GRACE AMBASSADORS

Did the Church Begin in Acts 28?

By Justin Johnson

More than a few people have adopted the Acts 28 position regarding the beginning of the present church and the dispensation of grace given to Paul. However, this late beginning diminishes the special ministry declared by Paul in his pre-prison epistles.

This dangerous position must wrest the Scriptures of Paul’s pre-Prison writings (in the book of Acts) in order to make them line up with what is termed the Pentecostal Age, the teaching of the kingdom, the ministry of the twelve.

To reduce the ministry of Paul in the book of Acts to the proclamation of the kingdom would be tantamount to denying the special apostleship to Paul and the gospel that was ‘kept secret since the world began'(Romans 11:13, 16:25).

In order to retain their original position, other revelations, other bodies, and other dispensations are placed specifically within the Acts period in order to quarantine the ministry of Paul during the Acts transition.

The Acts 28 position must be summed up in these two propositions:

  1. Prior to Acts 28, the ministry of Paul and the apostles consisted solely of kingdom and covenantal doctrine spoken since the world began by all the prophets.
  2. After Acts 28 Paul writes exclusively of the mystery information that was not known before.

What is true and what is not

The majority of the defense for Acts 28 consists of explaining that Acts 28 is the end of God’s dealing with Israel. It is from the obvious end of God’s dealing with Israel that new beginning is assumed.

It is true that what was present at the beginning of the book of Acts is done away with by Acts 28: the offer of the kingdom, the presentation of Jesus as Messiah to the Jews, the Pentecostal signs and powers, water baptism for the remission of sins, and the partition between Jew and Gentile.

However, it does not follow that just because something ends, that something new must begin thereafter. Instead, Paul’s writings during the Acts period give evidence to the secret dispensation revealed and taught prior to Acts 28.

However, if the propositions of the Acts 28 position are true, then we would not expect to find any reference to the special dispensation given to Paul before the Prison epistles, and this is not the case.

The Mystery revealed before Acts 28

Charles Welch, an originator of the Acts 28 position, in his booklet ‘Dispensational Frontier’ writes:

    “The territory covered by the Prison Epistles deals with a Mystery, never before revealed or made known”

Welch also distinguishes the Prison epistles, written in or after the time of Acts 28, as the exclusive source for this Mystery information ‘hitherto unrevealed’ in any of Paul’s other writings.

However, prior to the Acts 28 ‘frontier’, Acts period Pauline Scripture testifies of many mystery truths that are supposedly only reserved for the post-Acts teaching and writing.

  • The distinct apostleship of Paul (Romans 11:13, Gal 1:11-12; Gal 2:7-9)
  • Righteousness without the law (Romans 3:21)
  • The free justification through faith in Christ (Romans 3:22-25)
  • Justification by faith without works (Romans 4:5; Gal 2:16)
  • The blindness of Israel, and their future restoration (Romans 11:25-27)
  • Deliverance from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10)
  • The reconciliation of the world (2 Cor 5:19)
  • The ‘new creature’, the Body of Christ (2 Cor 5:17; 1 Cor 12:27; Romans 12:5)
  • No Jew or Gentile (Gal 3:29; 1 Cor 12:13)
  • The present possession of our salvation (Romans 5:11)
  • Our one baptism into the body of Christ (Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:13)
  • The absence of water baptism in this dispensation (1 Corinthians 1:17)
  • Our heavenly position (1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Cor 5:1-2; 1 Thess 4:15-16)
  • The secret of the gospel revealed (1 Cor 2:7-8; 1 Cor 9:17; Rom 16:25; Gal 2:7; 1 Cor 4:1-2)
  • A new dispensation (1 Cor 9:17; Gal 3:25)

All of these mystery truths are in contrast to what was spoken by the prophets since the world began and the teaching of the kingdom (Romans 15:8; Acts 3:21-24).There is no doubt that those who hold to the Acts 28 position have read these and many other passages. But their response to them only results in the diluting the secret of the gospel, and specific dispensational truths.

Prison epistles

Beyond these evident allusions to the ‘hidden wisdom’ in the Acts epistles, we cannot pretend that all of what was spoken in the Prison epistles was new information.

Indeed, Paul did come to ‘visions and revelations’ so that we learn things from his later ministry that was not revealed in his early ministry (2 Cor 5:1; 1 Cor 13:12; Acts 26:16).

However, this information was built upon prior revelation to Paul, and is not separate from it. The prison epistles often reference Paul’s ministry within Acts seamlessly as the same ministry and message.

Many of the truths earlier listed can be found in the teaching of the Prison epistles also.

Philippians

For example, Paul thanks God upon remembrance of the Philippians for ‘their fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Phil 1:5). This is enlightening only when we realize that Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison about his fellowship that was established at his visits to Philippi during the Acts period! (Acts 16:12, 20:6)

It is to the Philippians that Paul expounds upon the changing of our vile bodies into glorious. Paul also speaks of this information to the Corinthians prior to his imprisonment in 1 Corinthians 15.

Ephesians

Likewise the Ephesians, to whom Paul is writing from prison after Acts 28, are stated to have heard the gospel and believed it prior to Paul’s writing (Ephesians 1:13). It is not a wild assumption that they were saved before Acts 28 and even before Acts 20:24 by the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God exclusive to the ‘dispensation of grace’.

“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. “ – Acts 20:24

The edification gifts of Ephesians 4:11-13 would seem to match seamlessly with Pauls explanation of the building of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:27 or Romans 12:5:

“So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” – Romans 12:5

Timothy

Also, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminds Timothy of why he was left at Ephesus:

“As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine,” – I Timothy 1:3

So then, by the time Paul writes Timothy, there is a body of doctrine of which Timothy was supposed to protect at Ephesus. It was for this reason that Paul left him there! It would be silly to inform Timothy to charge others to teach ‘no other doctrine’, if they were not aware of the doctrine in the first place.

Indeed, Timothy did know the doctrine before Paul wrote him. The Ephesians and Timothy who had ministered with Paul had known his doctrine for this dispensation, which was specially revealed to him from Christ even before Acts 28 (Gal 1:11-12).

Nothing new, things untrue

Reducing the mystery truth revealed to Paul solely to the Prison epistles makes a distinction where there is none in the epistles. The only basis for a distinction comes from Paul’s teaching already evidenced from within the book of Acts.

Yet, we should be reminded that it is not the purpose of the book of Acts to expound what Paul taught. Instead, its clear purpose is to show the fall of Israel so that God could have mercy upon all (Romans 11:32). In Acts we find their continued rejection of Peter, Stephen, the Holy Ghost, and eventually Paul (see The Main Point of Mid-Acts doctrine).

It can be concluded, that there are similarities between the Mid-Acts and Acts 28 position. However, the differences have greater implications than some may realize.

The Acts 28 position robs us of precious grace truths that are only found in Paul’s pre-prison epistles. However, even more detrimental is how it weakens the defense of Paul’s special apostleship and message towards those who see no difference between Paul’s doctrines with the doctrine of the twelve at Pentecost.

What is true about the Acts 28 position is not new, and what is new in the Acts 28 position regarding multiple dispensations is not true. It is true that nothing new happened at Acts 28, but many things ended.

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Published: June 7, 2006
Last Modified: April 9, 2016
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