By Charles H. Welch
EXCELLENT. This word is used in the New Testament to translate Greek words meaning something widely ‘different’ (Heb. 1:4), something ‘surpassing’ (1 Cor. 12:31), something ‘fuller’ (Heb. 11:4), as well as the title ‘most excellent’ used of Theophilus, or of Felix with which aspect of the subject we are not here concerned. The reference to Abel’s offering being ‘fuller’ than that offered by Cain (Heb. 11:4) is of intense significance, but the subject of the Atonement is doctrinal, and it is entirely beyond the scope of this present analysis, which is particularly concerned with Dispensational Truth. The other aspects of the term, however, do bear upon Dispensational Truth and must here be considered.
Diaphero, is composed of dia ‘through’ and phero ‘to bear’ and the English ‘differ’ from the Latin dis apart and fero to carry or to bear is almost an exact equivalent. Diaphero occurs thirteen times, and the varied ways in which it is translated give a fairly comprehensive picture.
Diaphoros. This word occurs but four times, thus:
The passages that claim our attention are Philippians 1:10 and Hebrews 1:4, these having particular bearing upon the dispensational aspect of truth. The A.V. of Philippians 1:10 reads, ‘that ye may approve things that are excellent’, the margin reads, ‘try the things that differ’. It is impossible to approve things that are excellent without trying things that differ, and so whatever translation we adopt, we reach the same end. The verse before us, is echoed in 2 Timothy 2:15 where we have the injunction, ‘rightly divide the word of truth’, and the sequel in Philippians 1:10, ‘that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ’ is to the same effect as that of 2 Timothy 2:15, ‘approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed’.
We must remember that there is a need to realize the difference made in the Scriptures, between fundamental doctrinal truth, which remains true, however much the dispensational teaching may change, and the changing teaching, sphere, constitution and privileges that are dispensational in character. ‘All have sinned’ was true before. Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans, it remains true today, and will remain true until the New Creation. This statement consequently is prefaced by the apostle with the words, ‘There is no difference’. The failure to discriminate between fundamental truth and Dispensational Truth, has led some to be persuaded against endorsing its findings and of employing the principle in interpretation, the following somewhat simple argument, therefore, may possibly help to put the matter in a clearer light. What would you think of the following argument?
You would not think very highly of the intelligence of anyone who would put forward such a trifling statement as a serious argument. You would need no training in formal logic to set it aside as ridiculous. You might even go further and say, ‘Why waste precious time by speaking of it at all?’ The reason is, that the truth of God in one great particular is sometimes attacked with as foolish an argument as that given above.
You may have been exercised in your reading of the Scriptures as to the evident differences that are to be found in the Gospels, the Acts, the epistles and the Book of Revelation, for example, differences as to spheres of blessing, such as, ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’, and ‘all spiritual blessings in heavenly places’. You may have discerned a real difference between ‘The Kingdom’ and ‘The Church’, or between ‘The Bride’ and ‘The Body’, and then someone has demolished the whole of your conception of truth by saying something like this:
Now while you readily perceive the fallacy in the argument about Englishmen being Frenchmen because both eat, drink and sleep, you may not so readily perceive the selfsame fallacy in the argument that denies all the differences concerning different companies of the redeemed taught by the Scriptures, simply because such companies have some things in common.
Let us see whether this figure of the two nationalities will help us in appreciating what is known as ‘Dispensational Truth’.
It is most obvious that the similarities noted on the left-hand side cannot neutralize the most evident differences that are recorded on the right-hand side. Let us set out the case for Dispensational Truth in exactly the same way, using the two countries to represent two dispensations, and using the English Channel for the dispensational boundary, noting on the left-hand some things that are similar in both dispensations, and on the right some things that are different.
Throughout the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of the period, the Jew is ‘first’ (see Rom. 1:16). The Kingdom of Israel is ever before the mind (see Acts 1 to 6); when the apostle Paul reached Rome, he did not visit the Church so far as we are told, but sent for the elders of the Jews. After an all-day conference, the people of Israel were solemnly dismissed by the quotation of Isaiah 6:9,10, and, for the first time since the call of Abraham, the salvation of God was sent to the Gentiles without reference to the people of Israel.
Upon examining the epistles written by Paul during his imprisonment (that is, after the change of dispensation had been made) we discover that the people of Israel, the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are all conspicuous by their absence. We have crossed the English Channel as it were, and have left a ‘Kingdom’ for a ‘Republic’.
The second feature we have indicated on the diagram is the presence of miraculous gifts. The apostle - who worked miracles during the Acts of the Apostles - sent Timothy a prescription for his ‘often infirmities’ in the dispensation that followed, and many are the wrecks that have resulted from the attempt to live as though the miraculous gifts of the Acts period were to-day still the rule and not the exception.
When we cross the Channel and step on to the shores of France, we find ourselves at once surrounded with a set of circumstances that differ from those obtaining in our own country. If we should be so foolish as to persist in ignoring, for example, the change in money, we should put ourselves and others to a great amount of trouble, and soon find life impossible; while if we were so foolish as to attempt to ignore the change from the ‘left-hand’ turn to the ‘right-hand’ turn, we should probably pay for our foolishness with our lives, and most certainly endanger the lives of others.
Lastly, what is ‘hoped for’ is a good index to a calling. The reader will remember the phrase, ‘the hope of your calling’. The epistle to the Romans was the last to be written before the Acts came to a close, and whatever was the hope of the Church then will represent what was its hope right through the period:
The apostle refers to Isaiah 11, which speaks of the millennial reign of Christ, when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and when the Lord will set His hand the second time to recover the remnant of His people Israel. This is in line with the statement of the apostle in Acts 26 and 28:
In the Prison Epistles of Paul, Israel has gone, and with Israel the hope connected with that nation. In its place is
‘the hope that is laid up in heaven’, ‘which was preached unto every creature under heaven’ (see Col. 1:5,23,27;
3:4). We will not enlarge on these differences further, as they form the subject matter of the bulk of this analysis.
We turn to Hebrews 1:4 for a word on the statement ‘a more excellent name’. For a full examination of this subject,
particularly as it fits the theme of HEBREWS , the article dealing with this epistle should be consulted, as also for
parallel teaching, the article on PHILIPPIANS , and the one dealing with the PRIZE . Here we will deal with the actual
wording of the passage and its relation with the context. The simplified structure of Hebrews 1 and 2 is as follows:
Hebrews 1 and 2
A 1:1,2. God once spoke by prophets. Now by His Son.
A 2:1-4. God once spoke by angels. Now by the Lord.
It will be seen that the relationship of the Son to angels, is not connected with His own inherent superiority, as Creator to creature, but in relation with His mission ‘His sufferings’ and its sequel ‘His glory’. We scarcely need a revelation from heaven to tell us that One, Who can be described as ‘the express image of His (God’s) person’ must necessarily be far above angels, it goes without saying; but Hebrews 1 is teaching us that He ‘obtained’ this position ‘by inheritance’. The Saviour had a glory that was His ‘before the world was’ (John 17); He voluntarily ‘emptied Himself’ (‘made Himself of no reputation’ Phil. 2), and the glory that He thus relinquished as the Image of the invisible God, He receives back as the one Mediator, and this glory He will share with His redeemed people (John 17:22). That great prophetic chapter of suffering, namely Isaiah 53, is introduced by words that magnify the wonder of His subsequent exaltation.
and this glorious simile is introduced with the triumphant words:
The exact sameness of the wording as given in the references above of Hebrews 1:4 and 8:6, may mislead the
English reader. In Hebrews 1:4 the word is ‘obtain by inheritance’ kleronomeo, whereas in Hebrews 8:6 the Greek
word translated ‘obtained’ is tugchano, a word which came to mean something that ‘happened’ (1 Cor. 15:37), but
which originally meant ‘to hit’, especially ‘to hit a mark with an arrow’, as in Homer, and then in a secondary sense
‘to hit upon’ by chance. There is no chance work in Hebrews 11:35, the only other reference in this epistle, for the
obtaining of a better resurrection was by voluntary suffering. The ministry of Christ as the Mediator of the New
Covenant, has no reference to the Church of the Mystery, but it is so glorious that the old covenant is entirely set
aside (see the argument of 2 Cor. 3). The more excellent name of Hebrews 1:4, and the more excellent ministry of
Hebrews 8:6, are part of a series of ‘better things’, and before considering this part of our study, we will set out the
occurrences of the word ‘better’ as it is found in Hebrews.
Better, in Hebrews
A 1:4. Christ at the Right Hand (3). Better than angels, more excellent name.
A 8:6. Christ at the Right Hand (1). Better covenant, promises, more excellent ministry.
The more excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31). The theme of 1 Corinthians 12 is indicated in the opening sentence, it is
‘concerning spiritual gifts’ and whatever differences there may exist between one gift and another, all are of ‘the
same spirit’. These gifts include miracles, healings, government and prophecy. Yet, wonderful as each or any of
these supernatural gifts may be, the apostle at the close of the chapter says, ‘and yet show I unto you a more
excellent way.’ Literally the words ‘more excellent’ read ‘according to an hyperbole’. An hyperbole is an
exaggeration, ‘it consists in magnifying an object beyond its natural bounds . . . our common forms of compliment
are almost all of them extravagant hyperboles’-Blair. Even Blair here unconsciously slips into an hyperbole, for an
extravagant hyperbole is according to his own dictum ‘an extravagant extravagance’! The word hyperbole occurs
seven times in the New Testament and where the phrase kath hyperbole is used, the letters k.h. will be put in
brackets after the quotation.
To understand the way that was exceedingly superior to the possession or employment of spiritual gifts, we must read 1 Corinthians 13:
The reason for this excellence is discovered in the close of the chapter. ‘Charity never faileth’ but prophecies, tongues and knowledge shall cease and vanish away. They are after all ‘in part’ and are to be likened to childish things which are put away upon arriving at adulthood.
With 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 before us, and with the apostle’s own statement in 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 13:11 we perceive that the cry, ‘Back to Pentecost’ may be but the cry of a full-grown man who cries ‘back to the nursery’. The presence of spiritual gifts in an assembly today is no sign of maturity, rather the reverse. For a fuller treatment of 1 Corinthians 12, see the article entitled BODY; for the reference to immaturity, see the article entitled BABES; for the dispensational place of miracles, see MIRACLE , and for the place of 1 Corinthians 12 in the epistle as a whole, see 1 CORINTHIANS. The epistle as a whole is given an exposition in the book entitled The Apostle of the Reconciliation.