PAUL’S PIVOTAL ROLE IN THE FULLNESS OF THE GENTILES
Be sure to read the previous installments in this series. #1 #2 #3 #4
Before proceeding with this fifth installment, I want to share a bit more of the blatant dishonesty and duplicity within the IO camp. This is more than disturbing to anyone that believes in basic integrity. But, what is happening is seemingly the order of the day, at least with many of the IO advocates that I have encountered. (I am sure that there are some honest folks caught up in this horrible doctrine, but, they need to manifest themselves). Hopefully not all of them are dishonest, but what has been witnessed so far is less than assuring.
Up to this point, the IO doctrine has been that Israel, scattered among the nations, became the nations and the nations became Israel. This has been their foundational argument. It has been claimed that when the Bible foretold the salvation of the nations, it was speaking exclusively of the salvation of Israel – as the nations. It was not speaking of non-Israelite (pagan) nations. But, this has backfired on them, in a fatal way.
I posted the following question on some of the FB forums where the IO folks are posting:
<Tell us, with scripture at what point of time Israel became the nations and the nations became Israel, and from that time forward “the nations” are always Israel, and “Israel” is always the nations / Gentiles.>
Now, if Israel became the nations, and the nations became Israel, it is critical to know when that transition became firm and unchangeable. One IO respondent responded that my question was “irrelevant ” and “diversionary.” No , the question is critical. After all, if God promised to save the nations before the nations became Israel and before Israel became the nations, then that alone falsifies IO! I posted that question several times before anyone even attempted to answer it.
Finally, one of the leading proponents of IO on FB, clearly feeling the pressure of the argument, admitted on 12-12-18 that: “We have always stated that the Israelites were among the nations.” This can only be called a remarkable and fatal turn of events! For the IO proponents to claim that all they have ever said is that Israel was among the nations and that God would call Israel (only Israel) out from the nations is, to put it bluntly another blatant falsehood by the IO camp. It has been adamantly and repeatedly claimed that the nations became Israel and Israel became the nations! But, their newest “modification” of their position does them no good.
Essentially, their new position / admission gives the farm away. It surrenders the IO paradigm. (And let us not forget that an IO advocate who constantly posts on YouTube, is on record– repeatedly– admitting that foreigners– non-Israelites – could always join themselves with Israel! To say the least, this is a fatal admission!)
Here is why the admission above is so fatal.
If (since) it is admitted that “the Israelites were AMONG the nations” that is an admission that Israel was not the nations and that the nations were not Israel! Israel was not scattered among themselves. As I argued in an earlier article, when it is admitted that Israel was scattered among the nations, and when one then sees that God promised to save the nations among whom Israel was scattered, that means that God promised to save non-Israelite nations. The game is over for IO! The only way out of this fatal dilemma is to be able to show that while Israel was scattered “among the (non-Israelite) nations,” that at some point in time, Israel did n fact become the nations, and the nations became Israel! But, they have now surrendered that claim!
Israel most assuredly was “among the nations.” But, as I have pointed out in those FB exchanges, God not only promised to call Israel “out from the nations” He also promised that “all nations” would travel to Jerusalem there to learn of God and be taught of His Word (Isaiah 2:2f):
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. 3 Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
Now, here is a key point. That passage in Isaiah was written at about the same time as the book of Hosea. That means that it involved the time when Israel was “AMONG the nations” meaning she was surely NOT THE NATIONS. Yet, YHVH here promised the calling all nations! It should also be observed that “all nations” would acknowledge that they were going to learn from the God of Israel. A final point is that we have here a description of the time when the restoration of Israel would be complete, since it the prophecy is focused on the restoration / glorification of Jerusalem. Thus, this is not about just the ten tribes, and not just about Judah. It is about the salvation of “all Israel” and, the subsequent invitation of “all nations” to come into Israel’s salvation.
Now, in NT passages, the reality of a clear cut distinction between Israel and the nations. This is the distinction that existed prior to Israel’s scattering. That distinction existed at the time of her scattering “AMONG THE NATIONS.” So, we have reality of the salvation of the nations / Gentiles IN ADDITION TO THE SALVATION OF ISRAEL! We established this in Romans 11, where the Gentiles (ethne) were being grafted into the Root WITH ISRAEL– not AS Israel. This is prima facie falsification of IO.
The IO camp either refuses to deal with this, or, they don’t know of it, but, either way, it is fatal to their paradigm.
Now, to continue our examination of the fullness of the Gentiles and Paul’s pivotal role in that.
As suggested above, Paul’s pivotal role in bringing the mystery of God to completion, can hardly be overemphasized. (See my full discussion of this – and how it relates to the dating and application of Revelation, as well as to Romans 11 – in my Who Is This Babylon? book, available on my websites).
In Colossians 1:24-26, Paul makes a stunning claim. He says it was his personal stewardship to:
fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Paul states emphatically (the force of the Greek text) that it was his personal, distinctive responsibility to bring the mystery to fulfillment (fulfill, from pleroma – Colossians 1:26-27). He maintained that his office was given to him directly by the Lord (Cf. Galatians 1). While others certainly preached to Gentiles, he personally served as priest to offer the Gentiles to God as a sacrifice (Romans 15:16). Notice his words in Romans 15:15-19:
Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient — in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
Let me note again that the IO camp is desperately claiming that Jew / Gentile equality was complete before Romans 11:25, thus, ostensibly falsifying my claim. But, as we have shown, since Paul said it was his personal stewardship to fulfill the mystery, and since that mystery was not yet completed in Romans 11:25, that IO claim is false. Further, in the text just cited, Paul was still anticipating the presentation of the Gentiles as an offering (or the offering by the Gentiles) to God, in order to achieve that fullness. And once again, remember that Paul said his mission and ministry was not completed until he stood before Nero. Undeniably then, the claim that the full equality of the Gentiles was already completed prior to Romans 11:25 is specious.
Now, Paul could say that the gospel had been preached into all the world (Colossians 1:23). This demonstrates that Paul thought in collective terms, not individualistic terms. He was not saying that every single person on the globe had heard the gospel, but that the gospel had been preached in all of the key capitals. In the text just above, he was not saying that he had personally preached in every one of the cities and to every person in each of those cities within the purview of his geographical reference. He had preached in the major metropolitan cities of those areas. Thus, for him, if the Gospel had been preached in the key capitals, then those capitals represented the entire region.
Paul’s amazing status and significance is illustrated in 2 Corinthians 3-4. In these chapters, he brings to the forefront the glory of Moses and the Old Covenant. Yet, he contrasts that glory with the glory of the New Covenant, and his ministry of bringing Old Covenant Israel out of the old glory, to the surpassing glory of the new. This transition, “from glory to glory,” was Paul’s distinctive ministry (2 Corinthians 4:1f). As Munck has observed:
Moses and Paul are compared here with each other. The service of the former cannot in any way be matched with the service of the latter. Of Paul’s many new and startling utterances, this is perhaps the most surprising. The greatest man in the history of Israel is put beneath the traveling tentmaker. No stronger proof can be produced that as a figure in redemptive history in the age of the Messiah Paul far surpasses even the greatest of the great figures of Israel. (Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, (Richmond, Va; John Knox Press, 1959), 60+).
It is worthwhile to ask, how could Paul be equal to Moses– or greater as Munck suggests- as the minister of the covenant, if the Law of Moses stood for 1500 years, but the New Covenant of which Paul was a minister lasted for one single generation? How could Paul be greater than Moses (since he was the minister of a greater covenant) if the New Covenant lasted for 40 years in contrast to the 1500 years of Torah? This is particularly relevant when both the Tanakh and the NT tell us that the New Covenant would never pass away, never end (Matthew 24:35 / Hebrews 12:28 / Revelation 11:15ff).
Paul’s attitude toward his mission is graphically illustrated in Romans 11. He says, “I magnify my ministry,” the office of the apostle to the Gentiles (v. 13). Now, although he was the apostle to the Gentiles, “Israel continued to be Paul’s unmistakable priority” (David Nanos, The Mystery in Romans, (Minneapolis; Fortress, 1996), 240). But, the apostle sought to convert Gentiles so that “some” of his brethren of Israel would be saved. If, as IO claims, Israel was the Gentiles, and the Gentiles were Israel, then Paul’s words make no sense. He said he was converting (saving) one group, the Gentiles, in order to save another group, i.e. Israel. But, if the Gentiles were Israel and Israel was the Gentiles, then when he was converting the one group, he was in fact saving the other. In other words, the IO paradigm sees but one group, whereas there are undeniably two– the Gentiles – and Israel. They are not the same. Paul was not converting Israelites in order to provoke Israel to jealousy!
McGuiggan has shown that the term fullness in Romans 11 means, “spiritual wealth with which God will make the Gentiles full,” (Jim McGuiggan, The Book of Romans, (Lubbock, Montex)324). It was not referent, as we have seen, to a numeric idea. He observes that in verse 12, the fullness of the Gentiles cannot mean number at all and says, “There is no more reason to import number into verse 25 than into verse 12.” (Ibid).
James Thompson commenting on the fullness of the Gentiles says,
“The fullness of the Gentiles is the precondition to the end. Paul is himself engaged in bringing about this fullness as ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ (11:13; 15:16-19) having already ‘fully preached’ (peplerokenai) from Jerusalem to Illyricum (15:19). This apostolic intent to bring about this ‘fullness’ gives him the desire to go to Rome and even beyond, to Spain (Romans 15:22f). The ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ is thus the completion of Paul’s missionary task.” (James Thompson, “The Gentile Mission As An Eschatological Necessity,” Restoration Quarterly, 14, (First Quarter, 1971)18).
Without doubt then, Paul is the central player in the mystery. He tells us, emphatically, that it was his office to bring the mystery to its consummation. Yet, he tells us – as I have noted – that his commission would be completed when he stood before Nero (2 Timothy 4:16f). This means in effect that, “Paul regards himself as the one on whom the arrival of the Messianic age depends” (Munck, 41). Take a close look at this text in 2 Timothy for it is actually quite important to our study:
At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully (πληροφορηθ , plērophorēthē, Strong’s #4135– This is a verbal form of pleroma) through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Timothy 4:16-17).
What does Paul say? He says that when he stood before Nero to preach the Gospel, that was the completion of his ministry to the Gentiles. Preaching before Nero meant that the Gospel was “fully preached” to the Gentiles. And he said that when he had preached to Nero – Rome– that meant that “all the Gentiles” had heard the Gospel. This is a total demonstration that the fullness of the Gentiles –the equality of the Gentiles, with Israel, in Christ, was not already accomplished when Paul wrote Romans.
Now, since Peter was given “the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:18f) it was entirely appropriate for him to open that door when he preached to the Gentile Cornelius. But, that does not mean that the fullness was recognized and accepted in all churches at that point, churches where no Gentile converts even existed as of yet! The point is that Paul is emphatic and explicit in claiming that it was his personal, distinctive stewardship to bring the mystery to a full reality. The IO proponents are grasping at straws– as usual.
Was Paul saying that every single individual Gentile (no matter how you define that term) had now heard the Gospel through him? Clearly not. See Thompson’s comments above. As has been noted, Paul thought in “collective” terms, in corporate terms. We might say in “representative” terms. To preach in Rome was, in a very real sense, “representatively” to preach to the whole world, because both into and from Rome flowed all messages, all philosophies. In the ancient world, Rome was considered to be “the end of the world.” To preach in and to Rome was to preach to the world!
The import of Paul’s claims and the relationship to “the fullness of the Gentiles” in Romans 11 should be apparent. Unless the apostle was an egomaniac, deluded, or simply lying, we must acknowledge his decisive role in bringing the mystery of God – the fullness of the Gentiles – to its realization. The fullness of the Gentiles is inextricably tied to the mission of Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles. It is not, as futurists claim, related to the conversion of the very last Gentile that will be saved at the imaginary “end of time.” Nor was it related to the conversion of the last Gentile before the Lord’s coming in AD 70. Paul was personally, divinely appointed to “fulfill (pleroma) the Word of God, the mystery,” which was Jew / Gentile equality in the one body of Christ. Paul’s ministry was not to convert a given number of Gentiles. That concept is not found anywhere in his writings.
I would express it like this:
It was Paul’s personal, distinctive, divinely appointed stewardship to “fulfill” (pleroma) the mystery of God (Colossians 1:24-27).
The mystery of God was the equality of Jew and Gentile in the one body of Christ (Ephesians 3:3-8).
Therefore, the full equality of Jew and Gentile in the one body of Christ, the fullness of the mystery, would be accomplished by time of the completion of Paul’s personal ministry.
You cannot have the fullness of the Gentiles until you had the preaching of the Gospel to “all the Gentiles” (Thus falsifying the IO claims) and, once again, that is tied to the completion of Paul’s ministry. But, the critical thing to note is, as we have emphasized, that Paul no where – not in one single text – emphasized a numeric fullness. (I have repeatedly challenged any IO representative — as well as Sam Frost – to show where Paul emphasized numbers, and not one of them has offered a keystroke. Just empty, unsubstantiated verbiage). Paul was totally, laser focused, on bringing about the accomplishment of the full equality of the Gentiles, with Israel, (not AS Israel) in the body of Christ. He was focused on, “until we all come (notice that collective language) to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Since that “fullness” that Paul was working toward had nothing to do with numeric completion, this is prima facie falsification of the “Israel Only” claim that the entire number of Gentiles to ever be saved were saved by AD 70. Paul was concerned with the status of the Gentiles in Christ- not how many of them were Christians. Equality was the focus of the fullness of the Gentiles.
More to come. Be sure to get a copy of my book, Who Is This Babylon? for an extensive study of Paul and the Fullness of the Gentiles. It will open your mind!