Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sin is still sin (and God is still good) even "if God makes you do it"

[The following is a response to an article by Rick Farwell entitled, "IF GOD MAKES YOU DO IT, THEN YOU'RE NOT SINNING" (http://thedifferentiator.net/IFGOD.HTML)] 

Mr. Farwell begins his article with the following quote by A.E. Knoch: 

"All evil which is done with due authority, such as paternal or political, whether inflicted by parents upon their children, or masters upon their servants, or the state on its subjects, or God on His creatures (of which the rest are but figures) loses its "immoral" quality because it is salutary and corrective. Its morality lies, not in the evil, but in the relation sustained between the one who inflicts and the one who suffers. Consequently, even moral evil, committed by criminal men, loses its immoral quality when referred back to the One Whose purpose was being effected by the evil and Who not only has the undoubted right to inflict it but Whose every act will yet receive the undivided applause of the universe."  

A.E. Knoch believed that sin and evil are an essential part of God's redemptive plan for creation, and that God is ultimately responsible for their existence in the universe. He also affirmed that God is perfectly good and benevolent, and thus has the best interests of all his creatures at heart (see, for example, Knoch's insightful work "The Problem of Evil," which can be read here: http://concordant.org/expositions/problem-evil-judgments-god-contents/). 

I agree with Knoch on this. My understanding is that what makes an intention or action sinful is the motive behind it. Because I believe God's motive in bringing about the circumstances that result in sin being committed by his creatures is entirely benevolent, God is entirely blameless in everything he does. The "immoral quality" of any choice made by a human or celestial being is found in the motive of the sinning creature, and not in the motive of God, who is sinless. This, I believe, is essentially what Knoch was affirming in the above quote. However, it needs to be stressed that, although I will be defending this position against some of the assertions made by Mr. Farwell in his article, it is not merely because Mr. Knoch (or anyone else) believed it. It is because my own study of Scripture and my own reflection on this subject over the years has brought me to the same conclusion concerning the "problem of evil" to which Mr. Knoch arrived.  

After some brief remarks concerning what Mr. Farwell believes to have influenced A.E. Knoch's theology (which, according to Mr. Farwell, was the "fatalistic teaching of the State Church of the Lutherans and the atheistic Rationalists"), Mr. Farwell goes on to assert, "Since God IS good, nothing He causes any of His created beings to do, even if it is said to be "evil" is a sin. Since God is GOOD, everything He creates in its original state will be good, because it is created "out of God", Who is Good."

Notice that Mr. Farwell first uses the word "good" in reference to God. Now, it is clear that, when used by Mr. Farwell to describe God, the word "good" has a moral or ethical meaning, and refers to God's perfectly sinless and righteous character or nature. But notice that Mr. Farwell then uses the same word to describe "everything [God] creates in its original state." Is it really Mr. Farwell's view that "everything" that was created by God was originally "good" in the same sense that God is good? I doubt it. For in the sense that Mr. Farwell is saying that God is "good" (which refers to God's perfectly righteous character), "good" can be applied only to moral/rational/intelligent beings. It would be nonsense to say that rocks, trees, clouds, goats and stars are "good" in the same sense that God is good, or in the sense that Jesus Christ is good. The word "good" does not mean the same thing when used in reference to amoral things and animals as it does when used in reference to moral beings. So it seems that Mr. Farwell is being somewhat careless with his words here, and is (unintentionally, I'm sure) guilty of the informal logical fallacy known as "equivocation."

But what about Farwell's assertion that "nothing [God] causes any of His created beings to do...is a sin?" Does this follow necessarily from the fact that God is good? I don't think so. Suppose that, before sin had ever been introduced into the universe, God chose to bring into existence a being whose character and disposition was such that he was incapable of not sinning. Suppose also that God's motive in bringing about this state of affairs (i.e., the introduction of sin into the universe through the creation of a being who cannot help but sin) was completely pure and benevolent, and that the creation of this sinful being will ULTIMATELY contribute to the maximum glorification of God and the maximum happiness of every created being, both in the heavens and on earth.

Now, Mr. Farwell, of course, doesn't believe any of this. The above scenario is purely hypothetical, as far as he is concerned. And that's fine. But unless Mr. Farwell can show that the scenario described above is implicitly or explicitly contradicted by Scripture - or that it is somehow incoherent and logically impossible - then Mr. Farwell's belief that God's goodness is inconsistent with his causing a created being to sin is not something which anyone need feel Biblically (or rationally) obligated to share. Mr. Farwell would have to show that it is either contradicted by Scripture or that it is somehow logically impossible for sin to in any way contribute to the glorification of God or to the ultimate happiness of all in order for his conclusion to necessarily follow. And I honestly don't think Mr. Farwell (or anyone else) could prove such a thing. But apart from Mr. Farwell's being able to prove this, no one need agree with his assertion. For if (as I believe can be reasonably inferred from Scripture) God's purpose to glorify himself and bring about the maximum happiness of all requires the (temporary) existence of sin and evil in the universe, then God would be fully justified (and would remain fully benevolent and good) in bringing about such a state of affairs to achieve his goal. If the end result is the maximizing of God's glory and the securing of the best interests of all - and if this end result cannot be realized apart from the temporary existence of sin and evil in the universe - then God would be fully justified in bringing this about. The end, in this case, WOULD justify the means.  

Mr. Farwell then quotes the passages from Genesis where God pronounces his creation "good" and "very good." But these pronouncements by God had absolutely nothing to do with the ethical/moral goodness of the creation. God was not saying, "Creation is morally good and blameless in character, just like me." For if that were the case, then it would mean that, for the period of time during which Adam was alone (Gen. 2:18), creation was morally impure and sinful (for notice that God said it was "NOT GOOD that the man should be alone...")! But that, of course, is ridiculous. The fact is that God was not talking about the moral goodness of his creation here. 

The Hebrew word translated "good" is ṭôb, and carries the same broad range of meaning as the English word "good" (see, for example, Strong's definition). For example, we're later told that God "made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good (ṭôb) for food" (Gen 2:9; cf. 3:6). Obviously, the "goodness" of these trees had nothing to do with their moral/ethical character (for they had none). Their being "good for food" simply meant that they were desirable, suitable or fit for food. Similarly, God's creation was "very good" simply in that it was perfectly suited to accomplish his divine purpose. It was favorable for the accomplishment of his purpose, and in accord with what he desired it to be. God's appraisal of his creation as "very good," then, was a value judgment. It was his approval of his creation as being in accord with what he desired it to be, and as perfectly suited for its chosen function. 

Mr. Farwell goes on to say, "If everything Satan did was the result of God doing it, it would be impossible for him to SIN (miss the mark), if what Adam did in the garden, by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, was God's doing, then it wouldn't have been a sin, or transgression, or disobedience, or an offense against God, since Adam would have only been doing God's will, and since God is Good, and not an evil being, or a criminal organization, it could not have been rebellion, it would have been following God's orders, doing the will of God, even His intention." 

Sin, according to the apostle John, is "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). At its heart, sin is essentially a violation of what Christ called the two greatest precepts or commandments, on which he said depend (or are "hanging") all the law and the prophets: "You shall be loving the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with you whole comprehension," and "You shall be loving your associate as yourself" (Mark 12:28-31). According to Paul, to love another is to fulfill God's law, and the saying "You shall love your associate as yourself" (which in James 2:8 is called the "royal law") sums up God's precepts (Rom 13:8-10). John even goes so far as to say that anyone who professes to love God while failing to love his brother is a liar (John 4:19-21). To love God requires that one love one's associates as one loves oneself. Whenever one is failing to do this, one is guilty of "lawlessness," and is thus sinning. 

But what if one's failure to love God and to love others is ultimately due to circumstances outside of one's control (and which were ultimately brought about by God himself)? Does a failure to keep these precepts cease to be sin just because God is the ultimate explanation for why one is failing to do this? I see no good reason why this should be the case. Regardless of the ultimate explanation for WHY one is failing to love God and one's associates (whether it's in accordance with God's sovereign purpose, or the result of the "free will" of his creatures, as Mr. Farwell seems to believe), the fact is that the failure of any moral being to keep these precepts makes them a sinner. So it's simply not true that a person cannot be considered a sinner simply because God is ultimately responsible (and the ultimate explanation) for what they do and why they do it. For again, sin essentially consists in a violation of God's precepts to love him supremely and to love one's associate as oneself. A failure to love God supremely and to love one's associate as oneself doesn't cease to be sin/lawlessness just because God is the ultimate explanation for WHY one is failing to love. A failure to keep these precepts is, at its essence, precisely what sin IS.  

Thus, contrary to the view of Mr. Farwell, sin is sin regardless of whether it is a part of God's plan for a being to sin, or not. If God's plan involved the creation of a spiritual being whose character and disposition is such that he can't help but fail to love God and human beings, this being would still be a sinner. His failure to love God and the human beings within the sphere of his influence wouldn't cease to be sinful merely because it was God's will that he have this sinful character. Nor would his sinful actions cease to be sinful merely because he is acting in accord with the counsel of God's will. 

Consider, for example, the activity of Satan as described in the opening chapters of the book of Job. Were not Satan's actions in accord with the counsel of God's will? I'm not sure how this could be denied. Had it not been God's will that Satan do what he did, he could have (and would have) prevented Satan from doing it. God was just as capable of taking away Satan's power and authority (or even having him thrown into the lake of fire) in Job's day as he will be in the future. But this God did not do. Instead, God gave Satan the full authority to do exactly what he (Satan) ended up doing. Satan's actions after he left the divine throne room did not take God by surprise. God had perfect knowledge of Satan's character and disposition, and knew exactly what he would do if given the opportunity. There was nothing that Satan did that God did not fully expect him to do, and which he did not give him the authority to do; consequently, everything that Satan did must be understood as being in accord with the counsel of God's will. And it should be noted that Job himself understood all the evil that he suffered as ultimately coming from God, and as being in accord with God's will: "Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of Yahweh" (Job 1:21-22). "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10).  

Now, I believe that God is good, and that everything he does is in the best interests of all his creatures. Consequently, his motive in giving Satan the authority to do what he did was perfectly pure. But what was Satan's motive in doing what he did? Did he do it out of love for God and for Job? I don't see any good reason to believe that he did. Instead, we have every reason to believe that Satan's heart was just as full of malice as it was when he tempted Eve in the garden of Eden. When Satan took almost everything of value away from Job (including his children), it was not because he loved God. Nor was it because he loved Job as he loved himself. Satan's actions were not motivated by love for God or Job, but rather by a malicious desire to expose Job as one who didn't really love God. His desire was that Job would, in response to the adversity brought upon him, curse God to his face (Job 1:9-11; 2:5). In other words, what Satan did was sinful; he did not have Job's best interests at heart. And his actions did not cease to be sinful merely because they were in accord with the counsel of God's will.  

Consider also Christ's temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Did Satan do what he did at this time out of a love for Christ? Did he have Christ's best interests at heart? Were his motives pure and in harmony with what Christ called the greatest precepts? No; we have every reason to believe that Satan's desire was that Christ yield to every temptation presented to him, and that he take Satan up on his offer, and worship him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Matt 4:8-9). 

Satan's actions during this time were undoubtedly sinful and wicked, and betrayed a lack of love for both God and his Son. And yet, it was evidently in accord with God's will that Satan do exactly what he did, for it was the spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tried by Satan (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:12). Had it not been God's will for Jesus to undergo this trial by Satan, the spirit would not have led Jesus into the wilderness to be tried by him. Thus, we have yet another example of the sinful activity of Satan being in accord with the counsel of God's will. 

In response to the position that Satan began his existence in a sinful state, Mr. Farwell writes: "When did Satan, first LIE? When did he become a MAN-KILLER? Well, the first man was Adam, so Satan couldn't have been a man-killer before there was a man to kill." 

With regards to Satan's being a sinner, one of the following must be true: either he was created by God with a sinful character/disposition, OR he began his existence in a morally pure/upright (or morally neutral) state, and then acquired a sinful character/disposition later on. Although both positions cannot be true, both views are consistent with the position that God is sovereign over all circumstances, and is thus ultimately responsible for Satan's present sinfulness. For regardless of which view is correct, it could be affirmed that God is ultimately responsible for Satan's being a sinner. With that said, I believe that Scripture affirms the former view. 

It is clearly stated in Scripture that Satan has been sinning "from the beginning" (1 John 3:8) and that Satan has been a man-killer "from the beginning" (John 8:44). From the beginning of what? Evidently, the beginning of his creation, or existence. When Christ used the same expression in reference to Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4; Mark 10:6), the "beginning" in view refers to the time of their creation - i.e., the beginning of their existence. When used in reference to Satan, therefore, it is most natural to understand the "beginning" to refer to the time of his creation - i.e., the beginning of his existence. 

But how could Satan be a "man-killer" before there were human beings in existence to kill? First, it should be noted that a person could be considered a murderer or "man-killer" without actually killing anyone. This is evident from the apostle John, who taught that anyone who has hatred for his brother is a man-killer (1 John 3:15). Thus, being a "man-killer" concerns the malicious disposition of a person's heart, and not necessarily the act of taking someone's life. Second, if God's intention in creating Satan was that he would be the adversary of mankind and would desire and seek their destruction and ruin, then it would be true to say that Satan was a "man-killer from the beginning." For being a "man-killer" - i.e., being one who hates and seeks the destruction and ruin of human beings - would be the purpose and role for which Satan was created by God (at least, with regards to the eons). Thus, Satan can be said to have been a man-killer from the beginning if (in accordance with God's "purpose of the eons") he was created by God with a sinful and malicious disposition that is antagonistic and hostile towards human beings, and which caused him to seek their destruction and ruin as soon as they were created.  

But again, it should be emphasized that, regardless of whether one believes that Satan began his existence as a sinful being or not, one can still affirm that (1) God is ultimately responsible for Satan's being a sinner, and (2) God is good, and does only that which is in the best interests of all his creatures. 

Mr. Farwell goes on to say, "And if Satan had been doing God's work in the Garden, he wouldn't have sinned, and if what he said to Eve had been God's words, then he wouldn't have been a father of lies or a liar."

If God's sovereign plan for Satan in the garden was that Satan act in a way that was unloving toward the human beings within the sphere of his influence, it would neither make God unloving nor make Satan loving. Satan's antagonism toward humanity doesn't become love just because it is in accord with God's plan. His failure to love the human creatures within the sphere of his influence is still sin, even if God was ultimately responsible for his being this way. Similarly, if God's sovereign plan required that Satan speak falsehoods to Eve in the garden, it would neither make God a liar nor make Satan a truth-teller. Satan's lies don't become truths just because his being "a liar and the father of it" is in accord with God's sovereign plan. 

In the final paragraph of his article, Mr. Farwell says, "So, the solution to this (sin-evil problem) is not in some sort of Calvinist-Fatalistic nightmare in which the only One Who is GOOD, is really not so good after all, and is a "the end justifies the means" Deity (differing little from a manipulating narcissist). No, the solution is that God has delegated certain abilities to some of His creatures, and given a certain freedom in areas where they will be judged according to what they have done with these powers and abilities (this is why Libertarian Free Will exists within these creatures—man and celestial beings)."  

Opponents of the Biblical position that all is out of God (Rom 11:36) frequently deride this view as "fatalism," or as being "fatalistic." Is this a fair charge or description of this position? Fatalism says, "Whatever is, must be." This philosophical position does not take into account the existence of a personal (let alone a wise and benevolent) God or the unfolding of an all-encompassing divine plan. One popular definition of fatalism is, "The belief that events are determined by an impersonal fate and cannot be changed by human beings." In contrast to this view, Scripture affirms that it is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ - not a blind, impersonal fate - who is operating all in accord with the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11).

Although Mr. Farwell is clearly not a fan of "fatalism," he evidently has no problem believing in something that is equally philosophical in nature: "libertarian free will." Since I've already written an article against this position (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-critical-look-at-christian-doctrine.html), there's no need to spend much time on the subject here. As I demonstrate in my article, any choices that are "free" in the libertarian sense would be nothing more than events of a completely random nature, and any being who is "free" in the libertarian sense would essentially be a random event generator. Any future event which is uncertain (and thus only possibly one way or another) from the perspective of not only God's creatures but God himself must necessarily be understood as a purely chance event

Consider, for example, the movement of a quantum particle. If it is uncertain to God whether a particle will swerve to the left or to the right, then its swerving to the left or to the right would be a purely random event from God's perspective. Whether it went one direction or another would, from God's perspective, be a matter of pure chance. And since God's perspective is the ultimate and absolute perspective, any such event would, absolutely speaking, be completely random and (therefore) inexplicable. There would be no reasonable explanation that God could provide as to why one outcome was actualized rather than the other. And the same, I believe, would go for any choices made by his creatures IF such choices were "free" in the libertarian sense. 

If it is uncertain to God how a human or angelic being will exercise their libertarian free will - if God is unable to know with certainty the outcome of such a volitional event - then the being's choice would be a purely random event, absolutely speaking. It would not be random and inexplicable merely in the sense that no finite being with limited knowledge could predict it. No, it would be random and inexplicable in that not even God himself could predict it. And if God himself could not predict such a volitional event and know with certainty what the outcome would be, a reasonable explanation as to why one choice was made rather than another would be impossible, even for God. The volitional event and its outcome would be inexplicable and utterly random in nature. Thus, in the attempt to relieve God of the responsibility for evil in the world and "free" people from his absolute control over all things, those who believe in "libertarian free will" end up making us all slaves to pure chance and randomness.

Mr. Farwell goes on to say, "God did a very difficult thing in giving His creation a great amount of liberty, it proved very costly, for many times God was grieved (even to the point of wiping out all but eight people in a flood) as only a Good and Loving Being could be when His creatures misuse their gifts and become lost, and relinquish some of their power to others."

It would seem to be Mr. Farwell's belief that God's being described as grieving or regretting the decisions of his creatures supports his position that they have "libertarian free will." The example Mr. Farwell uses is the regret/grief God is described as having in response to the wickedness of mankind prior to the flood. Now, it would seem that Mr. Farwell is a proponent of the philosophical/theological position known as "Open Theism" (or is at least sympathetic towards this position). According to Open Theism, much of the future is "open" (i.e., uncertain) from God's perspective until human and angelic beings exercise their "libertarian free will." According to Open Theism, much of the future depends on the "free will" choices of humans and angelic beings for its becoming "settled." Until then, the future is "open" and only POSSIBLY this way or that way - not just from the relative perspective of human and angelic beings (which would be the case even if the future was settled from God's perspective), but from the absolute perspective of God himself. However, even an Open Theist would have to admit the absurdity of thinking that, after Adam and Eve failed to resist a single temptation from Satan in the garden of Eden, God would have expected subsequent generations of human beings to fare any better under much less ideal and favorable circumstances. 

Scripture affirms that God declares "the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10), that all is "out of" and "through" God (Rom 11:36), and that God is operating "all things in accord with the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:10). This being the case, we can conclude that God knew how corrupt mankind was going to become in Noah's day before he created mankind, or even before he created the heavens and the earth. Nothing that took place prior to the flood took God by surprise, or was in any way contrary to his expectation. 

What then of God's being represented as grievously regretting his decision to make man? This is likely an example of the literary device known as anthropomorphism. God's "regret" should not be understood any more literally than what we read in Gen 2:9 (where God is represented as being ignorant of Adam's location in the garden of Eden), Gen 9:13-17 (where God sets the rainbow in the sky in order "to remember the age-abiding covenant" he made with Noah), or Gen 18:20-21 (where God speaks as if he doesn't have full knowledge of the past or present). God is described as regretting his decision to create mankind to give emphasis to the radical wickedness and corruption of mankind at this time and to the unexpected, cataclysmic event that was about to transpire to remedy this problem.

Moreover, it should be noted that, according to Mr. Farwell's view, it was always a possibility to God that mankind would become as evil as they became prior to the flood. And yet God (according to Mr. Farwell) apparently valued man's "libertarian free will" enough to take that risk! Thus, the God of Libertarian Free Will/Open Theism allowed for this possibility when he willed to create a world in which such a possibility might be actualized. In order to achieve what he viewed to be a greater good, he preferred that such a thing be possible rather than not possible. Thus, God is just as much an"end justifies the means Deity" according to Mr. Farwell's position as he is according to the position that he opposes. According to Mr. Farwell's position, there would have been no evil apart from God's decision to give his creatures "libertarian free will." 

Apparently, God valued the existence and exercise of such "freedom" more than he valued a world in which evil could not and would not be actualized, and thus considered the creation of beings with this sort of "freedom" worth the risk of evil being actualized in every possible way in which it has been (and will be) actualized. According to Mr. Farwell's view, then, our having libertarian free will is a "greater good" that justifies the possibility of (what he would probably consider to be) gratuitous evil. God's creating a world in which gratuitous evil is possible should, therefore (according to Mr. Farwell's view), be considered a necessary means to an end - i.e., the realization of a "greater good" that could not be realized apart from the existence of libertarian free will (and thus apart from the possibility of gratuitous evil). 

According to what Mr. Farwell seems to believe, God's plan and expectation when he created the heavens and the earth was that his creation would remain forever free from sin. If this is the case, then we have a sad and pathetic God indeed - a God who is more deserving of our pity than our praise. For if this were God's plan and expectation, then he experienced - and is continuing to experience - the greatest disappointment imaginable. And not only that, but we would have no good reason to put our trust in God. We could have no assurance that the ultimate redemptive purpose of God will ever be accomplished if anything has ever happened contrary to his plan and expectation - especially if that which was contrary to his plan and expectation was the introduction of sin and evil into the universe. If, however, God's sovereign plan all along was that sin and evil would enter his creation, remain for a time, and then be abolished through the redemptive work of his Son, then his plan is truly the expression of a perfectly wise, competent and good Being.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Case Against the "Acts 28:28" Dispensational Position (Part 2)

Objection: "Paul tells the Jews in Rome that it was on account of the "hope of Israel" that he was in chains (Acts 28:20). The hope of Israel is the millennial kingdom, and is not the hope of the body of Christ." 

Response: Paul was first put in chains (and thus became a prisoner) in Jerusalem, two years before arriving in Rome (Acts 21:33). Shortly after this, he was given the opportunity to speak to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (Acts 23:1). There, he declared to them, "...of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question" (Acts 23:6). Again, in Acts 24:14-15, Paul declared to Felix in his defense against the charges of the Jews, "I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law and written in the prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust." From these verses it is evident that the "hope of Israel" to which Paul was referring in Acts 28:20 is simply the resurrection of the dead - not the millennial reign of Christ. But being raised from the dead by God is not a hope that is exclusive to Israel. This is the hope of believers within every administration, both before and after Paul's imprisonment. Paul was simply emphasizing the common ground (the hope of the resurrection) that he had with the unbelieving Israelites to whom he spoke. 

Objection: "Paul was preaching about the Millennial Kingdom until the very last chapter of Acts 28. In Acts 28:23 we read, "Now setting aside a day for him, more came to him in the lodging, to whom he expounded, certifying to the kingdom of God, besides persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and the prophets, from morning till dusk."

Response: There is absolutely nothing said about Paul's "preaching about the Millennial Kingdom" in Acts 28:23. Paul was talking to these Jewish men about the kingdom of God and who Jesus is. Both of these subjects can be found in Paul's prison epistles, so why think Paul is "preaching about the Millennial Kingdom" here? Since it was Jewish men to whom he was speaking, Paul appropriately used the law of Moses and the prophets in his attempt to persuade them concerning Jesus (i.e., concerning his identity as the Christ and Son of God). But so what? There is nothing about Paul's evangelistic efforts here that is in any way inconsistent with the administration of the grace of God that was given to him. Jesus' being the Christ, his being of the seed of David and his resurrection was according to Paul's evangel both before and during his imprisonment (2 Tim 2:8-9). So how is Acts 28:23 in any way supposed to support the view that Paul was "preaching the Millennial Kingdom" at this time? We have, instead, good reason to believe that Paul was hoping that these Jews would (after being persuaded concerning who Jesus is) believe his evangel of the uncircumcision (as Paul himself had believed it), become members of the body of Christ (where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus" - Gal. 3:28; cf. Col. 3:11), and deem the things that Paul once considered a "gain" (i.e., his status as an Israelite) a "forfeit" (Phil. 3:4-8).

Objection: "The believers before Acts 28:28 were said to be "of Abraham's seed, enjoyers of the allotment according to the promise" (Gal 3:29). This means the Gentiles during this period of Paul's ministry were being grafted into Israel and inheriting Israel's promises (i.e., the prophesied Israelite kingdom)." 

Response:  What did Paul mean by the phrase "Abraham’s seed?" Verse 7 answers that question for us: "Know, consequently, that those of faith, these are the sons of Abraham." Whoever is Christ's by faith is (figuratively speaking) a "son of Abraham" and thus "of the seed of Abraham." The same point is made in Romans 4:9-12. Abraham is the "father" of all who believe, whether they are circumcised (Israelites) or uncircumcised (Gentiles). But what "promise" does Paul have in view here? Well, in Galatians 3:14 we read of "the promise of the spirit through faith." This is the promise that Paul has in view. But what is it? It is none other than the "blessing of Abraham" referred to in the first part of v. 14. And this "blessing" is none other than justification - i.e., the righteousness of God that comes by faith, by which a believer is made worthy by God of eonian life. And the faith by which Abraham was justified was given to Abraham before his circumcision, not after. It thus has nothing to do with Gentiles inheriting the prophesied Israelite kingdom. 

Objection: "But justifying faith in Galatians 3:1-6 is inseparably connected with miracles. That isn't true today, so it follows that a dispensational change took place sometime after Paul wrote to the Galatians - i.e., after Acts 28:28."  

Response: The justifying faith referred to in Galatians 3:1-6 is not inseparably connected with miracles. Was justifying faith connected with miracles at one point during Paul's ministry? Yes - but not "inseparably" so. It was simply connected with miracles for a certain period of time, and then ceased to be so. The same kind of justifying faith Paul is referring to in Galatians 3 is found in Genesis 15:6 as well (to which Paul refers), and nowhere is it said to involve miracles. Paul has in view the same kind of justifying faith in both places. So it cannot be the case that such faith is "inseparably connected with miracles." It was simply connected with miracles at one point, and for a reason that does not involve any so-called "dispensational change" at Acts 28 (for there was no such change at this time). Moreover, the gospel of the uncircumcision by which the nations were justified when Paul wrote to the Galatians is the same gospel by which the nations were justified after his imprisonment, and this faith isn't "inseparably connected with miracles" anymore than Abraham's faith was before he was circumcised. So why were miracles being produced by those who believed Paul's gospel when he wrote Galatians, but aren't being produced today? See below. 

Objection: "The Body of Christ in First Corinthians 12 is inseparably connected with gifts. That's not true today; thus, the Body of Christ that exists today is a different Body than that which existed when Paul wrote this letter. Do members of the body of Christ believe they have the power to speak in tongues (a sign to Israel), heal the sick, prophesy, take up serpents (as PAUL did - Paul fulfilled Mark 16:18 in Acts 28:3) and drink deadly poisons and not get hurt? If no is your answer, why not?"

Response: The body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12 is nowhere said to be "inseparably connected with gifts." Paul's ministry one year before his imprisonment and one year after it involved the same gospel and the same body of Christ. The spiritual gifts given to Paul and those who believed Paul's distinct gospel (the "evangel of the uncircumcision") were signs to the circumcision that God was doing a new work through Paul to build a new thing: the body of Christ. Tongues were a sign for those among the circumcision who did not believe God was working through Paul and the Gentiles who believed his gospel (1 Cor. 14:22). Paul's miracles (both the miracles he performed himself and the supernatural gifts that were given to others through him) were the signs of his special apostleship from the Lord (2 Cor. 12:12; Gal 2:7). Without such supernatural signs, neither Peter, the saints in Jerusalem, nor any other Israelite would have been assured that God had commissioned Paul to bring salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 15:12; 22:21).

In connection with this point, it was the spiritual gifts possessed by the apostles that enabled the Scriptures to be both written and identified by believers at this time (1 Cor. 14:37). The closer we get to Paul's completion of the inspired canon of Scripture (which took place during his imprisonment), the less miraculous activity we find taking place (2 Tim 4:20). But even in 1 Timothy we still read of the "laying on of hands" (1 Tim 5:22; cf. Acts 19:4-6; 2 Tim 1:6-7). Once all Scripture was complete and the canon was established, there was no more need for further supernatural manifestations of the spirit. Paul knew that the miraculous gifts would not last among the body of Christ and, as early as his epistle to the Corinthians, began immediately preparing the body of Christ for the time when they would vanish (1 Cor. 13:8). Only faith, hope and love were going to remain. Remain among whom? The body of Christ, of course! The body of Christ referred to in this epistle did not vanish when the supernatural gifts did. It simply attained to a greater level of maturity. Certain gifts disappeared, yes, but the body of Christ itself did not.

That the body of Christ underwent a process of growth into further maturity as the Scriptures were being completed is evident from Ephesians 4, where the only gifts in the body of Christ referred to are those of being apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Notice how the supernatural gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:28-29 (such as the power to heal and speak in tongues) are conspicuously absent. And even those who believe that the gifts of prophecy or evangelism or teaching were not present in the body of Christ when Paul wrote Ephesians must admit that they were present in the body of Christ at one point, since Paul says that these particular gifts were given "toward the adjusting of the saints for the work of dispensing 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..." (4:12-13). Similarly, Paul speaks of there being both apostles and prophets within the body of Christ in Eph 3:5. Again, certain gifts disappeared in between Paul's writing to the Corinthians and his writing to believers from prison, but the body itself continued, simply growing in maturity.

Objection: "In Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, the "body of Christ" to which Paul referred was a local body only. Christ was not the head of this body. The head of this body is composed of some of the members of the Corinthian church ("The eye cannot say to the hand...")."
 
Response: In 1 Cor. 12:14-22, Paul was obviously not saying that certain believers in Corinth were literally an eye or a hand or a nose or an ear or a foot. But neither was Paul saying that any of the believers to whom he wrote should - or could - be figuratively identified with any of these parts. There is no indication that Paul expected any of his readers to begin asking themselves, "Am I an eye? Or a hand? Or a nose?" Paul was simply using these various body parts as part of an illustration to make a more general point. Just as all the members of a literal human body perform different but important functions that contribute to the well-being of the whole body, so it is with those who are members of the body of Christ. The point that Paul is making through the use of his illustration is the only point of the illustration. He was not suggesting that some of the Corinthians were figuratively eyes, some ears, a nose (etc.). Thus, it simply does not follow that the one body of Christ referred to in this epistle (into which Paul had been spiritually baptized, and of which he said the Corinthian believers were all members, individually) can't be the one body referred to in Ephesians, of which Christ is the head. To argue otherwise is to read more into Paul's illustration than he intended his readers to do. 
 
Moreover, based on what Paul says in his epistle to the Corinthians, there is no more indication that the body of Christ of which the Corinthians were "members individually" was a local body than that the body of Christ of which believers were members after his imprisonment was a local body. This, I believe, has to be read into the text. In 1 Cor. 12:13, Paul states, "For in one spirit also WE ALL are baptized into ONE BODY, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and all are made to imbibe one spirit." Notice that Paul included himself as being baptized into the same body as that into which the believers to whom he wrote had been baptized! Not only this, but Paul also includes himself as being a member of the same body of Christ as that of which the Roman believers were members (Rom. 12:5). And Paul no doubt could've said the same thing to other groups of believers in other cities as well (e.g., "for in one spirit also we all are baptized into one body..."). So if there were as many "bodies of Christ" at this time as there were groups of believers in various cities, then Paul must've been spiritually baptized into, and been a member of, all of them! But that, to me, is simply absurd. It seems much more likely that there was simply one body of Christ that existed both before and after Paul's "Acts ministry" (and of which the Roman and Corinthians believers - along with believers in other cities - were all members), and that this one body was simply growing in maturity as more truth was revealed to Paul and made known to those to whom he wrote.
 
Objection: "In Corinth, those who were members of the body of Christ had different rankings ("First, apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers..."). But in Ephesians, members of Christ's body are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the celestials. This means that the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians is distinct from the body of Christ spoken of in Ephesians." 

Response: Assuming that the numbering Paul gives in 1 Cor. 12:28 is according to importance rather than chronological inclusion into the body of Christ (i.e., the order in which they were added to the body), this would in no way be inconsistent with every member having an equal share of the spiritual blessings Paul refers to in Ephesians 1. For even in Ephesians, not every member of the body was an apostle or a prophet or an evangelist or a pastor or a teacher (Eph 1:1; 4:11-12), and yet every member, without distinction, was spiritually blessed with every spiritual blessing in the celestials (Eph 1:3-4). Paul said that these different gifts/roles within the body of Christ (e.g., pastors, teachers, evangelists) were given "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until [all members of the body] attained to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 3:11-13). Each part of the body, when working properly, was designed by God to "make the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (v. 16). But the spiritual blessings with which they were blessed in the celestials were distinct from the role or function each member had in the body of Christ (and whatever "ranking" these roles may or may not have had). 

Thus, since every believer after Paul's imprisonment was equally blessed with every spiritual blessing in the celestials - and that, irrespective of whatever distinctive function/role one may have had within the body at the time Paul wrote - then the same could be said of the believers in Corinth at the time Paul wrote to them. Regardless of what one's role or function may have been (or how it may or may not have been "ranked" in importance by Paul) every member could still be said to have been equally blessed with every spiritual blessing in the celestials. No matter what other distinctions there may have been (as far as their role/function was in the body at that time), there was no distinction with regards to the spiritual blessings they had in the celestials. The role or function a member had in the ecclesia must be kept distinct from the spiritual blessings in the celestials that all believers shared without distinction. 

Objection: "In Romans 1:16, we read that 'the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.' This means that, during Paul's Acts ministry, Israel, as a nation, had not yet been set aside by God, and that Israelites had precedence over the Gentiles."  

Response: Romans 1:16 is not a command to go to the Jew first with the evangel, but simply a statement that it did. Elsewhere in Romans, Paul is clear that, with regards to God's present dealings with humanity, there was no distinction between Jew and Gentile: "For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him" (Rom 10:12). It's true that, throughout Paul's ministry as recorded in Acts, it was Paul's manner to speak the word of God to Israelites first. On three separate occasions, Paul states that he was turning to the Gentiles after having already testified to the Jews of the kingdom of God (and seen it largely rejected by them): 

"It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eonian life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles." Acts 13:46 

"And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”" Acts 18:6 

"Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God was dispatched to the Gentiles; they will hear." Acts 28:28 

Paul's proclaiming Christ to the Jews first was most likely done out of his deep love for his brethren according to the flesh (Romans 9:1-5; 10:1). It was his love for the Jewish people that made it "necessary" to him to go to them first, not a command from God (for such a "command" is nowhere spoken of in Paul's commission from Christ). 

Moreover, it is important to note that Paul does not say that the Jew was "first" within the body of Christ. In fact, during this time of Paul's ministry, Paul said that Jews and Gentiles were "one" in Christ! Within the body of Christ, people were understood to be "new creations" and were no longer regarded "according to the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16-17). All "fleshly" distinctions (whether ethnic, sexual or socio-economic) became irrelevant: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28; cf. Col. 3:11). What Paul said concerning Gentiles in the body of Christ in his epistle to the Ephesians (e.g., Eph. 3:6) was just as true of the believers to whom he wrote in Rome and Corinth: whether Jew or Gentile (or slave or free, or male or female), all members of the body of Christ are "fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the evangel." Thus, even before Paul's imprisonment, the status of an Israelite prior to joining the body of Christ (where circumcision would be an advantage to him in the eon to come if he kept the law) was not the same as their status within the body of Christ (where circumcision was of no advantage whatsoever). 
 
Objection: "The olive tree of Romans 11 symbolizes Israel (see Jeremiah 11:16). Thus, Paul is speaking of Gentiles being grafted into Israel and becoming heirs of the Israelite kingdom promises." 

Response: First, it's important to note that the "green olive tree" in Jeremiah 11:16 is a figure for the southern kingdom of Judah. But the olive tree in Romans 11 is not a figure for the kingdom of Judah or national Israel. If this tree symbolized national Israel, then it would mean that the Gentiles being "grafted into" this "tree" were becoming Israelites. But in order for a Gentile to become an Israelite, circumcision and law-keeping was necessary. But Paul's gospel and administration of grace was contrary to Gentiles having to become Israelites in order to be justified. So the olive tree in Romans 11 can't symbolize Israel. While Jeremiah and Paul are using similar imagery, we simply can't understand Paul's symbolism in light of Jeremiah 11:16. It just doesn't work. According to Paul, the branches that were being broken off represented Israel as a nation. She is not the tree itself, but the branches which are being removed so that Gentile nations may be grafted in.  

I believe Paul is using the figure of an olive tree to represent a place of witness/divine revelation. Concerning this "witness" or "divine revelation" view of the "olive tree," Gary Johnson notes: 

The olive tree identifies God's witnesses...those through whom God is working and revealing Himself. When He formed Israel, He made her a witness to the world and it was through her that God would reveal Himself through. The Israelites who did not believe were cut off of this tree of witness because they were not doing their job. This goes along with Paul’s definition of who a true Israelite is in Romans 9:8. Having Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as your ancestor meant nothing if you didn’t put your faith in the Messiah. (http://www.midactstruths.com/romans-bible-study/romans-bible-study-lesson-47/)
 
Similarly, A.E. Knoch wrote that the branches of this olive tree "figure God's means of illuminating" this dark world. He goes on to say,
 
Salvation is of the Jews. And so is all divine illumination. The Sacred Scriptures which have come to us through them are the only source of heavenly light in this dark world. In the Tabernacle and the Temple all earthly light was excluded by heavy curtains, and olive oil provided the only illuminant. That is why the olive tree figures God's revelation, given to Israel. During the era of the book of Acts, Israel not only rejected the evangel for themselves, but they refused to herald it to the nations. Hence, in a figurative sense, they are as boughs broken off from the olive tree. In their place other nations have been grafted in. It is important to note that, in this context we are dealing with nations, not individuals. In this administration, Israel as a nation is not a light bearer. Various other nations have been, especially Germany in the Reformation, and Britain in the last few centuries. (http://www.theheraldofgodsgrace.org/Knoch/RefuseTheRefuse.htm)
 
While I favor the above view, another possibility (which is consistent with the above position) is that the olive tree simply symbolizes the place of blessing and favor shared by all the saints of every administration. If this is the case, then the olive tree represents the same thing that Paul elsewhere describes as a building (Eph 2:19-22). On these verses from Ephesians, A.E. Knoch notes,
 
"Here we have our relation to the saints of other economies defined. All saints, whatever their peculiar position, have three things in common. They all are under God's government; all belong to His family; all are His dwelling place. These do not define the blessings which are our special privileges, but those which we share with the saints of every other administration."
 
Due to unbelief (stumbling, transgression) God broke off national Israel (natural branches) from this "olive tree" - i.e., from the place of witness/testimony they once enjoyed on the earth - with only a small remnant remaining in the "tree." God then began grafting the nations (the "wild olive tree branches") into the tree, thereby making them God's witnesses, and the ones through whom God would be illuminating the darkness of this world with divine truth and revelation. Their being grafted in was a direct result of Israel's being broken off. Along with the fact that the Gentiles who believed Paul's gospel did not need to be circumcised, this is further proof that the Gentiles to whom Paul wrote were not under the new covenant. The new covenant is, of course, a covenant specifically said to be between God and national Israel (the house of Israel and house of Judah). Those Gentiles who believed Paul's gospel - and who thus became members of the body of Christ and received a celestial allotment (1 Cor. 12:13, 27; 2 Cor. 5:1-8) - now occupy the place of witness and testimony on the earth which had previously been held by Israel. But they enjoyed this privileged position apart from the mediation of Israel, and apart from their being under any covenant that God made with Israel.
 
Objection: "In Romans 15:12, Paul quotes Isaiah, which speaks of the Gentiles being ruled by the Messiah, and in their hoping in the Messiah. This refers to events during the Israelite kingdom on earth. It's not a reference to Gentiles in the body of Christ."
 
Response: In Romans 15:8-12, Paul is simply reminding his readers that, even before his being commissioned as the Apostle to the nations, it had been prophesied that the nations would have a hope (or expectation) in Christ. And if this fact was all that Paul made known to his readers concerning the Gentiles (i.e., before his imprisonment), then this would at least be consistent with (although not necessarily supporting) the "Acts 28" dispensational position. But that's not the whole story. It's important to note that, according to Isaiah, the Gentiles who would come to rely on the Messiah would have to be circumcised as a token of their loyalty to Israel and her Messiah. For a Gentile to be allowed to share in Israel's blessing during the millennial reign they must be circumcised. What was unheard of and absent from the Hebrew Scriptures - but which was part of the mystery made known to Paul even BEFORE his imprisonment (Rom 16:25-26) - was that the Gentiles (and not just any Gentiles, but UN-circumcised Gentiles!) would be blessed as a result of Israel's defection rather than by their rise and preeminence. 
 
Objection: "In Romans 15:16, Paul called himself a priest. This is because he was still a minister of the new covenant during the Acts period (2 Cor. 3:6)."
 
Response: In Romans 15:16, Paul says he was "acting as" or was "like" a priest. The allusion seems to be to the priests slaying and offering up sacrifices under the law. Paul was a "priest" in a figurative (not a literal) sense; the sacrifices he offered up were not slain animals, but (figuratively speaking) those among the nations who'd believed his distinct gospel and had thus been conciliated to God and become new creations in Christ. While they may not have fully understood or realized it yet, the believers to whom he wrote - those who had believed his gospel - had a celestial rather than a terrestrial allotment. They were not under the new covenant, and Paul was not a mediator of the new covenant. Under the new covenant, blessing is to come to the nations through Israel as the channel. But in Romans, Paul reveals that it is because of the temporary "casting away" of Israel that the world (those among the nations who are believing Paul's evangel) is being conciliated to God (Rom 11:12-15).
 
With regards to the "covenant" mentioned in 2 Cor. 3:6, this should not be understood as the new covenant made with Israel. Paul is speaking figuratively here, since God's relationship with those who believed Paul's gospel believers had a good deal in common with God's relationship with those who believed the gospel of the circumcision. To quote Martin Zender:
 
"Notice Paul doesn't say "THE new covenant," but rather "A new covenant." This is neither the Old Covenant nor the New Covenant of Israel (we are under neither covenant). It is a figurative covenant in which God blesses the nations IN A LIKE MANNER as He will bless Israel in the New Covenant. What manner is that? In the New Covenant, God fulfills both sides of the covenant "deal"--His side and Israel's side. God fulfills everything for us as well, so we are dispensers of a covenant that is LIKE Israel's new covenant, but it isn't LITERALLY it. But Paul calls it a new covenant to RELATE IT to Israel's covenant." (http://www.martinzender.com/QA.htm)
 
Objection: "The 'mystery' or 'secret' that Paul had in view in Romans 16:25-26 has nothing to do with the body of Christ or the present "administration of the grace of God" (Eph 3:1-7), since Paul says this 'secret' was manifested through "prophetic scriptures" (i.e., the Hebrew scriptures or 'Old Testament')."
 
Response: Actually, the exact opposite is the case. Unlike what Peter says in Acts 3:21-24 (concerning "all the things which God speaks through the mouth of His holy prophets who are from the eon"), the secret or mystery that Paul has in view in Romans 16:25-26 had been kept hidden ("hushed") during "times eonian." It was not manifested until Paul was called by Christ (Gal 1:1, 11-16). But what then are the "prophetic scriptures" to which Paul refers in v. 26? Answer: Paul is referring to his own writings! It is Paul's epistles which are the "prophetic scriptures" through which the "revelation of the secret" was being "made known to all nations." Paul clearly understood that what he wrote was inspired and prophetic scripture (1 Cor. 14:37). 
 
Concerning this, A.E. Knoch notes: 
 
The conciliation was not made known through the ancient prophets, but through prophetic writings, such as this epistle [to the Romans] and 2 Corinthians. It is of principle importance that we see the point the apostle makes here, for otherwise we shall not appreciate the unique, distinctive character of the conciliation, which is first set forth in this epistle. The teaching of the fifth to the eighth chapters and especially the eleventh chapter is absolutely unknown in the prophets. In the latter all blessing comes to the nations through Israel as the channel. This conciliation comes because Israel is thrust aside. The prophets would lead us to infer that Israel's apostasy would bar all possibility of blessing to the nations. The conciliation was a secret they knew nothing of, for it makes Israel's defection the ground of world-wide, unbounded blessing to the nations until Israel is again in God's reckoning.
 
Objection: "1 Thess. 4:13-18 should not be understood as referring to the snatching away of the body of Christ and their being taken to heaven, where Christ is now. The word Paul uses for "meet" in v. 17 (apantēsis) is used three other times in Scripture. In each instance, the one being met does not return to where they were after the meeting takes place. For example, in Acts 28:15 the word is used to refer to people meeting with Paul as he made his way to Rome. But when they met Paul, he didn't turn around and go back; he kept going on his way. In view of these other contexts in which the word is used, we should understand Paul to be saying that when believers meet Christ in the air, Christ is going to continue descending to the earth with them."
 
Response: This objection assumes that the term apantēsis doesn't simply mean "to meet," but rather "to meet and then to continue in the direction in which the person being met is going before the meeting takes place." But is it the word by itself which indicates what happens after the meeting takes place, or is it the context in which the word is used? Surely it is the context in which the word is used - and not the word in itself - which informs our understanding of what, exactly, takes place after whatever "meeting" is in view. This follows from the fact that the objection necessarily relies on the contexts in which the word is used elsewhere in the New Testament for its perceived strength. In the other examples in which apantēsis is used, the reason we know for sure what happens after the "meeting" in view takes place is because it is evident from the context in which the word is used. If the other instances in which the word is used were as contextually ambiguous as is 1 Thess. 4:17, the objection would lose all of its perceived force. 
 
This being the case, I submit that those who base their understanding of what happens after believers meet Christ in the air on Paul's use of the word apantēsis are making a single word do the work that only the context in which the word is used can do. It is the context - not the word in itself - which indicates where (or what direction) those who are meeting go after the meeting takes place. And if what is said (or not said) in the immediate context makes it unclear as to what exactly takes place after the meeting (as I believe to be the case in 1 Thess. 4:17), some other broader contextual considerations will have to be appealed to in order to determine this. Thus, while Paul's use of apantēsis in 1 Thess. 4:17 is certainly consistent with the position that Christ is going to continue descending all the way to earth after the meeting in the air takes place, it is also consistent with the position that Christ is going to descend from heaven to the earth's atmosphere, "snatch away" believers to meet him there, and then return to heaven with them in his company. The word, by itself, is simply inconclusive with regards to what is going to take place afterwards. And since the immediate context doesn't tell us what happens after the meeting takes place (unlike the three other instances in which the word is used), other broader contextual considerations must inform our understanding of what is going to take place. 
 
It should be noted that some have argued that the word apantēsis is actually a technical term for the formal reception of visiting dignitary. It is claimed that, since the residents of the city would go out to meet the guest and then accompany him back to their city, its use by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:17 supports the position that Christ is going to descend to earth after his meeting with believers in the air. The problem with this argument is twofold. First, it is inconclusive, at best, as to whether this term in fact had such a fixed, technical meaning in Paul's day (see, for example,
 
Second, even IF this word did (or could) have such a technical meaning, it would still not necessarily follow that its use by Paul supports the position that Christ is going to descend to earth after the meeting in the air takes place. The reason for this is that, while there may be certain similarities between the event described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 and the visits of earthly dignitaries to certain cities, there are also important differences that cannot be overlooked. What Paul describes in this passage simply has no exact parallel or correspondence with anything that has ever happened in this world with any earthly dignitary. Thus, any analogy that may exist between what is described in 1 Thess. 4 and more mundane events involving dignitaries on earth cannot be pressed too far.
 
Moreover, when apantēsis is used in reference to a meeting that takes place between the residents of a city and a visiting dignitary, it would be clear from the context that the destination of the visiting dignitary is the city of the residents who are coming out to meet him. The exact intention of the earthly dignitary would be clear in such a context. However, what Paul says in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 does not make it clear what Christ's purpose and intended destination is after the living and (formerly) dead believers are snatched away to meet him in the air. Is his intention merely to "visit" earth for a short while and then return to where he came from (as would be the case for an earthly dignitary visiting a city)? Or is his intention not actually to visit the earth at all, but rather to remove some of its current (and former) inhabitants, and bring them back to his place of origin (i.e., heaven)?
 
I submit that what Paul says elsewhere indicates that it is the latter. Earlier in this letter, Paul wrote that the Thessalonian believers were waiting for Christ from heaven, and then referred to Christ as "our Rescuer out of the coming indignation" (1 Thess. 1:9-10). And in the verses immediately following the passage under consideration, Paul speaks of this coming time of wrath as the "day of the Lord" (1 Thess. 5:2, 4), and assures his believing readers that they were not appointed for this time period (1 Thess. 5:9). He figuratively speaks of the day of the Lord/coming indignation as "night" and "darkness," and tells his readers that they are not of this time but rather "sons of the light and sons of the day" (vv. 4-5), and that they "belong to the day" (v. 8). Although he exhorted them not to be "drowsing" but to "be watching and sober" (v. 6-8) he closes this section with the following encouraging words: 
 
"...for God did not appoint us to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sakes, that, whether we may be watching OR drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him. Wherefore, console one another and edify one the other, according as you are doing also."
 
In other words, even if they didn't heed his exhortation to be "watching and sober" instead of "drowsing," this would not change the fact that they are being delivered from the coming indignation.  
 
Moreover, we noted earlier the contrast that Paul makes in 2 Cor. 5:1 between the believer's present "terrestrial tabernacle house" and the believer's future "house not made by hands" which is said to be "eonian, in the heavens."  Why would Paul specify the mortal body of those to whom he wrote as "terrestrial" if he believed their (and his) eonian destiny would be just as earthly as their present realm? Is it not obvious that, by specifying their present body as "terrestrial," Paul was intending to distinguish the realm for which it was suited from the realm for which their future body will be suited? Of course. But as if this weren't obvious enough, Paul goes on to speak of their future immortal body as "eonian, in the heavens." Since even the Acts 28 dispensationalist must agree that the believers in Thessalonica and the believers in Corinth shared the same eonian expectation at the time, the most natural understanding of the event Paul describes in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 is that Christ is going to return to the heavens with these believers (who now have bodies suited for the heavenly realm) in his company.
 
Finally, since I think it has been shown that the Acts 28:28 position is mistaken, we should understand that what Paul wrote during his imprisonment in Rome is just as applicable to the believers he wrote before his imprisonment in Rome. In view of this fact, consider what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20-21: 

"For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Savior also, the Lord, Jesus Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation which enables Him even to subject all to Himself."

I submit that the coming of Christ out of heaven to vivify believers should be understood as the same event described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 (for at the time described in 1 Thess. 4, it is certain that all who comprise the body of Christ are going to receive transfigured, glorified bodies at this time, and are going to be "manifested together with Him in glory" when they are snatched away to meet him in the air, as Paul says in Col 3:1-3). And since Paul tells those who believe his gospel that their realm is "inherent in the heavens," it follows that the realm of those who are snatched away to meet Christ in the air is NOT terrestrial but celestial. So although one could agree that, after the meeting in the air, Christ and the believers meeting him are indeed going to their (the believers') "city," it turns out that their "city" is also Christ's "city" - i.e., the heavenly realm from which Christ descended. 

Objection: "Rather than being among those who are to be 'snatched away' (as described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18), the body of Christ is going to appear in heaven where Christ is (which will be sometime before he descends to the air to "snatch away" certain believers). The word "epiphaneia" (which is the word Paul uses in his prison epistles to refer to the distinct hope of the body of Christ) refers to this event."  

Response: There is no reason to believe that the epiphaneia of Christ referred to by Paul in his prison letters is something different than the appearing/manifestation of Christ in the air to the body of Christ, as described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. Paul uses the word epiphaneia for the first time in 2 Thess. 2:8-9 - not in reference to something that takes place in heaven, but in reference to something that takes place after Christ has already descended from heaven and is confronting the Antichrist. So the word "epiphaneia" is completely neutral with regards to where Christ's "manifestation" or "showing forth" takes place. It should also be noted that the word Paul uses in Col 3:4 (phaneroō) is found also in 1 John 3:2. Unless those to whom John wrote were members of the body of Christ, then this is another example in which the same Greek word is used in reference to two different events (neither of which need to be understood as taking place in heaven, where Christ is now). 

Objection: "In 1 Corinthians 11:20-34, we read that the Lord's dinner was being observed by the ecclesia in Corinth. However, this is an ordinance which (like water baptism) pertained to Israel and the new covenant, and has no place in the body of Christ, during this present secret administration." 

Response: First, a word about water baptism: While it's true that Paul baptized a few people early on in his ministry (and he thanks God that it was only a few), it is clear from 1 Corinthians 1:17 that Paul was eventually instructed by Christ through further revelation to cease practicing water baptism: "For Christ does not commission me to be baptizing, but to be bringing the evangel, not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ may be made void." Now, water baptism was/is clearly an essential part of the Israelite kingdom administration. Thus, if Paul was indeed a minister of the new covenant prior to his imprisonment, then his not being commissioned by Christ to baptize would be inexplicable. The only way to account for this otherwise puzzling admission on Paul's part is simply that Paul's commission was in accord with a different administration, rather than the administration under which Peter and the other apostles were ministers.  

But what about the memorial celebration that Paul refers to as "the Lord's Dinner" in 1 Cor. 11:20? In 1 Cor. 10:16-17, Paul states, "The bread which we are breaking, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, who are many, are one bread, one body, for we all are partaking of the one bread." Here, it is evident that Paul considered all who were participating in this memorial dinner as being "one body" - i.e., the body of Christ. Did this include merely the believers in Corinth? No, because Paul was not a part of this fellowship, and yet he included himself as being a part of the "one bread" and "one body." It evidently included all who believed Paul's gospel.  

Although it is commonly believed that this memorial dinner first took place during the Passover feast (which was instituted for Israel to commemorate their deliverance), it is not the same as the Passover feast itself. The two are distinct, and need not be observed together. Paul says he accepted certain facts from Christ relating to what took place on the night he was betrayed. But did Paul accept these facts from Christ during Christ's earthly ministry, or after Christ had ascended to heaven in glory? Obviously, it was after Christ had ascended to heaven. Since the "administration of the grace of God" began with (or shortly after) Paul's calling, it can be reasonably inferred that what was made known to Paul (and which involved the memorial dinner Jesus instituted on the night he was betrayed) was not fully understood by Jesus' twelve disciples.  

Based on what Jesus himself declared on the night he was betrayed (and which Paul quotes him as saying), all that the twelve would've understood concerning Jesus' death was that it ratified the new covenant. That was the extent of the meaning that Jesus' words and actions on that night would've had for them. But Paul knew something about Christ's death that the twelve disciples didn't understand at the time, and which gave the observance of this memorial by the body of Christ a whole new meaning and significance. For Paul, the ultimate purpose and meaning of Christ's death displayed the wisdom of God which is "not of this eon," and which was "concealed" by God and designated "before the eons, for our glory..." (1 Cor. 2:6-10). It was part of a "secret" that had been "hushed in times eonian." Concerning what was accomplished through Christ's death (and later revealed to Paul), the apostle writes in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21: 

"Yet all is of God, Who conciliates us to Himself through Christ, and is giving us the dispensation of the conciliation, how that God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them, and placing in us the word of the conciliation. For Christ, then, are we ambassadors, as of God entreating through us. We are beseeching for Christ's sake, "Be conciliated to God!" For the One not knowing sin, He makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God's righteousness in Him." 

Elsewhere, Paul speaks of Christ's death as the means by which all humanity will be justified and given life (Rom 5:12-19; cf. Rom 3:22), as the means by which all humanity was ransomed (1 Tim. 2:3-6), as that which secured the exaltation of - and ultimate subjection of all to - Christ (Phil 2:8-11; cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28), and as the means by which all will be reconciled to God (Col. 1:19-20). It is evident, then, that the death of Christ had a greater significance for Paul and those who believed his gospel than was made known by Christ when he celebrated Passover with the twelve disciples. Thus, whenever the body of Christ took part in the Lord's Dinner, they were announcing the Lord's death until his coming - not merely his death as the ratification of the new covenant (which was known among the "circumcision believers," and was not a secret), but his death as the means by which the world will be reconciled to God and God will become "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28), and by which those who believe Paul's distinct gospel are justified and receive eonian life. And the "coming" (presence) of the Lord that Paul had in mind is not Christ's return to the earth to establish his kingdom (when he descends upon the Mount of Olives), but rather his manifestation to the body of Christ in the air, at the "snatching away" (as referred to in 1 Thess. 4:13-18, Phil. 3:21 and Col. 3:4). 

But what about the judgments that fell upon those who were eating and drinking "unworthily?" Is this evidence that this memorial dinner was not a part of the "administration of the secret" but rather belonged to a different administration? No. It simply means that, at this time in Paul's ministry, the "signs and wonders" that Paul mentions in Rom. 15:18-19 (as being part of his apostolic ministry "for the obedience of the nations") were still being manifested. This was never meant to have a permanent place in the secret administration that began with Paul's calling, but was merely meant to authenticate his apostleship and apostolic authority. As has been previously argued, such signs and wonders (including miraculous healings, the infliction of judgments and the power to speak in foreign languages) were never meant to be a permanent part of the administration which began with Paul's calling.

Objection: "The Corinthian believers were not members of the body of Christ referred to in Ephesians. In 2 Cor. 11:1-2, Paul makes it clear that the Corinthians were members of the bride of the Lambkin."
Response: Concerning the imagery Paul uses here, Martin Zender writes: "Note in this passage the absence of the word, "bride of the Lamb." Paul is using the analogy of a virgin (not a bride) to describe our dedication to Christ. This is an analogy that should not be extrapolated any further than Paul's immediate point, which is singleness of devotion." The analogy Paul uses in 2 Cor. 11:1-2 is thus just as applicable to believers today as it was to believers before Paul's imprisonment.
It's interesting that Paul uses similar "betrothed virgin" imagery (for a different purpose and emphasis) in Ephesians 5:26-27. As a number of commentators have noted, Paul seems to be alluding to the ancient practice of purifying women who were appointed to be consorts to kings, and to their being presented before the king. Compare what Paul says in Eph. 5:26-27 with Esther 2:12 and Ps. 45:13-14 (cf. Ez. 16:7-14). This doesn't, however, mean the body of Christ in Ephesians is really Christ's "wife" or "bride." But Paul did not seem to have any problem with using this sort of figurative imagery when speaking of the church that is (figuratively speaking) Christ's "body." 

Objection: "If, during his Acts ministry, Paul didn't expect the second coming of Christ to take place within his lifetime, then why did he speak of the Thessalonian believers as "waiting" for his Son from heaven (1 Thess 1:10)? He also expected to be "raptured" with these saints, for he wrote, "then WE WHICH ARE ALIVE AND REMAIN shall be caught up together with them in the clouds." This epistle was written circa 49-51 A.D.

Response: For Paul, the snatching away of the body of Christ could occur at any time. It would be begging the question to understand 1 Thess 1:10 to be a reference to Christ's coming to earth to set up the millennial kingdom.  As far as what Paul said in 1 Thess. 4:13-18, if these words should be understood to mean that Paul expected the snatching away to necessarily take place within his lifetime, then I submit that these words would ALSO have to mean that Paul expected himself and everyone to whom he wrote to be alive and surviving at the time, since he says, "..we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means outstrip those who are put to repose..." and "...we, the living who are surviving..." But does the objector really think that Paul was convinced that he would, without a doubt, be among "the living who are surviving to the presence of the Lord?" I doubt it. But according to the reasoning of the objector, this conclusion would seem to follow.


I think a more reasonable interpretation is simply that, because Paul and those to whom he wrote were obviously alive at the time he was writing, he includes himself and other living believers as being in, and representative of, that particular category of believers that he has in view (i.e., those believers who will be alive and surviving when the snatching away takes place). I don't think Paul expected to necessarily be in that category of believers who are "alive and surviving" when Christ comes to remove the body of Christ from the earth before the coming "day of the Lord." As far as Paul knew at this time, it could've been the Lord's will that he (as well as those to whom he wrote) be martyred prior to this event, and would thus be among the "dead in Christ" at the time.
It should also be noted that when Paul used the first person plural to refer to believers, this does not necessarily mean he included himself. 1 Corinthians 6:14 and 10:22 are examples of Paul classing himself with those he is describing without necessarily implying he is one of them.