The Mystery in Ephesians 3 -- By: Charles C. Ryrie

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 123:489 (Jan 1966)
Article: The Mystery in Ephesians 3
Author: Charles C. Ryrie

The Mystery in Ephesians 3

Charles C. Ryrie

[Charles C. Ryrie, Dean, Graduate School, Professor, Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

The mystery of Ephesians 3:1–12 is a touchstone of interpretations. Amillennial eschatology is quite certain that in this passage Paul is not saying that the mystery is something that was not revealed until New Testament times but is a further revelation of the covenant promises made with Abraham. Oswald T. Allis, for instance, says: “…It was new and unknown in a relative sense only, being in its essentials an important theme of prophecy from the time of Abraham….”1 A more recent writer speaks in the same vein. “What he [Paul] does mean is that this mystery truth, although known and written in kernel form in the text of the Old Testament, was not fully comprehended nor understood until the times of the New Testament, and so can be spoken of, relatively speaking, as being hidden.”2

Covenant premillennialists hold essentially the same interpretation. Payne, for instance, writes: “Second, the Greek musterion, ‘mystery,’ does not necessarily imply discontinuity. …A ‘mystery’ need not even have been unknown or unappreciated previously, except perhaps relatively so….”3 The purpose of this sort of interpretation is to obviate the necessity of recognizing the distinctiveness of the church, the body of Christ, by attempting to show that the church was revealed, at least partially, in the Old Testament. This idea

also implies, of course, that the church as spiritual Israel is the continuation of God’s redemptive program through Old Testament Israel.

On the other hand, dispensational premillennialism has insisted that the mystery is something unrevealed in the Old Testament (though now revealed) in order to demonstrate the distinctiveness of the church from Israel and to emphasize its unique place in God’s program for this age. Pentecost, for instance, writes as follows: “Paul then, is explaining, not limiting the mystery there set forth. The concept must stand that this whole age with its program was not revealed in the Old Testament, but constitutes a new program and a new line of revelation in this present age.”4

Ultradispensationalists enter and further complicate the interpretative picture by insisting not only on the distinctiveness of the body church but on the fact that this was not revealed u...

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