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The Angel of the LORD continued...

Let's look at the Angel in action in Genesis and Exodus.

His first appearance is to the Egyptian, Hagar:

Then the Angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." The Angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." The Angel of the LORD also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery... She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." (Gen 16:9-14)

Here the Angel speaks of another Person called the LORD who has heard Hagar.  This is typical in the OT - God hears and sends His Angel to deliver.  See Gen 21:17; Ex 2:23ff; Num 20:16; Judges 13:9 - also similar is Dan 3:28; 6:22.

But even though the Angel is distinctly called of the LORD He can also own the name 'LORD' Himself.  In verse 13 even the narrator calls the Angel "LORD" and Hagar calls Him "the God who sees me."  He is from God but He also is God - in fact He is the visible God for Hagar is astonished that she has seen Him.

Read on to Genesis 22 and here we see that the Angel of the LORD is the One who intercepts the judgement of father Abraham on his son.

But the Angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." The Angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.

Difficult to read these verses if you're a unitarian!  'Now know that you fear God because you haven't witheld your son from Me.'  The Angel clearly thinks the offering is to Himself and later in v16 He clearly thinks that He is the LORD who will bless Abraham.  But He also clearly speaks of 'God' as another Person in the equation.  There's much more to be said about Genesis 22, but we must move on.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a man ('ish) who is clearly a source of blessing (v26) and is in fact God (v28).  Jacob rightly identifies Him as 'God face to face' (perhaps best understood as a divine title?).  Why are we looking at this passage while considering the Angel?  Because of what Hosea 12:3-5 makes of this incident.

...[Jacob] struggled with God. He struggled with the Angel and overcame Him; he wept and begged for His favour. He found Him at Bethel and talked with Him there-- the LORD God Almighty, the LORD is His name of renown!

Hosea knows how it is that Jacob could actually wrestle with God and see Him face to face.  He knows that Jacob wrestled with the Angel.  But Hosea also knows that such a name is not a diminutive title for this figure. The Angel is Himself the LORD God Almighty (Yahweh the God of Hosts).  What's interesting is not only Hosea's high christology but also how OT saints thought through the issues of how God is mediated.  It was clear to Hosea, even though Genesis does not mention the name, that Jacob wrestled 'the Angel.'  OT saints are able to make such distinctions and properly interpreted their own Scriptures christologically centuries after the events and centuries before the incarnation.

Moving on in Genesis we come to Jacob's blessing of his grandsons.  Just as he sought the Angel's blessing for himself (Gen 32:26,29) so now he wants the Angel's blessing for Ephraim and Manasseh:

"May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm--may He bless these boys.  (Gen 48:15-16)

Who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  This is a massive question today.  Can we please have the courage to proclaim from Genesis that Christ is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He is the Deliverer God before Whom the patriarchs walked.  The Angel is God and Shepherd, Deliverer and the Source of all blessing.  The Angel is God from God and the One to Whom the patriarchs looked.

I can't see a) any way around this, b) any reason you'd want to get around this!

Let's move on briefly to Exodus.  And here again we see the pattern whereby people call out to God, God hears (Exod 2:23-24) and in response He sends His Deliverer.  And who is the Deliverer?

2 There the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight-- why the bush does not burn up." 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." 5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Ex 3:2-6)

The Angel is Him who dwelt in the burning bush (Deut 33:16).  He is, v4,  LORD and God and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Furthermore He is the great I AM (v14) who saves His people.  When Jesus claims to be I AM He isn't (as many seem to say) audaciously applying to Himself a title belonging to ""God"".  He's saying - I'm 'Him who dwelt in the burning bush.'  He's not just saying 'I have the same name as Israel's Redeemer, He's saying - You know the whole burning bush, plagues, Red Sea thing?  That was me!'

Notice how in Exodus 3:12 the Angel says:

"I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

The Angel will save a people and bring them to God.  That is the story of salvation.  And does the Angel deliver on His promise?  Yes! He is the LORD who goes at their head:

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Ex 13:21)

How do we know that this is the Angel?

Then the Angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them (Ex 14:19)

So the Deliverer is the Angel who is of the LORD and who is the LORD.  Exodus 23:20-23 tells us how the Angel relates to the Most High God: 'My Name is in Him' says the LORD on top of the mountain.  The Angel is the One the people should follow knowing that He has been sent from the LORD on high with the very character of the unseen God.  To hear the Angel (v22) is to know the favour and salvation of God Most High.

The Exodus was wrought at the initiative of God the Father hearing His people’s cries for mercy.  Out of His compassion He sent His Angel to deliver His people and bring them back to the Mountain to worship Him.

And just to drive home the point even further, let's look at one last reference.  When all is done and dusted and Scripture looks back on the redemption out of Egypt, who is it who takes the credit?

The Angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said,`I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you."  When the Angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud. (Judges 2:1-4)

At this point I feel like pulling a CS Lewis - when the Angel makes such incredible claims, He's either mad, bad or the LORD.  So who is He??

I hope it's obvious.  But I hope we also see that these things are plain on their own terms and in their own context.  I haven't needed to do any NT 're-reading'.  I hope you see this isn't a conjuring act it's simply taking these verses seriously. And allowing them to say what they say without forcing them into a pre-fab unitarian mould.

I think it's clear (don't you?) the Angel is clearly divine, clearly Israel's Deliverer, clearly trusted in.  But also note - He is also clearly distinct from another called LORD or God (we'll see this more and more as we go on).  And He has His identity as the Sent One (malak - Messenger). To see Him is to be immediately drawn into knowledge of the Sender whose Name He bears.  His very being is defined by relationship to Another.  He is a divine Person who belongs to another divine Person.  Israel's LORD is God from God.

And if this is true then the OT doctrine of God is nothing like the modern Jew's god, nothing like the philosopher's god, nothing like allah.  The God of the OT is inescapably and irreducibly trinitarian in nature and christocentric in focus.

One more post on the Angel to come and then we'll look at some other fun stuff.

Next post...


Who is the Angel of the LORD?

In my last post I laid out my intention to show from the Old Testament that Christ has always been the one Mediator between God and man.

I find the easiest place to start in these discussions is with the Angel of the LORD.  If a person cannot see from Scripture that this is a title belonging to Christ then the conversation will not get very far.  So I wonder whether you have a view?

Perhaps the first thing to say is - don't be thrown by the title.  Angel (malak) just means 'Sent One' or 'Messenger' (as most translations render it in Malachi 3:1).  So literally the Angel of the LORD is the One Sent from the LORD.  And already we should be hearing resonances with Jesus' self-descriptions.  In John's Gospel for instance Jesus is described as the One Sent from God 40 times!  That might be significant!

The second thing to say is that not every angel is The Angel.  There are many created angelic beings in the bible.  But when Scripture speaks of the Angel we know who we're talking about.  In the same way there are many ones sent from God in a general sense.  But when you talk about 'the One sent from the Father' you are talking about Jesus.

But really the proof is in the eating.  So get a load of these verses.

Genesis 16:9-14; Genesis 21:17-20; Genesis 22:11-18; Genesis 24:7,40; Genesis 31:11-13; Genesis 48:15-16; Exodus 3:1-6; Exodus 13:21 <=> Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20-23; Exodus 32:34; 33:2 <=> 34:9; Num 20:16; Num 22:22-35; Judges 2:1-5; Judges 5:23; Judges 6:11-24Judges 13:3-23; 2 Sam 24:16-171 Kings 19:5,7; 2 Kings 1:3,15; 1 Chron 21:11-20; Psalm 34:7,9; Psalm 35:5-6; Isaiah 37:36; Isaiah 63:9Daniel 3:28; Daniel 6:22Hosea 12:4-5 <=> Genesis 32:24-30Zechariah 1:9-19; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 12:8; Malachi 3:1

See also these verse where people are said to be like the Angel and so are said to be like Christ:

1 Sam 29:9; 2 Sam 14:17,20; 2 Sam 19:27; Gal 4:14

As you see the Angel is not an insignificant figure in the Old Testament.  I'm not expecting you to check out all the references but thought it might be useful to have them all together.  Over the next few posts I'll pick out some key passages to highlight some fundamental truths.  At bottom this is where these verses take us:

  • The Angel is divine - He is very often called the LORD and God, He speaks as the LORD, acts as the LORD and accepts divine worship.

  • The Angel is distinct from another Person called 'LORD' or 'God' or 'God Most High.'

  • The Angel acts on behalf of God Most High in revelation and salvation.

  • The Angel is correctly identified by the OT saints as a distinct, divine Person

  • He is feared, trusted and hoped for by the faithful.

The Angel is God from God.  Light from Light.  True God from True God.  That's clear from the biblical portrait.  To fail to see His identity is, I think, a real problem.

What always strikes me in discussions about the Angel's identity is that the Scriptures are so unambiguous in naming Him LORD.  I would go so far as to say that the Old Testament is even clearer on the divine identity of the Angel than the New Testament is on the identity of Jesus. But of course once we grasp who the Angel is in the OT the NT pictures of Christ's divinity become much more apparent.

When Jesus claims to be the One sent from the Father He is not merely defering to divinity - He is claiming it.  His divine identity in the New Testament is so much easier to see for those who have already grasped it in the Old.

In the next post I'll have a look at some of the key Angel passages.  Let me leave you with a Calvin quote who sums up the history of Christian interpretation on this issue:

The orthodox doctors of the Church have correctly and wisely expounded, that the Word of God was the supreme angel, who then began, as it were by anticipation, to perform the office of Mediator. For though he were not clothed with flesh, yet he descended as in an intermediate form, that he might have more familiar access to the faithful. This closer intercourse procured for him the name of the Angel; still, however, he retained the character which justly belonged to him - that of the God of ineffable glory. (Instit. I.xiii.10)

Next post...


When we confess that Jesus is our Substitute most people mean this:

Jesus stands in our place - living the life we should have lived, dying the death we should have died

I wonder though how many also have this understanding of Jesus' substitution:

He sits on the bench for the first half before the Coach brings Him on as match-winner in the closing stages.

I find that many Christians, though believing in the pre-existence of Christ, function with an understanding akin to this latter belief.

Though we shout from the roof-tops the centrality of Christ, we affirm His exclusivity, His supremacy, His full deity, in practice our gospel has Jesus coming late to the game to solve a problem He's had nothing to do with.  We insist that He is the crux, the ultimate, the final, the greatest, the fulfilment but somehow lose that He is the Beginning, the Author, the Logos, the Creator, the Head etc.

In such theology Jesus becomes the Kappa and the Omega, the Middle and the End.  The foundations are laid.  God is defined (monadically).  Humanity is defined (apart from the true Man).  The God-man relation is taken for granted (according to these Christ-less definitions).  Sin, law, wrath, sacrifice, blessings, hope etc are slotted into place.  And then Jesus comes to find His place within this pre-fab mould.

But we know this can't be right.  Jesus is not merely the cherry on the cake.  He is the flour, eggs, sugar, butter and everything else besides.  We know this because we have come to experience life in Christ.  And it is not the experience of Jesus-the-bridge-to-something-else.  He has not taken us by the hand to another reality (heaven, glory, forgiveness, God), He Himself is our all in all.  All those other things find their meaning in Him and only in Him.

Now it seems to me there are three ways that this christocentricity can be argued:

  1. Systematically
  2. From the New Testament back
  3. From the Old Testament forwards

Systematically we point to verses like Matthew 11:25-30 or John 1:18 or Colossians 1:15 and say Christ is, was and ever shall be the one and only Mediator of the Father in revelation and salvation.  This, when grasped, opens our eyes to see that all of history, all of theology and all of God to His very depths is truly trinitarian and christocentric.  Glory!

But of course, people will soon ask you to show it from the bible.  So often people appeal to the New Testament.  Jesus was constantly saying things like He was the One who spoke with Abraham (John 8:56), He was the One the prophets persecuted (Matt 5:11-12), He was David's Lord (Matt 22:42-45), He was the One who kept pursuing Jerusalem (Matt 23:37).  Or Paul would say Christ accompanied Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4,9), Hebrews insists Moses trusted Christ (Hebrews 11:26), Jude asserts that Jesus saved Israel out of Egypt (Jude 5).  And this gets people excited.  For a while.

And then someone says: "Ahhh, with what freedom the Apostles imposed christocentricity on the Hebrew Scriptures."  And all of a sudden you get odd things asserted like: "It's ok for Apostles to retrospectively award a Christ-focus to the OT even though the Jewish authors intended nothing of the sort."  And thus a rarely substantiated but practically unimpeachable maxim is born: "They spoke better than they knew."

Rather than rant polemically about the laughible paucity of Scriptural warrant for this view, or the ethical conundrum of Apostles modelling such dodgy hermeneutics or the logical absurdity of retrospectively awarding Abraham or Isaiah or Israel an encounter with Christ I will side-step a stomach ulcer and move to the third argument.  Because if I can show that the OT by itself proclaims Christ then all such nonsense will be shown to be completely unnecessary.

So here's my assertion that I will seek to unpack over a long series of posts: The OT on its own grounds, in its own context, according to its own intention is a plain and understood revelation of Christ.  I will seek to argue that,

  • Christ is active pre-incarnation
  • He is the Mediator in Old Testament times as well as New
  • He Mediates as a distinct Person, divine and yet differentiated from God Most High
  • He was trusted by (the faithful) OT saints as their LORD and as the One who was to come to save
  • In this way the object of saving faith has always been Christ
  • And in this way the experience of true faith has always been irreducibly trinitarian and christological.

If Jesus tarries I will, in my next few posts, have a look at the Angel of the LORD passages before moving onto some other key multiple-Person OT verses.  I'll look at the very natural way in which the NT picks up on this.  I'll give quotes from church history and I'll draw out some implications.

And having made such a commitment, I immediately wish I hadn't.  Ah well, it'll do me good to get it all off my chest!




This, together with my next post on One-ness and Three-ness, is a detour from my series on mission, evangelism and social action. 

The point I'm seeking to secure in this detour is that God is known only in the Gospel.  He is a Gospel-Alone God and thus His church has a Gospel-Alone mission.  There is not a God to be known apart from Jesus - not "God the Creator", not "The one God",  not "The Unmoved Mover", not "The First Cause" - if we do not know the Father in the Son and by the Spirit we do not know God full-stop.  (This being the case it makes no sense to honour "God" apart from the Gospel - that is to take upon ourselves a mission that is not itself the gospel).

Now very quickly the question will come: Isn't the Old Testament just such a revelation?  That is, don't the Law, Prophets and Writings reveal the living God yet not in this trinitarian (gospel) way?  My answer is no.  The Hebrew Scriptures do reveal the very deepest things of God because they are themselves a trinitarian revelation of the trinitarian God.

In asserting this people may accuse me of being driven simply by systematic (christocentric) concerns.  These are strongly present I cannot deny it.  But my purpose in this post is to show that the Hebrew Scriptures on their own terms and in their own context must be understood from a trinitarian framework.

My point is not that the OT betrays hints, shapes and shadows of triune structure

My point is not that NT eyes can see trinitarian themes in the OT

My point is not that we go back as Christians and now retrospectively read the trinity into the OT

My point is not that the OT gives us partial suggestions of trinitarian life that are then developed by NT fulfillment

My point is that these texts read on their own terms and in their own context (as the Jewish, Hebrew Scriptures that they are) demand to be understood as the revelation of a multi-Personal God.  The only proper way to understand these texts is as trinitarian revelation.  These texts are either to be understood triunely or they are mis-understood - on their own terms or any others!  What I am setting out to do is to simply open up the OT and show what is actually there.  I have already acknowledged that I have a dogmatic commitment to christocentric revelation, but I hope to show that the OT texts themselves bear this out.

Just before we dive into the texts I would simply ask the reader to question their own dogmatic commitments.  I may be expecting to see a multi-Personal God in the OT, but I assure you - you are expecting to see a certain kind of God also.  What is it?  Are you expecting to see a revelation of the one God?  A uni-Personal God?  Are you accustomed to thinking of the OT God as equivalent to the God of the modern Jew?  Unitarian?  Perhaps not, perhaps you recoil at the idea (I hope so).  But it's worth all of us asking ourselves 'What are our pre-suppositions?' as we read 'In the Beginning.'  The "God" of Genesis 1:1 is a certain kind of God.  What do we assume about His being?  What will we allow Him to be, do and say as we read chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3...?  Do we think it's "obvious" that the God of Genesis 1 is the uncreated Creator?  Do we assume that the God being revealed by Moses is basically the God of the modern Jew?  The philosophical theist?  Something like the Muslim 'God'?  Perhaps we think (as so many Christians do) that "the One God" is a foundational doctrine to which trinitarian concepts are added? Perhaps then we see the OT as portraying this basic 'God' before trinitarian nuances are added? 

I have often had the experience of being criticised for bringing trinitarian assumptions to the OT text when, at the same time, my Christian friend was bringing equally strong and equally controlling assumptions to bear themselves - assumptions that God (or His revelation) must progress from primitive unitarianism to developed trinitarianism.  Pre-suppositions are inevitable.  The issue is not 'Who has purged themselves of all dogmatic bias and is a pure biblical scholar!'  The issue is 'Which pre-suppositions can actually handle what's on the page and which do damage to the text?'  My contention is that the trinitarian pre-supposition is the only one that makes sense of the OT data.

Ok.  Here we go - 24 Scriptures to consider:

  • Genesis 1.   Verse 1: "In the beginning Elohiym... " Here is the God to Whom we're introduced.  A plural noun!  One that takes a singular verb.  The grammatical oddity is meant to make us sit up and take notice. Our plural God acts as one.    And His plural counsel (v26) "Let us..."  gives rise to a united creation of a plural humanity - male and female to image His own life.
  • Genesis 3.  The Voice of the LORD God (v8) who comes to walk with Adam and Eve is also the LORD God (v9)
  • Genesis 16.  The Angel of the LORD (v9) is also LORD and God (v13)
  • Genesis 18&19.  The LORD who appears to Abraham (18:1) is Judge of all the earth (18:25), yet He excercises His divine prerogative in union with "the LORD out of the heavens." (19:24)
  • Genesis 32.  Jacob wrestles with the Man (v24) who is the Angel (Hosea 12:4) who is God (Gen 32:28,30)
  • Genesis 48.  The God who is God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is Shepherd and the source of blessing (v15) is the Angel of God (v16).
  • Exodus 3.  The God of the burning bush is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v6) and the great I AM (v14).  He is also the Angel of the LORD (v2) and will bring the people to worship God on the mountain (v12).
  • Exodus 19.  The LORD on the mountain (v10) warns Moses that in three days the LORD will come to the mountain (v11) and things will be very different then.  Sure enough, three days later, the LORD descends on the mountain (v18) and then the LORD descends on the mountain (v20)!
  • Exodus 33.  Moses meets face to face with the LORD in the tent of meeting (v11) but the LORD on the top of the mountain he must never see (v20-22).
  • Joshua 5&6.  The Commander of the LORD's army (5:14) who fights for Israel to deliver her is also the LORD who is worthy of worship (5:15; 6:2)
  • Judges 2.   The Angel of the LORD brought them out of Egypt and established His covenant with them. (v1-4)
  • Judges 6. The Angel of the LORD (v11-12) brings the LORD's blessing (one who is Sovereign LORD, v22).  Yet the Angel, as another Person is Himself the LORD (v14) with the same divine majesty (v22-24).
  • Judges 13.  God sends the Angel of the LORD (e.g. v9) who is Himself God (e.g. v22). And the Spirit fills Samson (v25)
  • Psalm 2.  The Son Whom we are to kiss and find refuge in (v12) is the Anointed Son of the Father through Whom is exercised all divine rule and authority.
  • Psalm 45.  The most excellent of men who rules the nations as Champion and King is called 'Lord' by His bride and 'God' by His God. (v6,7)
  • Psalm 110.  David knows two Lords who converse in their rule of the nations.  There is the LORD and there is the Kingly Priest who is David's Lord.
  • Proverbs.  The Wisdom of God who creates (8:30) and gives new life (8:35) through granting the Spirit (1:23) is also possessed by the LORD (8:22)
  • Isaiah 9.  The government of God's righteous kingdom will be on the shoulders of the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (v6).  Yet He is One who is born and through Whom the zeal of the LORD will accomplish His work (v7)
  • Isaiah 48. The great I AM, the first and the last who created the heavens and the earth and who called Israel (v12,13) is One who is sent from the Lord GOD along with His Spirit (v16)
  • Isaiah 63.  The Saviour sends the Angel to save, yet they grieve His Holy Spirit (v9-10)
  • Ezekiel 34.  The Shepherd of Ezekiel's prophesy will be the LORD Himself (v12-22), yet this loving, kingly rule is exercised through the Prince, His Servant David (v23-24) who does all that the LORD is said to do as Shepherd and who rules for the LORD. 
  • Daniel 7.  The Possessor and rightful Ruler of the Kingdom that shall never pass away is the Son of Man (v13,14) who inherits the kingdom from the Ancient of Days (v9-12).
  • Micah 2.  The Shepherd who will gather the remnant of Israel is the LORD (v12) who will set at their head a King who is also called 'LORD' (v13)
  • Zechariah 2.  The One Sent from the LORD Almighty (v7,9,11) is the LORD Himself to live among the Israelites as the gentle, righteous, saving King of 9:9 (compare with 2:10)!

In all this my argument is not that these are hints of trinity but that they are texts that can only ever be understood from the perspective of a multi-Personal God.  When two Persons called LORD are interacting in the text (when we see plainly "true God from true God") then an understanding of God as uni-Personal is just dead wrong.  It must always have been dead wrong for it could never account for the Hebrew Scriptures as written.

The only God there is is trinitarian and His revelation has always been such.

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.

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