by Ed Stevens

"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth" — 2 Tim. 2:15.

This instruction written by Paul "the apostle of the Gentiles" was especially necessary for Gentiles who "were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Rom.15:16; Eph. 2:12). Through this rule (given in Paul's last epistle) a proper understanding of the entire Word of God could be achieved. It was the more made necessary because the Lord had made known through Paul a great "mystery of Christ", the formation of "the Church which is His body, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men". The walk and worship of believers was now to be different from that in age-old Judaism (Eph.1:22,23; 2:15; 3:1-5)

Peoples And Times Divided

That God divides the world of men into three classes can be seen in I Cor. 10:32, "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God". The bulk of the Bible pertains to the Jewish nation, starting from Genesis 12 with Abram their "high father", to Acts 10 where we read of the first Gentiles (Cornelius and others) receiving the gospel of Christ. Along with believing Jews who had at Pentecost been "by one Spirit baptized into one body", Gentile believers were now made "fellow-heirs and of the same body", or Church (Acts 2:1-4; I Cor. 12:13; Eph.3:6). From Abraham's time to Cornelius the Bible record mentions Gentiles only as they came in contact with the nation Israel or will do so in the future. Note the significance of Christ's words, "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22).

If the Word of God is not rightly divided as to peoples, dispensations and ages there will certainly be confusion as to true Bible doctrine. If we use this key to Bible knowledge we "need not be ashamed" or confounded, and will be "approved of God". The word "dispensation" means, administration or economy (so pronounced in Greek). It is found in Paul's epistles only, and that four times. There are differences to be seen in God's dealings with people at different times.
Broadly speaking, four ages are unfolded in the Bible. 1) A chaotic age of uncertain duration can be detected between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1, for verse 2 reads, "And the earth became (margin) waste and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep". (cp. Isa.45:18). 2) An age from Adam to Moses in which were dispensations before and after the flood, namely, Innocence, Conscience, Human Government and Promise (also called ages by some). 3) The law age, from Moses to the second coming of Christ, God's attention being focused on Israel as a nation so that through them all the nations of the earth might eventually be blessed. 4) The kingdom age, or the millennium, when Christ will reign on earth for a thousand years before it will be renovated by fire and "a new heavens and a new earth" is to be formed.
Where does the present Church dispensation come in ? It is a dateless parenthesis in the latter part of the law age, it being a "mystery" unknown to Old Testament writers. These writers "prophesied of the grace that should come unto you" but could not know "what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ (the cross) and the glories which should follow" (in the millennium. I Pet.1:10,11, R.V.). This text with I Cor. 12:13 and Eph.3:6 destroys the theory held by some extreme dispensationalists that the Church (Christ's body) began some time later than Pentecost.

When Christ "a minister of the circumcision" (Rom. 15:8) spoke to His disciples He spoke also beyond them to the future Jewish remnant. Only so can we properly understand Matt.28:19,20,"... and lo, I am with you (`the eleven') always, even to the consummation of the age", i.e., the law age (R.V. margin). Compare Luke 24:47; Matt. 10: 5, 23; 24:14 The law age actually ends with Daniel's 70th week, which follows the rapture of the Church. Evidently therefore, in rightly dividing the Word we must recognize 1) who is speaking, 2) to whom is he speaking—to Jew, Gentile or the Church, 3) about whom is he speaking, of these three classes, 4) in which, or relative to which dispensation is he speaking — a past, present or future one, 5) on whose authority is he speaking — his own or God's (cp. Solomon in Ecclesiastes, "I said in mine heart").

Confusion Dispelled

Ignoring God's rule to rightly divide His Word has even been a primary cause of the sad division among God's people. Our Lord prayed, "That they all may be one...that the world may believe" on Him (John 17:21). Through Paul He admonishes believers that they "all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Cor. 1:10). "Can two walk together unless they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). To this end rightly dividing God's Word is essential!

Though the believer's standing before God has always rested in salvation by pure grace without works, the religious walk differs in different dispensations. This is very evident when we compare the Old Testament and the gospels with Paul's epistles to the Church. In these epistles progressive revelation must be noted, for in those written during the Acts period, we find ceremonial observances mentioned because Jewish believers then had not yet been divinely instructed to cease Judaism. These epistles are, Romans, I & II Corinthians, I & II Thessalonians and Galatians. Bible readers have almost universally overlooked the fact that God did not explain the rent veil of the temple nor tell Jewish believers to cease the 0. T. ceremonial law till after the close of the (approximate) thirty year Acts period. Please compare Acts 21:20-25 with Eph.2:14,15; Co1.2:14-16, written after the Acts period.

The contents of "The Acts of The Apostles" must not be taken as the example or model for "acts" of believers throughout this present dispensation of the Church which is Christ's Body. It is a transition book only. The fact that Christ was asked before His ascension, "Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Act. 1:6) shows that believers at first were unacquainted with God's program for this dispensation. Not until about nineteen years later did information on this come to them. It was when the apostles and elders convened to settle once for all the question of whether Gentile believers must "keep the law" with all its ceremonial observances. The definite Spirit-inspired decision on this was, No. They were only to keep from offending Jewish brethren on certain points (Acts 15:5,24-29; 21:25).

During this gathering together at Jerusalem, it was revealed through the Spirit that God was taking "out of the Gentiles a people for His name" following which He would restore again the ancient throne of David (in the millennium). It was observed that to this arrangement the prophets were in perfect agreement. James exclaimed, "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world!" This is, you see, a very important chapter to study in rightly dividing the Word. We find, too, that no Acts character used the words "church of God" until we reach the twentieth chapter. It was Paul, to whom its full revelation was made known progressively.

When falsely accused of throwing away parts of God's word in obeying II Tim. 2:15 we point to and acknowledge Rom. 15:4 and I Cor. 10:11, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning . . . and they are written for our admonition," not to, or about us.

Contradiction or Harmony — Which?

Here is a list of Bible texts for comparison which obviously show how we must rightly divide or else — confusion.

1. Ezekiel 33:13—"When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live; if he trust in his own righteousness and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall surely die for it."

John 11:36—"Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."

The above verse in Ezekiel is popular with those who teach works to be necessary to retain salvation, but it has nothing to do with salvation. Personal righteousness here is not absolute righteousness for that could contradict Scripture everywhere. It refers to a legal "righteousness of the law", such as Paul described in Phil. 3.6-9. In the old Mosaic law dispensation sin merited physical death. Sin was passed over if a blood sacrifice was offered by the sinner, but certain presumptuous sins demanded the death penalty nevertheless.

John 11:26 can be understood two ways. All believers found alive at Christ's coming for His own will be "Caught up to meet the Lord in the air" without dying physically (I Thes. 4:17). Since sin and death have been judged on the cross for the redeemed, who have "passed from death into life" everlasting (John 5:24), they shall never die the "second death" in eternal separation from God as declared in Rev. 20:14,15.

2. II Chronicles 6:36—"There is no man that sinneth not."

I John 3:9; 5:19—"Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him and he cannot sin because he is born of God."

Solomon's statement is re-affirmed in I John 1:8, 10 in that also Christians still sin, but all this has reference only to the Adamic "old man" and not the "new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24), born of God, which never sins.

3. Matthew 8:12—"The children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Colossians 1:13—"God bath delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son."

The Old Testament abounds in prophecies and promises concerning a literal reign of Christ on earth as Israel's Messiah and King, with Israel supreme over the nations. Thus they are called "the children of the kingdom'. The only ones "cast out" are, of course, the unbelievers. Today, while Israel is temporarily set aside (Rom. 11:15, 20, 25-27), every Christian in this dispensation of the Church which is Christ's Body, is at conversion spiritually translated into the spiritual kingdom of Christ, i.e., into a realm of spiritual perfectness and into a corporate union with Christ with all believers.

4. Luke 22:29, 30—"And I appoint unto you a kingdom as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

Romans 14:17—"The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."

Much confusion has resulted in Christendom through not rightly dividing God's Word concerning the kingdom and the church. In these two texts we have again the future literal kingdom in which the twelve apostles whom Christ addressed will have special honor, and the present spiritual kingdom which is void of things physical. The Lord Jesus said, "The hour cometh and now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship Him" (John 4:23). This applies to the present church dispensation as being contrasted to the old Mosaic law dispensation with its physical ordinances. In the future literal kingdom such ordinances will again be in effect (Isa. 66:23; Zech. 14:16-21; Ezek. 40 through 47).

Spirit-taught Christians today "worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" or, "in outward ceremonies"—Weymouth's Trans. (Phil. 3:3).

5. Matthew 24:14—"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come."

Colossians 1:23—" . . . be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister."

Israel rejected her Messiah and the message of the promised literal kingdom (which promises Christ as "a minister of the circumcision" confirmed, Rom. 15:8). However, the prayer of "the King of the Jews" on the cross: "Father forgive them for they know not what they do", was granted. The kingdom message was still preached to Israel only during the entire Acts period, endorsed by signs and miracles ("the powers of the age to come", Heb. 6:5), but such preaching and miracles with it stopped when Israel continued obstinate and was set aside. "The gospel of the grace of God . . . which is able to build up and give an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:24, 32), which was all along also preached, has alone continued to this day. After the church has been caught up then the "gospel of the kingdom" will be preached "to all nations" mainly by a Jewish remnant. Then will come " the end", not of the world, but of the interrupted law age, the end of the "seventy weeks" of Dan. 9:24-27, yes, the end of man's day, to be superseded by "the day of the Lord" throughout the kingdom age.

6. Acts 2:17—"And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams."
In I Cor. 6:19; 14:34; I Tim. 2:12; II Tim. 3:1; Col. 1:25; II Tim. 3:16, 17 we find a marked difference, dispensationally:
"What ? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God? "Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak." "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." "In the last days perilous times shall come . . ." "the dispensation of God which is given to me [Paul] for you to fulfill [or fill full] the Word of God." "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect [or complete], thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

In Acts 2 Peter repeats what Joel prophesied to Israel—"your sons", etc., (Joel 2:28-32), as to events to take place immediately before and after Christ's visible second coming (when "we shall appear with Him in glory", Col. 3:4, having been previously "caught up"). Please remember, the present church dispensation was unknown to Joel, it being "a mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men as it is now revealed" (Eph. 3:4, 5).
Only because the kingdom message was still going to Israel after the cross, did Peter preach Joel's prophecy to Israel, which message as we have pointed out, extended throughout the Acts period. Therefore we find in Acts 21:19 Philip's "four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy", and, as found in our next text comparison, signs and miracles followed them that believed during this period, but not thereafter. Thus women may not prophesy today simply because Phillip's daughters did, no more than that all believers should be able to perform miracles, don't you see.

Today only believers in Christ have the Holy Spirit, whereas, in the millennium God's Spirit will be poured out "upon all flesh" including animals, the blessed effects of which is described in Isa. 11:1-9; 65:18-25.

The "last days" Paul preached differ from the "last days" Joel and Peter preached. Paul pictures how it will be near the close of our present dispensation, while Joel goes beyond this as we have pointed out.

Since we are completely furnished in the Book we call "The Holy Bible", we are warned against accepting any visions, dreams, or revelations men and women claim to have had since the Bible's completion. The warning in I Tim. 4:1, 2 is very timely: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons; speaking lies in hypocrisy . .". Is this not quite different from Acts 2:17?

7. Mark 16:17, 18—"And these signs shall follow them that believe: in my name they shall cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover."

II Tim. 4:20; I Tim. 5:23; Col. 4:14—"Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick." "Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine oft infirmities." Luke is much appreciated as "the beloved physician".

So Paul wrote after the close of the Acts period, showing that the Lord no longer allowed the sign gifts of miraculous healing, etc., to continue. Remember, "the Lord worked with them [who then preached the kingdom message], confirming the word with signs following" (Mark 16:20). Remember also, that the only mention Paul makes of speaking in tongues is in an epistle written during the Acts period—I Cor. 14, saying also they were a sign "to them that believe not", namely Israel, as foretold in Isa. 28:11, and that they were to cease. I Cor. 12 alone of Paul's epistles mentions the sign gifts, healing, miracles, tongues, etc.—kingdom gospel signs. Incidentally, why do not the Watchtower kingdom "Witnesses" display these sign gifts? Because such preaching is now premature and because they are not of God, as proved by their false teaching.

It is true the Lord wrought "mighty signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit of God" through "the apostle to the Gentiles", Paul (Rom. 15:16, 11:13; I Tim. 2:7), to initially "make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed" (Rom 15: 18. 19).

8. Hebrews 9:10; Luke 7:30—"Divers washings [baptizings] and carnal ordinances" were imposed upon Israel "until a time of reformation", or setting things straight. "The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of John."

Ephesians 4:4, 5—"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

In Paul's post-Acts prison epistles things were set straight in the revelation that Christ had "broken down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, "having abolished in his flesh Con the cross, Col. 2:141 the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace" (Eph. 2:14, 15).

Throughout the Acts period Mosaic rituals and John's water baptism, which was not "the counsel of God" against the Church, but against Israel, continued—for Jews only. Acts 15:19-29; 21:25 tells how all Gentile believers were exempted by Holy Spirit decision: "As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing". Finally, "one baptism" only continued, the spiritual baptism of I Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27—"In one Spirit were we all baptized into one body [the church] whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free, and were all made to drink of [or receive] one Spirit", A.R.V. "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? " "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ."
Colossians 2:12 is likewise spiritual baptism: "Buried with him [not like him] in the baptism [Gr. text] wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God [not of a human water-baptizer], who hath raised him from the dead".

9. II Corinthians 3:7-14. The teaching here is that the ten commandments, "the ministration of death, written and engraven upon stones" which "came with glory" (R.V.), was in due season "to be done away" and "is abolished", just as in figure "the glory of Moses' countenance" was also done away. This law covenant was made only with Israel (Deut. 5:2-22). For Christ's Body, the Church, another law-giver was raised up, namely, the apostle Paul as seen in I Cor. 14:37, "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord". By searching we find that Paul re-iterated all the ten commandment laws except the fourth command about sabbath keeping. Why ? Because it was the only one of the ten that was ceremonial and figurative as we are told in Col. 2:16, 17 and Heb. 4:3-10. Because Christ fulfilled all types and shadows dealing with salvation, they are abolished. We have the substance, Christ Himself!

10. Matthew 28:18, 19. To "the eleven disciples" Jesus said, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go yet therefore, and teach all nations baptizing them . . . "

Galatians 2:9 reads, "When James, Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me [Paul], they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship that we should go unto the heathen and they unto the circumcision" (Israel).

Plainly, a change came in God's immediate program. With "all power" given to Christ, His earthly kingdom could begin if Israel, who in God's purpose was to become "a kingdom of priests" (Exod. 19:6; Isa. 61:6), would accept her King. Since Israel, with whom the eleven only began the kingdom commission of Matt. 28 in the Acts period, proved obstinate, the Lord raised up Paul to be "the apostle to the Gentiles", sending him forth with "the gospel of the grace of God." Please read Acts 20:24; 26:17, 22:21; 13:2; Rom. 11:13; 15:16; I Tim. 2:7.

The kingdom and its gospel being postponed upon Israel's rejection thereof (see Acts 28:28 and Rom. 11:25-27), we can understand that Christ spoke beyond the eleven to the future Jewish remnant who will yet resume the kingdom message. This truth has been taught by such outstanding teachers as A. C. Gabelein, W'm. Pettingil, J. M. Gray and J. N. Darby.

Incidentally, nowhere in Acts is recorded the present day mode of water baptizing in the names of the trinity. Think it over!

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