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.
“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.
“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.
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.