From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Mystery ( μυστήριον from μύστης one initiated’; stem μύω ‘to close,’ ‘shut’ (cf. Lat. mutus , English ‘mum’).— 1. In classical Greek μυστήριον means a hidden thing, a seeret  ; in Biblical writers primarily a hidden or seeret thing  ; in the plural (usually) individual matters of revelation or superhuman knowledge ( Matthew 13:11,  Luke 8:10,  Romans 11:25,  1 Corinthians 4:1;  1 Corinthians 15:51). In the singular with the article to τὸ μυστήριον is used, principally by St. Paul, of the hidden counsel of God, especially His redemptive plan culminating in the final judgment ( Romans 16:25,  1 Corinthians 2:7,  Ephesians 3:3;  Ephesians 3:9,  Colossians 1:26 f.). This counsel of God is further characterized as the ‘mystery of his will’ ( Ephesians 1:9) ‘which he formed’ ( Colossians 2:2 [ 1 Corinthians 2:1, text of WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] ]) ‘respecting Christ’ ( Colossians 4:3), and constitutes the contents of the gospel ( Ephesians 6:19). It is consummated in the paronsia ( Revelation 10:7). In antithesis to ‘the mystery of the faith’ or ‘of godliness’ ( 1 Timothy 3:9;  1 Timothy 3:16) stands that of ‘lawlessness’ ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7), the purposed impulse of an antagonistic power operative in the world.

Besides this primary sense, the word μυστήριον is also used like רָוָא and סו̇ד in Rabbinic writers to designate the hidden or mystic sense of a Scripture ( Ephesians 5:32), a name ( Revelation 17:5), or the image or form seen in a vision ( Revelation 1:20;  Revelation 17:5).

It is important to observe that the connotation of intrinsic difficulty of comprehension, obscurity, which has become inseparable from the word in modern use, is misleading. In Biblical and in ancient use generally the ‘mystery’ is simply that which is made known only to the initiated, be its content easy or hard to understand, hence revealed as against reasoned knowledge.

2. In a looser sense the term ‘mysteries’ was transferred from the teaching symbolized to ( a ) the rites enacted in certain cults or rituals known to classic authors as τελεταί ( Wisdom of Solomon 14:23), and ( b ), still more loosely, to the τελεταί themselves. From the former sense ( a ) the designation of the sacraments, or even the Church service generally, as ‘the mysteries’ becomes common from the 2nd cent. onward. From the latter is doubtless derived the designation of mediaeval religious dramas or pantomimes as ‘mysteries’ (cf., from the same stem, ‘mummery’).

3. The τελεταί, loosely called ‘mysteries,’ are of importance to our consideration as affecting the application of the term ‘mystery ‘to the gospel as a whole in  Mark 4:11. They consisted of secret rites in honour of certain divinities especially representative of the drama of life, vegetable and animal, annually failing and renewed. These divinities are always chthonic, as against the Olympian (national) divinities of the upper air; and their worship, maintained by guilds, was commonly associated with the rites of ancestor and hero—worship. Mystery—religion transcended all lines of mere nationality, substituting its own brotherhoods of initiates, and offered the idea of personal deliverance and immortality as the goal; as the means, it offered sacramental (instead of sacrificial) union with a Redeemer-god (θεὸς σωτήρ), who, in contrast with the Olympian divinities, participated in the suffering and death of humanity, and won for men victory over their spiritual foes. Its strong monotheistic tendency, added to these other traits, gave it an obvious resemblance to the gospel as preached to the Gentile world, and made it a much more formidable rival than the various religionized forms of Greek and Oriental philosophy, in bidding for the adherence of popular faith in the Empire, after the dissolution of the national religions. Christianity itself, in the transition from a national to a universal religion, necessarily passed through some of the same phases as the mystery-cults; for these had already connected themselves in a syncretizing spirit with the mythology of every people. Their influence is most apparent, as we should expect, in the development of the Pauline Church, supremely in the ultra-Pauline or Gnostic. The resemblances were in fact so striking alike in dogma, terminology, and ritual, as to lead early apologists to account for them by the theory of diabolic travesty (Justin M. Apol. i. 66, Dial. lxx.). Some modern students of the history of religion find it impossible to deny a relation of dependence on the side of the Church, especially in the Pauline and post-Pauline period. [For an able presentation of the view that it is impossible to establish any direct relation during the Pauline or early post-Pauline period, see Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen ], This appears not only from terminology, but even from the Pauline doctrine and ritual, in particular as regards the theory of the sacraments. In the Gospels this influence is scarcely traceable outside the Fourth, wherein the type of the δρᾶμα μυστικόν and the sacramental interest are very apparent (Harnack, Mission und Ansbreitung , pp. 169–173—John and Origen the profoundest mysteriosophists of the Church); but in the single passage  Mark 4:11 =  Matthew 13:11 =  Luke 8:10 even the Synoptic writers must be admitted to have been affected through St. Paul both as to phraseology and as to thought.

4.  Mark 4:11 seems to be earlier in form than its parallels; for the context shows that the thing given or withheld is not certain elements of the gospel , conceived as μυστήρια and therefore uttered only in parables (understood as enigmas; cf.  Matthew 13:35,  John 16:29)—the sense conveyed by the use of the plural in the parallels (τὰ μυστἡρια,  Matthew 13:11 =  Luke 8:10)—but is the gospel as a whole conceived as a ‘mystery’ in the Pauline sense, i.e. a Divine revelation (cf.  Matthew 13:16-17). The teaching in parables is regarded by Mk. (and still more by Mt.) as a fulfilment of  Isaiah 6:9 conceived as a sentence of judicial blindness. In answer to the question ( Matthew 13:10), ‘Why speakest thou to them (the motley Galilaean multitude) in parables?’ ( i.e. enigmas), Jesus answers that it is a fulfilment of the prophetic curse of Isaiah upon a disobedient and gainsaying people, of whom such fruitless hearing had been foretold. The inner circle ( Mark 4:10; cf.  Mark 3:13; cf.  Mark 3:34-35) are alone intended to receive more than the husk. The parallels, in altering to τὰ μυστήρια, give a dilution of this sense (cf. the secondary sense above under 1 ).

5. Not the word alone, but the entire context of Mark 4 and parallels are Pauline in aim. Romans 9-11 attempts a theodicy of the rejection of Israel the covenant people in favour of the Gentiles, based upon the same idea of judicial hardening, and employing the same passage from Isaiah. In  Romans 11:6 Paul writes after 30 years of disappointing experience in preaching to the Jews: ‘ It is written , God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see, and cars that they should not hear , unto this very day.’ To St. Paul, accordingly, must be attributed the first utilization of  Isaiah 6:9, which henceforth becomes the locus classieus to account for the rejection of the Messiah by His own people (with  Mark 4:11 and parallels, cf.  John 12:39-41,  Acts 28:24-28). Manifestly an interpretation of parabolic utterance which supposes it adopted in order to fulfil the prophetic sentence of judicial blindness on Israel cannot be attributed to Jesus, since the end sought in the parables themselves is the reverse of intentional obscurity.  Mark 4:11, accordingly, which does not stand alone in this Gospel as regards its Pauline phraseology (cf.  Mark 1:15 with  Matthew 4:17), is equally Pauline in the employment of this theory of the intention of the parabolic teaching.

6. Linguistically the results are at least equally conclusive. The word μυστἡριον occurs 21 times in the Pauline Epp., elsewhere in the NT only here, and 4 times in the Apocalypse. The conception of the gospel itself as a ‘mystery’ is found nowhere else save in the Pauline Epistles. With St. Paul it is fundamental ( 1 Corinthians 2:1-16,  Ephesians 1:9;  Ephesians 3:3-11,  Colossians 1:27,  Romans 16:25-27), usually involving the contrast of philosophy versus revelation, the ‘wisdom of this world’ versus the spirit of prophecy. It is noteworthy that the removal of  Romans 16:11-12 from the context of  Mark 4:10-20 produces a simpler and more intelligible connexion (cf.  Mark 4:10 ‘asked of him the parables’).

7. The agraphon quoted by Clement of Alexandria ( Strom. v. x. 69) from ‘a certain Gospel’: ‘My mystery belongs to me and to the sons of my household’ (μυστήριον ἐμὸν ἐμοὶ καὶ τοῖς υἱοῖς τοῦ οἵκου μου), and also found in Clem. Hom. xix. xx. in the form, ‘Keep the mysteries for me and the sons of my house,’ is manifestly connected with  Mark 4:11, but probably not dependent upon it, nor upon St. Paul. This, however, does not counteract the above conclusions. It is quite probable that  Mark 4:11 rests upon a traditional logion of some such form as this, rather than directly or exclusively on  Romans 11:8. The utterance in this form is not indeed attributable to Jesus, to whose doctrine its suggestion of esoteric teaching is abhorrent (cf. Philo, de Vict. Off. i. f., on the superiority of the Mosaic to heathen ‘mysteries’ as concealed from none; also  Wisdom of Solomon 6:22); but proper appreciation of the Pauline use of the word μυστἡριον will show a common basis in the real teaching of Jesus.  Matthew 11:25-27 =  Luke 10:21-22 is the canonical equivalent of the agraphon , and affords the real point of connexion between the teaching of Jesus and the Pauline and post-Pauline application of the term μυστήριον to the gospel. In respect to the superhuman, Divinely revealed character of the one message, Jesus and St. Paul are both emphatic. The expressions of  1 Corinthians 2:1-16 from this point of view are not only in agreement with Jesus’ whole teaching as ‘with authority and not as the scribes,’ but form a striking parallel to  Matthew 11:25-30. However open to suspicion the logion of  Mark 4:11 may be in its present canonical or post-canonical form, the words are at bottom nothing more than the translation into Greek equivalents of a claim of Jesus that is unquestionably historical, namely the claim for His teaching to be by revelation , a wisdom of God accessible to His ‘little ones’ though ‘hid from the wise and prudent.’

Literature.—On the word μυστήριον see, besides Grimm-Thayer, Hatch, Essays on NT Greek , p. 58; Lightfoot, Com. on  Colossians 1:26; Stewart, s.v. ‘Mystery’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible; Ramsay, s.v. in Enc. Brit.9 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; and A. Jülicher, s.v. in Encyc. Biblica. On the influence of the Greek mysteries on early Christianity, see Lobeck, Aglaophamus , 1829; Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen in seinem Einfluss a.d. Christenthum , 1894; and Wobbermin, Religionsgeschichtliche Studien zur Beeinflussung des Urchristenthums durch d. Mysterien , 1896; also Cheetham, The Mysteries Pagan and Christian , 1897; and Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church , ch. x. On NT use of terminology from the mysteries, see Carman in Bibliotheca Sacra L (1893). On the mysteries generally as a phenomenon in the history of religion, see Rhode, Psyche  ; Frazer, Golden Bought 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Harnack, Mission und Ausbreitung des Chr. 1902, Bk. ii. ch. v.

B. W. Bacon.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]


The Greek mystçrion in Christian Latin became mysterium , and thus passed into modern languages. The kindred mystic and mystagogue , imported directly from the Greek, point to the primary significance of this word. In 8 NT passages the Latin Vulgate replaced mysterium by the alien rendering sacramentum (the soldier’s oath of allegiance), which has taken on, with modifications, the meaning of the original.

In common parlance, ‘mystery’ has become synonymous with ‘secret’ (a usage peculiar to the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] in extant Greek: see Sir 22:22 , 2Ma 13:21 etc.), signifying a baffling, recondite secret. Divine doctrines or dealings of Providence are said to be ‘mysterious’ when we fail to reconcile them with accepted principles, though presuming the reconciliation abstractly possible. Primarily, however, the NT mystçrion is not something dark and difficult in its nature, but something reserved and hidden of sat purpose, as in   Romans 16:25 ‘the mystery held in silence for eternal ages.’ It connotes that which ‘can only be known on being imparted by some one already in possession of it, not by mere reason and research which are common to all.’

In its familiar classical use the word amounted almost to a proper noun. ‘The Mysteries’ were a body of sacred observances connected with the worship of certain Hellenic deities (chiefly those representing the primitive Nature-powers), which were practised in retreat, and which bound their Initiates into a religious confraternity. The higher of these Mysteries conveyed, under their symbolic dress, a connected esoteric doctrine vague, it may have been, but impressive bearing on the origin of life, on sin and atonement, and the bliss or woe of man’s future state, the basis of which was found in the course of the seasons, in the conflict of light and darkness, and the yearly parables of the seed-corn and the vine-Juice. The Eleusinian Mysteries , annually celebrated in Attica, attracted visitors from the whole civilized world, and appear to have exerted a salutary Influence on Pagan society. The distinctions of country, rank, or sex were no bar to participation; only slaves and criminals were excluded from the rites. These were the most famous of a host of Mysteries, many of them of a passionate and even frantic, some of a disgraceful, character, which were rife in the Græco-Roman world at the Christian era; they formed, says Renan, ‘the serious part of Pagan religion.’ The Greek Mysteries were already rivalied in popularity by the Egyptian cults of Isis and Serapis, and subsequently by the Persian Mithraism, which spread in the 3rd cent. to the bounds of the Empire. These associations supplied what was lacking in the civic and family worships of ancient heathendom, viz. emotion, edification, and moral fellowship.

The term ‘mystery,’ with its allied expressions in the NT, must be read in the light of these institutions, which preoccupied the ground and were known wherever the Greek language was current. Christianity found its closest points of contact with Paganism, and the competition most dangerous to it, in ‘the Mysteries’; its phraseology and customs in the case of the Sacraments, possibly, its doctrinal conceptions as these took shape during the first five centuries bear the marks of their influence. This influence betrays itself first in the Apocrypha, when the writer of Wisdom speaks in Wis 2:22 of ‘mysteries of God’ bidden from the unworthy, and, like the Apostle Paul, promises to disclose’ the mysteries’ of Divine wisdom ( Wis 6:22 ) to his readers; in Wis 14:15; Wis 14:23 , the Gentile ‘mysteries and initiatory rites’ are mentioned with abhorrence. The NT affords 27 or (including the dubious reading of   1 Corinthians 2:1 ) 28 examples of the word, 3 of these in   Matthew 13:11 and the Synoptic parallels, 4 in Rev. (  Revelation 1:20 ,   Revelation 10:7 ,   Revelation 17:5;   Revelation 17:7 ), the other 20 (or 21) in Paul; of the latter, 10 belong to Eph. and Col., 5 (or 6) to 1 Cor.

The NT usages are distinguished as they are wider or narrower in application: (1) in  Revelation 10:7 , ‘the mystery of God’ covers the entire process of revelation; in   1 Timothy 3:15 ‘the mystery of godliness,’ and in   1 Corinthians 2:7 ‘the wisdom of God in a mystery,’ embrace the whole incarnate manifestation hidden up to this epoch in the womb of time (  Romans 16:25 f.), which is summed up by   Colossians 2:2 as ‘the mystery of God, even Christ.’ ‘The mystery of lawlessness’ (  2 Thessalonians 2:7 ), culminating in the ‘paronsia’ of Antichrist, presents the counterpart of the Divine mystery in the realm of evil.

Or (2) ‘the mystery’ consists in some specific revelation, some previously veiled design of God as in the Eph.-Col. passages, where St. Paul thus describes God’s plan for saving the Gentile world. He points out ( Romans 11:28 ) the shadow attending this great disclosure in ‘the mystery’ of the ‘hardening’ that has ‘in part befallen Israel.’ The institution of marriage viewed as prophetic of the union between Christ and the Church (  Ephesians 5:32 ), and the bodily transformation of the saints at the Second Advent (  1 Corinthians 15:51 f.), are Divine secrets now disclosed; they mark respectively the beginning and the end of revelation. These and such matters constitute ‘the mysteries’ of which the Apostle is ‘steward’ (  1 Corinthians 4:1 ), which enlightened Christians ‘know’ (  1 Corinthians 13:2 ) and dwell upon in hours of rapture (  1 Corinthians 14:2 ). According to the Synoptics, our Lord speaks of His parables as containing, in a similar sense, ‘the mysteries of the kingdom’ (  Matthew 13:11 etc.).

(3)  Revelation 1:20;   Revelation 17:5;   Revelation 17:7 afford examples of a narrower reference in the term: ‘the seven stars’ and ‘the harlot woman’ are mystical symbols, patent to those who are ‘in the Spirit,’ of great realities operative in the kingdoms of God and of Satan.

This analysis brings out certain essential differences between the Christian and non-Christian employment of the word in question. In the first place, the new ‘mysteries’ are no human performances, ritual or dramatic; they are Divine communications embodied in Christ and His redemption, which God’s stewards are commissioned to impart. In the second place, they seek publicity not concealment ‘mystery’ and ‘revelation’ become correlative terms. These are not secrets reserved for and guarded in silence by the few; ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ,’ long concealed from all, is now thrown open to all ‘hidden from the ages and generations,’ but to-day ‘preached to the nations.’ Most emphatic is St. Paul’s insistence on the frankness of the gospel revelation; most earnest his disclaimer of any esoteric doctrine, such as the vendors of foreign ‘mysteries’ commonly professed. Nothing but moral insensibility or the false pride of the world’s wisdom, he asserts, bars any man from receiving his gospel it is ‘hid amongst the perishing, those whose thoughts the god of this world blinded’ (  2 Corinthians 4:3 f.; cf.   1 Corinthians 2:14 ,   Luke 10:21 ). The communication of the gospel mystery is limited by the receptivity of the hearer, not the reserve of the speaker; addressed to all men, it is ‘worthy of all acceptation’ (  1 Timothy 1:15;   1 Timothy 2:4; cf.   Romans 1:14 ,   Acts 26:22 ,   Colossians 1:28 ). ‘The mystery of iniquity’ (  2 Thessalonians 2:7 ) and that of Israel’s ‘hardening’ (  Romans 11:25 ), however, still await solution; these will be disclosed before ‘the mystery of God is finished’ (  Revelation 10:7 ).

Several other NT words had been associated in Greek usage, more or less definitely, with the Mysteries: illumination (  2 Corinthians 4:4 ff.,   Ephesians 1:18 ,   Hebrews 6:4 etc.); seal (  2 Corinthians 1:22 ,   Ephesians 1:18 ,   Revelation 7:3 etc.); perfect (scil. initiated  :   1 Corinthians 2:6 ,   Philippians 3:15 etc.); ‘I have learnt the secret ’ (‘have been initiated ,’   Philippians 4:11 ); and the original (cognate) words for ‘behold’ and ‘eye-witnesses’ in   1 Peter 2:12;   1 Peter 3:2 and   2 Peter 1:16 . The association is unmistakable, and the allusion highly probable, in the last two, as well as in the other instances. In these Petrine passages the thought of the spectators being favoured with the sight of a holy secret was, seemingly, in the writer’s mind.

G. G. Findlay.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

From Mustees , "one initiated" into "a revealed secret"; Mueoo the verb means "to conceal"; Μu ( Μ ), the sound made by closing the lips (m), is the same onomatopoeic sound as in mute. In New Testament usage a spiritual truth heretofore hidden, incapable of discovery by mere reason, but now revealed. Not like the pagan mysteries, imparted only; to the initiated few. All Christians are the initiated; unbelievers alone are the uninitiated ( 2 Corinthians 4:3). The union of Christ and the church is such "a great mystery" ( Ephesians 5:31-32). The church becoming a harlot by conformity to the world is a counter "mystery" ( Revelation 17:5). "Iniquity" ( Anomia ) in the harlot is a leaven working in "mystery" at first, i.e. latently; afterward when she is destroyed iniquity shall be revealed in "the man of iniquity" ( Ho Anomos ), the open embodiment of all previous evil, for popery cannot at once be the mystery of iniquity and the revealed antichrist ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8).

"The mystery of God" ( Revelation 10:7), in contrast, is man's "redemption from all iniquity" and its consequences; a mystery once hidden in God's secret counsels, dimly-shadowed forth in types and prophecies, but now more and more clearly revealed according as the gospel kingdom develops itself up to its fullest consummation. "The mystery of godliness" ( 1 Timothy 3:16) is the divine scheme embodied in Christ ( Colossians 1:26-27). Hidden before "with God" as the "mystery," He is now made manifest ( John 1:1;  John 1:14;  Romans 16:25-26). Redemption for the whole Gentile world as well as Israel, to whom it seemed in a great measure restricted in Old Testament, is now revealed to all. "The glory of this mystery is Christ in you (now by faith as your hidden life,  Colossians 3:8), the hope of glory" (your hereafter to be manifested life:  1 Corinthians 2:7-9;  2 Corinthians 4:17). There are six New Testament "mysteries":

(1) The incarnation ( 1 Timothy 3:16).

(2) The mystery of iniquity ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7).

(3) Christ's marriage to the church,  Ephesians 5:32, translated "this mystery is great," i.e. this truth hidden once but now revealed, namely, Christ's spiritual union with the church, mystically represented by marriage, is of great import; not as Vulgate "this is a great sacrament"; not marriage in general, but that of Christ and His church, is the mystery, as Paul declares "I say it in regard to ( Eis ) Christ, and to ( Eis) ) the church," whereas  Genesis 2:24 refers primarily to literal marriage. (See Marriage .)

(4) The union of Jews and Gentiles in one body, the present election church ( Ephesians 3:4-6); the Old Testament did not foretell we should form Christ's one body, the temple of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit not merely gives influences as in Old Testament, but personally comes and dwells in the church, joining Jews and Gentiles in one fellowship of God and Christ; He is the earnest of the coming inheritance and the seal of redemption; the Old Testament saints had "proetermission" ( Paresis ) of sins, the New Testament saints have "full remission" ( Afesis ); the forbearance of God was exercised then, the righteousness of God is revealed now ( Romans 3:25-26) in our justification.

(5) Israel's full and final restoration ( Romans 11:25).

(6) The resurrection of the body ( 1 Corinthians 15:51).

Ordinarily "mystery" refers to those from whom the knowledge is withheld; in the New Testament mystery refers to those to whom it is revealed. It is hidden in God until brought forward; even when brought forward it remains hidden from the carnal. "Mysteries" ( 1 Corinthians 14:2) mean what is unintelligible to the hearers, exciting wonder rather than instructing; this is in the common sense, but the New Testament does not sanction in the gospel mysteries in this sense. In  Revelation 1:20 "the mystery of the seven stars" is a oncehidden truth, veiled under this symbol, but now revealed; its correlative is revelation. In  1 Corinthians 13:2 "mysteries" refer to God's deep counsels heretofore secret but now revealed, "knowledge" to truths long known.

So in  Matthew 13:11;  Mark 4:11;  Luke 8:10, "mysteries" answer in parallelism to "parables"; to the receptive "the mysteries," or once hidden things of the kingdom of God, are now known by God's gift; to the unbelieving they remain "parables," on which they see only the outward shell but do not taste the kernel ( 1 Corinthians 2:9-10;  1 Corinthians 2:14-15;  Psalms 25:14;  1 John 4:20;  1 John 4:27;  John 15:15). The parabolic form is designed to rouse the carnal to search and reflection; from whence Jesus did not begin to use it until after He had for some time been speaking plainly. In contrast to paganism, there were no mysteries revealed by God to ministers or priests that were not designed for all.  Deuteronomy 29:29; "secret things belong to Jehovah (compare  Job 11:7;  Romans 11:33-34; at this point we must not presume to speculate;  Colossians 2:18), but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law."

The little ones must hear all revelation as much as the intellectual ( Deuteronomy 6:7;  Joshua 8:34-35;  Nehemiah 8:1-2). Moses and the prophets and the apostles practiced no "reserve." So Jesus ordered ( Matthew 10:27;  Matthew 28:19). Paul preached publicly and from house to house the "whole counsel of God" ( Acts 20:20;  Acts 20:27), "keeping back nothing profitable." They taught babes indeed elementary essentials first, yet did not reserve the deepest truths out of sight, as the pagan mysteries; but set the ultimate goal of perfect knowledge from the first as that to be striven toward ( 1 Corinthians 2:6;  1 Corinthians 3:2;  Hebrews 5:12).

Gnosticism introduced the system of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; the mediaeval church perpetuated it. Christ as God had the power to reserve His manifestation of Himself to a few during His earthly ministry, previous to the Pentecostal effusion of the Spirit ( Mark 4:33;  Mark 9:9;  Luke 9:21); but His ministers have no such right. Paul disclaims it,  2 Corinthians 4:2; "we have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." On men themselves rests the responsibility how they use the whole counsel of God set before them ( 2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [4]

Scripture frequently describes God as one who knows all things, even that which the human mind could never know or finds incomprehensible. Thus he sees the secret intentions of human hearts ( Psalm 139:1-4,23;  Matthew 6:4-6;  Romans 2:16;  1 Corinthians 4:5;  14:25;  Hebrews 4:13 ), comprehends the seemingly unfathomable mysteries of the universe ( Job 38:1-39:30 ), and, most important, understands the meaning of human history. God understands human history because the events that comprise it correspond with his own intentions: he wills all that happens, and does so to accomplish his own purpose ( Daniel 2:37;  5:21;  Romans 11:25-36 ). People, on the other hand, both because of their sin and because of their human limitations, remain ignorant of God's purpose when left to their own reckoning ( Daniel 2:27,30;  Mark 4:10-12;  Luke 19:41-44 ). God graciously responds to this human inadequacy by revealing his purpose to his people. When God's purpose is revealed in this way, the Bible frequently refers to it as a "mystery."

The content of the divine mystery is painted in broad strokes in the Old Testament, takes on greater detail in the Gospels, and receives its finishing touches in Paul's letters. In Daniel, where the term first appears ( raz in Aramaic, always translated with mysterion [2:44; cf.   Revelation 1:20;  17:5,7 ). The details of these events, however, and the nature of God's kingdom, once established, remain sketchy in Daniel. The mystery of God's purposes gains greater specificity in the Gospels, where Jesus, particularly in his parables, reveals the "mystery of the kingdom of God" ( Mark 4:11; cf.  Matthew 13:11;  Luke 8:10 ). Paul also identifies the divine mystery with the revelation of God in Christ ( Colossians 2:2;  4:3 ) but gives the concept even greater clarity in three ways. First, he equates the divine mystery with the gospel of Christ's atoning death on the cross ( 1 Corinthians 2:1 ); second, he describes it as God's plan, through Christ's atoning death ( Ephesians 2:13-16 ), to include the Gentiles among his chosen people; and third, he defines it as the reconciliation of all things to God ( Ephesians 1:9-10 ). Thus, Daniel described the divine mystery in general terms as the eventual establishment of God's eternal kingdom; Jesus defined it more specifically as his proclamation of God's kingdom; and Paul described it more specifically still as the constitution of a new people, from among both Jews and Gentiles, through the atoning death of Christ on the cross.

This understanding of divine mystery illustrates three aspects of God's character. First, it emphasizes God's omniscience . After God revealed the "mystery" of the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream to Daniel, Daniel thanked God in prayer for his wisdom and power (2:23; cf. 2:20) and described him as a God who "knows what lies in darkness" (2:22). Paul, similarly, after revealing the mystery of God's plan to include the Gentiles among his chosen people breaks into praise of the "depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God" ( Romans 11:33 ).

Second, the biblical concept of divine mystery emphasizes God's sovereignty . The mystery revealed to Daniel and communicated to the king demonstrates not only that God knows the beginning of history from its end but that the rise and fall of human empires and the establishment of God's own kingdom happen according to his decree (2:36). Similarly, Paul says that the mystery of God's intention to unite both Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ has been in place from ages past ( Ephesians 3:9-11;  Colossians 1:26-27; cf.  Ephesians 1:9-10;  3:5 ).

Third, and most important, the biblical understanding of divine mystery emphasizes God's grace . This can be seen immediately in the stark contrast between the biblical use of the term "mystery" and its use as a technical term in ancient Hellenistic mystery religions. In these cults the term was used to signify the esoteric knowledge that initiates were instructed, with threats of severe punishment, not to reveal to the uninitiated. The Bible, however, emphasizes God's gracious willingness to reveal the mystery of his purposes to his servants the prophets and through them to other people ( Revelation 10:7; cf.  Amos 3:7 ). The biblical emphasis is well illustrated in Daniel. There God graciously reveals his mysteries to Daniel to save him from the king's cruel sentence of death upon the royal wise men for their inability to interpret the king's dream (2:16-19). Because Daniel recognizes the graciousness of God's response, he is quick to acknowledge before the king that the dream's interpretation has come from God, not from Daniel's abilities as a counselor (2:27,30). Similarly, Jesus graciously explains the parable of the sower to his disciples with the comment that, although the parables baffle those on the outside, the mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to them ( Matthew 11:25-26 ).

In Paul's letters this aspect of the mystery of God comes to a climax. Paul points his readers again and again to the unique position they occupy as those who have experienced the fulfillment of the mystery of God's purposes. Although predicted in the Scriptures, the mystery was kept silent for long ages ( Romans 16:25-26 ), hidden for generations past ( Colossians 1:26; cf.  Ephesians 3:5,9 ,  11 ) that it might be revealed to apostles and prophets such as Paul himself and through them to believers ( Ephesians 3:1-12; cf.  1 Peter 1:10-12 ). Paul describes his calling to reveal the mystery of God to the Gentiles as "the grace of God given to me for you" ( Ephesians 3:2 ), and a few verses later, in a magnificent piling up of the language of grace, he identifies it as "the gift of the grace which God gave to me according to his effective power" (v. 7).

The biblical idea of mystery, then, reminds Christians that God holds the course of human events in his hands and has so shaped them that they work for the salvation of his people. It also demonstrates the graciousness of God in revealing his redemptive purposes to prophets and apostles and, through them, to all who are willing to hear.

Frank Thielman

See also Paul The Apostle

Bibliography . G. Bornkamm, TDNT, 4:802-28; R. E. Brown, The Semitic Background of the Term "Mystery" in the New Testament  ; A. E. Harvey, JTS 31 (1980):320-36; J. A. Robinson, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians .

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [5]

The Greek word μυστηριον denotes,

1. Something hidden, or not fully manifest. Thus,   2 Thessalonians 2:7 , we read of the "mystery of iniquity," which began to work in secret, but was not then completely disclosed or manifested.

2. Some sacred thing hidden or secret, which is naturally unknown to human reason, and is only known by the revelation of God. Thus, "Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh, justified by the Spirit," &c,   1 Timothy 3:16 . The mystery of godliness, or of true religion, consisted in the several particulars here mentioned by the Apostle; particulars, indeed, which it would never have "entered into the heart of man to conceive,"  1 Corinthians 2:9 , had not God accomplished them in fact, and published them by the preaching of his Gospel; but which, being thus manifested, are intelligible, as facts, to the meanest understanding. In like manner, the term mystery,  Romans 11:25;  1 Corinthians 15:51 , denotes what was hidden or unknown, till revealed; and thus the Apostle speaks of a man's "understanding all mysteries,"  1 Corinthians 13:2; that is, all the revealed truths of the Christian religion which is elsewhere called the "mystery of faith,"  1 Timothy 3:9 . And when he who spake in an unknown tongue is said to "speak mysteries,"

 1 Corinthians 14:2 , it is plain, that these mysteries, however unintelligible to others on account of the language in which they were spoken, were yet understood by the person himself, because he hereby "edified himself,"  1 Corinthians 14:4;  Acts 2:11;  Acts 10:46 . And though in  1 Corinthians 2:7-8 , we read of the "wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which none of the princes of this world knew;" yet, says the Apostle, we speak or declare this wisdom; and he observes,  1 Corinthians 2:10 , that God had revealed the particulars of which it consisted to them by his Spirit. So when the Apostles are called "stewards of the mysteries of God,"  1 Corinthians 4:1 , these mysteries could not mean what were, as facts, unknown to them; (because to them it was "given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God,"  Matthew 13:11;) yea, the character here ascribed to them implies not only that they knew these mysteries themselves, but that as faithful stewards they were to dispense or make them known to others,  Luke 12:42;  1 Peter 4:10 . In  Colossians 2:2 , St. Paul mentions his praying for his converts, that their hearts might be comforted "to the knowledge of the mystery of God, even of the Father, and of Christ;" for thus the passage should be translated. But if, with our translators, we render επιγνωσιν , acknowledgment, still the word μυστηριον can by no means exclude knowledge; "for this is life eternal," saith our Lord,  John 17:3 , "that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." And, lastly, whatever be the particular meaning of the "mystery of God," mentioned  Revelation 10:7 , yet it was something he had declared "to (or rather by ) his servants the prophets."

3. The word mystery is sometimes in the writings of St. Paul applied in a peculiar sense to the calling of the Gentiles, which he styles "the mystery,"

 Ephesians 3:3-6; and "the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of Christ by the Gospel,"

 Romans 16:25;  Ephesians 1:9;  Ephesians 3:9;  Ephesians 6:19;  Colossians 1:26-27;  Colossians 4:3 .

4. It denotes spiritual truth couched under an external representation or similitude, and concealed or hidden thereby, unless some explanation of it be otherwise given. Thus,   Revelation 1:20 , "The mystery," that is, the spiritual meaning, "of the seven stars: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches." So  Revelation 17:5 , "And upon her forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great," that is, Babylon in a spiritual sense, "the mother of idolatry and abominations;" and,  Revelation 17:7 , "I will tell thee the mystery" or spiritual signification "of the woman." Compare  Matthew 13:11;  Mark 4:11;  Luke 8:10;  Ephesians 5:32; and their respective contexts.

Holman Bible Dictionary [6]

Many mystery religions emerged, but among the more important were those associated with the following deities: the Greek Demeter (the famous Eleusinian mysteries) and Dionysus, the Phyrgian Cybele (the Magna Mater) and Attis; the Syrian Adonis; the Egyptian Isis and Osiris (Sarapis); and Mithra, originally a Persian deity. Orphism and Sabazius both contributed to the mysteries of Dionysus while Samothrace was the home of the Cabiri mysteries. Many of the deities in the mystery religions were ancient and were worshiped in separate cults both before and after the development of the mystery cults.

The central feature of each mystery religion was the sacred rites, called mysteries, in which the cultic myth of the god or goddess worshiped in the cult was reenacted. Only those formally initiated into the cult could participate. The precise nature of these rites is unknown due to the vow of secrecy, but probably involved a drama based upon the cult myth and the dramatic visual presentation of certain sacred objects. Mention is made of “things said,” probably sacred formulas and secret love. References exist to eating and drinking, likely a form of communion. By participating in these rites the worshiper identified with the deity and shared in the deity's fate. These powerful symbols afforded those initiated the means to overcome the suffering and difficulties of life and promised a share in the life beyond.

Many, but not all, of the deities worshiped in the mysteries were originally associated with fertility. As such, their associated myths often referred to the natural cycle as it waxes and wanes (for instance, Demeter) or to the dying and rising of a god (Attis, Adonis, Osiris). Some scholars think that the mysteries used this feature of the myth to give symbolic expression of rising to immortality with the deity. However, not all scholars agree; some deities venerated in mystery religions did not die or rise; moreover, the exact use of the myth in the mysteries is often unclear, though some concept of immortality seems to be implied.

Public festivals were given in honor of some deities worshiped in the mystery religions, but their relationship to the secret rites is not clear. The spring festival of Cybele (March 15-27) involved processions, sacrifices, music, and frenzied dancing which led to castration. The public revelry, pantomimes, theatric productions, and excesses of drink associated with the worshipers of Dionysus/Bacchus (the Bacchanalia) are well known.

Rites of initiation into the mystery religions included ritual cleansing in the sea, baptisms, and sacrifices. Mention should be made of the Taurobolium, used in the worship of Cybele, a rite in which a bull was slaughtered on a grill placed over a pit in which a priest stood; the person below eagerly covered himself with blood. Some have interpreted this as a rite of initiation, but it is more likely a purification ritual affording rebirth for a period of time, perhaps twenty years. The mystery religions dislodged religion from the traditional foundations of state and family and made it a matter of personal choice. With a few exceptions, for instance, Mithraism which was restricted to males, the mysteries were open to all classes and sexes. Those initiated formed an association bound together by secret rites and symbols peculiar to their cult. These associations met regularly with a designated leader in houses or specially-built structures. The worshipers of Mithras met in a structure called a Mithraeum designed to imitate the cave in which Mithras killed the bull, the central act of the cult myth. Scenes of the slaying (tauroctony) appear prominently in several such structures.

At the meetings ritual acts or sacraments practiced by the particular cult were shared by the members. Mention is made of common meals or banquets. Members of the association were required to meet certain moral standards; some mention also is made of ascetic requirements. However, a word of caution is in order; generalizations about the mystery religions are difficult since each cult was individualistic. Exceptions to nearly all generalizations can be found.

Mystery in the New Testament The New Testament uses the word mystery about twenty-five times, once in the Gospels (  Mark 4:11; compare  Matthew 13:11;  Luke 8:10 ), twenty-one times in Paul's writings, and a few times in Revelation. The term has several facets all of which cannot be discussed here, but it is clear that the New Testament usage differs from that of the mystery religions. The mystery of the New Testament has been described as an “open secret”; matters previously kept secret in God's eternal purposes have now been or are being revealed ( Ephesians 3:3-5;  1 Corinthians 2:7-8 ). In contrast to the mystery religions, the mystery of the New Testament appears in the historical activity of the person of Christ ( Colossians 2:2;  Ephesians 1:9 ); the indwelling Christ is the hope of glory ( Colossians 1:26-27 ). The mystery is received spiritually ( Ephesians 3:4-5 ) and manifested in the proclamation of the gospel ( Ephesians 6:19 ). Part of the mystery involves the disclosure that Gentiles share in the blessings of the gospel ( Ephesians 2:11-13 ).

Tommy Brisco

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [7]

1: Μυστήριον (Strong'S #3466 — Noun Neuter — musterion — moos-tay'-ree-on )

primarily that which is known to the mustes, "the initiated" (from mueo, "to initiate into the mysteries;" cp.  Philippians 4:12 , mueomai, "I have learned the secret," RV). In the NT it denotes, not the mysterious (as with the Eng. word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense a "mystery" implies knowledge withheld; its Scriptual significance is truth revealed. Hence the terms especially associated with the subject are "made known," "manifested," "revealed," "preached," "understand," "dispensation." The definition given above may be best illustrated by the following passage: "the mystery which hath been hid from all ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to His saints" ( Colossians 1:26 , RV). "It is used of:

 1—Corinthians 13:2 14:2  1—Timothy 3:9 1—Corinthians 2:6-16  Colossians 2:2 4:3 1—Corinthians 2:1  1—Timothy 3:16 Ephesians 1:9  Revelation 10:7 Romans 16:25 Ephesians 6:19 Ephesians 5:32  Colossians 1:27 1—Corinthians 15:51 Matthew 13:11 Mark 4:11 Romans 11:25 2—Thessalonians 2:7 Revelation 17:5,7 Ephesians 2:2 Revelation 1:20 Ephesians 3:9 1—Corinthians 4:1

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [8]

In New Testament usage, a mystery is not a puzzle or a secret that leaves people in ignorance, but a truth that God reveals. It usually refers to something that people normally would not know, but that God in his grace makes known to them ( Ephesians 3:4-5;  Colossians 1:26;  Revelation 17:7). The truths concerning salvation through Jesus Christ are mysteries in this sense. People could not work them out by themselves, but God who planned salvation from eternity reveals them ( Romans 16:25-26;  1 Timothy 3:9;  1 Timothy 3:16).

Jesus taught his disciples that there was a mystery concerning the kingdom of God ( Matthew 13:11). He revealed that God has already established his kingdom in the world, even though the world is still under the power of Satan. God does not yet force people to submit to the kingdom’s authority. Consequently, those who are not in the kingdom live in the world alongside those who are. The decisive separation will take place on the day of judgment ( Matthew 13:24-30;  Matthew 13:36-43; see Kingdom Of God ).

Paul’s preaching was a revelation of the mystery of the gospel and the mystery of Christ ( Ephesians 6:19;  Colossians 2:2;  Colossians 4:3). He showed that God’s plan of salvation through the gospel was to unite Jewish and Gentile believers in one body through Jesus Christ. All share equally in the full blessings of God, without any distinction on the basis of nationality ( Ephesians 3:3-6;  Colossians 1:26-27; cf.  Romans 3:21-24). This unified body is a picture, a foretaste and a guarantee of the unity that there will be throughout the universe when God, through Christ, finally removes all rebellion and disharmony ( Ephesians 1:9-10;  Ephesians 3:9-10; cf.  1 Corinthians 15:25; see Gospel ).

A further mystery reveals how believers can participate in the blessings of this coming glorious age. God will remove all the effects of sin and death from his people for ever, through the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of all believers to a new state of existence in spiritual, imperishable bodies ( 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; see Resurrection ).

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [9]

Secret (from, to shut the mouth.) It is taken,

1. for a truth revealed by God which is above the power of our natural reason, or which we could not have discovered without revelation; such as the call of the Gentiles,  Ephesians 1:9; the transforming of some without dying, &c.,  1 Corinthians 15:51 .

2. The word is also used in reference to things which remain in part incomprehensible after they are revealed; such as the incarnation of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, &c. Some critics, however, observe that the word in Scripture does not import what is incapable in its own nature of being understood, but barely a secret, any thing not disclosed or published to the world. In respect to the mysteries of religion, divines have run into two extremes. "Some, " as one observes, "have given up all that was mysterious, thinking that they were not called to believe any thing but what they could comprehend. But if it can be proved that mysteries make a part of a religion coming from God, it can be no part of piety to discard them, as if we were wiser than he." And besides, upon this principle, a man must believe nothing: the various works of nature, the growth of plants, instincts of brutes, union of body and soul, properties of matter, the nature of spirit, and a thousand other things, are all replete with mysteries. If so in the common works of nature, we can hardly suppose that those things which more immediately relate to the Divine Being himself, can be without mystery. "The other extreme lies in an attempt to explain the mysteries of revelation, so as to free them from all obscurity.

To defend religion in this manner, is to expose it to contempt. The following maxim points out the proper way of defence, by which both extremes are avoided.. Where the truth of a doctrine depends not on the evidence of the things themselves, but on the authority of him who reveals it, there the only way to prove the doctrine to be true is to prove the testimony of him that revealed it to be infallible." Dr. south observes, that the mysteriousness of those parts of the Gospel called the credenda, or matters of our faith, is most subservient to the great and important ends of religion, and that upon these accounts:

First, because religion, in the prime institution of it, was designed to make impressions of awe and reverential fear upon men's minds.

2. To humble the pride and haughtiness of man's reason.

3. To engage us in a closer and more dilligent search into them.

4. That the full and entire knowledge of divine things may be one principal part of our felicity hereafter. Robinson's Claude, vol. 1: p. 118, 119, 304, 305; Campbell's Preliminary Dissertation to the Gospel, vol. 1: p. 383; Stillingfleet's Origines Sacrae, vol. 2: 100: 8; Ridgley's Div. qu. 11; Calmet's Dict.; Cruden's Concordance; South's Serm. ser. 6. vol. 3:

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [10]

Means strictly a secret, and is so used when spoken of the heathen "mysteries" or secret rites, which were full of all manner of abominations. In the Scriptures the word "mystery" denotes those truths of religions which, without a revelation from God, would have remained unknown to man. Our Savior says to his disciples, that they are peculiarly happy, because God has revealed to them "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,"  Matthew 16:17   11:25   Luke 10:21-24 . Paul explains the word in  Ephesians 3:1-9; and often speaks of the mystery of the gospel, of the mystery of the cross of Christ, of the mystery of Christ which was unknown to former ages, of the mystery of the incarnation, the resurrection, etc.,  Romans 11:25   1 Corinthians 2:7-10   4:1   13:2   15:51   1 Timothy 3:9,16 . These, then, were called mysteries, not only because they included some things which stretch beyond all human thought, and others which would never have been known if the Son of God and his Holy Spirit had not revealed them, but also because they were not opened indifferently to everyone; according to the advice of Christ to his apostles, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine,"  1 Corinthians 2:14 . In one place "mystery" seems to denote the whole cycle of God's secret plan in the administration of the gospel, gradually unfolded even to the end,  Revelation 10:7   11:15 .

Mystery signifies also an allegory, that is, a mode of information under which partial instruction is given, a partial discovery is made, but there is still a cover of some kind, which the persons who desires to know the whole must endeavor to remove. So the mystery of the seven star,  Revelation 1:20 , is an allegory representing the seven Asiatic churches under the symbol of seven burning lamps. So the mystery "Babylon the Great," is an allegorical representation of the spiritual Babylon, idolatry, spiritual fornication, etc., "I will tell thee the mystery of the woman;" that is, I will explain to thee the allegory of this figure,  Revelation 17:5,7 .

Morrish Bible Dictionary [11]

This word describes a hidden or secret thing, known only to the initiated. In scripture it stands in contrast to the manifest or public dealings of God. The Lord Jesus having been rejected, is now hidden in the heavens, and the ways of God are secret to the world, but made known, as also His hidden purpose which is being accomplished by His secret ways, to those who have 'ears to hear.' In the issue of those ways the mystery of God is finished.  Revelation 10:7 .

The Lord often spoke in parables to the multitude, but explained them to the apostles, because it was given unto them to know the mysteries of the kingdom.  Matthew 13:11;  Mark 4:11;  Luke 8:10 . Christianity is a mystery to the unconverted. The apostles were stewards of the mysteries of God, and they spoke "the wisdom of God in a mystery." The Apostle Paul spoke of the 'mystery of the gospel,' the 'mystery of the faith,' the 'mystery of Christ,' and the 'mystery of godliness,' or piety.  1 Corinthians 2:7;  1 Corinthians 4:1;  Ephesians 6:19;  Colossians 4:3;  1 Timothy 3:9,16 .

The marvellous purpose of God, the mystery of the church, that had been hidden for ages, was revealed to Paul, as well as its present administration.  Ephesians 1:9;  Ephesians 3:3,4,9;  Colossians 1:26,27 . It is that in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The intelligence of it explains how Christ can be here in a scene from which He has been rejected alike by Jew and Gentile. There is also the mystery of the power of Christ as regards both the dead and the living saints.  1 Corinthians 15:51 . In opposition to God there is the 'mystery of iniquity,' that was secretly working in the church in the apostles' days.  2 Thessalonians 2:7 . Allied to this is papal Rome, whose name is really "Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth."  Revelation 17:5,7 . The above scriptures show that though there are several things designated mysteries, yet God in His grace has made them known to His saints.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [12]

Mystery.  Ephesians 1:8-9. This word does not mean something absolutely hidden and unintelligible. It is rather a design hidden in God's counsels until revealed to mankind in and by Christ. Hence we find it continually employed in the New Testament to indicate those gracious purposes and plans, which were by degrees elaborated and illustrated, and on which the teaching of our Lord and his apostles threw the clearest light, but which remained hidden to those who would not understand, and who had their minds blinded against the truth. Thus the gospel is called "the mystery of the faith," "the mystery of godliness,"  1 Timothy 3:9;  1 Timothy 3:16, which mystery is immediately after explained to be the revelation and glorious work of the Lord Jesus Christ. So the calling of the Gentiles and their union into one body, God's church, with the Jews, is called a mystery, long hidden, but at last made known.  Ephesians 1:9-10;  Ephesians 3:8-10;  Colossians 1:25-27. In the same way it is elsewhere used for a truth or doctrine, which required elucidation, and which received it.  Matthew 13:11;  Romans 11:25;  1 Corinthians 13:2;  1 Corinthians 15:51-52. The word is also employed symbolically. Thus Paul treating of the primary institution of marriage introduces the term, because the marriage tie was a figurative representation of that yet closer union into which Christ brings his church, wherein the two are "one spirit."  Ephesians 5:31-32; comp. 6:17. In prophetical language there is a similar use of the word mystery. Thus the "seven stars" symbolized "the angels of the seven churches," and the "seven candlesticks" the "seven churches."  Revelation 1:20; comp. 17:6, 7.

King James Dictionary [13]

MYS'TERY, n. L. mysterium Gr. a secret. This word in Greek is rendered also murium latibulum but probably both senses are from that of hiding or shutting Gr. to shut, to conceal.

1. A profound secret something wholly unknown or something kept cautiously concealed, and therefore exciting curiosity or wonder such as the mystery of the man with the iron mask in France. 2. In religion, any thing in the character or attributes of

God, or in the economy of divine providence, which is not revealed to man.

3. That which is beyond human comprehension until explained. In this sense, mystery often conveys the idea of something awfully sublime or important something that excites wonder.

Great is the mystery of godliness.  1 Timothy 3

Having made known to us the mystery of his will.  Ephesians 1

We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery.  1 Corinthians 2

4. An enigma any thing artfully made difficult. 5. A kind of ancient dramatic representation. 6. A trade a calling any mechanical occupation which supposes skill or knowledge peculiar to those who carry it on, and therefore a secret to others.

The word in the latter sense has been supposed to have a different origin from the foregoing, viz.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [14]

Oh, what a mystery is the gospel of salvation, and the blessed contents of it! What a mystery is that great and fundamental truth, "God in Christ, and Christ in God!" ( 2 Corinthians 5:19;  Colossians 3:3.) What a mystery that Three sacred persons should be in One, and yet the same eternal, undivided, JEHOVAH! ( 1 John 5:7.) What a mystery Jesus speaks of when addressing the Father, and speaking of himself and church--"I in them, and thou in me!" ( John 17:23.) What a mystery, yea, what a great mystery, is godliness: "God manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory!" ( 1 Timothy 3:16.) And is there not another mystery, to every truly regenerated believer, as great, yea, if possible, greater than any, namely, that I should believe in Jesus, and Christ be formed in my heart the hope of glory, when thousands neither know the Lord, nor believe the record God hath given of his dear Son!

Webster's Dictionary [15]

(1): ( n.) A trade; a handicraft; hence, any business with which one is usually occupied.

(2): ( a.) A kind of secret religious celebration, to which none were admitted except those who had been initiated by certain preparatory ceremonies; - usually plural; as, the Eleusinian mysteries.

(3): ( a.) A profound secret; something wholly unknown, or something kept cautiously concealed, and therefore exciting curiosity or wonder; something which has not been or can not be explained; hence, specifically, that which is beyond human comprehension.

(4): ( n.) A dramatic representation of a Scriptural subject, often some event in the life of Christ; a dramatic composition of this character; as, the Chester Mysteries, consisting of dramas acted by various craft associations in that city in the early part of the 14th century.

(5): ( a.) Anything artfully made difficult; an enigma.

(6): ( a.) The consecrated elements in the eucharist.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [16]

 Ephesians 1:9,10 3:8-11 Colossians 1:25-27 1 Corinthians 15:51 Matthew 13:11 Romans 11:25 1 Corinthians 13:2 Ephesians 5:31,32 Revelation 1:20 2 Thessalonians 2:7

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [17]

( Μυστήριον ), a term employed in the Bible (N.T.), as well as in some of the pagan religions, to denote a Revealed Secret. See Grossmann, De Judaeorum Arcani Disciplina, (See Essenes) (Lips. 1833-4); and on the Christian "secret discipline," the monographs cited by Volbtdiing, Index Programm. page 138 sq.

I. Etymology Of The Word . Some have thought to derive the Greek Μύστηριον , from which the English Mystery is plainly a transfer, from a Hebrew source, but sound philology forbids this. It is clearly a derivation, through Μύστης , an Initiated person, from Μυεῖσθαι , to initiate, and thus ultimately from Μύω , To Close the eyes or mouth, i.e., to keep a secret. The derivative Μυστήριον had always a reference to secrets of a Religious character, and this sense is retained in the Bible.

II. Pagan Mysteries In General . These were ceremonies in which only the initiated could participate. The practice may be obscurely traced to the early Orient, in the rites of Isis (q.v.) and Osiris (q.v.) in Egypt, in the Mithraic solemnities of Persia, and in the Greek festivals connected with the worship of Bacchus and Cybele, and may be even faintly, recognised in our day in the ceremonies of freemasonry. They consisted in general of rites of purification and expiation, of sacrifices and processions, of ecstatic or orgiastic songs and dances, of nocturnal festivals fit to impress the imagination, and of spectacles designed to excite the most diverse emotions terror and trust, sorrow and joy, hope and despair. The celebration was chiefly by symbolical acts and spectacles; yet sacred mystical words, formulas, fragments of liturgies, or hymns, were also employed. There were likewise certain objects with which occult meanings that were imparted to the initiated were associated, or which were used in the various ceremonies in the ascending scale of initiation. The sacred phrases, the Ἀπόῤῥητα , concerning which silence was imposed, were themselves symbolical legends, and probably not statements of speculative truths. The most diverse theories have been suggested concerning the origin, nature, and significance of the Hellenic mysteries. As Schunemann remarks ( Griechische Aiterntiimer, 3d ed., Berlin, 1873), the very fact that it was not permitted to reveal to the uninitiated wherein these cults consisted, what were the rites peculiar to them, for what the gods were invoked, or what were the names of the divinities worshipped, has been the cause of our extremely incomplete information in regard to them.

The oldest of the Hellenic mysteries are believed to be the Cabiric, in Samothrace and Lemnos, which were renowned through the whole period of pagan antiquity.

Though they were only less august than the Eleusinian, nothing is certain concerning them, and even the names of the divinities are known to us only by the profanation of Manaseas. (See below.) The Eleusinian were the most venerable of the mysteries. "Happy," says Pindar, "is he who has beheld them, and descends beneath the hollow earth; he knows the end, he knows the divine origin of life." They composed a long series of ceremonies, concluding with complete initiation or perfection. The fundamental legend on which the ritual seems to have been based was the search of the goddess Demeter, or Ceres, for her daughter Proserpine, her sorrows and her joys, her descent into Hades, and her return into the realm of light. The rites were thought to prefigure the scenes of a future life. The same symbol was the foundation of the Thesmophoria, which were celebrated exclusively by married women, rendering it probable that initiation was designed to protect against the dangers of childbirth. (See below.) The Orphic and Dionysiac mysteries seem to have designed a reformation of the popular religion. Founded upon the worship of the Thracian Dionysus, or Bacchus, they tended to ascetic rather than orgiastic practices. Other mysteries were those of Zeus, or Jupiter, in Crete; of Hera, or Juno, in Argolis; of Athene, or Minerva, in Athens; of Artemis, or Diana, in Arcadia; of Hector in Egina, and of Rhea in Phrygia. The worship of the last, under different names, prevailed in divers forms and places in Greece and the East, and was associated with the orgiastic rites of the Corybantes.

More important were the Persian mysteries of Mithra, which appeared in Rome about the beginning of the 2d century of the Christian sera. They were propagated by Chaldaean and Syrian priests. The austerity of the doctrine, the real perils of initiation which neophytes were obliged to encounter, the title of soldier of Mithra which was bestowed on them, and the crowns which were offered them after the combats preceding every grade of advancement, were among the peculiarities which gave to these rites a military and bellicose character; and Roman soldiers eagerly sought initiation into them. The fundamental dogma of the Mithraic doctrine was the transmigration of souls under the influence of the seven planets, over whose operations Mithra presided. The whole fraternity of the initiated was divided into seven classes or grades, which were named successively soldiers, lions, hysenas, etc., after animals sacred to Mithra. The sacrifice of the bull was characteristic of his worship. On the monuments which have been found in Italy, the Tyrol, and other parts of Europe, inscribed Deo Mithrae Soli Invicto, Mithra is usually represented as a young man in a flowing robe, surrounded with mystical figures, seated on a bull, which he is pressing down, or into which he is plunging the sacrificial knife. A dog, a serpent, a scorpion, and a lion are arranged near him. Nothing is certain concerning the signification of this scene. After the adoption of some of the ideas connected with other religious systems, as those of the Alexandrian Serapis, the Syrian Baal, and the Greek Apollo, the Mithra worship disappeared in the 5th or 6th century. (See Mithra).

See Creuzer, Symbolik Mythologie (181)-12), translated into French, with elaborate annotations, by Guigniant and others (1825-36); Sainte-Croix, Recherches historiques et critiques sur les Mysteres du Paganisme, edited by Sylvestre de Sacy (1317); Seel, Die Mithra-Geheimnisse wahrend der vor- und christlichen Zeit (1823); Limbourg-Brouwer, Hist. de la Civilization morale et religieuse des Grecs (1833-41); Lajard, Recherches sur le Culte public et les Mysteres de Mithra (1847-8); Maury, Hist. des Religions de la Grace antique (1857); Preller, Romische Mythologie (2d ed. 1865); and Griechische Mythologie (3d ed. 1872); Enfield, Hist. of Philosophy, pages 20, 39, 50, 65; Puffendorf, Religio gentilium arcana (Lips. 1772); Osiander, De mysteriis Eleusiniis (Stuttgard, 1808); Ousvaroff, Sur les mysteres d'Eleusis (Paris, 1816).

III. The Grecian Mysteries In Particular. These mysteries certainly were always secret; but all Greeks, without distinction of rank or education nay, perhaps even slaves might be initiated ( Μνεῖσθαι ); such was the case, for instance, in the Eleusinian mysteries. It is the remark of Josephus that "the principal doctrines of each nation's religion were made known, among heathens, only to a chosen few, but among the Jews to the people no less than to the priests." It appears that in many of these mysteries certain Emblems or symbols (thence called themselves mysteries) were displayed either to the initiated, in the course of their training, or to the people; and that the explanation of these to the initiated was the mode in which they were instructed.

The names by which mysteries or mystic festivals were designated in Greece are Μυστήρια , Τελεταί , or Ὄργια . The name Ὄργια (from Ἔοργα ) originally signified only sacrifices accompanied by certain ceremonies, but it was afterwards applied especially to the ceremonies observed in the worship of Bacchus, and at a still later period to mysteries. Τελετή in general Τελετή signifies, in general, a religious festival, but more particularly a lustration or ceremony performed in order to avert some calamity, either public or private. Μυστήριον signifies, properly speaking, the secret part of the worship; but it was also used in the same sense as Τελετή , and for mystic worship in general.

These mysteries in brief may be defined as sacrifices and ceremonies which took place at night or in secret within some sanctuary, which the uninitiated were not allowed to enter. What was essential to them were objects of worship, sacred utensils, and traditions with their interpretation, which were withheld from all persons not initiated.

The most celebrated mysteries in Greece were of three kinds, chiefly those of Samothrace and Eleusis, which may be briefly described as follows:

1. The Cabiria ( Καβείρια ) were mysteries, festivals, and orgies solemnized in all places in which the Pelasgian Cabiri were worshipped, but especially in Samothrace, Imbros, Lemnos, Thebes, Anthedon, Pergamus, and Berytus. Little is known respecting the rites observed in these mysteries, as no one was allowed to divulge them. The most celebrated were those of the island of Samothrace, which, if we may judge from those of Lemnos, were solemnized every year, and lasted for nine days. Persons on their admission seem to have undergone a sort of examination respecting the life they had led hitherto, and were then purified of all their crimes, even if they had committed murder.

2. The Thesmophoria ( Θεσμοφόρια ) were a great festival and mysteries, celebrated in honor of Ceres in various parts of Greece, and only by women, though some ceremonies were also performed by maidens. It was intended to commemorate the introduction of the laws and regulations of civilized life, which was universally ascribed to Ceres. The Attic thesmophoria probably lasted only three days, and began on the 11th of Pyanepsion, which day was called Ἄνοδος or Κάθοδος , because the solemnities were opened by the women with a procession from Athens to Eleusis. In this procession they carried on their heads sacred laws ( Νόμιμοι Βίβλοι or Θεσμοί ), the introduction of which was ascribed to Ceres ( Θεσμοφόρος ), and other symbols of civilized life. The women spent the night at Eleusis in celebrating the mysteries of the goddess. The second day, called Νηστεία , was a day of mourning, during which the women sat on the ground around the statue of Ceres, and took no other food than cakes made of sesame and honey. On this day no meetings either of the senate or the people were held. It was probably in the afternoon of this day that the women held a procession at Athens, in which they walked barefooted behind a wagon, upon which baskets with mystical symbols were conveyed to the thesmophorion. The third day, called Καλλιγένεια , from the circumstance that Ceres was invoked under this name, was a day of merriment and raillery among the women themselves, in commemoration of Iambe, who was said to have made the goddess smile during her grief.

3. But far more important, so much so indeed as almost to monopolize the term " mystery" among the Greeks, were the Eleusinian Mysteries ( Ἐλευσίνια ), a festival and mysteries, originally celebrated only at Eleusis in Attica, in honor of Ceres and Proserpina. The Eleusinian mysteries, or The mysteries, as they were sometimes called, were the holiest and most venerable of all that were celebrated in Greece. Various traditions were current among the Greeks respecting the author of these mysteries; for, while some considered Eumolpus or Mussaus to be their founder, others stated that they had been introduced from Egypt by Erechtheus, who at a time of scarcity provided his country with corn from Egypt, and imported from the same quarter the sacred rites and mysteries of Eleusis. A third tradition attributed the institution to Ceres herself, who, when wandering about in search of her daughter, Proserpina, was believed to have come to Attica, in the reign of Erechtheus, to have supplied its inhabitants with corn, and to have instituted the mysteries at Eleusis. This last opinion seems to have been the most common among the ancients, and in subsequent times a stone was shown near the well Callichorus at Eleusis on which the goddess, overwhelmed with grief and fatigue, was believed to have rested on her arrival in Attica. All the accounts and allusions in ancient writers seem to warrant the conclusion that the legends concerning the introduction of the Eleusinia are descriptions of a period when the inhabitants of Attica were becoming acquainted with the benefits of agriculture and of a regularly constituted form of society. In the reign of Erechtheus a war is said to have broken out between the Athenians and Eleusinians; and when the latter were defeated, they acknowledged the supremacy of Athens in everything except the mysteries, which they wished to conduct and regulate for themselves. Thus the superintendence remained with the descendants of Eumolpus, the daughters of the Eleusinian king Celeus, and a third class of priests, the Ceryces, who seem likewise to have been connected with the family of Eumolpus, though they themselves traced their origin to Mercury and Aglauros. At the time when the local governments of the several townships of Attica were concentrated at Athens, the capital became also the centre of religion, and several deities who had hitherto only enjoyed a local worship were now raised to the rank of national gods. This seems also to have been the case with the Eleusinian goddess, for in the reign of Theseus we find mention of a temple at Athens called Eleusinian, probably the new and national sanctuary of Ceres. Her priests and priestesses now became naturally attached to the national temple of the capital, though her original place of worship at Eleusis, with which so many sacred associations were connected, still retained its importance and its special share in the celebration of the national solemnities.

We must distinguish between the greater Eleusinia, which were celebrated at Athens and Eleusis, and the lesser, which were held at Agrae on the Ilissus. The lesser Eleusinia were only a preparation ( Προκάθαρσις or Προάγνευσις ) for the real mysteries. They were held every year in the month of Anthesterion, and, according to some accounts, in honor of Proserpina alone. Those who were initiated in them bore the name of Mystae ( Μύσται ), and had to wait at least another year before they could be admitted to the great mysteries. The principal rites of this first stage of initiation consisted in the sacrifice of a sow, which the mystea seem to have first washed in the Cantharus, and in the purification by a priest, who bore the name of Hydranus ( ῾Υδρανός ). The mystae had also taken an oath of secrecy, which was administered to them by the Mystagogus ( Μυσταγωγός , also called Ἱεροφάντης or Προφήτης ), and they received some kind of preparatory instruction, which enabled them afterwards to understand the mysteries that were revealed to them in the great Eleusinia.

The great mysteries were celebrated every year in the month of Boedromion during nine days, from the 15th to the 23d, both at Athens and Eleusis. The initiated were called Ἐπόπται or Ἔφυροι . On the first day those who had been initiated in the lesser Eleusinia assembled at Athens. On the second day the mystae went in solemn procession to the sea-coast, where they underwent a purification. Of the third day scarcely any thing is known with certainty; we are only told that it was a day of fasting, and that in the evening a frugal meal was taken, which consisted of cakes made of sesame and honey. On the fourth day the Κάλαθος Κάθοδος seems to have taken place. This was a procession with a basket containing pomegranates and poppy-seeds; it was carried on a wagon drawn by oxen, and women followed with small mystic cases in their hands. On the fifth day, which appears to have been called the torch day ( Τῶν Λαμπάδων Ἡμέρα ), the mystee, led by the Δᾷδοῦχος , went in the evening with torches to the temple of Ceres at Eleusis, where they seem to have remained during the following night. This rite was probably a symbolical representation of Ceres wandering about in search of Proserpina. The sixth day, called lacchus, was the most solemn of all. The statue of Iaccllus, son of Ceres, adorned with a garland of myrtle and bearing a torch in his hand, was carried along the sacred road amid joyous shouts and songs, from the Ceramicus to Eleusis. This solemn procession was accompanied by great numbers of followers and spectators. During the night from the sixth to the seventh day the mystae remained at Eleusis, and were initiated into the last mysteries ( Ἐποπτεία ). Those who were neither Ἐπόπται nor Μύσται were sent away by a herald. The mystue now repeated the oath of secrecy which had been administered to them at the lesser Eleusinia, underwent a new purification, and then they were led by the mystagogus in the darkness of night into the lighted interior of the sanctuary ( Φωταγωγία ), and were allowed to see (Αὐτοψία ) what none except the epoptue ever beheld. The awful and horrible manner in which the initiation is described by later, especially Christian writers, seems partly to proceed from their ignorance of its real character, partly from their horror of and aversion to these pagan rites. The more ancient writers always abstained from entering upon any description of the subject. Each individual, after his initiation, is said to have been dismissed by the words Κόγξ , Ὄμπαξ , in order to make room for other mystue.

On the seventh day the initiated returned to Athens amid various kinds of raillery and jests, especially at the bridge over the Cephisus, where they sat down to rest, and poured forth their ridicule on those who passed by. Hence the words Γεφυρίζειν and Γεφυρισμός . These Σκώμματα seem, like the procession with torches to Eleusis, to have been dramatical and symbolical representations of the jests by which, according to the ancient legend, Iambe or Baubo had dispelled the grief of the goddess and made her smile. We may here observe that probably the whole history of Ceres and Proserpina was in some way or other symbolically represented at the Eleusinia. The eighth day, called Epidauria ( Ε᾿Πιδαύρια ), was a kind of additional day for those who by some accident had come too late, or had been prevented from being initiated on the sixth day. It was said to have been added to the original number of days when AEsculapius, coming over from Epidaurus to be initiated, arrived too late, and the Athenians, not to disappoint the god, added an eighth day. The ninth and last day bore the name of Πλημοχοαί , from a peculiar kind of vessel called Πλημοχοη , which is described as a small kind of Κότυλος . Two of these vessels were on this day filled with water or wine, and the contents of the one thrown to the east, and those of the other to the west, while those who performed this rite uttered some mystical words.

The Eleusinian mysteries long survived the independence of Greece. Attempts to suppress them were made by the emperor Valentinian; but he met with strong opposition, and they seem to have continued down to the time of the elder Theodosius.

Respecting the secret doctrines which were revealed in them to the initiated, nothing certain is known. The general belief of the ancients was that they opened to man a comforting prospect of a future state. But this feature does not seem to have been originally connected with these mysteries, and was probably added to them at the period which followed the opening of a regular intercourse between Greece and Egypt, when some of the speculative doctrines of the latter country and of the East may have been introduced into the mysteries, and hallowed by the names of the venerable bards of the mythical age. This supposition would also account, in some measure, for the legend of their introduction from Egypt (Smith, Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v.). It does seem, indeed, as if the vague speculations of modern times on the subject were an echo of the manifold interpretations of the various acts of the mysteries given by the priests to the inquiring disciple according to the lights of the former or the latter. Some investigators, themselves not entirely free from certain mystic influences (like Creuzer and others), have held them to have been a kind of misty orb around a kernel of pure light, the bright rays of which were too strong for the eyes of the multitude; that, in fact, they hid under an outward garb of mummery a certain portion of the real and eternal truth of religion, the knowledge of which had been derived from some primeval, or, perhaps, the Mosaic revelation; if it could not be traced to certain (or uncertain) Egyptian, Indian, or generally Eastern sources. To this kind of hazy talk, however (which we only mention because it is still repeated every now and then), the real and thorough investigations begun by Lobeck, and still pursued by many competent scholars in our own day, have, or ought to have, put an end. There cannot be anything more alien to the whole spirit of Greek and Roman antiquity than a hiding of abstract truths and occult wisdom under rites and formulas, songs and dances; and, in fact, the mysteries were anything but exclusive, either with respect to sex, age, or rank, in point of initiation. It was only the speculative tendency of later times, when Polytheism was on the wane, that tried to symbolize and allegorize these obscure and partly imported ceremonies, the bulk of which had undoubtedly sprung from the midst of the Pelasgian tribes themselves in prehistoric times, and which were intended to represent and to celebrate certain natural phenomena in the visible creation. There is certainly no reason to deny that some more refined minds may at a very early period have endeavored to impart a higher sense to these wondrous performances; but these can only be considered as solitary instances. The very fact of their having to be put down in later days as public nuisances in Rome herself speaks volumes against the occult wisdom inculcated in secret assemblies of men and women (Chambers, Cyclop. s.v.).

IV. Biblical Use Of The Term "Mystery ." A most unscriptural and dangerous sense is too often put upon the word, as if it meant something absolutely unintelligible and incomprehensible; whereas in every instance in which it occurs in the Sept. or New Testament it is applied to something which is Revealed, declared, explained, spoken, or which may be known or understood.

1. It is sometimes used to denote the meaning of a symbolical representation, whether addressed to the mind by a parable, allegory, etc., or to the eye by a vision, etc. Thus our Lord, having delivered to the multitude the parable of the sower ( Matthew 13:3-9), when the disciples asked him ( Matthew 13:10) why he spoke to them in parables, replied, " Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unto them which are without it is not given" ( Mark 4:11); "Therefore I speak to them in parables" ( Matthew 13:13); "But Your eyes see, and your ears understand" ( Matthew 13:16): here our Lord applies the term Mysteries to the Moral truths couched under that parable, that is, to its figurative meaning. Again, the mystery or symbolical vision of the "seven stars and of the seven golden candlesticks" ( Revelation 1:12;  Revelation 1:16) is explained to mean "the angels of the seven churches of Asia, and the seven churches themselves" ( Revelation 1:20). Likewise the mystery or symbolical representation "of the woman upon a scarlet-colored beast" ( Revelation 17:3-6) is explained, "I will tell thee the mystery of the woman," etc. ( Revelation 17:7). When St. Paul, speaking of marriage, says "this is a great mystery" ( Ephesians 5:32), he evidently treats the original institution of marriage as affording a figurative representation of the union between Christ and the Church (Campbell, Dissert. page 10, part 3: § 9).

2. The word is also used to denote anything whatever which is hidden or concealed, till it is explained. The Sept. uses it to express רו , A Secret ( Daniel 2:18-19;  Daniel 2:27-30;  Daniel 2:47;  Daniel 4:6), in relation to Nebuchadnezzar's dream, which was a secret till Daniel explained it, and even from the king himself, for he had totally forgotten it ( Daniel 4:5;  Daniel 4:9). Thus the word is used in the New Testament to denote those doctrines of Christianity, general or particular, which the Jews and the world at large did not understand till they were revealed by Christ and his apostles: Great is the mystery of godliness," i.e., the Christian religion ( 1 Timothy 3:16), the chief parts of which the apostle instantly proceeds to adduce "God was manifest in the flesh, justified by the Spirit, seen of angels," etc. facts which had not entered into the heart of man ( 1 Corinthians 2:9) until God visibly accomplished them, and revealed them to the apostles by inspiration ( 1 Corinthians 2:10). The apostle is generally thought here to compare the Gospel with the greater Eleusinian mysteries (for which see Diod. Sic. 4:25; Dem. 29, ult. Xen. H.G. 1:4, 14; or Leland's Advantage and Necessity of the Christian Revelation, part 1, chapters 8, 9; or Macknight's Preface to the Ephesians, § 7). Thus also the Gospel in general is called "the mystery of the faith," which it was requisite the deacons should "hold with a pure conscience" ( 1 Timothy 3:9), and the mystery which from the beginning of the world had been hid with God, but which was now made known through means of the church" ( Ephesians 3:9); the mystery of the Gospel which St. Paul desired "to make known" ( Ephesians 6:19); "the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ," to the full apprehension or understanding of which (rather than "the acknowledgment") he prayed that the Colossians might come ( Colossians 2:2; comp. the use of the word Ἐπίγνωσις ,  1 Timothy 2:4;  2 Timothy 3:7); which he desired the Colossians to pray that God would enable himself and his fellow-apostles "to speak and to make manifest" ( Colossians 4:3-4); which he calls "the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest and known to all nations" ( Romans 16:25); which, he says, "we speak" (Corinthians 2:7), and of which the apostles were "Stewards" ( 1 Corinthians 4:1). The same word is used respecting certain particular doctrines of the Gospel, as, for instance, "the partial and temporary blindness of Israel," of which mystery "the apostle would not have Christians" ignorant ( Romans 11:25), and which he explains ( Romans 11:25-32). He styles the calling of the Gentiles "a mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" ( Ephesians 3:4-6; comp. 1:9, 10, etc.). To this class we refer the well-known phrase, "Behold, I show you a mystery ( 1 Corinthians 15:51): we shall all be changed;" and then follows an explanation of the change ( 1 Corinthians 15:51-55). Even in the case of a man speaking in an unknown tongue, in the absence of an interpreter, and when, therefore, no man understood him, although "by the Spirit he was speaking mysteries," yet the apostle supposes that the man so doing himself understood what he said ( 1 Corinthians 14:2-4). In the prophetic portion of his writings, "concerning the mystery of iniquity" ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7), he speaks of it as being ultimately "revealed" ( 2 Thessalonians 2:8). (See below.) Josephus applies nearly the same phrase, Μυστήριον Κακίας , a mystery of wickedness, to Antipater's Crafty Conduct to ensnare and destroy his brother Alexander (War, 1:24, 1); and to complete the proof that the word " mystery" is used in the sense of knowable secrets, we add the words, " Though I understand all mysteries" ( 1 Corinthians 13:2). The Greeks used the word in the same way. Thus Menander, Μυστήριον Σου Μὴ Κατείπης Τῷ Φιλῷ , "Tell not your secret to a friend" (page 274, line 671, ed. Clerici). Even when they apply the term to the greater and lesser Eleusinian mysteries, they are still mysteries into which a person might be initiated, when they would, of course, cease to be mysteries to him. The word is used in the same sense throughout the Apocrypha as in the Sept. and New Testament ( Tobit 12:7;  Judith 2:2;  Sirach 22:22;  Sirach 27:16-17;  Sirach 27:21;  2 Maccabees 13:21); it is applied to divine or sacred mysteries (Wisd. 2:33; 6:22), and to the ceremonies of false religions ( Wisdom of Solomon 14:15;  Wisdom of Solomon 14:23). See Bibliotheca Sancta, January 1867, page 196; Whately, St. Paul, page 176; Contemp. Rev. January 1868, page 182.

V. Ecclesiastical Use Of The Term . The word "mysteries" is repeatedly applied to the Lord's Supper by Chrysostom. The eucharist was the last and the highest point of the secret discipline, (See Arcani Disciplina); and the name which it received on this account was retained so long as the superstitious doctrine of the miraculous presence of the body and blood of Christ gained ground. By the usage of the Christian Church it denotes the inscrutable union in the sacrament of the inward and spiritual grace with the outward and visible sign. In the early Church the term derived a still greater force from the secrecy which was observed in the administration of those ordinances. (See Sacrament).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [18]

mis´tẽr - i ( μυστήριον , mustḗrion  ; from μύστης , mústēs , "one initiated into mysteries"; muéō "to initiate," múō , "to close" the lips or the eyes; stem mu -, a sound produced with closed lips; compare Latin mutus , "dumb"): Its usual modern meaning (= something in itself obscure or incomprehensible, difficult or impossible to understand) does not convey the exact sense of the Greek mustērion , which means a secret imparted only to the initiated, what is unknown until it is revealed, whether it be easy or hard to understand. The idea of incomprehensibility if implied at all, is purely accidental. The history of the word in ancient paganism is important, and must be considered before we examine its Biblical usage.

1. In Ancient Pagan Religions

In the extant classics, the singular is found once only (Menander, "Do not tell thy secret ( mustērion ) to thy friend"). But it is frequently found in the plural mustḗria , "the Mysteries," the technical term for the secret rites and celebrations in ancient religions only known to, and practiced by, those who had been initiated. These are among the most interesting, significant, and yet baffling religious phenomena in the Greek-Roman world, especially from the 6th century Bc onward. In proportion as the public cults of the civic and national deities fell into disrepute, their place came more and more to be filled by secret cults open only to those who voluntarily underwent elaborate preliminary preparations. There was scarcely one of the ancient deities in connection with whose worship there was not some subsidiary cult of this kind. The most famous were the Mysteries celebrated in Eleusis, under the patronage and control of the Athenian state, and associated with the worship of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. But there were many others of a more private character than the Eleusinian, e.g. the Orphic Mysteries, associated with the name of Dionysus. Besides the Greek Mysteries, mention should be made of the Egyptian cults of Isis and Serapis, and of Persian Mithraism, which in the 3century Ad was widely diffused over the whole empire.

It is difficult in a brief paragraph to characterize the Mysteries, so elaborate and varied were they, and so completely foreign to the modern mind. The following are some of their main features:

(1) Their appeal was to the emotions rather than to the intellect. Lobeck in his famous Aglaophamus destroyed the once prevalent view that the Mysteries enshrined some profound religious truth or esoteric doctrine. They were rather an attempt to find a more emotional and ecstatic expression to religious aspiration than the public ceremonies provided. Aristotle (as quoted by Synesius) declared that the initiated did not receive definite instruction, but were put in a certain frame of mind ( οὐ μαθεῖν τι δεῖν ἀλλἀ παθεῖν , ou matheı́n ti deı́n allá patheı́n ). This does not mean that there was no teaching, but that the teaching was vague, suggestive and symbolic, rather than didactic or dogmatic.

(2) The chief purpose of the rites seems to have been to secure for the rotaries mystic union with some deity and a guaranty of a blissful immortality. The initiated was made to partake mystically in the passing of the deity through death to life, and this union with his saviour-god ( θεὸς σωτήρ , theós sōtḗr ) became the pledge of his own passage through death to a happy life beyond. This was not taught as an esoteric doctrine; it was well known to outsiders that the Mysteries taught the greater blessedness of the initiated in the under-world; but in the actual ceremony the truth was vividly presented and emotionally realized.

(3) The celebrations were marked by profuse symbolism of word and action. They were preceded by rites of purification through which all the mystae had to pass. The celebrations themselves were in the main a kind of religious drama, consisting of scenic representations illustrating the story of some deity or deities, on the basis of the old mythologies regarded as allegories of Nature's productive forces and of human immortality; combined with the recital of certain mystic formulae by the hierophant (the priest). The culminating point was the ἐποπτεία , epopteı́a , or full vision, when the hierophant revealed certain holy objects to the assembly.

(4) The cults were marked by a strict exclusiveness and secrecy. None but the initiated could be present at the services, and the knowledge of what was said and done was scrupulously kept from outsiders. What they had seen and heard was so sacred that it was sacrilege to divulge it to the uninitiated.

(5) Yet the Mysteries were not secret societies, but were open to all who chose to be initiated (except barbarians and criminals). They thus stood in marked contrast to the old civic and national cults, which were confined to states or cities. They substituted the principle of initiation for the more exclusive principle of birthright or nationality; and so foreshadowed the disintegration of old barriers, and prepared the way for the universal religion. Thus the mystery-religions strangely combined a strict exclusiveness with a kind of incipient catholicity. This brief account will show that the Mysteries were not devoid of noble elements. They formed "the serious part of pagan religion" (Renan). But it must also be remembered that they lent themselves to grave extravagances and abuses. Especially did they suffer from the fact that they were withheld from the light of healthy publicity.

2. In the Old Testament and the Apocrypha

The religion of the Old Testament has no Mysteries of the above type. The ritual of Israel was one in which the whole people partook, through their representatives the priests. There was no system of ceremonial initiation by which the few had privileges denied to the many. God has His secrets, but such things as He revealed belonged to all  Deuteronomy 29:29; so far from silence being enjoined concerning them, they were openly proclaimed ( Deuteronomy 6:7; Neb  Deuteronomy 8:1 ff). True piety alone initiated men into confidential intercourse with Yahweh   Psalm 25:14;  Proverbs 3:32 . The term "mystery" never occurs in the English Old Testament. The Greek word mustērion occurs in the Septuagint of the Old Testament. Only in Daniel, where it is found several times as the translation of רזא , rāzā' , "a secret," in reference to the king's dream, the meaning of which was revealed to  Daniel 2:18-19 ,  Daniel 2:27-30 ,  Daniel 2:47 .

In the Apocrypha, mustērion is still used in the sense of "a secret" (a meaning practically confined to the Septuagint in extant Greek); of the secrets of private life, especially between friends (  Sirach 22:22;  27:16,17 ,  21 ), and of the secret plans of a king or a state ( Tobit 12:7,11;  Judith 2:2;  2 Maccabees 13:21 ). The term is also used of the hidden purpose or counsel of God or of Divine wisdom. The wicked "knew not the mysteries of God," i.e. the secret counsels that govern God's dealings with the godly (Wisd 2:22); wisdom "is initiated ( μύστις , mústis ) into the knowledge of God " (  Daniel 8:4 ), but (unlike the pagan mystagogues) the writer declares he "will not hide mysteries," but will "bring the knowledge of her (wisdom) into clear light" ( Daniel 6:22 ). Hatch maintains that the analogy here is that of an oriental king's secrets, known only to himself and his trusted friends ( Essays in Biblical Greek , 58); but it is more likely that the writer here betrays the influence of the phraseology of the Greek Mysteries (without acquiescing in their teaching). In another passage, at any rate, he shows acquaintance with the secret rites of the Gentiles, namely, in 14:15, 23, where the "solemn rites" and "secret mysteries" of idolators are referred to with abhorrence. The term "mystery" is not used in reference to the special ritual of Israel.

3. In the New Testament

In the New Testament the word occurs 27 or (if we include the doubtful reading in  1 Corinthians 2:1 ) 28 times; chiefly in Paul (20 or 21 times), but also in one passage reported by each of the synopists, and 4 times in Revelation. It bears its ancient sense of a revealed secret, not its modern sense of that which cannot be fathomed or comprehended.

(1) In a few passages, it has reference to a symbol, allegory or parable, which conceals its meaning from those who look only at the literal sense, but is the medium of revelation to those who have the key to its interpretation (compare the rabbinic use of רזא , rāzā' , and סוד , ṣōdh , "the hidden or mystic sense"). This meaning appears in   Revelation 1:20;  Revelation 17:5 ,  Revelation 17:7; probably also in  Ephesians 5:32 , where marriage is called "a mystery," i.e. a symbol to be allegorically interpreted of Christ and His church. It also seems implied in the only passage in which the word is attributed to Our Lord, "Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables" ( Mark 4:11; compare parallel  Matthew 13:11;  Luke 8:10 ). Here parables are spoken of as a veiled or symbolic form of utterance which concealed the truth from those without the kingdom, but revealed it to those who had the key to its inner meaning (compare  Matthew 13:35;  John 16:29 margin).

(2) By far the most common meaning in the New Testament is that which is so characteristic of Paul, namely, a Divine truth once hidden, but now revealed in the gospels.  Romans 16:25 might almost be taken as a definition of it, "According to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested" (compare   Colossians 1:26;  Ephesians 3:3 ff).

( a ) It should be noted how closely "mystery" is associated with "revelation" ( ἀποκάλυψις , apokálupsis ), as well as with words of similar import, e.g. "to make known"   Ephesians 1:9;  Ephesians 3:3 ,  Ephesians 3:5 ,  Ephesians 3:10;  Ephesians 6:19 , "to manifest"  Colossians 4:3-4;  Romans 16:26;  1 Timothy 3:16 . "Mystery" and "revelation" are in fact correlative and almost synonymous terms. The mysteries of Christianity are its revealed doctrines, in contrast to the wisdom of worldly philosophy (see especially 1 Cor 2:1-16; compare  Matthew 11:25 ); the point of contrast being, not that the latter is comprehensible while the former are obscure, but that the latter is the product of intellectual research, while the former are the result of Divine revelation and are spiritually discerned. ( b ) From this it follows that Christianity has no secret doctrines, for what was once hidden has now been revealed. But here arises a seeming contradiction. On the one hand, there are passages which seem to imply a doctrine of reserve.

The mystery revealed to some would seem to be still concealed from others. The doctrines of Christ and of His Kingdom are hidden from the worldly wise and the prudent ( Matthew 11:25;  1 Corinthians 2:6 ff), and from all who are outside the kingdom (  Matthew 13:11 ff and parallel), and there are truths withheld even from Christians while in an elementary stage of development (  1 Corinthians 3:1 ff;   Hebrews 5:11-14 ). On the other hand, there are many passages in which the truths of revelation are said to be freely and unreservedly communicated to all (e.g.  Matthew 10:27;  Matthew 28:19;  Acts 20:20 ,  Acts 20:27;  2 Corinthians 3:12;  Ephesians 3:9 , "all men";  Ephesians 6:19;  Colossians 1:28;  1 Timothy 2:4 ). The explanation is that the communication is limited, not by any secrecy in the gospel message itself or any reserve on the part of the speaker, but by the receptive capacity of the hearer. In the case of the carnally-minded, moral obtuseness or worldliness makes them blind to the light which shines on them  2 Corinthians 4:2-4 . In the case of the "babe in Christ," the apparent reserve is due merely to the pedagogical principle of adapting the teaching to the progressive receptivity of the disciple ( John 16:12 ). There is no esoteric doctrine or intentional reserve in the New Testament. The strong language in  Matthew 13:11-15 is due to the Hebrew mode of speech by which an actual result is stated as if it were purposive.

( 100 ) What, then, is the content of the Christian "mystery?" In a wide sense it is the whole gospel, God's world-embracing purpose of redemption through Christ (e.g.   Romans 16:25;  Ephesians 6:19;  Colossians 2:2;  1 Timothy 3:9 ). In a special sense it is applied to some specific doctrine or aspect of the gospel, such as the doctrine of the Cross  1 Corinthians 2:1 ,  1 Corinthians 2:7 , of the Incarnation  1 Timothy 3:16 , of the indwelling of Christ as the pledge of immortality  Colossians 1:27 , of the temporary unbelief of the Jews to be followed by their final restoration  Romans 11:25 , of the transformation of the saints who will live to see the Second Advent  1 Corinthians 15:51 , and of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the gospel salvation  Ephesians 3:3-6 . These are the Divine secrets now at last disclosed. In direct antithesis to the Divine mystery is the "mystery of lawlessness"  2 Thessalonians 2:7 culminating in the coming of the Antichrist. Here, too, the word means a revealed secret, only in this case the revelation belongs to the future (  2 Thessalonians 2:8 ), though the evil forces which are to bring about its consummation are already silently operative. (Besides the references in this paragraph, the word occurs in  1 Corinthians 4:1;  1 Corinthians 13:2;  1 Corinthians 14:2;  Revelation 10:7 . It is interesting to note that the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) sometimes renders mustērion by Latin sacramentum , namely, in  Ephesians 1:9;  Ephesians 3:3 ,  Ephesians 3:9;  Ephesians 5:32;  1 Timothy 3:16;  Revelation 1:20 . This rendering in  Ephesians 5:32 led to the ecclesiastical doctrine that marriage is a "sacrament.")

4. The Pagan Mysteries and the New Testament

The question is now frequently discussed, how far the New Testament (and especially Paul) betrays the influence of the heathen mystery-cults. Hatch maintains that the Pauline usage of the word mustērion is dependent on the Septuagint, especially on the Apocrypha (op. cit.), and in this he is followed by Anrich, who declares that the attempt to trace an allusion to the Mysteries in the New Testament is wholly unsuccessful; but Lightfoot admits a verbal dependence on the pagan Mysteries ( Commentary on   Colossians 1:26 ).

At present there is a strong tendency to attribute to Paul far more dependence than one of phraseology only, and to find in the Mysteries the key to the non-Jewish side of Paulinism. A. Loisy finds affinity to the mystery-religions in Paul's conception of Jesus as a Saviour-God, holding a place analogous to the deities Mithra, Osiris, and Attis; in the place Paul assigns to baptism as the rite of initiation; and in his transformation of the Lord's Supper into a symbol of mystic participation in the flesh and blood of a celestial being and a guaranty of a share in the blissful immortality of the risen Saviour. "In its worship as in its belief, Christianity is a religion of mystery" (article in Hibbert Journal , October, 1911). Percy Gardner traces similar analogies to the Mysteries in Paul, though he finds in these analogies, not conscious plagiarism, but "the parallel working of similar forces" ( Religious Experience of Paul , chapters iv, v). Kirsopp Lake writes, "Christianity has not borrowed from the mystery-religions, because it was always, at least in Europe, mystery-religion itself" ( The Earlier Epistles of Paul , 215). On the other hand, Schweitzer wholly denies the hypothesis of the direct or indirect influence of the Mysteries on Paul's thought ( Geschichte der Paulinischen Forschung ).

The whole question is sub judice among scholars, and until more evidence be forthcoming from inscriptions, etc., we shall perhaps vainly expect unanimous verdict. It can hardly be doubted that at least the language of Paul, and perhaps to some extent his thought, is colored by the phraseology current among the cults. Paul had a remarkably sympathetic and receptive mind, by no means closed to influences from the Greek-Roman environment of his day.

Witness his use of illustrations drawn from the athletic festivals, the Greek theater  1 Corinthians 4:9 and the Roman camp. He must have been constantly exposed to the contagion of the mystic societies. Tarsus was a seat of the Mithra religion; and the chief centers of Paul's activities, e.g. Corinth, Antioch and Ephesus, were headquarters of mystic religion. We are not surprised that he should have borrowed from the vocabulary of the Mysteries, not only the word mustērion , but memúēmai , "I learned the secret," literally, "I have been initiated"  Philippians 4:12; σφραγίζεσθαι , sphragı́zesthai , "to be sealed" ( Ephesians 1:13 , etc.); τέλειος , téleios , "perfect," term applied in the Mysteries to the fully instructed as opposed to novices ( 1 Corinthians 2:6-7;  Colossians 1:28 , etc.) (note, outside of Paul, ἐπόπται , epóptai , "eye-witnesses,"  2 Peter 1:16 ).

Further, the secret of Paul's gospel among the Gentiles lay, humanly speaking, in the fact that it contained elements that appealed to what was best and most vital in contemporary thought; and doubtless the Mysteries, by transcending all lines of mere citizenship, prepared the way for the universal religion. On the other hand, we must beware of a too facile acceptance of this hypothesis in its extreme form. Christianity can be adequately explained only by reference, not to what it had in common with other religions, but to what was distinctive and original in it. Paul was after all a Jew (though a broad one), who always retained traces of his Pharisaic training, and who viewed idolatry with abhorrence; and the chief formative factor of his thinking was his own profound religious experience. It is inconceivable that such a man should so assimilate Gentile modes of thought as to be completely colored by them. The characteristics which his teaching has in common with the pagan religions are simply a witness to the common religious wants of mankind, and not to his indebtedness to them. What turned these religions into Mysteries was the secrecy of their rites; but in the New Testament there are no secret rites. The gospel "mystery" (as we have seen) is not a secret deliberately withheld from the multitude and revealed only to a privileged religious aristocracy, but something which was once a secret and is so no longer. The perfect openness of Christ and His apostles sets them in a world apart from the mystic schools. It is true that later the Mysteries exercised a great influence on ecclesiastical doctrine and practice, especially on baptism and the Eucharist (see Hatch, Hibbert Lectures , chapter x). But in the New Testament, acts of worship are not as yet regarded as mystic rites. The most we can say is that some New Testament writers (especially Paul) make use of expressions and analogies derived from the mystery-religions; but, so far as our present evidence goes, we cannot agree that the pagan cults exercised a central or formative influence on them.


There is a large and growing literature on this subject. Its modern scientific study began with C. A. Lobeck's Aglaophamus (1829). The following recent works may be specially mentioned: Gustav Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen (1894); G. Wobbermin, Religiongeschichtliche Studien zur Frage , etc. (1896); E. Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek (1889) and Hibbert Lectures , 1888 (published 1890); F. B. Jevons, An Introduction to the History of Religion (1896); S. Cheethara, The Mysteries, Pagan and Christian (1897); R. Reitzenstein, Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen (1910); P. Gardner, The Religious Experience of Paul (1911); K. Lake, The Earlier Epistles of Paul (1911); articles on "Mystery" in Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th edition), edition 9 (W. M. Ramsay), and edition 11 (L. R. Farnell), Encyclopaedia Biblica (A. Julicher), Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes) (A. Stewart); 1-volume Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible  ; (G. G. Findlay); Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (R. W. Bacon); articles on μυστήριον in Cremer and Grimm-Thayer New Testament Lexicons  ; the commentaries, including J. B. Lightfoot on Colossians, J. Armitage Robinson on Ephesians, H. Lietzmann on 1 Corinthians; 9 articles in The Expositor on "St. Paul and the Mystery Religions" by Professor H. A. A. Kennedy (April, 1912, to February, 1913).

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [19]

A most unscriptural and dangerous sense is but too often put upon this word, as if it meant something absolutely unintelligible and incomprehensible; whereas, in every instance in which it occurs in the Sept. or New Testament, it is applied to something which is revealed, declared, explained, spoken, or which may be known or understood. This fact will appear from the following elucidation of the passages in which it is found. First, it is sometimes used to denote the meaning of a symbolical representation, whether addressed to the mind by a parable, allegory, etc. or to the eye, by a vision, etc. . Again, the mystery or symbolical vision of the 'seven stars and of the seven golden candlesticks' , is explained to mean 'the angels of the seven churches of Asia, and the seven churches themselves' . Again, 'the mystery' or symbolical representation 'of the woman upon a scarlet-colored beast' is also explained: 'I will tell thee the mystery of the woman.' etc. . When St. Paul, speaking of marriage, says, 'this is a great mystery' , he evidently treats the original institution of marriage as affording a figurative representation of the union betwixt Christ and the church. The word is also used to denote anything whatever which is hidden or concealed, till it is explained. Thus it is employed in the New Testament to denote those doctrines of Christianity, general or particular, which the Jews and the world at large did not understand, till they were revealed by Christ and his apostles, 'Great is the mystery of godliness,' i.e. the Christian religion , the chief parts of which the apostle instantly proceeds to adduce—'God was manifest in the flesh, justified by the Spirit, seen of angels,' etc.—facts which had not entered into the heart of man until God visibly accomplished them, and revealed them to the apostles by inspiration . Thus also, the Gospel in general is called 'the mystery of the faith' , and 'the mystery which from the beginning of the world had been hid with God, but which was now made known through means of the church' . The same word is used respecting certain particular doctrines of the Gospel, as, for instance, 'the partial and temporary blindness of Israel,' of which mystery 'the Apostle would not have Christians' ignorant , and which he explains . He styles the calling of the Gentiles 'a mystery which, in other ages, was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit' (; comp. 1:9-10, etc.). To this class we refer the well-known phrase, 'Behold I show you a mystery , we shall all be changed;' and then follows an explanation of the change . And in the prophetic portion of his writings 'concerning the mystery of iniquity' , he speaks of it as being ultimately 'revealed' and to complete the proof that the word 'mystery' is used in the sense of knowable secrets, we add the words 'Though I understand all mysteries' .