SOME THOUGHTS ON THE MID-ACTS POSITION
The mid-Acts position is that the dispensation of the mystery began at Acts 7,9, or 13. I believe that the dispensation of the mystery began after Acts 28. Does it really make any difference as to when the dispensation of the mystery began? I believe that it does. Without a proper understanding of when this present dispensation began we do not know which epistles were written for this dispensation and which were written for past dispensations. That leads to confusion regarding baptism, the rapture, prophesy concerning the second coming of Christ, just to name a few.
Because I believe that God would have us love and understand (as much as He gives us grace to understand), His written Word simply because it is His, I believe it is essential that we rightly divide the Word of truth. It is for that reason that I offer this paper on the mid-Acts position.
One of the main exponents of the mid-Acts position is Cornelius Stam. I have quoted from his book, Things That Differ in order to give a fair representation of his beliefs. May I assure the reader that I have not taken anything out of context in order to put them in a bad light, God would certainly not honor my efforts if I presented my views dishonestly.
IS THERE A TRANSITION FROM THE DISPENSATION OF LAW TO THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY?
We read on pages, 95, 139 and 240, of a transition between the previous dispensation and the dispensation of the mystery.
Page 95, paragraph one reads, “With the raising up of Paul to replace the twelve as the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13), God began to bring the Jewish religion to an end and to usher in the ‘reign’ of grace“.
On page 139 we read, “The incident (Peter going to the Gentile, Cornelius) took place after the conversion of Saul, which was the first step in the introduction of the new dispensation”.
On page 240 last paragraph we read, “The gospel had gone to the Jew first and had been rejected, but God would not allow Israel to stand in the way of Gentile blessing, so He began to set Israel aside, raising up Paul to bring good news to the Gentiles nothwithstanding.”
Let us first determine what the Greek word translated “dispensation” means. The Greek word translated “dispensation” is “oikonomia” and occurs in the New Testament eight times. It is made up of two words, “Oiko” meaning “house” and” nomia” which means “law”. So literally, “oikonomia” means “house law“. The word is used first in Luke 16 where we read of a steward and his stewardship. It is the word “stewardship” that is the translation of the Greek word translated in other passages as “dispensation. So a dispensation is a stewardship, or management. The word then is used in the sense of how God manages His household, i.e. the world.
Having determined the meaning of the Greek word translated “dispensation” let me share what I believe to be illogical about the suggestion that there was a transition from one dispensation to another. To do that I would like to use an example from everyday life.
On Jan. 20, 2009 the United States experienced a change of dispensations. That is to say, Pres. Bush managed the country in one way, and when Pres. Obama took the office of the presidency his was a different management. Now let’s use that example to illustrate why I believe there is a problem in logic with the notion of a transition into the present dispensation.
When Mr. Obama was elected he set up a transition team, so he would be ready to take over the duties of his office at the appointed time. The point at which he was elected was the point (more or less) at which the transition began. And when he was sworn into office the transition period ended because the goal of the transition was met, i.e. he took office. In other words, from point A (his election) to point B (his taking office) can be called a transition period.
Now here is what I see as a problem with the notion of a transition into the present dispensation. Those who believe in an Acts period transition believe that the present dispensation began at mid-Acts. If that were true that would mean that the dispensation of the mystery began (according to them) at point A, i.e. the point at which the transition began. But that makes no sense. That would be like saying that Obama’s administration began at point A when he set up his transition team. But his administration began at point B, when he took office.
So too, if there was a transition into the dispensation of the mystery (and I do not believe there was) the present dispensation would have had to begin at the end of the transition period, i.e. at Acts 28, not in the mid-Acts period.
In short, if there was a transition period, the present dispensation began at point B, i.e. the end of the transition (Acts 28) not at point A (in the middle of the Acts period).
SOME THOUGHTS ON THE ONE BODY
We read in Eph. 2:14-16, “For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby”.
Mr. Stam wrote on page 96 that “the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles to God in one body by the cross is the great mystery which was hid in God until it was revealed to and through the Apostle Paul”.
There are several things to note in the passage from Eph. 2 quoted above. 1) The most important point is that the church which is His body is not the same as the “one body”. As we compare the one body of Eph. 2 with the church which is His body we will see that there is no commonality. For example, the one body of Eph. 2 came into being as a result of the shed blood of Christ on the cross. But the church which is His body came into being as a result of Israel being put aside. Also, the one body was created at the cross, the church was certainly not created at the cross. Further, the phrase “one body” is obviously a metaphor. It is a metaphor that describes the relationship between believers, i.e. they are equal to each other. The phrase “the church which is His body” is also a metaphor, and it describes the relationship between the Head, Christ, and believers of the dispensation of the mystery. In short, the one body has absolutely nothing in common with the church which is His body.
One reason for the fairly wide spread misunderstanding that the one body is the same as the church which is His body lies in the fact that in Eph. 3:6 (That Gentiles should be … the same body…”) the KJV translated “sussoma” as “the same body”. But “Ethnos” (translated “Gentiles” in the KJV) is the noun of the sentence and, as is true of many other languages, the adjective (in this case “sunkleronoma”, “sussoma” and “sunmetocha”) must agree in number with the noun it modifies. We read in the book New Testament Greek by D. F. Hudson published by NTC Publishing Group on page 14, paragraph five, “It is also most important to notice that adjectives must have the same function as the noun to which they refer, and must therefore, be in the same Case: they must also have the same number and the same Gender. A singular noun must have a singular adjective, a plural noun must have a plural adjective.…..”. The noun of Eph. 3:6, “ethnos” is obviously plural, therefore, the adjectives must also be plural. Which means that “same body” in an incorrect translation. ((Please see the paper on this web-site What Exactly Is The Mystery That Had Been Hid In God? for the Scriptural evidence of the correct translation of “sussoma”.)
THE CHURCH AND PROPHECY
Mr. Stam wrote, “…. the one body was not a topic of prophecy“. In Acts 26:22 Paul says, “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen“. This means that Paul, until Acts 26, had not spoken of that “one body” which was the subject of the mystery hid in God. (As mentioned above, I believe that the one body and the church which is His body are not synonymous, but I have kept the same phraseology as Mr. Stam in this regard for the sake of clarity. In this case, I have in mind the church, not the one body.) We know this because Paul had spoken only of those things that were the subject of Old Testament writings. The mystery was not a subject of Old Testament writings, so this tells us that the secret had not been revealed by Acts 26.
THE OLIVE TREE OF ROMANS 11
Some in the mid-Acts community point to Romans 11 where Paul speaks of the unbelievers of Israel being cut out of the olive tree, and suggest that this shows that the setting aside of Israel had already begun at the writing of Romans.
But the olive tree represents the nation of Israel. For proof of that statement let us consider verse 24 which reads, “…. how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree“. The natural branches were, of course, Israelites. How do we know that the natural branches were Israelites? We read in verse 13 that Paul was speaking to Gentiles, “For I speak to you Gentiles….”. Then in verse 17 we read, “…. and thou (Gentiles) being a wild olive tree….”. If the Gentiles were the “wild olive tree“, obviously Israel was the good olive tree. Therefore, this passage could not be more clear; the good olive tree is Israel.
Here is my point: Israel is represented in Rom. 11 as the good olive tree into which Gentiles were being grafted. If, as the mid-Acts position suggests, God has already “begun” to put aside Israel, it makes no sense at all to continue to join Gentiles to that nation. If, on the other hand, the setting aside of Israel was still a mystery hid in God, then Paul would not have been aware of that eventual setting aside and it would have made perfect sense to continue to join Gentiles to the nation of Israel.
Some might suggest that the fact that individual Israelites were cut out of their nation shows a gradual setting aside of that nation. But if that were the case then only unbelievers of Israel would have been set aside at the end of that dispensation, and that is not the case. That is to say, Israel as a nation became lo-ammi, believers and unbelievers alike. As the Old Testament lo-ammi period shows even believers such as Daniel, Esther, Mordecai etc. were taken captive, i.e. lo-ammi. My point is that God did not set aside individuals, He set aside the nation as a nation.
Romans is the last epistle written during the Acts period. If Israel had been put aside as God’s chosen nation before the end of the Acts period, we should expect to see evidence of that in Romans. Let us consider the following verses in Romans. (Please see the appendix for comments on Rom. 16:25-26 and other passages that seem to substantiate the mid-Acts position).
Romans 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile“.
Romans 11:1, “I ask then, Did God reject His people? By no means“.
Romans11:11, “…. salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious“.
Romans 11:14, “…. in hopes that I may somehow arouse some of my own people to envy”
The verses quoted above from Romans show that Israel was still God’s chosen nation at the time of the writing of that epistle. Since that was the case, the dispensation of the mystery could not have begun until Acts 28, when Israel was set aside as His own. (Please see the paper on this web-site Are We asking the Wrong Question? for a more comprehensive discussion of this issue.)
THE TWO MYSTERIES OF EPHESIANS, CHAPTER THREE
In order to understand God’s plans for the ages we must understand the mystery of Ephesians 3:6. Unfortunately, many of those who hold to the mid-Acts position see only one mystery in this chapter which leads to great confusion. They see the dispensation of the mystery (verse 6) as part of the mystery of Christ (verses 4-5). It is my hope therefore, to try to eliminate some of the confusion that surrounds the mystery hid in God by presenting the Scriptural evidence that shows that the mystery of Christ is not the mystery of Eph. 3:6, nor are the two mysteries connected in any way.
We read in Eph. 3:2-9, (2) “If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward; (3) How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; as I wrote afore in few words, (4) Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ; (5) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; (6) That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel; (7) Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power, (8) 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; (9) And to make all men see what is the fellowship (dispensation – same word as in verse 2) of the mystery, which hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ”.
Let us turn our attention to verses 4-5. In verse 4 we read of the “mystery of Christ”. In verse 5 we are told that this mystery “was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets“. There are three things in these verses that are very important to note.
- The Greek word translated “as” in the phrase “as it has now been revealed” is “hos”. It is used as a comparison. It is used in I Cor.13:11, “When I was a child I spoke as a child…”. To make this verse easier to understand let us add an ellipsis taken from the context. “When I was a child, I spake as a child rather than as a man, I thought as a child rather than as a man…” It is clear that Paul is making a comparison in these phrases between himself as a child and himself as a man. So too, in Eph. 3:5 there is a comparison. In this case the comparison is being made as to the extent that the mystery of Christ had been revealed. That is to say, that the mystery of Christ had been revealed to some extent, but not to the extent that it has “now been revealed”. This is an extremely important fact to note about the mystery of Christ, because, as we read in verse 9, the dispensation of the mystery had been hid in God and therefore had obviously not been revealed to any extent.
- The mystery of Christ was revealed to “apostles and prophets”, note the plural. But the mystery that had been hid in God had been revealed to Paul, alone.
We must bear in mind that the mystery of Christ was: a) revealed to some extent in the Old Testament, b) but “now” made known to apostles and prophets (plural). Let us look at Luke 18:31-34 to see if what we find there will fit the criteria of the “mystery of Christ”. “Then He took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully intreated, and spit on; And they shall scourge Him and put Him to death; and the third day He shall rise again’. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things that were spoken”.
The disciples did not understand any of the prophecies concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. I believe that those events constitute the mystery of Christ.
We have read that it was concealed from the 12, that makes it a mystery. We also see that it was the topic of some prophecy (see Is. 53, crucifixion; Luke 11:30, burial; and Lev. 16:8-10, resurrection – by type), that satisfies the criteria of it being revealed to some extent . And we know, of course, that eventually Christ’s death, burial and resurrection were revealed fully, which satisfies the criteria of being unfolded more completely in Paul’s time. I believe therefore, that the mystery of Christ spoken of in Eph. 3:4-5, is His death, burial and resurrection.
Verse 6, on the other hand, is the mystery that was revealed to Paul, i.e., the dispensation of the mystery. Note, it was revealed to Paul alone, not to the apostles and prophets (plural). We learn in verse 9 that this mystery was “hid in God” (not revealed to any degree to other generations).
There are two mysteries in Eph. 3. One is the mystery of Christ, which was known to some degree in past generations, and the other was the mystery, hid in God, i.e. not known in past generations to any degree. The mystery of Christ was not understood, but it was written about in the Old Testament. The dispensation of the mystery, on the other hand, was not written about in the Old Testament. The mystery of Christ was revealed to apostles and prophets (plural) but the mystery hid in God was revealed to Paul, and Paul only. We have in Ephesians 3, two separate mysteries.
On page 68 Mr. Stam writes, “The Greek word “musterion”, rendered “mystery” in the AV, has a two fold meaning. It may mean merely what is kept hidden, or it may mean something understood only by the initiated, it may also mean both at the same time“.
Dr. E. W. Bullinger gives this information on the Greek, “musterion”. It occurs in the Septuagint version nine times as the equivalent for the Chaldee “raz” in the Chaldee portion of Daniel, which means to conceal; hence something concealed that can be revealed”. (For those who may not know, much of the book of Daniel was not written in Hebrew as was most of the Old Testament. It was written in the ancient language, Chaldee. The Septuagint Version is the Greek translation of Daniel.) The Septuagint Version is, of course, not inspired by God, but it does help us to understand more completely the usage of certain Greek words as used in the New Testament).
It is true that a mystery may be understood by a few, or it may be kept hidden, but it can not, in my opinion, mean both at the same time, as Mr Stam suggests. There is nothing in the word “musterion”, per se, to lead us to the conclusion that the word “musterion” may mean something that is hidden and not hidden at the same time. God’s Word is often difficult to understand, but it is never illogical. A mystery may be written about in the Old Testament or it may not be written about in the Old Testament, but it can not be both at the same time. In my opinion, if something is hidden in God, it was not revealed to anyone. The moment something is revealed, no matter to how few, it is no longer hidden in God.
Therefore, in Ephesians 3 we have a mystery, which had been partially concealed, and another mystery, which had been completely concealed. The mystery of Christ in 3:4-5 had been partially concealed and the mystery of Eph. 3:6, had been completely concealed, i.e. hidden in God.
In the interest of clarifying a very complex passage, I would like to suggest adding a parenthesis in Eph. 3. So that passage would read, “Surely you have heard about the administration (dispensation) of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. (In reading this then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets) This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus”.
(The paper on this web-site Which Mystery Had Been Hid In God? will give the Scriptural evidence that will prove without doubt that the mystery of Christ has nothing to do with the mystery that had been hid in God.)
Why is the differentiation of these two mysteries so important? The importance is, that if one understands the dispensation of the mystery as being part of the mystery of Christ, i.e. one mystery, one may come to the conclusion that the dispensation of the mystery began when the preaching of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection began. But, as we all know, Peter preached Christ’s death burial and resurrection in Acts 2 (see Acts 2:23-24), long before Paul was even a believer. That would mean that the dispensation of the mystery and the church of that dispensation began at Acts 2. I do not believe that that is what the mid-Acts position teaches.
Let me put that another way. The preaching of the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (i.e. the mystery of Christ) by Peter and later by Paul constituted the revealing of the mystery of Christ. That preaching began during the Acts period. If one understands only one mystery in Ephesians 3, one is led to the conclusion that the dispensation of the mystery began during the Acts period, with the preaching of the mystery of Christ. This leads to erroneous conclusions and confusions.
As we understand the two mysteries in Eph. 3, we understand that the mystery hid in God was not revealed by Paul until his letter to the Ephesians, i.e. after the end of the Acts period. Once that is understood, I believe that it becomes clear that the dispensation of the mystery began after Acts 28.
Mr. Stam believed that salvation is always by grace through faith, but that in the previous dispensation, works are required to prove that faith, whereas in the dispensation of the mystery, faith did not require proof by works.
Page 24 paragraph 3, “Now in the cases of Abraham and David, works were required for salvation whereas in our case, works for salvation are distinctly forbidden; yet it is clear from the passages above that Abraham, David and we were all saved essentially by grace through faith and that works as such have never had any saving value.”
Pages 28-29, “Note carefully that while God refuses works for salvation today, He required them under other dispensations. This was not, as we have explained because works in themselves could ever save, but because they were the necessary expression of faith when required“.
Page 30 paragraph 3,”Let us not be misunderstood. It is true that all the saints of past ages were saved through the merits of Christ’s shed blood, but not through their faith in that shed blood. Those of past ages were expected to believe only what God had thus far revealed, or what He had revealed to them. In other words, they were saved simply because they trusted God and believed what He said. The full plan of salvation has since been unfolded, but the Scriptures made it crystal clear that these believers were saved without even understanding that Christ would die for them.”
Page 31 paragraph 1, “Could anything be clearer from this than that they did not even understand what the Spirit meant when He predicted the sufferings of Christ.” How then could they have been saved through faith in His shed blood”?
Page 33, “It is not until Paul that we have what is properly called ‘the preaching of the cross’”
Page 41 paragraph 1, “When works were required for salvation they did not save as such, but only as the required expression of faith.“
To sum up what Mr. Stam has written: he believed that because the ‘gospel of grace’ was not understood before the preaching of Paul, works were required of the saints in previous dispensations as an expression of their faith. But, he believed that God’s plan of salvation changed with the beginning of the dispensation of the mystery. Mr. Stam believed that in the present dispensation, because believers do understand the death burial and resurrection of our Lord, we are required to not work for salvation.
To begin, we must have an accurate understanding of the place of works in God’s plan of salvation.
I am convinced that one cannot fully understand the relationship of faith and works in regard to God’s plan of salvation without a careful consideration of James chapter 2. As the reader will see as we continue in this study, James tells us of the connection between faith and works that is so profound as to suggest that faith does not exist without works, and works without faith have no place in God’s plan of salvation.
We read in James 2:21, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works……”. And in verse 24 we read, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only“. But in verse 23 we read, “and the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness….”. Abraham’s belief was, of course, his faith in God’s message to him concerning his seed (see Gen. 15:5-6). If we see faith and works in regard to God’s plan of salvation as one existing without the other, there is a contradiction in these verses. That is to say, if Abraham was justified by works, as we read in James 2:21 then his faith has no place in God’s plan of salvation. Conversely, if Abraham had been justified by faith, as we read in verse 23, then his works would have had no place in God’s plan of salvation. But if we see the inexorable connection of faith and works, i.e. they cannot be separated, it is all very clear. In point of fact verse 22 explains that very thing, “seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect“. The Greek word translated “perfect” means, according to the Appendix number 125, in the Companion Bible “to make a full end, consummate”. In other words, James 2:22 tells us that Abraham’s faith was consummated, or completed by his works.
Now let us consider Phil 2:12 because it tells us that believers in the dispensation of the mystery must also complete their faith by their works.
Phil 2:12, “……work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Does this mean that when you are saved you should show forth your salvation by your works, or does it mean that you should accomplish your own salvation? (It is understood, of course, that no one can accomplish his own salvation, but that the “accomplishment” is in perfecting, i.e. completing -see James 2:22-one’s faith by works.) If this passage means that we should show forth our salvation by our works, why does Paul write that we should do so with “fear and trembling”?
To correctly understand Phil 2:12-13 we must understand how the Holy Spirit uses the Greek word “katergazomai” translated “work out” in verse 12. But before we study each occurrence of that word we need to understand the Greek word translated “worketh” in the phrase of verse 13, “God Which worketh in you”. That Greek word is “energeo”.
The Greek word “energeo” is used 21 times in the New Testament. The first two are found in Matt. 1:2 and Mark 6:14 where it is translated “shew forth”. Matt. 14:1-2 reads, “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him’”. Mark 6:14 records the same conversation.
Let us consider a few other occurrences of the word where it is not translated “shew forth”. We read in I Cor. 12:6, “…..but it is the same God Which worketh all in all”. While it is true that “worketh” does tell us something of what God does, “energeo” tells us so much more, if we allow it to. That is to say, it tells us that God shews forth Who He is. Here again the context will help us to understand that Paul, in this context, wants us to know that God is shewn forth.
We read in verses 4-5, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit…. the same Lord”. In other words these miraculous gifts show forth the same Lord, the same Spirit, the same God.
What is key to our question of the meaning of Phil. 2:12 is that if Paul had wanted to say that we should “shew forth” our own salvation, he would have used the same word he used in verse 13, i.e. “energeo”. But he did not, he used instead the word “katergazomai”.
We are now ready to begin our study of the Greek word “katergazomai” translated “work out” in verse 12. It is used 24 times in the New Testament. I beg the reader’s indulgence as we consider each occurrence of this word as it is key in understanding this verse and the place of works in salvation during the present dispensation.
As we begin this study I will remind the reader that we are trying to ascertain if this Greek word means that we are to show forth our salvation by our works, or if it means that we are to “accomplish” our own salvation. We must bear in mind however, that works only perfect, or complete one’s faith and obviously do not actually accomplish anyone’s salvation.
The Greek word “katergazomai” is translated seven different ways. That tells us that there are shades of meanings, but it also tells us that the basic meaning of the word may be difficult to grasp. In order to ascertain the basic meaning I will suggest one word which, although may not be correct English Grammar, and will not show the shades of meanings, it will help us to see how the Holy Spirit means for us to understand it’s basic meaning. That one word is “accomplish”. Let us see if this word will fit its usage.(The word in bold and italicized lettering is the word that is used in the KJV that translates “katergazomai”.)
Rom. 2:9, “Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth (accomplishes) evil…..”
Rom. 4:15, “Because the law worketh (accomplishes) wrath…..”.
Rom. 5:3, “…..knowing that tribulation worketh (accomplishes) patience”.
Rom. 7:20, “….it is no more I that do (accomplish) it, but sin that dwelleth in me”.
I Cor. 5:3, “concerning him that hath so done (accomplished) this deed”.
II Cor. 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh (accomplishes) for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory”.
II Cor. 7:10, “For godly sorrow worketh (accomplishes) repentance to salvation….but the sorrow of the world worketh (accomplishes) death”.
Eph. 6:13, “…. that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done (accomplished) all, to stand”.
Phil. 2:2, “…..work out (accomplish) your own salvation with fear and trembling”.
James 1:3, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh (accomplishes) patience”.
James 1:20, “For the wrath of man worketh (accomplishes) not the righteousness of God”.
I Peter 4:3, “For the time past of our life, may suffice us to have wrought (accomplished) the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts,…….”.
Let me list what we have learned in this word study.
1) If Paul meant to say that we should show forth our salvation, he would have used the word which means “to show forth”, i.e. “energeo”. But he did not use that word.
2) The word “katergazomai” is never translated with the word “out”, except in Phil. 2:11.
3) As we have seen, the word “katergazomai” can be translated with the word “accomplish”.
The most logical conclusion is that Paul wrote in Phil. 2:12, “Accomplish your own salvation with fear and trembling”. But again, we know that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works. This is not a contradiction to that fact. This is the exact same principle that James spoke of when he wrote that “faith without works is dead”.
My point in this section is to show that the the place of works in God’s plan of salvation is a universal one. That is to say it is just as true in the dispensation of the mystery as it was in all other dispensations.
But the misunderstanding of God’s plan of salvation is, in my opinion, the crux of the problem with the mid-Acts position. Those that believe that the dispensation of the mystery began at Acts 7, 9 or 13 believe that there is a difference in God’s plan for salvation in the different dispensations. They believe that the dispensation of the mystery began with Paul’s preaching “of the cross”. But God’s plan for salvation has always been the same; therefore, the question of when the dispensation of the mystery began has nothing to do with God’s plan of salvation, because that has never changed.
The dispensation of the mystery has to do with the setting aside of Israel so that all nations will be the same in God’s eyes. That secret was revealed in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, i.e. after the Acts period.
It is certainly true that the Old Testament and the Gospels emphasize the thought of James, (i.e. “faith without works are dead”) more than it is emphasized in the dispensation of the mystery. That emphasis, however, does not prove that it is any less true for the dispensation of the mystery than it was for the previous dispensation. Let us not forget that Paul reiterates James’ thought when he wrote in Phil. 2:12, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. Philippians is an epistle written after the end of the Acts period, and so is written to the saints of the dispensation of the mystery. This shows that the principle of “faith without works is dead” is just as true for the dispensation of the mystery, as it was for past dispensations.
Mr. Stam has written that believers of past dispensations did not understand the finished work of Christ on the cross, a statement with which I agree. But then he goes on to say that because of that lack of knowledge, saints of previous dispensations were required to prove their faith by their works. It is true that before Paul, Israel certainly did not have full knowledge of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but they did have the law. And we read in Galatians 3:24, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith“. Paul is saying in Galatians that they were led to Christ, this being true in spite of their lack of the knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection.
So that we may be clear: Galatians was written during the Acts period, i.e. before Israel was put aside as God’s chosen people. So when Paul writes, “lead us to Christ” the “us” is Israel, to whom the law was given. What we learn from Gal. 3:24 is, that in spite of the fact that Christ’s finished work on the cross was not emphasized in the Old Testament, believers were still led to Christ by the law and “justified by faith“. Those who were led by the law to be justified by faith lived according to the principle spoken of by James, “Faith without works is dead” and they obeyed, in faith, the law that God had given them. Again, it is true that justification by faith is not a theme that we read much about in the Old Testament, or in the Gospels, or in the early Acts period. In spite of that lack of emphasis, however, Paul, tells us that the law did lead those under it, to Christ.
Let us look at Romans 4 to see if we find differing plans of salvation in different dispensations. Verse 1, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? (2) If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about-but not before God. (3) What does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. (4) Now when a man works, his wages are not credited as a gift, but as an obligation. (5) However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (6) David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: (7)‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:1-7).
Paul is making the point in this passage that Abraham, who lived before the law was given, was saved by faith, just as David was, who lived after the law was given.
Mr. Stam, on page 24 quotes Rom. 4:3-6 Then he writes, “Now in the cases of Abraham and David, works were required for salvation whereas in our case works for salvation are distinctly forbidden; yet it is clear from the passages above that Abraham, David and we were all saved essentially by grace through faith and that works have never had any saving value”.
Mr. Stam believed that God’s plan of salvation was different in one respect for Abraham and David then it is for those in the dispensation of the mystery. That is, he believes that for Abraham and David “works were required for salvation”, i.e. “as an expression of faith”, but “in our case”, they are forbidden. In my opinion Paul’s point is just the opposite. I believe that Paul is saying that the law didn’t change anything in terms of salvation by faith: that salvation has always been the same, by grace through faith, without the works of the law.
Let us look at Romans 4:5. “To him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly; his faith is counted for righteousness”. This verse is clear, I am in total agreement with Mr. Stam, as is every true believer, salvation is by grace through faith without works. The difficulty arises because Mr. Stam believed that it refers to the saints of the dispensation of the mystery, but not to the saints of the previous dispensation. The reason for his belief stems from the fact that he believes that Romans was written during the “transition” from the previous dispensation to the dispensation of the mystery, i.e. it applies to the believers of the dispensation of the mystery only. (At the top of page 29 he writes, “…..and today it is“, “To him that worketh not …..”etc.).
But Romans 4:5 is true of those in the previous dispensation and for believers of the dispensation of the mystery because God’s plan of salvation has never changed. Believers in every dispensation are tocomplete their faith by their works. (For a more complete consideration of faith and works in God’s plan of salvation please see the paper on that subject.)
Furthermore, I believe that Mr. Stam has not shown from Scripture that there was a “transition” from one dispensation to another. Therefore, the dispensation of the mystery did not begin until after the Acts period, i.e. after Paul wrote Romans. That being the case, Mr. Stam has quoted an epistle written during the Acts period, to prove that works are not required by saints in that dispensation. But his entire chapter is written to show that believers in the Acts period were required to prove their faith by their works.
I believe that Paul’s preaching to the Gentiles was not a transition from one dispensation to another, it was the continuation of the offer to Israel to accept their risen Messiah. Had Israel accepted Him, He would have returned to establish the long awaited millennial reign, which would bring blessings to Israel and to the nations.
I believe that the dispensation of the mystery began when Paul revealed that mystery that had been hid in God, that “…nations are together bodies, and that the people of the nations are together heirs and together partakers…..”(Eph. 3:6). Please see the paper on this web-site What Exactly Is The Secret That Had Been Hid In God? for the Scriptural evidence of that translation.
I believe that salvation has always been, throughout all dispensations, the same; that we are saved by grace through faith, without the works of the law, regardless of what was fully understood. Furthermore, I believe that the principle of, “faith without works is dead”, is just as true in the dispensation of the mystery as it was in the previous dispensations.
I would like to address a few objections of Mr. Stam’s to the Acts 28 position. Again, I quote from his book Things That Differ. On page 233 he wrote, “But this extreme conclusion (Acts 28 position) is as unscriptural as that which marks Pentecost as the historical beginning of the Body, for we read distinctly of the mystery and of the Body of Christ in Paul’s earlier epistles written before Acts 28 as well as in those written after. (Rom. 16:25, l Cor. 2:7, Rom. 12:5, l Cor. 12:12,13,27 etc.) We should study these verses to see if they do refer to the mystery hid in God and revealed to Paul and if they do refer to the body of Christ.
“Now to Him That is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began. But now is made manifest and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith“.
The question is, which mystery is being spoken of in these verses? Is it the dispensation of the mystery of which Paul wrote in Eph. 3:6? If it is that mystery, that would show that the mystery was revealed before Acts 28, as Romans is an Acts period epistle. (There are many however who believe that these verses are a postscript added after the end of the Acts period. I do not however agree with that interpretation.) We must determine which mystery Paul had in mind when he penned these verses at the end of Romans. There are several clues in the verses themselves that will help in our study of this question.
Consider the opening of this passage, “Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel….”. Paul uses the phrase “my gospel” three times. Here in Romans 16, in Romans 2:16 and in II Tim. 2:8.
Romans 2:16, “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”
The other reference to “my gospel” is found in 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”.
We are not left with any doubt as to what Paul meant by the term “my gospel”. It referred to judgment and the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Note it had nothing to do with the dispensation of the mystery.
Let us continue with one more phrase in Rom. 16:26 in our effort to determine if the mystery of Rom. 16 is the same mystery written about in the prison epistles. Note the mystery of Romans was made manifest “by the scriptures of the prophets”. The Companion Bible note has “by the prophetic writings”. The “prophetic writings” could not possibly refer to the dispensation of the mystery because that mystery was not written about until after the end of the Acts period.
Note also the phrase, “for the obedience of faith”. In other words, the mystery of Rom. 16 was given for the obedience of faith. But the mystery of Eph. 3:6, i.e. the mystery that had been hid God was that nations would be together bodies and that the people of the nations would be together heirs and together partakers of the promise…. .(See the paper on this web-site What Exactly Is The Secret That Had Been Hid In God? for the Scriptural evidence for that translation.) This has nothing to do with “obedience of faith”, it has to do with how God deals with the nations and the believers of the nations in the dispensation of the mystery.
Let us try to pull together what we have learned in order to discover if the mystery of Romans 16 is the mystery spoken of in the prison epistles.
- The mystery of Romans 16 is referred to as “my gospel” the nature of which is explained in Rom. 2:16 and II Tim. 2:8. It has nothing to do with the dispensation of the mystery as described in Eph. 3:6. “My gospel” has to do with judgment of Israel and the resurrection of Christ.
- The mystery of Romans 16 had been revealed by “prophetic writings”. There is absolutely nothing before Romans 16 which even hints of the dispensation of the mystery spoken of in the prison epistles.
- The mystery of Rom. 16 was given for the obedience of faith, but the mystery of Eph. 3:6 has nothing to do with obedience of faith, it has to do with how God is dealing with nations and the people of the nations.
We must conclude therefore, that the mystery spoken of in Romans 16 is not the dispensation of the mystery revealed in Ephesians, written after Acts 28.
If the mystery of Romans 16 is not the dispensation of the mystery, what is it? Again, the answer to that question lies in the term “my gospel” which had to do with the resurrection of Christ and with the judgment of Israel.
The reader may recall that in the body of this paper I called the readers attention to the mystery of Christ in the section on the two mysteries of Ephesians three. That mystery had to do, in part with the resurrection of Christ.
ll the criteria mentioned in Romans 16. They were written about in the “prophetic writings”. It was not “hid in God”, it was “kept in silence”, i.e. it was not understood. And it was, in part, what Paul described as “my gospel”.
I CORINTHIANS 2:7-8
The second passage listed by Mr. Stam is l Cor. 2:7-8, which reads, “we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden in God and that God destined for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”. The wisdom of verses 7 and 8 is not that the Gentiles would be together heirs in Christ. That is not the message that prompted the “rulers of this age” to “crucify the Lord of glory”. That message was not even know at the time of the crucifixion.
What then is the mystery of this passage? if the “rulers of this age” had understood that Christ was their promised Messiah, they would not have crucified the “lord of glory”. In my opinion then, the mystery of I Cor. 2:7-8 is that Christ was the Messiah sent to Israel to redeem.
Another passage listed is Romans 12:5, “So in Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others”. The context, verses 3-8 clearly shows that Paul was asking the Roman church to be cooperative with each other. He uses the term “body” as we use it today in such phrases as “student body” and a “governing body”. To say that this verse speaks of the church which is His body of Ephesians is to take it out of context, a practice that often leads to error. (Please see the paper on this web-site The One Body Of Ephesians Two Is Not the Church Which Is His Body for the Scriptural evidence that the one body is not the same as the church.)
I CORINTHIANS 12:12, 13 and 27
The last passage listed is l Cor. 12:12, 13 and 27. This passage treats the term “body” in much the same way as the comments on Romans 12:5 did. Note especially verse 21, “and the head can not say to the feet, “I don’t need you”. Christ is the head of the Church, which is His Body. He is not just another member of the body. (Please see the paper on this web-site The One Body Of Ephesians Two Is Not the Church Which Is His Body for the Scriptural evidence that the one body is not the same as the church.)
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org