The Word of God on a Blank Page
The Bible is the complete revelation of the word of God, and is composed of the 66 books of Genesis through the Revelation. Since its completion, and since the days of the printing press, the Bible has been traditionally divided into two main segments — the Old Testament composed of Genesis through Malachi, and the New Testament composed of Matthew through the Revelation. This basic dividing and labeling of God’s word, though traditional, is clearly not completely accurate. For though we call Genesis an Old Testament book, the Testament, or Covenant, which God made with Israel which became ‘old’ was not brought down by God until Exodus 19. Hence, in truth, nothing from Genesis 1 to Exodus 19 is under the Old Testament. Likewise, the New Testament, or Covenant, was not established by God until the Lord Jesus Christ had died upon the cross. Therefore, in truth, the Gospel accounts are Old Testament books. For Christ was “made of a woman, made under the law,” just as the apostle Paul says.
Beyond the fact that this traditional dividing and labeling of God’s word is not completely accurate, there is also the fact that it unfortunately obscures the ‘right division of the word of truth.’
The Bible needs to be “rightly divided,” just as the apostle Paul instructs us to do.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH.” (II Timothy 2:15)
God has made divisions in His word, and He expects us to recognize them and “rightly divide” His word accordingly. But the traditional dividing of the Bible into Old Testament and New Testament has caused many to think that that is the “right division” that God is talking about us making. Hence, they think Genesis through Malachi is God’s ‘old time’ dealings with Israel since it is the Old Testament, but beginning with Matthew’s Gospel God’s ‘new time’ dealings with us get under way since Matthew begins the New Testament. Though this is commonly thought to be the case, the testimony of God’s word is that it is not so. Where God expects us to “rightly divide” His word is not between Malachi and Matthew, but rather, as will be seen, the division is to be made in connection with the revelation of the “mystery of Christ” which God revealed unto the apostle Paul.
THE BLANK PAGE
The blank page which comes between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew in our Bibles is often looked upon as the dispensational dividing line which God has placed in His word. With it, it is thought, He has set off the books of Genesis through Malachi as having to do with “time past,” and has signified that Matthew begins the record of His program and dealings with us today. But that blank page isn’t there as a separator. It isn’t there to function as a divider. It isn’t there to make us think that something has now come to a close with the end of Malachi, and now something new and different is beginning with what Matthew records. But rather, instead of functioning as a separator, divider, or spacer, that blank page stands for the prophesied period of silence in God’s program and dealings with Israel in which they experienced ‘a famine of hearing the word of God’ to them. And instead, therefore, of indicating a distinction between what has come before and what follows after, that blank page links them together. That blank page, standing as it does for that period of God’s silence to Israel, testifies to us that the Gospel accounts which follow it don’t bring in something new, but instead end the period of silence and continue God’s program and dealings with Israel. In essence, that empty page following Malachi is the word of God on a blank page to Israel.
THE PROPHESIED SILENCE OF GOD
In the course of God’s dealings with Israel, and in view of their persistent rebelliousness and contr- ariness to Him, there came the time when God began to walk contrary unto Israel in His fury, just as the Law contracted for. This began when God brought His people into the captivity of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, and sent them out of the land.
As is set forth, though, in the prophets Isaiah through Malachi, the captivity was only the beginning of the judgments of God which Israel would experience as the fury of God’s chastisement came upon them. There would, in fact, be five instalments to this final round of God’s chastening of His nation, with the fifth and last instalment being the “day of the LORD” in which He would purge His nation and leave only a righteous remnant. But before that final instalment of the chastening arrived, there would be other matters of judgment which the nation would face, one of which would be an extended period of time when God would be silent and would say nothing to His nation.
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor of thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)
Israel, as part of the final round of God’s chastening of them, would experience this time of God’s silence. A time when He would not say anything to them; an extended time when the word of God would not come to them.
This aspect of the final round of God’s chastening came upon the nation following the days of Malachi the prophet. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were the last prophets through whom God spoke to Israel before He went silent, and the ‘famine of hearing the words of the LORD’ began to be experienced in the land. For approximately 400 years God was silent to Israel. The silence of God was not broken by God until, as each one of the Gospel accounts opens up with, “the word of God came unto John the Baptist” and he began functioning as God’s prophet to Israel. [NOTE: By understanding this time of God’s silence to Israel, we are also able to know assuredly that the books of the Apocrypha are not the word of God.]
With John the Baptist God began speaking once again to Israel, and John began to herald to the nation that the time was “at hand” for the arrival of the final instalment of the Lord’s chastening of them and for the establishment of their covenanted and long-awaited “kingdom of heaven” in Zion.
That blank page, therefore, between Malachi and Matthew stands for the silence of God to Israel which Amos prophesied would come upon them. It’s not a dispensational dividing line or marker. Rather, it’s the word of God on a blank page testifying to the time of approximately 400 years when God said nothing to Israel, as part of His chastisement of them.
PROPER “RIGHT DIVISION”
The proper “right division” which God expects us to make in His word is not between Malachi and Matthew. It is not the traditional division of Old Testament and New Testament. But rather, we are to be “rightly dividing the word of truth” in connection with the great dispensational change which God brought in when He raised up Paul as a brand new and different apostle.
From the time God separated Abraham unto Himself, as recorded in Genesis 12, and made His covenant with him and his seed, God’s program and dealings have been with His nation Israel. The Gentile world was put in a position of alienation from God, as He drew nigh to Israel and dealt exclusively with them. This is how things were in “TIME PAST,” just as Paul describes.
“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:” (Eph. 2:11-12)
This former “far off” status which we Gentiles possessed is what we find in effect not only throughout what we call the Old Testament, but also in the record of the Gospels and the opening chapters of the book of Acts. Our Lord’s earthly ministry and that of the 12 apostles with Him pertained to God’s program and dealings with Israel, with us Gentiles still “far off.” Hence, as Paul says, we at that time “were without Christ.” And as he declares in Romans 15:8…
“Now I say that JESUS CHRIST WAS A MINISTER OF THE CIRCUMCISION for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:”
The books of Genesis through the opening chapters of the book of Acts, therefore, set forth the outworking of God’s program and “time past” dealings with His nation Israel. They do not relate God’s program and dealings with us Gentiles today.
The present dispensation of Gentile grace in which we live today was not ushered in by God until the Lord unexpectedly came back from heaven, as recorded in Acts 9, and raised up Paul as a brand new apostle. To Paul God revealed that He was temporarily suspending His program with Israel, and was bringing in a new and different dispensation in accordance with the “mystery of Christ” — a secret purpose He has in Christ which He kept hid in Himself until revealing it to Paul. As Paul testifies in Ephesians 3:1-9…
“For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
If ye have heard of THE DISPENSATION OF THE GRACE OF GOD WHICH IS GIVEN ME TO YOU-WARD:
HOW THAT BY REVELATION HE MADE KNOWN UNTO ME THE MYSTERY; (as I wrote afore in few words,
Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST)
WHICH IN OTHER AGES WAS NOT MADE KNOWN UNTO THE SONS OF MEN, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
WHEREOF I WAS MADE A MINISTER, ACCORDING TO THE GIFT OF THE GRACE OF GOD GIVEN UNTO ME BY THE EFFECTUAL WORKING OF HIS POWER.
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, THAT I SHOULD PREACH AMONG THE GENTILES THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST;
AND TO MAKE ALL MEN SEE WHAT IS THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE MYSTERY, WHICH FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD HATH BEEN HID IN GOD, WHO CREATED ALL THINGS BY JESUS CHRIST:”
God revealed and brought in a great dispensational change when He raised up Paul as a new apostle. In this present dispensation of Gentile grace God’s program with Israel is suspended, and the “time past” status of Israel being “nigh” to God and us Gentiles being “far off” isn’t in effect. Today God is working out the “mystery of Christ” and is forming the “new creation,” the “one new man,” the church the body of Christ in accordance with it. Accordingly, God’s program and dealings with us today is new and differs greatly from God’s program with Israel.
It is especially because of this great dispensational change which God brought in with the raising up of Paul that the Bible needs to be “rightly divided.” To “rightly divide the word of truth” means to properly handle the Bible by recognizing and making the divisions in it which need to be made in it because of God’s different programs recorded in it. Since God’s program with Israel is not only distinct and different from God’s program with us today, but is also suspended and not in effect today, God’s word must be “rightly divided” in recognition of that so that confusion and misusage of God’s word will not result. The Bible must be “rightly divided” so that Christians follow the program and instructions which God has given for us today and has in effect today. If the Bible is not “rightly divided” then confusion, uncertainty, and actual misusage of God’s word will result.
As the “apostle of the Gentiles,” and the one to whom God revealed the “mystery of Christ” and this present dispensation of His grace, it is in the epistles of the apostle Paul that God has set forth His program and dealings with us today. It is in Paul’s epistles to us Gentiles that we have the doctrine, instructions, promises, and injunctions from God which are directly TO US and expressly ABOUT US today.
“Rightly dividing the word of truth” means to recognize that in Genesis through the book of Acts God records His “TIME PAST” program with Israel, with the book of Acts historically setting forth the unexpected ushering in of this new dispensation with the raising up of Paul, and the time of transition from Israel’s program to this new dispensation. Following the book of Acts, in Paul’s epistles of Romans through Philemon God sets forth His present program in this dispensation of His grace to us Gentiles. Romans through Philemon records what God is doing “NOW” in His plan and purpose. Then, in accordance with the fact that God will resume His program with Israel following the conclusion of this present ‘mystery dispensation’, the books of Hebrews through Revelation follow Paul’s epistles in the layout of the Bible. In these books the focus of God’s attention is Israel once again and the fulfillment of His program yet “TO COME” with them. They are directed to Israel and written by their apostles in anticipation of God fulfilling His program and covenants with them.
It is not the blank page between Malachi and Matthew which is to be looked upon as the dispensational dividing line. That’s the word of God on a blank page to Israel representing the silence of God to them of which Amos prophesied. But rather, the great dispensational change was brought in by God with the raising up of the apostle Paul and the revelation of the “mystery of Christ.” It is that epoch-making event which serves as the dispensational dividing line, and upon which the “right division” of God’s word is to be made. _ K.R. Blades