Friday, May 26, 2017

Restoring Unity to Paul’s Epistles: A Refutation of Tom Ballinger’s Defense of the “Acts 28” Theory, Part 7 (The "Hope of Israel"; Grafted Into Israel?)

Ballinger: The hope of Paul’s Acts epistles was the hope of Israel. In Acts 28:20 Paul told the Jews in Rome, “For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain.”

Acts 28 proponents make much of the fact that, in Acts 28:20, Paul declared to certain prominent Jews in Rome that it was “on account of the expectation of Israel” that he was chained as a prisoner. They understand this single statement by Paul as essentially summarizing his apostolic ministry up until this point. For example, in another article promoting the Acts 28 theory, Clyde Pilkington wrote that “…from the beginning of Paul’s ministry (Acts 9:20) to the setting aside of national Israel (Acts 28:28), a period of about twenty-one years, he suffered for Israelites; but after he had delivered God’s final appeal to Israel as a nation, he became a prisoner for the “Gentiles” ([Ephesians] 3:1).”

Taken at face value, this statement by Clyde seems to convey the following idea: the primary, if not exclusive, focus of Paul’s apostolic ministry up until his imprisonment in Rome was national Israel, and that it was only after he came to be under house arrest in Rome that the focus of his ministry turned to the Gentiles (if this isn’t what Clyde intended to convey by the above statement, then I’ll let the reader judge whether or not the statement is misleading). However, the idea that Paul’s exclusive (or even primary) focus during the “Acts era” of his ministry was on Israel is demonstrably false.

Both the epistles that most Acts 28 proponents would agree were written by Paul during the “Acts era” as well as the historical record of Acts itself proves that, from the time Paul and Barnabas were “severed” to God for the work to which God had called them (Acts 13:2), Paul was faithful to the dispensation he received from Christ to certify the evangel of the grace of God among the nations (Acts 20:24; 22:21; 26:17-20). In fact, it was this very commission from Christ which ultimately led to Paul’s becoming a prisoner in Rome!

From the very beginning of his ministry to the nations (and because of this commission), Paul was met with hostility and antagonism from the Jewish people (Acts 13:44-51). And when we carefully examine the chain of events which led to Paul’s arrival in Rome as a prisoner, we discover that the catalyst for his imprisonment were two major events recorded for us in Acts 21-22 that involve Paul’s work as the apostle to the nations. First, in Acts 21, we read that Jews from the province of Asia “threw the entire throng into confusion” with the accusation that Paul had taught “all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this holy place” and had brought Greeks into the sanctuary (Acts 21:27-29). This led to the formation of a large mob and a violent assault on Paul which would’ve resulted in his death had the Roman soldiers and centurions in the area not intervened (vv. 30-32).

After Paul was taken into custody and led into the citadel, he was permitted to speak to the Jewish people and give a defense. We then read that the crowd was momentarily quiet and listened to what he had to say – that is, until he recounted to them his commission from Christ: “And He [Christ] said to me, ‘Go! For I shall be delegating you afar to the nations” (22:21). This single statement (in which Paul was quoting the Lord himself) so enraged Paul’s Jewish audience that he had to once again be removed from the scene by Roman soldiers (which, this time, was with the intent of interrogating him). From this point on, Paul becomes, for all intents and purposes, a Roman prisoner (Acts 23:18), with protective custody quickly turning into outright imprisonment and to his eventually being tried before Roman authorities.

Significantly, while he was on trial before King Agrippa, Paul declared that it was his obedience to Christ’s commission – a commission which essentially involved going “afar to the nations” - which led to his being apprehended by the Jews (Acts 26:18-21). Since it was this event which ultimately led to Paul’s imprisonment, we can conclude that his imprisonment was, from the very beginning, “for (the sake of) the Gentiles.” Thus, Clyde and other proponents of the Acts 28 position are simply mistaken in their belief that Paul’s suffering before the events described at the end of Acts was for the sake of Israel (either exclusively or primarily), and that it wasn’t until after Paul’s declaration in Acts 28:28 that Paul became a prisoner “for the Gentiles.”

But if that's the case, what then did Paul mean when he declared that it was for the "expectation of Israel" that he was a prisoner? As we'll see in the next section, Paul had in mind an expectation which, although belonging to Israel, is not at all exclusive to Israel.  

The “Hope of Israel” and the Resurrection of the Dead

Ballinger: “Paul refers to the hope of Israel 4 times in Acts.

1. In Acts 23:6 he mentions the hope as being resurrection.
2. In Acts 24:15 he mentions the hope as being resurrection.
3. In Acts 26:6-8 He mentions the hope as being resurrection.
4. In Acts 28:20-23 he mentions the hope in connection with the Kingdom of God.”

In response to what Ballinger says concerning the “hope” being “in connection with the Kingdom of God,” the expression “kingdom of God” need not be understood as referring to (or as referring exclusively to) the kingdom of God as it will exist on the earth during the eon(s) to come. In fact, the very next mention of the kingdom of God is found in the last two verses of Acts: Now [Paul] remains two whole years in his own hired house, and he welcomed all those going in to him, heralding the kingdom of God, and teaching that which concerns the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, unforbidden.” Ballinger would have to admit that the “kingdom of God” in view in v. 31 should not be understood as referring exclusively to Israel and the earth; at the very least, it refers to the kingdom of God in a general sense (irrespective of its location), with a possible emphasis on the kingdom as it will be present in the heavenly realm (see Rev. 12:9-12). This being the case, there is no good reason to see the previous mention of the kingdom of God in v. 23 as necessarily referring exclusively to Israel, either.

So what is the expectation of Israel that Paul had in view in Acts 28:20-23? I submit that it’s the same “hope” or expectation as that referred to in the other verses referenced by Ballinger. That is, I believe that what Paul had in view was simply the resurrection of the dead (i.e., the restoring to life and “rousing” of those who have died). For scriptural evidence supporting this view, see the first section in my response to Clyde Pilkington’s article, “The Hope of Israel vs. That Blessed Hope” ( In this article, I provide the following explanation for why Paul would refer to the resurrection of the dead as the “expectation of Israel” in Acts 28:20:

“Paul was (wisely) emphasizing the common ground that he had with the unbelieving Israelites to whom he spoke at this time. By the time Paul spoke to these Jewish leaders, the truth of the resurrection of the dead had become a "trans-administrational truth." Although Israel and the body of Christ will be enjoying different allotments (one terrestrial, the other celestial), members of both groups MUST first be resurrected/vivified by Christ in order to enjoy their respective allotments. It's also true that, although the resurrection had become a common expectation shared by both believing Israelites and members of the body of Christ, it was Israel's expectation long before it became the expectation of non-Israelites (to whom this truth had only been recently revealed, relatively speaking).” 

Years before Paul arrived in Rome, he had come to understand that the resurrection of the dead is a truth that pertains to the vast majority of humanity (see 1 Cor. 15:20-22). It was not something that pertained exclusively to the nation of Israel. However, despite its universal relevance, it could appropriately be referred to as “the expectation of Israel” (for the truth of resurrection could be found in the Hebrew scriptures, and without a resurrection, no Israelite who died prior to the setting up of the kingdom of God could enjoy an allotment in the kingdom). By referring to the resurrection of the dead as the “expectation of Israel,” Paul was emphasizing the central importance that it had (or should have had) to Israelites. But why would Paul state that it was on account of this truth that he had a “chain lying about” him?

Answer: the reader of Acts will understand Paul to have had in mind his judgment before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6; 24:21), where Paul himself put the resurrection “front and center” as the reason for his being judged (and, by implication, for his having to stand and testify before various Roman authorities). Moreover, by stating that it was on account of the “expectation of Israel” that he had a “chain lying about,” Paul was implying that his unjust treatment by the Roman authorities was based (at least in part) on his defense of a fundamental Jewish doctrine. Paul’s carefully chosen words on this occasion were likely (and understandably) calculated to enlist the sympathies of the Jewish leaders to whom he spoke (for it was not uncommon for Jews to be persecuted, and it wasn't that long ago that all the Jews had been expelled from Rome; see Acts 18:1-2). In any case, Paul’s words would have served to remove (or at least minimize) any suspicions these Jewish leaders may have had concerning Paul and his ministry (for although they’d apparently never heard of Paul personally, they had heard many negative reports concerning the “sect” that they perceived Paul as belonging to; see verses 21-22).

Ballinger and I are in agreement that, when Paul spoke of the “expectation of Israel” in Acts 28:20, he had in mind the resurrection of the dead; again, this is clear from multiple verses in the last six chapters of Acts, beginning with Acts 23:6 (where the word translated “dead” is plural, and literally means “dead ones”). However, Ballinger and I disagree as to the exact nature of the “resurrection” that Paul had in mind.

I believe that Paul had in mind the resurrection of the dead in a general sense (i.e., as a basic and fundamental truth that concerns every human who has died). Ballinger, however, believes that the “resurrection” Paul had in mind here and elsewhere was only the resurrection of righteous, believing Israelites into the kingdom of God – i.e., the resurrection which Christ had in view when he spoke of the “resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). However, this narrow understanding of what Paul had in view when he referred to the resurrection in the last six chapters of Acts is not consistent with the facts.

Paul didn’t say in Acts 23:6 that he was being judged “concerning the hope of the resurrection of righteous Israelites into the kingdom.” No, he said it was concerning “the resurrection of the dead” that he was being judged. As already noted, Paul’s defense of the resurrection of Christ and the dead in general in 1 Corinthians 15 makes it clear that he understood the resurrection of the dead to be a fundamental truth concerning everyone who has died, or who ever will die. What Paul was affirming before the council in Acts 23 was the basic, general truth that he knew the Sadducees denied. And the Sadducees didn’t merely deny that righteous Israelites would be resurrected; they denied that anyone would be resurrected, period.

That Paul had in view the resurrection in a general sense (rather than a specific future event limited to righteous Israelites) seems further confirmed from the following words that Paul spoke while standing before Felix: ”Yet I am avowing this to you, that, according to the way which they are terming a sect, thus am I offering divine service to the hereditary God, believing all that is written, according to the law and in the prophets, having an expectation in God, which these themselves also are anticipating, that there shall be a resurrection which is impending for both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:14-15).

It is clearly the resurrection of the dead in a general sense that Paul had in view in the passage above. Paul was not just referring to what Christ had in mind in Luke 14:14 (the “resurrection of the just”), since he referred to the resurrection of the “unjust” as well. Although Ballinger references this verse above (as one example of how Paul “mentions the hope as being the resurrection”), he apparently didn’t realize that it contradicted his view that the resurrection Paul had in mind was limited to righteous Israelites entering into the kingdom of God. Depending on how inclusive one believes the resurrection will ultimately be (and we know that Paul believed that everyone who has died or will die will be vivified in Christ), the categories of “just” and “unjust” can be understood as including every human who will ever die.

Ballinger goes on to say: ‘The hope of Israel” was to be resurrected into the kingdom of God. In fact, the only way they could get into the Kingdom of God was by resurrection.”

Here we find Ballinger involved in what appears to be a contradiction. Previously, Ballinger was laboring to prove that what Paul revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 (where we find that a certain category of believers will be made immortal without dying) should be understood as part of the “hope of Israel!” And not only this, but Ballinger also tried to argue that Christ was revealing the same exact thing in John 11:26! Thus, in the same article, Ballinger is arguing (1) that some believing Israelites (and Gentiles) will enter into the kingdom of God without dying and being resurrected, and (2) that “’the hope of Israel’ was to be resurrected into the kingdom of God,” and that in fact, the only way they [Israelites] could get into the Kingdom of God was by resurrection(emphasis mine).

I suspect that it was Ballinger’s Acts 28-tinted glasses that caused him to miss such a glaring contradiction as this. In any case, Ballinger’s blunder only further undermines the case he is trying to make in his article. The fact is that resurrection is essential for anyone who has died to be able to enter the kingdom of God. And this is the case irrespective of whether we have in view deceased Israelites, gentiles, or whether we have in view the kingdom of God on earth or the kingdom of God in the heavens.

A little later, Ballinger writes concerning this subject (emphasis mine): In [1 Corinthians 15:51] he told them they would all be changed, and the change would take place in resurrection. I Corinthian 15 and I Thessalonians 4 are “the hope of Israel.” The hope of Israel was resurrection into the Kingdom of God, which is exactly what Paul is writing about in this chapter.

Here we find even more confusing and contradictory remarks from Ballinger (as it’s been said, “error begets error”). I’d always believed that resurrection was only necessary for dead people. But Ballinger assures us that, according to Paul, the change that will be experienced by the two categories of saints referred to in 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess. 4 (i.e., those who will be dead and those who will still be alive) will “take place in resurrection”! And it is this “resurrection” (a “resurrection” that will, apparently, involve both dead AND LIVING saints in the body of Christ) which is, according to Ballinger, “the hope of Israel.” Does Ballinger not understand what “resurrection” is? Whatever the case may be, Ballinger’s view concerning the resurrection seems to be something of a muddled mess. In another place, Ballinger writes, ”Whenever Paul writes about resurrection he always uses the word “hope” (see Titus 2:13; Acts 28:20; Ephesians 1:18). The word “hope” is the scriptural name for resurrection.”

It would’ve been more accurate of Mr. Ballinger to say that the word “resurrection” (anástasis) is “the scriptural name for resurrection.” The word “hope” or “expectation” can sometimes refer to (or involve) resurrection, but they are not synonymous in meaning. The idea that resurrection is being referred to whenever Paul (or any other scriptural author) used the word “hope” or “expectation” is simply incorrect. In fact, in neither Titus 2:13 nor Ephesians 1:18 is resurrection directly in view. In the former verse, the “hope” or expectation” in view is the advent of Christ, and in the latter, Paul likely had in view the celestial allotment of those in the body of Christ. Although the advent of Christ will involve resurrection for those saints who will be dead at the time, the advent of Christ is not the same as “resurrection.” And the same can be said for our allotment.

Grafted Into Israel?

Ballinger goes on to ask the following question: How did Gentiles end up with Israel’s Hope?” Ballinger then answers his question as follows: “Because in the Acts period, they were grafted into Israel, the good olive tree, according to Romans 11:17. Being grafted into the tree, they partook of the fatness of that tree. The fatness of the olive tree was the blessings and promises made to the fathers of Israel, who were the root of the tree. One of those blessings and promises was their hope of resurrection.”

As demonstrated in a previous article, Paul’s olive tree parable is perfectly consistent with the view that there has always been a clear-cut distinction between Israel and the body of Christ, and between the eonian expectations that pertain to each group. The “root” of the olive tree most likely represents the fathers of Israel, and the “fatness” most likely represents the promises made to the fathers. It is these of which the nations (the “wild olive” bough) had become “joint participant” with the remnant within Israel (the remaining “natural boughs”). As is argued in the aforementioned article, the promise-based blessing that pertains distinctively to the nations is justification by faith (Gal. 3:5-9); thus, unless Ballinger and other Acts 28 proponents think that the nations are no longer being justified by faith, then they are just as much “joint participant of the root and fatness of the olive” today as they were when Paul wrote to the saints in Rome.

Later, Ballinger states that “We are not grafted into Israel the good Olive Tree and partake of her fatness, for the tree has been cut down!

Ballinger neither quotes scripture nor provides a scripture reference in defense of his brazen assertion that the olive tree “has been cut down.” And no wonder: there’s not a shred of scriptural evidence to back it up. It’s not even hinted at or implied by Paul. Like the Acts 28 theory as a whole, the idea that the olive tree of Romans 11 “has been cut down” is something that Acts 28 proponents have pulled out of thin air.

1 comment:

  1. I would say they pulled it from a lower back side body part rather than thin air. Good Stuff! Nathan S.