Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Refutation of “The Unity of the Spirit – 2 Evangels?” Part One


About two years ago I posted a five-part series entitled “A Study on the Two Evangels.” In this study I argued that, contrary to the belief of most Christians, there were two distinct groups of believers on the earth during the “Acts era.” I argued that each group of believers had (and has) a different calling and eonian expectation, and that those belonging to each group were called to their respective expectations through one of two different “gospels” or “evangels” - i.e., what Paul referred to in Galatians 2:7 as the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” and the “evangel of the Circumcision.” I noted what I believed to be the common ground shared by each evangel (i.e., the person and Messianic identity of Jesus) as well as the ways in which the evangels differ from each other (both in regard to the categories of people called through each evangel, and in regard to the distinct truths concerning Christ that constitute them).

The evangel of the Circumcision, I argued, simply concerns the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, and is constituted by the truth that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God.” I also argued that any other facts expressed in the heralding of this evangel were intended to point to and support this central truth. I also noted that, depending on the circumstances, Paul heralded the evangel of the Circumcision on certain occasions (i.e., in the synagogues on Sabbath days). I also argued that, prior to his being “severed” from the twelve in Acts 13, Paul heralded the evangel of the Circumcision exclusively. I further argued that, unlike the evangel of the Circumcision, the evangel of the Uncircumcision presupposes the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity, and goes beyond this shared truth by revealing what Christ did on mankind’s behalf (with the two key elements of this evangel being Christ’s death “for our sins” and his being roused from among the dead by God, as affirmed by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1-5).

Now, when considering why Paul referred to the evangel entrusted to Peter as the “evangel of the Circumcision,” it should be kept in mind that the sign of God’s covenant with Israel was (and is) circumcision. Thus, in referring to this evangel as the “evangel of the Circumcision,” Paul was emphasizing the fact that this evangel was distinctly for God’s covenant people, Israel. Conversely, in referring to the evangel entrusted to him as the evangel of the Uncircumcision, Paul was emphasizing the fact that his evangel is distinctly for the nations, without any relation to Israel as a covenant people. In contrast with the evangel entrusted to Peter (the “evangel of the Circumcision”), those to whom Paul heralded his distinct evangel did not need to be in a relationship with God based on God’s covenant with Israel in order to be called through the evangel and receive salvation. For those called through Paul’s evangel, neither God’s covenant people nor covenant membership is taken into account. No direct relation to (or relationship with) God’s covenant people is necessary in order to receive the blessings associated with Paul’s evangel.

Those called through the “evangel of the Circumcision” comprised what I believe Paul had in mind when he referred to the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), “Israel” (Rom. 9:6), and the “chosen remnant” (Romans 11:5-7). The expectation to which these believers were called is that which is associated with Israel’s prophetic program and covenant-based expectation, and will involve (1) the enjoyment of eonian life in the land which God promised to the Jewish patriarchs (which, as I argued in my series on "the sheep and the goats," will be the geographical territory of the kingdom of God on earth), and (2) an eonian allotment in the “new Jerusalem,” on the new earth.

The second group of believers on the earth in Paul’s day were those called through the “evangel of the Uncircumcision,” and comprised what Paul called “the body of Christ” (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 1:23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). Although this particular called-out company of saints came to be comprised primarily of people from a Gentile background, it was never composed exclusively of Gentiles in Paul’s day. Many – if not all – of the ecclesias to which Paul wrote included believers who were from a Jewish or proselytized background (and Paul – who I believe to have been the first member of the body of Christ - was, of course, an Israelite “according to the flesh”). Thus, one did not have to be uncircumcised in order to be called through the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” and become a member of the body of Christ. The expectation to which those in the body of Christ are called is, I believe, separate from that which was prophesied concerning Israel. In contrast with Israel’s covenant-based expectation, the expectation of those in the body of Christ will involve the enjoyment of eonian life “in the heavens” and “among the celestials.”

The doctrinal position which affirms that two evangels were being heralded during the "Acts era" has never been a popular one among Christians. I certainly wasn't taught it in the Presbyterian church in which I grew up, and I strongly suspect that the majority of the members of this relatively mainline Christian church are completely unaware that such a position even exists. When I was first exposed to it, I was pretty skeptical of its scriptural validity, and I remained skeptical (and even antagonistic toward) this position until about five years ago, when I decided to look into it further. Since then, I've grown in my understanding and appreciation of it, and have been thankful to be part of a community (albeit, one that is primarily internet-based) of like-minded believers who also understand and appreciate a doctrinal truth to which the majority of Christians (and non-Christians) seem completely oblivious. Unfortunately, however, it would seem that this doctrinal position is becoming less popular even among those in the body of Christ. There is an article that has been shared by certain believers who have come to reject this doctrinal position which is entitled, "The Unity of the Spirit - 2 Evangels?" Because this article is considered by some proponents of the "one gospel" position to be a good defense of their position, I've decided to write a rebuttal to it (the rebuttal became much lengthier than I anticipated it becoming when I started, but that's usually how it goes for everything I end up posting on my blog!). 

I’ll be referring to the author of the article as “Anonymous” since, in the version of the article shared with me, the author's name is said to be unknown (note: I've since come to learn the author's name, but since it's the content of the author's article with which I'm concerned, I'll just continue to leave the name out). The words and scripture quotations found in Anonymous’ article will appear in red.


After quoting Ephesians 4:1-5, Anonymous comments as follows:

Can the reader agree that keeping the unity of the spirit is critically connected to the word one? In fact there are seven ones, which a student of the scriptures  knows is the number of completion, perfection. Thus can we not conclude that this is what the unity of spirit looks like? The complete teaching naming seven aspects of this unity so that we should be diligent to preserve this unity not only by our behavior but also, by what we teach.

Unity is literally ONENESS in the Greek keyword.

We will be looking at the unity of the Spirit (Eph.4:3) and the unity of the faith (Eph.4:13), in light of the one body, the one spirit,and the one faith. As well we will look into the evangel entrusted to the apostle Paul, that is for the obedience of faith among all the nations, and thus, for attainment into the unity of the faith, for all the saints; also, we will look at a few other aspects that are connected to these unities.

The saints to whom Paul wrote his “Ephesians” letter were members of “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body,” which is a spiritually-united company of saints that began when people began to be called by God through the “evangel of the uncircumcision” entrusted to Paul (Gal. 2:7). This is the “calling” of which Paul wrote, and the “expectation” refers to the non-earthly allotment that those in the body of Christ will be enjoying during the eons to come. There is nothing said in this passage which indicates that every believer on the earth at the time Paul wrote was a member of the one body of Christ, or that every believer on earth had been called to the one expectation of those in the body of Christ. If this is what Anonymous believes, it’s simply being assumed.

There is one body in this administration of the grace of God and the revelation of it was given to the apostle Paul as written in Ephesians:

Again, there is nothing said in the passage previously quoted by Anonymous which indicates that every believer on the earth at the time Paul wrote was a member of the one body of Christ. Anonymous is simply assuming it to be true. Let’s see if the next passage supports the author’s assumption.

“Wherefore, remember that once you, the nations in flesh—who are termed 'Uncircumcision' by those termed 'Circumcision', in flesh, made by hands-- that you were, in that era, apart from Christ, being alienated from the citizenship of Israel, and guests of the promise covenants, having no expectation, and without God in the world. Yet now, in Christ Jesus, you, who once are far off are become near by the blood of Christ. For He is our Peace, Who makes both one, and razes the central wall of the barrier (the enmity in His flesh), nullifying the law of precepts in decrees, that He should be creating the two, in Himself, into one new humanity, making peace; and should be reconciling both in one body to God through the cross, killing the enmity in it. And coming, He brings the evangel of peace to you, those afar, and peace to those near, for through Him we both have had the access, in one spirit, to the Father.

Consequently, then, no longer are you guests and sojourners, but are fellow-citizens of the saints and belong to God's family, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the capstone of the corner being Christ Jesus Himself, in Whom the entire building, being connected together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord: in Whom you, also, are being built together for God's dwelling place, in spirit {Eph.2:11-22}

In these verses Paul is addressing the Gentile members of the one body of Christ, and telling them that, within this one body, Jews and Gentiles are made one and created into “one new humanity.” From its earliest days the body of Christ has consisted of people who are from both a Jewish and a Gentile background. But as with the last passage, there is nothing said in this passage which indicates that every Jewish (or even every Gentile) believer on the earth at the time Paul wrote had been called through the evangel of the uncircumcision to the one expectation of the body of Christ, and had been spiritually baptized into the one body of Christ. This, again, seems to be Anonymous’ assumption.

It is not until verse 19 that Paul shifts his focus from the saints in the body of Christ exclusively and considers their relationship to all of the saints on earth at that time (i.e., their relationship to those who belonged to that company of saints which – as I think even Anonymous would have to concede - predated the formation of the body of Christ). Whether belonging to the body of Christ or to that company of saints which predated the body of Christ, all of the saints in Paul’s day belonged to “God’s family.”

But what about the “apostles and prophets” referred to in v. 20? Must we understand this as a reference to the twelve apostles? Not at all. In fact, the larger context of this very letter (see Eph. 4:7-14) indicates that the “apostles and prophets” which Paul had in view here were given by Christ after he had already ascended to heaven (and would include men such as Paul himself, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Timothy, etc.). It was those who were given by the ascended Christ who were given “for the up-building of the body of Christ.” Understood as a reference to apostles and prophets who were given by Christ after his ascension, the twelve apostles cannot be in view here. For they, of course, were made apostles before Christ’s ascension into heaven (see Matt. 10:1-5; Mark 3:14; 6:7, 30; cf. Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:1-5). Insofar as this is the case, the twelve apostles are necessarily excluded from the category of “apostles and prophets” referred to by Paul in Eph. 4:11 (and, by implication, Eph. 2:20 and 3:5).

Do these words need further explanation? Is it not clear what God has done through the cross of Christ that concerns the relationship between the believing Jew and the believing Gentile? There is no longer a separation between these two groups of people! If further explanation is given will it contradict what is written here? Will it contradict the one body, or the one spirit, or the one expectation of your calling, or the one Lord, or the one faith, or the one baptism, or the one God and Father? Each one of these ones is a revelation of the unity of the Spirit. The evangel is the starting point.

I agree with Anonymous that the words of Paul in these verses do not “need further explanation.” But what needs to be kept in mind is that the “believing Jews and believing Gentiles” that Paul referred to as having been made “one” in v. 14 are those who had become members of the body of Christ, and to assume – as Anonymous seems to be doing – that every believing Jew and Gentile on the earth in Paul’s day was necessarily a member of the body of Christ is simply to beg the question against the view that Anonymous is opposing. Anonymous has yet to prove this; he or she is simply presupposing it.

Part two:

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