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A Biblical Theology of Mystery: A Review Article

Sherif Gendy

Hidden but Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery, by G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014, 393 pages, $27.00, paper.

G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd worked on the topic of mystery, to some degree, for their doctoral work. Beale, an OPC minister and J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament and Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania, worked on, among other things, how the book of Daniel’s conception of “mystery” connects to areas of Judaism and the book of Revelation. Gladd, an assistant professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS, was a doctoral student of Beale at Wheaton College and wrote a dissertation on how mystery in the book of Daniel influences early Judaism and 1 Corinthians.

In Hidden but Now Revealed, Beale and Gladd combine their research and trace the biblical theme of mystery in the New Testament with its foundational background in the book of Daniel. Throughout the book, the authors explore all the occurrences of the term mystery and unpack the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, highlighting issues of continuity and discontinuity. Their hermeneutical approach takes into consideration the function of the biblical concept of mystery in its original Old Testament context and in Jewish background and writings. In doing so, Beale and Gladd define mystery as the revelation of God’s partially hidden wisdom, particularly as it concerns events occurring in the “latter days.”

The authors’ two primary goals in this book are: 1) to define the Old and New Testament conception of mystery and to grasp its significance, and 2) to articulate those topics that are found in conjunction with the term “mystery” in its various uses throughout the New Testament. From the outset, the hermeneutical presuppositions that control the study are laid out: the divine inspiration of the entire Bible, the unity of the Bible, and the accessibility of divine authorial intentions communicated through human authors to contemporary readers (intentions that can be sufficiently understood for the purposes of salvation). Inner-biblical allusion receives much attention in this book, and the authors attempt to give an explanation for literary connections and their significance in the immediate context, making use of Richard Hays’s six criteria for discerning and discussing the nature and validity of allusions.

Nine occurrences of the term “mystery” are identified in the canonical Old Testament (in the book of Daniel), and twenty-eight occurrences are identified in the New Testament. Early Judaism is indebted to Daniel’s conception of mystery, employing the term a few hundred times. The authors discuss each occurrence in the New Testament and pay close attention to the surrounding Old Testament allusions and quotations that occur in association with the uses of mystery to unlock the content of the revealed mystery. They first examine the immediate New Testament context of each occurrence, then explore the Old Testament and Jewish background to show how it stands in both continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament and Judaism. This method shows how the New Testament incorporates Old Testament quotations and themes but expresses them in new ways, though still retaining some continuity with the Old Testament.

Chapter 1 deals with the use of mystery in the book of Daniel and forms the backbone of the entire volume. In Daniel, the term “mystery” encapsulates both the symbolic form of revelation that comes in dreams, writing, and visions mediated by either an individual or angel, and the interpretation of this revelation. This twofold structure of mystery is associated with an end-time element that accompanies the content of the revelation. The authors argue that the revelation of mystery is not a totally new revelation but the full disclosure of something that was to a significant extent hidden. Proper understanding of mystery in Daniel requires analyzing its connection with Daniel’s concept of wisdom. Therefore, in Daniel the revelation of a mystery is God’s full disclosure of wisdom about end-time events that were mostly hitherto unknown (cf. Dan. 2:20–23).

Beale and Gladd limit their analysis of mystery in the Old Testament to the book of Daniel. They make no effort to consider other Old Testament places where mystery plays a role in redemptive history. While the exact terminology may not be used, the concept of mystery is found in places like the fall narrative in Genesis 3 where the promise of the seed of the woman is an eschatological mystery that is revealed in the coming of the Messiah (v. 15).

Having covered the concept of mystery in the book of Daniel, the authors consider in chapter 2 how mystery is featured prominently in early Judaism. What is surveyed here are primarily the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Targums. Through representative sampling, Beale and Gladd show how mystery retains its eschatological and twofold characteristics of a revelation that is partially hidden and, subsequently, more fully revealed.

Chapters 3–10 focus on New Testament mystery texts at different levels. Chapter 3 discusses Matthew 13, which presents mystery as it relates to the end-time invisible kingdom of God that is already installed through the work of Christ but without consummation.

Chapter 4 covers mystery in Romans 11 and 16, where Paul details the order in which people groups participate in the end-time kingdom. In chapter 5 the authors discuss the mystery of the cross in 1 Corinthians 2, which discloses the exalted, kingly, divine Messiah who is affixed to the cross, reigning at the same time defeated and accursed. Closely related to mystery in 1 Corinthians 2, the revealed mystery in 1 Corinthians 15 is the transformation of believers both alive and dead into an escalated, eschatological Adamic condition.

In chapter 6 the authors turn to Ephesians and examine four main passages. In Ephesians 1 the scope of the unveiled mystery is Christ’s rule over the cosmos, his death is the instrumentation of achieving this rule, and the cosmic unity of all things in Christ is the result of this rule. The mystery in Ephesians 3 pertains to the manner in which Jews and Gentiles are united as true Israel, namely, through Christ. The marital mystery in Ephesians 5, which is organically tied to Genesis 2:24, deals with the theme of unity.The “mystery of the gospel” in Ephesians 6:19 describes how the inaugurated rule of the Messiah is established through the centrality of suffering, the resurrection of only one righteous Israelite, and the already-and-not-yet nature of the kingdom.

Chapter 7 looks at mystery in three passages in Colossians. In Colossians 1:26–27, the mystery entails two organically related topics, namely, the theocratic kingdom as reconstituted in Christ and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Mystery in Colossians 2:2–3 is Christ himself who is the true “wisdom and knowledge” of God, and believers share in such understanding by virtue of their identification and union with him. In Colossians 4:3 Paul’s prayer request is for an opportunity to proclaim the mystery that pertains to Christ. This mystery is the welcoming of the Gentiles into end-time Israel through faith alone.

While it is certainly true that Gentiles are invited to Christ through the preaching of the gospel as they come by faith alone, the authors state that Paul’s conviction in Colossians is to preach a “Torah-free gospel” to the Gentiles (213). But is this articulation of the content of the gospel Paul preached biblically justified? The gospel is indeed rooted in the Torah. The content of the gospel, the person and work of Christ, is foretold in types, figures, and shadows in the Torah. In fact, Christ tells us that Moses wrote of him (John 5:46), and Paul indicates that Abraham was preached the gospel (Gal. 3:8). Elsewhere Paul declares that the sacred writings, the Torah, are able to make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15; cf. John 5:39).

Chapter 8 covers 2 Thessalonians where the latter-day antagonist, the man of lawlessness, presently exists invisibly and corporately in the false teachers and persecutors of the church. Yet this latter-day tyrant has not come in bodily form since his coming will precede Christ’s return. The two-staged arrival of the antichrist fulfills the prophecy of Daniel 11 mysteriously since “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.”

Mystery in 1 Timothy is discussed in chapter 9 where the hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16 constitutes the content of the mystery. This content includes Christ being made known as the object of faith and trust, and the revelation of his new-creational state of existence through his physical resurrection body.

Chapter 10 covers the book of Revelation and how it contributes to the study of mystery. Rooted in the apocalyptic book of Daniel, the use of mystery in Revelation is either an unexpected timing of fulfillment (Rev. 10:7) or an unexpected manner of fulfillment (Rev. 1:20; 10:7; 17:5, 7) for that which was apparently prophesied in Daniel.

After covering mystery exegetically through biblical texts, the authors in chapter 11 explore mystery theologically as it relates to New Testament topics including resurrection, Christological understanding of the Old Testament, Jesus’s relationship to the temple and new creation, inaugurated eschatology, and the gospel.

Chapter 12 compares and contrasts the Christian mystery to pagan mystery religions to show how conceptually they do not have a lot in common. The mystery religions are marked by extreme secrecy, since mythical rituals and rites remain sealed from outsiders. Biblical mystery, however, has a strong public and evangelistic component.

The last chapter (13) is a conclusion summarizing the authors’ survey of the biblical theology of mystery. Some hermeneutical implications of the New Testament use of the Old Testament are highlighted including the hiddenness of meaning and the Old Testament authors’ intended meaning. Significant practical implications are also provided, for mystery involves living a cruciform lifestyle that entails mirroring Christ’s life.

Finally, Beale includes as an appendix his essay on the cognitive peripheral vision of the biblical authors for a further hermeneutical reflection on how mystery functions in the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

Rich in its footnotes, this book covers many biblical topics related to the concept of mystery and provides hermeneutical principles for biblical theology that take into consideration the full witness of the Scripture’s two testaments especially in the area of the New Testament use of the Old Testament. The authors do an adequate job in showing how the New Testament writers, without exception, use the Old Testament contextually by respecting the Old Testament writers’ meaning in the original context. The excursuses provided at the end of chapter discussion present further insights into the chapter’s subject by connecting it to other related contextual texts, Old Testament background, or early Judaism.

Beale and Gladd make a distinction between the two levels of hiddenness that mystery appears to possess: “temporary hiddenness” and “permanent hiddenness.” By “temporary hiddenness”they mean the partially hidden nature of revelation that is undisclosed over a period of time and that eventually gives way to a final, more complete form of revelation. “Permanent hiddenness,” on the other hand, is more concerned with the ongoing hidden nature of mystery. While this distinction is helpful, the authors argue that “permanent hiddenness” entails that which will never be removed for intractable nonbelievers. Believers, since they are indwelt with the revelatory Spirit, are able to perceive and understand the content of the revealed mystery. The Scriptures, however, seem to teach that there are revealed mysteries or secrets the significance of which is known only by the Lord, and they remain hidden even to believers (Deut. 29:29). Paul’s knowledge was in part as he declares that believers see in a mirror dimly, as in a αἰνίγματι “riddle” (ainigmati 1 Cor. 13:12). When the disciples asked Jesus about the time he will restore the kingdom to Israel, Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:6–7). Certainly no one knows the hour of Christ’s return, not even believers, nor the angels, nor the Son (Mark 13:32; cf. Job 36:26).

Other than a footnote on page 94, what is lacking in this study is a more comprehensive discussion on relevant terms like “secret” and that which is “concealed” and their uses in the Bible in places like Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 10:26; Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17; 12:2; John 7:4; Romans 2:16; Ephesians 5:12–13.

Although mystery is a key component of apocalyptic genre, it is also closely related to wisdom literature. Therefore, another missing discussion in this book is the concept of mystery in relation to biblical wisdom literature. Even though the technical term may not be used, the concept and its significant implications are found in books like Job and Proverbs.

Comprehensive and accessible, this book is a model of intertextual exegesis and hermeneutics for the sake of biblical theology. Much of the argument is conducted by demonstrating verbal and conceptual similarities to show that a particular allusion is intended by an author and therefore is theologically significant. Inevitably, some are more convincing than others, and so minimalists may find a cumulative argument based on the sheer number of allusions sometimes does not ring true. In sum, serious Bible students will find in Hidden but Now Revealed helpful detailed intertextual analysis of the way in which mystery in the book of Daniel is interpreted, adapted, and revealed in the New Testament.

Sherif Gendy is a member of the Mission Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a licentiate in the Presbytery of the Midwest (OPC), and a PhD student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, May 2015.

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Ordained Servant: May 2015

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