Chapter 5 - Misunderstood Texts of the Bible by Sir Robert Anderson

Chapter Five

Sir Robert Anderson 

We know from his writings with what holy pride Paul regarded his high Office as the Apostle of the Lord, and his portion in the Body of Christ, with the heavenly calling and glory pertaining to it. And yet so burdened was he by great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart, on account of the condition of his nation, that for their sake he could wish to be cut off from Christ in respect of all this dispensational position of transcendental privilege and glory, and to take the lower place of blessing in the earthly kingdom, with his kinsmen according to the flesh. If by such a sacrifice he could win their restoration to favour, forthwith, as the Covenant people of God. And this reading of the third verse brings it into harmony with the chapter as a whole, the burden of which is not the spiritual salvation of individual sinners, but racial and dispensational privilege and blessing.

"Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Romans ix. i3).
As noticed by certain Expositors, the burden of this chapter, as a whole, is racial and dispensational privilege and blessing. And this applies very specially to this thirteenth verse. For it plainly appears by referring to the opening words of Matthew, from which it is quoted, that the Esau here intended is not the individual, but the Edom family or race. And if we are to infer from the eighth verse that all Esau’s descendants are 'children of wrath,' we must infer also, in direct opposition to the Apostle’s arguement, that all Isaac’s posterity are children of God. For "the purpose of God according to election" was not that Jacob should be eternally saved, and Esau lost, but that the elder should serve the younger. And Genesis xxv. plainly indicates the sin which led to this stern decree. Esau despised his birthright, and as this position of influence and blessing was Divinely bestowed, his sin in bartering it for a mess of pottage is branded as "profanity," and a place of repentance was denied him. It was not a question of his eternal destiny, but of his forfeited birthright. And what concerns us is to profit by the warning of Hebrews xii. 15—17, and also to shuns the profane inquiry whether his sin was not due to "the purpose of God according to election. A reference to our Lord’s teaching in Luke xiv. 26 will save us from reading this verse in a false light because of the meaning of our English word "hate." The Greek word is here used as " equivalent to loving less, a qualified sense, of which there are many examples both in the Septuagint and the New Testament " (Bloomfield, vol. i. p. 36), and as the Speaker’s Commentary well says, "The exaggerated sense of positive hate is quite forbidden by the record of thie ample blessing bestowed on Esau." The Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee" (Romans ix. 17). Does this mean that God called Pharaoh into existence for the purpose of making known His Divine power in destroying sins? Such a profane reading of tue verse has no Scriptural warrant. The word here used does not mean to "call into being," but to "rouse" or "wake up". The marginal reading of Exodus ix. 16 is the right one, "For this cause have I made thee stand, to show in thee My power." And in the Greek version this is rendered, "For this purpose hast thou been preserved until now." The Divine command he treated with contempt. "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?" was his impious rejoinder. And when the spoken word was accredited by miraculous power, he called upon his demon-possessed magicians to parody the miracles. It would have been in the spirit of that dispensation if God had struck him down in his sin. But he was preserved, he was made to stand as a foil for the display of the power of God, and that the name of God might be declared throughout all the earth.

And the twenty-first verse must not be read apart from the twenty-second, but as exemplifying the main teaching of the chapter. The contrast it expresses is not between life and death, but between honour and dishonour. With the same clay the potter may form one vessel for use on the table of a king, while he designs another for some base, though equally useful, purpose. But a potter who would make a vessel with the deliberate purpose of destroying it must be a maniac of a dangerous type. And the twenty-second verse puts to shame the profane thought that God is here compared to a maniac potter. Mark the words, "What if God, purposing to shew forth His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?" In view of these words no one may dare to assert that Pharaoh might not have found mercy had he cast himself upon God in repentance and confession. His case was akin to that of the Christ­rejecting Jews in the days of the Ministry. It was because they refused the light that God blinded their eves. And if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it was because he himself had closed it against a abundant proofs of the Divine power. Both cases exemplify a principle that governs "the ways of God to men." Toward them that fear Him, His mercy is boundless, but we do well to remember the solemn warning of the 18th Psalm, "With the perverse Thou wilt shew Thyself froward." No one may despise God with impunity.

"My gospel" (Romans xvi. 25, 26).
Strange it seems that Expositors should have failed to notice the clearly marked difference between the gospel of the opening verses of Romans and that of the Apostle’s postscript at its close. We read the epistle amiss if we fail to notice what an important place its teaching accords to the Hebrew Christians, who doubtless were the majority in the local church. For in early days it was to Jews only that the gospel was preached; and the word which had won them was the gospel of God, which He promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning His Son who was born of the seed of David" (ch. i. 2, 3, R.V.). This was the hope of every true Israelite. In keeping with it were the Apostle’s words to the chief of the Jews in Rome: "For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain." And his answer to the charge on which he was imprisoned was that his preaching to the Jews was based entirely on their own Scriptures (Acts xxvi. 22). But the gospel which he preached to Gentiles he had received by special revelation to himself ; and to communicate that gospel to his brother Apostles was the purpose of his third visit to Jerusalem (Galatians ii. 2). In writing to Timothy he spoke of it as "committed to my trust." And this is the "my gospel" of Romans ii. 16 and of our present verse. Here are his words: "Now to him that is able to stablish you according to my gospel, even time preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of a mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by prophetic writings, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all the nations unto obedience of faith."
I have rendered the first kai in this sentence by "even"; for it is certain that the Apostle did not mean to distinguish between the gospel of Christ and a gospel of his own! And "the Scriptures of the prophets" is a mistranslation which reduces his words to an absurdity; for he is thus made to say that this "mystery" gospel was kept secret in all the past, and yet that it was taught in Old Testament Scriptures. His actual words are prophetic writings, i.e. the inspired Epistles of the New Testament. For a prophet is "one who, moved by the Spirit of God, declares what he has received by inspiration" (Grimm’s Lexicon); and therefore "prophetic writings" is equivalent to inspired writings, the element of foretelling the future being purely incidental. And there can be no doubt that the "mystery" of our verse is what the Apostle calls elsewhere "the mystery of the gospel" the reign of grace, which is the great basal truth of the distinctly Christian revelation - a truth which was not, and obviously could not be, declared umitil the covenant people were set aside. For grace is as incompatible with covenant, or special favour of any kind, as it is with works.
The twenty-fifth verse is sometimes read with an emphasis on the definite article before the word mystery, the intention being to suggest a reference to the truth of the Church the Body of Christ. But this is an obvious error, not only because there is no article in the Greek, but because the "mystery" of the Body is a truth for the Christian, whereas here the Apostle’s subject is the gospel which was to be "made known to all the Gentiles" (R.V. marg.). "Who (Christ) of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (i Corinthians i. 30). The wonderful truth of this passage is obscured by faulty translation, largely due, no, doubt, to neglect of the typology of Scripture. The blood of the Passover, sprinkled upon the dwellings of the Israelites, brought them deliverance from the death judgment passed upon Egypt. But it gave them neither right nor fitness to come near to God; and when His glory was displayed on Sinai they were sternly warned not to approach the mountain (Exodus xix. 21). None but Moses, "the mediator of the covenant," could be allowed to enter the Divine presence. Not until the blood of the covenant had been shed and sprinkled upon them, could even the elders of Israel come near to God (Exodus xxiv.). And they then went up as the representatives of the people. And forthwith there followed the command, "Let them make me a tabernacle that I may dwell among them"(Exodus xxv. 8). The demands of Divine righteousness had been satisfied before their deliverance from Egypt. But God is holy as well as righteous ; and it was not until they had been sanctified by the blood of the covenant, as they had already been justified by the blood of the Passover, that their redemption was complete.
In the light of these types we can grasp the meaning of the Apostle’s words. All that these sacrifices typified. Christ is made to us in fulness of fact and truth. He is "made unto us wisdom, and both righteousness and sanctification, even redemption" redemption in its fulness as including all we need, not only to secure relief from wrath, but to bring us into covenant relationship with God, and to give us access to His presence. For redemption is not a blessing added to justification and sanctification, as our English versions would suggest. It is an inclusive term, as appears plainly from the Apostle’s words. But both A.V. and R.V. ignore the kai in the verse, which ought, of course, to be rendered "both," as in verse 24.1 And no less, of course, the second kai should be translated "even."
When rightly rendered, therefore, the passage reads "Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and both righteousness and sanctification, even redemption." Sanctification, like justification, has a twofold aspect, the one complete in Christ, and the other to be realised in the Christian life.

"I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (i Corinthians ii. 2).
"We have here a statement of what was the subject­matter of apostolic teaching." This sentence, quoted from a standard Commentary, would he most apt if it referred to the Apostle’s words, "We preach Christ Jesus the Lord" (2 Corinthians iv. 5). But it is strange that any one could have penned it here, after studying the Epistle as a whole, or chapter xv. in particular. Indeed, the opening verses of chapter iii. refute such a misreading of the Apostle’s language. Ignoring the emphasis which rests upon the words "among you," the verse is thus used, not only to condone, but to commend, any system of Bible teaching which is limited to "the simple gospel." But the Apostle is not here describing the subject­matter of his general teaching, but the scope and character of his preaching when he besought the gospel to Corinth. The Greek was a wisdom worshipper; and such a man as Paul might have so preached that he would have had all Corinth at his feet. "The many" did thus "huckster the Word of God"(2 Corinthians ii. 17); but as for the Apostle, neither his speech (logos) nor his preaching (i.e. neither the matter nor the manner of it) was in persuasive words of (human) wisdom (1 Corinthians ii. 4). "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father who is in heaven," was the Lord’s response to Peter’s confession of His Deity ; and if this was true of the Apostle, even after he had witnessed all the amazing miracles of the Ministry, how intensely true it must be of other men. And so here, the aim of the Apostle Paul was that the faith of the converts should stand in Divine power, and not in human wisdom. In their case, moreover, such special care was needed that, even after their conversion, he felt restrained in umnfolding to them "the deep things of God" (ii. 10; see iii. 1, 2). "We do speak wisdom among the perfect." he says in this very chapter (v. 6). The word here rendered "the perfect" is translated "men" in chapter Xiv. 20, and "of full age" in Hebrews v. 14. But spiritually the Corinthians were not then, of full age, but babes; and so he had to treat them as babes and to feed them milk. As he had already said. "Christ is the wisdom of God" (ch. i. 24). Still fullfilling his words iii Colossians ii. 2, 3 (R.V.) "that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the measures of wisdom and knowledge hidden." Therefore the phrase "to know nothing but Christ" might in a real sense describe the Apostle’s drift. But this use in emphasis of our present text rests on the closing words, "even Him crucified." The words of chapter i. 22—24 explain the Apostle’s meaning, Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom, WE (in antithesis to all this) preach Christ crucified, unto Jews an offence, and unto Greeks foolishness; but unto them who are the called (i.e. to Christians) we preach Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (i Corinthians vi. 9).
Exclusion from "the millennial kingdom," we are told by some, will be the penalty imposed on Christians who lapse into immoral practices. And in proof of this we are referred to such passages as 1 Corinthians vi. 9, 10; Galatians v. 21 ; Ephesians v. 5; etc. This assumes that "the kingdom of God" is a synonym for the millennial kingdom, an error which is exposed by the very first passage in which the phrase occurs in the Epistles. In Romans xiv. 17, we read: "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." This reminds us of the Lord’s words to Nicodemus. The world and its religion is the natural sphere, but the kingdom of God is spiritual; and none can enter it, none can see it, without a new birth by the Spirit. This is a truth of present and universal application. 1 Corinthians xv. 50, which refers to the future, is a still more decisive refutation of the error. There we read that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kimigdom of God"; that is, can have no place or part in it. But, as we all know, "flesh and blood" men in their natural bodies will be in the millennial kingdom, or, to use the Scriptural phrase, the kingdom of heaven (sec pp. 4—7, ante). Then again we recall the exhortation of I Thessalonians ii. 12, "that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory." This is explained by 2 Thessalonians i. 5, "that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God" a reference not to the future state, but to the place and calling of the Christian here and now. It is akin to the exhortations of Ephesians iv. 1 (R.V.), "I beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called." For it is a present truth, and a fact of practical import, that the Christian has been "translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Colossians i. 13). As a matter of fact, it is more than doubtful whether the millennial kingdom is ever referred to in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul.
This scheme of exegesis, moreover, would teach us to acknowledge an "evil liver" as a Christian. But as 2 Timothy ii. 19 tells us, the Divine seal has two faces : "The Lord knoweth them that are His" is the Godward side of it ; the other, which is to govern our action, is "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." But, we are told, the incestuous person in Corinth was a Christian. The inspired Apostle so decided; but to us it is not given to read the Godward face of time Divine seal, and we are bound to judge others by their profession and conduct. To acknowledge as a Christian any one who is living in open sin is to be false to the Lord. But if every penitent has a claim upon Christian sympathy, surely one whom we have regarded as a fellow-believer ought to he treated with unbounded patience and pity and Christian love. And let us not forget that there are sins more heinous than immoral acts. Some of the "unfortunates" of the streets may he nearer the kingdom than are men of high repute in the Professing Church, who deny the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, or flout His authuority as a teacher (Matthew xxi. 31). To acknowledge such men in any way is to become "partaker of their evil deeds"(2 John 10, 11). The doom of Sodom will be more tolerable than that of devout Capernaum (Matthew xi. 23, 24).

"Lest ... when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (i Corinthians ix. 27).
Were it not for a morbid tendency to seize upon any Scripture which can be perverted to undermine the truth of grace, no one could find a difficulty here. For the subject, not only of the immediate context, but of the whole chapter, is the Apostle’s ministry, and has no sort of reference to salvation. As he says in the twenty-fourth verse, in a race all run, but one receives the prize. But if it was found that the winner, albeit he had proclaimed the rules of the contest to the others, had himself violated these rules, he was refused the prize; he was rejected (adokimos). The suggestion that the Apostle Paul was in doubt whether he might not himself he finally lost is quite unworthy of consideration. His Epistles one and all refute it. The word adokinos was originally applied to base coin, and this affords a clew to its meaning here. A genuine coin never becomes base, and an adokinos coin is base cub initio. Hence Bloomfield’s reading of 2 Corinthians xiii. 3, "Unless indeed ye be not genuine Christians."
And in our present verse the word is explained by Bengel to mean unworthy of a prize or crown, as in the public games. A morbid readiness to undermine the truth of grace leads to a like perversion of the Apostle’s words, "I have kept the faith," in 2 Timothy iv. 7, as though they meant, "I have kept on believing in Christ." But here again he is speaking of his ministry. For the gar of verse 6 directly connects his words about himself with his charge to Timothy in verse 5. And what he says is not "I have maintained my faith," but "I have safeguarded the faith," a term that is defined to mean generally "the sum of Christian doctrines." In Paul’s case it meant specially, no doubt, the great outline of the gospel of grace which was his peculiar trust. "That which (God) hath committed unto me," he calls it "that good deposit" which was in turn entrusted to Timothy.

"What shall they do who are baptized for the dead" (i Corinthians xv. 29). Bengel remarks that the variety of interpretations of this passage is so great that even a catalogue of them "would require a dissertation." And he goes on to say that the practice to which the Apostle is supposed to refer came into use from a wrong interpretation of this passage." Even were it otherwise, and heretical sects had already adopted pagan practices of this kind, the idea is utterly absurd that the Apostle Paul would have appealed to them as a climax to his sublime argument for the Resurrection and to attribute such a triviality to the inspiring Spirit of God would be profane.
The following solution of this very difficult passage has been offered by the late Dr. E. W.Bullinger. As its the ancient texts, there is no punctuation, save the greater pauses, he discards the received punctuatioms of the verse. He notices that in Scripture the word nekros with the article usually denotes dead bodies, corpses; whereas without the article it denotes dead people, persons who are dead. And he proceeds to use the passage as a typical illustration of the figure of speech known as ellipsis. And construing the passage thus, he renders it, "What shall they do that are being baptized? It is for the dead (for corpses) if the dead (dead people) rise not." To make this fully intelligible we must take note of the meaning of the Apostle’s words, "What shall they do?" They are equivalent to "What will become of them?" (Dean Alford). For the Greek word poieô has a range of meaning nearly as wide as the Hebrew âsâh, which it represents in the Greek version of such passages as Jeremiah v. 31 and xii. 5; which might be rendered, "What will become of you at last!" and "What will become of you in the swelling of Jordan!"
These are not inquiries, but warning exclamations. And so here. The Apostle is not propounding a thesis for discussion. His purpose is to put an end to discussion in the whole matter; so he exclaims, "If the dead rise not, what is to become of people who are being baptized?" The Apostle’s argument, therefore, may be stated as follows : Baptism symbolises death with Christ what meaning has it then, if there be no resurrection? For if Christ was not raised, our oneness with Him in death points only to the tomb. In a word, his appeal is not to a despicable pagan heresy, but to the teaching of a great Christian ordinance. Thus the expression ‘baptized for the dead' vanishes from the Scriptures ; and it is banished from theology, for the assumed practice is gathered this is the force of the present participle, only from this passage, and is unknown to history apart from it.

"Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (Corinthians xv. 5 ).
As this passage is generally supposed to refer to "the Second Advent," it claims prominent notice in any list of misunderstood texts. For, both in standard theology and in the popular use of the phrase, "the Second Advent" is the last great Coming of Christ in an indefinitely remote future, whereas the Coming here revealed is the present hope of the Christian. The one, moreover, is His Coming to execute judgment upon the world; the other is His Coming to call His chosen people to their heavenly home. But this is not all. Mark the Apostle’s words, "I show you a mystery"; and in the Epistles the word "mystery" indicates some truth which had remained secret up to the time of the Apostles. Seeing then that the Lord’s Coming in judgment was prophesied by "Enoch, the seventh from Adam" (Jude 14, 15), it cannot be the "mystery" of 1 Corinthians xv. Neither can His Coming as the Son of Man; for that also is an Old Testament truth; and it had prominence in the Lord’s own ministry. Indeed, these several "Comings" have practically nothing in common, save that they all relate to Christ. To understand this subject aright, we must keep in view the distinctive character of the special Christian revelation which followed the setting aside of the covenant people. And the "mystery" truths of that revelation are inseparably allied. Its basal truth is grace enthroned. And grace vastly transcends mercy, and it is inconsistent with covenant. It was in pure grace that God gave the covenant to Abraham; but when a covenant or promise has been granted, it is to His faithfulness we trust for the fulfilment of it. And the covenant with Abraham has not been abrogated, although it is in abeyance during this present dispensation. This is another of the mysteries of the Christian revelation (Romans xi. 25). It is not that the covenant people are in subjection to Gentile supremacy: that dates back to the days of Nebuchadnezzar. Neither is it that they are under Divine displeasure because of their impenitence: that is no new thing in Israel’s history. The "mystery" is that they are temporarily relegated in all respects to time position of the Gentiles among whom they are scattered. In other words, their condition during this Christian age is precisely what it would be if the Abraimamic covenant had never been granted.
And this abnormal condition of things gives rise to questions that are nowhere dealt with in Old Testament Scriptures. What, for instance, is to be the status, so to speak, of the saved of this dispensation ? To that question the mystery of the Church, the Body of Christ, supplies the answer. But, as already noticed, Romans xi. teaches explicitly that the present dispensation is parenthetical and transient : how then is it to be brought to an end? Now in the same sense in which we aver that God cannot lie, we may aver that He cannot act upon incompatible principles at the same time. Therefore, so long as the proclamation is in force that "there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile," God cannot make a difference by giving the Jew a position of peculiar privilege and favour. It follows, therefore, that the present dispensation cannot merge gradually in the dispensation which is to follow it. The change must be marked by a crisis. And here the teaching of Scripture is clear and definite. The nature of the crisis is revealed in 1 Corinthians xv., and in other passages in the Epistles. It will be that Coming of Christ which Bengel designates "the hope of the Church." But, as he truly says, "The churches have forgotten the hope of the Church." Plain speaking is necessary here. In common with the other "mystery" truths of the distinctive Christian revelation, this truth of the Lord’s Coming was lost in the Early Church, prior to the era of the Patristic theologians. So entirely was it lost, indeed, that in this Corinthian passage several of the most ancient MSS. read, "We shall all sleep, but we shall not all be changed" a corruption apparently designed to reconcile the Apostle’s words with the "Second Advent" doctrine which had been already formulated. Would that those gifted and holy men had left far fuller personal records and fewer theological writings. Their life-story would have stimulated faith during all the centuries, and the Reformers would have studied the Bible with minds unbiassed by their doctrinal teaching. And we in our day would not be so often embarrassed by having to make choice between the teaching of theology and of the New Testament.

As the misunderstanding of this Scripture is due in great measure to the fact that the truth it teaches has been forgotten, it may be well to notice here a few kindred passages in other Epistles. Corinthians was written at a comparatively early period in the Apostle’s ministry; and it is suggested by unbelievers that in later years he discovered his mistake in supposing that the Coming of the Lord should be deemed a present hope. By very many Christians, moreover, this view is in a vague way accepted, although they hesitate to give expression to it. What, then, are the facts? The Epistle to the Philippians was written from his Roman prison at a time when his active ministry seemed to be at an end. And in these circumstances it was that he wrote the words, "Our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory"(Philippians iii. 20, 21). Now the word here rendered "wait" is the strongest that any language could supply to express the earnest expectation of something believed to be imminent. According to Bloomfield, "it signifies properly to thrust forward the head and neck as in anxious expectation of hearing or seeing something." An illustration of its meaning might be found in the pathetic story of the mother of Sisera’s vigil for her son’s return, "Through the window she looked forth, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?" (Judges v. 28).
Such, then, is the Divinely-chosen word, to indicate what ought to be our attitude toward the return of Christ. And it is a kindred word that the Apostle uses in his Epistle to Titus, dated probably in the very year of his martyrdom, where he tells us that the training of the school of grace leads us to live "looking for that blessed hope" (Titus ii. 12, 18). As Dean Alford says:"The Apostolic age maintained that which ought to be the attitude of all ages, comistant expectation of the Lord’s return." Very special weight attaches to these dicta of Bloomfield and Alford, just because neither of them was an exponent of the truth of "the blessed hope." But upon any question respecting the meaning and use of a Greek word there is no higher authority than Bloomfield. And as a commentator, Alford is specially noted for fairness and British common sense. Every honest-minded student of the Epistles, moreover, will endorse the conclusion that, to the very end of his ministry, the Apostle inculcated not belief in the doctrine of the Second Advent, but "constant expectation of," and eager waiting and watching for, the Lord’s return. Certain it is, therefore, that if the Coming of Christ, of which these Epistles speak, be the same as the Coming of the Son of Man of Matthew xxiv., the Apostle’s words are in flat and flagrant opposition to the Lord’s explicit teaching. For His warning was clear and emphatic that "the Coming of the Son of Man" must not be looked for until after the coming of Antichrist, the horrors of the great tribulation, and the awful signs and portents foretold in Messianic prophecy. If then these several Scriptures relate to the same event, we must jettison either Matthew xxiv. or the Pauline Epistles. For the attempt to reconcile them betokens hopeless mental obtuseness. And these results will be confirmed by a stuudy of the Thessalonian Epistles (see pp. 116 and 119, post).