Handling Aright the Word of Truth (XVII)

By Morris W. R. Bailey

In my previous article, I pointed out that a proper handling of the word of truth requires that every text must be studied in its context with due regard for the conditions under which statements were made or commands given. Attention was given to some commonly misused and misapplied passages of scripture, namely, Matthew 24 and 1 Cor. 1:17. In this article, I shall deal with some other texts that have often been misapplied as a result of their having been taken out of their context.

1 Corinthians 2:9

This verse says, “But as it is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him.” This verse has often been used by preachers and, surprisingly, by some who profess to be committed to speaking where the Bible speaks, when they preach about heaven. I must confess that in my younger and more immature days I sometimes used this passage to teach how unable we mortals are to conceive of what glories await us in heaven.

I am sure that heaven will surpass in glory and grandeur anything that our eyes have seen or our ears have heard or that we may have even imagined. However, when Paul wrote the above words he was not discussing heaven. To apply it to the glories that await us in heaven is, thus, to take it out of its context.

To learn the context in which this passage of scripture was written, it will be necessary for us to go back into chapter one of the First Corinthian epistle and consider the circumstances under which it was written.

Corinth, being one of the great cities of ancient Greece, was steeped in the Grecian culture of that day which tended to elevate human wisdom and to judge all things in the light of what man was able to understand. The gospel was thus regarded by the Grecian mind as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). In this same chapter, however, Paul taught that there is a wisdom that is higher than any wisdom of man — God’s wisdom — which makes foolish the wisdom of this world (vs 20).

It is with that thought in mind that Paul continues in chapter two (although Paul did not divide his epistles into chapters) by disclaiming human wisdom in the gospel that he preached (vs. 1). He said, however, beginning with verse 6, “We preach wisdom, however, among them that are fullgrown: yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nought. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory.”

So then, the wisdom that Paul preached was a wisdom that had been foreordained of God, but hidden from man until the time came for it to be revealed. It was to this same wisdom, concealed in the types, shadows, and prophecies of the law, that Jesus referred when he said to his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them, not” (Matt. 13:16, 17).

It was this same plan of salvation “concerning which the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them” (1 Peter 1:10, 11).

It is, thus, Paul’s reference to the wisdom of God that had been hidden in past ages (1 Cor. 2:7) that forms the context for his words in verse 9, “But as it is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him.” Following those words he then said in verse 10, “But unto us God revealed them through his Spirit.” What things did God reveal through His Spirit? Why, those things that had formerly been so concealed that they had not been seen by the eye nor heard by the ear nor conceived by the heart of men. So Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 2:9 were not an effort to describe the glories of heaven but a reference to the wisdom of God one time concealed, but when Paul wrote, revealed.

1 Corinthians 13:9-12

In the above scripture, Paul said, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I sapke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child; now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as I was fully known.”

This passage has sometimes in the past been used by brethren, and is still used by many sectarian preachers when preaching about the second coming of Christ. The argument that is made on this passage is that our knowledge of heaven is fragmentary (in part), and our perception of those things unclear (compared to viewing something through a dark glass). But it is maintained that at the second coming of Christ (when that which is perfect is come) all these imperfections will give way to perfect knowledge and clear perception.

An examination of the context of this passage, however, reveals that Paul was not discussing the second coming of Christ. This thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians is, in fact, a sort of a parenthesis between chapters twelve and fourteen which deal with the subject of spiritual gifts. It will be noticed that Paul began chapter twelve with the words, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.” Beginning then with verse 4 he listed nine gifts-wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healings, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues.

It is evident that there was the disposition on the part of some of the Corinthians to ascribe a greater importance to some gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and knowledge than to other gifts. Paul taught, however, that all these gifts proceeded from the one Spirit, and all contributed toward the building up of the body of Christ, just as the members of the natural body, each performing its own particular function, worked toward the efficient operation of that body (vss 12-20). Paul did not discourage their seeking the greater gifts. On the contrary he encouraged their desiring them. He was merely teaching them that there was something greater than tongues, prophecy, and knowledge (vs 31).

That which is greater than spiritual gifts is love. That is the meaning of Paul’s words in the thirteenth chapter, verses one :and two, where he said, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become a sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Tongues, prophecy, and supernatural knowledge all had to do with the revelation of the gospel scheme of redemption-the New Testament-which existed at the time of Paul’s writing only in part. From that standpoint it was, at that time, an imperfect revelation. But when completed it was perfect, and the tongues, prophecy, and knowledge that contributed toward its completion were no longer needed and were thus done away. Paul showed, however that love, which was greater, would abide (13:13).

1 Thessalonians 4:16

In this scripture, Paul said, “For the Lord himself 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.” This verse has been construed by those of the premillennial school of thought to mean that there will be two resurrections-one, of the righteous at the coming of Christ and one, of the wicked a thousand years later.

This ignores the context in which Paul’s words were written. From verse 13, it is evident that some of the Thessalonians were concerned about the fate of their loved ones who had passed on. They could understand how those who were alive at the coming of Christ would be taken by him and with him to heaven. But what about them who were asleep in their graves? In verse 15, Paul assured them there was no cause for concern. “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive at the coming of the Lord shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep.”

It was in this context that Paul said, “The dead in Christ shall rise first.” But first before what? Why, before those that are alive at the coming of the Lord are taken up. This is made clear in Paul’s words in verse 17. “Then (after the righteous dead are raised-MWRB) we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them (the risen dead-MWRB) be caught in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

A good sister asked me in a Bible class one time, “But what about the wicked dead?” The answer is: Paul was writing to Christians who were concerned about the dead in Christ. It was therefore not germane to the subject under discussion to write about those who died out of Christ. Jesus did tell us what would happen to the wicked dead, however, when He said that the righteous and the wicked will be raised at the same time (John 5:28, 29). So Paul’s contrast in this passage is not between the righteous dead and wicked dead; but between the righteous dead and the righteous who are alive at the coming of Christ. There is no hint of a millennial reign of Christ in this passage.

Truth Magazine XXII: 6, pp. 105-107
February 9, 1978