Although (significantly) Clyde Pilkington disagrees with Welch on when the body of Christ referred to in Ephesians and Colossians came into existence (Clyde and I are in agreement that it came into existence when Paul's evangel began to be believed), both men seem to be in agreement on one important point - that those to whom Paul wrote before his imprisonment had a different eonian destiny (or "eternal" destiny, in the case of Welch) than those to whom Paul wrote after he was imprisoned. I believe this view to be mistaken. As I hope to show in this article, the passages to which Welch refers in support of his position are just as apposite and applicable to believers in Paul's evangel today as they were to believers in Paul's evangel before his imprisonment.
"Paul did not wish the Corinthians to divide their allegiance among a number of men, nor indeed, to yield it to anyone but Christ. When a virgin is engaged, she is no longer free to follow other men, but should keep herself for her affianced. So with us. Let us not follow men, but be single toward Christ. The point in this figure is confined to the singleness and purity of the espoused virgin. It must not be overstretched into an allusion to the marriage state. The faithful in Israel are the bride of the Lambkin. Israel was Jehovah's wife, but was divorced for her unfaithfulness. John the Baptist introduced the bride to the Bridegroom. His disciples left him for his Lord. The new Jerusalem will be on earth, the home of the twelve tribes of Israel. Ours is a heavenly allotment."(http://www.concordant.org/online/Concordant%20Commentary%20of%20the%20NT.pdf)
When correctly understood, the "chaste virgin" imagery of 2 Cor. 11:2 is just as applicable to believers after Paul's imprisonment as it was to believers before his imprisonment. The figurative imagery is simply meant to convey the idea that Paul wanted those to whom he wrote to have a pure and single-minded devotion to Christ, and that this was his desire for them from the beginning, when he first made known to them his evangel (notice that Paul distinguishes himself from the "chaste virgin" that symbolizes the believers to whom he wrote; Paul was the one figuratively "betrothing" them to Christ). To go beyond this simple point is to misunderstand the reason for which Paul used the imagery.
Welch: "These statements from Romans 11 are sufficient to prevent us from assuming that, because there is evidently DOCTRINAL equality in the Acts period, there is also DISPENSATIONAL equality. This is not so, for Romans declares that the Jew is still “first,” and the middle wall still stands, making membership of the One Body as revealed in Ephesians impossible."
In this quote, Welch is making reference to Romans 1:16 (where we read of the Jew being "first") and Ephesians 2:14 (where Paul speaks of the "dividing wall" or "central wall" being "broken down" or "razed"). Let's first consider Paul's reference to the Jew being "first." Does this mean that the Gentiles in the body of Christ were subservient to Israelites in the body of Christ prior to Acts 28:28? Notice that in Romans 1:16, we aren't told that the evangel was commanded to go to the Jew first. Paul is not establishing a principle of evangelistic priority here; rather, he is more likely referring to the historic reality of those who first heard and believed the evangel entrusted to him. Paul was, of course, an Israelite (2 Cor. 11:22; Phil.3:4-6). And, being the first to receive his "evangel of the uncircumcision," he was the first to experience God's power for salvation to those who are believing it. Moreover, 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 Messianic identity of Jesus and the kingdom of God (and seen this truth 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
"Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God was dispatched to the Gentiles; they will hear." Acts 28:28
This is consistent with the fact that Christ told Ananias that Paul would be carrying his name "before the nations and kings and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). However, Paul's commission from Christ was, from the beginning, one that would be primarily to the nations rather than to his own people (see Acts 22:21; 26:15-18; Rom. 11:13; 15:16). Paul's proclaiming Christ to the Jews was consistent with his commission, and his testifying to them 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 or Christ, or because Paul was laboring under a different dispensation than that under which he labored during the time of his Roman imprisonment.
But for the sake of argument, let's assume that Welch is correct. Let's assume that there was, in fact, a "dispensational inequality" between Jew and Gentile prior to Paul's imprisonment. Even if this "inequality" pertained to Jews and Gentiles in general, it wouldn't mean it pertained to those who were members of the body of Christ. When Paul said the Jew was "first," there is no indication that he had in view those who were now members of the body of Christ (as Paul was). In fact, during this time of Paul's ministry, Paul said that both those who were circumcised and those who were uncircumcised were "one" in Christ: "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). According to Paul, if anyone is "in Christ" (i.e., in the body of Christ as a result of believing Paul's evangel of the uncircumcision) there is a "new creation" (Gal. 6:15; 2 Cor. 5:17). Although Paul considered circumcision an advantage for believing, law-abiding Israelites (Rom. 2:25; 3:1), for those who are a new creation in Christ (whether Jew or Gentile), neither circumcision nor uncircumcision was considered by Paul to be of any consequence (Gal. 6:15), and, consequently, of no advantage whatsoever. Within the body of Christ, all "fleshly" distinctions (whether ethnic, sexual or socio-economic) are irrelevant (2 Cor. 5:16).
Thus, 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 Galatia, Rome and Corinth: whether Jew or Gentile (or slave or free, or male or female), all members of the body of Christ were (and are) "...joint enjoyers of an allotment, and a joint body, and joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus, through the evangel of which [Paul] became the dispenser..." 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 eons to come if he was faithful and maintained "the just requirements of the law") was not the same as their status within the body of Christ (where circumcision was not, and could not be, of any advantage whatsoever). So even if there was some sort of "dispensational inequality" during Paul's "Acts ministry" (as Welch believes), it doesn't follow that this inequality existed within the body of Christ.
"The Middle Wall of Division"
Welch: "...Romans declares that the Jew is still 'first,' and the middle wall still stands, making membership of the One Body as revealed in Ephesians impossible" (emphasis mine).
Paul nowhere states in Romans (or in any of his pre-prison epistles) that the "middle wall of division" (or "central wall of the barrier") referred to in Ephesians 2:14 was still "standing" during this earlier period of his ministry. It must be assumed (as it is by Welch and other Acts 28 proponents) that the "central wall of the barrier" was not "razed" until after Paul's imprisonment, as Paul does not actually say this anywhere. What Paul does say, however, is perfectly consistent with the position that this "wall" was "razed" sometime before he was imprisoned. In fact, there is good reason to believe that this "razing" took place when Paul's "evangel of peace" (spoken of in verse 17) began to be proclaimed to Jew and Gentile alike, and the body of Christ (the "one new humanity" of v. 15 and "one body" of v. 16) began to be formed.
As argued in my article, "The Status of the Body of Christ Prior to Acts 28:28," Paul has in view two different "eras" or time periods in this context, with regards to those to whom he wrote: (1) the era before they believed the "word of truth, the evangel of their salvation," and (2) the era after they believed. Before they believed his evangel, those to whom he wrote were "without Christ" and "without God in the world." They were walking in their offenses and sins, "in accord with the eon of this world, in accord with the chief of the jurisdiction of the air" (Eph. 2:1-2). After they believed, however, they were "in Christ," "brought near by the blood of Christ" and given "access, in one spirit, to the Father." They were "a new creation" and "conciliated to God" (2 Cor. 5:17-18). The context, then, has nothing at all to do with a so-called "dispensational dividing line" at Acts 28:28. Paul is simply referring to their life before and after they believed his gospel and became members of the body of Christ. The Gentiles to whom Paul wrote were "far off" and without access to the Father before they believed his evangel of the uncircumcision; afterwards, however, they (along with their believing Jewish brethren within the body of Christ) were "brought near" and given full access, in one spirit.
When Paul spoke of Christ as "razing" the "central wall of the barrier" and "nullifying the law of precepts in decrees" in verses 14-15, he was using figurative language. Christ had not, of course, literally "razed" a wall. What then does Paul mean by these words? He was likely alluding to the physical wall of partition at the Herodian temple (called the soreg) which prohibited Gentiles from entering into the temple courts, and to the man-made decrees that enforced such separations. We know from historical and archeological evidence that the Jewish leaders in Paul's day had decreed that Gentiles could not enter into God's sanctuary. As a visible expression and reminder of this law, a low wall made of stone surrounding the temple in Jerusalem had been erected.
We also know that this stone barrier featured various signs/inscriptions that warned unauthorized people - e.g., Gentiles - against entering the area of the temple (which the Jews thought would pollute the temple; see Acts 21:28). Concerning this wall, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote, "When you go through these [first] cloisters, unto the second [court of the] temple, there was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits: its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that "no foreigner should go within that sanctuary" for that second [court of the] temple was called "the Sanctuary," and was ascended to by fourteen steps from the first court (The Wars of the Jews, Book 5, Chapter 5, Verse 2).
In his commentary, A.E. Knoch affirms this interpretation of the "central wall of the barrier," and even provides his readers with one of the decrees inscribed on an unearthed part of the wall: "No alien is to enter within the balustrade and embankment about the sacred place. Whoever is caught will be responsible for his death, which will ensue." Inexplicably, however, Knoch went on to assert that the "law of precepts in decrees" referred to in v. 15 (immediately after Paul's allusion to the soreg) are "the decrees issued from Jerusalem by the apostles (Ac.15:20;16:4)." However, a more consistent (and, I believe, less problematic) interpretation would see Paul's reference to a "law of precepts in decrees" in v. 15 as simply an extension of his "soreg" imagery in v. 14.
It is important to emphasize that the soreg was not a divinely-sanctioned part of the temple. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures do we read of such a structure intended to keep Gentiles from entering the temple precinct. As such, the soreg was a man-made barrier, with corresponding man-made decrees. By using the imagery of the razing of this wall and the nullifying of the decrees by Christ, Paul was simply saying that the sort of separation that the religious leaders of Israel had imposed on others was completely done away with for those who had believed his evangel. Notice that Paul closely associates the razing of the wall and the nullifying of the law of precepts in decrees with the "one new humanity" in v. 15 and the "one body" in v. 16. These were realities that those who believed Paul's evangel were a part of years before Paul's imprisonment in Rome (and even before the Jerusalem council described in Acts 15). Consequently, the razing of the "central wall of the barrier" can't be understood as having anything at all to do with the "setting aside of Israel as a nation" (which is something that would've had nothing to do with the "razing" of this wall, anyway).
For as long as the body of Christ and the "new humanity" has existed, the "central wall of the barrier" - and the "decrees" associated with it - have necessarily been "razed" and "nullified" by Christ. They were done away with by Christ when the "evangel of peace" began to be believed and the body of Christ began to be formed. Within the body of Christ peace had been made between Jew and Gentile, for all are "one in Christ" and have, "in one spirit," been "baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and all are made to imbibe one spirit" (1 Cor. 12:12-13). In the body of Christ, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything (Gal. 6:15). Whether Jew or Gentile, all who believe Paul's evangel have been reconciled to God through the cross, and have equal access to the Father, in one spirit. There is simply no evidence from any of Paul's epistles that the body of Christ has ever been divided by the "central wall of the barrier" or the "law of precepts in decrees" referred to in Ephesians 2. No such division has ever characterized members of the body of Christ. We are, and always have been, a "new creation" that is entirely distinct from Israel.