WHICH EPISTLES WERE WRITTEN FOR THE CHURCH OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY?
Most students of God’s Word believe that Paul wrote seven epistles after the end of the Acts period and that those seven were written to and for the church which is His body. Those seven are: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus and Philemon. I agree with that, but there are those who do not. I believe, therefore, that this study might be helpful to those who may be in some doubt about this question.
There can be no doubt that Ephesians is written to the church of the dispensation of the mystery because it is in this epistle that we read of that church and of that dispensation. We read of the church in Eph. 1:22-23, “And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all”. And we read of the dispensation of the mystery in Eph. 3:8-9, “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 of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, Who created all things by Jesus Christ”.
PASSAGES THAT SUGGEST THAT PHILIPPIANS WAS WRITTEN AFTER THE ACTS PERIOD
3:14, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. It is important that we understand the meaning of the Greek word translated “high” in the phrase “the high calling”. Does it mean high in qualify or high in direction? The Greek word is “ano”. It is used 9 times in the New Testament. Because a correct understanding of this word is imperative, we will consider all nine occurrences.
Jn. 2:7, “Jesus saith unto them, ‘Fill the waterpots with water’, and they filled them up to the brim” . Here the Holy Spirit used the word to indicate the very top of the pots. This usage then certainly indicates direction. not high in quality.
Jn. 8:23, “And He said unto them, ‘Ye are from beneath; I am from above….”. It is clear by how the Holly Spirit used the word in this verse that “ano” refers to direction, not to quality.
Jn. 11:41, “Jesus lifted up His eyes…..”. here too “ano” is used of direction.
Acts 2:19, “I shall shew wonders in heaven above…”.
Gal. 4:26 speaks of Jerusalem, “which is above“.
Phil 3:14, “the prize of the high calling”.
Col. 3:1, “seek those things which are above“.
Col. 3:2, “set your affections on things above“
Heb. 12:15, “Look diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you”.
It is clear that the “high calling” is not one of quality but of direction. Can we say that New Jerusalem is a high calling? I believe we cannot say that New Jerusalem is a high calling because it will come down to earth from heaven (see Rev. 21:2). Consider also that the Greek reads literally, “But the above Jerusalem free is”. That is to say, Paul does not say that Jerusalem is above. That would imply that Jerusalem is already in existence. But reading it literally from the Greek does not give the impression that Jerusalem is already in existence. I see no reason to assume that New Jerusalem will come into existence until it is seen coming down to earth. Therefore, at no time is New Jerusalem a “high calling”, not now and not when it is seen coming to earth.
Therefore, because the high calling must refer to one which is in heaven, and only the church is called to heaven, we must conclude that Philippians, which speaks of the high calling was written after the end of the Acts period.
On page 4 of the “Third Step” Mr. Welch nullifies the argument that the word translated “high” is an adverb, and adverbs qualify verbs, therefore “calling” must be a verb. He points out that in the Greek, adverbs do not qualify verbs only.
Phi. 3:20, “For our conversation is in heaven…..” . The Greek word translated “conversation is “polituma”. It is used only once in the New Testament so it is difficult to ascertain its meaning from how it is used in the New Testament. The Companion Bible defines it from how it is used in the Septuagint, (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, but that translation is not inspired by God) as, “seat of government….”. The Englishman’s Greek Concordance has in parenthesis, “literally enfranchisement or community”. So our community or seat of government is in heaven”.
Could the definition of “polituma” (“conversation”) given in the Companion Bible as “seat of government” be correctly applied to the calling of the believers of the Acts period? I believe not, for two reasons:
1) The hope of believers and Gentiles of the Acts period is the kingdom of Heaven which will be on earth. Christ will reign from Jerusalem, on earth. Therefore, the seat of government will be not in heaven, but on earth.
2) The “high calling” can only mean the calling to heaven. Because that calling is spoken of in Philippians it makes more sense to also see the seat of government as being in heaven.
Again, while it is true that the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven, it will not be in heaven. Therefore this verse cannot be true of Acts period believers and therefore points to Philippians as a post-Acts period epistle.
My third reason is not as strong as the first two reasons presented above, but I will, in any case, suggest it. In Phil. 2:25-30 we read of Epaphroditus, who had been “nigh unto death” (verses 27 and 30). How was Epaphroditus made well? We read in verse 27 that “God had mercy on him”. To me that suggests that Epaphroditus was not made well by a miraculous healing. Because we do read of miraculous healings in the Acts period, but not after the Acts period, in my opinion, this suggests that Philippians was written after the end of the Acts period.
PASSAGES THAT SUGGEST TO SOME THAT PHILIPPIANS WAS WRITTEN DURING THE ACTS PERIOD
1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that He Which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”. Does this verse, which tells us that God had “begun a good work”, contradict Col. 2:10, “For ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power…..”?
I believe that these two passages do not contradict each other. As we consider the context of each verse we will see that they are used to teach two entirely different points. In Phil. 1:6 Paul’s point has to do with the believer’s walk in Christ and that God will continue the good work He began in them. On the other hand, Ccl. 2:10 has to do with the truth that in terms of salvation, the believer is complete in Christ and needs add nothing (please see the paper on this verse for a more complete analysis).
Let us consider the epistle to the Philippians as a whole. Philippians is obviously an epistle that deals not with doctrine but with our walk. But the first two chapters of Colossians obviously deal with doctrine, not with our walk. Therefore, there is no contradiction here. In terms of our Christian walk, we must allow God to work toward the perfecting of our lives until the end. In fact we must do more than just allow it, we must be grateful that God is working in us. In Colossians 2 Paul is writing about our being complete in Christ. In terms of doctrine we are complete in Him. But in terms of our walk, we are grateful that God continues to work in us so that He will be pleased with how we live in Him.
We read in Phil. 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that He Which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”. To what does the phrase “the day of Jesus Christ” refer? Paul tells us that God will perform a good work until a certain day. I believe it is most logical that God will continue to perform a good work in us until we are resurrected.
A similar phrase is used in verse 10, “that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ“. And also in 2:16, “Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain”. One thing is certain from the context, it refers to the end of something. But the phrase itself does not have dispensational implications. To say that it refers to Christ’s parousia, which is the hope of those of the Acts period, is without Scriptural evidence. And to say that it refers to Christ’s epiphenia which is the hope of believers of the post-Acts dispensation is also without Scriptural evidence. Therefore, I do not believe that we may use that phrase in our determination as to when in relation to the Acts period Philippians was written.
1:7, “Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace”. Most in the Acts 28 community believe that the fact that Paul was in bonds when he wrote Philippians proves that he wrote it after the end of the Acts period. But Paul had been arrested long before he was finally brought to Rome (it is estimated by some to be about two years) and put under house arrest. He could have written the epistle to the Philippians before he was brought to Rome, i.e. before the end of the Acts period. But did he?
Some have pointed to Phil. 1:13 to prove that Paul had written Philippians before he was brought to Rome, i.e. before the end of the Acts period. That verse reads, “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places”. They believe that the word translated “palace” in Phil. 1:13 refers to the soldiers of the imperial guard. If that were true it would not make sense that the imperial guard would guard Paul if he were simply under house arrest in Rome, as he was after the end of the Acts period. Therefore, some believe that Philippians was written from Judea, during the Acts period. Because this question hinges on the meaning of the Greek word translated “palace” in Phil. 1:13, we must allow the Holy Spirit to define the Greek word translated “palace” in Phil. 1:13, and that definition is, whenever possible based on usage.
The Greek word translated “palace” in this verse is “praitorion”. It is used only eight times in the Word of God so let us consider all eight occurrences.
Matt. 27:27, “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers”. Note that the word is translated “common hall”, which is of course, a place. In fact this verse speaks of soldiers, but the Greek word translated “soldiers”, i.e. men, is “straitiotees” and is always translated “soldiers”. My point is that in the first occurrence of the Greek word “praitorion” it is used of a place, not of the soldiers.
Mark 15:16 reads exactly as Matt. 27:27. Please see note above on that verse.
John 18:28, “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment, it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall.……”. Note that here too the word is used of a place and not of the men that led Jesus into that place.
Jn. 19:8-9, “when Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus……”. Again, “praitorion” is used of a place.
Acts 23:35, “I (the governor) will hear thee (Paul), said he, when thine accusers are also come’. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s judgment hall“. Again, the word is used of a place, not of men or of an army.
We come now to the last usage of the word, Phil. 1:13, “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places”. Because the word is always used of a place, I believe we may conclude that here too it is used of a place., In other words, we learn from Phil. 1:13 that Paul was held prisoner in a certain place. But we are not told whether this place was in Jerusalem (which would be the case if Philippians was written during the Acts period) or if it was in Rome (which would be the case if the epistle was written after the end of the Acts period). Therefore, in my opinion, this verse does not prove either way if Paul wrote the epistle to the Philippians during or after the Acts period.
1:14, “And many of the brethren in the Lord waxing confident of my bonds are much more bold to speak the word…..”. Does the phrase “brethren in the Lord” mean Paul’s brethren after the flesh, i.e. Jews? If it does it would indicate that perhaps Paul was in Jerusalem, the city of his people. If that were the case that would lend some weight to the argument that Philippians was written from Judea, i.e. before the end of the Acts period. A similar term is used in Col. 1:2 which reads, “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse……”. There is no question that Colossians was written after the end of the Acts period and the phrase would, of course, refer to believers, including Gentiles, not to Paul’s brethren after the flesh. So here again, Phil. 1:14 does not prove that Paul wrote the epistle to the Philippians from Jerusalem, i.e. before the end of the Acts period. Neither does it prove that it was written from Rome.
2:12, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Let us consider the phrase “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. To some this is the same truth as Paul expressed in Romans, which is, of course, an Acts period epistle. We read in Romans 2:13, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified”. Is this the same truth as Paul expressed in Philippians (“work out your own salvation”)? The answer to that question is both yes and no. Let me explain. There is no indication in Philippians that Paul was suggesting that they observe the law. But it is true that he was speaking of working out their salvation. But what Paul wrote in Phil. 2:12 is a universal truth, it is true of all ages and dispensations.
Let us also consider Rom. 3:20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight…..”. In verse 22 Paul explains that justification is by faith. So in chapter two of Romans Paul wrote that one is justified by the law, i.e. by works, “the doers of the law shall be justified”. But then in chapter three he wrote that no one is justified by works. Is there a contradiction between these two truths? Of course not! Both are true. One is justified by faith and that faith is completed by works .
Furthermore, as stated above, there is nothing dispensational about that doctrine. That is to say, it is true of all dispensations. How do we know that? Let us consider Heb. 11. This chapter is often referred to as “the faith chapter”, correctly so in my opinion, as it is about what faith is and those who demonstrated their faith. Let us consider just two of those who are commended in this chapter for their faith, each from two different dispensations.
Noah lived, of course before the law was given and we read in verse 7 of Noah, “By faith Noah being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith“. This passage tells us two things about Noah’s righteousness, 1) that Noah was made righteous by faith and 2) by faith he built the ark. In other words, Noah believed God’s message and the belief (faith) in that message made him righteous. But it is his building the ark that completed that faith.
Now let us consider a person of faith from a different dispensation. We read in verse 8 of Abraham, “By faith Abraham when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing wither he went”. Here too Abraham completed his faith by his work, “he went out”.
The point is that salvation by faith being completed by works is a universal truth, one that is true of all dispensations. It was just as true of Noah as it was of Abraham as it is for believers of the dispensation of the mystery. Therefore, Paul’s exhortation to work out our own salvation does not prove that Philippians is an Acts period truth because it is a truth for every dispensation. (Please see the paper on faith and works in God’s plan of salvation for the Scriptural evidence that believers of the dispensation of the mystery must complete their faith by works).
Phil.2:15 reads, “That you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world”. Some believe that because the language of this verse (especially the word “blameless”) is very similar to that of the Acts period, Philippians is an Acts period epistle.
Let’s start with the word “blameless’. We read in Eph. 1:4 that we were chosen in Him to be “holy and without blame“. God has determined that all His children will be blameless in resurrection, otherwise how can He fellowship with them? I believe that this verse contains universal truth, God wants all of His children to be blameless and have all the other characteristics mentioned in this verse.
Now let us consider the phrase, “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation”. If Paul was speaking of the nation of Israel, this could suggest that Israel had not yet been set aside, and we all know that Israel was a perverse nation. The Greek word usually translated “nation” is “ethnos”, but in this verse it is “genea“. “Genea” is used 39 times in the Bible. It is translated “generation” 34 times, “times” twice, “ages” twice and “nation” once, i.e. in Phil. 2:15. Because the Greek word for “nation” is “ethnos”, it is clear that “nation” is not what the Holy Spirit intended us to understand in this verse.
Let us also consider the entire phrase, “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world”. They shine as lights to the kosmos, i.e. the entire world. It makes no sense to say that they are in the midst of a crooked nation, and that they are lights to the entire world. Therefore, I believe we must conclude that it is not a perverse nation about which Paul speaks, it is a perverse generation. That being the case this verse does not prove that Philippians is an Acts period epistle.
Phil. 2:17, “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all”. Does the mention of an offering of a sacrifice prove that Philippians is an Acts period epistle? I think not. This is certainly not a literal offering. That is to say, Paul is not literally offering himself as a sacrifice. As is true of all figures of speech, it enhances a truth. The truth that is being enhanced is that Paul would give of himself completely to further their faith. This is not an Acts period truth, this is a more than generous proclamation of Paul’s attitude of service which is absolutely non-dispensational.
Phil. 3:2-3, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. for we are the circumcision, which worship God in spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh”. Israel had been put aside at Acts 28, so does the mention of “we …the circumcision” suggest that Philippians is an Acts period epistle? I think the answer to that question lies in the context.
Note the word “for” in the phrase ” for we are the circumcision”. It suggests a contrast between the circumcision and the concision. The note in the Companion Bible on the word “concision” reads as follows: “The verb katatemno occ. in the Sept. of heathen mutilations. Lev. 21:5, I Kings 28:22. Paul regards the circumcision of the Judaizers as a mere ordinance, no better than a heathen one. Cp. Rom. 2:25-29, I Cor. 7:19, Gal. 5:6 and 6:15″. Note also that the circumcision in this context are the true circumcision. That is to say they worship God in the spirit, and “have no confidence in the flesh”.
My point is that in this context the contrast is not between Jew and Gentile, it is between those who worship God in spirit and those who are “evil workers” etc, i.e., those who live according to the flesh. That is to say, “the circumcision” in this context refers to those who worship God in spirit, not to the nation of Israel. That being the case, I do not believe that the mention of the circumcision points to Israel being God’s People as they were in the Acts period, and therefore is not evidence that suggests that Philippians was written in the Acts period.
Phil 3:6,”Concerning zeal persecuting the church, touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”. Paul was writing of his past life. Therefore this verse is not saying that Paul was still observing the law. Further, as the discussion above of 2:12 showed from Scripture, the observance of the law completed ones’ faith in the same way that good works complete the faith of believers of the dispensation of the mystery. (Please see the paper on faith and works in God’s plan of salvation for the Scriptural evidence that believers of the dispensation of the mystery must complete their faith by works).
3:20-21, “……we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like into His glorious body…..”. First, we must see that Paul does not say we look for the “”parousia” of Christ, neither does he say that we look for the “ephiphenia” of Christ. He said simply that we look for Christ. My point is that the phrase “we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” has no dispensational implications. Another clue that tells us that this phrase has no dispensational implications is that Paul wrote that we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is Saviour to all believers no matter the dispensation.
To some, because the word “changed” is used, it refers to the rapture and this proves that to them that Philippians is an Acts period epistle. Let us consider the Acts period account of the body being changed. I Cor. 15:51-52, “Behold I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump…..we shall all be changed”.
To begin, it is very important to note that, contrary to the majority opinion, this passage says absolutely nothing about the rapture. It speaks of a change that will take place, but it does not speak one word of being caught up in the clouds, i.e. the rapture.
Further, both passages, if we fail to consider the Greek, seem to speak of the same change. But there are two very different words used in each passage. It is true that the English word is the same, but where the Holy Spirit uses two very different words, we must take that into consideration.
The Greek word translated “changed” in I Cor. 15 is “allotto”. It is used only four times other than in I Cor. 15 so let us consider each of those four occurrences.
Acts 6:14, “”For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered unto us”
Rom. 1:23, “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man……”
Gal. 4:20, “I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice (the Companion Bible has “tone”); for I stand in doubt of you”.
Now let us consider the word translated “changed” in Phil.3:21. That Greek word is “metaskeematizo”. It is used four times other than in Phil. 3.
I Cor. 4:6. “”For these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes”
II Cor. 11:13-15, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. and no marvel” Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light, therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works”.
Phil. 3:21, “Who shall change our vile body….”.
The difference between the meaning of the two Greek words may not be obvious, but the point is that the Holy Spirit did indeed use two different words to express two different things. We must also consider that believers of the dispensation of the mystery will be raised, and certainly not in the bodies of sin, they will be changed.
In my opinion, the very fact that a different word is used than is used in II Cor. 15 tells us that something different is implied. What that difference is, I don’t know. At any rate because I Cor. 15:51-52 does not refer to the rapture, as such, and because the Greek words translated “change” in the two passages under consideration are quite different, I do not believe there is proof in Phil. 3:20-21 that Philippians is an Acts period epistle.
4:5, ” For the Lord is near.” Bearing in mind that the dividing up of the text into verses was not part of the original Greek, I would like to suggest a slightly different division of the verses based on the context.
We read in Phil. 4:6, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God and the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”. Now let us go back to verse 5, “Let your moderation be known unto all me. The Lord is at hand”. I suggest that the phrase “the Lord is at hand” goes better with what follows it rather than what precedes it. That is to say, the Lord is at hand and because that is true we can be careful for nothing…. . But the Lord being at hand does not seem to have anything to do with letting moderation be known unto all men.
My point is this: the context has absolutely nothing to do with the Lord’s return, it has to do with the fact that we need not be careful (or as the CB suggests “anxious”) because the Lord is at our side, i.e. He is at hand. In my opinion, this fits the context whereas the suggestion that the Lord being at hand has to do with His coming does not fit the context at all..
It has been suggested that Philippians is not a post-Acts period epistle because Paul does not write of the mystery in Philippians. i I believe it does not indicate any such thing. Philippians is not an epistle that is primarily doctrinal, it is one that addresses how Christians should walk with God in this world. Consider also that Philemon does not mention the mystery either. Does that make it an Acts period epistle?
Colossians, like Ephesians is obviously an epistle written for the church which is His body because we read of that church in Col. 1:18, “And He is the Head of the body, the church; Who is the beginning, the Firstborn from the dead…..”.
PASSAGES THAT SUGGEST THAT I TIMOTHY WAS WRITTEN AFTER THE ACTS PERIOD
In my opinion, the most compelling Scriptural evidence that I Timothy was written after the end of the Acts period is found as one compares I Tim. 5:14 with I Cor. 7:8. We read in I Tim. 5:14, “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children….”. But we read in I Cor. 7:8, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I“, i.e. unmarried and childless. And again in 7:38 we read, “so then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better“. It is not enough to say that Paul does not command the unmarried to remain so, because even if he did only recommend it, it is still a contradiction with what he tells the younger women in I Timothy. In other words, if we don’t see that these two passages were written in two different dispensations, we have a contradiction in the Word of God, which is, of course, not possible.
Why would Paul suggest in the Acts period that it is better to be unmarried and childless ? In answer to that question let us consider Matt. 24:23 which comes in the context of Christ’s discourse about the end times. “But woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days, for there shall be great distress in the land…..”. Paul wrote I Corinthians during the Acts period. During the Acts period he was still looking for the return of Christ in his lifetime, which meant that he was still expecting to see the tribulation. During the tribulation it was better, according to Matt. 24:23, quoted above, for a woman not to be with child. But in the dispensation of the mystery Paul knew that the return of Christ was no longer imminent and that the great tribulation would not occur soon. That being the case, in the dispensation of the mystery it was better for the unmarried to marry and have children. We can see therefore, that there is no contradiction in these two passages. But only if we see that I Timothy was not written in the same dispensation as was I Corinthians can we avoid this apparent contradiction. We must conclude therefore that I Timothy was written in the dispensation of the mystery, I Corinthians in the Acts period, i.e. the dispensation of law.
I Tim. 2:2 is also worthy of consideration. We read in I Tim. 2:1-2, “I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty”. In the Acts period believers were looking for the imminent return of Christ. But before that return they would have to live through the great tribulation. They would not have expected, or even prayed for a “quiet and peaceable life” when they were expecting the tribulation. But after the end of the Acts period, when Israel had been set aside, the imminent return of Christ, and the tribulation that would precede it, was no longer what believers were looking for.
In I Tim. 4:1-5 Paul wrote of those who speak “lies in hypocrisy; ….forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth”. The Law of Moses did indeed command Israel to abstain from certain meats. If this were written during the Acts period the law would have still been observed and the eating of certain meats would not have been allowed. But here Paul is deeply critical of those who command abstinence from certain meats, referring to them as “hypocrites”.
PASSAGES THAT SUGGEST THAT I TIMOTHY WAS WRITTEN DURING THE ACTS PERIOD
There are some passages in I Timothy that suggest to some that the epistle was written during the Acts period. Let us look carefully at each of those passages.
I Tim. 1:8, “But we know that the law is good if a man use it lawfully“. Does this verse tell us that those to whom I Timothy was written should observe the law of Moses? I do not believe that is what this verse is saying. The following verse (vs. 9) tells us that the law was made, “not for good men, but for law breakers”. What did Paul mean that the law was made for law breakers? I believe the answer to that question is found in Rom. 7:7-13, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid, Nay, I had not known sin but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said ‘Thou shalt not covet’. …..(verse 11) For sin taking occasion by the commandment deceived me, and by it slew me, wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me?. God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceedingly sinful”.
In Romans Paul is saying that the law made sin known to the sinner, and so it was good. In I Tim. Paul is saying the same thing, i.e. that the law is good in that it makes sin known to the sinner. But in I Timothy Paul adds, “if a man use it lawfully”. Even today in the dispensation of the mystery we can use the law lawfully. For example, in Eph. 6:2 Paul quotes the law when he writes, “Honour thy father and mother….”. Paul was not suggesting in Ephesians (or in I Timothy) that we observe the law. What he was saying was that the law demanded that we honour our parents. Even though we are not under the law, it is still a good thing to do because it pleases God.
So too, I believe that in I Tim. 1:8 Paul is saying that even though we are not obligated to observe the law, the law helps us to recognize sin as sin and to know what pleases God. In Romans 7 Paul wrote that he would not have known lust except that the law demands that we not lust. So also today, we know that lust displeases the Lord, and we do not lust, not because we are under the Law, but because we don’t want to displease Him.
In I Timothy therefore, the lawful use of the Mosaic law was not to observe it as if it were still in effect, but to use it in order to become more aware of what we do, whether that pleases or displeases God. As mentioned above, there is no question that Ephesians was written to the church which is His body and Paul quotes the fifth commandment in that epistle as worthy of obedience. Just as he is not saying in Ephesians that the Mosaic law is to be observed , but only that it declares what the will of God is, so too in I Timothy Paul’s point is that the Mosaic law does indeed declare what pleases and displeases God, and that we should use that law, but lawfully.
Another passage that might cause some to think that I Tim. was not written for the church is I Tim. 4:14, “Do not neglect your gift which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid hands on you”. It is clear that there were many miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit during the Acts period. But as we learn in Eph. 4:11-12, some of these gifts were given for the building up of the body of Christ. “And He gave some apostles: and some prophets: some evangelists, and some to be pastors and some to be teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up“. The phrase, “body of Christ, is obviously used to include believers of all dispensations because the church which is His body was still hid in God. So some gifts received in the Acts period obviously continued past the Acts period into the dispensation of the mystery in order to build up the body of Christ.
Was the gift that Timothy had one that would help to build up the body of Christ? What was this gift? We are not told specifically, but I believe that the context will give us a hint. In verse 13 Paul tells Timothy to be diligent in his preaching and teaching and in the next verse Paul tells Timothy to “not neglect your gift”. I believe this passage suggests that Timothy received the gift of preaching, and teaching. “….devote yourself to public reading, to preaching and to teaching“.
It seems that Timothy, for some reason, was fearful about testifying about the Lord. Paul had laid hands on Timothy to give him a gift that would give him the power, the love and the courage to testify for the Lord. I believe that Timothy was given a gift that would enable him to build up the body of Christ. This gift was given by the laying on of hands during the Acts period, and continued to be used after the Acts period for the edification of the church.
I am suggesting therefore, that some, including Timothy, did have spiritual gifts after the Acts period. They had the gifts mentioned in Eph. 4 that would build up the body of Christ. But because those gifts were given to build up the body of Christ in the dispensation of the mystery the mention of them in I Tim. does not prove that I Tim. is an Acts period epistle.
Another passage that may lead some to think that I Timothy was written in the Acts period is I Tim. 5:22 where we read, . “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, neither be partakers of other men’s sins; keep thyself pure”. As mentioned above, I believe that Timothy’s gift was given him by the laying on of hands during the Acts period, but carried over to the dispensation of the mystery so that he might use it to build up the body of Christ. But in this verse Paul is telling Timothy about laying on of hands after the Acts period. In order to understand this seeming difficulty we must ask the question: was this laying on of hands for the purpose of imparting the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
To be sure the laying on of hands in the Acts period did result in the receiving of miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit. For example we read in Acts 8:18-19, “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, ‘give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands he may receive the Holy Ghost’ ” (i.e. the gifts from the Holy Ghost). There is also no doubt that the laying on of hands led to miraculous healings as in Acts 28:8, “Paul laid hands and healed him”. But the laying on of hands was not always for the purpose of receiving gifts from the Holy Spirit or in miraculous healing. For example, we read in Acts 6:2-6 of the situation in which the twelve needed to appoint some other disciples to “serve tables” (verse 2). They were told to pick “seven men of honest report, full of the holy ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”. Note that these men had already been filled with the holy ghost. But we read in verse 6, “when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them”. Why were hands laid on them if they had already received the holy ghost?
For the answer to that question let us go back to the Old Testament, i.e. Numbers 27:18-23, “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him.; and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient……….and he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses”.
What exactly happened in this scene as described in Numbers 27? In verse 13 we read that God had told Moses that he would “be gathered unto thy People, as Aaron thy brother was gathered”, because Moses had rebelled in the desert of Zin. In verses 15-17 we read that Moses had asked the Lord to choose a man who would lead Israel when Moses couldn’t. That man was Joshua. Joshua was to take over from Moses the leadership of Israel. By laying hands on Joshua in the sight of the high priest and the entire congregation, Moses passed the torch, so to speak, of leadership. By the laying on of hands Moses set Joshua apart for the work that God had for him to accomplish. I am not suggesting that Joshua did not receive a gift from the Spirit because he did, as we learn in Deut. 34:9, “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hand upon him……”. But, as Numbers 27 shows, Joshua’s receiving of the gift of wisdom was not the primary reason for the laying on of hands. The primary reason, as given in Numbers 27 was to present him to Israel as their leader, i.e. to separate him for the tasks that God had for him.
And that is exactly the reason for the laying on of hands in Acts 6, i.e. to set apart the seven men to “serve tables”.
In Acts 13:2-3 we read of another setting apart of men for the work that God had for them. “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. and when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away”. We know for certain that Paul had already received the gifts of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands from Acts 9:17, “And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord even Jesus, That appeared unto thee in the way…….sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost’ “.
Let us come back then to I Tim. 5:22, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands…..”. I am suggesting that Paul was telling Timothy to take plenty of time before he separated any man unto the Lord’s work. That is to say, to make sure first that that man is who and what he should be. There is no reason to assume that the laying on of hands meant miraculous healing or receiving of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in this verse. I believe the laying on of hands in I Tim. 5:22 refers to the laying on of hands for the purpose of separating one for God’s ministry.
Does the fact that the laying on of hands for separation unto God’s service was an Old Testament ceremony mean that Timothy was to obey the Mosaic Law? No. Just as Paul’s quote of the law concerning honoring one’s parents is not a suggestion that those to whom he wrote Ephesians should observe the Mosaic Law, so too, Timothy’s laying of hands to separate one unto God’s service was not in order to obey the Mosaic Law. My point is that Paul’s alluding to an Old Testament service does not prove that I Tim. is an Acts period epistle.
I Tim. 1:17 is another verse that suggests to some that I Tim. was not written to the church. “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever.” We read in this verse of Christ as “King Eternal”. We all know that Christ will be King of Israel in the millennial reign. Does the fact that He is referred to as “King” in I Timothy suggest that I Timothy is an Acts period epistle? No, I don’t believe it does.
We know that Ephesians and Colossians were written to the church and in both those epistles we read of a “kingdom”. Eph. 5:5 reads, “For this ye know that no whoremonger, nor unclean person nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”. Col. 1:12-14, “Giving thanks unto the Father, Which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son, In Whom we have redemption through His blood even the forgiveness of sins”. In the paper on this web-site called “A Study Of The New Testament Terms For God’s Kingdoms” I give the Scriptural evidence for my belief that the kingdom of God is a non-dispensational term for the kingdom of which all believers of every dispensation will be a part.
The passages that speak of the kingdoms in Ephesians and Colossians are non-dispensational in character. That is to say, they speak of truths that pertain to all believers. No whoremonger etc. of any dispensation will be allowed into the kingdom of believers. And all believers of every dispensation are “made ..meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light”. And all believers of every dispensation have been redeemed through His blood. Therefore, I believe that the “kingdom of Christ: and the “kingdom of His dear Son” are different titles for the kingdom of God when that term is used in its broadest sense, i.e. of the kingdom of all believers. (The above mentioned paper suggests why the titles vary.) Because both Ephesians and Colossians are obviously epistles written for the church of the dispensation of the mystery, and both speak of kingdoms, it is not unusual to read in another epistle written to the church that Christ is King, because where there is a kingdom there is a King.
One must also take into consideration the context in which the phrase “King eternal” is found. It is in a context of universal truths. Note the words, “immortal”, and” invisible” and the phrase, “the only wise God”. God is all those things in every dispensation. These are all universal truths that happen to be found in an epistle written to the church which is His body.
We read in I Tim. 2:15, “Nevertheless they (wives) will be saved if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control, through childbearing.” This verse speaks of wives who are believers (“if they continue in faith”), i.e. they were saved. But Paul says “if” they do certain things, i.e. live in “holiness” and “self control”. Does this point to salvation by faith plus works and if so, does that prove that I Timothy was not written in the dispensation of the mystery?
The paper on this web-site on the place of works and faith in God’s plan of salvation will prove that salvation has always been the same, i.e. one is saved by grace through faith and works complete one’s faith. I would like, at this point to call the readers attention to just two passages in what I consider to be epistles written after the end of the Acts period that bear out that belief.
We read in Phil. 2:12, “…..work out your own salvation with fear and trembling“. Obviously, Paul was not saying that one is saved by works, but this verse does, in my opinion, say that our faith is completed by works. (Please see the above mentioned paper for a more complete study of this verse.)
Another verse that tells us the same thing about the place of works in the dispensation of the mystery is in II Tim. 2:10, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory”. Note the word “obtain”. Webster’s Dictionary defines “obtain” as, “to get hold of by effort“. Again, Paul is obviously not suggesting that salvation is by works, but I believe that God’s plan of salvation is a universal one, i.e. it is the same for all dispensations. Again, that plan is that one is saved by grace through faith, and that faith is completed by works.
Now let us consider is I Timothy 6:15 which speaks of Christ as King, “Which in His times He shall shew, Who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, a dwelling in the light which no man can approach into; whom no man hath seen nor can see; to Whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen”. The note in the Companion Bible tells us that the Greek word translated “Potentate” is used only in this passage in I Timothy and that it means “a mighty Prince or Ruler”. Does the fact that the word is used only here tell us that Christ is not or will not be “a mighty Prince or ruler” to any but those who live in one particular dispensation? I don’t believe it does. It is Who Christ is, i.e. Jesus Christ is a “mighty Prince”, Jesus Christ is a mighty Ruler. So too does “King of kings and Lord of lords” tell us Who Christ is. This is a universal truth that does not change from one dispensation to another any more than the truth that God is love changes from one dispensation to another.
We cannot, in my opinion, neglect the evidence given in the section above which shows that I Timothy was written after the Acts period. Part of that evidence is that unless we see that I Timothy was written in a different dispensation than was I Cor. we have a glaring contradiction between I Cor. 5:14 and I Tim. 5:14. We must not predetermine that an epistle written to the church must be entirely different in every aspect from the epistles written in the previous dispensation, and if it is not what we have predetermined it should be, then conclude that it was not written to and for the church which is His body. .
PASSAGES THAT SUGGEST THAT II TIMOTHY WAS WRITTEN AFTER THE ACTS PERIOD
If I Tim. was written for the church which is His body, obviously so too was II Timothy. But let us consider the passages that I believe substantiate that view.
There are two other passages that lead us to conclude that II Timothy was written toward the end of Paul’s life. Those are 1:15 and 4:6. II Tim. 1:15 reads, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me……”. And 4:16 reads, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only but unto all them also that love His appearing”.
Also, as in I Timothy there is evidence that miraculous healing had ceased, so too do we see that in II Tim. 4:19. We read in II Tim. 4:20, “Eratus abode at Corinth; but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick“.
PASSAGES THAT SUGGEST THAT II TIMOTHY WAS WRITTEN DURING THE ACTS PERIOD
I believe that there is more than enough Scriptural evidence to prove that II Timothy was written for the church which is His body in the last part of Paul’s life. But in the interest of thoroughness, I will discuss two passages that may seem to some to suggest otherwise.
We read in II Tim. 1:6 of the gift Timothy received by the laying on of hands. Verse 7 gives us a hint as to what that gift may have been, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God”. We read of this gift in I Tim. 4:14, “Do not neglect your gift which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid hands on you”. In the section on I Timothy I gave the Scriptural evidence for the conclusion that this gift was to enable Timothy to be unafraid to testify of the Lord. Again, this gift was given during the Acts period but it carried over into the dispensation of the mystery so that Timothy would be of service to the body of Christ.
Another passage that might be a stumbling block is II Tim. 2:8 where we read, “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel”. Why would Paul be reminding believers of the dispensation of the mystery, wherein Israel had been put aside, that Christ was the seed of David? Why not? That is Who Christ is, i.e. He is the Seed of David. This is a universal truth in the context of universal truths. That is to say, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. That is not a dispensational truth, i.e. one that may change with the change of dispensations. It is a universal truth, i.e. one that remains true for all dispensations. So too, is the fact that Christ is the Seed of David a universal truth. But why would Paul remind believers of the dispensation of the mystery of that truth? I don’t know. But we must not come up with an answer that is not supported by Scripture and from that unsupported answer conclude that it “proves” that II Timothy was written during the Acts period.
PASSAGES THAT SUGGEST THAT TITUS WAS WRITTEN AFTER THE ACTS PERIOD
In truth, the entire epistle is filled with universal truths and could have been written in any dispensation. That is to say, it could have been written in the Acts period because everything that is written in Titus is a truth that is in concert with Acts period truth. But those truths are universal truths, not dispensational; which means that they could have been written after the end of the Acts period as well, for the truths are also in concert with the dispensation of the mystery. For example we read in Titus 1:15, “unto the pure all things are pure”. This is a true statement in every dispensation, i.e. it is a universal truth. Titus 3:8, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men”. This is a universal truth, it has no dispensational boundaries.
Are we to gather from the fact that Titus is an epistles that contains only universal truths that it was not written for the church? I don’t believe that that is a logical conclusion. When we read of universal truths it is understood that they are true universally. That means that they could have been written at any time. I am by no means an expert in Bible chronology, but Dr. Bullinger puts the writing of Titus between I and II Timothy. Because I Timothy was written after the end of the Acts period, I believe we must conclude that Titus was also written after the end of the Acts period.
PASSAGES THAT SUGGEST THAT TITUS WAS WRITTEN DURING THE ACTS PERIOD
Titus 1:10 makes mention of the circumcision. “For there are many unruly, and vain talkers and deceivers, specifically they of the circumcision“. But as we read on further to verse 14 it will, in my opinion, be clear what these deceivers are talking about, “Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men that turn from the truth”. The reason Paul refers to these vain men as “the circumcision” is because they are Jews who are telling Jewish fables. There is no reason, therefore, to place any more importance on Paul’s use of this word than the obvious.
Titus 3:9 makes mention of the law, “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain”. This advice could have been given during the Acts period as well as after. But that doesn’t imply that Titus was written during the Acts period. Vain discussions are never a good thing, in any dispensation. Again, we must not predetermine that the post-Acts period epistles must be different in every and all aspects from the Acts period epistles. And then if they are not as different as we would like, conclude that some post-Acts period epistles were written earlier.
PASSAGES THAT SUGGEST THAT PHILEMON WAS WRITTEN AFTER THE ACTS PERIOD
Three times in Philemon we read that Paul was a prisoner. Phil. 1, “I Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ….”. Verse 9, “Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. (Note also Paul speaks of himself as “the aged”. This suggests that Philemon was written towards the end of his life.) Verse 13, “Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel”.
It has been suggested by some that because neither I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus or Philemon speak of the mystery, and that these epistles are “grounded in the doctrine and practice of the Acts period” that they were not written to the church of the dispensation of the mystery.
While it is certainly true that none of those epistles speak of the dispensation of the mystery, I do not agree that that means they were not written to and for the church which is His body. In other words, in my opinion, the absence of something without further evidence proves nothing. If there were something in these epistles that contradicted the truths of the dispensation of the mystery, that would, of course, prove that they were not written to the church of the present dispensation. But there are no contradictions between those letters and Ephesians and Colossians, which we know were written to the church. There are several points of commonality between them and the Acts period epistles, but that does not, in my opinion, mean that all are of the same dispensation. As I pointed out in the sections above, those points of commonality are universal truths, not dispensational truths.
We must be careful to distinguish between dispensational truths and universal truths. For example, as mentioned above, Jesus Christ is “king of Kings and Lord of Lords”, that’s Who He is. That doesn’t change with the change of dispensation, it is a universal truth. That phrase comes in an epistle (I Tim. 6:15) in which there is an apparent contradiction between that epistle and I Corinthians unless we see that I Timothy was written in a different dispensation than was I Corinthians. I believe that that proves that we must accept universal truths for what they are and not assume that they prove that they are for only one dispensation.
Another example of a universal truth that appears in I Timothy that also appears in Acts period epistles is found in I Tim. 2:5-7, “For there is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself as a ransom for all………” This, it is suggested, is based on Romans. Of course it is based on Romans. Romans lays the foundation of doctrinal truth concerning salvation. Salvation is a universal truth, it doesn’t change from one dispensation to another. As the paper on faith and works in God’s plan of salvation will prove, the fact that Paul reiterates the gospel of salvation in I Timothy does not indicate that I Timothy was not written to the church. It indicates, in my opinion, how important that doctrine is in this dispensation, i.e. it is equally important in the dispensation of the mystery as it was in any other dispensation.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please feel free to me write me at: email@example.com