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In the doxology of Romans, Paul writes:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27 ESV)

The gospel is here spoken of as a mystery, which has been "kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed." This statement seems to imply that it was previously hidden, and only now made known through Christ.

At the same time, however, overlapping is the statement that this mystery "through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations," which seems to imply that the mystery was already revealed back at the time of the prophets.

Even setting aside commitments to scriptural authority and biblical inerrancy, the mere fact that Paul adjoined these two statements gives one reason to think that this apparent contradiction is both intentional and non-contradictory. How does one reconcile these two statements?

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2 Answers 2

This is a bookend to the the beginning of Romans:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ...—Romans 1:1-6 ESV)

So Paul tethers his teaching to the Jewish prophets, which is significant given his own mission to extend the church to Gentiles. It's important to Paul that his readers know the church's origin in the Hebrew Scriptures and religion. At the same time, Paul must explain to the Romans why the messiah was not recognized by the majority of Jews if the prophesies are truly fulfilled in Jesus.

Paul seems to be following Jesus' use of Isaiah 6:9-10:

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?—Mark 4:10-13 (ESV)

Paul's exposition of this idea is quite detailed and is woven throughout Romans, but especially in chapters 9-11. Paul quotes related passages, Isaiah 29:10 and Deuteronomy 29:4, to make the point that God did not allow everyone to understand the prophets:

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
    eyes that would not see
    and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”

—Romans 11:7-8 (ESV)

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The mere fact that Paul adjoined these two statements gives one reason to think that this apparent contradiction is both intentional and non-contradictory. How does one reconcile these two statements?

The straightforward reading of the text makes sense if the "now" in "has been disclosed" is applied to both clauses. I.e., read it as if it were

according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has now been made known to all nations

If he meant that it had been made known through the prophets when they had written, he would have changed the aspect of the verb and the translation should read, with a pluperfect sense, that it had been made known to all nations. By saying it has been made known, he is tying it to the current context, not to a previous time.

Thus, re:

the statement that this mystery "through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations," [...] seems to imply that the mystery was already revealed back at the time of the prophets.

It is not so much that the prophets revealed the mystery, but that the people preaching the gospel are using the prophetic writings to make known or explain the mystery of what has just happened in and following the life of Christ.

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1  
If something is simply hidden, it is not a mystery. It becomes a mystery when the fact that something is hidden is made known. It is revealed when they know what is hidden. So we should be able to look back at the OT now and see Christ hidden in it. That is the premise of sensus plenior. The prophets spoke of Christ when they themselves didn't know they were doing it. Eph 3:9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: –  Bob Jones May 14 '12 at 13:21

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