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.

 


2 comments:

  1. Thanks for putting this together Aaron.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks you Aaron. By scripturally backing up all your assertions, you add credence. I enjoy all your writings and appreciate the strength it adds to my convictions.

    ReplyDelete