The Early Christian Mysteries in the New Testament

Winter has officially come to Provo. Two months early.

But this post isn’t about radical weather shifts on the Wasatch Front; no, this is about something much more exciting: the early Christian mysteries alluded to in the New Testament. Consider the following passage from Paul in 1 Corinthians (all quotes from KJV):

“But we speak of the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.” (2:7)

A few lines later, discussing the same concept, he tells the Corinthians that he “could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” (3:1). He tells them that he is feeding them with milk, and not with meat (3:2). Several lines later Paul refers to himself and others as the “stewards of the mysteries of God” (4:1).

What mysteries was Paul a steward over? I have no idea. But there wasn’t definitely something that he knew that he was going to write openly about. In Greek, the word translated as “mystery” is μυστήριον, mysterion, which carries the idea of silence through initiation into a religious rite. In other words, the mysteries Paul alludes to were secrets that one learned through initiation through some unwritten ritual.

Unfortunately for most of the Christian world, these rituals appear to have been lost after Christianity was driven underground due to persecutions. But understood in this ritualistic context, passages like these in the New Testament suddenly make much more sense.

The idea of ritualistic initiations and secret doctrinal mysteries reserved only for the elect seems antipodean to modern Protestant (particularly Evangelical) understanding of the New Testament and Christianity, which carries the banner of sola scriptura and has so downplayed (or even condemned) the need for ritual in religion. Once again that sort of water-downed theology stands in direct antithesis to the New Testament and the teachings of Christ’s Apostles.