It was recently stated that Paul’s ministry of the mystery is absent from Acts. But surely this claim is disproved as he taught it in the epistles written during the time of the Acts (see Rom. 12: 4–8; 16: 25–27; 1 Cor. 12: 12–27)?
Firstly, we must be quite clear that the Church as the body of Christ is not the mystery. That is only one part of the truth. The mystery is Christ as Head in heaven linked to the Church as His body on earth. Now there is nothing in the epistles written during the period of the Acts (including Romans and Corinthians) about Christ as Head of the Church and hence the thought of the mystery is absent too.
In 1 Cor. 12: 12–27, Paul likens the Church to the human body with its oneness and yet many members. In his analogy, Paul speaks not only of the hand and the foot (see v15), but the eye, the hearing and the smelling (see v17) and also the head (see v21). The eye, the ear and the nose all belong to the head in the natural body and the analogy of both body and head is to the Church and not Christ. The same analogy is used in Rom. 12: 4–8 of the Church being one body with many members (see v5) and again there is no mention of Christ as the Head. Thus so far there is no thought of the mystery.
This brings us to Rom. 16: 25–27 in which Paul definitely does refer to the mystery (see v25), and yet the Roman epistle was clearly written before Paul went to Rome (see Rom. 1: 13; 15: 23, 24) and thus within the time span of the Acts. However, paradoxically as it may seem, these verses, far from disproving the claim that the mystery was not ministered during the time of the Acts, actually confirm the matter.
When Paul wrote Romans, the epistles giving the truth of the mystery (Ephesians and Colossians) had not been written. To anyone reading Romans, now or then, without those epistles, the last three verses of Romans would present an enigma. Such readers would ask, ‘What is this mystery previously hidden, but now revealed (see vs 25, 26) that Paul refers to?’ There is nothing in Romans itself to enlighten them. Given Ephesians and Colossians, all is clear; without them, it is a mystery in itself. This suggests that vs 25–27 were added later.
The normal ending of all Paul’s epistles is a benediction (a blessing) beginning with such words as “The grace of the Lord …” (see 1 Cor. 16: 23, 24; 2 Cor. 13: 14; etc.). There is just one exception—Romans. There the final benediction is in Rom 16: 24 and not at the end of the epistle. Rom. 16: 25–27 forms a doxology (an outburst of praise). Now when we have both a doxology and a benediction in Paul’s epistles, the doxology always comes first (compare Phil. 4: 20 with 4: 23; 1 Tim. 6: 16 with 6: 21 etc.). This presents another puzzle to the reader of Romans, for the doxology ends the epistle. However, if the last three verses were added to the original epistle later, the benediction of v24 would end the epistle and the difficulty would vanish.
Now consider the Greek manuscripts—and here there is a difficulty known for centuries to Greek scholars. In over 190 manuscripts of Romans, the doxology (vs 25–27) is placed after v23, in two or three manuscripts it is omitted altogether, and in some manuscripts it ends the epistle but with v24 omitted. These and other variations present a real problem as to the correct location of the doxology.
While textual critics have never doubted the authenticity of the doxology of vs 25–27, the differing copies (we have no original manuscripts of any NT books) create uncertainty about its correct position. The one answer that agrees with all the facts given above is that the original epistle ended with the benediction of v24 and that the doxology of vs 25–27 was added later as a postscript by Paul. However, to give intelligence to the postscript, it could only have been added after the truth of the mystery had been given in Ephesians and Colossians. When Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner, he would have access to his original epistle and after writing Ephesians and Colossians from Rome, would be able to add the postscript of vs. 25–27. Hence there is no conflict between Paul’s written ministry and his oral ministry given during the period of the Acts. Once that ministry had ended and Israel had been publicly set aside in judgment, then the way was open for Paul to teach the truth of the mystery.
However, none of this answers the question as to why Paul thought it necessary to add the verses in question to the Roman epistle. Paul was a minister both of the Gospel and of the Church (see Col. 1: 23–25). Romans is the great epistle of the Gospel while Ephesians is that of the Church. Many in the present day (and possibly in Paul’s day too) think that there is nothing beyond the Gospel. The postscript would serve to link Romans with Ephesians and encourage those who had read and studied the former to go on to the latter.