Development of New Doctrine
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1975
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, May 2009
Read the accompanying Newsletter for May 2009
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The development of doctrine in the apostolic ekklesia is an important subject in the Bible. In John 16:12–13 Christ Jesus, while He was here on earth for His 2+ year ministry, 1 did not give the fullness of the teaching of the Gospel. He gave quite a bit of it, but He had a special mission to go primarily to the Jewish people in Palestine, the House of Israel. He never went out of the orbit of that area except on two occasions, and even there just peripherally. He stayed within the environment of Judaism for His years of preaching. He preached to unconverted people. He told the apostle Peter not long before His death, when you are converted strengthen the brethren (Luke 22.32). The apostle Peter and the rest of them had God’s Holy Spirit working with them but they did not have the Holy Spirit in them in a personal, intimate way.
When Jesus was preaching to the people on the hillsides of Galilee and other areas, He was preaching to unconverted people. They had a knowledge of Moses and a recognition of what the Pharisees and the scribes were teaching, such as commandments of men. 2 Many of the arguments that they brought up to Christ centered on those commandments of men. These people had religious knowledge but they were unconverted, and for 2+ years we find Christ preaching to them in that unconverted atmosphere.
During the time of Christ’s preaching, salvation was primarily through law-keeping. When the rich young ruler came and asked “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17; Luke 18:18). Jesus Himself said he was to “keep the commandments.” The rich young ruler said he had kept them all from his youth up. The only problem was that he violated the last one on coveting because when Christ said, all right, sell what you have and come and follow me (Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22), he balked at it. He coveted his own possessions. He violated the very commandments that he said he was keeping. Furthermore, he refused to follow Christ, which was most important.
Christ had not yet died for our sins. He died on the tree of crucifixion after the end of His ministry. But when we come to the apostle Paul’s letters and those of Peter, John, Jude, and James, we find them always pointing back to that dynamic time when Christ was crucified on the tree as a very important period in salvation history. We do not read about believing in Jesus Christ and His blood before His crucifixion.
Real salvation, when you get down to it, was not possible during the years of preaching by Jesus Christ. He had a particular message to give at that time. It was a message of salvation, true, but important central elements of it were missing. The Holy Spirit had not been given yet. Faith as the only means to salvation, which the apostle Paul reiterated time and time again, was not stated by Christ as the important ingredient during His ministry. He simply did not state it.
With the Holy Spirit coming in Acts chapter 2 we see a brand new beginning. Christ Jesus came on the earth with a mission. He preached for 2+ years filling the Law to the top, fulfilling it. Professor Williams said in his translation where Christ said “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17), the word “fulfil” means to fill to the top, to fill full. In the past I have given the illustration about the unfilled wine goblet. We have the Law of Moses filling it half way to the top. Christ Jesus came along in His ministry to put a capstone on the Law. His teaching was Law! “… if you will enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). This was Law.
Is there anything wrong with the Commandments? Of course not. The problem happens to be with you and me. We are incapable of keeping God’s commandments perfectly. We have sin over our heads in every way. When Christ came He was exalting the Law. He preached the Law. He put the capstone upon the Law. He came to fill up the Law to the top. When He gave the Sermon of the Mount, that was lawkeeping at its greatest. It was intensified lawkeeping.
A person could have kept the Law of Moses and been blameless, which is what it says about Zecharias and Elizabeth, the father and mother of John the Baptist. They walked in the law “blameless” (Luke 1:5–6). I will tell you how they were blameless. They depended upon the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement and also on the New Moon sacrifices for sin, and there they would have had cleansing of their sins, periodically, by the shedding of the animal blood. Paul later says that the blood of animals cannot efficaciously do anything for a person, but as far as the Law of Moses is concerned, it was a perfect fulfillment of it. Elizabeth and Zecharias were blameless in the Law of Moses.
The apostle Paul even mentions in Philippians 3:6 how he was “blameless” as far as the Law is concerned, as far as his own human nature was concerned. No matter if you feel you could keep the Law of Moses blameless, there is one thing you could not do. When you are finished reading the Sermon on the Mount, none of us come out being able to say we are blameless. Not one. This is because the strictures that Christ Jesus put upon the Law at that time were so severe, if I could put it that way, and so good, and so righteous. I am not denigrating them at all. In fact, how can a Christian denigrate what Christ says?
We have to put these things in their proper perspective. Jesus Christ came to put a capstone on the Law and that is exactly what He accomplished with His ministry in the flesh. He was the second Moses. 3 Christ put the top on Moses, in its totality, with a real spiritual interpretation behind Moses, and adding certain interpretations of His own, but still it was lawkeeping. This continued until Christ’s crucifixion, until He died for our sins. Then, using the vernacular, a whole new ballgame comes into view. An opening up of curtains takes place. There are new people on the stage, or maybe the same people, but they have gone through an experience which was different, and they came into the glorious teaching of the Gospel of Christ through God’s Holy Spirit, which was intended in the first place.
Jesus says in John 16:12: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.” Recall that He said this on the evening prior to His crucifixion. Here He was at the Passover table with His apostles at that last supper. He was through with His ministry. He accomplished it completely. Yet He still says “I have many things” not just a few, but “… many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.” They were incapable of understanding what He desired to dispense to them at that occasion after 2+ years of direct, face-to-face teaching. Why were they incapable of bearing it? Verse 13 gives the answer:
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all [the] 4 truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.”
This clearly shows that with the Holy Spirit they would be able to bear the many things that Christ had to tell them concerning His message of salvation. That is exactly what happened. After the Holy Spirit came we find a development of doctrine in the Christian ekklesia, and not in Judaism. There had been a step-by-step revelation up to Christ’s death. In the patriarchal period for about 2,000 years we find certain information was given to those patriarchs. Then when Moses came on the scene he greatly improved on the patriarchal period by giving more information which was more sophisticated. When Christ came and began to preach after His baptism by John, He gave even more sophisticated information. He was bringing things to a real good knowledge as far as the Law was concerned. It was a step-by-step growth.
But when the Holy Spirit comes then the proper vehicle was made available to all mankind, to all flesh if God would dispense it to them, whoever God would give it to, so that man could come to the fulness of the teaching of the Gospel of Christ, which involves the Spirit. It also involves His death on the tree of crucifixion, and the reason for His death. It also involves the New Covenant which could not commence until the shedding of His blood on the tree. That tree is a fulcrum. Everything hinges on the crucifixion of Christ. What went on before is one thing, what comes after, based upon the salvation which is in the death of Christ, is something else. This is what Christianity is all about.
Since Christ said to the disciples, I have many things to say unto you but you cannot bear them yet, but when the Holy Spirit comes He will guide you into all the truth, it means that new knowledge, new understanding was going to come along. Knowledge is important, as I said before. In 2 Peter 3:18, Peter recognizes this. He says as a conclusion to his second letter that growth is necessary for the Christian, growth in two spheres, growth in grace and growth in knowledge.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever [for the eon]. Amen.”
2 Peter 3:18
If you are to grow in knowledge with God’s Holy Spirit, you must grow in a step-by-step way. This is how everyone grows. You cannot get it all at once. That is how God has developed His Bible. He gave a little bit of knowledge to Adam, he increased a bit more to Abraham. Then successively through the years as Abraham walked with God he received still more understanding and more knowledge. More knowledge came through Moses, then more through David, and then more through the prophets. A great quantity came through Christ while He was preaching in the flesh. But once the Holy Spirit came to man in Acts chapter 2, now mankind has the right, all mankind to whom God will give the Holy Spirit, to share in this growth of knowledge that will finally reach to the fullness of the Gospel of Christ.
Even when the Holy Spirit was first given, they did not receive everything all at once. They had to learn step-by-step. The main thing that the Holy Spirit was going to teach them, and this is demonstrated throughout the New Testament, was that physical things which may have been important in the past, now are not as important. Physical things were types of the spiritual which they foreshadowed. The spiritual really makes the difference and not the physical. This is a general theme of the New Testament.
This is illustrated in the growth of the knowledge of the disciples after the Holy Spirit came. Once it came in Acts chapter 2 the first things that the apostle Peter told in his sermon to the Jews in Jerusalem was about Jesus Christ and Him crucified and resurrected from the dead. Then he told the people when they asked “What shall we do?” he said repent and be baptized and accept the Lord Jesus Christ. (I am paraphrasing Acts 2:37–41). When God began to finally give them essential knowledge of what New Testament Christianity was all about, it began a stripping away more or less, of all the physical requirements that God had imposed upon man.
Take for example the incident of the Ethiopian eunuch. This is most important. Philip had been preaching up in central Palestine. He was one of the seven to be selected, to wait on tables (Acts 6:1–6). In Acts 8:26–39 Philip was told to go on a road that led from Jerusalem down to Gaza. 5 That road continued on down to Egypt, down the Nile River to Ethiopia and Central Africa. Philip saw a caravan coming by and heard from one of the wagons a man reading the Book of Isaiah (chapter 53 as we know it today) in the Greek. Philip rushed up to the caravan and opened the curtain, I suppose, and found a man in there who was an Ethiopian. He had been to Jerusalem in the service of Queen Candace of Ethiopia. Some have said he was a Jew in her service but the text says he was an Ethiopian. He was not only an Ethiopian, he was a eunuch.
To Jews Ethiopia (Cush) represented the Gentile land farthest away geographically from God’s altar, God’s Temple, that they had record of, whether in Africa or India. 6 These people were as far away geographically from God as you could possibly get. They were Gentiles incapable of going into the Temple to make an offering. Physically that Ethiopian was cut off from God because he was not a Jew.
Secondly, even if he had been a Jew he would not have been able to go into the Temple to offer a sacrifice and come into fellowship with God in the Old Testament way. This was because the man was a eunuch. That was prohibited in the Old Testament. There is a reason for that which I do not want to go into at present, but this man was doubly cut off from God because of physical handicaps.
It is interesting that God sends Philip, a good Jew who knew the regulations of the Old Testament, and has him meet this Ethiopian eunuch who is reading Isaiah. It says there that sins can be forgiven. Philip asked, do you know what you are reading? The eunuch answers how can I unless someone teaches me (Acts 8:31). Is Isaiah referring to himself or to somebody else? That was a good lead in because Philip then began to preach about Jesus Christ. The eunuch then asked, what should I do? Philip told him, be baptized. They got down out of the caravan, found water, and he was baptized.
It is significant that the first Gentile that God called to salvation, an Ethiopian, was geographically far from the altar, and a eunuch besides. Such things were prohibited in the Old Testament and God is saying it is now time to reach out because all humans are my children and I want them to be in my family.
Christ Jesus never said anything like this. When the Syro-Phoenecian woman asked for the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table, Christ finally acceded to her, but He also said that He did not have the right “to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.” Christ Jesus our Lord Himself said that to the Syro-Phoenecian woman during His ministry (Matthew 15:21–28; Mark 7:24–30). A short time later, after his resurrection, He shared with His disciples that He wants a message to go out to the whole world (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). Look who He picks for the first Gentile example, a man doubly disqualified physically, but God accepted him.
The second incident with a Gentile (this is teaching progressing along) is the man Cornelius. The apostle Peter was sent to him by a double vision, first when Cornelius received a vision and sent people down to Joppa, and then Peter himself also received a vision, not just once but three different times (Acts 10:9–16). The angel said to Peter after he saw these animals in a sheet:
“And there came a voice to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.’”
Note the reluctance on Peter’s part. He does not want to do that. Three times he has to be convinced and even after he acknowledges it is a vision from God, he still shakes his head. It says in verse 17 that Peter doubted what the whole thing meant. It just did not make sense to him. “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” Finally he met the men who came from Cornelius, they went to Caesarea, where Peter met Cornelius and his family who received God’s Holy Spirit even before baptism, which again is before any physical thing was done. Peter was just standing back with his mouth open.
Peter was learning lessons; he was learning that God had a message to the Gentile world that was to embrace all mankind. The first person God picked was the Ethiopian eunuch, the second person picked was this Roman centurion (and his family). It is important to note that the Roman centurion was a member of the officer elite of the occupying forces of Palestine. If you would have been a Jew living in the 1st century you could appreciate the great lesson being brought out here because the Roman military organization was not esteemed by the Jews. It was held in disgust and hatred. 7 That was the man that God picked to receive the Gospel message because he was an honorable man and gave alms to the people (Acts chapter 10).
What is God trying to show with these examples? He is trying to show that the physical, that tended to separate in the past, is now being looked over by God. Step by step the apostles, beginning with Philip, then Peter, and others, were beginning to get a message that they ought to be more ecumenical, they ought to realize that the Jew is not just on top of the world but now we have Jew and Gentile. As far as God is concerned we are all one family spiritually. These are the teachings that were being given.
Another thing about this Cornelius incident, and Peter himself observed it I am not sure that he understood it right at first. I am sure he did not. He observed that Cornelius and his household were given salvation by their being given God’s Holy Spirit, and obviously they had received it, but they had not been circumcised. This should have been a wonderful teaching to the apostle Peter — wonderful! I wonder if he grasped it at the beginning. He doubted the vision after being given it three times. If I had seen it once, that would have been enough for me. Maybe not. But Peter doubted (Acts 10:17). Here is Cornelius, thoroughly converted, no question about it, and the man was uncircumcised. You would have thought that Peter would have gotten the lesson at that time. This is teaching by the Holy Spirit step by step.
The apostle Paul later on in Galatians 5:6 (after he finally was converted and brought to the truth), God began to give to him step-by-step knowledge, at a very increased rate it seems. Possibly it could be that Paul was more receptive to change. That is a possibility. I do know this much, when you begin to survey the changes that were made, once the Holy Spirit did come on the earth it was to lead people into all the truth. When you analyze who was more receptive to the change than anybody else, it was the apostle Paul.
(1) Circumcision. Who was it that said dogmatically that circumcision is nothing in itself? It was the apostle Paul, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love” (Galatians 5:6). Faith is what counts. Circumcision or uncircumcision, it makes no difference. Neither counts as far as salvation is concerned. That is what Paul said.
(2) Sacrifices. Paul made it clear that sacrifices were completely redundant as far as the salvation process was concerned. There are many scriptures on this, but Hebrews chapter 9 explains:
“The Holy Ghost [Spirit] this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices [the Mosaic time], that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances [rites, or, ceremonies of the Temple], imposed on them until the time of reformation. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal [eonian] redemption for us. …
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Hebrews 9:8–12, 14
All the carnal ordinances, washings, meats and drinks, gifts, sacrifices — all these things were works, but they were dead works as far as the conscience was concerned. Only faith and belief and the shedding of Christ’s blood which must be through faith, can cleanse the conscience. That is what the apostle Paul says. He is the one who boldly strikes out and says that not only is circumcision not necessary, but sacrifices are not necessary. Along with that, Temple services are not necessary. If you say that Temple services are not necessary, then it means the Aaronic priesthood is not necessary, nor are all other accouterments that we find associated with the Temple and Tabernacle. They are no longer necessary as far as the apostle Paul is concerned. They were imposed until a particular time, “until the time of reformation” (verse 10).
Who was giving this information, this greater information by the aid of God’s Holy Spirit here? “I have many things to say unto you,” Jesus said (John 16:12). The apostle Paul was giving the information.
(3) Days, months, times, and years. Paul writes in Galatians 4:10 that the observing of days, months, times, and years are no longer necessary for salvation. There is no question that he was talking about the Mosaic periods of time. That is made clear by the context of Galatians. This too is more information coming through God’s Holy Spirit.
These three points fundamentally differ from what Christ Himself preached for 2+ years. While He preached, circumcision was still very much in effect. Not once did our Lord ever say don’t be circumcised. Had He said that in the flesh, do you think the apostle Peter later would have wondered about Cornelius or any of those people? Or do you think that James, John and the rest of them would even have had a council in Acts chapter 15 discussing the question of circumcision? Christ asked Peter, who do men say that I am? Peter answered that some say you are this and others say that. Then Christ asked Peter, who do you say that I am. Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:13–16). Peter recognized who Christ was before His death by crucifixion.
If Christ would have said back then that circumcision was no longer necessary, I am certain that the apostle Peter would have known that at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, but Peter did not. Sacrifices were necessary in the time of Christ. Jesus even tells people to go and offer their gifts at the altar (Matthew 5:23–24). This was during His ministry, which went to physical Israel.
Temple services? Though He admitted that He was greater than the Temple (Matthew 12:6), Jesus still recognized it as well as the Levitical priesthood. To a man healed on one occasion He said go and show yourself to the priest (Matthew 8:4; Mark 1:44; Luke 5:14). Days, months, times, and years, though He was in Galilee for some of those periods, no question about it, and did not go down to Jerusalem, nevertheless He did keep the Sabbath as far as the true Sabbath was concerned. Months? Yes, the month of Abib. Times, yes, years even. Christ said nothing that would drastically alter those in His ministry. But the apostle Paul, after the Holy Spirit came, we find that they were to grow into more knowledge, more understanding.
There was a stripping away of physical acts, and an understanding of the spiritual significance behind those acts. They are mainly negative teachings. That is, you do not have to be circumcised any longer except spiritual circumcision. You do not have to sacrifice any longer, except spiritual sacrifices. The Temple services on earth are not important, those in heaven are. The Aaronic priesthood is redundant, the Melchizedek priesthood is not. Days, months, times, and years are no longer necessary.
The apostle Paul gave many positive teachings that were really not known, or lay dormant, in the Old Testament, for example faith. The apostle Paul in Romans speaks continually about faith. Faith is a means to righteousness. Indeed, he comes to the place of saying that it is the means to righteousness. You find faith, but you do not find faith emphasized in the Old Testament. You do not even find it emphasized in the ministry of Christ as a means to salvation. Christ said to various people who were sick “your faith has made you whole” (Matthew 9:22, 15:28; Mark 5:34, 10:52; Luke 8:48, 17:19). All right, did they get salvation? Yes, a physical salvation in the sense of their sins being forgiven and their healing, but it was a peripheral salvation. It was only physical. Where does Christ say that you must have faith for salvation, faith in Me and My blood? He cannot say that because He had not shed His blood yet. But the apostle Paul said it. In fact, it is the central part of the Gospel.
Another thing is important — that is grace. The apostle Paul speaks a lot about that. It is most important. Grace is God’s method of giving rewards at the present time for salvation, not works. This is what Paul taught. This is new teaching from the Holy Spirit. Clearly it is new. It was not in the Old Testament. Though the apostle Paul does pick out Abraham as getting justification before circumcision, that is quite true, and that faith, he says, was always the means by which a person could be saved, yet it is not emphasized in the Old Testament. It is works, works, works. Paul, however, comes out positively and says no, it is grace, it is not works. Look at other positive teachings of the apostle Paul. Imputation. You who do not understand exactly that term, it is most important. 8 We find that the apostle Paul gave positive teaching on that subject that had never been known before.
The subject of reconciliation is another important teaching, reconciliation, how God is reconciling the world to Himself. I must also put the word “universal” with reconciliation, because there is such a thing as universal reconciliation of God to the world and to the whole universe. This was not made known in earlier times. It was made known, however, step by step and primarily through the apostle Paul. All of this we have been looking at so far has come through Paul. Let us look at a contrast of all the information that comes from Paul, in causing the knowledge of God to go step-by-step toward its fulness.
We should examine what the other apostles were able to accomplish once the Holy Spirit of God came on the earth in Acts chapter 2. Philip was given teaching concerning the Ethiopian eunuch. Peter was given teaching concerning Cornelius and circumcision. They began to understand that these physical things were not necessary, but did they put them into practice as quickly as did the apostle Paul?
The Bible not only has epistles giving doctrines, it also has the Book of Acts which gives a history of the early ekklesia. It is as much a history of the development of doctrine as anything else. Acts shows us how God, once the Holy Spirit came, began in a step-by-step way to give new knowledge and understanding, leading up to the fulness of the teaching of Christ, which we will find came through the apostle Paul.
How does this new teaching affect the other apostles, particularly James, Peter, John (at first), and Jude? Before we look at the Book of Acts let us quickly look at the epistle of James. I am giving this as a principle. You should take out time to understand this material thoroughly. We have 5 chapters in James. It is a beautiful book; it is most wonderful. Every letter of Scripture is inspired, but there is one thing I would like to mention concerning Book of James.
In England, perhaps 10 years ago, I was a speech instructor. A friend of mine gave a short 6 minute speech. He got before the group and he did not even give an introduction. He looked everyone in the eye and said: “There is one epistle in the New Testament that is not Christian …” Then he paused for just about two seconds, and then he says, “so say the Jews.” Of course, he had the audience looking up to see what he was going to say. You have to have good introductions, don’t you? He had one. He explained that he had been doing some research, going through Jewish works relative to the New Testament. Almost all of them said they loved the Book of James. James was excellent. James would have been a good Pharisaical work of the 1st century. The only problem was that it mentioned Jesus Christ two times. Otherwise the book was as if it were written by a Jewish 1st century rabbi. It is a wonderful book.
Recall that in all 5 chapters of James, is there anything in there saying that circumcision is no longer necessary? Not a word. Is there anything that says sacrifices are no longer necessary? No. Anything about Temple services no longer being in effect? No. Anything about the Aaronic priesthood no longer being efficacious? No. Anything about days, months, times, and years not being necessary? No. Is there anything about faith? Yes, faith with works. Anything wrong with that? No. There is only an apparent contradiction between James and Paul. No real contradiction. James was very interested in works. Nothing wrong with that. It is perfectly good.
Grace? Nothing in there about the development of grace. Nothing in there about imputation. Nothing in there about reconciliation. Nothing in there that I can find about universal reconciliation. The one thing that you do find a little different perhaps, but only remotely so from ordinary Judaism of the time is this:
“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church [ekklesia]; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick …”
That is only remotely different because the Jews themselves were anointing with oil at the time, and this can be proved. However, James said, “let the elders of the ekklesia ...” and it does mention Jesus Christ in James 1:1 and 2:1. We have no increase in the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ that Jesus said would happen after the Holy Spirit would come. It fits in very well with what Jews might have believed in the 1st century even before the ministry of Christ was over.
What about First and Second Peter? I cannot go through these in detail, but you find in Peter a mention of baptism. Baptism, however, was mentioned in the ministry of Christ. John was baptizing. You also find the new birth:
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides for ever [for the eon].”
1 Peter 1:23
Did not Jesus speak to Nicodemus in John chapter 3 about the new birth? Yes He did. They knew about the new birth, even though they had not experienced it until Acts chapter 2, but they knew about it in the ministry of Christ. 9 Peter talks about newborn babes, the new birth (as does the apostle Paul), but he does not elaborate on it. Peter talks about “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). That comes from the Old Testament, the Law. Peter writes about wives obeying husbands, 1 Peter 3:6, “as Sarah obeyed Abraham.” That is beautiful and wonderful, but that is in the Old Testament as well. This epistle would have fit in very well with the ministry of Christ, you might even say with the ministry under Moses to a certain extent. Peter is giving excellent information but does he say anything about circumcision not being necessary, sacrifices not being necessary, Temple services, etc.? The answer is no, Peter does not. What about Second Peter? Analyze that yourself, but the same thing has to be repeated.
Go into the epistles of First, Second, and Third John. The main thing that John says different than Christ said in His ministry was that when He appears “we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). In all of this, the beautiful emphasis of John is upon love, upon keeping Christ’s commandments. These are beautiful teachings that fit in their proper place. Does First, Second, or Third John discuss circumcision not being necessary, sacrifices not being necessary, Temple services not being necessary? No, he does not.
You can go to the last of the 7 epistles of the Jewish apostles, Jude. He has 25 verses where he speaks about people turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and they certainly were doing that. He also asks in verse 3 that people give diligence to the common salvation which was once delivered to the saints. That is quite true. He talks about “building up yourselves on your most holy faith” in verse 20. He speaks about Jesus Christ on several occasions. It is a Christian epistle, no doubt, all of these are. But does Jude say anything about circumcision not being necessary, sacrifices not being necessary, Temple services now not necessary? The answer is no.
What you get from all this is that if you take the seven catholic epistles (that rightly come after the Book of Acts) as a group you will find that they would fit very well into the early period of Christ’s ministry with circumcision, Temple services, sacrifices, and everything else going right on down the line without the slightest deviation. They would work marvelously well. Some might say, these are short epistles and their subject was not to go into these matters and that is why they are not mentioned. Perhaps that is the case.
Now go to the Book of Acts. Instead of wanting to come out with subjects concerning circumcision, sacrifices, Temple services, and things like that, the Jerusalem apostles show a great reluctance to change. This reluctance is not something that I am concocting, it is clearly in the Scripture. It is in Scripture to show us something concerning the development of doctrine in the apostolic ekklesia. The Book of Acts is there to show us the development and the step-by-step problems of the early New Testament ekklesia.
In Acts chapter 15 a Jerusalem council was finally called, some 19 years after the Holy Spirit was first given. It took them that long to finally discuss this subject of circumcision. It was a big problem.
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, ‘Except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”
Note what they were saying. Paul had already written to the Galatians that circumcision was not necessary, but here are these men from Judea teaching the brethren that without circumcision they would not be saved.
“When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.”
Obviously these men had come right from Judea, from Jerusalem, and they were convinced that you had to be circumcised to be saved. Later on we will find out there were tens of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem who were zealous of the Law and they were Christians. 10 Was there a reluctance to change or was there not? Barnabas and Paul take those men aside, and there is much dissension and much disputation over the matter. No doubt there would be! There is always great dissension and disputation when there is a great reluctance to change. When Barnabas and Paul go down to Jerusalem:
“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed [they were Christians], saying, That it was needful to circumcise them [Gentiles], and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.”
First of all Peter stands up and gives the experience of what happened to him with Cornelius. He said I saw it with my own eyes, the man was given God’s Holy Spirit, he was a Roman centurion, and he was not circumcised (Acts 15:7–11). That had happened some years before. It makes me wonder why the apostle Peter did not insist at an earlier time that circumcision was not necessary? He did not, apparently. Now he is insisting it is not necessary. Then Paul and Barnabas get up to speak and tell what God was doing in Asia Minor and places they ministered.
Then James, after hearing all of this, finally says all right, it is my opinion that we do not have to trouble them which are among the Gentiles (Acts 15:19). They wrote an epistle [a letter] saying you Gentiles do not have to be circumcised (Acts 15:23–24). It took about 19 years for them to do that.
Who was it that first brought out the teaching that circumcision was not necessary? Peter was the first one it was revealed to, but the first one we have evidence about who actively fights, if you want to put it that way, that this doctrine of Christ will now be put into action was the apostle Paul and also Barnabas. The rest of them were holding back. One who was holding back (even though he knew better) was the apostle Peter, because he saw Cornelius receive God’s Holy Spirit without being circumcised.
Let us be careful with Peter and be honest about him. Let us understand him. He was a die-hard Jew. Nothing wrong with that. He was a fisherman, a practical man. Peter meant well. The apostle Paul was also a very conservative Jew at one time too, no question about it. But the apostle Peter had been born into Judaism, reared into it, walked for 2+ years with Christ getting more teaching — and Christ did not say one word in His ministry to physical Israel about circumcision not being necessary! Peter had problems with these matters. It was difficult for him to get his mind out of one channel and to get it into another. It was like pulling eyeteeth in difficulty, especially when you come across a cardinal doctrine such as circumcision which separated the Jew from the Gentiles.
Peter had problems. James had problems. The brethren of the sect of the Pharisees in Jerusalem, bless their hearts, had problems. Let us be sympathetic with them. But Paul too was reared as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5). These people had difficulties. There is no question about it. It is interesting that this circumcision matter, when the revelation came, it came to Peter. It might have come through the other apostles, but who was the one that insisted on circumcision not being necessary? It was the apostle Paul.
The Jerusalem area had to have the truth of the Gospel regarding circumcision forced on to them from the outside. They came up with the evidence, but they failed to develop it, apparently. This is made clear in Galatians chapter 2. Here is the apostle Paul talking about an earlier event in Antioch:
“But when Peter was come to Antioch [from Jerusalem], I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he [Peter] did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them [from James] which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.”
They were doing fine, eating with the Gentiles, and fellowshipping with them, which was not allowed to a Pharisaical Jew. Then some “came from James” in Jerusalem, who sent them. Some have said that these were not representing James, they were representing themselves. James surely did not feel this was wrong. If that is true, it does not make sense because the apostle Peter was next to James in authority. Here is the apostle Peter scared to death when he meets some that have come from what person? From James. If these people were not representing James, and James felt it was all right to eat with Gentiles, Peter would have carried right on. But Peter got nervous. He got nervous because of what James might think on the matter. Not only was Peter nervous (“dissembled” 11), but the Jews among them were carried away and separated themselves from the Gentiles. Not only that, Paul was amazed that even Barnabas separated himself.
If these men coming “from James” were not representing James, but came with just their own ideas, Barnabas would have said James knows this is all right. Well, James did not know it was all right. That is the point. That is what Paul is trying to point out in this epistle right here, written under inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. Some of us have wanted to avoid these issues. We have not wanted to see what was actually happening in the New Testament ekklesia. Yet here it is written for us to understand.
These things are put in as part of God’s Scripture to show the reluctance by some people to really understand the growth of Christian doctrine. There are many people around today who are also reluctant to change. I sympathize with them, but they must change if they want to get on the right road with God.
“But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If you, being a Jew, live after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compel you the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? …
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
Galatians 2:14, 16
Verse 16 is a cardinal scripture in understanding New Testament teaching on grace, on faith, on no works, on imputation, on reconciliation, and on all physical things not being necessary. That is what Paul is emphasizing, and who is he preaching to? A man by the name of Peter. Is there anything wrong with Peter? Yes. But can you understand Peter’s reluctance? Yes, of course you can. You should because he was reared as a Jew and it was difficult for him to overcome these things. Some have said that the reason James, Peter, or John (the early part of John; he comes around later in his Gospel) do not discuss these things in their early epistles is because they are reluctant to discuss them.
Who was it who brought out almost all of it? The apostle Paul. God gave him enough gumption to walk in the truth. Almost all the truth that separates us from Judaism today comes from the apostle Paul. That does not mean that we should denigrate James. Later on James, Peter, and John fit beautifully in their proper place and order. These things were revealed to a number of apostles, but Paul was the one who actively put them into operation. In Philippians chapter 3 the apostle Paul gives his overall attitude toward all these things that were a stumblingblock to James and to Peter and to Jude, early on to John and even to Barnabas.
“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision [circumcision, but a different technical term]. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he has whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
He goes on, faith it is. He tossed the whole thing overboard. He became not a conservative, but a progressive, true, and right Christian. Peter and the rest of them hung on, too long in some cases. That is clearly what the Scripture says. 12 The apostle Paul was willing to overthrow everything of his past to start with new information that Christ had given him. Of all people it was the hardest for him, but he did it. When Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus he put his hand to the plow and did not turn back. The lesson of Peter’s encounter with the uncircumcised Roman centurion Cornelius and his Gentile family was clear to Paul. He accepted that teaching from the Holy Spirit. He said it is not necessary any longer. Paul began to preach all these things. God blessed him. New knowledge was coming to the ekklesia.
What we need to ask ourselves is, shall we accept these things? The apostle Paul accepted them because he overthrew the past. If we want to hang on to the past, even like James did and Peter did, and John at the beginning, and Jude, regarding these physical things, then we will be missing out on the fulness of the teaching of Christ that God can give us. If we want to abandon them however, then we can begin to understand the fulness of the teaching through God’s Holy Spirit.
Christ says that He was going to reveal more things to them than He had done during His ministry and after His resurrection. He did reveal them to the apostle Paul and others. Paul put them into action. Look at the things that came out after Jesus Christ gave God’s Holy Spirit. It changed the whole character of Judaism as it was before, as the teaching of Christ was during His ministry, as it was in Moses’ time, or as it was in the patriarchal period. What we find God doing is step by step giving an education to His people, leading them to the fulness of understanding once the Holy Spirit had come.
When James, Peter, and John received new teaching, they wanted to stay back. Paul went on. All of them should have done that. They finally came around, John did. It is an educational process. God’s step-by-step education is not like some subjects that we know of today. This is an important principle. God’s Bible is all education, step-by-step, but it is a certain type of education. It is not like an education in mathematics.
With mathematics you learn as a child in kindergarten that 1+1=2, and you do it with oranges or apples. Then when you get into the first grade, or the second, or the third grade you increase your knowledge. In the third grade when multiplication or division is introduced, you still work with addition and subtraction. You never give up what you learned at the beginning. When you get into high school and learn algebra you still use the 1+1=2 principle. You also use multiplication and division, but now you use algebra.
When you get into the higher classes in high school you might get into geometry and trigonometry, but you still use the basics. When you get to college and want to be a mathematics expert or the sciences you go into calculus in all its forms. But even if you are a research scientist or a mathematician, you still use 1+1=2. You still use what you learned in kindergarten. In that type of education you build upon prior accumulated knowledge, always using what you learned before.
God’s education is not that way. It is progressive, certainly, but there is a different channel that you go through. This channel has to do with growth as far as a person is concerned, coming from childhood and learning knowledge and then going to adulthood, not at all like being taught mathematics.
It is like this: when a person is born into the world, here you are a little child, you know the first thing that is put in your hand, the first knowledge you get? A rattle is put there, and you love to rattle it. After a while you go to blocks and things like that to play with. You stop playing with the rattle. As you get older, if you are a boy you like to play with toy trucks. When you get to puberty you suddenly begin to think about girls. You never thought much about those before. When you become a teenager you think about teen age parties. When you become a young adult you think about things such as career goals and learn career skills. When you get married you think about still other things. When you have 3, 4, or 5 kids you are thinking about many other things, I assure you. Finally they get married and you have grandkids and you think about other things.
When you started off with a rattle, when you progressed to the blocks, what did you do with the rattle? You abandoned it. When you went to toy trucks, you abandoned the blocks. When you started to go out with girls, you abandoned toy trucks. You were much less interested in them. When you went to a teenage party, you abandoned things you did when you were twelve. When you get out of school, start to work, and get married, you abandon other things. As we grow in our education we abandon the past. This is the way that God has given His revelation to us. It has to do with the abandonment of things from our minority.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
1 Corinthians 13:11
Paul put away the rattle, the blocks, the toy trucks, things like that. He now is taking something new. The apostle Paul says earlier: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). The education illustration the apostle Paul uses is either being a mature adult spiritually or being a babe, like a child. In Hebrews Paul says:
“… seeing you are dull of hearing. For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. [They were going back to being children.] For every one that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
The same thing is said in the epistle to the Galatians, speaking about the Law:
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”
Those things in the past were when we were in our minority. Paul’s education process, the education process of the Bible, has to do with a child to adult illustration (not like mathematics education, progressing from one skill to the next). What you do in this process of being a child growing into an adult is that you abandon childish things, step by step, abandoning earlier steps as you progress. This is what Paul says concerning the Law; it was a schoolmaster, like the bondwoman and her son:
“Nevertheless what says the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.”
What we need to do is to cast out the bondwoman, cast away the rattle, throw out the blocks, have nothing to do with trucks, or teenage parties. You can have adult interests. You are not so much interested with playing with toy trains any longer or dolls if you are a girl. How many of us adults like to play with rattles? This is the type of illustration Paul uses.
If we use the mathematics illustration, do you know what that would mean? Everything that God said in the patriarchal period you must do. You also have to do everything from the Mosaic period, everything Christ said to do in His ministry, and everything from Acts chapter 2 down to chapter 28 and beyond — and try to do them all at the same time. What chaos!
The apostle Paul says that once the Holy Spirit came and the knowledge of the truth concerning circumcision, sacrifices, Temple services, faith, grace, imputation, reconciliation, etc., was revealed by the Holy Spirit, he says cast out the bondwoman. You are no longer children, no longer under the schoolmaster. You are adults through the Spirit of God. This is what we are to go by today.
In closing, Ephesians chapter 4. Ephesians is a prison epistle, very mature, absolutely excellent:
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting [maturing] of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge [epignosis, full knowledge] of the Son of God, unto a perfect [fully mature] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
Do you know where we all stand at the present time? We need to continue growing until we come to the full measure of Him by growing in grace and in knowledge into the unity of the faith. So we need to grow:
“… unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”
This is what the apostle Paul wanted people to do. God through His Holy Spirit told us that circumcision is no longer necessary; it was a rattle for children. Sacrifices are no longer necessary, they were blocks for children. Temple services are no longer necessary, they were toy trucks. The Aaronic priesthood is no longer necessary because that was some other toy, a useful toy, but no longer needed. If I had a rattle in my hand, you might smile when I first rattle it. It does have a function. I dare say that if any of you parents would have another child you no doubt would buy a rattle for them, and you would find it very functional, very useful for a child. When the child became older you would get your child some blocks. You would say they are very good. As an adult you would say that they were good, for whom? For the child. You would carry on with functional teaching tools. Would you play with them? No. They are very functional and intended for certain people.
If we could look at the matter this way, the patriarchal period was absolutely beautiful and wonderful. Let us not denigrate it for a moment. It was a rattle, functional for certain people. The Mosaic period, the same thing, and the period of Christ’s ministry before the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were absolutely beautiful and they were essential advances toward adulthood.
The fulcrum of history in which the most important event that could ever have occurred came — that was Jesus Christ crucified, resurrected, and then the Holy Spirit comes to teach us all the truth. When all that truth began to come and we began to see the fulness and the maturity to the stature of the fulness of Christ, the apostle Paul said, when I was a child, I acted like a child, I thought like a child, I wanted to do the things a child wanted to do. Now that I am an adult I cast away childish things. What we need to do brethren is to make certain that we are on the mature road to Christianity.
Ernest L Martin, 1975
Edited by David Sielaff, May 2009
1 After 1975 Dr. Martin came to understand that Christ’s ministry was 2+ rather than 3½ years. See his 1995 article “The Chronology of New Testament Times” at http://www.askelm.com/prophecy/p950102.htm. DWS
4 It is “all the truth” in the original Greek, with the definite article. DWS
6 Descendants of Cush lived both in Ethiopia in Africa and in portions of India. DWS
7 Imagine what it would have been like in Japan in 1946 living as a Japanese citizen and General Macarthur’s troops are all over your country. You went to war and lost. You do not take kindly to people occupying your country. The same thing could be said for Germany after World War II, even 50 years later. Or, let us suppose that the Germans or Japanese had won and occupied our country, we would not take kindly to it. ELM
8 See Dr. Martin’s article “The Way to Salvation in the Christian Gospel” at http://askelm.com/doctrine/d890101.htm. Dr. Martin’s latest statement on this topic is in Chapter 8, “The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness to His People” at http://askelm.com/essentials/ess013.htm from his book Essentials of New Testament Doctrine. DWS
Speaking of the “new birth” in 1 Peter 1:23, some people do not want
that word to be “born.” They do not want
you to be
“born again” at the present time. They feel it is better
that you be “begotten” now and born by a resurrection from the dead
later. However, verse 23 should really be translated just as it is,
“being born again.” All of us who have God’s Holy Spirit have been
already spiritually born again. We are new creations in Christ (2
Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). We are a new person, a new man
(Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). We are all, male or female, one in
Christ (Galatians 3:28). Secondarily, whether we be Ethiopian, German,
Jew or whatever, we are all Abraham’s seed (Luke 1:55; John 8:33, 37;
Acts 3:25; Romans 4:13, 16, 9:7, 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:22; Galatians
3:16, 29; and Hebrews 2:16). We have in a sense become a new individual,
a new creation. If there is any doubt that all Christians who have God’s
Holy Spirit are “born again,” go four verses down. Peter says to the same people:
newborn babes, desire the
sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby: If so be you have
tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:2–3). Since
Peter’s audience were to act as newborn babes when they desired the
sincere milk of the word, were they “begotten” or were they
“born” back in verse 1:23?
Verse 23 really should be translated “born” because a child in the womb does not go to the mother’s breast to receive “sincere milk of the word.” You only get milk after you are born. The apostle Peter says you have been born again. I have to go along with that. However, this is only in the spiritual sense. Being born again in a literal sense comes by the resurrection from the dead. That is true. We need to differentiate between the actual and the spiritual which precedes the actual. Peter is talking here about the spiritual. ELM
10 Galatians was written before the Jerusalem council of Acts chapter 15. See the article in note #1 above for the chronology. DWS
11 The Greek word sunupokrithesan breaks down to sun-upokrith-esan, which literally means “to play the hypocrite with.” DWS
In the very end the apostle John makes some real changes. There is no
question about it. ELM
See two of Dr. Martin’s articles: “The Two Apostle Johns” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d070501.htm and “The New Apostle John” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d070601.htm. DWS
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