|Daniel L. Segraves, Ph.D|
Peter’s reference to growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ connects with important statements on biblical interpretation made by Jesus Himself. To the disciples on the Emmaus road, Jesus said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). Jesus began “at Moses and all the Prophets” and expounded “to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). Later, when Jesus vanished from the sight of the disciples as they were sharing a meal, they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). These disciples understood the Hebrew Scriptures only when Jesus explained the Scriptures in terms of what they said about Him.
Similarly, Jesus opened the understanding of the larger group of gathered disciples. He enabled them to comprehend the Scriptures, saying, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44, 46-47).
These words, which Jesus spoke just before His ascension, tell us that the essential story of redemption is found in the Old Testament before it is ever found in the New Testament. Indeed, there are details about Christ’s life and work recorded in the Old Testament that never found their way into the New Testament.
The release of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 had a profound influence on the hermeneutics adopted by many early twentieth century Pentecostals. Although Scofield had no empathy for the Pentecostal movement, his “dispensationalism with its intense emphasis on futuristic eschatology had a strong appeal to them.” It was typical for Pentecostals to believe that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a sign that the Second Coming was just around the corner. They embraced an eschatological focus, and Scofield’s neatly mapped out eschatology provided them a ready template.
It was immediately necessary, however, for Pentecostals to modify Scofieldian dispensationalism, because although the “system . . . provides a convenient method of organizing biblical history and teaches that it is possible to fit the full range of prophetic Scripture into something like a complicated puzzle,” it also asserted “that the gifts of the Spirit, especially what has been called ‘the sensational gifts’ or ‘sign gifts’ (healing, faith, working of miracles, and tongues), were confined to the apostolic age.” Although cessationism was rejected by Pentecostals, “the dispensational understanding of the church, as well as its eschatology, has influenced pentecostal theology.”
Not only did Scofield confine the supernatural dimension of Pentecost to the first century. He also saw the church as a mystery not anticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures. But if there is a disconnect between the church and the Old Testament, the value of the Old Testament for the church is minimized. How are we to view the fact that the New Testament quotes, paraphrases, or alludes to the Old Testament nearly 800 times, especially when these references to the Old Testament are often in the category of fulfillment motifs? In a textbook used in many Pentecostal Bible schools during the mid-20th century, the author claimed, “Except that blessing was promised to the Gentiles . . . the church was unknown to the prophets.” In view of Peter’s declaration that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was “what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16, NKJV), it is doubtful that the denial of any meaningful connection between Joel and Pentecost will be satisfying to Pentecostals.
Implicit in Jesus’ explanation of the Hebrew Scriptures is that they are rich in Christology, soteriology (doctrine of salvation), pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit), and ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). A reading of the New Testament indicates that the apostles and others involved in writing Scripture understood and fleshed out these themes. An examination of Paul’s use of Scripture demonstrates this point.
Paul and the Mystery of Christ
For Scofieldian dispensationalism, these words of Paul mean that there is no anticipation of the church in the Old Testament:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles – if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power (Ephesians 3:1-7).
The phrase “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed” is taken to mean that there was no revelation of the church in the Hebrew Scriptures. Ultradispensationalism goes so far as to say that there was no revelation of the church before Paul.
A thorough reading of Paul indicates, however, that these views are incorrect. Rather than disavowing any revelation of the church prior to his, Paul’s point is that he enjoyed a fuller understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures than that of the original writers of those Scriptures. For the consideration of hermeneutics, this validates the idea that the part must be interpreted in view of the whole. Paul could understand only from his situation, or from his hermeneutical horizon, but his horizon was wider than that of the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures, not only because he possessed something never possessed by any but the final writers of the Hebrew Scriptures – the entire Hebrew canon – but also because his horizon included the knowledge that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and a fullness of the Holy Spirit never enjoyed by those who lived before the era of the New Covenant (Acts 9:17). But his horizon extended even beyond this to include the portion of the New Testament that was written during his lifetime.
The revelation to which Paul referred in Ephesians 3 was not something given by God to Paul apart from the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, this revelation was not something diverse from and superior to Scripture. It was not something that was unanticipated in Scripture. We know this because Paul’s ministry, from the very beginning, is rich in the use of the Hebrew Scriptures to proclaim Christ as the promised Messiah and the work being done by Christ in the church as the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy. The revelation was not, therefore, something radically new; it was a perspective on the Hebrew Scriptures not fully enjoyed by those who wrote them or by those who interpreted them prior to the era of the New Covenant.
It is perhaps no surprise that dispensationalism denies any anticipation of the church in the Hebrew Scriptures; that is the nature of the system. But even F. F. Bruce, in his comments on Eph 3:5, asserts that although the Hebrew Scriptures anticipated blessing of God upon the Gentiles, the fact that this “blessing of the Gentiles would involve the obliteration of the old line of demarcation which separated them from Jews and the incorporation of Gentile believers together with Jewish believers” was something that “had not been foreseen.” A. Skevington Wood, however, sees the revelation as a matter of degree: “Although the blessing of the Gentiles through the people of God was revealed in the OT from Genesis 12:3 onward, it was not proclaimed so fully or so extensively as under the new dispensation.”
These views do not, however, address the possibility that the mystery described by Paul was indeed found in the Hebrew Scriptures, but that the reason it was “not made known to the sons of men” (Eph 3:5) was that the limited horizon available prior to the era of the New Testament prohibited the fuller understanding now available to Paul as well as to all of the holy apostles and prophets. That this is at least a possibility is evident not only from Paul’s Christological use of the Hebrew Scriptures but also from his ecclesiological use of the Old Testament. Again, the point may be that his revelation was not something new but that it was a wider and deeper grasp of what had already been revealed in Scripture. Otherwise, we would expect Paul to make no appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures in his declaration of the gospel, including the union of Gentiles and Jews into one body. But this is not the case. Paul roots his teaching exclusively in the Scriptures.
Paul declared that what he believed was that which was written in the Law and the Prophets (Acts 24:14). He had done nothing offensive against the law of the Jews or the temple (Acts 25:8). He was called before Agrippa “for the hope of the promise made by God to [the] fathers” (Acts 26:6). In a very clear appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures for his message, including the inclusion of Gentiles equally with the Jews, Paul told Agrippa that he said nothing other than those things “which the prophets and Moses said would come—that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23). Rather than claiming innovation for his message, Paul insisted that he said nothing new. After arriving in Rome, Paul told the Jewish community there that he had done nothing against the Jewish people or the fathers (Acts 28:17). Instead, he was bound “for the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). He “explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets” (Acts 28:23).
When he wrote to the believers at Rome, a church that included Jews and Gentiles, Paul declared that the gospel of God was that “which he promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (Rom 1:1-2). The Law and the Prophets witness to the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ “to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference” (Rom 3:21-22). The letter to the Romans is a church letter; Paul establishes the equality of Jews and Gentiles in the church from the Hebrew Scriptures. The fact that Abraham was justified before circumcision was for the purpose of demonstrating that Gentiles, not only Jews, are the recipients of imputed righteousness (Rom 4:11). Abraham is equally the father of believing Gentiles as well as of believing Jews (Rom 4:16-18). Hosea and Isaiah both anticipated the inclusion of believing Gentiles (Rom 9:24-29). Even Moses wrote about the righteousness of faith wherein there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (Rom 10:5-12), as did Joel (Rom 10:13). In an extended appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures to demonstrate the inclusion of Gentiles, Paul indicates that this inclusion “confirm[s] the promises made to the fathers” (Rom 15:8-12, 21). As he concludes the letter, Paul writes that the gospel he preaches—which is identical with “the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began”—is made known to all nations “by the prophetic Scriptures” (Rom 16:25-26). This can only mean that the message he preached in the churches was firmly rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained that he spoke “the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages” (1 Cor 2:7). But this mystery was anticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures (1 Cor 2:9). It had now been revealed to Paul “through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes the deep things of God” (1 Cor 2:10). The story of Israel’s journey through the wilderness was written for the benefit of the church (1 Cor 10:6, 11). The essential gospel message is “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that those who read the Hebrew Scriptures while rejecting Christ are hindered by a veil; their minds are blinded (2 Cor 3:14). Isaiah prophesied of the church age, the “day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). Ezekiel anticipated the way God would dwell in the church (2 Cor 6:16). Even the Pentateuch called for the church to be holy (2 Cor 6:17-18). That these Hebrew Scriptures belong to the church is quite clear when Paul immediately follows these references with these words: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).
In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul declared that the Hebrew Scriptures foresaw “that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (Gal 3:8a). By doing so, the Scripture “preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand” (Gal 3:8b). In receiving “the blessing of Abraham,” Gentiles are also receiving “the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14). When “the Scripture . . . confine[s] all under sin,” Gentiles are included along with Jews, so “that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal 3:22). Thus, “there is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). To be Christ’s is to be Abraham’s seed “and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29). If Gentiles in the church are heirs of a biblical promise, it is difficult to say that the Old Testament in no way anticipated the church.
To the Ephesians, Paul wrote that God had made known to him “the mystery of His will” which involved the “gather[ing] together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in him” (Eph 1:9-10). We come now to Paul’s discussion of the revelation of “the mystery . . . which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph 3:3-6). In view of all that precedes this canonically, it is difficult to read this to mean that the Hebrew Scriptures include nothing about the Gentiles becoming fellow heirs. Indeed, Paul in the very next chapter quotes Ps 68:18 to explain the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to the church (Eph 4:7-14). We can certainly question whether the author of Ps 16 or even the final composer of the Psalter understood Ps 68:18 as a reference to the ascension gift ministries, but Paul’s horizon was broader than theirs. He lived in the era of fulfillment and of the Spirit, an era that released the text of the Hebrew Scriptures to a dimension of fullness unavailable to those with a limited horizon. This does not mean that the author of Ps 68 or the composer of the Psalter were wrong; it means that there was a depth of meaning in the text that awaited fulfillment to be fully released. Since Paul uses the psalm this way in the same letter where he discusses the revelation of mystery, it is apparent that he does not mean that the mystery is not based on Scripture. He even sees Gen 2:24, a statement that in isolation seems to refer only to the marriage relationship, as “a great mystery” that “concern[s] Christ and the church” (Eph 5:31-32).
Again in his letter to the Colossians, Paul discusses “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints” (Col 1:26). This is the same mystery Paul has in view in his letter to the Ephesians; it concerns “the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). But again Paul refers to the Hebrew Scriptures as the source of this mystery. Specifically, he sees the regulations concerning food, drink, festivals, new moons, and sabbaths—all integral to the Law of Moses—as being “shadow[s] of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col 2:16-17).
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul describes the church as “the house of God . . . the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). It would seem strange to think that such a high evaluation would be made of an institution that has no place in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul declares that the Holy Scriptures—the Hebrew Scriptures that Timothy has known from childhood—“are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). It is precisely these Scriptures which are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). If the Hebrew Scriptures are profitable for church doctrine, for the reproof, correction, and instruction of church members, and if they are capable of bringing a man of God who is in the church to completion, they surely are not bereft of any reference to the church. Before closing his letter, Paul appeals to Timothy for “the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim 4:13). No doubt these parchments were Old Testament Scriptures written on leather scrolls.16 If the Hebrew Scriptures contained nothing specific to the church, one wonders why Paul wished to have them as desperately as he wished to have his cloak.
Interpretations of Ephesians 3:5 that focus only on exegesis of the immediate context miss the influence on understanding available from the broader horizon of the use of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament and specifically from Paul’s consistent Christological and ecclesiological use of the Old Testament.
Paul’s use of the Old Testament demonstrates the validity of the approach to understanding characterized by the hermeneutical circle. Because his horizon has been widened by his personal encounter with Jesus Christ, because he enjoys the fullness of the Spirit, and because he has access to the entire Hebrew canon, he reads the Hebrew Scriptures in a way they could not be read by those who rejected Christ or by those to whom only portions of the text were available. This was not unique to Paul. As he affirmed, the revelation of the mystery of Christ “has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph 3:5). His approach to the interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures is mirrored by all of the New Testament writers.
Theoretically, it may be possible to say that we are in a better position to understand both the Old and New Testaments than were the writers of either testament, because our horizon includes the perspective of the New Testament writers on the Old Testament, a horizon unavailable to the writers of the Old Testament, and because we have access to a wholeness or fullness of written revelation, including the New Testament, that the writers of the New Testament never enjoyed. Our horizon is widened not only by the complete canon, but also by the fullness of the Spirit and by the effect of the history of Christian interpretation and the impact of Scripture on the church.
Our apostolic heritage includes an approach to the interpretation of Scripture that is quite different from the hermeneutics adopted by those who limit the supernatural dimension of the Christian life to the first century and who separate the two testaments so radically that there is no ecclesiology – with its attendant pneumatology – in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is agreed by many, including non-Pentecostals, that the Old Testament is rich in Christology. It should be recognized, however, that where Christ is found, so is the Holy Spirit, and so is the anticipation of the church, which comes into being when Christ pours out the Holy Spirit upon waiting believers, whether Jew or Gentile.
Discussion of exegesis, authorial intent, context, reader response, genre, and the entire range of hermeneutical concern has its place, but will fall short if Scripture is not approached as it was by the first century apostles and others who wrote Scripture. This includes their belief that all Scripture, including the Hebrew Scriptures, belonged to the church. Until the end of the first century, no Christian in the apostolic era had access to the entire New Testament. For about fifteen years after the Day of Pentecost, New Testament Scripture did not exist. When it did begin to develop, it was in bits and pieces and scattered widely over the geographical expanse of spreading Christianity. There were no printing presses constantly collating freshly written Scripture to assure that all New Testament believers were kept up to date on the latest revelations.
How, then, did first century Christians believe and understand the gospel, and what was their authoritative source for its declaration? As Paul pointed out to Timothy, this was the function of the Hebrew Scriptures Timothy had known from his childhood:
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:14-17, NKJV).
Since the writers of the New Testament so fully embraced the Hebrew Scriptures as their source for the doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, and since they believed it was profitable for a full range of teaching, including the reproof, correction, and instruction of New Testament Christians, bringing the people of God to completion and thoroughly equipping them for all they needed to do, it should be no surprise to find the New Testament standing in complete solidarity with the Old Testament. The way this works out may sometimes be hard to understand, as Peter indicated, but the reward is worth the effort. Oneness Pentecostals, of all people, should rejoice in the opportunity to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This growth will not come from minimizing the value of the Old Testament. It will result from reading the Hebrew Scriptures as the Scriptures of the church, feasting on the richness of their testimony to Christ, partaking of the fullness of the Holy Spirit promised therein, and celebrating the fulfilled fellowship of the gathered believers (i.e., the ekklēsia, the church) thus anticipated.
1 Luke 24:33-35.
2 F. L. Arrington, “Dispensationalism,” in The New Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (eds. Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. van der Maas; rev. and exp. ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Zondervan, 2002), 585.
3 Arrington, “Dispensationalism,” 585.
4 Arrington, “Dispensationalism,” 585.
5 Arrington, “Dispensationalism,” 585. Ryrie acknowledges that “ecclesiology . . . is the touchstone of dispensationalism” (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today [Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1965], 132).
6 It has long been noted that dispensationalism sees the church as a parenthesis, bearing no relationship to what preceded it or to what will follow it in God’s plan. (See Clarence B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism: Its Historical Genesis and Ecclesiastical Implications [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1960], 26, 28, 43, 129.) For normative dispensationalism, the church and Israel are “completely distinct.” The church “was not revealed in the Old Testament,” and God has two purposes, “one for the church and one for Israel” (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism [Chicago: Moody Press, 1995], 174).
7 Frank M. Boyd, Ages and Dispensations (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1955), 53-54. See also Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, 134, n. 4, where Ryrie quotes James M. Stifler’s interpretation of Ephesians 3:5 as denying “that there was any revelation at all of the mystery in that former time . . . .”
8 In its comments on Joel 2:28, the New Scofield Reference Bibledisassociates Joel’s prophecy from any fulfillment on the Day of Pentecost: “Peter did not state that Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The details of Joel 2:30-32 (cp. Acts 2:19-20) were not realized at that time. Peter quoted Joel’s prediction as an illustration of what was taking place in his day, and as a guarantee that God would yet completely fulfill all that Joel had prophesied. The time of that fulfillment is stated here (“afterward,” cp. Hos. 3:5), i.e. in the latter days when Israel turns to the Lord” (E. Schuyler English, ed., The New Scofield Study Bible [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1967], 1045).
9 Scofield’s comment on Ephesians 3:5-10 includes the claim that “the church is not once mentioned in Old Testament prophecy” (C. I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth . Cited 2 December 2004). Online: http://www.raptureme.com/resource/scofield/s1.htm. Although this view has been softened by adherents of Progressive Dispensationalism (See, e.g., Robert L. Saucy, “The Church as the Mystery of God,” Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 127-155), those who embrace Scofieldian dispensationalism continue to insist that “no revelation of this mystery was given in the Old Testament but that this mystery was revealed for the first time in the New Testament” (Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty (ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; New Testament edition; Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Book, 1983), 629.
10 See G. R. Lewis, “Ultradispensationalism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Walter A. Elwell, ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 1120-21.
11 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (ed. Gordon D. Fee; Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 314.
12 A. Skevington Wood, “Ephesians,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1 (ed. Frank. E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), 45.
13 See also Acts 26:27.
14 See also Rom 10:19-21.
15 The New Scofield Study Bible comments on Eph 3:6: “That Gentiles were to be saved was no mystery . . . . The mystery ‘hidden in God’ was the divine purpose to make of Jew and Gentile a wholly new thing—‘the church, which is His [Christ’s] body,’ . . . and in which the earthly distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears . . . .” (C. I. Scofield, ed., The New Scofield Study Bible: New King James Version[Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989], 1437, n. 2). But we have seen several places where Paul appeals to the Hebrew Scriptures to establish this very point.
16 Ralph Earle, “2 Timothy,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1(ed. Frank. E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), 415.
17 For example, Peter sees the establishment of the church on Pentecost as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:16-21). James sees the inclusion of Gentiles in the church as having been anticipated by Amos (Acts 15:13-18). The author of Hebrews weaves texts from the Hebrew Scriptures throughout the letter to indicate that Christology and ecclesiology are rooted in the Old Testament.