The Sacred Scrolls of the Scriptures
IN THE interval between the last Hebrew prophet and the advent of the Messiah Whom they foretold vast changes took place in the apostate nation. The fires of faith flickered feebly, yet flared up at times especially under the leadership of the Maccabees. The Persian world empire was conquered by Alexander, who overran the holy land, taking Jerusalem without a struggle. As a result of his conquests, the Greek language was spread among all nations and became the common medium of communication for the peoples dwelling near the Mediterranean sea. The constant turmoil in the land of Israel, either from enemies without or traitors within, led many of the Jews to seek a home in other lands. Multitudes went to Egypt and dwelt there. Not only the Jews of this dispersion but those who remained in the land gradually took up the Greek language. Hence, when the Scriptures were translated into that tongue, the Hebrew text was soon left for the rabbis in the synagogues. The Greek translation took its place in common use. While some still retained a small smattering of the language of inspiration, the tongue of Jews became Greek. Our Lord and His disciples spoke Greek. Only occasionally they used a familiar word or phrase from the Aramaic, which was probably a corruption of the ancient Hebrew. So that, even if Paul had never written to those outside the pale of Israel, the Jews themselves could be reached only by the use of Greek. Only the learned were sufficiently acquainted with the Hebrew to read the prophets.
THE GREEK SCRIPTURES
The Priest Kingdom of Israel
Doubtless it was God’s plan to use this change in language to reach the other nations, as He afterward did through the apostle Paul. But the use of Greek was quite as necessary to reach the Jews themselves both in the land and among the dispersion.
Unlike the Hebrew, the headlines of the Greek text come to us without any authority at all. Some, which are found in our English Bibles, are positively mischievous, as, for instance, “The Revelation of St. John, the Divine.” The true heading is found in the opening sentence: “The Unveiling of Jesus Christ”–not St. John. Other headings are necessary conveniences. We can hardly do without them in referring to the particular portions to which they are attached. For our purpose, however, we will need to consider the opening lines of each book, for this is the real index of its contents.
The order of the books is not so uniformly fixed as with the Hebrew, so that the arrangement of our Bibles may be allowed to stand. One feature of all the MSS is most notable. Paul’s epistles are always in one group in the order with which we are acquainted. However much they may be shifted they always cling together. Hebrews is sometimes associated with them, doubtless from the tradition that Paul was its author.
For the first few centuries, these writings were each written on separate sheets or scrolls of papyrus and circulated as letters and pamphlets. It was not until the fourth century, when vellum volumes began to appear, that they were gathered together into one book. These usually contained other writings as well. The Codex Alexandrinus, for example, closed with the Clementine epistles. In it, James, Peter, John, and Jude follow immediately after Acts–an order not to be despised. It is not wise, in view of the facts, to lay too much stress, or found any doctrine upon their present arrangement.
With these facts before us, we must not be too insistent on the order of the Greek Scriptures. The most impressive hint lies in the practical solidarity of Paul’s epistles and their isolation from the rest.
The reason for this is easily apprehended by the close student. Paul’s epistles are complete in themselves and the other writings are complete in themselves. Let the reader try the following experiment. Read the entire Greek Scriptures through from Matthew to The Unveiling, omitting Paul’s letters. It will be found a complete and elaborate development of the Hebrew Scriptures. All the promises and prophecies of the earlier revelation are fulfilled.
The redemption of the earth through the nation of Israel is traced through their failure and apostasy to its fulfillment. Is the Hebrew revelation exclusive? So is the Greek, if we except Paul’s epistles. All of the writings of the Circumcision–whether it be the accounts of Messiah’s ministry and rejection, or the ministry of His twelve apostles and its failure, the letter to the Hebrews, or the epistles of James, Peter, John, or Jude–all of the writings of the Circumcision concern the same people, the same land, the same promises, the same hope which is brought before us in the writings of Moses and the prophets. Blessing can come to the earth only through them and subordinate to them. They are the royal priesthood through whom the balance of humanity may approach to Yahweh, and to whom all nations must be subject. The sphere of all this is terrestrial, however heavenly in character the blessing may be. All depends upon the nation of Israel–it is the only channel of blessing.
Now, if we turn to Paul’s epistles, all this is reversed. Blessing flows from Israel’s defection and is confined to the period of their rejection. It is not concerned with the earth. Its sphere of operation is in the heavens. Its object is their redemption by means of an election out of both Israel and the nations during the era in which the Jew is set aside. Its scope is universal: its grace is transcendent: its secrets sublime.
Let the student once see that the artificial division into “Old” and “New Testament” is false, let him prove to his own satisfaction that Matthew heralds the King foretold by the prophets, and John the Son of the Psalms, that the kingdom and priesthood of Israel are the controlling themes of the writings of the Circumcision apostles, and that the Revelation is but the fulfillment of the promises from Genesis to Jude, and he will marvel at the wisdom of God in His plans for earth’s redemption. All will be clear and un-confused. Difficulties will disappear; doubts will depart; heart and head will bow and worship.
Then, leaving all this to those for whom it is intended, let us descend into the depths with Paul and taste the grace which turns to those outside the covenant, to whom no promises were made, whose highest hope was to find some crumbs at Israel’s overflowing board, and see them justified and reconciled–graces far more precious than could be brought to them through Israel’s restoration.
Then we receive a hope above and beyond the expectation of the earthly people. Grace places us out of reach of the awful judgments which alone can usher in the era of Israel’s bliss.
But more than all, let us soar with the apostle in his Ephesian letter, into the celestial realms and the spiritual blessings which are ours in Christ. On earth we have no rights–they belong to Israel. But in the heavens, we attain the transcendent station reserved by grace for those alone who have descended into the depths, who have no deserts, for in no other way can grace be glorified.
From this exalted pinnacle of bliss we can look down upon the blessings of the Circumcision and see each one transmuted into celestial splendor for our sakes. Are they pardoned, or forgiven? We are justified, or vindicated! Have they access into the temple courts? We approach the Father Himself without the intervention of a priest. Do they look for Christ to come and reign over all the earth? We shall sit with Him on the throne of the universe!
We are unutterably selfish. We want everything for ourselves. Like the dog in the fable, we leave our own for the shadow of another’s food. If we but understood Paul’s ministry nothing else would tempt us, for it is so immeasurably above the ministries of the other apostles.
Why do we not consider others as well as ourselves? Is God no longer God outside of our sphere of blessing? After the church which is Christ’s body has joined Him in the celestial regions, Yahweh takes up His own people Israel once again and for a thousand years, he fills earth with blessing through their blessedness. Before that time He visits the earth with sore judgments and His people with untold trials. To what part of the Scriptures will they turn in their tribulation? Should they do as we do, and take what does not belong to them–should they turn to Paul’s epistles they would be woefully misled. They would be looking for the Lord to come to the air to save them from the tribulation when He had already come. He would seem to fail them in their extremity. Paul speaks of peace and conciliation as God’s attitude; but it will be the time of God’s raging wrath. Paul heralds a heavenly destiny, whereas they would find theirs on the earth. The nations would look for a place of equality with the chosen people but they would be forced to acknowledge their inferior place.
How disastrous to deport Paul’s ministry into the day of the Lord! While seeming to be God’s word it would fail at all points, and bring Him and His revelation into utter disrepute.
No less disastrous is it to displace the epistles of the Circumcision. It is the prime cause of the cloudy, unsatisfactory apprehension of God’s revelation which so distresses God’s saints in these declining days of the dispensation. Almost all of the errors which have wrought havoc in the church have been due to deflecting to Peter where we should have appealed to Paul.
The popular delusion of walking “in His steps” is based upon this misapprehension. Paul never saw our Lord until after His resurrection and glorification. He never makes the earthly life of our Lord the pattern for the believer. We are not only risen but ascended. We are concerned with the celestial, not the terrestrial.
Not so with Peter. He walked with His Lord and followed in His steps while He was still in His humiliation. He followed Him up to the glory, but no further. His whole ministry takes character from this fact just as Paul’s is characterized by the opposite fact.
It is the same with John. He begins his epistle by introducing the One Whom “our hands handle” (1 John 1:1). Paul comes to a crisis when he no longer knew Christ “according to flesh” (2 Cor.5:16).
What is the reason for these totally different atmospheres, these divergent presentations of our Lord? Is it not that they are intended, in God’s wisdom, for meeting entirely different circumstances, for effecting distinct objects, for illuminating the varied glories of our God?
The two grand spheres of God’s operations are presented to us at the very threshold of revelation. “Created by the Elohim were the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1:1). But, since He is Love, He must not only create but bless what He has made. Excepting Paul’s epistles, the entire scope of the Scriptures is occupied with His purposes regarding the earth, and more especially with the channel through which He will bring it about–the nation of Israel. Paul’s letters deal with the heavens, and more particularly with the channel through which God purposes to bring His blessings to the celestial spheres–the church which is Christ’s body.
Having spheres so different and functions so diverse, why should we expect to find uniformity of method or identity of truth? Does not the apostle himself insist that “a different glory, indeed, is that of the celestial, yet a different that of the terrestrial?” (1 Cor.15:40).
But let us found all on fact. To whom were Peter’s and John’s and James’ letters written? We know that they were of the Circumcision, that Peter and John were the pillars to whom the gospel of the Circumcision was committed, yet we ought to be able to gather from the address on their letters for whom they were intended.
If it is true that they were of the Circumcision and wrote for them, then we must find uniform evidence to show that each one addressed his letters to the Circumcision. Peter’s ministry was distinct from John’s and both differ from James’, but they should have this in common–they should all be addressed to those who are bound together by the physical bond of Circumcision.
From our exalted vantage we can not only apprehend our own supernal blessing, but are in a position to appreciate Yahweh’s ways with His own terrestrial people Israel. Having so rich a treasure ourselves we do not feel the need of filching theirs from them. We rejoice in the manifestation of His mercy in the mission of Christ, even though we are constrained to acknowledge that He was a Servant of the Circumcision for the truth of God (Rom.15:8). We marvel at the forbearance shown in lingering over the apostate nation which had rejected and crucified their Messiah and which seals its doom by despising the repeated message of pardon as recorded in the book of Acts. We recognize that the epistle to the Hebrews fits the need of the faithful who did not apostatize in that day. We know that they will yet be grafted back into their own olive tree and received back into favor (Rom.11:12,24), and that, after we are gathered together unto Him, they will need the help and comfort which James (who writes to the twelve tribes) and Peter (who writes to the dispersion) and John and Jude are especially adapted to give them. “Apply” these epistles today and they are a misfit. In that day they will be an imperative necessity, and we wonder at the wisdom with which they are written.
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