Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery

December 23, 2014 — Leave a comment


G. K. Beale holds the J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament and is professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. Benjamin Gladd is both a former Ph.D student of Beale’s and now assistant professor of New Testament at RTS Jackson. Together, they have authored Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery. The desire behind the project stems from “lack of an exegetical and biblical-theological analysis of mystery, and especially of how the word informs the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament” (26).

As they note in the introduction, “even though the Old Testament anticipates Jesus and his ministry, there is some aspect of unexpectedness or newness to Jesus’ identity and mission, which some would say cannot be found at all in the Old Testament” (17). They go on to say, “an element of discontinuity or ‘newness’ runs through the entire New Testament” (18).  This “newness” may be referred to with the term “mystery,” which “alerts the reader that the topic at hand stands both in continuity and discontinuity to the Old Testament” (19).

In this book, Beale and Gladd are laying out a biblical theology of mystery, and have two primary goals (21):

  • Define the Old and New Testament conception of mystery and grasp its significance
  • Articulate as precisely as possible those topics that are found in conjunction with the term mystery in its various uses throughout the New Testament

They hope that the net result of the investigation will “sharpen our understanding of various topics, such as kingdom, crucifixion, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, and so on.”

To accomplish all this, the authors start with Daniel, specifically chapters 2 and 4. If one doesn’t get mystery right in Daniel, it is unlikely one will get it right in the New Testament. It is here that Beale and Gladd argue “the revelation of mystery is not a totally new revelation but the full disclosure of something that was to a significant extent hidden” (30). Further, “at its most basic level, the term mystery concerns God revealing his wisdom” (34). This unites the passages in Daniel that refer to it, and Beale and Gladd demonstrate that in the remainder of the chapter.

In chapter 2, they turn to the use of mystery in early Judaism. In examing representative uses in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Targums, Beale and Gladd conclude, “Mystery is eschatological – that is, it concerns those events that take place in the ‘latter days,’” and “central to the revelatory nature of mystery is its twofold aspect – an initial, generally hidden, revelation is often disclosed, followed by a subsequent fuller (even surprising) interpretation of its meaning” (53). This was the case in Daniel as well.

In chapter 3, the discussion moves on to Matthew. The word mystery appears three times in the Synoptics (once in each), but since Matthew gives the most elaboration, the authors follow his discussion (Mt. 13: 10-17). They ultimately conclude that while “the Old Testament prophesied that the end-time kingdom would be established by the defeat of every one of Israel’s enemies all together and all at once, yet Jesus proclaims that his kingdom exists in simultaneity with his opponents’ kingdom” (75). As a result, Israel and its leaders failed to grasp the mystery.

Chapter 4 moves to the epistles, starting of course with Romans. The relevant passages are chapter 11 and 16. Here the revealed mystery is a period of time when the Gentiles would predominate the people of God. In the Old Testament the most clear pattern was “Jew first, then Gentile,” but Paul draws on a plotline in Deuteronomy 27-32 to argue that now in the beginning of the new age, the pattern is “Gentile first, then Jew.” This connection of Deuteronomy 27-32, specifically 29:22-30:10 to Romans 11 as support for a “Gentile first, then Jew” pattern of redemption is a unique contribution of the book.

The next two chapters cover 1 Corinthians and Ephesians, the two books in the New Testament that most frequently mention “mystery.” This survey of relevant passages continues through Colossians (chapter 7), 2 Thessalonians (chapter 8), 1 Timothy (chapter 9), and finally Revelation (chapter 10). In each chapter, Beale and Gladd thoroughly examine the passage that explains something as a “mystery” and traces the connections back to Daniel and the Old Testament understanding of something hidden that is now more fully revealed.

The final three chapters wrap up the study by first looking at areas in the New Testament that are connected to “mystery” but that do not employ the actual term (as is the case in the previous chapters’ survey). Next, the relationship between Christianity and pagan mystery religions is explored in order to demonstrate that Christianity’s conception of “mystery” is not borrowed. The final concluding chapter teases out some hermenuetical implications for how we interpret the New Testament’s use of the Old. As the authors understand it, having a better grasp of how the New Testament authors make use of Daniel’s conception of mystery will “could furnish us with a new lens in grasping the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament” (338). This expanded and supported further in the appendix, which is an adapted and shortened version of a journal article by Beale that was published in the fall issue of WTJ.

As Beale and Gladd explain in the introduction, “this project is intended for students, scholars, pastors, and laypeople who seriously engage the Scriptures” (26). To accommodate a broad audience like that, they “place many discussions of relevant Old Testament and Jewish texts at the end of each chapter in excurses, allowing the reader to grasp more easily the flow of argument in the main body of the chapter.” It may prove helpful then for lay readers leave aside the footnotes and excurses, only venturing there if further argumentation is desired. Likewise, the authors do an excellent job of summarizing the terrain they’ve crossed at the beginning of each chapter. Because of this, it would be easy to break the reading apart across several weeks or months and be able to pick back up without losing ground. The flipside of this is that if you’re reading it straight through in a short time, it can feel repetitive as the conclusion for one chapter is more or less restated in the introduction of the next.

All that being said, you owe it to yourself to pick this up if you like biblical theology in general or G. K. Beale in particular. I felt like this book could have been published along side The Temple and The Church’s Mission in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. While not exactly light reading, it is very accessible both in style of writing and the organization of the material. By pushing technical matters to chapter ending excurses, a casual reader ends up reading about 100 less pages (excurses + appendix). Yet, for interested readers who might be more steeped in the subject matter, Beale and Gladd do a good job of taking up important peripheral questions in those excurses. I will be interested see what more scholarly responses are to this work. I tend to find Beale very convincing in his argumentation, but since he is wading into the sticky issue of the New Testament’s use of the Old, I’d like to see how this work is received in the coming months. In order to really part of that conversation though, you have to read the book, so you might as well get started now, especially if you’re on Christmas break!

G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of MysteryDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, October 2014. 393 pp. Paperback, $27.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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