And how dispensationalists get this so mixed up.
Paul was under house arrest when he wrote Ephesians,
But you wanna know the real reason he was in chains? Well, maybe you’ve read one of his previous letters, like Galatians or Romans. (No, Paul didn’t write those letters to Ephesus—nor did he write this letter specifically to Ephesus—but churches made copies and spread ’em around.) If you hadn’t, he spilled the beans right here.
Ephesians 3.1-6 KWL
- 1 Here’s the reason I, Paul, became Christ Jesus’s bondservant for you gentiles—
- 2 unless you already heard God’s system of grace he gave me for you.
- 3 He made the mystery known to me through special revelation—as I previously, briefly wrote you.
- 4 Its readers can see my meaning about “Christ’s mystery.”
- 5 It wasn’t made known to previous generations of the sons of men.
- He now revealed the mystery to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
- 6 The gentiles are to be co-inheritors, co-body-parts, co-sharers
- in the promise of Christ Jesus, through the gospel.
Where’d they get such a genocidal idea? Wasn’t from bible. Messiah wasn’t (and isn’t) gonna wipe out the world’s kings; they’re gonna kneel before him.
The Pharisees already knew this… but some of ’em may not have put two and two together. And didn’t wanna. They held grudges against the gentiles. Some were still annoyed with the Greeks, Syrians, and Romans for conquering them. (Heck, some were still annoyed with the Egyptians for enslaving them 1,500 years before.) Some were annoyed with the gentiles who lived in their neighborhoods, for one reason or another. So they indulged their prejudices, and focused on the scriptures which imply God’s gonna severely decimate the gentiles’ numbers.
To such people, the very idea gentiles would share the Jews’ inheritance by embracing their Messiah? Oh, that pissed ’em off. It’s like telling a citizen of Arizona, “Hey, we’re gonna give these Mexicans free healthcare.” If they had guns back then, they’d open fire on you. The folks in temple did try to kill him, y’know.
The system of grace.
In the King James Version, Paul’s word oikonomían/“rules of the house” gets translated “dispensation.” I went with “system,” and other bibles go with “stewardship” or “administration.” Actually oikonomía evolved into our word “economy”—but the general idea is it refers to how God wants to run things. Specifically, how he intends to treat people in his kingdom: With grace.
But then there are dispensationalists.
To these folks, a
The followers of John Nelson Darby and C.I. Scofield, whom I call Darbyists, believe there are seven dispensations. (Sometimes more, or sub-dispensations within dispensations.)
- Innocence, where humans hadn’t sinned yet, and therefore everyone was saved.
- Conscience, where God hadn’t spelled out his commands yet, so do try to be moral.
- Human government, where kings were in charge, and God clued them in on how things should go, so obey them.
- Promise, where certain specially-chosen patriarchs were saved through a personal relationship with God.
- Law, where you’re saved by obeying the Law.
- Church, the present dispensation, where those who believe in Jesus are saved by God’s grace.
- Kingdom, the next dispensation, where again everyone is saved.
Darby basically confused the fact God hadn’t yet fully explained to humanity how salvation worked, with a wholly different plan of salvation. This, despite Paul patiently explaining God’s plan has always been grace; that “[Abraham] trusted the L
If Darby is correct—if God had multiple systems of salvation, and kept switching ’em up as time went on—then none of Ephesians 3 so far makes any sense. Why would there be any mystery which “wasn’t made known to previous generations”
But the Law, by its very nature, proved God wasn’t saving us through that route, no matter what certain legalistic Pharisees claimed.
God saved us by his grace,
Revealed by grace.
Paul liked to knock himself as “the very lowest of all saints.”
Ephesians 3.7-12 KWL
- 7 I became a minister of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace,
- which he gave me through the working of his power.
- 8 This grace was given to me, the very lowest of all saints,
- to evangelize the gentiles with Christ’s untraceable riches,
- 9 to enlighten everyone on this mysterious system,
- hidden from the ages by God, the Creator of all.
- 10 Thus he could now make the multicolored wisdom of God known
- to princes and heavenly powers, through the church—
- 11 by eternally displaying what he’s done in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- 12 In Christ, through our faith in him, we have boldness and confident freedom.
Not just Paul, but Christ Jesus’s whole church now has the duty to tell everyone what God’s plan is: Save the world, Jew and gentile alike, and make us all one people in one kingdom.
Back to the Darbyists: Loads of ’em don’t understand this, either. Many of them actually teach and believe the Jews are still under the dispensation of Law; that all Jews need do to be saved is keep following the commands, and they don’t have to turn to Jesus. Whereas gentiles have a whole separate dispensation, and are saved by grace. This way, they can claim Jews who deny their Messiah are still God’s chosen people… even though Paul taught otherwise. He made it clear in Romans only Jews who turn to Jesus remain chosen.
Other Christians have adopted a view called
Why was this plan “hidden from the ages by God”?
Hence those of us who are gentile no longer have to worry that maybe God doesn’t love us as much as he loves the Jews: God demonstrated his love for us. Still demonstrates it. Gave us the Holy Spirit and empowers us to produce fruit and miracles and good works. Made us his chosen people and royal priesthood.
Now go tell everyone!