Is The Mystery In The Old Testament?

No, of course not! Then why does Paul often quote the Old Testament to substantiate the Mystery (e.g., Rom. 15:9-12)? Let’s start in Acts 26:22, where Paul testifies:

“I continue unto this day…saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.”

This statement seems to belie Paul’s insistence that his message was “hid from ages and from generations” (Col. 1:26). However, he explains himself in the next verse:

“That Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23).

The death and resurrection of Christ was not a mystery, nor was God’s plan to show light unto “the people” (of Israel) and “to the Gentiles.” Thus Paul is saying that while his message did not fulfill the prophets, generally speaking it did not contradict the Old Testament. We see the same in Acts 15, where the leaders in the church met to decide what to make of Paul’s new gospel.James concluded:

“Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name. And to this agree the words of the prophets…” (v. 14,15).

James didn’t say that Paul’s new message fulfilled the prophets. Rather he said it agreed with them, i.e., God always intended to visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name. Of course, according to Prophecy this was supposed to happen through Israel’s rise (Isa. 60:3), not through her fall (Rom. 11:11). Someday in the kingdom it will. But in the meantime, James could not deny that generally speaking Paul’s new message was in accord with the Old Testament.

When most New Testament writers quote the Old Testament, it is to show fulfillment of prophecy. However, when Paul quotes the Old Testament, it is to show harmony, not fulfillment.

Let’s close with an example. In Romans 10:19 Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:21, where God vows to provoke Israel to jealousy by “a foolish nation.” This cannot be the Gentiles, for they are “the nations,” plural. Peter rather identifies the believing Jews to whom he wrote as the “holy nation ” that God originally used to provoke the apostate nation of Israel to jealousy (I Pet. 2:9 cf. Matt. 21:43; Luke 12:32) and fulfill Deuteronomy 32:21. But in the next chapter of Romans, Paul says,

“…I am the apostle of the Gentiles…if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh…” (Rom. 11:13,14).

Here Paul declares that God was now using the Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy. Not in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 32:21, but certainly in harmony with it!

So while the Mystery is not in the Old Testament, Paul can quote it freely to show how his new message was in agreement with it.

To the Reader:

Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:

"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."

To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.

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A Stranger in a Strange Land

In 1961, Robert A. Heinlein published his best selling science fiction novel, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.1 The premise of this fictional and highly allegorical work is this: A young man, born on Mars and raised by Martians, suddenly is thrust into a society that is foreign. Heinlein paints a picture of someone struggling to find himself among a race of people with whom he shares little except a physical resemblance.

As believers, we may rightly dismiss the flights of fancy of science fiction writers; however, there are times in every believer’s life when he or she is overwhelmed by the world in which they live. We truly are strangers in a strange land. Our values, ethics, concerns, and general worldview are inimical to that of the world. This was recently brought to prominence by the shocking, in your face half time show during the Super Bowl. What was once a family activity—watching the culmination of the football season on television—has turned into an opportunity for purveyors of pollution to contaminate the airwaves.

This perverted media deluge is not limited to broadcast media, although it is the most pervasive. Time Magazine’s2 recent sensationalist reporting on the so-called Lost Gospels attempts to cast doubts on the Bible that we hold so dear. Many a parent has found himself in the uncomfortable position of explaining a suggestive billboard to a child because of the intrusive nature of the medium.

This raises the question: What is a believer to do? What is a proper Grace response in the face of this cultural onslaught?

Historically, evangelicals in general and dispensationalists in particular have taken a “head in the sand” separatist attitude. This may have worked during a previous generation, but in the culture in which we live, isolationism is practically impossible, unless you choose to withdraw completely from society, vis-à-vis the Amish.

Dispensational eschatology expects that a society composed of fallen men and women will continue in moral decay until God intervenes after removing the Church. The fact that sinners behave as heathens should come as no surprise: It has been so since the Fall. What has changed in recent history is the open aggression demonstrated by neo-paganism against the Body of Christ. It is one thing when men and women live in sin among their fellow sinners, sad as that may be. It is quite another when they want to soil us with their muck by forcing it upon us.

Witness the recent decision by activist judges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Unelected officials decided that they know what is best over the will of the elected legislators. The residents of these states are now forced to deal with the prospect of same gender marriage.

Lest we think this is simply the agenda of a small left wing group, remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). There is method to the madness behind this spiritual attack.

Thus we see that withdrawing from the world, as desirable as that may be, is not a viable option. We must also consider our responsibility as members of the Body of Christ. Again, Paul puts it well: “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20). An ambassador is a representative from one country to another. As ambassadors of Christ, we are His representatives to a fallen world, a position that requires that we live among strangers.

We are then left with the unanswered question: How shall we respond in the face of such overwhelming evil in our society? If isolation is not an option, nor is it a proper response for ambassadors, how shall we then live?3

As in all things moral, the Bible has much to say about the believer’s response and responsibility to a lost world. In the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke affords us ample opportunity to study Paul’s response to the evil world to which he was sent. Acts 13:4-11 records an event that occurred at the very beginning of Paul’s ministry. When confronted by the evil sorcerer Elymas, who was “seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith” (13:8), Paul did not shy away, nor did he try to compromise with this evil. The stakes were eternal and Paul did not suffer fools lightly. He did not mince words: “O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). Verse 11 records that Paul struck Elymas blind. Granted, we should not expect to likewise experience such a charismatic display; we do not hold the office of apostle. The point is that Paul was confronted by evil at the onset of his ministry and he did not shy from the confrontation.

Notice next the effect this display had upon the unbeliever: “Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:12). May I suggest that if we take a page from Paul’s book and resist the evil in our society, we too will have an impact on the life of the unbeliever who is among us?

Acts 15, along with the book of Galatians, records Paul’s response to the efforts of the Jews to force the Gentiles to submit to the Mosaic Law. Some of the harshest language used by Paul is found in Galatians 5:12: “I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” The force of this statement is greatly softened by the King James translators. In the Greek, Paul’s anger is apparent: He is suggesting that these Jews perform a bit of surgery on themselves. Thus, we again see that Paul is not afraid to engage the society in which he lives. Brethren who were trying to add to the Gospel of Grace were leading believers astray, in this case by requiring circumcision. Imagine his response to the siren’s song of secularism seducing our young people today?

Another example from the Book of Acts is found in 17:22. Paul finds himself on Mars’ Hill surrounded by the leading philosophers of the day. He was certainly troubled by the rampant idol worship that he observed. Perhaps one could excuse him if he turned tail and fled, not only from the pagan worship, but also from the challenge of confronting the intellectual giants who daily gathered to debate. Far from fleeing, Paul engages these pagans. Luke has preserved the confrontation in Acts 17:22-32. Paul confronts the evil of idolatry, in this case in a more subtle way than that which he demonstrated toward the Galatians. He even quotes from their own philosophers in 17:28.

Further examples may be found in the epistles. Paul advises the believers at Rome to “be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). The Greek word translated overcome twice in this verse is nikao.4 It means to conquer. Both are in the imperative or command mood. The first is in the passive voice and the second in the active. Paul is saying, “Do not be conquered by evil, instead, conquer evil with good.” The word “good” in the Greek is an adjective used as a noun in the instrumental case. The instrument for overcoming evil is the good. The word refers to that which is morally right, that which edifies. Paul uses a martial term to describe his reaction to evil: conquer evil with the antithesis of evil—moral goodness.

That there was considerable evil to be resisted is beyond a doubt. Paul’s description of the evil state of man up to his day is graphically portrayed in Romans 1:18-32. Anyone who tours the ruins of Pompeii will be confronted by a plethora of pornographic paintings, depicting such debauchery as to make a harlot blush. Romans 1:32 could easily be a description of our society: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” The Greek word behind the translation “have pleasure” is suneudokeo. It means to agree with, to approve, or consent to something. Picture the man trapped in sin, observing the sinful behavior of others, and not only agreeing with the behavior, but giving active consent or approval. Misery loves company, does it not?

Conquering evil requires a conscious effort to confront those who practice evil. This may seem like simple advice, but recall the moral atmosphere of Rome. The capital of the Empire was also the capital of debauchery and confronting those who practiced evil, many of whom were those in power, was risky business. John the baptizer comes to mind. Paul also counsels the saints in Corinth to deal with immorality in the church by delivering “such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (I Cor. 5:5). It is safe to say that Paul did not tolerate immorality in the church; I seriously doubt that he would have tolerated evil doers who were attacking the local body, knocking on the very doors of the church.

From the few examples above, the case may be made that if Paul were ministering today, he would not shy away from the evil in society. The apostle of Grace was well equipped to engage the battle for men’s souls; and from that battle, he did not shrink. Is it much of a stretch to say that we too have a responsibility to fight for the souls of men today?

The stakes in this battle are far greater than the souls of strangers, as precious as they are; the souls of our children are at stake. Few families today can afford private school, even if they may find one to whom they may entrust their children. Far fewer can or are able to home school. The only choice for the majority of families is public school. Need I go into detail about the corruption in public education today?

What then are our options as we seek to protect our children, be faithful ambassadors, and try to function in a dysfunctional world? May I suggest the following options?

1. Be aware: Many Christians, in an effort to protect themselves from the onslaught of worldly influences, have become isolationists. The world has fallen apart around them and they are oblivious to the effect that this is having on them and their children; they fiddle while Rome burns.

While standing before Agrippa, Paul recounts the events that have led to his imprisonment. When he relates the story of his conversion, Paul repeats what he has heard directly from the Lord concerning his mission: “Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:17,18). Evil cannot stand before the Light of the Gospel. The best way to expose the false promises of the evil in our society is by shining the light of the truth upon them. Overcome evil with good, not force. You do not need to study evil to identify it, becoming well grounded in Biblical truth will suffice.

2. Be Proactive: Few of us would wait until we were robbed to consider locking our doors at night. We proactively take measures to protect our property. If we take such pains to keep our material goods safe, is it wrong to be proactive in protecting our children?

Many a pastor has had the experience of a parent seeking help with a youngster who is out of control. In a short time, he can determine that the parent is reacting to a problem that was long in the making. Instead of wringing our hands after the fact and wondering where we have gone wrong, we need to protect our children before trouble surfaces. Few parents would leave their children with a stranger of dubious character; fewer still would think twice about leaving their children unsupervised while watching television.

When I was a child, we had an old black and white television. The most exciting program was Bonanza. I remember, while watching this program with my parents, a short public service message that scrolled on the bottom of the screen: It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your children are? The hour of history is late. Do you know where your children are spiritually? Do not wait until they are in trouble to discover that they are involved with the things of the world. If you have a child who is old enough to understand salvation, and you do not know where they stand regarding salvation, you are guilty of spiritual child neglect.

3. Be Engaged: We in the United States are blessed to live in a country that continues to value liberty. We are enfranchised and empowered to decide who our leaders are going to be. Engage the society in which you live by knowing the candidates and the issues and then vote according to your values. You may be assured that the undesirable elements in our society will be at the polls. If you fail to have a voice in the society in which you live, you must live in that society without a voice against evil and injustice.

4. Be an Evangelist: Remember that our first responsibility to society is to be ambassadors for Christ. Even a morally repugnant and corrupt person needs a Savior. Jesus observed, “But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matt. 9:12). A gardener gets soil on his hands when he plants and reaps. An evangelist or ambassador may have to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty to minister to the lost. In doing so he must be cautious to prevent soiling his own heart.

Evangelizing the lost has the added benefit of a positive influence on the society in which we live. To be sure, not everyone will receive the Gospel, but for those who do, the Grace of God through the ministry of the Spirit can work wonders on the heart. People who were once devoted to debauchery may become servants to Christ and seek practical sanctification.

Conclusion: If the above sounds a bit radical and reactionary, perhaps it is. Drastic times call for drastic measures. We are engaged in a cultural battle for the minds and hearts of our children, families and society at large. We are fully aware that only Divine intervention will win the day. Until then, we must be willing to contest each and every soul that the enemy seeks.

Members of the Body of Christ may find themselves in strange territory when deciding to confront the issues and engage the evil in our society. Being an ambassador in wartime is not for the squeamish, but confront we must. Otherwise, we concede what is left of civility in our society and, like the survivors of the Titanic disaster, leave men to drown in their sins with our lifeboat half full.


  1. Stranger in a Strange Land. Robert A. Heinlein, Ace Books, August 1995. Originally published 1961.
  2. Time Magazine, December 22, 2003, Time Inc. New York, New York, p54. The Lost Gospels.
  3. I refer the reader to a book that asks the same question. THE COMPLETE WORKS OF FRANCIS A. SCHAEFFER, A Christian Worldview. Volume 5 A Christian View of the West Book Two. HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE (Westchester, Il) Crossway Books 1982.
  4. All Greek references from A Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, F. Wilbur Gingrich, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, and London. 1957.

Part 2: Abraham and the Hebrew Nation

(This is the second of a series of articles that first appeared in 1950 in Truth magazine, published by Milwaukee Bible Institute/Worldwide Grace Testimony, now the Grace Gospel Fellowship. These articles have never before appeared in the Searchlight.)

To get the clearest understanding of God’s purpose concerning Abraham and his seed, let us first imagine ourselves in the position of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and read carefully and prayerfully some of the promises made to them.


“And I will make of thee a great nation…and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:2,3).

“…Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:

“For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

“And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered” (Gen. 13:14-16).

“…Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, so shall thy seed be” (Gen. 15:5).

“And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8).

“…In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.

“And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed…” (Gen. 22:17,18).

“And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 26:4).

“And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:14).


A simple reading of the above passages must convince the unbiased reader that the Hebrew fathers to whom these promises were originally made could understand them in no other way than that God was to bless and multiply their offspring, give both them and their offspring the land of Canaan and make them a blessing to all the world.

But approximately two millenniums later Paul, by the Spirit, wrote concerning these promises:

“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Gal. 3:16).

This statement from the pen of Paul has caused theologians no end of trouble. Elmer Barnes says of it:

“Now no one ever probably read this passage without feeling a difficulty, and without asking himself whether this argument is sound, and is worthy of a man of candour, and especially of an inspired man. Some of the difficulties in the passage are these. (1). The promise referred to the posterity of Abraham at large, without any particular reference to an individual. It is to his seed; his descendants; to all his seed or posterity. Such would be the fair and natural interpretation should it be read by hundreds or thousands of persons who had never heard of the interpretation here put upon it by Paul. (2). The argument of the apostle seems to proceed on the supposition that the word “seed” i.e. posterity, here cannot refer to more than one person. If it had, says he, it would have been in the plural number. But the fact is, that the word is often used to denote posterity at large; to refer to descendants without limitation, just as the word posterity is with us; and it is a fact, moreover, that the word is not used in the plural at all to denote a posterity, the singular form being constantly employed for that purpose….Indeed the plural form of the word is never used except in this place in Galatians. The difficulty, therefore, is that the remark here of Paul appears to be a trick argument, or a quibble more worthy of a trifling Jewish Rabbi, than a grave reasoner or an inspired man. I have stated this difficulty freely just as I suppose it has struck hundreds of minds, because I do not wish to shrink from the difficulty in examining the Bible, but to see whether it can be fairly met.”

This difficulty, stated so candidly by Barnes, has induced many to adopt a system of interpretation which is called the “spiritualization” of the Scriptures. Under this system, for example, the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are reconciled with Galatians 3:16 by giving the former a “spiritual” interpretation, thus changing their obvious meaning altogether. By Abraham’s seed the Church, the Body of Christ, was meant; Canaan refers to heaven, etc.

One outstanding Bible teacher who partially adopts this system boldly states that Galatians 3:16 is “a very simple and direct exegesis of the text in Genesis” and contends that the promises in Genesis predicted the coming of Christ, Abraham’s single Seed! Still, wavering a little, he also says: “In regard to the prophecies of Abraham’s seed, it does seem to me that the Old Testament leaves plenty of room for Paul’s interpretation!”

But one thing should be clearly understood: that if Paul’s words in Galatians 3:16 are an exegesis or interpretation of the text in Genesis then Genesis does not teach the blessing of the world through the nation Israel.


But why change any part of the Word of God to make it harmonize with another? It is all perfectly harmonious as it is. The key to the difficulty is to be found, not in the alteration of prophecy but in a recognition of the mystery revealed through Paul.

Galatians 3:16 is not an exegesis or an interpretation of the promises in Genesis at all, but a commentary on the Holy Spirit’s use of a word, and part of the revelation of the mystery.

Paul writes by revelation, pointing out that in speaking of Abraham’s descendants, God passed over all those words in which the singular and plural forms differ, and chose the word seed which, while singular in form, is used to denote many as well as one.1 He did this because He knew that Abraham’s multiplied seed could never prove a blessing to the world except in Christ. Indeed, the spiritual bankruptcy of the multiplied seed is now being demonstrated while the blessing of the world is wrapped up in Christ. The world will be blessed through the multiplied seed of Abraham, to be sure, but it will be the regenerate seed of the future. Thus the world will be blessed through Israel when she finds her place in Christ. Meantime the blessing is vested in Christ alone and we are called the seed of Abraham only because we are in Christ, who is Abraham’s Seed. And we received this position, not by promise, but by grace. Thus the apostle says:

“But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise, by faith of2 Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:22).

“That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ: that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14).

“And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).

But this is a revelation of the mystery, not of prophecy, nor does it for one moment invalidate the plain promises made to the Hebrew fathers.

When a promise, however gratuitous, is made, the promiser has at least one moral obligation toward the promisee: he, the promiser, does not intend to give, of the promise. If he knowingly misleads the promisee to expect something he, the promiser, does not intend to give, he commits an injustice. And thus it is with the promises in Genesis. Surely Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were given to understand that God would bless the world through their multiplied seed,3 and if God did not intend to do this was He not misleading them? He used the word “seed” simply because He knew that all was bound up in one Seed—Christ; that the multiplied seed would some day become a blessing to the world through the single Seed.

That God intends to keep the original promise just as it stands is clear from many passages in both the Old Testament and the New. We quote a few of these, entreating the reader to examine them as prayerfully and carefully as the original promises in Genesis:

“But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.

“And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed” (Isa. 61:6,9).

“And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong.

“In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:13,23).

“And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:12).

“And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

“And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.

“For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

“As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes”4 (Rom. 11:25-28).


  1. In the original as well as in English.
  2. Or, the fidelity of.
  3. The following passages show how Israelites down through the centuries did understand it in this way: Gen. 32:12; 48:3,4,19; Ex. 32:13; 33:1; Deut. 1:8,11; 9:28; 11:9; 19:8; 27:3; II Chron. 20:7; Luke 1:72-74; Acts 3:25,26.
  4. Note: Not “for the Father’s sake” but “for the fathers’ sakes,” i.e. the Hebrew fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

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Berean Searchlight – April 2004

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