(Pastor Joel Finck is well known across the country as a church planter, but some may not be aware, especially if you’re a newcomer, that he is also the Executive Director of the newly formed Parsons Publishing Company. Joel has authored a number of books, the latest entitled, Advanced Questions About the Grace Message, from which the following excerpt was taken.)
In this article, we will ask the question, “Are the twelve apostles in the body of Christ?” It is important here for the reader to understand that this question is not whether the twelve apostles were saved or lost. Rather, the question pertains to whether the twelve apostles were transferred into the body of Christ when the new dispensation was revealed to Paul, or whether they remained a part of Israel’s kingdom program. A third alternative is that they obtained sort of a “dual hope,” receiving the benefits and blessings of both the kingdom program and the dispensation of grace.
To some, the question itself may seem irrelevant or even ridiculous, much like the proverbial debates of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But before examining the evidence of Scripture on the subject, let us first show the importance of the issue. It certainly would not matter to us whether God chose to place the twelve apostles into the body or not. God can do as He pleases, and it would not affect the wonderful blessings of grace which we enjoy as members of the body of Christ. However, seeing the twelve apostles (and all kingdom saints living at the time) as part of the body of Christ raises HUGE questions with regard to their teachings and writings. For example, if Peter was added to the body of Christ after the dispensation of grace was revealed to Paul, are we to take Peter’s epistles as instructions to the body of Christ? Are we to understand that Peter is telling the body of Christ that we are “a royal priesthood, (and) an holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9a)? If so, what “nation” are we? And how does Peter’s statement that “baptism doth also now save us” (1 Peter 3:21a) square with Paul’s affirmation that Christ sent him “not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17a)? And with regard to the return of Christ, Peter has his readers “Looking for and hastening unto the coming day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:12), whereas Paul tells us to be “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
The two positions regarding this question are known as the “twelve-in” and the “twelve-out” positions. In answering the question of whether the twelve apostles were added to the body of Christ we will present Scriptural evidence that they were not, and we will answer objections to the “twelve-out” position.
Perhaps the most striking distinction between God’s plan and purpose for Israel and His plan and purpose for the church, the body of Christ, is the positions they occupy (and will occupy for all eternity). It has often been said that Israel’s was an “earthly” hope. By this, we do not mean that their hope and destiny is unspiritual in any way. When Christ establishes His kingdom, it will be a very spiritual kingdom, but it will take place upon the earth. Zechariah prophesies that some day “the LORD shall go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives…” (Zechariah 14:3,4a). Then he goes on to say, “And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one” (Zechariah 14:9). And who is the “LORD” who will do this? It is none other than Jesus Christ Himself! He speaks of this in Matthew 25:31, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” And to the twelve apostles He promises, “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). All of this is in accordance with God’s great kingdom promises to Israel that “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Psalm 37:11a; cf. Matthew 5:5) and “the righteous shall inherit the land and dwell therein forever” (Psalm 37:29).
But to “the church which is his body” (see Ephesians 1:22,23), Paul writes, “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 2:6). And to the Philippian believers, “For our conversation (lit. `citizenship’) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). And, of course, some day “the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). Paul refers to all of this as our “blessed hope” (see Titus 2:13).
With all of this in mind, our question ought to be, how could the twelve apostles possibly be members of the body of Christ when they were promised to live on the earth forever, yet the “body” is promised to live in heaven?
Another reason to view the twelve apostles as separate from the “body” church is the distinctive nature of their apostleship. Paul emphasizes this distinction in Galatians 2:8, “For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles.” On this basis, an agreement was reached, “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision” (Galatians 2:9). If they were all members of the body of Christ, in which “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek” (Romans 9:12a), then why did the apostles maintain this distinction? The answer is that, while the “new creation,” the body of Christ was already under way with the ministry of Paul, the many “circumcision” believers still remained to whom God had promised an earthly, kingdom hope. God did not go back on His word to them, therefore Peter, James, and John agreed to continue their ministries with them.
Going right along with this, Paul actually names the two groups of saints which existed during this time of transition from kingdom to grace in Galatians 6:15,16, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature (or, `creation’).” This “new creation” in which circumcision and uncircumcision no longer avail is none other than the body of Christ, also known as the “one new man” made up of Jew and Gentile who have been reconciled into “one body” (see Ephesians 2:15,16). Then Paul pronounces a blessing on them, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them” (Galatians 6:16a). But so as not to leave out that other group of saints which still existed at that time, Paul adds, “and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16b). Who is the “Israel of God?” None other than “the circumcision” to whom Peter, James, and John agreed to confine their ministries (Galatians 2:9).
It is sometimes asked by “twelve-in” proponents whether those who were under the dispensation of promise came under the law when it was given, and if so then why not transfer those under the kingdom program into the body of Christ. The answer to the first question is, obviously, yes. The people from the dispensation of promise were placed under the law. But this is because the law was “added” to the promise, therefore it is not an entirely new program, but merely an adjustment to an already functioning plan. Paul explains this in Galatians 3:17, “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” The dispensation of grace, on the other hand, was an entirely new program, not just a modification or further revelation of a previous program. Therefore we would not expect people from the previous dispensation, who were already promised a certain set of promises and a future hope, to be transferred to an entirely different set of promises and a different hope.
Now, to put our “twelve-out” position to the test, we shall consider some of the “twelve-in” arguments and objections and examine them in the light of Scripture.
1. 1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” Then 1 Corinthians 12:13 states, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” It would appear that Paul is considering “all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ” to be members of the “one body.”
This sounds quite convincing at first glance except for an important fact: while Paul refers to “all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ” in 1 Corinthians 1:2, he is not addressing them when he states that “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Note carefully that in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul simply states that the Corinthian believers are “called saints” right along with “all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ” (the words, “to be” are italicized and therefore not in the original text between the words “called” and “saints”). Paul’s whole point is that the Corinthian believers are just as much “saints” as believers anywhere, regardless of which program they belong to. It is interesting that Paul ends the verse, “both theirs and ours,” which supports the idea that there is some sort of distinction between “body” saints and “kingdom” saints….
2. Paul’s kinsmen, Andronicus and Junia were “in Christ” before him (Romans 16:7). Therefore, they must be included in the “body” spoken of in Romans 12:5.
Two things must be remembered in response to this point. First, being “in Christ” is not necessarily the same as being “in the body of Christ.” While it is true that the phrase, “in Christ” is almost exclusive to Paul, Peter does use it as well (1 Peter 3:16), and it is often used in a redemptive sense rather than the dispensational sense of being in the body of Christ. Secondly, Paul is not saying in Romans 12:5 that every believer living at that time was a member of the body of Christ. Back in Romans chapter two, Paul addresses the Jew (Romans 2:17) and speaks at length what it meant for a Jew to be considered righteous: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28,29). It is true that Paul is referring to the circumcision of the heart, but the individual in question is still a Jew, a distinction which is done away in the body of Christ. Yet, as Paul wrote this, there was still a group of believers who were truly Jews in that they were not only from a Jewish heritage, but they had also received spiritual circumcision of the heart by faith in their Messiah. Andronicus and Junia were a part of this group….
3. There were doubtless many local churches which included people who became believers before the new dispensation began and those who were saved afterward. If they belonged to separate groups and had different hopes (the rapture for body saints versus the second coming for kingdom saints) there would be constant confusion in teaching and preaching.
Actually, Paul recognized this situation and tried to avoid it as much as possible. This is why he wrote, “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation” (Romans 15:20).
The whole “twelve-in, twelve-out” discussion seems to be one of dispensational consistency, and to hold a “twelve-in” position begs one final question: If it was God’s plan to transfer the twelve apostles into the body of Christ when Israel rejected the kingdom offer, and then use them to teach, instruct, and write to the body of Christ in their epistles, WHY DID GOD RAISE UP THE APOSTLE PAUL?
For the rest of the story, you can purchase the book directly from Parsons Publishing Company at: 30448 427th Ave., Tabor, South Dakota 57063 or visit their website at: www.parsonspublishingcompany.com