WHAT EXACTLY IS THE MYSTERY THAT HAD BEEN HID IN GOD?
From my discussions with Christians who are honestly searching the Word of God, I have realized that many do not really understand exactly what the secret is that had been hid in God. It is with that in mind that I offer this study.
Unfortunately, many do not understand the difference between the mystery of Christ and the mystery that had been revealed to Paul after the end of the Acts period. The correct understanding of these two mysteries is crucial to a correct understanding of the mystery that had been hid in God. The reader is therefore encouraged to examine the paper on this web-site The Mysteries Of The New Testament to see that the mystery of Christ is not part of the mystery that had been hid in God.
The mystery that had been hid in God is revealed in Eph. 3:6. The KJV reads “That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel”. A better understanding of some of the Greek words used in this verse will help a great deal in determining the correct understanding of this verse.
The Greek word translated “Gentiles” in the KJV of Eph. 3:6 is “ethnos”. “Ethnos” occurs 164 times and is translated “Gentiles” 93 times, “nations” 64 times, “Heathen 5 times and “people” 2 times.
The truth that “ethnos” is used of Gentiles as opposed to Jews is found in Matt. 10:5-6, “…..Go not into the way of the Gentiles….but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Here, it is clear that Gentiles are all those who are not Jews.
The truth that “ethnos” is also used of a nation is shown in such verses as Romans 4:17, where in reference to Abraham we read, “I have made thee a father of many nations“. I believe the reader will see that to translate “ethnos” in this verse to read, “I have made thee a father of many Gentiles” totally destroys the sense of this verse. In other words, we must use common sense when determining whether “ethnos” means nations or Gentiles.
Consider also Acts 13:18-19, “And about the time of forty years suffered He their manners in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, He divided their land to them by lot”. Obviously, God did not destroy seven Gentiles and give their land to Israel. Again, common sense tells us that in this verse “ethnos” does not mean Gentiles, i.e. individuals in the nations, but nations as entities.
As mentioned above, “ethnos” is used by the Holy Spirit for Gentiles and for nations as entities. But nations are made up of individuals, and the Bible also uses the word “ethnos” in reference to the individuals in the nations as well as to the nations as an entity in themselves. The truth that “ethnos” is used of people in the nations is seen in John 11:51-52, “…..he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation (ethnos); and not for that nation (ethnos”) only…..”. It is clear that Jesus died, not for a nation as such, but for the people in the nation(s). And we read in Acts 24:17, “…after many years I came to bring alms to my nation (Gr. ethnos)…”. In this verse it is Paul who is saying that he brought alms to the people of Israel. Acts 17:26 uses “ethnos” to refer to all peoples of all nations, including Israel. “And hath made of one blood all nations (Gr. ethnos) of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth……”.
So “ethnos” is used of Gentiles, it is used of nations as entities, and it is used of people of all nations, including Israel.
As we continue our study the reader will see that I am suggesting that in Eph. 3:6 “ethnos” refers to people in the nations in reference to heirs and partakers, but to nations as entities in reference to “sussoma”, i.e. together bodies. It may seem strange that the same word (“ethnos”) could be used of both individuals and nations in the same sentence, so I would like to comment on that seeming difficulty.
In point of fact we have the exact same situation in English. That is to say, in English too we have words that can mean two very different things and can be used in the same sentence. Let’s say we read the following article in our home paper: “The fifth grade class of the elementary school was studying a rare fish when the teacher discovered that there was a school of that fish swimming in the local lake. The Principal of the elementary school gave permission for the entire school to go to the lake and observe the school of fish”.
By using our common sense, it is perfectly clear when “school” referred to children in this article and when it referred to a building and when it referred to fish. So too, in Eph. 3:6, if we use our common sense it is perfectly clear when “ethnos” refers to nations and when it refers to individuals in the nations. In short, just as English words can mean very different things in the same sentence, so too does the Greek word “ethnos” mean different things in the same sentence. We only have to use our common sense in determining what is meant. As we continue to the next section, I believe it will be clear that in Eph. 3:6 common sense will tell us that “ethnos” is used of nations as entities and people of the nations.
THE THREE ADJECTIVES OF EPH. 3:6
The three Greek adjectives translated “fellow-heirs”, “same body” and “partakers” in Eph. 3:6 are, “sunkleronoma”, “sussoma” and “sunmetocha” respectively. “Ethnos” is the noun of the sentence and, as is true of many other languages, the adjective (in this case “sunkleronoma”, “sussoma” and “sunmetocha”) must agree in number with the noun it modifies. We read in the book New Testament Greek by D. F. Hudson published by NTC Publishing Group on page 14, paragraph five, “It is also most important to notice that adjectives must have the same function as the noun to which they refer, and must therefore, be in the same Case: they must also have the same number and the same Gender. A singular noun must have a singular adjective, a plural noun must have a plural adjective.…..”. The noun of Eph. 3:6, “ethnos” is obviously plural, therefore, the adjectives must also be plural.
Note that each adjective begins with the preposition “sun” (The prefix in the word “sussoma” is spelled differently, but is the same prefix as is used in the other two words under consideration.) As always, we must understand the meaning of the Greek word by how it is used in Scripture by the Holy Spirit. I will give just a few examples of how the prefix “sun” is used.
It is translated “with” 15 times, as in Mark 14:54, “And Peter followed Him from afar…….and he sat with the servants….”. It is translated “together”13 times, as in “….and were set down together.…”. It is translated “fellow” and “joint” one time each. I believe it is clear that the basic meaning of the prefix “sun” is “with” or “together”.
SUSSOMA: TOGETHER BODIES
As we have seen in the paragraph above, the correct definition of the prefix “sun” in the three Greek adjectives used in Eph. 3:6 is “together” or “with”. That definition plus the fact that “sussoma” is a plural adjective because it modifies a plural noun “ethnos”, makes it clear that the KJV translation of “same body” is not the best translation of “sussoma”. That is to say, because “sun” means “with” or “together”, and because “sussoma” is a plural adjective, obviously there must be more than one “body” that is together. In the translation “same body” there is no sense of together and no sense of the plurality of the adjective.
The root of “sussoma” is “soma” and is used of a body. I believe that just two occurrences of “soma” should suffice to determine what “soma” means. Matt. 5:29, “….for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish and not that the whole body should be cast into hell”. And Matt. 6:22, “The light of the body is the eye….”.
The Greek word “sussoma” is found only in Eph. 3:6 so we cannot determine its meaning by how it is used. But we are not left in the dark as to the meaning. We know by its usage that “soma” means “body”. And we have learned above, also by how it is used, that the prefix “sun” means “together” or “with”. That tells us that the literal translation of “sussoma” is “together bodies”. How are we to understand the literal term, “together bodies”? I believe we will understand it best if we consider two Old Testament passages that tell us that Israel had been separated by God as a nation apart from all other nations.
I King 8:53, “For Thou didst separate them from among all the people of the earth, to be Thine inheritance….”. Lev. 20:24, “……I am the Lord your God Which hath separated you from the people”. In other words, part of the mystery hid in God was that Israel was no longer a separated nation, all nations are “together bodies”.
I believe that the word “sussoma” is of the greatest importance in understanding the mystery that had been hid in God. The reason for that belief is that the ethnos, ( i.e. the people of the nations) are together heirs and together partakers because the nations are together bodies. That is to say, if the nations were not together (i.e. if Israel were still separated unto God from all other nations) the people of all nations could not be together heirs or together partakers. So the nations being together bodies characterizes the dispensation of the mystery.
SUNKLERONOMA: TOGETHER HEIRS
As we have learned in the paragraphs above, the prefix “sun” means “together. The root “kleronoma” means “hier”. Because it modifies a plural noun, i.e. “ethnos”, it must be plural. So then “sunkleronoma” means literally, “together heirs”.
In regard to together heirs of Eph. 3:6, “ethnos” obviously does not refer to nations but to people of the nations, i.e. all nations, including Israel. But we are not told that Gentiles are together with Israelites (even though that is obviously the implied message). No, instead the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that all are together heirs without even bringing Israel into the discussion. In my opinion, this makes the point so beautifully, and so much stronger than if Paul had written that Gentiles are together with Israelites. That is to say, it is one thing to say that Gentiles are together with Israelites, but Paul, through the Holy Spirit, by not even mentioning Israel, makes the point so obvious that Israel is reckoned among the nations, and that being the case, all are together heirs.
What made the people of the nations together heirs? It was obviously the setting aside of Israel, the result of which was to make all nations together bodies. In other words, because the nations are together bodies (Gr. “sussoma”) the people of all the nations are together heirs.
SUNMETOCHA, TOGETHER PARTAKERS
As mentioned above, in regard to together heirs, “ethnos” refers to individuals as opposed to nations. To what are those individuals partakers? We read in verse 6, “partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel”. I believe that once we determine which gospel Paul had in mind, we will then be able to determine to what those in the nations were together partakers.
If, for the sake of clarity, we omit the phrases about Paul’s unworthiness to preach this gospel, it will become more clear what the gospel of verse 6 is. Verses 6c to 9 would read, “together partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel whereof I was made a minister….. that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; even (Gr. “kai”) to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery”. The gospel Paul is referring to is not the gospel of salvation, it is the gospel, i.e. the good news, concerning “the unsearchable riches of Christ” in the dispensation of the mystery. What is that good news? It is that because all nations are together bodies, all believers in the nations are together heirs and together partakers of the good news of the dispensation of the mystery. In other words, the fact that all nations and all believers in the nations are together is the subject of this passage. Salvation has nothing to do with all nations being together, therefore, the gospel of Eph. 3:6 has nothing to do with salvation.
But if the gospel of Eph. 3:6 is not the gospel of salvation what are these “unsearchable riches” to which Paul refers? The answer to that question is found in the parallel passage, i.e. Col. 1:26-27. Col. 1:27 reads, “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory“. The Greek word translated “in” is the preposition “en” and the Companion Bible tells us that when used with a plural it should be translated “among”. So the riches of the mystery among the Gentiles is “Christ among you, the hope of glory“. To whom does the “you” refer that Christ is among? The epistle to the Colossians, like all Paul’s epistles, are written to believers (see Col. 1:2). That means that Christ is among believers. What does that mean? The next phrase will help us to answer that question. “Christ is among you (believers) the hope of glory“.
In order to fully appreciate that believers of the dispensation of the mystery have the hope of glory we must understand the place of the believing Gentiles before the mystery was revealed. We read in the Old Testament that Israel will be glorified in the millennial reign of Christ. Gentiles were grafted into Israel but the glory was not theirs as such, it was Israel’s glory. There was no glory for believing Gentiles apart from Israel. Let’s look at just a few of those Old Testament passages that speak of the glory of Israel in the millennium.
Is. 60:14,”The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you (Israel); all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel”
Isaiah 60:3, “Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn”.
Is. 60:5,”Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you riches of the nations will come”.
Is. 60:10, “Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you”.
These passages all show the glory of Israel in the millennium. But in the dispensation of the mystery, believers of every nation have been promised glory in resurrection that has nothing to do with Israel. Where we read of the “riches of the glory of this mystery” we are reading of the fact that Christ is among the people of the nations and that glory will be theirs in resurrection, again apart from Israel.
So the good news of Eph. 3:6 is the truth concerning the dispensation of the mystery which, because all nations are together bodies, all believers of the nations have their own hope of glory apart from Israel.
After considering what the mystery hid in God is not (i.e. the mystery of Christ) and after coming to a correct understanding of the Greek words “ethnos” and “sun”, we are now ready to answer our question: what exactly is the mystery that had been hid in God? It is that all nations are together bodies, i.e. there is no nation separated unto God from another. And because that is true individual believers in the nations are together heirs and together partakers of the promise given to them by God and that because Christ is among the believers of every nation, they will be glorified apart from Israel.
So much of how we understand Eph. 3:6 depends upon how we understand the Greek word “sussoma” that I would like to add another thought as to its meaning.
The widely held view is that “sussoma” should be translated as it is in the KJV, “same body”. But as mentioned in the body of this paper, that cannot be a correct translation because the word must be plural in order to be in accordance with the Greek Law of Grammar which states that adjectives must agree in number with the noun they modify. Because the noun “sussmoma” modifies the noun “ethnos”, which is obviously plural, the adjective must be plural.
Part of the reason that Eph. 3:6 is not understood correctly is that “sussoma” is used only once and therefore we cannot determine the meaning by its usage. Furthermore, I am told that the word is not used in classical Greek literature either, so there is no help even there. But the Holy Spirit did not use a word just to leave us confused, He obviously wanted us to understand what He was saying. What are we to do in order to understand a word that is used only once?
Let us assume for a moment that the English word “anthropology” was used only one time and we didn’t know what it meant. How would we determine its meaning? In my opinion, the most natural thing for us to do would be to break it down into its component parts and go from there. “Anthro” means, of course “man”, and “ology” means of course, “the study of”. If after determining what the meaning of the two component parts we then put those two words together we see that “anthropology” means “the study of man”. But we must not stop there because sometimes the meaning of a word is not determined by simply putting together its component parts. “Understand” for example does not mean “to stand under”. We must continue in our study of a word by seeing if it fits the context in which we find it, and in the case of a word in the Bible, it must not contradict any other passage of the Bible. Let us continue with that in mind with the Greek word “sussoma”.
As mentioned in the body of the paper, “sun” (spelled “sus” in “sussoma”) means “together” and “soma” means “bodies” with a plural noun. If we put those two words together we understand “sussoma” to mean “together bodies”. Does that fit the context, “Nations are together bodies”? Yes it does. Does it contradict other scriptures? No it does not, in fact it enhances the truth that at one time Israel had been separated unto God from all the nations, and having been put aside at Acts 28, Israel is no longer separated, but “together” with all nations.
It has been suggested that the Greek word “sussoma” in Eph. 3:6 should be translated “joint body members“. The implication is that Gentiles are joint members with Israel of the body of Christ. Let us consider this suggestion.
I must explain to the reader that I do not know Greek. When I study God’s Word I, as much as possible, determine the meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word by how it is used by the Holy Spirit. But “sussoma” is used only once in the Bible which, of course, makes it impossible to determine its meaning from its usage. But in the case of “sussoma” it is not at all difficult to determine its meaning by putting together its parts, as I have done above. That is to say, the prefix “sun” means “together” and the root “soma” means “body”, i.e.together bodies”
The translation “joint body members” adds the word “members”. It is argued that sometimes we need to add a word in order to make the meaning clear to the English reader. That is absolutely true. Let me give an example to make this point. The Greek word “nomikos” is used nine times. It is translated “lawyer” eight times, but in Titus 3:9 we read, “But avoid foolish questions ……about the law…”. The Greek word “nomikos” is translated “about the law”. Obviously, the word “about” was a needed addition so that the English reader can better understand the meaning of the Greek. But, we may not, in my opinion, just add words willy nilly that are not needed to make the meaning clear. The phrase “nations are together bodies” is perfectly understandable, additional words are simply not needed to express what “together bodies” means. Must we add the word “members” to understand the meaning of “sussoma”? Only if we assume that “ethnos” refers to individual Gentiles. But if we accept Eph. 3:6 at face value (i.e. we don’t add unneeded words) “sussoma” makes perfect sense. It tells us that nations are together bodies.
But it has been argued that “members” is inherent in the word “sussoma”. I disagree. “Members” is perhaps inherent in the concept of a body, but not in the translation of the word. There is huge difference between a concept and a translation. Let me try to explain that by using the German word “volkswagen” as an example. It means literally “people’s car”. “Volks” means “people” and “wagen” means “car”. We don’t need any added words to translate “volkswagen”. But the word “door”, while not inherent in the meaning of the word “volkswagen”, is inherent in the concept of a volkswagen. That is to say, when one thinks of a Volkswagen, one thinks of doors and many other things as well. But we wouldn’t think of saying that “Volkswagen” must be translated “peoples car with doors, with a windshield, with a motor” etc. . Doors, windshields and motors are of course, inherent in the concept of a Volkswagen, but certainly not inherent in the translation of the word “Volkswagen”.
Now let’s put this in terms of “sussoma”. As mentioned above, “sun” means “together” and “soma” means “bodies” when it is used to modify a plural noun”. So, the word “members” is certainly not inherent in the translation of the word “sussoma”. But when we think of a body, we do indeed think of members of a body. So “members” is inherent in the concept of “sussoma” but not in the literal translation. Again, it is an added word, one that is not needed to make sense of “sussoma” to the English reader.
Let us take this discussion one step further. Webster’s Dictionary of the word “body” when it is used of a literal body is, “a total organized substance of plant or animal”. As we shall see in the quote given below of Matt. 5:29 it is exactly how the Holy Spirit uses the word “soma” when speaking of a literal body. But Matt. 25:9 is also quoted as an example of how the Holy Spirit uses the word translated “members”. As we shall see, a body is one thing (a “total organized substance), but a member of a body is something entirely different. I am suggesting therefore, that because a member is something totally different than a body, the word “members” cannot be inherent in the translation of the word “sussoma”. Now let us consider how “body” and “members” are used by the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word translated “members” is “melos”. The first occurrence is found in Matt. 5:29 where we read, “If thy right hand offend thee pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish and not thy whole body“. In this verse there is a contrast between body and members. That is to say, it would be better to lose a member of the body rather than to lose the whole body. That being true, “members” cannot be inherent in the translation of the word “body”.
The verse quoted above from Matt. 5 has to do with a literal body. Now let us consider the body in the sense of a group being composed of many members. In Romans 12 Paul makes the point that each member of the body has a different gift but that these gifts should not cause one to think more highly of his gift, or of himself, than others. We read in verses 4-5, “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office, so we being many are one body in Christ, and members one of another”. We can say that each member has a different “office”, but we cannot say that the body has a different office. I trust the reader can see that it is simply not possible to conclude that “members” is the same thing as “body”. Therefore, the suggestion that “members” is inherent in the translation of the word “sussoma” is not supported by Scripture. Again, members are, of course, inherent in the concept of a body, but not in the translation of the word “sussoma”..
I Cor. 12:20 and 22 are also helpful. “But now are they many members, yet both one body”. And “Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary”. Here the point is that all members are equally necessary to edify the body. And while some members seem to be more feeble, the body is never seen to be feeble. Here again, it is clear that members are one thing, and the body is something totally different. Again, because members are not the same as a body, I do not believe that Scripture will allow for the interpretation that the word “members” is inherent in the translation of the word “sussoma”.
I have suggested in the body of this paper that in Eph. 3:6 “ethnos” is to be understood both as nations, as entities, and as individuals of the nations. It has been argued that Paul did not use “ethnos” in the sense of “nations”. I believe that as we look at Rom. 4:17-18 and the Old Testament passage from which it is quoted, it will be exceedingly clear that that argument has no credence. Rom. 4:17-18 reads, “As it is written, ‘I have made thee a father of many nations‘….”. And “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations according to that which was spoken, ‘so shall they seed be'”. The phrase, “I have made thee a father of many nations” is a quote from Gen. 17:5-6 which reads, “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee“. Note the phrase, “ kings shall come out of thee“. This makes no sense if we take this passage to mean that Abraham will have many children because a king must have a nation over which to reign. Nut it makes perfect sense if we see it as Abraham becoming the father of many nations.
Also, note that we read that Abraham will become fruitful and he will be the father of nations. The “and” tells us that to be fruitful is not the same as being the father of nations.
One more fact needs to be considered which, I believe, will prove without doubt that Abraham is said to be the father of many nations in Rom. 4. It is true that sometimes “ethnos” is translated “people” but the context of that translation makes it clear that those “people” are Gentiles. Therefore, if Paul by the Holy Spirit wanted to say that Abraham was the father of many people, He would have used the word for “people” not the word for “Gentiles”. If “ethnos” in Rom. 4 were to be translated “Gentiles” instead of “nations” we would read that Abraham was to be “the father of many Gentiles”. But then that would not include the fact that Abraham was the father of Israel. Israel, by definition is not a Gentile nation. We must conclude therefore, that indeed Paul does use “ethnos” in reference to nations as entities
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond to this paper, please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org