Will the Body of Christ Go Through the Tribulation?

In recent years, numerous arguments have been advanced to supposedly prove that the Church, the Body of Christ, will go through the “great tribulation” before being “caught up” to be with the Lord.

The present trend of events is, of course, causing many sincere believers to fear that this will be the case, but we place our confidence in the Word of God alone and we are amply confirmed in our belief that the Rapture of the Church will take place before the tribulation period begins, and that the members of the Body of Christ will thus escape the sufferings that the tribulation saints will be called upon to endure.

Our purpose in writing this article is not to defend or to attack anyone, but simply to consider whether arguments for a post-tribulation Rapture are valid.


Some who hold to the post-trib Rapture position say that there is not one verse of Scripture which explicitly affirms the Rapture of the Church before the tribulation.

But why need there be? There is not one verse of Scripture which explicitly affirms that our Lord was baptized before His temptation by the devil, or that He was crowned with thorns before He was crucified, or that baptism with water is no longer included in God’s program for believers, or that God is a Trinity. Yet there is abundant Scriptural proof for all these and they are accepted as the truth of the Word of God.

Years ago we printed an article entitled First the Departure, in which we dealt at length with a passage of Scripture which does explicitly affirm that the Rapture will precede the tribulation. In this article we gave conclusive evidence that the words hee apostasia in II Thessalonians 2:3 should have been rendered “the departure” rather than “a falling away” and that the passage thus reads:

“Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day [the day of the Lord]1 shall not come except the departure come first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”

The preceding verses and the preceding letter written by Paul to these same people all bear witness that “the departure” referred to is the departure of believers to go and be with Christ.

We are quite taken aback to see how lightly some have disposed of the evidence we advanced for this rendering of II Thessalonians 2:3. We have given Scriptural proof after proof that the word apostasia does not mean departure from the truth, but simply departure, and that the original passage in question certainly does not use the words “a falling away” but rather “the departure.”

To all this our post-tribulational brethren reply by simply stating authoritatively and dogmatically that the word apostasia means a departure from the truth.

Lest some of our readers believe that apostasia means a departure from the truth, we offer again what we believe to be conclusive Scriptural proof that the words “a falling away,” in II Thessalonians 2:3, should have been rendered “the departure” and that the Greek word apostasia does not contain ideas of revolt or rebellion as does our English word apostasy.


Actually the Greek noun apostasia occurs in only one other passage in the New Testament, namely Acts 21:21, where Paul is informed of the report that he has taught “all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses.”

We suggest that “depart” here would be a closer synonym to the rendering “forsake” than would the word “apostatize.” To forsake is not exactly to revolt or rebel against, and this is the meaning of apostasy. Furthermore, in this case we are explicitly informed that these Jews were being urged to forsake or depart from Moses, indicating that the word apostasia by itself does not mean “a departure from the truth” but simply “a departure.”

But some people have evidently overlooked the root verb from which the noun apostasia is derived. This verb, aphisteemi, occurs 15 times in the New Testament and its meaning is easy to determine from those passages in which it is used. So that there may be no mistake, we present here a list of every New Testament use of this verb:

Luke 2:37—”departed not from the temple.”

Luke 4:13—”the devil…departed from Him.”

Luke 8:13—”in time of temptation fall away.”

Luke 13:27—”depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity.”

Acts 5:37—”drew away much people after him.”

Acts 5:38—”refrain from these men.”

Acts 12:10—”the angel departed from him.”

Acts 15:38—”who departed from them from Pamphylia.”

Acts 19:9—”he departed from them.”

Acts 22:29—”they departed from him.”

II Cor. 12:8—”I besought the Lord…that it might depart.”

I Tim. 4:1—”some shall depart from the faith.”

I Tim. 6:5—”from such withdraw thyself.”

II Tim. 2:19—”depart from iniquity.”

Heb. 3:12—”in departing from the living God.”

The reader should observe carefully that in 11 out of these 15 occurrences the verb in question is rendered depart, departed, or departing.

Only three of the 15 are concerned with departure from the truth. In two of these it is clearly stated that the departure is “from the faith” (I Tim. 4:1) and “from the living God” (Heb. 3:12) while the third clearly implies a departure, or “falling away,” from that which was “for a while believed,” leaving the meaning of the verb aphisteemi in each case simply depart. And these are the only three passages of the above fifteen where departure from the truth is even involved.

In the other twelve the meaning of the word itself is again simply that of departure—nothing more.

In Luke 4:13 we read that the devil “departed” from Christ. In Acts 12:10 an angel “departs” from Peter. In Acts 15:38 we read how a man had “departed” from Paul and Barnabas. In II Corinthians 12:8 we read of Paul’s thrice-repeated prayer that a thorn might “depart,” or be removed, from his flesh. And so with all the others.

Indeed, in two of the 15 cases above the very opposite of apostasy or departure from the truth is involved.

In I Timothy 6:5 Timothy is told to depart (“withdraw thyself”) from men who are “destitute of the truth,” while in II Timothy 2:19 all who “name the name of Christ” are exhorted to “depart from iniquity.”

If one carefully considers these fifteen occurrences of the root verb of the noun apostasia, he would surely not declare with finality that the meaning of apostasia is “apostasy” or “a departure from the truth.”


Before leaving this subject we would call attention to Mr. Kenneth S. Wuest’s rendering of II Thessalonians 2:3 in his Expanded Translation of the Greek New Testament. It reads as follows:

“Do not begin to allow anyone to lead you astray in any way, because that day shall not come except the aforementioned departure [of the Church to heaven] comes first and the man of lawlessness is disclosed [in his true identity], the son of perdition.”

Now however Mr. Wuest’s translation of the New Testament may be appraised, we doubt that in thus rendering the verse he was trying to establish some private theory as to the timing of the Rapture. He was just trying to produce a good English translation of what the Greek actually says, and he proves this in his preface to II Thessalonians, parts of which we quote below.

“If apostasia and aphisteemi meant what our word `apostasy’ and `apostatize’ mean, why did Paul when using aphisteemi in I Timothy 4:1 feel the need of adding the qualifying phrase, `from the faith’ to complete the meaning of aphisteemi in that instance of its use?…The word apostasia, therefore, in its original and pure meaning, unadulterated by the addition of other ideas imposed upon it by the contexts in which it has been used, means `a departure.'”

In explaining why the Authorized Version failed to retain the rendering “a departure,” which they found in the five versions which preceded A. V., Mr. Wuest points out a mistake contained in all six versions. Says Mr. Wuest:

“The fatal mistake the translators made was in failing to take into consideration the definite article before the word apostasia which appears in the Greek text of Eberhard Nestle, in that of his son, Erwin Nestle, and in that of Westcott and Hort. A. T. Robertson in his monumental work, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, asserts that the translators of the A. V., under the influence of the Vulgate, dealt with the Greek article in a loose and inaccurate way (p. 756). He goes on to say that the vital thing is to look at the matter in hand from the Greek angle and find a reason for the use of the article in any given instance. The use of the article here is classified by Dana and Mantey in their Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament as that of denoting previous reference. In this usage the article is used to point out an object the identity of which is defined by some previous reference made to it in the context (p. 141). The word `previous’ is all-important here. The translators of the A. V. looked for the definition of the word in the subsequent context, whereas the Greek article points here to a previous context, namely, to the coming of the Lord Jesus into the air and the gathering together of the saints to Him and their consequent ascent to heaven. Thus, instead of speaking of a departure of men from the true Faith, Paul is referring to the departure of the saints to heaven. It is this departure of the Church which is preventing the coming of the day of the Lord and the disclosure of the man of lawlessness in his true identity.”

Dr. E. Schuyler English, too, has made a comprehensive study of the Rapture in relation to the tribulation and has written a book on the subject entitled Re-thinking the Rapture. In it he deals at length with the meaning of apostasia and its verb root, aphisteemi and goes on to say:

“The day of the Lord will not come, then, until the man of sin be revealed. And before he is revealed, there must be `the departure.’ Departure from what or to what? It must have been something concerning which the Thessalonian believers were informed, else the definite article would hardly have been employed, and without any qualifying description with the noun.2 Why do we assume that this departure must be from the faith? It has been shown that, in its verb form, the word frequently signified separation other than religious revolt. Have we not based our interpretation upon what may quite possibly be an inappropriate rendition of the Greek noun? And since the definite article suggests strongly that the departure was something with which the Thessalonians were familiar, why do we think of the departure as apostasy? There is nothing in either of the Thessalonian epistles, to this point, about the great apostasy. To submit that, while the apostle did not write to this church about the apostasy he must have talked to them about it, is pure conjecture.

“Again, how would the Thessalonians, or Christians in any century since, be qualified to recognize the apostasy when it should come, assuming, simply for the sake of this inquiry, that the Church might be on earth when it does come? There has been apostasy from God, rebellion against Him, since time began. And if it be proposed that the man of sin, sitting in the temple of God and showing Himself to be God, is the apostasy, we must ask ourselves a question: Is this act, on the part of the man of sin, apostasy, a falling away, or is it blasphemous denial by one who never at any time acknowledged God?

“There is a departure concerning which the Thessalonians had been instructed by letter. This is not conjecture but fact: it is the Rapture of the Church, described in I Thessalonians 4:13-17. It was on account of the confusion in the minds of these young Christians, in the matter of events associated with the coming of the Lord, that this epistle was written—for some had sought to deceive them, as by spirit (claiming, perhaps, some new revelation from God), or by word (possibly a misinterpretation of something Paul said), or by letter as from Paul, telling the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord was already present. And how could the apostle set their minds at rest? He could assure them, `by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him,’ that the day of the Lord will not come `except there come the departure, the Rapture, first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.’ The day of the Lord was not present; for they themselves, members of Christ’s mystical Body, were still on earth. The Rapture had not already taken place, they being left behind; for the man of sin was not revealed.

“This interpretation corresponds perfectly in sequence, with that in verses 7 and 8, if the restraining power is, as we believe to be the case, the Holy Spirit. The Church departs, and the man of sin is revealed (vs. 3); the Holy Spirit, the restrainer, is taken out of the way, `and then shall that wicked one be revealed’ (vss. 7,8).”


1. The word apostasia and its root verb, aphisteemi, do not, used by themselves, mean “apostasy” and “apostatize.” They mean “departure” and “depart,” nothing more.

2. II Thessalonians 2:3 states in the Greek, that the day of the Lord will not come “except the departure come first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”

3. The term “the departure,” with the definite article, denotes previous reference.

4. Paul had written to the Thessalonians in his previous letter about the departure of the members of Christ’s Body from this earth (I Thes. 4:16,17) and had even dissociated this from the prophesied “day of the Lord” with the “But” of I Thessalonians 5:1. He had also referred to this “departure” in the phrase “our gathering together unto Him,” in II Thessalonians 2:1. Indeed, this was the basis for his appeal to the Thessalonians not to be “shaken” or “troubled” by those who would make them think that “the day of the Lord” was at hand. He had also “told” them about “these things” while he was yet with them (II Thes. 2:5).

5. “The man of sin” must also be manifested before the “day of the Lord” can come (II Thes. 2:3,4) and he cannot be manifested until “the departure” takes place “first.”

6. Thus, in addition to many clear proofs that the Rapture of the Body will precede the great tribulation we also have a passage which “explicitly affirms” this.

“Wherefore comfort one another…” (I Thes. 4:18).

“Be not soon shaken in mind, or…troubled…” (II Thes. 2:2).

“Let no man deceive you by any means…” (II Thes. 2:3).


  1. I Thessalonians 2:2 properly reads the “day of the Lord” not the “day of Christ.”
  2. “Such a noted scholar as Dr. George Milligan, in his commentary on the Greek Text (Macmillan, New York), although holding to the traditional translation of apostasia, states that the use of the definite article proves [that the apostasia referred to is one] regarding which the apostle’s readers were already fully informed.”

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That Precious Deposit

The story is told of how a wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art. When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son. About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you, and your love for art.”

The young man held out his package. “I know this isn’t very much, I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.” The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. “Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.” The father hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the great works of art he had collected.

The man died a few months later. Shortly thereafter, there was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having the opportunity to purchase one for their collection. On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?” There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.” But the auctioneer persisted. “Will someone bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?” Another voice shouted angrily. “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts. Get on with the real bids!” But still the auctioneer continued. “The son! The son! Who’ll take the son?”

Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford. “We have $10, who will bid $20?” “Give it to him for $10. Let’s see the masters.” The crowd was becoming angry. They didn’t want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections. The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, going twice, SOLD for $10!” A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now let’s get on with the collection.”

The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.” “What about the paintings?” “I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets every thing!”

God gave His Son 2000 years ago to die on a cruel Cross. Much like the auctioneer, His message today is, “The Son, the Son, who’ll take the Son?” Because, you see, whoever takes the Son inherits everything! (Author unknown.)


“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (II Cor. 4:7).

In biblical times earthen vessels were clay pots that had been thoroughly baked in an oven. They were fraught with imperfections, which meant that no two were exactly alike. Archeologists have discovered that those who lived during that period secretly buried their treasures in clay pots for safekeeping. As we shall see, the master illustrator uses this facet of everyday life to illustrate a grand spiritual truth.

Those who have taken the Son are heirs, joint-heirs with Him. As members of the Body of Christ, we are partakers of His glory, His power, and His reign. In short, we are the recipients of the wealth of heaven! While the believing Gentiles will partake of the blessings of the kingdom, they are not said to be heirs. In the kingdom, heirship is a question of nationality. In the present dispensation of Grace, heirship is based upon relationship. We are one in Him. Therefore, what rightfully belongs to Him, we have come into possession of, and will share it mutually with Him for eternity (Rom. 8:17 cf. Eph. 3:6).

Today when men want to safeguard their riches they place them in vaults made of steel and concrete. But God’s ways are not man’s ways. God has deposited the riches of His grace in earthen vessels. We need not wait until we arrive in heaven to learn what we presently possess in Christ. We have this treasure, that is, the gospel of the grace of God in earthen vessels. Those who have been saved by grace are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies. But what we positionally enjoy in Christ must become a practical reality in the Christian experience if we ever hope to maintain a godly testimony among men. For example, we are forgiven in Christ, but grace teaches us that we are to forgive others even as Christ has forgiven us.

In the year 1818, Tamatoe, King of Huahine, one of the South Sea Islands, believed the gospel. He discovered a plot among his fellow natives to seize him and other converts and burn them to death. However, he organized a band to attack the plotters and captured them unawares. Having exposed the plot, he forgave them, and set a feast before his would-be captors. This unexpected kindness amazed the savages, who burned their idols and became Christians. (Paul Lee Tan, Signs of the Times, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, Assurance Publishers, Rockville, MD, 1979.)

But why would God place these unspeakable riches in such an unsecure place? We are unworthy sinners, weak and frail, who have the sentence of death within us. Perhaps the hymn-writer, Robert Robinson, has expressed it best, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” The answer to the question is found in the latter part of our passage. “That the excellency [exceeding greatness] of the power may be of God, and not of us.” While others usually think more highly of us than they should, essentially it is the power of God working through us that produces results in the Lord’s work.

Many years ago I was invited to minister the gospel at a Bible camp in the Rocky Mountains. On the last evening, I spoke on “The Danger of Falling Into the Hands of An Angry God.” Earlier that day I hadn’t been feeling well, due to altitude sickness. In addition to being exhausted that night, I was short of breath. At ten thousand feet it doesn’t take much to get winded. I now understand why it took Moses so long to return from Mount Sinai with the tablets of stone. He undoubtedly had to keep stopping on his way down to catch his breath! As I arose to speak that evening I thought to myself, this is going to be an absolute disaster. It was, or at least I thought it was, until I learned two months later that an entire family was saved that night. Brethren, the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom 1:16).

At the Judgment Seat of Christ no one will be able to boast regarding what he or she has accomplished, for the power is solely of God and not of us. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” In the final analysis, God will receive all the glory and honor and praise and adoration for the great things He has done. We are merely vessels through whom God has poured out the riches of His grace to a lost and dying world.

What is your attitude toward the Mystery? When the final chapter of your life is written and the book is closed, will you be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith”? May you have no regrets at that day!

To the Reader:

Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:

"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."

To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.

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Bible Messages for Bereans & A Simple Principle in Bible Study

(NOTE: The following preface and article are taken from an original copy of the very first edition of Pastor O’Hair’s “Bible Study for Bereans” magazine published in August 1935.  We hope you enjoy this excerpt from deep within the Grace archives.)

We are sending forth this first edition of Bible Study for Bereans with the purpose, desire and hope that we may stimulate, encourage, or provoke, real honest, diligent Bible study among the children of God.  The profound ignorance of the Bible among church members is appalling.

We earnestly solicit and covet the prayerful cooperation of every spiritual child of God who appreciates God’s Grace Gospel and who really desires to receive and search the Holy Scriptures without the fear or favor of man or religious organizations.  It is needless and useless to appeal to believers for whom denominational loyalty and pride, or preconceived opinions, interfere with honest, intelligent and unprejudiced study of the Word of God.  So our Bible study is for Bereans.

It has been repeatedly claimed that more than ninety-five percent of church members permit church leaders to do their thinking for them, and that ninety-five percent of their instructors have been so influenced by the traditions of church fathers and by denominational church creeds that fewer than five percent of either leaders or followers are willing, if able, to study the Bible with unbiased minds and with open and honest hearts.

Let us ever bear in mind that no servant of the Lord has any new truth to present.  Progressive revelation ceased with the close of The Revelation more than 1800 years ago.  Since that time, “anything that is true is not new” and “anything that is new is not true”, so far as the inspired Word of God is concerned.

No believer, or group of believers, receives any special revelation of Divine truth, or interpretation of truth, as did the holy men of old who were moved by the Holy Spirit to give to us the Holy Scriptures.  The humblest, most ignorant member of the Body of Christ, the new-born babe in Christ, has just as much of the Holy Spirit as has the most gifted Bible teacher.  Men are not led into truth by the Holy Spirit independent of the written Word of God.  And most assuredly the millions of church members, who are in doctrinal error, have not been led by the Holy Spirit into the misinterpretation of the Scriptures.

Human systems of interpretation leave us with inconsistencies and seeming contradictions in the Bible, with unholy mixtures which are displeasing to the Lord.  “All Scripture…is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.”  But all Scripture must be rightly divided for the true interpretation, appropriation and application.


A Simple Principle in Bible Study

We are told in I Peter 1:10 that Israel’s prophets foretold the sufferings and glory of Christ.  In Ephesians 3:9 we are told that the “dispensation of the mystery” and the “unsearchable riches of Christ” were hid in God and not made known to Israel’s prophets.  All through the book of Acts and through the Epistles of Peter, Paul, James and John we must differentiate between that which Israel’s prophets foretold would come to pass and that which none of them even hinted would come to pass: “not made known to the sons of men in other ages”; “hidden from generations” (Colossians 1:25 and 26; Ephesians 3:3 to 5).

If there has been no change in God’s program since the Epistles were written to the Ephesians and Colossians, then this is still the Dispensation of the Mystery which means the Dispensation of that which had been a Mystery until it was revealed by the glorified Christ to and through His Apostle Paul.  For the students of the Word of God, for the members of the Church which is the Body of Christ, there should be nothing mysterious, mystical or hidden concerning the dispensation of Grace and the mutual inheritance of the Head and members of the Body, made alive together, seated together in the highest heavenlies, constituting the One New Man which God is now making, while His program and purpose concerning Israel have been temporarily abandoned (Ephesians 1:9 to 22; Ephesians 2:4 to 17).  Aside from the Divine preservation of Israel in the world today, God has suspended His covenants and promises with Israel and the other nations, until He shall have accomplished that which He purposed in Christ Jesus ages before He made any covenants concerning His Nation and their land of promise (II Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 3:11).

Israel’s hope is identified with the sufferings and glory of Christ foretold by Israel’s prophets.  That hope will be realized when Christ shall be the Son of man on the throne of His glory (Matthew 25:31).  There the twelve apostles will be seated with Him (Matthew 19:28).  The Son of man is coming in power and great glory (Luke 21:27 to 31).  He will bring about the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21).  Moses, Samuel, and all of the prophets, spoke of “these days” (Acts 3:24).  “These days” were promised in the covenants (Acts 3:25).  At that time Christ will govern from David’s throne (Isaiah 9:6 and 7).

“These days” of grace, “these days” of the Body of Christ, are not the “these days” of Israel’s hope, foretold by Moses, Samuel and others.  “These days” were foreordained before the foundation of the world, but not foretold by Israel’s prophets.

None of the twelve apostles, in their “Acts” ministry, spoke of these days.  They referred to a hope and blessings promised by the pen of David, Joel, Amos, Moses, Samuel, and others.  Let us be careful not to confuse prophetic promises with the mystery.  Let us not confuse the hope of the Body of Christ with Israel’s hope.

Berean Searchlight – March 2000

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Are We Hyper-Dispensationalists?

Many years ago, H. A. Ironside1 published a booklet entitled Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth in which he threw Charles Baker and C. R. Stam into the same bucket as E. W. Bullinger. Ever since then, we have been labeled as having the same extreme views as Bullinger. Men who have never looked into what we really teach continue to spread the slander started by Ironside back in the 1930’s. Besides, it’s much easier to label us as “hyper” and dismiss us than it is to address us based on the Scriptures.

This was recently done again in the July/August 1999 issue of Uplook magazine (published by the Plymouth Brethren). In this their Dispensationalism Issues issue, they presented an excellent overview of dispensationalism. As a matter of fact, we would agree with the majority of what was written. But then, one writer had to add this statement:

“One final word. Like all good things, the study of dispensations can be abused. There are some Christians who carry dispensationalism to such an extreme that they accept only Paul’s Prison Epistles as applicable for the church today. As a result, they do not accept baptism or the Lord’s Supper, since these are not found in the Prison Epistles. They also teach that Peter’s gospel message was not the same as Paul’s….These people are sometimes called ultra-dispensationalists or Bullingerites (after a teacher named E. W. Bullinger). Their extreme view of dispensationalism should be rejected.”2

This article was then followed by the following excerpt from Ironside’s book:3

“What is Bullingerism or Ultra-dispensationalism? This system was first advocated some years ago by Dr. E. W. Bullinger (1837-1913), who was educated at King’s College, London, and was a clergyman in the Church of England. These views have been widely spread through the notes of the Companion Bible which he edited. Dr. Bullinger’s positions are glaringly opposed to what is generally accepted as orthodox teaching. This movement has been carried forth in our day by ardent proponents such as Cornelius Stam, J. C. O’Hair and Charles Baker. [emphasis mine]

“There are a number of outstanding tenets of Ultra-dispensationalism. First, it is insisted that the four Gospels are entirely Jewish and have no real message for the Church. Secondly, it is maintained that in the book of Acts we do not have the Church, the Body of Christ, but that the word ekklesia (church), as it is used in that book refers to a different Church altogether than that of Paul’s Prison Epistles. Thirdly, it is contended that Paul did not receive his special revelation of the mystery of the Body until his imprisonment in Rome, and that his Prison Epistles alone reveal this truth and are, strictly speaking, the only portion of the Holy Scriptures given to the members of His Body. All of the other epistles of Paul are relegated to an earlier dispensation and were for the instruction of the so-called Jewish Church of that time. Fourthly, the Christian ordinances, having been given before Paul, are supposed to have no real connection with the present economy, and therefore are relegated to the past, and may again have a place in the future Great Tribulation.

“Beside these points, there are many other unscriptural things which are advocated by Bullingerism. Many boldly advocate the sleep of the soul between death and resurrection, the annihilation of the wicked, the universal salvation of all men and demons, the denial of the eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the denial of the personality of the Holy Spirit. All these evil doctrines find congenial soil in Bullingerism or Ultra-dispensationalism.”

“But wait!” You’re thinking, “I don’t believe those things!” Well, neither do I, but these are their tactics. As far as most Acts 2 folks are concerned, we agree with Bullinger’s far out views regarding soul sleep, annihilation of the wicked, universalism, and that the Body of Christ did not start until Acts 28. You either believe in their interpretation of dispensationalism or you are an extremist like Bullinger. They do not recognize any middle ground. This is what we are up against.

In the above quote, Ironside lists some the “outstanding tenets” of what he calls “ultra-dispensationalism.” While this is a convenient label, it does not Biblically address the issues. Let us examine what Ironside said (and everyone else seems to repeat) and see if we agree or not.

“First, it is insisted that the four Gospels are entirely Jewish and have no real message for the Church”: We do not believe that the four gospels have no real message for the church—Paul says that ALL Scripture is profitable. However, we do believe (because we hold to a literal historical interpretation of the Bible) that Christ’s earthly ministry was in keeping with Israel’s prophetic kingdom program (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24). We find application in the gospels to be sure, but to say that the basic message of the gospels is directed to the Body of Christ is not being consistent or literal. As Scofield says in his reference Bible, “The Epistles of the Apostle Paul have a very distinctive character….Through Paul alone we know that the church is not an organization, but an organism, the Body of Christ; instinct with His life, and heavenly in calling, promise, and destiny. Through him alone we know the nature, purpose, and form of organization of local churches, and the right conduct of such gatherings. Through him alone do we know that `we shall not all sleep,’ that `the dead in Christ shall rise first,’ and that living saints shall be `changed’ and caught up to meet the Lord in the air at His return. But to Paul was also committed the unfolding of the doctrines of grace…Paul, converted by the personal ministry of the Lord in glory, is distinctively the witness to a glorified Christ, Head over all things to the church which is His Body, as the Eleven were to Christ in the flesh.” And if, according to traditional dispensationalism, the Body of Christ started at Pentecost, how can it be found retroactively in the gospels? The message that Peter preached at Pentecost was an offer of the millennial kingdom to Israel (Acts 2:22) conditional upon their repentance and recognition of Jesus as their Messiah—something that we now know will not happen until after the tribulation.

“Secondly, it is maintained that in the book of Acts we do not have the Church, the Body of Christ, but that the word ekklesia (church), as it is used in that book, refers to a different Church altogether than that of Paul’s Prison Epistles”: You’d think they would at least understand this! Regarding the assembly in the book of Acts, we have both “churches” mentioned, depending on the context. If you see the Body of Christ in the gospels, you are closer to a covenant position than a dispensational one. If the Body is found in the gospels, then to be consistent, it also has to be found in the Old Testament prophetic program as well. It was Bullinger (with whom we do not agree) who said that the Body of Christ did not start until the close of the book of Acts and that only Paul’s prison epistles are for us today.

“Thirdly, it is contended that Paul did not receive his special revelation of the mystery of the Body until his imprisonment in Rome, and that his Prison Epistles alone reveal this truth and are, strictly speaking, the only portion of the Holy Scriptures given to the members of His Body”: We do not agree with Bullinger on this point either. We do say that Paul received a special revelation (Gal. 1:11-12), but we do not agree that only his prison epistles are applicable to us today. Paul began to receive his special revelation of the mystery upon his conversion in Acts 9.

“Fourthly, the Christian ordinances, having been given before Paul, are supposed to have no real connection with the present economy, and therefore are relegated to the past, and may again have a place in the future Great Tribulation”: Regarding the “ordinances” of the church, there is no place in Scripture where water baptism and the Lord’s supper are linked. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial that we are instructed in I Corinthians 11 to keep “until He come.” However, we do feel that water baptism is a Jewish ordinance and is something that was phased out during the transition period. It is also rarely pointed out that we are not unique in understanding that water baptism is not for today. Other groups throughout church history, such as the Quakers, have also come to this same conclusion.

“Many boldly advocate the sleep of the soul between death and resurrection, the annihilation of the wicked, the universal salvation of all men and demons, the denial of the eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the denial of the personality of the Holy Spirit. All these evil doctrines find congenial soil in Bullingerism or Ultra-dispensationalism”: This is the worst sort of guilt by association, but I’m sure you see the implication. If you believe in a mid-Acts position, then, according to them, you also believe in these extreme and unscriptural viewpoints as well. By associating us with these cult-like beliefs we can be discredited without ever having to answer our Biblical arguments.

This is what we are up against. These are the same battles, misunderstandings, and deliberate misrepresentations that Pastor Stam has had to fight against for over 60 years—and we must continue to do so today if the gospel of the grace of God is going to continue to go forward.

Yet rather than discourage us, these things should motivate us. We know what we have found. We know how confused we used to be. We can honestly say that this is a more consistent and literal approach to Scripture. We no longer have to explain away what the Bible clearly says in verses such as Acts 2:38. We know that by reading the Body of Christ back into the gospels, we rob them of their distinctive kingdom character. By not understanding the difference we either have to make the clear statements in the gospels (such as a distinction between Jew and Gentile and water baptism) conform to Paul’s epistles (where he says there is no difference between Jew and Greek, and that he is the apostle to the Gentiles) by explaining them away or we have to read the gospels into Paul’s epistles and make them conform to the message in the gospels (which is what John MacArthur has done with “Lordship Salvation”).

We are not the wild-eyed radicals that the theological media tries to portray us as. We are in agreement with the overwhelming majority of traditional dispensationalism. Our two primary points of disagreement are that we see the Body of Christ starting with the conversion and call of the Apostle Paul and that water baptism is not a requirement for this dispensation.

Let us stand firm in proclaiming the unique message revealed to and through the Apostle Paul. It is like telling others about our faith in Christ. We know what it has done for us. We know that it has cleared away our confusion. Let us graciously and boldly share with others what this message has done for us.


  1. If you’d like to order a copy of Holding Fast the Faithful Word, you can read more about Ironside’s history as related to the Grace Movement. Just visit the BBS Bookstore.
  2. William MacDonald, “Distinguishing things that differ,” Up-look, July/August 1999, pp. 11-12.
  3. Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, H. A. Ironside, Loizeaux Brothers, New York, 1938.