A-I should like to know a little more fully what you meant by saying that while Paul's epistles as a whole are distinct from the rest of Scripture, yet they themselves need rightly dividing.
B-I am glad this important matter has arrested your attention, and will do all I can to make the position clear.
We must look at the subject first to see that Paul's ministry is something quite distinct from that of any other apostle, and then, having that ministry before us, realize that it is divided into two clear sections. This is not merely interesting-it is vital to the full understanding of God's purpose and our place therein.
First of all, Paul was not one of the twelve.
A-How do you prove that?
B-In Matthew 10:2-4 the names of the twelve are given,
and Paul is not among the number.
A-No, but I have been given to understand that when Judas fell and left the number, Paul was divinely chosen to
take his place, the appointment of Matthias (Acts 1) being a hasty attempt on the part of the apostles and done erroneously.
B-There are a good many of the actions of the apostles which certain teachers today call "apostolic mistakes", but which are not so called in the Scriptures. Look at the state of affairs at the time of the appointing of Matthias.
(1) The risen Christ has spent a large portion of forty days instructing the apostles (Acts 1:3).
(2) Not only did the Lord open the
Scriptures, but He also opened the apostles' understanding (Luke 24:45). This settles for ever the question of whether the apostles "understood" His meaning.
(3) The Lord declared that the things written in the books of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms concerning Himself must be fulfilled.
(4) Peter, whose understanding had been opened, and who had been taught the prophetic meaning of the Messianic Psalms, stood up after forty days' instruction and said, "Men and brethren, THIS SCRIPTURE MUST
NEEDS HAVE BEEN FULFILLED, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus . . . it is written in the book of the Psalms . . . his
bishoprick let another take" (Acts 1:16,20). Peter had evidently been taught by the risen Christ the meaning of the Psalms that spoke of His betrayal, and acting upon that teaching he said that it was necessary that another should take the forfeited place of Judas.
A-Would not the Apostle Paul have filled that place?
B-No, there was one qualification which Paul did not possess.
A-What was that?
B-He had never been associated with Christ and the eleven from the beginning.
A-But was that essential?
B-Listen to Peter:
"Wherefore of these men which have companied with us ALL TM TIME that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, BEGINNING from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection" (Acts 1:21,22).
This limited the number of possible candidates to two, and as the Lord had done many times during Israel's history, He did again; He used the lot to convey His choice.
"And the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven"
Then came Pentecost.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 gives the names of several witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, viz.
Cephas, the twelve, five hundred brethren, James, all the apostles, and last of all Paul himself. This enumeration places Paul outside the twelve.
A-Do you mean then that there is another order of apostleship outside that of the twelve?
B-Look at Ephesians 4:8-11:
"When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men . . . And He gave some apostles".
The "twelve" were appointed while Christ was on earth, but here is an order of apostles appointed "When He Ascended".
A-What is there distinctive about Paul's apostleship then?
B-Let the Apostle himself tell us:
"I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am TIC APOSTLE of THE GENTILES, I magnify mine office" (Rom. 11:13).
"He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles" (Gal. 2:8).
"I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity" (1 Tim. 2:7).
"I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles" (2 Tim. 1:11).
Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. And therefore, while all Scripture is profitable, yet, before we concern ourselves too much with the sin of Israel, or the great tribulation and other equally important themes, it is incumbent upon us to give due place to the message of the risen Christ, which He has sent to us through Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles.
"Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision" (Rom. 15:8).
"I (Paul) . . . the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles"
Remember it is not Paul and Paul's ideas that we want. It is still Christ Who speaks, the difference being that in the Gospels He speaks on earth, while in the Epistles He speaks from heaven. The human instruments of the earthly ministry were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The human instruments of the heavenly ministry are Peter, Paul, James, John, Jude, and of these Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles.
A-I can certainly appreciate better your strong emphasis upon the claims of Paul, and now I see that in his epistles it is not Paul's opinion I have but still the words of Christ, I feel that I have possibly neglected a most important part of Holy Scripture.
B-We will not go further just now. Give the epistles of Paul a careful reading, and when we meet again you will be the better able to enter into the question of Paul's twofold ministry.
The Appointment of Matthias
A-When you were speaking of the ministry of the Apostle Paul on the last occasion, I wanted to ask some further questions as to the appointment of Matthias.
B-I shall be glad if I can help in any way, what is your difficulty?
A-Well, there are quite a number of great and good men,
leaders in their several spheres, who believe that Peter made a mistake in Acts one as to the appointing of Matthias, and that he should have waited for the call and commission of Paul. In this you differ, and you will pardon me so saying, you have no such authority as those to whom I refer.
B-As to the personal side it stands as follows. Certain great and good men, leaders in different sects of Christendom (and therefore practically charging each other with error on sectarian points) charge other, equally great and good men, leaders in a divinely constituted unity, with intruding the reasonings of the flesh into the purposes of God. You will see therefore that we may omit all reference to the character of those for or against, and turn afresh to the Word to "search and see". In Acts 1:15,16, we read:
"And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said . . . men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus".
A-How are we sure that Peter was using this Psalm aright?
B -There are two reasons.
(1) In John thirteen, at the last supper just before Judas betrayed the Lord, Christ said:
"I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me, Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me; and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me" (verses 18-20).
This clearly proves that Psalm forty-one speaks of Judas, and moreover this passage very solemnly declares that the disciples were forewarned, and were shown the awful responsibility of receiving "whomsoever" the Lord saw fit to send. This solemn utterance was only separated from Acts one by a few weeks.
(2) The second reason is found in Luke 24:44:
"These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and IN THE PSALMS, concerning Me".
A-These are, certainly, weighty arguments in favour of your interpretation.
B-I have not finished yet. After making this statement concerning Himself, Luke 24:45-48 continues:
"Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the-dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things".
You will see that not only did these men have an opened Bible during that wonderful forty days (Acts 1:3), but they had an opened understanding also. When Peter said "This Scripture must needs have been
fulfilled", he was echoing the words of Luke 24:26 and 46, where "must needs" is translated "ought", and "behoved".
A-I begin to realize what a great responsibility rests upon those men, who, so many centuries after the event, with so much tradition between themselves and the beginning, have so lightly presumed to be the critics of Peter, James and John.
B-So you may. Yet there is more. These same correctors of the apostles tell us that Peter limited God to the two men Joseph and Matthias. Now let us see whether this is so. Peter's words are:
"Wherefore of these men which have companied with us ALL the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection" (Acts 1:21,22).
A-What was Peter's authority for making this stipulation? B-The Lord's own words in John 15:26,27:
"But when the Comforter is come, Whom I will send unto you from the Father . . . He shall testify of Me, and ye also shall bear witness, because YE HAVE BEEN WITH ME FROM
This is confirmed by Luke's statement in Luke 1:2. A-This stipulation would rule out the Apostle Paul then! Yes, and it testifies against all those who seek to place
Paul among the twelve, for his knowledge of Christ did not commence until after the resurrection. Let us briefly indicate one or two further points in favour of Peter's action.
Scripture declares of Matthias, "He was numbered with the eleven" (Acts 1:26). Our "great and good" friends declare he was not. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 15:5, "He was seen of
Cephas, then of the
twelve". So Paul himself believed that Matthias was one of the "twelve". Our friends must therefore set about correcting Paul also. Then, further, when Matthias had been appointed, nothing further is recorded until the descent of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Do these great and good leaders dare to teach that the Spirit of God also needed a little of their correction! for exactly the same words "with the eleven" occur after as before Pentecost. (Acts 2:14).
These inspired men suffered persecution and even death for their testimony, yet never once is there the slightest indication that they had made a mistake. Shall Peter be allowed to strike Ananias and Sapphire dead for
"lying to the Holy Ghost", and shall Peter himself perpetuate a fraud, remain unrepentant and indifferent to his colossal blunder, and not come forward at the appointment of Saul of Tarsus to make amends? One passage of Scripture sums up the attitude of mind of all those who by reason of their undispensational views are continually finding fault with the apostles and their ministry:
"Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition . . . making the Word of God of none effect through your tradition" (Mark 7:9-13).
The twofold ministry of Paul, and its bearing upon the revealed purpose of God for the Gentiles
A -Will you help me to understand what you mean by the "Twofold ministry of Paul"?
B -Yes, most willingly, for the due appreciation of Paul's later ministry is an entrance into great blessing.
You are already
acquainted with the conversion and commission of Paul as given in Acts nine, and so we will pass on to the critical moment
in his ministry as given in Acts 20:17-38. Paul addresses the
elders of the church at Ephesus in a strange way:
"Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord
with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews, and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you" (20:18-20).
"Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (20:26,27).
A-It sounds very much like a farewell sermon.
B-That is exactly what it is, for the Apostle says:
"And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more" (20:25).
A-What had happened to make the Apostle so confident about this?
"And now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there, save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (20:22-24).
A-Does Paul mean that the bonds and afflictions were an essential part of the ministry he desired to finish?
B-Yes. The passage before us points in that direction, and other passages confirm it. Turn to Acts twenty-six, where the Apostle makes his statement before Agrippa. After speaking of the appearance of the Lord to him on the road to Damascus, Paul says that the Lord answered him:
"I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet, for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness BOTH of these things which thou hast seen, Arm of those things in the which I WILL APPEAR UNTO THEE, delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, UNTO WHOM Now I SEND THEE" (26:15-17).
Here is a twofold ministry. The one, a testimony of the things which he had seen (see 22:14,15), the other, a testimony of those things which the Lord promised He would at some future date reveal to the apostle.
A-I see this plainly enough, but I fail to see what difference it can make to us.
B--Well turn to Acts 28:17-31. There the chief of the Jews
came to Paul's lodging and for a whole day the Apostle testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, but they would not accept the testimony. "One word" said the Apostle, is fulfilled in you, that word being Isaiah 6:10, when blindness settled down upon the people of Israel.
All through the Acts Israel are still a people before God. Miracles are everywhere the accompaniment and confirmation of the apostles' witness, but at this point Israel pass off the scene and miracles cease. "The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles" (28:28). A new dispensation begins, and Paul the prisoner becomes the vessel through whom hitherto unrevealed blessings to the Gentiles are for the first time made known.
A-How do you prove that?
B-There is a set of epistles known by some as "The Prison
Epistles", because in them the Apostle alludes to his bonds or imprisonment.
A-What are the names of these epistles?
B-They are Ephesians, Philemon and 2 Timothy. There the references to the prison are vitally connected with the Apostle's new ministry, as can be seen by turning to Ephesians:
"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward, how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery . . , unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the dispensation
(R.V.) of the mystery, which since the ages hath been hid in God" (3:1-9).
Here is a prisoner, "for you Gentiles". Here is a dispensation, "the grace of God which is given me to you-ward". Here is a mystery, revealed for the first time. For the "mystery of the gospel" the Apostle was an "ambassador in bonds" (Eph. 6:19,20). This new dispensation of the Mystery was for the church which is His Body (Col. 1:24-26). This second ministry of the Apostle fulfilled his ardent desires expressed in Acts 20:24:
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7).
The Apostles' Doctrine
A-I have been warned by some to avoid both you and your teaching because you do not, as did the early church, "continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42).
B-This is certainly a serious charge, but it strikes me as being somewhat biased, for these very same teachers who are now so zealous for the "apostles' doctrine" did not spare these same apostles over the appointment of Matthias.
A -That is so, but possibly this is the exception that proves the rule.
B-Let us "search and see". After forty days' instruction from the risen Christ, with special emphasis upon the teaching of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms concerning the Lord Himself, and moreover with the inspired statement that these same apostles UNDERSTOOD these same Scriptures (Luke 24:45), the "apostles' doctrine" is expressed in the question which was the outcome of such teaching and such understanding:
"When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying, `Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?' " (Acts 1:6).
This restoration of the kingdom to Israel we accept as an integral part of the "apostles' doctrine": those who have the temerity to warn you as to our attitude, have also the audacity to teach that this question, in spite of its context, is the result of Jewish prejudice, and that the apostles should, instead, have been found asking about the church!
A-But may it not be that after the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost the scales would fall from their eyes?
B-Yes, it may, but the question for us is, Did they alter their doctrine, and announce teaching concerning the church?
A-Yes, I believe they did, for it is universally accepted that the church began at Pentecost.
B-I will not quarrel with your word "universally", but would rather direct you to the attitude of Paul when opposed by sheer numbers (2 Tim. 1:12-1 5). As to the change of doctrine which takes place in Acts two, that I believe is a tradition foisted upon an undiscerning people. Let us "search and see".
In Acts two Peter declares that "Pentecost" is the fulfilment of that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, and he has no
reason, by any supposed change of doctrine, to hesitate in quoting the words:
"I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth
beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come" (Acts 2:19,20).
A-Perhaps Peter felt that he ought not to break off in the middle of a quotation.
B-Not so. The same Spirit who had just endued Peter anointed also the Lord, and at the opening of His ministry He did stop half-way through a quotation because of dispensational reasons. See Isaiah 61:1-4, and note Luke 4:18-20. Peter expected the restoration of the kingdom, and Joel was rightly interpreted. The kingdom is connected with the great and notable day of the Lord, but the church is not. Here again is another item of the apostles' doctrine which I believe, but which your friends do not.
Yet further, Peter declares the resurrection of Christ to be with the object that He should sit upon the throne of His father David (Acts 2:30-33), whereas tradition would once more substitute the church.
A-This one feature however is not all that the apostles taught.
B-No, but it is the foundation of all that follows. For example, is it "church truth" to teach baptism for the remission of sins? Yet this is a part of the apostles' doctrine. Your friends, who are so zealous for the truth, do they possess the Holy Spirit as did these believers in Acts two? Do they, further, sell their possessions and have all things common? Would they, if it were still possible, continue
steadfastly not only in the apostles' doctrine but also in the temple (Acts 2:46), even though the epistle to the Hebrews has since been given?
Tell me wherein do these friends of yours agree with the doctrine of the apostles? Is it too harsh to say that they hold a creed of what they imagine the apostles taught, or what they think they ought to have taught? Dear friend, "prove all things", "search and see", say in the language of the Psalmist
"I have stuck unto Thy testimonies." "The fear of man bringeth a snare."