IS THE DISPENSATIONAL BOUNDARY ACTS 28:28 OR 28:25?
One might ask, “Is it really that important which verse one sees as the dispensational boundary?” I believe the answer to that question is a resounding “yes”. The reason it is important is because if we don’t have the correct premise, i.e. the correct act of God that resulted in a new dispensation, we cannot hope to have the right boundary. By setting the boundary at Acts 28:28 we have determined that it was the preaching to the Gentiles that resulted in the new dispensation. If the dispensation changed because the gospel was sent to the Gentiles, we must conclude that it changed when Peter preached to the Gentiles as recorded in Acts 10 or when Paul went to the Gentiles in the mid-Acts period. But if the dispensation changed because Israel was divorced, then we must conclude that the dispensation changed at Acts 28:25 when Israel was divorced.
Let me put that in other terms. It is obvious (to me at least) that something happened at Acts 28 that resulted in a change from the previous dispensation to the dispensation of the mystery. In order to correctly determine when the dispensation changed we must first ask what happened that caused the change? We cannot hope to correctly determine when the dispensation changed until we first correctly determine what act of God resulted in the new dispensation.
Acts 28:28 tells us that the gospel will be sent to the Gentiles and that they will hear it. We read in Acts 28:28, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it”. Is that what led to a change in dispensations? I believe not. I believe that the gospel of salvation going to the Gentiles is the wrong premise for determining the dispensational boundary. I believe it was the divorcing of Israel that led the new dispensation.
It was the divorcing of Israel that led to a new calling. That is to say, in order for heaven to be the calling of the church, Israel with Her earthly calling must have been divorced first.
It was the divorcing of Israel that led to a new relationship between believers and Christ. That is to say, in order for the relationship of believer to Christ, dispensationally speaking, to be as body to Head, rather than subject to King, Israel must be divorced first.
If we set the boundary at verse 28 it sets the wrong premise. As mentioned above the key element in what led to a new dispensation was the divorcing of Israel. I suggest therefore, that the dispensation of the mystery was issued in when Israel was divorced, not when the message of salvation was sent to the Gentiles. If we don’t have the correct premise we cannot hope to have the right boundary.
THE THREE QUOTES OF ISAIAH, CHAPTER SIX
Let us first consider Acts 28:28 as the dispensational boundary. It has been widely written that the quote of Is. 6 in Acts 28:26-27 is the sign that Israel had been set aside, i.e. became “lo-ammi”, “not My People”. Acts 28:26-27 is quoted from Is. 6:9-10. It is also quoted in Matthew 13:14-15 and John 12:40. Let us consider these passages in which Is. 6 is quoted.
In Matt. 13:10 we read the disciples’ question to Christ, “Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?” Our Lord answered them by telling them that it was given unto them to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, “but to them it is not given”. Why was it not given to “them” to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven? “Because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand”. And then Christ immediately quotes Is. 6:9-10. But the quote of Is. 6 did not mean that Israel had been set aside, it meant only that our Lord was stating that they would not understand the parables and therefore He would not reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to them.
In John 12:40, the next time Is. 6 is quoted, it is clear that it was quoted because, again Israel refused to believe. This time they refused to believe in the miraculous signs that proved that Christ was their Messiah. But here again, this quote did not result in Israel being put aside.
The third quote of Is. 6 is, of course, in Acts 28:26-27. Where is the evidence that unlike the previous two times it was quoted, the third time meant that Israel was being set aside as God’s chosen nation? I see no such evidence. In fact precedence demands that because the first two times did not result in God putting Israel aside, neither did the third time.
As stated above, it is clear that something happened at the end of the book of Acts that resulted in a change of dispensations. But I see no evidence to suggest that it was Paul’s quote of Is. 6 that led to the dispensation of the mystery. Now let us consider Acts 28:25 as the dispensational boundary
When we speak of Israel being “lo-ammi” in the dispensation of the mystery we are alluding to Hosea’s prophecy which was fulfilled when Israel was taken captive by the Babylonians. More specifically, we are alluding to Hosea 1:9 where we read, “Then said God, ‘Call his name Lo-ammi; for ye are not My people, and I will not be your God'”. Hosea was told to name one of his children Lo-ammi as a prophecy of the impending period in which Israel would be carried away captive. What is equally important in this prophecy is Hosea 2:2, “Plead with your mother, plead; for she is not My wife, neither am I her husband.….”. My point is that when Israel became lo-ammi in the fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy, She also became “not My wife”. The same is true, as we shall see below, of the present lo-ammi period. That is to say, Israel became “not My people” and “not My wife”.
We read in Acts 28:25, “And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed”. The Greek word translated “departed” is “apeluonto”, and is a derivative of “apoluo” which is often used of divorce. See for example Matt. 1:19, “was minded to put her away privily”. See also Matt. 5:31, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement”. And Matt. 5:32, “….shall marry her that is divorced.…”. The word is used of divorce sixteen times in the New Testament. I believe that we should at least consider the possibility that Acts 28:25 tells us that Israel was being divorced from Her Husband, Jehovah. There are three reasons for that consideration. 1) The quote of Is. 6 and the sending of the gospel to the Gentiles (verses 26-28), does not indicate that Israel had been set aside, as Is. 6 had been quoted twice before, and Paul had been preaching to the Gentiles since the mid-Acts period. 2) We know that in order for the nations to be “together bodies” (Gr. “sussoma”, incorrectly translated “same body in Eph. 3:6) in the dispensation of the mystery, (please see the paper that explains exactly what the mystery was that had been hid in God for a complete consideration of the very important word “sussoma”) Israel would have to be set aside (divorced) as God’s nation (i.e. as His wife). 3) Israel was divorced in the Old Testament lo-ammi period, it is logical that She was also divorced in the New Testament lo-ammi period, i.e. in the dispensation of the mystery.
Some have objected that the Greek word translated “departed” cannot mean “divorced” because it is not in the passive voice. Let me explain that objection and then comment on it.
Let me use a different phrase in order to clarify the meaning of “passive voice”. If we said, “My feet are being washed”, that is an example of the passive voice”. And if we said, “I am washing my own feet”, that is an example of the middle voice”. So in terms of Acts 28:25, if the word was used to indicate the passive voice it would mean that Israel was being divorced. If it was used to indicate the middle voice, it would mean that the men departed. The question is then, which voice did the Holy Spirit mean for us to understand?
In the case of Acts 28:25, the Greek word is the same for the passive as it is for the middle voice. Therefore, in terms of the Greek, apart from the context, “apeluonto” can mean either “they were being dismissed/divorced” (passive voice) or it can mean “they themselves departed” (middle voice). In point of fact, I believe that in Acts 28:25 “apeluonto” means both, departed and divorced. I believe the figure of speech “double meaning” is used in this verse. The Companion Bible gives the following definition to the figure of speech called, “Amphioblogia or Double meaning”. “A word or phrase susceptible of two interpretations, both absolutely true“.
It is clear that the men spoken of in Acts 28:25 did indeed depart. That is to say, there is no question that in one sense the word is to be understood in the middle voice. The question is: can it also be understood as the passive voice, that is to say, does this verse also tell us that Israel was divorced? The note on the word translated “departed” in the Companion Bible reads, “Lit. were being sent away. ….The imperfect suggests that the chief men (vs. 17) broke up the meeting and sent the rest away lest they should be convinced”. The phrase in this note “were sent away” suggests the passive voice. But Dr. Bullinger suggests that it is in the passive voice in order to indicate that the men were being sent away by their superiors. But were they being sent away or were they being divorced? In order to answer that question we must consider who were these men of verse 25? Verse 17 reads, “And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together“. We are not told that there were “chief men” and lesser men, only that they were the “chief of the Jews”. Therefore, I believe there is no Scriptural evidence for the suggestion that the lesser men were being sent away by the chief of the Jews. Dr. Bullinger translates the word in the passive voice but as “were being sent away”. I believe, however, that because there is no evidence that lesser men “were being sent away” by the “chief men”, the passive voice implies divorce, not being sent away.
We are now ready to consider the context of Acts 28:25 to see if it will help us to determine if indeed “apeluonto” can be understood in the passive voice (in which case it would mean “were being divorced”) in Acts 28:25, as well as the middle voice. We read in verse 29, “when he (Paul) had said these words, the Jews departed“. The Greek word translated “departed” in verse 29 is a different word than the one found in verse 25. The Greek word used in verse 29 is “aperdomai”. It is never used of divorce. So in verse 25 we have Luke writing that the Jews “apoluento” and in verse 29 we have Luke writing that the Jews “aperdomai”.
Now we must ask ourselves if Luke, through the Holy Spirit, was telling us the same thing two times, i.e. the Jews left. I believe that Luke was telling us two different things. I say that because the fact of these men leaving does not seem to warrant Luke writing it twice. It was profoundly significant that they disagreed (vs. 29b) but I don’t see the profundity in the fact that they left. I believe that in verse 25 Luke was telling us that Israel was being divorced and in verse 29 he was telling us that the Jews left.
Let us try to reconstruct the scene as it is recorded in Acts 28:24-29. In verse 24 we learn that some of the Jews believed Paul’s message and some did not. In verse 25 we learn that “they agreed not”. Then verse 25 tells us that something happened “after that Paul had spoken one word“. That “one word” is what was recorded in verses 26-28, the quote from Isaiah, chapter six and verse 28, “be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it”. Then we read again that “when he had said these words, the Jews departed”. In other words, after Paul had quoted Is. 6 and told them that salvation would be sent to the Gentiles, we read that “they departed”. (Bear in mind that when they departed as recorded in verse 29, that is not the word used of divorce.)
So we read in verse 29 that the Jews departed after Paul’s last word to them. And what do we read in verse 25? Do we read again that they departed after Paul’s last word to them? Or do we read that they were divorced after Paul’s last word to them? Given that the Holy Spirit uses two very different words translated “departed”, and that one of those words is from the same root as is used of a divorce, and that Israel certainly was divorced in order for nations to be together bodies, I believe that Israel was divorced at Acts 28:25. If that is true, then the dispensational boundary is Acts 28:25, not Acts 28:28.
Is there any evidence that “apeluonto”can not be understood in the passive voice in Acts 28:25? There is this to consider. “Apoluo” does not mean “divorcement” outside of the direct context of the marriage relationship in any other passage. But Israel was indeed in a marriage relationship with God as is made clear throughout the Old Testament. In my opinion, just because Israel is not mentioned as Jehovah’s wife in the context does not negate the fact that Israel was indeed Jehovah’s wife, then being divorced.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond to my thoughts please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org