The English word "mystery" is a transliteration of the Greek word musterion, (*0) which means a sacred secret. It occurs in the Septuagint Version (280 B.C.) nine times as the equivalent for the Chaldee raz in the Chaldee portion of "Daniel", which means to conceal; hence, something concealed that can be revealed, viz. in Dan. 2:18, 19, 27, 28, 29, 30, 47, and 4:9.
It occurs frequently in the Apocryphal books; which, though of no use for establishing doctrine, are of great value in determining the meaning of Biblical usage of Greek words. In these books musterion always means the secret of friends, or of a king, &c. (*1) See Tobit 12:7, 11. Judith 2:2. Wisdom 2:22 (transl. "mystery"); 14:23. Eccl. 22:22; 27:16, 17, 21. 2Macc. 13:21. (R.V.). The passage in Judith is remarkable: for Nabuchodonosor calls his captains and great men together just before entering on a campaign and "communicated with them his secret counsel", lit. "the mystery of his will". This is exactly the same usage as in Eph. 1:9, except that the Gr. word for will or counsel is different. (*2)
By the end of the second century A.D. it was used interchangeably with
tupos (= type), sunbolon (= symbol), and parabole
When we find the Greek word musterion rendered
in the Latin Vulgate of Eph. 5:32, it is clear that it was used as meaning
a secret sign or symbol, and not in the modern meaning put
upon the word "Sacrament", i.e. "holy mysteries".
Paul was not commissioned to put in writing the "purpose" of God which was "before the overthrow of the world" (Ap. 146), until that dispensation was ended. What this "great secret" was can only be learned fully from the Prison Epistles. There alone can we find the things which had been concealed and kept secret "since the world began" (Rom. 16:25); "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men" (Eph. 3:5); "which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God" (Eph. 3:9); "which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest" (Col. 1:26), where "now" (Gr. nun) with the pret. = just now, recently.
The special scriptures which describe this secret are the postscript of Rom. 16:25, 26. Eph. 3:1-12. Col. 1:24-27. The mention of "the mystery" in Rom. 16:25, 26 has perplexed many, because the revelation of it is specifically propounded in the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Hence it has been suggested that the Epistle originally ended at Rom .16:24 with the Benediction (or even at v. 20 (see the marginal notes in the R.V.,) and that the ascription (vv. 25-27) was added by the apostle after he reached Rome (1) in order to complete the structure by making it correspond with the ascription in ch. 11:33-36; and (2) to complete the Epanodos or Introversion and thus to contrast "God's gospel", which was revealed of old by the prophets of the Old Testament and never hidden (1:2, 3) with the mystery which was always hidden and never revealed or even mentioned until 16:25-27. See Longer Note p. 1694.
In any case, while there is no doubt about the general order of the
Epistles, the actual dates are conjectural, and rest only upon individual
opinions as to the internal evidence (Ap. 180). And, after all, Rom.
16:25-27 is not the revelation of the mystery as given in the Prison Epistles,
but an ascription of glory to Him Who had at length made it manifest by
prophetic writings (not "the writings of the prophets", for it is the adjective
"prophetic", not the noun "prophecy" as in 2Pet. 1:20). Romans
and Ephesians are thus brought together as two central Epistles
of the chronological groups: the one ending one group, and the other
beginning the next, both being treatises rather than epistles, and both
having Paul for their sole author, while in all the other Epistles he has
others associated with him.
In Eph. 3:5 it is stated to be "now revealed". This cannot mean that it had been revealed before, but not in the same manner as "now"; because it is stated that it had never been revealed at all. It concerns Gentiles; and it was "revealed unto His holy apostles (*3) and prophets by the Spirit", that the Gentiles should be joint-heirs, and a joint-body, (*4) and [joint] partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel (see Notes on Eph. 3:5, 6). We cannot know the whole purpose of God in keeping this concealed all through the ages; but one thing we can clearly see, viz. that had God made it known before, Israel would of necessity have had an excuse for rejecting the Messiah and His kingdom.
As to ourselves, the question of "who is in the secret?" does not arise.
For we are not to suppose that all who do not know of it are "lost".
One thing we know, and that is : it is made known for "the obedience
of faith", or for "faith-obedience" (Rom 16.26).
It is a subsequent revelation; and the question is, do we believe
it and obey it by acting according to it?
(*0) It is from mueo = to initiate or admit to secrets; and mustes was used of the person so initiated.
(*1) In subsequent Revisions of the Sept., Theodotion (A.D. 160)
uses it for the Heb. sod (Job 15:8. Ps.
(*3) These were not those of the Old Testament dispensation, but were
the subjects of a promise by the
(*4) Greek sussomos, a remarkable word occurring only here in