Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wrongly Dividing Paul: A Response to "Right Division Includes Paul," by Stephen Hill

In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul instructs Timothy to rightly divide (or correctly cut) the word of truth. However, if it's possible to rightly divide Scripture, it's also possible to wrongly divide it. Unfortunately, I believe that in his article, "Right Division Includes Paul" (http://thewordontheword.blogspot.com/2015/02/rightly-division-includes-paul.html), Stephen Hill has done the latter. The position I will be defending in this paper is that the letters Paul wrote before his Roman imprisonment are just as much for and to the body of Christ today as the letters he wrote during his Roman imprisonment. Contrary to the position defended by Stephen in his article, I believe that any supposed "dispensational discontinuity" between Paul's "Acts" letters and his "post-Acts" letters is nothing more than an illusion based on certain unwarranted assumptions that have been brought to the text. 

Quotations from Stephen's article will be in bold. 


In the fifth paragraph of his article, Stephen writes: "When we directly compare Paul's statements between different epistles, we notice some stark differences - especially between the pre-prison and prison epistles. Before I go over several of these differences, I will let Paul speak for himself in regards to his progression and changing message: 


... I shall also be coming to apparitions and revelations of the Lord. I am acquainted with a man in Christ, fourteen years before this, (whether in a body I am not aware, or outside of the body, I am not aware - God is aware) such a one was snatched away to the third heaven... into paradise and hears ineffable declarations, which it is not allowed a man to speak. -2 Corinthians 12:1-4 (CLNT) 


Here, Paul describes himself years after an amazing experience receiving revelation. He begins by explaining that he shall be coming to revelations of the Lord and that the revelations he had already received were not yet permissible for him to teach. Paul wrote these words in 2 Corinthians, one of his earlier letters, well before the words he penned in his later letters. Thus, Paul himself made it clear to the Corinthians that 1) he would receive more revelation in the future, and 2) he was not allowed at the time of his writing to the Corinthians to teach all he had been shown by Christ to that point. Both of these facts are vital to understanding Paul's later writings. Acts 26:16 confirms Paul's progressive revelation by stating that he was made a minister and witness both of the things he had already seen and the things that would be shown to him." 


When Paul says, "I shall also be coming to apparitions and revelations of the Lord," he's simply referring to what he is about to make known in the next verses (i.e., that fourteen years ago he was snatched away to the third heaven, etc.). He is not saying that he is going to be making known in future letters the ineffable declarations he heard while in the third heaven. Although Stephen speaks of what Paul heard as being "not yet permissible for him to teach," there is no indication that Paul believed he would ever be allowed to make known the things that he heard. He doesn't say he would be allowed to make known these declarations at some future time, and there is no indication that he ever did make them known. As far as what is said in Acts 26:16, there is no question that Paul received revelation from Christ progressively. However, this fact is perfectly consistent with the position being defended in this article, and in no way supports Stephen's position.

In Acts 28:16, Paul is recounting to King Agrippa what Christ said to him when he first appeared to him. By this time, nearly thirty years had transpired since this event. This is more than enough time for Christ to have made known everything he promised to make known to Paul when he first appeared to him and commissioned him as the Apostle to the nations. And even if Christ continued to reveal new things to Paul after he was imprisoned, there's no good reason to understand any subsequent revelation as involving an administration distinct from that which was given to Paul before his imprisonment.  


According to the Acts 28:28 dispensational theory, the administration given to Paul after he was imprisoned in Rome is distinct from the administration given to Paul before his imprisonment. This theory claims that, before his imprisonment, Paul's ministry pertained to Israel's earthly kingdom and those who will enjoy an allotment in it. After his imprisonment, however, Paul's ministry involved the disclosing of secret truths pertaining to the body of Christ and their unique calling among the celestials (some Acts 28:28 proponents believe the body of Christ referred to in Paul's prison epistles did not exist before this time, while others believe it did exist but was essentially an extension of redeemed Israel, with a terrestrial allotment). Most Acts 28:28 proponents point to the "secret" mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 3:6 in support of their position that Paul's imprisonment marks a new administration. Later in his article, Stephen writes: 


"Though Paul never said this, it is highly likely that the revelation he had received and was initially not allowed to share was the mystery God had kept hidden of the salvation of the Gentile nations and their superior allotment. The fullness of this amazing truth is not revealed by Paul until his prison epistles, although due to the transitional nature of God's program, hints of it can be seen in Paul's later pre-prison epistles - particularly Romans (see chapter 15)." 


Stephen likely has Ephesians 3:6 in mind when he speaks of the "superior allotment" of the nations. However, what I believe we have in Ephesians 3:6 is simply a concise statement of certain truths that Paul had already been making known to the nations prior to his imprisonment in Rome. Every truth that constitutes the "secret" of Ephesians 3:6 can be found in letters written PRIOR TO Paul's imprisonment. Consider the following:  


1. The truth that those among the nations who believed Paul's evangel are a "joint body" with the Jews who believed Paul's evangel (which included, of course, Paul himself) is explicitly taught in 1 Cor. 12:12-13 (cf. Rom. 12:4-5) and implied in places like Gal. 3:27-28. Whether circumcised or not, all were baptized in one spirit into the same body of Christ.  


2. The truth that the nations are "joint heirs of an allotment" is explicitly taught by Paul in Rom. 8:17 and implied elsewhere. Notice that there is nothing said anywhere in his pre-imprisonment letters which suggests that the nations who were members of the one body of Christ at this time were, with regards to their allotment, in any way less spiritually blessed, or had any sort of disadvantage, in comparison to the Jews (such as Paul) who were in the one body of Christ at this time. Nowhere are we told (nor is it ever implied) in these earlier letters of Paul that the allotment of the Gentiles who believed Paul's evangel of the uncircumcision was in any way distinct from, or inferior to, that of the Jews (including Paul himself) who believed his evangel of the uncircumcision. Instead, we find that, even before Paul's imprisonment, the nations were "joint heirs of an allotment" with their believing Jewish brethren (such as Paul) in the one body of Christ. Within the body of Christ, the circumcised had no advantage over the uncircumcised; there was no distinction. Having believed Paul's evangel of the uncircumcision, they were members of the SAME body and were heirs of the SAME allotment with Paul and any other Jewish believer who believed Paul's evangel.  


3. The third truth Paul mentions is that the nations are "joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus." Assuming (as is likely) that the promise in view is "life eonian" (see Titus 1:2-3), this truth that the nations are joint partakers of this promise with the Jews who believed Paul's gospel (which, again, includes Paul himself) is implied in all of the above verses, and elsewhere. Consider especially 2 Cor. 5, where Paul speaks of the future eonian life "in the heavens" that is in store for all who believe his gospel, whether Jew or Gentile. Although the exact expression "eonian life" is not used in this passage, it's clear that this is what Paul is talking about here. These all were given "the earnest of the spirit" (cf. Eph 1:14) and an eonian expectation in the heavens. And they together awaited "the glory that is going to be revealed for us," when we (the sons of God) are unveiled, our bodies are delivered, and we are conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:18-30).


"His earliest letters were written primarily to his fellow Jews and Gentile proselytes who attended the synagogues (see 1 Cor. 10:1-4 as an example), his mid-ministry letters were written to Jewish and Gentile believers, and his later letters were written to non-Jews who were previously "apart from Christ, having been alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope, and without God, in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Study Paul's letters chronologically, and you will discover that the pre-prison epistles are loaded with Old Testament references, while the prison epistles contain hardly any." 


In light of Stephen's comments above, it is ironic that there are actually more OT references and quotations in the letter of Ephesians than there are in 1 and 2 Thessalonians combined - and yet, these two letters were probably the first letters that Paul wrote (as Stephen himself acknowledges later). The simple fact is that, whether uncircumcised OR circumcised, the people being addressed in all thirteen of Paul's letters had believed (or professed to believe) Paul's distinct "evangel of the uncircumcision," which he was heralding among the nations (Gal. 2:2, 7). In other words, the gospel that had been believed by every one of the members of the ecclesias to whom Paul wrote was a gospel that was distinctly for uncircumcised people, and the ecclesias that were being formed through the heralding of this gospel were not "Jewish" or "Hebrew" in character.  


The new body that was being formed through the ministry of Paul was not merely an extension or subcategory of the believing Jewish remnant that was being called out of apostate Israel through the ministry of Peter and the other eleven apostles. Rather, this was (and is) a body of people who were (and are) being blessed by God apart from the mediation of national Israel and apart from the ministry of Christ's twelve disciples. Unlike the unnamed Roman Centurion in Luke 7:2-9, and unlike Cornelius in Acts 10, the nations Paul addressed in his epistles were not enjoying God's blessing because they were blessing Israel in some way, or because they feared and worshipped the God of Israel prior to believing Paul's evangel. No, as early as his first letter to the Thessalonians (which, again, was probably the first letter Paul wrote), it's evident that many, if not all, of the Gentiles who believed Paul's evangel of the uncircumcision were formerly idol-worshipping pagans (see, for example, 1 Thess. 1:9).  


In his letter to the Galatians (another early epistle), it would seem that many, if not most, of the members of this ecclesia were not only uncircumcised Gentiles, but converts from paganism (see, for example, Gal. 4:8). And what Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:1 presupposes that many of the members in this ecclesia were not even familiar with the basics of Israelite history. It would be absurd to think that any Jew (or even any Gentile proselyte who attended the synagogues) could possibly be "ignorant" of the things of which Paul speaks in 1 Cor. 10:1-4, and yet Paul declares, "I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren..." He's primarily addressing Gentiles who were former idol-worshippers who were largely ignorant of Jewish history and who may have been tempted to return to their former pagan practices (see the rest of the chapter, especially v. 14). But what about when Paul says "our fathers" in verse 1? The answer is simply that Paul's "our" does not include those whom he's specifically addressing here (i.e., those whom he did not want to be ignorant). "Our fathers" simply means, "the fathers of us who are Jews/Israelites," without any implication that those whom he addressed here were in this category. 


"As this great transitional shift was occurring and Paul's audience changing, it was vitally important that Paul only reveal what God permitted him to reveal at certain times. This is precisely why Paul's later letters are different in many ways from his early letters. In addition, God's entire program was changing." 


Stephen's assertion regarding a "great transitional shift" and a "change" occurring in Paul's audience is not just an oversimplification of the facts, but is, I believe, actually contrary to the facts. From the very beginning of Paul's calling, the Gentiles to whom Paul was commissioned by Christ to herald his distinct gospel were those whose eyes needed to be opened, who needed to be turned from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God (Acts 26:16-18) - in other words, idol-worshipping pagans (as opposed to God-fearing Gentile proselytes whose righteous living had made them acceptable to God - see Acts 10:34-35).

Although we read in Acts of Paul heralding the truth concerning Christ to unbelieving Israelites on several occasions, bringing the gospel to Israelites and to the God-fearing Gentile proselytes who blessed Israel and attended the synagogues was simply not the primary reason for which Paul was made an apostle. Nonetheless, Paul had a deep love in his heart for his "relatives according to the flesh" (see Romans 9:1-5; 10:1; 11:13-15), and it was undoubtedly this love that made it necessary for Paul, the apostle of the nations, to attempt to persuade some of his Jewish brethren of the "trans-administrational" truth concerning Jesus Christ. 


It's true that, in at least some of the ecclesias to whom Paul wrote, there seems to have been a minority of believers who were Israelites according to the flesh and Jewish in their background. Given this fact (along with the fact of Paul's own Jewish background), it's no surprise that Paul would quote or allude to the Hebrew Scriptures in his writings. Not only would we expect to find more "Old Testament" references in letters written to larger and/or more racially diverse ecclesias (as the ecclesias in Rome and Corinth likely were), but we would also expect there to be more OT references found in longer letters (such as 1 Corinthians and Romans) than in shorter letters - which, of course, is exactly what we find. But it needs to be emphasized that the ecclesias to whom Paul wrote - including the ecclesia in Rome - consisted primarily of uncircumcised Gentiles. And any circumcised members of these ecclesias became - and would've remained - members precisely because they had believed - and continued to believe - the same evangel of the uncircumcision that was being heralded among the nations.  


As was the case with Paul, the primary status and identity of the circumcised members of the ecclesias to whom Paul wrote was no longer that of "Jew" or "Israelite." At the time Paul wrote, there was "one body" into which those who believed Paul's evangel were being spiritually baptized. And it was (and is) a body in which circumcision and all fleshly distinctions were (and are) completely irrelevant (1 Cor. 12:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:16-17; Gal. 3:27-28). The same cannot be said, however, for the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, or for the believers to whom Peter and James wrote (1 Pet. 1:1; James 1:1). 


"During the beginning of Paul's ministry when Israel was the focus, signs, gifts, healings and miracles were prevalent as God was dealing with the Jews who required a sign (1 Cor. 1:22). As Paul's ministry increasingly moved toward a focus on the nations who sought wisdom (also v. 22), the signs and gifts continually dwindled until they were non-existent." 


Israel was most assuredly not the focus at the beginning of Paul's apostolic ministry (at least, not after the events of Acts 13). The sad state of first-century Israel is described by Paul in 1 Thess. 2:14-16: "For you [Thessalonian believers] became imitators, brothers and sisters, of God's churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, because you too suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they in fact did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people, because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely." 


Based on what Paul says above, it certainly doesn't sound like Israel was "the focus" when he wrote what was probably his earliest letter. Instead, God's indignation was already upon the nation of Israel. It is evident that the callousness that Paul refers to in Romans 11 had already come on Israel (with the exception of a believing remnant), and that the only thing that awaited the nation in Paul's day was the doom of national judgment, which Christ himself had pronounced upon her during his ministry. Christ spoke of the terrible judgment that was coming upon Israel as a result of her apostasy right after his "triumphal entry" (see Luke 19:41-44). In Matthew's account, Christ tells the religious leaders of his day, "Truly, I say to you, all these things [i.e., the judgment he had just spoken of in the previous verses of this chapter] will come upon this generation" (Matt 23:36). He goes on to lament over Jerusalem in vv. 37-39: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house [i.e., the temple] is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" And then the very next words Christ speaks (Matt 24:2) are a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which took place in 70 AD. 


Even the growth of the Jewish ecclesia (consisting of the believing Jewish remnant who were being called out of the apostate nation through the ministry of the twelve apostles) came to a near-standstill after the stoning of Stephen outside of Jerusalem. And this was before Paul had even set food on the road to Damascus. Every indicator at this time pointed to the fact that God was about to do something new, and that this new program would involve neither Israel as a nation nor the remnant of believing Israelites who had been called out through the ministry of the twelve apostles.  


Miraculous Signs and Gifts


But if Israel wasn't the focus at the beginning of Paul's ministry but had already been calloused by God (with the exception of a called-out remnant), how then do we explain the miraculous spiritual gifts given to Paul? I believe there is a better explanation for the giving of these gifts than that which Stephen provides. The spiritual gifts given to Paul and those who believed his evangel of the uncircumcision were signs to the circumcision (i.e., those among the Jewish remnant who were converted through the ministry of the twelve apostles) that God was doing a new work through Paul to build a new thing: the body of Christ. Tongues are said to be a sign for unbelievers; in this case, they can be understood as being a sign for those among the circumcision saints who did not believe (or would not have believed) that God was working through Paul and the Gentiles who believed his distinct gospel (1 Cor. 14:22). In addition to this, the miracles that Paul performed (including 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). These signs and gifts authenticated Paul's unique apostleship in the sight of both the nations to whom he was sent as well as the Jewish remnant. Without such supernatural signs, neither Peter, the saints in Jerusalem, nor any other Israelite would have been assured that Christ had commissioned Paul to bring salvation to the nations (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. Contrary to the claims of some Acts 28:28 dispensationalists, 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, but the body of Christ itself continued.
 


"Reading the pre-prison passage of 1 Corinthians 11, one would assume that we need to partake in the Lord's Supper. Paul clearly instructs the Corinthian believers to and even says that he received the practice from the Lord before passing it along to them. Yet, in Colossians 2, we read Paul's instruction to let no one judge us for what we eat or drink or for whether we observe religious festivals." 


Paul says he accepted certain facts from the Lord pertaining to what took place on the night he was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23). Now, based on what Jesus himself declared on this night (and which Paul quotes him as saying), all that the twelve disciples 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 the Lord's dinner 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." According to Paul's gospel, Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3). Paul explains what this means elsewhere: the fact that Christ died for our sins means that the world will be conciliated to God (2 Cor. 5:18), that all humanity will be justified and given life (Rom 5:12-19; cf. Rom 3:22), and that all humanity has been ransomed (1 Tim. 2:3-6). Christ's death secured the exaltation of - and ultimate subjection of all to - Christ (Phil 2:8-11; cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28), and is 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).  


Now, it's significant that Paul nowhere commands believers to partake in the Lord's Dinner, or states that the body of Christ has to partake in it. Participation in this dinner on an individual or corporate basis was, it would seem, completely voluntary. If an ecclesia wanted to partake in this dinner to "announce the Lord's death until He should be coming" (v. 26), they were free to do so, as long as they did so in an appropriate way. But there is no indication that they were under any obligation to do so. Thus, there is no contradiction between what Paul says in 1 Corinthians concerning the Lord's dinner, and what he says in Colossians. 


But what about the judgments that fell upon those who were eating and drinking "unworthily?" 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 (as noted earlier) 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) do not indicate a different administration, for they were never meant to be a permanent part of the administration which began with Paul's calling. 


"Water baptism is another major stumbling block when Paul's letters aren't rightly divided. Reading 1 Corinthians 1, one would be inclined to uphold the practice of water baptism in keeping with John the Baptist and the other Jewish apostles. Paul, himself, was water baptized, and states that he water baptized two individuals and one household (1 Cor. 1:14-16). Yet, in the following verse (17) he states that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the evangel. Later, in Ephesians 4, Paul lists the elements of oneness that compose the unity of spirit and lists "one baptism" (that is, spirit baptism) rather than water. Through right division, we discover that water baptism was predominantly a Jewish work, performed at the beginning of Paul's ministry while Israel was still in focus. As God set Israel aside and drew the nations in, spirit baptism reigned supreme and water baptism was irrelevant for believers of the nations. Nearly all believers today uphold water baptism as a necessary act of faith or even a saving act in itself. If they rightly divided Paul's epistles, they would understand that their baptism in spirit renders water baptism meaningless and unnecessary." 


While it's true that Paul baptized a few people early on in his ministry, it's significant that 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, I agree with Stephen that water baptism was clearly an essential part of the Israelite kingdom program/administration (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:38). But this being the case, Stephen's position becomes problematic. For if Paul's ministry at this point was "Israel-focused" and just an extension of what the twelve apostles were doing (as Acts 28:28 dispensationalists claim), then the fact that he was not 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 (i.e., the "administration of the grace of God"), rather than the administration under which Peter and the other apostles were ministers. 

The Snatching Away: For the Body of Christ, or Not?


"Perhaps the most confusing issue in Paul's letters - even for many who rightly divide them - is the so-called "rapture," or "snatching away." Paul describes this event briefly at the end of 1 Thessalonians 4. A careful reading of the passage shows that Paul believed this event was imminent at the time of his writing, for he states that he and the other living believers would not precede those who had "fallen asleep," or passed away, in being snatched away. As we know, this event still has not occurred, long after Paul wrote these words. Was he wrong, or lying, or was something else at work?" 


If what Paul said in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 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 Stephen 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 this reasoning, 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. 


Two Distinct Resurrections


It should be noted that what Paul says in 1 Thess. 4:15 concerning the living not preceding (or "outstripping") the dead in Christ at the time of the snatching away is in direct contrast to the situation involving the living and dead saints of Israel at Christ's return to earth. Nowhere are we told in either the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures that the dead saints of Israel will be resurrected before Christ returns to earth to set up his kingdom, or that their resurrection will coincide with the vivifying of people who will still be alive at the time. Long before Paul wrote to members of the body of Christ in Thessalonica, it was prophesied in Daniel 12:11-13 that the resurrection of Israel's saints will be 75 days after Daniel's 70th week concludes: "And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days."  


The "1,290 days" refers to the last half of Israel's 70th week plus an additional 30 days (i.e., 1,260 days + 30 days = 1,290 days). And the "1,335 days" refers to the last half of Israel's 70th week plus an additional 75 days (1,260 days + 75 days). We know that Daniel's 70th week will conclude with the return of Christ to earth in glory and power, since (among other reasons) it is this event which will bring the 42 month (1,260 day)-long reign of the Antichrist to an end (see Rev. 13:5; 19:19-20). Thus, the resurrection of Israel's saints will take place 75 days after Christ's return to earth - i.e., the last day of the 1,335 days spoken of by the messenger (the "end of the days"). Christ referred to this time several times in John's Gospel, calling it (appropriately) the "last day" (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; cf. Martha's words in 11:24). That the dead saints of Israel will not be resurrected until the last day of the 1,335 days referred to in Daniel (and thus after Christ has returned to earth and defeated the man of lawlessness) is further confirmed by the chronology of the events prophesied in the Unveiling. The chronology of events provided in this book (beginning at chapter 19) is as follows:  


1. Christ returns in glory and power, accompanied by "the armies of heaven" (Rev. 19:11-18).
2. The Antichrist and the kings of the earth and their armies assemble to do battle with Christ (19:19).
3. The Antichrist and his armies are defeated (19:20-21).
4. Satan is cast into the "submerged chaos," where he must remain bound for a thousand years (20:1-3).
5. The "former resurrection" takes place, and the thousand year reign of Christ and his saints begins (20:4-6).
6. The thousand-year imprisonment of Satan ends, and he is "loosed a little time."  


This inspired chronology fits perfectly with what we're told in Daniel 12 concerning when Daniel (and, by implication, the rest of Israel's saints) will be resurrected. However, neither the prophecies of Daniel nor the prophecies of the Unveiling correspond with the event involving the body of Christ that is prophesied by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-18 and 1 Cor. 15:50-53. The resurrection of Israel's saints and the resurrection of those to whom Paul wrote (both before and after his imprisonment) are completely different events taking place at completely different times. Any theory which ignores this important distinction rests on a failure to correctly divide the word of truth. 


"1 Thessalonians 4 describes Christ coming down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, resurrecting the dead in Christ first, followed by living believers, being snatched away into the clouds of the air to meet Christ. As we know, though, 1 Thessalonians is a pre-prison epistle, written early on in Paul's ministry. In fact, many scholars believe 1 Thessalonians is Paul's first letter. Our next step, then, is to search Paul's later epistles to see what, if anything, he has to say about this event. 


"When we do just that, we discover a surprising passage. In Colossians 3:4, Paul makes the new declaration that members of the Body of Christ will appear with Christ at the moment of His appearing in glory."  


Stephen's argument rests on what I believe to be a false dichotomy. Although different wording is used by Paul, there is nothing said in Col. 3:4 that is inconsistent with what is said in 1 Thess. 4. Consequently, there is nothing said in Col 3:4 that necessitates understanding this event as something distinct from the event described in 1 Thess. 4. In 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Paul writes, "...for the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." 


In these verses, Paul is describing an event in which Christ will be appearing in the atmosphere above the earth. Although we have no idea how much time it will take Christ to reach his atmospheric destination after beginning his descent from heaven, we know that the snatching away takes place while Christ is appearing, or being manifested, in this particular atmospheric location. Will Christ be appearing in glory when this event takes place? Of course he will. And will those snatched away to meet him in the air and among the clouds be appearing together with him in glory at this time? Without a doubt.  


In 1 Cor. 15:43, 49 Paul writes that the dead will be roused in incorruption and glory, and will be "wearing the image also of the Celestial." We're also told in Romans 8:18 that "glory" will be revealed for us when we're "unveiled" as the sons of God and our bodies are delivered. Paul speaks of our glorification again in Rom. 8:30. So based on what Paul says in his pre-prison epistles, we can reasonably conclude the following: There is a future event coming in which 1) Christ is going to be present in the atmosphere above the earth, 2) he will be appearing in glory at this time, and 3) certain people will appear with Him in glory at this time.  


This is essentially what Paul writes in Col. 3:4. There is no good reason to understand this verse as anything other than a reference to the same event which Paul describes in greater detail in 1 Thess. 4. Although Paul doesn't include all of the details (why would we expect him to?), what he does say in Col. 3:4 is perfectly consistent with what is said in 1 Thess. 4, and can, without any difficulty, be understood as a reference to the same event.   


"While the 1 Thessalonians 4 event would take place with Christ coming down and a series of specific elements (command, trumpet, etc.), the Colossians 3 event is described as Christ remaining in His place of glory and occurring in an instant. Rather than the Body being snatched away and meeting Christ among the clouds, it will immediately appear with Him in His glory."  


Stephen is reading certain assumptions into the text here. Contrary to Stephen's assertion, Paul does not say that Christ is "remaining in His place of glory" when the event takes place in which he will be "appearing" or "manifested." In fact, it would make little sense to say that Christ will be "appearing" or will be "manifested" where he is right now, for Christ is already appearing in glory in this location right now (we certainly have no reason to believe that Christ and his glory is somehow hidden or veiled to the celestial beings present in heaven right now). Thus, what Paul says in Col. 3:4 actually implies that Christ will be changing locations, and thus will be appearing in glory somewhere that he is not presently visible and being manifested. And where will this be? Fortunately, we don't have to speculate. According to what Paul says in 1 Thess. 4, Christ will be appearing to the body of Christ in the atmosphere above the earth (i.e., "in the air" and "in clouds").  


So contrary to Steven's assertion, Paul is not describing "two events" that are "quite different." He's referring to the same event. He simply provided more details in his earlier writing - details which answer the question of where Christ's appearing/manifestation will take place: "Whenever Christ, our Life, should be manifested (Manifested where? See 1 Thess. 4:16-17), then you also shall be manifested together with Him in glory (Manifested together where? See 1 Thess. 4:16-17)."


"By rightly dividing the passages, we realize that Paul described the seemingly imminent event of 1 Thessalonians 4 as he did because at that point it was in line with God's program for Israel and the revelation God had given Paul to teach. At that point in time, Israel was still the dominant focus in God's program and the "snatching away" was the event that would soon precede Christ's second coming to a finally repentant Israel."  


Here we find what I believe to be more unwarranted assumptions being made by Stephen. Nowhere does Paul speak of the "snatching away" as being an event that "would soon precede Christ's second coming to finally repentant Israel," or as involving Israel at all. Nor is there any indication that "Israel was still the dominant focus in God's program" when Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians.  


"As this was not God's actual, long-term plan, Israel as a whole remained hardened, the event never took place, and Paul later informed the Colossians of a previously unrevealed, future event - our appearing. 1 Thessalonians 4 remains the future expectation of believers of Israel, but the appearing Paul later revealed in Colossians 3 is now the future expectation of the Body of Christ. Thus, members of the Body of Christ who still look to the rapture look toward an event that is promised to Israel, not us. Rather, we should be living in expectation of our future appearing with Christ when He is made manifest." 


The event referred to in 1 Thess. 4 is just as "previously unrevealed" as the event referred to in Col. 3:4., since they are, in fact, the same event. Paul received his knowledge of the event described in 1 Thess. 4 from the risen and ascended Christ, not from the Law and the Prophets. Unlike the resurrection of Israel's saints (which will take place 75 days after Christ's return to earth), the vivifying of both the dead and the living members of the body of Christ together was a previously unrevealed "secret" (1 Cor. 15:50-53). As such, it was untraceable in the Hebrew Scriptures.

1 comment:

  1. It is ridiculous to think that God would become so esoteric as to require us to date each of Paul's letters in order to figure out which dispensation he is writing about. I simply cannot agree with Acts 28 proponents who seek to muddy up the waters, and be reckless with Paul's evangel by gleefully taking an axe to his letters and chopping them up further than God has already clearly delineated them.

    Specifically I cannot think of any clearer way God could inform us of two dispensations than to clearly and specifically have two different apostles "leading the charge" if you will. It baffles me as to how quickly keen and incisive minds have devolved in the wake of this heinous vandalism to Paul's evangel.

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