By Charles H. Welch
Mystery. The Greek word musterion occurs twenty-seven times in the N.T. and is translated "mystery" throughout. The word is distributed as follows:
The word does not occur in Hebrews, nor in any of the circumcision epistles. The LXX contains eight references, all of them in the book of Danie1. In addition there are twelve occurrences in the Apocrypha which indicate by the way the word is employed, something of the meaning it must have attached to it when it is found in the N.T.
As this word occupies such an important place in dispensational truth we must waive our rule of not giving a concordance of more than ten occurrences of any word, and set out a complete concordance both in the O.T. and in the N.T.
The Greek Christian "fathers" used the word of any such sign, whether of words or actions. They spoke of the offering of Isaac as a musterion, i.e. a sign or a symbol of the secret purpose of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. And they used it interchangeably with the words tupos type, sumbolon symbol, and parabole parable.
So far we have been concerned with the material that we are to use. We must now inquire into the essential meaning of the term, and this we shall gather (1) from its etymology and (2) from its usage. Etymology used alone is an unsafe guide, for language is living, and the folk who use it are not necessarily students; it is therefore wise to balance etymology with usage. This we will do.
The etymology, therefore, of the word musterion suggests something "hidden" , a secret, something that requires initiation, something not discoverable by ordinary methods. It is an unsafe analogy to argue from the use of the word "mystery" as employed in the articles of indenture, and referring to the mysteries of a trade, for this word should really be spelled "mistery" coming as it does from the French mestier, or metier which in its turn is derived from the Latin ministerium. It will not do, therefore, tó teach that there is no more "mystery" about the mysteries of the Bible than there is about trade secrets, for this approach to the subject omits the presence and influence of the pagan mysteries, that will eventually come to a head in "the mystery of iniquity", even as the mysteries of the Scriptures come to a head in "the mystery of godliness".
Is there any one who knows all hat there is to know concerning either the mystery of iniquity or the mystery of godliness? Are there not "depths of Satan" and "the deep things of God"? Are there not "unspeakable words, which it is not lawful (or possible) for a man to utter" (2 Cor. 12:4)? And is there not in the same epistle the offering of thanks to God for His "unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15)? From very early times there were vast and widespread institutions in the pagan world known as mysteries, celebrated for their profound secrecy, admission to which was only by initiation. The Greek, Egyptian and Persian mysteries can be traced back to a common source, namely Chaldea, and constitute one of the travesties of truth that is so characteristic of Babylonianism. Babylon is represented as bearing a golden cup, and to drink of "mysterious beverages" says Salverte, was indispensable on the part of all who sought initiation into these mysteries.
"To musterion" . This is not the only term borrowed from the ancient mysteries, which St. Paul employs to describe the teaching of the deeper truths of the Word. The word teleion (Col. 1:28 "perfect") seems to be an extension of the same metaphor. Philippians 4:12 we have already noted, and in Ephesians 1:13 sphragizesthai ("sealed") is perhaps an image derived from the same source. So too the Ephesians are addressed as Paulou "fellow initiates of Paul" in Ignatius' epistle, and the Christian teacher is thus regarded as a heirophantes (see Epict. 3.21, 13 seq.), who "initiates his disciples into the rites" (Bishop Lightfoot).
It becomes very clear that no knowledge of the mysteries was obtainable apart from initiation, and this fact must be borne in mind when we approach the mysteries of Scripture. No mere instruction, or quoting of verses of Scripture, not even the most lucid presentation of Dispensational Truth will ever "convince" any one apart from the gracious enlightening that God alone can give.
The recognition of this great fact of initiation would save the believer many hours of fruitless anxiety on the part of others. The truth of the Mystery is not to be made known by the organizing of campaigns, it will never be a subject of popular appeal, our attitude must be a readiness at all times to help and guide wherever we see a desire to know and follow on, being assured that none will come to see the Mystery apart from the Lord's own illuminating; we ourselves can at best be but the earthen vessels that He stoops to use in this most wondrous work. When we come to usage, there are several avenues of approach.
(1) The Pagan mysteries and (2) the references in the Apocrypha. These two give an idea what the word mystery stood for in the great outside world; and (3) the usage of the word in the LXX book of Daniel, and (4) its usage in the N.T., these show how it was used in Holy Scripture. We can say little to profit of the Pagan mysteries. The Greek mysteries which were prevalent in the days of the Apostles, were derived from Egypt, which in its turn received them from Chaldea, and so in them we have the mystery of iniquity in germ. A search into the annals of the past would bring to light some of the horrible doctrines and corresponding practices associated with the mysteries, but the attitude of the Apostle must be ours:
and pass on to positive teaching.
In the Apocrypha the word "musterion" rarely rises above the idea of a secret, either of a king or a friend. Twice it refers to secret rites and ceremonies, but nothing more. The fact that the LXX did not use musterion until translating the book of Daniel, may be accounted for by many natural explanations, but when all is said, there must still be room left for the exercise of Divine Providence. Some lexicographers say that the Greek musterion is derived from the Hebrew mister, which is translated "secret" a number of times, yet the Greek translators never use musterion for that or its cognate sether. The only word translated musterion in the Greek O.T. is the Chaldee raz, which is used constantly throughout Daniel two, and as this word does not occur anywhere else in the O.T. we have no means of comparison.
While the Chaldee word raz stands alone, we are not left entirely without help, for on one occasion Daniel uses the Chaldee form of the Hebrew word sether, a word translated "secret" and "secret place" in many passages. This provides us with the link that we felt we needed, teaching us that in the Chaldee raz we have the equivalent word. The passage in Daniel 2:22, "He revealeth the deep and secret things", the LXX render "bathea kai apokrupha", reserving apparently the use of the musterion for the Gentile term. Its usage is confined to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and in two ways. Nebuchadnezzar had either actually forgotten the sub stance of his dream, or as a matter of policy withheld it in order to make sure that the interpretation should be something more than a clever human invention (Dan. 2:8,9,10,11).
When Daniel went into the presence of the king, he did not concentrate his attention on the substance of the dream, but its interpretation (Dan. 2:16), but of course, as the substance of the dream had to be known before the interpretation could be given, both dream and interpretation were included in the "secret" concerning which Daniel and his fellows prayed (Dan. 2:18,19). When Daniel went in before the king, Nebuchadnezzar asked him, "art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?" (Dan. 2:26). One cannot avoid the feeling that there is a Divine overruling in the choice of this word musterion here, and for this reason. We discover that when Israel began to make it manifest that they were going to reject the Saviour (Matt. 11-12), that the word "mystery" enters into the N.T. (Matt. 13), and that whereas the Apostles had been commanded earlier "go not into the way of the Gentiles" (Matt. 10:5), a change is indicated by the quotation of Isaiah forty-two, "in His name shall the Gentiles trust" (Matt. 12:21). Again at Acts twenty-eight, when Israel were set aside, Paul the prisoner commits to writing the epistles which reveal the dispensation of the Mystery (see ACTS28 and PARABLE).
At this point it may be useful to reproduce achart that has been designed to illustrate the idea behind this thought that musterion is rightly reserved for the book of Daniel, an idea summed up in the words, "where HISTORY(that is Israel's) ceases, MYSTERY begins".
In this Chart (p. 68) we seek to demonstrate the principle that where history ceases (so far as Israel is concerned) some element of mystery comes in. It might be the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; it might be the mysteries of God's purpose in appointing Nebuchadnezzar; it might be the introduction of the present dispensation of the Mysterybut the seyuence is the same. Daniel is the O.T. Paul. He became the prisoner of the Lord for the Gentiles. In the LXX of the O.T. the Greek word musterion occurs for the first time in the book of Daniel, where it is translated "secret".
In the Chart a series of downward steps is indicated by the passages referred to, commencing with the failure of Hezekiah, which introduces the prophecy concerning Babylon. The times of the Gentiles are coincident with the down-treading of Jerusalem, as Luke 21:24 will show. As Israel passed off the scene, the Gentile came into prominence.
The second illustration is taken from the first thirteen chapters of Matthew. The Messiah, Who must be the Son of David and of Abraham, is revealed as having come in the person of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. He also is attested by the witness of a divinely equipped forerunner and avoice from heaven. By observing our Lord's words in Matthew 11:20-24, we understand that one of the objects for which the mirac1es were wrought was the repentance of Israel. Their non-repentance leads to the threefold rejection of Matthew 12:6,41 and 42, where Christ is rejected in His offices of Priest, Prophet and King. Upon this non-repentance and rejection comes mystery in Matthew thirteen. It is suggestive too, that in Matthew 12:14-21, consequent upon the Council of the Pharisees, we find the reference to the blessing of the Gentiles.
The third illustration is the chief purpose of the Chart, to prove that the present dispensation of the Mystery is consequent upon the rejection of Israel in Acts twenty-eight. The prophecy of Joel which underlies the teaching of the day of Pentecost is insistent upon repentance (Joel 2:12-14). The restoration of Israel is set forth in the mirac1e of the lame man (Acts three), and the vision of the sheet that Peter saw (Acts ten) is an indication that Jewish exc1usiveness is going.
The twofold ministry of the Apostle Paul now comes to light (see Acts 20:17-24 and 26:16-18), revealing that his second ministry wou1d be accompanied with imprisonment, would be related to a second revelation from the Lord, and would be directed particularly to the Gentiles. The last "signs and wonders" that fu1fil the promise of Mark 16:17,18 are recorded (Acts 28:1-10), the last reference to the "hope of Israel" is made (Acts 28:20), the last citation of Isaiah 6:10 is made, and Israel become Lo-ammi (not My people, Hosea 1:9), the "salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles", and the dispensation of the Mystery is made known.
The way in which Isaiah 6:10 is cited at great crises in Israel's history is worthy of study.
As we have dealt very fully with Matthew thirteen under the heading PARABLE, we pass on to those references to the mysteries that have a bearing upon Dispensational Truth and the high calling of the Church. These references we will subdivide as follows:
(1) THE MYSTERY THAT HAD BEEN SILENCED
We now come to the closing section of the epistle to the Romans, a section that it is of the utmost importance to understand, and about which a great deal of discussion has arisen. The genuineness of the doxology has been disputed (1) on the ground that its position is unsuitable either at the end of chapter 14:23, where it stands in 190 manuscripts, or at the close of chapter sixteen; (2) on the ground of its "un-Pauline" lack of simplicity. The doxology is unusually elaborate for Paul's epistles, but there is of course no rule governing such a matter, and the nature of the subject in the case in point fully accounts for any complexity in its composition. The doxology is found:
When we consider the structure of the epistle as a whole, we shall see two things:
To appreciate the latter of these two statements it is essential that
we give the structure of the epistle.
The Structure of the Epistle to
the Romans as a whole
From this structure it will at once be seen that Romans 16:25-27 is
essential to complete the epistle. The reader who is acquainted with the
teaching of this epistle will be able to fill in the details of every
section, so completing the structural analysis. We must, however, show
the relationship of A 1:1-17 and A 16:25-27 as that is the subject now
It is evident that there is an intended contrast between these two passages. From the days of Abraham onward the gospel was no secret:
Here, however, in Romans 16:25-27 is a mystery, and that mystery something that had been silenced. It cannot, therefore, possibly be the same thing as the gospel preached in Romans one. It is not stated, however, in Romans I :1,2, or in any of the passages that link the gospel with the O.T. Scriptures, that the gospel was fully made known before the coming of Christ. Take for example Romans I: 17:
Without the fuller light of the gospel of Christ, it would not be evident from the passage in Habakkuk that the power of the gospel of Christ resided in the provision of a righteousness by faith. This will be evident if we quote the passage:
But this provision is now "revealed' , and in the hands of an inspired Apostle can be confirmed by such passages as Habakkuk 2:4, although the teaching does not lie on the surface. Again, having quoted many passages from the O.T. Scriptures, the Apostle says:
Here the "manifestation" takes place before the "witness" can be borne
by O.T. prophets. So in Romans 16:26, we read of something that has been
kept in silence, but which was then made manifest.
(2) THE REVELATION OF A MYSTERY
Let us set out this doxology so that we may the better consider it in
We observe that the section begins with "grace" and ends with "glory", both the statements contained in it being sealed with an "Amen". The words "to be able" are a translation of dunamai, which literally means "to be of power". This is balanced by the only "wise" God, the two statements revealing "the power of God and the wisdom of God" working together. Salvation is not in view in the same sense as it is in Romans 1:16. The Apostle here desires that those who are saved shall be established. He had desired this at the beginning of the epistle (Rom. 1:11), where, however, the establishing was connected with "some spiritual gift". Here in Romans sixteen the establishing is associated with what the Apostle calls "my gospel". This expression "my gospel" is used three times by Paul, and if we consider the context of each reference we shall be impressed with the magnitude of its sphere.
The first occurrence is in Romans 2:16. The Apostle is speaking of the Gentile world, un evangelized and unenlightened by the law; a world left to the voice of conscience and the witness of creation. To argue from Romans two that anyone who patiently continues in well doing will be saved, whether he believes the gospel or not, is to handle the Word of God deceitfully. Obviously, where no gospel message has ever penetrated it cannot be believed (Rom. 10:14), yet it is wrong to infer that Romans two teaches salvation by works. The truth is that salvation for any is neither by works, nor by faith, but by the finished work of Christ. The man who hears the gospel and believes is saved, but that salvation is a secret unknown to anyone, and unconfirmed to himself, apart from those good works that manifest the reality of the faith. The point of this passage is that while the un evangelized heathen cannot believe a message he has never heard, yet if he manifests by his works that he would have believed had he been given the opportunity, God reveals that this will be fully recognized "in that day".
The second occurrence of "my gospel" is in Romans 16:25, and the third in 2 Timothy 2:8:
These three occurrences have reference to the un evangelized heathen, to the revelation of a mystery hitherto kept in silence, and to the position of the Lord Jesus Christ in the dispensation of the Mystery. Three concentric circles, each narrower than the preceding one, yet each vitally associated with the peculiar ministry of Paul.
It is, then, evident that what Paul calls "my gospel" is a distinctive message, not to be confused with the good news proclaimed by others. Associated with this gospel is the preaching of Jesus Christ, "according to the revelation of a secret which hath been silenced in aionion times, but is now made manifest, and through prophetic writings".
The reader will be conscious that there is something missing in the above rendering. He naturally feels that the phrase "and through prophetic writings" should be followed by "as well as . . ." In other words, the particle te is often followed by kai, so that there appears to be an ellipsis here. Elsewhere te is passed over in our Version, but to be accurate it should always be translated. Look at the difference the recognition of the particle makes in 1 Corinthians 1:30.
Consequently we read Romans 16:26 as follows:
Every commentator speaks of the grammatical "gaps" that appear in this
great doxology, as though the Apostle's thoughts were too great to find
(3) WHAT WAS THE SECRET?
"According to the revelation of a secret". It is entirely unnecessary to assume that this is the secret, or mystery, revealed in Ephesians three. The dispensational section of Romans had a secret, the making known of which illuminated the problem resulting from Israel's failure (Rom. 11:25), and this is the theme of another doxology, namely, that which closes Romans eleven at verses 33-36.
When examining Romans 5:12-8:39, we see that it constitutes a unique section of the teaching of the epistle. It goes back to a period before there was a Jew, and before Abraham, to Adam. No one can read Genesis three without being conscious that there is much unexplained. Solomon writing in Ecclesiastes three says, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven", and in enumerating them he says, "A time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Eecles. 3:1,7). The word translated in the A.V., "kept secret", is sigao, translated elsewhere in the N.T., "keep silence" and "hold one's peace". Much important truth latent in Genesis 1-11 was "hushed" until the "time to speak" had arrived, and that was when Paul was inspired to write the epistle to the Romans.
The study of Genesis 1-11 in the light of Romans 5:12-8:39 is therefore of the utmost importance to the believer who would realize the peculiar character of his calling. From Genesis twelve until the end of the Acts, one nation holds the pre-eminent place, and that part of the O.T. which deals with Israel knows no salvation apart from that chosen race, or from the covenants made with Abraham.
If Israel should fail and fall, the prophets had nothing to tell us of how God would cope with the resulting problem. It is, accordingly, the purpose of the central section of Romans to reveal the relationship of man, as such (i.e. as neither Jew nor Gentile), to Adam and to Christ, irrespective both of promises made to "the fathers" , and the failure or success of "the chosen people". But this is not the theme of the O.T. prophecy in general. The period covered by the Scriptures from Genesis twelve to Matthew one, is as long as that covered by Genesis 1:3 to chapter eleven. In that same space of eleven chapters is written all that can be known of the first 2,000 years of this present creation. What is written is pregnant with truth, but it must await its appointed time, and just as the gospel itself revealed teaching hidden in O.T. Scriptures (as we have already seen in Habakkuk 2:3,4), so these early chapters of Genesis hold much basic teaching, throwing light on the position of the believer who is saved and justified without reference to the law of Moses.
Volumes have been written to associate the obedience of Christ with the law of Moses, whereas this law was but transient, it was "added because of transgressions", it was "found fault with", and passed away (Heb. 8:7). This secret has been hushed in aionian times. We read of some part of God's purpose as being related to a period "before aionian times" (Tit. 1:2, 2 Tim. 1:9), and in I Corinthians we read of "the wisdom of God in a mystery", which has been "hidden", and which God "foreordained before the ages" (1 Cor. 2:7). The Mystery of the prison epistles was "hidden from the ages, and from the generations" (Col. 1:26). These hidden subjects had "their own seasons" of manifestation, which manifestations were through the medium of "preaching", and "according to" a "commandment" (Tit. 1:3).
The mystery of Romans sixteen is not said to be related to a period "before age times", but silenced in or during age times. This secret is the theme of the central section of Romans, and its subject is Adam, not Abraham, man, not Israel or Gentile; the law of sin, not the law of Sinai.
What are the "prophetic writings" that Paul refers to? The words translated in the A.V., "the scriptures of the prophets", are not exactly the same as those used in Romans 1:2. In Romans 1:2 the original reads: dia ton propheton autou en graphais hagiais, whereas Romans 16:26 reads: dia te graphon prophetikon. The suggestion is made by some that not only a difference of expression is intended here, but a real difference, and that the reference in Romans 1:2 is to O.T. prophets, whereas that in Romans sixteen is to N.T. prophets. It may be so, but the reader should be aware that nothing in the language used constitutes a proof of this. Prophetikos is to prophetes, what pneumatikos is to pneuma, simply the adjectival form. As the only other occurrence of the word will show, every one of the O.T. prophecies are "prophetic writings" (2 Pet. 1:21). It was when the Apostle received commandment to make this early truth known, that the prophetic writings which had for generations held their secret began to speak.
The fact that what was made known both in Romans one and sixteen was "for the obedience of faith to all nations" , establishes the unity of purpose that links the whole of Romans together as an indivisible whole. There is no need to adopt the suggestion of Lightfoot that the doxology was added some years after. The ascription of praise is to the only wise God, and wisdom is associated with the unfolding purpose of the ages (Rom. 11:33, 1 Cor. 2:7, Eph. 1:8,9; 3:10). On this high note the epistle ends.
We have already demonstrated that Acts twenty-eight forms a dispensational
boundary, having on the one side Abrahamic covenants and promises, and
having on the other an entirely new dispensation. The terms of the Abrahamic
covenant cannot operate here, for Galatians 3:13,14 makes it clear that
the blessings of Abraham to the Gentiles and the redemption of Israel
go together and Israel went into their Lo-ammi
condition at Acts twenty-eight. If, therefore, the Gentile is to be saved,
and not only saved but called to a height of glory that transcends all
revelation hitherto given, then God must put into operation some new way
of dealing with men; in other words, a new dispensation must begin, and
did begin, at Acts 28:28. It is to the demonstration of the fact that
this new dispensation is the dispensation of the Mystery, that we now
ask the reader's attention.
(4) THE MVSTERIES IN EPHESIANS, COLOSSIANS
AND 1 TIMOTHY
There are four epistles that bear the marks of Paul's imprisonment,
and two of them deal very fully with the subject of the Mystery. These
epistles are Ephesians and Colossians. Let us note the references to the
The first epistle to Timothy is not a "prison" epistle, but it bears
marks of having been written after Paul had been liberated, and so describes
the newly-formed Church as it was at the beginning. There we have two
more references to the Mystery, which we will add for the sake of completeness:
This makes a total of twelve references to the subject after Acts twenty-eight,
and an examination of these, together with their contexts, should, under
God, prove a means of help and blessing in the appreciation of the high
and holy calling of the Church of the One Body.
THE MYSTERY IN EPHESIANS
Let us ob serve the use of the word mystery
in Ephesians. We find that the six references fall into two sections of
three each, the second section supplementing and explaining more fully
(5) THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY
The first mystery mentioned in Ephesians is "the Mystery of His will" which has in view a "dispensation of the fulness of the seasons" when Christ is to head up all things, "both which are in heaven and which are on earth". We have already seen that the corresponding reference to this is Ephesians 3:9, which we here quote from the R.V.: "and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the Mystery, which from all ages hath been hid in God Who created all things". We have quoted the R.V. because it recognizes the reading "dispensation" instead of "fellowship". The expression "all ages" is a free rendering-the "all" is not to be taken as though it existed in the original. Paul uses the word oikonomia "dispensation" five times. It may be as well to see the references together. We give Conybeare and Howson's translation, which, though it is a little free, seems to convey the intention of the Apostle:
To this selfsame "bond-slave of Jesus Christ" a further dispensation or stewardship was granted upon the failure of Israel at Acts twenty-eight:
Here we have a series of statements that put the new dispensation in a clear light:
A parallel passage in Colossians one makes Ephesians three even more c1ear and emphatic:
Additional items that give further light are the following:
We can now go back to Ephesians one and read again the first reference to this dispensation:
Where Colossians tells us that this dispensation of the Mystery "completes" the word of God, Ephesians tells us that this dispensation of the mystery of His will is "the fulness of the seasons". There is a contrast in Ephesians 2:12-19:
The "now" of verse 19 is the present season in contrast with "that season" when the Gentile was an alien. A new creation intervenes between verses 12 and 19. "The both" have been "made one"; this deals with the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile. Ephesians 1:10 speaks not of the Jew and the Gentile, but of the things in heaven and on earth being made one under the headship of Christ.
This is the reconci1iation spoken of in Co1ossians 1:20. Now all this is absolute1y new. Nowhere else in the whole range of the Scriptures can such things be discovered as are made known by the Apostle in these epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. Lest we be misunderstood, it is evident, we trust, that we speak of the "dispensational" revelations. Such blessed doctrines as redemption and forgiveness of Ephesians 1:7 have already been revealed and explained in earlier Scriptures.
To complete our references, we quote 1 Timothy 1:4 R.V.:
This has more to do with the faithful exercise of ministry, whatever it may be, than the revelation of any new truth, and, while inc1uding the dispensation of the Mystery so far as Timothy shared it with Paul, does not actually deal with it. We trust it is c1ear that the dispensational standing of the Church, the calling of the Gentile, and the revelation of the Mystery after Acts twenty-eight, constitute a unique revelation and stewardship.
It is essential that the reader should distinguish "The Mystery" of Ephesians 3:3, which had been hid in God until it was revealed to Paul, and the Mystery of Christ, which has been the subject of revelation right down the ages.
Ephesians three speaks not only of the Mystery as it relates to the new dispensational dealings of God with the Gentiles, but also with the Mystery of Christ. Now this mystery must not be read as meaning simply the fu1filment of prophecy. While many in Israel saw the teaching of their Scriptures as to the coming of the Messiah in glory and dominion, few saw the Mystery of the Messiah which related to His Coming in lowliness, rejection and suffering. Christ said, speaking of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, "many prophets and righteous men have desired to see these things . . . but have not seen them" (Matt. 13:17), and into the Mystery of Christ "angels desired to look" (1 Peter 1:12). Mystery necessitates revelation. It is something that cannot be inferred or arrived at by study.
First we will set out the structure of Ephesians 3: 1-13 where the two
We draw attention to the ending of this passage which indicates that
verses 4-7 are a parenthesis and that verse 3 reads on to verse 8. We
have therefore the means of a c1earer view of the theme before the Apostle,
by leaving the parenthesis out for a time, and observing his teaching
concerning the wondrous dispensation which he had received.
Such is the theme of verses 1-11, omitting the parenthesis. Coming to
verses 4-7 we learn more concerning this Mystery by way of contrast. The
Mystery of verses 1-3 and 8-11 is contrasted with the Mystery of Christ.
Let us again seek an analysis.
(6). THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST
Verse 6 in the A.V. reads on from verse 5, being connected by the word "that". The R.V. makes the connexion closer by adding in italic type the words "to wit". Any literal translation, however, is obliged to render einai as a statement of fact, and there is no word nor construction which necessitates "that" or "to wit". Instead of connexion, contrast is intended. Instead of the threefold fellowship of the Gentiles being the Mystery revealed to the Apostles and prophets and before them to the sons of men in other generations, it is entirely associated "with that gospel" where of Paul was made a minister, who in that capacity received the commission to enlighten all as to the dispensation of the Mystery, which instead of being revealed in other ages, or at the time to many prophets and apostles, had never been revealed at all, but had been hid from the ages in God and revealed only to the one chosen Apostle, Paul, when the time for its publication had arrived. Instead, therefore, of linking verse 6 with 5, we should link verse 6 with 7.
We do not arrive at the truth if we stop at the word gospel in verse
6. Scripture speaks of a series of sets of good news or "gospels" and
to ascertain the truth we must know that the gospel under consideration
was that which the Apostle Paul preached according to the gift of grace
of God which had given him the dispensation of this secret to administer.
The parenthesis of verses 4-7 stands therefore thus:
Isaiah, when he penned the fifty-third chapter of his prophecy, entered in some degree into the "Mystery of Christ" and shared with Paul, Peter and others that blessed truth. David too, when he wrote Psalm twenty-two perceived the sacred secret of Christ's rejection. But neither Isaiah, David, nor Peter had any knowledge of the terms of the Mystery as revealed in Ephesians 3:6. That was hidden by God in Himself. It constituted a part of the purpose of the ages, but was a part, pertaining to the heavenly section, which had never been made known. It is difficult to decide between the A.V. rendering of Ephesians 3:5, which joins the words en pneumati (by the spirit) to the Apostles and prophets, thereby dec1aring the source of their inspiration, and the alternative rendering which makes the words "in spirit" commence the statement as to the threefold fellowship of the Gentiles.
Matthew 22:43 supplies an instance where en pneumati is used of inspiration. "How then doth David in spirit call him Lord?" Rom. 8:9 supplies an instance where the words are used not of inspiring apostles and prophets, but as indicating a sphere of blessing. "You are not in flesh, but in spirit". The general trend of the context and the recognition of the canon that the Apostle's style allows of no superfluous words, causes every sentence to be pregnant with meaning. No item can be eliminated without injury to the sense and teaching. The question of inspiration is not in view. Whatever had been made known of the subject under discussion, either to Paul or to the other Apostles, had been "revealed" which carries with it the thought of inspiration.
On the other hand a change of sphere is a feature which the Apostle
emphasizes in this epistle. lts blessings are "in the heavenlies" as well
as "in Christ". lts practical outworkings are "in the Lord", and the special
feature with which Ephesians 3:6 is in direct contrast is given in Ephesians
2:11, en sarki
"in flesh". In verse twelve another sphere is mentioned, "in the world".
With the addition of the word "one" the change is found indicated in 2:18, "access to the Father in One Spirit", and again in 2:22, "an habitation of God in spirit". In chapter three the Apostle pursues the theme of the change of dispensation. The inspiration of Scripture or of apostles is extraneous to the subject. Consequently, as we are free to choose, we feel that 3:6 must commence with the words "in spirit". This is the essential condition of blessing in this dispensation. The blessings themselves are "all spiritual" and can only be received by those who are "in spirit" .
In the next place we pause to note the class who are spoken of as being thus blessed in spirit. It is usual for the words to be added, at least mentally, to make the verse read, "that the Gentiles together with the Jews should be fellow-heirs, etc.", but this idea is unwarranted. 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 blessed 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 the Gentiles. The only place that a Jew can have in the dispensation of the Mystery is to lose his nationality and enter this equal calling as a sinner saved by grace, even as the Gentile does.
The threefold equality of this new sphere must now be noted:
In each case the word commences with su which means "with". The best word in English to fit the three statements is the word "joint". We can say "joint-heirs", a "joint-body", and "joint-partakers".
In Hebrews 11:9 we read of Isaac and Jacob who sojourned with Abraham as "heirs with him of the same promise" . 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. In 1 Peter 3:7 the husband, though recognizing his wife as a "weaker vessel", is nevertheless enjoined to remember that they were both "heirs together of the grace of life". The equality among all believers in the dispensation of the Mystery is expressed in similar terms, namely co-heirs. This inheritance is the subject of Ephesians 1:11 and 18, and of Colossians 1:12. It is a predestinated allotment, it is "in the light".
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 aU 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 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 on these equal terms.
The third item is "joint-partakers", but such an expression does not convey the truth until the statement is completed:
The better readings omit the words "of Him", and give the title "Christ Jesus". ("His promise" in the A.V.) "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 all Israel, the nations, the groaning creation, and the Church of God. Nevertheless, we, according to His promise, look for higher things than Abraham hoped or the Prophets dreamed.