Saturday, October 12, 2019

Revisiting the “Two Evangels” Controversy (Part Three)

[For part one of this series, click here:]

A response to L. Ray Smith concerning the doctrine of the two evangels

Despite my disagreement with the late L. Ray Smith on a number of doctrinal subjects (some of which I consider relatively inconsequential, although some are more important), I have a great deal of respect for him, and I have benefited from a number of his articles (especially those in which he defends the absolute sovereignty of God and the salvation of all). At the same time, I think Smith had a number of pretty glaring “blindspots,” and that the doctrinal position he affirmed concerning how many evangels were being heralded during the apostolic era (and the related subject of Israel's prophesied eonian expectation vs. the expectation belonging to those in the body of Christ) was one of them. And among those in the community of believers of which I'm a part who are opposed to the position being defended in this study (including the brother in Christ whose comments I've been responding to), what Smith wrote on this subject seems to be very influential. In any case, it's not unusual to see L. Ray Smith appealed to and quoted by those who believe that only one evangel was heralded during the apostolic era. 

In an attempt to refute the “two evangels” doctrinal position, Smith (in his standard “ranting” fashion) wrote the following in an article entitled, “Exposing the ‘Secret Rapture’ Theory”:

“If Paul's gospel differed in SCOPE, CONTENTS, AND EXPECTATION, from Peter's gospel then we of necessity have "A DIFFERENT GOSPEL"!! And notice carefully that this author is not suggesting that Paul's gospel to the uncircumcision was different from that brought by "some who are disturbing you want also to distort the evangel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7), but that Paul's gospel to the uncircumcision was DIFFERENT FROM THE GOSPEL TO THE CIRCUMCISION. This would clearly mean that Peter's gospel was a DIFFERENT GOSPEL from Paul's gospel. What might the implications of such a thing be?”

The first point that could be made in response to L. Ray Smith’s rejection of the “two evangels” doctrinal position is also the most obvious and straight-forward: according to what we read in Galatians 2:7, Paul clearly did have in mind two distinct evangels which pertained to two different categories of human beings (i.e., those described as “the Circumcision” and those described as “the Uncircumcision”). The grammar itself bears this out. The same Greek construction found in Gal. 2:7 is also found in the expression, “evangel of the kingdom” (which, of course, does not refer to a gospel that was being heralded to the kingdom, but rather to a gospel that distinctly pertained to the kingdom).

Notice how, when “quoting” Galatians 2:7, Smith repeatedly used the expression “gospel to the uncircumcision” and “gospel to the circumcision.” The reason Smith used the word “to” here is because the “one gospel” position to which he held (and indeed to which most Christians hold) absolutely requires the use of “to” rather than “of” in this verse. That is, the “one gospel” theory cannot even survive apart from the term “of” being changed to “to.” In contrast, the view to which I hold could easily “remain afloat” if the word “of” were replaced with “to” in Gal. 2:7 (for my view that there were, during Paul’s ministry, two callings, expectations and evangels is not at all dependent on this single verse). But is the substitution of the term “of” with “to” grammatically valid?

One opponent of the “two evangels” doctrine attempted to argue that “to” is just as grammatically valid as “of” by claiming that, in the Greek expression translated “the evangel of the Uncircumcision” in the CLNT, there is no Greek equivalent to the English word “of” (or “to”). Thus, according to this objector, the Greek could just as validly be translated, “the evangel to the Uncircumcision” (thus supporting the more common view that Paul simply had in view one evangel being heralded to two different audiences). However, the objector is simply mistaken here. There is, in fact, a grammatical equivalent to “of” in the Greek, and thus there is a grammatically valid reason for why “of” should be used in an English translation of Gal. 2:7 (rather than “to”).  

Martin Zender helpfully explains this important grammatical consideration as follows:

Pertaining to nouns, the ancient Greek language (the language of the New Testament) has five cases: 1) nominative, 2) vocative, 3) accusative, 4) genitive, and 5) dative. “Case” refers to the way a word functions in a sentence and how it relates to other words. In English, we determine word function by the order of a word in a sentence; the Greeks do it by adding suffixes to words. Rather than define for you each of these cases, I want to define only the genitive and dative, for these are the cases under consideration.

The genitive case speaks of possession, character or kind—the nature of the thing: “the letter of Sally”; “the music of the Japanese.” The dative case, on the other hand, speaks of direction—where something is going: “the letter to Sally”; “the music to the Japanese.” Thus, the genitive case comes over into English with “of,” and the dative case with “to.”

Is there a way to tell which case is being used in the Greek in Galatians 2:7? There is. Besides case, when considering Greek nouns and their declension there are two considerations: 1) gender, and 2) number. Greek nouns are either masculine, feminine or neuter (gender), or singular or plural (number). These considerations determine which letters are added to words in order to indicate case.

To signify the genitive case of a noun—when the noun is feminine/singular (as are the nouns “Circumcision” and “Uncircumcision”) and the noun is preceded by the definite article (i.e. “the evangel of the Circumcision)—the Greeks add the letters “Eyta” (which looks like this: “H”) and “Sigma” (which looks like this: “C”) to the definite article, which in this instance starts with the Greek letter “Tau” (which looks like this: “T”). When they want to indicate the dative case, the Greeks simply drop the “Sigma.” In Galatians 2:7, the three most ancient Greek manuscripts (Vaticanus; Alexandrinus; Sinaiticus) all use the “THC” construction (the “Sigma” is present).

The Greek equivalent of the English word “of” in Gal. 2:7 is, in other words, the genitive case of the nouns used by Paul in this verse. It is this grammatical fact which makes the expression “evangel of the Uncircumcision” (rather than “to the Uncircumcision”) the only valid translation in English (just as the expression “evangel OF the kingdom” is more accurate than “evangel TO the kingdom”). Thus, simply from a grammatical standpoint alone, we find that L. Ray Smith is wrong “right out of the gate.” And from this it follows that everything he goes on to say in defense of his “one gospel” position (which takes for granted his erroneous understanding of Gal. 2:7) is wrong as well.

At this point, it needs to be emphasized that the “two evangels” doctrinal view in no way “stands or falls” on Galatians 2:7. In contrast with what seems to be the view of some, this verse is not an essential, “supporting pillar” for the “two evangels” position. If anything, this verse is simply the capstone of the entire “Mid-Acts” dispensational position. It confirms but does not provide the foundational support for this position. And – as I tried to demonstrate in my study “God’s Covenant People” (link) – it’s not necessary to appeal to Galatians 2:7 in order to make a compelling case for the position that this verse confirms. Nevertheless, this verse exists (whether one finds it “challenging” or not), and can be understood as providing a clear refutation of those who believe that there was only one evangel being heralded during the apostolic era. This verse leaves opponents of the doctrinal position being defended in this study without any good excuse for believing that there is no single, clear verse in Scripture that affirms the position to which they're opposed.

L. Ray Smith: If Peter really had a "different" gospel or evangel from Paul, and Peter would have on occasion taught in one of Paul's evangelized areas, would Peter be ANATHEMA (or ACCURSED)? Does anyone really believe such a thing? Peter? The HEAD APOSTLE Peter, ANATHEMATIZED for the very gospel he was taught by his Lord and Paul's Lord?”

As should be obvious to the reader, I think that members of the body of Christ believe the truth concerning Jesus’ Messianic identity that constitutes the evangel of the Circumcision (i.e., that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God”). What differentiates those in the body of Christ from those who responded in faith to Peter’s evangelistic messages in Acts 2, 3 or 10 (for example) is simply that we’re not called to our expectation through this particular evangel. Our believing the truth concerning Jesus’ Messianic identity is not what results in our justification. Rather, the evangel through which God calls us to our expectation (and through which we’re justified) is the evangel that was entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations – i.e., the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” (which, again, is the evangel that those pre-designated to become part of the body of Christ will, at some point, believe). So the problem of someone like Peter, James or John heralding the evangel of the Circumcision among the nations does not consist in the communication of this specific truth. Rather, the problem is in what bringing the evangel of the Circumcision to the nations would imply, and involve.

Recall that it is through the heralding of particular evangel to a particular group of people that people are “called” to a particular expectation. So for Peter (for example) to have gone to Galatia and began bringing the evangel with which he was entrusted (and which he’s recorded as heralding to Israel in Acts 2 and 3) to people from among the nations would’ve implied that he was calling them to Israel’s covenant-based expectation. And that’s a big problem. For – as argued elsewhere – Israel’s covenant-based expectation is an expectation that belongs to the following two categories of people:

1. Members of God’s covenant people, Israel (who, being in covenant with God, have certain covenant-based obligations involving circumcision and the law); and

2. Gentiles who (as Peter learned through the events involving Cornelius and his household) are “acceptable to God” by virtue of the fact that they’re “fearing God and acting righteously.”   

So, let’s assume that Peter decided he was going to bring his evangel to believing Gentiles in Galatia. Unless these believers chose to proselytize and become members of God’s covenant people (which would’ve involved coming under the law), the only way they could qualify to even have the evangel of the Circumcision brought to them (i.e., as a way of calling them to Israel’s eonian expectation) would be for them to first become “acceptable to God” in the sense that Cornelius and his household were acceptable to God before Peter heralded his evangel to them. Recall Peter’s opening words to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:34, when he “opened his mouth” to share his evangel with them: “Of a truth I am grasping that God is not partial, but in every nation he who is fearing Him and acting righteously is acceptable to Him. By “acceptable to Him,” Peter meant that, by virtue of their fear of God and righteous conduct in relation to God’s covenant people (conduct which we find specified in Acts 10:1-4, 22, 33), Cornelius and his household were able to be accepted among those who, by faith in the evangel entrusted to Peter, had obtained the forgiveness of sins and could thus receive eonian life in the kingdom that’s going to be restored to Israel (for a more in- depth defense of this position, see the following two-part study:

It should also be noted that, for Peter and the other apostles of the Circumcision, faith in the evangel they heralded (and having one’s past sins forgiven) required getting water baptized. For Peter, water baptism was not optional, but rather essential to salvation (1 Pet. 3:20-21; cf. Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38, 41). What Peter wrote concerning the saving nature of baptism in his letter is perfectly consistent with what he declared to Israelites in Acts 2:38-40, when he made known to them the evangel of the Circumcision. In these verses, it is clear that Peter understood water baptism to be essential to (although certainly not sufficient for) having one’s sins forgiven: “Repent and be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the pardon of your sins, and you shall be obtaining the gratuity of the holy spirit” (v. 38).

In contrast with what Peter declared and wrote, Paul learned early on in his ministry as “the apostle of the nations” that water baptism was in no way necessary for the salvation of those called to be in the body of Christ, and that Christ had therefore not commissioned him “to be baptizing but to be bringing the evangel” (1 Cor. 1:17). With regards to Paul’s ministry and administration, the only baptism that mattered for those to whom he wrote was the baptism “in one spirit,” by which they had become members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13; cf. Gal. 3:27-28; Rom. 6:3-6ff.; Eph. 4:1-5; Col. 2:12). However, it’s clear from the immediate context that the baptism “in one spirit” through which one becomes a member of the body of Christ was not the baptism to which Peter was referring.[1]

Unlike L. Ray Smith, Paul knew full well what the implications of the Circumcision evangel being “brought” to Gentile believers were, and thus would not tolerate the scenario Smith envisioned. But, as we’ll now see, L. Ray Smith’s hypothetical scenario involving Peter “accidentally” bringing the evangel of the Circumcision to believing (or unbelieving) Gentiles in Galatia is a completely moot point. For, according to what we read in Galatians 2:7-9, there was an agreement among the apostles of the Circumcision and Paul that they would not be heralding their respective evangels among those outside of the people-groups for whom they were appointed as apostles. In other words, it was agreed by Peter, James and John that they would be “for the Circumcision” (with regard to heralding the evangel of the Circumcision), while Paul and his co-laborers would be “for the Uncircumcision” (with regard to heralding the evangel of the Uncircumcision).

Since – in accord with this agreement – Paul knew that Peter, James and John weren’t going to be bringing their evangel to the nations in Galatia, Smith's hypothetical scenario involving Peter (or any other apostles of the Circumcision) “on occasion” teaching “in one of Paul’s evangelized areas” was not something that Paul feared might happen. Thus, Paul did not envision a scenario in which Peter would come to be “anathema.” So, as already stated, Smith’s argument is a completely moot point, and fails to take Gal. 2:7-9 into consideration. Perhaps in his zealous hostility toward the “two evangels” view, Smith simply forgot what Paul wrote here. In any case, his point fails to refute or undermine the doctrinal position against which he wrote (for more on why L. Ray Smith is completely mistaken concerning what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:6-9, I encourage the reader to check out Martin Zender’s refutation of Alan Hess on this subject:

L. Ray Smith went on to write: “And what if Paul had an occasion to teach circumcision saints with a gospel that was "different" from the gospel they receive by the apostles, then what?”

This is yet another moot point by Smith. For the evangel that was entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations (the evangel of the Uncircumcision) was never heralded by Paul in the synagogues, or to “teach circumcision saints.” Based on what we read in Acts, the only evangel that Paul heralded in the synagogues was the evangel of the Circumcision. In accord with the agreement already referred to, Paul kept his ministry among the nations distinct from anything he did specifically for the sake of his Jewish brethren according to the flesh. While there were some Jews who were called by God through Paul’s evangel, they weren’t called as a result of hearing it preached by Paul in the synagogues. Rather, they would’ve heard it when Paul was heralding it among the nations.

L. Ray Smith: “But even II Pet. 3:15 shows how they welcomed "ALL THE EPISTLES" of Paul which contained Paul's gospel. And for sure they didn't call Paul "wicked," but rather "BELOVED BROTHER PAUL." How then is it even conceivable that Paul's gospel and the gospel of Peter and John were DIFFERENT?

It’s evident that Paul wrote at least one letter to the same company of believers to whom Peter wrote (so Smith and I are in complete agreement on this point). Some think it was the letter to the Hebrews to which Peter was referring. However, for all we know, it wasn’t God’s will for the letter by Paul to which Peter was referring to be included in the “canon of scripture” (which may not be the only case in which a letter referred to in scripture didn’t make it into our Bibles; some believe that, in 1 Cor. 5:9, Paul was referring to an earlier letter he wrote to the saints in Corinth). In any case, Smith is going beyond what Peter actually wrote when he said that the Jewish believers to whom Peter wrote “welcomed all the epistles of Paul.” Peter neither said nor implied this.

The most that can be inferred from what Peter wrote in 2 Pet. 3:15-16 is that (1) Peter recognized that the wisdom given to Paul was manifested in all of his epistles, (2) Paul had, at some point, written a letter to the same company of believers to whom Peter wrote, and (3) the subject of this letter involved the apparent “delay” in God's ushering in the day of the Lord, and helped the Jewish believers better appreciate the interval of time in which they were living (which is, of course, the subject being considered in 2 Pet. 3:1-13). And each of these points is completely consistent with the “two evangels” position. Moreover, there is no evidence whatsoever that those to whom Peter wrote his letters were members of the same company of believers to whom Paul wrote his thirteen letters (i.e., the “ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body”).

L. Ray Smith: “Maybe it's time we give Peter the kind of respect and honor that he deserves!”

There is no question that Peter deserves a great deal of respect and honor. However, Smith’s appeal to the fact that Peter deserves respect and honor is a poor substitute for an actual argument against the view he’s criticizing. Giving Peter “the kind of respect and honor that he deserves” in no way requires the belief that he heralded the same evangel that Paul heralded among the nations. Nor does it require the belief that Peter was in the body of Christ (any more than giving John the Baptist or the prophet Daniel the respect and honor they deserve requires the belief that they were in the body of Christ). As I’ve argued in greater depth elsewhere, the expectation of the twelve apostles (Peter included) is tied to the kingdom of God that is going to be set up on the earth (i.e., the kingdom that is going to be restored to Israel). The twelve apostles were the leaders of the “little flock” referred to by Christ in Luke 12:32, and were part of the believing remnant among God’s covenant nation, Israel.  As members of God’s covenant nation, the twelve apostles have a covenant-based expectation that is in accord with all of the prophecies concerning Israel’s eonian destiny. In accord with what Christ himself declared concerning the eonian destiny of the twelve apostles in Matt. 19:28, they will be sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Peter will, in other words, be among “the saints of the Most High” who will be living and reigning on the earth during the eon to come, and who will be dwelling in “the beloved city” that we find referred to in Rev. 20:7-9.

In contrast, those believers who constitute the body of Christ do not share Israel’s covenant-based expectation. Rather than “reigning on the earth” as “a chosen race,” “a royal priesthood,” and “a holy nation” (in the words of Peter in 1 Pet. 2:9), our eonian life is going to be enjoyed in the location where Christ is, presently – i.e., “in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1-9). We know that Christ is currently sitting enthroned at the right hand of God (which is, of course, in heaven itself; see Heb. 8:1; 9:24). In Ephesians 1:20 Christ’s heavenly location is described by Paul as being “among the celestials” (which, in Eph. 6:12, is also where we’re told the wicked spiritual beings with whom we “wrestle” are as well). And it is “among the celestials” that those in the body of Christ will be seated together with Christ (Eph. 2:6; cf. 1:3). “For,” Paul elsewhere wrote, “our realm is inherent in the heavens” (Phil. 3:20). Thus, with respect to the locations in which the twelve apostles and the apostle Paul will be during the eons to come, there could not be a greater difference. The location of the twelve apostles will be on the earth with the twelve tribes of Israel, while the location of the apostle Paul (and the company of saints to which he belongs) will be “in the heavens” and “among the celestials.”

L. Ray Smith: “Is there a Scripture that actually says that Paul evangelized the same gospel as the apostles? Yes, actually, there is.”

Smith went on to quote Galatians 1:23-24. The irony here is that, rather than supporting Smith’s “one gospel” position, what we read in Galatians 1:23-24 actually serves to further confirm the fact that the evangel Paul heralded among the nations (and through which people were being called to the expectation associated with the body of Christ) was distinct from the evangel which he heralded among the Jewish people. To better understand how this is so, let’s review the timeline of events provided by Paul in Galatians 1-2 and by Luke in Acts 9-15.

Following his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was filled with the holy spirit and baptized by Ananias. Paul then traveled to Arabia and remained there for about three years (Gal. 1:17). After returning to Damascus, Paul immediately began heralding Jesus in the synagogues, trying to convince his Jewish brethren that Jesus “is the Son of God” and “the Christ” (Acts 9:19-22) – which is precisely the message that the twelve apostles had been heralding since the events of Pentecost in 30 AD. We read that all who heard him heralding Jesus were amazed, and said, “Is not this the one who, in Jerusalem, ravages those who are invoking this Name?” (vv. 20-21)

Paul then went to Jerusalem to stay with Peter for fifteen days (Gal. 1:18), during which time he “became acquainted with no one different from the apostles, except James, the brother of the Lord” (v. 19). Concerning this time in Jerusalem, we read the following in Acts 9:26-29: ”Now, on coming along to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; and all feared him, not believing that he is a disciple. Yet Barnabas, getting hold of him, led him to the apostles and relates to them how he became acquainted with the Lord on the road, and that He speaks to him, and how, in Damascus, he speaks boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, going in and out, in Jerusalem. Speaking boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, he both spoke and discussed with the Hellenists.”

After an assassination attempt (an episode omitted by Paul in Gal. 1:18-21), Paul subsequently returned to Tarsus (the capital of Cilicia) for safety (Acts 9:28-30). And after being found by Barnabas, Paul and Barnabas spent a year in Antioch (the capital of Syria), teaching “a considerable throng” of Jews (Acts 11:25). After a short time in Jerusalem with Barnabas, we read that they returned to Antioch (Acts 12:25). It is at this point in Paul’s ministry that we read of he and Barnabas being “severed” to God for the work among the nations to which he’d called them (Acts 13:1-3).

Now, during the entire time prior to the “severing” of Paul and Barnabas for their ministry among the nations, there is no indication whatsoever that they had been heralding any message other than that which the rest of the apostles had been heralding since the descent of the holy spirit on Pentecost. Thus, in Galatians 1:23 we read that, during this early period of Paul’s ministry (from his time in Damascus to his time in Syria and Cilicia), he had been “evangelizing the faith which once he ravaged.” In other words, Paul had been heralding the evangel of the Circumcision exclusively during this time.

And yet, we’re told by Paul in Romans 1:1 that he had been “severed for the evangel of God,” which is undoubtedly a reference to the same evangel that Paul referred to as the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” in Gal. 2:7 (Paul referred to his evangel as the “evangel of God” several times in his first letter to the Thessalonians; 1 Thess. 2:2, 8-9; 3:2). If the evangel for which Paul had been “severed” is the same evangel that Peter, James and John were heralding (and which Paul had been heralding among the Jews in the synagogues), what necessitated a revelation from Christ according to which Paul and Barnabas had to return to Jerusalem in order to “submit” to those of repute (i.e., Peter, James and John) the evangel which they had been heralding among the nations since the time they had been “severed” (Gal. 2:2)?

According to Paul, this private meeting in Jerusalem with Peter, James and John took place 14 years after his conversion (and approximately 10-12 years after he’d been in the regions of Syria and Cilicia). This means that it took place approximately 5-7 years after he and Barnabas had begun heralding the evangel among the nations. If the truth that Paul and Barnabas had been heralding among the nations since the events of Acts 13 was the same truth that Paul had been heralding to his fellow Israelites in the synagogues since the time covered by Acts 9, such a meeting would have been completely unnecessary. Recall that, more than 10 years before this meeting in Jerusalem took place, Paul had already stayed with Peter, and had spoken to both he and James during this time. They already knew about his conversion to the truth concerning Jesus’ Messianic identity, and were aware of the fact that he had been heralding this truth in the synagogues. And during Paul’s time in Syria and Cilicia (prior to the start of his ministry among the nations), it became well-known among “the ecclesias in Judea” that Paul was “evangelizing the faith which once he ravaged” (Gal. 1:23-24)!

Here, then, are the facts:

1. Paul travelled to Jerusalem to become personally acquainted with Peter and the other apostles (as well as James), and stayed with Peter for fifteen days (Acts 9:26-29; Gal. 1:18-19). Thus, by this time, the twelve apostles and James were well aware of Paul’s conversion and of the fact that, in Damascus, he’d been heralding the evangel which they’d been heralding since the events of Pentecost in 30 AD.

2. Paul then left Jerusalem and travelled to Syria and Cilicia, during which time it became well-known among “the ecclesias in Judea” that Paul was “evangelizing the faith which once he ravaged” (Gal. 1:23-24).

3. Approximately ten to twelve years later, Paul – “in accord with a revelation” – went up to Jerusalem (with Barnabas and Titus) to submit to the apostles and elders there (“those of repute,” e.g., Peter, John and James) the evangel which he had been heralding among the nations since the time of the events referred to in Acts 13:47-49. Evidently, this was done privately, prior to the Jerusalem Conference.

Based on these facts, we can reasonably infer that the evangel which Paul and Barnabas had been heralding among the nations – and which they privately submitted to “those of repute” in Jerusalem – was distinct from the evangel that Paul had been heralding among the Jews prior to the events of Acts 13:47-49 (for it was already well-known to Peter, James and John – as well as among “the ecclesias in Judea” – that Paul believed that Jesus is “the Son of God” and “the Christ,” and had been heralding this truth among the Jews). The reason Paul had to submit the evangel which had been entrusted to him (the evangel of the Uncircumcision) to Peter, James and John is because it went beyond the evangel that God had revealed to Peter (Matt. 16:15-17), and which Paul himself had been heralding exclusively prior to his being “severed” for his ministry to the nations.

Thus, L. Ray Smith’s appeal to Galatians 1:23-24 completely backfires on him.

L. Ray Smith: “Let us suppose for a moment (just a moment mind you), that Peter and Paul really did have and did preach DIFFERENT gospels. What problems might that create? First of all, it would mean that not only did they have different gospels from each other, but also that each one would have had to have their own separate or different gospels as well. Peter would have had to have two different gospels and Paul would have had to have two different gospels. You see Paul often went first to the JEWS (which according to this theory) would have required one gospel, and then when he taught the Gentiles, he would have needed a second different gospel. And since Peter taught primarily to the Jews, he would have needed one gospel for them, but since he also was the first apostle to go to the Gentiles, he would have also needed a second different gospel for them! NONSENSE!”

As I demonstrated in my two-part study on Acts 15:1-17 (, Peter did not have to herald a different gospel to Cornelius and his house than the one that we’re told was entrusted to him in Gal. 2:7. Contrary to what most Christians believe, Cornelius and his house did not, after believing the evangel heralded to them, become members of the body of Christ (and were not, therefore, “the first Gentiles” to become part of this particular company of believers). Rather, the eonian expectation to which they were called through the heralding of the evangel Peter brought to them was the same expectation to which every Jew prior to this time (including Peter himself) had been called – i.e., the covenant-based expectation that those constituting the “Israel of God” will enjoy after Christ returns to earth. Just like the “sheep” referred to in Matthew 25:31-46 (who will be blessed because of their treatment of Israel during the time when the “evangel of the kingdom” shall be “heralded in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations,” in accord with Christ’s words in Matt. 24:14), Cornelius and his house will be enjoying an allotment in the same kingdom that the “evangel of the kingdom” pertains to – i.e., the kingdom that is going to be restored to Israel after Christ returns.

Although L. Ray Smith was mistaken for thinking that Peter would’ve “needed one gospel for [the Jews]” and “a second different gospel for [the Gentiles,” his assumption that Paul would’ve had to have heralded “two different gospels” during his ministry is 100% correct. However, contrary to what Smith concluded, there is nothing at all problematic or nonsensical about this. Simply put, the apostle Paul had two distinct ministries. His first ministry (which took place on the Sabbath, and usually in the synagogues) involved heralding the evangel through which Israelites were called to Israel’s covenant-based expectation. However, beginning around the time of the events recorded in Acts 13:1-12, Paul began another, separate ministry. This ministry involved heralding the evangel through which people from among the nations (and a small number of Jews) were called by God to the eonian expectation that belongs to those in the body of Christ (as well as establishing and edifying the various ecclesias to which Paul ended up writing). Although Paul was involved in both of these ministries for most of his apostolic career as the “apostle of the nations,” he kept them distinct.

[1] Moreover, in 2 Peter 1:8-9, the “cleansing from the sins” which the believing Israelites to whom Peter wrote received (and which would’ve taken place when they repented and were baptized, in accord with the words of Peter in Acts 2:38) is only said to be for their “sins of old” (or “past sins”). If the forgiveness they received when they repented and were baptized involved past sins only, then the forgiveness of their future sins was not guaranteed or secured by their original “cleansing.” Instead (and in the words of the apostle John, with whom Peter was undoubtedly in agreement on this point), to remain cleansed from sins required “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7), and having one’s future sins pardoned required “avowing [one’s] sins” (1 John 1:8-10). 

Similarly, James (with whom we can also conclude Peter would’ve been in agreement) affirmed that the justification and salvation of those to whom he wrote was conditional, and required both faith and works (James 2:14-26). In contrast with the conditional nature of the forgiveness of the sins of those to whom Peter, James and John wrote, every member of the body of Christ can be fully assured that his or her eonian salvation is secure (Rom. 8:28-39; Titus 3:4-7), and that he or she will be among those who are to be “snatched away to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:14-18; 5:4-11).

Revisiting the “Two Evangels” Controversy (Part Two)

The evangel of the Uncircumcision

After Paul’s ministry among the nations began, there came to be another eonian expectation to which people could be called (i.e., that which belongs to those who constitute the company of saints that Paul referred to in Eph. 1:22-23 as “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body”). And with this new expectation came a new evangel through which people could be called to this new expectation. As noted earlier, the evangel of the Uncircumcision is an evangel that Paul, the “apostle of the nations” (Rom. 11:13), said was entrusted to him (and not to Peter, James, or John). Thus, Paul referred to his evangel as “my evangel” in several places (Rom. 2:16; 16:25-26; 2 Tim. 2:8).

Moreover, this evangel was referred to by Paul as “the evangel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), and – as such – is the evangel that distinctly belongs to the “administration of the grace of God” (or “administration of the secret”) that we’re told was given to Paul for the nations (Eph. 3:1-13). The fact that the administration of the grace of God to which Paul’s evangel belongs was given to Paul for the nations supports the view that both the administration as well as the evangel that belongs to it are completely distinct from any administration that existed, or evangel that was being heralded, before Paul’s ministry among the nations began. But what, exactly, is the truth that constitutes the evangel of the Uncircumcision with which Paul was entrusted to herald among the nations (and what makes it “good news” to those called through it to their eonian expectation)?

According to what we read in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, it’s evident that the evangel entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations consists of the following two facts: (1) “that Christ died for our sins” and (2) “that He has been roused the third day.” So important are these two facts that Paul made sure to provide supporting evidence for them by first appealing to Scripture (“according to the scriptures”) and then by referring to empirically verifiable events that were connected with them (i.e., that Christ “was entombed,” and that he “was seen”).[1] The fact that Christ’s death “for our sins” was just as essential to Paul’s evangel as Christ’s subsequent resurrection is further confirmed from what we read in 1 Cor. 1:17-25 and 2:1-5 (where it’s made clear that “the cross of Christ” and “Christ crucified” was the focus of Paul’s presentation of his evangel among those in Corinth). But what does it mean for Christ to have “died for our sins?”

The term translated “for” in 1 Cor. 15:3 is huper. In the letter to the Hebrews, there are a number of verses in which we find this term used in connection with sins (see Heb. 5:1, 3; 7:27; 9:7; 10:12). Significantly, in all of these verses the author had in view a “sin offering” – that is, a sacrifice offered to God which resulted in God’s ceasing to reckon sins to those for whom the sacrifice was offered (see, for example, Lev. 4:20, 26, 35 and Lev. 5:6, 10). In other words, it resulted in the sins for which the sacrifice was offered being “eliminated” or “blotted out” by God. Paul not only referred to Christ’s death using words and imagery derived from the sin offering (Rom. 3:24-25; 8:3; Eph. 5:1-2), but explicitly stated that Christ was made a sin offering for our sakes. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read, “For the One not knowing sin, [God] makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God’s righteousness in Him.” Insofar as a sin offering is a sacrifice offered to God that has, as its design and intended purpose, the salvation of people from their sins, it follows that everyone for whose sins Christ died as a sin offering shall be saved from their sins. But what, exactly, does it mean to be saved from one’s sins?

In 1 Cor. 15:17-19, those who haven’t yet been saved from their sins are described by Paul as follows: “Now if Christ has not been roused, vain is your faith – you are still in your sins! Consequently those also, who are put to repose in Christ, perished.” For anyone to still be “in [their] sins” means that their sins/offenses remain a source of condemnation for them (cf. Rom. 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:19), and that they remain under the condemnation of which their sins made them deserving (cf. John 8:24). Notice that, in v. 18, it’s implied those who have died while still being “in their sins” have “perished.” The word translated “perished” in v. 18 (apollumi) does not simply mean “died,” for the saints to whom Paul was referring in this verse were already dead at the time he was writing. For someone who has died to have “perished” means that they remain under condemnation.

Since being “still in your sins” simply means remaining condemned as a result of one’s sins (which, for those who’ve believed Paul’s evangel, would mean that we haven’t been justified and won’t receive eonian life), we can conclude that Christ’s death for our sins means he died to save us from the state of condemnation that Paul referred to as being “still in your sins.” It should also be noted that, in 1 Tim. 2:6-7, Paul referred to the truth of Christ’s having given himself “a correspondent Ransom for all” as the testimony “for which [he] was appointed a herald and an apostle…a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth” (v. 7). This fact indicates that the truth of 1 Tim. 2:6 is essential to Paul’s evangel, and is simply another way of expressing the fact that Christ “died for our sins.” And since Christ “died for the sake of all” (2 Cor. 5:14) and gave himself “a correspondent Ransom for all,” it follows that all mankind shall be saved from the condemnation to which sin leads, and “shall be constituted just” (Rom. 5:18-19). And since, according to 1 Cor. 15:56, sin is what gives death its “sting” (i.e., it’s what makes people deserving of death), the fact that Christ died for our sins implies that death is going to be abolished. See also 2 Tim. 1:10-11, where Paul makes it clear that the abolishing of death by Christ is a truth that is illuminated “through the evangel of which [he] was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher of the nations.” This fact implies that Christ’s death “for our sins” means that Christ died to save us from the condemnation of which our sins make us deserving (which, in 2 Tim. 1:10-11, is implied to be death). Thus, to believe that Christ “died for our sins” (in accord with Paul’s evangel) is simply to believe that Christ died so that all mankind would be saved from the condemnation of which our sins make us deserving. This will take place at “the consummation,” when – at the end of his eonian reign – Christ abolishes death by vivifying all who are presently dying in Adam (1 Cor. 15:20-28).

Thus, the evangel entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations – the evangel of the Uncircumcision – is inseparable from the fact that Christ died for the sins of all mankind, and that all mankind shall, consequently, be saved from condemnation. Unlike the evangel of the kingdom/Circumcision (which derives its “good news” status from what it means for Israel and her prophesied destiny), the evangel that was entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations puts the focus on what Christ did on behalf of all mankind, and derives its “good news” status from what it means for all mankind. Paul’s evangel doesn’t “merely” point us forward to the eons of Christ’s reign (when all of the covenant-based promises made to Israel will be fulfilled through Christ); rather, Paul’s evangel takes us all the way to the very consummation of Christ’s reign, when death is abolished and all mankind is justified. It is this that makes the evangel entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations a message of good news to those called through it to the eonian expectation that belongs to the body of Christ.

A key difference ignored

That the evangel which Peter heralded to Israelites (and a few “God-fearers”) wasn’t the same evangel entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations should be evident to anyone who considers the simple fact that the evangel entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations essentially involves the truth that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). Insofar as this is the case, logic dictates that any message we find recorded in scripture in which this truth is absent cannot be the evangel that Christ entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations (or at the very least, it can’t be understood as a complete articulation or expression of this evangel).

Consider the following logical argument:

1. The evangel which was entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations essentially involves the truth that “Christ died for our sins.”
2. The evangel that was heralded by Peter and Paul among the Jews (of which we have three separate examples in the book of Acts) did not contain the truth that Christ died for our sins.
3. The evangel that Peter and Paul heralded among the Jews was not the same evangel entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations.

We could make a similar argument concerning the evangel heralded by Peter to Cornelius and his household:

1. The evangel which was entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations essentially involves the truth that Christ died for our sins.
2. The evangel that was heralded by Peter to Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:34-43) did not contain the truth that Christ died for our sins.
3. The evangel that Peter heralded to Cornelius and his household was not the same evangel entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations.

One has to ignore the essential truth that “Christ died for our sins” in order to maintain the position that only one evangel was heralded during the apostolic era. For as soon as one puts the focus on this particular truth, the “one gospel” position quickly begins to fall apart.

Now, my friend believes that what we read in Acts 17 provides him with a way out of this dilemma:

“If we look at Acts 17 and Paul’s sermon to the crowd in Athens, we notice that after he was taken to speak to this particular crowd that we are not told in the narrative that Paul ever mentioned the crucifixion of Christ (much less for our and their sins), His entombment, nor His resurrection? How is that possible? Did Paul forget “his” gospel? First, we cannot be sure that he did not mention these elements. We are not reading a court transcript. We are reading a summary of the apostles’ acts. Secondly, he may not have mentioned any of these things because of his audience. These Greeks had no acquaintance at all with the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, referencing Christ’s death for their sins, needed to have context and background given.”

What we read in Acts 17:18-33 is the longest message we find recorded in Acts that involves Paul and the nations. However, as my friend correctly observes, this message spoken by Paul in Athens doesn’t include the fact that Christ died for our sins. It would seem that, according to my friend, we’re thus faced with the following two options: Either (1) Paul did herald the truth that Christ died for our sins on this occasion, and Luke simply didn’t include it in his summary of what Paul said, or (2) Paul simply didn’t consider this element of his evangel important enough to mention and explain the meaning of it to his Gentile audience. I don’t think either of these scenarios is the case.

Rather than understanding this message as a complete presentation of Paul’s evangel (or a summarized version of a complete message), what we read in Acts 17:18-33 should be understood as the introduction to an evangelistic message which – due to the mainly negative response Paul received from the philosophers when he introduced the subject of Christ’s resurrection – Paul was unable (or unwilling) to finish on that occasion. This means that the longest message we find recorded in Acts involving Paul and the nations is not even a complete presentation of Paul’s evangel. And by virtue of the fact that Paul didn’t herald the truth that Christ died for our sins on this occasion (which, again, is essential to the evangel entrusted to him to herald among the nations), what we read in Acts 17:22-31 cannot be considered sufficient as the means by which those pre-designated by God are called to the expectation that distinctly belongs to the body of Christ.[2]

The fact that Paul’s message in Acts 17 was “cut short” on this occasion (which is in striking contrast with the lengthier message by Paul we find recorded in Acts 13:16-41) is, I believe, providential. This enabled Luke to include as much of Paul’s message as possible (thus giving his readers a glimpse into how Paul introduced the proclamation of his evangel among the nations on at least one occasion) without having to include those elements of Paul’s evangel that distinguished it from the evangel of the Circumcision, and which belonged to that body of truth which had been delivered to Paul to dispense among the nations. The book of Acts is, of course, a continuation of Luke’s Gospel Account, and was never intended to reveal truth that pertains distinctly to “the administration of the secret” which was given to Paul for the sake of the nations (Eph. 3:2, 9). The conspicuous absence of a complete presentation of Paul’s evangel in the book of Acts (and the cutting short of Paul’s message in Acts 17) can thus be understood as confirming the following position articulated by A.E. Knoch on page 200 of his commentary:

“…it is of the utmost importance for us to note that the account in Acts never attains to the truth taught in [Paul’s] epistles. It leads us up to some of it, but never makes actual contact with it. It prepares for it but does not proclaim it. Not one single doctrine for the present secret economy is found in the book of Acts, though all was made known and committed to writing during this period. We are continually led up to, but never enter into the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus. Acts is not a record of the beginning of the present, but a treatise on the end of the previous dispensation. Most of the ecclesiastical confusion which prevails would vanish if this record of the kingdom apostasy were left where it belongs, and all truth for the present based on Paul's written revelation, which deals with the same period of time, but deals with it from an entirely distinct standpoint.”

In a rather desperate (and, I believe, unconvincing) attempt to sidestep the fact that Peter’s evangel didn’t include the death of Christ for our sins, my friend stated that, in Acts 2:14-36, Peter wasn’t preaching “the gospel in that instance”:

“The point being made by Peter wasn’t to preach the gospel in that instance. The kingdom was still being offered to Israel. The point was to establish the One they executed as the greater David.”

To be consistent, my friend would also have to believe that Peter “wasn’t preaching the gospel” in Acts 3:11-26 or Acts 10:34-43 as well. But there’s no good reason to believe that Peter wasn’t preaching the gospel on these occasions. In fact, what Peter heralded at this time was the only gospel of salvation being heralded at that time! And it was by means of the message he heralded on these occasions that people were being called by God to become part of that company of believers which shares in Israel’s covenant-based expectation, and which will enjoy the salvation referred to by Paul in Romans 11:26-27 (which concerns God’s covenant with Israel when he will be “turning irreverence from Jacob” and “eliminating their sins”).

The evangel heralded by Peter in Acts 2, 3 and 10 was, quite simply, the message by which those who responded in faith to it were being saved (and, it should be noted, water baptism was considered by Peter to be an essential expression of their faith in his message, and a necessary act of obedience in order for their sins to be forgiven; see Acts 2:38, and also my remarks on 1 Pet. 3:21 in part five of my refutation of the “Unity of the Spirit” article:

What the believing Jewish remnant were taught concerning Jesus’ death

My friend also asked, “Do you honestly think that Peter, James, and John did NOT teach the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus? Peter and John both reference His death for our sins in their letters. Do you think these references were the first times the recipients of his letters had heard such?” 

It was to the believing, chosen remnant within ethnic Israel (Romans 9:6-8; 11:1-8) – i.e., those whom Paul referred to as “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) – that Peter, James and John (as well as the unknown writer of the letter to the Hebrews) wrote. Here, then, is what I believe those who wrote to the believing Jewish remnant did and didn’t do. They didn’t evangelize Israelites (or, in Peter’s case, a small group of righteous, uncircumcised “God-fearers” who were blessing Israel) with the truth that “Christ died for our sins” and gave himself a “correspondent Ransom for all.” That’s because, as already demonstrated, this truth wasn’t part of the evangel through which God was calling individuals to become a part of the “all Israel” that will be saved for the eons. The evangel of the Circumcision is constituted by the fact that Jesus – the one whom Israel crucified – is the Christ (i.e., the one through whom the kingdom is going to be restored to Israel). And I see no knock-down evidence from anything written by those who wrote to the Jewish remnant that indicates to me that they did, in fact, believe (or, at least, taught) the truth of Christ’s death for our sins as Paul understood and heralded it among the nations. Those who believe otherwise are, I believe, simply projecting what they believe concerning the ultimate meaning of Christ’s death (and which is revealed in Paul’s letters only) onto the letters of those who wrote to the believing Jewish remnant.

When Paul evangelized the nations by heralding the truth that “Christ died for our sins,” we know (based on what he affirmed elsewhere in his letters) that the truth he was heralding was that, by virtue of Christ’s death, the sins of all mankind will be eliminated, and everyone dying in Adam will be vivified in Christ. In other words, when Paul heralded among the nations the truth that “Christ died for our sins,” he had in mind the fact that all mankind will be unconditionally saved as a result. But did those writing to the Jewish remnant have in mind Christ’s death for the sins of all mankind in their letters? Did they teach that, because Christ died, all mankind is going to be saved from the condemnation of death and reconciled to God? No. Although those writing to the Jewish remnant clearly referred to Christ’s death and revealed certain truths concerning it, nowhere outside of Paul’s letters do we find any clear, indisputable reference to the fact that Christ died so that the sins of all mankind would be eliminated, and all would be reconciled to God through the blood of his cross at the consummation of Christ’s eonian reign.

Concerning what John revealed in his writings concerning what Christ accomplished through his death, I encourage the reader to check out my two-part study, “Did John reveal the truth of the salvation of all mankind in his writings?” (For part one, click here:; for part two, click here: See also my article, “John’s expectation and doctrinal position concerning salvation” ( Since I consider these articles a sufficient response to the view that the apostle John revealed the same truth concerning Christ’s death that Paul did in his letters, I’ll focus on what we find revealed by Peter in his first letter, and by the anonymous author of the “letter to the Hebrews.”

There’s no question that the apostle Peter believed that Christ died for the sake of sinners, and that he revealed certain truths concerning Christ’s death in his first letter. However, in none of the passages in which Peter referred to Christ’s death is it depicted as something that will unconditionally result in all mankind being saved and reconciled to God. In 1 Peter 1:18, for example, we’re told that Christ’s precious blood ransomed the Jewish believers to whom he wrote “from [their] vain behavior,” which had been “handed down by tradition from [their] fathers” (1 Pet. 1:18). Peter was even more explicit in chapter two of his letter concerning how he believed Christ’s death benefitted those to whom he wrote. In verses 20-25 we read the following:

For what credit is it if, sinning and being buffeted, you will be enduring it? But if, doing good and suffering, you will be enduring, this is grace with God. For for this were you called, seeing that Christ also suffered for your sakes, leaving you a copy, that you should be following up in the footprints of Him Who does no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; Who, being reviled, reviled not again; suffering, threatened not, yet gave it over to Him Who is judging justly, Who Himself carries up our sins in His body on to the pole, that, coming away from sins, we should be living for righteousness; by Whose welt you were healed. For you were as straying sheep, but now you turned back to the Shepherd and Supervisor of your souls.

By his obedient suffering for their sakes, Christ left those to whom Peter wrote an “example” or “copy” to follow (which would result in their “coming away from sins” so that they should be “living for righteousness”). The sins of those to whom he wrote were “carried up” in Christ’s “body on to the pole” only insofar as those to whom he wrote were “following up in the footprints” of Christ. That is, according to Peter’s teaching, Christ’s death “concerning sins” resulted in people “coming away from sins” and being led “to God” only insofar as they followed Christ’s obedient example and thus lived “for the will of God” rather than “in the flesh in human desires” (1 Pet. 3:17-18; 4:1-3). And lest one object that Paul also talked about the importance of righteous conduct in light of Christ’s death for our sakes (which is, of course, true), Paul made it clear that Christ’s death for our sins was far more than simply an example to follow, or something that “merely” benefitted believers (and was thus of an eonian benefit only). Rather, it was something that Paul clearly believed would benefit all mankind (and indeed the entire universe) regardless of whether or not one followed in Christ’s footsteps, and “turned back to the Shepherd and Supervisor” of one’s soul.

The meaning of Christ’s death in the letter to the Hebrews

One of the major themes of the letter to the Hebrews is that Christ died in order to become the Chief Priest of those among the “house of Israel” and “house of Judah” with whom God will be “concluding a new covenant” (Heb. 8:1-13), and who – by faith in the evangel of the Circumcision – comprise the “house of God” referred to in Hebrews 3:6 and 10:21. As the Chief Priest through whom those called to share in this covenant-based expectation can receive the forgiveness of their sins, Christ thus became the “sponsor” and “Mediator” of this new covenant (Heb. 7:20-22). That Christ was understood by the author of the letter to the Hebrews to be the mediator of this new covenant between God and “the house of Israel and the house of Judah” is further confirmed from Hebrews 9:15-17, where we read the following:

For if the blood of he-goats and of bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the contaminated, is hallowing to the cleanness of the flesh, how much rather shall the blood of Christ, Who, through the eonian spirit offers Himself flawless to God, be cleansing your conscience from dead works to be offering divine service to the living and true God? And therefore He is the Mediator of a new covenant, so that at a death occurring for the deliverance of the transgressions of those under the first covenant, those who are called may be obtaining the promise of the eonian enjoyment of the allotment. For where there is a covenant, it is necessary to bring in the death of the covenant victim, for a covenant is confirmed over the dead, since it is not availing at any time when the covenant victim is living.

As the mediator of the new covenant, Christ “ratified” or “confirmed” the covenant by means of his sacrificial death (this fact is reaffirmed elsewhere in Hebrews; see Heb. 7:22, 8:6, 10:29, 12:24, 13:20). We also know that the actual realization/implementation of the covenant that Christ ratified awaits a future fulfillment, and will take place when “those who are called may be obtaining the promise of the eonian enjoyment of the allotment.”

Later, in chapter eight, the author quoted from Jeremiah 31:33-34 as follows:

“For this is the covenant which I shall be covenanting with the house of Israel after those days,” the Lord is saying: “Imparting My laws to their comprehension, on their hearts, also, shall I be inscribing them, and I shall be to them for a God, and they shall be to Me for a people. And by no means should each be teaching his fellow citizen, and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord!’ For ALL shall be acquainted with Me, from their little to their great, for I shall be propitious to their injustices, and of their sins and their lawlessnesses should I under no circumstances still be reminded.”

The “all” who we’re told “shall be acquainted with [God]” in this passage (and who will be the recipients of the blessings associated with the new covenant that God will be concluding with the house of Israel/Judah) is not comprised of all mankind. Rather, it’s comprised of those who will constitute the company of saints that Paul referred to as “all Israel” in Romans 11:26-27.

We further read that Christ “became the cause of eonian salvation to all who are obeying Him, being accosted by God ‘Chief Priest according to the order of Melchizedek…” (Heb. 5:8-10). And because Christ “has an inviolate priesthood,” he is “able to save to the uttermost those coming to God through Him, always being alive to be pleading for their sake (Heb. 7:23-25). We further read that, “through his own blood,“ Christ “entered once for all time into the holy places, finding eonian redemption (Heb. 9:11-12). In these verses, the “eonian redemption” and “eonian salvation” that is in view is not something that all people without exception will receive and enjoy at the consummation of Christ’s reign. In contrast with the salvation that all people will enjoy after Christ has delivered up the kingdom to the Father and God has become “All in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28), the salvation referred to in Hebrews 9:11-12 refers to an eonian allotment in the kingdom that is going to be restored to Israel, in accord with all of the prophecies concerning Israel’s covenant-based expectation.

Some understand Hebrews 2:9 (where we’re told that Jesus tasted death ”for everyone”) as supporting the view that the author of this letter was revealing that all mankind will be saved by virtue of Christ’s death. According to this interpretation, the group of people whom the author referred to as “everyone” (or “all”) should be understood as embracing all mankind. However, those holding to this interpretation are, I believe, making an unwarranted assumption, and are no more justified in interpreting “everyone” to mean “all mankind” here than one would be for interpreting it to mean “all the messengers of God” (as we find referred to in Heb. 1:6). As with every other occurrence of the term translated “everyone” or “all” in Scripture (pas), we must let the context inform us of who (or what), exactly, is in view. We cannot simply assume that, when the term “all” or “everyone” is used, it refers to all mankind, or to every human being without exception (see, for example, the following uses of pas in Matthew 10:22, 17:11, Mark 11:32, Luke 16:16 and 3 John 12).

A parallel to the use of the term translated “everyone” in Hebrews 2:9 can, I believe, be found in 2 Peter 3:9. In this verse, we read, “The Lord is not tardy as to promise, as some are deeming tardiness, but is patient because of you, not intending any to perish, but all to make room for repentance.” It’s evident from the immediate context that the terms translated “any” (tis) and “all” (pas) do not refer to all mankind here. Since the “perishing” that Peter had in view clearly refers to “the destruction of irreverent men” during “the day of the Lord” (v. 7, 10) – and since we know that God’s intention is that many people on the earth will, in fact, “perish” during this time of indignation – it’s evident that Peter did not have in mind all mankind here. Rather, his use of the term pas refers specifically to those belonging to the category of believers to whom Peter wrote, and whom God had chosen for “entrance into the eonian kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11). It is everyone belonging to this category of people to whom God will be mercifully granting repentance before the coming indignation of the “day of the Lord” commences.

In the same way, the immediate (and broader) context in which Heb. 2:9 is found indicates that the author was referring to everyone who belongs to the particular company of human beings that he referred to earlier as “those about to be enjoying the allotment of salvation” (Heb. 1:14) – i.e., everyone who will be receiving the “eonian redemption” and “eonian salvation” referred to elsewhere in this letter. This understanding of Heb. 2:9 is confirmed from what the author went on to write in the verses that immediately follow. In verses 10-13, we read:

For it became Him, because of Whom all is, and through Whom all is, in leading many sons into glory, to perfect the Inaugurator of their salvation through sufferings. For both He Who is hallowing and those who are being hallowed are all of One, for which cause He is not ashamed to be calling them brethren, saying, I shall be reporting Thy name to My brethren, In the midst of the ecclesia shall I be singing hymns to Thee. And again, I shall have confidence in Him. And again, Lo! I and the little children who are given Me by God!

In these verses (which, again, constitute the immediate context in which Heb. 2:9 is found), the “many sons,” the “brethren,” the “ecclesia” and the “little children” whom Christ, by virtue of his sacrifice, will be “leading into glory” (and who were “being hallowed” at that time) constitute the “everyone” that the author had in mind in Heb. 2:9. It is those who constitute this company of believers (and who, in Heb. 1:14, are referred to as ”those who are about to be enjoying the allotment of salvation”) who will be benefitting from what Christ accomplished when, through his sacrificial death, he became the Mediator of the new covenant between God and the house of Israel.

In accord with this fact, we read in Hebrews 2:14-18 that, since the “little children” who’d been given to Christ by God had “participated in blood and flesh,” Christ was also made to partake of the same so that, through death, he could be “clearing those, whoever, in fear of death, were through their entire life liable to slavery.” Significantly, those for whom Christ was made to partake of “blood and flesh” – and who comprise the “brethren” and “little children” whom he will be “leading into glory” – are later referred to as being “of the seed of Abraham. We further read that, being “made like the brethren, Christ thus became “a merciful and faithful Chief Priest in that which is toward God, to make a propitiatory shelter for the sins of the people. For in what He has suffered, undergoing trial, He is able to help those who are being tried.” Which “people” are in view here? Did the author have in mind all mankind without exception? No; the “people” in view are those who belong to the “house of Israel” and “house of Judah” with whom God will be “concluding a new covenant,” and who will be the recipients of all the eonian blessings associated with this covenant.

Moreover, the author of this letter even warned his readers against certain sinful conduct that would result in their failing to benefit from Christ’s “sacrifice concerned with sins.” In Hebrews 10:24-31, the author wrote:

“And we may be considering one another to incite to love and ideal acts, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves, according as the custom of some is, but entreating, and so much rather as you are observing the day drawing near. For at our sinning voluntarily after obtaining the recognition of the truth, it is no longer leaving a sacrifice concerned with sins, but a certain fearful waiting for judging and fiery jealousy, about to be eating the hostile. Anyone repudiating Moses' law is dying without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, are you supposing, will he be counted worthy who tramples on the Son of God, and deems the blood of the covenant by which he is hallowed contaminating, and outrages the spirit of grace? For we are acquainted with Him Who is saying, Mine is vengeance! I will repay! the Lord is saying, and again, "The Lord will be judging His people." Fearful is it to be falling into the hands of the living God!”

As with what we read in Hebrews 6:4-8 (where the believing recipients of the letter are clearly being warned of the fearful consequences of “falling aside”), the author is, in the above passage, warning those who’d obtained the “recognition of the truth” and had been hallowed by “the blood of the covenant” of the possibility of suffering an even worse punishment than that which was inflicted upon those who repudiated Moses’ law (compare this with the author’s warning in Heb. 12:25). The author went on to refer to this “much worse punishment” as “destruction,” and contrasted it with the salvation (the “procuring of the soul”) that the Hebrew believers hoped to receive at the coming/arriving of Christ (see Heb 10:35-39 and compare with 1 Pet. 1:3-9). Given that the salvation in view is that which will be received when Christ arrives and “is seen a second time” (Heb. 9:28), and the “punishment” and “vengeance” of which the author wrote is contrasted with this eonian salvation, we can reasonably conclude that the author had in view the vengeance of God that will be poured out on both unbelieving Jews and Gentiles alike during the coming “day of the Lord” (which, in this passage, is referred to by the author as the day that is “drawing near”). 

Based on this passage alone, we can conclude that the salvation that the author believed was made available to his readers by virtue of Christ’s “sacrifice concerned with sins” (and which was understood to be inseparable from the new covenant of which Christ had become the Mediator) was not a salvation that would be unconditionally applied to all mankind at the consummation. And not only this, but the salvation that the author had in view is one that could’ve been forfeited even by the believing Jews to whom he wrote!

Part Three:

[1] Although the scriptural and empirical proofs supporting Paul’s evangel are important and deserving of our careful consideration and study, they are secondary in importance to the evangel itself.

[2] What likely took place after Paul’s sermon was interrupted by the mockers was this: he went on to make known the rest of his evangel to those who responded more positively to the first part of his message (v. 32-34), so that they could believe it and become members of the body of Christ.