The Mystery Revealed

Luke’s next writings in Acts return to the events in the Jerusalem church and specifically to Peter.  That will begin a new chapter here on the blog.  But before we leave the story of Paul’s early ministry in Antioch, I want to visit the passages in Paul’s letters, written decades after these events, where he describes what was revealed to him directly by the Lord.  This list is not exhaustive — I’m constantly finding other small references to the uniqueness of Paul’s message and the fact that he received it directly from the Lord and not from men.  It also is not in chronological order or prioritized in any way.  The passages are listed here in the same order you would find them if you started reading at Romans 1:1 and stopped reading at Philemon 25.

Romans 1:5

[Jesus Christ our Lord] “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake…”  (Paul received his apostleship for the Gentiles directly from the Lord, not from the Twelve.)

Romans 16:25-27

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, accoring to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever.  Amen” (emphasis added)

In this passage Paul makes a personal claim (my gospel) to what he preached concerning Jesus Christ, stating that he received it by revelation, not the teaching of the Twelve.  See the discussion on Ephesians 3:1-9 for a thorough expansion of this point.

I Corinthians 2:7-10

“but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden [wisdom] which God predestined before the ages to our glory; [the wisdom] which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’  For to us God revealed [them] through the Spirit…”

What Paul preached to the Corinthians was known to God in eternity past, but was kept hidden until the Lord revealed it to Paul (and others through Paul — see the discussion on Ephesians 3:1-9 again).  Interestingly, Paul tells us why God kept it a secret.  If Pilate and the Jewish High Council had known about it, they wouldn’t have crucified Jesus, a prerequisite for the redemption of mankind!

I Corinthians 9:1

“Am I not free?  Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?…” (emphasis added)

Paul not only met the Lord Jesus Christ in person, he was the only apostle to have met him in His ultimately glorified form!  (Although the other apostles had seen His glorified appearance twice during His earthly ministry — on the Mount of Transfiguration and at the time of his Ascension, neither appearance resulted in the adverse effects suffered by Paul when he met the Glorified Lord on the road to Damascus.  From this I infer that although the disciples saw His glory, it was nevertheless in a more restrained form that what Paul experienced.)

I Corinthians 11:23

 ”For I received from the Lord that whch I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed…”  (Paul didn’t receive the practice of communion from the Twelve, but directly from the Lord Himself.  Communion is one of the few practices that is therefore part of both Israel’s Kingdom program and the current dispensation, the Age of Grace.)

I Corinthians 15:1,3,8

“(1) Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you… (3) for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received… (8) and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (Paul received the gospel by revelation directly from the risen Lord, and passed it on immediately to the Gentiles.  But the timing of his receiving it was “last of all, as it were to one untimely born.”  This phrase again indicates that he received it independently from the Twelve, according to a different schedule than the Twelve.)

II Corinthians 12:1-7

“Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.  I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago — whether in the body  I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows — such a man was caught up to the third heaven.  And I know how such a man — whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows — was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.  On behalf of such a man will I boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses… And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me — to keep me from exalting myself!” (emphasis added)

Paul not only met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, but many times thereafter.  On one of these occasions, he was actually caught up to heaven, where he heard things that even he was forbidden to repeat.  What was revealed to him was of such importance that God felt it necessary to provide a source of humility with it to keep Paul from becoming proud.  But the point here is that Paul did not receive this information from the Twelve — he received it directly from the Lord of Glory.

Galatians 1:1

“Paul, an apostle (not [sent] from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)…” (emphasis added)

Galatians 1:11-12

“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man nor was I taught it, but [I received it] through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”  (emphasis added)

Galatians 1:15 – 2:9

Here is a longer passage that adds considerably to our knowledge of Paul’s whereabouts during his “desert years” before the first missionary journey.  Please read this passage for yourself now, and then check my outline below against the Scriptures:

  • Sometime after God “was pleased to reveal His Son” in Paul (that could mean on the road to Damascus, or after Jesus appeared to him again to tell him to get out of Jerusalem and be sent “far away to the Gentiles”)
  • Paul did not immediately “consult with flesh and blood” or go to Jerusalem to visit the Apostles
  • Instead he went to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus
  • Three years after returning to Damascus he went to Jerusalem to only Peter and stayed with him fifteen days
  • While staying with Peter he also saw James, the Lord’s brother (not James, the brother of John)
  • He then went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia, still unknown to the churches in Judea
  • Fourteen years later he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus because of a revelation
  • Paul submitted the gospel he preached among the Gentiles in private to the Apostles (Note: If there was no difference between Paul’s message and that of the Twelve, and both were under the authority of the Great Commission, there would have been no need to ask for their stamp of approval.  So why did he do it?  Because Jesus Christ told him to in a revelation!)
  • The Apostles contributed nothing to Paul’s message
  • They recognized that Peter had been sent to Israel and that Paul had been sent to the Gentiles
  • James (the Lord’s brother), Peter and John approved

Apparently Paul and Barnabas returned to their ministry in Antioch immediately after this visit, for Paul’s next words describe a visit that Peter and others from Jerusalem made to Antioch.  There is some confusion as to whether or not this passage describes the same occasion as Acts 15.  A careful comparison of the two passages suggests strongly that they are not the same occasion.  I’ll urge you to study them both yourself, and we will revisit them when we reach Chapter 15.  But here is a synopsis of the differences:

  • Reason: Galatians visit was because of a revelation, while Acts visit was because of dissention in the Antioch church
  • Visibility: Galatians visit was only to “those of reputation” (Apostles), while Acts visit was to Apostles and elders, and the entire church
  • Subject: Galatians visit recognized separate apostleship of Paul to the Gentiles and Peter to Israel, while Acts visit decided that Gentiles didn’t have to follow the Jewish rites as they were being practiced in the Jerusalem church
  • Conclusion: Galatians visit concluded that Gentile believers only had to “remember the poor”, while Acts visit concluded that Gentiles still had to “abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood”
  • Follow-up:  Galatians visit is followed by Peter’s visit to Antioch, while the Acts visit is followed up by Judas and Silas accompanying Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch

Here again we find that Luke has left out vast passages of time in his narrative in Acts.  Surely the visit described in Galatians would have been unnecessary if the events of Acts 15 had already taken place.  So Acts 15 must have happened after the event described in Galatians.  But Paul states in Galatians that the visit described there happened fourteen years after his private visit to Peter, which was in turn three years after his second visit to Damascus.  That makes the events of Acts 15 at least seventeen years after his conversion on the road to Damascus.

Ephesians 3:1-9

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.  And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 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; [to be specific,] that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 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.  To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things.” (emphasis added)

Now this is a salient passage that deserves our full attention!  (It is, in fact, quoted in the banner above every page on this blog site.)   Paul establishes in a most forthright manner that what he presented to the believers in Ephesus was a special message intended for Gentiles, which had never been revealed to anyone before.  Paul is writing to the Ephesians from prison in Rome.   Some use v5 to claim that this mystery was revealed to all of the Apostles (including Paul) by the Spirit.   But that contradicts Paul’s personal claim to this message.  Indeed, by the time Paul was in prison in Rome, all of his visits to Jerusalem to confer with the Twelve and gain their acceptance and approval of his ministry to the Gentiles had long-ago been completed.  When Paul invokes the use of “now” (“as it has now been revealed”), I believe he means that it had been revealed to them as of the time of the writing of the letter to the Ephesians from Rome.  And by then it had been revealed to all of them — by Paul himself, his fellow workers and his Gentile spiritual children over many years.  Indeed, Peter himself alludes to Paul’s wisdom (as if different from his own) in his second general epistle long after Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “… just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand…”  No, God revealed the mystery to Paul first, and then the Twelve became aware of it as the Gentiles came to know Christ as Savior, which they realized in the Spirit was authentic.

Colossians 1:23-27

“… the gospel which you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.  Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.  Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  (NASB)

The translators of the NASB, I believe, have produced a variation here that I think is questionable.  Twice in this passage Paul uses a Greek word that means “to fill up” as a fisherman’s net “fills up” with fish (playroo).  In the first occurance Paul is writing about his sufferings (his imprisonment), stating that those sufferings have the effect of “filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”  The second occurance is where Paul states that the ministry he was given was to “playroo [fill up] the word of God.”  Each expression is worth considering separately.

In the first expression (v24) Paul says that he rejoices in his “sufferings” (Gr. pathos) for their sake, and that he was physically doing his share with and for the church by suffering with them.  But his choice of words for how he was doing this is very interesting.  He writes, “in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.“  The Greek word for “filling up” that Paul chose is an interesting study in itself.  The word is antanaplayroo.  You can see that it is the word playroo — to ”fill up” – with a bunch of stuff tacked on the beginning.  There are two Greek prefixes used here — anti (“ant…”) and ana (“…ana…”).  Anti is a prefix that indicates position (like beside, under, etc.), meaning “opposite”, just as it does in English.  Ana indicates direction more than position, a sense of “up”, as in “send up”, “look up”, or “step up” (it is actually incorporated in the Greek word for a flight of stairs).  When coupled with playroo, it means “fill up“.  When speaking of filling a container, it means to fill it to the brim so that no more can be added.  In a broader sense, it is used to describe the process of bringing something to completion.  Here, the combination of both prefixes with the root word brings us to an understanding of this word as something that stands in opposition to completion, and the NASB correctly infers “filling up that which is lacking”  (completing that which is not yet complete). 

Notice also that while Paul uses pathos to describe the suffering in the beginning of this verse, he uses a different word for suffering at the end of the verse — “afflictions” (Gr. thlixos, pressure or squeezing).  Pathos describes the inward effect of persecution in his heart, while thlixos describes the outward circumstance that produces it.  Paul is not saying that Christ’s sufferings on the cross to pay for our sins was somehow incomplete, and that he was given the job of finishing it (nor are we given that job).  On the contrary, Paul declares that Christ’s work was indeed complete in 2:10, especially when it comes to our salvation!  Paul has another meaning here.  He is simply encouraging the believers in Colossae by telling them that his heart, like theirs, is sad and aching because of the circumstances of his and their persecution, something which must take place but is not yet finished.  As they suffer together “under pressure”, the net effect is that they are working toward the completion of the suffering, something which for the moment is incomplete in God’s plan.

The second use of playroo occurs in v25, and was translated by the NASB as “fully carry out the preaching of the word of God.”  The actual Greek text is, “playrowsai ton logon tou Theou“, exactly twice as many words in English as in Greek!  Literally translated, this says, “complete the word of God.”  There is no sense in the original language of “carrying some task out” (I assume they inferred it from Paul’s reference to his ministry in the beginning of the verse), nor does the word “preaching of” appear anywhere in the Greek text.  This translation is a real stretch!  (I’m tempted to suggest that the idea of Paul being given the task of completing the word of God was such anathema to them that they relied on the traditions of men rather than what the Word simply says, but since I wasn’t there when they discussed this verse, I won’t suggest such a thing…)

Paul’s double use of playroo is a couplet, and he intended the same sense of filling up to apply to both statements.  A couplet is a literary device that draws a comparison — as it is in this case, so it is in that case.  In the same way that Paul’s and the Colossians’ mutual suffering under persecution “completes” what is lacking in the Church’s sufferings for Christ, so Paul’s revelations directly from the risen Lord “complete” what is lacking in the Holy Scriptures.  (That’s quite a statement, coming from a Pharisee, don’t you think?!?  Surely no human teacher could have convinced him of this.  It would have taken someone of much higher authority… like the Living Word Himself!)

If I choose to believe what the Word simply says (and I do), then this verse clearly says that Paul was indeed Divinely given the job of completing the Bible.  That, of course, fits in perfectly with Paul’s next statements in the balance of this important passage.  The information that completes the Bible, that reveals the final pieces of the puzzle, and that supercedes all that has gone before, that was revealed directly to Paul by the risen Lord of Glory (and not through men) is “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory!”

I Timothy 1:5-11

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith, for some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion… and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, acording to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” (emphasis added)

II Timothy 1:8-11

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.”  (emphasis added)

Titus 1:2-3

“… in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the comandment of God our Savior;”

What could be more straightforward?  This is a fitting passage to conclude what we have considered.  There is no possibility of twisting or falling short of what the words on the page of Holy Writ say.  According to Paul, God promised eternal life long ages ago, but did not reveal it until the time was right, and when He revealed it, He revealed it through Paul.

Dear reader… we have considered fifteen separate passages from Paul’s letters in this post.  This post is truly the heart of what this blog site is all about.  From here on out, we will continue to find passages in the balance of Acts that bear out the truth of these statements from Paul’s pen, but what we have to say about them will always come back to what we’ve covered in this post.  If you begin to doubt the existence of the Mystery as a separate and unique revelation through Paul, distinct from the message of the Twelve (which was never a mystery), come back to this post and read it again.  Or better yet, study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that neededth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  (II Timothy 2:15 KJV)

Was Paul just another apostle?  Was his ”good news” the same as that of the Twelve?  Did Paul take the same gospel to the Gentiles while the Twelve took it to the Jews, or did Paul take a different gospel (even better news) to the Gentiles than what the Twelve took to the Jews?  The evidence of Scripture is before you.  What will you do with it?

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