By Charles H. Welch
Heirs and Fellow-Heirs. It is written, categorically, "If children, then heirs; heirs of God" (Rom. 8:17), as though an inheritance attaches to Redemption as a matter of course, but the statement that follows, "and joint heirs with Christ", may be conditional; it may be associated, not with initial redemption, but with "if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together". Let us first of all acquaint ourselves with the words used. Heir is the translation of the Hebrew yarash, "to possess and succeed", and the Greek kleronomos, "one who receives a lot or portion" . When Israel entered into the Promised Land, it was divided among the tribes by lot, and it is this element that is retained in the Greek word. Kleros is a small object, such as a pebble, a turf, a ring, cast into an urn or a bag, and although having all the appearances of settling a matter by chance, was nevertheless under the superintendence of the Lord.
This custom causes the Psalmist to use the grateful language of Psalm 16:5,6:
This passage becomes richer in meaning, when we know the circumstances that made such language possible. The imagery is borrowed from the communal life of a Palestine village. The arable land surrounding the village was cut up into sizeable portions, but would naturally vary in quality. One portion would be like the land of the parable that was thorny, another would have no deepness of earth, another would yield a good crop. Every year this land was drawn by lot. A little child usually was the instrument, dipping his hand into a bag and drawing out the allotted portion for each individual. The word "maintain" even in English retains the word "hand" (main), and in the Hebrew the word tamak means to lay hold on by the hand (Isa. 41:10, Gen. 48:17, Exod. 17:12). The "line" refers to the measuring line, which indicated the boundary of each allotment. What David said in Psalm sixteen may be paraphrased thus:
We still retain the words "allotment", "allotted portion" and "lot", even though the decision by the casting of lots is out of date. In the N.T. the "lot" (kleros) is used
The English word "clergy" is derived from this word kleros. In its earliest use it indicated the distinction conferred by learning, "Aristotle, for all his c1ergy"; "they put their sons to learn some clergy"; and so klerikos became "clerk", which was (1) a scholar, and (2) an ecclesiastic. But this is by the way. From kleros we get the compounds kleronomeo "to inherit", kleronomia "inheritance", kleronomos "heir", and kleroomai, a word that occurs but once (Eph. 1:11) and translated "to obtain an inheritance" in the A.V., "to be made a heritage" according to the R.V. In addition to these we have several compounds made up with other words, such as
Two of these references, namely Hebrews 11:9 and 1 Peter 3:7, are straightforward
and need no comment here, the other two are of dispensational importance
and call for a fuller investigation. Romans 8:17, "Joint heirs with Christ."
We must not run the two statements together thus, "If children then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ." This, though taken from one
verse in Romans eight, belongs to two separate sections, which can be
Here we have the witness of the Spirit to every child of God. If children then heirs, heirs of God. The remainder of verse 17 belongs to a new section, thus:
We have not given details of the whole section as our immediate concern is with the term "joint-heirs". The epistle to the Ephesians reveals the "hope of our calling", while the epistle to the Philippians reveals the "prize of the high calling". Hope is associated with grace; the Prize with reward. Hope is ours because we are in Christ; the Prize will be ours, "if so be that we suffer with Him". From this it follows that an heir of God is not, necessarily, also a joint-heir with Christ. It was "to him that overcometh" that the promise was made that he should sit with Christ upon His throne (Rev. 3:21). "If we suffer," said the apostle Paul, "we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2:12). The doctrine has changed from "in Christ Jesus" to "with Christ". We do not meet the preposition sun, "with", in Romans eight until verse 16, where it occurs in the word summartureo, "bear witness together". After that we have sugkleronomos, "joint-heirs"; sumpascho, "jointly suffer"; sundoxazomai, "jointly glorified". The next occurrences are in verse 22, sustenazo, "groan together", and sunodino, "travail together", and in the latter half of the chapter, there are two or three more compounds of sun.
This use of the word "heir" and "joint-heir", the one standing in pure grace, the other associated with faithfulness and possible suffering, is found in the epistle to the Colossians:
In the first instance the child of God has been "made meet", in the second there is introduced "reward", "service" and even "receiving wrong", showing that the two subjects are on different grounds, the one being followed by reference to the forgiveness of sins, the other by a reference to what the servant has done. So in Romans eight, "If children, then heirs, heirs of God" is parallel with Colossians 1:12. "Joint-heirs with Christ, if so be we suffer with Him" is parallel with Colossians 3:24, or as the Apostle wrote to Timothy:
The structure emphasizes the glory, and associates with it present suffering and future liberty. Moreover, it shows that the revelation of the sons of God and the revelation of the glory synchronize. Much of the present suffering will be found to be sharing in the patience of Christ, Who Himself awaits the day of His revelation and coronation. We share His rejection as those of old shared the rejection of David at Adullam, and we shall share His glory when He reigns. Just as there were some who attained to the "first three" or the "thirty" (2 Sam. 23), and just as one star differs from another star, though both are "in glory", so it is with the "heirs" and the "joint-heirs", that is, with those made meet for the inheritance, and those who not only were made meet, but who will, additionally, receive the reward of the inheritance.
The hope of the church as expressed in the epistle to the Romans was millennial (Rom. 15:12,13); consequently the joint-heirs with Christ who are in any sense overcomers will find much that illuminates their position in Revelation two and three. There, addressing Himself to the seven churches of Asia, the Lord makes certain promises "to him that overcometh": "the tree of life" (Rev. 2:7); "the crown of life" and immunity from "the second death" (Rev. 2:10,11); "the hidden manna", "white stone" and "new name" (Rev. 2:17); "power over the nations . . . even as I received of My Father" (Rev. 2:26-28); "white raiment", "book of life" and "name confessed" (Rev. 3:5); "a pillar", "a new name", the name of the "new Jerusalem" (Rev. 3:12); and finally, a grant to sit with Christ in His throne, even as He overcame, and sat with His Father in His throne (Rev. 3:21). To sit down with Christ in His throne as overcomer, to 'reign with Him, because one has endured, to be a joint-heir of Christ, if so be we suffer with Him, are all expositions of the same truth, though it operates in different spheres, whether the dispensation of the Mystery, during the Acts period, or as far back as Abraham (Heb. 11 :9,10).
Having stated the relation that exists between present suffering .and future glory, the Apostle proceeds to encourage the believer by comparing the present with the future, and by showing how inexpressibly grand is the prospect of glory, both to the individual and to all creation:
While Hebrews 11:9 and 1 Peter 3:7 contribute nothing specifically to our knowledge of Dispensational Truth, there is a most precious truth latent in these passages, which it would be a sin to miss. God does not call Himself merely the God of Abraham, He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-and while there may be a notable difference between the spiritual standard of Abraham as compared with Jacob, they were joint-heirs, the one no more, and no less, than the other. Again, in 1 Peter 3:7 Sarah is said to have obeyed Abraham, calling him "Lord", and is likened to a "weaker vessel", nevertheless in spite of these and other differences Sarah was "joint-heir" with Abraham. Now take this a stage further. If a believer can become a joint-heir with Christ, will not the same truth hold good? In comparison with his Lord he is infinitely further than Jacob was from Abraham, he is infinitely weaker than Sarah and has more need to acknowledge Christ as "Lord" than any wife of any husband, yet in spite of every acknowledged infirmity, will not the same truth hold good, joint-heir with Christ, and so treated by the Father, as He treats His Beloved? It seems too good to be true, and there are necessary limits to the comparison, but what abounding grace is here made manifest!
Let us now consider a passage that belongs to the dispensation of the Mystery: Ephesians 3:6, "that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs."
The words with which verse 5 end, "by the Spirit", indicate as they stand, that the author and inspirer of the apostles and prophets is "the Spirit". This is a truth which is fundamental but the question before us is not the nature of inspiration, but the constitution of the church of the Mystery. In Ephesians 2:22 the words translated "through the Spirit" are in the original en pneumati, "in spirit", a sphere in direct contrast with that indicated in Ephesians 2: 11 en sarki, "in flesh". Before proceeding with the statement made in Ephesians 3:6, it may be necessary to bring before the reader further examples of the way in which this phrase "in spirit" is used by the Apostle.
A few passages where the wording or meaning is slightly different:
In addition, the four passages in Revelation, where John is said to be "in spirit" should be consulted (Rev. 1:10, 4:2, 17:3 and 21:10). In each case a sphere is indicated, and usually the sphere "in spirit" is contrasted with the sphere "in letter" or "in flesh". Coming now to Ephesians 3:6, we find that the structure of the passage is as follows:
"In spirit" corresponds with "In Christ" and indicates the sphere in
which this new relationship "fellow-heirs" operates. This new relationship
Owing to the peculiar nature of this threefold fellowship, and the extreme difficulty of finding one English word for the thrice repeated "sun", we have been obliged to resort to the expedient of employing the word "joint", joint-heirs, a joint-body and joint-partakers, only to realize that we have invented a term that defies explanation, for what is a joint-body? We must be careful not to introduce, even mentally, into this verse the idea that all Paul means by the term "fellow-heirs" is that now the Gentiles have been admitted into an existing sphere of blessing, namely one in which the Jew was admittedly first, and that all that the Mystery with its fellow-heirs means is that Gentiles are now admitted on equal terms with Israel.
If for the moment we concede that the Jew is in view, the teaching then must be accepted as a veritable revelation of an hitherto hidden mystery, for where, since the call of Abraham to the writing of the epistle to the Romans (where the Apostle says "the Jew first", etc.), has the Gentile ever received the threefold equality revealed here?
Millennial blessings, which fulfil the promises to Israel, necessarily give the Gentile a secondary place; they who were once aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, but who are finally blessed under the covenant of promise, are nevertheless "tail" and not "head", and their national distinctions remain. Here, in the dispensation of the Mystery, the sphere is "in spirit" and the equality is concerning relationship among the Gentile believers themselves. The only place that a Jew can have here is to lose his nationality and enter this unity as a sinner saved by grace, even as the Gentile did.
God does not call Himself merely the God of Abraham, or the God of Abraham and Isaac. His full title in this connexion is "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". They were co-heirs. The equality among all believers in the dispensation of the Mystery is expressed in similar terms, co-heirs. This inheritance is the subject of Ephesians 1: 11 and 18, and of Colossians 1: 12. It is a predestined allotment, it is "in the light".
Although our subject is limited to the reference to fellow-heirs, a note on the term "the same body" and "fellow-partakers" may not be out of place, as these are on the same plane as the reference to fellow-heirs, and are very near to the heart of this new revelation of grace.
The joint-body (sussoma) is as unique as is the word used to express it. The word occurs nowhere else in the N.T. or in the LXX. Words arise in response to needs, and never before in all the varied ways of God with man had there been the necessity for such a term. Kingdom, Firstborn, Church, Bride, Wife, Flock, these and other terms had been necessitated by the unfolding of the purpose of the ages, but not until the revelation of the Mystery was there any necessity to use such an expression as "joint-body". The equality in the body is opened up in Ephesians 4:16. There is but One Head and the rest of the body are members one of another. The third item is "joint-partakers", but such an expression does not convey the truth until the statement is completed:
The better readings give the full title, "Christ Jesus". "The promise in Christ Jesus."-Paul, when writing to Timothy his last "prison epistle", calls himself:
Writing to Titus between the two imprisonments he speaks of the
The Gentiles, here called and blessed, may indeed have been "strangers from the covenants of promise" while "in flesh", but "in spirit" they are "joint-partakers" of a promise which goes back before the age times, and before the overthrow of the world. Such is the sphere and character of the unity created by the Lord during this time of Israel's blindness.
We rejoice at the testimony of "All Scripture" to the joys and blessings which are stored up for Israel, the nations, the groaning creation, as well as for the church of God. Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for higher things than Abraham hoped for or the Prophets dreamed.
The rendering "the same body" (Eph. 3:6) is an inadequate translation of the word sussomos. The R.V. has endeavoured to meet the difficulty by the rendering "fellow-members", but such cannot strictly be called a "translation" but approaches a private "interpretation". It is possible that in this strange new term sussoma we have something so new, so unique, so hitherto unknown, that nothing short of a new term could envisage this new fellowship. Into this new word has been enshrined the newly created oneness of "the both" into "one new man". The last thing that these three terms of equality can mean is that the Gentiles were admitted into something already existing, but which had hitherto been closed to them. This is something entirely new, and the Jew as a Jew, even as the Gentile as a Gentile, finds no place, no priority, no advantage. "In spirit", as opposed to "in flesh", all such distinctions vanish. A newly created new man (not a process of evolution) is the outstanding characteristic of the dispensation of the Mystery.