Friday, May 26, 2017

Restoring Unity to Paul’s Epistles: A Refutation of Tom Ballinger’s Defense of the “Acts 28” Theory, Part 3 (Manifested Together with Him in Glory; The Advent of Christ)

“Manifested Together with Him in Glory”

At the beginning of his article, “What Is Your Hope?” Ballinger asks his readers the following rhetorical questions: 

“Is your hope to welcome Christ’s return as king at the Mount of Olives upon the earth (Zechariah 14:4-5)? Or, is your hope the meeting with Christ in the air (I Thessalonians 4:17)? Or, is your hope the manifestation with Christ in glory (i.e., in the heavenly places far above all heavens; Colossians 3:3-4)?”

The last two questions begin with the contrast-marking word “or.” Of these two questions, I submit that only the first question is valid. We should differentiate between the meeting in the air referred to in 1 Thess. 4:17 and the return of Christ to the Mount of Olives that is prophesied in Zech. 14:4-5. So Ballinger and I are in agreement on this point! However, Ballinger’s next “or” question invalidly presupposes that the meeting in the air described in 1 Thess. 4:16-17 should be differentiated from the event referred to in Colossians 3:4. As we’ll see, Ballinger is presenting his readers with a false dilemma here, based entirely on his own erroneous Acts 28 presuppositions.

In Col. 3:4 we read, “Whenever Christ, our Life, should be manifested, then you also shall be manifested together with Him in glory.” Like every Acts 28 proponent I’ve ever read, Ballinger believes that Col. 3:4 refers to an event that will occur in the place where Christ is, currently. But is that what Paul wrote? Did Paul say in Col. 3:4 that Christ is going to be manifested “in the heavenly places far above all heavens” (as Ballinger puts in parenthesis)? Did Paul write that Christ is going to be manifested while he is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God? No. The idea that the manifestation of Christ referred to in this verse will be occurring “in the heavenly places far above all heavens” must be read into what Paul wrote in this verse. Just like the imagined “setting aside of Israel” that Acts 28 proponents claim took place in Acts 28:28, Ballinger is simply projecting his own dispensational theory on to what the text actually says.

But what about Paul’s exhorting his readers to be “seeking that which is above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God” (v. 1)? Paul was simply exhorting the saints to keep their focus on where Christ is, presently, because that’s where our future home is (as can be inferred from 2 Cor. 5:1-8). This exhortation in no way means or implies that the manifestation of Christ to which Paul referred in v. 4 is to occur while Christ is sitting at the right hand of God.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians (one of Paul’s “prison epistles”), we read the following concerning the expectation of those in the body of Christ: ”For our realm is inherent in the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour 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” (Phil. 3:20-21). Notice the word “awaiting.” The Greek word Paul used was apekdechomai (“FROM-OUT-RECEIVE”), and it means “to wait for” or even “to wait for eagerly.” When it is a person for whom one is waiting (rather than an event), the word implies that the awaited person is not going to be remaining in the location where they are while others are waiting for/expecting them. It implies, in other words, a change in location of the one for whom others are waiting that brings the two parties closer together. The same word is found in Hebrews 9:28, where we read, “…thus Christ also, being offered once for the bearing of the sins of many, will be seen a second time, by those awaiting (apekdechomai) Him…” Here, the word “awaiting” clearly involves certain people expecting Christ to change from one location (where he is unseen) to another (where he will be seen).

I submit that the same “change in location” is implied in Phil. 3:20 as well; Christ is presently in heaven, in which our “realm is inherent.” But by saying that we’re “awaiting” him, Paul implied that we’re expecting Christ to one day descend from heaven and meet us somewhere. And this “somewhere” is the location that I believe Paul had in mind when, in Col. 3:4, he referred to Christ’s being “manifested” (and to us being “manifested together with him in glory”). But where will this be?

Having nowhere else from which to derive this information in Paul’s “prison epistles,” the Acts 28 proponent must either be agnostic or make the (unjustified) assumption that the manifestation of Christ occurs in heaven, in the presence of God. However, apart from any Acts 28 presuppositions, we’re free to view Paul’s thirteen letters to the saints in the body of Christ as a single, harmonious unit. And when we do this, I think it can be easily ascertained where the manifestation of Col. 3:4 will take place. In 1 Thess. 4:16-17 we read, “...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 somewhere in the atmosphere above the earth. And it is while Christ is present in this atmospheric location that the snatching away and meeting in the air will occur. In 2 Thess. 2:1 Paul referred to this event as “the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to him” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:14). But 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 be manifested together with him in glory at this time? Yes, without a doubt (concerning the glory of our future vivified state, see 1 Cor. 15:43, 49 and Rom. 8:18, 30.

Thus, based entirely on what Paul wrote in his “pre-prison epistles,” we can conclude the following: There is a future event coming in which (1) Christ is going to descend from heaven to an atmospheric location somewhere above the earth, (2) Christ will be manifested in glory in this atmospheric location, and (3) the saints who constitute his body (and who will have been vivified and glorified) will meet him/be assembled to him in this atmospheric location, and will thus be manifested together with him in glory at this time.  

Thus, we find that the details included in Col. 3:4 can be reasonably inferred from 1 Thess. 4:16-17. Although Paul doesn't include the same details in Col. 3:4 as are found in 1 Thess. 4:16-17 (why would we expect him to?), what he does say in Col. 3:4 is perfectly consistent with what is said in 1 Thess. 4:16-17. In other words, what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:4 and what he wrote in 1 Thess. 4:16-17 can, without any difficulty, be harmonized and understood as a reference to the same event. There is, consequently, no good reason to understand Col. 3:4 as referring to an event that is distinct from the event described in 1 Thess. 4:16-17. The event that Paul had in view in Col. 3:4 (when Christ is manifested and we are manifested together with him in glory) is, quite simply, the meeting in the air.[1]

The “Appearing” or Advent of Christ

Ballinger: As a matter of fact, the word “coming” referring to the Second Coming of Christ does not appear one time in the 7 Prison Epistles of Paul, whereas, it appears 10 times in the 6 Acts Epistles of Paul. Also, the word “appearing” referring to Christ’s Appearing to the ecclesias is not mentioned once in the Acts Epistles, but is mentioned 6 times in the Prison Epistles.

The Greek word to which Ballinger is referring by his use of the word “appearing” is epiphaneia (“ON-APPEARANCE”). Among all of the proposed definitions of the word that I’ve read, the most common element involves an appearance, or manifestation, of some sort.[2] Thayer’s Lexicon notes that epiphaneia was “often used by the Greeks of a glorious manifestation of the gods, and especially of their advent to help.” In the CLNT Keyword Concordance we read that ephiphaneia is “said to be a special term in classical Greek for the appearance of the gods.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary notes that the word literally means "a shining forth," and “was used of the ‘appearance’ of a god to men, and of an enemy to an army in the field, etc.” (http://studybible.info/vines/Appear,%20Appearing).

Concerning the meaning of the word epiphaneia, John Walvoord notes that “the addition of the preposition [i.e., epi, or “on”] gives it an intensive meaning.” He goes on to say that the word epiphaneia “has a long and interesting usage both within and outside the Scriptures. In a noun form, it was assumed by the Seleucidae in claiming to be an incarnation of Zeus or Apollo. Unlike the concept of revelation as contained in ἀποκάλυψις [“unveiling”], it has a positive and active sense of manifestation rather than the thought of merely taking away the veil. Its true idea is found in Acts 27:20, where it is used of stars appearing after being hid for days by the storm.”[3]

Among the letters that Ballinger considers Paul’s “Prison Epistles,” the noun epiphaneia is found exclusively in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus (which are commonly referred to as Paul’s “Pastoral Epistles”). Interestingly, Paul used this word only one other time in any other letter, and that’s in his second letter to the believers in Thessalonica. In 2 Thess. 2:7-9, we read:

“For the secret of lawlessness is already operating. Only when the present detainer may be coming to be out of the midst, then will be unveiled the lawless one (whom the Lord Jesus will despatch with the spirit of His mouth and will discard by the advent [epiphaneia] of His presence [parousia]), whose presence is in accord with the operation of Satan, with all power and signs and false miracles…”

As Ballinger would undoubtedly agree, the event that Paul had in view here is Christ’s return to earth at the end of the eon (i.e., what Ballinger would call Christ’s “Second Coming”). That Paul would use the word epiphaneia in reference to both Christ’s return to earth and to the event involving those in the body of Christ coming to be in Christ’s presence further confirms the fact established previously: the same Greek word could be used by the authors of Scripture in different contexts to refer to two different future events involving Christ. Thus, the mere fact that the words apokalupsis, erchomai and parousia are used in reference to Christ’s return to earth at the end of the eon doesn’t mean they couldn’t also be used in reference to an earlier future event involving the saints in the body of Christ. Even Ballinger would have to concede that the event which he sees as our present hope will involve the saints in the body of Christ coming to be in the presence of Christ (which is precisely what the Greek word “parousia” means).

But what about Ballinger’s comment that “the word ‘appearing’ referring to Christ’s Appearing to the ecclesias is not mentioned once in the Acts Epistles, but is mentioned 6 times in the Prison Epistles”? Does this fact support the Acts 28 theory? No. As stated earlier, among the letters that Ballinger considers Paul’s “Prison Epistles,” the word translated “appearing” or “advent” (epiphaneia) is found exclusively in Paul’s “Pastoral Epistles” (1&2 Timothy and Titus). For those familiar with the debate concerning Pauline authorship/authenticity of these letters (which has been questioned or denied by less conservative Bible scholars since the 19th century), this fact should raise a red flag. One of the main reasons given by those who doubt or reject Paul’s authorship of these letters is their variation of vocabulary and style (one-third of the words found in these three letters are not used in Paul’s other letters). However, those who affirm Paul’s authorship of these letters (as I do) have responded to this argument by noting that the differences in style and vocabulary can be attributed to several factors.

For example, vocabulary and style is dependent on the occasion, and as a creative writer with a large vocabulary, Paul was free to use whatever style and vocabulary he saw as most appropriate for the occasion. Paul’s use of epiphaneia rather than some other word to refer to the event he had in mind (such as apokalupsis, erchomai, parousia or phaneroo) can easily be explained as just another difference of style and vocabulary that distinguishes his Pastoral Epistles from the rest of his letters (including the rest of his “Prison Epistles”). Others have argued that the style and vocabulary that characterizes and distinguishes these letters can simply be attributed to the scribe that Paul used to write them (which some believe was Luke; see 2 Tim. 4:11). This, too, could explain why the word epiphaneia is so common in Paul’s Pastoral Epistles but appearing only once in the rest of his letters.

Another consideration which may be understood as supporting either one of these explanations (which, it should be noted, are not mutually exclusive) is the fact that the use of the word ephiphaneia in Paul’s Pastoral Epistles is not necessarily limited to a future event involving Christ and the saints in the body of Christ. In 2 Timothy 1:9-11 we read that God “…saves us and calls us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian, yet now is being manifested through the advent [epiphaneia] of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, Who, indeed, abolishes death, yet illuminates life and incorruption through the evangel of which I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher of the nations.”

In v. 10, Paul seems to have been referring to an “advent” of Christ that occurred at some point in the past. Notice how we’re told that it is “through” this advent that God’s “own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian” is now being manifested. If God’s own purpose and the grace given us in Christ Jesus was being manifested in Paul’s day, then the advent had to have taken place before Paul wrote. Most commentators seem to regard this “advent” of Christ as referring to Christ’s “incarnation,” or to his coming into the world in a general sense. However, another view (which I see as more likely) is that the “advent” Paul had in mind was Christ’s appearing to him on the road to Damascus (which is also when Paul was “appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher of the nations,” v. 11). In any case, if this advent of Christ is indeed something that took place in the past (as the words, “yet now is being manifested” suggest), then we find in Paul’s letters a single word (epiphaneia) being used in reference to three different times and events that each involve Christ.

Moreover, Ballinger and other Acts 28 proponents shouldn’t have any problem with the word “advent” being used in reference to the event referred to in 1 Thess. 4:16-17, since, as noted earlier, the same word was used by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:7-9 in reference to Christ’s return to earth (”the advent of His presence”). And, of course, Acts 28 proponents believe (mistakenly) that Paul was referring to the same future event in 1 Thess. 4:16-17 as he was in 2 Thess. 2:7-9. So Ballinger and other Acts 28 proponents can’t say that the word “advent” can’t be applied to the event described in 1 Thess. 4:16-17 without being inconsistent. The simple fact is that any glorious appearance/manifestation of Christ to any person or group of persons can be appropriately referred to as Christ’s “advent,” irrespective of when it takes place, or whether the appearance involves saints who are on the earth at the time of his return or saints who have been caught up to meet him in the air several years before this time.

Ballinger: If the Coming of Christ is our hope today, why doesn’t Paul mention it at least once in his post-Acts epistles? If the hope of the Acts believers was the Appearing of Christ, why doesn’t he mention it once in the Acts epistles?

Ballinger’s rhetorical questions are a poor substitute for scriptural argumentation and logic. One could “prove” any number of things according to the sort of reasoning used by Ballinger and other Acts 28 proponents. Consider, for example, the following “proof” that Paul’s Pastoral Epistles (i.e., 1&2 Timothy and Titus) were written during a different administration than Colossians: “If the expectation described in Colossians 3:4 was the same expectation referred to in Paul’s ‘Pastoral Epistles’ (1&2 Timothy and Titus), then why didn’t Paul use the word ‘manifestation’ (phaneroo) at least once in these other letters? And why didn’t Paul use the word ‘advent’ (epiphaneia) at least once in Colossians, Ephesians or Philippians? Given these striking differences in vocabulary, one must conclude that Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians belong to a different administration than Paul’s Pastoral Epistles, and that two different expectations are in view!”

Of course, this “argument” is fallacious. The fact of the matter is that Paul was free to use (and in fact did use) different words to refer to the same future event involving Christ and those in the body of Christ (and in some cases, Paul even used the same word in different contexts to refer to two different events). Ballinger’s assumption – i.e., that Paul would’ve used the words apokalupsis, erchomai or parousia in his Pastoral Letters if he’d had in mind the same future event involving Christ as that referred to in (for example) 1 Cor. 1:7, 1 Cor. 11:26 or 1 Thessalonians 4:15 - has no scriptural justification whatsoever, and seems to be driven entirely by Ballinger’s own Acts 28 presuppositions.

Ballinger: ”There is a world of difference between Christ’s Appearing and His Coming; and if our hope is His Appearing, we ought to know what those differences are.”

We’ve already seen how the same word translated “appearing” or “advent” (epiphaneia) was used by Paul in reference to Christ’s return to earth at least once (possibly twice, if we include 2 Timothy 4:1)[4], so Ballinger’s claim that there is “a world of difference between Christ’s Appearing and His Coming” is simply false. Neither epiphaneia nor any other word we’ve considered in this section (i.e., apokalupsis, erchomai, parousia and phaneroo) refer, in and of themselves, exclusively to any one event or time involving Christ. The words are completely neutral in this regard, and were used by the authors of scripture in reference to multiple events and circumstances.

Although it may be said that there is “a world of difference” between a future event involving Christ and the saints in the body of Christ and a future event involving Christ and Israel/the nations at the end of the eon, there’s not a “world of difference” between the terms used by Paul and other authors of Scripture to refer to these two events. The authors of Scripture (including Paul) were free to use the same word in different places to refer to different events, or to use different words in different places to refer to the same event. It is the task of the student of scripture to carefully consider the immediate and broader context in which the words are used in order to determine what, exactly, the inspired author had in mind (or didn’t have in mind).

Part 4: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2017/05/restoring-unity-to-pauls-epistles_38.html




[1] The fact that Paul specifies “the air” as being where our meeting with the Lord will be taking place after we’re snatched away from the earth is highly suggestive when we consider the fact that Paul referred to Satan as “the chief of the jurisdiction of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Did Paul perhaps view this great event involving the body of Christ as marking the beginning of a regime change?

[2] A minority view among scholars is that epiphaneia does not inherently and necessarily refer to, or involve, an appearance or manifestation; rather, the word is thought to have originally signified a “favorable intervention of the gods” for the benefit of their worshippers (such as the granting of a military victory). However, this view seems unlikely to me given (1) the meaning of the root word from which epiphaneia is derived (phanes) - which, according to Thayer, means “to bring forth into the light, cause to shine, to show” – and (2) the meaning of the verb form of epiphaneia (i.e., epiphaino, which means “to shine forth” or “become visible”).

Both the noun epiphaneia and the verb epiphaino literally suggest that something is being made clearly visible. The fact that the word was used by some writers in antiquity to refer to a “favorable intervention of the gods” that didn’t involve an actual appearance or manifestation of the gods does not mean the word didn’t originally refer to this. It’s conceivable that, in these cases, the word was simply being used figuratively by the author, to give emphasis to an event that was understood at that time to have been the result of divine intervention (even though there was no actual appearance or manifestation of the “gods” who were believed to have been involved in the event).

[4] It’s possible that 2 Timothy 4:1 is another example of epiphaneia being used in reference to Christ’s return to earth at the end of the eon. There, Paul wrote to Timothy: I am conjuring you in the sight of God and Christ Jesus, Who is about to be judging the living and the dead, in accord with His advent and His kingdom.” The larger context in which Paul “conjured” Timothy clearly involves a coming era of apostasy, in which people will not tolerate sound teaching (v. 3) and will have a form of devoutness while denying its power (cf. 3:5). It also involves Timothy’s heralding the word and doing the work of an evangelist (4:2, 5). Paul’s thoughts were, at this point in his letter, focused on the state of affairs that would characterize humanity in the “last days,” leading all the way to the advent of Christ at the end of the eon. As in 2 Thess. 1:6-10 and 2:6-12, the event that Paul had in view in 2 Tim. 4:1 is not, I don’t think, something that distinctly concerns the saints in the body of Christ.

Given the context, it’s my understanding that, in 4:1, Paul had in mind Christ’s return to earth, when he will deal decisively with those who, at the time of this advent (and perhaps as a consequence of the apostasy Paul had in mind), will not be “acquainted with God” and will not be “obeying the evangel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:7-9). Paul is, in other words, talking about the judgment by Christ of those who will be on the earth when he returns at the end of the eon, to set up his kingdom on the earth.

This understanding of the “advent” that Paul had in view here is further confirmed by the words “about to be judging the living and the dead.” Peter used similar wording in Acts 10:42 and 1 Pet. 4:5, and in neither of these verses does the “judging” involve those in the body of Christ. Given the similar wording in these verses and in 2 Tim 4:1, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that they all have the same event(s) and time period in view.

Another fact to consider is that, in Rev. 11:18, we find a similar reference to the dead being judged – and (in harmony with my interpretation of 2 Tim. 4:1), the judgment in view is clearly one that is connected with events surrounding Christ’s return to earth at the end of the eon (after the sounding of the 7th trumpet). So there was clearly a strong connection in the minds of the apostles between Christ’s judgment of the living at the end of this eon, and the judgment of the dead. So assuming Paul had in view Christ’s “second coming” in 1 Tim. 4:1, it would be natural for him to refer to Christ’s judgment of not only the living but also the dead, even though the judgment of both categories of people will be separated by a period of time. The future judgment of the living and of the dead is part of a single future “era,” and can thus be naturally grouped together when the advent of Christ at the end of the eon is in view.

It is in view of Christ’s return to execute judgment that Timothy needed to be doing the things Paul referred to (i.e., heralding the word, expose, rebuke, entreat, do the work of an evangelist, etc.). By faithfully discharging his service, Timothy would, perhaps, be instrumental in bringing individuals to a knowledge of the truth and thereby sparing them from the judgment that is to come upon this world during the time preceding and following Christ’s return to earth.

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