“bring to light.” The Greek verb is phōtizō (#5461 φωτίζω). Robertson says that it is a later Greek verb, “to turn the light on.”a Thus it was used as “to bring to light,” “to give light,” “to light up,” “to inform, teach, give understanding to.” The Sacred Secret was hidden in God until God told Paul and he in turn instructed others about it, so “to bring to light and teach about” would be a good understanding of the fuller meaning of the verb in this context.
There is a textual variant in this verse. There are several important manuscripts that do not have the direct object “all” after the verb photizō, but it seems the manuscript evidence favors it being in the original text, which is why most English versions include it. Photizō occurs 11 times in the New Testament, and of those occurrences, Ephesians 3:9 is the only place where it does not have either a direct object, is used passively, or has an implied direct object by way of a prepositional phrase such as in Revelation 22:5. So, even though there is textual variation in Ephesians 3:9, it does appear that the direct object should be there (or be implied by the figure ellipsis) and so the verse should be translated something like, “enlighten all people” or “bring to light for everyone.”
The Greek word tis (“what”) can be either an interrogative pronoun or an indefinite pronoun, and these are distinguished by the accent mark used as well as the context. In the Greek New Testament, tis has an acute accent in this verse which makes it an interrogative pronoun, which is consistent with the context as well, and would be translated in this case as who? Which (one)? Or what? As the Greek reads, it is almost as if the verb photizō has 2 direct objects, one being the men who are enlightened and the other the substance of the message being the administration of the mystery. However, grammatically the words “administration” and “sacred secret” in the phrase “what is the administration of the sacred secret” are in the nominative case so the phrase cannot function as a direct object.
As far as translating it with something like “what” versus an alternative, Tyndale’s translation translates it with a “what” phrase, the Wycliffe translation translates it with an “which” phrase which is functionally equivalent to a “what” phrase, the KJV obviously translates it this way and the New American Standard up through their 1995 revision translates it this way. Thus, “what” has about a 700-year history and is a very literal rendering of the Greek text. Perhaps an alternative translation would be, “to enlighten all men about the administration of the mystery.” This more simple English is consistent with English idiom in general and does not vary significantly from the text.
The Administration of Grace, which includes what we have in Christ, and what Gentiles have as “fellow-heirs,” “fellow-members of the body,” and “fellow partakers of the promise,” was not known until God revealed it to Paul by revelation. It was his job to bring to light the Administration of the Sacred Secret.
“administration.” The Greek word we translate as “administration” is oikonomia (#3622 οἰκονομία), the administration of a household, etc.
The “administration” in this verse is “the Administration of the Sacred Secret,” which is the administration of God’s grace (Eph. 3:2), which is the time period of the Christian Church. The Church started on the Day of Pentecost when the gift of holy spirit was poured out (Acts 2), and will end with the Rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:15-17). For a more complete understanding of the Administration of the Sacred Secret, and an explanation of administrations in the Bible, see commentary on Ephesians 3:2, and Graeser, Lynn, Schoenheit, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be like Christ, Appendix A “The Administration of the Sacred Secret.”
There are some Greek texts that read “fellowship” of the Sacred Secret instead of the “administration” of the Sacred Secret. However, the evidence shows that reading to be a later change to the Greek text. Bruce Metzger writes: “The Textus Receptus, in company with a scattering of late minuscules, replaces οἰκονομία [administration] with the interpretative gloss κοινωνία (hence AV “fellowship”). The true reading is supported by p46, all known uncials, almost all minuscules, all known versions and patristic quotations.”b It can be easily understood that as the understanding of the administrations in scripture declined, that “administration” was replaced in some texts with the more easily understood, “fellowship.”
“Sacred Secret.” In this verse, the administration of the Sacred Secret refers to the Administration of Grace, which began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and will end with the Rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:15-17). [For more information on the Administration of Grace, see commentary on Ephesians 3:2].
God rightly calls the Administration of Grace the Administration of the Sacred Secret, because the fullness of what Christians have today in Christ was indeed a secret, hidden in God and unknown in the Old Testament. Besides calling it what it is, a “sacred secret,” God says over and over that it was hidden and people did not know about it until God revealed it after Pentecost (Rom. 16:25, 26; 1 Cor. 2:7-10; Eph. 3:4, 5, Col. 1:26).
The Greek word mustērion (#3466 μυστήριον) is translated as “sacred secret” in the REV Bible (and Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible) because that is what mustērion actually means and refers to: a secret in the religious or sacred realm.
Although many English versions translate mustērion as “mystery,” that is not a good translation. Actually, “mystery” is not a translation of mustērion at all; it is a transliteration of it—simply bringing the Greek letters into English and not translating the word at all. The English word “mystery” is a mistranslation of mustērion because in English a “mystery” is something that is incomprehensible, beyond understanding, and unknowable. The orthodox Church refers to things such as the Trinity or transubstantiation as “mysteries” because they cannot be understood. In contrast to a “mystery,” a “secret” is something that is known to someone but unknown to others. The password on a computer is a “secret,” not a “mystery,” because the owner of the computer knows it. Similarly, God has revealed his “sacred secrets” to the Church via the Bible, and Christians are expected to know them. They are not “mysteries.”
Translating mustērion as “mystery” in English Bibles has caused many problems in the Church. The biggest problem is that many false and illogical doctrines have been foisted upon Christians, who are told not to try to understand them because they are “mysteries.” Another problem is that people who are convinced that the things of God are mysterious quit trying to understand them and so remain ignorant of many truths that God wants every Christian to know. Christians need to be aware of the difference between a mystery and a contradiction. For example, saying Jesus is 100% God and 100% human is not a “mystery,” it is a contradiction, and furthermore, it is never stated in the Bible, it is an assumption made by theologians and then supported by calling it a mystery [for more on this, see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son”].
That mustērion refers to a “secret” and not to a “mystery” is well documented by Greek scholars, as the following selection of sources shows.
Numerous other sources could be cited, but the point is that the Greek word mustērion does not mean “mystery” and should not be translated that way. Although God kept His sacred secrets as secrets for years, He has now made many of them known, as the following verses show.
Now that we have seen that mustērion does not mean “mystery,” and that a mustērion can be understood once God reveals it, it is important to better understand why we translate mustērion as “sacred secret.” The Greek language uses mustērion for secrets in the “sacred” or religious sphere, but has another word, kruptos, for secrets that are in the secular realm. The word kruptos appears in many places in the New Testament, including when Jesus said to give alms in secret (Matt. 6:4-KJV); Jesus teaching that every secret thing will be brought to light (Mark 4:22-KJV); Jesus’ going to Jerusalem in secret (John 7:10-KJV); Scripture saying that God will judge men’s secrets (Rom. 2:16); and that prophecy reveals the secrets of the heart (1 Cor. 14:24-25).
Also, the feminine form of the word kruptos is found in Luke 11:33, where some translations have “cellar.” It refers to a “hidden place” or crypt. The adjective is krupton, and the verb is kruptō, “to hide.”
Not only does the noun kruptos appear in the New Testament, the verb kruptō appears many times as well, often translated as “hid” or “hidden.” Examples include: a city on a hill cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14); the wicked servant hid his talent in the ground (Matt. 25:25); a Christian’s new life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3); and, Moses’ parents hid him after he was born (Heb. 11:23).
From the above information we see that kruptos is a “secret,” and so also translating mustērion as “secret,” which some versions do in some places, clouds what the Greek text is saying. Anyone reading the Greek New Testament immediately understands whether God is speaking of a secular secret (kruptos) or a sacred secret (mustērion), and a good English translation will bring out that difference also. Thus, versions such as the REV and Rotherham use “secret” for kruptos, and “sacred secret” for mustērion.
We must never think that just because the word mustērion occurs in the text that it always refers to the Administration of the Sacred Secret, although it often does in the New Testament. There are many “sacred secrets” in scripture. For example, Paul uses the plural of mustērion (#3466 μυστήριον) and refers to “sacred secrets” in 1 Corinthians 4:1: “regard us as… stewards of the sacred secrets of God.” (1 Cor. 13:2 has another usage in the plural). Other sacred secrets spoken of in the New Testament include: the sacred secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven/God (Matt. 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10; ); of Israel’s partial hardening (Rom. 11:25); the content of speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:2); of new, transformed bodies at the return of Christ (1 Cor. 15:51); of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph. 5:32); the sacred secret of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7); and of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16); as well as several “sacred secrets” in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:20; 10:7; 17:5; 17:7). A major “sacred secret” in Acts and the Epistles is the dispensation, or “Administration” of Grace, called “the Administration of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2), which is also referred to as the “Administration of the Sacred Secret” (Eph. 3:9).
A study of mustērion shows that it is used to refer to the “Administration of the Sacred Secret,” as it is here in Ephesians 3:9, but God has other “sacred secrets” as well, and in fact, the Devil has secrets in the religious sphere as well (2 Thess. 2:7).
“who created all things.” God created all things. Some later manuscripts and minuscules add “by Jesus Christ,” but the simple reading “who created all things” is “decisively supported” by the early manuscripts and the quotations of the early Church Fathers.c Almost all modern versions omit the phrase (cp. ASV, BBE, CEB, CJB, CSB, DBY, DRA, ERV, ESV, NAB; NET, NIV, NJB, NLT, NRSV, RSV).
The Greek word musterion is often transliterated into the word “mystery” in Scripture and is used as an excuse for not understanding the things of God. This teaching explains why this translation is inaccurate and that a better translation is “sacred secret.”
Verses: Matt. 13:11; Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 2:7-8, 10; Eph. 1:9
Teacher: John Schoenheit