- Published: 17 April 2011
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I have read several of your teachings which do not appear to define what is meant by Mystery or Dispensation. Could you point me to a definition of these terms.
God Bless your beautiful heart and thank you for writing. Here is a couple teachings on Dispensation and Mystery.
The word dispensation is the translation of the Greek oikonomia, a word that has become well known in the Anglicized form ECONOMY. Crabb discriminates between economy and management thus:
‘Economy has a more comprehensive meaning than management: for it includes the system and science of legislation as well as that of domestic arrangements, as the economy of agriculture ... political, civil, or religious economy´.
It is a secondary and derived meaning of the word, that uses it as a synonym of frugality, for a truly economical use of money, sometimes may mean very lavish spending. We can speak of the ‘economy of nature´, and by so doing refer to the operations of nature in generation, nutrition, preservation and distribution of plants and animals. Macaulay writing of David Hume said: ‘David Hume, undoubtedly one of the most profound political economists of his time´.
The Greek oikonomia is made up of the word oikos ‘house´ and nemo ‘to administer´, ‘to deal out´, ‘to distribute´. The word oikonomia is employed by Plato for the management of a household and oikonomia and oikonomos and oikonomeo are found in the LXX. In Isaiah 22:19,21 where the A.V. reads ‘station´, ‘government´, the LXX reads oikonomia ‘stewardship´. Oikonomos translates the Hebrew Al ha Beth ‘over the house´ in 1 Kings 4:6; 16:9; 18:3 and in four other places. We have gone thus far afield in order that the reader may have first-hand information concerning the use of the term from ancient to modern times. We now give a concordance of the three words that are found in the Greek New Testament.
Luke 16:2. Thou mayest be no longer steward.
Luke 16:2. Give an account of thy stewardship.
Luke 16:3. Taketh away from me the stewardship.
Luke 16:4. When I am put out of the stewardship.
1 Cor. 9:17. A dispensation (of the gospel).
Eph. 1:10. That in the dispensation of the fulness.
Eph. 3:2. The dispensation of the grace of God.
Eph. 3:9. The dispensation of the mystery (R.V.).
Col. 1:25. According to the dispensation of God.
1 Tim. 1:4. A dispensation of God which is in faith (R.V.).
Luke 12:42. That faithful and wise steward.
Luke 16:1. Rich man, which had a steward.
Luke 16:3. The steward said within himself.
Luke 16:8. Commended the unjust steward.
Rom. 16:23. Erastus the chamberlain of the city.
1 Cor. 4:1. Stewards of the mysteries of God.
1 Cor. 4:2. It is required in stewards ... found faithful.
Gal. 4:2 Is under tutors and governors.
Tit. 1:7. Blameless, as the steward of God.
1 Pet. 4:10. Good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
‘The Greek word rendered dispensation is oikonomia and refers to the act of administering. By the figure Metonymy, the act of administering is transferred to the time during which that administering is carried on´.
How many ‘dispensations´ are indicated in the Scriptures? This is a question that is more easily asked than answered. Every single believer who has been entrusted with stewardship of truth adds to the number of ‘dispensations´, but this aspect of the matter is of course not intended by the question. When we refer to the different ‘dispensations´ we refer to those subdivisions of the ages, in which the revealed will of God, carrying differing obligations, has been made known, and put into force, and in practically every case, the administration or stewardship of these separate and differing administrations, are found to have been entrusted to some chosen servant of the Lord. Moses, for example, is inseparable from the dispensation of law, and ‘Moses verily was faithful in all his house´ (Heb. 3:5).
The following subdivision of the Purpose of the Ages does not claim to be perfect or complete, but no real distinction in administration has been ignored, though some may have been merged (as for example the special stewardship of John the Baptist, the period under Saul before the accession of David and others, which would swell the list unduly).
(Some may overlap, and more than one can run together at the same time).
(1) Innocence. Adam unfallen. Paradise enjoyed.
(2) Adam to Noah. The Fall to the Flood.
(3) Noah to Babel. N.B. - Some features of Genesis 9 remain unchanged.
(4) Babel to Abraham. The Nations and the Nation.
(5) Abraham to Egypt. The Exodus marks a critical change.
(6) Exodus to Sinai. The covenant 430 years after the promise.
(7) Sinai to Jericho. The forty years wandering.
(8) Jericho to Saul. The land entered.
(9) David to Christ. Here there are subdivisions which we have not noted.
(10) The Earthly Ministry of Christ, His Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension.
(11) Pentecost to Peter in Prison, Acts 2 to 11.
(12) Paul´s First Ministry. The Gentile a wild olive contrary to nature.
(13) Paul´s Prison Ministry. The dispensation of the grace of God and the dispensation of the Mystery.
(14) The Resumption of Pentecost. The seven churches of Revelation 2,3.
(15) The Day of the Lord. The Apocalypse.
(16) The Millennial Kingdom and Revelation 20.
(17) The Period between the end of the Millennium and the Great White Throne.
(18) The End. The goal reached. God all in all.
No significance must be attached to the numbers that stand before any one dispensation. Paul´s Prison Ministry happens to be No. 13 in this list, but the very questionable period from Sinai to Jericho is No. 7. Anyone is at liberty to add further subdivisions as the study of the Word makes such dispensations, administration, or stewardships clear.
A word perhaps is called for in connection with the subheading that suggests that two dispensations may run together. If a dispensation is but another name for an age it is clear that two ‘ages´ cannot run together, but in any one period of time there may be more than one stewardship in exercise. Galatians 2:7-9 makes it clear that Paul had an apostleship and a stewardship that differed from that of Peter, but which was exercised during the self-same period. Or again, Romans 1:18 to 2:29 and Acts 17:25-28 make it clear that at the same period that Israel had the law, the covenants and the service of the tabernacle with all its rich typical teaching, the nations of the earth were under a dispensation of conscience and the witness of the works of creation.
John´s Gospel with its insistence upon the Giver of life, is addressed to those who did not know the meaning of the Hebrew word Rabboni and so could not be Jews. It was written after the whole of Paul´s ministry had ceased, it can be preached to-day without invading the smaller circle of faith encompassed by the Prison Epistles (see the article JOHN). It will be seen that a mere list of dispensations cannot set forth the whole truth of the matter, and must be used with discrimination. The office of Dispensational Truth is to decide whether any particular doctrine be it command, promise, calling or prophecy - does or does not pertain to any particular individual or company, and the recognition of these varying dispensations is therefore essential if we would walk worthy of our calling, and preach the truth for the present time.
Before attempting to explain or expound any particular portion of Scripture, the following interrogation, which is but the recognition of the fact that there are a succession of dispensations observable in the Bible, will prove a valuable guide.
Is the verse in question in the Old Testament or in the New Testament.?
If in the Old Testament is it in the Law, or the prophets, before or after Abraham, before or after David, etc.?.
If in the New Testament is it in the Gospels, if so which, for each gospel has its own peculiar viewpoint?
If in the Acts, is it in the period covered by Pentecost (Acts 2 to 12) by the early ministry of Paul (Acts 13 to 19), by the interval (Acts 20 to 28) or by the Prison Ministry of Paul?
Most objections to the teaching of the Mystery, and most of the confusion that is so evident, are the result of continually harking back to epistles before Acts 28, as for example, a believer may appear to be following and endorsing your teaching concerning the constitution of the Church of the one Body in Ephesians, only to betray confusion by quoting Galatians 3:27-29.
Mystery. The Greek word musterion occurs twenty-seven times in the N.T. and is translated "mystery" throughout. The word is distributed as follows:
Gospels. Three references. No occurrence in John's Gospel.
Epistles. Eight occurrences in Paul's pre-prison epistles (Rom., I Cor., 2 Thess.).
Ten occurrences in Paul's prison epistles (Eph., Co1.).
Two occurrences in Interim epistles (1 Tim.).
Four occurrences in the Revelation.
The word does not occur in Hebrews, nor in any of the circumcision epistles. The LXX contains eight references, all of them in the book of Danie1. In addition there are twelve occurrences in the Apocrypha which indicate by the way the word is employed, something of the meaning it must have attached to it when it is found in the N.T.
As this word occupies such an important place in dispensational truth we must waive our rule of not giving a concordance of more than ten occurrences of any word, and set out a complete concordance both in the O.T. and in the N.T.
Musterion in the New Testament
The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
Mark 4: 11
The mysteries of the kingdom of God.
The mysteries of the kingdom of God.
Not... be ignorant of this mystery.
The mystery, which was kept secret.
1 Cor. 2:7
The wisdom of God in a mystery.
Stewards of the mysteries of God.
Though I . . . understand all mysteries.
In the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
Behold, I show you a mystery.
2 Thess. 2:7
The mystery of iniquity doth already work.
Having made known unto us the mystery of His will.
He made known unto me the mystery.
My knowledge in the mystery of Christ.
The fellowship of the mystery.
This is a great mystery.
To make known the mystery of the gospel.
The mystery which hath been hid.
This mystery among the Gentiles.
The mystery of God.
To speak the mystery of Christ.
1 Tim. 3:9
Holding the mystery of the faith.
1 Tim 3:16
Great is the mystery of godliness.
The mystery of the seven stars.
The mystery of God should be finished.
Mystery, Babylon the great.
The mystery of the woman.
Musterion O.T. (LXX)
Mercies. . . concerning this secret.
Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel.
The secret which the king hath demanded.
There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets.
He that revealeth secrets.
The secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom.
Lord of kings and a revealer of secrets.
Seeing thou couldst reveal this secret.
No secret troubleth thee, tell me.
The Greek Christian "fathers" used the word of any such sign, whether of words or actions. They spoke of the offering of Isaac as a musterion, i.e. a sign or a symbol of the secret purpose of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. And they used it interchangeably with the words tupos type, sumbolon symbol, and parabole parable.
So far we have been concerned with the material that we are to use. We must now inquire into the essential meaning of the term, and this we shall gather (1) from its etymology and (2) from its usage. Etymology used alone is an unsafe guide, for language is living, and the folk who use it are not necessarily students; it is therefore wise to balance etymology with usage. This we will do.
* Muo does not occur in the N.T. but is the basic word from which musterion is derived. It means "to close", especially the lips or the eyes. Muzo, which likewise does not occur in the N.T. means "to murmur with closed lips, to mutter". It will be observed that in the English words murmur, mutter, mumble and mute this meaning persists.
* Mueo. To initiate into the mysteries, this is not only found in classical Greek but is used by the Apostle in Philippians 4:12, "I am instructed", better, "I am initiated". Moffatt translates the passage, "I have been initiated into the secret", Rotherham renders the word, "I have been let into the secret".
* Muopazo (myopia in English) 2 Peter 1:9, "cannot seeafaroff".
* Kammuo (derived from kata muo) to shut, especially the eyes (Matt. 13:15, Acts 28:27).
The etymology, therefore, of the word musterion suggests something "hidden", a secret, something that requires initiation, something not discoverable by ordinary methods. It is an unsafe analogy to argue from the use of the word "mystery" as employed in the articles of indenture, and referring to the mysteries of a trade, for this word should really be spelled "mistery" coming as it does from the French mestier, or metier which in its turn is derived from the Latin ministerium. It will not do, therefore, tó teach that there is no more "mystery" about the mysteries of the Bible than there is about trade secrets, for this approach to the subject omits the presence and influence of the pagan mysteries, that will eventually come to a head in "the mystery of iniquity", even as the mysteries of the Scriptures come to a head in "the mystery of godliness".
Is there any one who knows all hat there is to know concerning either the mystery of iniquity or the mystery of godliness? Are there not "depths of Satan" and "the deep things of God"? Are there not "unspeakable words, which it is not lawful (or possible) for a man to utter" (2 Cor. 12:4)? And is there not in the same epistle the offering of thanks to God for His "unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. 9:15)? From very early times there were vast and widespread institutions in the pagan world known as mysteries, celebrated for their profound secrecy, admission to which was only by initiation. The Greek, Egyptian and Persian mysteries can be traced back to a common source, namely Chaldea, and constitute one of the travesties of truth that is so characteristic of Babylonianism. Babylon is represented as bearing a golden cup, and to drink of "mysterious beverages" says Salverte, was indispensable on the part of all who sought initiation into these mysteries.
"To musterion" . This is not the only term borrowed from the ancient mysteries, which St. Paul employs to describe the teaching of the deeper truths of the Word. The word teleion (Col. 1:28 "perfect") seems to be an extension of the same metaphor. Philippians 4:12 we have already noted, and in Ephesians 1:13 sphragizesthai ("sealed") is perhaps an image derived from the same source. So too the Ephesians are addressed as Paulou "fellow initiates of Paul" in Ignatius' epistle, and the Christian teacher is thus regarded as a heirophantes (see Epict. 3.21, 13 seq.), who "initiates his disciples into the rites" (Bishop Lightfoot).
It becomes very clear that no knowledge of the mysteries was obtainable apart from initiation, and this fact must be borne in mind when we approach the mysteries of Scripture. No mere instruction, or quoting of verses of Scripture, not even the most lucid presentation of Dispensational Truth will ever "convince" any one apart from the gracious enlightening that God alone can give.
"It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given . . . many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (Matt. 13:11,17).
"Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 13:9).
The recognition of this great fact of initiation would save the believer many hours of fruitless anxiety on the part of others. The truth of the Mystery is not to be made known by the organizing of campaigns, it will never be a subject of popular appeal, our attitude must be a readiness at all times to help and guide wherever we see a desire to know and follow on, being assured that none will come to see the Mystery apart from the Lord's own illuminating; we ourselves can at best be but the earthen vessels that He stoops to use in this most wondrous work. When we come to usage, there are several avenues of approach.
(1) The Pagan mysteries and (2) the references in the Apocrypha. These two give an idea what the word mystery stood for in the great outside world; and (3) the usage of the word in the LXX book of Daniel, and (4) its usage in the N.T., these show how it was used in Holy Scripture. We can say little to profit of the Pagan mysteries. The Greek mysteries which were prevalent in the days of the Apostles, were derived from Egypt, which in its turn received them from Chaldea, and so in them we have the mystery of iniquity in germ. A search into the annals of the past would bring to light some of the horrible doctrines and corresponding practices associated with the mysteries, but the attitude of the Apostle must be ours:
"It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret" (Eph. 5:12),
and pass on to positive teaching.
In the Apocrypha the word "musterion" rarely rises above the idea of a secret, either of a king or a friend. Twice it refers to secret rites and ceremonies, but nothing more. The fact that the LXX did not use musterion until translating the book of Daniel, may be accounted for by many natural explanations, but when all is said, there must still be room left for the exercise of Divine Providence. Some lexicographers say that the Greek musterion is derived from the Hebrew mister, which is translated "secret" a number of times, yet the Greek translators never use musterion for that or its cognate sether. The only word translated musterion in the Greek O.T. is the Chaldee raz, which is used constantly throughout Daniel two, and as this word does not occur anywhere else in the O.T. we have no means of comparison.
While the Chaldee word raz stands alone, we are not left entirely without help, for on one occasion Daniel uses the Chaldee form of the Hebrew word sether, a word translated "secret" and "secret place" in many passages. This provides us with the link that we felt we needed, teaching us that in the Chaldee raz we have the equivalent word. The passage in Daniel 2:22, "He revealeth the deep and secret things", the LXX render "bathea kai apokrupha", reserving apparently the use of the musterion for the Gentile term. Its usage is confined to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and in two ways. Nebuchadnezzar had either actually forgotten the sub stance of his dream, or as a matter of policy withheld it in order to make sure that the interpretation should be something more than a clever human invention (Dan. 2:8,9,10,11).
When Daniel went into the presence of the king, he did not concentrate his attention on the substance of the dream, but its interpretation (Dan. 2:16), but of course, as the substance of the dream had to be known before the interpretation could be given, both dream and interpretation were included in the "secret" concerning which Daniel and his fellows prayed (Dan. 2:18,19). When Daniel went in before the king, Nebuchadnezzar asked him, "art thou able to make known unto me the dream which I have seen, and the interpretation thereof?" (Dan. 2:26). One cannot avoid the feeling that there is a Divine overruling in the choice of this word musterion here, and for this reason. We discover that when Israel began to make it manifest that they were going to reject the Saviour (Matt. 11-12), that the word "mystery" enters into the N.T. (Matt. 13), and that whereas the Apostles had been commanded earlier "go not into the way of the Gentiles" (Matt. 10:5), a change is indicated by the quotation of Isaiah forty-two, "in His name shall the Gentiles trust" (Matt. 12:21). Again at Acts twenty-eight, when Israel were set aside, Paul the prisoner commits to writing the epistles which reveal the dispensation of the Mystery.
WHAT WAS THE SECRET?
When examining Romans 5:12-8:39, we see that it constitutes a unique section of the teaching of the epistle. It goes back to a period before there was a Jew, and before Abraham, to Adam. No one can read Genesis three without being conscious that there is much unexplained. Solomon writing in Ecclesiastes three says, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven", and in enumerating them he says, "A time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Eccles. 3:1,7). The word translated in the A.V., "kept secret", is sigao, translated elsewhere in the N.T., "keep silence" and "hold one's peace". Much important truth latent in Genesis 1-11 was "hushed" until the "time to speak" had arrived, and that was when Paul was inspired to write the epistle to the Romans.
The study of Genesis 1-11 in the light of Romans 5:12-8:39 is therefore of the utmost importance to the believer who would realize the peculiar character of his calling. From Genesis twelve until the end of the Acts, one nation holds the pre-eminent place, and that part of the O.T. which deals with Israel knows no salvation apart from that chosen race, or from the covenants made with Abraham.
If Israel should fail and fall, the prophets had nothing to tell us of how God would cope with the resulting problem. It is, accordingly, the purpose of the central section of Romans to reveal the relationship of man, as such (i.e. as neither Jew nor Gentile), to Adam and to Christ, irrespective both of promises made to "the fathers" , and the failure or success of "the chosen people". But this is not the theme of the O.T. prophecy in general. The period covered by the Scriptures from Genesis twelve to Matthew one, is as long as that covered by Genesis 1:3 to chapter eleven. In that same space of eleven chapters is written all that can be known of the first 2,000 years of this present creation. What is written is pregnant with truth, but it must await its appointed time, and just as the gospel itself revealed teaching hidden in O.T. Scriptures (as we have already seen in Habakkuk 2:3,4), so these early chapters of Genesis hold much basic teaching, throwing light on the position of the believer who is saved and justified without reference to the law of Moses.
Volumes have been written to associate the obedience of Christ with the law of Moses, whereas this law was but transient, it was "added because of transgressions", it was "found fault with", and passed away (Heb. 8:7). This secret has been hushed in aionian times. We read of some part of God's purpose as being related to a period "before aionian times" (Tit. 1:2, 2 Tim. 1:9), and in I Corinthians we read of "the wisdom of God in a mystery", which has been "hidden", and which God "foreordained before the ages" (1 Cor. 2:7). The Mystery of the prison epistles was "hidden from the ages, and from the generations" (Col. 1:26). These hidden subjects had "their own seasons" of manifestation, which manifestations were through the medium of "preaching", and "according to" a "commandment" (Tit. 1:3).
The mystery of Romans sixteen is not said to be related to a period "before age times", but silenced in or during age times. This secret is the theme of the central section of Romans, and its subject is Adam, not Abraham, man, not Israel or Gentile; the law of sin, not the law of Sinai.
What are the "prophetic writings" that Paul refers to? The words translated in the A.V., "the scriptures of the prophets", are not exactly the same as those used in Romans 1:2. In Romans 1:2 the original reads: dia ton propheton autou en graphais hagiais, whereas Romans 16:26 reads: dia te graphon prophetikon. The suggestion is made by some that not only a difference of expression is intended here, but a real difference, and that the reference in Romans 1:2 is to O.T. prophets, whereas that in Romans sixteen is to N.T. prophets. It may be so, but the reader should be aware that nothing in the language used constitutes a proof of this. Prophetikos is to prophetes, what pneumatikos is to pneuma, simply the adjectival form. As the only other occurrence of the word will show, every one of the O.T. prophecies are "prophetic writings" (2 Pet. 1:21). It was when the Apostle received commandment to make this early truth known, that the prophetic writings which had for generations held their secret began to speak.
The fact that what was made known both in Romans one and sixteen was "for the obedience of faith to all nations" , establishes the unity of purpose that links the whole of Romans together as an indivisible whole. There is no need to adopt the suggestion of Lightfoot that the doxology was added some years after. The ascription of praise is to the only wise God, and wisdom is associated with the unfolding purpose of the ages (Rom. 11:33, 1 Cor. 2:7, Eph. 1:8,9; 3:10). On this high note the epistle ends.
Acts twenty-eight forms a dispensational boundary, having on the one side Abrahamic covenants and promises, and having on the other an entirely new dispensation. The terms of the Abrahamic covenant cannot operate here, for Galatians 3:13,14 makes it clear that the blessings of Abraham to the Gentiles and the redemption of Israel go together and Israel went into their Lo-ammi condition at Acts twenty-eight. If, therefore, the Gentile is to be saved, and not only saved but called to a height of glory that transcends all revelation hitherto given, then God must put into operation some new way of dealing with men; in other words, a new dispensation must begin, and did begin, at Acts 28:28. It is to the demonstration of the fact that this new dispensation is the dispensation of the Mystery, that we now ask the reader's attention.
THE MYSTERIES IN EPHESIANS, COLOSSIANS AND 1 TIMOTHY
There are four epistles that bear the marks of Paul's imprisonment, and two of them deal very fully with the subject of the Mystery. These epistles are Ephesians and Colossians. Let us note the references to the subject:
"The mystery of His Will" (Eph. 1:9).
"The mystery" (Eph. 3:3).
"The mystery of Christ" (Eph. 3:4).
"The dispensation of the mystery" (Eph. 3:9 R.V.).
"The great mystery" (Eph. 5:32).
"The mystery of the gospel" (Eph. 6:19).
"The mystery" (Col. 1:26).
"The mystery among the Gentiles" (Col. 1:27).
"The mystery of God" (Col. 2:2).
"The mystery of Christ" (Col. 4:3).
The first epistle to Timothy is not a "prison" epistle, but it bears marks of having been written after Paul had been liberated, and so describes the newly-formed Church as it was at the beginning. There we have two more references to the Mystery, which we will add for the sake of completeness:
"The mystery of the faith" (1 Tim. 3:9).
"The mystery of godliness" (1 Tim. 3:16).
This makes a total of twelve references to the subject after Acts twenty-eight, and an examination of these, together with their contexts, should, under God, prove a means of help and blessing in the appreciation of the high and holy calling of the Church of the One Body.
THE MYSTERY IN EPHESIANS
Let us observe the use of the word mystery in Ephesians. We find that the six references fall into two sections of three each, the second section supplementing and explaining more fully the first:
A Eph. 1:9, 10 The Mystery of His Will . . . a dispensation
B Eph. 3:3 The Mystery
C Eph. 3:4 The Mystery of Christ
A Eph. 3:9 (R.V.) The dispensation of the Mystery
B Eph.5:32 The great Mystery. Christ and His Church
C Eph.6:19 The Mystery of the gospel.
THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY
The first mystery mentioned in Ephesians is "the Mystery of His will" which has in view a "dispensation of the fulness of the seasons" when Christ is to head up all things, "both which are in heaven and which are on earth". We have already seen that the corresponding reference to this is Ephesians 3:9, which we here quote from the R.V.: "and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the Mystery, which from all ages hath been hid in God Who created all things". We have quoted the R.V. because it recognizes the reading "dispensation" instead of "fellowship". The expression "all ages" is a free rendering-the "all" is not to be taken as though it existed in the original. Paul uses the word oikonomia "dispensation" five times. It may be as well to see the references together. We give Conybeare and Howson's translation, which, though it is a little free, seems to convey the intention of the Apostle:
"For although I proclaim the glad tidings, yet this gives me no ground of boasting; for I am compelled to do so by order of my Master. Yea, woe is me if I proclaim it not. For were my service of my own free choice, I might claim wages to reward my labour; but since I serve by compulsion, I am a slave entrusted with a stewardship (dispensation)" (1 Cor. 9:16,17).
To this selfsame "bond-slave of Jesus Christ" a further dispensation or stewardship was granted upon the failure of Israel at Acts twenty-eight:
"For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation He made known unto me the Mystery" (Eph. 3:1-3).
Here we have a series of statements that put the new dispensation in a clear light:
1. It was given to Paul as "the prisoner of Jesus Christ".
2. It was given to Paul "for you Gentiles" , "to you-ward".
3. It had immediate relation to "the Mystery".
4. Which was received by "revelation".
A parallel passage in Colossians one makes Ephesians three even more c1ear and emphatic:
"His body. . . the church, where of I am made a minister: according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to complete the word of God-the Mystery which hath been hid from the ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints" (Col. 1:24-26).
Additional items that give further light are the following:
1. The Church which is His Body is intimately associated with this new dispensation.
2. This new dispensation completes the word of God, and
3. Finds its expression in a Mystery which had never been made known before it was entrusted to the Apostle Paul.
We can now go back to Ephesians one and read again the first reference to this dispensation:
"Unto a dispensation of the fulness of the seasons, to unite all things under one head, in union with Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth" (Eph. 1: 10).
Where Colossians tells us that this dispensation of the Mystery "completes" the word of God, Ephesians tells us that this dispensation of the mystery of His will is "the fulness of the seasons". There is a contrast in Ephesians 2:12-19:
"At that season ye were without Christ . . . aliens . . . strangers . . . now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints . . ."
The "now" of verse 19 is the present season in contrast with "that season" when the Gentile was an alien. A new creation intervenes between verses 12 and 19. "The both" have been "made one"; this deals with the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile. Ephesians 1:10 speaks not of the Jew and the Gentile, but of the things in heaven and on earth being made one under the headship of Christ.
This is the reconci1iation spoken of in Co1ossians 1:20. Now all this is absolute1y new. Nowhere else in the whole range of the Scriptures can such things be discovered as are made known by the Apostle in these epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. Lest we be misunderstood, it is evident, we trust, that we speak of the "dispensational" revelations. Such blessed doctrines as redemption and forgiveness of Ephesians 1:7 have already been revealed and explained in earlier Scriptures.
To complete our references, we quote 1 Timothy 1:4 R.V.:
"Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, the which minister questionings, rather than a dispensation of God which is in faith".
This has more to do with the faithful exercise of ministry, whatever it may be, than the revelation of any new truth, and, while inc1uding the dispensation of the Mystery so far as Timothy shared it with Paul, does not actually deal with it. We trust it is c1ear that the dispensational standing of the Church, the calling of the Gentile, and the revelation of the Mystery after Acts twenty-eight, constitute a unique revelation and stewardship.
It is essential that the reader should distinguish "The Mystery" of Ephesians 3:3, which had been hid in God until it was revealed to Paul, and the Mystery of Christ, which has been the subject of revelation right down the ages.
Ephesians three speaks not only of the Mystery as it relates to the new dispensational dealings of God with the Gentiles, but also with the Mystery of Christ. Now this mystery must not be read as meaning simply the fu1filment of prophecy. While many in Israel saw the teaching of their Scriptures as to the coming of the Messiah in glory and dominion, few saw the Mystery of the Messiah which related to His Coming in lowliness, rejection and suffering. Christ said, speaking of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, "many prophets and righteous men have desired to see these things . . . but have not seen them" (Matt. 13:17), and into the Mystery of Christ "angels desired to look" (1 Peter 1:12). Mystery necessitates revelation. It is something that cannot be inferred or arrived at by study.
First we will set out the structure of Ephesians 3: 1-13 where the two mysteries occur:
Eph. 3:1-13 The Prisoner of Christ Jesus
A Prisoner for you (huper humon)
B Dispensation of grace of God
Revelation of the Mystery
a 2 Dispensation given
b 2 T0 you-ward
b 2 To me
a 3 Mystery revealed
C Two Mysteries and two ministries
d 4 Mystery of Christ
e 5 Apostles and prophets (plural)
f 5, 6 The Mystery
g In Spirit
h Joint partakers
g In Christ
e 7 Paul alone (singular)
d 8 Unsearchable riches of Christ
B Dispensation of the Mystery Making known wisdom of God
a 9 Dispensaiton hidden since the ages
b 9 By God Who created through Christ
c 10 Knowledge through the church
a 11 Purpose of the ages
b 11 Which He made in Christ
c 12 Access through faith of Christ
A 13 Afflictions for you (huper humon).
We draw attention to the ending of this passage which indicates that verses 4-7 are a parenthesis and that verse 3 reads on to verse 8. We have therefore the means of a clearer view of the theme before the Apostle, by leaving the parenthesis out for a time, and observing his teaching concerning the wondrous dispensation which he had received.
ITS SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS
(1) A special minister Paul, as prisoner (1).
(2) A special ministry For you Gentiles (1).
To you-ward (2).
Among the Gentiles (8).
(3) A special communication Made known by revelation (3).
(4) A special theme Unsearchable (8).
(5) A special period The dispensation of the grace of God (2).
The dispensation of the Mystery (9).
(6) A special witnes Unto principalities (10).
Manifold wisdom (10).
(7) A special purpose According to the purpose of the Ages (11).
Such is the theme of verses 1-11, omitting the parenthesis. Coming to verses 4-7 we learn more concerning this Mystery by way of contrast. The Mystery of verses 1-3 and 8-11 is contrasted with the Mystery of Christ. Let us again seek an analysis.
THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST
1. Not exclusive to this dispensation. It was made known in other generations (5).
2. Not exclusive to the Apostle Paul. It was revealed unto prophets and apostles (5).
1. It was exclusive to the Apostle Paul. Verses 1,2,3,8 and 9 already considered, and verse 7, "whereof I was made a minister", the words defining the gospel intended in verse 6.
2. It was peculiar in its composition. It give~ a threefold equality to the Gentile believer never before known or enjoyed (6).
Verse 6 in the A.V. reads on from verse 5, being connected by the word "that". The R.V. makes the connexion closer by adding in italic type the words "to wit". Any literal translation, however, is obliged to render einai as a statement of fact, and there is no word nor construction which necessitates "that" or "to wit". Instead of connexion, contrast is intended. Instead of the threefold fellowship of the Gentiles being the Mystery revealed to the Apostles and prophets and before them to the sons of men in other generations, it is entirely associated "with that gospel" where of Paul was made a minister, who in that capacity received the commission to enlighten all as to the dispensation of the Mystery, which instead of being revealed in other ages, or at the time to many prophets and apostles, had never been revealed at all, but had been hid from the ages in God and revealed only to the one chosen Apostle, Paul, when the time for its publication had arrived. Instead, therefore, of linking verse 6 with 5, we should link verse 6 with 7.
We do not arrive at the truth if we stop at the word gospel in verse 6. Scripture speaks of a series of sets of good news or "gospels" and to ascertain the truth we must know that the gospel under consideration was that which the Apostle Paul preached according to the gift of grace of God which had given him the dispensation of this secret to administer. The parenthesis of verses 4-7 stands therefore thus:
Made known in other ages.
Revealed now to apostles and prophets, including Paul.
The threefold fellowship of the Gentiles.
Revealed in the special gospel of Paul.
Given to him to the exclusion of others.
Isaiah, when he penned the fifty-third chapter of his prophecy, entered in some degree into the "Mystery of Christ" and shared with Paul, Peter and others that blessed truth. David too, when he wrote Psalm twenty-two perceived the sacred secret of Christ's rejection. But neither Isaiah, David, nor Peter had any knowledge of the terms of the Mystery as revealed in Ephesians 3:6. That was hidden by God in Himself. It constituted a part of the purpose of the ages, but was a part, pertaining to the heavenly section, which had never been made known. It is difficult to decide between the A.V. rendering of Ephesians 3:5, which joins the words en pneumati (by the spirit) to the Apostles and prophets, thereby dec1aring the source of their inspiration, and the alternative rendering which makes the words "in spirit" commence the statement as to the threefold fellowship of the Gentiles.
Matthew 22:43 supplies an instance where en pneumati is used of inspiration. "How then doth David in spirit call him Lord?" Rom. 8:9 supplies an instance where the words are used not of inspiring apostles and prophets, but as indicating a sphere of blessing. "You are not in flesh, but in spirit". The general trend of the context and the recognition of the canon that the Apostle's style allows of no superfluous words, causes every sentence to be pregnant with meaning. No item can be eliminated without injury to the sense and teaching. The question of inspiration is not in view. Whatever had been made known of the subject under discussion, either to Paul or to the other Apostles, had been "revealed" which carries with it the thought of inspiration.
On the other hand a change of sphere is a feature which the Apostle emphasizes in this epistle. lts blessings are "in the heavenlies" as well as "in Christ". lts practical outworkings are "in the Lord", and the special feature with which Ephesians 3:6 is in direct contrast is given in Ephesians 2:11, en sarki "in flesh". In verse twelve another sphere is mentioned, "in the world".
In the world is contrasted with in the heavenlies.
In flesh is set over against in spirit.
With the addition of the word "one" the change is found indicated in 2:18, "access to the Father in One Spirit", and again in 2:22, "an habitation of God in spirit". In chapter three the Apostle pursues the theme of the change of dispensation. The inspiration of Scripture or of apostles is extraneous to the subject. Consequently, as we are free to choose, we feel that 3:6 must commence with the words "in spirit". This is the essential condition of blessing in this dispensation. The blessings themselves are "all spiritual" and can only be received by those who are "in spirit" .
In the next place we pause to note the class who are spoken of as being thus blessed in spirit. It is usual for the words to be added, at least mentally, to make the verse read, "that the Gentiles together with the Jews should be fellow-heirs, etc.", but this idea is unwarranted. If for the moment we concede that the Jew is in view, the teaching then must be accepted as a veritable revelation of an hitherto hidden mystery, for where, since the call of Abraham to the writing of the epistle to the Romans (where the Apostle says "the Jew first", etc.) has the Gentile ever received the threefold equality revealed here?
Millennial blessings which fulfill the promises to Israel, necessarily give the blessed Gentile a secondary place; they who were once aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, but who are finally blessed under the covenant of promise, are nevertheless "tail" and not "head" , and their national distinctions remain. Here, in the dispensation of the Mystery, the sphere is "in spirit" and the equality is concerning the Gentiles. The only place that a Jew can have in the dispensation of the Mystery is to lose his nationality and enter this equal calling as a sinner saved by grace, even as the Gentile does.
The threefold equality of this new sphere must now be noted:
Sunkleronoma Sussoma Summetocha
In each case the word commences with su which means "with". The best word in English to fit the three statements is the word "joint". We can say "joint-heirs", a "joint-body", and "joint-partakers".
In Hebrews 11:9 we read of Isaac and Jacob who sojourned with Abraham as "heirs with him of the same promise" . God does not call Himself merely the God of Abraham, or the God of Abraham and Isaac. His full title in this connexion is "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" . They were co-heirs. In 1 Peter 3:7 the husband, though recognizing his wife as a "weaker vessel", is nevertheless enjoined to remember that they were both "heirs together of the grace of life". The equality among all believers in the dispensation of the Mystery is expressed in similar terms, namely co-heirs. This inheritance is the subject of Ephesians 1:11 and 18, and of Colossians 1:12. It is a predestinated allotment, it is "in the light".
The joint-body (sussoma) is as unique as is the word used to express it. The word occurs nowhere else in the N.T. or in the LXX. Words arise in response to needs, and never before in aU the varied ways of God with man had there been the necessity for such a term. Kingdom, Firstborn, Church, Bride, Wife, Flock, these and other terms had been necessitated by the unfolding of the purpose of the ages, but not until the revelation of the Mystery was there necessity to use such an expression as "joint-body". The equality in the Body is opened up in Ephesians 4:16. There is but One Head and the rest of the Body are members one of another on these equal terms.
The third item is "joint-partakers", but such an expression does not convey the truth until the statement is completed:
"Joint-partakers" of the promise in Christ Jesus, through the gospel of which I became minister".
The better readings omit the words "of Him", and give the title "Christ Jesus". ("His promise" in the A.V.) "The promise in Christ Jesus" .-Paul, when writing to Timothy his last "prison epistle", calls himself:
"An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life, which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:1).
Writing to Titus between the two imprisonments he speaks of the:
". . . hope of aionian life, which God, that cannot tie, promised before age times, but hath in due times (or, its own peculiar seasons) manifested His word, through a proclamation with which I (ego) was entrusted" (Titus 1:2,3).
The Gentiles, here called and blessed, may indeed have been "strangers from the covenants of promise" while "in flesh", but "in spirit" they are "joint-partakers" of a promise which goes back before the age times, and before the overthrow of the world. Such is the sphere and character of the unity created by the Lord during this time of Israel's blindness.
We rejoice at the testimony of "All Scripture" to the joys and blessings which are stored up for all Israel, the nations, the groaning creation, and the Church of God. Nevertheless, we, according to His promise, look for higher things than Abraham hoped or the Prophets dreamed.
"There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory" (1 Cor. 15:41).
We hope this helps,