The English word "mystery" is
a transliteration of the Greek word musterion, 1
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 Daniel 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, etc. 2 See Tobit 12:7,11
. Judith 2:2 . Wisdom 2:22 .
(transliterated "mysteries"); 14:23 . Ecclesiastics 22:22
; 27:16,17,21 . 2 Maccabees 13:21
. (Revised Version). The passage in Judith is remarkable: for Nabuchodonsor
calls his captains and great men together just before entering on a campaign, and "communicated
with them his secret counsel", literally "the
mystery of his will". This is exactly the same usage as in Ephesians 1:9
, except that the Greek word for will or counsel is different.3
By the end of the second century A.D. it was used interchangeably
with tupos (= type), sumbolon (= symbol), and parabole
When we find the Greek word musterion rendered sacramentum
in Latin Vulgate of Ephesians 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".
It is evident to all that God has made known His will "at
sundry times and in divers manners" (Hebrews 1:1,2 ). He
also kept certain things secret, and revealed them from time to time according to His
purpose and counsels. Hence the word musterion is connected with several concealed
or secret things in the New Testament.
1. It was used of the secrets of the kingdom; which had
been concealed, until the Lord revealed them to His disciples (not to the People) in
Matthew 13:10,11 . It had not before been known that the kingdom
would be rejected, and that there would be a long interval between that rejection and its
being set up in glory. This was concealed even from the prophets who foretold it (1
Peter 1:10-12 ).
2. In Romans 11 it is used in connection with the duration of
Israel's blindness. That blindness itself was not a secret, for it had been foretold in
Isaiah 6:9,10 . But the duration of the blindness was
kept a "secret" from Isaiah and only revealed through Paul (Romans
3. It was used of a fact connected with resurrection, which had never
before been made known to the sons of men.
The Lord had spoken of it to Martha (John 11:25,26
), but though she believed it, she did not understand that to those who should
be alive and remain to His Coming the Lord would be "the life",
and they would "never die" (verse 26 ).
The Thessalonians who "received the word"
were not left in ignorance of it (1 Thessalonians 4:13
), for the Lord's words in John 11:25,26 . were explained
But in 1 Corinthians 15:51
the secret was fully and plainly shown; and it was that "we shall
not all sleep". Up to that moment the universal belief had been that we must
all die (compare Hebrews 9:27 ). Thenceforward it was revealed and
made known for faith that all would not die, but that those who are alive and remain
(literally; remain over) unto the Lord's Coming will not die at all (see note 1
Thessalonians 4:15 , and compare Philippians 3:14
4. Side by side with these Divine secrets there was the secret of the
[foretold] lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:7
compare Daniel 12:4 ). It was already working during the
dispensation covered by "Acts"; and had the nation repented at the
call of those "other servants" of Matthew 22:4
(Acts 2:38 ; 3:12-26 ; etc.), those
secret counsels of "the lawless one" and "the
transgressors" would have "come to the full" (Daniel
8:23 ). But now they are postponed and in abeyance until the
5. But "the great secret" which concerns us
to-day was not revealed until after the close of that dispensation covered by "Acts".
(See Acts 28:17-31 and Appendix 180 and 181.)
Paul was not commissioned to put in writing the "purpose"
of God which was "before the overthrow of the World" (Appendix 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" (Romans16:25
); "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men"
(Ephesians 3:5 ); "which from the beginning of the world
hath been hid in God" (Ephesians 3:9 ); "which
hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest"
(Colossians 1:26 ), where "now" (Greek; nun)
with the preterit = just now, recently.
The special Scriptures which describe this secret are the postscript
of Romans 16:25,26 . Ephesians 3:1-12 .
Colossians 1:24-27 .
The mention of "the mystery" in Romans 16:25,26
. has perplexed many, because the revelation of it is specifically propounded in
the Epistle of Ephesians.
Hence it has been suggested that the Epistle originally ended at
Romans 16:24 with the Benediction (or even at verse 20
(see the marginal notes in the Revised Version), and that the ascription
(verses 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 chapter
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 page 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 (Appendix 180). And, after all, Romans 16:25-27
is not the revelation of the mystery as given in the Prison Epistle, 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 2 Peter 1:20
). Romans and Ephesians are thus brought together as
the 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.
As to the great secret itself, it is certain that it cannot refer to
the blessing of Gentiles in connection with Israel. This is perfectly clear from the fact
that that was never a secret. Both blessings were made known at the very
same time (Genesis 12:3 ); and this well-known fact is constantly
referred to in the Old Testament. See Genesis 22:18 ; 26:4
; etc. Deuteronomy 32:8 . Psalms 18:49
; 67:1,2 ; 72:17 ; 117:1
. Isaiah 11:10 ; 49:6 . Luke 2:32
. Romans 15:8-12 .
But the secret revealed in the Prison Epistles was never the subject
of previous revelation.
In Ephesians 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 the Gentiles; and it was "revealed unto His
holy apostles 4 and prophets by the Spirit",
that the Gentiles should be joint-heirs, and a joint-body,5
and [joint] partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel
(see the Notes on Ephesians 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, videlicet that had God made it known
before, Israel would of necessity have had an excuse for rejecting the Messiah and His
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" (Romans
It is a subsequent revelation; and the question is, do
we believe it and obey it by acting according to it?
Abraham had several Divine revelations made to him. From this call in
Genesis 11 he was a "righteous" man. In chapter 12 he believed God
concerning His promises of the future. In chapter 13 he believed God concerning the
promise of the Land. But in chapter 15 God made a further revelation concerning the seed
which He would give him; and it is written, "Abraham believed in the Lord, and
it was counted (or imputed) unto him for righteousness".
Even so with ourselves and the subsequent revelation of the mystery
in the Prison Epistles. Let us believe it, and we may be sure it will be counted unto us
for something, for some blessing, which those who refuse to believe it will lose.
1 It is from mueo = to
initiate or admit to secrets; and mustes was used of the person so
2 In subsequent Revision of the
Septuagint Theodotion (A.D. 160) uses it for the Hebrew sod
(Job 15:8 . Psalms 25:14 . Proverbs 20:19
). See Notes in loc.
3 In Judith 2:2
it is boule (Appendix 102. 4), while in Ephesians
1:9 it is thelema (Appendix
4 These were not those of the Old
Testament dispensation, but were the subjects of a promise by the Lord Himself in Matthew
23:34 . Luke 11:49 . which was fulfilled in
Ephesians 4:8,11 . See the notes on these passages and Appendix 189.
5 Greek sussomos, a
remarkable word occurring only here in the New Testament.