WHICH MYSTERY HAD BEEN “HID IN GOD”?
We read in Eph. 3:9 of Paul’s commission to “….. make all men see what is the fellowship (should be “dispensation”) of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God..….”. I believe that the mystery that had been hid in God had never been revealed in the Word of God until Paul revealed it in Eph. 3:6, that it had been hid in Him. But some believe that it was the mystery of Christ, i.e. His death and resurrection, that was hid in God. They believe that the reason Paul wrote that it was hid in God was that even though it had been spoken of in the Old Testament, it was not understood until after Christ’s death and resurrection. (For the Scriptural evidence that the mystery of Christ is not part of the mystery that had been hid in God please see the paper on this web-site The Mysteries Of The New Testament.)
It is quite true that the death and resurrection of Christ was a matter of Old Testament prophecy. And it is also quite true that even the disciples did not understand those prophecies, as is evidenced in Luke 18:31-34, “Then He took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitten on; and they shall scourge Him and put Him to death: and the third day He shall rise again.’ And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken”. (The Greek word translated “hid” is not the same word translated “hid” in Eph. 3:9, but that, in itself, does not prove anything.)
When was the meaning of the mystery of Christ revealed and to whom and by whom was it revealed? We read in Luke 24:44-46, “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'”. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. And said unto them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day”.
We have learned that the mystery of Christ concerns the death and resurrection of our Lord, and that the twelve did not understand it because the meaning of the mystery of Christ had been hidden from them. But it was revealed to them by our Lord just after His resurrection. That being the case, if one believes that the present dispensation began when the meaning of the mystery of Christ was revealed, one must conclude that it began before the events recorded in Acts 2. I do not believe that view can be substantiated by Scripture.
Now the question is, does the phrase “hid in God” mean that the meaning was not understood, or that it was not recorded in the Scriptures? The answer to that question is found as we consider the parallel passage to Eph. 3:9, which is Col. 1:25-26. First let us compare these two passages to determine if they are indeed parallel passages.
Eph. 3:7 reads, “Whereof I was made a minister (of the gospel of the dispensation of the mystery as described in verse 6) according to the gift of God given unto me”. Compare Col. 1:25, “Whereof I am made a minister (to the church of the dispensation of the mystery), according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you“.
Eph. 3:8, “That I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ“. Compare Col. 1:27, “To whom God would make known what is the riches of His glory of this mystery among the Gentiles”
Eph. 3:9, “To make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God“. Compare Col. 1:26, “the mystery that hath been hid from ages and from generations“.
It is clear that Col. 1:25-26 is the parallel passage to Eph. 3:7-9. That being the case, these two passages complete each other. That is to say, what one does not say the other does, and both are perfectly true. Having determined this let us look once again at Col. 1:25, “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God”. So the mystery of the present dispensation fulfills the word of God. What does it mean to “fulfill the word of God”?
The Greek word translated “fulfill” in the phrase “fulfill the word of God” is “pleeroo”. The first occurrence is found in Matt. 1:22 where we read, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet….”. In this first occurrence, as well as many others, it is prophecy that was fulfilled. In my opinion, “fulfilled” has the sense of “completion”. That is to say, a prophecy is fulfilled when the events that had been prophesied are completed. Indeed it is translated “complete” in Col. 2:10 and Col. 4:12. Col. 2:10 reads, “And ye are complete in Him Which is the head of all principality and power”. And Col. 4:12 reads, “……that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God”. So too does Col. 1:25 use the word in the sense of “complete”. The revelation of the mystery completes the Word of God.
The fact that the revelation of the mystery completes the word of God tells us that there are no new truths revealed in God’s word after the revelation of the mystery of Eph. 3:9. That is to say, once the word was completed, there would, of course, be no new revelations. Now we must ask if the mystery of Christ completed the word of God. That is to say, can we say that there were no new truths revealed in the Word of God after the revelation of Christ’s death and resurrection? No, we cannot say that.
Consider for example, I Cor. 15:51 where Paul wrote, “Behold I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”. This was a truth revealed to Paul after the mystery of Christ was revealed which proves that the mystery of Christ did not complete the word of God.
Let us also consider Acts 15 where the counsel at Jerusalem determined that the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and obey the entire Law of Moses in order to partake of Israel’s dispensational blessings. This is absolutely opposite of the situation that had prevailed throughout the entire Old Testament and through the Gospel period. We read in Acts 15:19-20, “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God; but that we write unto them that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood”. Again this is a new truth revealed in God’s word that was revealed after the death and resurrection of Christ. And again, this proves that the mystery of Christ did not complete the word of God.
We have learned that the parallel passage to Eph. 3:7-9 is Col. 1:25-26. That tells us that the mystery of Eph. 3:9 is the same mystery as Col. 1:25-26. Furthermore, the mystery of Ephesians 3:9 was said to be “hid in God” and the very same mystery was said in Col. 1:26 to “complete the word of God”. The mystery of Eph. 3:9 cannot be the mystery of Christ because the mystery of Christ did not complete the word of God.
One more point might be helpful. Eph. 3:9 tells us that the dispensation of the mystery had been hid in God. Those who take this mystery to be the mystery of Christ interpret verse 9 to say that the meaning of the mystery had been hid in God. That is to say, they know that the mystery of Christ had been a matter of Old Testament prophecy but that the meaning had been hid from the twelve. But every word in the Bible is inspired by God. Eph. 3:9 does not say that it is the meaning that had been hid, it says that the mystery had been hid. In short, the phrase “hid in God” means that the mystery itself was hid, not the meaning of the mystery.
In order to make the distinction between the meaning of a mystery and the mystery itself let us look at the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 13:11 establishes the fact that the parables recorded in Matt. 13 were indeed mysteries. The disciples had asked Christ why He spoke to the multitudes in parables. His answer is recorded in verse 11, which reads, “……Behold it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given”. So the parables themselves were mysteries concerning the kingdom of Heaven. But as we read in this verse, even though the mysteries/parables were spoken to the multitudes the meaning of the parable/mystery was not made known to the multitudes. That means that there is a distinction between the parables and the explanations of them. Logic demands the conclusion that because each parable revealed a mystery to all, but the explanation of the parables revealed the meaning to some, there is a distinction between a mystery and the meaning of a mystery. For the sake of clarity, let us consider this truth in other terms.
Each parable that our Lord spoke to the multitudes was a mystery. But the meaning of the mystery was in the explanation of the parable and given only to His disciples. The mystery was one thing, the explanation was something else. Therefore, because the Word of God does indeed make a distinction between a mystery and the meaning of the mystery, and Eph. 3:9 tells us that it was the mystery, not the meaning that been hid in God, we may conclude that Eph. 3:9 is speaking of the mystery itself, not the meaning that had been hid in God.
So the mystery that had been hid in God and had completed the Word of God is not the mystery of Christ because 1) the mystery of Christ had not completed the word of God; and 2) because it was the mystery itself that had been hid, not the meaning.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org