Essentials of N.T. Doctrine
Gentiles Must Become Israelites
If a person wishes to know just what Gospel of Christ belongs to mature Christians today, no chapter is more important to understand than the one we now enter. Certain terms have to be met. It is imperative that we realize that the terms of salvation were when the apostle Peter began to preach the Gospel of Christ on that first Pentecost day after Christ’s resurrection from the dead. That message of Peter was fundamentally different from the teaching Christ gave to the Israelites while He was in the flesh.
Peter stated that believing on Christ and in His mission (of dying for humans in their place) would gain a salvation for everyone. Yes, it was now for everyone who would repent of their sins and believe on the name and authority of Jesus Christ to forgive sins. Christ would then give salvation to those believers. Peter said:
“Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’”
A short time later he said,
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
What is important to realize is that Peter directed the words of his preaching to the Israelites who listened to him teach. He said,
“You men of Israel, hear these words; ... Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made that same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Acts 2:22, 36
At first, this teaching of the Gospel went to Israelites alone (just as Christ Himself directed His teaching while in the flesh to the House of Israel). In this early period, there was no thought by the apostles that Gentiles would be included in the salvation that now became available in Christ. Indeed, the messages of the Gospel both by Christ while in the flesh, and by Peter and the other apostles in the first few years of their ministry, were given solely to those in the House of Israel, who were reckoned by the world as being “Jews.”
Now my next statement may be a shock to some people. But all should take it seriously for the statement is absolutely true. It is this. In the first 33 years of teaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus about His death and resurrection now being able to bring people to salvation, that salvation in Christ was ONLY given to people who were of the House of Israel.
Jews within the Roman and Parthian Empires who lived at the time were certainly of the tribe of Judah who were a part of the House of Israel. It meant that salvation could be given to them, but it could not be given to Gentiles IF THEY REMAINED GENTILES! In the 33 years of time that elapsed from Christ’s crucifixion in 30 to 63 C.E., it was necessary for all Gentiles who were saved in Christ to become spiritual Israelites. The New Covenant relationship with God was given only to those who were members of the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31–34). Note what the clear word of God states:
“Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband unto them, says the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
As clear as God could make it, the New Covenant was to be made only with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. There is not one mention in this New Covenant relationship about participation of Gentiles who were not Israelites. And what did this lack of mention concerning Gentiles mean to the apostle Paul? He made it clear that salvation in Christ could only be given to the children of Israel and no other nation. Note what Paul said in Ephesians chapter 2:
“Wherefore remember [you Gentiles], that you, being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise [both Old and New Covenants], having no hope, and without God in the world.”
Paul made it clear in the above statement, which was absolutely true and accurate, that as long as Gentiles remained Gentiles, there was not a hope in the world for them to gain a salvation in Christ. They were those “having no hope.” Remember, the Old and New Covenants were made only with the House of Israel and if one was not an Israelite then such persons were “strangers from the covenants of promise. ... and without God in the world.” This was a terrible plight for Gentiles to be in, but this was their fate. Simply put, Gentiles could not be saved.
However, there came to be hope, and indeed, even a victory for the Gentiles. A legal was was found that could get Gentiles saved along with the Israelites. This was by grafting Gentiles into the stock of Israel so that they no longer would be reckoned as Gentiles. This was the manner in which Gentiles could be called the children of Abraham and the Israel of God, and be accepted for salvation like the other Israelites. And Paul, in the four epistles to the first three ekklesias (the congregations in Romans, Corinthians and Galatians) taught that all Gentiles who accepted Christ as their personal Savior were now reckoned to be “in Christ” (Romans 12:5, 16:7, 9–10; 1 Corinthians 3:1, 15:22; 2 Corinthians 1:21, 3:14, 5:17; Galatians 3:27). Putting Gentiles “in Christ” gave them an advantage they had not realized before. Since Christ was clearly reckoned in a legal sense to be from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Jacob’s name was changed to Israel), then Gentiles now attached to Christ were no longer acknowledged as “Gentiles” in a spiritual sense. They had now become “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
“For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you be Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs [along with Israelites] according to the promise.”
Similarly, Paul said in Romans 11:13–36 that the Gentiles being “in Christ” (and Christ was an Israelite in whom there was no guile and a legitimate son of Abraham) made them also to be children of Abraham and Israel as was Christ or any natural born Israelite. And since it was clearly understood by Paul that “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26), this of necessity included the Gentiles who accepted Christ and were grafted into Israel. Thus, these Gentile converts were no longer reckoned as Gentiles. They were now “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
This was how the Gentiles could become partakers of all promises and covenants that pertained to the Israelites. This grafting into the stock of Israel made them able to be heirs of the New Covenant relationship that God was making only with Israel.
A Major Problem Developed with this Concept
While this spiritual teaching that Gentiles were now “in Christ” denominated them as being Israel along with the other Israelites, a question quickly arose concerning the required conduct of these new Israelites. Should they be circumcised as were ordinary Israelites? Should they keep the days, times, seasons, and years that all Jews observed and rejoiced in? Should these new “Israelites” be required to eat the clean foods found in Leviticus chapter 11?
Some Christian authorities, especially those in Jerusalem, felt that if the Gentiles were now going to be acknowledged as “Israelites,” then it was only common sense they should adopt the same customs as the Jews. This included circumcision, Sabbath, and holyday keeping, the clean food laws, etc. This matter had to be worked out and we find much argument about it in the Books of Acts and Galatians (along with Second Corinthians chapters 11 and 12). In other words, should the Gentiles (now “Israelites”) keep the Law of God revealed in the Old Testament and sustained by Christ while teaching in the flesh, or could the Gentiles be given some kind of special relationship different from ordinary Jews? This was the dilemma. What laws and customs should the Gentiles (now “Israelites”) observe?
Before we look at this problem in detail, let us note a fact that many Christians are not aware of and this includes some Christian theologians.
Jews Did Not Need to Keep Parts of the Law in Gentile Areas
It is normally not understood (even by Christian theologians who desire to keep and observe the Law of God ordained in the Old Testament) that the Jews themselves knew they were exempt from keeping certain Laws of God that pertained only to Israelites residing in the Land of Israel (the Land of Canaan). Do you know that the law of TITHING applied only to Jews who lived in the Land of Israel, or in heavily populated areas of Jews around Palestine? Only products from “Israel” were tithable! That’s right. Only products from the land of Israel could be tithed.
“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.”
Notice the major point about this tithing instruction. It said “All the tithe of the land is the Lord’s” This Hebrew word rendered “land” is aretz. At times the word can mean the earth (Genesis 1:1). At other times it is used in regard to a specific land or country (Exodus 3:8, 17). Many times the term, as used in Leviticus 27:30, refers specifically to the land of Israel in Palestine. See Leviticus 19:23, 20:2, 25:10, 18, 26:32. As the Gentile nations were not given tithing laws, and Levites were not instructed to go to the Gentiles and take tithe from them, the term “the land” in Leviticus 27:30 really refers to the Land of Israel. Even for the Jews, tithing was limited only to the Land of Israel and adjacent areas. The Jewish people themselves did not TITHE in foreign lands.
George Foot Moore, in his work Judaism (one of the recognized authorities on Jewish religion in the time of Christ) had the following to say about the laws of tithing in Leviticus chapter 27:
“All of these applied in the letter of the law only to the land of Israel, however, at any time its boundaries might be defined.” 1
Professor Moore went on to point out that the land of Babylon was finally accepted as part of the land of Israel — a “tithable” land — because so many Jews were resident in the area. Egypt was finally accepted as a tithable land. In the earlier time of Joseph, however, Egypt did not pay tithe as shown by the one-fifth produce that was paid to Pharaoh and the four-fifths that went to the people. The lands east of Jordan came to be acknowledged as tithable: Ammon, Moab, and Syria — at least the parts of those lands that David conquered and where many Jews came to live.
Other Gentile lands, on the other hand, such as areas of Asia Minor, Greece, or Italy were not allowed as lands that could produce tithe. The produce of those lands were considered as being impure and not holy enough to support the Levitical priesthood in its function at the Temple. As Alfred Edersheim records, even the very dust of heathen lands was reckoned as defiled and polluted. 2 This is why the tithe was not acceptable from them even though Jews lived in those areas.
In any rate, the strict reading of the law demanded the tithe come only from the land of Israel — which was later interpreted to include those areas east and north of Palestine and Egypt where populations were mainly Jewish. All other areas were proscribed.
This fact about tithing may surprise many Christians, but it is revealed in the Law of God. Many preachers and evangelists know this truth, but fail to tell the laity about it simply because they believe the people could not fund their churches if they were privy to these facts. Guided strictly by the statements of biblical law, it is improper even for Jews to pay tithe on products from Italy, Greece, Asia Minor (Galatia), or in modern times the United States, Britain, or other Gentile lands. See my book The Tithing Dilemma. 3
So, in the Books of Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians the questions of Gentiles tithing never came up because even Jews who lived in those areas did not tithe. Also, the keeping of Sabbatical Years every seventh year, when all agricultural lands had to be idle and not be worked, was not applied even by Jews themselves outside the Land of Israel. Note that Moses told the Israelites to keep Sabbatical Years “when you come into the land which I give you” (Leviticus 25:2). One can imagine how alarmed the apostle Paul was when he found out Galatian Gentiles were observing even the “years” of the Law in the Old Testament (Galatians 4:10). Paul is certainly referring to Sabbatical Years.
Some Law Universally Applied to All Jews
While many laws in the Old Testament were not applicable outside of Palestine (even for Jews), the law of the Sabbath day itself, the food laws and especially circumcision applied to Jews everywhere! It was these universal laws that the early apostles had to deal with in regard to Gentiles who had become “Israelites” by their spiritual attachment to Christ. Should they be required to be circumcised as all Israelites? Should they keep the Sabbath and Holy days like other Jews? Should they keep the food laws, as do the Jews?
It did not take long to settle the issue, but not without major struggles within the Jewish community of Christians. The authorities in Jerusalem finally decided (with the top apostles in quorum), with the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that only four major things were required of these new and adopted “Israelites.” They could be released from the onerous burden that ordinary Jews (Israelites) were accustomed to observe. The four restrictions are found in Acts 15:28–29. 4 Paul later referred to this same document (see original Greek in Colossians 2:14). Let us notice that this “handwriting” decreed.
“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you [Gentiles who were now “Israelites”] no greater burden than these necessary things; That you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication [promiscuousness]: from which if you keep yourselves, you shall do well. Fare you well.”
Note that keeping of weekly or annual Sabbaths was not reckoned by the Holy Spirit or the apostles assembled at Jerusalem as necessary for Gentiles who were acknowledged as spiritual “Israelites.” And too, circumcision in the flesh was not demanded of the men (adults or children). Although meats offered directly to idols and strangled animals were prohibited, other meats that the Gentiles were accustomed to eating were not proscribed and they could eat from the shambles. 5 In fact, God meant the prohibition of certain meats in the Law of Moses as strictly for ritualistic purposes, not for heath reasons, because even a knife or fork touching an “unclean” carcase had to be destroyed even if the utensils were washed in lye soap (Leviticus 11:35). There is not a hint in the Bible that “unclean” meats were meant by God to be avoided for health reasons; and Jews have long known this. 6
Nevertheless some die-hard “law-keepers” among Jewish Christians felt these new “Israelites” should live almost precisely as did the Jews. Some Christians in Rome began to keep certain days of the Jews (no doubt including the Sabbath and holy days along with certain fast days) and Paul had to tell the Roman Christians it was not necessary to keep those days, or for that matter, any days (Romans 14:5–6). Paul was downright upset with the Galatians when they not only retreated into keeping the Law of God meant for minors, such as keeping days, months, and times, but also were starting to keep Sabbaticals Years. Why, not even the Jews in Galatia were required to keep those teachings of the Law (Galatians 4:10).
These matters were constant problems encountered when Gentile Christians came in contact with Jewish Christians. Paul had to inform the Colossians,
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat [eating], or in drink [drinking], or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.”
What these biblical facts show is that God reckoned two types of Israelites on earth. The first were Israelites of the flesh who accepted Christ and the others were newly adopted “Israelites” who were Gentiles in the flesh but now called the “Israel of God” because of being “in Christ.” The Gentiles reckoned as Israelites were given duties far less stringent than ordinary Israelites (Jews).
Still, no matter in what segment of “Israel” people found themselves, all were acknowledged by God the Father as “Israelites.” They could all now be part of the New Covenant promises. 7 Gentiles could now partake of the emblems of bread and wine established when Christ put the New Covenant into action on the eve of His crucifixion. This was the final teaching of the basic “New Covenant” type of Christianity that one finds in all the early books written by the apostles.
The Revelation of the Mystery
But in 63 C.E., something very different occurred. A brand new revelation came to Paul and other apostles that drastically changed even this “New Covenant type” of Christianity in which all Christians were reckoned as “Israelites.” In the next chapter I discuss this most important aspect of Christian doctrine. The apostle Paul called it,
“The mystery of Christ that in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as [the Spirit] now reveals it unto his holy apostles and prophets ... which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God.”
Ephesians 3:4–5, 9, paraphrasing
“The mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.”
The apostles only learned this new revelation in the year 63 C.E. This Mystery was never revealed publicly before that year — some 33 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. This glorious teaching represents the mature and final teaching of God and Christ to this world. And, believe it or not, “the Mystery” has nothing to do with the Old Covenant or even the New Covenant. It is something entirely different and glorious!
The Mystery Is a Very Different Teaching
It may be a surprise that anyone would state that “the Mystery” was far different from the teachings of the New Covenant, but this is precisely what the truth of the Gospel is. The final stage of Progressive Revelation was to introduce the most mature doctrines of Christ Jesus, in what Paul called “the Mystery.”
I will show in the clearest of language (and it is most important for us to understand) just what “the Mystery” entails and what its grand and glorious promises are. For the present, it is essential that we know the time in history when this new revelation was first given to mankind. The mature doctrines of “the Mystery” came as a revelation to the apostle Paul (and others) about the year 63 C.E. while he was in Spain, probably in the city of Cadiz. All the apostles who received it were surprised at what its teachings actually contained. When one analyzes the differences between the former teaching of the New Covenant with that of “the Mystery,” it is amazing just how advanced and profound the improvements are. The most important topic of this book is about the grand and glorious teaching of Christ known as “the Mystery.”
This mature teaching is “the Philosophy of Christianity” and it is summed up in what the apostle Paul called “the Mystery” (or, in plain English, “the Secret”). It denotes a marvelous and gracious Secret that was finally dispensed to mankind by Paul and others in the latter part of their ministries. And in spite of what some theologians say, that philosophy has NOTHING to do with the New Covenant. The “Old” and the “New Covenant” were only intermediate phases of spiritual development. They were excellent for their intended time periods, but they do NOT represent the ultimate mature teaching of God. One should look at the plain and simple New Testament teaching called “the Mystery.” God teaches this fact primarily in the books to the Ephesians and Colossians. These books are companion letters. They speak about identical matters with different emphasis.
Their main subject is “the Mystery” (Ephesians 3:3), or “the Secret.” The legal principle it reveals is defined as being:
“the Mystery of Christ” (verse 4);
“the Mystery of His Will” (1:9);
“the Great Mystery” (5:32 as it is in Greek); or
“the Mystery of God, Christ” (Colossians 2:2)
Before 63 C.E., Paul said the Mystery “has been hid in God” (Ephesians 3:9). God had kept it a secret from the knowledge of anyone (human or angel) even from the foundation of the world — long before the creation of Adam. Paul said, “from the beginning of the world it [the Mystery] has been hid in God” (verse 9). Paul spoke of it as:
“The mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is NOW revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”
Paul further stated in the Book of Colossians that this teaching was called
“... the mystery which has been hid from [previous] ages and from [previous] generations, but NOW [63 C.E.] is made manifest to his saints.”
This mystery clearly explains what the real Philosophy of Christianity is all about. It is a teaching that is awesome in scope.
1 George Foot More, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, vol. II, p. 71.
2 Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1, p. 9.
3 Available online at http://www.askelm.com/tithing/index.asp.
4 These restrictions, called the “decrees” were written by the hands of the apostles and technically called the >“handwriting in decrees.”
5 This included non-kosher prepared meats — 1 Corinthians 10:25.
6 M. Friedlander, Jewish Religion: Describing and Explaining the Philosophy and Rituals of the Jewish Faith (P. Shalom Publications, 1953), pp. 455–6.
7 Recall that the New Covenant was to be given only to the Houses of Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31–34).