Mustērion


3. ‘KRUPTŌ’ AND ‘KALUPTŌ’.

(1) ‘kaluptō’

The ‘nothing hidden’ sayings of Jesus lead us to consider in more detail the vocabulary of ‘hiding’. The two verbs which recur in these passages, and which relate to mystery, are ‘kruptō’ and ‘kaluptō’, which are similar but not quite synonymous: ‘kruptō’ means, simply, to ‘hide’, while ‘kaluptō’ means to ‘veil’. A mystery, therefore, is a picture or a prophecy or a parable whose full meaning is hidden, the clear outline of its truth veiled by metaphor or ambiguity. ‘kaluptō’ is more obviously related to our central theme, since its compound ‘apokaluptō’ , to ‘unveil’, or, from its Latin equivalent, to ‘reveal’, leads to the noun ‘apokalupsis’, ‘revelation’. This verb occurs 7 times in the NT, 2 of these being in the passages we have just looked at. Luke’s first version of the ‘lampstand’ analogy begins “no one lights a lamp and ‘veils’ it under a jar” (8.16); and Matthew’s ‘nothing hidden’ saying clearly links the two related verbs: “for there is nothing ‘veiled’ which will not be ‘unveiled’” (10. 26). Luke adds an extra link to the chain in his second version of this saying, using another compound, ‘sugkaluptō’ (pronounced 'sunk-'). This compound intensifies, rather than modifies, the verb’s essential meaning, so that we could translate this verse: “There is nothing covered in a veil which will not have its veil removed” (12.2). Of the other occurrences of ‘kaluptō’, 2 are quotations, by James (5.20) and Peter (1 Peter 4.8) of Proverbs 10.12: “Love covers over with a veil a multitude of sins”. Two other uses are vividly and pictorially metaphorical, and, in a strange way, complement each other: in one, the ‘veil’ comes up from below, and in the other, down from above. Matthew (8.24) describes the storm on the Sea of Galilee as follows: “Look! There was a great upheaval in the sea, and the boat was engulfed (‘kaluptō’) in the waves”. The word ‘look’ (‘idou’ in Greek, usually translated ‘behold’ in AV) encourages us to visualise the scene and to respond to the pictorial image of ‘kaluptō’. The other metaphorical usage is found in Luke 23.30, where Jesus quotes Hosea’s prophecy of the judgement day: “The people will begin to say to the mountains ‘Fall on us!’, and to the hills ‘Enshroud us!’” (kaluptō’ - Hosea 10.8). That just leaves us with Paul, who also uses ‘kaluptō’ metaphorically, though his metaphor, as one might expect, is theological rather than pictorial. He also introduces us to 4 more members of the ‘kaluptō’ family. The first two of these, the compound verb ‘katakaluptomai’ and an adjective derived from it, ‘’akatakaluptōs’, are strictly literal in meaning, and occur in 1 Corinthians 11, the verb 3 times and the adjective once - their only appearances in the NT. The verb means to ‘cover one’s head with a veil’, and the adjective, with its negative prefix ‘a-’, means ‘with uncovered head’. These, of course, all occur within Paul’s teaching on the respective roles of men and women within the church: it is equally wrong, he says, for a man to pray or prophesy in church with his hat on as it is for a woman to pray or prophesy with her head not covered by a veil - both are ‘shaming their heads’ (vv.4-5). This teaching (thankfully!) is not our concern here, so we will hurry on to 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 3. 'kalumma'

Here, in chapter 3, vv.12-18, we meet the other two members of the 'kaluptō' family, and, like the two in 1 Corinthians 11, this is the only place in the NT where they occur. This is a difficult passage both to translate and to interpret, so we will spend some time trying to shed light upon it, for it is also an important and instructive passage, in at least two respects. Firstly, it shows us Paul expounding OT scripture, and adopting two strikingly contrasting approaches. On the one hand, he engages closely with the text and its vocabulary, but on the other hand he draws from the text interpretations and applications that are strikingly imaginative. Secondly, the passage gives us a valuable insight into Paul's theology of 'mystery' - 'mysteriology', we could call it. The second of these two words we will come to later, but the first is the noun, ‘kalumma’, ‘a veil’. It is here that Paul slides from the literal to the metaphorical, as we shall eventually see. He is contrasting the old Mosaic Covenant with the New Covenant in Christ: the Old Covenant was a ‘ministry of judgement and death’, the New Covenant ‘a ministry of justification’; the Old was temporary, the New everlasting; the Old was based on the letter of the Law, the New rejoices in the liberty of the Spirit (7-11). The central event of the Old Covenant was the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, the moment in OT history when God most fully and unambiguously revealed himself as the righteous Lawgiver. But Law entailed sin, and sin required sacrifice, and within the sacrificial system which God ordained on Sinai was veiled his ultimate plan of salvation, the sacrifice of Christ. So on Sinai, revelation and mystery come hand in hand. To make this point, Paul seizes on a detail in the narrative, in Exodus 34. 29-35, which, translating directly from the LXX Greek text, reads as follows: “So Moses came down from the mountain, the two tables of the Law in his hands. As he came down from the mountain, he did not know that the appearance of the complexion of his face had been glorified as he spoke with God. Aaron and all the elders of Israel saw that Moses’ face was glorified, and were afraid to go near him.” Then Moses passes on to the people all the commandments the Lord had given him on Sinai. “And when he had stopped speaking to them, he put a veil (‘kalumma’) to his face. Whenever Moses went into the presence of the Lord to speak to him, he took off the veil until he went out ---. And the sons of Israel saw the face of Moses, that it was glorified, and Moses put the veil round his face until he went in to speak to God”. ‘kalumma’ is used three times in these verses, and it seems clear that Paul has borrowed the word from the LXX version of Exodus: he uses it 4 times in this chapter, and nowhere else. Nor is this the only borrowing Paul makes. Only here (apart from a direct quotation from Isaiah in Romans 9.27) does Paul refer to the Jews as “the sons of Israel”, in verses 7 and 13. This suggests that Paul has his copy of the LXX in front of him as he writes, and explains also why, describing its literal use in verse 13, he writes: “Moses used to put a veil to his face” (v.13) - using the rather unexpected preposition “to” (‘epi’ in Greek), exactly as the LXX does in Exodus 34 33.

2 Corinthians 3.13
(a)
‘katargō’

So far, so straightforward. Verse 13, however, is a real challenge. Paul now gets creative: he reads OT history through NT spectacles, as Jesus had taught his disciples to do (Luke 24.27, 44-5), and so discerns the glory of the New Covenant beneath the Mosaic veil of the Old Covenant. The first hint of this creativeness is his use of the verb ‘katargō’ in verse 7. This normally means to ‘make ineffective’, to ‘render obsolete’, or simply to ‘abolish’; but here Paul uses it of the ‘glory of Moses’ face’, so that it is usually translated as ‘fading’ (as I did above)- though there is no suggestion in Exodus that this glory did quickly fade, but rather that it was regularly renewed as Moses entered the presence of the Lord. Clearly, however, this glory was not permanent, and so must eventually have faded, so that Paul uses it as a symbol of the Sinai covenant as a whole, which was an early example of ‘planned obsolescence’: it was not intended to last for ever. This transition from the literal to the symbolic is subtly made by the slight change in the form of 'katargo': in verse 7 its participle is in the feminine, so agreeing with 'doxa', 'glory', a feminine noun; but when we get to verse 11, it is in the neuter, and so serves as a noun: 'that which is fading', obviously, the Old Covenant, used to contrast with 'that which remains', or 'is permanent' . This usage is repeated in verse 13, to which we now turn.

(b) ‘telos'
Romans 10.4

This is the difficult bit. The Exodus narrative clearly implies that Moses veiled his face so as not to overawe his fellow Israelites, but Paul discerns a symbolic significance behind this practical device.The rest of the verse reads, literally: “Moses used to put a veil to his face for the purpose that the sons of Israel should not look closely into the end of what was becoming obsolete” - or “fading”. Paul Barnett, in his commentary (p.68) explains as follows: “Moses needed to veil his face to prevent the people seeing its brightness. According to the apostle, this was because the glory of Moses’ face was ‘fading’, and he did not want the Israelites to see it fade.” This is helpful as far as it goes, but I think there is more to it than just this. The next word we need to look at is ‘telos’, literally ‘the end’, so it could just mean ‘the end’ of the fading process - though this seems to have been long delayed. But ‘telos’ can mean much more than this, and Paul’s use of the word in Romans 10.4 suggests a similar meaning in our verse: “For Christ is the fulfilment of the law for everyone who believes”; that is, if we are ‘in Christ’, we are regarded by God as righteous because he fulfilled the law sinlessly on our behalf. So what the Israelites could not see when Moses’ face was veiled was ‘the ultimate purpose’, or ‘final fulfilment’ of the temporary (or ‘fading’) covenant that he was bringing them: it was still veiled. All they could see was a Covenant of Law inscribed in letters of stone.

(d) ‘doxa’, ‘katapetasma’: 2 Corinthians 4.6, John 1.14

The last word we need to look at to elucidate this difficult but important passage is the word ‘glory’, in Greek ‘doxa’ (whence ‘doxology’), a word which Paul uses 11 times in these verses (7-18). It is here that Paul’s NT spectacles are particularly helpful. In the OT, God’s glory is, essentially, his awesome holiness, and the veil that Moses wore was a protecting veil, to screen the Israelites from the dazzling radiance of his face. It was thus a smaller version of the veil in the tabernacle, also referred to in the LXX (e.g. Exodus 40.5) as a ‘kalumma’, though always with a second noun, ‘katapetasma’ (literally, ‘something stretched out downwards’,), added to it to define in uniquely as the curtain which screened the holy of holies from the rest of the tabernacle. NT references to this veil just use ‘katapetasma’. The purpose of this veil, too, was to protect the priests from the unbearable radiance of God’s glory. Two of Aaron’s own sons, though ordained as priests and wearing priestly vestments, were consumed by the fire of God’s holiness when they entered this inner sanctuary, beyond the veil, unauthorised. And when the tabernacle was finally dedicated, “the cloud veiled the tabernacle, and the tent was filled with the glory of God” (Ex. 40. 34), so that even Moses himself could not enter. How different is ‘glory’ in the NT! For Paul, the glory of God is revealed in the gospel of grace and in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4.6); for John (1.14), “the word became flesh, and pitched his tabernacle among us, and we gazed at his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth”. Jesus was just as holy as his Father, but to enter his presence was not to be consumed by avenging fire, but to be filled with the water of life.

2 Corinthians 3. 13-18
(a)
‘anakaluptō’

And so, at last, to Paul’s metaphor - and to the final member of the ‘kaluptō family. It was Moses’ veil that protected the Israelites at Sinai from seeing the glory of his face, but the real problem was that their minds were blinded , or “hardened”, as Paul puts it (v. 14), so that they could not see the true significance of the fading of that glory - and the Jews of Paul’s day, and, alas, in ours, too, were just the same: “to this very day the same veil remains over their reading of the Old Testament” . It may be “the same veil”, but now it is metaphorical, not a protecting veil, but a spiritual blindfold. God’s mystery is now, after the coming of Christ, an open secret, but only open to those with the spiritual eyes to see the truth. Now follows the final compound of ‘kaluptō’. We saw in 1 Corinthians the compound ‘katakaluptomai’, to ‘put on’ a veil. I cannot speak from personal experience in this matter, but I imagine that the way to put on a veil is to lift it above one’s head and then bring it down (‘kata’ in Greek) to cover it. So to take the veil off, the process must be reversed: one lifts the veil up - ‘ana’ - and so away from one’s head. This gives us ‘anakaluptō’, to ‘remove one’s veil’. Paul now says that the veil that prevents the Jews from understanding the mystery of the Old Covenant is not ‘removed’ because it (the Old Covenant) is made obsolete in Christ. The Jews, in effect, are stuck in a time-warp: “to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts” (v.15) - same metaphor, different location, but, as we saw earlier, spiritual ‘eyes’ are located in the heart! It is not, of course, Moses himself who is now wearing a veil, for the full truth of the Mosaic covenant has been gloriously revealed. No, it is the Jews whose “minds are hardened” and whose “hearts are veiled”, so that they can read Moses but not see the truth. “But”, Paul continues (v. 16), “when and if someone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed from around his eyes”.

(b)‘hēnika’, ‘periairō’, ‘peristrephō’

The much-maligned NEB makes an acute point here, if at the cost of editorialising: “However, as scripture says of Moses,’ (these words are not in the Greek text) “‘whenever he turns to the Lord the veil is removed’”. The words in quotation marks are almost the words of Exodus 34.34 in the LXX version that we looked at earlier; almost, but Paul makes a subtle change. In the LXX the verb is imperfect, describing what Moses habitually ‘used to do’, but Paul uses the subjunctive, making the action indefinite, referring to anyone today who ‘turns to the Lord’: OT history has become NT promise. The word ‘when’ here , in both v.15 and v.16, ‘hēnika’ in Greek, is used in the LXX (“whenever Moses went in to the presence of the Lord”), but nowhere else in the NT: Paul clearly has his text of the LXX in front of him. Moreover, the word ‘removed’, which I have elaborated into “removed from around his eyes’ is ‘peri-‘ (around) ‘hairō’ (to ‘take away’), the same word as that used in the LXX for Moses’ removal of his veil. Where the NEB takes a bit of a liberty in treating this as a direct quotation from the LXX is with the verb ‘turns to’; not only does Paul change the imperfect into a subjunctive, as we saw above, he actually changes the verb itself, from “went in” (that is, to the ‘tent of meeting’,33.7), which would not suit his purpose, to ‘turns to’, ‘peristrephō’ in Greek. But, once again, there is evidence that Paul still has the LXX in mind, at least, if not in sight, because only 3 verses earlier in Exodus 34, a verse I omitted the first time round, we read that, after they initially were afraid to go near him, “Moses called them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the assembly ‘turned towards’ him” - ‘peristrephō’.

(c) ‘katoptrizomai’, ‘eikōn’, ‘metamorphoumai’
1 John 3.2, Psalm 34.5, Romans 12.2

The verb ‘anakaluptō’, which we looked at above, only occurs twice in the NT, and its second appearance is not long delayed, coming just 4 verses later in verse 18. This is where Paul’s imagery and his argument reach a glorious climax in one of the great verses of the NT. He has been arguing in this chapter (as Hebrews does throughout) that the New Covenant is superior to the old; now, two final truths clinch his case: the invisible God of the OT has become visible in Christ, and the unapproachable God of the OT can now be approached, unveiled, in Christ. In the OT, the full, glorious truth of God was veiled, the veil worn by Moses symbolising the veil in the tabernacle, which both excluded even the priests from God’s presence and protected them from the holy fire of his glory. Moses alone, of all the heroes of faith in the OT, even including Elijah, seems to have had unlimited access to God: in ‘the Tent of Meeting’, “the Lord would speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex. 33.11). But what was the unique privilege of Moses under the Old Covenant can be the common experience of all Christians under the covenant of grace. Paul puts it like this: “We all, with our faces unveiled [like Moses in the Tent of Meeting - ‘anakaluptō’] as we gaze at the glory of the Lord reflect it, being transfigured into his likeness from glory to glory by the power of his Spirit” (v.18). The word Paul uses for ‘gazing’ here, ‘katoptrizomai’, has caused some debate. It is derived from the noun ‘katoptron’, a ‘mirror’, which does not occur in the NT, though its close relation ‘esoptron’ gets a mention in James 1.23. The verb itself appears only here, so we get no guidance from elsewhere to help us. NIV translates ‘reflect’, with ‘contemplate’ in a footnote; AV has ‘beholding as in a glass’. A good principle when translating Paul is that if a word can have two senses, and both are appropriate to the context, then it means both - with him, one can both have one’s cake and eat it ! It is, in fact, clear that both meanings are required here if Paul’s image is to be fully understood, which is why I have used both ‘gaze’ and ‘reflect’. Only if we first ‘gaze’ at Jesus as he is revealed to us in scripture and by the Spirit can we ‘reflect’ his likeness in our lives. We need to read this verse with Moses in mind. He both enjoyed the privilege of God’s presence, on Sinai and in the Tent of Meeting, and reflected his glory. But even Moses could not see what God was like - but we have a ‘likeness’ (‘eikōn’ in Greek, which gives us an ‘icon’) to look at, Jesus, “who is the 'likeness' of God”, as Paul tells us in the next chapter (4.4). But how is the world to ‘see’ the invisible God? Just as Jesus is the likeness of God, so are we to become the ‘likeness’ of Jesus; but this can only happen if we are ‘transfigured’. Once again, the NEB is helpful here: the word translated ‘transformed’ in NIV is the same (‘metamorphoumai’) as the verb used of Jesus’ transfiguration both in Matthew (17.2) and in Mark (9.2). Its only other occurrence is in Romans 12.2, where Paul exhorts us to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds”, the same goal as here, but a different route. For Jesus, transfiguration was, it seems, instantaneous (the verb each time is in the aorist tense), and “his face shone”; for us, this process is all too slow and gradual, “from [a little glory] to [a little more] glory”, and will only be complete in the next life when, John tells us, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3.2). But Christians who consistently ‘practise the presence of Christ’ have faces that shine with his reflected radiance, and so reveal something of God’s glory to the world. Perhaps, in using this imagery, Paul had in mind Psalm 34.5: “Those who look to the Lord are radiant” - the same profound truth in eight simple words!

2 Corinthians 4. 3-6
‘kaluptō’

The last two occurrences of ‘kaluptō’ come only a few verses later, in chapter 4, both together in verse 3: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in [the hearts of] those who are perishing”. God’s saving truth is no longer veiled, as it was at Sinai; mystery has now become gospel. The Mosaic covenant concealed beneath its ritualistic surface the full glory of God’s eternal purpose, just as the Mosaic veil concealed the full glory of his face, and so of the face of God which it reflected, from “the sons of Israel”. Just as a sculptor painstakingly carves a great statue, but conceals his work-in-progress with a covering until the day arrives for its final unveiling to the public, so God veiled his master-work throughout the OT, before finally removing the veil and revealing the figure of Christ. Now the only veil is the veil of unbelief which darkens the minds of those who refuse to accept the truth; as Paul puts it, “the god of this world has blinded the understandings of unbelievers so that the glorious light of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine on them”. God has not “lit the lamp of the gospel only to veil it under a storage jar” (Luke 8.16, freely !); no, he has set it on the lampstand of the church, and commissioned his disciples to proclaim it to the world. Once again, we see how, in moving from mystery via revelation to knowledge, we are on the journey from darkness to light which is at the very heart of scripture. Paul sums this up in another of the great verses of the NT, verse 6: “It is the God who said ‘Out of darkness light shall shine’ who has shone in our hearts to shed upon them the glorious light of the knowledge of God, revealed in the face of Jesus Christ”.

(2) ‘kruptō’

We now return to the ‘nothing hidden’ sayings of Jesus, and so to the Greek word ‘kruptō’, to ‘hide’, and to the family of words connected to it. Luke’s second version of this saying, however, (12.2), begins with the one compound of ‘kaluptō’ that we have not yet looked at; this is its only appearance in the NT. The word is ‘sunkaluptō’; the prefix ‘sun-‘ normally means ‘with’ or ‘together’, but here it scarcely affects the basic meaning, to ‘veil’, at all. So, Jesus says, “there will be nothing veiled [together] that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be made known”. The context here, as we have seen, is hypocrisy, and, as we will see, members of the ‘hide’ family are often used to refer to the secrets of the human heart, rather than to the mysteries of God’s eternal purpose. The family consists of two verbs, the simple ‘kruptō’ and its compound ‘apokruptō’, to ‘hide away’, so virtually a synonym; three adjectives, ‘kruptos’ and ‘kruphaios’, and, from ‘apokruptō’, ‘apokruphos’ (whence the ‘Apocrypha’), all of which simply mean ‘hidden’; and the adverb ‘kruphē’, which makes just one appearance, and means ‘secretly’. ‘kruptos’ (which gives us ‘cryptic’) appears in all 4 ‘nothing hidden’ sayings. Mark 4.22 and Luke 8.17 are virtually identical, both referring to God’s eternal purpose, previously hidden but now revealed; both use ‘kruptos’ followed by ‘apokruphos’. The other 2 (Luke 12.2 and Matt. 10.26), though different in their contexts, are parallel in that they both use ‘kaluptō’ first (Luke ‘sunkaluptō’) and ‘kruptos’ second.


(a) ‘en kruptō’

‘kruptos’ is used 17 times in all in the NT, 8 of them in the phrase ‘en kruptō’, ‘in secret’. Of these, 4 occur in Matthew 6, in parallel teaching in the Sermon on the Mount on almsgiving and prayer. This theme is introduced by the injunction “Make sure not to perform your acts of righteousness in front of other people in order to be seen by them” - a warning, as in Luke 11, against hypocrisy. So our almsgiving (v.4) and our praying (v.6) should be done ‘in secret’, for then “your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you”. There is a third parallel teaching later in the chapter (v.18), though this time Matthew uses ‘en kruphaiō’ as a variant for ‘en kruptō’, though meaning exactly the same: fasting, too, should be done ‘in secret’, “and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. This thrice repeated promise is a wonderful encouragement, but the rich coin of promise has a flip side of warning: if God sees the good we do ‘in secret’, he can also see everything else we do, as we may think, ‘in secret’, deeds that may not be so good.

(b) The Mystery of the Human Heart

So it is, perhaps, that Paul matches these three promises with three warnings. “All those who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who live under the law will be judged by the law. --- This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets (‘krupta’, neuter plural) through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2.12, 16, NIV). Our next verse, 1 Corinthians 4.5, also refers to the day when Jesus will return in judgement, but here it is the judgement not of those “apart from the law”, nor of those “under the law”, but of those within the church, and so ‘under grace’. One of several faults within the Corinthian church that Paul tries to redress in this letter is that of factionalism: the fellowship is divided into rival groups, each with its own spiritual hero, so that one says “I belong to Paul”, and another “I belong to Apollos” (3.4). In behaving like this, says Paul, they are being “fleshly” (‘worldly’, NIV); they are basing their judgements on the “outward appearance”, in a way that is typically human, rather than truly spiritual. “Think of us rather”, he continues (4.1) “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries (‘musteria’, plural form) of God”. The most important quality required in servants and stewards is faithfulness. While Paul states that, in this respect, “my conscience is clear”, this can never be a definitive judgement, as he explains in verse 5: “Do not make any judgement before the proper time, until the Lord returns. He will shine his light on the secrets (‘krupta’) [hidden] in the darkness deep inside us, and will make transparent the true motives of our hearts. That will be the time when each will receive his praise from God”, those wonderful words, presumably, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord.” Matt. 25. 21,23).

1 Corinthians 14.25

Later in the same letter, Paul again refers to the revealing of the inner secrets of the heart, though the context here (14.25) is very different. Once again he is trying to redress a fault, this time in their meetings for communal worship, which seem to have been chaotic and unedifying. Many members of the church have the spiritual gift of ‘tongues’, but are exercising it with the excited self-indulgence of children (v.20). They may be edifying themselves (v.4), but to others they are unintelligible - unless accompanied by interpreters (another spiritual gift). If a passer-by or an unbeliever drops in to their meeting, and finds everyone talking unintelligibly, they will think “you are quite mad!” - and drop out again (v.23). But if the spiritual gift of prophecy is being exercised, Paul says, such random visitors will be deeply convicted of their sinfulness: “the secrets of their hearts will be revealed, and they will fall on their faces and worship God, declaring 'Truly God is among you’”. It is not clear whether Paul envisages these prophecies containing words of knowledge revealing a particular sin of which a visitor is secretly guilty, or whether he is simply saying that the presence of God will be so apparent in the meeting that conviction of sin will inevitably follow. In either event, for these unbelievers and outsiders judgement day has come early, and repentance now will save them from condemnation later.

(c) kruptō
Revelation 6.15-16, Col 3.3

The verb ‘kruptō’ itself, to ‘hide’, occurs 19 times in the NT, but we will just look at those which are related to our theme - the first two rather obliquely, perhaps. They occur in Revelation 6, and develop the theme of God’s awesome judgement: before his eyes, ‘no secrets are hidden’. At the opening of the sixth seal, there is a great earthquake, the sun turns black and the moon to blood. These and other terrifying signs of the impending day of judgement drive all the inhabitants of the earth, kings and princes, slaves and free men, to hide (‘kruptō’) in caves and among the rocks of the mountains; “and they said to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb’” (vv.15-16). The story of fallen humanity begins in Genesis 3 with Adam and Eve trying to cover their guilt with fig-leaves, and hiding in fear from the one with whom they had enjoyed innocent fellowship in paradise - a paradise now lost. The story ends here in Revelation, with the same theme now risen to a crescendo. From beginning to end, the same truth is inescapable: to try to hide one’s guilt from God is futile. If, after this terrifying picture of judgement, we feel in need of reassurance, it is provided for us by Paul, in a beautiful verse in Colossians (3.3). Here, too, our eyes are directed towards the one who sits enthroned in heaven, “Christ, seated at the right hand of God”; but if we have been “raised with Christ”, we need not fear “the wrath of the Lamb”, for, as Paul puts it, “you have died [to your old life], and your [new] life is hidden (‘kruptō’) with Christ in God”. If we put these two passages together, we could say that there are only two kinds of people in the world, those who are secretly “hidden in God”, and those who are still trying to hide from God.

(d) The Mystery of the Future
Luke 18.31-3, 19.42

And just as we cannot see into other peoples hearts, so we cannot see into the future: both are mysteries, hidden from us. Luke uses ‘kruptō’ twice in this context. In 18.31-3, Jesus clearly tells his disciples, in some detail, what is going to happen to him in the near future in Jerusalem; in fact, this is the third time he has forewarned them of his impending sufferings and death. But the disciples “understood none of this". Jesus’ words were hidden (‘kruptō’) from them --- they did not know what he was saying” (v.34). God’s plan of salvation had been pictured and prophesied for centuries, and now it was being spelt out for them in words, metaphorically at least, of one syllable; but still it was a mystery to them. The next chapter brings us to ‘Palm Sunday’, and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But for Jesus this triumph is shadowed by tragedy. When he sees the city that means so much to him, as it did to all Jews, he weeps for it. For Jesus, the future is not a mystery, and he sees the Roman legions, 40 years on, with their siege-engines circling Jerusalem, and ultimately utterly destroying it. “If only”, he says - how many times through the ages he must have looked down from heaven on the tragic folly of mankind and said “if only” - “if only, Jerusalem, you had known on this special day what would have brought you peace! But now the future is hidden from your eyes” (v19.42).

(e) ‘kruptō’ in Matthew
Matthew 5.14, 25.18, 13.44

Matthew uses the verb ‘kruptō’ 7 times. The first (5.14) immediately precedes his version of the ‘lampstand’ analogy, which, as we saw earlier, refers to a Christian’s obligation to witness to the world to the light that is in him or her: “A city that is set on the top of a hill cannot be hidden”. Those to whom the mystery of God’s grace has been revealed should be like lamps on a lampstand. The other side of this coin comes in another parable later on (25. 18, 25), the parable of the talents. The servant who was entrusted by his master with only one talent (“only”? a talent was a huge amount!) “took it and went away and dug a hole in the ground and hid it” - another way of saying that he “hid his light under the bed” (Luke 8.16). This parable, in turn, has links with another, much shorter, one, which Jesus told in chapter 13, the chapter of the 7 parables. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure (‘thēsauros’ in Greek) hidden in a field”; but, of course, “there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed”, so “a man found it, and in his joy” (the same joy that ‘surprised' C.S.Lewis) “hid it again while he went off and bought the field” (v.44). The invention of metal-detectors has given this parable a contemporary resonance (I think that is the right word!), but its main point, like that of the parable of the merchant seeking fine pearls, is that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’ is such a glorious prize that it is worth giving up everything else to obtain it. But it also suggests that the truth of the gospel is hidden - a mystery waiting to be discovered by those to whom God chooses to reveal it, whether after a long search, like the pearl-collector, or by a sudden moment of enlightenment. This in turn takes us back to the whole purpose of parables, which Matthew sees as fulfilment of a prophecy in Psalm 78.2 (v.35): “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter [secrets] hidden from the foundation of the world”. The first part of this doublet is a direct quotation of the LXX version of the psalm; the second part seems to be Matthew’s own translation, for the LXX reads: “I will tell of problems from the beginning”. ‘Parables’ is, apparently, the translation of the Hebrew word ‘mashal’, which means (according to Tasker in the Tyndale commentary, p.139) ‘a difficult or enigmatic saying’, so that the parallel word in the second half, ‘problems’ (Greek ‘problemata’, neuter plural form) is a virtual synonym - the word was used by Euclid of a geometrical ‘problem’. The context of Psalm 78 throws interesting light on both words, and on the meaning of ‘mystery’. The psalmist wants to ensure that “what our fathers have told us” we will not “hide from their children” (vv. 3-4) - this is where ‘kruptō’ is found in the LXX. The rest of this long psalm is a collection of incidents from the history of God’s people, for each generation of children needs to learn the history which it has inherited. But, as Motyer puts it, “by itself the record of the past is a tangle of events, an enigma needing interpretation” (cited by Wilcox, BST Psalms 73-150, p.26). It is often said that “history is His story”, but the history of Israel, His people, could be described as “His parable”, for it is a story with a meaning. Much of that meaning is hidden in mystery, awaiting its full revelation in Christ and by the illumination of his Spirit. When Jesus teaches in parables, he is showing that he is, indeed, God’s Son: like Father, like Son!


‘nēpios’
Matthew 11.25, Luke 10.21, 1 Corinthians 13.11

The seventh and last occurrence of ‘kruptō’ in Matthew reminds us once again that the ‘treasure’ of the gospel is hidden by God: it is a wonderful discovery waiting to be made. But whereas in the OT the veil which conceals it is simply the ‘BC’ barrier, for the Israelites it still lay in the future, and the future is always a mystery - even after the coming of Christ the treasure can still be hidden, by the barrier of unbelief. Even when God’s truth came from the lips of Jesus himself, many of his hearers did not believe. Many, however, did, and this leads Jesus to offer up to his Father a prayer of thanksgiving (11.25): “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden the truth from the sophisticated and the intellectuals, and revealed it to the childlike”. Luke’s version (10.21) is identical, except that he uses the compound verb ‘apokruptō’ (‘hidden away’) rather than the simple ‘kruptō’, which balances it rather more neatly (ever the stylist, Luke!) with ‘revealed’, a similar compound ‘apokaluptō’. The word I have translated ‘childlike’ is ‘nēpios’. It is used 15 times in the NT, 5 of them in a single verse, (1 Cor. 13.11), the famous passage on love, where Paul says “when I was a child, I spake as a child --- but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (AV). This final translation (‘childish’) well illustrates our ambivalent attitude to childhood and children: their attractive features, their (supposed!) innocence and open-mindedness, we label ‘childlike’, while we describe as ‘childish’ behaviour that we find silly or immature. In Greek, ‘nēpios is used in both contexts. Paul usually uses it in the latter, pejorative, sense, as in the verse above, and even more clearly earlier in the letter (“mere infants in Christ”, 3.1, NIV), where it is synonymous with “ruled by the old nature”, and contrasted with “spiritual”; similarly, in Ephesians 4.14 it is contrasted with spiritual maturity, as it is also in Hebrews 5.13. Only its three uses in the gospels are clearly positive (the third is Jesus’ quotation from Psalm 8.3 in response to the priests' and scribes' indignation at the children’s cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David”, in the Temple, their spontaneous and instinctive recognition of Jesus’ amazing works). In the two verses we are looking at, Jesus’ prayer to his Father, ‘nēpios’ could be seen as equivalent to “poor in spirit” in the beatitudes (Matt. 5.3): they will possess the rich treasure of the kingdom of God because they are humble enough and simple enough to recognise a truth that is greater than they are, and to reach out empty-handed to receive it. Only those can be saved who are humble enough to admit that they need saving. This ambivalence in the meaning of ‘nēpios’ is reflected in the similar ambivalence of ‘sophos’, the Greek for ‘wise’, which we have already glanced at, and will return to later. On Jesus’ lips here (11.25), it refers to the worldly wisdom, the ‘sophistication’, which is convinced of its own rightness, and does not realise that righteousness is much more important in God’s sight, and can only be acquired as a free gift by those who are humble enough to receive it. But to those who are ‘childlike’ enough, God reveals his truth, and it is they alone who are truly ‘wise’.

‘apokruphos’
Col 2.2-3


That leaves us with the compound verb ‘apokruptō’, to ‘hide away’, and its associated adjective ‘apokruphos’, whose neuter plural form gives us the ‘apocrypha’. Between them, they occur 7 times in the NT, the verb 4 times and the adjective 3 times. We have already seen one instance of the verb used by Luke (10.21) in his version of Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving that his Father “had hidden away these truths from the sophisticated and the intellectuals”; the other 3 occur in Paul’s 3 great statements of his ‘mystery’ overview, which we will reach eventually. The adjective, too, we have seen in two versions of Jesus’ “nothing hidden” saying (Matt. 4.22, Luke 8.17), leaving us just one more instance to look at here - and what a wonderful passage it is! It is also a helpful passage to study at this point, for it binds together two threads which appeared separately in the previous paragraph, and also reminds us of ‘mystery’, to which we will be returning in the next section. The two threads are ‘treasure’ and ‘wisdom’: how can they be bound together? Paul does so in his letter to the Colossians, where he tells them that his aim is to “present every one perfect in Christ” (1.28), that is, no longer ‘childish’ (‘nēpios’) in their faith, but mature adults. That means that they need to discover and develop “the full riches of complete understanding”, so that they may have “a clear grasp of the mystery of God, namely, Christ himself, in whom are hidden (‘apokruphos’) all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2.2-3). This develops the idea of the gospel’s being buried treasure, a most vivid and suggestive image. Where there is buried treasure there must also be a treasure-map, the OT scriptures, which, sometimes directly, sometimes enigmatically, point unanimously to Christ. And where there is a treasure-map, there must be an ‘X’ that marks the spot - and if one looks at the treasure-map from the correct perspective one sees that the ‘X’ is in fact a cross. Carson, in his Tyndale commentary on this verse, has a most helpful word on the implications of ‘hidden’: the treasures are hidden, he says, “not in the sense of being utterly beyond our reach, but rather as treasures in a mine which has already been opened, and which by diligent search a constant supply of precious stones may be extracted” (p.57). When we find Christ - or, more accurately, when he finds us - we discover “the pearl of great price”. In Jesus’ parable, the pearl-collector sold all his other pearls to claim this one great prize; perhaps these other pearls represent the pearls of worldly wisdom, of sophisticated cynicism and intellectual arrogance, which we have to abandon to be ‘childlike’ (‘nēpios’) enough to find true wisdom in Christ. This, then, is how Paul urges the Colossian Christians, and us with them, to become mature and adult in our faith: as we draw close to Christ day by day to study his word, we should look to find, illuminated by his Spirit, fresh pearls of true wisdom which, as we string them together into a coherent understanding of God’s truth (sometimes known as ‘systematic theology’!), reveal to us the mystery of his eternal purpose more and more clearly. If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111.10., Proverbs 9.10), the word of the Lord is the treasure-house in which it can be fully discovered.

Next->the mystery of godliness