Before we start listing secrets in the Bible, let’s consider what a secret is. A secret is knowledge concealed to many, revealed to some. Its allure lies in promising knowledge others aren’t privy to. Sometimes that knowledge turns out to be a lie, and the game turns out to be a clever form of betrayal.
There are two main types of secrets described in the Bible: true and false. This article is about the false ones, but if you’re here for true ones, I don’t want you to leave empty-handed. Deuteronomy 29:29 describes “secret things” as belonging to God, and “things revealed” as belonging to his people. Sometimes, God lets his people in on secrets, so that they switch from being secret to revealed. At neither point are they anything less than true.
Here’s an example of a longtime secret God revealed to his people: In Ephesians 3, Paul describes a mystery “not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5).
What was the secret? Paul explains that “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members of one body, and sharers together in the promise of in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:6). Although there were hints of this Jew-Gentile reconciliation in the Old Testament (e.g., Is. 49:6), it would have struck most early Jewish Christians as a surprise, sometimes an unwelcome one. Paul was foremost among the early Christians trying feverishly to flip lights on to expose this longtime secret as part of God’s good news for the planet.
Secrets in the Bible: “Paul describes a mystery ‘not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.'”
Now onto untrue secrets. The Bible’s texture is rough and realistic when it comes to humanity’s descent into sin. It narrates hundreds of events it doesn’t approve of. The following secrets are instances described in the Bible of magnetic misdirection. Though based in lies, they induce an “Interesting; tell me more” response from gullible and bribable listeners.
#1 – “You will be like God.” (Gen. 3:5)
The serpent in Eden brought Eve in on a secret: The forbidden fruit wouldn’t kill her; rather, it would make her like God. When Eve and then Adam took the bait, the hook jerked them out of the shalom they had always known. The forms of death unleashed turned out worse than they could have imagined, as they experienced inward shame, relational stress, and terror when God approached, as well as difficulties throughout life and eventual death.
#2 – “I’ll become as weak as any other man.” (Judges 16:7b)
The Jewish judge Samson was as fond of playing with people’s minds as with breaking his enemy’s bones. We see him taunt rivals with riddles. We also see him engage in a flirtatious game of secrets with his girlfriend Delilah who is obsessed with learning the secret to his great strength. Although he eventually loses the game, he leads her on with three untrue secrets about how she can make him lose his strength. She keeps taking the bait—trying the secret out all three times—until a fourth time when he finds himself caught on the other end of her line.
Secrets in the Bible: “Although he eventually loses the game, he leads her on with three untrue secrets about how she can make him lose his strength.”
#3 – “If only I were appointed judge in the land!” (2 Sam. 15:4a)
King David’s son Absalom tried to usurp the kingdom from his father and almost succeeded. The backstory is that David had multiple wives, and the son of one marriage raped the daughter of another. Absalom was full brother to the woman who was raped. When David was dismissive about the incident, Absalom took matters into his own hands and murdered his rapist half-brother. He was exiled from the kingdom as punishment.
When allowed to return, he enacted a plot to take over the kingdom from his dad. Part of this meant cultivating a kingly image, as the handsome prince publicly drove around the city in a horse-drawn chariot accompanied by dozens of servants. He would also spend mornings by the city gate, intercepting people on their way to complain to the king. He would hear their complaint and respond with sympathetic statements such as, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative to the king to hear you. If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice” (2 Sam. 15:3-4).
For four years, this was his method until finally launching a coup which, though unsuccessful, temporarily drove David from the palace. Notice Absalom’s secretive approach for winning hearts, as he pretended to let the citizens in on what was really going on behind the scenes in the kingdom.
#4 – “An angel said to me . . . ‘Bring him back with you.’” (1 Kings 13:18)
In 1 Kings 13, we meet a nameless prophet from Judah sent by God to give King Jeroboam of Israel (in the North) a warning against idolatry. Although the king initially motioned his soldiers to seize the prophet, the king’s hand shriveled even as he spoke. The king asked the prophet to intercede with God to restore his hand, which the prophet did. When the grateful king invited the prophet to come to the palace, eat, and receive a gift, the prophet explained that he could no such thing, since God had told him, “You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came” (1 Kings 13:9).
When the prophet continued on his way, an older prophet found him and asked him to come to his home and eat. When the younger prophet gave the same line he had given the king, the older prophet explained, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water’” (1 Kings 13:18). So the prophet relented and went home with the older prophet.
Yet the older prophet had lied. No angel had given him that message; he had made the whole thing up. Yet because the secret knowledge had been spoken with a “Thus saith the Lord,” a committed follower of God had lost his discernment. Upon leaving the old prophet’s house, the younger prophet left and was mauled and killed by a lion.
Secrets in the Bible: “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.'”
#5 – “Cast lots with us; we will all share the loot.” (Pr. 1:14)
The first chapter in Proverbs describes a not-so-hypothetical scenario in which violent men entice a younger man to come along with them in order to steal from the rich. In persuading him, they let him in on a secret: If he joins them, he’ll get his share of no small fortune (“we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder” [Pr. 1:13]). The result of being reeled in by such a secret is that the young man will join his violent companions in “ambush[ing] only themselves” (Pr. 1:18b). “Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it” (Pr. 1:19).
#6 – “Let’s enjoy ourselves with love!” (Pr. 7:18b)
In Proverbs 7, another young victim is ensnared via secret, this time by a married woman. The young man was “going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in” (Pr. 7:8-9). His mixture of laziness and lust primed him to believe all the lies she told him, regardless of their absurdity.
Having recently fulfilled her offerings, she explained that she was good with God. Her husband was gone for a while and would not find out. They could “drink deeply of love till morning” (Pr. 7:18), as if any of that could rise to the label of “love.” Her secrets were safe with him, until he perceived too late that they were interlocking and beginning to tighten around his neck: “like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life” (Pr. 7:22b-23).
#7 – “I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” (Jer. 28:4b)
During the reign of King Zedekiah of Judea, the prophet Hananiah let the priests and people gathered in the temple in on a wonderful secret: God was going to break the yoke of Babylon and the Jewish people would be free. The Babylonian Empire was the occupying power at the time, and after they had unseated King Jehoiachin and brought him into exile, they had set up his uncle Zedekiah as their puppet king.
The problem with Hananiah’s prophesy, besides it not being true or from God, was that King Zedekiah would go on to form an alliance with Egypt, which would prompt Babylon to put Jerusalem to siege, burn its temple to the ground, and kill the inhabitants. The prophet Jeremiah, who incessantly but unsuccessfully warned Zedekiah of the ruin to come, said drily upon hearing Hananiah’s prophesy, “The prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true” (Jer. 28:9).
Secrets in the Bible: “The prophet Hananiah let the priests and people gathered in the temple in on a wonderful secret.”
#8 – “Unless you are circumcised . . . you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1b)
God’s people in the Old Testament had to learn to discern true from false prophets. In the same way, it wasn’t long after the New Testament church began that what Paul sarcastically called “super-apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5) began hawking their insider knowledge of what true Christianity was. It was a matter of discrediting what the apostles were teaching by letting Christians in on new and improved messaging. One of the secrets Paul continually had to expose as untrue was the idea that, if you really want to be saved, you have to come through Judaism first (i.e., be circumcised). This Jesus-plus approach probably resonated with new Christians who felt in the back of their minds that “by grace through faith” was too simplistic to save them.
#9 – “The day of the Lord has already come.” (2 Thess. 2:2b)
Another false secret that made the rounds was that Jesus had already returned. Apparently, people posing as Paul and his associates were saying that the “day of the Lord” had already happened. Also, apparently, our propensity for end-times sensationalism goes waaay back, such that even Paul had to address it and remind them of what he had told them.
#10 – Jesus only appeared to come in the flesh. (2 John 7)
Gnosticism literally means knowledge-ism. It was a worldview that offered salvation through secret knowledge. Its basic story of the world centered on an original, pure deity whose emanations grew gradually less godlike, until finally a lesser god called the Demiurge created something completely unworthy of true divinity: the material world. Although Gnostic elements predated the first century AD, such elements were brought together to form hybrid worldviews during that century (e.g., Jewish Gnosticism and Christian Gnosticism).
Where Gnosticism latched onto Christianity, it fashioned the Old Testament God into the corrupt “Demiurge” and tended to remake Jesus into a divine messenger from the original, pure God. Since material was corrupt and unworthy of God, then it made sense for Jesus to only seem to be human and made of flesh. One of the Greek words for “seem” is dokeo; thus a view called “Docetism,” a doctrine within Gnosticism, taught that Jesus only seemed to be human. From what we can tell, these views started gaining traction toward the end of the first century AD, which is why the apostle John wrote things such as,
“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).
For those who longed to count themselves among the initiated, Gnosticism provided the perfect framework. Yet salvation by knowledge is literally the oldest trick in the book (“Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” [Gen. 3:4b]).
Secrets in the Bible: “Salvation by knowledge is literally the oldest trick in the book.”
The Bible often warns against slandering people, which is a way of reeling people in to believing hurtful lies about other people. When we slander each other, we’re following Satan as our maestro, as he is called the “accuser of our brothers and sisters” (Rev. 12:10).
It can scratch an itch to think of yourself as “in the know”—unlike the poor, deluded masses. And there are truths—principally the gospel—that many people aren’t aware of. But the gospel is the opposite of a secret for the few. It’s meant to translate into every culture and be understandable to every strata of society. Its simplicity makes it graspable for children, even as its dimensions and implications delight and confound people with multiple PhDs. For all of us, with the gospel as our greatest news and Jesus’ Great Commission as our greatest mission, this isn’t an era of secrets, but of extensive and creative proclamation.
*All Scripture verses are from the NIV.