THE PAULINE PARENTHESIS
With the death of James (ch.12) the work of the twelve dies down. The unbelieving portion of the nation was so apostate that, instead of being sorry for the murder of their Redeemer and Messiah they rejoice, rather, at the murder of James. From that time on James, the brother of our Lord, came into prominence, solely because of his physical relationship to the Christ. He was not an apostle; he had no commission over and above other believers and no more miraculous gifts than the average. His influence was, at least indirectly (Gal.2:12), against Paul. Peter heads the list in Acts 1:13, but he and John fall into second and third place in Galatians 2:9. James stands alone in Acts 21:18. The rest of the twelve were quiescent. Not only is Matthias not heard of, but neither are the others.
With Acts 13 comes a marked change; the key word being “sever” or separate (Acts 13:2). And what the holy spirit has separated should not be joined by us into some mixture of confusion that can never become a solution. Dirt and water form a mixture that is mud. Sugar and water form a solution. The best thing we can do is not to disregard any of the divine appointments but to give heed to them and learn from them.
The activities now shift from Jerusalem, in the land, to Antioch, outside the land; and bring into prominence one who was condemned to death by the Law in the land but visited with glorious grace outside the land.
Almost at the beginning of the first missionary tour of Saul and Barnabus, we find Saul’s name changed to Paul, and that is in connection with the blinding of the apostate Jew, Elymas. Pavlos, the Greek spelling for Paul, may be understood to be the masculine form of pavla, which signifies interval or pause. This is the peculiarity of Paul’s ministry. It has to do with the interval of Israel’s blindness, during which time all authorized activities relating to the covenant, the kingdom, and the priesthood are in suspense; because the kingly and priestly nation is scattered and absent from the only land where it can operate. Those who claim that the church is the supplanter of Israel must discard—as the Lutheran and Anglican and Roman Catholic bodies do discard—the statements about blindness being “for a season” (Acts 13:11) and about “all Israel being saved” (Rom.11:26).
In Acts 13, Paul, being filled with the spirit of his Master, enacted a little dress rehearsal, so to speak, of that which he did toward the whole nation in Acts 28. It was because Elymas stood in the way of the gospel to the Gentile that he was termed a “child of the devil” and was blinded. It was because Jewry in general stood in the way of blessing to the Gentiles that it, whose leaders had already been termed as ‘of their father the devil,’ was blinded until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in (Rom.11:25).
Immediately Paul’s ministry proper began. But the church as it now exists in fact was still unknown. For years his ministry was preparatory for the great day of dispensational change. Next to nothing of destiny is uttered during this period when the message must still go “to the Jew first” and when the destiny of all believers might still have been that of the Hebrew prophets, some share in the kingdom powers or activities on the earth. Nothing else was known. The hope of meeting the Lord “in the air” (1 Thess.4:17) can not be taken as distinctive; for it was “so,” not there, that they were to be ever with the Lord. Elijah had been caught away into the air; and the air is not the place of allotment for the body of Christ, which is rather in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1:3).
“We are turning to the Gentiles” is the pivot on which the book of Acts shifts (Acts 13:46). The germ of both Romans and Galatians is found in this initial discourse at Antioch of Pisidia in the words: “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38,39). It was in a realization of this gracious provision of God that the believers were urged to continue (Acts 13:43). But there is not a word here of any celestial allotment, nor even of the boundless glory and dominion of our Lord as He is and for whom the universe was created (Col.1:16-20).
Probably at Lystra, it was that Paul, stoned by expert stoners and left for dead, was granted the vision of the new heavens (2 Cor.12:2) and of the new earth (2 Cor.12:4) which he could not reveal for nearly twenty years. A similar vision was granted to John (Rev.21:1) but his revelation was limited to the new earth because he was ministering for the benefit of a class whose official activities centered in the earth. Paul saw both but tells us only about the new heavens (in Ephesians and Colossians), where Christ is as gloriously successful as on the earth, and where heavenly as well as earthly beings are blissfully reconciled to Him and to the Father (Col.1:20).
All the experiences of the first missionary tour were summarized by telling how God had opened a door of faith unto the Gentiles (Acts 14:27). The only door (barring the small and nearly abortive work with Cornelius who was already a believer) that was clearly opened to Gentiles before that time was the door of religion, of ritual. Now the door of faith let Gentiles come as near to God as the most scrupulous religionist who ever trod the temple courts— even far nearer. A careful religionist might have a personal relation with God through faith, but if he did it was because he had a spirit that cried out to the living God, not so much because of, as in spite of his ritual.
Acts 15 records how the Jewish and Gentile believers, chiefly through the representation of their apostolic ministers, came near forming a happy understanding, an entente cordiale, as diplomats call it.
Read in the light of Galatians this story is to the effect that believing Pharisees in Jerusalem had displayed some of their old-time proselyting zeal by going to Antioch on their own initiative, finding out just who were Law-keepers and who were not, then springing the proposition that circumcision was essential to salvation.
The channelites obtruded themselves into the channel to such an extent that the channel was choked. The means of blessing loomed far bigger in their minds than the fact of blessing. So, (1) to clarify the atmosphere for Gentile believers, (2) to instruct the Jerusalem believers more fully in the way of grace and to bear home to them their privileges, under the prophets, of carrying the gospel to the nations, and (3) to put Paul through an experience which would tend to qualify him more fully as a minister of conciliation, the Jerusalem conference was convened under the guidance and direction of the Lord of both Jew and Gentile.
Immediately upon reaching the city Paul saw some of the more influential, including Peter, James, and John, and convinced them that he had a separate and distinct commission, quite as fully attested as their own; so there was nothing left for them but to acknowledge the facts and shake hands in agreement that their fields of labor were distinct.
To the extent that the Jerusalem brethren were faithful in their ministry (and at least the apostles were faithful), there were no marked differences as yet between the two ministries themselves. Nothing that Paul ever said about salvation by grace is sweeter or truer than the words of Peter in Acts 15:11.
After no little discussion, percussion, and concussion on the part of assembled believers, Peter arose and in touching language addressed himself to the Pharisaical wing of the conference—for they were the raisers of the trouble. He reminded them of the yoke of the Law and how that, all make-believe aside, not one of them had ever been able to bear it. He referred to the obvious fact that God had already accepted the nations through faith in Christ without any relation whatever to the Mosaic ceremonial. The thing to do was not to tempt God by pushing ahead according to their own prejudices, expecting Him to stop them if wrong, but to honor Him by giving full weight to what He had already done. The Gentiles had been purified in heart by faith, the same as the Jews. In the matter of heart purity by faith rather than by ritual there was no difference. Faith does not depend directly on man but on God. It is His work, His gift; it is wrought by His grace.
These Gentile brethren, says Peter to the Pharisees, are surely no more able to bear the yoke than we who have had centuries of experience with it. And if God meets their incapacity by His gracious arrangement in Christ, then we, like them, can be saved only through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought, therefore, to be feeling humble rather than superior.
The two words “yoke” and “grace” burned like fire in the hearts of the assembly and they sat silent in the presence of their Lord. Hearts were melted; and in that state of flux, there was more fusion than had ever or has ever existed between believing Jew, as a class, and believing Gentile. Why could not the conference have ended there? An apt human question; for we would pace the pleasanter paths. But God treads the true.
Thank God for the tie that binds all believers of all ages and dispensations together. We are separated to some extent by phases of the divine purpose, but we have the common ground of the larger household of faith and of citizenship with the saints. The Jewish fathers and prophets preceded the triumphal chariot of Christ: we follow it. Their faith and our own are the same; for the seat of faith is in the heart, not merely in the memory or in the intellect. It is in the very center of the soul, where all impulses and movements originate.
Barnabas and Paul rehearse the experiences of their first missionary journey to Asia Minor; which only confirms what Peter had just said. Then James, as evident bishop of the local church, begins by recapitulating the remarks of Peter and confirming his leading thought by referring to the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. As a Hebrew addressing Hebraists, he uses Peter’s Hebrew name, Simeon. All that Peter had related and represented as facts, James now shows to be in agreement with the Scriptures, though not necessarily in fulfillment of them. He speaks of the “words” of the prophets and adduces a composite example, from Jeremiah 12:15 and Amos 9:11,12. The wrought Word of God, as testified to by the three preceding speakers, was shown to agree with the written Word of God—as it always does.
The unquoted part of Amos’ prophecy is quite eloquent. The promise is given that the Israelites shall possess Edom and all the nations upon whom Yahweh’s name is invoked—or upon whom Yahweh sets His name or seal, much after the manner of Matthew 25:31-40. The pith of the quotation is that the things which were happening before their eyes were not haphazard occurrences but were known of God from the beginning of the age, were things which He had resolved to perform; and the Gentiles which were thus coming into faith were to be subservient to, even possessed by Israel. And if subservient to Israel, then they were amenable to Israel’s directions; and these James proceeded to suggest.
Our natural inclination to fault James for binding both Jew and Gentile a little instead of loosing both entirely must not be allowed to cause us to forget that whatever it was that James did, it was concurred in by Peter, John, and Paul. There were at least two of the original twelve there who were loosing some things on earth and binding a very few other things, guided and backed by their heaven-seconded apostolic powers. For this reason, if no other, “it seemed good to the holy spirit” (Acts 15:28). And if the action pleased the apostles and elders and the whole church in Jerusalem and the Gentile believers for whom the thing was done, then it ought to please us too. Even error cannot be rudely torn away, lest it brings with it some truth for which it may be acting as a misplaced prop. The decrees were certainly not onerous, were never carried further than those mentioned in the epistle itself, and gradually lapsed (as and of Jerusalem) with the waning of Jerusalem’s authority.
After James had stated his opinions he launches a defense in advance against a probable objection by the Pharisees who would incline to think the arrangement too lax. Accordingly, he says that all could unhesitatingly adopt this view, even those who were strict Mosaists; for the apprehension that the Mosaic Law would thus decline in influence and authority was quite unfounded, since that Law continued to be read every week in every city.
So far from showing that Jews and Gentiles were on equal footing, this conference showed the reverse. Jews and Gentiles were alike needy. Jew and Gentile were both having that need supplied of grace and not of merit, but that grace operated toward the believing Jew in such a manner as to make his place in the earth dominant and the place of the believing Gentile subservient. This is absolutely different from the situation at the present time when God makes out of the twain one new man, not bringing us onto ground previously occupied by Jews, but bringing both us and body believers from among the Jews onto a ground never before known (Eph.2:14-18). Those who were, at best, guests at the divine board are now, in this dispensation, made members of the family.
The gospel of the kingdom as proclaimed by Paul in the synagogues is briefly set forth in Acts 17:3. The relation which Messiah’s suffering and resurrection bore to the Hebrew Scriptures is the main theme of his discourse. And from the Thessalonian letters we learn that he told them much of the events preceding (1 Thess.2:6) and connected with our Lord’s second coming—the same coming, by the way, which had been long foretold; for the word parousia (as connected with our Lord) is never used of anything bearing on the body church of the present dispensation. Additionally, there was another and prior coming revealed, one which would affect Pauline believers only, dispelling the fears of some believers that living saints would have an advantage at the time of Christ’s coming and dispelling the fears of other believers that death ended all, by the announcement that neither living nor dead saints would have either advantage or disadvantage, for both would be taken at the same time (1 Thess.4:13-18).
The activities of Acts 17:1 to 19:20 bring in the eleventh-hour laborers of the vineyard-penny parable. The parable related not at all to the church of the present time; for there was no such thing when the parable was given. And we must not read subsequent revelations back into former circumstances.
The believers, both Jew and Gentile, of this transition period, the “church of God” (1 Cor.10:32) as it then existed, would all have found their place in the kingdom on earth (as far as revelation then showed) had not the nation-wide and individual apostasy of Israel made necessary the suspense of all matters relating to that kingdom, the readjustment of the ages (Heb.11:3*) so as to do a work now that would seem to belong after the Millennium, the readjustment of the saints (Eph.4:12*) to the new conditions and the revealing of purposes and destinies never known or dreamed of by any prophet from Adam down to Paul.
Moreover, believers of the Acts 13 to 28 period, precisely like those of the Gospels and Acts 1 to 12, will have their portion on earth, where they expected it, save for those who were reached in the purpose of God through Paul’s ministry, a ministry not shared by the twelve. This will be more apparent as we proceed.
A crisis is reached in Acts 19:21, which indicates that there was at least coming a change in Paul’s ministry. The glowing times of Romans 15:19 were about to pass. The “mighty signs and wonders” began their decline, and later failed altogether, as was promised just about this time (1 Cor.13:8).
Christ as the Son of David and consequent heir to the throne, as preached in Acts 13, has given place to Christ as the Son of Abraham and heir of the land, as set forth in Romans and Galatians. That friendship teaching in turn gives place to Christ as the Supplanter of Adam and heir of the unlimited dominion of the earth and member of God’s family.
This brings in the ministry of conciliation from 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 on. But there is something more grand, or if not more grand then more specific, than this general son relation. It is the matter of allotment to joint-heirship in the heavenly realms. The reconciliation is shared by all. All enemies, both in heaven and on earth, are made into friends—more than that, appreciative, responsive, and single-hearted sons (Col.1:20)—but all will not share the same destiny or allotment; at least not during the ages or eons, and beyond that the Scripture does not go. We are thus led through a four-semester course in God’s school, (1) SERVITUDE, With which is associated pardon, dependent on repentance, (2) FRIENDSHIP, with its justification in response to faith, (3) SONSHIP, with its reconciliation, according to the good pleasure of His will, and (4) JOINT-REGENCY, with its weight of glory, issuing from nothing but sovereign grace.
Whatever the lesson or whenever learned it is always One: Lord, God, Father, and Heart-Despot; over all, through all, in all; Creator, Sustainer, Parent.
Although Paul’s ministry was undergoing a gradual change, still there is a great difference between the things which he said to the Ephesian elders in his farewell to them at Miletus and the things said in his later letter, generally bearing the Ephesian ascription. Those later things, being entirely spiritual in point of destiny, were committed to no church by word of mouth, but to all alike—by letter.
Quite probably there is a hint of a future ministry in unmixed grace in Acts 20:24 when reference is made to ‘testifying the gospel of the grace of God’ (compare Eph.3:2). In no case can we read into the “whole counsel of God” of Acts 20:27 revelations which were only made after that, and which belong to another ministry and dispensation, “hid from ages and from generations, but now...made manifest to His saints” (Col.1:26).
At about the same time, it was that Paul besought the believers in Rome to pray with and for him that he might be delivered from the stubborn in Judea. The stubborn were not the unbelievers as is erroneously suggested by the Common Version, but the believers who resisted the grace of God, those who were baffled but not defeated at the Jerusalem conference. During the intervening years, the Judean believers were augmented in numbers by the tens of thousands (Acts 21:20), and they were the ones who did all in their power to kill Paul on his last visit to the hard Jewish capital.
Acts 21 involves another Pentecost, but sadly different from the first one after Christ’s death and resurrection. Then the believers hastened to give evidence that their faith in the kingdom was strong. They “endured a great fight of affliction” and did it gladly. All the believers clung together. Now the most prominent herald of the kingdom is hated and mobbed by Pharisaical believers. The myriads (Greek for tens of thousands) of believers were “all zealous of the Law,” but not so zealous of the Word of God. They passed by in silence Paul’s allusions to Jesus as the nation’s Messiah (Acts 22:8,10,19), for they themselves believed that, and was it, not Paul’s step-father who had carried the cross of Jesus, and was not his sister among them? But the single word “Gentiles” (Acts 22:21) prodded the sore into a frenzy.
Paul had about fulfilled the ministry which was given him at his conversion, to bear the Lord’s name (1) before the Gentiles, (2) and kings, (3) and the children of Israel. There remained only the testimony before kings and the sizable fragment of the Jewish dispersion which was at Rome.
There was no more work in Jerusalem for Paul, so, being warned by his nephew of a plot to kill him,* he was transferred as a prisoner to Caesarea, where the hearts of Japhetic Gentiles had first been purified by the faith which is in Jesus Christ.
- *The nephew would hardly have had access to such information had not the plotters been believers.
Probably Cornelius was not any longer there, but Philip was; and so were his four prophetically-endowed daughters. Luke also was there; and there, at the “limits of the earth,” where the rock-bound, almost harborless Jewish land touched all too unsympathetically the unstable Gentile-picturing sea, he may have written his Gospel and much of Acts during the two years of waiting.
The view was prevalent in the early centuries of this dispensation that Luke’s Gospel was the one more specially written for Gentiles, as Matthew’s is distinctly Jewish. This is only a half-stated truth. As previously mentioned, the Gospels were never intended to be identical and could not be, any more than views of four sides of the same house would likely be identical. Matthew witnesses our Lord as the King. The throne is the throne of David and therefore peculiarly Jewish. Luke witnesses the Lord as the Son of Man, God’s human Son, like Adam in the matters of sonship and worldly dominion, but quite unlike him in the way of experience and knowledge. Luke is the only evangelist who mentions Adam. For this reason, it may be said that Luke’s Gospel is singularly understandable by Gentiles because the work of the Son of Man goes as far as the earth reaches.
David, Moses, Adam, and God are, therefore in some senses representative of the undercurrent of facts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The shipwreck of Acts 27 was not unlike the hopes of the kingdom. If the helmsmen of the Jewish ship had taken Paul’s advice their hopes need not to have gone to the bottom of the sea—howbeit they shall be recovered and planted again! But though the Jewish ship, trusting as of old in Egypt, was wrecked and the kingdom hopes jettisoned, still Paul and his immediate companions, together with many Gentiles, were individually saved from the wreckage and were given better things than they could have had otherwise.
Yet the shipwreck was only a picture, and that which it foreshowed could still be averted. Would the Jewish group in Rome avert or seal the doom?
While the third and final judicial sentence of blindness (Isa.6:9,10; Matt.13:14,15; John 12:39-41; Acts 28:26,27) remained unspoken there were still kingdom powers; and these were freely used on the island of Malta, to the blessing of yet more Gentiles.
Acts 28 brings Paul to Rome and to the rejection of his message by the Jewish colony as such. He brought them a message which would free them not only from the yoke of the Mosaic ritual but also from the yoke of the Roman empire. But, like their prototypes, they chose again, “We have no king but Caesar.”
After the sentence, we learn that Paul was active in Rome for a space of two years “proclaiming the kingdom of God, and teaching that which concerns the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). Was this not the same kind of testimony to the kingdom that was given to the Jews, as mentioned in v.23, “certifying to the kingdom of God and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and the prophets?” The answer is, No.
The ministry which followed the rejection of Israel we have in Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy; and most of those things could not be deduced from the law and the prophets, for the adequate reason that they were not there. Furthermore, Jesus was our Lord’s personal name and is associated with His humiliation by and among His people Israel. That humiliation is made into a mark of honor, it is true, but the name Jesus is not His official title. That phase of the divine sovereignty which was proclaimed after the rejection is intimated by the qualifying clause, “and teaching that which concerns the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Since Acts is a history not of the church as we now know it but of Israel’s rejection of the reoffer of the kingdom—as they had refused it under our Lord’s personal offer—we would not expect to find any elaboration of Paul’s prison message here. But the “both Lord and Christ” with which the name of Jesus is bounded certainly suggests, if nothing else did, that he was not proceeding with the selfsame ministry that had occupied his efforts when first arriving at Rome.
The term “kingdom of God” is a very broad one. It is generic. It names the genus and distinguishes it from the kingdom of God’s adversary. It encompasses both heavens and earth. Where a specific phase is referred to, something will be found to help us know the species of the kingdom under that general head. All well-instructed teachers of God’s Word proclaim all phases of the kingdom of God, but they do not invite or urge men into something that is either past or in abeyance.
SEQUENCE AND ORDER OF GREEK BOOKS
If the Greek Scriptures are read through, omitting the signed epistles of Paul, we find that there is no discrepancy and no confusion. There is the Jewish garment and skirt and a more or less prominent Gentile fringe. The Gospels follow from the Hebrew writings. Acts follow on from the Gospels, showing a merciful extenuation of opportunity to the favored nation. Jewish epistles follow on from Acts, giving instructions for believing Jewish individuals, either when, the city was about to be destroyed or after it had been ruined, so that the faith of Pentecostal kingdom believers might not be entirely lost. And Revelation, the Unveiling, follows on from the Jewish epistles, to give encouragement, particularly in the future in the trying times preceding the coming of their Messiah in power and great glory.
The arrangement of the books in the three oldest Greek manuscripts as well as church history for the first three centuries, reveals the fact that there was always a distinction made between the Jewish writings and those of Paul. The book arrangements of the three oldest manuscripts, the Sinaitic, the Vatican No. 1209, and the Alexandrine, are as follows:
A little observance of this chart will show some items worthy of note.
(1) The Gospels are unvarying and appear in the same position with respect to the whole group and the same order in respect to themselves as we are accustomed to seeing them in our present-day versions.
(2) Revelation is unvarying; and occupies the position to which we are used.
(3) Acts and the Jewish epistles are unvarying in their order and in their relation to each other, but their position with respect to the Gospels varies.
(4) The Pauline writings are unvarying in order but differ in position.
(5) There are five groups: (a) the Gospels, (b) the Acts, (c) Jewish epistles, (d) the Pauline epistles, (e) the Apocalypse; but the order inside any group is the same in all cases.
(6) If the eight books, Acts, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude, were brought forward in the Sinaitic MS. and placed directly after the Gospel of John the order in all three MSS. would be identical.
From these facts, it is manifest that the book of Acts was always in the first three centuries considered as related to the Jewish epistles. Our modern placing of it before the Pauline church epistles is doubtless due to the presence of the theory in the minds of Christendom that the church of this dispensation, the body of Christ, takes the place of Israel in all Hebrew promises, prophecies, illustrations, and types; and hence is at the same time the Bride of the Gospel of John and of the Apocalypse. But it is to Origenes, rather than to any Bible writer, that we trace this ‘spiritual Israel’ theory.
Another interesting side fact in relation to the books of the Greek sacred writings is that the four Gospels, Acts, Paul’s signed epistles, and First Peter and First John were never questioned during the first three centuries of the Christian era by any group of believers. And Paul’s signed epistles were never questioned by any believing individual, so far as is apprehendable. The books of Hebrews, James, second Peter, Second John, Third John, Jude, and Revelation were quite generally questioned, not seriously as to either their authorship or authenticity but rather as to their appropriateness for use at public readings in the churches. Hebrews and Revelation, being the larger books, were the principal subjects of debate when there was such. Even a child can recognize the difference between them and the epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians; and the fear was that the minds of those who had turned from heathendom to the worship of the living God would be confused by the introduction of readings so palpably Jewish in substance and imagery and so calling for intimate knowledge of Hebrew history, customs, promises, and prophecies in order to be understood.
At all events, in view of the evidence of the manuscripts, it seems appropriate to proceed with our examination by taking up the Jewish epistles next, as they follow on from and belong to the Gospels and Acts, wherein we have found nothing that is fairly comparable to the message to and of the church of this dispensation.
Fredrik Homer Robison
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