WERE THERE PEOPLE “IN CHRIST” BEFORE PAUL?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Were there people “in Christ” before Paul? Would that make them members of the Church the Body of Christ, too? We reply, “For what saith the Scriptures?”
To start off, we need to realize the weightiness of the questions at hand. Critics of Pauline dispensational Bible study object to its doctrine by claiming that there were people in Christ prior to Paul. They aim to diminish Paul’s special ministry and cause the Body of Christ to start outside of his ministry (this is ingenious, because then they could take non-Pauline doctrine and apply it to the Body of Christ, us—they want to steal Israel’s verses and will do anything to get, or attempt to get, that permission!). Their argument can be summarized as Paul not being the first member of the Church the Body of Christ because he himself acknowledged that there were people “in Christ before [him].” Romans 16:7 reads in full: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Certainly, the Bible is clear that there were people “in Christ” before Paul, but what does “in Christ” mean? Yea, that would make all the difference in the world!
The phrase “in Christ” has a particular meaning in the context, and in this context, it obviously does not refer to the Church the Body of Christ. To use this single verse to teach that people were in the Body of Christ before Paul, is to ignore many other verses that say that Paul was the first member of the Church the Body of Christ. We should not take one enigmatic verse and cast doubt on clear verses—unless we want to advance a denomination or cult’s doctrine, or defend a church tradition that we have heard all of our lives and assumed must be right!
Actually, in the Bible, the phrase “in Christ” is not always a reference to the Church the Body of Christ (this is a misconception on the part of the critics of dispensational Bible study). To be “in Christ” is a transdispensational doctrine—regardless of the dispensation, every saint is “in Christ.” Every lost person is “in Adam” and every saved person is “in Christ”—it is this way throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. No matter what dispensation, if someone is not “in Christ,” that would mean he or she were headed for hell!
Now, here, please be very careful to not misunderstand. In the Bible, not all believers are members of the Church the Body of Christ. Those saved prior to the Apostle Paul were not members of the Body of Christ, and those who will be saved after our dispensation ends, they will not be part of the Body of Christ either—the Body of Christ will be taken to heaven via the Rapture to end our dispensation, and the Body of Christ is not destined to experience God’s wrath (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9).
In the Old Testament Scripture, we read about how the nation Israel must be “in the LORD” if she is to be saved unto eternal life, justified before God, forgiven of her sins, ransomed from Satan’s kingdom, et cetera; “in the LORD” is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek “in Christ” (“Christ” and “LORD” [JEHOVAH] are the same Person). Isaiah 45:17 explains: “But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.” Verses 24-25 continue: “ Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed.  In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.”
The nation Israel and the Church the Body of Christ are two separate entities; to confuse them is to only confuse ourselves. Israel is made of Jews only, whereas the Church the Body of Christ is made up of Jews and Gentiles who are technically no longer Jew or Gentile, but “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15), “a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The nation Israel and the Church the Body of Christ are two separate entities; to confuse them is to only confuse ourselves. Israel is made of Jews only, whereas the Church the Body of Christ is made up of Jews and Gentiles who are technically no longer Jew or Gentile, but “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15), “a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We would do well to remember that Paul is still our apostle (Romans 11:13), that the distinction between Jew and Gentile was done away once he was saved and began his ministry, and that we should not take Israel’s verses (this would include Matthew through John, and early Acts [pre-Acts 9]).
So, in conclusion, were there people “in Christ” before Paul? (Yes, Romans 16:7 says so.) Would that make them members of the Church the Body of Christ, too? (No, “in Christ” is not a term exclusive to the Church the Body of Christ.) When Romans 16:7 says that Andronicus and Junia were “in Christ” before Paul, it simply means they were saved unto eternal life prior to Acts chapter 9, before Paul’s salvation. Andronicus and Junia were Jews who had recognized and trusted Jesus as their Messiah sometime prior to Paul’s salvation. The same Jesus Christ who saved Andronicus and Junia, saved Saul/Paul sometime later! Whether us (the Church the Body of Christ), or redeemed Israel, there is one Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is paying the sin-debt; the same blood shed on Calvary that saves us, is the blood that will save the nation Israel (see Hebrews 10:1-31; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Andronicus and Junia did not join the Body of Christ before Paul, for the Body of Christ did not begin until Paul. (See our study at the end of this article.) Yes, the Bible becomes so clear when we simply let it speak for itself.