In the New Testament the Greek word for mystery, musterion, occurs twenty-eight times. Twenty-one are in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Mystery is vital to Christian faith and understanding. Yet the concept has been frequently misunderstood too.
The best theology has always maintained that what is known must be balanced by what is not clearly known. God is a mysterium trememdum et fascinans, compelling the worshiper with awe toward him but remaining ultimately beyond the grasp of human reason and imagination. The so-called mystical tradition, which uses all the available means to approach God (reason, prayer, meditation, spiritual imagination, the sacraments, etc.), finds its biblical roots in a text like Colossians 2:2–3:
2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
It was once thought that Paul was using this term to connect with esoteric and mystery religions in his missional context but most biblical scholars now concur that it was used to speak about something previously hidden but now revealed (cf. Col. 1:26–27; 1 Cor. 2:1; Eph. 6;19). In this sense divine mystery is virtually shorthand for the gospel. Yet the word is also used to describe a degree of continued hiddenness. In fact, when used in relationship to divine revelation, Stephen Motyer says the term seems to convey the idea of ultimate ungraspability (cf. 1 Cor. 2;7; 13:3; Eph. 5:32 and Colossians 2:2-3 as noted above). Thus the term has two sides to it–revealed and hidden. This is not contradictory. It corresponds to two facts regarding all our knowledge of God. His judgments are unsearchable and his ways inscrutable (Rom. 11:33) and yet “he