THE GREAT DISCOVERY
VERSES 1-2: THESE TWO VERSES ARE ONE COMPLETE THOUGHT
A literal translation of these two verses together, might read as thus: “I Paul, the prisoner of (the) Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles, if so be (upon the supposition) that he heard of the economy (dispensation) of the grace of God which is given me to you.”
“For this cause, I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles”
“For this cause”–(toutou charin)
Literally: “Because of this”– Paul is referring to the glorious work of the cross in “making peace and bringing the Gentiles nigh,” that he described in the Chapter 2.
For the cause of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles in general; and in particular, for asserting, that the privileges of justification and salvation by Christ belonged equally to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, though they were not circumcised; for this cause I was persecuted and imprisoned by the Jews. On account of preaching this doctrine; that is, the doctrine that the gospel was to be proclaimed to the Gentiles.
It is possible that Paul started to make the prayer that comes in verses 14-21 when he repeats toutou charin. If so, he is diverted by his own words “the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles,” to set forth in a rich paragraph (Eph. 3:1-13) God's use of him for the Gentiles.
Because Paul maintained that the Gentiles were admitted to all the privileges of the Jews, and all the blessings of the new covenant, without being obliged to submit to circumcision, the Jews persecuted him, and caused him to be imprisoned, first at Caesarea, where he was obliged to appeal to the Roman emperor, in consequence of which he was sent prisoner to Rome (see Acts 21:21-28, etc.).
In order to fully understand the connection of this passage, you must understand that vv. 2-13 are really one long digression of Paul’s. The “for this cause” of v. 14 is where Paul again takes up his chain of thought and resumes “for this cause” of v. 1. It has been noted by many Bible expositors of Paul’s habit of “going off at a word.” A single word or idea of his could send Paul’s thoughts off at a tangent. When he speaks of himself as, “the prisoner of Christ, it makes him think of the universal love of God and of his part in bringing that love to the Gentiles. In vv. 2-13 Paul’s thoughts are off his main track, but in v. 14 he gets back to what he really meant to say.
“I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ.”
Literally: “I Paul the prisoner of Christ Jesus”–Paul was a prisoner at Rome when he wrote this epistle.
He was subjected to imprisonment for the cause of Jesus Christ; i.e., for preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, and showing that they were not bound by the Law of Moses, and yet were called to be fellow citizens with the saints; for this very cause the Jews persecuted him unto bonds, and conspired his death.Not a prisoner for crime, or debt, or as a captive in war, but a captive in the service of the Redeemer.
This proves that, at the time of writing this, Paul was in bonds, and there can be no question that he was in Rome. This would be more correctly rendered, “For this cause I, Paul, am the prisoner,” etc.
Paul speaks of his present condition as a prisoner. Note that Paul did not call himself a prisoner of Nero, or a prisoner of the Roman Empire, but the prisoner of Jesus Christ! Because of the faithfulness of Paul in giving out the truth of the Gospel, he was incarcerated in the Mamertine Prison in Rome. Think of it! Paul was actually in a dungeon in Rome because of his desire that you and I should know the mystery of God’s great purpose in this dispensation. Turn to Acts 22:22-24 to read how Paul’s brethren, according to the flesh, cried out in response to his preaching.
This Mamertine Prison in which Paul was placed was far different from prisons as we know them today, which are palaces or “adult daycare centers,” (as I heard one ex-convict call them) compared to the prisons of Rome. There were no creature comforts at all. Little light, no heat, and scanty fare. There was a ditch (or trough) that ran the length of the prison, that was used as a latrine. This ditch was sluiced out once a day. Paul was chained to a Roman soldier, thus suffering because he desired to make known God’s truth concerning the plan and purpose for his Age.
“For you Gentiles.”–(huper hymôn tôn ethnôn)
Literally: “on behalf of (huper) you the nations”–Paul was especially called to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, i.e., the nations, and admit them to the church without circumcision, on an equal footing with the Jews.
For this he had been persecuted, and was not imprisoned. This first verse is the beginning of a sentence which is virtually resumed and continued at verse 14, the intermediate verses being an expansion of the idea contained in the words, “for you Gentiles.” It was the hatred of the Jews towards him, on account of his apostleship to the Gentiles, which caused his seizure (see Acts 21:33; 28:17, 20).
Made a prisoner at Rome on behalf of you Gentiles, because I maintained that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles (see Acts22:21-23). He was taken first to Caesarea, and then to Rome. The cause of his imprisonment and of all his difficulties was, that he maintained that the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles; that when the Jews rejected it, God rejected them; and that he was specially called to carry the message of salvation to the heathen world.
“If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you ward”
“If ye have heard”
Literally: “If indeed you heard”–The Greek does not imply doubt: “Assuming (what I know to be the fact, namely) that ye have heard,” etc. “If, as I presume,”
This is not designed to express doubt, but to remind them that they had previously heard of the “dispensation of the grace of God.” The Greek text shows that no doubt can be implied–“Seeing that doubtless,” etc. By his wording in this phrase Paul delicately reminds them of their having heard from him personally, and possibly from others since, this fact.
IF: (ei ge)-–Literally: “if indeed.” The Greek compound particle (ei ge), which is commonly translated “if indeed,” in several places means “since indeed,” or “seeing that,” and should be so rendered in this verse, and in several other places of the N.T.
Paul is simply saying, “Seeing that you have heard of the dispensation of God, which is given me to you.” They had amply learned this from Paul during his stay at Ephesus, for he had not neglected to declare unto them the whole counsel of God, (Acts 20:27), and had kept nothing back that was profitable to them, (Acts 20:20). For some reason Paul feels it necessary to press on his readers that fact that he had been entrusted with this grace and responsibility by Christ. This may imply that this letter was not originally sent to just the believers in Ephesus, but was probably sent to a wider circles.
The KJV wording, “if ye have heard,” does not carry with it the force that the Greek words (ei ge)–“if indeed,” does. It does, however, seem to imply that Paul is expressing some doubt toward his readers.
“of the dispensation of the grace of God ”
Literally: “of the stewardship of the grace of God”–This means that this arrangement was made that he should be the apostle to the Gentiles. We know that Paul had found it necessary to defend his position as an apostle against gainsayers, and so therefore he again lays stress on his validity. In the assignment of the different parts of the work of preaching the gospel, the office had been committed to him of making it known to the heathen.
DISPENSATION: (oikonomian)–Literally: “stewardship.” The divine arrange-ment or disposition.
By the dispensation of the grace of God we may understand, either the apostolic office and gifts granted to Paul, for the purpose of preaching the Gospel among the Gentiles, (see Rom. 1:5); or the knowledge which Christ gave him of that gracious and Divine plan which He had formed for the conversion of the Gentiles. Either would be apropos.
In verse 3 Paul speaks of a special way, or mystery, of hitherto unrevealed truths. Here the word “dispensation” means the management, or stewardship, of a household. The grace of God had now reached out beyond the limit of the Jew to the Gentile, and this trusteeship had been given to Paul in order that he might dispense it to the Gentiles. The household of God must be managed according to a particular plan; there it was a high honor bestowed upon Paul when God entrusted His plan to him.
“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation (oikonomian) of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the Word of God” (Col. 1:25).
VERSES 3 & 4: EXPRESS ONE COMPLETE THOUGHT.
“How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,”
“How that by revelation was made known to me the mystery”
Literally: “that by revelation was made known to me the mystery”–Under what circumstances did Paul receive this hitherto unrevealed truth? Paul then says, “…by revelation He made known unto me the mystery.”
REVELATION: (apokalupsin)–Literally: “by an apokalupse.” This was Paul’s authorization to peach the “mystery” of the gospel: because it had been revealed (apokalupsin) to him by Christ.
MYSTERY: (musterion)–Hitherto unrevealed truth. Something never previously revealed by God in the O.T. Such cannot be found out by the searching of men. Human wisdom could never stumble on such a plan. God alone must reveal (apokalupse) it.
The word “mystery” is used 27 times in the NT referring to 11 different mysteries. The mystery Paul is referring to here is that the Church is the Body of Christ. Paul learned this on his road to Damascus experience (Acts 9:4). Paul, who was persecuting the church, learned at that time the connection of Christ with His church. He learned that not only was he persecuting the church, he was also persecuting God.
Those who insist that the church is back in the OT are usurping the place of the Lord. They are telling something the Lord Himself did not tell. Mystery means that was not revealed in the OT. And since God didn’t reveal it, it isn’t there.
In the NT there are mentioned eleven (11) different Mysteries
1. Mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 13:3-50)
2. Mystery of Israel’s blindness during this Age (Rom. 11:25, with context)
3. Mystery of the Translation of Living Saints at the end of this Age (I Cor. 15:51-52; I Thess. 4:14-17)
4 Mystery of the NT Church as one Body made up of both Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 3:1-12; 6:19; Rom. 16:25; Col. 4:3)
5. Mystery of the in-living Christ (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:26-27)
6. Mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:23-32)
7. Mystery of Christ as the physical embodiment of God (I Cor. 2:7; Col. 2:2, 9)
8. Mystery of the process by which godliness is restored to man (I Tim. 3:16)
9. Mystery of Iniquity (II Thess. 2:7; ref. Matt. 13:33)
10. Mystery of the Seven Stars (Rev. 1:20)
11. Mystery of Babylon (Rev. 17:5-7)
Hyperdispensationalists hold that because Paul said the mystery had been made known to him, he was the only one who knew it. However, in v. 5 Paul makes it clear that all the apostles knew about it–“Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”
Paul wishes the Ephesians to understand that it was not an opinion of his own, or a doctrine which he was taught by others, or which he had gathered from the ancient prophets; but one that came to him by immediate revelation from God, as he had informed them before in a few words, referring to what he had said (1:9-12).
“as I wrote afore in a few words”
Literally: “as I wrote before in brief”–That is, “a little before.” To what this refers commentators are not agreed.
But when and where? A previous and lost Epistle as in I Cor. 5:9? That is abstractly possible. To the preceding discussion of the Gentiles? Possible and also probable.
Many Bible expositors suppose that Paul is referring to what he had written in the two previous chapters respecting the plan of God to call the Gentiles to his kingdom. Calvin supposes that he refers to some former epistle which he had written to them, but which is now lost. In this opinion there is nothing in itself improbable. But it may be doubted whether Paul here refers to any such epistle. The addition which he makes, “whereby, when ye read,” etc., seems rather to imply that he refers to what he had just written.
“Whereby, when you read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.”
“Whereby, when ye read”
Literally “By the reading of which”–This Epistle will be read in public. This shows the earnest watchfulness Paul displayed over the saints of God. The body of truth in his possession must be passed on to others.
When you refer back to them. By the bare reading of which you may understand the view which I entertain of the plan of salvation, and the knowledge which I have of God's method of saving men, particularly of his intention in regard to the salvation of the Gentiles. When they read what he wrote above (afore), and what he writes now, they can perceive his knowledge of this mystery.
WHEREBY: (pros ho)–Literally: “Looking to which; according to which.” Referring to what they had just read of what he had written.
“ye may understand my knowledge”
Literally: “you are able to realize my understanding”—Literally: “to perceive my understanding.”
KNOWLEDGE: (sunesin)–Literally: “comprehension.” My “comprehension.” Every sermon reveals the preacher's grasp of "the mystery of Christ." If he has no insight into Christ, he has no call to preach.
You may see what God has given me to know concerning what has been hitherto a mystery-the calling of the Gentiles, and the breaking down the middle wall between them and the Jews, so as to make both one spiritual body, and on the same conditions.
May God give unto the ministers and teachers of His Word such earnestness and fervency of spirit. “When ye read,” implies that, deep as are the mysteries of this Epistle, the way for all to understand them is to read it (II Tim. 3:15-16). By perceiving his understanding of the mysteries, they, too, will be enabled to understand.
“the mystery of Christ.”
Literally: “in the mystery of Christ”–The “mystery” is Christ Himself, once hidden, but now revealed (Col. 1:27).
It is Christ Himself who composes the body of believing Jews and Gentiles. To prepare Paul for this ministry, God had given Paul a supernatural revelation.
This does not refer to anything mysterious in the person of Christ; or the union of the Divine and human nature in him; or to anything difficult of apprehension in the work of the atonement. It means the hitherto concealed doctrine, that through the Messiah the Gentiles were to be received to the same privileges as the Jews, and that the plan of salvation was to be made equally free for all. This great truth had been hitherto concealed, or but partially understood, and Paul says that he was appointed to make it known to the world. His knowledge on the subject, he says, could be understood by what he had said, and from that they could judge whether he was qualified to state and defend the doctrines of the Gospel. Paul evidently supposed that the knowledge which he had on that subject was of eminent value; that it was possessed by few; that it was important to understand it. Hence he dwells upon it. He speaks of the glory of that truth. He traces it back to the counsels of God. He shows that it entered into his eternal plans; and he evidently felt that the truth which he had communicated in the former part of this epistle was among the most important that could come before the mind.
The word mystery means, properly, that which is hidden or concealed, and is thus applied to any doctrine which was not before known. It does not mean necessarily that which is unintelligible; but that which had not been before revealed. The word here seems to refer to the principal doctrines of the gospel; its main truths, which had been concealed, especially from the entire Gentile world, but which were now made known.
What exactly is this mystery? It is the fact that the Gentiles and Israel were placed on the same basis. By faith in Christ they were both brought into a new body which is the church. Christ is the Head of that new Body. Therefore, now there is a 3-fold division in the human race:
1. All people were Gentiles from Adam to Abraham—2000 (plus) years.
2. All people were either Jews or Gentiles from Abraham to Christ (2000 years).
3. Now there are either Jews, Gentiles or the Church.
This is the substance of that mystery which had been hidden from all ages, and which was now made known to the New Testament apostles and prophets, and more particularly to Paul