When I prepared the papers "In Part" (Vol. 24, p. 107) and "When did 'what is mature' come?" (Vol. 25, p. 152), I was trying to clear up problems of the latter type by, so to speak, sorting out the trees. The time has now come, I think, to try to assemble the data ascertained into a clear and coherent whole so that we can now see the wood properly.
Recent correspondence, and in particular the papers by Mr. Sheffield and Mr. Meredith, have taken together shown that there is still a great need for proper clarification of these matters. This I propose now to attempt.
A key passage is 1. Cor. 13:8 to 14:1. This, as literally as
"The love is never lapsing: yet, whether prophecies, they
will be discarded; whether tongues, they will cease; whether
knowledge, it will be discarded.
For out-of-part we are knowing, and out-of-part we are
prophesying. Yet whenever the mature may be coming, the
out-of-part shall be discarded.
When I was (a) minor, I talked as minor, I was disposed
as minor, I accounted as minor; yet when I have become
(a) man, I have discarded the (things) of the minor.
For we are looking at present through a mirror, in enigma;
yet then face toward face. At present I am getting to know
out-of-part; yet then I shall be knowing fully, even as I am
Yet now are remaining faith, expectation, love—these
three. Yet greatest of these is the love. Be pursuing the love.
Yet be zealous for the spirituals—yet rather that you may be
prophesying. . ."
Then Paul goes on to explain why he wishes the Corinthians to be prophesying.
I stopped at this point in order to draw attention to the apparent contradiction between Paul's opening and closing words in this quotation.
The utter confusion which seems to beset us regarding the matter is well displayed in the Notes on this chapter in the 1930 C.V. Some of what is said is true and well put, some extremely puzzling. We are rightly told, for instance, that some of the Corinthians were already mature (1. Cor. 2:6: "Yet we are talking wisdom in the ones (who are) mature"; literally, the matures or the mature ones). As this is so, it would appear that "the mature" had already come (for some at any rate), but no explanation is given why Paul went on to discuss in the next chapter such matters as prophecies and tongues which, according to 1. Cor. 13:10, were, or should have been, discarded. It does not help to find even in the CLNT the incorrect rendering "maturity" in this verse, even though it has the "ity" in light-face type. Here the trumpet certainly is giving a dubious sound (1. Cor. 14:8). Yet, as most of us are more or less guilty in this matter, we have no right to criticize those who are guilty with us. This error is an oversight which doubtless will be corrected presently.
The word maturity, teliotEs, occurs twice only, both times with the article. Col. 3:14 is the first. After listing the things of the new humanity which are to be put on, Paul adds: "Yet over all these, the love, which is uniting-bond of the maturity." The other is in Heb. 6:1: "Wherefore, leaving the word of the original of the Christ, on to the maturity should we be being carried." Reflected on, these two are somewhat startling; for I do not see that it is possible to escape from the fact that the maturity, which is the essential character of the new humanity, to which the Apostle Paul gives such prominence in the Prison Epistles, is the goal to which the Hebrews are directed in their epistle. We must, therefore, eliminate from our thinking any idea that the maturity is to be the goal of the members of the church which is Christ's body exclusively.
Plainly, then, "the maturity" must be the essential characteristic of the state which Paul calls "the new humanity"; and surely it is significant that this reference in Hebrews, so closely linked to 1. Corinthians 2 and 3, comes in the middle of a discourse on the Christ as High Priest according to the order of Me1chisedek. Indeed, there seems to be some analogy between His glory here and His glory in Colossians.
"The mature," that is, "mature" with the article, occurs only three times. The first is Rom. 12:2, where Paul exhorts his readers "not to be configured to this eon but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind for (literally 'into') you to be testing what is the will of God, the good and well pleasing and mature." Here, "the" obviously belongs to all three. This word transform, metamorphoomai, occurs in the account of the "Transfiguration" of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:2) and in 2. Cor. 3:18: "Now we all, with uncovered face, the Lord's glory mirroring, are-being-transformed-to the same image from glory into glory." Here I have followed Rotherham's Note: "If we could say so, 'mirroring': both receiving and reflecting." I think we can say so; and we thus preserve the connection which is in the Greek between this and 1. Cor. 13:12. The second occurrence is in 1. Cor. 13:10, the third in 1. John 4:18: "Fear is not in that love, but the mature love is casting out the fear."
Apparently the foregoing linkage has not been generally observed; or, if it has, its significance has been missed. For in its light there seems to be no room for doubt. As we receive the Lord's glory and reflect the Lord's glory, we become transformed to the same image. That is what is implied for each person in the coming of the mature.
Once it is appreciated that the problems presented by the Corinthian epistles centre round the coming of the mature in place of the partial, and the reactions of Christians to it, their unity of purpose becomes a realized fact instead of a vague theory. From one point of view, at any rate, their theme is clearly perceived to be the glory of the Lord contrasted with the self-glorification of the immature believer. At the coming of the mature there remains no room for anything incomplete or partial; and the way is cleared for the presentation of glories far beyond anything understood by the immature, or even capable of being understood by him until he begins to grow out of his immaturity, to turn his back on his preoccupation with his exclusive diet of the milk of the Word and to start to appreciate, and presently feed on, solid food.
Here and there are a few students of the Sacred Scriptures whose conscious and deliberate aim is to help others to do just that, by guiding them towards some understanding of the deeper truths of the Scriptures and encouraging them to search into these things on their own account.
Before considering "the mature" further, let us take a look at the single word teleios, mature. The root idea of this and the rest of its group of words is "finish" in the sense of accomplishment, and therefore of perfection or of approach to perfection and its achievement. A wine matures with time, that is, it reaches its closest to perfection as a wine. The C.V. Concordance gives the renderings mature, perfect; but its quite correct definition for certain contexts "Finished as the result of full growth or development" is consistent only with the former. The first passage containing the word (Matt. 5:48) displays this: "Then you shall be teleios as the Father of you, the heavenly, is teleios." Now here it is definitely inappropriate, if not worse, to think of the heavenly Father as "mature" or as having achieved maturity. Thus we have to accept the fact that neither English word quite corresponds with the Greek word and remember that when we use "mature" there should be an idea of perfection or approach to perfection in our minds. The heavenly Father is perfect.
As, we go through the nineteen occurrences of this word (sixteen without the article, three with it, stated or implied), the truth of this forces itself on our attention. Not only is the Father perfect, but His will is (Rom. 12:2). Some of those to whom the Apostle Paul was speaking in 1. Cor. 2:6 were mature—they had reached a measure of perfection, so far as is possible in our present mortal condition; and he urges these same Corinthians: "Brethren, do not become little children in disposition; but as regards the evil become minors, yet as to disposition become mature" (1. Cor. 14:20). In Phil. 3:13 he speaks of "as many as are mature." This is preceded by Paul's great aim that he was pursuing: the prize of the up-calling of God in Christ Jesus. In Eph. 4:11-16 he writes of the aim "to be attaining, the whole of us, into the oneness of the faith and of the full-knowledge of the Son of God, into man mature, into measure of adult stature of the fulness of the Christ." And with what immediate purpose? "That we should by no means still be minors, billow-tossed and carried about by every wind of the doctrine, in the caprice of men, in craftiness with a view to the systematizing of the deception." So Paul closes his references to this word with "the riches of the glory of this, the Secret, among the Gentiles, which is: Christ among you, the expectation of the glory—Whom we are announcing, admonishing every man and teaching every man in every wisdom, in order that we should be presenting every man mature in Christ Jesus" (Col. 1:26-28), Last of all, Epaphras is shown as always struggling for the Colossians in the prayers that they "may be being stood mature ones and fully assured in every will of God" (Col. 4:12, 13).
Not only does Paul teach all this and claim that some of those to whom he writes are mature, so also does the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 5:14); and James implies that some of his readers are, also. That section of Hebrews illuminates and is illuminated by the corresponding section of 1. Corinthians (2:11-3:9).
Nothing less than the highest degree of perfection possible in our state of mortality is envisaged by Paul in the passages just examined—transformation, metamorphosis, into the Lord's image. That, and that alone, is what the believer should constantly be seeking: the oneness of the faith and of the fullkmowledge of the Son of God.
Yet someone will ask, quite reasonably, whether what is said here does not imply the attainment of absolute perfection. No. What Paul actually says is, "when the mature shall have come" or, "when the perfect shall have come." This visualises the coming into existence on earth of the perfect and its availability so far as any individual can, with God's help, grasp it. "The perfect" is displayed before our eyes. As we gaze on it and absorb it, so we reflect it, and grow more and more into the likeness of our Lord. For the expression chosen is "the mature" —what is mature, "the perfect"—what is perfect. If it had been "maturity," "perfection," it would have been something unattainable in this life and therefore unavailable. This fact is what makes that mistranslation here so serious; for it immediately postulates an impossibility. Nowhere does Scripture suggest that we can reach perfection here; but those who choose to become adults spiritually can reach what is mature and the nearest approach to perfection in this life—and do reach what is mature—and show that they have done so by discarding things of immaturity.
This ideal of reaching the mature so far as is possible in this mortal body can be attained, and by some has been attained. But it is not approachable by those who do not wish to reach adult stature, but rather desire to remain infants. Those whose eyes have been opened perceive only too well the characteristic signs of such believers. They appear in 1. Cor. 2:11 to 4:13. There is the soulish man who is not receiving what is of the Spirit of God; those who are fleshy, who are able figuratively only to drink milk. There are the fleshy who show jealousy and strife and walk according to man, the people who follow some chosen leader, even Paul, rather than the Lord Jesus. We should see them as they are!
Immaturity reveals itself in want of balance. The immature are like a wheel that is out of centre, eccentric. It appears almost everywhere: in those who centre themselves on the long-since obsolete baptism of John; in those who are obsessed with: "dispensational" time-boundaries; in those who make so much of the Lord's Supper that it elbows out almost everything else and becomes their idol; in those who reject it altogether because they do not properly understand what it is; in those who see Israel everywhere, so that the church itself becomes Israel for them; in those who see Israel nowhere but in the Anglo-Saxon peoples, or else nowhere but in the so-called Catholic Church; in those who have little use for anything but the Gospels; in those who have little use at all for the Gospels. And so this eccentricity goes on, affording comfort and joy to our enemies and confusion and disunity to ourselves.
Is it too late to implore all such people to look at themselves as in a mirror and note what is in the centre of their thoughts and lives; and then to turn away and view the Lord's glory as in a mirror; and instead of being sectarians become out and out believers of the whole Evangel, as was the Apostle Paul, and like him become transformed into the Lord's image? That, surely, was their aim when first believing. Surely it should be their aim now!
The strange thing is that in the earlier paper "In part," I had got the whole thing right! I had, indeed, asked why not simply read 1. Cor. 13:10 "as telling us that whenever what is mature may be coming, what is incomplete, partial, has to be discarded?" That puts the matter simply and accurately.
It is true that what is mature had not yet come for everyone. It has not come for everyone even yet! The whole point is that the coming of what is mature, what is perfect, does away with what is incomplete, partial. This assertion is really a truism, that is, once it is pointed out. Like all truths that are simply stated and yet profound in their implications, it is mysterious until it is understood, and then it becomes so obvious that one begins to wonder why it ever presented any difficulty.
"Maturity" is an abstract general idea; "the mature," that which is mature, whatever is mature, is concrete and special to the context in which it occurs. In any particular circumstance, the coming of what is mature or perfect renders what is in that context incomplete instantly obsolete. Although I had perceived this clearly, the shadow of that false translation "maturity" in 1. Cor. 13:10 still remained to cloud my mind.
What is mature in certain matters had come for Paul and some of the Corinthians. In others of them it had not yet come. For most of us it has come in only a few matters, so that what is incomplete, imperfect, holds sway. Thus, the closing three lines of the paper "When did 'what is mature' come?" are incorrect as they stand. To put them right, add before "the mature" the words, "what had yet to be disclosed of" (Vol. 25, p. 163). (N.B. The first word of line 16 should be "theorists," and similarly in line 13).
Having removed this stumbling-block we can now turn afresh to 1. Corinthians.
Bearing in mind that this epistle is in a sense a sequel to Romans, it is important to observe that these two are the only ones by Paul to use the word klEtos, callable, Paul describes himself in Rom. 1:1 as "slave of Christ Jesus, callable apostle"; and in 1. Cor. 1:1 as "callable apostle of Christ Jesus through God's will." In Rom. 1:6, 7 he refers to "you also, callable of, Jesus Christ," and addresses himself "to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, callable saints." and in 1. Cor. 1:2 he addresses himself "the church of God, the one which is in Corinth, hallowed in Christ Jesus, callable saints." There is one more parallel: Rom. 8:28, 29 reads, "Now we are aware that, to those loving God, into good God is working all together—to those being callable according to purpose, that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand also to be conformed to the image of His Son, for (literally 'into') Him to be the Firstborn among many brethren"; and 1. Cor. 1:23,24: "yet we are proclaiming Christ crucified; to Jews indeed a snare, yet to Gentiles stupidity, yet to those callable, Jews as well as Greeks, Christ, power of God and wisdom of God." Lastly, it should not be forgotten that Jude, too, addresses himself to those callable.
Not only has the first epistle to the Corinthians these beautiful echoes of Romans; those addressed were not deficient in a single effect of grace (charisma), they were awaiting "the unveiling of our Lord, Jesus Christ" Who, says Paul to them, "will be confirming you also till consummation unimpeachable in the day of the Lord, ours, Jesus Christ." (1:7, 8) This word consummation comes from the same root as teleios, mature. Perfection, maturity, was the ultimate goal towards which they were being led.
And some had already attained some measure of that goal! Paul was able even to say, and did say: "Yet wisdom we are talking among those who are mature." Among those who are not mature, there is in these days a tendency to look down on the Corinthian church as a wholly immature one. Yet any who may feel inclined that way would do well to ask themselves how many assemblies are there nowadays to whom Paul could write in such terms? In how many is there even one mature member, let alone sufficient to enable one reasonably to speak of "those who are mature" in it?
Because Paul immediately turns to reproving the immature in the Corinthian church, that does not mean that he was condemning this church as a whole. He said in 1. Cor. 1:4-9 all that was necessary by way of praise after his opening salutation. As always, exhortation and criticism are bound to take up by far the most space, if only because they have to be definite and explicit. So first he exhorts them to avoid all schisms and then he discloses his knowledge that these already exist. Where the party spirit is found among Christians, there also is schism. In this sort of matter that is the first great lesson he would have us learn.
His three questions bite down to the very roots of schism. He first asks: "Has the Christ been parted?" All too often, the answer has been in effect, "Yes"; for when we examine most of the prevailing teachings of our time we find all sorts of "Christs" with only one thing in common: their unlikeness to the Christ of God. The other two questions are most unlikely now to receive any answer but "No"; nevertheless, their underlying point is plain enough. The sectarian always wants some "Christ" other than the true Christ and some baptism other than baptism into His death. Such will often gladly accept the baptism of John; for that is something which the flesh can do and upon which the flesh will lean. That is why Paul here declares: "For the Christ commissions me, not to be baptizing, but to be evangelizing; not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ should be made void" (1. Cor. 1:17).
So the parting of the Christ leads to two types of error: substitution of ceremonial for the reality which it is supposed to represent, and substitution of the wisdom of the world, human wisdom, for that true wisdom which is summed-up in "the word of the cross."
Human wisdom is countered in evangelizing people by displaying the simple, unchanging fact of Jesus Christ and the further fact that He has been crucified. The aim is that the faith of those who hear should not be in man's wisdom but in God's power (1. Cor. 2:5). The chief fault of those of the Corinthians who had sunk into sectarianism and schism was that among them that aim had not been achieved. Instead of clinging to God's wisdom they had tried to dilute it with human wisdom, making void the cross and preoccupying their own minds with strifes and with substitute matters such as John's baptism. Paul counters their error by going back to the utter simplicity of "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." That is the only answer to those who place human wisdom before all else.
Even so, that is not all. The proclamation in weakness is the only way to the proclamation in God's power to which Paul then refers, nothing less than God's wisdom in secret. The tragedy of many of the Corinthians (and of most believers since their day) is that they never get beyond that proclamation in weakness into faith in God's power, because, instead of going on to what is mature, they turn aside to human wisdom and become content to be soulish and fleshy instead of spiritual (1. Cor. 3:1-9). Paul proceeds to develop that theme right through Chapters 3 and 4. Then he continues by castigating the further sins into which the fleshy character of the immature is leading them; yet, all the time, he is using those sins as well for a foil to sound doctrine.
Presently Paul comes again to schisms and sects (1. Cor. 11:17-19) and immediately to what has turned out to be one of the main causes of them: the Lord's Supper or Dinner. Again fleshiness is at the bottom of it all. So he warns: "For he who is eating or drinking unworthily is eating and drinking judgment to himself" (1. Cor. 11:29).
This brings Paul to the spirituals (12:1), concerning which a great deal has already been written in our Vol. 25, pp. 152-163, to which the reader is referred for details. What is there said about grace-effects is also very much to the point. The reader can trace out the whole truth of these matters by going through the various occurrences of pneumatikos, spiritual and charisma, grace-effect. It is important to avoid lumping these things together as 'gifts.'
Winding up his lengthy discourse, Paul says (14:39, 40): "So that, my brethren, be zealous to be prophesying, and talking in tongues forbid not. Yet let all occur respectably and in order."
Expositors have long been puzzled by this exhortation as, on the surface, it appears to contradict 1. Cor. 13:8-13. In view of the papers by Mr. Meredith and Mr. Sheffield in recent issues and remarks quoted from A.T., the problem has become urgent as well as important. It has exercised my mind considerably, and I would like now to draw attention to one aspect which has generally been overlooked. It is implicit in most of what is written in this paper; for I suggest that most of this epistle, the whole from 3:1 to 14:40, is really a parenthesis. If we tead on straight from 2:16 to 15:1 we are immediately confronted with a fresh aspect of the wisdom which Paul was talking to those who are mature. At one stroke this clears up the seemingly strange way Paul gives one of his greatest secrets immediately after a lengthy dissertation on the fleshy and immature character of some of the people he is addressing.
But what of the parenthesis itself? Surely, as soon as we look at it in this manner its purpose becomes evident: it is for the instruction of the immature in the Corinthian church and for the benefit of all other like persons.
I am not trying to make out that true prophesying and genuine tongues did not disappear soon or fairly soon, and that they are in existence nowadays; for now that the complete revelation, for the present, of the Word of God is in our hands they have become pointless. With its completion,1. Cor. 13:8 qecame wholly true. But the immature do not appreciate this, for indeed they cannot; and they need some guidance lest they fall into disorder and disgrace, as so many who have claimed to possess tongues have done. One does not always find it easy to keep in mind that God's love and care are not confined to those who are mature. The attempt to exercise prophecy, when there is no need for it, is simply to open the door to evil demons and has often done so. If those who are enslaved to the things of immaturity can be induced to attempt to comply with 1. Cor. 3:1 to 14:40, they will be well on the way to discovering for themselves the path suited to transcendence.
Nevertheless, someone will very properly ask what all this has to do with the papers on pp. 215 and 257 of Vol. 28. The answer is: nothing at all! When I started the lengthy paper of which this is Part 2, I had not appreciated the fact. Nevertheless, it is the plain truth; and if I and others had fully digested my paper in Vol. 25, pp. 152-163, we would have perceived it.
This discussion began with the question, "Does God heal physical infirmities?" but instead of dealing with it as it is we have tended to drift into totally different matters. Yet in the middle of p. 158 of Vol. 25 lies a very broad hint which we all seem to have failed to take: "The verb heal, iaomai, is not found at all in Paul's Epistles." And the same applies to the verb therapueO, cure.
So we cannot expect to find anything about healing in Paul's Epistles.
The power to heal others is, therefore, not one of the matters dealt with in 1. Corinthians; consequently, any discussion as to, whether it has been or will be discarded is wholly irrelevant to this epistle. At one stroke this does away with much of what has been written about healing; and we are free to discuss the issue on its merits, as indeed does Mr. Meredith on pp. 257 to 260 of our Vol. 28. Mr. Sheffield, too, was mistaken in his reference to healing among the Corinthians on p. 218. Apart, from that, I have not much to say apart from praise; except to point out that here again we must be on our guard against irrelevancy; for surely no one is going to deny that God can and does heal people from time to time? But there is a difference between that and the healings listed by Mr. Meredith on p. 259. These were not the result of prolonged and agonized beseeching of God, but of deliberate; instant acts, deliberately performed. I do not suggest that such miracles never happen, but simply that it is not given to any of us to perform them at will.
One of the great difficulties in thinking about these matters is the extreme paucity of chronological information about them. Outside Acts there is none, and Acts itself tells us nothing about the episdes. Some writers resort to guessing, and quite shameless guessing too. For instance, the editors of Part 6 of the Companion Bible assert without apparent scruple that 2. Timothy was written during Paul's second imprisonment in Rome—and this in the face of the fact that we have no knowledge at all of what happened to Paul after the "two whole years" during which he dwelt in his own hired house.
Consequently, we have nothing to go on but internal evidence. For 1. Corinthians this suggests very strongly that the church addressed was a young one. If so, then a substantial time must have elapsed between the writing of this epistle and the close of Paul's ministry. Much was going on, vast activities, indeed; so it is entirely reasonable that in one of the earliest of his epistles Paul should have made provision for the instruction of immature believers. After all, there is some ground for thinking that we, too, are living in an interim period. Possibly the time before us on earth may be very short; but that is no valid reason whatever why we should throw up our hands and refuse to face any of our immediate problems. The issues dealt with in 1. Cor. 3:1 to 14:40 were all at that time immediate problems. For those people, at that time, they were the real day-to-day issues, and sometimes still are in our day; and they would not have thanked Paul, any more than they would have understood him, if instead of this epistle he had sent them Philippians or 2. Timothy, which mark much later stages both of development and decay.
By this it is not intended to suggest that the issues in the rest of the epistle were not immediate ones. On the contrary, they were the most urgent and important of all; but they were not, like the others, the chiefly important ones for the immature as such. They concerned matters which were absolutely fundamental for all. Having dealt with the issues concerning day-to-day living which were troubling the Corinthians so much, Paul found it necessary to tackle what was the root cause of the immaturity of the Corinthians and of others as well—lack of understanding of the rousing of Christ and of the resurrection of dead ones; which lack is ultimately due to the exaltation of the wisdom of this world by mankind over the wisdom of God (1. Cor. 1:18-25).
What history there is of the period following the end of Paul's ministry indicates that the tremendously active development which characterized it must have ceased fairly abruptly and been followed by almost equally rapid decadence and deterioration. Certainly there has never since been a church to compare with that of the Thessalonians. Revivals have taken place; but they have never been triumphant in the way Paul's ministry was till near its close. Development has been largely development of heresy; only here and there has any attempt been made to recover primary truth; and what has been recovered must be regarded as very poor by comparison with what Paul and those with him possessed. The Reformation burnt itself out in wars and in persecutions of "heretics," particularly those who desired to press forward to fuller knowledge. And now the Roman Catholic church is in a ferment, but those who apostatize from it seldom if ever become Protestants. They stand away even further off from the truth than they originally were, and become open unbelievers of true Christianity. The fact is, the issues debated at the Reformation have become in the churches irrelevant to the point of being regarded as meaningless.
Long ago I pointed out that it is quite silly to stress the point that many key words used in the earlier epistles are hardly to be found at all in the later ones. Why ever should they be? Paul had already said his say on certain topics; and it is unreasonable to complain that he did not repeat himself. The issues discussed in 1. Cor. 3:1 to 14:40 and Galatians are hardly to be found at all in the Prison Epistles addressed to churches and are completely absent from such late epistles as those to the Thessalonians and to Timothy. Where such discussion was necessary it could readily be found and studied in the earlier epistles. Gradually such an exhortation as that in 1. Cor. 14:39, 40 fell into disuse because all occasion for it had fallen into disuse.
With the relatively apostate conditions which have come now, largely through the neglect and even unbelief of those who held high positions in the churches, the whole epistle has rapidly become relevant and of great practical importance. In our day, the vast majority of believers are either as immature as were some of the Corinthians or so corrupted by idolatry and unrealized unbelief as to be virtually unbelievers. So they cry out for prophecies and tongues.
If we had what I have called physical spiritual blessings, such as Israel will have when the New Covenant is concluded with them, we would have the right to expect the privilege and power which will then be theirs. The condition referred to in Gal. 5:16-21 is our present condition. It is not permanent. Consequently we have no right to assume that it is; neither have we any right to wish to bring forward into the present time conditions which will prevail when it has passed away. I admit that "physical spiritual blessings" is not a scriptural expression; but I submit that there would never have been any need to coin it if all believers had refrained from the speculations which have made it necessary. The present antagonism between flesh and spirit is only a temporary thing. When it has passed away there will be no distinction between fleshy and spiritual blessings. Meanwhile, I suggest that we ought not to expect to have powers of a future eon (Heb. 6:5). If God, in His grace and mercy, should choose to interfere on our behalf in misfortunes or illnesses or in the affairs of mankind, we should be thankful indeed; but we have no right to expect such intervention, that is, as something normal. Prayer will prevail, but not always as we may expect.
In the previous part of this paper I drew attention to the fact that 1. Cor. 3:1 to 14:40 forms a parenthesis. This is implied in the Framework or Structure of the epistle shown in the 1930 C.V. (which, incidentally, is quite different to that in the Companion Bible). Now, if we read through the rest of the epistle, that is, ignoring the parenthesis, one striking fact emerges: a curious resemblance to 1. Thessalonians appears. A little thought will show why; both epistles as thus presented are concerned only with people and things which are mature.
That and that alone, the gap between the partial and the mature, is the true boundary-line in 1. Corinthians; and to search for any other is to go astray, as we all have done to some extent.
The strangest thing about Dr. Bullinger was the way he lost his bearings over this matter towards the close of his career, when he became obsessed with Coles' "Acts 28:28 frontier," although he had been within a hair's breadth of the truth about 1. Thessalonians. Concerning it he had noted that "there is an entire absence of reproof and correction, both as to practise 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, here we have a model church. . . the only one which exhibits the full results of having learnt the lessons taught in Romans and Ephesians" (The Church Epistles, p. 205). Yet when he wrote this splendid testimony he had just made the quite incompatible assertion that this epistle was "written earlier than those to any of the other six churches." As I have already pointed out (The Differentiator, Vol. 25, p. 217, since reprinted as a pamphlet) this is not only unproven, it is almost certainly untrue. That uncritical following of tradition is the chief reason why he went astray. There is a lesson for us here!
In our study of Scripture we need to be perpetually on the watch to distinguish between what is mature and therefore final, and what is partial, immature, and therefore temporary. Although in most of 1. Corinthians Paul is dealing with partial, immature, temporary conditions, he keeps on breaking out into the mature; and it is for us to take special notice of these features whenever they occur.
Bearing this in mind, we can turn to a key passage in this epistle, 1. Cor. 12:27-31, which reads literally: "Now you are Christ's body and members out of part; (you) whom also God indeed placed in the church—first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; thereupon powers; thereupon grace—effects of health, supports, pilotage, breeds of tongues. Not all are apostles. Not all are prophets. Not all are teachers. Not all are powers. Not all are having grace-effects of health. Not all are talking tongues. Not all are interpreting. Yet be zealous (regarding) the grace-effects-the greater ones. And still (a) way according to transcendence I am showing to you." And the Apostle Paul then goes on to his splendid exhortation in praise of love.
The important thing to observe is that for those particular Corinthian believers to whom this section of the epistle was primarily addressed, the membership of the body was ek merous, out-of-part, that is to say, partial, immature. This by itself shows that in the section to which this belongs he did not have mature believers in mind. There was no need to address all that to such; for, being mature, they necessarily already have the love which is the tie of the maturity (Col. 3:14) and which is over all the virtues to be put on, listed in Col. 3:12, 13. To these there would be no need to show a way according to transcendence.
So the immature were exhorted to be pursuing the love of which Paul wrote. While they were pursuing the ideal they were also to be zealous for the spiritual things which were eventually to be discarded when they reached the goal of the mature, of whatsoever is in any matter mature.
That is the answer to the second question at the start of this third part of our study. Although the conditions were transient, the provision for them was none the less necessary. Furthermore, the majority of believers has been immature ever since, there is no excuse whatsoever for any to be in that state, let alone remain in it. Paul showed them a path according to transcendence. His words in Chapter 13 commending that path are some of the best known in all Scripture, yet few tread it and become mature.
Nearly as much is said about love in Ephesians and the eight epistles that follow it as in the whole of the Greek Scriptures that precede it, and in that grand and somewhat neglected epistle, 1. John, the noun occurs eighteen times. The verb to love occurs more frequently in those nine epistles than in the earlier ones, but the occurrences of it in the writings of John transcend in number everything else. However, anyone who wants to study the connection between love and what is mature has only to study the occurrences of the word in the Prison Epistles. No Scripture neglects the subject. Some modern critics have asserted that the Revelation or Unveiling is a ferocious book; and perhaps in a way it is, since it describes the eventual triumph by force of the Lord Jesus over His enemies; yet, even so, the idea of love is found in Rev. 1:5; 2:4, 19; 3:9; 12:11; 20:9.
The second supremely great prayer in Ephesians leads up to the climax: "To get to know besides the knowledge transcending love of the Christ, that you may be filled up into the entire fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19). There is nothing beyond that!
We may consider now the first of our initial questions. Let us, for the sake of argument, suppose for a moment that prophesying is continuing up to this present moment. Then, according to 1. Cor. 14:29-33, there must be prophets among us when we assemble. Where are they? Reviewing in my mind the believers I have known, I then have to ask concerning them: "Is even one of them a prophet?" Certainly I would not care to make such a claim for myself, or for anyone else I have yet met. From experience, there is one thing I fully know: I have no means of gaining knowledge of God, His Christ and His purposes, except through careful and thorough study of His Word, sometimes very arduous study, too; and I do not for one moment believe that at this present time anyone on earth is any better off. There are plenty of people who claim to have such direct knowledge of God; but they all display one thing in common: when they state any such revelation in plain language, it in variably turns out to be contrary to the Scriptures; that is, on the rare occasions when it has any contact with them at all.
If the prophets and the prophesying of which Paul had so much to say in 1. Corinthians 13 and 14 were so effective, authoritative and complete as some would have us believe, how comes it that Paul found it necessary to write Chapter 15? Or, for that matter, most of the central part of the epistle? However, of Chapter 15 there is this to be said: it contained a secret; so it is naturally to be expected that the Apostle Paul should have been given the privilege of disclosing it; but some of the other disclosures were different. They were of comparatively minor importance. Why were, they not left to prophets?
Surely the answer is that prophets functioned only when special personal need arose, some special message? Apostles, and others specifically commissioned such as Mark, Luke and James, had the function of writing Scripture itself; and we are not told that any of these were prophets as well. The first two certainly wrote their Gospels when directly associated with the Apostles. Once the Scriptures were completed, there was nothing of that sort left to be accomplished.
What could any prophet tell us, which God desires us to know, that is not already available to us in the Scriptures? We do not need any prophets now; and nobody would desire the services of any prophets except either as a substitute for the labour of research, or for idle and soulish curiosity. For God has given us in the Scriptures all we need to know and all we ought to wish to know. In them is available that full-knowledge of which Paul wrote in 1. Cor. 13:12. It might be a very different matter if we had already sought and won and fully taken in that full-knowledge which is revealed in the Scriptures. Then perhaps we might plausibly ask for more; but whether such mature ones would want to ask for more—that is a very different matter! John himself, once the beloved disciple, the Apostle of love, and thus of all mortal mankind the closest to perfection, could not endure the full glory of the Lord Jesus in majesty but fell at His feet as dead (Rev. 1:17). If we could stretch out our hands at will and pluck down such full-knowledge as is beyond our capacity now, it would blast us. In His mercy He has shielded us; and the mature person would not have it otherwise.
I am still not clear as to what some of my friends really have in mind. In one letter lying before me the subject seems to switch about between the "healing" of which there are so many examples in Acts and the "gifts" about which the Apostle Paul had so much to say in 1. Corinthians. In fact, what are we talking about?
Some expositors confidently assume that 1 Corinthians is "Pentecostal," or, if preferred, that Pentecostal conditions continued in the Corinthian church. They cite baptism, tongues, prohesying. What they do not cite are the things that appear in the early part of Acts but are not referred to at all in 1 Corinthians. There is no reference of any sort to such miracles as were performed by the Apostle Peter or those toward the end of Acts by the Apostle Paul.
This comes out indirectly, but extremely plainly, in the attempts by some expositors to show that what they call "the Pentecostal Dispensation" covered all Acts apart from the last three verses. By one of them we are told that 1 Cor. 1:7 ("so that you are not deficient in a single grace-effect, awaiting the unveiling of our Lord, Jesus Christ") "is parallel with Mark 16:17-20"—and this absurdity on the strength of the fact that the verb bebaioO, confirm, occurs in Mark 16:20 and 1. Cor. 1:6 and 8, but elsewhere in five passages only!
Acts certainly covers a period of transition; but to contend that this makes the period it covers an economy or a "dispensation" is to go altogether beyond reason and common-sense. The realization of this fact was one of the factors which persuaded me long ago to re-examine all the ideas I once held about "dispensational truth."
In the ordinary usage of the term a dispensation is a period featuring some stable factor such as "the law" or "the reign of grace." So by this definition a period featuring transition cannot possibly be a "dispensation." In this, I am not going back to dispensationalism, but simply drawing attention to the irrationality of some of its exponents in thus trying to have it both ways.
The idea that Pentecost and 1 Corinthians belong to the same "dispensation" is obviously nonsense in the face of the fact that when the latter was written something of which nothing was known to mankind at Pentecost had come into the world, namely, the Apostle Paul's Evangel. And, conversely, certain outstanding matters existed at Pentecost, and for a while afterwards, of which there is not even a suggestion in I Corinthians.
A particularly important example of this is "signs." The word sEmeion, sign, occurs eleven times in the first eight chapters of Acts, in Acts 14:3; 15:12 also, and twice only, in the Singular number, in 1. Corinthians (1:22; 14:22). True, the Apostle Paul had ministered "in power of signs and wonders" (Rom. 15:19). In 2. Cor. 12:12 comes the disclosure of the significance of this ministry: "Indeed, the signs of the apostle are produced among you in all endurance, in signs as well as wonders and powers." So the characteristic phenomena of the Pentecostal era covering the first fifteen chapters of Acts are the signs of the apostle, or, as we might say, of apostolic power in action. In view of this, it is significant that the word apostle occurs thirty times in Acts, none of which are found after Acts 16:4.
Another word, dunamis, power, should be considered. It's plural, powers, occurs with "wonders" and "signs" in Acts 2:22; with "signs" in 8:13; 19:11 and in Rom. 8:38. It occurs among "the spirituals" in 1. Cor. 12:10, 28, 29; in 2 Cor. 12:12 (see above); Gal. 3:5; Heb. 2:4; 6:5; 1. Peter 3:22. A third word, teras, wonders, occurs nine times in Acts but not at all in 1 Corinthians. The three all correspond in a measure to our word "miracle"; which actually is not a necessary word at all, and can well be eliminated in translation. We can thus declare with confidence that in the Greek Scriptures "miracles" are largely apostolic functions. Certainly they seem irrelevant to conditions where apostolic functions have ceased to exist.
Placing ideas in water-tight compartments, so to speak, is for many people distasteful, and sometimes rightly so; but here is a case where it is entirely justified in the interest of clear thinking. We have to face the fact that much of the splendour of the account in Acts is apostolic, leaving little space for those who were not directly associated with the apostles. That explains, too, why the full splendour so speedily died away as does the glory of a sunset. Once the apostles had fulfilled their main function in Jerusalem, they necessarily had to scatter in order to be able to proceed with what God required of them elsewhere.
What we are not entitled to do is to assume that the special functions of the apostles are inherited by us. We may ask, "Why not?"; but if we do we have to face the counter question, "Why should they have been?" The Apostle Paul and those associated with him, the Apostles Barnabas, Timothy and others, were "the last apostles" (1. Cor. 4:9). With their disappearance went their apostolic authority and power. Significantly, the only important church which has since claimed to possess apostles was a by-word for its excesses with "tongues" and its exaggerated demands.
This brings us to the purpose of "tongues"; and, at the start, it is a moot point how we should render the plural glOssai. Personally, I favoured the use of the rendering tongues throughout, for the context generally indicates what is meant, whether the organ of the body (Acts 2:3; Rom. 3:13), languages (Acts 2:11) or the gift of "tongues" (1. Cor. 13:8). If we go through the occurrences of the word, we will see that languages is undoubtedly meant in Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4, 11. The difficult problem arises in the other occurrences. Taking the first, Acts 10:46, the faithful with Peter would hardly be mildly surprised, let alone amazed, at hearing a number of Gentles talking in a foreign language. If we turn back, however, to Acts 2:1-11 we find that the source of the astonishment was "that each one hears them speaking in his own vernacular" (2:8). So it is arguable, at least, that in Acts 10:46 the same thing was occurring. If so, there is no difficulty about this in Acts 19:6. So here we can render the word by languages with reasonable confidence.
This, however, can hardly apply in 1. Cor. 12:10, for the conditions in Acts 2:8 must have been absent, otherwise there would have been no need for translation of languages, so Pentecostal conditions must have passed away. Here we must have the rendering "tongues" This seems true, too, of 1. Cor. 12:28 and 30; 13:1 and 8; 14:5, 6, 18, 22, 23, 39. In 12:30 it can hardly be right to say, "Not all are talking languages"; and in 13:8, "whether languages, they will cease," if by this is meant any ordinary language. So Paul must have meant "tongues," as distinct from ordinary speech; though he is not specific enough to suit everyone. Furthermore, he writes (14:2): "For he who is talking with a tongue, not to men is talking, but to God." If by "tongue" is meant here some ordinary language, this would become untrue if perchance a speaker of that language happened to be present.
I confess I cannot explain this matter with complete success. In that I am—we all are—in a difficult position; but I would prefer it thus rather than claim knowledge which I do not possess and which, I believe, the Holy Spirit has for the present withheld from us. Furthermore, it has never been my lot to hear what are claimed to be "tongues"; but if the various contemporary accounts of them are to be trusted they are disorderly and devoid of spiritual worth, and certainly not decently and in order (1. Cor. 14:40). On one thing we can rest with confidence: "Whenever the mature should be coming the partial shall be abrogated" (1. Cor. 13:10). It is not for mature people to concern themselves with such problems.
There remains for discussion the purpose of "tongues," and for this we have to consider 1. Cor. 14:20-22. This is such a remarkable passage that we ought to begin by setting it out in full: "Brethren, do not become little children in disposition; but in evil be minors, yet in disposition become mature. In the law it is written that 'In different languages and in lips of others shall I be talking to this people; and neither thus will they be hearkening to Me,' the Lord is saying. So that the languages are for a sign, not to those who are believing, but to the unbelieving."
The reference is to Isaiah 28:11, 12, and it strongly suggests that the sign is to those of Israel who hear it. It also states unequivocally that as a sign the languages are ineffective; not necessarily universally, but for "this people," namely, Israel. They will not hearken.
In the light of this, let us take another look at Acts. We need not, in this connection, trouble about the first nine chapters, because only Jews are involved anyhow; but Acts 10 relates Peter's speech after his acceptance of the Gentile Cornelius (10:23-28). Now this speech, although to Gentiles, is about the sons of Israel (10:36), John's baptism, what the Jews did to the Lord Jesus and His death and resurrection, the proclamation to the entire people in the country of the Jews (10:39-43). Then holy spirit falls on these Gentiles, they speak "tongues" and are baptized. But do they testify to other Gentiles? Not so! No such thing is mentioned; it is the reaction of Jerusalem that we read of. And after Peter's testimony is set out complete "those who are dispersed are found speaking the word to no one except to Jews only." (11:19).
The final reference in Acts to holy spirit falling on anyone and "tongues" following is 19:1-7. These disciples had received the baptism of John; but, in any case, nothing is said about Gentiles; and a three-month synagogue ministry of Paul follows. Gentiles are conspicuously absent from the account.
In 1. Cor. 12:2, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they had been Gentiles, but nothing is said about "tongues" as a testimony to other Gentiles. Instead, Paul writes (v. 13): "For in one spirit we all into one body are baptized, whether Jews or Greeks." Why this avoidance of the word "Gentiles"? Surely, because the intention was to avoid here the issue raised so forcibly in Ephesians 2.
In 1. Corinthians 14 the question of "tongues" is brought to the forefront; but the subject of "Gentiles" is avoided. So is Israel—until we reach the matter we have been discussing, namely, 1. Cor. 14:20-22.
I admit that this is not an absolutely cast-iron case; but it does, I think, embody all the data available to us; and it certainly leans towards the notion that "tongues" are a sign for "this people," namely, Israel.
To the argument that the only proof of baptism in holy spirit was expressed by the speaking with "tongues"; I would reply that, according to 1. Cor. 12:10, "tongues" were the prerogetive of only some; whereas almost immediately (v. 13, as above) Paul speaks of "we all" and finishes with, "and all one spirit are made to drink." In both, Rotherham shows "all" as emphatic.
Much of the harm done by the ideas put out by Coles comes from the fact that there is a measure of truth in them as well as a mass of fallacy. In dealing with the latter, we have tended to lose sight of the former and thus find fresh confusion of our own. It is entirely true that Israel was in the foreground at the start of Acts. The Kingdom was unlocked to Jew first. The Lord Jesus was evangelized as the Christ to Jew first. The Twelve had to make a start somewhere—Jerusalem, to someone—the Jews. In spite of what happened in Matt. 13:14, 15, the Jews did not lose this privilege. "Tongues" were uttered first by Jews in the presence of unbelieving Jews, and not by any Gentiles till later. Nowhere is it said that "tongues" were uttered for unbelieving Gentiles anywhere.
But why do "tongues" appear in 1. Corinthians and in no other epistle? Perhaps Corinth was the most Jewish of all the Gentile cities Paul visited, being a great commercial seaport. They do not appear to have been relevant to any church elsewhere to which Paul wrote, and we should observe that there is not even a hint of them in his second epistle to this church. Indeed, we have to ask whether any of the characteristically Pentecostal phenomena existed in any other church, and what use they would have been if they had?
For some people there is a measure of attractiveness in the cry "Back to Pentecost!"; but they ought to take careful note of what it implies. It would be convenient if we had the power of healing that was then so noteworthy; but we certainly would not be permitted to use a version of Pentecostal phenomena edited to suit our preconceptions. If we had the healing we would also have to accept the terrifying powers of the Apostle Peter in Acts 5:1-11. Moreover, we ought to ask ourselves candidly what use would tongues or prophecy be? No use to us, so much as use in furthering God's purposes. They served a good and necessary purpose then; but would they do so now?
The Pentecostal powers are declared to be, in Peter's words "what has been declared through the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). That was the essential first step towards the judgement era to come (vv. 17, 18). The unlocking of the Kingdom involved the outpouring from God's Spirit and opened the way to the future outpouring in an era before the start of the Lord's Day. Yet it was not for Peter to say that this judgment still lay far in the then future. That fact gradually appeared to view in the course of the unveiling of Paul's Evangel in his epistles. Peter's hearers could not know and Peter himself could not declare, what other consequences were designed to follow the outpouring from God's Spirit. Peter himself was soon to learn some of them in the Sheet Vision. That event is "the Great Divide" between the Pentecostal period and what followed, even though some of the Pentecostal powers still inhered in the apostles themselves by reason of their status as apostles. Now that there are no apostles, there are no Pentecostal powers any longer.
When I completed Part 1 (Vol. 30, pp. 20-25) I thought I had covered the ground fairly adequately. Nevertheless, there still seems to be a general idea that the partial endowments will not be things to be left behind until our sojourn on earth has ended. This cannot be accepted without reservations.
For I am unable to see how it can be disputed that some of those to whom Paul was speaking in 1. Corinthians were mature and that he wrote in Phil 3:13 of "as many as are mature." If "the mature" had already come for them, obviously its coming cannot be postponed universally to the future glory. For such, whatever is "out of part," partial, has already been discarded. So, again, we find ourselves confronted with 1. Cor. 13:8; 14:1 (See Vol. 30, pp. 20, 21, where this important passage is set out).
Yet it is equally certainly true that for some Corinthians "the mature" had not yet come, and what is out-of-part, partial, had not yet been discarded. So it is certainly true that, for some of them, such matters as prophecies and "tongues" had not yet been discarded and (as Paul points out) were not to be.
However, so far as it affects the Corinthians themselves, this dilemma does not matter to us; because centuries have elapsed since they vanished from the earthly scene. What does matter is how far, if at all, it concerns our own time. Is it, then, in order for those to wllomthe mature has not yet come to practise knowledge which is nevertheless out of part, prophecies which are out of part and "tongues" which for the mature have already ceased? If the answer is "Yes," then we are necessarIly faced with a situation in which there are two sorts of Christians the legitimacy of whose corporate standing would be recognized by Paul if he were to come back to earth now.
That there is in 1. Coririthians some measure of recognition of both sorts is plain from 1. Cor. 13:8; 14:1. The vital question is whether that recognition was ever intended to be permanent. In fact, we can crystallize the issue thus: "Are tongues, and such partial knowledge and prophecies, right and proper exercises for Christians who have not yet reached the mature?"
The late Alexander Thomson in the "Gleanings" printed in Vol. 29 (erroneously printed as Vol. 28) pp. 41-43, displays this difficulty with great precision; and my remark on p. 42 still stands. In these papers I think I have thrown light on it; but I cannot claim that a solution entirely satisfactory in every respect has yet been reached.
However, I am not satisfied either that the issue is of any practical importance to us now. The reason is that the immature Christians do not appear to be of any practical importance so far as their connection with "tongues," partial knowledge and partial prophecies is concerned. Where they evangelize faithfully, they are doing God's work, often with great success. That is what chiefly matters. Whether that success would not be greater if they cared for what is mature is a different question. Paul certainly urged the Corinthians to be "zealous for the spirituals—yet rather that you may be prophesying"; but it does not appear that he commended such zeal in order that the Corinthians might become more successful evangelists or as an excuse for not desiring to become mature.
Moreover, it has to be kept in mind that the church at Corinth was a very young one in a great and very heathen city. That, I suggest, is the main reason why the spirituals he lists were of special importance to it.
The fact that there was a pronounced streak of soulishness among the Corinthians is all too plain. Such passages as 11:17; 22 and 29; 32 are examples, and although the things listed as spirituals in 12:7-11 are certainly spiritual, it cannot be gainsaid that there are soulish elements in them. The grace-effect of health (12:9) is a very pleasant thing to have, but one cannot describe it as wholly spiritual. Moreover, in 1 Cor. 12:31 Paul speaks of the "greater grace-effects," thus implying that some grace-effects are lesser ones. Some are listed in 12:9, 10 and 28. Apparently the spirituals are to be regarded as the greater graces, which are the subject of 1 Corinthians 14, love being the greatest.
I am not altogether happy about Vol. 29, pp. 261-2. It seems to me that the best rendering of 1. Cor. 12:31 is: "Yet be zealous for the greater grace-effects. And still I go on showing to you a way according to transcendence" or even "a superexcellent way." The "still" and the tense of the verb suggest that Paul had been doing this all along—the way summarized in Col. 3:14: "Yet as the groundwork of all these, the love, which is tie of the maturity." The Greek is epi pasi—epi followed by the Dative, giving the sense of "resting upon" or "on the ground of"—compare eph hO in Rom. 5:12, on the ground of which, or, more freely, on account of which, or on which account.
Coming now to the "Gleanings" from A.T., we have to face the problem posed by him: "It has always seemed unreasonable that Paul should write so much in his earlier Epistles to cover conditions existing in such a very brief period of time, i.e., up to say, 62 A.D. I wish to look upon this matter objectively and straightforwardly. What would the Corinthian believer or reader understand by 'maturity'? Would he think of it as something to come within a few years, or in the resurrection of life?"
I wish I had noticed this properly at the time, but other matters were filling my mind. First, I should have queried "so much in his earlier Epistles," because, as a matter of fact, this applies only to a small part of 1. Corinthians. Here A.T. was experiencing what we all have been troubled with from time to time—residual notions from Coles and his followers. The idea embodied in "so much" is pure moonshine. Bullinger in "The Foundations of Dispensational Truth" laboured hard to show that Paul's earlier epistles were full of such residues, with fantastic results. Unfortunately, when the same fallacy is repeated over and over again, some of it is bound to stick in people's minds, as here; and both A.T. and I failed to perceive what had happened.
Another Coles error influenced unconsciously another remark by A.T.: "What we are doing is that we assume the 'Prison' Epistles have somehow shoved aside these gifts." Quite so, but Coles and Bullinger were the ones responsible for this assumption. I submit that is it the coming of the mature that has done the "shoving"—that and nothing else. He "put the cart before the horse" here.
Only when circumstances forced me to put in hand an independent study of these themes—and a prolonged and arduous study it has been—did I discover the extent of the confusion we have inherited. Now we have an opportunity to get it all clear.
Before we move on, another misleading notion should be considered. The idea that "healing" has ever been an integral part of general Christian experience will not stand up to cool examination. Individual examples can be culled from records through the centuries; but the very fact that they were so particular as to be worthy of note is itself evidence that they were not general. And any thought of Lourdes is out of order. There is nothing "Christian" about any affair centred round a "mother and child" goddess as Hislop (The Two Babylons, p. 19) illustrates from Babylon and India, which is found in much so-called "Christian Religion" in these days. What Paul wrote about idolatry in 1. Corinthians 10, etc., certainly does not cover conditions existing only in a very brief period of time (Vol. 29, p. 42). It is very much to the point now, though not usually in precisely the same circumstances.
Turning again to A. T.'s remark, quoted five paragraphs back, it seems to me that it contains, unrealized, a concealed assumption that these matters concerned only that short period, at most some thirty years. But why assume this? And, anyhow, does not this difficulty apply even more cogently to Peter's speeches in the first chapters of Acts? If the conditions that then existed are to come into being again after we have been snatched away, surely all these Scriptures will be needed once more? They will be to those people what the Gospels, Acts, etc. are to us: essential information and guidance at the start, essential background information thereafter.
Are we justified in assuming that the conditions envisaged in 1. Corinthians will never exist! again? What looks at first glance like justifying a definite "No" for it, namely, Chapter 13, need not necessarily be permanently obsolete. This church was one of the earliest to come into existence through receiving the Evangel of the Apostle Paul, so naturally that was the primary subject in his teaching in it. Nevertheless, it was also a church created under, and influenced by, Pentecostal conditions. Consequently, whatever in it is associated with such conditions must be applicable to any other church in the future similarly situated.
That is all we can confidently assert. We know almost nothing of the circumstances of those who, in the future, will receive the Evangel of the circumcision; but we do know that the Pentecostal matters displayed in Acts 2 will, in days to come, reach full fruition. The spirituals, the grace-effects, will be seen in their full effectiveness and glory. Who can dare to say that I Corinthians will have no significant message then?
As for A.T.'s question about maturity, I can only repeat what I have already pointed out: that some of the Corinthians were mature. Thus, for them at any rate, no question of waiting for it till the resurrection life could arise. His remark about the C.V. Note at 1. Cor. 13:8 is really answered by the foregoing. As for his last question about the Gentile world, I fear that this difficulty could be spread far wider. What has been the real utility of most of Paul's writings to the Gentile world?
No, I would not read any of the earlier epistles only "as history and explanatory"; for I am convinced that we need all of them—and all the General Epistles also. The circumstances that some things are of less direct value, and others of no direct value at all, does not mean that they are devoid of indirect value throwing light on the whole of God's plans for His people. Anyhow, the parts even of 1. Corinthians which have no apparent direct application to us occupy only a fraction of the epistle. Surely we can believe that they exist for our learning and as essential information for others, if not ourselves?
As regards the matter of answers to prayer, I can only assert my conviction that any sincere prayer to God is always answered by Him; but it does not follow that the answer must needs be what we desire or what we have asked for.
Reading through all that has been written to me about these matters I am impressed by one aspect of the whole lot: failure to get a clear idea of what is meant by "physical healing." Certainly God does heal His people, sometimes when medical science has evidently failed; but my complaint about the use of this term is that it begs the question; for it covers up two issues: "How and by whom?"
Mr. Meredith (Vol. 29, p. 265) writes of Theodore Christlieb: "He relates many more of such cases of instant healing by God in response to the prayer of faith. The answer may well be in the phrase used above 'wrestling' with God." I have no quarrel with that as it stands. My doubts begin when I read the accounts of healings in Acts. Not one of them comes under that category! The persevering in prayer in Acts 1:14 had nothing to do with healing. So, also, Acts 2:42; 2:46; 6:4; 8:13; Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2. The first miracle in Acts, in 3:6-9, was carried out spontaneously by the Apostle Peter and was the occasion of his second great speech. It was definitely an apostolic act. The two references in Acts to "Healing" (4:22 and 30) are consequential upon this act, not upon any prolonged prayer. The next act was the very opposite of any healing (Acts 5:1-11). Indeed, I suggest that before we expect for ourselves the healing gifts of the apostles, we ought to reflect on "the other side of the coin," this terrible act of instant judgment on sin. If healings should persist, why not this?
The curings revealed in Acts 5:12-16 are all spontaneous apostolic acts. Those of Philip (8:5-8) were the same, for, though not an apostle, he had been specifically picked out for ministry at the order of the Twelve (Acts 6:2-6).
The healing of Saul (9:17-19) was a spontaneous and instantaneous act at the direct command of the Lord. Peter's healing of Eneas (9:33-35) and the dying Dorcas (9:36-41) were simultaneously spontaneous.
In Acts 12:5-11 we read of prayer being earnestly made by the church to God for Peter—but not for any healing. Instead of that, it was for his extrication from jail.
There follows the severance of the Apostles Barnabas and Paul by the Holy Spirit, and Saul's first act as Paul in temporarily blinding Elymas. Presently Paul's first act of healing is recorded (14:8-10) which, like Peter's was spontaneous and instantaneous. Then Paul was stoned and, apparently dead, was dragged outside Lystra, and yet, when the disciples surrounded him, rose and entered the city again (14:14-20). See also 16:16-18 and the subsequent rescue by divine power of Paul and Silas. There follow the healing of Acts 19:11, 12; 20:9, 10. Lastly we come to the events on Malta (Acts 28): Pauls' experience with the viper, the healing of the father of Publius, and others. In the accounts of those, not one word is written of persevering prayer.
Some of us are in danger of fretting because they cannot accomplish something which Scripture does not require us to do and the apostles did not do themselves.
The other thing that stands out from this investigation is that the only men who accomplish healing (or the other acts) were apostles or those specially delegated by them. So, if we are to rely on the authority of this account, we cannot expect to follow suit unless we come into the same category.
None of the foregoing can fairly be stigmatized as hostile to what Mr. Meredith so eloquently contends in his paper, but only to deductions therefrom which Scripture does not support. By all means let us pray long and earnestly for the healing of any of our friends who may stand in need; but let us not deceive ourselves into supposing that we can do things that only the Apostles and their delegates could accomplish. True faith is willing to follow Scripture alone.
Once more, I feel constrained to ask: Other than love, what use would the spirituals of 1. Corinthians 13 and 14 be to us if we could through importuning God receive them? Tongues? When we assemble and meet together, would they give us any benefit that we lack already? Prophesying? Do we really need that, who already have the complete Word of God? Only the greedy would demand more food when they already have their homes fully stocked. Such direct communication of spiritual learning would save us the labour of discovering it for ourselves; but are we here to be saved labour? Knowledge and insight acquired from Scripture by our own efforts is far more beneficial than that handed to us on a plate, so to speak. Love? Ah! here is the crux! That is the one spiritual listed by Paul which we absolutely need at all times—and the one least desired and least sought.
Mr. Meredith made the important point that 1 Corinthians 13 is an amplification of Chapter 12 (Vol. 29, p. 261) and that the comparison therein is between spirituals without love and spirituals with love. Yet that is by no means the whole truth of the matter, for from 13:8 love becomes detached from the spirituals and considered as a thing in itself contrasted with the spirituals, until in v. 13 they drop out altogether for a while. Then, we are told that "yet now are remaining faith, expectation, love, these the three. Yet greater of these the love. Be pursuing the love, yet be zealous for the spirituals. . ."
Which spirituals? They do not end with 1 Cor. 14:1 and what follows. We find then again in Gal. 6:1: "Brethren. . .you, the spirituals"; and the way they are "the spirituals" is to be seen in the preceding five verses: "Yet the fruit of the spirit is love. . ." Surely we read Scripture ill if we fail to appreciate that 1 Cor. 13:13 places love as the very pinnacle of spiritual achievement? It fades from view in this epistle except in 16:14, 24: but what a blossoming there is in the epistles which follow!
The doctrine that 1. Cor. 13:8-12 refers to the perfection of the future life in heaven seems to have become standard "orthodoxy," but it is quite unfounded. Indeed, a definite contradiction between 13:13 and 14:1 appears unless there is appreciation that the contrast is not between this life and the life to come, but between minority and maturity. Chapter 13 is about the mature, which should be our aim; and Chapter 14 is about the things of minority which 13:8-12 indicates are to be discarded when the mature should be coming. Let us keep 'heaven' out of this discussion, as Paul himself did!
Those who have no desire for the mature and who cling to the things of immaturity throughout their earthly life will receive the full resurrection glory as will the mature; for that glory is in no way whatever a matter of personal merit, but of the abundance of God's grace. Yet that there will be loss for such is evident from Philippians 3. When Paul wrote Phil. 3:12 he did not claim that he was already made mature, but that he was pursuing the mature, grasping for it. He was stretching out in front towards the goal, pursuing the prize of God's calling above in Christ Jesus. That, and that alone, should be our goal too. It is a capital mistake to assume that because righteousness is not to be attained by works, nothing else is.
Love is the tie of that maturity. Paul pointed out the supreme importance of that love; even though, in writing in harmony with the state of many of the Christians he was addressing, he did not leave out of account the lesser spirituals. But we have the privilege of possessing something more than they had: the later Pauline epistles. We must beware lest we neglect these. In doing belated justice to the earlier Pauline epistles, we shall also be doing infinite harm if we transfer that neglect of them to neglect of the later epistles. Onesidedness is not the way of sanity.
In studying Scripture, one of the commonest pitfalls is frequently our inability to discover a word in English which corresponds tolerably accurately with every occurrence of some particular Greek word. Generally we can find a reasonable degree of correspondence, but sometimes the divergence is very wide and provides what can only be described as a trap for the unwary. An example which recently presented itself to me is the 1930 C.V; Note to Eph. 1:7: "Pardon of sins becomes forgiveness when associated with offenses." This sounds at first so reasonable that it evidently lulled the minds of its author and most of those who have read it; nevertheless it simply does not make sense. Forgive and pardon are words with practically the same meaning, and are the same word in Greek.
In the present discussion there is a tendency to fall into a similar trap by contrasting perfection with maturity, regardless of the fact that the C.V. at any rate uses them for the same Greek word according to context. It is so easy to give a Greek word two somewhat different equivalents and then inadvertently ring the changes between them. To render teleioO by "finish, mature, perfect," and then to distinguish between the mature and the perfect when translating, without justifying the choice between the two words, is to court confusion and misunderstanding. To say of 1. Cor. 13:8—14:1—I quote from a letter—"The out-of-part things, so it seems to me, belong to our present state—all of us—and, by their nature, are temporary and will vanish only when present imperfection gives way to perfection, in the presence of our Lord," seems sound enough at first. Yet this is seen to be an illusion if we change "imperfection" and "perfection" to "immaturity" and "the mature," which we are fully entitled to do; for some of the Corinthians were mature, though one would hesitate to say that any were perfect, and in 1. Cor. 13:11 Paul contrasts his past minority with his present manhood. To use his own words: "When I was minor, I talked as minor," contrasted with: "Yet when I have become man, I have discarded what is of the minor."
We speak of "an accomplished musician," "a finished performer." These too express in some way the ideas embodied in the Greek verb teleioO, which means basically to finish in the sense of reaching accomplishment; rather than in the sense of working up to and reaching perfection. I doubt if the word "perfect" in any sense is necessary except where applied to God. In Luke 13:32, the Middle can surely be rendered, "I am reaching accomplishment" or "finality." In John 17:23: "may be reaching accomplishment" or "maturity." Similarly in 2. Cor. 12:9; Phil. 3:12. In James 2:22: "out of the works the faith was matured." In Hebrews this verb occurs nine times, and the word perfect is really unsuitable for any of them. In 1. John 2:5 read "has reached accomplishment"; similarly 4:12,17, and in v. 18 "the mature" is a satisfactory rendering. As we have to depart from strict concordance anyhow, it is pedantic not to give the best possible rendering.
The same generally applies to the noun teleios. Out of nineteen occurrences, the A.V. renders it by perfect seventeen times, the exceptions being 1. Cor. 14:20, Heb. 5:14, where mature undoubtedly gives the best sense. This is an implied acknowledgment that there are some occurrences in which perfect is unsuitable as a rendering. In every one of the eight occurrences in Paul's Epistles, mature gives the best sense. Many of us may have some claim to be mature, but certainly not to be perfect; and we may well doubt the propriety of perfect in James 3:2. In the other occurrences (James 1:4, 17, 25) mature is the best rendering.
However, the occurrences in Matthew's Gospel show us the way out. Matt. 5:48 reads (A.V., C.V. and others) perfect twice. The C.L.N.T. has: "You, then, shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." Can we actually affirm that compliance with the instruction in Matt. 5:43-48 can make anyone perfect—yes, perfect—or that the Lord Jesus ever meant any such thing? Here, and in Heb. 9:11 and possibly Matt. 19:21 we have a situation parallel to what we found when studying charis,grace. The closing words of that series of papers (Vol. 23, 1961, p. 54) were: "His grace is light and glory which pour from, Him. Our thanks, poor and weak though it be, is the best and truest response we can give to Him in return. Feeble though it be, it is our reflection of His grace." This refers back to the section of the previous study, No. 10, headed "Grace as thanks" (Vol. 22, p. 232), where I quoted Luke 6:32, 33, 34; 17:9; Rom. 6:17; 1. Cor. 15:57; 2. Cor. 2:14; 8:16; 1. Tim. 1:12; 2. Tim. 1:3, with the comment:
"In my view, it would be pedantic and quite misleading to
render charis by grace in any of these. The C.V. is right in
abandoning strict concordance here. . . ." I contend, therefore, that in Matt. 5:48 it would be entirely in order to render the command by: "You, then, shall be mature as the Father of yours, the heavenly One, is perfect"; but I would not care to do so without a marginal Note that here the words "mature" and "perfect" represent the same Greek word. This is a case where strict concordance is not only pedantic but actually misleading. If we translate in such a way as to suggest to the reader that he is expected to reach an impossibly high standard on earth, we are presenting him with an excuse for refusing to accept the standard that actually is within his reach; and most people are only too eager to grasp such an excuse.
Part of that eagerness is due to misunderstanding what "the mature" really means; and there some of us have been greatly to blame for not thinking more accurately. Many have shown a tendency to equate "the mature" to some standard of fuller knowledge but that idea itself derives from immature thinking and is proof positive of a measure of immaturity in those who propound it. To be mature is to, desire full knowledge intensely, even to, desire what is perfect. So many who have supposed themselves to be well advanced in understanding the Word of God have shown themselves by their acts not to desire full knowledge of it wherever such knowledge may lead them. We cannot expect to achieve full knowledge of everything in the Word in our earthly life. Nevertheless it is the desire that matters, not the assumed accomplishment. With the desire, if it be genuine, the accomplishment will begin, even though its full perfection must await the glory to come in resurrection life.
If the fault of the Corinthians had been ignorance, Paul surely would have said so; but he did not. He does not use the word agnoeO, to be ignorant, in that manner at all, as a glance at the passages in the epistle which have it will show (1. Cor. 10:1; 12:1; 14:38). Certainly, in the last Paul observes: "Now if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant"; which remark in a measure sums up his condemnation of those Corinthians who were determined to go astray; nevertheless his main complaint in the epistle was of those who were soulish and had no desire for spiritual things. Nobody is judged in Scripture for lack of knowledge in itself, for God recognizes the very limited capacity of many people, but for lack of desire for knowledge of Him, their contentment with what is soulish and indifference to what is spiritual.
Some of those with whom we had to deal while A.T. was still with us and under attack, demonstrated their immaturity by the way they treated him. Had they been mature, they would never have behaved in the way they did, they would never have attacked him by every available means of disclosing the weaknesses and faults of the 1930 C.V. They stand out in our recollection as men who dared to assume they were specially enlightened when, in fact, they lacked even an elementary idea of that grace which the Evangel is all about, and what it means In dealing with our brethren. That things are different now is a matter for thankfulness; yet the fact has yet to be faced that recognition of what "the mature" means in practise is still confined to the few. Some of those who hurt A.T. never showed any sign of repentance, even when he died without having received justice.
Why is it that 1. Corinthians 15 is so largely ignored or denied among the churches? Because few, if any, of their members are mature. If one is able to believe the first five chapters of Romans, there should be no difficulty in believing the remainder, and 1. Corinthians 15. Yet, in fact, for many a believer so-called they are insuperable; because they are foolishness to him. Even more so are the early chapters of 1. Corinthians. He does not want to believe them; because they would drive home to him that he has to choose between the elementary and the full knowledge, between an easy milk diet and a tough meat diet.
Searching though 1. Corinthians 15 is, there is no room for doubt that Chapters 1 to 4 are even more searching. Why is this? Because Chapter 15 is largely something to be believed, and action upon it does not loom up very plainly at first; but the latter are about things to be done and also things that are not to be done, so they are far harder for the immature to accept. In them, indeed, do we get down to the root of the distinction between those who are mature and those who are not. The latter are the soulish men (1. Cor. 2:14-16).
No doubt the men who so bitterly attacked A.T. for his heroic stand against error would have been deeply wounded if they had been described as soulish men; yet that is what they were; for they demonstrated the fact beyond a peradventure by their indifference to accuracy in translating the Word of God. They tried to destroy him because what he was doing was spiritual and mature. That is why there was among them so much jealousy and strife against him (3:3). For A.T. was tested, and was found faithful (4:2). Within their own little circle his enemies managed for a considerable while to reign (4:8) while he was buffeted and unsettled and toiling (4:11).
Paul's movement from the general to the particular in the rest of 1. Corinthians conceals to some extent the sharpness of the edge of his word in Chaps. 1-4; and it may be that circumstance which tends to conceal the vital importance of desiring the mature. Those who are soulish have no desire to advance in knowledge of the things of God. The lack of such desire is the sure mark of immaturity. And one of the greatest barriers to such advance is the idea that once we have faith we need nothing else. Faith, and faith alone, is essential for righteousness. Faith is also essential for every advance from that achievement; but something else is essential as well: growth in grace, a growth which can be achieved only by effort and by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Many seem to get bogged down in the first four chapters of Romans. Yet to imagine that once we have faith by God's grace there is nothing more needed for us is to be enslaved by one of the worst errors among those who regard themselves as advanced students of God's Word. All too frequently, such imagine themselves to be resting on grace when, in reality, they are stagnating.
We still find traces of the idea that the matures are those who have dispensed with the spirituals. This is not so. They are those who have dispensed with the spirituals which Paul declares are associated with immaturity, to wit, those in 1. Corinthians 13:8. All other spirituals remain; and a look through the occurrences of pneumatikos will show that there are a good many of them. Possibly the oddest thing about it is that the word occurs fourteen times in 1. Corinthians to ten in the rest of the Greek Scriptures; and perhaps the most significant is that Ephesians opens with "every spiritual blessing," and has near the end our wrestling "toward the spirituals of the wickedness among the celestials." Because something is "spiritual" it is not necessarily good, or necessarily for us even when it is good in itself.
Let us face it! Most believers are immature. Most believers have no desire for, even no use for, fuller knowledge of God. Where, then, am I astray in declaring that this lack of desire is the sure sign of immaturity?
It is a very great pity that when the C.V. rescued the Greek Aorist tense it did not at the same time rescue the Present tense fully and consistently. 1. Cor. 13:12 is a case in point. Surely we should read here: "At present I am getting to know out of part, yet then I shall be getting on my own account full-knowledge according as I am fully known now"? If this is correct and I think it must be it puts out of court the idea that getting full-knowledge is something only for the life to come. One of the great blessings of "the mature" is when it comes to us we are able to start acquiring full knowledge on our own account, instead of being entirely dependent on others. Paul was not saying, and neither am I, that full-knowledge is to be realized in this life; but simply that with the coming of the mature we have at once reached a turning point and have come to be on the way to acquiring on our own account the full-knowledge which will ultimately be ours in the glory.
Sandwiched between the so-called "Hymn to love" and the statement of Paul's Evangel and his great defence of the truth of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the generally neglected and most difficult and puzzling 1. Corinthians 14. The link words are, "Be pursuing love, yet be zealous for the spirituals." On p. 211 the question was asked, "Which spirituals?" and it was pointed out that they do nor end with 1. Cor. 14:1 and what follows. In Gal. 6:1, "you, the spirituals" are plainly those who show the fruit of the spirit, the first of which is, again, love; followed by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control. Such things as high intelligence and scholarship are not included in the list. It is possible to be quite simple-minded and yet mature as to the faith; for such maturity is a matter of mental and spiritual attitude rather than attainment; being essentially love and what flows from that love. Hence Paul also declares here: "Now those of Christ Jesus crucify the flesh tggether with its passions and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). This thought lies behindd the rest of the closing part of the epistle, and blossoms out (Eph. 1:3) "in every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ."
This point is of outstanding importance; for it appears to me that Paul's chief aim in 1. Corinthians is to lead his readers on to the greater grace-effects (12:31) without at the same time disparaging the lesser spirituals, even though these were plainly temporary. For when he comes to list the gifts in Eph. 4:11-14, he reduces all (except love, see v. 15) to five, of which two, the apostles and the prophets, were soon to disappear.
Only when we fully appreciate the difficulties confronting the Apostle Paul at this stage can we solve these problems.
First, he lists the gifts the Corinthians possessed, beginning with apostles and ending with tongues (12:27-31); then he places love in its primary position. Even so, the other spirituals are not to be neglected, and so Paul proceeds to discuss two of them, prophesying and tongues.
At this point the dilemma is set out. Although prophesying was to cease and, in fact, soon did cease, it retained in full its major importance for the then-present time; yet it did not rob tongues of their importance. So Paul's exposition oscillates from the one to the other. First, prophesying takes precedence (14:1). Yet he who is talking a tongue is not talking to men, but to God (v. 2). Prophesying is edifying the church (vv. 3,4). Yet Paul wants all to be talking tongues (v. 5), yet rather that they may be prophesying, for the one prophesying is greater than the one talking tongues. Tongues themselves are of no benefit by themselves (v. 6). Then, at considerable length, the point is made that tongues themselves are valueless to the listener apart from interpretation (vv. 7-17). Paul then thanks God for his being able to talk tongues; yet in the church, five words with his mind are more valuable than ten thousand in a tongue.
As if these pros and cons, so far, were not enough, Paul re-states the matter in the form of a paradox (VV.22-24), which
"So that the tongues are for sign, not to the believing ones, but
to unbelieving ones; yet the prophesying not to the unbelieving
ones but to the ones believing. If ever, then, the whole church
should be coming together on the same (purpose) and all should
be talking with tongues, yet ordinary or unbelieving ones be
entering, will they not be declaring that you are gone mad?
Yet if ever all should be prophesying and some unbeliever or
plain person be entering, he is being convinced by all, he is
being examined by all. The hidden things of his heart are becoming
apparent; and thus, falling on (his) face, he will be giving
worship to God, reporting that God really is among you."
Probably this was clearer to those at the time who had actual experience of all this; for Paul does not really resolve his paradox. Instead, he escapes by enlarging on the conclusion that he had stated in the form of a question in v.19: "In the church, do I want to speak five words with my mind, that I should be instructing others also, or ten thousand words in tongue?" And then he concludes: "Yet let all occur respectably and in order."
For the Corinthians, the problem was a very difficult one of balance. For us, on a scale through nineteen hundred years and over the whole earth, instead of in one ancient city, it would be an impossible one—if it arose. How can WE use tongues rightly? How can WE prophesy rightly? The only possible answer is "Not at all." Both are anachronistic. Paul's conclusion in v. 19 is plainly the best way; indeed, it is the only possible answer.
When we lament the failure of the saints to covet the spirituals, we need to ask ourselves, "Which spirituals?" If we confine ourselves to prophesying and tongues, we have to face the fact that the Irvingites coveted them intensely—and had them or what passed for them! As their movement advanced they produced twelve "apostles"; but when the last of these died without accomplishing a reunion of Christendom or a general return to Pentecost, the movement declined, and many of their remnants ended up in the Anglican church. There is no evidence that their "spirituals" advanced anyone to a better understanding of Scripture; and we may well ask in our own day what fresh light has come from the Pentecostalists, and how many of them care a jot for such fresh light as others have brought out? If they had taken such a lead as A.T. did in his series, "Who is our God?" we might well have gone some of the way with them; but it is notorious that they are simply another sect, imprisoned in the traditions of others.
In fact, it is far more to the point to speak of the failure of the saints to covet any spirituals, particularly the "all spiritual blessings among the celestials" (Eph. 1:3), including the love which is the tie of the maturity. Very many more covet tongues and prophesying than the extremely few who care for the important spirituals. Such are immature, in that they do not desire full-knowledge. They fail to reach this standard because they do not desire to reach it, not that they have tried and failed.
Perhaps it could be argued superficially that this applies only to those believers whose advance towards the mature has not taken them so far as the Prison Epistles. The answer to this is that one of the grace-effects detailed in 1. Cor. 12:8-11 is "discrimination of spirits." If all spirits were good and sent by God, there would be no need for such a special gift at any time. And, in fact, the very first reference to spirits in the Greek Scriptures, in Matt. 8:16, is to casting out spirits which, from the context, are plainly demons. The parallel passage in Mark (1:27) speaks of them as "unclean spirits," and the same applies to Luke 4:36. We will look further into this presently.
For first it is necessary to show that the spirituals of the wickedness among the celestials do in fact operate among some of those who seek to practise prophesying and tongues. And we should observe that there is no need to show that they operate universally among them. One instance is enough; because if they operate once in that way, they can so operate again.
Some may be genuinely puzzled about all this. They might ask how it can be that something purporting to come from the Holy Spirit can possibly be evil? Such difficulty can distress only those who are ignorant of the Scriptures, for, as shown at the start of this paper, the operation of evil spirits had taken place in the events recorded in Matt. 8:16; Mark 1:27; Luke 4:36, so we have no right to be surprised if we should find it taking place now. Anyone who might argue that we are in a different "dispensation" should first pause to consider, for there can be no doubt that even if conditions in force then or, say, 1. Cor. 12:10 were no longer to hold good, that cannot be said of Eph. 6:12 or, for that matter, 1. Tim. 4:1. Theories about "dispensations" are no help in this problem.
The issue is not one of "dispensational" theory. From one aspect, it is not even a matter of Scripture. It is one of readily ascertainable fact, of matters which can be verified from newspaper reports, and if one is sufficiently foolish or even in some cases unfortunate, by personal experience. I have not experienced these things myself, but I have met some who can vouch for such experience; and a watch on newspapers frequently yields some strange disclosures; such as the following:
In "The Church Times" of London, dated August 16th, 1968, appears a letter under the title "Pentecostal Zeal" which goes far to justify the conclusions embodied in this series of papers. This justification is from the opposite end, so to speak, in that the letter displays very clearly the state of mind which follows from misunderstanding the teaching of 1. Corinthians.
As usual with such teachers as its writer, care is taken not to contradict Scripture directly, but only by implication. Here are some examples. We are told that the Pentecostalists could teach "the value of making a decision and having the waters close overhead in a symbolic burial with Christ" and "They are, moreover, encouraged to seek such a baptism in the Holy Spirit as is recorded of the disciples and their converts in 'Acts' with the resultant Scriptural phenomenon of speaking with tongues, ensuring that their Christianity is vital and more than an effete attempt to follow tenets."
If these mean anything at all, they mean two baptisms, one by total immersion in water, and then, after encouragement to seek it, at some subsequent period a "baptism" in the Holy Spirit. This contradicts Eph. 4:1-5 and the "one baptism" of the sevenfold unity of the Spirit. So instead of actual unity we are offered division, as seemingly the first baptism can be had without going on to the other.
Here I must pause to observe that if this idea of some sort of double baptism be true, the Apostle Paul's lack of enthusiasm for baptizing people in water becomes incomprehensible. He regards baptism as in one spirit and universal among believers and as one baptism, according to 1. Cor. 12:13; and that is actually what baptism really is for us. Yet if the quotations set out above were true, 1. Cor. 12:13 would fall to the ground, and Eph. 4:1-5 with it. Plainly, we have to choose between the authority of The Church Times letter writer and that of Paul.
Characteristic of this sort of writer, too, is the implication that all who receive his (supposed) second baptism will as a result speak with tongues. He overlooks that these things were apportioned (1. Cor. 12:7-11) and that "not all are speaking tongues" (12:30). In fact, he obviously has never studied this chapter with care, but only as a support for his theories.
Needless to say, he has never managed to get as far as Ephesians. If he had, he might even have got so far as the gifts given by the Christ in "ascending into height" (Eph. 4:8), "up over all of the heavens that He should be filling all these" (4:10). These, according to the list given by the Apostle Paul, were the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers. Their purpqse was "towards the adapting of the saints into a work of dispensing into upbuilding of the body of the Christ" (4:12), and this was to be until a culminating point: "unto our reaching attainment, all these (saints), into the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, into manhood mature, into measure of adult stature of the fulness of the Christ."
He might even have gone further and discovered the ultimate purpose of these gifts: "that we should not still be minors, surging hither and thither and shifting about by every wind of the(ir) doctrine, in the craft of men, in knavery; towards the artifice of the deception." In this I have departed from strict concordance and followed the A. V. by reading doctrine instead of teaching, for that displays the meaning more clearly. The trouble with so many of the churches is that they go along with a general stream of doctrine, fairly constant in main direction but subject to eddies. From time to time, new doctrinal fashions appear like eddies in a torrent. These flourish and swirl around and carry their dupes aside from the main stream and ever further from the Scriptures; until yet another fresh doctrinal fashion appears to continue the process of decadence.
He might—in theory—but doubtless not in practise—have penetrated thus far into the mind of Paul; for evidently to him such following of Paul is but "an effete attempt to follow tenets," as he puts it. His cult of immaturity is displayed by his next remark: "Going on, they are to covet gifts of the Spirit such as are listed in Cross's Dictionary (following 1. Cor. 12.) under charismata." Presumably the Dictionary is more authoritative than Paul's own list! However, he fails to notice that his personal attachment to the gifts thus listed is itself a "tenet." The difference, obviously, is that it is his own tenet, whereas the teachings stigmatized as "tenets" are Scriptures where they are not some other person's pet notions.
What those who cling to things that are immature fail to appreciate is that if they are right there is no conceivable reason, why the epistles of maturity, which is what the Prison Epistles are, should ever have been written. Their production must have been a terrible strain for the Apostle Paul while languishing in a Roman jail. He must have been crazy to have produced them if they were not necessary as superseding the things which were "out of part" in his early epistles.
The plain truth is that for such people Scripture is not regarded as necessary apart from those snippets which suit them. This man declared: "In the church the exact needs of individuals are commonly met by the omniscient Spirit speaking through prophecy and interpretation of tongues." Exactly so! For him God's word is not enough. The pity is that he does not trouble to explain why he bothers with it at all!
To speak, as the writer of this letter does, of "a powerful and majestic utterance from an inspired believer" sounds splendid but the doubts come when we ask the nature of such utterance. The letter supplies all that is necessary by way of reply. Not only does it speak of "the printed word of the Bible and of hymns"—a significant conjunction of ideas when we consider the rubbish so many hymns are—but an even more significant sample is supplied: "St. James's instructions for dealing with sickness are readily and efficaciously followed." The fact that these instructions are addressed to "the Twelve Tribes, those in the dispersion" is conveniently ignored. Some "inspired believer" knew better.
In the same issue of "The Church Times" is a paper from a somewhat different source commending the "sacrament" of "holy unction" in the "ministry to the sick." This is said to include "a vehement reminder to our Lady before the statue to her in church" and "the burning of a votive candle at the statue." Thus do extremes meet. For ourselves they furnish a salutary warning against the presumptuousness of adding our own ideas to Scripture. It is the surest way back into paganism.
Many people make much of their so-called "religion of experience," always a very nebulous affair. We, who put our sole trust and confidence in God's Word as written, also have the reality of this idea; for, again and again we find the truth of the Word confirmed by experience. However harmless aberrations such as these may appear at first glance, experience soon shows the mind given wholly to God's Word that evil lurks in them. On the other hand, experience of man's false notions and stupid aberrations, when deliberately cultivated and submitted to, leads to abject slavery to them. Such experience is safe only when under the guidance of a mind governed wholly by God's Word. Even so, it is best avoided, except when necessity arises, as here.
In our reaction against the excesses of much of what is ordinarily called "Dispensationalism," many of us have tended to fall into the opposite extreme of error. Long ago, I warned against the possibility of such a reaction, for I found my own mind was tending that way. Ever since, I have been on the alert against any "swing of the pendulum." For one thing, a balanced mind should not swing between extremes; and any tendency to do so is a sure indication of danger of falling out of balance.
The very idea of turning back to 1. Corinthians, first of all, and a portion only at that, involves some measure of failure to retain our balance; for it implies that the instructions given to us in the Prison Epistles are being abandoned in favour of earlier ones. Yet it is, or should be, only a matter of common sense that Paul's earlier teaching should be understood only within the context of his final teaching. It is futile to insist that Paul's teaching is one, a unity from start to finish, rather than a developing disclosure designed to put out fresh truths and new insights to minds in process of being prepared to receive them, if we think and act as if the earlier teaching must be given foremost place in our minds and the later teaching accepted only in so far as it harmonizes with our understanding of the earlier.
Such action is the very reverse of the true way for us. It must be; for it shackles the final revelation with our limited comprehension of earlier ones. It is like attempting to interpret a landscape at noonday by what it appeared to be the previous night by moonlight. This is not to declare that Paul's earlier teaching was faulty; but simply that it is necessarily incomplete and therefore to be fully understood only in the light of his final teaching.
Ater all, in the very nature of things, nothing in Scripture can possibly be so complete as to afford us direct guidance in every matter that can arise. It is not an encyclopaedia. When Paul wrote: "yet whenever the mature should be coming" (1. Cor. 13:10) he left unasked and unanswered a number of questions which he must have known would have to be asked eventually. Our situation would have been no less difficult if he had written in English and said "the perfect," "the finished," "the perfected" or "the mature"; for since neither exactly covers the same area of thought as the Greek "teleios," neither throws a complete, all-pervading, light on Paul's meaning. We are forced, whether we like it or not, to move over to other contexts for enlightenment.
Here is what is true in "dispensational truth" comes into its own; for there is no need to assume the existence of any "change of dispensation" during the Pentecostal period or after. With a little ingenuity some sort of case might perhaps be made out for putting several "dispensations" into the period covered by Paul's ministry. In fact, one ingenious writer did this very thing for the period covered by Acts, splitting the account into three "dispensations" (see Vol. 12, No.5, 1950, p. 226). Instead of fantastic speculations of this sort, the reality is simple enough, even a common experience: we are incapable of mastering any subject except gradually. This was certainly true of what Paul taught. First there was an elementary stage, then increasing enlightenment and finally complete disclosure.
Even the fundamental subject of (so-called) justification; that is, the truth that we can be made righteous, put right, by believing God, and by such faith in Him alone, does not come as one blinding flash, so to speak. The first two chapters of Romans lead up to it, the third discloses it, the fourth explains its great prototype in Abraham's faith. Its relations with sin and with baptism follow in Romans 6 to 8 and Israel's position regarding it in Romans 9 to 11. Even that is not enough, for what is taught in Galatians and Philippians 3 has to be set out; and finally the subject is displayed from another angle in James 2.
One consequence of this appears immediately: we can reach the fullest possible understanding of any matter only by considering the early teaching about it in relation to the later teaching. We need to view it as a whole, that is, in a finished manner, so that we can perceive it as a complete entity. That sense of "finished" is the essence of the thought in teleios.
Gifts, so-called, furnish an outstanding example of this need. The confusion about them in the A.V. has muddled our thinking all along. Eight Greek words are translated by gift; and it is by no means easy to sort them out and still less to get the distinctions clear in the mind; yet such problems will usually yield to systematic study.
The first thing is to make a concordance of each word, or, if too frequent for convenience, of its occurrences in the books under special study; here Paul's Epistles; then to fix its nearest equivalents in English; and then to compare the results. Here we can knock out two of the eight almost at a glance: anathEma (Luke 21:5) and charis, the first meaning votive offering, the second, grace. Of the six remaining the simplest doma, means gift, something given. Of its four occurrences the most significant is Eph. 4:8. The apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, are very general gifts; for though Paul follows this up with functions of these five special for ourselves, the fact remains that apostles did exist who were given for other purposes as well: the Twelve. Christ's gifts on His ascension are for all mankind in the long run, even though here Paul is concerned only with the upbuilding of the body of the Christ.
The other place where apostles are associated with what are so loosely called "the gifts" is 1. Cor. 12:28, 29; and this list begins with "first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers," leaving out the evangelists and the pastors referred to, later on, in Eph. 4:8. Then five other things are found to be added: "there-upon powers; thereupon charismata of health, supports, pilotage, species of tongues." Furthermore, the earlier revelation given in 1. Cor. 12:28, 29 has no article before any of these; so the article before the five in Eph. 4:8 refers them back to the earlier list.
In actual fact, the word euaggelistEs, evangelist, occurs three times only (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2. Tim. 4:5); yet surely it is true that all those who are described in Scripture as "evangelizing" are necessarily evangelists. So little is said about this point that we can hardly be dogmatic about it ourselves; but surely it is reasonable to assume that all those who are called by God to evangelize, whether by preaching, or witness, or even searching out and spreading abroad the truth of Scripture, can rightly be regarded as evangelists.
"The pastors" stand alone in Eph. 4:11. No other reference to them in the same sense is anywhere to be found! With the exception of the Lord Jesus Himself in John 10:2, 11, 12, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1. Peter 2:25, Scripture is otherwise silent about this function. Yet there again, those who seek to do as the Lord Jesus says of Himself in John 10 are certainly those whom Paul has in mind in Eph. 4:11. It is a great pity that we use the word "pastors." It would be far better to be strictly concordant and say "the shepherds."
The first of the additional things, powers, dunameis, is referred to three times in 1. Corinthians 12 (vv. 10,28,29) as connected with the spirituals, pneumatikos, under discussion (1. Cor. 12:1). Also in Paul's Epistles it occurs in 2. Cor. 12:12 as one of the signs of an apostle which were produced among them "in signs as well as wonders (teras, C.V. miracles) and powers," and in Gal. 3:5 of the Spirit "operating powers" in the Galatians. In Rom. 8:38 powers are listed among the things that cannot separate us from the love of God, so this passage is irrelevant to our theme here.
In 1. Cor. 12:28 "powers" are marked off from what precedes them and what follows them by "thereupon." This suggests that they are to be regarded as a separate category of spirituals.
We conclude from all this that when Paul came in his expositions to the doctrine enunciated in Eph. 4:8, these "powers" and the four charismats of 1. Cor. 12:28, 29 were already obsolete.
Returning to this matter of the "gifts" words; the student will be considerably helped by correcting the version he uses by gift for doma (see above) and free-gift for dOrea (Rom. 5:15, 17; 2. Cor. 9:15; Eph. 3:7; 4:7), gratuity for dOrEma (Rom. 5:16; James 1:17), oblation for dOron (Eph. 2:8). For the Greek word charisma read act of grace or manifestation of grace. As well as elsewhere this occurs in 1. Cor. 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31 and should be carefully distinguished from the "gift" words, as also should pneumatikos, spiritual. Nothing is achieved except confusion by reading "spiritual (endowments)" instead of "the spirituals" in 1. Cor. 14:1; or, even worse, "since you are zealots for spiritual (endowments)" instead of "since you are zealots of spirits" in 1. Cor. 14:12. Study of these matters will do much to clear up the general confusion.
In conclusion, a word needs to be said about 1. John 4:1-6. The issue there does not arise so urgently as when prophesying and tongues manifest themselves, a thing which I am convinced should not happen now, and cannot among the mature in present conditions: but the principles enunciated in this passage are as sound and necessary as ever they were, for John's Epistles are absolutely general in their scope. Our wrestling is "with the spirituals of the wickedness among the celestials" (Eph. 6:12). That is why the armour and the sword of the Spirit are so greatly needed by us. Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that on every hand are to be found the fruit of the teachings of innumerable false prophets; and in 1. John 4:1-6 is explained how we can test these teachings.
All such as claim to be too "spiritual" to avow Jesus Christ having come in flesh stand self-condemned by this test. The objective of the false prophet's attack is always that in some form or other. Our readers will probably have noticed that when writing about our Lord I always refer to Him as "the Lord Jesus," and never as "Jesus" except when quoting. This is a matter of principle as a plain affirmation that the Jesus Who came in flesh is the Lord.
Sir Robert Anderson devoted a whole book ("The Silence of God") to this theme, and after seventy years much of what he wrote is as cogent as ever it was, but not all. He never seems to have won free from the confusion which we have inherited in the word "dispensation," one of the most dangerously misleading terms ever used by Christians.
The Gospels and Acts cover historically a period of transition. At the start, the situation of the world was relatively static: little of ultimate importance had happened since the last words of Malachi were written. Then, within a short space less than the lifetime of many of us, the whole situation was drastically transformed from a state in which Israel's covenant and circumcision were everything to that which now exists where they are nothing. That is the whole of "Dispensational Truth" so far as this present period is concerned.
Sir Robert Anderson realized this, but misunderstood it. He wrote regarding Acts: "'To the Jew first' is stamped on every page of it." Quite so; and on the Gospels and Romans as well. The inference we are intended to make from his assertion is that this ceased at the end of Acts and before the Prison Epistles were written; but as a matter of sober fact, the inference is not explicitly stated anywhere, and Scripture is silent as to any such rule being rescinded.
Furthermore, as a matter of fact too, any such rule is wholly irrelevant to the Prison Epistles, since they are in no way concerned with Israel and the Jew. They are not addressed "to Jew first," for the simple reason that they are not addressed to Jews at all They are concerned with a state of things in which the distinction implied in the terms Jew, Israel, covenant, circumcision have become meaningless for the present. Any intrusion of these notions into the Prison Epistles is like introducing dust or fluff into a delicate chronometer. Some of the words themselves are there; but they appear only to emphasize the vitally important fact that the ideas they represent are absent. Furthermore, if anyone tries now to evangelize Jews first, the present irrelevance of the idea becomes evident; for it means presenting to the Jew an Evangel which in its very essence denies the validity in our time of the distinction between Jew and Gentile. As Paul pointed out in Romans—and he there addressed the Jew only to point it out, even though in courtesy he did address him first—since Christ died the Evangel must be received by each one as sinner without privilege, or not at all.
Insufficient care has been taken to think clearly about these matters, yet such clear thought is essential if we are ever to get the facts plain. To begin with, the title of Sir Robert Anderson's book is confusing. The issue he was discussing is not really why God is silent but why God is apparently inactive—not quite the same thing! God is silent because He has already said all He has to say for the present. The truth came with Jesus Christ; and its setting out was completed by the Apostle Paul. The gist of Sir Robert Anderson's answer is that, now, grace is reigning through righteousness into life eonian (Rom. 5:21). Yet it is not in Romans 5, but in 1. Corinthians 5, that we are told of "God. . . . not reckoning their fallings aside to the" and of the idea of "world-conciliating," whatever these may be found to mean (see next paper). However, before we can profitably consider this, we ought to enquire when God ceased to intervene actively in the world, and when and in what way did grace begin to reign.
The former brings with it a further question: What do we mean by God actively intervening in the world? Certainly we can affirm that the birth, ministry, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus were active intervention by God. So was Pentecost as a whole. So was the call of Saul who became Paul. And that is all, unless perhaps we include the rescue of Peter in Acts 12 and of Paul in Acts 16. These are miracles, but whether they were direct interventions in the world by God ffimself is another matter. The former was brought about by an angel, the latter through an earthquake; and it is at least arguable that they were what is sometimes called "providential acts" rather than direct displays of His power by God Himself. Here I do not care to be dogmatic; but I cannot regard these as world-events in the sense that the others were. So I would reckon the call of Saul as the last direct intervention of God in world-affairs, and the future fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 as the next in order. And, characteristically for our present era, although the call of Saul was a public event, it was as unobtrusive as anything of such vast importance could possibly be. Yet it was undeniably an intervention by God in world-affairs; and although not accompanied by any tremendous outpouring of power, it was in no sense private or secret, and its impact speedily became evident.
If this understanding of "Divine intervention" is correct, it means that such intervention is a rare event. This is what we might expect, for it is in keeping with any reverent idea of God's majesty that He would not resort to spectacular methods to gain His ends unless they were really necessary, and that has only rarely been so. The tremendous events prophesied by the Lord Jesus Himself and in Daniel and the Revelation are the outstanding examples of direct and deliberate intervention by God in the world; and it is precisely the fact that nothing like such a sequence has ever occurred before that gives them their awe-inspiring character. They have another feature, too: they will usher in conditions marked by evident and perpetual Divine control of the world, something wholly new and outside all previous human experience, and almost unimaginable to us, conditioned as we are to circumstances different in almost every respect.
So we see in the Gospels and Acts, first, the decisive change wrought by the presence of the Lord Jesus in the world; next, its sequel in the falling of the Holy Spirit on Jews and, later, Gentiles and lastly, the opening of a new era in the call of Saul who becarne Paul. And each of these makes far less visible impact on the world than its predecessor. Something else, not physically evident at all yet closely associated with these, appears in the Gospels and Acts: the announcement and unlocking of the Kingdom. Later, but still within the time covered by Acts, we have also the announcernent by Paul that grace reigns. Reigns! Therefore it is concerned with the Kingdom. This might have been appreciated by us much more vividly and long ago but for the circumstance that the words are so unlike in English, though they are forms of the same idea in Greek. The reign of grace began with the unlocking of the Kingdom.
If this had been appreciated by Sir Robert Anderson we might have been spared the strange doctrine of J. J. B. Coles about the supposed frontier at Acts 28:28. His failure in this respect did more than anything else to spoil the argument in his book.
Consideration of this matter must be left to another paper. Meanwhile the ideas put out by Sir Robert Anderson concerning miracles must be examined.
However, I should add that what I have written so far in this section has been seen by some friends, who have criticized it on the ground that I left out of account such events as are recorded in Acts 4:31; 5:1-19. Yes, but these are all part of the great Event of Pentecost, so cannot count as separate Divine acts. The point is: all spectacular interventions by God in this world have long since ceased. For illustration Sir Robert Anderson quotes the Armenian massacres of some seventy years ago. We have lived to see far worse things—last at the time of writing, but not least, the frightful acts of the Viet Cong against helpless civilians. Undeniably the inactivity of God in the face of such horrors is a fact that calls loudly for some explanation. As Sir Robert Anderson puts it (p. 18): "The Divine history of the favoured race for thousands of years teem with miracles by which God gave proof of His power with men, and yet we are confronted by the astounding fact that from the days of the apostles to the present hour the history of Christendorn will be searched in vain for the record of a single public event to compel belief that there is a God at all!"
The operative word here is "compel." A.T. rightly stressed the greatness of our deliverance at Dunkirk; but it would be straining wishful thinking to the limit to claim that it was of so startling a nature as to compel belief in God.
Sir Robert Anderson goes on to examine the purpose of miracles and their evidential value. He exposes the flaw in Paley's famous argument that a revelation can be made only by miracles; and shows that, in fact, they are wholly invalid for such a purpose, citing Gal. 1:8 and later John 10:41. Then he rightly claims that a new message is to be tested, "not by miracles, but by a preceding revelation known to be divine." He asserts: "Not one of the disciples is reported to have attributed his faith to that ground," i.e. to miracles; and John 2:23, 24 clinches the point.
Why, then, did Christ work miracles? Partly because of what He was (Acts 10:38), partly because of their special character as accrediting Him (Matt. 11:2-5; John 5:36).
Then in setting out his case he goes on to argue that, so far as their evidential force was concerned, the miracles of the Gospels and Acts were for Israel, and that their cessation began as Paul's Evangel appeared. Doubtless the reader will notice that this is in line with my suggestion that "tongues" were intended as a witness to Israel. This idea was arrived at independently; for when I drafted it I had completely forgotten what Sir Robert Anderson had written.
I do not think that, apart from the miracles recorded in Acts 28, Sir Robert Anderson's contention here can be disputed; and, when we examine those final miracles, what were they but signs to accredit Paul when in due course he was to arrive in Rome? Let us not overlook the fact that his first personal action was with the Jews there. As regards others, only a bare minimum is recorded. So accrediting Paul to the Jews is precisely what the Malta miracles did (Acts 28:15) and at least part of the reason why Paul's ministry in Rome was free. But there at Malta was the closure of reported miracles by Paul; and when, long after, his final imprisonment occurred there was no such help for him.
At first glance this might seem to support the "Acts, 28:28 frontier" doctrine, and something like it was evidently held by Sir Robert Anderson. Yet this is not so. The Acts account makes it fully plain that, throughout, the Evangel is to Jew first. This is undeniable; but it is wholly irrelevant, to the fact that this account begins to Jew only, with Gentiles nowhere at all except as proselytes, and ends with such distinctions reaching the vanishing point, with Paul welcoming all those going in toward him. We can see this change steadily progressing throughout Acts, even though we can properly understand it only from Paul's Epistles.
Miracles occur in the Acts narrative for their usual purpose: accrediting the Twelve and later the Apostles Barnabas and Paul. That they continue from the start to the close does not mean that some sort of "offer" was being made to the Jews or that further direct intervention by God in world-affairs was, occurring, for they were simply the completion of the great miracle of Pentecost. The point of the account is that Jhe recording of the sequel, after the Ascension, of the pronoWlcement in Matt. 13:14, 15 had to be made, lest otherwise there should be dangerous misunderstanding. In fact, thanks to human carelessness, and sometimes stupidity, misunderstanding did occur. Yet there is no reason nor any excuses for it, as it comes entirely from reading into these accounts ideas which are wholly absent. Surely, if the Kingdom were "offered" or "rejected," any rational writer, particularly such a person as Luke, would have said so, instead of leaving the matter to be discovered nineteen centuries after!
Nine years before J. J. B. Coles' 1907 manifesto in "Things to Come," Sir Robert Anderson wrote of Israel's defection: "But though the public event which marked their fall was thus deferred, the death of Stephen was the secret crisis of their destiny. Never again was a public miracle witnessed in Jerusalem. The special Penetecostal proclamation was withdrawn" (p. 83). We can see now how the Coles dogma was being approached, and, as always, the basic falsehood (in the last sentence) was introduced quietly—needless to say, without any attempt at proof or realization of what was being done. Furthermore, the author should have perceived that he was, using the "argument from silence" in a wholly illegitimate manner. True, there is no record of any later public miracle in Jerusalem, but that does not necessarily mean that none occurred.
The pity of it is that what might have been a convincing and sound case is prejudiced by the attempt to prop it up with such fantasy; for apart from this strand of doctrine and the books title there is little in "The Silence of God" that can be faulted. So I will finish with three quotations from it.
"A silent heaven! Yes, but it is not the silence of callous indifference or helpless weakness; it is the silence of a great sabbatic rest, the silence of a peace which is absolute and profound—a silence which is the public pledge and proof that the way is open for the guiltiest of mankind to draw near to God" (p. 146).
"God is silent because He has spoken His last word of mercy and love, and judgment must await the 'day of judgment'—there can be no place for it in this 'day of grace'." (p. 165).
"The thirty years before our Lord entered on His public ministry, spent in inforced inaction in the midst of abounding sorrow and evil and wrong, must have been to Him a living martyrdom, the Tempter ever taunting Him with the seeming apathy of God. And when we read that 'He suffered being tempted' (Heb. 2:18), we can realize how truly He was human, and how deep and real was His humiliation" (p. 166).
Of prevailing prayer he writes: "But the Christian too commonly makes his own longings, or his supposed interests, and not the Divine will, the basis of his prayer; he goes on to persuade himself that his request will be granted; he then regards this 'faith' as a pledge that he has been heard; and finally, when the issue belies his confident hopes, he gives way to bitterness and unbelief. True faith is always prepared for a refusal. Some, we read, 'through faith,' 'obtained promises'; but, no less 'through faith,' 'others were tortured, not accepting deliverance'."
Some addition to the closely-worded Greek has to be devised to make sense in English. Rotherham avoids "it was" by a different addition, and if we follow him we get: "Hence, then, as through one fault (the decree was) unto all men unto condemnation. .." He starts v. 15 thus: "But not as the fault—thus also the (decree of) favour. ."
Startling as it may seem to those of us who have talked and read so much about "reigning grace," this chapter does not declare that grace now reigns over all mankind. It does not say, either, that righteousness reigns. In fact, the verb reign occurs in this chapter as follows:—
v.14 but the death reigns from Adam unto Moses.
v.17 for if the death reigns through the one. . .
v.17 much rather, those obtaining the superabundance
of the grace and of the free-gift of the righteousness,
in life will be reigning through the One.
V21 even as the sin reigns in the death, thus also the
grace should be reigning through righteousness
into life eoman through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There it is, whether we like it or not. We have before us all the references in this chapter to "all mankind" and the five occurrences of the verb reign; and it is perfectly clear that they do not say what so many of us have supposed. Nothing is said of a world-reign of grace. The reign of grace through righteousness is something that directly concerns only those who are righteous. That the existence of such has an impact on the world in that it postpones the operation of God's wrath is not the theme of Rom. 5:12-21. Because grace is in operation in the way here set out, what is elsewhere called katallagE kosmou exists also; but the pair are not one single entity as has too easily been assumed.
Rom. 5:12-21 is separate from Rom. 5:1-11, which is associated much more closely with 2. Corinthians 5.
Grace reigns through righteousness. And through righteousness grace reigns into life eonian. And it does this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here are three outstanding facts telescoped into one sentence in Rom. 5:21, the conclusion of one of the most profound arguments ever penned by mortal man. The conclusion itself is gloriously simple. There is no reason at all why it should not be accepted and believed by everyone of us, however profound the argument leading up to it may seem.
The argument itself is so elaborate and so profound that it is very hard to take in, even partially; yet experience shows that there is one aspect of it even harder to achieve, to take it in without taking other notions also into it. In particular, there is one notion that some, including myself, have in varying measures forced into it: that grace reigns in or over the world, that grace's reign is in some way equivalent to katallagE kosmou in Rom. 11:15, usually rendered by me (but I now consider incorrectly), world-conciliation. Yet Romans 5 does not say this, or anything approaching it; for though katEliagEmen (C.V. we were conciliated), katallagentes (C.V. being conciliated) and tEn katallagEn (C.V. the conciliation) occur in Rom. 5:10, 11, and the only occurrence of world in the chapter follows it at once (vv. 12, 13), both of the latter are associated with an entirely different idea, thus, literally: "Therefore, even as through one man the sin into the world entered, and, through the sin, the death; and thus into all mankind the death entered, on which (account) all sinned. For until law sin was in world. . ."
So Paul does not say, here, that grace is in the world, still less that grace reigns in the world—or even that grace reigns without qualification.
The subject of Rom. 5:1-11 is what follows on being put right out of faith, that is, by believing God, as illustrated in the first four chapters. "We yet being sinners Christ for our sake died" (v. 8). So Paul goes on to say: "Much rather, then, being put right now in His blood, we shall be saved through Him from the wrath." It sums-up in righteousness, salvation, glory, "conciliation." All this being established, Paul moves on to a fresh development of his great theme with the word, "Therefore," and so into the closely-knit argument that fills the rest of the chapter. Yet we shall fail to understand his argument at all unless we appreciate that, glorious though it is, the first part of the chapter is the springboard for his leap into the second part—and that the second part does not speak of the "concilation" or of any idea of grace in the world.
Inevitably, any discussion of Romans 5 must lead us into very deep waters; and the reader will perceive that, already, it has led us inevitably to the Greek words rendered by the C.V. as "conciliate" and "conciliation." For many years I have been unhappy about these renderings.
The circumstance that the Greek Scriptures came to us at first largely through the Latin translations instead of directly from the Greek itself has been an unmitigated disaster. One consequence was that we were saddled with the highly misleading Latin word "justify" for "dikaioO" and now the word "conciliate." I have written much about this already; and the reader can refer to my previous papers for what is at least a fairly satisfactory solution of the problem. What is needed now is an analysis of the words usually rendered "reconcile" and "reconcilation," and by the C.V. as in the previous paragraph, for these are equally misleading and questionable. For a long time I have wanted to tackle this subject, but its difficulty has daunted me. The C.V. Concordance analyses the verb katallassO and its corresponding noun kataliagE into two elements down-change. Do conciliate and conciliation properly match this idea?
The late Mr. Alexander Thomson answered this question in the negative. Recently (The Differentiator, Vol. 29. No. 1, p. 14, not dated, but 1967), Mr. M. A. Meredith wrote a paper substantially developing Mr. Thomson's original idea. I had been thinking on much the same lines; and since then I have been hoping that some of the defenders of the ideas under criticism might be led to comment.
There is really very little that can profitably be added to Mr. Meredith's paper; but perhaps if the case against the use of the words "conciliate" and "conciliation" were set out more analytically, further discussion might begin.
Mr. Thomson's original argument, in brief, is that the basic meaning of katallassO is downalong-change or a downright change; that is to say, a thoroughgoing change. Two passages are particularly notable in the light of this idea These are Rom. 11:15 and 2. Cor. 5:19. Of the latter Mr. Thomson wrote: "We may not read THE world here. Conciliate is a transitive verb, and therefore takes an object which must be affected by the action of the verb. What happens to the World when conciliation affects it? Just nothing, except that a few people here and there, are down-along-changed, towards God. The C.V. uses the word conciliate in a different sense, of God being conciliated. But how is the world conciliated? The world as a whole is not conciliated as it knows nothing about the divine transaction involved. But there is a down-along-change going on in the world for all that." I cannot see that there is any way of getting round this indictment of the word conciliate.
Why do so many versions insert "the" before "world," thus giving a twist to the meaning? Admittedly, the C.L.N.T. prints "the" in light-face type, thus indicating that it is not in the original Greek; but the question still arises: Why add it? Indeed, we can only ask, we must ask, whether God has ever, at any time, succeeded in conciliating the world or even attempted to do so? If there is one thing more certain than anything else in this context, it is that the world is just as hostile to God now as it has ever been. And a further question might be asked: How can God properly be said to conciliate us. Concordant in itself though it is, this group of words is obviously not appropriate to all the contexts of katallassoO and katallagE. Only in the last of its occurrences (2. Cor. 5:20) and in 1. Cor. 7:11 is it at all appropriate. After all, justify is a fairly concordant rendering of dikaioO; but that of itself does not make it the right one. Yet it can be said that God seeks to reconcile us; but we are still confronted with the fact of the inappropriateness of this word in connection with the "world," which is no more reconciled than it is conciliated.
So it seems that owing to the apparent failure of our language to fit the Greek here we must have recourse to paraphrase. In Greek the prefix kata- has sometimes the force of a definite and even permanent change of circumstances, and this is so in certain English words derived from the Greek prefix, such as cataclasm, catalogue, catalysis, catastrophe, katabolism. Certain English words with prefix down- have a similar force. A downfall may well be more
definite and permanent than a simple fall. Downright has a feeling of definiteness and decisiveness. So have downtrodden and downward, to some extent. Why not think of katallasO and katallagE similarly? If so, I would suggest, tentatively and with some measure of trepidation, the following paraphrases; and for katallagE kosmou, "downright world-change."
So we get provisionally:
Rom 5:10, 11. For if, being enemies, we became
downright-changed as regards God through the death of
His Son; by how much rather, being downright-changed,
shall we be saved in His life. Yet not only so, but we
are glorying also in God, through our Lord, Jesus Christ,
through Whom now the downright change we obtained.
Rom. 11:15. For if their casting-away involves
downright world-change, what will their taking-back be
if not life out of dead ones?
1. Cor. 7:10, 11. A wife from (her) husband is not
to separate; yet if perchance she should even be separated, let her be
remaining unmarried, or to the husband let her be downright changed.
2. Cor. 5:16-21. Yet all these things are out of
God, the One downright-changing us as regards
Himself through Christ, and giving to us the dispensing
of this downright-change; as that God was, in Christ,
downright world-changing as regards Himself, not
reckoning to them their falling-aside, and assigning to us
the word of the down right change. . . . . We are
beseeching on behalf of Christ: "Be ye getting downright-
changed as regards God!"
Furthermore, we can answer the question: What is meant by katallagE kosmou? It is, as Mr. Meredith puts it; "What then is world-conciliation, but the extension of the glad-tidings with all its possibilities, beyond the narrow limits of Israel, reaching out to embrace all nations. With the 'casting away' of Israel, the scope of the evangel became world-wide." (Vol. 29, p. 17).
The truth is beautifully expressed by H. Twells in the almost forgotten hymn "The Voice of God's Creation found me" (Hymns Ancient and Modern 530 earlier editions only). To the threefold cries: "Oh! that I knew where He abideth!" "Oh! that I knew where I might find Him!", "Oh! that I knew if He forgiveth!" in the first three verses, we have the reply:
"Oh! how I love the sacred pages
From which such tidings flow,
As monarchs, patriarchs, poets, sages,
Have longed in vain to know!
For now is life a lucid story,
And death a rest in Him,
And all is bathed in light and glory
That once was dark or dim."
That reply was not available to the whole world until the Word Who was full of grace and truth came to bring it to all who would receive it. In this connection the experience of the Ethiopian eunuch is most significant (Acts 8:26-39). He had come, worshiping, to Jerusalem; and on his way back was sitting in his chariot and reading the Prophet Isaiah. He did not understand what he was reading; but Phililp stepped up, to be seated with him, and "opening his mouth, and beginning from this scripture, evangelizes, to him Jesus" (Acts 8:35 and Isa. 53:7-8).
Whether the Ethiopian was a proselyte is not stated and from this point of view hardly matters. The essential thing is that here, for the first time, we read of an alien from afar off being deliberately offered the Evangel by an apostle. It is the first display of the katallagE kosmou, the downright world-change, which resulted from Israel's casting-away. And that the results of the casting-away were in full progress is very clear from the previous account which—we should particularly note—describes Philip "evangelizing concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (8:12) and the pronouncement of judgement on an apostate Jew, Simon the magician (vv. 20-24).
If the very literal translations given above do indeed get us closer to the meaning of these passages, we can perceive the relation of the "downright-change" to the idea of grace reigning. On our being put right through faith, our whole position as regards God has definitely and decisively changed. We are in an altogether fresh and novel relationship with Him—new creation. This concept is set out chiefly in 2. Cor. 5:16-21 and, one hardly need say, the Prison Epistles to which it is one of the portals. These define our new standing and, as always the new obligations that go with it. Based on this new standing, first presented in Rom. 5:10, 11, we learn the means whereby it has to work out in our lives, which is the theme of what follows, from Rom. 5:12 to Rom. 8:30.
The idea of grace reigning is Kingdom truth, which implies that it is valid only for those who are truly in the Kingdom. The reign of grace is, in fact, what happens to those who are down-right changed, who have accepted the invitation: "Be ye downright-changed as regards God!"
One further, and vitally important, matter remains to be cleared up. In 2. Cor. 5:19, to whom do "their" and "them" refer? Both are plural. The two previous plurals are in vv. 14, 15: so, in accordance with usage, the "their" and "them" must refer back to those two verses. World-circumstances are now so altered that God can for the present refrain from reckoning their fallings-aside to those for whom Christ died. But, if Christ "died for the sake of all, consequently all died." So at present it is not only possible, but actual fact, that their fallings aside are not reckoned to, them, to any of them at all. It is this truth that we have in the past erroneously been attributing to "the reign of grace"; and the whole of our confusion over it has been directly due to failure to notice that these two pronouns are plural.
Quite a while ago some of us were moved to reconsider this matter, but we failed to make much progress. At last it appears to have begun to sort itself out, thanks to correspondence with the late Alexander Thomson, Mr. M. A. Meredith, and Mr. Bramwell Saywell who reopened the discussion. The starting point for me was recognition that translators have seriously tampered with Scripture by adding "the" in many places where it is absent from the original Greek. Though in my ministry I have made a great deal of use of this discovery, the credit for it belongs entirely to Mr. Thomson, who had maintained for many years, against all odds, that we must pay great attention to the presence or absence of the definite article in Greek. It has taken me a long time to appreciate his point to the full; and many have not appreciated it at all. Yet the fact has now become quite plain that the solution of many, perhaps most, of the outstanding problems of Scripture is bound up with this matter of the use of the definite article.
Scripture does not speak of "the conciliation of the world" or of "the Gentiles" and "the world" in Rom. 11:12; and to put the point plainly it is an intolerable perversion of Scripture to pretend that it does. Read instead world-riches or world enrichments, Gentiles' -riches, and for world-conciliation, downright-world-change. This last is awkward and clumsy, and certainly invites ridicule, but I nevertheless maintain that it comes nearest to the sense. Those who may feel inclined to smile and turn away are invited instead to suggest something more satisfactory. Nobody will be more thankful than I will if someone can suggest a better rendering.
The trouble with the use of the "conciliate" words is that only in some contexts are they at all true. Certainly in 2. Cor. 5:19 God is world-conciliatory as regards Himself. Yet if this were taken to mean that God actually is "conciliating the world"; that could work out only in the future, even from our present standpoint. But there cannot be any such thing; for it is Israel's casting-away that is so-called "world-conciliation" (Rom. 11:15)—no definite article here—and in that future time after present conditions are over Israel will no longer be cast away. God does not now "conciliate" the world; He has not conciliated the world.
There exists now a potential enrichment of the world, a potential enrichment of the Gentiles, which becomes actual for those who believe Him; but God is not conciliating the whole world, and therefore will have no need to reverse His attitude to the world as a whole, whatever its future attitude to Him may become.
This is a tremendous simplification, and a great relief from a complex notion about future events which human carelessness has foisted on Scripture. Introducing complexity is not an enrichment; it is an impoverishment.
R.B.W Last updated 4.10.2005