NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN (Lesson XIII)
Even though the mystery Paul speaks about was kept secret for many ages, Ambrosiaster sees Paul giving glory to God the Father, from whom are all truth and blessings flow, that he considered it an honor and privilege to deliver to the congregation in Roman a deeper understanding of Salvation by Grace. He planned to do this by confirming in their minds that the Gospel is a living document and that the mystery hidden for many ages is now being made manifest in Christ. Ambrosiaster concludes, therefore, that this deep mystery originally hidden in God was now revealed in the arrival of Christ. It proves that God is not alone, but out of eternity past He brought His Word and the Paraclete1 with Him. God decreed that every individual was to be saved by coming to a knowledge of this truth. For the truth of this mystery was indicated by the prophets in symbols known only to God. Now, however, all this is out in the open for the world to see, and it is in the person of Jesus Christ, who was with God, is from God, and will forever be with God.2
Then Chrysostom shares his thoughts that Paul’s hopes and prayers for the believers in Rome are based on the assumption that their minds are not yet firmly fixed but they are still wavering on certain points in their faith and understanding of the Gospel. In order to clarify what he is saying he bases it all on “the preaching of Jesus Christ,” by which he means the things that Jesus Himself preached. For if Christ preached it, the teaching is not Paul’s but Christ’s. Furthermore, to be let in on a secret, especially on one kept undercover for such a long time is a sign of great closeness and friendliness.
Chrysostom also notes that by writing all this Paul is hoping to release the weaker believers from unfounded fear. For this secret was already contained in the Torah and the Prophets but was hidden on purpose. Indeed, it is what the writings of Moses and the Prophets are all about. There was no reason for anyone in Rome to ask why did God wait so long to disclose these hidden truths now. That would be questioning God’s wisdom and foreknowledge. They ought not behave like busybodies but instead be content with what they were given up to this point. But certainly more was to come, and this is what Paul wanted to deliver to the Romans personally.3 How true is Chrysostom’s admonition for believers and the Church today.
For Pelagius, part of this mystery of salvation by grace is the calling of Gentiles into the family of God. This was uncovered in the Gospels by using the testimonies of the prophets and is now plainly seen in the person of Christ.4 Although the prophets said many things about the Gentiles, none recognized as clearly as Paul did on how Gentiles and Jews were to become one in Christ. Some progress is seen in that the Jews did admit Gentiles into their faith as proselytes.5
Martin Luther states that the “mystery” that the Apostle Paul speaks about here should be understood as: “The mystery of Christ’s incarnation.” For Luther, the Gospel is nothing else than the proclamation of Christ.6 As far as Luther is concerned, the “secret” hidden so long from the world, was purposely kept under wraps from eternity until the right time came to reveal it. In other words, sending His Son into the world as the Messiah to be mankind’s Savior and Redeemer was not a last minutes decision just because the Law wasn’t working. It was part of His plan all along.
Luther ends by noting that the question here might be asked how the Gospel was kept secret and yet was known to the prophets?7 Even though Luther does not give a definitive answer, let me take the opportunity and privilege here of offering one for him: Although the prophets knew a Messiah was coming and what He would accomplish in order to carry out God’s plan of salvation, none of them knew this Messiah would be Yeshua of Nazareth. They knew where He would be born, and that He would be born of a virgin, but they didn’t know His earthly name.
As to the secret and mystery Paul speaks of here, John Calvin points out that all of the theologians and serious Bible scholars of his day were in disagreement with each other as to what Paul calls the hidden mystery in the Gospel, something Paul also mentions in Ephesians 3:9 and Colossians 1:26. However, Calvin feels that what is mostly in their favor is that they point to the calling of the Gentiles, to which Paul himself expressly refers in his letter to the Colossians.8 However, Calvin confesses that although he allows this to be one reason, he cannot settle it in his mind as being the only reason. It seems to him more probable that Paul had additional thoughts concerning what was hidden in the First Covenant and revealed in the Final Covenant. Because even though the Prophets formerly taught all those things which explained by Christ and now by His Apostles, yet they taught them with so much obscurity that in comparison with the clear brightness of Gospel light it is no wonder that those things are said to have been hidden which are now made manifest.
But Calvin was not finished. He doesn’t believe Malachi declared that the Sun of righteousness would rise without a good reason.9 Also, Isaiah earlier highly eulogized the government10 of the Messiah but offered no distinct function of that government.11 Furthermore, it was not without reason that the Gospel is called the “Message of the Kingdom of God.”12 Calvin concludes that all being said by the prophets came to fruition in Christ as a treasure trove of celestial wisdom opened for all to see. Finally, God appeared to His ancient people through His only-begotten Son, as it were, face to face, all shadows cast by His prophesied presence are now done away with. His being the Light of the World eliminated them. The real Person is now here for everyone to behold. Calvin sees Paul referring to the end he mentioned at the beginning of the first chapter, for which this Gospel is to be preached – God will bring all nations of the world into the circle of obedience of faith to His Son as the Savior of the world.13
John Locke makes note that Paul never referred to the Gospel as “his,” by virtue of being its author. He only meant that it was his because it contained something in it that distinguished it from what others were preaching. And the one thing he mentioned was the revelation of the mystery that God kept secret from the beginning of the world. Of course, he goes on to say that it was God’s plan to send the Gospel to the Gentiles so that they may also be saved and become part of His family. As we know from what Paul said about his visit to Jerusalem to meet with the Church Council, that there were some who insisted that all Gentiles observe a number of Jewish customs and manners concerning circumcision and a kosher diet. But Paul rejected that as competition for God’s grace and understanding brought by the Holy Spirit to enlightened all minds of the truth. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, the Law of Moses was done away with by the death of Christ.14 This also was part of the mystery Paul incorporated into his preaching.15
However, when it comes to the secret of the mystery of which Paul speaks, Adam Clarke interprets what Paul says here about the secret concerning Gentiles being admitted into the family of God, that when we look at all the prophesies scattered throughout all the books of the First Covenant, there is no clear revelation that the Gentiles would be admitted to the family of God without passing under the scrutiny of the Mosaic law. This was the point being kept secret. For Clarke, as to the calling of the Gentiles, this was declared in general terms by the prophets, and the Apostle quotes and makes important use of their essential predictions. But the other points on which the prophets gave no information God, through the Holy Spirit, particularly revealed it to Paul. This involved the revelation that the requirement of works under the Law of Moses was being replaced with the requirement of faith through grace under the Law of the Spirit.16
Robert Haldane explains what he understands to be the mystery Paul is speaking about in an interesting way. It involves that calling of the Gentiles out of the darkness of their ignorance concerning God and salvation into the marvelous light of the promise of a redeeming Savior. What Haldane marvels at is that their calling was supposed to be a mystery, yet the Scriptures Paul used to back this belief are plain enough for all to see. That’s why Haldane notes that it is the Gospel itself being called a mystery in Ephesians.17 The thing hidden by God from the beginning of the world was the plan of salvation through the death of His Son. It was now revealed by Christ and His Apostles, who were making it known to the rest of the world. Also, in Colossians,18 it is the Gospel as the Word of God that is the mystery. Then in the next verse,19 this mystery is said, by the preaching of the Gospel, to be made known among the Gentiles, just as in the verse before us here in Romans. So the calling of the Gentiles should not be called a mystery.
Haldane continues by pointing out that this mystery kept secret which pointed to the kingdom of God was camouflaged during the First Covenant dispensation. So we might say that all the truth as revealed in the First Covenant was similar to a parable that was then fully revealed in the Final Covenant. Even this method of instruction using parables by Jesus Himself as predicted in the Psalms,20 which our Lord Himself quoted.21. This is an illustration of how mysteries were going to be revealed by the Messiah. When His disciples asked Him what purpose these parables were to serve, He told them: “To you it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest, it is in parables, so that, ‘Seeing, they may not see; and hearing, they may not understand.’”22 Thus the mystery, or concealed sense of what He said, was kept secret from those who were not yet chosen to understand. Haldane also points out that it is to the First Covenant, taken as a whole, that our Lord refers when He said to His disciples, If you don’t understand the parable I just told you, how will you understand any parable23?24
1 John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1. Paraclete is a Greek noun meaning, “someone called to one’s side to offer assistance.” A “comforter and advocate”
2 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 27
4 See Ephesians 3:1-13
5 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See Romans 1:1-4
7 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 223
8 Colossians 1:27
9 Malachi 4:2
10 Even today some take the word “government’ (KJV) as meaning an earthly government. But the Hebrew noun misrah refers rule and dominion. In other words, Isaiah is speaking of Christ’s rule over the Kingdom of God. In Isaiah 9:7 there will be no end to his reign of peace.
11 Isaiah 9:6
12 Matthew 24:14
13 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Ephesians 2:15
15 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 384-385
16 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 302
17 Ephesians 3:9
18 Colossians 1:26
19 Ibid. 1:27
20 Psalm 78;2
21 Matthew 13:35
22 Luke 8:10
23 Mark 4:13
24 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 649