these achievements has at last enabled us to fit Paul's epistles into their whole context in the Greek Scriptures, instead of regarding them as something alien; superimposed on them, as it were, by a sort of afterthought. We can now treat Paul's epistles as a unit while simultaneously treating the Greek Scriptures as a unit also: indeed, we have recovered all Scripture as a unit! For example, God's dealings with Abraham in uncircumcision are no longer to us extraneous to the Hebrew Scriptures, even though they were at the time virtually set aside by covenant; and, similarly, His dealings with Abraham in circumcision need no longer be thought of as extraneous to Romans, but an essential foil for the evangel of the uncircumcision. Now that this is better understood, it has become possible to clear up the obscurities which still enshroud the doctrine of "Justification." Until we understand the first half of Romans much better than. we do at present, we cannot hope to escape from the wild winds of doctrine which are now blowing around the second half. These matters are interlocked. The key which we have long needed, we now possess. With this tremendously important, even vital, synthesis of Scripture in our hands, we have at last the means to synthesize what is true in all the sects—if we have the will also. The long-needed light has come. Let us pray unceasingly that the heat of fervour may be generated in our hearts!
Like the Thessalonians at the start of their course, we stand on the verge of what may be one of the great blossom times of the Church of God. The call to action is clear enough; All that is in doubt is whether we who read these words will obey the call, as they did. On us rests the decision whether the blossom shall bear glorious fruit or shrivel in the frost of cold indifference; and this decision is, in plain terms, whether we too shall turn back to God from he idols of selfish indifference, intellectual pride, and sectism. If we choose, we also can be Thessalonians; but first, we must crucify our pride.
With all earnestness I protest against the belittling of the Thessalonian epistles which throughout most of my lifetime has been the fashion among most of those with whom I have been in touch. Apart from the absurd unreasonableness of the whole proceeding, it is a symptom of the spiritual pride which has attacked nearly all of us, dried up our work and paralysed our minds. For it is sheer spiritual pride to hold cheap any part of God's Word not directly addressed to us! We must rightly divide, or correctly cut, the Word of Truth; but this does not mean that we ought to discard almost as refuse what we suppose is not directly for ourselves. Nor should we label any part of it as merely "Jewish" and dismiss it, as if that meant it is of no account at all. How queer it is that the contemptuous superiority of the Pharisee should now have transferred itself to many exponents of "dispensational truth." Such an attitude is indefensible. What wicked presumption it is to suppose that the glorious calling on earth of God's Israel will not be utterly satisfying and splendid, both to Him and to them! Our calling is indeed higher and more splendid; our blessings are among the celestials; yet that should humble us to the dust who, at our best, are so wholly unworthy; that should cause us to gaze with wonder and joy at the splendour of theirs which, be it remembered, is also marked with the word "celestial," the celestial Jerusalem.
To despise the calling of Israel is bad enough; to despise any of the epistles of the Apostle Paul is, if possible, worse. We; who are amongst those who are blessed with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ, to be holy and flawless in His sight, may not dare to suggest that these supreme saints of the Church of the Thessalonians were called to any less exalted a standing than ours! Rather, we need to be humbled beyond all measure at the realization of how far we fall short of the standard to which they had attained of practical working-out of those blessings. Newly turned back to God from the idols to be slaving for the living and true God, and to be waiting for His Son out of the heavens, they attained to heights of spiritual maturity far above anything the highest and best of us, except rarely here and there, have reached.
This was a model church indeed! Let us drop the strife of theories about dispensations, and, instead, compare ourselves, and the assemblies of which we form part, with this model.
And let us do so on our knees! That is the only fitting posture for us who fall so far short.
Note.—As regard the second paragraph of this chapter, we' must bear in mind that this analysis does not exhaust the meaning of the Epistles. Here they are looked at particularly as Church Epistles. In the Prison Epistles, the Secret is not the only matter discussed, or even the most important matter. The glories of the Lord Jesus Christ come first and should hold that place in our estimate of Scripture.
By the "earlier epistles" is usually meant those to the Romans, and the Corinthians, Galatians and Thessalonians, six in all. It is highly probable that they were written before Paul arrived in Rome, but this is a deduction, not a specific statement of Scripture; so we must not give it an importance which it does not possess. Such want of proportion is bound to bias us towards error. Moreover we do not know for certain the dates of any of the epistles, so the term lacks precision.
The Prison Epistles can be classified together by reason of the fact that they have the definite feature in common that Paul wrote them as a prisoner and so described himself. (Eph. 6:20; Phil. 1:17; Co1. 4:10, 18; 2 Tim. 2:9, Philem. 1 and 23). In these epistles is revealed the great Secret of Ephesians 3 and its consequences; yet, even so the set can be regarded as an entity only in a secondary sense; for Titus is not in it.
The nine "Church Epistles" form a natural self-contained group, as Dr. Bullinger pointed out in his excellent book on them.
The so-called "earlier Pauline Epistles" are stated by some teachers to have been written before the Secret of Ephesians 3 was proclaimed. While this may be true, we would do well not to forget that it is only yet another deduction. Nowhere does Paul state when or on what occasion he first disclosed it to others or even when it was revealed to him. Possibly the obscure passage 2 Cor. 12:1-6 describes the occasion. More likely, 1 Cor. 2:6-10 refers to a private revelation of the Secret, or possibly of all the secrets (1 Cor. 13:2) to selected saints. They certainly interlock; and it has even been suggested that Paul received them as a complete set. Until they are seen thus, their full meaning and implications have not really been understood; and it is a pity that many versions hide this truth by reading" all secrets." If, as many hold, that which is mature came with the revelation of the Secret (1 Cor. 13 8-12, Eph. 4:7-16), those who were mature would have known it; and this means that Paul must have disclosed it before 1 Corinthians was written. This is all mere speculation, and is worthless except to show that any attempt to make a dispensational distinction between the earlier epistles and the others is worthless too.
To stress the chronological order of Paul's epistles when we do not know what that order is in reality, is absurd. Some point to the Thessalonian epistles as the first and enlarge on what they allege to be the elementary character of the teaching in them. But suppose, as one of them, Mr. C. H. Welch, contends, that Galatians was written first; how do we stand then? We cannot call Galatians elementary; because an outstanding purpose for which it was written was to correct departure from some of the teaching of Romans. Moreover, it plainly leads up to Ephesians. Its concluding verses are much more than a summing-up; they are also the prelude to the glories to come. Galatians is therefore doctrinally subsequent to Romans, whatever its date may have been; and, as previous chapters have proved to the hilt, there is nothing immature or elementary about the Thessalonian epistles. Gone, therefore, is the idea that the chronological order is also that of development from elementary doctrine to maturity.
Dr. Bullinger stressed the importance of the chronological order of Paul's epistles, urging that "for those who first received them, the chronological order was of greater importance—in fact, all-important." (The Foundations of Dispensational Truth, p. 82). He meant, by comparison with the canonical order as given in our Bibles. But can we be sure of this? No doubt the Greek Scriptures were copied and circulated as promptly and as widely as circumstances permitted; but the physical means available were quite in adequate to ensure that they would be received in order by everybody, or even by the majority of churches. Nor was this necessary, because these churches had what we have not, the authentic personal ministry of the Apostle Paul, with his fellow-apostles and associated evangelists and teachers, all of whom had received his evangel from his own lips. Not one of his epistles is completely self-contained. for none can be fully understood without the others. Moreover as pointed out in earlier chapters, the tone of the presumed earliest epistle, 1 Thessalonians, assumes that its recipients had not only a wide knowledge of Paul's teaching but had also profited by it to an unparalleled degree. Among them there were no signs of preoccupation with the things of immaturity, no signs of Judaizing elements or of Gnosticism, no trace of personal troubles, but only some uncertainty about those who had been put to repose through Jesus. And this uncertainty was not due to doubt concerning the rousing of Christ, as with the Corinthians, but simply through lack of knowledge of one item of the whole scheme of Paul's teaching, a lack which he promptly supplied. The prominence of this One gap in their knowledge irresistibly suggests that it could have been the only important gap.
I have been criticized by one who has had a pre-view of these chapters for over stressing the Secret of Ephesians 3, the implication being that I am correspondingly neglecting other features of the Prison Epistles. I think this criticism arises out of a misapprehension caused by the way all previous writers, so far as I am aware, have confined the statement of the Secret to v. 6 and part of v. 7 of Eph. 3. Reference to my Chapter 10 will show that, instead, my view of it covers the whole of Eph. 3:6-12, which includes "the untraceable riches of the Christ"! In fact, I hold the Secret to be all-inclusive, all-embracing, in its scope—the summing-up of Paul's evangel and all the Secrets which are its consummation and crown. None of the other secrets in the Prison Epistles can be regarded as defined in the same sense as it is.
Briefly, then, the fact that the earlier epistles are transitional is of minor importance. They are "Church Epistles" first and foremost. That some are earlier epistles is of relatively little account. We have reached this conclusion from a general consideration of the Pauline epistles; but there exist two epistles the more detailed examination of which has an important bearing on this question, and is of general interest also.
An important corollary is that the theory that Acts covers the whole of Paul's ministry is thereby exploded. By this theory there is in the Acts account no room for the journey to Spain; for the end of the two whole years marks the end of Paul's ministry and life on earth.
On the other hand, if the preface in the C.V. to 1 Timothy and its reading of 1 Tim. 1:3 be accepted, then the epistle is probably contemporaneous with the events of Acts 19 and may be included chronologically with Paul's earlier epistles. This verse is, however, very difficult to translate, and the weight of evidence is against the C.V. rendering.
In his first typewritten criticisms of the C.V., those of Matthew, circulated in the autumn of 1937 among a few of those interested; Mr. Alexander Thomson pointed out that "prosmeinai" cannot mean "by remaining." The signification of the verb is to "persevere" or "remain attentively"; the suggestion to Timothy being that he should continue in Ephesus with his attention directed toward it. "Prosmeinai" is not only an Infinitive but also a Middle Imperative form. In a private letter to me, Mr. Thomson pointed out that the only difficulty over this is "that none of the MENO (remain) verbs (i.e. those compounded with a preposition) showed Middles elsewhere in the New Testament, and if the word in 1 Tim. 1:3 is actually a Middle Imperative, we must understand it in some such sense as that Timothy was to 'remain with (them) for-his-own-benefit (or, in some way for his own account) in Ephesus.' . . . Alford says there were signs of 'backwardness and timidity' in Timothy in dealing with the difficulties of his ministerial work. Therefore it may be that Paul uses the Middle on this account."
We reach the conclusion that this passage affords no evidence either way of the date of 1 Timothy. It may have been written at any time during Paul's ministry in the period covered by Acts or just after. Our best course is to accept the fact that we have not been given direct evidence wherewith to date the epistle, and therefore to admit that we cannot classify it with Paul's earlier epistles.
From this one important result follows. If we receive the theory, now exploded, that Acts 28:28 is the Divinely-given boundary, before which no epistle belongs to the so-called Economy of the Secret; we are confronted with an unanswerable question: Does 1 Timothy belong to this Economy or to the so-called Pentecostal Economy? I t is futile to reply that its contents determine its dispensational position. We cannot have it both ways! We may, if we accept the Acts 28:28 division, classify the epistles "dispensationally ", according to whether they come before or after it; or, if we refuse to be bound by chronological theories, we may classify them according to their contents—but we must choose one or the other. The latter method is obviously the sound one. The former leads us into difficulties, because it is essentially subjective, and therefore unscientific.
Chronological criteria can be employed only when a chronology exists. But prophetic time is inseparably connected with Israel; and we who are gathered out of the Gentiles are outside and beyond it. What, then, can be more irrational than to define the "Economy" of the Secret by times and seasons, whether directly or indirectly?
From this we can fairly deduce one thing only: that God did not intend us to know for certain who wrote Hebrews.
The foregoing may by some be criticized as an argument from silence, which indeed it is. This type of argument is usually, and rightly as a rule, regarded as unsound, but it is not always so. Each instance must be taken on its merits. For example, a man may omit to mention one of his relatives in his will. The reasonable presumption is that the omission was intentional; which is, in fact, the argument from silence. Yet it is not conclusive, for the possibility remains that he forgot him. But we cannot attribute any lapse of memory to God! If He omitted to indicate the date of 1 Timothy and to declare the authorship of Hebrews, the Christian is bound to believe that the omission was intentional!
Our findings would still stand even if new evidence were to come to hand showing beyond any possible doubt that the Apostle Paul was the author of Hebrews. The reason for this is that no new evidence would alter the fact that there exists no conclusive Scriptural evidence.
To set forth and weigh the pros and cons concerning the authorship of Hebrews would take up far too much space; but perhaps I ought to deal with the contention that the Apostle Paul could not have written it. To quote an example:—"It is impossible for him to associate himself with a company of people from which he had been separated by the Holy Spirit, whose destiny is utterly different from his."
But the Apostle Peter testifies that Paul did in fact write an epistle to "the chosen expatriates of the dispersion" (2 Peter 3:10). The element of prejudice in the above quoted statement displays itself in the word "associate," To write to them did not necessarily mean to associate either with them or with their destiny. Although Paul most definitely repudiated his Jewishness, he never withdrew his love for his brethren according to flesh. Moreover, the argument is subjective and therefore unsound. What is to prevent it from being extended to "prove" that the "Paul" whose ministries are reported in Acts is a different "Paul" from the author of the Prison Epistles? The two are associated with quite different companies of people; and there is no reason—on the grounds given—why "the Acts Paul" should not have written a letter to Hebrews on the lines of the epistle we have; which might quite well have been produced at as early a date as Thessalonians or Galatians.
Alternatively, I would suggest Luke as a possible author. Once we rid ourselves of the idea that he was Gentile, the idea becomes quite attractive. The epistle might then well be a kind of appendix to Acts, and its last four verses a covering letter by Paul himself.
Hebrews has no personal greetings, and only one brief personal reference, to Timothy. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians the only personal references are to Sylvanus and Timothy. This tends to suggest that the three epistles might have been written at about the same time. The final greeting, "They from Italy are greeting you" gives the impression that the epistle was despatched from some district where there was a synagogue of Hebrews from Italy. This in turn suggests a period when the Jews were still on friendly terms with Paul— assuming, of course, that he was the author—say, any time up to his visit to Thessalonica, quite early in his ministry.
Taking a common-sense view, we may put the matter thus:—The Apostle Paul was embarked on his mission as minister to the Gentiles. To that end he was disclosing to them, by word and by epistle, many new things hard to apprehend. It was a foregone conclusion that the Pentecostal proclamation, made by Peter with the Twelve, would not win Israel as a whole to repentance. We know from Romans 9-11 how he felt for his brethren according to flesh: what could have been more natural, then, than that he should write to them, urging them to be "leaving the rudiments of the word of Christ" and to be "brought on to maturity?" (Heb. 6:1-3). Certainly he explicitly addresses the Jew in Rom. 2:17-24, so why not elsewhere?
Perhaps it should be pointed out also that the ban implied in Gal. 2:7 cannot be extended to the Hebrews epistle, even though covenant is an important part of its subject matter; for the Hebrews are not exhorted in it to remember their circumcision and past covenant privileges, but to look forward in some measure to the coming eon and the New Covenant. We certainly cannot regard this epistle as the proclamation of an evangel characterized by covenant and circumcision; instead, it is an exhortation to patience and steadfastness until such time as once again covenant will be something real and significant, so that such an evangel will become a practical reality.
Where, then, do the Hebrew, the Jew and the Israelite come in now? ONLY in uncircumcision: and that means, not at all—in circumcision, AS Hebrew, Jew, Israelite.
Therefore, for them it had become necessary that someone should explain, from the Hebrew point of view, how the new, albeit temporary, state of affairs had come about. Romans explains the position with regard to sin and righteousness; but it does not touch the question of the offerings of the Law. Only in Hebrews can we find the answer to the questionings of the devout Hebrew on this subject. There is nothing in Hebrews which is out of place for the Hebrew who has received the Lord Jesus Christ as his Messiah. It explicitly forms the bridge between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant without which no Hebrew could understand the latter; but also for the Hebrew it could and still can serve as the bridge between the Pentecostal conditions in the beginning of Acts and Paul's epistles to the churches.
In the light of all this it is difficult to perceive any cogent reason why Paul should not have written the Hebrews Epistle. Yet there are very strong reasons why we should not classify Hebrews with the epistles which bear his name. They are a unity. Collectively they embody the Evangel of the U11circumcision and all which belongs to it. Whether Paul wrote the Hebrews Epistle or no, it is essentially something outside the main stream of his ministry. It we try to classify it with his earlier epistles we are introducing confusion where none exists.
Let us then refrain from giving artificial classifications an importance in our minds dictated by the degree with which they fit into the scheme of things as we conceive it.
Curiously enough, one of the chief difficulties with this is the defectiveness of even the best of our translations. For instance the C.V. fails here by reason of its omission to make any distinction between second person singular and plural in the pronouns used. The words of the Apostle Paul are pointedly individual throughout Rom. 11:17-24, but the C.V. does not bring this out at all. Not until v. 25 do the pronouns become plural again in the Greek; but unless the sublinear, or a more precise version, be consulted; this is not easily discovered.
Although Israel and Gentiles can be, and are, addressed collectively and judged collectively, in regard to their collective actions; yet Scripture never loses sight of the fact that nations are, in a measure, abstractions; and that it is the individual who matters, and on whom must ultimately lie such responsibility as there may be. In Romans 2-8, the individual is regarded as he is in himself. In Romans 9-11 he is regarded as a unit of Israel or of the Gentiles.
Below is a translation of Rom. 11:16-28, based on the C.V. but amended to some extent in accordance with a new translation which Mr. Alexander Thomson has been kind enough to make for me. His knowledge of Greek and his understanding of the Greek Scriptures are so profound that any translation he makes is bound to have very high authority indeed. Nevertheless I have kept as close as possible, consistently with accuracy, to the C.V.; partly because so many use and value it, and partly because I feel strongly that no translation by Mr. Thomson should be extensively quoted until he has had the opportunity to publish his findings on such a scale that a fair examination of them can be made. On the translation of the Greek Scriptures the last word has yet to be said. There remain problems of which the ordinary student is still unaware and difficulties about which he certainly ought to make it his business to know more. Perhaps this may open readers' eyes to some of them. It is offered on my responsibility alone. Where I may have gone astray, the blame must rest on me.
17. Now if some of the boughs are broken out, yet thou, being wild olive, art ingraffed among them, and becamest joint-participant of the root and fatness of the olive.
18. be not vaunting over the boughs. Now if thou dost vaunt, thou art not bearing the root, but the root thee.
19. Thou wilt be declaring, then, "Boughs are broken out that I may be ingraffed."
20. Ideally! By the unbelief they were broken out, yet thou by the faith hast been standing. Be not haughty, but be fearing.
21. For if God spares not those naturally boughs, neither will He be sparing thee! 22. Perceive, then, God's kindness and sternness! On those, indeed, who are falling, sternness; yet on thee God's kindness, if thou shouldest be persisting in the kindness; else thou also shalt be hewn out.
23. And they, if they should not be persisting in the unbelief, will be ingraffed, for God is able to ingraff them again.
24. For if thou wert hewn out of the olive naturally wild, and beside nature art ingraffed into the fine olive; how much rather shall these—the natural ones—be ingraffed to their own olive?
25. For I am not willing for you to be ignorant of this secret, brethren—lest you be in yourselves prudent—that callousing in part has befallen Israel, until which (time) the fullness of the Gentiles may be entering.
26. And thus all Israel shall be saved, according as it has
"There shall be arriving out of Zion the Rescuer
He will be turning away irreverence from Jacob.
27. And this is for them the covenant from Me,
Whenever I may be eliminating their sins."
28. As to the evangel, indeed, (they are) enemies, because of you; yet, as to the choice, loveable, because of the fathers.
v. 20. Before both "unbelief" and "faith" the Greek has a dative case article "tE." It is not just any sort of unbelief or faith, but the particular unbelief or faith in question. The idea of the article is "the above" or "the above implied" unbelief or faith.
v. 21. The extra emphasis is in relation to this sentence only. I have put it in this unidiomatic way to bring out that it is the same word, "naturally," in the Greek as in v. 24.
v. 22. Not "the kindness and the severity of God."
v. 25. "Until" (achris) sometimes takes "hou" (which, genitive case) after it, and I think we ought to express this somehow and not ignore it.
v. 27. The order of the Greek is peculiar:—"And this for them the beside Me covenant." Emphasis is placed on the destination, and the source of the covenant. It is a pity we cannot say "from beside Me."
v. 28. "Loveable" rather than" beloved." Similarly, the next verse should read: "For unregrettable are the gracious-gifts and the calling of God." Both these are verbal adjectives, expressing our —ABLE.
(N.B.—For the matter of these Notes I am indebted to Mr. Thomson.)
Yet only by gross perversion of the Apostle's meaning can these words be made to teach that so much as one single guarantee given to us in Romans, let alone the Prison Epistles, can ever be withdrawn or broken. Our righteousness by faith and our salvation, not to mention our reconciliation and celestial blessings, are wholly outside the scope of this passage, which deals with the privileges of Divine government which Israel as a nation has forfeited for the time being, and which have come to each one of us, the Gentiles.
The wild olive, then, is the individual of the Gentiles. That he should now be in this privileged position is the consequence of World-conciliation. "The root" calls to mind the only other occurrence of the word in Romans (15:12). The Gentile wild olive is now brought into equality with the unbroken branches of the good olive as regards testifying for God on earth. He is in continuity with Israel's past. Hence Paul was able to write about the fathers: " Now all this befalls them typically. Yet it was written with a view to our admonition." (1 Cor. 10:11). No longer is God's admonition directed to Israel alone.
First I ask, why is the word "believers" added here? Such additions are by themselves a danger-signal. If we read Romans as Paul wrote it, we find no conflict between different sections of the epistle. If we inject "believers" into the olive tree allegory, we inject discord also. At once it clashes with the reigning grace of Romans 5, so a chasm is made. Yet the moment we grasp that Paul is speaking of "Gentiles" and not about" Gentile believers," we are delivered from a most dangerous delusion. To declare that any "believer"; i.e. that any person who trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ and is made righteous by faith; can possibly be cut out of the figurative olive tree, is to cut out the very foundation of reigning grace. Nor does it avail to speak of this as "dispensational." That merely confuses the issue, and darkens counsel.
Some writers will have it, as in the foregoing quotation, that the olive tree figured in Romans 11 was cut down at the end of Acts, and is now no longer standing. But the only tree spoken of anywhere in the Greek Scriptures as being cut down is the fig tree. We must not press these figures too far. The fig tree became barren, and it withered (Matt. 21:19). This was the sign to Israel corresponding with the parable in Luke 13:6-9, which ended with the threat that if the tree should not be producing fruit in the future it would be hewn down.
Each tree produces its own kind of fruit. The fig tree has rich sweetness, and typifies the national glory of Israel, which now lies in the dust. The grape vine is associated rather with purity and joy. From it comes the happiness of wine. It typifies earthly spiritual blessings which now are wasted and trodden down and unwanted. But the fruit of the olive tree gives oil, figuratively the source of all Divine light in the world. The glory and earthly blessings of Israel have for the time being vanished from the earth; but some of the illumination which first came through Israel remains. God, in His mercy and goodness, has seen to it that the "olive tree," at any rate, has not been cut down.
The Bullinger-Welch theory demands affirmation from its exponents that the olive tree was cut down at the utterance of Acts 28:28. For example, we read:—"It is a difficulty with Some students that the Apostle does not actually speak of the cutting down of the olive tree in Romans 11, but only of 'some of the branches' having been broken off." (The Berean Expositor, Vol. 28: p. 115). The word "actually" is hardly fair, because there is not, anywhere, any suggestion of this idea. Instead, Paul actually speaks in Rom. 11:23-24, of the natural branches being graffed in again—a perfectly futile operation in a tree which has been cut down!
Still on the same page we read:—"If the olive tree survived the crisis of Acts 28, where is it? It cannot be the restored nation of Israel. ... It cannot be any of the denominations of Christendom, for if this were true it would follow that the denomination concerned would eventually receive back the broken off branches of Israel."
If, now, instead of asking: "What does the olive tree represent?" we were to ask: "What is represented in the allegory by Israel?", we would immediately take a real step forward, since the answer to the latter question is seen at once to be: "Those naturally boughs" (11:21). Thus there is a measure of truth in the last quotation, above; for the olive tree is not Israel, restored or otherwise, nor is it one of the numerous denominations. We surely would have just cause for surprise if it were Israel or any religious body, in their present condition!
What, then, is the olive tree? It is something which those naturally boughs and the graffed wild olive possess in common when they are on it or ingraffed into it respectively. What is there in common between believing Gentiles like ourselves and believing Israelites like those who believed the Word in Pentecostal times and will believe it in days to come? Common-sense supplies the answer—direct living contact with, and faith in, the oracles of God.
This is in line with the suggestion of some expositors that the olive tree symbolizes the whole system of God on earth. That this was Israel for a time and will one day be Israel again, does not affect the fact that it is not Israel now and was not before Israel came into being. The olive tree is the source and channel of the olive oil, typifying Divine illumination to mankind. If this Source and channel be Israel, then the illumination must still be coming through Israel, even during their casting-away, which certainly is not the truth!
The Apostle Paul does not spread himself, so to speak, in this analogy. He says nothing more than is absolutely necessary to make his meaning plain, and we would do well to follow his example. The above-quoted Berean Expositor article raises difficulty after difficulty; and all because it assumes that the olive tree itself represents Israel, instead of the natural branches doing so. True, it bases this interpretation on Jer. 11:6, but this is a dangerous proceeding unless it is quite certain that Paul himself does not supply the answer in his own allegory. The author of the article should have perceived that something was wrong with his interpretation, for he himself says:—"The branches that were broken off were the unbelieving among Israel, the remaining branches constituted a remnant." (The Berean: Expositor. Vol. 38 p. 110). The word "remaining" is an unintentional admission that Israel was symbolized by the sum total of the branches. Therefore the tree itself must symbolize something more than Israel only. The writer of this also keeps on referring to "justification," apparently completely failing to see that it is not mentioned by Paul in this context and has nothing whatever to do with the matters under discussion.
In fairness I must add that the magazine from which I have quoted is by no means the only offender in this respect. I have quoted it, not because I wish particularly to pillory it, but because it is in my view the most important exponent of these errors. It is, at least, certainly worth taking seriously; which is more than can be said of some others!
The consequences of this pride are twofold. We may think of service to God as our work, and resent anything which seems to interfere with it or direct it into other channels. Or perhaps we may resent still more any criticism of it as a personal affront to ourselves. Yet real humility would welcome such direction and such criticism; such direction because our Lord knows better than we do, such criticism because by criticism alone can flaws and human infirmities be brought to light and a closer approximation to absolute truth be made.
When all is said, we are but partakers of the root and fatness of the olive. The credit for anything we may succeed in doing belongs to the root which is bearing us. If we are privileged to shed forth Divine light in the world, that is something for which we should be deeply grateful and about which we should be utterly humble.
Those of us who were not born Jews were, at first, Gentiles by nature, no matter what we are now as members of the one body. The position of individual Gentiles, nationally, is precisely now what it was when Romans 11 was written. We occupy that position on the olive tree because of the casting away of Israel which is World-conciliation. The Secret of Ephesians 3 has not changed this in any way whatever.
Objection is taken to the application of the words "yet thou standest in the faith" and "if thou shouldest be persisting in the kindness" to individuals of the Gentiles now. Yet if it is wrong to apply them now, it was equally wrong to apply them then. It is sheer presumption on our part to cut or divide Scripture thus! What right have we to force into it the baseless assumption that Gentiles are any better or worse at heart now than they were when Romans was written? Or why should we imagine that the proportion of saints is much greater or less? It is well to avoid such profitless speculations.
Never may we forget the path which has led us to our exalted station, or the transcendent grace which made the path and has guided us on to it. By grace, through faith, we were made righteous; through the death of God's Son we were conciliated; through the root and fatness of the olive tree came that light to us. So now the responsibility as well as the privilege is ours. The olive tree still stands. On ourselves, members of Christ's body, rests the duty of showing forth the light of the Evangel in this dark world.
After all, common-sense would suggest to us that the first of the Greek Scriptures must needs have a special significance of its own. Many expositors have noticed that the outstanding peculiarity of Matthew's Gospel is the term "the Kingdom of the heavens"; but few seem to have appreciated its full significance. The "Kingdom" side is evident enough. At the start Jesus Christ is the Son of David. In its genealogy the lines goes to "Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, Who is termed 'Christ'" (Matt. 1:16). It is the line of royal succession. Chapter 2 relates the reaction to the news of the false king, Herod. Then, without warning, in Chapter 3 John the Baptist heralds: "Repent! for near is the Kingdom of the heavens!" The heavens! Here is something altogether novel; even though we are warned by the account of the star in Chapter 2 that something beyond the merely terrestrial was afoot. Yet, in spite of this surprising intimation, many people are content to read Matthew's Gospel as if it contained nothing more about this matter than an offer of the earthly Kingdom to the Jews and their rejection and murder of the King. Presumptuously they have firmly anchored Matthew's Gospel to earth in defiance of its expressed reiteration that its main scope is heavenly!
Now, let us at the outset put plainly the issues involved. I am not trying to insinuate that Matthew's Gospel relates to "all spiritual blessings among the celestials" which are shown in Ephesians to be ours; but I do maintain that it points to matters which are heavenly, to a Kingdom which is of the heavens, to a calling which is celestial in character, as the Hebrews Epistle points out (Heb. 3:1). Never in any of the Gospels is found any support for the idea of setting up the Kingdom immediately as an earthly throne, of ousting the Roman authorities. Admittedly many of those who heard the Lord Jesus thought that there was, and they were deeply offended when He undeceived them. Admittedly, also, those who thought and behaved in this way had a case which seemed plausible enough to them. And certainly the many modern teachers who ought to have known better, but have followed their bad example, cannot afford to reproach them. It is true that the modern errors take a different form. Nobody thinks now that an attempt should have been made to seize the earthly throne then. In the light of the other Greek Scriptures and of history, such an attempt must have failed. So expositors have generally adopted one or other of two alternative positions. The orthodoxy of Christendom denies that the Lord Jesus ever will take the earthly throne, and most of those expositors who do not care to ignore Hebrew prophecy have postponed the Kingdom. This latter has the merit that it contradicts nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures, but the demerit of being unscriptural. This difficulty has two outstanding causes.
In fact, to put it simply: God's Kingdom is and will ever be the same in essence. The outward differences in its manifestation are imposed by the conditions under which it operates.
Matthew's Gospel gives an account of the proclamation of the Kingdom to Israel and their rejection of it. Simply the Kingdom of the heavens. Not the Kingdom set up in power, nor what is often called the Millennial Kingdom, nor the Kingdom of the Son of Mankind, nor any aspect of the Kingdom, but as it is in itself—of the heavens, spiritual.
This I have set out in my Chapter 2 (Vol. 10, No.3) to which the reader must be referred. Now my concern is to develop the theme; and what I want to emphasize here is that the first reference in Matthew to the Kingdom of the Son of Mankind is in Matt. 13:41, after the crisis of Israel's rejection of the King and His pronouncement on them of the sentence in Isa. 6:9, 10 (Matt. 13:14, 15). From that point, so far as Israel nationally is concerned, the hope of the Kingdom recedes into the future, the action in power of the Son of Mankind; for those doing lawlessness, the furnace of the fire; for the righteous, shining as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Not a word is said about the Kingdom being postponed, or withdrawn. What is said is that "to them," that is, to the "vast throngs" (13:2) it has not been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom; but to the disciples it has been given. Since Israel, collectively, would not hear; an election who will hear has been called out from all humanity, not merely Israel. The remainder of the Greek Scriptures is the explanation of how, from whom, and for what, that called-out election (which is what "ecclesia" in Greek, "church" in English, means) has been called. As the disclosure proceeds in Acts and the epistles, it becomes clear that the saving-work of God had been sent to the Gentiles and that they were hearing it on their own account, till in Acts 28: 28 is recorded Paul's actual statement of this great fact to the Jews of Rome, then the World-Metropolis.
Either theory covers some part of the facts and ignores the rest; and the exponents of either theory often use language which is obscured by vestiges of the other. The very name "New Testament" combines the faults of both. "New" implies that it turns its back on the so-called Old Testament; "Testament," a mistranslation of "covenant," implies that its subject is the New Covenant prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The most prominent exponent of ultra-dispensationalism, referring to Matthew's opening words, says: "Nothing can be clearer than that we are to have, in this Gospel, something bearing very strictly upon the special covenants that form the foci of the Hebrew Scriptures." Yet in fact "covenant" occurs only once! (Matt. 26:28). It occurs also in the parallel passages in Mark and Luke, twice in Acts and once i:n Revelation; but nine times in Paul's epistles and seventeen in Hebrews! Furthermore, of circumcision, the sign of covenant, Matthew has not a word to say! I do not know which is the more deplorable: the cynical effrontery of expositors who can put out false statements which can easily be exposed by every reader, or the careless indifference of the readers who can allow such falsehoods to pass for years apparently undetected.
Yet this writer very properly directs our attention to Matthew's opening words: "Scroll of lineage of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham." Though Matthew was presenting something new, he presented it On the firm basis of the old. David and Abraham are not new, but in Jesus Christ there is, in the fullest sense, a new revelation of God. Before, this was but a promise, seen by prophets; but neither clearly perceived nor understood. As John tells us: "The Word became flesh and tabernacles among us, and we gaze on His glory." That is what is new in the Greek Scriptures: His glory, and all it implies, gazed on by us.
So the truth, as usual, is the mean between the two extremes. Matthew's Gospel is a direct continuation of the Hebrew Scriptures but it is also the start of something new. Unless this is understood, it is a sealed book.
That future was the coming of Messiah. In the fulness of time He came and Matthew's Gospel is the record of His coming as King. So, in that it was the beginning of the realization of the promised future, it was the continuation of what was past and the beginning of what was to come.
That future, though seen by the Prophets, was not perceived comprehensively as a whole or completely in all its details. Only part of what God had in store could be told, became only part could be understood. This truth is stated in 1 Cor. 2:9,10. And even when King and Kingdom were proclaimed, nobody had more than a glimmering of understanding of what they really were. The history in Acts, and the disclosure i:n Galatians of details of the Jerusalem meeting, display this ignorance among the Twelve even at that late hour. And to the very last, certain things remained which the Twelve could not disclose; because those things were outside what are, in modern language, their terms of reference, in that the Twelve had not been called to them or commissioned for them, as Paul and his fellow apostles were. Peter implies this at the end of his second epistle, by referring his readers to "our beloved brother Paul."
Furthermore, certain things were disclosed as specifically named secrets. Secrets they were, and secrets they remained and do remain to this day. This is plain in the description of the first of them: "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of the heavens, yet to those it has not been given." (Matt. 13:11). Naturally they were no longer secret to those who had received them, but no secret ever is or can be. For this is the very nature of a secret: it is something the knowledge of which is confined to the chosen few. And God's secrets are all the more secret in that they can be read by all, yet understood only by those spiritually equipped.
Unfortunately the idea still persists to some extent that the Evangel of the uncircumcision and the secrets to which it leads were in essence a sort of afterthought on God's part. This is, even in its most diluted form, a disastrous error. God's revealed purpose is to be regarded as one unit, one complete whole. No change of mind is there in His gifts and callings. We should have been forewarned by the fact that we, the Church which is His body, were chosen i:n Christ before, world-foundation, not after Matthew 13 or Acts. That we should ever have supposed that Israel's rejection of the Kingdom necessitated a redrafting of God's time-table is fantastic! It did create a gap, but in Israel's history, not God's programme. The Kingdom of the heavens had to come, and so had the stewardship of the Secret; for God could not be expected to confine Himself to cleaning up this earth only. The universal mischief wrought by sin is to be removed once and for all. Besides, Israel's rejection of Messiah was foretold, and the prophecies always left plenty of room for developments unexpected by humanity. Any scheme of prophetic interpretation stands self-condemned which presupposes, let alone suggests, that God was as it were taken by surprise by developments after Pentecost and was forced hastily to improvise other measures to cope with the unfortunate dilemmas presented by Israel's conduct; yet the reader who approaches some expositions with awareness of the existence of this idea will find that it almost stands out from their pages.
Paradoxically, Matthew's is the Gospel which specially opens up the Kingdom of the heavens while yet dealing chiefly with God's earthly people Israel. This is the occasion of all the confusion—not the cause of it, for that lies in blindness and want of faith. Yet it is this element of paradox which gives Matthew its immense importance. Israel's position entitled them to hear the heavenly proclamation first. Only when they, as Israel, refused it could the Gentiles hear it on their own account. Only after the fulness of the Gentiles have entered in can Israel's earthly spiritual blessings come to the forefront on earth.
Another outstanding feature of Matthew is the stress he lays upon the Messianic prophecies. In them are woven together God's earthly and heavenly plans for His People Israel. This makes them seem paradoxical to us, for whom the distinction between the terrestrial and the celestial seems so abrupt; but in days to come this will wear very thin. In fact, for us who are not Israelites, it is impossible to sort out some of the prophecies with any precision at all. Essentially they are Israel's.
John the Baptist proclaims his message in Matthew 3, the Lord Jesus explains its meaning in Matt. 11:7-30. The first part is perhaps the most enigmatical pronouncement the Lord Jesus ever made. Its first and second clauses are, however, plain enough (v. 11). God's revelation to mankind is an expanding one. The Kingdom is greater than the Law and the Prophets. John simply proclaimed it; so those who subsequently were to come into it were, even the smaller of them, necessarily greater than he. Yet John himself was greater than all before him! Is it not astonishing that anyone has ever dared to treat as of relatively little account a Kingdom so great as all this? Then comes the enigma, the reference to Elijah, about which there seems to have been from the first great confusion; the assumption being that John could somehow have become Elijah if Israel had repented. This is another of the unjustifiable" ifs" which have disfigured dispensational controversy from the start; and which come from assuming that there is no new departure in Matthew and confusing the Kingdom of the heavens with that of the Son of Mankind.
Now, Malachi 4:5,6 plainly refers to Elijah, but the previous verse says: "Remember the Law of Moses, My servant"; yet Matt. 11:13 says: "For all the Prophets and the Law prophesy till John," so something new was afoot. Over the next verse many stumble through failing to read with common-sense. John had already come and already prophesied; so he could not be one "about to be coming." Also the sentence is conditional, it all hangs on an "if." John was a type of the Elijah who is about to be coming, and his ministry analogous with what Elijah's will be; but we cannot disentangle them in Malachi 31 and 4. John was plainly a partial fulfilment of Mal. 3:1 and Isa. 40:3, but not in any way a fulfilment of Mal. 3:2 and Isa. 40:4 and what follows them. John could not be Elijah.
As G. H. Pember points out (in "The Great Prophecies of the Centuries Concerning the Church"), this clears up the problem of Matt. 17:10-13 and Mark 9:11-13. The former can be read: "Yet I am saying to you that an Elijah came already," and the latter: "an Elijah has even come." This is one of the rare cases when it is necessary to supply an indefinite Article in English to make proper sense; but this is a lesser evil than making Elijah figurative.
The meaning of this fact has to be considered. The Hebrew Scriptures and the first part of Matthew's Gospel were given to Israel; that is to say, to people of which the bulk were always unbelievers. On the other hand, Paul's Epistles were addressed exclusively to believers; and it is in them, almost exclusively, that we get precise information about God's purposes, not only for ourselves, but for Israel, earth and heaven. His secrets are only for those who are truly His own, so to unbelieving Israel only the barest minimum was disclosed in Matthew 13. Our failure to perceive this obvious fact is not only the measure of our own unbelief but the immediate cause of all "dispensational" problems. These, too, could never have presented themselves were it not for Paul's Epistles; and the complicated systems which have been worked-out have stemmed from reading Paul's dis closures into the context of Isaiah 6. Only when the Lord Jesus turned to His own disciples in Matthew 13 did He reveal secrets. This by itself should have sufficed to warn us.
I t is to be hoped that the controversy about Acts 28:28 will cease, now that, at last, we understand the significance of Matthew 13.
In the usual selfish way of sinful humanity we tend to think of the Word becoming flesh, and of gazing on His glory, as something which is wholly our concern. This is about as far from the truth as anything can be! Even in John's Gospel, Jew and Hebrew Scriptures come first, and not till John 1:29 comes the taking away of the sin of the world. This expresses from another viewpoint the fact which permeates the other Gospels, Acts and Romans: "To the Jew first." In Romans, Paul says explicitly: "Christ has become Servant of circumcision, for the sake of God's truth, to confirm the promises of the fathers; yet the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy." To Israel it is promise, to Gentiles mercy; yet that mercy is no afterthought on God's part. It is an integral part of His plan, but it is secondary in order. And, incidentally, these words in Romans are a complete summing-up of the Evangel of Jesus Christ, the theme of Mark's Gospel.
Read in this light the Gospels and Acts form the glorious portal to the unsearchable riches which are ours in Christ Jesus. Read as something for Israel only, or as if we were "the real Israel," they effectually bar us from all progress in understanding and spiritual growth.
To sum up: Matthew's Gospel is so largely concerned with Israel because the Evangel had to be presented to the Jew first. Yet the Kingdom it proclaims and the narrative of the presentation of the King, His rejection, the sentence pronounced by Him in Matt. 13:14, 15, His death, resurrection and ascension, are concerned not only with Israel but with the whole of humanity. In all these things there is an underlying unity of the whole of the Greek Scriptures, including the Apostle Paul's Epistles, even though they have a separate unity of their own. The nature and interrelation of these unities will be examined in due course.
So before us lie several interesting and vitally important lines of research. We have to examine how the principle" To the Jew first" actually worked-out, the part taken by the Apostles Peter and Paul in the process and the nature and demarcation of their spheres of operation, the character of the Evangel in its general form as "God's Evangel," and the way it is modified when considered in relation to the Kingdom or when operating under covenant (as one day it will) or in freedom from covenant, as it is now.
My main purpose, however, in preparing this Note, is to draw attention to a set of questions put to me by Mr. S. C. Serle of Basingstoke (England) in a letter dated 10th October, 1950. These questions startled me greatly; and, ever since, I have been studying the issues involved in them. Already they have so modified my thinking that it is now possible for the alert reader, starting from my recent writings, to find out for himself what Mr. Serle discovered. As I am most anxious that Mr. Serle should get the credit he deserves for what I must describe as truly brilliant insight, I feel compelled to put out this Note and thus establish his claim to priority. Mr. Serle was writing about the Evangel of the circumcision, and he asked:—
I am convinced that Mr. Serle is right; and I will go further and say positively that since the pronouncement recorded in Matthew 13:14, 15 the proclamation of an evangel characterized by covenant and its sign circumcision is out of the question. It must be while Israel is cast away.
The characteristic feature of the Circumcisionist party and their sympathisers was simply and solely the supreme importance which they attached to circumcision. Yet the Apostle Peter opposed them, and it was to him that the Evangel of the circumcision was entrusted! (See Acts 15:1-11 and 10:44—11:17). Someone will, .no doubt, retort: "Yes, but' the Circumcision' means Israel." Indeed! And were not Israel the Covenant People, characterized by having the circumcision which was given by Moses?
Not until Mr. Serle was inspired to ask his questions did it occur to anyone, so far as I can discover, to enquire how it came about that Peter, THE circumcision apostle, never enjoined circumcision or said anything about it; but, rather, so far as he was able, discouraged the Circumcisionist party and its supporters.
At last, after much study, I am able to make some contribution towards elucidating this, the supreme dispensational problem of the Greek Scriptures; and I hope to be able to publish my findings by instalments. Meanwhile I commend Mr. Serle's questions to the thoughts and prayers of us all.
A more accurate rendering of this question in Rom. 3:1 is: "What, then the superabundance of the Jew? Or what the profit of the circumcision?" The Greek word "perisson " is difficult to render concordantly, but its essential idea is superabundance or excess. By virtue of the circumcision given to him by Moses the Jew is in covenant relationship with God, and in this respect has not only an advantage but a superabundance of advantage over the Gentile. Thus at the outset we are warned against any ideas which may lead us to regard as of little account the profit of the Jew's covenant relationship of the circumcision. This profit is "much in every manner"; and the fact that the circumcision is for the present, and temporarily, nothing, does not nullify it. All it means is for the present the Jew is nothing, either. When in due time the terms "Jew" and "Israel" once again have active significance this superabundance will again be apparent.
The Evangel is much simpler than our teachers have allowed us to realize. Although the essentials of its historical side require the four Gospels for their exposition, the essentials of its doctrinal side are covered by only the first four chapters of Romans. Moreover they constitute its doctrinal basis not only for present conditions while covenant and its sign, the circumcision, are in abeyance; but also for the future proclamation of the Evangel of the circumcision. This is inevitable for two reasons: first because God's Evangel is the whole evangel apart from that aspect connected with rule, i.e. the Kingdom Evangel; second because the Apostle Paul had to proclaim it to all, irrespective of whether they were Jews or Gentiles, and therefore had to set out its two aspects, that is, whether associated with covenant, or apart from and free from covenant. These two aspects constitute the Evangel of the circumcision and the' Evangel of the uncircumcision respectively.
In due course I hope to prove that God's Evangel is, as stated above, the Evangel in its broadest form and that its aspect while under the restrictions imposed by covenant (that is, the Evangel of the circumcision) not only has not been in existence since the promulgation of Isaiah 6:9, 10 in Matt. 13:14, 15, but cannot be; and that neither the Twelve nor Paul nor anyone else could properly proclaim the evangel linked to covenant, with its sign, the circumcision, and all it implies. This present chapter is designed as a start towards clearing the ground.
The Apostle Paul, in the first two chapters of his exposition of God's Evangel indicts Jew and Gentile. Then he goes on to complete his case by showing that the superabundance of the Jew is not sufficient by itself to satisfy the claims of God. So now we turn to his answer.
Nor is this the only doubtful feature. The sublinear of the C.V. below "episteuthEsan" reads "THEY-WERE-BELIEVED." If what is said above about the grammar cannot be rebutted it might equally well have read "THEY-ARE-BELIEVED," and the further question arises why the reading was not "ENTRUSTED" instead. The word "logia" (oracles) may be Nominative or Accusative; so it is quite possible to accept the translation: "For first, indeed, that the oracles of God are believed," or "were believed." This rendering has the advantage that it makes the transition to the sequel much more natural: "For what if some disbelieve? Will not the unbelief of theirs nullify the faith of God?" Unfortunately, however, the grammarians tell us that this makes the first two verses very clumsy in style and contrary to the way the Apostle Paul or any Greek writer would ordinarily put things. Most translators therefore make "oracles" the object of the verb. It comes to this, then, that the student must choose for himself; but I think that any translation which aspires to the limit of faithfulness ought to indicate the alternative; and even that there is something to be said for the view that when two different renderings are equally permissible we may in a free version combine them without impropriety.
This answer in Rom. 3:2, 3 calls to mind what is said to the Gentiles in Rom. 11:20-23: "By the unbelief are they broken out, yet you stand in the faith." From this we perceive that Romans is all of a piece—we simply cannot distinguish "dispensationally" between the third and eleventh chapters. Circumcision is still of benefit to the Jew, but only if the oracles of God are believed. So we see in Rom. 4:9-12 that it is faith which really matters, whether in circumcision or uncircumcision. Circumcision is a sign and a seal; sign of covenant privilege, seal of the righteousness of the faith—yes, and more than that, of the faith which was in uncircumcision! The Jew's circumcision, with faith, is profit, is superabundance. Without faith, it is void.
On the other hand, the Gentile has been standing as to his faith alone. He has no reason to be haughty. If God spares not those who have the sign and seal, apart from the faith of which it is the sign and seal, He will not spare those who lack them all.
The Apostle Paul does not pursue this theme. He brings it up as an integral part of his argument—that it is faith which gives the circumcision all its profit—and then he goes on with his demonstration that "not one is righteous—not even one." (Rom. 3:10).
The Evangel is God's power for salvation to everyone who is believing, to the Jew first (Rom. 1:16). Yes, but not to the Jew only, for Paul adds, "and to the Greek as well." In harmony with this, we learn in the prologue to Romans that it is addressed "to all who are in Rome," and that this "all" is part of a community described as "all the Gentiles" (1:5-7). The oracles of God are here no longer entrusted to and believed by the Jew only: those proclaimed by Paul are addressed to a far wider circle, saints who are in Christ Jesus.
For the first time since Abraham we find in Paul's Evangel something which in its terms does not contemplate the Gentiles as completely or even seriously subordinate to Israel. Admittedly, at the start it does not contemplate them as, quite equal to Israel. Israel has priority, a precedence of honour, " To the Jew first"; but in Paul's Evangel, in itself, there is no chasm between Jews and Gentiles in this respect. messing comes to both in like manner, not as something left over after the Jew has had his fill. Moreover, it does not come to either as Jew or Gentile, but as a sinner needing a Saviour.
There is, and there was, no promise which Israel could, as Israel, partake of on equal terms with the other nations. In Paul's Evangel all prior right, such as is implied in the very name "Israel," is put out of court from the start.
That is why Israel is not mentioned in promulgating the Secret. Israel, as Israel, must either be in the foreground of the picture or not in it at all. Other nations cannot be on an equality with them. The circumcision is in itself the badge of fleshly privilege. Where covenant is in operation, there is the superabundance of the Jew and the profit of the circumcision. Where the Secret is in operation, covenant cannot be; and since" Israel" is the name which implies covenant privilege; when that vanishes, Israel vanishes too, the Jew in effect ceases to be.
Thus, the whole Evangel, God's Evangel, is in view only in the first four chapters of Romans, where Paul is setting forth its fundamentals. Even in them, the circumcision aspect of it is actually, so far as we are concerned, only a foil to the uncircumcision aspect which is the essence of the Evangel entrusted to Paul.
The Gentiles appear prominently on the scene in Paul's earlier Church Epistles, while Israel's own affairs are already only secondary. . In Ephesians Israel appears once only, and then as something belonging to past history. As a present factor in the situation Israel has vanished away. This one backward glance marks the end' of Israel in the Prison Epistles. Earthly standing and fleshly blessings, the superabundance of the Jew and the profit of the circumcision, have disappeared from the scene. Our standing and blessings have become wholly spiritual among the celestials. Nor is this confined to th8 Prison Epistles as some would have us think. Some believe that Galatians is the earliest epistle, yet in it (6:15) we read that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but there is a new creation."
I suggest that it is Acts 13:46-48, which comes after Paul's first proclamation to Israel and its rejection (13:45) wherein he first speaks of being made righteous by faith (13:39). Here the Apostles Paul and Barnabas explicitly state they are turning to the Gentiles, and here" the word of the Lord" comes to the Gentiles as such and they believe (13:46, 48). Note the carefully emphasized double witness, "Paul as well as Barnabas said. .." This is followed up by further events of significance. The two proceed to Lycaonia, where they evangelize the inhabitants to turn back to the living God (14:15). There is no doubt whatever that these people were Gentiles. The account is preceded and followed by narratives of brutal attacks on the two apostles by the Jews, bringing in mind 1 Thess. 1:9, 10, where history was evidently repeating itself. The two apostles continue their evangelizing mission until a breach occurs at Antioch. Nevertheless Paul continues the dual apostolic witness by singling out the Apostle Silas. He also calls the Apostle Timothy. Later on, both were left temporarily at Thessalonica (17:14).
Another notable feature of this ministry is the reiterated reference to "the word of the Lord" (Acts 13:48, 14:25, 15:33,36), which is so prominently echoed in 1 Thess. 4:15. It is difficult to imagine a more convincing indirect testimony against the theory that the Thessalonians were a church derived from a synagogue of the Jews and composed of believers who had obeyed Peter's call, as Dr. Bullinger stated.
In the fact of these facts, there can be no reasonable doubt that Acts 13:46-48 marks the point when Israel (with Gentile proselytes) ceased to be the sole believers of the oracles of God. This information is obtained from the historical book, Acts. It is important to notice that our knowledge of this truth is not derived from Paul's epistles. It is not a "body-church" nor even a Pauline truth.
The word "oracle" is probably the best rendering of the Greek word "logion"—the thing said. It occurs in the Greek Scriptures' four times, Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2; Heb. 5:12 and 1 Peter 4:11. None of these refer to belief of the oracles by Gentiles. Essentially they belong to Israel. Their sharing by Gentiles is abnormal and temporary.
To the two questions in Rom. 3:3 Paul gives no immediate answer, and we learn nothing bearing on the subject till we get to Romans 9-11, the section of the epistle which deals with the national aspects of the individual matters considered in the first eight chapters. Unbelief has always been Israel's besetting sin. How it will be brought to an end we learn here. The real superabundance of the Jew, the real profit of the circumcision, has never yet been seen in its fulness of glory. The blunt truth is that neither has had even a chance to appear! The Jew has dissipated his superabundance in his unfaithfulness and broken covenants. What superabundance he possesses now is chiefly in the pursuit of money and goods; though, to his credit, also in Art and Science'; but most certainly not in spiritual wealth. With covenants broken and thrown aside; the circumcision, their sign, is necessarily nullified and thrown aside also. If ever an evangel characterized by the circumcision could have been proclaimed, it would have been before the Evangel of the Kingdom was rejected, and judgment pronounced, in Matt. 13:14, 15. Yet it was not then, and could not be, because Israel's own unbelief made any proclamation of the Evangel of the circumcision out of the question; so it has not .been, and cannot be, until the proclamation of the Evangel of the uncircumcision has run its course and 1 Thess. 4:14-17 has been fulfilled. Then the stage will once again be set for covenant and in due course the superabundance of the Jew will be. seen in all its glory in the New Covenant.
We must not, however, treat this in an unbalanced way. The Jew did believe, the oracles of God to some extent; consequently he had some profit of the circumcision and some measure of superabundance. This is seen when we turn to Romans 9, where we find listed eight privileges belonging to Israel alone; for Paul declares: "My sorrow is great. . . . for my brethren, my kin according to flesh, who are Israelites, whose is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the legislation and the divine service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and out of whom is Christ according to flesh. . ."
Nowhere are these specifically described as the Jew's superabundance, yet nevertheless they are inseparably linked to the oracles of God. Even the eighth, Christ, the Anointable, Messiah, cannot really be understood apart from them. They are the channel of divine light, even as the olive tree in Romans 11.
In the above quotation I have on my own responsibility emphasized the word "flesh" at the beginning and end, in order to draw special attention to the sharp contrast with the double occurrence also of the word "spirit" in the full statement of the Secret in Eph. 3:6-12. In each the first use of the contrasted words is connected with national position and the second refers to Christ. Each passage, too, ends with a solemn "Amen."
All these eight prerogatives belong to Israel according to flesh. The sonship and the glory are theirs in flesh and will be manifested. to the world in due time. Their covenant position will be triumphantly established at the conclusion of the New Covenant, when for them there will no longer be any antagonism between flesh and spirit. The legislation is for Israel in flesh, and in concluding the New Covenant God will inscribe it on their hearts (Heb. 8:10), the divine service and the fathers belong to them alone, and Christ according to flesh also.
The word "latreia," translated "divine service" occurs five times in the Greek Scriptures: John 16:2; Rom. 9:4; 12:1; Heb. 9:1, 6. The verb "latreuo" corresponding to it, translated "offer divine service," occurs 21 times, only four of which are in Paul's epistles: Rom. 1:9, 25; Phil. 3:3 and 2 Tim. 1:3. The third of these is of special significance to our present inquiry, for Philippians dwells particularly on the practical aspects of the Secret. In it, all is in spirit; things of flesh have no standing. Paul before his conversion had everything which made for fleshly standing; but because of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord, he was deeming it to be refuse (Phil. 3:8). At the present time "we are the circumcision—those as to God's spirit offering divine service, and boasting in Christ Jesus, and not in flesh having confidence" (Phil. 3:3). This plainly refers to Rom. 2:29. True circumcision is "of heart, in spirit not letter." As Israel is now cast-away, there is nothing left of the circumcision in flesh. All that exists now is the circumcision of heart.
Phil. 3:3 is at once followed by a concise statement of the gist of Romans 1-4; and we can see from Rom. 2:25, 26 why for the Jew the benefit is no longer operative. His superabundance is essentially i:n flesh; but when the New Covenant is concluded it will be spiritual as well. The circumcision will then be of benefit. because those who have it will be putting law into practise. The Jew will, once more, have the oracles of God a:nd with them the eightfold superabundance.
The Jew's superabundance necessarily involves the principle "To the Jew first," and its first application in the Greek Scriptures is Matthew's Gospel. I trust that the stumbling block over this was effectively removed in Chapter 23, but further questions remain. Why did the Apostle Paul throughout Acts go first to Israel when his Evangel was of the akrobustia, the uncircumcision? And why, in the detailed setting-forth of his Evangel in Romans, did he put Jews and Gentiles on an equality of condemnation at the very start? Why in Galatians did he place his Evangel before Cephas and the rest of the Twelve in Jerusalem? Why, indeed, except that from the very start it was clearly to the Jew first? Is it not a remarkable paradox that the akrobustia evangel had to be presented first to Israel, the Covenant People who had the peritomE, the circumcision? Yet it ought not to take -us aback, for the first to receive the akrobustia evangel was not one of the Gentiles, but the man who started as Saul, the persecuting Jew.
Then, dramatically, the scene shifts. Peter comes in again and his ministry in full Pentecostal force. No more Saul. No sign of Paul. Then comes Peter's vision of the sheet, followed by his unlocking of the Kingdom to the Gentiles and the Holy Spirit falling on them (10:44). Next Peter has to explain and vindicate his action. Then Saul is led from Tarsus into Antioch. Lastly Herod imprisons Peter, who is miraculously rescued, after which he vanishes "into a different place."
Another shift of scene! Once again the way is clear for Saul. He is, with Barnabas, separated for the work to which he has been called, and, finally, we read" Now Saul, who is also Paul, being filled with holy spirit. . . ." (13:9). And that is the last of him. Paul takes his place.
Our recovery of a better understanding of the Kingdom makes it easier to see the inner meaning of this remarkable account. Saul is called; but there is no ministry open to him, as a Jew. Instead, he is called to turn his back on his peritomE, to relinquish his Jewish standing. All he can do for the Jews themselves is to amaze them (Acts 9:21), confuse them (9:22), cause them to consult to assassinate him (9:24, 29); and he has to be rescued in a hamper and packed off to his native city. What a fiasco! For Saul the Jew there is nothing, nothing at all; for Saul who is to be Paul the Gentile there is nothing either, until. . .
Until Peter completes his commission.
Peter, at last, is directed to turn the second key of the Kingdom. Thereby he completes his commission: then, and only then, can Saul become Paul and begin his own proper work.
Why, then, could Paul not function as a Jew like the others? This question is bound up with another: Why could Peter (and the rest of the Twelve) do no more than unlock the Kingdom to the Gentiles, and only that after the extremest measure of persuasion?
The answer is that Paul was not called to a restricted ministry, and the Twelve were. Yet, paradoxically, Israel (and the Twelve) had to be the first to receive the proclamation of the Kingdom of the heavens; although it was given to Paul and those he called out of Jews and Gentiles, in akrobustia, alone, to reach to the greatest heights in that celestial Kingdom.
Saul the Jew could never prevail. He was sent back to his birthplace. For him it was to be all or nothing. Until it could be all, it had perforce to be nothing. So Saul comes suddenly and splendidly into view, only to shrink away into nothingness until Peter completed his mission and unlocked the Kingdom to the Gentiles. Then he in turn is eclipsed.
Right through the recorded history in the Greek Scriptures--until the closing verses of Acts, the Jew is first. Saul's commission proved later to mean that he was to cease to be a Jew; so with it ultimately went, of necessity, the forfeiture of the Jew's first place. So Saul had to wait until all was ready and the Kingdom opened to the Gentiles. Then, and not till then, could he become Paul and begin his supreme ministry as the Apostle Paul to and for the Gentiles.
The Kingdom of the heavens had to be proclaimed to the Jew first. This fact, and all it implies, is the key to that grievously misunderstood Scripture, Matthew's Gospel.
Where we have failed in comprehension is in failing to appreciate what it does imply. It implies even this--that the Evangel of the akrobustia, the uncircumcision, had first. to be presented to Israel! This may seem at first glance to overthrow all my earlier chapters have been at pains to set out; but such is not the case. We have only to read the first three chapters of Romans, the preliminary doctrinal exposition of the Evangel, to perceive this.
Here I must digress for a moment to clear up one misconception. I have been criticized for declaring that only Gentiles can come into a position of privilege wholly and exclusively spiritual and celestial; in spite of the fact that I pointed out that the statement of the Secret of Eph. 3:6 begins with the limiting clauses "in spirit" and "the Gentiles." My critic says: "I utterly deny that there is a Jew or a Gentile in the three-fold unity of Eph. 3:6"; but he is denying an allegation which I never made. I was speaking of the class of persons who can come into this position of privilege; I was not speaking of what such persons become after they had come into that position. Those who have reached that three-fold unity are something altogether different from Gentiles. There is a new creation wherein, in Christ Jesus, all fleshly distinction vanishes (2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:15).
For us, Gentiles by nature, it is very hard to appreciate fully the notion that in the historical part of the Greek Scriptures the Jew really was first in everything, that all doors were being opened to him first, even though the door opened by Paul could be entered only if he, also, renounced his Jewishness. Yet that is the plain teaching of the history, without which it does not really make sense and has been a puzzle.
Once we have got acclimatized to the idea of Paul proclaiming his Evangel to the Jew first, there is no longer any difficulty in accepting the idea of the Kingdom of the heavens also being proclaimed to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles; and we no longer feel constrained to identify that Kingdom with the promised Messianic earth-rule of the future.
Roman Catholicism stresses the connection of Peter with "the Church." Scripture avoids connecting "Church" and "Kingdom" apart from Matt. 16:13-20. The only possible exception is Acts 2:47 ("Now the Lord added to the church those being saved day by day"); but the authenticity of the words "to the church" is not absolutely certain. In Matthew the Kingdom predominates. Peter's Pentecostal speech is the unlocking of the Kingdom to Israel, and only after it does he indicate (Acts 2:39) that the Church of God is being formed. Otherwise Peter's ministry is confined to the Kingdom witness to Israel until in Acts 10 he receives his commission to unlock the Kingdom to the Gentiles also, which he does. This fact clears up what would otherwise be indeed a puzzle, Peter's Jerusalem speech in Acts 15:7-11. This seems on the surface to be a declaration that Peter was entrusted with the Evangel of the uncircumcision, which we know from Galatians was not the case. The only occasion on which Peter is recorded as having any dealings with Gentiles is in connection with the unlocking of the Kingdom to them in Acts 10. Here, therefore, as elsewhere in Acts, Peter's ministry is of the Evangel of the kingdom.
Where, then, does Peter's ministry of the Evangel of the circumcision come in? In the first place, precisely what does this evangel mean? Since circumcision is inseparable from covenant, it means the Evangel as conditioned by covenant and all it implies; and, as we learn from 2 Cor. 3:14, in Christ the Old Covenant is being nullified. Moreover, attention was drawn above to the fact that, now, all circumcision has become uncircumcision. . Obviously, then, if there be no circumcision left, there can be no evangel of it to proclaim; and, in fact, there is not a trace anywhere of Peter Dr any of the Twelve proclaiming it.
There is no identifiable trace of the Evangel of the circumcision in Peter's ministry in Acts; nor is there in Paul's either, notwithstanding traditional assumptions. Those who so readily follow such traditions are trying to have it both ways. They accept the division in Gal. 2:7 yet they do not consider when the arrangement became operative. If it were the official recognition of conditions which had existed all. along, then Paul had never proclaimed the Evangel of the circumcision at all. If it were a new arrangement, entered into only at that meeting, then a change must have occurred in the character of Paul's Acts message of which the account shows no trace whatever. The difference between Paul's speeches and his epistles is not relevant to this question, because the general message of the speeches does not change throughout Acts up to his arrival at Rome, during which period quite half of his written ministry appeared.
As regards Peter, if it be contended that the Evangel of the circumcision must have been set out in those speeches by Peter which Acts does not record; just as the Evangel of the uncircumcision is in those by Paul about which Acts is silent, though we know from his epistles that they were made; one can only ask why such an assumption should be accepted? Haw can we pronounce on the scope of speeches of which we have no record of any sort?
What has put us on the wrong lines is asking the wrong question. Instead of asking "What evangels did Peter and Paul proclaim?" we have asked "When did Peter and Paul proclaim their evangels?" and then tried to fit their evangels into "dispensations." We know that Peter unlocked the Kingdom and that Paul heralded the Kingdom; so both evidently had the Evangel of the Kingdom. We know also that they divided between them the Evangels of the circumcision and of the uncircumcision; though we learn this, not in Acts, but in Galatians. Why not, then, believe this instead. of spinning theories? Why suppose that Paul ever usurped the Evangel of the circumcision from Peter? Or that Peter ever proclaimed it in the full sense that Paul proclaimed his uncircumcision Evangel? Why, indeed, search in Acts and Galatians for matters outside their scope, concerning which both Luke and Paul were most careful to keep silent? It does not make sense. All it does is manufacture endless confusion.
Yet not for one moment must the fact be lost sight of that Peter never treats his readers as if they were Paul's audience. Their standing and state remain essentially different from the standing and state of all those to whom Paul addresses the epistles which bear his name. On the other hand, they differ in no respect whatever from that of the people to whom the epistle to Hebrews is addressed. The more I meditate on this fact, the more convinced I am that Peter's reference must be to the Hebrews Epistle, and that if Paul was not actually its author in the sense that he penned it himself, he had the controlling hand in its preparation. Indeed, I now believe that the only reason why Paul is not named as author is the vital importance of not including Hebrews in the same category with Paul's acknowledged epistles. So Paul's ministry is from both sides—from Peter's and his own—clearly separated from that of the Twelve. Peter points his readers to Paul, but he does not in any way whatever usurp Paul's function or evangel. Peter points to Paul's Evangel. Paul's Evangel points away from Peter towards something in which Peter himself has no part to play, towards something which, though an aspect of God's Evangel, namely the Evangel of the akrobustia, the uncircumcision, is not the aspect of God's Evangel which concerns Peter. The aspect which concerns the Twelve is for the future to manifest. It will be glorious and satisfying, but it will be the fulfilment of the promises of the Prophets for Israel, not the uncovenanted glory displayed by Paul.
Peter simply could not usurp Paul's functions and proclaim his evangel; not could he then proclaim a peritomE (circumcision) evangel which by its very terms must not only be incompatible with Paul's evangel of the akrobustia but also incompatible with Israel's condition after the promulgation of Isa. 6:9, 10 in Matt. 13:14, 15. So Peter took the only course open to him: he pointed the Twelve Tribes in the dispersion to Paul; and to all who were not callable to follow Paul into akrobustia he counselled patience and endurance. There is nothing in his two epistles, or in the epistle by James, which can properly be called an evangel. There was no good news to those to whom they wrote—except the good news entrusted to Paul.
The truth is that the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ made possible all future blessings in due time. Thus the situation was permanently changed for everybody. The conditions were created which eventually will result in the conclusion of the New Covenant. From henceforth all blessings were to be spiritual. What is holding up the conclusion of the New Covenant is not any lack or failure on God's part, but on Israel's part. Meanwhile the spiritual blessings, being dammed up as regards terrestrial realization by Israel's unbelief and consequent callousing, can overflow all the more freely and abundantly in the celestial sphere which is ours. Yet, since they are spiritual blessings, their dispensing is of spirit; so those who dispense them are new-covenant dispensers. It is a kind of dispensing, a kind corresponding to the new conditions created by the Lord's death. Old conditions passed away; and this is true as much for Israel as for Gentiles. We have been inclined to suppose that the only novelty in Paul's Evangel is the presentation of the Evangel of the akrobustia to Gentiles; yet what is, if possible, even more startling is the fact that it could be, and was, presented to Jews as well!
There is no reason at all to suppose that Paul's Corinthian converts, or indeed any others, were kept in ignorance of the promise of the New Covenant to Israel and Judah. The overwhelming probability is that they knew more about it than even enlightened Christians among ourselves! A reference to new covenant dispensing would have been perfectly clear to them, as it should be to us. There would be no difficulty about this if only people were to eschew mysticism like the plague it is! Directly a mystical interpretation creeps in, whether by the extremely unspiritual process perversely described as "spiritualising" or, more respectably, by making "figurative" any word that seems difficult to the casual glance; common-sense departs and confusion reigns. Nothing is more matter-of-fact than Paul's writing. His appeal is to reason, to common-sense. He is able to soar among the celestials only because his feet are planted firmly on the ground. There is, quite literally, no nonsense about Paul, as there is about so many of his interpreters, to our great loss.
This gives us the clue we need: Paul's Evangel is that aspect of God's Evangel which is concerned with the state of akrobustia, uncircumcision, with the circumstances of people who are outside covenant by nature or who, like Paul, deliberately renounce covenant.
Such a state of things is unknown in Scripture outside Paul's Epistles; for as there was no covenant standing before Abraham received peritomE there was strictly no noncovenant standing either, in that there was no "standing" at all. Even Paul could not proclaim the Evangel of the akrobustia without reference to peritoniE as a foil to it; that is to say, he could present his evangel only as a special aspect of God's Evangel, as indeed it is. Thus he presents God's Evangel with the two aspects of it, peritomE and akrobustia, side by side, in contrast; so that in it we can discern the clear statement of the Evangel of the akrobustia with, as background, an implied statement of some, at least, of the salient points of the Evangel of the peritomE. And, no doubt, when covenant is again restored to its proper terrestrial position, with the result that God can then conclude the New Covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah; Romans will stand as the presentation of God's Evangel so that, in its turn, the Evangel of the peritomE can be set forth all the more clearly with the bygone Evangel of the akrobustia as its foil and background.
Once this is understood, we have in our hands the criterion for distinguishing between God's Evangel and the Evangel of the akrobustia, which means that we can correctly cut Scripture concerning both; and also fit the Evangel of the peritomE into its place in God's scheme.
Where Paul is discussing matters which concern both Israel and the Gentiles, or where in pursuing any theme he turns from one to the other—there we have God's Evangel, as in the first chapters of Romans.
When what is written is inapplicable to Israel (though not necessarily to the individual Jew when regarded as a sinner needing salvation rather than as a man under covenant and having peritomE) there we have the Evangel of the akrobustia, which was entrusted to Paul himself.
Yet such sorting-out would be unnecessary in practise if only students were content to take God's Word as it is without inventing theories and systems of interpretation. If that sort of thing were avoided, we would have no difficulty whatever in perceiving the exceedingly simple truth that, for us, in present conditions, God's Evangel IS the Evangel of the akrobustia.
During the period covered by Acts, Israel did not understand this. Many Jews supposed that their peritomE continued to give them a special privileged standing, and indeed, they still do! Actually all that remained of it was their entitlement to hear the Evangel first; and when its proclamation had been extended by Paul himself to the Roman Jews, that is the last intimation of even that priority; though there is no need to suppose that he did not later perform the same courtesy to the Jews in Spain and elsewhere. We simply do not know, and it does not matter to us. The point is that the facts of the situation compelled Paul to set out the full Evangel of God.
Such an objection could never be raised where the significance of peritomE is properly understood. By itself the rite is nothing. The practise of circumcision is widespread; but only "the circumcision," the peritomE, has any Scriptural significance, the peritomE which was received by Abraham and which later was given by Moses. And it has no significance in itself, but solely as sign of covenant and seal of faith-righteousness. If, then, we put the objection in the proper form it must take if it is ever to have any claim to be Scriptural at all, it becomes: "Covenant has been done away with finally." This is certainly untrue, so the objection falls to the ground.
Just how the Evangel of the peritomE is to be proclaimed in the days to come is no concern of ours, and no doubt that is why it is not revealed.
What, then, is the Evangel of the peritomE? It is the good news of the superabundance of the Jew (Rom. 3:1). "For peritomE, indeed, is of benefit—if law thou mayest be putting into practise" (Rom. 2:25). And that benefit is something of enormous importance. "For if their casting-away is world-conciliation; what the taking-back, if not life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15). The Circumstances of their taking-back are disclosed in the secret of Israel's callousing (Rom. 11 : 25-32), and contain a dear reference to the N few Covenant. Then Paul adds: "As to the Evangel, indeed, they are enemies because of you; yet as to the choice, beloved because of the fathers." For the sake of the fulness of the Gentiles Israel have now to be enemies and the Evangel of the peritomE temporarily in eclipse; but nothing can stop Israel and the peritomE from resuming their proper glory in due time. Taking the broad view; as we have. to do in Rom. 1-4 and 9-11; we see the two halves of the Evangel as we see a coin, first obverse, then reverse—never both simultaneously; yet never seeing the coin as it truly is unless we see it in the solid, as it were, fully conscious of the side we are not viewing.
From Abraham's day there has always been a germ of the Evangel of the akrobustia, in the promise to him of blessing to all nations of the earth. None of God's promises of special favour to Israel have ever detracted from that foundation promise to Abraham. Although now it has been glorified so splendidly in the Evangel of the akrobustia and the celestial blessings which crown it; there similarly still remains a germ of the Evangel of the peritomE, and nothing given to us detracts from it either.
The pronouncement of Isa. 6:9, 10 in Matt. 13:14, 15 shows no trace of this germ of promise, no hope for Israel; and the same applies to Paul's reference to it in Acts 28:26, 27. For the time being there was no hope for Israel to grasp at, and there is none now—for Israel, as Israel the Covenant People: their peritomE has become akrobustia; and so long as that state of affairs persists there is nothing else to be said for the present. Yet even so, even if we were to cut out Rom. 9-11 from our Bibles, there would still remain the passages in Romans which are discussed in Part 2, in this issue, of " PeritomE and akrobustia." These by themselves, without any reference to Hebrew prophecy, suffice to show that Israel's present position is but a temporary state of eclipse. The benefit of the peritomE is much in every manner (Rom. 3:1). God will be making righteous peritomE out of faith (3:30). Abraham remains father of peritomE to the Circumcisionists (4:12). The promise is to be firm to the entire seed (4:16)—not to those of the Law only, but to those also of Abraham's faith. The peritomE side has priority in both of these, as also in Rom. 15: 8, 9, which is the final reminder, lest in spite of all Paul has written we forget, as indeed many have done, that Paul is terming Christ to have become Servant of peritomE for both halves or aspects of God's Evangel, entirely distinct though they are. One half, the Evangel of the peritomE, holds priority of order; the other, the Evangel of the akrobustia, holds the field for the present to the complete exclusion of the peritomE half.
The essence of the Evangel of the peritomE is that unto the people of Israel was born in David's city a Saviour Who is Messiah Lord. This was being evangelized to the entire people (Luke 2: 10,11), the same people who are spoken of in Luke 1:68, 80; 2:25, 32, 34. Realism is not the strong point of most Gentile Christians and few of us seem able to perceive that so far as earth is concerned we belong to a hiatus in God's purposes. Luke's Gospel is that most concerned with all humanity; but humanity blessed with faithful. Israel through Israel's Christ, not the tiny minority election which forms the Church which is His body. The Evangel of the akrobustia has no. good news for all humanity except as regards the exceedingly few who are capable of receiving it. Life out of dead ones, in the wide sense, is conditional on Israel's taking back; which is itself conditional on Israel receiving the Evangel of the. peritomE: the coming good news that God's covenants with Israel are once again operative.
To what extent do these epistles contain any evangel at all? The only way to answer the question is to examine the occurrences of this noun and its corresponding verb in them. "Evangel" occurs only once in the passage we have already discussed. The verb "evangelize" is found in Heb. 4:2, 6; 1 Peter 1:12, 25; 4:6. The reader who studies these five in their context will see that there is no specific evangel set out in them; at any rate nothing at all comparable with what Paul sets out, or the Evangel of the Kingdom in the Gospels.
The truth is—and we might as well face it squarely—there was no evangel for those to whom these epistles were written other than that of the akrobustia developed by Paul; and nowhere, nowhere at all, any along the lines of a peritomE evangel.
Those to whom Peter was writing must have been sufficiently familiar with God's Evangel to understand his reference to it; and in 2 Peter 3:15, 16 he deliberately refers them to Paul, who alone discusses it. He does however stress that some things Paul writes are hard to apprehend. I cannot call to mind another statement like that anywhere in Scripture; and I suggest that we ought to read it as if we were in the place of those to whom Peter wrote. For a Jewish audience, and all the more for Jews dispersed in Gentile lands, Paul's teaching was hard to apprehend, very hard indeed; and lest we be disposed to feel superior about it, let us bear in mind that, for us, a great deal of the Hebrew Scriptures are far from easy. Even Paul was hardly outstandingly successful in presenting the Evangel to the Jews, and nobody since has managed to improve on his efforts. In Due course I propose to show that what Paul evangelized to the Jew first was God:s Evangel in its non-covenant aspect, the Evangel of the akrobustia. It is a complete fallacy that he ever proclaimed to them or to anyone else the Evangel of the peritomE. Why, indeed, should he have done so? It is yet to be shown that even Peter and the rest of the Twelve evangelized it; and certainly this was their function rather than Paul's—if it was at that time the function of anyone at all.
R. B. WITHERS. Last updated 21.12.2005