The Primitive Passed By

Expositions on Spiritual Endowments

The Grace of God in Truth

THE PATH “suited to transcendence” (1 Cor.12:31), is the path of truth for believers today. On this pathway, only “faith, expectation, love–these three” are “remaining” (1 Cor.13:13). The gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 as a whole were concerned only with the early period of the ecclesia’s development. In that era, that entire complement of spiritual endowments was being given with a view to expedience (1 Cor.12:7), since the word of God had not yet been completed (cf Col.1:25). Yet now the word of God has been completed, through the final Pauline perfection (or “maturity”) epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Consequently, since much that was once expedient is no longer appropriate, such provisions have ceased or been discarded.

Now, through the final writings of Paul, we may learn of the change within and full development of his evangel–going “from glory to glory” (cf 2 Cor.3:18). Thus we will be able to discern the truth which is applicable to ourselves today.

Like Peter, in an earlier era and former administration, we too need to be “established in the present truth” (cp 2 Pet.1:12), the truth for our own era and administration. We need to know, “that which concerns [ourselves]” (Col.4:8), that we might “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col.4:12).

It should be no cause for alarm that we have found that only some of the specific gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 have been carried over (or rather, reintroduced) into the era of maturity. Through one means or another, God will always give us all that we need, all that is best for us, to accord with the era and the administration. For while we do find that certain gifts, in suitably adjusted form, are indeed transposed into the present administration, no mention is made of any others having been sustained.

As Paul declares, even in the perfection epistle of Ephesians, “[the ascended Christ] gives these, indeed, as apostles, yet these as prophets, yet these as evangelists, yet these as pastors and teachers” (Eph.4:11). This makes it evident that these services are included within God’s provision for the ecclesia today, even in the era of maturity, not only in the former era, in which the ecclesia began. Though the provision of these gifts for believers today accords with the presence of these same gifts in the era which preceded the present, the present provision is not necessitated by the former presence.

It is not that any of us are apostles or prophets, but that we are “being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” the apostles and prophets of the ecclesia which is Christ’s body, “the capstone of the corner being Christ Jesus Himself” (Eph.2:20).

Down the centuries, since Paul’s day, where there have been faithful men, ones competent to teach others who have been thus engaged (2 Tim.2:2), we find ones whom God has given to the ecclesia, for the adjusting of the saints. To the degree that any such ones, each in his own measure, serve unto this end, thus they do the work of the evangelist, pastor, or teacher (cp 2 Tim.4:5). None of these or any of their fellows, however, are given the service of apostle or prophet.

This is because, now that the word of God has been completed, it is impossible for anyone to be commissioned of the Lord as the original representative of His evangel, even as for anyone to serve as an initial spokesman of His word, now that His word has been recorded in Scripture.

It is a timeless fact that God gives us apostles and prophets, even as He gives us evangelists, pastors, and teachers (in cases where any such latter ones are truly heralding the Word as faithful dispensers of Christ [Col.1:7]; not, however unwittingly, as fraudulent workers [2 Cor.11:13]).

But it does not follow from the fact that God gives the ecclesia apostles and prophets, that any such ones are to be found among our contemporaries. As shown in our previous study, the gift of prophecy has ceased, as surely as the gift of languages. Any, then, who suppose themselves or any others among our fellow believers today to be either apostles or prophets, are simply mistaken. However sincere their witness or persuasive their word, any modern-day “apostles” or “prophets” are not apostles or prophets at all, but merely deluded private individuals.


“Many will still ask, What of the other gifts, especially healing, which is not specifically said to have ceased? The answer is not far to seek. Physical healing is clearly promised in many a passage, but it has no place in the more excellent way we are considering. Ephesians promises all spiritual blessings among the celestials (Eph.1:3), but there is not a single word as to physical health on the earth. Philippians brings before us three of the most spiritual of God’s slaves in this era of transcendent grace. Paul himself had a thorn in the flesh, and could not get rid of this physical infirmity, because it was necessary for the perfection of grace. God’s power can only be perfected in infirmity (2 Cor. 12:8), and Paul, who healed others, learns the deeper lesson of abiding under the power of Christ. This was after he began to walk the more excellent way.

“Timothy, next to Paul, is the greatest of all the apostles for this era of grace. He, too, treads the path of perfection, and suffers ‘often infirmities’ for which Paul prescribes a little wine, instead of exercising his gift of healing.

“And now we are told of Epaphroditus, who risked his soul for the saints, and nearly died while he was staying with Paul, to his great sorrow. He was on the more excellent way. No one on the more excellent way ever used the gift of miraculous healing even though he had it (Phil.2:25-30).

“Before Paul received this ministry he was the greatest healer of all the apostles. He more than duplicated all that Peter did. But when the great change came, as Israel’s rejection of Messiah became more apparent, he decided no longer to know Christ after the flesh; he gave notice that the signs which accompanied the proclamation of the kingdom would cease, and intimated that God had something much better in store for the saints, not on earth but in the heavens, not in the physical realm, but in the spiritual.

“Knowing Christ according to ‘the flesh’ (2 Cor.5:16), refers to Christ’s flesh not Paul’s (cp Rom.9:3-5). Paul certainly would not claim a fleshly knowledge of [i.e., relationship to] Him as the basis of his ministry hitherto. But he had been proclaiming Him as the Messiah of Israel, as to His physical relationship to the Circumcision. Christ was a Jew and lived and died in their land and will restore the kingdom to them on the basis of their physical relationship to Him. Gentile blessing on earth must flow through this channel. Paul had been proclaiming Him as Israel’s Messiah. This is ‘knowing Christ after the flesh.’ Healing and all the other gifts were associated with knowing Christ after the flesh. They continued in connection with that ministry.

“At that point in Paul’s career when he wrote the second epistle to the Corinthians, he decided no longer to know Christ after the flesh (2 Cor.5:16). He was entering the more excellent way. Christ according to the flesh corresponds to the ‘regeneration’ (or ‘renascence,’ CV), as the kingdom is called (Matt.19:28). Its proclamation leads to the kingdom and the millennium. That will be very good. It will be excellent. But Paul, in spirit, has come to the end of the millennium and enters the new creation (2 Cor.5:17). The result of no longer knowing Christ according to the flesh is that ‘if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: the primitive passed by.'

"The primitive" is in the plural, ta archaia, “the primitives,” or “THE ORIGINals.” The reference with regard to that which is “passed by,” is to the beginning, or original economies which were concerned with Christ according to the flesh, along with all their attendant accoutrements. Whatever gifts we may have in common today with the believers of those early eras, even those under Paul’s early ministry, are incidental to, not necessitated by, the original gifts’ erstwhile presence.

We enjoy the fullness of the “untraceable riches of Christ to the nations,” and are enlightened according to “the administration of the secret, which has been concealed from the eons in God, Who creates all, that now [from the time of the revelations of Ephesians onward] may be made known to the sovereignties and authorities among the celestials, through the ecclesia, the multifarious wisdom of God, in accord with the purpose of the eons, which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord; in Whom we have boldness and access with confidence, through His faith” (Eph.3:8-12).]

“This is the more excellent way. The new birth leads to millennial blessing of which the gifts were the sign. The new creation introduces us to an unutterably higher sphere of blessing, based on faith, which asks for no signs.

“As Paul gradually entered this path his own health became impaired, he could not cure his dearest friends; he even left one of them, Trophimus, at Miletum, sick. Ask him, in his Roman prison whether the gift of healing has become inoperative. His answer might well be, If it has not, why am I afflicted, and why is Timothy often ill, and what of Trophimus and Epaphroditus? And there is not a single instance where healing did occur after the kingdom narrative in Acts had closed. Physical healing is a sign and pledge of the material marvels of the kingdom on earth. While that is no longer proclaimed, such attestations to its power are out of place. 1


Though we may hardly expect the miraculous signs associated with Israel’s Messianic Kingdom in an era and administration which is completely divorced from it, this is no indication whatever that we may not make our requests known to God (cf Phil.4:6,7). God may well be merciful to us and grant us recovery, even if, like Epaphroditus, we should become “very nigh death” (Phil.2:27). It is not that we today are to rule out any hope of God’s mercy and grace with respect to our bodily infirmities merely because the special gift of healing of 1 Corinthians 12 through the hands of certain men, no longer continues. May it not be coming to that! If it is His intention, His decretive will, God will surely deliver us from any ailment–for the time He intends and to the degree He intends–whether through means ordinary or extraordinary. Indeed, in the last analysis, “A man can not get anything if it should not be given him out of heaven” (John 3:27).

Any today who truly experience the mitigation, remission, or removal of pain or disease, enjoy their deliverance only because of God and His powerful operations. This is so regardless of the means that may be employed for this purpose and however questionable certain avenues of relief may be. For God is operating all according to the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11). But this does not mean, if we wish to be faithful, that we should follow after successful “Christian healers” any more than we should consult efficient Eastern oracles.

The ecclesia which is Christ’s body, of which believers today are members, is a uniquely Pauline revelation and is not at all in view in Acts, especially in its earlier portion. Nothing is more mistaken than to claim that the present ecclesia began at Pentecost, or that we should pattern the present church order after the events and practices which come before us in the early chapters of Acts. Consequently, we need not strain our credulity to the breaking point in order to convince ourselves that the charismatic movement of today constitutes a genuine renewal of the teachings and practices of Pentecost. We should by no means expect the miracles and special visitations of the Lord which are recorded in the book of Acts, now that the administration of the secret (Eph.3:9) has come and the word of God has been completed. Acts is simply a chronicle of the deeds of those whom it concerns, and is written from a Jewish perspective in anticipation of the terrestrial kingdom. It is a continuation of the account of our Lord’s ministry as recorded by Luke, and is concerned with Israel’s rejection of the evangel of the kingdom.

Even the most zealous “Pentecostal” believers of today who are at all objective, sometimes discount the prophecies, healings, and tongues utterances which they themselves witness. This is because the prophecies are often proved false and the healings questionable, even as the tongues of little correspondence to the scriptural examples but of much correspondence to the repetitive, incoherent sounds made by their mentors and associates.

Since many pursue these “gifts” out of a clean heart, having engaged in sincere prayer that they might know the truth, they deem it impossible that the suggestion could perhaps be true that thus they are in the trap of the Adversary. Yet many such brethren see nothing incongruous in confidently insisting that those who differ with them–believers no less sincere than themselves who nonetheless deem these sensational practices spurious–are necessarily deceived by the devil.

Even where significant predictions occasionally prove accurate, this is no indication that any today are actually serving in the capacity of divine prophet. Indeed, “Who is this who speaks and it is coming to be, when my Lord did not instruct? Is not the evil and the good faring forth from the mouth of the Supreme?” (Lam. 3:37,38; cp Isa.55:10,11).

As to so-called faith healing, the observations of A. E. Knoch many years ago seem applicable still today: “Some cases can be cured temporarily, but others are beyond its reach. The cases fall into precisely the same groups as other systems of mental healing. Functional diseases or functional complications which usually accompany organic maladies are usually mental in their origin, and can be cured by ‘faith,’ however induced. It is merely the power of mind over matter.

“Now we must concede that the appeal to God’s Word is the strongest possible incentive to faith, and that mental healing under the guise of the miraculous should have far more success than appeals to philosophy or “science” or merely the power of repetition. These all depend on the fact that there is no organic disease, but only disturbances in the mental control of the body. If we add to this the immense psychological effect of mass meetings, we have one of the most powerful natural means of ameliorating functional disease.

“Everyone knows the vivifying effect of joy and happiness, and the depressing effect of worry. The mental state powerfully influences the action of all the vital organs. Even blindness and paralysis may be caused by purely mental emotions. Such cases as these can be cured by the mental healers of today, and especially by those who seek to operate under the banner of the Bible. But not one of them can accomplish the healing which attested our Lord’s messiahship or the nearness of the kingdom in the days of the apostles.” 2


Prophecy, even as special endowments of preliminary knowledge, prepared for further unfoldings and maturity. Similarly, the amazing gift of languages, once and for all, served as a sign to unbelievers. For it gave evidence to man’s unrelenting love of the darkness instead of the light, even where the glorious message of enlightenment was attended by such a stupendous marvel.

The present administration of God’s grace, in the language of inspiration, called for an “adjusting of the saints, . . . for the upbuilding of the body of Christ, unto the end that we should all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ” (Eph.4:12,13). The time has come when the apostle is admonishing and teaching so as to be presenting every man mature in Christ Jesus (Col.1:28). This was impossible at the time when 1 Corinthians was penned. Yet later on, Epaphras, struggling for the Colossians in prayer, did so that they might “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col.4:12).

It was granted to Paul, for us, “to complete the word of God–the secret which has been concealed from the eons and from the generations, yet now was made manifest to His saints, to whom God wills to make known what are the glorious riches of this secret among the nations, which is: Christ among you, [and] the expectation of glory [which concerns you]” (Col.1: 25-27). “Nations” and “you” are both plural, so en (“in” when used with a singular object) should be rendered “among” in English. This does not refer to Christ’s presence, by His spirit, within the individual believer (which was not a secret; cf Rom.8:9; Gal.2:20), but to the presence of the Christ of God now (Who, formerly, according to flesh, was associated solely with the nation of Israel) among the very nations themselves: Christ among you!

“Christ, Who never went among the nations before His ascension, met Paul outside the land, on the Damascus road, not as the lowly Jesus, but as the glorified Son of God. Gradually, in spirit, through the apostle’s ministries, He unfolds His secret purpose to be to the nations, in spirit, all that He had been to Israel in flesh, and far more. This is the secret: Christ among the nations, a glorious expectation. Not a subordinate place in the earthly kingdom, but a preeminent place in His celestial domains.” 3

As those who recognize that the “primitives” (or “beginning” things) are indeed “passed by,” we rejoice in the glorious unfoldings which are given to us now, those revelations which complete the word of God and afford us our position of maturity in which we are complete in Christ (Col.2:10). May God grant that our love might be superabounding still more and more in realization and all sensibility, for us to be testing the things of consequence (Phil.1:9,10). We pray as well for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the realization of Him, the eyes of our heart having been enlightened, for us to perceive what is the expectation of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His allotment among the saints (Eph.1:17,18).

We are waiting for God’s Son out of the heavens, Whom He rouses from among the dead, Jesus, our Rescuer out of the coming indignation (1 Thess.1:10). We anticipate His presence by faith, in expectation, and through love. For, as our apostle has said, and we have discovered, “Yet now are remaining faith, expectation, love–these three. Yet the greatest of these is love. Be pursuing love” (1 Cor.13:13; 14:1).

James Coram

1. A. E. Knoch, Unsearchable Riches, vol. xv, pp.303-305.
2. Unsearchable Riches, vol. xv, pp.306,307.
3. A. E. Knoch, Unsearchable Riches, vol. xv, pp.303-305.


It is commonly supposed that the purpose of 1 Corinthians 13 (even as the reference of the words “the more excellent way”) is simply to prioritize and emphasize the essential place of love, regardless of the other gifts which one may possess and however excellent they may be. It is certainly true that love, at all times, is vital and is the greatest of all of God’s gifts, and that this thought is involved in what Paul is saying here. This, however, in itself, is not Paul’s thought; nor is it the reference of the words “the more excellent way.”

Paul is not merely saying that “love” is the best “way” of life or that it is greater than any of the spiritual endowments, including the miraculous ones. Instead, the apostle explains that he wishes to apprise the Corinthians of a certain “path”; that is, literally, of a certain, distinct, divine administration. He reveals an economy of maturity and sets it in contrast to the administration then present under which the Corinthians had received only the first installment of the knowledge of the evangel.

This “path, suited to transcendence,” is one in which “faith, expectation, love–these three”–“are remaining” (1 Cor.13:13). Since this path (or “road,” hodos, way), as such, is a path which is in contrast to the path which the Corinthians–accompanied by all of the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12–were currently traveling, yet is a path in which the gifts of faith and expectation, as well as love, are remaining, it follows that it is a path in which these three provisions alone are remaining. Indeed, by itself, this is clearly intimated by Paul through the striking interjection found in the phrase, “faith, expectation, love–these three” (1 Cor.13:13). If any additional gifts beyond these three should be given to those on this anticipated transcendent path (whether they should be similar to the endowments of 1 Corinthians 12 or not), in any case, these three, and these three alone, are remaining.

James Coram

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