Acts 15:40+41-Acts 16:5
But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees, which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
I used to believe in dispensationalism, the belief that God deals differently with different people in different times and epochs, or different dispensations; hence the term, “dispensationalism.” Even so, I saw that in Genesis and in Romans, books which were written eons upon eons apart, that Abraham believed God while uncircumcised and it was reckoned, or, credited to him as righteousness. Circumcision was a seal and a sign stemming from belief much like baptism is today. The more I studied circumcision, signs and seals, regresion and progression of people, studying texts like today’s, I have come to the conclusion that while some aspects of dispensationalism are certainly seen, such as the difference between the antediluvian culture, the garden of Eden and certainly life on this side of the cross, dispensationalism doesn’t quite explain the Bible correctly; or at all correctly. The more I listen to dogmatic dispensationalist discourse, the more and more I have become convinced that they are espousing the exact opposite of what the Bible actually says. Know this: I listen to dogmatic dispensationalist discourse more than any other discourse, by far. It truly is their dogma that pushes me away. Also know that the majority of my monetary giving goes to ministries that hold to dispensationalism. I joyfully give to anyone who holds the gospel to a higher degree than dogmatic “end-times” and “worship wars” assumptions–not all are dogmatic and most only know that which they have been taught. Nevertheless there are a select few with microphones and money, who promote nothing but the flawed philosophy and facets of preposterous presuppositions.
Have you ever seen someone draw a timeline of redemptive history? I have noticed that they are always flat except for Jesus’ comings and goings and the church’s rapture. But are these timelines an accurate account of all that has and will happen in history? According to the dogmatic dispensationalists, in the last days society becomes more and more rebellious in a downward spiral in her rebellion against God. That is, that things will get worse and worse on this planet now, and in the future as we await the return of the Lord. Should we not then, include this in our timelines? Should we not draw a descending line to demonstrate this belief that mankind becomes more and more corrupt as time goes by? Surely we will see peaks and valleys if we were to draw a timeline that moves up and down based upon the closeness of the culture to the Lord. This is a fun exercise, by memory, recount the Bible chronologically in your mind and draw an ascending line as people follow the Lord and a descending line as they fall away. From the beginning of creation, we would start on the mountain top but a rapid decent would happen after the fall. But how far does it fall, after all we see Seth and Enoch and “men calling upon the name of the Lord.” But then we see a worldwide flood, which was flooded to destroy the absolute wickedness of man. How far down would this line fall? And after the flood, with only eight people remaining on earth, seeing the obedience of Noah, not leaving the ark until God said so, how high would our timeline rise? We have a rainbow promise after the flood, a rainbow! Surely humanity has hit its highest point since before the fall. And yet, Noah got drunk, blurted out of bunch of babbling and then we see the tower of Babel. How far down is our timeline now? To what depths of depravity has the world reached that God disperses them, confusing their language so that they cannot communicate? The timeline looks really low.
Ah, but enter Abraham and send in the circumcision. Surely circumcision will save some souls. But then there was Abraham and his handmaid Hagar and Sodom and Gomorrah–only three of which escape to later commit incest. Where are we on our timeline, high or low? Surely Abraham’s offspring of Isaac and Jacob will turn the tides. Isaac preferred Esau but Jacob was God’s choice. Therefore we assume that Jacob was a great example of godly living. No? Well surely his sons were, selling their brother into slavery. Judah, he was a good man, impregnating his daughter in-law thinking she was a prostitute. And eventually we see all of the sons of Jacob as slaves in Egypt.
But Moses was going to make everything all right, going to visit his brethren to see how they were fairing, he killed a man and had to flee. But Moses did lead the Hebrews out of slavery–a real highpoint–and while on the mountain, as the Lord commanded that they have no other god’s, simultaneously the people made another god and then Aaron lied about it. Then they wandered the wilderness, too scared to take on the Canaanites. In Joshua they failed to take all the land and destroy the people. In Judges everyone did what was right in his own eyes. To Samuel they demanded an earthly king. Then the tribes split after Solomon died. They worshiped idols, waged war with each other but surely they would listen to the prophets. Nope, they killed them all and they also killed the coming Christ. To what depths has our timeline sunk?
When Jesus came, did he come into a world at peace? Was he received by his people? Or did he in anger overturn the tables in the temple? I submit to you that while there was an ebb and flow concerning the highs and lows in the timeline from the fall to Christ’s coming, it was a downward trajectory on a best-fit, line-graph. That is, at Christ’s coming, the world was at it’s lowest point–the proof–his people niether recognized nor wanted him. Yet herein is demonstrated the need for him. Isaiah wrote; “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Here are my questions to the dogmatic dispensationalists: did things get better when Jesus was born in Bethlehem? Did things get better during his healings and ministry; after the crucifixion of Christ; his resurrection or ascension into heaven? Did things get better when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost? If not, why? And if so, when did things start to get worse again? Draw it on a best-fit-timeline. At what point, according to your dogma, do the last days of apostasy commence? Show me, in graph form, the beginning of the downward spiral of the last days.
It is at this point that the dogmatic dispensationalists would point to my writing and say, “Mocker” and “Scoffer,” if they could possibly manage to read this far. They would quote 2 Peter 3:3; “knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” And a different version of 2 Peter 3:3; “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts…” But why do they call us mockers and scoffers if they are the same thing? Also, how is it a sin and lust if we believe that Jesus is the Lord of all and that he is making all things new? The fact is that the dogmatic dispensationalists rip verses out of context to defend their deluded dogma. They neither consider the sublime string of regression up to the cross nor the sublime string of progression seen after the cross–with definite ebbs and flows. They, as they pontificate perilously on postmodern platforms such as satellite radio and social media, fail to see the advantages of technology, quite ironically, not learning from our history.
For time’s sake, we will examine one historical ebb and flow which produced a groundswell of gospel growth through, you guessed it, modern technology of the time. But before we do, we have to see the sad state of affairs in the world right before this time. The church was completely corrupt, that is, the hierarchy. While it is impossible to accurately compare and contrast the level of corruption then to now, it is clear that the level of corruption was leaps and bounds beyond anything we see now. How many pastors did the church persecute to perishing? It’s without question, the only question is how many lightyears away are we from them? While we have a thousand false prophets and even more false teachers, we have Bibles in almost every language in almost every corner of the globe. They essentially had one Bible and one false teacher who taught all the rest of the teachers, pope Leo X. But enter Martin Luther’s use of Guttenberg’s relatively new printing press and the rest is history. Actually it was many men and women using many modern marvels but the point is that Christians used the technology of the time to spread the gospel. I’m sure that the pope thought that the printing press was the mark of the beast much like the dogmatic dispensationalists think that bar codes, microchips and smartphones are the mark of the beast now. Nevertheless, the mark of the beast is 666, written by John to the first-century churches, which he claimed they could figure it out. And figure it out they did, because it is the mark of a man, a parody to the mark of the Lord, neither of which is literal unless you are like a Pharisee, broadening and lengthening it. Therefore my question remains; where in the timeline after the cross does the downward trajectory begin?
This is my point to the dogmatic dispensationalists–you cannot point to a period in history after the cross in which the trajectory of the gospel begins its descent. Every time we see the gospel decline, it in turn doubles almost entirely in a matter of a single generation. What started in Jerusalem with 12 men and a few Marys has circled the globe time and time again, through numerous ebbs and flows, an absolutely admission. Point to the precise point in which men go from bad to worse; point to the beginning of the last days when apostasy prevails in the church and the gospel declines. Point to where we are now in the book of Revelation. Hint: Revelation is not written chronologically.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians; “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” We’ve considered this context numerous times before in my missives. Some things are more difficult than others to be ripped out of context, such as, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, in an early letter, that the ends of the ages had come upon them. It is plainly explained by Paul. Rarley do the dogmatic dispensationalists speak on this. Nevertheless, Paul also wrote to Timothy, the favored passage of the dogmatic dispensationalists, which is more easily able to be ripped out of context, notice; “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power;” The dogmatic dispensationalists love this part but conveniently avoid the following which is in the immediate context; “Avoid such men as these.” The context is clear, Paul is writing to Timothy, warning him to avoid these men who exist in his day. Realize this also, Paul wrote, “realize this.” He wrote that directly to Timothy. Therefore Timothy was in the last days. Where then, if the church in Corinth was in the ends of the ages, and Timothy was in the last days, does the decline begin? Or are we altogether mishandling the meaning of the last days?
Because in the same letter to the Corinthian church, Paul also wrote, “the form of this world is passing away.” Did Paul mean that the decline had begun? Can we look at the time around 50 AD and see that this was the beginning of the end? On our visual timeline, should our line begin to descend around 50 AD? Did human history reach its zenith on Paul’s second missionary journey? Based upon dogmatic dispensationalist discourse we would have to do exactly this, because Paul wrote to them that they were in the ends of the ages and that the form of the world was coming to a close. To Timothy also, Paul wrote that he was living in the last days by exhorting him to avoid the men that exist in the last days.
Here’s where it gets good: before Paul wrote to Timothy and before he even set foot in Corinth on his second missionary journey, Paul met Timothy and had him circumcised. We see this in today’s text. But, and it’s a big but, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, in the same letter of which he said that they were in the ends of the ages, also saying the following: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” Why then did Paul circumcise young Timothy, only a few years prior to writing this? See the sublime string–only two possibilities are possible and only one was promised. Either Paul circumcised Timothy but then instructed the Corinthians that circumcision was nothing because he had given up on people becoming close to God, because the end of the world was at hand or because the end of the Jewish eon is what was at hand. Why did Paul circumcise Timothy when later on in his writings he says things like the following, to the church in Colossae?
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead…Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”
Even more on point is Paul’s letter to the Galatians. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, [the one who previously had Timothy circumcised] say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. [Poor Timothy] You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”
We’re going to boil this all down right now and avoid any further confusion, a confusion that has come by a failure to utilize a proper Biblical hermeneutic, such as the CAGED method; where context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Dogma and traditions have CAGED the Scripture, we seek to unlock it. Here we go!
Paul circumcised Timothy at the beginning of his second missionary journey. By the end of this second missionary journey of Paul, he was writing to the churches to not circumcise people. Timothy’s most private of parts was amputated by Paul’s request. Yet a few short years later, Paul literally calls the practice mutilation. At the same time, literally, Paul says that the ends of the ages have come. But if the dogmatic dispensationalists are correct, Timothy’s circumcision would be one of the last righteous activities before the decline. Don’t be deceived by dogmatic dispensationalist discourse. They take Paul’s words to Timothy and rip them out of context, applying them to their generation–actually, to subsequent generations, they were faithful–in their own eyes, but not as faithful as their awesome parents from the “greatest generation.” You remember them–the ones who intered the Japanese, beat their wives, put black people on the back of the bus and amended the constitution so that they could get drunk like their fathers did. “Russell P, that’s a sweeping generalization!” It’s also not quite chronologically correct. Nevertheless, while cultural Marxism and social justice have gone off the rails, there has to be fire underneath all the smoke. If our forefathers lived christianly, where is the fruit? How can we assume that we are in the very last of the last days when we look out our windows pining for days gone by, days of which saw more atrocities than today? 1938-1948 saw the slaughter of millions of people. Other multiple millions died as a direct result. The grand total of direct deaths being somewhere upwards of 80 million. Comparatively speaking, that’s 30 million more than abortions in America since 1973, in a total of almost 10 times as many years. Truthfully though, there is no comparison which is why we shouldn’t compare one generation with the next. We should compare the gospel growth. More importantly, we should consider the context.
Paul did not circumcise Timothy because Timothy needed circumcision. On the contrary, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. And for this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” Paul is talking about Timothy’s faith and gifts, not circumcision. We also notice today’s text; “And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him;” like Abraham–before he was circumcised. Yet Paul had him circumcised; why? The context continues; “because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”
Timothy’s named grandmother and named mother were both believers and yet young Timothy was not circumcised. We have read the letter from the Jewish council in Jerusalem, Paul was there–He even spoke in defense of the belief that circumcision was wholly unnecessary. Timothy was part Greek and uncircumcised, but circumcised nonetheless because of the Jewish people present. Yet Paul never does anything like this again. We see this in Titus in Galatians; “But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” Why then was Timothy circumcised but not Titus, who is a lot like Timothy?
The answer is; because the gospel progresses away from the Judean eon. Timothy was circumcised to keep the peace with the people present, Titus was not because of his location within the mostly Greek churches. They all lived in the last days of the Jewish eon, with its laws, ceremonies and circumcisions. The context demands that the last days spoken of in the epistles are the overlapping of the Old and New Covenants. There is zero contextual support suggesting that they refer to the far future because they were written to those living in that epoch.
It’s the same with the dogmatic diluvian discourse applied to today; “God said to be fruitful and multiply.” To Noah, not to you–Paul suggested otherwise to the people in Corinth. We could easily then, apply anything written in the Bible to ourselves, and often times do. Mega-church pastors make big money promising Old Testament blessings to their parishioners; blessings ripped out of context. History does repeat itself but we have to consider the context. And the context of the Bible shows a downward trajectory after the fall but an upward trajectory after the cross. Paradise lost to paradise restored. The curse of the fall, reversed by the cross. Leaven slowly rising; a mustard seed becoming a tree and a rock made without human hands filling the earth. Notice in today’s text the church is increasing daily, in the ends of the ages. We certainly see many ebbs and flows but we also see a progressive, prophetic fulfilling of Isaiah 9. I will give Isaiah the last words, this day after Christmas.
“The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”