Mustering the Mystery out of
What does the Greek word musterion mean? Well, of course it
means "mystery." At least thats what youd conclude by reading the
majority of English translations.
Actually, theres nothing mysterious about a musterion. The
word simply refers to something that cannot be known unless it is revealed, that is, a
"secret." This is what Paul was describing in Ephesians 5:32 ("This is a
great secret, but I am talking about Christ and the church") and in 1 Corinthians
15:51 ("Let me tell you a secret. Not all of us will die, but all of us will be
Linguists call the confusion of a Greek words root with its
English counterpart "etymologizing" an evil to be avoided like the plague.
We English speakers should, of course, know this already. There is no butter in
buttermilk, no egg in eggplant, no worms (or wood) in wormwood, no pine (or apple) in a
pineapple, no ham in hamburger.
Why, then, should we be told that the Greek word agon (Hebrews
12:2) refers to "agony" (it simply describes a "race"), that dunamis
(Romans 1:16) has something to do with "dynamite" (dynamite was unknown in the
first century), and that hilaros (2 Corinthians 9:7) describes a
"hilarious" giver (perhaps we should play laugh tracks when taking the
offering)? Unfortunately, etymologizing is still alive and well in preaching and teaching.
Isnt it time to muster the mystery out of musterion?