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Paul & the Mystery
Copyright © Tim Warner

“Paul himself also — after that the Lord spoke to him out of heaven, and showed him that, in persecuting His disciples, he persecuted his own Lord, and sent Ananias to him that he might recover his sight, and be baptized —  ‘preached,’ it is said, ‘Jesus in the synagogues at Damascus, with all freedom of speech, that this is the Son of God, the Christ.’ This is the mystery which he says was made known to him by revelation, that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, the same is Lord of all, and King, and God, and Judge, receiving power from Him who is the God of all, because He became ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies,  III, 12:9)

“True knowledge, then, consists in the understanding of Christ, which Paul terms the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery, which ‘the natural man receiveth not,’ the doctrine of the cross; of which if any man ‘taste,’ he will not accede to the disputations and quibbles of proud and puffed-up men, who go into matters of which they have no perception. For the truth is unsophisticated; and ‘the word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart,’ as the same apostle declares, being easy of comprehension to those who are obedient.” (Irenaeus, Frag. xxxvi)

The Meaning of "Mystery" in Scripture
There are several passages where Paul refers to the "mystery" kept secret since the world began. This has been taken by dispensationalists to mean something not at all contained in the Old Testament. But, the word "mystery" does not normally mean something totally unheard of, but something not understood. Thayer's Greek lexicon says of the word "mystery," "in the Scriptures, a hidden or secret thing, not obvious to the understanding." Thayer also points out that in rabbinic writings, "it denotes the mystic or hidden sense: of an OT saying, Eph. 5:32." The word "mystery" merely implies something enigmatic, contained in the Old Testament Scriptures in cryptic language, but the meaning withheld until Christ revealed it to His disciples.

There are many cases in the New Testament as well as the Greek Old Testament (LXX) where the word "mystery" is used. In each case it refers, not to something totally unknown, but to something not understood without divine revelation. Here is one such passages where the context plainly defines the word "mystery" for us.

Mark 4:10-12,33-34
10 But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.
11 And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,
12 "so that 'Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.' "
33 And with many such parables He spoke the word to them [the crowds] as they were able to hear it.
34 But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.

A "mystery" according to Jesus was an enigma, a kind of riddle, known but not understood without revelation from God. Jesus' parables were heard by the people, but the meaning was purposely withheld from them. They HEARD the parables, but they did not really HEAR them. They SAW, but could not really SEE. This is what Jesus calls a "mystery." Therefore, Jesus' parables remained a "mystery" to the Jews because they were not privy to the interpretations. In contrast, Jesus revealed his parables privately to His disciples, because it was given to them to understand the mystery.

Carrying this concept into Paul's use of the word "mystery," we see that there is no reason to conclude that the "mystery" is wholly missing from the Old Testament Scriptures and prophecies to Israel.

The Meaning of "Revealed" in Scripture
Paul commonly used the word "revealed" in relation to the present status of the "mystery." What does "revealed" mean? The most common definition is "uncovered" or "unveiled." This too implies it was formerly "hidden" in the sense of not being understood, rather than wholly unknown.

Matt 10:26-27
26 "Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.
27 "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.

Matt 11:25
25 At that time Jesus answered and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.

In both of these passage, Jesus was referring to something understood by some but not by others. When something is "revealed" means we have full understanding and knowledge. This term is used of Christ's coming as well. Paul told the Thessalonians that Jesus will be "revealed from heaven with His mighty angels" (2 Thess. 1:7). Was Jesus someone never before known? No. But, He has been unknown by most of the world. Paul told the Thessalonians that the "mystery of iniquity" would be "revealed" when the Restrainer moves out of the way (2 Thess. 2:7-8). Is the "mystery of iniquity" something completely unknown prior to the appearance of Antichrist? No, Paul informed the Thessalonians of this 2000 years ago. When "revealed" is used in apposition to "mystery," it is quite obvious that the writer means something known but not fully understood is to be fully made known to the understanding. This is the consistent application of these terms in Scripture, and should guide our understanding of Paul's explanation of the "mystery."

The Source of Dispensationalism's "Mystery Program"
Traditional dispensationalism is entirely dependent on a false view of the "mystery" Paul preached. At the beginning of this paper we provided two quotes from Irenaeus, second century pastor and martyr, explaining the early Church's understanding of the "mystery." In short, the "mystery" was the Gospel contained in the Old Testament in enigmatic form. Irenaeus was the chief Christian apologist against the heresies of Gnosticism. The Gnostics severed the Old Testament from the New, and the God of the Jews from Jesus and the Father. They held perverted views of Christ and the Gospel. You may be surprised to discover that the view of the "mystery" held by traditional dispensationalists today is the same view some of the Gnostic cults held in Irenaeus' day. The idea that the "mystery" Paul preached was something revealed to him alone, and was not known or proclaimed until Paul, is not only taught by traditional dispensationalists, but was also taught by the Gnostic heretic, Marcion.

“With regard to those (the Marcionites) who allege that Paul alone knew the truth, and that to him the mystery was manifested by revelation, let Paul himself convict them, when he says, that one and the same God wrought in Peter for the apostolate of the circumcision, and in himself for the Gentiles. Peter, therefore, was an apostle of that very God whose was also Paul; and Him whom Peter preached as God among those of the circumcision, and likewise the Son of God, did Paul [declare] also among the Gentiles. For our Lord never came to save Paul alone, nor is God so limited in means, that He should have but one apostle who knew the dispensation of His Son. And again, when Paul says, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those bringing glad tidings of good things, and preaching the Gospel of peace,’ he shows clearly that it was not merely one, but there were many who used to preach the truth. And again, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, when he had recounted all those who had seen God after the resurrection, he says in continuation, ‘But whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed,’ acknowledging as one and the same, the preaching of all those who saw God after the resurrection from the dead.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, 13:1)

The Achilles' Heel of Traditional Dispensationalism
If there is one passage that is most problematic for traditional dispensationalism's "mystery Church age" it is the following.

Rom 16:25-26
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began
26 but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith

Paul plainly stated that the "mystery" was currently being revealed "by the prophetic Scriptures." While grammatically the term "prophetic Scriptures" COULD refer to the Epistles of the Paul as some dispensationalists claim, the term itself certainly does not demand it or even imply it. An examination of the use of the word "Scriptures" in the rest of the New Testament reveals that in every single case "Scriptures" refers to the Old Testament. Sometimes it is argued that in this case the absence of the definite article means Paul was not speaking of the Old Testament. But, there are other cases in the New Testament where "Scriptures" appears without the article also. In ALL of these cases the Old Testament Scriptures are definitely in view in the contexts. The grammatical difference in the passages where no article is used is due to the use of an adjective to modify "Scriptures." For example, Rom. 1:2 has "holy Scriptures" without the article; 2 Tim. 3:16 has "all Scripture" without the article; and 1 Pet. 1:20 has "prophetic Scriptures" again without the article. In all three cases the contexts plainly indicate the writer had the Old Testament Scriptures in view. This is no different that what we have in Rom. 16:26 with "prophetic Scriptures." In all three cases mentioned, there is no article, and "Scriptures" is preceded by an adjective (exactly as in Rom. 16:26).

That Paul has in view the Old Testament Scriptures as revealing the "Mystery" is clear from a comparison of this passage with his opening comments in Romans. Interestingly, Paul's very first statement in Romans is virtually identical to his very last statement in this Epistle.
Rom 1:1-5
1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God
2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures,
3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,
4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name,
Rom 16:25-27
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began
26 but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith--
27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.

Note that Paul's very FIRST point in his Roman epistle is identical to his very last point in the very same epistle. Lets compare these first and last passages of the Roman Epistle point by point. Both refer to the Gospel and Paul's commission to the Gentiles.

1. In ch. 1 he refers to himself as being "separated unto the Gospel of God," and in ch. 16 he says "my Gospel," both statements connecting Paul himself to the Gospel.

2. In ch. 1 he says this Gospel was "promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures," and in ch. 16 he says the same Gospel has been manifest "by the prophetic Scriptures."

3. In ch. 1 he indicates the dissemination of this Gospel among the Gentiles "for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name," and in ch. 16 he says, "made known to all nations ...  for obedience to the faith."

Also notice that Paul plainly equated the "mystery" with the Gospel in 16:25. Therefore, there is no escaping the conclusion that the  "mystery" was contained in the Old Testament!

There is another reason to think that this passage eliminates Paul as being the first to comprehend or proclaim the mystery. Notice:

Rom 16:25
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began

The bold part above is translated from the Greek as follows:
to euaggelion  mou  kai to khrugma  Ihsou  Cristou
the gospel (of) me  and the preaching (of)  Jesus  Christ

The first thing we should observe from the grammar is the use of the definite article with "kai," the Greek word usually rendered "and." Typically, when "kai" (and) separates two nouns, and both nouns also have the definite article, they are referring to two different things. This is from the Granville Sharp rule, defined as follows:

"If two nouns of the same case are connected by a "kai" [and] and the article is used with both nouns, they refer to different persons or things. If only the first noun has the article, the second noun refers to the same person or thing referred to in the first." (Vaughn and Gideon, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979, p. 83.)

Granville Sharp himself defined his sixth rule as follows: "And as the insertion of the copulative KAI between nouns of the same case, without articles, (according to the fifth rule,) denotes that the second noun expresses a different person, thing, or quality, from the preceding noun, so, likewise, the same effect attends the copulative when each of the nouns are preceded by articles."

In this case, we have Paul's GOSPEL and the PREACHING of Jesus Christ. Since both "Gospel" and "preaching" have the definite article, Paul was listing these as separate things. If Paul meant "the preaching ABOUT Jesus Christ," he would not have used the definite article before "preaching," because the Gospel Paul preached WAS the preaching ABOUT Jesus Christ. He would have written as follows:
to euaggelion  mou  kai
khrugma  Ihsou  Cristou
the gospel (of)  me  and
preaching (of)  Jesus  Christ

Paul meant to distinguish his own Gospel preaching from "the preaching of Jesus Christ" by his use of the definite article.

The second thing we should observe is the construction of the phrase, "the preaching of Jesus Christ." In Greek, it is "to khrugma Ihsou Cristou." "The preaching" (to khrugma) is in the accusative case, meaning "preaching" is the object of the verb, and not "Jesus Christ." Instead, "Jesus Christ" is in the genitive case, meaning "of" or belonging to (used as a possessive). In other words, it is properly translated "Jesus Christ's preaching." That this is the correct rendering can be shown from the following verse which uses exactly the same construction in the Greek.

Matt 12:41
41 "The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.

Here, we also have the definite article, "preaching" is in the accusative case, and "Jonah" in the genitive case. Once again, we could properly translate this "Jonah's preaching." The context clearly bears out this rendering as correct (rather than "the preaching ABOUT Jonah"). The same thing applies in every case in the NT where "the preaching" appears in the accusative case followed by someone identified in the genitive case (cf. Luke 11:32, 1 Cor. 2:4, 1 Cor. 15:14).

Consequently, we could translate Rom. 16:25 as follows; "Now to Him who is able to establish you, according to my gospel and Jesus Christ's preaching, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began."

Of course, if Paul was speaking of Jesus' own preaching about the mystery, where is that recorded in Scripture? The answer is in Luke 24. The day of Jesus' resurrection, He fully revealed the "mystery" to His disciples. First, He revealed the mystery to two of them on the road to Emmaus. Later that afternoon He revealed the mystery to the rest of them as they met together. That Paul was referring to Jesus' revealing the mystery to His disciples seems fairly obvious from a comparison of Rom. 16:26-26 with Luke 24.
Rom 1:1-5
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

Rom 16:25-26
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began
26 but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith

Luke 24
25 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
48 And ye are witnesses of these things.

What we have here is the "revelation of the mystery" directly by the preaching of Jesus Christ to His disciples out of the Old Testament prophetic Scriptures. You can see the "revelation" of the mystery in the statement, "then opened He their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures." This was a supernatural act of Jesus Himself, coupled with His own expounding every Old Testament passage that spoke of Him. Prior to this, the disciples did not clearly understand any of these Old Testament passages, and neither did the Jewish leadership. And it was further hidden from the Jews by the parables of Jesus. Yet, just seven weeks later, Peter preached his first sermon, and did a masterful job of expounding the Psalms in such a way that they revealed Jesus death and resurrection! Peter had a good grasp of the "mystery," because his understanding had been opened, and he paid attention to "the preaching of Jesus Christ" as He began at Moses and the prophets, and expounded in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

Notice also in the quote above from Luke 24, that the ultimate goal of Jesus' revealing the mystery to His disciples was so that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations" (Luke 24:47). Notice the similar language of Paul, "made known to all nations ... for the obedience of faith." Can there be any doubt that Paul was referencing Luke 24? And Paul's statement that the revealing of the mystery was "by the prophetic Scriptures" is exactly what Luke records that Jesus first did! He expounded ALL of the "prophetic Scriptures" contained in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, everything concerning Himself. This explains why Paul used the words "prophetic Scriptures" instead of "Scriptures of the prophets." The latter phrase implies a limited scope only to the section of the Old Testament the Jews called "The Prophets" (Isaiah-Malachi). But, Luke says Jesus revealed the prophetic things concerning Himself from the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. While the Law of Moses is not normally indicated by the term "the Prophets," it is most certainly included by the term "prophetic Scriptures." Jesus expounded from all of the "prophetic Scriptures" (from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms) the things concerning Himself! That even the Psalms are prophetic about Christ is easily demonstrated from Peter's preaching seven weeks later in Acts 2&3.

Luke was Paul's traveling companion, and his written Gospel was used as an aid in Paul's missionary activity. So, it is no surprise that Paul cited Luke here, or at least both cited the same oral tradition.

So that you don't consider my interpretation of Rom. 16:25-26 to be my own "private interpretation," I offer the commentary of John Chrysostom (AD 347- 370), preacher of Antioch and Constantinople,  whose native tongue was Greek, and who was in a much better position to interpret the ancient Greek than modern scholars.

"And after saying, "to stablish," he proceeds to give the mode of it, "according to my Gospel;" and this was what one would do to show that as yet they were not firmly fixed, but stood, though with wavering. Then to give a trustworthiness to what he says, he proceeds, "and the preaching of Jesus Christ;" that is, which He Himself preached. But if He preached it, the doctrines are not ours, but the laws are of Him. And afterwards, in discussing the nature of the preaching, He shows that this gift is one of much benefit, and of much honor; and this he first proves from the person of the declarer thereof, and then likewise from the things declared. For it was glad tidings. Besides, from His not having made aught of them known to any before us. And this he intimates in the words, "according to the revelation of the mystery." And this is a sign of the greatest friendliness, to make us share in the mysteries, and no one before us. "Which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest." For it had been determined long ago, but was only manifested now. How was it made manifest? "By the Scriptures of the Prophets." Here again he is releasing the weak person from fear. For what dost thou fear? is it lest thou depart from the Law? This the Law wishes, this it foretold from of old." (John Chrysostom, Homily XXVII)

And here is the commentary of John Gill, Greek and Hebrew scholar of the 18th century.

"The apostle calls the Gospel his, not because he was the author of it, or the subject of it; but because he was the minister of it; it was that Gospel which he was sent and qualified to preach, and did preach fully and faithfully, and which he explains by the following clauses:
and the preaching of Jesus Christ: being that Gospel which Jesus Christ himself preached, for which he was anointed and sent, and which first began to be spoken by him in its power and purity, and in such a manner as it never was before or since: and of which he also is the subject; it treats of his person, offices, righteousness, blood, sacrifice, and salvation; and which when preached aright is done in his name, by his authority, through gifts, grace, and strength received from him, and with a view to his glory: it follows as a further explanation of it,
according to the revelation of the mystery; by which is meant, not, as some think, only the calling and conversion of the Gentiles through the preaching of the Gospel, though what is said of it well agrees with it; see (Ephesians 3:3-5) ; nor merely the mystery of Christ's incarnation and redemption by him; but the whole Gospel, and all the truths of it, which is often in Scripture called a "mystery"." (Rom. 16:25-26)

Paul wrote that the mystery was being made known to the nations by the "prophetic Scriptures." And that it was revealed both by his preaching of the Gospel, as well as Jesus Christ's own preaching. The mystery was contained in the Old Testament Scriptures as an enigma. It was hidden using certain grammatical devices which are clearly uncovered for us in Peter's sermon in Acts 2. The "mystery" was made know by revelation (opening their understanding) and by the preaching of Jesus to His disciples from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Jesus then sent them to the Gentile nations with this message. When Paul referred to "my Gospel" and "Jesus Christ's preaching" he was speaking of the TWO channels the revelation of the mystery had taken. The first channel was orally from Jesus to the other eleven Apostles, who then also preached to the Gentile nations. The second channel was through Paul by special revelation (Eph. 3:3- 4). In Paul's case, special revelation was necessary because he was not first a disciple of Jesus, learning these things from Him in person. All of these things prove that the "mystery" is not some secret "Church age" or separate body of "elect." It was the whole plan of God to redeem mankind, not only the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. And that all of the redeemed would be joined in one body, "in Christ."

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