3By revelation there was made known to me a MYSTERY, as I wrote before in brief. 4Reading this, you should become aware of my insight into the MYSTERY of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6the MYSTERY being that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promises in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8Although I am the most inferior of all the saints, grace has been granted that I should preach among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ 9to enlighten all regarding THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SECRET hidden in God through the ages, who created all things through Jesus Christ, 10that through the Church should now be made known to the sovereignties and authorities in the heavens, the multi-faceted nature of God’s wisdom 11according to the purpose of the ages made in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph3:3-11)
And so we arrive at the passage of Scripture which gave rise to the title of my first book: “Fellowship of the Secret”. That was taken from verse 9 which could equally be translated “administration of the secret (plan)”. For as sometimes happens there is a textual variant in the bible manuscripts, probably due in this case to the similarity of οἰκονομία (administration) and κοινωνία (fellowship). In context either will do, for Paul is referring to the Church, being a fellowship of believers but also an administration for the propagation and application of the gospel. Similarly, “secret” could be translated “mystery” (as in KJV), being the same word in Greek – a secret of God is assuredly a mystery to man. And as I have highlighted, this short passage has several references to a mystery or secret, being the revelation of the Gentiles’ unexpected inheritance that had now been “made known to the apostles and prophets”. That must refer to prophets of the apostolic age (cf. Acts13:1; 1Cor12:28) for this mystery had only been revealed “now” (v5). Even the heavenly authorities were kept in the dark concerning it, as is confirmed by the sometimes mistranslated and rarely comprehended verses 8-11.
What Paul is disclosing is that it was not until the establishment of the Church, indeed by its establishment, that this mystery concerning the Gentiles’ portion, salvific inheritance and the nature of the dispensation pertaining to it was revealed by God even to the principalities and powers of Heaven. It had been “hidden in God” (i.e. the Father) from earlier ages. That is why none of the Old Testament prophesies depict the gospel age or Church in the form it has taken. For it was never envisaged (or disclosed) that the Gentiles would be included amongst Christ’s consecrated band of enlighteners, rather that they would become enlightened through association with the Jews, God’s elect people. But now according to Paul’s Good News, the Gentiles could themselves be made holy and incorporated within that consecrated fellowship and inherit all its privileges (Acts26:18). God’s secret plan had been accomplished through Christ’s Passion and the breaking down the wall of division between Jew and Gentile through the abolishment of Torah as considered in the previous post.
However, the providential implications of what Paul is saying here has remained a mystery to the post-apostolic Church. Paul’s teaching is actually reinforced in Rom11 (vv11,12,15 & 30) – if only those verses were taken as read, but as I pointed out in an earlier post, they rarely are. I have however discovered at least one early commentator (St John Chrysostom AD347-407) who came in part to an understanding of what Paul is disclosing in Eph3. That is that the dispensation of grace to the Gentiles resulting in eternal life and a glorious inheritance was unknown to the Old Testament prophets as well as the celestial principalities and powers before it was revealed through Paul. This mysterious (or secret) dispensation Chrysostom recognized had not “come to pass” but had been “manifested” through the establishment of the Church. He went on to write in his commentary:
“For this is the gospel: ‘It is Jesus that shall save His people’ – but (note) not a word about the Gentiles. That which concerns the Gentiles the Spirit reveals; that they were called indeed the angels knew, but that it was the same privileges as Israel, yea, even to sit upon the throne of God, who would ever have expected this? Who would ever have believed it? – (for it had) been hid in God” [Chrysostom Homily VI and VII on Ephesians covering (Eph3:5-11); cf. Homily V on Colossians covering (Col1:26-28)]
He also affirms my translation from the Greek, i.e. that that the mystery was revealed now (not in the Old Testament), through (not “to”) the Church, to (not “by”) the celestial authorities. The fourth century Catholic saint and scholar does not work through the providential implications (which would have challenged the then teaching of his Church). But at least he had grasped the gist of what Paul was intimating, which is more than most interpreters had done, including myself until revealed by the Spirit.
I acknowledge that most other early Fathers, unless they had clearly understood Paul’s reference to this mystery, would regard God’s secret plan as a “strange doctrine” for I found it somewhat peculiar myself. Yet it must be presented, for not only was it directed to my mind during what I know to have been an encounter with the Holy Spirit, it also reconciles a great deal concerning the context of the Church and gospel within a yet more glorious plan of loving goodness; one in which the majority of human tongues will one day willingly confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (cf. Phi2:11). Although I am the most inferior of all the saints, grace has been granted that I should enlighten all regarding the secret plan that had been hidden in God, even from the Church.
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