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The Mystery

Ok, I'm going to continue with my Mission, Evangelism and Social Action posts in a little bit.  But first I need to respond to some excellent questioning by Bobby and KC.

I propose three posts on the issues of "The Mystery", "The Trinitarian OT" and "One-ness and Three-ness".  All of these are seeking to uphold the fact that God was, is and ever shall be trinitarian and christo-centric in His being and therefore in His revelation and salvation.  The God of the gospel is the only God there is and can be known only in the gospel.  This is true about 'God in Himself' and true for 'God towards us', both in OT times and today.  This being the case, our mission is a gospel-alone mission since our God is a gospel-alone God.  But we'll get to that.


I've written a longer thing elsewhere on "mystery" citing every NT occurence.  I won't bore you with that unless you ask.


Now we all know that "mystery" is not a whodunnit in the Bible.  Mysteries are meant to be proclaimed (e.g. Col 4:3; Eph 6:19).  And even though they're proclaimed and even when people understand them, they're still 'mysteries.' (e.g. 1 Tim 3:9).   And we know that mysteries have insiders and outsiders and that they're very differently experienced depending on where you're standing (e.g. Matt 13:11).  And we also know that the vast majority of 'mysteries' in the NT have nothing to do with OT/NT disjunction!  That's all worth saying I think.

 But there's three that I think are associated with disjunctions.  Ephesians 3; Col 1; Rom 16.

 Ephesians 3:2-6

"2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus."

Here Paul spells it out.  This is the mystery, this is what was unknown and is now being revealed - *not* trinity, christology, justification etc etc!  This is the mystery: How to administrate the togetherness of Jew and Gentile in the one body!  In OT times you could be a Gentile in Israel but you had to be circumcised etc.  The mystery concerns the "together"ness of Jew and Gentile - the word 'together' appears 3 times for emphasis.  How do you now have Gentiles qua Gentiles as members together?  That will take some thinking through.  The OT points forwards to this time.  But it doesn't tell the Apostles how they're going to administrate it.   Should Peter separate out from the Gentiles when he eats or what?  Should he go to Cornelius' house?  Should Timothy be circumcised?  What about Titus?  What do we do about dietary laws? Special days?  What should multi-national church look like?  What do we do now that the Seed has come and Sinai's "use-by" date has passed??  The Spirit of God is going to have to make known the details of this administration.

Let me quote the important verse again: "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus."  What does Jew-Gentile "togetherness" look like - that's what Paul needs special revelation about.

Colossians 1:27

“the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” 

The "you" that Christ is in, is the Gentile Colossians.  (Paul often switches between "we" and "you" in order to speak of Jews and Gentiles, cf Eph 2 for a good example).  Making known among the *Gentiles* this hope, the Spirit in Gentiles - this is new when we understand that the Gentiles remain Gentiles.  And of course that is the big controversy in the NT - Don't Gentiles have to become Jews to inherit the blessings?  No says Paul.  And that's the new thing.

Romans 16:25f

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him--

Note that this mystery is made known through the prophetic writings which I think is most naturally taken to mean the OT.  Thus it is the OT which reveals this mystery. Note also that the hidden/revealed distinction is parallel to a long-ages-past/all-nations distinction.  Therefore the Jew/Gentile distinction is at the heart of this mystery (which makes great sense of its context as a summary to Romans).  Paul seems to be saying that the mystery (associated very strongly with ‘my gospel’) was hidden (can we say ‘wrapped up’?) in long ages past in the nation of Israel and is now made known (through the OT!) to all nations.  In other words Paul is basically just repeating his ‘first to the Jew, then to the Gentile’ maxim.  This is a very fitting end to a letter in which that theme is so prominent.  Paul’s not going to say that the content of the Gospel was hidden from OT believers or else he’s contradicting himself massively (1:3-4; 3:21; 4; ch9-11; etc etc).  Rather he’s saying that the Gospel as a message to the nations was hidden within the people of Israel and is now proclaimed in all the world.


There's much I disagree with in the new perspective, but one thing I think they've rightly highlighted is the importance of the Jew-Gentile problem for the NT church.  The big "new thing" that everyone's struggling to grapple with, what is it??  Trinity??  Well there just aren't any passages where Paul goes "Right, about the Trinity, I know it's difficult but just bear with me..."  But there are many passages where the Apostles grapple with the administration of the ingrafting of Gentiles.  How much of Acts?  How much of Romans? Corinthians? Galatians?  Ephesians?  It's pretty huge when you think about it.   This is what is genuinely novel about the New Testament.

0 thoughts on “The Mystery

  1. bobby grow


    I don't disagree with your take on the mystery in the NT: i.e. Gentiles/Jews together in Christ. But there is indeed disjunction, and it is tied to the "becoming of Christ" in history.

    Was all of this implicit in the Old Covenant, indeed (Gal. 3); did the Jews know the "name" of Jesus? No. Did they have "knowledge" of the trinitarian nature of Yahweh . . . maybe; but not the way we do (Heb 1:3). They had "provisional" knowledge vs. "substantive" knowledge as disclosed through Christ (cf. Jn 1:18).

    Could Christ have been "mediating" this knowledge of God w/o the Jews being fully aware of His role as their High Priest? Indeed. There is nothing illogical or "un-Christian" by this admission. In fact the epistle of Hebrews says as much (esp. Heb 5--7).

    It is interesting, Rabbinics in the first century and prior, didn't speak of Yahweh in the trinitarian form we come to know Him in, through Christ. I think this should at least cause pause to your understanding on the explicit trinitarian form of Yahweh in the OT that you are arguing for.

    We really disagree, Glen . . .

    After tomorrow I'm done with the blogosphere, so please forgive me if I don't respond; but I felt like I should say something since you spent time answering this question "I" posed to you.

    Thank you Glen,

    In Christ,


  2. glenscriv

    Thanks for getting back to me Bobby. I don't mind if you don't respond to this but I'll try to answer some of your questions not least because it's a public forum and I think they are excellent challenges which demand answers (even if it's only for other visitors)

    * Did Jews know the name of Jesus?

    One way to answer is to say, "Yes, that is the unavoidable logic of Zech 3:8 Zech 6:12. *Joshua* (Yeshua) the High Priest has the name of the Priest-King who will be the LORD's servant who will build the Temple and unite the Judah-ic and Levitic lines."

    Another way to say this is that the one Name by which all must be saved is, most immediately in Acts 4, the "Stone" (Acts 4:12) - very much an OT name! (Ps 118:22).

    I'm not sure why the Israelites had to know the Appearing LORD/Word of the LORD/Commander of the LORD's Host/Branch/Servant/Lord etc as "Jesus" per se. Such knowledge of God Most High in His Angel is still christocentric knowledge of the triune God without the name Jesus being invoked.

    It's interesting that the oldest manuscripts of Jude 4 and 5 (see ESV) simply state that Jesus redeemed Israel from Egypt. Jude was happy to say it was Jesus (or that it was the Lord who is Jesus). I'm not fussed if no Israelite ever knew that the Messiah was called "Yeshua" but my interest is whether they knew *Him*!

    * With regards to Hebrews 1:3 - I'm not claiming that Jesus in the OT was the incarnate, ascended High Priest at the Father's right hand but that the roles which He took on in His approaches to Israel were still mediatorial and intimations of what He would become in the fulness of time as the incarnate and then ascended Priest.

    see for instance the Calvin quote I posted earlier:

    “The fathers, when they wished to behold God, always turned their eyes to Christ. I mean not only that they beheld God in his eternal Logos [sermone], but also they attended with their whole mind and the whole affection of their heart to the promised manifestation of Christ.” (Commentary on John 1:18)

    That He wrestled as Man with Jacob was both a contemporary mediation of divine life but also a token of His future incarnation.

    * They had provisional not substantive knowledge of God (cf John 1:18)

    Well as the Calvin quote above shows, you're not only disagreeing with me on this one. His point from John 1:18 is that OT saints always did have substantive knowledge of God *because* they beheld Him in the Son. I really think that Calvin represents by far the majority position in the history of the church. That is, that revelation in Christ alone is not a NT phenomenon but applies indifferently across the testaments. "No-one has ever seen God" says John, and yet loads of people (like Isaiah) saw the LORD. How? John tells us - "Isaiah saw Jesus' glory and wrote about Him." ((John 12:41). The Appearing LORD is and always has been the second Person of the Trinity - it is the Son who dined with Abraham and who wrestled with Jacob and who spoke with Moses face to face (Ex 33:11), while the Unseen LORD remained invisible (Ex 33:20-22).

    Again, like my comment to KC on an earlier post, I agree with the logic that says "Substantive knowledge of God must be in Christ." But whereas you take this premise and conclude therefore OT saints did not have substantive knowledge of God, I take it in the other direction: They *did* have substantive knowledge of God (to say otherwise Calvin would consider a "gross injury" to the OT fathers) therefore they must have had it in the Son. In my next posts I hope to show that this is not simply an assertion grounded in systematics, but also the direct and plain teaching of the OT itself.

    * I'm not sure a "mediation" by Christ that is unknown is really a *mediation*. It seems a little like the "anonymous Christian" position applied to the OT. I'm also not sure that Hebrews 5-7 speaks of this. I do know however that Hebrews 11:26 says Moses was motivated by faith in *Christ*.

    * Rabbinics in 1st century didn't speak of Yahweh in trinitarian form? Did you see my comment to KC where I quoted Philo?

    Commenting on Deuteronomy 14:1 “You are the sons of the LORD your God.” he says

    “If there be any as yet unfit to be called a son of God, let him press to take his place under his first-born Word (Logos)”
    (cf. Conf 63).

    There's loads of other stuff from Philo (who'se Logos stuff mustn't simply be laughed off as Hellenism - he saw himself as an OT scholar, let's allow that *some* of his views may have come from the Hebrew Scriptures themselves!) But, at the end of the day, I'm not putting store by Philo. I think the OT itself speaks in unmistakably trinitarian ways, as I'll show in my next post. My argument is not that there is trinitarian shape to these texts that is later developed by the NT. I'm not arguing that we can read trinitarian meaning into these OT texts. My argument will be that the *only* way of understanding them on their own terms and in their own context is to do so from the perspective of a multi-Personal God.

    Anyway, thought I'd try to rise to these good challenges. Your comments deserve careful thought. Always appreciate them.

    I'll miss our interactions! God bless.

  3. Bobby Grow

    Well there is something about me that is unable to leave things hanging ;-) . . . so here I am, once again.

    Glen said:

    . . . I’m not fussed if no Israelite ever knew that the Messiah was called “Yeshua” but my interest is whether they knew *Him*!

    Thanks for the clarification, this is different than what "I thought" you were asserting in the previous post . . . much more nascent.

    Glen said:

    . . . The Appearing LORD is and always has been the second Person of the Trinity - it is the Son who dined with Abraham and who wrestled with Jacob and who spoke with Moses face to face (Ex 33:11), while the Unseen LORD remained invisible (Ex 33:20-22). . . .

    Okay, from our vantage point, i.e. NT, this is obvious . . . from the NT authors vantage point this becomes obvious. But to assert that this was so obvious for the OT saint is an a priori assumption; that to me seems to be an arguement from silence, Glen. This is after-the-fact.

    Glen said:

    . . . But whereas you take this premise and conclude therefore OT saints did not have substantive knowledge of God, I take it in the other direction: They *did* have substantive knowledge of God (to say otherwise Calvin would consider a “gross injury” to the OT fathers) therefore they must have had it in the Son. . . .

    No, you've misunderstood me. I didn't mean they didn't have "real" knowledge of God . . . just that it was "shadow" form (see Col. 2:17)---provisional in that sense. Your perspective seems highly "systematics" oriented, Glen.

    Glen said:

    * I’m not sure a “mediation” by Christ that is unknown is really a *mediation*. It seems a little like the “anonymous Christian” position applied to the OT. I’m also not sure that Hebrews 5-7 speaks of this. I do know however that Hebrews 11:26 says Moses was motivated by faith in *Christ*.

    Heb 5--7 highlights the disjunction between the Old Cov. New Cov., once again. That's all I was getting at with that. I have no problem with the Heb. 11 passage and Moses . . . He absolutely had faith in Christ, in the "shadowy form" I noted earlier.

    What's the difference between mediation in Christ, "unknown" (better shadowy), and not knowing the name of "Jesus?" You see no problem with the Jews "not knowing" the name of Jesus in the OT, and still following His lead, or fitting this context "mediation" . . . you seem to be equivocating here, Glen.

    I had other "Rabbi's" in mind . . . I doubt Jews of the first century would elevate Philo to an authoritative level, given his fanciful interpretive work; and reliance on Platonic metaphysics. I was thinking in terms of guys like Gameliel or Hillel. Or even the zealots who were looking for a purely "physical kingdom and Messiah." Or the perspective that posited "two Messiahs."

    Glen, there is no doubt we see trinitarian "shadows" in the OT . . . to go as far as you go (although I see why you do this for Christocentric reasons/dogmatic) with this; for me, is just not tenable---given the "progressive nature" and unfolding of scripture.

    There is no doubt we are confronted, in the TaNaK, with a "mult-personal God," as you say (the "Great Shema" Deut 6:4 is a prime example of this. We see the "Spirit" hovering over the waters in Gen. 1, the "Angel of Yahweh" in Gen. 22 (and all over), the "Great I AM" in Exodus, etc.; it's all over. I, as a NT Christian see trinity all over, and so did OT saints, but they, until Christ came would not have the "dramatic ironic" perspective that we do (i.e. they did not have the "big picture" perspective that we've gained with the 1st Advent of Christ see I Pet. 1:10-12). Did they worship Christ? Indeed, Josh. 5. Did they have the vantage point we do? No. They were waiting for His "first coming", pre-last days; we await His "second coming", 'in' the last days. Was He the "same yesterday, today, and forever?" Indeed. Did they have the bigger picture in view as we do, or were they seeking understanding on that? The latter, in my view.

    Glen we probably agree, actually, more than disagree . . . of course we are coming at this from different emphases, and "dogmatic" committments; which of course causes some rift in our communication.

    Anyway, it has been fun, and I do appreciate your insights. I guess in a lesser way, we continue with the dialogue that Frost told me he engaged in, quite frequently while in London. He argued quite vigrously with "you covenanters" and "amillers" over these very issues; as he was an "dispy," like myself. Its been good fun, and sharpening, Glen . . . thank you for this interaction, and your penetrating questions and responses. I too have appreciated this, "mate," and don't be surprised if you see me out in the blogosphere someday, once again. But not for quite some time . . . my arms deserve the break :-).

    shalom, in Christ, your eternal brother,


  4. kc

    Glen I’ve read the articles you referenced to me in the comments of your previous article. I was thoroughly blessed with, “The God who is... proclaimed by Moses” and I’ve committed to study your other works there as well. I am no scholar and my pace for study is extremely slow so please consider me, for the most part, still quite uninformed of your position on many things.

    I did pick-up on a couple of points so far that I’d like to ask you about but I don’t want to do so at the expense of your present series here. I plan to read all your papers on Mission first so for now is it enough that I accept and agree that no man can know God apart from Christ in spite of my present perception on Israel?

  5. glenscriv

    "no man can know God apart from Christ "

    :-) Music to my ears KC! Everything else I say is trying to unpack that one belief.

    I've been away from computer for last little bit. Hope to return to blogging tonight my time. I want to 'respond' a little to Bobby's points and post on Trin OT (and eventually we'll get back to mission - probably a few days from now).

    Don't worry about your pace - i'm totally with you. I can only read at the pace it takes me to read out loud. It's hugely frustrating (especially when my wife can read two novels in a day! no joke!)

    Catch you later...

  6. glenscriv

    Some responses to Bobby's comment above. Much too late, but I've been very disorganised lately. Anyway, for clarity and completeness' sake...

    * I am actually contending for a christocentric, trinitarian reading of the Hebrew Scriptures from the outset - not 'after the fact'. see my latest post:

    It is impossible to read Exodus 33 or Psalm 45 or Zechariah 2 or any number of other passaged (see post) without a doctrine of a multi-Personal God. These texts make no sense even in their own historical, literary, religious context if they are understood to refer to a uni-Personal God. There is no such thing as a uni-Personal God - there never has been one and the living God has never been known as one.

    * I hope that I am 'systematic' without 'systematics' driving me to say what the Scriptures do not. I think my post above will show that we all have our dogmatic pre-suppositions, I feel that mine help me read the OT better and that other pre-suppositions do damage to the OT.

    * Col 2:17 says the substance (in context, the substance of the festivals) is found in Christ. I believe this with all my heart. I also believe that the OT saints, looking through the shadows and types, had knowledge of that substance. Only this makes sense the *Christian* faith ascribed to OT saints (e.g. Heb 11:27; John 12:41; 1 Cor 10:4; John 8:56 etc). I, today, face similar dangers to the Israelites - mistaking the shadows (eg sacraments) for the substance. Yet I too can grasp the substance *through* the shadows.

    * I don't think I'm "equivocating". Here's what I'm saying: Even if OT saints grasped the substance of Christ through the shadows (after all, only a few got to have face to face encounters with the pre-incarnate Christ) they grasped a distinct hypostasis in God who was to be born as the Seed of the woman to crush the devil. I don't really mind if they didn't know that the name to be given him at this time would be "Jesus" (though by Zechariah I think they did know). What I am objecting to is the notion that the "shadows" they enjoyed somehow *obscured* their knowledge of a distinct Person who would incarnate to defeat Satan. Rather the promises, prophesies, types, signs, sacrifices etc etc *revealed* to them the substance which they were to trust. Many did trust the Person revealed in this way, many didn't. But saving faith was always set forward as trust in a *Person* (who was to incarnate for their salvation in the fulness of time).

    * In this context, my account of "the mediation of Christ" is not at all the same thing as "the mediation of the shadows/types/sacrificial system". For me, the mediation of the Son of God is the conscious and explicit knowledge of the Unseen LORD - God Most High - in His Angel/Word/Glory. i.e. the mediation of Christ involves distinct Persons. This is certainly what it involves in the NT and unless we are going to radically change our doctrine of God and revelation for the OT, and unless we are going to ignore the OT passages I cite in the post above, then that must be the account of mediation we run with in the OT.

    * Philo is not simply a sell-out Hellenist. You could write me off for being "Anglicized" and never listen to a thing I have to say on the OT but I hope you'd be a bit more open minded than that. Let's not just tar him with the "Hellenized" brush. The guy was a rabbi and surely would have been kicked out of synagogue if what he was saying was *so* different to the Jewish milieu of his day. Furthermore, his example is a problem for any position that denies the possibility of multi-Personal readings of the Hebrew Scriptures pre-incarnation. No matter what his background - here is a guy who speaks of 'the second God' and he says that the OT teaches the second God as plain as the nose on your face.

    And he's not the only one. Check out Margaret Barker's "The Great Angel" for a picture of Judaism very far from the Aristotle-influenced unitarianism of Maimonides' day (13th century - this is where modern Judaism comes from). Now Barker goes for a kind of Hebrew pantheon, which I do not, but she makes some excellent points about the OT and the way it was understood by Jews BC. The doctrine of God in the Hebrew Scriptures is *not* the unitarian view of the modern Jew - not by a long shot. When we go to the OT with unitarian eyes we will flatten out the multi-Personal details that demand to be taken seriously. If we go to the OT with a *Christian* doctrine of God (really, why should we think of approaching it any other way!!!!) then we will see its rich trinitarian nature.

    * Bobby said: "They were waiting for His “first coming”, pre-last days; we await His “second coming”, ‘in’ the last days. Was He the “same yesterday, today, and forever?” Indeed. Did they have the bigger picture in view as we do, or were they seeking understanding on that? The latter, in my view. Glen we probably agree, actually, more than disagree..."

    I think that might be right. Let me quote from a mutual friend, who said very similar things to what Bobby is saying...

    "All the promises of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ of Genesis 3:15. The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era, and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus… The faith of the fathers was directed at Christ… Time does not change the object of true faith, or the Holy Spirit. There has always been and always will be one mind, one impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times past, now, or in times to come." (Martin Luther, Galatians Commentary, 3:6)

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