The New Testament Church as a Mystery -- By: Gary W. Derickson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 166:664 (Oct 2009)
Article: The New Testament Church as a Mystery
Author: Gary W. Derickson

The New Testament Church as a Mystery

Gary W. Derickson

Gary W. Derickson is Professor of Biblical Exposition, Corban College and Graduate School, Salem, Oregon.

When Paul used the word “mystery,” he often described it in terms of the revelation of a plan that God kept secret from eternity past and chose not to reveal until the church age. The church itself—its existence, nature, and place in God’s program—is such a mystery. It is not revealed in the Old Testament but is introduced and described in the New. Dispensational theologians recognize that this is based on a literal understanding of Old Testament prophecy. When the church is removed from Old Testament revelation, all that remains is to take the promises made to Israel literally and await their fulfillment.

Biblical Concept of Mystery

Though the term “mystery” (μυστέριον) has a range of meanings, including the common English concept of something “mysterious” that cannot be understood,1 this article uses the term with the New Testament meaning of something kept secret but later revealed. Certain previously unrevealed truths were kept within the counsels of God alone until He chose to reveal them to His apostles and prophets in the church age.2 It is not something especially “mysterious,”

because once made known it is understandable. But until God chose to reveal His secret plan it remained unknown and unknowable.3

Jesus referred to His parables in Matthew 13:11 as “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” that were being “given” to His apostles and disciples by Him while being kept from the nation (“them”). When Jesus said that “many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (v. 17), He indicated that the Old Testament prophets were not recipients of the truths He was revealing to His disciples at that time. What Jesus was describing in the parables the Old Testament prophets would like to have seen and heard, but they had not and could not.

Paul described “mystery” in this same sense. “In other generations [it] was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5). Further it was also kept “hidden” in past ages a...

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