From Acts to the Epistles
Arlen L. Chitwood
But I make known to you, brethren that the gospel that was preached by me is not according to man.
For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.
And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace,
to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood,
nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:11-18).
The Apostle Paul was saved at a particular time for a particular purpose. He was saved after the Jewish religious leaders had reached a climactic point in their rejection of the re-offer of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 7:54ff; cf. Luke 13:6-9); and he was saved to carry God’s message concerning the kingdom — which had been rejected by Israel — to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; cf. Romans 1:5; Galatians 2:7).
Carrying this particular message to the Gentiles was a pivotal change that would result in a concluding work within the framework of God’s plans and purposes as they pertained to man during his allotted 6,000-year day; and this was something that, among other things, had been predetermined and set in the eternal council chambers of God before the ages had even begun (Hebrews 1:1, 2; cf. Acts 15:14-18).
This was something that God had made known in the Old Testament types (in perfect keeping with decisions and determinations made in the beginning [e.g., Genesis 1, 2, 24, 41; Exodus 2]); this was something that had been seen in Christ’s earthly ministry preceding Calvary (again, in perfect keeping with decisions and determinations made in the beginning [Matthew 12:22-32; 13:1; 16:18; 21:33-43]); and this was something that God had begun to bring to pass through Paul’s conversion (again, in perfect keeping with decisions and determinations made in the beginning [Acts 9:1ff]).
Through taking this message to the Gentiles, God could acquire the co-rulers who would occupy the throne with His Son in the kingdom. Through taking this message to the Gentiles, God could bring into existence a third firstborn son — comprised of the co-rulers — to rule with His Son in the kingdom (cf. Hebrews 2:5-10; 12:23).
Acquiring the co-rulers for the kingdom, bringing into existence a third firstborn son, would fulfill that previously set forth in the types; and, in like manner, this would also fulfill that set forth at a time before the establishment of the types, in the eternal council chambers of God.
With Paul’s conversion, God began a concluding work that would allow Him to bring His plans and purposes in relation to man, throughout Man’s Day, to a close.
(With reference to three firstborn Sons, “three” is the number of divine perfection; and God, throughout His revelation to man, is seen performing His works in perfect accord with a numerical system that He Himself established at a time prior to these works. Scripture begins after this fashion [God working six days and resting the seventh], and Scripture continues after this fashion [e.g., references to ten plagues, on the third day, after six days, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, ten virgins, ten talents, ten pounds, seven seals, trumpets, vials].
In a numerical respect, it would not only be natural but actually necessary for God to have a third firstborn son to occupy a position in the earth’s government during the coming age. It will require three firstborn Sons to form a triad of Sons within the framework of the government in that coming day, showing divine perfection in the earth’s government — something which the present two Sons, apart from a third, could not do.
God, in the beginning, established the structure of the earth’s government — with Satan and his angels ruling the earth from a heavenly sphere — within the framework of a triad of twelve’s [three sets of twelve]. “Twelve” is the number of governmental perfection, and three sets of twelve showed divine perfection in the earth’s government at this time.
However, that perfect structure does not exist today, for the government of the earth is presently in disarray and has been since that time when Satan rebelled against God’s supreme power and authority [Isaiah 14:13, 14; two-thirds of the angels originally ruling with Satan refused to participate in his attempted coup, ceasing to rule with him (represented by the twenty-four elders — two sets of twelve — in Revelation 4:4, 10). Angels represented by the third set of twelve remained with Satan and have continued to rule with him down to the present time (Revelation 12:4)].
But in the coming age this divine perfection that once existed in the heavenly sphere of the kingdom will be restored. When Christ and His co-heirs take the kingdom, not only will Christians wear crowns presently worn by angels represented by the two sets of twelve in Revelation 4:4 [which is the reason for these crowns being relinquished in v. 10] but also by angels represented by the third set of twelve in Revelation 12:4 [these crowns will be taken by force when Christ returns]. Only then will divine perfection once again exist within the structure of the earth’s government [ref. the editor’s book, IN THE LORD’S DAY, chapter 4; also ref. chapter 13 in this book, “The Goal — The book of Revelation”].
Then, beyond just the heavenly sphere of the kingdom, as previously shown, there will be three firstborn Sons ruling the earth, forming a triad within the whole of the government. And, beyond that, man himself, the one who will rule the earth in that coming day, forms a trinity — spirit, soul, and body [1 Thessalonians 5:23]. And, beyond that, the Son, who will rule supreme over all things in both spheres of the kingdom is the One in Whom “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [Colossians 2:9].)
Though reference is made numerous times in Scripture to Paul being called to carry the message surrounding the kingdom to the Gentiles (e.g., Acts 9:15; Romans 1:5; 11:13; 15:16; Galatians 2:2, 7; Colossians 1:27) — allowing God to begin His work of bringing into existence a third firstborn son — Scripture also teaches that the message could not be carried directly to the Gentiles per se. That is, the message could not be proclaimed directly to the Gentiles as it had been proclaimed directly to Israel.
The Gentiles were alienated from all of God’s past dealings with Israel. And being so alienated, the Gentiles had “no hope” and were “without God in the world.” They were “dead in trespasses and sins” and, thus, in no position or condition to receive such a message (Ephesians 2:1, 12).
The Gentiles had to first be removed from their dead, alienated state. They had to first pass “from death unto life” (John 5:24). They had to first believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:5-13).
And, through believing, they would become part of a completely new creation “in Christ” — a creation made possible only following the events of Calvary, a creation separate from either Jew or Gentile (though being “Abraham’s seed [because of the Christians’ position in Christ], and heirs according to the promise” [Galatians 3:26-29]). And this was a creation that included believing Jews but would ultimately be comprised mainly of believing Gentiles (Acts 15:14; Galatians 3:28; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:13-15; Colossians 3:9-11).
Thus, in relation to the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens, Scripture often refers to Paul being called to minister to “the Gentiles” simply because those forming the new creation “in Christ” would (following Paul’s conversion) be taken mainly from the Gentiles rather than from the Jews. They would form the main nucleus of this “new creation,” this “one new man.”
This is all part of what Paul calls “the mystery” (cf. Ephesians 3:1-6; Colossians 1:25-28). And, though “the mystery” revealed to Paul had to do with the gospel of the glory of Christ, the gospel of the grace of God, of necessity, had to be proclaimed first among those out in the Gentile world.
When going to the Gentiles, Paul invariably, of necessity, had to begin with the simple message surrounding the gospel of the grace of God, though that was not his main ministry, the ministry to which he had been called. And these two facets of Paul’s ministry — with his emphasis on the gospel of the glory of Christ — can be seen over and over in the book of Acts and in the epistles that he wrote.
The Dual Message
The overall order and scope of Paul’s ministry becomes self-evident for anyone reading Scripture with an open mind and looking for these two facets of his ministry. Paul proclaimed the good news surrounding the grace of God with a view to his then being able to proclaim the good news surrounding the glory of Christ. Paul explained to individuals how they could be saved, with a view to subsequently being able to explain to them why they had been saved.
For example, note how plainly the matter is outlined in Paul’s final message to the Christians in Ephesus, through their elders (Acts 20:24-32). Or, for that matter, note also how plainly the matter is outlined in Paul’s epistle to the Christians in Ephesus (1:7ff; 2:1ff; 3:1ff). And a similar structure can be seen in other epistles, not only in the Pauline epistles but in the general epistles as well.
But, because there is such confusion among Christians in the dual nature of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 in this respect, this passage will be used to illustrate the point. This whole passage is invariably used erroneously by Christians, not in a dual sense, but in a singular sense — as a reference only to the gospel of the grace of God.
The text though deals with both the gospel of the glory of Christ and the gospel of the grace of God, in that order (the reverse order in which Paul had originally proclaimed both to those in Corinth [though, looking back, he could now refer to both in this reverse order]). Paul, in this passage, was simply looking back and briefly commenting on that which he had proclaimed to those in Corinth, taking the matter from the present all the way back to the beginning.
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel that I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word that I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
(1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The problem emerges when a person attempts to make Paul’s reference to “the gospel” in verses one and two pertain to his reference to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in verses three and four. A connection of this nature is not correct at all (though the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in vv. 3, 4 is the gospel [good news], it is not the same gospel [good news] Paul referred to in his opening remarks in vv. 1, 2). Making the good news Paul subsequently refers to in verses three and four to be synonymous with the good news that he began with in verses one and two is out of line with both the plain reading of the text and that revealed in the context.
The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, as it is outlined in verses three and four is the gospel of the grace of God stated in its simplest form. But, as previously stated, Paul’s reference to “the gospel” in verses one and two is not a reference to the gospel of the grace of God in the following two verses at all. Rather, it is a reference to things that the Lord had previously opened up and revealed to Paul while in Arabia, things that he had proclaimed to those in Corinth after he had proclaimed the gospel of the grace of God to them.
This can be seen two different ways in these verses: (1) By that stated about the gospel in verses one and two, and (2) by the way verse three begins. And properly understanding the things revealed in these verses will necessitate going back into the preceding context, as well as referencing several passages of Scripture elsewhere.
1. 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2
Verses one and two refer to the good news (the gospel) that Paul had previously proclaimed to those in Corinth, which they had accepted and upon which they presently stood. This good news had to do with present and future aspects of salvation (not past, as seen in the gospel of the grace of God), it had to do with holding fast to that which had been proclaimed (with the possibility that there could be loss), and it had to do with Christians in Corinth either believing or not believing the message with reference to a purpose (or cause) in view.
The present and future aspects of salvation in this gospel are shown by the words, “By which also you are saved [lit., ‘…you are being saved’]”; holding fast to the message proclaimed is shown by the words, “if you hold fast that word that I preached to you”; and believing or not believing the message with reference to a purpose in view is shown by the words, “unless you have believed in vain [lit., ‘…believed apart from a purpose (or, ‘without a cause in view’)].”
The present and future aspects of salvation have to do with the salvation of the soul (cf. James 1:21; 1 Peter 1:4-9). The eternal salvation that we presently possess — the salvation of the spirit, wherein man passes “from death unto life” (cf. John 3:36; 5:24) — places man in a position where he can realize the salvation of his soul. And these two aspects of salvation must always be kept completely separate, one from the other.
The thought of Christians holding fast to those things in the message being proclaimed can be seen in the second and fourth warnings in the book of Hebrews. The same word appearing in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 15:2 appears twice in the second warning (Hebrews 3:6, 14) and once in the fourth warning (Hebrews 10:23). Holding fast in the second warning is with reference to “the heavenly calling” and “the hope” set before Christians (vv. 1, 6); and holding fast in the fourth warning is with reference to this same hope — “the confession of our faith”(vv. Hebrews 23-25).
Then, the thought of Christians believing without a purpose (or cause) is a reference to the fact that a person has been redeemed for a revealed purpose — a purpose seen, in its entirety, in the gospel of the glory of Christ. And that purpose is the same as the purpose surrounding man’s creation in the beginning — “…let them have dominion” (Genesis 1:26, 28). Man has been redeemed with a view to his one day occupying a position of power and authority with Christ in His kingdom, which has to do with realizing the present aspect of salvation at a future date — the salvation of one’s soul.
Believing without a purpose (or cause) in verse two leads a person nowhere. An individual has been saved for a purpose, which can be seen and understood only through believing the gospel that Paul referred to in the previous verse; and this is a purpose that can one day be realized only through governing one’s life accordingly, set forth in verse two.
Thus, in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2, Paul referred to his previous proclamation of the gospel of the glory of Christ. But, beginning with verse three, he referred to another matter entirely — that which had made his proclamation of the gospel of the glory of Christ possible.
2. 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4
Note the way verse three begins. The fact that what Paul is about to say is not the same as that which he had previously said is really self-explanatory. Paul states this in so many words.
Verse three begins, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received…” That which he is about to reference is something that he had delivered unto them first (prior to delivering the good news to which he had previously referred, in vv. 1, 2), and this is something that he had also received (that is to say, he had received this in addition to the good news referred to in vv. 1, 2).
The message that Paul delivered to those in Corinth can be seen first by going back to the first two verses of 1 Corinthians.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.
For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
(1 Corinthians 2:1, 2)
Paul, when he first went to Corinth, couldn’t begin with a message surrounding the gospel of the glory of Christ, referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2 (and also in 1 Corinthians 2:1, preceding, as in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2, a reference to the gospel of the grace of God [2:2; 15:3, 4]). When Paul first went to Corinth, he found a city filled with unsaved Gentiles. And he had to first minister to those in Corinth as an evangelist. He had to first proclaim the simple message surrounding the gospel of the grace of God unto them. He had to begin with “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He couldn’t begin at any other point.
But, once individuals had believed, once individuals had passed “from death unto life,” then Paul could move beyond this message. And this is exactly what he did. Paul spent one and one-half years in Corinth “teaching the Word of God among them [among those who had been saved under the preaching of the simple message surrounding the gospel of the grace of God]” (Acts 18:11; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:3ff).
And this is why Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2, could allude to these things through simply calling their attention to “the gospel [‘the good news’] that I preached unto you…” They would know exactly what he meant, for he had previously spent an extensive period of time teaching them the things pertaining to this gospel. And they would also understand the distinction in verse three when he referred to the gospel of the grace of God that he, of necessity, had proclaimed to them at the very beginning.
The Mystery — Moses and Paul
“The mystery” revealed to Paul, “hid in God” from the beginning (the beginning of the ages), of necessity, formed an integral part of the Old Testament Scriptures. There is nothing in the New Testament that does not have its roots in one or more places in the Old Testament. The New is simply an opening up and unveiling of that drawn from foundational material previously set forth in the Old, drawn mainly from the types (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44; 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11; Ephesians 3:9-11; Colossians 1:16-18, 25-27).
And the New Testament has to do mainly with one major facet of Old Testament revelation, aside from the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It has to do mainly with the various things surrounding the heavenly sphere of the coming kingdom — first, as these things pertained to Israel; and then, as these things presently pertain to the new creation “in Christ.”
“The mystery” was revealed to Moses first, though remaining a mystery, remaining veiled. Then, some fifteen centuries later, God took Paul aside (to Arabia, the same country to which He had previously taken Moses to reveal things surrounding the theocracy); and, in the person of His Son, God opened up and unveiled various things that He had previously revealed to Moses and other Old Testament prophets (cf. Luke 24:25-27).
Progressive revelation of this nature can be seen in Peter’s reference to angels desiring “to look into” things surrounding the salvation of the soul, things that the Spirit moved him to write about, and things intimately associated with the mystery revealed to Paul (1 Peter 1:3-12). These angels could only have previously seen, in the Old Testament types, that which was being opened up and unveiled to Peter (and others). These were things that they desired to know more about; but, apart from the later revelation, which opened up and provided additional light on these things, the saving of the soul in connection with sufferings and glory — part of the mystery — could be little understood.
Thus, “the mystery” revealed to Paul was simply an opening up and an unveiling of that previously set forth in numerous parts of Old Testament typology. No other conclusion can be reached than to simply say that God, instructing Paul through His Son, used the same means by which He had previously revealed Himself, His plans, and His purposes to man.
God could only have drawn from previously established types, which He Himself established in the beginning, wherein the roots of all biblical doctrine lie. And, of necessity, He would have had to draw mainly from those types setting forth spiritual truths pertaining to the bride of Christ, the one destined to ascend the throne with Christ as consort queen.
And the various types that deal with the bride of Christ, and thus “the mystery,” do so in different ways. For example, Genesis, chapter two deals with the bride being removed from the body; Genesis, chapter twenty-four deals with the bride being taken from the family; Genesis, chapter forty-one and Exodus, chapter two deal with the bride being taken from the Gentiles. And there are numerous other types that deal with different facets of the matter.
Further, “the mystery” has to do with revealed truth surrounding believing Jews and Gentiles — forming a new creation “in Christ” (where there is neither Jew nor Gentile) — being heirs together, “of the same body” (Christ’s body). It has to do with “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (cf. Ephesians 3:1-11; Colossians 1:24-28).
And a type that, among other things, would have to do with Jews and Gentiles together in one body would be the record of Caleb and Joshua’s experiences, beginning in Numbers chapter thirteen and extending through the book of Joshua. The name “Caleb” means dog, and the name “Joshua” means salvation. It was the “Gentiles” who were looked upon by the Jews as dogs, for whom salvation was provided through the Jews (John 4:22). And Gentiles, with Jews, are destined to realize an inheritance together in a heavenly land, just as Caleb and Joshua realized an inheritance together in an earthly land (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:23-10:11).
And though God, in the beginning, designed various Old Testament types to reveal these things, once He had called the new creation “in Christ” into existence and Israel had rejected the re-offer of the kingdom, these things had to be opened up and further revealed to those comprising this new creation. Apart from such an opening and unveiling, God’s purpose for the present dispensation and the place that the Gentiles would occupy in this purpose could not be properly understood (cf. Acts 10:45-48; 11:15-18; 15:12-18).
This is the reason that the Lord took Paul aside shortly after his conversion and provided extensive instruction concerning this whole overall matter, for these things comprised the heart of the message that he was to carry to those out in the Gentile world. And this is the reason that Paul’s ministry dealt mainly, not with the gospel of the grace of God, but with the gospel of the glory of Christ. And this is also the reason that the emphasis in all of his epistles is, likewise, on the gospel of the glory of Christ rather than the gospel of the grace of God.
(A “mystery [Greek: musterion, meaning, ‘a hidden thing,’ ‘a secret’]” in the New Testament is usually defined as something previously hidden but now revealed [cf. Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:4, 5]. This definition though is not to be thought of as a reference to something not found at all in previous revelation, for, again, there is nothing in the New Testament that does not have its roots in one or more places in the Old Testament.
Rather, a “mystery,” pertains to something previously revealed [seen mainly in the types] but not opened up [or fully opened up] to one’s understanding until a later point in time [seen mainly in the antitypes]. And the opening up and unveiling of a mystery [such as the mystery revealed to Paul in Arabia] could occur only through divine intervention. Only the same person who had previously established the mystery [via revelation, through one or more of the Old Testament prophets] could open up and explain the mystery [via revelation, to one or more of the New Testament writers].
And, in Paul’s case, this can be seen through that which he himself testified concerning how he came into possession of knowledge of the message that he had been called to proclaim among the Gentiles. The Lord Himself took Paul aside, personally appeared to him, and taught him, One-on-one, the message that he, in days ahead, was to proclaim to individuals [Christians] and groups of individuals [churches] out among the Gentile nations.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself personally appeared to Paul and opened up and explained things that had previously been revealed through Moses and the prophets [Galatians 1:11-18; Ephesians 3:1-11; Colossians 1:20-28; cf. Luke 24:25-27]; and Paul had been called to take these truths and proclaim them to the one new man “in Christ” out in the Gentile world, in both verbal and written form.)
Paul’s use of the word “gospel,” meaning good news, must always be understood contextually, as previously illustrated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Paul did not use this word as it is used, almost without exception, in theological circles today — as a reference only to the gospel of the grace of God. Rather, Paul used the word, time after time, as a reference to the good news that had been delivered to him by the Lord while in Arabia.
Paul used the word, much more often than not, as a reference to the main crux of his ministry — the good news surrounding that which is encompassed within the mystery, which had been delivered to him, which he, in turn, had been called to deliver to Christians throughout the Gentile world. And the Christians to whom Paul ministered would easily understand his use of the word “gospel” from the context of that which he either had said or had written.
Paul began his epistle to the Christians in Rome after this fashion, referring to “the gospel of God,” “the gospel of His Son,” “the gospel,” and “the gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:1, 9, 15, 16). And Paul, writing to these Christians, expressed a desire to travel to Rome in order to preach this gospel to them (vv. 11-15).
Paul sought to proclaim this gospel to individuals whose faith was “spoken of throughout the whole world” (v. 8). And understanding the message that Paul sought to proclaim to the Christians in Rome as the gospel of the grace of God cannot possibly be correct. They had long since heard, understood, and accepted this message.
“The gospel of Christ” (v. 16), which Paul sought to proclaim to Christians in Rome, understood contextually, can only be a reference to the gospel of the glory of Christ (cf. Romans 1:1, 9, 13, 15, 17ff [the word epignosis (‘mature knowledge’) appears in the Greek text of v. 28 — ref. the apostates in relation to the message surrounding the Word of the Kingdom in 2 Peter and Jude]). “The gospel of Christ [the good news concerning Israel’s Messiah, the One Who would rule and reign]” was a message pertaining to the kingdom of the heavens, which was still being proclaimed “to the Jew first,” though it was now “also to the Greek [Gentile].”
And comparing Paul’s use of the expression, “the gospel of Christ,” in this passage with his use of this same expression elsewhere in his epistles will clearly reveal this to be the case, apart from question (e.g., Galatians 1:7, 11, 12; Philippians 1:27, 28; 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 3).
Then, a similar type reference to the gospel of the glory of Christ can be seen over and over in Paul’s epistles (e.g., Romans 2:16; 16:25; 1 Corinthians 9:22-27; 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4; Galatians 2:5, 7; Ephesians 3:6; Philippians 1:5, 7, 12; Colossians 1:5, 23; 1 Thessalonians 2:2-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:8; 2:8). And a failure to recognize how Paul, much more often than not, used the word “gospel” throughout his epistles has resulted in a mistake of major proportions in biblical interpretation — something that negatively reflects not only on one’s understanding of the Pauline epistles but Scripture as a whole.
Christians throughout the churches of the land today understand practically nothing about the true nature of Paul’s ministry — things having to do with that which the Lord taught him in Arabia, opening the Old Testament Scriptures to his understanding before he ever embarked on the ministry to which he had been called. And, resultantly, they see the word “gospel” in the Pauline epistles and think of only one thing, which is usually wrong. They invariably think of the gospel of the grace of God and begin dealing with the text in relation to this gospel.
And though man may, at times, present a clear message surrounding the gospel of the grace of God from texts that do not deal with this gospel (usually accomplished through superficially dealing with the texts and contexts), he invariably does so at the expense of presenting the truth of that which the texts actually deal with.
God has structured His Word after a particular fashion, and within this structure He has placed particular truths at particular places for particular purposes. And man, through “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:9-13), is to always take these truths and proclaim them exactly as God has revealed them.