Have you ever heard of the word, etymology? If you are the kind of person who likes to know where our English words came from, you are an etymologist at heart. Etymology is the study of the history of words. Therefore the etymology of a word is the origin and development of that word throughout history. In other words, etymologists are kind of like word detectives, trying to solve the mystery of where a word came from. What we learn through etymologists is that most of our English words came from other languages.
This week, starting with this post, we’re talking about a mystery. As we continue studying the grand mystery in Colossians 1:24-2:5, we’re going to learn the the etymology of the word “mystery,” so I guess you could call that the solution to the mystery of the word mystery. In the Greek Paul wrote in, he uses the word “musterion,” and you can hear how we get our word “mystery” from “musterion.” But the word has changed in meaning somewhat. When English speakers think of a “mystery,” we think of a problem or puzzle that has not been solved or explained. That is the definition of mystery, right? Once a mystery has been solved, it ceases to be a mystery. I suppose we could call it a former mystery, a problem that used to be unsolved, but now has an explanation. That is the angle that Paul is getting at here.
He clearly says in verse 26 that this mystery was unexplained for a long, long time, but now it is no longer a mystery. Why? Or How? Because what used to be a mystery has now been disclosed to the saints. And when Paul says that it has now been disclosed, he is using a word that refers to a very clear and detailed disclosure. It is not vague or foggy or partial. The disclosure is so thorough that there is no more mystery. Whatever this mystery is, he’s about to reveal it so there is no mistaking it. It will be a full disclosure.
We often use the phrase “in the interest of full disclosure” or “in the spirit of full disclosure” when we want people to know something that we think is pertinent to the discussion at hand. It is information that we are aware of, but the people we’re talking to are not aware of. And it is not fair that they don’t know. In fact we know that if they knew what we know, and they found out, they would be offended if we didn’t tell them what we knew. The same goes for this mystery. Paul is saying that God is making a full disclosure of the mystery so all can know.
If we backtrack to verse 25, Paul mentioned that God gave him the commission to present the word of God in its fullness. Paul wanted full disclosure of the word of God. That full disclosure was hidden for a long time, but now it has been revealed to the saints. Who are they? Who are these saints Paul is talking about? Members of a secret society who get to know the mystery? It is hard to become a saint in Roman Catholic teaching. One description I read said this: “[To become a saint], one must lead a heroically virtuous life, in the strictest accord with the teachings of the church, embracing charity, faith, hope and other virtues. One must also perform miracles during their life and either be martyred in the name of their religion, or be responsible for miracles after death.” Not many people become saints! Is Paul saying that mystery is revealed only to this select group?
Thankfully that’s not what Paul is talking about. Though we translate it with our English word “saint,” Paul is referring to “holy ones.” Paul uses this word in 1:12, then again in 1:22, and now again in verse 26. If you scan ahead he uses it a fourth time in the letter in 3:12. It is interesting to me that he uses it three times in near the beginning of the book. Who are these holy ones? Paul calls the recipients of the letter, “Holy ones.” He wants the Colossians to know that he identifies them as part of that group of holy ones. In other words, true followers of Jesus are consider “holy ones.”
Actually as I was studying this, it jumped out at me in connection to what we talked about last week, the idea of Christian perfection. Whatever this mystery is, if we follow Paul’s train of thought, he is saying that he was commissioned by God to present it, to reveal the mystery to the saints, the holy ones, so that he can present everyone perfect in Christ. “Perfect” is a different word than holy ones, but you can see how the concepts are connected. In Christ we are considered holy in God’s eyes. That doesn’t mean we become holy like God is holy. But it means we are declared to be part of God’s family. In other words, Paul is saying that the mystery has been revealed to the Colossians, and to us as well.
What is the mystery? Check back in to the next post!