People love mysteries. Whether it be Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or Scooby Doo, it’s not hard to figure out: everybody loves a good mystery. It’s part of what creates a good story. We experience the everyday normal, yet our characters lead unexpected lives of adventure. A crime occurs with no evidence left behind. Suspects are few and far between. To make matters worse, time is running out. Books like these create in us a sense of wonder, curious about what the very next page will bring. And it’s all experienced in the comfort of our own chair.
Greg Beale has a knack for taking some of the most obscure topics in the Bible, revealing their importance, and making them very interesting. In The Temple and the Church’s Mission Beale showed us how John looks back to the Garden of Eden in Revelation 21-22. Throughout the book he shows the reader how this temple theme is found all throughout God’s word.
Here, in Hidden But Now Revealed, he looks at how mystery is used in the New Testament by grounding it’s meaning in the book of Daniel. Greg Beale and Daniel Gladd (a doctoral student of Beale at Wheaton College) cover the twenty-eight uses of the term mystery in the NT, along with explaining the meaning of mystery in Daniel, it’s subsequent interpretations in early Judaism, concepts related to mystery in the NT yet do not use the word mystery, and the relation between the Christian mystery and the pagan mystery religions (which is very little).
Matthew, Paul, and John all speak about mystery in their letters (i.e., the Gospel of Matthew, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, and Revelation). But where is their meaning derived from? Not only this, but what does the meaning of mystery in Daniel and the NT tell us about how the NT contextually interprets the OT?
The Chocolate Milk
How do we define mystery? Do we pull out Webster’s Dictionary to figure out the meaning? It doesn’t matter that we’re 2,000 years removed from the NT, does it? Yes, it does matter. Instead of relying on Webster, we look even further back in time. Beale and Gladd look to the book of Daniel and define mystery generally as “the revelation of God’s partially hidden wisdom, particularly as it concerns events occurring in the ‘latter days’” (20, emphasis original). What makes mystery so complex is that sometimes the biblical authors use two definitions at the same time: “(1) God’s wisdom has been finally disclosed, but nevertheless (2) his wisdom remains generally incomprehensible to non-believers” (20).
The original context for mystery comes from Daniel 2 and 4. In both of these chapters we see that either king Nebuchadnezzar’s “spirit was troubled” (2.1) over his dreams or they “made him fearful” (4.5). He tells Daniel “no mystery baffles you!” (4.9). In Daniel 4 the king might be fearful because he knows the dream is about him because his dream follows that of Daniel 2, where the destruction of Babylon is portrayed in the destruction of the golden head of the statue. The authors argue that mystery “is not a radically new revelation but a disclosure of something that was largely (but not entirely) hidden” (35).
New Testament Letters
The authors look at the NT letters (see paragraph 3) to see how the NT authors develop the idea of mystery. The chapter on Matthew was by far my favourite (as I am captivated by the Gospels right now) as they showed how the kingdom of heaven was known in the OT, yet it was also a mystery. Rather than being established at the end of time as was perceived in the OT and in early Judaism, it came in two stages (or an already-and-not-yet manner). It has “come” but is “not yet” completed.
This goes on for the rest of the NT’s use of mystery. There is a facet of the mystery that was known in the OT (whether it be about salvation, the Gentiles, the man of lawlessness, how the kingdom of evil will be defeated, etc), and there is new revelation now that Jesus, the high King of heaven, has come.
The Spoiled Milk
I enjoyed the book. It’s quite dense, and in reading this you’ll want your Bible by your side so you can read along with Gladd/Beale. Though the book can be quite general, it’s mainly due to the fact that the authors cover twenty eight uses of the term mystery in the NT. This is not an easy task. Though I feel some space could have been saved but for this one thing: double-summaries.
As Jim Hamilton has said in a review, “Beale is prolix” (a.k.a. Beale is “wordy”). At the end of each chapter is a conclusion where the authors summarize their findings. This is especially helpful in the chapters covering the NT letters. Yet, at the beginnings of those same chapters we run into the same findings again!
Example: The Ephesians chapter ‘ends’ with a conclusion summarizing the main points discussed, after which we are provided with an excursus. When we turn the page to Colossians we find four paragraphs repeating the summary conclusions from Ephesians. This is seen constantly throughout the section on the NT letters. It’s not a major flaw (it is helpful to see the thoughts summarized in perhaps a different way), still, much of it could have been done away with leaving us with either a slightly shorter book or one filled with some newer information.
Oh, yes, this is recommended. Though I should qualify that statement. If you’re interested in mystery in Daniel and/or in the NT, or how the NT interprets the OT then you would like this book. This book could be read all the way straight through (as I did), but what I did catch I’ll leave in the book until I come back to use it as a reference guide. The authors leave the excursuses at the end of each chapter, which really helps keep the flow of each chapter moving right along. Mysteries are quite complex, head-scratching, and, well, “mysterious” until you have the key. And I think Beale and Gladd can be looked to on having gone deeper into finding that key, not only of what consists of mystery, but how the NT interprets the OT.
[Special thanks to Christine at Think IVP for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]