Saturday, September 14, 2019

Was Paul’s ministry among the nations ever in accord with a “Jewish, prophetic economy”? (Part 2)

When did the “administration of the secret” begin?

Concerning the administration that was given to Paul for the nations, Acts 28 proponent Adlai Loudy wrote:

Paul is no longer “bound with a chain for the hope of Israel,” but becomes “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you the Nations” (Eph.3:1), and God reveals the secret which He designates before the eons for our glory (1 Cor.2:7; Eph.3:3, 6; Col.1:24-27), and the so-called “dispensation of the mystery,” correctly translated “the Secret Administration” (Eph.3:8-10). 

In accord with the Acts 28 theory, Loudy believed that Paul’s suffering before the events described at the end of Acts was, either exclusively or primarily, for the sake of Israel, and that it wasn’t until after Paul’s declaration in Acts 28:28 that he became a prisoner “for the Gentiles” (for a refutation of this particular mishandling of Paul’s words in Acts 28:20, see part seven of my response to Tom Ballinger:  Now, in Ephesians 3:2 and 9 Paul referred to the administration that was given to him for the nations as “the administration of the grace of God” and “the administration of the secret.” As is evident from Loudy’s statement above, Acts 28 theorists believe that the “secret” to which Paul was referring (and which characterizes the administration given to him for the nations) was not made known until after the events of Acts 28:23-28. However, a careful consideration of what Paul wrote in Eph. 3:6 (where he informs us of what the “secret” consists of) makes it clear that Paul was not revealing anything that he had not already previously taught in his earlier letters to the saints in the body of Christ. Rather, what we read in v. 6 is simply a concise statement or summary of certain truths that Paul had already been making known to the saints among the nations prior to his imprisonment in Rome.

In this verse, we read that the “secret of the Christ” that characterizes the present administration is that “…in spirit the nations are to be joint enjoyers of an allotment, and a joint body, and joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus, through the evangel of which I became the dispenser, in accord with the gratuity of the grace of God, which is granted to me in accord with His powerful operation.” Notice that every element of the “secret” referred to by Paul in v. 6 was said by Paul to be “through the evangel of which I became the dispenser.” And when did “the evangel of which [Paul] became the dispenser” (i.e., the evangel of the uncircumcision/of the grace of God) first begin to be heralded and believed among the nations? Answer: shortly after Paul and Barnabas were “severed” to God for the work to which God had called them (Acts 13:2-3).

Consider, now, the following points:

1. The first element of the “secret of the Christ” is that ”in spirit the nations are to be joint enjoyers of an allotment…” But was Paul teaching something different than this truth in his earlier letters? No. There is nothing written in Paul’s prior letters which suggests that those among the nations who had become members of the one body of Christ during the earlier part of his ministry had a different allotment than the believing Jews (such as Paul and Silvanus) who had become members of the one body of Christ at this time. Nowhere are we told (nor is it ever implied) in Paul’s pre-imprisonment letters that the allotment of the Gentiles who had believed Paul’s evangel of the uncircumcision was in any way distinct from, or inferior to, that of the Jews who believed his evangel. Instead, we find that, even before Paul’s imprisonment, the nations were “joint heirs of an allotment” with their believing Jewish brethren in the one body of Christ. They together awaited “the glory that is going to be revealed for us,” when we (the “sons of God”) are unveiled, our bodies are delivered, and we are glorified/conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:18-25, 29-30).

With regards to the eonian allotment of those in the body of Christ, the ONLY difference that Paul ever referred to in his pre-prison letters is found in Romans 8:17, and the distinction made here has nothing to do with being circumcised or uncircumcised. Rather, Paul wrote that the saints in the body of Christ to whom he wrote (whether Jewish or not) would be “enjoyers of an allotment, enjoyers, indeed, of an allotment from God, yet joint enjoyers of Christ’s allotment, if so be that we are suffering together, that we should be glorified together also (Rom. 8:17). In other words, every believer to whom he wrote would enjoy “an allotment from God,” but those who were “suffering together [with Christ]” would be “joint enjoyers of Christ’s allotment” and be “glorified together also.” This fact implies that the “allotment from God” referred to by Paul is something that is common to every member of the body of Christ. And it was by “suffering together” that a saint in the body of Christ (whether Jew or Gentile) could acquire something in addition to the allotment that would be the enjoyment of all within the body of Christ. This is, in essence, the same truth taught by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (cf. Phil. 3:9-16).

2. The next truth that Paul referred to in Eph. 3:6 is that the nations would be ”a joint body.” The truth that those among the nations who believed Paul's evangel are a “joint body”– i.e., a joint body that included the Jews who believed Paul’s evangel (which included, of course, Paul himself) – is explicitly taught in 1 Cor. 12:12-13 (cf. Rom. 12:4-5) and is implied in places like Gal. 3:27-28. Whether circumcised or not, all who believed Paul’s evangel were, prior to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, baptized in one spirit into the same, one body of Christ. There is no indication that those Jews who were called through Paul’s evangel of the uncircumcision had a superior status within the body of Christ during this time, or that it was in any way different than the status of those among the nations who’d been called.

3. The last truth pertaining to the “secret of the Christ” we find referred to in Eph. 3:6 is that the nations would be ”joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.” What is the “promise (singular) in Christ Jesus” of which those to whom Paul wrote had become partakers? In Titus 1:2, “life eonian” is referred to as having been promised by God “before times eonian.” If that’s what Paul had in view here, then this blessing is something of which believing Gentiles have had an expectation since the beginning of Paul’s ministry among the nations (Acts 13:48). Another possibility is that Paul was referring to the spirit that is given to all who become members of the body of Christ. In Galatians 3:14 Paul made it clear that the believing Gentiles in the body of Christ had, through faith in the evangel that had been heralded among them (the “evangel of the uncircumcision”), obtained “the promise of the spirit (cf. Gal. 3:2-5). In Romans 8:23, this promise of which all in the body of Christ have been made partakers is referred to as “the firstfruit of the spirit.” In 2 Corinthians 1:22 it’s referred to as “the earnest of the spirit in our hearts” with which we’ve been sealed (cf. 2 Cor. 5:5), and in Ephesians 1:14 it’s referred to as the “holy spirit of promise” with which we’ve sealed (and which is said to be “an earnest of the enjoyment of our allotment”). See also 1 Cor. 12:13 (cf. 2:12, 3:16, 6:19). Regardless of what, exactly, we understand this “promise in Christ Jesus” to be, there is no good reason to think that it didn’t belong to the believing Gentiles who became members of the body of Christ before Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.

We thus see that the truths of Ephesians 3:6 – which Acts 28 theorists assume were kept secret until Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians, and didn’t belong to believing Gentiles until after Paul became a prisoner in Rome – were central to the administration given to Paul prior to his imprisonment. Although these truths were indeed a secret prior to the beginning of Paul’s ministry as the “apostle to the nations” (and had no part in Israel’s prophetic program), Paul was not first making them known in Ephesians 3:6. He was simply giving a concise, summarized statement of truths that he’d been making known among the nations all along (whether through direct, personal teaching, or through his other letters to the saints). This being the case, we can conclude that the administration given to Paul to which these truths distinctly belong – i.e., the “administration of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2) – began no later than with the events of Acts 13:2 (when Paul and Barnabas were “severed” to God for the work to which he’d called them, and which involved heralding the evangel of the Uncircumcision among the nations and thereby bringing Gentiles into the body of Christ).

Paul’s evangel during the “Acts era”

Concerning the evangel that he believes Paul heralded during “the period covered by the Book of Acts,” Loudy wrote as follows (emphasis mine):

With [Paul’s] separation, he acted as a priest of the evangel of God to the nations (Rom.15:16), in accord with the Scripture, which, perceiving that God is justifying the nations by faith, preaches before an evangel to Abraham, that "in you shall all the nations be blessed" (Gal.3:5-9). This is the evangel which Paul called "my gospel" (Rom.2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim.2:8), "the gospel which is preached by me" (Gal.1:11), "that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles" (Gal.2:2), and "the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust" (1 Tim.1:1), by which God justified the Circumcision (Jews) out of faith and the Uncircumcision (Gentiles) through faith (Rom.3:30).

According to Loudy, the evangel which was entrusted to Paul – and which he heralded among the nations during the (Gal. 2:2) – was the divine promise to Abraham that “in [him] shall all the nations be blessed.” Contrary to Loudy’s position, this was not the evangel that was entrusted to Paul. Rather, the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” that Paul heralded among the nations was (and is) constituted by the fact that Christ died for our sins and was subsequently roused from among the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4). It was “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” that was the essence of Paul’s evangel and the burden of his evangelistic efforts (1 Cor. 1:17-25; 2:1-5), and not the fact that “in Abraham shall all the nations be blessed.”

But what, then, is the promise-based blessing that was made available to the nations, and to which Paul was referring in Galatians 3:5-9? In Galatians 3:5-9 and 13-14, we read the following:

“He, then, who is supplying you with the spirit, and operating works of power among you-did you get the spirit by works of law or by the hearing of faith, according as Abraham believes God, and it is reckoned to him for righteousness? Know, consequently, that those of faith, these are sons of Abraham. Now the scripture, perceiving before that God is justifying the nations by faith, brings before an evangel to Abraham, that ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So, that those of faith are being blessed together with believing Abraham…Christ reclaims us from the curse of the law, becoming a curse for our sakes, for it is written, Accursed is everyone hanging on a pole, that the blessing of Abraham may be coming to the nations in Christ Jesus, that we may be obtaining the promise of the spirit through faith.

In light of what Paul wrote in the above passage, it’s evident that the promise-based blessing that had been made available to the nations through the heralding of Paul’s evangel was simply justification by faith (which, of course, is one of the key doctrines taught in Paul’s letter to the saints in Rome; see Romans 3-5). Paul clearly viewed the justification of the nations by faith as the fulfillment of the promise that “in [Abraham] all the nations” would “be blessed” (Gen. 12:3; 18:18), and this explains the connection that the nations have to the patriarchs of Israel and the promises that God made to them.

Although closely associated with Abraham, the blessing of justification by faith has, since the beginning of Paul’s ministry as the “apostle of the nations,” been received by the nations apart from the mediation of Israel. This arrangement is in stark contrast with what we find prophesied concerning Israel’s role and status during the eon to come. According to Israel’s prophetic program (link), the holy nation will function as a “royal priesthood” in relation to the rest of the nations, and will be the channel through which the nations receive their spiritual blessing. As was the case before and during Christ’s earthly ministry, salvation will, after Israel has been restored to her place of national privilege, be “of the Jews” (John 4:22).

Moreover, it must be emphasized that the nations continued to be blessed with this “blessing of Abraham” even after the historical events described in Acts 28:23-28 took place. After Paul came to be imprisoned in Rome, those among the nations who were called through Paul’s evangel didn’t stop being justified by faith. Rather, those among the nations who were “of faith” continued to be “blessed together with believing Abraham.” The blessing of justification didn’t end with the events of Acts 28, but continued to be received and enjoyed by everyone among the nations who became members of the body of Christ (including those to whom Paul wrote his “prison epistles”). If someone is in the body of Christ today, they have been justified by faith and have thus received what Paul referred to in Galatians 3 as “the blessing of Abraham.” This simple fact completely undermines Loudy’s appeal to Galatians 3:5-9 in support of his position that this “early letter” of Paul belongs to a bygone era (the so-called “Readjustment Administration”), rather than to the present era. If the Acts 28 proponent wants to believe that the blessing of justification by faith is in accord with a “Jewish, prophetic economy,” then he or she must also believe that this “Jewish, prophetic economy” is still ongoing in our day!

Paul’s “priestly ministry”

In Knoch’s article, “The Priestly Ministry of Paul,” he wrote:

“Since Israel not only refused to accept their Messiah for their own salvation, but failed utterly in heralding Him to the other nations, this ministry was graciously handed over to Paul. He was temporarily installed as the priest for the nations (Romans 15:16 [“For me to be the minister of Christ Jesus for the nations, acting as a priest of the evangel of God, that the approach present of the nations may be becoming well received, having been hallowed by holy spirit.”]). However, God is now making known His multifarious wisdom to the sovereignties and authorities through the ecclesia (Ephesians 3:10).”

There are two big assumptions that Knoch is making here, neither of which are valid. The first unwarranted assumption is that, in Romans 15:16, Paul was referring to a temporary state of affairs during his apostolic ministry, and that his “acting as a priest of the evangel of God” was something that ended at the time of his imprisonment in Rome. The second unwarranted assumption is that what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:10 was a state of affairs that didn’t begin until Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.

I’ve already addressed the second assumption. But what about the first assumption? Was Paul, in Romans 15:16, referring to a temporary state of affairs during his apostolic ministry that ended at the time of his imprisonment in Rome? No. Paul didn’t say anything in Romans 15:16 that is in any way inconsistent with what he continued doing during (and after) the time of his house arrest in Rome. In Romans 15:16, Paul wrote that, because of the grace that was being given to him from God, he was “a minister of Christ Jesus for the nations, acting as a priest of the evangel of God, that the approach present of the nations may be becoming well received, having been hallowed by holy spirit.” The word Paul used that is translated “act as a priest” in the CV (hierourgounta) means just this: to act or officiate as a priest, or temple worker. But what is a priest? Knoch defines the word translated “priest” (hiereus) as “any one of the family of Aaron who was qualified and consecrated to officiate in the sanctuary.” According to, the Hebrew and Greek words translated “priest” essentially refer to one who offers sacrifices to God. The priests of Israel were the only ones qualified to offer sacrifices to God in the temple (, and it is this sacred activity which may be understood as most distinctively characterizing the priestly office.[1] 

In light of this understanding of what a priest’s primary role was within the nation of Israel, it is clear that Paul was not claiming to be a literal Israelite priest (and the fact of his being of the tribe of Benjamin, as he makes known in Phil. 3:5, meant that he wasn’t even able to be a priest according to the Levitical order). What then did Paul mean in Romans 15:16? Answer: Paul was speaking metaphorically here, and using imagery that was drawn from his religious background as an Israelite. Paul’s work in heralding the evangel among the nations so that they will, by faith in the truth, become acceptable to God was like a priest’s work in offering up sacrifices to God. By referring to himself as “acting as a priest of the evangel,” Paul was simply expressing the idea that his role as the “apostle of the nations” involved heralding the evangel by which those among the nations who were being called through it became “hallowed” (consecrated or set apart) by the holy spirit (hence, Paul referred to himself as “acting as a priest of the evangel of God”). This is in accord with his original commission from Christ (Acts 26:14-18).

Paul’s reference to those among the nations who’d believed his evangel as an “approach present” (i.e., something consecrated and offered to God) who’d been “hallowed by holy spirit” and thus “well received” by God is simply an extension of the metaphorical, priestly imagery previously used by him. It also echoes the language Paul had used previously in Romans 12:1-2. In these verses we read the following: I am entreating you, then, brethren, by the pities of God, to present your bodies a sacrifice, living, holy, well pleasing to God, your logical divine service, and not to be configured to this eon, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for you to be testing what is the will of God, good and well pleasing and perfect.” Through Paul’s apostolic ministry, the evangel through which the nations could be saved was being heralded, and those among the nations who believed were being “hallowed [set apart] by holy spirit.” And having been thus “set apart” by God, they were able to engage in the “divine service” of which Paul wrote in this verse, and thereby do that which was “well pleasing to God” (2 Cor. 5:9).

As will be evident to anyone not reading Scripture through the vision-blurring lens of the Acts 28 theory, Paul’s use of this figurative, priestly imagery in no way means or implies that Paul was laboring under a different “dispensation” or administration at this time. If such figurative imagery is to be understood as entailing that Paul was laboring under a “prophetic, Jewish economy,” then we would have just as much reason to think that Paul was laboring under the same “Jewish economy” when he wrote to the saints in Philippi! In Philippians 3:3 Paul wrote concerning those in the body of Christ, “For we are the circumcision who are offering divine service in the spirit of God” (Phil. 3:3). Can imagery get any more “Jewish” than this? And in the very next chapter, Paul referred to the financial contribution of the saints in Philippi as “an odor fragrant, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God” (4:18). This is an allusion to the fragrant incense that was burnt in the temple (Ex. 30:7; Luke 1:9) and to the sacrifices offered there by the priests (thus making Paul’s imagery in this verse just as “priestly” and “Levitical” in nature as that used in Romans 15:16). According to the faulty reasoning of Acts 28 proponents, the obviously “Jewish” nature of this imagery should lead the reader to conclude that Paul was laboring under the same “prophetic, Jewish economy” when he wrote his letter to the Philippians as he supposedly was when he wrote to the saints in Rome! Unfortunately, it would seem that Acts 28 theorists are too committed to their dispensational theory to consider the theory’s problematic implications, and the absurd conclusions to which it logically leads (for doing so would, of course, force them to abandon their theory).

Surely Knoch would’ve agreed that, during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, he continued to be “the minister of Christ Jesus for the nations” (which involved heralding the “evangel of the uncircumcision” to the nations), and that salvation continued to be “dispatched” to the nations during this time (Acts 28:30-31)! If this is the case (and it is), then one cannot consistently affirm that Paul’s “acting as a priest of the evangel of God” – and the resulting “hallowing” (setting apart) of those among the nations who believed Paul’s evangel – was something that distinctly and uniquely characterized Paul’s ministry prior to his imprisonment in Rome.

Clyde Pilkington makes the same mistake as Knoch concerning what Paul wrote in Romans 15:16. As quoted at the beginning of this article, Clyde wrote, “In the first half of Paul’s ministry (during the period covered by the Book of Acts and in his preparatory epistles) he labored as a priest to the nations (“Gentiles,” Romans 15:16) under a Jewish, prophetic economy (Romans 15:9-12).”

After referring to Paul’s “priestly ministry,” Clyde referenced Romans 15:9-12 as “proof” that Paul was laboring “under a Jewish, prophetic economy” during “the first half of [his] ministry (“during the period covered by the Book of Acts”). Before I began preparing some remarks on this passage, I (fortunately) remembered that Martin Zender had already beaten me to it in one of his ZWTF articles. Since I’m in full agreement with Martin’s explanation of Romans 15:9-12 and see his comments as a sufficient response to the misuse of this passage by Acts 28 proponents, I hope the reader will excuse my taking the easy (and less redundant) route by simply quoting him. Following a quotation of Romans 15:4-13 (CLNT), Martin helpfully comments on the passage as follows: 

“In this passage, Paul quotes the Hebrew Scriptures six times. Five times the word “nations” is mentioned; once, “the peoples.” Why do you think Paul is doing this? He tells us himself in the text: “...that through the endurance and the consolation of the Scriptures we may have expectation.” Paul later wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All scripture is inspired by God, and is beneficial for teaching, for exposure, for correction, for discipline in righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped, fitted out for every good act.” Paul is using these ancient, inspired writings (“through the endurance of the Scriptures”) to assure the nations that God has always promised to remember and bless them (“through the consolation of the Scriptures, we may have expectation”). God did not say exactly how He would remember and bless the nations because, as we have seen, these were secrets kept for Paul. The immediate consolation here, for the Romans, would be that evidence existed in Israel’s writings that God would remember the nations and give them something to expect and be happy about.

Put yourselves back in the place of the Romans, some of whom knew the history of Israel. What precedent is there that anyone besides Israel would ever be blessed? Well, here it is. This is very helpful to Paul, for now Paul has six passages relating to God and the nations. This evidence in the Word of God would help Paul’s readers to think he’s not so crazy after all. Again, there are no specifics here concerning those secrets that Paul would reveal. This is merely a broad promise that the nations would have reason to celebrate: 1) “I shall be acclaiming Thee among the nations,” 2) “Be merry, ye nations,” 3) “Praise the Lord, all the nations,” 4) “Let all the peoples laud Him,” and 5) “on Him will the nations rely.” Let’s return to the opening statement of this passage, Romans 15:4— “For whatever was written before, was written for this teaching of ours.” Please make note: Those things that were written before in the Scriptures were not about the teaching of Paul, but were written for the teaching of Paul. God put these passages in His Word so that Paul could use them to prove to the nations that God always promised to remember them. Paul’s teaching is absent from these passages.

Now you see the subtle manipulation of this verse. To use this verse to say that the early ministry and epistles of Paul are founded on the Old Testament and Israel— as though nothing new came from Paul’s pen until after Acts 28:28—is not only misleading, but mistaken. We have already seen how mistaken it is. This is a manipulation of a verse to suit an agenda, namely, the Acts 28:28 agenda. That this verse is called into play in the interest of “proving” that Paul taught nothing new before his prison epistles serves only to expose the desperation of the position and show how little evidence actually exists for it.

What a difference between “for” and “founded on.” All of Scripture was for Paul (2 Timothy 3:16), but the teachings in Paul’s epistles were founded on a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). He himself testified that, concerning his evangel, he was not taught it (Galatians 1:12). This eliminates the Old Testament and Israel as the source of his message. In the book of Hebrews, examples from Israel’s history of the heroes of faith are for those Israelites who will find themselves enduring the day of Indignation, but none of what those latter Jews will experience will be founded on anything Israel has previously experienced. It is the characteristic of endurance itself that is pressed in Hebrews, not the details of that endurance. Likewise in Romans chapter 15, it is the characteristic of expectation itself that is pressed upon the Roman believers, not the details of anyone’s particular evangel, especially not Paul’s.”

At the time Paul wrote Romans, the nations had received mercy, and they thus had reason to glorify God for his mercy. However, they were not receiving mercy in accord with the “great commission” given to the twelve apostles (which was in accord with Israel’s “prophetic program”). Nor are they today. As is evident from Paul’s declaration to the Jewish leaders in Rome, the dispatching of salvation to the nations was something that had already taken place, at some point in the past (Acts 28:28; cf. Acts 13:44-48). However, the salvation that had been dispatched to the nations was not through the instrumentality of a redeemed and blessed nation of Israel. Rather, it came through the ministry of Paul, the “apostle of the nations” (Rom. 11:13), to whom God had given grace to be the minister of Christ Jesus for the nations (Rom. 15:15). And during this ministry, the nations were receiving (and continue to receive) their mercy as a result of what Paul referred to as the “casting away” of Israel (Rom. 11:12-25). And since Israel’s “casting away” is clearly a state of affairs that commenced before Paul’s apostolic ministry among the nations began, it is consequently something with which his ministry among the nations (and the “administration of the grace of God” that’s associated with it) always coincided.

[1] Although some have understood the distinctive, essential role of a priest to be that of mediation between God and man (with the priest being one who “stands between” God and sinful humans, and intercedes for them), this understanding is, I believe, deficient. While it is true that Israelite priests had a mediating role, mediation between God and humans was not distinctive or unique to the priestly office. Mediation was just as intrinsic to the prophetic office as to the priestly. That is, both the prophet and the priest can be understood as “standing between” God and man. In the case of the priest, he delivered sacrifices to God on behalf of others, thus making his mediation “from bottom to top.” In the case of the prophet, he delivered the message and instruction of God to others, thus making his mediation “from the top down” (however, it should be noted that there are many examples of the mediating work of prophets going “both ways” as well, with the prophets interceding to God on behalf of others: Gen. 20:6-7, 17; Ex. 19:17; 32:11; Deut. 9:20, 26; Num. 21:7; 1 Sam. 7:5, 8; 12:19; Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11; 37:3; 42:2).

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