The Fullness of the Gentiles– Numeric or Relational – A Response to “Israel Only” #2
Since posting the first installment in this series, the response to it on FaceBook has been more than revealing. Those who espouse the IO doctrine have done of a few things:
1. They have cited commentaries that posit the numeric sense of pleroma. This is more than interesting. Consider the following:
A. Those very commentaries reject the IO posit of the coming of the Lord in AD 70.
B. Those very commentaries reject the IO definition of “Gentiles” as the ten northern tribes.
C. Those same commentaries categorically reject the IO view that Gentiles (those not of Abraham’s lineage) are not saved.
And yet, to counter my arguments, the IO crowd cites, with glee evidently, the very commentators that would consider their views heretical!
2. One reviewer did a video attempting to show (failing miserably that pleroma does mean numbers. Yet, he gave no lexical example of numeric fullness because he cannot do so! What was revealing is how carefully he avoided Paul’s consistent use of the word in a non- numeric sense, and focused on the Gospel account of “filling the basket” or a lexical example of “filling a ship.” He scoffed at the idea of equality in these texts, setting up a straw man argument. The fact is that I did not argue that filling a basket or ship had anything to do with equality! My only point was that even in those passages, any kind of a specific numeric connotation is totally absent.
What is absolutely revealing is that not one of the “respondents” actually went to my article, and attempted to show where the lexicons demand numeric meaning for pleroma. They did not attempt to argue from the translations. They did not attempt to show that I had abused the context of Romans 11. They did not attempt to show -other than the example I just cited – that pleroma must mean number! They did not attempt to show where Paul ever uses pleroma as numeric fullness even a single time. What they did do was ridicule, castigate and deny, or to ask diversionary, obfuscatory questions unrelated to my article. But ridicule is not refutation, and denial is not demonstration.
So, the points made in my first installment stand, unless someone can show:
1. That I misused the lexicons, or,
2. That the translational evidence I adduced is wrong, or,
3. That Paul did in fact consistently use pleroma in a numeric sense, anywhere, or,
4. That in the context of Romans 11 the numeral meaning is implied or necessary. That is, for Paul, fullness for Israel was “resurrection.” It was restoration. It was reconciliation. That likewise suggests – virtually demands – that “the fullness of the Gentiles” refers to Gentile reconciliation, Gentile “fullness” with Israel, in the coming salvation. That is the actual context of pleroma, and not one IO respondent even attempted to show otherwise.
If none of these things can be proven, and they can’t – then IO is false– and it is false.
So, if I am denying that pleroma is numeric fullness, what then is the “fullness” that Paul has in mind? As we have seen, Israel’s “fullness” is the reversal of their status of being rejected. It is their resurrection, “what shall their acceptance be but life from the dead.” That was patently not physical resurrection. They were alive physically, but, “cast off,” “rejected,”; they had to be grafted back in and find life in Christ. They had to find the “life” that the Gentiles, along with the righteous remnant, were already tasting (Romans 11:7) in anticipation of the consummation.
Contextually, Israel’s fullness is her incorporation into Christ. It is the reversal of their rejection, of being cast off. That “life” is their fullness, but, that is not all that is involved. Now since Israel’s fullness is focused on their acceptance, being grafted back in, (resurrection! V. 12) then this suggests that the fullness of the Gentiles likewise involves their standing, their status their fullness in Christ as well.
So, Paul ties the fullness of Israel to the fullness of the Gentiles. Paul states that he is telling the Romans a “mystery.” What is that mystery? Clearly, it is the fact stated in verse 25 that Israel’s salvation and the salvation of the Gentiles is directly intertwined together– but, they are in fact different and distinct groups or people. This is confirmed by Paul in Acts 9:15:
“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”
Here, Luke records the Lord’s words to Ananias about Paul’s mission. Paul was to go to Gentiles, to kings and to the children of Israel. The Gentiles are patently NOT the children of Israel. This confirms our points in Romans 11 where Israel was not the Gentiles and the Gentiles were not Israel. I would note that we likewise have confirmation from John and the Jews of Jesus’ day. In John 7:35-37. Jesus had just told the Jews that he was going away, and where he was going, they could not come. Their response is enlightening:
“Then the Jews said among themselves, “Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?”
Carefully observe that the Jews– who knew more about who Jews, Gentiles, Greeks and Israel were than any IO advocate today – pondered Jesus’ words. They asked if he would go “to the Dispersion” (Greek, Διασπορὰν, Diasporan, Strong’s #1290). We need to understand who was asking this question. It was the Jews. It was – if one wanted to make the argument – members of the two southern tribes. The fact is, they were not the Gentiles, they were not the Greeks, and, they were not the Dispersion!
Who were the Dispersion? They were the Ten Northern Tribes. According to IO, they were the Gentiles, they were “the nations.” (I have been challenging the IO adherents to prove that the Gentiles were in fact the ten tribes, but so far, I have received no evidence. Since this is the foundation of their entire view, one would think that it would be easily demonstrated, but, the evidence is not forthcoming. All I have gotten is just bold, unproven, undocumented claims. The fact is that in John 7, neither the Jews or Jesus, understood the Diaspora to be the Greeks. That means that they did not identify them as the Gentiles either.
That audience said that the Dispersion was “among the Greeks.” They did not say that Israel was the Greeks like the IO proponents. They did not say that the Greeks were the Dispersion- as the IO advocates claim. (One IO proponent actually argued on FaceBook that the Greeks were in fact the Diaspora. This illustrates blatant dishonesty in dealing with the text). The Jews said (just as Hosea 8:8 shows) that Israel was among the Greeks among the nations. They were “wanderers among the nations” (Hosea 9:17). What is said in John 7 agrees with Acts 9:15 noted above, (and Romans 11).
There is a sharp, clear and undeniable distinction between Israel and the nations, between the Dispersion and the Greeks. They are not the same, and any all attempts to say otherwise is nothing but a perversion of the texts.
In light of the identification of the Dispersion as NOT being the Greeks, this forces us to acknowledge the power of Romans 1:16-17:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
Remember that in John 7, the Diaspora (the Northern tribes) were not the Greeks. Now, in Romans 1, the Jews are not the Greeks. Thus, neither the ten tribes or Judah were the Greeks. And yet, Paul said that, “the Gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.” The Gospel is for the Jews, and the Diaspora (see 1 Peter), and for the Greeks, indeed, for all men, anyone and everyone that believes – Jew, Israel, Greek and Gentiles. This is Acts 10, where Peter said that God had shown him that all men, any man, of any nation could now be accepted by the Lord.
Israel’s salvation would come with the salvation of the Gentiles, but, what is sometimes missed is that this means that the salvation of the Gentiles is directly tied to that of Israel. (This is a well known fact among scholars). Paul has already said as much in the earlier verses.
Not only that, but we cannot forget how Paul says earlier: (Romans 11:13f):
“For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”
Exactly what was Paul’s “office” his stewardship? It is not enough to say that he was to call the Gentiles into Christ. That stops short of understanding his crucial, distinctive eschatological role. Paul’s role was to bring the mystery of God to its fullness, (pleroma) – its completion. (We will specifically define the mystery momentarily). Read Colossians 1:25-27:
“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, 26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Pay careful attention to the fact that Paul said his stewardship, (a stewardship was a specially chosen, specially empowered position) his ministry, was to “fulfill (from pleroma) the word of God, the mystery.” What needs to be understood is that the language of the text emphasizes Paul’s personal, distinctive, appointed role in fulfilling the mystery. Bringing the mystery of God to its fullness was not the distinctive role of the other apostles. Fulfilling the mystery belonged to Paul. So, what exactly was that “mystery” that Paul said had been long kept secret, but was now being manifested, through him, and appointed for him to fulfill? We turn to Ephesians 3 for that answer, that is clear, concise and undeniable:
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-8).
Here, just as in Romans 11 and Colossians, Paul discusses his distinctive ministry of calling the Gentiles. But again, it was not simply the “inclusion” or calling of the Gentiles he has in mind, it was bringing them into a full equality with Israel in the blessings of Christ. For Paul, the fullness of the Gentiles was their full equality, with Israel, in the New Creation, the body of Christ.
Notice that for Paul, in Romans, Ephesians, etc., he distinguishes between the Gentiles and Israel. Gentiles are clearly NOT Israel in Romans 11 or Ephesians 3. They were coming into Israel’s blessings. Paul is very clear on this: The Gentiles were to participate in Israel’s spiritual blessings:
But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness (pleroma) of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. (Romans 15:26-29).
Do you catch this? The Gentiles were partaking – equally – in the spiritual blessings of Israel. IO wants to turn this into saying that Israel would be partakers of Israel’s blessings, but, that is clearly and unmistakably NOT what Paul is saying. We have demonstrated this in Romans 11, where the Gentiles were being grafted into the One Root, along with Israel, (not as Israel) and partaking of the blessings of that One Root. What was that “blessing”, that spiritual blessings? It was, “In you and your seed all nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). In Romans, that promise to bless “all nations” (see Romans 16:25-26) was coming to fruition and reality.
So, Paul was not talking about an equal number of Jews and Gentiles being in Christ. The emphasis is on status, on full, equal standing. This is the mystery in Romans 11 and when we investigate the significance of this, it becomes glaringly obvious that IO is false.
In the next installment, I will demonstrate, from Paul’s own words, that his mission and message was about equality, about status of the Gentiles, with Israel, and then conflate that with other passages. In the meantime, for a great study of the fullness of the Gentiles, get a coy of my book, Elijah Has Come: A Solution to Romans 11:25-27.
Source: Don K. Preston