PAUL’S EARLIER EPISTLES
The distinctions between the writings of Paul and of the vocal members of the twelve have been pointed out but as the occasions of contrast arose; and it has even been hinted that discernment and correct partitioning is necessary as between the earlier and later writings of Paul. Indeed, it was the necessity for such distinction that gave rise to the admonition to divide the word of truth rightly (2 Tim.2:15). It was Paul’s last letter, and the change of dispensation had just passed: there was danger of carrying over things which did not belong, and danger of failing to give full weight to items of truth which were revealed only in this time.
It will be of value to look now in a general way at some of these differences:
First, there are differences shown by the presence or absence of words. Jew, Israel, covenant, circumcision, Abraham, tongues, baptize, parousia, and such like words, occur with considerable frequency in the earlier epistles* and rarely or not at all in the later. These omissions are not by accident, even allowing for differences in bulk between the two groups of writings. They are due to the fact that a change of dispensation had made necessary a measurable change of subjects. In several of the cases where matters of uniquely Jewish interest are mentioned in the prison letters they are mentioned in a negative way; as, for instance, the single occurrence of the word Jew, in Colossians 3:11, which reads, “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew.”
Then there are differences in subject matter and in the attitude toward the same subject matter. There is the prominent difference in the relation of Jew and Gentile. Throughout all the Hebrew prophecies, throughout all the Gospels, throughout all of Acts and consequently all of even Pauline epistles written during the Acts period, the Gentile is not only subsidiary but also subservient in all matters relating to the earth. Even believing Gentiles are but guests at Israel’s board (Eph.2:12,19), not members of a common family on the same footing, as was the case after Acts 28:28. And on the earth this is ever to be so, the Jew is ever to have the preeminence till just prior to the consummation when all distinctions of prestige, dignity, authority, and dominion among God’s creatures shall be dissolved. Still in Romans it is “to the Jew first” (Rom.1:16; 2:9,10). And all through the pre-prison letters it is “Jew and Gentile,” “Jews and Gentiles,” “Jew and Greek” (Rom.3:9; 9:24; 10:12; 1 Cor.1:24; 10:32; 12:13. As late as Galatians 3:28 we read “neither Jew nor Greek,” but in Colossians 3:11 it is “neither Greek nor Jew.” Galatians 3:28 has to do with the privilege of being Abraham’s seed; and in that respect, during the transition period, there was no difference. Gentiles could, not by circumcision but by faith, be made part of the channel of blessing for the other nations, as hitherto examined in connection with Acts 15. But that does not go back of Abraham, as does the ground of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy. Galatians is, in important respects, Millennial ground; Colossians is present and post-Millennial.
While on this subject of Jew and Gentile in the later Acts period it will be not out of place to look at two passages which are often cited in support of the theory that the church of this dispensation, the body of Christ, is in some way the inheritor of the promises to Israel.
The first of these is in Romans 2:28,29, and reads:
“For not what is apparent is the Jew, nor yet what is apparent in flesh circumcision; but that which is hidden is the Jew, and circumcision is of heart, in spirit, not in letter, whose applause is not of men, but of God.”
Taken in the time when written and taken of itself this passage offers no difficulty whatever. If it were said that it is not a man’s sitting in a pew at a Presbyterian church that makes him a Presbyterian, but his own personal devotion to the principles of that organization, that statement would be no kind of proof that because some nominal Presbyterians exist, therefore all Baptists are Presbyterians. The statement sounds silly, and such it is; but it is no more so than to assume that, because a Jew is not determined merely by what has been done to his flesh, therefore a believing Gentile is a Jew.
But what about Colossians 2:11 which speaks of Gentiles being circumcised with the circumcision made without hands? The answer is, They are so circumcised. But they are not thereby made Jews or even Israelites. What is meant is there explained. Reference is had to the “putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh,” and that is done by devout believers in all dispensations.
The other text which is sometimes cited as in supposed support of the body-church-a-spiritual-Israel theory is Romans 9:6-8:
“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God [i.e., this is not the thing which makes them such]: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”
This is all said before the present dispensation. It simply says that a fleshly descendant of Abraham does not necessarily obtain the privileges tied up in the promise of being a channel of blessing for the rest of men. He will obtain them only if he is a true son of Abraham, one who has Abraham’s faith toward God and confidence in His power. It also implies what is elsewhere made plain, that even Gentiles who showed the Abraham spirit would be taken into his tent as members of his family. This is clarified in the book of Galatians (ch.3:16,29). But both of these treaties deal with a situation that ceased to exist with the facts of Acts 28:28 or thereabouts, probably in the fullest sense with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem shortly after Acts 28. We now have no group nor community nor national relationship to God. We are individual believers with individual attachment to God because we are in Christ in a sense not yet fully known when Romans and Galatians were written.
Not a few believers of this dispensation place themselves just where Gentile believers were during the Acts period; and to their own disadvantage.
Another distinction and difference between the time of the earlier and later epistles is shown in the miraculous powers exercised even by the apostle Paul. As late as the apostolic visit to the island of Malta there were still marvels in abundance. But after Paul reaches Rome and his message to the nation is there rejected we read of no more miracles whatever. He sends no wonder-working handkerchiefs, but, possibly at the instance of Luke the physician recommends ordinary remedies. No earthquake comes to relieve him from his imprisonment—as had been done at Philippi; no wonderful resuscitation when he met bodily violence—as had occurred at Lystra.
BODIES TERRESTRIAL AND CELESTIAL
The body of Christ or a body of Christ is not mentioned any place in Scripture excepting in the Pauline writings; nor is there anything similar to it so that it could be said that the same thought is there. The word body, with whatever meaning, is found nearly twice as frequently in Paul’s letters (even excluding Hebrews) as in all the other Greek Scriptures put together. The fact is readily conceded that the figure of a body is used in the earlier epistles and also in the later. But there are important distinctions: in the earlier writings the figure of a body is practically confined to individual ecclesias. It was to the church at Corinth that it was said, after much comparison with the natural body, “Now ye are the body of Christ.” And in that Corinthian body there were eyes, ears, hands, and feet (1 Cor.12:12-27). Some of these are distinctly head functions, and could not be exercised without the miraculous powers possessed at that time, but not possessed now. That was the way the Head directed each organic group of believers. It was the same with the believers at Rome, some of whom were Jews, some of whom were Gentiles, but none of whom knew anything about the celestial body such as is mentioned not less than eleven times in Ephesians and Colossians alone (Eph.1:23; 4:4,12,16; 5:23,30; Col.1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15). There it is one grand body, with celestial Headship, blessings, destiny, and rulership. Nothing in the usage of the body figure as found in Romans and 1 Corinthians was unfamiliar to the Jews, even the unbelievers. There were many expressions in the Talmud relative to the eating of a common loaf constituting a fellowship of the body, especially at times of unleavened bread.
These distinctions must not be strained, but they must be recognized. The period during which Romans and 1 Corinthians were written was preparatory, and in it there was not so much a tapering off of previous things as a blending off. There are unquestionably elements of both the body and bride figures in the pre-prison epistles. But even the slight allusions to bridal relations are a far cry from the vigorous pictures of the Hebrew prophets. There was a rudimentary bride when Paul wrote Corinthians and Romans; for there was spiritual union between God and His people Israel, as shown by the miraculous gifts held by believing Jews. There is no bride now for the reason that there is no spiritual union between Yahweh and His chosen people Israel. When that union is again restored the gifts will be restored also.
But the allusion to a bride which is made in 2 Corinthians 11:2 is a passing illustration in which the Apostle represents himself as the bridegroom’s friend, even as elsewhere he refers to himself as the father and as the mother of the same church! There are also space limitations; for the historical basis of the remark would not fit every ecclesia. The figure can not in this case be expanded on our own initiative to take in other churches nor ourselves nor the whole group of believers regardless of time or space; for certainly Paul never meant to say that he had espoused himself, which conclusion would be necessary if he addressed all believers. He was simply referring to the service he had done them in making them acquainted with Christ. Now, having become acquainted with and related to Christ, they should look to His direction of their affairs as exclusively as a betrothed maid looks to her espoused. The danger in Corinth was schism, the partisan spirit, a looking to other leaders than Christ.
The woman and wedlock figure of Romans 7:1-6 could apply to none but Israel, for they alone were wedded to the Law. They were to become the risen Christ’s as they had been the Law’s.
Ephesians 5:22-33, which compares the church in some respects to a wife, is the passage most eagerly grasped after by those who seem disposed to purloin all the promises to Israel. But be it noted, first, that the subject is not the bride of the Lamb, but a wife, and hardly any of those who raise the objection would claim that they are now part of the wife of Christ, or of the Lamb either. Probably none but the great Catholic bodies would say that the marriage is past already. So those who would prove by this text that the church of this dispensation is the wife of Old Testament prophecy and the bride of John’s writings prove too much. If their assertion could be supported it would prove that the church is now married and has been ever since the Apostle wrote. The emphasis is really on the body even in this citation. A husband and wife have become one flesh, and therefore one body (1 Cor.6:16), but they are still capable of conducting separate affairs. Being of the body of Christ suggests the same plane of being as the Head; but the bride does not so suggest. The bride of the old Sinai days and the wife of the wilderness and of the Judges and of the Kings periods were not on the same plane as the Husband. Neither will the bride of the Millennial age be on the same plane in every respect, though there will be as close communion as between Israel and her God in ancient times.
Even if it could be conclusively shown that the church of this time is a wife, or even a bride, it would then have to be shown that such a wife is the same as that identified with Israel. That wifehood unquestionably goes to Israel; for none could be restored to a place previously held except Israel. From that we are absolutely excluded.
In the later epistles there is but one baptism (Eph.4:5; Col.2:12); in the earlier there were not less than two, the real and interdispensational baptism into Christ’s death (Rom.6:3) and a water baptism as connected with the witness of the kingdom (1 Cor.1:14-17; Acts 19:3-6). Besides these there was the baptism with holy spirit of the early Acts period, which came at least upon Cornelius’ household and upon the Jewish believers at Pentecost (Acts 11:16), and the baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24) of the Gospels and Acts period, which was practiced by John and by our Lord’s twelve apostles and other disciples (John 4:1,2). This was equivalent to the baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 22:16).
LESS APPEAL TO PROPHETS
The much greater number of citations, quotations, and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures is quite marked in the earlier writings as against the later letters of Paul. Using the resultant Greek text formed from a fusion of those of Tischendorf, Westcott & Hort, and Bernhard Weiss as a basis we ascertain that there are just about fourteen times as many words quoted from the Hebrew writings, or strongly alluded to, in the pre-prison as in the prison epistles*. Or, omitting the book of Hebrews from the comparison, there are seven and one-half times as many. Of course, there is about seven times as much bulk in the earlier as in the later writings of the apostle, so that the relative frequency drops down to about twice as many, in proportion, in the one as in the other.
But perhaps a fairer contrast is found in the two key books of Romans and Ephesians. In a given Greek edition there are 34 pages of Romans with 742 quoted words, and 12 pages of Ephesians with 107 words quoted. Thus, page for page, there are considerably more than twice as many in Romans as in Ephesians—9 to the page in Ephesians and 22 to the page in Romans.
None of God’s revelations are wholly disconnected from His other revelations. There is always a sympathetic bond; but the distinctly new things taught in Ephesians are the only visible reason for the sharp difference as to their appeal to the older writings. It would hardly be possible to establish things which had been kept ‘hidden in past ages and generations’ by appeal to those ages and generations.
Adam was completed at the close of the sixth creative day. So, evidently, the body of Christ will be completed at the close of the sixth grand day, and Christ will be joined to His bride at the very beginning of the seventh or Millennial day as the Son of Man. We now know Him as the Son of God, as He will be known during the eighth day. Although the title Son of Man is found 84 times elsewhere in the Greek writings of the Bible, it is not found once in the letters of Paul. It was in the beginning of the fifth day that our Lord visited His people and they would have none of Him. Then He tore them as a young lion, and for two thousand-year days He remains in the heavens, ‘in His place,’ (Hosea 5:15) until the time when they acknowledge their offense and seek His face. In their terrible affliction they will ‘seek Him earnestly.’ Thereupon shall come forth the words of a chastened and penitent Israel, as the prophet long ago foretold:
“Come and let us return unto Yahweh;
For He hath torn, and He will heal us;
He hath smitten, and He will bind us up.
After two days will He revive us:
On the third day He will raise us up,
And we shall live before Him” (Hosea 6:1,2).
This raising up is after the manner foretold in Ezekiel 37. There is first a movement among the dry bones, then sinews appear to hold the bones together; lastly life is given by the Life-Giver. So, as early as 1896 a movement began among the dry and dead hopes of Jewish autonomy. Since then they have been bound together by a world wide Zionistic organization; yet there is no life, and there will not be until all men learn that there can be no Millennium without Christ, no kingdom without the King.
When that time comes the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 will be in full swing. The pentecostal church will again be active. Wives will be silent in the ecclesias and will be able to ask their husbands at home with profit and satisfaction. Now most believing wives had as well inquire of the pickets in the fence with the expectation of getting any help as to ask their own husbands. First Corinthians 12 and 14 are out of place now; but they will be distinctly in place after this dispensation ends. The gifts spoken of there are parts of the signs and miracles which should accompany the announcement of the kingdom. It is folly and worse to attempt to advertise the King and the kingdom without these special powers. They themselves are the advertisement.
Angels are mentioned 21 times in the book of Acts, which covers the time of the earlier epistles, and 26 times in the earlier epistles themselves (186 times in the whole Greek Scriptures); but only once in the prison letters, and then in a negative way—as something not to worship (Col.2:18). These things are not accidental. Angel ministries are connected with the kingdom. Now miraculous appearances and wonder-working have ceased, to be resumed only after the body is complete.
Closely joined to this matter of the angels is that of the archangel. He is mentioned at least 23 times, and probably 3 other times, either as Michael, or the archangel, or “the angel of the Lord,” i.e., of Yahweh. His name is never mentioned in the later church epistles, nor is his work ever alluded to. He is the celestial prince representing and acting as peculiar protector over Israel (Dan.12:1). He has no duties toward us, so far as the Scriptures make us aware. In the Greek writings we find him appearing to Joseph (Matt.1:20,24; 2:13) (Gabriel it was who appeared to Zacharias and Mary—Luke 1:11-19,26-38) and leading the heavenly choir above the hills near Bethlehem (Luke 2:9,10,13). He is the lightning-countenanced emissary who rolled back the stone from our Lord’s tomb (Matt.28:2,3), and in similar manner liberates Peter and John (Acts 5:19), and Peter again (Acts 12:7-11). He directs the activities of Philip (Acts 8:26) and gives reassurance to Paul (Acts 27:23). Jude 9 identifies Michael as the archangel; and he it is who was entrusted with the revelation to John (Rev.1:1; 22:6,8,16); and he it is who expels Satan and his hosts from heaven, driving them down to earth that the test on his ward nation may be short, incisive and decisive (Rev.12:7,9). Stephen appears to refer to him in Acts 7:30,35,38 as the flame in the burning bush near Sinai, although he does not call him “the angel of the Lord” (but see Ex.3:2). Incidentally he does make it plain that the one who spoke there, Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, was the same as the great prophet whom Moses foretold and whom Peter shows to be our Lord. Yahweh is not a personal name; it is a title, and usually attached to our Lord before His human days because he represented the Father in all things save speech between the two (Psa.110:1). He spoke to Moses from the bush and later came down on the mount to officiate at the giving of the Law.
The body of Christ is not even mentioned in the book of Acts. The only usage of the word body is to describe the corpse of Dorcas (Acts 9:40). If Acts portrays the beginning of the body-church it is strange indeed that it is not even mentioned! The fact is that the pentecostal church was the rudimentary woman of the Millennial age. The book of Acts is but the vestibule to the more spacious Millennial banquet hall (Isa.25:6) where rich viands and choice wines will be served to all people.
Without running to the lengths of a commentary it is not possible to take up all the interesting side-lights in the Pauline epistles which bear on this point of the right division of the Word, but some more of them may be mentioned with profit.
In Romans we find reward according to acts in the day of indignation (Rom.2:5-7). We neither live in the day of indignation nor are we rewarded in the same manner as then. The eonian life is given as a reward for good deeds, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom.2:9,10). The Jew is not first now, but will be again when that text applies.
The “My-people-not-My-people” (Ammi-lo-ammi) passage from Hosea 2:23; 1:9-11 is quoted in Romans 9:25-28. This prophecy has hitherto been shown to refer to the one once divorced but soon to be taken back, the believing remnant (Rom.9:27), augmented by some believing Gentiles, but not having the position or destiny of the body of Christ as now known. These believing Gentiles are the wild olive branches grafted onto the Abrahamic-covenant stem and drawing sustenance from the Abrahamic promise. We draw sustenance from promises which Abraham never dreamed of.
Romans 15:8,9 is sometimes made to teach what it does not say by those who read the Scriptures with less care than they would read a book of chemistry.
“For I am saying that Christ has become the servant
of the circumcision,
For the sake of the truth of God,
To confirm the patriarchal promises.
Yet the nations are to glorify God for His mercy.”
The aim of Christ’s earthly ministry and of the Jewish part of His heavenly ministry is here shown to be a confirmation of the promises which ‘belong to the fathers.’ The glorifying of God on the part of the nations, the Gentiles, is a by-product of the confirmation. The nations are led to glorify God when He shows that the promises which He made to the fathers so long ago are at last fulfilled, when a righteous kingdom is established in the earth, and when God ‘justifies His name before the heathen’ by showing that, though long-suffering, He is not in accord with iniquity but has thoroughly punished even His peculiar people, His married nation. This reflex action on the Gentiles has no reference to the work of this dispensation. It is rather a case of “Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people” (Deut.32:43; Rom.15:10).
First Corinthians 10:1,6,11,13 shows that the experiences of Israel in the wilderness were typical of the believers during the Acts period. Chapter 10:6 says that they were “types of us,” therefore not the same as in Ephesians. No trial had taken the church then but such as was human. How different from the celestial besetters of our way (Eph.6:12)!
The gifts of 1 Cor.12:28, etc., differ greatly from those now had by the body-church (Eph.4:11).
First Corinthians 13:9,10 speaks of the time when that which is mature is come. Such maturity of revelation came with the prison epistles (Col.1:25) that not one word has been spoken since.
In 1 Corinthians 14:1 prophesyings are enjoined, but the gift is not for us, except as it was given to Paul and we have all requisite service of this kind in his writings. Prophesyings were better than tongues because they kept the mind alert for further revelations, whereas the gift of tongues rather looked back to Pentecost and to the earthly dominion which the original confusion of tongues hindered and delayed for the rightful ruler.
There is no definite statement of destiny in 1 Corinthians 15. Looking back we see much in it, and it is surely glorious; but we invest the words with a meaning which we have borrowed to some extent from Ephesians and Colossians. Those who live and reign with Christ in the dominion over the earth during the Millennium will be no longer carnal, no longer soulish. It will be no longer true that the will to do is present with them but they know not how.
During that transitional and preparatory Acts period it was still true that believers were able or competent dispensers of a new covenant (2 Cor.3:6). It is not true now. Not a word of the new covenant is to be found in the prison letters. Those who claim that 2 Corinthians 3:3 alludes to a work such as that ascribed to the new covenant when it speaks of things engraven in the fleshly tablets of the heart, in contrast with the old law, do well. The allusion is unmistakable and undeniable, in honesty. But covenant, kingdom, and priesthood are all in suspense since Acts 28, and will be until this dispensation is past. Yet they are not canceled, not broken, only suspended, postponed, placed in abeyance.
True, 2 Corinthians 5 does introduce the new creation. But that is not peculiarly celestial. It includes a new heavens and a new earth. The new creation then was in a minor or dependent stage. The age of discretion could not come until more time, experience, and instruction had been gone through with. The ground of Abraham had not been abandoned, as proof of which see Galatians. Now our relationship goes back past Abraham to one like that enjoyed by Adam, who stood on the ground of the old creation. That creation was surely an act of pure grace. There could be nothing in uncreated beings or things to deserve of creation. Just so are we of the new creation miracles of grace, unaided and unearned. If you do not believe it, read Ephesians 1:3-14 fifty times. There thought struggles, almost agonizes with language, if by any means some of the weight of unearned glory may be pressed through human words to dull and unresponsive intellects.
In Galatians the ground is Abrahamic, not Sinaitic on the one hand nor Adamic on the other. It is not the ground we tread. By Adam is not meant the plane on which Adam lived but the kind of devotional and filial relationship he enjoyed with his God.
Reconciliation is taught in the pre-prison writings, because reconciliation is the basis of both friendship and sonship. Abraham was a friend of God.
The prohibition of Galatians 1:8 about preaching any other gospel holds; for the reference there is plainly to the Judaising theories which exalt works and the flesh (Gal.1:6,7), but Paul’s gospel exalts grace and the God of it. This good news has not changed with the bringing in of another dispensation. Merely a different destiny has been revealed, but it is still of grace, grace on grace.
This contrast between grace and works is dwelt upon considerably in Galatians. In the Hagar-Ishmael and Sarah-Isaac types of the two covenants there are such things as law, flesh, bond, work, Hagar, Ishmael, Sinai covenant, Jerusalem now, on the one hand, and grace, spirit, free, fruit, Sarah, Isaac, new covenant, Jerusalem above, on the other. Ishmael, the rank and file of Israel, are or shall be as the dust of the earth; Isaac, the Israel of the heavenly (not heaven-ward) calling, shall be as the stars for multitude; and the six subsequent sons of Abraham, the Gentiles or the Millennial crop, shall be as the sands along the seashore. Too great stress must not be laid on these distinctions, seeing that Nehemiah long ago accounted Israel in the wilderness to be as the stars of heaven; but those three different statements of the numerousness of Abraham’s seed are made and serve well for an illustration, at least.
In 1 Timothy 1:20 and in 1 Corinthians 5:5 we have reference to apostolic powers of which there is no hint in the later epistles. Naturally, Paul still had apostolic powers while in prison at Rome; but those powers were not such as had hitherto borne witness to the kingdom.
THE CHARTER OF THE CHURCH
The book of Ephesians is the charter of the body church, the church of this dispensation. It was a circuit or encyclical letter, one copy of which was addressed to the ecclesia at Ephesus, another to the church in Laodicea (Col.4:16), etc. Marcion, a teacher of the second century, said that the copy of this epistle which he had bore the superscription, “To the Laodiceans.” The distinctness of its revelations and the exalted character of the destiny therein made known stamps it as unique and as apart from anything having a Jewish tinge.
Ephesians (so called for convenience of identification) tells us of “spiritual blessings among the celestials” (Eph.1:3); it tells of being chosen in Him before the down-casting of the world (1:4); it tells of God’s purpose to re-main-point, to recapitulate, to head up again the universe in Christ (1:10). This last is an expansion of 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 on the work in Christ prior to the consummation. It is in this letter that we learn that the church, the body of Christ, has the sovereignty of the heavens (Eph.1:23; 2:6), as we have already learned that Israel has that of the earth. The body is the fullness, filling that lack which earth’s deliverance would still leave in the celestial part of the universe. The church’s place will be somewhat similar to that now occupied by Satan and his cooperatives. Quite possibly a realization of this fact is the root of their animosity against the body of Christ (Eph.6:12; 2:2). This “host of high ones on high” formerly opposed the best interests of Israel, and are to be punished for that (Isaiah 24:21).
It is in this epistle that we learn ourselves to be on an equal footing with believing Jews who were under Paul’s teaching. The Greek shows this quite clearly with its preposition-prefixes. We are (1) vivified conjointly, (2) raised conjointly, (3) seated in the heavenlies conjointly. It is “us,” Jews and Gentiles, who are involved in this. Note the preceding you and we in Ephesians 2:5,6. The purpose of such sovereign, even despotic action, is to put together a working model of the new creation to silence men’s doubts and calm men’s fears in the age following the Millennial. Conscientious legalists may then still doubt that the sunshine of grace is able to do what the north wind of law never did; and they will be pointed to the church. The argument will be, ‘It has worked; therefore it will work’ (Eph.2:7).
In 3:5 we meet with “holy apostles and prophets,” not prophets and apostles, as would be the case with the Jewish apostles. These apostles and prophets are those which belong distinctively to the body-church (4:11).
Chapter 3:6,7 gives us another triad of conjointlies. We are (1) joint allottees, (2) in a joint body, and (3) joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the evangel of which Paul became the dispenser. The twofold purpose of this peculiar ministry is shown to be: (1) to preach the gospel of the unsearchable riches of Christ to the nations, and (2) to enlighten all (both Jew and Gentile, or such of both as accepted the ministry of Paul on the subject) as to the secret administration which has been concealed from the ages in God (3:8,9).
God’s endowment for the body-church is made plain in 4:11-13. No more is given and no more is needed. The divinely appointed agencies, workmen, or ministrants, are:
These offices were all designed to operate until we shall have attained
(1) to the unity of the faith—faith unity, that unity which derives from faith rather than from works;
(2) to the realization of a son of God;
(3) to mature manhood, to the adult stature of Christ’s complement, no longer minors—as they had been before this epistle.
Paul was all of these offices. He was apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. So was Timothy; for he was empowered by the laying on of hands of the Apostle. The first pair of offices or services require and were provided with miraculous powers of discernment and utterance. These we do not have any more in living persons, but we have all of them it is necessary to have in the written apostolic revelations an prophetic exhortations of the Pauline epistles.
The “work of an evangelist” does not require miraculous powers, since it is an announcement to whoever is willing to listen of the basic good tidings as it is in Christ, to the effect that salvation and life are gifts of God, not things earned by us. It would consist of much of the basic and non-dispensational instruction of the book of Romans, even of Galatians, but it would at the same time omit the peculiarly dispensational figures, pictures, types, and illustrations which belonged then and do not belong now.
The work of pastors and teachers (the tying of these two words together by a conjunction implies that these two offices would naturally, though not necessarily, be found in the same person) has specifically to do with the upbuilding of the body of Christ. Interest in and care for the spiritual welfare of the Lord’s people, as pastors, and insight into and ability to minister food from the Word of God marks these brethren.
Pastors and teachers may be understood to be essentially the same as the “overseers and ministers” of Philippians 1:1. And those offices were carried over from the transitional period preceding this dispensation. Their qualifications are set forth in the third of 1 Timothy.
Philippians 3:3 is sometimes taken as proof that Israel is off the stage forever, not to be returned. But it was the same apostle who said that “the gifts and calling of God are without regret” (Rom.11:29). The distinction between outward worship and inward is not peculiar to the writings of Paul. It is found frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures. The circumcision of the heart is referred to in Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Ezekiel 44:7; circumcision of the ear in Jeremiah 6:10; of the lips in Exodus 6:12,30; cp Jeremiah 9:25,26. The idea has been made use of before by Paul in Romans 2:25-29 and Ephesians 2:11 and subsequently in Colossians 2:11. The whole passage is a warning against the Judaisers, who, since the sentence of Acts 28, had become all that they contentiously spoke of the Gentiles as being. They had spoken of themselves as God’s children, and boasted of eating at God’s table. They had reproached others as dogs, as being ceremonially unclean, and as getting, at best, only crumbs from the rich man’s table. They were the workers of good, because they had the temple services.
Paul now reverses the image. The believers, not merely in the Messiahship of Jesus but also in His Lordship and Headship, are the children who banquet on the spiritual feast which God has set before them. The Judaisers are now the dogs who nose around over things which God has marked as refuse. They are now the evil workers and the mutilation. The mere outward circumcision did not make a Jew in fact. Arabians since Ishmael have circumcised their males. The outward act without the change of heart was no different from cutting off any other part of the body, as far as any religious significance was concerned. There was a true circumcision in Israel in olden days; there was a true circumcision in Israel during our Lord’s ministry and they followed Him. There was a true circumcision in Israel during the Acts period and they clustered around the pentecostal church or around the apostle Paul. Now that Israel was sinking into blindness there was little of the true circumcision in her, except such as came over to Paul’s new teaching and such of Israel as trusted in God after the manner of Abraham, yet not falling, in the divine apportionment of things, under Paul’s own ministry. Of such last were certainly John and Peter and such others of the twelve as were living. Of such also were the three friendly Jews left to Paul out of his former co-announcers of the kingdom (Col. 4:10,11). Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus were never transferred from the bride to the body; yet they had enough of the spirit of the universal household of faith to appreciate Paul as a brother, though his special ministry was not for them.
We are the true circumcision now. No need to look to the Jew as a class for anything whatever during this dispensation. They are in blindness; and until that blindness is lifted there will be nothing of note. We are the true circumcision who have put off the impurity of the heart—the heart being purified by faith—and have put on Christ, whether belonging to the outward circumcision, as Paul and Timothy, or to the outward uncircumcision, as the most of us.
Colossians 1:5 speaks of a hope laid up for the Colossian believers in particular, and, we may assume, for body believers in general, in heaven, in the skies. This language is very similar to that in 1 Peter 1:4 where believing Jews are had in mind. And it is the skies which receive our Lord until His return. True, the language is similar, and the facts are similar, but the beneficiaries are not identical, The hope of Israel, of the body, and of the world all lies in our Lord; but He does not fuse them all together into one mass.
Another distinction between the believing Gentile of this dispensation and the believing Jew related to or under the Millennial kingdom is shown in Colossians 2:16,17,21, where the present believers are shown to be free from ceremonial food and drink restrictions, from festival days, new moons, and sabbaths. All of these restrictions and specifications will be in force during the Millennium. The nations, for instance, will come up to Jerusalem each feast of tabernacles to acknowledge the political and spiritual supremacy of Israel in the earth. The Millennium itself will be the great seventh day, the crown of the whole sabbatic system.
Now believers are not to look to the earth for anything. They are to center their minds on that which is above and seek it (Col.3:1,2). That is, they are not to expect anything of an earthly character, now that Christ is not on earth but is in the celestial realms and since all earthly operations are in suspense.
Colossians 3:4 supplies the only point of contact between the body-church and the book of Revelation when it tells us that we shall appear with Him in glory, when He appears. This evidently refers to our Lord’s epiphany which is simultaneous with the beginning of His apocalypse, which apocalyptic epiphany or glorious appearing, in contrast with His previous humble appearing, is mentioned in Matthew 24:30 and Revelation 19:11-16. As the great King Christ will be present; as the great Priest His glory and beauty will shine forth; as the great Prophet He will be unveiled. Parousia, epiphany, apocalypse; all beginning at the same time, and in judgment.
Those whose minds incline to run ahead of God’s Word reason on these facts as follows: the church is the body of Christ; Christ is the Bridegroom; therefore the church is the body of the Bridegroom; and His appearing here in a prominently Jewish scene is proof that they shall share, even though from the heavens, in the sovereignty over the earth. That appears to be good human logic; but it is not Scripture. Those who esteem God’s Word more highly than human reasoning do not go on to force conclusions which are not stated in Scripture. They go just as far as the Word goes, and stop just where it stops. The fact is, the only known sovereignty of the body-church is in the heavens (2 Tim.4:18). They appear in this great and glories revealing of the King of both earth and heaven, but so does the whole cavalcade of the skies.
The ground of present fellowship and of our present understanding in Christ is shown in Colossians 3:11. Paul was herald, apostle, teacher (1 Tim.2:7). At first, from Damascus to Antioch, his ministry was confined to the Jews; from his separation at Antioch and on to Rome it was to the Jew first; while from Acts 28 on there is no difference. Now there is neither rationalist nor ritualist, neither fleshly advantage nor disadvantage, neither uncouth nor urbane, inferior nor superior, but Christ is all and in all. “In the Lord” there are distinctions (Eph.5:22; 6:1,7); but in Christ there are none.
Timothy had learned the things concerning the present dispensation from one source only, Paul. And he was urged to remember that fact, not to turn to Judaisers nor even to the authorized Jewish apostles for anything which would be in any manner subversive of the truth for the body-church.
Thus we find the distinctions between the Jewish nation, its promises, its prophetically elect classes, and the church, the body of Christ, is everywhere made and sustained. The body of Christ is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture save in the Pauline epistles.
Of the ‘bride of Christ’ there is no mention anywhere in the Bible; but the “bride of the Lamb” is mentioned and all plain allusions to the Bridegroom are made only by John, who, like his Lord while on earth, was a minister of the circumcision, not to reveal something new but to confirm something old.
The answer to our main inquiry, “Are bride and body identical?” must, therefore, be found in the negative. The conclusion which the Scriptures force upon us is that bride and body are not only not identical but that they are entirely distinct and separate classes, differing in time of call, in ministry, and in destiny.
“Be thou invigorated by the grace which is in Christ Jesus”
(2 Timothy 2:1)
Fredrik Homer Robison
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